Tuesday, December 17, 2013

God in Me. God in You, You, You, and You Too.

On Sunday, my daughter got on a plane and flew to the other side of the country. This is the farthest she has ever been away from me. She's never flown without me. The last time we were this far apart, I was in Las Vegas, and she was reading Harry Potter. That was nine years and one child ago. My reason for sharing that is: My world is a bit off-kilter, and I am using that as an excuse for bad skin, unexplained crying, crappy eating, not working out, and this is starting to sound a lot like pms...

Anyway, that wasn't my point for writing. My point was this: I have been reading this awesome series (and if you have a penchant for self-awareness or just appreciate great writing, you should read it as well) and every day little granules of truth plunk me in the head.

Most recently I've been overthinking how we all process the same things so very differently. In my family of origin, if you ask each of us to describe the same event, you'd get five different stories. When my other two brothers were alive, their stories would be different still. Add in my parents' views and you'd have even more. Each person firmly believes his or her version is the truth. Many of them were the hero in their version. But, it's kind of like this:

Remember the time:
No, that's not how it happened. It was like this...
OHHHH yeah, but then you said...
No, that's close, but I said...
You did not...
She wasn't even there...
Were you even there?
Oh, I remember, we were having Neopolitan dinner dish...

Even though we experienced a lot of the same things (we all lost our brothers and our dad), each of us walked away--except the two who didn't--with different scars, stories, and memories. A few weeks ago one sibling summed up another sibling's behavior with, "That's just how he processed the shit that happened to us. We all dealt with it differently."

I recently read Carry On, Warrior, and my biggest take away was her description of "Namaste," acknowledging that the divine in us recognizes the divine in those we meet. That was bigger than a granule, it was like a rock on the head. God in me; God in you.

Ughhhhhh...we all process it differently...we all have the same God in us...My daughter's on the other side of the world, and I have pms, OBVIOUSLY...

God is in my brother. He is in my mom. He is in that person who annoys the CRAP out of you. He is in the guy who cut you off in traffic. I'm not entirely convinced that there is the same amount of God in everyone...I'm kidding; calm down. God is in the Fed Ex driver that can't find my house--dude...really? God is in the union guy that calls my husband at 1:00 a.m. and drags him out of our warm bed. He is in your boss. He is in the four disgruntled old ladies who complain the entire time in line. He's in your kids. He's in your mother in law. He's in that homeless man, and you walked to the other side of the street to avoid him.

It is not my job to fix you, nor are you called to fix me. I may not change the world, but I can love and accept you and me as God loves and accepts us both. We might never be best friends, but I will see past your humanness and look for your divinity. Today my prayer is to step out of my own way as the divine in me reaches out to the divine in you.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Mowana, Magic, and Monday

Snow is not my deal. I don't like to be cold, so I politely decline to make snowmen, ride sleds, ski, or ice skate. Well, I have ice skated on occasion. It's rare. Mostly, when the kids want to play outside, it's on Daddy. Granted, in my overachieving 20's and and early 30's, I suffered through these activities, but not now. My kids know I love them; I don't have to get my toes frostbitten to prove how much.

However, this past weekend, we attended Making Room for Jesus at Camp Mowana*, and my snow perspective shifted a bit. We hiked through beautiful, picturesque, landscapes; every picture I took looked like a Christmas card. Okay, I still had frozen toes and skipped sled riding and the second hike, but for awhile, it was pretty amazing.

In those quiet, still, cold, and beautiful moments, God felt so close. It is easy to feel close to God when you remove the pressures of daily life. No tv's, ipads, xboxes, or computers, but no one gets bored. Kids play chess, hike, color and make crafts. Moms had great conversations, Bible studies, and spent time in prayer, fellowship, and worship.

It is one of those places where God is just so near. You know? You can feel His presence. You are calm. You are centered.

The bad thing about going to those places is that then you come back home. Home to dog hair--seriously, IT'S DECEMBER! ENOUGH ALL READY. Home to migraines and tummy aches and another day off school. Home to "Are you done with your Christmas shopping yet?" I HAVEN'T EVEN STARTED. Home to whining and bickering and sickness and cooking dinner and shopping, and did I mention the freaking dog hair?

Just yesterday, I felt so calm, centered, close to God. Well, I was close to Him this morning as I yell-prayed, "Please LORD, I have so much to do. PLEASE, Lord, no more headaches. NO MORE STOMACHACHES. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE." And God said, "No."

But in His no, He reminded me that cleaning, working, writing, scrubbing, gifting, shopping, cooking, and stressing can wait. Stop, look around, and embrace the magic in the moments that you are forced to be still. It's not about going away to find Jesus in a perfect, beautiful place. Sure, that's great and wonderful, but it's really about making room for Him in my messy house, cluttered mind, and imperfect life.

It's about shifts in perspective. It's about seeing the obstacles as opportunities. I didn't make it to the gym Monday, but I got to spend the afternoon watching movies with my sweet boy. I'm not going to finish my shopping today, but I get to hold my snuggly littlest all day. I'm not going to spend as much time this holiday with my precious firstborn, but she is going to have an amazing experience on the west coast.

Today, Lord, I'm thankful for messed up plans and the magical opportunities they present. I'm thankful for the ability to see You not only in the picture perfect beauty of Mowana, but also in the messy chaotic beauty on North Park. I'm not thankful for dog hair, but I'm a work in progress. Amen.

* We are not Lutheran, but our good friends are. Also, the camp is more loving Jesus, less being Lutheran.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?

I think I have become old and crotchety. At least that's how I feel sometimes. Usually when I am around children aged 5 and below. I love babies...until they are about 2. I don't want any part of tantrums, toilet training, and tattling. We have a long-standing rule in our house that goes like this: Unless someone really hurt you or you hurt them, don't tattle. No, that doesn't mean your brother accidentally bumped into you. No that doesn't mean because you don't live in my house you can tattle. It means don't tattle. Period. I don't play.

My parenting style is far different than the kinder, gentler approach that many young parents take. I'm not going to ask a child to behave. I am going to tell them to behave. I'm not going to please and thank them for doing what they are supposed to do as if it was some favor to me. "Thank you for picking up those blocks you threw across the room when you were frustrated." "Please stop poking your baby sister in the eye!" For Real? I believe in teaching manners, just not like that.

I'm being completely real, friends: Bad. Kids. Get. On. My. Nerves. Come on, parents, we gotta do better! Did your parents discipline you? Do you love them still? Your child is not gonna stop loving you if you discipline them. However, your kid is not gonna respect you if you ask them, "Please stop slapping Mommy in the face; that hurts Mommy's feelings, and makes Mommy cry when you do that." Seriously? That makes me wanna slap myself in the face.

Don't be scared to put the fear of God and MOM in your kids. One time, I walked around Walmart with Lily screaming her head off because, "I told you if you were sassy you couldn't have a sucker, and guess what: YOU WERE SASSY AND YOU ARE NOT GETTING IT." I didn't feel bad for Lil, though I did cut my grocery shopping short because we were disruptive to any people who may have been enjoying their shopping experience.

I got lots of dirty looks, and she got many sympathetic smiles, but it wasn't about me being judged as a mother--I don't care--it was about being a parent and teaching my child that I mean what I say. She may have learned that I was shameless and didn't care about shopping with a screaming, snotty, slobbering 3-year-old, but she also learned that she wasn't gonna get her way with tantrums. And that, my friends, was the LAST fit she threw at the store.

When I see people post articles about tough parenting, I want high five them. We NEED to be tough parents. There's a generation of people walking around with soaring self-esteem and absolutely no reason to feel that good about themselves. Few baseball moms like me because I refuse to say, "good try" to a 12-year-old who misses an easy ground ball. No. GET YOUR GLOVE ON THE GROUND! I don't believe in beating kids down. But I also don't believe in letting them beat us down. And I do believe in keeping it real. Good tries aren't enough in the real world.

My 19-year-old daughter is my very best friend. But I am her mother. I was her mother through some tough choices and bad decisions and guess what: She knows every bad choice I made. My kids know that my love isn't conditional, but if you make a bad choice I'm going to let you suffer some consequences. My little ones know the paths that their dad and I traveled. When we punish them for making wrong choices, it doesn't make us hypocrites, it makes parents who want better for our kids.

And speaking of wanting better: Don't feel guilty if you go to work, it's okay. I worked full-time until my son went to Kindergarten. You know what my older kids remember? The fun stuff we did. The stuff we could afford to do because I worked. And if you stay home? Don't feel guilty about that either. I stayed home with Lily, and she is the least materialistic child I know. Giving your child the gift of your time and attention is better than the latest toys. Those toys will end up in the garbage someday anyway, but your child will carry the gift of your love around forever.

We need to stop giving our power away. We let people's opinions of us keep us from doing our job--raising respectful, compassionate adults who will contribute to this world in a positive way. So yes, I am old and crotchety, and every positive parenting choice I make stands on top of 100 mistakes from which I am still learning, but let me encourage you young parents today: Stay strong. Do your job. Your child will still love you if you discipline them and even better, they will respect you too.

