The journey to a grateful heart

November 20, 2014

By Mikkee Hall, Guest Blogger

Today’s post comes from Mikkee who, like all of us, could find many reasons for disappointment and discontent,
but instead chooses to live her life full of grace and gratitude. I hope you will enjoy this chance to “meet”
my sweet friend!

Gratitude. Thankfulness. Appreciation. I have begun and erased, and started this article over countless times. I thought I had so much to say about gratitude, yet I am at a loss for words. How do I nurture a grateful heart? It feels elusive at times. But I yearn for it because when my heart is grateful, it turns everything on its head. But sometimes it is oh-so-hard!

Recently Huffpost ran a piece on The 7 Habits of Chronically Unhappy People. I clicked on the link because I wanted to see if I was one of those unfortunate souls. As I read the seven habits, I was struck with how gratitude changes us. When we find the smallest bit of something to be thankful for, even when we don’t feel gratitude, it comes in time as we focus on simply finding the places in life we can celebrate or murmur a thankful prayer.

Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.
(Melody Beattie)

Several years ago, in place of a New Year’s resolution, I decided to pray and meditate on the word gratitude for the entire year. As time passed, my thinking shifted and my heart was filled with joy – even in the midst of a difficult year. I began to interact with life, and people, in subtly different ways. My year of thankfulness gave me laser focus, a time to wonder and wander over all the roads of gratitude and how it plays out in my life in real ways.

Sometimes I forget to stop, see and feel; I forget to live on purpose. Looking at life through the lens of gratitude anchored me in hope, and gave me the perspective that life is not as bad as it seems, that there is a God who loves me deeply and knows me perfectly.

So, friends, here’s to slowing down, taking a deep breath, and seeing the world anew with glittering eyes!

Home Sweet Home

October 14, 2014

Home Sweet Home

“We need to move.” I texted my husband. Our home was unfit for human occupancy as wild vermin had taken up residence. The outbreak was widespread and blatantly vicious. “We need to move,” I texted a second time to emphasis the urgency.

The specimen of my concern was a foot-long, slithering garter snake. I hate snakes. After snapping its sharp little fangs at the dogs, it slipped into a hole in the cement at the base of our garage door and out of sight.

“They live under the garage floor,” the reptile-honoring-man-I-married texted me back.

They? He had discovered the snakes three days earlier while mowing and had decided to withhold the information. I can’t imagine why.

“I need to move. Possibly without you.”

Marriage is a delicate dance with emotions and feelings that ebb and flow. Although I wouldn’t truly leave my husband over a harmless – or so he tries to convince me – snake, it does point out yet another difference of opinion between J and I. He sees the snakes as a helpful part of the local ecology, eating up bugs and causing no harm. While I feel the goose bumps race up my back just thinking of snakes living mere feet from where I cook and eat, and, in my mind, ready to strike at any moment. Finding ways to overcome our differences is what makes a marriage, and really any relationship, work. In our case, that involves talking it out. Here are a couple helpful tips when having this kind of conversation:

  1. Set aside time to talk when you can both focus on the issue. Talking via text during the work day is probably not going to resolve things in the best manner possible. It can also be hard to focus on a difficult discussion when actively caring for young children. Find time (after bedtime?) to really focus on each other and the issue.
  2. Table an issue if it becomes too heated. Some decisions may need to be decided upon quickly, but taking even 10 minutes to calm down can help get the conversation back to a good place and keep you moving forward.
  3. Be willing to give in. You can’t win everything, all the time. And part of a healthy relationship is – at times – conceding. Because you love your spouse, sometimes you have to let them have the final say. And because they love you, sometimes they will let you have the final say.

While we’re still negotiating how to handle the snake situation (moving is by far the best option, clearly), many issues we’ve faced, and will face again, aren’t as lighthearted, and stretch and strain our marriage. Having healthy boundaries in our disagreements help us move forward together and united.

What’s your best tip for handling conflict in marriage?

