Climb, Brave Girl

Many years ago now, I was on an airplane that had some sort of electrical issue during takeoff. Heat and smoke spread a bit up through the cabin and created a panic (probably mostly in me). At this point, I can’t remember if it was a short in a heating component or an AC unit or something, but what I do distinctly remember is that as I started to process my surroundings this one thought kept running through my head over and over and over again.

Why are we getting further from the ground?

Why are we getting FURTHER from the ground?

WHY are we getting further from the ground?

WHY ARE WE GETTING FURTHER FROM THE GROUND?!

I just could not wrap my head around why the pilot would continue to climb when there was danger. Didn’t he know there was smoke? Smoke clearly meant there was an issue. I mean, there had to be some little alarm going off up in the cockpit, right? Some annoying noise or blinky light that indicated something was amiss. Smoke indicates fire. And fire means we’re all dead. This is not a scenario with a water landing where I could maybe figure out how to use my seat as a flotation device and *maybe* be the one person in 100 that survives and gets their own lifetime movie. This is fire, and there’s no safety seat for that. Why were we climbing further from the ground?

The answer was likely the pilot knew it was a containable issue. Fix the unit, send around the drink cart, everyone will be fine. (At least I hope that’s the case – the thought that the pilot knew nothing and just kept obliviously flying is not really an acceptable possibility for the me that regularly flies.)

But in all sorts of instances, climbing up is a positive game-changer. Pilots climb higher so that they can fly above turbulence. Eagles climb so that they can see and hunt their food, which is sometimes a mile away on the ground or underwater. Leopards will climb trees to rest and eat above ranting hyenas. Zacchaeus climbed a tree so he could take in a view other than a noisy crowd and so he could see Jesus.

Looking up and going up, instead of looking around and wandering around, is the way out or the way to something better. Golfers hate when their balls land “in the rough” because the taller grass makes play harder – they use a special club to hit the ball up and out of it. At work we say things like “you’re in the weeds,” because we want our peers to stop getting stuck in small details – what we mean is we want them to think bigger than themselves and their current situation as they consider solutions to problems.

The common theme is easy: change comes when we stop looking around at the view of our noisy, weedy, hungry, rough, turbulent, whiny, combative and confusing surroundings and we instead decide to pursue up. Even if we can’t see what we immediately need, just like a pilot who trusts that sunshine is above the rain clouds, we raise our head above the rough and the weeds and the crowd and the hyenas, and we look in the direction we’re going – UP – and we climb in that direction.

Up is the way to peace, the way to the food we need to survive, the way to see things differently, and the way to salvation.

Sometimes you need to go higher to see things as they really are. The world is pretty big and the higher we climb above the mud and the muck and the selfishness of our own lives, the more we realize that we are a very tiny minuscule part of the world. And that each day and each hour and each setback and each horrible person and each car that cuts us off in traffic is really just a very tiny minuscule small part of our lives.

When we’re in the storm or the weeds or the rough or the crowd, we can’t even see all the things contributing to our situation. We can’t see all of our surroundings. We can’t see how big the storm is. We can’t see how close our salvation may actually be.

We don’t have real fuller perspective until we go high. And you know what else happens once we go high? It’s not just perspective that we gain. It’s speed. Planes travel faster at higher altitudes. Our fuller perspective allows us to more quickly understand what’s happening and why, and it allows us to progress more quickly toward the healing or salvation or food or peace that we need.

I used to be scared to fly. When I say scared, I really mean terrified. Like, heart beating 130 times per minute, cold sweat, picturing my airplane crashing into the ground in a big ball of fire afraid to fly. I-needed-Xanax-to-fly scared to fly.

I have no idea when exactly that fear disappeared or why that fear is gone. Maybe because I had no choice but to fly regularly regardless of my fear. Maybe because I started trusting my Pilot more. But one day several years ago I found myself not dreading flying, and then on another day I found myself actually enjoying it. I can even sleep on an airplane now and it’s absolutely awesome to enjoy a nap while someone else does all the work to get me where I need to be.

I mostly write or read now when I fly. It’s uninterrupted quiet time, and I don’t get much of that. As I look down at the clouds below me, I am so thankful to be exactly where I am, flying in a beautiful colorful sky. And I am so thankful for the knowledge that the stormy rain, the rough, the crowd, the hyenas, the weeds, and the turbulence are all small from up here, and I can see those things for what they are. They’re all really just noise, designed to steal my peace. It’s my job to hold on to my peace and to stay on course, and from way up here I am reminded that the individual stormy raindrops falling below the clouds I just climbed through are really insignificant in the big scheme of things. Most of those raindrops won’t matter five minutes from now, some won’t matter five months from now, and almost none of them will matter five years from now.

