Sunday, September 18, 2016

An Open Letter to Teen Girls Starting School

I work with the girls in our youth group at church, and I recently had a few minutes to share a little "back to school" message with them. It was nowhere near enough time to share everything in my heart--not to mention, I'm not so great at talking. And so I had to write this letter.

Hi there,

So you're back to school now. I know I might be that annoying adult who's always asking you about your classes and stuff, but the truth is, I really want to know. I see your attention drift away sometimes, and I wonder if you're going to that place in the back of your mind where everything happening at school is on constant replay. It seems like you've got so much on your mind now--homework, tests, friends, used-to-be friends, bullies, that boy you like, sports, clubs, classes, teachers...even college. You seem to know you'll never be just a kid again. 

How are you really doing? Are you having the time of your life? Are you stressed? Do you want to give up sometimes? All of the above? I've tried so hard to think if there's anything I can do for you--anything I can say so that you never doubt how loved you are and how much this is all going to be worth it.

But if there's one thing I wish you could always remember, it's this: the best is yet to come. When you've just had the worst day of your life, and it feels like everyone is against you, the best is yet to come.  When you're on top of the world and you feel like life can't get any better, still remember: the best is yet to come. Yes, hard times will come, and the hardest times in your life are probably still ahead of you too, but your dreams haven't even begun to come true yet. And they never will on a high school stage or field or at prom, because if your dreams come true in high school, you're probably not dreaming big enough.

You have the potential to be absolutely amazing, but it has nothing to do with how you look in selfies or how many likes you get. Everybody wants to feel cool and interesting and unique, but the goodness that God put inside of you is what you should treasure more than anything or anyone's attention. And whenever you're not feeling very confident about who you are, just remember that it doesn't mean you should try being like someone else. Look inside and find the very best parts of you, and let that shine. Always look for the light--even better, be the light. 

Remember that your value is never determined by another person, especially not a boy. No matter how awesome he is, even if he helps bring out the very best in you--and he'd better--he'll never be more amazing than the relationship you can have with God. And one day when you're married, God will still be more important than your husband. So always put your trust in Him first--and don't forget, He already loves you more than any man ever could. 

Never be ashamed of the good choices you make, even when other people don't understand. It doesn't mean they're bad people either, or that they can't be happy. But it does mean that you're strong enough and brave enough to be true to yourself and to God--even it means standing alone--and that you know it will be worth it. Don't ever doubt that--the best is yet to come. 

The best is yet to come, and best-ever you is yet to be. You are more beautiful and amazing now than you know, but you will be even more with every step you take with God. Be your very best self, and even if that's not enough for someone else, let that be enough for you. When you're afraid or doubt yourself, let your faith be bigger than your fears. When things get hard, let your hope be even stronger. Go after your dreams, but be patient--the best is yet to come. And it's even better than you can imagine. 

When other people let you down, remember God always keeps His promises. The best is yet to come. I remember my Mom and Dad telling me this more times than I can count, and you know what, they were right. For years, I was bullied and left out at school, and it felt like it would never end. I've been through some pretty painful times as an adult, too, but I see now that it's made me a stronger and more compassionate person. Other than that, how other people treated me didn't factor in to the person I became. Because nobody else gets to decide what kind of person you'll be--good or bad; YOU do. 

So don't be afraid of what people think about you--they don't have to think you're pretty or fun or smart to make it true. Only YOU have to believe it. Don't be afraid that you're missing out when you see other people smiling and having fun, or when you decide something else is more important than what they have to offer. Don't be afraid to say no to your friends or to that boy you really like when you don't want to take things that far. What you're giving up is nothing compared to what's ahead of you--the best is yet to come. 

The best is yet to come, and you get to decide now if it's going to be worth it to you. Don't give up--the best is yet to come. Work hard in school and go to college--the best is yet to come. Learn every day and do your best--the best is yet to come. Be a friend to everyone no matter how they treat you--the best is yet to come. Spend your time and money on what matters most--the best is yet to come. Have fun and be happy now, but always "reaching forth" to what's ahead of you (Philippians 3:13)--the best is yet to come. You don't need acceptance and attention to be happy; you just need the grace and confidence to keep moving forward. And if you don't trust me, trust Him. The best is yet to come. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Making the Most of Summer...While It Lasts

All you autumn-lovers out there are probably counting down the days until cooler weather arrives, but I'm over here begging summer not to end. It always seems to go by too fast. As a kid, summer meant freedom: eating as much as I wanted, swimming until I was pruney all over, playing outside all day (and long after the fireflies came out), climbing trees, traipsing around my grandparents' and cousins' farms, and doing pretty much whatever I wanted. Even though I'm an adult now--and a mom, at that!--and all I really want to do these days is go to the bathroom alone, I still feel a sense of freedom during the summertime. Like I somehow have "permission" to put fun before work, because, after all, summer only lasts so long.

Funny enough though, at the same time I'm ready to just let loose, I'm also 10X more motivated to dive into new projects. Maybe it's the extra sunlight that's boosting my energy level, or having something fun to look forward to after the work's done. Regardless, summer is always my favorite season, because I finally get to do all the fun stuff I've been dreaming about all year long. And I feel productive no matter what I'm doing--whether I'm working in the garden, running through the sprinklers with the kids, or just relaxing outside on the front porch swing.

