Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Moving Forward vs. Moving On

Christmas came and went.  It was lovely, gifts were exchanged, food was eaten (a lot of food) and matching pajamas were worn.  Then came New Year's Day.  I love New Year's Day, not because I love parties or bowl games but because I love a fresh start.  I love a new system or routine that has the possibility to change things.  The trouble is that possibility only lasts a few days or weeks and then either it has changed things or, more likely, it hasn't.  Then you are stuck with the reality that your situation is not going to change, at least not because you got a fancy new planer/app/book/etc.  This year, my new routine actually has made a difference though.  It legitimately fixed the problem.  What is this revolutionary method? Are you ready for it?  I make my coffee the night before.  Life changing, I know.

You see mornings around here have been rough since school started.  For those of you counting, that is approximately four months.  School starts earlier here, which means the kids and I have to start earlier too.  We are ALWAYS running late which leads to yelling and complaining.  I do the yelling, the kids do the complaining.  So in an effort to not have to get up at the crack of dawn but also be on time I have started prepping everything the night before.  I have the kids look at the hot lunch menu at the beginning of the month.  They write their initial on the days they want to have hot lunch.  If they need a packed lunch I pack as much of it as I can the night before.  They fill their water bottles and pack their backpacks with folders and snacks the night before.  We look at the weather and figure out what they want to wear the night before.  See a pattern here? I go so far as to bake muffins on Sundays so that they can get themselves a muffin and a glass of milk for breakfast every day and we don't waste valuable time deciding what to have.  This had led to way less yelling and actual early arrivals at school.  Unprecedented.  All good right?

Unfortunately, not so much.  I was still really struggling, even with my new killer routine.  Then it dawned on me, this is my grief period.  I do it every year to some degree.  I start to shut down emotionally and internalize.  I often pull away from friends and go through a long period of radio silence.  In 2005, my mom died on Valentine's Day.  It has been almost twelve years and starting in the middle of January each year I still go through my grief period.

It is not as pronounced as it once was and it is largely a subconscious thing at this point.  In the early years I would literally relive the final months of her life, like walking the stations of the cross.  We had a fantastic Christmas, she was in remission.  Then in January the cancer was back and it spread.  She had surgery for an ulcer and was supposed to come to my house to recover then go home for more chemo.  That never happened.  She died in my spare bedroom.  During my early grief periods I would remember the milestones of each day.  The day she couldn't remember my birthday.  The day she asked for french fries even though she knew she would throw them up, but she wanted to taste them one more time.  The day she stopped getting out of bed.  The day I read to her from the book of Revelations because I knew she liked to be prepared and she needed some reminders about what heaven would be like.

My grief periods don't look like that anymore.  These days they are just marked by a grayness that settles over me this time of year.  I will say the sunshine of my new state has made things so much better.  Still though, there is a subtle shift for me in January.  The good news is, I remembered it early on this year.  I have not been able to completely escape it but I have been able to combat it.  Last year when I was doing costumes for Emelia's theater group I realized that being creative really helps me.  So I have been crafting a lot.  I also got to be in charge of the decorations for our school's daddy/daughter dance.  This was a true gift because I got to be creative and busy while being around fun people., much like my Bye Bye Birdie days.  Another things that helps me is being able to talk about my mom.

She was a remarkable woman.  She was liked by everyone and infinitely kind.  She loved me so much.  In my life I had doubts about a lot of things but I never doubted her love for me.  She was funny and loved a good fart joke.  She would spend an hour in the card aisle looking for a card about farts.  She loved Jesus and worked with the prison ministry at her church.  She liked to shop and some of my favorite memories are of going back to school shopping with her.  I can remember how much she loathed the converse high tops I bought in seventh grade.  "Erika, those are BOYS BASKETBALL shoes!"  To this day I have four pairs of converse.  I think they make me feel connected to her.  She was hard working and uber organized.  When I was in high school we would go to her office and reorganize her files for fun on a Saturday.  (It really is a sickness!) She loved her yard and mowing her lawn.  I think because when she was done she would always have a cold beer in a frosty mug that she kept in the freezer.  She was just the best.

