Gratitude without Rainbows and Meadows

When was the last time you were feeling ungrateful? It's hard to admit but be brave for a minute. You know you should be grateful but it's hard when it's an ordinary day and there are things in your life that aren't going well. We sometimes associate gratitude with a cheerful disposition. We get so annoyed when others who always seem grateful, have rainbows spilling out of their ears and they're skipping through a Tuesday like they're in a meadow with colorful streamers trailing behind them.

girl in meadow.jpg

How can you feel cheerful when so much in your life seems wrong or out of balance? You're feeling overwhelmed by too many responsibilities and problems and the three-ring circus that is your life. You don't have time to feel grateful. How can we be thankful for an ordinary day full of the same messy circumstances?

I feel ya' and I'm right there with you. I get it.

And even when I'm feeling this way, when the alarm goes off, the first thing I do is list 3 blessings. I absolutely do this -- even when I don't wanna' and I'd rather pull the pillow over my head. Every morning before I reach for my phone and start scrolling, and before I have a cup of coffee or take a shower -- I lie in bed and think of 3 good things. Just 3. As I'm yawning and wiping my eyes from the crusty remains of allergies, I take a mental inventory of 3 things for which I am thankful. Do you know what happens? I almost always list more than 3. Gratitude helps your attitude and gets your day heading in a positive direction...(without rainbows and meadows.)

But throughout the day -- the ordinary days when we feel like we're in the hamster wheel, doing the same thing, going to the same places, seeing the same people, buying the same food -- we forget to be grateful for doing those things and seeing those people and eating the same foods.

We forget to be thankful because we overlook the blessing's simplicity. When I look through my kitchen cabinets and refrigerator deciding what to make for dinner (again because the people who live with me ask every -- single -- day - what are we having?) I slow down and think for a moment how many people don't have food in their pantry, or working appliances, or no one to share a meal with them. They're lonely which is a horrible hunger too. Suddenly the chore of making dinner for my family isn't a chore at all. It's a blessing.

I'm going to try and appreciate all of the normal events of the day and treasure the daily blessings. It's not easy - I don't always succeed and some days we just feel grumpy and out of sorts. It's okay. We're human. Forgive yourself and move on. Take time to appreciate the ordinary days, the boring days, the uneventful days because you'll want them back when you face pain mixed in with the beautiful ordinary moments. It's easy to give up and say I don't have anything to be grateful for and some days its hard to keep trying to find the good. Do it anyway. #alwaysbegrateful

Put Your Blinders On

I’m giving you permission to put your blinders on. That’s right - cup the sides of your eyes so that you can only see what is on the path in front of you. Get rid of your peripheral vision. Look straight and don’t move your head from side to side. I’m giving you a free pass today to block the distractions around you and help zero in on what is right in front of your beautiful face.

Sophie's eyes through the blinds.jpg

What’s it like? A little weird, maybe? Does it seem strange to only look ahead? Think of it ano...ther way. It’s like peeking through a set of window blinds. You are only seeing a thin slice of the whole view.

Accusing someone of wearing blinders has a deep, negative vibe, doesn’t it? You might have heard, “She’s got blinders on! She’s totally oblivious to what’s going on around her!” It’s the same as saying she’s in her own bubble. Wearing blinders also suggests that someone is narrow-minded, myopic or intolerant of other viewpoints.

But consider this -- they put blinders on horses to block their peripheral vision so they won’t get distracted by what’s going on behind them or next to them. It’s to help keep the horse focused on what’s ahead, not what’s happening with other animals or movement in the buggy that they’re pulling.

So when is okay to have your blinders on?

Theoretical blinders are a good (and necessary) instrument in your emotional toolbox and here’s my ‘for real’ moment for you. Anytime I’m feeling noticeably jealous or insecure of someone else, I slap those imaginary blocks on the side of my head and hide them from my view. I force myself into a narrow tunnel vision every single time I start looking around at “everybody else” and grow envious of “all of their successes.” I put my fictional blinders on when my vision becomes distorted and when I start believing “other people” have all their mess in a tidy, little pile. (It’s not true by the way.)

Everyone struggles.
Everyone survives storms.
Everyone has doubts.

If you wear blinders so you can focus on your own task and prevent yourself from seeing what’s happening next to you, then I say high-five chica and I’ll help you strap those blinders on the side of your head. BUT, if you are wearing them to avoid seeing something so you can stick your ostrich head in the proverbial sand, then no - tug them off. Blinders aren’t meant to prevent you from filling a need because you don’t “see” the need.

