Heart in the Clouds

Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year!

(Sunrise on the last morning of 2012)

I found this quote this morning as I was searching for thoughts about the new year. Words to ponder:

"We spend January 1 walking through our lives, room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched. Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives...not looking for flaws, but for potential."
- Ellen Goodman

Earlier this month, I wrote down some of my resolutions for 2013. Because I know that most typical resolutions fail miserably, I am resolving to do things like laugh more and spend more time with my family.

So many people use New Years Eve to look at themselves and think,

"This year, I need to lose this weight and THEN I'll be happy with myself."

"This year, I need to stop spending so much money and THEN I'll be satisfied."

"This year, I need to stop blah blah blah..."

While many resolutions are good goals, and they are readily achievable with the right mindset, there will always be the post-achievement letdown where we realize that happiness is a choice, not necessarily a list of achievements.

I am changing my view on what I want to see in my life and making it positive. Instead of thinking about all the things I need to take out of my life, I'm thinking about all the things I want to add into my life.

Instead of wasting my time imagining more ways to lose more weight, it's healthier to think about how I can add more smart practices INTO my life. Things that can make me a happier and healthier person all around, rather than just making me into a weight loss "after" photo. Instead of eating a burger and fries for lunch, maybe today I'll make a yummy spinach omelette with garlic hot sauce, or instead of taking the elevator up only two flights of stairs, I'll walk. Individual healthy choices and substitutions add up. If it becomes about denying yourself for an extended period of time, statistically, you will eventually fail. Human nature.

Learn to love who you are as you are now, and think of ways to add to the wonderful person you already are. Balance.

Instead of just thinking, "I need to get better at time management," I'm thinking about how I can add more positive, joyful and peaceful experiences INTO my life. How can I add in more opportunities for using my creative energy or chances to spend quality time with friends? Maybe I can actually do a few more of those things I've pinned on Pinterest. Maybe I can focus on creating more time to see the people I care about, and laughing with them and enjoying their company. Maybe I can help someone else achieve a dream.

This time next year, I want to be able to say I'm becoming a better version of myself. What are the areas where I want to grow and develop? What do I have in me that I can share with other people? What are the gifts I have that I can give?

This year, make resolutions that will add value to your life and the lives of those around you. As humans, we are generally happiest when we feel like our lives have value and depth.

Spiritual simplicity, health and value. That's what I want in my life this year and it's what I wish for all of you.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas Eve Eve

What Christmas is all about...

This is the first Christmas in a few years where I've truly felt the "Christmas Spirit"...last year felt like nothing to me, and I think I completely missed the whole thing, emotionally. I was hyper-focused on all the things that made me anxious, and I wasn't myself. 

This year, I'm reveling in all the things that make up Christmas for me. I'm loving the baking. I'm loving the present wrapping. I'm loving every minute of our time off school. I'm loving the Christmas lights and the cheesy Christmas movies. I'm loving the excitement of my kids. I'm loving the feeling that everything is going to be okay in the end and that God is the focus.  

The tragedy of last week reminded me that I really can't prepare for every eventuality. I can't do anything about putting off my last day or that of anyone I love. I likely won't wake up on my last day and know that it's my last. The mother of the killer and all the other victims of his senseless crime had no idea that they'd be waking up to their last day.

Surrendering to the unknown and giving up control of my life is hard for me. But I know that the idea of control is really only in my mind. There are so many variables I'll never be able to corral or make manageable. 

So I'm going to wring every bit of Christmas spirit and New Year newness out of this holiday season. I'm going to try my best to savor all the moments I missed emotionally last year. I'm going to show kindness and try to be understanding. I want my heart to be full and not empty and the only way I can do that is to keep from wasting precious energy and time on negativity and toxic people. 

I can surrender myself to this season and to the God who gave a part of Himself for me. I can open my heart to the knowledge that my life is in His hands. I can remember to savor life because it is fleeting. I can remind myself to hug my kids a little longer and kiss their cheeks a few more times a day than I normally do.

I'm not going to miss it this time around. I have goals for the coming year, but they all are part of the idea of learning to really live in simplicity. In this new phase, I want to go deeper. I feel that that desire is something I have gained by enduring such a difficult time in the last couple of years. 

It's time to move forward, keeping my eyes on the things that are unchangeable. I've begun to learn what it means to die to myself and yet to learn to love myself. I've also learned how important it is to stand up for the things I value. My life is in God and I'm setting my heart on things above, on the place where I belong. This life isn't my end, but knowing that makes me want to experience the richness of what life can be.

Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.--Colossians 3:2-3

My prayer for all of you is that you can let go of the hindrances in your way, and be open to the newness of life and the feeling of turning a new page in your existence. Every day is an opportunity to make a new start. Don't worry about pleasing people, but seek to be kind. Don't be afraid to rock the boat, but keep a tender heart. I'm gradually becoming my true, contended self, and I wish that for all of you, too. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


I've been thinking the last few days about the things I had resolved to do this year--which things I lived out, and which I didn't. I'm thinking now about what I want for myself for the coming year.

First, though, let me explain something.

This year has been an incredibly difficult one for me. In fact, the last year and a half have been the hardest and most emotionally tumultuous of my entire life thus far. I have been low. Very, very low. What David Gray calls "way down." http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RHNC_9jNnG0

Storm cloud (iPhone photo)

I had long stretches of time where I questioned my faith daily, even hourly. I was anxious and fearful and sad and dark. I had entire days where I was anxious (to the point of actually trembling in a cold sweat) about things that were likely never to happen. I felt the cloud when I went to bed, and I felt it as soon as I opened my eyes in the morning. I had bouts of insomnia, and the whole thing was like I was in a maze at a dead end. 

I hid most of it from people, but inside of me it felt like quicksand and it was threatening to take me under if I moved. I was stuck in a constant sense of impending doom. It probably sounds a bit dramatic, but it's exactly how I felt. In many ways, I experienced the feeling that I was no longer myself, and I was afraid that I would never be "me" again.

About two months ago, though, the cloud lifted. With no warning and for no apparent reason, I was fine. The anxiety was gone. I felt like myself again, and I could not believe the lightness.

So I have, in some ways, lost this whole past year and a half to anxiety. I tried medication, but it made things worse. I tried reading my Bible and praying. I tried thinking of my gratitudes. I tried talking it out with people I trusted. I tried distracting myself with fitness and running and exercise. Nothing worked to ease it.

When the cloud lifted, though, this Scripture sprang to my mind:

"I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten..."
Joel 2:25

Sunrise from my back porch (iPhone photo)

What does that mean? I'm still trying to figure out what I have gained from this desert experience. But I can now relate to people who struggle with anxiety and I have a deep compassion for them. I know that it's not something they can just control. I appreciate waking up in the morning and taking a deep breath, and not experiencing a flood of irrational fears. I am so thankful that I photographed so many things, family and friends, because I barely remember half of it.

So I'm going to resolve a few things for 2013. They may not be your typical "New Years Resolutions," but I need simple and I need to get back to the basics.

1. I'm going to laugh more. Laughter truly is the best medicine and I appreciate a good laugh more now than I ever have. Feel free to make me laugh...it's a dare.

2. I'm going to learn all I can about everything I can. I have to say, going through 4th grade again with my son in cyber school, I am learning a lot of things I had forgotten! 

3. I'm going to practice living and loving with my whole heart, spiritually and otherwise.

4. I'm going to think less about calories and weight, and focus myself on being the healthiest and happiest ME that I can be. I want to still be here, healthy enough to see my great-grandchildren. If that means being a little fluffier, so be it. You can be fit AND a little fluffy. I want to have a healthy, happy heart--physically and emotionally.

5. I'm going to travel more with my husband and kids when we can. This year, we bought a little camper and we set out for Arizona, pulling the camper behind us. It's a trip that all of us will remember. Did the kids bicker with each other on an almost-hourly basis? Yes. Did we lose our patience on an almost-hourly basis? Yes. But it's one of the best things we've done as a family, and I want to do it again. 

From one of our hikes in Sedona, AZ (iPhone photo)

So there you have it. My 5 resolutions for the coming year. I'm praying that God will direct me in all the things I need to do to reach these "goals"...they're not really goals, I guess, though, because none of them has an end point. There will be no real measure of success. But that's okay. I'm going to roll with it.


This woman, Brene Brown, is a researcher 
who talks about the keys to living "wholeheartedly."
I enjoyed hearing what she had to say. She is part of the TED Talks lectures.


A couple of recommendations for those who have Netflix
or an equivalent:

This documentary, "America the Beautiful 2", 
is a great one about what "healthy" is and what it's not. It's also about
the North American obsession with being thin.
Here's the trailer:

I LOOOOVED this documentary. 
It's called "How to Live Forever: Results May Vary." In it, elderly people, 
some of them over 100 years old, share their secrets for living a long life. It also
talks about people's obsession with aging. I smiled many times.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

10 years. I can't believe it.

