Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Feel the Money, Part Three: Pay it Forward

          For some reason, this is the most difficult blog entry of this series to write. Partly because I have been in a funk (a creative word for being depressed), which means that I don’t want to write and I don’t want to expend any extra energy, and partly because I have been so busy. But mostly because everything that happened, everything that I want to express, is still swirling in my mind like an untamed wind.
For the past month, I have watched and waited for the moment when I felt led to give the cash provided by the church, praying for the right person at the right time in the right place. On the one hand, I know that it could have been anyone one at any time in any place; however, I wanted the giving to matter.
          In the meantime, a lot has happened.
To begin with, someone from our church helped us. One Sunday night after we had arrived home from Momentum, extra cash magically appeared in our workbook. I was surprised yet grateful. Because I wanted my giving to matter, I decided that this giving had to matter as well; therefore, I put half of it towards the $1000 emergency fund that Dave Ramsey says is the first step. It felt good to have a little bit of a buffer—safer and more secure having even a small amount of savings. We used the other half for groceries.
At the same time, I wanted to honor the gift that person had chosen to offer us: the gift of consideration and kindness and the spirit of paying it forward. I was inspired; thus, I decided to use some of my next paycheck to help someone else. During this whole process, I’ve asked my daughters for ideas of who and when and where to help, and Laina asked over and over again for us to help a friend of hers go to the homecoming dance at high school. We had a conversation about how the dance was a want, not a need and how I felt led to use the church’s money for needs, not wants. Still, I could tell that it was important for Laina to help her friend, and we also discussed the importance of finding balance between our needs and wants. In other words, sometimes prioritizing fun. So, we all worked together. Lexi found an old (but beautiful and very nice) Dillard’s dress in her closet that she offered to give away, so we invited the friend over to try it on. The dress fit perfectly, and she looked radiant and so excited to have a lovely dress. Then, I provided the money from my own income for Laina to purchase her and her friend tickets to the dance. They were so happy for the opportunity and had a wonderful evening.
And then, Lexi went away to college in NYC, which is awesome and amazing, I know. I am very happy for Lexi and love that she is living her dream. And yet. Yet. Yet. I’m not ready to write about it, but this is the cause of the current funk and is so difficult.
On a positive note, Lexi has a “host” family in NYC who has been so kind, welcoming, and giving to her. Also, many family and friends have sent Lexi cards and notes and even gift cards and goodies since she has arrived at college, and she says that the other students remark on how often she gets packages. We are so thankful for all of you and feel so blessed!
Lexi flew to NY on a Monday, and that same week I prepared a presentation for an out of town conference for work. During those preparations, I was offered an extra, last-minute eight-week class. I am beyond grateful for the opportunity, which is definitely an answer to my prayers. Now I not only have enough to make ends meet but also have extra, and I am thankful. Still, I had to quickly prepare a new class during the same week as the conference, which was stressful to say the least.
I wonder how much connection there is between my giving to Laina’s friend and then receiving to help my girls?!
Weekend before last, I finally saw what I had been waiting for—a sign. I had just ordered a meal for myself, and behind me, I saw a woman counting out one dollar bills. It appeared as though she was worried she might not have enough, so when she ordered, I said that I wanted to pay for her meal. At first, she viewed me with disbelief, but I repeated it.
“I shouldn’t let you do that,” she said.
With her words, it struck me: receiving is hard. Often times we like the power and control of being the one to give. Just recently, a family friend said to me, “Be a good receiver, Rachel. That’s also a Christian virtue.” At the time, I brushed it aside, but now I thought, maybe he was right.
I convinced the woman that I really wanted to pay for her meal, that all I asked was for her to ‘pay it forward’ someday, and told her to order whatever she wanted. She said that what she’d already ordered was fine, but as I paid, she thanked me profusely, saying, “You’ve just made my day.” She turned to the cashier and nearly shouted, “She’s paying for my meal. Can you believe it?!” This woman was extremely grateful and that felt fantastic. As we got our meal and went our separate ways, I discovered that I was beaming. I also left a $20 tip for the waitress.
The most amazing thing was how paying it forward made me feel, and I finally got it. One woman left with a free meal while the other left with $20 cash, but I was the real winner that day because I left feeling full. In that moment and for the rest of that day, my heart felt full, my life felt full, and I felt full.
Paying it forward will be a vital part of our lives in this household: both as givers and receivers. When we receive, we not only get the help/kindness/money/stuff, but we also allow other people’s hearts and lives to become fuller. When we give, we not only have fuller hearts and lives, but we also allow others the chance for, perhaps, much needed kindness/help/money/stuff.
Paying it forward is a win-win.

