750 Words a Day

For the past month, I've been in a writing challenge with my friend, Jenny. Our goal was to write 750 words a day for every day in November. We used the website 750words.com to do our writing because it keeps track of how many days you've written, the themes of your writing, and gives a little congratulatory message when you've reached your 750 words.

There were days that I absolutely did not want to write, but I managed to meet my 750 word goal all but one day of the month (we had a family funeral that day, so the entire day was spent with family, and I was simply too mentally exhausted to write). The accountability part of having a friend who was also doing this with me, helped motivate me. When we finished our piece for the day, we sent each other a text message with a series of icons symbolizing that we accomplished awesomeness managed to write 750 words. This month I wrote lists, essays, blog posts, and poetry. Some of the writing was total crap, but I do have some salvageable pieces. My favorite was a creative non-fiction piece about building a tree house in a tree at our grandma's house out of cardboard scraps with my cousin. Coming in close second to my favorite piece was an essay reflecting on the path my life has taken since I've graduated from high school twelve years ago.

The disciplined act of writing 750 words each day gave me time to reflect on things that have been suppressed for years. It became my therapy during a difficult month. And now, 750 words feels like a piece of cake. If you're looking for a way to discipline yourself in a daily writing habit, consider grabbing a friend and creating an account on 750words.com.


Creating a family purpose statement

I've mentioned Tsh Oxenreider in a few blog posts now, but one of the things that drew me to her the most was her concept of the family purpose statement. She touches on it just briefly in her recent book, Notes from a Blue Bike, but the detailed version of the why and the how are here on her blog. Basically, a family purpose statement is like a company or school's mission statement. It's a statement that identifies a family's core values and serves as a compass during times of decision making.

I think I was drawn to it because Nate and I are in a new phase of life where we simply need to be more deliberate about the choices we make. When we first got married nearly ten years ago, our priorities were basically to survive. Pay our bills on time, finish my degree (for me), make it through a first grown-up job (Nate) and figure out how to be married. Now we're at a place where survival is no longer our priority. We have two kids, half of us are in our thirties (I will not rob myself of my last seven months in my twenties!), and we are starting to set down roots for the first time, so I was searching for something that would help ease my transition into this new stage of life. Nate and I decided to give this family purpose statement a shot.

Our Process
We started talking through the questions on Tsh's blog in September, and we just finished our purpose statement last night....but have no fear, it would not take a "normal" couple three months to complete the process. We worked on it for thirty-sixty minutes each night for a week and then had to take time away from it while we directed our efforts towards our home remodel. While it was time consuming, the questions sparked great discussion. For a few months now I feel like Nate and I are on two totally different islands when it comes to our priorities simply because the move and the transition to a new town/new jobs has been so time consuming that we haven't had lots of opportunities to touch base, but after talking through these questions, I was happy to learn that we are not on different islands. Our answers often lined up, which was affirming to me. These discussion questions also forced us to think about the future in a practical way. I have always been a bit of a dreamer; while this characteristic helps me to see opportunities that others may not, my dreams and aspirations are often unrealistic. On the contrast, Nate is pragmatic in every sense of the word, so it was beneficial to talk through both of our hopes for our family's future and decide which hopes and dreams we'd pursue. Talking through these questions just made sure we are on the same page.

Final Results
We used Tsh's template for generating a family purpose statement and modified it a bit. Our family purpose statement turned out to be:

We, the Helzer family, believe that our purpose as a family is to serve and honor God by being good stewards of the gifts we have. We will accomplish this by: 
--valuing healthy relationships with one another as our core value
--making our home a place of respite
--prioritizing simplicity above excess
--interacting in a spirit of graciousness, patience, and love

How We Will Use It
I'd like to get this purpose statement fancied up and printed so we can hang it in our house as a visual reminder. We'll discuss this purpose statement with the kids revisiting it as they mature to help deepen their understanding of it. This statement will be a compass for us as we make decisions--big or small. Our decisions will need to align with the purpose statement we've written together. I'm sure over time we may need to revisit it and revise, but what I like about what we've written is that this is who we are at our core. Even while we were in survival mode in our first few years of marriage, I still feel like we had the same values that are implied in our purpose statement now.

