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. 

Productive Productivity

I had a solid sleep last night and woke up with a productive mindset. Had breakfast out on the table for the kids and was prepping lunches while my coffee brewed. This type of morning gives me a boost of both energy and confidence; I’m doing it “right”. After finishing a cleaning task and snack break this afternoon, I felt weary and laid down on the couch. I set my phone alarm for another shot at the highly beneficial 20-minute cat naps that everyone says are so good for our brain and body. I knew it was a long shot, but as expected I hit snooze and took three or four 20- minute naps. Whoops. I was doing it “wrong”. That is not how I’m “supposed” to use my time. Think of all the projects yet to be done around the house. What about the books I’m wanting to read? This is not how I anticipated my productive day.

The example of my day isn’t too big of a deal. I imagine lots of folks feel frustrated that they didn’t use their time wisely, binged too many episodes, or ended up taking a 3-hour cruise type of afternoon nap. It happens. What also happens is that some people use what therapists may call “black or white thinking” and put a tally in their “failure” category. Maybe your column has a different title; unworthy, bad mom, etc. Do you do that? Do you use your actions to determine your value? I believe it can very often be a subconscious tally we might give ourselves. However, over time, we can begin to feel the weight of those negative tally marks. We have given ourselves so many reasons or examples of “evidence” of our unworthiness that we can start to believe it.

Although I sat down at my computer with a completely different goal in mind for this post, I’ve found myself working through something myself and if I needed the reminder then maybe you do, too. Dear Reader, if you find yourself feeling lousy and feeding yourself assumptions about your character based on things you do or don’t do, start to pay attention. Something to start trying is to introduce realistic truths such as, “Yeah, I took a longer rest than I wanted to, but maybe I’m more tired than I realize. Instead of beating myself up for it, I’m going to try and be kind to myself. I don’t always take long naps and I do value being productive, so I’m going to choose to move on forward with the rest of my day and do the best I can.” Another reminder is that the people we love may have their own tally marks going on inside their minds; aim for compassion towards them, too.

Love, Emily

Would Ya Look at That View!

Right now I’m sitting in a cozy chair with one of the most beautiful views in my hometown. My in-laws live in a stunning home on the river with spacious windows that allow you to see the river out back (does that sound like a real estate listing description, or what?) 

I feel almost completely content and generally hopeful. Because of its rarity and because my brain is usually busier, I do not take this for granted. I’ve sat here many times before and this morning, I’m reflecting on just how terribly awful I’ve felt during those times. As you know, often and disappointingly so, the yucky times tend to nab a more prominent part in our memory bank. 

We are here this morning because our home has just been put on the market and we’re staying out of the way this weekend to keep it tidy. Ironically, the emotional and mental breakdown I had sixteen years ago occurred in this beautiful home. While my in-laws were living in their seasonal home, we briefly moved in here while our home was being built. Upon moving in, I wrote a joyful journal entry expressing all I hoped to accomplish and in which creative outlets I planned to dabble. Quite drastically the next entry spoke of complete confusion and misery. Just like the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, “my life got flipped, turned upside down” and constant, intense anxiety ruled every hour. 

I feel uneasy as I type because of how sensitive I am to those memories. My OCD wants me to stop typing it for fear that “it’ll come back”. So, I type some more! The heavy tears, shivering as though I had a fever, drastic weight loss, the fears over taking Zanax to get to sleep, a dear friend encouraging me and watching to be sure I a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, waking at 5:00am to immediate nerves…it was such an awful time. 

Over the years, I recall sitting in this chair at times to hide away during social gatherings, as I did my best to put on a smile and hide the heaviness or strong anxiety I had coursing through my insides. I remember sitting here crying on a beautiful Easter Sunday, but I was not able to see the beauty. 

Even though it feels heavy to recall all of these memories and I somewhat regret bringing it back as it puts a damper on my initial cozy contentedness I referred to at the beginning, I think it’s vitally important to do so because I want to possibly bring HOPE to someone that may read this. I don’t feel that way today. Yes, there is always the possibility of doing a crash and burn tomorrow and my OCD takes a liking to that idea, but I am not in misery. I’ve had great difficulty and pain over the last sixteen years, but it’s also been a time of up and down learning and growing. Life is hard. If you struggle with a mental illness of any kind, it may be something you have to manage for life, but it is not a death sentence. There is help. With practice and consistency, there are tools and habits that can help us learn to make space for discomfort so that we don’t make those feelings worse. There is always HOPE, dear reader. 

