some thoughts recently

I have been practicing mindfulness lately and as I have been doing it, I have noticed things that I thought I enjoyed actually make me miserable. These include:

  • Eating more than one piece of candy.
  • Watching lots of YouTube videos.
  • Procrastinating cleaning my house.
  • Sitting and doing nothing.
  • Not cooking for dinner.
  • Binge watching Netflix videos.
  • Eating lots of potato chips.

There are things that are a bit addictive, but they don’t really provide any pleasure. I often just click on things because it’s easy, not because I really want to.

I am happier when I work hard, learn, play with my kids, go on adventures, try new things, serve others, talk with people in real life, etc. But those things take effort.

And spending too much time on my computer or eating unhealthy things or not being present in my own life takes little effort at all. It’s easy in a way, but it makes my life incredibly more difficult because I find myself miserable and without motivation to do what I know is right.

The best way I have to deal with this is to plan out my day and get a good start. If I start out the day knowing what I want to do and start working hard and being present at the very beginning, it’s easier to keep doing that throughout the day.

And if I make sure that my house is clean and things are generally put together before I go to bed, I also have an easier time starting my day right.

So this is what I’m working on right now.  I’m feeling a lot happier with myself and a lot more in tune to what brings happiness into my life and what brings misery.

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Remembering others in hard times

There have been times when I think about all the hard things that are happening and I feel like I’m alone and abnormal and that so many other people have it better than I do.

Of course, that’s not true. Life is universally hard. We all go through very difficult things: childbirth is hard, death is hard, and all the space in-between can get really difficult too.

So why do we get thinking that things should always be great? Why do we avoid pain so much?

I am never alone in struggle. People struggle. They cry. They yell and scream. They feel awful.

I have found that I have been the most discouraged when I thought that other people have better circumstances than I do–or if they do have hard circumstances, they probably handle it better. But those are both false. No matter how overwhelming my challenges may seem, someone has been there before. And they may not have handled it any better than I am. They struggled too.

So suffering doesn’t need to be lonely. We don’t ever need to think that things should be better. They are what they are, and there are a lot of people who do understand.

When I remember that other people struggle, I feel better able to keep going. Lots of people are worse off than I am. And lots of people struggle to be strong.

But people usually get through it. Even though pain is universal, so is happiness. There is always hope. There is always the next step, and we rarely have to take it alone.

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Keeping Calm

Today was an interesting day: when I came out of the shower, there was a strong smell in the air and my daughter was crying. I quickly found her along with half of a bottle of barbecue sauce on the kitchen counter. She was crying because she was covered in barbecue sauce and she kept slipping around in it and didn’t know what to do.

But there was more.

The boys had managed to find a dry erase marker and they had written on lots of things, including my brand-new door that we had just made (and we haven’t painted it yet, so I will have to literally sand out the ink). I thought it was the youngest one, but when I discovered the word Pokemon written on the wall later on in the day, I realized that it was not the youngest one. It was my kindergartner, who had been quite happy to not take the blame for it, but he was perfectly honest when I asked him directly.

And to top things of, the boys had also gotten knives out of the drawer and thought they would make good toys.

It was a moment. But I was calm. I didn’t yell. No one got into trouble, though I made sure to instruct them that we don’t write on the walls or play with knives or leave out the barbecue sauce with the lid off. I cleaned everything up. And that was that.

It didn’t stop there, of course: at dinner time, a bottle of spray cheese ended up breaking and spraying cheese everywhere. And then my son also spilled part of a bowel of cereal on the couch/piano bench/carpet.

I was still calm.

I am sorry to say that I have quite often yelled quite a lot in these situations. I get overwhelmed and think it’s just too much. I’m frustrated and I don’t want to clean up the messes.

But you know what? Messes are usually fairly easy to clean up (thank you, enzyme spray and magic eraser, you are my best friends today).

And the feeling I get when I yell is awful. Yelling doesn’t teach my kids anything, except maybe how to throw tantrums and yell. They listen when I’m calm. And when I’m calm, I feel better.

I feel powerful. If I can stay calm when all this is going on, I can do anything.

I can’t control the messes that have already happened. But I can control me. Because parenting is very first about controlling yourself; it is never about controlling your children.

My kids are going to make a lot of messes. The messes will change from food on the carpet to other struggles, but they will always be making messes. I am still making messes.

But messes can be cleaned up. And I can always love my children, no matter how big the mess.

