Thursday, April 19, 2012

Philippians 4

I have about a million other things I should be doing right now, but for this moment, it is good for me to stop and write instead of simply completing my daily tasks.  Dishes are piling up, laundry is still sitting on the living room floor from yesterday (folded, just not put away), I need to run to the grocery store and I wanted to try to squeeze in a workout before heading to work in two hours.  I've decided to accept the fact that my house will not always be clean.  When I spend the majority of my time at work cleaning (especially when I have to close the store), I don't feel much like cleaning when I get home.  And sometimes other things are just more important.  I've tried to be that person that can't go to bed without making sure everything is in order, but it's time to admit I am not that person.  The other night I lamented to Sam, "I have no problem going to bed when the house is a mess," to which he replied, with a grin, "Yes, I know."  Guess I wasn't fooling him.

So here I sit happily, like a pig in mud, and type away while I sip some coffee.  It's hard to be in a bad mood when I start the morning reading a little Valley of Vision, Jesus Calling, and a few chapters of Philippians, not to mention a kitty and some knitting in my lap.

It's Philippians that made me want to stop and reflect.  I love this book of the Bible, and particularly love chapter four.  It is pretty special to my in-laws, as their favorite verses are in this chapter, as well as Sara's life verse.  Throughout her journey with cancer, Sara constantly claimed the truth of Philippians 4:13, "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength."

This morning I decided to read the Message version, which puts the Bible into language that's a bit more modern and poetic.  There are debates as to whether or not it's "spiritual" enough to read since it's more of a commentary, but I happen to get a lot out of it when I read it, so I keep on, regardless of the critics.  Here are some favorite parts of Philippians four.  In parenthesis I've included my thoughts on each passage.

"Celebrate God all day, every day.  I mean, revel in Him!  Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you're on their side, working with them and not against them.  Help them see that the Master is about to arrive.  He could show up any minute!"  (Celebrating God all day?  That sounds awesome.  Even when I'm working, even when I'm stuck in traffic, even when I'm sitting in my dirty house.  And how can I make it clear to every person I meet today that I'm on their side, working with them and not against them?)

"Don't fret or worry.  Instead of worrying, pray.  Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns.  Before you know it, a sense of God's wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down.  It's wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life." (What on earth will I do with my time if I don't spend it all worrying?  Oh yes, that's the time I can spend celebrating God.  And the knowledge of God's wholeness, and His ability to bring peace never fails to eliminate the worrying, especially when I focus on Him and not whatever it is that worries me.

"Summing it all up, friends, I'd say you'll do your best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious - the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.  Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized.  Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies."  (Why wouldn't I want to focus on things true, noble, gracious, beautiful?  Why would I rather think about the ugly things to curse?  Seems like that would make for a pretty miserable life.)

"I've learned now to be quite content whatever my circumstances.  I'm just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little.  I've found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty.  Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am." (So focusing on God, meditating on His goodness, and on things that are good and true and beautiful, not on the things that might happen - that aren't true - or the things that disappoint me, can bring contentment whatever my circumstances.  Obviously focusing on the bad in life will only result in discontentment, and choosing to praise God for the good will result in gratefulness, fulfillment, and serenity.  Amazing how that works out.)

Sorry for the long, drawn-out post, but I was greatly encouraged by this today, motivated to slow down and simply celebrate God, to stop worrying and start celebrating.  I just wanted to pass this along, in case it might offer encouragement to anyone else that might need it.

Receive and experience the amazing grace of the Master, Jesus Christ, deep, deep within yourselves. 
-Phil 4:23

Saturday, April 14, 2012

How a California Girl Survives an Oregon "Spring"

Lest you all think I've fallen into a deep depression based on my last post, I thought I should write a follow-up on my attempt to deal with this dreadful, cloudy weather.  I think there is a time and space for being real, venting, and admitting that sometimes things about life get the best of me, especially because it  can be encouraging to hear that I'm not alone in my struggle.  But I also think it's important to quickly start making my way back out of the pit once I've admitted that's where I've fallen.

Here is a list of what helps me keep my happiness in spite of weather I wish I could change.  These are things I do have control over.

1. Take a cue from the birds.

I've noticed lately that even when it's cloudy and raining, the birds continue to chirp, as if it's a lovely, sunny spring day.  It is a welcome reminder that spring is, indeed, here.  I figure that if birds can sing even in the clouds, so can I.  Might as well choose to be joyful.  So I pretend it's lovely and "springy" and thank God for the song of the birds.

2. Exercise

I hate being cold, and one thing that always warms me up is working out.  I started making it a point to go to the gym - not for my vanity or even physical health, but just to feel warm!  It works.  Bonus, exercising also produces endorphins, so I get an extra boost of "happy" when I make this a priority.  Exercise often goes on the back burner when I'm busy, but I'm realizing more and more how important it is for overall health.

