A Eulogy for Dead Chickens …

My husband, Jason, and I are hobby farmers.  I mean by that, that we started out planting a huge garden every year, and we’ve recently added chickens.  So I feel we can upgrade our status from just gardeners, to hobby farmers.  I just think it sounds cooler.  Anyone can be a gardener, but it takes real skill to raise live things like chickens.  Cluck if you agree.

So, some sweet, well-meaning person I used to buy farm fresh eggs from asked me if we’d like their year old flock of 21 chickens.  I gave her an enthusiastic yes and Jason went and picked them up.  So exciting.  Of those 21, 17 are still alive. I think that’s fairly good odds … for us.  Just last Saturday I stopped for chicken feed and mysteriously came home with 6 new chicks and 2 ducklings.  Not sure how it happened, at least that’s what I told Jason.  Of those 6 chicks, only 4 are still alive.  So, see what I meant about the 21/17 odds?  You have a better shot at survival at my house if you start out full grown and somewhat able to fend for yourself.  Just sayin’.

I’ll come back to that later.  I actually want to talk about regrets.  I know, right?  Makes perfect sense with the way this post started.  Regrets are interesting little boogers.  We all have them of course.  Some people seem to handle them well, rolling with life’s punches and getting on with the good stuff.  Others can literally let regrets rip them to shreds.  Sometimes it’s the actual regret that is seemingly insurmountable, but a lot of times, it’s just in the handling of it.  I’ve seen people bounce back from some of the most devastating life choices.  People that God actually names as great leaders, prayer warriors and friends of God overcame things like murder, thievery, other things that were truly despicable and I don’t want to talk about them.  So, how do some deal successfully and some fly apart?  I have steps … of course.  These are just my opinions, my ways of dealing, or things I was taught by people who are smarter than I.

Number One:  Focus only on what you know is true.  Have you ever met someone who is suspicious of everyone?  They always think someone is mad at them.  No one has “liked” their Facebook Statuses lately.  So and so didn’t call them back when they left a message.  Their friend said such and such, but they really think they meant -.  You get the picture.  We all do it, so don’t be high and mighty.  Sometimes this is true.  Someone actually is mad at you.  Sometimes it’s made up in our minds, because we’re too sensitive, or because someone else isn’t sensitive enough.  I’m usually the latter.  Mostly we just need some chocolate.

I used to tell my college roommates the first night they moved in with me, “if I do something that makes you upset with me, please let me know.  You can ignore me for a week and I will never figure out what I did, or worse yet, I won’t even notice.  Also, if you think I’m mad at you, you’re wrong.  I’m not two.  If I’m mad about something and I know I won’t just get over it, I’ll tell you.”  Most of them took this to heart, did as I asked and we all got along swimmingly.  They’d tell me if I upset them, I’d apologize (not a lame, fake apology, but a real “I’m sorry, please forgive me,” apology) and we’d all live happily ever after.  One girl never did say what was troubling her, but we figured out that she was most annoyed when we didn’t keep our side of the room tidy enough.  We fixed that problem, and boom!  she was happy again.  Sometimes with quieter people, you have to do detective work.  It’s a thing with them.

Here is the solution to this that will absolutely work for you, because someone else smarter than me thought it up (God).  Focus your energy only on what is true.  If you know you said something to that person that would have hurt their feelings, then go to them and tell them you’re sorry.  If you know they are upset, but you don’t know why, go to them and ask if there’s something you can do to make right whatever has upset them.  Don’t give pathetic apologies.  The anger will only build from there.  An, “I’m so sorry, would you please forgive me?” will go a lot farther toward healing than, “I’m sorry I made you feel that way, but-” No!  Scrap the “but”.  Would you like to be apologized to that way?  You’re just making excuses for yourself.  No healing will happen as long as we excuse our behavior.  The flip side is, if you didn’t do anything and they assure you that they aren’t upset with you, act accordingly.  Don’t keep going back and making sure they really aren’t upset.  Life is really too short to waste in paranoia.

Number two:  Get out of the brain cycle of “if only”.  This takes practice.  When I was in my early twenties a renown psychologist in our area taught my Sunday School class.  Most of what he said was far too brilliant to penetrate my 21 year old brain, but a couple of things stuck.  One was, “When a negative thought pops in your head, stop it immediately.  You then have about 5 seconds to change the tape.  Refocus your mind and move on.”  I have practiced this since then.  I’m still not great at it.  But I’m trying.