I just needed to get further from the ground to get that perspective.

Know Who You Are, Brave Girl

Somehow the teenage years are here and I feel woefully unprepared. Woefully unprepared to navigate all that these years come with. Woefully unprepared to help her navigate all that these years come with.

I realize this child lives in my home and I have planned a birthday celebration for her every year for the last *almost* 14 years. And so it seems like I’ve had ample time to prepare for her to be in relationships of her own, but this responsibility has really snuck up on me. If I’d thought about it carefully in advance, I might have prepared one long talk about how to behave and how others should behave, but I didn’t think of it in time – I didn’t think of it before I was in the middle of what I realized after-the-fact was actually one of many quick conversations about things that are really, really important. Things that need time to be discussed. Things that need to percolate, in my brain prior and in hers after.

Because how your child treats people and how people should treat them is actually just a pretty small part of what you have to cover. I’d forgotten in the thirty-ish years since I was a teenager how much of our growth and learning actually comes by watching and “experiencing” the stuff that happens to and with our friends. Remember how it felt to be 13, 14, 15, 16 when everything that happened to your friends, whether it was good or bad or happy or sad, was soooo big and it felt like it was also happening to you even though it was sometimes just happening to one of your friends? It’s like we all group-experience a few years of our life.

While kids are in elementary school, parents have the luxury of knowing most, if not all, of the kids their children are spending ample time with. But that changes as they get get older and suddenly you’re answering questions that really aren’t about what’s happening to your child, but about what might be happening to Tiffany from Spanish class.

  1. The first challenge is that you have no context – you know nothing about Tiffany’s life, her parents, her friends, anything.
  2. The second challenge is that even though something may be happening with Tiffany, young people feel the things happening to their friends really deeply and they don’t always separate themselves from it.
  3. The third challenge is that your child may never have had an experience like Tiffany’s but this is her first exposure to whatever it is and so she is going to learn a lot from it one way or another – so helping her process exactly what might be happening and why is important because it will shape her future relationships and her unconscious bias for possibly the remainder of her life.
  4. And the fourth challenge is that as a parent you are always missing part of the story because your child, who is learning, is missing large details when they tell you things – things that adults would ask or focus on, but she doesn’t even know are important yet.

THIS. IS. SO. HARD.

And you know what happens as you are mulling over your advice and wondering if you covered all you should have and you’re realizing all the other things you should have said or asked or focused on? You find yourself suddenly terrified that Tiffany doesn’t really exist, and this might actually be your child that had the question but they’re afraid to tell you.

THIS. IS. SO. HARD.

I now need so much more than the old “Don’t forget who you are and whose you are.” I need to cover so much more than the typical sex and drugs and alcohol talks we all give our kids.

I’ve been keeping a mental list and an actual list in my phone. Multiple lists actually. A list of things we’ve talked about and a list of things to talk about and a list of things I need to go back and touch base on when the time is right. If I could just get out my phone and review my lists when it’s time to have these talks, things would be so much simpler.

My lists may seem neurotic but one of the benefits to seeing what you’ve “written” down over time is that there are almost always a handful of bigger common themes. I don’t think my teenager is going to sit through a list of 37 things to remember while she and her friends are navigating first relationships. But maybe I can get her through a top 5…

YOU ARE WORTHY. You are worthy just because. Because you’re human. You are likable and loveable, but you are not and will not ever be liked by everybody. It’s OK that some people aren’t your thing and that you aren’t their thing. That has nothing to do with your worth and value, and everything to do with the fact that we weren’t made to all like each other. We need to coexist peacefully – in middle school and all around the earth – and that happens when we understand that all people have worth, and we should treat them with respect as we want to be treated.

DON’T LOSE YOU. You are whole all by yourself. You are not ever a half. You may be introduced in relation to someone to provide context, but you are not someone in relation to another person – who you are is not Tiffany’s friend or Thomas’ girlfriend. You have dreams and goals, and anyone you’re with should have their own dreams and goals. When you find someone who truly cares about you and who you truly care about, in friendships or romantic relationships, you will cheer each other on as you work toward all of those dreams and goals. Some relationships and friendships will end, and when they do your whole self keeps journeying forward because you have held on to the truth that you are not half.

