Confessions of a Reforming Box Checker (I'm a work in progress, anyway)

You've all seen the articles.

12 Things to Do in Order to be Happy
12 Things to Stop Doing in Order to be Happy
10 Things to Get to Help De-stress Your Life
10 Things to Get Rid of to Help De-stress Your Life
8 Ways to Find More Time for You
8 Ways to Find More Time for Others
20 Best Pieces of Furniture to Buy for your Home
20 Reasons You Shouldn't Even Have Furniture
15 Things You Must Have for Baby's First Year
15 Things You Don't Need for Baby's First Year
11 Things Never to Say to Large Families
11 Things You Should Say to Large Families
13 Things to Do Before You Even Start Your Day
13 Things to Do Before You Can Even Consider Your Day Complete
#1 Phrase You Should Tell Your Kids
#1 Most Damaging Words You Can Say to Your Child
3 Compelling Reasons to Quit Coffee like it was Yesterday
3 Excellent Reasons to Take Up Coffee Drinking

The internet is exhausting.  Based on the response to when I wrote about this topic previously, it seems I'm not the only one who feels this way.  (Thanks, everyone.  It's nice to know that I'm not alone in my thoughts!) 

The older I get, I realize that this whole box-checking thing is just not for me.  This is kind of a big deal, considering I spent the first 30 years of my life making lists and striving day in and day out to complete them.  Mostly underachieving.  What a disheartening way to live, right? 

The older I get, I realize that goals are great, but the process of getting there is better.  I spend so much of my time working toward the end product, I miss the beginning and middle of the story.  You know what those parts are?  The majority of the whole thing. 

The older I get, the more I realize that relationships with people are more important than tasks.  Checking boxes on a to-do list is less messy, and let's face it, easier, but when your life gets tough, you can't call up your to-do list for a shoulder to cry on.

The older I get, I realize there are no formulas.  We don't fit in boxes.  As much as I used to enjoy labels, that's how much I've come to despise them.  They are either meaningless or an excuse for people to put you in a box - where none of us belong.

How does all of this fit together?  It probably won't.  That's what happens when you try to collect all of your brain clutter and dump it into one blog post, but let me give it a try.

Here's my plan for the imminent future:

To spend my days reading internet articles less and classic books, childrens literature, and my Bible more.
To keep drinking my coffee, but more often with friends over deep conversations.
To forget labels and see hearts.
To rely less heavily on my to-do lists by using them only as a memory crutch and not a means to an end.
To find joy in the mundane because it's there.  It really and truly is.
To stop comparing...especially my chapter one to others' chapter sevens.

"The internet" seems obsessed with finding happiness.  Happiness is just circumstantial anyway.  Joy.  That's what we're seeking. 
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. Romans 15:13
There's only one way to that kind of joy.  Send me an email if you want to talk more about it or if you just want to talk.  Period.  I don't do high pressure sales.

In the meantime, I'm hanging up my favorite box-checking pen, seeking meaningful conversations with the people - the ones I love and the ones I don't know I love yet, and enjoying the beginning and the middle of my story.  I hope you'll consider doing the same.

Edited to add - Disclaimer (of course I've got one of those):  If you like lists, it's cool.  Just giving you my own thoughts on the subject.  Not condemning anyone.

2

Nevermind. I don't want to go to school.

Because we took a 3-week adventure last fall and followed that up with a newborn in November, our 2013-2014 school year got a little...behind.  That is to say, we're still vigorously working to finish our first and fourth grade studies before they officially graduate to the next grade level.  I have it in my mind that I'm a miserable failure if it's not completed, at the very latest, one day before the local public schools go back in session.  Yes, I know one of the beauties of homeschooling is getting to set my own schedule.  I also know that it's hard to change the paradigm of a 30-year old who, for 28 years, spent her life as a slave to the public school calendar.

Nevertheless...

Today, Sarah started asking a few school-related questions.  I realize educational philosophies vary greatly from family to family and depending on the season, day, or even hour, within a family.  We have done little as far as formal learning at the preschool level for Sarah, and will begin as her interests lead in kindergarten, still allowing her to do what's most important for a five year old, in our opinion - to play.  Anyway, with that disclaimer out there, the conversation played out like this.

