What to do when life gets frustrating...

I had an “aha” moment about life the other day at work.
I teach some pretty challenging high school students. These kids carry so much outside baggage; when they tell me their stories, I am overwhelmed for them. I have always had challenging students in my classes - it comes with the job
For my continuing education, I have been reading book after book with updated teaching strategies. The books are brimming with suggestions, expert advice and thoughts on education, how to create a more engaging classroom and how to reach and motivate every kind of student, even the most difficult. These books have some good stuff in them, but do you know what sentence stopped me completely in my tracks and gave me the most encouragement?
 “Remember that working with difficult students is frustrating.”1
Whew.  Let me breathe a sigh of relief, because as much as I love my job, there are moments when I have tried everything to motivate a student and nothing seems to work. I hate that. It is discouraging. But the above quote implies that frustrations are normal, expected and even okay. It doesn’t mean that I need a whole new string of suggestions for better teaching and motivational strategies, I just need to know that frustrations are part of the job and carry on.
I love that. Because, when I hear something is supposed to sometimes be frustrating, I approach it differently.  I bring to the table extra patience and resilience and perseverance.  I expect to use those qualities, so I don’t let the frustrations so intensely rock my world. I can better set my emotions aside, evaluate a situation and more confidently move towards a solution. I can shrug off the discouragements I cannot control and shift my focus to how I am going to react, what I can control and with what kind of attitude.
Frustrations never have to steal away my professionalism, my personal joy, or my ability to love my job. Frustrations do not mean I have lost hope in the student and will quit trying; they just tell me that some days are frustrating and that is an expected part of being a teacher. I don’t always have to figure out the “why,” I just need to persevere and often, keep doing what I am doing.
Just like life.  
Life is full of frustrations. No one is exempt from life’s cruelties. At some point, the storm will come for each one of us.  
But, that doesn’t necessarily mean it is our fault. It doesn’t mean that we should always read a bunch of self-help books, or need a list of things to try differently. It does not mean we need to beat ourselves up for the things we cannot change. It does not mean that we should drive ourselves crazy by gripping tighter and trying to control what we can’t. It doesn’t mean that we always have to understand: “why is this happening to me” or “why do bad things even happen at all?”  (I have never received a satisfactory answer to either of those questions and have never found dwelling on those thoughts helpful.) Frustrations can make us uncomfortable as we often feel pain and loss, but they don’t have to steal away our joy. Discouragements do not mean that we aren’t good enough and they should not rob us of our self-worth. Life’s challenges and failures will never change the fact that we are children of God and so deeply loved by our Creator that we cannot fully comprehend it. Frustrations don’t take away the purpose that God has given our lives and His ability to use us – whether we feel worthy or not – to spread His big love and bring Him glory. No matter what, Jesus can always create beauty from ashes.
Life will always hold hardships and challenges.
Sometimes, all we need to do is remind ourselves that frustrations are normal. We can let that thought ease our mind and help us not let the challenges so fiercely rock our world (or we let them rock our world for a while and then we recover). We dig deep and find extra patience and resilience and perseverance. We cling to God's hope. We focus on our reaction to the situation, our attitude, and what we actually can control. And we simply…carry on.
1 - Disciplie with Dignity: New Challenges, New Solutions (Curwin, Mendler A., Mendler B.)

This photo was take in the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota. The sunset stretches out forever. It was breathtaking.

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Favorite Disney Moments

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do, so throw off the bowlines, sail away from safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore, Dream, Discover." Mark Twain

In December, we flew down to Florida to experience Walt Disney World for the first time. I am grateful for my husband's family who planned it and insisted we come.  I need fun people in my life who encourage us to get away in the middle of the busiest time of the year for us.  (Not a choice we would have made on our own.) They blessed us with their planning and enthusiasm.  I am sitting here going through the pictures, being reminded of the beautiful moments, so I had to post a few.