But it’s okay to put them on to protect yourself and keep you between the lines of your own road. I have to put on my notional blinders when I find myself focusing on others success. I have to cup my eyes and draw my attention away from someone winning a race that’s not mine. They may have success in your same field or they’re doing the same thing you want to do - but that’s their race. Not yours. Walk, run or crawl on your own path - but don’t stop trying because you see people blowing past you. Get up. Adjust your blinders and get back to it.

Make Time for Happiness

Sunflower in car.jpg

Do you make space for happiness?
Is there room in your life for a little bit of whimsy on an ordinary day?

Or do you crowd your day with lists and more lists...and they all need checking off but you never seem to finish? Do you make the phone calls, return the emails, and waste time waiting at appointments? Are you trying hard to focus during meetings but THEN make more lists for all of it to get done and you organized for the next day? The next week?

But how do you feel right now in this second?

When you fill up your time and life with the “gottas” what happens is that your days turn into busy weeks. Your weeks become months that you can’t remember and feel like a blur and then BAM 💥 it’s Thanksgiving and you start on your to-do list for another year.

We’re so busy filling up our space with the musts that we sometimes forget to enjoy an ordinary moment. The delight of paying attention to your life, right now. The time and space when someone or something makes you smile.

This is what happened to me yesterday.

I was slammed busy from the moment I woke up at 5am until after dark and I was driving home from the gym. I had one more stop to make before I could go home and probably throw in a load of laundry to squeeze just one more thing in my day. We needed creamer and milk. That’s it. Just those two things on the list. (Can’t get away from lists.) I planned to run in to the grocery store, grab those two items, then head home.

But this yellow-faced guy (pictured) stopped me. A $5.00 Sunflower 🌻 changed my crazy, busy day in an instant. I could’ve walked by his sweet, sunny face and ignored how I felt when I saw him sitting there with the others.

It made me happy and I just stood there for a moment and let it make me happy. I enjoyed the moment. I made space for happiness.

Then, true to my list...I bought the creamer, the milk and a $5.00 sunflower.

Believe Your Children To Be Good

Awhile back we found two lamps for our daughter Sophie's room. They were absolutely perfect! We finally found a set that would match her room, make her happy and appeal to our budget. Fast forward to later that night at dinner, I asked our son (rather enthusiastically) if he'd seen his sisters new lamps and if he likes them?!?

He responded (by mocking my enthusiasm) “What am I gonna say? Wow, look at what good ol’ Thomas Edison invented?"

A & S on the beach 2018.jpg

Snark is strong with this one.

But that’s not the story I want to tell you. Our son is 16 years old. He’s a guy who likes being a little crusty but some days his heart can’t help but shine through his outwardly brave exterior.

Last night as I climbed the stairs to our bedroom, I saw my daughter’s phone on one of the steps. Earlier she had forgotten it downstairs so I rested between the rungs on one of the steps so she’d see it the next time she went to her room.

Moments before I went upstairs I heard my son go ahead of me. He would’ve seen the phone, stepped over it and climbed the rest of the flight.

As I picked up the phone to carry it to my daughter’s room, I called out, “Son???”

“Ma’am?”

“Could you have picked up your sister’s phone instead of just stepping over it on the way upstairs?”

“Sorry.”

As I rounded the corner I saw my son and daughter in her room staring at a laptop.

“What are y’all doing?”

Without looking up, he says, “Sophie is having a hard time finding the homework module for math and I’m showing her where it is and how to get there.”

Sophie’s wide smile told me she was as surprised as I was.

He said, “There! It’s right here. Do you see?”

She looked at the screen and said, “Oh yay! Thank you Bubby!”

Mom - 0
Son - 1

Just when I think I need to fuss about being insensitive or unhelpful, my son astounds me with his adult behavior.

If you believe them to be good, they will be —and sometimes they will be, even if you don’t.

A Sparrow that Falls

Sparrow.jpg

For no specific reason, I wept on my drive to work this morning. Tears slipped off my cheek, turning cold as the AC blew on my face. I told God that even with all that I have to be grateful for that I was overcome with uncertainty. My mind was racing uphill with mountains of responsibilities and my heart was heavy, thumping through a thick gel of concerns.

It made no sense to have such a sense of dread, especially when I think of myself as an upbeat, positive person. I confe...ssed to God that I was heartbroken over the things He already knew and that apprehension and doubt filled my spirit. I told Him that I knew He loved me but that I also knew He had 7 billion people on this planet to care for and that me feeling overwhelmed was not unusual. I said I would try to sort this out.

