Build Your Porch

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“Build your porch.” “Build your small group.” “Find the group where you can be completely open, honest and share your stuff.” These are all phrases I have heard more times than I can count in the past year and every time I hear them, it makes me stop and think. I have a pretty tight knit group of friends. If I was honest, I could list those in my inner core and then start moving to outer circles. In a way I have done this, but do I allow myself to be completely mask free when I’m with them, or do I still hold back?

I have 2 sets of friends who make up my inner core. 2 of those friends I have known since my single days. We have walked through the ups and downs of life together. We have seen each other through marriages, births of children and the other things that life has thrown our way. We may not see each other every week, but we don’t have to in order to stay connected. The 2nd group is also 2 ladies I meet with once a week. I have known them about 3 years give or take. While there have definitely been some life hurdles in the time I haven’t known them quite as long. I know that through the good, the bad and the ugly, we all have each others’ backs. The next ring in my circle of friends contains mostly ladies I have known for about 3 years and a dear friend from my seminary days. The next ring would hold friends I have known for a longer period of time, but don’t get to hang out with or get to talk with on a regular basis.

Even though I completely trust all 4 ladies on my porch, I know that there is still a part of me that I hold back. There are parts of my life with which I am an open book. Then there are other parts closed up tighter than Fort Knox. Since I started my blog, I have talked about and encouraged complete and total honesty as well as transparency with those in your inner circle. When I think about me personally, I realize that I have pretty much encouraged a “Do as I say and not as I do” mentality. I have encouraged my readers to be vulnerable, but haven’t been with the ladies on my porch.

In scripture we are encouraged to join with one another and live in community:

And if somebody overpowers one person, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not easily broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:12

” Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2

Nowhere in Scripture are we encouraged to live life solo. This means that we share the ups and downs of life with those around us. Again, I encourage you to be careful about who you share certain pieces of information with. Now, go build your porch!

New Year. Now What?

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It’s that time of year where just about every adult I know is making resolutions. It’s the beginning of a new year. It appears to be the time of year we are all looking for a fresh start. We want to become newer and better versions of ourselves, or want to make a complete 180. We have somehow decided the way we have been is no longer good enough and we feel we must change in order to have a great or even slightly nominal year.

My question is, are these resolutions realistic? Do we put so much on ourselves this time of year that in a matter of weeks we are back at our old habits and gave up on any changes we really wanted to make? I also often wonder if we feel we are so unlovable or unlikable that we feel we need to make changes in order to make those around us like and accept us. While I will always encourage soul searching and getting before the Lord about our lives, I wonder how much of what we “think” needs to change, really does?

Yes, there are often changes we need to make. Too many times we let our diet and exercise slip by the wayside. That being said, make those changes realistic. To make the decision to run 5 days a week for an hour is not going to work if you hate running. If you vow to give up chocolate (my personal vice) for the year and it’s your favorite treat, you are setting yourself up to fail. I’m picking on diet and exercise because those seem to be the big changes most of us want to make. Make small changes and work your way up from there. For instance, if you have been a couch potato, or only walking every once in a while, try walking for 15 mins twice a week. As you can comfortably do that, then add time and distance. As you improve on that, then add weights.

On the diet front, do not, I repeat do NOT go on a diet because it won’t last. Make changes. Make a lifestyle change. Start making small substitutions and cutting back on certain things. I love my chocolate and sweet tea, probably way more than I should. There is no need to never enjoy either of those again, it’s time to not have them on a regular basis. Any diet that tells you to completely cut out something isn’t healthy. Your body NEEDS fat, carbs and protein!

We all want to learn and grow as the year progresses, just make sure it’s for you and you aren’t doing something  because you feel it’s what’s expected of you. If we only do what we “think” others may want or expect of us, we never truly learn who we are and what the Lord may have for us. Fight for your own personal authenticity. In the words of Dr.Seuss “Today you are you! That is truer than true! There is no one alive who is you-er than you!” If you feel the Lord is calling you to one thing, don’t go down a different path because someone else is telling you to, explore the calling from the Lord.

The last thing I want to encourage you to do this is year is to follow the advice of The Women of Faith and that is to “Build Your Porch.” This means finding 2-5 people who you trust more than anything with ALL of of your stuff. These people are ones who have seen you at your best and at your worst and love you just the same. These should be people whom you feel free to take of whatever mask it is you tend wear and can allow yourself to be vulnerable.

Share your goals with your porch, or put them out there where you will have at least some accountability for the year.

To practice what I preach, here are some of my personal goals for 2016:
1) Spend more time writing and update my blog at least once a month.
2) Be more deliberate about time with my husband and kids.
3) Spend more time with the ladies on my porch.
4) Get my eating and workouts back on track. This includes a 15K in February and hopefully at least 1 more half marathon, along with a couple of 5Ks.

Words of Thanksigving

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The past two and a half years have been a crazy roller coaster ride for my little family. I left my full time job back in May of 2013 to come home and be with my kids, which ended up being a major time of adjustments on several fronts for our family. Last year at this time year we were knee deep in the home buying process. Due to the craziness of all of that, I dreaded the upcoming holidays and would rather have hibernated through it all rather than face them. The start of the this year was crazy, but we finally closed on our home in March. Thankfully, things started to calm down for us and have continued in that trend as we have pushed towards the end of this year. I don’t dread the holidays this year. Actually, I am looking forward to the holidays, especially Christmas.

My attitude is different know that it has been the past two years. Several weeks ago I walked outside to take something to the garbage can. As I rounded the back of my van, I looked up and stared at my home. As crazy as it sounds, I was in tears. They were happy tears. I was staring at our home. It wasn’t a rental home, but our home. We finally had a place for our kids to grow up. There was no fear of the phone ringing and being told that we had to move. There is no more wondering what the next year will hold in terms of where we will live.

Now don’t get me wrong. I loved our old house. It was what we needed at the time. We were there for a little over five and half years. All three of our kids came home from the hospital to that house. We celebrated many firsts in the house. The issue was that it wasn’t ours. Someone else had say over how long we could stay. I dreaded October. Any time my husband’s phone rang, I held my breath until I could tell who he was talking to. That was the time of year we had to renew our lease. My anxiety always jumped until things were settled again. I love that a ringing phone no longer brings about dread and anxiety.

