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Do the Next Right Thing

One day, many years from now when I'm old and gray, sitting in a rocking chair and watching a sunset, I imagine that I'll reflect on my life. As I slowly rock, I'll remember specific phases that weren't enjoyable, yet taught me something valuable even though those lessons were hidden at the time and nothing made much sense.

That's where I am right now: fog is slowly lifting, but my vision isn't clear yet. I'd like to say that I've handled some recent struggles with maturity, grace, and unwavering faith, but that's not entirely true. I've had moments of maturity, small displays of grace, and mustard seeds of faith, but these highlights have been coupled with behind-the-scenes whining, crying, doubt, fear, prickliness, and other permutations of bad attitudes and sadness. (You know your struggle is real when every song on Christian radio -- even the unequivocally cheesy ones -- now cause you to cry ugly tears while driving to work because they're exactly what you need to hear.)

Let's all pause for a moment to say God bless my husband. He is such a good man.

All that being said, even in my clunky failures, of which there have been many this past month, I know to cling to Jesus. When I don't know what else to do, trusting God always is the next right thing. (Let's also acknowledge that your struggle is real when Anna's song in Frozen II where she bravely climbs out of a literal pit becomes one of your new life mantras.)

Do the next right thing. One next step, one next moment, one next choice. That's good advice.

For me, I recently took on a small project that looks insignificant on the surface, but turned out to be a "next right thing" for me in principle: I painted wooden blocks. These wooden blocks, to be exact.


Over the past month when I had an hour of free time, I've turned on music, laid out a flattened paper bag to prevent splattering my table, poured myself a Dr Pepper (which probably isn't the "next best choice" but felt right at the moment), and began the slow process of transforming those multi-colored children's blocks into something more mature, something quite heartfelt.

Let me tell you: this DIY project had moments of doubt, especially at the onset, just like most every DIY project I've completed. My expression looks serene in this photo, but my internal dialogue was yammering about how meaningless the activity was:

Why are you doing this? How many sides are on each one of these stupid blocks anyway? Six? Six whole sides? Are you serious that these blocks need three coats of white to cover them sufficiently? Three coats of paint on six sides? That's like, eighteen sides per block! And you've got dozens of blocks! Besides, you're not even painting the letters yet. You're not even to the point when you're touching up the gray on the white, or then touching up the white on the gray. This is going to take a stupidly large amount of time. Seriously, why are you doing this? 


But I'd do the next right thing. I'd slip on my unnecessarily frilly pink and white polka-dotted apron that I had been given at an event, then I'd dip my paintbrush onto my palette, and then I'd paint another side.

Block by block, I kept painting. My inner dialogue quieted. I'd sit calmly, focusing squarely on the task ahead of me. One by one, the blocks started to transform before my eyes. I finally reached a day when all of those "next right things" -- all those single paint strokes, all those single sides on every single block -- had transformed the entire batch.


And do you know what you can do with a collection of decorative DIY painted blocks? Honestly, not that much. You can spell words. But when you spell words, you can give yourself reminders to adjust your attitude in healthy ways:


You can write out messages to your spouse and children to declare that even in your imperfection, you'll remain by their side for the long haul, always:


Or, in case mental telepathy isn't working, you can even drop not-so-subtle hints about what you're really craving for dinner:

 

This slow, steady, and sometimes painstaking process of painting was unexpectedly therapeutic. Bit by bit over a course of weeks, the blocks changed before my eyes.

Bit by bit, situations change too. Transformation doesn't always happen suddenly. In fact, transformation most often is the byproduct of one next right thing, one next right step, and one next right choice, done again and again until there's a noticeable difference.

Thank God that He's in the long-haul transformation business with our lives and circumstances. I imagine that He's not concerned about how many touch-up strokes will be needed, or how many sides He has to cover, or how long the process will take until things look different. He already envisions a final product. He already knows that we will emerge different and better.

I started painting these blocks merely to kill time. Looking back, perhaps this is one of my favorite DIY projects to date.



