Today, I Screwed Up the Rice (A Life Interrupted)

“Cooking and mealtimes are some of the most overlooked aspects of grief,” Heather Nickrand, author of Culinary Grief Therapy

Taco dinner complete with pico de gallo, black beans and Mexican rice.

My mother was a fabulous cook. She had this amazing way of making something truly delicious out of nothing at all. Looking back, she would have been a great contestant on The Food Network show, “Chopped.” You know the one where they give you a mismatched basket of food items and ask you to miraculously make something amazing out of it in 15 minutes flat. She was that good. One of my favorite memories of her cooking was just how much she could do with eggs. She could make them a million ways and they were always BOMB—and if she had cheese and tortillas—lookout because you were about to meet your new favorite dish. Breakfast for dinner was an absolute treat as a kid. She was creative, innovative, and basically a food magician. I miss this about her.

I’m not really a cook. I mean, I do cook, but I’m definitely not on her level. I am a baker though. We complemented each other this way. She would make my favorite dish when I would visit home (tostadas) and I would make oatmeal chocolate chip cookies or apple pie. In those moments, all was right with the world. And while I don’t consider myself a great cook, most of what I know, she taught me.

When my son was still a baby she showed me how to make Mexican rice. Sean loved to eat it, it was soft, fluffy, and flavorful. I can remember the first lesson in my kitchen and the subsequent lessons in her kitchen as she helped me perfect it. Mom cooked according to looks and taste, I, however, needed a mathematical formula. Through a series of trials and errors, I finally figured it out. Using an equation (yes, I am a nerd), I can figure out how to make any amount of Mexican rice needed to feed any size group. You can call it a gift…but mostly it’s a nerd thing.

After my Mom passed away, life was a blur. Daily chores were neglected, my mind foggy, I felt extremely lost. I’m sure I was exhausted in every sense of the word—mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually…you name it. And yet, people needed to eat. It was probably three weeks later when I finally got around to cooking something “real.” I decided on tacos, a dish I was certain I could make in my sleep, and of course an accompanying pan of Mexican rice. Every part of the process was agonizing. Each ingredient a tangible reminder of the mother/daughter and teacher/student relationship we had when it came to food. I immediately went to my Mexican rice math equation, but there was nothing. After almost two decades of memorization, my reliable recipe (formula) escaped me. I stood there looking at an empty pan, uncooked rice in hand and I couldn’t remember step one. Nothing, then tears.

I remember thinking, please, Lord, don’t let me forget this! I need to know how to do this. I can’t lose this. I’ve already lost too much. Please, help me to remember.

Here is the part where you might expect a sudden revelation. I hate to tell you this, but there was none. I tried. I cried. I screwed up the rice. Not only that, but I screwed it up the next time and the time after that. Time and time again I stood there, dumbfounded and lost. In the big scheme of things, forgetting how to make Mexican rice doesn’t seem like a disaster and yet it was. It all was. The pandemic, losing my Mom, coping, and trying to move on. It was all a disaster. The kids ate variations of crunchy, under seasoned, too wet, blah tasting Mexican rice…encouraging me all the way. I can remember my daughter, Casey, saying, “You’ll figure it out. Go slow.” These are phrases that I often say to my kids when they’re struggling and being hard on themselves. Hearing these words directed at me stopped me in my tracks. When a child repeats something you have frequently (or incessantly) told them it’s a parenting compliment, a parenting win. Honestly, though, I think it’s just called the circle of life.

I remember the frustration of learning new things as a child. Somethings came naturally, but for me, cooking wasn’t intuitive. My Mom was always gracious in her teaching. I went to college only knowing how to make cereal and grilled cheese, but through her guidance (and many telephone calls) learned to make so much more! I went through my Rachel Ray phase about the same time the internet and smartphones became a part of daily living enabling me to share my mealtime creations with just a click. I remember a phone conversation where she walked me through making a rue. I was terribly unsuccessful. We tried an in-person lesson on my next visit home. Still unsuccessful. It probably took me five years to learn, all the while she would say, “You’ll figure it out. Go Slow.” Yes, definitely, the circle of life.

You might be surprised to know that cooking wasn’t my Mom’s favorite thing. Talented as she was, and I’m convinced food was one of her love languages, she did it for us and for others lucky enough to be at her kitchen table. And, she always made it fun! I come from a large family, so preparing meals for gatherings was time-consuming. No matter, we all just piled into the kitchen and got to work. Mom was great at delegating tasks according to our abilities. This makes me laugh because most of my expertise was in chopping vegetables while my sister, Amanda, was in charge of more complicated (and delicious) menu items that required actual cooking and seasoning. All the granddaughters would get involved —assembly-line style—for enchiladas (a family favorite!) No one ever complained as being a part of Mom’s kitchen crew meant lots of taste testing and samples. A huge perk to the process! By far, the biggest win for me personally was the day my Mom complimented me on my Mexican rice. I carry those words around like a badge of honor, then and now.

So when I failed to remember how to make the Mexican rice, it felt like I was losing something special. In true resolute fashion, I refused to give up. With my Mom’s words in my head, I kept trying. Shortly after she passed I came across a social media post that said, “Be the things you love about the people who are gone.” I saved it on my phone, a poignant reminder on the hardest days. I’m not a cook. I don’t believe I’ve been gifted with that ability, but for my family, cooking and time in the kitchen were so much more than that. I believe my Mom cooked because she loved us and it kept us close. The kitchen was always the center of our home life growing up. The heart of the home, it’s still one of the rooms I spend the most time in, my kids, too.

