There are a couple of stressful areas of my life right now that I am trying to solve, and my natural self wants to obsess about those problems until I conquer them with pure willpower. If I’m honest, though, fixing those issues won’t make me happy because two equally urgent conundrums will instantly take their place. We live in a broken world surrounded by imperfect people, and while we should continue to take concrete steps toward progress, sometimes we need to take a break and count our blessings.
Daniel Swanson Photography
Daniel Swanson Photography
Here I go:
Today I shared my commute with my dad.
Today I laughed with my coworkers.
Today I ate lunch with my husband.
Today I discussed movie theme songs live on the radio.
Today I drove home to a hot dinner waiting in the crock pot.
Sometimes we need to take a break and count our blessings.
Everything’s more fun when you’re planning something.
My husband and I are flying to Florida for a few days, partially to visit family and partially to go to Universal Studios. I’m noticing that my daily routines are more enjoyable simply because I’m completing them in anticipation of something else.
For instance: shopping. My new swimsuit, which I’ve been wanting for a while anyway, is for Florida. I’m getting my hair and nails done for Florida. This umbrella is for Florida.
Also, chores. I’m keeping up with the dishes so we won’t leave behind a full sink. I’m vacuuming so we’ll come home to a clean carpet (unless the cats keep throwing up while we’re gone). I’m doing laundry so we’ll have clean clothes to pack.
Work becomes more fun, too. Completing these tasks now will help my coworkers handle these shows in my absence. Scheduling these social media posts will keep the momentum going while I’m gone. Writing this ad today will prepare me to produce it as soon as I get back.
I’m fully in favor of looking forward to something, even if it’s not something as big as a vacation. When I’m engrossed in a novel, I can’t wait to take my lunch break so I can read the next chapter. When we find a thrilling new show on Amazon Prime, I’m eager to get home so we can watch the next episode. Normal activities take on a fresh glow when there’s something happy ahead.
Normal activities take on a fresh glow when there’s something happy ahead.
I’m one of those people who gets excited easily, and that’s something I like about myself. I’ve been told that birthdays are more fun with me because I tend to exclaim delightedly over every gift — even when they’re not for me. When my grandparents meet me for lunch at work or my parents offer to buy coffee for me over the weekend, I smile more often throughout the day and feel more relaxed. Something about an out-of-the-ordinary treat — even if it’s actually something ordinary — lifts my spirits.
I’m guessing that there are actually a lot more things to look forward to, and most of the time I just don’t notice them. Even when some things are going very wrong, there’s almost always something to get excited about. And when there isn’t — why not try creating one?
For instance: today is exhausting, but tonight I’ll take a bath with a glittery bath bomb. Now I can look forward to that when my eyes start to get tired staring at my computer screen. Another example: my husband is working late tonight, so the thing I was excited about won’t happen after all. I’m disappointed, but instead of moping, I’ll head to a coffee shop and work on my blog. Now I can look forward to that instead!
There’s probably more to say, but I’m too busy getting ready for Florida.
If I put my mind to it, I truly believe that I could go to bed earlier, sleep longer, and eliminate the exhaustion that fogs my days. Naysayers, I have a song to sing for you.
May this blog post be my challenge to live a more balanced life. I am determined to get more sleep. Feel free to act as my accountability partner.
So many problems lie outside of our control, but I choose my own bedtime.
So many problems lie outside of our control, but for the most part I choose my own bedtime. You may have small children or homework keeping you awake, but I do not. If I want to get more sleep, I can! Starting today, I want to set aside the vague complaints about sleepiness that often slip from my lips because I am not a victim of circumstance. I have the power to choose how many hours of sleep I get each night.
Every decision comes with sacrifice. I may not have as much time to watch The Office with my husband on the couch before bed, scroll through Instagram, or sing along to audition videos on YouTube. Change requires discipline, a quality I need to develop.
Instead of staring groggily at my computer screen at work, I long to look with fresh eyes at the world around me and the tasks before me. Recently the Holy Spirit has been whispering the phrase “abundant life,” and whenever He repeats the same message from multiple sources, I try to listen. Perhaps He plans to reveal a new layer of abundance.
I’m not a coffee drinker by nature. In the past I’d wander down the coffee isle at the grocery store to inhale the smell of the beans, but I did not enjoy the bitter taste. Then my in-laws introduced me to New Mexico Pinion Coffee — specifically the Morning Blend — and I joined the ranks of the caffeinated with enthusiasm. Now I’m thoroughly enjoying the morning routine of brewing dark liquid to pour into my travel mug.
