One Hundred Fifteen: What worked for me in 2017

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Nothing gets me back in “writer mode” faster than an opportunity to reflect, set goals, share lists, etc. So on this first day of a new year, here I am looking back on what worked to make life a bit easier, lovelier, or more inspired.

  • Walmart Grocery Pickup. My sister and closest friends swore by it. They told me it was a life saver/life changer/the greatest thing that’s ever happened to anyone ever. I kept NOT doing it. Then I did it. I went online and put stuff in my grocery cart as I planned out our meals. I told the Walmart store just 7 minutes from our house (that I never frequented because: Walmart) what time I would be there to pick up my stuff. I waited for confirmation that everything was ready. I put my 4 children in the van, drove to the store, chatted with the friendly man or woman who did all the hard work for me, opened up the back of the van and let them put everything in. Life saver. Life Changer. The Greatest thing that’s ever happened to anyone ever.Even when the wait is longer than I want it to be. Even when bread gets squished. Even when the chips are crumbs. Even when they don’t have what I want and it’s substituted or just left off or they forget something or the laundry soap spills (and in those cases their customer service is fantastic and they go above and beyond to make it right)…even then, it’s worth it. I highly recommend it.
  • Goodwill. I’m not sure at what point in the year I started frequenting Goodwill, but very quickly it became a family affair that resulted in my husband and I having “new” clothes for the first time ever. A clothing budget was always something we wanted but never had. If our growing kids needed something, we made it happen or begged grandparents for help. But if we needed or wanted something? We waited for birthday or Christmas money and then felt lame and sorry for ourselves for “having” to spend it that way. After pregnancy, and thanks to nursing, I lost a lot of weight and had nothing to wear. Goodwill allowed me to keep myself clothed without a huge price tag. And those kids who keep growing? I kept them in jeans, shorts, and shoes when they needed them.It’s also true what people say: you can find REALLY GREAT STUFF at Goodwill. Name brands, stuff with tags still attached, barely used, gently used, trendy, “I may as well give it a shot because it’s only $3” good stuff. I feel like I have a style for the first time in my life because I’m willing and able to take a $3 risk. If I’ve received compliments on clothes this year (and I have), 99% of the time I’ve been wearing something from Goodwill.
  • eBay. My Goodwill shopping actually started out with an eye for sellable items. I had friends who were having huge success selling clothes on eBay, and the income they were bringing in was helping their families pay down debt, cover school tuition, and changing their lives. But once I got into Goodwill, I was finding clothes I wanted to keep! Now it’s both: I find things to keep, and I often find things to sell. I haven’t put the time into it that some of my friends have. It’s not a business, by any means, but there have been many months where the money I’ve made on eBay has helped our family when money has been tight.
  • Morning Pages. This is a simple practice that many writers use to shake out the cobwebs in the morning and get themselves ready to write. The basic idea is to write 3 pages of free-flowing thoughts first thing every day. There’s no over thinking or editing, it’s just writing. Almost every morning during their summer break, the kids and I gathered at the dining room table with our special notebooks and pens (bought just for the occasion) and set a timer for 20 minutes. I told them to limit themselves to two pages of their notebooks (because they are all artists who love nothing more than filling up pages with their creations). I encouraged them to write if they wanted to, but tried not to put too many rules and restrictions upon them. We ALL loved it, and they’ve requested Morning Pages many days since. It’s hard to make it happen in the busyness of the school year, but we will definitely do it again this summer.
  • A new Instagram account. At some point early in the summer, I got the idea to start a new account, public this time, all about our family of 6 enjoying Oklahoma City together. It became a fantastic way to explore all that our city has to offer as far as shopping, eating out, and enjoying time as a family. It even led to a side job of writing restaurant reviews! I’ve so enjoyed writing the column, as well as challenging our family to eat and shop local, get to know the names and faces of small business owners in our community, and spread the word about the benefits of this practice.
  • Book Club! I LOVE reading but usually hate book clubs because of the pressure I always feel to say something insightful or intelligent. But I wanted to gather women in my church to read and discuss some great fiction, and we did! We enjoyed 3 books together before school started and made life crazier. We plan to continue this year.
  • One word: OPEN. For the past two years I adopted a word for the year, then lost sight of it somewhere along the way. But at least for a while, the word OPEN was fresh on my mind. It was on my mind when I got a text early in the year from a woman from my church who lives in my neighborhood and was looking for help with childcare. While my first inclination was to say, “Uh. No. 100% no.” I thought about it. I ultimately had to say no, but that conversation led to a friendship with this woman and the motivation to give other things a chance. I was open to and said yes to being a house mom at my kid’s school and to working for my church again.

