Christmas Gifts

We are in a winter wonderland this year for Christmas! Apparently, the snow had all melted until a few days before we got here, and then three separate storms hit to blanket the entire region in white. When it snowed Christmas Eve and most of the day on Christmas, it  confirmed my suspicion that all the snow was a gift given just for us! It’s been incredible to watch the kids enjoy the snow and experience the wonder of a real winter. And while I haven’t exactly been out in it as much as they have, I still feel like I’m living in a Hallmark movie (that’s a good thing). I’ve seen at least 2,019,832 Hallmark movies this season (there are two separate channels in case you didn’t know), so to now feel like I’m living in one makes this a pretty special Christmas.

Besides the breathtaking beauty outside, another gift is that we got to go to church twice on Christmas Eve! As if that’s not awesome enough, at one of the services we sang Christmas carols the whole time! Anyone who knows me knows this is ALL I want to be doing on Christmas Eve. The church in the small town where my mother-in-law lives is as much out of a movie as the white Christmas. It shares the same name as our church in Plano, TX, but that’s where the similarities end. Whereas our church at home has thousands of members, big screens at the front and surround sound, St. Andrew’s Presbyterian church in Stirling, Ontario only has room for around 50 people. It doesn’t need any screens or surround sound to convey the message of Jesus to its congregants, just a passionate pastor who often gets inspired to get out his guitar and sing a song in the middle of his sermon.

Usually, all this magic would be enough to catapult me into a spiritual free fall, but for some reason, this year, I just wasn’t feeling overly connected to God. Perhaps I was distracted from seeing the beauty of the moment at church, because I was sitting next to my tween daughter who was acting super weird and moody. She barely even sang the hymns, even though she loves to sing, and it sure seemed like she was glaring at me most of the service. I found out later it was because I was apparently singing too loud and without tall enough vowels. She said she was sure God could hear me up in heaven though, so I guess that’s good.

Finally last night, as I sat bundled up in a recliner by the fire, I felt that spiritual connection I’d been seeking. Once again, I was sitting close to the aforementioned tween, but this time, I was able to not bother her – I guess my typing isn’t as loud as my singing. She was on the couch typing a story on her computer as I wrote this blog post. I prayed for God to guide me and show me what to write about, and I suddenly recalled something that happened on Christmas night. As we were all getting ready for bed, my daughter said something along the lines of “How cool is it that Jesus came down to earth on this day thousands of years ago to save us all from our sins?”

She had a wonder in her voice I could tell was genuine. She couldn’t seem to find the words to express what was in her heart. A part of me recognized that the enthusiasm emanating from her was the kind that only comes from the Holy Spirit, but a bigger part of me was just too darned tired to really appreciate the moment. I almost missed the greatest Christmas gift God had in store for me this year, because I was too busy thinking about myself! I forgot for a second that sometimes, it just isn’t about you. Sometimes, your role is to be in the passenger seat. Maybe even in the backseat. (Maybe even in the far backseat where your loud singing won’t be so annoying.) Sometimes, I get to be the one who sees God through the fog of this crazy, messed up world. This Christmas, it was my daughter’s turn to see a brilliant shimmer of divine light.  And witnessing her joyful realization of the true meaning of Christmas on a deep, spiritual level was the greatest gift I could have ever imagined.

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; A time of war, and a time of peace.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8


 

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So Long, Working From Home!

So…. the diet and exercising have NOT been going so great lately. August just has too many birthdays for too many people who really like desserts. I mean, how is anyone supposed to say no to Dairy Queen ice cream cake anyway?? Then there’s the fact that I had to have a minor surgery and my activities are restricted until I get my stitches out in a couple weeks. It was in all caps and highlighted that I can’t even walk the dog, so I’m pretty sure tap dancing is out of the question. Of course, it makes perfect sense that I went ahead and quit exercising a few weeks before the surgery… I mean what’s the point of doing something if you know you’re just going to have to quit, right?