So even though some of you've already started school, it's not too late to make the most of these last few weeks of summer. Go swimming, take a picnic to the park, eat dinner outside...get outdoors and make some memories! To give you some inspiration, here's what we've been up to this summer, along with a few things we're still hoping to squeeze in.

  • Had a garage sale
  • Went to Ben's family reunion
  • Camped with the kids (at the reunion)
  • Put in a garden--our first since living here
It's kinda small...
  • Planted blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries
  • Went to camp with the teenage girls from my church
  • Hiked and swam in the famous Sawtooth Mountains
  • Painted the kitchen cabinets (well, not quite "done"...)
  • Floated the Boise River
  • Threw a sprinkler + splash party for Lydia's first birthday
  • Cleared out and donated all the old and outgrown clothes from our closets
  • Went swimming with friends (a few times)
  • Biked and hiked around Jenny Lake in the Grand Tetons outside Jackson Hole, WY
  • Saw the legendary Thousand Springs, an underground river flowing out of a mountain side
  • Hosted my best friend and her daughter for a couple weeks
  • Built a playground for the kids
How long does it take for the orange to fade?
  • Rode a carousel at the park
  • Visited the zoo
  • Spent an evening wading and splashing in the river
  • Roasted hot dogs and marshmallows over our fire pit
  • Played at the splash pad (done, done, done AND DONE!)
  • POPSICLES. Every. Single. Day. 

Still hoping to do:
  • Go camping with just our family--one of my goals this year (September counts?)
  • Have a date night with Ben at the water park (and ride all the slides!)
  • Invite the neighbors over for a BBQ
  • Swim and watch the surfers on the river (yep, you can surf on the river here...Boise's cool like that)
  • Plant grapes
  • Watch the hot air balloon festival
  • Spend a Saturday morning at the Farmer's Market downtown
  • Clean the carpets (We learned the hard way, it's best to do this while the weather's still warm so you don't freeze with the windows open for 2 days straight.)

BONUS! Plans for next summer:
  • Go white water rafting
  • Plant a plum tree and roses
  • Get some chickens (!!!)
  • Paint the house, trim, and garden shed
  • Perk up our back patio (repaint our table, maybe hang some string lights...)
  • Pick fruit at a u-pick farm
  • Go to a concert or movie in the park (when the kids are a little older...)
  • Take the kids fishing
  • Ride the greenbelt trail by the river

What do YOU do in the summertime?

Thursday, August 4, 2016

50 Compliments for Women (That Have Nothing to Do with Appearance)

Ladies (gents, listen up, too!), nothing makes your day like a genuine, heart-felt compliment. And while we women all love to be told how beautiful we are, it's even nicer to know that people appreciate what's on the inside, not just the outside.

I've spent the last several weeks living with other women--an unusual experience for this (sometimes lonely) stay-at-home mom. And they weren't just any women...they were some of the most important women in my life: a week family-reunioning with my sisters- and mother-in-law, 2 weeks catching up with my best friend Jen after 3 years apart, a week camping with the girls from my church and the other women who work with them, and then 2 weeks painting my kitchen cabinets with my mom. (Full disclosure: She did most of the work...I mainly tried to keep the kids from spilling paint and ingesting cabinet hardware.)

One thing I observed over and over was the power that women have to bring out the best in each other. I watched the girls from my church build each other up instead of judging and separating into cliques. I watched the other youth leaders tune in to each girl, cheer her on, and show her how to work and teach the others. Jen helped me see the best in myself and refocus my attention on what matters most...just like a best friend should, she makes me want to be a better person (which, by the way, that's her and me in the picture above). My husband's sisters and mom treat me like one of their own, and they're constantly doing thoughtful things for me (along with everyone else they know). And my mom motivated me to start a project I'd been putting off for months, spending every waking moment of her "vacation" helping me paint and take care of the kids. She never hesitates to go out of her way to help someone. 

There's so much to be appreciated in women other than their appearance, and finding the right words to express that can mean more than you know. It can turn a moment of failure into a moment of success. So in the same spirit as my post on kindness a few months ago, I put together a list of 50 ways to compliment a woman that have everything to do with who she is, and absolutely nothing to do with how she looks.
  1. You inspire me. 
  2. You're so talented!
  3. I really enjoy being around you. 
  4. I look up to you.
  5. You're such a great friend (mom, sister, teacher, etc.)!
  6. You're a natural leader. 
  7. People are drawn to you.
  8. You're thoughtful. 
  9. You're creative. 
  10. You're smart.
  11. I really appreciate your opinion. 
  12. I love how you're always helping others. 
  13. I really like talking to you. 
  14. You're a good listener. 
  15. You always have such good ideas!
  16. I'm lucky to know you.
  17. I'm really glad we met/can get to know each other better.  
  18. You work so hard.
  19. You're strong.
  20. I believe in you.
  21. You've always got things on the ball!
  22. I'd love for you to teach me how you ____.
  23. Being around you makes me want to be a better person.
  24. I trust you.
  25. You'll do the right thing--you always do!
  26. I really admire the way you handled that.
  27. I learn so much from you.
  28. You're a pro.
  29. You'll do great!
  30. I always feel so comfortable around you.
  31. I love that you can be yourself.
  32. You're really making a difference.
  33. You saved the day!
  34. It's so nice to know we can be honest with each other.
  35. You always make things fun!
  36. You're so funny--I love laughing with you!
  37. You're hard core.
  38. You're dependable/You always come through.
  39. You're always there for me.
  40. You make it look easy!
  41. You've got guts.
  42. I love how you never lose sight of what's important.
  43. It's so interesting to hear your story.
  44. I really like how you ____.
  45. You're so savvy.
  46. You've got this.
  47. Everywhere you go, you make things better!
  48. You give such thoughtful gifts.
  49. You're a light.
  50. I love you!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Baby Hungry