My kids have loved our new home from day one. Their favorite place is our backyard. It’s big, flat and beautiful. We have a shed with our kids’ bikes, balls and toys. My kids love to get dressed in the morning and head out the back door. I love that we have a large picture window in our dining room, a glass back door, as well as a window over my kitchen sink. I can keep an eye on my kids playing while I take care of things in the house. The back yard is completely fenced in, so they have the freedom to run and play without us worrying about where they are. My husband has hung their tire swing and climbing rope. They also enjoy blowing bubbles and writing on the back patio with their sidewalk chalk.

Their next favorite place to play is the bay window seat in the living room. We have an oversize pillow up there where they like to lounge, read and play. My kids have also turned the window seat into a stage on several occasions. It’s fun to watch them just sit there and carry on conversations. I can only hope and pray that the window seat sees many more conversations and continues to be a place of bonding for my kids.

I love watching my kids run around the house and the yard. I love listening to them talking about growing up in our home. They have all planned their birthday parties for next year. They have a long list of play dates and sleepovers they have requested with certain friends. At some point we will start making those happen.

My kids are also super excited about Christmas and have been asking for the Christmas tree to be up since about the middle of August. Up until now, I have been able to hold them off. My mother has bought all 3 kiddos new stockings and my hubby and I have new stockings as well. We have spent this past week decorating our tree and pulling out our other decorations. Yes, this is much earlier than I would typically pull out decorations, but I feel like, this year, it’s a celebration of blessings and a time of rest for us.

We have also done most of the shopping for Operation Christmas Child and will be making purchases for a couple of other ministries as well. My kids have a great time shopping for others and I love including them in on these ministry opportunities. It’s been fun knowing that we can truly concentrate others this year, rather than having the underlying uncertainty of what might be.

Inftertility and Miscarriage: I am 1 in 4

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October is a bittersweet time of the year for me. While I love the changing of the weather, celebrating my birthday and watching my 3 beautiful, healthy kids run through pumpkin patches, it also brings about a reminder of loss. October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month. October 15th is the official day of remembrance for the little ones who never made it to their mama’s arms, the ones who were born sleeping and those sweet women who have struggled to even get pregnant. It’s a day where I am thankful for my healthy blessings, but also a day in which I spend a great deal of time wondering what my 4 angel babies would have looked like and wonder what their personalities would have been like.

There are many things in my life in which I tend to keep private, but I share my story and encourage others to do so, because too many women carry this loss alone. Miscarriages are often the elephants in the room and people don’t know how to respond or react when a couple announces they lost their baby. This path can be lonely. Sometimes it’s because we chose to isolate, or others push us to the outside because they don’t know how act or what to say. Even those times when we chose to socialize, it was/is an Oscar Award winning performance because you put on the happy face and act like your heart hasn’t just been ripped out of you. Sadly, too many people dismiss it all together and don’t validate it as a true loss. I am thankful to have a month where it doesn’t seem to be the most taboo subject.

I can tell you from personal experience that it is a loss and it’s felt in a way that one would never understand unless they had walked that path. There is often a physical pain brought about by the miscarriage. There is also the emotional impact brought about by the loss. The questions of “what did I do wrong?” “What could I have done different so that my baby would still be here?” Many times there is an actual physical ache in the arms caused by the overwhelming desire to hold the child you lost. After 3 miscarriages there were times that my heart and arms hurt in ways that I could never fully put into words and I am willing to bet many other women could say the same thing.

Infertility issues are just as heartbreaking as losing a child to a miscarriage. I don’t see one loss as more significant than the other, just different. You realize that God created a woman’s body to give birth and when your body doesn’t do what you know it was created to do, there is a sense of failure felt. It is hard to be around friends who are pregnant. Infertility issues come with a reality most of us would rather not face.

It took us 6 months to get pregnant the first time and then it ended in miscarriage just before Christmas 06. The 2nd time it only took 4 months for me to get pregnant again, only to lose the baby a week before Mother’s Day 07. It would take another 20 months to get pregnant with my 3rd and I lost that baby in August 07. It would be another 13 months before I would get pregnant with my daughter. We were then surprised to have 3 kids in 3 years. None of the pregnancies were easy, or without issues, but I am thankful to have my 3 blessings.

My last pregnancy would be bittersweet. I had always dreamed of having twins. When we went in for that first ultrasound, I was over the moon to see 2 tiny babies on the screen. My joy lasted for all of a few seconds when I was told that Baby B had no cardiac movement and was measuring a week behind Baby A. After the radiologist looked at the ultrasound, based on the sac, it was determined that I was carrying identical twins, but had lost one due to a chromosomal issue. When I look at my youngest, I often wonder what kind of personality his twin would have had and what it would have been like to have 2 of him running around the house.

The number of pregnancies around you seems to amplify when you are struggling with infertility and loss. It also seems that certain friends only need their husbands to look at them in order to get pregnant. There are also those who don’t really seem to care about their babies, or see them merely as a paycheck and are pregnant with their 3rd or 4th. There is much about life that seems unfair when you are walking this path. While we walked through this journey early on in our marriage, I stopped going to church on Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and when I knew there was going to be a baby dedication. It wasn’t that I wasn’t happy for my friends, or that I didn’t want to celebrate my own mother (my father had already passed at this point), it was just too hard to be around all those happy parents.

There were many nights where I cried myself to sleep and attempted to keep my husband from hearing me. Even in the best of marriages, a wall can go up between husbands and wives. The desire to get pregnant is so strong and when you are charting, your husband starts feel like a tool, rather than a husband. My husband will tell you that he wasn’t happy during that time in our marriage. He felt the need to “perform” and there didn’t seem to be anything more than a physical connection that was devoid of any true feelings. The flip side of that coin is that you can become afraid of being intimate, therefore cutting off your spouse all together and there really isn’t much middle ground. I don’t think many people realize the toll that infertility and miscarriage can take on marriage, or how long it takes to reconnect after going through the pain and the losses.

