Monday, May 26, 2014

With great power....

Yesterday was my 3rd anniversary with this awesome guy who never takes a serious picture for me...ever. Fortunately for me, God wired me to love his silly-ness and so every time I try to take a picture and he makes a crazy face, it ends up being my favorite picture of us.

Anyway, yesterday we celebrated 3 years of being married. It's hard to believe that it's only been three years, since we went through so much in that short time. It's been an incredible adventure, and I am so blessed beyond words to have him as my partner through life.

This past year has been an especially exciting one! We have built our company and last year we made more in a 12 month period than either of us know what to do with.

Which brings me to the subject of this blog.

Every year, I look back at how the year has gone and what adjustments we need to make in order to end up where we want to be five, ten, or fifty years down the road. So far, I've noticed that every year we seem to learn one major lesson that makes everything better moving forward.

Do you remember watching that Spider Man movie with that Toby guy as the star? Most of us do. And most of us also remember his uncle's famous words: "With great power comes great responsibility."

Well, folks. Money is (among other things) power.

Let me start, right now, by telling you that money isn't evil. And people who have money aren't inherently evil nor do they magically become evil when the money touches their bank accounts. But money reveals where you need to do some work in your life, because it is a type of power. Someone once said that power corrupts and I don't think that's entirely true. What power does do is opens up the doors to corruption, and you have to choose to walk through them, or to firmly shut them.

Money is power, and it opens doors. It's the power to have what you've never been able to have before. It's the power to live as you want to, and if you're not careful that can get dangerous fast.

What do I mean?

Well, let's take a look at Jared and I. We're good people. We're Christians. We have morals and guidelines and even a few personal rules that we live by and those keep us mostly safe. And yet, we are human and as such we do have those areas in our life where an open door can cause problems.

Last year we made more money than we know what to do with and this year we don't have a penny in savings because we never bothered to save any of it. What did we do?

For one, we ate.

We ate a lot.

We didn't just eat, we ate restaurant burgers and delivery pizza and lots of ice cream on a pretty regular basis.

As a result, we got fat.

Today Jared and I are working hard to shed the extra weight that we stacked onto ourselves when we had more than enough and weren't managing it carefully enough. As people who grew up poor, we were completely enamored with the ability to have dinner and dessert every night without ever having to walk into a grocery store or cook. And not only did we foist all of our food-related work onto someone else, but we ate way more than we should have at just about every sitting.

Gluttony and sloth came into our lives. Those are called "deadly sins" for a reason.

Second, we helped people.

That's a good thing, right? Helping people is good!

Well, yes and no.

Yes, because reaching out to people is what we are called to do. But no, because sometimes the ways that we help people don't really help them after all.

With our extra money we gathered quite a few people who we were hurting by helping. One of my mentors calls them projects, another calls them strays. Whatever you call them, these are the people who are flat broke on the inside. Whether they have money or not (and sadly they usually don't) these are the people whose ways of dealing with their lives and with other people constantly land them in bad waters.

There's a difference between hitting a bad situation through no fault of your own and throwing yourself headfirst into bad situation stew. When you're first meeting a person they can look pretty identical. In both cases the person is in a bad situation and is frustrated by it. They say things like "If I could just find a job" or "I'm just a little short right now" or "I don't understand why he's being such a jerk."

It's very important, when you're in a position to be able to help people, that you use discernment with who you offer your help to.

We didn't.

Excited to be able to help someone and make a difference in their lives, we picked up the first few people who crossed our paths and were in bad situations. Having been someone who made bad choices and landed in a bad situation and needed someone else's help to get back on my feet, I had a soft spot for twenty-something girls who just seemed to be having a rough time of it. Whenever I came across one I became convinced that I had to throw all of my resources into helping them.

In each of these situations we tried to forge friendships with the people we were helping, tried to offer them help in a way that was un-controlling and uplifting. In each of these situations the people drained us of our resources, caused stress and strife between us, and then cut all ties from us because of lies they had fabricated in their own minds about who we were and what we were about. The result of our attempt to help was wasted money, time, and emotional energy, and a growing wedge in our marriage that we had to work very hard to pull back out.

All because we didn't use discernment in who we helped. I saw people in a situation I could empathize with and I convinced myself that I was the only person in the world who could understand and help them, so I rushed in without counsel or even prayer.