3. Eat cashews

I love cashews, and they are basically amazing.  They are full of healthy minerals which can help prevent lots of diseases.  Not only that, they are shown to lower anxiety and depression - in fact, in Food Matters it is suggested that two handfuls of cashews are equal to a dose of Prozac.  Isn't it great that food can actually help you feel better?  I love adding them to recipes or having a handful or two a day.  They satisfy my salty cravings, but I try to make sure I don't eat too many cashews, since they are high in calories and fat.

4. Make time for something you love.

I love music, and I love playing my guitar and singing.  I lose track of time when I'm playing, and I often have to limit myself once I start, otherwise I wouldn't get anything else done during the day.  But I don't usually make time for it, since it is just a hobby and I figure I have more important things to focus on.  Fortunately, next weekend I'm leading the worship at a women's conference for my mother-in-law, so it gives me an excuse to play a lot more to prepare.  Sometimes I forget how much I love it, but I've been reminded how important it is to make time for things that bring joy, even if it's only for twenty minutes a week.

5. Wear bright colors.

Bright colors typically surround me anyway, but it just makes it feel like I'm being a rebel when it's cold and rainy and I'm wearing red pants and a bright yellow shirt.  I love being a rebel.  I even bought a cheap pair of bright sunglasses from Old Navy for that day when I actually need sunglasses.  I also recommend painting your nails a fun, spring color in the hope that one day you'll actually be able to wear sandals.  See?  It's all about hope and being ready once the sun and warmth make their appearance.

6. Planning to be out of town for 3 of the 4 weekends in April.

It's no secret that April is my least favorite month (reasons are listed here), but this year I'm doing everything I can to enjoy this time of year and have a good attitude about it.  Part of that is by planning to be out of town a lot.  The first weekend in April was Easter, so that was easily a blessed weekend.  This weekend James and Monica came to visit, and we made our way to a little Inn for a time of relaxation.  It's still rainy and yucky outside, but it's more fun when friends are around, and it gets us out of our usual routine.  I'll be in Fallon for the last two weekends of the month (where it will be warm and sunny, according to the weather forecast!) and I'll be with my awesome Swenson family.  I know it's not possible for everyone to have little trips like this planned, but I'm thankful it worked out this year to be busier this month so I have less time to focus on the weather.

7. Have fun California friends come visit.

As previously mentioned, James and Monica are here, which always makes for a good time.  We're constantly laughing when they're around, yet I appreciate their insight and always love those serious conversations about life, marriage, and God.

8. Take delight in each light-filled hour.

"Oh, how sweet the light of day, and how wonderful to live in the sunshine!  Even if you live a long time, don't take a single day for granted.  Take delight in each light-filled hour, remembering that there will also be many dark days." - Ecclesiastes 11:7-8

A few days this month have been surprisingly sunny and warm, completely proving the weather forecasts wrong.  On those days, I was unabashedly cheerful.  I couldn't help myself.  I soaked it in, utterly grateful for something as simple as warmth and light.  It reminded me of this passage, which is one of my favorites.  I know those dark, rainy days aren't over, so when the weather is lovely, I want to take delight in each moment.  That way, when the ugly weather returns, I have those light-filled memories to last me until the next beautiful day.  I don't want to take a single day for granted.  I want to choose to be grateful for every  day, even the gray ones, because I think the key to happiness is choosing gratitude.

So there you have it, my list of ways I cope when I need extra help being happy and hopeful.

Plus I remember that I get to hang out with my best friend all the time.  And as long as I have him, I can deal with anything.

Monday, April 2, 2012

My Love Affair with the Sun

"I was walking, and I realized I was smiling.  It must be the weather."

I overheard this at the coffee shop today while I sat sipping my soy chai, reading and enjoying the sunshine.  Yes, that's right, sunshine.  Salem is actually sunny and not cold today.  (It's not exactly warm, but it's not cold.)  I cannot possibly express how much joy this brings me.

The sun came at the right time, because I was this close to telling Sam that I refused to spend another month in this overcast, rainy town.  The sun gives me a bit of hope.  First, I am reminded that it does exist (I was beginning to wonder) and that after every winter, the summer will eventually come again.  When the sun is shining, I have energy.  I'm cheerful, not easily irritated, and I'm full of hope.  I feel like me!  Today was such a productive, amazing day that it has confirmed my suspicion that I am solar powered.  I'm broken when it's cloudy.  And I needed a day of feeling like me.