Monday, November 18, 2013

I'll Do Better Next Time.

We got a hot tub a few weeks ago. It is perhaps my most favorite thing we have ever owned. Mostly because one of my most favorite things to do is nothing, as evidenced by my repeated pleas, "Can we just sit and BE?" My babies are antsy, though, so that is usually met with, "That's BORING! Can't we do something fun?"

There is not much you actually can do in a hot tub. Granted the kids manage to kick each other, splash, steal seats, turn off all the jets, make amazing light shows, play charades (the only mom-approved hot tub game), turn water bottles into guns and projectiles, and so forth. Occasionally, though, they sit and look at the stars or try to catch snowflakes on their tongues. Occasionally, they are able just to sit and be.

I treasure those rare moments.

When we were young and naive and had Chloe, every experience was new and fun. Parenthood was like being a kid in a candy store. Again with Peyton, even though we were older and more experienced, trucks and dirt and boy stuff was delightful in a whole new way. Now, I've mentioned a million times that Lily was a surprise baby. And despite my love for babies, I planned to love them from afar.

A funny thing happened though. Chloe grew up and moved away and taught me how fleeting childhood is. I am so grateful to have another little one. A couple more years of school parties, tooth fairies and Christmas magic. Chloe taught me how to be a mom. She was my guinea pig. I did so many things wrong and made so many mistakes, but she didn't know because I was her only mom. One time I read somewhere that if you just love them enough...if you just love them enough it makes up for those mistakes. I think that's true because she's all grown up and she's my best friend.

Course it could be that she's super-forgiving, having secret intensive therapy, or writing a Mommie Dearest kind of tell-all. That's cool too.

Anyway, I still make too many mistakes, but I believe that Peyton and Lily are blessed for the mistakes I made with Chloe. I believe all my kids are blessed for the mistakes my parents made. I believe that mistakes aren't for making you feel guilty and inferior but for helping you learn. I believe in owning your mistakes--not just saying you're sorry but meaning it and doing better.

It's interesting when I consider how God answers my prayers. If I pray for patience, He gives me strife so I can learn...what? Patience. If I pray for strength, He guides me through difficult times and reminds me of the source of strength. When I pray for forgiveness, God shows me so many opportunities to give it.

As long as we are on this planet, we will make mistakes. People we love will make mistakes. Each time we have choices. Guilt or grace. Forgiveness or resentment. During this month of gratitude, I'm grateful for millions of mistakes and the opportunities they bring to do better.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

This Is Not My Home.

After my dad died, I cried every morning in the shower. It is safe to cry in the shower. No one hears you. You're wet everywhere so no little hands reach up to wipe tears. The tears mix in with the rest of the water. Your eyes are red because you got shampoo in them. So careless. I could cry without anyone trying to care for me, feel sorry for me, pity me, fix me.

My morning routine started by slathering Preparation H around my eyes to conceal the shower crying. Friends, here's an awesome beauty tip: Hemorrhoid cream does wonders for eyes puffy from crying, not sleeping, drinking, allergies...whatever. For real.

I have been through tragedies, but this time, I had three people who were relying on me not to fall apart. When my first brother died, I completely fell apart. I could. I was 16. No one relied on me. The people around me held me and worried about me and picked me up. Unexpectedly losing someone you think is invincible makes you feel really small and vulnerable.

When my good friend died of cancer, it wasn't as bad. I am not minimizing her death, but I had months to get used to the idea that she was going to die. I could say goodbye. I told her I loved her a million times. We talked about how bad it sucked and how unfair life could be sometimes. And we cried and we laughed, but we prepared.

When my second brother died, it was the worst. Suicide is the worst. No preparation. No conspiracy theories. Nothing left but a big pile of regret and guilt and questions. People said that I would be mad at him. How could I be mad at him for being in so much pain? I was mad at lots of people, but he wasn't one of them.

For a long time, I felt a sense of safety in pain. Well, at least it can't get any worse. But don't say that or think that or God forbid allow yourself to believe that because it can. It can get worse. It couldn't get any worse than my brother dying unexpectedly until my other brother chose to die. Well, it couldn't get any worse than...Yes. Yes, it could.

I have dealt with the pain and the questions and the stages of grief more times than I can count. Grief, pain, tragedy have become like my hometown. I don't live there anymore, but I visit from time to time. I remember the streets and can still find my way around. Lots of things look the same. Some places have changed. Some people have moved away, but some still live there.

It's a choice. It's my choice. It's your choice. You can stay in your hometown. You can give in to grief. You can let abuse or neglect or grief that you suffered stunt your growth and keep you mired in shame, regret, and self-pity. Or you can move. It doesn't mean you forget. It doesn't mean it didn't happen. It just means that you are choosing not to let what happened to you dictate who you become.

I have a big family. People are gonna die. My mom is 82--today. I'm gonna have to visit that place many more times. But I'm not moving back home.

Monday, November 4, 2013

One Heart at a Time

Here's my unfortunate experience with church people: They are fake, judgmental hypocrites. The people who were most revered in my growing up church beat their kids, cheated on their wives, gossiped, judged, hated, and looked down on people. Ain't nobody got time for those folks and their God.

At The Movement, I encountered different people. Loving, accepting Christians who had kind non-judgmental hearts. However, even some I thought of as my kind of Christians show me their humanness if I mention hot button topics such as: Brad and I drink alcohol, my brother committed suicide or my sister-in-law is a lesbian. They don't judge me to my face. Honestly, if I weren't observant of body language I might miss their judgment. See, it is so subtle: an averted glance, an uncomfortable shifting in their seat, a quick, "Excuse me," as they hurry away from me.

Honestly, there is a part of me that kind of enjoys making people uncomfortable. Not because I'm sadistic, but because I much prefer those who are just right out in the open with their hate to those who pretend to be loving and accepting. So, when I tell you my feelings about homosexuality and suicide, I'm probably trying to gauge if we have any chance of being friends, and I'll know very quickly based on your reaction.

I am an open book. If I'm mad at you, I will tell you. If I think I offended you, I will apologize. If you say something that I don't agree with, I will listen to your point of view, but I probably won't change my mind. If you say something outwardly hurtful to me, I will be hurt, but I would rather be attacked to my face than gossiped about behind my back.

I try every day to be kinder, to be more patient, not to say unkind things about anyone, but I'm a work in progress, and I mess up.

This weekend, people showed up in a church in a bar not knowing what to expect. People who might have felt judged or looked down upon in church because of their clothes, past, or sexual orientation. But I think they felt loved and accepted. I saw them smiling and sharing their stories with others that they may never have met if not for a church in a bar in downtown Warren.

Some people mock God, church, and me, but that is okay, they're works in progress too. They might have been raised to believe that God is vengeful and punitive, and Christians are phony. We're all works in progress. But, I'm super grateful to a crazy redheaded pastor who trusted God enough to trade good for a chance at great. I'm grateful to my pastor/brother-in-law, who is the first Christian I ever met who loved and didn't judge. I'm grateful for my sister-in-law, who in her quiet unassuming way is gonna change the freaking world.

I'm outrageously blessed that I get to love and be loved by my beautiful family every moment. But today, I am overwhelmed by the opportunity to bring love to a community one heart at a time.

P.S. I don't really know how to spell judgement or judgmental, so I have relied solely on spell check and apologize for what I'm sure is a lot of inconsistency. Also, I promise this isn't a passive aggressive dig at any person. If you feel called out, it might be because God is telling you to check yourself. Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Friday, October 25, 2013

It's your party; you can cry if you want to.

On Wednesday night, I had a much needed therapeutic intervention in the form of card night with a couple girlfriends. We used to have card nights more frequently, but life gets busy, and sometimes we get so busy scheduling all the things that make us crazy we forget to schedule the things that make us happy. Card night makes me happy. Time with my friends centers me.

I've been on this roller coaster of forgiveness and offense the past few weeks. This week I got a reprieve. God placed some wonderful people in my path to remind me that yes, there are unkind people in my life, but I am overwhelmingly blessed by so many people with amazing hearts and beautiful spirits, who inspire me every day.

Some of these people I don't interact with daily. Some of them I only know through social media. Some are really in my life, and I'm remiss if they don't all ready know who they are and how much I adore them.

I felt compelled to share this because a shift in perspective reminded me that good attracts more good. When we focus on giving, loving, encouraging, and blessing others, sweetly unexpected blessings come back to us.

This week, virtual strangers poured out kindness on my family. If I hadn't spent the last week or two analyzing flawed and toxic relationships, I don't know if I would have appreciated such sweet gestures as much as I do today. When we are trudging through dark memories, it is hard to see the light. More than a few times, I have told my darling husband, who patiently reminds me of all our blessings, "I don't want to see a silver lining right now; I just want to cry."

