Help! My Life is Leaking Happiness!

Ever have those weeks where life keeps hitting you over the head with the same two-by-four? Or maybe its more subtle, like recurring road signs saying “Pull over, deal with this now!” Sometimes it’s for the betterment of your character, other times it points to places in your life where you’ve sprung a leak – and happiness is leaking out by trickles or bucketfuls.

I’ve been experiencing such a week. The first road sign on my journey to self-actualization was while reading C.S. Lewis. In Lewis’s Screwtape Letters, he touches on the concept of busyness and empathy as distractions from experiencing true pleasure. Seemingly innocuous things in our daily life may be strangling our ability to experience joy. They steal our time, our drive, and our passion for life and action. Maybe I can give you a few examples to which you can relate: the internet, social media, gossip, Netflix, endless theoretical debate, materialism, fantasizing, and worry. Maybe we are a sedentary people both physically and spiritually because we spend too much time talking, typing, thinking and not enough time acting. C.S. Lewis discussed that where we have passionate likes and dislikes we will act, but when we get caught up in mediocre likes, we stagnate. There is so much challenge in the word, stagnant: “stale or foul from standing; characterized by lack of development, advancement, or progressive movement; inactive, sluggish, dull. Powerful, isn’t it? No one likes to think of their life as stale, foul, or dull. Maybe we have deceived ourselves into thinking that our busyness of mind and body will provide the excitement, pleasure and achievement that we ultimately seek. This leads me to my second road sign: my mom recommended a series entitled “The Peace and Power of a Prioritized Life” by Chip Ingram. He provided a list of Six Symptoms of Misplaced Priorities: busyness, undue stress and pressure, low grade nagging guilt, financial debt, prayerlessness, and excessive behavior. Any of these sound familiar? The mirage leads to a lot of dissatisfaction.

Sign number three – yesterday, NPR aired a story about a scientist who studies happiness in humans. His study showed that irrespective of what activity people were engaged in at any given moment, if they were distracted or their mind was wandering and not focused on the task, they described themselves as less satisfied. This tells me that we were not created to have divided minds. The old adage of whatever you do, do it with all of your heart, mind and soul. The scientist also found that people today are less happy than people 20-30 years ago. My theory is that there is simply more “noise” than there was back then. Being a 30-year-old whose life straddles this gap, I feel this in every fiber of my being. And not to solely blame the internet and technology for our society’s degradation of happiness, I think we simply have too much at our fingertips. Everything is available to us, and in abundance. We have a million choices to make everyday! I remember when only the original Oreo was available in stores, and then the twice as delicious Double-stuff was created. Now there’s like 15 flavors of Oreo…Some advancements are great, some are noise. Maybe our happiness struggle is a battle with quality vs. quantity. We have lost our ability to determine what is true pleasure and pseudo pleasure. We need to relearn how to experience rich, deep, satisfying moments, the difference between passion and mediocrity, and how to have an undivided heart and lead an undivided life.

-lr

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God Loves Broken People – And Those Who Pretend They’re Not (Author: Sheila Walsh)

Booksneeze.com recently provided me with Sheila Walsh’s book, “God Loves Broken People – And Those Who Pretend They’re Not” to read and review. Having heard Walsh speak previously on the topic of suffering and God’s redeeming work in her own life, I knew this book on the sensitive topic of suffering would be personal and thought-provoking. Each chapter echoes of deep suffering and hope. Walsh offers refuge and greater purpose to those “drowning” in sorrow or shame by suggesting that our most difficult circumstances and failings can become important, even irreplaceable tools in the service of God’s love and restorative work. And it asks the question: what if pain can lead you to deeper intimacies with God and more spiritual revelations than others will ever be privileged to personally experience? Her anecdotes and Scriptural references made her points feel both relevant and her teaching sound. This book is not a lighthearted afternoon read, but for those seeking: searching for answers, healing, purpose and hope.

This complimentary book was provided by the publisher, Thomas Nelson, through the blogger book review site BookSneeze®. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Happy Reading!

