Heart in the Clouds

Monday, September 27, 2010

Grateful - September 27, 2010

My friend, Beth, asked me to guest write/ghost write a couple of times on her blog while she was away. She has the goal of writing 365 gratitude blogs in a year, and she didn't want to give up on that goal just because she was away for the week. So she asked me and a couple of other people to write for her. And we did!

I was honored to do it and I hope I did her proud.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Grateful - September 21, 2010

One of the many things I've been thinking about recently is how my perception of "nominal Christians" (or Christians in name only) has drastically changed over time. I used to think of them only as people who didn't go to church. You know how when you were a little kid in Sunday school and you'd hear the adults talking in hushed tones about so-and-so who didn't make it to church except on sacred holidays...THAT'S what I always thought of as a "nominal Christian". Turns out, though, that I'm starting to notice that there can be a lot more nominal Christians IN church than there may be outside of it.

It's pretty easy to hide in church. It's easy to go to the Sunday service, hear some cool music, listen to the message from the minister and then head home for lunch. Nothing is really required of us except attendance and the appearance of interest. However, I have seen people with some of the deepest relationships with God and some of the most truthful and honest, faith-filled lives living OUTSIDE of church. Many of those people have either been disillusioned by the idea of "church" as we have known it in the past, or they have realized that, even though church can be awesome, it isn't a requirement for a heart-to-heart relationship with the Creator...which is true.

Yes, I firmly believe in the idea of "the fellowship of the believers" and the fact that hanging out with other people who love God and want to know him more can build you up as a person and can strengthen you in your Christian walk. I just don't think that it HAS to look like what we've made church out to be. It doesn't have to look like THIS ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ys4Nx0rNlAM )! Yeah, it's meant to be funny, but it really caused me to think long and hard about the sadness I felt when I watched it. Many of us can recognize our churches somewhere in that video. The truth is, church as we know it can be the one thing that turns people away...sad, but true. I think that in our struggle to make church relevant to our 21st century society, we have made it irrelevant to the kingdom of God.

Thus, I am trying to be as loving and as non-judgmental as I can be as I try to figure out why God has been speaking to me about these things. They aren't concepts that would have come to my mind on my own, so they are coming to me for a reason. I think God is really trying to get me to rethink what I want out of this Christian life and what I want from the relationships with the people who are my church. If church doesn't have real, honest relationships that are fruitful and go deeper than the surface, it's not what God intended. I feel like there's a HUGE shaking coming and I want to have my heart ready for the changes that God is going to bring about. In 100 years, I don't think church is going to look ANYTHING like it does now...and I TRULY hope it doesn't. Food for thought.

Today, I'm grateful for...

Norrain. She's encouraging and she's the one who reminds me when I've gotten behind on my gratitudes. Truthfully, I think about how grateful I am every day, but somehow writing about it makes it more real. I'm grateful for Norrain who thinks that reading my gratitude list is like having a morning coffee and a chat with me, despite the fact that we're an ocean apart.

Sunshine. The past few days have been beautiful. The sky has been a clear, bright blue. Seeing the tops of the colorful trees up against the sky is something that makes me happy inside. Even though the changing colors of the leaves means that Summer is truly coming to an end, I love the colors of Fall and I'm going to make it a point to enjoy it. Sunshine always helps.

Daily walks. Yes, I'm still doing them when I can. I have been trying to keep it to 5 days a week, if not more. I feel better when I walk and I feel like I have more energy to get through the rest of the day. God speaks to me without fail and I have the opportunity to mull over the things he's been speaking.

Craziness. Seriously, the past 2 weeks have been non-stop insanity. My brain has not been at rest once. For someone who values peace, it's a hard time. But just waking up every morning and having the ability to jump into the craziness with both feet is a blessing. Every breath, every hour of constant movement, every new morning--all of it is a blessing. I am making the daily choice to see this period of crazy activity and busy-ness as a gift from God. I'm alive, right? :) Just because I'm busy doesn't mean I can't have peace.