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Fear not

Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness. (Isaiah 41:10)

The scripture mostly speaks for itself. I have been afraid, but then with the Lord’s help, I’ve been able to do what I need to do. He has helped me and upheld me and it’s been okay.

It’s been a bit exhausting with all the changes that have happened in my life lately, but he continues to guide me to a better path–a path that may not be filled with an easy, happy life full of riches and everything I want–but it is a path that will lead me back to Him.

I am surprised sometimes that even when I am having difficult times, when I trust in the Lord, so many problems just don’t seem to matter anymore. They are still there. And they hurt sometimes, but His love is so strong that it can provide happiness in very difficult places.

so much

I keep writing and the words are difficult to express. Life is so much bigger than I ever imagined. It is filled with so much more joy, sorrow, questions, answers, doubt, and faith. It is so much more complicated sometimes, and yet in other moments it seems so incredibly simple.

When I moved to our new home, I knew it would be difficult. But I did it anyway. And it has been difficult. But there have also been such good moments: working on this house and cleaning it out and making new things like doors and curtains; playing games or reading books with my children in the evening, exhausted but knowing that it’s important to give them those moments; the kind words and the prayers from my friends and my family; looking outside at the beautiful fall farm landscape that surrounds me.

I miss my husband quite a lot. We’ve had deep disappointments, doubts, and discouragement, but at the end of it, I know things will work out for our good. That doesn’t mean we will have an easy life and get everything we think we want–it means that we will be able to learn and to be made into better people. It means that we will have experiences that will make us a little more kind and a little more humble. It means that we will look back and be so glad that everything happened the way it did.

I am at a place where I can’t accomplish my to-do list anymore. It’s simply too big and I don’t have the time of day to accomplish all of it and properly take care of myself and my children. So I try to take care of the things that matter most. Then the laundry doesn’t get folded and the house never gets dusted and the microwave is still dirty. It is a strange feeling to leave so much undone, since for the most part throughout my life, I have been able to accomplish whatever I set my mind to.

But now I have to prioritize things. And I get quite a peaceful feeling in knowing that the things that don’t really matter will wait for later.

I’m not perfect. My computer sucks me in. The kids watch too many movies sometimes. I forget to put pellets in the fireplace and the fire goes out.

But I’m going to keep trying. That’s hope right there: I’m an incredibly flawed person and life is hard and I’m going to keep at it anyway.

home

I am home. It will never really be my home–it belongs to more than me. My Grandpa built this house, and it is a house that has to be loved in order for it to continue to exist. I do love it: when I wake up and look across to the golden hillside in the fall, or I see the kids playing and having fun. I love this house because I have come to it as long as I can remember, and my kids now play with the same toys that I did. This is house is unique: thick cement walls, vast storage areas, and trellis on the ceiling. Right now, it is a rectangle that we live in, no doors separating us. But we don’t mind, really. The kids run outside or hide under beds. I discover stuff in closets and pull out bags to sort it. I think of plans to change it and yet I am sort of happy with how it is right now. Completely imperfect, and yet we can exist here.

I can throw away my moving boxes now. I can tear things apart and put them back together again. No one else will live here. No one else will fix the problems. I have lived temporarily for so long I am not sure how to adjust to permanency. It is new and weird to me, and maybe it will never really feel totally permanent at all. It will just be my life, day after day. And maybe when I have combined what was with what I have created, it will become so much a part of me that I won’t even consider it anymore–home as an afterthought, because home feels so right.

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Forget about being a good or bad parent . . .

How many times have you told yourself that you’re a good mom/dad or a bad mom/dad? You’ve probably done it a lot–and if you are like me, you are usually saying to yourself that you aren’t good enough.

The thought of being a good parent or a bad parent is not very useful. First, who is coming up with the classification anyway? We are all very different people and we have our individual ways of doing things, so there is no universal ideal of a good parent.

We create our own ideas of what a good parent is and what a bad parent is. And when we measure ourselves against the ideal, we forget that we made it up in our heads.

And usually we are doing some things better than other things. And parenting is so huge, that even when we do something well, there is something else that we are forgetting to do. We can’t be perfect parents all at once. It’s sort of impossible.

So we should stop telling ourselves that we are good or bad parents. It doesn’t do any good at all. It’s not the point, anyway. The point is to love our children, not to get a passing grade in parenting.

