So Long, Farewell!

Today is January 1, 2022. I’m intentionally writing this morning to reflect on anything I’ve learned in 2021 and desires I have for this new year. I hope not to do so in a dramatic way with lofty ambitions and rose-colored glasses. If we never stop to consider how things are going, I bet we’re likely to just keep on doing more of the same. Maybe that’s good, but it also makes a lot of space for poor habits to continue settling into our bones.

2021 had grief, sickness, new opportunities, relationship strains, medical advancements that balanced health, big changes, maturity, travel, a move, reconnections, and therapeutic conversations. I purposely bounced between positive and negative in that list because it’s LIFE; an up and down marathon. When I consider the more difficult experiences, it brings up things I’d like to work on improving. For example, with the loss of my father this year, I realize even more how valuable the opportunity is of still having my mother. One of my values is quality family time (see ACT, Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, for more), so in order to practice living with that value in mind, I want to prioritize more intentional time with my Mother. I haven’t run that by her (hi, Mom!), but I hope she’s ok with it. The one simple value of quality, intentional family time can pour out into my everyday life in many ways and can have a domino effect. 2021 certainly brought me wonderful insight into how revolutionary value-based living can be (I found this rather simple and helpful resource, if you care to learn more).

My best friend uses a word of the year, which I began last year because of the influence its had in her life. Last year I chose GRAY in hopes of choosing to better accept uncertainty and the unknown. Although it did not serve as a dramatic guiding light for me, I can look back and see several areas where I began to practice accepting things as they are and recognizing when my expectations were out of line. I give great credit to the counseling I’ve been a part of this past year.

I have had two words bouncing around in my mind over the last several weeks as I think about values, goals and changes I want to make. BALANCE & PRACTICE. They uniquely tie together in a way I’ve never considered. I have spent years beating myself up for my lack of self-discipline and motivation. I would try to use self-control when it came to alcohol and social media, or attempt self-discipline with household tasks and exercise, but I continued to fail. Failing to me meant not doing it perfectly, every time, on a regular basis. Just yesterday I heard an analogy using a donkey and carrot. If we want a donkey to follow our lead, we can use a carrot or a stick; both will get the donkey moving, but which do you think he prefers?

My hopes for 2022 include PRACTICING BALANCE in living a life that is VALUES BASED. For me, that looks like:

intentional time with my children

quality family time

gentle care for my body and mind

prioritizing my relationship with and learning about Christ

organization in my home

closeness with my husband

serving others

being brave in making and developing friendships

engaging in the creative arts

If you’re not a fan of setting New Year’s Resolutions, I hear you. As I grow older, I’m seeing the frailty in those type of goals. I would encourage you to consider what is most important to you; not just goals, but what would a nourishing, valuable life look like to you?

I wish you much joy and the peace of Christ, dear reader. Happy New Year!

Jesus Freak

This blog title is the name of a song from the mid-90s that has long since given me the heebie jeebies. I didn’t want to be associated with those types of Christians; the ones who wore black t-shirts with a cross made of big nails (no offense if this was or is your jam). When they put their hands in the air, to me, it made the Christian life appear easy and seem like there was zero room for doubt. More than that, they wanted to share this good news with a passion and that seemed uncomfortable. I don’t like uncomfortable and especially don’t like to make others feel it. So, any expression of faith that I’ve ever had, for the most part, has been timid. As I’ve said 2,001 times on this little blog, I tend to be a people pleaser. Honestly, I have cared way more what the humans around me think of me than I do the big God I believe is the Creator of all things. That’s a big embarrassing. 

Just like with politics, religion is a sticky topic and ripe for ugly discourse. I poked my little nose into a faith-based or political hornet’s nest a couple of times and ran away with my tail between my legs because I hate the feeling of disapproval. One of these times was several years ago when out of nowhere, I had the notion to “share the Gospel” with a few family members that do not believe the God of the Bible to be real or relevant. This was very unlike me and because I felt such a strong feeling in my gut about it, I thought it was possibly the Holy Spirit nudging me. (Yes, I said it. Holy Spirit. I also refer to Satan, the Deceiver, from time to time, too. He’s a nasty one). I wrote a letter and, along with a Lee Strobel DVD (because I thought the idea of watching something would be easier than reading an actual book), I mailed them to a handful of these family members that repeatedly came to mind. It was terrifying. For you Jesus Freaks out there, this is a piece of cake, but you could call me a Jesus Wimp! I had sweaty palms as I dropped them at the Post Office.

