Time

We all have the same amount. Each day, we are given 86,400 seconds, which is 1,440 minutes or 24 hours, until the next day. We reboot (sleep) and do it again…

Until our time runs out

How we fill our time is what differentiates us. You’ve heard do as I say and not as I do? The way to gauge a person’s values is to look at their bank records, and their calendar. Sometimes I’m proud of what they say about me, but I don’t even want to look myself at other times, and I certainly wouldn’t let anyone else see them.

If time with my family is important to me, I have to schedule it. I have to invest in it–with my money, my time, and my effort. If self-improvement is a priority, I have to invest in it. Most of us have careers or at least jobs to support us, and we spend varying amounts of time and money in the pursuit of education, training, and just plain working. There are also the requisite adult activities, including paying bills, cleaning, shopping, cooking, laundry, etc… But none of these things take up EVERY second.

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I just finished an extended time of studying in preparation for an exam. New rules were promulgated by USA Gymnastics in May and I have been studying specific parts of the rules in preparation for the exam I took last month. To make time for this creaky old brain to absorb some of the information, I had planned study times. I made flash cards. I used computer programs, made spreadsheets, color coded my notes and diagrams, cried, called friends and mentors, searched the internet for study aids and hints, ate chocolate, lost sleep, studied in my car, skipped activities, and began practicing yoga.

While studying, I worked a full time job, paid most of my bills, spent time with my kids, took two trips, maintained my yard and tiny garden, and did all the regular adulting required of single moms. However, I consciously spent time each week studying.

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In the process, I also found creative ways to avoid studying. In this same time period, I put down flooring in two bedrooms, traveled to Texas one month and to Florida and Georgia another. In the last month, I cleaned out my pantry and repainted it. I also revived my Twitter Account, played on Facebook, and updated the books I have read or want to read on Goodreads–nothing vital, but great ways to expend vast quantities of time in lieu of studying.

God has graciously granted me time each day, each week, each month, and each year. I pray I’m not wasting it. A precious family just lost their daughter–she has no more time. They can’t go back and spend a single moment with her. All they have are the memories.

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I want to live so that I have no regrets if tragedy strikes. I strive to maintain good relationships with family and friends so I won’t wish I had said or wish I hadn’t done…if it was our last time to together.

I am setting and achieving short term goals to improve my life. Time Management is so important, yet I let urgent tasks supersede the important. For now, I’m focusing on spending time intentionally in priority areas while also scheduling time for fun, because if it isn’t on my calendar, it doesn’t happen.

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PostScript–I failed the test I studied for all summer. (See Previous Post–I FAILED, but I’m NOT a Failure.)  I am studying again and praying that I do better next month!

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I Failed, but I am NOT a Failure

A grade shows how you did on a particular test on a given day–it neither measures nor affects who you ARE as a person. However, most students don’t feel that way, and I got a painful reminder of that fact. I just received the results from two exams I took last month for Women’s Gymnastics, and I failed both.

I know in my head that I didn’t pass, but I feel in my heart that I AM A FAILURE! That’s what kids feel when a grade or performance doesn’t meet their expectations, or those of their parents, teacher, or coach. If I’m having trouble separating the fact of not passing from the feeling of being a failure, how much more difficult is it for young people who don’t have the depth of knowledge and experience to help them sort facts from feelings?

In my defense, I studied a lot for this test over the summer. I was familiar with the material, but hadn’t mastered it by any stretch of the imagination. I’m not even surprised I failed. I fully anticipated failing, and had already begun organizing and planning my studying in preparation for a retake.

If a colleague hadn’t passed, I would remind her that these are all new rules, and that she is very new to judging. I would remind her that most judges have years of experience and that many of them have to retake tests, so she is in good company. I would never condemn her for not achieving her goal on the first try, but I have no problem berating myself for the same thing.

The almost overwhelming sense of worthlessness that threatens to drag me under is unsettling. I am more than a score on any test. I am more than a grade on a paper, or a test, or in a class. My value as a Christian, a mother, a friend, a sibling, or a person does not hinge on any test.