It’s actually amazing to me how quickly exercise became a key contributing factor towards my mental health. I went from making fun of bloggers who suggested exercise as a cure for depression to its poster child in hardly any time at all.

Let’s just pause for a minute to picture what a great poster child I would make, shall we!? I’m picturing a full size photo of myself, but if you don’t know me, feel free to picture some other forty-something, strung out mom you know. There I/she would be in a stained tank top, twenty-year old running shorts, oh-so-bright white socks and tap shoes. I/she would have a crazy happy smile on my/her face and she/I would be doing a really cool tap move. Obviously, there would be jazz hands. At the top of the poster, it would say “Exercise: the Cure for Depression.” Along the left side, the SELFY acrostic poem from my last two blog posts would be spelled out, with the “YOU Do YOU!” in extra large font at the bottom. Seriously, how hilarious would that be?

Back to reality, other than a healthy diet and exercise, my therapist recommended getting enough and a consistent amount of sleep, authentic connection with others and self-care as remedies for depression. Getting eight hours of sleep a night continues to be a challenge for me. I know I said in the last post that sleep would be the topic of my next blog post, but I am just going to have to leave that topic to wiser bloggers for now. When it comes to connection and self-care, however, I have had a major breakthrough that I am thrilled to share about!

As hard as it was to admit, what I’ve realized over the last few months is that working from home full time is just not something I am cut out for. And that’s okay. Not being well suited for working from home doesn’t mean that I am a failure. It doesn’t mean that I made a mistake in trying it. It doesn’t mean that I am a weak person with no self-control. Just because other people work from home successfully doesn’t mean it has to work for me. I have a tendency towards depression that I didn’t bring on myself or make up. It’s just part of who I am. It always has been. Being alone all day in your house may work for a lot of people, but for me, it just makes it too easy to avoid making authentic connections with others and to postpone obvious elements of self-care, like brushing your teeth and getting dressed.

I have been working from home for four years now. At first, it really was exactly what I needed. After working in a high-stress, travel-intensive position, it allowed me to take a breath and rebalance a lot of things in my life. When the isolation started to bother me, I used the extra energy I had from no longer having to travel or go into an office to find other ways to connect with others. I joined a Christian non-profit and started volunteering. I started writing. When I noticed I was letting it get later and later in the day before I would brush my teeth or get dressed, I joined a group of similarly situated women in “style challenges” to force myself to take better care of myself. Posting a picture of my daily outfit in our Facebook group motivated me for a long time to make better choices around self-care. If you had asked me two years ago how I felt about working from home, I would have told you it was the best thing since sliced bread and that I could never go back to working in an office!

Eventually though, I just got tired of all of the extra effort that seemed to be required to self-motivate to do every little thing. It was all just too much. Participating in the style challenges on a daily basis lost its appeal after the first few seasons. Without that daily Facebook selfie looming, there was no pressing need to wash my face or put on makeup. Slowly, basic self-care tasks got relegated to optional activities that may or may not occur five minutes before it was time to pick up the kids from school. Then, about a year and a half ago, we started getting the calls from my son’s teachers. The calls where they said they had “significant concerns.” All of a sudden, we were thrust into the world of pediatric neurologists, neuropsychologists and special education. Dealing with my son’s issues crowded out any mental space I had left. My lunches and volunteer activities that had previously focused on connections with other women were replaced by ARD meetings and therapy sessions.

Giving myself permission to reject working from home as something that works for me has been liberating, but it wasn’t an overnight matter. As with most things, when I prayed to God for direction, He didn’t show me a neon sign. Instead, He began working in my heart towards a slow awakening that I am still working to truly embrace and appreciate, even given the fact that starting tomorrow, I am going back to an office job.

With the help of my Christian counselor and other mentors in my life, I first just started to consider that perhaps my depression was at least in part linked to working from home and that perhaps, just perhaps, there was a middle ground between having a high-intensity job and working from home full time. Once I allowed myself to even just consider these possibilities, I was able to open myself up to an opportunity that I truly believe God put in front of me.

