We are programmed to compare. After all, comparison brings in money. My hair doesn’t look like hers – I need whatever she is using. How is her skin so smooth? I must get that face wash! If I buy those jeans – that pair of shoes – this makeup color – that exercise routine – that (insert whatever it might be) – I will finally feel beautiful. I will feel right. I will feel complete.

So, we go about our days feeling subpar to the airbrushed model, that Mom in our friend group with the perfect kids, and the neighbor lady who always looks so put together with her stylish wardrobe. I don’t look like her, so I am less. I don’t act like her, so I am less. I don’t dress like her, so I am less. Now, I have nothing against that airbrushed model, the Mom with the perfect kids, or the stylish neighbor lady. What I am against, though, is the lie that we so easily believe. The lie that if we don’t look the same as someone else – if our hair or our skin or our body or our parenting or even our hobbies are different than someone else, that somehow, we are wrong. The lie that we aren’t good enough the way we are.

I want to add a caveat here, before you stop reading. You may think this is just a frilly post about how “I am perfect the way I am” and “I don’t need to change – if you don’t like me then leave!” But I assure you, it is not. I do actually believe that we should always be in the process of bettering ourselves. Learning is good. Improvement is helpful. Adopting the mindset that you have not arrived and are ever a work in progress is vital, I believe, in combatting stagnation and narcism.

But I do also believe that we are, in a sense, perfect the way we are, because we are the way God made us to be. Trust me, I would love to change a few things about my hair, my skin, and my body, and the things that I can change, I am working on. But I refuse to obsess over these things. I refuse to let them define me or control me. I refuse to enjoy my life less because of these things. Each day, I will continue to work hard to improve who I am, but I will also put on my bathing suit and play in the water with my son. I will dance around the house and yard with my son. I will take oh-so many pictures and videos with my son. And I will not apologize to the virtual world for the way my voice might sound or my potentially messy hair or any perceived flaw in my face.

I wish the same for you and for every woman of the world. I hope that you can see yourself through God’s eyes as one who bears His image. I hope that you will dance with your children without worrying about what others think. I hope that you will take hundreds and thousands of pictures and videos with your children for the memory’s sake without apologizing about how you perceive that you look. I hope that you play games in the yard, jump in the pool, chase after your children, and make as much as you can out of the moments you’ve been given with your children. I hope that you do it all with a contented confidence in who you are – in who God has made you to be.

I wish this for you and I wish this for me because our children are watching. Each of these precious little sponge-like shadows picks up on what we think about ourselves, learning from all that we say and do as well as what we don’t say and do. Let’s have some confidence in who we are and lead those precious little sponge-like shadows into a greater appreciation for the One who created them. Friend, your family needs a confident you.

My Mom is really, really into history. We used to tease her about her “phases” of interest – whatever time period she was interested in, it was all she would talk about. It was all she would read about. It was all that surrounded us. All the time. One month it was the Civil War – then World War Two – another month the Great Depression.

I remember when my Mom researched World War Two and the Holocaust, and, consequently taught us about this horrific time in history. I remember as a young child being absolutely appalled. How could this have happened? How could anyone be so evil? Why did it take so long to end the reigning terror of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party? It was difficult for my innocent child’s mind to comprehend that any human would treat a fellow human in this way. I truly couldn’t understand this evil.

Yet, now, as an adult, I can look around me and see how so much evil may have gradually manifested itself. Of course the mere thought of what happened is still gut-wrenching – so sickening – so wrong. But I can see that evil finds its way into humans, wrapping its long and dreadful fingers around their hearts and resulting in reprehensible and inhumane deeds.

I can see it in the racial slur that so easily slides from someone’s lips. I see it in the stereotype-laden comment – so commonplace that no one seems to notice. I can see the evil as backs are turned, faces look aways, and ears are closed to the needs of others deemed “lesser” in some way. I see it as we laugh at a “harmless” joke at another’s expense. I see it in selfish actions, thoughtless remarks and a passive response to wrong. I see, all around me, how little things can turn into bigger things. Do you see it too?

