Through bleary eyes I quickly and clumsily fumble through the morning routine with my three kids, five days a week before school. Without coffee in my system (no time to get to that until after I’m sitting in the car) I attempt to rouse them out of slumber, tie shoe-laces, find lost library books, herd them to the car, and get them safely to school (a 15 minute drive). Most mornings, we will have a snag or two–an argument, a missing back pack, a kid who just does NOT want to get out of her warm bed. I have learned to anticipate and get through these snags relatively stress-free. Not this morning, though.

Littlest Girl, who is five, stays in bed until the last possible second. She is not in school yet, so while I am scrambling to get the older two ready, she soaks in all the time she possibly can nestled in her warm bed. This morning, as we scrambled out the door, Littlest Girl refused to walk to the car barefoot because it was raining. (She had not put her shoes on–generally speaking, she goes barefoot in the mornings and I am ok with this.) As I scooped her up, the coffee I had precariously balanced in my hand (along with the keys and my purse) tipped and spilled down my jacket sleeve. Such a small inconvenience, really, but it set me off. After snapping at Littlest Girl, I began to cool down on the way to school. Was it even her fault? Channel Cher from Clueless and say it with me: As if! I realized I was taking out my frustrations of spilled coffee on Littlest Girl.

Beth Moore says,

“The more self-absorbed and detached we become, the more we mistake annoyances for agonies. It happens to all of us. I often tell myself to get a grip and downsize how I’ve blown up a comparatively small problem.”

This is from ESTHER: It’s Tough Being a Woman, by Beth Moore. And this quote was found in the chapter I read today for my daily study.

Isn’t this SO true? While my coffee example is a small one, I can think of countless times I’ve let something insignificant send me into a tailspin, and oftentimes I take it out on those I love the most.

Time to stop it, Mama. Time for me to remove my head from my rear and put a roadblock of gentleness, patience, and calm between my brain and my mouth. Annoyances do not equal Agonies, ever. I am too blessed to let a little spilled coffee steal my joy.

Be joyful always…give thanks in all circumstances. 1 Thessalonians 5:16

I read some wonderful advice on a blog awhile back: If we expect that annoyances will happen (because let’s be real–they will!), our mindset will change and we will be more able to fully embrace joy. Joy happens when we put set our minds on Jesus alone–When we expect a little snafu to come here and there, then those snafus cannot steal our joy. They lose their power. The power now lies in Jesus. We can give thanks in ALL circumstances! Spilled coffee means I have coffee to perk me up. My barefoot daughter in my arms means I have a little lovey to carry. I am truly blessed. We are all truly blessed.

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To my friends: It’s not you, it’s me.

Friendship: It’s complicated. But it shouldn’t be, right? In my friend-related experiences throughout my life, there have been more than a handful of difficult situations, and it took me dozens of years to realize that I was a major part of the problem! (I know, call me dense… I am.)

The epiphany began when I realized that I expected perfection from my friends. In the past I told myself that I just had high standards, that I just wanted friends who were willing to put in the same amount of work I was willing to put in. Never mind the fact that I made mistakes (such as choosing guys over friendships, lying to spare feelings, etc.); my friends were held to a higher standard. It was almost as if I had a three-strikes, you’re out rule. I had this fierce love for my friends but also a strong sense of loyalty, and if I felt that trust had been breached, well, goodbye to them. There have been two major friendships in my life that I have walked away from because I held them to unrealistic expectations, and when they failed to measure up too many times, I walked away. Yikes. I cringe when I think of the friendship faux-pas I’ve made, and the feelings I’ve hurt in the process. While it is TOTALLY true that there are toxic friendships no person should tolerate (someone who puts you down constantly, abuses your trust over and over, etc.), we also have to remember that our friends are HUMAN just like us, and they make mistakes (just like US!). Is it fair to walk away because we feel we’ve been wronged a few times? In my case, I look back on my early friendship years and realize it was I who just needed to toughen up, forgive, and forget.

