Category Archives: What I’m All About

The Important Work Waits Where We Lean Down to Find It

I’ve made it a tradition to write a back-to-school letter every year on the eve of the first day of classes. I had quietly been planning the letter’s contents for weeks. The theme was going to be, “We have important work to do.” I was determined to write the letter before my head hit the pillow that night because I believed so much in what I needed to say.

After a full day of running around my classroom and making sure everything was as ready as it could be, I came home and worked to get my excited kids calmed down and ready for bed. At last, they were both tucked in and I sat down at the computer and typed the first sentence of my letter:

I have important work to do.

Just as I hit the period on that sentence, my four-year-old princess crept out of her bed to find me, saying my name in her sweetest voice. She donned her most charming, shy smile while holding one of her snuggle buddies, and I felt the words start coming out of my mouth automatically,

“Go to bed, my love. Mommy has something important to do.”

But then I looked down at her, and my heart reminded me that the important work was not in writing the message. Rather, it was investing in her. Rocking her while she’s still small enough to sit on my lap. Listening to her talk and talk and talk about her favorite color and her new friend at preschool whose name she had still forgotten to ask 4 days in. The important work was in us singing Jesus Loves Me together while I stroked her hair then telling her all of the things I love about her.

It was when I chose to stop thinking about writing the letter and opted to lean down and pick her up that I felt clarity in which direction I needed to lean this month.

Not a week went by in August where I was not compelled to stop what I was doing and lean down – lean down and pray my heart out, lean down and send the text or make the phone call, lean down and write the card, make the meal, or send the package. Because important work is never really accomplished if we don’t lean down to reach those who need a hand of hope to encourage them.

We all have important work to do, no matter if it’s at work, at home, with strangers, or those we love, but after feeling helpless as so many people I love the most have been hit with the most difficult trials of their lives in the past few days and weeks, I’m driven to remember to take the time to make the little things that can be easily overlooked the important things.

 

That only happens when I take some time to lean down and notice the details, to hear what they have the energy to share, and fill in the gaps they can’t yet manage to bridge on their own.

 

While I’ve worked hard to get my school year off to a successful start, my most important work has been accomplished when I took a few minutes to intentionally invest in real people with real struggles.

 

That back-to-school letter never did get written, but an important change happened inside of me instead when I resisted the impulse to charge ahead while I was leaning forward so that I could lean down and see how crucial living out what I try to teach is to making a genuine change in a desperately hurting world in need of hope and love.

Lean Back

 

My One Little Word for this year is Lean. My goal was to focus on a different direction/aspect of how to lean in order live a healthy life. I kind of skipped April and May because life happened, and I got overwhelmed. Somewhere in the middle of those months, I decided that June would be all about leaning back because it was evident I needed to do so in a desperate way. As my month of focusing on leaning back draws to a close, I’ve put together an alliterated list of five things leaning back means to me. I hope you enjoy, because I’ve enjoyed this month of leaning back (even the awkward and messy parts of it) immensely!

Leaning back means…

Resting – I tend to get caught up in “living” so much that I forget that rest is a crucial part of really living the life I’m meant to live. I wrote about what I’ve recently learned about rest here. By getting tangled up in a busy schedule through April and May, I forgot how to lean at all most of the time. Leaning back has been an imperative step for me in June. It’s been beautiful, wonderful, and the only way I could get to one of my favorite things to do (and the next thing on my list of what leaning back means).

Reflecting – Reflecting when I’m not actually leaning back translates into me over-analyzing and, inevitably, spiraling. The kind of reflecting that happens when I’m leaning back is intentional. It comes from a healthy perspective that brings about self-improvement rather than self-loathing. There’s a big difference, and it’s a necessary one to distinguish. The right kind of reflecting will always lead to the next two things on my list.

Removing – It’s impossible to rest and reflect without getting rid of some unnecessary or unhealthy parts of our lives. We recently purchased a storage shed to clear out some space in our garage. While we moved most of the things taking up prime real estate in our garage into a new building, we also opened up the opportunity to reevaluate what we could live without completely; there were several items that we decided to throw away. Cleaning up the right way can’t happen without throwing out the things that we no longer need. As I’ve leaned back, I’ve been able to see some mindsets, habits, and time wasters that needed to get the boot, and I feel lighter already now that they’re gone.

