When a loved one faces a crisis, simply show up. (And maybe shush up a teeny little bit.)

Last Tuesday found me driving through miles of cornfields, sweating through my good silk polyester blouse. The air conditioning in the van was out, the mid-May temperatures had skyrocketed to the high eighties, and I had no choice but to get in that hot box with wheels and drive to the middle of nowhere.

I mean, technically I drove to the middle of Michigan but that’s pretty much the middle of nowhere.

A family member had passed away and I was headed to the funeral. I wasn’t sure what I was about to experience in what was bound to be a very difficult service. I was absolutely certain I had nothing to say, no way to help, and zero ability to relate to their pain.

It was hard, folks. Sometimes life is just so hard, and even though we walk next to the pain, not directly through it ourselves, being on the fringes can be hard too. Sometimes we pull away because we realize we have no way to make it better, and fear any words we offer will only make things worse.

But I’ve learned this– pulling away is the worst possible thing we can do.

What we do is this– we show up.

That’s it. Our very presence is often the best gift we can offer. It doesn’t have to be just at a funeral, either. Sometimes we show up in hospital rooms, on front porches, church sanctuaries, or backyard fire pits. Anyplace your loved one finds herself, join her there.

This is why I drove through cornfields and gladly sweated through that blouse. I did it because I learned an important lesson more than twenty years ago when my grandmother passed away. Although Grandma had lived for more than seven decades in her Polish Catholic community in Detroit, she’d moved across the state a few years before she’d died. My mother was an only child and it seemed fitting that Grandma lived close to us as she aged.

When Josie died and we planned the funeral, my twenty-year old self knew, just absolutely knew, that no one would come. Grandma had only lived in our town for a few short years, and really hadn’t developed strong friendships or ties. Who was going to drive to our little podunk town just for a short funeral?

I’ll tell you who. The Polacks, that’s who. They showed up in droves. It felt like hundreds of wrinkly old Polish people drove in from Detroit, Chicago, and Toledo.

Many of them didn’t even talk to me, and they didn’t need to. Their presence in that little funeral service was more than enough. Their effort to be there spoke love to us.

There was one little guy who did speak to me, and he told me about how wonderful my grandmother had always been. Then he told me how nice her figure was (my grandma was hot?!) while his wife was standing next to him, and I’m pretty sure I’ll take the memory of that awkward conversation to my grave. So honestly it would have been better if he hadn’t spoken at all.

Which brings us to our point about shushing up…

It’s often our anxiety that runs our mouth in uncomfortable situations. We don’t know what to say, so we say all the things.

No. Please, just no jabbering to calm our own nerves.

This is the space to listen.

This is the space to choose to be calm and very, very attentive.

This is the space for hugs. Possibly gifts of chocolate or a cake.

And if there are words to be spoken, they need to be very encouraging, kind, and gracious. Completely focused on the other person, not our own story to tell.

Also, those words need to be really brief.

That’s it. We just need to show up and shush up.

The last two years have brought some really difficult situations into our family. Never have I had the answers or the solutions or anything close to the right words.

But three times I’ve looked into a cousin’s eyes and seen the difference that showing up makes.

And yes, on the way home I stopped for a milkshake with 800 calories that barely took the edge off my emotions, but while I was there I pulled it together for their sake.

Friends, let’s show up for one another. May our presence speak love when there just aren’t words.

 

 

Letting go of what no longer works for you

Picture this. Family dinner after church, in celebration of Mother’s Day. While around the table someone made an innocent comment that was, quite frankly, hilarious and also completely and totally inappropriate if you took it the wrong way. (Which we did.) Those close enough to hear it froze, completely aware of how funny the comment was, but also aware of the kids at the table.

One of us broke down and snickered a little, then repeated the comment. Our daughter, an eighth grader, laughed and laughed because NOTHING GETS BY EIGHTH GRADERS, especially if it’s inappropriate. Soon Grandpa was yelling, “What?!” from the other end of the table and we refused to tell him because there are just some things you can’t shout cross the room at Sunday dinner.

Well, not at Eric’s family’s house anyway. My own family would have yelled it and then the entirety of us would have howled with delight, but Eric’s family is a little more proper about these things.

