When Your Son Plans His Own Study Schedule - You've Done Something Right.

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It’s Saturday morning. Still early and dark. I’m in our kitchen and only have on the light in the pantry so my tired, bleary eyes can adjust. I’m waiting for the pot of coffee to finish and deciding whether or not I can interrupt the brewing long enough to pour myself a cup and not make a mess.

I look up and notice something on the kitchen table that wasn’t there last night before I went to bed. It looks like a note at my son’s regular place at the table.

For just a moment, I thought about how much time I have before he won’t be sitting at his regular spot at the table because he’ll be away at college. He’s a junior and my time with him sitting in that chair, telling stories and inhaling my dinners is limited.

The coffee isn’t ready and I consider getting a Keurig so the coffee process wouldn’t take so long. I walk over to the table and recognize my son’s handwriting on two sticky notes pressed together. He’d written more than one note could hold. I squint my eyes and focus on the masculine, micro-scrawl when I realize that he’s made a Saturday exam study schedule. Every hour and half hour is designated for specific subjects as well as reasonable breaks.

I hear the beep announcing the pot has finished brewing but keep looking at his schedule. I’m impressed that he’s self-regulated his Saturday and imposed a tight study schedule, but a bit melancholy over missing the sleep late and lazy days of his adolescence.

Our work to raise a young man ready for the world appears to have crossed another benchmark. Even though I should be celebrating his maturity and accomplishments, I’m missing my little boy with mussed up hair who asks for strawberry pop tarts then sits in silence as he wakes up slowly. It dawns on me just now who he gets that from...

I leave the note just as I found it and head to the coffee pot and pour my first cup. I’m proud of my son. I can’t wait to see what he does with his remarkable life and watch him grow into the man he is destined to become, but there’s a big part of my heart that wishes we could wait just a little while longer for the responsibilities, schedule and adulting.

✨I’ve blurred his note for his privacy.


To The Person Who Tried to Make Me Feel Bad About My Size

Dear person who tried to make me feel awful about this photo:

Yes, I’m heavier than you remember, but you haven’t seen me — really seen me — in years. There are a few things you missed when judging my picture (and me) so I want to give you another chance to look again.

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What you don’t see is that I’m 20 lbs lighter than I was 3 months ago.

What you don’t see is that my lifestyle changed. I make better food choices, haven’t had alcohol in months, go to the gym and work hard to hit more than 10K steps a day.

What you don’t see in that picture is that my pants are two sizes too big for me. I had to keep hitching them up before and after ax throws.

What you don’t see is that I haven’t had the time or the extra money to buy more pants in my new size. I’ve been raising my teenagers, working two jobs, volunteering and pursuing my dream as a writer.

What you don’t see in that picture is my future. I will lose even more weight so I’ll wait until I reach my goal to buy more pants. I’ll hit that bulls-eye before you know it.

There’s no way you can see every single time I wanted the bread, the dessert, the second helping but I said no thank you and pushed away. I’m developing my will power and it’s getting stronger. I’m certain you didn’t mean to discourage that did you?

What you don’t see is that before this picture was taken, I had been wearing a bulky, fuzzy sweater and an adorable matching scarf. There’s so much comfort in covering up a body that’s changing and finding its “fighting weight” again. But that night I had to shed my protection of clothes and get down to my T-shirt because my competition was fierce and I had less than an hour to learn this new ax-throwing skill. I wiped the sweat from my forehead and pushed the hair out of my eyes. You didn’t see all of that in this picture.

What you don’t see is how happy I was to be out with friends. You missed the part where I participated in a physical activity and doing it well enough to win a few throws.

So, to the person who tried to make me feel awful about this photo, please look again. There are things about me you didn’t see.

The Heaviest I've Ever Been

When I discovered how heavy I’d become, I was in the Dermatologist’s office. It was a Thursday and the weather was dreadful. Rain had soaked our city for days -- flooding streets and overwhelming storm drains. When I looked at the parking lot through the water-streaked window, it was full of puddles and the nearby gullies were swollen and nearly cresting. I remember thinking, if we get flushed away, at least I’ll float to the top.

Digital scale in Doctor's office.

Digital scale in Doctor's office.

It was the first time I’d ever been to the dermatologist. Several of my co-workers came to our office with band-aids on their neck or arms -- residual proof of having a potentially cancerous mole removed, so I thought it might be a good idea to go, too. You know -- age spots. I checked in, was relocated to Exam Room One and finished answering a series of health questions. Do you use sunscreen? What level SPF? Have you ever used a tanning bed? Do you have any skin cancer in your family? Are you allergic to anything? Do you work outside? After suitable answers were documented and checked off, the nurse practitioner asked me to slip off my shoes and step on the digital scale.

If I hadn’t weighed so much and my cement feet weren’t grounding me to the scale, I would have fallen off in disbelief. When the "judging me" machine beeped, I stared at the readout and questioned everything I had eaten in my life in the span of about 23 seconds. My legs felt like concrete blocks and my knees suddenly forgot how to do their job. I turned around slowly as to not scare the scale any further and made my way to the chair. I felt like my thighs were melting off the edge of the seat and dripping onto the floor like cake batter. 

“But she has such a pretty face!”

Dad hugging me. (Lollipop, not a cigarette.)

Dad hugging me. (Lollipop, not a cigarette.)

