Heart in the Clouds

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Gratitudes and Thoughts --May 30, 2010

Today, I've been married to Sean for 12 years...seriously, 12 years! It sounds like such a huge number. TWELVE years. I can say I'm the same person I was when I got married, but I'm a much better version of myself. God and Sean have the most to do with that change.

I would like to say that it's been perfect, but, as all of you married folks know, no marriage is perfect and you are kind of forced to learn as you go. But the opportunity to mature and learn and grow with another person, a good person like Sean, is the best gift I have ever received. I pray the same for you. You will not see eye-to-eye on everything. You may not like all of the same music, foods, styles, or forms of entertainment. You will sometimes disagree on the most mundane things.

In fact, when we got married, there couldn't have been two more different people. But once we got past the illusions of what we thought marriage was SUPPOSED to be, we realized that it's truly different for every couple. There is no model or set of rules you need to follow other than the ones God has given. People make the mistake of comparing their relationship to how they perceive others' relationships to be...not a good idea. Every relationship is different and there never has been, nor will there ever be a marriage exactly the same as yours. We realized we had to make our marriage work the way we wanted.

When I was a teenager, I had all these crazy, glowing illusions of what a marriage was supposed to be like. I thought that it would be romantic, candlelit dinners every night, and flowers and chocolates on a weekly basis. I thought we would never disagree and that we would like all of the same things. I thought it would be easy and carefree. Nope. Marriage is work, but it's gratifying work, if you actually put in the time. There is an ebb and flow to every relationship, and marriage is no different. Spending your life with someone requires a lot of compromise, teamwork and focus. However, when you get it right, you know it. Marriage is the adventure of two people against the world.

So today I'm grateful for a man who has chosen to stick with me through 12 years of this adventure. I'm not an easy person to live with and I'm certainly not always easy to love...or even LIKE, for that matter. I can be unkind. I can be selfish. I can be a loner. I can be clingy. I can sometimes be in a constant state of annoyance, where anything anyone does will set me off. I can be up and down. I can be scatterbrained and forgetful. I can hold grudges and keep mental lists of wrongs. I'm a mess...truly. But I'm a blessed mess. I have a God who loves me. I have a good man as a husband, and two good sons. Life isn't always easy, but it's worth the effort.

I'm grateful for...

A wedding on our anniversary. I'm excited for Pete and Betsy to begin their journey together today.

Long morning walks. I love weekends for so many reasons, but I love them a lot for the fact that I can walk out the door at 8am and walk. All I need is my iPod as the soundtrack to my morning.

Less than a week until vacation. In 6 days, I'll be on the beach, enjoying the sound of the waves, the sand between my toes and lots of family fun.

Beautiful weather. It's May, but summer has arrived.

Good friends.

My in-laws, Ed and Betty, arriving today. We're excited to see them and Sean is over the moon to see his Mom and Dad. :)

My house. It's old and a little messy, but I love it. I've learned that a little bit of a mess is a sign of life being lived.

God is with us. My life wouldn't be where it is now and I wouldn't have made it through 12 years of marriage if it weren't for God. He has taught me so much about life, about love and marriage, about change, and about myself. He truly is good.

My hope is that you open yourself to receive all that God has for you. Living in the past or living in the future can keep you from seeing all the blessings in your life right now. Open your eyes and seriously count your blessings...you will be amazed and you won't be able to keep yourself from feeling gratitude to your core.

I heard this song on my walk. Lovely.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Gratitudes and Thoughts --May 23, 2010

I find it so hard to be like Jesus. I want to be able to say that I can love like he does, but I think I'm always going to be learning. I learn my lessons the hard way a lot. But I'm thankful that God is bigger than my lessons and that he has a plan for me. I may not see that plan right now, but I know that he is going to be faithful.

I know the things I SHOULD do. I know the ways I SHOULD react. I can be honest, though, and say that I rarely do what I "should". Life is what it is. It is what we make of it. It is the sum of the things and people we allow into our hearts, plus the gifts already inside of ourselves. I'm still trying to find those gifts and I'm always trusting God to put trustworthy people in my life. He who promised is faithful.

I'm grateful for...

A husband who understands me. He knows my heart, and even though we don't always see eye-to-eye, I know he truly cares about me and loves me for who I am. I know that he's there for me in good times AND in bad times, and I'm beyond grateful.