So there are a few things that worked for me. Here’s to staying open, to finding margin, to boundaries and healthy “yeses” and “nos.” Here’s to another year of growth and change.
Happy New Year!

 

 

 

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One Hundred Thirteen

IMG_4909It’s one of the more painful truths of the Christian life, that suffering often produces the most positive change in us. It makes perfect sense, in the way that the seemingly crazy, backwards, upside down way of the gospel makes sense. It makes sense, in the way that the God Man himself was subjected to suffering and rejection to the ultimate extent, so that we will never be.

Pain is pain. Suffering is suffering. There’s no award for who has suffered the most. When I think about it like that, life without a microwave can’t even come close to being placed in that category. It’s a minor annoyance, an inconvenience, at best. But that minor annoyance has been used to teach me, to open my eyes, and prayerfully, to mold me and change me.

It became clear to me, a couple of months ago, that our microwave was acting strange. I would put my coffee in to reheat it, walk down to the basement to start more laundry, then come back to stone cold coffee.

“Huh. Maybe I was in the basement longer than I realized?”

Repeat. Same result. So I put in a container of water and brought it to a boil. Eventually, it did. But then the coffee thing happened again. Then the microwave failed to melt a stick of butter for biscuits. The light was on, the tray was turning, but no one was home.

I managed. I melted butter in a saucepan on the stove. I reheated leftovers in the oven. But I was most annoyed by my inability to enjoy hot coffee as I endlessly bustled about in the mornings.

One late afternoon, about a week or two in the “trial of no microwave,” I texted a couple of friends about mom life. I was struggling with the reality of “never clocking out.” I was angry that my days never really end. My responsibilities never cease. I can sit on the couch after dinner, but the laundry still sitting in the dryer, or on the table calls to me. I walk through the house and see endless piles waiting to be picked up. There are dishes to put away, lunches to pack, dinners to plan, groceries to buy, homework to do, books to return, and no one else seems to care about the PILES as much as I do. And don’t even get me started on the angel baby who hasn’t slept more than 4 hours at a time for almost 13 months now. My work literally never ends.

So I asked my friends, “How do you clock out? How do you decide your work is finished for the day?” They shared some good advice, and as I mulled it all over for a few days (as is my tendency), I realized the large extent to which I bring it on myself. The only one in my house with the expectation of perfection is me.

What on earth does this have to do with my broken microwave?

The broken microwave became an invitation to me to slow down. To wake up early, to a dark and quiet house, and to sit and savor my first cup. To savor the fresh start of a new morning. Not to ignore the to-do list, or the jobs awaiting me, but to fill my tank a bit before I rushed in running on fumes. Then I invited myself to prioritize my tasks. What is really essential? Will the house or the family fall apart if I don’t get to that? Can I delegate some of these jobs out and then be okay with the imperfect results? (Yes, Future Keely, yes you can. Or at least you should.)

Is life without a microwave suffering? No. Is it a trial? Maaaaybe?

Does scripture tell me that trials (of various kinds) test me, and produce patience? Indeed.

Here’s to learning and growing and changing, and hot coffee straight out of the press.

One Hundred Twelve

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I’ve had four babies, lost a lot of sleep, and lost a lot of brain cells since college, but I remember this from my Psychology classes: “Correlation does not imply causation.” Simply stated, just because two things are related, that doesn’t mean one thing causes the other. The example I remember most clearly states that murder rates are higher in the summer and so are ice cream sales. You wouldn’t say that ice cream causes people to commit murder, right? (Perhaps the lack of ice cream might…)

Anyway, I say all that to say this – my phone has been dying a slow, painful death for the past few weeks. It finally gave out completely just yesterday, the same day my new phone arrived. For the past week, I’ve been unable to do anything but send and receive texts. No calls (aside from the many, many butt-dials my phone sent out. Sorry to those of you who received those!), no emails, no Instagram, no Internet surfing. Additionally, for the past week, I’ve played cards with my children, read more books aloud to my children, and been more patient and present with my children and husband.

“Correlation does not imply causation.”

And yet…

I can’t deny the simple fact that, with my phone not even available as a distraction, I was much more present and available to my children. My first instinct was to wallow in the disgusting truth for just a bit – that I’m addicted to my phone. However, I quickly moved on because the fact of the matter was, I was having way too much fun playing cards with my kiddos to be too bothered. Additionally, when the desire hit hard enough, I grabbed my camera to take pictures, instead of my phone. I snapped some (much more quality) pictures, turned the camera off, and returned to the moment. No posting, no sharing, no checking “likes.” What an absolute blessing the death of my phone turned out to be.

