Friday, November 30, 2012

National Pride

I have relatives in Europe -- Belgrade and Amsterdam, to be precise. And it's always interesting to me to see my European cousins' posts on Facebook when they are talking about American politics or economy.

First, it's interesting that they care so much about America. They have visited a hundred times -- sometimes for lengthy stays -- but there is no reason for them to be invested in our country's success or failure that I can think of. So the fact that they have opinions strong enough to be worth posting on Facebook makes me think that it's not just because they have relatives here in America that they are interested in the standing of our country, but rather the people that surround them on a daily basis are thinking of us too. I imagine my cousins sit around talking about American politics with their friends.

We don't do that. For the most part, as a country, we don't really give a hoot what's going on in other places. Sure, we are interested in what's happening around the world, but we aren't usually invested in it. What does that say about us? Does it say we're confident in our top-of-the-heap position in the world? Does it say we're apathetic? Or isolationist in some way? (Though that last one is unlikely, I think, given the aid we give so many other countries.)

The fact is, I think other countries look at us and gauge their own futures on where America stands at the moment. That is an incredible responsibility when you think about it.

I remember in college getting emails from my aunt in Belgrade on a weekly basis. She is American, but married a Serbian man and moved to the former country of Yugoslavia long before I was born. During the Kosovo War, bombs were going off in Belgrade all the time. I remember her detailing how she had to tape their windows. I also remember her account of getting pulled over and taken to a police station because of her nationality, only to be released when the police recognized who she was married to (my uncle is a prominent professor).

This was all back in 1999, if I remember my dates right. And yes, I felt personally invested in the conflict going on over there because of my aunt's letters. But no one around me was talking about it -- no one wondered how it would impact us. I didn't sit around debating the future of the Yugoslav nations with my friends. I worried about my family there, but I didn't worry about their country.

I say this all the time, and I always mean it from the bottom of my heart: I am so blessed to live in this country, in this time. No matter how frustrated we are with the state of our economy, or how our government is handling our national challenges, we live in a safe, stable and wealthy nation. There are few other places in this world where I could write this blog and not worry about my safety if my opinions were different than the government's. There are few other places in this world where I could go out to the grocery store at night and feel (relatively) safe. There are few other places in this world where my gender wouldn't hinder me.

Yes, America is not perfect. Do you really expect it to be? I'm just pleased as punch to live here and call it my home.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Bright Light


Erin and I went to a women's ministry holiday party at Flatirons Church tonight. It was really fun, even though we didn't win a single game. They were taking cash donations to buy grocery gift cards for the Sister Carmen food bank, so I not only had a good time, but I was able to give to a good cause too. That's a successful night in my book.

I got the best news tonight. One of my sweet friends was at the party, and she came up to me to tell me that she and her husband had applied to foster a child. She told me more about the little girl they were trying to bring into their family, and my heart just swelled. I am so crazy blessed to know women like her. I can't wait to meet her new child.

In my younger years, I was proud to be friends with people who had interesting or unusual jobs, or came from interesting places, or had interesting hobbies. You know, people with a "cool" factor. And come on, who doesn't like to name-drop, right? But as I've gotten older, as I've had life experience and found God, I find that I covet "bright light" people. People who give above and beyond. People who save the world. People whose hearts are bigger than Texas. Being around people like that -- like my friend who is fostering a child -- makes me want to be a better person.

Some of you bright lights know who you are. Others don't. But I hope you all know that I admire your hearts so much, and I can only hope to be half the light you are in this world.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Using Your Strengths on the Job

I love to watch painting shows. Think Bob Ross. There are a bunch of those types of shows on the Create channel, and every so often I get a chance to watch one.

Do you know what irks me every time I see it, though? When the painter dips a dirty brush into a different color paint. I know a little of the color on the brush is getting into the pot of color the artist is dipping into, and later on that former color is going to mess up the canvas somewhere. But these artists do this all the time.

This is how I know I'll never be a professional artist. There is a freedom in painting that does not exist in writing -- just as there's a structure in writing that does not exist in painting. They are both creative pursuits, but they are so different. When I misspell a word, I correct it, because that is a mistake, not a quirk. But brush marks in a painting, an accidental swipe of color in the wrong place, a jagged line -- those give a painting personality, and sometimes even context.

I love that about painting. Since I started dabbling in visual arts a few years ago, it has taught me how to let go in so many ways. But when I see a dot of yellow in my ultramarine blue, I still cringe.

A friend of mine from work told me during a phone conversation yesterday that she was a film major in college. That really surprised me, since she is one of the best project managers I know at the computer corporation I work for during the day. She told me that she felt blessed that she has "been able to dabble in film since she graduated from college, so she has kept her passion for it, rather than making it a career and burning out on it." That's genius right there. Sure, the ideal scenario is to do what you love for a living -- but how many people can do that without ending up hating what they used to love? Not many. Burn out happens in anything you do 8 hours a day, 5 days a week.

I think a better way of looking at your job or career is, Am I using my strengths? You can use your strengths in a job that isn't your passion, and you'll find great satisfaction each day.

There is a course on the Oprah site called Career Intervention that deals with this topic. It's pretty interesting if you have some time to watch.

So you're not doing what you love for a living. So what? Are you using your strengths? If not, can you make changes in your job -- delegate, re-prioritize -- so you are using your strengths more often?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Failing to Learn

Does anyone else out there have a penchant for failure? And no, this isn't a poor-me post. I love failing. Failing is the most important way I learn.

I had a phone conversation with an old friend and colleague yesterday, and we talked about how we both learned to code. Both of us simply got our hands dirty. We went into existing code and fiddled around. Inevitably something would break, and then we'd HAVE to learn enough to fix it.

I learned how to write by writing terribly. I learned how to paint by making a mess of a canvas. I learned how to cook by ruining a few meals. I learned how to be a partner to Jeremy by failing as a wife during our first year of marriage. Did you know that I was even slow to learn to read when I was a kid? Oh yes -- I had to fail at that too.

I know people that are so afraid of failure, they won't try anything new. And sure, they probably live very safe lives and have very safe jobs -- for now. But what about when they have to adapt to a new circumstance? What about when the rug gets pulled out from under them? I wonder how they manage.