BE YOU, NOT SOMEONE ELSE. Be authentic. Feel how you’re feeling, speak truthfully, like things you like and don’t like things you don’t. Don’t act or be or feel a way for others. When you like someone who doesn’t like you back, trying to make yourself likeable to them is a trap. That’s called acting, and if you start to act like someone else you will have to keep acting to maintain that relationship. Acting will always result in a final scene. You need to find your people, the people who you love and who love you, when you are your real self. Everybody’s real self is a little all over the place sometimes, so don’t expect consistency. Your people will always love you, even and especially on the days when you haven’t washed your hair and you’ve been a total crappy-pants.

CHOOSE YOUR GIRLS. Choose who your girls are wisely, and then choose them every time. You are all imperfect, but you stick together. A group of girls will make each other happy and mad and sad, and they will cry and shout because of each other. Even so, when you go out together you are a unit and you are responsible for one another – you all make sure the others are safe and not forgetting who they are. Be very careful about choosing a boy over your girls – you probably shouldn’t have some one(s) around you if you feel you’re in a situation demanding that. Your girls will be your girls throughout many romantic relationships and life-stage friendships. When one of you is mistreated, and this will happen, believe her. Believe her.

BE ACCOUNTABLE. The way you behave is 100 percent about you. The way others behave is 100 percent about them. You are responsible for how you behave and you will make mistakes. When you behave badly or make a poor choice, there are consequences and you have to suffer through those. When you mistreat someone, you need to own that. However, you also need to fully understand what is not your part. You live in a world of girls and boys and men and women who sometimes try to make females responsible for things they are not, and you need to be aware when that bias and manipulation are in action. The way you dress is never the reason someone touches. Something you did or didn’t do is never the reason someone hits. Something you did or didn’t do is never the reason someone cheats. When people blame-shift or victim-blame, recognize it for what it is and call it out. Any female who victim-blames other girls should not be in your group of girls.

Are those 5 really enough? I didn’t even say have fun (but not too much fun). Or, you have decades of adulting ahead so just embrace this time of learning. And x behavior is unhealthy but y behavior is OK. Don’t let your feelings or your fears override logic. You won’t like who you are if you allow yourself to sacrifice your values for your feelings. And you need to recognize the differences between first loves and for-now loves and forever loves. And it goes on and on and on. And suddenly my original list of 37 things is getting even bigger.

Parenting sometimes feels like I’m tripping up stair after stair, just righting myself from not properly landing on one step while having to take the next step. The only step on which I know my feet are both firmly planted on this topic is this one: If you know who you are and stay true to that, you will be just fine.

Know who you are, brave girl.

You. Are. Beloved.

What is Love, Actually?

This is easy: it’s something about Hugh Grant.

Just kidding. I don’t really think it’s Hugh Grant, but at the same time I’m not sure I have the ability to help children understand the answer to that question – at least as it relates to big people being in true love. It’s a subject I’ve been mulling over for the better part of a year, and it brings up an even scarier set of questions all related to this one:

Can children really understand what love is in the absence of good examples?

Of all the things I have mourned as part of the divorce process, the thing I have mourned more than all else combined is the impact on my girls. Adults are big people and equipped to survive crappy things. Strong people pick themselves up, take time to address what’s broken, and move forward. But children don’t have all the coping skills and life perspective to rely on when crappy things happen. They mainly rely on adults to guide them, and relying on the guidance of divorced parents is OK in terms of learning how to get back on a bike after a fall or advice about a bad grade. But can children understand what love is when surrounded by adults who don’t display love properly, or at all?

My gut reaction: oh, heck no.

But that’s absolutely incorrect, and I am certain of it not because of what I’ve read or because of what a psychologist says or because of the encouragement of people who mean well but will tell me what I want to hear to make me feel better momentarily. I am certain of it because of a conversation with my daughter.

Just a few months into our family changes I was a bit horrified to find that my girls were talking to me about me dating. Not only was that not at all the space I was in, I didn’t want them to think that you always need to have a person in your life or you just replace one person with another. So I focused our discussions toward a couple of key things:

1. People do not need a partner to have a wonderful life.

2. There’s no reason to fear being alone. You don’t find real happiness in others and you don’t date or marry someone to feel whole – you can and should be whole all by yourself.