I review for BookSneeze®

christian, non-fiction, Reviews

Insane in da Mom-Brain

Contrary to it’s clever title, this post has absolutely nada to do with Cypress Hill and everything to do with having ovaries. They need to make bumper stickers or t-shirts that say “The hormones made me do it”. Women, you feel me? I spent approximately 20 of the last 36 months pregnant, so I’m familiar with hormone swings. For those of you that suffer from PMS, there is nothing more frustrating than feeling as those 1-2 weeks out of each month you are besieged by an invisible and volatile invader. Let’s do the math: that means that 1/3-to-1/2 of your life you are living on the verge…the verge of biting your husband’s head off for dripping water around the house after a shower, or flying into a rage at your clumsy toddler because she spilled her pretzels AGAIN, or throwing your shoe at your dog, well, simply because he’s a dog and his very presence at that moment was aggravating to you. Insane? No rational human being would act this way. Welcome to Womenhood. I noticed the ever-recognizable monthly pattern about 5 months after giving birth to my second daughter. My internal dialogue went something like this, “Hello old friend” and “Ah hell no.” The aggression is the most significant reason to seek help, but fatigue, headaches, cramps, and other common symptoms also make it extremely difficult to enjoy every moment of each day. So I did a little research and found a great site with 5 concise holistic steps on rectifying dramatic hormonal swings. I’ll summarize for those of you who need the cliff notes version.

1. DIET – cut out the obvious culprits: refined flours and sugar, processed foods, alcohol, caffeine. Try eliminating dairy and gluten. Consume more fiber, flaxseed and even soy.

2. SUPPLEMENTS – try Magnesium citrate, Vitamin B6 and B12, evening primrose oil, EPA/DHA Omega 3s, Taurine and a daily multivitamin. Boost your healthy bacteria by taking a probiotic. Chasteberry (Vitex) is popular for balancing hormone function.

3. EXERCISE – Try to squeeze in 30 min of aerobic activity at least a few times a week.

4. RELIEVE STRESS – this one has a dramatic physical effect on me, and often it can be a little game of what came first “the chicken or the egg”. Try yoga, meditation, or simply figure out your triggers and nip stress in the bud.

5. Alternative therapies – if you really can’t get the desired relief from the first four, you can try acupuncture and further homeopathy.

Anyone read this list and that these are no-brainers? Like we should be doing at least the top 4 for our general overall health. Well, we all get detoured and need a little reminder that our bodies are not only spiritual temples, but directly related to our mental and emotional health.

So bring a little harmony back to your home, and start with the body you live in.

If you’re interested in reading more, you can check out the entire article at http://drhyman.com/blog/2010/09/17/how-to-eliminate-pms-in-5-simple-steps/ (The author’s name in Dr. Hyman…and don’t you know thats the first thing my husband noticed? If women are crazy, men are immature! so I guess we’ll call it even!) 🙂

Family, Health, Motherhood

Happy Wife, Happy Life

I hope you don’t mind, but I need to gush about my husband for a minute. I keep a list of all the things I love and appreciate about my spouse, (Ladies, this is great for those days you need a reminder! Wink, wink.) and periodically I add to the list. I won’t bore you with the entire list, just a few highlights.

1. He is quick to apologize. I can’t explain to you how special this trait is! I never doubt that he loves and adores me. He isn’t willingly to let anything get in the way of this fact or any argument to cripple my sense of love and safety. If there are any men reading this, it is DAMN SEXY, and you should try it sometime!

2. He sincerely tries to make me happy! He’s willing to make sacrifices to ensure that I am fulfilled, and he ascribes to the “happy wife, happy life” mentality. It’s so genuine that in the throes of severe PMS I get a nagging sense of guilt because my raging hormones make me a temporarily unhappy woman! How unattractive! Especially when a happy woman makes everyone happy, kids included.

3. We are opposites. You’re wondering why this is on the list? The obvious response is that we compliment one another, where I am weak, he is strong and vice versa. The less obvious reason is that it’s challenging! It’s hard for an idealistic extrovert to be married to an introverted realist. But he thinks I’m worth it! He lets me sit in coffee shops to be alone for hours when it means that he’s at home getting cabin fever with the kiddos. He entrusts me with the family rules and budget which otherwise would not exist. He trusts me and has faith in our differences.

