Thursday, February 25, 2016

A Journey Through God's Faithfulness

Do you have an area in your life where you've seen God faithfully provide time after time? An area where you are confident that he will always meet your needs? I have one of those areas that I want to share with you. That area is employment.

It seems kind of funny that I have full confidence in God's ability to provide me with a job as I've spent the past five years as a SAHM. Though, truthfully, being at home is the job I wanted when I became a parent and I haven't had to find additional employment, so I can confidently say that he is still providing what is needed for me and my family through my husband's job.
My sweet kiddos
My very first job I worked at a berry farm for a week one summer while visiting my relatives. Two cousins and I spent Monday-Friday picking raspberries and blueberries. We were paid by the amount of berries we picked. It was an interesting job. I was probably late elementary, maybe middle school. I made about $50 for my efforts and was ecstatic. It was the most money I'd seen to date.

The summer after eighth grade my mom helped me get hired on at the Bed and Breakfast she worked. I worked several days per week cleaning rooms, basically whenever they needed me. I continued to work there during the school year on weekends and then in the summers again all throughout high school. I actually enjoyed the work because it was fairly solitary and routine. My best friend was hired on at some point so some days we cleaned rooms together which was also fun. It was a very positive first long-term job experience.

I was fortunate enough to earn a full-ride scholarship in college so I didn't have to work to pay bills or tuition. Toward the end of my junior year of college I was interested in finding an internship of some sort for the summer. I was interested in ministry but didn't have a definite direction. The pastor from my high school church offered me a part-time position to come work for him in the church during the summer and I gladly accepted.
Mission Trip (I'm in the gray sweatshirt on the left)
Since it was my old home town I knew a lot of people there. My best friend's mom offered to let me live at their house for the summer (my parents had moved away) so I was blessed with free housing. She worked at the court house and said that they needed someone to work there part-time during the summer while one of the staff was out and asked if I was interested. That summer I ended up working two part-time jobs in the same city. I spent my mornings at church and my afternoons at the court house. I learned a lot from both roles and know that it was God's provision for the timing and opportunities.
Mrs. P, my second mom
I graduated from college in December and was debating whether or not to apply to graduate school. The idea of having a student loan terrified me but I thought I needed a master's to be able to do any relevant work with my Bachelor's in Psychology. Most programs didn't start until the fall so I thought it would be beneficial to find a job while preparing grad school applications and figuring out exactly what I wanted to do.

I started applying for some church ministry positions in January. I applied for a youth pastor position at a local church. (I have no idea why I thought that would be a good fit for me - probably because I enjoyed working with the other young women in my church ministry and had been a chaperone on three or four youth mission trips with my old church.) I was called for an interview and decided I should start visiting/attending the church to see if it was a good fit for me.

On my second Sunday at the church someone introduced himself to me and somehow we got on the topic of my job search. When he heard I had a Psychology degree he introduced me to the pastor's wife and we set up a brunch meeting (very weird to look back on - some would say a myriad of coincidences but I know it was God's provision). When the woman and I met she suggested I look into residential group home programs for troubled teens. She thought my degree would be useful. I ended up not being offered the youth pastor position but I did look into the group homes. I looked at several similar programs in NC and VA.

I interviewed for a program in VA that was a residential group home where the youth and counselors lived outdoors year-round. Very intriguing but I wasn't sure my cold-natured self could survive the colder months (I helped serve meals outside in downtown Raleigh in January and my toes were extremely numb and super cold to the touch when I arrived back home) and it required a two-year commitment. In February I received an offer for the outdoor counselor job but ended up turning it down (the biggest reason being I wouldn't have been able to attend church while holding that position and I thought regular church attendance was important for my faith). I remember thinking that my parents probably thought I was crazy for turning down a job when I didn't have one or any other definite prospects but I had prayed about it and was confident that it was not right for me so I continued to search and trust God.

I decided to also look for local part-time work while I searched for something full-time and filled out an application at Old Navy. I received a call to come in and interview. I apparently did well with the interview (though I'm sure they were wondering why someone with a newly minted college degree wanted a part-time job) and they offered me a job in logistics (sorting and putting out inventory). I really enjoyed the job. I like order and neatness and a minimum sales role and it met those criteria. I enjoyed the other people I worked with as well as the quiet, early morning hours. It was a fun experience.

