Out With a Bang… A Year of Growth

Twenty eighteen went out with a bang. An actual, literal bang.

I was having a great hair day. I had just left my hair stylist and needed to pick up a few things at the store before going home. The traffic was heavy, but I knew a shortcut. I zipped right by the line of cars and laughed at my good fortune of avoiding the long wait. When I arrived at the market, I was even happier and pleasantly surprised to find an open parking space right in the front of the store. Everything seemed to be in my favor!

About one minute later, my positive mood and character were challenged. Pulling into the parking space, I took the turn a little wide. An awful metal scrunching, fiberglass crunching noise accompanied the turn. It took me a minute to figure out what had happened. Did I really just bang into and swipe the PARKED car next to me? I hoped I had imagined the noise, but from the looks of the people passing by, I knew it really happened. I put my van in park, slowly stepped out and shamefully walked around the back. Silver streaks from the front of my van beamed and highlighted the dark gray fender of the other car. Ugh!  

The driver of the car was not there. For a split second, I dabbled in the thought of what it would be like not to have a conscience and enjoyed a scandalous moment of how easy it would be to leave the scene. Conviction quickly crushed the faintest of wrong thoughts to a complete close. My conscience and the Holy Spirit gave me forceful push forward into the market on a journey to find the owner of the struck vehicle.

How do you find a stranger in a whole store of strangers? Embarrassed and annoyed at myself for getting into this situation, I mulled over the next steps. I called my husband for support. I walked in and out of the store several times. I talked to myself- possibly aloud. I most likely looked crazed. I needed help.  

It seemed best to start at the market’s little café. I walked up to the hostess and explained my situation. She smiled a gracious smile and told me without criticism that everything was all going to be okay. She tried to encourage me with the fact that most people would have just left (yep! But, no, not an option.) She said she would do what she could to help me find the car’s owner.

Within seconds, the hostess had a team of people in action- she mobilized the servers. She sent word to the employees in the back room and at the serving counters. The open layout of the store provided me a full view of the word being spread. With each person told, I waited to see if they would stand up and move forward to me in annoyance and irritation. It took less than ten minutes to ask everyone and no one stepped forward. I thanked the hostess for her help and walked back out of the door disappointed the situation was not resolved.

Back at the van, I scribbled a note of apology, with my contact information, on a ripped piece of scrap paper. I tucked it under the other car’s windshield with a prayer. About thirty minutes later, I received a phone call from a very nice man explaining he was the owner. “Accidents happen,” he said. He even thanked me for being an outstanding person for taking responsibility. The hardest part was over, an insurance claim was made, it was all very easy, and we all went on with the rest of the day.

This small little blip in my day had not destroyed my peace or happiness. It did not wreck my good day nor did it cast a gray shadow over it. This tiny accidental bang gave me one more intentional opportunity to test out some things I had been working on all year.

Growth- my chosen word of the year. Growth in my responses versus my reactions. Growth in my resilience. Growth in the knowledge of what’s important and what’s not. Growth in the ability to ask for help, to let things go, and to be able to accept my mistakes with grace and understanding. These things and more.

If this small incident happened at the beginning of 2018, at a time when I was stretched too thin by over commitments, running around with my priorities out of sort, and in a place of depriving myself grace, this little incident would not have been so little. It would have taken up way more emotional space than it deserved and would have skewed my perceptions of my abilities. It would have left a negative mark on my day.  

“All growth depends on activity. There is no development physically or intellectually without effort. And effort means work.”
Calvin Coolidge

 

In many ways, this was one of the most flourishing years of growth that I’ve experienced since becoming a mother ten years ago. It was also a continual season of hard work provided by challenging situations that were taxing physically, emotionally and spiritually. I experienced both the pain and beauty of growing. And it often came in unexpected ways at unexpected times.

The most important thing for me, was to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18.) With this as the foundation (or soil,) everything else I wanted to grow in would flow from it- the way I think, act, respond and love. When we are rooted in a place of truth, secure in our identity of Christ, and nourished by the grace and love of Jesus, the perfect atmosphere of growth is created. The more I meditated on things of God, the more I felt a greater inclination to change and an intentional shift to focus more on life’s important things.

When we are rooted in a place of truth, secure in our identity of Christ, and nourished by the grace and love of Jesus, the perfect atmosphere of growth is created .