What I didn’t realize until I talked to a helper is that the girls were really just conveying they wanted me to be happy. That they thought if I fell in love I would be happy. And that’s sweet, but it’s also scary because I want my girls to not equate happiness with other people. I want them to love themselves and know God loves them and feel so loved and secure all on their own that they never feel they must have a partner – yet they will embrace one if they find and want one. But how could they know what love really is when all they’ve witnessed close up is a relationship that ended in an unexpected virtual propane explosion and then a relationship between two people who were/are not faithful in their marriages.

How could the girls possibly know, and how could they possibly learn, what love really is? How could I even begin to teach them?

My first thought was I could point out examples of good people they know who’ve gotten it right. Of course no two people are perfect and no marriage is all about a sweet love story, but I found myself saying “You see them? They work hard at it and are dedicated to each other and they got it right.” But that didn’t seem like enough. What if that relationship ended up not working out? What if a year from now one of those seemingly good people that everyone thinks is such a devoted spouse and successful human turns out to secretly be someone else entirely? It wasn’t going to be enough to show them good examples.

My second idea was to point out what love isn’t. This could be a really seriously long list – but boiled down, it’s actually pretty simple: if shame or dishonor is in any way a component of a relationship, that’s not love. If you feel any shame about the person standing next to you, that’s not love. If you’re with someone who has dishonored or mistreated you or you’ve dishonored or mistreated them, that’s not love.

Next was talking about the words “I love you.” Plenty of adult people are in relationships and say “I love you,” but that doesn’t necessarily mean they even know what love is. It might just mean they know how to speak words – maybe they love the idea of love or the idea of love with someone specifically, but they could have no idea how to actually love properly. Anyone who says “I love you” but dishonors you when you’re not around does not love you – they are lying to you or themself or both. Anyone who says “I love you” but dishonors your children does not understand what love really is. Love is always going to be a good bit about faith and trust and selflessness and respect – lack of faith or trust or selflessness or respect smells like like or convenience, not love. Don’t just say words: say words only when you are sure what they mean and you actually mean them.

Step four in this process was to say and actually mean that I believe in love. Because if I don’t believe in love, how can I really expect my children to have healthy views and feelings about love? Step four took some time, but I got there. And the moment I realized I still believe in love was coincidentally the moment when my daughter spoke words that showed me she knows some of what love is really all about.

We were sitting in church, and a few pews in front of us were A+K. And my daughter leaned over and whispered to me, “Did you see him put his arm around her? You need that.” I gave her side eye – I’m fine by myself, thank you. Mom, you need to be with someone who will go to church with us. And I realized in our discussions about it she saw so much more than just a warm body with an arm to lean against. It was two people with shared values, two people who work together to meet commitments, two people who prioritize family, two people who support one another, two people whose lives have not always been easy, two people who are not perfect, two people who worship together, two people who clearly love and are proud of each other.

The girls can understand and experience love regardless of their parents’ examples. I had forgotten for a while that the girls have the perfect example of true love and they’ve been learning about it since they were babies right in that very building with the pews. We – me, you, them – are so loved that we were given clear instructions for love and a clear definition of love that we can always use as a benchmark whenever we’re confused.

1 Corinthians 13 New Life Version (NLV)

Love does not give up. Love is kind. Love is not jealous. Love does not put itself up as being important. Love has no pride.

Love does not do the wrong thing. Love never thinks of itself. Love does not get angry. Love does not remember the suffering that comes from being hurt by someone.

Love is not happy with sin. Love is happy with the truth.

Love takes everything that comes without giving up. Love believes all things. Love hopes for all things. Love keeps on in all things.

Love never comes to an end.

One of my favorite movies is Love Actually. I’ve watched it a ridiculous number of times over the years, mostly because Hugh Grant is bloody swoonworthy. Little Sam has always been my favorite. He’s so sad and grumpy and so forlorn and so scared and yet still a bit hopeful. And he’s young and had so much tragedy that you really, really want his first love to work out – more than any of the other story lines, you want Sam’s to have a sweet and happy ending. For the first time, in a recent re-viewing, I realized that Sam has a parent who is somewhat like me – a parent who wants his child to believe in love and to take the risk, because ultimately it’s so worth it.

Watch: Sam has a problem.

Watch: Sam has a plan.

Watch: Sam gets his kiss.

Love Actually is a group of relationship stories, some about love and some not. Just like the stories of people in all of our lives. In different viewings at different times, I always seem to focus on a different line as THE most interesting one. My viewings the last year or so had me focusing on Karen, who warned her husband about that woman at the office. But when I caught it midway recently, flipping channels, I remembered how much I rooted for Sam the first time I watched the film. His story has always been my favorite. I love this line specifically, which you should be able to say with pride in some variation at decade one and decade two and decade five about the person you love to the other people in your life that you love: “She’s the coolest girl (guy) in school.” Actual love grows and gets better with age.

