Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Grateful #20- It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood


Four out of five days a week, Story, Grey and I go to Fayetteville. I'm one of the "rolling stone gathers no moss" types. But, once a week, we spend a day at home. We usually do this on Thursdays but since tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day, we're at home today.

We made pumpkin spice chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast and then took a walk down the street. It's one of those nice November days in North Carolina... so warm in the sun that we didn't need jackets, but not as humid as it could be. As we walked, yellow leaves came cascading down. Story wore rain boots and splashed in the puddles from last night's rain. Our neighbor stopped his truck to say hello and wish us a happy Thanksgiving.

I marvel at the simple goodness of days like today. It seems surreal that on a planet afflicted with sin's curse, I can walk down my street and feel perfectly safe.

What goodness today brings- the warm sun, the smiling neighbor, the houses with their trimmed hedges and aged trees, my daughter, my son,  and the chance to enjoy autumn's golden good-bye. Today, I'm thankful for this beautiful day in the neighborhood.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Grateful #19 - Smell me a memory

I got a little behind on writing these past couple of days, but I've been thinking about these gratitudes, none the less!

Today, I am grateful for the sense of smell. I was listening to a radio game show over the weekend.  The moderator asked the contestants a fun question and the contestants had to answer immediately with the first thing that came to their mind. One of the questions was "What did high school smell like?" One contestant shot back with "Noxema" and then the next said, "Binaca" (that aerosolized breath spray).

When I taught anatomy & physiology, I learned that the sense of smell is well connected with the brain's memory "hub", so that's the reason we connect smell to the past so well. It was such a fun exercise that Andy and I went through a couple of smell-associated memories as we drove up to Winston-Salem on Saturday.

What did high school smell like?
Me- dirty soccer socks
Andy- wrestling mats

What did college smell like?
Me- wet red clay (from many hikes and ball-throwing escapades with Gatsby) and stale beer at frat parties (don't worry, Mom, I did not drink that beer. But I did smell it and it was gross)
Andy- chalk bag (from climbing) and the musty basement smell of the campus safety office (where he worked)

What did Texas smell like?
Me- Lysol cleaning wipes (from cleaning the tops of my lab tables)
Andy- Eric's ranch- dirt, clean and open

I wonder what this season of my life will smell like? Coffee, wet wipes, Dreft, dirty diapers... I suppose that if someone asks me one day "What does happiness smell like?" I'll respond with one of those.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Grateful #18- Oh, brother

My brother and I were born eleven months, twenty days apart. (My poor mom) Such closeness in age doesn't always transition into closeness in life. But, for me, it did. And I can't express the gratitude I feel for that.

Growing up, my brother and I never tattled on one another. This does not mean that we were good and fair to one another. It's just that we dealt with those situations "in-house," - with a fist to the stomach or a proper shouting match. The disloyalty of tattling literally never crossed our minds.

I never liked being separated from my brother. One of my earliest childhood memories comes from a nursery class where I was separated from Grant (I think he might have been 3, and I was 2?) I can remember the feeling of being left "alone" in this class while my mom attended Bible study. I remember throwing a right good fit over it, not because I missed my mom, but because I was in a strange place without my brother. When I was in middle school, I tried public school and Grant went to private school. It lasted half a year. There were other circumstances at hand that led to me switching schools, but I remember the tremendous relief I felt when I started going to school with my brother again. Then again, with college, I went on college tour and played with the idea of going anywhere for a minute, but really...my brother was at Wake, and I wanted to be there too.

It's odd to write about those times where I followed my brother because I can't say that I particularly liked him during some of those years. He certainly wasn't nice to me all, or even most of the time. My brother's personality is so different from mine...more difficult. If we were house pets, I'd be the golden retriever, and he would be the cat.

Being together with my brother was such a natural part of my childhood. The need for his company wasn't something I was consciously aware of. I just knew, when it was lacking, I needed to remedy that. But as childhood gave way to young adulthood, that need waned. I had other interests, other friends. My life was ever-evolving, for the worst and then for the better. The tides of grace took me farther away from my sibling than I had ever been before. It seemed that would be the way forward, but it wasn't.

I don't have a sister, but what I've witnessed of sisters is something very different from what I have with my brother. I'm sure it's very nice to have another woman to share life with when you're older, but navigating the seas of sisterhood takes greater delicacy. Brothers (mine, at least) are blunt, and that makes things easier. My brother and I can scream at one another at the top of our lungs one minute and the next minute share a joke that makes us both laugh out loud. There aren't hurt feelings or residual bitterness with a brother. Something happens and then it's over and he moves on and you move on. I was used to that bluntness with Grant, when it came to him expressing his displeasure about something. What I was not used to, however, was how he used that same matter-of-fact way when he approached me a few weeks before my wedding. I remember he said, "We are getting older. I would like us to be friends." And we have been cultivating our adult friendship ever since. There was no better wedding present.

Because my brother is more difficult than me, you could assume that he doesn't need people like I do, doesn't enjoy them, doesn't want to maintain relationships. But that's not true. The house cat doesn't wag his tail at everyone like the golden retriever does, but, in a way, that adds value to his friendship because it is something you have to earn. My brother maintains relationships uniquely. They are important to him. He goes about it in a less overt way than some people might want or expect, and he does so in his own timing and that could be off-putting, but he goes about it, and that's what really matters.

Today, Andy and I are going to meet Grant for the Wake vs. State football game. I'll stand in the cold and let my brother tease me about being a State grad. I won't take offense, but I won't fire back. We won't part with a huge hug... just a "see you on Thursday" but in reality we will have both spent the evening with a great friend.

People say that blood runs thicker than water. We can put a lot of expectations on family ties to keep us bound to one another. But simply being related is not enough. If it was, families wouldn't fall apart. It's true that I love my brother in a different way than I love my friends- a deeper, more forgiving, ridiculously long-suffering way. But to really love and be loved by your sibling, as both friend and family, requires God's vision to see that person as God's handiwork. Sometimes when we see someone as a family member first, we're tempted to see them in light of our own expectations. Their loyalty or disloyalty to us or the family makes or breaks the relationship. Such things are too heavy for anyone to bear. When God gives us eyes to see a brother or sister as a person in need of grace, a new world opens up for them and for us. A challenging, sweet, wonderful world. Siblings are given their pasts, but have to choose to go with one another into the future. Today, I'm grateful that my brother chose to go with me. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Grateful #17- Friends

This post is getting in just under the wire... but part of the reason I'm so late in writing is because I was spending time with the thing I'm grateful for- friends. Because it's so late, I won't say much, but I hope that doesn't belie how grateful I am for my friends.

