No Apology Apologetic

Yesterday a Facebook memory pop-up showed a quote I’d posted several years ago by world renowned Christian Apologetic, Ravi Zacharias. He was one that encouraged and challenged me in my faith and the many natural (and also the not-so-natural-OCD-induced) doubts that arise. To hear the news of his exposed dark secrets was startling and heavy. It felt so disappointing and not so much because I expected perfection as a leader, but because I feel betrayed by someone that I thought was living a challenging life while holding tightly to the grace of God. He never gave me a sneaky, prosperity gospel feel. He seemed humble. Little did many people know, he was covered in darkness and temptation. Did he feel remorse, guilt, shame? Who knows. He died before making any sort of confession or repentance. You may not be one that believes in this sort of thing, but I feel that evil is permeating through this world and this is a prime example. Evil oozes and creeps about much like a broken jar of molasses.

When a public failure occurs from a Christian, it tends to give doubtful people more ammo to disregard any inkling of curiosity about the faith in Christ. I certainly don’t blame that tendency. It’s often how I feel when heartache occurs through cancer, accidents, etc. When a well-known, often mocked leader of the faith fails in tacky ways, I feel such an annoyance that they’re damaging the reputation of the core of the Gospel; the truth that we are all failing on a daily basis in some way or another, that we are hopeless without grace, and that Jesus Christ provides that love and mercy at the start of every day for those that faithfully trust in Him. That trust may look like a drunk donkey or a toddler just learning to walk, but He loves us no matter what. When Ravi’s reputation crashed and burned, it felt different, like a punch in the gut; similar to how I felt when our beloved Cliff Huxtable, AKA Bill Cosby, fell from his lovable spot in America’s hearts.

Why am I even writing about this disappointment? I don’t know. I don’t do it in defense of anyone or the faith to which I’m clinging. I reckon it’s just a way to remind us that pain, failure, temptations, bad habits, and sadness are inevitable on this side of heaven. It’s a fact. It’s a reminder of the benefit of honest friendships, accountability from our trusted relationships, and hopefully, a opportunity to remember that we can share our failures and temptations in those safe, loving spaces. I’m praying right now that you, dear reader, find such a space.

“While it is fair to call out Christians for hypocrisy, the hypocrisy in no way negates Christianity, but rather establishes it. In the same way that it would make zero sense to call Beethoven a substandard composer because a six-year-old plays a Beethoven piece sloppily and out of tune at a piano recital, it makes zero sense to call Jesus a substandard Savior because his followers imitate him poorly.” – Scott Sauls, A Gentle Answer

February Kingdom Prayer

Our Father, who art in heaven,

hallowed be thy name;

thy kingdom come;

thy will be done;

on earth as it is in heaven.

Although my moods and feelings change often and doubt creeps about, right now I feel a deepness in my belly as I think of You in heaven. Oh, what Your Kingdom will be like. I think it’s similar to how one feels when we become enraptured with a fairy tale or love story; the excitement over what will one day be true is thrilling. I can only imagine the sigh of relief we will feel. When life feels overwhelming or when we feel ridiculed for believing in such a story, I pray that you will give us just what we need to move through those emotions and CHOOSE to trust in You and choose to trust that what You say is true. Your Will is mysterious and to be honest, frustrating at times. My first instinct is to assume You feel annoyed with our ignorance and doubts, but then I’m remembering that You see us a sheep; helpless little creatures that receive Your gentle compassion, love, and patience. Thank you for loving us. 

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our trespasses,

as we forgive those who trespass against us.

Help, Lord! Generations of us are falling prey to commercialism and without knowing, are spending money and time on things of little value. We might want attention, approval, more confidence, or just the warm feeling of “one more thing” or “one more minute”. Why is self-control and self-discipline so hard for us humans? Please forgive us for ignorance, laziness or excuse-making. Forgive us for judging others, even those closest to us, for something that we are also guilty of, but are unable to see because of the giant log that’s in our own eye. Thank you that You do forgive us and welcome us to try again and learn the art of relying on You for our comfort, confidence, and acceptance. 

And lead us not into temptation;

but deliver us from evil.

Help us see those temptations differently, if even as a tiny glimmer. Whisper into our ear an opportunity to stand firm and choose differently. Help us not forget that we can put on the armor and even in baby steps, learn a new rhythm and pattern for the 24 hours of each day You give us. 