And it is okay to cry. Sometimes, even in the midst of a million blessings, I let sadness creep in and derail me. Yes, I have three beautiful amazing kids; also, I have two dead brothers who didn't get to know them. And even though my dad lived for 94 years, he's not alive now, and I miss him. And while most of the time, I am positive and focus on the amazing life God gave me, I remind myself it's okay to be sad because remembering the sadness makes the sweet moments even sweeter.

When Chloe was first in college, she was having a rough day, and I was trying to cheer her up. She said, "It's okay, Mama. It's just a bad day in a really good life." My baby girl is so wise.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Forgiveness and gossip and offense, Oh My!

When I'm struggling with a particular issue or better yet, when I think I am NOT struggling with a particular issue, I find myself confronted with multiple lessons on the issue. Perhaps, my heightened awareness makes me pay closer attention, or perhaps God, knowing that I require multiple examples from many different angles before I can get something, sends in the heavenly troops.

For example, just this past week: I read about forgiveness, kind of dismissed it thinking, "I'm a pretty forgiving person." Immediately I was confronted with a host of past hurts that, guess what, I haven't forgiven--strike one. Next, I read about gossip, and thought, "I don't really say mean things about people." Then I walked in on two people gossiping about me and my youngest child and said HORRIFICALLY unkind things about them--strike two. Finally, I read about offense, and I got scared. Hard as I try not to take things personally, I fall short most of the time. So, I prayed, "Lord, please...I all ready know that is an area where I need work,"--check swing.

The Revelation: Wow. I suuuuccccckkkkk.

It would have been easy to beat myself up for my reactions, agonize over how little progress I have made, and wallow in self-defeating guilt. Fortunately, I realized that the point of the lessons was not to drag me down, but to lift me up. The point was to realize that I can't change the past--not what I did and not what anyone else did. But I can stop that cycle of bitterness and resentment when it gets to me. I can't change what people think or say about me, my kids, or anyone else behind our backs, but I can stop that gossip right here. I can react with kindness, compassion, and forgiveness.

This is much easier said than done--obv (shoutout to Chloe), but I'm going to keep working at it. And every moment I'm breathing is an opportunity to do so.

As Lysa TerKeurst reminds me: “I was made for more than being stuck in a vicious cycle of defeat. I am not made to be a victim of my poor choices. I was made to be a victorious child of God.” Amen, sisters.

Friday, September 20, 2013

NEWSFLASH: I'm not Skinny, Fast, or Crafty

Recently, I've gotten to spend time with some of my favorite people that I don't see regularly. Women who inspire me, teach me, understand me and accept me. Women who are confident, independent, comfortable in their own skin and encouraging of others. Women who are amazing mothers, writers, researchers, advocates, friends and sisters. I love them all and am so grateful for their presence in my life.

A few weeks ago, I read The Prayer of Jabez by Bruce Wilkinson. It was a short, very interesting read that detailed the story of Jabez in Chronicles, his powerful prayer, and how to live a fully blessed life ourselves. So, I started praying the prayer of Jabez every day for myself and my family, for our church and our pastors, and for everyone who asks for prayer.

Right now, I'm gonna pray it for my dog as she is emitting an odor that suggests she may have consumed a cadaver. I sometimes pray for my animals. Some people think that is crazy, and maybe it is. I don't think God censors the things you can talk about with Him though. "It's Friday, and I, the Almighty ruler of the universe, am not taking prayer requests for stinky dogs." When I say that I imagine that God sounds like the Wizard of Oz, you know, behind the curtain before we know that the Wizard's just the door guy. That's how the God from my Catholic childhood sounded. And sorry, if you haven't seen The Wizard of Oz, I just kinda ruined that for you.

Phew. Sorry, imagine that, I strayed off topic.

Refocus. My beautiful friends help me realize that it's okay to be okay with where you are and who you are. I don't mean settling for mediocrity, but for instance, I think I've mentioned a time or two that I don't like to run. Yet, in preparing to turn 40, I set a goal to run a race with my family. Chloe loves to run, and Brad runs but doesn't really love it. In a recent conversation with my pastor's mom (who is my age; my pastor is 18--kidding), she said that her workout consists of meeting a friend at the gym and casually using the elliptical and talking. "Sometimes we don't even sweat," she said. Wow. I don't like to sweat. I don't like to run. I will make a sign and cheer for Brad and Chloe and my brother, and I will drink coffee and snuggle with my little kiddos because I like to do that. And I'm good at it. Yes, I'm good at drinking coffee and snuggling. I'm not trying to be a runner anymore.

So, I'm gonna give myself permission to be better at the things I'm good at and to let go of the things (most Pinterest crafts) that I generally suck at. Fortunately, my dear little friend from church is super creative and talented. She makes beautiful crafts, and for a nominal fee, she'll make something fabulous for me, and I remain free from glue gun burns.

I'm also giving myself permission not to weigh 110 pounds. Ya heard. My friend, Jen, is very thin, has two kids, eats like a 300 pound man, and has an underactive thyroid (yes, I know the difference, and no life is not fair.) She runs too. Not on a regular basis, but like, "Oh, I think I'll run a half marathon," every once in a while. And she does. The more I type the less I like her. (Kidding, again. I brought my A-game, Rivera) But, I am not made like that. I like to eat, but my body flaunts my love for food. That is O.K.

Initially praying the prayer, I believed that I was going to be stretched in all sorts of ways: running, crafting, writing, gardening, building, redecorating. But what I found instead is that God narrowed my focus. He gave me more people to talk with, listen to, and learn from. He gave me more people to encourage, pray for, and, gulp, forgive. He reminded me to focus on my gifts not someone else's.

One more thing. For years, we have prayed for Peyton to grow. He went to high school this year and told me, "Mom, I'm the smallest kid in the school." That hurt my heart. Over the years, we've prayed, bought nutrition shakes, set eating schedules, taken vitamins, and then, as I prayed the prayer for him over and over, God impressed this on my heart: "I made Him exactly how he is supposed to be." When I shared that with him, I was rewarded with a full mouth dimpled smile, and we changed our prayers--not that he would grow but that he would be comfortable in his skin and that God would accomplish great things through him, exactly the way he is.

Please don't mistake this is my attempt to start a slacker movement where we all give up trying to better ourselves. I'm just trying to be a better me and encouraging you to be a better you. But I'm not trying to be you. And please don't try to be me, even though my mad snuggling skills are enviable. Be you. God Bless.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Anybody Got a Light?

Today, is my one year anniversary free from nicotine. I smoked more than half my life. The first time I smoked a cigarette I was 9. Yep. NINE. Two years older than my baby. I LOVED cigarettes...in fact I still do. I love the way they feel between my fingers, on my lips, the way they smell...I love them. Even now, occasionally, I will pick one of Brad's up. Just to feel it. But I never light it.

I hated being addicted to nicotine. I didn't smoke in the house or car, but I can remember feeling so agitated on the way home from anywhere. Anxious to get my kids in the house so that I could smoke a cigarette. I was embarrassed that I smoked too. I didn't want anyone to know. I took great pains not to smell like smoke or smoke around anyone who wasn't part of my inner circle. People would say, "I didn't know you smoked!" Good! I didn't want you to.

When I began really to put God first in my life, I realized that even He came second to cigarettes. I am not proud to admit that I had to smoke a cigarette and make coffee before I opened my Bible. God, my kids, my husband...everyone was in second place. When I took a long hard look at that and really let it sink in, I started to pray and surrender. Please take this addiction away. Please...make it easy for me to quit. Please help me to wake up and just not want to smoke.

Over the years, I tried just about everything to quit. Hypnosis, books, nicotine gum, patches, herbal remedies, spiritual healings. I quit lots of times for days, weeks, even months. But every time, I would decide that I was back in control and let myself have just one cigarette. I can just smoke when I have a drink. I can just smoke when we go out with friends. I can just smoke on Fridays. I can just smoke on the weekends until...I can't. I can't. I can't. I can't. I can't ever just have one cigarette ever ever ever again.

One year ago, on Lily's birthday, we went to a party with our best friends. I probably smoked 100 cigarettes. The next morning I felt like there was an anvil on my chest. I didn't want to smoke. I told Brad, "I'm gonna quit smoking today." He said, "Okay, baby," but he didn't believe me. But I did.

I'm not bragging (well, except about God's goodness and faithfulness); I know lots of people who are trying to quit something. When asked how I quit smoking, I used to say, "I just quit," because I didn't like people to roll their eyes at me when I said, "I prayed, and God took away my craving for nicotine." But, that is what really happened. I woke up and said, "Help me not smoke today," and He did. And He keeps helping me not smoke day after day.

I have been tempted, but never beyond what I could handle. On one occasion this summer, I begged Brad to give me a cigarette, but I didn't smoke. Every day, I thank God that nicotine is no longer first in my life. Every day, I thank Him for making it easy. I never could have quit without a divine intervention because I will regrettably admit: I have no will power. Not. One. Bit.

