Thursday, April 25, 2013

#Blessed: continued...

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Today was a gorgeous day here in Seattle.  With the clear blue skies revealing the usually masked surrounding mountain ranges – breathtaking!  And then the flourishing greenery and beautiful budding blossoms bursting out everywhere as if in a joyful response to the suns warming rays - it all makes it kind of hard not to walk with a spring in your step and a song in your heart.  Yes, the sun has that effect on me.  The sun makes me feel happy…but then tomorrow will come and it’ll likely all be gone – an unfortunate story that replays like a broken record here in Seattle and also in my life…or is it really unfortunate?  Reading “Stressed-Less Living” by Tracy Miles has got me thinking perhaps not.
My husband and I moved to Seattle from North Idaho right after getting married in the summer of 2000.  It wasn’t necessarily where I’d wanted to be, but it sure beat the heck out of North Idaho, or at least it did to me at the time…I thought…until we actually got there that is.  Having been born in California, I’m a true California girl through and through.  Sunshine makes my heart tick and my feet dance!  I had little to no love and patience for the dreary, wet, gray that greeted me all too many a morn’ in Seattle.  Thankfully, we were able to high tail it outta here to sunny San Diego after just a couple, but seemingly very long years. 
Ah, San Diego, now there’s my kind of paradise.  It especially felt so after having come from the rainforest capital of the northwest!  But what I’m sure you’d really like to know right about now, rather than hearing more about the distaste I’ve had for Seattle, is why am I now living back here if I disliked it so much the first time?  Two things I have to say about that: first, I’ve asked myself that very same question a ton too many times in the last four years we’ve been back, and second, the funny thing that I’ve discovered about saying that you’re never going to do something is that God has a funny way of asking you to do just that; or at least that’s been my experience, but all of that is a whole other story for perhaps another time.  What I’d really like to focus on instead, is what the Lord has been speaking to me through this Stressed-Less journey regarding my attitude about all this Seattle rain.
Here, in what's often referred to as the great northwest, there’s a saying that goes something like: “If you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes or drive five miles and it’ll change.  While it’s meant to be a joke, the reason it’s funny is because there is actually a lot of truth to that.  However, when someone has attached a happy stipulation to the sun, and an unhappy stipulation to the rain, this flip-flop weather pattern suddenly becomes a very un-fun roller coaster of emotional mood swings.  This is definitely not how God has intended for us to live, but rather He says in His Word to, “Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again: Rejoice!” ~Phil 4:4, this being just one of many scriptures I could quote.  Even though I’ve known this for quite some time, I still find myself allowing things as frivolous as the weather, to affect me negatively.  The question is why?  I discovered the answer to that question in the first week of the “Stressed-Less Living” study.
Back when I was living here in Seattle the first time, I was not yet a believer.  I did not become one until just a couple months before moving to San Diego.  It was there, in San Diego, that I heard and learned Col 3:2: “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”  Since then, I’ve lost sight of this truth and my focus on God and instead have allowed the stress of my struggles in life to cause me to start re-focusing on all those “earthly things” and by doing so I’ve lost sight of the many blessings the Lord has poured into my life.  In week one of this study, we were challenged to start a list of five things the Lord has blessed us with, to share that list, and then to add to it throughout our journey as we were made aware of additional blessings.  If you haven’t read my first list, but wish too, you can click here to do so, or read on for the continuation of that list.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Mirror, Mirror

