Tag Archives: perseverance

Re-Entry

On September 21st, I went to Africa with a team of 6 other women, through Africa New Life Ministries, a non-profit organization. Africa New Life is an organization created by Rwandans to help the Rwandan people empower themselves through education and employment.

An overview of ANLM taken from their website:

“Since 2001, Africa New Life has shared the Gospel using two hands: the hand of compassion and the hand of evangelism. Our goal is to see lives transformed through meeting basic needs, to give hope for the future for those living in poverty in Rwanda, and to share the freedom and hope found in Christ. At the heart of our model for breaking cycles of poverty is educational sponsorship. With a high school education, or a vocational equivalent, children in Rwanda have hope for the future.”

AFNLM believes in caring for the “whole child”. While educational sponsorship is at the core of their work, they believe children need other key factors to succeed such as a growing faith, community development, and a healthy body.

Their mission statement, powerful and simple, drew me in immediately:

Africa New Life exists to transform lives and communities through preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ and acts of compassion.”

Our days in Kigali were filled with activity. Being a team of women, ANLM asked if we would consider focusing our trip around spending time in relationship with women and children, offering encouragement and support. We were thrilled to have that opportunity, so on our trip we completed 15 home visits. Eleven of these visits included meeting children that are sponsored through monthly donations by various team members. The sponsorship program provides education and medical assistance. Sponsored children also attend a monthly Christian day camp and a four-day bible camp each fall. We were able to touch the sweet faces of children that we had only known on paper previously. A powerful experience that I will write about another day. The other four home visits were to women enrolled in a sewing program through ANLM’s Women’s Vocational Center. In between visits, our days were packed with a full on Rwanda experience. We attended a Christian women’s conference. We lived a day in the life of a local woman, right down to cultivating land and gathering water. We gave presentations on business skills, and health and wellness to women in sewing and cosmetology programs. We walked through a genocide memorial museum. And we spent even more time connecting with our sponsored children outside of their homes.

There is so much I want to express about my time in Africa. It will forever be one of the most important and joyful times of my life. I cannot wait to share my thoughts on education, local culture, short-term mission trips, the genocide, post genocide healing and reconciliation, worship, values, and sponsorship.  

But for today, I want to discuss re-entry. Sunday we returned from Rwanda, and we are elated to be home. But coming home brings a big bag of mixed emotions. And as someone who has always been a deep feeler, re-entering the life I left less than 2 weeks ago has been plain hard. Previous service experiences and mission trips have left me well versed on the internal struggle that occurs when you leave a life changing experience, so during the trip I began bracing myself for impact. Processing the emotions involved in re-entry is important and is an essential and necessary step for personal growth, but it is hard work.

Africa New Life Ministries scheduled a debriefing session with Pastor Fred, their executive director, for the day we left. During it, he addressed re-emersion. Looking straight at us, laughing knowingly, he said gently, “Now, when you go home…PLEASE…do not sit around your home feeling bad about what you have. Enjoy your life! Just don’t forget about us. Don’t forget what you learned. Go home and be an ambassador for Africa New Life.” This was a gift. By addressing the internal struggle he knew was imminent he normalized our feelings in advance. It made me tear up. Pastor Fred genuinely hoped we would heed his advice.

I have had a hard time heeding.

I feel disoriented. It is as if someone put a mask over my eyes, spun me around, then took the mask off and told me to walk.

Last Tuesday, while getting ready to start my day and chaperone a field trip, I noticed I was still washing off the red stain of the soil we walked on while visiting homes in Kigali. A few days ago I was delivering food to starving families and talking to people with HIV. Now I was preparing to shepherd first graders through a fire station to learn about safety. This felt bewildering. I went to the field trip in a fog.

I want to be able to share meaningful things when asked about Rwanda, but I am overwhelmed by trying to find words that properly capture joy, sadness, hope and despair all at once. Instead, out come words like “good” and “amazing”, which feel lame and weak.  

I want to accurately express to my husband how my heart broke at the exact same time that my soul was lifted. But words fall short, so I find myself staying silent…nothing depicts the whole picture, so I just don’t.

I want to hide in my house, as if I am experiencing some sort of grief, instead of rejoining the world.

When I open my stocked pantry, I feel shame and guilt. Every family we visited received a bag of maize flour, sugar, rice, beans, peanuts and salt. Enough food for a month, and they will likely attempt to stretch it much further. We have a full pantry and will probably still run to the store this week.

I want to be a different, better person. And I find myself thinking about it while staring blankly in a Starbucks line, the irony hitting me like a ton of bricks.

I wish that my children could grasp the sweet hand they were dealt.

Then I think about how my children are just like me. I slept on a bed in a mosquito net, while the families I visited that day slept on dirt.

Before we left, I wrote this on our team Facebook page:

“God has always been at work in Rwanda, and the Rwandan people are making incredible things happen for themselves, as it should be…Pray we remain humble, remembering that God has been at work in Rwanda for a very long time, using Rwandans…We will get to see His work and participate in their journey, but they have got this.”

Why is maintaining this perspective so difficult?

Why do I put this burden on myself when they have God?

I believe that God’s plan involved equipping me to help. So I will straighten myself out and mobilize. Rather than wringing my hands, I will listen to Pastor Fred’s advice and here is what I will do:

I will not focus on what I cannot fix, instead I will encourage and support the ongoing efforts of Rwanda and Africa New Life Ministries. 

Instead of standing at the sink obsessing over why I get to have water, I will smile thinking back to the day we waited for our turn at the water pump. The time spent waiting for water provided women a rare pause from constant manual labor and multitasking. If it has not rained the spout only trickles, so people wait. We witnessed how this small pause made space for community. The ladies chatted and laughed. No doubt they laughed about us… I hope they did. It was one of my favorite moments of the trip. Lamenting that we have easily accessible water while they do not is useless. So, I will put my resources and time towards providing accessible clean water for others. (Pssst…Living Water International)

Instead of hiding, I will rejoin my community. Rwandans value community. Rwanda’s emphasis on relational living has no doubt played a large role in their ability to move forward post genocide. My team and I will honor that by returning to our own communities. These are people who supported our dream to travel to Africa, made it possible, and then cared for our families while we were gone. These same people will be there to help us process our experience and to encourage us to apply what we have learned here.

