The Power of Active Choice vs. Default

default – failure to act; course of action that a program or operating system will take when the user or programmer specifies no overriding value or action

Saturday afternoon, I had a great conversation with another mom of growing adolescents. Our chat meandered from grocery store budgeting tips for keeping our giants nourished to specific foods they like. As we talked about the weeknight (anytime!) lifesaver known as ramen noodles, I told her I didn’t eat them anymore because of the high sodium content of the flavor packets. She quickly assured me that she enjoys hers with reduced sodium chicken broth…and I saw sunbeams emitting from the heavens.

Sunday afternoon, my hubby grilled hot dogs for the family. Knowing I didn’t need the excess sodium, I skipped the hot dogs, but wasn’t sure what I wanted for lunch. After my nap, I thought about those ramen noodles and pulled out my low-sodium chicken broth. Three minutes and three dashes of pepper later, I was enjoying some tasty soup on my front porch while birdwatching. It wasn’t until halfway through the bowl that I realized, “Hey, I made a better decision instead of just going along with what everyone else was doing!” I also took a 20 minute walk with my children instead of perfecting my couch potato skills all afternoon.

Fresh off of yesterday’s triumph, I ordered a salad today for lunch. When I opened the box, nestled right next to the wheat crackers and the pickle spear, I noticed a frosted sugar cookie (that I didn’t order) wrapped in cellophane…staring at me…summoning me to take a tiny nibble. I refused the invitation and promptly took the cookie intruder to our office break room so someone else could give it a new home.

So many times I just gave in to the thing in front of me because it was easier than politely declining or steadfastly refusing something that looked/smelled/sounded/seemed soooo good – but really wasn’t. Yet, these past couple of days have been different. So I guess the “Shake Up Your Routine” speech I gave this week at Toastmasters is having an impact on ME. And I’m proud of myself for finally making some necessary changes. Sure, it was “just one meal,” “just one walk,” and “just one cookie that didn’t slide down my gullet.” But it was a start. And it was MY fresh start of commitment to continue down a better path so I can see positive results and experience improved health. This week, challenge yourself not to yield to the default…leave a comment if you’d like some support on your journey – because you’re certainly not the only one who has to put effort into actively making righteous choices!

“I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live:”
(Deuteronomy 30:19)

© Copyright 2018 by Kayren J. Cathcart

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EXTRAordinary: A Day Worthy of Celebration

I just whipped up a sugar-free boxed cake to throw in the oven. At 11pm on a school night. After returning from a hair appointment and battling a raspy throat for over a week. Why? Well, in addition to nearing the start of our corporate Lenten fast (who needs chocolate for 21 days? rhetorical question, of course), I have so many reasons to be thankful on this standard, run-of-the-mill school night. Today was anything but ordinary.

This morning, I said goodbye to my family and stopped to get gas during my commute. In the back of my mind, I was aware that this was part of the franchise where a local teen lost his life a few nights ago. Before I arrived at work, my hubby called to tell me that our son’s school was being evacuated for precaution of a bomb threat. A few minutes later, my son called to tell me he was safe and that they’d be returning to a regular school day since the authorities had deemed the building safe within 3 hours of the evacuation. My son auditioned for All-State Honors Band this weekend and found out that he wasn’t selected. However, knowing that my child came home safe today meant more to me than him earning All-State designation. Some things you just can’t put a price tag on.

The old folks used to sing the hymn while tapping their feet on wooden floorboards, “Count your blessings, name them one by one; count your blessings, see what God has done.” Today was anything but ordinary, and I am sincerely thankful. Overwhelmed with gratitude. Overflowing with praise and thanksgiving to the God Who is big enough to keep me and my family and everyone else in the palm of His hand and under the Shadow of the Almighty. My list of blessings is growing by the minute – how about yours?

Do take a moment to reflect on your own list…while I go pour a glass of milk, frost this cake, and sample my handiwork…because today was an EXTRAordinary day, truly worthy of celebration! After all, who needs a special reason for a warm slice of sugar-free chocolate cake anyway? On second thought, I’ll skip the frosting…this moment can be savored “as is…” and I’d better get to bed soon!

