Thanksgiving and Unmet Expectations

What do we do with unmet expectations?

Thanksgiving is tomorrow. Many people will spend time surrounded by loved ones, but many won’t. There will be people tackling unmet expectations during the holidays. Whether it be loss, broken family, or not having the monetary means to have the kind of Thanksgiving they want to have.

Unmet expectations can cause us to feel inadequate. They can make us feel inferior. They can cause us to obsess over our sufferings or hardships. Don’t misunderstand me, of course you’re going to have feelings. But when those feelings threaten to overtake us, we can remind ourselves of truth.

There is a friend that sticks closer than a brother. (Proverbs 18)

Riches here don’t matter, Heaven is the only place where riches never disappear. (Matthew 16)

The losses we feel in this world will all pass away. We will some day be in a place of no more suffering or tears. (Revelation 21)

I pray you’re able to enjoy Thanksgiving this year. If not, just remember this is the “pre-life”. This life is a vapor (the good and the bad). With Christ, the life to come will give us a constant reason for giving thanks. In the meantime to our ultimate comforter, Christ.

Yours truly at a Christmas concert when I was a kid

I’ve looked at this picture I found several times today. What would I say to this girl, as a now 34 year old?

Hey there pretty little self. 😉 I look at this picture and think about all the life that has occurred between then and now. A lot of your preconceived ideas of what would make you strong turned out to be wrong, but somehow in those faults you found even more strength.

Things I thought would make me a strong woman:

  • Working/studying as many hours as I could fit into the day.
  • Sleeping 5 hours a night.
  • Making sure people only ever saw me at my best.
  • Getting all the accolades and awards.
  • Confidently depending on myself alone.
  • Obsessing over ever aspect of my life.

Things that have actually made me a strong woman:

  • Prioritizing life outside of work.
  • Regularly making time for rest.
  • Being someone who tries to walk in truth and integrity, regardless of popularity. (And owning my failures when I do it wrong).
  • Giving up myself for the betterment of others.
  • Being confident standing alone, but knowing I am not weak for wanting or depending on others. (Looking at you hubs).
  • Reminding myself of the bigger pictures of life and to not let the nonessential things dictate my mood or actions.

Life’s a trip, man. 34 years and it humbles me and makes me grateful regularly.

Love Thy Neighbor

I’ve been cleaning stuff out today and stumbled upon the only picture I kept of our daughter’s sister (whom we affectionately refer to as Magnolia). For months after meeting her, I kept everything as it was and didn’t touch anything. Then once that time had passed (much to my now regret), I got rid of every picture and item except for this picture.

I was up until about 2 in the morning a couple nights ago, listening to sermons and crying over the division in the world, and Christians alike, over the racial problems that still exist in the world today. My eyes (and heart) were opened when we spent those couple weeks in Wisconsin. Much of our time was spent in the black and brown neighborhoods up there. I saw differences like I have never seen in my small town Kansas.

I still sometimes question why we went through what we did with Magnolia. And when I was up late that night, it came to me that maybe it’s because that experience shaped something in me that’s irreversible. It makes me sad because I feel this situation is a great opportunity to love others and have conversations. I also feel that a good discerner of a Christian heart is how much they love. “God is love, and all who live in love live in God”, after all. (I didn’t make that up, it’s from the Bible).

Then this morning I was thinking about the story of The Good Samaritan in Luke. The priest walked by a person who had been beaten and left on the road. (If you didn’t know, if someone helped a person like that in those times they would be considered unclean by cultural standards). The priest lacked compassion for this neighbor of his, even though he had all the theological training to be a priest. Then a Levite walked by, and did the same. But a Samaritan (you could say Half breed), walked by and helped him. He didn’t question what he did to get himself in that position. He didn’t pepper him with questions about his life, he just helped.

It doesn’t help the person on the road (or in the sketchy parts of town) to love them at arms length. Or to yell some Bible verses as you pass by. It’s going to get messy. It’s going to be costly.

But, according to Jesus, this was the answer when asked “who is my neighbor”. So I’m going to do the messy work…gladly. Because there’s a girl I loved the moment I saw her and while she didn’t end up being my physical child, she’s my neighbor.

Integrity in Sports

My daughter had her last 2nd grade basketball game today. We played the other team from our school. This week going into it, I felt myself wanting to win more than anything. It was our home turf and I wanted to show that I was a coach who brought our kids to a higher level of basketball.

I don’t like the feeling of wanting to do something to please people, or doing something with others opinions in mind. Because of that, I spent the last week evaluating and reflecting my feelings and my whys. The root of my problem was pride.

