No Place OR Space to Sing (A Life Interrupted)

Grief is just love with no place to go.  —Jamie Anderson, author

Not many know this about me, but I love to sing…and I sing all the time!  I have a deep love for all types of music…popular songs from the radio, church hymns, TV theme songs, little ditties from musicals, you name it—I’ve even been known to make up my own songs!  But here’s the thing, if we’re going to get real here, my love for singing is CONDITIONAL as I rarely sing in front of others.  And while I wouldn’t necessarily categorize myself as shy (more of an introvert…and yes, there is a difference,) I do come from a musical family so I think I may have some skill (?), it’s just that my love for music and singing, in particular, is a pastime (a pleasure) just for me.  

When the pandemic began and the Stay at Home order took effect, most of us found ourselves quickly adapting to our new circumstances and reorganizing our lives to accommodate working from home and for those of us with kids, the pros and cons of distance learning.  Since I already work from home I had become very used to having the entire house to myself from 8am-3:30pm every day during the week.  These hours, which I regretfully took for granted, allowed me to work, meet with clients, volunteer, and establish a schedule with plenty of introvert time…in other words, a place and a space to sing.  

During the first few weeks of the shutdown, I barely noticed the lack of song in my life.  With everyone homebound, daily life was consumed with trying to find a new rhythm, learning the ins and outs of Zoom meetings, and checking in on loved ones.  No singing with the bedmaking or laundry.  No singing while making a lunchtime sandwich.  No songs at the coffee pot.  Without kid pick-ups and drop-offs, travel to meetings, or even just outings for shopping, my drive-time concerts ceased, too.  It’s not that I wasn’t plugged in or without access—I felt like I was constantly connected to my iPhone and my earbuds were practically glued to my ears at all times!  The reality was that I just couldn’t find a time or a place to sing.  In some ways, it was like our average size home transformed into an HGTV tiny house overnight.  A tiny house with no place to sing.

I’m not sure how real singers manage, but for myself, I have to be in the mood to sing.  Singing is not something that I can just turn on or off.  Aside from being in a place to sing there are so many things to consider.  Music genre, tempo, and playlist.  It shouldn’t be this complicated and so if this sounds like it is, it’s just me.  This is my way.  Complicated.  And it’s not that I stopped listening to music during these early days of the pandemic, it’s just that I couldn’t sing.  Maybe, more like a feeling that I shouldn’t sing.

Easter came and went.  My birthday came and went.  Still no singing.  Then at the beginning of May, both my parents tested positive for COVID-19.  I’m going to state the obvious.  You need air to sing, and suddenly there simply was no air.  Up to this point, all the emotions that accompany a pandemic (stress, anxiety, weariness) were an undercurrent for me.  I’m a realist, I understood the risks when all this began.  I was not naive to think that our family would go untouched.  Yet, I worked hard to balance faith over fear.  With their diagnosis came a heaviness and a weight of worry and concern.  As my father recovered, my mother’s condition worsened…eventually she was hospitalized.  Like I said, you can’t sing without air.

My mother’s time in the hospital was filled with ups and downs, hope and trepidation, good days and bad days…and finally, the worst day.  

Nothing prepares you for grief. The day following her death, I found myself for the first time in many weeks alone in the car.  Settled in for a four-hour drive, I finally had a place to sing.  My first inclination was to turn on the radio, but it wasn’t to be.  Although I had a place to sing, there was just no space in my heart to sing.  Instead, I drove in silence.

In the past two months, I have experienced a vast array of emotions.  Some days have been a complete blur, as the time has both flown by and stood eerily still. As much as one can after loss, we have settled into the uncomfortable and are moving forward, it is the only option. Today, finding a place and a space to sing still remains challenging, but thanks to my daughter’s shared love of musicals (and the absurdly catchy “Hamilton”), I am again slowly finding my voice.  

Ironically, on my way to pick Casey up from soccer practice last week, the song “Drinking Problem” came on the radio along with a flood of memories.  My mother, who never had a beer in her life, loved this song!  My sister and I discovered this interesting tidbit while driving with her to my grandmother’s 90th birthday party last fall.  We were floored to learn that she knew every single word and wasn’t afraid to sing it out.  Through tears, neither was I.  In her memory, a place and a space to sing.