Side note: The rest of the church’s cash stayed with me for another week, and last weekend, I used it to provide groceries for a single mom and her family. Without that money, they would not have had groceries for lunches this week. Again, giving not only literally helped that family, but it also filled up our hearts and lives for another week.

The FinancialPeace University class is now over. While I was too overwhelmed/down to attend the last few classes, I learned so much from the first half that I want to take the entire class again this spring and continue learning and applying this information. I am continuing to save towards a $1000 emergency fund and am still using cash to pay for gas and groceries every week rather than swiping the debit card with no thought. I practice feeling the money and am much more conscious of what I am spending and what my priorities and motivations are. Ultimately, I am beginning to change to more positive spending, saving, giving habits, and I am enjoying the process. While I am definitely not yet debt free, I have more of a sense of hope and peace regarding current money habits and future financial freedom.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Feel the Money, Part Two: “Waiting for Godot”

          It’s Sunday again, and I only have a few more hours left to pay it forward, to give the $50 to someone. During the week, I have been to the gas station, the grocery store, and even a local Walmart, but I have not found the person I am saving this money for. I stood at the cash registers, walked the aisles and parking lots, talked to those around me, but haven’t felt led to give it yet.

          Church is over, so I head to Target in Viera. I know that I am not really in the best area to find someone who needs the money more than I still do, but I have to try. I feel like I might be judged if I don’t give it away before the next meeting. The preacher recently taught the parable where the third servant hid the money in the ground rather than using it, and I feel like someone might compare me to that servant and say that I am wasting money, wasting time. Unaware that I am creating my own stress, fears and worries swamp me, and I think, maybe I shouldn’t be trusted with the money after all? All I have to do is walk up to someone and give it to them, pay for their groceries, or buy their gas.
          Lexi points out someone, and I again walk the aisles and hover near the cash registers. Nothing but families with two parents, single women holding a cup of Starbucks coffee, or men buying a few items. No one that feels right for me to give it to.
I notice that everyone, like I normally do, is moving so quickly. Rush up to the counter, pile everything on the conveyor belt, load the bags into the cart, swipe the card, rush away. I don’t see anyone using cash, and no one pauses long enough for me to smile or say hi.
          I don’t want to simply use the money and move on. I want it to mean something. I want to know that it has blessed someone. I want to feel not just the money but also the results. Is that part of the lesson?! We rush through life, swiping our life away on all of these things that we don’t always use and definitely don’t take the time to appreciate. However, when we slow down and use cash and take our time, we can connect with others as well as consider what we are buying, why we are buying it, and what it will bring us. We can live in a state of appreciation.
          When I received my deposit earlier in the week, I paid my bills and then wrote myself a check with the left over money for food and gas. I took the cash and placed it in the Dave Ramsey envelopes, and I have to say that I definitely feel the money more. In past weeks, I would have spent almost all of the money over the weekend and then been lost and even more anxious the rest of the time until the next pay day. This time, I was intensely conscious of how much cash I had left in my gas and food envelope, and I still have what I intended to save for next week, which helps me not feel so stressed and scared.
Just this week a devotional passage encouraged me to follow God’s plan, and on the radio, Chris Tomlin sang:
Where You go, I'll go
Where You stay, I'll stay
When You move, I'll move
I will follow You
Who You love, I'll love
How You serve I'll serve
If this life I lose, I will follow You
I will follow You         
I want to scream: I am here; I am listening; please show me the way. What do you want me to do, God?! Who should I give this money to? Where should I live? What job should I have? Why is my life still so far down the pit? Why do I feel like I am still stagnating in so many ways?! What do you want from me?!
Like Styx, I have questions and pray for signs:
I close my eyes and know there's peace
                                    In a world so filled with hatred
That I wake up each morning and turn on the news
                                    To find we've so far to go
                                    And I keep on hoping for a sign
