Optimisticallychallenged's Blog

Day 60/60 Optimism and My Ultimate Lesson
June 11, 2010, 5:20 pm
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My daughter has been on a Jane Austen kick lately, which means that every few days I’m forced to sit down in front of the TV with a box of tissues and cry; this goes against my I-swear-I’m-not-a-romantic facade. I am of course a romantic – I think everyone is, but I’ve been forced to take a realistic approach to love (which everyone eventually is) and this makes us think we are not romantics. We are deep down, but life and all its twists and turns takes a toll on our once pliable organ. How we deal with the inevitable disappointments determines whether our heart stays soft or become an impenetrable sack of bitterness we carry about.  I suppose even Jane Austen died a spinster of realism.

Let me say that my husband is a very good man ( I’m reminded of this daily – love you Baby!) and my heart is no more battered than the average person’s but I wonder how healthy a romantic perspective is. All of adolescence is paved with hopeless romanticism – ever heard of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty – even Pocahontas? We train our little hearts to wait for prince charming and when we’re over him, well, we wait for Edward Cullen. I’m Team Jacob for the very reason that no man will ever love you as Edward does – Jacob is a much more realistic approach to life (aside from the shape-shifting thing) – he will indeed let you down, except maybe when he has his shirt off:)

Over the past 60 days I’ve witnessed such a change of attitude in myself; a refreshing outlook has truly replaced a gloom that previously tainted everything. I’m not cured, but the new prescription of optimism is definitely having its positive effect.  It’s the everyday trials and unexpected circumstances that I can meet head-on without crumbling under its weight; I can look in the face of frustration and say without wavering, “God is truly in control. I have nothing to fear.” After a couple years of constant trial and disappointments for our family, I have peace and I can ask for nothing greater than that – nothing.

The one thing that still nags me is to be optimistic about love – human, relational, everyday, love. The thing that makes it so unpredictable and unstable is that it involves sinful people – myself being one of them. This takes me back to my late teens and early twenties when I was single and struggling with love. I remember over and over God would bring me to verses that said that He was my inheritance. “What?! That’s all good and everything, but I want love with skin on it!” I thought it was a curse to be single and “just have God.” Now I understand what God was trying to tell me. He is to always be our inheritance, our strong tower, our refuge, out first love, irregardless of marital status. God knows that human love cannot ultimately satisfy because it is tainted with something that His never is  – sin. His love is absolutely good and perfect always. Period. Our love, although satisfying to an extent, will always be only a vague reflection of His.

I’m learning this and it’s teaching me to enjoy the full love that I have around me, whether it’s perfect or not. If I’m going to be honest, I’m just as incapable of loving as I wish to be loved, because I’m not perfect (just ask my husband or my kids or any number of people who have been the recipients of my selfishness). Perfect love does not exist outside of God and instead of being pessimistic about that fact, I can sit and watch Sense and Sensibility and enjoy it in tears even though my daughter keeps looking at me and yelling, “It’s not real, Mom!”

I want to thank all of you who joined me over the last 60 days. I’ve been so blessed by the comments and personal emails that I’ve received; it was so sweet to know that I haven’t been alone in my struggles and confessions. I started this blog at a real crossroads in my life and I’m so glad I opted to take a step that caused me to grow, instead of unravel. Thank you.


59/60 The Sack Lunch
June 10, 2010, 1:49 pm
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I realize that it’s a bit ridiculous for me to be excited about school being out since I homeschool my daughter at a VERY laid back pace and she only attends class once a week – but still…one less thing to think about.  Today is the last Thursday I will have to scramble around and race out the door – at least for the next couple months until my son starts school and I’ll be schlepping my niece with us too. I think what I look forward to most is not having to make lunches. I hate making the good ol’ sack lunch. I still have to make them for my husband, but my daughter is even more complicated. She hates sandwiches of virtually every kind and is allergic to peanut butter. I’m always looking through the pantry trying to find something healthy, but I always suspect that the teachers sit around at lunch time and point to my daughter and shake their heads, “What is her mother thinking? That is not a well-balanced meal. Poor, poor child. She should at least be eating one of those processed Lunchables.”