Why dating is bad for my marriage

June 26, 2014

And I don’t mean dating someone outside of my marriage. That seems pretty self-explanatory. No, I’m talking about dating my mate – the same handsome dude I promised to love, honor and obey. The one I really do love spending time with.

If you look online for “date your spouse” you’ll find all sorts of articles on why it’s important to make time for your marriage and even how to date your wife/husband. So who am I to contradict the wisdom of the interwebs?

Creative Commons  — photo by Robert Flake

Creative Commons — photo by Robert Flake

And yet, every time we prepare to go out for a date night, I end up more angry and frustrated with this man of mine than I would have been had we just ordered a pizza and picked up Redbox. I’d like to say it’s all his fault {because really, when is it not} but in this case, I blame the babysitter.

After all, she is the one I am thinking of as I tear through the house picking up GoGo Squeez containers, Little People and loveys. She is the one I’m concerned about as I glare at my husband and nag him to “stop folding the laundry and just hide it in the guest room.” And it’s her fault that 10 minutes before she is to arrive I’m just hoping in the shower to make myself completely beautiful for my magical-evening-now-turned-ugly.

Or perhaps I’m the problem.

And while I’m at it, I should probably claim fault for most of the things I blame on my husband. Instead of focusing on the fun of a night out, I focus on making my house spotless. While I should be happy to have time alone with my love, I’m criticize him for not cleaning the “right” way. And when it’s time to get ready – the part that used to be so much fun – I’m just frazzled and annoyed, and ready to call the whole thing off {the date, not the marriage}.

It’s time to reclaim the joy in date night. To that end I promise:

  1. To pick up the clutter and spot-clean my house before date night but not stress about every possible mess.
  2. To stop cleaning at least one hour before departure time so I am not frazzled when we leave.
  3. To spend more time shaving my legs, doing my hair and makeup, and choosing a cute outfit for a great night out.
  4. To think about my man as I prep for date night and not the babysitter and her judgy-judgy ways {which I’m sure is really only happening in my head, because she’s a total sweetie}.
  5. To love date night. Even if my husband doesn’t make any plans and we end up at the same place again {okay, so some things really are his fault}.

What about you? What keeps you from dating your spouse or enjoying date nights?

Making Time for Me

April 21, 2014

As a mom, most of my waking hours – and some of my sleeping hours – are spent working or taking care of those I love. Working in an office or cooking and cleaning at home, sending emails and wiping dirty bottoms and runny noses, my days are not my own.

And I love it.

I love being a wife and mom. I love the messy joy, the sticky hugs and the wet kisses. I love planning meals and birthday parties. I don’t love the dishes and laundry, so if you know anyone who’d like to volunteer for those tasks, I’m all ears.

And yet, even with all the joy and fulfillment being a mom brings, I have needs to be met. Making time to care for oneself can seem impossible or selfish but in reality the value of “me time” is immeasurable. Because when I am in a healthy place – physically, emotionally and spiritually – I am best able to care for my family.

Creative Commons — photo by Adrian Serghie

Creative Commons — photo by Adrian Serghie

Here are five ways I’ve found for keeping the “me” in Mommeeee happy and healthy:

  • Get dressed. Even on days I’m not going to the office, I try to get showered and dressed before my husband leaves for work. Starting my day off with a tiny bit of privacy – while he watches Reagan – and a lot of hot water sets the tone for a better day.
  • Take a break. When possible, do something that you enjoy during nap time. For me this might include a short dance-workout via video, reading a good book or my Bible, taking a nap, trying out a new recipe or watching one of my favorite reality shows with a bowl of fresh popcorn (embarrassing confession – I’m a sucker for all things reality-tv).
  • Make a plan. Schedule a weekly or monthly activity that gets you out of the house for some fun with other adults. Maybe a weekly Bible study, a monthly Bunco group, a Saturday hiking club or an every-other-week MOPS meeting. Whatever you find, commit to it.
  • Set a date. No really, time away from the kids with your man on a regular basis is crucial to a great relationship and a happier, healthier you. So find a trusted family member or friend who can watch the kids for a couple hours while you and your guy reconnect.
  • Invest in yourself. Even in the midst of parenting, you can continue to grow and develop  the person God has created you to be. As your schedule allows, take an art class or dance lessons. Go to a writers’ conference or a weekend women’s retreat. Take an online class and work on your degree. Not only will you be growing but you’ll be modeling to your children a love for life-long learning.