That is called pride. It's another of those deadly sins.

You see, having the power of money and not guarding ourselves carefully enough against ... well, ourselves ... we fell victim to those deadly sins. They're called "deadly" for a reason, my friends. They kill what is good in your life. Once the deadly sins have entered your life there is a heck of a lot of prayer and hard work that you have ahead in order to recover from the damage you've done to yourself.

Fortunately for us, it only took giving too much help to a few people for us to realize what we were actually accomplishing was far from our goal. And after reaping the "rewards" of a year of sloth and gluttony, we were receptive when God brought someone into our lives to help us recover from that damage.

Year three has been very exciting, with more growth and prosperity and blessing than we have ever experienced. And I feel so fortunate that in the midst of all of this, now is the time when we learned that we need to be ever vigilant with what we have. As we gain more influence in its many forms, we become more able to affect more people around us. This means that as we gain this influence, we have to be ever more careful with the way we are using it! I'm glad that we learned this lesson at a time when we do not have children to follow our gluttony or be hurt by our willingness to indiscriminately allow people into our inner sanctum. And now, having seen the truth of how careful we do need to be with our power as we gain more of it, we are better prepared to truly help people.

The lesson for year 3 was to be careful with the power God gives us. I'm really excited to see what's coming in year 4!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

15 ways life is better now...

Yep, I know the poster and the title are different. Isn't that cool?

Just in case you can't read the poster, here's what it says (with some explanation):

1. Buh-Bye "Big Girl" stores! (I can wear smaller clothes!) 

If you're like me, you've had plenty of days consumed with walking into a store that you had to drive forever to get to because it's the only one that carries your size...only to look around and think "These clothes are all so...gross."

Fat people clothes aren't designed to be pretty. They're getting there, but they aren't there yet. If you have a bolder, flashier style in general it's easier. But for someone who tends to be a little more on the formal/conservative side it's difficult to say the least. not to mention WAY expensive.

2. My confidence is through the roof! 

This is a big one for me, since I've struggled with an almost complete lack of confidence (which I tried to make up for with bravado and attitude) since I was a kid. To finally be able to look in the mirror and believe that I look good, that's huge!

3. Small, daily tasks - like getting out of the car or standing to wash dishes - are easier and don't hurt anymore. 

I didn't even realize how much pain I was in, how much I was struggling against the weight of my body all the time. I've gotten rid of 65 pounds (six big bags of potatoes and one small one!) Because of that I've been able to pop out of the car without a problem, or stand up for half an hour to hand wash my pots without having to sit down for the rest of the day with an ice pack.

4. I sleep better at night
5. I have more energy all day

These two really go together! Since I'm not tossing and turning all night long, struggling to get comfortable and not crush myself under my own weight, I actually need less sleep and I keep my energy from sleep way easier! It's so much easier to wake up in the morning, to want to get out of bed and start the coffee brewing, to do the things that we all should be able to do with ease!

6. I'm more comfortable with myself.

65 pounds ago, I used to try to take up as little space as possible. (I failed.) I would sit with my back as straight as possible whenever I was around other people, I would tense all of my muscles in an attempt to scrunch my body up and be smaller. It made being around people...exhausting.

Now, I don't worry about it. I don't worry about whether I'm taking up too much space, I just wait for someone to tell me to get out of the way. I'm comfortable lounging around at friends houses, or sitting in a position that's actually comfortable at a coffee shop. Even if I look a little silly, I'm more comfortable in my own skin than I have been since I started gaining weight in the 4th grade.

7. I'm less likely to feel overwhelmed.

The science and psychology behind this one is fascinating, but I won't get into it. The simple version is that without that 65 pounds, I feel less tired. Motion in general is less frustrating and exhausting, which makes life less frustrating and exhausting.

8. I receive compliments on how great I look, everywhere I go.

This one really ties into my confidence level and how I've been able to become more comfortable with myself. It's hard not to feel good about yourself when everyone around you is saying you look amazing!

9. I'm not always more focused on food than everything else.

I used to always be searching for the next source to curb my hunger or my cravings. It would get so bad, I'd spend entire conversations just thinking about what I was going to eat for lunch even if I had just finished breakfast! Now, I can sometimes forget that it's time to eat at all until my stomach reminds me.