It was early, so I was the first one to work. I walked up the steps to the office door and found a dead blue bird in front of the large picture window. My tears fell again as I set my purse down and scooped his tiny body and rest him gently underneath the bushes. This was no way to start a Monday and I was already feeling down. As I settled into my chair and turned on my computer, I did a quick search of bluebirds and this was one of the first images that I found.

Coincidence? I don't think so.
God loves us more than we can possibly understand.

Social Media - Apples and Oranges

 

 

Social Media is great for keeping up with friends and watching cat videos but our addiction has caught a virus that’s making our relationships unhealthy. You know that thing that happens when someone announces their position on a fevered topic then another person comments below about a completely different issue as a counter position?

“Oranges!!!”

“APPLES!!!”

Here’s an example: Say you have a friend upset over animal abuse. They post that they want the abuser brought to justice. Someone else comments that compassion and justice for an animal shouldn’t be as critical of an issue as the life of an unborn child.

These are separate issues and they are both worth valid discussions but one has absolutely no bearing on the other. One cause has nothing to do with the other belief system.

The same philosophy applies to giving accolades. When someone suggests that another person is a hero, they are not nullifying someone else's credibility of being a hero. There are many types of heroes, leaders, and torchbearers. None of them take away admiration of another person. You can respect more than one — and we often do for different reasons.

Opinions and beliefs are powerful components of the human condition. Supporting one issue will not decrease the value of another separate issue. Let’s harness our passion for the topics we believe in and go to work FOR it. Only stating what we’re against isn’t nearly as productive.

Let's not take away from one to stand for another.

Apples can be apples.
Oranges can be oranges

Apple and Orange.jpg

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.

justyn-warner-529952-unsplash.jpg

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.

storm cloud across a field

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.

rain on window.jpg

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?”

sky clears.jpg

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.

Seeking the Real You Takes Beautiful Courage

flowers vine.jpg

You leave behind some of your most beautiful, courageous parts on the road you travel.

 

It’s easy to be youthful and fresh - blossoming while clinging to the vine - up high and showing off your bright colors. The sustaining veins are still touching you. You are connected to a life stronger than your own where the beauty is given and not earned.

Success and adolescence are similar. Sometimes you feel like your best life and greatest achievements are behind you. Now that the flower has bloomed, it turns dark and withers around the edges. It has nothing left to offer.

But deep inside of your belief system. Far beyond the negative talk that we tend to allow in our heads and hearts, there’s a sliver -- a small disbelief that your life and service have met its completion. There is hope as thin as the leaves on the branch that you still have something in you - something to offer to this life because you’re still here.

Maybe you graduated, leaping from one great career move to another. Lightning struck and you found a true love so crazy that you fell into marriage laughing and supporting one another with expectation, service, and happiness. You had a brood of nearly perfect children, saved up enough money for your first house and had one amazing dream come true cascading and pouring into the next one. But then you stopped. Life kept moving and you were standing still in your kitchen. The hope you once felt so strong, now as lukewarm as the coffee you're pouring into the sink.

Life travels whether or not you do.

Time zipped past and one day you realized you were no longer connected to the vine. You’re not sure what happened or when it happened but the youth, the magic and all the dreams fell. The life you knew began to fade away.  You mourned how alive you felt seeming only moments ago when you were high on the branch at the beginning of your life.  But the spring of newness faded and let go of you. You fell into years of trials you didn’t see coming, failures of good and bad decisions and then maybe you've experienced the painful loss of a parent you didn’t realize would hurt as much as it does. A part of you died with them instead of them, living on inside of you.

Your life has been full and most of it has been good. But life and youth tug you away from the high places, the safe places, the source which gave you life in the beginning. Life will blemish the youth. Time wears you down and fades the lovely. Gravity slacks the skin and one day you find yourself, trying to find yourself in the mirror. That's the day you decide to see past the fading and discover the real beauty of courage inside of you. The true strength that lies beyond the wrinkles and age.

Surviving the road instead of traveling on it.

flowers road.jpg

Your true beauty is surviving the road. Your talents have been honed after years of practice. Your grace is continuing the journey even though you don’t know why or for what purpose. When you travel the road - and keep traveling - that’s beauty. You keep moving. You don’t have to be successful, winning or ass-kicking. Beauty is refusing to give up because the voices in your head and heart tell you that the opportunities are for the strong and young. True beauty is not quitting even though you feel like your life has passed by without taking you anywhere amazing or giving you the chance to show the world what you can do.