I'd recommend this process for anyone--married, single, with kids, without kids.Too often our culture gets swept up in trends and leaves people searching for something to cling to after the trend has passed. Creating a purpose statement allows a person to intentionally identify what it is he/she stands for.


Tiger shirt and self-confidence

Because we no longer live in a town with a Target, I've found a replacement store to whittle the hours and paychecks away: The Children's Place. They have great prices and fun clothes for both of my kids. Yesterday I picked up this shirt for J-man:

Three reasons drove me to purchase it: A) It was on sale for a whopping $0.99, B) He recently has become interested in tigers and jaguars, and C) I have a weakness for weird clothes (I have three shirts with various cats on them and one with a unicorn).

I showed my husband the shirt when I got home. "No. He's not wearing that," he said surprisingly firm and serious. "He will get made fun of. I wore stuff like that and got made fun of," he explained--still not breaking the serious tone. My husband was adamant that the shirt only be worn at home. "He already struggles to make friends; lets not make it more difficult for him."

I have a difficult time accepting that kids make fun of each other in the first grade for their clothes. I'm keenly aware that this happens in middle school and high school, but I guess my elementary school years did not reflect that kids made fun of one another for their choice (or their parents' choice) in clothing. I don't want my kids to be made fun of, but I want them to wear what they want to wear--to express themselves how they want to express themselves and not however their peers (or their peers' parents) feel is socially acceptable. And I want them to understand the consequences of these choices--that they may be unfairly judged, made fun of, isolated. I never want them to feel the pain that goes along with these consequences, but I just want them to be deliberate in their choices and confident in themselves. Maybe this all sounds a bit rosy. I was a free-spirited child and it was often reflected in my clothing choices, for which I was ridiculed by both peers and adults, but I learned a lot from this, and it has made me into a more confident adult. I want my kids to be confident adults.

Nate and I are still at an impasse about the tiger shirt. Damn tiger shirt--I should've left it on the rack. Because I respect my husband, I'll leave the tiger shirt in the closet until we can reach a decision that we can both live with...or maybe I'll just keep the tiger shirt for myself.


The dreaded "I don't want to go to school" tantrum

This morning Jon refused to follow instructions, got a consequence, and then spiraled out of control tantruming. It was time to go to school, so I gave him his coat and book bag and asked him to put them on. "I don't want to go!" he shouted and stomped. Jon has always loved school---until this year. He loves his teachers, but as he gets older, his behavior just isolates him more from his peers and makes it difficult for him to have good relationships.

"You don't want to go to school," I repeated, trying to attune to his needs.

"No! I don't want to go! I want to stay home" he cried.

"I understand that you don't want to go to school. But the law says you have to go to school unless you are sick or there is an emergency; you are not sick and there is no emergency, so you have to go to school," I explained calmly while holding his hand.

He continued to cry and scream, but he put his coat and back pack on and we walked to the car. He calmed down by the time we pulled up to the school. I sent Kylynn in, and kept Jon back to talk.

"I don't want to go," he said with his voice wavering.

"Come here," I said and gestured for him to come close to the front seat for a hug. "Why don't you want to go to school?"

"I want to just stay at home and play. I never get to play."

"You think you never get to play. But what were you doing last night with your cars?" I asked.


"Yup. You were playing with your cars. You do get time to play, but it may seem like you don't get enough time. You sometimes don't get time to play because of the tantrums you throw--those steal your play time," I tried to explain softly and not condescendingly.

And then he just laid his head down on the center console as I rubbed his back.

"I don't want to go," he repeated again.

"I know buddy, but you have books to give Ms. W today, and she'll be happy about that, right?" I reminded him of his old books we were donating to his teacher.

"Yes, but I want to give her more books," he replied, clearly still sad and clearly still unsatisfied with just about anything I could say.

