Monday, February 19, 2018

Lent Life Lessons

Lent started on Valentines Day this year. Weird. I only know that because someone said Lent fell on this goodie-indulgent day, and I know many people who usually swear off chocolate for Lent, aren't doing so this year!

This year I decided to give Lent a try. I don't normally do Lent. Ever. But this year I decided to see if I had the guts to give up something and stick with it.

And it had to be something big. Giving up small stuff wasn't going to cut it.

God and I have been at odds lately. I've found myself going to Netflix and PC games more and more, drowning myself in games and TV characters lives so I can forget the troubles in my own universe. Games let me attain goals. Attaining goals is good- though with games it's short-lived.
Very short-lived.
And once the Netflix show is over (or in my case, the entire dang series), there I am, back to my own life.
Back to life...back to reality... (I hear you humming it!)

I found myself unable to get out of the game/TV loop. Then along comes Lent. A chance to attain some real goals. But could I do forty days? That's a really long time!

I glanced at my messy writing desk, the piles of unfinished projects, the unread books, the cluttered craft table, and an email cache that could gag an elephant. Then I wondered if forty days was enough.

So I took the plunge. No Netflix. No PC games. I allowed myself games on my cell phone, but deleted the longer term ones and kept Solitaire and Flow Free. And the only entertaining screen watching I could do was if another family member was watching something on the big TV- which isn't often. Basically, when the family sits down to a show or movie, I can too- which is no more than twice a week, if that.

I woke up Valentines Day with an agenda.
I cleaned, straightened, and decluttered papers, and went through emails I've been meaning to read for almost a month. I barely made a dent in them. I also printed out recipes I'd been saving in my emails for months- which are now three hole punched and ready to go into my 'try these' recipe binders. Yes, binders. Plural. But that's a project for a different day.

I'll be honest here. I was sorely tempted to play some games when going through my emails. It was more out of habit than an actual desire, so I managed to squelch it quickly, but the want was still there.

By eight o'clock that night, I was nodding off. The day seemed to last forever!

Day two was interesting because after I was finished running errands, I was hoping the kids would want to watch something so I could watch too. My daughter was nice enough to offer to switch her choice of show (Transformers- anything Transformers!) to something I would be more inclined to watch- an animal program. We watched a single episode together before we both got back to chores.
I loved it, but part of me knew better that to sway my daughter's choice again- that was bending my own rule- a big No-No. So back to work we went.

I got through a few more emails- I'm involved with three guru type life coaches with free content, so most of these were newsletters or short videos of things I needed to watch. Not wanted to watch per se, but needed to watch in order to learn something. Learning videos are allowed because I'm not using them to escape.
I took a few more virtual comedy classes I'd paid for months ago, but never could 'find the time' to finish. I managed to read a little, but not as much as I should have.

My craft table was cleared off and sorted. I'd found half of a cookbook in the piles of crafting printouts- this half-book had the recipe for Pizzelles I'd been looking for since November! Lucky for me the other half (that was still downstairs where it should be) wasn't thrown out (though I almost did!) and the book is now whole once more. This was the only recipe I really liked for Pizzelles- I felt like I'd found buried treasure!

By the end of day two, I found myself nodding off again around eight o'clock. Why was I nodding off an hour before my actual bedtime?

Because I was active. 
More active than I was watching Netflix or playing PC games. My brain was more active too, because I was learning most of the day. I almost gave in to habit twice near the end of the day because I was tired and wanted to relax. So I forced myself to walk away from the computer, shut off the TV entirely (it's usually in sleep mode) and sit and read instead. I fell asleep- I mean checked my eyelids for light leaks- within a few minutes, then gave up and went to bed early.

I learned a lot about myself in just two days.

I learned:

I'm much more productive when not distracted.
I'm more physically active- I like to work a little upstairs and then go downstairs when things get tedious (and vice versa).
Emails don't seem as overwhelming, now that I see the numbers going down.
I see progress in decluttering my home and work spaces.
I feel more accomplished.
I also found myself sleeping more solidly than before.  A very nice side effect!

The rest of the week was interesting because the 'shiny' was beginning to wear off. What do I mean by that, you ask? It means I started something new, and the excitement was waning. Fast.