You served your kids and they’re doing great. You served your marriage and it may have survived the weather, but you survived the raging storms inside your mind. Ask yourself what is the THING that only you can do?  What reason did God have to put you in this time and space? What’s the thing that you can give to the world that no one else can? What’s the thing still waiting to bloom inside of you? You have become the strength of the vine - giving life to your dreams. Do it. If you’re still traveling the road then you’re on the way to your destination. That thing for just you is still waiting. It’s your dream and it wants to be a part of your life even through all those years you forgot you wanted it.

*You* are a different kind of beautiful now. A better, more experienced, well-seasoned version of you. You are beautiful because you are surviving on the road. The road is the hard part of life that winds and turns and seems endless and yet too fast at the same time. The years behind you aren’t your best. The moments ahead of you - the becoming the you -- you were meant to be. Becoming the REAL YOU will reward every person in your circle. Your children need to see you digging the excellence out of your life. Your friends and family benefit from seeing your true passion emerge. You’ll inspire the people who overlooked or forgot you.

Find all of your beautiful YOUness.

Seek the YOU, you are meant to be.

True beauty and bravery are not fresh, new and unblemished. The stunning courage is that you didn’t stop searching for you. You’ve given to your life and now your life wants to celebrate the road you traveled and the miles you haven't yet started.

There's beauty in falling down and finding your path anyway. But there's remarkable courage when you leave a beautiful trail for others to follow.

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.

Tale of Two Facebooks.JPG

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

IMG_3491.JPG

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.

FullSizeRender.jpg

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?

IMG_3542.JPG

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.

IMG_3583.JPG

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.







.

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.

IMG_0542.JPG

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.)

IMG_0541.JPG

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.

Grief and a Milkshake

We pull up to the stop light on the corner of Gunbarrel and Shallowford Road. Walgreen’s is on the left corner. Steak and Shake positioned on the right. The van is quiet except for the hum of the engine and the radio tuned to something chill. The day was warmer than it had been last week and was bright and sunny after what seemed like endless days of rain. My husband and I were running some errands and for some reason, our normal banter and inside jokes were silent today. Nothing was wrong - we were lost in our own thoughts and enjoying each other’s quiet company. 

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my husband’s head nod toward the right. “You remember that time, your dad and I went to go get milkshakes for everyone as a treat after working in the yard all day?” I nodded without looking at him. Danny chuckled, “Your Dad was so funny. He let out that long whistle and shook his head when they gave us the total.” Danny laughed harder this time, then mimicked my Dad’s voice, “$14 dollars?!  (Imitates long whistle) For milkshakes?” I turned to look at the Steak & Shake sign and watched the next car pull up to the window.

I felt the van pull forward and we moved through the intersection.  My eyes followed the sign until we were over the hill.  I turned to look at Danny’s profile.  There were wrinkles around his eyes.  His jaw moved in rhythm from the chewing gum.   He was still smiling at the memory of my Dad.

“I miss my Dad,”  I said softly.  I’m surprised he even heard me.

“I know you do,” he said simply.  “I miss your Dad too.”

Any other ordinary day we would’ve spent the next 20 minutes remembering funny stories about him.  We would have laughed so hard until we were shaking our head, pinching the bridge of our nose and wiping away the tears from the corners of our eyes.  But I didn’t want to do that today.  It still amazes me how my husband can so easily read the difference.  

I wanted to be melancholy.  Quiet on purpose.  I wanted to feel reverent about his memory.  I wanted to think of him without cramming laughter and jokes into the conversation of him.  I didn’t want to laugh.  I wanted to remember him in peace.  In the stillness, I wanted to sit with my thoughts of him. Not cry.  Not laugh.  Just be.  He’s been gone since September 2012.

While I was thinking of my dad, my mind wandered to my childhood friend who only recently lost her dad. Her pain is fresh, unreal and raw.  I imagine that right now she is unable to process the loss of him.  She is feeling the sudden void – the space where her father would be – empty and cavernous.  Her dad is gone – that missing piece of her life that no amount of sympathy cards, covered dishes or flowers will ever fill.

I remember being where she is and not being able to believe that I am where I am right now.  Living through the days and months I was able to grieve, and then laugh again.  I survived dark nights and missing phone calls and seeing his smile just one more time.   I missed feeling his hugs, sharing a container of Chinese food and thinking of the day he complained that Steak & Shake milkshakes were $14.00. 