Lunch time was always rather traumatic for me as a kid. I think my mom hated packing lunches too, because she came up with some really crazy stuff and I did my best to hide my fare from the other kids. I was already really fat, so like I needed something else for them to tease me about?! I hated the smell of the lunch box – and if there was a blasted banana involved, it was like a hostile takeover – everything wreaked of banana. How is that possible? A seemingly harmless yellow fruit. The sandwich was always the worst part. (Mom, if you’re reading this, you know I love you and we’ve already laughed about this, so don’t take it personally – you were/are an amazing mom:) On a few occasions, I was given a pickle relish sandwich. Need I say more? What the heck is that? Apparently, it is indeed one of my mom’s favorites. I am guilty of throwing many of those in the trash – discreetly before the other kids could see, of course.

In Jr. High, I don’t remember what I ate, but I was still fat, so probably quite a bit. I remember there were these two girls, Tamara and Johanna (skinny little brats) with their poofed bangs, layered colored socks and neon Scrunchies who ate a chocolate ice cream bar and a bag of Funyons every stinking day for lunch. They thought they were soooooo coool. They were.

By 8th grade, I’d had enough and pretty much starved myself the entire school year.The lunch evolved or devolved from there and I had a rice cake and peanut butter every day, which seriously contributed to about a 40 lbs weight loss. So, in the summer before high school, I made Freshman cheer squad (take that Tamara and Johanna). In high school we were able to leave campus, so who knows what I ate – but I know I never had a pickle relish sandwich again.

After all the reminiscing I’m still looking at two lunches to make. Now that I think about it though, my daughter is going to be stuffed with junk food all day with last day parties and my mom has promised to take her to a lunch of her choice after class. Suddenly the box lunch has been transformed into an expensive Sushi meal for my high maintenance girl. Good-bye pickle relish.

58/60 Optimism and the Question of Normalcy
June 9, 2010, 4:58 pm
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Yesterday I had one of those days (fueled by a serious lack of sleep) when I wish I could just be a normal person. I know there are people out there who are probably normal, uncomplicated human beings. I see them, they just look like they are sailing through without questions about their existence; they stand in line at the grocery store, therefore they are. I am not one of those people and I’ve always been ok with that, but sometimes…

Then I have to ask myself what is normal and does it truly exist? If it did exist, would I really want it? How much of my non-normalcy is caused by myself? Is simply being OK with who you really are, lead to the impression that you are normal? I don’t have answers, but I think it’s the last one.  If you are comfortable with who you are, you appear normal. Normal might be the wrong word, because I have seen some seriously non-normal people who seem to be comfortable with who they are.

A few months ago I was visiting with my mom and grandma and we started talking about being women and the identity struggles we face. I was talking about the last year and the personal growth I’d experienced and my grandma suddenly said, “37!”  I just looked at her and she continued, “I was 37 when I was finally comfortable with who I was.”  The funny thing is, she is someone who I would look at and think she’s always been normal. Maybe it’s the impression of that generation as those who cope and thrive with what was given them. But it was amazing to hear her say that. 35 was my year. Not to say I don’t have days (yesterday, case and point) but overall I know who I am and it’s been a year of working with what I’ve got and discovering the intricacies of the person I’ve tried to avoid for 35 years. It’s been really freeing to settle into myself and there is a certain pressure that dissolves once you simply don’t care.

I actually get excited thinking about who I am and what God may have had in mind. There is a certain optimism that comes with the voyage of discovery and perhaps realizing there is no “normal,” just me.

56/60 Optimism and Your Greater Need
June 7, 2010, 5:29 pm
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This morning at church we had a guest speaker, Nick Vujicic. He was born without arms or legs and shared his spiritual journey with a surprising amount of humor peppered in. He got up there and the first thing he said was, “I know what you’re thinking. After seeing me you have no right to ever complain about your life.” He went on to express that that was not his point and that regardless of seeing him, you will in fact complain again. He said that hope was not about comparing your life with someone else’s, but instead hoping in Someone far greater than yourself.

I like that point – Hope is not about comparing your life to someone else’s.

He said that he’s traveled all over the world and has met people whose lives are far more difficult than his and that the greatest need of a person is often times not the most obvious. He used to pray for limbs as a child and eventually realized  what was better – to have limbs but carry around sin in his heart? Or to have no limbs, but have hope in Christ. His greatest need was salvation, not limbs.