Before we moved to Salem, I wrote a post about learning to love the rain in anticipation of our move.  If you have forgotten, don't feel bad, because I hadn't remembered it at all until I happened to stumble upon it recently.  Once I read it, I felt guilty that I had failed so miserably at something I once thought I could easily accomplish - being okay with the rain.  It's humbling to reread your own blog and feel chastised by your former self for not following through with something you promised to do.  Sorry, Kimberly of 2011.  You had high hopes for yourself, though you may have naively expected too much.

The truth is, I do not like the rain.  I sincerely gave it my best effort, but every morning that I wake up and it's cloudy and gray and drizzling, I feel my spirits sink.  I really, genuinely wish I could like the rain.  I wish I could be one of those people who dances in it, who likes taking walks in it, who doesn't mind when the bottom of her jeans get soaked and leave her feet cold.  I thought the longer I lived in Oregon, the more I would get used to it, and that maybe I'd even like it.  And maybe if Sam and I stay here a while, I will learn to like it.

But as of now, I hate it.

I wish I could write about how I'm thriving, how I love wearing scarves and boots and getting all bundled up to go outside, that I don't miss California weather at all.  I wish I could say that I've changed my outlook, so that when it starts raining I'm simply thankful for the gray skies and the frizzy hair.  I want to be positive, and I sincerely try to be, every day.  But I can only fake it for so long before I must admit that this weather is getting the best of me.  I have always been, and now realize that I will most likely always be, a summer girl.  Give me sunshine, leave the rain.  I don't care that rain makes things green.  I actually loved the dead, brown hills of Porterville that everyone else hated.  I called them "golden" and I thought they were romantic.

I don't remember ever being so excited to see the sun (in April) in Porterville.  Usually around this time, I was only annoyed that the temperature hadn't yet hit ninety.  If I was a little chilly in my shorts and flip flops, it was still too cold for my taste.  How utterly foolish I was to take those days for granted.  Had I only but known, I would have savored each second of sunny, seventy-degree weather.

Speaking of Porterville, I've recently developed a bad habit that I'm sure is detrimental to my mental health and that I should probably break immediately.  My secret shame, my own form of self-torture, is to look up the weather in places other than Salem, such as Porterville, Long Beach, and even Fallon.  In case anyone is wondering, the weather forecast for Porterville next week says things like, "Plenty of sun," "Brilliant sunshine," "A full day of sun," and other phrases that make me want to weep.  I play the "What if?" game, where I consider what life would be like if we'd moved to Phoenix or Fallon, or if we'd stayed in Petaluma.  If we lived in Phoenix, I could be enjoying 80+ degree weather, wearing shorts and flip flops, and absorbing enough Vitamin D for my sensitive soul to live off of.  Before you say, "Phoenix would be way too hot in the summer," let me stop you.  I don't understand "too hot".  I love heat, and I'd be fine.  I know this because Porterville was known for it's 100+ temperatures as well, and I've lived in it and I loved it.  Even when all my friends were complaining about sweating and melting and being too hot, I was skipping along, thanking God for His gift of sunshine.

People have tried to tell me to be thankful that I get to experience all the seasons.  That would work if I liked all the seasons.  The truth is, I'm sick of winter right after Christmas, I tolerate spring, and fall is just okay.  But I'm in love with summer.  I've tried to change, but I'm beginning to accept that this is just part of who I am, the way I'm wired, my preferences.

My ray of hope, the silver lining on all these clouds, is that I know I'm not alone.  Even all the Oregonians I encounter - coworkers, customers, friends from church - are sick of the weather.  They all admit that they get depressed around this time of year, too.  (And according to a customer, this March was the wettest on record.  Thanks, Oregon - what a lovely welcome I was given.)  Today was a reminder that I won't have to wear my super warm fleece pajamas to bed every night for too much longer, that there is an end to the misery, and it's coming.  And when that happens, hopefully I'll look back on this time and think about how silly I was to get so upset over cloudy days.  But right now, when I feel like I need that sunshine, that warmth, that hope of someday feeling alive and energetic again, I am down about it.

My sweet husband tries to encourage me.  He reminds me that we can't change the weather and, at this point, we can't change where we live.  He says I should focus on what I can change - my attitude.  (He is pretty wise, and amazing, but admittedly annoying when he says things like this.  It's especially annoying when he's right.)  The truth is, I've never been so good at changing my attitude.  I'm pretty stubborn, I like to pout, and it's easier to just be grumpy.

But I don't like to be grumpy.  So what else can I change?  My hair.  (Maybe this is why I dye my hair so much?  So that I can change something when I don't want to change my attitude?)

Here's my new yellow hair, inspired by my favorite color, which is, of course, inspired by the sun.

And you lucky ducks who live in warm, sunny places, I implore you to please be thankful.  In case you forget how lovely it is to live in decent weather, just think of me with my frizzy hair and wet feet, and smile with gratitude.
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