Monday, November 24, 2014

Things I Learned in My Thirties - Reflections Looking Back

This month I entered a new decade.  Turning forty was a ton of fun, with celebrations (big and small) that spanned more than week. THANK YOU to everyone who took time to spend with me. I loved my thirties and look forward to what my forties have in store.
My husband Curt and me at the surprise 40th birthday party he threw for me (with help from a lot of my friends)

My beautiful family on my 40th birthday hike.  I am blessed abundantly!
As I was looking back over the past decade I realized how God has changed me.  Here's a random list  of Things I Learned in My Thirties.

1.  Not Wrong, Just Different.  Several years ago Curt and I participated in the Love and Respect conference via a weekly small group session.  We learned a lot of practical tips to help in our marriage, but my biggest takeaway applied to all relationships, not just marriage.  The conference teachers kept coming back to taking a "Not Wrong, Just Different" approach to resolving conflict.  I realized how judgmental I had been: of different approaches to parenting, marriage, life, etc. labeling them "wrong" when they were merely "different." Learning to put this idea into practice revolutionized the way I saw and interacted with others.  It softened me and made me a much more gracious and likable person.

2.  Embrace Your True Identity.  I spent two decades crippled by insecurity.  When I let the truth of who I really am - A Daughter of The King - sink in I began to walk in true freedom and confidence.  God created me unique, in HIS image.  He knows my name.  He calls me chosen.  Dearly loved.  Holy.  Complete in Him. He says these things about you too.  Walk in this truth.

3.  Comparison is the Death of Contentment.  There will always be someone faster, smarter, prettier, thinner, more creative, and more talented than me.  More talented than you.  When we compare ourselves it kills contentment of what we DO have.  Don't compare.  Instead rejoice in all the unique gifts, talents and relationships you do have.  The Bible puts it this way: "Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won't need to compare yourself to anyone else.  For we are each responsible for our own conduct." (Galatians 6:4-5)

4.  Celebrate Life Every Day.  My thirties were some of the richest years of life, but they were also some of the most challenging.  Life is unpredictable and much of it is out of our control.  Choose to find something to celebrate each day.  Your health. God's provision.  Your kids.  Your marriage.  Your friendships.  Each day is a gift, so celebrate it.

5.  Persevere in Your Relationships. Pour into, fight for, love fiercely, dig deeper into the relationships God has put in your life.  When you hit a rough patch, push into each other instead of away from each other. If you are married, figure out how to love your spouse well.  Invest in your friendships, your children, your coworkers, and your family.  You will never regret it, but you almost certainly will regret it if you give up.

6.  Extend Grace to Yourself and to Others. You are not perfect.  Your spouse, children and friends are not perfect.  You will screw up and so will they.  When that happens, extend grace to them.  Then extend it to yourself as well.  Don't beat yourself up for all you did or didn't do.  Be gracious and move on.

7.  Don't Keep Carrying Your Baggage.  We live in an imperfect world and as a result, we all have "baggage" - past wounds and hurts that are part of our story.  Carrying all that around gets exhausting.  I would encourage everyone to work through the wounds and pain to a point of healing.  Then drop your backpack full of that baggage at the foot of the cross and don't pick it back up again. Let Jesus carry it.  He says, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)

8.  Laugh.  I have a tendency to get wrapped up in what I'm doing in the moment.  I'm ALL IN with every emotion.  If it's a tense or irritating situation, I will be uptight and grouchy.  I am so grateful for a husband who is hilariously funny and four kids who are wild, crazy and fun.  They remind me to laugh instead of cry or bang my head against the wall.  It's good medicine.  (Proverbs 17:22)

9.  Jesus.  I have known about Jesus since I was a toddler and loved him in varying capacities throughout my life.  But it was in this past decade that I really dug into the Word and fell head over heels in love with my Savior.  As He revealed himself day in and day out through what I was studying in the Bible, I became more aware of my need for Jesus.  The freedom that comes with full surrender to His plan and His will takes my breath away.  It is deeper, greater, sometimes harder, and more lovely than any plan I could concoct for my life.  Jesus continues to reshape and transform my life.  I know the beauty of the depth of his love will only grow with each passing year.  If you want to experience "life that is truly life" (John 10:10), surrender to Jesus.

