Never Stop Swinging

When I was a kid, my dad designed and built play structures. It had a lot of perks – we had a really great play structure in our own backyard, and my sister and I loved to play on the new ones as they were being built, because it was always fun to try something different.

It seems as though a large number of my childhood involved those play structures. We would haul out all the blankets and build houses on the structure railings. We would try to teach our cats to walk across the top of the monkey bars. We would climb and dangle and twirl on the various bars. And we would swing. I remember the feeling of swinging so high, it felt as though I would soar right off into the air.

There was a huge lilac bush beside our play structure, and when I think of my most beautiful childhood memories, I remember sitting on the lawn swing with my mom, memorizing Psalm 23 while the dusk crept in. We smelled the lilac-scented air, and my mom would say, “Let’s see how high we can swing!”

One day when I was in high school, I was sitting on a swing, deep in thought, when my dad walked by. He said, “I miss the days when you girls would swing so much, the grass could never grow underneath the swings, because you would always wear it out.”

After he continued walking to the house, I got down on my knees and began pulling up handfuls of grass, trying to make the dirt show through, even though I didn’t swing enough to wear it out anymore.

I don’t know when I stopped swinging.

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The summer before Everett was born, Ben set up a play structure in our backyard. We’d been debating about it for awhile, wondering if our girls would get much use out of it, but when we were surprised with another baby on the way, we decided to get the structure, because there would be many more years of use with our little guy on the way.

In the beginning, both girls would swing together, shrieking delightedly when they were “double dating” and their swings were perfectly in sync. But slowly, over time, Kaylia often ended up on the monkey bars or in the sandbox, while Anika kept swinging.

I’d notice her going out to swing more and more. She’d take a break from school work to swing. She’d head out there the second we got home from a busy afternoon away. She would swing in the rain, the snow, the dark – it didn’t matter what kind of weather or time of day, she had to swing. I loved to watch her out the window, because she’d usually be smiling to herself, deep in thought as she stretched towards the sky.

It’s been a couple of years since Anika started swinging, and the grass still never grows under her swing.

She had a growth spurt this last winter. In the span of a few short months, she changed from being a little girl, and people started to mistake her for me. She almost looks me in the eye, and she’s borrowing my clothes. She spends hours a day writing fantasy books, and talks about being published, but whenever she’s stuck for an idea, she heads out the door to go swing. Morning, afternoon, and evening, she is out there on her swing.

Because she’s almost my size now, that little play structure built for small children was getting worn out after the intense workout she’s been giving it for three years. It was creaking and groaning, and Anika complained, “It makes so much noise when I swing, people are starting to turn and look from the sidewalk! Dad needs to fix it!!”

So last weekend, Ben finally built a new swing set (with his usual little helper!). He built it adult-size, so there will be no need for our girl to stop swinging.

We planted lilac bushes by the play structure, and maybe someday, the smell of lilacs will also make her think of evenings on the swing.

We tease Anika a little, because she’ll go off to college, and need to find the nearest park so she can swing and de-stress from college life! She says she’ll know she’s found her soulmate when she meets a boy who will swing with her.;)

We were at the chiropractor at the end of summer, and after finishing Anika’s adjustment, he came to me and asked, “Do you have her doing some kind of athletic activity?” I told him she took dance lessons during the school year, but hadn’t been doing anything during summer.

He said, “She’s in great shape – she must be very active!”

I smiled and said, “Well, she swings for a few hours a day.”

He looked confused. “She swings? Like on a play structure?”

I described to him how she swings many times a day, and how she’s gotten muscular from all those hours of pumping.

The chiropractor was amazed. “Her spine is very strong and healthy – she has the body of an athlete!”

And so Anika has proven that even something as simple as swinging can be good for the mind and the body.

I think of all those phys.ed classes when I was in high school, where I was taught that volleyball and basketball were everything, and competitive sports were the only way to be athletic. There was no value for the things I loved to do, like going for walks, or riding my bike in the sunset.

And yet, long after the phys.ed classes are over, those are the things that remain. There are many ways to move and live and feel your body connect with the moment. What I want for my kids are those beautiful moments of enjoying whatever it is they want to enjoy. To see the value in the unexpected. To find strength and beauty in simple things. To do what clears the head and gets the blood pumping. To smell lilacs and see sunsets, and to feel strength in their limbs and to get outside.

