Thursday, March 28, 2013

Day 27 {31 Days of Grace}: Life is a Balancing Act

The last five SIX days have been absolutely crazy!

So crazy, I don't even know how long it's been since I've written...

There was a trip to Myrtle Beach, SC which was full of dance competition and TONS of kids and nothing but a pretty view of a beach from my hotel window. Seriously, I didn't get to set one toe on the beach :-(

Sickness and just general worn-out-edness (I know that's not a word, but you get what I mean, right?)...

We were all so tired and worn out from the trip, we still haven't caught up! 
Thank goodness for Spring Break! 

And the Easter parties, and choir practice for Easter Sunday, and my home business parties, and, and, and, and...

In addition to all the outward craziness, my mind had been a blur of activity as well.  Going round and round on several different things.

I realized today (or maybe it was yesterday) that all those things were really ONE thing.

And really, I'm afraid to even try to tell you or explain about all the thoughts that have consumed me these past 6 days.

REALLY.  Because if I did, you might think I'm crazy.

And, maybe? Maybe I am.

But the ONE thing that connected for me this morning  was this: BALANCE.

All of the battles I have been fighting lately --physical, mental, emotional, introspective (you name it, I've been dealing with it)--all go back to finding the balance.

...the balance between KNOWING the right thing to do and doing it...

...the balance between sharing the truth in love and offending someone with your opposing viewpoint...

...the balance between standing up for yourself and being selfish and self-righteous...

...the balance between having an inexplicable desire to do something and having the courage to step out of my comfort zone and actually do it...

...the balance between knowing I am honest and trustworthy and accepting that other people may never see it that way...

I have been all sorts of out-of-balance lately.  It makes me irritable and frustrated and certainly not a blessing to be around.
I'm such an analytical person anyway, that when I get  like this, all out-of-balance, I turn even more inward and questioning.  I'm not sure it's helpful - gotta strike that balance...

Someone said in bible study group this morning, the need to be liked is fundamental in most girls.  That NEED makes us do things we might not otherwise do.  I've already addressed my self-worth issues on several occasions: here, here, and here just to name a few. 
I wish I didn't have this fundamental NEED to be liked! Gotta strike that balance between wanting to be liked and liking myself despite what others think of me.

We also talked about how no amount of worldly achievement can quench that desire.  And that when we start thinking about tearing someone else down to build ourself up, we need to take care not to fall into that trap.
How dwelling on the past (no matter the specific issue) can keep us from receiving new blessings.
Isaiah 43:18-19
Do not call to mind the former things, or ponder things of the past.  Behold, I will do something new, Now it will spring forth; will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, Rivers in the desert.
Isn't that a great promise? 

I love it! Gotta strike that balance between pondering the past and future blessings...

As I was driving home today, I got to the point in my journey where I needed to turn left.
Even in this tiny town I live in turning left out of, or into, a place or street can be a big pain.  Especially when most of the traffic lights never have a green arrow; just a green light to yield to oncoming traffic.

As I sat, not so patiently, waiting to turn across the other lane of traffic, I notice a truck up on the right hand side trying to pull out onto this same road.  He was on my right, but turning left out of a business and onto the same road I sat waiting on.
Just as there was a break in the traffic and I had an opportunity to turn left and continue home, this guy turns out onto the road making me wait again.

My first reaction (and I'm not proud of it) was, how dare he? Didn't he see me sitting here waiting all this time? Doesn't he know how difficult it is to turn left anywhere on this road? What's his deal?

Well, his deal was it was his turn to go.
He had also sat waiting for the safe opportunity to pull out.  Chances are, he hadn't noticed me sitting there waiting; if he was a good driver, he wouldn't have because he should've been paying attention to his own situation.

And just that quick, I couldn't believe how self-centered I had become! Gotta strike that balance between looking out for myself and being self-righteous...

I finally made it home and plopped myself down on the couch to eat lunch.
Immediately, my dog comes and positions herself at my feet.