The smell after the rain. There's a scent that comes just after a hard spring rain that is rich and earthy and clean...I love that smell. I wish I could bottle it. I think there must be a part of heaven that smells like that.

I am breaking free. Sometimes we're held captive in life by anything from fear to desire to depression or even to what people think of us. God is gradually ridding me of my fetters. In various ways, he is teaching me not to let those things hold me captive any longer.

Flip-flops. It's not profound, but that's okay.

Our window fan. I hate air conditioning, but a good, steady stream of fresh air into my room at night is a lovely thing.

My dog. She follows me everywhere. She thrives on my affection, and she loves me even when I'm a complete crab. I wish I could love the way she does.

Things could be worse. No matter what I'm going through, no matter how much I hurt or how much I endure, I know there are worse things that could be happening. It's kind of sad that that is a comforting thought, but it sometimes is.

My hope is that you are able to learn your lessons more easily than I am able to. I bless you with the ability to learn what you need to learn and then move on...that's hard for me, but I'm growing and always learning. I hope you are, too. Sometimes emotional, spiritual or mental growth are things you can't quantify at a glance. Sometimes you have to look back at your history to see how far you've come. Even 5 years ago, I wouldn't have been able to imagine the growth I've seen in my life since I started the journey toward having a thankful heart. Gratitude has saved my life. I know my struggles and heartbreaks and fears will never really be over, but they can be conquered one-by-one. God is bigger.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Gratitudes and Thoughts --May 18, 2010

So I guess I should start out by saying that my son, Liam, finished first grade yesterday. I am so proud of him and all the work he did. There were days where school felt like pulling teeth...everyone has days like that, I know, but overall he has kept a good attitude and has kept his little nose to the grindstone. He's a good boy and I can't wait to see the man he becomes...I just want him to grow up slowly. He's a smart, funny, intelligent, inquisitive and (as I said elsewhere) soft-hearted boy who loves with his whole heart. When you get on his bad side, you are REALLY on his bad side (we may need to work on the concept of forgiveness), but his bad side pretty much doesn't exist. Being his Mama is a privilege I will cherish for the rest of my life, and I hope I help him learn to make the best of his life and his talents.

I have to say, though, that this year of doing cyber school with Liam has taught me a lot about myself. I NEVER thought I'd be a home schooling parent. In fact, I can say I was almost anti-homeschool up until a year ago. When God pretty much dropped the idea of cyber school in my lap last year, I thought, "Naaah. That can't be the best option." However, once I did all my research and I made that comittment to personally take charge of his education, one-on-one, I have seen growth in Liam that I didn't expect. I have also seen growth in myself. I firmly believe that schooling at home isn't for everyone. However, I am sure that this has been the best decision for us for this year, and likely for next year.

See, I'm great with making decisions, but the follow-through is sometimes the hard part for me. I have always been a little ashamed of that fact. I guess a big thing this year of cyber school has taught me is that I can finish what I start. It also has shown me that God is bigger than my faults, and if he points me in the direction I should go, he'll give me the strength and endurance to get there. I seriously owe all of this past year to God. He has shown me that I shouldn't underestimate myself or my children.

So, all in all, it has been a stellar school year. Not only did Liam get 100% in pretty much every assignment he did, he got a sense of accomplishment and got a little glimpse of what he's capable of. I got a glimpse of what I'm capable of, as well. Throughout my life, but in the past year specifically, God has been my rock, my fortress, my deliverer, my refuge, my strength, my help in times of trouble...his amazing love for me and for my family has given me strength to continue and see this through.

I'm proud of myself. Yes, I said it. But I'm also incredibly grateful that God has given me the opportunity to stretch myself and to stretch my child's horizons just a little bit. I can't wait to see what happens next.

I'm grateful for...

Hope. I could be going through one of the roughest times in my life, but when I get that one, little glimmer of hope, my whole countenance and attitude can change...if I let it.

Joy. It doesn't rely on everyday happiness, but it is a choice.

A t-shirt and yoga pants kind of day. I had some errands to run and things to finish, so I didn't feel like getting all dolled up. I like that I'm comfortable enough with myself now to have a day when I feel a little sloppy.

Vacation is only 2 weeks away! Hooray! 'Nuff said.

Green. I love green. Green trees. Green grass. Green plants. Green thumbs...ah, Spring.

My home. It's MY mess and it makes me happy.