Sometimes when I think of it, I’m proud of myself for having the balls (“yikes. should she be using the word balls in a post about Jesus, for crying out loud?”) to send them in the first place, but other times I just feel icky. The response was mixed reviews. One led to a VERY high-stress (I’m talking really sweaty palms here) string of email communications to debate the issues, which was ultimately ok with me because it meant dialogue. The most difficult response came in the form of a stern letter (unopened DVD included) that advised me to not push my beliefs on them. Although I wouldn’t call it fruitful, any potential behind the scenes heart and mind changes are things that only God will know and ultimately (and thankfully) not my responsibility.

I’ve read a lot of stories of other believers that have prayed for years and years for their loved ones’ salvation. This encourages me to continue to pray for those people that come to my mind; that they would have softened hearts and minds towards Jesus. In an attempt to be actively praying this for my family members and friends, I created an alert so that their initials pop up on my phone each Friday as a reminder to pray. I may never see changes in my lifetime, but I’m believing that I’m honoring God by praying and maybe He’s working on me through it.

Praying has been as far as I’ve gone in recent years in an attempt to help others know God. I don’t have the natural boldness that others have, but I think a big misconception I’ve been carrying is that we should feel bold in order to be bold in our faith. My current bible study (through BSF) is on the New Testament Book of Matthew and I’m learning so much on this topic. It’s encouraging me to practice loosening my fear of looking like a kooky Jesus Freak and moving toward my confidence in Christ. Faith is not simply a soft and cuddly positive outlook that everything will be ok. My BSF notes on Matthew Chapter 8 boldly define biblical faith as, “relational trust in God – not just that He exists, but that what He has promised is true and worthy of personal commitment”.

As we dive headlong into the Christmas season, it is easy to glide along listening to carols, frantically shopping for gifts, or cursing the loneliness with bottle in hand. Then there’s the mall Santas telling us we better be good and the damn Elf on the Shelf reminding us that we can never get our act together in remembering to move it (I banned the Elf on Day 2 of Christmas 2015). Mindlessness and avoidance can be the name of the game and before we know it, the season is over and it’s back to “normal”. I don’t want that. There just has to be more to this life. Thank God, there is. It’s Jesus.

Questions to ponder this Christmas season: Is Jesus really the “Reason for the Season”? Is the Christmas Story fact or fiction? The history, the archaeological evidence, the supernatural occurrences…What would it mean for you, in your everyday life and for whatever happens after you stop breathing, if Jesus Christ truly is the Son of God? It could be a Game Changer. Worth the ponder, but don’t stop there. This evidence demands a response, one way or another. My Christmas prayer for you, dear reader, is that you would know God’s love for you and that your heart and mind would be softened to hear and trust in His truth.

Love, Emily

This Thanksgiving Day

I’m wearing a cozy sweater and puffy vest right now and taking in delightfully crisp weather on this Thanksgiving Day. My view entails a multitude of fall colors in the trees and those leaves already fallen, the light reflecting off the lake with shades of moss green from the depth, along with a faint whiff of firewood burning (or maybe that’s my own clothing that’s oozing of it from the last couple days of campfire smoke). A family reunion of sorts is occurring this Thanksgiving Day and I am with some of my most favorite people in the whole wide world. Cool weather makes everything feel a little better. Cozy sweaters, wool socks, puffy vests, pumpkin pie cooling…these are indeed a few of my favorite things.

 It doesn’t mean that I feel pure joy in every moment of this season, but rather that I feel moments of immense joy that spur me on towards the next moment and the one after that. With influencers pushing the magic of the pumpkin spice that make things appear practically perfect, sometimes it can feel like we’re doing something wrong; like we should be jumping in piles of leaves without a care in the world. Life doesn’t stop for us though. Thankfully, we can practice gratitude and often be surprised by how helpful that can be to encourage us to move through the ups and downs. The author/artist Ruth Cho Simons reminded me today on Instagram of this truth. She said, “Tell your soul what to do. Rehearse what to do, not just what you feel.” This doesn’t say “slap on a fake smile” to me, but rather be gentle and simply practice (it’s become my favorite phrase in working towards health) gratitude. I shared her post to my page just in case I had friends that needed to hear it, too. You can feel both: the icky and the delightful. It’s a gift to recognize that it’s ok to do so.

My gratitude bucket overflowed this week. I certainly had grumpy, tired, dog-barfing, disposal clogging, dead dad sadness, and constipation woes, too, but the cozy moments were dabbled enough in between. I’m thankful for the family we spent time with this past week, from a camping trip to a lakeside family slumber party. I’m thankful for the bright green patches of grass poking up from under a thick layer of brown and gold crisp leaves. I’m thankful for the remains of a charcoaled fire pit that brought silly jokes, belly laughs and plans for future gatherings of cousins. I’m thankful for the boat dock that held a dozen family members snuggled and relaxing, a wirey-haired puppy dog, and chilly fingertips being periodically warmed by the sun.

