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

Sorry is Brave

Sorry is a word.

Sorry can go from a word to a feeling.

Sorry can go from a feeling to a behavior.

It’s that action, in the behavior step, that separates the phony from the authentic.

Sometimes we say we’re sorry when we don’t really feel it or before we feel it. Sorry is not a word that we wield just to end discomfort or conflict. It’s brave to vulnerably say we’re sorry when we’ve wronged someone or behaved badly. It’s the opposite of brave – it’s cowardly – to say we’re sorry when we don’t mean it, as a method of avoiding further discomfort.

People who are truly sorry make it to part two, which is a feeling. It’s called remorse. When someone truly feels remorse for something, they apologize by saying the actual words I’m Sorry because they feel regret about what they’ve done. And then the words of apology are followed by action.

The words themselves aren’t always really necessary, although in some cases the words provide an element of healing for all involved. If the words are offered, the word choices and the way the words are delivered speak volumes.

Sorry is never accompanied by an excuse. It doesn’t give reasons. It takes accountability without reasons and excuses.

Sorry never says but. It never says if only. It never points to others. It never hides behind pieces of the truth.

Sorry doesn’t gather up an audience. Sorry quietly and consistently shows the wronged their commitment to behave differently.

Sorry behaves differently.

Sorry identifies all behaviors that cause stress in the lives of those who were hurt and takes every action to stop adding stress. It does that regardless of the stress and challenges that may add to the life of the one who’s sorry.

When lives have been irrevocably altered because of our behavior, Sorry seeks actual help. Sorry doesn’t just hope for the best, it seeks professional help even though the thought of help is scary. That act of bravery is important even if we live a mostly solitary life, because each of us is a person who has value and who contributes to the universe. But that act of bravery is especially important if we’re a parent, because we need to show our children that we’re committed to healing – theirs and our own.

Truly sorry is an action, and it’s brave.

No Excuses, Brave Girl

No excuses.

My commitment to myself for 2019 is that I am done with excuses. Done with making excuses. Done with allowing excuses from others.

One of the things I’ve realized about myself this past year is that I am an enabler. I am capable of juggling a lot and organizing a lot and being responsible for a lot. I realize that not everyone is capable in that way, just as I realize that I am not capable musically or artistically or mathematically or whatever the word is for parking correctly within two white lines. And what I have a tendency to do, and I think I’ve done for a very long time, is take on more and more and more – allowing the people around me to contribute less and less and less.

Not only is this not healthy for me, it’s not healthy for some of the people around me. Some people will recognize that I am trying to take their part and call me on it and tell me not to. But others will just let me do more and more and more. And then one of a couple of things will happen – I will resent them for not contributing or they will resent me for the ability to handle more, or both.

Not only do I take on more and more and more, I actually make excuses for the people I am enabling. And you know who that helps? No one. It doesn’t help the person I enabled, it doesn’t help me, and it doesn’t help the people I make excuses to because they know exactly what I’m doing (or will eventually).

I make excuses for people to avoid dealing with my disappointment in them. I make excuses for people to avoid the conflict that comes with brutal honesty, which I know I can unleash in harsh ways. I make excuses for people to keep other people I love, especially my children, from being hurt. I make excuses for why I can’t do something instead of just saying no. And I make excuses for myself, particularly when I continue to enable others, and I think things like “this is just who I am – I’m a helper. I am helping.”

I am not helping. I am not a helper when I enable.

This does not have to be who I am. And It will not be who I am, regardless of how much work and effort I have to put in to make it so. Because I am sick and tired of excuses. I’ve been living with them and making them my entire adult life and I am done with it. I’m done with how it makes me feel and how it makes others around me feel.

New Year’s is such a weird holiday for me. First, I am not a big New Year’s Eve celebration kind of person. I am an early riser without an alarm which means I am generally not one who stays up late – and if I do, I have to take a nap earlier in the day or I absolutely will not make it to midnight. Secondly, I am not one of those people who buys into the “out with the old and in with the new” bit. Let’s be adult and fix things as we identify brokenness. And finally, I am not a New Year’s resolution kind of person. When you make a decision to make a change in your life, you make it and stick to it whether it’s January 1 or May 4 or August 12. I’ve just never embraced the magic of starting fresh in a new year. And I’ve certainly never embraced any foolishness like never eating dessert again – we must set achievable goals for ourselves.