Number three: Remember just how important and valuable you are.  Whew!  I think this is the hardest yet.  The other thing that Dr. Myers (Sunday school teacher) said that stuck with me forever was that “Jesus would rather die than live without you.”  I realize it’s hard to focus on your eternal value when you’re doing twelve loads of laundry, stuck in traffic, staring at a computer screen for a living, but it’s absolutely true!  You are so valuable that the One who had the power to speak the world into existence would rather die a brutal death than live without you.  That’s some crazy love, friend.

Number four:  Because some of you just never will believe number three, here’s another starting point for getting away from the “if only” brain cycle.  Do something nice for someone else.  Make yourself more valuable.  Stick with a strength.  Our technology guy at our church, Bubba Stallcup, fixes computer problems for church members for free in his non-existent spare time.  When my mom felt down she always used to make banana bread or cookies and we would all take them to a nursing home.  If you can’t bake, just take them flowers.  People in a nursing home just want some love and attention.  Go hug them.  Nothing will make you feel more valuable than spending time with someone who literally has no one that cares about them.  Pay for the person behind you at the drive through.  Nice people have more friends.  That’s just a fact.  I believe the statistic is that the most reclusive person in the world touches at least 10,000 people in their life time.  Imagine if you’re actually trying!

Number five: Eat more chocolate.  This requires no further explanation.

What does all this have to do with my propensity to kill chickens?  Ah!  You smart aleck thing you, it doesn’t really.  It’s just my life.  No, honestly, the unfortunate chickens triggered this thought because I used to be devastatingly scared to try something new.  I was paralyzed by past failures (I have a surprising number of these for how young I am).  I let regrets and fear run my life and keep me in my comfort zone all the time.  If a chicken had died in my care back then I would have cried for days, given all survivors to a chicken expert with years of references and never tried anything new ever again for fear that I would stink at it.  What fun is that?  My lifetime friend, Sara Pullen once asked me, “what would you do if you weren’t afraid?” My current answer –  I’d start a blog, write my books, have a bunch of kids and homeschool them, hobby farm.  Accidentally kill chickens.  You know, the usual stuff.

 

I do feel that I should add here that the chickens and chicks died of natural causes.  I wasn’t negligent or anything.  Just in case you were worrying about the survivors.  We’re doing all we can here!

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3 Steps to a More Positive Life

Rainbow over the Muldrow Glacier

The term “pet peeve” has always bugged me.  I mean, aside from the fact that “peeve” just sounds weird and sets my teeth on edge, the term itself is just an excuse.  Someone is giving themselves permission to be negative because whatever just happened is their “pet peeve”.  As my sister would say, well, bully for you.

My Dad had chronic pain when I was growing up.  Rheumatoid arthritis.   Dreadful.  Anyway, in spite of this, he strove to raise us in an ultra positive atmosphere.  The things normal people disliked were usually my favorites because I didn’t know we were supposed to hate them.  I have crazy love for things like Mondays, broccoli, cats and rainy days.  I was homeschooled, so I didn’t know until I got out into the “real world” that there was something inherently wrong with this.  I learned how to keep this disturbing part of myself hidden for a long time so I could fit in with normal people, but various other abnormalities kicked in, and my plan failed.  So now, it’s just all out there in the open.

On the downer side, I am as guilty as anyone.  I watched a movie last night that wasn’t a cinematic masterpiece and the very next thing I felt the need to do was get on Facebook and gripe about it.  Seriously?  I should have just gone to bed.  It was late.  I even, despite Daddy’s best efforts, have pet peeves myself.  Don’t say “snuck” around me or mention that you drink Diet Coke.  Just don’t.  It’s super bad.

I have noticed our trend toward negativity really increasing here lately, (like, since slightly after the creation of mankind), and its severity is alarming.  So, here is my question for we complainers, critics, Monday haters and pet peeved … why do we feel the need to not only be negative, but also, share our negative feelings with everyone?  Why are there Facebook rants?  Do people really have to know that we aren’t happy with the service at the local car wash?  Do we need reminding that it’s hot outside?  Do we just want people to know that we’ve also noticed that Sally’s hair looks particularly bad since she dyed it?

