Begin Again

Begin Again

And you throw your head back laughing like a little kid

I think it's strange that you think I'm funny 'cause he never did

I've been spending the last eight months
Thinking all love ever does is break and burn and end

On a Wednesday, in a cafe, I watched it Begin Again.

These words from the Taylor Swift song, Begin Again spoke to my heart this week. Beginning again is hard, was hard. It's been nearly 20 years of marriage with this man and a few carefully placed words from a song can still take me right back to those moments when I fell in love with him and realized there might be a new beginning, even for me.

When a relationship ends it's never simple. It's never painless. You are left with baggage to sort through any which way you slice it. Buried in the luggage of the past is blame. Usually enough to go around and bad decisions. If you have ever made a bad decision or maybe two, you know what I mean. I was there once.

When I had began dusting myself off, I felt like possibly the weakest, dumbest woman to ever walk the earth. I didn't have a family tree filled with happy marriages. I didn't even know many happily married people so I wasn’t really surprised by the ruins I saw all around me. At just 24 years old I believed all love ever did to a person was break, burn and end. I had decided that love and marriage was not for me. The only men in my life would be Jesus and my son. I had a Jesus take the wheel series of events that brought me to this place.

I would be single, probably forever. I didn’t trust any man and I think I trusted myself any less. Yep, that’s how I was going to do it.

Then, this man walked back into my life.

His laughter was contagious and it still is. He actually throws his head back, he laughs with his whole body and it fills the room. He was born to be joyful. I remembered that there was a time in my youth I was joyful too. Then, everyone thought I was hilarious, a class clown. But, just a few short years into adulthood had drained the silly string right out of my spirit. He made me laugh. He made me rediscover my own sense of humor, my sarcastic streak and he thought I was funny. I had forgotten so many pieces of who I was. As this first piece of me began to come back to life I started to feel like myself again.

He thought I was smart. I'd been beaten down for so long, treated like a second class citizen and made to feel as inadequate intellectually as you can imagine. Thinking about it now I can't even understand how I got to a place where I allowed another person's opinion of me to define me this way, but I did. It's a slow process, like the old analogy about boiling a frog, I just didn't feel the heat until it was too late.

Here was a man I respected, admired. I knew him to be educated, more so than I and yet he thought I was smart. weird. After some time in our courtship he said, off handedly almost, that I was the smartest person he'd ever met. I couldn't even process that kind of affirmation.

What came as the most startling surprise of all was the way he expressed his love, his affection for me. Love has always been a verb for him, from day one. He would get up hours earlier than he needed to just to bring me breakfast before work where I began at 7 am. He would notice things I liked and he would pick them up for me. He listened when I talked and he would come back days later and ask me how things went or how it had worked out.

He did the strangest thing, he He got permission from my boss once and borrowed her keys to decorate my work for my birthday in a crepe paper explosion. He would leave notes and gifts in my office, play practical jokes on me. He left notes on my car. He would draw pictures for me and fax them to me all day. He bought me flowers and cards all the time. He wrote me poems. What? Is? Happening?

This man was head over heels in love with me. It was unspoken, it was only expressed in acts of love. He treated me as if I were a treasure, someone to be cherished, and worthy of his time, affection, attention and sacrifice.

I fell in love with him when I first set eyes on him but I didn't acknowledge it. He was tall, handsome, sexy, funny and made me feel at ease immediately.

I couldn't allow myself to fall for him. I had sworn off men. I rejected him for a good while. I promised him, he would be my very best friend but I couldn't ever be more.

I had two little ones. They were my whole world. My priority. I’d already messed so much up. The last thing I would ever do was to take a chance on someone for my own happiness. No.

He persisted. He said he would wait and he did.

In that time, he was my rock. He was the man I could depend on any time day or night with any need. He was my emotional support. He was my closest, dearest friend. He was the crazy-fun friend of mom's that my children adored. He was a jungle gym for my young son to climb on and play video games with and a master at playing baby dolls or Blue's Clues with my baby girl. He was content to be someone in their lives they could count on, he was perfectly happy being Steve. He didn't want to change them, discipline them or fix them. He just loved them and thought they were amazing. He was right.

Every wall in my heart was broken down, I was in love. I was scared to death of it. I was in love, true love for the first time in my life. I didn't know love like this existed. Honestly I don't know if many people know the kind of love I'm talking about. Unspoken. But as real and as essential as the air around me. All that was left was thin fa├žade of fear and doubt. A paper mask.

He asked me out on a "date". I laughed because we spent most all our free time together already. He moved in closer and kissed me and asked me again. I told him, something we said often, "I love you, you know that, you're my best friend" then I said, "and if you told me you wanted to date a girl like me with all this baggage I would tell you run! You've never been married, you're young. You do not need a lifetime of complications."

His response, changed the course of my life.

"He said if by complications, you mean the kids, they are not complications. They are perfect. I want them too." He said, "I don't want to change you or them. I’m not goint to pretend like I know how to raise kids, I don't. I don't know anything about it. But you do." (and here is the part where the ground underneath me shook) He said, "You're the best mother I've ever seen. I don't know anyone who loves their kids more than you do. You are already a family and I just want to be part of it."

My husband is also a writer, a better one than me truth be told. He knows how to communicate, writing dialogue is his strong suit. He crafts words that pierce your soul. He was taking his best shot at getting through to me and he knew what he needed to say and how he needed to say it to me. He had run it through in his head till it was right.

And that was the last time I ever resisted him.

Our love story moved quickly. We had known each other since high school, our best friends had gotten married. We were neighbors. We'd been friends for a long time, best friends for a year. Once our “couple hood” was established he proposed not long after and we have been living our happily ever after every single day since.

How can I describe to you how much I love him? Our love has grown into something so beautiful. We are passionate about each other still. Even more than in the early days. We crack each other up, we are the very best of friends. We date, we have adventures, we try new things, we are complete geeks and we celebrate our Geek Life together proudly.

I can't stay mad at him. I try.

I know it's hard to imagine he ever does anything wrong but he's still a guy! I look at his face and he says he's sorry - and he always says he's sorry - because again, he's amazing and how can I be mad at him? I see 20 years of love and sacrifice written in his face. I would forgive him anything and I know I would never ever need to forgive him anything of consequence.

We are devoted to one another. Faithful without question, beyond reproach. We are open books and we hide nothing. We share everything.

If I haven't regaled you enough with the character and love of the man I get to call sweetheart let me tell you the rest of the story?

After a year of marriage he saw how hard it was for me working and managing the home and kids. I had some health issues I was struggling with as well. He wanted to provide for me in a way that let me be the mom I wanted to be and tended to my health. I made more money back then, changing the script was not going to be easy. He told me over coffee one morning that he was thinking he should join the military. Full benefits, housing, medical (which I needed) and money for him to finish school and get a Master's. Build a new life for us. A few months later it was all happening. USAF. Moving. College. Excellent Training as a Biomedical Technician.

We converted to Catholicism together during our engagement and rooted our marriage and our family deeply in the love of Christ and obedience to living as God called us to in His Word and His Church. Within two years of our marriage the kids asked if it was okay if they called him, daddy.

I asked him what he thought of it and he said, "I don't care what they call me. If they call me Steve forever all that matters to me is what 'Steve' means to them. If they know Steve is the man who will do anything for them, protect them, and love them. I'm good with Steve. If they want to call me dad, I'll work the rest of my life to earn it." He was dad from then on out and I promise you he has earned it.

It was years, maybe 3 or 4 years before he ever even asked them to clean up their toys. I did the discipline while they got to know him and love him. There was never some expectation that this is the man mom chose so get onboard and deal with it. Not at all. He knew instinctively that for us to have any chance of being a family they had to choose to love him all on their own.

Even all these years later, I take the lead on harder stuff. He is their soft place to fall. They respect him and love him. They know his values and that he backs me, so there was never a divided front. I have told him many times he should write a book on how to grow into parenthood the way he did. The kids love him, he is dad. No court ever had to tell him how much money to spend on the kids, or force him to provide for their needs, their wants, their passions, their hobbies and interests. No court ordered how much time he should spend with them. He spoiled them with time. He provided for their every need.

Life keeps coming because real love stories happen in the real world, this isn’t a fairytale, it just feels like one sometimes. Lest you think we just waltzed into a sunset. We had a war, a deployment, military separations for duty. A hurricane where we lost everything (Katrina). A diagnosis, MS. We lost 4 babies along the way but gave birth to a beautiful baby boy who is 16 now. Life has had it’s challenges.