While working at Old Navy I continued to seek full-time employment (by this time I had decided that maybe grad school was not right for me at this time). I found a group home program in my city called Methodist Home for Children and decided to apply for a Resident Counselor position. During the summer I received a call to come interview for the position. The interview was near Burlington, about 50 minutes from Raleigh. I went for the interview and felt like I did well.

Toward the end of summer I felt led to quit my job at Old Navy. I had been enjoying it and didn't have any other offers but I chose to trust God and put in my two weeks' notice. During my last two weeks I received an offer to work for MHC. They said they didn't know whether I would work at the Raleigh home or the Burlington home but they'd let me know at training (I was living in Raleigh). I accepted and looked forward to the training in a few weeks. At training I learned I would be based in Raleigh but I did end up working a few shifts in Burlington and one in Durham.

The turnover rate for a Resident Counselor was pretty high as it is a very emotionally and mentally stressful job. The average counselor lasted six months. When I started working I knew I could only work for about eleven months (I became engaged between accepting the offer and starting training), as I was getting married and moving at the end of July the following year, so it seemed like a challenge to beat the average.

They were not kidding about the stress and learning curve of the job. While working at MHC I became sick from mono for the second time in my life (they say you can only have it once, but I showed them!). I ended up working there until May (nine months). I enjoyed most of the people I worked with and learned a lot from the experience. I'm hoping it prepared me well for when I have my own teenagers living in the house.

I moved to Georgia in August after I got married and tried to settle in to married life, a new church and finding new friends. I spent a few months learning my way around and working on my culinary skills. In the fall I decided it was probably time to look for a job. I applied to a bunch of different job positions I found online. I visited a temp agency to try to find work that way. In December I had an interview with a local university to work in their department that contacts alumni about financial donations. The first interview went splendidly well and I was called for a second one. The next interview I felt like a deer in headlights. I was not prepared for being interviewed by six people and had not done my research on the department. I assume I didn't get the job as they never called me back to let me know either way.

In January I went to a luncheon for people interested in helping with the youth at church. I sat next to a woman and we somehow talked about my job search and what I was looking for. She told me to send me a resume because she was thinking about quitting her current job and thought I might be a good fit for a replacement. So I did. The program director called me to invite me to come in for an interview for the position. I used my experience from the last interview process to read up on the company and position and prepare myself. I felt pretty good after the interview process and was offered the job.
Some of my former co-workers
I started the job the same week we bought our first house (which would place me 30 minutes closer to my new job from the apartment we had been living in). I really enjoyed my new co-workers. I felt like the company and my role were beneficial to others. I worked as a Parent Counselor at a Child Care Resource & Referral Agency and spent my time helping parents find local quality child care that met their needs.

Toward the end of my second year at the company I was beginning to feel stressed about my job. The reporting requirements changed several times which was confusing and there was discussion of moving my position to downtown Atlanta. In my church small group one evening I shared my stress with work during prayer requests. Our group leader, who was also our church pastor, called me a couple of weeks later and asked if I might be interested in working part-time as the admin for the church. I was excited at the prospect but wanted to discuss it with my husband and pray.

We had begun the discussion of starting a family and the plan was for me to stay home with our children when that time came. I thought moving to part-time would help us to move toward the goal of living off of just my husband's income. Others suggested we just save all of my current paycheck but I knew a gradual step down would be more helpful for us and we could work on saving all of my new paycheck. So I accepted the offer and started working at the church.
A fun group to work with (and a complete opposite male/female balance from my previous job)
I loved working in the church office doing administrative things and whatever else was asked of me. I enjoyed spending time with the pastors and having opportunities to go to conferences like Catalyst. During my first year of working at the church I became pregnant. My boss mentioned to me that he wanted me to go to a conference at the end of April the following year and I said I didn't know if I could make it. He first thought I was quitting but was excited to learn it was just close to my due date.

My (wonderful and compassionate) pastor told me that I could bring my baby in to work with me in order to be able to keep working for the church. I decided to try it out. It worked okay for awhile but as my daughter grew, the work schedule began hindering her naps so I chose to quit and officially stay home full-time when she was seven months old. I was very sad to end that job as it had been my favorite work environment and experience to date.
My adorable office companion
Well, there's the majority of my work history (minus random odd jobs and babysitting). It is so amazing to see all of the ways God led and provided for me. The orchestrations of meeting specific people still blow my mind. Whenever I think about how trustworthy God has been in this area of my life, I am inspired and encouraged to trust him in all of the other areas.

