Hope-Filled Mama

hope. encourage. inspire.

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Stay weird.

I don’t usually watch the Oscars. I lack the patience to wait through the more obscure awards and endless commercials to get to the few moments of substance. But this year, I was recovering from the flu and it sounded like a great idea to veg on the couch after a fun-filled, yet tiring, vacation week with the kids.

My husband and I really enjoy watching movies and we have seen a fair number of those nominated for Oscars this year. We especially liked “The Imitation Game” and we were happy to see it win for Best Adapted Screenplay. But when the screenwriter, Graham Moore, took the podium to give his acceptance speech, it took my appreciation for this movie and it’s writer to a whole new level.

“I tried to commit suicide at 16 and now I’m standing here,” he said. “I would like for this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like she doesn’t fit in anywhere. You do. Stay weird. Stay different, and then when it’s your turn and you are standing on this stage please pass the same message along.”

 

 

I just love that. I love that in the midst of Hollywood’s elite, he was willing to be vulnerable and authentic and take his moment to shine and use it to encourage others. To encourage those who may be hiding in shame or sorrow, feeling like they don’t measure up to society’s standards. Giving them hope that life can be different and good for them one day.

I love that the world is awarding him for educating us through his screenplay about the life of Alan Turing. A man who saved millions of lives during World War II, yet tragically ended his own life in shame and suffering for being different. A reminder to us that we need to treat others with compassion and kindness, even if we don’t understand them.

I love that there was a room full of beautiful and talented people who probably spent a number of years feeling the same way Alan and Graham felt.  My guess is that most of them went through a dark period of self-doubt before they had success. An Essence article recorded 2014 Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o talking about how she would pray each night for God to change the color of her skin when she was a young girl. God did not answer her prayer, yet now she is celebrated as one of the most beautiful and talented women in the world.

Her beauty and talent emanate a certain confidence. And that confidence is a choice. She could have listened and believed the voices around her as a young girl that told her she wasn’t good enough, or beautiful enough. Instead, she found inspiration in others who had gone before her, like Oprah and Alek Wek. Those who had risked being different. Risked being unique. Risked being weird. They stayed true to themselves.

I admit, I fall prey to society’s standards. I want to be well-liked. I want to be successful. I want to be attractive. I want my kids to be all those things too. And in my striving to achieve those things, I can forget about how wonderful it is to be unique. To be weird. I was created to be me, and only me. I need to stop comparing and striving, and to relax into being myself.

A few weeks ago, my son was “Star of the Week” for school. We ended up finishing his poster the night before it was due. We had a hard time finishing it earlier because he didn’t know what he wanted to be when he grows up. But there was a line there that needed to be filled out. “When I grow up, I want to be _____________.” And it really bugged me that he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, come up with an answer.

I tried giving him suggestions, like, “How about a professional tennis player?”. He had said that was what he wanted to be at his kindergarten graduation the year before, and it was really cute. I told him I wouldn’t hold him to his answer, he could say whatever he wanted and he could change his mind the next day. But he held firm and got really upset. He emphatically declared he didn’t want to be anything when he grew up. He just wanted to be a person. Well, I wasn’t going to let him put that lame answer down. How about any answer but that answer? We settled on writing down “a soccer player”.

A couple of weeks later, when I was having dinner with a friend who is a psychologist and an older, wiser woman, she  helped me realize the error in my thinking. I was recounting the story with Evan because I was worried about his lack of motivation and understanding of how the world worked. And she gently, but firmly, corrected me. She told me she thought that was the smartest answer to that question that she had ever heard.

Who knows what they want to be when they grow up? Most people don’t, especially at age 7. I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up! Now, I’m not criticizing people who ask that question, or kids who do “know” what they want to be when they grow up. But I need to be ok with my kid not knowing. For choosing to be an independent thinker and not conform to the expected answer. I want him to discover what he really loves to do, and to do it to the best of his abilities. If it turns out he wants to be weird, then I will let him be weird.

 

“… what is fundamentally beautiful is compassion for yourself and for those around you. That kind of beauty enflames the heart and enchants the soul.” — Lupita Nyong’o

 

 

The Clothing Diet

I am attempting the impossible. I am four months into a twelve-month-long clothing fast. A fast from buying clothes. For a year.