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Now that I’m 30, a lot has changed; you could say I’ve finally started to grow up, even. (Sad that it took me this long, but I’m glad it’s finally happened!) There is a special person whom I think about with fondness, a person who I actually walked away from years ago for a time because of something I perceived as detrimental to our friendship. (It wasn’t. I know now I was the one with the problem.)  Once I realized my mistake, she forgave me easily as the breeze, but after turning my back on her even for that short time, our friendship was never quite the same. There is no way I can ever completely fix what I essentially shoved in the dust. I created a permanent rift. It’s barely there, something someone on the outside wouldn’t even notice, but I know its’ presence, and I know it’s my fault. The funny thing is, after my divorce and my mini friend exodus (you can read about that more in a previous post if you are so inclined), THIS friend was one of the few who actually stood by me and with me in my muck and mire.  Ironic, isn’t it?

These days, friendships are harder to come by for me. I’m a different person after my divorce; I’m much more cautious about who I let into my life. Sometimes I miss the old, social, bubbly, talkative me, who would let anyone in and love them with abandon. But whether we like it or not, time and life experience change us, for better or worse.

These realizations have actually helped me to change for the better. Understanding my own strengths and weaknesses can only be beneficial for when I enter a new relationship, for I know now that when things get tough, I need to open myself up to freely give out God’s grace, and spread wide my arms instead of closing them tightly.

Duck Culture

I went to my first Oregon Ducks game last weekend. Not really being a football fan, or a sports fan in general, I just wanted to go for the experience. And let me just say wow, an experience it was, indeed! The stands were packed with Duck fans in green, yellow, and black. Apparently there is a theme color every game which the fans are supposed to wear. Who knew? The Duck fans knew the same cheers and songs, they gave out high fives like parents give out candy on Halloween, and they danced like they were backing up Beyonce. Being a Duck fan is like being in this exciting, exclusive club, like the Babysitter’s Club except with adults, and beer.

It was amazing to watch and be a part of for those few hours, but guess what?

I don’t want in.

Attending a Ducks game helped me realize I am an even bigger dork than I ever realized. I think I watched the people around me, the cheerleaders, and then band more than I watched the actual game. When everyone was cheering and clapping, I didn’t feel compelled to join in, I felt compelled to watch the human interactions around me. I spied the Cougar fans around me and wondered if they felt out of place, or even a little uneasy as they were outnumbered easily ten to one (but probably much more). I stared at the young children sporting Ducks gear and painted face and wondered how young their parents had started conditioning them to love “Our Ducks.” I looked on as grown men threw tantrums when refs made a call they didn’t like. I also gazed at young love-struck couples bonding over a shared love for sports, and old couples with walkers and canes snuggling together, sharing what has possibly been a dating tradition of theirs for decades. I watched college students find a place where they felt they truly belonged, and friends bond over tradition. And the few times I actually watched the game, I saw a team of men who were dedicated so strongly to a cause that they put their sweat, heart, and possibly even their soul into it. So please, don’t get me wrong, I think that the sports culture in America can be fun and healthy, and a great place to seek unity. It’s just not who I am.

I do have one major issue with American sports:

In a moment of clarity, my mind was put at unease when I realized that I might be safer at a Ducks game than a child (or adult) in an American public school. THAT is what really got me thinking about our American values. When I walked into that stadium, my purse was checked. There were police officers and security guards stationed EVERYWHERE. I felt safe. I want my kids to feel that safe when they go to school.

America, do we love our children as much as we love our sports? Just a thought I’m mulling over…

A Spirit Not of Fear

It’s a desperate place to be as a mother, knowing that my children are not safe in this world. There are always dangers, have been since the beginning of the time– but the dangers of living in this present world seem bigger, scarier, and less predictable.

