Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Courteous Internet: Encouraging Others Online

"That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you're not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong." -F. Scott Fitzgerald

Since my return to blogging a couple of months ago, I have noticed that a lot of things have changed- but even more have stayed the same. The internet and blogging world can be an encouraging and informative place- but it can also be extremely cruel and discouraging. Whether you are a full-time blogger, a casual reader, a Pinterest skimmer, or a blog subscriber, there are ways that you can encourage other people online that only take a minute of time. If everyone decided to focus more on civility and encouragement, the internet world (and the world as a whole) would be a much more pleasant place.

For readers:
Blogging and writing are a lot of work. While most of us do it for ourselves, every blogger- in some small part- does it so that they can be a voice to others. A light in the world. While it shouldn't matter who reads our blog or takes what we say to heart, it does. It's a narcissistic world and we want to know that others like us. It's not always narcissism, though- part of it is just knowing that what you are doing might be making a difference to someone, somewhere. Few things are more discouraging than futility.

If there are blogs that you follow, or even blogs that you come across casually but you really like what they have to say or teach, let them know. LET THEM KNOW. I have had two different blogs, and the same proved true for both: for every hundred page views, you maybe receive one comment. Maybe. As a writer, it is hard to see that and not think, "They hated it." A friend and I talked about this recently, and she said, "Honestly, I read a lot of blogs- but I just don't even think about leaving a comment. It's not that people aren't reading it- it's just that most of them don't realize that commenting matters." The writer can't see inside your heart and doesn't know that you read their words and felt something- in this instance, numbers CAN lie. I know that many other bloggers will agree with me on this: comments make our day. Comments let us know that our words have not gone out into the world and come back empty, but that they have hit their target and left their mark. Even short (meaningful) comments do so much to encourage a writer. If something made you laugh, inspired you, encouraged you, or taught you- leave a comment. It is such an easy way to leave your own mark and encourage someone else. My favorite comments are the ones where the person tells me their own story- how they might be in the same place I am, or have gone through something similar. This makes me feel like I am connecting with someone on a personal level, and that can make the world seem a bit smaller and a bit kinder. Even if the post is just a recipe or craft project, leave a comment- especially if you made it and had good results. This tells the writer that their time was not wasted. NOTE: If you are leaving a comment that is anything but encouraging, just don't. You don't have to share your opinion. Mommy Blog Trolls are one of the quickest ways to ruin a blogger's day. Don't be that person.

Monday, April 14, 2014

When You Break Up With Your Best Friend

I suppose my life is pretty undramatic if I can honestly say that one of the most painful experiences I have ever been through was breaking up with my best friend. Lord knows this happened many times in my school years, since girls go through friends like they do shoe fads. Once you become an adult, though, you would think that the drama of friendship would end and we could all just act like the adults that we think we are.

It doesn't. We don't.

It was the type of friendship where you feel like someone can see inside your soul and loves you anyways. The kind where you talk every single day and still never run out of things to talk about. The type of friendship where you know that your darkest thoughts and deepest joys can be safely shared. Unfortunately, it also became the kind of friendship that needs the other person- one that feeds off of drama, takes over your life, and becomes unhealthy. It became a friendship that relied too heavily on another mortal person to carry burdens- and became a burden itself.

In September of 2012, it ended. Spectacularly. Bitterly. Angrily. Just like that, it was over. The person I talked to everyday- gone. The one person I was closest to in the world besides my husband- gone. The one person I knew for sure prayed for me every day- gone. A huge sea of anger and regret was all that was left behind in the wake of an angry storm of bad communication and hurt feelings.

After that last text was sent, and in the days afterwards, there was that feeling of self-righteous indignation. I'm right, you're wrong, and I'm going to wait for you to realize it. There was a huge hole where my friend had been- our conversations, our texts, our inside jokes and coffee dates. The days turned into weeks and months- and I realized that the hole was not going to fill back up. The loss of such an important relationship sank me into a very deep depression for a long time. I have no best friend. When you share everything with someone, there is an impossibly huge hole to fill when they are gone. I can't even count the number of times I reached for my phone to call her about something... only to remember that we didn't speak anymore. We had done so much together and made so many memories that there were many painful reminders everywhere I went. We aren't friends anymore. 

I couldn't figure out WHY I couldn't get over the pain of the break-up. I mean, it's not like we were MARRIED. It's not like we were in a romantic relationship. We were just best friends. Why was I taking it so hard? Why couldn't I just move on?

After 15 months- months where I missed the birth of her first baby, months where she missed my 30th birthday, months where we both suffered tremendously but thought that the other person despised us, months of missed communications and mistaken intentions, we finally made up. It was a balm to my heart to have that friendship restored, but there is a lot of bitterness in looking back and seeing that all of that pain could've been prevented, or at least lessened.

