Ten Years Later- A Letter To Myself

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Photo Credit: Capture NH

Dear Shanna,

I know this is overwhelming and scary. It seems like the hospital exercised poor judgement by allowing you to leave with a baby. Your baby! When those big, glass doors closed behind you, I know you were secretly hoping a nurse would come running after you and bring the two of you back to the “safety” of the maternity ward. But she didn’t come, did she? She sent you off with gentle reassurance and a complementary diaper bag stuffed with humongous maternity pads, a few teeny-tiny newborn diapers, the phone number for a lactation consultant, and a booklet called “A New Beginning.”

What an appropriate title! It feels like you’re starting life over. Any knowledge and educational degrees you’ve acquired over the last thirty years seem null and void. Things are very different than what you read in those books. Those books about what to expect when you are expecting and now you are expecting to have no idea what to expect.

I know you dream of easier days and nights full of quiet, continuous sleep and feel guilty about wishing the days away. I know it seems like time is ticking slowly by and it feels like you are stuck in the movie “Groundhog Day.” The one where Bill Murray finds himself trapped in a time warp and he keeps waking up to live the same day over and over again. Except in your time warp, the day revolves around a baby- Baby cries, pick up baby, soothe baby, check diaper, change diaper, feed baby (for like hours), baby sleeps, you should sleep, baby cries and repeat. Repeat over and over again, every 3 hours or on demand, for what seems like every future day.  I know you wonder if you will live life at some sort of a predictable, “normal” rhythm EVER again.

I know it feels like you have completely lost yourself and wonder if you will ever find yourself again. I know you’re anxious, hesitant and constantly questioning yourself as you weed through a tremendous amount of information and opinions and try to make a variety of good decisions on behalf of your sweet baby. Very kindhearted people with good intentions offer you advice but since you are so overtired, oversensitive, and overwhelmed you cannot appreciate their wisdom. Or maybe more than that, some of their advice makes you feel like you are doing it all wrong or even worse, it’s a reminder that you are not enough. And even though you are surrounded by people, I know you feel very alone.

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Photo Credit: Capture NH

Ten years later, I can tell you the hospital did not make a mistake. It may have been a rocky start at home adjusting to everything new but no mistake was made. God picked you to be your baby’s mother. He knows you can do it, gives you everything you need, and you can rest in that. Hold onto that truth and embrace it during the long days and nights. Repeat it constantly to yourself and especially when the hospital sends you home two more times, with two more babies.

Your life has started over but in a new and beautiful way. Those degrees you acquired in school will be used again but the type of degree you are working on now does not come from schoolwork but lifework. This is a never ending study in unconditional love. It requires time, patience, mistakes, forgiveness, grace, sacrifice and it changes everything. Through the lens of love, relationships and the world will look different. You will begin to understand the sacrifices your mom made for you and what it means to be loved by Jesus in a way that brings you to tears almost every time you think of it. And as far as the what to expect, you will never know what to expect because each day, each baby, brings new challenges and blessings. It’s a constant practice trying to be content and present in the very moment. Oh, and just when you think you have something figured out, it all will change. So, expect the unexpected and expect love.

The days will get easier, you will get more sleep and sleep is awesome. Easier is relative though. In some ways it will be easier and in others ways more difficult. The cliche is true! Time goes by quickly, much more quickly than you ever thought it could. One day, instead of wishing the days away, you’ll wish they would stay. (Maybe the trade off for sleep is fast moving time?) Your life will find a predictable rhythm again but every season will have a different rhythm. And you’ll love the changing rhythms because you do not like boring, and motherhood is far from boring.

About the anxiety and sad feelings, it was a good decision talking with the doctor. What you see as an extra burden now, God will heal through medicine and faith and use this in ways to empathize with other moms and others dealing anxiety and depression. You will always have the threat of doubts and fears but you will persevere and overcome them with confidence in His strength. You will need to work on your “perfectionist” tendencies though and embrace the imperfections and the mistakes because those will make you better not worse.

