Tough Decisions

“Dear Mr. Bransfield…”


There I sat, blankly staring at my computer screen in my classroom with sweaty palms, trembling hands, and a heavy heart that felt like it was going to beat itself right out of my chest no matter how hard I desperately tried to hold on and told myself to just breathe.

In a matter of minutes I would be printing that letter and sealing the envelope – no, my fate – to the profession I loved so dearly and worked so hard for since I graduated high school five years ago.

I was about to officially resign my position as the agriculture teacher and FFA advisor at Niangua High School for the next school year.

And the scarier thing? I didn’t have a clue what my next move was going to be.

For weeks my husband and I talked about this after he received an amazing and unexpected job opportunity for a new line engineering position in his company that would allow us to move back home to our family and the farm over an hour away, which we’ve always wanted from Day One. As new and exciting as we knew this journey would be, it required both of us giving up the current jobs we loved and excelled at to take a new path in a new place that was well out of our comfort zones. For me it was even harder, as no other ag teaching positions were open in the area we were moving to and I didn’t know what I was going to do for income the next year.

Now if you don’t know much about Cross Timbers, Missouri, I will simply tell you this. I absolutely love love love living in this little corner of the world. However, finding good job opportunities here is hard to come by and often times requires about a 45- 60 mile commute no matter which direction you go. Welcome to Small Town, USA! (And don’t even ask what happens when you run out of milk or toilet paper…)

So, yeah. To say I was a bit stressed out is the understatement of the year.

Do I quit? Do I tough it out and stay at Niangua and drive almost an hour and a half every day one-way? Live with my grandparents in the town next to where I worked or buy a small apartment to live in just for the week? Become self-employed and pick up my photography business again? Substitute teach? Go back for my Master’s Degree? Do we start a family and I just stay at home for a while? Can we even afford that right now?

Wait, wait, I’ve got it. I’m going to make my break and audition for The Voice. Problem solved.

Or at least it would be if I could sing.…

Dang. **Back to the drawing board**

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People would stop me out and about and ask me all the time what I was going to do when they heard the news about us leaving and starting this new journey. I would just fake a smile and tell them I wasn’t sure, but was trusting it would all work out. I replied kindly and tried to hold it together, but in all honesty I just wanted to curl up in a ball on the ground and cry…because as much as I knew people meant well by asking me all these daunting questions about my future, their words also felt like daggers ripping through my chest.

Because the truth was I was completely clueless.

For weeks it was endless days and nights of deliberating at the kitchen table over dinner. Weighing pros and cons in the car on our way to the grocery store. Thought-crunching in the shower. Praying and asking God for any ounce of enlightenment while updating my resume and desperately stalking the moteachingjobs website. Dancing around like fools in our living room as we were celebrating the fact that we were packing boxes for the LAST time to move into our forever home. Holding each other and crying together in bed wondering if we made the right decision when the reality of it all finally hit and we both said our goodbyes to the co-workers that became friends and students that became the kids that weren’t ours but we claimed as our own anyways.

Yeah, it was hard, I’ll be completely real with you. And I’m pretty sure we kept the Kleenex company in business during those long weeks as I boxed up my classroom and he cleaned out his work truck and we took this giant leap of faith into The Unknown.

I’m not even sure Siri could define the perfect word for how we were feeling about this situation without having some sort of technical/robotic/psychotic breakdown trying to sort out all our thoughts and feelings.

We were no doubt riding front seat on the emotional roller coaster of Adulting and Life. Hands in the air, screaming at the top of our lungs, full-speed through all the loops and drops and turns that lay outstretched before us.

Which is kind of ridiculous considering that leaving is definitely not out of the ordinary for us. I mean, we have packed up our life and moved for our jobs literally every year since we got married three years ago, so we’re basically experts. Seriously, I should have some sort of professional certificate in cleaning rent houses, painting walls, and patching drywall. (Ugh, WHYYYY do I even bother using a hammer and a nail when we are going to just leave again in nine months and I’ll have to take it all down again…)

And as for packing boxes onto trailers and using ratchet straps? Let’s just say U-Haul ain’t got nothing on this homegirl…

#NeverUnderestimateAWomanWithDuctTapeAndASharpie #AlsoAddProfessionalWineDrinkingAndFrozenPizzaEatingToMyResume

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This is nothing new. We’ll be fine. We’ve quit many jobs before and have moved a million times, and it’s always worked out, we kept telling ourselves. But somehow…it was different this time. We both felt an uneasiness about not knowing what would happen next for me and what that would mean for our upcoming finances with investing in a farm and renovating a new house. But, we tried to write it off as much as possible and just keep riding on faith and gas station energy drinks.