If they enjoy competitive sports, that’s great. But even more importantly, I hope they find ways to relax and move through life in small ways, all by themselves, when there’s no team around and without fancy equipment. I hope they keep balanced and active for the simple reason that our bodies were made to thrive that way.

If Anika still wants to swing when she’s an adult, I hope she does. I hope she never feels silly for loving it, because she’s found the secret for clearing her head and connecting her soul to the peace of the moment.

 

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Keep on Keeping on

As I was recently thinking about blog posts, I realized it’s been a long, long time since I’ve written anything about health or progress on my big exercise goals I shared last fall. People sometimes ask about my five minute plank, and I feel a little heartbroken when I have to give them the update, which is usually a sign that I need to write about it, cause that’s the way I deal with stuff.

I looked back on my blog to the last time I wrote about it, which was interesting to me, because it was only a few days after the post that I injured myself so badly, I’m still trying to pull out of it. The progress has been painfully slow, and just painful in general, so I stopped saying anything about it, because there wasn’t much to say. A year later, I’m still not sure how much there is to say – no dramatic progress or exciting accomplishments, but here’s the thing: I’ve kept at it for a year without a lot to show. I’ve been thinking about how that in itself is worth a lot.

It’s easy to stay motivated when there’s progress, but when you work and work at something, with little to show for it, the motivation can take a major hit. It’s terribly disappointing to keep putting in the effort, hoping for things to change, waiting for some indication that things are improving, and not getting the results you’re wanting. What do you do then?

Before I injured myself last fall, I had worked my way up to a six minute plank, and I was feeling better than ever. My body was noticeably stronger, and I was feeling confident and excited about reaching my goals. But I ended up hitting my tailbone so hard I couldn’t move for a couple seconds, and it seems that everything in my pelvis, hips, and back is still being pulled out of place. The balance of strengthening these weak muscles is tricky – doing nothing means I won’t improve, and doing too much makes the pain flare up and then I need to backtrack. It’s long and frustrating and annoying.

I’m still able to plank for three minutes, but I’ve had to stay there for an entire year, unable to increase my time, hoping to get to a point where I can continue to work up to my 10 minute goal.

Just in the last month or two, I’ve started to feel some relief from some new things I’ve been trying, and I’m FINALLY able to begin increasing my planking time. I have to go very slowly and carefully, only adding about 10 seconds at a time every couple of weeks, but I’m delighted to be in a place where this is possible.

So how do we keep on keeping on? For me, it’s a combination of lots of prayer, Ben’s encouragement, and words of inspiration! It’s been awhile since I went hunting for quotes about exercise and not giving up, so here’s a good dose of exactly what I needed!

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How do you keep going when things are hard?

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How I Got Over Seasonal Mood Disorder

I woke up the other morning feeling happy to be happy. I got out of bed excited to start the day, and I did not take it for granted, because it hasn’t always been that way.

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Five years ago, I hit the darkest, lowest point I could imagine. I’d always found winter a bit hard – the short days and extra hours of darkness weighed heavily on me, but until that November, I’d never realized how much it could actually affect me.

Night after night, I would cry and tell Ben I just didn’t want to wake up the next morning and deal with another day. I had no energy, and everything seemed too overwhelming to deal with.

It all reached a climax one night right before Ben was leaving for a week to take a group of students on a missions trip. He felt horrible about leaving me alone with the girls in the condition I was in, and was trying to figure out what to do. He kept asking me things like, “Why are you dreading tomorrow morning so much? What is it that overwhelms you?”

I tried to explain to him how I was feeling – it was dark when I went to bed, dark when I woke up, and everything in me also felt dark. Every day was the same, every day was heavy, tiring, too much for me to bear. It was so dark and cold and depressing….and it went on and on.

I’m not sure how many times I used the word “dark” before Ben finally clued in to what was happening, but he finally said, “I think you have Seasonal Mood Disorder.” As soon as he said it, it seemed silly we’d never recognized it before. We read up on what to do about it, and Ben got himself to Costco as quick as he possibly could to buy a “happy light” for me.

Things didn’t improve overnight, but gradually I felt as though the weight was lifting, and that winter felt easier than it had in the past.

