God Created Us To Be Unique (A Story About My Black Hills Vacation).

I just returned from a trip to the Black Hills.  And it was fun.  FUN.

You may be thinking back to my last post, wondering, “wait, wasn’t she just writing about how sad she was?”

Yes.  Yes I was.  But that’s okay.  Maybe even a good thing.  Chuck Swindoll, a a man you should discover if you haven’t already, tweeted last week that sometimes people, and perhaps especially Christians, underestimate the importance of sadness in our lives. He reminded me, “hey, it’s okay to feel sad.  It’s okay to talk about it.”

Just like it is okay to talk about having FUN!

Before I start, let me preface this post by saying that the first part may sound tinged by sarcasm.  But I’m not being sarcastic.  We truly enjoyed the entire trip, even the unexpected parts.

I’ll start by sharing about the novelty of our accommodations.  We stayed in three different hotels.  Each hotel was a two-story hotel.  We stayed on the second floor at each hotel.  AND NONE OF THE HOTELS HAD AN ELEVATOR.  Up and down, up and down, up and down.  I packed everything in a million oversized reusable shopping bags from TJ Maxx, instead of using suitcases like a normal person.  That went over like a lead balloon.  Make that nine lead balloons.

The trip started on Thursday evening.  We stopped for the night in Chamberlain.  Our hotel rocked it.  It was unlike the hotels I’ve stayed in lately.  A sign in the lobby, as I shared on Twitter, requested “Please do not clean fish in rooms.”

And then, our room had a little basket next to the sink holding a tattered washcloth with a wrinkled, reused piece of paper sitting on top that explained ”The Rag” was there for our convenience, to be used to wipe bugs off cars and to shine up dirt-covered boots.  Instead of a towel.

Between the fish sign and The Rag I thought, “this hotel has seen some crazy shizzle go down.”

The hotel was lauded online as having a “family friendly pool,” boasting a picture of a raccoon basketball hoop, spa, and sauna.  I Googled images of the hotel name and all kinds of photos of frog slides and lots of other pool playthings popped up, although I couldn’t find anything firm on the website stating that yes indeed the pool had such a slide.  I bragged up the frog slide and other pool playthings the entire drive from Sioux Falls to Chamberlain, only to find that the pool was just a dinky hotel pool.  With a raccoon basketball hoop.  My kids gave me a lot of flak over that.

As I reread this, I think “this doesn’t sound like a fun trip.”  But it was.  Like I said in the preface, I’m not even being sarcastic.

Part of the enjoyment was that I had no expectations.  I even said to my eldest at one point, “this trip is going exactly as I planned.”  And then I thought for a minute, and added, “because I had no plans for how it was going to go.”  Note to self: fewer plans = fewer disappointments = best vacation ever.

Friday morning, we drove from Chamberlain to the Badlands.  My middle child loved climbing up and down, testing her agility, and scaring the tar out of ther mother as she balanced precariously on ledges and wriggled between sharp crevaces.

I spy...I don't normally put pics of my kids on here, but she's such a little speck way up high that I figure this one's okay.

I spy…I don’t normally put pics of my kids on here, but she’s such a little speck way up high that I figure this one’s okay.

We didn’t stay long at the Badlands.  My littlest peanut is only two, and physically she’s just not quite at the Badlands-climbing-phase yet (although she thinks she is).  Drama.

Wall Drug was next.  Opinion in the car was split, probably much like the opinion of everyone in any car traveling west past Wall on I-90.

Have you visited Wall Drug?  What did you think of it?

I’ll tell you straight-up, I love it.  I delight in the novelty of the faux storefronts and the wooden overhang jutting out over the sidewalk, providing shade.  I like the sound my shoes make on the wooden planks.

I love Wall Drug because it is a real-life stagepiece onto which I can project my fantasies of what life was like before the world got so fancy.  Before bottled water.  Before insulated thermoses.  Back to a day when free ice water was enough to lure weary travelers off the beaten path.  An oasis, a diversion, a promise that no matter how tired you are or how long you’ve been riding, “we will take care of you.”

Today the promise is more than that.  Today the promise is “We Will Entertain You.”

This seems to be the dominant feature of every sign along Interstate 90 between Murdo and the Black Hills.  Billboard after billboard after billboard promises to entertain.  It promises to make the past come alive.  It promises to take the ordinary and to make it extraordinary.

This is what I love about Wall Drug.  It still promises to take care of us, with free ice water and $.05 coffee, but more than that, it is a diversion from the dreariness of hours and hours of endless highway.  Yes, it is kitschy, and yes, it is commercialized, but it doesn’t just sell.  It transports.

An old newspaper clipping on the wall shares how the founder of Wall Drug, Mr. Hustead, was a pharmacist who started out by offering free ice water to weary travelers at the height (or perhaps nadir is a better word) of the Great Depression.

I love stories like this, and perhaps this is part of the reason I love Wall Drug.  I love that the founder of Wall Drug was the kind of guy who made lemonade out of lemons.  I think this is a defining feature of the people who settled South Dakota.  People who didn’t see a desolate wasteland, but rather, envisioned corn popping up and a white farmhouse and community, or who envisioned cattle grazing the vast expanse of grasslands out west.  I love that, after hearing so many stories about people shooting them dang pesky prairie dogs, some South Dakotan right off the Badlands exit had the genius idea to put a fence around a few acres of prairie and to make the prairie dogs into a tourist attraction.  “FEED THE PRAIRIE DOGS!”  Love it.  Love it, love it, love it.  This is what makes South Dakota great.

And so I love, too, that the founder of Wall Drug saw the nothingness spanning between Sioux Falls and Rapid City not as a desolate wasteland, but rather as a prime location to take care of and ultimately entertain weary travelers.

Warning: If you are heading west on I-90 to the Black Hills, make sure to eat and to use a restroom at the Wall exit, because there isn’t much west of it for quite a stretch.  Just sayin’.

Mt. Rushmore was next.  Have I shared with you my love for national parks?  Just like Gettysburg, just like Montezuma’s Castle, just like all national parks, Mt. Rushmore is a bastion of quiet stillness.

It was so peaceful that I laid down on the bench in the ampitheater at the base of Mt. Rushmore and was so transported by the peacefulness that I almost fell asleep.  Yes, I was the tacky tourist in a sundress laying down taking a nap on a bench.  I had a tickle cough and hadn’t slept well for three nights, so please be gentle on me.

Mt. Rushmore...as seen on my iPhone.

Mt. Rushmore…as seen on my iPhone.

Rushmore Cave and its accompanying zipline were next.  Do not take a 2-year-old into a Rushmore Cave, or probably any cave, for an extended period of time. Especially if the two year old just pushed a small mint up her nose and it is irretrievably fixed in there.  Because she will cry from claustrophobia, she will be unable to understand explanations like “this is a cave and we will be leaving soon,” and she will cry so hard it will melt the mint and it will run out of her nose like white, gooey snot.

The drive from Keystone area to Rushmore Cave is under construction.  Three bridges total, I believe.  One lane is open across each of these three bridges.  There are no instructions on Navigating A Single-Lane Road Over A Bridge, but apparently everyone understands that you stop at the stop sign until the car heading your way has cleared the bridge.  And then, by faith, you press the gas and gun it, praying the person heading towards the bridge from the opposite direction sees the stop sign and understands the unwritten rules of Navigating A Single-Lane Road Over A Bridge.

We survived, heading to Hill City to eat at the Alpine Inn.  I am indecisive by nature, and thus appreciate a restaurant that offers two, and only two choices.  The menu offers you (1) a little steak, or (2) a big steak.  With baked potato and side salad.  Not optional.

But apparently everyone visiting the Hills is indecisive and appreciates the limited but tasty options at the Alpine Inn.  We didn’t feel like waiting for a half hour at 7:30 pm (MOUNTAIN TIME!!).  We were starving and still shaking in our boots after Navigating A Single-Lane Road Over A Bridge.  And so we found Plan B.

After eating at Plan B, we headed from Hill City to Spearfish.  I noticed a few miles after leaving Hill City that the GAS LIGHT was warning us to buy gas.  Along with the warning signs posted along Highway 385, warning us to watch for bighorn sheep.  Good thing we were on the lookout, because deer meandered across the highway at two separate points on our journey.

The map on our navigation didn’t show much in the way of gas stations between Hill City and Lead.  But then.

But then, we stumbled across the highlight of our trip.  Right at the intersection of Highway 385 and the road that heads into Nemo is THE BOONDOCKS.

The Boondocks may or may not exist.  It was such a magical evening…such a magical moment in the history of our lives…that we recognized even as we drove away that perhaps we will go back to find it someday and like a wrinkle in time or Rip Van Winkle or some other world- or time-altering force, we will find it existed only in our dreams.

The Boondocks sells Premium Gas (94 Octane), which is quite a surprise to find in that neck of the woods when you can’t even find premium gas at the Casey’s in Harrisburg a few miles south of Sioux Falls.

