Fire the Judge-Hire the Witness

I may be able to do anything, but I can't do everything.

Silencing the Judge — June 18, 2017

Silencing the Judge

Friends, this week’s blog is short because it’s an update to my very first post.

10 months ago, my sister, Shannon, and I began a journey.  The journey began when we both decided to stop listening to The Judge that was preventing us from pursuing our passions, dancing for her and writing for me.  The full story can be found here, Fire the Judge–Hire the Witness.

So 10 months ago, Shannon enrolled in a ballet class.  She would periodically update me on how the class was going and how she was feeling.  I know it wasn’t always easy for her.  But she worked through any negative feelings to get the joy she experiences when she dances.

Yesterday, I had the honor of attending her dance recital.  It’s been 27 years since her last dance recital.  When she moved on stage with her class, I got goosebumps.  For one moment, I had a flashback of when she and her best dance friend, Deena, performed a duet in the last recital she performed in as a girl.   The spirit that was alive in that 13-year-old girl was reborn in the 40-year-old woman.  And as she danced, I could tell this was only the beginning.  There is more there.  Who knows what that is, but I’m excited for my sister as she pursues her passion.

But not only is Shannon pursuing her passion, she is silencing the Judge.  She is putting the Judge in his place.  The Judge who tried to prevent her from taking a dance class by filling her head with a variety of negative messages.   The Judge who attempted to manipulate Shannon’s perspective of herself as she took her class.  The Judge who was never invited, but always found a way in.  Shannon won the battle against the Judge yesterday.  And that’s a battle worth fighting.

Congratulations, Shannon.  I’m so proud of you.  Continue to inspire and be the graceful soul you are.  I’m glad we made that pact 10 months ago.  I’m grateful we both followed through and we’re finding ways to silence the Judge one ballet class and one blog post at a time.  I’m committed to following your example by fighting off The Judge and claiming my own space in my head.  Beautiful moments happen when we Fire the Judge and Hire the Witness.47a7d839b3127cce9854800ab9770000001010wAcOHLVy4ZtmbUQ

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Kairos — June 4, 2017

Kairos

I have a confession to make.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post called “The Garden of Hope.”   If you didn’t read it, I hope you take a minute to enjoy the allegory.  When I wrote it, I alluded that if God had someone who could be a true partner with me, I was ready to share my garden.  Now I’d like to confess that at that time, I had already found my gardener, and his name is Nate.

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In my life, this was the third time in which I’d put all my personal wishes and hearts desires aside and told God that if it is to be true, make it happen.  And then I completely trusted that what was supposed to happen would.  God did not disappoint.  In fact, God gave me more than I had imagined.  I trusted God would make me a mother, and He did.  I trusted that God would find a way for me to get out of a toxic relationship, and He did.  I trusted God that if I was supposed to find someone to share my life with, I would, and He showed me Nate.  And for all of those gifts, I did not have to wait very long for Him to answer.  God revealed His gifts quickly and His timing was perfect.

The Greeks have two words for time, Chronos and Kairos.  Chronos refers to chronological time.  Kairos is used to describe the right moment.  Glennon Doyle Melton explains it differently.  She considers Kairos to also mean “God’s timing.”

Looking back at the events of my life, I can pinpoint exactly when Chronos took a backseat and Kairos took over.  I can picture talking with my neighbor and telling her, “If God wants me to be a mother, He will,” and little did I know that I was already pregnant at that moment.  I can picture standing in my backyard, hiding from the volatile situation that was tormenting me in my home, begging God to find a way out.  And then I can picture the text that came the next day telling me that there was a house I could rent, a way out.  Finally, I can picture me, 50 days ago, sitting at Outback, enjoying a steak dinner by myself on an Easter Sunday, when a very sweet text message came, hoping that I had enjoyed the weather that weekend with a smiley face emoji.

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Kairos.  Those snapshots will forever be burned into the photo album of my brain.  And the beautiful thing about those moments is that God gave me more than I dreamed.  My son is pretty awesome.  I’m blessed that he is healthy, active, smart and usually well-behaved.  I have a home that is full of light and love and laughter.

And as for my gardener? Complete Kairos.  God’s timing couldn’t be more perfect.  From that first text, it became increasingly true, for both of us, that this was It.   I never imagined someone could treat me so well.  I never imagined that I would find someone that would be a perfect match in every way.  And I never imagined that falling in love with the right person could be so easy and natural.

Our Kairos moments are not just mutually inclusive.  They are spreading to the other relationships in our lives as well.  Most importantly, the Kairos moments are occurring as we involve our sons.  Little Kairos moments that include sharing dinners, playing driveway soccer and getting ice cream.  Kairos moments when our sons make spontaneous, unsolicited comments that show support and acceptance of their parents’ relationship.  Kairos moments that he and I both appreciate and cherish.  Kairos moments that demonstrate that God’s timing is perfect.

My wish is that you, too, find those Kairos moments.  Find those moments that allow you to stop and take a snapshot for your mental photo album of life.

