A Tribute to my Dad

When I was in high school, my dad and I were not the best of friends.  Part of it was that we were so much alike we budded heads all the time. In my early adulthood, we still did not have much to say to each other, but we got along better.

This may not sound like much of a tribute, but wait.  After my mom passed away, I would visit my dad and we would literally sit across from each other without much to say after the weather and the news. As time went on, though, he would talk about his childhood, his teen years, his choices.  In the last years of his life, I got to know him very well.  Especially after he moved in with me and my family.  I heard many, many stories that gave me a better picture of who he was.

I heard, for example, of the day he left for Mexico, pretending that he would come back, but having no intention of returning.  I was less than a year old and he was overwhelmed with the idea of being a husband and father.  His father had left before he was even born and there were no male role models in the home he grew up.  In fact, he himself had been the male role model for his siblings, whom he financially supported since he was a kid!  But as the days went by in Mexico, he missed us.  He began to think of his growing up years and the challenges of growing up without a dad and that motivated him to come back and he never considered it again.

In the last years of his life, I came to appreciate my dad for who he was.  I’m not one to pretend that we had a perfect home growing up, we didn’t.  But my dad did a lot of things right.

Others readily remember him as a generous, hard working man, a man with a great sense of humor, a man who loved to be in a large crowd and recite poetry.  And they would be right.  He was all that, but so much more.

I felt honored when he would start a story with, “I’ve never told this to anyone before…” The highs and lows, the good and the bad.  All the while helping me understand who he was.  We talked a lot those last years.  Hours in the waiting room of doctors’ offices, having breakfast together every morning, going for walks together, driving to the store.

The day he passed away, I not only mourned that he was gone, but I mourned all the things he could have been.  He would have liked to go to college. He would have liked to travel. He would have liked to be so much more than he had the opportunity to be. But gosh, he overcame a lot of obstacles.

Thanks for doing your best, dad.  Thanks for coming back to be my dad.  And thank you for setting the bar high on determination and a sense of responsibility.  You’d be happy to know that your entrepreneurial gene is alive and well in my family, too.  Thank you! I love you and I miss you. Happy Father’s day.

 

Helping others in the midsts of our needs

HiThis morning I was reading the story in the Bible of when Jesus met Simon Peter. You probably remember it. Jesus is teaching a crowd of people by the shore and the crowds are pressing in on Him. He sees Simon, who has been fishing without any luck and is now washing his nets, getting ready to go home. He asks Simon to take Him out on his boat a little ways so He can teach from there and Simon does it. (You can read the whole story in Luke 5.)

Simon must have been frustrated, disappointed and stressed because he counted on fishing to make a living and provide for his family. He probably just wanted to go home and sulk. Then comes Jesus and turns his plans around. And the favor Jesus asks of him will not help him solve his problem. In fact, just the opposite. Now he has to stay longer and use his boat for the benefit of someone else. But Simon says yes.

I can’t remember how many times God has asked me to do something that does not promise benefit to me in the midst of great need. I’d be looking for a way to make some side income or we would be in the middle of some major change or challenge and suddenly I would get…another serving opportunity! Often I have felt like saying no, just because I’ve told myself I have my own problems.

Now while I’d be the first to say that we all have to practice balance and place boundaries on the amount of time we serve, we sometimes use our circumstances as an excuse to not serve at all. Yet I know many under resourced people who give of their time in the middle of their need. They serve at church and their communities, while they themselves have enormous needs. They are some of the most generous people I know. They do not give out of an abundance of resources, but out of an abundance of their hearts.

The good news is that Simon’s story doesn’t end there. After Jesus finished teaching, He told Simon to go deeper into the water and told him where to throw his net. Peter was faced again with whether or not to trust Jesus. After all, he had just washed his nets (I’ll write about this in another post)!  He did as Jesus told him, and the fish he caught that day were so numerous, he needed help to get them back to shore.