Now my new phone is here and it’s a bit more snazzy than the last. The gifs! The emojis! The slow-mo videos! The ability to actually download the latest versions of apps! The temptation is there to return to my old patterns and habits. For now, however, I’ve seen what life looks like when I’m a bit less plugged in, and oh, how sweet it is.

One Hundred Eleven

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My kids have only been on summer break for a week now, and already there are heart issues to address and character development to hone.

And I’m talking about my own. 

Leftover frustrations from the night before had me behind yesterday before I even started. Then one kid was up before me (by 6:15!), having apparently helped himself to my leftover iced coffee, then proceeded to talk to me (before I’d had my own coffee!) in a voice loud enough to wake the dead (and his sleeping sister). Those two were closely followed by the last two and the five of us were rolling by 7:15.

As it goes, the kids were “starving” for lunch by 10 a.m., so I gently mothered their hearts and encouraged them to prepare their own meals.

I yelled at them to fix their own damn food at whatever ridiculous times they were hungry and not to bug me when “real lunch time” came around. 

I had a meeting at 11:00 and was all set to be 20 minutes early when the coffee drinker spilled his drink (packed precariously in his lunchbox), my daughter’s foot was smashed in the door, and a moving truck blocked the street (on trash day) so I had to make a classic 11-point turn just to get out of my neighborhood. In my frustration at the moving guy doing his job, I ran over a curb, cursed the curb, then punched the gas and made all my kids carsick.

Did I mention my meeting was a staff prayer meeting at my church? 

By the time we were just a couple of blocks away from the church, I could see how utterly ridiculous I was acting and I repented to my kids. We talked about bad moods that we don’t fully understand, hypocrisy, and taking our anger and frustration out on whoever happens to be in our path. I had done it all. I was graciously forgiven by my children. I shared honestly with our church staff. I was prayed over.

My bad mood remained. 

By 2:00 (when my ravenous kids were ready for dinner), the baby was blissfully asleep and I was drinking the last of the iced coffee (a 3-day batch gone in a day!) it hit me: I preach and believe strength and rest are to be found in Jesus, but I look for strength and rest in coffee, in well-behaved kids, in a baby who naps more than 45 minutes at a time, and generally in having things go my way.

Repentance. Forgiveness. Under-reacting. Love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Faithfulness. Gentleness. Self-Control.

I’ve got a lot to learn. Praise God for his gentle, forgiving nature and for the gentle, forgiving people he’s put in my life, who seem to understand better than I that we are all works in progress.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. – Philippians 1:6

One Hundred Five

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“And while we may not always believe it or feel it, he continues to hold us in his hand as we stumble blindly through the wilderness.”

I wrote those words yesterday and they’ve been echoing in my head ever since. I’m reading through Exodus right now as well as the book “The Red Sea Rules” and my husband and I are indeed walking blindly through the wilderness. I’ll probably have my Christian card revoked for saying this, but there’s not much I hate more than walking by faith. It’s so hard, y’all!!

I love hindsight. I love looking back on a period of time and seeing God’s gracious hands at work all over it. I love to tell those stories of rescue. But drop me down in the middle of the trial and I will whine and complain and doubt and fear and lose sleep and have heart palpitations and get shingles. I mean, it’s been known to happen.

I’ve been in one haunted house in my life. I was probably 10 or 11 and my softball team went as a group. I’m pretty sure my eyes were closed the entire time, but I still managed to get so scared at what I couldn’t see lurking in dark corners, that I begged my mom to get me out of there and she had a zombie open up a side door and let us out. I don’t like being scared. I don’t like surprises. I don’t like the unknown.

I’m 34  years old and I’m still learning that life doesn’t present itself in the way I want. I don’t get to see the end result. I just get to live day by day and moment by moment. And as a follower of Jesus, I’m expected to walk moment by moment in complete dependence upon him. I’m called to a life of faith and trust and rest. I’m so bad at it.

Maybe that’s why God keeps presenting me with opportunities to practice. He keeps asking me to follow him into the unknown. He keeps asking me to trust his guidance and his plan. He keeps asking me to believe the best, and believe what his word says, and believe that the day will come when I will look back and see his gracious hands all over this time.

Gracious God, I’m so ready for this story of rescue.