My day-job manager asked me yesterday if I had any ideas about where I wanted my career to go. It's a fair question at a company like this one -- but with everything in such a major flux in the company and the economy, it was a question I couldn't answer. I simply told her that I know what I enjoy doing, I know what I have a knack for, and I have a ton of different types of experience under my belt, so I know that I'll always be able to fit in somewhere -- and my hope is that at some point I'll see a career direction that I'm interested in and aim at it.

I wouldn't have that kind of confidence or self-knowledge if I hadn't failed along the way.

What are some of the things you are thankful for failing at?

Monday, November 26, 2012

Networking Madness

My brother was here until 1am last night getting my home network up and running. I am very tech savvy, but wireless networking throws me for a loop. It doesn't make SENSE to me. Unplugging and re-plugging the modem and routers is usually all it takes to reset everything -- but you can do that ten times, and while it won't work 9 times, the tenth time it will work. And then inevitably in my household there is a IP conflict somewhere. HOW DOES THAT HAPPEN? It's like wireless networks have a mind of their own.

I seriously started thinking about that at 12:30 last night when I was beginning to get delirious. I imagined my wireless network developing sentience and taking over the world.

This happens every time I have to unplug the modem for any reason. And this weekend I moved it into a different room (before you techies start sending me emails about signal strength, it was the exact same outlet, I just ran it back through the wall) -- so inevitably our whole wireless network started getting cranky. By Sunday afternoon, we were able to connect some devices and not others, and the connection would flicker in and out on the rest. Considering how much we rely on a wireless Internet connection in our house, it was more than just a little frustrating.

So Drew came to the rescue. He has more patience with our network than I do. He'll try the same thing ten times until it works, while I try once or twice and determine that isn't fixing anything. So between the two of us we can usually get it working again. And sure enough, by 1am my network was up and running.

But today I'm dragging. It's overcast outside and it's my first day back to work after 4 days off, neither of which is helping my energy situation. This is one of those days when I would just love to stay under the covers all day.

So I'm off to make another pot of coffee now.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Trinity Passed, But Gave Me Hope

I'm starting off this post on a rather somber note. Trinity, my friend's niece, passed away at 5:08 last night. She wrote a letter before she died, to be read after she passed. You can read it here if you are interested -- but be prepared to both cry and have your heart lifted high.

I thought when she finally passed away it would bring my personal grief up a notch. I thought it would bring back the raw pain again. But it didn't. The emails I received from Trinity's aunt, and Trinity's letter itself soothed my heart. The family was expecting this passing, and the little girl was ready -- and Trinity was almost excited, given her unbelievable, outrageous and pure faith in God and heaven. Knowing Trinity was excited to get to heaven... how do I put this?... it renewed my own belief that Scarlett was also taken to the beautiful and happy place that Trinity imagined.

Just as I never know when the pain is going to hit, I never know where I'll find these little boosts of hope.

Jeremy and I spent the last two days switching my office and the guest room. My new office is quite a bit larger, so we're also moving my art supplies in there so I'll have a combined office/studio. (My studio has been in a spare room in the basement since we moved in here -- and frankly it's never felt like a good, creative space to me.) Even with my office and studio furniture and supplies taking up most of the new room, there is a great deal more floor space than there was in my old office. My immediate thought was, There's enough room for a playpen in here. Just having that room in my office where a child could play, unexpectedly lifted my spirits.

This room feels... expectant. Which makes me feel less like I'm holding my breath and more like my foot is on the starting line, waiting for the gunshot to sound.

These little bits of hope, reminders of faith, thoughts of expectancy are like boulders in a river. I step from one to another, aware of the water rushing beneath my feet but unwilling to give up and jump in. I don't know how wide this river is. I don't know if I'll ever get across to the other side in this lifetime. But as long as those boulders keep appearing, I will keep springing from one to another.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Thanksgiving Thankfulness

Yesterday was amazing. Just amazing. We had nine people come to our house for Thanksgiving -- my parents and both brothers, Jeremy's parents, Kelsey and the twins. I cooked a turkey that turned out perfectly. We had good wine, more desserts than you could shake a stick at, and the entertainment of watching the twins play "werewolf."

A house full of family makes my heart so glad. It just feels right. Not that Jeremy and I don't like our quiet time with just the two of us here, but the noise and bustle of a house filled with family is just so uplifting. I'm so happy I got the opportunity to host Thanksgiving this year, if for that reason only.

But another reason is, it was a really great distraction. I had no time to think about the one missing person. I had no time to wallow in the memories of Thanksgivings past. I had no space to feel my empty arms when they were filled with twin nephew hugs.

I've always appreciated family, but it wasn't until recently that I realized the true blessing of it. Family heals, holds and uplifts you. Family surrounds you with love when you are caving in on yourself. They reach out when you can't lift a finger to dial their numbers.

It's become something of a tradition since the invention of social media to post about what you are thankful for from Nov 1 until Thanksgiving each year. If you follow me on Facebook, you'll notice I didn't participate. And here's why. I was thankful for the same thing every single day. And while I am thankful for other things, I am more thankful for this than anything else. I am thankful for the love of family.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

I'm having a quiet morning. I'm sitting here with my coffee and a donut (a holiday splurge), and I just finished watching part of a great series online from Robert Morris.

I couldn't stay in bed this morning. There was no reason for me to get up as early as I did, but I felt called out of bed. When I first woke up, I was so comfortable wrapped up in the blanket next to Jeremy -- but my mind was racing with all of the things I would need to do today to make Thanksgiving dinner for 11 people. I kept trying to tell myself that I didn't have to stress about it until 9:45, when it was time to get the turkey in the oven. But my brain wouldn't let go. So I decided, rather than lay in bed and work myself up into a tizzy, I would get up and have a quiet, spirit-filled morning.

Works every time.

I had my coffee, I had my donut, and I had some time with God, and I feel a million times more relaxed. I'm ready to tackle that turkey.

For years I would go straight from bed to work. Even when I worked in an office, I would get up with just enough time to throw my clothes and makeup on and I was out the door. Working from home, I would go straight from bed to my office -- I'd work in my PJs until lunch, usually. I didn't realize how much stress that was causing my mind and body.