I think it's fascinating that finding, making, and keeping friends is a life-long process. It's fun to watch Story make some of her first little friends. When she sees them at church or school or a play date, she gets really excited sometimes, and is shy other times. But without fail, she ends up squealing with delight once they start to share something silly together. It's funny how those patterns also apply to me when I get together with my friends. In the course of human life, no matter your age, background or social standing-  you need friends.

As I've gotten older, I've learned that it's not always easy to make friends, but that doesn't make my need for friends any less important. Maybe that's one of the reasons that I really cherish the friends that I have, both old and new. Friends are a precious gift. If you are my friend, please know that I am so very grateful for you.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Grateful #16- Home


The kids and I spent Tuesday night at my mom and dad's so that Andy could focus on some work commitments. It's always fun to have a "spend the night" at Grandmommy's. I like it because I don't have to cook dinner, and I can just sit at the kitchen table afterwards and chat with my mom while my dad cleans up. Story likes it because she gets to cuddle up with Granddaddy and watch plenty of "Thomas choo-choo" before she goes to bed.

But when I picked Story up from preschool on Wednesday, she said she wanted to take her nap in "Stow-ee's bed." I assured her that we were headed to our house. It's nice to get away, but nothing beats stepping back into your own house. For me, that's a house that smells of cinnamon and coffee and baby powder. A house that is filled with furnishings from thrift stores, CraigsList and other people's castoffs. A house with walls adorned with pictures of the places we've traveled. 

I watch a lot of HGTV while I clean or cook and I love the renovation shows. My house would probably be featured in the "before" section of one of those shows, when the people are talking about how they want an open concept floor-plan and they cannot possibly make it another day without a chef's kitchen (even though half of them don't cook) ;) But I like it. I like each cozy room. I like the built-ins in the den where our color-coded books flank the fireplace. I like the dining room, where we all sit down for dinner on most nights. I like imagining what my stairs will look like with Christmas garland wrapped around the railing. I like sitting in the bed with Grey at bedtime and hearing Story's footsteps heading down the hall... a book and a blankie in tow. This house is snug, warm, sturdy and ours.

Homes are only as beautiful as the love inside them. That's a great thing to remember whenever I'm feeling like I need some of those HGTV updates. I'm grateful for this home because I love being here with the people who live inside it. I hope we fill it up with love, and make it even more beautiful.



Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Grateful #15- iPhone

Today, I'm grateful for the little device that fits in my pocket, but connects me to people around the world.

I have a love/hate relationship with my phone. I hate the way that I can pay attention to its screen instead of my daughter when we're at the breakfast table. I hate how I can check Facebook a dozen times a day (or more) to see how many people have liked a photo I've posted. I hate how the news stories that pop up are consistently tragic.

But there are some things about my phone that I'm thankful for.

I'm thankful for group texting. I have one ongoing with some of my co-laboring mommas. We tend to send funny stories and photos to help each other laugh through the trying times with our little people. I have another one that keeps me connected with some of my closest sisters in Christ- two in Texas and one in Russia. Those texts turn into prayers, and that group chat has got to be a fragrant aroma to our King.

I'm thankful for the Audible app. At this stage it's hard to sit down with a book (though I still prefer printed text) But Audible gives me access to thousands of titles that can whisk my mind away to solve a mystery or learn something new while I'm on a walk or in the car or folding laundry.

I'm thankful for the fitness apps I've been using that are helping me stay motivated to get back in shape. They remind me to drink water, or encourage me to stay the course with my fitness goals- accountability that I appreciate nowadays, because I cannot stay motivated on my own.

I'm thankful for the camera feature that makes it possible to capture the many adorable moments of childhood happening around me all the time.

I'm thankful for the music app. One of my favorite challenges right now is finding music to add to Story's playlist that she and I can enjoy together, especially since we ride at least an hour almost every day. Yesterday I added "Seeds of Praise" Christmas...an album that includes scripture verses about the birth of the Messiah put to music.

I'm thankful for podcasts. Everytime I hear Ira Glass's voice on "This American Life" I feel like a spell has been cast on my world. For that hour, while the stories are told, all is warm and well. I also hang onto the truth that Tim Hawks tells me in the Hill Country Bible Church podcast. His recent sermon on the idol of status revealed to me (not for the first time) how I desperately need to worship God more than the acceptance and approval of mankind.

A phone is a tool, but unlike any other tool in human history, the features of this tool have the ability to capture my heart and mind. I'm thankful that God has given me self-control, so that I am able to choose to use that tool for good and His glory. I am weak and often don't exercise that self control as I ought to. It's a process for me, but I'm thankful for these good ways my phone is used as a tool to connect with others,  give and receive encouragement, engage with the world, and glorify God.








Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Grateful #14- I can't wait to get in there.

https://www.bsfinternational.org/

This morning, I was chatting with a lady in my BSF group as I walked down the hall of LaFayette Baptist Church. I had to make a pit-stop in the lady's room, but as I bid her a "see you in a minute," I thought to myself, I  cannot wait to get in thereThere is my BSF small group, a group of ladies from around the Fayetteville area who have been "thrown together" for a year of in-depth Bible study of the book of Romans.

When I was in Austin, Andy and I woke at 3:45 AM to make it to BSF leader's meeting at 5. You'd think we would have been slow at that hour, but... I couldn't wait. I couldn't wait to get in that circle and get down on my knees next to women of different ages, denominations and ethnic backgrounds, who were facing different challenges at different life stages. I couldn't wait to praise and thank and petition God alongside them.

When I'm working on my BSF lesson, I can't wait to feel the power of God's Word crash into my wounded life. I can't wait for His truth to restore me, refresh me, rebuke me.

When I attend a BSF lecture, I cannot wait to hear how God will speak to me through my teaching leader. Even though I've been taught for years, these passages seem brand new. Just as challenging and life-changing as ever. Knowledge accumulates like snow on a frozen heart, but God's refiner's fire has purified me each year. Every lesson is alive, and it brings life.

What's funny is that when I was first challenged to go to BSF in 2003 (by my mom, who insisted that I go as a sophomore in college or she would stop paying my bills), it was the last place on the planet that I wanted to go. But one Tuesday morning that year, Jesus himself reached out to me from the pages of a BSF lesson and told me that He was my Savior. And for the first time, I believed him. He has ever since been my Lord, and I cannot wait to be with other women who crave his pure spiritual food the way that I do. We cannot wait to get to BSF to taste and see how good He is.

