TOO TIRED TO MAKE LEMONADE

Have you ever had moments in life when all of your choices were bad ones? When no amount of thinking, praying or talking things through would fix anything? Moments when no amount of will power, elbow grease, positive thoughts or sugar can make lemonade out of the sour fruit you've been given? I have. I reached this point of hopelessness, fatigue and surrender this past December, and it was a moment that forever changed me and forever made me dislike the phrase, "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade."

The crux of that phrase is dependency on ourselves (our bodies, our minds, our hearts) to will ourselves to happiness. But I reached a moment when I couldn't will myself - I had no juice left in me. I was spent. I had squeezed and squeezed what good and hope I could find out of my situation with all of my might, but it wasn't working. I was over come with fear, having panic attacks, angry, stressed, sad, exhausted to do much of anything. I was in survival mode. Just trying to get through each minute of each day until I could hit my pillow and sleep.

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To know me, is to know that I'm a fighter. It's like I came out of the womb ready to battle. I'm a rally-er (if that's a thing). I love to rally others to fight too. I rarely stop to smell the roses, to celebrate because, for me, when I am happiest is when I am fighting and restoring things and people, and there's always work to be done. I'm a positive thinker and the first to believe the impossible is possible. So, making lemonade out of lemons is what I do. I own that phrase. Give me a problem and I will solve it!

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When my marriage was on the rocks three years ago I fought, and we signed up for counseling, as well as individual counseling. And when Levi started getting sick regularly I powered through doctor appointments, playdate cancellations and sleepless nights. When my arthritis resurfaced I mind over mattered it, got in to see specialists, took my meds and it was fixed. When time was scarce for my business I burned the midnight oil and got it done. For all of 2016, I basically woke up in fight mode and went to sleep in fight mode - always ready to battle everything and everyone - determined to fix, help and win.

With my inherent fight matched with Ryan's instinctual flight we were just a mess. When things got harder at home with kids and work I just squeezed harder trying to control what things and people I could whether that was Ryan, Elle, Levi, my house or my job. Meanwhile, Ryan tried to make life better by fleeing from the chaos. We coped the way we knew how. I felt abandoned by Ryan in my over-responsible state and Ryan felt unloved in his. When December came around after a hellish November (ear infections, tube surgery, two spells of hand foot and mouth, plus entertaining family) we both came to a point of hopelessness for "us," and we both wondered if separation, the only unturned stone after years of counseling, would be the solution.

Those first nights of December we sat together at total loss on how to fix the mess, and then Levi got strep. And though that me seem small, it was the straw that broke the camel's back. I thought my body was going to collapse. I felt like everything was just falling through my hands. I had no control over my circumstances, and now I felt like I was losing control over myself. I did the only thing I knew I could. I escaped.

I called a sitter for the kids, and I fled to Sedona where my parents have a vacation home. When I got there I just sat alone in this big quiet house, breathed in deep and exhaled tears. Tears of fatigue, hopelessness and anger at these lemons, at myself, at Ryan and mostly, at God.

So, I did the one thing I remembered I'm good at - writing. I wrote a letter to God on a yellow legal pad. (I'm looking at it right now as I write this post.) It said:

"God, I know you are with me. I know you are here. I know that you made me. But, I don't know how to love you. I don't know how to feel you. I don't know how to trust you." There was more, but all you need to know is the ending said, "Do you really love me, God?"

In my head I knew the right answer, but my heart didn't. I needed with all my heart to know that He did love me - that He was still my Protector, my Defender, My Father, My Friend.