And even though I’ve never been a New Year’s kind of person, in the last week I’ve found myself thinking a lot about the fact that I’m starting 2019 unlike any other year. Particularly that I’m starting 2019 with a name I love and with a life of which I am proud. Not everything about my life is perfect – far from it – but at this day and moment one year ago tonight I could not even fathom how much I would laugh and speak freely and enjoy freedom and embrace the future the way I do on this night. A year ago tonight I was immensely proud of my daughters, but I could not even imagine how much more proud I would be of them a year later on this night. My daughters are the bravest people I know.

Tonight it’s just me and Audrey, and so we sat down with giant pieces of her favorite cake and I told her all the ways I thought she’d made progress in 2018. I specifically went through examples of when she was brave. I focused on things about her character that I’m proud of. She’s beautiful and smart, and I tell her those things all the time. I wanted her to hear me purposefully say how proud I was that she communicates feelings in a journal instead of keeping them bottled up and a secret, that she prayed for kids who are sick after we went to CHKD for a check-up, that she really takes time to think of gifts that will make people like her bus driver smile. And then I asked her…

me: What are you most looking forward to in 2019?

Audrey: My birthday.

me: Your birthday? Why your birthday?

Audrey: Because I’ll be 8 and I won’t need a baby car seat and I’ll be a big girl.

me: You’re already a big girl now, even though you have a booster seat.

Audrey: But I’ll be an even bigger big girl on my birthday.

I had no nap today, I bought a small cheap Prosecco for myself and Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen, and I am actually awake just before midnight. Because for the first time in many years I’m not just going into a new year with ideas and plans – I can’t wait to start this next year, with no excuses. I’m toasting to a combination of thoughts by Audrey Grace and Charles Lamb: New Year’s day is every man’s birthday, and here’s to being an even bigger big girl in 2019.

Don’t Lose Your Wonder, Brave Girl

Twas the night before the night before Christmas, and my children were nestled all snug in my bed while visions of sugar plums danced in their heads. Well not sugar plums, likely Skittles. And not beds, but bed. But you get the idea.

Two nights ago I was in the middle of my giant king-sized bed, snuggled between my two brave girls. During the daytime my bed can easily accommodate the three of us stretched out watching a movie, but on the rare nights we all fall asleep here together I somehow end up smooshed into a 5 inch space in the center while the two little people consume the remaining 75 inches of space.

It. Was. Glorious.

It was glorious because I was surrounded by the two most wonderful little humans I know. It was glorious because everyone was feeling snuggly. It was glorious because so close to Christmas the girls don’t argue about someone being in their space or staring at them or poking them – even teenagers don’t want to get ousted from the good list! And it was glorious because I was keenly aware that the days of all of us climbing into bed together are numbered and few. And with that realization came this question: how does one not lose the sense of holiday anticipation and wonder with all the growing up and with all the change?

Last night, on Christmas Eve, we ended the day in our new jammies. It’s our tradition, and one of the few traditions we’ve maintained. I’ve been thinking a lot this weekend about all that’s changed in the last year and I realized that the biggest thing is not that the girls have parents who are divorced. The biggest change is one that every Mom faces over time. The Christmas Eve kid-chatter goes from what Santa might bring to how embarrassing Mom’s striped elf pajama pants are. Instead of putting together Barbie dream houses and pretend veterinary hospitals, Santa lays out an iPhone and Vans and purses.

The biggest change is simple really – the girls are getting older. They’re growing up. And so Christmas isn’t the same as it’s always been.

I’m a firm believer that one of the best things about Christmas is the traditions. But really Christmas is about both tradition and change. We celebrate Christmas because of change in one small family in Bethlehem: Mary found herself pregnant even though she was a virgin and Joseph found himself married to someone that he didn’t get pregnant. And throughout our lives now, more than 2,000 years later, Christmas is a benchmark by which to see change.

