When Your Efforts Feel Like a Waste

Sometimes your efforts feel like a waste.

Maybe your plans for productivity after waking up early were thwarted by a child who woke up even earlier…

Maybe your sacrifice of leaving work two hours early for your spouse was met by two hours of bumper-to-bumper traffic…

Maybe the hours you spent in the kitchen, swatting away children who kept appearing at your ankles, were for nothing when you left one of the bags with your accomplishment on the kitchen floor…

And maybe the time and love you put into a giant cookie cake was met with the disappointing news of school closing for the day…

and all of your plans and good intentions instead felt like a giant waste.

But in that moment, you had a choice because there’s always a choice.

Maybe you griped and complained how you’re never cut a break and don’t get the help that you need…

Maybe you pounded your fists on the steering wheel, and your body tensed as your mind anticipated the chaos awaiting you at home…

Or maybe you took a deep breath and savored the smell of the garlic you chopped and the lemons you squeezed in a friend’s kitchen, enjoying more the company of friends than the improvised dish you were making…

And maybe you looked in two very disappointed eyes and knew that there was only one course of action to take…

so you had cookie cake for breakfast.

Because even though the change of plans seemed a little strange at first,

it wasn’t long before you realized that sometimes a change in plans

represents a chance for new memories that taste oh-so-sweet.

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland (Isaiah 43:19, New International Version, 2010).

When was a time that your improvisations made for a sweet memory? How do you cope when you feel like your efforts have been wasted?  Share below for this ‘Focus On It Friday.’

Finding Financial Peace

When Matt and I went through premarital counseling, our pastor and almost every book we read warned us of the power of money in a marriage.  Money is blamed as one of the leading causes of divorce.  And while I hate to think that something material plays such a significant part in a marriage, I can testify to its power.

We need money.  The grocery store is not going to accept one of my blog posts as payment, and the mortgage company wouldn’t find one of my kids’ drawings cute.  Money pays the bills, and the paid bills ensure we’re warm at night with clothes on our back.  So when money is hard to find, and financial problems begin to mount, so does the stress and tension.

Matt and I took steps together to try to overcome the difficulties of having a house in another state that wouldn’t sell while only having one income to cover the bills and needs of a family of five.  We tried to set up an emergency savings fund, but Mr. Murphy would show up every month or so to lay claim to his share.  We were facing an endless cycle of putting money in the bank to then have to take it out.  Any bad financial decisions that we made previously were magnified 10,000 fold because we couldn’t make any headway.

Matt and I decided to enroll in a small group in our church that was teaching Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. I knew I wanted to join this group, but I was honestly a little apprehensive at the same time.  Every month Matt and I would fight as we worked on the budget, and I was afraid that those monthly fights would now become weekly!  Thankfully, my fears were for naught.

One of the benefits of the course is that we were taking advice and instruction from an outside third party.  When we were doing our monthly budgets, the guidelines weren’t coming from Matt or from me but from Mr. Ramsey, and he wasn’t taking sides.  The arguments stopped.

For the first time we had a game plan where we could feel we were gaining momentum. We now were in agreement as to the way we wanted to attack our debt and save for the future, and at the beginning of each month, every dollar we owned was assigned a place.

For the first time in about five years I can breathe.

I am so thankful for a hardworking husband who has always done whatever it takes so that I could stay home with our children.  He is an amazing provider, and I am glad that we now have a game plan to ensure we make the most of his hard work.  And I am thankful that we are on the path to finding financial peace.

I look forward to the day when money won’t control us, but we will control our money completely.  One day, maybe many years away, but one day we will be able to use our money as a means to bless other people and not just a necessity to pay the bills.

I know this post isn’t poetic or maybe even interesting, but I don’t want to forget the relief and gratitude I feel right now.  This past Wednesday we completed our last class, and I know we are graduating with the tools to make wise financial decisions.  At the beginning of each month, I get a little excited knowing that we have another chance to knock out some debt.

