Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Travel Tuesday: Autumn in New York

When I was a girl, I used to read Anne of Green Gables and dream of living in a forest. Living in the high desert mountains of Wyoming, trees were scarce and twisted. The constant fierce wind made every tree remarkably strong, if somewhat deformed. Autumn is a funny time in Wyoming with the weather wildly vacillating between blizzards, warm weather, and proper fall temperatures. 

Experiencing Autumn in New York is, well, an EXPERIENCE. Unless you have witnessed the changing of the leaves, the astounding colors, and the way the light interacts with the colors, you truly cannot imagine what it is like to live in New York during the fall.

Don't believe me? Here are a few pictures I have taken over the past week.

So, when are you coming to visit me?


Sunday, October 9, 2016

Spiritual Sunday: Called

Today in my scripture study, I came across a very interesting exchange in Luke 1:26-38. 

26 And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,
 27 To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.
 28 And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed artthou among women.
 29 And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.
 30 And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.
 31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.
 32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throneof his father David:
 33 And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.
 34 Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?
 35 And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
 36 And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren.
 37 For with God nothing shall be impossible.
 38 And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.
Gabriel's first statement:
  • Thou art highly favored of the Lord.
  • The Lord is with thee.
  • Thou art blessed among women.
Mary's first response to the angel:
  • I think it is best described as gawking and totally unsure how to respond. To be fair, it seems seeing an angel is actually pretty shocking, given other experiences recorded in scripture. So she waits instead of reacting.
Gabriel's second statement:
  • Do not be afraid.
  • You have found favor with the Lord.
  • You will conceive and bare a son named Jesus.
  • He shall be great.
  • He will be the son of the Highest.
  • He shall be King and have the throne of King David.
  • He shall rule over the House of Jacob forever.
  • His kingdom shall never end.
Mary's second response to the angel is very telling:
  • I don't understand how this will happen. I am a virgin. 
I don't think her response is doubtful or skeptical. It sounds like she is trying to understand.

Gabriel's third and final statement:
  • You will conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost and the power of God.
  • Your child will be the Son of God.
  • Your cousin Elisabeth is six months pregnant. You know she is old and has been barren her whole life.
  • With God, nothing is impossible.
Mary's final statement:
  • Behold the handmaid of the Lord.
  • Be it unto me as thou has said.
She accepts with faith the will of the Lord and proclaims her willingness to be a vessel for the Lord's work.

The angel used the example of her cousin's unexpected and unannounced pregnancy to show Mary that all things are possible. Elisabeth is also there to give comfort and strength to Mary as she embarks on this very difficult responsibility that few will understand or even accept. 

To me, Mary emulates a Christ-like pattern in her responses to this interaction with Gabriel.

1) She listens to the messenger of the Lord.
2) She asks clarifying questions to understand.
3) She proclaims her willingness to accept and then acts.

What are your thoughts about this interaction in Luke? What lessons do you take from it? 


Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Wondering Wednesday: Ordinary

The other day a friend of mine made the following comment on a photo I posted on Instagram. She said,
The tagline on your blog is a bit humble. "Ordinary" women do not raise large families with exceptional children. Ordinary women do not move around the world and pick up foreign languages and teach them to their children. Ordinary women are not as virtuous and humble as you seem to be. But of course you would shy away from a more accurate world, which is "extraordinary". You are an extraordinary woman leading an extraordinary life. So glad to have crossed your path.

My friend's kind and admiring words gave me pause. In so many ways, I do not feel anything but ordinary. I am doing very much of the same things that my mother, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers did before me. They married, birthed many babies, and raised those babies- in whatever easy or hard circumstances they encountered. They kneaded bread, practiced the age-old alchemy of making a delicious meal out of nothing, and pinched pennies to buy shoes or clothes for their children. They expressed their creativity and intelligence in different ways-through sewing, working as a secretary and clerk for a lawyer and then for the county court, writing, or singing. Many of these women moved across the country leaving behind family and friends. Some crossed oceans taking an enormous risk in the hopes of a better future. All of them faced loss-some lost babies, others lost siblings and friends, parents, grandparents, and spouses.

My great-grandmother Gertrude Anderson Fenex, her son Floyd Fenex, and my great-grandfather John Franklin Fenex. Gertrude was a devout Catholic, educated at a Catholic school,  and was a school teacher. She was a great letter writer. She was the calm presence to my great-grandfathers fiery temper. Gertrude and John would lose a baby (Glen) during his first year of life and their eldest son would be killed as  a civilian POW in his early 20s on Wake Island in the Pacific Islands during World War II.

So when I look at my life, compared to the long line of women who preceded me in life, it is hard to consider myself as anything but ordinary. I cook, clean, wash laundry, make beds, run errands, pick up children from school, force children to do homework, and do what needs to be done to raise a family. I have friends all over the world doing the same thing with their families.

I will not demean myself though by proclaiming any of it is easy work. It isn't. It is the hardest work I have ever done. I often feel exhausted and grumpy trying to manage it all. I work very hard to parent deliberately, to instill order out of chaos,and to provide a warm and loving environment for my children to thrive.

Being a mother isn't the sum total of my existence though. I am a writer with some skill, but still have a long path to tread before I achieve anything approaching mastery. I am curious about the world with its mysteries and conundrums. I possess the capacity to adapt and thrive in unfamiliar and challenging circumstances. I am adventurous. I am a good friend. I strive to better myself.

Whether or not I feel comfortable calling myself extraordinary, I do feel like I live in an extraordinary time with extraordinary opportunities available to me. I only hope I can live up to the promise and adventure of those opportunities.