So afraid I just won't know
Show me the way, show me the way
                                    Bring me tonight to the mountain
                                    And take my confusion away
                                    And show me the way 
When I arrive for the Momentum meeting this week, I am still feeling raw. I have been entrusted with money and a task, and I have failed. I feel like I am “waiting for Godot”—story of my life.
          In his two-act absurdist play, Samuel Beckett utterly describes how I have felt too many times in my life: feeling stuck, waiting for someone or something that will never come, having an inability to act for whatever reason, being sure that tomorrow will bring a better day only to have more of the same. The feeling is like having a bare thread of hope in a hopeless situation and a desolate world.
          I am glad to get through the meeting without being forced to metaphorically wear the scarlet letter and happy that I still have time to reevaluate and find the person I am meant to bless with this cash.
When I told my girls about this new adventure, Laina shared a story that her service learning teacher recently relayed about helping a man who was offering portraits for a little grocery money in the parking lot of a pizza place because he had just moved down here and started a new job and had two weeks before payday. After this man drew a portrait of the teacher’s son, they said thanks but we don’t have any cash and drove home. Once there, the son said that he wanted to give the man something, so they drove back and gave him five dollars and thirty cents, the exact amount of money to buy a pizza right then. The man started crying because he was so touched by their kindness. That’s what I want: to touch someone with kindness and begin weaving a stronger string of hope.
My uncle also told me a story about how he and his young adult siblings each received a $100 bill from their Aunt Clarice. “Spend it on something special,” she said. So he hunted and searched and waited. Nothing seemed special enough, big enough, lasting enough, so he finally stuck the bill in his Bible and waited. Decades later, he left the chaos and excitement of New York City and moved back to family and the Mid-west. A few years later, finally, he knew what to do with his $100 bill when he heard his contractor complaining about a renter, a single mother, who wasn’t paying rent. This was just before Christmas, and he was packaging up our family’s homemade apple butter to share with his neighbors. So, he added a Christmas card with the $100 bill and took it to the single mother. He knocked, handed her the gift, and returned home. Later, he received a thank you card from the woman who shared that she had used the money for a small Christmas tree and gifts for her sons.
Yes. Sometimes waiting is the right thing to do. The important part is not to make waiting a lifestyle choice. There are many times in my life when I waited for too long, but there are also times when I took action and created a change that was better. So patience is one of the lessons I am learning, and another is to trust myself to know when to wait and when to act and to not worry that others might judge my actions and/or inactions. Finally, I am remembering that God does care and has a plan and is looking out for me, even if it doesn’t feel like it sometimes. Even if I am complaining of too much conflict in my life. Even if I would prefer that God not only give me a signed copy of the plan, but that He also allow me to write in corrections and initial changes. But I do have faith that His plan is the best for me, even if I don’t get an advanced preview of it.
Speaking of conflict, I recently read an article from the July/August 2013 issue of Poets & Writers where Dan Barden asserts that conflict equals growth. He may be talking about fictional characters, but it’s true of humans too. In “The Art of Conflict: Why Your Characters Should Struggle,” Barden states:
Here’s the deal: Everything you want from your life is the opposite of what you give to your characters. Your characters should, more or less, always be having a very bad day. Why? Because that’s how human beings grow.
…Conflict is what creates growth. Conflict is what creates character. All forward movement is a product of conflict. All meaning, in fact, is a product of conflict. [We] need to fight.
…What it’s like to be a human being: hard. Like the man says, we’re all fighting a great battle. What narrative conflict brings to the party is the possibility of growth in the face of adversity—growth because we are faced with adversity. If there were nothing more important to me than my leisure, if it didn’t want things, I’d still have the values and self-discipline of a fourth grader. Fortunately for me, the world kicks my [arse] every day…
I agree.  Life is hard, and conflict, like it or not, grows me. For now, I am waiting, “waiting for Godot,” waiting for God.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Feel the Money, Part One: Temptation