I’d like to end with a poem that I wrote.  I wrote this poem on Mother’s Day, as Tommy and I were walking to a neighborhood diner for breakfast.  I hadn’t yet told him about Nate, but it was becoming evident that he needed to know that his mommy had found a man who loved her and she was ready for him to know that.  That’s a scary moment for a mom.  Would he understand?  Would he accept this new reality in his life?  Would this be stressful for him?  And as I took Tommy’s hand in mine to take our short walk to breakfast, I knew how I would explain it.47a7d825b3127cce9854800d16120000001010wAcOHLVy4ZtmbUQ

As it turns out, when I told Tommy, it was another one of those Kairos moments.

 

God’s Plate — May 28, 2017

God’s Plate

Anytime someone tells me about how their life is full of complications, and they feel like there are problems coming at them from all sides, it takes me back to a very specific memory.  It was over 6 years ago.  Tommy was about 6 six weeks old.  We were getting ready to move so there were rooms in various stages of readiness–some were completely boxed up and labeled and some hadn’t been touched.  It was the afternoon before Tommy’s baptism and family was in town, including my grandparents from Florida. However, even though I had many relatives in town, I can remember that I was alone in the house with Tommy.  I think everyone had decided to go out to dinner, and I had not yet mastered the Take a New Baby Out in Public Routine.  And I’m fairly certain that while my family had gone out to dinner, Tommy’s father was at the bar.

So I was alone.  And I recall that my evening attempt at nursing had failed again.  Six weeks since Tommy’s birth and I still wasn’t providing the amount that he needed.  Which sent me into a freak out mode complete with a phone call to the Lactation Coach.  She must have been tired of my frequent calls because I remember her response was basically, “I don’t know what else to tell you.”  I did.  It was called “Enfamil,” but she couldn’t professionally say that.  But I still felt like a complete failure as a mother.

Anyway, I had a baby who I couldn’t sustain as nature intended, a house that was half-packed with movers coming in days and a husband who couldn’t pack a Happy Meal box, let alone a moving box, family in town and that’s never stressful, cats that I had to find a home for because they couldn’t move with us, and a useless Lactation Coach.  At that moment, I felt defeated on all sides.  I felt like I could not handle one more thing, one more worry, one more burden.  I vividly remember standing in my dining room, pointing my finger and looking up and declaring these words, “ENOUGH!  God, I’ve had enough.  No more.  I can’t handle one more thing.”

Of course, even if you don’t know me, you know the end to that story.  The baptism was beautiful and a joyous occasion.  I eventually let go of my dream to nurse Tommy.  I managed somehow to get all the boxes packed.  The cats found a home.  And I didn’t have the ground open up and swallow me whole because I yelled at God.

At that declaration, I was in direct violation of the mantras, “If God brings you to it, he will bring you through it,”  and “God won’t give you more than you can handle.”  Nope.  I was in the “Seriously?  I’ve got all this going on and you’re going to add one more thing to my plate,” mantra.  Make a meme out of that one.  I’m pretty sure the background picture would look like this:

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I think the important thing is the feeling I had after my ceiling pointing rant at God.  I felt better.  I knew that the problems would get ultimately get fixed, but also knew that I was at my breaking point.  I wouldn’t be able to bend to any additional stressful demand.  I had had enough and I had to let God know.   God better not give me another spoonful on my plate.  Walk on by with that extra serving of Stressful Shit Casserole.

God, I’m full.

And that’s one of my favorite ways to help me think and process when life is coming at me.  I see a dining room table.  I see two place settings.  Everything matches, the flatware, the dishes, the details are the same.  Except for the plates.  One plate is the regular, dinner size plate.  And the other is small, reserved for desserts and other small portioned meals.  The bigger place setting is God’s plate.  And the other, the smaller, is mine.

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Of course, my plate gets filled quickly.  Old problems like to linger around, like the cold lima beans that I refuse to eat. There’s not much room to take on new problems.  But somehow when Life is the Head Chef and passing out portions, I can’t say no to whatever is being served.  Sometimes Life is like your grandmother telling you to eat the dessert, and she’s not taking no for an answer.

The only way to avoid overconsumption is to look at my plate and find what’s making me full.  What do I need to put on God’s plate?  God’s plate is big.  It’s ginormous.  It’s so huge that you can move any worrisome portion size and there will still be room for more.

So that’s one of my go-to, I gotta get through this, mantras.  “Put it on God’s plate.”  Can I get an Amen?  I’m not ashamed when I can’t do it.  I’m not going to pretend and smile and say, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”  Nope.  This girl is going to recognize when something is out of her control and taking up a part of her plate that should have Peace of Mind as the featured entree, not WTF Stew.

It’s not easy to put them on God’s plate though.  Sometimes we don’t want to share those portions.  Sometimes the Judge whispers and convinces me that if you put it on God’s plate you’ll regret it.  Sometimes the Judge even has me believe I DESERVE the crappy serving on my plate.   Sometimes it seems like the best thing to do is to keep eating and then ask for another helping.  Until I get full.  Until I have that moment when if I take one more teeny bite, it’s going to get ugly and messy.  Spiritual regurgitation is just as messy as physical regurgitation.  Know when to say, “No, thank you.  I’m full,” and put it on God’s plate and let it stay there.