Now click here, or below, to watch Hugh Grant dance.

Don’t Hide Half, Brave Girl

One of the fastest ways to make me angry is to tell me half. “My room is clean now” sounds great, but it’s really only half if you’ve shoved a bunch of candy wrappers under the bed. “She hit me” is only half if she was pinched first. “This car would be cheaper than the one you have now” is only half if the new car comes with no warranty and requires more expensive gas.

Just tell me the truth already. Because half is not truth. Truth is always whole.

I’ve been thinking a lot about happiness lately. What makes people happy, does everyone have a right to be happy, is it wrong to be happy when people we love are not, is it weird to be happy when your life has a big problem in it? Is hope the key to happiness? Or faith? Love? Xanax?

I’ve decided that people who say happiness is a choice are right, but they are really only telling you half. The key to happiness is not in any choice in something external – it’s not in love, not in the achievement of a goal, not in a person, and not even in a faith of some sort. Anyone can choose a mate or a puppy or a bottle or a cause or a church. But none of these things, these choices, will ever be enough to get you to happy. And that’s because the real key to happiness, I am convinced, is 100 percent internal – it’s in learning to like yourself, it’s in living in a way such that you can like yourself, and then in simply owning who you are.

If we are honest with ourselves about who we are, and if we like ourselves when we’re alone with ourselves, we can be happy. And if we can be ourselves no matter who’s around and no matter where we are, we can be happy. But if who we are is different based on who we’re around, one of two things is true: either we don’t know who we are yet, or we are well aware of who we are and we don’t want others to see that person. It’s when we speak half or live half – only showing a part of ourselves in hopes others will like us – that prevents us from being wholly happy.

We must stop living half. And we must stop half-telling our story.

If we tell people we need forgiveness for hurting others because we struggle with an addiction or a disease, but in private we don’t seek professional help to help ourselves…we’re telling half.

If we only show people the pictures where our hair is in place and our house is clean…that’s half.

The thing about our halves is that we may be hiding them from others, but we’re not hiding them from ourselves. We know we’re showing half – and if we’re at all good people, we can’t really get to happy by showing half. The halves that we hide because we’re ashamed of them or because we think they make us the most unworthy or the most bad will actually lose their power over us when we own them. It’s in our transparency, in our ability to reject the urge to only show half, that we find the freedom to be happy.

Real humans have a whole story, and in every one of those stories the human is imperfect and/or their life has something wrong with it.

This weekend I watched a group of young people tell my seven year old they missed her at an event a while back. Her face fell and her entire countenance changed. Her confidence was gone in an instant, and that’s because she remembered why we missed it – she doesn’t have a traditional family anymore and that’s been a very tough reality for her to accept. And just as I was about to smooth things over, she blurted out that her Dad doesn’t live with us anymore and he has a different life. I could not have been more proud that she spoke a truth that hurts her deeply. And two seconds later my heart burst with gratitude as I watched a teenager reply, “Yeah, my Dad, too. But I’m still gonna be a doctor. What are you going to be?”

I realized in that moment – the moment where I almost spoke half to smooth things over, which would have cheated my daughter of a wonderful moment – that not only does our transparency about our whole self and our whole life allow us to free ourselves of a bondage, it also allows us to see that others are like us. If we don’t share our whole selves we can’t possibly feel the grace and love others have to offer us. If we live and speak only half, we’re essentially cheating ourselves of our ability to heal.

I’m determined not to live and speak half – not just because I’m not smart enough to keep up with all the omissions, but because I want to spend my life doing stuff other than hiding and pretending.

So…I go to church and yet I sometimes drop F bombs (especially when in traffic). I’m a Mom who doesn’t like to cook and I’m a Mom who embraces restaurants. I will not hide that from bus stop Moms who are good cooks. I’m a Christian who has gotten so angry that I have shouted that I hate people and that I can’t wait to attend their funerals. When my pastor asked how I was doing later that day and I said “fine,” that was half. Because while I am actually a good bit more than fine at this point, there’s still a shameful, angry truth – a half – that I hide.