Last night, I was chatting with friends on the topic of celebrity marriages and how refreshing it is to hear about couples that have stood the test of time – the same man happily married to the same woman. But it’s not just rare in celebrity circles, it’s rare in general. It made me think about why I am happily married. I am happy because I have a loving, generous and humble spouse.

-lr

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A Series of Unfortunate Events and One Lucky One

Today is my birthday. It’s also Friday the 13th. Which set me up with a terrific segway into my unfortunate track record with birthdays. Like the time in middle school that my mom took me and my friends to a mall for my birthday, and somehow I got separated from my friends and ended up wandering around alone because there was a time before cellphones. Or the time I fell in a mud puddle waiting for the bus and had to suffer through the entire school day with mud-splattered clothes. What doesn’t kill you, only makes you stronger, right? Or how about the year that my Grandpap passed away the day before, and my whole family was thrown into grief and mourning. Even then, my sweet Grandmother, the most wonderful person I know, had the presence of mind to remember my birthday and feel sorry for ME and give ME an extra-special squeeze at his viewing because my birthday would be forever linked to the most devastating thing that has happened to my family thus far. (I am often in awe of this woman’s compassion.) And on the heels of that tragic year was my 21st birthday in which my boyfriend at the time was in his car driving 500 miles to Nashville TN to follow his dreams. More recently there was the year we had a freaking mini-blizzard in Nashville and no one could come to my birthday dinner. Really, Nashville?

In case you didn’t pick up on it, I’m a bit of a cynic when it comes to my birthday. And I was gearing up for an unlucky year again: my kids and I have been sick for a week, and I’m exhausted; my living Grandfather suffered a stroke on Wednesday…I was holding my breath. But as I started mentally writing my sardonic blog post this week, I couldn’t help remember this one birthday, the birthday to redeem all birthdays. And that’s what, I decided, my post should be about.

It was 2008 and I had been in love with someone for 5 years, and single for three, and I hardly dated since. But I had met someone, and we had been hanging out regularly since Thanksgiving night. We had stayed up until 2 am just talking, not touching. And this went on non-stop for 2 weeks. Of course, when a boy is showing up at your work every single night to hangout with you, people start to notice. My boss had some concerns that maybe this boy wasn’t over his ex and my friends were afraid I was leading him on, girls can’t just be friends with boys you know…and that’s when it hit me. I didn’t want to just be friends. I didn’t want to lose him. I wanted him to be around every day for the rest of my life.

So when he asked me if he could take me to dinner for my birthday, there was a pregnant pause, as my mind processed my options. I inhaled and decided to take the plunge.

He showed up in a tie, very dapper. And on our way to the very nice French restaurant, we held hands in the crisp December air and took the walking bridge over the river. We strolled to the very middle not far from a couple dressed in white gown and black tux. Ironic, right? I knew that night that I would marry this man. Underneath a cynic, you can always find a wounded romantic. Every thing about that night was perfect: the weather, the food, the atmosphere, the wine, the company. It was magical. But it was there under the stars, that my luck changed with a kiss.

Thank you to my husband – for the best birthday I have ever, ever had in 30 years. And for being the birthday gift that keeps on giving. I love you!

~lr

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Taking Out the Garbage, the Era Not the Band

My musical evolution took a distasteful detour in the mid-late 90s with the ownership of a Walkman. I could listen to musical privately, and discovered that there were other radio stations on the tuning dial. Who knew!? This preteen journey into pop culture, which would eventually lead me to Seventeen magazine and kissing boys, started with Meredith Brooks and Ace of Base. When Diddy was Daddy and singing “I’ll Be Missing You” was a girls soccer team favorite and Mariah Carey was a coveted choir concert solo. And who can forget those “Barbie Girls” “walking through a spiderweb” while eating “Millions of Peaches”? Ah, I just threw up in my mouth a bit. Might have to hit up the Tums before I get to 2002…as a 30-year-old music consumer who has had some time to evolve my musical tastes, I look back on most of my high school music memories with distaste. Exhibit A- my first kiss was to a Creed album. The memory is all-around gross. And most makeout tapes included songs from artists like Vertical Horizon, Matchbox Twenty, Crazytown and Goo Goo Dolls. Girlfriends, feel free to jump in if I’m leaving out a classic. Oh, the hours we wasted driving around our small town cruising to Nelly and Jarule.