 “…but make me thereof a little cake first, and bring it unto me…”
(I Kings 17:13b)
“I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify him with thanksgiving.”
(Psalm 69:30)
“He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.”
(Psalm 91:1)

© Copyright 2018 by Kayren J. Cathcart

Pull the Plug on Foolishness

After transparent self-disclosure while teaching Teen Sunday School class last week, I knew by Monday what I had to do. And I was more than a bit irritated as I scrolled past the sports shows and sci-fi stuff to delete the mini-hoard of chick flicks (harmless, right?) I’d accumulated on the DVR since December…here’s the backstory…

I admit that I’m artistic and quirky, perhaps not in that order. I like documentaries, cooking shows, black and white movies, mysteries/suspense/conspiracy theories…and unbeknownst to me until the recent holidays, Christmas movies on Hallmark Channel. The ribbing from my family got so bad that my hubby would enter the room (where I’d hunkered down with popcorn and my comfy fuzzy socks) and smugly grin, “Hey – I know how this one’s gonna end! The dude’s gonna ride in on his white horse and save the day…” He would come in on the last 5 minutes of the movie and blow my warm happy feeling right outta the water (like sports doesn’t get repetitive – someone wins and someone loses every time, right?!).

I’m not a hopeless romantic, but “Cinderella” was my favorite Disney movie as a child (and still is). I say there’s nothing wrong with a formula movie or a predictable movie – I mean, it takes a certain degree of creativity to rework the same plot in 50 different ways and in 50 different movies (whether by changing the setting, the characters, or the theme); I think this nurtured the creative writer in me. I convinced myself that I was just enjoying a movie with a happy ending that seemed like good, clean entertainment. I looked past the lie of Santa Claus, multiple tree lightings on the town square with hot cocoa, countless mentions of luck/wishes juxtaposed with the lack of mentioning Jesus (though multiple holiday carols were sung – how can this be?) to remind myself the importance of witnessing Christ to others – and not just during the Christmas season. However, Christmas movies rolled into Winter movies, which rolled into Valentine’s Day movies. Why? Because this TV channel is an outgrowth of a greeting card company that capitalizes on getting money and marketshare by tugging at the heartstrings and manipulating emotions. And I thought I wanted to work for them after I got out of college…however, I digress.

As I set my DVR to record the movies that looked interesting to me (the ones about career, cooking, and mother/daughter relationships – and don’t forget WEDDINGS and princesses – rose to the top of my list), I was amassing a veritable library for which I couldn’t be the curator. I knew I didn’t have time to watch all of this content and take care of my responsibilities. Plus, they were centered around stuff that doesn’t even pertain to me (dating?! um, hello – I’ve been happily married for 17 years LOL…snowboarding – yeah right, I don’t even pretend to have a personal interest…yet, I watched that movie for 2 hours after my household went to sleep).

Strong conviction came as I talked to my middle-schooler about time-management during our morning commute…after I’d stayed up until 2:30am that morning to watch 4 hours of movies. I couldn’t find where I’d spent 4 hours communing with God or studying His Word over the past week. My actions needed to change to align with what I said were my beliefs (“I love You, Jesus”). So that brought me to this very moment when I knew the fantasy world, make-believe, play-play, pretending, princess fairy tales, and imagination had to come to a screeching halt in the intersection with real life. I briefly considered keeping 1 or 2 movies for a “rainy day,” but quickly dismissed that unviable non-option since I didn’t want to have the accursed thing in my camp. I have discarded anything that might prove to be a stumblingblock.

I must’ve deleted at least 15 movies (both in queue and set to record this weekend)…I stopped counting as I scrolled and clicked the remote. It felt like pulling the plug for the bathtub drain, but it didn’t really hurt. Some movies I’d recorded weren’t particularly worthy of watching – it was just comforting to know I’d have something to watch while the rest of my household was engrossed in sports – mind candy or mental fluff…a way to pass some idle time (like I have that laying around to spare! Something important was obviously going undone, getting neglected, or being postponed). In the midst of my resolute and determined progress, the DVR powered itself down and rebooted. Undaunted, I picked up where I’d left off and plowed ahead determinedly. The recording space available went from 9% to 18%.

Full disclosure: I’ve gotta admit, I was looking forward to watching “Cooking With Love.” And the sequel “All of My Heart: Inn Love” (not because the first one was so good – because it wasn’t stellar – but because I wanted to see what happened next with the characters). Were these movies my personal kryptonite like spy thrillers, solitaire, spy thrillers redux (that I blogged about 7 years ago), or Words With Friends (moment of silence…would someone in my house please play live Scrabble with Mommy so she doesn’t have to think about WWF???). I dunno – but they sure were a distraction from me obeying the Master with a clear heart and mind.