And before you think I’ve got this me time thing down, let me reassure you: these are things I try to do. Some days I do well, other days it’s all I can manage to drag my weary body to bed at night. And that’s okay because I will have another chance to do better tomorrow.

How about you – what do you do to best care for yourself? How does taking care of your needs affect the way you are able to care for your family?

Hating Me

April 17, 2014

“Look at this,” I moan in disgust pinching a handful of stretch-marked, flabby skin from my mid-section. “Why do you even like me?” I ask J dejectedly, adding insult to injury as I place the value of my personhood on the perceived failings of my exterior.

“You had a baby,” he patiently soothes. “You are beautiful and wonderful, and a good Mommy.”

But I hear none of it. Too focused on the imperfections in the mirror. If I could just lose 20 pounds, then I’d be happy, I tell myself.

And I believe it.

I remember the first time my mom mentioned my weight to me. I was in 6th grade. She doesn’t remember, but I can vividly see us standing in the kitchen and my dad telling her she was silly, and that I looked great. A girl needs a dad like that.

It was silly, and that’s probably why my mom has forgotten the conversation. I was fit and healthy, and looking back now, just starting to add a few girlish curves. But I think it’s around that time that I started to realize my mom wasn’t happy with her body. After giving birth to my youngest brother – her third child – she’d struggled to lose the last 10 pounds of baby weight.

My mother was (and still is!) beautiful, vivacious and simply fabulous but I don’t think she always saw it. She was too focused on those 10 pounds.

And now, I’m repeating the cycle. So focused on my imperfections – so focused inwardly – that I sometimes miss out on the joy of just being me with the ones I love.

What would it look like for me to break the cycle before it reaches the next generation – to learn to appreciate my body so that I can teach Reagan to value hers? One thing I know, this change has to start now.  Today.  With me. Steve Maraboli wrote, “There is nothing more rare, nor more beautiful, than a woman being unapologetically herself; comfortable in her perfect imperfection. To me, that is the true essence of beauty.”

Creative Commons -- photo by Robb North

Creative Commons — photo by Robb North

And so today, instead of focusing on the things my body isn’t and can’t do, I’m choosing to focus on the beauty of my body, the perfect imperfections. The stretch marks that grew as my body expanded to hold and nurture my precious baby. The round arms that offer comfort and hugs to family and friends in need. The pale legs that carry me out into the sunshine to work and make a difference in the world.

And as I focus on living a healthy lifestyle (because even as I learn to value my body, I want it to be healthier so I can do even more with it!), I want to teach my daughter to appreciate her own body and show her how to best take care of it.

Some days I will fail, but I pray that God will give me grace and help refocus my vision when it begins to settle on negative thoughts so that I can see myself the way he sees me.

One Year In: What I’ve learned since becoming a parent

March 26, 2014

In the last year (well, 13 months really but we’ll get to that later), I’ve learned a lot about being a mom. I’ve learned about sleep deprivation and poop, how you can be lonely with a small person strapped to your body 24/7 (okay, that’s an exaggeration because Reagan mostly sleeps in her own bed), and how you can love someone else so wholly and completely that not only would you give up your life for them, but you would live your life with their best interest in mind.

Image

Looking back over my time as a parent, here are the top ten things I’ve learned so far.

