Chasing Contentment

Friday, April 29

I get an email each morning with a random Scripture verse in it. Today's seemed fitting for my day.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things. Philippians 4:6-8 NIV

My oldest and dearest friend is having a milestone day today. She is pregnant with their second child, a daughter, and she is working her very last full day as a school teacher. This is a brand-new phase in her life, one which she and her husband have worked diligently to make possible. She will stay home with their pre-schooler and the baby and be an amazing full-time, stay-home mom.

I am excited for her to be able to live this dream. I am pleased for her family because they are getting an amazing woman who is willing to dedicate her life to them. I am, though, saddened that I will probably not be in contact with her as much for a while, and so this verse was encouraging to me.

I know from life's experience that there are ebbs and flows in all relationships, and I also know that this one has withstood the test of a whole lotta time already. I know that our friendship will survive and thrive even without daily contact. And this verse reminded me that all things are possible.

And so I wish my dear L a happy last day and an amazing beginning to this new path she walks, this new and precious journey.

[  posted by Chel on Friday, April 29, 2005  ]

Wednesday, April 27

My second writing assignment was to write a dialogue between myself and my mama guilt (as we call it in my house), which should be really easy as my guilt and I are on a first-name basis. I have guilt about so many things that I even have guilt about having guilt. Giving up guilt was my New Year's Resolution. I've not abandoned it yet, and I haven't conquered guilt yet, so I suppose it's still a work in progress.

As I've been thinking this conversation through in my head for the last two days, thinking that I'd get it sorted out before I wrote it out, it's been really difficult. As I think about it, I notice two things. First, in this conversation, I play guilt. Guilt has my voice. The voice of me - the voice of reason, I believe it's supposed to be in this exercise - sounds a lot like Mike. I suppose that's because he's the one always trying to quell my guilt.

When the voices both sound like me, the guilt voice seems to have the solid responses, while the me voice sounds a lot like a petulant teenager. I'm sure this is a remarkably distorted thing for me. My only comfort comes from knowing that I know the answers, the responses that should be given to guilt, and that I am actively working on seeing things initially from the me side and not the guilt side. That's the work in progress part, and I'm pleased that I'm working on it. For me, the accomplishing isn't the goal. It's the working on it that's rewarding.

Another reason this exercise has been difficult is because I am not a big picture girl. I cannot address my guilt as a whole. Even my mama guilt has nuances and subtleties that cannot be addressed all at once. I'm a detail girl, moving in little steps toward something or away from something, as the case may be. And so I can only speak to guilt on one topic at a time.

For this exercise, I suppose, I'll address the guilt I've felt this week. For the purposes of this dialogue, I'll try to play both parts, but in reality Guilt looks a lot like a short, curvy woman and Me looks a lot like a tall, handsome Astros fan.

Guilt: "Eliza wouldn't have gotten sick at all if you'd not tried to play doctor and determined that she didn't need the daily meds."
Me: "She was doing fine without the meds until the legushrum began blooming last week. It's what made me sick, too. I don't want to give her meds she doesn't have a legitimate need to take."
Guilt: "Obviously, she needed them or she wouldn't be sick now. And the poor baby is sick. You did pass along really lousy genes to both of the kids... allergies, asthma."
Me: "They say those things aren't genetic, though I don't agree with that. But they got good things from me, too. Compassion, empathy, laughter."
Guilt: "If you didn't work, she could have been home again today, resting like she needs."
Me: "She was well enough to go back, and K will take especially good care of Eliza today. She gets lots of good things from being in daycare, and I get lots of good things from working."
Guilt: "If you didn't work, you could be home today resting and getting yourself better."
Me: "That's true. I do feel bad. And I could use some rest. But if I was home with two kids, I wouldn't get any more rest than I will at work. I'll probably get more quiet time at work!"

It could go on and on, but in the end, this guilt is just another part of me that I carry around daily. Like all of the other parts, some days it has its moments, and other days, I hardly notice it at all. I'd have guilt whether I was a mother or not. It's part of how I'm wired. My job is to try to control it enough that it doesn't affect my children or my life in general and to teach my children that guilt, like anything else, can be a motivator or a destructor. Guilt, like most other things, is a choice. My goal for this year has been to give up the bad things associated with it and to learn to use it for my own good.