10.  Take Care of Your Body.  I write a lot about running, hiking, and fitness related activities.  It would be easy to assume this has always been a part of our daily rhythm, but that's not true.  Curt and I were typical parents of toddlers and babies. We were exhausted.  Run down.  Out of shape.  Overweight.  Unhappy with how we looked.  So we decided to something about it.  I was 33 years old when we baby-stepped our way into a healthier lifestyle one painfully slow run at a time. (Read more of that story here.) Before we knew it healthier eating patterns, weight loss, energy and boosted self esteem followed.  Now exercise and decent food choices are part of our daily rhythm.  I encourage you to find a form of exercise that you can tolerate and get out there.  You may just find a new love.

11.  Learn to Say No.  We live in a culture that values being over scheduled and busy.  Ask anyone how they are and more often than not, "Tired and busy" will be their response.  It's tempting to want to say "Yes" to every opportunity that comes our way.  However there is great benefit in learning to say "No" to the peripheral things - even good things - so you can say "Yes" to the most important things.

12.  Follow the Way of Love.  A few years ago I was angry with someone who had intentionally deceived me.  I called a godly, wiser mentor to help me process how to handle the situation.  With little hesitation she asked, "What does God say about love?" and pointed me to the Love Chapter in the Bible.  (I Corinthians 13).  The author Paul makes list of what love is and isn't according to God's definition of love.  When Paul is done defining love he transitions to his next thought with this phrase: "FOLLOW THE WAY OF LOVE." This one phrase has transformed how I approach conflict in relationships.  So often I get my shorts tied in knot by what the other person did (or didn't do) and I want to retaliate or lash out.  But when I step back and ask God how I can "follow the way of love," it's always a much softer, gentler approach.  I am NOT a crafty person, but I hand-painted a hideous looking plaque and hung it above my kitchen sink as a daily reminder to follow the way of love.

13.  Repent Quickly.  I have a tendency to say things without thinking.  I'm constantly going back to my friends and family and asking for forgiveness for being thoughtless.  When we damage relationships we need to be quick to repent and seek reconciliation as soon as we know the relationship has been broken.

14.  My Response is My Responsibility.  This is a tough one, but has been so helpful.  My response is my responsibility.  Period.  I can't control what other people do or say.  I can't control what other people don't do or don't say.  The only thing I can control is my behavior.  I am accountable to God for how I behave, so I need to be responsible to behave in a way that brings Him glory and fame.  I have drilled this into my kids as well and we're all learning together to be responsible for our behavior and our response to people who wound us.

15.  Make Good Friends and Invest in Them.  My friends are some of the most beautiful gifts in my life.  They are God's tangible expression of His love for me.  (Read more here.)  Many of my best friends are total opposites of me.  These friends model to me what gracious words and patient parenting looks like.  They teach me how to be still and embrace rest.  They remind me to take time to invest in beauty.  My other friends are similar to me.  These friends join me in my crazy adventures and push me to be stronger, smarter, faster, and offer encouragement along the way.  Life is not meant to be lived alone.  Make friends and then invest in those relationships.

16.  Be Authentic.  Keeping up a perfect facade is exhausting and isolating.  Be authentic in your relationships. Dare to be vulnerable.  Be real and honest, then enjoy the joy that comes with deep and intimate relationships.

17.  Take Risks. If you would have told me two years ago that I would be running my own business as a professional photographer, I would have laughed in your face.  But God has a crazy way of taking the skills He gives us and using them to bring Him glory if we let him.  It was risky and scary to launch my own business, but I am living out a dream.  I still can't believe it.

18.  Offer Encouragement.  We all need encouragement.  God has used well timed words of encouragement from my friends and family as tools to shape and change me.  Encouraging words are life giving.  Look for ways to offer authentic encouragement to your spouse, your kids, your family and your friends.

19.  Be Excellent.  If you're going to attach your name to something, don't do a halfway job.  As long as it depends on you, be excellent in what you do.  This could be parenting, marriage, friendship, work, life.  The Bible says, "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." (I Corinthians 10:31)  It comes back to the point of learning to say no.  When we say no, it frees us up to be excellent in the things we are saying YES to.

20. Take Time to Rest.  To keep up with our fast-paced, busy lives we need to incorporate a regular rhythm of rest.  God modeled this when he created.  He worked hard for six days and called his work good.  And then he rested. And called the rest good.  He commands us to "Sabbath."  We have learned to implement this regular rhythm of rest into our lives and it has been so healing and restorative.

21.  Thrive Within Your Limitations.  I never knew, until the past few years, that one of the reasons I love the rugged wilderness is because big crowds and lots of chaos gives me anxiety.  The thought of going to DisneyLand makes me sick to my stomach.  The more in tune I get with my body and emotions, the more aware of my limitations I am.  This awareness has enabled me to make choices that I can thrive within, instead of shriveling up internally.  We all have limitations, but we can learn to thrive within them.