I’m deeply grateful for my Auntie who speaks words of life to me. She whispers in my ear as she hugs and they are things I didn’t know I desperately needed to hear. I’m thankful that I had the opportunity to finally meet a long-lost cousin and see him meld in with us almost as though we’ve always known him. I’m thankful for the hope of future reunification of family members. I’m thankful for the comfort of my mother, especially as I feel the permanency of losing my Dad, and that she lives close to me so I can regularly know that comfort. I’m thankful for my step-Dad, that has smoothly moved into the role as one of my children’s grandfathers. I’m thankful for the mix of conversation, both silly and reflective, that I have with my cousins and wish I had hours more. I’m thankful for my little brother, especially as I hear him in conversation across the room refer to me as his sister, because it makes me feel the sacredness of that title and reminds me of how glad I am that we have each other. I’m thankful for my beautiful sister-in-law and her peaceful nature that oozes out when around her.

Even though I’ve spent a great deal of time in very close quarters to my immediate people and worked through whining, dirty socks and stinky toots, I’m feeling cozy gratitude for the opportunity to love them. I’m delightfully exhausted from this weeklong trip, but also ready for the Christmas season that has now begun. I’m ready to welcome in the stressful moments, frustrating disappointments when I’ve let my expectations get the best of me, and will look for and practice carrying a spirit of joy, whether I feel like it or not. Will you join me? 

Xoxo, Emily

Feeling All the Feelings That I Feel

I’m feeling overwhelmed. I’m not, but it feels like it. I don’t need anyone to give me grief or tell me I shouldn’t act/feel/think this way because I’m my own worst critic. I don’t have it bad. I have an abundance of good. The biggest culprit behind my overwhelm right now is being smack in the middle of moving from one home to the next, but I should be grateful and shouldn’t be complaining, right? Just like the kind older woman from church told me years ago when I gave a her a brief peek into my anxious mind, “Just look at your blessings!” There may not be logic to my swirling feelings, but this is depression. Although I’m not sure why, I’d like to give you a glimpse into what depression looks like on me; a 42-year-old privileged mother who should be thriving. It may even look like I am on the outside, but the swirling is on the inside.

Because I have had many, many years of mental health counseling, I’ve picked up a few phrases or explanations for how depression works. It’s one thing to know the buzz words and quite another to apply them in real life. I often deal with a lot of Cognitive Distortions. Maybe you do, too. Most of the time I don’t catch them, but sometimes I do. Just the other day I very loudly noticed one of these distortions in action and it allowed me to recognize that maybe my depression was “inflamed”, if you will. Mental illnesses are generally chronic and when life hits with an increase in stress, the symptoms can become exacerbated. In a nutshell, I feel like a failure in most areas. This comes in the internal critique that I’m lazy. It comes in the form of thoughts like, I’m not a good mother. Some of my friends didn’t invite me to hang out with them because I’m a burden. I can’t keep up with basic things in the house. This person thinks I’m annoying. That family member thinks I’m complaining too much. They don’t want to spend time with me. How come they didn’t call me? I don’t know how to be myself. I spoke out about something and now have done irreversible damage to that relationship. God is disappointed in me. I’ll never get better at this.

As I type that list and the phrases kept flooding, I burst into tears because of how awful they sound and yet how true they feel. This is depression. These are cognitive distortions. If you’re not familiar with what that means, here is a list I stumbled upon that I found helpful and clear. In addition to picking up on that negative banter that was becoming a regular script, I’ve noticed how much more tired I feel. I’ve been crying more often. I even had a “classic” sign of crawling into my bed one morning this week and sleeping rather than being productive like I should have. I recently reduced my anti-depressant medication (with my doctor’s approval) and this may be a solid sign that I may need to go back up to where I was. Is that disappointing? A bit. The side effects (weight gain, lethargy and an increase in heat-sensitivity aka sweaty!) aren’t my favorite, but I do know that my well-being is more important.