  1. Parenting is harder than I ever imagined. You are learning to put someone else ahead of yourself. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about parents taking care of their needs too but, when it comes down to it, Reagan comes first (if you need evidence just take inventory of her closet compared to mine!).
  2. Parenting is more amazing than I ever imagined. The giggles, the funny faces, the cuddles – I love the smell of Reagan’s hair after her bath, and the feel of her breathe on my cheek as she drifts off to sleep in my arms. I love the smile she freely gives me when I pick her up from the babysitter and that greets me when I open her bedroom door first thing in the morning. She brings my life more joy, more meaning and more purpose and I wouldn’t trade being a mom for anything in the world.
  3. Growth percentiles mean very little. I’ve worried, and cried, and lost sleep over Reagan’s growth (she’s an itty-bitty thing!) but overall, she’s growing at a consistent rate albeit fairly low on the growth chart. She is healthy and happy and strong – none of which can be fully determined by a chart tracking her weight and height.
  4. Postpartum depression is real. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, please talk to your doctor. Postpartum affects about 13% of women for up to one year after giving birth.
  5. You will never be on time to anything ever – EVER – again. Refer back to first sentence of this post.
  6. It wasn’t love at first sight. I mean it was love but not like I imagined (Bravo if it was for you … really, I mean it!). For me, I wasn’t exactly sure what to do with this cute but squishy-faced baby when they gave her to me. She was round and blonde and not at all what I expected. I loved her right away but it took a few days, weeks and even months before the parent/child bond really set in. And the cool thing is, it’s still growing. I love my child more every day.
  7. You can do it alone but parenting – and especially mothering – is better in community. I encourage you to find a MOPS group or a local mothers group to get involved in. Community is good for mom and baby!
  8. Sleep deprivation stinks. But feeding and rocking your baby during the night is pretty awesome (although most nights I would have traded it for more sleep).
  9. No matter how hard you try, you will never be perfect. And neither will your child. Sometimes I get frustrated – sometimes she gets frustrated. It’s bad when we both get frustrated, and sometimes I have to walk away. That’s okay. Soon my baby will understand my “I’m sorrys” and hopefully she’ll learn to ask forgiveness too, from the example I set.
  10. You are not a perfect mother, but you are the perfect mother for your child. God blessed me with this little girl – he gave her to me, and me to her, and no one else.

 

3.13.12

March 13, 2014

Image

Today is my son’s second birthday.

From the moment that plus sign appeared on the pregnancy test, J and I planned and dreamed and waited. Waited for the first ultrasound with the beating heart. Waited to feel that first flutter of movement. We watched and we waited and we prayed for our firstborn.

With a thatch of dark brown hair on his tiny head from me and J’s muscular calves he was beautiful. But life had already left his body when I held him in my arms at 20 weeks gestation. I was just meeting him – just finding out that he was a he – and already I had to say goodbye.

“You’ll have more…” they said. They were right. Although many are not so fortunate.

“You are blessed,” they say. It’s true. We just celebrated Reagan’s first birthday and I love being her mom more than words can say. She brings joy to my life and is the beat of my heart.

“You’ll get over it.” Never. You never get over losing a child. You continue on {hopefully} and the pain lessens. You don’t think about your child quite so often. Then a song comes on the radio, a breeze blows through a wind chime or a smell catches your attention and the memories come flooding back. And with them, tears. Tears on the solitary drive to work or in the quiet hours of darkness. And guilt that you had forgotten even a little bit.

Others move on and it feels like they have forgotten. Maybe they have. Or maybe they just don’t know what to say or if it would hurt more to bring it up.

Bring it up.

You can never hurt me by thinking of my child. You can never wound me with your love for my son. Your concern, your thoughts, are like a balm to my broken spirit.

Since this journey began I have met many moms like me. Moms without babes to be held in their arms, but mothers the same. If that describes you, know that you are not alone.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
    and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
Psalm 34:18

This post is in honor of Samuel Evan Oliver. Mommy can’t wait to hug and kiss you in Heaven!

Special thanks to all who have walked alongside me on this journey, both family and friends. And thanks to Wendy, Eva, Stephanie and my many friends in my Incompetent Cervix support group for sharing their own stories of pain and encouraging me when I wasn’t sure how to move forward.