Here I am twelve years after she died and I still haven't moved on.  If I am feeling masochistic, I can still conjure up the feeling I had when the doctor told me she probably would not survive this round of cancer. I can remember not canceling her cell phone for a year because I would call and just listen to her outgoing message to hear her voice one more time.  I don't live in that heavy all consuming grief very often because I find it difficult to get out from under.  Sometimes though I let it wash over me because I can either spend a really long time running from it our I can spend less time walking through it.  This is how I move forward.  Most days I just live my life doing the best I can to make choices that honor my Savior and make my mom proud, but some days I find myself caught off guard by the potency of my memory.

That is the thing about grief, it lessens and becomes less all consuming with time but it never goes away all together.  I used to berate myself for not moving on.  "Dear God woman, get it together, you have got to move on!" I am much gentler with myself now because I know I will never move on.  I just move forward.  I move forward by loving my kids the way she loved me.  I move forward by being the woman she taught me to be.  I move forward by being open about my shortcomings and my pain because hiding things means moving backwards.  I move forward knowing that one day we will be reunited in heaven and we can sit down on God's patio with a cold beer.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016


Man alive, 2016 has been a THING.   I mean seriously 2016, I am out of shock and awe.  All I have left is Jesus and coffee.  On a national level 2016 has been ugly (understatement).  On a professional level, for both Jeff and I (I consider myself Chief Operating Officer of Mochal Inc.), 2016 has been a doozy.  On a personal level 2016 has been marked by sadness and loss.

The last 10 days have been a microcosm of this year - small peaks followed by tremendous valleys.  In that time, I went to a women's conference where I felt like I finally figured out my purpose - hooray, joy ensues.  Then we had an election, it didn't turn out the way the world thought it would.  The ugliness and vitriol that we all thought would be closing up shop on November 9 actually got worse.  Cue sadness and retail therapy.  (I wish I could say that as I watched people get uglier and uglier I prayed and thanked God for his sovereignty in this hot mess of a world, but in reality I ordered a pair of leopard print chairs.  Listen, the Cubs won the World Series, this apocalypse thing may be coming sooner than later and if Jesus comes back in the next few months I want to have coffee with Him in my leopard chairs.  Don't judge, I am just being real)  Then we had a lovely weekend with our neighbors who have become true friends.  Yea us!  Then, last night our whole household succumbed to the torture that is second grade spelling.  Divulge about did us in.  We all went to bed in a funk - seriously, from spelling.

This morning as I was reflecting on the crap storm that was last night I thought man, something around here has got to change.  We can't let spelling rock our world like that.  Then I got to thinking, perhaps spelling is not the TRUE culprit.  (I know, duh!)  Perhaps there is some overarching issue that is causing feelings to be hurt and tempers to flair and the word "porridge" to undermine an otherwise really good life.  Jeff remarked last night that he feels like there is so much negativity in the house.  You see, that frustrates me because I have been praying for a spirit of peace in our home.  I literally walk from room to room and pray.  I have been praying for my kids to experience grace and compassion for each other and all they encounter.  Like every darn day.  What is up with that God? I mean, I know that God is not Amazon Prime.  He doesn't deliver whatever we ask for in a two day window but I have been at this prayer thing for awhile now.  I know things around here have to change if we are going to come out with beauty from the ashes of the things that have hurt our hearts this year.

Then this morning God hit me over the head with a message that made all the other stuff make sense.  Isn't that how it always is?  A series of disparate, seemingly random events happen and then God drops a little wisdom in your lap that ties it all together.  You know what the common denominator is in all of this?  Me.  Yep, I am the chain that links all of this together.  I have been praying for things to change and for people to change and for circumstances to change but I have not once asked God to change me.  I never asked Him to help me have the words to comfort my girl as she continues to grieve the loss of her friend.  I didn't ask Him to show me a creative way to help Sam learn his spelling words.  I have not been seeking ideas from him about ways to show love in this hurting world.  Ladies and gentleman, we have a winner - God change me!  Change my perspective, show me how to be a light to my world.  Not THE world, that is too overwhelming for me right now, just my world.  Because I really do think it is like ripples in a lake.