I will appreciate my families access to education and medical care. If I mope and spin my wheels about why I get to have those things, it takes from the energy I could use to make those things accessible through sponsorship and sharing the mission of ANLM.

But all of that is a work in progress.

My heart is still grieving the imbalance in this world.  And my soul is also filled with gratitude over experiencing a beautiful new culture and country. But I know I will find a new normal. And that knowledge is in part why I am holding on tight to the tension of feeling shaken and hopeful. I want the part of me that broke to stay broken, but I know that it will heal.

I’m praying for a solid scar.

Rules! Rules! Rules!

The car door opened courtesy of tiny familiar hands that I love so much.  I arrived at the carpool line extra early excitedly waiting to get the run down.  My two little elementary school ladies stepped inside the vehicle and I began the peppering of questions.  The first day of school was officially over.  I maturely squealed, “MY GIRLS!!!!  HIIIII!!!  HOW WAS YOUR DAYYYYYY?”  

They left my house 8 hours earlier completely prepared for greatness.  They sported unstained clothing THAT I IRONED, brushed teeth, combed and styled hair, healthy lunches with handwritten notes, full water bottles, filled out mandatory forms, and they received a hug and kiss from both parents.  For some, this is the norm.  In our home, this lasts maybe five days before I start justifying the smacking of the snooze button.  I tell myself that 5 more minutes will not cause us to rush too much (lies) and that frozen pb&j’s do contain protein and thaw by lunch.  And as for the iron, well, it makes a better collector of dust most days than a releaser of wrinkles.  But on the first day, I like to give the teachers false hope that these children belong to parents that will sign all the notes all year long and read all the newsletters sent home.  I usually wait until October to begin the tour of disappointment.  

So, when the response I received from my elementary school daughter started off with an incredibly deep and dramatic inhale, along with an even longer and louder exhale, complete with eyes rolled to the tippy top of her lids, I braced myself for the response.  She said, “UGGGGHHHHH!!!!  IT WAS AWWWWFUL!!!!”  I asked her why and she immediately responded with one word, three times over, “RULES!! RULES!! RULES!!!!”

She went on to explain to me that her entire day was made up learning rules.  In her opinion, school is a place for reading, learning and tests, NOT spending days going over RULES.  At this point, I asked her to smile for my phone so I could show her daddy her thoughts on the first day.  She did not smile. I might need to work on my compassion-when-kids-are-venting button.

Not only did she learn rules in her classroom, she learned rules in the cafeteria, and there were rules on the playground, and the library was not even open yet but if it had been you can bet there would have been rules there too.  Plus they had to write about rules, read about rules, repeat the rules, and she might have even come home with a new tattoo on her back that said, “RULES.”  Fine, no physical tattoo was made but a mental one was ingrained into her soul obviously.

Honestly, I do not blame her.  And I do not blame the teachers.  Clear cut expectations are so important.  Can you even imagine if the teachers had to explain these rules to every child individually?  We would have no teachers. I do not even like asking my dogs to “sit” and “stay” more than once because…..well…..all the verbalizing is just draining. So, to me, it seems logical that the first week of school would be a time for group rule smackdowns.  How many times can one adult explain the process of dumping lunch trays?  At some point, I would not blame these teachers if they just zombie walked out of the building.  They would be blankly walking with their arms straight out, eyes bulging, and repeating in a monotone voice “please tilt your tray this way and tap it on the end of the trash can in order to dump all the food you just stirred in a circle 5,000 times and mixed with the jello and vegetable medley mush.  Then please stack it on top of the last tray that our classroom friend dumped.”  Teacher’s mental survival depends upon all our little offspring knowing what to do.  

And I don’t blame my girl either.  No one likes to sit and hear how their daily discipline is going up 1,000% after summer.  And it isn’t because she is from a generation of electronic kids that have no respect or attention span.  I’m tired of hearing that from people.  I, personally, have seen scores upon scores of kids intentionally practicing kindness in this generation.  And know what group of people plays a big role in positive character development?  TEACHERS.  But to sit and listen to this information does not mean it is enjoyable.  

I, for one, have no desire to sit and convince her to love the rules.  Let’s be honest, they really aren’t fun sometimes.  In the Old Testament, the term “law” is the translated word for the Hebrew term, Torah, or “instruction.”  The people of Israel needed guidance from God.  Humans have always needed instruction.  And instruction is good.  One way God provided it was through the Mosaic Law.   It guided people morally, socially and ceremonially by having over 600 commands that covered all aspects of life.  And it gave Israel the recipe for ways to receive blessings. My point is that laws and rules have been around FOR A LONG TIME.  And my daughter is not the first person to have that feeling of “me no likey.”

Someday, she will grow up and will not have to sit and almost suffocate from listening to adults read rules out loud.  However, I do hope teachers and this family can burn certain instructions into her brain and heart for daily living.  I want her to respect others and herself, to listen before she speaks, to be able to learn and speak truth and to love others well, to make sure her binder gets signed every time she needs to go potty….  And I hope she practices applying grace to herself and to others.  Because that’s what Christ did for us. Once God sent Jesus to this earth, Christians were no longer bound to the Mosaic Law.  And thank goodness because over 600 commands are impossible to keep.  We now have the Holy Spirit in us as believers.  And we are recipients of grace by no doing of our own.  And this is great news…..for believers, for children who hate rules, for teachers who are faithfully serving children (THANK YOU JESUS), for parents who are trying their hardest to raise their family, and possibly for dog owners that find their new pair of shoes with teeth marks all in them.

My Bible

Several years ago I attended a weekend Pine Cove camp with good friends. While there, it came out that I did not own a personal Bible. Days after we left the camp they presented me with an engraved study Bible. Inside, each friend had written a personal note and highlighted their favorite verse.