I began to realize that in taking out all of the 'fun stuff', I'd never added any non-screen fun stuff to replace it. It's draining to clean and work and learn all day long with no interlude to let the mind rest! It's also not good to find fun things to do, because forty days of nothing but work not only makes Jacqueline a dull girl, it makes her grumpy and not want to make it to the finish line.

I have to change things up if I wanted to keep things going!

So some of my reading material was switched out with books for purely entertainment purposes. I set aside some crafts to do once certain things were cleaned/cleared off in my sewing space (which also makes for good motivation to get the work done!)

I also programmed our entertainment system for different types of music to fit my changing moods- relaxing tones for reading or background noise, thumping, upbeat music when working, or silly songs when I'm doing something particularly hard or boring. And when it gets too much and I need some quiet time or prayer, it shuts off with the touch of a button.

I wish I could say everything is worked out or scheduled, but I can't, because life changes. I love having things all lined up in neat rows, but I know this is not the season for that- it's a chaotic season and I need to roll with the punches- and it's so much easier to roll when my eyes are focused on a PC game or Netflix!

Today is the sixth day. Just the sixth day. Six down (almost) and twenty-five to go. And I'm so glad you're here taking the walk with me in spirit! I appreciate you, my dear readers!

Are you walking down a similar path? Have you given up something for Lent- or just in general to see what happens or make a lifestyle change? Tell me about it in the comments!

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Tough Love 101

Tough love is never easy. That's why it's not called 'Rainbow Unicorn Fart' love.

It's tough.
It's love.
And it breaks Mom hearts all over the world. Dad hearts too.

Parents don't want to tough love their kids. They want them to listen, learn, and as they get older, debate, learn more, and grow.

But sometimes debating turns to arguments. Ears close on both sides of the fence. And the fully fledged bird refuses to leave the nest. 

Parents have to make their babies take wing if they refuse to do it themselves. And it's one of the hardest things for a parent to do. 

We constantly ask ourselves...
Have we been too harsh? Not harsh enough? 
We taught them all we know- why aren't they flying? 
Have we made life too easy? Too hard? 
And what steps do we need to take now so our children can go out in the world and be the stellar beings God made them to be?

So what do you do with a child that doesn't make much effort to be independent?

You go to the Bible.

Proverbs 12:11 says Those who work their land will have abundant food, but those who chase fantasies have no sense.

Proverbs 19:15 says Laziness brings on deep sleep, and the shiftless go hungry.

2 Thessalonians 3:10 says For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: "The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat."

You teach them God's will. You show them the scripture. You talk, help them come up with a game plan, but you don't execute it- your fledgling has to. 

Even our pastor was asking why we're still feeding our fledgling! At the time three square meals a day was the norm; we had to make some changes.

We did. Our fledgling just got used to the changes and made no changes to their behavior. We upgraded (or downgraded?) more changes with the same result. Nothing we did worked.

We had to start pushing our child out of the nest.

This is where a parents' heart breaks. We have to send them out into the world and lock the door behind them. In our case, The fledgling in question has Aspergers. Very high functioning and quite capable of holding a job, but makes almost no effort to find work- for more than six months now. 
We've done everything we can think of to help, but we're waved away like annoying insects. It's been a strain on the entire family, and though we hate to do it, we need to let our fledgling go.

We found a program for autistic adults. Our fledgling has a certain amount of time to find work, but when that time is up (by the end of this week), we have to make a call for this program to come and get him. They have the training, knowledge and the 'I'm not your parent' factor that will help our fledgling fly on their own. They provide housing, and teach the skills needed to be independent.

We love them enough to let them go. We have to. If we don't, we're enablers. And let's be honest here- we won't live forever (at least not on Earth!) and what will happen if my fledgling can't fly when my Father calls us home?

None of us would prosper from it.

Tough Love 101- As a parent, you have to do things you don't want to concerning your kids. You have to let them deal with their own consequences. You have to let them get hurt, flounder, and yes, even get into trouble in order to get them to understand the world doesn't owe them anything- and that they will prosper only if they are willing to work for it.