Steve, who would tell you he was a bit lost in life when we met, has accomplished so much. He was working at a Video Store when we met up again. He has finished 2 Associates degrees, a Bachelor's, a Master's in Business and is working on another Master's presently. He is a Biomedical Field Engineer and is focused and successful. Turned out I had a little something that he needed as well and I helped him begin again too.

As I looked through the library of photos of us I can't help but notice how physically close we always are. If we could always be within arms reach of one another we would be so happy.

Our family has roots that run deep in faith, love, laughter, respect, commitment and joy. Life is not about a pursuit of happiness. What a fleeting thing to live for.

Our ideas about what will make us happy are a pale, pathetic excuse for the plans for our great joy that Our Father has for us. When I stopped seeking my ways and started seeking His I found love everlasting. I found a man who seeks His Father's will and would do much more than take a bullet for me or the kids, much more!

Instead of making lofty grandiose statements that fade he chooses instead to quietly lay down his life every single day for me, his Bride. He sacrifices unconditionally for our children. He is good and kind. He has never ever, in 20 years used a curse word even in my direction. He doesn’t make idols of hobbies, friends, vanity or ambition. He cares for me when I'm sick and he will be my side always. Only death will part us for a time. He is my king and sometimes I refer to him that way when I write (oh how some people hate the sound of that). He is, and you'll get no apologies here. I serve him. I am happy to do whatever he needs. He treats me like a queen, cherished and my joy is in loving him and raising a family that brings him honor and abiding joy.

I never imagined a love like this. I do not deserve it. I'm thankful to God who is merciful and does not give me what I deserve but instead rains grace over my life. He gave me new life in Him and a new beginning.

This is our family. Our first granddaughter, a daughter in law and new son in law in just two more months. My cup runneth over. We worked, we sacrificed, we prayed without ceasing. This was the life I was given when I got to Begin Again. Thanks be to God.

Abundant Gratitude

Ever complain? Ever feel angry or upset?

When we are frustrated or upset we gripe and moan. We tell and retell our story to everyone who will listen. We post it on Facebook and sometimes when we really let it get to us we let it penetrate every fiber of our existence. Our breathing changes, our thoughts change, our moods change. It affects our speech patterns, our patience. We alter our plans because now we don't feel like doing the thing we were going to do before we got angry. (Maybe you are picking up that I have some personal experience with this? You'd be right;)

It occurred to me yesterday as I found myself in a moment of total and complete thankfulness how very differently we approach these two polar opposite emotions.

Negative emotions hit us but so often they linger. Most often they infect and travel to every area of our physical body and spiritual being. Whereas gratefulness so often exists only in flashes. Moments of peace and joy in between the irritations of the world.

I've been working hard on mindfulness, intentional living and flipping the script on this pattern. It's not easy.

Anger is easy, so easy. Just sitting at my desk I can look around and find a dozen things to be annoyed about. Items used on my desk that weren't put away (again!) A coat and shoes left out. A device not put back on the charger, a window not closed snuggly. And don't even think about logging on to social media. With a flick of your scrolling thumb you can find 10 things to make your blood boil.

Those external factors are not impacting my peace anymore. They are external and they stay that way. They aren't allowed into the sanctuary of my heart.

I'm choosing not to poison the love and light of Christ that resides in the sanctuary of my heart. I choose instead to nourish His love with gratitude.

A long time ago I read a book, Simple Abundance and began a journey of gratitude.  Over the years I've done gratitude journals, prayer and bible studies on the topic. I believe the power of gratitude can overcome a troubled life. But it wasn't until I began to focus on Abundant Gratitude that I felt the tide turn and my deeply held anger begin to dissipate.

We manage anger in a bizarre way I think, we fuel, feed and embrace it. We share it and spew it on others. Those unfortunate enough to be driving too slowly in front of us or walking too slowly exactly where we need to be. But gratitude, gratitude we whisper in prayers, we experience with gentle sighs and we sit quietly with it.

Anger and frustration we share with everyone around us,
 but we keep gratitude all to ourselves.

Abundant Gratitude is different and what a learning process it is for me to learn to walk in life this way. Abundant Gratitude is active. It's reminding people how wonderful they are to us. It's being thankful for hundreds of simple acts of service and love the people in our lives offer every day. It's NOTICING. We take so much for granted in this life. SO MUCH.

Noticing what people have done for us is humbling. When you begin to notice how much you need others you recognize your interdependence with them. For many people that is an incredibly uncomfortable place to be. It means, you owe them. It means they have something on you! It means there may be expectations of you and your behavior.  And who wants that? If there are expectations, there can be failure.

We can try to avoid it, we can dance around it. But the only path to peace and happiness is growing in humility and growing in love. We can only grow in love when we grow in gratitude.

Abundant Gratitude isn't about what you think. It's not enough to think grateful thoughts. It's not enough to recognize them. That's Gratitude for Dummies but hey it's a start. Gratitude that grows you, stretches you, is gratitude that is lived in abundance and it's sort of the Master's Program for appreciation. Here are four ways you can increase gratitude in your family:

Speak gratitude

We must learn to speak gratitude over the people in our lives. Not only for what they do but for who they are. I have children with hearts for service. They are the most willing of helpers. I speak this over them frequently. I tell them how thankful I am for their precious and tender hearts. I will say to them, how happy I am to know that there are people like them in the world.

My gratitude becomes an affirmation for them, validation. It waters their soul as it waters mine. We speak love in our home. We never hang up the phone without, "I love you" never. So ingrained in our family is love that even when we are calling back and forth 5 times in 20 minutes working out directions or a forgotten grocery list, each brief exchange ends in "love you".  I tell my closest friends I love them on the phone. I am grateful for their friendship and I speak that to them by saying I love them. It's not enough to feel grateful. We must speak it.

Acts of Love in Return

So many acts of service are offered to us each day, particularly by the people we love and live with each day. Small acts of kindness build love and gratitude into a family. Moms. We love to care for our families. We do. Sometimes we feel unappreciated for all that we do. Our families oftentimes aren't able to connect the dots. They grow accustomed to all we do and forget that we do it out of love that is given and taken in our family. It helps to grow ourselves and our children in a gratitude that includes appreciation for these acts of service. Let me give you an example.

As we were all getting ready for bed, I asked my son to unload the dishes. He asked if he could do it the morning, but I knew I wanted to start baking and get soup on early and it would really help me if he'd unload before bed. (Normally he unloads first thing in the morning). He did this for me, without complaint. The next morning, I made him eggs and bacon and he was of course very pleased. I mean, bacon! c'mon. But when I brought his plate to the table I said, "I wanted to say a special thank you for unloading the dishes for me last night. It made my morning much easier. You are so good to help me son." And I kissed his crazy bed head. He hugged me and said it was no problem.

Our daughter has watched my husband bring me flowers for all of her life. When she was very small (5 or 6) she began to ask where her flowers were? So from time to time he would bring her flowers too. I also started to buy her flowers to let her know how much I appreciated her. As the only girl she was a great help to me over the years. Speaking gratitude over her and the boys and returning acts of love with acts of love trains them to give love but also to expect it in their relationships. As she prepares for marriage this fall she has chosen the most wonderful man. He exemplifies this love and is truly her intended spouse.

Gratitude You Can Feel

I believe this world is starving to death, spiritual death. Starving for physical acts of true, edifying, affirming love. Starving to see Christ and feel His loving arms around them. Starving to see His mercy in someone's eyes. We make the world a better place when we raise people who can go out and be this light.

As a young mom I read something that would shape my journey of motherhood. It said "every time you see your children, your face should light up". You should ALWAYS smile. It seemed elementary to me as I contemplated it.

When they enter a room and look at me, the woman who brought them into the world, they should always see the tremendous joy I felt when I met them for the first time. 

We hug a lot in our home. There are morning hugs, evening hugs, kitchen hugs, couch hugs, what did you just bake hugs, how come she is getting a hug, hugs. There are kisses and tickles of all the grown people. There is rubbing my oldest son's newly shaved head. There are smiles, silly faces and more than a few annoying habits like grabbing someone's toes and popping them. (Which is mom's least favorite expression btw) When you come into our home, I hug you. I hug you because I am so grateful that you have come. I am so grateful that you are in my life. I am so grateful to see you and spend time with you.