I love how excited my boys (and their cousin) were - especially my middle son. 
 He smiled and smiled and could not get enough of it all. 
I love how I was reminded that everything doesn't have to be perfect to have a great time.  We all look so happy in the picture, but my husband is running a fever and I cannot breathe through my nose - I had a terrible head cold and was recovering from three days worth of a fever.  But, still - we had a great time.  The whole family had been so sick for the two weeks before the trip, I was stressed about our illnesses ruining our possibly once-in-a-lifetime trip which had been in the works for years.  Guess what?  Two of us were still sick and we still had so much fun. I love when God reminds me that when He says in the Bible we do not have to worry that...we actually do not have to worry.  
 I loved dancing with my boys.  This is dumb.  Totally dumb, but I am trying to raise my boys to dance.  Because, ladies - don't we love when our men dance with us? We don't care if they are good at it or not, we just love when they get up, wrap their arms around us and dance. 
 I loved the fact that we flew down to Florida, away from all of our piles of snow...to...go...play...in...the...snow. 
My middle son is noticeably absent because of his aversion to Frozen.  (Read more about this here.) Instead, he was watching Iron Man clips on the phone with his Dad, clinging to  his manhood. ( In the photo, I added the snow overlay in Photoshop.  I got it for free here.)
 I loved that I got to see this every morning.  I see God's beauty in moments like this.
 I love that my oldest son stuck like glue to me. For whatever the reason he decided I was it.  He held my hand. He walked with me.  He sat by me. And he wanted me to go on the roller coasters with me. (The big ones - a first time for him)  I soaked it in. I also see God's beauty in moments like this.
 My youngest saw piglet coming and ducked under the table. He then came out sobbing to cling for dear life to his dad. Just a reminder that just because everyone else likes something (Piglet and the popular Disney character lunches) does not mean that you should have to (even if it seems like something you would really like.) Not everything is for everyone and that is okay.
I loved how much this trip connected us all. 
I loved how our youngest took Disney so seriously.  On the bus ride from the airport to our hotel, he sat up straight and intently watched Disney's video outlining the parks rules and information. He had that attitude the whole time, carefully checking his height against the required height signs and sighing with relief when he could join us.  Oh my. So cute.
This guy just makes my heart pitter-patter.  I had a fever when we were packing (he did not yet) so he took over and let me sleep off my chills. It's silly, but moments like that can be my favorite.  They make me feel loved.
And really, does this game ever get old?
Or does hamming it up for the camera ever get old?
And this lovely woman, she turned 40 on our big trip. She is a beautiful 40, isn't she?
This trip was a gift. Getting away is good. And important.  Once we have overcome the stress of packing and getting there - to be able to be away from all our distractions and focus on us as a family...
so worth it.

Moments lost and living your dream.

Passing time burdens my heart. 

I hate how fast time moves. Hours, days, months, years...how quickly they pass and are gone forever. My kids grow way too fast and I hate it. My heart holds a lingering sadness for the sweet moments with my children that disappear; especially when I didn't even realize the last time was over.  

I recently read this post (on The Wiegand's blog) that articulated how I felt.  She talked about how so many last times have slipped through her fingers without the realization that the moment was forever gone.  Like, the last time she held her oldest on her hip. At one point she put her oldest son down and didn't pick him up again. 

I also can't remember some of the last times with my boys. Moments that I didn't realize I would never do again.

I can't remember the last time my oldest son kissed me on the lips. At some point he turned his head when I went to kiss him and that is how it has been ever since.

I can't remember the last time my middle son asked me to snuggle with him to help him fall asleep. He used to ask me every night, then it became more sporadic until he stopped asking. The last time he asked came and went and I didn't realize it was the last time.

My baby. I can't remember the last time I held him as an infant all balled up on my chest.  At some point he grew too big and stretched out his legs and that moment was over.

My brain searches for perspective and I ask myself, what was biggest my dream?  Of all my dreams in life, I wanted most to be a wife and mom. To fully experience a dream you have to experience every aspect of it, the joy and the pain. Without the fear, you can't experience the courage. Pain and hardship can stir in you a deep and different kind of love and compassion. The top is made more beautiful by the challenge of the climb.  Loss can create a greater appreciation for what we have.