The Lord is my strength and my shield; in Him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song, I give thanks to HIm. —Psalm 28:7

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

IMG_3392

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

KEEP CALM, Summer’s Coming (15 Days of Sunshine-Inspired Songs) SONG 6

Sometimes the best vacation is a staycation.  –author unknown

I love the movie, “The Wizard of Oz,” for many reasons…but especially for the line,”there’s no place like home.”  It’s just so true.  Of course, one never knows just how much they love home until they move away.  At least that’s how it was for me.  That’s why this next song made my summer music playlist.  I can remember coming home to visit my parents and my dad blasting this song on repeat FOR HOURS AND HOURS in the garage.  The funniest thing was that no one complained.  In fact, there were many times that I caught family members singing along!

“Heaven” by Los Lonely Boys came out in the summer of 2004.  I was in my late 20s, married with one child…and I was pretty much anything but hip.  But there’s something about this song that just makes you feel cool–regardless of age.  “Heaven,” written by a trio of brothers from Texas, captures a laid back summer vibe with its infectious chorus.  Peaking at No. 16 on the Billboard Top 100, the tune went on to No. 1 on the adult contemporary charts for 16 weeks.  Interestingly enough, the song also registered on the country music charts, too.  The song eventually led to two Grammy nominations and one win in 2005.  Their biggest hit to date, this song set the tone for so many that summer.

It doesn’t take much for me to remember that afternoon at my parent’s house.  It’s always a party when we visit!  Lots of family, food and laughter.  I can still see my son (a toddler at the time) working his dance moves outside in the garage with my dad.  Whenever I hear “Heaven” it puts a smile on my face and I am grateful for both summer and a place to call home!

Up Next:  SONG 7…”That’s when I had most of my fun….”

Parents are Perpetual LOSERS (Looking for the Win Column)

“The first 40 years of parenthood are always the hardest” – Unknown

I guess it’s fair to say that we’ve hit the “rocky stage.”  It’s the craggy valley where your kids try your patience, serve up dozens of complaints, defy you at every turn, accuse you of the most outlandish things (like purposefully ruining their lives!) and all before Cheerios.  I believe the marketing industry categorizes this phase of adolescence as “tween,” but that sounds a little too benign for this particular stage of development.  And while I’m not sure how we got here, (as far as I can tell) there are no posted signs for the nearest exit.  The most baffling part (at least for me) is that just when I think things can’t get any crazier and I start wondering who these children REALLY belong to, I find myself the recipient of a hug and a warm smile.

04-ecardSo what’s up?  It’s the same old story.  Only it seems all the more confusing since I’m the Mom actually living through it.  I feel like the victim of some kind of psychological warfare, thus making it hard to balance what I know is age appropriate behavior with these outrageous episodes.  I know enough to realize that I wasn’t the perfect child.  Yet, I still seem to think that on so many levels I had to be a little easier than my two kiddos.  “Can I have this?  Can you get me that?  If I do this, then will you…” (fill in the blank with some outlandish request), followed by, “Do I have to?” and “You CAN’T make me!” It’s like we stepped back in time and I’m the mother of toddlers again.  Suddenly, the automatic kid response to everything is “No” accompanied with eye rolling (that’s new) and foot stomping.  I shudder to think of what might happen if the two actually got along long enough to conspire against my husband and I.  My sweet, darling daughter often takes her cues from her older brother which only seems to compound the problem.  And whoever said that boys were easier than girls doesn’t know squat about my household.  So what’s a Mom to do?

Basically, I pray a lot.  I try to understand where they’re coming from and channel my own tween years.  I take a deep breath and sometimes I actually have to ESCAPE to my happy place.  I remind myself that parenting is not easy.    In fact, it’s pretty much a thankless job.  And I think that’s the part that bothers me the most.  That’s the part that hurts so much.  The lack of gratitude.  These children have EVERYTHING.  I’m not just talking about material things, these children absolutely have the whole, wide world laid out before them!  My brain knows that their lack of gratitude isn’t something I should take personally, but still my heartstrings can’t help but feel heavy and pulled and sometimes even FRAYED at the end of the day.  It’s tiresome, worrying and basically not much fun.