Today, I am grateful for Bible Study Fellowship. Praise God for this organization that desires nothing more than to make His Name GREAT among the nations. When I'm in heaven, I think it will feel a lot like being at BSF. Lots of people from lots of different backgrounds who are just really excited to talk about God and His Word and His Son, Jesus. And, you know what... I can't wait to get there.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Grateful #13- St. John's Preschool


Image result for let them be little
Today, I'm grateful for St. John's preschool. I was sick all day on Sunday, and was not enthusiastic about starting the week. But it was helpful to realize that this morning was a "school" day for Story. Her routine of spending nine to noon at St. John's preschool in Fayetteville has structured this season of life for her, Grey and me.

I've been amazed at how much Story has learned by going to preschool. At 2 1/2, she can count to eleven, sing the ABC's (sort of) and LOVES playing with other kids. I like how St. John's approaches learning. They send me a picture of their curriculum each week, and I like seeing the topics Story is being introduced to. It seems intentional, but not militant. There seems to be a firm grasp on the reality that these are little ones. and they are letting them be little.

I love that Story feels completely at home at St. John's. She loves to say hello to the man who helps conduct traffic in the morning. She affectionately refers to him as "whistle." She loves to push the button to be let into the front door. She walks into her classroom and confidently hangs up her jacket and "pack-pack" in her cubby. She smiles at her teachers on her way to the bathroom to wash her hands. As soon as they are clean, I kiss the top of her head and she takes a seat at the craft table and doesn't give me a second glance. I love that she feels so safe and at home that she doesn't even look my way as I exit.

Today, while Story washed her hands, I heard Hillsong's "Oceans" playing in the background. It choked me up just a bit. That song is so powerful. I spent last night working on my BSF lesson, and being reminded of the terrible reality of hell. Scary. In the wee hours, I prayed for my babies... that God would call them to himself early. I know I have no control over this, but I know that "faith comes by hearing" and so it encourages me greatly that an anthem of faith struck my precious one's ears as she sat down to make her craft today.

I'm grateful for St. John's preschool and how they know and love my little girl, and are introducing her to learning and, more importantly, to Jesus.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Grateful #12- This Guy...


Today, I am grateful for Andy Wermel. It's funny... for a person who has so many words all of the time, when it comes to describing my husband, it seems like less is more. So I'm just going to write some words here, without embellishment, to describe Andy. Because that's how he is. What you see is what you get. And what you get is...

Selfless
Honorable
Kind
Gentle
Goofy
Sleepy (he's sort of starting to sound like the seven dwarves...)
Genuine
Creative 

Andy, I love you so much. And I am thankful for you every day, even though I don't tell you nearly as often as I should. You smoke a mean brisket. You are gentle and kind. You are creative and I respect your heart and your mind. Mostly, I am thankful for the way that you let the Lord mold you... I've learned (and am still learning!!) not to rush that process. I am thankful that you trust and obey Him, and are being made into His image. I am so grateful for you, my love.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Grateful #11- The United States Military

Today, I'm grateful for those who serve in the military. When you grow up somewhere like Fayetteville, even if you are not from a military family, the US Army influences your life in a thousand ways each and every day. Probably half the people I've met in my life (maybe more), I met because they served in the military.

When Andy served in the National Guard, he didn't like to go anywhere in uniform. He didn't want  people to tell him, "thank you" if they ran into him while he was picking up something at HEB. He doesn't want to promote what he considers the idolization of a "hero class." Because, according to him, not everyone who serves in the military is a "hero." Like all professions, there are "good" soldiers and "bad" soldiers, just as there are "good" doctors and "bad" doctors, "good" teachers and "bad" teachers, and so on.

But today, I'm grateful for the many good soldiers that I've met. Because the reality is, being a good soldier does require sacrifices that being a good teacher or a good doctor does not require. Andy didn't ever deploy to a combat zone while he served in the military, but that doesn't mean that he didn't want the chance. He really wanted to put his life in danger in order to be a part of defending freedom. Being willing to offer the days of your life in an effort to promote freedom is a noble thing, and I am thankful for every soldier who earnestly answers that call and defends with purity of heart and mind.

I'm also grateful for military wives, because... come on, how can we even have a day to offer gratitude for soldiers and not at the same time consider their wives and families? Surely the best soldiers I know are the ones who have the most support behind them. How these women selflessly love their husbands from a distance, and then again up close, over and over and over again, is just beyond me. They are constantly called upon to be both mom and dad for months on end. They absorb dramatic change in their family and home dynamic. They endure separation from their extended families, and from their husbands. It's a hard life. I am just humbled by some of the military wives I know. They are women of iron beauty- strong and selfless. To those women, and the men they love and support- today, I am grateful for you.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Gratitude #10- Happy Birthday Dad!


I've been looking forward to writing this gratitude since I started this project. Today, I'm grateful for my Dad- Ronnie Mitchell, whose 65th birthday we celebrate today.

My dad was born in 1952, into a family rooted in the sandy soils of Sampson County, North Carolina. We used to visit the old farmhouse there when I was very young. No one lived there anymore, but I recall the old tobacco barn, tall and narrow, the scrubby pines in the yard and the hand-pump in the kitchen. He was the youngest of five children.

At some point the family moved to Fayetteville. There are two "hills" in Fayetteville- Haymont Hill and Massey Hill. They are more distinct socially than topographically. Lots of people grow up on Haymont Hill, attend college, begin careers and enjoy success. It's a hill of privilege, one people are proud to live upon. Lots of people from Massey Hill go to prison. To say that you grew up on that hill is to imply that you survived something, rather than had something bestowed upon you. But like many "old neighborhoods" of the American tradition, my dad has a kind of pride of place in Massey Hill. He sailed away on scholarship to Wake Forest University after graduation, but he's not ashamed of the place that launched his journey into higher education. That hill shaped his ideals, and, even though I went to school on the other hill, it managed to affect mine, as well.

My dad is smart. He's got a huge head, with very little hair on top, and perhaps the reason is because grass doesn't grow on a busy street. Throughout my childhood, my dad would spout off random facts as we drove in the car or sat at the dinner table. He'd recite all the states and capitals, for instance. Or give a full account of all of the Presidents of the United States. Or tell you all the names of the starting line-up of some sports team and why you should or should not respect a particular coach or player. His mind is like a trap for seemingly random information, but in his work as a lawyer, that trap has served him well.

Like most people who build big lives from humble beginnings, he's also absurdly hard-working.
My whole life, I've seen my dad working. Writing briefs, dictating, taking phone calls at all hours. But I've only seen him in court once. And that time was at the highest court- the Supreme Court of the United States. He performed an oral argument there while I was in college. It was a moment that opened my eyes to my dad's professional acumen. If my father were a physician, it would have been like watching him perform a life-saving surgery. Or if he were a soldier, it would have been like watching him execute a mission without jeopardizing the lives of the men on his team.