This is the longest I have been smoke-free since the first time I smoked a cigarette 31 years ago. Not in my strength but in His...I am redeemed.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (NIV) But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Peaches and Pain

It feels like fall today, which simultaneously makes me happy and sad. Happy because I love fall. Sad because winter follows, and I don't like winter. I love so many things about fall: football, fires, pumpkin coffee, pumpkin everything, fresh apples, hoodies, snuggling under blankets. When I was little I loved going to the Harding football games with my dad. We usually left at halftime, after the bands performed,which was my favorite part. I held onto his pinky because my hands were little and his were big. We walked through an area of Warren, that most people probably wouldn't walk through at night with their kids now, but I never felt afraid.

Yesterday, Chloe told me she missed my dad. I missed my dad too. It was funny--weird, not haha--though not really because Chloe and I are always eerily connected. Once, I woke up in the middle of the night really worried and uneasy. I prayed for about two hours and finally went back to sleep. She told me the next day that she had wandering through the streets of Pittsburgh at the time. Missing my dad is one of our few sad connections. Fortunately, Chloe hasn't been dealt a lot of sadness since she carries so much of mine.

My bff lost her grandpa earlier this year, another dear friend lost her grandma last week, some of my closest friends lost their stepdad/father in law a month ago, a dear writer I adore and admire lost her mom yesterday, my mom lost two more friends in the last month. Often in empathizing with others, I'm drawn so far in that I relive my own sadness. A few months ago, I had a dream about my dad, and in it, he told me that my mom was going to die. I had longed to dream about my dad for quite some time, but this wasn't exactly what I hoped for. In the dream, I wasn't sad or upset and kind of fluctuated between dreaming and logic. Course, I guess that's where I usually am: fluctuating between dreaming and logic.

For as long as I can remember, every time I went into my parents' playroom, I sat on my dad's lap. When I was little, when I was grown, when I was happy or sad. Sometimes I sat on his lap with one of my own babies on my lap. Sometimes we talked, sometimes we laughed, sometimes I cried and sometimes he did. When I was really little I used to do his hair. He sat patiently while I did. It was so hard to walk into that room after my dad wasn't in his chair.

This morning, I ate a peach, and it reminded me of the peach trees and raspberry bushes in our yard growing up. I used to eat fruit until I was sick, coming into the house sticky and stained. My mom made delicious jam. Then one year, in an aggressive fertilization attempt gone awry, my dad killed the peach trees and the raspberry bushes. The bushes were a total loss, but the trees still grew, though they never again bore fruit. A few years ago, in a super romantic move, Brad bought me a peach tree. It died. Last week, I drove past my parents' old house in downtown Warren, and the peach trees had been cut down. Guess I'll stick with farm market peaches for now.

I think the point of all this is reminding and retraining myself to focus on the beauty, the memory, the what was and what is and what could and will be rather than the pain of the loss. Tomorrow isn't promised, but part of the beauty in this life is the fleeting nature of everything we hold dear. So my sweet friends who are sad today, I am holding you close to my heart and lifting your cares to God.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Loose Connections

Last year, at this time, I was kind of waiting for my nervous breakdown to begin. Chloe was leaving for college, Lily was going to kindergarten, my mom was moving in with us, and I was turning 40.

I cried. A lot. I missed Chloe. A LOT. But life went on, as life has a way of doing, and my girls shoved off to college and kindergarten, my mom moved in, and I turned 40, but the nervous breakdown didn't come. My precious baby boy became a teenager, and the nervous breakdown threatened again, but it didn't come.

Recently, we spent a week in Florida celebrating my best friend's 40th birthday, and spending time with her, I gained some perspective on 40 and life. See, my girl is a FIRECRACKER. Once, upon thinking I might have been in danger, she pulled a big knife on an even bigger guy. We were 14, and it was a kitchen knife. But the point is: She don't play.

She is the most fun, exciting, ALIVE person I know, and if she is what 40 looks like, people will line up for that birthday. But she's different now. Our friendship is different. She's calm and confident. We don't fight with people. We don't gossip about people we don't like. In fact, we mostly like everyone. We no longer need to go out and party to have a good time. In fact, the best times I have with her are just sitting and talking.

Similarly, my relationship with Chloe has evolved. While she still needs me to mother her in some ways, in other ways, we connect as women. Last weekend for the first time, I went shopping with both my girls, we had a great time, and no one had a meltdown.

Having such big gaps between my kids has forced me to adapt and change my mothering style to meet their unique needs. It's hard to switch gears among parenting an adult, a teenager, and a kindergartner, and I have to try harder to listen, understand, and connect to each child at his and her level. The very few times I get it right are extremely gratifying.

Before I turned 40, I made a list of goals. While I've accomplished some and strive to reach more, some just don't seem so important any more. Instead, of reaching feats, I feel guided to make deeper connections. To renew connections that have been severed for one reason or another. To replace some connections and tighten a few loose ones.

Every morning, I pray that God will lead me where He wants me to be. I pray for God to guide me, but I usually have a direction in mind. He rarely leads me in that direction. And this morning I realized that wherever I am as long as I'm loving God and loving His people, I'm right where I should be.

Monday, July 15, 2013

You Like Me? You Really LIKE ME?

Over my 40 1/2 years, I have spent a great deal of time and energy trying to make people like me. I don't do that anymore. Don't get me wrong: I try to be kind, compassionate, honest, but I no longer change myself to fit someone else's idea of who/what I should be.

BUT people who knew me when I lost sleep about people not liking me are confused now when I don't care, don't engage, don't kiss anyone's behind. See, if I compliment you, I genuinely mean it. I do like your hair, perfume, outfit or shoes. I really do think you've lost weight and I see that your arms are toned up. For real. I'm not saying that so you like me.

I have been a lot of people's "person" over the years. And I appreciate the opportunity. I love hearing people's stories and have been changed and blessed so many times by those who have trusted me with their secrets. I rarely reciprocate, but it's usually because I feel that my role is that of listener rather than sharer. My brother takes particular offense to this because he is me to many others, while I am usually me to him. I've told him lots of times that I do feel I could talk to him if I needed to; I just rarely feel the need.

Mostly I sort out my problems in my head, in a book, and in writing. I don't trust a lot of people. I guess I have had too many encounters with those who used what I told them in confidence as ammunition down the road. But if and when I want to talk about a problem, I don't find a lack of willing listeners. Surprisingly enough, I digress.

In the recent past, a few people have decided to dislike me. I apologized in the instances where I felt I may have wronged someone, and in the other cases I just prayed for the person and moved on. The fact that I am able to do this is an earth-shattering change. This is the kind of progress that could drive a therapist, if I had one, to publish an amazing case study, retire early and rest on the laurels of helping that one person who seemed beyond help. At least, I think that is how I might feel if I were a therapist who was able to help a seemingly hopeless acceptance addict such as myself.

When I say I'm a vegetarian, people feel the need to tell me why they eat meat or how little meat they eat or that they only eat chicken. I don't make judgements about what anyone else eats. You can eat a rack of ribs next to me; I don't mind. When I say I am a Christian, some people feel the need to explain to me why they don't believe in God. It's cool. God made a crazy huge amazing change in my life, and I am super excited about that. Sometimes it's hard to contain my excitement, but I am not trying to shove it down anyone's throat. I respect people's choices. 

Bottom line: I am blessed by the people who give me feedback positive and negative. I love people whether they are Catholic, Christian, spiritual, or atheist. And if you don't like me? It's okay; I like you anyway, but I'm not gonna lose any sleep over your feelings about me. Because it was never about me anyway.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Maybe Not.

I read a great essay today about agreeing to disagree. Additionally, I've been following the amazingly talented Molly Field as she takes on some of Carl Jung's most famous quotes--check it out! And I've been reading Revelation (aka the crazy book of the Bible.) That smell? It's my brain. It's frying. No worries.

At some point a few years ago, I hung up a note card emblazoned with The Four Agreements (Be impeccable with your word. Don't take anything personally. Don't make assumptions. Always do your best.) This is how I take on challenging life changes. Some people go to therapy; I write shit on a note card and hang it in a place where I'll see it all the time. One of my best friends does the same thing, so we encourage each other that this is most effective. Our bathroom mirrors and cupboard doors are brilliant.

Some of the cards really are brilliant such as: "In search of God I went to Mecca and to Rome. I visited many churches, temples, and mosques. I climbed the tallest mountain. I looked in the books of old eastern religion to no avail. I opened my heart: That is where He was"-Mevlana. And some of it is more banal: "Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels"--on the pantry door. Whatever. Sometimes it keeps me from eating a bag of Doritos. Not always but occasionally. You can judge me. I'm not taking it personally; remember? And as long as we're examining ourselves, what does your judgement of me say about you, hmmmm?

All of this brings me to a central idea: Controlling my thoughts rather than letting them control me. 2 Corinthians 10:5 (NIV) says "...take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." This blog is called Adventures in Overthinking because that is what I do. Overthink everything. If you and I had a conversation ten years ago, you might not even remember meeting me, but I still probably revisit that conversation from time to time. Taking captive my every thought is exhausting and nearly impossible. But I'm trying. 