 As far as I can tell, she did it only to be near me.  She'd been alone all morning and she just wanted to be close to someone else.

And as soon as she did it, I knew the source of my balance issues this past week (or longer)...

I hadn't been sitting at the feet of the Jesus.

just to be close to Him...

just because I'd missed Him...

just because I'd felt alone and He was there. 

It was another good reminder:
busy-ness is not an excuse for not talking to God, not worshipping God, not thanking God for all He blesses me with.

Yes; balance can be difficult, but when we keep our eyes and our hearts on Him, He won't let us fall.

Get your own Lent Calendar like the one this photo was part of...


Thursday, March 21, 2013

Day 26 {31 Days of Grace}: Keeping Him in my sights...

If what almost happened today, had REALLY happened today, what would I do?
How would I tell my husband, my daughter, my parents and in-laws?
Would they think it was my fault?
Would I be charged with negligence?

The same tears that have sprung to my eyes several times this afternoon are back as I tell you this...

...I almost lost my son today.

I mean, all Mama's have had scares.
I've had scares before in public places; places like the clothing sections at Walmart - they just seem to call out to kids, "come and hide!"

But never like today.

On my second pass through the section I thought he was in, I really thought he was gone.
I wonder if anyone else could see the panic on my face.
Sweetpea must have - only, I had to ask her twice - TWICE- to stop what she was doing and help me find her brother.

We went to a large hands-on children's museum in Raleigh today and it was packed to the max with Elementary school kids.
It was the third grade field trip, but because of timing, I had to choose to go and take my preschool aged son or not go at all.

Everyone was having a good time when we found the money room.
Lots of GREEN plastic balls like the ones you find in a ball pit and tons of activities including conveyors and games that took the balls from one location to another. Coins and fake paper bills abounded as well.
All the kids loved this room regardless of their age.

The way it was set-up, there was a large structure positioned in one corner, but taking up almost half the available space of the room.  It was open all the way around the outside edges making an awkward circle for the kids to get around from one activity to the next.

Or, to go missing.

I'm being completely honest when I say my son was sitting at my feet in a ball pit one second and the next time I looked he was gone.
He had been roaming back and forth between me and Sweetpea all morning, so I assumed he was with her.
I immediately got up and went to go check.

I found her and her BFF, but no Buddy. (I should mention, Sweetpea was with her BFF and BFF's Dad so that I could keep up with both kids more easily.)
I asked her where her brother was.  Her "I don't know" was very unconcerned.  So I walked around the circle once more, peering into corners and play-spaces and trying not to panic.
I made it back to Sweetpea, again asking her where he was.
She STILL didn't stop what she was doing and help me look for him.
I started the circle again...
about halfway around, I peered through a window, called out to Sweetpea by name and yelled, "Help me look for him!"

Before she could get around the wall between us, Buddy come running up to me.
At this point, I had tears in my eyes and was about to be hysterical because I thought my son was really, truly gone!

In that short 2 and a half laps through this play area, my mind had done this...

"Leslie, how could you let this happen?"
"What if someone took him?"
"What were you doing? Obviously not paying attention to him!"
"What if I can't find him?"
"What if I never find him again?"
"How in the world will I explain this?"
"How in the world will I live with myself?"

And lastly, because no one asked me if I was ok or if I needed help with anything, I thought this:

How terrible it must be for someone whose child is kidnapped or just disappears to be asked all of these things!
To be blamed.
To be victimized even further by family and friends and strangers alike.
To ask themselves those hard questions everyday, yet get them from other people as well.

I did what I have always said I would not do; I got mad.
Even though I was almost crying, Buddy thought I was angry when I pulled him aside.
Because, did I mention, he was running towards me, but he had no intention of stopping?
He didn't know he needed to.
He didn't know he was lost.