We should keep striving to be better–but we should do it for the benefit of our children, not so that we feel good about ourselves.

And in the end of it, I don’t want to be a good mom as much as I want to be an instrument in the hands of God to do what he would have me do. And that may mean forgetting about whether I am a good mom or a bad mom and just trying a little harder.

Pain can be good

In the city finals course during an episode of American Ninja Warriors last year, Jessie Graff was trying to finish the course but was exhausted and didn’t have the strength to finish. She fell, knowing she had reached her limit. But throughout it all, she was smiling. When asked about it during the interview after the run, she said that she was smiling because she knew she was getting stronger.

I have remembered that for a while. I tend to avoid pain–a lot of us do. But lots of good things in life cause us pain, whether it’s the physical pain of exercise, the anxiety of talking to new people, or the frustration of trying a new skill. Often, the things we value cause us a a lot of pain too: I value my children and love them a lot, so when they are crying or struggling, it makes me hurt too because I want them to be happy.

There are two lessons in all of this:

  1. Often, we have pain because we are doing something difficult. And since we aren’t as strong as we want to be, it hurts. But if we persist and hang in there, we will become stronger. Pain can be good because it means we are stretching ourselves to do better. Instead of getting frustrated and just always doing what we are already good at, it’s better to push ourselves–it will hurt, but it’s worth it.
  2. The things that we value can cause us a lot of pain because we value them so much. This pain can cause us to do a lot of stupid stuff when we try to avoid it–like getting angry at our children when they are crying. We really want them to be happy–that’s why their crying is bothering us in the first place. But when we misinterpret our pain and forget what we actually value, we end up hurting the things that we love the most. A better way is knowing that the pain is okay and that avoiding the pain isn’t the answer–remembering what we love and value is.

Avoiding pain can be incredibly damaging. Now, sometimes we have pain that tells us we need to change our actions–like when we are injured, or we feel guilt. But it’s not like good choices lead to comfort and bad choices lead to pain. Sometimes, really good choices result in a lot of pain. But they are still good choices. The easy choice can often be a very negative thing.

We should remember what we value and push ourselves to become better and better at living those values. While that can be painful, it can also bring us a great amount of joy.

It’s okay to make a decision even if you are uncertain

Recently, I’ve been making some decisions about my life. If you know me well, you know I am not the most decisive person in the world. I feel a lot of uncertainty sometimes, and it’s difficult for me to make a decision.

Part of this is that I see pros and cons without being able to measure them very well, and I focus on the fact that even good decisions aren’t perfect. I can’t see the future, so I’m not exactly sure if I will really enjoy something or not. I don’t know if it will be worth it. But I have to make that decision anyway.

I want to be 100% certain of something before I decide to do it. But I’m rarely very certain of anything.

So instead of just going for it, I languish in the land of uncertainty.

The other day, as I was rethinking a decision yet again, I realized that I could still make the decision and be uncertain about it. I didn’t have to make a complex calculation of what was best and if it would be worth my time and money. I could just go for it and see.

I think that’s what decisive people are good at: they aren’t certain all the time, but they are willing to make decisions and go forward even with the uncertainty. If it feels and sounds mostly right, that’s enough.

I want to know exactly how things will turn out before they happen. I’m afraid of making mistakes. But we will make mistakes, and it’s okay. We just do the best with what we have and go forward without fear.

Happily Ever After

And they lived happily ever after . . .

It’s the ending to children’s stories, and it’s of course entirely untrue. They don’t live happily ever after, because they will eventually die. That’s life.

Coming-of-age stories end with the main character supposedly finding out who they are and starting on the direction they will continue for the rest of their lives.

Except for when they grow up, they are often met with radical life changes and difficult trials.

I had a really happy childhood. For the most part, I knew who I was and what I wanted in life. I had a home that felt comforting and inviting and a family who loved me. It was a happily ever after.

Then I grew up. Life can be really difficult as an adult. It’s wonderful, but there are uncertainties and trials and difficult realities.

So happily ever after belongs to children’s stories, to the thought that you can dream and your dreams can come true. To the idea that you can have life all figured out and be the person you want to be. It belongs to the one time in life when someone takes care of you, you truly feel at home, and you never have to be alone.

I know not everyone has a happy childhood, so it’s not universally applicable. Some people never really get their happily ever after. But happily ever after is never the destination anyway. The whole picture of life is bigger and scarier, but also much more beautiful.