On the eve of my son, Liam's, 10th birthday, the day he forever leaves the single digits behind, I have found the blog post I wrote about him on his 7th. I realized I can't say it better than I did that day. 

Liam had an AWESOME birthday. He was happy all day. He felt special. He felt remembered and loved. That's all a parent wants when celebrating their child's birthday. He's a great kid. He doesn't ask for much. He doesn't expect attention every five seconds, but I love to give it to him because he is such a wonderful kid. He's incredibly bright, he's animated, he's curious, he's sweet and genuinely cares about others. I'm so proud of him, and I pray every day that I can be as good a Mama as he always tells me I am.

I sometimes get flashes or little glimpses of the man he's going to be someday, and I get chills because I see the potential in him. I didn't know what to expect when he was born. I had no idea that that little baby would make ME a better person. I didn't realize that he was a tool that God would use to teach me patience, gentleness and how to receive love. No one on earth has ever loved me as unconditionally as Liam has. Kids don't know at this point that they "shouldn't" still like you when you're impatient or when you say discouraging things. He has loved me from Day One and has never stopped. I want to deserve that love, but I always feel like I fall short. God is showing me through Liam that I am deserving of love and that I am worthy.

God is teaching me that HE loves me unconditionally, just like Liam does. God is teaching me through Liam to see the world the way it should be sometimes, instead of through my pessimistic filter of what I think the world is. Liam has taught me to keep my eyes open and keep my hope alive. Liam has reminded me to pray on so many occasions where it wouldn't have been my first instinct. Liam has taught me that it's okay to show that I'm not perfect, and not to apologize for it. Kids don't apologize for what the world might see as their shortcomings...they learn from them and move on to the next thing. I want that.

I'm grateful that God has put Liam in our hands, but hasn't left us alone to raise him. He belongs to God, but I'm so thankful that I get to keep him for a time. The years are flying by. I feel like he was just 3 years old yesterday. I am so blessed to have him because God knew exactly what I needed to learn.

My hope for you is that you remember where you came from and look at how far God has brought you. You are you for a reason. God didn't make a mistake when he made you. He feels even more pride when he looks at you than I do when I look at Liam...it doesn't seem possible to me, but I know that what I experience in the way of parental love is only a tiny glimpse at what God feels for us. I hope you know you're loved.

We had no idea what a blessing we had just received.

He loved to be swaddled and held. He has always loved to be loved.

I can't even explain how much I love this photo. hee hee...
I love this photo of us. So cute. Nicole reminded me of it and I had to add it in.
He has always had smiley eyes and a love of laughter.
So curious and always in awe of tiny things that nobody else would likely notice.
Has loved Brendan since the moment he met him...in this photo he's singing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas", the only lullaby he could think of.
I like to think that he's a mixture of the best things about me and Sean.
He is always asking questions and has been asking them since he could talk...in this photo, he is actually asking a question. I wish I could remember what it was.
He is full of joy.
I hope he never loses his excitement for life.
He likes to dress "fancy", but he likes to look fancy on his own terms. I hope he keeps that ability to march to the beat of his own drummer.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

I'm on fire.

This song came on "Acoustic Sunrise" this morning (Sunday mornings on 100.7 in Pittsburgh). I've always loved the original because I love Springsteen, but this version by John Mayer was kind of elegant.

Ladies and gentlemen, enjoy.


So I'm a lapsed blogger. So what?

I post sporadically when I feel the urge to write. I wish I could be one of those committed bloggers, like my friends Beth and Joe, but I'm usually either feeling blocked or lazy...more often than not, lazy.

I have a lot to say. Often it's in the form of inspirational things I've read or thoughts that have run across my mind, but by the time I actually sit down to craft something out of those fleeting thoughts, they've already escaped me or I talk myself out of voicing them. I tell myself, "Nobody will read this anyway, so why bother?" or "That's not really important enough to put out there for people to read."...you know, that kind of crap.

Recently, Frank Viola put up some information about an upcoming workshop for bloggers and writers and it stirred something in me. I feel like there's a writer still in me somewhere, but I guess I just have to take notice of what it is that inspires her to spring out of her shell.

If you've read any of my more discussion-sparking posts (for instance, this one or this other one), you'll notice that I have a heart for social justice. I have a heart to send out good news rather than negativity. So I suppose I DO know what reaches me, I just don't always think what reaches me will reach other people.

I guess it comes down to making the decision to write down my thoughts whether other people read them or not. I blog for myself, sometimes as a way of venting. The act of writing things out is a great catharsis for my soul.