That one day I could leave an intersection on a random Sunday afternoon, over five years after losing him and still feel the sharp pain in my chest and the prickle in my dry throat.  My body feels the sensation of grief, but my eyes fail to respond.  No tears – only the physical memory of emptiness.  It takes time.  It’s a process.  Some days are great and the memories fill you up and make you feel warm and sunshiny as if the person you love is still right here.  But there are other days when the numbness sets in again.  But I have to believe, every moment will lead to the next one and I will laugh again and smile at his memory.

Sometimes, Even The Best Relationships Give Back an Empty Casserole Dish

I want to forgive you, but I can’t right now. 

I love you.  But I haven’t reached the next level in my self-improvement.  That stronger, higher vibration I need in order to find peace with what happened between us.  I can’t forgive you until I can forgive myself.  I try and fail but I promise I will try again.  I won’t give up but I hope you will be there when I reach my forgiveness destination.

IMG_4060.JPG

You remain a part of me.  You have a room in my heart but the room has a shut door.  Just as my mother closed the door to my teenage bedroom because she didn’t want to look at the mess, I haven’t been willing to go into your room and clean up the brokenness. My Heart-Housekeeping quit because there was an incident between us.  The room, the safe space we built; now has damaged furniture, broken light fixtures and torn wallpaper.  It’s trashed.  I don’t know when I will open your door but I promise you are safe in my happy memories until I can face the painful ones.

I want to forgive you, but I can’t right now.

I’m not ready.  You didn’t commit a crime and you’re not a horrible human being.  It would be so much easier if you were, then I could write you off and be done with our relationship.  But you are good person - even if you’re not to me. I don’t think you and I are a good match for each other.  My selfish, self-preservation separated me from you.  It was for my own protection.  It’s too hard to admit my weaknesses.  The stumble and fall of my sacrifices unnoticed by you.  I wanted you to notice me.  It’s embarrassing to admit that I believed in your goodness, when I wanted so much for you to remind me of the goodness in myself.  My feelings don’t feel safe around you.  My heart can’t handle your rejection and what’s worse is that you probably aren’t aware that you’ve discarded me. Honestly, my reality is facing that you no longer need my support.

                       Maya Angelou wrote - *People will never forget how you made them feel.*

I hope I made you feel good.  I hope that I encouraged you to believe in yourself and that belief flourished and made you feel confident.  I hope I made you feel loved - because you were.  Even now you are loved, but it hurts me more to admit it. 

I feel like you cheated me - and yourself - out of the other side of our relationship.  You took the giving, but didn’t grant my chance for receiving.  Maybe you disagree and feel like you gave a lot but it seemed your kindness was given in careful ways.  You were guarded and limited with your offering. Why?  Who would hold it against you? At the time, your needs seemed more important than mine and I believed it was noble to do without the return. As a parent provides for a child - the child is not expected to give back.  But what happens when the child matures and the parent ages?  Don’t most children grow into adults who give back?

My heart wants to write freely, but my logic concludes there’s a sliver of chance that you will see yourself in this work.  You’ll see through my writing effort as an attempt to explain why you hurt me.  And here’s a bit of raw honesty - it would hurt more if you weren’t aware that you did.  If you hadn’t even considered the distance between us.  If we reconcile, please tell me that you knew all along but you didn’t know how to find your way back.  The road to recovery was treacherous and full of barricades and detours.  Admit that you had no way of finding your way back to our messy room behind the forgotten closed door.

Maybe the labor of writing will help someone else who reads it.  They will find themselves on one side or the other.  It’s easy for the giver.  If you’re the giver, you feel good about yourself.  You think that you’ve done the right thing by offering support.  Believing in the dreams of another human being without concerns of your own.

The hard part is admitting you’re on the other side.  It takes strength to admit you’re the receiver. It takes courage to admit that you’ve taken from someone until they ran out and had nothing else to offer. It takes courage to recognize that you cheated yourself out of the giving.

I grew up in North Carolina but I was nearly 40 years old before I had a friend teach me about a giving and receiving tradition.   I thought it was a southern thing but over time I’ve learned that it’s universal in the world of human decency.

I cooked dinner for my friend and her family.  She had minor, out-patient surgery but would remain on bed rest for several days.  I offered to prepare a simple meal - one dish - for her family as she recuperated.   It wasn’t fancy, I can’t even remember what it was, but it was one dinner that my friend didn’t have to plan, order or prepare.  Several weeks later, she stopped by my house so she could return my casserole dish.  Underneath the clear glass lid, sitting on the clean, white ceramic was a box of store bought cookies. My eyes went from the casserole dish to her face several times before she understood my confusion. 