Getting work done. Another Monday photo editing session at the "office" (aka. Panera) got the portrait session finished and ready to give to the client. Accomplishment is a good thing.

Good TV. Shallow, but true. Deal with it.

I hope you give yourself the opportunity to feel some gratitude today. Forget about the crap for now and let yourself feel the truth of the blessings in your life. God is always working on your behalf, so forget what lies behind and press toward your goal. Life is a beautiful gift. Don't lose a moment of it by focusing on the bad instead of the good. Focus on the virtuous things. God, your friends, your family, your home, your health, yourself! Focus.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Gratitudes and Thoughts --May 13, 2010

Well, I actually wrote a long blog about what a jerk I am, but I decided to delete it. I'll spare you all the self-deprecation. I've been going through a time these past few weeks where I feel like such a hypocrite and such a massive jerk and whenever I think about who I am (well, not really who I am, but what I'm acting like lately), I end up on the verge of tears. Why do I have such trouble with really loving?

This may sound like self-loathing, but it's not. Generally, I like myself. I guess I'm learning what it's like to really examine myself and hold myself up next to the ultimate check list. How do my actions and attitudes compare to the truth of who God is?

Love is patient. ___
Love is kind. ___
Love does not envy. ___
Love does not boast. ___
Love is not proud.  ___
Love is not self-seeking. ___
Love is not easily angered. ___
Love keeps no record of wrongs. ___
Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices in the truth. ___
Love always protects. ___
Love always trusts. ___
Love always hopes. ___
Love always perseveres. ___
Love never fails. ___

I can say that I sometimes show some of the above things, but often I fall so far short that it's embarrassing. The thing that I don't get is why God has such mercy on me. I don't deserve it and I never will. He loves me, though. And by loving me, he shows me all of the above aspects of his character. In a way, it's to prove to me that it can be done. However, if I try to do it, I can't do it alone. I think he wants me to realize how much I need him and how I can't be "good" on my own. Righteousness without his love is "filthy rags".

I am learning to love myself, though. Today, I heard someone give a key to how to learn to start on the process of loving yourself, if that's something you struggle with. Go to the mirror and look into your own eyes. Look past all the physical things you see as flaws and look into your own soul. Realize how beautiful you are, whether you're a man or woman. Realize that you are the only You that there will ever be. Really look at all the amazing gifts inside your heart that are waiting to be given. God spoke to me through that. I get so easily frustrated on the surface and about the surface. I have trouble looking into my own soul and seeing beauty. But God does. He sees beauty because he made me...God looks at his creation and says, "It is good." The old phrase, "God don't make junk" is really true, but how do we make that connection between our heads and our hearts to really, truly believe it?

It's got to be a God thing. Without constantly hearing His truth, it's so easy to fall into the "not-good-enough" trap. Truthfully, NO ONE is good enough and no one ever will be, but he makes us good enough. I can tell when I'm not in my usual habit of just talking to him all day long, like I would any other friend. When I am not in that zone and I lose my connection with the Vine, I fall into being hyper critical of myself and others. I get angered easily. I seem to forget that everyone has value and beauty and life inside them. In those times, I quickly reach the end of my rope. I get impatient and critical with my kids. I get exasperated really fast and I have trouble letting go of wrongs.

The one thing that keeps my chin up and gives me hope, though, is that I'm actually starting to realize when I am heading that direction and I'm learning to head it off at the pass. I don't always catch myself before I go too far, but I'm starting to make that connection sooner and more often than I used to. It's a process. I have to learn to cut myself some slack. I have to learn that his mercies are new every morning and that every day is a new beginning and a divine "do-over"--a chance to make things right.

So I hope that, if you haven't already, you start on the journey of learning to love who you are at your core--at the very center of who God made you to be. It truly does not matter what you look like. There IS beauty inside every human being, even though some have lost sight of it. I believe that if everyone really knew how beautiful they are and how beautiful everyone else is, there would be no selfishness, no critical attitudes, no self-loathing, no bigotry. Someday. I know it won't happen in this lifetime, but someday. Keep your chin up and at least start on your own path. In my opinion, gratitude is the best way to force yourself to see your blessings, so...

I'm grateful for...

An encouraging friend. I have lots of encouraging friends, but sometimes God puts the right words in one of their mouths (or fingers, if they're typing) for just the right time. My friend, Jai, is an incredibly uplifting and encouraging person, and I'm blessed to have met her when I was a kid. The fact that I still get to know her is a wonderful blessing.

