Keep Dreaming

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My husband and I were having a conversation the other night about dreams. Because we’ve just come through a season of survival mode. Looking back I almost can’t believe how long it lasted. I began packing up my house last summer, we made an offer on a new house in October and didn’t get a signed lease for our old house (now the rental property) until early December. Now we are starting into April and while my house is becoming livable, it is also still full of boxes. I’m still struggling with getting back to a routine and making sure all the necessities are covered.

While the whole moving process was a big part of our future dreams, during that time many other things had to be pushed to the side. We are both creative people and our creative activities have always been a big part of our personal self care. But during this survival mode season, much of that has had to take a back seat. Suddenly, the long term dreams and aspirations surrounding those creative endeavors seem like lost and forgotten dreams.

I was lamenting the fact that I seem to have given up on my dreams. (And that my wonderful and creative husband seems to have given up on his.) Then it occurred to me that there is more than one kind of dream.

 

Abstract Dreams

These are the things that sound nice, but may or may not ever happen. Somewhat along the lines of wishes, but I would call them more than that because usually we have invested a great deal of thought, and sometimes even preliminary plans into these dreams. Sometimes because they are entirely outside of our control (like winning the lottery), or simply highly unlikely or because they will require a complete lifestyle chance that we aren’t prepared for. My husband and I have a dream of sorts to travel the country with our kids and home school on the road. While it’s a fun idea, it doesn’t matter enough to us to do the work it would take the make it happen right now. That doesn’t mean never, but until we are prepared to take this dream to the next step, it will remain where it is.

 

Concrete Dreams

Concrete dreams are the kind that motivate goals. They may be likely or unlikely, but they meant enough that we are making measurable steps towards them. One of our dreams is to be debt free (or virtually debt free, I’ve decided to be Ok with a mortgage of some kind). So that means I have to do the math to figure out how to pay down our student loans faster than the current rate. Even if the steps feel small, they still have measurable success; even if it’s just $20 or $30 a month.

If my goal is to publish a book, reading books on writing, blocking out time to write and reading books in my proposed genre are helpful concrete tasks towards achieving that goal. Yes, given the number of people who claim to want to be published authors and the odds of being successful enough as an author to support myself and my family may not be in my favor. But I feel that even if I fail at that aspect of the dream, but in the process I produce work that I am proud of, I won’t really have failed.

I always struggle finding a balance between not dreaming at all (because it feels like it will never happen) and being Ok with dreams that I know are unlikely to happen. If something is really important to me, I need to be willing to make the lifestyle and financial sacrifices to make it happen.

 

Look Back and Remember

I also need to be willing to look back at my life and see where the dreams are coming true. My life may not be glamorous, but much of it is exactly what I always said I wanted. My desires and dreams may have changed a bit, that’s OK. But it’s still important for me to look objectively at my life and acknowledge with gratitude the dreams that have come to fruition. I have three beautiful children. We have been able to move out of our attached home into something a little bit larger. I am able to stay home with my children and home school them. These are all part of the dream I had when my husband and I were first married and I was working jobs just to pay the bills. Most of the paid work in my life hasn’t provide me with much fulfillment, but it was a means to an end.

 

Reassess and Categorize Accordingly

Sometimes we really do give up on a dream, but that doesn’t always have to be negative. Regularly reevaluating how we spend our time and money is a wonderful tool towards this end. If I believe that my dream is to run a marathon, but I can’t even bring myself to walk a mile, let alone take up running, I need to reconsider whether this is really a concrete dream or be willing to chance my behavior. Realizing that something we’ve been working toward is no longer what we want can be freeing. I can stop feeling guilty about what I’m not accomplishing and funnel my time, energy and money into something that I am really passionate about.

 

Enjoy the Journey

We also need to be able to enjoy the process. Life will never been perfect. It’s easy to think that when we have the house, the spouse, the kids, the dream job, the bank account life will be perfect and we’ll be able to relax. That once the kids are older, more independent, out of the house or we retire that suddenly we’ll be able to do all the things we’ve dreamed about. But I would counter that if something is a deeply held desire (i.e. concrete dream rather than abstract one) we will be working towards it now, at least in some capacity, rather than waiting for tomorrow.