“Never return a dish to a friend, without something in it.”  She beamed her gorgeous, light up the day smile and said, “I didn’t have time to bake, but wanted to give something back for caring for my family.”

Well then.  Never in all the years of my southern life had I ever heard this expression but it makes so much sense AND not only with bakeware.  You can’t always take without giving something back because you cheat yourself out of the other side of the blessing.  When you take and don’t give back in the same language (or way) the person gave it, then you are denying yourself (and them) the beautiful circle of giving and receiving.  Giving has no balance if it’s only going in one direction.

 

In the beginning you returned my dishes empty, then not at all.

I want to forgive you, but I can’t right now.

 

The saying goes that a lion doesn’t concern himself with the opinion of a sheep. Maybe to you I am a sheep, but you forget that I once was the mouse.  The mouse who removed the thorn from your paw when life was cruel and circumstances beat you down.  I was there when few others were.  I am a coward for not telling you how I feel.  But believe me, my passivity holds no aggression.  I pulled away from you long ago because your brightness illuminated my insecurities.  You left me, but I also stepped back.  I distanced myself from the pain of being left behind.  If I walk away, then it doesn’t feel so much like being left.  I’ve been where you are and from experience I know it is easier to leave than to be left behind.  But I take some of the blame in our separation because I made the decision to stop chasing you.  You didn’t notice when I was behind you from the beginning and you probably aren’t aware that I’m not there now.

I love you.  I do.  So much.  But I have farther to go to forgive myself for the time I spent on you and learning that the time I spent was not wasted.  It reveals who you and I are AND who we were together.  And until I forgive myself, I can’t forgive you.

This story was not a cure all.  I don’t feel any differently than I did before I wrote it.  But what I have is a conversation with my spirit allowing me to explore what’s bothering me.  The wound opening fresh feels cathartic.  It reveals a safe space to experience the pain again so I can feel it, then let it go.  Maybe even crack open the door and start looking at the broken pieces.  If I open the room, will you and I find each other again?  Will we be able to clean it together?

When we give a part of ourselves, sometimes it take awhile to get it back.  Or maybe we don’t at all.

 

 







 

Hanging On

IMG_0533.JPG

It’s quiet.  Sunday morning.  Early.  Damp, gray clouds settled in overnight smothering the sun’s scheduled appearance.  Our part of the world remains dark even at 7:15.  My husband and I drink our coffee nearly silent.  We hold our mugs the same way.  Lacing our fingers around the cup, enjoying the heat on our hands, keeping it close to our face and breathing in the steam and aroma.  We only need a towel to cover our heads as if we’re nursing a head cold with java.  For me, that first sip feels like a warm bath for my soul.  A moment to savor and forget about the pressure of being a parent.  The headache of being an adult.

We quietly discuss the day.  Despite our heavy eyelids and between our yawns, we whisper ideas and plans to get us out of our messy problems.  We’re not looking at each other.  Both of us turning inward, trying to understand why so much has happened in the first month of the new year.  On other days, we’ve encouraged one another by suggesting that we’re getting the tough stuff over with at the top of the year.  Our bumps in the road are the gears getting cranked up for better months ahead.  Not this morning.  He shakes his head.  He’s scratched an idea without even mentioning what it was.  He sees past his reflection in the window against a dark sky.   I stare into the cup, searching for signs in the creamer as if there were tea leaves.

We’ve faced some challenges.  A few of them rather ordinary and the ones that most everyone faces.  We take a swing at our problems and as the analogy goes, sometimes the bat meets the ball and we deflect the issue before it begins.  Home run.  We miss some too but we keep playing.  Someday hoping to sprint around the bases, seeing the crowd out of their seats cheering for us.  The overcomers.  But then I remember, the crowd has their own problems. Their legs like pistons, hammering across their competitive field.  Their eyes have years of practice watching the ball.  Everyone playing their own game.  Running their own race.  Maybe I should cheer for them instead.

Our teenagers will not see the sun burning off the dismal fog on this gray morning.  Their heads deep in covers and exhaustion, accepting the rest they need.  We adults do not rest as we should.  We sit across from one another wondering, without asking, how to get it all done.  How to make it happen.  How to see past the gray, dreary now and break free from the clouds into brilliant sunlight like airplanes do.

I decide that while he’s pouring my second cup, I can put in a load of towels.  I walk into the laundry room, flip on the light and realize that the spring bar that holds the hangers has disappeared behind the washer and dryer and taken our entire collection of hangers with it.  At first, I’m not sure what happened.  Then I’m stunned that no one heard what was certainly a loud crash.  When did it fall?  I did three loads yesterday and everything was normal.  Now as I lean over the lid, I stare at a tangle of wires, plastic and dust and lint between the wall and white appliances.