That’s when I got the message.

Remember when I listed off all those things I considered doing with my life this next year? How ironic it is that the one thing I never considered would be the next opportunity to come knocking on my door, or in this case, popping up in my inbox?

A good friend of mine who I’ve always loved and respected as a professional in the education field informed me of an opening at her school district for a middle school math and science position that still remained unfilled for the upcoming school year, which I was very apprehensive about at first. She explained how they needed someone passionate and energetic to step up to the plate and kindly encouraged me that she felt like I would be a great fit for the job, even though it wasn’t a content area I was used to teaching and would require quite a bit of a learning curve on my end.

“Would you have any interest in applying at all? I would love to talk with you about the options!”

I about fell out of my chair.

Options?

Here I was, feeling all bitter and defeated that I was giving up a job that I really enjoyed with students I really loved to just sit at home for a year until another agriculture teaching position came open close to home – whenever and IF ever that may be. Don’t get me wrong, I completely supported my husband and was thrilled for his new adventure, but couldn’t help but feel slightly envious deep down that I didn’t have an exciting opportunity lined up to help fill the void of missing my old job and no longer contributing substantially to our income. I had given up all hope and accepted the reality that I would just have to leave the profession of teaching for a while and make my living by some other means. Then suddenly I have…options??? Options that were only FIFTEEN minutes from my doorstep for that matter???

Could I really do that? Teach something….new? Different? Hmmm…

The next day I received a phone call from another school district with similar news, asking me to consider applying for another possible job opportunity as a high school special education co-teacher.

More options? Sweet Jesus, it’s like Christmas!

So once again, my husband and I found ourselves carefully weighing the pros and cons of each position, just like all those nights before when we deliberated about whether or not he should consider his new job offer. It seemed like yet another impossible decision, as both were such great and unexpected opportunities that each came with their own set of challenges. No matter which way I went, I knew was going to have to face change.

And change is, well, scary.

Needless to say, after two interviews, one LOOOONNNNNGGGGG weekend, many sleepless nights, several phone calls to friends and family, and a rather detailed pros and cons chart later (yeah, yeah…I’m a nerd, don’t laugh…) I decided to trust my gut feeling and accept the middle school science/math position.

Now, I tell you all this not to ramble on for over 2,000 words and waste five minutes of your life reading about two complete strangers and how they’re practically driving the struggle bus off the nearest cliff. (Yes, I’ve been told I’m a bit dramatic…)

I tell it because in the aftermath of it all – through all the tears, heartbreak, excitement, and fear of the great unknown –  there were lessons learned. Lessons worth sharing because my guess is like us, YOU too have experienced your fair share of tough decisions in your own life. And if you haven’t yet? Well saddle up and get ready, because your wild ride is sure to come around someday!

So, basically there are four morals to this story worth talking about. And I’m not the most eloquent or profound writer ever, so I’ll just borrow a few quotes from the pros to summarize my general thoughts.

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#1 ~ There will come a time when you think everything is finished. That will just be the beginning. – Louis L’Amour.

I won’t lie. It got pretty dark for me there for a while after I turned my letter of resignation in. I felt like I had just signed my death sentence. I knew it was all a blessing in disguise and we were making the best decision for our future by making this big change, but I thought it was all over for me because I didn’t have a job lined up at the end of my contract with Niangua. I was really going to miss my students, the community, and all my work friends. More importantly I was going to miss the sense of belonging I had by impacting students lives every day – so much that it broke my heart and I balled like a baby every day on my way to and from work. I felt like I somehow failed when I walked away from it all, even though I obviously couldn’t control the fact that there wasn’t another job opportunity waiting for me when we moved.

But you know what?

Opportunity found its own way to me in God’s perfect timing. And the end of that chapter is just the turning of a new page for what’s coming next in my story.

I can feel it.

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#2 ~ Be willing to be a beginner every single morning. – Meister Eckhart

When my husband and I decided to make the big switch with both of our careers, we realized how overwhelmed and under-qualified we probably were, but we didn’t let that stop us from taking the risk anyway. We knew were both about to become something that we weren’t, something that we never had experience in being, and something that we would both have to work our absolute hardest to become if we were going to do it right.

