Elephant in the Dark

I truly enjoy reading books with my children.  This should come as no surprise after my Read to Your Child post.  Picture books with a good message are my weakness.  One of my favorites is a Cautionary Tale of Flattery called The Spider and the Fly.  On my last trip to the library, I had the pleasure of finding Elephant in the Dark.  Prior to reading it, I knew nothing of this book nor the story it was based on, which is commonly called “Blind men and an elephant.”  It’s truly a fascinating perspective, and ironically, once I explain the gist of the story, it has several different interpretations.

There are several variations of the story, as I’ve learned from my Google research.  Seeing as how the version of Elephant in the Dark by Mina Javaherbin is the one that piqued my interest, I’ll summarize her version the best I can.  The story begins with Merchant Ahmad, who brings a mysterious creature back from India.  The news spreads in the village and everybody wants to see the creature, but Ahmad is too tired from his journey, and explains that it is too dark in his barn to see the animal at this time.  The villagers, not taking no for an answer, decide to sneak into the barn and take a look for themselves.  One by one, they go in, and each of them touches a different part of the elephant (a tail, a tusk, a trunk, etc.).  Since they each only touched one part of it, they come back out reporting the creature was like something completely different from what another person had declared.  Then it reads, “All day long they called each other names and fought to prove each other wrong.  Into the night no one listened, but everyone shouted and shoved.”  Then, the next day Ahmad awakes and takes the creature to the river, which we now see is an elephant, but the villagers are still too busy fighting to see the creature appear.  The last line reads, “And no one noticed they each knew only a small piece of the truth.”

Elephant in the Dark

As I finished reading Elephant in the Dark, I concluded that every adult needs to read this book.  My Facebook has become so cluttered with who’s right and who’s wrong, that it’s disheartening.  I realize you already heard my rant on this topic in Accentuate the Positive, but this book just brought it to the forefront of my mind again.  It also reminded me of this quote I read by the US Secretary of Agriculture and 13th President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Ezra Taft Benson.  He said, “Pride does not look up to God and care about what is right. It looks sideways to man and argues who is right.”  Religious or not, the idea that being right is more important than the whole truth gets us nowhere as a society.

Sometimes I feel bad that I don’t have an adamant opinion on all things.  Starting this blog made that more evident in my life.  I knew if I had a more extreme opinion on a matter, I could draw a larger audience.  Shock factor sells, right?  At first I thought I was just too ignorant to form an opinion on hot topics.  Then I realized, it’s that I can see where others are coming from, for the most part.  I’m not perfect in this way by any means.  But I would like to believe that I don’t just go into the barn, feel one part of the mysterious creature, and assume I know all based on that single instance.  I have opinions on all sorts of things, don’t get me wrong, but I also understand that it’s my opinion.  Some of my opinions have facts to back them up, some don’t.  The last thing I want to do though is ever express my opinion in such a way that demeans somebody else’s viewpoint.  I don’t want to fight about who is right.  I’m okay with learning more about the whole creature.  But, I’m also okay with being considered wrong in someone else’s eyes.  On that same note, I’m also okay being wrong in my own eyes.  For me, it’s not about who is right, but what is right.  Because of that thinking process, I’m not afraid to learn more.    I want to understand the whole creature.  Period.

I love one of the interpretations of this story, made into a poem by Rumi, a 13th-century Persian poet,which Elephant in the Dark is based on.  Rumi’s poem ends with, “If each had a candle and they went in together the differences would disappear.”  I think of that line and wonder what our world would look like under those circumstances.  I imagine, as it pertains to this story, we would all be unified in understanding it was an elephant, but we would still have our opinions on the creature.  Perhaps one person would find the elephant ugly, and another would find it breath-taking, but both would agree it was an elephant. Neither person needs to be wrong in their feelings towards the elephant.  We can respect differing interpretations of the creature, while simultaneously agreeing that there is a greater truth that there is no disputing.

Oh, how I hope I was able to express my feelings on Elephant in the Dark and it’s greater meaning.  The concept was over my toddler’s head, as I read the book to him.  But, I’ve found myself reading it over and over on my own.  There is much to take away and ponder about this story.  Take a moment and reflect on the story, if you have some time.  I would love to hear other’s feelings on the matter.


Worthy of Love and Belonging

Last Thursday, I had one of those moments with my eldest that reminded me that I had Enrolled in Parenting 505.  A simple task that I had given my daughter to do turned into a yelling match for some reason I still don’t understand.  I ended up embarrassed by my own role in the argument and hurt by the words that my daughter yelled at me.  It wasn’t pretty.  We didn’t end on a bad note, but the sting of my hurt stuck with me and I went to my room and cried, once she had gone to bed.  It’s moments like these that I wish I could will my mom to be alive so that I could call her and be comforted.  Thankfully, I had the forethought to reach out to another mom who is always good about reminding me of my worth and how we’re all imperfect people trying to do our best.  However, I still somehow managed to forget her words of encouragement as the evening passed and I went to bed with a series of self-loathing thoughts and tear-stained cheeks.  A few days later, I was reminded of something I read in one of my favorite books, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brene Brown, “If we want to fully experience love and belonging, we must believe we are worthy of love and belonging.”