And still today there are mornings when I don't get this quiet hour. Mornings where I have had a late or stressful night and I need the extra hour of sleep. Or mornings when things pop up -- like the dog getting sick or a work emergency. But I avoid those like the plague. This quiet hour is important to my mental, emotional and spiritual health. I honestly wish I had started doing this years ago.

What you do first thing in the morning sets your intentions for the day. Whether you are aware of it or not.

My intention today is to spend quality time with my family, and to mindfully and lovingly cook a Thanksgiving meal worthy of these wonderful people. And I also intend to not ruin the turkey.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Money vs. God, AKA You Can't Serve Two Masters

I was listening to Andy Stanley this morning talking about money, and how it is the biggest competitor against God for our attention. The Bible talks about money a LOT, but for some reason that topic is taboo in church. I'm sure a lot of that has to do with some of the financial scandals and abuses we have seen in our recent history, but I appreciated Stanley speaking so frankly (and humorously) about it.

Jeremy and I are on a path to getting our financial situation more in order. We planned for some debt when we bought this fixer-upper house -- but the debt got a little bigger than we expected. So we're buckling down. And I'm sure a lot of you have gone through this, or are going through it right now, but there is a big emotional element to this process. Not so much here at home, but when interacting with our friends and family. It is difficult for us to say, "I'm sorry, we can't go out to dinner with you because it's not in our budget." Or even worse, "I'm sorry we can't go to your child's birthday party 90 miles away because we can't afford the gas right now."

For Jeremy there is an element of shame in that. We should be able to afford simple things like a meal at a restaurant and an extra tank of gas. For me it's more of a hypocrisy situation. I feel like a hypocrite making as much money as I do and still having to say no to those things. I wonder if people think we're making flimsy excuses.

But one thing I have refused to do (and Jeremy has helped me greatly with this) is to let my attention get too focused on money. When I focus on money, I turn into a monster. I get stressed out like you wouldn't believe. So I set a budget that makes sure all of our bills are paid on time, our debt is decreasing steadily and we've got enough savings for minor emergencies -- and other than the twice a month when I pay bills, I keep my mind OFF of our money.

Then, to make sure I've got my mind focused in the right direction, I have a constant stream of God in my days. I start my day listening to a sermon, I get a daily devotional email from Joel Osteen, I have a bunch of spiritual organizations and people posting encouraging messages in my Facebook feed, I listen to spiritual podcasts during my workouts/walks and in the shower, I always have a spiritual book in the stack of "currently-reading" books on my nightstand, and I do my daily Bible reading right before I go to sleep (which, by the way, has all but erased my nightmares). Essentially I try not to give stress (aka money) a foothold in my day.

I fail at that sometimes. I'm only human. But the conscious effort to keep my mind on God has transformed my life -- I will keep going no matter how many times I fail.

If Andy Stanley's stats are correct in his How to Be Rich series, Jeremy and I are rich. And I know we're rich -- I look around this big house and I know that in another country ten families would live in a place like this and consider themselves wealthy. But actually saying that to myself, "We are rich," feels different. It puts things in perspective. We have been blessed and we need to steward these blessings carefully. I'm happy to say we're on the right track.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Urgent Prayer Request for Trinity

My friend's ten-year-old niece, Trinity, was diagnosed with an un-treatable brain tumor just over a year ago. The little girl is a powerful spirit, and in the time she has had on this earth, she has inspired so many people.

She has fought hard this last year. But I just got an email from my friend that Trinity is seeing angels and her family knows she is about to pass over.

If you pray, please pray for Trinity and her family right now. Stop what you're doing and bow your head.

I pray that Trinity passes over gently, and is greeted warmly by her loved ones who preceded her in heaven. I pray that Scarlett shines her blue eyes on that amazing little girl and they become fast friends, keeping each other company until we can go home to them.

Grateful to be Cooking for a Crowd

We expected the holidays to be difficult this year. Especially with how kid-centric our holidays have been in past years. So I was really grateful when I got the opportunity to host Thanksgiving dinner.

Even though cooking the traditional meal is quite the undertaking -- especially being a vegetarian myself and thus not able to taste-test some of the recipes -- I look forward to it. I look forward to the distraction. I look forward to having a house full of people. I look forward to not having to make that long, lonely drive south.

Sometimes that drive does us in. And we don't expect it to, ever. But on our way to family events, sitting in the car that Scarlett used to share with us -- it's difficult. Most of the time we talk the whole way. Jeremy fills me in on the latest comic book news between outbursts at idiot drivers. Sometimes we listen to music. But more often than not, there are silences -- somber moments when we realize one person is missing from our vehicle, and missing from the events of the day.

I don't know why, after 9 long months, we don't see this sorrow coming. It surprises us every time.

So no driving for us this Thanksgiving. Our families are coming to us. And I am so grateful for that. I didn't realize how much pain that would alleviate until today. Instead of steeling my heart for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday without my daughter, I am looking forward to everyone coming to visit us.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Weekend Full of Kids

Exhausted is not a powerful enough word to describe how I'm feeling this morning. But it's a blissful exhaustion.

I went to church at Flatirons on Saturday night because there was a seminar that I have been dying to attend immediately following the service. I always enjoy the service there -- but this one blew me away. Pastor Jim talked about discipleship, and how it's different than being a student. But the thing that rocked my world was that I learned how young Jesus' twelve disciples were. If we have an accurate understanding of the culture of the time, that is if our historians and archaeologists are correct, the disciples were between the ages of 12 and 20. John was thought to be the youngest, around age 12, and Peter the oldest, around age 20. Jesus left the creation of His church in the hands of a bunch of teenagers.

The pastor this weekend used that as an example of why teaching our children is so important -- because they are literally the future of our world. And instead of calling on adults to help out in the kids' ministry, Pastor Jim called on the teenagers in the audience to step forward and disciple the younger kids. That was some powerful, powerful stuff. And the service ended with the middle school band, Controlled Chaos, leading us in the final two songs. They were INCREDIBLE. I mean professional-quality musicians. I got goosebumps listening to them, which then turned into tears.