Weight has never really been an issue for me. The only time (until now) that weight felt like a topic that needed addressing was when my Dad, after watching television or reading the paper would announce, “We’re becoming a nation of fat people!” I think this must have been a generational ideal because I remember my mom lamenting, “Oh, but she has such a pretty face!” My parents loved their girls more than themselves and these comments were never directed towards us, it was just conversation we grew up hearing. They believed that the United States was unified only by gaining obscene amounts of weight. We should all try harder to be thinner.

I was a skinny, bony child -- just elbows and legs until age 14. I developed modest hips and a smaller bust compared to most throughout puberty. During my roaring, single 20s I stayed in the 6-8 size range. I definitely wasn’t fit - but I was average or below in weight so I never thought about it.

In my early 30s, even when pregnant, I didn’t feel like a blimp and really I wasn’t heavy considering I was carrying this extra person who crowded my rib cage and mashed my bladder. I nursed, so that helped most of the baby weight come off and 16 months later - second verse same as the first -- I was still doing okay with baby number 2 and keeping extra weight off. Mostly because I was chasing a toddler and caring for an infant.

But I added weight and inched up the scale. I was softer in my mid-section but still hanging out in what most would consider average size clothing. The weight gain was subtle and my new desire for more loose fitting clothes and the comfort of elastic made my actual sizing seem vague. I considered myself average size and my doctors never mentioned weight at my Annual Physical or GYN checkups so I thought I was okay. But my perspective changed when I went to the dermatologist and stepped on a scale that came from The Devil and his depraved underworld.

Over the years, my jobs changed too, I wasn’t hustling and moving on the retail floor or working crazy hours at Radio Station remotes and events. My work became sedentary - calculating numbers at an accounting firm and writing posts like this one at my desk. Snacks cured boredom from sitting and cooking at home was a money saver but a calorie-induced coma.  Easy meals were prepared with processed quick dinners and comfort food like pasta and rice. Every week and month, the weight inched on but I was so busy working full time and raising a family that I didn’t think too much about the extra carbs and unhealthy choices. I was feeding my family and our time together at the table was more important than portion size or that our food pyramid was upside down.

Two important notes I’ll insert here:

  1. I am not making excuses. I’m explaining where I started and how the rat race kept me from spending time on the treadmill and making better food choices.

  2. This is a story about the heaviest I HAVE been -- not how heavy you’ve been or how much Aunt Marge has been. It’s my journey and I’m not comparing Chocolate Layered Cake to Apples. I’m not judging others for how heavy or light, healthy or unhealthy they are.

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When you put on weight and you’ve gone up in pant sizes a couple of times you start to think that maybe you should do something to get a bit of the extra weight off. So that’s what I’ve been doing. I started going to the gym and being more conscious of what I eat. No chips, white bread, sweets, soda or wine. I drink water All. Day. Long. and have one cup of coffee in the morning.  Yes, I still take it with cream and sugar. Dammit, I’m not perfect. Honestly, I had been going to the gym for about three weeks before I went to the dermatologist and discovered my loathing of a piece of metal attached to weighing instrument panel - so it makes me wonder how much heavier I was before exercising regularly and eating better.

For the love, I eat bran now.  

BRAN!

I didn’t gain weight, overnight. It was several nights -- like years of nights. Losing weight takes time. And I’m going to unpack the extra pounds and do the work one day at a time. What is your story? What have you done to gain a healthier lifestyle and lose unwanted pounds?

 

Life Stopped Me Today

Life stopped me today.

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I felt the pressure on my chest. It was the exact same feeling I had when my Dad’s arm flung to hold me from lunging into the dash from hard braking. Life pushed on me and I felt an overwhelming sense to stop and feel the message. The sensation was urgent. Insistent. A feeling of being fully surrounded. My body alert, electrified and I could hear a sound like a fetal heart monitor thrumming in my ears.

I had other things to write about today. A pile of unfinished work, a list of errands and emails and all the extras life expects me to handle. I had a headache mocking me - convincing me I wouldn’t get any of it done.

Not one bit.

But sometimes life stops you - like it did for me today.  I looked out my office window and watched as the trees bent sideways, the dark gray clouds turning into padded walls - suffocating and low.  The thunder growls without ending...it just keeps rumbling like a stomach begging to churn. There was a summer storm.  Some storms are scarier than others, but something about this one told me to go home. I felt an extraordinary presence. Impossible to describe other than it felt ethereal. I wasn’t afraid of it - I was afraid of its urgency.

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Leave now.  Drive home. Don’t wait.

I thought I was being sent home because of the impending storm. I thought the presence I was feeling commanded me to check on my daughter. She would be alone since her brother left for work less than ½ hour ago. The AccuWeather alert escalated from a Thunderstorm Warning to Dangerous Thunderstorm - Seek shelter. A quick glance at the Life360 app showed me that my son made it to his job. As I hurried to my car, lightning cast like magic across the darkening sky. The wind tore at my skirt and I struggled to pull the car door shut behind me. Inside, my whole body felt a strong tremor of fear. It shook through me as the thunder rattled the ground. Heavy, pelting rain blurred the windshield even though I had the wipers on the fastest setting.  

I thought for a minute that this is ridiculous. It’s a storm. It’ll pass. I can wait it out and then go back inside to work. Summer storms happen all the time. This one is no different. Nearly on cue, the wind subsided. The trees stood tall again and the rain fell into a soft pattering. The sudden stillness was unnerving. I felt electricity rise underneath my skin and finger down my back worse than any horror movie. I shook my shoulders to escape the feeling but it was still there.  

Leave now. Drive home. Don’t wait.