We’re getting there.  It will take time. And sacrifice.  But it’s so worth it.

Those who read my blog regularly know that I typically don’t use it to endorse products, but I am going to today. I would highly recommend that anyone who isn’t set for retirement with a paid-off house and money ready to give to those in need take this course.  If a person has debt, he should take this course.  If a person doesn’t have debt but doesn’t have a clear vision on how to save, she should take this course.  If a couple needs to know the best way to save for their kids’ college or their own retirement, they should take this course–no matter their age.

Everything we have is a gift. God has entrusted us with His money, and we will be held accountable for how we used it.  I hope that one day when I face my Maker, He will be able to say, “‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’” (Matthew 25:21, New International Version, 2010).

For this ‘Focus On It Friday,’ for what can you be thankful?  Leave a comment below, and share your thanks!

*I was not compensated in any way by Dave Ramsey or his organization, The Lampo Group.  I wrote this blog post simply because I am thankful.  However, if Dave Ramsey wanted to compensate me for it, we would be able to take care of our debt faster. 😉

I’m Thankful Today Because…

It’s the little things….

Kids sleeping in on a Friday morning when we don’t have to be anywhere….

Getting four or so hours of alone time with my husband as we take a mini road trip….

Anticipating a night without little visitors sneaking into bed and boring holes in our back with their heads and little feet (because these visitors only sleep sideways, of course)….

Winning a ticket to a conference and getting a chance to meet in person those faces that have flashed through my Twitter feed countless times….

And one big thing…

Sitting alongside 12,000 other women as we learn and worship our God together…

For this ‘Focus On It Friday’ I am thankful for (in)courage by DaySpring who hosted the giveaway to win a ticket to the Deeper Still conference, and I look forward to meeting some of their wonderful writers and the six other ladies who were as lucky as I.  And I am especially thankful for my in-laws who are taking the three munchkins so that I can attend this conference, Matt can catch up on some work, and we can reconnect for a couple of hours each day on our mini road trip.

The Blind Date

The world  of Facebook and Twitter and the blogosphere is so amazing to me. The ability to connect with someone on the other side of the world is literally at my fingertips.  When I started blogging, I wasn’t writing so much for the connections; I simply enjoyed writing and wanted to get in the habit of doing it more.  But as I continued to share my blog, I started to recognize individuals who would comment.  Over time, we began to have conversations through blog posts, and some of those conversations have led to friendships.

As one with many acquaintances but few that I would consider true friends, I use the word ‘friendship’ carefully.  I am a relatively nice individual, and I would venture to say that most people who meet me like me.  However, I seem to have trouble getting past the acquaintance level.  Perhaps I’m a little inhibited when it comes to asking people to do things with me, or truth-be-told, I’m sure I sometimes isolate myself in the little bubble I have created for the kids and me.  Or I guess there is the other possibility that after reading my blog, people just think I’m crazy and tend to stay away.

In any event, there was one woman whose name would pop up frequently in the comment section of my blog, and mine in hers.  Lisa is her name, which also happens to be the name of my own sister.  Anyway, Lisa would leave little comments here and there, and I would do the same, and after a while, I just knew this woman would be my friend if we ever met.  At one point in our commenting, I wrote that, in fact, we should meet–after all, I knew Lisa lived somewhere in the area of where I live because she went to the same church as a friend of mine.

A couple of weeks later, Lisa sent me an e-mail agreeing and offering suggestions of where we should meet and when.  She even joked that we were mimicking the movie You’ve Got Mail, a movie that I’ve never seen, so I don’t know if I’m playing Meg Ryan or Tom Hanks.  And the date was set–a Tuesday at Starbucks.  My first blind date ever.

I guess the date wasn’t completely blind, as Lisa’s picture was on her blog and my picture on mine, but how did I know that she wasn’t using one of her Glamour Shots from years ago?  I’m seriously thinking of changing my profile picture to my Glamour Shot from when I was 14; they made me look 30, after all.  I digress.