[  posted by Chel on Wednesday, April 27, 2005  ]

Monday, April 25

I signed up for an online writing focus group at Artella, and I have got these thought-provoking questions I am supposed to be journaling. That they are about motherhood seems appropriate as Eliza is sick, and I'm torn between where I need to be tomorrow.

Anyhoo... in this first exercise, I'm to describe what my idea life choices would be if I had no financial worries and I had to choose now for an entire year. I would work part-time because I thrive on both having a job and doing it well and on interacting with other adults. I enjoy the task-oriented nature of working, the ability to have something tangible finished at the end of the day. I enjoy going to lunches with co-worker and friends. I enjoy having an hour to myself to run errands or whatnot. So I'd work part-time, but I'd get off in time to pick Griff up from school each day.

Of the things I miss now by working, it is picking him up after school and hearing about his day in that immediate way. As much as homework drives us both nuts, I love those days when I'm home and we do it early, together. So, in my ideal world, he would not need after care.

But Eliza would continue going to daycare for the part of the day that I'm gone. I know that she gets so much mental and social stimulation from being there that I would want her to continue having that.

I've come to realize that it doesn't so much matter to me what I do for a living. I used to think that my dream was to write, and while I would love a job working with words - whether writing or editing or reading - I can also be content with that as a hobby rather than as a vocation. What matters to me is that I have task-oriented things to do, that I am able to interact with others, and that I am able to do something well. And so, for me, I cannot envision an ideal job, other than maybe the one I have now with less uncertainty and fewer hours per week.

As for my free time, in my ideal world, I'd have an extra childcare provider for one afternoon each month to give me time to shop or get my hair done or have massage. I'd have a monthly Chel day. I suppose my free time other than that would be spent much like it is now. I'd spend time with my family and friends. I'd read. I'd bead. I'd take bubble baths. In my ideal world, Mike is finished with his dissertation and spending his free time with me. That would be ideal!

Look at that! So much of what my ideal world would be is already integrated into my life. What I want out of this life is to benefit those around me, to be what my God would have me be, to laugh and cry and love. My goals are for me and Mike to end up very old and very happy together; to rear two loving, gentle, kind, Christian children; and to be continually working to make myself just a tiny bit better.

I think that doing things like this... participating in this focus group, submitting the article to TCW, trying new things like the beading... are ways that I can keep working to open my mind and my heart. I want my children to see me being willing to take risks - small ones though they may be - so that they, too, might find joy in changing, in becoming more.

[  posted by Chel on Monday, April 25, 2005  ]

It was a difficult weekend for me. It was exceedingly good, but I always find that when God chooses to show us something very clearly, it's most often a tiring process, both emotionally and physically.

My brother pointed out, most likely unknowingly, that I was choosing to allow certain people to treat me in a certain way. Choosing is one of my big things in life... I feel like we all have choices, and we should accept both the good and the bad that come with those choices. I had been unconsciously choosing to act a certain way, thus enabling other people to act a certain way. And then I was disappointed and upset by the way the other people acted.

As I began to think about how I was doing that, I both became discouraged that I was allowing this (of course... gotta get in the 'I was wrong' stuff) but also encouraged by the idea that this was my choice. I can choose to change this action or I can see the benefits of continuing on this way. I am always empowered by the idea of choice.

And so, I looked closely at my actions and the possible different actions I could take, and the fact is, I consciously choose this course of action. I want people to be comfortable, and I want to avoid confrontation. This current choice allows both things to happen, whereas a different approach on my part would make other people uncomfortable and would require confrontation. So, I'm choosing to go from here in the same way, but I am also choosing to stop griping about the criticisms I receive from other people.

Yesterday in Sunday School, the substitute teacher taught from Jude, and she said some things that were both hard for me to hear and exactly what I needed to hear. God used her to reassure me that my faith is strong, despite criticisms I might receive. Mike tells me that all the time, and L and A both tell me that routinely, but sometimes, it takes God speaking through a stranger to reinforce what we believe in ways that we will belive it most. God used this woman to speak to me clearly, through His word. And I am deeply grateful.

And so today I am prepared to move forward from here, determined and encouraged by my own power to choose, by the faith that I have in my heart.