As I thought about how I could change my perspective in 2016 I was inspired to dig a little deeper in to my role in our house and our little world.  What is my purpose?  I thought back to the aforementioned women's conference, where I spent a solid half a day feeling sorry for myself because I felt like I didn't have a purpose.  I mean, am not Jen Hatmaker, writing books and adopting orphans.  I am just a mom getting up each day and praying the kids like the hot lunch option so I don't have to make another peanut butter sandwich.  How can I effect change?  Then I realized my purpose is not making lunch.  That is a job.  Just like being a nurse or a lawyer or a barista is a job.    My purpose is what God put me on earth to do that will cause others to see goodness in each other, Jesus, and themselves.

So here is what I came up with, my purpose is to LIVE REAL AND LOVE HARD.  I know it sort of sounds like a bad Ed Hardy t-shirt, but give me a minute...

You see, as I have gotten older authenticity has become a very important part of my life.  I want to be myself - my messy, unholy, mood swinging self because that is who Jesus loves.  He did not come for perfect Erika, he came for real life Erika and real life you.  That doesn't mean I am supposed to stay stuck in my muck, but I am also not to be persecuted for it either.  I think I am supposed to live real, the good and the bad,  so others can too.  Then we can commiserate with each other and lift each other up.  We can sit down over a cup of coffee and say, man I was not very kind to my kids today or my husband and I are struggling or I have really mean thoughts about myself, because we feel safe.  Then I can take all of your real self and love you.  Like a lot.  I am not a love you with a wave as I walk the dogs kind of gal.  I am a love you with a hug and a gift and a casserole sort of girl.  I want to love you with a deep conversation about what makes your heart happy, what makes your hear hurt. I want to pray with you and for you and tell you how much I love you so you don't feel judged.  Because you know what, the opposite of loved is? Judged.  You can not offer both love and judgement.  We can not be in competitive perfection mode and love our neighbor the way we love ourselves.  But then, this is where things get sticky for me.  I realize I can be a bit much for people.  I get it.  I am like a cup of cinnamon tea.  Some people find it to be totally comforting and others think it is like drinking a stick of Big Red - whoa Nelly!  This is where I have to circle back to the living real part because fear of judgment causes me to stop loving hard.  I start trying to be someone I am not, to please people and be "normal".   Then I am miserable.  I suspect the experts would say I am miserable because I am living outside my purpose.

So, I think that is it, my purpose is to live real and love hard, everything else is a job.  For some people the two things are intertwined.  There are some people who get to fulfill their purpose through their job.  I am sort of in that category but I get confused sometimes because what I do is not who I am, nor is it my purpose on earth - at least not at a micro level.  I made beef stew this morning, I enjoyed it, but my purpose is not to be a chef.  My purpose is to love my family by preparing some of their favorite foods (full disclosure - sometimes that love is expressed by driving to the local Mexican restaurant.).  I volunteer in my son's classroom, I love it, but my purpose is not to be a teacher.  My purpose is to love those  kids and tell them they are doing a good job and listen to them tell the same story five times because they light up every time they do.

Ok, so if this is my purpose, how does living in it turn the tide in my home?  I don't know what this looks like for anyone else, but I can tell you that when I am doing what I was made to do I feel GOOD.  I feel like I ran five miles without dying kind of good.  And we all know when mama is happy everyone else is too.  When I am doing what I am supposed to do, then the possibility of Sam getting a 5 out of 15 on his spelling test is just not that big a deal.  I will start practicing with him sooner next week.  When I am being who I was designed to be, I can just hold my girl while she cries with out being consumed with "fixing it."  When I am living how I am supposed to live, others are free to live how they are supposed to live.  We are not designed to live in misery.  Living in the spin cycle of social media and the 24 hour news cycle is not healthy.  It is like my good friend Allison said, do something nice for someone it restores everyone's faith in humanity.  Living like that takes you out of the big picture and puts you in to someone's actual picture.  If we can be who we were meant to be and offer our authentic self to each other in grace and compassion, our little worlds would be better which I think means our greater world would be better.  See, God asked us to be people of gratitude.  But here is the kicker, we are not supposed to be grateful FOR the crazy, we are supposed to be grateful IN the crazy.

I will end it with this, because an analogy always helps things sink in for me.   We have a lovely home here in SC, plug for visitors, and that includes a beautiful screened in porch.  On  Saturday morning Jeff and I have taken to going out there for a cup of coffee.  I always sit in one of the chairs that faces our neighbor's house.  Each week since September came I complain about the fact that the trees here just are not as pretty as the trees back in Batavia.  It is too hot I say.  I don't think they will ever turn pretty I say.  (Just use this as a metaphor for the move.)  This was my view from the chair, yep dead tree and all.  

