Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Worst Thing That Can Happen

For several years I worked for a number of magazines where deadlines were constant, clients were often difficult and my cell phone rang from early morning till late night. Getting paid was a game of roulette, but if I made waves there was a chance I wouldn't get paid at all. Such is the life of a freelance writer.

The pinnacle came when I was the lead writer for a business magazine – I started on a team of five that slowly dwindled to three, then two and then there was one -- one person responsible for content in five magazines! I rarely got thanked for a job well done, but took my licks when something was overlooked. In ten years I never, ever missed a deadline.

It took its toll.

Anxiety attacks, depression, a short fuse – that was the tradeoff for a paycheck.

Shopping for groceries one day it reached fever pitch. My mind raced with its constant "to-do" list. My chest tightened and I became lightheaded. Questions were swimming through my mind – what if I forget something? What if I fail? What if I let them down?

Then, another voice, another question, another possibility…so what? What's the worst thing that can happen?

My ribs released their death-grip on my lungs. My head cleared. I took a deep breath. So what? The world won't stop spinning, the magazine will still get printed, and I will go on living.

I've been thinking a lot lately about that day. About boundaries.

You see, I used to confuse being a conscientious worker with being a doormat. No longer. A wise friend tried for years to get me to set a schedule – "You work for yourself," she said, "say no once in awhile." But I was scared. What if I turned something away and I never got work again? What if I said, "I'm sorry, I have other commitments, I can't do your interview at 9 o'clock at night. Let's try for Thursday morning instead," and they complained to my editor?

In the grand scheme of things – nothing.

Now, I keep a schedule. I'm "in the office" certain hours – and they don't include 9 o'clock on a Friday night. I protect other priorities as well. Date night once a week. Church on Sunday. Intentional time with the children. (I try for quiet time with God in the morning, but I confess I'm still a little weak on this one.)

Boundaries are healthy. Boundaries help us manage our schedules and our lives. It still gets hectic sometimes, but the occasional busyness is not the same as the chronic stress that once threatened to overwhelm me. When I'm tempted to take on "just one more task" than I know I can handle, I stop, take a deep breath and say no. It takes practice, but in the end, it's so worth it.

After all, what's the worst thing that can happen?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Of Forgiveness and Shopping Carts

I read today that you can tell how big a person is by how small a thing it takes to frustrate him. I wish I would have read that before my big toe got run over. Right there in the meat aisle, between the chicken and the fish, "wham!" I got t-boned by an errant shopping cart driven by my 9-year old daughter trying valiantly to entertain a whiny toddler. My reaction was less than gracious.

I didn't swear. I didn't even yell. I just glared at her and uttered an icy "move." Her eyes welled up, but I paid no attention. I grabbed the cart and sped away – leaving her embarrassed and sad as I hobbled off. Was it so bad? No, I wasn't even bleeding. No harm, no foul really. And so what if I had bled? Was it so large a thing as to injure my child's heart? If I had given her but a second, she would have apologized and I could have responded with an appropriate word of caution and assurance that I was okay – no hospitalization would be necessary.

But I blew it. The only good thing is that it gave me the chance to apologize, a thing parents don't do enough of, in my estimation anyway. I tried very hard not to attach an excuse – no "Mommy's tired," or "the heat is getting to me." Just a plain, unvarnished "I'm sorry" with "please forgive me " tacked on for good measure. And you know what? She did. Kids are like that.

I'm amazed that for everything I've learned, there's still so much I forget. Nearly 21 years of parenting under my belt and I'm constantly reminded of how far I've yet to go to earn "Mother of the Year." Maybe next year will be my year.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Keeping It Real

Trying to be someone else doesn't work. I know – I've tried it. The horrible soul-sucking, pretzel-twisting calisthenics required to keep up the charade just wasn't worth it.

Two Sundays ago my pastor gave a fabulous sermon on being who you are created to be in Christ and it was like water for my thirsty soul. It was a light-bulb moment, as the saying goes, and suddenly it made perfect sense. It was like God spoke into my heart, "Shannon, you can't be someone you're not any more than you can sprout wings and fly. You might want to, but it just won't work."

I won't recite the teaching for you, but I'll give you my example here. For years I had a picture in my mind of the perfect Christian woman….how she dresses, what she does and even what she feeds her family. But, every time I tried to be that woman, I got more and more depressed. I felt like I was trying to squeeze someone else's personality into my body, and it was painful! I even made a decision in the early days of my marriage that haunts my family to this day by trying to be that woman.

But, apparently, I didn't learn.

