2014 – Focus

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As the first month of the year has come to a close, its time press the publish button on this post, which has been in draft form for several weeks…

Last year I decided to participate in One Word 365 – choosing a word for the year, foregoing New Year’s Resolutions. Last year’s word was Renew. It was a good word for the year. I felt the renewal of many things – joy, energy, goals. It was a word chosen in faith from deep in the shadows of grief, that somehow I could figure out how to fully live again.

While the sadness and missing remain, and always will, at some point this past year the heavy shroud of perpetual grief did lift. And in some ways, because of journeying through those sad, desperate, lonely places, I have felt a deeper sense of the sacredness of this one life I’ve been given. I’ve sensed renewed purpose in my role as mother to all three of my children. God has given me glimpses, as the year drew to a close, of how my daughter’s story and our family’s story has been and continues to be used for His glory. This brings deep joy to my heart – to know that Naomi’s brief life continues to impact others. Obviously, it continues to impact my life and our family’s life, but the ripples gently expand and it is humbling to see.

Turning toward this new year, I find the word focus coming to the forefront of my mind. As my heart has healed I have been able to embrace more activity, more of life. Yet, one of the things that I found in those early days of grief was that I had to create space in my days in order to process all that was in my heart and mind. Grief was a convenient excuse. I have spent a lot of time asking myself, why did I need an excuse to make space in my life? At the same time, as life has gotten busier, I’ve had less of that space in which to sit and think (and write!). Life is full of so many distractions – some helpful, others not so much. To that end, I find the need to focus my time and energies on the things that are the most important to me. I’ve sensed the Lord nudging me toward certain things, laying burdens on my heart and I want to be faithful to those things.

I have profoundly realized that I have been blessed with so. many. choices. Opportunities have been before me all my life. I’ve felt both the privilege and the burden of all these opportunities for quite some time. Often, I’ve interpreted my wide array of opportunities to mean that I should do all these Good Things. As a mom, as a wife, as a professional – I have this sense of I should do it all. But perhaps I am maturing a bit because now I am ready to say – I cannot do everything. In fact, I can’t even do most things. But I can and want to do a few things really well.

So I have a list. I am an INFP personality type, according to Myers-Briggs and as all “P’s” know, lists are more like suggestions than actual things that will be done. Still – it rules out some things. Six things this year that I am going to FOCUS on. It goes like this:

1) Reading God’s Word – soaking it in one book at a time. The past few years I’ve been reading through the whole Bible or large portions of it, which has been great, but this year, I want to really dig deep. And I’m starting in Genesis, which conveniently is the study for our women’s group at church. So excited to delve into this story of beginnings.

2) My Marriage – started out this year with a week long focus on our marriage as we spent seven whole days together, just the two of us (an 2,400 of our closest friends) aboard a cruise ship. Seriously, though, after 10 years of marriage I love him so much more than I did on our wedding day. The past two years have been hard but by God’s grace we are working through it and are growing stronger together. Want to keep that going!

3) My Health – After my bout of sickness the past two months of 2013 that ended with pneumonia, focusing on staying healthy, which for me starts with getting AT LEAST eight hours of sleep on a regular basis, is so important. There are lots of mini goals here to include fitness and healthy eating. Bottom line, when I take care of me I can do what it is I have been called by God to do!

4) My Children – they are one of the most precious gifts I have been given. But being a mom to two boys here on earth and a girl in heaven is not something I ever expected. I am learning to embrace being a boy mom…it keeps getting crazier and sometimes a bit stinky and uncomfortable, but there is so much joy there too. Two books I want to read this year are Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys and Boys Should Be Boys. There are a whole bunch more, but ….focus, remember?

5) My Career – this has been a confusing subject for me for many years. I’ve wrestled with a lot of guilt for working outside the home. But finally, I feel like I’ve come to a place where I am embracing this aspect of my life for the long haul. I am a working mom, a career woman. This year I’ve got some specific goals I’m excited about in this area, but I’m gonna keep those off-line. 🙂

6) Writing – And last but not least, writing…what, when, where, how? All yet to be decided. Here more, I hope. I love words. I always have. I’ve filled many notebooks with ponderings and musings and stories of life and of God. Its a bit scary for me to put out here that writing is something I’m going to actually focus on. I’ve never considered myself a writer. But I’m convinced that our stories are such an important part of who we are and how we come to know the God who created us. I have this dream of telling my stories – stories to give testimony to how God is at work in my life and in the lives of those around me. Stories that I hope bring others closer to Him.