We laugh often. The kind of laughter that shakes the rafters. My husbands laughter is contagious. He laughs big and with his entire heart and this great big laugh has been a permission for each of the children to laugh big too. It helps that they all have a sense of humor that makes them a magnet in a group.

People are starving for touch in this world. When my server has taken care of me in a busy restaurant I will touch her hand, make eye contact and say thank you for taking such good care of us tonight. Breaking the bubble changes everything. People are physically moved and you connect on a different level with another human being. Making eye contact and speaking gratitude over strangers builds a wall of love in your chest that we need so desperately to combat the divisions and hatred the world would have us buried beneath. It takes a bit of bravery if that's not a normal way of being in the world but it will change your life.

Grateful Perspective

We approach every single event from our own unique perspective. It's ours alone and no one else has the ability to alter it in the slightest. How we process events, negative ones particularly, can have a life changing impact on our heart. A flat tire is a nuisance. It can be frightening on the interstate. It costs money. It delays us. It is a problem. I get all that. Growing in gratitude though, means you begin to see what previously you did not. You can see what was always there. A flat tire may have spared your life. The delay may have freed you for another purpose. Maybe something even though was not your priority at that moment, may have served greater priorities. The tow truck driver may be someone who is meant to be in your path. A motorist who stops to help you may have needed to feel useful and do something nice for a stranger. People random strangers may have offered prayers to you as they passed and thought, "I'm glad that wasn't me today".

Changing our perspective doesn't magically remove annoying events but it filters and processes them in a way that grows us in a positive direction. We begin to realize many events aren't good or bad independent of our reaction. An event is just an event and we can assign whatever feelings and reactions we choose. Choosing a Grateful Perspective is a powerful way to bring more love into our heart.

Most of the time I'm a "less is more" kind of girl but when it comes to gratitude, more is more.

Are You Making these Two Scheduling Mistakes?

So you know, I can lean on the hyper organized side. I love me some organization.

When we first began to homeschool 18 years ago I was very structured. If you saw my homeschool style now versus then, you'd be hard pressed to believe it's even the same person! At one point for an entire semester I had our day scheduled in 15 and 30 minute increments. Insanity. I must have been nuts back then. It was after that semester that I began to walk away from hyper structure and scheduling and discovered a way of life that focuses on rhythms as opposed to schedules. It has been blissful. The time I have enjoyed with my children and my spouse as a result is nothing short of luxurious and I wouldn't trade it for anything you could think up.

We're moms. We love schedules. I get it, I do. I LOVE planners. I love color coded calendars and colored pens, my bullet journal and menu plans. I have loved me some schedules. I am obsessed with office supplies.

Organized is not the same as scheduled.

Those tools help me organize my world in a way that frees up more time and energy because I am able to work more effectively and efficiently. This is work, running the home is my work and I treat it as such. But scheduling has a dark side and I don't just mean over-scheduling. Which seems to be the only concern people have with regards to schedules. I think there are at least two important pitfalls in scheduling people often ignore.

Does the schedule serve you or do you serve the schedule?

The first pitfall in my estimation is becoming a slave to the schedule. Women too often place themselves at the bottom of the priority list. (I may have once held the title in this event) Sometimes we have to, that's reality. But as a way of life? no. Trying to do everything and be everything to everybody at all times is an impossible task. Hear that. It is impossible. Even when you think you are killing it and you ARE Wonder Woman. I can guarantee you, something somewhere is falling through a crack. Maybe it's prayer, church attendance, exercise, health, meals, charity, kindness, time with friends, free time, play time, sibling relationships, spouse time, or getting the oil changed and the water heater drained. Stuff WILL get missed. The schedule is supposed to help us remember the things we need do to, but what we normally do is write down every single thing and fill that schedule up to the brim. That's not how a schedule should work.

A schedule that is bursting with a flurry of activity, service, fun, work even when it's all good things and responsibilities can work well for only a time. If you aren't careful you can find yourself serving the schedule. Contorting yourself like a pretzel to do it all and there are consequences. Health, both physical and mental, suffers when schedules rule our lives. Marriages are most often the silent victim of schedules. Marriages that end after 20 years often do so because couples grow apart. They end because the children's schedules drained all the time, energy, money and enthusiasm out of life and when the kids start leaving or reach high school the parents look at each other and find there is nothing left.

A schedule should be a way to free up time, not fill up time.

I used to sigh and pray for lots of too busy moms. When lots of moms would gather for coffee and chatting we would bring our planners so we could schedule activities. It was almost a competition. Oh who am I kidding it WAS a competition to see who was the busiest. Because busy equalled successful supermom, right? It was a badge of honor. I say this because it was my badge once before I gave it up.

I recall a gal who loved to regale us with all that her three kids were doing. It was clear how much she loved her family. No one doubted that and it was clear how important she felt by doing all this stuff for them. I watched her get lost in it all. She was frazzled, she neglected self care, her marriage, her friendships, and her faith life to be SuperMom. Attempts to encourage to scale back, skip the specialty teams, and tourneys were lost on her. (Side note: a few years later that marriage ended and those kiddos long since dropped out of the sports that ruled their lives.) 

People love to talk about how busy they are, as if being busy were a means of quantifying happiness or success. Busy doesn't mean successful. It's not a virtue. It's also not very biblical. 

I don't remember in the Beatitudes where Jesus said, 
"Blessed are the Busy for they run with their hair on fire."

Not accomplishing the things on the schedule, falling behind, forsaking sleep, worship, friendships will ultimately result in feelings of failure and loss. I promise. When the schedule becomes the determining factor in your feelings of success or failure as a mom, wife, or woman the tables have turned and you are serving the schedule. 

Placing life and family on auto-pilot?

The second pitfall in my experience and observation is even worse than being over-scheduled and over-tired. When the schedule begins to lead the family we find ourselves on auto-pilot. A family can never run for very long on auto-pilot. This is how disaster creeps in.

Most families do not recognize that there are serious issues until their children enter the tween and teen years. Until then NO ONE sees it coming. It's during this time that families wring their hands and scratch their heads trying to figure out how they wound up with kids who won't talk to them. Kids who internalize their pain. Kids who are using drugs, sexually active, suicidal, choosing friends poorly, disinterested in life, dropping out of things they once loved. Parents are baffled and I do mean baffled. Utterly at a loss for how their family ended up in this place.

Sometimes stuff is just gonna happen, sure and you can't prevent everything. But many times what really happened is that the family was on auto-pilot for years, living by the schedule dictated by the activities and there were signs, red flags, warnings, clues that nobody noticed because the schedule was being kept. "We were doing all the same things we always did, so how did it go so wrong?"

People often say I had such a happy kid and then they became a teen and just changed overnight. No they didn't. They changed over time, slowly. You just realized it overnight.

Avoiding auto-pilot is more than just asking each year if your child still wants to do scouts, (which is good if you are at least asking). It's more than just not assuming they will play soccer because they always have. It's about recognizing an absolute truth.

The most important things 

are never urgent and never on the schedule. 

The most important things we do with our kids will never be considered urgent and they will never be on the schedule. If you are on the front end of this journey, consider this advice from someone on the back end (meaning I have launched two kids into adulthood with one to go).

The more important things were spontaneous. Lots and lots of listening. Talking. Snuggling. Reading. Exploring and adventures. This life produces kids that are rarely if ever bored too by the way.

The most important things were times of "carefree timelessness" with the kids. When we could do whatever we wanted because there was NO schedule pressing us to wrap it up and keep moving.

Our family is knitted tightly together. Peers and friends are an important piece of a happy, fulfilled life but they never took primacy over the love we had within our family. Sometimes all those activities shift the focus from family to friends (for parents and kids). Sometimes children get the message and learn that a happy life is a life in constant motion.

It's not.

The people who are happiest, the families who raise their kids and launch them and maintain that peaceful, loving environment are the people who find their joy in things that never make the schedule. They shift priorities so that those scheduled things are fewer and far between and real life makes up most of the time. They keep their hands on the wheel and never allow their family to go on auto-pilot.

The things that shape your children, the things that bring siblings close together, the things that build strong marriages are never on the schedule. No one pencils in: "waste away four hours on Saturday picking dandelions and making necklaces from them." 

Time can't be wasted or saved, only spent. When you look at the schedule how much time is there to simply be together - without others, without any activity to occupy them, without any money being spent, or friends to distract? Without electronics?