Restoring – When there’s an empty space in our lives (for example, when we’ve done some reflecting and removal of unnecessary things), I have become a firm believer in embracing the wisdom of Ephesians 4:21-24. It says,

 

“assuming that you have heard about him [Jesus] and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus,to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds,  and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

The deal-breaking decision after removing something from our lives is how we’re going to refill the hole it leaves behind. No matter how much we try to convince ourselves otherwise, we will always find some way to refill the spaces we think will stay tidy and empty. That’s why, as a believer, it’s crucial to dig into God’s Word more when we’re in a time of redefining what’s important and what’s not. Removing becomes a pointless act if we aren’t choosing to restore ourselves to God’s intended purpose for our lives. No matter how mundane or crazy it might seem, there’s always evidence that He’s there to redeem us through the process. A fabulously weird example of this happened just tonight as we were having dinner as a family.

Rice Crispy Scrapes – We had one of those days. The kind that leaves everyone feeling like they’ve been on a roller coaster with the seat belt starting to fray out as you’re in the middle of a series of impressive twists. Our kids were feeling it, we as parents were feeling it, and we’d talked, disciplined, hugged, and distributed a couple dozen tissues and maybe a band-aid or two. We sat down to a thrown-together, late dinner just as the tension and heightened emotions began to stabilize a bit.

As I sat down at my seat, I let out a yelp as my elbow met some sharp object on the edge of the table. To my astonishment, the source of my pain was a rice crispy flake that was cemented to the side of the table from Daisy’s breakfast. (I told you it was one of those days.) As I lifted my elbow to examine the damage, blood started running down my arm, and we all started to laugh.

 

I had been injured by a Rice Crispy.

 

That little fleck of cereal was just the punctuation mark we all needed to cut through the stress of the day and laugh at the hilarity and ridiculousness of the day’s events. It was a reminder to not take life too seriously, and sometimes, even the things that hurt at first can ultimately make us laugh and remember that we are a family that is there for each other, even for putting bandages on injuries sustained by cereal.

So there you have it, just a glimpse into what my month has looked like. It’s been my favorite one of 2017 so far, and I’m confident it’s because of a renewed focus on what’s important, and without a doubt, a whole lot more sleep.

 

Choosing Kindness

As I’m easing my way into summer, I’m looking forward to writing more. To get reacquainted with my blog, I’m wiping away the virtual cobwebs with something I had the honor of sharing at my school’s baccalaureate a couple of weeks ago. The theme of the evening was the Fruits of the Spirit, and the students who put the service together had a different person speak about each fruit, connecting it to a physical piece of fruit. 

I was delighted to receive the task of discussing a quality that I believe in so much – kindness. 

 

It’s a human tendency to fail to see the beauty in the ordinary. We are attracted to flashy things that make bold statements. Trends draw us into them and make us lose sight of the things that seem common or dated.

It’s this very tendency that makes the fruit of kindness such a strong evidence of the Spirit’s work.

Sandwiched in the middle of the qualities listed in Galatians 5, kindness isn’t there to blend in. Rather, it’s there as a backbone for all of the other fruits. Its quiet strength speaks volumes, and it is completely content to go about its invaluable work, even when it goes unnoticed by others.

When I was thinking of which fruit I believed best represents kindness, I thought of the apple.

Much like kindness, one might argue that the apple is one of the most ordinary of fruits. There’s nothing flashy about it. It’s the fruit that people go to without really giving it a second thought, but at its core lies the tiniest, most powerful source of the life of faith.

We decide whether or not we like an apple by its skin. Each color embraces a distinct flavor that the consumer will either find off-putting or appealing. What’s fascinating about kindness is its ability to be pure in how it functions, in spite of how others view it.

Kindness doesn’t pay so much attention to the color of the skin, rather it realizes that underneath the skin, all apples have the same color of flesh. Kindness is the great equalizer. It’s the thing that sees what we all have in common and, as a result, pours out empathy on everyone around it. It understands that there is no point in judging because we all have a common need for grace. Grace can not be understood without kindness. Showing kindness is living out grace so that others see that it is possible, even though it’s undeserved.