It also sells chocolate ice cream waffle cones.  And has a mini golf course.  And an old-fashoined drive-in that no longer operates but where three old fashioned cars are parked.  It is where a fake Bugati sits poised like a panther ready to pounce. It has to be fake, because I watch Chasing Classic Cars with honey many nights at home, and a real Bugati is like several million dollars.  It has campy memorabilia from shows like Happy Days.  It probably sells the leg lamp from A Christmas Story, although the building with the memorabilia was closed by the time we pulled up.  I swear it is the inspiration for the setting in the movie Cars.

Here are a few photos:

leftview

storefront

gasstationview

fullonkitsch

LOOK at this gas pump!  It doesn't have pay at the pump!  It doesn't have digital numbers!  And it's charging me $4.24 + 5% for premium gas if I pay with a credit card!!

LOOK at this gas pump! It doesn’t have pay at the pump! It doesn’t have digital numbers! And it’s charging me $4.24 + 5% for premium gas if I pay with a credit card!!

If you have ever visited the Boondocks before, please let me know.  We still fear it was a dream.

After Boondocks, our souls were filled with so much wonder and excitement I feared the rest of the trip would fare as well as a wet bottle rocket.

But then we drove through Spearfish Canyon.  We headed out of Lead to 14A, which is the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway.  And like the Boondocks, I fear I imagined what I saw.

For those of you who have never taken 14A, I can only explain it like this.  Imagine that you are living in a popup book.  And 14A is a road on the pages of the book.  It winds alongside a stream which at night is visible only as it reflects light from the moon.  By day you will find that the stream is so clear that you can see varying calico shades of rocks nestled along the streambed.

Trees and steep canyon walls pop up alongside 14A, towering beside you as you wind your way around the canyon, sometimes gently ascending upward, but mostly just meandering alongside the stream.

In the pitch black of a June South Dakota evening, after living for so long in a city that you forget what it is like to be alone, you will find reassurance in the lights…the glow…of A-frame log homes that dot the base of the canyon, just a few yards off the road.

Here I had written a few paragraphs imagining what life would have been like as a child growing up in Spearfish Canyon.  But then I remembered honey annoyed at Tony Soprano on The Sopranos when they had a few episodes that were really just a dream sequence, because NOTHING WAS REALLY HAPPENING, and I decided I didn’t want to annoy you with imaginary stuff.

I have stayed at Spearfish Canyon Lodge once before.  I remember limited cell phone reception.  And so I was wise enough to take a screenshot of my Google maps directions to the Lodge as we headed out of Lead.

Honey’s phone, for some reason, had good enough reception to verbalize directions to Spearfish Canyon Lodge.  We arrived at 10:30 pm, and the lobby was still buzzing.  How do old people have so much energy to sit at the bar and go hot tubbing this late at night?  I felt like I was living in that car commercial where the older parents are off having fun while the kid sits at home looking at Facebook and worrying about his parents who he believes are asleep in the next room over.  THIS is where the parents are, dude in the commercial!  They are at Spearfish Canyon Lodge, throwing back high balls or low balls or whatever you call them, and padding down the hallway in a bathrobe headed to the hot tob at 10:30 pm (MOUNTAIN TIME)!!

We dragged our bags up the stairs (yet again), crashed, then awoke a few hours later to brilliantly sunny skies and cool, dry air.  Cool, dry air seems to be a trend out here in the Hills, so if I can guarantee anything about a Black Hills vacation, it is that you will have a good hair day every day of the trip.  That is enough of a boon to plan a vacation around.  You’d get why if you saw pictures of my hair on our vacation to Myrtle Beach.

We checked out the Spearfish Country Club, then made our way to Deadwood.  Ahhhh, Deadwood, how I love thee.

Saloon #10 is where I learned to play blackjack.  I have only played once, maybe twice.  Saloon #10 claims to be the saloon where Wild Bill Hickok was dealt his last hand of poker.  Perched in a nook above the door sits the chair where Wild Bill Hickok was shot.

As we walked the sidewalks outside of Salooon #10, a man dressed in full cowboy character, with hair long and straight under his hat, sat Wild Bill Hickok, who yelled out inviting us all to a “Free Show at 1 o’clock.  Kids welcome.”

We walked in and out of Saloon #10 about three times before deciding to attend the Free Show.  We stayed for only a few minutes.  A two-year-old wasn’t into the history lesson, and the older girls’ interest waned after a few minutes.

I did catch this much.  Wild Bill Hickok started out as a day laborer.  Apparently joined the army alongside Custer and Buffalo Bill Cody.

Hickok searched for a job as a lawman.  He found a marshall job in Kansas.  He got into an altercation with a local, who he shot dead, and as the dust settled on the local, he saw some movement out of the corner of his eye and shot on instinct.  He had shot his deputy.

He didn’t want to be a law man after this.  Buffalo Bill invited Hickok to join him as an actor in a traveling show.  But Hickok decided life as a showman wasn’t for him.  He made his mark as a gunslinger (pun intended) and poker player.

And thus one of the first South Dakota legends was made.

The Hills are filled with legends.  The South Dakota license plate features four of them–the four Great Faces–and it tells us that South Dakota is filled with “Great Faces, Great Places.”

The Great Faces.  Wild Bill Hickok.  And the legends continue today.  I’m thinking the late Governor Bill Janklow would have been dressed in spurs and a holster sitting at Saloon #10 back in the day.  Can you picture it?  The legends do continue.

After the show, we sat and licked yet another chocolate ice cream waffle cone.  We sat on a bench, watching tattoos and denim cutoffs and bedazzling walk past us.  And I felt at home yet again.

I didn’t realize this all felt like home until the drive home at the gas station off the Murdo exit.  The gas station was packed.  As I stood in line waiting to pay, I noticed a display of cheap movies.  Military movies and westerns.

Some of my favorite movies are military movies and westerns.  I think of High Noon, Unforgiven, True Grit, 3:10 to Yuma, Hunt for Red October, The Bridge on the River Kwai, Platoon.  I felt at home because this gas station was selling exactly the kind of movies that I like.

It dawned on me that so much of our trip had resonated with me…had FIT my likes…had felt like HOME…the history, the characters, the west.

I enjoyed it so much.  We counted it as one of our best vacations, maybe even THE best, even over places like New York City, Philadelphia, Boston, Disney World, Arizona, Paris, Thailand, you name it.

But then I started to overthink it.  I started to let my mind get the best of me.  I thought back to the tattoos and cutoffs and bedazzling and started to think, “but I don’t fit in with these people.”  Because I wear sundresses and high heels.

I remembered what C.S. Lewis wrote in The Screwtape Letters.  He warned that one of the greatest tricks the devil ever played on us is to make us feel like we have to be exactly like everyone else.  We have to model our tastes and likes and whatever else after what is CONVENTIONAL.  What is the crowd doing?  Why can’t I be exactly like everyone else?

Sometimes I feel like if I wear sundresses and high heels, I have to vacation in Palm Beach and the Hamptons, when what I really enjoy is sitting on a bench in Deadwood, South Dakota licking a chocolate ice cream waffle cone.

I thought about uniqueness.  I wondered why we still talk about Wild Bill Hickok.  And I thought it interesting that Wild Bill, reckless former lawman that he was, had enough insight to realize that he didn’t want to be a showman, but rather, wanted to be a carousing, poker-playing villain.

I do not recommend villainry.  But I do find it admirable that he followed his heart.

As you drive east of Murdo, towards Chamberlain, you will start to notice a change in billboards.  Gone are the Wall Drug signs and the 1880 town invitations, and instead you start to see signs for implement dealers.  As you head farther and farther east, you will see the corn grow taller and more sure of itself, filling the fields rather than just patches in the sandier soil that sits farther west.

When you are almost to Sioux Falls, the billboards have changed entirely.  It is mostly invitations to hotels and the mall, and a few signs inviting you to join the Mudathlon.  The Mudathlon billboard really depressed me for some reason.

I love Sioux Falls and I chose to live there.  But I miss the characters out west.  In Sioux Falls, we all take nice care of our lawns, a lot of people work out in gyms, we are all ambitious.  It is an ascendant city.  But it is so much sameness.

Please don’t get lost in this sameness.  Even if you care about your lawn and like to work out and if you are ambitious, PLEASE let your light shine.  Be a character.  Break the mold, and maybe even a few rules along the way.

I think of Jesus.  I always come back to him.  Have I ever told you that one of the things I love most about Jesus is that he was radical?  He was a rebel?  I like that about him.  He was okay talking rules and totally owning it with the Pharisees, and then he was off talking with a villainous tax collector, then off reassuring a prostitute, then off healing a rich man’s daughter.  Jesus pissed off a lot of people because he refused to conform.  He refused to conform not because he was bad, but because he was good.  Because he recognized that his uniqueness was God-given.