An oral argument in front of the Supreme Court of the United States is nothing like an episode of Law & Order. The Justices sat high above the court, some of them imperious, some of them seemingly indifferent. I got the sense that the mission of the hour was to engage the Justices in earnest discourse, and yet I soon realized the difficulty in doing so. The Justices aren't there to be nice or polite. They are there to make decisions that become laws. They reminded me of cats, sprawled and comfortable, but ready to pounce at any moment. Their questions pawed at the attorneys in front of them, testing their skill and intelligence. Every time my dad would begin a statement with "Respectfully, Justice..." I'd hold my breath, wondering if the cats would show their claws, or, worse yet, completely lose interest. I had no idea what he was talking about, but, as the argument proceeded, it was clear that the Justices became increasingly interested in my dad and bored and disappointed with  his opponent. It took some weeks before the ruling was made, and, in the end, my dad's side  lost the case. But on that day in Washington, he won the respect of the highest court in the land.

I've heard integrity defined as "doing the right thing when no one else is looking." Surely in life, there are many times that we fail to do the right thing. The right thing is often exhausting and sometimes costs us dearly. But, my dad is a man of integrity. I completely trust him to do the right thing, even if that thing takes time and trouble to sort out. Eventually, he will do what is right, no matter who is looking. I count on that like I count on the sun shining this morning.

My dad is also very grateful. Suppose it's Saturday afternoon and my family has informally gathered around the kitchen table to eat a sandwich or some leftovers while watching a football game. The game is on, and everyone is at varying stages of consumption- some still spreading mayo on bread, some pressing the last crumbles of potato chips onto their tips of their fingers. My dad will, without fail, come in and ask- "Have you all prayed yet?" I've wondered why. Why is the ritual so important that in such an impromptu setting we couldn't just skip it and watch third down? But I've realized that it doesn't have anything to do with ritual. He's truly so grateful to God for that moment- his family, the sandwiches, the football game... that he can't take a bite until he's said "thank you" to the Giver.

I could write a lot more things about my dad for which I'm grateful. .But I'll end with this. It is the joy of my heart to see my dad with my children. He likes to see them a couple of times a week (though he'd be happier to see them every day) Sometimes he will come by our house when he's been working nearby. It thrills Story for him to show up like this. And when she sees him at the door or hears his car in the driveway, she calls out, "Granddaddy here!" When he doesn't get to see them in person, he FaceTimes, even though they're just 25 miles down the road. He did so last night, and I held the phone up so that he could see Grey, who was blowing bubbles as he rocked in his swing. My dad's expression was like a man looking upon a long-lost treasure. Because that's exactly what my children are to him- they are a treasure. One of immeasurably great value that was waited for and is now here, to be cherished and enjoyed. I'm so grateful for this because it helps me understand the heart of God. Little Grey is cherished, not because of what he has learned or accomplished, but simply because he is here. And Story is the delight of his life, because she is here, and also because she is of an age where she can be enjoyed. It's hard to fathom that God could feel the same way about me. That He loves me because I am here, because I am His. But He also wants to enjoy me. As I learn more about Him and obey Him, our relationship grows, just like Granddaddy and Story.

As I've gotten older, I've seen a lot of bad examples of fatherhood and experienced how much pain an unjust, unloving father can create and allow. And as I'm learning to parent myself, I see how hard it is, and how costly.  So today, I am so grateful for my dad. Happy birthday, Dad!!! I love you!

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Grateful #9- The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness

Image result for the freedom of self forgetfulness
Just a few minutes ago, I changed from my "out and about" clothes to a pair of "stay in" clothes. It was dark in my bedroom when I pulled a pair of leggings from a drawer, and I couldn't tell if the leggings were black or navy blue. I lamented my inability to tell for a moment, because I wanted to put on a red and black buffalo check flannel, which is especially cozy and perfect for this cold, wet day. I thought for a minute that navy doesn't match that shirt, so I hoped that the leggings weren't navy. Then thought... Seriously, have I actually just wasted a minute thinking about this? Who cares? It doesn't matter!

That reminded me of a little book my friend Robin shared with me a few years ago. It's titled The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness. This tiny book (it's only 44 pages!) unpacks a gigantic truth that's based on Paul's letter to the Corinthians. Paul writes, "I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I don't even judge myself...it is the Lord who judges me."

I admit that I lose sight of this truth most of the time. I do care what people think of me, and I do care what I think of myself. But, if you ever read this book, Tim Keller will help you understand that caring about such things steals the joy God intends for you to have. The antidote to insecurity isn't a higher opinion of myself...it's the freedom to forget about myself, and enjoy God and His gifts and callings in my life. Self-focus diverts our vision from God and His people. Self forgetfulness allows us to focus on that which brings true joy.

So, today, I am grateful that it doesn't matter if my pants are navy or black (they were black, by the way). I don't have to focus on myself. God has given me the freedom of self-forgetfulness.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Grateful #8- Hot and Cold

Today, I'm grateful for the hot shower I just took on this cold November afternoon. The past two days have been tough on Grey (his tummy has been giving him trouble). He cried nearly all afternoon and evening both Monday and Tuesday. But today he's feeling much better, and that meant I could put him in his rock and play and enjoy a long, hot shower while Story napped.

I also love late autumn days like this one. I love opening the door to let the dog out and feeling a little bite from the outside. Humidity doesn't bite, it licks, and at this point, I'd rather be bitten, for sure.

I'd love a mug of hot cider and a real fire, but I don't have either of those. So I'll stay content with the extra minutes to let my skin get red and clean while my little ones quietly rest.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Grateful #7- Food for the body


Image result for fall foods
When I was in middle and high school, I had an eating disorder. I was underweight for a few years (when I didn't really eat much at all) and then slightly overweight for a few more years (when I binged and purged food with regularity). That unhealthy approach toward food caused mental, physical and emotional pain for myself and the people closest to me for nearly a decade.

God delivered me from that snare little by little, but I turned a major corner my junior year at N.C. State when I took a human nutrition course. I'll never forget Dr. Sarah Ash coming in on the first day of class with a pack of Lance peanuts and a can of Coke. She said, "This is my breakfast. See, even nutrition professors don't get it right all the time."

I don't remember much of the biochemical depths that I was taught that semester, but it doesn't matter. What changed my life was learning to approach food as fuel, instead of something to control, fear or use to soothe my mind or emotions. Dr. Ash's mantra, "All things in moderation and variety in all things," has governed my food choices ever since I took her class.