I made a lot of changes in my life over the next couple of years, and in December a few years ago, it suddenly hit me that I’d sail through November without even thinking about it. The happy light stayed in the closet, and I’d never thought of getting it out. I felt light, joyful, excited about Christmas coming, fully able to enjoy the season without any of the old sense of dread. If you’ve also been down to the depths, you can imagine how amazing it was to feel that way.

I think of this every November. When I hear other people talk about the struggle this time of year, I hurt for them, because I remember.

There’s a lot of information out there about how to deal with Seasonal Mood Disorder (here’s a good article to start with), but I also want to share what I did, with the hope that it might help somebody else who’s struggling with this time of year:

Happy Light

I can’t find the exact light we bought from Costco, but this one is similar. It’s easy to use – I would sit by it for about 30 minutes every morning, and I started noticing a difference within a few days.

Vitamin D

It’s recommended that anyone living in the northern hemisphere take vitamin D, but it’s especially helpful for anyone who struggles with winter. This is the vitamin D our whole family uses. It tastes great, and all of us can take it because it’s in drop form – one drop for Everett, three drops for the girls, and six drops for Ben and me.

Get outside

Going for a walk everyday is the cheapest therapy there is, but it’s not the easiest when it’s cold and windy! Fortunately, this has been the most beautiful fall weather, so I’m trying to take advantage of it!

I always knew exercise was important, but I was still surprised to learn that getting outside for daily exercise can be as helpful as taking antidepressants. We talked about getting a treadmill last winter, but in the end, I bought myself a really good pair of winter boots instead! I bundled up every single day, no matter how cold it was, and got myself out the door. I noticed that missing my walk for too many days in a row affected my sleep and energy levels quite significantly.

Balance Your Hormones

This was huge for me. I noticed a big improvement in how I felt after our family started seeing an herbalist. He was able to figure out exactly what was imbalanced in my body, and recommended what supplements to take in order to get my mood, energy levels, and hormones back into balance. I know some people feel weird about going to see naturopaths or other alternative health practitioners, and when you’re feeling exhausted and overwhelmed, getting yourself out the door to an appointment seems way too hard. I get that. There are options that can be sent right to your door, if you want the easiest method possible. I’ve tried a lot of stuff, so let me know if you want to hear about more options.

Find the spiritual connection

During his popular years, Rob Bell once said, “Everything is spiritual.” We are complete beings, and the emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual are all connected.

This gets tricky, though, because it led to feeling like I was a “bad” Christian because I couldn’t beat my depression. I cried and prayed and hung onto Jesus in every way I knew how, but in the end, there remained a physical aspect that needed to be taken care of.

Having said that, there is a spiritual aspect which continues to help me every fall. While reading the book Naked Spirituality a few years ago, I was introduced to a completely different way of viewing fall. I always used to see November as such a dark, dreary, ugly time of year – the scenery depressed me almost as much as the shorter days.

But as I read that book, the author talked about how each season relates to a spiritual season of life – we have the vibrant, exciting time of new growth in spring, and the rich, productive time in summer when we can watch the fruit growing. But after harvest happens, we enter a time of rest. I used to see it as a dry, dead time, but Naked Spirituality views it as a time of quiet, tranquility, and drawing close to God. We can stop working and striving, and just rest in His presence. The trees are stripped of their leaves, and they are beautiful in their stark nakedness, pointing to heaven. I think of it every time I go outside, and it reminds me that this time can be beautiful and restful, instead of dark and dismal. It can be a time of snuggling under blankets while I do my devotions in the quiet, dark mornings. I see the sun coming up, and am reminded there is still so much light.

I keep hanging onto that. God is calling me to rest and refreshment so that when spring comes, I will be ready for a new season of vigorous growth.

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There is no easy answer for this delicate balance of emotions and physical limitations. I don’t think there’s a quick fix, either – at least I wasn’t able to find it. But there was still a lot of goodness, beauty, and hope, and some helpful little tools along the way.

Let me know if you have any questions, or if you just need to hear some reassurance that change is possible!