We were all once a baby who looked at the lights and bulbs with wonder, we were all once a child who fell asleep wondering about Santa, we were all once a teenager wondering why we couldn’t just get our stuff and then talk to our friends all day, we were all once young adults sitting around the table wondering how to talk like and be real grown ups…and at some point we will all be matriarchs or patriarchs that wait with wonder to see the young people on Christmas Day.

To fully understand and embrace all that is Christmas, we have to be open to change – all throughout our lives. We embrace a baby that was born to become a king and a savior, and we embrace Christmases and the different phases of our lives with the firm belief that there’s beauty in each one. That’s the only way we will hold on to our sense of wonder.

So I will snuggle with my girls in the big bed along with a tray of pineapple cookies, a family tradition that’s at least over 45 years old. I will watch a Christmas cookie bake-off on the Food Network instead of White Christmas, which apparently has boys that are weird and music that is weird. I’ll wake up on Christmas morning and watch Ella smile just as big at a Merry Christmas text from a boy as she did for her new phone – I’ll even think I like that boy for making her smile. I’ll watch Audrey play more with her new device than with her LOL Surprise house, and I’ll be a little sad for a minute until I see the first text she sends, to me, reminding me to embrace the change and see the wonder: “I love you so much.”

When we recall Christmas past, we usually find that the simplest things, not the great occasions, give off the greatest glow of happiness. ~ Bob Hope

Happy Christmas, everyone.

What Do *I* Know About Love?

Our family lit the advent candles at church this morning, and in a perfect representation of our life right now, the whole thing was a little messy. Perhaps the most funny thing is that I couldn’t even operate the lighter – the culmination of a week of messiness. A week of frustrating Christmas picture attempts, appointments moving around, arguments, broken devices, and someone advising in all seriousness that my cat probably needs relaxation therapy for litter box anxiety.

I have several bad habits that were out in full force this week, but I’ll focus on two here. One is skimming emails while I’m sitting at stop lights. Two is saying yes to things before I fully have or process all the details.

Will you and the girls light the advent candle this Sunday? Yes! Later I get the follow up email and find that love is the theme for this week. Wait, what? LOVE?! I can’t stand up and talk about love. I didn’t know this was about love. This is the absolute worst time for me to talk about love. I go back to the original email, looking for my “out” while mentally preparing my response: I’m so very sorry, but I didn’t know this was about love. And then I fully read the last line of the email that I skimmed the first time: the theme is love this week.

!?&#$*%#!

And as I started to process that I am going to have to actually go through with this advent lighting, I laughed out loud at the silliness of it all. What the heck am I going to say about love? I suck at love. I can’t even choose a faithful mate! While I wouldn’t ever say it to my girls and I’d rather not admit it out loud in church, I’ve also spent much of the last year thinking that not all people are deserving of forgiveness and love. Anyone that makes deliberate selfish choices that hurt others, especially children, just has no idea what love is – and does not ever deserve love or forgiveness or happiness. I know what the bible says about forgiveness and love, and I can even quote those scriptures. But the truth is I still believe with absolute conviction that some people cannot and should not ever experience it. It’s part of my messiness, I guess.

What the heck could I possibly say about love? I had nothing. I was completely devoid of ideas. So I said to my girls: What do you think love is?

My seven year old gave me a one word answer: worship. Worship didn’t really make sense to me, but she wasn’t interested in expanding on her answer so I decided to try again a day later. Audrey, what is love? Worship, she said. So I googled worship plus love and found Psalm 100. It’s only five verses, a packed act of worship that ends with the reminder that His love is eternal. And I realized that what Psalm 100 teaches us is that worship is the way to get love to invade every area of your life.

My 13 year old stood up today and said this: God’s love is different. You may not love him, you may sin, you may be mad at him, but he doesn’t care. He will love you no matter what…God will love you through the hard times and he will be there for you every step of the way.

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: my children are smarter than me. I learn from them all the time. And I am absolutely certain I could learn from them even more if I paid more attention.