It's not what you think. This warm weather has me reminiscing about last summer, when I was anxiously (as in, literally having major anxiety) and excitedly preparing for the birth of Lydia. But I look back on that time--on both of my pregnancies, actually--as one of the happiest times of my life. There's just nothing like the anticipation of expecting a new baby! And now that she's almost a year old, I can't help waxing nostalgic, and so being the sap that I am, I had to go back and read the blog post I wrote a year ago about all of the emotions and excitement I felt while I was carrying her.

On the other hand, as stressed and overwhelmed as I've been trying to take care of two kids only a year-and-a-half apart--which, as you probably guessed from my last blog post, has been a challenge for me--having another baby should be the last thing on my mind. The truth is, while I hope and dream of another "miracle baby" (ICYMI: I have high-risk pregnancies, a history of recurrent miscarriage, along with other fertility issues, including a blood-clotting deficiency and endometriosis), I don't feel ready to be pregnant again anytime soon. And even though my baby isn't a tiny newborn anymore, I'm loving the sweet and spunky girl she's becoming, too.

So to satisfy my "baby hunger," I'm taking a little break from my almost-29-year-old-hot-mess self to live vicariously through my 27-year-old-pregnant-and-glowing self, via this blog post from last April (until the memory of my 9-months-pregnant-can't-move self brings me back to reality). Enjoy!

"Wow. Today I’m 29 weeks pregnant--in my final trimester--with less than three months to go until our baby girl arrives in July. I’m absolutely thrilled, but still somewhat in disbelief. With Caleb, we’d waited so long to become parents, it was almost as if we’d been “expecting” him for years.

But this was a complete surprise. I never could’ve imagined or expected such a miracle. It’s almost too good to be true--I even feel guilty, because I know so many people still waiting for their miracle. Isn’t it their turn?

I don’t know why this second miracle pregnancy happened so quickly, but this little girl must be meant for our family right now, and so many things have fallen into place--my health, great doctors, our financial situation (thanks also to Ben graduating and years of working and saving)--to make it possible. It’s all through the hand of God, and we’re in absolute awe.

I know well enough that not all pregnancies end with healthy babies. I’ve lost three. But just like I did with Caleb, I’ve tried not to fear what I can’t control and instead trust in God’s plan. Every day and week and month that this baby continues to grow inside of me is a miracle and a gift.

Now that I’m in my last trimester, it’s all becoming real, even if it still feels too good to be true, and it’s time to get ready for this little girl. It’s as terrifying as it is exciting..."

CLICK HERE to keep reading the original blog post + see more pictures!

Sunday, May 8, 2016

What to do + what not to do while holding a baby

The other day on Instagram I shared how much I've struggled lately with trying to do everything one-handed, and ever since, people have been asking me what happened to my arm. Well, about 10 months ago, I had a baby.

We're pretty much joined at the hip these days! Of course I love holding her--I mean that smile! Those kissable cheeks! And it's not that she doesn't like crawling around by herself, in fact she loves it. But with a two-year-old brother who loves to "play" with her (i.e. smother her...we're working on that), she only lasts about 3 minutes. And if I'm busy doing something else, she usually crawls over to see what I'm up to. She doesn't like being left out...who does?

The thing is, it's just impossible to do some things one-handed. I mean, you could write a novel, govern a nation (technically, it's the European Parliament), or travel the world, all while holding a baby. But put on pants? That's a different matter entirely. So in honor of Mother's Day, here are a few do's and don'ts to keep in mind while toting your tot:

Things to do while holding a baby:
  • Shower. Seriously, don't wait until your hands are free, or it might be a few days. It can be done, as long as you don't shave.
  • Put on make-up and do your hair (minus mascara), you overachiever, you!
  • Go to the bathroom. Avoid if possible. 
  • Go on a walk. Could you use a stroller? Sure. But if your baby decides that's not her thing, you'll end up holding a baby AND pushing a stroller with one hand (#beentheredonethat). I recommend a strap-on baby carrier or sling. (I've tried a few different ones, but I happen to like this sling I got free best.)
  • Go shopping--also a good time to use a carrier.
  • Travel or fly. Again, a carrier is a MUST.
  • Work out. (Here's how I do it.)
  • Take pictures. Two words: neck strap.
  • Type on a computer. Remember to hit CTRL+S every few seconds.
  • Talk on the phone. You have approximately 10 seconds until your baby hijacks it. 
  • Put away laundry, especially if you don't fold. (I give you permission to stop folding your kids' clothes. You're welcome.)