There was just silence after I set my pen down. And, feeling a bit drained and bored I went into the garage to rummage through some of my old books and things from high school. I found my old year books and old report cards, and there sitting in this cardboard box was a keepsake box. I opened it, and to my surprise there was a pristinely wrapped present in the shape of a small rectangle. It was covered in light blue wrapping paper with a vintage floral print. I thought, "Why would my mom leave a wrapped gift in this box and not tell me?" I had never seen this paper before, and I definitely didn't wrap myself a gift and leave it there. Of course, I opened it (heck, a little gift sounded good right about then anyway). It was a book, Praying God's Will for Your Life, by Stormie Omartian. I thought to myself, "Huh, sounds a bit cheesy, and whose name is Stormie? There's no one in the world that would have given me this book. I said to myself, "Okay, God, apparently you want me to read this book because this is too weird. In fact, it's so weird it sounds like You. And, well, I have nothing better to do. I'll do it."

So, I did. I read almost half of the book in one sitting, and I sobbed through most of it. Though I have been a Christian for 16 years, I had forgotten how to really trust God. And trusting God, needing God is really the foundation of Christianity. I remembered the foundational Truth that no matter how hard I try I can never conquer the lemons of life on my own. I can never make lemonade sweet enough without God. And even if I somehow managed to, it would never quench my thirst. 

So, I let go. I let it all go. I just dumped my whole pitcher out that day. I said, "Here God. You take it. I can't do this," and wept. I asked for forgiveness in that moment for not trusting Him with my babies, my marriage, and my life. And miraculously, I was overcome with peace. I was renewed in that moment. It was like all of the sudden my empty pitcher was overflowing. And you would think it was this everlasting water that you hear the Bible talk about, but it was even better. It tasted like iced coffee, with two pumps classic and 2% milk because my Best Friend, my God knew what I was craving. He sure loves me indeed.

So, I think the saying should actually go something like this: "When life gives you lemons, give them to God, and He'll give you iced coffee," or whatever quenches that thirst of yours. ;) Sorry, Bey, I love your album Lemonade and all, but I think we need a second one now.

When I came back home my problems were still there - still more lemons to face. In fact, Levi has had two more cases of strep since, and Ryan and I are SO much better, but definitely a work in progress. But, there's something different now.  I'm not trying to make lemonade out of the lemons we have or the lemons that will come. I'm just handing them over to God, and trusting Him with what I need. I can't say there haven't been times when I've acted like a toddler whining, "Me do it! Mine!" But, He's so patient, and eventually I give the sour fruit to Him. 

The human part of me prays you never have to come to a point like this in your life, but the spiritual part of me hopes you do, so that you can witness the miracle that comes with no longer relying on your own power; and, rather, experiencing the peace that comes with surrendering your lemons to the only Power that can make the sweetest lemonade (or iced coffee in my case). He has already won the war for you my friend. I promise. I bet my life on it.


SEEDS OF DOUBT

There's a fine line between being pragmatic and sprinkling seeds of doubt. I know this by experience. Seeds of doubt were sewn in me by the people who love me the most - my family. They had no idea at the time, and I know now they are sad at the result of their words, but, nonetheless, they were planted. They looked like seeds that would sprout better choices, safer paths, protection and love, but what grew from phrases like, "Fashion is very competitive. Not many succeed. There isn't a lot of money in fashion. There isn't a demand for styling in Phoenix. You're not as stylish as other girls," grew something ugly. A snarly weed, a critic. She looks and sounds almost exactly like me, but she's not me at all. She's like a  knock off Prada bag, but looks authentic from the outside. 

No matter how much weed killer I put on this fake bitch (I usually don't swear, but that's the only word that fits this lady) she still gets in a word here and there. I give her credit for my business degree and my PR experience - a smart cookie no doubt. I also credit her for the depression, self-esteem battles and tears. The only thing that has quieted her snobby voice is this overwhelming stirring in my Spirit that feels like a fireball (trust me it's not heartburn) - there's no quenching it unless I release it. 

I did it when I started my first blog, AlexandraEvjen.com. It came out again when I got my first logo. And again, when I went I completed my first photo shoot. And again, when I did my first fashion show. And again, when I got over a million followers on Pinterest. And again, when I got my first job with a brand (Glamour Magazine). And again, when my work was first published in print.