I signed up for Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University program with my small group; our church calls it Momentum, and Lexi and I meet with our small group on Sunday afternoons.
On our third week, we are handed a ticket as we arrive. Today the video will encourage us to “feel the money,” so after the announcements, the leaders are ready for the drawing. Out of 100 people in the room, they are handing out six envelopes filled with hard cold cash.
I had arrived feeling dejected, overstressed, anxious, and raw, but hearing about the money perked me up a bit. Maybe I will win, I think. Maybe this is God’s way of answering my prayers.
There are two purposes, we are told, for those envelopes. First of all, those lucky winners will get to experience what it is like to “feel” the money. I am so on board with that. I can feel the cash already—it’s flowing from my fingers and out to pay for gas and groceries. Then, we are told the other purpose of the money—to pay it forward and bless others. Usually I am all about that. I love helping others and seeing how what I do or give blesses them. But now, right in this moment, I am a nerve of needs, everything pressing down on me. So that’s it, I think. God’s going to give an envelope to someone in my small group and maybe, just maybe, they will choose to bless me with it.
After all, I am the only one in our group who is a single parent, and I have all of the money woes Dave Ramsey discusses in the book. For years, I have been living in crisis mode, scraping by one pay check after another, only to play catch up with any surplus semesters. I often barely make ends meet with three part-time teaching/tutoring jobs and with help from family, and the nature of adjunct work means that my income changes every few months. I often don’t know how many classes I will have or how much I will earn until after the first week or so of each semester. When I can, I snag an extra class, an overload, which is what I need to survive. For over a year, I was able to work an overload, and when I have an overload, I am teaching the same amount as a full-time instructor for half the pay and no benefits. But I love my job and have been able to make it work for four years. However, colleges are not allowing overloads for adjuncts anymore unless absolutely necessary because of the new health care guidelines, which puts me in a deficit.
Days before this Momentum meeting, I discovered that I am not getting the extra class that I thought I was getting, which really adds stress to my life. I’d thought God had provided that extra class to help me make it this semester and through the winter break when I don’t have an income for over a month, but I am back to praying, trusting Him, and not knowing how I will manage.
So this could be how God is answering my immediate prayers. I hold my breath as the first five numbers are called. Please give it to someone in my group who might help me. The last number is called, and I can’t believe it. At first, I sit there, not moving, reading and re-reading my ticket. Yep, still mine. So I stand up and accept the envelope. I feel like I’ve won the lottery in Shirley Jackson’s story where the winner is the one sacrificed. Okay, maybe it’s not that horrific, but I have a hand full of cash and a body full of stress and no way of knowing how I will make it.
As you can imagine, I’ve had a million thoughts coursing through my mind since that moment. God must have a big sense of humor because this is downright ironic.
Here I sit, the single parent of our group, with an empty gas tank and a sparsely filled fridge (not to mention that we are down to our last roll of toilet paper). For over a week, I have been sending the girls over to Publix with $3 or $5 or $10, whatever I could find, to get milk or bread or bananas, something to eat. I have been pulling together $10 or $20 per day to put gas in my old mini-van, and I only have enough left to drive to work the next day (but not enough to return home or drive the girls to their activities). The bank account is down to $7, and there’s no savings. Surely, surely God didn’t mean to give me money to give to someone else?! It’s got to be a mix up or maybe I have entered an alternate universe where everything is upside down.
After the meeting when I settle into my car, I open the envelope and see a $50 bill—perfect for my immediate gas, food, and toilet paper angst. I can sure “feel” this money burning a hole in my hand, but I don’t think that’s what Dave Ramsey meant by “feel the money”!
Behind the cash is a piece of paper that reads:
2 Corinthians 9:7 (NIV)
Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
          I laughed, bitter and humorless—seriously, God. You not only want me to give this to someone else, but you want me to do it with a cheerful heart?!  I could definitely see the irony, but I couldn’t dredge up the appropriate cheerfulness.
          As an aside: God has richly blessed me in many ways, even in the recent past, including through generous and giving people who have helped us, and I am not discounting those miracles or gifts at all. I am simply sharing all of the human emotions that accompany this adventure and sharing that I am in a dark and difficult place right now because I don’t see a way out of this pit of debt and difficulty.
          My mind swirls as idea after idea comes to me. I could use this money tonight, for example, to get some gas and food and then replace the $50 bill on Tuesday when I receive my deposit for a few hours of online tutoring. That doesn’t feel right, however, since one of the main things we are learning is to not borrow money. Plus, it just feels wrong, like I would be betraying someone—God, my church, myself—if I do it this way.
          While I start driving home, I rationalize and justify that I could definitely use the money to bless my girls. I could pay it forward to Lexi and Laina. After all, most of my income goes into providing for them, and I need gas and groceries to take care of them. Again, it doesn’t feel right. Not that it would be betraying anyone but that it wouldn’t be as big and as important as it could be. No, I don’t want to do it this way either.
          During all of this deliberation, a tiny seed sprouts and blooms in my mind, heart, and soul—God trusts me with this money. God trust me; my church trusts me, and my small group trusts me with money. I can trust myself with money.
          When I arrive home, I lock the envelope in my glove compartment and start praying, albeit a bit grudgingly, that God will show me who I should give it to. I also pray for immediate help with my troubles.
          Not long after I return home, our neighbor knocks on the door. He has just returned from a two-week vacation and hands me three Philly hoagies and a large sweet bun that he has brought for us. That takes care of breakfast and lunch the next day, which is a huge blessing.
          As I continue to reflect on this adventure, my heart lightens and my prayers change. I ask God to show me the way—a way to take care of what I need and a new way of approaching and handling money. I decide that God plans to do something big with this money. Since then, my constant prayer has been for Him to use me in big ways through this and to bring along someone who needs this more than I do (whether it’s the money they need or the kindness because people have shown me much kindness during these past few years, and some days, that makes all the difference in the world).
          On Monday, I receive $20 from a friend who owed me for pet-sitting, which allows me to fill my gas tank and return home from work. We use the last few dollars in the bank to buy toilet paper and a few ingredients to complete a delicious dinner. As we dine on chicken curry, it occurs to me how truly blessed we are. I recently read that if you make $30,000 per year, then you are among the top five percent of wage earners in the world. That is mindboggling. How can we have so much more than the rest of the world yet be so stressed, anxious, and ungrateful?
          I learned from my parents to live paycheck to paycheck, to barely make ends meet, to borrow from family, to always need help. Ever since I started this blog, I have been praying to become someone who blesses others rather than someone who needs blessings. Not that we all can’t use blessings at some points in our lives, but that I wish to feel secure and safe enough, that I long to have enough resources (both money and time) to help others more often. I guess God does answers prayers, so we better watch out for times when our prayers might clash.
          Ultimately, my prayer is for God to use me. As Ghandi said, I want to “be the change I want to see in this world.”