God does this all the time. His heart breaks when we mess up. Sometimes He rescues us, sometimes not- and we have to learn to do the same for our children when the time comes.

I pray that God gives me the strength to not only do this if I have to, but to not cave in if it does happen- and to give my fledgling the strength to fly.

We hope someday soon to see our fledgling soar!

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Don't Wait For Normal

Have you ever told yourself this before?

'I'll wait until things settle down.'
'I'll get back to my normal routine soon.'
'I can't until things get back to normal again!'

The problem is, most of the time, things don't get 'back to normal'. 

Normal isn't normal anymore. Our old routines, schedules, and our lifestyles change at a rapid pace, and we always hope to get back to normal once more. We were satisfied with life until God throws a monkey wrench into the works.

How do I know? I've been trying to get back to my 'normal' for two years!

I don't remember my old normal anymore. I remember working a lot, losing weight, and life seemed to be running quite smoothly. I'd been writing regularly, and even published a few journals. I was on my way to hire an artist so I could get my written works in print.

Then came the wrench. Or should I say wrenches. Many of our friends and family were called to heaven. I had to have major surgery. And in the midst of recovering from all of that, my son's college aspirations went merrily down the toilet. Then the many jobs I used to have dwindled down to no jobs- some by circumstance, some by choice.

There were also some good wrenches. I've been able to take online classes, read some great self-improvement books, and find ways to make my own illustrations. My husband's schedule went from first to second shift. Several opportunities for an at-home business popped up.

I have to stop waiting for the old normal to come back- it packed its bags two years ago, and yet here I sit, day after day, looking forlornly out of the window waiting for it to come back like the prodigal son.

The old normal is gone for good- I'm not waiting for it anymore. I'm going to create a new normal from the chaos.

In fact, I think chaos is my new normal! Everything has changed; My eating habits, exercise regimen, and our financial situation; our family life and even bedtime is completely different than it used to be.

So many things have changed that I'm still reeling from it- but I'm also learning to roll with the punches and appreciate the positives.

I have more time with my husband because he doesn't go to work until the afternoon.
My son is learning more about responsibility and independent living at home before he leaves the nest.
I have quiet time in the evenings to read, or spend some 'mom time' with my daughter.
My husband and I have time to start an at-home business.

I don't know why God threw so many wrenches our way in the past two years. I'm not focusing on why it happened, because the end result is the same- our lives changed to a new normal. Life will continue to change. And though there are hard times, God gets us through the chaos and back on track. 

Don't wait for your 'normal' to return. Get up from the window and make plans. Do something. Don't wait for things to settle down. They probably won't. Even if things do settle, they won't settle the same way they used to! 

I know it's hard, but you can do it. God is always by your side, lending you His strength, wisdom, and guidance with every new step you take. Now go take those wrenches and build yourself a new and better normal!

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Two Free Books, One Free Life

Life is changing. Sometimes it's hard to get out of the hole you dug for yourself. But there's hope, and I wanted to share with you the beginning of a new chapter in my life. God is good!
We are at a crossroads. Kids will be gone within a couple of years, and we can feel the undercurrent of God moving under our feet. My husband and I have similar paths, but his work schedule went higglety-pigglety, so we have to slow down our walk on that particular path at the moment.
Until my husband's schedule smooths out (so we can start making those cooking videos), I'm putting my energy into learning and self-improvement. Right now I'm reading two fantastic books:
Boundaries by Henry Cloud- a Christian viewpoint on how to set boundaries at work, home and with family and friends so you're not wearing yourself out, and become a happier person by setting limits. Awesome read so far! I have this on my kindle app.
High Performance Habits by Brendon Burchard . I got this book free by signing up to his email list ($27.00 book- almost 400 pages!) Only read the first of six habits, but I'm already seeing a difference in the way I think about things- and the way I approach both old and new projects.
I'm learning to let go of projects I can no longer do due to time constraints, and getting out of my own cluttered mindset so I can focus on what I need to to instead of focusing on the issue itself.
Actions, not reactions!
A really great read (though it can be a bit wordy) and already my husband has recommended others read it, even though he only hears the excerpts I've been reading out loud to him before bed! As for the emails, this guy has a lot of great FREE content, so you don't mind getting them in your inbox.
I also need to read Save the Cat!- a book on script-writing for the videos, though our scripts will be like organized outlines since we don't want the videos scripted word for word. Haven't read it yet, but it was listed as the best book for learning to write scripts.
In addition to reading, I'm compiling lists of writing I want to focus on, and what skills I need to learn (as per the HPH book, above) to get the books ready for print. The moving book is first up to finish, but in doing so I also have to learn basic art skills to draw simple illustrations.
I used to draw pretty well (cute and cartoony), but haven't picked up a sketchbook in ages. I bought books on drawing both people and animals (Oops- more reading!), and I hope to expand my drawing library as I learn to draw characters.
My plan is to do basic- even if it's cute little stick figures- for the moving book, then work on doing illustrations for both my women's humor and children's book.
Both need small re-writes. I'm changing the beginning of the children's book to make it fit the parable better, and just editing the other one to tighten it a bit more. By the time that's done, I should be able to draw the characters and simple backgrounds.
Another list of books are the activity/puzzle books. These are the easiest of the lot to create, since I love making puzzles. The activity books will also need illustration skills, because I want to make coloring pages as well as experimenting with 'Find the Differences' and 'Hidden Items' puzzles.
Another facet of the puzzle books are books with elementary teachers in mind.