 

 

 

 

Now when I stumble upon the highlighted verses, I am reminded how important community is and how often I fight against it. My pride tells me that shouldering it alone means I am strong. And that is when things tend to go very poorly for me, because it is not about strong versus weak. God created us to be in community with one another.

 

 

 

 

A spiritual community, when authentic, provides a place to share joy, hold space, and carry each other’s burdens. It is where we can quietly learn or stand up and teach. It is a safe spot for imperfect people to mess up, regroup, and try again. It should be full of messy, unconditional love.

 

 

 

 

This Bible and every other Bible serves as a powerful reminder that we can experience God’s grace and message through others and that through community we have the opportunity to experience a bit of Kingdom living right here on earth.

 

 

Homemade Tortillas: A Magnificent Beat Down

Last week my plan to make tacos was thwarted when our pantry revealed that we existed in a house without tortillas, like a bunch of wild animals. And I thought, “You know, I always hear making tortillas is easy, healthier and better tasting.” When I found Masa mix in the cupboard  my fate was sealed. I would make my own tortillas. A decision that would elicit one of the most magnificent beat downs of my entire life.

I have a difficult time baking with a floury substance of any kind, which pretty much rules out…all baking. I follow every direction (that holds my attention) and the result can best described as “flour bread”. It is not delicious. The good news is that flour is not nutritionally sound, so my inability to cook with it is admirable and makes me a bit of an accidental health nut. I maintain my healthy low-flour lifestyle by purchasing our many bread items and only eating my friend’s tasty homemade stuff. But I do role model health to others by not cooking with flour. They’ll get it.

I mixed the masa, water and salt as instructed and of course it was too dry. So I added water. They suggested adding a teaspoon, but let’s be real. When you are thirsty does a teaspoon of water quench it? No. So why are we putting that expectation on dough? I gave it a blast from the faucet and moved on.

It was encouraging to see the tortilla instructions involved a simple five step process. Five steps = using one hand’s worth of fingers to keep track.

Although. This could explain a lot. A rather unfortunate door mishap took place when I was ten years old, leaving me to do life with 9 and ¾ fingers. Is it entirely possible that the compromised ring finger on my left hand cost me my tortillas? Yes. But, to quote every brilliant preschool teacher, “you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.” Can I play most instruments? No. But I can count to 9 and ¾ on my fingers, and that is something.

Divide the dough into 16-18 balls.

This kind of thing sends me straight into a tailspin. How can I be certain I am creating the kind of balls that will lead me to my 16-18 dough ball goal? What if I have to combine balls, or worse, separate some balls because I only made 10-12 balls? WHAT THEN? Do I go back and adjust all of them, or do I just change the last 6-8 balls? It’s too much for one person! Also: Balls.

Cover with a damp cloth to keep them soft.

This whole thing may have gone to crap, but I nailed this step. Nothing more to say. My balls were all tucked in, happily resting under a damp paper towel.
Using a tortilla press, place a ball between two sheets of plastic and clamp to form a tortilla 5 to 6 inches in diameter.

Who brings diameters into an already intense and dicey situation!? Rude. Now my geometry PTSD was all a flurry.  I was suddenly flashing back to my 10th grade Geometry parent/teacher conference as relayed to me by my mother.

Mom: What is Amanda’s current grade in Geometry? She seems stressed. 

Mr. Imming: Um. I don’t know what to say about Amanda’s grade. All she does is take notes in class. She’s listening. No one tries harder. But, you both need to prepare yourselves because… it’s not good.

Now we know that my math skills were just skewed because I count on 9 ¾ fingers.

As my personal high school geometry trauma became my focus, I failed to absorb the instruction to place the ball between two sheets of plastic. If I am being honest, it is only now while typing out the directions that I did notice this tidbit of info.  

This step also included “tortilla clamping”, which sounded rather cathartic after everything I had been through.

I used up a great deal of time stressing about the 16-18 balls and looking up “diameter”, so I could not afford to dawdle on clamping. I made the decision that “use a tortilla press” was just a phrase, and that it was best to smush the dough like hell with my hand. I suppose they presumed a person lacking a tortilla press would at least think to use a rolling-pin to roll out the dough. Hindsight being 20/20, I feel like that may have been the way to go.

So I smushed like hell. As I looked at my work I thought…it’s so weird this jagged mess will become a perfect circle when I cook it in the pan. Spoiler alert: It did not.

Heat griddle or skillet to medium-high heat, cook the tortillas flipping them every 20-30 seconds.

What the…they need to be flipped every 20-30 seconds?

**Stage 5 Clinger Alert**

Talk about needy! Goodnight! I had hungry children, dogs circling my ankles, a husband stuck at the O’Hare airport, and zero time for dough that wanted me to treat it like a vulnerable snowflake. So, I flipped sometimes. And truly, I think their calculations are off because the flipping seemed to be the harbinger of the devastating crumbling that ensued. I can forgive and forget, I just hope going forward they alter their directions to adopt the line “Flip sometimes, but not really if they are crumbly.”   

The first two tortillas did not survive, but I just figured they were preparing the pan. I do not think “pan preparing” is an actual thing, but it brought me solace. I had eighteen tortilla dough balls, so I did not stress until 8 were completely ruined and only ten remained.

And then hard truths needed to be confronted. Even though I had created the perfect host environment for dough balls by preparing a pan, statistically these 10 were not likely to survive. Here is where I ordered pizza. But I also held on, open to receiving a tortilla miracle. I talked to myself about perseverance, bravery and how these tortillas may take my life, but they will never take my freedom. I was not giving up! Ever. So, I ruined one more and yelled, “I AM OUT!” I had pizza on the way and I was not going to obsess over clean eating at the cost of my self-esteem. They say self-esteem helps you more than clean eating. I don’t actually know if they say that, but neither do you.