Your faith can take a hit during this time. I wish I could say that my faith never wavered, but I would be lying. There were days that I was so angry with the Lord because I didn’t have my little ones at home with me. There were times I yelled at the Lord. It was a struggle to read my Bible and to pray. I didn’t like going to church and being around all those “happy” people, who didn’t seem to struggle with their faith. After losing my 2nd baby just before Mother’s Day 07, I stopped going to church for most of that summer. Here I was, a seminary student, and all I was doing was going through the motions at school and at work. I could still give all the “right” faith answers, but I didn’t feel any of it. I felt like I was being punished for something I didn’t know anything about. Mamas, the Lord CAN take it. He knows your heart. He knows you’re hurting. Talk to Him. He is the only One who can give you peace. I would also encourage you to not allow yourself to stay in that place. It is much easier than said when you are in the middle of it,

While you are dealing with heartache of loss, you also have to endure some well meaning, but stupid things being said to you. For example I heard “It’s the Lord’s will,” or “You are still young, it will happen.” “You need to stop trying so hard,” or “If you would only do ______, not do ______ then you will get pregnant.” The ones that hurt the most were “You were only 5/6/8 weeks along, it wasn’t really a baby. Why are you so upset?” There were also many “You will get pregnant when God is ready for you to get pregnant.” Ladies, can I get an “Amen” on how much these comments make/ made you want to scream?

There is nothing about any of those comments that are anywhere near comforting. 1) Yes, it was a REAL baby and my child you are talking about. 2) I know God has a plan for everyone, but this path really just sucks. 3) You can’t guarantee that the Lord is going to allow anyone to get pregnant, let alone carry to term. Please STOP saying it. 4) Stop saying “You can always adopt.” Really, it isn’t that easy. There is nothing easy about the adoption process and your heart has to be in the right place to even begin to start thinking about that process. I have wonderful friends who have grown their beautiful families through adoption, but it isn’t the answer for every couple. Adoption shouldn’t be viewed as settling or plan B. This could be a whole other blog post and should be written by a mama who grew their beautiful family through adoption.

If you are reading this and haven’t walked this path, watch the comments. Don’t give platitudes to try and make your friends feel better. Instead say “I’m sorry and I’m praying for you.” Offer your presence and not your words. Let your friends cry on your shoulders. Be there. Words aren’t necessary. Be conscientious about what you say in front of those friends. I am not saying to walk on egg shells, but be mindful and respectful of what they are going through.

If you are reading this and have walked, or are walking this path, my heart and prayers go out to you. This isn’t a journey I would wish on my worst enemy. If you are like me and have walked this path, but are now a parent to a beautiful child(ren), hug them a little tighter today and let them know how much you love them. Tell them what miracles they are and how you prayed for them. If you are still walking this path, hold on. There is nothing easy about walking this journey, but don’t ever let go of your faith.

Daring to Dream

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What would you do if you had no hurdles, no restrictions of any kind to prevent you from accomplishing your biggest dream? Can you even allow yourself to dream that big? Can you even admit what that dream may be? What does it looks like? What is stopping you? What hurdles do you really have and what hurdles are self-imposed?

While you are thinking about that, I will share mine. Yesterday, my business cards came in. Yes, I have business cards and I don’t work for any company. I have a dream of working for myself and now I have something to give people when I talk about what it is that I want to do. My ultimate dream is to speak to women’s groups at conferences and retreats, write a book and do some freelance work in between speaking engagements.

When I graduated with my master’s degree in December 2006, I had no true desire to sit in a traditional therapist’s office and see clients. I did hope to have LPC behind my name, but I don’t know that I will see that happen any time soon, or if I will even continue to pursue that. While I will never be a Beth Moore or Jen Hatmaker, I do hope to have a positive, Kingdom impact on women I come into contact with.

My fears:
1) Failure. Yes, I am terrified of failing before I even start. I have started to take steps forward so many times and then allowed fear to stop me.
2) Time. Will I lose precious time with my husband and kids? Will I be able to balance writing and maintain a strong relationship with my family? The answer is yes, I can do what I love and still have strong family bonds. It’s been an excuse to not move forward.
3) Will I have a positive impact on those I meet?
4) Will I be transparent enough to let women in and allow them to see what’s below the surface, while leading them to be transparent with each other, in order to move forward with their lives?

My Goals:
1) To encourage women to be open and authentic. Spending our entire lives behind a mask is not living. Most women have two separate personalities. There is the one that people around them see and the other is who they are when they are alone. The two personalities should be one and there is freedom when not trying to keep them separate.
2) To encourage women to build strong relationships with one another and build a strong inner circle. Women spend too much time in competition with others, rather than looking to encourage and build each other up. We need close female relationships and to do this, the competition must stop.
3) To encourage women to be healthy in all areas of their lives. Health is more than just a number on a scale. Physical health is only part of over all health. Growing in other areas of life such as spiritual, relationships with others and knowledge are also important.
4) To encourage women to reach for their goals. Too many women spend more time doubting themselves and comparing themselves to other women, never taking the first step in accomplishing their dreams. It is possible to be a wife and mother and have dreams. One role doesn’t mean that we have sacrifice another.
5) Above all, encourage women to develop closer relationships with Christ. In Him there is freedom, peace and rest. Women spend so much time trying to keep up with others, keep impossible schedules and feeling like they have to be perfect that they don’t take the time to truly rest in Christ and find their identity and peace in Him.

I have had several people in my life tell me that I need to write a book. I thought it would be a semi-easy process, but yeah, let’s just say it’s going to be a long and slow process. At this point I have an introduction and nothing else. If I could attach electrodes to my head while I was running to a machine that could actually read my mind the whole book would probably be written at this point. I love the things that come to me while on the trail, I just hate that when I sit to write the thoughts don’t quite come together like they do on the trail. Maybe, I need to take my laptop to the little pavilion by the pond and see if the thoughts will flow while sitting there. I have tried to give myself a deadline of 18 months to 2 years to complete it.

No, I don’t have a clue as to how any of this is going to work, but I can only hope and pray to the Lord that He already has everything worked out. I am daring to believe that my dreams can come true. I am daring to believe that the Lord can use me to reach other women. I encourage you to do the same!