[  posted by Chel on Monday, April 25, 2005  ]

Friday, April 22

When Mike and I are criticized for our beliefs or things tied to them, I often say to him, 'I just don't know what I believe.' Last night, he disagreed. He says that I do know what I believe but that I don't get tied up in theology. And maybe he's right.

I know my faith is great. I have no problems believing in this amazing, great, and powerful God. I have no hesitations in trusting Him to provide for me and mine, to care for us, to lead and guide us. I have no reservations in believing that His word is true and that He is unquestionable.

In that, I think that there are some basic truths that should cross all divisions and boundaries, basic truths that make us Christians, one in the body of Christ. And if we can agree on those, don't the other things just fall to the wayside? Shouldn't they?

Aren't the technicalities of this faith or that faith or this belief or that just gravy on the potatoes of Christianity? I am so discouraged by the continual squabbling about this or that amongst the peoples around me. I feel inadequate to answer the criticisms leveled against me because my theological knowledge and my actual Scripture knowledge are so inadequate as to render me ineffective in that discussion. I know that those are areas of my spiritual life that desperately need improving, but I get discouraged in that, too. This author is too this and that author is too that, and how does one know who to believe? Mike says I should study both and decide what the middle is for myself, and he's probably right.

Thankfully, he also contends that some confusion is good. It allows for God to be the only real answer. He says that my faith is genuine and strong, and that, in the end, that's what will matter most, I hope both in my relationship with Christ and in my ability to show Him to others through me.

I have a friend who says that people who criticize my faith don't know me well enough to know my spiritual strength. I have another friend who says she enjoys coming to our home because amidst all of the craziness, she always sees the love, both that we have for one another and that we extend to those who join us. I hope they are right.

I am worn down. I am discouraged. I am resentful that faith doesn't seem to be enough anymore. I am on my knees thanking our Lord that He allows us the ability to discern on our own, through the guidance of His Holy Spirit.

[  posted by Chel on Friday, April 22, 2005  ]

Thursday, April 21

Our church's Wednesday evening activities for children include choir and missions organizations for grades one through six. Since January, I've been teaching in the younger girls' missions class. We've got girls ranging in age from six to about 10 in class each week, and we average about eight to 10 girls.

I worked in this same class many years ago when I first moved here and was single, and as I look back now, that was such a good growing time for me. There were three women teaching the class at that time - who were about the age I am now, I suppose - and who taught me - unknowingly, I'm sure - such wonderful things about love and marriage and motherhood in those few minutes each week before the girls arrived. It was our 'planning' time, and plans were certainly made, but it was also time for those women to interact and to talk about their lives. They showed me the most wonderful, funny, true things about loving and being married, and I am grateful for their lessons.

Because that was such a wonderful experience, I was spoiled. I'm frustrated and sometimes disappointed because I don't connect with the other teacher the way I connected with those women. I respect the teacher more than I can say, and I appreciate who she is and the energy she pours into this class. But we don't quite click, and I feel that disappointment in my heart.

Thankfully, we do mesh well together in the class with the girls. This dear woman has no biological children of her own, but she is endlessly gentle and tender with these girls. She's the one the girls like. I'm the enforcer. I walk about telling people to sit down and listen. I bop heads. In the end, though, I end up frustrated each week with the girls. By that time of night, I know kids this age are restless and tired. Griff always is. So I can understand and accept that. But I get frustrated with some of their actions, their unwillingness to attempt to be polite and act properly.

And then, of course, I feel horrid for feeling that way. The majority of our girls on Wednesday evening don't attend Sunday morning church, and I'm not sure they attend church at all other than those few hours in the middle of the week. The little girls who are in church all the time are better behaved...but the ones who aren't are in such need. The talk all the time and struggle to get the attention for themselves, clearly wanting the personal touch that they might not get at home. And that breaks my heart.

Which is why, despite my deep need for painkillers after each week's session, I keep going back and have even agreed to teach this class again next year. I think that if we can give just a little love to these little girls, maybe they can see God's love more clearly.

[  posted by Chel on Thursday, April 21, 2005  ]

This is my favorite quote for the day. It ran this morning in our local newspaper in an article about dollar store competition. A woman explained that she enjoys shopping at the dollar store because it is 'convenient and casual.' Her next quote explains further...