 

Waiting Is OK

I think it is also OK to deliberately defer dreams. This doesn’t mean giving up on the, but rather making an intentional choice to pursue something at a later time. This is a hard one for me, because part of me is filled with the deep fear that some how I will miss out on the things I was meant to do. I have dreams regarding writing and speaking that are simply not possible right now. Why? Because other dreams have taken priority. The one’s involving a family, homeschooling and ministry that I am currently involved in. Because I am only one person, an I cannot do everything. (I am going to say that one more time, mostly because I need to hear it, but maybe you do to).

I CAN NOT DO EVERYTHING!

No one can. Despite what it meant appear on social media, none of us has it all together. We all must decide which dreams to pursue, which to defer and which to let go of. While there maybe be a sense of sadness or resignation in the process, it shouldn’t be a deep abiding grief. This is where may faith will show, because I firmly believe that if we seek God constantly and consistently in the process, he will be faithful to guide us. It is much easier to defer or even let go of a dream when we believe that God is faithful to guide and mold the desires of hearts into the best possible direction for us.

 

Ask yourself these important questions:

What dreams in my life are abstract?
Which dreams in my life are concrete?
Are these dreams in the correct position in my life? Do some abstract dreams need to become concrete through deliberate goal setting and intentional investment or do some need to be deferred or released as I pursue something else during this season?

Always keep dreaming, all kinds in all ways. Let that inspire and sustain you through the difficulties of today without allowing you to miss the beauty of the present.

Just As I Am: Five Minute Friday

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This is such a fitting word for someone going through the existential journey I have been on for the past couple of months. Because identity and purpose have been heavy on my mind lately; who I am and how I define myself.  Because I live in a culture that focuses so much on what I do as the definition of who I am.

When you are a parent who primarily stays at home and doesn’t have much else to show for her day than piles of dishes and laundry, defining myself by my accomplishments isn’t very appealing. I don’t produce much in the way of product because most of the tasks in my life are perpetual. Dishes will be used and washed, clothes worn, meals eaten faster than they are prepared.  Much of the rest is immeasurable. I cannot quantify the hugs I give my children or the discipline and encouragement I dispense (often more of one than the other, depending on the day).

It is easiest to define myself as wife and mother but if I wasn’t those things (or if I suddenly ceased to be those things), I am still someone. I can focus on my identity as author, dancer, creative artist, but again, even if those were stripped away, I am still someone.

As I’ve labored over this concept for the past few months a friend commented to me something that has stuck fast, and I keep returning to it again and again.

“Something that God is teaching me is that my most important ‘job’ in life is not to be ‘productive’, but to love Him. If I never work outside the home again; if all of my life is spent driving children, wiping bums and noses, limiting screen time and folding laundry, I am just as loved and valuable to Him as if I was a globe-trotting evangelist – and that’s what is really important. My value needs to be in what He thinks of me, not how ‘productive’ for the Kingdom I feel.”

I strive to live like I really believe this. That even as I pursue God’s will for my life, investing myself in dreams and desires that I believe he has given to me, I need to be willing to build all of that on the immutable and unchangeable foundation of my identity in Christ. That I am a loved child, a daughter of the king. Nothing I accomplish in my life can make me more worthy of that position in the heart of God than my redemption through the blood of Christ has already made me. It is done, finished. With that comes a beautiful freedom to explore because I cannot fail, not really. Because even if my strivings, godly as they are, come to nothing measurable; I am loved just as I am for who I am.

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Finding Solitude and Silence in a Noisy World

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I never realized before that there is no silence in my world. Yes, I know I’m a mom, so yes there is a lot of noise. But it’s more than that. I had given up even trying to find some semblance of silence. Some of it was of my own doing. Putting on the TV or the music. At first, it was a way to help create my own version of silence, to drown out the noise of the outside world. But soon I became dependent on having something going on. Because I couldn’t quiet my thoughts, so I redirected and distracted my mind instead.