I felt jubilant and reinvigorated after my trip to the Black Hills.  Because I recognized that I have a lot in common with a lot of different types of people.  I can love sitting on a bench in Deadwood licking a cone even if I’m wearing a sundress and don’t have a tattoo.  And then I can come back to my life in Sioux Falls and appreciate the nice lawns and the hardworking and diligent folk who live here.  And even if I’m not exactly like any of them, it is only because I am UNIQUE and AWESOMELY made.

I think you are awesome, too.  I bet that you kind of fit in a lot of different places, but don’t completely fit in anywhere.  Because you are special.  Not because you are weird or bad or need to change.  If you think that, that is because the devil sees something in you that is awesome and is AFRAID you will use it to glorify God!  I really believe this!  So don’t listen to that voice!  Recognize you uniqueness as a gift and appreciate that you are AWESOME!!

May you have a great July Fourth, celebrating your freedom to be yourself!!

God bless, ME

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Update on “The Dress.”

For those of you who read 3,000 words of venting and lamenting that no one complimented The Dress, I thought you may appreciate an update:

Honey read the story the day after it posted, and he said, “I’m sorry.  You always look so nice that sometimes it’s hard to know when you’re wearing something special, because you always look special.”  Something “awwww” inducing like that.

Isn’t that nice?

Thought you would all appreciate this.  And just as a reminder, he’s taken ladies.  He’s taken.  Be back soon with more stories!

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I Did Not Keep Calm, But I Did Carry On.

Everywhere I go, and I mean EVERYWHERE, I’m being told to “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

I see this phrase, this “Keep Calm and Carry On” business, at Claire’s Boutique when I’m at the mall with my girls, where it’s slapped on glittery journals and cell phone covers.

I see it inscribed on nostalgia-evoking wall art at Target in the home decor section.

And I saw it at World Market yesterday (Sunday–wrote this Monday), when I wandered over to the kitchen and dishware section.  There it was, an apron hanging on a coat-rack-looking display, looming like a judgmental giant staring at me saying “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

I was at World Market to buy some tchotchkes for this hanging shelf by our front door.

I was at World Market to buy some tchotchkes for this hanging shelf by our front door.

 

I found a lovely little greeting card with an inspirational quote.  I bought this frame to display it in, a well as a candle.   The inspirational card says "Those were the days...and so are these."  It is supposed to remind us that today can be as good as the good old days.  I like having this little display by our entryway, so people feel like they are already inside my house when they are waiting for me to answer the doorbell.

I found a lovely little greeting card with an inspirational quote. I bought this frame to display it in, a well as a candle.
The inspirational card says “Those were the days…and so are these.” It is supposed to remind us that today can be as good as the good old days.
I like having this little display by our entryway, so people feel like they are already inside my house when they are waiting for me to answer the doorbell.

It was at World Market that I finally blew my lid.

Behind the polite smile and the polite moving over of the cart when someone needed to work their way past me, I was blowing my lid, thinking, “I WANT TO TAKE THAT APRON AND FLING IT ON THE GROUND AND STAMP MY FEET ON IT AND WAVE MY CRAZY HANDS IN THE AIR WHILE I PANTOMIME SWEARWORDS, in a huge, dramatic, very public display of crazy.

BECAUSE…

I am not British.

I am not British!! 

In every book written pre-1960, when people could still make broad generalizations about an entire country’s population without fearing retribution, these books all told us that British people were stoic and only showed emotion to their horses.

“British” and “repression” were two words that went hand-in-hand.  Or so they said.  And so, the Keep Calm and Carry On message was targeted at these people for whom keeping calm and carrying on was a natural state.  It was the way you acted if you lived in Britain, anyway, regardless of the possibility of bombings and war and all that.  In essence, they were saying, “Keep doing what you’re doing.” *

But me, I am not British, and keeping calm and carrying on is not my natural state.

My natural state is “you will know when I’m hot under the collar, and I tend towards being hot under the collar quite often.”

But I try, and for the most part I keep it cool under my collar, especially now that I’m a stay at home mom and have no excuses.  I have no wants, I have no needs, I tell myself.  I was trying my darndest to be a Stepford Wife until the crazy leaked out all over the place yesterday morning.

Because yesterday, I felt like my life had become a series of days of getting crapped on every day, all day, over and over.  And I just can’t repress myself every day for soooo very long.  There comes a point at which I JUST CANNOT DO IT ANYMORE.  Cannot.  Will not.

Actually, the crazy was already out of the bag by the time I made it to World Market.  The crazy first appeared at Pizza Ranch buffet after church.  And in the car on the way home from Pizza Ranch, crazy was just spewing out like an open fire hydrant.

Let me back up even more. The crazy started before church.  I took a shower, I was smelling great, and the hair was all done up fancy.  I was so pumped to wear the perfect dress for the weather, for the occassion, for my mood.

“The Dress” was right for so many reasons:

1.  It was a shirtdress that actually fit.  My Grandma Leta wore shirtdresses around the house every day (she called it a House Coat), and she looked fabulous.  A shirtdress is classic.  It is.  BUT, my lower half, frankly, is a hindrance to wearing shirtdresses.  If the bottom fits, it means I’m drowning in the top half of the dress.

But this one fit!

I was so excited to be wearing this dress that I decided to write a post about how I found it and how much I liked it.  I had my eldest daughter take some pictures of me before church.  She is so sweet.  Anyway, this is a random shot but I thought you would appreciate seeing how it "skims," not "hugs."

I was so excited to be wearing this dress that I decided to write a post about how I found it and how much I liked it. I had my eldest daughter take some pictures of me before church. She is so sweet. Anyway, this is a random shot but I thought you would appreciate seeing how it “skims,” not “hugs.”
By the way, these photos were taken with my iPhone and edited through the Camera+ app filter. They are supposed to look artsy. In case that was totally lost on you.

2. This shirtdress was the right length.  I’m 5’9 1/2″ (and add to that 2-3 inch heels, usually), so I need a little longer dress for everything to balance out.  This dress was long enough.  Hard to find.

3.  It was black and white with gold buttons. This is my color palette.  This is me.  This is what I love.  Crisp contrast, high drama, a little bling.  So me.

Here's a front-shot.  This is the best front-shot we could get.  My two-year-old stole the camera and she took this.  She forgot to tell me when to say "cheese," which is why I'm looking at the floor.

Here’s a front-shot. This is the best front-shot we could get. My two-year-old stole the camera and she took this. She forgot to tell me when to say “cheese,” which is why I’m looking at the floor.

Oh wait, here's another front-on where I AM looking at the camera.  Notice the ball of pink fluff in the background.  That's baby girl on her way to steal the camera in order to take the picture right above this one.

Oh wait, here’s another front-on where I AM looking at the camera. Notice the ball of pink fluff in the background. That’s baby girl doing an army roll off the ottoman on her way to steal the camera in order to take the picture right above this one.

4.  The Dress reminded me of The Outfit on The Devil Wears Prada.  The Outfit is the ensemble Anne Hathaway wore the day she and Meryl Streep visited the designer’s studio to preview the dress the designer made specifically for Meryl Streep. I pine for The Outfit.

The Outfit is a silky black top with a contrasting cream collar, a black pleated skirt, and a long pearl-and-diamond strand Chanel necklace. Plus a perky ponytail.  Anne Hathaway wore The Outfit the day she ordered Meryl Streep’s change of clothes to be delivered before Meryl Streep even asked her.  The day Anne Hathaway was finally allowed to deliver “the book.”  Yes, The Book.

My shirtdress, The Dress, was a close cousin to The Outfit.  I had arrived.  Wearing the The Dress, I was going to have my best day.  I was going to do everything right.  I was going to be asked to deliver The Book that day, or whatever my version of The Book might be.  I was ready.

But nobody noticed.  Apparently my telepathy antenna wasn’t working, because nobody gave me that knowing look saying “Yes, it’s your day to deliver The Book.”  Nobody recognized The Greatness of The Dress.

And so they were all in trouble before we even left the house.

Church itself was great, but apparently I didn’t let it make a behavior-changing impression.  I  did meet an amazing lady who made me smile and now, looking back, makes me feel slightly guilty in an appropriate way.

After church, it took an act of Congress to figure out where to eat, because everywhere was busy.  We finally settled on Pizza Ranch, which is always a good choice.

I can’t describe exactly what happened at Pizza Ranch, because I think I was slightly out of my mind at that point.  I had been a little cranky that morning and tried to make a few jokes to lighten the mood but that fell flat, and I was getting hotter and hotter under the collar because I was trying to behave but I kept making it worse and worse somehow.

I blew my lid in the car and blew my lid at home, for unimportant but very important (at the time) reasons.

Now, I have to admit I’ve been known to pick a fight for no reason.  And so when honey and I first started dating, sometimes he would say, “there’s no need to create drama.”  He was right.  Sometimes I would pick a fight just to create drama.

If you spend more than ten hours with me, though, you’ll know that sometimes the drama just has to come out.  It just does.  And so, when you ask me to marry you, just know the crazy is there and it’s gonna come out, and sometimes it will be fun and entertaining, and sometimes it is just a necessary evil for me to work out some of the junk in my trunk.