Confession: I don't fold my kids' clothes. And I love it! Caleb helps put away and pick out his clothes everyday, and the clothes go straight from the laundry basket to these #DollarTree bins inside his #IKEA dresser, except for maybe a quick fold now and then as I drop it in. And believe it or not, they don't look any more wrinkled than when I used to fold them. I hang up their church clothes, and I still fold our clothes (most of them hang anyway), but I do the same thing with Lydia's pajamas and everyday clothes in her dresser. Plus, I wash and dry just one load a day, so it only takes a few minutes to put it all away, especially when Caleb helps. It's saved me from a life of sitting and folding laundry for hours. I know, I'm such a rebel. Take that, #MarieKondo! #momlife #simplify #makeroomforwhatmattersmost
A photo posted by @jennyfromgeorgia on

  • Sweep, vacuum, mop. Or don't.
  • Make dinner. Pasta, rice, soup, and sandwiches are easy one-handed meals. At the very least, set out all your ingredients on the counter, so when you do finally catch a moment with both hands, everything is right there, ready to be chopped up and thrown together.
  • Play with or read to your other kids.
  • Dance to your favorite music.
  • Just sit back and enjoy holding that baby! 

Things NOT to do while holding a baby:
  • Use scissors. Nope, I'll never try that again.
  • Use a knife. (See above on making dinner.) 
  • Use any kind of sharp, pointy object.
  • Browse social media on a smart phone (unless you want your baby to post a picture of you breastfeeding on Instagram, which definitely did not even come close to almost happening to me once, but you can never be too safe).
  • Operate heavy machinery, except in emergencies, like when you have no clean clothes or dishes.
  • Lift heavy objects.
  • Climb a ladder.
  • Paint.
  • Wear the same outfit that you're planning to wear somewhere else later.
  • Sit down for too long. 
  • Read a book that has actual paper pages. You'd better stick to board books for the next few years.
  • Handle anything valuable or breakable.
  • Put sheets on a bed. Trust me, don't even try it. 
  • Put on pants.
  • Put on mascara. 
  • Replace batteries or light bulbs. 
  • Put a new roll of toilet paper on the springy-thing.
  • Clean up your pet's mess
  • Open a bag of chips. (And don't even think about using your teeth.)
  • Eat that special treat you've been saving.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Giant Blocks (of Kindness)

A few friends suggested I blog more about the hands-on learning I do with my kids at home, rather than just sharing it on Instagram. I'm a little hesitant--I know there are hundreds of professional "mommy bloggers" out there doing the same thing, only way better. Really, this is just something I do for fun (you know me, living on the edge), but I love when other moms share their ideas, so I'll give it a shot.

We made these giant blocks a few days ago, and not only have they have been tons of fun, they've been the perfect learning tool. We've had almost NO timeouts or do-overs in the last week. A couple weeks ago, I was exhausted from having to constantly stop and send my son to timeout for being way too rough with his little sister or friends. Many tears were shed all around, including mine, and he was getting as frustrated as I was. I knew I needed a different approach.

The truth is, he's a really good, sweet boy, but he's a boy--an active, spirited, and sometimes rowdy boy. The idea that his baby sister doesn't want to be tackled and some friends don't like being chased was inconceivable to him. We'd talked about being respectful and gentle many times, but he needed to learn how to put kindness into action. 

A stack of cardboard boxes, which had been cluttering our front room while functioning as a "construction site" for all of his trucks and tools, seemed to be begging for a higher purpose. First, we wrapped them in craft paper and colored on them. I let him help me decide how to illustrate each word, so he told me which friends to draw and what colors their clothes should be. We ended up with four steps of fun--wrapping (he liked taping best), coloring, stacking, and of course, unwrapping (Caleb: "IT'S MY BIRTHDAY!"). Even Lydia had a blast, climbing on the boxes and crinkling the paper scraps.

We used WAY too much tape. 

For us, it was a way to learn about kindness, but you could make these blocks for any purpose. They could be about letters, numbers, family, superheroes--whatever sparks your kid's imagination. Or you could just wrap some cardboard boxes in paper and let your kid scribble whatever he or she wants to. For Caleb, wrapping the boxes was half the fun. Sure, they looked like a toddler wrapped them, but it kept him busy for a good hour, and it was a tactile, touchable, stackable lesson in kindness that stuck with him longer than any timeout. That's a win-win in my book.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Finishing the Race (aka: My First Triathlon)

(By the way, the background in this photo is a metaphor for my success.)

Isn’t it ironic that I last wrote about minimalism and then didn’t post anything for weeks? Well, at least I’m not a hypocrite. One thing I like about this blog though is that I can write whatever I want to write about, whenever I want to write. That’s the joy of it.

