Things never change

Gratitude rarely actually changes things.

Not in my life, anyway. Things stay the same. Circumstances come and go, as all circumstances do.

My big fam, 2012. Photo by Phoopla Photography

My big fam, 2012. Photo by Phoopla Photography

My family members who irk me continue to irk me. The one who never says “I love you” may never say “I love you.” My sisters will probably never agree with my lifestyle choices. I will probably never agree with all of theirs. My mom and mother-in-law will probably always dish out unsolicited advice, despite multiple attempts to curb this behavior.

The people I know and people I love who are addicts may or may not get sober. If they do get sober, they might or might not stay sober. They may never accept that their lives are unmanageable. They may never find serenity or the courage to change the things they can.

The turds in my life will probably always be turds. When I worked for a miserable woman I affectionately referred to as Satan, my writing a daily gratitude list didn’t change her attitude one bit. She did not become more kind or human. She might still be a turd to this day.

The list of things that stay the same, get worse, or may never change is endless. It overwhelms me if I let it.

Thankfully, I don’t have to. At the advice of my mentor, I began writing a daily gratitude list about five years ago. Since then, the practice of gratitude has morphed me into a more gracious, loving, and appreciative person. It’s restored a sense of wonder and adoration in my heart. It hasn’t changed my life. It has changed ME.

This morning, for example, my baby girl woke up at 5:15 a.m. Her normal wake time is about 7 a.m., and sometimes later. She also happened to fight sleep for quite some time last night. That, coupled with some annoying health issues, resulted in this mama getting about five hours of sleep in comparison to her usual 7 or 8.

As I rolled over to look at the clock while listening to my daughter coo over the monitor, I groaned. I did not want to move. I did not want to get up and make the doughnuts. I wanted someone else to nurse my baby. I wanted breakfast in bed with extra shots of espresso, please.

But I couldn’t change the fact that my baby woke up early. I can’t change the fact that she fought sleep last night, either.

All I can change is me, and sometimes, that’s a struggle, too.

Switching my attitude from one of contempt, grumbling, negativity, self-pity, and cynicism to one of gratitude almost always changes me. It changes the way I view those things that I can do nothing about.

Yes, my daughter woke up early and went to bed late. Yes, this caused me to get way too little sleep.

The three of us, May 2013

The three of us, May 2013

But she woke up this morning.

She is alive.

She suffered no ill effects from any of the annoying symptoms I faced during pregnancy. She recovered like a champ from a somewhat traumatic delivery with no side effects. She has slept in her own crib since she was two weeks old, and has slept through the night since she was about six weeks old. She smiles. She eats well and has no digestive problems. She is, as I often pray, healthy from the top of her head to the bottom of her toes. She laughs and tries to talk to me and touches my face and lights up my world every single day.

After thanking God aloud for these gifts while nursing my daughter in a semi-conscious state, I realized that between 6:15 and 6:20 a.m. this morning, nothing changed.

But I did.

My attitude switched gears.

It works every time, if I work it.



As sick as our secrets

Thankful that I’ve learned to be honest.

Just wheat

“We’re only as sick as our secrets.”

I’ve heard friends say this phrase repeatedly in the rooms of recovery for almost six years.

This week, an old college friend of mine was arrested and charged with multiple counts of possession of child pornography. I sat through several religion and philosophy classes with him, sang worship songs alongside him, and watched him help start a campus ministry organization. When I learned about his arrest as I unrolled our copy of the local paper, I was not surprised.

Don’t get me wrong. This guy seemed to have his stuff together, serving his church and community by working as a youth pastor and teacher. He was recently married to a lovely lady and had a bright future to look forward to. Honestly, I always viewed him as better than me, more together than me, much more fundamentalist in his beliefs and behavior, and…

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A Place Where There Are No More Tears

I’ll never forget my friend Josh Lane picking me up and carrying me through rubble and downed power lines to get to my parents’ house 30 minutes after a tornado did epic damage to my hometown.

The college days

The college days

At the time, I was a college student living on campus 20 minutes away. I tried reaching my family, and I couldn’t get in touch with them. In those pre-cell phone days, the fear accompanying the “not knowing” was prolonged. Even though our county was still under a tornado warning, and I’d heard on the radio that one of the entrances into my hometown was barricaded, I decided to hop in my old blue Toyota Camry and haul tail home. I could not stand the not knowing. I had to see my sisters and my parents in person.

Three of my good friends from college knew I was nuts for driving in my old cruddy car through all that mess, but they were crazy enough to go along with me for the ride.

After reaching the house, we went inside and called out names. No one answered. Planks had pierced the kitchen walls, knocking countless dishes to the floor, and shards of glass and random personal objects were askew throughout the house. As my friend Josh threw open the door to one of my sister’s bedrooms, he exclaimed, “Oh my gosh. Look what happened in here.”

“Oh no, that’s not from the tornado. That’s just how messy she is,” I laughed in relief.

When we entered my parents’ bedroom, we saw the worst of it. The roof was completely gone. But in the middle of my parents’ bed, all our pets huddled together, too afraid to move despite the rain soaking their fur.