I can honestly say that I wasn’t nervous about meeting Lisa.  Yes, I wondered how naturally conversation would flow, but I wasn’t nervous.  As I said before, I knew we would be friends.  And sure enough, from the moment Lisa opened the door of the Starbucks for Chloe and me on that rainy moment, our ‘in person’ friendship began.  While her daughter sat quietly and perfectly in her stroller and Chloe sat in multiple chairs eating both her snack and my breakfast (No, Chloe, I’m not bitter), Lisa and I chatted away.  Within minutes of meeting, we were already discussing our child-spacing methods or lack thereof and went on to filling in the gaps that our blogs didn’t provide.

And it was refreshing.  It was refreshing to meet a kindred spirit, a woman whom I didn’t know, yet at the same time, feel like I knew for years.  It was refreshing to sit and sip a cup of coffee, enjoy watching our little girls, while the drizzle sprinkled over the outside.  It was refreshing, and I look forward to doing it again.

When Matt got home that night, he asked how my blind date went.  I told him, “Lisa and I really hit it off, and we’re going to see each other again.”  Matt just rolled his eyes.  I hope he doesn’t think he’s going to be replaced.  After all, he his my best friend, even if Lisa is my new friend.

This week I am thankful for my new friendship and my old friendships with which God has blessed me.  Thank you, also, to my other steady friends that I may not have ever met but continue to brighten my days with their thoughtful comments on my blog.  If I ever get to your state or country, or if you’re ever in Georgia, I know there’s a local Starbucks waiting for us to meet!  For what friendships are you thankful this week?  Come share for this ‘Focus On It Friday’!

A Vote of Thanks

Last Friday, Chloe greeted everyone with a warm, “Hi-iiii!” as I sat at a little table filling out my information.  I had done my research and was ready to cast my vote.  I walked up to the little voting booth, inserted my card, and touched the boxes next to the candidates of my choice. About five minutes later, Chloe and I stuck our stickers on our shirts and headed towards the van.

Wednesday morning, I read friends’ comments of frustration and depression and others’ of pure elation as the election results were known to all those who cared.  And I felt grateful. I felt hopeful.

I am so spoiled to live in a country where I can vote without having to fight for it.  Others already paved that road for me.  I am privileged to live in a country where I can voice my support or dissent for candidates or choose to remain silent. I don’t have to fear the consequences of my voice or lack thereof.

I am thankful for a process that, regardless of how I voted during any particular election, does hear the voice of the majority and responds, and I am thankful for the gridlock which helps protect the ideals of the minority, as well. And after this election, I am hopeful for another chance for our government to work together, where our president and all parties can emerge as winners come the next election.

It’s not  a perfect process, but amidst the mess and slinging of mud, there is beauty in a government that is by the people.  And I will never forget that I am part of that people and will exercise my vote of thanks each change I get.

For what are you thankful this week?

Grocery Bags and Construction Paper

When Caleb was seven months old, I didn’t take him to the pumpkin patch to snap some Halloween pictures.  At the time, I didn’t realize that I had violated some law for what mothers are supposed to do with their children, but I was informed of that fact after Halloween had come and gone without a cute pumpkin picture of my son.  Nowhere in my house is there a separate section for arts and crafts supplies complete with a stash of those googly eyes and various buttons necessary to create animals and insects for any occasion.  And my daughters will never have matching frilly hair bows with darling pillowcase dresses unless someone gives them such a present.

When it comes to creativity, arts and crafts, anticipating projects for the upcoming holiday season, or anything along those lines, I have failed.  It’s not so much that I’m against projects; it’s simply that my mind would never even think to do some of the artsy projects other parents undertake. And I had started to get a little insecure about my inability to ‘create’ with my children.

The other day I was at the store when I noticed a huge display of plastic pumpkin pails intended for children to store their Halloween candy.  I grabbed three remembering how I didn’t remember the last two years when the kids had to throw their candy from the Fall Festival in the bottom of our stroller.  Suddenly, out of the blue, my mind had an ingenious idea–we’ll make our own bags!  Okay, I’ll be honest; I didn’t get this idea in a quest for creativity.  I simply didn’t want to spend money on three pails and then find a place to keep those bulky pumpkins after Halloween was over.