I was looking for reviews on a book I wanted to read the other day and quickly wished I hadn’t.  There were several raves over the book, and one that I assumed was fairly negative from the title: “I don’t know why people think this book is good…”.  Guess which one I looked up?  The review itself was scathing, but then the comments section went on for ages.  I could have spent all day reading all the terrible things about this book including such gems as “the author doesn’t use big enough words” and “why would she name her main character that?” I finally got a little disgusted with all the “contributors” and decided to see how many award winning, best selling novels they had written … oddly enough, none.  Weird, right?  You’d think people with that level of expertise … but I digress.  I went back to the main page and noted that about three people total had pressed the little button saying that they found the positive reviews helpful.  The negative review’s little button had been pushed 126 times.  Sigh.

The answer to the question is not just that humanity has fallen.  That’s fairly obvious.  I think there is a level of peer acceptance involved.   We want people to know we noticed the flaws too.  We’re really smart, so we didn’t think it was great either.  Why has negative become synonymous with intelligence?  It’s true.  Just try telling people that Mondays are great, that you really like the restaurant they’re ditching, and start a conversation with the local gossip by saying, “we really need to pray for so and so, that something wonderful will happen to them.  They did the nicest thing the other day.  Let me tell you all about it!”  Read your Facebook newsfeed, or better yet, check out your own status updates.  Over 50% of mine are negative, because I’m so deep, so smart, so above people. Blech!  I need a new perspective.

So here is my plan and you’ll love it!  It’s step by step.  I love things that are step by step.  Give me ten things to do to earn more money in 2014, a five step plan to better health … you name it, if it has steps, I’m in.

Step One: Establish our “pet loves”

Okay, yeah I know that sounds shmucky, but do you want to be happier, or not?  I had a college professor who was a genius at this.  She was dying of cancer, and had battled it off and on for over 20 years.  She was the most joyful lady I ever met.  Ever.  She celebrated everything!  If someone got roses in the dining hall she would clap for them and sing, “Happy roses to you!” to the tune of Happy Birthday.  She walked down the halls, or was rolled down in her wheel chair, breathing life into people.  Telling them good morning, asking how they were doing, reminding them that she loved them, that God loved them.  She was so beautiful.  Her pet loves were redbirds, rubies and rainbows.  She wrote a book about all the times that God had gotten her through just from sending a red bird to sit on her porch, or putting a rainbow in the sky.  She absorbed happiness like we absorb Facebook rants.  I have gathered my pet loves already.  I am poised and ready to notice them everywhere, clap for people.  Sing more.  (Sorry in advance for that one.)

Step Two: Positive Social Media

I’m kind of a realist here.  I don’t think happiness is going to go viral.  If that were possible, the news would only tell us when wonderful things happen.  But, we can make a difference in our own social media.  We can stop ranting.  Stop posting every time something annoys us.  I intentionally unfollow friends who only talk about how terrible their life is, how sick they are, or how much people annoy them.  I have four kids, a house to keep up, homeschooling and writing to do.  I don’t have time to be depressed by the emotional vampires of Tumblr, Facebook and the Twittersphere.

I have a dear friend who did a thing at the start of the year she called “One Hundred Happy Days”.  I think it was a thing going around, I don’t know.  All I know is, I super love the idea.  She took a picture of herself enjoying one nice thing every day and all of her status updates were positive and ended with the hashtag #onehundredhappydays.  I’m going to try this.  I think everyone should.  Besides … it’s one of the steps.

Step Three:  Learning to keep quiet

This one is mostly for me, but ya’ll feel free to join in.  My mother spent half of my life saying things like, “you didn’t really say that did you?” and “Jules, just because you have an opinion doesn’t mean you need to share it.”  God bless her.  I still need the reminder sometimes.  So what would happen if we didn’t tell people the bad thoughts we had about that movie, hairstyle, book, parking job?  What if we did what our moms used to tell us to do all the time and “if we can’t find something nice to say, just don’t say anything at all.”  I can tell you that at least 126 people reading Amazon book reviews will find this philosophy unhelpful, but seriously.  Is our negative opinion necessary to anyone’s survival?  If you’re a doctor and, in your opinion someone has a brain tumor, you should probably share that, but otherwise, I think we could all stand to talk less and smile more. Yeah?