Back in October 2014, we my husband took the opportunity to analyze our finances. Turned out the clothing expenses were way abnormal. Not abnormally low, but abnormally high. And it forced me to face the harsh truth that I have a problem. A problem with buying clothes. Buying way too many clothes. I like clothes. I love clothes.

For years I have suspected that maybe I had a problem, but it was easy to dismiss that nagging concern. I could always look to someone else who bought more clothes than me, say for example… Heidi Klum.

I’ve always loved clothes. I started working in the corn fields at age thirteen so I could afford nice clothes. I would spend all summer getting up at 5:00am to get in the fields by 6:00am and work all day detasseling corn. It is hard, dirty, and tiring work. But it was well worth it when it came time to buy school clothes in the fall. I would make a grand total of $300-500 each of the four summers I did this. That could buy you a couple of super cool Esprit sweaters, some rocking Jordache jeans, and a hip pair of Reeboks.

Once I was fully supporting myself in my twenties, I still loved clothes, but my budget was limited. That taught me to shop for sales. So I learned to bargain hunt at places like TJ Maxx and Marshalls. But those stores can play a siren song. Invariably I would find something that I really liked, but it was in the wrong size. I would buy it. Or if something was a really good price — I would buy it. Always convincing myself that I was getting a good deal, and ultimately “saving” money.

When I got married, my budgeting concerns lessened, and my spending increased. Our son was born a year after we married and a new opportunity to buy clothes opened up. Baby clothes! If there’s one thing better than buying clothes for yourself, it’s buying baby clothes. Especially for your first baby. And then for your first baby girl. I ended up with a LOT of baby clothes. As my children outgrew their baby clothes, I donated, sold, and gave away loads, and loads of baby clothes. I have probably outfitted a dozen babies as a result. 

Which explains why I needed to fast from shopping for clothes. I thought about doing it for the 30 days which coincided with our church-wide media fast. But I knew that wouldn’t be long enough. I need a long, dry period to really dig up the reasons why I over-shop and to teach myself to appreciate and use the clothes I have.

I’m not the first person to go to such extremes. My friend, Grace Hwang Lynch, writes a blog called HapaMama. I got the idea of a clothing fast from her when she decided to go without buying clothes for one year. After an online search, I discovered there have been others who have braved these icy waters of self-denial.

Back in 2010, Eric Wilson wrote in The New York Times how one woman joined a clothing fast, called the Six Items Challenge,  which only allows you to wear 6 items of clothing for a month. She choose her six items carefully. At then end of her month-long abstinence… no one had noticed. Not even her husband.

Caroline Mayer wrote in Forbes about how she was inspired by three women who went on an all-day shopping binge. One of the women was so exhausted at the end of the day, she ended up suggesting to her friends that they abstain from shopping for a year. Surprisingly, they all agreed to no new clothing or accessory purchases for a year. Exceptions included underwear, or necessities like a new pair of sneakers to replace worn-out ones, or clothing for a special event.

These women were motivated by a desire to spend less. Others have organized clothing fasts for additional altruistic reasons. Labor Behind the Label is motivated by a desire to educate consumers about abuses in the garment industry and help protect these workers. Lucy Siegel writes about the impact that mass production and global transportation of increasingly cheap clothing has on the environment in To Die for: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World?Elizabeth L. Cline continues that theme in Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion.

What motivated me was a desire to break free from my addiction in order to help save our family money and make healthier choices for spending my time. Time I would have spent shopping in-store or online has turned into time for writing. I have also been forced to be more creative and focused on using the clothes I do have, along with borrowing clothes for special events.

I confess, I’ve had a few moments of weakness. Last week, I had a minor panic attack when I ran into a pair of Frye boots that were 40% off. I immediately began to try to find a loophole in my fasting rules. Luckily when I tried them on, they didn’t fit and disaster was averted. But for the most part, knowing I don’t have the option of shopping, allows me to delete my daily sale emails and keeps me out of the stores. I’m happy to report that so far I haven’t felt deprived, I love the extra time I have, and the freedom from my compulsion.

As a reward for my efforts, I am traveling to Scotland this summer with my mom to visit my younger sister. A reward well worth the sacrifice.