At each step along the way, I was pretty sure the door was going to be slammed shut, but with God’s and others’ help, I summoned the strength to just take the next step in faith and trust God with the outcome. First, I followed up on a couple leads, including an email I’d received from someone I used to work with. I asked if the company he was recruiting me for happened to have any positions where you could work-from-home part time, or where you could perhaps have flexible working hours. It turns out the company doesn’t support regular working from home, but it’s not a problem for me to leave at 3pm every day. Given that the office is 2.5 miles away from my house, this would still allow me to pick up the kids almost right after school gets out. I think I could still have the work life balance that I’m striving for. Then, I just moved forward one step at a time through the very lengthy interview and offer process. One step at a time, one detail at a time, things fell into place in ways I couldn’t even have imagined. In the end, God came pretty close to delivering a neon sign that I should take this job.

I am very excited about starting my new job tomorrow for many reasons, not just that I will be forced to brush my teeth in the morning and actually look other adults in the eye throughout the day, but truth be told, I can’t take those little things for granted. And thanks be to God, I don’t have to.

 

Hands Off My Nachos!

I am happy (and surprised) to report that over the past two months, my 5 minutes of daily tap dancing has turned into 30-45 minutes! I have to begrudgingly admit that exercise really does help with depression. Gone is the girl who balked at taking a 15 minute walk. (The dog is much happier now too.)

Unfortunately, it’s not all cupcakes and roses. Even though I have more energy and am not as depressed, exercise is proving counterproductive towards another one of my personal goals – to maintain my current weight. I gave my weight and all that goes with it to God a long time ago, but I’ve noticed that as I’ve gotten older, it is harder and harder to not gain weight, and I really think I should be able to button my pants without having to buy an entirely new wardrobe every year. Ironically, I was doing fine this year UNTIL I started exercising. Since I became a “weird tap dancing mother,” as my 7 year old now says, I’ve actually gained weight!! It’s only a few pounds, but still. It’s most definitely related to the exercise, and I need to figure out how to nip it in the bud before I bust out of my clothes.

As much as I try to convince myself that the few pounds I’ve gained is muscle weight, I know that’s just not true. I’m not in the gym lifting weights, bulking up, over here. I’m tap dancing in my garage! I think it’s more likely that my weight gain is related to all the extra desserts and food I’ve been eating. Apparently, just because you work out, you can’t just eat whatever you want whenever you want to eat it.

Whatever. This entire topic is making me hungry.

Anyway, a second fly in the ointment is that, while my depression has lifted a great deal the last couple months, it isn’t completely gone. I really need to look at the other tips my therapist gave me.

Of course, DIET was the number two area she said to focus on! Basically, she said that if you constantly eat crappy food, like nachos and fast food, you can’t expect to not feel like crap.

I found it especially ironic that she used nachos and fast food as examples, because I eat one or both of those pretty much every day. I know I don’t always make the healthiest food choices, but I have convinced myself there’s no point in trying to be “healthy” because who can figure out what that even means anyway.

But the truth is, even though virtually every food can be considered bad for you by some expert or guru, that’s not a reason to completely give up trying to figure out what is healthy for YOU. I already know the diet that works best for me. A couple years ago, I went on a diet called FODMAP and figured out that I do not tolerate fructans or lactose well. After 6 weeks on FODMAP though, I felt so self-deprived, I haven’t been able to bring myself to consistently avoid my trigger foods since.

Maybe I just need a better acronym than FODMAP to motivate myself. (FODMAP stands for a bunch of really hard to pronounce compounds and substances that only a nutritionist or doctor has any chance of understanding. I dare you to look it up.)

How about I try to use the SELFY acronym from my last blog post to come up with a way to improve my diet?! That might work!

S is for SIMPLE – The complexity of the FODMAP diet was definitely one of its major hurdles. Even after I realized I only needed to avoid half of what it restricts, it was still incredibly difficult to figure out if foods had the banned substances. For example, anything with honey has fructans in it, and honey is used way more that I realized… it’s in a lot of breads, it’s used frequently as an alternative to sugar, etc. To make my diet improvements SIMPLE, I will JUST try to avoid lactose and hold off on avoiding fructans for now.