So the mission I've put myself on for 2013 is to write what my heart is speaking. It will likely be nothing profound. Sometimes it may be a snooze-fest. I don't know. I'm kind of excited about the prospects, though. I feel like there's a buildup of "stuff" in my brain and in my heart and one way to get the dam to break is to take a sledgehammer to it.

Now, to find a sledgehammer...

Me and my little fellas

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Traveling east...

Instead of just writing a post about every single thing I was grateful for in the last few days, 
I will share my iPhone/Instagram photo diary of my trip to NY/NJ this past weekend. 

Even though it was planned months ahead, I wasn't 
even sure I'd be going after the mess of the hurricane, 
but at the last minute it worked out. 
So I hopped the Megabus...$10 for a round trip ticket to NYC. 

Coming into NJ, it was obvious that the hurricane has caused a lot of hassle for millions of people. 
Every open gas station had a mile-long line of cars and a long line of people waiting to fill their gas cans. There were a lot of people along the shore who lost everything. Very sad.

People wait in line to fill their gas cans.

The far right lane was a gas lineup.

NYC in the distance.

Below is a tree right next to my brother's first-floor condo. 
Trees are still down all over the area, which is a reason 
there are so many people still without power.

I was there was to hang out with my brother and his family. 
Who wouldn't be happy seeing these faces in the morning?

(Mollie eating her apples and Caroline, my sister-in-law, in the background.)

(Bill, my brother, getting morning cuddles from my nephew, Ben.)

A while back, Bill was able to get tickets to the Steelers/Giants game, 
so we had been planning this trip around football for months. 
Despite the train/traffic issues related to the aftermath of the hurricane, 
it worked out for us to head to the Meadowlands. 
Brother/sister time is always good, especially if it includes the Steelers!

Bill pretending to be pensive on the train.

Sidenote: Kudos to the NY Giants organization for providing 
shuttle buses for all fans coming from the train station. 
Train schedules were limited, but the shuttle buses were 
quick to board and get moving.It was obvious that the 
bus pickups and dropoffs were well thought out.
Thank you, NY Football Giants!

On the shuttle to the game, we met some fellow Steelers fans 
who had come all the way from the UK. 
They love American football and they consider the Steelers their team. 
They come to the US every year to see the Steelers play in different cities.

Tailgating at MetLife Stadium. 
We got heckled by Giants fans and cheered by Steelers fans.

We got there early enough to see the Steelers warm up. 
Pretty cool that the team decided to come in on the day of the game 
and give up their hotel rooms for people who had nowhere to go after the storm.

And below is the view from the $200 (free to us) seats. A-mazing. 

Great view...AND WE WON! Boy, did that feel good.

The next morning, I spent some time with my brother and his family 
before I headed into the city for a few hours before 
I hopped back on the Megabus for the long ride home.

Here are a few random shots from my time alone in Manhattan, mostly Times Square.

I kind of liked this photo of the guy alone in a crowded city.

 I made it on the big screen. I knew it would happen someday!

Me, on the Times Square steps.

The Fashion District

The Javits Center...across the street from the Megabus pickup location.

The view coming out of the Lincoln Tunnel into New Jersey.

It was a great trip. I had fun seeing family and enjoying another Steelers football experience.
I'm grateful for every moment of this weekend and I'm so thankful that it happened, 
especially because it almost didn't.

Please keep praying for those who will continue to live with the effects of the hurricane, and find a way to help out if you can. There are blanket drives, blood drives, food drives and many other ways to lend a hand, even if you can't be there in person. 

Be a blessing, and be thankful for the love you have around you.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

November begins...

I'm grateful that a cloud has lifted. 
 I'm grateful for the love of my family. 
 I'm grateful for my husband who makes me feel pretty, even when I'm in my PJs for a full day (like today).
I'm grateful for blue sky. I know it's there behind the clouds and I'm beginning to see it.

I'm grateful for this song. I won't say where I heard it (wink), but I loved it instantly. I'm being still.


Wednesday, July 25, 2012


"Standing on Old Ground"--Plaza Mayor, Madrid (Spain)

Today I'm grateful for...

1. Blue sky. It's a gorgeous day. Bright, cloudless, low humidity, beautiful breeze...so great for my soul.

2. Anxiety. Weird to say it because I've only ever told a few people. I struggle with anxiety every day--hourly, at times. I never used to have problems with anxiety, but lately it's been like a flood. But it helps me to empathize with those who are debilitated by it and struggle more than I do. I used to sit in judgment about people who had anxiety issues...I thought they just "weren't letting God be in control." I realize that's not really what it is. Sometimes it's chemical. Sometimes it's situational. Sometimes it's post-traumatic. It's different for everyone. But I'm grateful for my anxiety because it forces me to constantly examine my relationship with God and give it to him as often as I can.

