Seeking wisdom

"The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and pay the penalty" (Proverbs 27:12). 

I'm reading a book right now called The Best Yes: Making Wise Decisions in the Midst of Endless Demands because my curriculum specialist at work send me a message one day stating she heard about the book and that it's one she wants to read and thought I'd want to as well (you'll see the irony in this later). She's a pretty stellar person, so I took her word for it and just ordered the book. Plus...I have been feeling overwhelmed for the last year--but especially so the last three months; I figured a little outside perspective with making smart choices wouldn't hurt. The book is written with a Christian perspective and is grounded in scripture, which I appreciate. The writing is a bit cheesy at times, but the woman's (Lysa Terkeurst) insight is practical, wise, and backed up with truth. It's left me thinking and praying a lot about making smart choices.

In May when I signed my teaching contract and agreed to teach a grad class through UNO and continue my stint as a co-director for the Nebraska Writing Project and signed Jon up for a weekly violin lesson for the entire year, I did not know we'd be welcoming another child to our home. Had I known that, I probably would have made different choices.

Terkeurst writes, "A woman who lives with the stress of an overwhelmed schedule will often ache with the sadness of an underwhelmed soul. An underwhelmed soul is one who knows there is more God made her to do. She longs to do that thing she wakes up in the middle of the night thinking about" (21). I rarely wake up in the middle of the night; I sleep like a rock. However, throughout my day I daydream about what it would be like to have more time to be a mom--to spend as much time on my children and family as I do on my job and on other peoples' kids. I enjoy being a teacher and find fulfillment in it, but in the past year and three months, I've just felt torn between my job as a teacher and my role as a wife and mother. Terkeurst challenges her readers to think about and plan for how we can pursue these dreams of ours that we push off because of our busy schedules.

Later in the book she brings in the verse from above, Proverbs 27:12. She quotes Andy Stanley on his description of prudent men and women; he explains that prudent people "[...] 'understand that today and tomorrow are connected. [...] They ask what I refer to as the best question ever: 'In light of my past experience, and my future hopes and dreams, what's the wise thing to do?'" (74).

This book and my quiet time with God is making me think a lot about making a wise decision for my job. A wise decision for right now and a wise one for the future. I'm stretched to the max right now, and I'm not sure what I can give up. I'm tired of feeling guilty for working and guilty for not working. I'm tired of feeling like I should stay in teaching and remain a co-director and take advantage of every career opportunity offered me because of other peoples' expectations of me. I will be scaling back on my commitments with the Nebraska Writing Project, but I'm not sure that will be enough. It's not a huge time commitment or stressor for me, but it's the only thing I can scale back on in this moment. I've got a teaching contract until May and this grad class lasts until December 2nd. While the grad class does take me away from my family on Tuesday nights, I enjoy my time there. The biggest stressor in my life right now is my job as a teacher. It's the commitment that is the most frustrating, the most time consuming, the one I can control least, the one that gets most of my attention. Even though I'm taking 4 weeks of maternity leave, I'm still bombarded with emails and expectations of things to do while I'm supposed to be taking care of my family.

At the end of the chapter I just finished, Terkeurst advises, "What's a decision you are in the midst of making? Chase it down. If you do this, where will it most likely lead? And then what? And then? Keep going until you walk it all the way out" (74). For the past month the decision I've felt in my gut that's begging to be made is whether or not to keep teaching. Should I keep teaching throughout this year? Should I attempt to break my contract because of the recent change in my family? Should I stick it out and not go back next year? I don't want to sabotage my career, but more than that desire, I don't want to be pulled anymore from my family. I don't want them to deal with crazy, stressed me--I don't want them to get what's leftover of me at the end of a day. I've been praying about this, filtering through peoples' advice, and seeking counsel. I want to be prudent--I want to consider today and tomorrow to make a wise decision. If you're of the praying persuasion, please send up a few requests for wisdom on my behalf. And if you have prayer requests for yourself, send them my way.