And God helps. The Holy Spirit nudges me, and I have a forehead-slapping DUH moment. You might call this same thing your conscience, your inner voice, whatever you choose. I believe it's God, but whatever you believe, try to listen because they can be ever so helpful. 

These nudgings often come in interactions with Lily, my six-year-old clone and life coach. She's not my life coach in a gives-me-amazingly-sage-advice way--that's Chloe. And she doesn't teach me by drawing remarkably enlightening parallels--that's Peyton. She gives me great lessons in very basic ways. 

For example if Lily eats junk food, she gets wild. If I eat junk food, I get cranky. If Lily doesn't get enough sleep, she whines and cries...me too. If you yell at Lily, she yells louder at you. If you talk kindly and patiently to her, she listens and understands. If you tell her to do something "because I said so," she doesn't do it, or she does the opposite, but if you explain to her the logic behind what you're asking, she gets it and does it. And on and on and on.

Maybe we have Oppositional Defiant Disorder--I haven't ruled that out. Maybe this is just a lot of projection and overthinking. Maybe this is the result of too much reading, analysis, and an overactive imagination. Maybe this is pathological self-awareness. But maybe not. I have great faith in God and the maybe not.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

More Martha than Mary

Last week, my husband and I were in a bad place. A rut. We were out of sync. This happens from time to time, sometimes during one of our MEN-strual cycles. I'm just saying. The word MEN in right there. I am fully aware of mine, and the others in the house are alerted to it by an increase in screaming, door slamming, chocolate in the pantry. Because if you can't climb out of your rut, the next best idea is to fill it with food.

The food doesn't help, as if I needed to say that out loud. What does help is having a co-conspirator in Pittsburgh who runs on the same cycle. Usually one of us is able to talk the other one down from a ledge with a gentle reminder that this rage could be hormone-related. That reminder, however, is punishable by death if issued from a man's lips.

Back to the rut. In this rut, I can't function. Brad, when we are in a rut, doesn't look at me. It bothers me when people don't look at me. I think that if I were ever to be tortured for information, withholding eye contact might be an effective technique. Just to clarify, you can pretty much just ask me anything, and I'll tell you. Unless it's someone else's secret, I keep those. But I won't look at you if I'm keeping a secret. Now, if you're my husband--or anyone reading this--you now know that if I don't look at you, I'm protecting something. Sometimes, it's my heart, but sometimes it's something that belongs to someone else.

I give so much away through my eyes so if I don't look at someone, it's intentional. I might not trust them. I might think they wish me ill. Or I might be afraid to let them see into my soul for fear they might use that information in bad ways. And sometimes, I'm afraid that if someone looks at me, they will see someone else's secrets that I'm keeping. This happens pretty rarely. Usually, I look so deeply into people's eyes that they are uncomfortable and look away. Then, I begin to wonder what they have to hide. Because, I assume that like me, if you avoid eye contact you must be hiding something.

All of this brings me back to the same lesson: Just because people don't do things the same way I do them doesn't mean that they're wrong, and I'm right. God reinforces that all the time. Last week, my pastor said to view people as "works in progress," and that resonated with me not only about others but also about myself. Then, listening to my favorite online preacher, I was reminded of the story of Mary and Martha. (Martha was mad that she was cleaning and cooking, while Mary sat and listened to Jesus. Martha wanted Jesus to make Mary help her, but Jesus told Martha maybe she should check her priorities.) I can identify with Martha, because a lot of times I serve begrudgingly rather than humbly.

Today, we are out of our rut and analyzing how we got there and how not to get there again. Today, I'm cleansing the salt, sugar, and other toxins I overindulged in the last few days. Today, I am asking God to help me see with His eyes. Today, instead of beating myself up, I'm embracing the fact that I am a work in progress.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Dear Lord, My Baby Boy is a Teenager.

This weekend, my son turned 13. That was bizarro. It means he's only 3 years younger than Brad was when we started dating. It means that soon girls will think of him the way I thought (and still think) about his dad. That makes me throw up in my mouth.

He's just a little boy; right? He still crawls in my lap and snuggles with me. He still wants to hang out with us and doesn't think it's queer to go on a date with his mom. He's not embarrassed by the notes I put in his lunch. A couple years ago he told me someone made fun of my note in his lunch, and I said, "Well, I'm sorry his mom doesn't love him as much as I love you." But I asked him if he was embarrassed, and I told him it would not hurt my feelings if he didn't want me to put notes in his lunch. He said, "No, Mom. I like your notes."

But very soon, he's not gonna be a little boy anymore. He goes to high school next year. Surely, I can't put notes in his lunch then. And I wonder if we will still be able to gush over him. He is the only boy in a family of strong female personalities. We love loud and expressively. We hug and kiss and gush.

My husband gets really uncomfortable and embarrassed when the womenfolk in his family gush over him. It generally only happens at events that serve alcohol; nevertheless, it happens. See, we were both pretty invisible in our families, so now when they "see" us, it's awkward. For a long time, we only saw each other. For a long time, that was comfortable. It's still comfortable when it's just us. We see each other, and we are happy in that world.

Once, we lost a group of friends that meant a great deal to me. I cried, and Brad said, "We were fine before, and we will be fine again. All we need are the people in this house." Our circle has grown to include others, but he's right: If we just had God and each other, we'd still be just fine.

But someday, my boy is not gonna live in this house. Someday, my boy is not gonna need me. Someday, is his wife going to have to remind him to call me? Is she going to suggest that he should send me a card? Is she going to dislike me? Will she think I'm crazy and possessive? Will she think that his sisters and I are too overbearing and keep him away from us? Will he decide that he just needs the people in his house?

I don't let myself go down that road too often, but I actually pray a lot about my son's future wife. I pray that she will love and cherish his tender heart. I pray that she won't run over him or take advantage of his gentle nature. I pray that she will appreciate and encourage him. I pray that she will want to be part of our family. I actually have a lovely young lady picked out for him at church, but I guess that might be overbearing. Course, if that happened to be God's will, I would surely rejoice. This is the time where I imagine God shaking his head at me. Lovingly, of course.

In the meantime, I will keep praying and doing my best to cultivate a relationship that will stand the tests the teen years bring. And I will still snuggle my son every opportunity I get. I will ALWAYS cheer the loudest at his games and try to restrain myself from hurting anyone who hurts him. I prayed so much for him during the years I tried to get pregnant, and I didn't stop when I had him. My prayers just changed from please to thank you.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

What Will the Neighbors Think?

Today, I'm working on two important relationships: the one with my husband and the one with my mom. My marriage is very happy, but I think it's that way because we are always working to make it better. I'm reading The Respect Dare, a 40-day devotional to a deeper connection with God and your husband.

It has been fun and challenging, especially because I am reading it with a group of women, so we all share our experiences, thoughts, suggestions, and so forth. So along with the deeper connection with God and my husband, there's the bonus of deepening friendships with some amazing women.

But the other book I'm reading, Making Peace With Your Mom, isn't such a walk in the park. I think I've said about a million times that I have a good relationship with my mom, and what was that? I am not protesting even a little; I'm just saying. Wise guy. Anyway, you can always have a better relationship, right? Especially when your mom moves in with, and you realize, hey, how fun, she still does all those little things that drove you crazy when you lived with her AND MORE.

Anyway, I'll reiterate, I'm not going to complain about my mom. What I've realized from reading this book and delving into the exercises--it goes deep...uncomfortably deep...scraping the recesses of all you've repressed deep--is that my relationship with my mom is the basis for every other relationship in my life.

It was from her I learned to love and not love. It was from her I learned what was considered beautiful, acceptable, right, wrong, polite, rude, phony, religious, and God forbid ladylike. It was from watching her and my dad that I got my first glimpse of romance. My dad was a true romantic, but my mom was more like, "Just hand over the diamond, Jack; I don't care about your poem." My dad's name wasn't Jack; she was channeling her inner Si Robertson.

I learned some good stuff: girlfriends are important, babies need to be held, everyone looks better with a little lipstick on, and there is a pill for nearly anything that ails your body and mind. I learned some other stuff as well: words can hurt worse than fists, silence speaks volumes, never let anybody lay a finger on your kids, and who cares what the neighbors think?

In reading this book, my biggest lesson is that who my mom was in my memory isn't who she is now. I mean technically she is, but I'm not. Those memories have no power over me. I can journey back in my mind and reframe the experiences. I can choose to show my mom grace and kindness instead of allowing anger and pain to fester and turn into bitterness and resentment, I can go be the mom who loves and protects the little girl in the memory.

One of my favorite verses is Luke 6:37: Judge not, and you will not be judged; Condemn not, and you will not be condemned; Forgive, and you will be forgiven. I also think it's one of the most difficult to practice, but I keep trying.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Sit Down and Shut Up

This morning, my 100 Days of Prayer Journal prompt was: What do you say to yourself about faith. Ask God to reveal what you need to be saying. Over the past week, I had to confront some long-buried issues from my childhood. I didn't want to deal with them. And, I still don't want to. Almost 100% of the time, I think that talking about things is the best way to deal with them, but in this particular instance: I don't want to talk about it.