E is for EVERY DAY – The way lactose is described in FODMAP, it’s only to be avoided when in foods like milk, soft cheeses and ice cream. Hard cheeses are fine, and so is dark chocolate. Even a small piece of milk chocolate, say, the size of a fun bar, is allowed. I think I can manage this every day. I know I can at least work with it as a daily goal. I’m sure I will occasionally cheat, as I have with the exercise, but I just can’t quit taking things one day at a time or I know I won’t be successful.

L is for LITTLE – When I first looked at this one, I wasn’t sure how I could apply this concept of “starting small” to eating. “5 minutes a day” just fit so perfectly with exercise, but the same idea doesn’t translate over to diet. I can’t just eat for “5 minutes a day”! I finally decided I will start LITTLE by only cutting out super obvious things that I know have lactose in them, like ice cream, milk chocolate and ranch dressing. I won’t obsess over knowing all the ingredients in everything. Phew! That Payday bar I ate while writing this isn’t off limits after all, even though it has “nonfat milk” as one of the minor ingredients.

F is for FUN – This really doesn’t feel fun at all. I like chocolate. I like ice cream. Ranch dressing is what makes me able to make a “healthy” choice of a salad at a fast food restaurant. Nothing can really change that it won’t be much fun to give these delicious foods up, but I can take actions to add in fun where it wasn’t there before… I just paid $7.99 and downloaded the Monash University FODMAP app on my phone! Anything that involves an app on your phone is automatically fun, right!? I also just decided that dark chocolate, which is totally allowed, will be something I keep stocked in the pantry from now on. Dark chocolate always brings the fun.

Y is for YOU DO YOU – It was super easy for me to figure out how this one applies. “Me doing me” means that I WILL CONTINUE TO EAT NACHOS, GOSH DARN IT!! Nachos are part of who I am. You cannot take them away from me, okay? I make my nachos with corn tortilla chips, cheddar cheese, salsa and avocados. All of these things are healthy by my book. The nachos stay.

The next tip from the therapist on managing depression is to make sure that you get enough SLEEP. Ugh! Seriously? How do these people know exactly what I need (but don’t really want) to hear? I know, I know, you’re probably thinking, why is it so hard to get 8 hours of sleep a night? I know that is what my husband thinks. I can hear his brain screaming at me to JUST GO TO BED as he dozes off every night at a reasonable time. Maybe once I am on the track with a healthier eating plan, the sleep thing will be easier too. Kind of like how once I started exercising, my diet automatically improved as well? Oh wait… that didn’t happen. Oh well, one thing at a time. I’ll cover the dreaded sleep topic in the next blog post. Until then, thanks for reading and good luck with your own diet goals!

Exercise, Depression and my Inner Hulk

I went to a therapist this week. The first session was more of a “meet and greet” than anything else, but I can already tell that she means business. I know from past experience I need a therapist who means business. At the next session, she says we are going to talk about the 5 big things that help with depression. So, of course, I have been Googling “5 things that help with depression” on a regular basis to try to figure out what she might say. Patience isn’t exactly my strong suit.

As you might have guessed, there’s one thing that’s on EVERY “Top 5” list – Exercise. This makes me want to turn into the Hulk. Obviously, I don’t mean I want to go to the gym so I can get muscles like the Hulk. That would actually be a productive reaction. No, I literally picture myself screaming in agony and transforming into the Hulk. Of course, since I am depressed, my frustration does not come out in any real way. I just switch my Google searches to alternative ways to deal with anger that don’t involve so much physical energy.

In all seriousness, I see the writing on the wall. I get it. Exercise is like, super important and necessary when it comes to depression. Somehow, I’ve got to figure out a way to incorporate it into my life.