But let’s forget what was actually said and focus on the fact that we laughed over this silly thing with our child. We all realized it was funny.

Things change. Parenting changes.

Ten years ago we could talk about anything in front of the child and most of it went right over her head. She was sweet and innocent and really excited about JoJo’s Circus and Dora the Explorer. But we can’t parent her like she’s four years old anymore, because she’d get eaten alive in middle school.

We’ve had to let go of parenting styles that worked for a certain period of time, and we’ve embraced this new age. New responsibilities, new freedoms, new challenges.

And now let’s talk about the couches at church.

I don’t know about your house of worship, but our church building is where old couches go to die. It’s a slow death, plopped in the youth room where teenagers flop on them, toddlers leap from cushion to cushion, and old women (me) nap on them when they get too tired.

Some of the most hideous couches ever created had come home to die in our youth room. Not to mention the closet was full of junk no one recognized. Not to mention the walls had been painted in 2003 and had suffered fourteen years of abuse from hyperactive teenagers.

Yes, we knew it was ugly. We knew things had to change but no one had the guts to drag the couches to the dumpster. (Or set fire to them in the parking lot, which would have been more fun.) ((But the fire department disapproves, apparently.))

Our new worship leader arrived a few weeks ago, and he has no qualms about getting rid of old, crappy couches. He had us pile them up so they could be disposed of ASAP. He ordered a crew to clean out the closet, not really caring who donated the old costumes that were used in a sermon skit in 1985. (For the record, it was the church’s Clean Up Week, and we’d all shown up to work. It’s not that Mike is a Bossy Pants.)

The couches are gone, the closet is clean, and new paint is on the way. We’re letting go of what no longer serves us.

I don’t know why we get so paralyzed and cling to stuff that used to work but now just weighs us down.

It can be really hard to realize your child is growing up. It can be terrifying to throw out a couch, wondering who donated it and if they’ll be mad because you tossed their hideousness to the curb.

All the change is upsetting, sure. But isn’t it more upsetting if nothing ever changes? Are babies supposed to stay babies? If your kid was 18 but still in a crib and trying to nurse, you’d be freaking out a little.

If your spouse never changed, you’d still be married to a twenty-two-year old who likes thrash metal and trucks from the 1970s.

If your church never changed, you’d be missing opportunities to engage the culture that lives right outside the door.

It’s okay to take a good, hard look at your life. All of it. And it’s even more okay to accept that something isn’t working and needs to be changed.

Comfortable? Never.

But life-bringing? Absolutely.

Could you use a nap and a million dollars?

Dear Reader (you, the cute one sitting over there. I mean you),

Could you use a nap and a million dollars?

OF COURSE YOU COULD. Everyone could.

We’re tired and we’re stressed out and we’re sick of it. A nice long nap and a million bucks would solve quite a few of our problems.

We’re tired of being tired and we’re tired of the adult stress.

We’re pretty sure adulthood wasn’t supposed to look like this, with the dirty laundry and the piles of bills on the counter and the really, terribly, stupidly annoying people who are trying to make us insane.

I know it’s bad manners to call people stupid. I’m not calling people stupid– I’m calling them stupidly annoying. You see? It’s different. (If you could see me right now, you might notice a wee bit of an eye roll situation occurring on my face.)

But guess what. I’ve written a book for us all.

I Could Use a Nap and a Million Dollars: Biblical Alternatives to Stressed Out Living is on the way. Coming to you sometime in Winter of 2018, the publication wheels are already grinding away. My editor and I have been sending the manuscript back and forth, getting the details just so. Once again I remember how a good editor makes a writer sound much, much smarter than she really is. I love editors so much.

But I love you, the reader, even more. Writing this third book was really hard. I sat down every day at the computer and I asked God to give me insight on what you needed. I want to encourage you, I want to make you see things differently, and I possibly want to make you shoot some sort of beverage out your nose every once in a while.

To do this, I wrote about a zillion chapters to cover every kind of stress: Housekeeping, finances, annoying relatives, discontentment, and pride. Just to cover a few, you understand. I can’t promise that every chapter will connect to every woman who reads the book, but I did my best to approach it all with honesty, ridiculousness, and encouragement. And then I searched the Bible to find how we can adjust our hearts to find the peace and abundant life Jesus promised us.