Living drama-free. I know that there are people who don't get why I have made the choice to cut drama, and those who create it, out of my life. But I have to say that God has been behind it from the get-go. I prayed for a long time about wanting God to help me with my negative attitude. He answered. First, he inspired me to start acknowledging my gratitude and to really grasp what it means to be truly thankful. You can't be grateful and negative at the same time. Second, he brought it to my attention that, as a Responder, I get easily sucked into other people's negativity and gossip...I hate that. It's toxic. So he spoke to me about cutting all of that out of my life. Yeah, there are times when I need to vent and let out my emotions and other people need to do that, too, but I have asked God to show me who I can trust and who I can't. He's been very specific about who I shouldn't trust. Thus, the pruning has been gradually taking place. When God shows me that I can't trust someone, I listen. It would be much easier to just maintain the status quo and leave things as they are, but I feel like God is moving me into a new stage of life and he has a plan to get me there. This is the beginning, and letting go of the things that hold me back is a part of moving forward. Living drama-free can be lonely sometimes, but because I know that God is in it, I know he'll bring the right people to me.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Grateful - September 11, 2010

I already know that so many things I feel every year on this day have already been said a million times over by other people. Whenever I watch video of that day nine years ago and the events that occurred, it is just as fresh and raw to me as it was then. I was profoundly and deeply affected by the deaths of people I didn't know, just because they were my fellow countrymen and women. At the time, I was living in Canada for what I knew to be an indefinite period of time, and while I lived only a little over an hour away from the Canada/US border, it could have been a million miles in my heart. I felt sad, angry, homesick, anxious, worried, hopeful, fearful and I was glued to the American news networks because I wanted to feel the comraderie of the American spirit, even though that spirit had been attacked.

Because of 9-11, I was brought into a time of re-examining my life, and every year on this day I still take the time to think about life and how much I have to be grateful for.

Today, I am grateful for...

Remembrance. You have to remember life-changing moments, whether they are good or bad. I feel that reminding ourselves of the worst events can make us more focused on the good.

Breathing. Though none of us knows when our last breath will take place, I am grateful that I have breath in my lungs and I am alive.

Tears. I relive the events of 9-11 more often than once a year, but especially today, I cry for the lives lost and the millions of lives affected by those losses. I cry for the heroes and the victims. I cry for the loss of my illusions of peace and love in the world. God changed me for the better through 9-11 and in the years since, but I will always remember this day with tears. Always. I hope I never forget.

My country. No matter how bad it feels like it's getting here sometimes, I will always, always, always be grateful for my country and I will always be proud to be an American.

My children. They are one of my daily reminders that life goes on and that there is hope.


Health. It's a basic thing, but it's not something everyone has.

God. I can't even tell you how grateful I am that God has me in his hands. I would have lost myself and lost my mind if I didn't have Him. Some people who don't believe in Him say that God is a "crutch" for those who do believe. I don't think there's anything wrong with that. We're all wounded in some way or another and having God as the thing that stabilizes us when we're wounded is a simple, yet profound visual. I don't have to prove that I'm strong because I already know that without him, I'm nothing.

Friends...one in particular. Nine years ago today, I was online and I happened into a Yahoo chat room. Everyone was talking about what had happened, where they were and what their thoughts were. There was fear, there was anger and there was deep sadness. In the middle of the chaos, I met a guy named Chris. I didn't know him, obviously, but in the middle of all the noise that was going on in my head, he was the voice of reason. He spoke comforting words and he spoke hope. I have no doubt that God orchestrated the chance meeting. We have kept in touch over the last nine years, sending the occasional e-mail to say Hello and give updates on our families and the happenings in our lives. It may not seem like a big deal to some people, but God brought a calming influence into my life when I was alone and anxious about what each new day after 9-11 would bring. I will always be grateful for Chris. Even though he didn't know it, he was a vessel that God used and I am thankful for him.