That afternoon, I set out two little grocery bags for Caleb and Hannah Grace, and I drew a pumpkin for each of them on a piece of orange construction paper.  They were so excited and focused as they sat at the kitchen table ready to begin their project. The kids colored and cut and then glued their pumpkins on the bags, and as I watched and helped them work, I felt a little ashamed.  Maybe if my mind worked this way, if I thought about crafts to do ahead of time, I could give them something better.  I pushed away the thought as we put the finishing touches on the bags.

While I picked up scraps of paper from the floor, the kids admired their work until Caleb suddenly spoke:

“Thank you, Mommy,” he said.

On his own, without any encouragement from me, he offered his thanks.  And I knew from the sound of his voice that he wasn’t merely thanking me for the bag–he was thanking me for thirty minutes we spent together creating–creating pumpkin bags and a memory that will last longer.

Caleb then made his way across the kitchen to where I was crouched on the floor and put his arms around me.  “I love you,” he gently spoke, and my heart melted. Any insecurities I was feeling were immediately washed away.

Caleb didn’t care that our craft didn’t involve fabric and a hot glue gun–he doesn’t want any of those frills–he just wants me.

I had to write about this moment because I know how easily I will forget; I will forget that my children don’t need paper mache and glitter.  They need something more precious–me, my attention–and they will take all they can get of it, even if my attention comes bearing paper grocery bags.

For what can you be thankful on this ‘Focus On It Friday’?

Really Good Cookies

The morning was off to a bad start.  I had gotten up at 6:00 with the hopes of having an hour of undisturbed time, so of course, Caleb decided to wake up ten minutes later.  By 6:30 two out of the three were awake, and by 6:45, everyone had joined me.  Any morning when the kids wake up before I get dressed is challenging because I can’t monitor their progress.  Such was the case on this particular morning.

Caleb had actually cooperated and dressed and made his bed quickly.  I got Chloe ready and then headed back to my room to focus on myself.  While everyone else was getting ready, Hannah Grace proceeded to lie around on her floor naked, not doing anything productive to get ready for preschool.  In between getting Chloe and myself dressed, I uttered quite a few warnings to Hannah Grace that she needed to put on some clothes but to no avail.

Finally, I was dressed and headed over to the uncooperative child’s room.  She was still naked, her clothes lying on the floor, and my patience was worn thin, which was unfortunate since it was only 7:30, and I had a whole lot of the day left. At this point I decided that we were not going to wait for Hannah Grace; I would dress her myself.

As I started to put on her underwear, she began to kick and scream.  We were all witnessing an early morning temper tantrum.  Each time I would get her leg in a hole, she would kick off the clothing.  My patience that was worn thin was now held together by one thread, and that thread was in danger of snapping.

As I was getting more forceful, she was fighting harder.  We were having a battle of wills, and I was determined not to lose, not to a three-year-old, and not on this morning.  I had gotten up at 6:00 so I could have time to pray for patience; if they were going to mess up that routine, they would have to deal with the consequences!

We both were struggling, and the screaming and crying continued.  Hannah Grace pulled out the last weapon she had: “I don’t love you anymore, Mommy!  And I don’t love Chloe, and I don’t love Caleb, and I don’t love, Daddy!”

Caleb, who had been witnessing this whole ordeal with his sister Chloe, didn’t miss a beat: “Well, I guess that means were going to have to give you away.”

I was not expecting that response.

“No, Caleb, we’re not going to have to give Hannah Grace away,” I chimed in, rather unemotionally.

“Well, if she doesn’t love anybody anymore, than we have to give her away!” he insisted.

I was struck at how silent the room had gotten; Caleb had scared Hannah Grace out of her tantrum!