 

*Affiliate links included

 

 

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Finding Out What We’re Capable of

It’s been 10 months since I started the challenge of strengthening my weak, creaky body. Someone asked me the other day, “What exactly is wrong with your body?” I didn’t know how to answer that in a neat and tidy way – the best I could come up with is that I was never physically active, my body has always been small and weak, and then I had babies, and all my muscles went out of balance while trying to deal with the extra weight of being pregnant. And then I didn’t recover.

For those of you who have been following along regularly, you know that my therapist has promised great changes if I can reach a 10 minute plank – the ultimate way to get my muscles back into balance. He hints at more crazy exercises to follow, but won’t get into get into the details right now while I’m trying to accomplish my goal of a 10 minute goal.

In the beginning, I could plank for 25 seconds. I’ve been working away at it every single day since last December, and many of you rejoiced with me when I hit the five minute mark.:) You have no idea how much I’ve loved your sweet words of encouragement, and all of the reports from others who have also started planking! You guys are amazing!

Five minutes was super exciting, and it felt awesome to reach that goal, but it was never the intention to stay there, so for the last month and a half, I’ve been trying to increase my time, but I’ve been SO STUCK!!! It’s been incredibly frustrating to stay at that five minute mark for so long, but I’ve kept at it, knowing that at some point, things have to change.

This last weekend, I hit a slump. There are times when the pain in my body flares up, whether it’s from stress, sickness, or just getting stiff from sitting too long. We’ve had a couple of fundraisers and events to go to where I haven’t been able to start doing yoga poses halfway through – sometimes, it’s just not socially acceptable to relieve tight muscles in public places, although I was tempted to bring my yoga mat and find a back corner somewhere where no one would notice what I was doing!

By Sunday night, I was in so much pain, I just sat on the floor in our living room and cried. My muscle therapist is out of town for a few weeks, and I didn’t know what to do. I could make an appointment with someone else, but he’s very specialized, and has been helping me for over five years, so quickly finding someone new wouldn’t really work well for this situation.

I knew I needed to plank, but couldn’t imagine that going well, considering the amount of pain I was in. I decided to do my best, and if I couldn’t last the whole five minutes, it would still be better than nothing.

Well, I hit the four minute mark, and was still okay, so decided to try for five. When I got to five minutes, I was still feeling okay, so went for another 10 seconds. Anytime I increase my time, I do it in 10 second increments, and then collapse on the floor, panting and unable to move for a few minutes until I’ve recovered. This time, I made it to five minutes and 20 seconds, then 30, 40…I finally stopped at six minutes!!! What in the world???!!! It was a planking miracle!! Ben said I didn’t seem that tired, compared to other times. It didn’t even make sense.

It felt like God wanted to give me a boost – a little supernatural strength to encourage me when things were looking too hard. I felt amazing afterwards. That’s the weird thing about planking – it is crazy hard and painful, but it actually makes me feel better when I do it.

The next day, I had no idea what to expect. I got into position, and sent up a quick prayer before I started planking – “God, give me strength. If that was a one-time thing, I’ll totally understand, but help me to do this!!” Six minutes again!!! My ten minute goal is looking closer all the time!

The most amazing thing about this whole process is seeing how God made the body able to work really well. I watch muscles developing in my arms, and see the different ways in which my body rises to the occasion. I can do this – my body is capable of being strong and healthy and meeting physical demands. I’ve never done anything like this before, but I’m finding all of it to be delightful. I’m told a six-pack is in my future, and I would find that delightful, as well!;)

I’m always on the look-out for inspiring quotes to keep me going on this little adventure, so here’s my latest bunch of favorites:

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Do you have any goals you’re working towards? Surprising yourself of what you’re truly capable of?

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Rocky Mountain Oils For Kids!

Getting a package in the mail is always pretty exciting around here, but a few days ago, we got an extra special one. My girls have been waiting hard for it – their own little set of kids’ essential oils.

A few weeks ago, Rocky Mountain Oils contacted me and asked if we’d like to try some oils from their new line of kids’ products. I have used and loved their products for a few years already, so I had great expectations, and they did not disappoint! I think it makes the girls feel kind of grown up to have their own bottles of oils. 🙂

I remember feeling very intimidated the first time I bought essential oils. They can’t be used on their own – they need to be diluted with another oil, like coconut, olive, or grapeseed oil. The ratios confused me, and I was nervous about trying them. But these roller bottles are perfect, even for someone who’s never experimented with essential oils, or feels uncertain about using them with kids. The oils are already diluted and ready to go, with directions right on the bottle, including where to apply them.