A few months ago, I was wandering around an antique store and I came across a couple shelves of old books. To my surprise and complete delight, I found an old copy of one of my favorite books: The Scarlet Letter. I read it the first time in high school, loving the story but thinking it was outdated and didn’t really apply to life now. That was more than 25 years ago, and I’ve found The Scarlet Letter speaks to me today more than ever. While I’d love to see some people have to wear a scarlet A upon their chest, that wouldn’t send a message most people around them don’t already suspect. The timeless message is this: “No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.”

I’m not bewildered about who I am. I know I’m a person who doesn’t really wish harm on others and that loves people and that does her best to live the right way and that is a Christian…but still, that’s just half. I’m a Christian who has a heart that has hate and anger in it, and that’s not a half of which I’m proud.

But you know what? That’s my whole.

Alice in Wonderland

My first glimpse of truth was at a costume party. He took me to her house for the event, and the two of them enjoyed shots with neighbors and work pals while her husband and I watched them like they were our errant children, laughing about how they couldn’t hold their liquor and wouldn’t make it through the whole party. I’d planned to go as Poppy, the happy-go-lucky girl from the movie Trolls, but at the last minute decided instead to wear a costume I’d purchased for an office event. I was Alice, from Alice in Wonderland, in a big blue dress, properly pressed apron, and a little purse that looked like a clock.

There are dozens of theories about what all the fantasy in Alice in Wonderland really means, but I think almost everyone would agree that at least in some way it’s a story about the loss of innocence. And at the center of that story is innocent Alice – polite, sometimes snarky, trusting, with a little bit of a temper. One of the many supporting roles in Alice’s story is The White Rabbit, the character that leads her deep into a rabbit hole to a fantasy land. The White Rabbit is the character that leads Alice to awareness. The White Rabbit is the character that leads Alice to truth.

Some would say that The White Rabbit is a counter for Alice. The initial persona of a happy, carefree character fades and The White Rabbit’s overwrought and desperate self becomes visible. The neurotic character is a counter to Alice’s calm. Lack of composure counters her purpose. Alice is curious about The White Rabbit, and as Alice says, “curiosity often leads to trouble.”

Watch: The Rabbit Hole

The party was filled with happy people, all dressed up for fun. Neighbors and friends dressed as doctors and clowns and such. He was Batman – the costume of a character that lives two lives, who lost the most important people to him in his childhood and who fights to help others not suffer the same loss of family.

One of the funniest details in this wonderland/party story is that two people who hadn’t spoken to each other about costumes before that event were both dressed as characters from Alice in Wonderland. Me as Alice, with my proper white tights and Mary Janes. Her as an adult steampunky version of The White Rabbit, with bunny ears, leather short-shorts, and black fishnet stockings. It was so funny that people took our picture together – two characters from the same story, a contrast of light and dark. There might actually be more irony in our choice of costumes for that night than in all of Lewis Carroll’s writing.

Did The White Rabbit invite Alice into the rabbit hole and to the party in hopes Alice would see some truth? Perhaps to force the hand of all the players in wonderland? There’s no question what the outcome would be once everyone was exposed to truth. Or did The White Rabbit invite Alice into the rabbit hole and to the party because games were just part of the fun and thrill? In the big scheme of things, The White Rabbit’s motives are not important. The more important question was why Batman would take Alice to The White Rabbit’s house for a party.

I used was because it doesn’t matter anymore. I don’t care why people behaved the way they did, and even more than that I don’t believe in coincidences. I believe in divine intervention. Sometimes the seemingly awful things that happen to us end up being our salvation from things that will really harm us. And there are messages and lessons for us not just in what happened, but also in our surroundings at and in the details of those events.

Here’s the thing about Alice and The White Rabbit. In the end, after all the chaos and confusion, The White Rabbit is just a noisy trumpeter that’s a slave to others in a world of fantasy. But Alice…Alice separates herself and she runs away from all the dysfunction. Alice looks at that screaming mob that’s yelling at her and railing at her, and Alice focuses on the calm guidance of a doorway to peace – and then she wakes herself up.

Watch: Alice Wakes Herself Up

I threw away my Alice costume long ago. I didn’t want the reminder of such a horrible night hanging in my house. I regret that. I likely would never have worn it again, but that Alice costume is a symbol of so much more. It’s a reminder that Alice knows what is real and what is not. It’s a reminder that Alice chose peace over chaos. It’s a reminder that Alice saved herself.

Alice saved herself.

Find the Funny, Brave Girls

Find the funny in all things, and life will be fun.

I don’t know where I heard that in my youth, but it has stuck with me. I really really wish I could remember the context, but it is deeply hidden somewhere in my mid-forties Mom brain which must prioritize school lunch components that need to be purchased and after school activities that require speedy cross-town transportation.