I moved my shaking hand onto the gear shift and dropped it into drive. The storm regained its hostility and raged the entire trip home. In less than 6 minutes I was in our subdivision - 2 minutes more, I turned onto our street. As I crested the hill and looked to the left to see our gray and brick house come into view - I knew exactly what was wrong. The garage door was up - empty of cars. A wide mouth open to the world.

WHERE DOES OUR FEAR COME FROM? 

Our subdivision has over 500 homes. It’s in a rural setting considering how close we are to the city. Most of the time, the neighborhood is quiet - not sleepy - just a regular buzz of coming and going, turning on streets, stopping at stop signs or waiting for geese to cross the road. It’s a great place and most of the time it’s a friendly community of hand waves and checking on our neighbors. But recently we’ve had a nasty rash of car break-ins. No busted windows because our clever thieves used their talents (and probably a Slim Jim tool) for bad rather than good.

Not only have the recent car break-ins made our homeowners edgy and demanding better security at the front gate, but it’s also generated the fear of worst-case scenarios. Instead of breaking into cars, maybe the perpetrators will move into our houses. What about when we’re away at work - or on vacation? Should we invest in outside cameras? Increase our home security?

I hadn’t been sent home because of the storm. My daughter was alone during a terrifying storm with the garage door up. Didn’t she text me a few minutes ago and say she was getting in the shower? Did my son leave on time for work? Does that mean the garage door has been up for 10 minutes? 20 minutes? A half an hour tops?  My heart pounded at jackrabbit speed. I squealed the tires turning up our driveway. Why did he forget to put the door down? Did he lock the interior door? Was he running late?

I shoved the gear shift into park. I unbuckled and jumped out of the car. I took the garage stairs two at a time and barreled through the door and nearly slipped on the kitchen floor.

“SOPHIE!! SOPHIE??”

My daughter walked around the corner with a towel wrapped around her wet hair. Her usual blue eyes, now dark with full black pupils absorbing every bit of surprise and alarm. One of our dogs padded into the room and stood beside her.

“Mama? Are you okay?”

“Are you?"  I said out of breath.  "Sophie - Are YOU okay?”

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She nodded, but her voice cracked when she said. “I’m fine.”

And she was.  She was fine.

But this could've gone a completely different way. 

UNEXPECTED LIFE LESSONS

  1. Teach your children to be aware of their surroundings and not assume that someone else is looking out for them. Parents can forget. Siblings can forget. Every person on this green earth has so much going on that it’s so easy to be distracted. My children have been raised in a fairly protected feathered nest but it’s our responsibility as parents to teach them that even the safest nests have vulnerabilities. This was a great opportunity to explain that she won’t always be at home. I gave her a chance to imagine her own apartment - a dorm room - a hotel room. She has to be aware of her surroundings and verify ALL BY HERSELF that she is locked safely inside. Especially when she is going to be in the shower or have headphones/earbuds on where she cannot hear.

  2. This was also a fantastic opportunity to discuss with my son the importance of “locking” up the house when he leaves. He must always remember, even if he’s running late. Even if he’s distracted by other thoughts. Even if his sister isn’t inside and the house is empty. Our home cannot be left unattended with the garage door wide open announcing to the world that there are no cars here but please help yourself to everything inside. Mistakes happen. Our son is young. He's only a month into his 16th year. Driving and working and growing into his fresh, almost adult skin is new and overwhelming and comes with a lot of shocking learning experiences.

  3. Trust your gut. I’m glad that my daughter was safe. I’m glad that I felt all my body’s nerves screaming for me to notice them. I don’t know what it protected us from - or if it was a stern warning to prevent something else from happening later. But either way - listen to your instincts, trust the presence telling you what to do.  Sometimes it wants you to run. Other times it wants you to hide and be still and quiet. Trust your feels.

  4. DON’T use this as another excuse to be afraid of everything. This was a learning experience for our family and I hope that this story is a great read to help other families discuss a plan. Go over the basics. Remind everyone to be aware of their surroundings.

I love my family and I know you love yours.

Teach your kids to feel their fears and trust their instincts.

But also show them how to lead by using the wisdom of a practiced plan.

A Tale of Two Facebooks

You know a face smiles, but it spills tears too.  

I was having a tough time before, during and after my trip to D.C. with my daughter’s 8th-grade class.  I was thrilled to be selected as a chaperone, but I was leaving my husband with a mountain of headaches. Problems that most every couple faces and because Jesus thinks we can handle it - several of them piled up at once.

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It’s been said that your eyes are the windows to your soul.  Sometimes we’re brave enough to share our soul with our friends and acquaintances.

Here's my story: The week before I left, I felt inspired to take two selfies. In the first, I was feeling positive, optimistic and full of the spirit.  I was believing wholeheartedly in the good. Later, I reluctantly took another one when I was run down, discouraged and feeling hopeless. I had been crying for awhile in my car like you do, and I remember thinking - I’m going to bring forth something good with all of this self-pity.

To my surprise, several ideas came from the images. The first - you ladies will appreciate this - I’ve chosen a remarkable mascara that held up after a 30-minute stream of ugly-cry tears, and secondly, the most important - we share what we’re willing to lose. We reveal a part of ourselves and discover it is a risk.  We’re willing to share the good, but sometimes we’re willing to share the bad and we place ourselves on the social media alter to be judged by our peers.

People forget that it’s okay to be vulnerable, or maybe they remember the pain of it.