In light of the recent shooting at Umpqua Community College, which happened just an hours drive from the where we live, I just want to hug my children close and never let them go. In my extremely illogical moments I wonder if I can create a huge, armored body suit with one big body but 14 arm holes, 14 leg holes, and 7 head holes that we can all wear in order to never, ever be apart. I want to be like Sally Field in Steel Magnolias and break down, screaming “I wanna know why! Why, why, whyyyyyyyyyyyyy??” Why is there so much hate buried deep in the hearts of so many people? Why is hate able to grow organize and gain strength, and why does hate think it has the right to break laws?  Why are there so many people with mental illness going without help and support? Why is it a trend in America to shoot up schools? Why did he think he had the right to rip ten innocent lives from this earth?

And the scariest question in my mind is, Where will it happen next?

My days since the shooting have been a mess of fear, sadness, and anxiety.

But I know it will not help me or my children to live in fear and paranoia. I will not live in fear, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self control. (2 Tim 1:7)

Power. I have the power to make the best decisions I can regarding the safety of my children. I vow to know where they are and who they are with, and I vow to keep them safe to the best of my ability. I have the power to prepare my family the best I can for whatever might come our way. I have the power to live my life in such a way that will remind my children and those around me that God is still at work in this scary world.

Love. I will love my children fiercely and forever. I will read to them, sing with them, play games and do puzzles with them, be silly with them, listen to them, hug and kiss them, and teach them about God, goodness, love, light and truth.

Self Control. I will not let my mind wander down rabbit trails of worry and paranoia. I will  cast my fears at Jesus’ feet. I will do something productive when I feel anxious.

As a mother and as a woman of faith I cannot let this tragedy scare me any more. The spirit of fear is not helpful or beneficial, and it’s not of God. Lord help me and all the mothers of America live in your spirit of power and love.

When your Step-Parenting has lost the Sparkle in its’ Step

I am a single mother of three. Soon I will be married to the man of my absolute most wonderful fairy-tale dreams, and with him come two beautiful young children who fit in age right between my own. People have joked that we are the Brady Bunch, but that’s so far from the truth. The Brady Bunch is a chocolate syrup and sprinkles, whipped cream and cherry, psychedelic mind trip compared to what actually happens when two families begin to blend into one. It’s messy, loud, and scary. There are more tears than you can imagine, more fights than ever before, more second guessing and even more stress to be the perfect parent. Here’s a recap of my life just a few weeks ago.

Five kids under nine, eleven long hours a day without Dad, and little old me. It was the last few weeks before summer vacation ended and the kids were at their craziest and crankiest. The sun was still a blazing hot summer one, the kids were hot and antsy. Add to the mix our impromptu move across town (actually a MAJOR BLESSING, albeit the terrible timing) and as one might imagine, this Mommy’s mind was slowly melting down. There were times during those few weeks that I could feel my body going into panic mode; days when I thought I might have a legit panic attack; days which by 10 am I was asking myself, “Is it too early for a glass of wine? Or a whole bottle?” I texted my future Mr. (father of approx. 1/3 of the little monsters) probably every hour for two straight weeks, grumbling, whining, freaking out over the cell-phone waves, just to relieve a little of the pressure that was building up in my head. He graciously calmed me down during his few quick text breaks at work.

I am new to being a (future) Step-Mom, and I am admitting to the world, it is HARD.

It’s hard when your children are hateful to, or jealous of, your step-kids, when all you want is for them all to get along like birth siblings. (An unreasonable expectation if you think it’s gonna happen within the first year!)

It’s hard when your step-kids figure out your hesitance to punish them and use that to their own advantage, doing things their bio parent would NEVER tolerate. (If you’re anything like me, it is terribly difficult give consequences to my future husband’s kids because I want so badly for them to like me. I’m a weenie, I know. I am slowly getting better at the use of logical consequences for my step-kids, but it’s a slow process.)

It’s hard when you get caught in a…  KID: “My Mom lets me do this at home.”          STEP PARENT: “I am sorry, but that is not how we do things here.” …back and forth. And back and forth. And back and forth.

It’s hard when, after a long, hard day trying your best to be the best Mom you can be, someone says, “I want my Moooooom,” or “I want my Daaaad.” And you think that you will never truly be Mom or Dad in their eyes, and rightfully so; they already have one.