"Well, maybe this weekend we can look through your books and see if there's more you can give her. But now it's time to go to school..." I wished him a good day, hugged him tight, and sent him out--he walked slowly, dragging his feet on his way into door 8--the door to the first grade rooms.

It is too early for him to be this upset about school...I'm worried for what this might lead to for the future. His school and his teachers are great, but I wonder if we should try non-traditional schooling (homeschooling and private schools are our only options here). I wonder if I'm doing enough to support him in school....there are lots of things I wonder and worry about with J (and K), and if I allow it, these worries will put me in a constant state of anxiety.

Prior to the tantrum this morning I planned on having the kids do their chores and then have Jon do his homework tonight. But now I think I'll ditch this plan until tomorrow. I think tonight will be a pizza and movie night with plenty of time for free-play. Maybe I'm being soft....or maybe I'm being smart. I haven't the slightest clue, which is the feeling I most often have with parenting.....


Talking to my kid about terrorism

Jon and I were in his room reading on Friday evening, when a news reporter on the Christian radio station we were listening to, interrupted the song and prefaced with, "If you have small children listening to the radio, you might want to turn this off...". I quickly jumped to shut it off and then pulled up the news app on my phone to search for anything major that may have happened. My stomach was tight and my breath uneven as I waited for the app to open. I knew the news report had to be about something big and devastating, and I immediately remembered 9/11.

I was a sophomore in high school and in Mrs. Smejkal's biology class. The notification sound in her email dinged, and she paused to check it quickly and then frantically turned on the television that was attached to the wall's corner behind her. She turned it on just in time for us to see a plane crashing into a building. And then, my teacher--a stern soccer coach--remained silent as tears fell down her cheeks. I had no context of this situation, no frame of reference. But Mrs. Smejkal, somber and voice shaky, filled us in as best as she could. She explained what the World Trade Center was and tried to inform us of the significance of this--of the devastation this would cause to our country. For the remainder of the day, we either watched the news or we forged on ahead with the day's lesson, but no other teacher even attempted to discuss the day's events with us.

Eleven years later I was in my own classroom when news broke of the Sandy Hook School Shooting. My kids were on their laptops researching for a poetry project, when a kid shouted out that there was a shooting at an elementary school. I attempted to regroup them, but they were genuinely concerned. So we stopped class and we all took the time to research and discuss what we were learning. We did this again in the spring of 2013 when we learned of the Boston Marathon bombings during our Comp II class. We researched together and then we talked to try and make sense of the atrocities. Now in our digital age of fast media, kids are learning of these devastating news stories while they are in school. I appreciate Mrs. Smejkal's talk with us on 9/11---she treated us like the young adults we were and allowed us to ask questions and talk.

Jon is not one of my high school students; he is six. But he heard the news reporter's preface, and he heard me gasp as I read about the terrorist attacks on Paris. "What, mom? What happened? What is it? Are you okay?" his questions rolled off his tongue too easily. He was genuinely concerned. I took pause to think about how to explain this to him in an appropriate way. We looked through his atlas to find Paris, France so he could have a frame of reference and some reassurance of how far away these atrocities are. Then I tried to explain the concept of terrorists (a person or group of people who kills those who don't agree with what they believe). We talked about why these are bad people. We talked about how some terrorists killed lots of people in Paris. I let him ask questions, and I tried my best to assure him that he was safe. We prayed for the people in France, and then he moved on to a new activity.

A few days later we were looking at his atlas again (the kid loves maps!) and he seemed worried.

"Buddy, what's wrong? Are you sad or worried?" I asked.

"Worried," he stated succinctly. I asked what he was worried about, and he replied, "I'm worried that what happened in France will happen to us. What if someone brings a bomb here?"

I knew these fears and questions would come, but still I wasn't prepared for them. It took me a while to respond. I never want to give my kids false hope or lie to them (they've had too much of that already), but he's too young for me to be totally honest.