Here are some things that I learned through the whole process. If you are fighting with your best friend or are suffering through a bad break-up with her, I pray that the lessons I learned the hard way will minister to you.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Stop and See The Flowers

White cherry blossoms. 
I just can't get enough of the glorious blooms this year. Perhaps it is because I am finally slowing down enough to notice them. Perhaps it's because I just REALLY want to play with my camera. I was joking with a friend that my latest obsession is like digital picture hoarding- I want to take pictures of all of the different flowers I see, but once I have captured it, I'm done with the flower. I suppose there are worse hoarding habits to have!

Anyways, if you are a flower expert (which I am definitely not), please correct any of my flower names. I'm no Google expert either, and that is where my laughable research into flower names begins and ends!

This tiny sweet purple flower (weed?) has the unfortunate
name of "henbit deadnettle". Words like "invasive" are
used to describe it. I think it's precious.

This is a common purple wildflower called a... wait for it...
wood violet. That one didn't take much research.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Bloom Where You Are Planted

"As for man, his days are like grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourishes. When the wind passes over it, it is no more, and its place acknowledges it no longer." Psalm 103:15-16

I was making the blog rounds this morning, introducing myself to a couple of new blogs and joining with some linky parties and blog hops. It is always interesting to see what else is out there and commiserate with fellow moms. There seemed to be a trend I was drawn to this morning, for whatever reason. I came across one blog with a well-written post about housekeeping as a ministry to your family. So much yes. I then came across another blogger who talked about "sucking at life" because the demands were just too much and she couldn't seem to keep up.  So been there.

I wasn't planning on writing today, but some posts just write themselves. I was struck by both bloggers and their views on the things that can hinder your feelings of well-being and serenity. One was written as a way to encourage moms who can't keep up with their housework, the other written by an overwhelmed mom who feels that she can't keep up with anything. I remember those feelings well- having several small children at home, potty training one while changing diapers on another, feeling like I am two steps behind while cleaning. I thought I had the "mom" thing figured out until my youngest came along. My first two children were easy, happy, compliant babies. My third cried for his entire first year, refused to sleep or be held by anyone but me, and then started running at age 10 months and never stopped. He was a difficult, strong-willed toddler compared to my other two, and so often I felt like a failure. I couldn't make him behave, I couldn't keep up with the mess and chaos, I couldn't NOT yell, and I couldn't get out from under those feelings of guilt and shame. Why can other moms do this? How do they make it look so easy? How can people keep their houses clean and laundry done and still have time to engage in crafts and story after story without reverting to the tv to achieve anything that could at the end of the day resemble productivity? To this day I still feel a little rise of indignation at people who claim to have all of the answers about keeping your house clean or never yelling at your kids and managing to do it while feeling blessed and joyful. 

I wish I could say that I have a magic answer about how to do it all. I don't. The only thing that brought me any peace was realizing that the picture in my head of what life was supposed to look like was wrong. This is what life looked like for ME. And that's okay. I was in a season of life where my house was going to be messy and my ministry to my family was less housekeeping and more child-rearing. I took steps to help control the chaos- I dedicated one day of the week to cleaning and the rest to maintenance, I invited people over to spur me into more of a cleaning mode, I DID utilize the tv to give me a chance to catch up on laundry- but the thing that helped the most was realizing that the guilt and shame I was heaping upon myself was doing so much more harm than good.There were days when I literally pictured myself using a garden rake to scrape up the mess from all over the house into one big pile. Some days I envisioned just burning the whole thing down and starting over. Some days I would feel satisfied because you could look around the house and physically measure my productivity, and other days I would be exhausted and still feel like I had accomplished nothing. But then... I decided just to get over it. Life is messy. Children are messy. Intentional parenting is messy. It is easy to measure our productivity by what we can SEE, but the things that will truly tell how productive our years were as moms of young kids won't appear until much later. Measuring our worth by our perceived productivity is futile and depressing. Once we stop comparing our lives to other people's Facebook feeds and perfect blog pictures, once we stop idealizing motherhood and accepting the reality of what it looks like for us, it becomes easier to bloom where we are planted. 

Now I have three children who are gone for most of the day. My house is clean, I have a routine. The chaos of toddlers and babies has been replaced with a new kind of chaos- homework and sports and friends and heartbreaks. My kids fold their own laundry and deal with dirty dishes, but I worry about bullying and test scores and dread the onset of puberty. I'm in a different season of life, with new joys and struggles. Looking back at those 8 years I spent in the throes of parenting small children, it seems like it went by so very quickly. I know that this season will go quickly as well. Sometimes it is hard not to miss the bloom for the effort it takes to make it grow.