     Then this past weekend I sat on the couch which faces the unfinished house on the other side of us.  This was my view.
Sometimes you just have to change your perspective.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Love as a Verb

I haven't written in awhile mostly because I have been trying to make our house a home but also because I was stewing.  A few weeks back I read this one sentence in the book "Be Transformed" a study of John 13-21.  It said, "Love is an important theme in the gospel of John; it is used as a verb or noun a total of fifty-six times."I stared at that sentence for about ten minutes.  Love as a verb.  Huh.  Love as a verb, what does that mean?

When I think about a verb, I think about an action word, at least that is how I describe it to my kids. You are DOING something.  This was the crux of what I have been stewing about.  I really wanted to write something about how my goal is to be someone who loves as a verb.  I want to put my love in to action.  I want to cook you a meal when you have a baby and buy gluesticks for the class so the teacher doesn't have to.  I want to hug my kids and show my affection.  I want to have an active love for my family and the world.  It all made a ton of sense until last Friday.

My friend was driving her daughter and two other girls home from Spotlight rehearsal and they were struck by a suspected drunk driver.  Two of the girls suffered minor to moderate physical injuries, the third died at the scene.  On Saturday morning when my daughter woke up I had to tell her that her friend was gone.  It was the hardest parenting moment I have had to date.  I could not stop thinking about my friend and how overwhelming the feelings must be.  We all say we can't imagine what that family is going through, but the truth is we can imagine it, but we don't want to.  I don't want to think those sorts of thoughts or try to put myself in those terrible shoes.  I was just numb but I immediately wanted to spring in to action. The problem was, there was nothing for me to "do".  I wanted to love on my friends back home but I was 1,000 miles away.  I wanted to cook meals and sit in hospitals and hold hands but I couldn't.  I was being forced to love quietly, patiently and tearfully.  I watched my community of friends rally and love each other in big ways.  Through social media, I saw Spotlight kids come together and pray and love one another in the darkest of times.  Our town was heartbroken and I saw people from this family's life pour out love in immense ways.  I was so uncomfortable.  I should be there in the middle of it all organizing and doing and helping - loving as a verb.  God said, not this time.

All week I wrestled with my feelings.  I cried, I questioned, I felt awful then I felt nothing because I was packing a lunch or driving to school.  But I found myself constantly coming back to a feeling of guilt.  This morning I realized that I have felt guilty because my grief felt like it was not profound enough because I was just sitting here holding it.  I needed the families to know how much I was grieving and praying and loving and somehow bringing a casserole showed that.  The thing is instead of cooking I have been praying.  Instead of going to vigils I have been vigilant in protecting Em and her heart.    It has not felt like enough but I don't know that anything would be enough in these circumstances. My love is typically active but right now it has to just be a presence.

You see, you can love actively without activity.  I find it incredibly hard to do because it requires stillness and a quiet mind and patience.  That is the trifecta of weakness for me.  I stink at all three of those things.  But maybe that is why God said no to my doing.  I am having to love the Jonaks and the Mickeys in the stillness of God.  Frankly, I've got nothing for them.  I have no words.   I do hard pretty well.  Bringing home a new baby with two other kids under five - hard.  Moving - hard.  Stressful week, kids with the flu, sick parent - hard.  I know what to do in those times, but heartbreak, I suck at that.  The thing about heartbreak is that I am usually deep in the mud too at that point.  How can I offer comfort when I am in it to?   My tacos are not going to make losing Katie any less awful.  Of course my kindness would be appreciated but it is still awful.  The only love that can penetrate that level of pain is God's love.  That does not depend on me in any way.  I can be an advocate for this family before the Father but He already has them.  He always will.  

It feels very much like this is part of Katie's gift to our family.  Katie and Emmy were very similar - smart, happy, perfectionist tendencies - but Katie had a quiet air about her.  As I go forward I still want to love as a verb but I am reminded that sitting, praying, listening - those are verbs too.  