So following that world-rocking sermon, I went over to the west auditorium for a Bible 101 seminar. I have pretty good study skills -- after all, I'm trained in how to study history -- but studying the Bible is another thing altogether. It involves history, language, archaeology, and spirituality. I feel unprepared to study it at the depth I really want to. So when I heard about this seminar, I jumped at the opportunity. And Pastor Jesse did not disappoint. He is a true Bible scholar, and I learned more about the Bible in that hour and ten minutes than I have my entire life.

So of course I came home Saturday night on cloud nine. My heart was full to the brim.

Sunday Jeremy and I planned on a lazy day, other than shopping for Thanksgiving dinner. But when Jeremy's parents called asking if we wanted to watch our 3-yr-old twin nephews while they went to a Broncos game, we immediately changed our plans. We met up with them at the Denver Aquarium, and while Jeremy's parents went to the game, we took the twins into the aquarium.

David is being goofy, scratching his belly -- but this captures their personalities so well!


After the aquarium, Jeremy dropped me off at our house so I could do a little work, and he took the boys to the comic shop.  An hour later, Anthony and David were running into my office to show me the comics Uncle Jeremy had bought them. They picked out Spiderman for one and Black Widow & Hawkeye for the other -- boys after my own heart!!!

We had a blast with the twins all day. I even played superhero with them -- I was She-Hulk and they were "pewing" me (shooting me -- "pew pew pew"). Have I mentioned lately how much I love those kids? I didn't want to give them back!

This morning all the dogs in the neighborhood were being more obnoxious than usual. And when I looked out the back window to see what all the fuss was about, I saw that they were putting in the new trail in the field behind our house. I was really hoping they would forget about that part of the park reconstruction project. Not that it won't be nice to be able to hop our back fence and get right on the trail over to the lake, but I am NOT looking forward to how the neighborhood dogs are going to respond to having people walking behind their houses. I am trying to keep a good attitude about it, and look at the blessings of a walking trail so close -- but I admit I am feeling anxious about it. Few things cause me such intense anxiety as dogs barking.

I guess it's a blessing that work is absolutely insane this week. I can't spend too much time worrying about what's going to happen when the trail is done!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

John the Baptist

This morning I watched last weekend's sermon from Pastor Jim at Flatirons Church online. I was sick last weekend and didn't make it to the service or my volunteer work. But I think it was meant to be that way because listening to the sermon today struck me in a different way than it would have if I'd gone to church and heard it live last weekend.

Pastor Jim spoke at a high level about the life of John the Baptist, and transitioned into some of the lessons John learned in his lifetime that we can use today. 

I've been fascinated by John since college. I took a class on medieval manuscripts, and when we were learning about some of the trends in illumination, I learned that artists would always portray John the Baptist with his index finger pointing to the sky. In paintings where you see two babies and you know one is Jesus and the other is John, you can identify John by his pointing finger and Jesus by his halo. I knew there was something special about this John guy just from those college lessons.

So the sermon I listened to this morning absolutely hit on a subject I'm already interested in. But the way Pastor Jim wrapped it up just socked me in the stomach in two ways.

First, he posed this question, "What do you have, what can you do and what are you doing with it?" His point was that God gifts us all with something to make this world better -- some people write, some people lead, some people teach, some people parent well, some people are powerful speakers, some people motivate, and so on. But we all have some gift that we can use to improve the lives of those around us. And Pastor Jim challenged the audience to look at how they are using those gifts. 

Of course I immediately thought about my writing. And I feel like I am using this gift in a good way here in this blog. I am happy with what I'm doing with God's precious gift to me. But I also know I can do more with it. I want to do more with it. 

Second, he talked about finding homes for several local children who needed adoption or foster care. And remember my post from last night where my conviction that I want to someday adopt was strengthened? Talk about timing. It might not happen today, or in the next year, or in the next few years -- but someday I know we will give a child a home. I know it deep down in my soul.

So in the spirit of that sermon, I toss this question back to you today. What do you have, what can you do and what are you doing with it? I know some of you are gifted teachers, chefs, writers, leaders, speakers, financial wizards, carpenters, cleaners, artists, administrative geniuses... but what if you recognized right here and now that those are gifts from God? What if you started seeing those gifts as tools you were given to help others? What would you do with your gift?

Friday, November 16, 2012

Odd Day

Odd day. I worked through rush hour and then hit the road around 9am to go to Colorado Springs and work from the office for the day. I thought I'd avoid traffic that way. But there were two "situations" on the side of the road right as I got on the highway. Driving through Denver when there is anything going on (construction, accident, someone pulled over, a cardboard box on the side of the road) is miserable. People drive like morons.

But I got down to the Springs in pretty good time, considering. Upon trying to enter the building, I realized my badge had stopped working. Luckily the security guard was competent and fixed it for me right away. I found an empty cubicle, got logged in and worked for a few hours.

I spent my lunch hour at the hair salon. My hairstylist's assistant mixed the wrong color -- so instead of the vibrant red I have had lately, I'm back to the super dark red that looks almost black. So now I'm thinking of just cutting my hair short again and starting fresh.

I stopped by the cemetery before heading back to work. That never gets any easier. I told Scarlett how much I missed her, shed some tears, straightened her flower arrangements (THANK YOU Schell family for the beautiful fall bouquet) and promised I'd be with her as soon as God was done with me here.

I spent most of the rest of my day pulling quarterly numbers at work, when I wasn't arguing with people trying to get them to complete work that my projects were dependent on. This was a week of arguing for me. I hate arguing with people. It seems so... pointless. When I get backed into a corner and forced to confront an issue with someone, I feel like I'm spending energy better spent on positive things.

Then toward the end of the day I got to talking to two coworkers who I only really engage with when I'm in the office. Our jobs almost never overlap, though we've been working side-by-side for years. Anyway, it turns out both of them had to undergo fertility treatments in order to conceive their children. It just blows my mind how many people have gone through what Jeremy and I are going through -- and no one talks about it. It makes me feel less alone to hear these stories, and I'm thankful people are sharing them.

