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Issue 1: October 16, 2019
gratitude | meal planning | sensory bins | learn from Christen Teague

[9-minute read]

Over and over, I’m reminded of the power of gratitude. 

This kind of gratitude is not a shut-up-and-be-thankful mindset. It’s not a guilt trip word—not your mom saying “You should be grateful for this food! There are starving children in Africa!” It’s so much more powerful than that. Gratitude does its work regardless of our circumstances, and its power doesn’t rely on ignoring our pain or meditating about how someone else has it worse. 

As Adele Ahlberg Calhoun so eloquently says in her book Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, “Thankfulness is a thread that can bind together all the patchwork squares of our lives. Difficult times, happy days, seasons of sickness, hours of bliss—all can be sewn together into something lovely with the thread of thankfulness.”

Gratitude is keeping me afloat right now as we face a trivial, albeit frustrating situation. My husband and I have dreamed of living in a big city since before we got married, and we finally made the move to Atlanta in July.

What we did not dream about (or plan for) was our beautiful historic home in Mobile NOT SELLING. After four months on the market in the middle of peak selling season, nothing. It’s just not happening.

For the first time, we’re living paycheck-to-paycheck, and it is kind of terrifying. Fortunately, we’ve hustled to make ends meet every month, and we're doing fine. 

So where’s the rub? It’s all about expectations vs. reality. What I want vs. what is real. 

want to go out to eat in this amazing new city. I want to buy a rug for my living room. I want to have fancy olive oil and eat extravagant meals every night (food is our thing). I want, I want, I want. We’re able to pay all of our bills. We’re not going into debt. We’re just not able to do all the things we want to do, and it makes me angry. 

Recently, my attitude plummeted to an all-time low. I prayed for our house to JUST SELL ALREADY. But after some reflection, I realized the only thing that would fix my sadness and frustration was gratitude. Not our house selling. Not more money. Gratitude. 

The problem with waiting to change my attitude until my circumstances line up with my expectations is that this will absolutely not be the last time things don’t go my way. Life is full of mountaintops and valleys, successes and failures, victories and tragedies. It doesn’t matter who you are—you can’t protect yourself from unfavorable circumstances. 

So, when our happiness and contentment depend on life progressing as expected, we’re setting ourselves up for a miserable rollercoaster of uncontrollable emotions and ultimately, for overwhelming bitterness that doesn’t go away when life becomes “good” again. Bitterness clings to our character and prevents us from recognizing the good, even when it is all around us. 

Gratitude, for me, seems to be the antidote to bitterness. So how do we cultivate gratitude, even in tough seasons? In my experience, you can't always just "choose joy" and move on. It requires WORK. It's a slow process of changing our mindset through a thousand tiny shifts. 

Most of the time, we talk about concepts like gratitude in an incredibly impractical, philosophical way that leaves us feeling overwhelmed and cynical. Don't give me a lecture or inspirational speech—give me a tool! 

***

So in that spirit, I want to share a tool with you. I've been using this practice to cultivate gratitude in my life during this season. It's hard, but making gratitude a priority is helping me sort through my emotions, keep my head above water and hold onto truth.

A tip: WRITE THIS DOWN. I do not think this would be effective as an in-your-head exercise. It's so powerful to think through this enough to put your thoughts on paper. 

  1. Start with self-awareness: "I’m complaining about this a lot. It’s really bothering me. I need to address this.”
  2. Acknowledge your emotions: “I’m feeling very frustrated/angry/disappointed/sad/exhausted. Here are all the reasons why (this is my chance to complain!)”
  3. Ask if there is anything you can do to contribute to a solution: “Maybe I need to change the way I’m doing xyz / Maybe I need to go to therapy / Maybe I need to see a doctor /  Maybe I need to have a hard conversation with the person who is making me upset.”
  4. If the situation is out of your control, accept it for what it is and affirm your dignity and strength. “I cannot control my circumstances. This is not some kind of punishment or confirmation that something is wrong with me. Bad things happen to everyone, and I'm not alone. It's OK to be sad about this."
  5. List anything you can be grateful for that specifically relates to your struggle. As a Christian, I take this in a spiritual direction, but you don’t have to. I love Calhoun’s prompt in Spiritual Disciplines: “Where is there evidence of God’s presence in the hardship? Is there anything you can be thankful for?”