I grabbed his hand and held on tight, squatting to his level to tell him how worried I was.  To tell him not to EVER, EVER, leave me again without telling me where he was going.
And he was oblivious to my whole panic.
He just wanted his hand back so he could run and play some more.

So I let him.
But I followed closely and never let him out of my sight the rest of the time we were there.
And I do feel guilty!
As a Mom, I'm not very entertained by ball pits and pig bellies that burst open and rain down green balls when they get full enough.
I quite possibly was playing on my phone: texting, sending cute videos and pics of the kids to their daddy, scrolling FB...
And NOT a single one of those is a good excuse for what happened.
I always thought I'd made a good effort to look up every few seconds and check on my kids.
I really did.
And maybe I do/did; BUT it doesn't take much more than a second of a parent being distracted for a child to disappear (with or without assistance).

And, Lord, I would rather not learn that lesson the hard way!
Today was a lesson in grace.

A resounding command to love the hurting.  To help them and to never blame.  To not ask the hard questions, no matter how curious I am, because I know the Mama has already asked herself a million hard questions a million hard times.
To not judge - because it is never my place to do so.

And praise God for Grace and unnecessary panic!

P.S. In light of these events, can I ask a favor?
Pray for me? Sweetpea has a dance competition in Myrtle Beach, SC this weekend. Not only will we be driving down as a family, this competition boasts over 9000 young athletes.  Yes, you read that correctly - Nine THOUSAND competing kids.

Day 25 {31 Days of Grace}: Questionable Motives

Sometimes, while I'm in the kitchen cooking dinner, I have whole conversations - 

with myself.

In fact, writing this 31 days of grace series has reminded me that I tried to write my story with E before.
The file is still on my computer but most of the writing and revisions I had done were lost in the computer debacle the summer of 2011.
And, it was that "project" that made me think I am really bad at writing.

I second guess myself and correct myself a lot.  

Well, I guess that applies to most things I do.
But I would write a sentence and then immediately revise it. 
Then I'd revise the entire paragraph and then I'd remember some teeny tiny detail of the story I'd previously left out and there I was rewriting the whole thing before I'd gotten through one chapter.

My point in sharing this was that I often wondered how cool it would be to write a memoir type piece as flashbacks from the present.
And where am I most often in the present? My kitchen!

And it's in my tiny, galley-style kitchen, that I seem to think my best thoughts and have my best conversations with Me.
Often, it's insights about something that happened that was painful.  Lots of times, it's about mistakes I've made (kitchen related or not).
More times than not, it's about E or about US.

I'm not sure why that is, or if it's normal, or if it's weird or what.  I have just noticed that trend.
I can stand in my kitchen, stirring or mixing, measuring or pouring, chopping or slicing...and suddenly he is there.

E the way I remember him from our first year together...attractive because he took such good care of himself...the best smile EVER - of anyone in the entire world!...joking and laughing...making fun of me...strong arms, that I loved to have wrapped around me.

And I'm there too...and WE - the WE that we used to be - are there.  
The WE that we were before there were little people to take care of.
The WE that we were before there was a mortgage, and car payments, and an inside dog who has too much energy for an inside dog.
The WE that we were before I became "just a stay-at-home Mom," and subsequently lost my say in how the money gets spent.

Today, I stood in the kitchen basting and flipping a whole chicken I'd almost finished roasting.
Truthfully, I'd flipped it too many times already, but I just wanted one more chance to brown the skin.
This last time, I picked up one end and the entire thing fell apart.  The drumsticks fell off, the skin slid off by itself in several spots, the little tiny wings detached by themselves and even the breast meat started falling off the bones.

Now I'm not telling you this, to make you jealous of my fabulous dinner - although, it was yummy!
It cooked a lot faster than I was expecting it to and I probably could've taken it out one turn sooner.

As I was flipping this chicken, I knew it had been messed with too much already.
I knew - if I touched it, poked it, flipped it - it might fall apart; yet, I did it anyway.