The thing that is the most compelling about the fruit of kindness is the power of its tiny seeds. While the world might scoff at kindness and view it as weakness, in reality the small seeds of kindness that are intentionally planted understand their potential to change the world.

Much like the apple seed, when a seed of kindness is planted, it will often go unnoticed by those who pass by. It will even be trampled upon as it silently yet diligently sprouts its roots into the soil. Given time, the seed of kindness grows to provide a better world. A world with a tree that provides shade, a place for a traveler to rest while on a long journey, a place where children can climb and see the world from a new perspective, but most noticeably of all, it produces an abundance of fruit.

This is the beauty of what might have seemed just a simple fruit: it is most effectively accomplished in the ordinary. It can look quite different from one kind to the next, but on the inside it sees itself and others for who we really are. And it provides seeds that, when faithfully planted and tended, grow into one of the strongest producers of rest, joy, and nourishment – kindness.

Why It’s Imperative to Lean On

I watched her grade drop by the day. Another assignment not turned in, another excuse or knowing giggle when I talked to her about it.
After two years, she and I have learned to be real with each other about parts of our stories that we had carefully guarded, building a trust that suspended the judgments that had kept secrets that needn’t be secrets. I knew what it meant when she read book after book rather than write a paper. She was going into self-preservation mode, knowing exactly what she should be doing – making her story worth the pain she’d endured for years.
Bit by bit, she has begun to climb out of the darkness of secrets, but the pit in which she has dwelt for so long is a looming one that takes immense courage, faith, and strength to escape.
“You always make me write about the things I don’t want to think about,” she would claim time and again.
“On the contrary, my dear, it is your heart that is begging you to unleash your powerful story. To move past being enslaved to it, and to victoriously share hope with someone else.”
It’s true. The stories within us will eventually reach a point of no return. A point when we know it’s not meant to eat us alive even after we’ve convinced ourselves we are worth nothing more than the false names and claims the villains in our stories have repeatedly whispered.
And writing those stories we never wanted to live takes all of the energy right out of our souls until we actually begin doing the work of getting those words out for others to hear.
Then all of the sudden, we realize how much we need to lean on others to lead others, to lead ourselves, to hope – to victory.
When she refused to even read anymore, I knew there was something more – a new painful chapter she was living on her journey out of the pit.
I waited. I prayed. I waited some more until one day she told me her new chapter of uncertainty.
And we cried together, leaning on the Truth that binds our hearts together in hope.
It was during that conversation that I knew stories like hers are exactly why I need to work harder to lean on others.
Climbing out of pits created by tragedy, evilness, and grief cannot be done alone. We are meant to lean on others, especially when we face feelings that tell us that we are burdening others too much. Because what we believe to be burdens for others, actually end up being glimmers of purpose, necessary shifts in perspective, and the stuff that genuine relationship is made of.
While she walked away feeling a bit lighter by not feeling the weight of trekking her difficult road alone, I walked away feeling all the more inspired to lean on the incredible people who are begging to walk alongside me in life rather than allowing my own burdens to weigh me down.
Living the victorious life and letting freedom happen is an intensely personal journal many miles along the way, but it will never be accomplished without tried and true friends who stick beside us, especially when we try to push them away.
So lean on.
Walk on.
Purpose on,
and start by sharing your story.

Copy of -POP by kwesterf

The Broken Cookie Cutter Marriage

I never used to believe that I was creative.

No. I was too busy lining up cookie cutter pictures of the way life was supposed to be. The perfect good girl looks like this. The perfect student does that. The perfect Christian can’t think or dress that way.

I read book after book about the specific ways to find the perfect spouse and finally decided to stop trying to find a husband altogether. Then one day, when the last thing on my to-do list was to find a man, I met him. Instead of being “perfect,” he was the real deal, more bona fide than any suit-and-tie guy who only quoted the KJV I’d met. He was the just the right fit for me, exactly what I needed to give me a new perspective on how to look at life.

I’d spent 22 years building a kingdom exclusively out of cookie cutter cookies. The only thing is, as pretty as those cookies are to look at, they will never beat a batch of chocolate chip, mismatched in size and shape as they may be.

I have only grown to love the genuine man who has proven over-and-over that being real and true to who you are created to be is worth it. He has made me see that life is far richer when I will embrace the creativity that God has placed within me, even when it looks messy. Messy is real, and it can clean up into something that will inspire others.