I don’t know how one grows to feel unworthy of love and belonging.  I don’t think there is some statistic that ties such a thing to something like “being breast fed versus bottle fed” and, if there was, I wouldn’t believe it anyway.  You can’t isolate feelings of unworthiness down to one source, so I see no point in trying to figure it out.  But, sadly, I am a victim of believing myself unworthy of love and belonging.  I can say with certainty that these feelings were felt long before any diagnosis of depression or Bipolar II Disorder.  Before you go worrying about me, I know in theory I am worthy of being loved and accepted.  Most of us know that in theory, right?  Also, I don’t want people worrying that I grew up without “I love you” and support from my family, because I did have all of that.  Again, I don’t know the source of these feelings, but the fact is that I somehow have deemed myself unworthy of love and belonging.

Worthy of Love and Belonging

The scariest part of coming to terms with how I feel about myself is realizing that, based on our last argument, my daughter appears to be having a similar view of herself.  My daughter was able to articulate herself in such a way that I knew the source of her words had to do with her feeling unworthy of love and belonging.  While I don’t go blaming my parents for my feelings of unworthiness, I certainly blame myself for my daughter feeling this way.  I don’t know if that’s unfair or justified for me to do so, but if my eight-year-old feels like less than enough, then I cannot separate myself from that.  Now the question is, what do I do with the knowledge that my daughter and I are facing a similar struggle of believing we are unworthy of love and belonging?

There are several points that Brown makes in her book The Gifts of Imperfection, but I think a big one for my eldest daughter and myself is that we confuse guilt and shame.  If I boldly reprimand my daughter, her instant response is to cry out, “I’m a bad person!” or “I’m the worst kid ever!”  Mind you, I have said nothing about her character in my disciplining nor any such thing about her being a bad person or child.  I merely pointed out that she didn’t listen or that she made a bad choice.  She is the one that turns it into, “I’m a bad person.”  I am quick to correct her about the difference between shame (I am bad) versus guilt (I did something bad).  The interesting part is that I find it so absurd that she takes my disciplining and turns it into a five-alarm situation of self-loathing.  But, guess what?  I do that too.  I don’t cry out with wailing and gnashing of teeth, but I sure as heck go to my room and tell myself what a horrible person I am for yelling at my daughter.  Then to make sure I really give myself the proper punishment, I begin to tell myself all the other aspects of life that I am horrible at.  I am a horrible wife, because I don’t prepare dinner.  I am a horrible at-home Mom, because my children watch too much TV.  I am a horrible friend, because I don’t serve others enough.  I am horrible with finances, because I like to eat out.  You get the idea.  I’m really good at this self-loathing thing.  Well, well, well, looky there!  I just gave myself a compliment.  At least we know I’m good at something – shaming myself.

Here’s the best part – I just had this epiphany of the similarities between my daughter and I while I was typing this post.  That’s how blind I’ve been to hers and my struggle.  I recall my therapist trying to teach me the difference between shame and guilt years ago, because she saw that my confusion between the two was having a damaging affect.  I didn’t understand how I was mixing the two up in my daily life nor did I grasp the negative affect it was having on my emotional wellbeing, until now.  I understood the difference in theory, but I did not understand their difference in practice.  Does that even make sense?  It’s the same thing with feeling worthy.  I logically understand that, as a person, I am worthy, but I don’t feel worthy.  Just like I get the difference in the definitions between guilt and shame, but I don’t recognize when I am mixing the two up in my daily life.  I honestly did not get it until this very moment.  ::mind blown::  I am behaving in the same absurd manner as my daughter is when she takes my discipline and turns it into believing that she’s a bad person.  I throw the same fit.  I just do it in a more controlled manner and somehow I’ve convinced myself that that is okay.  Oh my gosh!  I now get why my husband gets so frustrated with me when I share my self-loathing with him.  He sees how absurd it is for me to believe myself a bad person for having made a mistake in a particular moment.  He knows better.

So, is confusion between shame and guilt the only cause of feeling unworthy?  No.  But it certainly doesn’t help my situation if I’m turning my mistakes into a blanket statement of me being an awful person.  It’s no wonder I feel unworthy of such love and belonging.  Woah.  This is a lot to process.  I guess the first step would be to catch myself in the action and teach myself to separate shame and guilt.  My husband is always good about stopping me in my tracks when my self-loathing begins, but he’s not always with me.  He simply says one line, “Put the phone down,” to get me to stop speaking negatively about myself.  His line is in reference to the fact that he once told me that my self-loathing is like having Satan on speed dial, calling him up, listening intently as he whispers all these terrible things about me, and then foolishly believing him.  So when I get going on my laundry list of reasons why I am “less than,” my husband quickly tells me to, “Put the phone down.”  It works every time.  I can be redirected, because in theory I know I am worth being loved.  The breakdown occurs when I’m alone with my thoughts, I pull up my speed dial, and suddenly Satan and I are catching up on old times.

I know that I am loved and accepted.  I’d like to believe that my daughter knows she is as well, as I try to show her often and tell her regularly.  However, she and I both seem to have some miscommunication between what we know and what we feel.  As a mother to this special little girl, I’ve struggled greatly with knowing how to raise her when I feel like I haven’t even figured myself out.  How do you teach a child about self-esteem when you seem to have so little regard for your own?  How do you teach a child about healthy living, when you struggle with proper diet and exercise?  I don’t know the answers to these questions.  My only hope is that open communication with her about my weaknesses and imperfections will help her to realize we are all imperfect individuals, but we are also beautiful and incredible people trying to do our best.  Perfection and worth are exclusive of one another.  I do not have to be perfect to be worthy of love and belonging.  The sooner I can learn to separate the two, the sooner I can help my daughter on her path.  We are all worthy of love and belonging, when we believe that in practice, and not just theory, we will free ourselves up to fully experience those same beautiful emotions.