Thursday, September 08, 2016

A Full Scale Come Apart

I don't know if you are familiar with the phrase "having a full scale come apart", but it is great, so descriptive.  I heard it somewhere months ago, maybe a southern author because it has a very southern feel.  Anywho, it is like a melt down but worse.  See, a melt down implies a constant slow fade into nothingness - think of a candle melting down.  A come apart is that same thing but it is happening with force and velocity - think spontaneous combustion.  Well, I had a come apart two Sundays ago.  It took me awhile to write about it because I have really been processing the whole thing.  What sparked it?  Why was it so destructive?  What do I do about it?

It was a lovely Sunday morning and I was in high spirits.  We has gotten together with the neighbors the night before, the men sat on the neighbor's porch and the ladies sat on our porch.  I felt like I had genuinely made friends; like, I really dig these ladies.  I am still probably going to be on my best behavior for awhile (you know, no crying jags) lest they decide I am too much, but I felt good about the whole thing.  We were getting ready to try a new church, we were actually leaving on time, it was all good.  Until it wasn't.

We walked in to this church and it was a large church just like our old church.  It seemed like your standard modern church building but I swear to you everywhere I looked the women looked like Stepford Wives.  I am not 100% sure there were any men there at all, I only saw the sea of perfect women.  Everyone looked fancy, like they were going to the Kentucky Derby but without hats.  I swear I checked the website and it said "dress code - come as you are." It said nothing about we like to do it up around here.  Y'all, I am not even kidding when I tell you I felt invisible.  When I left the house I felt cute and hopeful and full of potential.  Suddenly I felt like none of those things.

I realized I was totally judging all these books by their fancy covers, maybe they were Goodwill books just like me.  I talked myself off the ledge.  For a hot second.  Then I got lost trying to drop my kids off in Sunday school.  I felt the tears coming but I couldn't stop them.  I started whimpering to Jeff that I just wanted to go home, I didn't belong here.  Really?  It is church, EVERYONE belongs there.  So what on earth was the matter with me?

I sat through the service that was a prompt one hour, though it felt like seven.  When we picked the kids up, the first thing out of both of their mouths was, "We love it here!" Of course you do.  You couldn't love the church from last week that I loved.  You know, the one where everyone was wearing jeans and looked like they were hanging on by a thread just like me.  Here came the tears again.  And then it happened - the come apart.

It was like an explosion.  I was sad and angry and certain I was going crazy.  I yelled then I sulked.  I tried to pull it together but I just couldn't.  Could. Not.  Then I slept.  I think I had exhausted myself with the shear intensity and volume of my emotions.

That was a long awkward day at Casa Mochal.  Monday came and I tried to get back in to a groove but I was still just slightly numb.  Then Jeff said he thought we made a mistake coming here and that the kids and I should move back while he finished out his contractual year and we would try to find something in Chicago.  What!?!?  I really thought that was all I wanted but when I was given the option that was the last thing I wanted.  I do think we were supposed to come here.  I do think God has something for us to do here.  I don't want to go back because it will never be the same.   Suddenly I was panicking.  It was my crazy behavior that had caused this mess.  Why couldn't I be normal like other women and just not act like a wounded bear?  that day though, I had the luxury of being able to control my emotions and a reasoned conversation ensued.  As Jeff and I talked about it, he said that he thought we would be fine eventually but that he was worried about the collateral damage until we got to fine.  Like I said before, the ride has to end, but would I survive until we could get back to the safety of the station?

So then I started thinking about what was going on inside my brain.  I looked up symptoms of every mental illness I could think of to make sure I didn't have one of those. Turns out I am just crazy, not mentally ill.  As I went about my daily life-packing lunches, making breakfast, doing laundry, I pondered my come apart.  I sat with it and rolled it around in my mind.

The days were getting brighter.  I went shopping with my neighbor and it was super fun.  Once you have been to At Home together an unbreakable bond is formed.  Even as I started feeling better and better I was thinking about my come apart.  After all that pondering, I still couldn't put my finger on what had happened to send me in to such a downward spiral.  Then while I was singing in church the next Sunday I realized what my problem was.  We were singing a song called Good Good Father and the chorus says "You're a good good father, it's who you are. And I'm loved by you, it's who I am."  That's it!  Who am I?