I pray I can remember how personal this feels the next time one of my children is upset by a grade. I hope to help them separate the fact of the grade from the feeling of failure. I also need to learn to give myself permission not to be perfect. I don’t expect perfection of others, and won’t hold myself to a higher standard.

I know this is a good Life Lesson, but it doesn’t feel good. It reminds me how much I depend on my feelings, which can be so deceptive.

What Makes You Happy?

I love the time spent in the car with my kids. They feel more free to talk and ask questions where they can’t be overheard and there are fewer distractions. Recently, my youngest was in a talkative mood, and she loves to ask rapid-fire questions. If I don’t respond quickly, she moves on to her answer or another question or topic, but the question that stuck in my mind was this:

“What made you the HAPPIEST in your whole life?”

As a Christian, I know the answer should be when I committed to follow God. As a mom, I know my answer should be the birth of my children. I don’t “should” on myself, so …. what, when, where was I the happiest?

As a teen, I can remember flying across the Lake on a slalom ski and experiencing pure joy! On the best days, I got up before my siblings so I could be the first one on the lake. My mom or dad would wade into the water to throw me the life jacket, rope, and ski, then get all set to take off. When I was set, the engine would roar to life and then I would step onto the ski as the rope reached its limit. There would be a moment of uncertainty, wondering as I committed to the ski if I was balanced and had timed my take-off to glide across the water or would fall into the frigid water and have to shiver while the boat circled back for another try. On those early mornings, the lake was smooth and shone like glass and I could ski as long as I wanted before signaling to return to the shallow water where we began. On good days, I wasn’t wet above my knees. On other days, I was drenched from head to toe and the wind and water were chilly, causing my teeth to chatter, but it was a risk I was willing to take for the EXHILIRATION and JOY of skiing early in the morning on the smoothest water. (And bragging rights for the day.)

I remember those scenes so vividly. As an adult, it’s harder to remember the times when I’ve been deliriously happy. Maybe I’m so blessed and have had so many wonderful times that they blur together and it’s hard to distinguish ONE memory. My happy place is in nature, so snow skiing, camping, and the beach would be among the top collective memories. I can also remember the day I was awarded my first national certificate in sign language interpreting and spinning in circles with a friend who helped me celebrate!

As an adult, I also see the flaw in the question. No THING makes me happy. I choose to be happy. I choose joy even when my child is in ICU. I choose to be happy despite disease, illnesses, surgeries, divorce, death, depression, broken vehicles, money problems, etc… I can have hours, days, and sometimes weeks that STINK! There are more problems than hours, it seems. I can choose to be mad, angry, frustrated, sad and depressed. OR I can choose to tackle the problems without letting them steal my joy.

That’s the choice I have. It is to deal with the situation with grace and love and joy, or let the “problem” overwhelm me and steal positive feelings such as happiness. I’m so grateful to have learned that I can be happy even when circumstances aren’t great. I am glad I’ve had many chances to practice living joyfully despite the situation.

James encourages us to “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,  because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. ”  (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=James+1&version=NIV) I wouldn’t have written this verse–why do I want to be HAPPY about the bad stuff? What Can I possibly learn from the struggles? But my Heavenly Father, who is wiser than me,  tells me to survive with JOY!

I’m still working on JOY, but I don’t fall into deep despair and gloom when trials appear. I’m practicing the joy. I feel like a grad student at final exam time sometimes–ready for the testing to be over, but the tests have produced good qualities in my life. And God sends people to help me through so that I’m not alone. It may be a friend, or a coworker, or a neighbor, but God has always blessed me with help and comfort during those darkest times. Jesus cried in the Garden because He was ALONE! God made us and knows we need each other. And He supplies all our needs.

So ask yourself, When have you experienced PURE JOY? When have you been the happiest? The question was eye-opening for me.

Acknowledgment: Depression is real. I’m so grateful for professionals and medications to help me through the deepest valleys. In fact, large percentages of individuals use medications to control their depression and to stabilize their moods. Some do it for a short time while others are on medications for extended periods or life. Prescribed medications are safer and have more predictable results than the “self-medicators” who use illegal substances, or legal substances in illegal ways. There is no shame or judgment for anyone getting the help they need.

