Chasing Contentment

Monday, October 31

What do you say to encourage someone who wanted and received something, only to discover that it isn't at all what was expected?

We all have this cadre of trite and ineffective but sincere-sounding things to say to those around us when strife and turmoil threaten the contentment of daily life. They're probably not the best things to say, but when push comes to shove, if we don't have anything else to say, we can fall back upon one of those sayings.

One of my goals in this life is to be an encourager to those around me. I don't know how successful I am at that, but it is something I strive toward. Usually, it comes easily to me... because, I believe, God gifted me with that charge.

But what do I say when something good happens to someone but it doesn't feel so swell?

I believe God provides, but I also believe He expects us to do our part in the planning and execution of things in our lives. I believe that He expects us to work toward things on our own while still believing completely in His ability to do anything with or without us.

A friend of mine longed against the odds for a second child, longed for years to be a stay-at-home mom. She and her husband wished for the baby while planning for her to leave the workforce. They saved and scrimped and worked it out so she could stay home beginning late last spring. And God's miraculous timing made it so that their anticipated second child arrived at that same time. Perfect.

So what do I say to her now that her desires came true and the reality of it feels more nightmare-ish than dreamy? Now that their lives feel so very far from perfect?

I am sure we both know that this is a temporary situation, but that doesn't diminish the difficulty of right now. I know people whose answer for all situations is, "trust in God," and while I know that is completely true, what I yearn for in this situation is physical ways to help, to encourage.

[  posted by Chel on Monday, October 31, 2005  ]

Friday, October 28

Fridays rarely lend themselves to weighty thoughts from me. My Friday thoughts are more about fun and family and friends and frivolous diversions.

I love Fridays as much as I hate Thursdays (a wretched homework night for Griff). Jana at The Rowan Report had an excellent fun Friday post, and I'm going to copy her. I hope she doesn't mind.

Jana's proposition was this... You're having a dinner to which you're allowed to invite as many people you'd long as this will be the first time you've met. Who's on the guest list and why? (Jesus is a given.)

I initially thought I'd invite an eclectic mix of people, but when I wrote my list, it looked instead like two lists, so I'd have to have two dinners.

My literary/artistic/entertainment dinner...turns out I like writers...
1) Harper Lee, author of my favorite book, "To Kill a Mockingbird."
2) Jane Austin, author of another favorite, "Pride and Prejudice."
3) Gustav Klimt, artist and painter of "The Kiss," what I think to be one of the most romantic paintings ever.
4) Rosie O'Donnell because I think she does amazing work for the plight of underserved children with her For All Kids organization.
5) Rick Bragg, author of "All Over But the Shouting" and "Ava's Man." I know he wasn't a good journalist, but he's an amazing storyteller.
6) Matt Roush, tv critic for TV Guide... come on, is there a cooler job?

The Faith List...
1) The Prodigal Son's brother because someone should have invited the poor fellow to a dinner.
2) Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42 and John 12:1-8) because I'm a lot like Martha & I need to be a lot like Mary.
3) Brenda Waggoner, author of "The Myth of the Submissive Christian Woman," a book I thoroughly enjoyed and benefitted from reading.
4) Jan Karon, (who could have easily fit into the first group but because of her writing about faith got put in this one), author of the Mitford series of books.

Addendum... My artist friend, Aleece, wondered why I divided the artistic and faith groups into two dinners. She mused that they could both just get along, and I'm sure she's correct. I see God's hand in her talents. I see God's moving in her paintings. I am quite certain that He is behind the amazing abilities she has.

But if I'm going to have an imaginary dinner with people who will discuss faith, I want to discuss faith and not be caught up in a dynamic discussion - with people who might not be of the Christian faith - that might well lead to disagreements and arguements. If I'm discussing faith, right now I need it to be something positive and encouraging, not necessarily challenging.

I recognize that as a sign of my own weakness, my unwillingness to defend my faith, wanting instead to be uplifted. Hopefully, one day, I'll feel strong enough in my Bible knowledge - and not just in my faith, in my trust in the Lord - to feel comfortable inviting a myriad of people to dinner, content that I could adequately articulate the reasons and Scriptures behind my faith.

Until then, though, everyone gets their own dinner and better make nice if I use the good dishes.

[  posted by Chel on Friday, October 28, 2005  ]

Wednesday, October 26

Is one sin worse than another? Does God have a chart listing all of the sins along with a rating for each sin?

This is an idea that has long haunted me (in fact I wrote about it in a post I removed in a rash moment), and it's one that we discussed briefly in our weekly Bible study recently.

Varying groups in our society have been the target of Christian disdain through the years, and homosexuals currently hold that target. I agree that homosexuality is not God's chosen path. I believe it is a sin. I do not, however, agree that it is a biggest sin going. It's just an easy sin to attack.

Our local newspaper ran a wire story on Sunday about a study done recently for PBS's "Religion and Ethics Newsweekly" program. The study - conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research - shows that 71 percent of Americans believe in the ideal of a lifelong marriage. By contrast, just 22 percent agreed that divorce is a sin.

I think that the church - on the whole - has given up saying that divorce is wrong, mainly because it's prevalent. Our churches, our leadership are leery of speaking out strongly against something as routine as divorce because they run the risk of offending the parishoners. So many leaders are worried more about offending than about truth-telling.