We received four different roller bottles to try – Counting Sheep, Immunity, Breathe, and Ouchie. Nobody has gotten hurt yet, so we haven’t tried Ouchie, but Counting Sheep gets used every night, and we were battling colds when the package arrived, so Immunity and Breathe have been very popular around here! Kaylia says she can breathe easier when she uses them, and both girls have a much easier time falling asleep when we roll Counting Sheep on their feet.

Check out the new Kids Line of oils at Rocky Mountain. We love them!

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How I Did a Five Minute Plank

You guys, I am finally able to do a five minute plank!!! I’ve been working at it since December, and it feels absolutely amazing to have reached my goal! I don’t think there’s ever been something I’ve worked so hard physically to achieve. Except labor. Delivering babies is slightly harder than a five minute plank. 

Ben and I have been talking about habits a lot lately. He’s also wanting to get more consistent with exercising, and I want to be more disciplined about staying on top of our budget. How can we make these things stick?! Ben has been listening to some great podcasts about habits, and sharing interesting tips with me, so I thought I’d make a list of things that worked for me:

Reward Yourself

When we need to do something difficult and unpleasant, it makes sense to combine a tough challenge with something fun. According to one of the podcasts Ben listened to, it’s even better if the reward happens while you are completing the task – like listening to an audio book or watching a show that you only allow yourself to enjoy when you are exercising. But it works to treat yourself afterwards, too, if it’s not possible to combine the activities. In the months since I started planking, Instagram has become my little treat. Once I collapse on the floor, I give myself permission to not move for 10 minutes, and enjoy some guilt-free time on Instagram.:) If the kids need something or anything else comes up, Ben does it for me, because I’m not getting up until I’ve recovered. It’s funny how such a little thing is something I look forward to!

Accountability

We hear this one all the time, because it is SO TRUE. I need someone checking up on me. Ben has been encouraging me all along with exercising, but lately, Anika has also become my little cheerleader and planking partner. There was a day when I wasn’t feeling 100%, and convinced myself it was okay to take the day off. But then Anika came upstairs and asked me if I had done my planking yet, and was really disappointed when I said I wasn’t going to, because she wanted to do it with me. I didn’t want to let her down, so I decided to just do a short, quick plank with her. Once I got going, it wasn’t hard to keep going longer, so I did!

But as much as I appreciate Ben and Anika’s accountability, what really kept me pushing myself was having to report back to my muscle therapist every two weeks. He was always encouraging, but he wasn’t overly impressed with me when I was slacking off, and he knew I could do better. He kept telling me about the 70-year-old client he has who only took four months to reach a 10 minute plank, or the client who was stuck at seven minutes but stopped watching the clock and suddenly jumped to an 11 minute plank!!! What in the world. It would make me mad, so I’d go home and push harder. I needed that push. Find somebody who will give you a regular kick in the pants – pay them to do it, if you have to!! It is totally worth it.

Understand the Wisdom of the Process

This one comes from the pants-kicking muscle therapist. He is the most disciplined person I’ve ever met, so I asked him recently if he was always so disciplined, or if it was something he had to work at. He was surprised by my question, and said, “I’m not a disciplined person. I just understand the wisdom of the process.” He explained that once you understand the why of what you’re doing, and focus on how your future will be impacted by the choices you make today, you will have all the motivation you need to keep going.

This resonated with me, because I understand the wisdom now, but I haven’t always. When I first started seeing my muscle therapist, he would give me many different stretches and exercises to do, and I would, but not every day. He’d tell me to do yoga daily, but it hurt so much, I just *couldn’t*. It wasn’t until that month when I gave up every appointment, and felt like God was telling me to “act like a healthy person” when I finally got my butt in gear. I had nothing else to lean on, so I did every stretch, exercise, and yoga routine I’d ever been told to do, and by the end of the month, I was a new person.

Was it a miracle from God? Yes.

Did I work my butt off that month? Yes.

Could I have done it on my own without praying for a miracle? I would say no, because up until that point, I was never able to. I didn’t know what else to do, so I did everything I could, and prayed like crazy that God would do something new. And He did. I was finally strong enough to have a baby, and that is when Everett joined our family. It’s when I learned to push through the pain to bring about change. My body took a big jump forward during that time, but in the year and a half since Everett was born, I’ve still had a lot of pain.