I don’t believe we’ve given people the space to feel like it’s okay to share the bad. They don’t trust that their dirty laundry won’t be judged. We ARE judging you.  We can’t seem to help it. Everything that is posted runs rapid-fire through a filter of our history and values. I’d be lying if we weren’t - but we are less likely to judge you when you at least seem real. If your life is always portrayed as good, then it’s not believable.  If you say your life is always full of problems, we’re not buying that either. Humans have a wide range of emotions and connections with other humans. If you’re only promoting half of it - either all good or all bad - then you’re missing out on the deeper connection - the authentic relationship with other humans.Wouldn’t you be a more convincing human if you revealed both?  Good and Bad. Happy and Sad?

MISERY LOVES COMPANY

There’s a few of us who enjoy the wallowing or at least we know someone who does.  We all have that one friend that Every. Single. Time. they post on Facebook it’s to alert the rest of us to something negative. The daily struggle. Either they complain about the poor service they received, or update that they are in the throes of a tough relationship battle or they profess being born under the sign of the turd where nothing goes right for them. They are negative and gain attention from us through their misery. And we become the rubberneckers of someone else’s misfortune. Our scroll slows down to see the life’s wreckage.

But here’s what I believe….It’s okay to stumble and crumble and feel miserable. Just don’t settle in and reside there. We want to see your comeback. Deep down we want to see you overcome adversity so that we can believe it’s possible for us too.

We need the win - whether we admit it or not.

I had a boss once who said with gusto “Act enthusiastic and you’ll be enthusiastic.”  There is so much truth in that. Research shows that positive energy comes from fakin’ it until you make it and that forward motion helps your action stay in motion. But if we’re being honest - and an authentic human being - some days no matter how hard you try - you just can’t act or fake. Remember to be kind to yourself - forgive yourself - try again tomorrow.

Clouds are temporary, but so is sunshine.

You can’t always have good days....so this is for those who always post the good...

Most of us promote our highlight reel. Only the latest and the greatest sparkles on our profile page. The awesome selfie with perfect lighting. The humblebrags of our kid prodigies.  The latest vacation to a remote island no one’s heard of so deep down we think you’ve mastered photoshop like a beast. We take pictures of plated food like we’re a set designer for Food & Wine to showcase our unprecedented success at meal preparation. We connect all of our apps to Facebook to show how many miles we logged on this mornings jog, what books we just finished reading, or which game we just crushed.

REALLY, I’M SO GLAD YOU’RE SO BLESSED, SUSIE SUNSHINE.

ON LIFE & LEMONS

Please stop polishing your lemonade stand and make me a Bloody Mary - extra horseradish.  I want to be real with you. 

There are friends who only want to hear the good.  If life gets icky, they’ve scrolled away from you. They’re not necessarily a bad friend, they’re just not the friend you need for the rough patches. But beware of the friend that seems to thrive on your misery. The friend that shows up at your slightest irritation of life.

I want to know about your new job. I do. I want to see the pictures of your kids. Last weekend’s prom pictures stopped my heart - your gorgeous, all-dressed-up children no longer looked like they were just recently playing in the dirt or had ice-cream dripping off their chin. Your pet pictures get me too. I want them all. I love animals and yours look so darn lovable. But please share with me your tough times too. I want to connect and believe that you’re human and not perfect. Your imperfection allows me to forgive myself and that makes me adore you.

And finally...

In defense of the lurkers...

I want to take a moment and defend those of you who choose not participate in online banter. You are a member of this social media family and even though you elect not to like, comment or post a lot about yourself - it doesn’t matter - you count. You matter. Every human on this planet has good and bad experiences. We have rallies and hardships and even though you can’t imagine sharing your life’s details on a platform like Facebook, you are part of the silent discussion. You’ll empathize with someone who has a health condition similar to yours. You relate to the posts about the struggles of parenting. You may have always wanted to visit Chicago and a friend just posted a few pictures from there.  

You wouldn’t think I understand your hesitation about posting online because I obviously share so much, but I do.  My mom often said to me (waaaaaay back - when I was a small child and long before Facebook.) “Eleanor, I don’t believe I would’ve told that. Some things you just keep to yourself.” Raise your hand if someone in your family has said this. But for as long as I can remember, I’ve always over-shared - even if it embarrassed me. As a child, there was some level of understanding that I was being “real” or “authentic” to my audience. I still have the unabashed filter of an 11-year-old.


 

What a Fall Festival taught our family about Palm Sunday

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It’s hard to think about Fall Festivals near the end of March, but I’m asking you, just for a moment to imagine that it’s autumn. It’s a beautiful fall day in October. The leaves were golden and orange and speckled with brown. A somber reminder that their time on the branch is coming to an end. The leaves quiver and rustle with every breeze curling their ends and tugging them loose. The sky held a thin, white blanket of clouds and at the same time showcased a stellar blue canvas. It was a gorgeous day for a festival. Around the edge of the parking lot, the pumpkins and gourds boasted extra colorful splashes against the weathered, decorative stalks and hay bales. There were bright red and yellow bouncy houses, a snow cone machine and carnival games. Children held balloon animals and stuffed their prizes of wrapped candy into their boots as they waited in line for the cake walk. Parents kept an eye on the kids while talking and laughing with one another. They balanced a plate of barbecue in one hand and held a water bottle in the other.

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The golf course first tee was to the left of the parking lot. There were not many golfers there that day because the tree covered walkway that led to the tee off was blocked. It was lined with all kinds of animals from a local petting zoo. That’s where I found my teenagers. They had no interest in the festival food and games. They were away from the crowds, petting the animals and loving them as if they were old friends. With dirt on the bottom of their jeans my kids took turns moving around the animals. They sidled up next to sheep, llamas, goats, ponies, bunnies and a Scottish Highland Cow named Divot. They hugged the ones that would allow it and pet the ones who didn’t. But there was one animal that stood out that day and it’s the reason I wanted you to think about Fall Festivals at the end of March.