My hope is that you know that there IS hope. There is a promise of peace in the storm. God never promised that we would be successful or rich, or that everything in our lives would go well all the time. He DID, however, promise that he would be with us and that he would never leave us. He promised us peace in the struggle, hope in the hopeless times and comfort in the chaos.

(The above photo is not mine. I found it online and I thought it was incredibly profound...never forget.)

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Grateful - September 9, 2010

I am getting used to the "You're a crazed maniac" look people give me when I tell them that my favorite times in life recently have been the times when Sean has been laid off from work. Someone asked me (with that look in their eye), "What about money? Don't you worry that you won't have enough?" No, I don't worry! We've never gone hungry. We've never been without our basic needs. In fact, we ended up with the same amount of money in the bank during this last couple of months as we had during the last few weeks when he was working. That's probably because we're pretty good at tightening our belts during the slow times, but it's also because God brings in opportunities for us to make money EVERY SINGLE TIME. God is beyond faithful to us...always.

So Sean just got called up for a 6-week job working on the plumbing at a power plant. While I know that it will give him decent money and will help us build up our account in preparation for the next layoff, I was (admittedly) bummed. Honestly, I almost cried. I have SO enjoyed the time we've had together as a family. I've loved having all my fellas together and I've loved the feeling that all is right with the world. Sean has enjoyed being home with us, too, and he's been able to get work done on the other house. I know that wishing for more time probably seems selfish to other people, but that's okay.

I can say, though, that I think the main thing I've learned during this time is not to wait for layoffs to try to make memories as a family. I've always had the struggle of learning to enjoy the "in-between" times just as much as I enjoy the opportunities God brings for us to do fun things and to have real, quality time together as a family. Life is short. I am learning to make the most of every chance we get to spend good time together. I hope to hold that thought. God has been more than faithful to us. We have a great family--immediate AND extended. We have wonderful kids. We have many multiple small blessings that God piles on us every day. We are wealthy where it counts.

All that to say that I am going to try to be just as grateful for this job opportunity as I have been for the quality time we've been able to spend together as a family. And while I look forward to the next layoff, I am going to make it a point to find the silver lining in every situation.


Today, I'm grateful for...

A happy preschooler. Brendan had a wonderful time during his first day in preschool. He is looking forward to tomorrow. That makes me happy. While I knew that he would like school, it warmed my heart when I walked into the classroom and he yelled, "MAMA!" and ran to me. Even though he's turning into a big boy, I hope it's a long time before he starts to think that loving his mommy isn't "cool".

A great first week of 2nd grade. Liam and I have had a great time during this first week. It's been mainly review and the introduction of a few new concepts, so it's been pretty easy. I've been trying to develop more of a cheerful, "teachery" attitude about it and I've noticed a difference in my level of patience. I am going to try to make it a point to pray together before we start each day. God is faithful if we let him into our little mundane lives. (Liam also got promoted to the next

A lunch date with my husband. I'm grateful that we are good friends, as well as all the other perks that come with marriage. Today, we went for Indian and just sat and talked. It was fun and I loved having some quality time.

My parents. I'm incredibly grateful for my parents, who are always so helpful with our kids when Sean and I need to go places together, or when we just need an extra person to ferry the kids to different places. They're also fun people to talk to...I think everyone should want to hang out with my parents! :)

The beginning of football season. I bet it probably sounds dumb to you, but I love football. It makes me happy. If you're not a football fan, move to Pittsburgh and I guarantee that you will be a convert. There are NO fans like Pittsburgh fans. GO, STEELERS!

The opportunity to shoot a beautiful wedding. I got to be one of the two photographers at Ashlee and Dan Pelczar's wedding. What a fun group of people! I know I have said it already, but the people at their reception had a handle on what a joyous occasion a wedding is supposed to be. I laughed aloud MANY times and I got teary-eyed along with them during the emotional moments. It was lovely and it was another reminder of how amazing it is when two people meet and come together in love for the rest of their lives. Love is a gift.