Besides considering my medication dosage, what else can I do about it? Thankfully, I’ve had a lot of “experience” with this so I’m a tiny bit better equipped, but it’s still not easy. Another buzz word from therapy is Behavioral Activation. This is basically doing the things you know you should do, but really don’t want to do. It’s moving forward; one step at a time. It’s really the only way to find more freedom or ease of symptoms, but it won’t feel good right away. It may not feel good for some time. It may be as simple as getting out of bed and walking to the mailbox each day or for me right now, it’s getting up with my alarm or purposely listening to a podcast that I like. I need to and want to be kind to myself. Right now I may feel frustrated or angry with myself, but I can practice being kind. The biggest key I have in my toolbox is PRACTICING. I am going to choose to practice making space for quiet in my day and for setting small goals. I’m also going to ask for help. I’m going to pray and PRACTICE reminding myself of how God truly feels about me; whether I feel like it’s true or not.

If you have experienced anything like this or love someone that does and you don’t know what to say or do, begin by asking for help. Try to be consistent. Practice being kind to yourself. This life is filled with so many emotions and experiences. Just because you may be more sensitive to those things doesn’t mean you are wrong or broken. Our minds just need more tending to; just like a diabetic or quadriplegic need more physical tending. We are worth it. As I heard this morning in church worship, if I’m not dead, then God’s not done. We are still breathing and I’m here right alongside you.

10 Things I Hate About You.

Hey, girl. I hope this doesn’t hurt your feelings too much, but some people don’t like you (sigh. or me). I know, right? Some people get annoyed with the way we talk or dress and shonuf don’t think our jokes are funny. It sucks, I know. I’m 42 (or am I 43?) years old and I still try too hard to make them like me and care too much whether they do or not. I worry if I said the right thing or if I said the wrong thing or said too many things. Honestly, by the end of interactions like these, I feel worn out! As I reflect on this overthinking habit, sometimes I get frustrated with myself that I care so much. I’ve written about this before, so clearly it isn’t an easy habit to shake, but I’m not letting this one go. 

I’m going to take you back old school, circa 1991. I’m a 6th grade student at Lincoln Middle School with a mean permed mullet. Walking into school one day, I was confident enough to wear a rather vibrant pair of shorts. They were lively with abstract colors and design. Within a matter of a class period or two, I heard a comment from a fellow student about how ugly my shorts were. Well, that was the end of any confidence I was carrying in my Jansport. During my health class, the assignment had something to do with writing a reflection in my journal. Because I can sometimes resemble a packrat, I kept this journal and ran across it years later in an attic purge. What I was reminded of and sometimes even consider impactful in my decision to become a teacher, was the kind note scribbled at the bottom of my entry. Sadly, I don’t even recall the teacher’s name, but she validated how that must have made me feel. She encouraged me to be confident being myself and finally, jotted a “P.S. I really like your shorts!” Mind you, I doubt my 11-year-old brain truly trusted or took to heart the stylistic opinions of an “ancient” 30-something woman, but her thoughtfulness influenced me nonetheless. 

Words have power. We tend to cling to the crappy ones and they tattoo themselves to our brain, but I have a game plan. Let’s practice not caring (even though we often still will). Let’s practice wearing the piece of clothing or accessory we really like, but typically hesitate in case someone will think it looks dumb. What about sending the text about hanging out even if we worry they might be annoyed and only say yes out of obligation? Maybe even the most important thing might be the way we talk to ourselves with those worries that come after an interaction with someone. Even though it may feel uneasy or strange, we can try making space for the uncertainties of others’ opinions of us. Maybe I did blab too much about XYZ. It’s possible they think the sparkly bumble bee earrings were a bit much. They might not have invited me to that get-together because I’m loud and unpredictable, but WHATEVS. It is really tiring to get all of my ducks in a row to make sure I don’t rock the boat of their approval or upset the apple cart filled with their “Like” button. Here’s all the evidence: Life is too short! We should listen more to our favorite colors, activities, and accessories. I believe we will ATTRACT healthy relationships with others by practicing healthy relationship with ourselves. Say the thing. Stand up for something you think is good. Does your heart feel a tiny bit giddy when you see that karate cat t-shirt? Wear it, girl! Practice talking freely, sharing stories or comments that come to mind. We have to PRACTICE being us and taking the chance that it won’t win over everyone’s approval. Luckily, as I said already, we already know not everyone will anyways. Whew. What a relief. (Wink, wink. That’s me practicing.) 

We Will Never Forget

Today is September 11, 2021. It’s been 20 years since the terrorist attacks on our country. Every year when this date rolls around, I feel a tug to watch footage from that day, to remember. I don’t know why exactly, since it does nothing but bring about a heaviness in my mind and gut, but yet, here I am, pausing the television to write my story and reflect, before I again, hit play and travel back in my mind to that day in my life. As a college student finishing my last semester and internship with a group of 5th graders, I had no clue what was happening or how it would affect us. We flew by the seat of our pants in how to best address such a frightening time with the young children I was teaching. How much is too much? How must my parents have felt with me being away from home during such an uncertain time? I was barely an adult, feeling both terribly alone, yet closer than ever to my fellow American citizens, as we were dipped into a vat of common humanity like never before.

