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.