My older daughter came down the stairs and found me covered in masa mix and brokenness and asked, “Mom, what is happening?” I told her, “I made homemade tortillas, so we are going to eat this pizza.” She has told that story to approximately 400 people.

I know you want a happy ending to this story. And there is one because we ate pizza.

Next time I’ll teach you how to make this meatloaf. My husband had a craving. Anything involving the word “loaf” is not okay, but the heart wants what it wants, so I made it for him.

Pro tip: Do not stress over timing. The meatloaf will let you know it is ready when black smoke pours out. Simply pop it out, and enjoy.
So good.

If you enjoyed my tortilla debacle, might I suggest my Pinterest Amnesia post?  Here you go….Pinterest Amnesia

“Nice Girls Don’t Change the World”

I ordered the book “Nice Girls Don’t Change The World” last week thinking that I would add it to my stack of books I’d like to read someday.  It arrived the day before my husband and I were heading out of town for a weekend away.  And in typical fashion, I was throwing my airplane bag together approximately 16 seconds before walking out the door (note: when I’m 40, I’m so going to pack at least 1 hour before I leave….#grownupgoals).  When I realized the book’s petite size, it instantly found its way into the bag and it met all my requirements. The book was small.  The lines were double spaced.  And, there were pictures.  Folks, this was going to be a quick read and I love a quick read. Waiting on the tarmac, I opened it up and realized good things were in store for me. By the end of the first page it was clear Hybel was going to give me a glimpse into her life, personal thoughts and emotions. Cue Happy Katie in an airplane.

Hybel opens by describing herself as a nice girl for the first half of her life.  Her self description included being a people pleaser, a hard worker, a rule follower and someone always pressuring herself to be better.  This is when I checked the front cover to make sure I had not authored the book.

When Hybel turned 39, coincidentally the same age I am now, she ran out of steam.  Her internal and external selves were not in sync and she sought help.  She discovered:

The opposite of a nice girl, I learned, is a “good woman.”  Being a good woman means trading the safe, passive, people-pleasing behavior of niceness for the dynamic power of true goodness.  It means moving from the weakness and immaturity of girlhood toward the strength and maturity of womanhood.

She began to recognize how God wants us to see ourselves and our responsibilities versus the false assumptions we make about God and unknowingly live out.  And she uncovered the force of fear and all its debilitating power.  Ultimately she saw through the muck of her actions and thoughts, finally getting to the core of her purpose.

As soon as I finished the book, I mentally added this to my list of books I’d like to pass on to my daughters someday.  First I love that it is written by a woman in a different stage of life than me.  She is able to reflect and offer wisdom through her own experiences.  Reading her story and seeing how God used her struggles gives hope.  Second, life is hard.  And sometimes our own struggles seem to dominate our thoughts.  Or worse, we believe the lie that we are the only people who might be suffering because the world likes us to think that perfection is attainable.  And perfection and suffering do not exist together.  Reading about another person’s troubles helps people connect on a genuine human level and inspires us to better ourselves and help those around us.  And third, Hybel is vulnerable enough to share that when she was in pain, she reached out for help.  And at some point in my children’s lives, chances are they will need support.  I have repeatedly talked with my girls about the importance of healthy relationships and how there are professionals able to help in times of distress.  Oftentimes, we humans react by keeping pain bottled up rather than reaching out for assistance which can provide relief and guidance.  Reading stories about others who have received help lessens the stigma associated with seeking professional assistance from mental pain.

I recommend adding this book to your reading list.  Or even better, purchasing it, reading it and then passing it along as a gift of inspiration to another woman you know that could use encouragement as she navigates life.  Plus, my favorite part of the book was towards the end.  Hybel does not end her story by being content with her knowledge of what comprises a good woman.  She takes this truth, mixes in some passion and energy and describes her transformation into a downright dangerous woman.  And this is the type of woman I hope to be someday and I that I wish for my girls too.

Here is the link to the book if you are interested!

https://www.amazon.com/Nice-Girls-Dont-Change-World/dp/0310272319/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1423024101&sr=1-1&keywords=nice+girls+don%27t+change+the+world

 

A Parenting Fail

Evie, my happy, charismatic fireball baby, moped into the house after kindergarten one day completely deflated. She walked in quietly next to Nora, who promptly launched into recounting how she prodded Evie the entire bus ride home because something was obviously wrong. Her dad and I mentally scrolled through possibilities…a fight with a friend, someone said something cruel, conflict on the bus. I was ready to throw down; not many people bring my Evelyn down.

I quickly learned the cause of her heartbreak. And it was the worst-case scenario for a mother. It was me. “Mom forgot to come to lunch with me today,” she said. And then she just melted down.

The truth is, we had talked about having lunch together the previous night. And I learned that she had excitedly taken a spot at the parent table, waiting for me. And after a few minutes went by, she described to me and G.R. how she finally stood up and decided to buy herself a hot lunch since I had not arrived. She’s six so that whole process, even her initial excitement, was more intense for her than it would have been for an older kid. During dinner that night, we did our usual routine of discussing the highs and lows of the day. Evie’s low was that though she fought it, she cried in front of everyone, and it was embarrassing.

One of the worst parts is that she was not dramatic. This was bona fide hurt. Her mom had utterly gutted her. I let down my kid.  Who does that? I don’t know. I guess I sometimes do.

Ironically, I had missed lunch with Evie because I was driving all over Texas looking for everything her heart desired for the next day’s 50’s theme school day and family Sock Hop dance. We had gone out as a family the previous night, but could not find Evie’s poodle skirt. I guess it goes to show they need time and not more stuff, but I swear sometimes you just can not win.

Giving my girls consistency, stability and the capability to trust are my driving forces as a parent. And it feels all the good I do in these areas can be erased by a single act that becomes lodged in their memory. They say you have to say a certain amount of positive words to a kid to make up for one negative one. My God, how many actions do you think it will take to make up for this one? And who are ‘they’? I hate them.