I often consider 9/11 to be similar to the attack on Pearl Harbor in the way Americans of different generations feel and respond to its anniversary. Unfortunately, because of my age, I have often dismissed Pearl Harbor as something “from the history books”. I wasn’t alive at that time, so it hasn’t had the power over me that 9/11 does and will likely continue to do. I feel disheartened by the idea that the September 11 anniversary will be skimmed over, like an advertisement post on social media, but I understand why it is so. Because of this, I see now that I feel an obligation of sorts, to pause and remember. I don’t want to forget.

What does this mean for us, as Americans? Why pull ourselves back into that pain? I firmly believe by doing so, we are honoring and showing respect to every single life lost, those impacted by loss, by trauma, and by chronic pain brought on by the rescue mission. I also feel it can help us with perspective on pain, compassion, and the honor of being an American. We were so vulnerable on that day and the many days to follow. It felt frightening to move about our everyday lives with the uncertainty of what was to come. It also brought a pride in my country and feeling of comaraderie like I have never felt before or since. Although our country is torn and heightened with fear, I want that reminder of what is possible. I want to pause and reflect on how many Americans were driven into service because of that day twenty years ago. How many families were affected both on that day, but since then as they have protected us from further terrorism? I want to pause and consider how difficult it must be to carry the task of leadership in our country, especially on an anniversary like today. Thank you, Families of Lost Ones. Thank you, Americans. I hope we will never forget.

Surrender to the Flow

You know those moments when you hear a phrase of some sort and it stops you in your tracks? It often happens to me when I’m reading and I’ll underline it. Sometimes it’ll get transferred into my notebook or journal, but over my lifetime, it’s few that lodge into my brain for future recall. I do love those (the good ones, at least), especially when they pop back to the forefront right when we need it. It’s certainly the benefit of memorization of scripture, so that we can “bind them on (our) heart always” (Prov. 7:3).

Recently, my husband was watching The River Runner documentary on Netflix which is about a group of hardcore kayakers taking on some of the most dangerous spots in the world. I only caught bits and pieces as I walked through the room, but towards the end I stopped for a watch because of the stunning beauty and sounds. The subject of the documentary, Scott Lindgren, was reflecting on his life-changing experience of having been diagnosed with a brain tumor and how it changed his perspective and the way he approached things. He said, “I tried to control everything in my life. And once I realized, with my tumor, that I had no control over that, I just surrendered to the flow of life.” Now, I know the dramatic music playing to the slow-mo wave crashing action played a part in my having the “stop me in my tracks” feeling, but I took that phrase, “surrendered to the flow of life”, and visually applied it to my own life.

One of the areas I continually try to weave into my everyday mindset is practicing being mindfully aware of the thoughts and feelings that might try and set up shop in my mind. Generally, these are the stinky or condescending ones and I’m often unaware of their impact. Sometimes though, I can notice them and try to visually let them float down the river in my mind. Yes, I’ve created a safe, cozy little creek in my mind and the thoughts or emotions can be labeled on a leaf that bobs on down at its own pace. Because of this cozy creek of mine, I can see why the powerful river analogy felt so profound.

As I’m typing, I’m reminded of my trips to Adventure Island as a girl. I absolutely love water parks, but I’ve never been keen on too high or too fast, so I was never a Tampa Typhoon type of gal. Even with the simple slides, if my bathing suit bottom picked up a notch in speed, I was pushing out my arms to slow my roll. It was an automatic response to when things felt out of control. How similar that is to moving through life! The weaving pattern of life is similar to gravity on a water slide; we can do our best to slow things down or hide away from trouble, but it’s just plain inevitable that we will keep moving. Are you even aware of how often you’re trying to push off the slippery sides of life? I found Scott’s statement so profound because it felt so freeing. In fact, just a few sentences later, he said, “I no longer try to control the outcome to anything. I just show up with my heart. And it gave me so much freedom.”

So, as usual, this post serves as nothing more than a personal reflection that I hope may help me with more awareness and maybe be encouraging to someone, somewhere, in this World Wide Web. May we both begin to practice surrendering to the (inevitable) flow of life.