It’s been more than four months now, and I’m not screwing up the rice anymore. I finally remembered the recipe (formula) and hope that I’m never in a place to forget it again as part of my Mother’s memory lives in the kitchen. She’s in every drawer as she has gifted me with a number of utensils and tools. She lives in the cupboard and the refrigerator as she has influenced the things I love to eat and feed my family. She lives on the countertop, her whiteboard taking up center stage on the kitchen island. And she’s certainly in my cookbook as I try to maintain the recipes and traditions that I’ve grown up with and pass them on to my own children.

May I be all the good things that I love about her…today and every day.

“Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10

“A Life Interrupted” is an ongoing series of blog posts dealing with the loss of my mother to COVID-19.

Renaming the Stages of Grief (A Life Interrupted)

This rainbow appeared in the sky on the evening of Mom’s funeral.

“Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it break.”  William Shakespeare

You can call it a charmed life, a blessing or maybe it was just dumb luck, but my experience with grief has been minimal until recently.  I barely remember attending funerals as a kid and when we did, I really didn’t have a strong connection to the departed.  However, all that has changed in adulthood…especially in the last few years.  And here, in 2020, I feel like I’ve been hit with the worst heartache yet after losing my Mom.

Now that I find myself in the throes of grief I’ve become well aware of the stages that accompany it: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  As I continue to process, I realize that a more apt description might be “stages of loss” rather than grief as so many therapists acknowledge these stages include every type of bereavement and are most certainly not limited to death.  Regardless of the type of loss, the stages still exist and the process is never easy.

One of my strongest personality traits is dutifulness.  I clearly get that from my parents and it’s something I’ve given a lot of thought to over the last few months.  I approach life in a resolute fashion.  I like lists…there’s a certain satisfaction that comes with crossing things off.  I also keep a handwritten calendar and methodically cross off the days (I’ve been ridiculed for this one).  I set reminders, use post-its, carry a reporter’s notepad, etc.  All of this helps me keep up with my commitments and uphold my obligations.  I know that people expect things from me and I work hard to fulfill my responsibilities. It’s important to me.  So when approaching loss I immediately went to research the stages of grief and anticipated checking them off one by one.  Let me tell you, this is not how grief works.

Turns out the stages of grief don’t necessarily go in order and they can (and often do) repeat, sometimes more than once…if not endlessly.  This is problematic for stoic types like me who eagerly want to cross things off the list and move forward.  I am not a dweller, but my pragmatic approach to grief isn’t really working out.  I’m not sure what I expected here.  I knew the road would be hard. And while most buy into “the time heals all wounds” camp, as a realist, I know that time doesn’t necessarily heal anything.  A loss will always be a loss— a hard consequence of love.

As I move through this process, I’ve taken it upon myself to rename the stages of grief…making them more applicable for me.  Do with them what you will, but I’ve found these slight variances helpful, healing, and hopeful as I continue to sort out the emotions of losing one of the most beloved figures in my life.

DISBELIEF, not denial.  I know my Mother is gone.  I very well remember speaking to her when she tested positive for COVID-19.  I recall the day she told me she scheduled the drive-thru appointment and we went over her symptoms.  I remember the first and second time she was taken to the emergency room.  I don’t deny the fear and angst that followed.  None of us can deny the three weeks she spent in ICU.  We can’t deny the emotional ups and downs that accompanied the good and bad days in the hospital.  There is no denying that she is gone, no denying the funeral, and no denying the loss.  She isn’t here and I feel it every day, but sometimes I can’t believe all of this happened.  Not to her, not to my strong Mother.  I can’t tell you how many times I still reach for my phone…to call her, to text her.  We had so many plans.

AVOIDANCE, not anger.  I’m not really an angry person.  I can get mad, I can even be a bit of a hothead if you catch me on a bad day.  I have a passionate nature, but I’ve never seen anger solve one single thing.  For me, anger has no purpose.  People have asked me if I’m angry at God.  I am not— the thought hasn’t even crossed my mind.  What I do know is that lately it’s been easier to just avoid emotion altogether.  The loss is raw and if I think about it too much the sadness can be overwhelming.  I know that’s to be expected, but I feel like I can’t live in sadness.  For better or worse, I am guilty of avoiding the emotional component of grief until it seeps out from the corners of my eyes.  I’m doing the best I can to deal with it in small doses.  Losing my Mother is not fair, but it’s not fair for anyone who loses a loved one.

UNCONTROLLABLE TEARS, not bargaining.  As I move out of the “100-day fog,” I am reluctantly beginning to accept the new normal…and right now the new normal involves a lot of tears.  I’m not bargaining, there’s nothing to bargain about.  Therapists often say that “guilt is the wingman of bargaining.”  This is the part of grief where the questions and “what-ifs” take over, followed by guilt for not doing more, making different decisions, and on and on.  What if COVID-19 didn’t happen?  What if we made Mom stay home?  What if we had sought care sooner?  What if…what if…what if…?  The never-ending questions remind me of the old adage about worrying and rocking chairs, both give you something to do, but ultimately get you nowhere.  I know better than to negotiate over things I cannot control and I guess that’s where the uncontrollable tears come in.  Death and loss, they humble you.  They remind us of our humanness, our vulnerability, and that we are most certainly not capable of controlling most things in this life.  I cry over songs on the radio, television shows, photographs, and memories…both good and bad.  If I could make things different, I would…but I can’t…and thus, the tears.  You can’t bargain with tears.

GOOD/BAD DAYS, not depression.*  In my heart of hearts, I truly believe that it’s ok to be sad.  I remember journaling once that to truly know good, one has to fully know bad.  I have been asked countless times over the last few months if I am depressed.  I am not, but I am sad, grief-stricken, heartbroken, and emotionally exhausted.  My Mother is gone.  My world forever changed.  I will miss her every day for the rest of my life.  And yet I know, forward is the only option.  Forward is the best option.  On good days, I laugh and smile remembering and retelling funny stories and sharing treasured memories about my Mom.  On bad days I pray for peace and comfort knowing how fully blessed I am to have called her my Mother.  Then, the process repeats.