Before I do though, let me just spend ONE more millisecond being sarcastic and snarly. I apologize in advance to the well-intentioned bloggers out there who published Top 5 lists of remedies for depression. It’s really not you. It’s me. And to the particularly ambitious blogger who had a daily “brisk 15-30 minute walk” in your Top 5, thank you for giving me that kind of credit. The truth is, right now, I’m not capable of physically doing anything that even comes close to being near the realm of 30 minutes a day.

It seems like a grand idea to take a 15-30 minute walk every day doesn’t it? I mean, obviously I HAVE 15-30 minutes in the middle of the day. Otherwise, how could I write this blog post?

Well, it’s not quite that simple. One activity can’t so easily be substituted for another. A blog post can be written in bed. It does not require the individual to brush her teeth. Or take a shower. These things, which are non-negotiable morning routines for most people, typically happen 15 minutes before I have to leave my house to pick up my kids. Now, you might be thinking that I should just start brushing my teeth and taking a shower earlier in the day. Isn’t that a simple change?

Again, it’s not quite that simple. Just thinking about exercise makes me want to turn into the Hulk. Now you’re asking me to somehow motivate myself to shower and brush my teeth earlier in the day too? I have been around this block enough times to know that only something external, like having to go pick up kids or go to work, will motivate me to do these basic necessities. If you throw on top of this whole exercise thing that I must also internally motivate myself to get ready in any way, shape or form, I promise, I will give up before I’ve even started.

Another flaw with the “brisk 15-30 minute walk” idea is that it requires me to actually go out IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD by myself. I have no desire to do anything alone right now where I will also be in full view of others. I don’t really know how else to explain this particular issue (ahem, excuse), but I just felt like it deserved mention.

And yes, I realize how ridiculous all of my excuses are. But I am not quite ready to let go of them just yet. What I AM willing to do (praise God) is give this dreaded exercise concept a chance. But it will be on my own terms and with my own “Top 5” list, thank you very much. I even made my Top 5 an acrostic poem so it would be extra special and fun. And if you think that is a cool thing, then I am being totally serious and sincere with the whole acronym thing. If you are rolling your eyes like I would be, then I am being totally cheesy on purpose in a super cool rebellious and sarcastic way.

Without further ado, to actually start to exercise, I am making exercise the ultimate SELFY.

S = Simple
E = Every Day
L = Little
F = Fun
Y = You Do You

First, I am keeping it so unbelievably SIMPLE there is no way I can find an excuse not to do it. Going to the gym … way too complicated. Going outside … way too complicated. Putting on exercise shoes … way too complicated. Believe it or not, I do not own a pair of exercise shoes. I do, however, own tap shoes.

Second, I am striving to do it EVERY DAY, or at least every day of the work week. Otherwise, I know I will just procrastinate until later in the week and set myself up to fail. If I just take it one day at a time, like with everything else, I think I will have better success.

Third, I am starting LITTLE. (Yes, I realize it would sound better to say I am starting “small” but little works better with the acronym, alright?) 30 minutes a day just isn’t realistic for me. Who am I kidding? 15 minutes a day isn’t realistic for me. I am starting with 5 MINUTES every day. 5 minutes is a long time. I will be so super proud if I exercise for 5 minutes a day. I will throw myself a party if I exercise for 5 minutes a day for a week. I don’t care that most of my friends work out for an hour or more at a time. 5 MINUTES is my definition of success right now, and I am not ashamed.

Fourth, I am doing something that I think is FUN. Every time I try to exercise, I do something I have never done before or that I don’t enjoy. I don’t enjoy running so I’m not going to do it. I don’t want to go to Zumba class at the gym. My butt will never move the way the instructor’s does, and I’m okay with that. I don’t want to look at myself in the mirror trying to shake it like she does for an hour. My body will never bend the way yoga-lovers’ bodies do. I’m okay with that. I don’t have to do yoga. I am really good at and really like tap dancing. And did I mention that I have tap shoes?