For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

You Make Me Happy When Skies Are GRAY

“I like to start my notes to you as though we’re already in the middle of a conversation.” (Kathleen Kelly, You’ve Got Mail) It is true. I’d like this place to be one where I take an idea and run with it, without any care that I may sound like a babbling idiot. We all have random thoughts and ideas we find ourselves wondering and because I have this outlet of a blog, I often think, “I should write about that!” Ask me 4 hours later and that thought is long gone, hence the few and far between posts. However, today I picked up my laptop to ramble. In a very tender children’s chapter book called, “The Tale of Despereaux”, the author uses the phrase, “Dear Reader” at different points in the story and it feels as though she’s sitting right next to you as the story develops. I read that book years ago with my students and it’s stuck with me. What a cozy feeling.

So, Dear Reader, I wonder where you are as you read. How are you feeling? Do you have trouble brewing in your heart or gut? Maybe a heaviness you can’t pinpoint? Or, you may be feeling light today. Oh, I hope so! That feeling is notably better than the latter. I very often feel a smattering of both and although I like to have things in better “order” than that, I’m trying to work at letting feelings come and go as they please.

If you are new to this blog, I have a history of intense anxiety that eventually led to a correct diagnosis of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Along with depression struggles, it’s been an uphill climb at times. I feel hopeful though. While at the beginning of my struggles my number one goal was just feel better and beat myself up because I couldn’t “snap out of it”, today I see more clearly that no one lives in a black and white world with any success. Last year I jumped on the Word of the Year train and found it to be quite encouraging, so this year I chose the word, GRAY. Having OCD, my brain wants nothing more for things to be in order or to feel “just right”. This word reminds me that my thoughts, feelings, habits, relationships, weight, digestion, confidence, behavior, and even the weather are ever-changing! I can sub-consciously try to keep all my ducks in a row, but it’s inevitable that one or two will waddle off track.

Do you think you have any spaces where you are placing unrealistic expectations? Are you giving yourself a hard time for things that you think you “should” have in order? Here are a few phrases that you could try adding in to your inner dialogue (because there are very likely negative thoughts that fly through without you even knowing!): “Well, I don’t feel very good/just how I want to feel, but I’ll let that sit next to me while I carry on.”, “That feels really frustrating! Anyone would feel that way, but it doesn’t have to rule me right now.”, “I wish I hadn’t eaten that, but I’ll have a glass of water and try to remember next time that I don’t like this feeling.”, “This feels yucky, but experience shows me that it will pass in time, so I’ll give it space and focus on what I value in this moment.”

Virtual Hugs. Love, Emily

Failure During Advent

I’ve failed a lot during this Advent season. I think it feels different than failure on a Tuesday in June, but I think I’m seeing it’s been mostly in a good way. Call it depression or my “natural” perfectionistic tendencies (and the OCD part of my brain is dying to give it a label), but Emily is generally not Emily’s #1 fan. So, when I set a goal, particularly one that is based in my faith, failure feels yuckier. With this Advent, I chose to pause my social media activity to try and quiet things, had a book that I hoped to consistently read with the kids, and other lovely goals. Failure happens all the time though and my fears and internal critic tells me I’m not going to get the hang of this, I’m no good at self-control or focus, comparing myself to other moms, etc. 

In the midst of one of my brain’s sucker punching sessions, I saw the benefit of failing during Advent. It gives a clear chance to see the greatness of God’s character in why He came in human form and was wrapped in swaddling clothes being laid in a manger. God is Love. Perfect Love. Compassionate and Never-Ending Love. Not only did I see the opportunity of giving up something during Advent, as most do during Lent, in order to pause and think on Him, but it also happened as I stumbled and failed; when my self-control and self-discipline were majorly lacking. I’m not good enough, at least in my own eyes, but I GET TO rest in Him. You and I can choose to believe that He sees us differently than we see ourselves. I want to do better and still find myself desiring a magical (AKA perfect) holiday season filled with cozy, reflective moments (cue the scene of me gazing out the window at the snow falling as I cradle a steaming mug of warmth in my hands), but yet again, I’m ever aware of the crummy parts of reality that greatly hinder my dramatics and wish for perfection. 

So, as my failures led to my perspective changing a bit, I was appreciative of and more apt to welcome the combination of joy and disappointments over the last couple of weeks. Christmas this year was met with lots of green snot, dog poo tracked in the house, and crispy, brown evergreen trees, but also with fun movie nights, ping pong championships, and cold weather in Florida that actually required sweaters! As I’ve written about before and likely will each year as this form of blogging expression continues, life is hard and rotten at times, but we can practice making space for the disappointment, but also choose to look for the beauty peaking about in this life. 