3. Birthdays. I turned 30 again yesterday...hee hee. I normally love my birthday. For various reasons, though, it didn't start out well yesterday, but I decided to change my perspective and ended up having a fun time on a date with my kids. Then my friend treated me to a lovely slice of chocolate cake (with a stripe of cheesecake in it...mmm) and some cute birthday goodies. By the end of the day, it actually FELT more like my birthday. That was nice. I'm grateful for another year.

4. Music. It soothes me. It removes me from whatever hole I'm in and makes me think of other things. Music gives me wings.

5. Dust. Recently, I attended a funeral that was the product of a very sad and difficult situation. It stirred up a lot of things in me, including my anxiety. But I found myself saying, "God, you can make something beautiful out of this." And the song "Beautiful Things" by Gungor came to mind and stayed there. God can make beauty out of the dust and the ashes and the weeds. We just need to be reminded of that fact. God is in our sorrow, just as much as he's in our joy.

I guess what I am learning right now is to trust God. It seems to be a trend in my life, so I must REALLY need to learn it. Trust doesn't come naturally for me, especially when it comes to letting go of things or situations that I can touch or move or manipulate with my own hands. So I'm still learning.

You make me new. You are making me new.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Pattern of This World

"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind."
Romans 12:2

This is a Scripture I've been pondering for the last couple of days. Many Christians relate this Scripture specifically to sin. And it's true--sin IS a pattern. It always has been. But what is the root of all sin? SELF. There are other parts to the pattern, though.

Last night, our discussion at church was about shame and the difference between shame and conviction. A lot of people project their feelings about themselves on to God, assuming that he feels the way about them that they have been made to feel about themselves. A lot of us think that God's desire is to shame us into "good behavior", when that's really a human thing.

God's pattern isn't shame. His pattern for our lives involves the Fruit of the Spirit--love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control. Do you see shame anywhere in there? No. When God reprimands us, he doesn't use shame. Shame is meant to inflict feelings of unworthiness and it's meant to manipulate. But when God speaks into the sinful places in our lives, it's out of love. That's what conviction is.

Shame leads us to close inward. It can be a prison that affects a person for the duration of his life, and can be found at the root of all kinds of addictions. We learn shame. It's not something we're born with. Shame is a hard thing to shake, and it's an easy pattern to fall into, especially when we go through difficult times.

The conviction of the Spirit is love. It's meant to free us and help us escape the prison of shame that could so easily enclose us. Conviction is God saying, "Here's an open door. I know you're struggling, but here's a way of escape. If you follow me, I'll lead you out."

People who live in a pattern of shame are emotionally immature. They struggle with feelings of unworthiness. They never think they're good enough they way they are. They're unable to be happy with themselves as they are in the present time, always thinking "if only." They either feel the need to please and be liked by everyone, or they have a rebellious nature that lashes out in anger when they feel like someone is trying to control them.

Shame is a state of extremes. Shamed people try to belittle others because of their insecurities, and are often tempted to gossip. Unless they learn to break out of it, those who struggle with it stay at the emotional age that they were when shame first entered their lives, and they often live in a pattern of addiction or compulsive behaviors.

Realizing the core difference between shame and conviction can free us from that pattern. The world tells us we're not good enough, but God tells us that He has made us good enough. Shame manipulates us into conforming to a desired pattern (the pattern of this world), but love pulls us out of the box that shame puts us in. If you're feeling shame, that's not God. If you use shame as a means of manipulation, that's not God. If you're feeling like you're not enough, that's not God. If you're feeling unworthy, that's not God.

If we allow Him, God can cut us to fit His pattern. He cuts off all the unnecessary parts--the shame, fear and unworthiness we carry--and sews us together with love to make a whole, beautiful tapestry.

I want to encourage you to take a look at the behavior patterns in your life and see if you notice shame at the core of any of them. If you do, it's not too late to change. God always offers us a way of escape from our insecurities and temptations, if we are able to just listen to the conviction of His Spirit.

It's not going to happen overnight, but it's never too late to escape from a life of shame.

All the way, my Savior leads me...

Monday, April 23, 2012

Random thought for the day...

There are two invaluable things I have learned in the 14 years that Sean and I have been married.

1. Any small object can be somehow fashioned into a toothpick.

2. Any food can be made into a sandwich.