My priorities needed to be rearranged. I reevaluated my schedule and our families activities. What once seemed pressing and demanding, seemed like things that could wait. I worked hard to create a balance of work and rest.  I wasn’t perfect. Many times things went off-kilter. There were times I felt overwhelmed. But instead of staying in the rushed craze, I used those times of induced stress, hurrying, and irritation to remind myself why the balance was important. I breathed more slowly, lingered with my children longer, asked for forgiveness A LOT, and prayed constantly.

By the work of the Holy Spirit, grace and love for others grew in ways greater than ever before. My eyes were open wider to seeing people for who God created them to be and seeing their need to feel loved and valued in different ways. I tried to take time to sit and listen to people, give them my attention. I felt (and feel) compelled to hear their stories, give them a chance to use their voice. I pray my words and actions in those conversations and interactions, left streaks of grace and love beaming and highlighting their lives.

The hardest part of growth is the pruning part. The part when things are cut away,and weeded out to make room for healthy growth. This year brought about a lot of change and pruning. I had to say goodbye to expectations, to some people and a role I loved. I had to keep reminding myself that it was all for the good. That it would work out the way it was suppose to, all in the right time. I tried hard not to let the “goodbyes” be a distraction, but allowed myself some time to grieve. I kept moving forward in the direction I felt God calling me too. And I’m still moving. Moving and growing. 


The hardest part of growth is the pruning part.

Growth doesn’t halt at 2019. It doesn’t change because a yearly focus word changes. It doesn’t stop, even when we wish it would. It is always a continual process in all our lives. The important thing is what we do with the opportunities and how will we respond to the situations that will grow our character. We will be embrace them? Or with the opportunities make us wither back in fear, anxiety and selfishness?

Growing is not easy. It’s messy, and effort is needed. But the end result is beautiful and good. For many of us, we do not have to grow alone. When we actively seek to grow as a person, desire to grow in grace and knowledge of the Lord, and rely on dependence of Jesus, the courage and strength to do this type of character growing is available to us. There are people who want to help us too. They want to cheer us on, tell us that we are outstanding people (even when we feel unable, messy and foolish) and maybe mobilize a team of other people to help us find the things we need. Let them.  

I think all of us should start 2019 with a bang! Hopefully, not an actual, literal bang like an accident. But a bang of growth. It’s a new year to take responsibility. A chance to reevaluate priorities. A time to embrace challenge. And an opportunity to ask for and accept help more often. Be on the lookout for the beauty that comes out of all of it. You may be surprised where you find it.  I’m cheering you on. Happy New Year!

   Love,

Love,

The Gift of a Flower

This post was inspired by a visit to Wicked Tulip Flower Farms in Johnston, RI. The farm is a special place where you can stroll along five acres of flowers and contemplate the beauty of six hundred thousand tulips in bloom.   

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Months ago, when the air turned crisp, when autumn leaves waved their glorious shades of red and gold, and when frost left its first icy kiss upon the earth, the soil sat and waited. It waited to receive a gift and promised to protect it through the long, harsh winter months. The gift was gently placed in the soil’s safekeeping, carefully covered with wishes and expectations, and then wooed to sleep by the comfort of its soft bed.

Above ground, the wind took a bitter turn. Leaves fell to the ground creating a patchwork quilt of shapes and colors that offered the soil extra warmth. The frost turned to layers upon layers of cold snow, frozen over by an icy glaze. In the darkness, the seed stayed anchored to the life-giving soil. Safe and snug, it rested, waited and persevered day by day through the long winter months.

When it seemed as if winter’s reign would never end, spring forced itself upon the seasonal throne. Snow began to melt and green buds appeared and unfolded in the trees. The sun warmed and kissed the earth, nudging the soil to wake the sleeping gift. The gift stirred. Out of its wrapping, a strong, green stem grew and a bud pushed its way up through the layers of darkness out into the light. It was greeted by glorious sunlight and springtime joy.

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The gift enjoyed its newfound freedom. Basking in the sun, tickled by the breeze, and anchored by its strong roots, it started to uncover its full beauty. Rounded petals of vibrant colors bloomed to reveal a stunning flower of new life and hope. The flower’s cheerful color dulled the memories of the long, dark and endless winter days. Its presence captured the attention of all who walked by and compelled the busiest, most preoccupied and heavily burdened people to stop and admire its bloom.

Without using words, the flower spoke to its admirers. Its beauty reminded busy and preoccupied onlookers of the importance of slowing down and the things they may miss if they don’t. The shape of its petals and pretty little patterns in its blossom helped them remember to give attention to the little things and to enjoy each moment of the fleeting seasons. It emphasized the fact that some things in life cannot be rushed and the best things in life often take time to cultivate before they can bloom.