In the study, only 34 percent of evangelical Christians and 30 percent of traditional Catholics believe divorce is sinful. I wonder how that can possibly be. The Bible speaks as clearly about divorce as it does about homosexuality. How can our Christian culture accept one and condemn the other?

I read a series of articles in Christianity Today about church discipline, a concept I have been a bit unsure of in the past. The idea of a church disciplining a member as a part of a group service unsettles me. But after reading the articles - by such authors as John Ortberg and Ken Sande - made me reconsider my stance, especially in terms of things such as divorce. While I am still leery of discipline in a large group, I think I am in favor of accountability within small groups.

I think it is important to each of us have a group of people to whom we are accountable. Obviously, my friend group provides that for me. But we should also have that within groups in our churches. We should have people who are close to us who can see our marriages up close and who can speak with us honestly about sins or red flags that are leading us to sin.

If we do not have people in our lives (and if we are not willing to be those people in the lives of those around us) who will tell us the truth, we miss the opportunity to continue growing in the Lord. And when that begins, we begin to accept things like divorce simply because no one wants to speak out against it.

Is something only a sin if it's not done by a large group of people?

I think God cares about my sins, judges me based up my actions and my heart, whether or not they are sins committed by other people... one other person or lots of other people.

[  posted by Chel on Wednesday, October 26, 2005  ]

The statistics on breast cancer are startling. I can't imagine that there are many of us who cannot name a family member, friend, or acquaintance who hasn't battled this. And so we should all be working toward a cure.

My very favorite way to give to charity happens tonight on QVC. Each year, QVC teams with FFANY (the Fashion Footwear Association of New York) to provide designer shoes at half-price through a one-night event. FFANY designers donate shoes which QVC then sells for half-price with all of the proceeds going to breast cancer research.

They're some of the most important shoes I've ever bought.

[  posted by Chel on Wednesday, October 26, 2005  ]

Tuesday, October 25

Balance, I think, is the key to so many things in our lives. If we could just figure out how to walk that fine line between this or that, between wanting and giving, between love and less, I think we would all have much more contented lives.

At dinner last night, we discussed how we wanted to handle presents at Christmas this year. I certainly didn't want to let this teachable moment with Griff get away from us, but I also didn't want him to end up disappointed Christmas morning and decide that having a generous spirit didn't really work for him.

So, he, Mike, and I worked out what we thought would work best while Eliza ate ice from everyone's drinks. With our extended families' blessings, we are all just giving gifts to the kids this year. For our immediate family, we're doing stockings (my very favorite thing Christmas morning) for everyone. And Mike and I will give Griff and Eliza three gifts each, in honor of the three gifts the Wise Men gave to baby Jesus.

We're going to try put an emphasis on giving to those around us and on finding ways to do that while doing things together as a family... having friends over for dinner, inviting someone whose family isn't here over for a meal, filling Angel Tree wishes. And the gifts that we give are going to be gifts that are more about meaning than clutter.

I feel comfortable with the choices we've made, and I'm so very encouraged that he wants to give to others in this way.

I've said over and again that the qualities that will make him an amazing man are there now, present and obvious. We just have to nurture those qualities while still encouraging the little boy he is.

[  posted by Chel on Tuesday, October 25, 2005  ]

Monday, October 24

I take great comfort in Jesus' call to let the little children draw near to Him (Matthew 10:13-16). On those days when I am disheartened and self-conscious about my lack of Scripture knowledge, I take heart in His pledge that we should all have faith like the children... simple and pure.

There are so many days when I could learn so much more from my children than I do if I would just slow down a bit and give them my complete attention. For a couple of weeks now, I have been telling Griffin to make a Christmas wish list, as there would be people asking me for gift ideas.

Sure enough, I've had two people ask me in the last few days, and I told Griff again yesterday that he needed to get started with that, and he told me 'no.' It caught me off guard, and quite honestly, annoyed me some. That inkling of annoyance should always warn me that I'm about to be caught wanting... about to be shamed by my child.

I asked him why he wouldn't make a list, and he replied, "because I don't need anything, so I don't want any presents." I was humbled to say the least. Mike laughed when I said that social consciousness is a pain in the rear.

We've been trying so hard throughout Griff's young life - but especially this fall with the unimaginable devestation that has hit our state - to emphasize to him that we are blessed and that there are people who don't have as much of this or that as we do.

Little kids pick up on differences... we don't drive a big SUV, and we don't live in a big house (it's a tiny little old house in fact), and there are places we don't go or things we don't do sometimes because of financial issues. But we have everything we need. We have a roof and food and clothing and good doctors and one another. We've spent the fall giving away our things to those who lost everything in Hurricanes Katrina and Rita... we've given toys and clothes and food and time and money.

And somewhere along the way, the concepts we've been trying to instill in him took hold. And I want him to keep that generous spirit, and I want him to think of others. But I also don't want him disappointed on Christmas, so I'm trying to think of a way for us to make giving to others our primary focus while still assuring that he and his sister have a few trinkets to open on Christmas morning.

In the meantime, I am humbled by and proud of and inspired by this little man in our midst.