Now don’t get me wrong, we are both still VERY nervous, but somehow we both know it’s going to be okay. We are willing to learn from mistakes we make today so we can be better tomorrow.

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#3 ~ The weaker we feel, the harder we lean on others. The harder we lean on others, the more we grow. – JJ Packer

Stop it.

Stop thinking that your problems are yours to face alone.

Stop  thinking that you can’t ask for help, because it’s a sign of weakness.

Stop thinking that just because you’re an adult in the real world you have to make all the big decisions yourself, because after all it is YOUR life.

Stop feeling guilty about expressing your fears and worries to others because their problems are way more complicated than your own.

Just stop.

We would have never been able to reach a rational decision that we felt good about if it wasn’t for the outpouring love, support, advice, and prayers from our loved ones and co-workers. We thankfully didn’t have to do it alone – and neither do you!

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#4 ~ The only way to know you’re making the right decision is to trust that you are. (Okay, so I really did come up with that one on my own. Go me!)

The moments leading up to calling both schools to tell them my decision were stressful, I won’t lie. I had spent so much time carefully considering all my options to make the decision that I felt was the best for me. But when I did finally decide? Suddenly I had peace of mind. It was like the fog was lifted, the void in my heart filled, and I learned how to trust fate and be bold again. I made a decision – arguably one of the most difficult ones I’ve ever had to make – and actually felt extremely confident and excited about it afterwards.

Why?

Because deep down I trusted my heart, which is ultimately always the right call.

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So as for an update on our current situation, we are both learning to simply be content right where we are in our life. We are taking this new adventure by the horns, one day at a time. We are accepting the fact that every time God closes one door in our lives, He is showing us the way to a new one that will soon be open for us to walk through. We are both learning and growing in our new professions and are excited to see where they will lead us in all our future endeavors. We realize that more challenges are ahead and more even complicated decisions are inevitably going to come our way.

That’s just life.

But no matter what happens next, we know at the end of every day we are learning and growing – together. For that, we are blessed. For that, we are thankful. For that, we are leaving it all in the hands of the Man Upstairs, because after all He’s never done us wrong before.

And for that, we are sure to conquer all the tough decisions life will throw our way for years to come.

 

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The Silence.

I love noise.

Music cranked. People talking and laughing. Fixer Upper turned all the way up on my T.V. Piano hymns on a Sunday morning. Rain falling on a tin roof. Wind blowing through trees. Crickets singing on a river bank at dusk. Cows mooing when it’s time to move the electric fence. And of course, my all-time favorite sound ever…the grumble of my coffee pot in the morning.

Oh yes, Folgers in my cup all the way.

But to be completely honest…these past few weeks have been odd. Unusual.

Quiet.

Even when I’m surrounded by 26 obnoxious high school students, blasting 90’s pop Pandora on my hour commute home, or listening to my husband snore so loud to the point I’m convinced there’s a bulldozer in my bed, I still feel this strange quietness creeping in all around me like a slow and steady fog.

It’s the perfect concoction of fear topped with a pinch of anxiety wrapped up in desperation and served with a side of loneliness. There’s probably a much fancier name for this out there, but I refer to it as The Silence.

And the crazier thing is when all the noise in my life stops for even just a split second and I pause long enough to dust off the Bible and lift my hands to God in prayer about all the impossible decisions I’m facing, the bills that keep multiplying, the unimaginable hardships I keep watching my loved ones go through, the growing to-do list I can never seem to get ahead of, and how overwhelmed I feel about it all…The Silence grows even louder and I don’t know what to think, do, feel, or even say.

Kind of makes it hard to write a successful blog, ya know? #WritersBlockLevel1000

I hate silence. Partially because I don’t have kids yet so I take it for granted, partially because it creeps me out and makes me feel like a serial killer is gonna pop out from behind my shower curtain any second, but mostly because it forces me to do something I’m not very good at doing in life. Being mindful. Being present.

Being still.

And I most certainly don’t like it when during the most desperate times of my life – when I need God’s guidance the most – it’s all that I seem to get in return.

Ah, He sure loves to test our patience, doesn’t He?

But here’s the thing I’m finally learning to realize. The Silence never lasts forever. Eventually the story unfolds and life goes on, even when it seems impossible. At some point, all the things we stress and obsess about seem to work themselves out in time.

But we have to respect that it’s only in His time and not our own.