10. I'm excited when I think about the future, instead of scared or depressed. 

This is another huge one for me. I used to look ahead and, because of my weight, most of what I could see was the health problems I'd have to deal with or the things I wouldn't be able to do because I was too heavy. Now I know that I can be happy and healthy in the future, and that makes all the things that were already exciting that much better!

11. How much fun I have doesn't depend on how much food I eat. 

In a conversation with an old friend, I was absolutely mortified when the topic of birthday parties came up. Not because birthday parties are particularly embarrassing, but because at one of hers I ate half a sheet cake myself. I had no idea how to handle new situations, meeting new people, or really anything that wasn't exactly as everything had always been. Even little changes would threaten to upset my emotional balance. But life is constant change. To cope, I learned to hover closely to the available food. Food was fun! It was good, it made me happy, and I never had to feel bad about not knowing what to do.

Now, I can go through a whole party without even thinking about the buffet line - and when I get home I still feel like I had a blast!

12. I've developed healthy ways to handle stress, instead of just stuffing my face. 

Remember how I said that change made me upset? Well, that was true of just about all stress. Anything that didn't go according to plan, anything that was difficult emotionally, even just the normal stress of everyday things like being stuck in traffic or having dishes waiting in the sink at home would bother me. To keep on top of the anxiety these things caused, I ate. In fact I ate every emotion, from happy to sad to guilty to bored.

It became so much of a habit that I didn't know how to handle anything without food. Not even being happy! I'd been using food to generate false happiness for so long that I couldn't identify or process the real thing.

Now, I don't need food to feel better! And even better...

13.  I'm less stressed!

Once again, there's a bunch of science and psychology stuff that I won't go into here. But it's really cool!

14. No more concerned looks from my doctor!

At 22, I shouldn't be seeing my doctor frown so deeply when she looks at my chart. Yet there I was with her frowning - no, scowling! - at my blood pressure. Now, I don't have to worry about what bad news she's not telling me yet. I know I'm getting healthier, and she knows it too!

15. I feel like I really am capable of anything!!

Have you ever had that internal eye-roll feeling when someone says you can do anything you put your mind to? I have. When you don't feel like you can even master your own cravings it's hard to feel like you can write a novel, run a business, be a good mom, or really do anything right in life! Now that I've finally got myself on the path to better health and I'm seeing real, tangible improvement, I feel like I can take on anything I can find!

So that's what improved health has done for me so far...what will it do for you?

Thursday, April 24, 2014

What you should be teaching your kids about bullying

Let me start by saying that I'm not a parent. I can't speak from a parental perspective on the topic of bullying, and I know that. 

So why have I ventured into this no-mans-land of telling parents how to parent? 

I've been wrestling with the decision to post this blog for a few weeks now. I finally came to the conclusion that - while I'm not a parent - I do have a lot of valuable information to impart on the subject. I can see the bullying issue from a couple of different sides, having been both a bully and a victim in school. There's plenty of articles and blog posts about how the school needs to crack down on bullying, or the idea that there need to be federal laws against bullying. This is not one of those. 

I actually think bullying serves an important function in society. Would it be awesome if kids could just be nice to each other all the time? Absolutely! But since kids are just as human as the rest of us, minus the self control and tolerance that some of us have learned, I don't see it being very likely. In my opinion, that's okay. As my husband says, "How would I have known that white Velcro shoes didn't go with black sweatpants if the bullies didn't tease me for it?"

Bullying teaches us from an early age that sometimes people just won't like you. Not everyone thinks you hung the moon, and if you look weird there is always someone who will point it out. If responded to correctly, the verbal abuse we all sustain in school at one point or another can be used to shape us into well-adjusted adults. We can learn early on that what some people think doesn't matter, and that we need to decide for ourselves and just stick with it. 

We can also learn not to wear white Velcro shoes with black sweatpants.  

If we teach our children to respond correctly to the friction of bullying, it can help them go a really long way in life. So, point number one:

Teach your children to respond to bullying the right way. Not with stupid sayings that don't actually help, but with internal dialog. They need to know that with every comment they have the option to take it in, consider whether it's valid, and either toss it away and move on unaffected, or apply certain changes to adjust whatever issue is being criticized. 