It’s Christmas Time, All Over the World

Christmas Eve is here at last. Or should I say, Christmas Eve is already here?! I’ve been involved in numerous conversations surrounding how “weird” this Christmas season feels because it’s come so quickly after Thanksgiving this year. Of course, we are usually feeling scrambled and a bit frantic this time of year, but this time felt different and I don’t think many people were keen on it, especially considering how much work it is!

I’ve been grateful to have been slowly learning over the last few years to better anticipate life to simply happen and “mess up” any grand, magical plans I’ve created in my mind over what the holiday season should look like. Sometimes that’s still tough; i.e. the tears shed over broccoli at my five-year-old’s birthday dinner (by both mother and daughter. don’t ask) I’ve written about this before, but some things bear repeating. We can blame society, social media, and the Hallmark Channel, but the expectations many of us place on ourselves and families for the “perfect” holiday experience can really be detrimental. We can be going at a rapid pace trying to fit in all of the experiences that we’re “supposed” to do and completely lose sight of the point. Yesterday, I was internally complaining about all of the gifts I still needed to wrap and I’m so thankful that I then had the thought that I get to wrap all of these gifts. What a GIFT!

Dear reader, wherever you are, as one of my favorite podcasters says, I want to give you a “big, fat virtual hug” this Christmas season. You are exactly where you are for a specific purpose today. I’m truly sorry if you are feeling heavy and sad. Life is so hard. I personally cling to the hope that comes through the promise of Jesus Christ that this is not all there is. If you are reading this now, close your eyes and take a few simple, slow breaths. Gently remind yourself that all is well just as they are, even if they are not well (for example, my dear friend and her children that have been vomiting the last couple of days. sigh). It is OK to feel that disappointment. One of the better tips I’ve heard through counseling is to tell myself something along the lines of, “Things are not as I wish they were, but I’m going to look for the tiniest bit of good, be kind to myself, and practice gratefulness even if I might not feel like it.” You are a gift. Merry Christmas!

Valentine Baby

On this day ten years ago I was in the hospital anticipating the arrival of my first child. My baby was already revealing his stubborn nature by staying put until I had to be induced at ten days overdue! Because we’d kept his official name secret until he was born and with a February 14th birthday, the family jokes started flowing as to whether he’d be named Valentino.

Labor was intense in the morning due to the induction process, so an epidural was ordered and administered much to my delight. Minor struggles occurred through the afternoon as they tweaked the dosage and we endured a rather intense pushing window, but by 5:15pm, my chunky 9-pound baby had arrived.

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Here was this little human being that my husband and I were now completely responsible for and although we’d taken the classes and read the books, it was a little (lot) scary. The unknown was looming. My little brain wanted so badly to be well and handle the stress of a newborn and the challenges that awaited us when we went home. Long nights and the zombie phase came and went, my anxiety disorder intensified in his first year of life and I experienced an arduous battle over the first several years of his life. But, as I look back at the last decade and see the challenges that have been allowed through the providence of God, I also see tenderness and love. This little boy carries several habits and traits of mine and that allows for locking of horns at times, but like I’ve begun to tell him so often that I get eye rolls, I LOVE being his mother. He is bright, funny,  and clever. We both love to read and often share read-aloud time at night. Like his Daddy, he is so wonderful with younger kids and often plays so well with his little sister. It brings me immense joy to think that she has him for the rest of her life; a caring, protective big brother. He has been especially brave this past year by starting a new sport and will be heading away for a real summer camp in a few months.

As an older friend of mine said, it can be sad when all of the sweet little kid seasons pass and you mourn the gentle baby you can hold in your arms, BUT what fun it is to see them grow up! There are numerous seasons to come that I get to be a part of and I’m honored. My little boy is ten years old today; my Valentine Baby. I love him and as I prayed when he was tiny, I pray that he will lead others to Christ, learn and develop a servant’s heart, and most importantly, I hope he will always know that he is loved, NO MATTER WHAT. Happy 10th Birthday, Sweet Boy! I love you!