As I was packing up to leave the office, my phone rang. I ignored it because I didn't recognize the number, but immediately following the call I got a text message. It was from our security monitoring company, and our fire alarm had gone off at home. I called Jeremy and he picked up right away, laughing on the other end of the line. I asked him if he was home, and told him the fire alarm had gone off -- and he filled me in. Jeremy's parents and our twin nephews were visiting on their way from Greeley back home to Colorado Springs, and one of the twins had hit the emergency fire alarm button on our security system. Ha! We all got a good laugh out of that after Jeremy explained to the security company that they don't need to send the fire department.

After work, Deb, Regina and I went to the Caspian Cafe for tapas and dessert. It was a lovely couple of hours of catching up over great food. I definitely need to do that with them more often.

When I got home tonight, I mentioned to Jeremy that I had listened to a talk this morning from Andy Stanley, talking about his experience visiting a Chinese orphanage. And it just added to my conviction that I want to adopt a child someday. I'd love to adopt a child from China, but I understand it's difficult to do so these days -- they have put a lot of restrictions in the adoption process. And no matter where you adopt from, or the age of the child you're adopting, it is crazy expensive. I don't understand that. With so many kids in need of good homes, and resources worn so thin trying to take care of these kids, why add a financial hurdle to the process of adopting? Sigh. But the money issue doesn't dissuade me one bit. When I started talking about this tonight, Jeremy pulled up some information online about it -- and we both daydreamed about a house full of kids.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Do What You Can Do

I'm writing this blog at 10pm. Not planned, trust me. It was one of those days where I got pulled in so many different directions, I didn't know which way was up. I credit my awesome organizing skills (type-A Virgo here!) for my ability to keep paddling when the waves are crashing -- but even staying super organized doesn't prevent me from making mistakes when things get too crazy.

That's a common complaint, being too busy. Whether it's at work or at home, when you have too many things on your plate, somethings going to fall off and hit the ground with a splat.

We know better, don't we? We know we pay a price for piling our plates too high. We know multitasking sacrifices focus, and without focus you aren't working at your optimal ability. And I think especially us women are really taking these lessons to heart more and more at home.

But the workplace is a different story. When layoffs loom over your head every day, you don't say no when someone asks you to take on just one more project, or just create one more set of PowerPoint slides, or just keep track of the progress of one more thing. In fact, as your teammates are falling away faster than you can say "workforce reduction," you're asking what more you can do to make yourself valuable.

I'm extremely lucky to be able to work from home. If I was working in an office, I think I would have burned out years ago. I'm also extremely lucky in that all the fifty projects I have my hands in don't often converge the way they did today. At least, I can usually juggle them pretty well.

But on days like this, when ten different people and projects are demanding my attention at the same time, I come to blows with my inner perfectionist. I have learned how to forgive myself, and pat myself on the head and say, "Just do what you can do. This isn't life or death."

I want to teach that to my daughters, if they turn out anything like me. And I want them to teach it to their daughters. The world does not rest on our shoulders. The earth will not stop spinning if I take a day to answer a non-urgent email. That typo you made when you were hurrying through a project is not going to make anyone think you're stupid. Just do what you can do. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Drawn to Pray

There is need everywhere in this world. War, starvation, lack of water, human trafficking, homelessness, lack of educational opportunities -- in both first world nations and third world nations. And some people are brave enough to get out there and help.

Some of us are not so brave. Or we feel that we are better help from afar, donating money and prayer energy.

I am blessed to know several amazing women who get involved with helping those in need. One in particular has been on my mind lately.

Rebecca Oryniak is a member of my church, and has followed her calling to teach missionary children overseas. Currently she is in Burkina Faso, teaching school-aged missionary children and leading dance classes for all ages. In her spare time, she works with organizations that help women and children get off the streets. She's amazing.

But while she was over there serving those in need and supporting the families of missionaries, her family here went through Hurricane Sandy. Many of her relatives lost everything.

So if you're like me, drawn to pray for these brave people who get out of their comfort zone and actually make a change in this world, put Rebecca and her family on your list this week.

And if you're drawn to give financially, you can do so here (indicate, “For the ministry of Rebecca Oryniak #228358).

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Thinning Veil

Today is the birthday of my friend's first baby, lost to SIDS when she was three months old. My heart breaks for my friend and her husband today. I know exactly how they feel, and I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy.

Someday we'll both be reunited with our children. And that is what gets me through when I'm feeling like I am right now. This is just a temporary separation -- the veil between us and our lost babies is so very thin.

My friend has been blessed with three more girls since her first child passed. She gives me hope that Jeremy and I will have a house full of children soon too.

I used to run my fingertips over Scarlett's face when she was sleeping. I wanted to memorize every curve and the feeling of that baby skin, because I thought one day she'd grow up and I would want to remember every detail of when she was a baby. And when she'd awake, I'd stare into those big, bright blue eyes and let the color absorb me.

Little did I know she'd never grow up. And those memories -- the curve of her nose, the way her eyelashes dusted her cheeks, the arch of her eyebrows that was so much like her daddy's -- would be etched into my brain and haunt me forever. I can remember every little detail of my daughter. I can feel her under my fingertips when I close my eyes and concentrate.

You never truly lose a child. Your fingertips remember them. Your nose recognizes their scent in boxed-up baby clothes. The familiar roundness of their cheeks is visible in their baby cousin's face. The ache comes from not being able to reach out and touch the memory that is so strong it is nearly corporeal.

The feeling that Scarlett is near is so strong. I can feel her soul still intertwined with mine. She's just on the other side of that veil.

And on birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, that veil gets even thinner. I know my friend is remembering her daughter today with everything I just described here -- I know she can remember the way her daughter felt in her arms, and the smell of her hair.

So I'm praying for my friend today, and sending good thoughts her way. As many happy memories as my friend has with her child, I know the ache she feels today, and I know how tightly she's holding her living children.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Convicted to Praising the Blessings

Praise precedes progress. If you complain, you remain. If you can't be thankful for all the little things, why would God give you anything bigger? You wanted a house, so quit complaining you have to clean it -- you wanted a husband, so quit complaining about him --  you wanted a car, so quit complaining when you have to make a payment on it. Gotta love Joyce Meyer for her memorable adages.