Long story short, honey was in trouble for not paying enough attention to me, but at the end of the day, after a dramatic discussion, I realized he was paying attention to me. I was just too engrossed in my own stuff to realize he was trying to pay attention to me. And I was angry that people don’t pay attention to me when AND how I want them to pay attention to me.

Normally I’ll take what I can get.  I assuage myself most of the time.  But not all the time.

The verse on my iPhone Daily Bible Inspiration app told me yesterday, “For the Lord your God is he who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you.”  Deuteronomy 20:4.

I kept thinking this verse doesn’t do much for me.  I can only think of about three confirmed enemies over the course of my entire life–that is, people who actively have gone out of their way to sabotage me.  And all of these people are no longer in my life in any way, shape or form.  I’m sure there are secret enemies.  People who I annoy and who are sending un-prayers my direction.

But no one is sabotaging me.  Except oh wait.  Yesterday I was sabotaging  myself.  I just couldn’t seem to make it work. I couldn’t seem to do the right thing at the right time.  I couldn’t seem to get what I needed.  In fact, the worst; I kept pushing what I wanted further away.

After blowing off a little crazy, a little discussion opened my eyes to the fact that I was getting what I wanted.  I just couldn’t see it.  I was blinded to reality.  I was my own worst enemy.

The more we talked about it, the more I realized, too, that I’m having a sad moment because my baby girl is growing up.  She is such a buddy to me.  We hung out together every day, sometimes all day every day for days on end.  I really like her.

When the older girls were in school, baby girl and I would lay in bed together watching the new Muppets movie, and I would explain that the skirt-suit in Miss Piggy’s studio is made of boucle, which often looks like boiled wool from afar.  I would tell her that the embellished flower on the jacket probably is a riff on a Chanel camellia, and I would explain that the large flower suits the plus-sized jacket, and that the size of your accessories should match your frame, unless you have a BIG personality, in which case, anything goes.

We would lay on the ottoman or the big pink pillow in the living room and reach for the ceiling fan.

She would play in the water in the sink while I put on my face for the day, and I would ask her questions about her life and her goals.

We would play nesting games with the measuring cups in the drawer, or have a farm outing with her Little People.

But now, school is out and our routine is disrupted.  She would rather tussle with her sisters or play in the big fort the babysitter made in our basement.  She has more people in her life during the day now, and that’s great, even if it makes me a little sad.  She is so sweet.  I miss her:(  And I think I am missing the fact that she wanted to hang with me all the time, even if she wanted to hang out with me because I was the only person in the house.

I am missing baby girl’s undivided attention and need to deal with that.  I can see what I want and I can see what I need.  But I just can’t seem to get there on my own.  I am my own enemy.

I prayed at Pizza Ranch that I would be able to get what I needed.  I literally prayed right after my jokes, which were supposed to bridge the gap, fell flat.

I remember in Bible School seeing the great divide–the two cliffs with the valley in between–and I remember the image of the cross fitting neatly in between the two cliffs to bridge the divide that we cannot bridge on our own.  While we’re not talking about salvation in particular in this post, the symbolism of this bridge is what I was thinking of when I prayed at the Pizza Ranch yesterday.  I wish I could have expressed myself with a little less crazy and a little more love, but I’m glad that the divide was bridged and that all is well again in the house.

As I walked out of the Pizza Ranch on 41st Street I walked past the soda machine and a hard-labour looking gentleman was filling his soda.  He was wearing work jeans and a navy crewneck shirt.  He was stout bordering on plump in a nice way.  His hair was sandy brown with gentle waves.

As I walked by, he looked at me and–I KID YOU NOT–he said, “I like your dress.”

“I LIKE YOUR DRESS,” you say!!!??!!  YOU notice my dress?  YOU like my dress?

This is a drama shot.  I was imagining how I would respond when people told me I looked fabulous in this dress.  Except no one did.  Until later.  Keep reading...

This is a drama shot. I was imagining how I would respond when people told me I looked fabulous in this dress. Except no one did. Until the man at Pizza Ranch.
I was having fun in this photo imagining how fabulous my day was going to be. It did turn out okay, after the crazy boiled over. Honey watched the girls for part of the afternoon because he thought I “needed a little time to myself.” Yes. Yes I did. Such wisdom, that one.

These were the kindest words I’d heard in a long time.  The hard-labouring gentleman who looked kind and not creepy, but who did not look like he would appreciate I was wearing The Dress and that I might be asked to carry The Book: he noticed my dress.

This awesome man in the hard labour work wear, he made me laugh.  I walked ahead of the little baby geese who trailed behind me, and laughed a good laugh on the way out of the Pizza Ranch.

I should have taken hard-labour-looking man as a little hug from above and squelched the crazy, but as you know, no dig.

Some days I look at my behavior and think “have I learned nothing?”  I get down on myself for repeating the same mistakes, or for acting out when I can see myself from afar–from outside my body and I can think “oh no, don’t go there girl,” but I still go there anyway.

This morning when I woke up, I thought of the verses that tell me, “Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”   Lamentations 3:22-23.

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed:  I may have acted on the crazy, but I was not consumed by it.  I have a fresh perspective today.  I am thankful I saw the crazy and was able to talk out the crazy and am now free of the crazy, until next time at least.

For his compassions never fail:  God showered his compassion on me.  He answered my prayer.  He bridged the divide, giving me a chance to work through the junk in my trunk yesterday without entirely alienating my family.

And someone even recognized The Greatness of The Dress.

His compassion and mercies are new every morning:  Today is a new day.  I didn’t use up my share of mercy and compassion yesterday.  God’s mercy is new again today.  We never spew out so much crazy that God is through with us.

Great is thy faithfulness: Indeed.  Indeed it is.

This post was supposed to end here, but after I wrote it on Monday, two noteworthy events transpired.

First of all, I let my eldest daughter read this.  And as she read the part about Pizza Ranch, she said, “yeah, what was up with that mom?  Did you pay that guy to say that?”  She was serious.

I had no words to respond to this.  No words.  I laughed and laughed, and I laughed laying in bed last night and I am still laughing today.  Because it is so like a line that might appear in a made-for-tv movie written by Mariah Carey’s children in twenty or thirty years.  Paying people to compliment me?!?  No, no I did not pay that man.

And then I read the devotional that I should have read Sunday morning if I hadn’t been behind in reading my devotional book.  Sunday’s devotional discussed how our flesh and spirit are engaged in an epic battle.  A war, if you will.  It discussed Galatians 5:17, which tells us, “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature.  They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.”

The devotional expands on this verse, saying “[t]hese two opposing natures will never cease to struggle so long as we are in this world. …  The enemy is so securely entrenched within us that he can never be driven out while we are in this body. … Are you fighting with the adversary today?  Are Satan, the world, and the flesh, all against you?  Be not discouraged nor dismayed.  Fight on!  For God Himself is with you. …  Fear not, you shall overcome, for who can defeat Omnipotence?  Fight on, ‘looking unto Jesus.’”

I wish I had been on track in my devotional like I should have been.  I wish I would have read this first thing Sunday morning before I let the crazy take the steering wheel.  But I feel better knowing that C.H. Spurgeon wrote a devotional in the late 1800′s recognizing that crazy happened even back then, and recognizing that we are doing the best we can do when we turn to Jesus for help in the epic struggle between flesh and spirit.  I turned to Jesus, and that was the best thing I could have done.  Even though I’m so very far from perfection, at least I’m trusting and learning and growing.  I pray you are too.

I feel like I’ve said enough.  I don’t want to spill any more secrets of all my crazy, lest your mercy and compassion for this flawed writer run dry.  Thanks for letting me vent.  Until next time, Keep Calm and Carry On.  xoxo, ME

* If you’ve ever wondered about the origin of this phrase, read more here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keep_Calm_and_Carry_On

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You’re Never Too Old.

I met an amazing woman this morning at church. She’s elderly. Probably in her eighties.

Our family sits in the “overflow” area outside the church sanctuary, watching through windows and listening through speakers that pipe the music and message out to all the families with small children sitting in the overflow area.

I’ve sat near this elderly woman before. In the past we’ve exchanged smiles and pleasantries.

This morning after the service, she engaged my little girl with a smile, and I noticed for the first time the pretty flush in this lady’s cheeks. We struck up a conversation. I leaned closer to hear what she was saying, and could not believe what I smelled.  Eternity perfume.  By Calvin Klein.  Yes, this eighty-some-year-old woman was wearing Calvin Klein Eternity.

I fell in love right then and there.

She was the kind of woman who talks a little about herself, then transfers the focus of the discussion from herself to the other person.  Back and forth the conversation flowed.

She asked if I attended any Bible studies.  I told her how much I loved the Beth Moore “Breaking Free” study this spring, then asked if she attended as well.

No, she didn’t have the energy to go out like she used to, but she and her children Skyped every week and had their own Bible study.