 

If you think you’d like to join in the fun of clothing diet, you’re in luck! There’s a Six Items Challenge starting next week that runs Feb 18-Apr 4. Or you can check out the book The Shopping Diet by Phillip Bloch. He delves into the reasoning behind shopping addiction and offers up helpful solutions.

 

But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth; I humbled my soul with fasting. Psalm 35:13

The Art of Waiting

I sometimes wonder if it’s my special mission in life to become an expert on waiting. Not a mission I chose, but one that was secretly given to me. It is not a skill that I would choose to develop. I, like most people, hate waiting.

Just think about that slow driver who made you miss the light. Argh! The injustice of it! Or, how about that person in line in front of you at the grocery who still pays in cash. Who does that? And why? Why!?! Why would anyone pay in cash??? Or how about trying to get three kids into a car — at the same time? Impossible!

The ironic thing is that, as Americans, we don’t really know the first thing about waiting. Friends of ours recently spent a year living in Uruguay. In order to pay their utility bills, they had to go to the actual utility office — the real bricks and mortar building. They had to go on the few days that the utility office is open and pay their bills in cash. In cash, not a check, in actual paper money. And they had to do it along with hundreds of other people there to do the same thing. Can you imagine if we all had to go to the local Comcast building to pay our bills in cash? Total chaos.

 

 

I first learned to wait during my thirties. Friend after friend was getting married. My cousin four years younger than me got married. Then my cousin eight years younger than me got married. Being from the Midwest where they marry young didn’t help with the wait.

When my husband finally came along, all the waiting seemed well worth it. But then the wait for babies came. And each day can seem like an eternity when you’re waiting for a mysterious event inside your body to happen once a month. It’s extremely frustrating to have no knowledge of what is happening inside your own body and why it won’t function the way you want it to, or the way it should. Once you realize all the intricacies and specific timing of how babies are conceived, you wonder how any babies ever get made at all.

During our wait for babies, we decided to adopt. We were fortunate that our adoption process went quickly, lasting seven months from start to finish.  But those seven months were filled with uncertainty and anxiety. With domestic adoptions in our state, there is no guarantee that the baby you are hoping for will come home with you. A birth mom can change her mind up to two weeks after the birth. Thankfully, our adoption went through and we brought home an adorable bundle of energy with a head full of red hair. Then, all of sudden, six months later I was pregnant.

But my training wasn’t over. After we became a family of four, and then five, we realized our house won’t work for the long term. So for the past six years we’ve been looking for a house that will work. Granted, we I have a lot of specific parameters we I want, so that adds to the difficulty of this task. We also live in the midst of one of the worst housing markets in the world. What seems like a reasonable activity in most areas of the US, is a seemingly impossible feat for us. So the waiting continues.

There are thousands of books written on productivity and efficiency, along with thousands of products to help you multi-task so you can get more done in less time. But there are very few books written on waiting. And life will involve waiting.  But we can’t resolve ourselves to be good at waiting. We have to train for it, and training involves practice. As John Ortberg proposes in his book, The Life You’ve Always Wanted, to practice waiting, we need to “deliberately choose to place ourselves in positions where we simply have to wait.” Here are some of his suggestions on how to practice:

  • Drive in the slow lane; no passing, swearing, or honking allowed.
  • Eat your food slowly. Force yourself to chew 15 times before each swallow.
  • Choose the longest line at the grocery store.
  • Let one person go ahead of you at Starbucks.
  • Go one day without wearing your watch.

My guess is that for the rest of my life, I’ll be learning how to wait. Just like everyone else. As our world becomes more technologically advanced, we have more information and resources at our fingertips and the skill of waiting becomes less necessary and less valued. And the more impatient we become.

This keeps us from living well and enjoying the life we’ve been given. In order to combat our impatience, we need to learn how to wait. The better we become at waiting, the more happy, fulfilled, and at peace we’ll become with who we are and what we have.

 

“Patience is not simply the ability to wait – it’s how we behave while we’re waiting.”  — Joyce Meyer

“We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”  — E.M. Forster

 

Practice redirecting your thoughts while waiting. Try thinking the opposite thought of what normally runs through your mind. Can you be kind to yourself and others while you wait?

 

Don’t let failures define us

I spend too much time regretting mistakes and moments of weakness in my past. My twenties were filled with too much drinking and too many boyfriends. My thirties were defined by unfulfilled potential. My forties, so far, have had too many less-than-ideal mommy moments.