Advent is the arrival of a notable person, thing or event. In Latin – Mr. Martin from 1980s Bayside Junior High, I have not forgotten you! – adventus means arrival, but also develop or set in or arise.

All things happen for a reason, right? Perhaps the reason I was asked to focus on love is because it’s time to steer my thoughts on love away from what it is not and on what it is. Perhaps the reason I was asked to focus on love is because the season of arrival is about new birth. Perhaps the reason I was asked to focus on love is simply because God has a really great sense of humor. Perhaps the reason I was asked to focus on love is because I needed to hear my daughters’ thoughts on love, and let those thoughts develop and set in and then arise in me.

A Lot Better Than OK

I have a favorite bakery. That bakery isn’t my favorite just because of the awesome pastries and donuts and petit fours, it’s also my favorite because of the group of women that work there. I often see them on my way to work when I stop in to get a bagel, and we chit chat about everything from TV shows to kid shenanigans to dipping a spoon directly into the peanut butter jar and calling that dinner.

A few days ago I made a formal order for treats for my office, and as one of the women filled out the form I realized I needed to tell her that my name changed. She looked up at me with such a sad face, and without thinking about the words coming out of my mouth I said to her, “Don’t feel bad for me! I’m really OK.”

And until the words came out of my mouth, I didn’t know they were true. I paused a minute, looked at my reflection in the display case, looked back at her making eye contact and repeated myself with absolute certainty.

Don’t feel bad for me. I’m actually a lot better than OK.

And then she asked the questions that people I love ask: What about your girls? How are the girls? I’ve learned in the last year that people who truly care, people who truly value marriage, people who truly value family, people who truly care about children – people with true empathy – always ask about my girls first.

The girls just finished their year of firsts, but the truth is they have even more firsts ahead and their lives are complicated. Their days of not worrying about anything outside of school and friends and youtube sensations ended some time ago. Now they have to think about the other people to be introduced into their lives, how their school events will change again, how holidays will change again, how to tell two parents their big news of the day when only one of those parents is at home to hear that news in the moment of excitement. Their lives can be great – and they WILL be great because I am determined to make it so – but they will never be as carefree as they once were and as they could have been. Change and knowledge of adult things was heaped upon them, and they’ve grown up so much faster than they needed to.

Some time ago, I ran across this quote by Sophia Loren: “When you are a mother you are never really alone in your thoughts. A mother always has to think twice, once for herself and once for her child.”

Once you’re a parent, everything you say and do has to be with two sets of people in mind – yourself and your children. Your greatest responsibility and your greatest privilege is to parent. From the moment your first child is born, every decision has to be looked at from multiple perspectives. Every action and reaction has to be made with two sets of people in mind. Every mistake has to be viewed from multiple perspectives. The remainder of your life must be lived with the understanding that little eyes are watching and those children are impacted by everything you do and say in some way.

As parents, never really being alone in our thoughts also means that how we’re doing is almost always tied to how our children are doing. If they hurt, we hurt. If they are filled with glee, we are filled with glee. If they are mad at a boy, we are mad at that boy. If they cry because of a mean girl, we want to yell at that mean girl.

At the bakery I talked to my pastry tribe about how I was doing, not about how my girls are doing. And my response was about me and not about them – and I’m not sure how I feel about that. Because while I think that as parents we are certainly individual people, I also think that parenthood, with the goal of raising good humans, must be approached with selflessness. Can we really be happy if our children have unpleasantness in their lives? Should we be happy?

I don’t have the answer. I think sometimes we have to guide our children to happiness, and to do that don’t we have to find happiness first? And yet in some ways I also think that sometimes children are naturally happier than parents and they can help guide us to happiness – even though that’s not the way it should be.

The bottom line is that there is still unpleasantness in my life and in their lives, but at the same time there are so many wonderful things about my life. My girls live with me, we’ve made an awesome girl house, I hit the jackpot in the family department, my friends and neighbors and church family are awesome, my work family is the absolute best, I love my job, and I could go on and on.

So I’ll repeat myself: Don’t feel bad for me. I’m actually a lot better than OK.

