Sunday, July 13, 2014

Choose Joy

I didn’t sleep well last night, and I couldn’t really put a finger on why I was in strange mood. Not necessarily mad or upset, just feeling down.  Despite not sleeping so great, I got up earlier than I had to for church and was ready ahead of schedule with some time to kill. I clicked over to Pinterest to peruse and I saw this graphic. It was cute.

Then I read it. Twice. And it hit me. Aloud, I said, “You’re so wrong” to my computer screen.
Afterwards, I got Mak ready and we left for church.

Then, in Sunday School, we talked about hope, and Elizabeth, a sweet lady in my class and dear friend read from 1 Peter 1:6: In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials… and we talked about hope in the midst of cancer, accidents, loss, grief, how our time here is but a fraction of a moment, and sometimes that hope gets lost in our humanity. We forget that like a precious metal, strife refines us and purifies us. (1:7) These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.  And that sometimes, maybe even our whole life, we might not be “happy.” Life doesn’t always work that way. Scroll through the local news and you’ll see a whole lot of unhappy. If that’s the purpose of life… to be happy… isn’t the whole world doing an awfully bad job at living? Then, in 1 Peter 1:8- Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy. Read that last word again. JOY. 

The reason for my funk lately is grief. I’m okay, but every once in a while, my womb aches. I feel sick as a smile at a little one, comparing it’s age to where my babies would be today. I try to fight it, but sometimes a bitter taste rolls up into my mouth, and I get into one of those moods where I can’t exactly explain what’s wrong, something just is. And sometimes, it happens so fast I don't even realize what's wrong with me. 
I didn’t put all of this into cohesive thought until a new family visiting this morning in church chose out of an entire empty auditorium to sit directly in front of me so that tiny infant girl they brought would lay over their shoulder and look at me, reminding me of this. When I groaned (inwardly) as they sat down, that same taste, that same ache moved through me and that’s when I realized my own unhappiness was the ever present grief I so often try to forget. 

As I came to this realization, Brother Chip began the message, leading us through and introduction to 1 John, which will be the focus of the next few week’s sermons. As he began, he outlined John’s purpose to writing to the church at Ephesus, and he read  1 John 1:3 and 4- We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our/your joy complete. 
His sermon to on four points- that John wrote with clarity and simplicity to remind his church of 1) the JOY that comes from fellowship with Christ, 2) we are called to holiness- that is to be set a part, 3) that we must not waver from the true doctrine of the gospel, and 4) to help us find assurance in our salvation. 

I kept rereading that first point- JOY, and then Brother Chip share a quote from Kay Warren’s book Choose Joy. “Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be all right, and the determined choice to praise God in all things…” Brother Chip said sorrow and happiness can’t run parallel, but joy and sorrow can. At the time, I didn’t realize she was Rick Warren’s wife, and boy, she can testify to sorrow. 

Sorrow is the angst. It’s the smile that’s not really a smile that leads my husband to ask if I’m okay, and I say, yeah, because I am, aren’t I? I thought I was. I’m trying to be. I’m not really. 
You see, sorrow and happiness don’t run together. 

But joy…

“Joy cannot be manipulated by the actions of puny human beings. It is not dependent on the amount of sadness or suffering or difficulties you endure. Joy cannot be held hostage to fear, pain, anger, disappointment, sadness, or grief…” (Kay Warren)

This is that hope we talked about in Sunday School. The hope that this life isn’t all there is.