And there you have it.  Just the tip of the iceberg of all the things God has taught me in my thirties.  I'm excited to see how what He has up his sleeve for the upcoming decade.  To my family and friends who I adore, thank you for being a part of my story.  My life would be so much duller and empty without your beautiful influences.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

My Summer Road Trip - guest post by Grant Stilp (8th grade)

by Grant Stilp

Tonight Grant was going through his backpack and gave me a stack of papers to recycle.  I'm so glad I dug through them because I found several gems in the pile.  A geometry assignment that is so far over my head I have no idea what any of it means.  An All About Me form that captures who he is right now as a 13-year-old eighth grade Man Child.  I will treasure that one forever.  And an essay titled My Summer Road Trip.

I should have just asked Grant to write the blog posts about our trip because he summarized fifteen days of jam-packed fun and adventure into three run-on paragraphs that totally captured what we did and how he felt about it.

Here's Grant's take on our family road trip.

My Summer Road Trip
by Grant Stilp (age 13)
Eighth Grade
September 8, 2014

This summer I went on a thrilling road trip around the country with my family.  We embarked on our adventure at around six thirty when my dad got home from work and made the treacherous eight hour drive to Spokane, Washington, arriving at our hotel at one o'clock in the morning.  
on the way to Spokane, Washington
After eating the cheap hotel breakfast and packing our bags back into the car, we set off to make the second leg of our trek to Great Falls, Montana, where we were meeting our cousins to drive to a remote cabin that they have access to.  There was some fighting as well as breathtaking scenery and soon enough we were just outside of Great Falls at a gas station, waiting for our cousins to arrive.  As soon as they got there we did the typical hugs and "I missed you so much" then left for the cabin.  Those three days I spent in the wilderness were some I will never forget.  Floating the frigid Smith River, shooting clay pigeons, breaking an axe, and jumping off a cliff are only some of the things I did there.
only in Montana

After saying our goodbyes and driving down two hours of dusty country roads, we set off yet again.  This time the destination being my grandparents' cabin on Boy Lake near Remer, Minnesota.  After a mind-numbingly boring drive (can you say flat!) across North Dakota we arrived in the amazing state of Minnesota.  
Dance party on the side of the interstate in North Dakota

The cabin was on a beautiful lake connected to hundreds of others via rivers and channels.  We went fishing (I caught my first pike.  YA!!), drove boats, went on a four wheeler adventure that was quite muddy, tubed and water skied, and spent time with our amazing grandparents, cousins, and aunts and uncles.  

I got up on the second try.
(I'm hijacking his post but dang he's cute!)

Our second destination in Minnesota was my aunt and uncles' house in North Saint Paul.  Our parents took us around to places where major events in their life happened such as, where they got engaged, married, where they bought their first house, etc.  
the softball field where my mom and dad met
On our final night in Minnesota we visited my grandparents'' hobby farm where my Dad grew up.  I played arcade games in the basement, chased chickens around the woods, lit off fireworks, shot guns, and listened to my Dad reminisce about all his memories.  Our time in Minnesota was over, but I will not soon forget it.
me with my Dad, Uncle Chad, and Grandpa Mo
I am wearing my Dad's old dress up army helmet.
As we hopped in our car with tears in our eyes once more, we drove away for our second to last destination: Rapid City, South Dakota.  The second ten hour drive across the second Dakota was not so bad as we were used to the driving by this point.
dancing at a scenic viewpoint on the way to Rapid City, South Dakota
When we arrived in Rapid City late at night, it was in the middle of a thunderstorm.  One of my favorite memories from the trip lis going to Safeway at 10 p.m. to get groceries in the middle of a thunderstorm!
One of the storms we drove through
That morning we drove to Mt. Rushmore for an amazing day of sightseeing and taking the backroads home.
Mt. Rushmore
Katie taking a picture of the model of Crazy Horse
At Crazy Horse - there's still a lot of work to be done.
We woke early that morning and left for Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to spend two nights with my Dad's cousin.  After a beautiful drive through the Grand Tetons we met my Dad's cousin and her wonderful family and spent two amazing days with them hiking in the Grand Tetons, swimming at their country club, and going to a party.
My cousin August makes me laugh
hiking in the Grand Teton National Park
On the drive through Wyoming
When I got home I reminisced about all my memories and how I will never forget this trip.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Jackson, Wyoming, The Grand Tetons, and Cousin Heidi's Fam - Stilp Family Vacation 2014: Part Ten of Who Knows How Many

