Cowboy Up

I had a conversation with a girlfriend the other day and she was lamenting about her romantic relationship.  I told her that it was time for her to “cowboy up” and look at things a little differently.  She very confusedly asked me what in the world “cowboy up” meant.  She’s from Kentucky and apparently they don’t have many cowboys in Lexington.  I explained to her that to “cowboy up” means to suck it up, man up, woman up, and move forward.

This specific conversation came to me later in the night and I had a revelation.  I’ve spent the past 15 months not being able to cowboy up in my own life out of fear, weakness, and doubt.  I knew that this isn’t who I want to be.  I want to be the John Wayne of meandering through this life successfully and I learned a few things that I thought I would share.  So, put on your cowboy hats and continue…

1. Life isn’t always fair.  We all- every one of us- have those moments of “why me?”.  We’ve all been cheated and disappointed by relationships, jobs, churches, illnesses, etc.  We are never once in Scripture promised that this is going to be an easy ride.  Our success in the ride depends on how we react and process when we are met with challenges.  Buck up, cowboys. 

2. Bad things happen to good people.  At some point in our journey we are all going to be faced with loss.  If all we do is focus on the bad, however, that is where we will stay… wallowing in our self-pity.  This isn’t a concept I was really familiar with until the loss of my dad last year.  I felt very cheated and robbed.  I think God understands our sorrow and our crying out to Him.  He feels our pain.  We are His children and He doesn’t like to see us hurt.  Just as I as a mother would open a can of whoop-A on anyone who wrongs my child, I believe that God wants us to sit back and let Him take care of all of the injustices that we face.  He has our best interests at heart.  We may not be able to clearly see the big picture from where we are sitting in the saddle, but we have to learn to trust that He is the ultimate leader of this crazy cattle drive and He will steer us all in the right direction if we allow Him to.

3. It’s time to start focusing on the positive.  Sometimes that can be as simple as being thankful for the fact that we woke up this morning.  In the time that you’ve spent reading this someone, somewhere in this world has experienced the loss of a loved one.  We wake up, shower, eat our Cheerios, grab backpacks, and head out the door.  Someone woke up today to the realization that a loved one is gone.  Be thankful and grateful for what you have regardless of how trivial and mundane it may seem to you at the moment.  There are people who would be happy to wake up to “normal” and “routine”.  You don’t really grasp this concept until the day you wake up and your “normal” and “routine” is stripped from you.  Trust me.

4. Rock bottom does not equal the end.  Those days when you feel it literally takes all of your power just to get out of bed you must remember that things do not forever stay in a state of chaos.  We all have to muster up the strength to press forward through those times and move ahead.  I’ve often thought that I feel so sorry for those humans who chose to maneuver through the landmines of life without having God in the picture.  Frankly, I don’t know how they do it.  When all of my strength is zapped and I feel I can’t take another step it is beyond comforting to me to have the sweet assurance that He never leaves me and will always see me through those difficult times.  How wonderful to be able to crawl up into His lap and just say “I’m weak.  I need you.”  I’m 42 years old and He has never failed me- not once.

There is no person who has a perfect life.  I dare to say that there is no person who has an easy life.  Life is what it is.  It becomes what we allow it to be.  You can choose to let it drag you down or you can cowboy up, dig your spurs in, and move forward.  I, for one, chose to dig in those spurs.  You can to.  The reigns ultimately belong to God, and He’s given us the strength to press on.  Grab hold.  Dig in.  Hold tight and prepare for the ride.  In the words of Steven Curtis Chapman, one of my favorite Christian singers, “Saddle up your horses.  We’ve got a trail to blaze.” 

Giddy up, pardners!

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The Power of “Beautiful”

“Beautiful” is defined by the Merrian-Webster dictionary as “having the qualities of beauty, exciting aesthetic pleasure”.  As women in this society, sometimes unfortunately, beauty is something we all strive for in life.  You can turn on the television and see any number of cosmetic commercials, facial cleanser commercials, exercise equipment commercials, and even find the toll-free number to contact your favorite plastic surgeon.  Women in the media industry today are portrayed as young, thin things with flawless skin and not an ounce of cellulite on their bodies.  We are programmed to believe that we must be beautiful to be popular, to succeed in life, to find a husband, to find the perfect job…  I’m here to give a little different perspective.

I had an awakening to the importance of hearing the word “beautiful” a few months ago and it was something I had never even given a moment’s pause to I’m a little embarrassed to say.  I’m a woman who is in the process of adjusting to a life without a man present.  My mother is a woman who is in the process of adjusting to life without her man of more than 42 years present.  A strange thing occurs.  If you are a woman who has been fortunate enough to have a man (or woman) in your life tell you on a fairly consistent basis that you are “beautiful” or “lovely” then you go through the loss of that relationship and stop hearing those words it causes you to begin to wonder…  Am I still that?  It’s like the old expression about, “If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it does it still make noise?”  If we stop hearing that we are beautiful does that mean we cease to be it? 