You Can’t Have a Good Day with a Bad Attitude

I recently had the pleasure of surprising my family in Southern California with the selfish desire to hold my newborn nephew.  They were completely shocked to see me at their door and I have the footage to prove it.  This was also my first time ever being away from my kids for more than 36 hours, which made the trip an even bigger deal for me.  I had a lovely time.  Sadly, however, I ended up bringing back a strained AC joint (or so the doctor has diagnosed it), a head cold, and apparently a bad attitude.

You may be thinking the bad attitude was due to my vacation coming to an end too soon.  This was not the case.  It was more due to the fact that I am a wuss when it comes to pain.  I wish I could say I was hardcore like my mom was in this way.  I would listen to her, time and time again, indicate her pain level as a “2” on the 1-10 pain scale.  My Mom was a cancer patient on chemo, I’m pretty sure 2’s don’t exist.  She was bad-ass that way.  Me, not so much.  I’ll say a 4 or 5 right off the bat because I want pain relief and a 2 isn’t going to make that happen.  Being in pain tends to mess with my emotional state as much as my physical state.  I have a hard time separating the two.  If I’m in pain, my head gets stuck on repeat, “Pain. Pain. Still pain. Make the pain stop. Pain. Pain.”  I’m not good at moving beyond it and, as a result, I get in a bad mood.

I didn’t recognize my poor attitude when I first returned home.  I told my husband that my shoulder was hurt and that my head cold was bugging, but I had yet to realize that it was seeping into my emotional state.  I heard myself saying a lot of negative things and bringing up the pain quite a bit, but I still was happy to be home and grateful for my trip and doing well enough despite the pain.  It wasn’t until the first full day home, when I replayed all of my words and actions from the day prior, that I realized I was being a real downer, particularly towards my husband.  I hardly showed any appreciation for all that he did in my absence and all that he did to make the trip possible in the first place.  It wasn’t that I didn’t appreciate him and all he did to keep our home running, it was that I was so self-absorbed with my pain that it consumed me.  Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not excusing my behavior, because I already shared that No Excuses, No Explanations is the way to go.  I just personally needed to figure out what would possess me to be so unappreciative and grumpy towards my husband and life in general.

Once I realized that my bad attitude did nothing for the world around me, I knew my husband deserved an apology.  Is it just me or is it difficult to come forward and apologize?  I find it’s even harder to do so when nobody has even expressed offense having been given.  My husband hadn’t said, “Sara, you’re being ungrateful and grouchy.”  He was moving forward and doing his thing.  So, I had to voluntarily swallow my pride and fess up to screwing up and being a drag.  Thankfully, I married a forgiving man.

My shoulder still hurts and I anticipate that it will continue to do so as it heals over the next week.  However, I’m doing my best to prevent the pain from pulling my mood down now.  You can’t have a good day with a bad attitude, and you can’t have a bad day with a good attitude.  I think we all know this to be true already, I was just given a fresh reminder.  Letting the pain get the best of my attitude, and my attitude get the best of my day, was just making matters worse.  So the opposite has to be true.  A good attitude can only beget a brighter day.


Perhaps this is why my second eldest never seems to have a bad day?  She walks around with a positive attitude.  So much so that she received a Certificate of Character at school for having a positive attitude.  They announced the winners for each class at an assembly that my husband and I were able to attend.  The teacher had informed us that she would be receiving the award, but she was unaware.  When I heard her name be called for the award, I had to laugh, as I watched her skip happily up to the front.  That’s the type of girl that deserves such an award.  One that skips, and dances, and appreciates, and smiles, and laughs, and embraces the good all around.  Sure, she gets mopey at times, particularly when she wants someone to play with her, but overall she’s a ray of sunshine.  I could stand to learn a thing or two from her, as I strive to have a good attitude that brings forth a good day.

We reap what we sow, do we not?

Musings of a Mom

My mind is racing with all sorts of topics, none of which seem to be fitting to place in a concise post this week.  I’m tempted to do a journal style entry this week and call it good.  Are you with me?  Great!

Laughter is fun, ain’t it?  I feel like I’ve laughed a lot this past week, whether it was the banter between my husband and I regarding hoodlums, watching The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, laughing with a friend over dinner, or witnessing my kids in their daily antics, it just felt good to laugh.  Laughter is some of the best medicine there is out there.

You know what else is pretty great?  Exercise.  Not the actual doing part, but the after part is pretty grand.  I decided the action of exercising on an elliptical is more bearable if you watch The Tonight Show while you workout.  The laughter makes the exercise fly by and the aftermath of getting a good sweat in is quite rewarding.

Parenthood is tough, am I right?  I spent a good long time talking with a girlfriend over dinner about how I’m at a loss with one of my kiddos who seems to crave negativity.  My friend reminded me that said kiddo is trying to vie for my attention and that even negative attention is still attention.  I know this about my child, yet I still fall prey to these tactics.  Little stuff turns into big blowouts and soon I have no idea why my child is crying and hyperventilating and I don’t think said child knows either.

COMMERCIAL BREAK:  It’s really hard to write a paragraph without disclosing gender, isn’t it?  Now back to our regular programming.