2. Professional Manicures
I feel a tad guilty about this one because I’ve never had enough disposable income to indulge in luxuries like fancy nails before. When I worked at the Starbucks drive-through window, I spent a lot of time noticing customers’ hands, and I marveled at the number of women with gorgeous, colorful fingers. How do they afford the upkeep? I never want to become dependent on non-essentials, but I’ll admit that purple glitter on my fingernails brings me inordinate amounts of pleasure throughout the day.
3. Morning Cuddles
This may be my current favorite aspect of married life. My husband and I set multiple alarms in the mornings, and when they go off for the first time, we immediately drape our limbs over each other and go back to sleep. He’s so warm and muscly, and I still relish the experience of feeling small by comparison to his hulking manliness. (At 5 feet 11 inches, I’ve never been considered petite.) Love is so fun sometimes.
4. Commuter Calls
Since my drive home takes me about 40 minutes during the week, I have gotten into the habit of calling various members of my family as soon as I get in the car. My mom answers her phone most consistently, but lately my sister’s lunch break has also corresponded briefly with my evening commute as she works swing shift in California. It’s nice to feel connected from a distance.
5. Board Games
I’m one of those extroverted introverts who needs a healthy balance of social interaction and alone-time, and lately I’ve had enough energy to plan a few game nights. To my surprise and delight, many of my college friends have stayed in the Denver area after graduation, so I never lack willing participants. Board games perfectly accomplish the two primary goals of any friendly get-together: conversation and entertainment. Right now we’re unanimously loving Code Names and King of Tokyo.
I remain convinced that God fills every life with precious, personal gifts waiting to be noticed and enjoyed. Let’s start thinking of life like a giant Easter Egg hunt, searching for the joy hidden in the ordinary. Next time you open your mouth to complain, pause to take note of one small pleasure. You may find that you suddenly have nothing to say.
I had been in survival mode for months, barely breaking the surface long enough to breathe before stress and exhaustion dragged me into darkness again. I had stopped enjoying my job, my stomach tightening every time I approached the parking garage at my office building. My talented, ambitious, hardworking husband filled evenings and weekends with homework, live gigs, and recording, so loneliness often tainted my hours at home. As for the state of my house, when I could no longer see an inch of clear space on tables or countertops, I sent a pathetic text message to my grandma, asking her to help me clean (which, of course, she immediately did). I lost touch with friends, stopped blogging, skipped church, and rarely read the Bible.
Today feels better — and not just today, but the past many days and weeks. I see a definite trend toward personal and professional improvement and significantly higher levels of emotional stability. I’d like to pinpoint the exact cause that led to this highly desirable effect, but I think the truth involves multiple variables.
1. A toxic person dropped suddenly and permanently out of my life.
I find it disturbing that a single negative influence can wield such destructive power; I didn’t realize how much I had been affected by regular contact with this individual until our interactions ceased and the sun resumed shining.
2. I started exercising regularly again.
For six consecutive weeks I completed three cardio workouts and one yoga workout per week. Sometimes they only lasted ten minutes, but I never missed a day. Thanks to a little discipline, I bid headaches goodbye at long last.
3. My spirit (finally) adjusted to a full-time work schedule.
Took me a little longer than I anticipated, but after a year and a half of 40-hour work weeks, I no longer feel constantly overwhelmed by my daily life. For the first time in recent memory, I have actually begun to experience boredom again!
Sometimes the process of transitioning seems unbearably long.
Sometimes the process of transitioning seems unbearably long and my small improvements so unimpressive. I still don’t go to bed early enough; dirty laundry lies in heaps on my bedroom floor; and my attempts at meal prep are far from consistent. More than anything else, the past two years have clearly revealed to me my own weakness. Hopefully I’ve learned a little humility. With the assistance of the Holy Spirit, I pray that I would also develop compassion for others struggling to develop healthy habits.
Since our good God offers grace to us, the least we can do is extend it to one another.
Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. – 1st Thessalonians 5:11
My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. – 2nd Corinthians 12:9
My mom meets me at Starbucks to watch old home videos.
She has recently taken a step into the 21st century by converting them to DVD, so we share earbuds and play them on her laptop, laughing so loudly that the other coffee drinkers stare at us.
They’ll get over it.
Viewing scenes from my past – many of which I don’t remember – a strange feeling swells in my chest.
I see my smaller self curl on the lap of my grandpa, who passed away a few years ago. A pacifier protrudes from my mouth; I’m wearing pajamas with feet in bright primary colors.
Suddenly it’s Christmas, and I hold an armful of plastic animals, surrounded by wrapping paper. A giraffe drops from the couch, so I turn to the camera with round eyes to pronounce, “Uh-oh!” Auntie Ann crouches next to me so we can play zoo together. My grandma comments off-screen.
A few moments later and many years older, I stand in a crowd of children singing the soundtrack to Mulan. A taller kid partially obscures my pale, nervous face. My little sister twirls nearby in a floral dress, oblivious to the performance. After the final song, I approach the camera to hear my mom’s praise, concern melting into a smile.