It’s Dark in Here.

The mountains and valleys of life are very curious and unpredictable. Just when I think I may be turning the corner or slowing down the ride for a nice view, the roller coaster does a big dip and makes my stomach flop. If you know me at all, you know I greatly dislike roller coasters. I don’t like the unknown, the icky feeling, AKA “thrill” feeling it gives some people.

Though I recently went through a really rough batch and felt forgotten and lonely, I ultimately know that I am not. It’s so easy to forget when it’s dark though. I imagine you can relate. I heard this message in a few different ways as I was working through the dark spot: look for the little ways that God is providing, nudging me, or reminding me that He’s there. In one of the sermons at church I heard, “the way God often works is through committed kindness, little by little”. That can come in many ways and I found it a timely and helpful reminder to keep me from wallowing too much in my self-pity.  A kind encourager told me that God reveals Himself way more than I likely realize. As I have come to recognize and gratefully so: just because God doesn’t fix me or my circumstances doesn’t mean He’s not present. I have spent a lot of time getting caught up in that frustrating web, which really ends up just entangling me more tightly. Tim Keller says, “If we are in a storm and we pray to him, he may still the storm (Mark 4:39), or he may instead help us, as he did Peter, to walk through the storm without sinking (Matthew 14:27-31).”

I hope you, dear reader, can begin to look up and out more often at the ways your Creator may be providing for and encouraging you. Ask Him to direct ways that you could be used by Him to encourage someone else. He is good. No matter what it looks like outside or feels like inside, He is good. 

Welcome, 2017!

Where are you right now? Are you emotionally spent from the holidays? Tired and weary? Or maybe you’ve taken down your Christmas decorations and are feeling organized, energetic and optimistic about the coming year? Or, like me, you may be a bit of both depending on the time of day.

I have been struggling over the last couple of weeks, off and on, with my basket of uneasiness and depression. I am very thankful that it didn’t suck all of the joy from my Christmas celebration with family. It has been an unwanted guest for many beautiful gatherings in the past, so I appreciate the break.  I had a hard time sleeping the night before last and as I’ve written before, that encourages my anxiety monkey to hold on tighter than average.  It nags at me and makes me feel heavy. I’m short-tempered with my children when I want to be patient and attentive. Yesterday I took my kids on a long walk and purposely tried looking up and out. I’ve spent thousands of hours looking inward at the way I was feeling and being consumed by my thoughts and worries over those thoughts. I’m tired of doing that. I want to kick it’s ass. But, I’m a vulnerable prey to it’s grip and it’s a tough battle sometimes.

I believe my most recent “batch”, as I call them, was instigated by stress. That’s fairly common, but it’s so easy for me to dismiss that stress and not connect the dots as to why I may have gotten stuck on an icky thought or feel defeated. I want to make that point clear, so that you, dear reader, are not also falling victim to the “shoulds” of life. Last week when I was cringing against the potential avalanche of scary feelings that I dread and wondering why I’d gotten stuck, I briefly spoke with my Mom about it. She pointed out the added stress I’d had of preparing for Christmas and my daughter’s family birthday party, on top of the everyday Mom duties. I knew it had been a bit stressful, but as I referenced above, I had dismissed it and thought, ” I should be able to handle it and anyways, it’s fun stress!” As I spent some time reflecting on the previous few weeks, I could recall a sense of intensified pressure I’d been putting on myself. I wanted things to be just so, holiday fun and festive, trying to maintain an almost neurotic clutter-free zone in the house, planning out when we’d do Christmas movie nights, cookies, light cruising, etc., etc. Will everyone jive at the birthday party? (divorced parents make for added stress). The house should be just so. It’s my job. I should be able to handle all of the extras.