I remember having words lists as a kid, and if the lists don't change for that particular grade, I can turn them into small books that can be bought in bulk, or can be copied (with permission) that have the lists as a myriad of word puzzles, teaching students not only how to spell the words, but to learn their definitions as well!
Me learning to draw is essential to get keep all of these books rolling out on a regular basis, and a good prolific writer is a writer that has regular income!
It's not all about the money- I'd do this for fun- but my goal is to earn enough regularly so my husband can retire and work full-time in ministry- one of his goals.
For so long I either ran myself ragged or sat in a stupor, overwhelmed at both ends of the spectrum, because I kept 'waiting for the money to do this or that'. I couldn't afford an artist, and for years I tried saving, only to find the money I'd saved was needed for emergencies. I didn't want to give up on my books, but I didn't have a solution either- at least until I started reading Boundaries and High Performance Habits.
These books helped me to see where I needed to focus, what I needed to let go, and how to do both. I was a prisoner in my own chains, finally freed.
Now I have a plan. I have a way to learn the skills I need for not just one, but many book projects, and I can see a light at the end of the tunnel. No more sitting in a hole awaiting rescue- I found a shovel to scrape a path up to the surface and breathe again!
Are you in a hole too? Focus on the actions you need to take to get out instead of worrying and wasting time staring at the dirt walls around you- get that shovel and start digging at those walls! Learning something new makes the brain wake up, makes you happier, and gives you confidence.
And who doesn't want that?
God gave us a drive to be better; He gave us a drive to achieve as well as help others. I hope my story helps you. It's just the beginning of my story. I have a lot of learning to do. But when those books come out and I help the world learn and smile, what greater impact can I have that would please God?
What will your impact be?

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Focus Pocus!

Do you have trouble focusing?

It's hard sometimes- there's just so much to do, and only so much time to do it in. The alarm didn't go off, you're running late, and stuff is building up, and, and, and...

Yep. Story of my life. Maybe yours too.

The fact is, I'd completely lost focus. And for a long time I didn't know how to get it back.

So I puttered, I wallowed, and basically got nothing productive done. After a lot of prayer and thought, God gave me an answer. It wasn't the situation I should be focusing on, but the actions needed concerning the situation that needed my focus. 

If focus has no goal, no purpose, no end game, it tends to meander around the forest looking at the butterflies, or runs around in little circles in a blind panic. Neither was doing me any good!

Let me give a few examples.

Little or no money: 
Unfocused mind- We have no money! We have no money!
Action- the mind does that running in little circles in a panic thing.

Focused mind- How can I make more money? How can I spend less money? 
Action- Puts the mind to work finding a solution.

Loss of a loved one (past the initial grieving period):
Unfocused mind- meanders, lost in a world of memories, not wanting to move on.
Action- mental immobility, depression, and melancholy.