“During our lifetime, we “stand on the tracks” looking for signs of Jesus Christ’s return…One day in the brightness of His coming we will meet Him face to face. And when we do, the tracks of joy and sorrow will merge. The sorrow will disappear forever,and only joy will remain. And everything will make perfect sense.” (Warren)

He will yet fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouts of joy. Job 8:21

I’m sure the Dahli Lama meant well, and I know he said some pretty wise things in his years. But he got it wrong when he said that the purpose in life was to be happy. It’s to love Him. This world we live in is broken and full of sorrow, but those of us who know Him know joy, joy that comes from the peace within the promise that this world isn’t all we have, and that though I won’t know all the details, He does. He’s in control, and He’s got me.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Feminist Me

I don’t usually go for political or even social issues as blog topics, but today I got HOT and this just exploded out of me. 
As those of you who are friends with me on Facebook read today in my little tyraid on country music. J and I played a radio while we were camping last week and while listening to a country station, we were SHOCKED at how every single song mentioned beer, “girls” (never women or ladies) in painted on, cut off, skin tight revealing clothing, back roads, moonlight, and getting some action. Country music today makes women from the south seem like ignorant party girls who are good for nothing but a good show and a good time. An article I read today put a name on this genre of music as bro-country. It’s despicable, objectifying, and derogatory. And frankly, it’s just trashy. Women are so much more. 

Despite my feelings towards today’s country music scene, as I said on Facebook when I shared the article, I do not consider myself a “feminist,” at least not by today’s connotation of that term. Why not?
I believe:
-Wives should submit to their husbands as the Bible teaches. That doesn’t make me weak, it empowers me and makes me strong, because humbling yourself down and allowing him to lead takes will and strength. It doesn’t mean he’s my boss. It means he’s my leader, and I trust and respect and come to him openly with my thoughts and ideas. Also, it means picking a good man, one who doesn’t view you as a daisy-duke wearin’, beer fetchin’, Friday night good time. (See any bro-country song for details.) I was able to say obey in my wedding vows because I know my husband will never “order” me to do anything that wouldn’t elevate me spiritually, physically, or emotionally. 
-I am pro-life. I do not believe in abortions. A woman’s right to choose means two things to me, the right to choose to have sex or not, or in cases when conception has already happened the right to choose to raise a child or make a plan for adoption. A woman’s right to choose does NOT mean a right to murder. That’s plain and simple.
-I do not think the fact that you are breast-feeding gives you the right to bare your chest for all to see. I believe in modesty. I do believe women should be able to breast-feed anywhere, but if she is unable to do so without exposing herself, she needs to go elsewhere, because let’s be honest, this is no longer about her right to mother/feed her child and the baby’s right to eat, it’s a prideful show of attention. 
-I am astounded that speaking against promiscuity is now referred to as “slut shaming.” Perhaps  one feels shamed because…wait for it… it IS shameful. 
-Man-hating is equally sexist. Just because a man broke your heart doesn’t give you the right to say all men are pigs. 

I could go on. I am old-fashioned in many ways, and clearly, I don’t fit the “progressive” ideal of a feminist. I do think I have a feminist side, though, and lately, I have felt that side stir in me. Today, it happened twice. First while reading about “bro-country” and again earlier. It got me thinking… What kind of message is this world sending to my daughter about what it means to be female? And frankly, I got kind of ticked.

Earlier, I was looking up some exercises (Jake and I are currently doing a 30 day squat challenge, which have my legs burning and aching and now I am cursing that blame Pinterest pin!) and I ended up on Women’s Health. Midways though the article, this pops up:

How lame is this? This pop up proclaims to have a plan to get me a “bikini body.” First off, what exactly constitutes a “bikini body” and how do I know if I actually have one or not? By who’s standards? Inevitably, I have to ask myself if think my body is a bikini body or not, therefore pushing me to judge my own body based on the standards I choose, which, keeping with my theme of being honest here, is going to be the social norm. You know, today’s socially-accepted ideal of a “bikini body.” Do I measure up? Heck no. Do most of us? Not at all! So now, we all need to type in our email and make Women’s Health some money while working our tail off on some half-baked exercise plan that may or may not actually deliver results, and will clearly not transform us into Hollywood starlets fit for a Victoria's Secret bikini.  

Stop this crap! 

