Chasing Contentment

Sunday, December 31

And so, the year draws to a close. To be perfectly honest, I'm okay with letting 2006 go. It wasn't a kind year to us. It was productive, yes. It propelled our family toward better things, yes. But in no way was it an enjoyable year.

Mike and I were talking last night about this year and about what we'd like for our family in 2007. Mike said that this entire year felt like transition. Even last January, we knew something was going to change in terms of our job situations, and we knew that likely meant a move.

Pretty much, all of 2006 was reactive. We were just treading water, trying to keep our heads above the waves that were crashing in on us.

For years, I watched Buffy every Tuesday evening. Joss Whedon is an amazing writer and story-teller, and sometimes, there would be episodes that were essential to furthering the plotline. Usually, however, those driving episodes weren't really that entertaining. They were dense with information, difficult emotionally at times, and not easy to understand.

And yet, they contained all of the necessary elements to make the next episodes amazing. In a lot of ways, 2006 was our own little driving episode. It was full of positive portent for the future but emotionally difficult and not easy to understand. We're grateful for it, for the things we learned during it, but we're also really ready to begin again.

Our hopes for 2007 are pretty simple... We'd like to get back on a solid footing, all around. We'd like to get our finances back in order (five months with no salary at all this year, plus the moving expenses left us depleted). We'd like to get involved in a church here. We'd like to put down roots.

[  posted by Chel on Sunday, December 31, 2006  ]

Friday, December 29

My family loves fresh strawberries. We eat tons of them in March and April when they're in season (in Louisiana). Last year, we were at my family's house in Arkansas around that time of year and Mike and I went to dinner with my brother and his wife. When deciding about dessert, Mike asked if the berries were fresh. My brother just laughed. "Um, no. Not for another two or three months." And then we all laughed about our warm-weather Cajun home.

And now, we've discovered something even better. Fresh, local strawberries that look and smell and taste like heaven ... in December! We're going to have strawberries and ice cream tonight and pancakes with strawberries for breakfast and ... on and on. Yum.

We are finding lots to like about Florida. December berries are high on my list.

[  posted by Chel on Friday, December 29, 2006  ]

Wednesday, December 27

Tonight, Olivia, Mandy and Josh are all snuggled up together in their own home, enjoying the quiet and comfort of being a family together.

As it turns out, Mandy had congestive heart failure, which caused the fluid to build up in her lungs, and we are all deeply grateful that she and Olivia are both healthy and stuck with us for a long, long time.

My deepest gratitude goes to everyone who has prayed for these dear friends of ours. I am humbled by another example of God's love.

And so, tonight, as I hope my two will go to sleep early enough for me to slip into a hot bath with a good book, I hope Mandy, Olivia and Josh sleep well, content at home together.

[  posted by Chel on Wednesday, December 27, 2006  ]

Monday, December 25

Merry Christmas!
We're so very thankful this Christmas for family and fresh starts and especially for our new little Olivia, who is spending the day with her mama and daddy.

[  posted by Chel on Monday, December 25, 2006  ]

Friday, December 22

Keziah posted a comment and asked if Olivia was my granddaughter. I think I'm way too young for a granddaughter (though in all honesty, my own grandmother was only four years older than I am now when I was born... at that age, I'll have a 12- and a 7-year-old), but I'll claim Olivia and her parents as family any day.

For people who don't know me personally, I made deep ties with people and places (which has contributed to the difficulty of this move). We lived in a small Louisiana town, and I was blessed to have my dear friend, Mandy, live two doors down from me with her husband, Josh.

Our friend, Linda, and I were matchmakers for Mandy and Josh, and we still claim some credit for their union, which cracks Mandy and Josh up. My Griff was an usher at their wedding, tiny tux and all.

For years, Mandy and I would meet at the fence or in the road when she got home from work and I got the kids to bed, and we'd chat while the mosquitoes ate our flesh in the humid air. Or we'd chat and stomp our feet and laugh about how cold it was, all the while still standing and chatting.

The love is family even if the blood is not. Mandy and Josh had a hard time getting pregnant, and so Olivia was a little blessing right from the start. Mandy was so sick at the beginning of her pregnancy, but she was a trooper, never complaining. She so wanted that baby that she never expressed that what she was going through was too much.

They had to do an emergency c-section on her yesterday, only to discover fluid in her lungs. They've determined now that she has pneumonia, and she's been kept heavily sedated in the ICU. She has wonderful doctors, and her pediatrician (whom I trusted with both of my babies) assures Josh that he'll sign whatever orders needed so that Olivia can stay in the hospital until Mandy's ready to go home.