Recently, on Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), I listened to the story of a survivor. He detailed his experience and shared the horrors of what he had endured. I cried as I listened, sad and angry that this had happened. At the end of his story, the survivor said that he wanted to leave the audience with one final thought. He told us to always, always look out for others. He said to treat others better even than we would treat ourselves. His survival, he reminded us, was due to someone looking out for him.

So, who are you looking out for? Am I treating others better than I treat myself? Are we looking out for our fellow humans or are we getting lost in comparisons, name calling, and jokes? Do we realize that hurting people are real – evil is prevalent – and standing up against wrong is oh-so needed? I know that too many times I have been guilty of letting a joke or comment slide – guilty of not standing up against wrong. I know that I have not always treated others better than my own self.

Friends, it’s time. It is time to not only do good but to also stand against evil. It is time to look out for others – those like us in some ways and those unlike us in other ways. It is time to take a long, hard look at the way we think and the things we say – it’s time to make changes wherever necessary. Find someone that you can look out for. And then find another someone. Encourage others to join you in the fight against wrong-doings. Turn your face to those who are hurting. Turn your face, and your eyes, and your hands. Lift up a fellow human and work to stem the tide of evil by saying no to unkind words, educating against the racial slur and stereotype-laden remarks, and lending a helping hand whenever needed and as often as needed.

Truly, each of us can make a difference.

You’ve heard the old expression “Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes,” right? We all take that to heart when we’re frustrated or annoyed by what someone does. Essentially, we’re aware that since we don’t know what someone is going through that caused them to act a certain way, we should cut them some slack.

Today I want to take that idiom and apply it somewhat differently. Think about it this way – walk a mile in your child’s shoes. What does life look like from their perspective? Oh how I would love to literally see everything through Will’s eyes and to actually remember what it’s like to experience and be in awe of the created world for the first time.

Last week I took Will on a walk – a mile walk to be exact. I decided to let him have the exhausting freedom of walking on his own without the stroller, thinking that we would turn around as soon as he grew tired from the hard work. Well, the little guy surprised me and we were able to make it the full mile loop through our neighborhood! I had the enjoyment of seeing the world (neighborhood) from Will’s perspective as we ambled along together.

We stopped at every storm drain to peer inside. We jumped in every puddle. Every bird, squirrel, and rabbit was pointed at. All dogs were barked at, and, if they came close enough, were touched with loving enthusiasm. Trucks (and trucks only) were greeted with an excited and squeaky “vroom vroom!” Every single person – in a car – walking – running – gardening – got a hello wave and a goodbye wave. The word “WOAH” was repeated again and again. Sticks were picked up and played with. This walk – this twenty-minute one-mile loop took us an hour to complete. An hour filled with exclamation, delight, and wonder as Will explored the world around him. To me, this walk was beautiful as I was forced to slow down and appreciate the seemingly little wonders around me. A mile-walk with Will gifted me the freedom of slowing down and seeing the world through the appreciative eyes of a toddler. This was a gift indeed.

Life moves at a rapid pace. I know that. We all have so much to do, and no matter what we try to cut out, the days can still seem full in an overwhelming sense. Even when we eliminate the “unnecessaries” we still have so much “necessary” to fit in. So, I know it’s hard to slow down. And yet, I want to encourage you to do just that. Slow down for a moment – an hour – a day. Spend some time in your child’s shoes. Try to see what they see and delight in what delights them. I’m not a medical expert so I won’t list off the health benefits of slowing down. But I know they exist. I’m not a parenting expert so I won’t detail all the good ways this can strengthen your relationship with your child. But I know it happens.

Slow down, friend, whenever possible. Take a few moments to view the world through your child’s eyes. You may find yourself increasingly thankful and in greater awe of the many marvels around you.

“I read a book one day and my whole life was changed. “

(Quote from GoodReads by Orhan Pamuk)

What are you reading today – this week – this month – this year? I encourage you to read as much as possible, as often as possible. I know there are a thousand other things to do in a day. A thousand good things. A thousand necessary things. But I implore you to find the time, whenever possible, to enjoy the companionship of a good book. Allow the words to teach you, to grow you, to change you. Start today and bask in the wonderful reward of time well spent. I’ve compiled a short list below to share a few of the books that I have read or am currently reading in the year 2020. I hope this list will encourage you to pick up a new (or already halfway-read) book today!