Letters

When was the last time you wrote a letter to someone? Not an email, an instant message, or a text, but a letter? Not a “Sympathy Card” or a “Get Well Card,” but an actual letter?  You know how they go: How are you doing? Here is what I’ve been doing, saying, dreaming, or thinking?

Do you remember being young enough to be excited when mail came? Before the box was filled with bills and appointment reminders, I remember getting notes from my grandmother or my pen pal. I remember being excited when a piece of mail came to the house in MY name!

Writing Letters is [almost] a lost art in our society.

I’ve had the opportunity to rediscover the lost art of writing letters this summer, along with thousands of others who have young men and women training to serve our country in the military. Technology impacts our lives daily, but the military strips it down to the basics when grooming young people to serve our country. Initial training involves separation physically from family and friends, as it always has. Now, it also involves removal of electronics so trainees can focus on their mission.

For the first time in some of their young lives, the new inductees in the military are unable to utilize cell phones, computers and other electronic devices for communication. Plunged into a new world and cut off from these things, they have taken to pen and paper like the generations before them. In the same way, their families can only communicate through letters. So, a whole new generation is learning how to write, address, and mail letters, then experience the anticipation, frustration, and joy while waiting for a reply.

Letters are so unique and so personal. Without emojis and built-in auto correct to tell us what to write, they wind their way through our thoughts and emotions. They sometimes have themes, but other times are random collections of thoughts and half-baked ideas. Some days the pen seems to have a mind of its own and you can’t get the words on the page fast enough. Other days, “Dear ____” is the only thing that comes to mind.

I’m grateful for this journey–watching my son’s letters develop from the equivalent of long text messages to missives with themes and and messages. I won’t tell him it’s developed his writing abilities this summer, but I think he will be pleasantly surprised with an improvement in his writing grades. Maybe he didn’t practice writing essays with three points, but he has honed his ability to say what he meant clearly and concisely.

It’s been fun to see his thought processes develop and his ability to convey his feelings improve this summer. I’ve missed him while he’s been gone and look forward to seeing him again, but I hope I’ll still get letters from him occasionally. I intend to write more letters by hand to him and to others.

Just for fun, write a letter! Write a letter to a friend you haven’t seen in a while–or to one you’ll see tomorrow. Some of our best thoughts appear on the written page, but if you don’t write, they stay hidden.

Happy Letter Writing….

Kindness

Adults wield power over children. We are larger and stronger and have more experience. It’s easy to forget how much they look up to us and hang on every word and every expression that flickers across our faces. Children, including teenagers that pretend they don’t know you exist, watch it all. They learn by watching our actions, and even more than by listening to our words. Have you ever heard children playing and known exactly who they were imitating?

Today, I’m watching one of my children grieve the hurt an adult has caused. My kids have been through so much just surviving our home with addiction, divorce, and strained relationships. It doesn’t insulate them from cruelties in the world, but it breaks my heart to see any of them suffer additional injuries.

I pray that we are all a little kinder than necessary, and that we give a little more grace to anyone we may be able to influence, especially children. As adults, let’s make sure we use our influence for good–to build up and encourage rather than tear down and destroy. If we all do that, we may spare another child a season of hurt, grieving and despair.

I pray that my words, actions, and attitudes have not impacted children adversely. I pray we each show more kindness, compassion, and love!

Judy St. Clair–MY MOM

Happy Mother’s Day!I love my mom so much. When I was a teenager and so much smarter than her, we had rough times, but she has wised up considerably in the last quarter of a century! I’m so proud of all that has been learned, and grateful she gave me time to learn it.

My mom possesses an array of talents. I’ve been planning this tribute to her for quite a while, but actually composing it is so much harder than I expected. I’ve known her my whole life, and I owe so much to her, it has been hard to narrow down. I’ve tried to use a few categories to limit all I want to say. (I consulted my sister, Wendy, and my brother, Al for their ideas.)