As I’ve sat here on my bed brainstorming ideas for this week’s blog topics, I keep finding myself pausing and staring off in thought, only to then find myself fixating on the full length, double- mirrored closet doors across the room in front of me with the reflection of myself staring right back at me as if obviously, but silently saying, “You already know what you need to write about!”  And of course my reflection's right - I do.  The topic becomes more and more obvious to my mind every time the reflection in those darn mirrors becomes clearer and clearer to my eyes.  The unfortunate thing here is that, what’s also become clearer and clearer, is an anxiousness that is rising in my chest and threatening to overwhelm me with the possibility of sharing this topic so publicly. 
With this anxiousness, the question then arises, should I address a topic for the “Stressed-Less Living” study/book, when doing so causes me to stress?  Again, unfortunately for me, the un-refutable answer to that question is yes because before I started writing I’d prayed for God to lead my pen and not let it go astray, and as many times as I’ve attempted to write on other topics, my mind and gaze keep finding their way back to that mirror and my pen back to that topic…that topic who’s truth looms before me in those mirrors...that topic which is blaringly obvious in the reflection that lies there…that topic in which I’ve continually denied, but can no longer hide…the truth that I’ve had a difficult time admitting openly, though I’ve already admitted it to myself long ago…alright, out with it already! – I am a stress-eater and as a result I’m over weight.  There.  I said it.
It hasn’t always been this way – me eating in response to the stress in my life.  In fact, it used to be the opposite.  In my college years there was a point that I'd became as thin as a rail as a result of not wanting to eat when stressed, but that’s all definitely changed now.  The question is why?  What changed, and when?  Well, as Tracie says on page 49 of “Stressed-Less Living,” “In order to embark on the journey of turning our stressors over to God and letting him replace them with peace, we must first figure out exactly what those stressors really are.”  Which is exactly what reading this book and participating in this study is doing for me and, as it turns out, it's leading to having to take a hard look into a mirror from my past – one from four years and nine months ago to be exact – the time in which I became pregnant with my daughter.
During that time, there just so happened to be many stressors in my life.  Just a few months before, we had made the major decision to pack everything up and leave sunny San Diego to return to our home area in North Idaho.  This was something we’d felt led by God to do, but it also meant a lot of emotional stress by forcing me to come face to face with the past I’d been running from for so long.  In moving, we also found ourselves faced with an uncertain financial picture, as my husband went from being a regularly paid employee to self-employed in what turned out to be a fast dying market.  It also left us with no health insurance (not at all stressful when pregnant with your first baby), and required my husband to have to travel out of state (which meant being gone for weeks at a time) to get enough work to stay afloat. 
Then there was an old neck injury I had acquired years before in a car accident, which conveniently and suddenly flared up just weeks before becoming pregnant, and with it came the unwanted and equally inconvenient advice of my chiropractor to cease all exercise until he could get things back in check – problem being, pregnancy doesn’t really lend itself to fixing spinal injuries.  It’s actually pretty good at the opposite!  And here I am still, almost five years later, and I have yet to be freed from that flare up and have since been told that a lot of the exercise restriction will remain for life (the injuries from giving birth are a contributing factor).

In addition to all of that, I felt really lonely.  Not only was I left alone due to my husband working out of state most of the time, but our move across states had left us with little to no support system.  We hadn’t fully plugged into a new church or made any new and ever-so-important Godly relationships yet.  And then when you add in all those pregnancy hormones on top of it all, I was left with one big recipe for stress-eating!
All-in-all, there was certainly cause for me to become stressed, but what I’m learning from the “Stressed-Less Living” study/book is: “it is not the stressful situations in and of themselves that cause our stress but the way we process and handle those stressful situations.” (pg. 37), and I definitely didn’t handle them positively.  The way I processed it was by trying to ignore it all together and by trying to mask it by seeking out my needed security and comfort through food...I processed my stress with processed foods!  Does anyone else find this ironically funny?!

Thursday, April 11, 2013


The new OBS I’m participating in for the Tracie Miles book “Stressed-Less Living” has really impacted me and, even though I’ve already completed and posted on this week’s blog topic “Stressed-Less,” I kept feeling led to post on the “#Blessed” topic as well, in which we were challenged to start a list of things God has blessed us with – to start with five things and then add to it over time.  I knew when I read the topics that this would be a helpful thing for me to do because, as Tracie says in the book, “I was so caught up in my stresses and problems that I was discounting all those blessings and favors from God.” (pg. 19)  And then when I started reading all the awesome blog hop posts written on “#Blessed,” I was so blessed by them, that again, I felt led to write another blog.  Ultimately though, it was when I turned my devotional calendar to today’s date, and this is what I found, that I knew I had to follow through.