When You're Hurting, This Will Help


My dear readers, I'm writing to inform you that I'm currently not having a mountaintop experience. In fact, in several ways I'm having a lie-on-the-basement-floor-of-life experience, and then realizing that my basement has a leak. And a mold problem. And a horrifying monster. Details are irrelevant, and my humor and faith are still intact, but it's sufficient to say that I'm currently in the weeds. (I realize I'm now mixing metaphors given that my leaky, moldy, monster-inhabited basement suddenly also has a weed problem -- deeply-rooted and dark weeds, nonetheless -- but you're smart and I trust you can make sense of things.)

I hope you're not in a similar life situation. At the same time, perhaps some of you are. Some of you might be deep in the trenches, and some of you might be crawling out of the trenches, and some of you might eventually be headed into them. Troubles in life are equal-opportunity, it appears.
 
Given this, I'm sharing several supportive thoughts that are helping me. I hope they help you, too.

1) Know that there's no shame in being human. This gets me every time. When I'm in a rough patch, I still feel like I should be able to instantly dust myself off and function well, rather than, say, cry through an entire church service, need extra sleep, and require time to process and heal. A friend recently shared, "You don't need to apologize for being human and having emotions," and yet that's exactly how I had started our conversation: "I'm sorry I'm a mess right now."

Being human means that we'll have messes and sometimes be messes. During those times, it's okay to ask for help, whether help comes in the form of a listening ear from a trusted friend, support from a counselor, or medical intervention to restore balance. It's brave and wise to seek help. Seeking help is a step toward healing. And while you're at it, it's also okay to cut yourself some slack and not be on top of your game.

There's no shame in being human. We all are. 

2) Finish sentences with "right now." In the midst of hard phases, those days or weeks when you wake and experience 30 seconds of grogginess before the crushing weight of problems collides with your consciousness, it's hard to remember that you won't always feel this broken. It's hard to remember that it's not permanent.

That's why we actively need to remind ourselves that our trials are temporary. This isn't glossing over heavy issues. This isn't making light of real problems. Rather, it's speaking life and perspective into those problems. It's acknowledging that the situation is bleak "right now," but then declaring that "right now" is not the final result. I'm taking great comfort from this profoundly encouraging video by Kristina Kuzmic:

"So here's a tip: add right now to whatever is frustrating you about parenting or life in general so that you're not putting a permanence on it. You're realizing that whatever is difficult right now doesn't have to be difficult forever. So, for example, 'I'm not getting enough sleep right now. My toddler is throwing daily tantrums right now. My teenager acts like he hates me right now. This divorce is so excruciatingly painful right now.'

This is right now. This is not forever. You are not stuck. A bad year or two or five doesn't equal a bad life. It equals a bad year or two or five. Hard parenting days won't last forever. Hard life days aren't permanent either.

It's not permanent. It's right now."

- Kristina Kuzmic

3) Name your blessings. When life looks bleak, it's easy to focus on what's wrong, creating a hall of mirrors that echos the tough predicaments and bounces pain again and again, creating an infinity loop of our troubles. This isn't good. One remedy is to pinpoint what's going right -- or, even more precisely, to identify one specific thing that has gone well today.

It doesn't need to be huge, but it's good to think about all the things that are, quite bluntly, not terrible. Today I'm thankful that I don't have a head cold. Today I'm grateful that the tech guy came into my classroom to fix the broken computer before my class session finished. Today when I took a walk, the one house far up the hill was burning its wood stove, and I breathed one of my favorite smells. Today I feel encouraged that the sun is shining. After multiple tries the past few days, today I finally spoke with a person -- not a machine -- at a doctor's office, and I'm one step closer to making that appointment.

These are all good things. Not everything is bad right now. Naming my blessings concretely reminds me that while many things are hard, many things are also working just as I'd like them to be working. This changed perspective changes so much. 