[  posted by Chel on Monday, October 24, 2005  ]

I take great comfort in Jesus' call to let the little children draw near to Him (Matthew 10:13-16). On those days when I am disheartened and self-conscious about my lack of Scripture knowledge, I take heart in His pledge that we should all have faith like the children... simple and pure.

There are so many days when I could learn so much more from my children than I do if I would just slow down a bit and give them my complete attention. For a couple of weeks now, I have been telling Griffin to make a Christmas wish list, as there would be people asking me for gift ideas.

Sure enough, I've had two people ask me in the last few days, and I told Griff again yesterday that he needed to get started with that, and he told me 'no.' It caught me off guard, and quite honestly, annoyed me some. That inkling of annoyance should always warn me that I'm about to be caught wanting... about to be shamed by my child.

I asked him why he wouldn't make a list, and he replied, "because I don't need anything, so I don't want any presents." I was humbled to say the least. Mike laughed when I said that social consciousness is a pain in the rear.

We've been trying so hard throughout Griff's young life - but especially this fall with the unimaginable devestation that has hit our state - to emphasize to him that we are blessed and that there are people who don't have as much of this or that as we do.

Little kids pick up on differences... we don't drive a big SUV, and we don't live in a big house (it's a tiny little old house in fact), and there are places we don't go or things we don't do sometimes because of financial issues. But we have everything we need. We have a roof and food and clothing and good doctors and one another. We've spent the fall giving away our things to those who lost everything in Hurricanes Katrina and Rita... we've given toys and clothes and food and time and money.

And somewhere along the way, the concepts we've been trying to instill in him took hold. And I want him to keep that generous spirit, and I want him to think of others. But I also don't want him disappointed on Christmas morning if there are no gifts. And so I'm trying to find a solution that will allow us to all give while also allowing him to receive a bit.

And in the meantime, I'm still humbled and proud and inspired by this little man in my midst.

[  posted by Chel on Monday, October 24, 2005  ]

Thursday, October 20

In some hearts, hope springs eternal, to borrow a cliche. There is always going to be another day, and there will always be another possibility.

My husband is one of those people, and most often, it drives me crazy. Today, however, is his day. This is his reward for years and years and years of hopes, of being devoted and loyal.

His Houston Astros are the National League Champions and are going to, as he calls it, to the "Big Dance."

Geaux 'Stros!

[  posted by Chel on Thursday, October 20, 2005  ]

Wednesday, October 19

Arrogance, in my opinion, is giving pride a bad name.

From the time we are young, we are drilled with the notion that pride goes before a fall (Proverbs 16:18), and I certainly agree that selfish, arrogant pride is a problem.

But, I think that so often we confuse that selfish ego with legitimate pride. We see men and women accomplishing things and taking all of the credit, extolling the virtues of their own personhoods, and we're reminded that we shouldn't be prideful. But that isn't the kind of pride I think we need to see more of (for we certainly see plenty of that) in life.

From the time Griff was young (about the age Eliza's at now), I can recall watching his obvious pleasure when he was able to do something, to accomplish something he didn't think he could do. Even now at seven, he still has that pure joy in accomplishment, and I think that's the kind of pride we grown-ups need. Last night, he was so excited to tell me and Mike that he scored best in his class on a standardized math and reading test, and he was pretty sure we should celebrate, which, of course, we did.

At what point did the 'pride goes before a fall' warning overcome the simple joy of accomplishment?

As a Christian, I am more than willing to tell people that I can't accomplish much on my own, but through Christ, I can do so very much if only because it's Him working in me (Philippians 4:13)... my role, I think, is just being willing and available. And if we give Him credit for giving us the traits and talents and abilities that we have, what is so wrong with saying, 'yes, I did that, and it is good' or 'thank you for noticing that I did that well?'

There must be a difference between confidence in the abilities God has given us and the belief that we have all that we need within ourselves without Christ. There must be a way to teach our children to avoid the downfalls of arrogance while still encouraging them to take pride in their accomplishments. What, after all, is the point of teaching them the value of hard work if we don't also teach them positive, healthy ways to enjoy the results of that hard work?

[  posted by Chel on Wednesday, October 19, 2005  ]

Tuesday, October 18

Faith - and how we express our faith and how we embody our faith - occupies my mind these days. Tense times for us and our friends personally, for our communities and hurricane(s)-ravaged state, and for our nation bring us to moments in time when faith ceases to be an idea and instead becomes a concrete action.

I've written before about faith and how that concept materializes in my life. I've also written recently about coming to the realization that the only thing I can truly control is my reaction to things happening around me. An acquaintance said the other evening that she thinks the Fruits of the Spirit are revealed in quiet ways as we go about our lives, trying to do the right things. I so deeply desire for that to be true in my life, and yet, I'm not at all sure it is.

The concepts of faith and control are closely intertwined in my thoughts these days, as evidenced by the fact that I keep posting on them. I think God is putting these ideas into my head again and again to try to convince me to quit worrying and to let go and allow myself to be completely vulnerable to Him, to fall completely into His care without wanting someone else's care and without attempting my own. (one of my favorite useful sites) lists one definition of 'faith' as "the theological virtue defined as secure belief in God and a trusting acceptance of God's will."

I have a simplistic faith on many levels, I'll admit. I'm rarely drawn by need to determine whether or not a Biblical event was possible in literal terms or to seek out the hows of things God determines. It is enough for me to believe that He is in control and that He has my good at heart.