One Small Step for Man…

“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” – Neil Armstrong

When you really think about it, what a powerful statement that is! What a true and quite often unnoticed truth it is, too. Many scenarios rapidly come to mind when I think of practical examples of this and it’s been something flowing through the last few weeks of thoughts for me. I have been working with an ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) therapist over the last year and a half and this recently came up in conversation. When we are experiencing big feelings or what feels like overwhelming tasks or life circumstances, it is very often a small choice that can, over time, make a big difference. For example, with ACT therapy, there’s significant focus on one’s personal values and learning to make decisions based upon those values. Over my time in therapy and as I really began to highlight my values and what that looked like in my little life, they often led to rather small shifts in my everyday choices. I struggled and felt silly when I found myself discussing with a therapist something as insignificant as the snooze button on my alarm, but now more clearly than ever am I really seeing what “small steps” can do for my purposeful living.

Let me explain the snoozing and how a delightful domino effect can happen. As I spent time reflecting on my personal values, a particular area that landed at the top was my parenting and being as present as possible for my children. Digging a little deeper, that leads to practical examples such as creating more opportunities to be able to actually look them in the eye, giving them my undistracted attention when I’m not washing dishes, on my phone, rushing to get myself dressed, etc. This led to the very simple, but oh so difficult for me choice dating back to circa 1990, which is waking up in the morning to an alarm at a reasonable hour that allows for dressing and eating in a civilized manner. This may sound foreign to those of you who are actual grown-ups and don’t still act like a 13-year-old in the morning, but that damn snooze button is my arch enemy and causes me to wear my hair in a ponytail 362 days of the year, bark at my children to get up and find their other shoe, do a lot of sweating getting loaded up in the car and possibly tempt speeding to school. I am not present on those mornings. However, when I PRACTICE making a simple shift in my choices and drag myself from the bed to the bathroom when the alarm goes off, I then have the option of having a cup of coffee in quiet, matching my socks or accessories with my underwear, helping kids with breakfast and sitting down with them while they eat, and just plain feeling better and ready to face the day. I could go on and on with ways that the dominos continue throughout the day, but you can likely imagine that it leads to meeting other personal value goals like productivity, creativity, etc.

What led me to begin typing this morning is another small change I’ve been recently working on (and failing a lot on, too) is that dang social media habit! The brain and fingertip mindlessly tap on the app and suck me into a vortex of time-sucking, productivity-wasting, and guilt. That’s a bit dramatic, but something I despise nonetheless. It continues to come up in therapy as a frustration for me and at this last appointment, we set a very simple goal to try. I’m (supposed) to quickly set a 5-minute timer on my phone right before opening a social media app. When it goes off, I choose to take two slow breaths and then decide if I want to keep scrolling. It’s my choice at that point, of course, but it gives me a small window to assess whether I’m enjoying the scrolling as a mental break or if it’s mindless and unhelpful. Maybe this sounds silly, but this very small, seemingly insignificant choice, can potentially help me with living my life focused more on my values of productivity, mindfulness with my faith, self-care of my mental and physical health, being more present and available with my dear children, creativity projects, renewing my love of reading, etc.

This message and encouragement goes for big and small goals. Have a disaster of a mess in your house? Start with one thing. One thing at a time. Feeling the overwhelm of weight gain or emotional discomfort? You get to choose to start with one small thing. In the mental health world, the phrase used for helping those struggling with depression to find health and routine again is called Behavioral Activation. It was certainly one of the hardest pieces for me when my depression was heavy because you simply “don’t want to” to the nth degree because it feels almost painful to take the first step, but it is the first step that slowly leads to the feeling of hope that we desperately want. Wherever you are today, whether that be in the depths of frustration or simply aware of an annoying habit, set a tiny goal with realistic expectations of the classic “one step forward, two steps back” and keep going.

Father’s Day Tribute

Tomorrow is the first Father’s Day without my Father alive. It’s strange and heavy. Just in the last 24 hours I’ve thought of handful of questions to which I know he’d have the answer or could add detail. Thoughts and emotions about him tumble in at miscellaneous times and often choke me up. I hear from others that this is quite normal and doesn’t necessarily have a time limit. 

To honor my Father today, I decided to share my words from his funeral a few months ago:

“Many of you here have experienced the loss of a parent. Depending on the circumstances, there are many emotions that can come and go. It’s strange to feel so many ways and to have emotions pop up suddenly or stirred by the most seemingly insignificant trigger. Last week as I thought ahead to this weekend, I found myself excited for a moment because one of my favorite cousins and his family along with my brother and sister-in-law would be in town, but then almost immediately I was met with tears because I could imagine just how incredibly happy the healthy version of my Dad would be to see this same group of people and all of you. I can see his grin. I could imagine the short, one-liners he’d have that often caught me off guard and made me smile because I knew he was comfortable and happy. I know many of you know that version of my Dad, too. 