The Donkey 

Have you heard about the legend of the Donkey?

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I’m in my mid-forties and raised Christian my whole life.  I’ve never heard the legend before that beautiful day in October at the Fall Festival. The story made such an impact on our family that I’m sharing it with you now, just before Palm Sunday. According to legend, all purebred donkeys are born with a cross on their back. The marked fur on the donkey is a gift from God. It’s powerful symbolism is used as a reminder of the humble donkey that carried Jesus into Jerusalem.

I mean.  Chills.

How amazing and beautiful is this story?

I took pictures of the donkeys while my kids and I listened to the owner of the petting zoo recite the story. When we returned home, I had to find out more and this Bible verse appeared on my screen.

“Rejoice greatly O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem: Behold, your King is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is He, humble and mounted on a donkey; on a colt, the foal of a donkey. Zechariah 9:9 ESV)

The Bible verse is clear - “Coming to you....humble and mounted on a donkey...” The donkey signified arriving in peace. Jesus came into the city in the most modest, non-threatening, ordinary way. He rode upon a lowly donkey instead of a magnificent steed.

The legend goes on to say that the Donkey loved Jesus so much that he followed Him to Calvary. Grief-stricken by the sight of Jesus on the cross, the donkey turned away but could not leave. He wished to stay until the suffering was over because of his love and loyalty. The image was forever committed to the donkey as the shadow of the cross fell upon the shoulders and his back. Lore tells us that ever since that day, all pure bred donkeys have this distinction. The donkey carries the cross as a sign that the love of God carries a reward for all to see.

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Do you see how beautiful and complete this story is?  That a donkey carried Mary to Bethlehem and a donkey brought Jesus to Jerusalem? Palms waving and falling at his feet, the crowds acknowledging the prophecy of the Christ, shouting, “Hosanna in the highest.” The donkey represents the ironic beauty of God’s love. Pure and unpretentious. The King of Kings as humble as a servant.

This is why I’ve been saving this blog post since last Fall. There is so much symbolism in the changing of the seasons, the excitement of the carnival atmosphere, the ebb and flow and cycle of life. Months ago, a donkey at a festival showed us the beauty of a legend which reignited our faith. It was a gift of deeper understanding and glorious symbolism of Palm Sunday.  The Lord is the the Alpha and the Omega.  The beginning and the end.  The donkey was with Him in the beginning and a donkey was with Him in the end.







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Bad Days are Lucky

So the other day I had to do this hard thing on my daughter, Sophie’s behalf.  It was icky and uncomfortable and mildly confrontational.  Not fun. When I was younger, (BC - before children) I didn’t mind conflict.  I’d find every elephant in the room or make one up if I didn’t see one. Now that I’m older, it’s different. I want to encourage and support and love people. Not argue or struggle. But several days ago, I had to pull up my proverbial big-girl panties and deal with it.  I did my best to cover the problem in love, use kind words and then move forward.

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A few days before this thing with Sophie, I faced an issue that made my heart get that weird electrical vibe when your body reacts to a mixture of humiliation and anger.  That stinging chest pain that popcorns on all the nerve endings around your heart and face.  The unexpected hurt zapped me in the form of words.  The worst kind. Those words flushed my face and pounded my heart rate into an irregular drum beat. Lopsided and heavy.  A recent acquaintance expressed prickly words directed at me.  I’m human, fearful of being vulnerable but do it anyway, and I’m a writer.  I value words and deeply appreciate their context and believe me, these words stung me on all parts of who I am.

Now I feel like I know you guys.  You are some of my dearest friends, my tribe and loyal readers. A few of you may think about sending me encouraging feedback and uplifting words (I love those messages, btw) to counteract my rough couple of days, but it’s not necessary.  I want to encourage YOU and tell YOU about something more powerful than words.

About how blessed and lucky we are that God and The Universe love to love on us when we’re feeling knocked down and rejected.

After that terrible, awkward meeting when I had to wear my big-girl bloomers and deal with a problem on Sophie’s behalf, Danny and I had lunch at a local deli. Understand that Danny and I having lunch together is a rarity in itself so that was a God wink if there ever was. But the other gift came in the form of the little girl sitting in a high chair at the table next to us.  I promise you, she could have been Sophie’s sister when she was about one-year old.  Those feathery blonde ringlets at the back of her neck, the bright, crystal sky eyes and the widest toothless grin.  That baby girl and I played peep-eye for a few minutes and her breathy, happy, giggle delighted me.  I felt like I was transported to a simpler time, making my own little girl laugh and smile.  That sweet baby even tossed her sippy cup on the floor and looked at me with expectant eyes to pick it up for her.  I know a lot of babies play this game, but for a moment, I slipped through time and it was my baby Sophie.  I was grateful for the gift.  I drove home with tears slipping off my cheek because it felt like God was letting me know that I did the right thing.  I was looking out for my daughter by having that difficult conversation.  I did what mother’s do.  I protected her as if she were still an infant.

But wait. There’s more.

Let’s revisit the electrified, hurtful words - the part-two of the story from the new acquaintance.  I had been mulling it over for awhile.  Bringing it up to Danny at odd times so I could efficiently rehash it.  Discuss it.  Verify for the 87th time that I was reading the person’s words exactly as they were intended.  