Anyone that knows me well describes me as being hard on myself. If I could tattoo “Cut yourself a freaking break, fool” onto my arm and just read it all the time, it would be a big timesaver for my friends. But this time I fought my tendency to shut down and be hard on myself and instead took pause, thinking about this moment for my girls. I could not change what I did, but I could change how the memory lived in their brains and impacted their thought processes. I want my girls to be kind to themselves. I want them to cut themselves the precious slack desperately needed in motherhood and marriage. I want them to understand they are human. Lord knows, they will experience some version of this scenario with their kids someday. And I can tell you that while they make me a little batty, they are both good people. But as missteps happen to all of us, this will, unfortunately, happen to them.

So, this situation gave me a shot at modeling how to make a mistake, be upset, talk about it and both ask for and receive forgiveness. This is very difficult for me. It involves a lot of intentional effort. Even though this “talking it out and not blaming myself” business does not come naturally nor easily to me, I am hoping, for my girls’ sake, I can fake it until I make it and then it will come more quickly to them.

In the end, I did not shut down and dwell. Instead, we did away with our regular schedule and made cupcakes. Evie handled the liners, Nora handled the ingredients. They both handled spilling everything everywhere, and the dogs handled hovering around us hoping I would screw up in a different and more exciting way for them. Evie and I talked, and she perked right up, because fortunately for all of us, kids are resilient. It’s just a matter of how many times we make them tap into that resilience. And as much as I want to create a life for them where they have to tap into it a lot less than I did, I will make mistakes.

I went out of town the day after the 2017 lunch debacle and was still aching some from the event.  But, Evie’s sweet dad surprised her with a milkshake and lunch in the cafeteria the next day. And Evie greeted him saying, “I had a feeling this might happen!”. And I received a picture of my girl beaming from ear to ear.

As I let myself off the hook from screwing up with my six-year-old, I am going to focus on the fact that she knew we would show up the next day.

As I tell my girls: try, try again.

-Amanda

Straight Pepper Diet

Sometimes you just crave a memoir about a recovering alcoholic/sex addict and former lawyer who has been disbarred for felony charges and is now a registered sex offender. When that happens, Joseph Naus has your back with Straight Pepper Diet.  

From his biography:

Joseph W. Naus was born in 1971. He graduated from Pepperdine Law and passed the Bar in 1997. As related in his harrowing yet hopeful memoir, Straight Pepper Diet, Joseph was raised by his mom, a heroin addict turned shut-in depressive, amidst crime and poverty.  At age 32, Joseph’s American Dream life became a nightmare when his addictions to sex and alcohol collided and exploded.

A plethora of things haunt me from the time I spent working in child welfare. Topping the list are my fears regarding what present day looks like for the children that I worked with, knowing full well that cycles and systems repeat themselves. When I exited their lives, society still accepted these children as innocent victims.  They were young enough for their troubled behavior issues, which stemmed from abuse and neglect, to be connected more to the adults in their lives rather than being the fault of these children.

Now, over a decade later, I am left wondering when society’s acceptance crashed to a halt. What day did my past clients “behaviors” become actions with consequences for which they were held personally accountable? It pains me to know that those kids likely became adults with significant issues with no one aware that they were once a vulnerable kid repeatedly moved from one foster home to the next. Way too often, these kids had the sum of their life’s possessions packed into a garbage bag. Each child had a story, some horrific. And I have a strange desire to have those stories be known. The frustrating and complicated truth is that actions, even when heinous and unforgivable, are often more comprehensible after knowing someone’s story. It makes the whole thing more tragic.

In Straight Pepper Diet, Naus offers a perfect example of how knowing someone’s backstory can take black and white and muddle it into gray.

Naus grew up in extreme poverty and violence, raised by a mother who struggled terribly and was drawn to abusive relationships. The seeds of his alcohol and sex addiction were planted early and grew until finally overtaking everything he had ever worked towards in his adult life. As he says “On Tuesday, I was a respected civil trial lawyer making six-figures. On Wednesday, I woke up handcuffed to a hospital bed charged with attempted murder…and then it got worse.”

At first, I was cringing at the candid accounts of his lifestyle, thoughts and disturbing behavior. I could not fathom reading an entire book about this man.  By the end I wanted people to understand him, and I respected him completely for airing every bit of his dirty laundry. He painted a picture of the daily inner conflict and mental torture people afflicted with addiction face. Rock bottom is different for everyone but necessary for all. It was interesting to see how his intelligence, adaptability and drive allowed him to weather the first part of his life, while he survived the second part solely because he finally faced the parts of him created during the first.

Naus lays it bare in this memoir, hiding nothing. Straight Pepper Diet, a term used on page 69 in the Big Book of Alcoholics by Bill Wilson, is dark, funny, and many times straight up revolting. It is about humility and redemption. And as you read about Naus sorting out his demons, you will contemplate your own. And we all have them.

Audio book lovers be warned, this is not a book you can play whilst rolling in your swagger wagons.

When I like a book, I tend to Google podcasts about the author like a good little nerd. Here are some great ones about Naus’s story:

Rich Roll Podcast 213 How A Sex Addicted Lawyer Who Lost Everything Found Salvation

The Shair Podcast 072 With Joseph W. Naus

For more information visit straightpepperdietmemoir.com

-Amanda

Eye Of The Storm

While showering the other day, I decided to play some music to start my day off right.  And then I heard the lyrics from Ryan Stevenson’s song “Eye of the Storm.”  In it, he references God maintaining control, protecting us, and being our anchor when life is spinning.  I immediately felt tears well up inside of me and did the most therapeutic thing possible.  I took over as lead vocalist for Ryan and let my inner Celine shine.  Within 5 seconds, Millie discovered how to throw her 7 pound body into the bathroom doors and bust out of there as if her life depended on it.  And once again, I was left alone. This time by the puppy whom, for weeks, I have been patiently letting use my house as her personal potty training zone.

