On Quitting

Almost two years ago, we struggled with the possibility of changing churches.  When we moved here in 2008, we did a month or so of dreaded “church shopping” but landed somewhere fairly quickly; in a place that was ideal for that chapter of our lives.  Nine years later, they were undergoing staff changes and things started to feel….not-so-ideal.  Things honestly felt completely off.  Add to this an out-of-nowhere, very extreme moment of bullying that one of my kids experienced, and things were finally officially set in motion.  We were moving on.

Words from a friend, watching from the sidelines, still echo in my head:  “You can’t just leave every time you don’t like something.”

She was seeing a pattern.  Pull son from school (2013).  Pull family from church (2017).  And I was so unsettled, so frustrated about this whole church-thing, that I let those words cover me like a blanket; weighing me down with should’s and ought’s and what’s right and commitment.  I let that set up camp in my head for a good long time.

Now we’re a few years out, and with that distance I feel like I can see more clearly, breathe more freely, and maybe (possibly) judge more fairly.  That, and my husband just quit his job, so quitting is back on my mind.  Some things I’ve considered:

  1. If you are miserable somewhere, why would you not leave?
  2. If a place/thing is no longer working for you, and you have tried different options–unsuccessfully–for making it work, why would you not consider moving on/getting rid of it?
  3. Isn’t the feeling of fear (involved in not knowing the next step) a better feeling than despair/sadness/misery (involved in staying where you are, and continuing to do what you’re doing)?
  4. How long do you have to stay in a situation you hate before you’ve “paid your dues” and can move on free of guilt?  Is that really even necessary?
  5. Isn’t it possible to acknowledge, “I had (x) wonderful years here….now things have changed and it’s time to move on?”  Sunk-cost bias doesn’t always apply in life.
  6. I think, though, most importantly….Do I want to look back over my life and see large swaths of misery when I could have done something to change it?  If this is the only life we get, don’t I want to use it in a better way?

My husband’s job change only partially falls into this situation.  He has an idea and he’s ready to take the leap to start acting on it.  The Best Job in the World–which he pretty much had since 2013 as a work-from-home pharmacist–had been sliding toward a tolerable slog (okay, maybe not so tolerable) for about the past year.  The shift in how he spent his days made it easier to go ahead and quit (see #1).  Now we’re off on a new adventure, because (see #3).

Friends, there are plenty of things we don’t have control over in our lives.  Events large and small happen every day that we can’t do anything about.  Don’t we want to act on the things we can?  

I’m ending this post with the Serenity Prayer.  It applies here more than ever.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; 
courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.

–Reinhold Niebuhr

 

 

 

 

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Hope and Change

A little over a week ago I finally planted the crocus bulbs that I’d bought last fall.  Winter hit early here, and my ridiculous to-do list of “things to do before the first freeze” was pretty much thrown out the window–I was glad simply to have gotten the hoses disconnected before the temps dropped.  (I did also manage to plant six shrubs….and that was it.)

Then it was January and for nearly a week, we had fall again.

Temperatures started out in that “not too bad when it’s sunny” 40 degree range, then up into the 60’s, and suddenly it was genuinely warm.….and I realized that with the ground thawed, I might be able to get those two boxes of crocus in the ground.

That’s when I started plotting this blog post.  Thoughts of hope and spring were collecting in my head and knocking about; I knew I had to work in Anne Lamott’s quote about how

It helps beyond words to plant bulbs in the dark of winter.

So that’s what we did, my five-year-old gardening partner and I, on a blustery 50 degree afternoon in January.  (50 degrees!  In January!!)

 

That was a Tuesday.  Then Saturday came, and the snow poured down…..this is Kansas, after all.

Honestly, even this weather makes me happy.  Nine inches of snow is more than that five-year-old has ever seen….this was the year she finally got to build her first snowman.  And this was decidedly the best kind of snow; the stuff that sticks to the trees and makes everything glorious, but melts on the still-warm streets.

So my thoughts shift to change.  Yes, hope and spring; but also, yes, change….things can go dark and silent quickly.  Those warm, sunny days can come crashing down days later, branches overwhelmed with heavy snow.  Bulbs planted in hope are now buried, a foot deep, under all that’s fallen.

Pay attention, though, to what that means.

If things can turn that quickly for the worse, they can also turn for the better.

Change works both ways.  For the bad…and for the good.

So this is still a post about hope.  Because it is January now.  But in time it will be April.  “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Psalms 30:5)

 

Do the hard thing

I feel like I’m hearing a strange mix of frustration and apathy from people lately.  We seem to want to fuss and complain, but then just shrug our shoulders and mutter something like “meh–what’re ya gonna do?”

How about, do something?  Anything?

But it’s hard.

My kids’ sports schedule is out of control–the six-year-old doesn’t need to be on the ball field at 10:00 at night!  Do the hard thing.  Pull him.

My five-year-old still isn’t sleeping through the night…. Do the hard thing.  Start actively trying to solve the problem.  Baby steps.

I never get to see my kids anymore….their schedules are so booked!  Do the hard thing.  Say no.  Claim some margin for your family.