Sarah:  Mommy, am I old enough to go to school?
Me:  Yes, Sarah.  You are a kindergartener in the fall.
Sarah:  Okay.  I want to go to school.
Me:  What do you want to do at school?
Sarah:  Play.
Me:  Well, you probably get to play a lot more at home than you would in kindergarten.  A lot of your day is spent at a desk or table in school.
Sarah:  (Not wasting a split-second in replying)  Okay, nevermind.  I don't want to go to school.

This might not seem like a revolutionary conversation.  And it probably wasn't, but you guys.  This.  This is what gives me rest.  Reassurance that we're doing the right thing. 

I love that my play-loving, creative, free-spirit can let her hair down, take her shoes off, and swing/bounce/roll/climb all day until her heart is content.  I love that she's not confined to a chair in the classroom, because you know what?  Honestly, I'm not sure she'd stay there.  And you know what else?  That's okay.  Because she's Sarah.  And she's precious.  And she's exactly the way God created her.  Spunky, energetic, whimsical, and wiggly.




She's beautiful.  And loving.  And sweet.  My goodness, she must give me 200 hugs every day.  And I'm not even her favorite.  (It's no secret.  She's a daddy's girl.  Her second favorite is Noah.) 


She's my brave, fearless girl.  She's the one who puts on a dress to go climb a tree.  Her spirit just soars.  It's beautiful to watch.  She's everything I'm not.  I don't want to extinguish that.  If I can, I want to do everything possible to fan her unique flame.


I am not detracting from the value of formal education.  I think it's so very important.  But I also think being five is a once in a lifetime experience.  And it's okay to spend it playing and wiggling.  She's got the rest of her life to be serious and sit still. 

But...if I know Sarah, she'll find a way around it.  At least, for her sake, I hope she does.

 
This girl was born to fly.
 
3

Doubt, Insecurity, and McNuggets

I spend way too much time inside my own head.  Wondering, worrying, obsessing.  This is why the internet is bad for my health.  As if my overactive imagination needs any more fuel.  Opinion after well-informed opinion after misguided opinion clutter up the already over-exercised muscles of my brain.

Did you know that Dove Shampoo can cause some sort of flesh-eating disease resulting in the most nauseating growth on your shoulder that the world has ever seen?

Did you know that if you continue to shop at Hobby Lobby following the Supreme Court's ruling yesterday that you not only directly support child slavery, but you should also not even consider yourself to be a Christian for buying things made in China?

Did you know that some people think the only reason someone believes in God is because they are weak and feeble-minded, even pitiable?

Did you know that drinking out of a plastic water bottle is the same as poisoning your body from the harmful substances in the bottle that leach into the water?  Did you know it's 1000 times worse if you drink out of a plastic bottle that's been heated up (like inside of a car)?  Or microwaved?

Did you know that consuming chicken nuggets at McDonalds will cause, if not certain death, all kinds of calamitous health issues - because, that's not even close to chicken?  (Did I just spot a fingernail in there?!)

Did you know the drop-side crib we've used for all of our children is really nothing more than a child-sized mouse trap?

Did you know that hotels don't wash those glass cups they leave in the room for you to drink out of?  If you're lucky they spray them with some glass cleaner and let it ride.

Did you know that on the very same day you can read the compelling benefits of both a high-fat and low-fat diet, drinking coffee and abstaining from it, buying organic and how the whole anti-GMO movement is actually a conspiracy, going gluten-free versus eating whole grains, the necessity of dairy and its associated fats in the development of the human brain and how cow's milk is the worst thing to happen to the human diet since...sliced [enriched, bleached] white bread?

No wonder I'm confused.  And stressed out.

Because, my goodness, I'm just never going get it right.

Like, none of it.

It is exhausting to spend every second of the day second-guessing your every move.  I waver between conceding that I'm never going to get it right and feeling good about my life's decisions and wondering in which areas I'm drastically failing and needing to show improvement.  Sometimes I feel overcome with guilt or self-consciousness, and that's not a good reason to make changes.  You know, like when I'm pushing my cart through the grocery store and one of my foodie friends calls to me from down the aisle and there's no way I can hide the Cool Ranch Doritos, Capri Suns, and Twizzlers in my cart.  And then I'm feeling good because I do have lots of fresh veggies in there.  But they aren't necessarily organic.  I did make whole-wheat waffles the other day though, maybe I should tell them that?  Or I can tell them I have a 10-lb bag of organic carrots at home because they seem to keep longer than the conventional kind? 