After having a baby, it's been tempting to get down on myself because my body doesn't look or feel the way that it once did. I started a running program about a week ago to jump-start my weight loss goal, but even with that going on, I've looked at the scale or in the mirror and gotten discouraged lately. I've been tempted to try to control what I'm eating in an effort to slim down faster. But that mindset doesn't lead me into gratitude and freedom. It points me back in the direction that I came from. So today, I'm grateful that food is for the body, and that God provides great variety for me to enjoy and to give me the strength and energy I need to do His work today.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Grateful #6- Paradise



The day that Jesus hung on the cross, he had a conversation with the criminal beside him. He told that man, who admitted his sin, and acknowledged Jesus' authority, the he would be with him in paradise. 

Yesterday's shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas really shook me up. As violence pours out in our country this fall, I feel shocked, disgusted and worried. I can't stop thinking of the pastor and his wife. We know that their 14 year old daughter was one of the victims. I imagine that, as a parent, you'd be more worried about where your teenage daughter spent her Saturday night than her Sunday morning. The last thing you would expect is for evil to rip apart your world while your child sits in the house of God.

I told Andy last night, that hearing about these things makes me not want to go anywhere. He was quick to remind me that God hasn't given us a spirit of timidity. He's right, but.. my babies...

I wrestled with these thoughts in the wee hours, while I rocked Grey a while longer than I usually do. That's when I thought of Jesus telling the thief he would be in "paradise." Today, I am grateful for that word, and that real place that Jesus promised the thief- and promises everyone who repents and believes. What a word of hope in the final moment of life. Paradise- we don't know what exactly  Jesus has in store in this paradise he speaks of, but it's a good word, isn't it? An elaborate word. It conjures images of sandy beaches and pristine waters. Warm sun and no pain. I don't know that Jesus' paradise looks quite like the Jimmy Buffet version I tend to think of, but I know it's good. And I know that those believers who were gunned down yesterday were instantaneously there. In Paradise, with the King.

Focusing on this word this morning doesn't diminish the pain caused by the evil that overcame good yesterday, but it is an effort for good to overcome evil, which is what God desires. Today, I am grief-stricken over the hell on Earth the congregation of First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs is facing. But I rejoice with them that paradise now holds those saints whose lives we grieve the loss of today.


Sunday, November 5, 2017

Grateful #5- Grey



Today, I'm thankful for my little boy. It's amazing how, just when you think your heart couldn't get any fuller, God unfolds a part that you didn't know was even there.

When I was pregnant with Story, I somehow "knew" her. I felt like I understood her personality, even when she was inside me. When she arrived, she was just what I expected- only now I could see her and hold her.

It wasn't like that with Grey. I don't really know why. I kept saying to Andy throughout the pregnancy that I didn't really know Grey yet. I didn't know what to expect when he got here. And the first few days of his life were so challenging for me because of the anxiety I experienced immediately after his birth that I did not feel the immediate connection with him that I had with Story.

But today, I am grateful for the way each sigh, coo, smile and cry tethers my heart to him. I'm grateful for the sweetness that oozes out of my new little person. I'm grateful that when I smell the top of his head, it smells like me- a smell I'm not even consciously aware of, but, when I nuzzle him up to my nose, assures me that he is irrefutably mine.

Every day, I tell Grey, "You are important." I want him to know that even though he was my second ray of sunshine, his light was no less bright.

I love you, Andrew Grey. And I am grateful for you.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Grateful #4- Brokenness Welcome Here

Image may contain: one or more people

Today, I'm thankful for this Facebook post from a former student of mine.

Mark 2:17: “I have not come for the righteous, but for the sinners!”
Jesus didn’t come for the perfect. He came for those who are broken, weary, and burdened. His church is not a gathering place only for those who have it all together, but also a sanctuary for those who need refuge and renewed strength. I’ve struggled with my brokenness for as long as I can remember, because I’ve been broken for as long as I can remember. I went through a period where I gave up on Jesus and Christianity because I didn’t think it was for me. I was too far gone, too lost, and I felt I could never be “good enough” to step inside a church, or talk to the God who created this beautiful earth. I didn’t think I was worth His love, healing, or grace. I wanted desperately to share His love with the world, but I refused to accept it for myself. I was too broken. But that’s not what the Bible says. That’s not what Jesus is about. He came for the broken. He came for the sinner. He came with the message that no one was ever too far gone. He opens His arms wide and says “Your brokenness is welcome here.” He make beautiful things out of broken things❤️ 


You don't have to look too far to find brokenness. For me, all I have to do is check the news on my phone, consider some of my "relationships" with people or search my own heart. Brokenness is thriving. 

It's no wonder why. Jesus warned that we have a real enemy who is sowing seeds in the world that bring forth a harvest of brokenness. That enemy is here to "steal, kill and destroy." We also have our own humanity to consider- whose default mode is to glorify and serve itself instead of worship a Perfect Creator and love the people and things He created.

So we live each day with broken hearts, the jagged edges of which, shred the people we are supposed to love. 

So today I am thankful for this post, which encouraged me that Jesus has an answer to all this brokenness. He's standing at the door of our broken hearts, knocking. And I am so grateful for this sweet girl who has opened the door and invited Him in. I'm challenged to do the same. Sweet friend, let's let the healing begin. 


Friday, November 3, 2017

Grateful #3- "Mommy, wait!"

Story suffers from an affliction common to 2 1/2 year olds, especially those with new little brothers or sisters. She's got a pretty serious case of "mommy-itis." She doesn't like to be separated from me, especially for something that's off-routine. She can get to preschool, BSF and church nursery without too much trouble, but if I try to step out the door for a yoga class in the evening, or even walk into another part of the house to take care of a task, she cries out, "Mommy, wait!" and then moves her little toddler body as fast as she can to catch up with me.

Baby girl, I understand. I feel the same way. I like to be with my Mommy too. And that's my gratitude for today- I'm grateful to get to be with my Mom.

Today, my Mom and I are going to the Holly Day Fair. It's a tradition we've had since I was in high school. She went yesterday with her friend Ann (they have that tradition too- they always go during the stroller-free hours... lucky devils) She sent me pictures of the good stuff and I am so excited to join in the fun today. But it's not really because of the stuff. It's because it's our tradition- me and my Mom. It's the start of our holiday season. It's a celebration of the good cheer that is coming- and I'm so grateful to get to start that celebration together with her. 

My best friend lost her Nana this fall. It's been hard. It's reminded me that our beloved ones are not here forever. God gives and takes away, and I don't know that we can ever be prepared for the taking part. So today, I'm here, resting in this moment where I can say, "Mommy, wait!" And she will wait. She has always waited. And I am so thankful for it.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Grateful #2- ALL


Related image
Today I'm grateful that the gospel of Jesus Christ is for ALL people.