After going through this exercise in writing, I guarantee you’ll see your circumstances differently. I certainly did. Here are some excerpts from my journal entry about our home not selling:

  • Acknowledgement of emotions: This circumstance causes me anxiety, bitterness, frustration and stress. I dream of fun times with my family and friends. I dream of being more generous and feeling more secure. Being able to save, plan and give instead of staying home, saying no and going without. It hurts my pride and my independence, and it makes me uncertain, fearful and embarrassed. I feel like this situation is exaggerating my feelings of loneliness in a new city and my grief about what we left behind in our former life. 
  • Evidence of God’s presence / reasons to be thankful: We’ve been provided for through some crazy means. We found some random savings bonds that paid our mortgage one month. We got our first month’s rent approved to be paid by Scott’s company as a moving expense. I sold almost $2,000 in stuff before we moved. I’ve done a lot of marketing work. Every month, we are still able to eat healthy, delicious food, go out to eat a couple times, put gas in our cars and pay all of our bills. I’m still able to stay home with Julia, and she's still able to go to her "school" twice a week. It’s been inconvenient, but we aren’t going without any necessities. This season has forced us to cocoon as a family and has drawn us closer as we get used to our new home. It has caused us to refrain from being busy and has brought us back to tight budgeting when we’d probably be blowing money all over the place if circumstances were different. After this is over, we will be in a much better place financially because of the discipline we developed during this time. 

***

Do you see how this works? I’m almost scared of what life would be like if we weren’t going through this season! That’s the power of gratitude—it reframes our circumstances and causes us to see the bigger picture. It also allows us to see how we are growing through our struggle and gives us hope that we will be better for it on the other side. It helps us make wiser decisions and regulate our emotions. 

A final note—I KNOW some of you are struggling with issues much bigger and more serious than financial inconvenience. While I do believe gratitude has a place in everyone's life, there is space within a life of gratitude for grief, anger and sadness about things that just shouldn't be. Hang in there. I hope gratitude can be a life preserver in the midst of your storm. 

Love, Jill 

Meal Planning tips

For years, meal planning seemed like such an insurmountable task. I hated it, and it caused a lot of stress and even some... marital strife. 😅  Years ago, I remember getting to 6 or 7 p.m. and thinking, "What are we going to have for dinner?" and having to run to the store or just go out to eat. Now, I actually ENJOY meal planning! Here's how I do it: 

  • I have a database of recipes we like ready to go so I'm not scouring the Internet or cookbooks looking for them every week. I LIVE by the Prepear App. Check out the video above for a tour of the app! It allows you to save your recipes, import web recipes, makes a grocery list for you and can even connect with Walmart Pickup! I honestly can't believe it's free.
  • I try to plan recipes that use similar items so I develop a good stock of basics (spices, sauces, etc.). If I find a recipe that has too many off-the-wall ingredients that aren't already in my pantry, I will save it for a special occasion or skip it. 
  • I like to double recipes to allow for leftovers to eat for lunch. I hate cooking lunch AND dinner, so lunch is almost always leftovers. We also usually have a leftovers night every week.
  • We eat the same thing for breakfast every day: toast with cheese and scrambled eggs on top. Yogurt with strawberries. Keeping it the same makes it easier to plan and ensures we don't skip breakfast. 
Recipe: Super easy and cheap black bean quesadillas

I adapted this recipe from a fancier one, and it's perfect for a quick lunch or dinner. 

  • 1 can black beans
  • 1 can diced green chiles
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste (I love to freeze tomato paste in 1 and 2 tablespoon increments so I always have it on hand!)
  • 1 teaspoon cumin 
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano 
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder 
  • ((Or use a premixed taco seasoning spice blend!)
  • Monterey Jack cheese, shredded 
  • Corn or flour tortillas
  • Sour cream 
  • Avocado 

Mix beans, chiles, tomato paste and spices in a bowl. Microwave for 2 minutes. Mash up beans. Place shredded cheese on one tortilla and top with bean mixture. Place another tortilla on top. Brush both sides with oil and heat in a hot skillet until tortillas brown and cheese melts. Top with sour cream and avocados. 

Parenting hack: Sensory Bins

Oh my gosh we love our sensory bin around here. I first learned about these from Busy Toddler on Instagram. I know this seems like a mess waiting to happen, but I've been so surprised how quickly Julia has learned that BEANS STAY IN THE BIN. 🤣 

This bin (a 41-quart underbed storage bin) provides about 10 minutes of independent play while Mommy does dishes, cooks, etc. It also teaches lots of great skills! I am not a huge fan of owning a ton of toys, so I LOVE stuff like this that uses everyday items. Since this photo was taken, we've swapped from kidney beans to dried chickpeas and added some different containers to spice things up a bit. 😉

I'm not an expert by any means so I'll just direct you to the Busy Toddler website to learn more about sensory bins. 

Podcast recommendation: Catlick

Is anyone else imaginary Internet friends with B.T. Harman? I just love him. He is so sincere and genuine, and his first podcast, Blue Babies Pink, was so incredibly impactful in my life. 

Well, B.T. has a new podcast launching MONDAY and I'm so ready. Catlick is a historical true crime story about ATLANTA!!!

I'm also excited to actually listen to a podcast as it's released rather than years later. 😜 I feel so in-the-know. 

Catlick isn't posted on Apple Podcasts yet, but follow B.T. on Insta and I'm sure he'll link to it there on Oct. 21 when it's released. 