I have always struggled with defining myself by my external circumstances.  When I worked I would introduce myself and immediately tell you where I worked.  Work defined me.  When I started staying home I struggled with my new identity because vacuuming did not seem like nearly as cool of an identity marker as my fancy PR agency.  Then, over the years I found my purpose in volunteer work at church, in school, wherever they would have me.  That became my identity.  I was the giver.  I actually quite liked that identity - it felt the most authentic to me.  I know that I am supposed to find my identity in Christ - the daughter of the king - and on my best days I can totally find that sweet spot.  On most normal days though,  I can not quite get my tiara on straight enough to rest secure in that.  Just telling it like it is.  I work to find comfort in that but it is not innate for me, even after 13 years of following Jesus.

So there I sat, trying to figure out who I am.  I decided to be super authentic and fess up to the "real" me.

I am an uptight hippy.  I am an orderly gypsy.  I love rules but sometimes I want to break them.  I love Jesus, a lot, and I talk about that.  A lot.  I yell at my kids more than I wish I did but I also love them more than I ever imagined I would.  I love dogs - all dogs.  My husband is my rock and if the love I have in my heart could make its way to the surface and show up in my actions we would never have another issue again.  Unfortunately, some days  the love I have for ironing is what makes its way to the surface and I am not as kind as I want to be.  I have thirty pounds to lose but lately I like Mexican food and margaritas more than I like skinny jeans.  I am not fancy.  Fanciness scares me - I never feel like I am enough in the face of fanciness.  When I lived in LA I spent a lot of time feeling like I wasn't enough. That is bad for my soul, so I try to avoid it.  I love people, even fancy people - they scare me but I love them.  My heart gets filled by doing stuff for other people.  I don't like brown.  I wish I ate more vegetables.  I love to watch TV - no really, I love it.  I have a tender heart.  I talk really loud, especially after the aforementioned margarita.

You see, I want to be myself and be accepted and loved for that so badly that I can feel the sting of tears when I think about it.  I wish I didn't care what other people think, but I do.

So that is me.  I am a hot mess but I sort of feel like we all are if we are being honest.  Or maybe honest isn't the right word, maybe vulnerable is the right word.  I am a paradox on many levels and I don't claim to be the same on Tuesday as I was on Saturday.  I have some core tenets that I try to stick to but I am a work in progress.  The passing of each year changes my perspective on at least one thing.  The fluidity of it all is sometimes hard for me.  I think as I looked around that church I saw bits and pieces of myself in all those other people but I could not find anyone who was enough like me to make me feel wanted.  I somehow came to the conclusion that if no one is like me and I don't have it all together than all these other people MUST ACTUALLY HAVE IT TOGETHER.   Holy hotdog, the only thing that scares me more than fancy people is fancy people who have it all together.  I just can't!

The thing is after breaking it all down I can totally see the faulty logic.  It is like watching a magic trick in slow motion.  It is all just smoke and mirrors when you really look in to it.  I don't know a single woman in that church but I can say with absolute certainty that at least one of them does NOT have it together.  Because really, do any of us have ALL of it together?  Nope, I do not believe that we do.  I had found the source of my come apart - I was trying to be someone I wasn't and it made me cray cray.

By the way, the church that I was sitting in when I had this revelation was the exact church that had been witness to my come apart the week before.  I swear they replaced the whole congregation.  No one looked perfect and fancy and mint julepy.  They were all wearing jeans and getting their worship on just like me.  I am not sure where all those Stepford Wives went.  Perhaps all those people were simply reflecting my own identity crisis back at me.  What do you think?

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Grace, Gratitude and Goodwill

Our theme for this week has been grace and gratitude.  Jeff is out of town which meant I was going to have to tackle mornings on my own.  I normally love mornings.  I am a morning person, but I really like to have some quiet time in the morning before everyone else gets up.  The problem is, school starts at 7:40 which means I have to get up at 5:00 to get in any meaningful time before the rest of the gang has to get up.  It just has not happened since school started.  As it is, I am getting up at 6:00, to get them up at 6:30 with the goal of leaving at 7:20.  So mornings around here sound something like a SWAT team training exercise.  "Are you focused on your next thing?" "Today is P.E., do you have the right shoes?"  "Go, go, go - there is not time for bed making!"  Add to that two dogs that need to go out, a cat who likes to leave occasional poop presents in our bathroom and a coffee deprived mom and it is a recipe for disaster.  I knew that going into this week, so I decided we needed to head it off at the pass.  I read somewhere that it is impossible for gratitude and anxiety to exist in the same space, so I wondered if the same thing could be said of gratitude and grouchiness.  I decided to try.  My mantra was gratitude not grouchiness.  I threw the grace in there because sometimes I found myself failing at the whole gratitude thing so I had to give myself some grace.

