Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Should. Could. Would.

Should, could, would.

I use these words all the time without thinking about the implications.

"I should take the kids to the beach soon..."

"I could participate in that blog link-up..."

"I would come to your playdate..."

Do you say should, could, or would a lot? I use these three words probably a hundred times a week, maybe even a day. I've been thinking about them quite a bit lately, considering if they are appropriate or rather, a sign of dysfunction in my life. At first I couldn't quite figure out why these words were failing me and I didn't understand why I kept using them, despite them not being very helpful. My unhappiness with these pieces of my vocabulary has revealed several areas of my life I am discontent with, but using should, could, and would has never helped me actually do the things should, could, and would always seem to suggest. Rather, when these words encroach on my thoughts and sentences, I find myself doubting God's callings, doubting my convictions, and feeling bad about my life in general.

I use should, could, and would most when there is something I think I want to do, but feel unable to do it, whether it's because of a busy schedule, a conflict of interest, or a general lack of motivation. Sometimes my reasons are legitimate. If my kids and I have been out of the house for lunch three days in a row, it's highly unlikely I will feel up for a picnic at the park - this is my introverted coping mechanism. But other times, the reasons I give after saying should, could, or would are a response to not taking the time to focus on whatever task, event, or desire is in front of me. I am noticing that in taking time to consider more carefully what I should, could, or would do, I am rewarded with greater confidence in my actions and relief from guilt over what I am not doing.

What I want to do is take each of these words and look at what really lies behind how we use them, and talk about how we can navigate our thoughts, emotions, and actions to use proactive words instead of these passive, guilt-loaded words. In this first blog post, I'm going to talk about all three words together, what is not so great about them, and get you thinking about what your life can look like if you use them less. Each week I'll go deeper into one word and see what we can do to stop saying should, could, or would and start saying shall, can, and will.

When I first started thinking about these words, I was in the shower, where all good thoughts pop into my head and 99% of them never come to fruition. However, this idea stuck with me all day, and all through the week. I kept noticing how often I think "I should do this, but..." or "I would do that, but..." and then I spotted a trend. These thoughts I had and these phrases I kept saying were all wishes, or hopes, or desires based on vague ideas of what a grown woman should be doing with her life. They were all things happening in an imaginary realm, none of them being founded on a specific rule, command, or obligation.

Consider the idea that I should drink less coffee. This is not really an actionable statement, not something anyone had suggested as a solution to any problem, yet it was provoking a lot of guilt in me. I would randomly think about how my stomach didn't always do so well with too much espresso, how our budget would be more lovely with less trips to Starbucks, and how I'd have fewer reasons to argue with my children if I didn't drive up to that brown building with them in-tow, but the thought "I should drink less coffee" never went anywhere after that. It hung over me like a little black cloud, following me to that drive-through, torturing me without reason or relent.

All of these thoughts - the should's, could's, and would's - are all statements that invite guilt but offer no solution. I started to think if there was a way to really dissect what is behind each should, could, or would, I could find a way to stop these frustrating phrases from following me around. So, instead of leaving my could right there, I spent some time thinking it through and wrote it down.

Here is the potential that lies in each word, a way we can springboard from each passive word and live it for real.

Should becomes shall.

Could becomes can.

Would becomes will.

I will go ahead and apologize now, because this post will leave you hanging just a little bit. I cannot hash it all out in one blog post (and I'm not entirely sure I can do it in four) but I will let you know where I am headed. We can think about each should we say in a way to help us determine if that thought is worthy of becoming a shall. We can look at each we could that goes through our mind and decide if it's important enough to become a can. We can consider each would we think about and figure out if it needs to become a will.

If I look at why I should drink less coffee I can come up with some really good reasons. Then, I can decide if those reasons are legitimate, if they are a good enough reasons to make a change. When I decide "I shall drink less coffee" I no longer have guilt about what I should be doing, and it's kind of empowering to say it out loud. If you say it with a British accent then it's even more fun. But more importantly, when I get ready to determine if this should really needs to become shall, I see more clearly how important the idea actually is, and I can live more in line with my beliefs, my core values, and my current abilities. It gives me freedom to live in the now, as my authentic self, without any guilt.

Whether or not I drink less coffee may not be very important in the grand scheme of life, but living in freedom every day is. And this is what we all want right? Freedom to decide for ourselves whether we really should do something, and trusting that we are taking action when we know it is right and good.

I hope reading through all my thoughts and insights on these words will be as helpful for you as it has been for me. In a world where everyone wants our opinion, efforts, and attention, this can be a simple way to kill the guilt-monster lurking in your mind. Not only will it help you rid of needless guilt, but you will know yourself better, and trust God's prompting in your life more. Living in this kind of freedom takes effort every day, but hopefully these little insights and changes in thinking will help you win that battle with less effort, less defeat, and more victory.

Come back next week and we'll take a look at should together. I dare you to tally up how many times you say it this week! You might be surprised ;)

Friday, August 12, 2016

Finally Moving.