Peace to you, dear reader. You are loved. You are not forgotten. 

Productive Productivity

I had a solid sleep last night and woke up with a productive mindset. Had breakfast out on the table for the kids and was prepping lunches while my coffee brewed. This type of morning gives me a boost of both energy and confidence; I’m doing it “right”. After finishing a cleaning task and snack break this afternoon, I felt weary and laid down on the couch. I set my phone alarm for another shot at the highly beneficial 20-minute cat naps that everyone says are so good for our brain and body. I knew it was a long shot, but as expected I hit snooze and took three or four 20- minute naps. Whoops. I was doing it “wrong”. That is not how I’m “supposed” to use my time. Think of all the projects yet to be done around the house. What about the books I’m wanting to read? This is not how I anticipated my productive day.

The example of my day isn’t too big of a deal. I imagine lots of folks feel frustrated that they didn’t use their time wisely, binged too many episodes, or ended up taking a 3-hour cruise type of afternoon nap. It happens. What also happens is that some people use what therapists may call “black or white thinking” and put a tally in their “failure” category. Maybe your column has a different title; unworthy, bad mom, etc. Do you do that? Do you use your actions to determine your value? I believe it can very often be a subconscious tally we might give ourselves. However, over time, we can begin to feel the weight of those negative tally marks. We have given ourselves so many reasons or examples of “evidence” of our unworthiness that we can start to believe it.

Although I sat down at my computer with a completely different goal in mind for this post, I’ve found myself working through something myself and if I needed the reminder then maybe you do, too. Dear Reader, if you find yourself feeling lousy and feeding yourself assumptions about your character based on things you do or don’t do, start to pay attention. Something to start trying is to introduce realistic truths such as, “Yeah, I took a longer rest than I wanted to, but maybe I’m more tired than I realize. Instead of beating myself up for it, I’m going to try and be kind to myself. I don’t always take long naps and I do value being productive, so I’m going to choose to move on forward with the rest of my day and do the best I can.” Another reminder is that the people we love may have their own tally marks going on inside their minds; aim for compassion towards them, too.

Love, Emily

Warning: May Be Habit Forming

I have an ongoing list of habits I’d like to change in my life, but the list has been sitting stagnant for a while. I give it a go and then often very quickly it fades away and I’m back to my old ways. I’m sure you’ve heard a million times like I have that a habit needs at least 21 days to develop or stick. I’ve mastered a 3-5 day window pretty well! What are the habits you have that you’ve tried to change or positive habits you’d love to develop? I’m consistently reminded of healthy habits that I strongly believe would make a big difference in my physical and mental health, but doggone if they are tough to corral and keep going. 

My list likely looks similar to yours in that I’d really love to keep a regular habit of physical exercise; for me that is yoga. I absolutely love yoga. It challenges me; I sweat buckets and with the focus on breathing and toning, I feel great at the end. My word of 2020 was INTENTIONAL. I want to be wiser with how I spend my time. I spend entirely too much time on social media or other well-intended apps. I’ve found that although not really obvious, I pick up my phone to skim Pinterest or slide through Instagram or Facebook as avoidance. There’s certainly nothing wrong with social media and even using it as an escape or break. It’s all about the balance! That’s the tricky part for me. I’ve written on this a few years ago, which proves my point that it’s an ongoing irritation for me. 

One thing I am very thankful for is that I’ve been working with an ACT therapist over the last few months and it’s been very helpful to address this issue. ACT stands for Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. As I’ve written before, I was thankfully diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder after over a decade of traditional therapy and not knowing what was wrong with me. I was able to receive ERP (Exposure and Response Prevention) Therapy, which is the gold-standard for OCD. After my ERP therapist and I felt I was at a solid place and could easily recognize where OCD plays and how to respond, she recommended ACT therapy as an encouraging place to spend some time. It’s been excellent and quite helpful. 

Similarly to ERP therapy for OCD, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy focuses on accepting thoughts and feelings as they come rather than tensing up to them or doing our darnedest to make them go away; unfortunately that never works and ends up feeding the “monster”. I tried that for years. One of the buzz words for ACT is VALUES. Here’s what I’ve been learning that has begun a shift with those pesky habits I want to kick and the ones I’d like to stick. 