4) Look out for others, even in the midst of your turmoil. In the midst of our own pain, it's surprisingly healing to find a way to brighten someone else's day. Granted, sometimes we don't even have one extra millimeter of emotional bandwidth and we must attend to our own wounds, curl up in our beds, or protect our time and hearts. But it's also therapeutic to step out and help someone else who's careworn.

In the midst of my troubles, I don't want to forget that people around me are going through stuff, too. I have a friend facing a troubling health issue, and one whose store just shut down, and one who recently lost her father, and multiple folks who are in the thick of challenges with their kids ranging from behavioral problems, to severe food allergies, to learning disabilities, to bad choices, to stress and anxiety.

When I take my thoughts off my own hurts, I'm able to see their hurts. Then, even in my limited capacity, I'm able to offer something small -- if only a kind word, a whispered prayer, or a brief encouraging text. This habit, just like the "name my blessings" strategy above, takes my thoughts off of my own predicaments, even if momentarily. Please note that this isn't a callous exercise of self-flagellating to "suck-it-up-buttercup" or to suggest that because other people might have it worse than you, then your hurts don't matter. They do matter.

Rather, it's an exercise in compassion, and I notice that when I extend compassion and encouragement, it tends to bring me joy and hopefulness too. That helps.

5) Believe that comfort will come, and it'll expand your ability to offer comfort. The other day when I was really low, I simply had no strength to stand so I didn't even try. I wouldn't deem it an outright collapse, but it certainly was a crumple. I hit the floor and cried until tears no longer flowed, until I was empty and rung out. From that low place, both figuratively and physically, I felt God speak directly to me with this thought: "When you survive this, you're going to have a greater capacity to minister to people who are going through something similar."

These wounds? They'll eventually heal into scars. And those scars? Well, I'll be able to point to them, show others, and say, "I once wondered if a wound this deep would ever heal, but look at how it's healed. I'm not hurting or broken anymore. If this healing happened to me, it can happen to you, too."

One of the promises I treasure from the Bible appears in 2 Corinthians 1:4 and states, "God comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us."

It's beautiful to think on this. These hurts we experience? They're not for nothing. Not only will we be consoled, but when we encounter someone else who's troubled, we'll have the capacity to extend the comfort we've already received.

6) Stand on a firm foundation. The more life I live, the more I know -- not merely cognitively, but experientially -- that when I hit rock bottom, Jesus is there. And landing on Jesus is the firmest foundation I could possibly land on. Even though we might feel like we're walking through the valley of the shadow of death, God Almighty is with us. Right now, I'm reflecting daily on the qualities of God -- how he is a healer, a deliverer, and a counselor. How he is the Prince of Peace. How he's an ever-present help in times of trouble.

I need God to show up in my heart and circumstances now, and ever faithful, he's showing up. When everything around me is shaky, Jesus remains a firm foundation.


Friends, I hope your days currently are filled with more joys than troubles and that everything I've written seems distant for you. If that's the case, I'm delighted. But if you, like me, are struggling, consider this post as a sincere hug. (If only I could somehow get you chocolate, too!)

As many times as needed, repeat these statements to yourself until they become as real and vivid as your pain and circumstances: "I am human, and that's okay. These troubles are right now, not permanent. Even in the midst of pain, many things are still going well. I will be comforted, and I'll eventually use that comfort to help others. None of this will be wasted. And, without a shadow of a doubt, God is walking with me -- daresay, carrying me -- every step."

Rest assured, I'm going to be okay. You are too.

_____________________________

I rarely end posts this way, but if today's blog encouraged you, I invite you to share it widely. If you have a friend who's hurting, would you pass it along to them? And if you'd like to connect with me, please reach out to me at my Robin Kramer Writes Facebook page.  ♥

Going Through Stuff

It hasn't escaped my notice that people who are alive are going through stuff. And when I say stuff, I mean hard stuff, the kind of stuff that takes the wind out of our sails, or keeps us up at night, or, in most acute forms, causes us to double over and cry until we feel hollow and limp inside.

