Lowering My Standards

Originally posted 6/30/14

My job description could read: Spend all day putting things back where they started. Matchbox cars, pretend food, books. Wash, dry, fold, put back. Repeat. Maintain. Keep needs met, keep everybody alive.

Most of the things I do get undone again before the day is through and I rarely feel like I’m making progress. I am not even the type that thrives on checking things off a list, I make lists and then lose them. Still, I have a deep need to accomplish something each day, to progress toward a goal, to feel like I’m getting somewhere. I want to follow through on my great ideas. I want something to show for all my effort, like a finished project and a clean bathroom. I know that this season of having tiny kids is largely about survival, but that knowledge doesn’t keep me from wanting the best out of it.

While I was in college I had a gazillion jobs. One of them was in a big pink Queen Anne style house helping a family manage their life. When I say help, I mean childcare, housecleaning, carpool, tutoring, overnights, errands- you name it. The wife was a lawyer turned stay-at-home mom who left her career to focus on her two little girls, her home and her incredible garden. What I wouldn’t give to have my college self to help me run my life right now. I spent every morning from 8-10am (before my design studio class at 11am) putting their house back together. I made beds, did breakfast dishes (and last night’s dinner dishes), took out trash, walked dogs, polished brass bathroom fixtures (seriously) and any other chore that needed to be done. I would occasionally ponder (in my naive 20 year old mind) how on earth this brilliant and hard working woman who had been a successful lawyer, could have such a difficult time holding down the fort.

I get it now. Sometimes I think my fort is holding nicely, but recently I crawled into bed at midnight only to remember how early that morning one of the kids came into our bed and peed in my spot. I forgot about it all day and then as I’m exhausted and dying to go to sleep, I actually smelled it to see if it was bad enough to constitute changing the sheets. I can hear my 20 year old self, “How exactly do you forget that someone peed in your bed? And then consider sleeping on it all night?” I don’t know “young on-the-ball Steph,” I don’t know. These days are wild.

It’s not that my pink house mom friend was incapable of running her own household, it was that life pulled her in so many directions that getting stuff done just didn’t happen everyday. She was able to pay me to make sure her sheets were clean and so she could major in what she really cared about; enjoying the people in her life and the beauty around her. At this point, I’m not contracting out my less desirable tasks, but I’d still like to find ways to major in what I care about.

I heard somewhere that the key to being a good parent is to lower your standards. To which I gasped. And then I considered the reality of having the cleanest house, the most manicured lawn, the perfect nutrition, the next promotion and the best students, ballerinas and soccer players in town. High standards, but at what cost? What will suffer to keep those standards up? I must lower some standards so that I can elevate others. It’s a balancing act of more of this and less of that. If I want to give my best effort to what I care about most, then some other things are going to fall through the cracks. More often the valuable things fall to the wayside while we make productivity and “being the best” our idols.

What are the things I value most? What are the destinations that I’m trying to progress toward anyway?  A life that reflects Jesus, a strong marriage, connection with my kids, a stable home that people feel welcomed in. Time to have meaningful experiences, to be present in relationships, to care for others and to enjoy beauty. Time to BE and not always DO. They say that goals should be measurable, but how do I measure all of that? They’re hard to check off a list and tricky to quantify, but if these are my goals then progress is bound to look different than an empty sink.

If I keep my house as clean as I want it, then I will not have time to sit and play trains. If I want to be present with my husband, I can’t always be multi-tasking. And if I refuse to bend on how I want an experience to pan out, I will miss the beauty of it unfolding.

Stuff does have to get done- digging clothes out of the dirty hamper every day is a bummer of a way to live. Work is good and necessary, worship even. And it allows room for the sweet stuff. But, there is only so much time in the day and unless I hire a domestic staff, I will have to leave the birdseed that spilled all over the carpet until tomorrow. I just didn’t get to it today.

The truth is, intangible rewards are tough to hold on to. We have to look hard for them and recognize that our baby steps will eventually turn into miles down the road. The satisfaction of seeing the tracks my vacuum made is nothing compared to watching a life lesson in the midst of being learned. The perfectly balanced meal I just served is pale in the light of my son squeezing his sister and saying, “I just love your sweet little arms Harper.”

armsqueeze

I guess sometimes progress might just look like a mountain of laundry on the guest bed and birdseed on the floor.

BRIGHT SPOT

Queen Anne style architecture

A list of Queen Anne features is hard to come by. Some are gingerbread-y, some brick, most with bay windows, balconies, stained glass, turrets, porches, feminine colors and a bunch of decorative details combined. Often called romantic and ornate, Queen Anne architecture can come in many looks —the Queen doesn’t like to be pinned down.

Queen Anne Hill in Seattle, WA gets its name from the many giant old mansion style homes that line the neighborhood streets. Most with Garden Club worthy yards. As an interior design student at Seattle Pacific University, this was ideal for my college neighborhood. I spent many afternoon jogs marveling at every detail.

Here is a brief description of Queen Anne style architecture and its history.

Jumping In

Originally posted 7/30/15

I made a really important life decision when I was 15.

I was at summer camp, lying on a fun island in the lake while watching people go off the rope swing.