So, parenthood, right?  I have another child who is one of the most obstinate kids I have ever met.  I have read enough of this book called The Child Whisperer, The Ultimate Handbook for Raising Happy, Successful, and Cooperative Children to know which type of child I am dealing with, but I guess I need to get back to reading it for added guidance.  I feel like I’m on a slippery slope of this kid turning into a spoiled brat.

Anybody out there have any ideas or books to help with negative-attention-seeking kids and obstinate ones?  Let me add before I move on to another topic that both of these kids have amazing sides to them as well.  I actually think the obstinate kid will benefit from this weakness, if it can be harnessed in the right direction.  And the former child has several other spectacular talents that I wish I was lucky enough to possess.  I keep thinking that with both of these kids, and even my other two that are currently easier to raise, I need to remember the words of the American writer, Tom Peters, “Celebrate what you want to see more of.”  That is the essence of what these kids of mine need, I think.  More focus on their strengths rather than feeding in to their negative behavior.

While we’re still on the topic of parenthood, do we have any fans of the show Parenthood on NBC?  My husband isn’t a fan.  He claims that every show involves yelling.  He is mostly right, but oh how I’ll miss all the non-yelling moments.  I’m really hoping they end on a happy note and tie it up in a nice little bow.  I think that’s the least they could do for their fans, right?

Lastly, I’ve been pondering something when watching the world around me, particularly the actions of my husband.  Isn’t life just a little easier when everybody sets out to do as much as they can for the better good?  Today, my husband took care of so many tasks around the house that I dread doing, before he headed off to work.  His help provided me the opportunity to work simultaneously on other matters that needed tending to in our home.  His efforts changed the entire tone of my day.  Sometimes I think I focus too much on doing the bare minimum out of pure laziness, when doing just a little more can help lift all parties involved.  I realize I’m not saying anything we don’t already know.  I guess this is just a friendly reminder to myself that I want to contribute to others the way my husband contributes so much to our little family.

So, there you have it, folks.  Nothing grandiose to offer you this week, but meaningful topics to me nonetheless.

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In Dreams Awake

‘Twas a night in December of 2011, not a creature was stirring not even a mouse, the stockings were hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that my BFF soon would be there.  The children were nestled all snug in their beds, while I anxiously awaited to start a horrifically cheesy Christmas movie that ABC Family had put out called 12 Dates of Christmas.  Sigh.  I was never good at poetry, so I’ll leave it for Clement Clark Moore.  Seriously though, I really wanted to see this movie and I knew my BFF, who has an equally pathetic love for cheesy rom-coms, was the perfect person to have by my side.  It had everything you would expect of a magoo made-for-TV-movie; discontinuity, plot holes, everybody growing together as people, cheesy lines, and a male lead character saving the world one wayward teenager at a time.  And, sadly, my BFF and I loved every second of it.  We even watched parts of it over again when we realized there were some hidden gems we had missed.  I may have liked it so much that I convinced another friend of mine to watch it with me again this year.  And even though we both laughed at all the corny lines, poor acting, and plot holes, we both found ourselves sighing, as smitten women do, at the tender predictable ending.

Watching the movie a second time, I found myself appreciating the concept of making the most of our lives.  If you didn’t watch the trailer in the link above, the lead actress lives Christmas Eve over and over again until she gets everything just right.  Think of the movie Groundhog Day with less humor and more magoo.  I got caught up in the message of living to our full potential in an effort to create a happier and fuller life.  They drive the message home in one scene when they use Henry David Thoreau’s quote, “Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.”  What a beautiful concept, right?  It reignited my desire to make sure my life matched my values, my righteous desires, and my dreams, as that’s how I interpret that quote.  I feel like the message is that we are to be active participants in creating a life that exemplifies who we aspire to be.

I think that’s why I like the idea of bucket lists so much.  They are like the blueprints of my dreams.  I think back to my 30th birthday and my husband’s gift to me.  My Life Bucket List has “Ride a Zamboni” on it.  My guess is that had I not put it out there as a sincere desire it would not have come to pass.  That February night in 2011, I was in dreams awake.  Or even something simpler I did this past week from my Christmas Season Bucket List.  I had on there to take cards to a retirement home.  As much as I genuinely wanted to do it, I could have easily justified not doing it.  The Saturday was cold and rainy and my husband would not be with me to help with the kids.  However, because of the list and having put it out there as something I wanted to do, I made the extra effort to do it.  How glad I am that we did.  It felt so good to brighten the day of so many people.  Plus, it was darling to see the pictures and notes my children created for the residents.  Seeing my children brighten someone else’s day is me living in dreams awake.

But it’s not just about bucket lists.  It’s about making the effort to live your dreams, whether they be small or large.  To live in the moment, to make the most of that moment.  That’s the message that 12 Dates of Christmas and Henry David Thoreau are trying to make, I think.  We have this glorious opportunity to change the world around us for the better merely by making a commitment to ourselves to live to our full potential.

In some ways I’m great at this and in other ways I fail to accomplish my dreams.  Perfect example: I dream of being healthier.  Not thinner, though that would inadvertently happen, but healthier.  I hope that one day I can live in dreams awake with a fit body.  In the meantime, cheeseburgers beat out vegetables every time.  Thankfully, I have not completely given up on myself.  My determination to accomplish my Life Bucket List may be all I need to make this a reality since several items on there require a healthier body.