My phone is a constant distraction.  So turn it off.  Find an hour (or fifteen minutes!) that you can live without it, and live without it.

Last year at this time we were struggling with staying at our church or finding a new one.  That was a hard thing, people–leaving what we’d known for nearly ten years to start over somewhere new.  It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done (right up there with pulling my son from school mid-year to homeschool).  Seeing a connection between the two, a well-meaning friend reminded me that “You can’t just leave every time you don’t like something.”

Well, no, but life is too short to be miserable at church.  (And my kids are too important to be fed to the lions.)  And that idea is what I keep coming back to, when people hem and haw and fuss and complain about what they oughtta and what they shoulda…. Life is too short. 

Life is too short not to do what you can to fix a problem.

Life’s too short not to take a stand for your true priorities.

Even when it’s hard–and it IS HARD, y’all, I get it–life’s too short to live full of regrets.

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
–Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)

Courage, friends.

 

 

 

 

Beauty in the Valley

Our pastor ran a sermon series in December called God With Us.  The promo video that ran each week began with a reminder that God is always with us:  “On the mountain…in the valley….”

Ah, yes, the valley.  The first sermon was all about the valley, which is where our family spent most of 2016 and a fair portion of 2017.  The valley is supposed to be a dark, desperate place–“I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” from Psalm 23, right?–but here’s what hit me as I watched the video intro:

Valleys are beautiful.

Honestly, on our trips to Colorado, valleys are my favorite places to be.  Mountains are majestic, of course, but the countless houses tucked into the deeply wooded valleys? That’s where I’d want to live.  There’s beauty there; it’s not hard to see.

There’s beauty in the valleys of our lives, too.

A perfect example came to me a few Fridays ago, when I went to bed early (like before-dinner early) with what seemed to be a stomach bug.  My husband had plans that night, so my twelve-year-old daughter put my four-year-old to bed.  While I lay curled up under the covers, miserable and barely awake, the sound of my older daughter’s voice floated down the hall, reading bedtime stories to her little sister. Snuggles, giggles, a chapter of Betsy-Tacy; A Birthday for Frances….

When did she get to be such a beautifully fluent reader?

Beauty in the valley.

Watching your oldest pull back and withdraw, more and more often, until you fear that depression might actually really win–that’s a valley.  No doubt.

Watching your son buy his younger sisters stuffed animal souvenirs on the zoo trip he chose to go on with the family, smack in the middle of the ugliness….spending his own money to put a smile on their faces….there’s beauty in the valley.

Holding your son while he sobs and begs….begs you to buy him a gun, so he can end it all and just be done with it for good…that’s the deepest, lowest valley I’ve come to yet.

A doctor who returns your calls while on vacation to ensure he gets medication started: beauty in the valley.

Any trouble with friends tripping a switch that still seems to be set to “despair” is even now a very real part of our valley.

Watching the same child–barely 24 hours later–bringing the folding card table up from the basement, setting it up on the back deck, and cooking and serving dinner to his entire family under the light of the near-full moon….that is a step beyond beauty.  That is unbelievable.

Watching my middle child lose her older-brother-best-friend to the gaping maw of depression has been one of the most ongoing, difficult valleys.

Signing off on her “homework” for church and realizing that under “list three ways you know God cares for you” she included, “He gave me a baby sister….”  That is beauty so vivid it brought me to tears.

It’s beauty, too, when the big kids do reconnect and find out they are still friends, even after everything they’ve been through.

I know that God has been with us in every one of these situations.  He was sitting on the bed with us, brokenhearted, while my son sobbed into my shoulder.  He was pulling up a seat with us, outside on the deck, rejoicing in His gorgeous night and healing child.  I know his hand is on my family as we walk this rocky road, full of switchbacks, that winds through the valley.  But I’m also realizing the valley can be an amazing place, full of beauty, if I can just pay attention.  I don’t know how much longer our valley is.  I do have faith there will continue to be beauty along the way.

I am sitting at the kitchen table, eating breakfast with my four-year-old.  The rest of the house is quiet; the older two still asleep, husband at work in the basement.  She is quiet, too, as she digs into her warm bowl of oatmeal.  She-who-will-not-be-hurried is deeply focused.

She pulls up a spoonful and holds it over her bowl, watching.

Finally….finally….she looks at me and explains, “I’m watching the steam.  Steam is beautiful.

Steam is beautiful.

There you are, friends.  Your mindful moment for the day, brought to you by a preschooler.  Steam is beautiful.

Go out and find something else beautiful in your day.

 

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.  Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.”–Psalm 19:1-2

Start the Car

As the year turned I was having my usual evaluation of The State of Things.  I’ve spent the better part of five years paring down this family’s life, and I was wondering–especially in light of a potential job offer–what was next.  Was it time to start adding in?  Was it time to say “more” instead of “less,” at least to some things?

What I really want, I’ve always joked, is for God to put a sign in my yard.  “Do this,” it would say, and I’d do it.

Reading during my quiet time one morning I came across this verse:

“I shall walk at liberty, for I have sought your precepts.” –Psalm 119:45

At liberty.

It’s almost like as long as I’m seeking him, following Him, I can do whatever.