Again, I assured them, “We are not going to give Hannah Grace away.”

There was a moment of silence, and Caleb pondered his next point.  He looked directly at Hannah Grace and delivered his line with full passion:

“Mommy makes really good cookies!”

As if that fact should be the one to change her mind about not loving me!

But it worked.  Caleb knew exactly what to say, if for nothing else, to keep my last thread of patience in tact. While I kept a straight face, I was laughing hysterically inside.  What is going on in this four-year-old’s mind?!!

I proceeded to hug Hannah Grace, to tell her how much I loved her and our family.  I explained how she hurt my feelings when she said she didn’t love me, but I would always love her.  I knew that she was a really good girl, and I suggested that we get dressed so we could brush her hair and then go down for breakfast.

This little girl who had kicked and screamed two minutes earlier was now calm and obedient.  She dressed, and I braided her hair without a fight.  The morning had been salvaged, thanks to the comments of a precocious little boy.

That is, the morning had been salvaged until that little boy tackled his sister to the ground for an orange vitamin.  And even though we were up three hours before preschool started, we were still late.  Thankfully, I hadn’t used my last thread of patience upstairs.

God knows what we need, and I am so thankful for that moment to laugh, to gain a little perspective before blowing my top.  For what are you thankful this week?

Even If I Don’t Feel Like It

Last night I thought about writing my ‘Focus On It Friday’ post, but honestly, I just didn’t want to write it.  I still don’t.  I’m angry and frustrated about some things, and my muse has left me.  I have nothing in my mind for inspiration, no little anecdotes to illustrate my thankfulness, yet as much as I tried to forget about this post for today, I couldn’t.  Because the truth is, no matter how I feel on any given day, I am truly blessed. Finding something for which I can give thanks is never difficult.

So with a grumpy heart, I offer a list.  Even though I don’t feel like it, even though I don’t have a great story, or even though I might but my sour mood makes writing one feel a little phony, I will remember all the reasons this week I have to say ‘thank you.’

1. For the 33 miners who were given a second chance at life

2. For a God who gave me a second chance at life, too

3. For the boss who offered my husband a few days a week of working a different schedule, thus giving us more time together as a family.

4. For the good daddy who treated our kiddos to pizza and ice cream and for those kiddos who shared their ice cream with their baby sister without being prompted to do so

5. For the Stevie Wonder-like dance the baby performed as a result of her sugar-induced high

6. For the compassion and gentleness my children showed a mentally-handicapped individual, even though, as they put it, they were initially ‘shy’

7. For the preschool teacher and administrative coordinator who showed understanding during a day when preschool just wasn’t going to happen for a certain little girl

8. For my dad who willingly rescheduled our breakfast date during that bad day and for a dad who wants to take his grown daughter out on a date in the first place

9. For my mom who babysat this Wednesday and brought dinner so that Matt and I could attend our small group

10. For my sister who throughout the week demonstrated more examples of a life centered around helping others than I could glean from most individuals in a year

Did you have a bad day or a bad week?  Could you add to this list, even if you didn’t feel like it?

The Conversation

I woke up the other day with a heavy heart.  My husband had left for a week-long business trip, and I already missed him.  I was tired from many days of going without rest, and many nights of turning out the lights a little too late.

I began to pray because I knew that I would need the kindness of God to help me this day; I would need his patience and compassion as I dealt with my kids on a day when I had none of my own.  If the past were any indication of what this week would look like, the kids would test the limits, and I would go to bed feeling regret for losing my temper, especially since I felt so tired already.  I prayed  for wisdom and strength in my parenting and for them, and then I moved on to pray for Matt.

As I started to pray for my husband to have a safe trip, I also prayed for forgiveness.  I had said something the night before that I shouldn’t have said, or at least should have waited to say until we had the time to converse. Immediately upon praying, I felt God say to call him right then.  I paused but continued praying asking for Matt to do well on his trip, but again, I felt God say to my spirit, “Stop praying, and call your husband.”