And if we just listen to The Silence He often sends us when we demand a right-now answer…with all of our heart…with all of our mind…and giving Him all of our unceasing faith…we begin to see the bigger picture. And suddenly, all the impossible times don’t seem so impossible anymore.

Now don’t get me wrong. I know how it is. It’s so much easier to cram our lives with so much noise to distract us and drown out the stillness we sometimes so desperately need more than anything else in that given moment. It’s hard to feel the pain if you just keep moving, right?

But friends, we need to pause. We need to be still. We need to reflect. We need to ask for help – no, pray for help. And be consistent in patiently waiting for it.

We need The Silence.

And who knows…it just might become the most beautiful sound we’ve ever heard.

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> Less Than. <

Let’s backtrack to about third grade, here.

It was math time. My teacher was explaining inequalities on the whiteboard. You know – the greater than, less than, equal too stuff. The “alligator eats the bigger number and points to the little number” analogy. (To this day sometimes I swear I still have to think real hard about which way to face that arrow, but that’s neither here nor there…)

The problem wasn’t that I didn’t understand what she was teaching me. It wasn’t even that I failed the quiz. I actually did really well with this, especially with a little bit of practice. I even got one of those scented smiley face stickers on my guided practice homework for doing a good job! The problem was that I took that simple third grade math lesson and applied it to my entire life, exactly in all the ways that you’re not supposed to.

I started comparing myself to others around me, to the point where I felt like the smaller number the alligator was picking on.

The Less Than.

And you know what? Between you and me, I still sometimes catch myself doing it to this day.

But I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that I’m not the only one who looks at my reflection through the Mirror of Comparative Oppression. We all do it sometimes, even if we don’t realize it. But some of us can take it a little too far to the point where it consumes our minds and completely diminishes or even destroys our self-image and confidence.

And I hear you, it’s rough. Especially when we see That Girl. You know, the one who has that really cute Michael Kors designer handbag we eyeball every time we walk by that store in the mall, tan and toned legs, better hair, less acne, no love handles, and a zillion and one friends. Or how about That Guy, who has a convertible in his three-car garage, an 8 pack, runs five miles a day, and can bench press 220 at the gym. The “Old Me” in that pre-motherhood photo that reminds us we will never again have that much energy or be able to wear our favorite pair of jeans anymore. That co-worker who always gets the promotions and awards while we’re left on the sidelines unnoticed. That friend who is married, has four beautiful kids, and travels the world while we’re sitting alone and single and barren in the dark, talking to our five cats on a Friday night. Or that person who always seems to spew all things rainbows, butterflies, and confetti when sometimes all we feel is depression, loneliness, and guilt creeping in.

Some people call it jealousy. Some people call it insecurity. But I call it forgetfulness.

Because friend, when did we forget who we are and who we belong to?

I also call it blindness.

Because friend, we have no idea how those people we constantly compare and contrast ourselves with got to where they are, nor the struggles they had to face to get there.

And I also call it nonsense.

Because friend, we HAVE to STOP DOING IT.

One of my favorite passages of scripture to reference when I am feeling this way is Ephesians 2:19-22.

“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of His household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone. In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit.”

What a perfect proclamation that we don’t have to second guess ourselves, be better than someone else, or put pressure on ourselves to be something more than what we are because in His eyes we are exactly what He designed us to be – His! He assures us that if we trust Him enough to build our self-image through His eyes instead of our own, we will feel Him dwelling in our hearts and know that we are so, so loved and way more than enough.

So the next time you feel unloved, unimportant, or insecure and want to start comparing yourself to That Girl and That Guy and pointing that alligator sign away from you, remember to whom you belong.

Because you are so much more to Him than a Less Than.

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Yes, God.

My favorite thing to do is to go where I’ve never been.

There is nothing more liberating to me than packing a bag, hanging a map, throwing a dart, jumping on a plane or driving cross-country, and seeing how the adventure of it all unfolds. (Peace out, reality.)