So, now it's your turn. Where do you feel God has been most faithful and trustworthy in your life? I'd love to hear and be inspired by your story!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Is Balance Actually Possible?

I have been struggling a lot about finding a good balance between spending quality and quantity time with my kids and giving them time to play on their own so I can do house things or have some time to myself. I continue to read different things that encourage me both ways on this spectrum.

For awhile I feel encouraged to say "no" to some of the numerous daily requests to play with them so that they can use their imaginations on their own and spend quality time together as siblings. I still make sure we have time together doing the things they want to do with me. Additionally, every day there are 2-3 meals together (depending on whether my oldest is in school that day) along with the bedtime routine of story, prayer and song. I remind myself that it's helpful for the kids to know that sometimes there are other things that need to get done and reminders that the world does not revolve around them are good. It is okay for them to have to wait for things, just like they will have to when they go to appointments and restaurants. Patience is a virtue after all, right? We all are better off if we are able to entertain ourselves while we wait or when there's a lull in activities.

Other times I am reminded that this time of them being young is so short. Eventually they will not want me to play with them. I won't be the first person they come to when they have a question or want to talk. I will one day be the one pestering them to spend some time together (that thought makes me a little sad). These thoughts make me want to let the laundry and cleaning slide and take in as much time as I can with these kids who still adore me and want me to read them all the stories and play all the games.

But it is probably also not healthy to completely lose myself in my children. My daughter needs to know that a woman is more than someone who takes care of her children. Yes, it's important, but there are many women who don't have children and she could be one of those and it's good to know there are other aspects to womanhood. It's important that I take care of my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health as well. My children watch what I do and I want them to have a mother who is healthy and has some semblance of a balanced life. It's important that I make time for my husband and friends and other family. It's okay to spend time on hobbies or stimulating my mind.

It sometimes seems like there are so many things I'd like to accomplish in my day and I don't want to neglect any of them, especially my family. Perhaps it will help to remind myself that each day has its own opportunities and responsibilities and know that some days will be full of quality time with the kids, others will have time for personal fun and enrichment and still others will require chores and appointments. Perhaps I should take a longer look at my schedule, maybe the ebbs and flows in a week rather than individual days.

What about you? Do you feel like sometimes you're pulled in opposite directions between spending time with your kids and tackling all of the other responsibilities in your life? Have you found a good way of balancing everything? Or at least having peace and contentment about your choices?

Friday, February 12, 2016

Valentine's Day Memories

Valentine's Day is nearly upon us. I like excuses for lavishing love and kindness on others. I'm not necessarily good at spontaneous love lavishing so it helps to have an occasion. In honor of this special day, I thought it'd be fun to share some of my past Valentine's Day experiences. Here are four that were all very different. In order to be as accurate as possible, I consulted my journals (which date back to 1991). Enjoy!

Valentine's Day 2001
My roomie and my friend, who are now married
I was a freshman in college and had very recently broken up with my first college boyfriend. I had met him through another friend at college (they were roommates) and my roommate and I hung out with them all the time. We still hung out some (albeit a little awkwardly) after the break up and the guys decided that they would take us ladies out to dinner and our school's home basketball game on Valentine's Day. They told us to dress up so we did. They showed up in coats and ties and brought us roses and chocolate. We went to Waffle House (my first time at that establishment) for dinner and then headed to the game. We had court-side seats for the game. My friend sat between the guys and I sat on the far side of my non-ex guy friend. We were having a pretty good time watching our beloved Wolfpack play. Then the Kiss Cam started making rounds. It stopped on my roommate and my ex. Awkward. The cameraman eventually moved on. Our team won big.

Valentine's Day 2002
A valentine rose
My sophomore year of college I was dating my second college boyfriend (of three, if you're curious). We had been dating for almost a year. He had a plan for us but didn't have a driver's license so on Valentine's Day I was being fed directions to parts unknown. We ended up at a gem mining place. He bought us a bag of dirt and we sluiced in search of emeralds (my birthstone) and topaz. I enjoyed the creativity and novelty of the date but it did not hit my radar for romantic or sentimental (I'm a big words person and a card with a hand-written note goes a looooooooong way with me. But, according to my journal, he gave me a letter he had forgotten the day before.). In hindsight, I was struggling with feelings that we were not right for each other and was hoping the holiday would give me evidence to the contrary (which it didn't).