Each of us has our strengths and our weaknesses.  And while Amy Smart got to live Christmas Eve 12 times over before getting it right, we also have another day to give it our best effort.  So, here’s to embracing our strengths and challenging ourselves on our weaknesses in the hopes of living in dreams awake; our truest life, or rather, to our full potential.

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Actively Engaging in Relationships

The following post was originally published on Over the Big Moon earlier this year.  I was still pregnant at the time.  This is a perfect post to piggyback last week’s post on being Purposefully Kind.  Reading this post again reminded me how I need to recommit myself to this endeavor.

The larger portion of the year 2010 was a particularly difficult time in my life.  Feelings of loneliness, depression, anxiety, and hopelessness were all too familiar to my daily routine.  One day in February
of that year, a small package arrived in the mail addressed to me with the return address containing my own address and the sender’s name noted as Secret Friend.  Inside was a little note and a package of Godiva chocolates.  I don’t do well with mysteries, but I did quite well with the delicious gift.  My spirit had been lifted in that moment.  I tried to get to the bottom of who the sender might be, but could not figure it out.  Then March came around and I received another package in the mail sent in the same fashion.  I was so touched and still so mystified.  I even started to analyze the handwriting with other cards I had received in the past.  I remain stumped.  Then April brought a spiritual message and May brought a thoughtful gift for Mother’s Day.  The remaining months of 2010 were each filled with a package or note being sent to me from my Secret Friend.  Then in January 2011, my final package arrived informing me that my year with my Secret Friend had drawn to a close.  I never did figure out who the sender was; although I have an inkling.  What I do know was that I looked forward to those arrivals.  I felt of the love this woman had for me in a time where I felt so unlovable.  I felt the joy that comes from friendship and small acts of kindness.

The treasured gift of friendship and our role in nurturing those relationships is what I wanted to share today.  This has been at the forefront of my mind, as I am homesick for many of my friends who live far away.  Plus, as I have been struggling through the roller coaster of pregnancy emotions, I have realized again how crucial friendships are in my life.  Sadly, I have done little to nurture those friendships that bear the burden of being long distance.  I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve lulled myself in to believing that following people on Facebook and Instagram is sufficient in keeping a friendship alive.  As I’m sure you know, this is not the case.  Nurturing friendships requires more than observing another’s life through what they choose to share on social media.  However, at the same time, it may surprise you the impact you can make in a friendship through even the smallest of acts.  The operative word being acts.  Nurturing a friendship, or relationship of any kind, requires action.
I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know, but perhaps a reminder to actively engage with our friends is needed.  I know I need it.  Having moved out of state a year and a half ago from everything I had ever known, I have watched as friendships have slipped by the wayside.  I’m quite familiar with the three types of friends we encounter in life – those we have for a reason, those we have for a season, and those we have for a lifetime.  The thing is, I have a lot of lifetime friends that I have failed to actively engage with since moving away.  It’s not in my nature to do this, so it’s been disheartening to me.  Part of me wonders if I’ve stopped nurturing these friendships out of pure laziness or out of protecting myself (you know how sometimes connecting with somebody makes you miss them more)?  Regardless, I’ve learned that not only do I need these lifetime friends in my life, I want to feed these relationships in the same manner that I have been so richly blessed – with surprise packages, thoughtful texts, a shoulder to cry on, or a phone call just because.
The beauty of a friendship is that nurturing it doesn’t have to be filled with grandiose things.  Oscar Wilde said, “The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention.”  How true that statement is!  I had the pleasure this past week of catching up with one of those above mentioned lifetime friends.  It seems silly to think that a phone call qualifies as an act of kindness, but boy did it fill my heart with more joy than I anticipated.  I laughed so freely as we went on and on about all the craziness of life.  How grateful I am that we had a moment to actually talk rather than merely intend to call one another.  I was also blessed to receive a call from another friend who lives miles away, though we did not have the opportunity to catch up, who just wanted to chat.  I felt of the love of these women despite the many miles between us.

I think what it comes down to is that things have been rather tough for me as of late.  This pregnancy has not served my emotions well.  And I’m learning how blessed I have been to have such beautiful friends placed in my life to help lighten my load and increase my joy.  These friends, whether they know it or not, are re-inspiring me to actively engage in the world around me.  Each kind gesture brings me the same feelings of love that I felt with those monthly packages I received back in 2010.  I want to be better about returning that same joy and hope to friends and family.  I’ve grown tired of caring for relationships superficially.  So, please share with me those acts of kindness that you have either given or received that enriched your relationships.  My goal is to engage more fully with the many wonderful people that have been placed in my path.
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The Words of a Kept Woman

My husband came home from work last week and shared with me how one of his co-workers called him a derogatory name and walked off for no apparent reason.  There is a lot of teasing that goes on at his work.  However, this was not one of those teasing moments.  He turned to his other co-worker who was standing there with him and said, “I sure wish I could figure out what I did wrong.”  His co-worker responded with, “I can tell you what it is.  It’s because you have a kept woman at home.  It’s because your wife stays home with the kids.”  I cut him off quickly with an, “Excuse me?”  The kind of “excuse me” that I dish out to my kids when they speak to me rudely and I am left in disbelief.  It wasn’t in a sweet tender tone.  I was floored.  My husband goes on to say that the co-worker who believes that I am a “kept woman” considers herself to be a liberated woman; a woman not bound by traditional sexual and social roles.  If this is the kind of behavior of a liberated woman, consider me a kept woman.  That being said, let me give you my life as a kept woman.

