All week, I’ve bounced around some ideas about what I would write in my next blog. While others are figuring out ways to establish world peace, or experimenting to find cures for horrible diseases, and teachers are returning back to work, kissing their summer goodbye, and parents are sending kids off to college, I’m bouncing around ideas for a blog. Seems pretty insignificant in the big scheme of things.
I’ve kind of looked at this whole blog thing as a way to write about events and situations that are happening in my life–a release, and a kind of therapy. I’ve never really thought about the possibility that something I write could actually help someone else. That it could serve a greater purpose. Have I made this all about me? Wow. That seems pretty selfish.
As I ponder my self-centeredness, and as I write about the challenges I’ve faced this week, it is with a humble heart that I come to you hoping that in some way something I say resonates with you, and possibly helps you with something you’re facing or dealing with. I know I don’t have that kind of power–the kind that fixes things in others’ lives–but God does, and sometimes he uses other people as his handymen. So again, with a humble heart, I hope that He will use me as a vessel, and that the words He gives me will pour over you, and wash away whatever fears you’re facing, and trials you’re enduring, and every now and then, maybe I’ll make you laugh.
As I was getting my laptop out to write about my week filled with obstacles and struggles, which are all only first-world problems, I kicked over my Yeti tumbler, which was on the floor next to the couch, and was filled with my newly-made iced coffee. Before we go any further, you have to understand my love affair with iced coffee. Its roots go way back to my Grandma Smith. She didn’t make iced coffee, but she’s the person who introduced me to coffee. It wasn’t the straight black kind that makes me imagine what it might be like to drink motor oil or something equally disgusting and toxic. Her coffee was sugared up, and topped off with fresh cream. It was heavenly and it was served in a pink Melmac cup.
That was the only coffee I ever drank until I began student teaching. I found that caffeine in any form was necessary, and there was a Mr. Coffee set up in the teachers’ lounge. To be clear, I hated every sip of the bold and bitter cup of Joe. But I drank it because it seemed like a teachery thing to do.
In 1999, while in a Starbucks in New York City, I ordered a Venti Mocha Frappuccino Lite. I’m sure I have the adjectives of the Starbucks lexicon switched around, but you know what I’m talking about. Frozen coffee. When I took the first sip, and eventually recovered from the unexpected “brain freeze,” I was reminded of my Grandma Smith’s coffee, but it was on ice. Kind of like what Disney does–takes a story, puts it on ice, and makes it even more graceful and beautiful. That mocha frappuccino was not only flavorful, but also full of memories. Reminders of simple moments of early mornings spent with my grandmother.
When I arrived home from that trip, I tried to recreate my experience. I made the coffee and put it in a blender with ice. Epic fail. It was watered down, and the ice wasn’t slushy, but rather in little shards. I could never get the right consistency, and by adding more ice, I diluted the flavor. So what do you do when life gives you coffee grounds? You try again. I decided to take a different approach and used instant coffee that I mixed with a little bit of water, and then I added milk. Very simple, but it captured the flavor that was closest to that NYC frappuccino experience, which was really a trip down memory lane with Grandma Smith. I drank this for years every morning. I filled a glass with ice, and poured the drink over it. (I also added artificial sweeteners. Please don’t go off the rails and tell me how bad they are for me. I know. I don’t use them anymore).
Now that I’ve explained my life through coffee, I will get back to my point…
I sat down to write this blog, and kicked over my Yeti filled with iced coffee (McCafe Breakfast Blend pod for Keurig, topped off with Coffee Mate liquid creamer). As soon as I heard the crash against the tile floor, I knew the river of coffee would be everywhere. Before I could grab a towel, my dog Lorelai, and Christopher’s dog Ace began lapping up this liquid form of heaven. And these dogs don’t need any form of caffeine. They are at full throttle on their own. As they splashed around and licked the floor, I was thinking that two weeks ago, this may have done me in. I may have been mad and screamed something like %#$@*&!. But this morning, it was just another thing that had gone wrong in a week of things that went wrong. Just one more thing to remind me that life is filled with inconveniences, negativity, challenges, sadness, and things that just make you mad.