“Skype?” I asked. Yes, Skype.  Elderly woman at the back of church wearing Calvin Klein perfume studies the Bible with her children weekly via Skype.

Wow.  I know who I want to be like when I get older.

We talked some more, and I learned this woman started a children’s worship program out in Rapid City many years ago, and had worked with a children’s ministry here in Sioux Falls until she slowed down the last few years.

This woman was incredibly modest.  I’m sure I’m hearing the tip of the iceberg.  I’m sure I don’t know the half of how this woman had invested her life in the lives of others.  And here she sat, in her eighties, smiling at my children and asking me about my life.  She hasn’t stopped sharing God’s love with people around her.

I hope in fifty years to be like her.  In fact, I hope to have her verve and spirit right now, today, at thirty-three.  We’re never too old to stop being amazing!  And it’s never too late for us to start!  God bless, xoxo, ME

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You’re Not Forgotten (Confidence Tip #4).

I’ve been having a moment all day, if that’s possible.  My emotions today have vascilated between elated joy and excruciating loneliness.  I’m super tired, that’s part of it.  The kids’ summer schedule is turning me into a teenager.  Late nights, crabby days.

As I shared in Ouch, I suffered a few knocks today.

But I need to round out the story of my day a little more.  Today was a case study in “man may let you down but God is always faithful.”  Always.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve gone through a gradual release of control over a few things in my life.  The biggie–the thing I want to talk about here–is the design of my blog.  I know, I know, the blog, the blog! It’s all about the blog!  It’s like a Seinfeld episode!

I’m sure you have a blog in your life.  Not a blog, per se, but a project or a goal that requires a lot of back and forth between you and the Almighty.  And so I trust you will relate to this story even if you do not literally write a blog.

I had a roadmap for this blog since way back when.  It was important to me to handle all of the website design myself.  Creating the logo, creating the look and feel such as font and whatnot.  I wanted to do it all myself.

I reached a point a few weeks ago where I felt God asking me to release control of all of this.  I felt him asking me to delegate everything other than writing to someone else.  I felt him testing me. Testing whether I would cling to my old habits of pridefulness and self sufficiency.  You see, the biggest debate between God and me is who is in control.  I’m good at saying he is, but I’m really bad at execution.

My mom would take my hand when I was a little girl, and she would tell me to clench my fist.  She would say, “Hold all things loosely in the palm of your hand, for it’s not the letting go that’s so hard.  It’s the prying apart of the fingers.”  And then she would show me how it is much more painful when God pries apart a clenched fist than when he simply lifts something held loosely in the palm of our hand.  I’m tearing up as I write this.  Thanks, mom.  I was listening all those years.

I was holding the design of this blog with a clenched fist.  A few weeks ago, I felt called to open my fingers and to hold it loosely in the palm of my hand.  I felt prompted to place an ad with a career services here at a local college, seeking help with web design.  I finally did so on Sunday night. No one has responded yet.

Strangely enough, as soon as I placed the ad, I felt that it was alright to start playing around with a few changes on my own.  And so I did.  And here I am two days later, with pretty much every aspect of my blog tweaked and very close to how I want it.  It happened justlikethat.  It was so easy.  After all of the months of ramming my head against a wall, trying to figure out how to make this and that look or function a certain way, I dipped my toe in the water and suddenly found myself entirely wet and earning a perfect 10 on a dive I made without even knowing I made it.

God gave me what I wanted.  He remembered that I love to know how to do stuff on my own.  He knew that I would derive great joy from tinkering with all the cool plugins and widgets and whatever else there is to play with on the backend of a blog.  He just wanted me to be willing to let go of that need for self sufficiency.

I am tearing up again as I wrap this up.  I am blessed beyond measure tonight.  On top of all of this, it hailed tonight and it dawned on me that we now have a garage large enough to hold both of our vehicles.  Our first home, just a few blocks from Augustana College, had a very small single car garage.  When it hailed, either honey or I would jump in the car sitting unprotected in the driveway. We would speed to protection under a car wash canopy a few blocks away until the hail subsided.  Tonight, I held my baby girl in my arms and showed her the little marbles of white pounding our deck while my car sat safe and sound in the garage.  No car wash necessary.

Isn’t God so good to us?  Even on the bad days and even when we think he’s holding us back, we can rest assured he remembers what is important to us.  He knows what will bring us great happiness and fulfillment.  He just wants to remind us to hold all things loosely.

Rest confident in this assurance today, knowing that has a plan to take care of us, to bless us wildly, even when it seems he’s taking something way from us. Let go. You are strongest when you are weak.  You will stand tallest only after you are willing to bend your will to God’s timing.  God bless.

{If you’re late to the party, here are the links to the previous posts in the Confidence series:

Confidence Tip #1
Confidence Tip #2
Confidence Tip #3 }

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A Cupcake Romance

This is a short story dedicated to the ladies at Oh My Cupcakes here in Sioux Falls.  I was in their little shop in downtown Sioux Falls (soon to be bigger shop near 57th and Western!), eating a mini Lemon Drop cupcake.  Brynn was eating a mini Root Beer Float cupcake.  I thought, “what if these cupcakes were people?  What would their story be?”  And so, here it is:

* * *

When I first saw them together, I never would have guessed they would fall in love.

He was a wisecracker, full of froth, with a straw perched cock-eyed at his very top.  It beckoned all of us to take a sip, that straw did, but we were afraid of the legend—the Root Beer Float cupcake—and so we never dared.

We had heard about his past.  His years of surviving on his own.  He had no family on account of a tragic delivery accident that left dozens unrecognizable and destined for the Big Garbage Can in the Sky.  He was a survivor, that’s for sure.

But Root Beer Float never let that get him down.  He made everyone around him feel good.  Customers described each bite as “a party in my mouth,” stuff like that.   Rumor had it that when customers took their first bite, the frosting and the froth mixed in a magical combination that exploded like gentle fireworks in their mouths.

Lemon Drop was from the wrong side of the tracks, but she sure didn’t look like it.  She was prim and demure, with her perfect pale-yellow glitter dusted like a halo on her crown of creamy, white frosting.

Life had handed Lemon Drop some proverbial lemons when she was still just a kid.  She was ridiculed and teased mercilessly by the other kids at school. Let’s be honest: they envied her pristine white frosting and her halo of glitter, and they envied her luscious lemony custard filling.  Who wouldn’t?  She’s all glam and all substance.

Even her teachers were set against her, from the first time they heard the word “Lemon.”  She was labeled as sour and she had to fight an uphill battle every day to prove them wrong.

In spite of their outward differences, Root Beer Float and Lemon Drop shared the same heart.  At their center, both of them consisted of a dense, rich, moistness that filled the hearts and stomachs of hungry customers.  And this is where they found their common ground.

He put her at ease with his laid back charm and gentle teasing.  Lemon Drop needed a party in her life.  And he succumbed to her humility and gentleness, wrought by years of suffering at the hands of people who didn’t understand her.  He finally found a family, and she finally found a friend.

All of us—perhaps especially those of us who love cupcakes—we long for substance and we long for purpose.  God created us this way.  In a world filled with prepackaged, dried-out everything, people long to indulge in a treat that is designed and executed with love and purpose.

At Oh My Cupcakes, hours and hours of tasting and trying and tasting again goes into each cupcake recipe on the menu.  And each cupcake is baked by the finest bakers who use the finest ingredients.  Their cupcakes are a labor of love, and they find purpose in what they do.  Find all this out for yourself at Oh My Cupcakes, and find your very own romance.

{Disclaimer: I know the ladies at Oh My Cupcakes, and so I am totally biased in their favor.  But if there’s one thing I will not lie about, it’s cupcakes.  I did not receive any remuneration for this plug, so rest assured I’m not violating any FCC rules.  I know you worry about stuff like that:)).  xoxo, ME }

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You’re Fabulous Just For Showing Up (Confidence Tip #3)

Over and over again, I’ve read that if you want to be a successful blogger, your posts should be 300 words or fewer.  Articles say readers have short attention spans and that you’ll lose them after that many words.

I don’t buy it.  I think these articles aren’t giving readers enough credit.  I see proof of this every day.  I don’t look at stats like I used to, but I have a lot of people who read this blog every day, and some of my posts teeter on the verge of a short story or novella.  And I have people who send me e-mails or messages on Facebook or text messages; so often, people tell me they are yearning for meaning and thoughtfulness in an internet world of 140 characters or less.

Which brings me back to you.  You defy convention.  You defy labels.  You defy stereotypes.  Because you read this blog even though my posts are almost always 1000+ words and even though I talk about death and what is the meaning of life and why are we all here.

Thank you for showing up.  You are awesome.

 

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Wear a Smile (Confidence Tip #2).

As I explained here, I’m starting a new short series on self confidence.  This series falls under the category of posts I write to remind myself of lessons I learned the hard way.  I’m still a work-in-progress on this front.  I hope writing this stuff down will cement it in my mind.

The first post in this series explained that self confidence is not the absence of self doubt.  Self confidence is moving forward in spite of self doubt.  I also shared Tip #1 for furthering your self confidence.  I’m back to share Tip #2.