I think it's too easy to just hand out disconnected points and expect the kids to come to the right conclusion for themselves. Parents hear about a bullying situation and either they completely flip their lid and start bullying school administration to make something happen (sending the message that bullying is OK as long as it's aimed at anyone other than the perfect, precious child); or they cite the platitudes of the ages.

"Sticks and stones can break my bones..." teaches children to lie to themselves and others about how something has impacted them, and that you can resolve any situation by being really annoying.

"Just be nice to the other kids" teaches children that they are doormats and probably deserved whatever happened anyway.

"Tell a teacher" sends the message that they have no power of their own and will never be right or even able to defend themselves.

"Just don't let it bother you" teaches them that everything should be bottled up inside - because they don't know how to just not be bothered, so they have to pretend.

I could go on forever. Without the connecting points that we as adults have mentally, these statements are utterly useless and even harmful. It does the child no good to hear that their bully is just as insecure as they are, because they don't know what in the world they're supposed to do with that information. We have to teach them to connect the right dots, in the right order, for themselves.

That alone would significantly reduce the number of bullying-related fatalities.

But teaching children how to have good mental dialog isn't enough. Sometimes bullying crosses the line into physical abuse, and at those times a good mental dialog just won't cut it. Which brings me to my second point:

Teach your children that it's okay to defend themselves. 

It's treated as a crazy idea anymore that you would teach your kids to hit back. After all, didn't you just finish their toddler years by teaching them that hitting back is just as wrong as hitting first? Won't they get in trouble at school for hitting back?

Let me ask you this: Would you prefer for your child to be suspended, or permanently handicapped? Would you prefer for your child to be expelled, or dead?

I saw a video recently, in an anti-bullying article, that I found incredibly disturbing. It was supposedly shot by a student, and featured two teenage girls: One screaming and throwing punches, the other cowering in a corner and begging to just be allowed to go home.

The video seemed to go on forever as the victim sustained blow after blow, never defending herself. I watched the video, waiting for the moment when the victim would finally have had enough and would fight back to save herself. It didn't happen. Despite plenty of openings, plenty of chances to hit back and knock the wind out of her opponent so she could escape, the girl did nothing.

She was hospitalized, in a relatively short coma, and on the verge of death. She did come out of it all okay...provided you consider being permanently blinded and having unknown amounts of brain damage to be "okay."

Being a minor, there was no word on what the consequences to the aggressor were.

Let me ask you again, and I want you to really think about this. Put yourself in that hospital room, your daughter hooked up to those life supporting machines and tell me: Would you rather your child defend themselves and probably get in trouble for it, or would you prefer that your baby girl suffer a brutal beating that blinds her and causes untold brain damage that will affect her life in unknown ways forever?

I shouldn't have to say any more on the subject. The very thought that someone could be allowed to damage your child in such a way should have you signing them up for every martial arts class in the city.

As kids, we go through all of our schooling being taught that fighting back really is just as bad as starting the fight. The kid who defends himself gets suspended for longer than the kid who attacked him, the girl who fights back gets expelled and sent to "Juvie" because she broke her attacker's arm. It's drilled into us, repeatedly and forcefully, that we are not to fight back. That we ought not defend ourselves.

It's up to you, as parents, to override that.

I currently suffer from a back injury that I sustained in the 7th grade. I sometimes can't sleep because I'm in so much pain that all I can do is cry. It's been like this since the day a boy in gym class decided - just for funsies - to drive all of his weight into a kick aimed at my lower back.

It wasn't the first time I'd been attacked at school. Since 4th grade I'd been dealing with physical violence of increasing intensity, and an administrative staff that didn't really care enough to do anything about it. No, it really wasn't the first time I'd been hurt because my classmates thought it would be funny.

But it was the last.

Why? Because after years of listening to my mom tell me to just be nice and just tell a teacher and just don't let them bother me...I finally took my dad's advice, and hit the kid back.

More accurately, I tackled him, shoved his face into the gym floor, and told him to apologize.

Did my mom do something wrong in teaching me to be nice, to tell a teacher? No. She did the best she knew how. And in many situations, being nice or telling the teacher could have made all the difference. But if I had retaliated sooner, the issue would likely have never even reached the point that I would have sustained an injury that affected me into my adult life.