On our ninth wedding anniversary, I celebrate the man who unknowingly started crumbling my cookie cutter kingdom eleven summers ago when we met. Others have tried to mold him into their definition of “acceptable,” but instead of settling for their definition of good enough, he has been brave enough to ask God what pleases Him first, and change according to His standard instead.

Nine years of living brings about a great deal of change, but what I love about having a marriage with two people who are real rather than ideal is that, for better or worse, it is rich. I am grateful that I married a man who encourages me to be real and has proven he meant his vows.

Even when I’m not looking or acting pretty, he’s my consistent encourager. He has not only been there in sickness and in health, he’s helped me clean up kid puke in the middle of the night, even though he had to deal with patient puke at work. He’s not only been there for better or for worse, but he actually believes that I can do better at my dreams and passions than I’d ever allow myself to imagine. He’s worked hard and sacrificed much to make our poorer days rich in memories.

I thank God that, when He gave me Tanner, He didn’t send the picture I had in my head. He sent me someone far greater than I could have imagined.

New Love

Love Today

A fun little then and now. Top picture was taken the summer Tanner and I met, and the bottom one I took today.

 

 

Being Real

When you’ve been through a refiner’s fire or two, you come out on the other side changed. It’s impossible not to be different. Sometimes, even though you know that you are not who you used to be, you wonder if other people notice, too, or if they just think you’re crazy. 😉

The other night I got to spend some time with a dear friend of mine whom I’ve known  for nearly a decade. We attended church together when I was very much of the mindset that my purpose in life was to be the hardest-working, model church member out there.

That was when I believed that being faithful to God meant not only being at every church function, but serving at it as well. Why be in charge of one ministry at church when it was humanly possible to be a part of 3-5 at any given time?

That was a time in my life when I would have said and believed, “My identity is in Christ” but I did not yet understand that my identity was a balled up mess, woven into titles, expectations, and tradition.

This friend has known me through the unraveling of my identity. We don’t see each other as often as we used to, but she has prayed me through some extremely dark days. She’s a fellow lover of the beautiful stories that God writes with our lives and has been one of my greatest encouragers as I’ve grappled with how to share it.

As I once again wondered about my sanity while we talked, she made this whole messy process that I’ve been working through a bit more worth it by stating, “You are not the same girl you were five or six years ago, hardly even the same DNA. Now your story is real, and I can relate to you in my own mess.”

There was a time when I would not have considered those phrases a compliment. I’d have much rather heard someone say, “You haven’t changed a bit.” When your works come out as rubble in the fire, however, you have a different perspective. As I continue to sort through the mayhem of what remains after the fires God saw me through, there are times I wonder if it was worth it. Did I actually come out stronger or more chaotic?

I believe the answer is both. Because the truth is, I am still trying to find the balance in what was good about who I was before and what I need to let go of. A prime example of when the struggle was very real was just a couple of months ago.

I forgot to go help prepare a meal for the local homeless shelter because I was helping family. I cried the entire frantic trip across town in hopes that I wasn’t too late. I was. The grace that the sweet women I had unintentionally stood up extended to me was precious, but the old me swam intently to the surface begging for a chance to prove that I’m better than that. The new me, humbled and much more willing to receive grace told the old me to calm down and remember, “You aren’t defined by your mistakes. We all need reminders from time to time that we desperately need grace. In the end, grace is enough. It has to be.”

While we all appreciate people who are real and relatable, the process required to become that ourselves is no easy feat. If you find yourself in that process, let me recommend the book Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. She brings up some powerful points about the value of vulnerability, even in a culture that thrives on shame. I love the passage from The Velveteen Rabbit that she shares on pp. 110-111 of her book.  I hope you do, too.

   “Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but really loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real, you don’t mind being hurt.””Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out, and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real, you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

Reflections of a Mom: Letting go of Excessive Labels

Much like we all tend to do, I spent my growing up years building a picture of what my life should look like when I grew up.

One of those pictures of my grown-up years definitely didn’t include me being a working mom. Nope. It took actually being a grown up and experiencing all of the unexpected experiences that come with living to bring me to where I currently find myself.

