Dog friends, you’ve been warned!

My husband and I have recently taken up dog sitting. Not for profit but for love and, to be completely honest, with hope of reciprocation. When you become a dog parent, you start to do these crazy favors so that when the time comes, your friends will feel obligated to the same level of crazy. Or perhaps, if they have a well behaved dog and you do not, an even greater level of crazy!

My dog is not particularly well behaved. This morning, I watched from the window as my dog went racing down the backyard into the water, splashing and barking wildly toward a family of geese. The adult geese honked and hissed and flapped their wings until one lifted up from the water on attack. Winston ran back up the bank and turned quick on his heels to dive in again. The animals repeated this cycle until my husband was able to distract our bad dog with the promise of a game of catch. Winston left one game to begin another while the family of geese swam out of what they had interpreted to be the single greatest threat to their lives.

If only that were an isolated story!

There was the time I walked up to the scene of my husband swinging roadkill from his hand while talking to our picture perfect neighbors because Winston was picking away it in between circling the family and barking. Or the time that Winston spent a half an hour just outside of reach, darting from one side of the driveway to the other, when we were late for dinner plans. Or his general inability to stay in our yard. Or stay down when he sees someone who is excited to see him. Or, most recently, when his jealousy with sharing “dad” with our friends’ one and a half year old son caused some alarm.

We have a bad dog.

So the next time you feel overwhelmed with gratitude that we’re jumping at the chance to watch your dog, keep it in the back of your head that we’ll be expecting the same in return when the time is right!

The Inefficient Multi-Tasker

In Bittersweet, Shauna Niequist writes the following words, words that resonate so deeply within my tensed muscles that I nearly felt relaxed to read to them:

She writes, “This winter, I got the kind of tired that you can’t recover from, almost like something gets altered on a cellular level, and you begin to fantasize about what it would be like to just not be tired anymore.”

Have you ever felt that way? Not just exhausted but exhausted. It’s the difference between needing a good night’s sleep or a short coma to recover. When I read her words, my worn out cells muster up their dwindling strength and shout in unison, “Amen, sister! Amen!

Shauna goes on to explain in the chapter “Things I Don’t Do” that her exhaustion comes from the need to do it all, so she prioritizes the things she wants to do and documents the things she is willing to give up in order to make room for the good. It’s simple, really, but it’s worth mentioning to the masses. I think we’ve all gotten into the habit of biting off more and more to chew until we find ourselves choking on things we really didn’t have any interest in chewing in the first place! Let’s face it. We live in a Pinterest-happy culture where monthly magazine articles encouraging us to be better hosts, chefs, crafters and lovers have been replaced by an unending, streaming barrage of prerequisites, each more ornate, more detailed, and more defeating than the next.

It’s exhausting trying to keep up.

I’ve recently begun the task of down-sizing from a personal phone and business phone to one phone. You think it would be easy enough: Inform your friends that you’re changing your number and make the switch. And perhaps it used to be but now my number is used at Walgreens, if I forget my care card, or Panera, or Biggby, or the grocery store. It’s on file at my doctor’s office, my dentist, my alma mater, my Facebook, my mail accounts, and my bank. It’s linked to emergency alerts and prescription reminders and my favorite clothing stores. Trying to remember where my number is stored is maddening! Do you know that I have four e-mail addresses? Yes, four! One for junk, one for work, and two personal accounts that reflect my name change. No wonder I can’t remember anything if it’s not written down in my calendar! And let’s not even get into whether I’ve stored that calendar date on my work calendar, my Google calendar, or my iPhone calendar! *Phew*

How did my life get so cluttered? In my effort to multi-task, I’ve rendered myself nearly useless in every category that I want to grow. And I’ve found myself juggling e-mail addresses and calendars full of repeat or bogus information!

If I, like Shauna, evaluated my priorities to establish the “things I don’t do,” I might come up with a list like this:

  • Excel in the kitchen. My husband makes incredible meals and he enjoys cooking. I should be satisfied with some passing grades and move on.
  • Pinterest projects. I hate them. And aside from basic artwork, I have every awareness that I am no good at them.
  • Maintain a spotless house. Dogs shed. And my time is too precious to spend every minute with a Swiffer in hand.
  • Hold regular hair appointments. I get my hair cut when I am painfully disheveled or when my bangs grow over my eyes and I can no longer see.

Making lists of don’t are not easy because I find myself engaging in a bitter argument against the dreamer in me. I want to be able to cook gourmet meals! And have perfectly manicured fingers at all times. And eat organic and gluten-free. I want to be able to sing along flawlessly. And I need to have a magazine house that prompts people to wonder if anyone actually sits in the rooms. Oh and if I could sew my own designer clothes! I also need to become a runner and have the best behaved dog. I need to host large dinner parties on the weekends and always put my clothes away. I’ll get up to working out four days a week and down to a size 4. And then I’ll send birthday cards to every friend and relative to make sure that it gets there on time.