But as I began to deliberately pursue silence and solitude, I became so much more accurately aware of the loudness of my existence. While we no longer live in the heart of the city, the street in front of our home becomes busy during certain times of day, in certain parts of the house, the sound of traffic rushes by, not regular enough to be a white noise substitute. Sounds of random construction vehicles and the distance siren of the nearby fire department are barely noticeable most of the time, but suddenly I became very aware of these outside distractions. They felt intrusive and I found myself irritated that the anonymous outside world would dare disrupt me with it’s noise.

I would try to take a shower, thinking maybe I could meet God there, but instead the children banged on the door and called out to me the whole time. Then when I situated them in front of the TV I could hear the sound of their fighting, and soon another was at the door to request assistance finding the desired movie. (This from a seven year old who figured out how to use Netflix when she was three). It felt like all the forces of evil were marshaled against me, determined not to let me experience silence. Then I realized, that is exactly what was going on.

 
“In silence there is the potential for each of us to ‘know that I m God’ with such certainty that the competing powers of evil and sin and the ego-self can no longer hold us in their grip. All the forces of evil band together to prevent our knowing God in this way, because it brings to an end the dominion of those powers in our lives.”
Invitation to Solitude and Silence: Experiencing God’s Transforming Presence – Ruth Haley Barton

 

Hell will throw everything it has at me to keep me from engaging God. So for now, I’m trying to avoid getting angry every time I’m distracted or interrupted and my senses are assaulted. I’ll just try again later. I have far from figured this out. I am seriously considering investing in good quality noise canceling headphones. Not so I can shut out everything else, though that helps, but so I can keep the distractions at bay long enough to hear the voice of my Father. I have to believe that eventually I will learn to create quiet within, without needing external silence.

Making Peace with Imbalance and Process

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I am what is called a J on the Myers Briggs scale. Part of this is that I like product better than process. I’ve been working through a decorating course and it’s been a bit difficult because one of her big points is that it never has to be finished. But I want it to be finished. I put to put the cherry on top, call it done and sit back and relax. I find it very difficult to relax sometimes. I need to be productive and check things off. But I’m having to accept that life is not like this. (Yes, I know that’s basic logic and most of you probably figured this out ages ago, but I’m just getting to it now so bear with me).

When my daughter turned one, my mom bought me the first book in this series. The authors talked about the concept of equilibrium and disequilibrium. Basically, children cycle between phases of equilibrium where things are more balanced and settled in their body and emotions, usually making them more easy going and pleasant to be around and disequilibrium. During disequilibrium, things are just off. The child is bothered by many things, easily distressed, often unhappy.

(It should be noted here that this is relative to the child’s personality. My son is difficult at the best of times, so you have to very attuned to notice the difference. I usually become aware when he his disequilibrium because suddenly things get worse than I imagined they could).

I’m realizing that this is how my spiritual life is, and probably will always be. How long each period of time will last varies. If only it were as easy to predict as the typical 6-9 month cycle of a small child. I will never arrive and suddenly have it all together. I hate that thought. Because it means I will constantly be in process.

I hate being in process, it feels off balance and involves continual change. I told my counselor that I fear stagnation, but I don’t think that’s exactly accurate. I aspire to experience security and stillness. My desire to continue growing is at least in part because I want to get to wherever it is I’m going. But it’s an impossible destination, because when it comes to knowing God, mathematically we’re dealing with infinity here.

So if I can’t arrive, I need to learn to live where I am and try to enjoy the process. Obviously I won’t always enjoy it, but I can remind myself that the bad still is only temporary and try to lean into the good stuff. (This applies to both parenting and spiritual growth by the way). To cling to grace and accept the mercy offered to me. Remembering that I am loved for who I am, not what I do. God is not trying to trick me. If I am genuine in my seeking of him, he won’t let me miss the mark, even if I’m not sure what exactly it is I’m shooting for.