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Getting Schooled in Haircare

Shopping for ethnic hair care products is a lot like traveling to another country and navigating a menu in a different language. When we first met K, her hair was neatly done with two braids snug against her head traveling to two beautiful "puffs" (think afro pig-tails). The next time she had at least 20 barrettes clanging at the ends of five sections of braids and it looked beautiful. We called Jon's former foster mom (Michele) and her sister to teach us a thing or two during K's first overnight. The two women came over with bags of products and supplies explaining each one to us, showing us how to use it on their own hair while our 7 kids (yes...7) tore around the house like wild animals. They left most of the products with us as a gift. The first time I tried two simple pig-tail puffs in K's hair, I bawled as the hair frizzed and fro'd out and pony tails snapped my fingers. After the third try and two trips to Wal-Mart for products we thought would help, I finally got the rubber bands to stay with minimal flyaways. It looked nothing like her tight piggies she came with, but I threw a headband on her head to make them stay, and it looked fine enough to be out in public. A few visits ago we took the kids swimming at a hotel. We should have just left her braids in, but we thought we needed to wash the hair right away after swimming to prevent it from drying out, so we unsnapped 20some barrettes and popped 15 rubberbands to loosen the braids in hopes they'd be easy to take out after swimming. FAIL. When we got home at 8:30 PM (their bedtime), I tried taking out each wet braid---an hour later, the braids were out and K was falling asleep in the bathtub. I washed her hair haphazardly because she was so tired, and then sent her to bed with a giant, uncombed, wet fro. BAD IDEA. The next morning her hair was a tangled mess. Again, I spent an hour struggling with pig tails that lasted no longer than an hour before I had to redo them. She cried as I combed her hair, and I cried afterwards feeling like a total, incompetent nincompoop.

In the last 48 hours I've scoured the blog Chocolate Hair, Vanilla Care, watched YouTube videos, and read an entire book on how to care for and style African-American hair. I feel more prepared than last time, but still anxious about my own inabilities to make K's hair look great (and not like an uneducated White girl is doing it!). Hair is so important in her culture, and I just want to get it right so she can feel confident (she's already picking up on the differences in our skin colors--more on that later). Based on tips I've received, it's good to have a styling routine. So Saturdays will be our wash and style is Saturday...gulp. As soon as I'm done writing, I'll start the long process of taking out K's cornrows to wash her hair (she's been scratching a lot) and start with a fresh style. Wish me luck.

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Our first night with K

15 months ago we were a family of two, and then Jon came along. Today we became a family of four...

After work, we picked Jon up from school and then drove to pick up K. We spent about a half hour saying good-byes to her foster family, and then ran back home to meet our foster care specialist to fill out some final paperwork while the kids played. Since K was here last, we've stocked her room with toys and books given to us from friends; it was great to hear squealing as she sifted through My Little Ponies and books. We wanted to make the night special, but it was already 6:00 by the time we were finally on our own with no case workers. So, we opted to let her pick a restaurant for dinner. Because Pizza Machine was too far of a drive, her second option was fried chicken and macaroni and cheese. KFC it was. Yup, KFC. Praying seems to be a new thing for her since meeting us; usually at dinner time, one of us prays for the food. Tonight K begged us all to pray. We went around the table thanking God, remembering our blessings, and praying for various things. She loved did Jon. After a quick stop at Target to pick up a few more things for K, we finally came home to wind down. We talked as she got ready for bed, and she expressed her anxiety for going to a new school and a fear of mean teachers. I tried to repair one of her beautiful beaded braids (it's merely a white girl's temporary fix!). We prayed as a family before each kid went to his and her own bed. K and I read the Bible together; as I finished, she said, "Can we pray again? I just love praying." How could I resist? So we prayed again before she drifted off to sleep. It was a long day but a good day. I'm not sure she fully understands what's going on yet; she knows this is her home, but I'm not sure if she fully grasps this. She asked me tonight if I was going to be her mom, and I told her I was. She didn't respond. It will take time for her to really understand all of this.  I keep praying that her transition to our home would be a smooth one, that she would feel loved and safe and cared for, that she would know the love of God and take peace and comfort in it.

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In a few weeks we'll be expanding our home by two feet, but there will be no major construction--just a lot more noise...we're adding a little girl to our family.

K is 5 years old--she's just a few months younger than Jon. Over the past few weeks she's been spending time with us. It's a welcome transition, but it will definitely be a challenge for all of us. The kids already bicker like siblings, and Nate and I are slowly learning how to juggle two kids.

K is a fiery, sassy girl who loves dresses and playing dress up, having her nails done, wearing high heels, playing with Barbies and dolls, and carrying a purse. These are all things I'm slowly coming around to :) I did buy her a dress the other is a Grateful Dead concert dress, but a dress nonetheless.