I felt weird abandoning my prayer, walking away from the God of the universe, but I grabbed my cell phone and called Matt.  Matt answered, and I could hear in the background that his flight was boarding–I caught him just in time.  After I apologized, Matt admitted that my words had really upset him, and hearing him say so pierced my heart.  True to his nature, Matt offered kindness and forgiveness as I cried over the phone.

I thought to myself, “What if I hadn’t called right then?”  Matt would’ve left for this trip with a heavy heart, an unnecessary burden as he tried to do his job to the best of his ability. And I immediately thanked God for interrupting my prayer.

This past Sunday during my small group I had shared that prayer was my weakness.  I pray many times during the day, but I don’t always feel that it comes naturally to me.  I tend to recite a list–a list of thanks, concerns, contritions, and then ‘amen.’  I wanted to learn how to take part in a conversation instead of a list; I wanted to learn how to listen.

And true to the nature of God, always bestowing more kindness on me than I deserve, He showed me that I do know how to listen.  I am capable of having a conversation with Him.  But more importantly, God showed me that when I get carried away with my list, He’s not afraid to interrupt.

For this ‘Focus on it Friday,’ I am thankful for a God who knows how to get my attention and who is more interested in relationship than formality. For what are you thankful?  Leave a comment or a link to your own post below!

A Week of Tender Blessings

Sometimes writing a ‘Focus on it Friday’ post is difficult as I try to pinpoint one specific experience during the week for which I am thankful.  It’s not that I can’t think of a moment, but I’m not sure how to capture the experience through my writing or convey it in a way that sounds eloquent and thoughtful.  As I was struggling for ideas and words this morning, the thought hit me that the point of this exercise is not to improve my writing or write an awe-inspiring post but to cause me to reflect and bend my knees in thanks.  And if that’s the point of this post, I have no problem writing today, whether or not my words reach anyone else.

I want to remember that this week I felt hope.  Matt and I are attending a small group and working through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. As I sat next to Matt and watched him prepare a detailed budget on Monday night, agreed or disagreed as he input the numbers, I actually felt excited.  For one of the first times in our marriage, we had a plan for the month that didn’t end in an argument or frustration.  And even though I knew in my heart that life would throw us curve balls to screw up our beautiful plan for the month (three, to be exact, before we even got to  October 1), I knew that we were on the right track.  And finding hope after it was lost for a time is something for which to be thankful.

I want to remember that this week I felt loved by my little boy.  Nothing amazing occurred yesterday, but I went to bed with a heart that was ablaze. For the whole day, Caleb went out of his way to listen, to please me.  Anything I asked, he answered, “Yes, Ma’am,’ and was the most helpful four-year-old a mother could imagine. I told him how much I appreciated his help, and he hugged me multiple times throughout the day, which is rare because Caleb is not overly affectionate with hugs and kisses.

As the day went on, I noticed that Caleb felt very warm.  When the thermometer flashed the numbers indicating Caleb had a fever, my first thought was “So he’s sick–no wonder he’s behaving!” But I quickly scolded myself–Caleb normally responds to sickness by acting whiney, and I was wrong to discount the effort he was making.

My children are determined to bring on winter, and they went to bed in the warmest pajamas they could find.  As I finally made my way to my own bed, I tiptoed in Caleb’s room and began pulling off his warm clothes, knowing he needed to dress lightly if he had a fever.  In a semi-conscious state, Caleb allowed me to lift his shirt over his head and pull his pants over his feet, and then he lay his head back on his pillow.  I whispered, “Goodnight, Caleb,” expecting the grinding of teeth or smacking of lips to serve as a reply.  Instead, the sweetest little voice responded, “Goodnight, Mommy.”  And for some reason, when the word “Mommy” hit my ear, my heart warmed.

I know my son loves me, but I heard it in his voice last night. And feeling love, especially from one’s child, is something for which to be grateful.

For what are you thankful this Friday?  Leave a comment below, or include a link to one of your own posts.  Have a great weekend!