Tip #2 is so simple.  Tip #2 might be the most obvious tip in the world, but it is so important it bears an entire post.  Tip #2 is this: SMILE!

[Here I had written a story about how smiling led to me winning a small award, but it sounds like I'm bragging so I deleted it.  Just know that people absolutely do recognize and appreciate a smile.  And so often, people connect smiling with confidence.  It's true: people who smile appear more confident.]

I am always surprised to hear people connect smiling with confidence, because smiling quite possibly is the easiest thing in the world to do.  Everyone, and I mean everyone, has the capacity to smile.  So just do it already!  The next time you see someone, give them a smile!  And the next person.  And the next.  Smile without ceasing.  And notice that you will get what you give!!!

On days when you don’t feel like smiling, carry a few little treasures in your back pocket that you can pull out to cheer you up.  Smiling will ensue.  Here are a few of my mental treasures:

1.  I think of my family.  I don’t like to talk about them much, but just know they do some crazy shizzle that makes me laugh.  Crazy, crazy shizzle.

2.  I think of my flowers.  I just planted this season’s a few days ago.  All summer long, I love to look at my flowers.  I drive around the block to look at them.  I turn on the outdoor light at night and drive around the block in the dark to see what they look like lit up at night.  I keep a picture of them on my phone so I can look at them when I’m away from home.  Here’s a picture of a few planters.  I have more I will show you some other time:

As you can see, I had freshly watered the flowers right before taking this picture.  Sorry!  Wish I had a better photo but it's horribly dreary out today and I can't take a better picture before posting this!  I bought huge hanging planters from Knobloch's Nursery near Alvord, Iowa, then simply transplanted them into these pots.  So easy!  And so inexpensive!!

As you can see, I had freshly watered the flowers right before taking this picture. Sorry! Wish I had a better photo but it’s horribly dreary out today and I can’t take a better picture before posting this! I bought huge hanging planters from Knobloch’s Nursery near Alvord, Iowa, then simply transplanted them into these pots. So easy! And so inexpensive!!

3.  I look on Wikipedia.  When I’m down, I’ll Wiki random topics and it distracts me from my bad day.  Before I know it, I’m excited to have learned something new, and I find myself smiling.

Here’s an example: This weekend, we took a road trip to Kansas City, and I Wiki’d St. Joseph, MO.  I was stunned to learn it was the jumping off point for the Oregon Trail!  Did you play the Oregon Trail computer game when you were in elementary school?  I did, and it was amazing.  Super slow, but amazing.  I will have to write a post about Oregon Trail sometime.  It is the best game.  It is where I learned words like dysentery, cholera and other terms describing massive diarrhea.  So fun!

4.  Pray.  I don’t do this as often as I should.  Here’s a great story that I’m carrying with me as a reminder of why prayer works.  I have other stories, too.  This one just happened a few days ago so it seems appropriate to share:

My sweet ride needed new tires.  It is a high maintenance vehicle, unlike its owner.  It requires very rare and very expensive tires.  I hate paying full price for anything, so the tires were a challenge.

Honey researched new tires for about a month.  No deal.  We were resigned to the fact it is impossible to find a good deal on these massive tires that my high maintenance car requires.

Two nights ago, we remembered we hadn’t prayed about the tires.  And so we prayed.  The next morning, LITERALLY, honey found some brand new 21″ tires–exactly what I needed–for half price on Craiglist IN KANSAS CITY!  We were traveling there anyway for a baseball game.  Long story short, some small-town car dealer had ordered the tires for a customer, who backed out on him, and he was trying to recoup some of his money.  It was a win-win.

The small-town car dealer and his wife drove to our hotel to hand off the tires, and we drove back home with a sweet set of brand new tires for half the price of a set anywhere else.  My sweet ride is sitting in my garage with brand new, beautiful tires and we have a lot of extra money in our pocket because of the simple fact we prayed.  I am convinced of it.  DON’T FORGET TO PRAY!!

5.  I remember swinging upside down as a kid.  I have a vision in my head from childhood, swinging with my head all the way back, staring at the grove of trees and the sheep and the old garage upside down.  That was a great day.  I think of it sometimes and it makes me smile.

6.  I remember working hard in the summertime: One evening, after working for hours and hours and hours in a Minnesota field in the hot sun, my dad, brother, and I  stopped at a Dairy Queen for some ice cream on the way home.  When we arrived at home, I took a bath (our old farmhouse didn’t have a shower), put on a comfortable white t-shirt, and hit a tennis ball against the barn door with my hair still wet.  A day of physical labor in the hot sun, followed by ice cream, a bath, and some tennis–now THAT is a good childhood memory.

7.  I think of all of my funny friends.  I wish I could quote some of them for you, but I’ll give them their privacy.  I had a great group of “lunch friends” at work in Pennsylvania and I have a great group of “dinner friends” I used to work with here in South Dakota, and man, I just love reflecting on some of our crazy conversations.  The South Dakota friends discuss topics ranging from chislic to Chinese hackers to succulent plants.  The Pennsylvania friends…well, let me just say I can’t think of anything offhand that is (a) appropriate and (b) that anyone else would understand even if it is appropriate.  Crazy, crazy, crazy.

I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point.  Think of what makes you happy and let that feeling show up on your face.

When you’re wearing your smile, you’ll feel more confident and people will think you are more confident.  :)  God bless!!

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Self Doubts Are Natural, But Don’t Let Them Hold You Back (ConfidenceTip #1).

I had an epiphany this evening as I tooled around alone with the kids while honey took care of sick people.  We do that when he’s “on call.”  We call it Girl Night.

Tonight, Girl Night included a trip to Barnes & Noble, where I did not do any sneaking around and where I dropped only $38, a new B & N personal record.  $15.95 of the purchase was invested in a Harvard Business Review, which I like to read periodically because it adds a little black and white thinking to the usual tumult in my mind.

I had no clue the Harvard Business Review, a magazine slimmer than my slimmest Vogue, costs more than most three-inch thick Penguin classics, until I looked at the receipt right before throwing it away in the kitchen at home.  I choked a little on my drink of water.  I guess overpriced magazines are one of the hazards of dragging a two-year-old through a bookstore and checkout line.  Do I monitor the register closely, or do I grab her before she tips over that entire display cases of books?  Next time, I will watch the register.

After B & N, we stopped by the Sanford Wellness Center, where the girls and I played a little b-ball in the kids’ gym.  The hoops were low enough for me to grab the rim with both hands.  Cross that off my bucket list, even if only at 7 1/2 feet.

Back to the epiphany.

This evening, I realized something about self confidence.  I realized that self confidence isn’t about the absence of self doubts.  It’s about acting in spite of self doubts.

I’m sure you’ve heard the tagline that “courage isn’t the absence of fear, it’s acting in spite of fear,” or something like that.  I think the same is true of self confidence.

The epiphany was brought about by a really great conversation with a friend on the phone earlier today.  We were sharing some of our self doubts.  Long story short, we were discussing, in essence, whether having self doubts makes us weak.  Not in those exact words, but that is the gist of part of our discussion.

I was thinking of all the years and years I’ve doubted myself.  I was thinking about the fact that I continue to have self doubts.  Even today I doubted myself.

While the doubts are still there, undeniably there is something different about my life today than my life a few years ago.  The difference is this: I am no longer paralyzed by self doubts.  I hear the doubts, but I ignore them.  I say to the doubts, “you’re not keeping me down.  Not today, not tomorrow, not ever again.”

Today, for example, I was continuing to doubt whether this blog is a huge mistake.  I am constantly peppered by thoughts such as, “people seem to be acting differently around me.  I think they don’t respect me as much as they did before I started this blog.”  Or, “my blog is such a mess.  It doesn’t look anything like I imagine it should, it is totally disorganized, and I don’t have enough photos in my posts.”  Or, “I’m such a hypocrite and so full of myself.  I write all these posts like I know what I’m doing, when in reality I have so much room for improvement.  I should quit writing because I’m making such a fool of myself and my faith.”

These are actual thoughts that entered my mind today.

I’m sorry to keep talking about doubts about my blog, and in fact, I have self doubts about even using this blog (again!) as an example.  But I am using it as an example anyway because it proves the point.  It is such a great example for one very important reason: I am still blogging.  What is that, you say?  I am still blogging.

My blog is very public proof of the fact that I am moving forward in spite of these self doubts.  I could not have done this a few years ago.  My self confidence is back, after many years on the lam.

A few years ago, heck, even a few months ago, self doubts paralyzed me.  I was immobilized.  I had dreams, I had so many things I wanted to accomplish, but I just could not for the life of me take the steps necessary to act on any these desires.  Yes, there were other factors at play, too, which I’ll talk about in a minute, when I give you the first tip on how to remove any obstacles to self confidence.