One of my biggest goals this year has been body image. I don’t think it’s healthy to love fat. I am not going grab my jiggles and love them, and embrace a me that I don’t like. At the same time, you can’t hate yourself and succumb to the pressure that you are not ____ enough. I am not saying that this new trend of every-body-is-beautiful, body positivity is good or bad. In fact, I’m soooo glad that a lot of people are NOT giving into the society pressure that being thin is the only way to be happy and beautiful, when it is so not. I just don’t think that body positive movements that promote loving and accepting and beautifying extreme obesity is really productive, when if you are really loving your body, you will work hard to take the best care of it you can and keep it healthy as much as you can. For me, this dichotomy has met with me learning to run, to commit to a healthy, or active lifestyle while at the same time, learning not to be ashamed of my wide thighs, soft tummy, or size 14 dress. It’s not feeling embarrassment if the red stretch mark by my belly button shows while I sun on the beach. It’s a tough journey!

Do I have a “bikini body” yet? No. I might not ever. Might I wear one anyway? Maybe one day. But I still clicked “No thanks, I already have a bikini body” anyways, and smiled, because in reality, isn’t a bikini body just a body in a bikini? And as I clicked, I mentally flipped a feminist bird to Women’s Health. 

The same mental bird I’m flipping to the song writers in Nashville. 

Someday, I hope my daughter will know that she is powerful. She is smart. Being a girl should never limit her hopes and aspirations in her career nor her education. She is in charge of her body. She is also in charge of how she feels about it. Self-worth isn’t about your physical appeal, but your value as whole person, spiritually, socially, and emotionally-  it's embracing the unique way that God made you and created you before you were even born (Psalm 139:13-14) and being a good steward of the blessings He's given you, like a body and a mind, and taking care of them and loving them.

I’ve always said that if you really think about it, God was the first and ultimate feminist. 

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Finally Summer.

I’ve sat to jot down my musings a few times this summer and only made it through a jumbled up paragraph of loosely connected thoughts before I discarded my draft and said oh well.  May and June have been a whirlwind and I think knotted and messy blog attempts clearly symbolized my brain’s state, and now July’s promise of relaxation is helping me untwist the kinks. 
I came back from work in April post miscarriage (number 4) stoic on the outside and broken on the inside, and my coworkers and kids were amazing at helping me jump back into living. As any teacher (or mother, dad, daughter, son, or spouse of a teacher) knows, April-May-June is a teacher marathon of testing prep, kids are suddenly, miraculously concerned about passing, there’s wonky schedules and end of year events, and spring fever and itches for summer. It usually wears me thin, drives me crazy- but this year it was exactly what I needed. I so needed busy-ness to make me live. So Jake and I took our trip to Chapel Hill, went to M’s awards day and chaperoned a field trip with her class to Linville Caverns, celebrated Mother’s Day, which didn’t shatter my heart too bad, saw my sister in law graduate college, and Mak and I took a little Spring Break get-a-way to Whitney’s and let Pawley’s waves clear our heads. We stopped and picked strawberries at a farm on the way home, and I made pie, then jumped straight into the mad dash of EOG testing preparations. Somewhere in all that, Makinzy got kicked by a horse at Nana’s (read: my nutty kid who knew ever ever go into the pasture alone went in -alone- and be-bopped behind a horse, and surprise, surprise) so that resulted in a 7 hour ER ordeal that we can use to embarrass her when she gets older. Thankfully, she passed, and we are so hoping that next year is the school year she finally realizes she is so capable of doing well- she just has to choose to succeed. So fun times all around. In the midst of this, I also interviewed for a teaching position close to home, and subsequently through myself into guilt for wanting to leave a school I loved.

