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 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.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Brighter Days

Two nights ago, I had the most amazing dream.  My friend and I were on a big red roller coaster and I was terrified.  I was screaming bloody murder and crying and completely losing my mind.  My friend,  on the other hand, was happy - screaming and throwing her hands in the air.  The ride was one of those that goes backwards so you can't see what is coming, you know, the worst kind.  I could not for the life of me figure out how she was so calm.  She leapt off the ride exhilarated and I got off complaining and crying.  I asked her how she could enjoy that crazy ride.  "It was so scary,"  I said!  "You couldn't see what was coming," I cried!  Then she looked at me and said,  "but I always knew it would end."

The reason this is so profound is because this particular friend has been in a difficult season with her job for three or more years.  She is a teacher who stayed home with her kids but then she wanted to go back to work.  She found a job, then wasn't brought back the next year.  She had a long term sub job, but it wasn't the right fit and she wasn't brought back when the other teacher came back.  She spent a year subbing but was really hoping for a permanent position.  Just the other day, she got her dream job in a school she loves with a team she adores.  Now, I have been through this season with this friend and I have seen her discouragement but always she came back to "I know God has a plan and His timing is perfect."  I have learned so much from her.  In this dream though, I learned the ultimate lesson.  Even though she could not see the twists and turns as they were coming she always knew that each terrifying drop would eventually end with her safely back in the station.

I know it sounds completely CRAY-CRAY to say God spoke to me in that dream, but I am certain that He did.  I awoke from the dream filled with hope.  I just knew that the boxes would all get unpacked and the stuff around the house would get fixed.  The kids would make friends and I would too.  Joy will be had, maybe not on the actual ride, but I know that the ride will end.  

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

It Has Been Awhile

So, clearly life happened and I gave up blogging.  I am not sure why I didn't go back to it, other than I just found it harder and harder to find time to compose cogent thoughts.  Also, I think Facebook sort of took over in the thought sharing category.  I am still not convinced the world needs to know everyone's thoughts and opinions all the time, but alas I seem to be one of the few.

Why pick up this blog now?  Honestly, because I am struggling and I am looking for a place to get some mental relief.  Here it is August of 2016 and my kids are seven and nine and a half, my husband works for an entirely different company and oh yeah, we moved to South Carolina last week. Leaving my home was hard, really hard.  I have moved  five other times in the course of my life but this one has been the hardest.  In Batavia I had amazing friends, my kids went to a great school full of good friends for them and I felt established.  I had a house I loved (although I am sort of having ex-boyfriend syndrome with the house - you know, you forget all the bad stuff and only remember the ONE time he brought you gas station carnations.)  But, more than anything, I had order and routine and places that were mine with people who knew me and liked me - the real, quirky me.  I could find things in Target; even secret, online-returned, deeply discounted things that were stuck on a back end cap.  I knew which light switched controlled the same light even though they were at opposite ends of the hallways.  I has stash spots for my miscellaneous junk.  You get the idea.  My friend Lorie once said, "one of our greatest desires is to know and be known."  I don't know anything and I am not known by anyone.  It makes me sad.

I am trying not to be negative, although often I am not trying hard enough, because the whole family is struggling and as Jeff says, "mama makes the weather." If I can pull it together and not be a pill everyone else is more likely to do the same. I also know that Jeff struggles with feeling guilty.  He brought us here for a job.  Although, we believe with all our heart that this is God's plan for us,  but when I look at the boxes and the chaos and the never-ending to-do list, doubt creeps in.  I get a terrible case of the "what ifs."  What if this isn't God's plan?  What if we never find a church?  What if I don't make friends?  What if this house never feels like home? What if I never find my way in Target?  Or my biggest, most real fear right now, what if I never find joy again?

I know all the Biblical lessons on joy and that they don't come from circumstances, etc, etc.  I know that I am to find joy in my relationship with the Lord and that joy is different than happiness.  I have talked about all of these concepts a million times in Bible study but at this very moment I've got nothing.  I feel like an empty cavern. I feel far from God, which seems odd given I am residing in the "Bible belt." I feel perpetually confused and out of control.  I know that control is a total illusion but I  don't know where to go or what to do.  I have amazing friends, lots of them and they are all a phone call/text message away but I don't even know what to tell them.  "Hi, I can't remember what light switch turns on the kitchen lights and it sends me in to a tail spin every day?"  "I can't find my gum ball machine painting and the thought of losing my $10 painting from At Home makes me want to curl up in a ball and cry."  "There are so many boxes in every room and I don't know where to start which means I can not even make a list which means it feels like the walls are caving in on me."

You see, even as I type this I feel like a selfish, brat.  People move, it involves boxes, get over yourself Erika.  Quit being a victim, stop letting your feelings dictate your day.  I want to give myself a good pep talk/butt kicking but I just can't.  I think that is why I decided to come back to the blog.  I have been through cycles like this before.  I know they end.  I know that when you are able to look back and remember the really hard days you can be even more grateful for God's mercies.  You can laugh about your neurotic need to master the Target and find a home for the lunch boxes.  So I am writing about the beginning so that when the end comes I can remember the rescue.