We are finally moving. I expected it to feel a little surreal at this point, since we've been in limbo for so long, but being in the new house this morning felt normal, and good.

The house is in NW Portland and is a short 10-15 minute joyride for my husband to work. Seriously, a joyride compared to the brutality of taking Highway 26 pretty much any hour of the day. He will not miss that.

We still don't have a definite plan for how and when to move all the beds and big furniture over, and the owners are having AC installed for us, so we're waiting to see when that will be done before we leave our cool 73 degrees over here. We have several weeks before we need to be out, so we're taking our time, packing with that in mind, and trying to navigate the children's emotions more intentionally.

I knew having an actual house to live in would help everyone feel more at peace, but I underestimated how much the uncertainty had been tainting our days. All of a sudden, I have the willpower, maybe even the desire, to be kind and loving to my husband. Our oldest child can suddenly speak politely to me when I ask him to do something. However, our middle child is still bit confused about when we will be living where and what we will be bringing with us - guess we will be working on our communication skills this year! Jovi is still Jovi, so nap times are rough and you never know what will set her off. But wow, what a difference it has made in everyone's mood to have the house situation more settled.

There are still areas of our lives immersed in uncertainty. We are still trying to figure out our homeschool plan with a local CC, I really want to keep going to my CrossFit gym but don't know if I can commit to the extra hour in my schedule to accommodate commuting there and back three days a week, and again, we don't know exactly when we will be sleeping in the new place. Cole is signed up for soccer (which we still don't have a practice schedule for) and we are communicating with a local league to get Asher signed up for football. I'll be looking into swimming lessons and other activities for the kids this year, attempting to be out of the house a little more and trying to give all the kids opportunities to try new things. I know September may be just as busy as August, but at least we have keys to a real house to live in. Whew!

I really want to write more about how uncertainty taints our days, steals our joy, and how we can fight against it, but I am just too tired today. My body is toast and my brain is mush. This short post is my form of taking action this week, to say that "I blogged", and at least share with all of you a few of the little details you have asked me about.

This summer has been an incredibly stretching time for all of us, but I can see how God has used it to teach me so many things. I feel able to handle more (though I don't plan on asking for that particular blessing), I have a little more courage, a little more tenacity, and a lot more understanding of myself. It baffles me to see God using all these crazy circumstances to show His tender, powerful love, and maybe that seems odd for you to hear, but I see it more clearly now than ever.

I'm seeing how there is opportunity to feel comfort in His presence, feel His vast greatness, and experience His infinite love every day, every place I go. I'm seeing how His Spirit permeates all places, and it is my stubborn, distracted heart that keeps me from receiving the gifts of His presence. For instance, driving along the freeway one day I was tempted to despair, to think only of all the problems I had, and the tasks I needed to accomplish, but a quiet request from my son for worship music initiated a time of beautiful closeness with God that I had not expected. How often do I miss those moments? How often could I feel His presence instead of occupying my mind with the problems in my life?

If all of our house-hunting troubles were nothing more than a tool to draw me closer to Him, it will definitely have been worth it. I would never have asked for it, and I don't particularly want to do it again, but it has strengthened me in a way I am taking great joy in. I am more settled with how He has made me and how He is working in me. I don't know that I've ever been so content with who I am becoming, which just further confirms that through uncertainty and difficulty, God works to give us peace in His plans. What a beautiful, unexpected blessing it has been.

Thank you for all your prayers and asking me about how we are doing. I'm happy to report a deep peace that is about more than just finding a place to live, but one that is dwelling in my heart more securely every day. And I pray you can find that peace in Him too.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Dealing with Disappointment.

We have had an unusual amount of disappointment the last few months. Thankfully, nothing we have experienced has been life-threatening, or even completely life-altering, but disappointment is one word that has encompassed our house-hunting since June.

My friend Heidi (the homeschooling, literature-pro, Khan Academy-introducing friend) shared something interesting at a speaker training session that resonated with me. She was actually sharing what someone else shared with her at a group event, telling us that most of our disappointment doesn't stem from our actual circumstances, but from our expectation of circumstances. She suggested that we build models in our minds of how we think our lives will be, or how our circumstances will turn out, and our disappointment usually stems from when those models get torn down, flipped upside-down, or even slightly altered.

Heidi gave the example of driving into a parking lot. Let's say you drive in and the only spot is in the back so you happily drive over there and park. Now, let's start over. This time, when you first enter the parking lot, there is an open spot in the middle, but as you approach, someone else beats you to it, taking your dearly beloved spot. Right away, you see another open spot near the back and park there begrudgingly, while dealing with a small heap of frustration and your less-than-pleasant attitude. Is this making sense? The same parking spot in the back of the parking lot was both welcome and despised in these situations. The difference was not in the location of the spot, but in your expectation, in the model you built in your mind which was quickly destroyed.