PEACE, not acceptance.  In the stages of grief, acceptance comes when one faces their new reality.  There’s an understanding that things will never be the same.  For me, acceptance is not that far removed from denial.  I knew from the moment I received that phone call that things would never be the same.  Not “accepting” the circumstances didn’t make them less real.  There’s no denying the loss and accepting the situation wasn’t negotiable.  Throughout this whole process, I have prayed for peace, an emotional status where there is tranquility and my soul is well.  I have seen this.  I have experienced this.  I have felt this with my whole being.  Right now, that kind of peace is inconsistent, but I know and trust that a feeling of permanent peace will fill my heart one day.

Obviously, the grieving process is difficult.  There are no shortcuts, although most of us will try to find some.  When I talk to my kids about the stages of grief I remind them that there’s communal grief and personal grief.  The communal grief we experience together, as a family.  We deeply feel this type of loss at family gatherings and holidays.  The personal grief is how we process the loss individually.  For most of us, this type of grief is so much harder, but avoiding the stages of grief doesn’t help.  Postponing the sadness will not move us forward.  It’s ok to be sad.  It’s ok to have all the feelings.  It’s ok to talk about the loss because losing someone changes you.

Losing someone changes you.

Because the LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.  Psalm 34:18

*Depression is real.  If you need help, please reach out.

“A Life Interrupted” is an ongoing series of blog posts dealing with the loss of my mother to COVID-19.

 

 

 

The Great Humbling (Responding to a Pandemic)

What humility does for one is it reminds us that there are people before me. I have already been paid for. And what I need to do is prepare myself so that I can pay for someone else who has yet to come but who may be here and needs me.

Maya Angelou

I am neither an optimist nor a pessimist.  I categorize myself simply as a realist.  Midlife will do that to you.  I fully believe in the good of mankind.  I have high hopes for myself and the human race.  I like to give people the benefit of the doubt.  I choose kindness and grace at every opportunity.  I believe in going the extra mile and not expecting anything in return. And yet, I confess that I’m skeptical.  I’ve seen enough to know that we (myself included) don’t always rise to the occasion.  We are flawed, broken, weary, judgmental, and more than these we are fully human seeking to serve self first.  We (again myself included) hate to hear the word “no.”  Pride is incredibly insidious and has earned its rightful rank as one of the Seven Deadly Sins.

In light of current events, both our collective and personal flaws have become more evident.  The hoarding is just the beginning.  The outright backbiting and blaming on social media, television, radio and in-person are a reminder that we are not operating as our best selves.  Dismissing and cutting down noted medical professionals and downplaying directives from our elected leaders demonstrates our inability to hear the word “no.”  My first thought was that this was entirely an American phenomenon, but that’s not the case.  Selfishness exists around the world.  We’re all guilty here.  People I know and love are presently operating out of this selfishness and privilege.  While we are collectively coping with this pandemic, the root of this global “me-first” perspective is pride.  And pride is a human condition, one than equally affects politicians, religious leaders, CEOs, celebrities, athletes, influencers, neighbors, family members, friends, you and me.

Yet, hope is not lost.  There is good.  I’ve seen it.  You’ve seen it.  We’re all trying.  And let’s be honest, some days are better than others.  I truly believe the difference maker here is humility.  The dictionary defines the word humble as not proud, haughty, arrogant, or assertive.  To be humble is to express deference or submission.  In a culture that values status and seeks accolades, it’s easy to note our lack of humility.  It’s not because we don’t understand the definition.  We do.  We just don’t like it.  We don’t value it. Plus, the messaging has always been confusing.  How am I supposed to stand up for myself, value myself, claim and proclaim my self worth, and cultivate healthy self-esteem if I put others above myself?  No one wants to be walked on, dismissed or set aside, and yet that remains the connotation.

The Bible offers us another perspective on humility.  One where we earnestly value others, where we understand that we’re all in this human experience together, one where my life is no more significant than any other life.  I have no right to anything or anyone.  My life is a gift and I’m called to live in response to that.  I have been claimed by an almighty and powerful God.  My eternity was bought and paid for by the sacrifice of a Savior.  I am not called to react, but only to respond.  And that response is humility.

Years ago I heard a Christian leader describe the Bible as God’s great love story.  It changed my perspective.  The Bible was no longer a collection of books, but one big narrative about a Creator and His creation.  My understanding grew.  I could see new and more meaningful connections not just between its chapters and characters, but between then and now.  The Bible became not just a love story but a living, breathing, and extremely timely on-going narrative for Christians today.  And that story continues.  As followers, our lives are an unwritten testimony for all to see.

The reality of the pandemic has weighed heavily on my heart.  My reflective nature and night owl tendencies have given me a lot of time to ponder.  When stress, worry, and anxiety fill my thoughts, I pray and think about the things I can control.  And I am grateful for a faith that I can rely upon.  I wholeheartedly believe that while these days are scary, uncomfortable, and unpredictable, there are lessons and blessings to be found.  Still, I am not naive.  We are largely walking through unchartered territory and we will all respond differently in the days, weeks, and months to come. Fear will take over at times.  Tensions will run high.  We will be tested.  We will fail.  And again, some days will be better than others.  But, there will be opportunities for us to be a light, to meet the needs of others, and most of all, opportunities to respond humbly.

Life isn’t a short game.  It is a journey.  Are you able, or more accurately, are you willing to make sacrifices, submit to those who know more than you do, and go without?  Can you pause, wait, and humble yourself before God and neighbor?  My prayer is that each of us will respond accordingly and do our part.  Stay home, wear the mask when necessary, and don’t forget to wash your hands.