"Bud, it's okay to be worried. I understand being worried about this. But our president and our military and our police are doing all they can to keep us safe. You are safe, okay?"

And as I said it, I wondered if what I said is true. I thought about Sandy Hook--my kids are in first grade--the same grade of many of the victims. I don't know that my kids are always safe, and it scares the shit out of me. I did my best to keep my voice level and calm, but later that night I cried because my kid is too young to be scared of bombs, to know about terrorists, to be afraid to die---and there's nothing I can do to protect him or ensure his safety 100% of the time. But...I can talk to them. I can be as honest as possible with them, and I can explain difficult concepts and allow them to ask questions. While I hope my kids have teachers as smart and compassionate as Mrs. Smejkal who will allow kids to talk about the tough stuff, as much as I can, I want my husband and I to be able to inform our kids of these devastating world events no matter how difficult it may be for us.


Birthday dilemma

"Jon really struggles with friendships; he really doesn't have any," his teacher told us during a meeting last week. My heart sank and tears immediately welled in my eyes. This is not a new revelation for us; J has always struggled with developing relationships with kids his own age, but no mother wants to be told that her kid doesn't have friends...no matter how many times she has heard it or seen it herself.

J turns seven in a month, and now that we are sort of settled, I'd like to have a birthday party that allows him to invite the boys from his class so we can start making these connections with other parents, but it's "regular" kid things like birthday parties that remind me that my child is not a regular child. J is a sweet boy who loves his family and has a curiosity for the world, but making friends is not his forte. While he is one month away from seven, emotionally, he is more like one month away from five. He doesn't have a wide window of tolerance for most social situations thanks to the trauma he endured early in life evident in his behaviors at school (screaming when he's angry, immaturely putting his hands on friends to get their attention, chewing on random classroom items, and just an overall inability to stay self-regulated).

So now we have a dilemma. Do we march on with a plan to invite the boys in his class to a party and risk none of them showing up? Or do we decide to just have an intimate party with family and close family friends skipping the invites to classmates? It breaks my heart to even have to think about this, and as much as I desire a "normal," "regular" family situation--I'm trying to embrace reality...


What surrounds Jeremiah 29:11

Do a quick Google Image search for the Bible verse Jeremiah 29:11. You'll find hundreds of word art images, pictures of this verse on walls, wallpapers of this verse, kitschy knick-knacks with the verse, cards with this verse plastered on the front, tatoos of this verse...it's one of the most thrown around verses of our time. Thomas Turner, a writer for Relevant magazine argues that this verse is one of the "most misunderstood verses in the Bible." Writers Tsh Oxenreider and Jerusalem Greer (also a minister) make a case that, for many, this verse has become a "platitude...often seen on bathroom plaques." I did some reading this morning before and after Jeremiah 29:11 because it's been a few years, and what I discovered there does not match with our culture's current obsession with Jeremiah 29:11. We are missing the purpose of the verse.

The verse is part of a letter that Jeremiah (the prophet) sent to the Israelites who were exiled from Jerusalem to Babylon. The letter seems to be a sort of guide for the exiles for how to live and thrive in their new land. The letter starts in Jeremiah 29:4; I encourage you to read it for yourself, but I'll break the text down to bullet points of advice that Jeremiah (speaking on behalf of God) gave these exiles:
1. Build houses and live in them (vs. 5)
2. Plant gardens and eat their produce (vs. 5)
3. Have kids and let your kids have kids (vs. 6)
4. Grow in the community where you are planted--help it be better and you will be better; pray for your new community (vs. 7)
5. Don't be fooled by false prophets (vs. 8-9)

First, I have to say I'm sad these four verses are overlooked. Jeremiah 29:11 is often advice given to people in times of transition--moving, graduation, taking a new job, getting married, etc. The instruction embedded in verses 5-9 is a beautifully simple and practical set of guidelines often missed because they don't pack the feel-good punch of verse 11.