Why didn't I listen to my dad sooner? Simple, I didn't want to get in trouble.

The fact of the matter is that there comes a time to draw the line and refuse to allow anyone to cross it. Our kids need to know that. They need to know that whatever the consequences for their actions, there comes a time to defend yourself...and that's really okay.

So there it is, my two cents on bullying. My non-parental advice to all the parents out there. Teach your kids to have correct internal responses, and teach them that sometimes it really is okay to hit back.

Just how many lives could we save?

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Letter

Dear family and friends,

2013 has been an amazing year for the McQuades! We've strengthened our marriage and had a record year in our business! We had our share of challenges, but each one served to make us stronger and better as people and we have had so much fun in the process. We've been abundantly blessed to donate over $10,000 to charity and we've set the wheels in motion to update our website and photos. Overall, it's been an amazing year.

Which brings us to 2014. I'm really excited about 2014!

2014 brings us great things from the start, kicking off with an amazing 90-day fitness challenge. I'm excited about this challenge because Nutrilite and BodyKey have really kicked it up a notch with this one! They've improved the starter kit, adding new and better products and even more amazing prizes and incentives. Plus, my awesome husband will be doing the challenge with me this time and in my opinion that makes every activity better!

We're improving our social lives by working to schedule at least one activity (but preferably more) for at least one of us (but preferably both) on every single day of the new year. I'm already off to an excellent start, scheduled all the way through next Wednesday! I'm excited about this because I always love the opportunity to meet new people. This also has the additional challenge and benefit of finding new things to do and enjoy, which is always super exciting.

I have a personal goal of reading 34 books in 2014. I've got the plan all mapped out, and I'm really excited about everything I'm going to learn! From leadership to marriage, self awareness and improvement to how to uplift and encourage others, there's lots of topics and I'm looking forward to it. I'm also starting a journaling project. The plan is to write in the journal every day (partially inspired by Brad Paisley's quote about the next year being a 365-page book). I don't know what I'll write or what it will be used for, but I'm excited to see how it will turn out.

And that's not even the half of it!

2014 is going to be so amazing, and we're both looking forward to it!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Christmas 2013

Usually this is the time of year when I do my Christmas post about how much I love Christmas and my favorite Christmas traditions and so on. I spend a lot of time reflecting on the past, on Christmas with my parents and how different it is now. In fact, this is the time of year where I start really feeling like the point of the whole year is about to be accomplished! But this year, for the first year ever, I'm at this time of year and I feel like life is so much more than Christmas.

Maybe that's weird to say.

Growing up, Christmas was what it was about. Life was life...and then there was Christmas. We all tried harder at Christmas; we were more organized, more patient, more kind. It's like the magic of Christmas swept into the house and straightened us up. The rest of the year was just stuff, and Christmas was special.

This year has been amazing. I'll post more about that later. But all of the year-round amazingness has changed my perspective on Christmas. It's not really the highlight of the year anymore. It's kindof just another day. We get to hang out with family and take a few extra days off, but that's the only real difference. Part of me is sad about losing the magic feeling, but I'm way happier to have such an amazing life that Christmas dims in comparison!

This year we've been fortunate in that we've gotten to just relax for most of the Christmas season. While others have hosted large parties for family and friends we've sat back and spent time with each other, talking about our goals and plans for next year and how wonderful this year has been. Our Christmas season actually doesn't even start until the 21st, and I think I like it that way!

We're kicking everything off with a gorgeous black tie optional party one of our clients has invited us to. We were invited last year as well and it was a truly spectacular night, so I'm really looking forward to it! Plus, I get to wear one of my fancy dresses for the first time since last Christmas, and I've lost about half a dress size since then!

The next day we're joining my husband's side of the family for a movie and dinner to celebrate his grandmother's birthday, which I'm pretty excited about not only because it's his grandma's birthday but also because we're going to see a movie I've been wanting to see and the restaurant they picked is one of my's like a Christmas present to me from the whole family (haha). Then on Monday we're going over to my mother in law's house to help her with my favorite part of Christmas preparations - wrapping presents! And after that we're driving down to Longview to see my father in law and his awesome wife. After that it's Christmas Eve and we don't have any plans solidified for that yet but we'll probably just chill with all the corny Christmas movies on Netflix. Then it's Christmas!