Most flowers only bloom during certain seasons of the year. Some flowers flourish in rocky soil while others would simply perish. Rainfall, temperature, sunlight- flowers depend on all of these things to bloom and grow... but not in the same amounts. It does us no good to covet someone else's season, someone else's soil, someone else's rain. Just as God has placed flowers in the ideal location for perfect blooms, He has placed us in THIS season, THIS soil, with THIS rain because it is the best place for us. Seasons are short-lived and blooms fade- but there is something new and beautiful in each new season. Embrace your season of life, in all of its hardships and joys. Realize that it is JUST a season. Your bloom doesn't look like someone else's bloom, but it is beautiful. Your soil might be rocky, but it is exactly what you need to make you the woman and mom you need to be. It might be a hard day or a hard week, but ultimately the things that you feel guilty about now won't even be a memory. I don't believe in the "enjoy every moment" philosophy because there are a lot of things that just aren't pleasant- but don't miss the beauty by focusing on the barren. You aren't a failure because your house is a mess and your kids won't stop fighting. You aren't a failure because you can't keep up. Stop trying to keep up and start enjoying where you are. That mountain of laundry will slowly disappear, only to be replaced by new mountains- but this season, this time with your beautiful children... well, it is fleeting. Having a clean house is a great thing, but having happy, healthy children is better. Seeing your living room floor is fantastic, but seeing your children learn and grow is more important. Feeling like you've accomplished something at the end of the day is a very nice feeling, but it means nothing if your children have a stressed-out, exhausted mom. If you can do both and keep a sincere smile on your face, more power to you. If you can only manage one at a time, pick the kids. A clean house is nice, but a contented mom makes for a happy home.

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Monday, April 7, 2014

Lies That Kept Me From Homeschooling

My family has recently made the decision to switch from public school to homeschooling, beginning in the fall of 2014. It was not a decision made lightly, but it was certainly a decision that came as a shock to my friends and family. Some of them are downright laughing at me- not because I have had anything against homeschooling (and not because they have anything against it), but simply because I was pretty convinced that I would never want to do it. HS has always been on the table for me, but I have taken a "one year at a time" approach to it. As long as public school was working, I didn't need to torture myself. This year has made me see differently. Between new school policies, CRCT and common core, issues with teachers and other kids, PS doesn't seem like the healthy option for my kids anymore. I've done a lot of research, read a lot of blogs and articles, spoken with a lot of homeschooling moms, and one thing throughout all of this has become abundantly clear: I have been lying to myself about my abilities and my expectations.

Since I have shared the news with my friends, I am suddenly in the very humorous position of having to defend homeschooling. The girl who was so adamantly convinced that it would take a miracle to change her mind is now talking up the merits to other people. Seriously, it's a riot to my closest friends. The only thing I've got going for me is that I never said I would NEVER homeschool. At least I'm not a complete hypocrite!

It's astounding how many people I've talked to who seem to be very interested in HS but think that they can't do it, for a variety of reasons. Most of these reasons are lies they are telling themselves- I know, because I told myself the same things. I decided, as a recent miraculous convert, to list some of the things that either kept me from HS or have served as an excuse for others. If you are on the fence about pulling your kids out of school, perhaps these lessons I've learned and these excuses that have been proven to be lies will help you make up your mind.

1. I'm not patient enough.
This is my #1 go-to excuse. I am not a patient person. This is a well-known fact among my friends and family- and my kids. I guess I sort of had it in my head that HS moms are a special breed of women- women who don't yell, who find infinite joy in messy houses and chaos and craft projects, women who love to listen to the same book over and over again and who don't completely lose their cool over anything. Me... I am not that woman. Homework time at my house can be enough to turn me into Mommy Dearest. Where I once envisioned doing countless craft projects with my little princess, now I know I am too much of a perfectionist to really make that dream a reality. I have a hard time with schoolwork errors that could have been corrected if my kids had simply taken the time to recheck their work. And my biggest mommy secret: I hate reading to my kids almost as much as I hate listening to my kids read to me. It drives me insane.
Since I have started researching, though, I have discovered that MOST OTHER HS MOMS ARE JUST LIKE ME. None of them are perfect. Many of them are honest about where they struggle with the HS process. The difference is that they have learned to embrace it, to take their weaknesses and turn them into teachable moments, to work through those weaknesses to make themselves better moms. I have always said that God would really have to change my heart in order for me to consider HS- and He has. Completely. I trust that He will give me and my kids what we need each day to thrive in this new family dynamic. If I try to compare myself to other homeschooling moms, or just other moms in general, I will come up short- always. That's okay. There's grace for that. Part of parenting is dying to self- doing things that are hard or uncomfortable simply because it is what is good for your kids or your family. Change and growth happens when you die to self. I may hate reading to my kids, but I do it because it is good for them. I may think that I am not patient enough to homeschool, but they are my kids and my responsibility. I can give them what they need to thrive without driving myself insane in the process.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Spring Has Sprung