One thing that’s been taking up my attention lately (aside from two busy babies) is training for a triathlon, which was one of my 2016 resolutions. It was my first one, and I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I was physically prepared, yes--I’d trained for months and I was in good shape, so I felt sure I’d be able to make it across that finish line at the very least, and I did. But I had no idea how unprepared I was until I was miles off course and completely lost.

The triathlon started with a 750 yard swim Friday night. I took my time, finished in 21 minutes (not excellent, but not terrible either), and a couple of race officials even acted shocked when I embraced my two little tots after getting out of the pool. They might have been faking it to make me feel better about my time, but regardless, being a mom to a nursing baby and busy toddler, I was completely satisfied with just finishing.

The next day, I was a little more nervous. I hadn’t trained much on a bike, and so even though I’d built up enough strength and stamina to go the distance, I wasn’t sure how good a biker I’d be in the actual race. It turned out that my worries were well-founded. My first hitch was finding my bike as I crossed the starting line--there were hundreds, and they all looked alike. Even though I knew the row my bike was on, I didn’t spot it right away, and so after walking back and forth a few times--as everyone else passed me on their bikes--I had to get some help from a friendly race official.

That was pretty embarrassing, but we quickly found it, so I hopped on, and off I went. And then he stopped me....because I wasn’t supposed to get on my bike until after I got past the bike racks. So I scrambled off my bike (easier said than done--it’s precarious up there), walked a few more feet, then I hopped on again and was finally off.

It took a couple miles to get the hang of shifting on the bike I’d rented. And I wasn’t used to riding alongside cars whizzing past me on the highway and crossing through busy intersections, so I was pretty tense and anxious as I tried to keep pace with the other bikers. Passing roadkill every few hundred yards, I became aware of how easily I could lose control of the bike and get flattened by a speeding pickup truck. I wished I had a sign on my bike that said, “SLOW DOWN! I’m not just a biker, I’m a mom!” What would my babies do without me if I didn’t make it back to them in one piece?  

I sent up a silent prayer (or two or twenty), and tried to stay calm. I looked around cautiously and took in the breathtaking view of the green hills and trees in blossom all around me. I started to notice bikers going the opposite direction on the other side of the road, so I knew I was nearing the turn-around point. What a relief that was--the way back would be easier, more familiar, and mostly downhill.

A sampling of the scenery

 “This is my last turn, I thought. The turn-around point must be straight ahead from here.” I couldn't see any bikers ahead of me, but I took a left as the race official motioned, and was pleased to find myself biking through a beautiful neighborhood with tree-lined streets, ponds full of baby ducklings, and parks shaded by weeping willows. I was so busy enjoying the scenery that it wasn’t until after a couple miles that I realized I hadn’t seen any bikers coming back on the other side of the road. I should’ve reached the turn-around point already. I didn’t want to believe it, but it was starting to look like I was off-course.

When it finally hit me that I was really lost, I broke down. I had no idea how to get back on course. (I should have, but I’m getting to that.) Even more, I was terrified at the thought of having to find my way back without the race officials to help me cross all those busy intersections. I knew they’d be gone if I went back--I’d biked too far off course and all the other bikers would’ve reached the turn-around point already. And without the race officials to direct me, how would I even know where to go?

I kept biking (and sobbing, simultaneously), trying to decide what to do, and when I paused at an intersection, I happened to meet a family on their bikes. I asked if they had a phone I could borrow, thinking I would call Ben to come pick me up. When I told them I was in a triathlon and had gotten lost, they looked up the race course online (thank you, smart phones!) and helped me figure out where I’d taken a wrong turn and how to get to the turn-around point from there. I climbed on my bike and started back, but I still wasn’t sure about finishing--part of me wanted to give up and wait for Ben or a search party to come looking for me. I even considered biking another three miles to my house, which would've been a lot quicker, and then I wouldn’t have had to bear the shame (I thought) of showing up after everyone else had finished.

“If I knew I'd make it back, I'd keep going,” I thought. I still felt panicked at the idea of being alone on that busy highway, so I just kept praying for God’s help, and the more I prayed, the more I felt I should finish the race I'd started. And I’m so glad that I did. As I got closer to the turn-around point and started to recognize the course again, I got a little more confident. “All along, I just wanted to finish,” I thought. “All I have to do is finish. It doesn’t matter if everyone else's packed up and gone home and I come in dead last, so long as I'm not dead. God, my family needs me. Please bring me back to them safely.”

After a few miles, I passed another biker, who was walking her bike along the highway, so I stopped to see if she was okay. She'd gotten a flat tire, so she was finishing the bike course on foot. I was shocked at how cheerful she was. "These things just happen," she said to me with a great big grin. "You're just a couple miles away. Go for it!" That encounter totally changed my attitude and perspective. She could've easily been frustrated and discouraged, like I was, but she was making the best of it, even if that meant walking the rest of the way. I sped away with a little more pep and little less caution (but still enough to stop at a major intersection and wait several turns for a crossing signal). By this time, I'd made up my mind that I'd finish, no matter how long it took.