Christmas is crazy for us as a couple in a way that it never was for me growing up. You see, my husband's other grandma had nine kids (his dad's generation), and all of those kids had kids (his generation), and most of those kids have had kids as well (our kids' generation). And almost all of them pack into Grandma's house for Christmas! There's only enough seats for everyone because there's a floor and I'm sure some of the aunts spend the whole time standing up and working (cooking, cleaning, etc). We're all crammed in like sardines and it's noisy and disorganized ... and yet, somehow, we all have an excellent time.

After Christmas we take a day to recover. It's just got to happen. With that much food, there's no way around it. We sleep for most of the day and it's amazing.

Then we start in on New Year stuff. We write out our goals and plans, get things organized, make more plans, and post our goals and affirmations around the house. We conference with our mentors to share our goals and plans with them, and to get input from them on where things may need to be adjusted. We get all of our accounting things in order so we can send them off to our awesome accountant at the beginning of the year, and before we know it December 31st has arrived!

It's a whirlwind, to be sure, but it's so much fun.

I'm especially excited for the new year. There's so much happening! But that's another post. Merry Christmas everyone.

Monday, November 11, 2013

A picture's worth a thousand words...

There are some moments you notice, and you just can't help loving them and wanting to hold on to them forever. This is one of those moments. It may look like a normal, slightly cluttered living/dining area, but traces of the day are there. It's all of our moments wrapped up together. I'm sitting here, on the couch with my tea and my book to close my night, and I can't help smiling. I look up, and I see this one, beautiful moment that is so representative of all of the other amazing, beautiful moments of today. It almost makes me want to cry with gratitude and an overwhelming sense of how blessed I am.

Let me show you what I mean.

Just out of your line of sight in this picture, there's my bookcase and my little breakfast bar. The bookcase is jam-packed, full of books and notebooks and binders and journals. It's time to clean up my collection again, and get rid of some things I just don't use. I love books. Three years ago I didn't own a single one. Today, I'm thinking about buying a bigger bookcase!

Only two of the books in that case are fiction, Monarch and The Breakaway, they were written by a friend of mine. I don't know her very well, and I don't speak to her very often, but when I was in a really tough spot in life she gave me a lot of guidance. She was one of the few people willing to go on a limb for me, to try her very best to help me in that particular time in life. For that I will always be grateful, I will always consider her a dear friend, and I will never get rid of her books.

The rest of my books are nonfiction. There's three bibles and a whole lot of resources about business, marriage, family, leadership, and similar topics. Three years ago I didn't own a single book, now I need a bigger bookcase because I'm constantly buying new ones. I'm learning so much, all the time! I can barely believe that the person I am today even came from the person I was three years ago, but I'm here. I treasure those books, especially the personally signed copy of Get Married, Stay Married by Paul and Billie Kaye Tsika. That book saved our marriage before it had even started. It began the transformation in my husband and I that got us back into church, and onto the right path.

Just past the bookcase is my breakfast bar. I think that's what they call it, anyway. There's candles there. Jared doesn't much like candles, but he lets me keep them around because he knows how much I love them. Especially these ones. It's really hard to find this scent except after Halloween, but for me it's always been the smell of happy times. All of my favorite childhood memories happened when the house smelled like this. It's the perfect blend of apples and cinnamon, the smell of my favorite tea. In this moment, the smell of those candles brings me not only the joy of all those wonderful memories, but also of knowing that my husband probably really hates those candles and he doesn't say a word because he loves me and he likes how happy the candles help me be.

He's amazing like that.

In the corner are the boxes and packing materials from today's product delivery. I love product day. I get to spend at least an hour unpacking, sorting, recording, and putting away my favorite everyday products! It makes me feel productive, and busy, yet somehow so at peace. Every product day means I'm one month closer to everything I've been working toward for the past three years.

On the wall, above and next to the door, are my inspiration reminders. I have our first son's name, printed in big letters, to remind me why I'm learning self discipline. I have pictures of places that we want to visit: Ireland, Italy, Germany, Peter Island, and Victoria BC, to remind me that the world is bigger than just what I can see right now. I have a picture of an old car driving down a road lined with cherry trees, to remind me to enjoy the journey. I have 70 personal affirmations, six inspirational quotes, and six pictures of the most gorgeous shoes I've seen yet...all to help me keep developing myself.