I hear my husband pass through the kitchen and approach me.  As I turn to face him, he offers my replenished coffee mug.  The man I’ve been married to for almost 18 years is unaware that I’ve just discovered chaos in the laundry room.  I frown at him and the coffee he’s holding.

 “What?”

 “Did you hear anything last night?  A loud, crashing sound?  Yesterday afternoon maybe?”

 “You know I’ll sleep through anything.  But your ears are the same as bats.  What didn’t we hear?”

 Reorganized with less hangers.

Reorganized with less hangers.

I turn to the side and allow him to pass.  I sarcastically exaggerate the extension of my arm welcoming him to the small laundry room.  My frown more defined as I bow. He steps closer and discovers the missing bar and hangers.  He hands me the coffee cup and leans over the washer.

 “When did this fall?”

See, this is what happens.  We adults keep piling on so much stuff (different types of hangers) and then act surprised when it all comes down around us.  We, like that spring bar are not designed to carry that much load. Some load, yes.  The amount we ordinary humans try to carry.  No.  We pile on the hangers, problems of the day, month, year because it’s easy.  In an attempt to be organized, we put the extra hangers where the extra hangers go.  We sort the problems into family, life and business and hang each one on a different bar.  But how many hangers do we need? 

When do we stop adding hangers to our life because we already have too many?

We hang onto hangers because it’s easy.  It’s a hang up.

A few would argue that you don’t ask for more hangers.  You just end up with them.  True.  But we have to know when to give them away.  Set them down.  Release them.  Send them love and walk away.  

*I’m not really talking about hangers.*

The Universe.  My precious God is telling me something and I want to share it with you.

Sometimes things have to fall apart in our life so we can rebuild, reorganize and *PRIORITIZE* what’s going back.  A relationship?  A responsibility? Maybe forgiveness?

We continue to face the same problems until we learn the lesson and move on.  Our higher power cannot be bluffed.  If we haven’t *really* learned it.  Then it’ll give us an opportunity to teach us again.  But here’s the great thing - I believe our angels give clues, warnings and “heads-up” whispers when we least expect it.

The other day, I was putting away clothes in the closet.  I realized there were too many empty hangers because of all their wires were jutting out between the clothes.  I started yanking them out.  One by one I tossed them.  Metal hitting a combination of metal and plastic, creating a tangled pile of mess on the floor of our bedroom closet.  I straightened clothes and tugged empty hangers until there were only hangers with clothes on them.  I felt a moment of satisfaction that the closet had been rid of useless, empty hangers.

I reorganized my mess.  But it’s still a mess.

 Eleanor Tip:  Most dry cleaners recycle used hangers. 

Eleanor Tip:  Most dry cleaners recycle used hangers. 

The message that I received (even now while I’m typing) is so clear that I’m not sure how I missed it when it happened.  Sort of like the loud, crashing sound our family missed when the spring bar succumbed to the weight of too many hangers.

First - the image of the pile of hangers in the closet floor.  A tangled mess of too much.  Just like the ones between the wall and the washer this morning.  Still too much.  AND - when I straightened the clothes in the closet, I noticed that the shelving was pulling out from the drywall.  Barely noticeable, but thinking of it now, a clear warning.

I’m asking myself harder questions.  Am I holding onto the wrong things afraid to let go of what I know in exchange for what may be?  I’m still in the gray, dreary part of the morning.  Worrying and planning and packing more and more stuff instead of taking the flight past the clouds into the brilliant sunlight.

Just like life. 

When your hangers fall.

“What happened?” they will ask. 

It was all just too much.

Comfortable in the In-Between

IMG_0532.JPG

It’s cold.  Everything outside my kitchen window appears dead or frost bitten.  My entire backyard is the color of bird seed.  Which reminds me, we need to restock the feeders.  The squirrels must be hungry.   (Huge eye roll from my last post.) We’ve had the slightest skift of snow.  The yard has a delicate, twinkling white powder dusted on the tips of withered leaves and dormant grass.  Maybe my yard looks more like Frosted Flakes than bird seed.

Waiting for the sink water to warm, I’m bundled in mismatched wool socks, sweat pants and a sweater.  My winter, around-the-house clothing makes me look like I’m 84.  I keep a tissue tucked into my sleeve so I’ve basically become one of the Golden Girls.   I don’t have a cold but I sneeze all day.  It must be winter allergies and all the time spent indoors.  I’m closed up with the dust and frankly, I feel a little dusty myself.  Perhaps new air filters or more frequent use of Pledge would help.