Once I made it to the transition point, they were already announcing the race winners over the loud speaker. I hung my bike on the rack and started my 5K run, hoping no one but Ben had noticed. "Just finish," I kept telling myself. My backside was sore from the bike ride, and at times I wanted to slow down and walk, but I distracted myself by admiring the beautiful homes and hills and streams as I jogged past.

The race officials, who were still stationed along the 5K course, were cheering me on, too. At first I felt guilty and apologized for making them stay so late, but they assured me that they were there to support me and keep me safe. And as it turned out, I wasn't the last runner they were waiting on after all. Along with the biker on foot I'd passed earlier, I passed a couple of incredible elderly ladies (that's right, elderly), who were also racing just to finish, and we cheered each other on as I passed them.

The arrows on the road were difficult to follow, and I almost got lost once or twice again, but as I finally saw the finish line ahead, I picked up my pace almost to a sprint and crossed with a huge wave of relief and satisfaction. I could see the relief on Ben's face, too--he hadn't seen me in the transition as I'd hoped, and he'd been worried about me. And as I'd feared, almost everyone had packed up and gone home, but with my little family and a few race officials cheering for me at the finish, it just didn't matter anymore. I FINISHED!

With all of the emotions I felt that day, at one point I reasoned that it was the race official's fault that I got lost--that he misdirected me--but by the time I finished, I knew everything came down to me. I was the one who hadn't studied the course, who got lost, and who found my way back to finish the race. I definitely had help--I couldn't have raced at all without Ben taking care of our kids or all the volunteers who made the race happen, and heaven knows I'd be dead without God's grace and protection that day--but whether or not I got lost, and whether or not I finished was my choice. Lesson learned. And at the risk of sounding like a complete sap, I believe it's a lesson for life, too.

So here's some advice for other first-time triathletes, along with a few life lessons for all of us trying to "run with patience the race set before us." (Hebrews 12:1)

Advice for first-time triathletes:
  • First, watch someone else compete in a triathlon. If you don't know someone, watch a YouTube video.
  • Find an experienced triathlete to talk to and get their advice.
  • Study the course ahead of time and know it by heart. Go and drive it or ride it so you know exactly where to go on the day of the race.
  • Keep a map of the course with you, folded up and tucked into your waistband. It wouldn't hurt to carry a waist pack with your phone in it either, in case you or someone else is in trouble.
  •  Don't think you can follow the other athletes and stay on course.
  • Also, don't think you can rely on the race officials or arrows to keep you on course. They are extremely helpful, and you should pay close attention to them, but they can be confusing sometimes.
  • The race officials aren't perfect--they're just volunteers and they don't know everything--but they're there to keep you safe and support you, so don't hesitate to ask for their help. They'll do anything they can for you, whether it's helping you find your bike or the bathroom, giving you snacks and water, or just cheering you on, even if you're dead last. Remember, they've given up their whole day to help you, so don't forget to thank them!
  • If you get off-course or get a flat tire, just keep going. It's worth finishing.
  • It's your first time, so pace yourself. Don't worry if people are passing you. You can worry about improving your times later.
  • Find a friend to compete with, and stick together! The race will be easier and more fun when you can help and cheer each other on.
  • Enjoy the scenery, but don’t get so distracted by it that you lose your way or lose control of your bike.
  • Wear sunscreen, and trade your helmet for a hat when you start your run (or you WILL get sunburned).
  • It’s hard work, but have fun, keep on praying, and keep on smiling!

Life lessons for running the race with patience:
  • Watch and learn from others who are achieving the same things you hope to.
  • When you're planning for the future, find someone to talk to who's been there before and get their advice.
  • Trust that God has a course for your life and ask Him to guide you.
  • Study His words and know them by heart.
  • Decide now what choices you will make and which way you will follow.
  • Keep a copy of your favorite verses so you can refer to them often.
  • Don't think you can follow the crowd and find your way.
  • Also, don't think you can rely only on God's leaders without knowing the way for yourself.
  • His leaders aren't perfect. Teachers, ministers, bishops, church leaders--they're just doing their best to serve God and they don't know everything, but they're there to support you and help you find your way, so don't hesitate to ask for their help. They'll do anything they can for you, whether you need a listening ear or advice or just someone to cheer you on. Remember, they're sacrificing a good deal of their own time, so don't forget to thank them!
  • If you lose your way or hard times slow you down, don't give up. Even if you've made a huge mistake, it's worth finding your way back, no matter how afraid or embarrassed you are or how impossible it seems. And just like the biker with the flat tire, when the unexpected happens--whether it's a health problem or divorce or financial crisis--just keep going. It may slow you down for a while, but it doesn't have to keep you from finishing the race, or from enjoying it. You can do this, and God will help you every step of the way.
  • This is your one chance to live your life, so pace yourself. Don't worry about trying to keep up with anyone. Have patience with yourself and others. "Life is a marathon (...or triathlon...), not a sprint."
  • Find a companion to spend your life with, and stick together! Life will be easier and more fun with your spouse when you help and cheer each other on.
  • Enjoy life, but don’t get so caught up in pleasure that you lose your way or lose control.
  • Wear the protection of God's armor every day (Ephesians 6:10-17).
  • It’s hard work, but have fun, keep on praying, and keep on smiling!