I listen to a sermon or a spiritual talk every morning to get my day started on the right foot. And this morning I chose to listen to Joyce Meyer. As usual, something struck me and convicted me. This happens almost every day with almost every speaker. I feel like this habit has created a conduit of both inspiration and conviction.

This morning was no different. I had planned on blogging about this particular subject anyway -- half of this blog was written days ago -- but Joyce Meyer's words just convicted me even more.

Jeremy is starting his training for a new job in a few days. He's over the moon about it -- not just because he FINALLY found work, but because the job fits our lifestyle so well.

Which oddly enough leaves me smacking my forehead. Because we knew this a few days ago, but a couple of nights ago as I was saying my nightly prayers, I asked God to please give me some bit of really good news. Something to get me through as other parts of my life were difficult.

Yes, I forgotten that He had just blessed us with the perfect job for Jeremy!

Isn't that just the way we human beings are, though? We forget our blessings SO FAST. It's not just what have you done for me lately, it's what have you done for me in the last hour?

I keep a note in Evernote entitled "Small Blessings," on which I keep track of all the little things I'm thankful for. And I even forgot to put Jeremy's job on that list. So right before I started typing this blog, I added his job to my gratitude list. (Shameless plug for Evernote, here: I use it for my note-taking app because I'm an organizational geek that needs cross-compatible tools. I need to be able to access the same material on my desktop, my laptop, my phone and my iPad, and Evernote is brilliant for this.)

What if we stopped focusing on all the pain and frustration each day and instead chose to dwell on the blessings, big and small? Wouldn't life become something really beautiful, really fast? We're not programmed that way. I know. It's such a big challenge for us. I'm never going to give up trying for it, though. I know the benefits will far outweigh the effort.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Lights in the World

There are a lot of reasons we are desperate to have children. Because we both feel it's our destiny to be parents, I'm not getting any younger, we're in a good financial place in our lives to have children, and frankly everything feels wrong without a child in our lives.

But each month of disappointment brings something else. It brings a reminder of what we lost. It's a slap in the face. We had the perfect child, and even if I had never been able to have any more children after her, we had her. I can't express the emotions of that -- the anger, disbelief and sadness coupled with still trying to wrap our brains around the fact that she really is gone.

Both Jeremy and I experience this grief month after month after month. I'm certainly not alone in it. Jeremy is one of those rare men who has never had any doubts about wanting children -- he has always known his purpose in life was to be a dad. So while he holds it together and supports me when I'm falling apart, I know he's falling apart on the inside too.

I've talked to many other women who have had trouble conceiving. This is not an unusual situation, I am learning. Our situation is unique in that it's coupled with the loss of a perfectly healthy child, but our fertility problems are not unusual. And I love hearing people's stories of how they finally ended up having children -- through fertility drugs, IVF, even adoption. Those stories keep me going. Those women remind me that God has a plan for us.

But what I notice, too, is that the echo of this struggle doesn't end when these women have children. They always remember how hard it was. I can see the pain in their eyes and hear it in their voice -- they haven't forgotten. And with that memory, they also appreciate their children in a different way. Not that my friends who have had children naturally and easily don't appreciate their children, because GOSH I know how much they love their kids. But women who have struggled to have children have a different energy to them. A peaceful energy. An energy that feels like taking a long, deep breath. Having a child was an answer to so many tearful prayers, the deep satisfaction of getting an answer to those prayers becomes part of their essence.

I'm no exception to this. This isn't our first round with infertility. It took us a year and a half to conceive Scarlett -- and I know I was changed by that struggle too. Those of you who have known me for a long time will attest, I became a spiritually deeper, more grounded, beautiful soul when I finally conceived that little girl. Jeremy jokes that he just wants me to be pregnant all the time because I was such a happy pregnant woman. Nothing got me down for those 40 weeks. Things that used to bother me, I simply laughed about. My glow wasn't just on my face, it radiated from my very soul.

I have a friend who is trying to adopt a baby. She's been on a waiting list for a year, and she probably has another year to go. And even though she is not giving birth to her future child herself, I know when she holds her baby for the first time she is going to glow like I did when I was pregnant. Her formerly scattered energy will converge like one of those long, deep breaths, and she will join the ranks of the blessed mothers. I can't tell you how much I look forward to getting an email from her when she meets her baby.

So I think some of us who struggle to conceive are hand-picked by God. I think this is a lesson -- a very painful lesson -- with a glorious outcome. We are made to be lights in the world.


Friday, November 09, 2012

Stress and Anger: I Am Not A Wounded Bear

My day job is very technical. Yes, I do a lot of writing for it, too, but the writing is for web promotions -- so even that gets thrown into the technical aspect of my job. When our tools and/or sites have issues, it prevents me from working.

Meanwhile, my responsibilities aren't going away. They're simply amassing. So I can't even enjoy the downtime because I know it's going to be a mad rush to get things done once it's all fixed again.

I'm sitting here trying not to stress about it. As the emails in my inbox keep piling up, I'm prioritizing them as best I can. And I'm saying my mantra over and over and over -- There's nothing you can do about it right now, so there is no reason to stress.

That's my mantra for a reason. I tend to stress when things are out of my control. But so much of life is out of my control, and it doesn't do anyone any good when I become a stress case.

I'm pretty good at talking myself out of unnecessary stress -- but when I can't, Jeremy steps in. He reminds me that it's out of my hands, and gets me back to my calm place.

In my Bible study last night, we were talking about the different types of anger. The author of Unglued, the book we're reading, broke the different anger types down into animals -- the wounded bear, the crouching tiger, the screeching owl, etc. While each of the ladies there identified with one of the animal types, I didn't. None of them really fit.

I don't get angry at people anymore. I think I used to, but I've outgrown it. I get stressed, irritated and frustrated. I get snippy, and I say things in a tactless way. But I don't lash out in anger. I feel anger inside but it doesn't manifest toward a person. I don't know if this is extremely healthy, or extremely unhealthy.

Jeremy will tell you he wishes I didn't get irritated so much. But would the alternative -- full-on anger -- be any better?  I wonder. Sure, my snippy comments are not productive for our relationship, but knowing the sensitivity of my husband I think anger would be even more destructive.