Planning is good. I love my binders. I have schedules for maintenance, meals, projects and such. But I abandoned exhaustive daily schedules long ago. I traded a schedule in for a rhythm. A more gentle way of life that has enough flexibility that I am not a slave to it and I won't miss the cues that life and family are changing.

Schedule appointments. Mark them on the calendar. Keep track of course of things that need doing, but if the schedule is running your life it might be time to take a step back and look at it. It's just a suggestion.

Choosing to be Found

(continued from a previous post titled So Lost)

In the couple weeks leading up to Lent I had tried to be intentional about getting to Mass, even though in all honesty my health made it difficult. I began to pray about what I was supposed to do during Lent. What should I give up, what should I add, what should I read?

At Mass Father presented each parishioner with Matthew Kelly's new book, Resisting Happiness. I felt like God had just dropped a fully charged iphone with GPS and a good signal into the wilderness for me to find my way out. I was so excited. THIS would be it. This would call me out.

I put in a solid plan for Lent and started my Lenten Journey with great anticipation, with fasting, prayer and study but my health continued to test my strength and many of the best laid plans waned and became an arduous task.

Frustrated is putting it mildly. I was trying but I didn't feel any better, my emotions hadn't changed. Why wasn't God rewarding my efforts?

About half way through the book I gave up. Not gonna dress it up and put lipstick on it, I just gave up. I found myself right back where I had been - everything is pointless, everything is stupid. I know totally mature. But that's how I felt. I was done and I was just gonna go eat worms. Everything annoyed me, everyone annoyed me. I really wasn't fit to be around people for a few days.

I think this piece of the puzzle is of note. I had largely eliminated social media when I decided to take up Lent with purpose. I removed it from my phone. I unfollowed negative people and negative sites, particularly those whose values and beliefs were so contradictory to mine. It was bliss. As I have been connecting these dots in retrospect, I recognize that it was at the beginning of this second episode in despair that I had added social media back to my phone and began to dip my toes into those negative waters again. I had abandoned the book saying to myself that I've read all his other books and there wasn't a lot of new information here so I was wasting my time and I should look for something better (pride).

It was at this point that I regained consciousness. This way of being in the world is really foreign to me. It's NOT who I am. One night in a long restless series of nights where I couldn't sleep, but I could only lie awake thinking, praying, contemplating, I became aware finally that I was in fact lost. Before this moment I would have described and did describe, my state as feeling out of sorts. I knew I was off but it wasn't until this second wave that I fully recognized how lost I was and for how long I'd been so. Half of the work of resolving a problem is defining it. How can you find your way back if you don't even know you are lost? Now I knew, I really KNEW.

It shook me. No, it scared the hell out of me. 9 months. 9 months of my life was gone. I will never get those 9 months back. 9 months of sadness, suffering, despair, feeling like God had abandoned me. 9 months. 9 months. I felt physically ill at the thought of having surrendered 9 months of my precious life to these feelings and circumstances that created them. This is not my first rodeo. I know we can't control what happens to us, we can only impact how we react to what happens to us. oops.

As I sat contemplating this newly discovered tidbit of information the next morning I thought, well, then what is He trying to give birth to? The 9 months was sort of stuck in my head. 9 months is the gestational time for a human women so what kind of little hellion is about to be birthed! I joke. What I knew was that I was not going to be like April the giraffe and allow this process to go one moment longer than required.

Just like a difficult pregnancy, an unexpected, or even "unwanted" and complicated pregnancy filled with pain and doubt is the creation of a new soul. Typically birthed into a new world (occasionally birthed into heaven) but a new soul either way exists that didn't exist before. A gift. A blessing.

What gift was God giving me in this? He brings good from everything. Count it ALL joy His Word says.

My thoughts shifted, my contemplation changed and I began to ponder the entirety of the journey. Until those moments I didn't see at all how lost I really was. I thought I was managing it all okay - yeah, not.

The next day I returned to the book Christ had quite literally placed in my hand. I picked up exactly where I'd left off and it was like a different book. Everything was relevant. Everything was God speaking directly to me. Everything began to make more sense and what was once an arduous chore seemed like a gift. Even this second wave was obviously a part of the plan.

I began to open my mind back up to the possibility that once again through suffering Christ was teaching me, forging me, shaping me. Man, I wish there were an easier way but there just isn't. I'm really okay with that because the end result is sort of miraculous.

Here I am in the 10th month of my own Odyssey. I'm still in the wilderness but I have stumbled upon the trail that leads me back home and I'm taking it. Since it's discovery, each day, each hour is somewhat of a revelation to me. I'm having to go backward to go forward some. Revisiting some things to process them in new ways. I think the way forward is clear but I'm aware I might still lose my way so I'm dropping breadcrumbs to find my way back -writing, keeping my prayer journal, staying the course even if it's not how I feel at the moment with Mass, prayers.

I can't help but think of others who are lost. I know and love people who have spent a lifetime lost. Decades of their life lost. Who am I that I should be found? It's almost like survivor's guilt. But here is what I know about being lost from this experience and every other I have ever had.

My Father is grieved and pained at the loss of even one of us who drifts away and is lost to Him for any amount of time. In most of our lives we have encountered God. We have had the opportunity to choose a life of following Him, or charting our own course. Free will, it's ours. If we choose Him, He gives us Grace. If we choose Him, His light begins to shine in us and it will always be there if we need it to light the path. But it's not a one shot deal. It's not a one time decision. It's just not. We cannot turn our back on the Light and expect it to light the way.

Life is a contact sport. It will hammer away at us. The enemy of God, will deploy every weapon he has to cast us into the abyss. We will get lost. Time and time and time again we will get lost because life isn't so short when you are in pain, it is a long, long life.

If we choose to return to the Light and the Hope of our Salvation we will always find our way. If we fix our eyes on Him, He will lead us out of the wilderness and into the valley. To peace, still waters and the comfort of His love. It is a choice. When we seek Him, He never fails. It might take time, His time - not ours. It might not look the way we think it should look, it rarely does. We might need to break things like pride, vanity, self interest but He WILL come and lead us home. If we seek Him. If we cooperate. Like our initial yes, we must continue to seek Him daily. We must seek Him when we are lost. We must seek Him when we are suffering. We must choose Him ten thousand times in those moments. Otherwise we will find ourselves lost and we will stay that way. Lost in great ways and small. Being lost is awful. It's gut wrenching, lonely. Look for the Light, choose to be found.

So lost.

I've been so lost. Not the kind of lost I'm used to either. Normally when I am lost in my interior life, I have complete confidence that I'm in a temporary state. Even without knowing how I will be found, I have no doubt that I will in fact be found. The assurance that I will eventually turn up and be set on the right path again affords me great freedom. So when I am lost, in my typical sort of lost I tend to enjoy the journey. I look around, I take it all in and I'm in no hurry to get back. Normally my lost tends to be the most pleasant and unexpected of detours.

This happens to me in my physical life as well as my interior life. Many of the most wonderful afternoons my husband and I have had were because we went on a drive, got lost, found great shops, good food and spent carefree timelessness with one another (as Matthew Kelly calls it).

Having the state of lost be a positive experience in the past left me wholly unprepared for the brand of lost I have experienced this last year. This lost is not highlighted with random inspirations or recoveries and healing. It is not entertaining not in the least. I've spent at least 10 months lost. This has been awful.

All I can do is think of those I love and those I don't even know who are lost in this way. I cannot fathom the depths of the despair they must be feeling to waste away in this space for years, decades even.

In most my other "losts", I recognize pretty quickly that I am not on a familiar path. It's been a great gift to me and one I took for granted. Now I realize it was a priceless gift, a grace to have the presence of mind, the clarity of perception to simply see when I was lost. Not this time and what a sobering reality it has been.

The most lost I ever got lost while driving was when I was certain I knew where I was going and where I was, only to learn I was entirely mistaken.

What happens when you do not recognize you've taken a wrong turn and you instead proceed with confidence is that you get farther from the correct path. Whereas proceeding with caution and seeing quickly that you've lost your way allows you to return to what was familiar and begin again, with new information if for nothing else but knowing what direction NOT to go.

This lost journey I never saw coming. I was easily 3 months into it before I looked up and started asking where am I? My interior life began to spiral and not having solid footing in my own spirit left me vulnerable to so many pitfalls. The enemy attacks when you are weakest and when you have drifted from the Shepherd.

