Monday, January 30, 2017

Can you be successful and virtuous?

I've grown to become a little scared of success.

Now "success" is subjective.  Many have their own definitions, and I'd argue that I'm already successful in that I know who I am, I've worked through any past hurt I've had, I have a solid marriage, wonderful friends, and 2 kids who laugh everyday.  To me, that's a definition of success.

Here I'm talking about "success" as it's related to finances, paying down debt, and getting out of the renting market and into the market of owning.

And I'm scared of this sort of success for a few reasons, I suppose -- one being the perception of successful people.  Even if someone worked from nothing and eventually one day becomes successful, we seem to see them through a bitter-shaded lens.  Mostly, though, I'm scared of success, because of the convenience success brings.

My last few years have been painfully inconvenient, but I've learned that it's only through inconvenience that I've grown in patience, discipline, and, dare I say it, humility.  I've developed a level of comfortability when it comes to inconvenience. 

Tim and I don't plan to live a lifestyle dictated by student loans forever.  We do plan on one day being relatively comfortable, so-to-speak.  Will I lose all that I've gained?  Will I become so comfortable that I'll whine and complain at the slightest discomfort?

It was only when my comforts, my conveniences were stripped away that I realized the great opportunity inconvenience presents for growth.  I went from buying all my salad pre-washed, pre-chopped and in a nicely sealed container to buying it in bulk, having to wash, chop, and store on my own.  I went from warming up all my leftovers in a microwave to warming them up in the oven - did you know it takes about 5x as long?  I went from air conditioning to no air conditioning, having a washer and dryer easily accessible to lugging loads down to the outdoor, community, coin-op laundry, having to remember to get coins for laundry, carrying a stroller up and down apartment stairs, buying whatever at the grocery store to meal-planning on a budget.  And all these little things were of course side effects from the larger inconvenience of living paycheck to paycheck.

Sometimes, I think it's nearly impossible for anyone - and I mean anyone - in our day to be virtuous, because we have too much...stuff...that caters to our comfort, to our convenience -- heated seats (as amazing as they are), microwaves, air conditioning, driveways (if you park on the street in snow with children, you'll grow to see even driveways as a convenience), faucets you can turn off with your arms if your hands are dirty, heated bathroom floors, containers of pre-chopped vegetables not to mention ApplePay, Google Maps, Siri, and the handy, dandy Echo (as creepy as that thing is).

People often think it's the huge life-altering, all-at-once experiences that help us, change us.  The moving out at a young age, or getting kicked out of school, or not getting accepted to college, or a years-long relationship falling apart are the things that make us into better people, 'cause what doesn't kill us makes us stronger, right?

Wrong.  Just like the unhealthy person doesn't turn into a healthy, mean machine of muscle with one crunch, we don't turn transform upon reading, "we regret to inform you..."  It's true these sorts of big, life-altering experiences help us to grow in some way. They give us wisdom and equip us with life experience that help us to relate to and empathize with others.  They don't, however, transform.

Transformation is a slow, arduous, often painful process.  It's about developing good habits and purifying ourselves of the bad ones.  We'll only be transformed through a lifetime of little discomforts and big inconveniences, because it's in facing those annoyances that we get most irritated. 

Getting cut off, someone taking your parking spot, running out of hot water in the shower, getting a parking ticket, being overcharged on your credit card, someone trying to "one-up you" in a conversation.  You know you're transforming into a one-of-a-kind person when you face any of these scenarios with a calm "c'est la vie."  And I'd argue it's living a life without ApplePay and heated seats that help you to that place faster.

So one day when we're looking for our dream house with an attached garage, and heated bathroom floors, and technologically-advanced faucets, and a laundry room and a mud room and all the things in the world that will make us comfortable, I hope to take pause, to think what is the best space for our family to feel safe and at home, but what will help us to grow?  Maybe we give up one or two little comforts in the name of keeping us humble.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Throwin' it back in gratitude

I actually like clichés .  I like that a cliche has been made a cliché for a reason, because that reason is usually a good one.  The only unfortunate part about clichés is we've been nearly programmed to ignore them well, because...they're cliché.

I'm swimming in clichés today.

There has been a lot - and I mean a lot - of tragic happenings in my Facebook world and in my more immediate world.  And this has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with people and families.  And after another sudden event this week, I paused and thought you really and honestly have to take the time for the ones you love for tomorrow is never guaranteed.

So, I spent some time in thankful prayer the other night and scrolled through pictures of our last few years.  I scrolled and scrolled...and scrolled through hundreds of memories some of which were painful to recall and some that made my eyes well up with tears of joy.

There are times when I mindlessly look through pictures in attempts to find a throwback picture, but I rarely, if ever, take a second to recall the moment and sink into a moment of gratitude.

I thought I'd share some of those pictures.

Throwback to February 23, 2014 - my 24th birthday.  I was (really) pregnant with Ella.  I spent a bulk of the day crying.  Man, I hated being pregnant. Those 9 months taught me so much though.  And it was being pregnant that forced Tim and I to work hard.  That hard work got the ball rolling for a financial plan, a step up for my husband in his career, and a promise to myself that I'd start writing and wouldn't stop.  Those months were some of the hardest of my life, but they were undoubtedly some of the most rewarding.