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.   James 4:10

From Gray to Grace

Death is not the opposite of life, but a part of it.  Haruki Murakami

Last week’s tragedy will never make sense.  No answer will ever be good enough.  Understanding will likely never come.  A life cut short.  Senseless violence.

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ERNIE ORTIZ 1949-2019

It has been said that we’re all one phone call away from dropping to our knees. And nothing has ever been more true. Human life is fragile and fleeting. Most of us naively walking around as if we have all the time in the world, as if our days are not numbered, as if we have some sense of control…and sadly, we do not.  And while life itself is a gift, we don’t always live like it.  Our words, our actions, our brokenness speak for themselves reminding us that we are all fallible humans.  Even the best of us walk the line between sinner and saint daily.

So it is no surprise that at some point, we all find ourselves here…struggling with loss in its many forms, be it friendships, relationships, marriages, jobs, hopes or dreams, but I feel it is the loss of life that hurts the most.  It’s inescapable.  Unavoidable.  The grief, the permanency, maybe even the unknown…it fills our thoughts, occupies our hearts and often leaves wounds that never quite heal.

Statistically, death occurs on a bell curve with our most vulnerable moments at the beginning and the end of our life spans.  If you’re lucky, it’s something one only deals with during their latter days.  We know that death due to age, illness, and disease remain tragic, but a life taken too soon, a life snuffed out, a life robbed at any age hurts as if it’s been compounded tenfold.  Many will tell you that time heals all wounds.  Maybe.  More realistically though, time only allows for space between the hurt.

Finding peace is all circumstances isn’t easy.  In fact, it’s a lot of work.  If you’re not a Christian, I honestly don’t know how you do it.  For me, knowing that I have a God who walks beside me is something that I don’t take for granted.  When I am weak, He is my strength.  When I am lost, He is my rock.  Christ’s ultimate sacrifice reminds us that death doesn’t have the final say.  Uncle Ernie was a believer, I take comfort in that.  Our lives, our very existence is not in vain.  On the mountaintop and in the valley, there remains a plan and a purpose for each of us.

In the days and weeks to come, stories will be told and photos will be shared. In talking with family, we have chosen to focus on the “dash” and celebrate a life LIVED.  As poet Linda Ellis explains, “He noted that first came the date of birth and spoke of the following date with tears, but he said what mattered most of all was the dash between those years.”  And what a dash it was!  Countless adventures, innumerable memories, and a bounty of friends.

When you’re a kid, life seems so black and white.  There’s good and evil.  Right and wrong.  The lines are clearly drawn.  As we grow up, move from adolescence through adulthood, we realize that life is actually more of a marbled gray.  Dark shades, complicated, stressful, and uneven as we navigate day to day living among the broken, but intermixed with bright hues, beautiful, joyful, and full of promise!  As we all inch forward, I pray that we move from that marbled gray into grace!  Life is too short to live any other way.  Let us approach each other more tenderly and offer love, patience, and kind words…only then can we truly find resolve (and maybe even peace) along the way.

Rest Easy, Uncle Ernie.

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 

2 Corinthians 5:1

College Bound? READ THIS.

“I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy – I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it.”  -Art Williams

Congratulations!  You’re about to embark on an exciting adventure!  And if you’re anything like I was at age 18, then you had one foot halfway out the door during senior year.  I originally offered this advice to my niece when she made her BIG move, but I thought I would offer it again here.  (Original post-January 5, 2017.)

  1. Moving away from home/going to school takes guts. Not everyone can do it. Not everyone should do it, but having the courage to walk away from everything you know and try something new/exciting/scary and uncomfortable deserves some major props. In doing this, you have already proven one thing: you are WILLING to take chances. Kudos.
  2. In many ways, you’ve been preparing for this your whole life and in many other ways, you’re not prepared at all. This is okay. In fact, it’s better than okay. It’s absolutely normal.
  3. Good things will happen and bad things will happen, too. How you deal with these things will make all the difference. My favorite quote is by author Og Mandino. It says “Count your blessings, proclaim your rarity, go another mile, USE WISELY YOUR POWER OF CHOICE, and one more–to fulfill the other four–do all things with love…love for yourself, love for all others, and love for GOD….You Are the Greatest Miracle in The World.” You can always choose. Remember that no hole is too deep, no place is too far for redemption.
  4. Never date a man with hair better than your own. Random, I know…but really. Who needs the competition? I actually came up with this rule while visiting friends at K-State. I can’t remember what the circumstances were exactly, but it’s a rule that has served me well.
  5. Talk to God (a lot) and don’t forget to listen, too. Although I think you should go to church, I have to admit that I didn’t attend while I was in college. I can honestly tell you that I missed out and I would definitely do this part differently today. Nonetheless, I did a whole lot of praying during that time and LISTENING to God, too. This saved my bacon more than once and I am eternally grateful. Looking back I can clearly see God at work during my college years. Make your relationship with Him a priority.
  6. Practice the “pause.” I didn’t come up with this…I’m not sure who did, but it makes a lot of sense and it may actually save your life someday. “When in doubt, pause. When angry, pause. When tired, pause. When stressed, pause. And when you pause, always pray.”
  7. Keep an eye on your drink. Again, another random one…but this is vital. There are bad guys (and girls) out there. People who do not have your best interest at heart. People who will try to use (and abuse) you and hurt you to satisfy their own evil desires. These people will buy you drinks and worse, they may even spike your drink. I made it a practice to never, ever, EVER accept a drink from a stranger (and eventually I didn’t accept any drinks at all.) It was not always well received. I’ve been called countless names, been yelled at, and made fun of. I didn’t care. In fact, it just proved that this was someone who I definitely didn’t have any business hanging out with. If someone wants to buy you a drink, great. The two of you can go up to the bar and order it together. At a party, keep in mind that you are perfectly capable of pouring your own drink. Carry a water bottle (drunkenness is overrated anyway.) Be on guard. Protect yourself…and look after your friends, too.
  8. You’re not expected to peak now. While these clearly are some of the best days of your life…they’re not the only days of your life. Someday you might choose to travel, land your dream job, become President, meet an awesome guy, have a fabulous wedding, start your own business, become a mother…the list goes on and on. Life is a series of journeys. Never think that your best days are behind you…always look forward.
  9. Trust your gut…that’s the Holy Spirit at work. Look people in the eye, but more importantly, watch what they say and do. I wholeheartedly believe God speaks to us and a little warning light goes off when we’re in bad company. Do not ignore this! Women (especially) tend to discount this small little voice. We want to be nice, we want to give people the benefit of the doubt, we don’t want to seem childish or afraid…you get the point. So we make nice…and often times this puts us in very vulnerable situations. If it doesn’t feel right, it isn’t right. End of story. You owe no one an explanation.
  10. Finally, know this…you can always go home. ALWAYS. There is no shame. You’ve stepped out once, you can and will do it again. This IS life. Having a home base is a luxury not afforded to everyone. You have a family that would move mountains for you (just ask.) This is an incredible blessing.