To the burdened people, the flower spoke of perseverance and hope. It advised them to stay anchored to the life-giving support of God and family in the darkest, harshest and most difficult seasons of life. Its bloom validated their struggles, urged them to keep pressing forward and encouraged them to not give up hope. The flower emphasized the strength and beauty that comes with breaking through the darkness into the light and pointed out that their stories of overcoming would inspire others to do the same.

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For a short time, the flower stood in full strength and beauty. Its presence was a gift to every visitor and gave each admirer something different to contemplate and enjoy. Soon its blossom began to wither. One by one, its petals fell loose and danced to the ground. The soil caught and collected the petals. It welcomed the gift back to its protection and rest. The earth promised to care for the gift until next spring when the gift’s flower would make a glorious reappearance. But until then, the gift would need to rest. Rest and trust in the process and transformation of the seasons and look forward to the time when it could stand tall in the sunlight and give gifts of beautiful messages once again.

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2016: Year in Review

There have been times in my life when I’ve had an overwhelming sense to do everything I can to remember the moment. Sometimes the moments have been big, life altering events like my children’s births or the death of a loved one. Other times the moments are found among mundane everyday tasks. Moments that stand out as special, holy gifts. In good and bad moments, I have commanded myself to stop, take a good look around, listen, and pay attention to the people who are with me. Then I pray. I pray my careful observations will become a memory or a lasting impression on my heart in which I can always feel.

Over Christmas break, we traveled to my brother’s house where we gathered with my family. Our family lives in several different states making times when we are all together very rare and special. It was loud and crazy. There was food, a lot of food. There was dancing, singing, praying, and playing with the kids. And food, more food. There was a whole lot of talking and a whole lot of love.

While we were together, I couldn’t help but think about what it was like for my Grandma, Mom and Dad, to be surrounded by a family they started. A bittersweet mix of the golden memories of the past and forging new ones in the present to be remembered for a future time. Missing loved ones and celebrating life in their children and grandchildren. A job well done, children reared, overcoming hard times and celebrating the good times. All this wrapped up in this thing called life.

One night my brother-in-law called us into the living room to watch a video he put together of clips he had taken of his family throughout the year. He captured the big moments and the small ones and masterly put them together complete with touching music. With my family, I watched a year fly by in about three minutes. I was struck with how much of our daily worries and what we think is big stuff, really isn’t and how the small touches, details, and love in life are really what mean the most. All those little moments collected together to mean something very big. It is not the things or even the places, it’s the people that make life worthwhile and meaningful.

My brother-in-law’s video inspired me to reflect back on my year. I went through hundreds and hundreds of pictures and picked out the most meaningful captures. When I look at these pictures, I see a common theme. My word for 2016 was community. These pictures represent so many of the special communities I am part of. God has richly blessed me through this word and my heart is so full thinking of His kindness and His gift to me in people. I was going to add captions but then changed my mind. For those of you who were with me, I hope these pictures spark a special memory or a special moment for you. Thank you, thank you all for being a part of my life, praying for me, and inspiring me to be the best woman, mother, and leader I can be. I love you dearly!  Happy New Year! ❤

January- Subways and Skiing

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February- School, Snow, Sunsets

 

March- Family

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Road trip to my brother’s house where we met up with my sister, my parents, and Gammy. We do not get to see each other often so these trips are important and special time.

April- Wonder and Discoveries

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May- New Friends and Callings

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June- Overcoming Fears and Heights

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July- Gammy on the Go

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August- ADVENTURE

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September- New Beginnings

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October- Incredible Opportunities with Incredible Women

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November-SHINE…Together

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December- Home is Where the Heart Is

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Here’s to 2017….

2017


The Lake

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We stepped off the boat and onto the dock. Another item off our Summer Bucket List crossed off.  I had FINALLY made it to the lake. All summer, I had hesitated to accept my friends’ many invitations and gentle encouragement to come to the lake. It wasn’t that I did not want to go. The main issue was that I was fearful of all the what-ifs. The what-ifs coaxed on by the unknown and my insecurity about my two-year olds sporadic behavior. Add to that the exhaustion that comes with managing his behavior and bringing him to a new place (especially one located by the water) and the trip seemed like it would be too much for me to handle alone. I had been dying to go to the lake and spend some time my good friends. They are the friends that challenge me to be a better person.  We share a love of Jesus, learning new things, homeschooling our children, and when I am with them I always leave feeling more energized than when I first arrived. So, what was my problem? Where was my sense of adventure? Where was my enthusiasm?