When you are lost driving or hiking, you need your wits about you to find your way. You need to be able to retrace your steps, look for landmarks, find something familiar. You need the presence of mind not to panic or give way to anxiety. But if you are lost and simultaneously experiencing an emergency, someone is hurt and needs urgent medical intervention for example, it can be paralyzing and next to impossible to calm your mind and regroup.

About 3 months into my unintentional, spiritual walkabout symptoms and complications with my health took a serious turn. Over the course of a few weeks I spiraled slowly into very poor health and was ultimately hospitalized with severe breathing obstruction. The treatment to resolve the breathing issues caused a negative domino-style effect causing intestinal bleeding and other issues.

As I think back on it I see myself trying at every turn to behave like I was accustomed to behaving when I was lost. I didn't surrender to it, I didn't think I was very lost at all. I saw it as temporary and I dismissed it without pondering the reality at all. There was so much on my plate, so much to sort through and my resources were limited by my physical health. I didn't see that there was a perfect storm brewing and I was about to get a tossing.

I pride myself on being strong. Not physically strong, mentally strong. Not some false bravado of strength but the kind of strength that is borne out of having been tested. Harmed, violated, betrayed, abandoned kind of tested. Most of the time, I can handle mental challenges. I'm afraid that pride was my downfall.

So adept at relying on my own strength of mind to carry me through difficult times I was too prideful to recognize that the reason I continued to be lost and the reason I was becoming even more lost at every turn was because I was leaning on my own understanding. I was not calling out God to save me. I wasn't a babe in the woods shouting from a desperate place in my soul for Him to rescue me.

Nope. Rather I looked around and thought, I've got this. I've always got this. I don't need to stop and ask for directions.

My internal fortitude, my mental competence or whatever you want to call it, is not a product of anything at all that I have done. It is a Grace. I've always know this and always considered it such. I've never lost sight of where it came from. Without Grace I would be dead. No doubt in my mind, I walked up to that cliff and walked back. I would be dead without the Grace of Jesus Christ in my life.

But somewhere along the line last year, I guess I figured Jesus needed a break. Basically I think in some way last year when times got challenging, I said Jesus let me take the wheel and you take a nap. And well we know how that turned out. Lost and more lost.

When I was in the hospital my husband and family were there almost the entire time with me. I'm so grateful and blessed by them. But during the second hospitalization I found myself craving alone time. I needed to pray and I needed to cry. I needed to be vulnerable in a raw and painful way and I needed some privacy to do it. Trying to shake my husband for a few minutes is almost impossible. Let me tell you that fella is dug in like an Alabama tick. When gentler attempts failed to shake him, I became testy and upset.

You don't know this about me but I'm not someone who welcomes public displays of painful emotions. Happy cries, yes. Ugly cries I don't like to cry in front of anyone. When I am upset. It's a vulnerability that I share with very few people. I could feel myself reaching a breaking point and I was finally able to send my husband on an errand and get the moments that I needed to break down.

<insert ugly cry and pleas to God to help me>

The emotional release helped some in the moment but I didn't feel any less lost. So weird. Usually that helps more. I was discharged and began recovery. Still lost. Recovery gave way to a realization that I had crossed into a new low in my health. Normal had been reset and it wasn't good. It was baaaaaaad. I was drifting from moments of feeling depressed, to feeling unaffected by everything around me, as if little mattered. I began putting on a false front hoping I could resolve the issue before people noticed it was a sham and how very sad I was about my reality. Then for a few weeks it seemed to compound and compress. Compress. Like have you ever had one of those Space Saver vacuum bags? You keep adding things and adding them and suck out the air and then it compresses in on itself. It was like that. Add and compress.

Everything around me began to look as broken as I was feeling. The world is broken, relationships are broken, Mass is pointless, praying is pointless, trying is pointless, everything is stupid, I hate everything (except that I don't).

While those feelings seemed to take up most of the space in my head, there remained in my soul that little light. It was hope. It didn't come from me. My hope wasn't extinguished. It came from Christ. Even as the thoughts and fears assaulted me His still small voice reminded me that it was a lie. But I was too weary to fight. I was exhausted physically and mentally. My tank was empty. I surrendered to a phrase I just hate, "It is, what it is." It's the equivalent of "whatever". It's the anti-thesis of how I live my faith and my life.

Christmas had passed a few weeks before and I was too sick to be uplifted or enjoy it much.

Lent was coming at me quickly and I realized God was giving me landmark.

In the midst of this turmoil a lamp, a sign, something familiar appeared on the horizon - Lent, a new season in the Church and I hoped it would lead me home.

(continued in the post Choosing to be Found)

Learning about Parenting from Observing Millenials

I didn't know what my children's generation would be named when they born. My generation was called Generation X and plenty of people had plenty of things to say about us. Millennials are getting a tough rap these days. But there are many exceptions to the common attributes assigned to the Millennials. My kids and their friends are largely not accurately depicted by the descriptions we hear most. Unfortunately however, for most much of the criticism is well earned.

Millennials as we've all heard and experienced, struggle with entitlement, work ethic, self sufficiency, instant gratification, narcissism, and generally a false expectation of how the world actually works.

I recall a turning point that highlighted for me the terrible position in which Millennials now find themselves.  It was when Obamacare passed and the law of the land changed so that ADULTS can now be on their parents insurance until they are 26 years old. 26 years old! While many championed it as great progress, I recall thinking what a great disservice they were burdening young adults with and how this would only serve to continue to stunt their maturity.

Debating health care is for another time but generations before them had realities and lives at 26 that stand in stark contrast to these almost-30-years-old-living-at-home and being on mom and pop's insurance have. For myself I had moved across the country, was married and divorced with 2 kids and a career at State Farm at 26. My parents hadn't been responsible for me since I was 17 and graduated high school early.

26 is pushing 30. No one should be dependent on their parents at 26. It's crippling and the government should encourage it.

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

Human beings are brilliantly designed and beautifully created by a loving God. A God who provides. Teaching dependency at any age, at any level is destructive to their growth process. If you allow them to suffer a need like Health Insurance, let's say, you create a necessity. Necessity will drive a person to find a solution for themselves.

I've purposed this position in groups of parents of adult children and many of them will say that it's simply not true. Their child would feel no push, no drive, no urgency at all to acquire insurance. yikes!

Why wouldn't an adult feel a sense of urgency about their needs? That is a much more concerning problem and probably at the root of much more. I believe it's because they have been trained, conditioned to expect their parents to meet their needs. If the child were uninsured the parent would worry about the consequences of an illness or injury. How would they pay for care? What if they ran up expensive bills and their credit was ruined. What if they couldn't get a job or an apartment because they had bad credit? Parents, so bent on protecting junior from these consequences intercede and prevent him from ever experiencing consequences. And they are adept at it because they've been doing it a long time. Likely his entire life junior never suffered the consequences of his choices, or his mistakes. Mom and Dad thought by being angry, taking away his phone, and giving him a screaming talking to they had been firm. Nope. Not effective. Sorry.

(For the record if you have a child who can obtain insurance at their employer but using yours is cheaper and they pay their share of your premium - have at it and save the money. This is different. I'm not talking about making shopping decisions. I'm talking about those who haven't been able to turn the adult corner.)

The reality is parenting has to change if we are to avoid populating the world with more folks who aren't capable of functioning within it.

Parenting children with equal parts love and authority is a challenge. Knowing how to do something which has never been modeled for you is not easy. But we must begin to shift our methods and better prepare our kids.

It can be done. I love what worked for us as a family. It started when they were preschoolers.

Natural Consequences 

I learned this parenting through natural consequences when my oldest was only 4 years old. I was given a book that changed my life, Positive Discipline. Within a couple weeks my life, our home changed. It is so much easier to parent without screaming lectures or punitive actions. If you simply allow a child (of any age) to experience the natural consequences of their own actions, it's like a miracle. The world teaches them realities and you don't need to yell about anything. There are many principles to Positive Discipline but my favorites are:
  • Never prevent a child from experiencing the consequences of their actions. 
  • Never level punishments that are not a natural consequence of the behavior.
  • Never become emotionally entangled in the behavior.
  • Never do for a child what they can do for themselves.

There is much more to the concepts and execution but these were the ones I found the most powerful in effecting change.

Let me expound on these a bit.

Never prevent a child from experiencing the consequences of their actions. 