In preparing to be a kept woman, I attended a four year university and obtained a B.A. in Communications.  Shortly after graduating, I married this incredible man for time and all eternity.  My degree afforded me an amazing opportunity to work full-time and be the primary provider for our family while my husband worked part-time and went to school to obtain his A.A. in nursing.  I had always dreamed of being an at-home Mom and both my husband and I saw it as the preferred way to raise our children.  After our second daughter was born, we struggled with the idea of losing my income even though he was now a full-time nurse.  We took a leap of faith and mutually made the decision for me to stay home with our daughters.  Money quickly grew tight in our home, but we felt confident that we had made the right choice for our family.  I have nothing against being a working Mom.  In fact, I was one during the first years of my eldest’s life.  But, for my husband and I, we were at a point in our family’s life where me staying home and caring for the kids became our priority.

So, what does the life of a kept woman look like for me?  Well, I am happily married to that same incredible man who asked for my hand in marriage over ten years ago.  We have four beautiful children that he helps me raise.  We work incredibly well as a team.  When it comes to matters of the kitchen, he cooks, I clean.  I try to get the wash done in one day about once a week.  He often gets the ball rolling for me and switches out loads when I forget.  He cleans the bathrooms and takes out the trash.  I clean the dishes and the floors.  If you noticed there’s no dusting allocated, it’s because it gets done so rarely that I’m not sure I can even count it as a chore.  We jointly nag our children to pick up after themselves.  On days that he has off, we strive to spend time together as a family and get some of our errands done as a team.  He often encourages me to get out and spend time with my girlfriends.  He knows I’m not a morning person so he handles all of the morning routine when he can so that I can sleep in.  Then, on days when has to work a 12-hour night shift, I may end up spending the whole day gallivanting with the kids while he sleeps.  He works a 12-hour night shift because the pay is more and it allows him the opportunity to spend more time with his family and attend church on Sunday.  To recap, as a kept woman, I get to live out my lifelong desire to be an at-home mom to our children while simultaneously being married to a man who supports, loves, respects and encourages me in every single aspect of my life.

So, dear liberated woman, please reconsider your opinion of my husband and your perceived knowledge of me and our life.  I’m surprised that you don’t give me enough credit, as a woman, to make choices for myself and our family.  While there may be other at-home moms who live your misconceptions of the role, that is not the case in our home.  I am not bound by traditional roles, I happen to find the traditional role of a woman as beautiful and desirable.  And have therefore chosen it for myself with the support of my husband.

Let me close with the words of Whitney M. Young, an American civil rights leader, “There is nothing noble in being superior to somebody else.  The only real nobility is in being superior to your former self.”

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Attitudes Are Contagious

I recently made the choice to stop contributing on Over the Big Moon.  While I loved the opportunity to add to their website, I felt that I needed to focus more on our family and my recent health concerns.  I would still like to share those past posts here on my own site.  This post below was published back in March, which explains why I still reference being pregnant within the text.  I hope you enjoy!  This is one of my favorite posts and I was glad I had the chance to read it again!