This certainly carries over into my mental health struggles, too, because I often feel and hear myself thinking, “I should be over this by now” or “I shouldn’t be feeling this way”. That’s not fair inner dialogue and only consistently heaps pressure on our heads as mothers/husbands, spouses, Christians, friends, siblings, sons/daughters, so on and so forth. What are you “shoulding” about? Several years ago I did a self-help program for anxiety and depression and a lesson theme was, “Stop Shoulding On Yourself!” Often times we don’t even hear it or like me, we keep at a distracted, busy pace and don’t notice that the “shoulds” are wearing us thin. You may not have a kick-in-the-pants anxiety monkey like I do, but beware that the stress and “shoulds” may peek out in other ways.

If I were giving myself advice, which is really what a great deal of my blogging is, I would say that it’s important to be open to warning signs of the stressors. Stress is normal and at certain times, depending on circumstances, it can be at an all-time high. That’s ok, but it’s an even more important time to try your best to take care of yourself. All of the basics that we hear a million times and often push to the back of the line, like exercise and a somewhat balanced diet. Being mindful of the amount of time we spend in front of a screen, distracting us from quiet. We need quiet, if only in little batches. Prayer. Remembering that things could always be worse and we have many things to name as blessings. Above all, I’d remind myself that we are good enough. I struggle with that daily, but it still remains true. We can do our very best and that may vary from day to day. Life is not a lick like I thought it would be and much harder than I ever anticipated. I am humanly unable to get it all right and be as I think I “should”. I will do my best and keep working on taking care of myself, so that I can be my best, and that may not look like what we think it should. Let’s try and remember that for the incoming year. Another worthy reminder is that we will get caught up in the “shoulds” again and again, but being gentle on ourselves and recognizing it earlier each time will help ease it over time.

We welcome you, 2017! New Year, you remind me of a “bouquet of newly-sharpened pencils”, as Kathleen Kelly says in my all-time favorite movie, You’ve Got Mail , and I look forward to a new slate. A new quarter in school. A fresh start. I tend to be a frightened little girl about the future, but I welcome you, nonetheless. Cheers!

Oh, You Again…

I’m here on one of those days. I have a nervous energy deep in my gut and feel unsettled. I felt it poking at me the last couple of nights and then felt like I was awake almost all of last night, with every little thing startling me and a bundle of anxiety. That starts the spiral worry. You know the one that says, “what if I can’t get to sleep tonight and then my day is filled with anxiety tomorrow and then what if this snowballs and I can’t sleep tomorrow night, or the next?” It tries to frighten me that I might fall into the pit again; the one filled with anxiety and uncertainty and overwhelmingly reminds me that I’m not in ultimate control of my circumstances and emotions. Sure, I know I have the choice to focus on slowing down my breathing, etc., but if a wave of fear or uneasiness is going to hit, it will do so. However, I know I can do many things to keep it from being so loud and scary, but I don’t always do those things like I should because I get caught up in my life and striving for the next good thing. 

I think that’s what’s going on right now. I’ve got a mix of everyday stresses, extra financial stresses, hormones, the “anniversary” of when anxiety took hold of me 12 years ago, poor eating, etc. Maybe my little brain is telling me it’s feeling overloaded and scared. That’s ok, little brain. I’m not mad at you (although I’ve been known to say an ugly thing about you from time to time, wishing I could switch brains with someone else or just buy a new one). Hating my circumstances doesn’t help the matter. There’s a big difference between the frightened Emily of a decade ago and where I am now. I’m still feeling all of those worries, fears, disappointment, and sadness, but I know some of the nicer things to remind myself of, like, “it’s just nervous energy and I don’t have to give it control” or asking God how I might grow during this time rather than fighting against it. What I think God reminded me of this morning is the phrase, “Keep going”. He told me that years ago when I felt like I couldn’t take another step because life was so scary to me. I did keep going then because I had no other choice and slowly, at a snail’s pace, I found some wiggle room and could breath. I’ve not yet gotten to a point where I feel free or Easy Breezy Beautiful Covergirl, but I’m hoping God has more of that for me, snail’s pace or not.  I hope He helps me to draw near to Him and that I fall in love with Him in the process. What I have learned over the years is that if I sit down “in it” and give these feelings credit, it will only feed it and delay movement back to healthier days. It’s a huge challenge not to engage, but I’m praying God will help me today and every day to lean in to Him and keep going.