I wiped the coffee up, sprayed the floor with Mrs. Meyers’ basil scented cleaner, wadded up a handful of paper towels, finished cleaning up the mess, and went back to the coffee pot and made another iced coffee. Because that’s what you do. You keep trying. You do things over. You hope the next outcome is better.
Since I’ve rattled on far too long about coffee, somehow trying to make it a metaphor for life, I need to just add some things I’ve learned about myself:
I never take the easy way out, even when that is the best possible answer for whatever I’m dealing with. Many times, I make things harder than they should be. I create my own unequaled level of “hardness.”
I received the critique from the literary edit on my work of fiction this week. I discovered the email after returning from my “yearly check-up,” an event which is always nerve-wracking and traumatic for me and every other woman in the world. It starts with having to stand on the scale, and moves on to having your blood pressure taken. I hate that inflatable thing that makes you certain your arm is about to explode into a million pieces. My blood pressure is always higher when I see that contraption coming toward me. On this day, after it inflated bigger than a beach ball, it had an “error” and I had to go through the entire process again. And my blood pressure was HIGH. I noted to the nurse that I preferred the old school apparatus and she agreed. Next on the list, I wrapped myself in a larger version of a paper towel and then endured all the poking and prodding and questioning. I mentioned my blood pressure and the doctor said they would take it again when the stressful part of the visit was over…a.k.a. after you’ve been stripped of all your dignity.
The nurse came back in and re-took my blood pressure using the velcro strap, manual kind of tool, and quelle surprise! It went down 22 points, and was in a very good range. This was a victory for me! I was relieved and felt I beat the system, reinforcing the idea that “newfangled” inventions aren’t always better.
After I strutted home like a proud peacock, I opened my email, downloaded and printed the critique, and sat numbly at the table, not knowing what to do next. Oh, overall, it was an excellent outcome. The editor was extremely complimentary and said that in the end, she knew that I would have a book my readers “adored.” But I had some big things that needed to be changed. I knew this was coming. That’s why I opted for this kind of edit. There are always holes in the story, because as an author, you understand the plot sequences, but to the reader, it may be very murky and confusing. The editor gave me three options of how I could rewrite the book (not completely rewrite it, but make some very big and important changes). The first option was the hardest and not the one she recommended, even though she said she thought it would be the best way to present the book. She gave me a run-down on option 3, which would require me to exclude the first two chapters and start at another place. She said it was the easiest way to rewrite it. Maybe it’s because she used the word easy, but I immediately crossed off that choice. I couldn’t let go of those first two chapters. I had to be true to them and to myself.
So now, I’m in editing hell. I spent the rest of the day Monday crying and thinking, “I can’t do this,” and then moving on to “Wow! I have a great idea! This will be better than the original plot!” and then back to the state of wailing and gnashing of teeth, and asking, “Why me, Lord? Why can’t anything ever be easy?” And it was in that question that I realized who I am. It’s not about the book needing to be fixed, or the effort that will take, or the disappointment that had sort of crept into my mind and shook my confidence. It’s about me and how I can’t just do something a little bit. I’m always ALL IN. The only pressure I have is the pressure I put on myself. And it is tremendous. But usually it’s in that pressure, and in that stress that I overcome and end up with something I’m proud of. I often feel like the Phoenix, who emerges from the fire renewed, refreshed, regenerated. After every set-back, disappointment, poor choice, or life-changing event, I come out stronger because I don’t let myself take the easy way out. Sure it’s more painful, excruciating and mentally exhausting, but it’s always worth it. AlthoughI’m weary from writing, and re-writing, and trying to fix my story, I know that in the end, I will be proud of what I’ve done because “I didn’t cheat the grind.” In the east Texas vernacular, I have been working my @$$ off and I will never regret it. I know if I take the easier way out, I will always be haunted by the truth that I didn’t give it my all.