The 88th time was one night after dinner.  Danny was in the recliner, feet up, one dog in his lap, glasses resting on the bridge of his nose about to open his latest good read.  I broke the silence and said, “It makes me not want to get out of my hermit shell.”

He sighs, moves his legs so they cross at the ankle, takes his readers off and turns to face me.  He knew where this was going. “What’s that?”

“It makes me not want to meet new people.  Stay to myself like I did for so many years.  Not leave the house. Shell up.  Become like turtles.”

“You’re going to let the words of one person keep you from going out and meeting new people?”

“No. I. AM. NOT.  I’m just saying that it makes me *feel* like staying away from people. And *those* words of *one* person as you say, HURT me.  So if it’s okay with you, I want to circle the wagons for awhile. Stay in. Alright?”

He nods, holds up his hands in surrender. “Okay. I get it.”

Just then.  (I pinky-promise this happened.) I got a text message from a friend that I had not seen in a month of Sundays.  It had been forever.  She asked if we could meet for lunch and bring our husbands.  I looked up from my phone and said, “Babe.  We’re going out with our friends.  We’ve just been invited to lunch and you know how much fun we‘ll have with them!”

Danny failed miserably at crushing his grin and said “What’s that?  No circling the wagons?  No turtle-ing up?”

How lucky and blessed are we that God is like an Echo dot?  He hears everything but not in a weird, electronic way.  He saw that I was retreating and falling back into my old flight pattern.

Avoid tough issues. (Beats wings.)

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Avoid uncomfortable feelings.  (Beats wings harder.)

Instead of focusing on the positive - my supportive friends, tribe and readers - I was focusing on this one small speck.  This one grain of sand even though I was standing on miles of glorious beach. Focus on the good, more good comes. Focus on the positive, you won’t stay negative for long. Bad things and words are going to happen but we can’t let it be where our heart and eyes settle.

Sometimes we’re lucky when we have bad days, because then we can experience all the good that comes from it: Gifts from above that remind us we are loved and friends who are angels at all the right times.

What If The Story Isn’t About Squirrels?

It was the most ordinary Thursday morning.  Chilly.  Early December maybe.  It rained overnight and the road was slick with iridescent swirls of oil and water.  There were leaves matted to the street and a few branches were scattered on the ground.  I drove over all of them on my way out of the subdivision, unnoticed until I’m replaying it in my mind and describing it to you now.  At the time I had other things on my mind which distracted me from noticing the details of my drive.  But like a security camera that records the mundane, sometimes there’s more to see when reviewed.

The sun stretches its first warm arms through the clouds and glows pink orange on the horizon.  It’s still dark, but there’s promise that it’s going to be a gorgeous late Fall day.  My headlights shine on the curve in the road and reflect off the fog.  There was a mist of slow moving ghosts.  A chill runs through me and I tap the arrow button on the heater.  When my eyes returned to the road, I see a squirrel in the middle of it.   There was something in the center of the road holding his attention.  I slowed.  Was it a pile of leaves?  A fallen branch?  The squirrel hopped back and forth in front of whatever it was.  Darting from side to side, it seemed unsure of what to do next.  My car downshifted to a crawl as I met the obstruction in the road.  A broken tree limb must have fallen during the overnight storm and lying next to it was a dead squirrel.  The other squirrel hopped away from my car’s approach but waited by the side of the road.  Sitting on it’s haunches, the squirrel’s head bobbed.  It’s front paws busy and frantic.  Its tail twitched and snapped.

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There was nothing for me to do.  The squirrel on the curb was obviously in distress over the loss of the other one.  The squirrel’s partner was not injured.  It was dead so there was no need for me to jump into rescue mode and make a trip to the Emergency vet.  Would I do it for a squirrel anyway?  I mean, it’s a squirrel.  Would I try to save it if I could?  I don’t know.  I might have.  I sat back in my seat after I realized that I had been hunched over my steering wheel, gawking at leaves and dead wildlife.  I strategically moved my car around the limb and the squirrel.  I’m not even sure why I did that.  Was I paying respect to a dead squirrel in the road?  Was I driving away slowly to let the living squirrel know I was sorry for his loss?   What made me so solemn?  What made me even care?

When I glanced in the rearview mirror, the squirrel ran back to the center of the road and hopped around its friend lying near the fallen branch.  I’m not sure why seeing this broke my heart.  I was saddened that a creature had lost it’s teammate and friend.  The squirrel appeared baffled, completely lost without his mate.  He circled the branch and his friend.  Around and around.  Almost as if he were waiting for his squirrel friend to shake off the stun of the fall, then pop up and join him on the other side of the road.

My LORD!  What am I doing?  Why am I thinking about this?  Why am I writing about it now? They’re only squirrels after all.  Rodents.  Nuisances.  Why do I care about two rats with bushy tails?  There are about a million of them in our world. We’re overpopulated.  With this one dead, we’d have one less squirrel to worry about, right?  But I don’t feel this way.  I’m depressed that one of the squirrels died and the other hasn’t come to grips with the goodbye.

There’s so much irony and hypocrisy in this story I’m sharing with you.  I believe it’s the main reason I feel compelled to write about it.  There are squirrels we are trying to get rid of in our attic and I do not care about their lives.  Isn’t that statement just awful?  We have one in particular that scratches and digs and works diligently on his nest right about the time I’m falling asleep.  It’s probably the same one that I see sitting on my gutter when I come home from work.  He’s near the vent in the attic, chewing on a hickory nut, leaving discarded shells on my driveway.  He peers down at me like, “Oh, you’re home.  How was your day?”