These precious, hurting souls still have to function in their daily lives. They still have to report to work, take care of responsibilities, fold laundry, make meals, and put one foot ahead of the other even when they're experiencing the pain of a divorce, the uncertainty of waiting for a biopsy result, the heartache of a child who's gone prodigal, the sting of rejection, the terrible burden of depression, the acute emptiness after losing a loved one, or the waves of panic and anxiety that roll through their heads and hearts, unbidden and unwelcome. When these dark nights of the soul happen to us (as they sometimes do) we realize that doing something "simple," even stepping out to get groceries, can be a herculean feat.

It makes me want to show all the kindness in the world to those around me. When looking at someone's outside, we can't automatically discern what's going on with them inside. And, Lord-have-mercy, we all hit periods when we need softness and grace from others. We all have times when we're members of the walking wounded and we plod through days with hearts that are confused, breaking, and raw. We all have times when our best prayers look something like this:


Today if you're hurting, know that I'm praying for you. May God comfort you. And if you're feeling well, rejoice!

Everyone, eventually, goes through stuff. So let's be good to each other out there today.

A Visit to the Magnolia Silos in Waco, Texas



On a cold Sunday afternoon in December, my husband learned that his work would lead him to Dallas over Christmas, and that our whole family would join him on his travels. Within roughly three seconds of that breaking announcement, I had googled this:

 

Because, people, if I'm within driving distance of Waco, Texas where I could fulfill a dream of visiting the Magnolia Market at the Silos, I don't have a hard decision to make. Asking whether I want to visit the silos is similar to asking if water is wet, or if ice is cold, or if milkshakes are good, or if books are better than the movies. The answer always points to YES.

You see, this dream originated from watching 79 episodes of Fixer Upper on HGTV (some again on reruns). It's been whetted each time I pass through Chip and Jo's section of Target. I love the aesthetic. I love how the show's videography can capture a cluster of wild thistle sprouting against a broken fence with a slant of late-afternoon sunshine and make me think, "I want to go there. I want to see that scene in person. That exact weed against that exact fence."

So, two days before Christmas, my family and our good friends, who also were in Dallas for the week, headed down 1-35 toward Waco.

 

I'll shoot straight and be honest: when I stood in the parking lot and laid eyes on the silos in person, I had a little moment. It was more than being a fan of the show. It was more than respecting what Chip and Jo have built. It was because such thankfulness swept over me -- thankfulness that something I had seen at a distance (and had longed to see up close) was right in front of me, thankfulness that the sun was shining, thankfulness that I was sharing the experience with my husband and daughters, thankfulness that a beautiful and wholesome environment invites people to rest

 Chip and Joanna Gaines

It was one of the sweetest and most relaxing afternoons: warm sunshine, great company, beautiful things to look at within the store, tasty options from food trucks to sample, large sweet-tea-filled mason jars to savor, and benches and picnic tables to relax along the outdoor courtyard. As a special festive touch, Christmas music played in the background to boot.

And now that we're speaking about boots, I should tell you that because of a generous act of hospitality, my whole family received a pair of them.


Wearing cowboy boots is the right thing to do when you're in Texas. Besides, I now know that boots makes me feel extra confident. When I first slipped on that beautiful light brown pair with the sweet embroidery and pointed toes, I grew two inches. Not from a heel, mind you. Just from the swagger. Cowboy boots make you walk tall.

Chip and Joanna Gaines

I took my time inside the store wandering the aisles and absorbing the displays because everything is charming. While it's a store, it feels as if it were arranged as sections of a farmhouse with kitchen items in one nook, garden items in another, and subtle touches throughout.


For example, even the display tables, like this rustic work bench with chipped mint paint and an industrial clamp, added character. I wondered how I could squeeze one into our rental car, smuggle it back to Dallas, and convince airport TSA to let it be my carry-on during my flight back to Pennsylvania. (In case you're wondering, this plan did not pan out.)