Delving into the past did make me think about a lot of other stuff, like the fact that I'm glad my kids aren't going to have to deal with the resurfacing of awful crap from their childhoods. I'm not a perfect mother. My family is not perfect, but it isn't a nightmare. And I don't worry that some day my kids will wake up and question every person in their lives. I don't worry that someday they will wake up and feel as if their whole childhood was a sham.

My family of origin had a lot of laughs, but it also harbored a lot of secrets. Secrets that we didn't even admit to ourselves. Secrets that are buried with two of my brothers and my dad. Secrets that destroyed some of us and really screwed up others. Secrets that "aren't nice" to talk about as my mother would say. And some that are too awful even to remember. But if you peered through the windows of our glass house, the Swans looked fine. Looks can be deceiving.

I wanted what any child wants: to be accepted, loved, and cherished, but mostly I was criticized, belittled, and beaten. I never felt good enough. I sought acceptance anywhere I could find it--with friends, with alcohol, with boys...mostly with boys. Fortunately, God sent me the perfect boy when I was pretty young. One who would tell me nearly 25 years later, "I feel like you were mine before I even knew you." Swoon. The boy who wishes he could have protected me from everything--even my own family. The boy who walked with me and held my heart and my hand while we made the family of my dreams.

I'm off topic. Sorta. Back to my kids. They are amazing. I tell them all the time how proud I am of them. I'm not perfect. Sometimes, I yell. Sometimes, I swear. A lot of times, I'm impatient and nit-picky and neurotic. I apologize...a LOT. I always stick up for my kids when other people--people who should tell them how great they are--don't. I tell those people how great my kids are even though they don't care or they would see it themselves. I seek validation because I never got it from the people who mattered. There's the revelation: I sought approval from everyone because I never got it from my parents. My kids don't seek approval from anyone because they got it from us.

Wow. Make sure you're sitting down the next time you ask God to reveal something to you.

I read a million books trying to figure stuff out, but all I needed was God. Not the God of my childhood, who scared me. The God I found at MY church. I spent 39 years trying to do it myself, and in one short year, God completely changed my life. I never have to live another day seeking approval, because in Him, I am accepted, loved, and cherished. In Him, I am good enough. When people tell me they don't believe in God, I don't judge them. I pray for them. I pray that everyone's heart would feel as full as mine does now.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Just Because Your Name is Mary

Sometimes things shake you to your core and make you question everything you think you know. I have had a few of those instances: my brothers dying and getting pregnant with my girls--both were unexpected blessings with unexpected being the key word (I may or may not have extreme control issues) are a couple.

Recently my daughter wrote an amazing blog, and I realized that in trying to raise her differently than I was raised, I managed to instill in her a whole host of different issues. She was born at a crazy tumultuous time in my life. Imagine your life at 21. Drunk? Partying? Well, I was crazy in love with a tiny baby while finishing college, getting an amazing job, never weighing more than 100 pounds, and planning a wedding to man I never saw. At least those were the idealistic balls I was trying to keep in the air.

I approached motherhood pretty much like this: I'm not gonna be like my mom. Period. Yesterday, my mom mentioned that her doctor had gained a few pounds and that she hopes "he doesn't get fat as a pig." That should clear up any residual questions about my weight issues. Fat is the worst thing you can be in my mom's eyes.

I had a lot of self-esteem issues that took/are taking a good part of my life to sort out. I wanted acceptance and people to like me. My mom's acceptance came the skinnier and blonder I was--the more I was like her. But, I like to eat, y'all. So, 100 pounds wasn't in the cards for me. Although, this Fast Metabolism Diet might just help me get close.

Now, I love my mom, know that she loves me and was the very best mom she knew how to be. She was tremendously awesome in many ways, but she didn't exactly excel in the body image department, and body image is a big deal to girls. I accept her for who she is; good grief, she lives with me. This isn't about bashing my mom, that was context. 

I didn't want my kids to have self-esteem issues. I wanted them always to know how beautiful, smart, talented, precious, special and so forth they are. So, if they didn't hear it from the world, you better believe they would hear it from their mama. I am not that mom who thinks my kids are perfect and puts them on a pedestal; trust me if you came out of my womb, I'll put you in check. BUT, I am pretty sure that they all know I am always their biggest fan, cheering the loudest, and willing to do and be ANYTHING they need.

So that brings me to this earth-shattering revelation: Shouldn't I have that same attitude about God? Shouldn't I start asking what He wants from me? My sister gave me a book, Anything, by Jennie Allen, and more than any book I've ever read other than the Bible, it is changing my life. The premise: Be willing to do anything God asks of you. Do it when He asks.

Many times I've asked God what He wants me to do, but I don't think I've been listening well enough. Instead, I look at the gifts He gave me and try to figure out how He wants me to use them. But I don't have to figure it out. I just have to listen. The beginning of the week, God put two people on my heart. I said, "What do I do for them?" The answer was so simple: Pray. Last night, one of them sent me a message saying how much they loved coming to our church and thanks for inviting them.

Here's the shake-you-to-your-core part: I've been waiting for Gabriel to swoop down in all his angel splendor with a harp and a shield (maybe because my name is Mary?) and announce some great calling for my life, and I have been missing millions of little whispers.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

I. Have. Issues.

I may have written about the craziness that ensues in the parking lot of my son's school at drop off. It looks a bit like a pit stop at the Daytona 500. Stop. Drop child off. Rev engine. Fly out of the parking lot with increasing speed, maneuvering around other cars and narrowly missing teachers and children, innocently walking into the building.

A few years ago, a particularly hurried parent almost ran over my son. While she may have been rushing to a super important event, it was not more important than my son's life. Since that day, I pull up right in front of the door so he can walk straight in the doors. Even though he is almost 13, most days I wait until he is in the doors.

It must have been my waiting that irritated the woman behind me today, as she squealed around me to drive out of the dark, slippery parking lot, at about 55 mph. The slippery, dark parking lot filled with teachers and children walking into school.

That. Makes. Me. Crazy.

In our She's Got Issues small group, we recently talked about ANGER. I have some issues with anger. I yell more than I should, which is not at all. Sometimes I throw things. Occasionally, I slam doors. That is a particularly unsatisfying habit in my house where the doors just do not slam. However, in the old, drafty house where I grew up, the solid wooden doors shook a city block when you slammed them. That was satisfying.

Sorry, sidetracked. We talked about anger being from God. Anger motivates us to act, and when we act righteously, that anger has produced a good result. For instance, if reading about a child being bullied infuriates you so much that you form an anti-bullying organization at your own child's school, your anger has triggered a positive response. But if your husband leaves the recycling on the counter instead of putting it in the bin for the fourth day in a row, and in your irritation, you swipe it off onto the floor... Well, you've just made a big mess for yourself to clean up, and you haven't really taught him anything. And by you, I mean me, because I just did that about a week ago.

Unfortunately, our anger is often provoked by selfish motives rather than just cause. Even more often our reactions are misguided attempts at validating our own "rightness" rather than making a valuable contribution to the world. I am working really hard on that issues.

So, to the woman who screeched around me in the parking lot today: At 7:25 this morning, I had some really angry feelings toward you. Part of me wanted to yank you out of your car at the stop sign. That part of me is from Warren and may or may not have a CCL (that's a concealed carry license, and I really don't, but you didn't know that until I just told you).

Instead, I will say: I understand you are in a hurry. I worked full-time for 10 years while my older kids were in school. For three of those years, I commuted to Cleveland. Mornings are busy and hectic, and we are often rushing. I promise you that the two or three seconds you might save by speeding through the school parking lot will never be worth the lifetime of pain a family will endure if you run their child over. Please slow down and be cautious.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Trouble in this World

The weeks surrounding my 40th birthday are memories I will cherish forever. I received the most wonderful, thoughtful gifts and sentiments from my family and friends, a surprise trip to Florida that became a surprise trip to the Keys, and massive and overwhelming amounts of love. In fact, I've never felt so loved.

When things started to return to normal, I remained enamored with a magic new age that held so much promise and basked in the afterglow of all the love. Last week, I crashed. Although, I've never used cocaine, I've heard you experience a super elated feeling and when the drug wears off, that feeling is replaced by intense despondency.

Well, I was high on love and adoration, and when things went back to normal, I let my guard down, the anniversary of my dad's death crept up on me, and before I could grab a lifeline, depression had me in its unrelenting grip. Granted, I've dealt with bipolar-ish disorder for most of my life, I self-diagnosed it in grad school, and then a doctor confirmed a few years ago. I say, bipolar-ish because I have depressive episodes and manic episodes but they are not usually long enough to meet the diagnostic criteria.