Here's some additional interesting information from around this event.

I had begun a friendship with a guy in my Statistics for Engineers class. A few days before Valentine's Day he asked me what I was doing for the holiday (in my naivety I didn't realize that it was a feeler to see if a date might be possible). I said that I was probably doing something with my boyfriend (the first mention of him to my friend). That was the end of that...or was it?

Valentine's Day 2003
Yes, that's us
[Disclaimer: This is my very favorite Valentine's Day experience so sorry if it's long and rambling.]

I had been dating my boyfriend for six months (four of which I was studying abroad in Spain). I liked him very much and was dying to express such feelings to him but wanted to wait until he said he loved me first. [Early in our relationship he had told me that he was only going to say "I love you" to the person he was planning to marry. I told him to take his time. Also, while I was studying abroad I experienced that pivotal moment when I knew (with no actual evidence) that he was "the One" and I would marry him. (Please tell me I'm not the only one who has had this epiphany where you "just know".)] According to my journal, I was struggling with this decision not to say anything a few days before V Day and told Adam who told me to "wait and trust him".

So Valentine's Day was day was here and I had gotten him a Foxtrot comic strip book and could not figure out how to sign off on my card. I ended up writing "XOXO" (I believe) instead of "Love". Anyway, he came over to my apartment in the morning to pick me up for class and brought me six red roses, each with a little heart on them sharing one of his memories of our first six months of dating. There was also a card inviting me to a home-cooked dinner at his apartment that evening. I was quite excited!
Yes, I still have them all in a scrabook
In the evening I headed over to his apartment with my gift for him. He had prepared a London broil, baked potatoes and broccoli casserole, all delicious. (He had cooked for me previously so I had an inkling of his culinary talents.) During dinner he told me that he had purchased us tickets to see Phantom of the Opera (I had seen it in Spain - in Spanish, of course - and was interested in seeing it in English as well). We watched America's Sweethearts and ate some fruit with chocolate dipping sauce for dessert (mmm, chocolate-dipped strawberries!).

After the movie, I shared that I was struggling with not sharing my feelings with him and felt I was being selfish (since I knew the ramifications for him). He said that he had been deciding on a way to share his feelings with me. He then pulled out a paper and started reading me a list of things he liked about me. Part way in he (accidentally?) replaced "like" with "love" and my mind started freaking out. He continued his list but I had tuned out (this is a recurring theme in big moments with him, see also: marriage proposal) and was focused on my inner monologue. Oh my goodness!  He just said "love", not "like"! Does this mean he loves me?! Is he going to say it?! Oh man...! (Not direct quotes, obviously.) He finished his list and then told me he loved me. I hugged him and whispered it back because I had been tearing up during his list and was too emotional to speak properly.

Still makes me smile.

Valentine's Day 2007

This was our first Valentine's Day as a married couple. Not particularly gushy but still huge. We spent several hours in a conference room with some lawyers and another couple signing legal documents until our hands wanted to fall off. That's right, we bought our FIRST HOUSE on Valentine's Day! It wasn't really planned that way. I don't have a journal entry from this monumental occasion so I'll speculate that we spent some time freaking out at the huge life decision we had just made. We probably went out to dinner still with the "deer in headlights" look.

In front of our first house

I would love to hear about a memorable Valentine's Day of yours. Awkward, romantic, silly, sweet, cringe-worthy, whatever. Share your stories!

Monday, February 1, 2016

First Month Goal Review

Okay, so we've officially come to the end of the first month of the year. I thought it might be fun to let you know how my goals are currently coming. Splendidly, should be the answer because everyone has energy in January for new or lofty endeavors.

1. One arts and crafts time per month with the kiddos

On MLK Day we were supposed to have a play date but one of my kids was sick so it turned into our craft day. I had already determined that in January we would make paper snowflakes because my daughter seemed to enjoy doing them in December of 2014 (Yes, that long ago. I told you I'm terrible at crafts). I also thought it might be fun to try paper doll chains with the snowflake scraps.