One Hundred Three

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Much to my husband’s chagrin, when I first saw Les Miserables, I was Team Eponine. I was supposed to be all romantic and root for Cosette and Marius and passion and “love at first sight.” But I was rooting for the established friendship of childhood friends and wanted Marius to see her devotion to him. Because here’s the thing: I don’t believe in love at first sight. Sure, I believed in it as a college freshman, and for a while I attended every function and every class fully believing that I would meet my future husband. That never happened, and my skepticism about all things romantic began to grow.

I recently watched a video of a musician describing the day she “fell in love with Jesus”. Not for the first time in my life, I was jealous of another person’s story and experience. It seemed more important and impactful than my own. After all, I’m one of those good girls who literally grew up in church and rarely missed a Sunday service. I can’t remember “falling in love with Jesus.” Loving Jesus was always just a given. I was safe in a bubble where it was assumed that I did, and you do, too.

As I reflected upon all of this, I thought about falling in love with my husband. While in my past I impulsively told a handful of boys that I thought I loved them (can you say unrequited?), it wasn’t until Charles that I actually loved a man. But if you know anything about our story, you should know this – it wasn’t immediate. In fact, I was completely against the idea of even dating him. We were just friends who became good friends who became inseparable. It was a gradual process for both of us, learning to trust each other with our stories, spending lots of time together, until eventually we couldn’t imagine life without the other.

So I can’t remember a lightning bolt moment with Jesus. I can’t remember him sweeping me off of my feet. I simply remember his constant presence and friendship throughout the entirety of my life. The relationship and grown and changed and I often take it for granted. But scripture states that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. So I’m the one growing and changing. He’s the one faithfully walking along with me, revealing truth and softening my heart and opening my eyes. His is a “love that will not let me go,” and the fact that I’ve had it forever? That’s certainly not a bad thing.

One Hundred

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We are officially moved into our new home and feeling very settled. We are down to those last few boxes filled with random things like pictures and memories and VHS tapes and other items we want to keep but aren’t sure where to put. Our kids are making messes in every square inch of the place and it really feels like home. After months and months (and months!) of feeling unsettled, it’s a really great feeling.

Over the weekend I opened another neglected box and found two folders stuffed with papers. One folder contained my high school and college transcripts, scholarship letters, college acceptance and transfer letters, and seemingly every single awards certificate I received from junior high through college.

The other folder consisted of essays, papers, and exams from my senior AP English class. I really hated that class. My teacher was very tough and hard to please. I’m sure she made sure I was well-prepared for college and I should be grateful, but I’ll sheepishly admit that I’m not. I read through some of my papers and her comments in the margins. They were brutal and honest and (in my humble opinion) nit-picky. Apparently I missed the tone of every poem we analyzed. I failed to grasp the main points of our authors. I neglected to recognize hyperbole.

As I read through the stack of papers written in my bubbly high school script, I sympathized with the girl who wrote them. My feelings were hurt for the girl who surely had worked her hardest and tried her best on each assignment. I also hurt for the 34-year-old woman who read those words and still felt stung by them. I was frustrated for feeling like the words of my teacher made an ounce of difference in my worth, my standing, or my purpose.

I found one last essay from one of the last months of senior year. It had very few notes in the margins and two lovely sentences at the top: “What a fantastic essay. You are so prepared for college.” My chest swelled with pride and my eyes welled with tears. I had done it. I had finally pleased her. I was good enough, I was smart enough, and dog-gone-it, people liked me.

I snapped out of it. I asked myself why on earth this validation meant so much to me. And, as is my tendency, I beat myself up about it. “Seriously, Keely? You’re still struggling with this? Why do you need others to tell you you’ve done a good job? Why do you need to hear you’ve made someone proud? Do the words of Mrs. G really make a difference one way or another for the woman, wife, mother, and person you are today?”

In another breath I was reminded of these words from Scott Sauls’ book, “Regardless of whether [words of affirmation] is your love language, this desire is in us all, and we never outgrow it. We want to be praised and noticed. In its purest form, this is good and even godlike.”

I am so quick to find fault in myself and pretty much each and every natural tendency I have, that I often fail to see the goodness of Christ in me. Does not Genesis tell me that God declared all of his creation good? And am I not his beloved creation?

So yes, while I can and do twist the good things and fall into sin and seek my worth and find my validation in the words of others, I am not a hopeless case. My task is to continually speak the truth of the gospel to my wandering heart. To remember that I do have worth. I have a stamp of approval from the all-powerful creator of the universe. I am my beloved’s and he is mine. I can rest in the finished work of Christ instead of hustling and trying harder.

I threw away all of the papers and all of the awards. There are eternal words for me to cling to.