ANIMALS–Mom has always loved animals. She had a horse while she was growing up–the source of some of her back problems currently. In her adult life she has owned fish, birds, a rabbit, cats, a dog and a squirrel. She rescued the stray dog by gaining his trust while she worked in her yard. Over time, she was able to pet him, brush him, bathe him, and he would follow her into the house. He bonded with her and loved her until he died.

The squirrel was  tiny kit when she found it, but she researched how to care for it and fed it every couple of hours until it grew big enough to go longer stretches. They had a cage in the house for it as it grew and became more lively, and she released “Heather” as soon as she was able to fend for herself. However Heather came back to get treats almost daily. When she injured a leg, mom took her back in and even convinced the vet to prescribe steroids to help her heal! Mom released her again when she was well. It was a ritual of visiting mom to go out and look for Heather and give her pecans.

CREATIVITY–While necessity may be the reason for invention, my mom’s creativity is inspiring. She could take whatever we had and make it into something amazing. School projects could get out of hand because she came up with creative ideas for them. She sewed clothes for all of us, and I’m grateful she taught my sister and me. It’s one of the skills I fall back on out of practicality and fun.

She decorated the bedroom Wendy and I shared with fabric on one wall, before any designer thought of it. She let us select our sheets from the S & H Green Stamp catalog, then she decorated the room around them. The piece de resistance was the wall she covered with sheets, then used pom-pom fringe to cover the edges! We loved our room.

FAITH–Mom loved us enough to take us to church each week–not send us, but take us even when we didn’t want to go. We learned our faith in God from her. I remember her preparing lessons for her Bible classes and for Vacation Bible School each year. I don’t remember lectures about serving others, but her example taught more than words could.

FOOD–She’s a great cook, although she would prefer to get out of the kitchen any time she could. She knew where the discounts were every day of the week, so we could eat What-A-Burgers when they were half price each week. When we got our first microwave, she loved experimenting with it, cooking eggs and almost everything in it!

She made enormous pancakes with bacon in them, which we devoured. Wendy even had a couple of friends that would frequently sleep in their vehicle outside the house so they could have pancakes in the mornings!

She learned to decorate cakes when I was young, and made cakes professionally occasionally. We loved it because there is a bit of waste any time you level layers to decorate, and we got to take the scraps and left-over frosting and have fun, then eat the evidence!

The complexity of the wedding cakes she made increased over the years. She made a cake for my stepbrother that looked like a bale of hay and a cowboy hat. It was so realistic that many of the guests thought they were props–not an edible cake!

FUN–She led the way in having fun with us! Of course she played games with us and made sure we had a little pool in the back yard when we were little. She hosted wonderful, themed birthday parties, and always had fun food and great ideas when we had friends over, but she still hasn’t grown out of having fun any chance she gets.

She would get us small salamanders at the Texas State Fair each year, then use thread to tie tiny leashes around their necks, which she pinned to our shirts for Show And Tell! I could “wear” my pet to school, then place it in a box for the rest of the day.

We loved our family camping trips each summer. When we were little, the campsites were primitive–meaning no shower houses. We walked to the outhouses a couple of times each day, and my parents hauled water from the one pump in the camp site so we could cook and drink. Later, they added showers and toilets! I remember her washing the boat constantly. We put the boat in the lake as soon as we had removed all the camping items from it and left it anchored until it broke and had to be repaired or we were packing to leave. Mom spent time in the lake every day using lake water and a cleanser to clean it inside and out, wiping down the seats, dash, and hull, organizing the ski ropes and fishing equipment, then windexing the windshields.

Before my sister could drive, mom would take her and her friends to roll houses, and taught her how to shoe polish a window! (I’m hoping the statute of limitations is up so she won’t be charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor!) One of Wendy’s friends would write on mom’s car windows in the evenings. Mom would go outside with the Windex and clean it off, then he would return and do it again, and again, and again…

LOVE–Mom loves us unconditionally. I know she was disappointed when we messed up and didn’t act or live as she taught us, but she loved us through it. It took a great amount of love to listen to the three of us practice various musical instruments.