Friday, May 31, 2013

New Journeys

I stand with a friend, looking out the window at the beautiful beach scene. A dolphin fin flashes, and I smile. Life is good, and anytime I see a dolphin, I view it as a blessing of hope, freedom, promise. As I watch the dolphin play, a gigantic hand emerges from the ocean. I shake my head, but the hand remains. It reaches out and grabs the dolphin as a gigantic, monstrous head also emerges from the sea.
“This can’t be real. This cannot be real.” My friend continues her chant, disbelief running throughout her mind and body. How can a Greek myth be here right now in 2013? It doesn’t make sense, but as the huge mouth opens and the dolphin is thrust inside, we snap out of it.
“We have to hide,” I cry. I call for my girls and search for a place to hide.
My friend helps, but she says, “If it’s the end of the world, it’s better to be one of the first to die rather than fighting to survive and witnessing all of the death and destruction and loss.”
We both teach students to write about literature, and I think of “The Lottery” and of Ray Bradbury and Kurt Vonnegut’s stories. Is survival at any cost living? Is giving up living? Is it better to be a witness or a percentage or a fighter? Is the personal cost worth the freedom? Are we really living right now in 2013? Tornadoes, unemployment, hurricanes, war, school shootings, bizarre and strange stories…What is happening in our world today?
I set up a place for me and my girls to hide under a stairwell with blankets, water, and snacks. We settle in, and my friend goes to hide with others in a storm bunker. I want to shout and ask if we are hiding in the right place or if we should join them in the bunker, but I am terrified.
I wake up with the terror and fear lingering.
It’s not the first time that I have dreamt of mythological creatures rising out of the ocean nor of an Armageddon, and I usually dream of tornadoes when I am in emotional turmoil. Personally, I know what the dream means: it’s the question about whether to stay in Florida where I have made good friends and love living by the ocean or to move back to Missouri where I have family that I miss. It’s about the search for place and belonging, for safety and home.
Yet for all of us, the questions remain. What is going on in the world today, and where do we fit into what is happening?
Lexi graduated from high school this month, and she asked why I didn’t cry at graduation. I said, “Well, you’re still here.” She’s scheduled to go off to a performing arts school in NYC in October, and I’ve been trying not to think about that. However, on Tuesday, I sat down with Laina to write in the dates for her school activities this summer and next fall, and right there in October during the same week Lexi starts school in NY, Laina has an event scheduled.
That’s when it hit me. Lexi won’t be here to go with us to that event or the ones following. I still haven’t cried about it, but I’ve felt down, depressed.
Following my divorce, we created a close-knit family of three, and that is changing. Change is good, but it’s also difficult. Lexi will always be part of our family and have a place with us, yet now is the time for her to go off and have adventures and new experiences of her own. I hope that I’ve helped her develop confidence and a sense of herself and her place in this world, and I wish her a fun, crazy, fulfilling ride on her new journey.
Yet, yet, yet…as Laina has wailed, “What will we do without Lexi here?!”
She will leave behind a void in our home, a void in our hearts, a void in our happiness.
I know we will all be okay, but again questions remain.  Who will make us laugh after Lexi leaves?  How will we fit into our new lifestyle? What will our daily life look like then? And, where do we belong?
I don’t have any of the answers right now, but that’s okay. As Rumi says, live the questions. Besides, endings are really new beginnings, and so our new journeys begin…