If a teenager uses too much data and there is an overcharge on the bill. They have until the bill is due to pay their fees. Not paying their fees would result in having the phone turned off. Maybe your solution is give them extra chores to make up for the cost? Though that's not an entirely terrible proposition the better solution would be for the child to have to problem solve this entirely on their own. The parent providing the chores and the solution is really not allowing the child to solve the problem at all. They haven't even had the opportunity to identify the problem before the parent intercedes with the solution.

How does a child who does not have a job earn money? They can. When they have to, they do. The difference in a child whose parents let them do chores for the money and a child whose parents make them hit the bricks and earn it are dramatic. The first child learns that ANYTIME they go over their data plan, they will do a few chores and the problem is solved. Having the phone turned off is never a real threat. Whereas the child who has to hustle without assistance to find work, earn and pay the money has a real world experience of losing services if they can't pay.

As an adult if you can't pay your car insurance, your insurance agent isn't going to call you and tell you what you owe and then say, "Since I know you don't have any money just come mow the grass and sweep up the office and I'll cover it for you." 

Never level punishments that are not a natural consequence of the behavior.

All day, everyday I hear parents talk about grounding their kids. Grounding a child might well be the most useless, ineffective punishment parents ever conjured up. It typically has nothing at all to do with the offense and is there is no saliency for the child after the first time. Saliency meaning, it doesn't hurt. It's not potent. They've been grounded and they have learned for themselves it's not the end of the world. Do the time and get it over with. But worst of all - worst of all in the land of why this is ineffectual is that grounding shifts the focus from the child's behavior to the parent. NOW, the parent is the bad guy. The parent is the one causing them to suffer. NOT, their behavior. It doesn't matter how many times mom barks back that you have no one to blame but yourself. The focus is instantly and irreversibly shifted and the child is robbed of the opportunity to see themselves and their behavior as the problem. Not to mention mom is usually the one who suffers most!

Even just the word grounded sets the wrong tone.

If a child leaves their new bike in the rain overnight. Some parents might fuss and yell about rust and ruin, theft and damage and then ground them to the house, or ground them from a video game, which makes no sense. Others might yell about those issues and then ground them from the bike. Which is getting closer.

The better approach would be to say, "Seeing as how you left your bike out all night. I'm not sure you understand the importance of caring for it. What could have happened? Asking the question allows the child to take responsibility for thinking of the consequences. (This is critical in predicting outcomes). A next great possibility is to ask the child what they think the consequence should be. Then, never level the consequence immediately, always tell them you are upset and disappointed and that you need to think about it. This gives the child a chance to worry. Yes we want them to worry a little bit, it won't hurt them.

A natural consequence of leaving the bike out would be not having access to the bike for a period of time until they have demonstrated that they are responsible enough to have the property again. (It might sound like grounding but it's not) I might say for the next week you will not be using your bike and I need you to come up with some ways you can share with me about how you are going to remember your bike in the future. Some system, some method to help you. At the end of the week, we'll give it a try and see how you do for a week. If you do well, then your privileges to use the bike will be returned to you.

A child who back talks or slams the door wouldn't be grounded from their phone, or grounded to their room. There is no natural connection to those things and the child lacks the ability to connect them despite how many times you shout it down the hall.

In my home, a slammed door has a very simple consequence. Loss of the door. I can take a door off the hinges like a one man pit crew at the Indy 500. You don't do it out of anger, you do it because having your own room, having privacy is a privilege. It's a gift that I provide and slamming the door is an insult and an affront to me and to what I do for you. Thus you lose the privilege. Which is what you say after you remove it. Then you say, "I don't know how long it's going to be off, I would expect a few days but it will really depend on how you behave toward me and our home. When you have had a chance to calm down and think about this, I would be open to hearing why you lost your temper so I can understand, and to an apology when you are ready to offer one."

I know it all seems wordy. But a child would much rather you yell, spank or level some punishment that they have mastered managing than to have you calmly speak to them and require them to examine their attitude. They don't want to have to talk to you and explain why they lost their temper in a reasoned way. They don't want to offer a sincere apology. That is SO much harder than being grounded for a week. But we are trying to raise thinking human beings, not reactionary, emotion driven ones.

The consequence of backtalk or rude talk is pretty simple. You need me. You need rides, money, permission to go on trips and do activities. Do they go out of your way to do nice things for the people at school or in their life who are rude to them? Insult them? Make them feel small and hurt their feelings? nope. And neither do you. The trick and frankly most parents lack the ability to do this is that you CANNOT come right back with the same sharp tonuge. You cannot react in anger. You can't get into a battle. You cannot behave as they are. You can't. If they get you to engage they have won. Resist!

Rather, when they backtalk or say something rude. You say, "If I have ever spoken to you that way I apologize. That feels awful. I love you more than anyone and for you to speak to me that way really hurts." -wait, let them react and explain how it's your fault- I don't provide money, or rides, or privileges to people who treat me that way. I'm afraid that behavior is going to have a consequence." And then no matter how they spin out of control, no matter how much they up the ante. Do not tell them what the consequence will be. But, be thinking about it! Whatever the next thing is and I don't care if it's the Championship Game, you have to tell them you are not going to be able to allow them to participate. I realize most parents won't do this if the next thing is a really huge event. So if it is huge, choose something else - NEVER bluff.

The reality is it only takes a few of these conversations to change the course entirely, and reset the bar in the relationship.

Never become emotionally entangled in the behavior.

When you lose your composure they have won. When you are angry, hurt, flustered or frustrated they have won. When they are throwing the equivalent of a temper tantrum even though they are 7 or 17 and you start having one too - it's over. Nothing productive can come from it.

For me it helped me to remember this:

Good News/Bad News

Good News! Their job is to PUSH the boundary. They must. They must push the boundary that's the only way they learn about the world and doing so means they are healthy and growing. You want kids who push the boundaries of the world to see what they are capable of!

Bad News! You are the boundary! So they are going to push you to very brink of your sanity. They are going to stretch you emotionally, spiritually, physically. You will think they are trying to break you - they are.

But when you stop allowing them to draw you into their emotional state and when you realize it's not personal, it's just what they gotta do, you begin to reclaim your sanity.

The best way to avoid being entangled in their emotions is to EMPATHIZE. You do not have to convince them that you are right, or they don't understand. You are the wall. If they don't understand the wall, that's okay. They can't understand when they are emotional anyway. But YOU can understand them. Ask questions, allow them to explain themselves, why they want something. Ask probing questions about why it's important, how does it make them feel, what worries them about it? Tell them you want to understand even if it doesn't change anything. Always seek ways to compromise within the boundaries of what is acceptable to you. Then, even if in the end they are still angry and upset, at least they know you heard them. If you do this, you grow them in empathy. You model how to communicate and care about the feelings of others even when they are emotional, or wronged.

It's always funny to me when parents are complaining about an unruly child and the parent has come completely unhinged. You can't tell who is the parent and who is the child? When they are teenagers and people are cursing and hitting things, it's insane. Life is complicated, someone has to keep a cool head. It MUST be the adult. Without exception.

Last thing about this. Be respectful. Parents are often indignant about the way their children speak to them and yet they speak to their children with venom, anger, spite, cursing and derision. If you are having a respect problem the first thing to examine is how people speak to one another in your home. How spouses speak, how sarcasm is used, how insults are veiled as humor and how much tit for tat is going on with the kids. Don't ever expect your kids to be more mature than you are - ain't happening friend.

Never do for a child what they can do for themselves

When a parent steps in and does what the child can or should be able to do for themselves you are robbing from them their opportunities to feel successful. You might as well whack 'em in the knee cap with a hammer.

This begins VERY young. If your two year old can get their shirt in the head hole by themselves, let them do it every time. If they can pick up their plate and take it to the counter, let them. If they can let the water out of the tub, let them. If they can put their socks in the sock drawer, let them. What you will find is that children from a very young age are capable of vastly more than they are allowed to do and experience. With each new skill they grow in confidence and knowledge of their environment. Parents stifle this for a couple reasons, either things aren't done perfectly or they aren't done quickly enough. Sorry. You must resist this and let them try. There is no need to over-praise a child for letting the water out the tub, but simply saying, "Good Job!" or "Thank You" is appropriate.

You want to train them to seek fulfillment in their abilities not in the praise.