So I'm hoping this Unglued book addresses my particular form of lashing out at some point as we go along. Otherwise Lysa TerKeurst may have to write another book just for me. :)

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Wanted: Fondness Without Heartache

For the record, I love Heather Armstrong from Dooce.com. She cracks me up. I love her vivaciousness, insanity and candidness.

When I read her post today about how her youngest daughter overslept, and she joked about wondering if the 3-year-old was dead -- well, it's the first time I wanted to write to Heather. Not to chastise her -- gosh no. I wanted to write to her and ask her if, upon discovering that her daughter was alive and well, she swooped that little girl up in her arms and thanked God.

But I've been reading her blog long enough to know she probably did just that.

That's why I keep reading Dooce. Because while Heather is very candid about how much her kids drive her nuts sometimes, she's just as candid about how much she appreciates even thier most obnoxious traits. She wouldn't trade a moment with those girls for anything.

So there you have it. I've jumped a hurdle. I've stopped wondering if people appreciate their kids and started seeing when they do.

Along with that, though, is a new phase I'm going through. A jealousy phase. Not that I'm jealous that other people still have their children and I don't -- but that they can think about their children with pure appreciation. When I think about my daughter, I cry.

I was writing some journal pages this morning (I'm attempting to get back into the practice of writing morning pages, a la The Artist's Way), and I wrote a little note to God in there. I asked Him to help me heal enough that I can think about my daughter purely with fondness and not heartache. I know, it will be a long time before that's possible. But I so desperately want it. I have so many great memories of that little girl, and I hate that they are tinged with anger and sorrow right now.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Election 2012 and Our Great Country

Obama has been elected to a second term. Each candidate had their pros and cons, as they always do. And in the end, as always, it comes down to picking the least of two evils.

I don't think politicians set out to be "evil." I think they're human. And they lead our country to the best of their ability, with their own human priorities in mind -- just like we go to the voting booth with as much knowledge (hopefully) as we can and our own priorities in mind. That's why we have the system of government that we have, to temper those individual priorities -- and that's why we have the voting system we have, to temper the extremes and speak for the majority.

People have been quoting Alexander Tyler on Facebook this morning, talking about how a democracy can't survive beyond 200 years. But we're not a democracy -- we're a constitutional republic. The Roman Republic lasted almost 500 years, so I feel pretty confident that we'll keep ticking for a while yet. But above and beyond the lessons of history, America keeps proving herself a loving mother. Every time we're given the opportunity to slip backward, America chooses to keep moving forward. We're experiencing more open-mindedness and more opportunity than at any other time in history and than any other nation in history.

So no matter if "your" guy got voted in as president last night or not, you've gotta give America a hand. As I went to sleep last night, I prayed to God this simple prayer, "Thank you, Lord, for letting me live in this time, in this country. Thank you for letting my opinion matter and my voice be heard. Thank you that I, and my daughters after me, will be treated as human beings and not chattel. Please help our president lead our country for the good of all people."

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Keep Starting

I read a lot of what people call "self-help" books. I consider them motivational books, and sometimes kick-in-the-pants books. But no matter the semantics, I always have one or two on my current reading shelf.

Every once in a while I'll read a book that gets into my soul, or that gives me such solid advice or a brand new idea that just sticks with me forever. But I read so darn many books, I can't always remember the title of the one that had the good advice in it. I'm sitting here typing this and I've got little notes stuck all over the edge of my monitor -- cut-up pieces of sticky notes with phrases that motivate me -- and there is one note that literally jumped at me this morning. I mean when I turned my monitor on, this little note fell off and planted itself right smack in front of my keyboard, as if to say, HEY pay attention to this one today!

That little note simply says, "Keep starting." I know it was from one of my motivational books. Probably a writing motivation book, actually. But those two words are pretty profound, aren't they?

It's so easy to get discouraged when you're facing a big project or a big circumstance. Anything that takes a great deal of time or focus or resources. But instead of going to it each day thinking you're picking up where you left off yesterday, shifting your way of thinking to keep starting is a profound change.

When I'm writing an 80,000 word novel, it's so easy to get mired in it. But I keep starting, and each day is fresh. Eventually all my starts will create a finished book.

Some people are struggling to find a job. The drudgery of job searching is a part of their every day, and without getting responses it can become so discouraging so fast. Keep starting. Just because you didn't get any responses yesterday doesn't mean you won't get a response to your brand new effort today.

You're working with your child on discipline and behavior, and they had three amazing days -- only to have a meltdown at the grocery store yesterday. You feel like it's two steps forward and one step back. Keep starting. You may be a step back from yesterday, but you can take a step forward today.

Your marriage is not easy right now. There seems to be some epic battle every day. You wake up in the morning and wonder what's going to set you two off that day. Keep starting. This is a new day. This is a new chance. Yesterday's fight belongs to yesterday, and today can be a day of hugs and kisses.


Trying to heal from the loss of a child while dealing with the monthly disappointment/discouragement/depression of not getting pregnant, if I didn't start every day fresh, every month fresh, sometimes every MINUTE fresh, I might not be able to get off the floor. I keep starting. So I may have had a crying jag an hour ago -- starting now I will trust, I will have faith, I will hope and I will heal. And I might have to do the same thing tomorrow, and the next day, but I will KEEP STARTING.


Changing your way of thinking from keeping going or working toward, to keep starting -- doesn't that just feel different? For me it feels hopeful.

Jeremy likes to make fun of me for the motivational books I read. But obviously I get a lot out of them. Fresh ideas make me feel alive. So I foresee many more sticky notes on this monitor as time goes on.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Learning from Others' Life Experiences

I had a great talk with a friend yesterday over coffee. She's one of those girls who, the more you get to know her, the more amazing she is.

We were talking pretty candidly about the tough times we are both going through, and I mentioned that sometimes I wonder if I talk too much about my daughter. I mean, Scarlett's memory is a part of my everyday existence, and so is the loss of her. It colors everything, and it always will, even as I move forward and get distance from the day of her death. But does everyone really want to hear about it? Probably not. In fact, I know it shocks some people into silence, making them completely uncomfortable with me because suddenly they have no idea how to relate.