Why am I taking time to put all my stuff in plain sight for everyone to see? Because even if you happen not to be a closet Hallmark Channel junkie, there’s something that competes for your attention, devotion, affections, and investment of time and energy – and it draws you away from building relationship with your Creator. The question is: when are you gonna pull the plug on your foolishness? I just did – now it’s your turn.

“O God, thou knowest my foolishness; and my sins are not hid from thee.”
(Psalm 69:5)
“I hate vain thoughts: but thy law do I love.”
(Psalm 119:113)
“The heart of him that hath understanding seeketh knowledge: but the mouth of fools feedeth on foolishness.”
(Proverbs 15:14)
“Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.”
(Colossians 2:8)

© Copyright 2018 by Kayren J. Cathcart

Latch Onto Flat Irony

A few years ago when she was an impetuous elementary school student, we bought my daughter (now a full-blown middle schooler) a latch hook set. Harmless enough, right? Read on, my friend…
It’s a hair thing – I’m sure you’ll understand…

It was a small, simple soccer ball pattern that shouldn’t have taken long to complete, and we thought it would teach her tenacity and persistence – along with giving her a sense of accomplishment – once she saw the completed product she’d created. We challenged her to finish it within a month…and then within several months, and then before we moved. I even threatened her (with what, I can’t remember…but obviously, it was an ineffective tactic). Neither challenges nor threats worked, and that latch hook soccer ball was never finished so she could hang it proudly on her wall or use it as a rug – or whatever folks do with completed latch hook projects. So today (after apparently unearthing some foreign objects submerged in her closet region), she meekly approached my husband and asked to use the internet. When he inquired the reason and she said she wanted to search for a latch hook tutorial – he seemed more than pleasantly surprised and more than eager to oblige her.

I courteously stepped aside from the household budget spreadsheet I was reviewing on the computer to allow her to conduct her own YouTube search. Sidebar: Since my son just entered high school and I can no longer get away with operating as Helicopter Parent-In-Chief, I’m making a daily concerted effort to step back to allow my children to use their own wings. As a matter of fact, I went to my room and started journaling about adjusting to feeling not-quite-as-needed (and rightfully so) now that my children are growing up into teenagers. Then I heard a knock on the door. When I heard my daughter’s voice, I invited her in. What she said next, I wouldn’t have expected in a million years. Really.

“Mom, I was scratching my head, and I got this stuck in my hair.” And there (in all its glory) was the latch hook tool suspended in air like a linear halo as her hands gestured towards the back of her head. Incredulous doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt about this unlikely and improbable turn of events. Like seriously – this has really happened…just now? Like, I leave you alone for 5 minutes in the dining room and you get a small metal object stuck in your hair? (Though I was grateful this didn’t precipitate a trip to the neighborhood urgent care – where I think we’re a couple of visits from achieving VIP status). Mind you, she has cornrows….in a bun. Yes, let the mental picture sink in. I could just picture myself having to take down 3 rows of braids tonight and explaining to people in public that we’re just hanging on until her hair appointment in 3 days.

I calmly stepped away from my journal and said, “Let’s take a look at this under the bathroom lighting.” As I got my small comb and began to extricate the hook from the first braid, I gently probed, “Did you not consider putting the tool down before scratching, dearheart?” to which she replied with a straight face, “I forgot I had it in my hand.” And what else would you expect from a middle schooler? Gratefully, this story has a happy ending: the latch hook was disentangled (expeditiously, safely, and without further incident) and the braids are still – for the most part – intact. I witnessed today – up close and personal – the miracle-working power of Almighty God. I dare say that when this soccer ball is completed, I will shout hallelujah, ‘cuz He’s faithful! Can I get a witness?

“Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not.”
(Jeremiah 33:3)

© Copyright 2017 by Kayren J. Cathcart

Relief, Rest, and Release from Unrealistic Expectations

Over the past month, several wake-up calls have underscored my finite capacity and helpless inability to whip out the “invisible Wonder Woman cape and boots” from the back of the closet at a second’s notice. Not that I didn’t realize I had limitations (gee, am I aware of my personal limitations!)…but in my trying not to focus on them, I kinda blurred the lines between fantasy and reality. I didn’t notice that I’d been slowly but steadily creeping back to attempting to save the world in my own strength – again. But my sheer exhaustion and utter fatigue should’ve tipped me off.