  1. Strong Mothers, Strong Sons by Meg Meeker (currently reading): I HIGHLY recommend this book to any Moms of sons! Actually, this book may help anyone, really, as it delves into the emotional and psychological side of the Mother/Son relationship and shares a lot of helpful truths.
  2. Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv: This book talked about the dangers of raising a nature-deficit child and it really helped me to rethink a lot of my mindsets regarding how I was raised as well as how I am raising Will. Needless to say, we have been outside exploring a LOT more since I finished reading this book!
  3. Parenting by Paul David Tripp: I actually thought this book would be a bit boring but I was delightfully wrong. I learned so much about what my own reactions mean when Will does something that I don’t like and was reminded that parenting is not about me or what I want. I was convicted and yet encouraged many times as I read through this book.
  4. Have a Little Faith: A True Story by Mitch Albom: What can I say – I love Mitch Albom! Everything he writes is outstanding. This book was one of his nonfiction works – an easy read that had be glued. I loved his transparency throughout the book. This book helped me consider my own activity in living out my faith.
  5. The Plug-In Drug: Television, Computers, and Family Life by Marie Winn: WOW is all I really know how to say about this book. Although to be fair, I was already leaning heavily against television before reading this book. This book was not written recently, yet the ideas and principles were so applicable to raising a child today. I appreciated the statistics and stories throughout the book. I was bolstered in my decision to keep Will away from television for as long as possible by reading this book.

Go pick up a book!

Today is May 3, 2020. In all honesty, I typed “April” at first. Time is a tad confusing right now. We’ve been “quarantined” or in “lock-down” or “safer-at-home” since mid-March and it really can be hard to remember what day it is. Nothing right now feels the same as it did before the middle of March. Nothing is “normal” according to the ways we once perceived normal. We see heightened anxiety and much despair as we look around us. It’s frightening, actually. No matter what you believe or don’t believe, no matter what part of all of this you find frightening, the truth is that we are all quite uncomfortable with the giant unknowns.

But what about the good? As we are bombarded with bad news and scary stories, are we noticing the good things that are happening around us? Do you see the good? Let me share with you some of the good I’ve personally seen, specifically in relation to the many changes caused by COVID-19. I hope that these snippets of good stories will encourage you to not only see the good around you but to be the good around you as well!

~

A family down the street has chickens and sheep. They don’t technically live on a farm – apparently their animals are more like pets. Either way, out of the blue, my neighbor was knocking on my door a few weeks ago with a dozen freshly-laid chicken eggs! He wanted to know if we could use the eggs. I was surprised, but wonderfully so, as I had just been thinking about how I really needed to get eggs from the store!

A friend – one that I haven’t talked to in quite some time – texted me the other day to see what I needed. She offered to get anything from the store I needed in case I didn’t have anyone to watch my son so I could get groceries on my own. She actually apologized to me for not checking in sooner!

Another friend texted me to say that she was at the grocery store and wanted to know if we needed anything. She picked up what I needed – chicken, flour, and grapes (Will’s current favorite fruit so we better not run out) – and dropped them off at my door.

A former neighbor (a WW2 veteran who recently moved to a retirement community to live with his Army buddy) painted a wooden airplane for Will and asked his daughter to drop it off at our house. I want you think about that for a minute – an elderly gentleman to whom I already owe so much – one who went from living independently to living in a retirement community just a few months before the lockdown began – a man who cannot currently have visitors and is bound to feel lonely – this man thought of my son and made him a gift.

My 30th birthday was a few weeks ago and I absolutely love birthdays! My husband planned a 30th birthday getaway and party which, of course, both had to be canceled (postponed, maybe?). My friends and family went all out to make sure I had a fantastic 30th no matter what. I had drive-by visitors, calls and messages, lots of Happy Birthday singing, unbelievable amounts of food and cake and coffee, and a decorated front yard. It was a blast and I felt so loved.