Minutes later, my parents arrived. They’d been out of town that day and had headed home when they heard what was going on since my sisters were at home alone. My older sister had the wisdom to stop by the house and take my two younger sisters with her to seek shelter at the high school gymnasium, which has plenty of underground shelter.

Everyone was fine.

But the clean-up process took months. The insurance company dragged its feet. We kept finding sentimental objects destroyed, or worse yet, missing. I spent most of my free time at home, helping my parents dig through the rubble, repair fences, itemize losses, and rebuild a home from what seemed like one huge pile of mess.

Each night, when I came back to campus, most of my friends and the rest of the student body were happily encased in the college campus bubble. I felt incredibly alone in the aftermath.

One night, at our campus ministry meeting, a friend who knew about my hometown and the damage there asked, “How’s life?”

“It’s pretty bad right now,” I responded truthfully.

“But God is good.”

He is. He sent angels in the form of friends and church folks to help repair damage. He enabled my parents to pay off their home due to the extent of the damages incurred. And we didn’t lose each other–just things, objects that ultimately mean absolutely nothing.

The day after the tornadoes in Oklahoma, I’m reminded of the gamut of emotions I felt all those years ago. I want to do whatever I can to help them. I’m praying for the people who’ve been affected and lost their homes, their vehicles, their livelihoods. Their children.

I don’t know what that feels like.

???????????????????????????????All I know is that in my own life, if I let Him, He takes every disgusting, heartbreaking episode and transforms it into something breathtaking, useful, and meaningful. This is my prayer for the people who’ve lost what can never be replaced. And that someday, they will be reunited with the people who’ve passed on in a Place Where There Are No More Tears (Revelations 21:4).


The rainbow jar

*Thanks to our anonymous contributor for sharing this great idea on how to improve our attitudes with more gratitude.*

???????????????????????????????Take a clear jar or plastic container, and every time you see evidence of God working in your life (which He promises to do for those of us who believe in Him), place a brightly colored marble in the jar.

Place the jar in a window where the light of the sun can produce rays through the marbles.

This is your personal “miracle jar” or “rainbow jar” which will show you just how much God is working in your life. Big marbles can be added for big blessings. You’ll always have a visible record of how much God is loving you.

On those dark days when you don’t “feel” that God is working in your life, or that He cares for you, LOOK AT YOUR RAINBOW JAR and you’ll see that those feelings aren’t facts at all–you are much loved.

Mama DID

My mom had a rough go of it growing up. I won’t share details, because they are my mom’s to share, but trust me.

The four of us the year my parents divorced

The four of us the year my parents divorced

Despite the circumstances of her childhood, my mom chose to have four daughters, all of us about two years apart. When she found herself a single mom with four children under the age of 7, she didn’t give up or go nuts or give us away. She just kept going.

And she didn’t sit on her laurels, remaining content with never achieving any of her goals or not being able to provide for her family. She went back to college, earned her degree, and relocated our family to Arkansas after marrying my stepdad.

I’ve been writing a series of blog posts about my mom whenever the mood strikes me for a few years now. You can find them on my personal blog. The title of the series is “Mama Said.” Anyone who knows my mom knows that she has a number of infamous sayings and phrases she repeats–life slogans, if you will–regarding how to clean, how to talk, how to relate to others. How to live.

But it’s not what “Mama says” that causes me to admire her.

It’s what she does.

She perseveres through hardship. She continually grows as a child of God. She worships freely. She takes good care of her body, mind, and spirit. She forgives those who certainly do not deserve forgiveness. She goes out of her way to give to those in need. She excels in her career. She communes with nature and finds beauty in the small things.

My mom with my baby shower gift, October 2012

My mom with my baby shower gift, October 2012

I’ve noticed that in the past few years, childhood friends of mine have made comments about my mom that have surprised me.

“I still make the bunny prints out of construction paper because of your mom.”

“I started a chore chart because of your mom.”

“Your mom remembered that I would not have my own mom to tell me ‘happy Mother’s Day’ and sent a card this year.”

The young mothers who have made these comments remind me of my mom. They didn’t all have the greatest maternal role models in their homes, but they found inspiration in the way my mom cared for our family. And now, as a result, their children are receiving love, constant care, and creative discipline :).

And so is mine.

With my mom and Maggie, February 2013

With my mom and Margaret Jacqueline, February 2013

Not because of what she said to me growing up, but because of what she did, I have a huge repertoire of tricks, tools, and tips to fall back on as a mom. I don’t have doubts about how to assure my daughter that she’s beautiful, special, divinely created, and infinitely blessed. I don’t worry about my ability to make choices that will benefit her, put her well-being first, and help her grow. I have less anxiety about how to handle the ups and downs and growing pains of parenting.

I may have to Google images of rashes. I might read books on how to be a great parent and glean insights. I often talk to other young mothers facing similar issues when I need a second opinion.

But I know one thing for sure.

I know how to love.

Thank you, Mom.

Happy Mother’s Day to me!