The tears came unexpectedly, yet right on time.  I have been in the throes of a storm as of late.  And when Mr. Anger knocks on my door and brings his jerk friends Loneliness, Heartache, Doubt and Frustration, I typically attempt to politely introduce myself and quickly figure out why they have arrived all while simultaneously turning around and high-tailing it out of there. Only this time, I didn’t escape them. And they stuck around and put on a display that could rival Disney World fireworks. Except it was the opposite of anything magical.

It’s so gut-wrenchingly hard to watch your kids struggle.  They are no longer in my protected cocoon while at home with me all day. Those early years may have been physically hard as a momma, but these years are a new kind of difficult on the emotions.  I want so badly to make everything ok for them.  I want to put a little bitty earpiece in their cute auditory canal every morning, so I can whisper truth to them when some other kid is a turd or when I see them shouldering self-doubt or internalizing the weight of their world.  But more than wanting to protect them, I want them to stand up for themselves with confidence and to believe in themselves.  And to get there requires them learning to overcome adversity.  My head gets it.  My heart, though….fuh-get about it, it just hurts.

And balancing work-life and family-life and engaging in quality-time-with-each-other-life while being individuals who have our unique-interests-life is a constant challenge.  It reminds me a bit of a game of bowling.  There are lots of pins to take care of to win.  You try to line your life up right.  Sometimes you’re covering it all well and bowling strikes, and sometimes, well, you’re in the gutter.  And recently, I kind of feel like I let the ball go too early, tried to chase it down the alley, slipped in the lane and slid head first into the pin-clearing bar.  

And once I feel like I’m failing in one area of life, I tend to spiral and feel like a failure as a mom and wife too.  And why stop there when my brain can continue the dogpile and tell me how alone I am, and that everyone seems to be getting things right except for me and that it’s never going to get better.  Who’s having fun reading this yet?  

I debated writing this because, for real, who wants to read an article from Debbie Downer?  But then Amanda reminded me that we promised ourselves we would be authentic and honest along with our light-hearted stuff.  I hope you can relate to this moment of struggle; it is just not a part of life we like to show to each other.

Then I doubted whether or not I should share it, as I am well aware of people struggling with more challenging and even tragic situations. And once I start comparing, I end up believing I should just suck it up.  But then I remembered reading what Brené Brown wrote in Rising Strong about comparing our sufferings with others.  

Falling down, screwing up, and facing hurt often lead to bouts of second-guessing our judgement, our self-trust, and even our worthiness.  I am enough can slowly turn into Am I really enough?  If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past decade, it’s that fear and scarcity immediately trigger comparison, and even pain and hurt are not immune to being assessed and ranked…. Yes, perspective is critical.  But I’m a firm believer that complaining is okay as long as we piss and moan with a little perspective.  Hurt is hurt, and every time we honor our own struggle and the struggles of others by responding with empathy and compassion, the healing that results affects all of us.

So if you’re struggling, I want you to know that I am so sorry.  And also, that I am with you. I want a quick fix for you and me because that makes me feel good, but there are no guarantees for that on this earth. This was part of the reason that Fear got an invite to my party too. Not having the ability to solve our loved ones’ problems or get the upper hand on proper “balance” (whatever that maybe) or ensure the safety and security of the future isn’t likely either.  And it is scary to have no control over these things.

But you know what I am doing?  I’m committed to waking up every day and trying my best.  That does not mean I will be the best, but I’ll give whatever I can that day.  And I want to be brave.  And I want to be courageous.  And I want to be vulnerable.  Brown also states, “Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome.  Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.”  It’s true that coming out of my deepest valleys have led to my most significant areas of emotional growth.  But that doesn’t mean that the new struggles give me instant perspective or feel any less horrible.  All valleys stink.

But our loved ones don’t stink.  They will support us.  And God definitely has our back.  We need a foundation to go to when we spiral.  And we have One.  The book of Matthew tells us, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11: 28-30 NIV).  He will comfort us, protect us, guard us and love us through the storms.  And I know I am so thankful that my heavy times are not hopeless times.

http://www.kimberlygeswein.com

Mammograms: Let’s Pretend They Are Fun

I know it is not October when everything, including the NFL, turns pink. But it is necessary to spread breast cancer awareness throughout the year. So, this year I documented the process of my recent mammogram in a light-hearted way, in hopes of making it a less ominous procedure, particularly for those who have not yet experienced the process. And when I say that I documented the process, I do not mean the actual event. Let’s all remain calm.

Men, this is about mammograms, so you might think you are off the hook with this post. But, no, you get to read too and encourage your wife to go. In fact, have you read our previous article about Day Dating? Here is what you do: Go with your wife to the appointment, have a handful of distracting, hilarious YouTube videos ready to pull out in the waiting room, and then take her on a day date. And let’s be honest, you can not swing a dead cat without hitting a Hooters in this country; that is how I know you are capable of reading about and discussing breast health.

If you have never had one, you should know mammograms are not physically painful. When women ask if they are painful, I imagine everything they have endured as a woman and want to ask if putting slight pressure on an area of their body hurts as much as childbirth, getting their tattoo, waxing or having chemical peels done on their face. I want to ask which takes more time and effort; the Beach Body diet plan they have stuck to for months, or a 10-minute mammogram. Because if this process promised to make us thinner or younger, it could hurt ten times more and we would all go 12 times a year.

The first step, you walk through the door.

Given my druthers, I would deliver a roundhouse kick to the door and enter Superwoman style, but knowing that would be terrifying for everyone else, I selflessly walk in the regular boring way.

Next, you will fill out paperwork.

Know what took the sting out of my paperwork? Being given the opportunity to complete it using this sweet Bic pen tricked out with ribbon tassels. Then they upped the good times by strapping an ID bracelet on my wrist proclaiming me a zebra. I excitedly told the check in lady that I had by chance worn a black and white patterned sweater that day, and she said, “Oh. It’s nice.” I like to think it sunk in 5 minutes after I walked away.