My hope is that you realize that it's no good for you just to exist between the great times. Living every moment means choosing to be grateful, even during the times when you wonder why life seems so screwed up. The moment you fall asleep tonight is the last you will see of this day...it's never going to come around again, so it is your choice what you do with it. So my challenge for you is to make the best of as many moments as you can. God is faithful to do what he promised, so even when it looks like he has no idea what he's doing, be grateful anyway. Things will get better.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Grateful - September 3, 2010

I've been thinking...don't act surprised. I can see why Solomon asked God for wisdom instead of riches or any of the other things he COULD have asked for. Sometimes I feel that wisdom is the one thing I'd ask for if I had to pick something. I think it is the key to all the other things you can dream of. If God gives us wisdom, along with that comes discernment, gratitude and good judgment. In the Bible (Proverbs 1:7), it says, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." In this case, the word "fear" doesn't mean being afraid, it means being in awe and reverence--it is realizing who is responsible for all of creation, and realizing who it is that can tame your inner beast if you allow Him.

I don't know much, but I do know that gratitude has unlocked a lot of spiritual doors in my life. I've felt so thankful for everything that there have been many moments when I didn't care what God did, as long as it made me more like Him. I have felt convicted. I have felt sad about the way I've thought or acted. I've had God tell me to shut my mouth. However, in his infinite mercy, He has lifted my head over and over again, and allowed me to look at the love in His eyes. Do I still do and say crappy things now and again? Yes, I do. But God teaches me something from every mistake I make. Learning from your mistakes with God's help is how you get wisdom. The fool is the one who keeps doing the same dumb things over and over again and never learns a thing from it...that's how dysfunctional patterns develop. I am asking God to get rid of my foolishness and give me wisdom. If that means learning from my many mistakes and accepting them, that's okay with me.

Today, I'm grateful for...

Summer. I refuse to give up on Summer, even though we're back in school. It's always a time of joy for me and it's my "happy thought" during the Winter season.

Friends. Whether it's making new ones or keeping up with old ones, I am so grateful for the people in my life whom I can trust. Real, true "bosom friends" (thank you, Anne Shirley) are a gift from God. They are the type of people with whom you can pick up where you leave off. If you have those types of people in your life, cherish them.

A happy husband. He has been looking forward to his portage trip for the last year. Seeing him giddy and excited about venturing back into nature makes me happy.

Reflection. Sometimes, watching my kids go through things and come to certain realizations in their own little lives gives me pause to reflect. Liam passed his karate belt promotion test today, but he came out of the testing upset that he didn't do everything perfectly. I told him that I was insanely proud of him, whether he got the next belt or not. I wish he wasn't so hard on himself, but now that I have had time to think about it, I can see myself in him. I don't want to do something unless I already know I can do it well. I am incredibly hard on myself when I fail. I'm harder on myself than I am on anyone else...sigh. God loves me anyway and He's insanely proud of me, whether I succeed at something or whether I fail. God teaches us deep things through our children.

Cool nights. What I love about September is that the days are hot, but the nights are cool. For those of us without air conditioning, this is a wonderful time. :)

Bible lessons. I think one of the main reasons there are so many books in the Bible about specific people is so that we can learn that everyone has successes and failures in their lives and they are still considered God's beloved. Those people we see as the "Fathers of the Faith" made some really dumb moves in their time. All of those stories, though, are tied up with the ribbon of God's grace. God had grace for them and he has the same grace for us.

My hope is that you learn from my shortcomings and cut yourself a little slack. I'm trying to learn to do it, too. You don't have to be perfect. You are loved as you are, but God has promised to make you a better version of yourself if you let Him. Perfection isn't required and, really, the more you strive for it, the more it evades your grasp. Just be who you are. God knows you. He loves you. He won't leave you if you make a mistake. He is slow to anger and rich in love.