I sort of chuckled as I realized this...but some days?
I'm that chicken!
I get to the "done" point really early and anyone who pokes me, touches me, or otherwise bothers me is going to have a mess on their hands.
It depends on the person and the day as to whether they get an angry mess, or a wet mess because I fall apart emotionally.

THOSE. POOR. PEOPLE. don't have any idea what just happened.
Too often, that poor person is my husband.

He walks through the door and asks some inane question about what I did today, not knowing it was a very challenging day.
I bite his head off.
He could come in and say, "I didn't have time for lunch today; I'm starved! What's for dinner and when will it be ready?"
And I reply in my snarkiest of tones, "You should have called to place your order ahead then! It's 20 minutes till dinner!"

He might simply give me a look that questions the PJ's I'm wearing.  A look where I can see he's wondering how long I've been wearing them? 
And my responsive look is anything but attractive.

A lot of my responses in these situations goes back to my self-worth (which I've talked about plenty of times before).
Today, I read and thought and talked about how no other person, possession, or position can ever FILL us the way God can. How He never intended for someone else or something else to fulfill us and give us a sense of well-being.

HE is the only One who can do that.

Additionally, learning to separate myself and my identity from my mistakes and my circumstances will be a huge step toward improving my self-esteem.

There's even a song that says:
You are more than the choices that you've made,
You are more than the sum of your past mistakes,
You are more than the problems you create,
You've been remade.
And if I had to pick just one small area of my life where my self-image needed to improve most quickly, it would be in the area concerning E.

I remember hearing that you can't really love another person until you've learned to love yourself.

If that's true, I've never truly LOVED anyone else.

E deserves my love and he deserves my best.
Not my striving to be super-wife or super-Mom because that always back-fires.
Anytime I have wrong motives, I know that I will be disappointed in the results.

I've been thinking about that all day.
What are my motives for the things I do? Things I try to do? Things I want to do?

I'm not always sure and sometimes I fool myself into thinking my motives are pure.
I'm on a mission to make sure my heart and my motives are pure.

Today I saw an elderly couple walking into a Warehouse Club together.
They each had a walker in their outside hand but were holding hands and helping each other in the middle.
It was so touching, the tears popped into my eyes almost immediately as I walked past.
I wish I'd taken a picture! It was just one of the sweetest things I have ever seen.

I want that for me and E; to still like each other and lean on each other until the very end.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Day 24 {31 Days of Grace}: On proposals and berry cobbler

If I remember correctly, it was June 1st, 1999.  I was still at work in that store in the mall where I was an assistant manager in responsibility level, but still very much in training at reality level.

The phone rang during a slower part of the afternoon shopping traffic and I happened to answer, finding E on the other end of the line.

I half expected him to tell me "we need to talk;" my wounds and our awkwardness from the previous weekend's beach trip had not quite healed.

Instead, he asked me to go to somewhere with him to watch the sunset - to make up for our cancelled Sunrise Date at the beach.  

I went home from work and changed my clothes, with him rushing me the entire time..."we're going to miss the sunset if you don't hurry!"

The Lake/Park was somewhere we had been together many times before and would go together many times in our future.  It had a paved walking/ running trail around a lake with a beautiful bridge and the option to rent paddle boats and canoes.

We walked a short distance around the lake and found a clearing near the water to watch the sunset.  At first, we were standing; the sun didn't seem to be sinking very quickly.  So we sat.
As we did, E reached into his pocket for chapstick (later I would learn he pulled out more than just chapstick).
As the sun sunk lower and lower, E pulled me back to a standing position to watch the finale.
As I turned back to look at him, there was something under my nose - a diamond ring!

And not just ANY diamond ring! A Princess cut diamond in a platinum setting (at the time I barely knew what platinum was)!

As I looked up at his eyes, a little surprised (because I didn't see it coming-not like that), he asked...
"So, will you marry me?"
To which I replied, "Yes!" of course!

Things got a little complicated planning our wedding, and before that, we had to tell our parents!