Both kids are unique with different personalities, but what they do share is trauma from their past. I'm hoping that as they grow and mature, they'll be able to talk about their pasts and help each other work through some tough emotions.

In the meantime, Nate and I feel like we're hanging on by a thread. We're ready and excited for this new opportunity, but it has all come about so fast, that we feel like our wheels are spinning but we're not moving. I'm overly committed this semester and am searching for ways (and coming up short) to lighten my load. I'm planning on taking some maternity leave to acclimate. What's hard about being a new mom through adoption is the general public views my entry into motherhood as an easier one that doesn't require as much help. For example, when babies come, people bring meals and offer to come over and stay for a time with the kid so the parents can sleep. People squeal with delight when a woman announces her pregnancy. Parents have nine months to plan and prepare for their little one's arrival. And, teaching moms have nine months to plan for their six week leave without the immediate presence of said little one. Because five year olds seem pretty self-sufficient, few will offer to bring us meals or watch the kids while we nap. My announcement of adopting a second child has been met with a few sympathetic smiles and some polite congratulations--far from elation. We've had exactly six weeks to plan for K's arrival, and I'm scrambling working all hours trying to create lesson plans for my "maternity" leave while I parent both children--including the one I'm planning to take leave for all while bracing myself for judgemental questions (What will you do when the kids are in school?) and opinions of my decision to take time off. I understand that parenting a newborn is different than parenting a five year old (each has its own struggles), but the acclimation to a new child is no different. It's hard, and we're struggling with it right now. I don't know if we'll make it out alive. Okay, that's a bit dramatic...but it really will be survival mode until May! If you're the praying type, throw a few up to the big Guy on our behalf for patience, a sense of balance, and a closeness with God as we walk this new path.

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My favorite job

When I was 15 years old, I scored my first job as a telemarketer renewing peoples' auto insurance. I've held a job ever since then. I've worked as busgirl, a para, a recreation aide for mentally handicapped adults, a bagel/coffee extraordinaire, a chocolate seller at Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, a barista at a coffee shop, and finally, a teacher.  My jobs have been varied, but each one has been great and has served me well in whatever phase of life I was in.

My current job as a teacher has been amazing. I've had the opportunity to work with hundreds of kids from all over the state of Nebraska, and from all walks of life. I've been able to help kids navigate terrible situations. I get to talk about books and writing--two things I love--everyday. Through professional development opportunities in the Nebraska Writing Project, I've traveled all over the country learning about education (which fascinates me), and I've learned how to live more responsibly and think more deeply. Teaching has also taught me how to be a parent; it's been the best job....until now. 

Yesterday I headed out on a long run--leaving my family behind. Anyone who knows me, knows I love running. But yesterday on my run, I found myself wanting to be at home playing with Jon or preparing a meal for my family--I wanted to at home doing my job as a mom. When I have to bring work home (which is often), I find myself stressed and resentful that it's pulled me away from serving my family. Being a mom is not a glamorous job; it doesn't pay the bills, and it can be incredibly frustrating and reveals so many of my flaws and failings, but I love it. It's what I desire to do almost all of the time. For me, it feels like the best job right now. 

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One foot in light, one foot in darkness?

Last week our church kicked off a new sermon series that comes out of 1 John. Today we looked at 1 John 1:5-10 (click here to visit the church website--the sermon from today was powerful; check back tomorrow or Tuesday to hear it), and to be honest--I've got a lot stuff heavy on my heart that I just need to confess and write about.

"This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth" (1 John 1:5-6). 

I confess to living with one foot in the light and one foot in the darkness--let me clarify: with my words I profess to be a believer, but my actions profess darkness. We cannot live with one foot in the light and one foot in the darkness, because as the scripture says, there is no darkness in God. We simply cannot live in light if we continue to live in darkness. I fear that my actions have cheapened my faith to outsiders who hear me say I'm a believer and then see me drink too much, hear me use swear words, hear me gossip about others, see me react out of anger, watch me put my job before my family. That stuff is not the stuff of Jesus.

"If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. [...] If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts" (1 John 1:8, 10). 