Now, don’t misunderstand me. I am a competitive person. Aside from watching our kids play sports, our family spends a lot of time watching other sporting events and playing games together when we can. I also don’t think it’s bad going into a game wanting to win. But I wanted to keep in perspective that this is 2nd grade basketball. Kids genuinely get worn out of sports more and more and I think it’s because we forget that.

I also didn’t want to make their game about me. The girls can show improvement without winning. I often think character is better learned in the losses and hard times than if you are always ahead and never experience some heartbreak. Guess what? We didn’t win. Guess what else? I couldn’t have been prouder.

I’ve always told the girls to give 100%, which they did. And they did show improvement because we played the same team at the beginning of the year and the point difference was smaller.

But more than anything that involves me, basketball isn’t all I want for my girl. No sport is. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment, but when I take a step back and look at the big picture, I have such bigger aspirations for my baby than having a winning 2nd grade season. I want her to be someone of integrity, love, determination, grit, and learning. Sports help teach her those things. Focusing on myself doesn’t. Craving a score more than improvement doesn’t.

Living a life all about yourself, or myself in this case, actually causes you to lose yourself. If you aren’t someone of integrity, even in secret, you have a hard time knowing what you stand for or why. I want to be someone who stands for the same principles regardless of the situation. And at the end of the game, my girl had her siblings still cheering for her more than any one else, she still has our unending love, she still has her friends, and she had a calm mother who wasn’t caught up in my own issues but able to be there for hers.

Who I Am

For as long as I can remember, I haven’t ever felt as though I completely “fit in” any where. When I was young, I was taller than most every one in my school class. (Not a wanted trait by many girls). My personality often seemed at odds with the life I was born into. I’ve never fit into a big group of people, but more found my comfort in a couple best friends.

Some of this not belonging was nature, but much of it I conditioned as well. I have never wanted to follow fashion trends. To this day, if there is an item every one wants, I’m instantly turned off of it. My husband still tells people “if you tell her she can’t do something, she’s going to find a way to do it”. I’m not sure if I’m proving something to myself or to others…but I’ve always done best when I’m at odds with the norms.

With that being said, one thing that has surprised me as I’ve gotten older, is the comfort I get in knowing where I’m from. I like figuring out the culture that has been passed down through generations of family; regardless of my need to resist.

My momma’s side of the family is from the South. They are all overly affectionate. (Which has always been a part of life I’ve had to tolerate). We call my grandma, Mamaw. We prefer Cream Of Wheat for breakfast (similar to the texture of grits), like pimento cheese, and love a good story to gossip about with the family. We are often too loud and un-couth when reciting said gossip. There has also been a lack in stable men; which has led to a group of outspoken, eccentric women. (Sorry to my few guy cousins). It also never ceases to amaze me, when family still currently located in the South is around the relocated Kansans, all the Southern twang re-emerges.

Then there’s my dad’s side. This side is where my lack of affection is a welcome greeting. I do not love being touched or hugged all over and I, without a doubt got this trait from the paternal side. My dad was coaching sports for most of my childhood, so much so, that I was convinced when I was a child that I would be better received as a boy. (Don’t fret-it wasn’t true). This side of my family are from the Ozarks in Missouri. I recall going to family reunions in Missouri while growing up. I remember hearing tales of the Missouri hillbillies. This side of the family has men all over 6’, and here I didn’t feel so physically different.

When I look in the mirror, I see my dad’s face. (A bit on the cuter side-I am a girl after all). But when I look at my movie collection or taste in decor, I see my momma. This used to bother me (need to be different, remember)? But it’s in this tension of similarity/difference that I have found myself. It’s important to remember (and even be proud) of where you came from, but it’s even more important to know where you’re going (the stuff you hold on your own).

Social Media is Not a Need

We live under the false narrative that Social Media is a human need. Social Media is not something we need to survive. I hear many people get upset about freedom of speech being infringed upon, but we can still speak. Don’t get me wrong, I do think we’re heading in a dangerous direction.

But I think it’s going to be more important than ever that we learn to be a discerning people. WITH the way things are heading, we’re going to have to learn how to discern the more important from less and then learn where it is most important to plant our feet. It is dangerous that people are not allowed to speak freely on social media if it doesn’t fit the popular narrative. Social Media is also a beast that we give power to when we act as though it is the only way to give and receive news.

I suggest discernment on knowing what we go to social media for going forward. I think it’s becoming more and more evident, regardless of your political leanings, that news is not unbiased anymore. News caters to ratings. How many times have you clicked on a clickbait article title only to find the actual article was pretty uninformative itself? We also have come to realize that people have a hard time separating their personal feelings when reporting news.