Sunsets. Tonight's is beautiful. I can see it from where I'm sitting at "the office" and it helps me to remember that there is beauty above all the mess in the world.

The Office. Not the show, the place. Panera is my "office"...I make use of it as often as I can. Cheap coffee and free Wi-Fi. Can't beat that. It does count as an actual blessing, thank you very much.

Long walks. I took one this morning. The sky was cloudy and gray, but my spirit made a connection with his Spirit and I felt a lot of relief from the crap I've been feeling. I walked it off...like a sprained ankle.

My husband. He's a good guy who puts up with a lot.

My kids. They're good kids who put up with a lot, too. And yet they continue to love me and think I'm the greatest because they don't yet know any better. *sigh* I hope when that day comes where they know better, that they won't be too disappointed in the way I parented them. They're awesome kids with sweet spirits.

People-watching. I love it. It's relaxing and I would do it all day if I could. It gives me a glimpse into the lives of other humans. I love watching their facial expressions, their body language, hearing their laughter and eavesdropping on their conversations. Humans are fascinating. It's a blessing to be able to connect with other random people, even if it's a one-sided connection. It makes a person feel less alone in the world.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Gratitudes and Thoughts--May 10, 2010

Romans 8:15-18--"
For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, 'Abba, Father.' The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory."

I just watched Oprah on TiVo...don't shudder. I like some of the things she features on her show. So there.

In this case, it was a follow-up on the story of the four New Jersey boys who were adopted into a family through the foster care system, but then their adoptive parents starved and abused them. The photo of them during this time in their lives is heartbreaking. They were incredibly emaciated, they were tiny because of the malnutrition and their eyes were sad...how parents could do that to kids is something I will never understand. However, since they were found in that home 4 years ago, their lives have changed completely. They have been placed with adoptive parents who not only feed and clothe them, but they love the boys as their own. The mother said that she doesn't think of them as kids that she picked up from the courthouse because she feels as though she birthed them and that they're HER babies.

To me their new parents represent God's heart. No matter where we come from, once we're in his family we are HIS kids and he treats us as such. The world can abuse us and we can abuse ourselves, but as soon as we accept his invitation to join his family, we have a home. We have a place to call our own. Adopted children have the same legal rights as natural children. We have the same right to an inheritance. Romans 8:15-18 says we have the "spirit of adoption". I think that's pretty amazing. We have no reason to be slaves to fear because we are his children.

I know a lot of people KNOW this, but they know it in an abstract, far-off way. They don't really consider God to be their father. Maybe some have had bad relationships with their fathers, so they've put that onto God. They don't think of him as anything other than the "big guy upstairs" who's waiting to go at us with a big stick if we mess up. I've never thought of God that way. I'm fortunate enough to have had a strong connection to God my whole life, even as a child. I never worried that he didn't love me. I never felt like he wouldn't provide for me or my family. I never thought that he may be out to get me...I just always assumed that the way God presented himself was exactly who he was/is. Knowing that not everyone has had that same experience makes me feel privileged, on one hand, but it also gives me the desire to help other people realize that they can know him this way, too.

I know that God is who he says he is. For a long time, I went by what my parents said and the example they gave. Yes, when I was a child, my parents made it a point to make sure that I knew as much as I could about God. However, I'm a firm believer in the fact that you're not born into having a relationship with him...no matter what your parents do or how you're raised, you have to know God for yourself. I began carving out my own relationship with him when I was a little girl and I've never looked back. I've never been perfect. I've made huge mistakes. I've made bad choices and I've seen the darkness in my own heart more times that I'd like to recall...but God has never rejected me. I've never felt unloved or misunderstood. He has always known me.

He's teaching me that being his child has its privileges. I will never be abandoned or neglected or lacking in anything. I know that I'm blessed to know him. I know that really, truly knowing his heart for me is helping me to learn humility and contentment. If God is for me, who can be against me?

I hope you remember that you have nothing to fear. Fear is just as much a choice as any other emotion, so don't let it enslave you. You are adopted by the heart of the true Father and nothing will separate you from his love. No matter what your parents were like, God has the ability to cut through the crap and show you who he really is. Ask him to do it. He's been misrepresented by those who don't truly know him, so that's why it's important to carve out your own relationship with him. Only you can truly know who he is to you, so take the time to get to know him more...or start over from the beginning. A strong foundation is the most important part of any relationship.