In all this house-hunting, Mark and I have built so many models. First, of a property outside of Beaverton, then maybe a large lot in Milwaukie. Hmm, back to Beaverton, maybe Tigard or Hillsboro, maybe a really nice home this time and we'll have less yard. Change of plans, let's look at Gladstone! Gosh, that didn't work out, maybe Tualatin might work instead. Yes! Offer accepted! We visit again two days later and let the kids enjoy the enormous back yard while hearing from the inspector that a large mortgage and a 30 year commitment might not be the best deal for endless list of needed repairs on this 20 year old house. You see where I am going with all this?

So many models, too many ideas of what our life might look like, and lots of destroyed visions along the way.

After many days of soul-searching, talking, praying, and more looking on the internet, we have decided to look at renting. Well, we did for several days, then we looked at homes for sale again, and came back to the idea of renting once more. Things are not turning out how we envisioned. We are not completely disheartened, because we know God's plans are best, even when they seem less than fun. And right now, we are only dealing with grief from the models we built in our hearts and minds, not with any real loss or tragedy.

As we've looked at many homes this week, we are trying to be less picky. We're only renting, so the yard doesn't need to be as big, the house as nice, or the layout as convenient, but it's still really hard to settle for all of it. It's tough to commit to living somewhere that is less than what we were hoping for. Unless we die, or unless Jesus comes back, this will not be the last place we live. I understand and I'm totally fine with living with less, but, I'm still finding it hard to jump in and say yes.

The idea of taking a "less than" house right now could feel like taking a step back in life, but it is here I am reminded that living with less, or even living with lower quality, is completely acceptable. In fact, we often see more of God's glory and kindness toward us when we have fewer earthly possessions. Living "the good life" is more than just having the next best thing or waiting for something more wonderful. Having a better house or a better car or a better job may never come. God does not promise a life that is blessed with an abundance of material goods, and in all of this house-hunting I am reminded that God's promises are not just for our lives on earth, but are ultimately eternal. While I do experience so many material blessings in my day-to-day life, they are not the end goal of my obedience to God, they are not something I place my hope in as I walk in faithfulness to His calling.

I know I am learning an incredible amount from all this back and forth. God is definitely strengthening my faith in His goodness and in His unknown plans. He is pushing me to trust Him despite external circumstances calling for me to figure things out apart from Him. I know my ways are not His ways, that my thoughts are not His thoughts. While Mark and I are nearly clueless about what this next year of our lives will look like, He is not. In fact, God has gone to seemingly extreme lengths to rapidly dash away all of our plans. It may not seem like this fact is worth rejoicing in, but I know I can. Why? God is giving evidence to us that He has a particular plan, still unknown to us, but particular enough to close door after door after door.

It would be easy for me to mope (and trust me, I have my moments), but it is more important that I make an effort to trust God's ways. It's important for my kids to see me hoping in God's plans even when they are wildly different than my own. It's important for my husband to come home to a wife who does not crumble when daydreams do not turn into reality, a wife who strives to align her heart with God rather than self. It's important for my friends to know that I am committed to a life of serving the Lord and not to chasing selfish ambition or material possession.

None of these things are easy to do, and unless I really know God, they would be impossible. His Spirit is faithful though, putting thoughts in my mind, planting true hope in my heart, and bringing friends and family alongside to support us along our trail of broken models. We may never have a "better" home, or a bigger yard, or an easier life, but with every dashed model lies a glimmer of hope, a vision of God's hands becoming more and more active in the direction of our lives. While our minds are still lacking a vision for His plan, we see him rolling up His sleeves, moving things around and preparing our circumstances more specifically. I have such hope in being part of His glorious plan, that these innumerable closed doors seem more like preparation than rejection.

This summer I am getting loads of practice in letting the models of the life I want be crushed when I discover that God has a model all His own. I am becoming willing to throw them out and think of them no more. I am getting better at asking myself questions like "If my model is not God's model, then what am I really after?" and thinking more deeply about where my desires are rooted. I see more opportunities to be active in my daily life and spend less time building models that are soon to be broken down and tossed aside. I have more time to sit before the Lord, study His word, and align my heart with the model He is building for my life.

So how about you? Do you build models? Which model in your life are you clinging to? Which one has been the hardest to let go?

I share all of these thoughts, ideas, and experiences for several reasons. I want to be honest, and keep you updated. I also want you to see some of my weakness, to understand the back-and-forth of our decision-making. But mostly, I want you to become brave enough to willingly strike down and destroy the models you have built that do not honor the Lord. Do you desire a life God does not have planned for you? Are you willing to trade your model for His? Even if you aren't, admitting this is not news to Him. He already knows. But allowing yourself room to be honest is a brave first step, one I know God desires.

I may never be a pro at building the same model in my heart that God desires for me. I may never easily set those models aside without God doing the work of tearing them down. But I do want to be more courageous in watching Him take apart my shallow dreams, trusting His all-knowing plans will be more than enough to fill my heart and my life with joy. Are you willing to give up your model-building for joy? For contentment? For a better marriage, or a more fruitful (but possibly less productive) life? I might not always be willing, but I am today, and now is always a good time to begin.