I think it’s important to take a step back in all of  these moments. And I say this in hindsight–because while these things were happening to me, all I could think was, “Woe is me, this is hard, this is frustrating, this will NEVER WORK!” Today, looking back at those few weeks with a deep breath, I realize that all of those moments were NORMAL. They were the healthy growing pains of a new family being born into this world. Our step-family will meld and mesh little by little, week by week, tiny victory by tiny victory. This will slowly get better. And life will go on. And not only that, but while I was stressing and trying to process the crazy /difficult moments, I was too busy to really appreciate the moments of peace: the short stints of time when the oldest and youngest were playing nicely together and the moment that the strong-willed child in the mix decided to share her favorite toy with someone.

Being a parent is hard. Being a step parent is, in my opinion, harder. But the victories, sometimes so few and far between, deserve to be recognized and praised. It is a slow process, but like the Word says in Psalms, Wait on the Lord;
Be of good courage, And He shall strengthen your heart…  It will get easier with time.

My blended family might never be a perfect one, but with patience and love (and deep breaths and wine!) we will someday grow into a strong, healthy blended family.

Combating Loneliness as a Single Mother

When I first divorced and became a single mom, it wasn’t just a husband I lost. Because of my personal situation, I lost my church community and many friends after my divorce. It was absolutely devastating, and for a long time I felt extremely lonely and depressed. Not only did I live with the guilt of being half of the monster that split my own childrens’ parents up, I had very few local friends who stuck around to help me through my grieving process.

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Yes, I said grieving process. Recently divorced people grieve, even if the divorce is mutual, and ESPECIALLY if there are children involved. In fact, there are times now, three years later, that I still grieve over what was lost in the un-coupling of my childrens’ parents. I still wonder what the effects will be on those sweet kiddos now that they are raised in two houses instead of one. But to dwell in the past is pointless, so I keep my head up and keep doing the best I can with what I have to go with now.

It’s Lonely Being a Single Mother

Back to my point: Life can be tough for a single mother. It can be solitary and heartbreaking. At times I felt so completely alone, even while I was mothering my most precious children. Looking back now on the times that my heart was wrenched with loneliness, regret, sadness and more, I can’t even believe I was so low during that time. But I am so AMAZED at what God has done for me, and I am so happy with my life now. I still have that handful of true friends who stuck by me when the world didn’t, I have my kids who are growing healthy and strong despite multiple life strains, I still have my parents who are hours away but love me and my kids and pray for us, and I have found the most wonderful man whose genuine love permeates my very soul, daily.

And, the most amazing thing is that through everything–my sins, my shame, my trials, my poor choices, my loneliness, the times I fought with God for allowing me to be in that dark place, the times when I tried to do it all on my own without God’s help–He was STILL there, rooting for me, waiting for me to turn my eyes back to Him.come to meAs a single mother who was once lonely, depressed, and doing it all completely on her own, I know it can be hard to reach out. It’s hard to admit that we are lonely, and that we need help! But do it. It’s worth it, trust me! Here are some ideas, some more obvious than others, but sometimes we just need that push to do something we are hesitant to do.

Combat the Loneliness

If you have friends around you already, that’s a great place to start. Tell them you need a girls night. Have it at your house if need be. Sometimes the people around us are completely willing to be there for us, they just don’t know how to be and they need us to show them. You might be surprised to find that one or two of your girlfriends will thank you for reaching out to them.

If you have preschoolers, join a MOPS group. Seriously, you will not regret it. It is a faith based organization, but don’t let that scare you off if you are not a believer! You would be hard pressed to find another more loving group of women to surround yourself with. They provide childcare, mentoring, fun activities just for moms, and more! Find yourself a local MOPS group here. Get yourself over to the MOPS website here.

Visit blogs and websites with information you can relate to. One site I found by accident during one of my roughest periods is Not Consumed. Kim, the author, is a single mother who has loads of great articles on coping, motherhood, faith, raising children, and life in general. She even has a section just for single moms. Go and read up, and be comforted by the realization that you’re truly NOT ALONE!