Just as Simon provided a service for Jesus, we are reminded in Matthew 25:40 that whenever we help someone, it is as if we do it for Him. Helping people in the midst of our own needs is never wasted. It’s more of a circle of blessing. God blesses us, we in turn bless others, and because we are not stingy with what God gives us, He continues to bless us and we continue to bless and so on.

Simon did not know that Jesus would provide abundantly that night. He simply helped where Jesus said that help was needed. Not only did Jesus provide that night, but He invited Simon to be part of a bigger picture. Not only to provide for his family, but to provide for all who were lost. And Simon Peter once again said yes.

Is God inviting you to help someone or serve somewhere in the middle of your own need? Will you say yes? It might be just what you need.

 

During a crisis, remember the kids.

Kids know when something's wrong.
Kids know when something’s wrong.

Recently my daughters  and I were remembering a crisis we experienced  ten years ago. We talked about how old they were at the time and their perception or interpretation  of what was happening at the time. I learned that in the midst of our crisis, Arturo and I did some things right and some we could have done better.

Here are some things that are important to keep in mind regarding our kids when we are going through a difficult time.

1.  They know something’s  wrong. No matter what age they are, kids pick up on our level of anxiety. What they can’t pick up on is the source of our anxiety. So it’s important to let them know that something is going on and that they did not cause it.

Share age appropriate information. Trying to guess what’s wrong can be exhausting and scary, so don’t keep them guessing. Ask them to pray with you and keep them updated. Especially if you have shared with friends, you want your kids to hear what’s  going on from you, not your friends’  kids.

2.  Set guidelines for caregivers. During our crisis we were in and out of hospitals for months. We relied a lot on friends and family to take care of our kids while we were gone. During that time, well meaning babysitters made them feel powerless by setting rules that we didn’t have or “teaching” them lessons, when all they wanted to do was be together and play or go to their rooms and have alone time.

Take the time to make a list that  gives specific instructions on what you want from caregivers.  Empower your kids to say “no” if what they’re being asked to do is uncomfortable. Give them permission to say to an adult, “Our parents don’t have us do that” or, “I’d like to call my mom and double check on that.”  Crises already make a child feel helpless. Giving guidelines to caregivers can help ease their fears.

3.  Reassure your children. Crises are a scary time for kids. If you don’t reassure them that everything will be fine, they won’t assume it. They need constant updates and they need to see that you’re OK. You might have to say it in faith, but they need to hear it.

As part of our crisis, my mom passed away. My then three year old would silently cry in a corner somewhere. One of the kids would go find me and I would go sit with her while she cried. She was too young to verbalize what she was feeling at the time so we would just hug.

Years later she said she used to cry alone because she missed her grandma.  She didn’t want to tell me because  I must miss her more, since she was my mom. She didn’t want to remind me of the pain by crying in front of me. Wow! She was three! Don’t underestimate the pain your kids are going through, no matter what age they are. Talk to them.

At one point or another, everyone of us will experience some sort of a crisis. Remember, you’re not going through it alone. Even if they are not directly involved, your kids are affected through you. Keep them in the loop. You’d be surprised how strong kids are. Inform them, empower them and reassure them. God can use even crises to bring families closer together. So don’t forget the kids.

Planning the summer with the kids

Whether you send your kids to school, home school, are a working mom or a stay at home mom, summer brings a whole new daily schedule. Our kids can get easily bored and resort to watching T.V. all day.  We have certainly had some of that in our home. I have found that when I plan the summer, even if it doesn’t all happen as I plan, it goes much better than if I just wait for things to happen.Here are some things that worked for us.