Teens are capable of doing most everything that an adult can do. The reason we don't allow them are no different than the reasons we don't allow toddlers to things - perfection and time. Sadly what teens need most is self confidence and feeling of being capable and grounded to the world. In our home the teens often had at least a meal or two they could prepare and they were responsible for feeding the family one night a week. They actually loved it. Even if it was grilled cheese and soup they took pride in it.

The flip side of this coin is that when they do for themselves they actually appreciate the times when you step in and help them, make them a sandwich, help tidy up their room when it gets away from them. Helping, is okay of course.

Times Have Changed

The conversation about what millennials are lacking should be a cautionary tale to all parents. For a time in our culture the pendulum was positioned far right with harsh parenting, spanking and hard knock life methods. I was spanked often and harshly at times. And no I didn't turn out just fine. Plenty of folks more than at any other time in history are on medication for depression, anxiety and stress. While there are many causes it's fair to hypothesize that perhaps the most formative years of their life had an impact on how they manage adult life.

The pendulum swung dramatically left to feel good approaches and new theories about human development and an aversion to even saying "no" to a child. Both methods crank out adults with baggage to unpack.

A moderate approach where parents are authoritative, boundaries are firm, children are respected, rewards and self esteem are based on behavior and performance and love is offered unconditionally, abundantly and freely, has a much better chance of equipping children to live well adjusted, contented lives.

Of course there is always the wild card, and circumstances intercede in many ways. Then there is the biggest factor, I mean they do have your DNA and your spouses so who knows how they'll turn out!

Put Down the Lightning Bolt

God spoke to Joseph in dreams. For Moses it was a burning bush. For Pharaoh it was plagues and infanticide. God will speak to us gently or boldly...whatever works.

I wish I was a "speak softly to me Lord" kind of gal. I really do. But no, I need frogs and locust or as was the case this month repeated hospital visits, health crisis, potentially devastating news about my disease and almost missing Christmas to rattle my cage.

okay, okay, geez louise I'm listening.

I am listening, now, finally to what God is saying to me and I am not Pharaoh. I believe and I will obey.

2017 is going to be an amazing time for my family. My first grandchild in the summer, the wedding of my daughter in the fall. Ignoring my health is not optional.

Many things have been changed over the last few months as this reality has been revealed in ever increasing detail. You may not know but Lindsey and I sold our business, Charming Events. We sold the tangibles and kept the name in November. Lindsey is moving on to new opportunities and I was neither well enough to run it alone or desiring such.

I've left many groups, activities and obligations behind me to focus instead on my health, homeschooling William, planning the wedding, preparing for my grandchild, spending time with those I love and doing things I enjoy.

Being hospitalized twice this month took a toll on me and the possibility that my lung function is being affected by my MS, hit me like a ton of bricks. Simply being in the hospital and feeling so terrible drove the reality of being a sick person home. I cannot fix everything but everything will improve if my health improves. Everything can be at a minimum better and I believe I can be healed of much through nutrition.

I signed up today for Weight Watchers. This is a pretty big deal for me.
I'm not in denial at all about needing to lose weight and mind my health more closely.
What I have been is sick and truly unable to do anything for about the last 5 months.
Last summer I was making steady progress, walking/running and losing weight along with making better food choices.

What I have been for sometime is wholly lost in a sea of contradicting opinions and ideas about nutrition and weight loss. What I have been is at the mercy of doctors who refuse to treat me as a whole person but prefer instead to part me out like a 65 Mustang and order up prescriptions to treat symptoms instead of trying in anyway to actual heal me and improve my overall health.

What I find is that most people recommend to me what worked for them. Which I appreciate but which is not particularly useful to me in determining what will work for me. (It's like homeschool curriculum - everyone's favorite thing is what works for them. Trying to find YOUR style is the hard part and that's where I need to focus)

Products and diet plans are really no different than all the different doctors suggesting only what they know about and what they are familiar with and who do so without spending two minutes trying to understand my whole health, my nutritional needs, my predispositions, how my body processes sugars, carbs, proteins, fat and what my health conditions are and how their suggestions might complicate matters.

Most folks - doctors and well meaning others - offer solutions without any assessment. (I've seen this in the hospital so much the last month.) No faith in medical doctors to understand nutrition at all. I can't have any faith in remedies that are offered without assessment. I just can't. How can you know what to prescribe if you haven't asked any questions. And I mean whole person health and wellness questions not just the questions that make your particular solution attractive.

I've been spending some time reading and learning to understand more about all of this and how specifically it applies to my situation. A situation no else has experienced, it's unique to me.

I also know me. I know what I will and will not do. I know what I will be able to maintain as a lifestyle change and what I can pull off for a few weeks and give up. I know how I want to live my life. I know how I want my life to look and feel. I know what I want for my body and my health. I have a healthy and positive self image. I think I can figure this out now. I'm just starting but I think I can figure this out.

Weight Watchers is a means to an end for me. It's not magic beans.
I don't expect it to be. (I am however in the market for magic beans because I could SO use a golden egg laying goose about now!) What I need first is to be more mindful of what I'm eating. To track it and to begin to plan for a specific calorie count. I need the accountability of meetings. I need to replace old habits with some new habits. I think Weight Watchers is the best fit for me for this stage. Whether it will be a part of my journey long term, I don't know. But I know I need a structure and guidance and this is the best resource for me.

My vitamin and supplement game is about to get taken up a notch. Vitamin D which is so essential to my MS management is critical to the management of RAD (Reactive Airway Disease) as well. Magnesium and Potassium also need to be increased. I will continue the fish oil for my congestive heart failure along with B12 and the other supplements I take too. Daily Fiber has been very good for me but I can no longer hit and miss it. It's got to be religiously taken to help combat the lower GI issues. My pain has to be managed with something other than NSAID pain relievers as that has been attributed to the ulcers and bleeding in my stomach.

I'm very interested in homeopathic remedies, cleanses and supplements. I'm not interested in products at this time. I wouldn't know how to properly integrate them. I don't understand the ramifications to my medications and health issues and I do not have the disposable income to experiment with them given the avalanche of medical bills that's about to descend on me. I love home businesses and I love my friends who are passionate about theirs. I want you to continue to talk about it, post about and if you hear me say or mention something that you think your product can help me with, it is STILL okay to share it with me. I'll put it in my cap and I hope you will understand if my answer is no.

I have been so honored, humbled and blessed by good friends who have prayed me through this difficult time. Friends who have shared meals with my family that have truly sustained us. Friends who have called, messaged, texted and inquired through my family and who have taken time to come visit me when I've been up to it. I really love you guys. Thank you. You are family and I love you.

If you would continue to keep me in prayer as I have tests and procedures this next week I would be very grateful. If your prayers and emotional support can extend to this journey of weight loss and restored health I would be ever in your debt. I'm not even sure I can do this. It feels like climbing a mountain starting out from a wheelchair.

I feel like King Theoden in Return of the King (LOTR). When they tell him too few have come and they cannot defeat the armies of Mordor his response:

"No. We cannot. But we will meet them in battle nonetheless."

I don't know if I can do this, but I am going to do it nonetheless.

If you would like to join me in Weight Watchers I would welcome some friends to work the program alongside me. I hate that it's a new year - it feels so cliche but - oh well. What will be original is when we are still working the program in April!

I'm exploring the exercise component of this as well. For now it will need to be workouts I can do from home with my free weights, yoga mat, bands and medicine ball. I can do a lot with these. At some point I will add cardio. I might even add swimming. Whatever I do it will be what I enjoy. What I can do safely with the issues MS presents with balance and gait. And what I can afford - not springing for any expensive programs.

Okay Lord, please put down the lightning bolt, we aren't going to need that. I got the message.

I'm not her

Just a personal sharing from a difficult space that I'll leave here.

I've spent so much time crafting a life. But now pieces of it, great and small have changed, some have grown into new things and others have fallen away and I look at it and it's so strange to me. I recognize it still. It's familiar in the way you recognize landmarks from your hometown but the hometown is otherwise unrecognizable. It has all the same players, all the same love and everyone else seems completely unaware that everything is different.

I feel a bit like the Pevensie children. As if for 25 years I've been on an incredible magical journey through a wardrobe and now without meaning to I have landed myself right back where I began and life is plain and ordinary. How can that be, I'm not her?

They remember the adventure just as I do, as the most wonderful of times, but they seem to be adjusting just fine to the new normal. They run towards it. Not me. "Yeah, yeah, I'm coming, I'll get there."