And you know what’s also true? Regardless of the changes, my girls have more forces of good in their lives than bad. My girls see more examples of selflessness in their lives than they do of selfishness. And my girls see God in more people than they don’t.

So the truth may be that they are actually a lot better than OK, too. And maybe that makes me even more OK. *Maybe* we can be confused and have peace and be happy and yet overthink things and have chaos and love and be loved all at the same time.

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Girl Trees and Pruning

One of my favorite things about my house is the big perfectly full tree in my front yard. I know it sounds odd, especially coming from someone who is allergic to most outside things, but I am attached to my tree. She is simply beautiful and she makes me smile every time I look at her.

I don’t actually have any idea if my tree is a boy tree or a girl tree, but I am convinced she is a girl tree because she is regal and she adds a peaceful quality to our entire home. She fills the view in every window at the front of our home. And this is the time of year when she is most glorious. Yellow and red and green and orange. Her leaves fall over the course of about 4 weeks and they rest beneath her, blanketing our entire yard.

My girly tree may be magnificent, but she also causes a few problems. She hangs over my driveway, blocking our ability to park in one area. She also hangs so low in several spots that she’s a pain in the behind for the guys who mow the lawn. I know I should probably do something about her – maybe trim some of those branches back – but I just can’t bring myself to risk touching her in any way because she is so magnificent just the way she is. And the truth is I’m afraid to change her in any way because I’m worried she’ll never be the same again.

What if she doesn’t recover?

And what if she’s never as full and beautiful?

There’s risk in pruning. She may never really be full again. There may be parts of her that are missing forever or that will never be the same. And yet there’s a chance the risk could yield great reward – with a little time she may be even more full and even more beautiful and even more happy.

I have realized something about myself recently. I have always known that in a crisis situation, I can make critical decisions very quickly and I won’t overthink them or second guess myself. But I have learned that I am not very courageous when I have time to make a decision. As it turns out, I will allow myself to worry and over-google every little thing and I just cannot seem to commit to a decision.

Am I seriously more afraid to prune my favorite tree than I am to prune in my personal life? Maybe so. And I’ve been trying to figure out what that says about me.

Several months ago I disconnected from almost everyone who is also connected to my ex-husband. Well over a hundred people all in one afternoon. Quick and easy decisions. In some cases I did that because I wasn’t truly communicating with those people regularly anyway and in some cases I did that because you can’t really be my friend or truly care about my children if you are going to support behavior that is wrong. It’s all very black and white for me.

I’ve spent almost a year thinking I should feel badly about that decision but not actually feeling badly about that decision. When the pruning was over that afternoon, I felt free for the first time in months. I was free of all the people attached to a negative force. Free of all the people who would ask what’s going on and what’s happened before they would ask how my girls are doing. Free of all the people who are afraid to do their own pruning because they are stuck in an old life. Free of all the people who aren’t brave enough to not be a fence-hugger.

But what I also did – and a couple of people who love me were real enough with me to call me on it – is disconnect from people as a defense mechanism. I chose to disconnect from some people before they had a chance to hurt me by possibly choosing to try to be friends with just him or with us both. It’s a fair criticism, and it’s easier to see now with some time and space. And yet with all that’s happened in the time since I made those quick pruning decisions, my determination to not allow shades of gray in some areas of my life is even stronger. My determination to prune and let go is even stronger.

Call me mean, call me a narcissist, call me a bad friend, call me ungrateful, call me whatever. This is my life. And it may sound shocking, but I’m pretty sure I know me and what is best for me better than anyone else.

I opened Facebook this weekend and saw that a friend from church posted this quote: “Autumn shows us how beautiful it is to let things go.” I don’t think I’d seen it before, or if I had I’d forgotten it. And it reminded me of my journal entries about friendships and my thoughts about my tree and it just kind of pulled a few things together for me.

My magnificent and glorious and strong tree shows me how beautiful it is to change and let things go. She bravely let’s go of her leaves, sometimes a few at a time and sometimes in a big heap in one day, trusting that with spring’s rebirth she will be even stronger and taller and fuller.