I had a conversation with a girlfriend of mine and was expressing the pain I felt for what my mother was going through adjusting to life without my dad.  I knew a certain amount of sadness and loss was involved- of course- but more so was worried that she had started making comments I wasn’t used to hearing this normally very confident, independent woman stating.  My girlfriend said to me, “Your father was the man who for more than 40 years has told your mother that she’s beautiful.  He’s gone now.”  In that very instant my heart sank.  I understood.  We all want to hear it.  The female, emotional side of us needs to be complimented.  Even if we don’t admit it, we do.  You can be having the worst day ever, but to be stopped and given a compliment can instantly change your mood for the better.  I learned an important lesson that day. 

My mother is without a doubt the most beautiful woman I know.  Not only outwardly, but inwardly.  As I’ve gotten older it’s funny to me how the outward, socially-acceptable definition of “beauty” has fallen by the wayside and given room to what I believe is the more important, substance-holding definition of “beauty”.  In my teens I probably would have told you that a true “beauty” to me was someone who was fit, tan, had perfect teeth, and a lovely wardrobe.  In the 80’s we had the beginning of the era of the “super model”.  Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, and Linda Evangelista were in practically every commercial, George Michael music video, and clothing ad that was in print or on television.  They were the pinnacles to which we as mortal women were to fruitlessly strive for- perfect hair, perfect face, 24-inch waists, and a bust line which was surgery attainable.  Now, an older and I hope much wiser Amanda would tell you that beauty is so much more about who we are at the very core of our being. 

My mother gave the greater part of her life to contribute endlessly to the upbringing and well-being of me and my sister.  She put her entire life on hold the moment she became a mother to invest every second she had to nurturing us into becoming the people we are today.  I will forever be grateful and in awe of the dedication and time she devoted to us.  I’m so blessed that this insight and understanding spilled over into me the day I became a mother.  Our lives quickly stop being about “us” and immediately start being about “them”.  Just as it should be.

When I think of beautiful women that I know I can instantly see all of the females I have in my life.  I see good mothers and teachers.  I see women who strive every day to teach what they’ve learned and to make their little sections of the world a better place for their families to live in.  I see counselors and educators.  I see women who have made mistakes, learned from them, and moved on. 

When I see my mother in her cutie-cute outfits, with her styled hair I tell her that I think she looks lovely.  She is.  I like to imagine that the torch of sharing that information was secretly passed from my father on to me.  I adore the woman she represents.  I think she is stylish and fun-loving, but what I see most when I see Carolynn is the beauty that radiates from her insides out.  This woman has taught my sister and me the Word of God from the time we were children.  We have seen daily examples in her life of how Christ is supposed to shine through us.  One of my most memorable “Carolynn as a teacher” stories is when I was about 8 years old and we had gone grocery shopping at Safeway Grocery Store in Ft. Smith, Arkansas.  A women in line in front of us was at the check out with her 2 little children and she was frantically counting out her change trying to pay for her milk.  My mother recognized the distress this woman was feeling and quietly leaned over to her and said, “Let me buy your milk for you as a gift from Jesus.  This is what He wants us to do.”  That happened 34 years ago and I can still remember it like it was yesterday.  What a life lesson it was to these young eyes.  “Beauty” in the flesh standing before me perfectly demonstrating the love of Christ.

Proverbs 31:30

English Standard Version (ESV)

30 Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.

1 Peter 3:3-4

English Standard Version (ESV)

3 Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— 4 but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.

As women we all want to feel beautiful, desired, and attractive.  I won’t try to deny that.  It would be dishonest to do so.  I think it is important that we as women tell the other women in our lives that they are beautiful and not be afraid to give a compliment.  However, I know there is a beauty which is much more important than the weight, or the wrinkles, or the crow’s feet that we all begin to worry about as we age.  I feel that women who have learned the deepest definition of beauty when it comes to us as the female creature understand the little-promoted idea that what makes us truly beautiful isn’t a perfectly-symmetric face or eyes which are just the right color or distance from one another. These women have learned that how we love each other and treat other people and what we choose to do with our time here on this earth is what molds us into category of “beautiful”.  I hope that as my daughter ages I can convey to her that outward beauty is fleeting, but it is the woman that we are inside- the woman that we nurture and grow- that actually has life-long value.  That is the beauty I desire.  I want to be a woman who is beautiful in that way just as my mother is.