With the sadness that comes with loss, there is a feeling of wrongness, one that says we shouldn’t be experiencing this pain. One of the few benefits of disappointing struggles in this life is that, not only can it humble us, but it can also bring light to an often ignored truth which is that this human life is not meant to be easy or pain-free. As a believer in something bigger and greater than myself, I decide each day to trust that there is meaning behind each disappointment. I came across two quotes this week that highlight this truth. 

C.S. Lewis, a man that found himself determined to prove that the God of the Bible did not exist, yet ended up referring to himself as the “most reluctant convert in all of England” has said, “We must stop regarding unpleasant or unexpected things as interruptions of real life. The truth is that interruptions are real life.” 

Also, a former pastor that planted churches in New York City, who is currently going through treatment for cancer said about he and his wife, “To our surprise, an encouragement we have discovered is that the less we attempt to make this world into a heaven, the more we are able to enjoy it. No longer are we burdening it with demands impossible for it to fulfill.” 

When recently I wrote about the passing of my Dad, I purposely did not skim over the hard stuff; the icky and sad stuff about his struggles. Although his death was initially deemed “natural causes”, we decided to go forward with an autopsy just in case we found helpful information. Although I didn’t have great concern that his death was anything other than natural causes, the morning I received the call from the pathologist with initial findings, I felt an odd calm after learning that he passed from a heart attack from 95% blockage and a contributing bleeding ulcer. I don’t know what the afterlife is like, but I began talking to my Dad as I drove down the road. I told him how thankful I was that he didn’t commit suicide and that he had essentially chosen to “hold on” when it was especially dark for him. Although he told me once that when it came to going against God’s will, he was a coward, I know he also didn’t want us to experience the same heartache as he did with his brother’s death. It was one of, if not the, hardest experiences in his almost 70 years. 

Life is hard. It’s filled with great joys and incredible highs, but it’s hard. We each walk our own paths through this life while having different genetics, heritage, circumstances, brain chemistry and opportunities. My father may have been dealt a challenging hand, but I do know he made the best of it by pushing through and taking full advantage of opportunities. I would describe him as a classic self-made man who started in the air conditioning field and produced a very successful business, of which my husband and I are incredibly grateful to now own and grow. He was not perfect, but he was giving and compassionate and clever. As I think all parents do, he wanted his children to have a better life than he did; better opportunities to go to college and pursue dreams. I remember him telling me to find something I love doing and make that a job. 

My brother and I have begun to see some of the enriching qualities that we’ve received from my Dad. Unfortunately for my outgoing Mom at times, the three of us are very similar; introspective introverts with a splash of ADHD. We enjoy being with friends and family, but need that recovery space afterwards to decompress. Loud and crowded events are not our forte! 

Although we feel very grateful for those wonderful qualities, we also see opportunity in the ways we’d like to do things differently and I know he would agree. One area in which my father was especially weak was admitting to internal struggles and accepting help. By being a male and growing up in the generation that he did, I bet it made it especially difficult. Thankfully, the mental health stigma is slowly crumbling, but it still remains an ever-present uphill climb for most. No matter how old you are, there is hope available if you are hurting. My own experience with finally finding a correct diagnosis for my OCD shows me that there is hope, but we must look for it and hold the hand of the one offering it. If you have someone in your life that is struggling with their mental health, the #1 piece of advice I have is to never, ever give up on them. Never stop reminding them that you are there and willing to help them with finding the hope and grabbing ahold of it for dear life. 

The IF-ONLYs about the latter part of my Dad’s life are disappointing. Lately, I hear my kids crack a joke or do something that makes me want to squeeze them because I love them so much, I think that maybe my Dad is watching. Again, I don’t know how things go once the human body dies or how interactive they are with us still here on Earth, but maybe he’s giving that grin that I love so much and genuinely laughing. It meant he was in a good place in those moments. I hope he is feeling completely free of all the heaviness he carried around for so long and is enjoying watching his grandkids from there. Just last night as I was looking at the pictures we gathered of him, I felt waves of sadness because I realized that the way I feel about my children, how I tell them that being their mother is my absolute most favorite thing in the world, that is how he felt about Ty and me. I wish he were here because I know my healthy Dad would knock it out of the park as a grandfather, but that can’t be. 