There are no qualifiers to the gospel, no exclusion policies, no background checks. The gospel isn't an institution that you have to apply for and hope to get into. It isn't for people who look or act or vote a certain way.

The gospel is for moral people and reckless people.
The gospel is for light-skinned people and dark-skinned people.
The gospel is for gay people and straight people.
The gospel is for rich people and poor people.
The gospel is for Republicans and Democrats.
The gospel is for ignorant people and educated people.
The gospel is for mean people and kind people.
The gospel is for Americans and for the NATIONS.
The gospel is for ALL people.

This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to ALL who believe. Romans 3:22


Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Grateful #1- Mommin'

Today, I'm grateful for getting to stay home with my babies. Grateful that I woke up to feed Grey at 5:30, and was able to go back and lay in the bed another hour without the stress of the workday crushing my chest. Grateful that I showered, put on a favorite pair of green lounge pants and a grey wool sweater, brushed through my wet hair and was at that point "dressed" for the day.

When I went back to work after having Story a friend encouraged me by saying that when she went back to work it helped her to be really intentional about parenting in the time she had with her children. I get that. I feel the same way. It's easy to get distracted by lesser things when you feel like you have the whole day ahead of you. Sometimes choosing to nurture is hard when you feel like you can just do it later.

Another friend warned me, before I ever had children, that the hardest part about staying home is that it's a 24/7 gig. And that's true too. There are days when it's 9PM and I've been spit-up on all day and someone has cried at least every half hour, and the laundry pile seems to have spread like some sort of Dreft-scented fungus, even though I've spent ten consecutive hours trying to contain it.

But today, I'm super grateful that I get to be home with my littles. That I get to walk Story into preschool and stay until she washes her hands and settles in to play. That I get to give Grey some serious snuggles this afternoon (he was a little neglected yesterday as I scrambled to get the house cleaned up for our little Halloween shindig). That we will spend a sunny afternoon in our yard, looking for some fun.

Work will come again, and there's merit in schedules, routines and a hard day's labor out in the world. But today, I'm grateful to have the time and space and lack of external pressure so that I can just "be" with these little people. I can take them in, in all their sweetness and dirtiness and crankiness, and taste how sweet it is to be their mother.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Collisions

Image result for dust in the light



A couple of days ago, I sat on the sofa in my den. The yellow light of a mid-October afternoon streamed through the window, illuminating particles of dust suspended in the air. They swirled up and down, each movement surprisingly graceful. In a day or two they’d meet a lemon-scented end when I attacked that room with a dust rag and a bottle of Pledge, but for the moment, they were almost beautiful.


I took a deep breath in, and then exhaled, like I was trying to blow a candle out. I expected to see the tiny dust-dancers immediately respond to my breath, scurrying this way and that in a frenzied retreat. But I was surprised and a little delighted when it took a second for the response I was looking for to occur. I pondered the collision of particles that I had just witnessed. I breathed out again and waited, as molecules bumped into one another in the stretch of space between my mouth and the light-soaked rectangle in front of the family room window. And when that microscopic domino effect reached the tiny dancers, they jumped and scurried again, and I smiled.


But then I stopped smiling. Because what I was watching reminded me of something more serious but no less predictable. Words, when released into the world, have a similar effect. Once uttered, they travel across any distance, any time, colliding into insecurities, past wounds and the lies the Enemy weaves into the fabric of the universe and have tremendous effect. Over the weekend, I had a conversation with someone about this very thing. Words spoken decades ago continue to echo in this person’s mind, and their thoughts still dance a twisted dance, in frenzied response to the put-down uttered in another time, another place.


I wonder if someone had been on the other side of the room that sunny afternoon and had breathed at the very moment that I had, if their breath would have countered mine, and the collisions would have been off-set by the opposing force?


I pray that when God speaks His truth into the universe- through His Word, through His people- that collisions of grace and kindness off-set the damage created when selfish, unkind words collide crippling the hearts and minds of His people.

Still my heart, let Your voice be all I hear hear now. Fix my eyes on the things I cannot see now. Spirit, breath like the wind… come have Your way. -Hillsong United

Friday, June 9, 2017

Into Abba's Arms

A few weeks ago, Story and I had a really bad day. May is a tough time to be a high school teacher. My students had spring fever, but I felt the constant pressure of needing to prepare them for their exams. We were in the midst of the busy (but fun!) arrangements for my brother's wedding, and I was getting increasingly uncomfortable in my six-months pregnant body.

One afternoon, I brought Story home and needed to get inside to make dinner. There is no harder time in my day than the hour or so before Andy gets home, when I am dead on my feet, and need to cook. This wasn't fun before Story, but now, I have the added challenge of a whining toddler who weaves in and out of my legs and intermittently falls onto the floor in tears of frustration because I won't stop what I'm doing to play with her. I've heard that this pre-dinner time is called the "witching hour" by some moms. I'd agree- I just don't know which one of us is the witch

So this bad day, Story and I had been playing outside, but I knew I needed to get in and start dinner. Since she wasn't obeying my commands (shocker), I picked her up to take her inside when I felt a sharp pain on my ample belly- she bit me!!! And it HURT! I got inside, in physical pain, but I was in worse shape mentally and emotionally. She'd been threatening at biting for weeks. But this was the first time she'd really gotten a chunk of me. My exhaustion, emotion and frustration collided. I gave her a spanking, sat her on a chair at the kitchen table and left her there, howling, as I went upstairs to change out of my work clothes. I needed space between me and her. I paced around my room, trying to calm down.

After a few minutes, I went back to the kitchen. She sat in the same spot I'd left her, red-faced, with steady tears coming down her face. Usually, when Story is crying, whether she's hurt or is in trouble, my heart breaks the minute the first tear falls and I pick her up and comfort her. But not this day. I'd had it. Had it with the whining, the demanding, the biting. Had it with the exhaustion and the dreaded hour of the witch. There was no nurturing touch in my hand as I yanked her up and put her in her high chair and placed some sort of leftovers in front of her.

Time passed, and Andy still wasn't home, so I got myself a plate and sat down at the table, not really making eye contact with Story, who had stopped crying and was occupied with pushing food from one side of the high chair tray to the other. But after she finished eating, I asked her to do something she refused to do, and this time, she swung her hand at me. She does this all the time. I think all toddlers do this when they are feeling frustrated. I usually calmly catch her hand, squeeze it and firmly say no. At most, I give the little hand a tiny pop that elicits some equally undramatic tears and then we move on. But this time I was enraged. First she bites me.  Then, while I'm still angry- she HITS me! I gave her the second firm spanking of the day, and left her standing in the kitchen howling while I cleared dinner plates.