*Thanks to my friend Betty Gail Jones for sharing today’s post. Happy Mother’s Day, BG!*

Betty Gail letterThis is part of a note from my youngest daughter left in my Mother’s Day gift, a book, two years ago. She and her family were wrapping up plans for a move overseas at the time. It had been several years since we had shared Mother’s Day together, and at that point, it looked like we wouldn’t share many more, if any. This book is a part of a small collection of special books now, which I treasure – mostly because of the note it contains.

When I read the note, it touched me deeply. I became starkly aware of the momentous day that we were sharing and also that those were precious moments.

I remember, as a child, spending Mother’s Day with my mother. Daddy grew beautiful red climbing roses. He would pick each of us one that was in full bloom to wear to church representing our mother. He would pick a couple to make a corsage for my mother because her mother was still living at that time, to honor her. White roses would be worn on the shoulders of the women in our church in memory of their deceased mothers. At the morning worship service, all mothers were honored. They would stand, and we would all call them blessed. There was usually an award presented to the mother with the most children and the newest mother and other recognitions for mothering, as well. I have been so blessed to spend many Mother’s Day moments with my own mother.  She is now 88 years old, and I treasure the time even more.

My oldest daughter and I were talking on the phone about Mother’s Day recently. I guess I’d gotten used to the reality that with her husband in the ministry and Mother’s Day always being on Sunday, this is one tradition which we could not share very often. Indeed, she mentioned that she didn’t remember the last one we had shared together.

I love God surprises! And this year, I am getting another one! I will be spending Mother’s Day with my own mother and BOTH of my daughters, as well as their husbands (whom I count as my children) and my five beautiful grandchildren!

Because of our busy lives in ministry, we have chosen to not put a premium on special days by creating the tradition of sharing those specific days together. It is understood that “the day” will not be our focus, but that we will celebrate as God brings us together as a family whenever we can work it out. Our time together is limited but cherished. We have no regrets and don’t waste one minute bemoaning the fact that it is fleeting.

That we will actually be enjoying Mother’s Day together on Mother’s Day is “icing on the cake,” and I am so grateful.

This year, Mother’s Day 2013, we also get to introduce two new family members to each other. Both of my daughters became mothers again in January just eight days apart. As a bonus, our only little granddaughter will be dedicated to God during our family worship service at our church, and everyone will be present.

Yes, indeed… my heart is full and overflowing with joy and anticipation!  Happy Mother’s Day to me!

Staying true to his altruistic roots

*Special thanks to Dr. Teresa Burns Murphy for writing today’s post in celebration of National Teacher Day.*

May 7th is National Teacher Day.  Since 1985, each Tuesday of the first full week of May has been a nationally recognized day to honor teachers. According to the National Education Association, the day’s origins go back to around 1944 when Mattye Whyte Woodridge, an Arkansas teacher, initiated correspondence with political and education leaders about setting aside a day to recognize teachers.  Eventually, she wrote to Eleanor Roosevelt, who ultimately convinced Congress to proclaim a National Teacher Day in 1953.  On this National Teacher Day, I would like to honor my husband, Mr. Dan Murphy, a teacher whose commitment to education also began in Arkansas.

Mr. Murphy with his daughter, Margaret, on the first day of school, 2012

Mr. Murphy with his daughter, Margaret, on the first day of school, 2012

Dan is currently a special education teacher in the Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia.  Before coming to Fairfax County, he taught special education in the Batesville Public Schools in Arkansas.  However, his work with special needs students began when he was in high school.  Inspired by his uncle, Dr. Jerry Bensberg, an early researcher in the field of mental disabilities and a long-time developmental psychology professor, Dan began working at summer camps for children with special needs.  Dan’s work at Camp Wyldewood in Arkansas and Camp Woodhaven in Missouri provided him with his initial opportunity to interact with children and young adults with developmental disabilities.

While he was a student at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas, Dan continued to work with special needs individuals.  He spent one summer as a counselor at Camp Freedom in Ossipee, New Hampshire.  Camp Freedom was an innovative program that provided educational and recreational experiences for special needs children in a camp-like environment.  Dan also worked as an educational assistant in a behavioral management program for children with autism at the Arkansas Children’s Colony (now the Conway Human Development Center), a state-managed residential training facility for individuals with developmental disabilities.

As a teacher, Dan has been active in Special Olympics, and he has developed his own education programs. In 2004, he garnered a grant for a recycling program at Floris Elementary School where he currently teaches.  Recently, at Floris, Dan started a program called the Lunch Bunch.  Four days a week, he selects a small, diverse group of students and meets with them during lunch.  This thirty-minute segment of time is designed to be stress-free and allows the participants an opportunity to share a meal, talk, and play games.

Not everyone has the giftedness or the grace necessary to be a teacher, and special education is a field in which the attrition rate is particularly high.  Nevertheless, Dan has stayed true to his altruistic roots for over 30 years.  Students know they can rely on Mr. Murphy for kindness, patience, and support as well as for something that matters to all people – unconditional acceptance.