The Easter Bunny

When Elijah was in preschool I was asked one year to be the Easter bunny for the “Friends At Play” children’s Easter celebration.  I laughed at the idea, but decided it would be fun and very quickly agreed.  Elijah was the cutest little four-year old in his Easter shorts and shirt and so excited about the egg hunt that was planned for that day.  I dropped him off at preschool and walked him inside, as normal, and then left to change into a huge, fuzzy, sweltering rabbit costume.

It was a perfect day outside.  The sun was shining and the temperature was a lovely mid-70’s as opposed to the temperature inside that costume which was every bit the equivalent of being in the 9th level of hell.  I waited off in a side room until I was given “the okay” by school staff and was taken around to each of the three classrooms to see the children.  I wasn’t supposed to speak- bunnies after all do not talk- so I hopped and bounced and hugged and waved my hands about in excited shows of expression.  Most of the kids were very excited about seeing the Easter bunny, but there were a few who seemed a bit overwhelmed by the fluffy white costume.  I let them fall back behind their teachers and didn’t push my luck with them.  I didn’t want to contribute to any undue childhood trauma which may result in a visit to a therapist in their adult years, but it seemed that as they watched and saw that the Easter bunny was harmless and just being silly and giving out hugs most of them came around.

Elijah’s was the second classroom that I came to.  He’s always tried to be a brave little thing, but as his mamma I know that there are still a few situations that make him nervous.  He watched me interact with a few of the other kids before he came to check out the Easter bunny for himself, but when he did he threw those little arms around my leg and squeezed out the biggest hug.  I realize that I’m a little biased considering I carried this child inside me for 9 months, but honestly I don’t know a little boy with a sweeter heart and more love for his mother than my ‘Lijah.  He makes me melt every time I see him and the words that come out of his mouth “I’ll miss you mamma” or “I love you mamma” have always made my heart full.  (I love Miss Ava just as much, but this blog is about Eli.  Ava will have her own story next.) 🙂

I bent down and hugged him right on his level and it took everything I had inside me not to blurt out, “Eli, it’s ME!  It’s your mom!” I knew I could never reveal this little secret.  As long as my children still believe in these magical creatures I’m going to let them.  I think it’s a fun part of childhood, one that I enjoyed as a kid, and I want them to get to have that experience.  They are smart children and I know it won’t last long.  Eventually the concept of Santa or the Easter bunny will melt away, but as long as they still have that little spark of “believe” in them I’m not going to extinguish it.  I wouldn’t dare.

The Easter bunny, children, teachers, and several parent helpers all moved outside to prepare for the egg hunt.  My job was to sit in a designated spot and each child would be brought to me and set on my lap to have pictures taken and included in an Easter card which each child was making for their parents.  I sat, sweating away, in the huge fuzzy costume as each child was brought to me and our picture was made.  It was interesting to me that this was the first time in my life I was in front of a camera for numerous pictures and I didn’t have to smile.  When the first child was placed with me our photographer Susan said, “Smile for me!” and I smiled a big smile and then realized no one can see my face underneath this 20-pound bunny head!  She was telling the kids to smile.  I think during one point in the middle of taking pics with the second class of 4-year-olds I actually started making faces under my bunny head.  Who was ever gonna know?!

When it was Eli’s turn to sit with me I wrapped my arms around him and he snuggled into me.  He smiled a sweet smile and we had our picture taken.  It was interesting to me that throughout the afternoon he would keep finding his way back to me.  He’d hug me or sit with me more than any other child in his group did.  One of the teachers even came up to me and quietly commented, “It’s almost like he knows it’s you in there.”  This thought brought the biggest smile to my face. 

As a parent you always want your children to know that you love them.  I’ve never experienced love so full of meaning as I did when I first became a parent.  There’s nothing to compare it to.  In an instant you would give your life for this tiny creature you’ve just met, but it’s like your souls have a connection that is beyond explanation.  I felt this other-worldly love with each of my children.  Even when they were still inside my stomach I would talk to them and read to them and sing to them.  What a tremendous gift motherhood is.  Without a doubt my proudest accomplishment.  I feel so blessed that God would allow me the privilege of watching over these two little ones during their time here on earth.  I know what great responsibility comes with being charged in that role.  I have thanked Him for allowing me to watch these two which from birth already belong to Him.

I would hope all through their lives both Eli and Ava will know beyond a doubt that the love I feel for them sometimes is so overwhelming I feel it could cause my heart to explode.  I’ve made mistakes as a parent.  I’ve learned through challenges that I’ve faced and that my little family has gone through, but the adoration and love I feel for these babies has always been a sweet constant in my life since their arrivals. 

That day in the Easter bunny costume I realized that no matter what happens in life- no matter time or distance, harmony or dissention, me as me or me in a bunny costume- I always hope my children will know the love I have for them.  I want them to feel it as something palpable.  I hope they do.

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