We left Rapid City, South Dakota, and drove to Jackson, Wyoming via the scenic highway.  It added a lot of time to our travel day but it was more than worth it.  We were rewarded with one incredible view after another.
Paige at the Welcome to Wyoming Rest area
ALL of Wyoming - from the second we crossed into the state - was impressive, jaw-dropping beauty. Wyoming is vast and rugged.  Seemingly unending, it boasted one spectacular view after another.
Rest area at one of the mountain passes we summited
mountain wildflowers
The terrain (and temperature) changed as we drove.  For most of the day it was wicked hot - well over 100 degrees - and we were so grateful for air conditioning in the Sequoia.
our Man Child taking in the view
These clouds were captivating
But we summited two mountain passes and both times the temperature dropped steadily and the wind increased the higher we climbed.  We drove from 103 degrees into the low 70's in a matter of miles.  Isn't that crazy?
summit of one of the mountain passes
I couldn't get over how deeply blue the sky was and how white the clouds looked floating around on it.  This highway was a photographer's dream, but we only stopped a few times to take photos.  We just didn't have the extra minutes to waste.
We drove through this canyon and it was awesome!

from the side of the road we were driving on
river and train trusses
painted rock faces
jagged mountains 
A smattering of small towns dotted the highway, separated by miles and miles and miles of vast wilderness.  I wondered where the people who live in these tiny towns do all their shopping?
not a bad view for this homeowner, right?  And why are these mountains red all of a sudden?
The second mountain summit had a lovely rest area.  In the shadowy distance loomed the majestic Grand Tetons.  They got bigger and grander the closer we got to Jackson.

We watched the sun disappear behind them - a lovely end to a day so filled with beauty it was hard to take it all in.

Jackson, Wyoming, is probably one of the prettiest places I have ever been.  The Grand Tetons preside in the valley while green, rolling, mountains fall in layers below them. Running through the valley is the Snake River.  You can't even describe what a paradise this area is.

Curt's cousin Heidi lives in Jackson with her husband Danny and their two sons, Oliver and August.  Our kids had never met each other so it was with great expectation and excitement that we united them for the first time.  What a joy to finally have our families meet and spend time together.

We stayed with Danny and Heidi for two nights and utilized every minute to catch up and get to know each other better.  They were so hospitable and welcoming.  Grant and August (6 years old) in particular really hit it off and had a hard time saying goodbye.  Grant asked, "Can I take him with me?  I need a 1st grade little brother."
Of course the one time I took my camera out when we were with Heid and Danny, Oliver was already gone for the day.  Sorry Oliver!
Heidi, Danny and August.  Not pictured: Oliver.
Grant and August really liked each other.

We only had one full day in Jackson to sight see and spend time with our cousins.  We opted to shelve Yellowstone National Park and instead drive to Grand Tetons National Park (a mere 40 minutes from Heidi and Danny's home) to go hiking for the day while our cousins were at work/summer activities.

The Grand Tetons National Park Visitors Center was modern and well done.  There was so much to see and do, but we hustled through it so we could get started hiking. We ate lunch at a quaint little deli overlooking the Tetons.  After lunch we drove to the Taggart Lake trailhead and started hiking.
the trail
It was a very scenic, beautiful, four mile loop to a serene mountain lake on a gorgeous day.  It was HOT and since we weren't in hiking mode, we didn't pack in enough water.  Our long travel days caught up to us and our whole family was exhausted and crabby.  Eventually we found our rhythm and were able to to enjoy the grandeur all around us.

The ice cold lake water refreshed our bodies and our spirits and the hike back to the car was much more enjoyable.

Taggert Lake
After our hike we joined Heidi, Danny, Oliver and August in their world, tagging along on the things they had planned for the evening and having loads of fun in the process.  Thank you dear family for your hospitality!

We left Jackson bright and early on Saturday morning and made the L-O-N-G trek home to Oregon.  We were all dreading the fifteen hour travel day, but the Lord sustained us and it ended up being a really fun day.  We had a family dance party in the car on I-84 in Eastern Oregon, shaking the Sequoia back and forth while we rocked out to David Crowder.  Another family drove by and honked and danced their way past us.  It was just one more fun memory in fifteen days of beautiful memories made.

We saw some awesome things on our family road trip, but there is no place like home.  What a joy to turn into our neighborhood and then into our driveway.  We offered God our Thank You's for safe travel and turned off the trip odometer: 4,537.8 miles in 15 days.

4,537.8 miles that won't be quickly forgotten.  And that - my friends - is my summary of the Stilp Family Road Trip 2014.  Stay tuned for one more post from Grant.