I love funny. I laugh at weird things, things that sometimes make others uncomfortable, and I laugh at silly things. I laugh at Ellen and Chris Rock and Jon Stewart. I probably laugh the hardest at a loud noise from the ketchup bottle. I love what some others might call inappropriate humor. I love kid stories.

And, probably most importantly, I love laughing at myself. I laugh at myself when I dance and I know it’s bad (it’s always bad) and when I do something dumb like buy a car that’s a blue color I like and then drive it off the lot without knowing where the gas tank is. We have to laugh at ourselves. It’s one of the keys to true happiness, I think – not taking yourself too seriously while loving yourself just as you are.

My friends and family and work family are all a bunch of people who love to laugh, and I realized today – in the middle of a sermon about God’s Presence – that one of the ways that I know that God is present in my life is through laughter. My life is filled with people who find the funny. I am surrounded by just the right people at just the right time each day – and that is a daily miracle in my life. It’s true today and it’s been true my entire life.

When Audrey was an infant and still had cancer in her body, I remember my Dad praying for me as I held her in her rocking chair. He obviously prayed a lot for Audrey, and he prayed for my health and my energy and my peace. But the thing that surprised me was that he prayed that I would have joy.

Beth has peace. Beth has joy. Beth is filled with peace and joy.

He understood a truth I am only just now grasping a bit of. Joy is necessary. Funny is necessary. Laughter is necessary. We have to pursue them and we have to surround ourselves with them and we have to actively focus on them. They are keys to our healing. They are keys to full lives. In order to live our lives and accomplish what we need to, we can’t just think we’ll be happy when things are going our way. We have to decide to be happy and decide to pursue joy and decide to find funny when things are not going as planned.

One of the little running jokes with some of those funny people who surround me each day is “that’s one of the reasons.” I love camouflage pants…that’s one of the reasons you’re getting divorced. I’m a big meanie about deadlines…that’s one of the reasons I’m getting divorced. I don’t know what teams are playing in a big game and I can’t stand that some people plan their day around sports on TV…that’s one of the reasons you’re getting divorced. Every time I say it or someone else says it, I laugh out loud – and it feels awesome.

I have watched people look at us strangely when we joke about it, so I know that finding funny about this subject is awkward for some people. But I really just do not care. And you know what else? it is totally okay to laugh and joke about dark things. It is totally okay to have moments of happiness and laughter in the midst of dark stuff. That’s one of the things that puts the dark stuff in their proper place. Very often, I think people feel compelled to be serious about something, or they actually have to be serious about their situation when they’re at home – in my case that’s where little minds are still wrapping their heads around family changes. So that means it’s even more important to have those moments of funny in safe spaces with friends and family. Every one of those one-liner wisecracks is and was a step to a happier person.

Another thing I have laughed about for an entire year is that the book I was reading at the time I discovered my then-husband was in another relationship was The 5 Love Languages. A friend had recommended it, and I was just reading about people who regularly need words of affirmation. That’s pretty far outside my wheelhouse because I am not a person who needs that sort of thing, so I just didn’t even know what to do with that. And I found myself wondering why I should thank someone for stuff like taking out the trash. All household chores should be equally managed by the adults – do people really need a thank you for doing their part? I mean, we’re all grown-ups here and this is chores we’re talking about. But I digress, and clearly I am not well-matched to words of affirmation folk. The point is I was reading a book to understand the ways that people show love, when I learned that I was in a relationship that was in no way about love. I used to think that was sad and tragic, and it is but at the same time there’s funny in that irony. There’s also endless crass commentary about the love languages of people who do not honor themselves or marriage – which is probably what helped me get to the place of seeing the funny in that irony.

Today during that sermon on God’s presence, the pastor talked about Jesus attending a wedding and it struck me in a new way that He was a person just like us. And yet it seems like the majority of stories about Him are serious – He wept or He was angry or He was grieved or He was hurt or He was compassionate or He was teaching. He talked about salvation and how to pray and how to treat your neighbor and how to live. There was nothing specific I could recall from the Bible where Jesus talked about laughter. So I came home and Googled it. And I did find something He said about laughter and it’s in the Beatitudes, which I should have thought about. But I hadn’t read the Good News Translation of Luke 6:21 which says “…Happy are you who weep now; you will laugh!”