Jump to a wedding. The camera sways wildly before focusing on my fat baby brother. He’s unsteady on his feet, dressed in a little blue suit. He approaches a pair of skinny legs – mine – and lifts his arms, wanting to be held. I heft him onto my hip and wave his chubby fist, instructing him to smile at the camera.
The DVD ends in a few moments of visual fuzz. I allow the sounds of the coffeeshop to wash over me, considering the feeling that has been expanding inside of me since we hit play. It’s as if the little knots in my stomach have loosened. The tasks ahead; the conversations behind; these small cares that I carry with me have momentarily evaporated.
I am so loved.
Daniel Swanson Photography
Daniel Swanson Photography
Daniel Swanson Photography
Daniel Swanson Photography
In every home video, family surrounds me. As the first grandchild, my babyhood constitutes the sole focus of a large group of devoted adults. As the oldest sister, my childhood fills with firsts: the first student; the first performer; the first friend to my two sweet siblings. At the time I took it all very seriously. Observing the scenes years later, I notice something new.
There has never been anything to worry about.
All the events that consume my thoughts become nothing more than memories captured in film. One day, this moment will slip away, too. The fear will fade. In its place will linger the deep affection that marks me like a thousand fingerprints tattooed on my skin. I am precious. I am noticed. I am loved.
There’s a word for this feeling: perspective. When I witness my life from a distance, I recognize the consistent theme woven into every season. I am still the small child curled in my grandfather’s lap. I am still the nervous singer onstage. I am still the bossy sister ordering a baby to smile. Above all, I am the beloved daughter with a camera pointed at my face because I matter.
I leave the coffeeshop refreshed, alive to the details of this day. If I am my history, then I am something warm, safe, and happy. Therefore I may enter adulthood fortified by a past rich with tenderness.
These days there aren’t any life-altering decisions looming in my future.
I’m not grappling with fear, doubt, or uncertainty. God hasn’t thrown any major trials my way recently. Instead, my days overflow with interesting conversations, pleasant people, manageable tasks, and the ordinary weariness of a forty-hour work week. Weekends are even better: late mornings cuddling with my husband; snowy mountain excursions with our parents; trips to the movies; restaurant dinner dates; hours of making music in church.
In short, I’m happy — and I’m not sure how to deal with it.
I’m not sure how to deal with happiness.
During a recent sermon, my pastor opened the altar for prayer. “Whatever you’re facing, no matter how big it seems, God can handle it. Trust him.” I saw people kneel, weeping as they poured out their pain before the Lord. I remembered the tears that dripped from my own eyes not so long ago when I felt like God had abandoned me. I recalled the desperate prayers and the hours spent searching the scriptures for answers. I pictured the 4×6 index cards that I once carried in my purse in the event of panic attacks: “Do not be anxious in anything . . . . How great is the love the father has lavished on us . . . . There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
There was a time when a pastor’s prayer drew me to the altar, needy and hurting. Now, when I examine my heart during quiet moments of contemplation, I find it whole. During such moments my happiness sometimes worries me.
As I see it, there are two problems with happiness:
God doesn’t tend to reveal himself clearly during the good times.
Happy times lead to sad ones.
As for the first problem, any Christ follower will acknowledge that they have experienced God’s presence most potently during their worst trials. Looking back on the milestones of my spiritual journey, I inevitably glimpsed glory through pain. As my sense of urgency faded, however, my connection with the Spirit seems to have dwindled as well.
The second problem saps some of the sweetness from my days by whispering, “This too shall pass. You won’t always feel cheerful and confident. Someday, you’ll endure troubles again.” Since no season lasts forever, this one must eventually end.
What I seem to be forgetting is that the same God who carried me through suffering also orchestrates my pleasure. Just as he brought pain into my life because he loved me, so now he offers me joy because – you guessed it – he still loves me!
The same God who carried me through suffering now orchestrates my pleasure.
I don’t need to feel guilty about my lax in spirituality as if I somehow control my relationship with God. Of course I should continue to seek him through prayer and scripture, but I don’t need to carry the burden of measuring my spiritual progress. Neither do I need to fear trials in my future because as James reminds us, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (1:17, NIV).
In other words, this season comes to me straight from the hands of a good God who loves me lavishly. If he has given me a job that I like, a husband who showers me with affection, and a family that supports me, I’d better doggone well enjoy it. And when this season trails into another, that will be alright, too, because the same God will be there.
My prayer for this year is that my soul will remain alive to the movement of the Spirit even while my heart rests from the troubles of yesterday. Above all, I want to overflow with gratitude for the good things that fill my days because there are so many of them.
The Reluctant Bride
A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap . . . . – Luke 6:38 (NIV)