These beauties are called grape hyacinth. They have clusters of
tiny purple flowers and a delicious smell.
Now that the weather is finally (and sporadically) beautiful in Georgia, walking my dog is less of a chore and more of a delightful form of what can justifiably be called "exercise". It is a good time to really focus on the world around me and take in the things that I am generally too busy to notice. It's hard to notice flowers when I am busy walking to and from the car- and I had no idea that most of these grew around my house. Shameful, I know.

My husband bought me a new DSLR camera- a Nikon D5200- for Christmas/our anniversary, and as a really-nice-camera-novice, I am enjoying playing around with the settings and immortalizing the fleeting beauty of the spring around me. It's fun practice, though using my close-up setting with a 65lb dog attached to my wrist is no small feat! I know nothing about flowers (or weeds, for that matter), but the bright colors have captured my focus and my lens this year. I have enjoyed looking up the names of the flowers I am seeing around me- hopefully it well help when I try to commune with my inner Charlotte Mason next year when we begin homeschooling. Considering I am outdoors-adverse and a complete tree/plant/flower/bird idiot, it is a good lesson for me! Maybe by next spring I will be able to tell my kiddos the names of the flowers/weeds they pick for me. :)

Here are a few of the flowers I captured. I thought they were beautiful. Happy spring!
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A Facebook friend helpfully named these small purple
wildflowers. The petals are kind of square on the ends,
 and they make a star in the center of the flower. These are
called vinca, also known as periwinkle, and are everywhere on 

the path where I walk my dog.

Another view of the vinca.
After a lot of research and a Facebook poll, we finally agreed that
these are Bradford Pear blossoms. Small white flowers that grow on
trees, in clusters. Any flower experts out there want to confirm?

My best guess about this beauty with the small pink flowers
is a redbud tree.

Ah, the daffodil. Nothing says spring like a daffodil-
besides, of course, Girl Scout cookies.

This tiny wildflower with the white petals and purple center
is a viola. There are numerous types of violas, apparently.
How confusing.

I found these on a highly overlooked bush in my backyard
(I'm no gardener, obviously). These long-petaled yellow flowers
grow on a shrub called forsythia. Isn't that a pretty name?

If any of these names are incorrect, PLEASE correct me! Hope your spring is as lovely as mine!

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Monday, March 17, 2014

No Time for Trapping Leprechauns

After a very busy weekend, everyone in my family woke up late. My poor neglected kids rushed around eating breakfast and getting ready for school before being reminded (right as they were walking out the door, which is when it occurred to me) to go quickly change their shirts into something green. Then, in the silence of my house and with a cup of coffee in my hand, I checked Facebook. My newsfeed was inundated with pictures of cute kids holding green food and homemade leprechaun traps. Sigh. It's fun to watch the shenanigans, but it's not without the small social media-induced twinge of mommy guilt for not doing enough with your kids. Here are all of these moms who got up on time and DID stuff with their kids, while mine were lucky to have actually scraped by with the bare minimum of traditional frivolity.  I think I am getting a pretty good handle on reigning in that guilt, though. This morning I feel more satisfaction in my maternal laziness than I do guilt for robbing my kids of yet another precious memory they might have had.

Two years ago, I had maybe the worst Christmas I'd ever spent. A close friend and I had gone through a disastrous break-up a couple of months before- and our families had been so close that we had done EVERYTHING together. That means that every single Christmas tradition I had with my family reminded me of my former friend. Add into that my Pinterest-fueled need to incorporate all sorts of NEW traditions because they were just so fun and cute... and by the time Christmas was over, I was completely stressed out, overwhelmed, and depressed. We were trying to remember to do three advent calendars each day, go someplace new and holiday-related (or stay home and do a holiday-related craft) each day, I was having to set alerts in my phone to remind me that my Elf on a Shelf needed to do something creative and mischievous before I went to bed (and that it needed to be MORE creative and mischievous than the night before)... all the while, I get on Pinterest or Facebook and see all of these OTHER things these OTHER moms were doing with their kids. Wrapping up a bunch of holiday books so their kids could unwrap one each night. Decorating Cheerios after the kids go to bed to represent "elf doughnuts". All sorts of things guaranteed to make your child look back at their childhood with fond memories of a magical time. I was doing all of this STUFF, but it didn't feel like I was doing enough. By the time Christmas was over, I realized I hadn't enjoyed any of it.