BTW, you are not enough. At least, not enough on your own. You need Jesus and community more than ever before. Let down the walls. Let others in. Ask for help. Don’t try to do life alone. One of the greatest communities you will find will be in a MOPS group. You’ll find friends, faith, and freedom there. MOPS will encourage and equip you to be the best mother, woman, and leader you can be. It will help you find purpose and give you opportunities to practice confidence in the next things that God is calling you to do.

Make time for family and friends. Embrace your church family and the women in it. Their lives and experiences, their stories shared with you, are gifts. Gifts worth more than any amount of money can ever buy. You will see the importance of their words when you are not so overtired and overwhelmed, and you will come to crave being taken care of by them, tucked under their wings, and covered by their prayers. Your heart will swell a thousand times over when your babies are welcomed into these communities and loved by your friends too because we are better together.

Shanna, you are doing a good job even when you think you are not. Take one moment at a time. Remember, the challenging moments are more valuable because they are richer in experience and make you stronger. And even though it’s good now, the best is yet to come. Motherhood is an amazing, special gift.

With Love,

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Throw Kindness Around Like Confetti-The Podcast

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Photo Credit: MOPS International

I am so excited and honored to have one of my talks turned into a podcast! I gave this talk during MOPS International’s Coach training in Milwaukee last fall. The whole experience was humbling and surreal. I praise God for leading me out of my comfort zone and stepping into new things for His glory. I thank MOPS International for believing in me and allowing me to share my heart. I hope you will listen, be blessed and be encouraged. If you would like to know more about MOPS International and what they do, I would love to talk with you.

(Google Play link to the podcast below. It is about 12 minutes long.)

https://play.google.com/music/m/D4xz4cy52fqhn2d3gfdnv76c2im?t=Throw_Kindness_Around_Like_Confetti-Connections_Podcast 

“When Shanna woke up on her 38th birthday, she had a to-do list that didn’t excite her much. So she threw it out and made another list full of kind things she wanted to do that day. With her new list and a new attitude, she spread kindness around like confetti. All year long, we should strive to walk in grace and do good works and love each other in the name of Jesus.”

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Gratitude Letter Challenge

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21 Day Gratitude Letter Challenge

Wow, we made it through the day! If your social media feeds were anything like mine, a broad spectrum of thoughts, raw emotions, declarations, and many opinions stemming from the election were represented. Today, I sat quietly on the other side of the screen, reading and liking comments here and there, and cheering on friends who offered positive suggestions for moving forward (regardless of their political stance.)

A few days ago, I wrote a post about the benefits of choosing gratitude over grumbling. I noted several positive benefits to a thankful attitude and mindset. I love the brain research on this topic and could write and discuss much more about it but I want to give you a way to put into action the information I wrote about.

I have heard it takes 21 days to form a habit. Although this may be a myth, I think 21 days is a good place to start moving forward with positive change. The recent election has put a lot of focus on the differences between people, thoughts, and ideas. I would like to challenge us to take the next 21 days to try something to help us switch the focus off of our differences and put them on our similarities. Something that will help us highlight the things we are grateful for in each other.

We are going old school, bringing back letter writing and snail mail. You will need, paper, a writing utensil, envelopes, and stamps. Each day, try to find about five to ten minutes to write. It does not have to be an uninterrupted time period. It could be a minute here and a minute there. You can write at a desk, the kitchen table, in the carpool lane, or in the bathroom. It does not have to be a letter filled with long, elaborate, flowing words and rhymed prose (although that would be totally awesome) but it does need to be genuine and point out one or two things you appreciate, admire, and like in the person. Seal up the letter, write the address, and drop it in the mail. And smile!

If you need a little help thinking about who to write, I created a document/picture (see above) with letter prompt ideas. This is just a suggestion, please write to whoever you like. Be creative. Use your church directory, address books, MOPS group directory, pull names out of a hat. Include your kids in this challenge. I believe these letters have the power to strengthen and change relationships.

Will you consider joining me in spreading some kindness and gratitude? I would love to hear from you if you do. And if you want to really take the challenge up a notch, hand deliver your letter and spend some time with that person. Oh, just think about that! What a way to make someone’s day brighter!