I thought I had a pretty good handle on what it looked like to be a mother coming into it. I’d watched my mom do it and do it well. Then I grew up and became one. I wasn’t shocked by the actual work that came with it, nor was I amazed at how rewarding being a parent is. What has been crazy for me to comprehend is how much like a never-ending experiment being a grown up is. As a child, I looked to my parents to know the answers to everything I had questions about. Now that I’m the one in that role, I understand more and more each day that it takes a lot of prayer and ad-libbing to make it through the days. It also takes living life on purpose.

I haven’t always done the best job of that in my mothering. There have been times I’ve felt like I was drowning in isolation. I’ve floundered with how to handle discipline issues or the best way to educate my kids in their early years. All the while, I held onto one part of my ideal picture of being a good mother, and I could find comfort in the fact that, while I might not be doing everything right, at least I was staying home with them, and that had to count for something. That meant I wasn’t failing at everything. (I didn’t see other moms who didn’t stay home as failures. It was just the picture I’d built for myself as ideal. In my mind, it had to be my forever calling because it was what I’d always pictured myself doing for forever.)

Meanwhile, a great many experiences began changing me and my perspective of what it meant for me to be a good mother. For the longest time, I had a neat little package answer of why I couldn’t be a working mom, but then the wrapping began to rip.

I began to realize that what was truly best for my family wouldn’t always look the same. I had proof of this in many other areas, so I finally allowed myself to accept it in this one as well. It was time for a new season. My husband was working himself ragged and we rarely got to see him while the kids and I were together constantly with no breaks from each other. I had been allowed the amazing gift of being there for all of my kids’ milestones, but their dad was missing a lot of them. I’d tried every work-at-home job I could find, but none of us enjoyed it when I did. It was time for me to step outside of my comfort zone and work part time.

I pushed aside the guilty feelings that come with being a mom, for by now I knew, no matter what “kind” of mom I was, I would always fight those guilty feelings, and I started substitute teaching on my husband’s days off from fire fighting. There have been days I’ve bemoaned all that I must be missing by being away from my family, but each day when I come home, I realize that my kids don’t look at me any differently. They don’t see me as less of a mother. I’m still the same mama they love and need, but now I’m able to offer them a different set of lessons.

I was able to see some of those lessons in action the other day when I took them to the park after I got home from work. I smiled to myself on the way to the park at the memory of thoughts I had before I was working. I would take them to the same park and think, “If I were working, I’d be missing out on chances like this.” I have now proved that this sentiment was simply not true. As we ran around the playground, I watched how much more independent we have all become since I let go of this notion and proved myself incorrect.

The reality is, my working has made me value the time I have with my kids that much more. I spent years building a foundation when I was with them all of the time, but now we get to start building upon what we started. I can stand back and watch them push limits I used to cautiously hold their hand through. As a bonus, they’ve learned to hold each other’s hand through the changes, too.

Working Mom Reflections

I have a leg to stand on when I tell my son to be brave and try new things because I’ve been brave enough to do the same.

Working Mom 2

As they grow, I can tell them to take care in what they allow to define them because I’ve begun the work of letting go of all of my worth and identity being wrapped up in them.

When they face seasons of transition in their own lives, I can say, “I know it’s scary and exciting, but growth never happens without purposefully changing the way you do things from time to time. And of course, I’m here for you as you take the risk ”

Working Mom 3

I’m thankful to have gotten to a place in my life where I can be at peace with being a mom without throwing a label in front of it. It’s not about being a stay-at-home mom or a working mom,  a boy mom or a girl mom, a mother of two or a mother seven. God has called me to be a mother to some incredibly priceless gifts, and the roles I will need to fill throughout the years of raising them will change as much as they do. Motherhood requires letting go of so much, but thankfully we never outgrow the hugs.

Working Mom 1

I have held off sharing this part of my story on here for a long while because I know that this topic stirs up all kinds of emotions in mothers. The last thing I want to do is place negative feelings in anyone’s heart, but now that I’ve had enough time to process my own experience, I believe it’s important to share my story. I look at it as only that. My story. It’s not necessarily what your story is meant to be, but I share it with the hope that you can apply the principles of living life on purpose and the importance of being open to change when change is what is best. That is how we all grow.

Blessings to you all!

~Kelly