My friend Beka got up there (all fit and fabulous) and swung out, somersaulted in the air and landed perfectly in the water. I had been wanting to try the rope swing because it looked really fun, but then my inner voice started babbling on about how I don’t trust my upper body strength and how I will definitely look clumsy and chubby so I should just pretend like I’m not interested.

And then it dawned on me- I don’t want to just watch people enjoy life, I want to participate. If a rope swing sounds fun to me, I should try it. Even if it scares me a little. So before I swam back to shore that day, I made a decision. 

I will not miss out on opportunities to participate in life because I am afraid of how I’ll look doing it. I will not let pride and self-conscious living steal from my experiences. I will enjoy this life, in all its glory.

It probably wasn’t so articulate in my head that day, but my decision made an immediate difference. Before I left camp that week I went off that rope swing, I climbed a 40 ft pole and jumped out to catch a bar (which I missed by a long shot) and I sang with my whole heart during worship even when the boy I liked was too cool for it.

When I peel back the layers of what was going on at the time, I can see how pivotal this decision was for me. I thought I was overweight and noticed that the boys wanted to be my friend, but were more interested in my prettier or more athletic friends. I was concerned about looking good and being accepted, but I had also been taught to embrace me for me. I had an adventurous spirit and I liked that about myself. I wanted to be true to that.

At the same time, I was facing the fact that my mom had been diagnosed with cancer. I was seeing life as more precious and potentially much shorter than I had before. And as I tried to push my teenage hopes of being fabulous into this grown-up perspective, it became quite clear that looking good while swinging from a rope isn’t really what life is about.

In the 27 years that followed, that simple decision has proven to shape my experiences. I am not as attractive, as athletic or as smart as some, but that hasn’t keep me from jumping in. I am a jack of all trades, master of nothing and I’m happy about that. My life is rich and one of the reasons for that is that I keep choosing to participate. That 15 year old has whispered in my ear hundreds of times saying, “enjoy this.”

“Travel to that new place, wear your swimsuit often, go on that snowboarding trip, apply for that job, sign up for that half-marathon, do things that aren’t comfortable, speak up in that meeting, play soccer on Wednesdays with your staff, wait for the right one, marry him, have babies, dress up for halloween, swim with your kids, cook for people, start a blog, keep trying to have another baby…”

Maybe it’s not weak arms and a chubby stomach that’s keeping you from jumping in, but I imagine it’s something. If it’s wisdom, then listen to it. But if it’s fear- of failing, looking foolish, not wanting to get your heart broken or not measuring up- then it’s time to break free and learn to enjoy. As it turns out, life is both precious and short.

Pick Me

This week marks 3 years since I starting writing here and to celebrate I am re-sharing one old post each day this week. Thank you for coming into my stories and for letting me into yours. ❤

Originally posted on 3/18/15

My 3 year old daughter is obsessed with this little game she recently made up called “kitty in a cage.” She pretends to be a cat (the basis for most things these days) and wants you to buy her for 5 cents. Sometimes it’s 5 dollars and the other day it was 7 dollars, but usually it’s just 5 cents.
Her ideal set up is that she sits in our dog’s bed and her dad (my husband Brian) is the one shopping for a cat. He pretends to be looking for a kitty to take home while she meows. He asks her questions like, “Do you scratch?” “Are you soft?” He draws the whole thing out just the way she wants him to. He’ll always ask what her name is and she’ll say “Sparkle Kitty” in her high pitched cat voice while closing her eyes and nuzzling his hand. He asks if she likes dogs because he has one at home and wants them to be friends. She always says, “No, I’m not nice to dogs.”

She doesn’t always sell herself well, but nonetheless the game always ends with Brian giving his money, picking her up and carrying her home.

Silly little game, but after the hundredth time I saw them playing it, it dawned on me what she was doing. Besides living out her dream of being a cat, my 3 year old little girl created a scenario where over and over again she gets to be chosen by her dad. She doesn’t realize that he chooses her in a hundred ways every day. She has no idea what foundational work is being laid. She just knows that she likes it.

Being picked feels good. It speaks louder than anything else; telling us that we are valuable. Worth the time, worth the energy, worth the love. And we need it. Even if we’ve done everything we can not to need it, it’s there. God created us to be in relationship and we need to be chosen- by our parents, our friends, our mate and ultimately by God himself. Even if our need is all jacked up because the ones that were “supposed to pick us” chose not to, we still have hope. Since God is the one that put the need in us, He has the power to meet it. And He will. 

“I am the Lord; those who hope in the me will not be disappointed.” Isaiah 49:23

Trials That Change Your Fabric

This week marks 3 years since I starting writing here and to celebrate I am re-sharing one old post each day this week. Thank you for coming into my stories and for letting me into yours. ❤


Originally posted on 3/18/14

There are trials. And then there are the trials that change your fabric.
The lessons of pain and beauty become so intertwined that they’re forever joined. I wouldn’t say it defines me, but this story is woven in so tightly now that I can’t separate it from who I’ve become.

This is my family, somewhere around 1986. You can tell by my sister’s hair. She was so good at feathering.