Focused mind- What can I do to honor their memory? 
Action- The mind creates ways to remember their loved one, remembers the good things, and is able to move on.

Too much to do:
Unfocused mind- Too much to do, and not enough time to do it all!
Action- worry, panic, procrastination, and anxiety.

Focused mind- What can I do now
Action- Make a list, cross off as you go along, gain a sense of accomplishment, even if the entire list isn't completed.

                             (This is me during unfocused brain fog.)

I'll be honest- lately my mind had been very unfocused. I was constantly stressing out, and either going nuts or thrown into a comatose stupor. Neither action was getting me anywhere; in fact, I was getting depressed rather quickly.

Until a friend asked, 'What do I replay in my head? My problems or His promises?'


I'd been replaying all the bad stuff in my head. All of it. Was it any wonder my mind wasn't focused on anything productive or positive? Even my prayers were  'Please God, get me out of this!'

There's nothing wrong with that prayer, but when that's all that you're praying, there has to be a brain reboot.

So I changed the focus to action instead of situation. It was like magic. Focus pocus- I can move again!

What do you need to focus on? Work, home, relationships, your well-being? What actions can you do to center your focus? 

Well-being is important. We need to focus on well-being to be good stewards of the life God gave us. Self-care isn't the same as being self-centered! We need to be rested, healthy, and mentally stable to help others- it's hard to disciple when your mind is all over the place or hiding in a cave!

So take a nice deep breath and think about your mind-set. What do you need to work on? Focus on a plan of action. Then get moving and be awesome!

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Forgiveness 101

Someone has wronged you. Every time you think about what happened, you feel your anger rising. How could anyone do that to me? You ask yourself. You know you're supposed to forgive them, but you just don't know how. 

Forgiving is always instant. The second you forgive someone, all is well. Forgive and forget...right?

Nope on all three counts. True forgiveness isn't instant. You can't sit by yourself and say 'I forgive you, wherever you are' and expect peace and tranquility. And forgiveness has never meant forgetting it ever happened.

So, what is forgiveness and how do you forgive someone?

Forgiveness is letting go of your anger over the situation completely. It's to truly understand the other person's point of view, and respecting how they think. The term 'forgive and forget' doesn't mean forget the incident, it means forget your anger and move on.

But how do you do that?

It's not easy. It's not always instant. But once you learn how, it will change your life forever.

My mom was a toxic person. I held a lot of anger towards her for years, and it slowly poisoned my heart without me realizing it. One day a friend helped me see things differently, and even then it took a day or two before I could finally forgive my mom. 

And this is how I did it- with God's help.

See her perspective. When I looked at the same situation in a different light, my actions could have been intrusive and demeaning, even though that wasn't my intent. I was hurt, she was hurt, and we both reacted badly towards each other. 
I also had to see things in her long view- she had a hard life when she was younger, and through her perspective, I had it easy because I never had the hardships she experienced. When I realized this, it was a lot easier to understand why she reacted as she did, dissipating most of my anger.

Stop rehashing. I can't tell you how many times I went over and over an incident in my mind until it seemed like it happened yesterday instead of years ago. The problem with rehashing is the anger never truly dwindles- it remains a hard, hot and bitter ember in your chest, and the second the other person acts remotely like they did back then, you explode.
The fact is, the event is over. Done. The other person isn't affected by it (and to be honest, most times they don't even remember the event!), and no matter what happens next you can't fix it. This has to be the hardest thing to accept before you forgive someone. You can't fix the event itself, but you can make amends for actions through forgiveness.

Let go of the anger completely. I'm not saying be cheerful about past events, but think of those experiences as spiritual growth stepping stones. True forgiveness is when you can remember the incident without getting angry about it. You can feel remorse, regret, or even frustration over it, but the anger should be gone. What good does that kind of anger do you anyway?

Biblical forgiveness means getting face-to-face with the person you need to forgive. The only exception to this (when you can do this in a room by yourself) is if the person isn't within reach or has passed on. The former can be done over the phone or online if possible, and the latter can be done through God. Try to forgive before it gets to that point though.