My Grandmother called me the other day and wanted to know how she could help me. I was taken aback by this question – not because her giving manner surprised me (seriously, she is incredible and always giving to others) but because my Grandmother was asking me what I needed help with. Shouldn’t I be asking her that question? That same Grandmother asked me to help her find somewhere that was providing meals for people in need so she could donate to them. Fortunately, my Grandmother will likely never read this post because she wouldn’t like it if she knew I was telling people about her good deeds.

I could go on and on telling you about friends and family that have reached out to us during this time of uncertainty. We have had so many kind offers of help and I have also seen friends and family reaching out to others through gifts, fundraisers, and encouragement. I challenge you to look around you and see the good that is happening. Yes, the current situation is uncomfortable. Yes, it can be frightening. But please, open your eyes to the good as well.  See the good around you and be encouraged.

~

It’s 7PM, the Baby-Toddler is asleep, and another day is coming to a close. Today was a repeat of so many other days over the last two months – working from home, not going anywhere, and communicating with loved ones through devices. This “new normal” is strange and I’m mostly unsure of what to think. The gamut of emotions is confusing.

I know that I am grateful – grateful to still be working, to be home with my son and husband, to be safe and healthy. I am grateful for food in my cabinets, coffee each morning, a yard to run around in, and a quiet neighborhood to meander through. I am grateful for books to read, internet access, electricity, and a comfortable home. I am grateful for projects to work on and neighbors to talk to. I know that I am one of the fortunate ones and I am grateful. In the midst of my good things and gratefulness, though, I know that a very unpleasant reality exists for so many others – friends, relatives, neighbors, acquaintances, and people I don’t even know.

I think of the expecting parents who face so much uncertainty over doctor visits and the impending births of their babies. I think of the elderly who live alone and are unable to physically interact with their families. I think of the people who have worked so hard and yet aren’t allowed to continue working – those who are missing income and are worried about how they will pay their bills or feed their families. I think of the ones who struggle with anxiety and depression, especially those who have never told anyone before, as they face this time of uncertainty. I think of the men, women, and children who aren’t safe at home.

I think of these situations represented by people I know and faces I have yet to encounter. I remind myself that I am one of the fortunate ones and breathe a prayer for the many, many needs. I wonder what I can do, how I can help – can I make a difference?

Yes. Yes, I can make a difference. Yes, you can make a difference. Together, we can reach out and support our communities and we can make a difference for good.

Donate to a local food bank or other community outreach. Buy a pack of diapers and have it shipped to a family in need with young children. Shop local whenever possible. Pay it forward by buying gift cards to local small businesses that aren’t currently allowed to open. Call or send a note or text to someone that is on your mind – they are on your mind for a reason. Check on your elderly friends and relatives and share food with them if possible. Offer to pick up groceries for a friend or neighbor if you’re going out anyway.

This whole situation is unprecedented and a bit confusing. By coming together as a community of humankind, reaching outside of ourselves, and supporting one another, we will rise up as a force of kindness and good and we will come out on the other side.

. . .

Please check out the Boyertown Area Multi-Service, Inc. if you are looking for a place to donate money or food during this time.

We all want more time, right? The days seem too short for the amount of work we’re trying to accomplish. Mornings are a blur as we frantically scarf down breakfast (if we’re lucky), find the right shoes, and get everyone out the door on time. Books go unread, hobbies go unexplored, and the to-do list grows larger as the busy mornings turn into long days and the long days turn into late nights. Suddenly, it’s bedtime, and the crazy morning looms before us again. Why is life so busy? It has to slow down eventually, right? Is there anything we can do to make this easier?

Life is busy. Everyone knows that. Whether you’re a single, married, married with one kid or ten – it can feel overwhelming at times! I am a working mom of a lively sixteen month old. My mornings are full as I endeavor to get my son to daycare, myself to work, and my husband out the door. As busy as the mornings are, if the mornings go well, it feels like the rest of the day falls into place. If the morning is harried and miserable – well – you know what it feels like on those days! Over the last sixteen months as a working mom, I’ve learned a few tricks that can provide a little breathing room during those overwhelming mornings. So, tomorrow, as we all schlep along together at rapid speed, perhaps the following ideas can offer some relief.