I had lost about 5 pounds in the post-pregnancy de-bloating that usually happens when I miscarry, but this time, the timing and all of our getting-up and getting-out made me drop more than just the few pounds I usually lose, so I took it as a jump start on losing some weight and getting myself happier at least with my health and fitness level. I didn’t make a plan or set a goal or make it a “thing” we were doing, and I vehemently stood against doing any kind of program or the like. So I started using the myfitnesspal app to count my calories and challenged myself to get out to the track at least twice a week, and resolved to finish our church’s annual 5K in May. Well, this got Jake into it, and so the two of us began training ourselves to run, and we did. We didn’t beat anyone or have extraordinary times, but we did finish. And we were proud. With that accomplishment down, we celebrated our 6th wedding anniversary with dinner at PF Changs (looove), a movie (The Fault in Our Stars- seriously one of the few (or only?) movie that was as good as if not better than the book itself) and gave each other FitBits to record our progress. Now, Jake is down about 15 pounds and I’m down around 25. And we’ve kept it up too. I see know when and where my occasional over-eating and occasional under-moving were colliding to make me gain/not lose weight, and having my caloric intake and outtake in front of me makes me so much more cognizant of my health. 

We ended the school year (so late this year, thanks to snow and delayed starting) with selfies and hugs, and I launched my 6th grade babies into the unknown world of 7th grade. That last week, I accepted a position with a new school, closer to home- and Jake and I can carpool!- and packed up my room. I still have to move it all (when, I’m not sure yet, but that’s going to be a jobbbbbb. And I’m working on learning the new subject area and curriculum I will be using, and fighting the fear and nerves of something new and wondering if I did the right thing. It’s so hard to leave when you're happy.

Immediately after the school year ended, we had to prep for teaching VBS, and we had a blast working with rising 6th graders again. The theme, Agency D3, was harder than years past, but I truly loved the depth of the message - Discover, Decide, and Defend. Giving a defense of your faith in Jesus Christ is an absolute must in our day and age, so I really liked how VBS turned out. Once all that was over, I finally relinquished myself into enjoying summertime, and I devoured a few books. We took a family trip to Franklin, NC for our annual gem mining fun and family reunion, and stuffed our faces with a big breakfast at the Dillard House in Georgia. We went camping at our favorite GA state park, Elijah Clark, and swam in the Clark Hill/Strom Thurmand lake, and I even wore a two piece again for the first time in many summers. I didn’t necessarily rock the two piece, but I embraced myself as I was and wore it anyways, and managed not to be too mortified. We got back in time to celebrate the 4th with our friends Jeremy and Ginger, and their son Colin, and watch fireworks and eat red, white, and blue parfaits with my parents that night. Now, we’re planning a South Mountain hiking trip before we have to pack it all up for our trip back down to Cape San Blas, and I am now finally enjoying the summer freedom I love. I love being able to throw stuff in the car and go make memories with Jake and Mak. I love our family memories and the fun we have together each summer. It's more and more my favorite season (sorry, autumn...). I can’t help but feel sad that this summer is so short, what with me ending later and Jake starting earlier as an administrator. 

Speaking of Jake, I am so proud of all he’s done and all he’s become. He’s rocked a fantastic GPA in grad school, started a podcast with Jeremy on fatherhood, and stood by me in this rebirth of mine since the last miscarriage. He and I talk so much about marriage, why others are crumbling around us - three couples we know just recently- and we are working so, so hard to guard our hearts from any crack in the foundation of us. He’s also been so open with me about the pain he experienced in our miscarriages too. I like to believe we can just keep trying, keep at it until it works and we have a miracle, that if it takes 10 or 20 loses before we make it, we can do it., but we both know that at some point, we are going to have to stop this and say no more, and quit letting our hearts fill up with joy just to break all over again. So we pray and ask God to show us direction in that. Let us know deep within that it’s time to stop trying. I know He will speak if that’s His will, so we will listen for Him. We have also found peace that if Makinzy is to be our one and only, then that's just fine. She is our biggest gift, our greatest surprise, our hardest challenge, and our most beautiful accomplishment.

So there’s your life update. I'm so grateful for the peace I've found, and the peace that continues to keep wrapping around me when I start to feel the grief or the anxiety crawl up my throat. We've had a good spring, and summertime is beautiful.