Wednesday, March 30, 2016

three things I've learned...

For the past three years, I co-led the MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) program at our church.  That time was an unexpected gift...most likely one of the most growing and self-revealing seasons of my life.  And to think that I almost said no when I was approached for the role!  How I would have missed out on some amazing times, friends, and discovering impact that I didn't even know I had in me.  

My life has definitely not had a linear trajectory.  I've not followed a traditional career path or had one singular thing that I've pursued.  At times that makes me sad, because I feel like I'm constantly pouring myself in and then saying goodbye.  And then I wonder, "What was it all for?  Did I make an impact there?  Will anyone remember me?  Did I leave any sort of legacy?"  But if I REALLY look back, I see that, as God has moved me to new things as seasons in my own life change, one constant has remained.  His story for me has always been about loving and encouraging women - college women, women in my church, women in my dance company, women in motherhood, women at MOPS.  I had to search for that thread through it all, but it's so very obvious now.

As I step into a new season, three things I learned during my time leading MOPS have been impressed upon my heart to share with you. 

1) When you feel called, but ill-equipped, say yes anyways. 

I definitely did not see coordinating MOPS in my future when I stumbled into this ministry (bleary eyed and feeling defeated in motherhood), but then somehow I was unexpectedly asked to step into this role.  At first I thought, "I can't do this.  There's no way.  They must have the wrong person."   But as I processed through my decision with a good friend of mine, she said to me, "Amy, you've always had a heart for women.  These are just women in your season."  That was a lightbulb moment for me!  Then I couldn't shake the feeling that God was calling me to this, that He believed I could do this even when I didn't believe I could.  I still had doubts and struggled with feeling like an imposter.  I never felt ready or courageous or sure, but I said yes anyways.   

And this amazing thing happened.  The more challenged and ill-equipped I felt when I said yes, the more the Lord showed me that He had things to do and say through me.  I never knew that I had words to share with other women that were worth anything to them.  I never knew that my seemingly meaningless story would resonate so deeply with some people.  I never knew that I could write words that anyone would want to read or speak words that anyone would want to hear.  

He showed me so much about myself through this whole journey...good things...and some not so good things to work on. :)  But most of the time I was completely and totally out of my comfort zone just trying my best, and because I showed up, He showed up too.  My time with MOPS was a time of intense growth, but also a time of intense support.  I loved every minute of it, and I would have no idea of God's next step for me if I hadn't said yes to this one.  

2) Always serve a greater purpose. It'll inspire you beyond your own capacity. 

My personal mantra while coordinating MOPS was that every woman feels cared for and connected.  I've said it at least a thousand times.  It's not just a slogan to me, it's a phrase that motivates me to love more, be more, and do more.  It gets me out of myself, my weariness, and my desire to sit on the couch and do nothing (which is also an ok thing to do when you are bone tired with little ones under 5!).  But when things need to get done, I needed something more.  The obvious, "Well, God would want me to ________," didn't inspire me enough.  I needed to not only know what God desired of me, but also how exactly my impact looked on an individual my time and energies would influence her for the better.  

So, when you need to do the task at hand and it seems there is no more margin in your life to do it, look beyond the task to the greater purpose.  Maybe it's seven layers out, but its there.  Search for meaning behind that fifty-seventh email, planning that event, or organizing that meeting, and squint down that long and windy path to where that meets a woman in need.  It's worth it.  

A writer I love and admire penned the phrase, "More love, less hustle."   When all the tasks to be done overwhelm, and I just feel all hustle, I think of my greater purpose in it all, and somehow the hustle becomes more love.  

3) Never underestimate the power of speaking encouragement and belief into a woman's life. Your singular impact can be huge!! 

I've long had a history of not believing in myself and struggling with self-confidence.  Maybe it keeps me a little more humble in a leadership position, but mostly it's just downright destructive.  When I was asked to coordinate MOPS, one person spoke belief into my life.  She told me that the Lord kept putting me on her heart to co-coordinate this ministry with her, even though she didn't know me at all.  And then throughout the years we served together, she spoke words of encouragement to me like I had never known.  I can tend to err on the side of comparison, of wanting to be better than the next person, but this woman showed me what it is like to be striving for the same things and to care more for reaching across and lifting me up, than getting there without me.  When I spoke at MOPS the first time, I clearly remember her smile as I sought her face in the crowd.  She was like a proud mom, who afterwards didn't hesitate to lavish me with the words that essentially said, "I believe in you."  Time and time again, she has encouraged me and lifted me up by going out of her way to speak belief in me.   ONE person spurred my confidence to coordinate MOPS, to love other women more deeply, to pursue the things I love but didn't believe I could do.  ONE. PERSON.  