For those of you who are visiting my blog for the first time and/or don’t know me well, probably aren’t aware of the fact that I lost my mom pretty unexpectedly seven months ago now, tomorrow.  Shortly after her death, while searching through my old photo bin, I came across this calendar devotional:

It was something that my mom gave me for my baby shower for my daughter back in ’09, but I had tucked away and forgotten about when we had moved states just a few short months after our daughter’s birth.  Finding and using it, in this first year without my mom, has been such a daily comfort and blessing to me!   So this calendar, and today’s message in it, is Blessing #1 for me.  I just love God’s perfect timing! 
Blessing #2: (and these aren’t in any particular order of importance or anything) is my puppy Teak.

I’ve wanted a puppy for around twenty years or so now and he finally became a part of our family in January of this year.  He is not a perfect little puppy by any means and often has become a large source of my recent stress due to potty training and all the other demanding needs that go along with owning a new puppy.  But he is such a cute, fun, and long awaited blessing as well, which is what I need to remember and focus on when I’m cleaning up the millionth potty on the floor or taking him for yet another emergency vet visit because he eats everything, and I do mean EVERYTHING!...but yes, despite those added stressors, I just love him and feel so blessed that we’re able to afford having him in our life in this economy.
Blessing #3:  our dog Coral

With her too, there have been times that I’ve been more focused on the stress she creates, then the blessing she has brought into our lives.  Bringing home our new puppy has really helped open my eyes to what such a wonderful dog she is, and just how lucky we were to have found her.  She is a rescue dog.  She was found wandering the streets in San Bernadino, CA and brought to a human society in which they only keep the animals for one week before killing them.  When she wasn’t claimed or adopted, she was moved to death row, but a bichon rescue in L.A. saved her, only then to do the same thing one week later.  This is when a pet rescue in the Seattle area stepped in and had her flown here, where we “happened” across her at an adoption day at Petco and ended up bringing her home.  She is the most loving, calm, patient and loyal dog I’ve ever known and it is truly us, not her, that is incredibly lucky to have her as a part of our family.
Blessing #4 & 5: my husband and our daughter

My daughter - because all children are truly a “gift from above,” as it says in James 1:17.  And also because she is here today as a perfectly healthy, fun-loving, little girl with a gift for gab - often a source of stress for this quiet, methodical Mamma, but truly a blessing nonetheless!   (For those of you who are new here, she had a very complicated birth and spent the first week of life in the NICU.) 
My husband - because after nearly thirteen years of marriage, he still stands by my side and loves me for who I am – frantic mess and all – and is one of the most hardworking and giving people I know.  After a long week at work earning money to provide for his family (Blessing #6 – my husband’s job), he’s pictured here putting in more hard work on some projects for our daughter’s room (Blessing #7 – extra funds in a tough economy to be able to afford home projects, and really also Blessing #8 – our daughter’s room, because this house was only a one bedroom for the first couple years after she was born and boy am I glad that’s not the case anymore!)
So that’s three more blessings than I'd intended to list for today, but that’s just another indicator at how truly blessed I am!  I’m so glad that I decided to take a bit more time today to follow through on the leading of writing this list.  Doing so really has brought a renewed appreciation and joy for the life and blessings God has granted me!  If you too have found you’ve been discounting the favor of God in your life and lost the peace and joy in your heart, why not give this “#Blessed” list thing a try?  As Tracie says in the intro to her book, “you have nothing to lose and a life to gain.” (pg. 15)