PS You can post on social media and follow along at hashtags #embraceletters, #embracegratitude


The Power of Words and Opinions- My Reflections and Thoughts of MOMcon 2016

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Oh, how easily and quickly words can spark suspicion and uncertainty. How quickly can suspicions catch ablaze, words and opinions spread like wildfire and gain the attention of a divided audience. How easily are relationships strained (some destroyed) and alliances built by thoughts and opinions. How quickly do we forget that we have great influence and our influence is best used in building up and not tearing down.

I have been thinking a great deal about people who share their strong opinions in very public ways. Strong opinions seem to be everywhere- in politics, in ministry, in the world- and with the opinions come conflict and disagreements. I strongly dislike conflict and disagreement. (I could never be a lawyer.)  After much thought and consideration, I have decided I am truly grateful for those who boldly share their opinions because they prompt me to think strongly about my own beliefs and convictions. These people challenge and inspire me to read the Bible for discernment and wisdom. I may not agree with their opinions or their methods of sharing but I am finding out there is always something to be learned. By listening to each other, being careful to not react rashly, and always leaning toward the side of grace, I am realizing people with different opinions help me to be a better leader and person. I call these people fire starters sometimes helping to reignite holy sparks and keep them on fire.

MOMcon (MOPS International’s Leadership Convention) was a blaze of gracious, wise words that outshined and burned down walls that were built by harsh opinions and questions MOPS has recently received. The words given by speakers and MOPS staff and received by leaders were life-given, Holy Spirit driven, and love oriented. MOMcon reestablished MOPS vision and mission and propelled leaders to embrace Jesus and others. MOMcon equipped us to release fear, walk boldly in faith, and be prepared to think differently and creatively to reach those who need the hope of Christ. I cannot help but wonder if the opinions and criticism of fire starters acted as a catalyst for such a passionately driven conference. Last week, many holy sparks were ignited and to God be the glory for the great work to be done.

Just as easily as words can produce uncertainty and suspicion, words can also spark reassurance and confidence. Words can help unite an audience with facts and ignite enthusiasm of a shared purpose and calling. Relationships can be mended, strengthened and refined by truthful, gracious answers and humble responses. All these things were evident to me at MOMcon.

MOPS International has been and always will be Jesus followers, kingdom enthusiasts, advocates for motherhood and the influence of women, expansive in inclusion that every mom has a place, multilingual, and sisterhood cultivators. In five years, MOPS International has a vision to see 1,000,000 moms reached with the hope of Christ. I am so excited to be part of this vision in my role as Co-Coordinator in my own MOPS group and as a MOPS Community Coach to the MOPS groups I coach in New England.

My MOPS calling has been reignited. I am comfortable in my skin and confident in my faith. I feel more equipped than ever before to lead in love and use my influence to cultivate and build communities of women who love each other and who can make a difference in this world. I want to love people just as they are and in every messy way they come. Most of all, I will not be defensive of other’s opinions (in all areas of life) but plan to use misunderstood information and perceptions as a challenge to make sure that the way I am living is one in which others can see Jesus. A holy spark was ignited and fanned to flames and I am so excited to see where God will make room for the flames burn.

****The views expressed on this page and blog are mine alone and they do not necessarily reflect the views of MOPS International. They have not been reviewed or approved by MOPS International*****

 

 

 


Throw Kindness Around Like Confetti

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On Tuesday, I celebrated my thirty-eighth birthday with the police and fire department, complete strangers, and Bob Goff.

I love birthdays and everything that comes with them.  Crepe paper, confetti, cake, gifts, and surprises. I once flew 3,000 miles to an Olive Garden in Rhode Island to surprise my dad on his birthday. The look on his surprised astonished face will never be forgotten and I loved playing my part in the surprise. But on the morning of my birthday, I wasn’t very excited about the day. It wasn’t the fact of being a year older that upset me. It was the mountainous list of things to complete looming over my head. If only I could get through the list, then I could relax, rest and celebrate. The idea of giving preference to checking off my to-do list instead of celebrating my birthday straight up annoyed me.

My lousy mood and to-do list tackling was divinely interrupted by my parents calling to sing me Happy Birthday.  After their sweet song, they asked me how I was going to spend the day.