In these trying days, I am confident that He will continue to provide, that He has a path set out for us and that He will show us the next step in that path in His good time. That is not to say, however, that these are not remarkably stressful times or that there aren't worries and fears. To say that would be a lie.

Undaunted by the friendly teasing I got about it, I was a loyal fan of Joss Whedon's cult favorite, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." One of my favorite episodes was "Once More With Feeling," an unusual musical outing. The refrain from one of the songs from that episode keeps running through my head these days...

Where do we go from here?
Why is the path unclear?
When we know home is near
We'll go hand in hand
But we'll walk alone in fear

Tell me
Where do we go from here?
When does the end appear?
I feel very much like those around me who are in similar situations are walking this path with me, but I also feel oddly isolated. We are all experiencing our own unique fears associated with this, and we are all pushed from different directions, and we are all experiencing this differently. It's an oddly unified yet individualistic existence.

I feel very much like all I bring to this table with God - who brings just everything good! - is my weakness and my willingness. I hope it is enough.

[  posted by Chel on Tuesday, October 18, 2005  ]

Sunday, October 16

I've not made any secrets about the faults I have. I'm pretty open with most of them, as most of them are pretty obvious to anyone spending much time with me. I like the idea that - with God's help - I can overcome some of them. I do, however, have one glaring fault that haunts me, never really leaving my thought patterns.

I have a history with a lousy self-esteem. As I've aged, I've discovered a difference between self-esteem or self-worth and self-image. When I was younger (much younger, mind you), my self-image was icky, as I would venture is true of most high schoolers. College, however, gave me new confidence and pride in my appearance. Truth be told, though, my appearance was the extent of that confidence and pride.

For whatever reasons, I put my value in my appearance and in superficial things, and I know now that people - myself included - are so much more than just that. Today, at 35, my understanding and appreciation of my own self-worth is so much deeper than in the past. Unfortunately, I have a severe disconnect between my personhood and my appearance.

As I've been struggling a lot lately with my negative thoughts swirling in my head about my body (it's kinda what I do in times of tension), I've been trying different things to shore up a sagging self-image (the 100 things is a good example). Some days, it helps. Other days, not so much.

I was feeling lousy earlier today, checking my email when I got a Google alert pointing me to an essay I wrote almost two years ago. It was about how great my body was because it survived the bout with HELLP. Somehow, in those two years, I'd forgotten that. I don't believe it was coincidence that I was reminded of that essay and those opinions today. I believe God sends us encouragement - sometimes from ourselves! - when we most need it. I'm going to post that essay here for the next time that I forget.

[  posted by Chel on Sunday, October 16, 2005  ]

Body Wisdom
"I hate my legs, my butt, my tummy." "I wish I had a smaller waist, bigger boobs." Women everywhere have an ongoing body-bashing mentality. The body we're in never seems good enough to measure up to what the media - and the neighbors - seem to think is ideal.

I have a little secret, though. My body is perfect. Right this moment. Today. Just as it is - soft and cushy, curvy and ample. My body is perfect because it lives. It exists. It allows me to live and love, to be a wife, friend, mother, daughter, granddaughter.

Last year, I was surprised to discover I was pregnant. My body does pregnant very badly, and the months seemed beset by one complication after another. Five months ago, my daughter was delivered by emergency c-section, seven weeks early. My doctor announced to my husband and me that if he didn't take her immediately, I would die. It was more than 24 hours later before the doctors allowed me to leave my hospital room and see my daughter for the first time.

Her tiny body - a little more than three pounds - lay on a special pad keeping her body warm because she couldn't yet regulate her own body temperature. Tubes and monitors were attached all over her little frame. An IV inserted in the top of her head was masked by her dark hair. The band-aid looked at a distance like a tiny, pink bow. All of that, and she was perfect. Tiny, but perfect.
As I look at her today - still tiny, still perfect - I am amazed at her strength. Her little body has thrived. And mine survived. As I look at the two of us in the mirror, I see round faces with big smiles. I see smooth baby skin and aging mama skin. I see two healthy bodies. Perfect.

All of us have perfect bodies because they live. They exist. They allow us to laugh and cry and shout. Our arms comfort a child, hug a friend, embrace love. We are strong. We work, we play, we live. And how much more perfect can our bodies be? Isn't living well the ideal?

Written in March of 2004.

[  posted by Chel on Sunday, October 16, 2005  ]

Friday, October 14

Oh, my goodness, where would I be without the shared laughter of friends? These precious people who help me laugh at the difficulties, at my own pettiness and silliness... they get me through.

So, a big thank you to the friend who called this morning and laughed with me. Mike isn't going to be able to defend and graduate this semester, and that is a huge disappointment. But she called and we laughed - which really is all we can do at this point - and I feel better.

And in the end, I think that the common laughter is the best medicine. And I thank God for sending dear friends to love and protect and encourage and inspire us.

[  posted by Chel on Friday, October 14, 2005  ]

Thursday, October 13

Mike is on his way to Hattiesburg to meet with his dissertation committee chair to discuss any changes that need to be made to his dissertation. He's hoping to be able to schedule a day to defend within the next few weeks. That would assure him of a December graduation, something we're very much hoping will happen. Yay, Mike.