Neither of these turned out that great. My daughter became frustrated trying to cut through the thick paper for snowflakes and couldn't quite figure out the chain cutting to make the paper look like people. My son has minimal cutting skills. Small slits in paper is all he can really do. I ended up doing most of the work.
Our cat sitting among the paper creations
So I punted and gave them both paint and paper and they had a blast. My son drew a T. Rex (at least that's what he told me) and my daughter drew a birthday cake for her uncle, a tree and an owl.

The T. Rex is the bottom left picture, birthday cake upper right
In addition to supervising I finally completed a project I started several years ago - turning an oatmeal container into The Very Hungry Caterpillar to use as an activity to read along with the book. It turned out fairly decent and both the kids love feeding the caterpillar as we read the book.
All the food was glued to baby food jar lids (some not pictured)
2. Blog at least twice per month

So far so good here. I actually blogged two times in the first week, eight overall. Also, the fact that I've been struggling a bit has provided material for posts. I'm trying to be more transparent this year. I have learned that when I am vulnerable it gives others permission to do the same. Jon Acuff calls it "The Gift of Going Second".

3. Grow in gratitude, contentment, joy and generosity

Okay, so this one is a little hard to determine empirically. I do feel more joy in my relationships. I struggled through some discontentment and discouragement mid-month (or perhaps most of the month as you may have noticed from my other blog posts) but I feel like I've turned a corner. God is helping me to learn to enjoy my relationships as they are and also showing me steps I can take to improve my relationship skills with others.

After posting my initial list, I edited it a bit. I read a book that suggested I focus on a goal in each of my passions. I determined that my main passions right now are Faith, Marriage, Parenting, Relationships and Blogging. So an additional one that is more tangible for faith (than number three above) is to memorize two scripture verses each month. Below are January's.

John 14:1- "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me."

1 Peter 4:10 - Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms.

John 15:5 - "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing."

Yes, I realize that's three verses. I can be an overachiever at times. January's a long month. Perhaps it can be considered an early start on February.

In January I also tried to not spend money on anything but essentials. How did I do? Find out!

Spending-Ban Assessment

I would be remiss if I didn't review how my month of non-spending went. I spent very little time in stores. I realized that sometimes I buy in anticipation of future needs that can be cost-saving if something is on sale but otherwise probably isn't necessary. Our mop broke and we ran out of floor cleaner so I went to The Home Depot and picked up a new one and cleaner. I also grabbed an extra cleaning cloth (just in case) but that probably wasn't a needed purchase.

I took a trip to Toys R Us to make a return. The counter is just inside the store, which is nice, but I could see the Christmas clearance from my spot in line and I was quite tempted to check it out for great deals. I know that my shopping weaknesses are clearance and thrift shopping.

In January I really just visited the gas station and grocery store which are mostly harmless. They did have Star Wars t-shirts on clearance that I really wanted to check out (my son is intrigued by the "storm trimmers" because one of our friends wore a trooper costume to church the Sunday the movie was released). But I have walked by them each week without browsing.

I did sign my son up for a gymnastics class that starts in March. I probably could have waited until today but I wanted to make sure he got into the same class as my friend and her daughter. It is both an experience and an opportunity to grow a relationship while also benefiting my son's physical development so it seems like a good purchase decision.

I also ate at home all month. It's not a big deal because we don't eat out often but it helped us to make sure we had a meal plan each week. I did have two meetings with friends at Starbucks but one drink was free and I ended up deciding that food out was fine if it involved growing relationships with other people. Though, the last week of January when we were running low on menu plan ideas I was very tempted to phone it in for fast food or a restaurant.

Most of the things I was tempted to buy this month were either books or experiences (tickets to a play, an obstacle course race, a comedian's show). I'm trying not to buy any books this year until I get through more of the unread ones on my shelf (though a friend asked about reading through a particular book together so I will order that one - relationships!). I think experiences are also a good purchase, in moderation.

I talked with my friend about how her month of no spending went. She said that she was over on her groceries. I definitely was too. This month I am going to try to be more diligent about this aspect. One thing I know I can do is buy more staples and produce at Aldi. The prices for many things are cheaper and worth taking a little extra time to get them. I can then stop by Kroger afterward to pick up the things we still need but are not found at Aldi.

So that's how it went. Have you done something like this? What successes did you have? Were you able to point out spending weaknesses?