That critic is silenced every minute of every day when I get to do what my Spirit has always asked me to do - simply follow this passion. I am so thankful that I had the courage to release this wildfire, but not everyone has this story. Not every person has been able to release this groaning deep within them. Unfortunately, some people have more than one devil wearing Prada bitch in them because more seeds of doubt disguised with pragmatism were sewn - like Johnny Apple seed had a field day. For them, I write this post.

We need to remember these three things when we speak to dreamers:

1. When someone comes to you and shares with you something they are deeply passionate about feel honored that they shared it with you because it comes from a spiritual place not just an idea manufactured by the brain.

2. If you are a realist by nature you can be a HUGE asset to the dreamer. Help them make a step by step plan of action, but be mindful of what you define as failure. Failure to a dreamer is never having tried. Failure to a realist is setting a course of action, trying and getting a different result. Help them try.

2. We as parents, spouses and friends need to nurture what has already been planted. I believe that God plants passions, desires and talents within each human. Some children know at a very early age what those are.  My performing arts high school was full of young dreamers that have since gone on to pursue their dreams because they were nurtured by our education system. I'm so thankful I was one of those kids. So, listen to your kids and dream with them, expose them to opportunities to try new things and keep your desire to protect them from pain in check. 

3. Use your power of influence for good. We all have influence on each other. Be mindful of your super power, and use it to build up not tear down.

Photos by Rennai Hoefer

RED LIP CHALLENGE

Growing up, the idea of "becoming a woman," was not appealing. I just associated it with uncomfortable body changes, bras, periods and childbirth. In my eyes, there wasn't much to celebrate. In fact, it seemed like it was a curse to be a woman. Unfortunately, many years of my life were spent operating under the label of "girl" instead of "woman" because it felt more freeing and comfortable. It wasn't until after I had my babies that I embraced my femininity.

Growing, birthing and nurturing children has unlocked this new found strength, respect, and confidence in my body and self. I am PROUD to be a woman. So, I am rocking bold red lips as a symbol of femininity, strength, and confidence for the the Verily Magazine Red Lip Challenge. 

You can be a part of the challenge too by posting a photo of yourself wearing red lipstick and saying what it means to you to wear it. See more details on Verily's Instagram post.

Photos by Rennai Hoefer

PIPE LAMP DIY

This post is sponsored by The Home Depot.

As I have started to complete the decorating process for our family room, I realized there was a necessary "living" element missing from our space - light. We have plenty of natural light during the day, but other than some recessed lights in the ceiling we have nothing. I've learned over the years that side lighting is the most flattering on people, as well as functional when you're sitting down to watch a movie or read a book. Downward lighting can cause harsh shadows, but is great for illuminating a large space. Spaces need both, so I partnered with The Home Depot to create a light for our family room. 

If you have followed me for long you know that I'm not much of a DIY-er. In fact, most DIY's scare me. I'm that mom that buys the store-made Valentine's and puts my kids names on them and calls it a day. When it comes to decor, however,  and I can't find what I'm looking for, that's enough motivation to make me attempt a DIY. I love the industrial look of pipe lights, and I wanted to try my hand at making my own. LDR Pipe Decor makes pipe DIY's so easy. Everything fits together, so you just need to have an idea and shape in mind. I built my lamp base in under five minutes it was that easy. 

You can also buy lighting kits at The Home Depot. The directions for how to wire your lamp is on the back of the package. Seriously, so simple! I used both an LED light bulb and a vintage style bulb so you can see the difference. Obviously, saving energy in our home is a priority so we went with a Cree LED bulb.

You can get the step-by-step tutorial to creating a lamp just like mine on The Home Depot's blog. It costs about $90 to make the whole thing. Not too bad for a brand new industrial style lamp.