Case in point: Last Thursday, I learned about an extra-curricular activity (regional academic team competition) my children had earned the opportunity to participate in…outside of the city…on this Saturday. (Anyone who knows me is aware that I LIVE by my meticulously updated family calendar). Now a *normal* person who *already* had several commitments on that same day would have no problem identifying that they couldn’t squeeze one more ounce into an already full container. But not me! I didn’t go into flat-out panic mode. Yet, I DID start brainstorming options for how to “make it happen” – for my children, the team, the coach, the school whose reputation would be enhanced by a team win…world peace – yeah, my foolishness was just that lofty and unrealistic. Unfortunately, this entailed either (or all of the following):

  1. Asking my wonderful hubby to forgo his work assignments to get at least one child to another city by 9am…because I was already committed to an activity that starts at 10am in Charlotte.
  2. Putting my child in a car for a 1-hour drive with a parent I’d only met once who was going to the same event.
  3. Assuming that there would be no traffic or accidents on I-85 while attempting to get the second child back for afternoon orchestra rehearsal (for a concert in 2 weeks)…by 1:30pm.
  4. Ignoring the fact that I’m scheduled to be in choir rehearsal Saturday at 1pm, so I probably wouldn’t be of any real assistance in these transportation gyrations.

If you think there were gaping holes in my logic, you’re right…I was just trying to cobble together potential solutions, regardless of the feasibility, practicality, or achievability of my improbable pseudo-goals.

None of these options would fly with my husband (especially the second one: “What do you know about their driving habits, what they’re carrying in their vehicle, who else will be with them?” etc., etc.). I knew before I asked him that I had no satisfactory answers. Yet, I asked anyway, in a feeble attempt to salvage the mirage of “being able to get it all in and assuage all parties involved.” And for what? You already know that he firmly vetoed every option I unconvincingly presented.

The children’s egos wouldn’t have been crushed by not participating; they were cool with it and knew there were prior commitments on our schedule. Yet, I still had that nagging feeling in the back of my mind that I didn’t want to have to tell one or more parties, “I’m sorry, but we’re unable to participate in this activity at this time.”

Relief (from self-imposed anxiety because I anticipated potentially disappointing someone else) came only with the cheery e-mail response that the teacher completely understood that I was unable to 1) clone myself, or 2) be in two cities (one hour apart) at the same time. In the meanwhile, I had worked myself up into a froth – in vain. There was absolutely NO GODLY FRUIT to show for this flurry of mental histrionics and “what ifs.” How absurd was that on my part?

So what’s my point? Let’s free ourselves this year from the “what will people say?” mindset. Commit to “stop doing crazy.” Fight that random, bizarre pop-up thought that may be residue from PPD (People-Pleasing Disorder) or CHD (Chronic Helping Disorder) that still lingers, no matter how hard you’ve scrubbed. 🙂 As long as we’re doing our best to walk in excellence according to God’s Word – which includes taking care of ourselves and our families (and not minimizing or excluding this as a priority) – we can breathe a sigh of relief, rest in the Lord, and release ourselves from unrealistic expectations (whether real or, most likely, perceived). Then we can be about our Father’s business…

“28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
(Matthew 11:28-30)

© Copyright 2017 by Kayren J. Cathcart

Taking Inventory, Measuring Growth

What a full year it’s been; I have MUCH to be thankful for – and I’m sure you do, too! The “Watch Me Grow” chart with the giraffe comes to mind – you know, the one where a parent measures how tall their child is growing every so often? It felt like God kept His spiritual measuring stick handy for me in 2016, but thinking back over the year, I wouldn’t change a thing. Every step of the journey was preparation for what is yet to come.

In retrospect, God has kept my family through one transition after another, and I am grateful. One of the most significant adjustments was the mid-year 180⁰ career change of my spouse. Prior to that, God sustained us during a stint when my hardworking hubby endured a 3rd Shift role with valiant strength and dogged determination that ministered volumes to our family and friends alike. Both children are in middle school and are successfully navigating those potentially turbulent waters with the God’s grace, parental patience, and the Holy Spirit’s guidance and protection. Were things perfect in my family this year? By no means – but I am a witness that consistently-applied discipline DOES indeed bring forth the peaceable fruit of righteousness! 🙂

I’ve put a renewed focus on my personal role within the ministry of marriage as we celebrated our “Sweet 16 Wedding Anniversary” for an entire month. As I committed to make my 40th year on the planet fabulous every day (and it has a wonderful celebration filled with glitter, laughter, tears, and joy!), I learned that a sign of true maturity is to admit the things I don’t know (and to be okay with it) – this was a liberating epiphany (especially since I consider myself to be a planner extraordinaire)! I’ve learned to embrace where I am at this specific point in time instead of allowing dissatisfaction to propel me to attempt to achieve some unrealistic and elusive goal that was never mine to begin with.