This reminds me of the story of when Jesus was teaching in someone’s home and a group of friends were desperate to get their paralyzed friend to Jesus for healing. After going through desperate measures to get there, Jesus looks at the paralyzed man and declares, “Your sins are forgiven.” Not exactly what they were hoping for, but apparently the man’s greater need. But to prove His point, Jesus then says, “Rise up and walk.” That’s more like it! There is a beautiful picture here though – Jesus first dealt with the man’s greater need. If He had forgiven him his sins and walked off, would the man have still been better off than he was five minutes before? Yes, but Jesus chose to heal him physically as well, to show the doubters that He indeed had power to heal what they thought was most important.

What is your greatest need? I have a mental list right now. Maybe though, my greatest need has already been met and I’m simply distracting myself with non-essentials.

53/60 Optimism and Friends Whose Lives Are More Complicated Than Mine
June 4, 2010, 4:59 pm
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The two women had known one another for many years, and had moved into that most comfortable of territories, that of an old friendship that could be picked up and put down at will without damage. Sometimes several months would go by without the two seeing one another, and this would make no difference. A conversation left unfinished at the beginning of the hot season could be resumed after the rains; a question asked in January might be answered in June, or even later, or indeed not at all. There was need for formality or caution, and the faults of each were known to the other.

In The Company of Cheerful Ladies

I was not so subtly reminded last night that I had not written about friendship. Ok girls (you know who you are), this goes out to you. So, back 53 days ago when I was a hopeless pessimistic, these ladies were the victims of countless phone calls listening to me cry and complain in hopeless uncertainty. I wasn’t consistently that bad, but in all seriousness, I have been blessed with the most amazing friends. Friendship has a way of finding balance by the unpredictable turns that life takes. If your life is complicated, there is a friend out there who can encourage you and in turn, when they are desperate, they can call on you.

It’s very strange when you get to a point in life when you can say, “Wow, we’ve been friends for almost 20 years.” What’s even more amazing is when you can honestly say that you have never had a falling out, back-biting, drama-laden, boyfriend-stealing, hanging-up-on-you moment. Friendships without drama are almost unheard of, unless your friends are all guys. The last thing I’m looking for is to live out an episode of The Real Housewives of San Bernardino. (Although now that I think about it, that would be hilarious).

I don’t think that I’m easy to be friends with. Aside from my chronic pessimism, I hate long conversations and especially those on a phone. I’ve had to learn that although I may like low-maintainance friendships, not everyone is the same; there is compromise and even though I may make my friends come over to my side more often than not, they still seem to love me.

One of my dearest friends loves to talk on the phone, but knows that I’m ADD with a phone in my hand and has given me permission to abruptly end all phone calls by saying, “That’s it!!! I can’t take it anymore, I’m hanging up! I love you but I can’t talk anymore!” She also tells me what I need to hear, not what I want to hear, which is amazing – hard, but amazing. She was next to us when I gave birth to our first child and I know that the deepest struggles of my heart are safe with her; I also know WAY TOO much about her, so I have plenty of blackmail material if she decides to turn on me:)

I have another friend who is a constant reminder of my years in Hungary and knows all the people I miss and understands me when I throw three languages into a single sentence. We laugh at life’s direction, instead of crying when that would be so much easier. She also swears she’s not having more kids, which usually means I get to laugh at her expense every three years or so. There are no secrets and I know I can show up on her doorstep and be loved and she is the first person I call when I want to run away – mostly because I know she’ll join me.

My niece, who I spend most of my time with is a huge blessing to me. She is a quiet, constant presence in my life and I have no guilt about “wasting” an entire afternoon watching a movie, crocheting something or looking at craft blogs together. (And homeschooling our kids, when we get to it of course).  She is there for the everyday moments I don’t have to share alone. P.S. I have incredible SIL’s too- all 4 of them.

I’ve been very blessed as the wife of a former youth pastor and have gotten so close to many of the girls who went through our group (and their moms). We have our foreign film nights, nacho eating fests and longs talks about missionary life. I love getting emails and postcards from them from around the world where God has sent them. I have no greater joy than to see them walk in what God has for them. I was also blessed to have one girl live with us for a few sweet months; my kids even refer to her as their sister. They have helped me feel young and never remind me that I’m not 18 anymore – well, neither are they now, that’s probably why our friendships keep deepening.

I have friend-regret too. I have often times poured myself into worthless friendships at the expense of losing others and that is something I truly regret and I hope I’m able to have a second chance someday with those.