I hope you’re excited to find a better way to live! I know I am. We’ll be discussing it here on the blog, too. I’ll be telling you all sorts of awkward stories about stress in my life and we’ll laugh and laugh and laugh.

Well, you can laugh and I’ll join you after my eye stops twitching.

 

Does your family love to travel? I have just the book for you!

I take it as my solemn duty to find excellent books for you, my dear reader. Good news– just as the summer is coming, I’ve found the perfect vacation read. At Home in the World, a brand new book by Tsh Oxenreider, will make you feel like you traveled around the world.

Except without the jet lag and the culture shock and the tiny little issue of funding the trip.

The Oxenreiders did it for us! And then Tsh recorded it all for us to enjoy. And some of it she recorded so we can be really glad we didn’t have to experience it– like the home they rented where the sewer next door sort of exploded and then soaked the neighboring properties in unpleasantness. Or the long, dusty trip across a portion of Africa with three children. Those parts we can experience from a comfortable distance.

Most of the book is full of thoughtful explanations of why their family decided to take this nine-month journey from Asia, to the Pacific region, Africa, Europe, then home. What motivated them, why they sold their house, what was important to them as they traveled– we learn all these things as we enjoy the experience with them.

If you like to travel but feel guilty about it, like this is some sort of needless extravagance, this is precisely the book you need. Our family arranges our entire schedule and budget to travel as much as we can, and I often have to fight off a nagging feeling that we could be doing something much better with the money. This book reminded me that we’re not being extravagant. We’re teaching our children (and ourselves) something valuable by moving beyond our own world.

If you like the idea of travel but find it uncomfortable, expensive, or impossible for whatever reason, this is also the book for you. The Oxenreiders saw beautiful and important things all around the world, but also grew closer as a family. They played on playgrounds and saw Victoria Falls. They moved through the chaos of an Asian street and played in the woods with friends.

Real life, all around the world. I promise you won’t be disappointed. Click here for the At Home in the World’s Amazon page.

(All photos are courtesy of Tsh Oxenreider and her launch team, which I was happy to join! I received a free digital copy of the book, but all opinions are my own. Also, all Amazon links are affiliate links. End of fine print. Amen.)

All the lies they tell young mothers

Young moms: you have been lied to. Just a little bit.

The lies are uttered with the best intentions from liars who aren’t malicious– just forgetful.

“Cherish every minute,” random people tell you. “These moments are precious and fleeting and you will miss them when they’re gone,” they claim.

I roll my eyes at these fools and their rose-colored glasses of yesteryear. For your sanity, let me set a few things straight:

Your children are indeed precious. They are beautiful, created in the image of the Creator, and when they sleep they look exactly like angels. Whether you gave birth to them or adopted them matters not– they are humans of infinite value and worth. Please do cherish your children. You’ll never regret the work they take or the sleep you lose, and your heart will continue to swell with love for them forever, it seems.

However, some of the parts of young motherhood are exhausting and horrible and you will, in fact, not miss them. And you shouldn’t feel guilty for loathing certain parts of the job because you’re basically doing the world’s hardest work around the clock.

The list of things you will not actually miss:

You will not miss screaming toddlers in the car, running three different directions after three tiny children, watching five episodes of Calliou in a row, Goldfish Crackers smashed into the carpet of your vehicle, potty training accidents, explosive poopy diapers in expensive stores, holding them down for immunizations, temper tantrums in front of Grandma, keeping them out of the pond at the park, chasing them around the jungle gym, screaming fits at church, nursing a baby seven times in three hours, marital intimacy interrupted by a hoard of short people pounding on your bedroom door, small fingers reaching under the bathroom door as you try to tinkle in private, STICKINESS EVERYWHERE IN YOUR HOUSE (good lord, how do they get everything so sticky??), or digging in their mouths for whatever foreign object they just popped in there.

Trust me.

One day you’ll be sitting quietly with a book or wandering thoughtfully through a store, clothed and in your right mind, and your children will be right there with you– walking quietly or even having an intelligent conversation.