To fully experience motherhood and to truly understand what it means to be a mom, I have to experience it in its entirety. As much as we might hate the pains of motherhood, they can bless us just as much as they burden us. The challenges can make us strong, wise, courageous, and full of love and grace and compassion. The joys and the pain in motherhood has grown my heart and I like the change I see in me.

And in my search for perspective, my head tells my heart that what I really long for is not so much that my kids stay little forever, but is that the love and beautiful connection we share last forever.  It can. Of course, it can.

Because, I still have those sweet moments with my boys that connect us...they are just different.

My oldest sauntering into the kitchen with a slightly puffed out chest and pride on his face the first time he put on his full football gear. He lingered near for me to notice and declare how big and strong he looked.

My middle son wakes before his brothers, comes downstairs and asks me to play Clue with him. 

My youngest runs to me bursting with excitement to proudly show me the frog he caught.

The precious moments still exist. The connection and love is still there...they have just grown up with my children. And I know that someday, I will look back and realize how precious the moments I am experiencing right now were. The sadness I feel because of moments lost help me better enjoy the moments I have right now.

The hope in these thoughts shine brighter than the lingering sadness. God surrounds me and loves me through these encouraging thoughts.

Once again - in my life - God wins.

Fear and Insecurities

 One of my biggest fears about going back to work after 6 years of being a stay-at-home-mom was feeling like I wouldn't have enough time with my kids. Instead, I feel like I have become more intentional with my time.

Like tonight, my son and I snuck out to enjoy some night skating - totally one of our favorite things to do together.

 I love when God shows me that He is bigger than my insecurities.

photography - my nieces

I absolutely love taking pictures of my boys, but - oh my - it is so...much...fun to take pictures of my little nieces. I wanted to take the photos outside, despite the cold, to get better light so I asked my youngest niece to pretend like she was Queen Elsa - you know...because the cold didn't bother her anyway.

It totally worked.  She happily dance around and posed for the camera despite the chilly temperature.

I am not used to Disney, or princesses, or Frozen being a motivator to get my children to do anything.

A few weeks back, we were all in the car and this conversation happened:

Middle Son: No one here better say the F-word.
We all went quiet.  My mind is racing.  How does he know the F-word, he is only in 2nd grade?  If he actually says the real F-word, I don't know what I am going to do.  Oh my goodness, please don't let him say the real F-word. My mind is spinning and I am thinking of what to say next. I finally settle on the obvious.
Me:  What is the F-word?
Middle Son: FROZEN!

The mention of Frozen sends my middle son running, but not my niece. Pretending like she is Queen Elsa gives her so much joy she will dance around in the cold so I can get good photos of her. I love that.

And my older niece had just lost her second front tooth, so was enjoying showing off her new smile.

They are both so cute. I love being an aunt.

Collect Memories

I love New Year's Resolutions. I have been reading other peoples' resolutions and words of the year and there is some good stuff out there.

But this resolution, by my beautiful cousin and mother of five, took my breath away:

"2015. My theme for last year will continue into the new one. Collect every moment possible and not worry, stress, obsess about things. When asked what my crew loved about last year it all had to do with memories, opportunities we had as a family and being with beautiful people we love. Jesus told the rich young ruler, do away with your possessions and follow me. He was not interested in others collecting things. He is and always will be all about people, passing down His wisdom through stories and His life and glorifying His father. We don't know what is to come in the New Year but building a foundation of memories and our faith in Jesus will help us with whatever comes our way. Galatians 5: 22-23 {LOVE.}"

Collect memories. Somehow this simplifies things for me. It seems attainable and realistic. It seems really fun. In collecting memories, think about how much more we are really doing: creating a loving home; getting to know our kids; spending quality time together; sharing stories and passing down wisdom; building a solid family unit; enjoying life; living in the moment; helping our kids to become best friends with each other; emphasizing the importance of family; and teaching our kids what Jesus taught us, that people and relationships are more important than things. If I read that list alone, I can wonder how that can all be done. When I hear, "collect memories." Well, that just seems fun. I can do that. 

Thank you, Jackie, for simplifying it for me. To all you moms out there - I learn so much from you.