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Take It Slow: Five Minute Friday

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I’ve been attempting to find silence and solitude lately. If you don’t already know, I am also a mom of three young children. (Ok, don’t laugh at me yet). I’ve always been fascinated with many of the ancient spiritual practices that are rarely highlighted in the modern church. But I also live a life of noise and chaos, also known as motherhood. But I still believe it is possible for both to coexist; both silence and motherhood. My counselor recommended I begin thinking and praying about how I could work this into my life. I’ve gotten a little better at self-care.(Though I missed my weekly relaxing bath, and I find that I’m feeling the lack). But spiritual self-care is just as important.

There is nothing wrong with the prayers of desperation that are such a regular part of my day. But something in me wanted something more. I wanted to become more aware of the voice of God and more attuned to his presence in my daily life. I am consistently aware of my need for a Savior, but I wanted to reconnect with what it means to be Fathered and loved by the Almighty, just for being who I am. I can look at my 1 year old, and I love him just for being him from the moment he was born. Yet I have trouble believing God feels this way about me. So I am trying to find moments to rest and listen.

But how can I do that when my days are so full and so loud? By starting slow. When I am in the car without the kids, I turn the radio off and try to pray. I take deep breaths and meditate in the shower. When the baby is taking a nap and the big kids are watching TV downstairs, I try to take five minutes to sit quietly in my bedroom with my eyes closed and quiet myself. Choose to slow my soul and let the hurry fall away. I expect interruption and distraction. Then I’m not so surprised and angry about it. I just take a deep breath and begin again. (I am still very much working on this. The other day when both my big kids were pounding on the door I barely resisted the urge to yell “What could you possibly need right now? Can’t you understand I’m TRYING to TALK to GOD!”)

It has been very difficult for me to accept that life is process. I’m always trying to check off boxes and pursue goals hoping that eventually I’ll have arrived and I’ll be able to relax. But life is a constant progression of renovation and transformation. This unsettled nature of life goes against my natural state, my innate personality. I enjoy the destination more than the trip. So finding moments of silence and solitude is part of engaged and accepting the nature of the journey. Finding a place to pause along the road, whether it appears to produce results or not.

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Because I Am Weak, I Can Be Useful: Five Minute Friday

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I’ve always hated being weak. I spent most of my life as an overachiever. A lot was expected of me at a young age, and mostly appropriately so. I was encouraged in my areas of talent and ability. But it was also a lot to live up to. There is such a fine line between encouraging a child and expecting the best from him or her, and pushing them into overachiever status. I often felt like I needed to be the best, or I would lose the confidence and love of those around me. I liked being depended on by teachers, parents and church leaders. I didn’t want to disappoint. While I was continually reminded about the unconditional love of my heavenly Father, I found myself carrying over this attitude of overachievment into that part of my life as well. Of course God loved me no matter what, but just in case, I needed to make sure I was giving it my full effort; checking off all the boxes.

But of course I was only human and I couldn’t do everything, I was far from perfect. I had a very hard time taking criticism, not because I didn’t want to improve, but because in that criticism I heard my unspoken fear: you aren’t good enough, and if you don’t “fix” your issues you will become useless and unlovable. Now, those things were never overtly stated, and rarely true. But I heard them anyway.

I like to think that I have improved in this area, and in some ways I have.but it still takes continual effort to have a teachable, correctable spirit. My need to impress has kept me from taking risks because I might do it wrong and someone might notice and tell me so. Since having children, it is easy to question myself constantly. It doesn’t help that our social media culture fosters an environment where each person’s choices become public discussion fodder. Gossip has always existed, but the difference between the village rumors and the internet is that now one mom’s apparent failing becomes a public opinion discussion but without the important relationship of community closeness. When the sweet older lady who helps you wrangle your children gives you advice it’s a lot easier to take than when a stranger half way across the world criticizes you on social media. Because correction should always, whenever possible, come from a place of love and relationship.