  1.  Make a summer chore list. Kids have more time on their hands in the summer. It’s good to add some age appropriate chores to keep them busy and productive. If you already have a list, summer is also a good time to switch kids off on responsibilities. I usually made a list of chores that had to be done around the house and the kids would choose which ones they would do. Then I would type up a nice color coordinated chore list and put it on the refrigerator. It wasn’t a perfect system, and it didn’t always get done, but it helped to have that accountability factor so they knew what was expected each day without me having to tell them or being upset because I had not rounded everyone up t tell them what to do.
  2. Make a summer read list. Summer is a great time to catch up on some reading or read some fun books. Have your kids pick some books they would like to read or would like you to read to them. You can take them to a forest preserve, have a picnic and sit and read. They can read outside, in a tree, on the trampoline, or just about anywhere. What a great way to enjoy the weather and a good book!
  3. Ask the kids what they would like to do. Get a  list of things from each child that they would like to do over the summer. I usually asked for the top three things from each. You might find that several of the kids want to do the same thing, for example three out of four might want to go to the beach often. They might all want to go to the zoo. The activities that most of the family wants to do can be your priorities for the summer.  Getting the kids’ input will help them look forward to summer. And don’t forget yours and your husband’s lists as well!
  4. Be resourceful.  Some of those things on the list might be a little too unrealistic for our budget. But don’t dismiss them yet! Use your imagination. Be creative. Can’t go on vacation? How about a staycation, where you stay home and plan outings. We have done our share of camping out in the backyard with the added bonus of having a bathroom in the house just a few feet away!
  5. Get a pass. Purchasing a year-round pass to a museum or zoo is a great way to enjoy your free time. We used to buy a family pass and use it all year long. By the time the pass expired we were done with that museum and moved on to another family pass.
  6. Slow down. Summer passes super fast. It’s easy to just keep our routine and put off our plans to later. Before you know it, summer is gone and back to school is just around the corner. Schedule slow down time on your calendar to purposefully spend time enjoying the nice weather. Schedule a cookout. Have a picnic at the park.  Lay down with your kids in the backyard to look at the clouds and guess what they look like! Or go stargazing.
  7. Be spontaneous. Have an hour or two to spare? Don’t hesitate to just get up and go. Take the kids for a walk. Drive to the ice cream shop. Go to a matinee. Declare a bummy day, stay in pajamas, play some board games and watch a movie.

Dishes, housework, laundry, they will all be there when you get back, I promise. Don’t miss out on your kids this summer. They will never be this age again. Enjoy them. Work with what you have, use your imagination and be present. It doesn’t have to be extravagant. It just has to be done together.

Decluttering and letting go

china plateOne of my challenges as I unpack in my smaller home is to decide what to throw away, what to give away and what to keep. I find that I  have the hardest time getting rid of things that have a memory attached to them. Things like my mother’s china.

I have a lot less kitchen space than I used to. That led me this week to reconsider everything I used to have in my kitchen. One of the things I came across was part of my mother’s china. As I unpacked it I remembered the day my mother bought it. She bought a china cabinet to go with it! I still have the china cabinet, but the china is incomplete and I have my own china. As a result, my mom’s china had been sitting in my cabinet at the other house, never touched, never used.

It’s interesting how even when we are not using something, we have a hard time parting with it. How can we get to the point where we can let go? Here are some questions I’m asking myself as I unpack my boxes.

  1. Is it useful.  I’m amazed at how many things we have that don’t even work anymore! I’m not sure what we’re waiting for. Those we can just throw away. Warning: Don’t go back to look through the bag once you throw things out.
  2. Do I use it. When we moved, I found a box in the garage that we hadn’t looked through in four years. I took a quick look to make sure it wasn’t important, but honestly, if I haven’t used it in four years, I should probably get rid of it. If it’s in working order and we haven’t used it, we should probably give it away and let someone else enjoy it. No need to to think about how it might come in handy some day. Right now it is taking up space and energy. A word about those clothes we might fit into again some day. If I ever lose so much weight that I can fit into the clothes I used to wear, I am getting myself a whole new wardrobe!
  3. Is there someone who would appreciate it. Among the giveaways, we have things that are difficult to part with because of the memories they hold. The problem is that if they are not being used, they are taking up space and deteriorating. Eventually they will not look the way they did when they were forming memories and they will end up broken and tattered. However, maybe we can think of someone who could appreciate that object and enjoy it the way we used to. Such a thing happened last week with me.