[  posted by Chel on Thursday, October 13, 2005  ]

Tuesday, October 11

100 Wonderful Things About Me
1. I pray.
2. I am loyal.
3. I love whole-heartedly.
4. I am a good friend.
5. I write well.
6. I can study how someone else speaks and writes and presents himself or herself and write well for him or her. I could be an amazing speechwriter.
7. I am funny, in a dry sort of way.
8. I am caring, or at least I try to be.
9. I am witty... clever, even, sometimes.
10. Mike says I am beautiful, and if he thinks so, that's fine by me.
11. Unmentionable...contributed by Mike
12. I am compassionate... a bleeding heart, really.
13. I am empathetic. I think one of my gifts from God is that I tend to things from more than one perspective.
14. I am understanding.
15. I am organized, even when it drives everyone else crazy. I love new planners. 16. I am a good wife (I'm so thankful Mike thinks so!).
17. I try to be a good mother.
18. When I wake up in the night and can't sleep, I pray.
19. I am a good home manager (which is not the same as a good housekeeper, which I am not).
*Okay, I admit it. Wonderful things number 7 through 19 came from Mike, though I modified them some. I needed some help to get going. We are all so well trained to believe that pride is bad that it feels awkward to think of - and write down - the good things about myself.
20. I am dependable... which sounds pretty dull and lame but which I am pleased to be, nonetheless.
21. I am loving.
22. I strive to see the blessings in my daily life.
23. I have good hair.
24. I am good at keeping up with people, which sometimes leaves me uncomfortable and sad when they don't keep up with me. But keeping in contact is just part of who I am.
25. I make a yummy Mexican Chicken Casserole.
26. I hate sports, but I know all manner of Astros trivia tidbits.
27. I can talk Jimmy Neutron and Pokemon with Griff because he thinks they're important.
28. I can make a pretty bracelet.
29. I can make most anything sound good when written out.
30. I love new lipsticks.
31. I have a friend who says I am a great girly-girl mentor... probably because I love all things girly.
32. I am a good listener, which is surprising given what a talker I am.
33. I'm a good blogger, though not necessarily a successful one by some standards. But my blog meets my basic goals for it, and for me, that's enough to be good.
34. I am well-versed in popular culture.
35. I turned my brother and sister-in-law onto "Buffy" after they made fun of me for watching. And now they're loving "Scrubs" at my suggestion. Now, if they'd just watch "Veronica Mars."
36. I'm the friend who says 'I'd never do this or that... I'm too selfish' but then when this or that is needed, I'm the one there willing to do it.
37. I cry at sad stories in the newspaper. Mandy has to call and tell me when she has sad stories on the front page of the next day's paper to prepare me.
38. I watch "The Wedding Planner" every time I flip by it on television and get all weepy at the exact same parts every time.
39. I am honest... as honest as I think any of us ever get.
40. I want to learn more about the Bible and about God, and I am seeking out those who know more than me and who can teach me.
41. Nursing Griff for 10 months left with with one very nice long-term benefit.
42. I can't do my multiplication tables, which I've decided to view as charming rather than incompetent.
43. When someone gets sick, I'll take a meal to the family. A really good one.
44. I make this amazing Catch A Man Dip (thanks to Terri) which I have successfully modified so that my allergic children can eat it.
45. I am content to trust God to watch over and protect my allergic children, and I go out of my way to encourage other parents who discover food allergies in their children.
46. I send a card each year on Eliza's birthday to thank the doctor who saved both of our lives. He is an angel sent straight from heaven and no one will convince me (or Mike) otherwise.
47. When a family in our church has a newborn who has to stay in the NICU, I send the parents a card. If they are in the same hospital that Eliza was, I mention how amazing the staff is.
48. I often pick my very favorite television show not because the acting is good but because the writing is so amazing. I am a sucker for things well-written. It's one of the ways I fell in love with Mike.
49. I love.
50. I am proudest of the things I do for other people, to make things easier for them.
51. I want God to use me.
52. I love ice cream thanks to my Pawpaw and my Bud.
53. I adore rituals and a sense of history. I want my family to have traditions that we observe, that my children will remember.
54. I enjoy Thanksgiving only as a portal to Christmas, which I adore.
55. I open my Christmas presents when no one is home and then re-wrap them... except for gifts from Mike and the kids. I have some self-control.
56. I have a friend who I still hear from periodically who I went to kindergarten with... I have a close friend who I met when I was 14. Longevity is my thing.
57. I love pizza. I may never be a size 8 again, but I do love pizza.
58. I am stubborn. Determined would be a nicer but less accurate word.
59. I am fiercely protective of those I love.
60. I entertain well.
61. I love handbags and comfy pajamas. Mike says if I could buy a bag stuffed with pajamas, I'd be happy.
62. I say that people had better call before coming over, but my home is always open.
63. I'm a lousy money manager and an excellent shopper which is a bad combination but part of me nonetheless so I might as well call it wonderful.
64. I am friends with a conservative male pastor with whom I do not always agree. I grow from our friendship.
65. I seek out friends who are in different places in life and friends who have different views than my own. I tell Griff that we learn from people who are different from us.
66. I have friends who are just like me, and I cherish them.
67. I am a wretched singer, but Griff and I sing loud together in the car. "Cheeseburger in Paradise" is our favorite.
68. Eliza is me made over, and I am intimidated and inspired by her.
69. I am strong.
70. I am tender.
71. I am opinionated, though I have learned through the years to be selective about where and with whom I share those opinions.
72. I am just as passionate as I was when I was younger, but I now am more focused in my passions.
73. I try to be supportive of those I love, even if I'm worried and fearful.
74. In general, I cannot keep a secret, though I didn't tell Mandy for months that I had seen the ring Josh would eventually propose to her with... one of my finest moments. I cannot keep a secret at all from Mike, which ruins all of his gifts but certainly promotes trust.
75. I will take a friend's side regardless of right or wrong. I'll share concerns later, but in the midst of turmoil, I'm always going to stand alongside a friend.
76. I love shoes. And Shoes on Sale are even better.
77. I am humbled that God knows best my selfish, icky tendencies and yet He chose me to be with Mike to rear these children. That brings me to my knees.
78. I love television. I do. Just all tv... good, bad, and in between. Long live the new and bigger TV Guide.
79. I prefer sappy romantic movies, but I'll gladly sleep next to Mike on the sofa while he watches his war and death movies.
80. I love email and how it's made it easier for so many of us to keep in touch.
81. I can talk to anyone. I love chitchat and getting to know people.
82. I have trouble saying the word 'rural,' which cracks me up.
83. When there is a need in a life, I don't want to meet that need... so often that's not possible. I want to find a tiny way to divert attention from the need, if only for a moment.
84. If it weren't for the whole imminent death thing, I would want more children.
85. I think it's perfectly fine to stop at one child. Or to have no children. Or to adopt.
86. I don't tell Griff that there are any bad words. I love words, most all of them, so I can't bring myself to say many of them are bad. There are grown-up words, words children can't say, words grown-ups shouldn't say. But they aren't bad, per se.
87. I think 'war,' 'hate,' and 'can't' are bad words.
88. I am tolerant of other people's choices even when I disagree with them. I'll express my disagreement - usually - only if asked. I'm not one to believe that I have the answers for anyone when I'm still searching for so many of my own.
89. I want people to be honest with me. All the time, even if it hurts. I think honesty is easier than lies. Except of course, if my hair looks funky or a groovy pair of pants makes my butt look big.
90. I am all things girly.
91. I have cried through sad books, so much so that I've had to stop reading until I could see through the tears again.
92. I am thoughtful.
93. I do holiday planning really well. Really well.
94. I shop really well, too. I like to find gifts that really match the recipient.
95. I apologize when I'm wrong.. especially when it's my kids I have wronged.
96. I see things in words, not pictures.
97. I love to pad around the house in the still of the morning before anyone else is awake...but I so love the warmth of our big bed that I rarely manage to spend much time alone in the house.
98. I hate awkward, uncomfortable moments for anyone. In the middle of shows, when the uncomfortable moment arrives, I'll mute them or forward through them or leave the room until Mike tells me it's not uncomfortable any longer.
99. I have groovy press-on toenails, and I show them off and tell everyone they're fake.
100. I love lists.