This past year I have been learning the hard way that God can use us because of our weakness rather than in spite of it. I took on some major responsibilities last year, ones I had been praying about for a while. Then within weeks, life got very crazy. Suddenly being my usual overachieving self was no longer an option. Instead of just delegating, I was forced to really depend on those around me. It was a position of feeling out of control. This was not how I liked to function. I had been raised to be dutiful and responsible. Without meaning to, my personal mantra had become “do it well or don’t do it at all.” (Not quite the same as perfectionism, for which I am not usually plagued, but close enough to get in the way). So as I saw myself handling my public responsibilities at less than full capacity, I felt like a failure.

I vividly remember a conversation I had with God where I mentally uttered the phrase. “This is not how I wanted to do things.” My spirit was quietly reminded of verse from 2 Corinthians. (Which of course I couldn’t remember verbatim which I why I am very grateful for the internet in helping me locate the full versions of verses of which I recall only a small portion.)
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12: 9-10

I realized that my weakness was not a barrier to God. If anything, he was forcing me to depend on him. When you are firing on all cylinders it is easy to give in to pride. After all, confidence in your own abilities isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But when God uses me, not just despite my frailties but because of them, the credit is his alone. When the children God has given me cause me to come to the end of myself both in public and in private make me accessible and relatable to other moms, his power is being made perfect in my weakness. When we begrudgingly made peace with the idea of renting our house instead of selling it, and now we get random texts from our new tenants telling us how grateful and blessed they feel to be living in our house, his power is being made perfect in my weakness. When I realize that parenting is as much about who I am supposed to become as helping my children become who they are supposed to be, (especially when I have doubts about what either of those things will look like), his power is made perfect in my weakness.

As we look back at our lives, may we be able to say that God, in his mercy, used our weakest places and our deepest failures to do some of his greatest work.

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Be Kind To Yourself: Grace During Times of Transition

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I sat down to write this post, wanting so much to share wisdom about how important it is to be kind to yourself. But then I realized something, I am terrible at that. I think I’m being kind to myself when the house is a mess and I haven’t exercises in two months because I’m adjusting my expectations.

Except I’m not. I’m harboring frustration and irritation at myself. Because a more disciplined person would be getting up early to pray and workout so that I could greet the day in a centered and calm manner. Instead of being ripped from sleep by the sound of my children up and already fighting with each other. If I really had it together I would be showered and dressed (extra points for makeup) and already started their breakfast before they emerge instead of alternating hurriedly throwing food at them while I attempt to wash, brush and dress. (This whole back and forth takes until at least 10 AM most days).

I can talk big about giving yourself grace, and encourage other moms to be kind to themselves, but you know what? I’m awful at taking my own advice. Because even though I know I can’t be super mom, I can’t stop trying. There is so much of me that doesn’t get expressed. The part of me that needs to focus on health and wholeness. The part that wants to be strong, and fit instead of saggy and lumpy. The part that wants to change the world, be a “real” blogger, and finish my next book. The part that wonders if I could have a teaching or a speaking ministry if only I had more than thirty seconds to think on a daily basis.

So what choice do I have? I can either continue down a path of negatively and self-deprecation and convince myself things will never get better. (Trust me I have those moments). Or I had just try again tomorrow and learn to rejoice in the small victories.

Today I managed to workout for the first time in a long time. It was at 3:30 in the afternoon while the baby was napping and the kids were miraculously playing without fighting for more than two minutes. I may have worn my workouts clothes all day to get to this small step forward and it’s likely that tomorrow may go in a completely different direction. But for now, for today, for this moment I was able to step out of the rut of survival mode and work towards a better way.

I can feel bad that I “should’ have done more and become disheartened if tomorrow I’m not able to make any progress. Or I can just celebrate the moment. Maybe those little celebrations and private acknowledgment of my small accomplishments are what kindness to myself looks like.