Photos by Rennai Hoefer

STEPS TO CONTROL ALLERGENS

We finally found some answers as to why Levi has been sick so much during his first year and a half of life. After taking foods out of his diet, getting tubes in his ears, keeping him away from public places and seeing a ton of specialists we still had no answers until a couple of weeks ago when we visited an immunologist for the first time. 

Dr. Bauer, who is also an allergist as well an immunologist, did some allergy tests and we learned that Levi is very allergic to cats, dogs, dust and cockroaches. Surprisingly, he doesn't have any food allergies to date.

And interestingly enough, our house that we moved into just before he was born used to have cats in it. We also have a golden-doodle, and with our house being so large I can' say I'm always up-to-date on keeping the dust-mites at bay. I'm not really sure how the cockroaches come into play considering we are very cleanly and have never seen one here, but I guess they must be outside in the grass. So, it turns out that the reason why he kept getting infection after infection was because there was always mucus in his sinuses as a result of the allergies. His little immune system was also taxed by constantly producing anti-histamines. Poor guy!

Our doctor advised us to make some big changes inside our home, and they have helped tremendously. Levi isn't scratching his nose all of the time and finally doesn't sound stuffy. He also hasn't been sick in three weeks, which is huge for us. So, here's what we think is helping:

1. Air Purifier with a Hepa Filter - We were told to put a air purifier in his room that has a hepa filter, and to keep it running all of the time. This will filter out the dust in the air that he's allergic to. She also recommended that we keep the door closed at all times to prevent additional dust from getting into his room. So far we like the GermGuardian a lot. It has a blue nightlight too that you can use.

2. Vacuum with a Hepa Filter & vacuum weekly - We had been using a 10 year old vacuum, and we were only vacuuming about once a month upstairs. We're very tidy people, and I never saw any dust anywhere. I had no idea how much dust could collect in our low grade carpet until we bought a new vacuum. We purchased the Shark Navigator after reading a ton of reviews, and the amount of dust you pick up every time you run it is insane. I guess that's what you get for living in Arizona.

3. Daily Children's Zyrtec - Though I don't love having to give Levi meds every day Zyrtec has helped tremendously. Long-term studies have also been done and show no side-effects to using it. Plus, there are no proven natural remedies for animal allergies at this time. Eventually, when he is 4 years old he can start to get allergy shots, but for now he doesn't mind taking a 1/4 tsp daily.

4. Daily nasal spray - Nasacort is a non-steroid nasal spray that just helps to keep the mucus away, and combined with the Zyrtec his nose is staying clear. 

5. No dairy - Dairy gives him bad eczema and also causes mucus to form. 

6. No stuffed animals in his room - They are huge dust collectors, so we have banned them from his room. 

7. Change his clothes before nap time and bedtime - Germs and allergens can cling to fabric. To be extra cautious we change his clothes before nap and bedtime. 

8. Daily baths - We were only bathing Levi every other day because of his eczema, but the doctor recommended daily baths with warm water to wash away the dust and germs. We only use soap on the dirty areas and we don't wash his hair every time. We have been applying Vanicream twice daily and it seems to keep the eczema under control. 

9. Got rid of our dog - Wendy has been a part of our family for seven years. I can't tell you how heartbreaking it has been to live life without her. We are doing a two month trial with our in-laws, and then we are going to try to bring her back after Levi has shown improvement over the long-haul. I'm hoping it's not forever, but I'll keep you posted.

10. Eliminated some rugs - We removed the rug the kids play on every day. We have a ton of area rugs in our house, which can be huge dust collectors. If needed, we will start eliminating more, but hopefully, we don't have to have bare floors throughout the whole house to keep his allergies under control.

So far so good. He hasn't been sick in three weeks and he is the happiest I have ever seen him. His nose is clear and he isn't scratching his face constantly. I can't tell you what a relief this has been to me. It makes me teary-eyed thinking about it. If you have children with constant ear, sinus and throat infection I highly encourage you to seek an immunologist in your area.