We’ve mended bridges with family members and friends, realizing that time really does heal all wounds, even though it doesn’t change the past. I’ve learned to extend forgiveness proportional to the amount of times I need to ask for it.

I’ve diligently worked on holding my tongue so I don’t respond before thinking (as much…trust me, this is progress for someone with my DNA – LOL). I’m doing this not through clenched and gritted teeth to “finally take that vow of silence I’ve been threatening forever” (but been woefully unable to make good on – it’s in the genes; what can I say?!). Now, this refined behavior comes from a primary desire to please God and to allow the fruit of the Spirit to be manifested in every facet of my life.

Sometimes we can’t see how much we’ve grown because it’s like waiting for a flower to bloom 5 minutes after we dropped the seed into the dirt – or more accurately, it’s like watching paint dry. We’re too close to the action to be able to fully absorb the progress. Yet, by stepping back with objective observation through a time lapse lens, we notice the flower unfurl, the seed begin to sprout and bring forth abundance, and our personal growth and development come forth according to God’s Word. I encourage you to take inventory of your own growth over this past year – you may be surprised to see that, though you’re not where you intend to be, you’ve far surpassed your starting point…and this, my friend, is indeed praiseworthy!

Join me in looking ahead to a new year full of promise and potential with joyful anticipation…God’s best is yet to come!

“20 My soul hath them still in remembrance, and is humbled in me.
21 This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope.
22 It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.
23 They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.
24 The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him.
25 The Lord is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him.
26 It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord.”
(Lamentations 3:20-26)

 © Copyright 2016 by Kayren J. Cathcart

Pop-Up From the Past: Ongoing Saga of the Accursed Chili

Have you ever thought you were over something, and then a trace of its residue just rears its ugly head at the most unexpected time? Yeah, me neither LOL…

Being the self-declared “delivered from cluttering” gal that I claim to be (intentional tongue-in-cheek sarcasm), I was grabbing one of those super-useful plastic grocery bags to <ta-dah!> reuse (of course, you saw that one coming, right?). Well, lo and behold if it didn’t contain a grocery receipt – not just any grocery receipt, but the one from 9/29/16. Why is this significant? September 29, 2016 is the fateful day that I purchased the remaining ingredients to complete my masterpiece homemade turkey chili – a meaningful demonstration of loving sustenance for my family on an overcast Fall day.

What made this a less-than-perfect foray into slow cooker bliss was the kidney beans. Alas, I choose to put the onus for the gas that came upon us all on the fact that I got a different brand (I know, I know, bigger isn’t always better, and the sale item may not be the highest quality item – yada, yada, yada – I get it). But my innards can tell the story that lasted for several days as those beans meandered their way through my intestines…oh so very slowly. Thankfully, I recovered (with assistance from some leafy greens). But I really didn’t need a reminder of the experience – and I really wasn’t expecting that today. And here was that receipt, weeks later, staring me in the face from the bottom of that plastic bag that I was about to place in the bathroom trash can. Memories…it just made me mad all over again as I scowled at the receipt I should’ve shredded days ago.

I’m being a bit dramatic (who, me? ha!) to drive home this point:

When it’s time, throw away the turkey chili.

No matter how good it tasted (and still tastes). In spite of how warm it made you feel on a cold night. Forget the fact that it was perfectly seasoned. It’s no good for you. You’ll regret it later – trust me. Trust that inner voice. Trust what your family is telling you. Trust the rumbling in your belly.

No matter how much is left in the container you prepared for a busy week. Ignore that brilliant last-ditch idea to valiantly take it with tortilla chips for a twist on workday lunch at your desk because no one else in your house is brave enough to face the inferno in a bowl.

If it’s giving you gas (or something worse), it has to go. Now.

Spiritual application: Get rid of the old, useless, and hazardous to your health stuff you’ve been hanging onto for way too long – things you’ve been holding in your heart, emotional baggage that’s weighing you down, relationships dangling by a thread that you just haven’t cut off for your own good, whatever.

Don’t say you haven’t been warned. If you ignore this wisdom (garnered from personal experience), you may unnecessarily have your own October horror story. My take on it: not worth it. Let it go. Pass! (pun intended…)

See hubby, I did learn my lesson (this time…after all of my other similar and near-disastrous gastrointestinal incidents). Progress – let’s savor that flavor!

“Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.”
(Proverbs 4:23)

“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”
(II Corinthians 5:17)

 © Copyright 2016 by Kayren J. Cathcart