“Well,” I said. “I have a lot to do. There is this and that and so I just have to plan on celebrating after this week is over. I just have so much to do.”

As I heard the words coming from my mouth, I felt like I was betraying my true self. Who was speaking? I know my parents must have been thinking that too but my mom politely said something to the point that I was serving other people and working on my birthday and that was a good thing.  I felt disappointed.  I paused, prayed and thought. Was a completed to-do list really worth missing the day that I usually love and look forward to? If I did not have a list of things to do, how would I be spending my birthday?  What would I want?

I knew that I did not want any more material things. I already had everything I needed and more. I thought about the things that make me happy. Jesus, my family, my church family, MOPS, people, my community. I thought about the things that that I am good at. The plan started to take shape. I love those videos where people surprise a random stranger with a gift card, word of encouragement or kind action. That is what I wanted to do. I wanted to spread kindness through the community with surprises for people I know and random strangers who God knows.

Five years ago, I might have thought this was a crazy idea. But hey, call me crazy! Crazy about Jesus and crazy about loving people!  The idea ignited so much excitement that I literally pushed my to-do list aside, ripped a new piece of paper from the notepad and started scribbling a new list. A new list with thirty-eight kind actions, one action for every year I have been on this earth. With new list in hand and a changed attitude, I was ready to celebrate….celebrate with confetti made out of kindness.

Before we go any further, please note that my intention of sharing this post is not to gain attention to myself or to brag about good deeds. Or to make you feel guilty. Many birthdays I have spent on me and just me. We all need those days.  My prayer and hope of sharing this post is to make you smile and inspire you to spread love and kindness in a way that you can give. Kindness comes in many shapes and sizes and does not look the same; but kindness will always be a blessing to those who receive it.

38 Acts of Kindness

1.) Called Bob Goff.  One of my acts of kindness was to write a favorite author and thank him/her for their work. I had just finished reading Love Does  (AGAIN!!) and remembered that Bob put his phone number in the back of the book. Why not call him instead of writing ? I mean who would really put their phone number in the back of a best-selling book.  I dialed, the phone rang but a recorded message came on stating I missed Bob and I could reach him by email. I wasn’t prepared to write his email address down and had to call again to make sure I had remembered what I heard correctly.  The phone rang again, and again, and then Bob Goff actually answered!! That’s right! He’s the real deal!! I told him it was my birthday and how I was going to spend it and then I asked him if he could give me some advice on kindness. He directed me to Matthew 25: 31-46, specifically verse 35.

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.”

He told me a great place to start spreading kindness is to look for people who are hungry, thirsty, strangers, sick people, and prisoners. When we share kindness with them, we are experiencing Jesus. I thanked him for the advice, thanked him for his book and what he is doing for God. He wished me a Happy Birthday and told me he was just about to get on a plane. And that was that. He was off to go inspire another group of people and point them to Jesus and I felt charged and ready to do the same.  Hope its was a good flight, Bob!

 

 

2.) Wrote a thank you letter to our mailman and leave it in the mailbox with the flag up.  The kids were looking out the window when the mailman came to deliver the mail and we spied on him as he reached into the mailbox to grab the letter for HIM!  We couldn’t see his face. But we saw him take it, pause a moment and then turn it over before he drove away. I hope it blessed his day!

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3.) Sent a card to my mom on my birthday.

4.) Told people that I loved them.

5.) Called off homeschool and built a “Kindness Crew.” I enlisted the help of my kids with this day of kindness. They helped me write cards and cut out compliments to leave on cars in parking lots. This day turned out better than a school day would have been. As we were out and searching for people who needed encouragement, I noticed that they were becoming more aware of their surrounding and looking at the world with a hightened sense of compassion. They became just as excited as I was when we were able to bless someone.

6.) Complimented the sample lady at the grocery store and bought what she was selling. It is hard to be a sales person!

7) Delivered flowers to an amazing mom, mentor to many, and a Godly woman!

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8.) Paid for the car behind me in the Dunkin’ Donuts line.

9.) Paid for the car, behind the car, behind me in the Dunkin’ Donuts line.