[  posted by Chel on Tuesday, October 11, 2005  ]

I'm doing a focus group at Artella this week. I try to do these when they're offered because they're free and easy ways to try out new writing styles and to look at things from a different perspective.

The first exercise in this particular course was to list 100 wonderful things about myself. It sounds a little daunting, to be quite honest. And that seems a little shameful.

I can remember when I was in college going to a big religious group gathering/ conference, and my roommate and I attended the same break-out session. In that session, we were asked to write however many good and bad things about ourselves, and we were asked which came easier. At that tender age of 18, the good came easier. And I remember being surprised by the number of girls who said the bad came easier. I was a very self-assured young thing, though at that point, my self-image was based, unfortunately, upon some superficial and unimportant things.

As I've gotten older, my respect for my own person has grown. I am stronger and more self-assured, especially in relation to my faith and how that aspect of my life influences the others. But after a bunch of years and two children, my body image isn't nearly as good as it was when I was younger. The grown-up me thinks that a greater awareness of myself and my world is a good exchange for a superficial pleasure with my own appearance. The superficial part of me thinks I may have gotten the short end of the stick on this one.

Mike and I have a deal this week that for an entire week I won't say anything negative about myself and that he'll shower me with unsolicited compliments for the same time frame. Maybe writing the 100 wonderful things about me will play into our week's theme.

[  posted by Chel on Tuesday, October 11, 2005  ]

Monday, October 10

I think most Christians probably find one area or another of Christian service and Christian study become them most. I know people who are great teachers and others who are studious and have deep Biblical knowledge. I believe that what comes easiest to each of us probably connects with the spiritual gifts God gives each of us.

Prayer comes easily to me. I don't understand all of intricacies of it, and I don't believe that it's a Christian wishlist of requests to God, though I certainly make my share of requests, both on the part of myself and my family and on the part of others. It's just that, for whatever reason, prayer feels comfortable to me. It's the one area of my Christian life that I feel completely at ease, without any guilt or uncertainty. (And for me to find anything without guilt is a big deal!)

Real Live Preacher wrote an excellent post on Eliza's birthday about prayer. I love that he says we should see it not as an obligation but as an opportunity (or some such better-worded phrase).