You can’t talk about this era without mentioning boy bands! I may have missed the New Kids on the Block, but I was fully engaged for the entrance of the Backstreet Boys, 98 degrees and N’Sync. And don’t forget their female counterparts: Brittany, Christina and Shakira. Remember when MTV used to just play music videos and Carson Daly was chubby? We were there for the transition of cassettes to CDs and VHS to DVD to DVR. Kids, I didn’t have a cellphone until I was 20-years-old, and all it did was call people! I can remember when we had house phones, and you had to call a place and not a person. No wonder generations have a hard time relating to one another! We had different experiences with technology, community, media, and values! But I digress, back to my music monologue.

Let’s end the 90s and early 2000s on a positive note. Which artists did adult Lauren keep in her collection? It’s a small and elite group consisting of Nirvana, NIN, Jeff Buckley, Usher, Fiona Apple, Radiohead, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Rage Against the Machine. And most of the list was introduced to me much later by a music savvy boyfriend, but that is a musical journey for another day! Children of the 90s, who still lives in your iTunes library? And be honest!

All the best,
-lr

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Strolling down memory lane with Garth Brooks

The other night, my husband emerged from our daughter’s bedroom to find me curled up in the middle of a box of Joe-Joes and a Garth Brooks Live from Las Vegas special. I tried to play it off like it was musically educational, which it was, but I was initially drawn in by this country powerhouse and the nostalgia that comes with his music. I don’t know what was playing on the radio at your home, but the Brownlee kids grew up on Michael W. Smith, Steven Curtis Chapman, Amy Grant, Vince Gill, Martina McBride and Garth Brooks. And I just realized the irony that the latter is the only one I haven’t met! (Gotta love living in Nashville!) Humor me for a minute as I stroll down memory lane… I clearly remember owning a Lorrie Morgan cassette tape and listening to her cover of “Tears on My Pillow” over and over. I’m pretty sure one of my cousins had a life-size cardboard cutout of Randy Travis (someone please confirm or deny this for me!). My parents embraced the boot-scooting phase of country music in the ’90s, and we heel-toed to a lot of Brooks & Dunn! And then there was the brief phase after seeing him in concert at a local fair that I was in love with Dwight Yoakam (yes, you read that right, not the ever-popular Tim McGraw or my mom’s personal heartthrob, George Strait. Yes, little old me had a childhood crush on Dwight Yoakam!)

Isn’t it fascinating how vivid our memories are when tied to music? It’s like muscle memory, it absorbs into the very fiber of our being. Being an overly sentimental person from birth, I can still remember watching with tears streaming down face as Vince Gill performed “I Still Believe in You” at the CMAs. Fast-forward to my couch in Nashville 2013, and I’m singing a duet with Garth Brooks recalling every word to “If Tomorrow Never Comes”, serenading my bewildered hubby with my luscious singing voice. I guess it’s true what they say, “you can take the girl out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the girl.”

Ah, the good ole days of country music. Stop and take a minute to let the nostalgia of the ’90s wash over you. I hope, dear reader, that you leave comments on this post, even if you didn’t relive the same music memories as me. But “if I start walking your way, and you start walking mine…we can meet in the middle ‘neath that old Georgia pine”(Diamond Rio).

~peace and love, LR

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The Growing Pains of a Frugal Mom

As someone who LOVES food and cooking, I’ve been wrestling lately with the choice between cheap or quality, mostly when it comes to buying groceries. I feel caught between my desire to save money and my desire to stock unprocessed natural products in my kitchen and provide healthy meals for my family. If you’re the grocery-purchaser at your house, you know that there is a significant relationship between quality and price. Being on an ever-tightening budget leads to some difficult choices in the supermarket.