On bad days…well, it’s bad.  Good days (as in 24 continuous hours of bliss) are hard to come by.  That’s why I’m trying to hang on (and find hope in) the little things.  I’ve secretly started calling these rare occurrences “Mom-tastic Moments.”  They’re the small victories that I tuck into my heart and hold on to for dear life.  They stack up like this….

win column

Like with anything, the good times are unpredictable and unscheduled.  The outrageous moments seem to happen at the most inconvenient times.  And since this parenting thing doesn’t come naturally to me, I have to call upon my own life experiences to get by…and sometimes that makes for a parent-child disconnect.  For example, I remember how much my husband laughed when he overheard me telling our newborn, “If this breastfeeding thing is going to work out, you’re going to have to learn to FOCUS.”  Needless to say, my baby didn’t choose to listen to me (even at two days old) and we had to move on to bottle feeding.  Short-term loss, long-term gain (the kid had to eat right?)  And many years later, my rational approach to life still gets trumped by these two irrational beings.  I’ve read all the books, researched and googled every problem, and (in desperation) I’ve even tried to reason with them!  Most of which has gotten me nowhere.  So while I’m still neck-deep in this motherhood thing, here’s What I Now Know (WINK) about parenting:

  • THERE’S POWER IN NUMBERS.  Don’t go at this parenting thing alone.  I know the two parent household isn’t the norm for everyone, and that’s okay.  As much as you can, involve the other parent, both sets of grandparents, aunts, uncles and even trusted friends.  Role models do not have to be blood related.  Many times things that I have harped on my kids about become an “aha” experience when the same advice comes out of the mouth of an adult other than myself.  I’m way over feeding any sort of parenting ego…if there’s someone else who can aid my efforts and serve as a voice of reason, then by all means 🙂
  • MAKE YOUR EXPECTATIONS KNOWN.  Not all things go as planned, but I’m slowly finding that if I speak up about what I expect from my kiddos then at least we’re all on the same page (if only for a brief second.)  No–this doesn’t mean everything will go perfectly, but it’s better than having that horrible conversation after everything has gone wrong only to hear your child say to you, “Well, why didn’t you tell me that’s what you wanted in the beginning” or “I didn’t know that’s how it was supposed to go down.”  Although they sometimes act like three-year olds, I find that things go a lot smoother when I approach them with clear “big kid” expectations.
  • DON’T TAKE EVERYTHING PERSONALLY.  This is probably the hardest one.  I really try to live by the golden rule.  I’m not sure this is a priority for my kids…and I have to remind myself to cut them some slack.  Science reminds us of all the growth and development that takes place in a child’s mind.  Researchers have proven that a “mature,” functioning brain (complete with a rationale for risk taking) doesn’t exist until one’s early 20s.  Obviously, they’re not going to be perfect.  I often remind myself (and them) that we all have feelings, words and actions both speak volumes, and that we’re a family that LOVES each other.  Some days are better than others.
  • IT’S OKAY TO BE A LOSER.  This one is going to need some clarification.  Remember how I mentioned short-term loss, long-term gain?  That’s parenting in a nut shell.  We lose a lot in this exchange:  sleep, control, time, energy, money, arguments…and the list could go on and on.  The gains don’t typically take place in the parenting trenches.  Often times they come much (much) later.  It’s a miracle to me that any of us signed up to do this! But then I think about the gains:  smiles, hugs, love, and eventually…appreciation, respect, and wisdom 🙂  This is big picture stuff, and the big stuff never is (and maybe shouldn’t be) easy.
  • CALL YOUR MOM (a lot.)  She has a way of putting things into focus.  My mom reminds me that I’m not the first mother to go through this and that it’s all NORMAL.  I need to hear it and you probably do, too!  Mothers who have graduated into “grandmotherhood” have an insight and a perspective that just cannot be matched.  Besides, acknowledging your mother’s hard-earned wisdom is a heartwarming way of showing your mother how much you love and appreciate her…even if it took you decades to get there!  No one person has had more influence on my life than my mom…and she deserves to know that!