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Blessing Lexi

Alexia Devin Johnson, daughter of Rachel, daughter of Barbara, daughter of Bonnie, daughter of Iva.  Alexia Devin, sister of Laina and daughter of Matthew, son of Doris and Clifford. Lexi, you have come from a long line of hard workers, innovators, and leaders.
Some of your ancestors have worked the land while others have educated future generations. Some have helped heal while others have helped govern. Still others have followed various artistic pursuits. Together, we leave you an example of people who make things happen. Together, we grace you with good genes and strong intellect. Together, we offer you our blessing.
Granny shared Proverbs 3:5-6. “Trust in The Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.”
She said, “I pray The Lord will bless you with a spirit of wisdom and knowledge and the desire to seek Him with all your heart!! I love you!”
          Grandma and Grandpa Johnson wrote, “Lexi you are a beautiful person, both inside and out.  You have accomplished a great deal in the last year academically.  But more importantly you have grown spiritually.  You are a good sister to Alaina and a great help to your mom. Our prayer for you as you begin a new adventure in the study of dance is to keep God close to your heart.  Make the Bible a part of your daily reading.  It will provide you with wisdom and guidance. Love you, Grandpa & Grandma Johnson”

They shared these Bible verses:
          "Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint."  Isaiah 40:31
          “Let Christ Jesus be your example as to what your attitude should be."  Philippians 2:5
          "With God all things are possible."  Matthew 19:26
          "This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it."  Psalm 118:24
          "Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything.  Ephesians 5:19-20
Matthew wrote, “To my Beloved Daughter: may you know the joy of your authentic self and remain forever true to your highest ideal of who you are. I love you always without fail and am so proud to be your father. May you know joy, love, and be awed by the life you lead. I love you! Dad.”
Laina said, “Lexi, you are amazing, talented, beautiful, confident, worthy, and you are my role model. Your strong relationship with God and your confidence and worth all make me want to be like you every day. I don’t know how I will make it without you those first few months when you go to New York, but I know you will be amazing there.  I love you.”