Sure, they’ll be older and sassier and might smell a little funny. Their teeth might be coming in all cattywampus and they might be wearing socks that haven’t been laundered since October.  You will miss the pudgy baby buns and the wispy, feathery hair. You’ll miss how they lisped words wrong for a while, and you’ll remember how sweet they smelled after a bath.

And yes, you will certainly miss the days when they couldn’t talk at all and therefore couldn’t sass back or point out your every error.

But please ignore the fools who will try to get you to believe every single moment is precious and adorable and glorious. They’re simply too old to remember the work that tiny children require. Do not beat yourself up if you’re finding your life less than enjoyable and sometimes think about running away to a beach in a tropical country with no cell service.

You are a good mom, even when you don’t feel like it. You’re doing a great job, even when your children are insufferable and you’re sure you’re screwing it all up. You will make it, even though you feel like your last nerve was shredded two days after their birth.

Motherhood is hard. Anything worth doing is often hard, and rarely requires that every moment has to be bronzed and polished and remembered with joy.

You’re doing it, Mother of Little People. And your kids will one day grow into great humans because of your work. Don’t lose hope.

And know that some of the older moms around you keenly remember every tantrum and endless day– we’re rooting for you, not silently judging you in the canned vegetable aisle. We’re on your side, I promise.

Together we can outwit the liars with the bad memories who make you feel terrible on accident. Just remember these days accurately, so you can one day throw a lifeline to a mom younger than yourself.

My Three Favorite Things About the Mediterranean Love Plan

When I accepted the opportunity to be on the launch team for The Mediterranean Love Plan, I was hoping for a free book. I like to travel and I love to be married, so I thought maybe the book might be a good fit for me to review.

Lucky for me, and hopefully for you, the book was an awesome fit and I learned a lot. Eric and I have been married long enough that we’ve gotten through the weird first years when everything was new and challenging, and then we gritted our teeth and made it through the baby and toddler years, and then we coasted through the kids being in elementary school. (Also known as “the years when Jessie actually understood math homework.”)

Now we’re helping the kids plan for their futures as independent adults. In the blink of an eye this house is going to be empty and my beloved and I are going to be staring at each other over an empty table, silently weeping into our gluten free noodles because we’re old and the kids are living their own lives and we have nothing to live for.

Just kidding. Eric and are are going to be texting the kids from the south of France while we eat seafood and sample delicious wine in the sunshine. And The Mediterranean Love Plan has only proven that our plans are indeed good ones. The author, Steve Arterburn, thinks that the Mediterranean cultures know something about living well, and that healthy, active, passionate lives translate to really great marriages.

I agree.

I enjoyed the book as he walked the reader through simple, practical steps to help a marriage thrive. Here are the top three reasons I think you’ll like the book, too:

1. It values strong, vibrant marriages, and helps us believe we can have one if we’re willing to work at it.

I don’t want to believe that only rich and pretty people get to have great marriages. I want to know the old people down the street and the pastor at my church and even little old me can have a great romance. And I want it to be with my spouse! The Mediterranean Love Plan helps normal people have an above-normal marriage.

2. It encourages you to be the best individual you can be, which helps you have the best marriage possible.

Great marriages don’t require magic or some secret knowledge. Arterburn encourages each reader to be the most interesting, healthiest, most caring individual he or she can be, and then helps us visualize what our marriages will become when we are thriving as God intended us to thrive.

3. It give practical tips on how to do that, assuming we might not know what specific things might be beneficial.

Of course we’d all have glorious marriages– if we had the first idea of how to do that. Gently, Arterburn breaks down the steps for us just in case we need really specific directions. I know I do. The book even addresses how to dress, how to touch, what kind of food might be fun, what your mate needs to hear, and good questions to ask at the dinner table. You don’t have to wrack your brains trying to figure out what might make your marriage come alive; Arterburn has loads of helpful, specific suggestions.

If you’d like a marriage book that believes you deserve a great romance and then gives you the steps to do it, I think you’ll love the book too. Try it and see! Click here to get your own copy. 

(All links to Amazon are affiliate links, and I did indeed receive a free copy of this book for review. All opinions are my own.)

How a near-death experience in a Roman taxi can bring new life to your marriage

Have I told you the story about how I thought I was going to die in a Roman taxi?