Hope After Loss

February 20, 2014

Sitting on the exam table for the ultrasound, J and I could see our precious babe: heart pounding, hands waving and legs kicking – a perfect little miracle. At 20 weeks we were hopeful that maybe this impromptu ultrasound would result in a gender reveal. But as the tech continued to move the wand she paused and asked us to wait while she called for the doctor. A person I had never met before – but who has since become precious to me – walked in. Dr. Abarca, one of six doctors in my OB/GYN practice, looked at the ultrasound and in silent agreement dismissed the tech from the room.

She calmly and compassionately explained that I was dilated to 4cm. She then put me in a wheelchair and pushed me across the parking lot to the hospital where they would attempt to keep me pregnant. However, as soon as they got me settled, my water broke.

Twelve hours later, Samuel Evan was born. Stillborn.

Samuel

I went home later that day to a quiet house and an empty womb. I would stare into the bathroom mirror with a hand on my abdomen and wish/beg/cry to feel my baby’s – my Samuel’s – movements. In the beginning I thought I would never be “normal” again. How could life go back to the way it had been before such a loss?

But hours turned into days and days to weeks, and slowly the pain numbed and I didn’t cry as much. Local friends brought meals, my Bible study girls, my co-workers and even my doctor’s office sent flowers, Facebook “friends” I didn’t know well or hadn’t seen in years sent cards. I felt so loved in the midst of my deep pain. {Check out my post on the Hello, Darling blog for ways to love on a hurting mom.}

You never “recover” from losing a child, but life does return to a new semblance of normal. God has graciously blessed us with another child {my sweet baby girl Reagan} who takes up much of my waking hours. But little things remind me of Samuel – a song on the radio, a holiday {we found out we were expecting him the day after Thanksgiving two years ago}, even fast food {which I craved during his pregnancy}. Although I can only hold one of my babies in my arms, my heart is full of love for each of my children.

*This article originally appeared in The Fridge Door, a weekly e-newsletter from MOPS International.

The day I caught the vomit … twice

January 5, 2014

The first time was at the lunch. Reagan is eating solids but has a tendency to stuff too much into her mouth at one time and choke herself. She had been given a few oyster crackers and, while I was talking to friends, she stuffed about 6 into her mouth and began to choke. As I started to pick her up out of the chair, she coughed up the culprits. As quickly as they came up, I put her back down and caught the mushy crackers in my hand.  I think I’m done with lunch.

The second time was right before bed. I think she just ate too much. Right after story time as we finished bedtime prayers, she spit the formula right back up … and right into my open hand.

But that really isn’t the point of this post. I really want to talk about decisions. Decisions we make as moms and dads; Decisions to jump forward with open hands to catch vomit, and decisions about working and childcare and heartstrings.

It’s been an emotional weekend in my house. Okay, it’s been an emotional weekend for me in my house. Our previous work schedule which allowed for Reagan to be home with James or me throughout the week worked well for a while but as she nears her first birthday, we knew something had to change. A choice had to be made – a parenting decision. And at this time, the best decision for our family is for me to increase my work hours {although still part-time} and return to working in the office two days a week while Little Miss goes to a friend’s house – an amazing, sweet mom who will care for Reagan as if she were her own. But that doesn’t change the fact that two days a week, Reagan will be away from Mommy and Daddy. And Mommy will be away from Reagan.

My sweet baby girl

My sweet baby girl

Tears caress my cheeks and dampen my spit-up-soiled blouse as I think about it. “It’s only for a season,” I tell myself and I know it’s true but I worry that Reagan will take her first steps or say her first real word while I am away. I enjoy working and I’m good at what I do, but I don’t know that it’s what I want to do right now. But for this season I am heading back to work and we will evaluate the next season in due time. If you see me in the office, be sure to say hello; and please ignore my puffy, red eyes and stained blouse.

Decisions we make as parents aren’t always easy {in fact, they rarely seem to be!}. What tough parenting decisions have you had to make or are you making now?