Okay, so maybe I don’t really throw a dart and am perhaps a little too reliant on Mapquest rather than totally “winging it”, but the point is – I LOVE LOVE LOVE traveling to new places. It’s absolutely exhilarating – experiencing once-in a lifetime opportunities that I can’t otherwise experience in Smalltown, USA  Missouri. Like parasailing the Gulf of Mexico. White water rafting in the Smoky Mountains. Scaling a waterfall by hot air balloon. Standing on a lighthouse balcony at sunset. Getting lost in the New York City metro. Hiking the Great Wall of China. Camping and horseback riding in the Rockies. Every single journey is always so different and unforgettable! Not to mention all the great local dive-ins I get to eat at and all the picturesque scenery I capture with my Nikon. And I love experiencing it all with the accompaniment of friends, family, or especially my husband – who’s bucket list just so happens to also include traveling all 50 states together in our married life! (#ourkindofrelationshipgoals)

But here’s the  crazy thing. The contradiction. The paradox, or whatever you call it. For someone who is supposedly so wanderlust and adventurous, I often find myself at the awkward crossroads between self-doubt and insecurity when the Man Upstairs is convicting me to do something out of my comfort zone that follows His will for my life.

Anyone else relate?

It’s a terrifying thing when God asks us to trust fully in Him and follow wherever He wants to lead us. We fear the unknown because we’re not the ones navigating the GPS, driving the car, booking the flights and hotels, or deciding where to take the next pit stop and eat dinner. We don’t know how or where our journey will unfold and we stress about it every mile we tread and every state line we cross along the way because we are too caught up in pursuing what WE want…rather than listening to what HE COMMANDS.

So, here’s what we have to do.

We have to stop doubting. Stop fearing. Stop trying to plan every little detail out. Stop trying to find an alternate route when God challenges us to get off the beaten path and off-road it a little. And instead start trusting Him to be our personal tour guide. I believe they call this having faith.

You see, He’s already mapped it all out. He knows all the places to go and sights to see. He knows exactly when and where we will reach our final destination. He even knows all the roadblocks, detours, and traffic jams we will have to face before we get there. But, He is always in control. Of it all. And all we have to learn to do is say “Yes, God.”

And then kick back, relax, and enjoy the beautiful ride.

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Loving the Storm.

Raise your hand if you remember the big ice storm in ‘07. Now raise your hand if you actually kind of enjoyed it.

Am I the only one with my hand still in the air?

Here’s the thing. Those two and a half weeks were rough, I’ll give you that. I mean, I was in seventh grade at the time and didn’t know there was a whole other world out there that existed without Hannah Montana, a CD player, microwaved popcorn, MySpace, and my hair straightener.

If I close my eyes real hard I can still picture, hear, and feel everything. The icicles. The yard that looked as if it was plastered and painted with white-out. The bitter cold. The way my breath clouded up and floated away to the sky forever. The slow droning of the occasional car that was brave enough to trek the icy side roads and 65 Highway. The darkness, except for a mere flame from that apple-cinnamon candle from Dollar General that helped us navigate our way around the house and lit the way for the longest Monopoly game ever played in history, to my knowledge. The ticking of the propane heater. The awful smell of baby wipes that we had to use for “sponge baths” because there was no running water. The snap, crackle, and pop of the maple tree in the front yard as its once-beautiful branches came crashing down to the frozen earth.

It was an experience like none other, for sure. The Ultimate Primitive Challenge, 2007 Edition. 

But as strange as it sounds, those were some of the most memorable days I’ve had so far in this life. For two and a half weeks straight I lived a life that was spent conversing face to face with my family, my friend, and her family that stayed with us instead of talking on the phone. Of playing board games and card games instead of updating my Facebook status. Of building a virtual campground with blanket tents in our living room instead of watching the Disney Channel. Of cooking every meal on a tiny open flame propane grill instead of a microwave. Of using the front porch as a refrigerator. Of shaving my legs and brushing my teeth with the leftovers of a half empty water bottle and surprisingly being totally okay with it. (And missing school all those days was a nice side bonus, as well).

The point is, that was hands-down the worst storm I’ve ever experienced in my lifetime – yet it turned out to yield one of the greatest blessings, memories, and life-lessons.

And I wonder – as I’m sitting here writing this blog ten years later at the kitchen table looking out the window as another ice storm is brewing – if God is trying to teach me something even deeper about “loving the storm”.

Friend, I don’t know what struggles and storms you are battling in your own life, and I can assure you that I have had plenty of my own. (That’s a blog for another time). But I do know this – if you truly, truly listen and adjust your perspective a little, you will find grace and wisdom to get you through it. You will find blessings. You will find strength and peace. You will find creativity. You will find beauty.

You will find appreciation for the things that really matter most and learn what it means to simplify.

So don’t be afraid. Don’t stress. Don’t ask God why this is happening to you or throw your hands up in despair. Just have faith. Listen. Trust Him. Be brave.

And learn to love the storm.

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