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I grew up in a small town in Oregon. My parents were new Christians and we had a sweet childhood. My mom was an especially bright spot, light of the world really.

Right before my 14th birthday my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was 40. She was a nurse, the cancer was aggressive, she was aggressive, but it still metastasized. Her lungs, her spine and eventually her brain.

The next 12 years saw 9+ surgeries, 4 seasons of chemotherapy, radiation, a two month hospital stay at The University of Washington Medical Center, a month-long treatment at Loma Linda Medical Center, etc, etc. All the while, trying to work and raise 3 kids with my wonderful (but very heartbroken) dad. God’s hand was working, but pain became very real to us. The rhythms of those years were;

  • Test results
  • Fear and faith taking turns
  • Nausea =baked potatoes for dinner again
  • mom back on the tennis court with dad
  • Off the court and in the hospital again
  • Curious of how mom’s hair would grow back this time
  • Friends bringing meals and sitting with mom while she made them feel better
  • Christmas morning photos with mom in her little turban, thankful for another year together

I was sad a lot and asked God everyday to heal her. I agonized over every opportunity that took me away from her. I cried on her hospital bed when I was 16, scheduled for a missions trip to New Zealand that left the next morning. She had just had a lobe of her lung removed and she begged me to go as planned.

Eventually it was going away to college, summer opportunities, jobs, using my gifts, etc, etc. She pushed me to go.

I saw her suffer. Things I can hardly say out loud without my heart breaking. And I watched my dad suffer. And my sister and my brother. And my 2 best friends that only had her for a mom. And many more who trusted her and were inspired by her.

My mom taught me early to look for the golden threads in our situation. She would say, “We get to see God work in ways others never will.” I didn’t love it when she said that, but looking back now I can see them. Those shiny bright parts woven into us.

  • We celebrated often
  • I lived with an urgency to love well and keep short accounts
  • I became assertive. I listened in meetings with doctors about decisions and asked good questions
  • I didn’t have a strained relationship with my parents like 95% of my friends did with theirs
  • My sister and brother and I clung to each other in ways that still connect us deeply
  • We talked about hard things
  • Petty things seemed petty
  • God felt nearer

12 long years. And then a couple of weeks before I turned 26, on Christmas Eve, she died.

And I found it real hard to find the golden threads. The “good in all of this.” The parts that are “making me better” and “bringing hope to the world.” I still struggle now, 14 years later, to understand why He didn’t let her stay. Why He said “no” to the thousands of prayers for her healing.

Suffering makes us dig deep. Don’t we want deep? Don’t we want real? To know what we’re made of? The chance to witness His redeeming work that brings beauty from ashes?

There are hard realities of living in loss. I need her. I have the complete incredible Jesus, but I want her too. My dad doesn’t get to live the second half of his life by her side. My sister and brother ache for her. She never met my husband.

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Photo courtesy of Chana and Don

(My bridal bouquet with a photo of my mom on her wedding day.)

Now that we have two small kids, boy do I need her. I need her to help me, inspire me and talk me off the ledge. I need her to know them. For them to experience her salt & light, her acceptance and her warmth.

But I can’t bring her back so I’ll accept the depth that has come. I want depth. In my relationships, in my work, in the way I see the world. More than anything I want to see God and frankly that depth often finds its route through our aches and longings. Suffering makes things dark and cloudy, but if we wait long enough and dig deep enough, we’ll find the golden stuff.

Every trial has some golden threads. He weaves them in to remind us that He loves us and that we’re not alone. My very being- the fabric of who I am is shiner now. I’ll never be the same. 

“He is near to the broken-hearted.” Psalm 34:18

Jesus makes a lot of “I am” statements (I am the light, the door, the shepherd, the truth…) and ultimately just says “I am.” Period.

“I am here.”  Not just “I was” or “I will be,” but now, “I AM.” Wherever you’re at, He is sufficient. He lacks nothing. He is complete.

Woven throughout scripture and throughout my life is the truth that He digs deepest. He reminds us, He pursues us.

And when he reaches us, He has what we need.


This week’s “Bright Spot”- Mom’s Legendary Cheesecake

This cheesecake made me love cheesecake. I’m not a big fan of typical cheesecake, but this one…it might change your life. My mom made it most years at Christmas and eventually it was what I requested every year on my birthday. I now make it every chance I get and this cheesecake is legendary. I have been asked for this recipe more than any other thing I’ve made. The secret is that it has two layers; one with cream cheese and one with sour cream. Creamy, a little tangy and altogether perfect.

1 ¼ cups crushed graham crackers
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup melted butter

Combine above ingredients with fork until blended. Cover sides and bottom of a springform pan with mixture using the back of spoon.
Put in refrigerator to set.

Layer #1
1 lb. cream cheese (softened)
½ cup sugar
2 large eggs at room temp
¾ tsp vanilla

Separate eggs and beat whites until stiff. Combine all other ingredients in separate bowl and then fold in egg whites. Mix together until smooth.
Pour over chilled crust and bake at 375° for 20 min. Let cool for 15 min.

Layer #2
1 pint sour cream
¼ cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Mix all together and spoon over cooled cake. Bake at 475° for 10 min
Chill in refrigerator until served