Recently, I tried to be that woman again. I took on something that was very good, but not for us. It was something we had tried before with mixed results, and something that had resulted in a health setback for me in the past. But, it was good, right? So that must be God's will, right? Wrong. My family suffered again, and just like before, I got sick. Stress is a trigger for my illness and because I was trying to do something outside of God's will for us, I believe I stressed far more than I should have. It was beyond my gifting and beyond my calling. (Here I should point out that there are times when God calls us to do hard things, but the operative word here is calling. If God hasn't called you to do it, no matter how good it is, I think it's destined for failure.)

So, we let go of it. Believing in God's protection and perfect leading for our lives, we let go of the good in search of His will.

And suddenly, I can breathe again.

I no longer feel like I’m lying to myself and to my children. I no longer wake up in the morning with a dread of the day on my shoulders. And, perhaps most importantly, I no longer feel inauthentic.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Power of Small Things

God loves a cheerful giver and the bigger the gift the better. Or at least that's what I thought until this past month.

I've always been a pretty generous person – I like giving. It blesses my soul to see others blessed. The problem is I like to give big. Why give a $25 gift card, if I could give $100? Why bake a plate of cookies if I can buy something fancier? So, what's the problem there? The problem is that like so many others in today's economy, I don't have room in my life for big gifts anymore, so I got stumped. I stopped blessing others because I thought the only way to give was to give big, whatever that meant at the time. Eventually, my soul got crushed. There are so many needs, so many people hurting. I felt small, hopeless and helpless against the backdrop of people out of work, cancer patients and coatless children. My prayers went up but it felt like they were carried away by the wind.

Then I got sick.

For six weeks I struggled with a hearing loss my doctor said was very likely permanent. The disorientation, nausea and fatigue that comes along with a Meniere's attack was debilitating. The roar inside my head was incessant. Eventually, I did get better. Prednisone and prayers were successful in beating this monster back into remission and I regained my hearing. But that's not where the real healing took place.

While I was sick, my very good friends took care of me. Kathi came by several times a week with groceries, baby food or diapers. Joanna ran errands for me and called from her vacation at the beach to check in on me. Lots of people stopped me at church just to give me a hug and say they we praying, often with tears. I knew I was loved and I was not alone.

And I learned something. God is in the small things too. He was in a loaf of bread, a phone call, a touch. He was in the daily, practical, seemingly mundane activities of helping my family get by while I was sick.

So, when I got better, I tried it. I started finding small ways to give to others. I made chocolate covered pretzels for my neighbors for Fourth of July. I purchased a small gift card for a family who's struggling with the cancer of their wife/mother. I made a phone call to a sick friend in California.

I share these things not to toot my own horn or to make myself appear holy in any way. I share because something wonderful began to happen. Their smiles, the sound of gratitude in their voices, the sense of having done something of eternal value was priceless! Hearing my daughter say, with joy, how much she liked making something for our neighbors was invaluable.

My point? Do something. Anything. Yes, there's a lot of pain in this world. Yes, it's bigger than you and I. No, your prayers are not going up and being carried away by the wind. If you listen, you'll know what to do. There's someone in your life who needs to know they are not alone. Make the call, bake the cake, give the hug. You'll be glad you did.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Hello World

My name is Shannon -- wife to Steve, mother of five, freelance writer, wobbly follower of Jesus Christ and sufferer of Meniere's Disease. My life is not a straight line -- it's more like a drunken sailor on leave -- but somehow I find that I always end up exactly where I'm supposed to be. That's God's grace. The title of my blog comes from one of my favorite worship songs "How He Loves."
If His grace is an ocean, we're all sinking.

His grace has healed a broken life and turned it into a life full of joy, love and peace. One filled with good friends, a beautiful family and the freedom to worship alongside others searching for Christ in life's trials and tribulations. It's far more than I deserve and I'm thankful every single day for His mercy. I hope in some small way to be extending that mercy to those around me, but I'm only all too aware of my frailties and failures.

So, why am I blogging? Why am I throwing my voice into an already too full virtual circus? Well, mostly for me. A recent setback and subsequent recovery in my journey with Meniere's left me with renewed thankfulness and respect for the fleeting nature of life. I realized that I'd become a shadow of who God created me to be and I want that to change. Writing used to be quite cathartic for me, but once I began writing as a source of income, I lost all desire to write for fun. My illness reminded me that I am still alive and this blog is part of that awakening. I'd like to record my thoughts, experiences and insights -- and share them with anyone who cares to read them. I'm not an expert on anything. I'm just someone who occasionally has something to say, if only to myself. ;-)

My blog isn't pretty yet - I've got a basic template, I don't really know what I'm doing, but I'm about to push "publish." Thank you for coming along for the ride!