I know the healthy perspective is one where I look with excitement toward the future and new adventures and place the past in it's proper perspective. I get it. I could give the appropriate advice to someone saying this and yet that same advice hits a wall and splats unceremoniously to the ground when I try it on my own thoughts.

Our life as a family, homeschooling, traveling and raising children was the very best season of my life. So much better than my childhood, infinitely better than high school and teen years. It was so good, so very good. Reaching a new season, a new chapter whatever you want to call it, has me feeling like, "but why does it have to end?" The minivan mom, going three different directions with supper in the crock pot was the best, but I have to admit now, I'm not her anymore.

Why does it have to end? I get biology. People grow up. It's not a literal question but a philosophical one, and emotional one and it begs the follow up question, what now?

People say it's my time now, but it's not. It's the weirdest of stages. It's not my time at all. I can't do whatever I want yet. I'm needed as much or more as I ever was before, with one married kiddo, one wedding to plan and teenager. It's all the work without the magic of sleeping babies in my arms. It's all the long days without snuggling with a toddler for a nap. It's learning and working without the magnificent discoveries of learning to tie a shoe, or read, or add. It's all work and no play. There is still great joy in this time but it's spaced so differently. It's fleeting and I can't hold it in my hands anymore.

I'm having no small identity crisis I do not mind telling you. Before some feminist interjects that I need a job <rolling my eyes>. I have them, and always have. I have started and operated businesses for years working from home while I raised my family. I have worked and earned and I've always, only done work I was passionate about so step off that argument, it ain't that. Work is never, could never be fulfilling enough, it could never compare to being with those little people all day. It could never compare to the bliss I found in the work of my heart. Sure, I run a wonderful business now alongside my daughter, which I love and that helps believe me, and it's work I enjoy and yet, as I turn in at night something is still missing.

So how do I fill up this time, how do I figure out who this version of me is now? Where do I find her?

Writing is something I love but I've always written about my life as mother, homeschooler, housewife. What is my story now? Do I even want to write about her?

I explored old interests. As if maybe I was meant to go back and pick up on interests I had let go of long ago to make room for more important work. But I don't want to sing in a band anymore and I don't feel like going dancing till 1 am, or playing sand volleyball, or arguing about politics over margaritas. I'm not her.

I have tried transitioning into things that seem to befit my new next stage of life. I should grow tomatoes. So I did this year and peppers. Call me O'uisa (Wheezer) I'm going to grow tomatoes and where a floppy hat now? I am trying flower gardening as well but this is not buttering my bread either, it's nice but how do I parlay that into a will to live? (Clary) I'm not that old and it's not that much fun. Sorry, I'm not her.

A new venture, a website, a new mission? blah. Decorating my house? Painting? blah and blah.

I'll cook new foods, eh. I took up running, ho hum. I volunteer and I like it very much but it barely moves the needle in my brain.

Nothing gives me the sense of purpose and joy that I've known raising my kids. How could anything really? Seriously I'd be really shocked if I gleaned as much personal fulfillment from my new coloring books that I found in caring for my children.

I got a puppy. It's a lot like having a toddler. He leaves a wake of destruction and he is constantly needing attention and even though he is pretty cute, it isn't the same. I thought maybe I could be one of those ladies my age who takes tons of pictures of her dog and calls him her furbaby and buys him presents and makes a Christmas stocking for him. I'm not her either.

Truth is, I expected to still be chasing little ones and I'm not. So is this just it? Is this what I do until I have grandkids? One is married and one is almost married so a few years from now I will be her, but who I am until then?

My husband and I love each other very much. We have a strong and happy marriage. We are exploring our city, dating and I do love it. He has a girl he loves, and I am still her :)

But the days which were once filled with flurries of activity and discovery and littered with pixie dust and magic and a little mayhem are gone.

I tremble with fear at the words I am about to write next.

I have lost my purpose.

And I don't know what to do exactly.

That's all I got right now.

It's okay to have a little Mary, with your Merry Christmas

I can't believe I spent the first half of my Christian journey without a relationship with my Heavenly Mother, Mary. Particularly when I reflect upon our relationship now and the love I feel from and with her.

This time of year, almost all Christians have a statue of her in their homes. I wish they knew the love of this amazing woman in all the other months of the year and kept, both she and the Good Saint Joseph in their homes as reminders to love Jesus, and to be good parents. I wish so much they knew her. She would never ever detract from her Son. She existed and devoted her entire life to Him. She leads us to Him, that is all she does, all she is.

Mary is the first person who knew who He was. Mary was the first disciple. Mary loved Him more than any other person who has ever existed, and who will ever exist, ever could, because she was His Mother.

I cannot think of the birth story without the Easter Story. I cannot because I see the the birth through Mary's eyes.

That popular song (which I don't care for - sorry) about Mary, did you know... um, yeah she knew. Did she know the exact how, the when, the specific why? No. But there is no doubt that she knew too well what awaited her Son. It began for her when an angel visited her and when her betrothed came with his own visitation. She knew who He was. It continued when she met her cousin Elizabeth and then she surely knew when she was only a few days post-partum, after having traveled so far to deliver in an outbuilding. She knew when he was 8 days old and Simeon told her what He was destined to do, and that He was the Messiah. She knew on the 12th days when the Magi arrived and told her that Herod was going to murder all the children under two in attempt to end Him. Yeah, she knew. She knew when he was teaching in the Temple as a child. She knew as she asked Him at Cana to begin His ministry, she knew who He was.

Remember the story of the woman who touched His robe and was healed? What do you think the impact of his body growing within your womb might have on you? Her blood flowed through his veins. He looked like her, he had only her DNA. She was chosen by God. It was Mary, or no one. She had the lineage. It was the appointed time and she said, "yes." She knew.

Oh I love her, for saying yes. She was the Ark of the New Covenant. I love her because He loved her. With all the love of a Son. With all the love of a Father. With all the love that the knowledge of His own fate would mean to her. Think of the compassion and love He had for her as He walked that walk?

In our relationship I relate to her as a mother. He was her son, her baby, and He was her God. How did she manage those two great loves? I struggle with them myself. Do I love God more than my children? She didn't have to chose, but she had to give Him up to suffering. How do you sacrifice your Son for the sake of the world? Christians who do not know her before or during Christ's life, know little about her after.

Where do you think the stories in the bible came from about His birth? Who else was there? Cana? Who remained at the Cross within Him? She was one of three. Who followed Him at every step as He walked carrying that Cross to Calvary? It was her. Mary loved her Son, the way I love my children. Sometimes I think my love for my children is really supernatural. The connection that I feel with them, is as real to me as air. I know Mary felt that devotion and love for Jesus as mother, as disciple. She gets me. She gets the love of a mother like no one else.

I know the disciples knew how special she was to Jesus. I know they loved her, respected her, honored her. I mean, imagine the Apostles or the His disciples uttering a dishonorable breath in her direction, His mother... didn't happen. It would have been a sin for Christ to not honor His mother, and He was without sin. Is it weird for Christ to honor someone? No. it's His Mother. And before you mention where He called her "woman" at Cana. It's a biblical reference to her as the New Eve. Eve brought the fall into the world and Mary brought redemption, He was referencing the New beginning which would start with this miracle she requested. Typology is a wonderful study and shines magnificent light on salvation history.

How did she do it? How did she let her Son go. How great is her Heart?

I am following a family on social media as their precious, beloved child is living his last days in his battle with cancer. I try to lift them up their infinite sorrow. I think of this mother daily. I pray for her. I ask Mary to pray for her and comfort her. Only mothers who have experienced this loss can know her suffering, and Mary knows.

Mary dedicated her entire life to Jesus. If you ever want to have theological discussion about whether she had other children I would be happy to share why I believe what the Church without wavering for 2000 years has always taught. What most Christians on the planet believe, she didn't. Jesus was her whole life. She lived under the care of the Apostle John until her death.

Christmas gives us so many marvelous moments to reflect upon. So much joy, peace, hope. My focus is not only on Mary of course, but it pleases Jesus that I love His mom too. It pleases Him that I get her and I think of her as my mother too. After all some of his last words on earth were about her, giving her to John to care for and to all of us to love.

The birth story is only the beginning of the Greatest Story Ever Told. As a woman, I hear it with the ears of Mary. Oh how I hope to love my children as she loved her Son. How I hope to have the faith of Mary. It's okay, it really is okay, to have a little Mary, with your Merry Christmas. God Bless.