I was skimming through a couple of my books this past week to read the highlighted portions.  I came across one line in a book that stated that courage was contagious and then another book wrote of confidence being contagious.  I nodded in agreement; my own life having been impacted by another’s confidence and courage that they had showed in theirs.  Then, I thought to look up some quotes about these attitudes being contagious.  It turns out, according to a Google search, kindness is contagious too, as is fear, creativity, enthusiasm, cruelty and the list goes on.  Apparently, we are a contagious sort of people.  
There was this one quote though that summed it up, “Attitudes are contagious.  Are yours worth catching?”  The irony of the quote is that it was said by two people.  I had yet to see a quote credited to two people until this one.  I imagined a husband and wife sitting in the same room and the thought must have been so contagious that they both uttered the words simultaneously.  The idea makes me giggle to myself.
I could wrap this post up right now with this poignant quote and call it a day, but I think it’s worth discussing the influence our attitudes can have on those around us.  As I mentioned above, I witnessed the attitudes of courage and confidence in others and it made a significant impact in my life.  Particularly, the attitude of courage.  
About two years ago, I lived in Southern California.  I had plans to spend the rest of my days there.  Most all of my friends and family lived in a 50 mile radius.  It was home.  Unfortunately, it was taking a greater toll on me to live there than I had realized.  The financial strains of the high cost of living, the fast paced life, and the overpopulation were wearing on me.  I felt that a move out of the state would be helpful, but I didn’t have the courage to leave everything I knew behind.  Certainly, there were several reasons that eventually made our out-of-state-move possible, but one of the big ones was the courage of a dear couple whom I admire greatly.  This couple had lived in my hometown for over thirty years and raised their kids in the same home that entire time.  Their home was the type where one always felt welcomed.  Two summers ago, with all of their children grown, they sold their home and moved to Utah.  As I joined in a couple gatherings to say farewell to this amazing couple, I sat back and witnessed the courage it was taking for the wife, particularly, to leave the “home” she had known behind.  But I saw that it was not the end of the world.  I guess I subconsciously thought it would be the end of the world for me if I moved, as it would be the end of the only world I had known up until that point.  The attitude of courage among this couple was indeed contagious.  Saying goodbye to them was one more piece to the puzzle that was coming together for us to move our lives out-of-state.  It was the piece of courage.  Courage that I so desperately needed.  Courage that brought us to a place that I now lovingly call home.
For every positive attitude that gets passed along in our daily actions, there is also the negative that we can, perhaps unintentionally, put out there.  I know this is certainly the case in our own home.  These past couple days are a perfect example.  I have been stressed out and trying to deal with the aches and pains that come with pregnancy.  While I’ve tried to keep my patience, my attitude has been less than positive and upbeat.  In fact, I have been rude and unkind.  My kids got the brunt of it.  My eldest, who soaks up my mood like a sponge, started to get sassy and then overly emotional.  Hmmmm.  I wonder where she got that from?  Oh yeah, ME!  Like the stomach bug that quickly spreads through an entire household, my poor attitude was picked up and passed along until everyone in the home was on edge.  It was like an epidemic and, regretfully, I was at the heart of it.
Attitudes are contagious whether we want them to be or not.  Just like a child is more likely to catch a stomach bug that’s spreading through a home than an adult, they’re also more likely to catch our poor attitude.  My guess is that it’s because a child is not going to break down our behavior and cut us some slack.  It will simply be, “Mom’s being mean.  I’m going to be mean.”  It’s not malicious, it’s just the nature of things.  Whereas, my husband may be more inclined to think things through with, “Sara seems on edge.  I wonder what’s really bothering her or if she’s feeling OK?”  Having patience with our children, during those moments when our negative attitudes start being thrown back at us, can help prevent added angst.  We need to understand that we have the opportunity to spread the attitude of joy or contention to those we come in contact with daily. Of course, be realistic.  We should not be expected to exude enthusiasm at all points in our day.  Our children need to understand that the downs happen too.  But we don’t need to dwell in those downs.  I had the opportunity this past week to recognize my poor attitude and strive to change it for the better for the sake of our home.
Tuesday was a particularly busy morning and it seemed that my daughter was needier than usual.  I kept trying to concentrate on a task and she kept asking me 101 questions.  I grew impatient and snapped at her.  She was just bored and wanted to make a snowflake.  A snowflake that would have resulted in me making it, which I felt too busy to do at the time.  When I completed my task, she had already given up on trying to get my attention.  I realized that I had been a grump and took my stress out on her unnecessarily.  I went and made her the best paper snowflake that I could and apologized to her for being a grouch.  I did my best for the rest of the day to be kinder and not dwell in my low.  I wasn’t perfect, but my sincere apology must have left an impression, as she mentioned multiple times through out the day, “It’s okay if you’re a grouch, Mom.”  I suppose the attitude of forgiveness may be contagious too.
Let us all reflect on the attitudes we are carrying around and ask ourselves if it’s something we want our children, our loved ones, and our communities to catch.  The best part about sending out positive attitudes is that their contagious nature results in them coming back our way.  What a beautiful gift to give the world and ourselves; that of a positive attitude.
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You Can’t Fix Yourself by Breaking Someone Else

I find human nature amusing at times, don’t you?  The first scene of the movie He’s Just Not That Into You is a perfect example.  It shows a little girl being bullied at the park by a little boy.  The little girl then goes up to her Mom to explain the events and the Mom’s response is, “That means the boy likes you.”  Wait, what?  Being mean is an indication of liking someone?!  I recall, in my own youth, being told that if a kid was being mean to me it’s a sign that they are jealous of me.  This brings me back to my first statement that us humans can be an odd bunch sometimes.

My examples above are that of kids, but some of our backwards behavior carries on into our adulthood.  Are you ready for my true confession of discordant thinking?  I take you back to the first year of my marriage.  This is when a disturbing behavior of mine was brought to my attention.  I don’t exactly recall the specifics of how it came about, but I quickly gained the nickname “Red Pen” from my husband.  The name was an indication of my constantly correcting everything he did.  You may recall the orange slicing incident from my previous post Celebrating Differences?  He’d also respond to some of my remarks with a simple, “Put the gavel down.”  This was his delicate way of saying I needed to quit unrighteously judging him or the circumstances around me.  In short, I was being unkind as well as a micro-manager.  The latter being an annoying habit for sure, but harmless for the most part.  Or is it?

It turns out that I was increasing the frequency of my “Red Pen” behavior when I was feeling a lack of control over myself.  I didn’t really make the correlation until I was sitting in a therapy session a few years back.  I was confessing to my therapist that I tend to point out all of my husband’s faults and short-comings.  She, being a therapist, immediately recognized this behavior as a sign of my own insecurities.  My insecure nature had already been recognized as the root of a large portion of my struggles so I’m sure this behavior came as no surprise to her.  Then she pulled a typical therapist move on me.  She went and said something I had heard a million times before, but had never internalized or applied it to myself.  Her response to my confession was simple, “You can’t fix yourself by breaking someone else.”  Wait, what?  You can’t?  Because somewhere along the way I subconsciously made this a truth.  If I wasn’t able to feel good about myself, then surely I could make my husband feel worse or bring him down and that would somehow put me up higher, right?  Wrong.

Oh, how sad of a way to behave.  How terrible I felt when I realized that I had been breaking my husband down in a failed attempt to lift myself up.  I took the therapy session to heart and began trying to right my wrongs immediately.  It must have worked successfully because I was just telling my husband about the topic of this post being that you can’t fix yourself by breaking someone else and he promptly responded with, “You don’t do that.”  I had to remind him of our first years of marriage and then he said, “Oh yeah, that happened.”  Unfortunately, the micro-managing sneaks back in to our relationship when I am feeling less than optimal about myself.  Thankfully, it doesn’t escalate in to me trying to break him down or point out all of his flaws, as I’ve learned to reel myself in and see the situation for what it is.