Right about this time, Andy got home to his angry wife and screaming kid. I blurted out what had happened while he tried unsuccessfully to console Story. She ran into our den, still howling, and began to pace back and forth in there like a caged animal. Andy again tried to pick her up and comfort her- she really was a wreck. But she couldn't go to him. She was disoriented and devastated.

Maybe that was the moment I stopped being a witch. I went into the den and knelt down, arms open. Immediately, Story flung herself into them. her heavy head found my shoulder and she breathed ragged, tearful breaths into my neck.

A few days later, God used this moment to teach me something. Story created that situation for herself. She was defiant, mean, and hurtful. She made bad choices that led to consequences that left her confused and with hurt feelings. But in the midst of those consequences, her only desire was to be reconciled to the person who had exercised discipline in her life. That's why she wouldn't go to Andy for comfort. She could hardly even factor in that he was in the room with her. Things weren't right between her and Momma. And the world was upside down.

God showed me that I need to be like Story. No matter what has happened. Even when I am the maker of my own mess, I need to realize that my Heavenly Father's arms are always outstretched, and I need to run into them. Because, even though He is the one who exercises discipline in my life, He is the one that I need.

This year has been tough in many ways- our move, new jobs, new house and demanding routine. In the midst of that, we had to make some tough decisions about personal relationships that cast a shadow of loss over our little family. Tough, tight places like these are where God likes to do His disciplining work, but my first response isn't always pliancy of heart. I like to try to work my way out of those types of tough spots- with reasoning, distraction, or the sweat of my brow. When really, I'm similar to my toddler - my world is upside down. And I need the open arms that never stop loving me more than I need anything else.

I ran back into God's arms after this really tough day with Story. I could feel God start working in and through me again in ways that have renewed my soul so that I cross the "finish line" of this school year today, not somehow, but triumphantly (as my BSF teaching leader always said).

God of grace, thank you, thank you, for never leaving me. When I am in pain because of the circumstances of life, the decisions of others or even when I am in the midst of the consequences I earned for myself, You are there. Thank you for holding me and letting me breath my own ragged, exhausted, sin-soaked breaths into your neck. Thank you for cleansing me, making me new, and giving me new strength to do what you call me to do each day. I love you, Abba. 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Mother's Day Prayer

Now that Story is a toddler, acquiring boo-boos is an almost daily occurrence. And these words are spoken by me with equal regularity- "Do you want Mommy to kiss it and make it better?" Her reply is always an enthusiastic, "Uh-huh."

Before I became a mom, I thought it was silly to say things like that to children. Of course mommy's kisses can't actually make boo-boos better. Now that I have a little one of my own I know better.

This Mother's Day I am reflecting upon the responsibility that God has given to Mothers. First the responsibility to grow and bring forth a life. Then, the daily duty of dying to self in order that someone else feels your love. And finally, the responsibility of letting go of someone you love with all of your heart- so that they can choose for themselves the direction in which they will go. To be called to motherhood is to be called to mirror God Himself in the life of someone you cherish- how powerful.

To have the opportunity to mother, and to carry out that role with whole-hearted acceptance and dependence on God is one of life's greatest joys. There is healing in it. Both for the little ones who receive that love, and for the mommas that get to give it.

But the opposite is also true. How painful it is for those who can no longer turn to their Mother for healing when life, inevitably, wounds them. Perhaps because she is no longer here on the Earth. Perhaps because her own wounds cause her to inflict more pain than she heals- with her words, her actions, her distance. And how painful, also, for those would-be Mommy's who haven't had the chance to bring forth life and nurture it- even though it is their hearts greatest longing. Our pastor said, in closing today's service, that we should be mindful that there are many for whom this is a painful day. Amen.

God of grace, grace that is sufficient to heal. Thank you for showing us yourself through Mothers. Thank you for giving us the ability to love beyond ourselves, out of your grace and strength alone. Today, I give you thanks for my mother, and for the ways in which she has shown me You. And I give you thanks for the chance to be Story's mother, and I ask that she would, above all, see You in me. And I lift up those who cannot reach out to their mothers today, for whatever reason, to love them and be loved by them. May your infinite love be enough. And for my dear friends who long to be mothers, will you give them the desire of their heart. Amen. 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A few reasons why you should or shouldn't watch 13 Reasons...

A few weeks before spring break, one of my students told me I should watch a show on Netflix called "13 Reasons Why." She told me the premise, (she said it was about a girl who commits suicide and the clues she leaves behind about why she did it) and because I'm a sucker for mysteries of any kind, I decided to check it out. I finished the last episode today.

I don't really write "reviews" about things on here, but I want to say a few things about this show. My student's synopsis was actually pretty good. But, if you haven't watched this show- be warned- it is devastating. The language, the content, the message- will wreck your sensitivity. It simply isn't for everyone.

I made it through for a couple of reasons. As a high school teacher, I try to stay connected with my students by getting on their level. I'm not going to listen to their music or use Snapchat- I'm just too old for that-but I try to select a couple of cultural things each year to engage in. More specifically, I wanted to try to connect with this student- a young lady who is spending time in tutoring, and yet, with whom I've had a hard time connecting. In teaching, connection is everything.

So I watched, even as things progressively worsened throughout the story. The plot is dark to begin with. The main character, Hannah Baker, has recently killed herself, but before doing so, created a series of 13 tapes explaining the various reasons why. Though dark, the premise is intriguing, and it's hard to not just let your Netflix take you into the next episode and then the next and then the next... And yet, with each episode, with each escalation of violence and use foul language and portrayal of sexual exploitation, I wanted to stop watching. I was frequently disgusted by the graphic nature and sexualization of heinous acts, and the abundance of foul language. I grew tired of the portrayal of adults as bumbling, but well-meaning idiots and high school students as angsty, artsy geniuses who seemed to have no limits and were never held accountable- either in school or at home. I was also very confused about the overall point the creators of this show were trying to make. But I wanted to see where they went with it. Because, underneath all of that filth, there was something going on- a message that might just be worth tuning into, and I wanted to get to the end of the message and see if it was worth wading through the muck to get it.

The jury is still out on whether the message- that bullying is a terrifyingly serious reality- was worth me watching it... so that's not the reason I'm writing here. I'm writing here to convey a couple of thoughts that were important to me as I watched the show.