She and my dad went to every high school football game while my sister marched in the band–that’s dedication and commitment. I’m sure she couldn’t possibly count the hours she spent chauffeuring three kids. Al got us hooked on soccer when he was young, then there were soccer practices and games for three of us. Each of us played a musical instrument, so there were concerts, practices, and lessons. We sometimes wanted to visit a friend, and the church activities and camps kept her on the go.

We were fortunate to have a great Parks and Recreation program in Irving, Texas, while we were growing up. We took music lessons, played sports, and swam at the local centers. When we were old enough, we rode our bikes to the summer activities, but mom always drove us to the evening lessons. She even drove me to gymnastics lessons in Euless for a while–that was a big time and money commitment, and I am so grateful she encouraged our interests and found a way to allow us to try so many different things.

I am so grateful for all the lessons you have taught me! Thank you for loving us all through our delightful teenage years, and helping us learn how to ADULT! Thank you for encouraging our diverse talents and encouraging us to follow our dreams!

Shelley Ussery

Motherhood is hard work. Shelley Ussery knows this, but smiles through it all. We met at Camp Caudle and her kids are the same age as my oldest two. I am in awe of all that Shelley and her husband accomplish.

When you cook for a camp, you are up incredibly early to prepare breakfast, then lunch is under way while that meal is being cleaned up. If you are really lucky and have a large crew, you may get a few minutes to breathe before dinner preparations begin, but don’t count on it. Then, the evening snack has to be prepared a couple of times each week so the campers aren’t forced to eat candy bars and chips (HORROR!). When that is over, Shelley always had a plan for a treat during the workers’ daily meeting after campers are more or less down for the night. That means Shelley was up around 6 am and often still in the kitchen at 10 pm when the meeting was ready to begin, making homemade ice cream or brownies, etc.

On teen night, when the counselors and older campers get to stay an extra day, I really saw her creativity and culinary skills. She could walk through the coolers and see what was left, then throw together wonderful meals and snacks for the campers! I can look at a brownie mix and not figure it out, but she could look at 10 different ingredients and come up with different ways to prepare them to meet a variety of tastes. I truly admire her food preparation and planning in addition to her organization skills.

Due to her familiarity with the camp and her non-stop work ethic, she frequently ran to the cabins or bathrooms to be sure all the supplies were in place. I don’t know how she stayed on her feet all day and night, but she did it wall while making sure others had what they needed and were encouraged and able to keep moving!

Some people who work so hard behind the scenes at cooking and cleaning stay there. Shelley, however, always reached out to the adults and campers. If she was sent out of the kitchen to “take a break” because everything was “under control,” she rarely got out of the dining hall before someone wanted to talk to her. She listens intently to whatever is said. It’s such a rare gift to listen to someone with a thousand things buzzing through your mind, but never giving them the impression that anyone else exists. Shelley can do that, leave with a hug and move on to the next task. People trust her to listen without judgment, and to give wise counsel.

When my youngest was struck while crossing a street, she was taken to Children’s Hospital. One of my most vivid memories that evening was stepping into the waiting room to check in on my younger children. It was packed with friends who knew they couldn’t see her, but wanted to be there to offer their love, support, and assistance. Shelley is one of the people I remember seeing, and I was so touched by so many traveling so far to be there. I still tear up every time I remember it–they showed me love when my world seemed to be crumbling.

I love how Shelley and Kevin devote the time their kids are around to them. They love each other and work hard on their marriage, but they also chaperoned trips and helped with youth activities every opportunity they had. It helped keep their kids strong and enabled them to know their kids’ friends.

Thank you for sharing your wisdom with me! Thanks for showing me how to work hard without complaining! Thanks for supporting me when I needed it most!

Kathy Peterson

Kathy Peterson is a fun-loving, humble, gentle, loving sister in Christ. She has raised her two kids and they both love and respect their sweet mom, and her husband loves her, too. She is a Proverbs 31 Woman.