I think this post has taken me the longest to write – I wanted to do them justice – which I’m sure I haven’t. I know I am blessed. I truly have no reason to be pessimistic and my friends have shown me that over and over. Aside from the fact that many of them have lives far more complicated than mine, we all value one another and consider the other’s present trial more pressing than our own. That is after all what friendship should be.

Rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.

51-52/60 Optimism and Grandpa
June 3, 2010, 8:07 pm
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Today is special to me in a bittersweet way. Today would have been my grandfather’s 93rd birthday. He was the optimistic one about whom I spoke in my first post – Mr. Optimist Club himself.  My grandfather was a bit of a mystery to me and someone I wish I’d been able to know better before the last year of his life. My grandfather was very old-school in his approach to just about everything, including how he viewed grandchildren; we were around to beat in a game of cards, while telling a story from his Navy days and then to pat on the head, rather unaffectionately. He wasn’t very warm and fuzzy, until the end.

He was born on Long Island, but due to the outbreak of Influenza around WWI, he and his sister were sent to live with grandparents in Connecticut for years. His parents would visit when they could. His father was a furrier from Czechoslovakia and Nana, from the Slovak region was a wife and artist (I still have a few of her paintings). Grandpa later enlisted in the Navy and became a pilot, flying in the Berlin Airlift and most notably flew the first plane into Israel on the morning it became a nation. He said that they didn’t know what was going to happen when the plane landed, would it be a hostile environment? Who would be controlling the airfield? It didn’t matter, it was his job. He later retired and then worked at the Pentagon, retired again and moved to California to work a civilian job for the Navy. He finished that and spent the next 20+ years golfing, traveling and being the love of my grandma’s life.

When I was engaged to Armando, I was nervous for him to meet my grandparents; they were also old-school in their view of biracial relationships. But the moment they met him, they loved him. They spent their first meeting talking war history (my husband is a history buff) and that sealed their friendship.

When my grandfather was diagnosed with bone cancer, he fought optimistically, but knew that there were some things you could never beat. This changed him in a beautiful way. During his last year, he became a wonderful person to be around. He had always been fun in his own way, but now there was a softness about him. He had always been optimistic about himself – but not in a good way; He was never wrong, didn’t sin and his ideas were always the right ones. There was an amazing spiritual change that took place, that no one but God can take credit for. (Only God can take credit for a spiritual transformation, but people sometimes like to think they can). God showed up.  I remember coming to visit him and he’d have his hands raised in prayer as I entered his room. This was something I never thought I’d see. As he passed, he had full assurance of eternity and the only worry he had was for my grandma’s soul.

His passing was hard, but sweet in a way only God can make it sweet. He left 89 years of memories, but those of his last year are what I love to dwell on.

Day 50 – The God of Questions
June 1, 2010, 5:34 pm
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This year and a half has been a tremendous struggle for our family and I know that there is a huge portion of the population who can relate. I know that we are not/have not been alone in our trials. In fact almost everyone I talk to has had challenge after challenge to overcome; if not economic, then deeply personal.

This Sunday, one of our teaching pastors taught about God’s provision for Elijah during the drought. While this was the context, the main point was that being in the center of God’s will sometimes causes more questions than answers. I thought was a very valid point. Perhaps the most important challenge I’ve come across during this journey, has been choosing to be optimistic about God. Regardless of what your theology may be about God, it means nothing unless you apply it to your life. I mean, you may understand that God is good, but do you believe He is good when everything in your life is falling apart?

So, when money is tight and tensions run high and circumstance are daunting, and you were so sure you were following what God had planned for you, is God still good – is He still being consistent with what you learned about Him? This is the dilemma. How can you be optimistic without being stupid?

Before taking this journey, I would have said that God is always good, just not right now towards me. A tremendous contradiction, but human. While circumstances are still hard, I now know that God is good, regardless of circumstances and that “good” I suppose is relative. I mean, His will is always “good,” because it’s His will not because of how I interpret it. And above all, He is good, regardless of how my humanity may wish to view Him; He is perhaps the only unchanging element in my life. His promises still stand although they may not be delivered according to my wishes and standards. He is faithful even when I feel abandoned; He is working behind the scenes even if I feel like I’m alone in the spotlight.

Elijah followed God into the desert, in the middle of a drought and was in need. God showed up, not in abundance, but with enough and that’s a reason to hope.