Finally, my mantra will be YOU DO YOU! As if tap dancing in my own home for 5 minutes a day isn’t uniquely ME enough, I am going to do this as only I can. I am going to blog about it just because I know it will help ME. I am going to try to be funny and self-deprecating about it just because I think that is who I am supposed to be and it makes ME feel good. I am going to give it to God and try to use it to help others in any way I can, because that is ME being ME.

Alright, well, there you have it, that is my “Top 5” list. It has already motivated me to exercise 2 days in a row. If anyone else is coming to this exercise table kicking and screaming because of depression, I’d love to hear how you have motivated yourself. Thanks for reading!

When the Fog is Thicker than Normal

I have a history of depression.

Lately it’s been more of a current event.

Some people wonder what it means to have depression. How is it different from just a “normal” bad mood? Doesn’t everyone go through low points? Is it really a medical diagnosis? Sometimes I even ask myself these questions, even though I should know better. My brain knows how to internalize even the slightest hint of disapproval or questioning in another person’s eyes or tone of voice. Sometimes everything seems to point to the fact that “depression” is obviously just a fancy word that someone came up with to shut those of us up who can’t accept that we are really just melodramatic, overly sensitive and lazy.

When my sanity returns, I remember that I don’t have to win a philosophical argument on psychiatry or defend the vocabulary of mental illness to speak about my personal experience. And speaking up is important, not only for my own mental health, but because there are so many others out there who think they are alone and need to hear a word of encouragement and hope from a fellow sufferer.

Depression is a hard thing for me to open up about. I’ve been burned before for revealing too much. I’ve realized the hard way that some things are better shared with more private audiences than on a public forum. Even in a safe, private setting, I often struggle to summon the humility to discuss where I’m at openly and honestly. It all feels like something I should be over by now. It certainly wasn’t on my life roadmap to call the doctor complaining about fatigue and other symptoms I thought must be hormonal and have HIM be the one to suggest that perhaps we should switch my antidepressant. I mean, for years now, any adjustment to medication has been at MY suggestion, not the doctor’s. I thought I was the expert on this thing, but somehow, this time, I missed the key signs.

For me, the biggest clue should have been the apathy. Nothing is really that important when I get depressed. Lots of things start to slip because, you know, who cares. And then, all of a sudden, my normally manageable tendency to procrastinate turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy of never being good enough. I try to tell myself that I AM good enough even though a lot of my behavior is not really my best. Or that I’m not good enough, but it’s okay. I mean, that’s why we need Jesus, right? It’s okay to be perfectly imperfect, right?

These affirmations fall flat, because at the end of the day, things are not okay when you’re depressed. And coming out of depression requires you to admit that first.

Yes, I need Jesus. We all do. No, I’m not perfect, and I don’t have to be. But depression isn’t about making good or bad choices. Depression removes your power to choose and clouds your judgment. It becomes a fog that is impossible to see through without help.

Help for depression involves doctors and therapists, because mental illnesses really are medical conditions. I’m not sure there really is a “normal,” but I do know depression is more than just a bad mood. And while everyone may go through low points, and everyone certainly has her own burden in life, not everyone’s lows qualify as depression and not everyone’s burden is mental illness. Sometimes I wish it wasn’t mine, but it is.

Even though it can still creep up on me when I’m least expecting it, today I know I don’t have to walk through depression alone. God is with me always, even in my lowest points. Even when I doubt Him, He is there. I just have to keep trying to seek and strive for God in honest and real ways. Sometimes that means turning my prayers upside down.

Instead of asking to be filled with the knowledge that everything’s okay, sometimes I need to cry out to God that everything is NOT okay. This admission of powerlessness and acceptance is often exactly what I need to start to see God again through the fog. Sometimes I see Him through the people He puts in my life exactly when I need them. Other times, it’s through moments of clarity He gives me deep inside my soul. It is in those moments that I have come to realize that none of us are ever truly alone.

If you’re struggling with depression, know that there is a healthy way out. You are not alone. Things might not be okay right now, but you can still just put one foot in front of the other and do the next right thing, no matter how hard that is. And trust me, I’m not going to suggest that the next right thing for you to do is to exercise! Even though that seems to be a popular recommendation for depression, for me, it usually has to start much, much smaller!