There are a few ways to apply this idea of values, but I’ll stick with the habit forming goal. I’ve done a little experiment by tracking how I spend my time over a week. Not only have I jotted down a word or brief phrase to describe what I did during that hour or chunk of time, but I gave a 1-10 score on A. The importance of it B. The enjoyment of it and C. The difficulty of it. I already knew what time-sucking habits I disliked, but this gave me a visual of what that actually looks like and FEELS like in a typical day. After even a couple days of recording, I could more clearly see that I was able to recognize that I felt blah or yuck during an activity and it made me consider whether I wanted to keep doing that, I.e. skimming Facebook Marketplace. 

I believe I’m naturally bent toward procrastination, so setting a goal of being intentional about the things I value means I have to apply major self-control and discipline. This takes practice and lots of it. Some of my personal values focus on self-care, availability and quality time with my children and husband, arts and creativity, rest and faith focus. With those as my goals, I need less time spent on nonsense or non-productive time. 

Does it work to berate myself because I “can’t get my act together” and become “practically perfect in every way” like Mary Poppins? No. I’ve tried that, too. Another piece I’ve grabbed onto from therapy is how easy it is to beat myself up. I’m getting better at paying attention to that ugly, negative self-talk and shifting to self-compassion. Let’s go with an example: I’m currently sitting on my couch finishing up this post that I began a few weeks ago. If I reflect back on my Saturday so far, I tend to gravitate to the negative. I didn’t sleep well last night, had about 2 minutes of prayer/reflection time before quickly getting distracted by an idea I had for our new home and going to the computer. I haven’t exercised yet. I did have good intentions of starting a furniture painting project, but they didn’t have the right wax at the store so I gave up. I’ve been sitting after lunch skimming Facebook and eating chocolate covered almonds from the Costco-sized bag that keeps luring me in even though I have regretted eating them afterwards almost every time I do so because I’m trying to lose weight. Sigh. Stank. Ain’t nobody got time for that. 

ACT would encourage me to notice the stinky thoughts floating on down my metaphoric creek and then think, “what would be something I can do right now that would line up with one of my values?”, “what was something on my list of projects that I wanted to start this weekend?”, or “Let’s look at the clock and figure out how to better balance my afternoon.” Weave those into some self-compassion statements like, “I gave into the sweet treats, but I did a good job choosing a healthy lunch and I’ll be exercising later today”, “I didn’t get a great night’s sleep with all of that dreaming, but I was able to sleep in a bit and rest.”, or “I know I feel frustration over not making changes as quickly as I’d like, but I do notice that I’m catching myself quicker and I’ll keep at it to make progress.” 

Be kind and keep going, dear reader.

You’ll never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine. -John C. Maxwell

No Guts, No Glory

With only a couple weeks left of our summer break, I wanted to get a couple more thematic learning opportunities in at home to break up the monotony of our endless tech saturated days. A couple of very cool interactive books were added to my son’s bookshelf from various birthday and/or Christmas gifts, so we used that as a focus and spent today learning a bit about the human body.

There are so many wonky and amazing facts to learn about how our bodies work that we could easily spend several days on this topic! For example, today we learned that the hair we can visibly see is actually dead and only under the skin is it alive. Besides the weird and gross stuff we found in one of my son’s favorite books, we skimmed through the basics of the muscular, skeletal and digestive systems. As described in one of the books, we timed our resting heart rate and then raced around the living room for one minute before checking our pulses again. Luckily, I have a bizarre double-jointed situation with one of my elbows that enhanced the discussion on our bones and we did a touch of yoga to point out how our muscles are strengthened. Lastly, I’ve been holding on to last month’s Kiwi Co. box because I knew it would go perfectly with this theme and it was a hit!

I would highly recommend checking out this layered book that gives such an amazing view of how the body is put together. It’s very sturdy and loaded with cool information.

In my most recent Usborne book order we received this more advanced Lift-The-Flap book on Biology that I thought would intrigue my son. He was semi-forced to read a handful of facts to us as we finished our lunch, but that’s when we learned that we share 99.9% of our genes with every other human and only the last 0.1% is what makes each of us US.

Our Kiwi Co. box allowed us to make a stethoscope that really works! We also stuffed and laced up cute little felt organs, and using glow-in-the-dark paper with bone stickers, we created an x-ray and huddled in the closet to see it glow. It also came with a really cool life-sized poster. Although we weren’t in love with a couple of the other Kiwi Co. boxes, this one knocked it out of the park!

Dr. Brady checking on his patient’s heart.

The last activity that my son really got into was using this Squishy Human Body. His little sister had gotten into this box very quickly after receiving it as a Christmas gift and scattered all the squishy guts around the living room, so this was his first attempt at putting the body back together. Success!