Yet in the midst of all my failings, I also managed to get two engineering degrees and a MBA. After school, I held many corporate positions, including a high-pressure one at Apple. I’ve traveled the world engaging in missions to help those less privileged. I run a women’s ministry that hopefully provides an opportunity for women to build their faith. I also married an amazing man and I’m raising three wonderful and adorable children.

My hope is that the good I do isn’t outweighed by the bad I did.

It was only a few years ago that I became aware that Martin Luther King, Jr. was widely known to have numerous affairs and had committed plagiarism in many of his writings and speeches. As I learned this, the person explaining this to me dismissed him and all of his teachings because of these transgressions. His dismissal of MLK saddened me in the moment and continues to haunt me still.

Martin Luther King, Jr. with his family

I admit I am too ignorant of MLK and his teachings, but what I do know of him continues to astound and inspire me. The obstacles he faced, the hatred, humiliation, and abuse he endured was truly unfathomable. His courage and perseverance was immense. His goals and vision are some of the loftiest this world has ever known.

“The end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the beloved community.”― Martin Luther King, Jr.

After studying the life of MLK, Philip Yancey says in his book Soul Survivor, “I better understand now the pressures that King faced his entire adult life, pressures that surely contributed to his failures. King’s moral weaknesses provide a convenient excuse for anyone who wants to avoid his message, and because of those weaknesses some Christians still discount the genuineness of his faith.”

I think this is a tragedy. I’m not suggesting that people shouldn’t face the consequences of their misconduct. But instead of letting our failures define us or others, let us accept them, move past them, and let them lead us to learn and grow into better people.

It took me five long years of not dating to be truly prepared to find the right husband. I needed that time to learn more about myself, so I could better understand what kind of man would make a good life-long partner for me. It’s taken me ten years to build up the courage to face my fears and try new ventures like writing. I have to be willing to overcome uncomfortable feelings of inadequacy. And it will be a life-long journey to learn how to parent with the patience and grace I desire. I make many mistakes along the way, but I practice forgiving myself and try again the next day. I ask that we each do that for ourselves, as well as for others.

 

“Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.” ― Martin Luther King, Jr.

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

 

Do you spend time recounting your failures? What if you forgave yourself?

 

For more information on the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. please see A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr.Bearing the Cross

Got Grit?

Right now I feel anticipation of what the new year may hold, what lies ahead. I am motivated and hopeful.

As the mother of three children who are now seven, six, and two, it has been a years-long journey of interrupted sleep. I do not do well with interrupted sleep. I like my sleep uninterrupted. But now that our youngest is two, we are entering the sweet stage of (usually) sleeping through the night. The more sleep I get, the more I begin to see small slivers of hope that I might reclaim some part of the old me. The me I was before I was a mom. The me who had time to dream, do, and create non-mom things. I want to take hold of this new-found hope and energy, and bottle it. I want to sip from it daily to keep me motivated so that I don’t slip back into comfortable excuses that I’m too tired or too busy.

For years I have had a secret desire to write, but many things have held me back. One of my biggest perceived obstacles is that I have no formal training in writing. I spent my college years getting engineering and business degrees so I could be self-sufficient and successful. I never considered studying and doing something that I loved. I never realized that the definition of success could mean doing something that you loved. It wasn’t that I was suppressing my secret longing to do something different. Rather, I never really considered what it is that I might enjoy, let alone love, doing.

It’s just now, in my forties, that I’m taking the time to figure that out and make some changes. Yet I have a lot of fear. It’s held me back for years. Fear that I might not have talent, fear that I might not have anything worth saying, and fear that I might offend someone along the way. But the worldwide response to the terrorist attacks against Charlie Hebdo in Paris has given me encouragement that most of the world values expression of many kinds. I refuse to let fear win. As Jon Acuff’s book title says, I want to Punch Fear in the Face. I don’t want to be living in this same cloud of fear ten, twenty, or thirty years down the road. I want to seize the life I have been given and be brave and courageous enough to try new things. I want to fail rather than to never try at all.

So it resounded with me when I heard this TED talk from researcher Angela Duckworth. She had done years of research to determine the greatest predictor of success in life. Was it high IQ? Good looks? Abundant resources? Family connections? Nope. It was grit—the passion, perseverance, and stamina to see your dreams become reality.