When the online Bible study (OBS) for the book “Let. It. Go.” was coming to a close I thought I’d have no doubts as to whether or not I wanted to continue being a part of this online community of woman by signing up for future studies – I thoroughly enjoyed it, learned so much, felt so blessed to be a part of it, and loved the ability and flexibility of doing a study online at home, so signing up for the next one sure seemed like a no-brainer to me.  However, when the time came to actually sign-up, I had hesitation.  Truth be told, I’ve tended to be a “100% or nothing” kind of person and I often set high expectations for myself in everything I do.  Recognizing that I was heading into a very busy couple of months in which I already had an overwhelming amount of commitments, I had reservations that I could maintain my usual standard of 100%, and therefore felt I could be setting myself up for failure – something of which I’ve had a pattern of shying away from all too often…and yet I’m here – writing my first blog for the OBS of the book “Stressed-less living” by Tracie Miles. 
What some of you are probably wondering at this point is why – why did I choose to do this study?  Well, I wish I could say that it was because I’d recognized my unreasonable expectations of myself or that I wanted to break my fear of failure cycle, or even at the very least that I’d realized how utterly ridiculous it was to not do a study on stress due to having too much stress lying ahead already, because really, how funny is that?! Yes, those would all have been fantastic reasons to write about.  But no, another truth be told, I was looking at the study as a “keep me plugged in, get me to the next study” kind of deal.  It’s O.K. to wince at that statement, I just did.  But with as bad as that reason sounds, and maybe even is, I’m so thankful and humbled that it at least got me involved so that I could discover that, while that may have been my initial reason and plan, it was definitely not God’s!
When I picked up the book and began to read the foreword and then the introduction, my suspicions quickly grew that there was going to be more to this study than I had anticipated, for I might as well have underlined the entire sections!  I was really not prepared for the emotional impact that what I was reading seemed to have on me.  As I’ve shared with some fellow OBSers already, I somehow hadn’t equated all of the feelings and reactions I’d been having for the last five years of my life to stress, so wow, was chapter one ever an eye-opener for me!
I couldn’t deny the fact that Tracie’s words, “it seemed life had become a job instead of a joy,” (pg. 18), described exactly how I felt and that her questions were the very questions I’d been asking myself: “Where was the happiness I once knew?  Why did I constantly focus on what was wrong with my life rather than celebrating what was good?  Why did I allow the actions and behaviors of other people make me feel so afflicted, angry, incompetent, or hurt?  When did I become so negative and melancholy? Why had I become such a pessimist lately?  When and how had I morphed into such a frazzled woman?  Could I ever feel like myself again?” (pg. 18).  Then other words like: “missing the opportunity to enjoy my life,” and “forgotten what it felt like for my heart to feel light and free,” (pg. 19) jumped off the page at me.  And when I got to this quote: “Sometimes God allows us to get to the very end of our rope, barely hanging on by one little thread, before he reaches down and pulls us up with one mighty swoop.” (pg.19), and I couldn’t hold back the tears, I knew without a doubt that yes indeed, stress is a problem in my life and that there was definitely no mistake in me taking part in this “Stressed-Less Living” OBS – praise God! 
So, now that all that has been made clear for me, I have new and greatly improved goals for this study - to do as Tracie suggests - to start anew, humble myself before the Lord and admit I’m sick with stress.  To discover what the real root causes are for my stress – soul search (pg. 24). To “focus on making his peace the pattern of my life instead of living in a pattern of constantly falling in and out of the stress pit every time I experience life’s ups and downs.”  To have “true faith and trust in my Savior become a reality in my heart,” and “living less stressed become a reality in my life.” To have “resumed authority over my emotions,” and ultimately to stop self-inducing stress (pg. 31).  Those and more are all the things I hope to do, learn, and grow through this “Stressed-Less Living” experience, and reading Tracie’s relatable story gives me added hope that it can be done – I can, with Christ, turn my story around and get back on track living out God’s will for my life.  What a relief and a thrill!
“Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.  Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you.  I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” ~Isaiah 41:10 NLT
“…our flesh wants to blame – blame – blame, our minds want to worry – worry – worry, and our hearts want to hurt – hurt – hurt.  But if we are holding onto that hurt, worry, and blame with both hands clenched, then we won’t have any hands left to grab on to the peace that God places within our reach.” (pg. 32)
“Despite what our society wants us to believe, and regardless of the troubles of this world, God’s normal is always serenity, and his normal can be our normal, too.” (pg. 33)