There's another sticky problem with forgiveness. Sometimes forgiveness needs to be on both sides, and the other side won't comply. Whether they are Christians or not doesn't matter- the same rules apply. Face to face and a willing heart to forgive. 

But what if the other party isn't willing, or doesn't truly forgive?

It's so much harder to forgive someone that won't forgive you- indignation can rise up and whisper in your ear "Hey! why forgive them if they won't forgive back?" and it's so easy to listen to that voice! 

How do I know? Because it happened to me. 

I gently told this person I had forgiven them, and throughout the conversation I could feel them stiffen up and become aloof. When I poured my heart out to ask for their forgiveness, they wouldn't even look at me. They said they forgave me, but I could tell they hadn't. It took me several months for me to finally forgive them, and I remember both the event and the talk with a great deal regret and sadness.

I have to stop myself from rehashing over their unforgiveness, because the incident is still rather fresh. and that's another reason forgiveness isn't always instant. Time needs to heal the deeper wounds. 

We need to forgive in order to move forward. God even says it in His prayer 'Forgive those who trespass against us, as we are forgiven for our trespasses'. If you don't, He won't either. From this writers perspective, I'm forgiving others and letting go of my anger!

How about you?

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Life Reboot

Have you ever felt like your brain was running on neutral?

Oh yeah- I am so there- in fact, it's been in neutral for so long, not only did I miss a blog post, but I posted a Christmas poem I posted last year!

The thing is, I did this without realizing it. How's that for neutral?

Surgical recovery is hard. At first it's hard to stay still (because you have to), and then it becomes hard because you get used to not moving. It's easy to slip into a mind-numbing state, binge-watching Netflix and being served by your family instead of the other way around. It's hard because when it's time to get back in the saddle and reboot your life, you hesitate. You don't really want to give up living like a queen and mount that runaway horse yet, do you? Ugh. No.

For most of us, life is like a runaway horse- no control, chaotic, and very stressful. Why would anyone in their right mind want to get back on that horse when they could spend more time 'recovering'?

God says there is a time for everything. My time for recovery is almost at an end. My time for runaway horse-riding is approaching.

Or is it?

In between binge-watching sessions, I've been working on a life reboot. When I'm ready to mount lifes' horse, I want to be the one holding the reins. And that means there are going to be some changes in this here corral!

I'll be honest with you- before surgery, I spent many hours each day in my writing space without accomplishing much. Facebook, emails, and other distractions turn productive writing time into a long period of wasted time. Yes, I like keeping up with Facebook friends, and cleaning out my emails is a needed task, but the problem is I'm not scheduling it. I don't block out a time to do these things. Instead, I write a little, and get distracted. For hours. And it has to stop. 

While I spent hours sequestered in my writing space not being productive, housework wouldn't get done either, and I'd depend on my family to take up the slack. That was fine- even expected- during recovery, but now I need to step up as a wife and mom and start cracking the whip- on myself. The husband may be the leader of the family, but the wife is the glue that holds the family together.

That's what this reboot is all about. It has nothing to do with the New Year! It's just a happy coincidence.

Many of you feel as I do- that you're on a runaway horse with no control over your life. How do we let ourselves get into that state? Not everyone has the recovery time like I was given to contemplate lifestyle changes- you have to do it as you hold onto that horse! But if you set your mind to the task, you can slow that horse down enough to retrain it.

You'd be amazed how much time you can find in between the cracks to do this!

I found my time by giving up binge-watching Netflix. I also uninstalled time-sucking games on my phone. As much as I love them, I know they're bad for me. This saved me hours per day and allowed me to open my schedule for other things I needed to get done or accomplish. Take a look at your schedule and see where your extra time is hiding!

Oddly enough, cutting down my writing time has actually increased my writing productivity! I set deadlines for myself each day (including free time like Facebook and emails), setting a timer when I need to so I stay on track. I've done it a few times during recovery (mainly because I wasn't supposed to be at my desk for hours...oops), and it worked well. I'm going to be testing this timer method throughout the week and tweak it when needed. 

Pray, schedule, read, learn, accomplish. That is my mantra for this upcoming year.

By the time I'm fully recovered, I won't be riding a runaway horse- at least for the most part- and God is going to help me enjoy the ride!