10 Things I Know To Be True
by Alaina Beth Johnson
1.                  Lexi, you are my sister, and you are beautiful. You are tall and athletic with dark brown hair that has waves like the ocean. You have the deepest brown eyes with a hint of green on the outer circle.
2.                  You are amazing and talented. Dancing is your talent, and you are the most amazing dancer I have ever seen. Dancing is natural to you, and you dance with grace, flow, technique, sharpness, poise, and life. When you dance, you tell a story that speaks through your body.
3.                  You are my best friend. You have been there for all of my firsts. From the first time I did gymnastics to the first time I went to school in sixth grade to the first time I ate at Chipotle in Viera.
4.                  You are always there for me, and I can talk to you about anything. You have been there for me for every time something hurt us. I always have you to talk to when something terrible happens.
5.                  You have had to take on some parental responsibilities for me...You are always there for me in love and caring, being there for me whenever I needed you, and when I didn’t.
6.                  You build me up. You always say nice things to me. You build my spirit and complement me on beauty, which is also complementing yourself since I look so much like you. You somehow know just what to say; when I am sad, you make me laugh.
7.                  You are a strong role model, and I look up to you. From every time I have asked to borrow your clothes to every time I want to be just like you because you are so amazing and confident, you shine like the brightest star in the sky; you have a glow that no one else does, and you have this amazingly strong relationship with God. Sometimes I wonder, when you move out, how on earth am I supposed to be so amazing and strong, so able to hold myself and someone else up? I look up to you more than anyone else.
8.                  You are hilarious and always make me laugh. You do the funniest things when you are not trying to be funny at all; like when I am taking a drink of water and you are jumping on our trampoline dancing to Gangman Style, and you hit your hand on the ceiling and make me spit my water out everywhere. You always make me laugh; even when I am depressed and don’t want you to be funny, you still somehow make me laugh until my lungs hurt and I am out of breath.
9.                  You are crazy. You may be crazy, but whenever we are home and it is just us, you are the craziest, weirdest, funniest, loudest, freakiest person I know. You are so hilarious with how crazy you are that you make me crazy and weird and freaky. You make me crazier and crazier every day, and I love it.
10.               I love you, Lexi, and appreciate you and all you have done for me.
I want to share with you Jeremiah 17:7-8.  “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord
and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.”
God blessed me when I became your mom, and I love you so much!
Matthew 5:3-12
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Lexi, you are a blessed and beloved daughter of God. You are loved; you are wanted; you are safe; you are wise. Wherever you are, our hearts and love are with you. Wherever we are, your heart and love is with us. Our hearts and spirit are with you always.
Remember that you are doing a “great work” like Nehemiah and “cannot come down” from that great work. With who you are and the way you live your life and the way you love Jesus, you are such an inspiration to others. Stay true to who you are and continue attacking life with all of your heart and passion. Be courageous and fearless.
Lexi, you are an amazing, intelligent, talented, authentic young woman who is full of beauty, life, love, and fun. It has been our privilege to journey with you as you have grown from a baby to a young adult, and it has been my privilege and joy to be your mother along the way. We look forward to watching you grow on your new journey. Dance into your future with our blessing, our love, and our faith in you. Laugh, love, and live in your heart. Travel with God’s love, His presence, His Word, and His promises.
With all our love and prayers,
Your family




Wednesday, May 15, 2013

How to Lose a Cold in Ten Days (or Less)

Some people tend to have a cold off and on all year while others rarely come down with a cold.  What makes the difference? Once we have a cold, how do we get rid of it?

Check out my post as a guest writer here to read about my experience with losing a cold.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

“Something Extraordinary and Beautiful”

I’ve had a run of bad luck lately, or so it seemed. Things come in threes, and I went for over a month without a working dryer, laptop, and vacuum at home. Finally, I was able to purchase those items, but you know how it goes with new products. The learning curve is frustrating and time-consuming. I’ve spent hours attempting to figure out how to use Windows 8, to print from the new laptop, and to upload final grades.  On top of all of that, I have to deal with late child support (which finally came) as well as hearing of even lower enrollment numbers (which means that I may not have enough classes to make ends meet this summer).
As a single, working mother who pieces together a living from various jobs, I don’t have time for all of these extra challenges, and life has felt extra overwhelming again. When I am already that fragmented, any little thing triggers despair or anger. I’ve been yelling at God recently, asking why my life has to be so complicated, demanding to know why I have so much to handle.
Thus, I went into the weekend feeling defeated and worried, but today (Mother’s Day) reminded me that I am so blessed.
To begin with, my gorgeous girls spoiled me, starting with making me breakfast. Over green smoothies and farm fresh eggs, they gave me special cards, flowers, and gifts. I love the cross necklace from Laina and the framed photo of the girls of us from Lexi. Laina presented me with two supermom cards, saying that I am her hero, while Lexi made a card with photos of them, quotes from famous authors, and Bible verses such as “Her children rise up and call her blessed…” from Proverbs: 32-38 and “Do not forsake your mother’s teaching” from Proverbs 6:20.
After breakfast, we attended church, and during the worship, I cried. We sang “One Thing Remains” by Jesus Culture, which goes, “On and one and on and on it goes / It overwhelms and satisfies my soul / And I never ever have to be afraid / One thing remains / Your love never fails it never gives up it never runs out on me.” I felt so filled up with God’s love, and I felt so extremely blessed. Blessed with God’s love, blessed with my daughters.
I stood in the front row with Laina on one side and Lexi on the other. God has blessed me with these amazing, wise daughters. No matter how difficult things have been in the past, no matter how hard they are now, no matter how challenging they will be in the future, I am so blessed and privileged to have these two daughters, to have a close relationship with them, to learn from them, to share with them, to be here with them. No matter what Matthew (their dad and my ex) has said or done, no matter what he will say or do in the future, I thank him for Lexi and Laina. They are worth it.
The pastor’s message was on how to deal with difficulties. As normal, I heard exactly what I needed to hear at CAV. It’s important to be defined by Christ, and not by our suffering, to see our self in Christ and not in the despair. Sometimes that is just as hard as whatever we are dealing with. I’d lost sight of who I am and was focusing on my troubles, my pain, my fears. Now I will turn my focus onto opportunities rather than dangers, as the pastor said today, and concentrate on how God can use my challenges for good.
This afternoon, we decided to see The Great Gatsby, which was brilliant, and afterwards, we analyzed the movie, deciding that it proved why it is so important who we choose as friends and that we are glad to be a little different than mainstream society. My girls thanked me for the time homeschooling them and showing them a different way to live.
Tonight, I am hanging out with my girls. They made a delicious dinner of roasted chicken, fried okra, fresh corn on the cob, and chocolate covered strawberries, and I am grateful that I had a day to rest. So, I go into the new week refreshed and content. I still have problems to work through and definitely have challenges coming up; however, my eyes are focused on who I am in Christ, and my heart is full of love.  Fitzgerald wrote in a letter that he wanted to "write something extraordinary and beautiful and simple and intricately patterned,” and similarly, I am open for "something new--something extraordinary and beautiful."
Happy Mother’s Day!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Blueberry Picking