Tuesday, September 27, 2016

A Jar of Soup and a Loaf of Bread

After yesterday's post asking for help and understanding, I was shocked at the flood of messages I received. Several of my friends posted loving, supportive, and compassionate comments. A few sent encouraging private messages. A few friends sent me texts offering support and advice. I truthfully didn't expect any of those responses. But oh, how they filled my heart and soul. I have amazing friends.

Reading so many messages of comfort and hope made me feel stronger than I have felt in a long while. This morning I made several phone calls and was able to arrange for a visit to a doctor and find a local therapist. I'm  fortunate that the company my husband works offers provisions for mental health services. Initially, I can get 8 sessions of therapy without paying anything out of pocket. After that, we can assess my future needs. I feel confident that with these measures, I am going to find help and solutions. I do experience depression occasionally, but they are often temporary-lasting no more than a few months at a time and I don't expect that my malaise will linger much longer with good care and help.

The most humbling and soul-filling moment also occurred today. Last night, my friend sent me a very long text sharing thoughts and offering concrete advice. This morning she asked if I wanted to spend time at her home. I wasn't up to that just yet and had to finish some other things at home. Later in the day, she sent me a text saying she was bringing dinner over and would let me know her arrival time later.

A few hours later she showed up at my back door, arms laden with grocery bags filled with food: delicious warm soup in jars, bread, salad, muffins, doughnuts, and potatoes. It was just so generous and wonderful that I could hardly believe it. We talked for a few minutes and she encouraged me in my efforts to get help.

This evening as I served this meal, I couldn't stop the tears. My kids watched me dish out soup, spread butter on bread, and spoon salad onto their plates in confusion as tears rolled down my cheeks. I couldn't even explain why I was crying to them. As I ate my friend's delicious soup, I swear I could hear a gentle voice saying, "You are loved, Tiffany. Everything is going to be OK."

And it will be. I feel like a giant load has been lifted off my shoulders. I have already taken steps to get help. I discovered that I have this amazing network of friends ready to lift me up and encourage me. My husband, parents, and sisters are all reaching out to me offering their love and support.

So thank you, friends. I certainly don't deserve you or your kindness, but I am wholeheartedly grateful for it.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Mothering Monday: Mom Burn-Out

If you have been reading my blog over the past summer, I think you can tell that I'm experiencing mom burn-out. The kind of burnout where I went from regularly cooking homemade meals to considering fast food as a viable option for dinner. Every.Single.Night. While I didn't serve fast food every night, I fantasized about it everyday. I used to read to my kids all the time but the other day, I searched for bedtime stories on YouTube. My patience and interactions with my children are extremely short. The worst thing is that I don't really feel much happiness when I'm doing my work as a mom or when I spend time with my children.

Let me be clear about something. I deliberately chose to be a mother. I was not coerced, manipulated, or forced into having babies. Most of my children were planned and those who weren't, were welcome surprises. I think being a mother is an extremely important calling and I willingly accepted that calling. I am proud of the work I am doing as a mother. Raising kids who are independent, hard workers, kind, compassionate, helpful, and decent people is worthwhile work.

Right now I am not feeling the joy of working on something important. I just feel cranky, tired, out-of-sorts, overwhelmed, and exhausted. I find that when faced with challenges (which is normal with kids) I don't even have the energy to cope with them. This is not good, people.

So how do I get my mojo back? How do I find happiness in the experience? How do I find more pleasure in interacting with my children? How do I stop being/feeling so darn grouchy with my family?

Seriously, I am so curious what kind of answers you have to offer.

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Friday, September 23, 2016

An Explanation on My Absence

To all my readers (the faithful few),

I apologize for my absence and missing posts. When I set out to start writing daily, I thought I would do it for a month and see how it went. I found so much enjoyment from the practice and effort that I thought I could continue indefinitely. I still hope to resume my practice of daily writing.

However, the events of the past few weeks have been overwhelming. My children started school again and the transition to the new schedule has been a difficult one. I'm still struggling to find the right sleep schedule for myself.

I am also learning some hard parenting lessons right now that are sensitive and difficult. Because they involve other people I don't feel comfortable with sharing those struggles so publicly.

My oldest son has decided that he wants to graduate this year, instead of next year. This moves up his timetable significantly and means that we have to make a multitude of decisions about his future plans very quickly, which is also contributing to my stress and work load.

A couple of days ago, we learned that my BIL's younger brother died tragically. My BIL is devastated by the loss. I have spent quite a bit of time speaking with my sister and looking for ways to help her husband and family.

I have cried more in the past few weeks than I think I have ever done. Usually writing is my therapy, but I can't even get words out when I sit down to write.

On top of this, I have felt completely overwhelmed with parenting responsibilities to the point of exhaustion. Writing doesn't feel pleasurable or happy at the moment. I am pretty sure I am experiencing a low-grade depression that is likely caused by a hormonal balance. Trying to figure that out is also not fun.

All this to say, I'm having a hard time; I don't feel like writing right now. I want to return to my blog when things feel better.

Please don't give up on me! I'll be back.


Monday, September 19, 2016

Friday Favorites: A Tale of Two Cities Links

I loved reading A Tale of Two Cities. There are some great discussions of the book I want to share.

Some strong swearing in here, but this guy clearly loves literature and knows how to pick out the best bits.

Wikipedia has an excellent overview of the novel. The analysis is a bit weak, but provides some good notes to ponder.

This 18 minute animated short gives a good summary of the book.