Can you imagine if we each did that for one other woman?  What kind of positive ripple effect could we create?  How many lies from the enemy could we stifle?  How much joy could we share?

I don't know what God is doing in your life, but I do know that He will use you mightily if you let Him.  Be open to His authorship on your life...let His pen write the words a step before you walk them.   And know that if you trust and follow Him, your days and your impact will not be in vain.  

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

apology not accepted

Most days start with the best of intentions.  We have a fun outing in the morning.  And then somewhere between 3 and 4 o'clock, it all goes south.  Some days, we can be at home, have fun, and maybe even get a load of laundry folded, but other days it feels like this house is sagging with the weight of my heart and our overabundance of stuff.  We are all slowly imploding, and these walls and my flesh are groaning against the pressure.  The pressure to be.  The pressure to hold.  But, I'm here.  I'm all here.  I'm committed to this journey that God has called me to.  I'm committed to these three little souls that make me cry and laugh in an instant.   And yet, when I'm surrounded by the mess and the toys and the crumbs and my silk pillows that I once loved strewn about on the living room floor, I feel like my insides are all zinging about and I might explode.  I feel battered and bruised by this day.
Other days it feels like this house is sagging with the weight of my heart and our overabundance of stuff.
We escape.  We make our way to Target where for 10 beautiful minutes in the car we are all strapped down, and the lure of cheese sticks and dried apricots will hopefully keep everyone at bay for the duration of our trip.  Only, I'm still feeling turned inside out.  Questioning.  Unsure.  Unworthy.  Every moment of this day feels like an assault.  I can't even buy batteries without them being chucked out of the cart 5 times by my son.  Oh Target, why do you only have two carts that seat two kids, which by the way always seem to be in use?  

As I go through the check out line, exhaling that it is now 6pm and my husband should be home soon, I feel tender and raw and vulnerable.  Unaware, I apologize to the cashier repeatedly for opening the cheese sticks before paying and again as I'm handing her empty wrappers to throw out and a half-smooshed and slimy Happy Tot squeeze pack.  She says to me, "Why are you saying that? Is it just a reaction?  Sorry. I'm so sorry. Sorry."  I froze, mortified that she called me out in that way.  She seemed like a strong, unapologetic woman, and here I stood before her crumpled from my day, wanting to melt into the floor.  I didn't realize I had even said it...apparently over and over again.   I blinked back tears and choked through the rest of my check out, mustering as much confidence as I could in my answers to her questions of whether I needed bags and where to put the paper towels.   

And in those few moments I thought.  I thought about this spoken word poem that I heard a while back.

I thought about the time in college that I was acing a super tough human physiology class.  My test was missing when we picked them up, and when I  asked the teacher about it, she inquired my name and in response incredulously said, "YOU'RE Amy Whitaker??"  As if to say, the way I look couldn't possibly match up with a person who could do that well in her class.  How insecure that made me feel.

I thought about how I've been taught to be nice and unencumbering, and how my knee jerk reaction when my head was down,  and I slugged through the last half hour before my husband gets home was to say, "Sorry" repeatedly.   Why is this so ingrained in me that I feel I must apologize for everything.  For me.   Why do I feel the need to make myself smaller -  in stature, in wisdom, in weight, in space.   In person.  

Why is this so ingrained in me that I feel I must apologize for everything?  For me.   Why do I feel the need to make myself smaller -  in stature, in wisdom, in weight, in space.   In person.  

I thought about my own daughter.  Listening. Watching. Absorbing my habits, my traits, my beliefs, and most of all, my actions.   How do I teach her to be kind, yet confident.  Smart, yet not overbearing. Healthy, yet not overly concerned with appearance and weight.   I have found this world to be a confusing place in regards to all of this, and I'm still trying to figure out my place in it.  I am thankful for the grace of God, and I am thankful that we are continually growing and learning.  That the hard days make me savor the good days even more.   And I'm thankful for the woman in Target for seeing me as more than an apology and for reminding me to soldier on.   

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

drowning in photos

Ok, people.  I have a problem, and I need help.  I need to come clean and admit that I have an addiction to....


I love, love, love taking photos.  Photos are the history book of our family.  They are keys to my memory when my own mental pictures are lost under 6 years of sleep deprivation.  They remind me of the good times, a literal highlight reel of our life.  I want to preserve that in the best way possible.   

But I'm literally drowning in photos.  There are upwards of 30,000 pictures on my computer.   I've spent a lot of time in the past trying to organize them into files by month and year, and while I love this set up, iPhoto doesn't.  Every time I upgrade my software, it messes up my organization system and I have to redo at least part of it.  So frustrating.  

Anyhow, I need to get on top of this once and for all.  It's only going to get worse!