I can’t seem to warm up.  After removing dinner, I’ve been known to crack open the oven door and stand in front of it, rubbing my hands together as it cools.  My husband can remember his grandmother doing that sort of thing.One small step with a walker and I’m Sophia carrying around a pocket book. 

During this bitter cold day it’s inconceivable that my 14 year old daughter drifts into the kitchen, dressed as if she’s spent the afternoon off the Florida coast.  She glides her finger around the inside edge of a bowl I’m stirring then licks it off with a smack.  I watch her lean against the counter.  Her cheeks look warm, her hair is in a pony tail and nothing covers her long legs but gym shorts.  I meet her eyes, bright and sparkling like the iridescent snow.  “Put some clothes on.  You’re making me cold looking at you.”  My mother said that sort of thing, so at least now I’ve moved back one generation from Golden.

In January, all the days blend into the next one.  In my opinion, January has no sense of accomplishment other than taking swings at our resolutions and collecting financial data for Income Taxes.  January is not the most exciting month.   It’s when big companies send a few of their employees to trade shows in sunny destinations.  Their morale will get a boost and they’ll come back with an uneven tan, wearing ball caps and flowered shirts and pump up the rest of the team.   Maybe all of our resolutions have collapsed by mid-January.  Maybe we have zero motivation to gather tax paperwork or go to the gym so we end up scrolling Facebook and Googling random facts to appear productive.  Like whether or not you can burn calories by trying to stay warm.  Don’t bother.  I did it for you.  Not until you shiver.  Shivering burns calories. 

There’s no specific event in January.  Something to do where we can feel a sense of accomplishment.   Since last October, there was something *to do* every month.  A plan had to be in place to cram every, single event into your schedule.  But in January, we end up easing into the year, rolling off the couch from our Tryptophan and Glucose induced coma.  We lose the “Fired Up” punch of the first days of the year and start to think it’s too cold to go to the gym. I mean, there’s snow on the edge of the grass for Pete’s sake.  And apple pie for breakfast is okay because it’s basically a fruit filled pop tart.  Same diff.

January is a bluesy month.  One icy, wintry day after another. The freshness of the new year melts and refreezes into a couple of weeks of blah.  No more chestnuts on an open fire.  No more champagne and countdowns.  January feels like it’s going to start off strong but by the midway mark we’re just cold and cooped up.  And sneezing.  It’s the month of either/or.  EITHER it snows a blizzard and I have an excuse to stay in pajamas all day.  OR it warms up and I can venture outside and go for a walk without looking like Frankenstein doing the box step. One of those two events needs to happen or I’m going feel blah. 

Oh, Eleanor you poor thing. 

A circumstance needs to change so we won’t feel down.  What are we millennials? (I’m kidding.) If you were raised anytime before 1983 you know that sitting around thrumming your fingers on the table and staring out the window was okay for about 15 minutes but then you better do something to make yourself productive or your parents would help guide you to that end.  Waiting for someone else (or an event) to make a situation better for you was preposterous.  Are we the last of the generations that still expects something from ourselves?  We have to be productive!  Need wood? Go chop it.  Need money? Go work for it.  Need happiness? Give it away since that’s the fastest route to completely BLISS out. 

But you’re not feeling it, are you? 

Your body and mind are having none of that positive energy, go-getter nonsense.  If you’re not feeling love for yourself, how can we expect you to scrape together enough sunshine for someone else? You want your ambition back, but it’s buried under 14 layers of mismatched clothing and a bowl of chili.  All of your drive, love and desire escaped you.  But, my friend, my reader, I promise...It’s a season.  A wave and you have to be brave enough to ride it out. 

It’s possible that right now, in the middle of January you just don’t feel it. You’re cold.  You’re hibernating and you’re doing the minimum because your nose is red and you’re out of tissues.  It’s okay.  Forgive yourself.  Be kinder to your unproductive self.  Beating yourself up will not improve your morale.  Be a better friend to the the person in the mirror.  If you’re fogging up the glass, you still need to be here and you have a purpose to fulfill. You’ll come around.  You’ll push through.  Your insides will warm again and you’ll discover your fire, sparking all that wonderful, crazy incentive.  Be gentle with yourself.  We’re on a journey.  We can do this.

January is an in-between month and it’s okay for you to feel in-between too.

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.

IMG_0530.JPG

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.

 ******************************

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.)