If they're a real friend, they don't care about the contents of my grocery cart but the contents of my heart. 

And all of these questions running through my mind?  It's just doubt.  Reasonable doubt, at times, maybe.  But doubt none the less. 

Don't you know doubt is the original weapon? 
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Emphasis mine) Genesis 3:1 
All it takes is that tiny seed of doubt to get the crazy train going. 

Am I doing this wrong?  Am I inadequate?  Am I a bad wife?  A terrible friend?  Am I jeopardizing my family's health and safety? 

There are just so very many opinions that we've turned into rules.  The world has set an impossible standard, and, really, which standard do I pick?  There are four bazillion to choose from. 

This is where grace and the rest of faith come in.  I'm not going to get it right.  And trying to attain perfection will just leave me lacking and frustrated.  I can do my best, and I'll let Jesus fill in my gaps with grace and forgiveness.  I can rest knowing I don't have to be perfect, but I can strive to know where God is leading me, and pray for discernment between doubt and guilt versus real conviction.  Rest.  Peace.  Yes, please.  More of that stuff.  Less of the brain clutter. 

My standard is this -
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”  Jesus replied: "‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'" Matthew 26:36-39
If I'm not all wrapped up in love, all that other stuff can take a backseat. 

That's where I'm going to put it.  Won't you join me?


2

Take my word for it, this IS thriving.

This will be my [likely feeble] attempt at "making it quick."  Because I've got approximately 947 things I should be doing besides sitting behind a computer typing up a blog post, but I need to decompress and this is...what I do.  Tell me someone else gets that?  I never, ever, ever imagined my left-brained self would find solace in words, but I think I may have convinced myself that I'm something I'm actually not.  And, see?  Already on a tangent.

Where have I been?

Trying to heed the words of this song:



Just to know You and
To make You known
We lift Your name on High
Shine like the sun make darkness run and hide
We know we were made for so much more
Than ordinary lives
It's time for us to more than just survive
We were made to thrive
For too long I camped in survival mode.  I have wasted so much precious time in that spot.  I know this is just a Christian pop song and not biblical authority, but my goodness it has rocked me to the core.

I refuse to merely just "survive."

Funny segue, though, speaking of surviving, I can share this quick Leah story since it turned out okay in the end.

We have been at VBS this week, and while I used to make fun of the people who volunteered at it and talked about how tired they were afterwards, I've totally become one of them.  Anyway, my kids have been troopers.  They really are great.  But for some reason, tonight they just all seemed to need me all at the same time for what seemed like all night long.  At one point, I used the laundry room restroom in an effort to get a moment of peace, only to find out that I couldn't even close the door thanks to the ginormous pile of waiting-to-be-stain-treated clothing, and I actually had to say to three of my children, "Do not follow me into the bathroom while I'm peeing."  (I know everyone likes a pee story.)  Their reasons for wanting me were reasonable enough.  Leah pooped and needed a diaper change. (Everyone likes poop stories too.  Right?)  Sarah wanted a to read a story.  Abby wanted to recite a Bible verse to me.  Ben wanted to practice his lines for the drama in the VBS musical.  Noah, well, he's just rotten and he wants someone to hold him all the live long day, so his reason was less...reasonable.

It was a night of 30-second tasks turned 3-hour tasks, but I actually managed to cream a few dozen ears of corn while Noah played delightfully in his exersaucer next to me.  As I lifted the giant bag of corn waste out of the trashcan to take it outside, I observed that Noah and I were alone in the kitchen.  I opened the garage, walked out to the trashcan, dropped the bag in, and returned inside.  Where I found Leah.  Standing next to the exersaucer.  Feeding Noah small bits of something.  And he was like a little baby bird.
Just mouth open and ready.  I said to her, "Leah!  What is that?!"  She didn't even look up and replied as casually as you can imagine, "Those are rocks."

Rocks.

In the total elapsed time of what couldn't have been more than 45 seconds, my two year old filled my seven month old's mouth with fireplace pebbles.  He didn't want to give them back to me either.  Delicious, I tell you.