When I'm feeling discouraged, or sad, or put-down, when something hasn't gone the way I anticipated or wanted, I look at this wall. I remind myself of my son and all of his siblings, of the wonderful places we'll be able to go, of why this is all so worth it. I stand in front of this wall and read off the 70 affirmations until I believe in myself again. I often glance over at the inspirational quotes to give me a mini-lift when I need one. And the shoes? They're to remind myself to take everything one single, beautiful, careful step at a time.

Truthfully, I'm sure this wall drives my husband crazy too. He doesn't learn the same way I do and so the wall probably just looks like a bunch of printer paper and thumbtacks to him. But he knows that it helps me, and so out of love he lets me do as I please. He's pretty awesome.

The table makes me smile today, because Jared was sitting right there this afternoon when he told me that I'd gotten the pancakes right. It's a small thing, sortof. For me it's a really big deal. I've been struggling with learning (and re learning) how to cook even the simplest things. His affirmation meant a lot to me. And he was right! They were excellent pancakes!

Him taking the time to say it is also very important to me. It wasn't always this way. Not because he was a bad person or a bad husband, we just weren't there yet. There was a period of time when we barely even liked each other, much less complemented each other! Having gone through that, hearing even a small praise like "good job on the pancakes" means a lot more.

Also at that table, there's our jackets hung side by side on chairs. We spent the whole day together again. Almost two years ago we started our own company. It's only by God's grace that both the company and the marriage survived, because we started up smack in the middle of that not liking each other time. Spending a day together used to be something I wished we could enjoy. Now, just barely two years later, it is. Every day is a giant bonding experience, and I love it!

Some people have said that will go away but I don't think it will. We get so much time to talk, to really get to know each other more and really be there for each other. Sometimes we talk about stupid things, just sharing our opinion on the colors of the cars around us or the transition from chorus to bridge in a song we just heard. Sometimes we talk about serious things, like our pasts and our future. Whatever we talk about, we grow closer every day. I wouldn't trade our time together for anything, and I'm so glad that God opened a door for us to be together so much.

In the corner there's the rocking chair. I only keep it because my mother in law likes it so much and I love to make her happy. When she's not here, the chair is just a storage space for purses and unused blankets. But when she's here, we pull it away from the wall so she can sit and rock. Maybe it's so many years of being a great mom to her own kids and then the kids she "adopted," but she really loves that chair. I'm looking forward to seeing her there, rocking and holding my babies, maybe singing or telling them a story. She's going to make a wonderful grandma.

The office chair is so far away from the desk because Jared and I wanted to watch one of our favorite shows with dinner. I was sitting there, until he said I was too far away and asked me to sit on the couch with him. It's another evidence of how far we've come, and it lit up my evening.

If you look closely you can also see my weights stashed under the end table. I've been working really hard on staying consistent with my workout habit. I'm having some medication conflicts right now that are making progress difficult, but I'm determined to build the habit anyway. Once I started thinking seriously about my future, and especially about my kids, exercising got really important to me. I never want my kids to be bored or lonely because I'm too fat to chase them around the playground, and I never want them to have to worry over the health problems that are caused by being overweight. I want to be my best for them, and set a good example for them, and that means building the habit now. I keep my weights there so I have to see them every day, because if I skip a workout then seeing those weights just sitting there under the table will drive me crazy enough to pick them up.

All of that, and it's just a snapshot. Just what I see when I glance up from my book. One glance carries so much blessing, so much abundance, so much change, growth, and happiness. So much, in just that one moment. I never want to forget just how thankful and blessed I feel right now.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Advice from my personal experience: Give.

When you're struggling in an area, it gets particularly difficult to give. Your survival instincts kick in and start to say things like "That money is needed for our family budget, I can't tithe." or "There's barely enough food for us, I can't invite someone to dinner or donate to the food drive."

This is an especially easy thought trap for women to fall into, because we are naturally wired to be protectors of what we already have. Men are wired to expand, women are wired to preserve and manage. But that doesn't mean that you're immune if you're male.