Looking at my mother’s china, trying to find a place for it, my brother and sister-in-law came to mind. So this weekend when they came over for dinner, I gave them the china. My sister-in-law was so thrilled. She never met my mom and was truly touched that I would consider giving her something so precious to me. We looked online and found how she could replace the missing pieces and she left very excited and grateful.

I originally dreaded the idea of downsizing, but now I’m understanding the value in it.  Considering whether something is useful, whether I use it now or finding someone who will appreciate it, has become a good exercise for me.  It helps me reevaluate what will stay and what will not.  It helps me be better at decluttering and letting go.

Crossroads

It happens often. I need to get to a certain address I’ve never been to before. My GPS is not working or is unclear. The directions I was given didn’t include this crossroad I’m on. Is it left or right? Now most people would say, well, guess. There’s a 50/50 chance that you make the right choice. But I am convinced that those odds do not apply to me. If I have to guess, it’s more like 90/10. And the odds are not in my favor. When I do make the turn, I find that I’m usually wrong. To which I conclude, “And that’s why I don’t play the lottery.”

In life, taking the wrong road can be costly. It can cost money, time, opportunity and more importantly, relationships. How can we be sure we are taking the right turn? Making the right choice? Here are a few steps we can take to help us in the process.

  1.  Pray. The most important ingredient to important decisions is wisdom. And God is the wisest Person I know. Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.” That’s what I’m afraid of! That I’ll make, what appears to be a good decision, and then later I regret it. So pray for wisdom.
  2. Review your goals. According to Greg McKeown in a podcast with Michael Hyatt on his book Essentialism, every 90 days we should take a day to review the last 3 months. Were we true to our goals? What adjustments do we need to make? Then we make plans for the next 90 days (click on Greg McKeown‘s name above to listen to the podcast).
  3. Stay focused. I love to write. I write my blog, I write curriculum, I journal, and I’ve even written a book that I’m editing. But it is so hard to actually sit down to start. The distractions are limitless. My biggest obstacles are shadow missions. In one of my favorite books, Overcoming Your Shadow MissionJohn Ortberg writes about those things that we might be good at or that we might like to do but that actually distract us from our true purpose. Before you commit to something, think about how it will affect those things that are really important to you. Will it improve them or will it get in their way?
  4. Choose. Staying at the crossroad can be more stressful than actually making the wrong choice. Most choices can be reevaluated. We can make adjustments. Turn back. Take a detour. But sitting at the crossroad too long wastes time and makes us lose momentum. And it robs us of peace.

Crossroads can be stressful, but they can also be seen as opportunities to move forward. Pray, review your goals, stay focused on what is most important and then choose.

 

Paper Dolls and a Mother’s Love

Paper dolls. They were my toy of choice when I was four.  I loved looking through the pages of paper doll cut outs with their outfits, shoes, jewelry.  So many combinations!  These days they are hard to find. When you do run across them, they have perforations for easy removal.  But in my day, they were really made of paper and only the doll was made of card stock. No perforations, no easy removal. It could take hours to cut everything out. And if I made a mistake, I could cut the little flap that attached the clothes to the doll and ruin the whole outfit!

One day while at the drugstore, my mom bought me one of those deluxe, super thick paper doll books. It had 6 dolls! Wow! I was mesmerized. But it was going to take a long time to get all those outfits cut out.  It was late when we got home and my mom sent me to bed, even though I begged her to let me start cutting. The next day was Saturday and my mom didn’t have to go to work so we could be home all day. I wanted to cut them out before I went to bed and then spend the whole day playing with them the next. My mom wouldn’t have it. Looking back, I couldn’t have gotten much done anyway, but I was disappointed.