I'll pick up there next time...

For now I want to do something fun.

In a recent post, I talked about "Who I Am," but the truth is, other than 31 Days of Grace, I have been pretty reserved about the details of who I am on this blog.

One thing I love to do is cook! Not just cook, but experiment in the kitchen.
There is no one type of cooking I like more than another, but I think baking and dessert making was my first food love.

Yesterday, I made the best cobbler and I wanted to share it with all of you!

It started because I had some leftover cherry pie filling and a white cake mix from another project a couple of weeks ago.

My Mom makes a "Dump" Cake for my Dad's birthday with Cherry Pie Filling, Canned Pineapple, yellow cake mix, pecans, butter, and coconut.

Most canned and boxed ingredients are completely against everything I believe in as good and healthy food these days, but as I said, I was trying to use up some leftovers.  

Here's what I did...

I had no pineapple, but I had the cherries.  I also had 2 random apples in my produce drawer and TONS of frozen berries and cherries in my freezer.

I peeled, cored, and sliced the apples and laid them in the bottom of my covered baker, covering them with the cherry pie filling I had left (maybe 3/4 cup at most). 

I then mixed in about 3/4 cup of these Cherry Preserves.

It didn't look like enough fruit, so I went looking for more and found this in my freezer...

I picked out the strawberries, adding the cherries, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries to the mix.

After mixing it all together, this is what it looked like...

Cherry, Apple, Berry goodness...
Next I poured an entire DRY white boxed cake mix over the fruit (I forgot to snap a pic of this step, but I'm sure you know what it looks like).

Most of the recipes for Dump cake online called for either one or two whole sticks of butter (I know - GASP!).  I split the difference and did 1 and a half sticks cut into slices and placed evenly over the top of the cake mix.

To finish it off, I popped it in the oven at 350˚F and baked for about 40 minutes.

Due to the depth of my baking dish, this was not enough time, so I had to put it back in.  I covered it with foil so the top "crust" didn't get too brown.  My best guess is an hour total time, but if I were to do this again, I would make it in a 9 X 9 square baking dish or a 9 X 13 casserole.

Cherry, Apple, Berry Dump Cake

It was yummy!

What you got cooking?

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Day 23 {31 Days of Grace}: Grace in the spoken word...

It seems like so much longer than a day since I wrote this...
...and even longer since I spilled my story about Peter.

I had just pressed "publish" on my Day 22 post, when  this came through my email:

Did you read it? 

How about this part...
We all scream and holler and some of us throw things.  We pout and slam doors and I read books about Jesus instead of books about parenting because I am the chief sinner in this house and I need Jesus more than one more discipline technique.
And if I have more of Jesus, then the rest should fall into place, right?
Or this part...
Only Jesus can take a broken, ruined woman who tries to stuff in all the right words about the one right God-man and make her a little less broken.
Only He can fill in her soul holes and patch her cracks and soften her words. 

Or, THIS, this part?

But the truth is, I feel more like a woman with children than a mother.
That one? JUST. GOT. ME!

And I know - I KNOW - that this blog, and the woman who writes it so transparently - they are gifts!

These gifts? 
They come to me at just the right times! 

I started counting gifts a long, long time ago.  And then, for some reason, I stopped recording them.  I continued seeing them, realizing them, counting them, but by not writing them down, they don't seem to add up as fast.  AND, I can't share them.

So check out my gifts counted...I received a gratitude journal on my choir retreat last weekend and I have been very intentional about writing them down.

I've transferred them to the gifts tab of this blog so that I might share them with you.

On day 20, I started telling you how I just couldn't leave well enough alone.

Things were going pretty well for E and me; both working full time and paying off school loans; covering our living expenses all at the same time.

We still lived across the street from each other and could walk over to see the other anytime we wanted.
Even with my retail management schedule and his 40+ hours traditional schedule, we still managed to spend quite a bit of time together.