It’s tough to redirect ourselves from these unhealthy behavior patterns that somehow get ingrained in us.  Obviously, nobody taught me this behavior specifically.  I was not pulled aside as a child and told, “You know what would make you feel better about yourself?  Bringing others down.”  But I did have to be directly told to NOT act in that manner.  And what about the other behaviors I mentioned above?  A kid who bullies being an indication that he likes you?  Or is jealous of you?  Huh?  That is an odd way to show your admiration or affection for someone.  What happens to the person that buys in to that way of thinking and ends up in a harmful relationship with someone who treats them in such a manner?

This brings me to my final thought, which leaves me recalling a line from the movie French Kiss.  The main character, Kate, is frustrated with the manner in which the French share their emotions in an opposite fashion to their true feelings and exclaims, “Happy, smile.  Sad, frown.  Use the corresponding face with the corresponding emotion.”  My final thought echoes that of Kate’s: Let’s use the corresponding behavior for the corresponding results.  If you want to feel better, be kinder and better.  If you want to feel love, show love.  Let’s strive to lift one another up in an effort to make the world a happier place rather than bring someone down under the falsehood that we will somehow be lifted higher.  Let us compliment people and magnify their strengths, not their weaknesses.

I learned that bringing my husband down did not make me feel any better about myself.  I must have been disillusioned into thinking so, as I had made a habit of it, but it was not the reality.  I often felt worse about myself, as I was bringing unnecessary contention into our home.  However, lifting him up and lifting others up around me actually does make me feel better about myself.  Joy begets more joy.  I know this to be true because there is more joy, understanding and compassion found in our marriage now than when I was trying to fix myself by breaking him.

May we each begin to recognize the true happiness that is felt within when we lift others rather than break them down.

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3 Ways to Bring Sunshine to the Soul

Don’t you love those times in life when you somehow feel more upbeat or at peace no matter what life is throwing at you?  I’m in one of those happy places right now and I’m trying to analyze every little aspect of my daily actions to see what is making the difference.  I think I’ve deduced that there are three things contributing to my happier demeanor – focusing less on myself, tidying up, and the joy of sunshine!

I tried to word that first one – focusing less on myself – carefully.  At first I wanted to put down “doing service” or “thinking more of others.”  But in reflecting back on my week, I don’t know that I’ve been doing any grand acts of service or even thinking of others more than usual.  I think what it comes down to is that I’ve been trying to focus more on the good in life in general rather than constantly dwelling on my short-comings and undone tasks, which there are plenty of the latter these days.  I think what it comes down to is that I’m trying to embrace Abraham Lincoln’s quote about how, “Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.”  I’ve struggled with this quote because there are plenty of times that I want to be happy and I think that I’m doing all I can do make it happen and it’s just not happening.  But perhaps it’s not just about making my mind up to be happy, but rather making my mind up to not dwell on the unhappy, or rather, striving to focus less on myself.  When I say focus less on myself, I’m not saying to ignore the personal nourishment that my body, soul, and mind needs.  By focusing less on myself, I mean looking beyond myself and seeing the beauty around me and the opportunities that abound.  It seems to me that focusing less on myself is the way my mind chooses happiness.  This might not be the case for all.  Perhaps it’s worth thinking about this quote and trying to understand what actions need to be taken for your mind to decide to be happy?

The second thing that just made life a little brighter was tidying up some odds and ends around the house.  I still have seven weeks to go in this pregnancy, but my husband is convinced the nesting period has begun.  Last night, as I busily cleaned up clutter and messes that I had let fall by the wayside for too long, my husband was literally chirping and singing some made-up song about what types of twigs and such do I put in my nest.  Just sharing that makes me giggle all over again, which makes me think that perhaps the goodness of my husband ought to be on this list of things that have been bringing sunshine in to my soul.  I say it often, “I married up.”  But, back to the topic at hand, a tidier home just makes for a happier home, does it not?  I’m not saying perfectly tidy, because lets be honest, I am a mother of three.  I have learned that each child produces more clutter and mess.  I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about the added mess of yet another kiddo.  Comedian, Jim Gaffigan’s, line from his stand-up show Mr. Universe is in the forefront of my mind often these days, “You want to know what it’s like having a fourth kid?  Imagine you’re drowning.  Then someone hands you a baby.”  He goes on to say how happy he actually is to have four (now five kids), but that doesn’t take away from the reality that more kids = more chaos.  Perhaps that’s why my efforts to get our current level of chaos better under control helped calm my nerves a little bit.

Lastly, I truly believe my soul just needed some literal sunshine.  While I love the varying seasons here in Oregon, I can certainly tell how my mood responds to a few days of good ol’ sunshine.  The best part is that it rarely gets too hot here.  So the days filled with sunshine are days that seem almost too perfectly beautiful and comfortable to be real.  Yesterday just happened to be one of those days.  We headed down to the river as a family and met up with some friends.  The kids rode their bikes all over the place and threw rocks in the river, while we visited and took in the beautiful sunshine and scenery.  Taking time to enjoy the beauty of the world in which we live and spending time with loved ones just warms the soul.  It’s truly that simple.

So, if for whatever reason, you are having a difficult time feeling the sunshine in your soul, perhaps one of these three pieces of revelation will help brighten your spirit and your day!

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