Find a group to volunteer with. Your kids can be involved, as well. What a great way for your children to learn humility, and volunteering just might boost your mood, too! Check Craigslist for volunteer opportunities, or even do a Facebook search for local volunteer organisations. Sometimes taking our mind off our own struggles to help others with theirs works wonders in our lives.

Being a single mom and doing it all alone can seem like an impossible job. I know many mothers who look back on their time as a single mom and wonder how they even did it all. I encourage you, single moms, to get out in the world and partner up with those around you. Doing life together makes it so much better!!

Homeless, but still Human

I see a sagging back burdened with a duffel bag full  stuffed to the brim, dirty pants that are much too short, bare feet, a Rip Van Winkle beard. He stoops over the recycling can in the parking lot, digging out the plastic jugs and cans that will yield him 5 cents a piece–a pithy amount of change that most of us would take for granted.  My heart hurts. Is it mental illness? Addiction? Bad choices or just bad luck? Abuse? Every homeless man and woman in this town has a story to tell.

The seven of us went out for take out pizza (another thing I take for granted) the other night. We ordered boneless chicken wings on a whim and didn’t end up liking them. Back at home, my better half noticed a man digging through our apartment complex trash can. He said he was going to offer the man our discarded chicken–I agreed. I felt the familiar pang of sadness in my heart and wondered what the man’s situation was, but I ignored the pang and went on with my night as usual. The next night while I was enjoying a hot shower (another thing I take for granted), my boyfriend came in and said to me: “That same man from the other night is rummaging through the trash. Do you mind if I bring him some crackers and V8? I know they say if you keep offering food to them they’ll keep coming back, but…” (This is a separate story in itself, borne of an experience we had in Portland at a restaurant.) I’m ashamed to admit I actually thought about it before saying “Yeah, of course. Go ahead.” After my boyfriend left the room I had a serious moment of self reflection and was horrified as I reminded myself, “He’s a man, not a stray dog. He’s a human being, flesh and blood, not a varmint we want to be rid of.”

When did I get to a place where I actually hesitated before offering a little bit of help to a fellow human being?

My boyfriend did bring crackers and V8 to the man, and what he learned was heart-breaking. The man had shared stories of his life as a vagrant. He shared how a few mall security guards had held his possessions from him and then spilled them all over ground while they mocked him. He shared the way it felt to be shied away from in public places because of his appearance. He shared the loneliness of not having a place to call his own, the feeling of settling down under a bush at night to have a go at some sleep. He admitted to drinking alcohol, but honestly, who am I to judge? Am I somehow “better” because I can afford my habitual alcohol binges? And in all honesty, if I was homeless with little hope of help and no where to turn, who knows, I might be boozing it up too.

There may be dangers and risks to helping others. Some of us become jaded when we offer food to a transient only to have it rejected. Some of us stop giving because of that one time we saw a homeless person buying alcohol with donated money. Some of us refuse to give because we are scared for our own personal safety. I don’t advocate putting ourselves in danger. I don’t advocate perpetuating addiction. What I do advocate is having respect for our fellow humans. I advocate giving what we can (time, prayers, a kind word, a nod and a smile, material goods or money if we are able) when we can. We have SO MUCH.

Some simple ideas: Fill gallon ziplock bags (or better yet, dollar shopping totes) with non-perishables (crackers, juice, granola bars, apple sauce) and travel size toiletries and first aid items (ointment, band-aids, deodorant, tooth brush/paste, gum), and keep them in your car for whenever you see someone who looks like they could use a bit of help. (What’s the worst they can do–toss it? You’ll be out a few bucks. Big deal.) Hand out blankets when it’s cold at night. Join a local homeless outreach group. Donate money or time to an organization that helps people get back on their feet. Plant a row or two of extra veggies in your garden to donate to a food bank. Keep water bottles and snacks in your car to quickly hand to roadside vagrants.

We haven’t seen the man again, but I am so grateful that his presence reminded me to get my selfish head out of my butt.