One time I actually had to be medicated out of it. Technically that was too close to my dad's death to be a major depressive episode. Since it doesn't happen that often, I mostly just deal with it.

I explained, again, to my darling husband that depression is different than sadness or the blues. He has witnessed these episodes many times over 22 years and encourages and hugs and walks on eggshells around me reminding me to pray and count my blessings. For me, it's as if someone throws a wet, black, blanket over my head, which I can't lift no matter how hard I try. So, I quit struggling and just give in to the darkness. I pray so much. I am overwhelmingly grateful for my blessings. No amount of prayer and blessing counting changes it.

Last week brought a really discouraging realization. I honestly felt that as I drew nearer to God, as I made myself smaller so that He could be bigger, as I focused on using the gifts He gave me for His purpose and His good, I never questioned that I would suffer, but I didn't think it would be from depression.

I was blindsided. Why is this happening again? Am I not following You? Am I not doing Your will? Have I not fasted and prayed and sacrificed as You wanted? I didn't feel as if God had left me, but I did feel confused. In the past I viewed my depression as caused by emptiness, and I thought that once I was filled with God's love, filled with the Holy Spirit, I wouldn't suffer from it anymore. I was wrong. I thought my depression was situational. I was wrong about that too.

It just happens. Sometimes bad things happen, and we can't understand why. God wasn't punishing me or using this to show me that I was on the wrong path, I fully believe that now.  In John 16:33, Jesus reminds us, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Fortunately, I don't have to have to figure out or overcome this world because Jesus all ready did. Fortunately, I am surrounded by amazing people--many of them mental health professionals, go figure that. Fortunately, I recognize the symptoms and the onset even though I am powerless to control them. Fortunately, this time, it lasted only days rather than months. Fortunately, I was rewarded with a day of manic cleaning energy to make up for the days that I wandered around in a stupor managing only to work and nothing else.

I am not a mental health professional just someone who has dealt with this for many years. If you suffer or have suffered from depression: You aren't alone. You aren't crazy. You aren't being punished. If people tell you to cheer up and get over it, they might be trying to help, but they aren't the right people to help. Find a doctor, counselor, friend, pastor or someone with knowledge about depression. Don't suffer alone.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Sidetrack Sally, Suffering and Sacrificing

Since I was raised a good little Catholic girl, I always gave something up for Lent. Usually candy, soda, chips...I was always a healthy eater--insert eye-roll and confession that I lived a whole year on cheese puffs and Tang. Although I moved away from the Catholic church, I love Jesus and have always identified with His praying, fasting, and meditating and wanted to offer something in return.

Now, to quote my friend Jen: Let me back up a minute. Whether it was the church, my family, or simply my own perception, I came to this conclusion as a child: Suffering is good, and the more you suffer the better of a person you are. Since Jesus suffered tremendously, my wee little girl mind believed that by suffering, I could earn favor with Jesus. 

So my takeaways from a childhood of Catholicism: Suffering and guilt. When I was about Lily's age (6), I used to kneel for hours in church on November 1, All Soul's Day, praying for souls in purgatory and unbaptized babies in Limbo. Always an intuitive empath--though I didn't know that until my 30's when an honest-to-goodness definition for my particular neurosis emerged bringing validation and relief--this weighed on me tremendously. In my little kid mind, unless you left the confessional, did penance, and then dropped dead, you were probably going to go to purgatory for a couple hundred years until some good little girl prayed you out.

And what about people who had no family? What about the orphans? I hoped that God would make exceptions and use my excess prayers for them. When I think about this as an adult, as a mother, it makes me sad. I want to give my little girl self a hug and reassure her. My darling son is an empath too. He would agonize over souls in purgatory.

Back to Lent, see why my kids call me "Sidetrack Sally?" So, I share my feelings and interpretations about Lent with my own children not as a way to make them feel guilty or as if they need to suffer, but as a way of acknowledging Jesus' suffering on our behalf. No pressure. Chloe is taking 18 credit hours and running 5 miles a day. I didn't mention this to her: She's all ready suffering enough. Peyton gave up computer games. Lily went back and forth and ultimately chose soda, but last night she climbed like a spider monkey onto the counter to finish Brad's Coke, so we might need to revisit that.

I chose alcohol. I'm not an alcoholic. And for those of you who know me, I don't drink excessively anymore. Yes, I know I had a drink in my hand in every Florida picture. Have you been to Key Largo without your kids? Cut me some slack. The point is: I really enjoy an adult beverage. I love a good glass of wine or a craft beer. One of our friends brews his own beer. It's AMAZING. I'm looking forward to enjoying one in 30-some days. So, I thought this would be a good sacrifice as well as a liver cleanse.

If you're still here, you probably need a beer. This post was rough and disjointed. Maybe I am an alcoholic. Maybe this is what withdrawal looks like. Go ahead. Have a drink. Call my girlfriend; we made a pact never to let the other drink alone. She'll have a beer with you. She promised.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Always Say I Love You

Most people have a hero. Or at least someone they admire. Someone who makes us want to be better, be fearless, be who God designed us to be. Our pastor says, "Surround yourself with people who inspire you to be better." 

For me, that person was my brother Chris. 

  • He wasn’t afraid of anything. 
  • He was the first person ever to tell me he loved me--my family didn't say I love you; you just "knew"--and he told me all the time. 
  • He took me to Cedar Point with lifts in my shoes so I was tall enough ride every roller coaster. 
  • He taught me to drive automatic and standard. 
  • He bought me a trampoline so that I could be as good of a gymnast as he was. 
  • He drove my best friend and me to cheerleading practice in his Corvette and laughed as all the girls whispered and blushed and said, “Who’s that???” 
  • He made me drive that Corvette on the highway when I only had a permit. “I’m scared!!” I said, and he replied, “You should be—you’re going 25 on the highway. It's a Corvette! Put your foot on the gas before you get us killed!” 
  • He took my best friend and me to see INXS, my favorite band, and bought us wine coolers. 
  • He dated beautiful women, who became my big sisters and trusted friends.
  • He was the coolest person I knew. 
  • He jumped out of airplanes and promised me that when I was 16 he would take me. 
Unfortunately, he died 5 days after my 16th birthday. I never jumped out of an airplane.

The last time I saw him he gave me a card congratulating me for getting my driver’s license and reminding me to go at least the speed limit on the highway. He hugged me and kissed me and told me he loved me, and I never saw him again. 

I’ve heard lots of stories about who other people thought he was. I have heard negative stories. There is truth in them. But he will always be the big brother I adored and admired. I see glimpses of him in my kids every day and wish they could have met him. Chloe has drive and determination. She pushes herself harder than anyone I know. Peyton has his feet, hitchhiker thumbs, the same curls around his ears, an adventurous spirit, and the ability to make me smile regardless of the circumstances. Lily is fearless. She does flips off the end of the couch and makes my heart stop on a regular basis.

When he died, my heart shattered. But God has slowly healed it using the love of my family and friends to fill in the cracks. Often, I wish I had told him how much I loved him and admired him, but I always thought I'd have a lifetime to do that. I hope he knew. For the past 24 years, I have dreaded my birthday because it reminded me that in five days it would be the anniversary of his death. This year, I got my birthday back. Even though I will never forget him or the pain his death brought our family, this year the love and joy finally overcame the sadness and grief.

I've wondered many times what I learned from Chris, and there were many lessons. Don't let fear stop you. Live every day like it's your last. But the most important is definitely: Always say I love you. You never know when it will be the last time.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Do You Believe in Magic?

So I've mentioned a few times that I'm turning 40. Ahem. Tomorrow. Well, the awesome folks over at SheSpeaks heard too and sent me this awesome L'Oreal Paris Magic BB Cream to try and blog about.

If you pay attention to skin care, facial products, beauty products--I've told you all a million times how much I absolutely LOVE my Birchbox--then you have probably heard of BB cream. It is  "Beauty Balm" and supposedly comprises serum, moisturizer, foundation, and sunblock and a bunch of other stuff in one super-product. I tried another brand when it first came out, and my reaction was...eh. I used it. It was good for putting on to go to the gym so I didn't look like a corpse, and daily but with reinforcements such as foundation and powder.

Based on that experience, I didn't have high hopes for L'Oreal's version, but I am always up for trying new things.

It comes in a cute little tube and directs you to dot on your face and then blend in. When I squeezed a few drops out, I was less than confident, as it was kind of a whitish color. Anyway, I dabbed and blended and didn't notice much difference. However, I washed my hands, looked back in the mirror, and my face was FLAWLESS. I mean...as flawless as my face gets, I am 24 hours away from being 40. My skin tone looked even with a hint of color. My blemishes and pores had vanished. And overall, my face looked smooth and shine-free. One of my issues with the other BB Cream was it gave your skin a "dewy" finish. If you all ready tend to be oily, like me, dewy is not an adjective you look for in your skin care. But with this cream even after a workout, my face still looked pretty even and smooth. Magic is right!