SPECIAL NOTE:  You cannot live on Ramen.  You will try (we all do.)  But I repeat, you cannot live on Ramen.  

Remember, there are a lot of people rooting for you, kid!  You got THIS.  Welcome to your next adventure!

The old is gone.  The new is here.  2 Corinthians 5:17

KEEP CALM, Summer’s Coming (15 Sunshine-Inspired Songs) SONG 11

Golden State of mind.  –author unknown

There are moments where time simply stands still.  In those moments a solid memory is formed…and that’s where the next song on the list comes in.  “Someday” by the group Sugar Ray (released in 1999) was the soundtrack to an absolutely perfect space in time for me.  As a transplant to California, I quickly learned that there’s a learning curve to navigating the Golden State lifestyle.  First, practically everyone is beautiful.  People dress differently in Cali and carry themselves with a lot of confidence.  Next, most things costs way too much, really.  And finally, driving there is a sport.  Still, after a few months, I finally felt like I was finding my way.  This was home.It’s hard not to love California…amazing scenery and that salty, ocean smell.  I recall driving on the 101, windows rolled down, the rolling hills of Marin County in the background when this song came on the radio.  A song about having no regrets, a song about believing in the choices you have made, basically a song about contentment.  And that’s exactly what I felt in that moment.  For whatever reason, whatever my destiny was, however my purpose on this planet worked out–I wholeheartedly knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be at that particular place in time.  I’ve never forgotten that feeling.

Lead singer, Mark McGrath has said in interview that the group was about having fun and seeing just how far they could go.  While Sugar Ray actually played a wide variety of music styles…it was their pop rock, upbeat stuff that launched the group to fame.  “Someday” was a top ten hit on the Billboard Hot 100, Hot Modern Rock Tracks, Hot 100 Airplay and on the Canadian charts, as well.  The band enjoyed great success with their trademark southern California vibe.

Whenever I hear the song, I’m transplanted back to that time (I can even smell the ocean!)  My life has changed a great deal since them.  I’ve been fortunate enough to have had other experiences like the one that day.  Today, I refer to them as “God-moments,”  little assurances where I know I’m in just the right place, and I am so grateful.

UP NEXT:  Song 12…”run, run lost boy….”

 

 

 

Rated “M” for Mature (Or Maybe Just “O” for Old)

We age not by years, but by stories. ― Maza-Dohta

There’s a big difference between “growing up” and “growing old.”  Each process garnering its own tension (and with any luck,) eventually leading to some sense of solace and peace.  Still it seems that in today’s culture, “growing old” is definitely the greater evil.  In fact, I listened to a podcast recently that basically laid out just how taboo aging has become (I realize the mere mention of the word “podcast” clearly ages me as well!)  Let’s face it, at 40something I’m way past the “growing up” stuff.  So I guess this just leaves me mired in the murkiness of “growing old.”  Sigh.

Honestly though, I’m finding more happiness than heartbreak with each passing year.  It’s not necessarily fun watching the wrinkles and the gray hairs appear, but mentally and spiritually I feel like I’m in a good space.  A place I wouldn’t trade for being a teenager again (I’m still apologizing to my mother.)  And as tempting as it sounds, going back to my college years just doesn’t appeal to me as much as it used to.  They say you’re only as young/old as you feel.  And as a self-proclaimed “old soul,” I figure I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.

Still, crossing onto the other side of the BIG 4-0, I strongly believe I’ve gained some insight.  While I haven’t exactly reached curmudgeon status (I’m working on it,) I certainly classify myself as “old enough to know better,” “wise enough not to fall for that” (again,) and filled with enough “I told you so” stories to write a “how-NOT-to guide.”  Hopefully this makes me “M” for Mature, but more realistically, most would just rate me “O” for Old.  Still, I will not be deterred.  So whether you asked for it or not, let me drop a little wisdom here…because I just might know something.  Perhaps even something worth sharing….