 I am not sure what made me say “yes” to the latest invitation.  Maybe it was the fact that I felt like I was missing out on something.  Maybe it was the fact that I was sick of feeling like a wimp. Maybe it was my declaration that my family’s summer was going to be the “Summer of Fun.” I certainly did not want to be a hypocrite to my very own declaration. Regardless, of what it was, I said “yes” and plans was made.

The morning of our “big” lake adventure came and I pushed back my anxiety. I fully committed myself to the possibility of all the fun that was to come.  I had tried to go over all the scenarios of what possibly could happen with kids near the water. I had swim vests, extra sets of clothes, sneakers, sandals, towels, sunscreen, snacks, and a book for me to read (How is that for positive thinking?) With the VBS music pumping in the background, the three kids were buckled in and we started out on the road. About two hours and one wrong turn later, we had arrived.   Fresh air, beautiful pine trees, a sparkling lake, and happy faces greeted our van.

The fun began seconds after we parked.  The lake house is better than a resort. There are cabins and everything you might need to enjoy various activities on the lake and playing in the surrounding pines. You can swim, fish, snorkel, float, go boating, go tubing, sit on the dock, play horseshoes, sit in a hammock, go on a scavenger hunt, run through the pines, view the point, read a book, sit and relax, collect mica, and sit on a tractor. That was my two year olds favorite part. Sit on a tractor by the lake- doesn’t that sounds perfect if you are a two-year old boy?  But one of my very favorite parts of the lake was that my daughters had some of their best friends to play with. Within minutes, all the kids went off together and some of the older kids took my son for me. I was able to start to unwind and relax.

As nice as the relaxing was, it wasn’t enough! I had finally made it there and now I was ready to experience it! So when the kids and I had a chance to go on the boat (item off our bucket list) and go in a towable tube (now on the bucket list) – we took it! I hadn’t been in a tube since I was about 15 and that is exactly what age I felt being towed behind the boat.  Flying across the lake in the tube, I forgot about all my adult worries and commitments. I gave the thumbs up sign to go faster, I laughed hysterically and let the wind whip through my hair. It felt like pure freedom. I eventually crashed into the water. Some of my anxiety and need for control crashed off me as well.  I emerged a lighter, more fun version of me.

Since I was already wet and my son was occupied, I thought why not swim and float in the lake with my friends. Normally, I am the one on the shore/side of the pool as the towel-keeper whose main job is helping my kids out of the water and wrapping towels around them with a kiss and a hug. Normally, I am not the one in the water. My husband is usually the “fun” one. BUT not today! Today, I got right in ignoring the fact that the water was a little cold. I instantly warped back to my childhood when my sister, brother and I would want to swim no matter what the temperature or the weather was like.

A raft that you could jump off of was floating not too far from shore. My oldest daughter was on top. She seemed determined and terrified to jump. You could tell that she desperately she wanted to but could not get her body to move to do it. Even with everyone’s encouragement and different jumping techniques demonstrated, she still would not move. So I thought maybe if she jumped with me, she could do it. Today, I was a fun-mom.  I pulled myself up onto the dock and tried to persuade her to jump with me. When it seemed that there was no way she was jumping, I decided I was. I am not sure what technique I used, I just remember plunging into the water, rising bubbles tickling my skin and swimming to the surface leaving even more anxiety and control into the lake.

The whole day was fun and filled with good conversations and time spent with my friends. My friends and their family showered us with warm hospitality. We all felt welcomed, safe, and included. The kids had a blast. My two year old son had fun and did fine. Everything I worked myself up about and all the things I worried about did not come true.  By the end of the night, I was exhausted in a good way. The type of exhaustion that feels like it is a cleansing for your body, making room for something else. The kind of exhaustion that helps you to reevaluate your strengths and weaknesses made through your efforts. An exhaustion that energizes you.

We stayed until 8:30 PM! As I pulled out of the driveway, I felt so incredibly grateful. I was grateful for friends that did not give up on me and kept asking me to come.  Friends that stayed by my side to help me and cheer me on through the day. Everyone should have friends like them. I was grateful for summer, fun, and God’s beautiful creation. I was grateful to be alive and the opportunity to experience all of this with my kids. But most of all, I was grateful that I took a chance and ignored my fears. I was grateful that I pushed through my anxiety and proved to myself I could do it. My resolve was worth it, it was truly one of the best and most fun days of the summer.

(Note: My daughter finally did “jump” or should I say “slid” into the lake. But it was terrifying for her and it resulted in tears and all of us going to shore. Much later, she was proud that she did it! But I don’t think that it will be happening again anytime soon.)