Now let's take a gander at verse 10 alongside verse 11 (remember, this is still a letter from Jeremiah (inspired by God) to the exiles): "'For thus says the Lord: When SEVENTY YEARS are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.'" What we miss with the context of this letter when we focus only on verse 11 is that God says this plan to give the exiles a future and a hope will take SEVENTY YEARS. SEVENTY. YEARS. God always brings redemption, but it's on His timetable--and this timetable often feels too long for us--so we lob off verse 10 because it doesn't make us feel good, and we focus only on verse 11---the feel-good stuff. Then we become disillusioned when the good stuff God promised us doesn't come to us after we've been praying for a week or even a month or (gasp) a year. I think this is especially true for new believers. Jeremiah 29:11, when taken out of context,  can cause people to have unrealistic and unbiblical expectations of God, which may jeopardize their faith.

The letter doesn't stop at verse 11. It marches on for 12 more verses. I won't carry on and on, but I do want to point out that the three verses after 29:11 seem to be the most encouraging of this whole letter. They say, "'Then [remember...this is after the 70 years the Israelites will be in exile] you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.'" God promises a return back home....but we must remember, he also promised it will take SEVENTY YEARS. This will require a season of waiting that will allow the Israelites to pursue God...a beautiful thought when you dwell on it long enough.

In short, let's quit taking this verse (and others like it) out of context. The Bible is certainly a spring of excellent advice, but we must be careful not to pick and choose.


T for Tantrums

Remember The Muppets and Sesame Street?!
Image source
Chocolate covered cherries, two Jolly Ranchers, a mini Milky Way, and two packs of fruit snacks. I'm not grading  papers anymore, so tonight's candy binge is brought to us by the letter T--T for tantrums. The theme for today (and everyday for the past month and a half) has been tantrums. If we had our own TV show, it would be called, 19 Tantrums and Counting (Everyday). The intro would be blips of my kids screaming for various reasons and me shoving candy in my mouth while Nate walked around the house with his bluetooth headphones in playing some wizard game on his phone.

In all seriousness, the tantrums have been off the chain ever since about the end of September--around Nate's 33rd birthday....I mean, I know it sucks that he's old and all....anyway. I've tried to identify triggers, and for K, it seems like her trigger was when we gave her a picture of her birthmom that we found online. "Try to find something from her past," they said. "It will help them process their trauma," they said. While I get the concept behind this, it seems like shit blew up after we gave K this picture. She started tantruming more, having bathroom issues, and just overall refusing to attach with us by choosing to be overly silly or overly emotional until we had to send her to her room to take some space (I'm not sure if this was deliberate or her brain's way of trying to make sense of this hot mess). Maybe she wasn't ready to have that picture. Maybe the kids' tantrums and overall emotional instability began around the same time we started the home improvement projects which has caused our home to be in a bit of disarray physically and mentally. Nate's worked hard on the cabinets and floors, and I've pulled my weight by taking on more with the kids--maybe this has caused some of the issues.

Whatever the trigger, the behaviors are here and in our faces. Bedtime routines are the worst. No matter how structured we are with the bedtime routine, shit seems to fall apart each night and someone ends up screaming in their rooms (usually it's Nate...just kidding). (Have I mentioned that my mouth tends to get out of control when I'm stressed? It's a bad habit.) Tonight I found myself standing in the kitchen, legs shaking as J screamed in his room because, after refusing to blow his nose and being warned twice, I used a baby snot sucker on him. While Jon screamed, Nate sat in K's room trying to get her to stop screaming (after he was goofing around with the kids, she got over the top silly and out of control, and he asked her to take some space to calm down...which of course means, cry and scream until you lose control of your body). I contemplated leaving, but I didn't know where to go since we now live in a town without a Target. I wish my first inclination was to get on my knees and pray, to surrender all of this to God, to repent for the anger and frustration I have towards my kids---but my gut reaction is to run....I realize this makes me terrible. My devotion this morning was all about submitting to God's timing and accepting His blessing with grace and communing with Him in times of struggle...but the later requires a trust that apparently I don't have right now.