For at least a year, I've felt a nagging sense tell me not to drink that 3rd or 4th beer or use that four letter word or to reign in my emotions and think before I speak--but I've pushed off that nagging feeling and made excuses like, It's not that big of a deal; people make mistakes--God doesn't expect me to be perfect. I've made excuses for my sin--I've lied to myself and have basically set an extra chair at the table for sin. I've used God's grace as a "get out of jail free card." I don't want to confess this stuff just to free myself from the heavy feeling of guilt; I want to confess because I don't want to call God a liar anymore by making excuses for my sins. I know I've done wrong--I know I need help turning away from the darkness and running toward the light.

"But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin" (1 John 1:7). 

For a few months I've battled anxiety--I'm almost to the point of seeking a doctors help via medication to help me cope with the stress of balancing my job and my role as a wife and mother. But the more I pray on it and dig into scripture, the more I'm forced to examine my own life. I've created anxiety for myself, I think, primarily from living in darkness. My choices have launched me into a downward tailspin of anxiety and guilt and instead of running towards the light, I've walked in the darkness and used alcohol and swear words to cope with the stress of my job and have run to my job to cope with the stress of raising a family and all it's done for me has created more anxiety and a deeper feeling of emptiness. The words each other are so pivotal in the above verse because it implies that when we live in the light, we have fellowship with God and we know by having fellowship with God (by living in the light and confessing our sins--see the verse below) that Jesus' sacrifice on the cross takes away our sin. 

"But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness" (1 John 1: 9). 

When we confess, we are then free to enjoy fellowship with God--to live in the light. But we must make a deliberate effort to admit our sins and then rely on God's power to overcome our sins so we don't fall into a constant habit of sin or a habit of guilt that only beats us up and doesn't empower us to overcome our sin. This morning I've come clean with God, but I feel like I need to come clean to people who've watched me try to lead a double life. I'm sorry if my actions ever made you think negatively about Christianity or Jesus. My life has not always been made up of the stuff of Jesus; I'm working on getting that right. 

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Just call me Martha

I write about this a lot...I'm sure those of you who read this blog or just tired of reading my back and forth on this concept. If you fall into this category of readers, just do yourself a favor and stop reading. Go watch cat videos on YouTube'll probably be a better use of your time.

This morning I started a new devo on my Bible app that explores the topic of simplifying. Not simplifying in the materialistic sense, but a kind of lifestyle decluttering. Eliminating the kind of business that distracts from the kind of stuff that really matters--like fellowship with God. First up on the Bible study was Luke 10:38-42 where Jesus visits Mary and Martha. Mary chooses to sit and fellowship with Jesus while Martha runs around the place cleaning and cooking missing out on an opportunity to spend with Jesus while he was in the flesh. All of her running around while Mary sat with Jesus made her bitter and angry causing her to blow up out of resentment and stress. Jesus gives Martha a 1-2 punch and gently explains to Martha that Mary is doing things right. I think Martha was well-intentioned in her actions. She saw Jesus as an important guest worthy of a good dinner in a clean home. I think she started out wanting to serve Jesus, but what she missed out on was a true fellowship with Jesus. In church this morning our pastor started preaching from 1 John. We studied the first four verses where John shares the good news about experiencing Jesus and that we can also be in fellowship with Jesus. Key word: with. Our pastor emphasized that we are to be in a relationship with him and not for him. Martha missed a great opportunity.

In the last three years, I think I've become a Martha. I've made myself so busy that I've missed out on many opportunities to fellowship with God and with His people. Teaching can certainly be a ministry, and I think it was for me when I taught in western Nebraska. I had opportunities through FCA, coaching, church, and sponsoring activities to build relationships with kids. In my role as a teacher and mother here, I'm rather limited in the type of relationship I can have with my students. Can I make an impact on them? Absolutely. Do I have the time to coach or sponsor an activity at this time in my life? No. Has the busyness of my job made me resentful like Martha? Unfortunately, yes.

I'd like to be involved more in my community or my church, but I've created such a tight schedule for myself and my family that adding one more thing seems close to impossible. I really hate this. We have some potential family changes on the horizon, and as I think about these changes, the more I realize I'm moving into a different season in life. Teaching and education truly is something I enjoy, but I think I'm ready to serve in a different ministry. I think I need to start praying about how to clear space in my life for fellowship with God and with His people (including my family!). It could be a long year as I struggle to become more like Mary while stile honoring the commitments I made a month ago for this school year.

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