This is hard beyond measure for Josh, and I am humbled by his strength, just as I was by Mike's three years ago when we were in a far too similar situation. We're too far away to go help him physically, so prayer is pretty much all I can offer the three of them.

I have this opinion that there's not anyone reading my blog other than about three people who already know me in person, but for right now, I'm asking that everyone say a little prayer for my friend, Mandy, who needs her strength to get well so that she can meet her beautiful daughter.

And if you would, please, post a comment and I'll be able to show Olivia one day just how many people - strangers, even - were praying earnestly for her mama and her daddy and for her.

I humbly thank you, in advance, for those prayers.

(The top photo is of Olivia and her daddy and the bottom photo is of Olivia lying in her daddy's lap, listening to me talk to her on the phone.)

Christmas Eve A.M. Update... Our Olivia is doing beautifully, being held and loved by countless family members. Our Mandy is, however, still struggling in the ICU. We are confident that she will be fine in the end, but it's just taking a little longer than we would have initially liked. Isn't that so often the way God's will is? Thank you to all who have and will continue to pray for this family.

Christmas Eve P.M. Update... Mandy was taken off the respirator this morning, and she was moved to a private room this afternoon where she finally met her daughter. It is the best Christmas gift I can imagine this year. Thank you, for the prayers.

[  posted by Chel on Friday, December 22, 2006  ]

Thursday, December 21

Welcome Baby Olivia Claire! She's big and healthy and beautiful. And we are so blessed to have her. Our Mandy's having a little trouble recovering and is currently in the ICU, so we're all praying for that new little family. But having had her doctor save my life, I'm very confident in his ability to protect her's, as well.

Happy Birthday, Olivia.

[  posted by Chel on Thursday, December 21, 2006  ]

Wednesday, December 20

I've struggled with my self-image for as long as I can remember. I have highs and lows, and I often am hardest on my body image when I am stressed about something else. It's a bad habit of mine. I drink too much Diet Coke, too, but everybody's gotta have something.

Mike came home a few weeks ago telling me about how one of his students wrote a paper on Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty. This afternoon, he took me to the website that features a video showing why so many women's perceptions of beauty are warped. And I must admit it was an interesting video.

I may have to buy more Dove.

[  posted by Chel on Wednesday, December 20, 2006  ]

Monday, December 18

My Foundation
This week, I've written about how I've had trouble praying lately and about how I feel like the Israelites wandering in the wilderness. The difference, I suppose, between me and them is that I feel lonely and estranged from my God and yet I do not doubt Him.

I honestly don't know how people face death and disease and divorce and depression and any of the other things that pound on us through our lives without the grace of God's love. It really is the peace that comes from Him that allows me to say that I am content in this very moment even if I am not as happy as I'd like to be.

I find such comfort in my faith. There is such freedom in my salvation. I am able to be anything I want to be, anything I believe God is leading me to be because I fully and completely believe that if something is His will for my life, He will enable it. He will provide.

And this last year has been one of constant uncertainty and upheaval. I've had certain constants - Mike and the kids - but I've had more changes. The underlying foundation, though, of my life is one that never shifts with the changes of the seas of my life. God is stronger than anything I can imagine, and I am safe in His hands.

I cannot imagine a more blessed gift... or a better way to face this life.

[  posted by Chel on Monday, December 18, 2006  ]

Sunday, December 17

So, God does like to give me little reminders. The day after I posted about not being able to pray, a friend of mine wrote me and email and confided something to me about her life that drove me to my knees. I may not be comfortable praying for me yet, but I can pray for her.

My prayer life began in earnest when I began praying for those that I loved. When I would wake in the middle of the night and couldn't go back to sleep, I would pray for each person in my life until I drifted off to sleep. I had a prayer journal, and one day of each month, I would pray for someone specific. I need to do that again.

God also tends to point things out to me in unexpected ways and in unexpected places. We went to see Chuck, Stacy, and the kids today so we could see the kids' Christmas program at church. As we sat in the back and Eliza squirmed beside me in the pew, we listened to the songs and the handbells, and I just didn't much feel anything.

I thought, 'I'm like the wayward family member people bring to church at the holidays. I'm just sitting here wondering how much longer it'll take.' And I realized just how empty I feel at times.

I am remarkably lighter and calmer and more content now than I was a year ago. I feel empty now, but I felt tense and afraid then. The change in job situations has been so improved by this move that there are hardly words to describe our relief. I was angry and anxious last year this time, but I was also well cared-for by those who loved me. And some of that is what's missing now.