My lease was about to run out on my apartment and I had to find somewhere to go - and fast.
I was hoping that E planned to propose but I couldn't be sure.

There was that time a year or so earlier when he'd said he couldn't imagine life without me, but he didn't say the "M" word (marriage) much, if at all.

As it turns out, E had just lost one roommate, leaving one of the 3 bedrooms in his place open.
I knew it wasn't a good decision, but I decided to move back across the street and into that empty room at his place.

My parents had a cow - a big cow - that I could hear Moo-ing from an hour away!
I was relatively confident that E was going to propose; my Mom on the other hand, was not.  You know that saying about buying the cow when you can get the milk for free?
So she decided to take E to lunch one day and find out his intentions.
Even now, I know little about how this interaction went, but I can only imagine being in E's position.
Unfortunately, this was the start of a long road with him and my parents, but I'll get to that later.

I asked E a lot (and often) about getting married; didn't he want to? How long did he want to wait before we got married? How many kids did he want? and on and on and on...
I'm surprised he didn't dump me and run away screaming!

Not long after I moved into his place, we had a group beach trip planned for Memorial Day weekend.
Our third roommate (I'll call him Mick) had access to his parents beach house so it was a cheap trip too.

I had a sneaky suspicion that E was going to propose while we were there.

And here's where my big mouth gets me into trouble.
Mick was a bit hard to handle on more than one previous occasion. He had a big mouth and offended others easily, among other things.

He went down to the beach with me and E on the first night; he took one room and we took the other.
There were multiple beds in each room, but only two actual bedrooms.
Another couple joined us for the second and third nights. It was then, and only then, that Mick decided to bring up sleeping arrangements.
His idea was girls in one room, boys in the other.

Now, I had no problem sharing a room with other people, I just didn't want to be told that E couldn't be one of them.
I also thought it incredibly rude and immature to wait to bring this up until after E and I had shared a room/bed the first night. It should have been brought up in the other trip planning conversations that were had.  Mick knew all along, he'd be the 5th wheel; why would he wait to speak his mind about sleeping arrangements?

I wasn't trying to be rude, and I said more than once that I did not mind sharing a room with the other couple or with Mick. I just didn't want to be told I couldn't share a bed with E - especially since I thought he was going to propose. 

And he was, as it turns out;  WAS being the important word here.
My snappy comment back to Mick turned into a major conflict.  E told me "that's enough!" and I stormed out.
He did come after me, but that's when the conflict got worse.
I told him I thought it was a special weekend for us; it was our first "get-away" since we'd graduated college and entered the "real world."
In fact, earlier that evening E had asked me if I wanted to get up early and go watch the sun rise over the ocean.  We'd already set an alarm for 5 am before it all hit the fan with Mick.

I don't remember how our conflict on the beach ended, but when we got back everyone else was asleep - in the other room.
We went to bed, leaving the door to our room open in case anyone wanted to use the other bed.
When the alarm went off at 5 am, E said he just didn't feel like going to see the sunrise in light of the events of the previous night.

Somehow I made it through the rest of the weekend without brooding too much.
I couldn't help but think the whole thing could've been avoided if E had just told the other guys what was going on.
Instead of siding with me or trying to mediate, I got jumped on by Mick, E, and everyone else for my opposition to the sleeping arrangements.

Things were strained between me and E for a few days.
My Mom kept calling and she was acting she was expecting me to tell her some big news.  Only, my relationship with her was strained as well and I didn't really want to talk to her at all.

A few days after we'd returned from the beach, I got a call at work from E.
He asked if I wanted to go to the nearby lake and hiking trails to watch the sunset since our sunrise date had gotten ruined.

I said yes, of course, and the rest is history.

I do intend to share more about the actual proposal in my next post.  The story I tell tonight, however, is one that contains a lot of regrets for me and I believe was instrumental in me learning to tame my tongue and think before I speak.

I am still learning to speak grace and speak with grace to this day...