Working full-time and having two children leaves me with little time for lengthy prayer sessions, so I work my prayers into the little moments of my day. I write the names of people close to me on my calendar throughout the month, and I pray for someone different each day. Whenever I look at my planner during the day at work and see that name, I say a quick prayer...sometimes I think that simply lifting that name reverently to the Lord is enough. I trust that the Holy Spirit is working with me to fill in the sometimes-huge gaps between my intentions and my abilities.

When I wake up in the night and can't go back to sleep, I pray. I work my way through the needs and desires of those around me until I'm calmer and less worried and more asleep than before. I have a Family Circus comic on the fridge in which one of the children tells another that their grandmother said that when he couldn't sleep he should forget the sheep and talk to the Shepherd. I enjoy that reminder.

I didn't do Bible Drills, and so there are days when I can't find the book of the Bible I need to be aiming toward, and I'm not going to impress anyone with my scripture memory or knowledge of the origins of a word. I can't compare Biblical stories to give someone encouragement, and ... well, the list of things I can't or I won't will go on and on.

What I can do is pray. And so I do. I get frustrated because I think that in the Christian community the phrase, "I'll pray for you," is about as common and heart-felt as "Have a nice day." I don't necessarily believe that all of the folks offering to pray for me really will. And so I never tell someone I'll pray for them or that I have already prayed for them unless I will or I have. I want my words to be mirrored in my actions.

And in that, I never ask for prayers from people I don't believe will really be saying those prayers. I want my requests to be as honest and as transparent as my offers. I am grateful for those who pray for me and my family, and I am humbled that God gives me the opportunity to talk directly to Him about me and mine and those around me and just about anything else that crosses my mind. I'm not sure what He does with my random and not-so-random thoughts, but I know that I am in a place of peace and comfort when I pray. And so I do.

Oct. 11 Addendum... I just read a really good post by Kim at The Upward Call about why we pray.

[  posted by Chel on Monday, October 10, 2005  ]

Sunday, October 9

My Mike is an amazing husband. But he's a lousy girlfriend, which is one reason I'm so grateful for the tremendous girlfriends I have in my life.

Three of these amazing women have called or emailed me since Eliza's birthday to tell me that they are celebrating Eliza's birthday with us but that they are also celebrating my life. They wanted to remind me that they are grateful that I made it through the battle with HELLP and that I'm okay now.

That means more to me than I can say. Eliza's birthday makes me sad some... I can't help but think of all that happened and how close we came to losing this life we love. And I am grateful to God for a beyond wonderful doctor who saved both my life and Eliza's. And I am grateful to God for these women who make my life so much richer.

Thank you to each of them.

[  posted by Chel on Sunday, October 09, 2005  ]

Friday, October 7

Today is a special day in our home... Eliza turns two today. We are blessed by God through her.

Mike and I had always talked about just having the one child. We always joked with Griff about how it would always be the three of us together. And we were a pretty happy threesome. But God knew that what our family needed was an Eliza. And He surprised us with her. And she has been a surprise from the moment we found out that I was expecting her to the moment the doctor announced he needed to deliver her seven weeks early to this very moment.

She is challenging and demanding, strong-willed and stubborn. She is slow to laugh but hard to stop when she gets tickled. She is tiny but strong, delicate yet not fragile. In so very many ways, she is me all over again. My mom says that looking at Eliza is like looking at me all those years ago. Her face shape is mine. Her big brown eyes are mine.

Eliza Lillie is named in memory of her daddy's mother, Lillie, who was a strong, independent woman in her own right. Just like I think our Griffin Robert has been blessed with his namesake Uncle Bobby's sense of humor, I hope Eliza has been blessed with her Mawmaw Lillie's strength.

She speaks very little but communicates a lot. She loves her Griff and follows him around, determined to do all that he does. She adores her daddy, as do I. She is... a blessing we didn't know we needed. She is my living reminder that God's plans are better than my own and that His timing is perfect whether I agree with it or not.

Happy Birthday, Eliza Lil.

[  posted by Chel on Friday, October 07, 2005  ]

Thursday, October 6

I don't often link to other blogs, so for me to write two posts in one day linking to different people is a bit odd for me. But these are special blogs, so ...

Everyone should go visit So What Can I Do? today and leave a comment. It's Karama's one-year birthday at her blog, and she's making a donation to charity for the first 236 comments made (in honor of her 236 posts in this last year). One of the charities she has chosen is in my home state of Arkansas, so I already made my comment.

Karama gives me hope. My friend, Aleece, is always talking about how she wishes she could do more for the world, give more, be more. But it's always so frustrating to see such need and not know how to get started with the helping. Karama shows me how to get started. Each day, she lists ways that we can each do something small to help make this world a better place.

May her comment box overflow, and may she continue to inspire me (and lots of others!) to move a little bit outside of my comfort zone in order to be of service to someone else.

[  posted by Chel on Thursday, October 06, 2005  ]

Two years ago today, I checked out of the hospital after an overnight stay. With seven weeks left in my pregnancy, I never would have guessed that I would check back in the next day and give birth to our Eliza.

Last year, I wrote posts on Eliza's first birthday and then on the day that I actually first met her.

Premature and sick babies are so frightening and unexpected (even when it's expected) and fragile. There are no words for the experience. We were among the lucky ones in the NICU... Eliza wasn't sick. I was. She was premature as a result of my illness, and her stay in the NICU was mainly about building up her weight until she met the minimum required to go home. We were fortunate beyond measure.