"I don't have to get all dressed up like I'm going to the Wal-Mart or something."

Oh, my goodness, that's funny stuff! I can imagine what she might wear to both places, having shopped at our local Wal-Mart and thinking that, even in my grungies, I was really well dressed compared to some of the other shoppers.

[  posted by Chel on Thursday, April 21, 2005  ]

Wednesday, April 20

I have for years hated the story of the prodigal son. It has angered me to the core. I have always gotten so worked up at the idea that the one son stayed and did everything right and was seemingly taken for granted by his father, only to have his brother stray and come home and be welcomed with such flourish. I have hated that story openly.

But I have always looked at it from the perspective of the child, of the sibling who got overshadowed and overlooked. It is a running joke that my brother is the Golden Child in our family because my parents continually gush about him, telling me routinely about how wonderful he is while rarely speaking that way of me. I understand the childlike feeling of being overlooked, whether that perception is true of not of the way my parents actually feel. And so, while I don't feel resentful toward my brother (truth be told, I'm just as proud of him as they are!), I do understand the resentment and attitude of the stay-home brother in the parable.

And so I have hated the story with a passion. It was kinda my thing. Mike and I shared silent, knowing smiles whenever the parable was preached upon in services or taught about in Sunday School. It was a tender secret between us, my hatred of the story.

But now that so much of my outlook is that of a mother and so little of it is that of a child, I am coming to see the story differently. I tell Griffin all the time - and will begin to tell Eliza the same thing here soon - that I love him, regardless. If he angers or frustrates or disappoints or hurts me, I will love him. If he fails or struggles or is meanspirited, I will love him. There is no action that could change or erase my love for him, now or when he gets older.

There will be struggles between us. There will be times when we are not comfortable together or with one another's actions. There will be times when he feels like we are devoting more time to Eliza than to him, and there will be times when the reverse will be true. But nothing will change my love for him, not even his or my own shortcomings.

So as I look at that story now, I see the father's joy at having his son home with him, nearby him. And I understand that there would be hurt in the father's heart, but that it would be overshadowed by the joy, and I can see the reception of the prodigal son as a tender moment between a father and a son, and I now understand the connection between the story of these two men and the love and devotion of our Heavenly Father to us, miserable, wayward children that we are.

A friend has been sharing with me the struggles she and her husband are having with his parents, and I keep coming back to this parable as I listen to her situation. She and her husband are the long-suffering, staying-the-course, doing-the-right thing son, and they are wounded by the reception being given to the prodigal son. And I look at their situation and see the hurt, and I know it well, but I also know that their situation is such that it would be envied by so many, many families. I know that, at this moment, I see the life of her mother-in-law more clearly than that of her husband, and it pains me to not be in accord with my friend at this moment.

But I am so deeply grateful to her for freely - without hesitation - sharing her hurt and her need with me because God has used her to show me something clearly about this story, about my children, and about myself. And my goodness, how blessed am I to have friends who are close enough to me to be transparent about themselves, thus giving God an opportunity to teach me something!

[  posted by Chel on Wednesday, April 20, 2005  ]

Tuesday, April 19

My dear friend, A, turns 30 today... a wonderful, monumental day. I admire her for her creativity most of all. She is, in all she does, creative. Her thoughts turn to color and light and shading, and she is, in the end, regardless of what she does to earn her living, an artist.

She is also an idealist. Poor thing, she has to put up with my endlessly practical nature clashing with her perpetually idealistic self. She sees the potential in everything and everyone, though sometimes the gap between the actual and the potential disappoints her.

She is kind and loving and has a faith that is hers alone. It isn't a product of her childhood or of someone else or something else. It is hers. She has worked toward it.

I know that I love the affirmation of those around me - for just any reason at all - and so, I try to give that to those I love, in return. So today, in honor of your birthday - yay, you, A.

[  posted by Chel on Tuesday, April 19, 2005  ]

Friday, April 15

I have this new love of sunflowers. I adore the way they always are reaching for the sky, for the sun. May I always be reaching toward God in the same way, keeping my face toward Him.

[  posted by Chel on Friday, April 15, 2005  ]