Well, that can’t be right.  Can it?

Not even two weeks go by and I stumble across this quote in Emily P. Freeman’s book A Million Little Ways:

“Author Barbara Brown Taylor writes about a time in her life when she was desperate to discover what she was supposed to be doing with her life.  She describes praying to God, asking him that very question in her book An Altar in the World.

God’s answer to her was both surprising and infuriating.  She sensed him saying this:  Do anything that pleases you, and belong to me.”  (pg. 50)

Well….okay then.  Let me think on that.

One week later I’m reading in the book we’ve chosen for our Bible study and come to this beautiful (and comical) word picture:

“The difference between the mechanical and relational approach could be pictured like this:  Let’s say you’d been taught how to get written directions from God to go any place you wanted to go.  You could get in your car and hold these instructions in your hand, printed clearly in black and white.  That’s what many people want from God:  ‘Just tell me what to do!’          [See?  There’s that sign I want in my yard.]

But Jesus will not have it!  Jesus is relentlessly relational.  He gets in the car with you, takes the instructions out of your hands, and grins as he tears them up.  ‘Start the car!’ he says.

You feel uneasy; you just want the instructions!  You protest:  ‘How will I know when to turn?’

He smiles and challenges you to risk trusting him:  ‘I’ll tell you when to turn.  Start the car!’

You protest again:  ‘I need to know ahead of time!’

But Jesus replies, ‘Trust me.  We’re going to stop at restaurants you’re going to love; we’re going to see beautiful places; we’re going to stop alongside the road and help people you can’t stand.  It will be wonderful.  Start the car.”  (–When the Soul Listens, by Jan Johnson, pg. 6-7)

I’d like to think, by now, that I’m starting to get the point.  (I can be slow, don’t get me wrong, but this is a little much.)  All these moments formed the beginning of my “intentional” year, the things that came together just before I sat down to look at my days and do something about them.  I don’t have a map (honestly, I’m lousy at reading maps anyway), and I have no idea what the year in front of us holds (let’s be real, no one really does), but I plan on walking as closely to Him as I can.  If I’m close enough–and stay quiet enough–maybe I can hear his direction.

 

(Incidentally, the other option I considered for my word this year was “abide:”  “Abide in me as I abide in you…..I am the vine, you are the branches.  Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5).  It sounds like I’ll be focused on doing that anyway, “word” or no. )

She keeps me young

We made our annual trip to the Cider Mill this past week.  The weather was absolutely perfect for the fall trek, cool and crisp with plenty of sunshine to keep us warm.  We wandered the grounds, ate our doughnuts, and drank our cider, and then (of course) I took pictures like a crazy person.

Hide and seek at the Cider Mill….because, why not?

I started innocently, following the kids around and snapping occasional pics. Then it was goofy poses, to get them willing for the follow-up attempt at nice poses.  The beauty of digital photography is that you can take literally a hundred pictures and know that somewhere in there are two or three keepers.  Pic after pic of my kids on hay bales and rock walls, being crazy, being silly, and finally being “smiley for the camera.”

When I finished and turned them loose, I turned to see an older woman smiling and holding out her phone.  “Would you mind taking a photo of us?” she asked with a smile, gesturing toward two young-adult daughters and her husband.  “We  never manage to get all together like this.”  I agreed–who wouldn’t!?–and snapped a handful of pics of the four of them.  As I handed the phone back, she complimented me on my “beautiful family” and my four-year-old’s darling dress.

I smiled sheepishly.  “That was a hand-me-down from sister,” I admitted.  “We didn’t save hardly anything between my older daughter and the surprise, but we saved that.”

She laughed.  “I wondered about that!  That was me, you know.  I was the surprise.”  She was smiling mischievously.  “My mom always said–she’s ninety-seven now–my mom always said, ‘She keeps me young.'”

I burst out laughing.  “That needs to be my phrase!  I’m always looking at her saying, ‘Oh, baby girl, Mama’s so old….”

“NO!” The woman was beaming.  “She keeps you young!!”

I sincerely hope I can adopt that attitude.  A shift in mindset of that magnitude changes everything.  I wonder what adventures she’ll lead us on; what paths we’re going to walk down because she exists.  I know that the past two years of depression with my oldest would have been incredibly more difficult for me, without this little one’s unrelenting joy and sunshine to wrap myself in.  Snuggling with an inquisitive, cheerful preschooler has been a blessed antidote to many of my days.

Maybe the “keeps you young” has already been happening.  Maybe she, with her sweet spirit and loving nature and concern for others, has been keeping me from being beaten down prematurely as we walk the dark, ugly path of depression with our son.  And how blessed we are now, to have him healing and returning–almost always–to his tenderhearted, sweet self (with that sly sense of humor).  She was, somehow, always thoroughly untainted by her brother’s moods; now that unceasing joy allows us to rejoice more deeply in the healing that is taking place.

Our lives were changed dramatically with her arrival.  But as my husband and I were discussing last night, there hasn’t been a single change for the worse.  God knew exactly what we were going to need at this point in our lives.  We can’t imagine life without her.

Yes, she keeps me young.