It’s time to start discerning where we get our news from, what we label as “reliable”. It’s also not something to lose sleep over, because life would continue without Social Media. Social media can be a great tool to keep up with family and friends in our busy society. Memes provide me much entertainment. People received news before Social Media. Search for truth. It will still prevail.

I Can’t Protect Them From It All

I am 10 years or so in to parenting. I have spent most of my years trying to protect them from anything that will hinder their true personality or cause unnecessary pain. I have recently realized that their are going to be outside circumstances that will inevitably effect their growing into their own person, regardless of how much I want to stop it.

My 8 year old daughter has began changing a lot of things we thought were “part of who she is” of late. She has always loved sparkles, pink, frills, and anything girly. In the past few months, this has become a complete about face. She wants a completely new wardrobe of nothing girly. She wants to cut her hair shorter; whereas before she’s always loved her long, blonde locks.

I know she is also my child who wants to fit in with those around her. I am 98% certain that the change in appearance is linked to the fact that she doesn’t see many other friends into the girly things she was into. I can’t even tell you the number of times I have asked her why the change, her responses always being “I just don’t like it anymore”.

On the other side of that, I know my kids don’t care about a lot of things their friends do, and for that I feel to blame. Because of the makeup of our family, we have experienced more loss and heartbreak than most. Etched into my memory is my 4 and 6 year olds crying as we said goodbye to our almost adopted baby girl. I can see a clear image in my mind of us walking out of the State Foster Care Visitation building as we said goodbye to the little man we loved on for several months.

Now, don’t get me wrong-the brokenness that comes with fostering and adoption is minuscule compared to the beauty that has come from it in our family. We have 2 beautiful babies who are thriving in our home. We are able to, daily show our kids that looks and appearance alone do not make a family. We are able to show how easy it can be to be grafted in, what it means to “be adopted as sons”.

I want to protect them from everything, but I also know this life was given its thorns and thistles for a reason. Every area of this life is marked with sin and unrest. So in the meantime, I will be here for my kids, knowing none of our lives (including theirs) will be perfect or without suffering. Together we will look forward to a time where all things will be made new. One day we won’t be crying over good byes. There will be a time we don’t live to please anyone but the only One who matters. This is our hope.

Henry’s Christmas Bells

I’m sure many of you have heard the Christmas Carol “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”. It has been performed by many different musicians throughout time. The song is actually based on a poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in the 1800s.

Longfellow was already a respected writer when he wrote this poem, but what makes this poem so astonishing are the events that led up to his publication of this poem. He was in a dark place following the death of the love of his life, Fanny. She died following a horrendous accident in which her nightgown caught on fire by a candle. Henry was heartbroken, grasping for strength to carry on for their 5 children.

During this time, Civil unrest was very present in the United States as the South was trying to secede from the Union. War was beginning between the North and the South with slavery being a main point of emphasis. Henry’s oldest son, Charley, much to his dismay, was in the military-fighting for the Union. (Henry preferred his son to stay out of battle).

Charley was wounded in battle with a prognosis of possible paralysis. It was while Charley was recovering in the Longfellow home that Henry was walking outside, and heard the church bells and felt compelled to pen his poem.

The parallels between his feelings at Christmastime in the 1860s and mine in 2020 are not lost on me. Towards the middle of Longfellow’s poem a selection reads “Then from each black accursed mouth, The cannon thundered in the South, And with the sound The carols drowned, Of peace on earth, good-will to men!” He can’t even hear the chimes of peace on earth, good-will to men because of all the explosions and noise going on in the Civil War happening around him in his day to day life. It’s hard for us to ignore the Civil unrest we are facing today as well, isn’t it? Lest we get close to forgetting, all we have to do is long onto the internet and we are quickly acquainted to it.

And in despair I bowed my head; “There is no peace on earth,” I said; “For hate is strong, And mocks the song. Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

He looked around and didn’t see peace anywhere. That’s easy for us right? Covid. The Election. The race discussions that have once again become paramount. It’s easy for us to feel depressed and overwhelmed right now. It would be justified if we didn’t feel too much in the Christmas spirit this year.

But I love how this poem ends:

“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; The Wrong shall fail, The Right prevail, With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

We have hope for brighter days. God does not sleep, nor does He slumber. One day, all wrongs will be righted. The righteous will one day prevail. In the midst of Longfellow’s unhappiness, the bells reminded him of that truth. I hope you take a moment to listen to the tune, or even read the poem-and take a minute to be reminded yourself.

Having it “all” doesn’t mean having it all

I’ve been a devoted watcher of the TV series The Crown since it came on Netflix. This past week they released season 4, which highlighted Princess Diana and Prince Charles relationship. Of course, then I became absorbed in Princess Diana’s story, reading excerpts and watching documentaries on her. Guys, she was utterly miserable. She even tried to hurt herself several times.