I read a gentleman's blog about his family's experience with a NICU infant. Their son, Ira, is four months old and still not home with his family. Someone arranged for a Prayer Pager for them, and I think it's a wonderful idea. I encourage everyone to take a moment, say a prayer for Ira and his family, and call the pager number to let them know. Prayer is a remarkably healing thing.

[  posted by Chel on Thursday, October 06, 2005  ]

Wednesday, October 5

We have lizards. Not as pets or out in the yard or anything mundane like that. We have lizards in our house. Apparently, one came to visit, liked it, and when Mike relocated him outside where he belongs, he told friends. And now they've come to visit.

Those who know me would agree that I'm about as girly a girl as there is. I don't much like nature in the out of doors where it belongs. Lizards in my house is too much. Too much!

I've been working really hard to keep pace with the stress in our lives, and I've felt like I was doing okay. It's been really hard, but I've felt like I was holding my own. But now, there are lizards. And they've just pushed me over the edge.

Poor Mike asked me something this morning and ended up getting my litany of things that weigh on me. I feel just at the end of my rope.

I've written at times about how it seems that God orchestrates things so that when one friend is struggling, another is on solid ground and about how the circle of leaning just keeps going. But right now, it seems like all of my support circle are struggling, too. Thankfully, most of us are leaning into one another.

The word 'faith' means so many things to so many people. Right now, for me, faith is believing in something better when I have no idea how better will materialize. Faith is trust that an unseen God is holding us despite the floundering feeling I have. Faith is steadfastly accepting that there is a plan and it is for my good when things seem, at the moment, to be very chaotic.

Faith believes babies will be conceived and born... evacuees will move out of our houses into their own spaces... children will be strong and contented... jobs will pay the bills and callings will turn into jobs... the Astros will keep winning... time alone with loved ones will somehow become available despite a lack of babysitting funds... ...

Faith is having hope when all logic and current feelings say that hope is silly. My God is stronger than my fears, and He is strongest when I am weak and broken, so if I do my part, He should be shining through right now because I feel pretty weak and broken. Faith finds some contentment in that.

[  posted by Chel on Wednesday, October 05, 2005  ]

Monday, October 3

(I wrote this a few years ago in anticipation of the wedding of my brother and sister-in-law. Thankfully, most of the friends I wrote about here are still close to me.)

My brother is getting married next week to a lovely woman who has a precious child. My brother will begin his morning as a single man and by noon will have a full family. It's a big step to take for a man who never left the town he grew up in, who still sees his parents and grandparents a couple of times a week.

As I think of what to tell him about marriage and family, I am grateful that he and I are blessed with a kind and caring family that is supportive of our wishes and dreams. He'll learn the ways of his wife's family in time, and they will blend together to become an even bigger family, all living within miles of one another. Living a state away, I have a family outside of the one he and I share.

I wish for him a family that isn't tied with blood. It isn't the family he's always known but rather the one he creates for himself. The one he and his wife choose as their own. When I think of those people I turn to for the daily needs in my life, it is the friends I've learned can be better than family.

As an artist, he'll understand the idea of blending the colors of personalities into one beautiful tapestry of friendship and love. The things I've learned with age have shown me that we rarely have time for relationships that pull precious love out of you without replenishing it in some way. We don't have the time to put into brewing a fresh, new friendship now that we did when we were young, which makes our old friends so much more treasured and our new friends such little miracles.

I've known my dearest friend for more than half my life now. This woman knows me as the woman I am today but has a vivid recollection of the girl I was many years ago. She anchors my chosen family. She's a matriarch, a queen bee, a woman of revered status.

There are the women I was close with in college, who, oddly, remain close to me today, despite knowing all of my faults. Families have the distinct disadvantage of knowing where your hot spots are, where the dark sides of your spirit lie. And lovingly, they work around those, accepting you just as you are. These friends have grown with me, laughed with me, tended to my hurts and joys - siblings made along the way.

These new friends, the ones I met after I married, nurture the woman I strive to become. They listen to my worries and share in my celebrations. What an amazing gift to work with one precious friend and live next door to another. One sees my deeper, emotional needs and the other fosters my sense of fun, of sheer enjoyment.

As I get older, my family gets larger and smaller all at the same time....we add to our family as time goes on, but the bond between us gets tighter drawing us closer together.

I think of the high school boys I flirted with who have grown to be men I admire, the far away friend who holds different views than I do, the go-to-lunch friend who provides needed mid-day diversions - cousins in this family of mine.

We have friends who reaffirm who my husband and I are as a couple, friends we see in connection with our children's activities, friends who pray with us at church.

It's quite a family with people meeting different needs at different times. In this family, there are skeletons and secrets and sadness. But there is also the overwhelming feeling of love, of joy, of trust. We selected one another. Not by force or by right but by delight. Every day, we choose to remain together.

My wish for my brother as he begins this new life is that he surround himself with a family of delight, one that brings him joy, one that is created out of his own choices. My wish for myself is that maybe, just maybe, he'll choose me to be in that family, to be woven into the beautiful tapestry of his life.

[  posted by Chel on Monday, October 03, 2005  ]