If yes, I apologize but I’m going to tell it again anyway. It’s a good story that bears repeating. And it even has a point, in a manner of speaking.

It begins a few years ago, when Eric and I celebrated our fifteenth wedding anniversary by going to Italy without the children. I love to travel, but I wasn’t prepared for how un-America Italy was going to be. While the trip was beautiful and delicious and wonderful, we also spent the week driving around lost, looking for an appropriate bathroom, and trying to find a parking place that wouldn’t get us fined or towed.

So it was wonderful, but a wee bit stressful in the transportation department. When the week was almost over and it was time to turn in the rental car, I was a wreck. It wasn’t quite time to go home, though. We still had one night in Rome, but to get from the car rental office to the city we had to take a taxi.

This was not the taxi. But isn’t it cute?

Listen. I grew up in the sticks. There are no taxis where I’m from. There are barely buses. And my husband grew up in a small farming community that literally considered a tractor a viable transportation method when one needed to get to school.

So we were unprepared for Ricardo and his taxi.

Or, as we shall now refer to him– Reeecaaaaaaahhrrrdoooo. That’s how he said his own name all fifty times he answered his cell phones as he hurtled through traffic.

Did you catch that? Cell phoneS? As in the man had more than one phone?

Yes, yes he did. He had three of them, and two of them he answered over and over again while making notes on a clip board.

Eric took this shot. Isn’t it great?

I was quite sure I was going straight to the bosom of Jesus from a Roman taxi, as this fool of an Italian man barely kept his hands on the wheel as he attended to his office duties from the front seat of a hunk of metal that must have been traveling about seventy miles an hour.

I wasn’t sure how my orphaned children were going to keep a straight face explaining my death in a flaming taxi/office with Reeecaaaaaaahhrrrdoooo at the helm. That was going to be awkward for them.

We didn’t die. You’ve probably assumed as much, but we made it just fine. Not even a little accident. The gentleman drove us to exactly the right spot and politely took our money and left us wobbly-legged on the sidewalk across from the location where Christians used to get eaten by lions.

This place seriously creeped me out. Our people were snacks and entertainment here!

All this added one more layer of glue to our marriage. Years later, all I have to say is “Reeecaaaaaaahhrrrdoooo” and Eric grins at me. The whole week was like that. We saw beautiful things, ate delicious meals, and walked on ancient streets. And somehow, our marriage was strengthened by the experience.

I don’t understand it, but apparently this is nothing new. It’s part of the concept of Steve Arterburn’s new book, The Mediterranean Love Plan (affiliate link). I joined the launch team for this book, and I’ve been stopping Eric for days to read bits and pieces out loud. The book’s basic premise is this– if you want a passionate, joyful marriage, you need to be two passionate, joyful people. No sitting silently on the sofa in beige sweatsuits while the blue boob tube flickers in your living room.

“If both of you are not proactive about passion, I can guarantee that one day you’ll be pulling up your Depends and wondering, ‘Where did we go wrong?'” ~The Mediterranean Love Plan

Encouraging the reader (hopefully that will be you!) to tune into their mate and then tune into the joy and beauty of the world, Arterburn has a better plan than growing old and boring in a beige, sexless marriage.

Eric and I are in! Are you? The book releases April 4, but you can preorder it and have it in your hot little hands as soon as it’s ready. I’ll be doing a few more blog posts on it, just because I have other dumb stories to tell and I think marriage is important enough for us to focus on for a while.

Until next week– Ciao, baby!

 

“Good bye. I love you. Don’t do drugs or kiss boys.”

modesty

“Talk to the children,” the experts always tell parents. “Talk to them about sex. Talk to them about the dangers of alcohol and drugs.” “Open lines of communication are healthy,” they claim.

So I talk to my kids like the experts want me to. Most mornings when I drop my kids (and Abby, our wonderful friend who rides in with us each day) off at the back of the school, I yell, “Good bye. I love you. Don’t do drugs or kiss boys.”

I figure it covers it all, right? I’ve bid them a warm adieu, confirmed my love for them, warned them of the dangers of drugs, and affirmed my desire to not become a grandmother at age forty.