  1. There’s nothing like sleeping in your own bed.  As a kid, I hated going to sleep.  I thought it was a huge waste of time.  Add to that my overactive imagination, frequent nightmares, and night owl tendencies…and it becomes clear that sleep was not high on my priority list–EVER.  Still, I have really come to value the power of a good night’s sleep.  I especially appreciate sleeping in my own bed.  To be honest, I have a really hard time sleeping anywhere else.  Something about MY pillows and MY blankets.  This is a safe haven.  No TV in the bedroom. No scrolling through Facebook or watching Netflix in bed for me.  When my head hits the pillow, I’m out.  Beautiful, peaceful and restorative slumber…in my own bed.  I’m all about it!
  2. Moisturizer is your best friend.  I have always made it a priority to take care of my skin.  Never EVER sleeping in make-up (especially mascara!)  Always wearing sunscreen (something I had to learn the hard way after acquiring a horrible sunburn while working a car wash fundraiser in high school.  Ewww…blisters.)  I’m a Noxema girl and a sucker for its eucalyptus scent.  A family member suggested wearing night cream as well as day cream after college graduation.  Great advice…I am eternally grateful (so is my skin.)
  3. “Respond more.  React less.”  Not my quote, but a great little ditty nonetheless.  Basically, the idea is that we take a moment to process a situation, instead of just going off on someone.  In a world where every feeling is justified for its mere existence, there is something to be said about thoughtfulness.  Look, I’m not talking about being a spineless, doormat…instead let’s hash out our feelings before we broadcast them.  It could save face and maybe even some stress and heartache.  “When we respond, rather than react, we actually communicate from our highest principles and deepest desires.  Reactions on the other hand, come straight from our most shallow anxieties and fears.”  –Hal Runkel
  4. Be generous.  It’s such a human tendency to want to keep things for ourselves.  Some of us do it out of greed or maybe even fear.  Others can’t let go of things because of guilt.  We all have our own reasons, but I have found that generosity is its own reward.  And it’s important to remember that giving isn’t necessarily limited to money either.  Being generous is about a willingness to offer time, energy, attention, advice…the list could go on and on.  Putting others above yourself is Biblical and a little goes along way!
  5. Seek out healing people and places.  There’s no substitute for peace.  As a twenty something I remember meeting a woman who absolutely made the hairs on my arm stand on end!  She was an older woman, polite and wonderful with kids, so when this gut feeling struck…I had no real explanation for it.  In fact, I felt guilty every time the feeling came on.  After some time, I was able to figure out exactly what was going on.  She had an energy that just didn’t jibe with mine.  Her jumpy, antsy disposition made me feel anxious.  Her energy level actually drained mine.  It wasn’t about judgement, we remained friendly, however it was just a gentle reminder for me (all of us) to seek out people who lift us up, people who help us to be our best self, and whose company is soothing to the soul.  You don’t have to be BFFs with everyone on the planet.
  6. Look deeply.  This is a new one for me.  An idea that has just become very important to me in the last year or so.  You see, my kids are growing so fast.  As hard as it is to believe, they actually change in some ways every single day.  This is exciting and completely terrifying!  They say “don’t blink” and wow, that has never been more true.  The idea of looking deeply extends past my children, too.  Sometimes I walk in my front door and just stare at my living room (piles of kid shoes, backpacks everywhere, bulky baseball/softball bags, etc.) and realize I am blessed.  Sometimes I chase down the “deer moon” on a summer night (ask my kids about that one!)  Often, I take photographs of seemingly mundane things just because I don’t want to forget the moment.  If you catching me staring at you…please consider it a compliment!
  7. The grass is never greener.  I know that’s not exactly how the idiom goes, but it’s the truth.  I cannot think of one time when this has EVER panned out.  I’m not into comparing myself to others.  I don’t want what you have, I’m too busy to play that game.  It’s not healthy and it will get you absolutely no where.  Don’t get me wrong, this is a tough one.  The green-eyed envy monster is for real.  And it will wreck your day (and even your life) if you let it.
  8. You can say “no.”  They never tell you this.  From the time we’re babies, people are always telling us “no.”  “No” you can’t have that, “no” you can’t touch that, “no” can’t do that either.  But no one ever tells us that we can say “no,” too.  “No” I don’t have to go along for the ride.  “No” I don’t have to sacrifice my well-being and happiness just to appease you.  “No” your choices don’t have to be my choices.  You get the picture.
  9. Laugh often.  I love sitcoms and comedies.  I honesty live to laugh.  I also have a strange sense of humor and value sarcasm.  Just a look or an odd phrase will have me in giggles.  “Smiling really is my favorite” (ELF.)  It probably helps that I’m easily amused.  Life really is too short not to spend a good chunk of it laughing.  It’s a funny world we live in…seek out your own joy.  And when you can’t find anything to laugh about…laugh at yourself.  It’s humbling and good for the soul.
  10. God is everywhere.  “Life in real-time is messy.  The fingerprints of God are often invisible until you look at them in the rearview mirror.”  Levi Lusko is the author of this quote and it has really shaped how I view the world.  At 42, I already know that God is all around us…what a blessing it is to purposefully seek out His presence on a daily basis.  It sounds lofty and maybe even hard to do, but it’s possible and so incredibly rewarding.  The more we tune our spirit into seeking out His hand, the easier it becomes to discern His handiwork.

None of us can turn back time (although I’m willing to spend a small fortune trying-lol!)  And while the world is telling us that 40 is the new 30, I’m not so sure I buy it…at least not wholeheartedly.  I can’t help but think of so many who exemplify aging gracefully and I just pray that I can grab a little bit of that for myself…all labels aside (especially “O.”)

Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained in the way of righteousness.  Proverbs 16:31 

Shout Out to Other Mothers (THANK YOU!)

MOMS.  Because not all superheroes wear capes!  -author unknown

WOW.

In case you didn’t know it, that’s MOM upside down!

Okay, all kidding aside, WOW is the only word that comes to mind for me this Mother’s Day.  I’m not sure what made this year’s holiday different, but I feel very compelled to give a huge shout out to other mothers today.  I feel like belting out a great big THANK YOU…complete with song and dance (not to mention a few hugs!)  But mostly, I just want you all to know that I see you and I really just couldn’t do this mothering thing without you.