The paper dolls were the first thing on my mind as I got up early the next morning. We lived in a small apartment and I could see my mom from my bed as she was sweeping the living room. When she saw me awake, she went to the table and got a large thick envelope. As she got closer I began to understand what was in there.  The paper dolls! She had cut out all the outfits, all the jewelry, every detail and the six dolls!  I remember it like it was yesterday.

Not until I had my own kids did I fully appreciate the amount of time and how late she must have gone to sleep cutting those pieces out.  Now I appreciate the sacrifice and the kindness even more.

That day we bonded. That day I realized that she was for me. We had a lot of bumps along the road after that. Moments of true rebellion on my part during my teenage years. But always that memory was embedded in my mind. My mom cared about the little things in my life. She didn’t do everything for me, that would have been a mistake. But she knew what I cared about and did her best to provide. Balance is everything. Do you have a moment in time when you realized your mom was for you?

For me it was paper dolls. Who knew they would be so important in my understanding of a mother’s love.

 

 

How do we handle regret?

Recently I was reminded the difference between disappointment and regret. Disappointment has to do with expectations. Our expectations can be dependent on our own actions, the actions of others, circumstances beyond our control or a combination of any of these.

Regret, however, has to do with choices.  Choices that we have made. Hindsight is 20/20 they say. And it can be riddled with regret. We all have regrets we have to deal with and some are harder to get past than others. Regret can be paralyzing.  It doesn’t allow us to move forward in that area because we are always revisiting the moment we made,  what we think is, the wrong decision. So how do we get past regret?

1.  Learn from it
On this side of regret, it doesn’t matter why we made the choice we made. At the time, for whatever reason, we made that particular choice and there’s no way to go back a choose differently.  What we can do is learn from our mistakes. What drove us to make that decision? Was it fear? Pressure from others? Time constraints? Lack of information?  Lapse in judgment?  Knowing what motivated us can help us not make the same mistake again.

2.  Guard your heart from what if’s.
The truth is that hindsight is not 20/20. In fact, it’s quite distorted. Since our present situation is not what we wanted, we live in the “what if” world where the other choice would have been better. The problem with that is that there is no way of knowing how accurate we are in our belief that we would have been better off with that situation.  Too many variables! Of course we think that would have been better! Yes, it might have been better in some ways, but it would have brought it’s own challenges. Because that is life. There is no such thing as an easy or perfect way. Every scenario has its own challenges. And there’s no guarantee that had we made that choice, we wouldn’t be sitting there regretting not having made this one! There’s simply no way of knowing, yet we spend a ton of energy envisioning what might have been instead of making the best of what is.

3. God works everything for good. Our God is a resourceful God. Some of the greatest stories I’ve heard have been the ones where God took the worst decisions and turned them around. He makes no exceptions. He will do that for anyone who takes their mistakes and hands them over to Him to fix.

Regret is painful. It’s paralyzing.  It focuses on the past, wasting our present and stealing our future. While it is true that our bad choices can lead to bad situation,  there is no reason to dwell on it. It is done. All we can do now is learn from it, guard our hearts from the what if’s and remember that God can turn anything around. Move forward. There is more to be done. And with your experience, you’re just the one for the job.

Focus your energy on those things that ONLY you can do.

Having six kids to home school while managing a home, volunteering at church and all the “little” things that take up so much time brought me a desire early on to read a lot of books on time management. One thing I always took away from these great books was to focus on what is truly important first, then squeeze in those other non-essentials.

Recently, this has gotten me thinking of another principle I have to continually put in check. Focusing my energy on those things that ONLY I can do.

I need to catergorize the things I do and ask myself,, “Could I pay someone to do this and  get the same or even better results?” If the answer is yes, then that is not something ONLY I can do. However, if the answer is no, then that is where most of my energy and resources should be going.

Here are some things that only I can do.