That’s where planking came in. My therapist said it was the cure-all exercise because it brings every muscle into balance. It’s fantastic for people with back problems and neck issues, so he told me to start working towards a one minute plank. Then suddenly he was saying two minutes. Before long he was talking five minutes, then 10 minutes. I thought he was crazy – until that point, I had never even considered the fact that a ten minute plank was possible.

But I kept trying. IT HURT SO BAD!!! I would sit on the floor before starting and cry because I DID NOT WANT TO PLANK. I hated it. I felt more terrible than I’ve ever felt, because all my muscles were being challenged. I’d go to him and complain, and he’d pretty much say, “You have to push through it. There’s not a lot I can do to help you – your body has to adjust to using muscles in the right way. It will feel like you’re going to die.” So I’d go home, and I would feel like I was going to die, and I’d keep pushing, because I was so desperate. I wanted to be well and strong. I want to ride my bike and run after Everett.  I want to play piano again. I want to stop being the person who is in pain all the time. I don’t want my life to be defined by pain and limitations. I was sick of all of it. I had to trust that my muscle therapist was right – I was taking his word for it that this present torture would result in a strong and pain-free life. It’s taken nine months to get to five minutes, and he seems to be right – I have stretches of feeling really, really good. It doesn’t last, but it’s coming. Apparently, I won’t even feel my back by the time I get to 10 minutes. I asked him if it would take me another nine months to get to a 10 minute plank, and I liked his answer!! He said it’s like a big, heavy truck – it takes a long time to get going, but once it’s rolling, it’s hard to stop! That’s me. I’m rolling now, and I’m going to keep rolling right to a 10 minute plank…and beyond! I want to be the 70-year-old just killing the plank.

Take Responsibility

This was super hard for me to do for a long time. For many years, I had a really bad attitude about health problems and a weak body. I was angry with how my life had turned out, and I was bitter about how much harder things were for me than a lot of the people around me. I was jealous of other young moms who were living the life I wanted, and these negative feelings sent me into a very dark time of my life. I felt completely helpless.

I kept sitting around, complaining and wishing things were different. I wanted somebody to help me, I wanted God to save me, and to make it easier for me. I’ll never forget the day it all snapped. It was like God pulled back blinders in my life, and I realized how unhappy I was, and that I needed to be the one to do something about it. He was pouring out blessings onto my life, and I couldn’t even see them because I was so consumed with how terrible I felt. Something inside of me started to rise up. Looking back, I don’t really know how things started to change – it must have been that God just planted a seed, and it started to grow. Determination rose up in me, and I started searching for a better way to do things. I started trying everything, I googled and researched to figure out what to do, and Ben and I prayed a lot for God to show us what path to take.

I needed to accept the health challenges in my life, and instead of complaining about them, start putting that energy into doing everything I could to make it better. I still have times where I break down and have a good cry, and I wish I didn’t have pain in my body, but I try not to dwell on it, because it doesn’t help anything. I can’t control all of the circumstances in my life, but I get to choose how I’m going to respond to them.

There’s a verse in Proverbs that says if you don’t work, you don’t eat. I don’t get the good stuff if I don’t put any effort into it. It’s up to me. It was a hard lesson to learn.

Moving On

So I’ve accomplished my five minute plank, but there are many, many other habits which need to be developed in my life! I’m curious to see how the lessons I’ve learned from planking will be applicable to other new habits. I’m finding that achieving a difficult goal gives me confidence and motivation to do other hard things. I can push myself farther than I knew before. Time to move on to budgeting!!

Do you have any tips for sticking to a new habit and accomplishing something hard?

 

 

Video: Our Miracle Baby

Today is Everett’s birthday! He is currently stuffing his face with pancakes and turkey sausage, so I think he’s enjoying the day so far.

birthday boyI’ll share his birthday favorites on Monday, but for today, here’s a video I’ve been working on – the story of how God gave us our miracle baby. If you’ve been a regular reader for awhile, you’ve probably read parts of this story before, but I wanted to tell it from the beginning. God is so good! Feeling so thankful for our sweet boy, today and every day!