Can you see why I need to get rid of the second phone??

Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist

It’s cold. More accurately, it’s 50 degrees but the Internet weather site states that it feels like 44. My logical brain tells me that if we were just leaving the icy grip of winter, this weather would be warm enough for short sleeves and rolled down windows, but it isn’t the break of winter and instead we’re coming off a few days of 80+ degrees. My fingers are nearly numb from the cool air and open windows!

Today’s “fall weather” prompted me to take the long way home from work so I could stop by Baker Book House. Baker Book House is a wonderfully modern looking bookstore that I’ve only recently discovered sells Christian books. I’ve been meaning to stop by and today’s weather offered the perfect excuse. I entered, knowing that I was going to pick up a book by Shauna Niequist, and began perusing the aisles. Imagine my delight when I came across a soft cover book written by none other than my church pastor! I picked it up and walked around until I could flag down an employee to point me in my intended direction.

Here is what I like about Shauna Niequist and her books: 1) She’s delightfully honest and charming and raw; 2) She writes the way I hope to write. I love her ability to jump from subject to subject but keep the reader engaged; 3) Much of her descriptions are filled with Grand Rapids staples which makes me feel connected, like we share in some great West Michigan secret together. Having already read Cold Tangerines, I had the choice today between Bittersweet and Bread & Wine. I chose Bittersweet because this period of life is more focused on finding beauty within the sorrow for me and because I don’t have a kitchen table to gather friends around – so Bread & Wine will have to wait.

Now I’m 61 pages in and have just finished a beautiful chapter on friendship and girlfriends and making time and my head is full of things to think about…

2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The London Olympic Stadium is 53 meters high. This blog had about 670 visitors in 2012. If every visitor were a meter, this blog would be 13 times taller than the Olympic Stadium – not too shabby.

Click here to see the complete report.

 

As I increased my writing on megdaniellemarried.wordpress.com, I have update you all from here less. Even so, I appreciate your continued support and hope to grow with you in 2013!

The Word

I have been spending a lot more time in the Word lately (a relative statement). Not simply “the written word” as if I’ve suddenly began devouring book after book, but The Word. The Bible. I joined a small group bible study, which I have been putting off for some time, following the gentle insistence of a friend. I also started a devotional that will take me through 2013 and have turned to my Bible for the simple act of reading rather than to follow along with a bible study or sermon.

Truthfully, I’ve always been a little wary of diving completely into the Word because I don’t want to come out the other side as a Bible-thumping, loud-mouthed, judgmental hypocrite that I so despise. I’ve seen other people get into the Word and they come out so annoyingly different that it rubs me the wrong way. Yeah, I know…that sounds incredibly harsh. But it’s the truth. Or at least, it has been my perception of the truth.

Anyway, I’m learning that you can’t get into the Word and not be changed. In fact, you should want to be changed in certain ways. You will be called to change. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that. I say that at the same time that I’m working to let go of some of the things that I held onto – those things that I think keep me from losing my edge among friends and coworkers, that keep me current. I don’t know how I feel about it but I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s necessary to let go of some things that toughen me.

Forks in the Road Don’t Have to Have a Right and Wrong

I’m not entirely sure the purpose of nostalgia. Is it a longing for something we no longer have? A happy remembrance of what brought us to where we are today? An opportunity to laugh about your mistakes or relish in the distant praise of your few successes?

I’ve been caught up in sweet dreams of nostalgia lately. Laughter over some of my inexplicable past and a yearning for the rush that followed some of my small victories; I mull it over with an understanding that I did not have before and a clarity that comes with age.

What is the purpose of nostalgia?

Perhaps these feelings of nostalgia simply precede the next great thing.

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When you get married, do you know what they say? They say things like, “Everyone is in such a rush to get married lately! I’m taking my time and enjoying my independence.”

“I couldn’t imagine tying myself down at this point in my life.”

“We are so happy as boyfriend and girlfriend; why would we want to ruin that?”

They don’t say it to you as a warning, rather they say it at you while thinking to themselves aloud. They are lost in their own thoughts… In their personal journey of love, of relationships, of independence. Yet though they do not speak to but only at you, you hear them. And it stings to know that your friendships will inevitably change in this next chapter of life.

Suddenly, you are lost in the sweet nostalgia of an unbridled life. An ability to leave. To be tough. To stand up to anyone… And then you take the leap.

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There are choices each day that define you. A series of crossroads. And if you choose wisely, you will find more happiness in the fork you choose than you will leave behind. And as you continue to move forward with your choices, you will begin to cherish nostalgia. It is no longer a longing for the past. It is a keen awareness and acceptance of the choices that have brought you forward.