Done, done, and done.

The kids roll their eyes. Well, Abby politely rolls her eyes without actually rolling her eyes, because her parents have raised her to respect other adults. My kids slam the van door and run away, wishing their father could drop them off instead.

Some days I’ll roll down the window and yell it across the parking lot, just to be extra convincing.

They really, really love this.

There’s nothing funner in the whole world than messing with your middle schoolers, I tell you. Pure delight.

These girls are strangers (thanks, unsplash.com) but the looks are exactly the same as the ones my kids give me. Ha!

Now that the children are eleven and thirteen, they can outwit me. “What about Caleb? Can he kiss boys?” Audrey demanded.

“Fine. No kissing girls or boys,” I amended.

“Are we assuming gender? We can’t just be assuming anyone’s gender,” she shot at me recently.

And while I personally will continue to assume gender for every human I encounter until the day I die, I don’t have time for this fight in the middle school parking lot, so I yell, “Fine. NO KISSING OTHER HUMANS.”

And they giggle and run away, off to the relative sanity of the school building.

I’ll be the first to admit that these open lines of communication are about to kill me. We really, really do want our kids to talk to us about anything, especially since we’re a Christian family in a very secular school. We can’t assume that any teacher or administrator shares our beliefs, ever. And while quite a few key adults at the school do indeed share our beliefs and the rest of them have been very respectful, it’s still up to us to make sure we verbalize what the kids need to know.

They are loved. Drugs are dangerous. Kissing is only slightly less dangerous than drugs.

But talking about it can be so uncomfortable. Like, shoulders-up-to-my-ears, full grimace, wanting to die while I explain that every single song by Maroon 5 is about sex and the song “Sugar” is not, in fact, about sugar.

[…brief pause while your blogger takes a moment to watch the video to “Sugar”, which she quite enjoys…]

But at least we hope that one day our kids will be enjoying sex at a proper age, with a nice marriage license and ceremony before God and everyone to sanctify it.

Sex, sure. Eventually. But drugs are another story. We don’t evereverevereverever want them to mess around with that menace. Our mental health is a precious gift. It’s the one thing we have to survey the world properly and then respond in a healthy way. Why would you trade a clear mind for one addled with addiction and despair?

One day, when my kids are at the inevitable party and someone offers them a joint or heroin or the recipe for meth, I want my voice in their ears yelling “Don’t do drugs!”  Trust me, they’ve heard it enough times now that my face will pop into their view even if I’m 800 miles away.



And this is precisely my goal. Listen, I get it. I can’t watch my kids’ every move until I die. One day they will go out into the world and make their own decisions, and they’re already doing that every day. I’m sure I’d be horrified if I knew everything.

But they know they’re loved. They know that drugs and kissing have immense consequences. And they know we’re always willing to talk about it.

But, please. Your father will be explaining the lyrics to “Animals.” I just can’t.

I blush.

 

 

Chasing down joy and contentment in a world gone mad.

I jogged last Friday.

But let me explain what precipitated this ridiculous event. It certainly didn’t happen on purpose.

Lulled into a false sense of security by the sunshine, I decided to go for a walk after dropping the kids off at school. I dressed warmly enough for a March morning, but not warmly enough for the sneaky, icy wind I hadn’t noticed. I swear this wind had come straight from the bowels of Canada, ripped right over Lake Michigan, then plunged into our little town as soon as I locked the van and hit the trail.

It blasted me in the face and I thought, “Sheesh. It’s going to be a long walk with this wind. Maybe (this is where things went terribly wrong, dear reader)… I could go faster.

And here’s the thing. I sort of pride myself on my non-competitive, slow forms of health. If a three mile walk takes me an hour and a half, I take that as a badge of honor. That’s ninety minutes I spent tending to my health! If I need to change my diet, I pick one tiny little thing and then master it, like “eat more fruit.” That one decision can take two years to fully implement, and then as a fruit-eating expert, I add one new small thing into my diet.

So going faster on this walk was sort of out of character. But the wind was literally stinging me in the face so I decided that since I was on the trail and no one would likely see me, I would jog.

And then I did, actually, jog.