Sunday, February 28, 2016

A Few Thoughts on Minimalism

I’m not a minimalist. I’m not a hoarder, either (except possibly when it comes to books, little bits of flora and fauna, and throw’s getting a little embarrassing.)

I don’t necessarily want to be a minimalist. However, like many people, I do look for ways to simplify and organize my life, and lately I’ve been taking lessons from the minimalists. When it comes to putting first things first, I think they’re really on to something. My personal motto of sorts is, “Make room for what matters most,” and I believe that what minimalists inherently know--and what some of us aren’t always as conscious of--is that to be able to give your time and attention to what really matters, sometimes you have to let go of what doesn’t.

Minimalists minimize, of course. To do that, they have to prioritize--they focus first on what enhances their lives and then reduce the rest. I can’t say whether minimalists are happier than the rest of the population, but I do think that by letting go of some things, all of us can make more room for what brings us joy.


Fewer clothes = less laundry, more room in closets, less time spent trying to find what to wear

Fewer dishes = less time spent washing and loading/unloading the dishwasher

Fewer toys = less picking up, more imagination and outside time

Less stuff around the house = less cleaning, less time spent putting things away, fewer items lost, less time and money spent maintaining all those belongings

Fewer hobbies and outside commitments = less money spent and more time saved for one or two favorite pursuits/causes

Fewer books = yeah, right...

I’m coming to understand better than ever now how “less is more.” Less stuff means more time, money, space, and energy for what really matters. Not that I’ve ever had an excessive amount of stuff, but we all know how quickly it can pile up, and in a world with so many wonderful objects and opportunities to choose from, it can be hard to discern what actually enhances our lives and what takes away from them. I think the key to simplifying is deciding what matters most, and then being willing to let go of what doesn’t.

And, with inspiration from minimalists, I’m in the process of doing that right now. Every year I declutter and organize (it helped that we moved every year for 6 years), but this has been the biggest purge yet. Our lives have changed drastically in just the last couple years, and many of the things that served us well when it was just the two of us in an apartment (was that really just 2 years and some months ago? feels like a lifetime) are now simply taking up space in closets and cabinets.

As I’m trying to organize this new life of ours, the question I’m asking myself is, “Does this make my life better?” ...Not, “Do I like it?”...“Is it useful?”...or “How much money did I spend on this?” (Does anyone else ALWAYS remember, even years later? Or am I just a little OC?) I’ve realized this: some things I like or that are useful or valuable--like the stack of adorable but empty baby books that were gifted to me, or one-too-many “special occasion” outfits I’ll likely never get to wear again--don’t really make my life better. And some things that do make my life better--oven mitts, diaper cream, filing cabinets, mismatched towels--are not things I necessarily like.

I’m not sure it’s reasonable to expect everything in our homes to “spark joy,” as Marie Kondo so famously suggests in The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, but I do think deciding what’s worth holding onto and what isn’t can make more room for joy in our lives. Sometimes the time, space and energy an object is taking up is actually more valuable than the object itself.

And if that’s true, then we can be sure that when we give that thing up, we’ll get something much better in return--maybe more time with those we love, more peace, or more energy. When you think of it that way, it doesn’t seem so hard anymore, does it?

One last thought: I hope this isn’t a stretch, but I can’t help thinking about the rich young ruler in the Bible, who asked Christ what he should do to inherit eternal life. Christ answered, “One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven.” Likewise, I wonder, is some of my stuff holding me back from the peace and joy He has to offer? What am I willing to let go of to embrace His plan for me?

Now, I’m not suggesting that having too much stuff is wrong or that we should get rid of everything we don’t need or that we should all be minimalists. My goodness, can you imagine how boring our world would be if everyone were minimalists? Like anyone, I’m just looking for ways to make life even better for my family and me. And minimalism is just one way of making room for what matters most.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Simple DIY Good Manners Banner

We’ve been learning about manners at our house this week, and so today I’m sharing this simple DIY good manners banner. And when I say DIY, I really mean do it yourself.  No printables here, people--I don’t get paid for this. I’m just here to share simple goodness.

A few thoughts on manners: it wasn’t a new concept for Caleb. He’s been learning manners since he started talking, and he’s pretty good about it, but a couple months ago, he started talking back more. We tried a lot of things--timeouts, cutting out TV, modeling good manners--but what worked best was teaching him to answer, “yes ma’am” and “yes sir” to us. 

I think he just needed to be taught the right way to act, versus the wrong way, and it’s really opened the door to teaching him how to use good manners in all situations. As a Southern girl, I was raised to say “ma’am” and “sir,” and while that's certainly not the only way to respond politely, I do believe that teaching children to use good manners is how they first learn to show respect for others.

This was a quick and easy project to do with my son (if you look closely, you can see a few scribbles--his contribution). I got the idea while I was browsing Pinterest for fun ways to teach manners--I saw a set of flashcards for older kids, but they were pretty generic and had no pictures. I decided to make my own, but hang them like a banner and make it into a game. It only took about twenty minutes, and we used what we already had on hand.