     On an overcast April Sunday, we rode with our neighbor to pick blueberries at a local Upick place in Mims, Florida. Lexi stayed home to rest since she's getting over a cold, but the rest of us carried a white bucket lined with a plastic bag to the blueberry patch.  

           I spent the first 20 minutes trying the various kinds: Prima Donna, Emerald, Jewels, Spring Low, Spring High. The smaller patch with Spring High and Low were my favorites, so I started there. Unfortunately, a huge crowd had come through the day before, so we had slim pickings. I found as many as I could and then meandered to an Emerald row to pick with Laina.
          For an hour, we hunted for ripe blueberries, reaching out to pluck them and drop them in the bucket. Ku-plink, ku-plank, ku-plunk. I was reminded of the children's story I used to read to my girls when they were little (Blueberry Sal) about a little girl and a little bear who go blueberry picking with their mothers. Like Sal, we ate as many as we picked, at least at the beginning.
          Every ten minutes, we heard a loud “ca-caw, ca-caw” as a mechanical speaker broadcast to scare away any nearby birds. When I asked the owner where his scarecrows were, he said, “That's me.” If that noise doesn't scare them away, he runs out and yells at them, chasing them away from his plants.
          The day was gorgeous and peaceful. The clouds kept the sun from beating down on us, and a slight breeze cooled us further. As we reached between branches, the water from the early morning rain stained our shirts and shorts.
          The only frustration was the lack of ripe blueberries. We had to take a step back or move a branch or squat to look underneath in order to find a few ready to be picked. How like life, I thought, that a shift in perspective can bring bounty.
          “How many do you have?” Laina asked.
          “The bottom of my bucket's covered.”
          “I'm tired. Is it time to go yet?”
          She wasn't as bad as the little girl a row over who said that her dad had picked “four hundred berries” and then kept saying, “You have enough, daddy. You have enough.” However, we were working hard.
          We had envisioned bushes bursting with big blueberries. We had pictured handfuls of blueberries staining our fingers as we dropped them into our buckets. Instead, we had to work for them, bending and walking for over an hour. We each ended up with a little over a pound and a half, but it was worth it.
          Picking fresh blueberries reminded me that we are so blessed, that we take so much for granted. Yes, we can waltzed into the grocery store and buy a container of blueberries anytime of the year, but we still don't know what we are eating, what we are putting in our bodies, what we are participating in. Are they fresh? Are they organic? Were they sprayed with pesticides? Were they genetically modified in any way? Were they picked by workers who were paid a fair price for their labor?
          Outside in the blueberry patch, I worked for that pound and a half, and I left hungry and satisfied. Hungry for real food, satisfied by a job well done. Every time I eat a handful of those berries, I will know where they came from. I will know that my hard work produced them. I will know what I am eating.