First, let me say that thoughts of self doubt are not a sign of weakness.  Thoughts of self doubt will always be there.  Overcoming self doubt is a matter of being able to say, “yes, voice in my head, I hear you, but I am going to act anyway.  I am going to take a step forward.”

C.H. Spurgeon, an old-time lay preacher whose devotional I read, wrote about this topic in his devotional “Morning and Evening.”   If you go online to check out the devotional, “Morning and Evening,” you will find the language is old-fashioned.  You can liven it up by imagining as if the pirate in the opening sequence of Sponge Bob is reading it aloud to you.

C.H. Spurgeon talks about thoughts that drag us down.  He said, “[t]he eclipse of faith, the darkness of your mind, the fainting of your hope, all these things are but parts of God’s method of making you ripe for the great inheritance upon which you shall soon enter.  These trials are for the testing and strenghtening of your faith–they are the waves that wash you further upon the rock–they are the winds which waft your ship the more swiftly towards the desired haven….Oh, think not, believer, that your sorrows are out of God’s plan; they are necessary parts of it.”

Absolutely true, absolutely true.  Doubts are necessary.  When I am faced with self doubts, I recognize my own weakness.  And so often it is in times of weakness, rather than times of strength, that I seek refuge and guidance from Jesus Christ.

I firmly believe recognizing doubts but moving forward in spite of them is a self-perpetuating process.  Once you acknowledge the self doubts, but intentionally choose to seek refuge and to move forward in spite of these doubts, you will feel empowered and increasingly you will feel more and more comfortable taking another step, then another step, and pretty soon you’ve reached your goal.

Over the next few days, I’d like to share a little more about this topic.  Tonight let me give you this Tip #1 For Overcoming Self Doubt:

Clean Up the Junk In Your Trunk:  I love this line. I overuse it.  I apologize for that.  For purposes of this post, “clean up the junk in your trunk” means to take care of anything else dragging you down besides ordinary, everyday self doubts.  An ordinary, everyday self doubt is, for example, “my butt looks big.”

Cleaning up the junk in your trunk is a step that may take a few months, perhaps even a few years, to accomplish.  I know, I know, it’s kind of mean of me to start with such a big step for Tip #1, but you will need to take care of this step first because it will make the other tips so much easier and so much more effective.

For me, the junk in my trunk was my brother’s death.  I’ve shared about his death quite a bit, such as here and here.  I shared with you that I have been seeing a counselor to deal with his death.  Yes, I was (and still kind of am) in therapy.  I’m happy to say that I’ve dealt with a lot of the junk in my trunk and am now winding down with my counseling appointments.

Would you mind if I share an example of how therapy helped me discover something that was messing with my self confidence?  This is a very sad story, because it hurt me so badly for so long without me knowing it.

I was talking with my counselor about my brother’s suicide note.  The first thing I thought of when she asked about the note was the fact that Rob didn’t say good-bye to me.  But I didn’t share this with her.  I shared some other stuff.

Later, I got to wondering why I didn’t tell my counselor the first thing that popped into my mind when she asked about the note.  And then I realized I was too embarrassed to admit that Rob didn’t mention me in his note.  I am extremely hurt by this.  I am hurt and I am embarrassed because for the last eight years of my life I have been missing him and grieving his death, like a lost little puppy, like Old Dan in Where the Red Fern Grows.  His death devastated me.  It is the line demarcating my life into two halves.  And he didn’t even care about me enough to say good-bye to me in his note.

I think this wounded me more than I knew.  I think that note has haunted me for the past eight years.  That note has been the black hole in my heart, taking any smile, any words of love or any thoughtful action, and sucking my heart of all the goodness and warmth these actions should have brought to me.  And with this black hole in my heart, without being conscious of it, I have been wondering these eight years if anybody in my life really loved me.  Of course I know they do, but I still have felt very unsure of a lot of relationships in my life for the simple fact that Rob didn’t say good-bye to me in his note.

Honey and I had a really good talk about this.  He has great insight.  Long story short, Rob did love me, very much, and his note has nothing to do with whether or not he loved me.  I am so glad I went to a counselor and was challenged to think about some of these things.  I have discovered a lot of very deep, hidden hurts stemming from his death that have affected how I feel about myself and that have affected how I have acted the past few years.

I am so glad I went to a counselor to talk about Rob’s death.  I started early this spring, and I am so surprised at how quickly I have felt freed from the paralysis that gripped me so tightly over the last few years.  And here I am today, still peppered with ordinary everyday self doubts, but now able to move forward with my life unhindered by those doubts.

I would like you to know that if you have junk in your trunk, you can have the same freedom and peace that I now have if you are willing to take some steps to deal with it.  Your junk in your trunk might be from an abusive relationship (from your childhood, from a past dating relationship, from your current relationship, from a work relationship, the list goes on).  It might be from losing a loved one.  It might be from losing your job.  It might be from a chemical imbalance that should be addressed.

If you don’t feel like yourself for any reason at all, I would highly recommmend talking to your family practice physician or making an appointment to see a counselor.

Helplinecenter.org has a great mental health resources directory if you need to find someone to talk to.  Otherwise, NAMI, the National Association of Mental Illness, should be able to connect you with information on counseling or medical treatment as well.  Or you can e-mail me for more information, or talk to your physician.

This step, like I said, may not be easy, but it is imperative.  The sooner the better.  Do it now.  Or if you’re reading this late at night, find a phone number to call in the morning, then program it into your calendar with a reminder to make the call tomorrow.  Or call now and leave a voicemail.  Just do it, though.  Don’t wait.  You’ll feel better when you do.

Actually, while I’m at it, let me share that when I called to make my first appointment with my counselor, I imagined that I was a celebrity who was desperately seeking privacy, and simply said I wanted to meet with the counselor “to talk about some personal questions.”  I felt like this sounded very mysterious and cryptic.  And this actually made me feel better about the entire process.  It made me feel like I was doing something very glamorous.  Don’t feel like it’s all doom and gloom, going for counseling.  Look at it as an opportunity to stretch yourself a little.

If you have no junk in your trunk, well, good for you.  You will be ready to go when the next tip comes out.

To all of you, before I sign off, remember that having thoughts of self doubt does not mean that you lack self confidence.  Keep moving forward in spite of these feelings and be the rock star you were made to be!!!

Check back soon for the next tip on self confidence!!

 

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Never, Ever, Ever Give Up.

I’m feeling sheepish today.  I feel as if I owe the world, or at least my readers, an apology.  An apology for so breezily, perhaps too cheerfully, encouraging you to live life to the fullest, to be obedient to God, yada yada yada, without slowing down to recognize that life can be a real pain in the ass for everyone out there sometimes.  I should know better.  I’ve been there before.

I had a reminder that life is tough for a lot of people out there when I was heading to Casa Del Rey for lunch earlier today.  As I accelerated down the ramp off of Louise onto South I-229, between the cool mist, the construction zone, and the gravel truck barreling up behind me, I barely noticed the woman in the orange vest who was hunched alongside the road holding a “SLOW” sign.

She was a middle-aged woman, probably close to 55.  She stood hunched over with her hooded head resting on the edge of the that “SLOW” sign.  Was she protecitng herself from the elements?  Or was she hunched over out of weariness from standing out in the elements along the interstate for hours on end?  What other jobs had she held?

If you hold a sign in a construction zone for a living, I do not mean to pass judgment on you at all.  We are all led to make different career choices.  Some of us clean toilets, some of us teach, some of us work behind a cash register.  All of these jobs are necessary to the efficient functioning of society.

I shared yesterday, and on other occassions, how I left a good job to stay home with my kids.  Today when I saw the woman holding the sign, I felt a twinge of guilt.  I bet that woman would have killed to have her own office, with its own thermostat, in a beautifully decorated law firm with a well-stocked candy jar and free lunch served in-office every Friday.

Not only did I have a great job, but I had the opportunity to leave the really great job to stay home with my kids.  I’ve had so many women tell me they wish they had the opportunity to stay home with their kids.  Trust me, I recognize it is a blessing and I am thankful for it.

About six years ago, there was a stretch where life handed me lemons on an almost daily basis.  I was trying really hard to do a good job–at work, at home–but I felt like cement blocks were tied to my feet.  I don’t want to forget what that felt like.

And I want you to know that when I write about dreams and goals and purpose in life, it’s not because I’ve had my head in the clouds my entire life.  I’ve had stretches where I’ve had to fight tooth and nail to make it through the day.  I’d like to share one of those days with you to let you know you’re not the only one.

A Philadelphia Story.

As I’ve shared before, my husband and I lived in Pennsylvania (PA) from 2005-2011.  When we first moved to PA,  I was having trouble finding a job that would accommodate my husband’s work schedule (his work schedule was this: he worked all the time.  Period.).  I decided to go back to school to get the training I needed so I could write my own ticket.  So I would have a resume that would give me the opportunity to dictate my own work schedule, or at least to give me a shot at a job allowing for a good work/life balance.