So what point am I trying to make? That I’m crazy? That I can’t relax until things are as close to perfect as I can get them? That I set completely unrealistic expectations for myself? That I rarely relax or take days off? These aren’t things I’m proud of, but this is who I am. So I have to own it and use all these negatives in a way that makes life better for those around me. It’s a struggle every day. My mind never shuts off. And I’m wayyyyyy too hard on myself. And maybe I’m a little dramatic and whiney too.
BUT…Just when I think I can’t finish the things I’ve started. Just when I’m so tired that I want to give up. Just when I think I can’t take one more setback or disappointment, God comes a’ knockin’, through a song, or a thought, or a family of deer in the yard, or two puppies dancing around in a puddle of iced coffee. Reminders that I am not in control of anything but my God is. And through Him, I am free. Free from stress, sadness, feeling like a failure, high blood pressure, paper towel gowns, and stories that I can’t put on paper.
In Max Lucado’s book, “Anxious for Nothing,” he gives this acronym for CALM:
Celebrate, Ask, Leave, Meditate. When I’m struggling, I think of this. Celebrate God’s goodness, Ask God for help, Leave your concerns with Him, Meditate on the good things.
I also use another acronym that I learned from my Prayerful Planner (seriously consider purchasing one. Awesomeness. https://www.prayerfulplanner.com/
Gratitude- train your heart to be thankful and give credit where it’s due.
Reflection- develop a habit of reflecting on your day.
Action- create an action plan for the next day (this frees your mind and helps you focus and the planner is set up to help you do this)
Confession- this keeps you honest and lightens the heaviness you may feel.
Evidence- jot down all the ways God has shown up by answering prayers, providing opportunities, or picking you up when you feel lost or alone.
In a week full of moments of feeling overwhelmed,with an endless to-do list, and my mind on over-load, I repeatedly questioned how I would ever, in my lifetime, finish this book. Frustrated and tired, I was driving through the neighborhood with tears rolling down my cheeks. I switched the radio station, looking for something more soothing, and I heard Kari Jobe singing, “I Am Not Alone.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that song just when I needed it. When the song was over, the DJ followed it up by stating we are all guilty of condemning ourselves for our failures, choices, and outcomes. But in God, we are free. I. Am. Free. What a wonderful truth!
Earlier in the week, when I had my head buried on the table, covered up in all the things I felt I “couldn’t do,” I lifted myself up and checked my email. My morning devotional was about how we are made from dust and will return to dust. But in between, God takes that dust and adds water, and we become clay. We are molded and shaped and that is wherein our hope lies. His mercies are new EVERY morning. Great is thy faithfulness.
I’m reading a book by Lysa TerKeurst, and on that same day when I was struggling with motivation and feeling defeated, her words were about dust, and water, and being re-shaped, and molded and reborn. Message received, God. You are never subtle. If we only open our ears and listen.
Thank you, Lord, for spilling into my thoughts. Thank you for the hard things. Thank you for not giving up on me.
I hear you loud and clear, and you’re telling me that you’re not finished with me yet.
You’re reminding me about the dust and water recipe.
(And maybe you’re encouraging me to do a little dusting…)
In a week that has been filled with our new billboard sized (not really, but close)TV of less than a month going out (but the person in New Delhi has scheduled an appointment for someone to come look at it this week), the unexpected death of a high school friend, not-so-good-news about a coach with cancer, my oldest having to stay an extra day with a player in Spain while a VISA issue was sorted out (and all I can picture is my 14 year-old son stranded in a foreign country…he’s actually 29, but you moms know what I mean), and all of the above things I’ve already droned on about, it’s great knowing that I’m not alone. We all struggle and feel that things seem to keep happening to us while everyone else carelessly skates through life. We’re all battling something, so whatever you’re going to war for, I pray that you might remember those acronyms, CALM and GRACE. Hopefully, they will be helpful, and if so, then spilling my coffee was worth it.
And remember, when things are difficult, it’s in those hard times that you discover who you are and what you’re made of.