Gluttony, Sin or Stumbling Block?

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Before I begin this post, I want to acknowledge 2 things:
1) Yes, there are medical reasons and injuries that cause people to be overweight. There are also many medications that cause people to put on weight and it’s almost next to impossible to lose that weight.

2) Yes, there are people who suffer from eating disorders and food addiction. These issues are a whole other story and post all together. Many people who deal with either one of these issues have events in their lives that have caused them to have negative coping skills and only a therapist can get to the heart of these issues.

If you fall into one of the above 2 categories, this post is not directed at you. No, I don’t believe that either one are sin issues, but the result of biological issues, a traumatic event or a mental health issue. I will be the first to admit that I don’t have it all together and I am not even close to perfect when it comes to this issue.

To answer the original question in the title, yes, gluttony is both a sin and a stumbling block. The funny thing is in all of my years growing up in church I have never once heard a single sermon on gluttony. I have heard multiple sermons on the dangers of drinking and getting caught up in other addictions. There have been sermons on greed, coveting neighbor’s stuff, pride, lust and other things Christians shouldn’t do, but never on gluttony.

When I think back to my childhood and the wonderful church I grew up in, I can picture and almost smell the amazing food sitting on the long tables up the center aisle of the fellowship hall. I can also picture the slightly shorter table that was pushed up against the platform that held all sorts of delicious desserts that were sweet enough to send almost anyone into a diabetic coma. I am talking about good southern down home food cooked by true southern women. Food seemed to be at the heart of all church fellowships and I loved those Sunday afternoons and Wednesday nights. In the few other churches I have been a part of since then, food seems to be a uniting factor and at the heart of most fellowships.

The majority of people in our churches today are slightly overweight to morbidly obese and everything in between. There are very few truly healthy people sitting our pews. Our churches and society use food as the center of most of our activities. Don’t get me wrong, we all need to eat and enjoying a good meal with our favorite foods every now and then is not a bad thing. It only becomes wrong when we choose to over indulge.

How often do we choose to eat a bacon, Swiss and mushroom burger with fries or a nice juicy rib-eye steak with a fully loaded baked potato on the side over grilled chicken and veggies? How often do we try to justify our “need” for Godiva Cheesecake, Oreos, dark chocolate M&Ms or sour patch kids? When going for a snack, how often do we go for the Doritos and a large glass of sweet tea over grapes and a glass of water? Yes, these are my weaknesses, but we all have them. We tell ourselves “We deserve it.” It’s been a crappy day.” “I am in a foul mood.” “I am happy because _______.” “I am celebrating ___________.” We never seem to run out of excuses. Honestly, I am an emotional eater. If I am happy, sad, angry, frustrated, food is the answer. Typically, that answer is some form of chocolate.

We are quick to judge someone for having a glass of wine, but refuse to acknowledge when someone is making unhealthy choices and neglecting their health. When I have heard sermons/ teachings on our bodies being “the temple of God,” they have only been in reference to drinking or having sex outside of marriage. We don’t talk about it in reference to eating healthy and exercising. The reason? That sermon/ teaching would step on too many toes and would make too many people angry. It seems to be easier to preach and/or teach on the “big” sins, but we are going to ignore a major problem within our churches. Gluttony does appear to be on the list of “tolerable sins” or a sin that we can pretty much ignore and sweep under the rug. Reality is, there is no such thing as a “big” or “little” sin. In the eyes of the Lord they are all sins. Reality is, we are only given one body. We can choose to honor the Lord with it or we can choose mistreat and abuse it.

Now, let’s explore gluttony as a stumbling block. I have read many posts on Facebook, heard several sermons/ teachings about why Christians shouldn’t drink and how having a glass of wine or a beer can cause anyone who sees us to stumble. This post has nothing to do with whether or not I think it is acceptable for Christians to drink, but I think we choose to overlook how our food choices could also cause another to stumble. No, I don’t feel that we are responsible for the choices of those around us, but there are times when even perceived peer pressure may influence the choices we make.

When I go out with certain friends I know this group will more than likely order water to drink and will go for salads or something that has been baked or broiled. Another group of friends may choose to indulge in foods which are fattier and higher in calories. Many times, I will order along the lines of my friends and I would be willing to bet that many other people do the same.

When we choose to put food at the center of all that we do, we are in a way enabling others in the group. Most of us would never know if a person in that group is struggling with an eating disorder or food addiction because it’s just not something people go around talking about and letting others know before a gathering. In the same way we never know who may be more susceptible or struggling with an addiction to alcohol, we also don’t know whose main struggle is food.

As churches and small groups plan their events and outings, it would be crazy to think that we could ignore food all together. It would also be crazy to expect all fellowships to serve only grilled or broiled meats and veggies or to bypass desserts all together. When planning these events and outings make sure there are healthy options.

You don’t have give up and throw out all delicious treats and give up chocolate all together. You don’t have to go the rest of your life without ever eating another burger with fries ever again. You also don’t have to take up working out like a crazy person and running full marathons. Choose wisely and eat fresh fruits and veggies most of the time. Choose to start walking for at least 30 minutes, twice a week.

This isn’t an all or nothing life style. Honestly, I couldn’t do it and I won’t do it. I also won’t encourage anyone else to do it. I love my chocolate. Start small and make changes you can realistically make. As you feel confident in those changes, decide what your next move should be. I will also strongly encourage you to find at least 2-3 friends who stand by you and encourage you in this process. You can’t do it alone. Yep, attempting to do it by yourself can be considered prideful. Don’t let addressing one sin cause you to commit another one.

If you have questions about how you are eating or what your exercise routine should look like, please consult your doctor first and then, if needed, consult a personal trainer. You only have one body and it’s up to you on how you choose to use it in this life. We have to wait until the other side of heaven to receive our new and perfect bodies.

Not Ready

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It seems just like yesterday I found out I was pregnant. Today, I am waiting on a phone call from the elementary school to tell me who my daughter will have as a kindergarten teacher. Kindergarten. It seems to me that my “baby” girl should still be in diapers, toddling around, with a binky in her mouth, carrying her blanket and favorite doll around the house. How did she get to be a sassy, independent little thing who is getting ready to start elementary school?