This show is written by adults and it is most definitely for adults. If you have a teenager, do not let them watch it. Something that Hollywood does not get that high school teachers do- teenagers are still kids. You can feed them scripts in which they say words like "existential" and "Orwellian" but the teenagers who are watching this show do not have any idea what that means. Thousands of kids will watch this show, and I'm doubtful that they can actually digest the onslaught of sex, violence and partying and then discern the "meaning" underneath it all. Much of the nuance is lost on young minds- the adult creating it might see an opportunity for something artistic, expressive, even cathartic for his or herself, but most kids are just caught up in the raw events of the plot itself. Additionally, what is portrayed on popular TV shows does, in some ways, legitimize the experiences depicted in the shows. Even if the intention is to show that sometimes really bad things can happen in such and such circumstance, when the circumstance appears on a TV show in a seductive way, kids are going to be drawn into that circumstance, even if they were, up to that moment, naive that such a thing exists in the world. I fear that what teenagers will gain from watching a show like this is that some of the things depicted are actually "normal"- and just to give you an idea of what is depicted- there are high school keg parties, drugs are bought and sold, drinking and driving results in a traffic fatality, there are two rapes, two suicides, and toward the end, a kid seems to be building up an arsenal of sorts in what appears to be the fledgling stage of a plan to shoot the people who have bullied him. Most disturbing of all is the theme that drives the rest of the story- Hannah is telling about all of these events as she records the tapes- the "reasons" why she has committed suicide. My greatest fear in watching this TV show is that teenage suicide has been twisted to serve a purpose in story that's perhaps meant to be cautionary, but is in fact, a revenge plot. And revenge is very sexy and exciting. Who doesn't like to hear a story about someone getting revenge? One of my favorite books is the Count of Monte Cristo- simply because the Count spends so much time and detail connecting the dots back to the people who betrayed him. There's something similar with what Hannah is doing in this show. She carefully chronicles the wrongs she has suffered, and then sends them out into the world where they at last turn heads and get people motivated to do the right thing- because she is dead.  Whether she "intends" the tapes to be a way to to "get back at" the people who caused her the pain and suffering that drove her to suicide isn't exactly clear, but that's exactly what seems to be happening as the show progresses. But let's not forget that Hannah is not the Count of Monte Cristo. He is motivated to create a new life. She ends hers. And what could be more serious, or more seriously off track, than planting the idea in the underdeveloped frontal lobe of a teenager that there is some poetic justice in getting back at one's enemies after committing suicide. I don't know that the creators of the show intended that message to be a part of the show, but for me, it was impossible to ignore that the plot could be twisted in such a way.

I like art in all forms, and I really do think that this show has some artistic elements, and likely was trying to accomplish something good by taking some risky "artistic" license with this topic. As a would-be story-teller myself, I give the benefit of the doubt to the folks who created this show, but I felt so strongly about its potential to create a lot of confusion and chaos for young people that I wanted to write about it.

Before I shut this down, I want to say this- good came from me watching this show. Albeit probably not quite in the way the creators were hoping for, but who know? One of the major take-aways for me in watching this was to be even more vigilant and engaged as I interact with students everyday. Each day, there is a temptation to see the work and not the student. But watching a show like this reminds me that they are real, and there are really things (even things like this show) that are out there to steal, kill and destroy. So in these past few days, I've been as intentional as ever to hold them accountable, and make eye contact, and help them see what I see. I see you. I see you where you are. I see you where you can be. And I care about both. Maybe that is one reason why Hannah Baker isn't a total waste of my time or yours- but I'm old. Keep your kids away.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Habit Shmabit....

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, present your requests to God.
Philippians 4:6


I’m listening to a book on Audible about habits. I just started it yesterday, so clearly, I’m already an expert. ;) But seriously, I learned a lot from just one day of listening. Habits form initially as the gray matter of the upper brain makes conscious decisions about something. Then, as time goes on and the behavior is repeated, a pathway is created in a more primitive part of the brain called the basal ganglia. This pathway, called a “habit loop,” consists of a cue, a pattern of behavior and a reward. Once the basal ganglia forms the habit loop, the pattern becomes like “second nature.” It becomes a part of our person- for better or for worse- and the upper brain is then free to solve new problems or design new thoughts.


Another thing that I learned is that habits come in many varieties- they can be outward behaviors like exercising, smoking or watching Netflix. They also can be thought processes or emotional habits, and this is the type that I’m exploring more deeply today.


I woke this morning at 6:30, as I do almost every morning (if I don’t wake considerably earlier than that), and I began to think about a particular situation that causes me to feel sadness and worry. I generally lay in the bed thinking about this for a long time- until I have to get up and start the day, or I become so overwhelmed with the sadness and worry, that I crack open my journal and Bible and pray. My journal is absolutely filled with prayers about this one particular situation.


And here, on this first day of 2017, I think I’m beginning to understand why. I’m in an emotional habit loop. I started this loop long ago, I don’t even remember when exactly. But based on what I'm learning about habits, I would say that this habit probably started when I had to consciously think about this situation a lot due to some changes going on in our lives in late 2015/early 2016. I would think and pray and talk things through with God in the morning hours. Often that time helped me have self control over my overflowing emotions, and also led into some really productive conversations with Andy. Together, we agreed to seek some professional counseling, and that proved to be one of the most fruitful events of 2016 for our little family. Praise God. The situation didn't go away, but how we approach it has changed. It's still sad, but we did our best before God and man.

So there's really no need to take the habit loop into 2017 with me. This habit might have started out by providing me an emotional outlet for all I was feeling, but now it just brings unfruitful worry and heaviness that sometimes spiral into anxiety. God doesn't want that for me. He knows how anxiety hurts his children.The situation has been dealt with as best we could, but in my emotional habit loop, I begin to fret and feel sad over the end result, which I have no control over. No good can come of this, and it only steals time that could be much better spent. I could get up, for instance, and fill my gratitude journal. Or, I could remember the friends that I’ve promised to partner with in prayer. Or I could just pray faithfully about the exciting and big events coming up in our lives this year- purchasing our first home! My brother’s wedding! Story’s continued spiritual, emotional and physical growth! I could write, read or do yoga. There are a lot of exciting possibilities for new habits that can replace this old one. I'm going to continue to listen and learn and pray and hopefully there will be something new that sinks in and takes over my primitive brain that brings God the gratitude that He deserves and grows my faith in Him.

Lord, as this new year begins, I need your help. I’m “stuck” in a negative emotional habit loop. I wake up and worry and waste time about something that I’ve prayed and prayed and prayed about, but have no control over and cannot change. Lord, please help me to create a new habit this year, one in which I wake each morning and start the day with thanksgiving. Please let this new habit create space in my mind to creatively worship you and offer up sincere prayers for the people who are precious to me. I pray these things in your name, Jesus. Amen.

The book I'm listening to is: The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg