Wednesday, September 30, 2015

What Every Dad and Mom Should Know

To You:
I just watched the lunar eclipse.  I sat out on my porch, listened to the crickets, and watched the moon change colors.  It was pretty incredible.  I came inside and was elated to see the family messages start rolling in.  We just welcomed a new nephew into the world today!  And we are getting our first pictures right now!  There is a pair of hands over this little bundle; I recognize them as my brother's.  The new family.  The first bath.  The tininess nestled into his daddy's chest.  There is nothing better!  It's exciting and fun and real.

Do you ever feel like the space inside your chest has grown bigger?  Like you've been enlightened or filled up?  It's hard to describe, but I think it's what people mean when they say, "My heart is full."
Full of gratitude, full of love, and full of awe.  There is so much that is good around us.

So with a full heart, I'd say to the new parents, I don't know anything you don't know, so just keep in mind
What Every Dad and Mom Should Know:

  • You are the most important people in your child's life.  Live worthy of that role.
  • You have the ability to give to your child what you can't really give to anyone else–you have complete stewardship over this baby.  Now is your chance to put all your learning and talents and all that you have become to good in this new baby's life.
  • You did it!  You birthed a baby!  Woohoo!!!  It's pretty amazing that you grew a person inside of you and then got that person out!  You ought to take a bow.
  • Snuggle.  Then snuggle some more for me.  Snuggling a baby is good for the soul: yours and theirs.
  • Life is about to change...roll with it.  As much as you can, laugh at the splattered poop, the sleepless nights, and the "I don't know what to do!!!!" moments.
  • You don't have as much control as you want at times, but you have more than you think at other times.  Figure that one out.  :)
  • Ask for everyone's advice and then take what you feel good about.
  • In the end, I believe the best thing anyone can do for a child is help them know that they are supremely, unconditionally loved, not just by you, but also by the Creator of all.

I can't wait to watch these two incredible people parent.  I can't wait to see this little one grow into a big one.  To see him develop and discover.  To watch his personality unfold. To watch him build relationships and find joy in life.  Love you little man!

Love, Marielle

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Best Moms are Helicopters

To You:

This morning I was trying to exercise.  The three kids were busting some awesome kickboxing moves with me when the littlest one disappeared.  Apparently, he wanted to match his big sister's shirt...that's his new thing...matching.  He and I have been twins for the last couple weeks.  It's pretty endearing.  Anyway, soon enough he was sitting on the top step shirtless and a bit frustrated telling me something.  Truthfully, sadly, I'm not really sure what he was telling me.  I've been getting into exercise choreography and the other two kids were following along beautifully.  Between counting, cuing, punching, and kicking, with music playing, I really didn't hear what my youngest said.  I replied with one of those "usually cuts it" broad comments like, "Ok buddy.  Come on down."  Well, this time it didn't cut it.  He tried again and so did I.  "You're fine.  Come on."  "But MOM!"  "Come here kiddo.  I can't hear what you're telling me."  Now he was crying.  He stomped down the stairs. I leaned over with my feet still moving to the beat as he hollered.  I couldn't understand him.  Finally, it hit me.  I wasn't paying attention to him.  I stopped moving and listened.  "My drawer is stuck Mom!!!"  I took him by the hand, and he led me upstairs.  I fixed his drawer in about 20 seconds, and we looked through it for his matching gray shirt.  No more tears; no more frustration.  We went back downstairs and joined the other two, who were now having a fine time making up their own moves.

A Lesson in Aviation

I love airplanes.  I remember the first time I flew in one.  There was nothing as exciting as taking off.  I looked out the window and saw the clouds below me!  It was beautiful!  It was incredible to me that the airplane could get so many people over the water and so far away in so short a time.

While the airplane powers from Point A to Point B, who do we send for rescue missions?  Who do we send to help the sick, the drowning, and the fire victim?  Helicopters.  Why?  Helicopters hover.  Helicopters can stop where they are, hover, and drop down anywhere.  The world needs airplanes, but the world also needs helicopters.

In our own lives, sometimes we are and need to be airplanes.  We need to power through the to-do list.  We need to get to places and get stuff done.  However, if we are constantly in this mindset, we are missing out.  We are missing out on opportunities to connect with our kids and people around us.  I often remember the quote which reads, "God does notice us, and he watches over us.  But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs.  Therefore, it is vital that we serve each other."  When we see a need, we have to be willing to stop going forward with our own plans, learn how we can help, and do it.  We have to be willing to push pause on the music, listen to the need, and help the little boy with his drawer.  We have to be willing to be a helicopter.

Like helicopters, we are often on rescue missions to help the sick, the drowning, and the fire victim.  Although, usually these victims are sick with heartache, drowning in stress, or burning with inward pains.  We may be called to rescue a soul who has lost his or her way in the world and isn't sure where to turn for help.  This past weekend I watched a great movie highlighting the lives of several individuals.  One of the segments showed how a teenage mother was overcome with the stress and frustration of raising her child on her own and losing a second baby right after his birth.  She went into a convenience store and broke down.  The cashier at work noticed this young woman crying and went over to console her.  The cashier offered assistance and this became a turning point in this young mother's life.  What if the cashier had been like me this morning, too busy working to stop and help?

"A Desert Place Apart"

As a Christian, I try to learn from the life of Jesus Christ.  After Christ heard that His cousin and dear friend John had been killed, He sought seclusion with some of the apostles in a "desert place apart" across the water.  John's life was foretold by prophets as one who would prepare the people for the Messiah.  John knew of Christ's mission from the womb and bore testimony of Christ's divinity.  John was worthy to baptize the Son of God.  John was imprisoned prior to his death and then brutally beheaded to satisfy the selfishness and iniquity of a family.  We can only guess what Christ's emotions and thoughts may have been as He learned of the death of this loyal and righteous man.  Christ departed with His apostles for some rest and time apart.  As Christ tried to privately leave the city, many people saw and followed on foot.  The scripture says, "And Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick" (Matthew 14:14), "And he began to teach them many things" (Mark 6:34).  Christ hovered.  He was trying to get from A to B, but en route saw a need.  He stopped, assessed the needs, touched down, and met the needs.  What followed was the great miracle of feeding the five thousand with five loaves of bread and two fishes.  It appears that Jesus and the apostles did eventually have their needed respite, as Jesus sent the apostles off in a ship and He went into "a mountain apart to pray" (Matthew 14:23).

Helicopters Today

For us, hovering might look like taking an extra minute to talk to someone in the grocery store or pick up dropped items.  It might be stopping to repair a flat tire or locating a parent of a lost child.  Maybe it is moving the garbage can that blew into the road or shoveling a car out of the snow.  It could be hefting luggage for that crazy lady traveling by herself with three kids under the age of six, (thank you kind man!) or taking kids for said crazy lady when she needs to work (thank you dear friends!).  It is usually a small act, but it often encourages others to do likewise.  Sometimes it is not so much an act of service as it is an act of being, being present for the people around you and relishing in that relationship.

The other day, my daughter had a friend over to play.  When the friend's mom came to pick-up, we all went out to say goodbye.  The kids had been playing with their Hoppity Hops.  (I don't know the official name of them, but they are super fun...great gift Grandma!)  As the car drove away, my boys ran down the sidewalk waving.  My daughter asked if we could play a game.  "No," I replied.  We had homework and a piano lesson and clean-up to do.  Meanwhile, the boys at the end of the sidewalk sat on those balls and started hopping back home.  They looked so cute bobbing up and down that I ran in to get my camera.  I filmed them coming in and then took a quick interview about how school was going.  As I filmed, my five-year-old bopped me with his ball.  I put the camera down, and what ensued was an epic battle.  Imagine a boxing match with giant balls on your hands instead of punching gloves.  It was awesome.  The kids were in tears laughing.  Afterward, we laid on the grass and looked for shapes in the clouds.  The boys crunched the first of the fallen leaves.  We jump-roped and practiced roller skating.  It was a beautiful evening.  A memorable evening.  If I had insisted on my plan, I would have missed out.  Usually we do need to get the homework, piano, and cleaning done, but sometimes, sometimes we just need to hover.  We need to stop and enjoy the people around us.  The results of our hovering may not always be life-changing exchanges or miracles, but they will always be sweet.

The more we look for these opportunities to hover, the more we will notice them everywhere:  on the road, at the store, in the office, and in our own homes.  Let us examine our lives.  Are we entirely tied up in our to-do lists and plans for the day?  Or, are we looking for opportunities to help others?  When we see a need, are we willing to put aside our own plans and stop to help?  Are we trying to be rock awesome helicopters?  Because everyone knows, the best moms are helicopters.  Scratch that.  Everyone knows, the best people are helicopters.

Love, Marielle

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Running on Empty?

To You:

We've all been there.  You are sure you love your life, but you just don't know if you can take another day of this. You feel like you are running a marathon that never ends and never awards a winner.  The laundry is not done, the dishes are in the sink, your To-Do list is long and getting longer, the school Halloween party you're supposed to plan is quickly approaching, and wait, did the kids even eat dinner tonight?  You are sure your doctor would cringe at your blood pressure.  You are a manic stress case.

We've also all been here.  For some reason, everything is harder than it should be.  You go to work or get through the day and at the end wonder, "What have I accomplished today?"  Life seems dull, like an old faded newspaper rather than the adventure magazine you thought you signed up for.  You know you chose your life, but you think, "Did I really?  Why again?"  You are in a funk.

Although these two descriptions seem to be on opposite ends of a spectrum, I have come to see them both as results of emotionally running on empty.  I have found that in my life, when I enter these realms of stress or discontent it is either the cause or the effect of my forgetting what life is really all about.  I am disconnected from what really matters.  That disconnect makes life's tasks seem overwhelming or unimportant.  Some of us feel like we spend the majority of our lives feeling either stressed or down.  Others tend to go there once in a while, but like the Hotel California, once we are there, feel that we can never leave.  The state of our lives is a result of our upbringing, our personality, our life choices, our genetics, our breakfast choice, our local weather, our...
 Regardless, I believe that wherever we stand now, we have choices to make and those choices can help bring us to a better place.  A place of a little bit more calm, peace, and contentment.  I have seen people raise 8 active children and seem to remain calm–at least a lot of the time.  :)  I have seen others meet life's deepest difficulties with a smile.  It is possible.  In various circles this way of living is called centered, grounded, resilient, or close to the Spirit.  There are some tips (dare I say habits?) that I have learned from people I admire that live this way and from my own life.  There is no one magic bullet, so here is an arsenal of ideas, in no particular order, to help relieve stress and reconnect.

20 Tips to Refill Emotional Reserves in a Busy Life 

  1. Exercise
    • Run, swim, walk, bike, play badminton, sweat with Richard Simmons: it doesn't matter what it is, the positive effects of exercise are indisputable.  Moving releases chemicals in your body that are helpful for mood, brain function, and overall health.  Some of my very best thinking time is running time.  You don't have to be an Olympic athlete either.  I shoot for at least 20 minutes three times a week with an active lifestyle...this balance means it actually happens in my busy life!
  2. Laugh
    • You can watch a favorite comedy, but better yet, find the comedy in your own life.  Angry lecture is always an option, but laughing at the applesauce that was squirted everywhere while your back was turned certainly eases the tension.  One of my kids will instantly snap out of a rage if somebody makes him laugh.
  3. Exercise while you laugh
    • This is one of my favorites.  Try doing push-ups or lunges to the likes of Jim Gaffigan or Brian Regan.  It's hard to find a better use of time.  :)
  4. Eat a Nutritious Meal
    • Maybe it's a smoothie, a salad, or a gourmet sandwich.  Make something you can feel good about eating and feel good after eating.  Try my kids' favorite "Cheater Green Drink" compliments of my aunt.
      • Blend 2 cups cold water and a couple handfuls of greens (kale, spinach, anything). Add about a cup of frozen fruit (strawberries, mixed berries), and a squeeze of lemon or a scoop of vanilla yogurt.  Blend well.  Kids always like to drink it with a straw!
  5. Find something beautiful in the world
    • Take a moment and find it.  A facial expression, a flower, the sun streaming through the clouds.  Just stop and take it in.  A wise 90-year-old friend told me yesterday that his mom used to tell him, "The world is really a beautiful place.  People just don't realize it."
  6. Unplug
    • It is wonderful to be connected via social media and there is a lot of good entertainment out there.  Sometimes though, all that "connectedness" keeps us from really connecting with the people and beauties around us.  Unplug for an hour or two or a day.  How long can you hack it?
  7. Get up early
    • I'm a night person.  Getting up early is not easy, yet when I do it is amazing how much gets done.  Sometimes an early start is all I need to feel on top of life again.  That early morning quiet time is also incredibly enlightening time.  Many of the most inspired people I know regularly get up early.  
  8. Go to bed early
    • Repeat:  I am a night person.  However, I usually feel like I can do anything if I am well rested.  If going to bed early is not a habit (yet–me), try going to bed early once in a while.  Drop it all and just go to sleep.  Most everything really can wait for tomorrow believe it or not.
  9. Meditate
    • Pray, do yoga, reflect in bed before you go to sleep.  Quiet pondering can work wonders.
  10. Read something inspirational
  11. Visit your checklist
    • I remember talking with my mom on the phone after my third child was born.  In jest, I remarked how I could do it all and felt like the best mom...when my checklist was short.  Eureka!  Remember there is a season for everything.  You really do not have to do it all.
  12. Breathe!
    • Stop.  Breathe.  Breathe deeper.  Now repeat.  Aaaahh. 
  13. Have a real conversation
    • Get beyond the weather.  Ask about childhood memories, what the other person is learning in life, what they wish they'd done differently.  Really connect through meaningful conversation.
  14. Write in your journal
    • Writing is therapeutic.  (Sorry for inviting all of you to my therapy sessions.)  You learn a lot when you have to put thoughts, emotions, or experiences into words.
  15. Read your journal
    • You are amazing.  Step back and learn something from yourself.  Remember what you once knew.
  16. Refuse to multitask
    • Our kids and spouses probably get it the worst, but anyone can fall prey to our multitasking.  Simply refuse to do it.  If you need to work, help the kids be busy with a puzzle and tell them you'll play when the timer rings.  That is infinitely better than pretending to listen.  If you are with someone else, don't check your phone every five minutes.  Put it down and be there.
  17. Hug someone
    • Yep.  Just hug them.  Quick or long, hugging is healthy.
  18. Serve someone
    • There is no greater way to connect with people and remember what is most important than through service.  Whether it is in your family or your community, give something of yourself.  Write a card, cook a meal, make a visit, listen to a co-worker or go to Africa.  Be purposeful in the things you already do that are service.
  19. Garden
    • Get your hands dirty.  Connect with nature.  Weeding is one of those beautiful tasks that allows you to see the results immediately!  If gardening isn't your thing, scrub a floor.  
  20. Watch the sky
    • Being emotionally stable requires a balance of knowing how amazing you are and also having the humility to recognize you can't do it all alone.  Watch a thunderstorm.  Examine the stars.  Find shapes in the clouds.  Feeling of the expanse above engenders an awe that is both humbling and inspiring.
What else do you do to relieve stress, reconnect, and refill emotional reserves?  We all have our moments of unrest and truthfully life might be boring without them.  But to whatever extent you want to be more calm and more connected, I hope these ideas help.

Love, Marielle

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

"Breaking My Two Feet Was the Best Thing That Could Have Happened to Me."

To You:

I was recently listening to an acquaintance recount her experiences of the past year.  She was chronicling some pretty difficult times, beginning with breaking both of her feet.  At one point, in tears, she said, "Breaking my two feet was the best thing that could have happened to me."  That's not exactly what one would expect to hear.

The Girl Who Said It

This comment has been stuck in my head, and a few thoughts keep recurring.  First, I am struck by the maturity of this young college-aged friend.  She is contemplating her own life and the path it is taking.  She is recognizing causes and effects and taking ownership of where her life is heading.  She is moving forward in life with intention and gratitude, rather than a "poor me" outlook.  The way she freely contributes her experiences and the lessons she is learning shows great humility and honesty.  I am grateful for her willingness to share that with others.  I'd like to be like that.

What We Can All Learn From Her

Secondly, haven't we all looked back on hard times and realized we learned a great deal from them?  When we look back, aren't those challenges meaningful in a previously unforeseen way?  Perhaps the difficulty was unemployment or financial hardship.  It may have been sickness or the death of a loved one.  Maybe loneliness or low self esteem have taken their toll in life.  The list is endless.  I have contemplated how this scenario has played out many times in my own life.  Many of these trials don't have definite ends; we are all probably in a hardship of one kind or another right now.  Wouldn't it be helpful during these difficult times, if we could see the purpose now, rather than having to wait to look back?  Usually we are unable to see the entirety of what good will come from present difficulty, but finding at least some of the purpose in the moment (and recognizing that it really is serving a purpose in our life) can bring a measure of comfort and often-needed direction.  Knowing that our struggles are truly not in vain helps us get through them.

Getting There

So how can we find that lesson or purpose in the midst of these hard times, thus making our struggles more purposeful and therefore, just a little easier to manage?  One idea is to be intentional about our lives.  Spend time in meditation, prayer, quiet thinking, or whatever form that self-reflection takes for you.  Ask yourself, "What can I learn from this?"  Pat yourself on the back when you recognize what one of those lessons might be, and then try to learn that lesson well.  See how your mastery of that life lesson may allow you to help others.  When our struggles lead us to better serve those around us, we are surely finding Divinity in our suffering.

Another idea to help us find purpose in difficult times is to choose gratitude.  As put in one of my favorite talks on the subject of gratitude, "It might sound contrary to the wisdom of the world to suggest that one who is burdened with sorrow should give thanks to God.  But those who set aside the bottle of bitterness and lift instead the goblet of gratitude can find a purifying drink of healing, peace, and understanding...Could I suggest that we see gratitude as a disposition, a way of life that stands independent of our current situation?  In other words, I'm suggesting that instead of being thankful for things, we focus on being thankful in our circumstances–whatever they may be...This is not a gratitude of the lips but of the soul.  It is a gratitude that heals the heart and expands the mind."  This gratitude will lighten our loads and enlighten our understanding.  We will be better able to see how our current hardship fits into the grand perspective of our lives.

My Own Two Feet Tale

This summer we took an epic road trip.  The three kids and I drove over 75 hours through 13 different states!  At one rare moment, the car was quiet as the older kids looked at books and the youngest slept.  My mind drifted to life, real life.  Things had not been going as planned for me.  For over a year, we had been waiting and working toward several desired goals, and for reasons beyond our control, things were not working out.  I was overcome with a heaviness and deep disappointment.  There I sat in the front seat, throwing myself my own little pity party.  After some tears, I chided myself for focusing on the negative and thought how much was going so very wonderfully in my life.  I should be more grateful.  One of the kids interrupted my thoughts and the moment passed.

The trip was incredible as we got to see so much family.  It ended with a Family Reunion, bringing nearly 100 of my relatives together for an extended weekend.  One highlight of the reunion was an adult devotional directed by my cousin and his wife.  Their chosen topic...gratitude.  "This was meant for me," I thought instantly, remembering my earlier notion.  As I sat and listened, it hit me.  It wasn't a new thought, but a profound realization of something I already "knew."  Here were some of the people I love and admire most in this world.  They shared their challenges freely, some of the hardest challenges this life has to offer.  Here they talked about dealing with cancer, disabilities, and death, all from a place of gratitude.  Sure, my problems are "small," but that is not the point.  There is no competition to see who can endure the hardest problems, a problem is a problem.  Instead, the truth that hit me so strongly was simple:  Gratitude is a Choice.

My situation has not changed, nothing has suddenly fallen into place for me.  Instead, as I have consciously chosen gratitude, I have changed.  I had asked myself before, "What can I learn from this difficulty?"  My list was meaningful.  However, as I have looked at my situation through grateful eyes, my mind has been enlightened, and my list is expanded.  I am learning those lessons more profoundly.  I am learning a new kind of patience.  I am learning a new kind of compassion.  I am learning a new kind of gratitude.  My priorities, while not really different, are more pronounced.  I think, I hope, I believe that I am becoming a little bit better person.  And that makes things a little bit easier to handle.

As you continue to traverse the difficulties of life, I hope you will be able to do so with intention and gratitude, helping you find purpose for your suffering and relief for your burdens.  I hope you don't break two feet, but if you do, I hope it serves you well.

Love, Marielle

What is your Two Feet Tale?  What have you learned from your difficulties?  How has gratitude changed your perspective?

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Welcome to the World Blog!!!

To You:

I want to Welcome You to this blog, and Welcome this Blog to the World!  

Happy BIRTHDAY Blog!

As I begin this endeavor, I am so excited!  Recent events in my own life have made me want to share the things I am learning, as well as the lessons of the past.  When I was little, I never wanted to go to bed and miss out on a big party, or a game, or a conversation, or...
I haven't outgrown that.  I like to think I've just been paying attention for a long time.  :)  I do try to live consciously; I'm always trying to learn from my own experiences and those around me.  For me, life is a fulfilling and enriching adventure with its necessary peaks and valleys.   

I once heard a person describe their CD collection as eclectic.  I loved that word!  It was so ME!  A quick mac dictionary reference says eclectic means, "deriving ideas, style or taste from a broad and diverse range of sources."  Webster defines eclectic in terms which I am trying to fulfill in life: "Selecting what appears to be best in various doctrines, methods, or styles."  My interests are diverse and so is my experience; thus, my blog will be as well.  I love reading and history, music and math.  I love nature and all things athletic.  I love conversations with random people and dear friends.  I thought I was a homebody, but after six moves in ten years of marriage (no, we're not military), I've realized that while I always cry to leave and hate being far from family, I also love getting to know new people and places and having friends around the world.  We have had varied opportunities living in places ranging from small town Idaho, to a Caribbean Island, to big city Chicago.  I love my ginormous family.  I love my kids.  I love my husband.  I love what my religion teaches me to be.  While we're on the subject, I love chocolate chip mint ice cream, puzzles, and my toilet paper to roll from the top.  I love Living

I'm excited to share with you tips for household management, healthy living, and navigating parenthood.  Ultimately though, the most profound lessons I've learned are the ones centered on our relationships: our relationships with our parents and siblings, our friends and neighbors, our spouses and kids, and our God.  You will probably notice a theme emerge here (if you haven't already!)...Love.  When it comes to surviving sleepless nights, serving aging parents, giving our all to our spouses, embracing the prickly personality, and the all encompassing "just trying to be a good person," I am continually learning that it all comes down to love.  How can we increase our capacity to love and feel loved?  These are life's most important questions.  For truly, "The greatest of these is charity" (1 Corinthians 13:13).  Drawing on my experiences as a daughter, sister, aunt, cousin, wife, mother, and friend, I look forward to sharing with you all things Living and Loving!

I look forward to interacting with you and hope the things I post will help you and your loved ones.  Thanks for stopping by!

Love, Marielle