Last weekend, we went and bought school supplies, along with new school clothes. She has a brand new “big girl” backpack. She also has a brand new lunch box that was purchased on a trip back in the spring.

Kindergarten. Nope. Still can’t wrap my head around it. When people told me how fast time would fly, I didn’t believe them. I thought I had plenty of time to enjoy my “baby” girl. It seems like I blinked and she had grown up on me. Kindergarten. Wow. This is “real” school. Having her home 3 out of 5 weekdays is getting ready to disappear. Having the ability to hang out at home on a Monday in jammies is getting ready to disappear. The ability to take her to a Wednesday morning play date is also getting ready to disappear. I had so much planned for her last summer before “real” school started and we have barely accomplished any of it.

Kindergarten. Yes, she is ready. We were blessed with the best MDO/ preschool program any parent could ask for. Her teachers worked with her to help prepare her for this milestone in her life. The director of her school loves all of her students and has worked to create and loving environment where the kids are excited to learn. Munchkin had the same teacher for her last 2 years at the school and I can’t even begin to put into words how I feel about her. I will say that my daughter has the teacher on a pedestal. If this teacher said anything, then to my daughter, it was as good as written in stone. My daughter has told me several times throughout the summer that she wishes this same teacher was going to be her kindergarten teacher. There are some pretty amazing teachers out there, but there will always be 1 or 2 that stand out to you and this teacher is definitely one of those teachers.

We haven’t made it to this point in my daughter’s life without the help of family and friends. My daughter has been blessed to have many loving adults speaking love and truth into her life. She has been surrounded by adults who have taken the time to invest her. I know that whatever life may throw at her in the years to come, she has a godly group of adults who will be there for her and to guide her.

The difference between my daughter and I at this point in time, is that I want to hold on tight and she is ready to go. We call her our “social butterfly” and “cruise director in training.” She is about as independent as they come. She has no fear when it comes to new social situations. Whenever we go to a park, or playground, or any other place, it never fails, she comes back and gives me information on a new friend or 2. My daughter talks about meeting new friends and has already starting planning playdates with kids she hasn’t even met yet. She is looking forward to playing on the new playground. She is even excited to go on her first field trip. Munchkin is ready to go and it’s time for her to go, but this mama’s heart is struggling. If it’s this bad and kindergarten hasn’t even started, I can’t fathom what middle school, high school and college will look like.

In a couple of weeks when she has completed her phase in day and started her first full day or week of school, I will share how we have both handled the transition. For now, my heart goes out to all of the mamas sending their first born kiddos off to kindergarten and those with kiddos hitting the next major milestones. As I have said to several other friends, there really ought to be a support group for this and chocolate should be mandatory at all the meetings.

To be Transparent, or Not to be?

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The definition of transparent according to Webster’s Dictionary:

: able to be seen through

: easy to notice or understand

: honest and open : not secretive

This post stems from a brief interaction with a friend on Facebook Monday night and then an article posted by another friend Tuesday morning.

The one friend posted a quote which states “It is perfectly okay to admit you’re not okay.”

The other is a blog post reposted by a friend called “Somewheres” by Sarah Bessey:
http://sarahbessey.com/somewheres/

Please hop over and read her post when you have a moment. It’s well worth the read.

I see multiple levels of transparency on Facebook on a daily basis. There are people who post every minute, little detail of their lives, some of which really doesn’t belong in a public forum. There are some who only post the negatives in their lives. There are others who only post the positive. There are others who give you glimpses of their inner thoughts, but it’s obvious they are holding a part of themselves back.

As I interacted with the first friend on FB Monday night, I started to think about my blog. Yes, it’s been a while since I have posted due to a crazy summer, but transparency is what I have wanted for this blog from day one. It’s crazy how you are determined to stay the path and do the “hard things,” but know that many times, the blog post falls short because the transparency isn’t always truly there.

I also thought about my own FB page. Where do I fall in the area of transparency in my personal posts? My posts are safe. For the most part they are about my kids and a little about my husband. I share the good side of parenting. While I love my kids, there are days I count down the minutes to bedtime. Yet, I don’t share that on FB. I will repost articles on faith, church, marriage and parenting. I am also an open book when it comes to the subject of miscarriages. Anyone who knows me even a little bit knows that I am a die hard Bama fan and post many things related to Bama football.

When you look at my FB page you get a small glimpse into my life, but it’s mostly surface level things and not a true picture of who I am or my innermost thoughts.

As I have stopped to think about what it means to be completely and totally 100% transparent, I have thought about why it’s so hard for people to do so.

1) Society expects everyone to wear their masks at all time and not showing anything other than surface level emotions. Society believes “I’m okay, your okay,” and to state anything else is considered unacceptable.

2) There are people in our lives who honestly don’t want to hear the hard stuff. They only want to hear the good stuff because they aren’t capable of dealing with hard stuff in life.

3) We don’t completely trust the people in our circle can handle the hard stuff, or we don’t trust ourselves to give them that opportunity.

4) Pride. This is the one I struggle with the most. Pride prevents us from sharing our shortcomings. Pride prevents us from admitting we are less than perfect. Pride prevents us from admitting that we need the very grace Christ died on the cross for.

5) Many churches sadly don’t foster an atmosphere of openness. We walk into our churches and when asked how we are doing, the answer is typically “I’m blessed, so blessed,” when in reality there are times when there are pain and heartache underneath our “happy camper” mask.

The question running through my mind as I interacted with a friend Monday night and read the article the next morning is “Are there at least 1 or 2 people in my own life with whom I feel I could be 100% completely transparent with?” The sad, but honest answer is “no.” I am guessing that many of your reading this the answer is the same. I am also guessing that you, like me, have friends who have walked through some dark times with you. They have proven they are supportive and loyal friends, but you can’t open that door.

Given that this is a true statement, why don’t we open up? Why do we choose to stay silent when we are surrounded by some incredible friends? Fear? Pride? It could be that some of our friends are walking through hard times and we feel like what we are going through is minor or petty. So many times people are told “There are others who have it worse than you do and you should be thankful that it’s not any worse.” While that may be partially true, it doesn’t negate your feelings. Your feelings are still your feelings and you are entitled to them. Just because another person has it worse, doesn’t mean your feelings are less important than theirs.