My husband and I have discussed putting our Jack Russell, Cinna, in the attic long enough to chase the squirrels out of there.  Possibly to kill, but more likely to scare so that they won’t come back.  But our dog, although she is quite the hunter in our backyard, has the intelligence of a pile of our recently removed, stained carpet.  We decided against putting her in our attic for fear she would miss a step in her squirrel pursuits and fall through the ceiling.

We’ve also entertained the idea of my husband grabbing his old rifle and shooting the squirrel.  That thought was fleeting for me since the gun hasn’t been fired in years, nor has it been recently cleaned.  Also I don’t want to hire roofers to patch a blown out hole and even then, probably still have a squirrel in my attic.

We’ve thought of setting out poison, but I’ve heard that hawks and owls who capture prey and feast on the poisoned animal suffer a miserable death too.  We’ve considered  hiring a professional critter remover, but for some reason we don’t do it. And that reason is probably cost.  Have you ever priced a critter removing service?  Cha-Ching.  It’s probably cheaper to host a baby shower AND throw a going away party for the new squirrel parents and their litter.

So if I’m willing to rid my attic of squirrels and spend my time figuring out how to permanently remove them, then why do I care about the one in the road?

I thought about this question all day.  I came up with an answer, but I’m open to more ideas if you have them.  Here’s my take on it.  The squirrels in the attic (not toys, thank you Aerosmith) are an annoyance to me.  They live within my space.  They’re not welcome in my home or in the nearby trees.  The squirrel that sits on the roof of my house and seems to wait for me to come home, along with all of his little squirrel relatives are nothing but squatters.  What would my actual invited human guests think if I told them we had a “minor” squirrel problem?  I run through the exchange in my head.

“We’re trying to do the right thing with them.”  Our guests nod slowly, trying not to reveal disgust.  “We’re going through the process you know?  It’s a system.”  We click our tongue and shake our head in solidarity. “Tsk Tsk.”*

Squirrels are not in the same bracket as our friends who visit.  They are completely different from my other, upright, two-legged next door neighbors. The ones who mow their grass, wave at me across the fence and grill on Saturdays.  The squirrels who nest in my attic and live in my trees scatter when I throw open the back porch door.  Our dog bounds off the deck barking and announcing her chase before she even sees them.  The squirrels who live closest to me, the ones who made an apartment in my rafters - are the ones who disturb my peace and tranquillity.  They must go.

But the squirrel mourning its partner in the middle of the road tugs on my sympathetic heart.  *That* squirrel has a life, a heart beat and a delightful personality.  He has his own community (away from me and down the road) where he lives, eats and spends the day caching nuts and trinkets. That squirrel (over there) has emotions and distress.  That squirrel (separate from me) experiences loss.  Since my life is apart from the squirrel and his life, it doesn’t affect mine.  The squirrel’s life, skittish and jumpy that I drove around on my way out of the subdivision, somehow has more value than the ones on my back porch. I can acknowledge it’s life’s worthiness from a distance.  My perspective wears lenses of compassion and sympathy.

ALL DAMN DAY, I thought about this squirrel, running back and forth across the road trying to believe that his partner was just stunned and would hop up and join him on the other side of the road.  Literally, ALL. DAY.  This squirrel was on my brain.  Can you guess where my thoughts travelled next?  Have you connected any parallels in my story?  Here...Let me help.....WHAT IF I change the squirrel imagery and make it human?  What if the squirrel becomes a person?  Let’s make him, umm, I don’t know...

Any race different from you? Hispanic?  Black? Indian? Any lifestyle different from you?     

Gay? Poor? Homeless? 

Let’s make him human, but one with a different lifestyle.  I know what I’m asking you is a stretch.  It is on the weird side, but if we can alter our reality and believe for a moment in District 12, Alexandria, and a galaxy far, far away- you can hang with me on this squirrel analogy.

Does your heart break when you see a person *not like you* experience tragedy and loss?

If a man who *is not your same race* has been shot in the street, are you saddened to read the news?  If these humans, *different from us* live and work and play at a safe distance - *somewhere else* they’re okay, right?  If they’re in someone else’s community, their lives have no affect on us.  We can *safely* sympathize with their loss from far, far away. 

It challenges our position when these different humans move in close to us and blend into our communities.  When they move into our space and push on our imaginary safe bubble that’s when we lose our sh*#.  Our inner sanctum...our life as we know it is jeopardized and everything around us is questioned.

If, for discussion’s sake, I make the squirrel a human, what changes?  

If the human lives away from you, does anything change?

If in the story, I bring the human close to you and your way of life - how do you react?  (Not living in your attic, ‘cuz, that’s just creepy.) Just imagine them in your part of the world.  Your new next door neighbor or the hired employee assigned to your department.  If the human has a different way of life than you, what is your sympathy scale when they are close?  When they are far away?

That’s the parallel.  That’s the thing that crawled into my mind and took up residence...ALL DAY LONG.  I’ve thought about how heartbroken I was watching one squirrel’s grieving process but also in the same day trying to remove a family of them from my home.

That’s where compassion meets inconvenience.

Why is it easier to have sympathy for life when it doesn’t inconvenience you?  I think it’s because you don’t have to do anything.  It’s only a thought.  You *thought* about having sympathy for this person.  You *thought* about them for a few minutes, then felt better about yourself because you paused your life long enough to give them your time.  You don’t actually *do* anything about it.  THINKING is not DOING because you’re not PLANNING anything.  You move on with your day after the appropriate number times you expressed “poor thing” and “that’s just awful.” No skin off our a$$.  No real time or emotional investment. Just fleeting thoughts without action.