I am far from the perfect parent.  There are still days when I’m as far away from the win column as any one person can get.  I lose my cool more often that I like.  But, like most of us, I’m in it for the long haul–these kids have my whole heart 🙂  For some crazy reason, (as irrational as it sounds) I wouldn’t trade it for the world.  And when my children are 40…well, maybe (just maybe) I’ll get that win column tally mark I’ve been waiting for….  Hope you get yours, too!

😉 What I Now Know (W.I.N.K.) is a recurring entry on this blog.  The idea of WINK as an acronym popped into my head the other day while I was doing laundry.  You see, aside from being a slave to housework I actually have quite a bit of knowledge filed away in my overworked brain.  While I don’t claim to be an expert on anything, I know something about a few subjects that just might be worth sharing.  And just like that this new blog idea was born–WINK (What I Now Know).  I hope to share a little bit of what I’ve learned as a daughter, sister, friend, wife, mother and all-around regular, ordinary girl.  Look for ongoing posts, but What I Now Know (as a busy wife and mother) is not to promise weekly entries because life happens– and it usually happens when I want to blog!  (Here’s where if I could wink at you, I WOULD.)

Lest We Forget

11988726_429047497291597_5725020903439229141_nI was not anywhere near the tragedies of 9-11…at least not physically. We watched the events unfold on television while sitting on a couch in our tiny apartment on a seminary campus just north of San Francisco.  Like most of the country, we sat dumbfounded.  No one spoke.  Everyone cried, including my newborn son.  It was a lot to take in.  Clearly the world had changed.  I’m certain I will never forget that day…and yet I do.  We all do.  It slips in and out of our thoughts as we Americans seek routine and demand normalcy.  And then, we remember again.

My mother-in-law, Karen, woke us up with the news that day.  Given the three-hour difference between New York and California, my husband and I were still sleeping.  Karen was helping to care for our newborn son (she had been up feeding the baby) and held him in her arms when she came into the bedroom.    I remember her voice, mostly a whisper, saying, “You have to see this,” as she ushered us into the next room.  It didn’t take but a moment for us to realize that this was not good news.  Over the next few hours we watched news coverage of our country being attacked.  Like a bad movie, it all seemed so surreal as report after report showed one plane crash and then another and another.  Time stood still.

Eventually, there were phone calls.  Lots of phone calls.  While the East Coast was under attack, it didn’t take long for family and friends to try to reach out to one another…making sure everyone was accounted for.  Living in the Bay Area, it occurred to us that San Francisco could easily be on a target list.  I tried to put it out of my mind, but looking at my baby, Sean, I remember thinking THIS WASN’T THE PLAN!  If you know me, you know I have these random (and possibly irrational) thought outbursts.  Sean and I had already been through a bumpy pregnancy, a scary delivery, followed by two hospital stays and he wasn’t even two weeks old yet.  I cried.  What kind of a world was this?

Panic is an interesting emotion.  It builds upon itself and opens the door to sadness, fear and anger.  Nothing seemed right.  Immediately, I prayed for those at the scene.  I prayed that there would be survivors.  I prayed that help would arrive on time.  I prayed for justice.  I worried about kids who were at schools and people on the freeway trying to get home.  I especially prayed for those in the air.  Eventually, we learned that Steve’s uncle’s flight was diverted to Canada.  My mother informed me that large passenger planes had been forced to land at the small airport in the tiny, Kansas town where I grew up.  Everyone was on heightened alert.  And this is where we stayed emotionally, not just for the day…but for days and days which eventually stretched into weeks.

There is another memory that I will forever carry with me about this particular time in our nation’s history.  On the way to church the next week, there were armed soldiers on the Golden Gate Bridge.  Dozens of them.  The beauty of this national landmark and the breathtaking scenery surrounding it took a backseat to the reality of life in the United States at that moment.  My heart sank.  Would it always be like this?  Could we find our way back?  Would anything ever be the same?  I know I was not alone in asking these questions.  Yet, it’s at times like these where we find our faith and ultimately our strength.  That Sunday we praised, prayed and sang to an all-powerful, loving God.  This, I will always want to remember.