But I feel a bit like the Israelites in the wilderness. Everything that I asked God for in terms of this move has been given to me. I asked for a comfortable home, and we have it. I asked for friends for both kids, and they have them. I asked for a job for Mike that would allow him to blossom in his teaching, and he has it. I asked for a job for me that was different from what I did before and that would put me in a secular environment so that I could be a witness for Christ. Whether or not I'm being a good witness is certainly up for debate, but God did give me what I asked.

And I'm like a spoiled child not really enjoying what I got, even though I asked for it. I trusted God to get us here, and then I wasn't pleased with how things turned out... just like the wanderers all those years ago.

Mike assures me that we're all like the Israelites at times. He's a sweetie that way.

I trusted God to give me this job, and if I believe that He wants me in this place for a reason, then logically, He will give me the skills and ability to actually do the job well enough to be allowed to stay. As I start a new phase of this job tomorrow (and I'm nervous about it), I'm going to try to remember that... to remember that God will provide what I need.

And now, I feel more ready to do the things that need to be done in order for me to move closer to Christ again. I'm not a big Christian music fan, but I'll listen to more traditional holiday hymns, to remind me of the reason for the season. And I'll commit to praying for someone special each day. And I'll work toward spending some time with God each day.

I am grateful for all of those who are out there praying for me, encouraging me to keep going during this time.

[  posted by Chel on Sunday, December 17, 2006  ]

Thursday, December 14

Through the years, I've identified with God in different ways, felt close to Him because of different things. At times, I've felt Him as a friend, a confidant. At other times, I've felt Him as a Father, a protector and guide. Now, I don't feel much at all.

I've always believed that questioning God was better than simple acceptance. I think God welcomes our inquiry because it strengthens our understanding. I also believe that faith cannot be explained. It simply is. I could name countless reasons why I love Mike, but in the end, I just do. It simply is.

For me, God is that way. Believing in Him isn't difficult for me. It simply feels right, and faith comes easily to me. I've written in the past about how Bible study doesn't come easily to me, but, like faith, prayer does.

Since the move, I've found that prayer and that feeling of connectedness to God is elusive. It isn't the easy, refreshment that it has been for me in the past.

I admit that at first, I resisted prayer for selfish reasons. This move has hurt, and I didn't want God to take that pain away too quickly. I wanted to feel it deeply, to experience it so that I didn't feel as if I left my loved ones easily. But then, when that resistance faded, I found that nothing really took its place. Now, there's an empty place instead.

I try to pray, but I don't really manage to make that connection. And yet, in no way do I doubt God's presence in our lives or His direction of our lives. And I am deeply grateful that when I am able to feel that connection again, He will be there.

A while back, a friend of mine went through a difficult time in her life and pulled away from me. She told me that she knew that when she was ready, I'd be there. It made me feel very much like a doormat friend (a characterization several people strongly disagreed with). And now, I'm doing the same to God.

Today, on the way to the company Christmas lunch, I rode with three other individuals, and we discussed families and children/parents who didn't speak any longer. I think about my kids and how I love them, and I can't imagine not speaking to them. And yet, I'm doing the same to my heavenly Father.

I asked Mike the other day if he thought God would forgive me when I finally made my way back to Him. He said yes, and I hope he's right.

[  posted by Chel on Thursday, December 14, 2006  ]

Tuesday, December 12

Last year at Christmastime, I wrote what I thought was a sweet holiday story. I thought this year that I'd do the same, and I'm attempting it, but I'm just not getting anywhere with it. At least not anywhere good, I don't think.

I think that it's possible that I'm losing my touch. If I spend all day not writing anything and my evenings doing third grade homework and trying to figure out if I've missed the shows I'd like to watch or if they won't come on until after I'd like to be in bed (I hate EST), I'm not getting a lot of practice.

Is writing like riding a bicycle? You always know how? Or is it more a use it or lose it kind of thing? If this short story is any indication, I'm better off on the bike.

But I'm determined to finish it at the very least. And to let someone read it when it's finished, even if I only email it to a few friends. That's my pledge to me.

Come the new year, I think my pledge to me is going to be to find a rhythm to this new life that allows me to do some things for me that I just haven't found time for yet... walking on the treadmill in the garage, reading more, writing, studying my Bible, taking more bubble baths.

[  posted by Chel on Tuesday, December 12, 2006  ]

Monday, December 11

Mike convinced me not to tell Griff about Santa. I know he's right... it'll be more fun for Griff if he can catch us, which is clearly what he's shooting for at this point. And I know that Santa's about the kids and not me, but I must admit I'm a little disappointed.