I'm really excited about this product! I'd show you before and after pictures, but I'm a generation too late for "selfies," so my mirror pictures are pretty sad. Still, I'll try to give you something. Later.

*This is a sponsored post, but I really really do love this product and will buy it when my sample runs out!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Food Revelations

Last week I read Women Food and God. Have you read? Seriously, it changed my life. I LOVE Geneen Roth as if she were one of my people. After the first few chapters, when I sat down to graze in front of the kids' snack cupboard as is my habit, I literally stopped and thought, "Wait, am I hungry?" It was revolutionary.

For those of you who are wondering, it's a lot about Women and Food, but not a lot about God. The God part is more light spirituality and less Bible-based eating plan, but it forced me to sit down and have a long overdue discussion with myself about why and how I eat.

If you ever saw my mom and sister, you'd understand some of my food issues. They are tiny little waifs. So is my daughter. I am not a particularly big person, but they are really, really small. My mom always told me that I was big-boned and didn't "have the eating habits of a thin person," and I have always held a pretty distorted image of my 5' 2" 125 pound self. Yep, I just said my weight out loud to the whole internet. The absolute true weight I saw on that dang-blasted scale this morning. Have I mentioned how much this book helped me?

So one of my biggest food issues is that when I was growing up, food was my mom's main expression of love. Whatever was going on, good or bad, could be remedied with food. Sick? Chicken soup. Sad? Cookies. Celebrating? Cake. And since that was pretty much my mom's only expression of love, when she cooked for you, you ate. And the more you ate, the more you were loved. To this day, her favorite people in life are the people she can control with cookies. I'm kidding. A little.

Additionally, I realized that my happiest memories were wrapped up with food. Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays, milestones celebrated by going out to dinner, goals met and rewarded with food. In many ways, I had grown to equate food with happiness. Unfortunately, in many other ways, I also equated skinniness with happiness. That crazy combination cannot possibly add up to happiness. I mean maybe when I was 20 and had a pretty fast metabolism, but now it is kind of a problem.

So for the past few weeks, I've had a lot of conversations with myself about food, why I'm eating, when I'm eating, what I'm eating and so forth. Turns out it's not particularly healthy to sit on the floor and eat from the snack cupboard at 10:30 p.m. Huh. Also turns out that eating an m&m every time you walk past the m&m jar until it's empty is not a great habit. Go figure. And one of the most important lessons I learned is that I really didn't even know how hungry felt anymore.

In all this dialoguing about why I'm really eating and what I really want, I haven't lost one pound--in case you wondered. But, I've been eating much healthier foods and much less and I haven't really had any junk. While I have a long way to go, I have been able to pinpoint some serious issues I have to come to terms with:
  • I am almost 40, not 20, so my 20-year-old weight probably shouldn't be my goal weight. 
  • Being skinny doesn't necessarily make you happy or signify you're happy.
  • Not being skinny doesn't necessarily make you unhappy or signify that you're unhappy.
  • I have a bread addiction, similar to my nicotine addiction. I cannot eat just one piece of bread.
  • Just like my husband is as hot to me today as he was 20 years ago, he looks at me and sees the girl he fell in love with (who was skinny, btw). He literally judges my weight by the size of my boobs, so you can probably guess when he's happiest.
  • Food is an idol, and when I give it this much power in my life, I am putting it before God; that is unacceptable.
  • My mom lives with me. I don't eat her cookies. She still loves me.
 So, if you have a messed up relationship with food, I highly recommend this book. If not? Well, you are a rare breed of fabulosity, and I admire you greatly.

Thursday, January 10, 2013


Two days ago, my itty bitty girl came home from school and said, "Mommy, would it hurt your feelings if someone said that one person was their 'best' friend and you were just their regular friend?" Having experienced more than my share of my own and my oldest daughter's mean girl interactions over the years, I confirmed that it would hurt my feelings. Especially at 6. We talked about it a lot and decided it wasn't kind, and we would try not to single people out in some sort of importance hierarchy.

And while soothing my tiny girl's heart, I realized that I talk about my "best" friend all the time. It never crossed my mind that it would hurt anyone's feelings. Especially since one of my "best" friends never sullies her beautiful mind with computers and social media and such. However, when I used the term in a blog, one of my closest friends was unsure if I meant her or someone else.

Like many women, I've gone through plenty of friendship evolutions. I have known lots of reason and season people. I have walked away from friendships, had people walk away from me, and had God call people before I was ready to let them go. At this point, I am much better able to see why people are in my life or why I am in theirs.

I have not always had very many real friends, which is why I clung so tightly to my "best" friends. In the past few years, God has blessed me and opened my eyes to see the amazing group of women surrounding me. Women who teach me so much. Women who listen, support, hug, pray for and pray with me. Women who reach out to offer a kind word or just to remind you that you're not alone in your journey.

To my girlfriends, whether we interact on Facebook, Twitter, at church, work, or a baseball game, I cherish you. Whether I have known you since we were little girls or I just met you, you are important to me, and I'm blessed God allowed our paths to cross. Whether we share DNA, a common relative, or simply an affinity for cats, we are connected, and I'm grateful to share this journey with you.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Serve God not people

Sunday, I did not feel like going to church. I have been sick for a week. I cried all day Saturday because Chloe was going back to school Sunday. I really wanted to crawl into my turtle shell and hide. But, the Holy Spirit whispered, "go..." that's it. No big earth shattering signs. No hawk flying at my head. Did I tell you about that? Seriously a hawk flew right past my head. I still don't know what that meant. Chloe gets dreams, and I get crop dusted by a bird of prey. Awesome. But I digress, the Holy Spirit whispered, "go."

So, even though I felt crappy and sad and stuffy, and I stomped and pouted a little about it, I went. We had a guest speaker, which really didn't make me happy: "Great, a 20-something-hipster without a lick of life experience to help me in my walk with God. woo hoo." I didn't feel good so my inner critic was even nastier than her usual nasty self. The Holy Spirit whispered, "Shhh." That's it. Just, "shhh."

So, I went and listened to the hipster guest speaker. Sometimes. I studied his bow tie. I wondered about his dialect, "Where is he from again? Phoenix? I bet it's warm there..." I wondered how old he was, he looked like a young kid, but he mentioned his wife. And why aren't the bible verses up on the screens? Of course today I wouldn't get a message map. Today, when my OCD is out of control, and he kept saying, "You might want to write this down." All right, dude, I would but I can't.

But then he interrupted my nonsensical thoughts by saying, "Serve God not people." Wait. Say that again. "Serve God Not People." Now that made sense to me. We tell our Impact team, "You're not serving us; you're serving God." That's what made me go to church Sunday, that little whispered, "go," that reminded me that it's not about me. It's not about my family. It's not about The Movement. It's about God. It's Him that I serve. And how do I serve Him? By loving His people. Boom. Darn little hipster in his bow tie.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Less of Me

Last weekend at church, my pastor/brother-in-law brought the entire congregation to tears. He shared some really personal struggles. He was human and vulnerable. I cried so hard that I had a headache for the rest of the day. He is many things to me: Bible teacher, Christian mentor and my brother here, since my brothers are all there, and I value his words.

In his sermon, he mentioned my blog, which so touched my heart--I cannot even explain how much. Although many friends, acquaintances, and even strangers comment about my blog, none of my family does. My family doesn't read it. My husband's family doesn't read it. My brother reads it. My husband reads it. My best friend reads it. But most people who are close--literally and figuratively a relative term--to me don't.

That hurts my heart when I let myself think about it, which I usually don't. But that is why my brother in law mentioning it made such an impact. I try really hard to encourage everyone around me. Probably because of my dad. My dad believed in me. It's pretty amazing to have a person around who believes so much in you. It also sucks particularly bad when one day that person is gone, and you realize that no one really thinks you're awesome anymore. Fortunately, without my having to say it out loud, because I am pretty bad at saying things out loud, my husband realized that I needed someone to make me feel awesome; he stepped in.

I try to be that person too. Not in a fake way. I really do believe in people. My son is 72 pounds soaking wet, but I wholeheartedly believe that if he wants to be a professional athlete, he can be. I believe that we are all capable of greatness through God. But I think we all need someone to make us feel awesome.

I don't have a whole lot to offer to this world: mercy, faith, kindness, a willing ear to listen, and a heart full of encouragement for every person that crosses my path. Sharing my journey here is therapy for me but is also my way of offering empathy. Many times I have felt saved by reading how others deal with parenting, losing loved ones, turning 40, whatever it is I am struggling with at the time.

This year, I made a lot of goals, and in the past year I made a lot of progress toward letting things and people go. I realized that I need to stop taking people's issues personally. It still hurts though. It still hurts when people who are supposed to cheer for you secretly rejoice when you fall. It still hurts when people who should support your kids make snide remarks about them. It still hurts when people think that because of the way you look on the outside your life is a certain way. Life isn't fair, and it never will be. This year begins my fourth decade, and I will strive harder than ever to walk with Jesus and make less of me so that there may be more of Him.