I'm grateful for...

Making new friends out of old family. While we were in VA this past weekend, we got to spend time with my long, lost cousin and his family. I don't think I've seen him since I was around 12 or 13, so being able to see his family, his wife and kids, was a real treat.

Flexibility. I'm learning to be more flexible in my life and I'm thankful that my lifestyle allows me to do that. I hope I continue to learn that being flexible keeps me from breaking.

Chocolate. Shallow, yes, but I don't care.

Things could be worse. You know, no matter how bad you have it, someone always has it worse. While sympathizing with the person who has it worse is a good thing, realizing how blessed you are is a great thing.

Kids with personalities. My kids make me laugh. Sometimes people don't let their kids talk to other adults for fear that they'll say something inappropriate or they'll talk endlessly about nothing. I think, though, that watching the way my kids interact with other people is just another way for me to get to know them. Sometimes I see sides of them that I don't normally see and I appreciate new things about them. So I'm enjoying the opportunities I have to let them loose on the world.

Sean's layoff. He's laid off starting today and that means that he's around more. He is choosing to consider it a paid vacation...while he's not getting paid as much as he normally does, he's off work for a little while. He'll probably have a new job soon, so we're enjoying this time while we have it.

Gratitude. I've learned a lot about myself and my life by choosing to be grateful. It's literally changed my life. I hope you can try it, too.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Gratitudes and Thoughts--May 6, 2010

Life is good. I have been thinking more about the idea of pruning. In my life, sometimes it's God doing the pruning, and other times he leaves it to me. Deep down, if we have some discernment, we often know what's good for us, and we also know what isn't good for us. Many times we don't want to admit it, especially if we're attached to what is bad for us or to the branches in our lives that have died. While God sees the bigger picture and can easily remove things and issues and people from our lives, sometimes he leaves it up to us to make the decision. With God's help, making the choice to prune dead branches from your life gives you the ability to own your life and your choices.

People constantly blame God, other people or they blame the enemy for the bad situations in which they find themselves or for the bad decisions they have made. With people like that, it's NEVER their fault. When God allows us to prune off the dried up or toxic branches, it forces us to take ownership of our mistakes and of the realization that not all the things we're growing out of us are healthy.

God is a good gardener. The Bible likens him to a vineyard keeper. It also likens him to a vine. If we remain part of him and keep our connection to the life flowing through him, we will inevitably grow, but because we're connected to him it will also become obvious to us what things in our lives we will need to let go of. I think that's why he gives us the object lessons in nature. Seeing the ideas of growth and death in nature help us to realize how simple they are. It comes down to this--the more dead branches there are on a plant, the more slowly it will grow and the more likely it is that it will die.

Are you planted in healthy soil or is it toxic? Are you bearing fruit? If not, examine your life and take notice what things are in need of a little pruning...or a lot of pruning. You'll be better for it. Dead branches, even though they're dead, still divert nutrients from the part of the plant that it alive. PRUNE! We all have things we can get rid of. God is good. He's more than happy to help when we need it. Ask him what to do.


I'm grateful for...

Amazing weather. The past few days have been LOVELY and it's really helped me in my effort to pick up my mood and stop my self-pity party.

Cyber school. We're almost finished with first grade. I can't believe it and I'm so excited for Liam that he's progressing so quickly.

Brendan. He has his really upset moments, but he is such a joyful kid. He loves a good belly laugh and he knows that it's infectious. When he laughs, I smile every time.

Weddings. I love weddings, and I also love photographing them. I did one this past weekend with Don Orkoskey and it allowed me the opportunity to get back into the photographer frame of mind and to get out of my creative slump. Winter is so hard for me because I feel so "blah" and uncreative. It's Springtime and it's wedding season again. Yay!

Painted nails. Shallow, I know, but having my fingers and toes all pretty makes me feel a little more put together and makes me a little more perky.

Flowers. My first rosebud is popping out and I can't believe the joy that gives me. Seeing my plants (especially my flowers) grow is a really satisfying feeling...I can kind of see how God feels. Soon I'll be able to have my daily flower in my hair. Flowers really are the best accessories.

I am happy to see Springtime. I hope you are, too, and that you can experience it's effects in your life. Springtime, for me, means hope, new growth, a fresh start. I like feeling like God gives us a yearly do-over. Take advantage of it. Hold on to God and don't let go.