America is a great nation, founded on wonderful principles that continue to fill its people with a sense of pride and purpose.  Our country rallied.  We made plans, sought out ways to ensure the safety of our people, and moved forward.  Some would say that THIS IS the American way.  The days since have not always been easy.  The threat of terrorism has become the new normal.  And we’ve had to adjust.  The world is different and we are different.  A swell of nationalism permeated every part of our country during those times.  Many laid aside their differences as we came together in prayer and resolve.  In the following months and years much was sacrificed to apprehend those responsible for this unbelievable tragedy.  The events of that one day dramatically affecting every part of American life.

Unfortunately, in the years since the attack we have seen that sense of unity erode.  Nowadays, America is known for its political infighting.  Activists of all kinds have sought to divide the people in countless ways.  Those spewing hate have managed to turn neighbors against one another.  Agendas have created word wars and many have been hurt…even killed.  All of this within our own borders while the threat of terrorism still looms large.  I hate what happened to our country on 9-11, but in remembering the tragedy itself we can find hope.  Today (on the anniversary,) in every way and shape imaginable WE REMEMBER.   Today, at every turn we recall the significance of this day and remember the lives lost.  Today, we seek to honor and recognize the true heroes among us.  Today, social media is filled with symbolism and pride as we cannot and will not forget what has happened.  Surprisingly, I find comfort in this type of remembering.

I’m certain I will never forget that day…and yet I do.  We all do.  It slips in and out of our thoughts as we Americans seek routine and demand normalcy.  And then, we remember again…lest we forget.

9-11 Timeline

When pain is to be borne, a little courage helps more than much knowledge, a little human sympathy more than much courage, and the least tincture of the love of God more than all.  –C.S. Lewis

“Eye” Opening (A Lesson in Perspective)

The fingerprints of God are often invisible until you see them in the rearview mirror. -Levi Lusko

It had been a long season…one of more “downs” than “ups.”  Sometimes life is like that.  They say that a mother is only as happy as her unhappiest child…and, wow, do I get that now.  Still, I held out hope (even if it was just the tiniest glimmer.) I had been looking forward to this day, a day where we could all unceremoniously start a new chapter.  It had arrived…without fanfare and without jubilation.  Only numbness and fatigue.

I had gotten so used to the old pattern, the barely breathing pattern where the emotions were so close to the surface that it was practically a miracle if no one noticed.  The questions still resounded in my head, “if only…could I have…and what if?”  Pointless questions really.  I had gone over them a thousand times in my mind. Day after day.  I prayed.  And I kept praying.  I trusted that the lesson would reveal itself.  Maybe.  Someday.

In the quietness of that afternoon I found myself searching out a needle and thread.  Crossing a “finish line” meant that I could now tend to things that I had put off.  The scattered stuffing of the basement tiger could no longer be set aside.  I asked, “Don’t you think it’s time we got rid of this?  Maybe it’s time to throw the tiger away….”  No.  It was a gift.  It was still useful.  It was a part of the family.  In reality, it was huge, it had a hole, it was getting stuffing EVERYWHERE.

When I finally found the sewing supplies I needed, I headed downstairs.  Needle in hand I realized that I forgot to bring my reading glasses.  “There’s no way you’ll be able to thread the needle without them,” the voice in my head noted.  Uggghh.  I tried any way.  Nope.  Tried again.  Ain’t happenin’.  On the third attempt I adjusted my perspective.  Moving the needle in front of the golden belly of the tiger changed the background just enough…allowing me to focus.  Suddenly the eye that had eluded me stood out clear as day.  The black thread easily went through.  Victory.  (I needed that.)

I stitched up the stuffed tiger and ran my fingers over its new battle scar.  Not bad.  For the most part, the new stitches were practically undetectable…that is until the last few.  Probably where the hole started, I thought.  Damaged faux fur, but totally fixable.  With the right perspective…totally fixable.

For I know the one in whom I trust.  And I am sure that He is able.  2 Timothy 1:12

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