It wasn’t actually so terrible for the first tenth of a mile. Then I walked for another tenth of a mile to get my breath back. Then I hit an open field, and the wind started howling and I started running out of self-preservation. My eyes involuntarily teared up. I think perhaps snot was running down my face, but my face was frozen so I couldn’t be certain. My legs were completely numb, so the only evidence I had of movement was that I was actually passing things.

If any of you actually saw me in this state, I apologize for not greeting you. I believe my corneas may have been frozen for several minutes.

I jogged for two tenths of a mile that time. Breathing raggedly, like a marathoner who has accidentally run for two solid days, I turned the corner on the trail and was blasted in the face with another round of ice-oxygen.

That was it. I was done. I turned around immediately, putting the wind to my back, and started for the van. My rear was now taking the brunt of the cold but that is far less bothersome than frozen corneas, so onward I went at my usual walking speed.

And because I was walking, taking in the sights, I was able to notice the tiny green leaves just starting to push out from the smallest of the branches. Small shoots of woodland greenery were just beginning to poke tips out of the dirt. A robin shot me a dirty look, like I was somehow responsible for his discomfort.

I couldn’t have seen any of this if I was still jogging. There’s beauty and joy all around us, just waiting to be noticed, but too many of us are missing these small things. We’re chasing contentment and joy, but chasing it is the worst possible way to find it.

We’re running hard after our dreams and our desires, filling up our calendars with more obligations, our carts with more plastic doodads, and homes with more shiny screens. And we wonder why joy and contentment remain elusive.


This world has gone mad. It’s made us a million false promises, enticing us to believe that more stuff, more fun, and more money will eventually lead us to what we seek. We just have to catch it.

This is ridiculous. Joy and contentment are decisions. They’re willful states of mind, choosing to be joy-filled and satisfied right where we are. They come when we slow down enough to notice the people in our home, the new signs of spring, and the pantry with enough food to make dinner.

I’m not saying the world will ever be perfect, or if we slow down enough that perfection will present itself. I don’t think it works like that. I think we find joy and contentment when we decide it’s time to be unreasonably thankful for what we already have, even when there are other things that remain difficult and unchangeable.

Two hours later, I decided to be joyful about the warm blanket around my legs and my home that kept out the wind. Yes, my lungs were revolting from the jogging incident and I coughed for three hours. Yes, my butt stayed frozen until lunch and unwarranted tears kept slipping out of my thawing eye sockets. I’m not saying the situation was ideal.

But it was enough. I chose to slow down and notice that I already had exactly what I needed, and it was enough.

 

 

 

The tax refund has arrived. What now?

Today is one of the happiest days of the year. Our savings account jumped by several thousand dollars this morning thanks to a tidy little deposit from the IRS.

Thank you, IRS, for giving our money back to us.

And yes, I know all the wisdom about not letting the government hold our money all year long, therefore and thusly, we should adjust our withholdings so we can use our own money properly.

But #1: We don’t trust ourselves to actually use our money wisely. I’m pretty sure that cash would go for falafel and hummus at our favorite Lebanese restaurant instead of retirement or something else smart.

But #2: With my writing income, I’m never really sure how much we’ll get back or owe, so it calms my nerves to give them a little extra so they don’t throw me into tax prison, or whatever happens to people who upset the IRS.

This year we plan to do nothing with our return.

You read correctly– nothing. It’s having a quiet time in the savings account until later this summer.

This means we shall not be buying: new carpet, curtains, trips to the water park, fancy diamond earrings, treadmills, baby bunnies (Audrey’s new love), or electric drum kits (but Lord have mercy, our son is learning the drums and those things are looking like a wise investment).

Just saving it.

And this pains me a little, but Eric has this whole financial plan for the year, and it involves waiting patiently and not buying stuff right now.

Do I want to pull the carpet off the stairs with my bare fingernails and order new? Of course!

Do I want new earrings that sparkle in the moonlight? Honestly, no. But I could buy them if I wanted to, instead of restraining myself like a grownup who is married to a man with a financial plan.

I’m sure once the summer is here and we finally put that money to good use, I’ll be glad. What about you? Are you getting a tax return at all, and what do you do with it? (Falafel and hummus are perfectly valid answers, by the way.)

 

 

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