Parking lot that for a minute, let's talk about grouchiness.  I feel like it is a great catch-all word, but slightly deceptive.  Think about Oscar the Grouch, the green guy who lives in the trash can on Sesame Street.  He can not find anything positive to say - at all, ever.  That is the portrait of my grouchiness, nothing good to say, only nastiness coming out of my mouth.  You know - complaints, criticism, griping, etc.  While Oscar may have been pretty harmless, my grouchy ways are not.  There is nothing worse than sending your kids out the door in the morning with criticism ringing in their ears.  I know this because I have done it.  It makes them feel bad it makes me feel bad and then I have six hours of stewing and berating myself before I can apologize.  Definitely not harmless.

Back to the gratitude experiment... I discovered that gratitude and grouchiness can exist in the same space (dang it!) but you have to really work at it.  Sort of like rubbing your tummy and patting your head - it can be done but it doesn't come naturally.  That was good news for us.  As we focused on gratitude we weren't griping at one another as much.  When we said, "thank you God" for what we did have, we were less likely to think about what we didn't have.  There has still been sadness and loneliness and all the other things that were there before we started our gratitude experiment, but they didn't feel quite as powerful.  In fact, some of them seemed to subside a little.

Grace and gratitude have helped us out tremendously this week.  It felt foreign and awkward at first, and honestly, I had a hard time actually feeling my thank yous initially.  As I got in a rhythm, it came more naturally.  When I didn't feel it or just couldn't be thankful, that is when the grace part came in.  When I was cursing the dumb lace up basketball shoes that cost me precious minutes to get on in the morning, I had to give myself grace.  Giving myself grace also did not come naturally for me.  It still doesn't but I am forcing the issue because it is terribly hard to be grateful when you feel like an ass.  When you give yourself grace, you can let your guilt go and make room for gratitude.

We have had some trying times this week.  Maisy disappeared for two hours and came back injured.  Sis got braces and is feeling a bit insecure.  Sam confessed that he misses AGS so much he still says the GUS pledge in his head every day after the Pledge of Allegiance.  There have been tears just like every week since we moved here, but we are making it through.  Life hasn't been as hard as I thought it was going to be this week.  I even went thrift shopping for the first time since we moved here.  I CAN NOT express gratitude for the Goodwills here.  I went to four,  they were all terrible.  I am choosing to offer the Goodwills grace instead. : )

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Myth of Continuous Forward Progress

I struggle with the concept of continuous forward progress.  All our lives we make progress.  You go from third grade to fourth grade, you go from being an Assistant Account Executive to being an Account Executive.  We are constantly moving forward.  It is great, except of course, when it is not.  What about when you take a step backwards? Or worse yet, when you take one step forward and two steps back?  Are you failing? Is it still progress?

This concept has been a point of contention for me on so many different occasions.  When my mom died I was a mess.  Like an unholy super sized hot mess.  I would think things were getting better than they would suddenly get worse.  I was lost.  When my dad was sick in the hospital he would seem to be getting better one day and then the next he would be really ill again.  I was so perplexed.  This was the first time I identified the myth.  I was grilling his doctor and he looked me in the eye and said, "healing doesn't happen as continuous forward progress..."  What in the world?  Why on earth not? How can you possibly measure success?  Most importantly, how do you know when you are out of the woods?

So here I am many years later and while I know that there really is no such thing as continuous forward progress, I still long for it.  I want to have a good day followed by a better day, followed by a fantastic day and then I will not have any more bad days.  Yep, that is the fairy tale I want.  The crummy thing is, I know it is a fairy tale but when it doesn't happen I struggle.

This week I felt like we had turned a corner.  The kids made friends.  I went to a PTA Meet and Greet where I met people and greeted people-winning.  My sister-in-law and niece came to visit, score, our first visitors!  You see, building blocks to my house of happiness.  Then today it crumbled.  We all cried, we were tired, we said things we didn't mean.  Sad feelings were magnified...by a thousand.  And for some reason it feels like my blocks never even existed in the first place.   Why is that?