There you are.  So from now on, you can say snuck around me all you like and I won’t say a word.  I will even try desperately to keep my mouth sewn shut about Diet Coke.  I just read a super mean blog post bashing “food police”.  So now I feel bad about that one.  Sorry.

When you look for the bad in mankind expecting to find it, you surely will. Abraham Lincoln

Eye of the Storm

Whirlwinds have always fascinated me.  Who didn’t watch “The Wizard of Oz” and think, I wish a whirlwind would pick up my house and drop me somewhere more colorful, exciting and  … super creepy?  Why did we want this?

I remember reading as a kid, about a group of kids who lived on a farm in the eighteen hundreds.  For some reason, their parents weren’t there one day, (parents were always missing when the important stuff happened in those books) and a storm blew through their farm.  They all had to hide in a storm cellar until it passed.  At one point the wind calmed down and everything got quiet and the two oldest kids looked at each other and said, “it isn’t over, this is just the eye of the storm”.  Fascinating.  Even as a ten-year-old this thought captivated me.  The wind that can pick up cows, cars … houses swirls all around you, but you are safe.  In the direct center of the whirlwind, there is an eye.  A calm spot.

Life is full of whirlwinds.  Let’s just face that fact.  My life is for sure.  My four children are five and under.  I have a very patient and supportive husband, but he still needs feeding and clean clothes on occasion.  I have published one novel and I’m working on another.  I homeschool, cloth diaper, blog, cook our meals, sometimes I even clean house.  I’m a super busy girl!  So where are the calm spots?  Where are the eyes in my storm?

My favorite place is a cup of coffee and a good book.  Oh yes, this is an actual place in my brain.  When I’m having my coffee, all of life melts away.  When I’m lost inside a book, nothing else really exists in that moment.  My other spots are found in the less obvious places.  A hug from my husband when he gets home from work.  Dancing in the living room with my children … with no music playing but whatever we’re singing at the top of our lungs.  A tea party in the afternoon, when there are a thousand things left to do, but we all just need to stop and enjoy each other.   You know?  The forever stuff.

There’s lots of good-for-right-now stuff.  Shoving all the children outside to play so you can clean your house, working in that cubicle so you can make enough money to enjoy your weekend, driving to soccer practice … there are even good TV shows that turn up on occasion.  Sherlock.  Enough said.  But those aren’t necessarily living.  They aren’t usually the stuff about life that we remember, unless we make them memorable.  They aren’t our eyes of the storm … they kind of ARE the storm.

So, no matter what your today is, take a couple of moments and make a little calm for yourself.  Sit in your cubicle for two minutes and eat a candy bar with your eyes closed.  Ignore people and beeps and emails for a moment and just breathe and think about chocolate.  Mmmm…

Housewives, get your hands out of the dishwater for a few minutes and enjoy a magazine, or put a couple of candles on the table and make a candlelight supper for your husband. Scroll down through your Pinterest board and actually DO one of your three hundred pins.  Just do one. Call a friend and meet for coffee.

If you’re lucky enough to be a parent, give your kids an extra long hug and think about all the people in your life who would give anything just to have their own baby.  Or better yet, think of all the children in Foster care who would give everything just to get a hug from a parent.

Singles, you are some of my favorites.  My passion and love goes to single folks, for sure.  That’s a good and hard spot to be in, but you can make it fun if you want to, and you’re the only one who can.  No one else will step in and make your life beautiful.  Plan a trip, even if it’s just for a day.  Join a community theater.  Sign up for guitar lessons.  This is the only time in your life that you won’t have to ask anyone if you can spend that extra money on that super cute pair of shoes.

To make a long story short … the things about your life that are good are your eyes in the storm.  Everyone has good they can cling to if they really think about it.  Hold onto those moments, and let the rest slip away.  Enjoy the blessings and let the curses fall on deaf ears.  Keys to happiness?  Maybe.  Ways to find calm in a whirlwind?  Now you’re talking.

Feel free to add to the calm.  Tell me what you do to find your “Eyes in the Storm”.

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