Paperwork complete, you can absorb the room’s decor. An appreciated distraction because waiting rooms tend to usher in unwelcome memories of sitting in oncology waiting rooms with my mom as a teenager. Luckily, offices oriented towards women are my favorite. Every ad features an absurdly happy woman playing tennis, while a beaming toddler, holding a kitten, rests on her hip. It sums up every day of my life, and when I am around these pictures, I finally feel understood. But today was extra special. Today, there was this lady:

You know this woman throws down hard in the self-help section at Barnes and Noble.  

And let me just say this to marketers everywhere. If you want people I know to attend a “women’s health event,” you need to use a picture depicting friends in the throes of an intense nerf gun war placed directly above an announcement that a 90’s gangsta rapper will be the headliner. And, if one of the ladies shown in the bottom row of headshots were rolling her eyes, it certainly wouldn’t hurt. Furthermore, tacos. Because I am going to tell you right now, that free breakfast mentioned is going to be honeydew melon and cantaloupe, with an occasional grape kicker. I won’t stand for it.

Next, you will be beckoned to the changing room.

It’s pretty glam. It holds a hospital gown, a bench, a People magazine, and this sign:

“WOMEN ABOUT TO BE X-RAYED?” Why is there a question mark on this? It is reminiscent of my 11-year-old telling a story. “Today, at school? We were in the cafeteria? And my friend, Sam? Milk shot of his nose? And it was funny!”

And once again, I found myself wishing the seven years of Spanish classes I took had culminated in me understanding Spanish. I kind of wonder if the bottom half of the sign announced something fun, like an invitation to a fiesta celebrating the completion of my 2017 ¡mammogram! I can, however, safely rule out that the sign says,”I play the guitar while drinking beer in the shower,” because that sentence I do know.

This next move separates the amateurs from the professionals.

You must steal these deodorant wipes.

Deodorant and lotion during a mammogram are a big nope, so they supply these to accommodate after the exam. Any fool knows taking coffee and bottled water from a waiting area instantly knocks $2-3 off any appointment. Well, pilfering deodorant wipes will get you back on your feet financially after upgrading to the 3D mammogram that insurance will turn down even though it would be more prudent to pay for preventative care than treatment. And you know I took two extra because I am nobody’s fool.

Now, throw on your gown. Delight in your glory. And also, in the fact that you get to keep on your pants. You just feel emotionally attached to your pants now. Some places provide heated gowns. When this happens, you are experiencing life as royalty.

I did not want to post this picture. It gives me vulnerability hives. I took it to be funny and send to friends. But when I looked I saw the worry on my face, which makes it very real. Until I filtered the ever-loving hell out of it. But let’s focus on my very real worry, so you know I can relate to your feelings. #intouchwithmypeople

Next, head into the exam room. Be sensitive to the fact that the technician is vying for the weirdest patient of the day story and that you alone can help her achieve this dream. Make strange jokes about the mammography machine being a Transformer, and say things like “I am one bad mammo-jamma!” until uncomfortable silence floods the room.

Transformers, more than meets the eye.

Your exam is now complete, and you nailed it. Leave and immediately buy yourself a celebratory overpriced coffee. But not the Starbucks cold brew, because you will be awake until your next annual mammogram.

I realize that I’ve spent an entire blog post taking a lighthearted approach to a heavy topic.  On our blog, we tend to use humor as a defense mechanism.  And when it comes to the issue of breast cancer, Katie and I are very well aware of how hellish the disease is. A few hours after my appointment I got the glorious call saying everything looked fine, which afforded me the ability to write this in a playful manner. It also allowed me to let out my yearly exhale of relief. More than once, I have received THE call. The one where I’ve had to go back for further testing. It’s nerve wracking. And not just for women, but for our family members too.

I want you all to know that it is not easy for me to go. It involves reliving the past and taps into some of my deepest fears for the future. But it is so incredibly important to remember that getting a mammogram does not give you cancer. It will just reveal any sneaky stuff that has already been going on in your body.  My mom did not have her first mammogram until she had already found a lump. We live in a day and age where early detection gives us women a real advantage and I want to help protect the lives of women. Any reason you have for not getting a mammogram is just not sufficient. Thankfully, low-cost and free mammograms are available.

If you are scared of going, call a family member, or friend to go with you. If you are in need of distraction and grown adults that use inappropriate behavior and humor to muscle through awkwardness, call Katie or me. But, just go. We can do hard things together. But let’s have the upper hand by making those hard things a bit easier by taking advantage of early detection.

Click here to find mammography facilities near you.

FAQ about mammograms.

Call the Komen breast care specialist helpline at 1-877 GO KOMEN (1-877-465-6636) to help find low-cost options in your area.

The Stocking

This Monday marked the beginning of the last week of school before Christmas break.  This means there are still Advent calendars to follow, shelfy elfs to move, business parties to attend, school parties to brave, Christmas cards to send out, sugary things to bake, wintry decor to put up (it was 65 degrees outside today so inside we pretend that this season occurs during non-sweaty temps) and gifts to gather for family, friends, teachers, co-workers, pet fish, and bus drivers.  And since Amazon came out with Prime, we should ALL be doing something for the poor souls that deliver all the cardboard boxes in all the world.  Without a doubt, we are smack dab in the midst of the holiday season.  It brings an energy that is palpable in my family and I do not take it for granted that these are precious years we will not see again.  

I love this time of year.  My kids love it too because their most favorite family tradition happens during the Christmas season.  On the day following Thanksgiving, they start begging to go to the store for their annual ornament.  A long time ago, we started a tradition where they pick an ornament representing something they love.  It could be something as simple as a TV show or movie they enjoyed that year, a sport they played, or just a piece they think is extra pretty.  Then we label the box with their name, year and age and add it to their collection.  So when it comes time to put the tree up each year, they literally jump up and down (ok, my little two do, the middle schooler likes doing it but definitely stays calm, cool and collected at all times) when their stack of ornaments comes out and they get to relive each one they have chosen since they were around 2 years old.  

We look forward to digging out ornaments like this….