  1.  Provide a loving environment for my family.
  2. Nurture my relationship with my husband
  3. Create a safe environment for communication and positive influence in my home.
  4. Prepare my kids for adulthood.
  5. Be an example of godly character
  6. Study my children to see how they learn best and provide the tools for them to do so.

Most of these things are done in the midst of the mundane. We may not do them perfectly, but if we are not present, we won’t get to do them at all.  I have to constantly remind myself that every time I say yes to one thing, I’m saying no to another.  The challenge is to remember which is which.

My best investment, my best resources, my best effort should be put in those things that only I can do. That is where the battle is won or lost. That is where the greatest gain will be.

 

 

Three life hacks I learned by downsizing

Our family recently moved to a smaller place.  We no longer need a big place, since many of our children no longer live at home. I have personally found it challenging to make the change, but in the midst of it all I have learned a few hacks that are good to remember on a bigger scale.

1.  You can’t take it all with you.
The best news I received came when I discovered that spring cleaning in our town would be 2 days after we moved! This meant that we could leave whatever we didn’t want or need on the curb and Monday morning, the town would pick it up! Couches, broken tables and appliances, pieces of wood,  you name it, it could all go on the curb.

It was a bitter sweet experience to tag what would go to our new house and what we either had to give away or put on the curb. The reality was that the house we were moving into was much smaller. Having a big house meant you could just keep piling in without having to make that kind of choice. But needing to have a place for everything and have everything in its place pushed us to be intentional about what we took with us.

Similarly,  when we decide to be intentional about our future,  we find we have to make a list of what we can take with us and what we need to let go of. It is both freeing and scary.

When I went back to school I found that I had pockets of time that I wasted on an episode of a tv show or sitting doing nothing productive, or making several trips just because I hadn’t organized a time to do errands. Having homework to do in the the midst of an already busy schedule made me take a hard look at those pockets of time and use them more productively.

It can be scary to break a routine we’ve had for a long time or let go of something that is familiar to us. But sometimes, all that is left worth saving is the memory of how it used to work. Now it’s just one more thing to manage or one more waste of time. Perhaps you’re at a different season and you can be doing something more productive or more conducive to who you are now. Don’t be afraid to put that on the curb.

2.  You don’t need as much as you think.
When my kids were little, I used to try to be prepared for every possible thing that could go wrong when we went out. Hunger, pain, cuts, soiled clothes, drawing opportunities,  reading opportunities,  hunger again, thirst, the list was never ending. The result was a very heavy bag and a lot of preparation time. The fact is that I never needed everything I had. Recently, some of my kids and I decided to go to the zoo. I quickly started to make a mental list of everything we needed. One of my kids stopped me and said, “Mom! We’re all grown up and we all have jobs! You don’t need to make sandwiches and we certainly don’t need the wagon! We can all pay for our own lunch. Let’s just go!”

Again, bitter sweet. But what a great time! It was freeing to not have to carry anything and just enjoy the day.

Most of us are carrying way too much emotional and/or physical baggage, while others  are convinced that they’re stuck because they don’t have what they need to move forward. The truth is, you don’t need as much as you think.

3. Creativity flourishes when needed.
My kitchen is small. It’s my least favorite thing about our new house, probably because of the amount of time I’m in it! Getting everything in its place is a work in progress. But I find that I’m enjoying looking for creative ways to fit everything that I need.

We all have creativity. But for most of us, it doesn’t really take off until we need to become resourceful. Not having everything we would like in place in order to move forward might be frustrating, but it is also an opportunity to be more resourceful; to use creativity to get to where we want to go and not give up.

Just like looking for the perfect house that doesn’t exist, we will never have the perfect environment to move forward or make the changes we need to make. Growing, overcoming bad habits, changing seasons, these all require a reevaluation of where we are and where we want to be.

Am I trying to bring everything with me even though it doesn’t fit anymore or it doesn’t even work? Do I need to get creative with what I have?  If so, what an opportunity to downsize!