It's funny, I was also thinking about contentedness this week - or more precisely my lack thereof and I am realizing these concepts are linked for me.  I have a hard time holding on to my happy.  This is why forward progress is so important to me.  When someone says it isn't about the destination, it is about the journey.  I nod my head and smile but I secretly think - CRAZY TALK.  I know this about myself and I recognize it as a flaw.  I am just not really sure what to do about it.

I think that is part of what this blogging journey is about.  I want to work on holding on to my happy.  I want to recognize that even when you take two steps forward and one step back you are still not at the starting point.  I have to remember that continuous forward progress is a myth but movement is movement and it means I am doing it.  I am meeting a challenge and doing the best I can and that six months from now, the days I went backwards won't be that memorable.  Instead of fleeting happiness I want to cultivate lasting joy.  Now to figure out how...

Monday, August 15, 2016

Day One

Today is the first day of school.  Not going to lie, I am probably more nervous then the kids.  Friendships are such a big deal to me.  It took me a really long time to learn how to be myself.  I spent most of my school years being who I thought I was supposed to be.  That works great except everyone has a different opinion of what that is.  Cue, schizophrenic posturing.  I really came into my own as an adult, more specifically as a wife and mom.  There are definitely elements of my school age, college and working adult personalities that are still with me but I have gotten to a place where I actually like my quirky, type-A, mom self...most of the time (thanks for that hormones.)  

All this to say, my kids are not like that.  They are just themselves.  They don't seem to care about being cool.  (Em's exact words, "Mom, I don't think I will ever be cool, but that is ok.  It is more important to me to be smart because that is the gift God gave me and if I don't use it then I am wasting it.") She wants to be liked, but she wants to be liked for who she is.  She doesn't want to pretend to be someone else.  That is one reason leaving Batavia was so hard.  She had some really good friends, at school and in her theater group, who got her and loved her that way.  

Sam just wants someone to play video games with and a compatriot for recess.  He is one of the most loving kids I know.  He had some kids in his class last year that had pretty significant emotional needs.  He was always the first to stick up for them., tell them things would be ok or invite them to a playdate.  He is Jeff - easy-going, kind and lovable. 

As I was praying for them this morning, I just asked God to give them a pal for lunch and recess.  The idea of them sitting alone at lunch or playing alone at recess is almost more than I can bear.  The ridiculous thing about that is that they would probably be just fine, but this mama's heart can't take it.  I even packed Em a peanut -free lunch in case the new friend God has for her has to sit at a peanut free table.  (It is good to cover all scenarios when worrying about your kids!)

My children, especially Em value friendships the way I do.  They are social kids.  They want someone to lean on and they really want to be that for someone else.  They also just want someone to play dolls and legos with.  As mature as Sis is, she is still a little girl who likes to play house.

So, with all the feels going on this morning, I could not keep it together.  I was doing so well until I pulled into the drop off lane.  Then I was cheerful crying, you know where you try really hard to pretend you are not crying while talking in a totally unnatural voice about how great everything is going to be. "You guys are going to have a g-g-great day!"  "I c-c-can't wait to hear a-a-all about it!"

As we got to the actual spot where you open your door to get out, there were fifth grade kids welcoming every child that got out of the car with a friendly "good morning!"  The poor girl had the audacity to look at me and say, "have a great day!" Then came the ugly cry-the heaving, sobbing, I actually can not see out of my liquid eyeballs right now cry.  Thank goodness the line to get out was moving slowly and I could sort of make out the maroon mini-van in front of me.

What to do with myself now?  I went to the paint store, because nothing else is open at 7:40 when school starts here and I could not stand to go home just yet.  I just silently weeped as I tried to pick a sunny yellow for the walls of Em's room.  I pulled it together long enough to sort through the 50 shades of whitish/grayish/taupeish paint I was considering and then took my multiple paint chips and got back in the car to cry some more.  The good news is at this point I think I am all cried out.

Someone will be kind to them today, I  know this because that is just how God works.  They may not meet their new BFF, but they didn't meet their Batavia besties on day one either.  If all else fails, I will take them for cupcakes - if I survive the pick up lane.