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10.) Brought a dozen donuts and thank you note to the fire department.  Our fire department is amazing! The firemen brought us through to the garage and let the kids climb in the fire truck and use the water hose. Sometimes acts of kindness are returned with an act of kindness.

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11.) Delivered flowers to another amazing mom who we surprised at work! This mom is a mentor to me and has prayed over me and with me for many years. She has also gently helped me say no to things and supported me through many things. She is just amazing and I love her! It was time for me to bless her.

12.) Delivered a dozen donuts and thank you note to the police station. 

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13.) Prayed for the people in jail while we sat in the police station parking lot. I talked to the kids about choices, mercy and forgiveness.  It was a deep little moment in the back of our mini van.

14.) Gave flowers to a random stranger. I was driving by the Salvation Army Store when I saw a woman exit the door, I felt like she needed flowers. So I whipped into the parking lot but by the time I had parked, she was already in her car. That did not matter to me. I walked up to her car, knocked on her window. The window rolled down slowly, I held out the flowers and told her I wanted her to have them. She looked really confused and most likely was questioning if I had lost my mind (it was awesome!) I reassured her that I was not crazy just out spreading kindness and she needed some today. She brightened up and was really happy by the time we said our goodbyes. I wonder where she was off to and what she was dealing with that day.

15.) Held doors for people.

16.) Put post-it notes on the diaper changing table at Target so when a mom goes to change her baby’s diaper she will see how awesome she is!

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17.)Bought five Starbucks gift cards. Searched Target for a moms to give the cards to. The kids were really good at this. We listened for crying and tantrums and steered the cart in that direction. First card given to a mom with a baby.

18.)  Gave another Starbucks card to a mom with toddler. She was very appreciative.

19.) We left a few dollars in the bins of the dollar spot section of Target.

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20.) There was a lost lady walking around the parking lot looking for her car. I gave a card of encouragement just before she found her car.

21.) Put note on a windshield of the car parked in front of us.

22.) Went to the grocery store to search for more moms with cranky kids. Gave Starbucks Card #3 to a mom of two boys.

23.) Gave Starbucks Card #4 to a mom with toddler and baby.

24.) Gave the sun some encouragement. It was a hot day and standing by the road and waving in a giant sun costume is hard work! So I pulled over, walked over to her and told her she was doing a great job. I wish I had a bottle of water to give. Next time, I will be more prepared.

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25.)We purposely smiled at people.

26.) We helped picked up things that fell onto the floor of the grocery store.

27.) The kids and I bought food to be added to food baskets given to families in need.

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28.) Left lottery tickets on the gas pump and stayed around to watch who would take them. We sat and watched for a good thirty minutes, cars came and went, and everyone left the tickets where they were. We must have a lot of honest people in the community who do not take things that do not belong to them.

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29-33.) Left notes of encouragement on five more cars.

34.) We took time to stop and talk with church members who we ran into while we were out.

35.) I offered to help a women on the crutches. She refused but at least I offered.

36.) Met a friend for dinner.

37-38.)  We ran out of time to do the last two acts of kindness but we plan to put the rest of the cards on parked cars and in random library books at the library.
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It was an absolutely wonderful, exhausting day!  My heart was filled beyond capacity and I felt at peace. An amazing contrast to the way my day started. Turns out that there were things on my to-do list that could wait. They were still there when I woke up on Wednesday morning but I was better prepared to conquer the list with a new, refreshed heart. You never are too busy to celebrate.

One last thing, a birthday blessing for me!!!  During the day, I was searching for something in a forgotten pocket of my purse. My hand hit a small, scroll like object. I pulled it out and unrolled a birthday surprise. I had completely forgotten about this piece of paper. I had pulled it out of a fish bowl filled with random compliments at MOMcon (MOPS International’s Leadership Conference.)  I thought it was a good word at the time. BUT to rediscover the smallest paper, in a pocket I forgotten existed, on a day when my purpose and intention was spreading kindness, was more than a coincidence to me. It was reminder and confirmation of the love and kindness and the reason why all these acts were done in the first place. Not for me, but for Him. The most kindest, loving One who all hope and mercy comes from. I am just a humble servant trying to follow directions. 🙂

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