Throwback to our Urban Pi days.  When we were living in our second apartment in California, Tim picked up another job which meant a couple 12 hour work days during the week and work on weekends.  So we decided to budget pizza night out every Friday at our favorite pizza place in San Diego.  It was a 20 minute drive - nothing when it means good gluten-free pizza - that allowed us to decompress from the week and feel a little normal in our otherwise difficult-to-navigate situation. (Here I'm seen trying to show Ella how to wave...)

Throwback to when Ella was getting ready to go on her first plane ride and visit to Alaska.  In June 2015, Ella went with Tim to my sister-in-law's wedding.  She met a lot of her aunts and uncles for the first time and got to see the never-setting sun that presents itself during the Summer months!  (And mom got a mini staycay.)

Throwback to the days we spent at Del Mar (in San Diego).  Every now and then, we would take a Sunday and walk around the town and catch some rays on the beach.  I remember this day specifically.  I was battling postpartum depression and severe anxiety, and it felt good to be out in the sun.  It didn't always feel that way.

Throwback to the day we drove almost 2 hours to see the Cannon Beach in Oregon.  This easily made my top 3 for favorite beaches.  There's not much to say except it was simply magical.  Washington and Oregon are home to some of my absolute favorite places.

Throwback to when Archie was a little, little one.  Archie is my little ham.  He is the one who, as an infant, needed to be cuddled to go to sleep and the one who will come up and give hugs and kisses and stick out his tongue.  He's a little cutie who loves big.  Having Ella and Archie so close together has been one of the biggest blessings to our family.

Throwback to our business trip/vacation to San Diego and LA last Summer.  If you didn't know me, this would look like nothing more than a picture posted to recall Summer fun.  If you do know me, you know this picture shows one of my biggest accomplishments as a parent and victories in overcoming anxiety.  I took care of the kids while Tim worked, and I made a (hard) effort to do everything I could to get out of the hotel room.  And I did.  Taking the kids to the pool on my own and driving a massive SUV in a place where I'd had had multiple panic attacks were moments of perseverance paying off.  (It was the night before we left for this trip that I decided to go back on medicine for anxiety.)

Throwback to April 21st, 2015 -- Ella's second birthday.  I was so excited for this day.  We were moving on her first birthday, so we weren't able to celebrate.  For her second, I got a balloon, made her a cake, and had her cousins come over -- a real birthday party.  It was the first for our little family.

Throwback to June 21st, 2016.  The first day in over 2 years that I drove by myself into a busy area without having a panic attack.  I hate how trivial this looks, because it felt like the mental equivalent of climbing Mt. Everest.  Up until this day, I couldn't drive anywhere without my body completely shutting down in physical panic.  Drenched in sweat and shaking, I more often than not would turn around shortly after leaving and needing my husband to go with me.  Now, I drive to and from work every day.  This is one of my biggest accomplishments of the last few years.

Thank you, God for the good, the bad, the bright, and the dark and ugly.  Every moment has worked to shape our story.  We've been tried, tested, and successful, and I'm so thankful for all those days, even the ones where I didn't want there to be another.  You've been so good to us having allowed us to go through so many difficult days.  I like the person I am now having come out on the other side. Grant me the grace to wake up with every ounce of gratitude that I should, to be a light to those around me, and to never take a loved ones' presence for granted.


Thursday, January 19, 2017

5th time's a charm

I've been missing for a little while, 'cause well, we were moving (again)!  I didn't take any time off work for the move, so we were doing as much as we could during week nights and over the weekend. For those who follow us regularly, you know this move wasn't as we intended it to be.  We had been working with a realtor and were a couple pieces of paperwork away from a mortgage when things changed.

So we began our search for another temporary place to land, and the tone was more somber than it's been in the past.  We were so excited to get away from this chaotic, vagabond lifestyle of moving that we had gotten our hopes up high to move into a house.

Moving with 2 little ones is no small feat.

As I've written many times before, however, Tim and I have learned that curve balls come.  We've learned to do what we need to do, keep our heads held high, and move forward.  And we're doing just that.  We nabbed the cutest little 2 bedroom, 1 bath condo for a steal of a price.  (2 utilities included? Yes, please!)  And we've all quickly fallen in love with having our own space again.  The little ones are going to bed much earlier and easier and are sleeping later in the morning.  Tim and I have time again to unwind together.  We like the part of town we're in.  Target is just down the road, of course.  I read before bed again.  It feels like we're really living our day-to-day instead of just slugging through.  And for that, we're grateful.

This move has also shown a bright light on how blessed we are to have the people in our lives that we do.  It was my best friends who got me through this move.  Tim and I had so much to do, I barely saw him that day.  And there were a handful of times I nearly broke down crying on our moving day, my sisters kept me from doing so.  Amidst chaos, there is still so much to be grateful for.

Another year, another zip code.  Stay tuned for more ventures from...Clawson!