 

What I’ve come to realize is that the only thing holding me back is myself. I am extremely fortunate to have an education, resources that allow me to stay at home with my kids, and many loving, supportive, and encouraging friends. There is no better platform from which to expand my horizons. So I commit to press onward, try new things, expect mistakes and setbacks, and hope in the transformation that will take place along the way.

 

“It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”  Albert Einstein

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”  Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes it’s the quiet voice at the end of the day saying ‘I will try again tomorrow.’”  Mary Anne Radmacher

 

What resolutions are you making this year? What fears are holding you back from doing what you love? What area of your life might benefit from having more grit?

 

Is Your Soul for Sale?

Have you had moments in your life when you’ve felt really connected to your soul? My moments often come when I’m outside in nature, awestruck at the beauty of the ocean, the enormity of the mountains, or the intricate design of a flower. It can also happen when I have a surprising connection with someone in an unexpected way. When I stopped one day to listen to my son whisper in my ear, he told me something significant, something I wouldn’t have known if I wasn’t being present to him in that moment. Or the time when I met a new mom who shared her struggles with infertility and we shared our heartbreak over babies lost.

 women-hugging

When those moments happen, I am humbled at the depth of feeling and connectedness I have with the world. I can feel it resonating in my soul.

The word soul can evoke deep emotions within us. I suspect that the depth of the emotions correlates to the worth we place on our souls. Even so, I’m not sure I could accurately describe what a soul is. The word soul permeates our culture—soul music, soul food, soul mate—communicating a real depth in each of those phrases. Although we attach great significance to the word, it is still hard to pinpoint exactly what it is. What I do know is this: the soul was made to connect us with creation and other people. It needs to be fed with such moments.

Usually my life is filled instead with non-soul-connected moments, like when I’m waiting in the checkout line, or doing the laundry, or listening to my kids fight. During those times, I often distract myself with a quick check of e-mail, Facebook, or online news. It satisfies me in the moment. But I wonder what it does to my soul?

My guess is that it takes me away from the moment and distracts me enough to give me a little bit of pleasure. I love seeing a cute picture of a friend’s kid or an interesting article on food allergies. I can even get sucked into the Facebook lists: “32 Ridiculously Happy Animals Celebrating Their Birthday,” “Have You Ever Wondered What a Porcupine Sounds Like,” etc., etc.

But at what cost does my distraction come? Sometimes very little, and sometimes a lot. There are many missed opportunities to connect with my kids, share a laugh with the person behind me in line, or notice something beautiful in the sky. Missed opportunities to connect with others and my soul.

An even greater cost comes when I check the news. Almost every article I read sends little shock waves into my heart and mind with new information on the state of the world or previously unknown dangers my family now faces. Each day I discover some new danger to be wary of. It can make me more paranoid, scared, and suspicious. It makes me not want to travel abroad, not talk to strangers, and not let my children learn to ride their bikes around the block by themselves.

Our church recently completed a thirty-day fast together, during which we turned off all electronic media two hours before went to bed. The purpose of the fast was to challenge us to practice spending our time differently, in ways that feed your soul.

During that time, I spent more time talking with my husband about the mundane and the significant, which really connected us. We also used that time to look more deeply at our financial priorities and shift our practices of how we spend our money. I had more time to do the multitude of little tasks around the house that never seem to get done. I also went on a late-night walk with a girlfriend one night and had friends over for dinner another night. All these things have satisfied my soul more than the time I would have normally spent in front of a screen.

Our souls are a significant part of us that need special care. Learning how to do that is a worthwhile endeavor for ourselves, and those we love. Instead of admiring my kids’ pictures on Facebook, I want to admire the real ones in front of me. And if I practice patience through my moments of irritation, I often am rewarded with sweet moments too. My seven-year-old son can unexpectedly hug me, and my two-year-old daughter has started whispering “I yuv you” in my ear. I don’t want to miss these moments since I’m not sure how long they’ll last.

As Dallas Willard reminds me, “What matters is not the accomplishments you achieve; what matters is the person you become.”

To explore more about the soul and how to care for it, please check out Soul Keeping: Caring for the Most Important Part of You by John Ortberg.

When do you feel connected to your soul? How do you care for your soul? Do you have soul moments you’d like to share?

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