We’re in the process of selling our home and moving soon, so almost all of my Usborne Books are packed up, so we missed a chance to peruse several of the cool human body books that are normally on our shelf. Here’s a direct link to all of UBAM’s human body books.

Now we’re off to check the cat’s heartbeat and then have plans for a rousing family game of Operation that we borrowed from the neighbors! Move that body and drink your water, folks!

Checkmate!

We carved out designated tech-free time this morning to play dress up magnets with R and a game of chess with B. I’d forgotten which direction my pieces could move and pulled out this book from my Usborne collection. I hadn’t looked into it yet, but it’s quite cool! It’s interactive with stickers and would be excellent for older kids to really understand strategy and the ins and outs of the game. Although we got off track with vacations and whatnot, I’ve challenged my son to work through it this summer (although that means he’s going to kick my butt even faster than he did today 😳)

Pairing this book and an inexpensive chess set would be a really great gift! B learned to play about age 9 and I’ve been surprised by how much he took to it and he even added a session of it for summer camp a couple of years ago! If you have a master chess player in your crowd, take a look at the Usborne Books & More website for a couple more fun options, so you don’t end up in a stalemate. 🙂

*As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Sticker Book Magic

With my daughter Rachel’s age and personality, for some time now, we have been heavily into sticker books. I’ve tried them all! The silly faces from Wal-Mart, Melissa & Doug from TJMaxx, Disney and other varieties, etc. I’d say one of the top reasons I sell Usborne Books & More is for their stinking sticker books! They are like none other. Melissa & Doug has some really great ones and they’re creative, but Usborne’s are amazing; educational, excellent quality of both pages and stickers, & exquisite pictures. I’ve included some pictures below to give a sample (mostly girly ones, of course). If you want to see more, there’s a gazillion on the website.

These sticker books are top notch. Great quality, beautiful illustrations and lots of variety in themes from monsters to unicorns. The picture below shows my little one working through the pixie sticker book. Not only were we getting the chance to practice numbers with matching the stickers to the pages, but we’re learning about fun adjectives like “dart” “leap” and “flutter”.

I’ve found myself enjoying the sticker books much like the adult coloring books are found to be soothing. In addition to Usborne, another more advanced sticker book that I really enjoy are the Paint by Sticker that I’ve found on Amazon. They have itty bitty pieces that won’t be ideal for very little fingers, but certainly a calming activity to try for older kids. I recently purchased a more advanced one (but by no means truly “advanced”; it remains low stress) was one called Masterpieces that end up creating a sticker version of beautiful, well-known works of art.

*As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

Each summer we travel to North Carolina to visit family and escape the heat of Florida. With each visit over the last several years and as our children have gotten older, we’ve tried to explore more of the mountains and surrounding areas. This year we were able to purchase a travel trailer and took a trip that looked a little different with not having to be tied to a hotel room. While packing for the trip, I gathered up a handful of outdoor themed books and easy activities that I found on Pinterest in my never-ending attempt to weave learning and reading into our summer. It’s a struggle and sometimes like pulling teeth for my kids, but every once in a while, I get a smile of interest or excitement over something we’ve learned. Because we were stopping at campsites and had nature at our fingertips, I brought along the Usborne’s 1,000 Things in Nature and tried to find critters and natural items that we discovered in the creek or ground coverings. We also used The Usborne Outdoor Book to guide us on our adventures.

Using Pinterest’s wonderful suggestions, we used glass jars to magnify some of our treasures and also learned about photosynthesis in such a beautiful and simple way!

PHOTOSYNTHESIS: https://www.kcedventures.com/blog/how-do-leaves-breathe-a-simple-science-experiment-for-kids

While the big kids were river rafting, my daughter and I had a wonderful time lifting rocks to find critters, looking for creatively shaped stones, and shuffling along until our feet were numb from the refreshingly cold creek water. Here’s a sampling of some of the treasures we found:

Although I forgot to take a picture of them, we used some of the findings to create the most beautiful “nature ladies” using leaves, pebbles, paper and glue sticks. Here’s where I found the inspiration.

Because we spent a lot of time in the travel trailer and I love a good theme, I used the National Parks as my inspiration for decorating the trailer and trying to make it feel like home. As a part of that, I gathered books from home and created a book nook behind the seating area:

Although summer is coming to and end, I hope we can fit one more weekend in for a trip in our travel trailer. With the Florida heat at this time of year, hopefully that will involve a trip to a crisp and chilly spring!

Happy Summer and Happy Reading to you!