Some have said that being a mother is the most important job on the planet.  Something along the lines of “the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.”  And there’s plenty more sayings out there to describe motherhood (and, believe it or not, most of them are favorable!)  Still there’s nothing like being deep in the parenting trenches to remind you that you cannot do this alone.  We need each other…sometimes desperately.  I need you to be my eyes and ears,  I need you to catch my kids doing good AND to give me the heads up when they make poor decisions.  I need you to double-check our kids whereabouts and sleepover plans with me…because communicating in the tween/teen years can be difficult and responsibility/accountability are crucial.  I need you to share advice and help me navigate through tough situations.  And I need you to be loving examples, safe places, and trusted adults whom my kids can turn to, if needed.  And I promise to do the same…because motherhood is an interesting club.  It’s not necessarily hard to join (although I’m sensitive to the fact that it can be.)  There’s no pre-mom exam.  No age limit.  No “green light.” Some of us fit in from the get go.  Others clamor to get in.  Some of us enter hesitantly, if not reluctantly.  Many of us trudge through.  And some of us never quite find our place.  Regardless, once you’re in…YOU’RE IN.  And there’s no guarantee of success in this club.  There’s no real manual.  No graduation.  And sometimes, in spite of the numbers, it can be a pretty lonely place.  I can’t speak for everybody, but for myself I can honestly say I had no idea what I was getting into.  Albeit the oldest of four, growing up in a very large extended family, having countless hours of babysitting under my belt and with a “mother hen” type personality…I never felt like I was ready.  In fact, during my teen years and early twenties, I was pretty dead set against becoming a mother.  I had this nagging feeling in the back of my head that I wasn’t up for the task.  At age 26, my son was born…and while this was a well thought out and planned event I still knew on some level that I had no idea what I was in for (despite all my research)–and I was right!

We all know that our bodies change when we have a child.  Hormones fluctuate, things shift, etc., but what happens to your heart has to be the most remarkable, extraordinary change of all!  While the other changes occur over a matter of months, it seems that your heart changes almost immediately.  Your priorities change, your instincts change, your thought processes change…basically, what I’m trying to say here is that EVERYTHING changes.  What I was really least prepared for was the general roller coaster ride of motherhood.  The wins and the losses.  The ups and the downs.  I’m pretty much a planner (and a bit of a control freak) and motherhood is everything but a well-defined plan and you can throw any hope of control out the window.  Plan A quickly moves through the alphabet to Plan Z, and in no set pattern.  What works one day (and for one child) quickly falls to the wayside in lieu of something completely different for another child (or the same kiddo down the road.)  Uggghhh.

Photo of a soccer birthday cake (or at least what’s left of one) that a sweet “other mother” made for my son on his 15th birthday.

So for all this (and so much more) I continue to look to you, fellow mothers.  Without other mothers, I’m not sure where I would be.  I’m grateful to have my own mother to serve as an example and a guide.  Grateful for a mother-in-law who offers love and encouragement.  Grateful for a sister, who lovingly mothers all the nieces and nephews and her own stepkids with a natural mothering gift.  I’m grateful for sister-in-laws who treat my kids like their own.  And I’m especially grateful for the mothers of my children’s friends, the “church” moms, the “teacher” moms, the “neighbor” moms and other mothers in my community.  You all ROCK!  BIG thanks for your kind hearts, for the rides to and from practices/games, for the driving them through the fast food line and including them in your family plans.  Thank you for the birthday cakes, countless sleepovers, day trips and shopping excursions.  Thanks for bridging the gap when our family schedules were overloaded.  Thank you for sharing photos of my kids and yours just doing their thing.  Thank you for the “Walmart Updates.”  Thank you for not judging them harshly, for understanding that they are in a unique circumstance (as are most kids) and for offering them grace and love.  Thank you for including them in your family life.  And thank you for your example…often times it’s your own mothering actions that speak volumes.

So let’s forget the mom-shaming, the parenting peer pressure, and all the other nonsense.  And instead, keep breathing life and love into each other’s kiddos.  Keep talking, keep texting, keep cheering, keep showing up and keep vigilant.  Please continue to keep your eyes open…looking out for my kids and others.  Thank you for filling my ears (and heart) with bright spots that you see in my children.  I see the same bright spots in your kiddos, too!

We truly are on each other’s team.  Happy, happy Mother’s Day!

She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.  Proverbs 31:25

 

 

Open the Door

Happiness often sneaks in through a door you didn’t know you left open.  –John Barrymore

If the title sounds like a command, I think you’re right. If you have any guesses as to how this pertains to my life…I’d love it if you’d clue me in!  On its face “open the door” seems pretty straightforward, but since I got this word from the Holy Spirit, I know it has to be a little more (okay, a lot more) nuanced than that.

The message came to me a little more than a year ago.  That’s a long time to ponder its exact meaning!  At that moment, I thought it was a word of encouragement.  You see my introverted nature is constantly trying to balance the fact that I live with three extroverts.  So, I figured this was an assuring message about hospitality…a way to move me forward and out of my comfort zone.  Satisfied with that, I went about my business and learned to better carve out some “introvert recharging time” for myself while welcoming the kiddos’ friends with open arms.  And it worked.  Our home is basically a mini version of Grand Central Station and (believe it or not) I’m actually good with it.  My kids have really great friends…tweens/teens that I enjoy having at our house, kids who are positive influences for my babies and are all around good people.  Score, right?  That’s what I thought, too!