I know that ultimately, I have a couple of goals:

1.  Clean out and delete unwanted, blurry, or duplicate photos.

I have done this for most of the recent years, but I know I have many years that I kept every. single. photo.  It's time to get brutal.  I'm just going to have to commit some time to doing this.  Some people might be able to do this for 15 minutes a day until it's completed.  I think I'd do better just committing  solid chunks of time to do it.  I'm sure when it's all said and done, I will still have thousands of photos, but at least they will be all photos I want.  And I think I better invest in a mouse for my laptop, lest I end up with carpal tunnel after all this.

2.  Find an organization system that will be able to continue even with system upgrades.

After years of trial and error, I know that I like to have my photos organized by month and year.  It's the easiest for me to find things and seems like they are then in manageable chunks.  Ideal would be to find a program that would automatically do this for me.  A girl can dream, right?  Is there anything like this out there?  Otherwise, I'll just continue to do it manually and try to be better about uploading and organizing photos on a more regular basis.

3.  Make photo books for the past 15 (GULP!) years and actually print those photos out.

The scariest part of this whole process is actually making photo books.  Again, my perfectionism gets in the way here.  Instead of doing SOMETHING, I will procrastinate and avoid because I know I won't have time to do it the amazing way I want to.  Tough.  I just have to do it.  Something is better than nothing.  My linear mind will want to start with the pictures that are the oldest, but I think I should buck that thought and do the most recent first.  If I can stay on top of recent ones and then just go back and do old ones mixed in there sometimes, I might just be able to pull this off.  

Wish me luck!  And if you have any ideas, words of wisdom, or have found something that worked for you, please don't hesitate to share.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

approaching 40

I looked down and caught a glimpse of my hands and thought, "Who's old lady hands are these?"  When did my hands start to look like this?  I shake my head in disbelief.  But these hands, these hands have held my babies, scooped up the hurt child, bandaged a scraped knee.  These hands have changed thousands of diapers, washed the never ending stream of dishes from the food that nourishes our family.  These hands have hugged my friends, written notes of encouragement, painted walls, worn a ring of commitment for the past 14 years.  I am thankful for these hands.

My belly also looks different than it used to.  But this belly, this belly has stretched to enormous proportions to grow tiny humans and take part in three miracles.  It's skin has gone out and in and out and in and out and in again.  This belly is a soft landing place for my nursing baby, my 4 year old still wanting to sit on my lap to read, and my 6 year old now tall enough to hug me there when we stand together.  These changes, they are war wounds of the best kind.  Road maps for my children of their origin.  I am thankful for this belly.

I glanced up quickly as I washed my hands and saw tired eyes, etched with lines that seemed to appear there overnight.  But these eyes, these eyes have seen places all over the world.  These eyes have seen beauty and they have seen pain and they have seen a whole lifetime of things that I wouldn't trade for anything.  These eyes saw my wedding day and my handsome groom overcome with emotion for glory of that day.  These eyes have seen 8 cities that I've made my home, looked upon a new friend for the first time,  looked enough times upon that friend that a mere glance tells me what they are thinking.  These eyes have seen my babies from the moment they were born, seen their newness and their vulnerability, seen them grow strong in health and personality.  And these lines, they are from smiling.  They are from dancing overcome with joy.  They are from cheering on my daughter as she rides her bike for the first time.  They are from sitting with friends over a glass of wine and laughing until our sides hurt.  These eyes and these lines, they tell the story of my life if you look close enough. I am thankful for these eyes.  

The gray streaks in my hair keep me honest.  I can fool a lot of people about my age, but the gray that is taking over outs me now.  But this hair, this gray hair shows people that I have lived life, with its worries and its joys and its love.  It makes me seem more credible, wiser.  I am not mistaken for a college student anymore, but I'm ok with that.  I have spent nights up with colicky babies and sick children.   I am not afraid to call out areas that need work in my marriage and work on them.  I have given time I didn't have to serve others, and I'd do it all over again.  These things take a toll, but the wisdom I've gained fair surpasses the gray hair that now grows in response.  I am thankful for this hair.

My legs are shaped differently than they used to be.  But these legs, these legs have run a race of life of which I am proud.  These legs have danced for years and years on stages all over this country.  These legs have run 2 half marathons.  These legs have carried 3 babies inside me and 3 babies still wanting to be carried even now even though they are too big.  These legs walk my daughter to school, run with my son, and sway with my baby in spite of weariness.  These legs are strong and mighty.  I am thankful for these legs.

This is my last year in my 30's.  This decade has been the most changing and stretching and challenging of them all.  But it has also been the best and most rewarding.  I have experienced change and growth beyond belief.  I have made lifelong friends.  I have created my family with my own body.  I know more of who I am and who I want to be. 

And despite all these physical changes, I am more comfortable in my skin than ever before.  

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