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 no.no.no. I don't like to cry in front of anyone. any.one. 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)