To calm myself down, I exchanged texts with a friend who told me that I had to consider why these tantrums bother me so much....I think they bother me because they prevent me from having a "normal" relationship with my child. I feel like all I want is for things to be normal in my home. I want my kids to have normal experiences at school without behavior charts and trips to the principal's office. I want to be able to just go out and have fun as a family without having to talk with the kids about how to handle their urges to be silly, a reflection of their anxiety. I want to be able to be a normal family, and I'm ashamed that my home isn't normal.

I clearly need to let go of the idea of normality because nothing about my kids, about our home is "normal." It's not their fault...it's not my fault...it's not Nate's fault. It's just the way it is. Letting go of normal is just so difficult.


My foray into yoga

I've been a runner now for about ten years, and I've been fortunate to not have any major injuries. This year, though, my body often feels tight when I run, and I feel like I've lost some range of motion in my right leg. This could be my mind focusing on nearing 30, but I think this tightness is largely due to not supplementing my running with any other exercise---it's my body's way of protesting. My good friend and running partner, Kristin, has practiced yoga for awhile now and has enjoyed what it's done for her body. I trust Kristin more than I trust myself sometimes, so I decided to give this yoga business a try.

After doing some research, I found the Yoga with Adriene series on YouTube.  I started with her beginner videos and have expanded to her videos on strength, focus, and lengthening. Her weight loss videos are also great to tone the pesky mid-section. I'm not great at yoga yet, but I did hold the crow position for roughly .8 seconds today...so, that's progress, right? I'm not totally in love with the new-age feel of it; she uses a phrase, "Find what feels good for you," a lot and while I understand the implications for doing this in yoga (especially for beginners), this mantra has become one of our modern culture and is problematic in many ways....and rant over....ANYWAY...the Yoga with Adriene videos are not as new-agey as some of the other yoga videos I've seen. She's not burning incense and chanting odd things while turning her body into crazy pretzel shapes.

There are a few things I'm really digging about this new yoga adventure. First, I love, love, love the mindfulness piece of it. Because I'm so new to the practice, I have to really clear my head and focus only on my body and what it needs to do. It allows me some distance from the everyday chaos. When the closing music starts playing, I sometimes lay in the corpse position extra long listening to it. Next, I appreciate how my body feels after yoga (not always during!). I usually do yoga the day after a long run, so it allows me work out the kinks. I'd like to incorporate it more often into my weekly workout routine to see how it changes my range of motion especially in my right leg. When I do engage in a weekly yoga habit, I am able to see noticeable improvements in my flexibility and strength. The last reason I'm digging yoga is that it mixes up my workout routine--it keeps me from getting all crotchety about working out.

I'll leave you with a few short yoga sequences that I especially like. This is the first time I've ever had a "desk job," so I find my body just feeling terrible halfway through the day. I wouldn't be able to do this video ("Yoga at Your Desk") in its entirety since I work around lots of other people and they'd find me even more odd than I already am if I started doing this business in the tutoring center. However, I find myself modifying and doing a few moves in my seat when nobody is looking. I love the music and even the typography that comes across the screen--it just feels peaceful. This last one is called "Quick Stress Fix- 5 Minute Sequence." I seem to be stressed often  everyday, so this is a totally doable sequence I can do when I got home from work or even with my kids. If I were teaching full time, I'd do some of this as brain breaks. If you're looking for a way to mix up your work outs--give the Yoga with Adriene videos a try (or just try the two shorties I linked) and let me know what you think....


Not my own

"I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me..." (Galatians 2:20) 

My quiet time this morning was centered around this idea of submitting entirely to the will of God.


Sharing in the joy

So I just have to share some excitement today: My dear friend Kristin and her husband Jim have been pursuing infant adoption through a national adoption agency for just about a year. They got word last week that their profile was selected by a birth mother who wanted to meet them. After a video conference, they learned that this birth mother had selected them to parent her baby boy due in February! This has been a long awaited answer to prayers.