After she was appropriately scolded for what might have been a terrible, terrible catastrophe, I laughed.  Because we have to.  And what I mean by that is, we really should.  It makes this life so much better. 

Then...we took some pictures in a basketball trashcan.  Because I'm delirious, and I thought it would be funny.


And now I have the pleasure of trying to write a title for this randomness. 

My goodness.  It's so time to go to bed.  I've got more thriving to do tomorrow.  Hope you've all had a blessed June!

2

Eight Minutes Late for Father's Day - Close Enough

It was late in the year 2000.  I was seventeen, sitting in the middle seat of our tan '92 Ford Aerostar, 8 hours into an 11-hour trip to see my sister and brother-in-law who were stationed at Fort Stewart, Georgia.  It was more than a casual visit for me.  We were going to visit Mercer University after stopping by Julie's house, where I would compete in "Scholar's Weekend" for some type of scholarship, which would ultimately be the deciding factor in what brought me to the South.  We were cruising down I-95, a trip I had no idea would eventually become intimately familiar to me.  The day was beautiful, picture-perfect even.  Not a cloud in the sky.  My mom was talking (naturally) in the passenger seat.  My dad was driving (as is typically the case) and listening, occasionally nodding. 

All of the sudden, the windshield wipers came on. 

And they would not turn off.

They had a mind of their own.

My mom and I got the giggles. 

My dad was not amused.

Surely you can imagine the sound of dry wipers on a dry windshield.  Flubbing across, struggling back and forth as we cruised along at 75mph on a beautiful, winter day. 

After tolerating the rubbery reverberations for about 15 minutes, all the while I watched as his ears changed from skin-colored to pinkish to angry-red, my dad pulled a classic "John" move.  He turned off at the next exit and ripped the fuse out.  Those wipers couldn't turn on if they wanted to now.

Can you guess how many minutes after we headed south again before it started raining?  About ten.  No lie. 

My mom and I got the giggles again. 

My dad was once again not amused as he pulled off at the next exit to put the fuse back in.

For the duration of the trip, that fuse went in and out as the weather deemed it necessary.  When we got home to Maryland, he made the repair in classic John fashion.  He installed a toggle switch under the steering wheel.  Left meant the wipers were off, right meant they were on.  There were no speeds anymore.  Just on and off.  Stop and go.  But the wipers were at the mercy of the driver, and that's what mattered to my dad. 

I have nine bajillion stories like this.  Because my dad is a fixer.  His fixes might not be the most glamorous, but they get the job done.  Without having to call in a professional. 

On their last visit here, my mom informed my dad, once again, that she had dropped the camera and it was not working.  The lens was stuck open.  He didn't do a fancy fix.  As Sam looked on and cringed, my dad pounded that thing against the wall a few times.  Sam's evaluation of the situation was, "That's the difference between a mechanical engineer (my dad) and an electrical engineer (Sam)."

He has a great sense of humor and finds things to laugh about every single day.  Sometimes he laughs so hard, he has trouble catching his breath and has to wipe tears from his eyes.

He appears a burly, tough guy, but that's strictly for show.  He's a teddy bear who melts with every hug from his grandkids.  He's a pushover who will read "one more book" all night long.  He's a tender-heart who, especially as he gets older, tears up regularly when he hears a good story of human kindness or bravery or valor.  He's the yes-man, willing to lend a helping hand to pretty much anyone who asks.  And when the baby cries, he's the first one to offer to hold him.  You know, so they don't have to cry.

He's a man of commitment.  He's been married to my mom for 42 and a half years.  He has served in the same church his entire life.  He sets his mind to something and does it, like read his Bible every morning and do 100+ pushups per day.  And, my goodness, his bills are paid in full and on time.

He doesn't necessarily say lots, but he can if you get him started on certain topics  - WWII, the civil war, guns, politics (sometimes), 90's comedies, soccer, motors (particularly how to fix them and how they work), and mostly food.  He has strong opinions and might share them if you ask, but he will never stir the pot. 

He's been an amazing example.  He's a good man, my dad.


I had some pretty high standards going in to marriage.  Thank God I found Sam.  He has done an awesome job filling some big ol' shoes. 

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