My friend reminded me, without even a moment's hesitation, that talking (or writing) is healing, and I shouldn't worry about discussing Scarlett too much. And it was just what I needed to hear. Because I do tend to worry about how my words are taken, but I know better.

I don't worry if people like me or not. Other people's opinions are not my responsibility. But I do want people to understand my motives. I want them to know that I have their best interests at heart, and when I share what I'm going through, it's strictly in the hope that others will be able to use what I have learned to their betterment.

I don't want anyone to ever have to go through what I went through to learn the lessons I've learned. Take my failures and successes, take my experiences, and use them.

I wonder if my friend knows that she has done this for me as well. Years ago, when Jeremy and I were going through a really rough patch in our marriage, I turned to this same friend because she had been through something similar. And even though our situations turned out differently, I appreciated her sharing with me all the lessons she learned. It helped more than I think I ever expressed to her.

I can't judge. I'm one of those people that has to learn the hard way. I have to fail to learn. The great part of that is I don't make the same mistake twice. The lessons stick. But if I can save just one of you from future regrets, if I can get just one of you to appreciate your loved ones and your lives just a little bit more, than I have done my job.

It's a calling. Preaching thankfulness, gratefulness, love and appreciation comes as naturally as breathing. And out of all the ways I could have handled tragedy, I am so grateful that this was the way God saw fit to use me.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Whirlwind Weekend

Ex.haust.ed.

Jeremy's parents drove up and stayed the night with us Friday night. We went out to dinner at our favorite local Vietnamese restaurant, then we chatted for hours past our bedtime.

They went on their way early the next morning, and Jeremy and I headed south a few hours later. Jeremy's aunt was hosting a Thirty-One party with me on Saturday in Colorado Springs, so I brought all my gear over to her house and did my little show-and-tell presentation for a crowd of amazing ladies. I love how excited people get over these products. One of the ladies there had been to another one of my parties, and she brought a few of her items to show everyone. I love seeing what people buy, because everyone's choices are so unique, so that was fun for me too.

I met up with Jeremy after the party and we went to dinner with Jennifer, Kelsey, Emily, Jamal, the twins, Marissa, Selena and Mariah. Have I mentioned lately how crazy I am about my nieces and nephews?

Sunday morning I went to church with Jennifer's family. Then a coffee date with Maya (SO needed some girl time!), and finally another Thirty-One party with another great group of ladies. A quick trip to see Jacob and Maya's new house, then a stop back at Jeremy's parents' house to pick up our suitcases, and back up north to home we went.

Whirlwind! I'm cooked.

But I got to see some of my favorite people this weekend. And I got to share my love for an incredible company. So as exhausted as I am, I am on cloud nine.

Blessed times ten.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Deepening Friendships

I met up with a friend for coffee this past Saturday. It's been a while since we've gotten together, and we talked non-stop for two hours. It was a terrific reminder of the power of female friendship.

During our conversation, we talked about a time in our lives when friends surprised us. For me it was when my daughter died, and for her it was during her divorce. In each case, some friends stepped up that we didn't expect to. Neither of us were angry at anyone who didn't step up, but rather we were pleasantly surprised at those who did. It deepened our friendships, expanded our awareness and re-prioritized our time and energy.

The people who were (figuratively) on my doorstep in February will forever have a special place in my heart. Not just because they were there for me, without me asking, in my time of need -- but because they dynamically changed my life. They opened my eyes to the depth of love and compassion, and to the beauty of each individual soul.

Two big lessons I learned during this time were: 1) the power of checking in, and 2) the importance of quality time.

Some of my friends check in on me on a regular basis. A text once a week or so, an email here and there, and I know they are thinking of me. You'd be amazed at the number of times I am having a bad day, only to receive one of these little How are you? I'm thinking of you, messages and it snaps me out of my funk. I check in on some of my friends the same way, and that's how I find out they are going through something and need prayers or a kind word.

And quality time is important, too. Simply catching up over coffee every so often, or on the phone if the friend is not local, can be a powerful thing. Catharsis happens when two friends get together like that -- and inspiration can strike.

Facebook is great. I keep in touch with a lot of people that way. But real friendships require investment and cultivation.

And it is SO worth it. I can tell you from experience! When life throws you for a loop, it's this support system that gets you through. That old saying (an incorrect adaptation of a Bible passage, 1 Cor 10:13, actually) that God won't give you more than you can handle is absolutely CRAZY FALSE. Life gives you more than you can handle -- and then it's up to God and your support system to get you through.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Interwoven Stories

Jeremy and I couldn't bear to be home for the trick-or-treaters last night. Not with memories of last year -- Scarlett excited to answer the door to see the other kids -- still vivid in our minds.

So we went and saw a movie instead of passing out candy.

We saw Cloud Atlas, and I can honestly say that was the perfect movie for what I needed at the time. It took me completely out of reality and got me wrapped up in the powerful life stories of other people.

And it drove home a point that I was recently blogging about: that our lives are intertwined with others' lives. That things that happen to us, decisions we make, impact those around us in both obvious and subtle ways. Our story is interwoven with the stories of many other people.

When you really get your head around that, it can have a profound impact on your outlook. Suddenly you're responsible for something far greater than your own tiny, short life.

In February I began to see firsthand how my life intertwined with others. My tragedy echoed out and became a war cry to hold your loved ones close. This blog became a tome of hope and perseverance. My attitude became infectious, my tears a healing wash.

And today, over 8 months since Scarlett passed away, I still get reminders every day how her life was interwoven with others' as well. I got an email from her pediatrician just this morning, telling me that she had Scarlett's picture on her desk and still looked at it almost every day. Only 19 months on this earth and Scarlett impacted so many people for their entire lifetime.

Some of you out there are lonely. Some of you are wondering if you are loved, if you matter. And I can tell you with all honesty, with every ounce of passion I have, that if you were to die today a thousand people would feel your loss. Your life echoes, and your echo joins the chorus. Loneliness is a lie.

In Cloud Atlas, one seemingly insignificant woman's ideas impacted the future of our world. Her short life changed the course of history.

I hope this blog changes someone's life for the better. But if it doesn't, that's okay. Because I gave birth to a daughter that redefined people. I can die happy knowing that I helped give the world Scarlett Rose.