I had always wanted to earn a Masters of Law in Taxation, and well, there was no time like the present.  It was a year-long program, from August through the end of July.  The last “semester” of classes, for the summer term, I was offered the opportunity to intern with the Philadelphia IRS Office of Associate Chief Counsel.  I was excited.

It was a great opportunity.  I had met a young Penn Law graduate while I was interning with the IRS.  He said he had applied for the internship but never even got a call back for an interview.  The other gentleman I interned with at the IRS was an attorney who was earning his Ph.D. in political science at U Penn.  In short, the internship was an honor.

I wanted to make it work so badly.  But the internship was going to be a tough go for a mom commuting to Center City Philadelphia, about 2 1/2 hours each way from door to door.  Finding childcare for two kids from 5 am to 7 pm, sometimes longer, is not easy.  It would have been near impossible were it not for my parents and my in-laws, who flew to PA to pick up my kids for two or three weeks that summer.  When the kids were with the grandparents in SD for those few weeks, I put in massive hours, leaving the house at 4 am and often returning home at midnight.  (I was still taking night classes while interning).  Long summer.

All this talk about childcare is to set the stage for the fact I was mentally prepared that childcare would pose a huge burden throughout the course of the internship.  I went into it feeling like, okay, the childcare angle is an impediment, therefore everything else must go smoothly or I’m going to lose my mind.

The first day of the internship, I rode the R5 train from the Villanova stop into Center City.  By the way, don’t try to make small talk on the train, at least not on the Main Line.  People just want to get downtown and back home in silence.  I didn’t know this the first day I rode the train.

When I arrived Center City the first day, I discovered I had arrived pretty early.  Well before 7 am, which was when I knew the first person would arrive at the IRS office.  I decided to kill a little time.  I opened the door to the train station restroom only to find a homeless woman washing her hair in the sink.  Wow.

Good thing I was early.  If you’ve never been, you should know that the IRS Office of Associate Chief Counsel is almost impossible to find.  It is tucked away very nicely in a building with a Ross Store.  The IRS contact who gave me directions explained that it was in the building with the Ross Store.  Sounds easy enough, but man let me tell you, the elevators to the IRS Office are well concealed.  I darted in and out of that building, walking around the block again and again, finding the Ross Store, going in the entrance, out of the entrance, around the block again.

I wore my favorite black pantsuit on my first day.  I bought it at Marshall Field’s here in Sioux Falls before I moved.  It was an $800 pansuit I bought for less than $100 on clearance.  It was a beautiful, all-seasons lightweight wool.  But it was still a black pantsuit.

If you’re wondering what the weather is on any given day in Philadelphia, if you guess “humid” you’ll be right about 90% of the time.  When it’s May, you can guess “hot and humid” and you’ll be right about the same percentage.

Turns out the black pantsuit was not a good idea for the first day of a summer internship, especially when using public transporation.

For those of you who have seen The Devil Wears Prada, when I imagined the internship in downtown Philadelphia, I imagined that I would be the girl in the opening sequence who counts out her almonds for breakfast and who rides to work in a chauffered car.  Or at the least, I imagined that I would be the girl who flags down the cab in that fur-trimmed denim jacket with the skirt and boots.  I was going to arrive looking fabulous.

But turns out, I’m the onion bagel girl who rides the subway.  I’m the Anne Hathaway character.  The disheveled, unkempt mess who shows up for work with wild hair surrounded by a cloud of slight odor.  This is not what my first morning was supposed to look like.

I finally found the entrance to the IRS office, arriving just in time.  I powdered the sweat on my nose to the point my nose was stiff with a layer of makeup plaster.  I felt disgusting and I felt disappointed.

I survived the first day of the internship.  I left feeling a little better.  But there was still the commute home.

At the end of the day, it’s the R5 again, all the way back to the Villanova stop.  My Jeep is at the far corner of the commuter lot.  By now, it was just plain old blistering hot.  The humidity had worn off, but the sun was still blazing enough that my steering wheel was scorching hot to the touch.

My Jeep didn’t start.  Again and again my Jeep didn’t start.

I flagged down a professional-looking gentleman and we wrestled with jumper cables in that dang blistering heat.  I turned the key, but still nothing.  Again and again, nothing.  I thanked him and he went on his way, sliding into his Acura coupe and zipping off into the suburbs.

I called AAA and they promised help would arrive in about an hour.  I’m thinking of my kids in Harrisburg with the babysitter, I’m thinking of my husband working overnight at the hospital and 100% unavailable to help, and I’m starting to panic.

The professional car man AAA sends me tries everything he can, but still nothing works.  He tries this and he tries that, I try turning the key about a hundred times, but still nothing works.  I’m getting desperate, because I can tell he’s running out of ideas.

I start to get really desperate when he pulls a HUGE sledge hammer out of his car and says, “well, this is the last trick I have.”  He slides under the Jeep on his back and yells at me to crank the engine when he says “go.”  On his count, “one, two, three, GO!,”  I crank it one last time, while he pounds the daylights out of something under my car.  And it works.  I could not believed it worked.

I was shivering by this time even thought it was still blistering hot.  I was shivering from the panic of what would have happened if this had not worked.  Would I have taken a cab from Philadelphia all the way to Harrisburg?  What if I couldn’t find a cab that would travel that far?  Jesse was at the hospital working all night, so would I have had to ask the babysitter to stay overnight?  Where would I have stayed in Philadelphia?  I had no one to call in Philadelphia, and no one I could think of to call to help in Harrisburg.  I was saved from all this juggling by the skin of my teeth.  By a sledge hammer.

The AAA car professional tells me NOT to shut off my car until I get home.  Very important, he says.  And so I have to skip class.  And when I have to stop to use the restroom and to get a bite to eat, I have to leave the Jeep running in the parking lot of the Oasis on the I-76 Turnpike.  I used to know the mile marker of all the oases along the Turnpike on that ride home, but for the life of me I can’t remember it tonight.

I remember feeling UGGGHHHH so very, very frustrated at the situation.  I knew the internship would be hard enough the way it was.  I figured God would let up on me a little and iron out every other potential wrinkle.

I didn’t expect that God would let bad circumstances pile on.  I wanted to quit before I had barely even started.  I seriously considered quitting.  Maybe this was a sign that the internship was a ridiculous idea?  But I felt like I was supposed to do the internship, and so I knew quitting would be an act of disobedience.

And I didn’t quit.  I decided to keep chugging along.  I decided to show up tomorrow and see what happened.

And so I showed up.  Again and again.  Every day of the internship, even when I was waking up to leave by 4 am and returning home some nights at midnight.  It was a long summer.  But I survived.

I remember walking through the tunnel connecting the IRS building to the train station (8th Street?  Even that memory is fading).  In that tunnel is a food court and a flea market of sorts, where people sell glitzy watches and cute little signs and cheap fashion scarves.

I walked by a sign one day that read, “Faith Doesn’t Make Things Easy.  It Makes Things Possible.”  So true.  All my anger, all my frustration, it all wilted when I read that sign.  Even though the internship wasn’t easy, it was possible.  I had family who was willing to help make childcare a little easier.  I had found a great babysitter willing to work strange hours when family couldn’t help.  And the sledge hammer was there when I needed it so that I could make it home to my little girls that first night of my internship.

I was talking with a very successful attorney the other day.  We were talking about how the difference between ordinary and extraordinary is not much, it’s usually “just a little bit more.”

A year after the internship, when I was applying for a dream job with Pennsylvania state government, the Chief Counsel told me he was very interested in my resume because I had some experience with the IRS.  It wasn’t extensive experience, mind you, but compared to other attorneys my age, I had experience that was “beyond what is ordinary or usual.”  In other words, I had extraordinary experience.

And the only reason I had this experience is that I didn’t give up that first day.  I kept showing up and showing up, even though I put in some long days, and even though I almost didn’t make it home after that first day.  I kept going “just a little bit more.”

On my last day of the internship, a few attorneys in the office took me out for lunch.  After lunch, we strolled past Benjamin Franklin’s tomb and a few other historical sites, all the way down to Elfreth’s Alley, the oldest residential street in the nation.

I remember that stroll.  I had survived an incredibly steep uphill climb.  The hours and hours of driving, the many times I had to run for the train, jumping on the R5 out of breath just as it pulled out of the station, the time I almost missed the train because a downpour flooded the tunnel connecting the parking lot to the train platform, the poverty on the streets and in the train station and on the subway–seeing all of this suffering up close and for real just a few blocks from the Liberty Bell and the buildings where our nation’s foundations were forged.  It was a summer I’ll never forget.

Don’t give up.  Never, ever, ever give up.

Life will hand you lemons.  That is a virtual guarantee.  But don’t give up.  If you believe in your heart you’re headed in the right direction, keep going.  You may not get a pat on the back, as Professor Baron warned all of us in Civil Procedure in law school.  You may end up sweaty and stranded in a parking lot somewhere in Main Line Philadelphia not knowing how you’re going to make it home to your kids.  But keep going.  One day you can look back and realize you fought for it, you survived it, YOU MADE IT.  God bless.

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