Like, with getting out of bed.

Sometimes it’s just getting one FOOT out of the bed. Maybe even just one TOE!! It might be brushing your teeth. Or taking a shower. Or making an appointment. Or reaching out and texting a friend. Or a million other baby steps that feel like they might as well be giant leaps between two mountains. Things might not be okay right now, but if you just keep trudging along, reaching out and looking up, things will be okay.

I have a history of depression. And lately it’s been more of a current event. But having depression also means I have a history of incredible spiritual awakening and renewal, and I’ve learned to be grateful for that. My depression can create a pretty thick fog in my little corner of the universe, but when I do see the light shining through, it is all the brighter in contrast to the darkness. No matter what, by God’s grace, the future looks bright.

Let Your Light Shine

Let Your Light Shine

Last Saturday, while having coffee at Starbucks, I looked down at my hand and saw that my engagement ring was missing its main diamond. I was devastated to realize it had fallen out, and I had no idea when or how. I looked all over Starbucks, in the parking lot, in the car, and at home, but there was no trace of it.

My engagement ring is more valuable to me than any other material possession I own, not because of its monetary value, but because it’s the nicest thing I’ve ever received from the love of my life. He bought it for me, all by himself, before all our accounts were combined and everything was a joint purchase and life got so complicated. He spent hours and hours looking for the perfect ring, and when he couldn’t find it, he had it made. I was not involved in this process at all, and I was a pretty involved fiancée-to-be. I mean, by the time we got officially engaged seventeen years ago, we had already picked the date of the wedding, booked the church and rented out the reception hall. But picking out the ring was HIS decision, and he isn’t easily moved. He is strong and steady and takes his time to be sure he gets it right. And so he bought this ring on his own time table and proposed when I least expected it. It was worth the wait. The diamond was exquisite – truly flawless. It shined as bright as the love that inspired it.

I didn’t think my diamond would ever be found, but there was also a voice inside telling me not to give up hope and to just keep looking. About a day and a half later, I noticed something sparkling in our bedroom carpet. I looked closer, expecting it to just be some shiny something-or-other that had hit the light in just the right way, like it had been so many times before. But no, this time, it was the diamond I thought I’d lost forever that once again shone before my eyes. My engagement ring is now at the jeweler where the diamond is being reset with stronger prongs and polished so that is shines as brightly as ever. Hopefully, this time, it will stay put in my ring forever.

And yet, I know that there is only one light that will surely shine forever. It sparkles much more brightly than any diamond. This light also seemed to be lost once, and then reappeared, three days later. This light was also a gift that had nothing to do with the recipient and everything to do with the giver. This light also didn’t come easy to give. Its giver was also strong and steady and took the time to be sure things were perfect. After all, in this case, the gift brought about salvation and grace. Jesus Christ was well worth the wait. And just like my diamond is being reset into stronger prongs, Christ’s light moved into a different setting after His resurrection. He now lives inside of each us where His light is meant to shine more brightly than ever.

There’s a part of me that doesn’t want to wear my diamond ring once I get it back from the jeweler. I fear the diamond will fall out again. Perhaps it would be better to just keep it in a safe. But then I remember that Jesus said we are not meant to put our light under a bushel. We are to let it shine. My ring is meant to be worn on my finger always, to shine brightly as a symbol of the love that it represents. And the light of God is meant to shine through me, and through you, for all to see. I’m going to let it shine. Will you?

Definitely Not Smarter than a Fifth Grader

This week’s Fifth grade Sunday school lesson focuses on the importance of God’s word. We will each get ten paper rectangles to record the things we take time to learn about. Then, each of us will use our rectangles to build a pyramid of our priorities. I’m calling it the Personal Priority Pyramid, or PPP for short. Even though we will write down different interests and subjects, the exercise is intended to show that we should still all have the Bible at the top of our PPPs. I’m supposed to make it personal by sharing about a time when God’s word wasn’t at the top of my PPP and how that wreaked havoc in my life until I reprioritized.