It’s time to let down our guards and take off our masks. It’s time to experience true freedom. It’s time to start living our Galatians 6:1-2 ” Brothers, if someone is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual should restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so you also won’t be tempted. Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

As you have been reading this, I hope and pray you have been mentally going through your list of family and friends and identifying at least 1 or 2 people you trust and know you can turn to when needed. While I have placed an emphasis on being open and transparent, I will caution you to make sure the person/ people you choose to open up to are truly going to support you and pray you through whatever it may be.

Here’s to learning to be more transparent and trusting.

One Chapter Ends, Another Begins

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It’s Sunday night and we closed on our new home 12 days ago. As I type this post I am sitting on my back porch listening to my Caedmon’s Call station on Pandora. Honestly, I had begun to think that closing was going to be a dream I was going to be chasing for a good long while.

To recap, I resigned my position just shy of 2 years ago. After a long 11 months it looked like life was finally starting to settle down for us last April. Then, in June, the carpet was pulled out from under us once again and the lease/ purchase we were in fell apart. That began a long 9 month journey for us. I didn’t think about the time frame until just now. Buying a home and being pregnant have many similarities.

On July 2, 2014 we were told by a lender that we were approved for a home loan. After returning from a family vacation we began to look at homes. We found one that we liked and agreed on. That fell apart. We found a 2nd home that we loved and it ended up being a short sale.Long story short, that didn’t work out for us either.

My prayer had been that by the time my birthday rolled around in October we would finally be under contract. I guess I should have been a little more specific in my prayer. The Lord did answer that prayer and we were under contract by close of business on Friday, October 3rd. We had a closing date of 2 days before Thanksgiving. Our lender was not on top of his game and that date came and went. We had a 2nd closing date of December 15th. By the time that date rolled around, our lender decided that he couldn’t make it happen.

We had a choice. We could keep on fighting for our home, or we could walk away. Thankfully, we had a realtor who was not ready to give up and kept on fighting for us. He found us a new lender and struck a deal with the home owner. That being said, we ended up paying rent and utilities on a home we weren’t living in, plus rent and bills on the apartment we were living in. Even though it was a financial sacrifice, we felt that it allowed us to keep a home in a great neighborhood, in the area we had wanted to be in for a while. We knew in the end that it would allow us to have our kids in a great place and they were the main reasons we kept on fighting.

If you know anything about my husband’s business, you would know that January, February and March are usually times of famine for us. We don’t do anything extra and hope and pray that we get everything covered through the end of those 3 months. The Lord was truly Jehovah Jirah for us because He not only provided for our regular bills, but He provided enough to cover the house and the bills on the house. My husband and I know what a true blessing it was and give the Lord all the credit for the extra work that would just “pop up.”

Our new lender hit the ground running for us and once he had our new tax return in hand, he was able to set things in motion. We had a small scare with the second inspection, but thankfully, it all worked out in the end. As of March 31st at 10:38am we were officially home owners and residents of Mount Juliet.

I will put in a plug for Chad King and the rest of the folks over at Team Wilson. Our situation was not an easy one, but those guys worked so hard for us and I am beyond grateful for them! I will also say that the staff at The Glade Church, our friends and family members cheered us on, prayed with us and for us through out this whole process. There are no words to express my gratitude for them.

Our time in the apartment was not always easy. All 3 kids were in one room and they had no yard to play in. There were things in storage that we missed more than we thought we would. At times it felt like we were on an emotional roller coaster. There were times when my husband and Chad had to talk me down because I would get so frustrated and upset. The upside is that my family was together and as long as I had them it made the hard days a little easier.

Now that we are in and semi settled, what’s next? Well, as of last Tuesday I registered my blue eyed boy for his last year of day school and peanut for his first year over in the Kirby building with his big brother. Thursday I released a part of my heart and registered my “baby” girl for kindergarten. While walking through the registration process I did well. Once I walked out I looked at my husband and cried there on the sidewalk right there in front of the elementary school. My kids all start final and new chapters of school in the fall. I am excited to see how these chapters unfold for my 3 precious kiddos.

My husband is continuing to work on building his business and hopes to build a larger client base in our new area. While we would like to keep the clients he has, he desires to have a larger presence here in Wilson County. He is also teaching a class at our church on Wednesday nights and hopes to continue teaching in the fall.

As for me, I hope now that we are settled that I can focus on writing in a way that I haven’t been able to in the past. I hope to blog more than a couple of times a month. I am also praying that some opportunities to do guest writing will arise, as well as some speaking opportunities. I have been contemplating writing a book for several years now and I would like to put some time and attention in that area as well. My heart for women’s ministry has continued to grow over the past several months and pray for open doors in that area.

As for the family as a whole, we are working on getting unpacked as well as getting things how we want them. We did buy a project house, so it is going to take some time to finish many of those projects, but are very much excited to make it our own. We have enjoyed a little bit of exploring in our new neighborhood. There is a beautiful walking trail just up the road from us and we have already spent some time walking and running over there. Up in front of the kids’ new elementary school there is a pond and the kids have enjoyed watching the ducks, the turtles and the storks (at least I think they are storks). There are a couple of playgrounds that we still need to check out and over all, we would like to do more exploring around Mount Juliet and hope to find some hidden gems. We have met several of our neighbors and are thrilled that there are so many young families in this neighborhood. Everyone we have met so far has been sweet and welcoming.

Next month we will celebrate a couple of birthdays and Mothers’ Day. In June my husband and I will celebrate 10 years of marriage and will head to Gatlinburg for several days. We also have a trip planned to Michigan later on in the summer to visit my sister and that side of the family. We are looking forward to many celebrations and praying that this next season will be a season of rest and feeling like we can finally breathe again.

For now, I am going to say good night to all of you and look forward to many more back porch posts in the future. For all of you who have kept up with my blog over the past several months, I would like to say “Thank you” and hope to keep up with you as time goes on. If you have have questions or suggestions for blog posts, please don’t hesitate to ask. Thanks again and good night my friends.