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The next time people speak aloud and tell you that a spouse is a chain and a house is an anchor or a child is the end of fun as you know it, you must keep silent. Do not retaliate or defend your choice. Do not hesitate or hurt. Remind yourself that you are happier on this turn because of the direction you chose… That this is your path and that the people speaking to themselves aloud have made the equally important choice for themselves to be single or unwed, un-mortgaged, or without attempt for children. And you must honor their choices as well.

We need to start a revolution. To fight human nature, which tells us that the grass is greener on the other side. We must not pull others toward feelings of regret to protect us from those feelings ourselves. And we must also watch ourselves when we are tempted to react to some news of a friend’s new direction following a fork in the road.

Do not compare their choices to those of your own. Just listen, love, and accept.

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We need more advocates for love in this world. For inclusiveness. For appreciation of these crossroads and the opportunities these choices make. For those that follow different paths and for those who go in an expected direction.

You are not better because you are different. You are not better because you are the same. You are you and your “you” is beautiful. I am me and that is beautiful too.

Outsmarted by a Dog

Winston, our 13-week old Boxer-mutt pup, refuses to go on a walk with me today. Instead he sits smugly in his brand new harness, looking at me over his immobile shoulder while he basks in the sunshine and 76 degree weather. 

Don’t get me wrong. I also love to bask in sunlight – but his refusal to budge stirs within me a deep fear that when we get home, I will lapse into a two second post-work vegetative state. And that my short-lived emptyheadedness will give him the opportunity to run to a spot, just out of sight, where he will poop on the carpet.

So with short doggy-horror films playing out in my head, I plead with him, using my nice voice, “Come on, Win! Come on, pup!”

Nothing.

I crouch down low to get his attention and call his name soothingly. Still nothing.

Hmph… Now I must fight the urge to tug his leash with such force that I knock him off his feet so I can drag him behind me while I continue my walk. (Hey, I’m just being honest).

I’ve just read a “How To” article about teaching a puppy how to walk nicely on his leash. Instead of yanking him off his firmly planted tush, I must be very patient. I must not tug. Nor shout. Nor growl or pull. I must simply stop when he pulls and coax when he stays. I need to make him see that walking with me is more fun than disobeying me. I tried the technique this weekend and it worked wonderfully!

But this weekend, I did not have a full day’s work with a mountain of tasks to climb under my belt by the time we went to take our walk. I was not overtired… On the weekend, I had patience.

I crouched there for what seemed like days! In all likelihood, it was probably less than 60 seconds. And then… I hate to admit it, but I tugged. And he lowered himself. And I growled at him, telling him between my clenched teeth, “You are making it very hard to train you properly today! I have no patience for you!”

And he hunkered down further, spreading his limbs out as if growing roots into the ground. And I started to walk away, feeling a heavy mass lag begrudgingly behind me.

*Sigh*

I take him home, remove his harness, and watch him as he proceeds to bounce and jump and leap and sprint around the house.

You win, sir. You win.

Spring has Sprung!

Oh, yes. Spring has sprung, my friends.

By the official calendar, we have just arrived at Spring. Michigan, however, has never been one to follow the official calendar. In fact, it appears to have glanced over winter and poo-pooed Spring altogether in exchange for 80 degree weather. I suppose with Michigan’s well-known swings, I should stop being so surprised that it feels like Summer in March! You just can’t trust a Mitten.

I started out the March Madness this year consumed with reading, reading, reading but all of this Vitamin D has me feeling more inspired than needing inspiration. For the most part, I have put down my books for some more engaging hobbies. Yes, that’s another thing you should know about this March. I’m finding hobbies.

I have been cautiously, nervously, and excitedly watching my husband Freddy for the past several months. Now that we share the same roof, I find it’s become much easier to observe him without his knowledge. I’m not up to anything too mischievous; I’ve been gathering cooking clues! I say cautiously because if you have ever seen a great chef (as I consider my husband to be) move around in any kitchen space, you know that he or she owns that space. You shouldn’t enter unless you can execute with the speed of an experienced sous chef. I excel in grilled cheeses… I have no place sharing our small apartment kitchen area with him when he’s in charge.

I approach my mission nervously out of fear of exposure. What if he should see me watching and call me out to join? I simply couldn’t! Or could I?

And this is where the excitement enters. What if I can cook? What if there are a few tricks of the trade that simplify all of the confusing measurements, temperatures, and temperaments? I know I’m not the first person to have this thought or to see such a thought to fruition, but I’ll be damned if I don’t try it for myself. Damned to eating grilled cheese every night my husband gets stuck at work, if nothing else. No one needs that much cheese in their diet.

Clearly, this is in no contradiction to my previously-mentioned desire to get control of my relationship with food… That’s what I’m telling myself anyway. Once I learn to suffer the pain of cooking, err, I mean, appreciate the art of cooking (yes, until recently, I have felt only pain – both emotional and physical – whilst sputtering about in the kitchen), I might learn a thing or two about the rest of those goals. You have to know your enemy if you plan to defeat it, right?