I don’t know with any certainty if Jesus laughed or if God has a sense of humor, but I feel strongly both things are true. Jesus was human like us and we laugh. I’ll concede He probably doesn’t like my crass commentary. But perhaps He laughed with his Mom when they recounted childhood stories or perhaps He laughed with His friends at weddings. And aren’t we are made in His image and made for fellowship? Part of fellowship is laughter. I have to believe God finds the funny, and He’s present with us all the time rooting for us to do the same.

Grieving is Brave

It’s hard to predict what things will “stick” in our children’s minds years from now. What memories will become indelibly lodged in their brains and psyches. What events will be life changing. What words will be mulled over repeatedly. What action or inaction will never be forgotten, and will alter the way they think and behave forever.

Will my girls remember the words I carefully wrote and practiced on the topic of not caring about what other kids think? Or will they remember that I shouted and took their phone away when they didn’t come home on time? Will they remember me saying you can do it, you just haven’t done it yet? Or will they remember me crying about my failed cooking attempt at the end of a very long day?

Parenting is a such a huge responsibility. In fact, it’s absolutely terrifying if you really stop and think about it. Our behavior is one of the primary things responsible for how our children’s lives will play out. They have free will and so will, of course, make some choices as adults that we would not (which in some cases could be a very good thing!). But the way we speak to them becomes a voice they hear in their head throughout the lives. The way we handle adversity in their lives and our lives becomes a lesson they will refer to time and time again. The way we choose happiness, the way we choose avoidance, the way we live with or without moral principles, the way we embrace faith or fear, the way we prioritize – they all teach our children something, even and especially when we’re not actively thinking about our choices.

Almost 4 years ago now, our beloved cat Sammy passed away. It was a chaotic weekend of visits to an emergency vet without all her normal paperwork, which led to concerns she was not up to date on her shots even though I knew she was, which ultimately ended with animal control keeping her body for rabies testing. We didn’t have Sammy’s body to bury, but I thought that the girls having the ability to say goodbye before she died and our talking about seeing her again one day in heaven were all things that would help them through the grief process. What I didn’t realize then, that I’m keenly aware of now, is that (1) the grief process is unique to every person and (2) the notion that grief is a 5-step process is a load of doodoo. Grief does not have a finite end, which is the implication of a process that ends with something called Acceptance. And in fact I think grief is likely a lifelong experience.

Our lives are all filled with ups and downs. With happiness and with disappointments. With change. Our lives will inevitably involve the death of loved ones and the death of people we didn’t know but who moved us in some way. Our lives may include the loss of a job whether by our own choice or someone else’s, perhaps the loss of a pet, a marriage, a feeling of safety, an innocence, a fall from grace, an expectation of what life should have been like. Grief is just a part of life.

We will grieve all of those losses and while we will hopefully move past the initial intense feelings associated with our grief, we will remember the loss or change throughout the rest of our lives. We will remember the circumstances and we will remember our pain, and we will remember the way others reacted and grieved. And something as simple as a song or scent or photo will bring it all back in a flash food of emotions.

So the things that become really important as it relates to grief are that for a time we commit ourselves fully to it instead of avoiding any part of it, and then we don’t allow ourselves to wallow in it forever. We have to purposely pursue healthy grief – so that when we are faced with those inevitable flash floods of emotions that will come days, months and years later, we are able to navigate those waters.

Each loss in our lives, even if it’s a loss that’s different from others, can remind us of any and all other losses. The suddenness and unexpectedness of a family pet’s death parallels the suddenness and unexpectedness of our family changes. And so the loss of Sammy in 2015, which I didn’t handle with as much thoughtfulness as I should have, is now something we are thinking about and experiencing again. I didn’t think twice about not having her body to bury or cremate because I didn’t need that to grieve, but others missed it because they grieve differently.

Sammy was a contradiction in many ways – a loner who liked her space and yet loved to take naps on my chest, a kitty who loved play in her younger years but embraced a bit of laziness as she aged, fiercely protective and purry and lovey and a bit cantankerous all on the same day. We honored her this weekend by talking about her and looking at her pictures, and at Audrey’s suggestion, we painted and decorated rocks for our yard to honor her and remember her.

We grieved purposefully. We grieved bravely.

Will the girls remember our stones for Sammy? Stones painted on a cold day when the sky was crying big raindrops? Or will they instead remember the smell of my overcooked crockpot orange chicken? Perhaps they will not actively remember anything about this day at all, but carry within them a sense of peace because we took time to acknowledge that Sammy will be a part of their lives forever.

“You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly – that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.” ~ Anne Lamott