Still, the command wasn’t satisfied.  Hmmm…what now?  I tried to push it to the back of my mind.  If it was really important, the answer would reveal itself.  Nope.  So, after much more consideration, I arrived at a new conclusion.  It wasn’t so much about letting someone/something IN…it was about letting someone/something OUT.  I was holding my children back.  That had to be it.  I was “s-mothering” them!  (That’s smothering and mothering at the same time!)  Of course.  I’m a little overprotective, a little too available, a little too quick to solve their problems.  I’ll admit it, I am my own “afterschool special.”  To remedy the situation I tried to take a step back (just a little.)  I understand that independence is an important part of growing up.  Maybe I didn’t need to be fully enmeshed, just engaged.  Yes, that’s it-ENGAGED.  Mystery solved.  (Feel free to start laughing at me now.)

Wrong again, I tried to push this edict away.  Burdensome, that’s what this was.  I had no idea what the answer could be and honestly, I didn’t want to be bothered by it anymore.  We were busy.  We were overscheduled.  I was tired.  It was summer and the days were hot, long and full.  I didn’t have time for this.  I’d already given the subject so much thought and prayer.  The answer was not coming and I began to doubt the message.  Surely, I had heard it wrong.  If this was for me, then there was obviously something that I was missing.  So I put it on a “spiritual shelf.”  I’d deal with it in the fall….

Fall came and went.  We rolled into winter and the message remained the same.  From the “spiritual shelf,” I could still hear it calling me.  And I still had no idea how to respond.  It wasn’t until after the holidays that a (or another) new thought occurred to me.  Perhaps, this was more personal.  Maybe, I needed to go “outside?”  Take a chance?  What if there was something that I personally needed to take care of?  Could this message be calling me to open the door and step out in faith?

I thought about a job search, looking into starting some sort of side business, and even going back to school to earn a master’s degree.  I stepped back from some volunteer commitments and ventured into new volunteer opportunities.  In the past, this type of itch has been satisfied through creativity…so I began baking up a storm, photographing everything in sight, playing the piano, sewing, daydreaming, reading, writing, etc.  And…nothing.  Nada.  Zilch.

When something weighs heavily on your heart, it’s really hard to put it “away.”  I know I’m not the only one who’s ever been here.  There’s a reason why we can’t “run” from our problems.  The Bible speaks to it (just ask Jonah) and we all probably have countless personal anecdotes about trying to “run” when things get sticky or uncomfortable.  And I wholeheartedly believe that there’s a reason God has whispered (and occasionally shouted) this command to me.  I just wish I knew what it was.

In the meantime, I’m actively waiting.  Understanding that prayer is answered with YES, NO, GROW and my least favorite–WAIT.  I know that I have nothing to complain about.  Life is good.  We are well.  God is with us.  In this waiting season (yes, I’m learning to better practice patience,) I’m trying hard to be fully present.  This is more difficult than it sounds as I waiver between feeling apathetic and restless to energized and eager.  It’s a situation that I’m not used to and one that I’m certainly not prepared for.  I didn’t ask for change…and maybe that’s what this is all about.  Yet, I know and trust that there is a purpose.  Knock.  Knock.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.  Matthew 7:7-8

 

 

 

 

In These Desperate Times

Are we not all desperate one way or another?  Taylor Caldwell, author

The funny thing about standing on the edge is that there’s typically little to no warning that you’re about to go over.  No countdown.  No alert system.  I usually only realize that I’ve arrived at this point when one foot is dangling and the other is making every crazy attempt to stay planted.  It’s a dance I’ve seen countless times and one that I’m not proud of.

Lately, this idea of desperation has been rearing its ugly head in all kinds of places.  I see it everywhere–in my home, overheard at the grocery store, on television/radio, it’s become a mainstay on social media, I hear it in the voices of my closest loved ones and it even stares back at me from the bathroom mirror.  It’s become practically inescapable and totally overwhelming.  And it appears to be the new norm.

What I hate most about desperation is that it clouds decision-making, muddies our sense of right and wrong, and worst of all causes us to say/do things we (should) almost immediately regret (although that’s not always the case.)  And “desperation” has become so incredibly clever.  Nowadays, it masks itself as “urgency,” “FoMO” (fear of missing out) and even “self-righteousness”…often times creating an anxiety that holds us captive.  This type of desperation not only leaves us hopeless but it creates fear, anger,  and sadness.  Desperation puts us in situations we could have never imagined…poisoning ourselves and everything around us.  Numb and cowering like a defenseless animal, we can only respond by lashing out at one another or internalizing our darkest fears.  When these feelings reach their peak, one is left feeling incredibly alone.  And yet, we keep coming back to the same well.  Doing the same things.  Repeating this frantic pattern over and over.

Where is the faith, the peace, the hope?  As a Christian, I think it’s in the same place it’s always been–Jesus.  I’ve noticed that as our culture continues to distance itself from God…the only truly content people I can find are those who consider themselves followers of Christ.  In fact, one of the reasons I was so drawn to Christianity was the sense of peace that Jesus offers.  Picture the most devout person you know and I’m willing to bet that person just exudes peace.  Shining, content, grace-filled peace…in abundance.  The kind of peace we hope to capture for ourselves.

We’ve been conditioned to believe that peace is elusive…only attainable after years of practice.  We’ve been told that peace is for the enlightened, those who have achieved some higher level learning.  We’ve been advised that peace is for the naive.  And we’ve been warned that peace simply cannot exist.  And I think that’s exactly what the world wants us to believe.

There are no quick answers here, only prayer.  Distancing ourselves from desperation requires discipline and personal growth.  I imagine it’s a lifelong endeavor, but one well worth every effort.  I refuse to drink from the world’s cup and fall prey to these desperate times.  I will continue to seek out those whose grace-filled examples serve as encouragement and inspiration.   And I fully plan to surround myself with only His perfect peace.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Romans 15:13