The pairing of merchandise -- like nestling tobacco baskets with metal rims beside black and white artwork with letters and numbers -- brought contrast of shapes and textures.


Live greenery tucked throughout the store provided a steady, yet subtle, nod to the Christmas season.


Even bins full of functional items -- like spoon rests, or salt and pepper shakers, 


or rolled kitchen towels -- felt charming. It's no wonder why Magnolia does good business. When you walk in, you know you'll want to walk out with a memento to carry a trace of farmhouse charm back to your own home.


If the inside of the store was lovely, the outside of the silos was spectacular. Perhaps it was the gift of a near 70-degree sunny day in winter -- the type of weather that's entirely comfortable with perfectly low humidity to guarantee a good hair day. It's the type of day that causes you to feel healthier and more alive, like Vitamin D is coursing through your body. (Or perhaps it was just the sweet tea.)


It was that type of day, intermingled with Christmas trees decorated with pine cones, magnolia leaves, wooden beads, and berry sprigs,


and windows casually enhanced with understated wreathes.


Bright pops of color, like the famous green Magnolia truck, delighted your eyes.

Magnolia Green Truck

But there was still more. Black and white awnings shaded farmhouse tables and benches so families and friends could relax comfortably and linger.


And that's exactly what I did. I sat on a bench, talked with my friends, watched my kids explore, and sipped sweet tea. There was no hurry.


Large sections of turf invited families to kick soccer balls, lounge in bean bag chairs, or -- in the case of my two youngest children -- tackle one another.


As for me, I simply kept taking pictures of my boots because they're awesome.


As another bonus, because the grounds were beautifully designed and maintained, there were ample places to take photos with interesting backgrounds, like this particular picture of my husband and me (which I love!) that was captured by my oldest daughter.


Or this photo that -- upon deliberation that it's no longer acceptable to display a profile picture that's nearly eight years old -- I have decided will become my blog's new welcome photo.


Once we finished our time at the silos, we saw a few other significant Magnolia-related locations, like the new Magnolia Pres coffee shop that was commemorated with Chip and Jo's hand prints.

Magnolia Press Coffee Co

Chip and Joanna Gaines City with a Soul Mural

We walked a few blocks to admire the fresh City with a Soul mural and the old-town feel of the red brick building with its painted advertisement in the background.


We also stopped by Clint Harp's quaint shop (Harp Design Co. -- what amazing woodwork he does!) and I briefly ogled the house next door, but in a subtle and entirely non-stalkerish manner. Fun fact: this house was remodeled by Chip and Jo for Clint and his wife Kelly in an episode that aired in May 2014. It had been a disaster, but it's now beautiful!

Waco, Texas

Finally, on our way out of Waco we made one last brief stop at the Little Shop on Bosque, Joanne's original Magnolia Market storefront, which now sells last chance and discounted items from the silos. I scored a cozy gray Magnolia sweatshirt. Without a doubt, it'll look wonderful with my cowboy boots.


As we reversed direction on I-35 back to Dallas, I felt filled up in many ways: good food, good fellowship, beauty from the sights I had seen, and warmth from the people I had met. We're now back in Pennsylvania, and we've returned to regular life and typical routines. Waco, just like any location, is an ordinary place. It just happens to have been lovingly attended to with happy story lines, satisfying before-and-after images, a strong sense of community, attention to detail, and the elevation of simple things -- like capturing the silhouette of thistle against a broken fence post in a slant of sunshine.

It reminds me that I can look for beauty in the scenes around me, right in my own town and right in my own home, just like I did in Waco. Finding pleasure and appreciation in the simple things, I suspect, involves the right eye and attitude, not just the right location. 

So if you'd ask me, "Would you ever go back?" my answer would be simple.

Is water wet? Is ice cold? Are milkshakes good? Are books better than the movies? The answer always points to yes. If given the opportunity, I'd return to the Magnolia Silos in a heartbeat.


Have you ever been to the silos or dreamed of going? Drop me a comment below to tell me about it!
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