All you need is:
  • Index cards
  • Markers
  • Ribbon or yarn
  • Clothespins
  • Stickers (for rewarding good manners)

It’s been fun adding stickers to his banner through the week each time he remembers to use good manners. I wouldn’t say that it’s helped him remember more as much as it’s just made it more exciting for him (instead of feeling like I’m nagging him about it). Everyone loves a game, especially a toddler!

If you make one, let me know how your little ones liked it. I mean, please let me know they liked it!

Saturday, February 6, 2016

5 Simple Ways to Be Kind

Kindness is a universal source of joy. But how often do we forget to think of others, or justify actions that tear others down? We have so much power to bring joy to others and strengthen the people in our lives, especially those who mean the most to us. I believe kindness is the key to that power, so here are 5 simple ways I’m learning to be more kind:

1. Learn people’s names and use them.

Obviously, you don’t need to learn the name of someone you’ve known for years, but you might be surprised how much power there is in using it. Ask, “Mike, how are you doing?” instead of just, “How are you?”, and suddenly that question feels much more personal and serious, instead of aloof and meaningless. You can even do this with someone you’ve just met a few seconds ago: “Karen, I’m so glad we met,” instead of, “Nice to meet you.”

My mom suggested I try this back when I was in middle school (worst awkward phase ever), and since then, I’ve been amazed over and over at the effect a simple hello, paired with a name, can have on a person. Remembering names isn’t always easy, but consciously using someone’s name is a simple and powerful form of kindness.

2. Ask questions and listen.

The truth about the aforementioned awkward phase is that, sometimes, I feel like I never really outgrew it. But I can’t be the only person in the world who feels rude when I can’t think of anything to say in a social setting. I’m learning that one of the best ways to show kindness, especially when your mind goes blank, is to ask questions. 

It takes some practice to learn how to ask good questions, but it’s also a great way to avoid talking about yourself, and it's helpful when you find yourself in a debate. Rather than trying to prove your point or getting defensive, start asking questions, and you'll likely get a different perspective.

Asking questions works wonderfully in families and all kinds of relationships, too. Ask your boss about her (or his) biggest challenges, your coworkers about their previous jobs, your siblings about their summer plans, your parents about their latest volunteer efforts, your kids about their friends, and, if you’re married, find out what’s on your spouse’s mind. Then listen with an open heart.

3. Smile.
There's not much to say here: a little smile goes a long way. I mean, don’t stare at people with a goofy grin on your face (I might be guilty of this at times), but do acknowledge them with a simple smile. What if every time you greeted your spouse, your coworker, your neighbor--or even complete strangers--you smiled? The simple habit of smiling could quite possibly change someone’s whole world--and your world, too.

4. Point out the positive.

So you don’t like how someone dresses, or talks, or votes, or eats, or worships, or doesn’t, or whatever... Maybe you just flat-out don’t like someone. Maybe someone--even someone close to you--has been unkind to you. There are a million reasons not to be kind, and it’s easy, but it takes real courage and strength to look for the best in others, and even more to point it out. To be willing to look beyond a person’s outward appearance and faults is the essence of kindness.

5. Remember details.

Have you ever felt like you’re having the same conversation with the same person over and over? Try this: the next time you talk to someone, take note of just one or two details and tuck those away in your brain. Then, the next time you see that person, go to that “mental file folder” and ask a question about something you remember from your last conversation. Again, this isn’t just for acquaintances--friends, siblings, parents, your spouse--everyone likes to be remembered. This is probably the hardest one for me on the list, since I can be a little scatter-brained sometimes, but the point is to think of others instead of myself, which is to put kindness into action.

Last Thoughts: Christ on Kindness

Most of the time, people will return kindness for kindness. However, there have been many times in my life (like yours, I’m sure) that, sadly, that's not been the case. I’ve even been taken advantage of before (again, like you I’m sure), and as Christ taught, that can happen when you’re trying to be kind. I’ve been comforted many times by His words here:

“But I say unto, That ye resist not evil (or, being treated badly); but whosoever shall smite thee on on they right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn thou not away...Bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” And as He taught earlier in His Sermon, “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice (!) and be exceedingly glad: for great is your reward in heaven.” (KJV Matt 5:39-44, Matt 5:11-12).

In other words, true kindness is put to the test in the worst circumstances. “For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans (tax-collectors for Herod or Rome, considered the lowest of the low in that day) the same?” (Matt 5:46) We can certainly stand up for ourselves, but at the same time, we can never err too far on the side of kindness, even if it means being bullied or taken advantage of from time to time, because the reward for kindness is greater than any harm others can bring to us.

Showing kindness can be simple, but it takes courage. There are many times in my life when I wish I'd been kinder and more considerate. But when it seems impossible, I go back to this list, and I always find some way to be kind. I’ve seen simple kindness work miracles (like that college roommate who tried to beat me up once...), and even when it doesn’t change my circumstances, it always changes me for the better. I hope, in the same way, this list helps you find ways to make your own world a little better and kinder.