UNLESS the tragedy affects us and it’s nearby.  Then BAM - all of a sudden we’re researching solutions, volunteering, and rallying the community.  Depending on our position, we ask for donations or encourage our neighbors to install security systems or clean their guns.  We’re shutting people out while we’re letting some in.  We’re contacting our Senators.  We’re discussing it with our coworkers, but only the ones who agree with us.  We’re teaching our children about differences instead of similarities.  We do ANYTHING we can to avoid THE PEOPLE - THE DANGER - THE SQUIRRELS who are different from us.  Why can’t they just live somewhere else?  They can have their community and we can have ours.

I believe the reason is that humans and squirrels (figuratively and literally) ARE the community. Our willingness to embrace differences or protecting ourselves from those differences does not change community, only our participation in it.  Community exists whether or not you want to be a part of it.  Being *a part of* or *apart from* is your decision but community will still be there if you change your mind.  Community doesn’t want to change your family’s values, but it does acknowledge that not all family’s values are the same.

 And I got all of this from a dead squirrel in the road and a family of them in my attic.

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Thanks for reading!  

Please enjoy this 3 minute video of a mother squirrel trying to get her baby in our attic...

(Part of it is heartbreaking because the baby is too big to carry, and he’s unable to jump with his mom.)

Mothers who weren't mine

(Edited May 2018)

In the summer of 1999, my fiancé and I traveled to my hometown. It sounded like a romantic idea - visit the place where my life began and share with him pieces of my childhood.  But, looking back, that trip became so much more than nostalgia.

We drove through my old neighborhood and slowed in front of the only house I knew for 21 years. We cruised my high school parking lot, went for ice cream at one of my favorite shops then meandered through one of Greensboro's many historic battlegrounds. For several days, we let the sunroof show us the stars and street lights of a not-so-big downtown. It was fun and maybe just a little romantic. There are two moments of that trip that stick out more than any of the others. The first, seeing my guy so interested in my roots, and the second, visiting the memorial gardens.

All the romance just fell away in your mind, right?

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Danny had heard a thousand stories from my family about how much I was like my Grandmother. One of the places he wanted to visit was her final resting place. He admitted that it was foolish, but added rather shyly that he wanted to talk with her. Hand in hand, we climbed the small hill and followed the pathway to the columbarium. It was darker and cooler than I remembered but we found my grandparent's nameplates almost immediately that it was as if I had just been there. I settled myself on the bench inside the small, musty room and watched as my future husband touched her name. He began whispering, barely a sound from his lips. He made promises to take care of her granddaughter, her namesake. It moved me but the longer I observed him, the more intimate the conversation and it seemed almost intrusive for me to be there. I decided to slip away into the adjoining gardens and I allowed the path to lead me to another special place I wanted to visit.

A newer columbarium was built down the hill.  I followed the walkway lined with dogwoods and azalea bushes. I took a deep breath, whispered my own words of encouragement then opened the doors in a beautiful marble entrance. I went to the room where I knew she was. I found her name on the wall and as soon as I saw it, my chest filled with all the pains of pent-up emotion.  I crumbled onto the bench in the center of the room. There was no one there so my tears and visible grief were uninhibited. After a few minutes of hard crying, I wiped my eyes and nose on the edge of my sleeve. Even alone, this embarrassed me and I couldn't help but laugh. Wiping tears on my sleeve in front of this woman I was grieving who had so much class and dignity.  Her grace was like no other and she was a gorgeous combination of Jackie O's style and Lucille Ball's captivating eyes.  Her brilliant smile joined her eyes connected with marble chisled rose cherry cheeks. 

She was my best friend's mother but she was like my mom too. She helped raised me since I was at her house a great deal of my middle and high school years. She cared for me and she loved me. We lost her beautiful spirit when we were only in our twenties. The pain was dreadful for me, but I couldn't imagine what her daughter was experiencing. Why take her mom? She was kind, generous and compassionate. She loved children, those who were her own and her children's friends.

Danny found me as I was drying my eyes with an unused section of my sleeve. He moved in beside me on the bench, offered a handkerchief that I could've used 15 minutes before and held my hand. He let a few moments pass then said, "Tell me about her." And I did. For over an hour. 

History repeats itself

Many, many years later, I had bosses who were a husband and wife team of a local school uniform store. They had two young, grown children - a son and a daughter - the same as my childhood friend. Unexpectedly and without reason, their mother died. Here again, I was faced with a death so sudden and untimely that mirrored the pain of so many years ago - watching two children - in their twenties deal with the white-hot pain of loss. Everything around them felt lonely and left a huge void in their life without their mom. I loved these two remarkable women. They left behind children and even though they were considered adults, they were still new to life on their own. It never made sense why some mothers are taken away when others seem as if they do not cherish their role at all.

So this Mother's Day and every other Mother's Day after this one means so much to me because I treasure the gift of mothers even more. Mother's Day tangles up a web of unresolved issues and stirs a myriad of emotions, but there are three things that are the clearest to me the older I get.

I am grateful for my mother.

I am grateful that I am a mother of a boy and a girl.

I am so grateful for the mothers who did a damn fine job raising their children especially those who were only given twenty years to do it. And there was no reward of watching their children's families grow. God bless every one of you who do the best you can with your children every day that you're given. Thank you for loving your children and also the ones who claim you as a mother figure in their life. 

Happy Mother's Day.

Seeds to Share: 
Proverbs 31:28 - Her children arise and call her blessed.