I usually have all of my shopping done by this point, but the kids don't have any gifts yet. But Mike booked a sitter for one night soon so we can go out the two of us to shop for the kids.

For as long as Griff's been alive, Mike and I have worked at the same place (until the move), and I have to admit that sometimes I feel like I'm missing him, too. And so I'm so excited about the opportunity to go out with him for a bit.

This is my last week in training for this new job (the one they actually hired me to do), and I'm enjoying it. I'm already worried about not being able to do the job next week, and I keep bringing my books home but not studying in them. I know deep down that I just have to trust myself and hope for the best, trusting that God will provide.

[  posted by Chel on Monday, December 11, 2006  ]

Friday, December 8

We've reached a standoff, Griff and I. I'm quite sure he knows that Mike and I are Santa, but he insists on proving it scientifically. I keep trying to trick him into admitting that he knows, but he's not budging.

And I want so badly for him to admit it so that we can do Santa together for Eliza that I can hardly stand it, but I'm not going to just tell him.

So we wait... while Mike laughs at the two of us.

I'm seven years older than my brother, and I fondly remember helping Dad put together John's toys on Christmas Eve. It was this fabulous secret that I shared with my parents, and I honestly can hardly wait to share that with Griff.

On the phone with my dad this evening, I mentioned it to him, and he said I should tell Griff. He talked about how much fun he and I had with Santa for John, and it was a precious thing for him to say that. Sometimes I remember things differently than he or my mother do, and it was really lovely to know that we shared that memory.

I've even decided how I'd like to tell Griff (if I tell him this year, we can play together this year!) if I can convince Mike to play along.

Each year, I write Santa letters to all of the kids in my little group. I print them on the printer on pretty holiday paper & then address the envelopes from the North Pole, and the kids always get so excited when they receive them.

I think I'd like this Santa letter to Griff to invite him to play with us, to be a part of being Santa for Eliza. I've got it all written in my head, if only I could get Mike to sign off on it.

[  posted by Chel on Friday, December 08, 2006  ]

Wednesday, December 6

The Carnival of Beauty
The Beauty of Reaching Out

In hindsight, I don't quite remember why I chose this particular topic when I volunteered to host this Carnvial. But I'm delighted that I did because the entries have been enjoyable and encouraging.

With the holidays approaching (rapidly, it seems!), I hope everyone enjoys these bits of hope.

following an unknown path is not easy, and sometimes it requires asking for others' help. Amanda talks about her desire to be better about letting others bear her burdens in reach out and touch someone.

Marie from Things We Said Today reflects on the people who supported her and who literally carried her through various situations in Thanks for the Lift.

Lizzie at A Dusty Frame shares how seemingly little acts of kindness are often huge in the life of a hurting individual.

Having moved a number of times, Ellen of DaBragdon Family knows the value of having people reach out to her and of reaching out to others.

During this holiday season, Lindsey at Enjoy the Journey reminds us about the Forgotten Among Us.

Keziah of A Woman who Fears the Lord shares a little about friends who were wonderful examples in reaching out, sharing God's word and fellowship, in teaching, and in humility, patience and gentleness.

And lastly, my entry... On the Receiving End of Love.

[  posted by Chel on Wednesday, December 06, 2006  ]

Monday, December 4

In the final phase of my Christmas Plan, I work on the gifts. As with everything this year, I'm approaching the gift phase a little differently than before. But, again, I believe that's the beauty of my plan... with a little tweaking each year, it's fully functional.

Typically, I want this month to be about joy and giving and loving. This year, I want it to be about the four of us having a good time together, enjoying one another. I'm a circle-the-wagons kinda girl, and I draw strength from the four of us being together.

I am doing some typical things... we're all eating cheese balls (Mike's very favorite Christmas food) and homemade butter mints (I've already made a big tin of them for Linda). Tonight, I'm going to call my grandmother and request Oreo truffles (yum!).

Once the kids are snuggly in bed each evening, I'm working on making the beaded jewelry that I will give to friends this year. And since we're not giving lots of gifts this year, I'm making for friends to give to their families, too.

I've gotten Santa letters written for several of the kids on my list (nieces and nephews and the children of good friends) and I'm working on my gift list. I like the anticipation of selecting gifts for folks that I think each person will really like.

Chel's Holiday Plan - The Gifts
Every year, the first thing I need is a list. I want a list where I can write down every single person - teachers included - for whom I'll need gifts. Here's how I do it...

1) Make a list of everyone. Just everyone possible. Best to start big and cross people off than forget someone.