During the throes of my mental battle on whether to go all Dave Ramsey on my grocery bill or not, I heard a relevant topic on NPR about cooking for your family and making healthy and conscientious decisions. One of the nutritionists mentioned that food was a method of sharing love in her family that was passed down from her grandmother. When making choices on groceries and meals, she asked herself the question, “Was this prepared with love?” Even if it wasn’t prepared by her, was the item or meal prepared by somewhere who cared about the ingredients and the experience of the consumer? Her words spoke of principle, intentionality and care which struck home for me.

This internal struggle even backed me into a corner as I daydreamed about my garden for the year – can I justify investing the time and money into something that I love, and is it selfish to do so? I mulled over conflicting thoughts and feelings of guilt before discussing my dilemma with Aaron. He is after all, directly affected by the decision to garden or not to garden as well as, to spend money or not to spend money. We concluded that growing our own food is a discipline and delight that we’d like to be a Rayburn family value. We want to instill the hard work and love of nurturing plants to grow that you can then reap the benefits of your labor at the kitchen table. I also had to admit that I have such a strong emotional enticement to gardening. I glean more than delicious vegetables from it each year, I discover deep wells of joy there. It is possibly the most precious and fulfilling method of worship that I have found, and those are the times my mind is still and at peace among the warm earth and sunshine. How can I view that time as selfish if it brings me closer to the Creator of my soul? And should I close that door to worship and personal fulfillment because I feel guilty about money?

I know that even as I resolve to hold to my decision to move conscientiously forward, I may still have nagging feelings of guilt or doubt along the way, but it is important to establish your values and then attend to them in and intentional and frugal manner. My choices are determining not just what kind of person am I and what kind of life I wish to lead, but what kind of family we will be.

~lr

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Understanding Empathy and Being a Highly Sensitive Person

I recognized something in my personality that has existed in me since childhood but was recently brought to my attention. It’s something that often impassions, challenges, inspires, torments, and often overwhelms me – empathy. For better or for worse, I have the innate ability to latch on to the feelings or attitudes of others, I see through to their motives and emotions and even personally experience them for myself. This became apparent during a vehement disagreement with my mom over differing opinions in which I became overwhelmed by emotion. (Now, I am naturally an emotional being, and pregnant to boot…but defending people is a common trap in which I find myself.) My entire being was reacting to the supposed thoughts and emotions of those that I was so passionately defending. It’s the same character flaw (or flair) that often got me into arguments with my older brother; I felt it was my responsibility to defend others against the tyrant. It’s also the same sensation that causes me to write emphatic blogs about the poor or down-trodden.

I’ve been reading a memoir this week and weeping over her descriptions of dying children and her own suffering. The problem is: I don’t know how to turn the empathy valve “off”. At times it can feel like a curse – like some fictional superhuman power that absorbs the feeling and emotions of anyone in a close proximity. Other times it is a blessing, especially when it comes to listening and comforting others. Perhaps it’s simply the product of an over-active imagination. Yet it’s unbridled and untamed, and can run away with me at any moment, catching me in an undertow of emotion. Some weeks I’m so emotionally thin that I have to avoid the nightly news, sad novels, and depressing movies for a time to recharge. I read an interesting article called “5 Gifts of Being Highly Sensitive” which isolated the positive and negative traits of having a sensitive personality. I’ve listed them here for you, but you can read psychologist Douglas Eby’s detailed explanations at the article here.

1. Sensory Detail

2. Nuances in Meaning

3. Emotional Awareness

4. Creativity

5. Greater Empathy

He also gave five “curses” of being highly sensitive which are: easily overwhelmed or overstimulated; affected by the emotions of others; need lots of space and time to ourselves; unhealthy perfectionism; and living out of sync with our culture.

Would you consider yourself to be a highly sensitive person? Do you ever wish that part of you away? Maybe we should start asking God to shape this trait into something He can use and that doesn’t make us feel crazy emotional at the drop of a hat! Dear Lord, I hope so…but who better to ask for help, than the very Creator of human emotion and the Crafter of our souls and personalities?

~shalom, lr

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