Me I Want to Be

Well, I finished Made to Crave. I’m no lighter for it – heavier even – but that’s the point, isn’t it? It’s not a magic pill. It’s constantly working to redefine the quenching of our cravings. In truth, I’m just not ready to fully subscribe to being a mindful eater. Not. quite. yet.

But I’ve started making healthier decisions on a sporadic basis. I’m back on vitamins. I’m drinking more water. I’m seeing a chiropractor for the back pain I’ve been feeling and I’m taking steps in the right direction.

When I put down Made to Crave, I picked up Me I Want To Be by John Ortberg. This one is about “becoming God’s best version of you.” My mother sent me this book two years ago and I didn’t have the desire to dive in at the time. I picked it up this week, after coming home from a tough day at work during which I told off one of my coworkers, and it grabbed me in by calling me out – sometimes it’s all about timing.

My reading habits are very God-focused lately. I tend to act better when I’m constantly reviewing God’s words or plan or purpose – that’s applicable to any area of life, be it food or work or self. At least that’s what I’d like to think!

Oh, and I’m dying for Spring.

That is all!

Made To Crave

Confession: I have a terrible relationship with food.

It calls to me, without relent. It taunts me from afar, on my plate, and later on my body. I have told myself that it’s okay to eat the way I eat and the amount that I eat because I exercise. But throughout seasons of inadequate exercise, I’ve had to find a new excuse. So, I told myself that it was okay because I have a fast metabolism. But without exercise and with the passing years, I find my excuse once again faulted. I’ve also used celebration, sadness, stress, and boredom as my meager excuses, each leaving me prey to guilt and shame.

I have turned to excuses instead of solutions to manage my relationship with food, but it’s starting to  wear on me – physically, emotionally, mentally…and as I’m coming to realize, spiritually.

First of all, you must understand that you can struggle with food whether you’re skinny, of healthy weight, or obese. I know I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. Technically, I wear the same pant size that I have been wearing since I was in high school (although there are a few pairs  that are now too snug for comfort!). It doesn’t matter. What I know about my relationship with food is measured by the way my body feels, the energy I have (or don’t have), and the tightness of my clothes. It is not, for me, measured by weight.

This might be contradictory to what we see on TV, but I’ll be the first to say that my transition from college to now has seen me at 137 lbs to 142 down to 132 and from there up to 150, now trying to find solace around 142 once more. Those are real weights. My weight. You see, my weight does not bother me. In fact, when I was the most fit in college, I weighed more than I weigh now.

That’s the trick of muscle vs. fat.

I know when I’m not being healthy. And it isn’t just the fast food bags that I leave in my car out of fear of visual confession. That’s another story. I don’t even LIKE fast food! What am I doing? It’s not just the bag of workout gear that’s been sitting, untouched, in my car for the past several months. It’s not just anything. It’s a combination of things, all of which point to one sorry excuse: Lack of willpower. No, not willpower. Because willpower has become this thing that we joke about. “I just don’t have it!” we cry! And somehow that’s become an acceptable excuse among our friends, laughable even.

What I lack: Determination. Commitment. Hard work. My real issue with food is that I am always looking for an excuse. I love food. I hate food. Either way, I find myself eating when I’m full or eating things I instantly regret. It’s a problem that I’ve had, maybe secretly, since at least 5th grade. And it’s left me sluggish, and upset, and full of shame and defensiveness.

I don’t believe in diets.

I don’t like people telling me what I can and cannot eat.

I’ve been carefully stepping on a slippery slope, always telling myself that I can still get back to my healthy lifestyle when I make the decision to do so. All the while, I’m absolutely aware that life happens. Excuses happen. And I could very well find myself years down the road cursing the fact that I didn’t start now.

I picked up a book the other day. Every once in a while, I get a book or magazine about healthy eating or lifestyles to make me feel healthy. It’s pathetic, I know. (I had a habit of reciting Bob Greene’s The Best Life Diet for some time, but it’s now been replaced). This book, Made To Crave, is different.

Made To Crave by Lysa Terkeurst is a spiritual approach to a healthy lifestyle. In it, Lysa examines our draw to food from a biblical standpoint. She embraces that we are made to crave but encourages us to use our cravings as they were intended, to honor God. She challenges herself and her readers to see their unhealthy food cravings as roadblocks to our true purpose to crave a close relationship with God.

I know it might seem far fetched to non-believers, but I really don’t have the determination/commitment/hard work to do this on my own. I think Lysa is onto something. In fact, I think that she might have tapped into the most important diet secret of all…

Anyway, I’ll let you know how my spiritual life improves as I join her on this journey. Hopefully, it will come with a report of renewed energy too!