Because everyone knows that cowgirl M&M’s holding guns help to make the season bright.

I remember when our tree was full of blank spaces, filler stuff, and reindeer ornaments made from glued wooden sticks adorned with twisted pipe cleaners and red pom-pom noses.  I still have all of those items.  But as this family ages, the tree has become a representation of a life of three little girls growing up into older little ladies.  Sure, I have seen trees prettier than ours because there are two kinds of people in this world. Those that take a regular tree full of sticks and pokey needles, and transform it into a sea of garland and ribbon and ornaments in complementary colors. And then there are people like me. The kind that buy a fake tree pre-wrapped in lights that still work when you bust a few bulbs putting it up.  And my version of fancy means we sprung for the $5 switch thingie that allows you to turn the lights with a tap of your foot. We slap up ornaments that have family pictures on them along with ones that document our travels.  And of course M&M’s holding guns.  Side note:  My mom use to let us put tinsel on the tree growing up and I LOVED IT.  I’d throw that stuff up there by the handful.  I also remember watching her take down all the tinsel after the holidays as I would be darting out the door to play.   And then when I’d be exhausted and come inside for a break, she’d STILL be pulling the silvery strands off the tree.  Therefore, my mother was a saint.  I will never ever be that mom.  To all you mothers who allow their children to do this, I salute you.

And as much as I love this time of year, I also struggle.  When I look at things logically, my brain tells me I should not feel anything but energy, smiles, and the sugar coursing through me from all the whipped cream cheese frosting inside pumpkin rolls and on top of ooey gooey cookies. Plus, we are celebrating the birth of Christ, which is a celebration of hope and joy arriving to our world.  And for many, many years, I only felt the joy of the season.  But starting about 8 years ago, my life went through a major transformation.  I lost my mom to cancer two days after Christmas.  And it was a brutal disease that took my vibrant and devoted mother and left her gasping for air at times.  Watching her physical body deteriorate while her mental spirit stayed strong and wanted to desperately stay on this earth permanently scarred me.  It broke a piece of my heart for my dad, my daughters who lost their grandma way too early, for myself and for the multitude of other friends and family members that loved her too.  And though I truly do love the Christmas season, there’s a darker range of emotions I also experience that go from life feeling heavy, to a sadness in my soul, to an exhaustion that isn’t from a lack of sleep.  Do I feel this every second of every day?  Nope.  Do these emotions control my mental state?  Nope.  But I do recognize that they creep up on me around this time of year and rather than deny that they exist, I’ve learned to live with them.

Once I experienced the death of my mom, my eyes were opened to another level of life.  I know I am not alone in my grief.  I have friends that have lost spouses, parents, friends and even their own precious children.  And at some point, if you are continuing to live and breathe, you will also experience loss and grief.  

There are a few things that I have learned to lean towards for comfort during this season.  First off is my faith.  And I love what Paul has to say in 2 Corinthians:  Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. (2 Cor 1:3-4)  First off, we aren’t alone.  Ever.  God is where compassion and comfort come from and He is there during our struggles.  He knows what you are going through.  He isn’t surprised.  Secondly, He uses our pain.  He comforts us and then allows us to help others.  He forms us into people who can take our own trials and provide hope to others when they go through it.  Even though our lives here on earth will never be problem free, we can provide love and comfort, show compassion and give hope to each other.  For me, this is living out the meaning of Christmas.

The other thing that helps me during this season is being able to look back on the traditions my mom established during my childhood.  On Christmas Eve each year, she would gather all of us in the family room, pour glasses of eggnog, bring out a variety of homemade Christmas cookies on a platter, turn off all the bright overhead lights and TV and we would sit as a family with Christmas music in the background with the tree lit.  She would then start a conversation and ask us purposeful questions .  What was your favorite part of the past year?  What is something you are looking forward to next year?  I counted on having that 30 minutes every year.  It felt peaceful.  And let’s be honest, I loved cookies and eggnog too.  My own family does not continue that same tradition, but it did show me the importance of setting aside time to just BE together.  And I loved the sense of stability it gave me as a child to know that I could count on my family doing the same thing together every single year.

Along with the childhood traditions my mom established, she also left me a lasting Christmas gift.  I did not even realize how precious it would be to me when she began making them.  When I got married, she decided to needlepoint us our own Christmas stocking.  For years, I watched her pull out her bag of yarn and work on them slowly but surely.  I am certain this is where Hailey gets her love of sewing because it did NOT come from her mother.  With every new grand baby, she would select a new stocking to begin so we could add it to our mantle for the following Christmas.  

My sweet Landry was born about 6 weeks after my mom died.  And my mom was sick my entire pregnancy with her.  My mom selected her stocking and started it, but was not able to finish it on her own.  Completing this piece was important to her.  And so she received some earthly help.  Various friends of my mom took the stocking and completed different sections of it until it was done.  When I was given the stocking by my mom’s friend after my mom had died, I became overwhelmed.  Landry received a stocking that was not only made for her with the hands of her grandmother that would never be able to hold her, but also with the loving supportive hands of her grandmother’s friends.  These women lifted her grandmother up and comforted her when she needed it most.  And that is not only a lasting gift my girls have but an ultimate lesson in friendship, compassion and loyalty.

I am not sure how the Christmas season feels to you.  Oftentimes society, social media and commercials put weighty expectations solely on happiness.  It is as if anything less than pure joy means failure.  And I hope the season is a time of joy and celebration.  But please remember the Christmas story itself was full of mixed emotions. The time leading up to the birth of Jesus being born in a manger was complicated. So much that happens in life is out of our control.  I encourage you to take advantage of the abilities God has given you.  Start a new tradition for your family or your friends or for others in need that blesses them.  If you are suffering this season, allow others to come in and comfort you.  For me,  I’ll spend some time looking at all the stockings hanging on my mantel.  And there’s one in particular I’ll look at a little longer.  The one that represents a story of love, joy, comfort, hope, compassion and above all else, grace.  And those are all the emotions I will embrace this Christmas.