The Mask of Mental Health

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My dear readers, this is a longer than normal post, but one I have had on my heart for several weeks now. Feel free to grab a glass of tea or a cup of coffee and head to your favorite spot. Settled? Great. Here we go…

As I have scanned Facebook over the past several weeks it seems that mental health issues have been a hot topic. There are many stories I have read that have caused me to cry and grieve. More than that, these articles have really proven that we as Americans do not understand mental health issues, nor do we have the type of support that we should in this great country. There is a serious need for mental health reform in this country. People also need to understand that mental health issues can be temporary, brought about by a life event, circumstance or set of circumstances. For others, there is a chemical imbalance or biological issue causing the mental health issues. That’s right; biology can play a part in mental health issues. There are some people of the mindset that all mental health issues are brought about by sin. Sadly, there are too many people who fall into this category, especially in our churches today. This in turn means that there are many people in our churches who need the help of a counselor/ therapist, but because of the stigma attached, they will not reach out and ask for help.

People dealing with mental health issues do not necessarily look like others think they would. The sad truth is that there are so many Americans walking around with an issue and those around them are clueless. When articles are posted about depression and anxiety, they often use pictures of people with looks of desperation on their faces or with people looking down and hands on their faces. Reality is that so many people have become expert actors in their day to day living and suffer in silence out of fear of being found out, fear of rejection and some even fear of having to face or deal with whatever it is that brought them to that place to begin with.

People struggling with mental health issues all look different. Some deal with the issues better than others. All of their stories may share a common thread, but there is no neat little box to fit them into. I am going to share the story of 2 different friends. Both friends dealt with the divorce of parents. Neither of them had an easy childhood and in many ways, both had grow up more quickly than their peers. One friend has spent most of her perfecting her “mask” and has kept the struggle with anxiety bottled up inside and most people who know her don’t know how severe her struggles are. The other friend spent a good portion of her life keeping everything inside, but due to a major panic attack she had no choice but to confront and deal with her past.

These are just the story of 2 ladies. If I were to attempt to write about the struggles of all the people I knew, it would fill several encyclopedias. As you read these 2 stories ask yourself if you can identify with either of them? Also pray that the Lord would begin speaking to you about what it is you need to see in your own life and what your next steps need to be.

Here is the story of my first friend. We’ll call her Lydia. I have permission to share parts of her story and have changed her name to protect her identity. If you were to look at Lydia’s Facebook page you would have no clue that she struggles on the level that she does. Most of her posts are positive and you see a loving wife, mother and friend. Occasionally you may see a set of negative posts, but nothing too extreme or anything that would make you stop and think that she is struggling. More than likely, you would write off those posts as a bad day and nothing more. She is actively involved at church and volunteers as she can at the school where her children attend. She works out and takes care of herself. Friends and family have labeled her as “strong,” even though that is one of the last words she would really use to describe herself. She holds a position that she loves more than most realize. She also has some pretty large aspirations outside of what she already does. On the surface Lydia comes across as completely “normal,” but yet, Lydia has perfected her “mask.” Really, there are days when she deserves an Oscar because she has fooled those around her.

You would never know that her parents’ divorce was nasty and that she has carried doubts about herself and her self-worth as a result of that divorce. There was then another set of life altering events that took place in late elementary/ early middle school. She wouldn’t discover until she was an adult how much that the second set of events was truly a turning point for her early on, or that she would continue to struggle with that event, including shame, guilt and flash backs as an adult. Lydia also successfully hid an eating disorder from those around her for almost 4 years and still struggles with body and self-image even at her current age. She has also successfully hid minor panic attacks because most of them take place in the middle of the night, so even her husband doesn’t know they are happening.

She has been encouraged to talk to a counselor by close friends, but is too afraid to do so because of the stigma that comes with entering counseling. The ironic thing about this is that she would be one of the first to encourage another friend to seek help if they were struggling. Part of it is absolutely pride and she will admit that. Part of it is she is afraid of what she might lose if she opened up and shared her story. Part of it is that dealing with the childhood issues would just be too hard. It seems easier to try and pretend those events didn’t happen and keep them locked in a filing cabinet in the back of her head. She figures that she has carried it this long and actually rehashing it with a therapist at this point is just too late.

Too many days Lydia feels alone and even though she has a close knit group of friends. Getting too real with them is just hard. Only bits and pieces of her deeper story have come out over the years. She longs to be free of anxiety and worry, yet fears that opening up too much would cause her to lose more than she ever imagined. She is terrified of being seen as a fake, a fraud or a hypocrite.

Because of everything she has been through and carrying the anxiety also bring about shame and guilt, because as a christian she doesn’t think that she should feel this way. This is another area where she has worn the mask well. Talking to her, you would think that her faith is rock solid. Reality is, she often wonders if the Lord has forgotten her and wonders if her prayers are really making it past the ceiling. She has the assurance of salvation and logically, she knows that the Lord has never once left her side. Her heart often leans in the other direction and questions her faith way more than she thinks it should. Lydia spends most of her time attempting to keep her shame and guilt under wraps. She prefers to wear a mask and keep the “real her” hidden.

Now, let me introduce to you my other friend Sheryl Griffin, who lives her life with total transparency. She is a wife and the mother of 2 children. She has been through a great deal in her life and openly shares her story and speaks into the lives of women throughout the southeast, New Mexico, Colorado and will be speaking in Texas before too long. Sheryl’s story is one where the Lord made beauty from ashes. It is a story of hope, redemption and freedom.

Sheryl is also an author. In her book “A Scarlet Cord of Hope” Sheryl talks openly about her childhood, starting with her parents’ divorce and the tug of war that raged within her, wanting to keep both parents happy. At different times in her life, she lived with both parents and feeling guilt and shame over fear of hurting the other parent. Sheryl also goes on to write about an abortion she had while in high school. Her co-dependency tendencies carried on past this relationship and into her first marriage. There were multiple issues related to her first husband. Due to his preferences, abuse, both physical and verbal and attempting to keep him happy Sheryl would go on to have 1 more abortion before giving birth to her daughter and then another after she divorced her ex-husband.

Throughout all of this, there were issues with the relationships with different members of her family. Her sense of fear, guilt and shame only grew the longer she was married to him. In time, certain relationships were reconciled while others were not. When things finally ended with her first husband, she wondered why her family never said anything or asked questions about the abuse they suspected. She states “Was I such a good actor to put on the perfect front? Or were they just accustomed to looking the other way?”

There were times when Sheryl did seek out counsel to deal with some issues, but things would not come to a head for her until after she married her husband Doug and had her second child. The story of how she met and married Doug is a sweet story and many times she refers to him as her “KISA,” her knight in shining armor.

In time, due to Doug’s job, they moved from CA to TN. Her mother and stepfather lived close by and over time that relationship became volatile. There was “a game” that had to be played to keep the peace. Sheryl talks about how she had to learn to trust Doug to take care of things the difficulty in coming to that point. There would be several events with her mother that would cause a great deal of stress. Add to this, there was a night when an issue with a neighbor would bring Sheryl’s past back to the forefront of her mind, “a reminder of past abuse, not having any contact from my ex-husband for eight months and allowing myself to fall back into unhealthy, non-confrontational patterns, worked together to allow my brain to begin to process what I been suppressing for so long.”

January 27, 2007 would be the night that Sheryl’s past would come back and hit her with such force that she thought she was dying. She woke up feeling nauseous, was having hot flashes and her heart was racing. She had Doug call 911. She would have several of these attacks on the way to the hospital. Once arriving at the hospital, she was given meds in attempt to get her heart rate back down and they didn’t give her much relief. She underwent many tests, with very few answers. Sheryl was told to follow up with her family doctor. It would be at this point appointment that she would discover that she had a major panic attack. At this time she was placed on an anti-depressant. She would go on to have several more attacks and several more trips to the emergency room. She would also go on to seek therapy. This would allow her to process her life events and finally start to deal with the guilt, the shame and loosen the “scarlet chord” from around her neck. This process was not easy, but Sheryl saw it as necessary and did what she needed to do in order to move forward.

I was able to do a short interview with Sheryl before starting this post and I wanted to share it with you:

Me: If you had not had the panic attack that one night, do you think you would have, at some point, sought out a therapist to talk with about the things in your past?
Sheryl: “I would like to believe I would have, however, I am honestly not sure. I had already sought counseling a few years earlier regarding my relationship with my mother, but in my mind I had my past under control. I did not realize the role my past, as well as, my first marriage and my relationship with my mom played in choices I made, thoughts I had, nor responses/reactions I had.

Me: Do you think you would have the writing/ speaking ministry that you have if you had not had the panic attack?
Sheryl: “Absolutely not. That initial panic attack led me to the diagnosis of PTSD and panic/anxiety, which opened the door to wanting to understand “why”. While I was fine with leading or sharing my testimony with small groups or one on one, I had no desire to speak publicly nor to ever write a book.”

Me: What would your advice be to those women who have things/ events in their past that are causing them to live with untreated anxiety or causing them to live in fear of attempting to follow dreams because of the baggage, shame or guilt that they are carrying.
Sheryl: “We all have a past. Some of us more than others and others more than us. Your story is important! Satan wants to keep us in bondage to guilt, shame, and fear. Anything that is hidden, done in secret, or has power/control over us is something Satan wants to keep hidden in the dark. Secrets, especially those that are surrounded by guilt, shame, or fear, affect every aspect of our life from relationships (marriage, parenting, and even friendships), self esteem, expectations, and even our faith. Not everyone is called to speak publicly or to write a book, but that doesn’t mean YOUR story can’t or wont help someone else. Sometimes just knowing you’re not alone in whatever it is makes a world of difference to someone. You could be the key to someone seeking help or gaining insight/tools to overcome whatever their struggle is.

Me: What has been the biggest lesson you have learned in your personal experience?
Sheryl: “I am not alone. I am forgiven. Forgiveness doesn’t come with an eraser so it is important to surround yourself with those who can encourage you. It is important to keep your relationship with God and His word a priority.”

Me: What is the biggest lesson the Lord has taught you on this journey?
Sheryl: “There is definitely more than one! My top 3 are:
1. To understand and accept His forgiveness, what it means to genuinely forgive others, and the importance of forgiving myself.
2. Not to be afraid to dig at the root of an issue so I can fully move forward. (*He is always with me!)
3. Boundaries are good. Boundaries are safe. Boundaries are healthy.

Me: Do you still struggle with moments of anxiety and fear? If so, how do you cope with them?
Sheryl: “Yes, however, not as much as before my diagnosis and EMDR therapy. I have gained valuable insight and tools (coping skills) into my anxieties and fears and I have learned certain triggers to stay away from or to prepare for. I have a very supportive husband and family and that helps immensely! My husband once reminded me during a fearful anxious season a few years ago, “You can’t unlearn what you have already learned”…in other words, all of the insights, tools, and experiences do not suddenly disappear even if it feels like it. There have also been seasons in my life that I have been triggered and knew I needed more than the tools I had and I unashamedly went back to my doctor/psychiatrist until I was successfully able to move forward.

Sheryl’s story is a great reminder that there “is always Hope.” Finally taking the steps to confront and process the past is the only way to let go of the shame, guilt and fear. Meds are a part of Sheryl’s life. Taking something for depression and anxiety is no different than taking something to control diabetes or high blood pressure. While faith is the one thing I would encourage everyone to hold onto the tightest, I will acknowledge that there are times when meds are absolutely necessary. Just as there is no shame in talking with a counselor/ therapist, there is no shame in taking meds when needed. If you are struggling, please seek out the necessary help. If you need a list of resources, please feel free to email me at the email address posted on the right side of my blog page.

If you are interested in reading Sheryl’s whole story, please click on the link below: http://www.amazon.com/Scarlet-Cord-Hope-Updated-Expanded/dp/069222758X/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1427168307&sr=8-3&keywords=a+scarlet+cord+of+hope

Thank you my dear readers for hanging out with me this long and reading the whole post. I pray that you found encouragement and strength to face to whatever it is that you are dealing with right now.

Remember “There is always hope.”