I met Kathy at church in Greenbrier. She always welcomed me, and I was drawn to her quiet confidence. My two oldest spent many Sundays at her house–staying there waiting for a youth activity to begin, or waiting for me to come pick them up. She even drove them to church camp and set up their bunks so I didn’t have to take off work.

Since her family lives on a piece of land bigger than ours, my city kids got to experience animals at her house that I’ve never owned. They both surprise me with their knowledge of animal husbandry–especially goats! They picked it up being at the Peterson’s house and helping out.

Kathy stays busy juggling her work, visiting and caring for family members in other locations, and the typical “mom” duties. But that doesn’t prevent her from taking care of others. She always listened to me when I was struggling, and never judged me for the choices I made. She has made numerous trips to visit my kids when they were ill, both at the house, and to various hospitals in Little Rock when the kids were there.

Last year, she and her daughter visited while Allen was in surgery. They sat with me to keep my mind occupied, and brought CHOCOLATE! There is no better friend than one who brings chocolate!

Although we don’t see each other frequently, I can call her at any time and know that she will be there for me. I hope she knows I would do the same for her. She has blessed me with her positive outlook, her gentle spirit, and her friendship.

Thanks for helping me fit in to a new church! Thanks for looking out for my kids too many times to count! Thank you for showing me how a Proverbs 31 Woman lives!

Renay Martin

Renay Martin puts others before herself. She has planned, organized, and run clothing giveaways at church the last couple of years. She teaches classes, cooks, encourages others and seems to be everywhere at once.

Life is like a mountain road, with each switchback leading you away from one perspective while exposing another vista. Some are delightful and breathtaking, like young love and new adventures. Others are dark and shrouded in grief, like unwelcome changes and death. Renay experiences both, but chooses to focus on the good without forgetting the grief.

Her oldest, Jansen, became a teenager recently, so she is getting to experience a new stage of motherhood. Her youngest, Maddox, is in kindergarten and I was blessed to teach his Bible class this year. He is sharp and so funny. When I asked him about his mom, he replied:

I love her because she gives me food. She has two iPads and that’s so totally not fair for me because she has a phone. Well, she doesn’t have a phone because she broke it.

Maddox Martin

Renay participates in the Race to Remember each year in honor of her daughter, Jillian, who passed away.  (https://runsignup.com/Race/AR/LittleRock/RaceToRemember5k) I can’t imagine the heartbreak and sorrow, the depths of despair she has visited. But she looks forward to a reunion with her little girl. She has two wonderful boys and a loving husband, and their family keeps striving for the prize.

Thank you, Renay, for showing me how to live and love after unspeakable loss! Thank you for your kind, encouraging spirit! Thanks for leading efforts to reach out to others and serve those in the community!

Irene Pennington

Pray for my friend, Irene, as she begins her next round of chemo.

My friend, Irene, is incredibly brave. She is also smart, talented, funny, and caring. She is battling Ovarian Cancer, and will begin chemo again right after Mother’s Day. Please pray for Irene and her family during this tough time.

We met in Junior High School. She was learning the oboe, and it was in the same portable classroom where I was butchering the clarinet.  Our teacher suggested I switch to oboe. It was different playing a double reed, and Irene became my teacher. She taught me what she had already learned–in a practice room in the other building. (Well played, Ms. West! Well played!)

When we moved to High School, she made the Symphonic Band, while I was placed in the Concert Band. They had fancy names, but we knew what they meant–she was much more talented than I was. Fortunately for me, the band director chose music which required an English Horn, so I was moved up and given a second instrument to carry. The best part, though, was being with Irene all the time. She made everything fun! We went on trips together, were in the flag corps during marching season, and she always smiled and laughed. Her optimism is contagious!

We lost touch after graduation, but reconnected through the magic of social media a couple of years ago. She is winning this war, fighting for herself and her family. She is aided by her family, and people naturally rally around her bubbly spirit.

I love the shirt she is wearing. It was designed by her family, utilizing words they choose to describe her! It’s part Rosie the Riveter and part Wonder Woman! It is Irene!

Thanks for being my friend in school! Thank you for teaching me so much about music, and life! Praying for you, dear friend!