Hi! My name is Christen Teague. I am married to my high school sweetheart, and we have four babies under 5! Our eight years of marriage have been full of plenty of ups and downs, but some of the most defining moments happened our first two years when we walked through a really hard season of loss, where we experienced two miscarriages. Our second miscarriage happened halfway through pregnancy at 18 weeks. We walked into an ultrasound room hopeful and expectant to learn the gender of our baby and walked out with the heartbreaking news that there was no longer a heartbeat. I was induced that night and delivered our angel the next morning. It was raw and heartbreaking and altered the way I view everything about the gift of life. Since that season of loss, I’ve been given the privilege of delivering four healthy babies into the world in five years. Our days are pretty chaotic now but I cherish every moment of it! 

Q: What makes you feel strong?

When I say no to something I know that I’m not supposed to be doing. As an Enneagram 2, this is a constant challenge for me because I have a constant desire to please everyone around me. But right now, I have four little people who need me serving them on a daily basis and that means saying no to a lot of other things. I’ve spent the past year really working on my “no” muscle and learning how to discern what are smart yes’s and what are smart no’s. 

Q: What are you most proud of? 

This is such a mom answer, but my kids! As a stay-at-home mom, they are my main focus these days, so anytime I see the fruit of all this labor and love being poured into them start to grow, I burst with pride. They are kind and funny and smart and full of grace! I think that is what I’m most proud of though: the grace they constantly are giving themselves, each other, and me. We adults can learn so much from the tiny humans of the world! 

Q: What do you wish you could teach or share with other women?

That they are enough. Just as they are. Just as they choose to be. Just as they were created by God.  In an age of social media, it is so easy to start comparing yourself to everyone else. You wake up, and by 7:30 a.m. you’ve been reminded via Instagram that someone is prettier than you, someone is skinnier than you, someone is more rich, someone is more successful... the list goes on. I am constantly reminding myself of my own worthiness as I am... and the women in my life, too! We are enough just as we are, and the sooner we start accepting this, the sooner we can start becoming the best version of ourselves.

Q: What is your biggest pet peeve?

When I see a table full of people out to dinner and they are all just staring at their phones. It drives me bonkers. World, talk to each other! It’s so good for your soul to look into the eyes of another human and have a genuine conversation. So. Good. 

Q: What’s your No. 1 goal for the upcoming year? 

Less and less and less screen time. My husband and I have been discussing what we want our household to look like for our kiddos as they get older and we both are in agreement that we just really want to limit screens as much as we can. That also means ourselves and the amount of time we are on our phones, TV time, etc. I look at our world now and know that while technology is amazing, it’s robbing families of so much good and honest conversation, creativity, etc. I want to make sure that I’m doing everything I can to set good habits in our household so that our kids grow up seeing me looking them in the face instead of down at my phone so that they, in turn, develop similar positive habits! 

Q: Do you ever feel misunderstood? If so, what would you want people to know about you? 

I’m an enneagram type 2 with a 3 wing, which for those who aren’t familiar with the Enneagram means that I have a servant’s heart with achiever tendencies. This sometimes means that when I do things for my kids, I can go a little over the top. I sometimes get the “Wow you are super mom!” comments, and I worry that people think I do those things just because I want to be labeled that way, when in reality the way my personality shows love is to do things for people in a way that goes over and beyond. I don’t cut my kids’ sandwiches into silly shapes because I want Instagram to like it. I do it because I know that it will make them smile when they sit down to eat lunch, and I feel like I’m loving them well that way! 

Q: What’s something about you not many people know?

All of the clothing I wear on a daily basis fits in a single drawer, I own three pairs of shoes at a time, and my hanging clothing takes up maybe a foot of space in our closet.  I like keeping my wardrobe very minimal so that I know everything I own fits well, can be worn with multiple other items, and makes me feel comfortable. If I don’t like something or it no longer fits (hello, four babies), I donate it or sell it. It is a way that I keep that part of my life simply and easy. 

Q: What is one product you can’t live without? 

I don’t have time to do all of the self care things like salon manicures, pedicures, etc. (Again, hello four babies) But recently I started painting my fingernails regularly and it’s making me feel just a tad bit put together. In true Christen fashion, I’ve found one color I love, and I just keep buying it over and over again when I run out! It’s called Essie’s “Pre-show Jitters” and it’s so good. I paint them every Sunday night while I watch an episode of Outlander and it’s just this little thing I like to do  for myself to prepare for the week ahead! 

I'll kick this segment off with a question from me! Please hit "reply" and send me an email if you'd like to ask or answer a question!

Help me out. What foundation are y'all loving? I want something clean/environmentally friendly, affordable and easy to apply. I tried a foundation stick and really hated it, but I don't love super greasy liquid either. Need something with more coverage than powder. Haha. This might be too much to ask. Suggestions?

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