The reality of the matter is that lack of any kind creates in us faulty humans a greediness that is hard to defeat. We sit like Scrooge McDuck and count our pennies, all the while wondering why we have no friends, why no one is offering to help. We aren't willing to look around and see how our pennies can be used to help someone else because we're so busy keeping them to ourselves. After all, we barely have enough. Let the rich do the charity donating.

The only cure to lack is generosity. If you want to start doing better in life, you have to give. Not because there's some cosmic law of the universe that says if you give you'll receive (which there is, but it comes with a caveat: your attitude has to be in the right place), but because giving what little you have to someone else is an act of faith. When you put that extra dollar or ten dollars or hundred dollars into the offering plate at church, or when you invite someone you know is also struggling to come share your family dinner, you're stepping into God's jurisdiction and saying "I'm going to trust that you'll take care of me."

Remember, it's about the heart attitude. Giving is so important because of the heart attitude it creates. You can't give with a heart attitude of "God, I'm putting this ten bucks in the plate and now it's your job to bring me more money." God doesn't honor a selfish heart that gives only to bribe a response.

Two years ago, my husband and I had hit a really rough spot. We were relying on the good graces of a friend for shelter and some nights we couldn't even afford the 15 cent packet of ramen noodles for dinner. Both of us are fairly unemployable, having between us just one GED in a world where Starbucks can choose from doctorates, and so we were trying to start a business that could support us financially. We put every spare penny into getting gas for the car. We were getting barely a quarter of his previous pay from unemployment and that amount put us in an income bracket that disqualified us for government assistance with food and other bills. It was an incredibly difficult position to be in, especially after the year we'd had.

In this time, my husband made an amazing decision. Before he'd lost his job he'd promised a certain amount - roughly a tenth of our income - to a charity on a monthly basis. I found out that first month that losing his job hadn't changed that decision. Before he paid any other bills, before we went grocery shopping, he wrote a check to that charity. In his mind it wasn't even a question. He'd made a promise, and he knew that God could handle taking care of us whether he kept his promise or not. His integrity demanded that he follow through and his faith promised it would work out.

I was furious. I'm not proud to admit that, but I was. I was in full on McDuck mode, thinking only about how that money could have benefited us. When my husband later continued to give what small amounts we could to those in need around us, I got angrier. It created a crossroads in my life where I had to decide whether I was going to trust God and submit to my husband, or become a nuisance and try to control things.

Fortunately, I'd already been under mentorship for a while and I'd learned to think more in terms of who I wanted to become. I wanted to be someone who trusted my husband, who trusted God, and who walked in faith. So I made the decision to do so. When the nagging thoughts in the back of my head wouldn't go away I approached my husband with humility and explained my concerns. I talked to him about how I was worried that with us doing so much giving to others, there wouldn't be enough for us. That's when he explained his faith and that he already knew God was going to get us out of this, so it was easy for him to be generous with others. He explained that God had given us an opportunity to see what he could do, and so our job was just to trust him and to put our time and what money we did have to work in faith. We did a lot of volunteer work in that time, and we never missed one of those payments we'd promised to make.

I couldn't understand it at the time, but I stuck with my decision to trust God like he did. I prayed that God would prove my husband's faith and strengthen mine. It was an agonizing few days, waiting for a miracle. Finally, something did happen - and I almost didn't see it. We paid all of our bills for that month, even paying rent to our friend who was helping us. To this day I don't know where the money came from. After that, people started inviting us over for dinner, just to hang out. With no idea of our struggle (we kept a good front because we didn't want to draw attention to ourselves), people started being used by God to feed us. For the first few months, before business picked up for us, God fed us at the tables of people we had only just met and he somehow kept our bills paid. Then business slowly started to escalate.

Today, we are abundantly blessed. Our income has tripled from what it was while my husband was working at his job, and we've been put in a position to be able to bless others. I don't say this to boast! I want you to know that God is capable of taking care of us in ways we would have never imagined. But it all starts with faith. It all starts with that one step into what we don't know, trusting that God is going to make it work. And when you have very little in life, that process starts in your heart because of your decision to have faith -which is backed up by actions like giving.

Give to prove your faith, and to increase it. This will create in you a generous spirit, and only the generous spirit can receive all that God has for us.