2) Decide who will get hand-made gifts and who won't. Consider each recipient's wishes. I want gifts to be about the recipient not about the giver (the rare occasion when I don't want things to be all about me).

3) As I complete or purchase each gift, I put a check mark by that name, until I've completed all of the gifts.

4) If I'm making gifts, I do all of the gift making the same way I would do the card making, set aside an amount of time and work during that time and then stop. Even if I'm not finished. If I need several blocks of time, fine. But I limit myself, so I don't get too overwhelmed by it all.

5) Make a list of everything needed for wrapping and such (paper, tape, bows, bags, cards, anything) and do all of that shopping at once. Take an hour and do just that stuff. And then, it's all done and available when I want it.

6) Do the wrapping in sessions, too, so it's less overwhelming.

With the list, I make a second list of all gifts that need to be mailed (we've got lots of family in other states - even more this year!). I plan to purchase or make those gifts first, so they can be wrapped and in the mail by Dec. 12, in plenty of time for a Christmas arrival.

Mike and I haven't quite recovered from the financial difficulty of going five months this year without any salary at all, so we haven't decided what to do about gifts for one another. I do know that we'll do stockings because they're my very favorite part of Christmas presents.

Here's to a Merry Christmas and perfect little presents all around.

[  posted by Chel on Monday, December 04, 2006  ]

Sunday, December 3

I'm hosting this week's Carnival of Beauty. All entries need to be sent to me at createdbychel (at) by 7 p.m. EST on Tuesday. I'll be posting the Carnival late Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning.

This week's topic is The Beauty of Reaching Out, which is an interesting topic. When the topics are announced, I always try to volunteer for ones that sound meaningful to me or that have special importance to me. So I'm sure there was a reason I volunteered for this one, but in all honesty, I have no idea what that might have been. Sounds a bit like most of the things going on in my life right now. :) I look forward to reading the entries. And to thinking about the concept to write my own entry.

[  posted by Chel on Sunday, December 03, 2006  ]

On the Receiving End of Love
This move has been so hard. I know that doesn't come as a bit of new news for anyone who reads this blog regularly. But, in all honesty, I've been taken by surprise more than once at how really painful this has been for me.

I had expected some separation anxiety and some heartache, but I hadn't expected it on this level or to last this long.

I've got this nurturing thing going on, and I have for as long as I can remember. I can remember my friend, Mika Dawn, who was my roommate in college, telling me one time after we were living apart that I had mothered her through our years in school in some ways. And it's probably true. I kinda tend to mother everyone around me whether they want it or not. I respond to things and events and people in a very nurturing manner.

I send cards and notes and call with words of encouragement. I know that those small gestures are so very meaningful to me, and so I make specific efforts to extend those gestures to other people.

Since we've been here, I've done some of that, but not as much as before. I'm still nurturing. It's just that at this moment in time, I'm expending most of my nurturing... well, on me.

And I've been very blessed to have good friends who've kept up with me and who have supported me in this transition. But I have to admit that God has sent a variety of unexpected people to reach out to me in this time of need (and I am by far more needy than I have been at any time in recent memory).

I've always said I wished that I had older Christian women who could serve as mentors to me, and it has been a few older women who have reached out and said the sweetest things to me, the most encouraging things. Interestingly enough, none of these women are close to me.

A woman I worked with at my previous place of employment told me that she and her family moved when her kids were exactly my kids' ages. And she told me that it would take me longer to adjust than anyone else because I was going to work really hard to make sure everyone else was doing okay. And that has turned out to be true. And I have deeply appreciated her taking the moment to tell me that because I cling to the possibility that I see through looking at her happy life now.

An old friend sent me an email telling about how his mother had to move when he was in high school and about how she said she didn't really feel at home in her new location for a good 10 months or so (which seemed like an eternity when we first moved here and seems like a drop in the bucket of time now that we've been here six months).

My sister-in-law's parents have been precious to invite us into their lives here in Florida, and on one occasion, her father was sitting beside me at a dinner, and he told me that when he and Stacy's mother were in La., she didn't hang pictures on the wall for two solid years, assuming they'd be going back 'home.'

Stacy's mom recently told me the same story, and she also added that when they moved back here to Florida, she hated leaving La. because she had put down such deep roots. Her comment to me was that men put down shallow roots and women put down deep roots. That fits me and Mike.

In all of these stories, I find comfort in shared suffering. I find hope in the strong lives these women now lead. I feel the tender love of God in all of these stories... I know He is giving me His healing touch, reaching out to remind me that He is loving me, caring for me, even in my sadness.

[  posted by Chel on Sunday, December 03, 2006  ]