This was absolutely heartbreaking to me because I remember hearing about and seeing pictures of Diana when I was younger, thinking she had it all. In a way, she did…but not where it matters most.

It also got me thinking that we spend so much of our lives striving for things that do not guarantee happiness: fame, fortune, status, money, and the like. Oftentimes relationships, family, rest are sacrificed in order to strive for those things listed above. While I do not believe happiness should be our ultimate goal in life regardless-why would we sacrifice the important things in order to gain something that can be fleeting and doesn’t have a record of producing what we all want most in life.

We all want to belong. We all want love. We all want to be seen. Money can’t give you that. Status often doesn’t see the real you. Fame doesn’t build relationships. All the fortunes you can build will some day, eventually, outlive you. These are the goals of so many Americans nowadays, yet we also find more are depressed than ever before. More are needing medication to live. (Now, I’m not anti medication at all). But we can see historically and on the media today that these goals to not necessarily contribute to a life better off.

Does money help reduce stress when you can afford to pay all your bills? Sure. Is it nice to be able to give your family members things? Absolutely. This cannot be where we put our life purpose, however; because it will leave us wanting. Those things are a nice byproduct to have in life but shouldn’t be our ultimate goals.

Aside from those things seldom producing true happiness, they are also all temporary. Money can come and go. Fame changes with the wind. Status changes depending on the crowd you are around. Regardless of what you believe, don’t place your hope in things that don’t last.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote “lives of great men all remind us, we can make our lives sublime, and, departing, leave behind us, footprints on the sands of time”. Spend time on things that truly matter. Don’t focus on the temporary and fleeting.

Girl Power…or something like that.

I’ve been thinking a lot about “girl power” and what I think that entails. I am an accidental girl mom. I say that because I truly thought I’d never be a girl mom. I always felt I was going to have a house full of boys. I now have 2 boys and 2 girls. I love having each, but I do still struggle more with girl emotions and drama.

I think a lot about the things I want to impart upon my girls as they grow. “Girl power” or “I’m a girl I can do everything on my own” is a pretty popular philosophy nowadays. I am 100% for girl power, but I find the characteristics I consider girl power aren’t often what others consider it to be, and vice versa.

Tonight I was watching my 8 year old daughter at her basketball practice. I noticed when she was running sprints that she was looking at the girls around her. After practice, I told her looking at other people while running just slows her down. I told her to pay attention to her running and her race, then she would run better. (I also feel like that could be used for many different areas of life as well).

I want to write a list of things I want my daughters to know as they grow, as they grow in to their “girl power”:

  1. Never be afraid to stand alone.
  2. Be confident enough in who you are to know you don’t have to explain yourself to others.
  3. Don’t pretend to be less smart than you are. Even if you’re made fun of, you’ll come out ahead.
  4. Know that you don’t have to have your makeup and hair done all the time-a little real-ness can be very welcoming.
  5. Know your worth isn’t dependent upon anyone else.
  6. Be friendly with many types of people. I mean truly friendly, not the “friendly to your face, talk behind your back” kind of friendly. Many viewpoints lead to a better understanding of the world.
  7. Don’t be afraid to try something new.
  8. Where I hope you’ll be friendly with many persons, I want you to also know it’s okay if you don’t want to be friends with everyone. Some people will only drag you down, you are free to say no to friendships like that.
  9. Know and own your weaknesses. Ask for help when you need it.
  10. Believe you can do much more than you think you can: athletically, academically, etc.
  11. Enjoy life. Do not fear anything that cannot kill the soul.

Now, these main points don’t sound controversial to the main stream girl power we hear, do they? But here’s where I see a big difference: the women that come to my mind when I think about “girl power” don’t ever have to discuss it. They are able to do hard things, and they have peace with themselves when they aren’t doing those hard things.

They realize being a woman is an empowering thing in itself. The women I think of also aren’t afraid (or feel like less of a woman) to ask for a man’s help. Because they know we each bring our own gifts to the table. Men having value does not curtail the value of women. We compliment each other, which makes us even stronger.

I raise my girls exactly like my boys, but I know each will have their own different strengths and weaknesses. I raise my boys to encourage my girls, and my girls to encourage my boys. But I feel like when you raise a child (boy or girl) with the values above, you don’t need to tell them “speak up when a guy makes you uncomfortable” or “you aren’t less of a woman because you don’t like girly things” or “you have to bring down guys to appear strong”. When you raise them to know these truths, they become aware of themselves and grow confident in who they were made to be. I don’t want my girls to scream “girl power”, I want them to live it.