This life is not all there is. I will see him again, but until then, I will continue to do my best to take care of myself so I can be the best mother, wife, sister, daughter, and friend I can be. I want to continue to make him proud. 

Again, I want to thank you for being a part of my father’s life. If you feel it may have been insignificant, my faith in God tells me that no interaction is without significance, value and purpose. As funerals or memorials like these usually do, our busy lives briefly pause as we consider death and all it implies. Take advantage of the next few hours or days as you contemplate life and death. Although it’s tempting, try not to shove away that discomfort, but welcome it as an opportunity to see how it can impact your choices and interactions with others. You are loved.”

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I love you so much. 

Are You My Mother?

It’s Mother’s Day! I’m typing from my bed this morning with a cup of coffee on my bedside table. A teaspoon of guilt is here with me, but I’m nudging it aside to choose this classic Mother’s Day gift. When I had ideas stirring on writing today, they went in several different directions: the difficult and emotional side for those weighed down by loss or lack of motherhood, the delight of being a mother, and also the challenge of lousy mothers and the generational patterns that follow. Most of that doesn’t sound touchy-feely or smell like the floral bouquet of Mother’s Day, but life is rarely picture perfect. As I do with most of my writing here, I will simply ramble as the thoughts arise. This morning as I listen to the humming of my first-born as he sets the breakfast table, my thoughts begin with the gift of being a mother. 

As a girl, I don’t recall being one that dreamt of being a mother or a homemaker. I was nervous when expecting my firstborn about all of the unknowns of motherhood and dealt with unimaginable anxiety for a significant chunk of his life. For most of that time, it was survival. In many ways, I owe so much to my son because he was a major motivation for me to keep going. With time and then the addition of my second child, I began to very deeply recognize what a true honor it is to be a mother. These two humans were gifted to me and as I personally grow and learn how to better live a value-driven life, they top the list. Although I fail regularly, I want to be a mother who is present, encouraging, and safe. I’m so thankful for the opportunity because being a mother makes me a better human. 

My pastor recently told me he tries to stay away from too much of a focus on Mother’s Day because of all of the heartache that can accompany this day. In addition to the painful loss of a child or a mother, many times there are heartaches hidden deep inside the heart of women; miscarriages or abortions, for example. What if the relationship with your mother is strained or nonexistent? What if it feels impossible to buy just the right card because the dramatic written words aren’t even a little applicable to your relationship? It can be a uncomfortable holiday for many reasons and as I heard in a prayer recently, may there be grace woven into this day and what it means. May there be joy amidst the heartache and patience extended where it’s needed. 

If you have a beautiful relationship with your mother, shout it from the mountaintop! Give them praise for loving you as they do and have done. If you have a troubling relationship with your mother or child, pause for reflection on lessons learned. If you feel grief and waves of sorrow, allow slow breaths to carry you through the sadness. I’m visualizing you having a deep, warm hug right now; the kind that feels cozy and doesn’t quickly pull away.

On my mind lately has been the generational patterns that loom with our parenting. I’ve heard people express their desire to do things better than their parents did and create a healthier environment, and for good reason! I think we should certainly be striving for healthy and growth in this area of raising children. I will also say that it’s important to beware of misaligned expectations and also of the reality of redirecting patterns that have been in place for some time. A generational pattern/sin/habit, i.e. alcohol use, bitterness, pride, anger, lust, can be much harder to break than it looks like. We have all learned and were molded by our circumstances and influences, so make space for grace and patience, if you find yourself with these struggles.

Lastly, I can’t help but think of my own mother, of course.I know that both of my parents had strong intentions of creating a better life for us than they had. Isn’t that the goal of all parents? My mother is brave and carries a take-charge attitude. I struggle with an anxiety disorder. My mother is charming and outgoing in most social settings. I have often been intimidated as hell with small talk. My mother is a go-getter and accomplishes her to-do list with ferocity and little downtime. I get easily distracted by who knows what when I should be sorting laundry. I say all of this to emphasize how different we are from one another. It must not be the easiest to parent a child who doesn’t follow suit. Once we moved through the teenage clashing phase and I became an adult, we developed a different mother-daughter relationship. Although she is incredibly compassionate, when I crashed and burned from anxiety and depression, she had to learn how to have a different kind of patience and compassion for someone struggling with a mental illness. I have seen small bits of thoughtfulness in her asking to help me or researching diagnoses online to learn more. She’s my mother and she loves me. With the death of my father a couple months ago, I am even more aware of the relationship with my mother. I am very thankful for her. I am very hopeful for even more closeness as we continue to age and as I raise these beautiful children of my own. Thank you, Mom. I love you.