So there it is…written out, by God’s grace. And in that grace I will attempt to focus on just these things in 2014.

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The end of a year

The last two months of 2013 were a blur of activity book-ended by sickness and punctuated by tears. Sounds pretty awful, when I write it down, eh? But it was in fact all covered in grace. Still, I am weary and needing to regroup. It feels like I just sort of fell across the finish line of last year, limped into 2014 and am still trying to catch my breath.

I found this year that, as the calendar page turned to November, it grated hard on my soul. After the beautiful day of the Hot Chocolate 5K, I found myself sick with a bad chest cold that lingered too long. The weather turned cold, too. We celebrated a special seven-year-old and, thank God for whoever invented the Indoor Waterpark!

Through the end of November and into December, with the press of the holiday activities, I tried to close my eyes and not miss my baby girl so much – but I did. Then there was deep sorrow, that isn’t mine to share here, but made me weep for other mothers and fathers dear to my heart who now walk without their precious babes on this earth. So many tears. God must have a very big bottle to hold all the tears, I think.

Then came the time to remember, to celebrate God come to be with us, and to long for Jesus’ second coming. I found myself sick with fever and cough and aches so bad there was nothing to do but stay in bed. So my amazing husband made Christmas for us – cooking and cleaning and feeding us all – while I slept. All the way until New Years and a diagnosis of pneumonia. Oh, and in the midst of me being sick all three of them had the stomach bug – fun (um, not really). And a gerbil escaped…and was found while up in the middle of the night with a sick child – a silver lining? 🙂

And that grace? In-laws who welcomed us – sickness and all – for Christmas. My momma cleaning my kitchen. A sweet friend bringing soup and pie, a movie and yellow flowers on New Years Eve. Medicines and prayers and kind doctors.

Slowly I can breath again. Breathing slowly into this new year – resting and healing.

Running for Chocolate

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On Sunday I completed the Chicago Hot Chocolate 5K.
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There was a beautiful sunrise above Lake Michigan.
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And good friends.
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And there was chocolate.
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But most of all it was so special to reach a goal I had set, way back last October when I was in the midst of grief and sickness and still frustrated by my post-baby body — to run this race. I finally dared myself to actually sign up in September of this year, still not totally sure I’d be able to do it. But I was ready to step out and was so thankful for friends who were willing to do it with me!

I chose this race in particular because the proceeds go to the Ronald McDonald House Charity.  As many who have followed our story know, we spent the eight weeks of Naomi’s life living at the Advocate Children’s Hospital Ronald McDonald House in Oak Lawn. I still remember the first moment I walked into the House after being discharged from the Maternity floor barely 24 hours after giving birth to Naomi. Going from the business and urgency of the hospital to the calm oasis of the House felt like a refreshing waterfall of hope and strength just poured over me. We were closer to Naomi’s room at the House than I had been on the Maternity floor and knowing that we had a place to sleep, eat, shower, and be a family with our boys while still being able to be with Naomi at a moments notice was such a gift. Looking back on that time, the Ronald McDonald House, and the beautiful staff and volunteers who run it, made it possible for us to be a family during Naomi’s brief life. This is a priceless gift to me and I will be forever grateful for that place and the people in it.

To those of my family and friends who donated to the Ronald McDonald House Charity in memory of Naomi…thank you for your generosity! Your gift will help others who are needing the services of the RMH while their children are in the hospital.

The race was also a lot of fun! It was the biggest race I’ve ever run (and only my second one at that). I was also super happy with my time of 30 min 30 sec. When I signed up for the race in September I was running around an 11 minute mile so I was very happy with the improvement I was able to make. My training was pretty much solely interval training Fit Yummy Mummy style. (More on that soon!) Now I’m deciding what race to do next as I had so much fun with this one. If only it wasn’t getting so cold here in the Midwest! Time to invest in some winter running gear, I think.

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As I crossed the finish line on Sunday, I was just overwhelmed with such joy and love for my sweet daughter that I miss so much. I just can’t wait for that day when we will run together on the streets of heaven. Until that day I keep holding on to the hope Jesus has given.