I’m pretty sure this week’s lesson has brought about more growth in me than it will in the Fifth grade girls I’ll be teaching!

It’s not really the lesson itself that stirs up uneasiness within me, or at least, not the lesson as it appears at face value. Sharing about something personal certainly doesn’t cause me any turmoil. I’m more or less an open book. And it’s super easy to think of a time in my life that pertains to the lesson, so that’s not the opportunity for growth.

It took me a while to realize that the reason this lesson makes me uncomfortable is not because it’s not true, but because I so often fall short at remembering it. The experience that jumps to the front of my mind is from twenty years ago if that tells you anything. When I was in college, my area of expertise somehow all of a sudden became entirely about food and exercise. I could tell you how many calories and fat grams were in EVERYTHING, how much and what type of exercise would burn off those calories and fat grams, and exactly what I had eaten every day for the past month. Today, I can’t even remember what I had for breakfast this morning, let alone, last Wednesday. But the devil had a firm grip on me, and it took everything I had to find release. I started taking anti-depressants. I went to therapist after therapist. I went to church. I sang in a choir. I gave up caring about food or weight and ordered pizza. But most importantly, I read the Bible. God led me to His word and guided me through it during that difficult time like He never had before.

If I’m honest, I’m not sure I’ve felt that connected to the Bible since then.

I want to say this lack of connection is all related to the fact that God has filled me in other ways these past couple decades – through the Holy Spirit, through relationships and community, through inspirational Christian speakers and authors, through prayer, through writing and speaking. But the truth is that I’m also – mostly – at fault. The only other time I’ve tried to read the Bible all the way through, I stopped in Isaiah – in other words, before the hero of the story was even born. Whenever I’ve done Bible studies, I’ve tried to recreate my university experience, going to the same passages and books that moved me then. When I didn’t get the same warm fuzzy feelings I got in college, instead of realizing I’m just no longer the same kid who needed a sound, theological proof like the one laid out in Romans, and I should perhaps have picked a different book to study, I just get frustrated and decide the Bible and I just need a little distance from each other.

Of course, I still read the Bible. It’s just really not at the top of my PPP. It’s not the thing I prioritize most to learn about.  I certainly don’t spend as much time in God’s word as I do checking Facebook or the Daily Mail. The non-fiction book I read a little bit of every night is a parenting book, not my Bible. The information I dive into daily, after having perhaps glanced at a verse in a devotional, is my work email inbox.

It’s hard to admit how much the Bible has taken a backseat lately. It makes me feel unfit to lead this week’s lesson. And yet, it actually makes me more fit. Ironically, I know this because my favorite Bible verse tells me so. Of course, that isn’t really ironic, since the Bible truly is the most important book of all. I certainly wasn’t expecting to end this post with a Bible verse when I started it, but as always, with God, you have to expect the unexpected.

You see, in His usual fashion, God waited until I was in complete surrender and admitted my weakness before He reminded me that I’ve not been quite so disengaged from His word. In fact, the Bible verse that finally filled me with the assurance that I am more than fit to teach these Fifth grade girls is one that just came to life a couple years ago. It has touched my soul a thousand times recently and let me know that I am okay just as I am, warts and all. For Jesus assures us all that His grace is sufficient. Not only should I not be ashamed when I teach on Sunday, I should share about my weakness, knowing that God’s power will be even more perfect because of it.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.’”

2 Corinthians 12:9

I pray that I will remember this verse on Sunday and that I can give these girls a real example of what it means to be a Christian. It doesn’t mean we always have to perfectly follow all the rules we learn at church. In fact, it means the opposite – that we have admitted and surrendered in the deepest parts of our souls that we are utterly incapable of living flawless lives. Christ’s light and all of our need for Him shine all the more brightly when we stop thinking we need to be perfect, little Christians and remember that being a Christian has one and only one stipulation – to accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.