. . .

Prepare

When I was growing up, my Dad prepared for everything the night before. Everything. His lunch was packed, his backpack by the door, and his running shoes in the hallway. Whenever I would fly back to college in California on one of those early morning flights out of Philly, my Dad was a constant reminder to prepare – to make sure everything was ready to go the night before. Now, as an adult, I finally get it.

My mornings go so much more smoothly when lunches are packed, the smoothies are prepared, and the to-go coffee cups are sitting by the coffee maker. Each night I pick out my workout clothing, my outfit for the day, and my son’s clothing. My school bag is packed and sitting by the front door. My son’s school bag is packed. Whenever possible, I spend part of my weekend meal prepping for the week. Some days I make actual meals that can be frozen and put in the crockpot at a later time. Other times meal prep means washing and chopping veggies. Sometimes, I make a batch of shredded chicken in the Instant Pot. Any little bit of meal prep that can be done ahead of time makes a huge difference in my mornings, and by default, my evenings. Preparation is key! Pack those lunches. Pick out those outfits. Put things in the car ahead of time if possible. It may seem like a lot of extra work at first, but the benefit of an easier morning makes it worthwhile!

Start Earlier

This idea may seem counterintuitive because we are all exhausted. We already established that it feels like there isn’t enough time in the day! How could we possibly start the day any earlier? When I say “start earlier,” I don’t mean hours and hours earlier. Try starting your day just ten minutes earlier than you normally do. If you typically rise at 6:00, try setting the alarm for 5:50. As you grow accustomed to starting earlier, you can push the time back again. Obviously, it is important to get the proper sleep (as often as possible) and to take care of our health. Please don’t misunderstand this idea. I have found that rising earlier, especially before my son wakes up, allows me time to start my day stress-free. When I wake up late and rushing or I wake up to my son’s cries, the day starts on an already overwhelming note. When I wake up earlier, I have time to go for a walk or do some type of exercise. Waking up earlier in the morning gives me time to read a few pages of my book, and, for me personally, to read the Bible and spend time in prayer.

I believe that starting our mornings just a little earlier than we normally do can help set us up for successful mornings, days, and evenings. It’s a sacrifice to be sure, but imagine having the time to pause and reflect before the day around us begins. Imagine having time to get some fresh air or to relieve some stress through exercise before the stress even presents itself for the day! By starting earlier, we can claim back a part of the morning for the bettering of ourselves. By doing this, we can persevere through the chaos of school drop-offs and morning commutes with a sense of calm.

Say No

I’ve found that saying no to myself and others, when necessary, can go a long way in morning survival. No, I don’t need to scroll social media in the morning. No, I don’t need to watch the news. No, I don’t need to stop for coffee on the way to work – I’ve already prepped my to-go coffee cup and breakfast smoothie! By saying no to things that are of lesser importance, I can say yes to things that matter more to me.

I’ll say no to catching up on some messages I received while sleeping because I prefer to spend a few extra minutes cuddling and reading with my son. I’ll say no to the TV so I can chat with my husband about any last minute changes to the day. I’ll say no to stopping along the way for deliciously overpriced coffee because those extra ten minutes in the drive-through can add some serious time to my commute.

Do you see what I mean? The things that you need to say no to may differ from what I say no to, but the idea remains the same. Boldly guard the time you’ve been given and refuse to give precedence to activities of lesser importance. Your mornings are already full and busy – don’t let them be filled needlessly! Say no to some things so you can say yes to other, better things. Give yourself and those around you the gift of a simpler morning.

. . .

Life is busy. Our mornings are filled and overwhelming. We have so much to do! I hope that these three steps can help to restore your sanity as you navigate through life, one hectic morning at a time. So, take a deep breath as you get ready to embark on another full day. Each new morning is a gift that you will more fully enjoy as you prepare, start earlier, and say no.

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This post was originally written as a guest author post for the “Our Stylish Life” Blog