Five Minute Friday: Grace

Five Minute Friday

The silence has been deafening here, no? It has to me. So as a way to break the silence I am joining up here with five minutes on my lunch break. Five minutes on Grace.

GO:Grace.

A definition: “disposition to or an act or instance of kindness, courtesy, or clemency”

I need so much of this beautiful stuff, the stuff that enables me to keep breathing when it feels like the weight of life and responsibilities are pushing in.

Grace.

For myself, most especially, I find. When others are running late or don’t quite delivery, it feels easier to give grace there. But when I fail, when I let myself or others down? Well, lately I’ve been bringing out the whip and flinging it over my shoulders, over and over again.

It has to stop. I don’t think I’m the only one either. All us mommas, us women, why do we beat ourselves up and refuse to love ourselves just. as. we. are?

I have a little faded piece of a sticky note on my bulletin board at work with this:

“Grace must find an expression in life, otherwise it is not grace.” – Karl Barth

Today, I will give grace to myself even as I seek to extend it to those around me.

STOP

on a day i’m needing some courage

DSC05420_2There are some parts of my life right now that I am actually getting excited about again, where I see amazing things happening and I am getting to be part of how God is working in a larger way. Some of those things have come as a direct result of Naomi and the path I’ve gone down since she went to Heaven. I don’t for a minute believe that she had to die for these things to happen. I don’t think God works that way. But I do see that there is good coming out of something that was and will always be bad – because death was never in the plan originally. It wasn’t what we were meant for. We were made to live, to live abundantly. It really does amaze me when I can sit back and see these places where I see life coming out of the death of someone I love so very much and out of my deep grief. I am thankful for that.

But then there are these other parts of my life that feel so incredibly hard and insurmountable. These are things that were there before we knew Naomi was sick. For a large part of this past year I just ignored them because I couldn’t handle anything else and really I found I didn’t care so much about those things because I was hurting so badly. But recently I’ve been starting to face them, to wake up, so to speak, once again to these realities. Today, it all seemed so big that I just wanted to give up (and just maybe the screaming and fighting and needs of two little boys on top of these things was just pushing me a bit over the edge?)

One of the things that I have found in myself over this past year is, I guess, courage. Perhaps I could call it candor? I struggle incredibly with self-doubt and with wanting to please others. However, this past year I think that I have come to a place of seeing how futile the self-doubt truly is. I’ve begun to learn to trust more of how I hear the Lord speaking to me and who he has made me to be. And because I have faced what I never thought I could face, I’ve learned a courage that is not built on my own strength, but on a deep knowledge of my weakness and God’s all sufficient strength. So these things in life that feel really hard? I know I need courage to face them, but courage and patience, candor and wisdom to do it in God’s strength and as he leads.

This afternoon with these thoughts in my head (and after escaping to the park with those two energetic boys) I opened up my copy of Jesus Today by Sarah Young, asking God to speak some words of strength to my flailing heart. This book of devotionals are written as if Jesus is speaking directly to the reader. Sitting on a bench in the shade while sand flew through the air and a hole to China was being dug, this is what I read:

Be strong and courageous. Do not be discouraged, for I will be with you wherever you go. You can choose to be strong and courageous even when you are feeling very weak. However, the weaker you feel, the more effort it takes to choose to be strong. It all depends on where you look. If you gaze at yourself and your problems, your courage will melt away. The choice to be bold rests on your confidence that I am with you and for you…When everything seems to be going wrong, refuse to get discouraged. Remember that I am a God of surprises: I am not limited by the way things are or by the paltry possibilities you can see. I am infinitely creative and powerful…I am good to those who wait for Me.

One of the verses that went along with this entry was Lamentations 3:25-26, one of my favorite passages of Scripture this past year:

The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him. It is good that one should hope and wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.

I so needed to hear these words of truth today. Sometimes it is hard for me to hope for good things in the future, because often I have a very specific idea of what that looks like and yet I know that what I think would be good for me and my family may not actually be what is best. It is hard to hope and dream after one has had their dreams shattered because you wonder if those dreams were right and if they were then why didn’t God bring them to fruition? I don’t understand God’s ways. But I am seeking to trust him and follow him because even though I don’t understand him, I know, deep in my soul, that he is good, that he loves me and that somehow he will bring redemption and restoration to all that is lost.