A while ago I wrote about exercising the Trust Muscle.  Putting things on God’s Plate is a strategy to strengthen the Trust Muscle.  I encourage you to recognize when it’s time to tell God you’ve had enough.  When you begin to worry, and it’s something out of your control, please take it off your tiny plate and put it on God’s Plate.  When you do, NO TAKE-BACKSIES.  Leave it there and make room on your plate for something more sustaining.  Something healthier.  Something that will feed your well-being and your soul.  Something that you can savor and delight in and ask for a second helping of.

Bon appetit!

Strong Enough — May 14, 2017

Strong Enough

I’ve written 22 blog posts so far, and received many comments, either directly to my site, or on Facebook.  A comment that is repeated the most is how strong I am.  I appreciate this comment but honestly, I almost laugh, and say, “If you only knew.”

If you only knew how often it appears that I’m okay, but I’m really in the “fake it to make it” mode.  If you only knew how hard it is when you’re perceived as strong, because then it seems people can dump all their problems on you, waiting for you to solve them.  If you only knew how often I feel lost and want to give up.  If you only knew how curling up in the fetal position is sometimes the most comforting thing I could do. And yet, as I write those words, there’s something inside me that is screaming “No! Fight back!  That is not who you are!”

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When someone tells you,”You’re so strong,” what does that mean?  Rather than define what it means to be strong, I can identify what it feels like to be weak and what I do to battle it.

One way that I feel weak is to fall into the trap of self-pity.  Self-pity, or as I like to call it, “The Why Me Syndrome,” can be pretty persuasive.  The most common symptoms of The Why Me Syndrome are frequent private and/or public lamentations such as: Why is this happening to me?  It’s not fair.  I try to do everything right, and still get shit on.  Sound familiar?  I recently uttered those words as I sat through my divorce settlement proceedings.  And yes, after they were over, I went home, cried, went into that fetal position, and wailed out to family and friends all of those self-pity phrases.  And you know what? It was okay.  Why can’t we feel self-pity for a moment?  Why can’t we take a moment to lick our wounds and comfort ourselves?  Why can’t we look in the mirror and say I deserve better than this?  Here’s the trick though, don’t let The Why Me Syndrome become a chronic condition.  Gary Paulsen wrote in Hatchet, “The number one rule for survival, no self-pity.”  Let it serve its purpose–a beginning step towards self-preservation.  Lick your wounds, feel afraid for a moment, but then come up with a plan. Self-pity should be a pit stop, not a permanent address.

Another way that I feel weakness is when I try to avoid the pain.  It might sound contradictory–avoiding pain is weak.  Pain can be crippling.  Pain hurts.  Why would avoiding pain be a weakness?  Pain can also be a teacher.  Pain can also be an arrow.  Finding the source of the pain and fighting it can lead to a stronger you.  Avoiding pain leads to repeated mistakes, dishonesty with yourself, wasted time, and even addiction.  Don’t run from the pain.  Transfer the power of the pain to find the power of the remedy.  Then a weakness becomes a strength.

But facing and handling the pain also require time and work.  We live in a “quick fix” society.  We want all our solutions to be fast and easy and come with a money back guarantee.  And that’s hogwash.  It’s a scam.  You might as well send all your money to a Nigerian prince and keep drinking the apple cider and lemon juice concoction.

Which leads to the last weakness–a lack of endurance.  When it comes to do something hard and do it over a period of time, I completely suck.  I start strong.  I start with commitment and conviction.  Then when it get’s hard, or becomes too painful, I let excuses creep in.  I listen to their false promises of an easier road.

Case in point, I am finishing up the Whole 30 program tomorrow.  One of the rules of the program was no Diet Coke.  I did well for 17 or 18 days.  Then I had a bad day at work.  Then I decided that my bad day was worth breaking the rule.  That one Diet Coke led to others. And honestly, I don’t need Diet Coke.  I just let my bad day, my pain, make me think I needed it to handle it.  I needed a stronger endurance to get through the difficult moment.

I think that my generation and younger have been conditioned so much through modern conveniences that we’ve lost the ability to have a response when the going get’s tough.  I think the solution is to shift the perspective from the difficulty to the end goal.  Perhaps, by focusing on the destination, the painful roadblocks won’t seem so substantial.

If you know me, you’ll know that my all-time favorite TV show is Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  And it goes beyond loving the show.  Of course, I own all 7 seasons on DVD.  But I also own several action figures.  I’ve gone to comic book conventions to meet actors from the show.  I follow all the actors on Twitter and Facebook.  To say that I’m a fan is an understatement.  But here’s the reason behind the obsession–it wasn’t a show about vampires.  Well, okay, there were vampires, but it was about so much more.  The real premise was that there was a girl.  And she was small.  And she was perceived as weak.  And she had flaws.  And she made mistakes.  But she always found a way.  She always dug deep to fight the monsters and the bad guys and every force of evil.  She was strong.

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So on this Mother’s Day, here’s to all of our strong women out there.  It’s okay to be hot messes.  It’s okay to say, “Why me?” It’s okay to say, “The pain is too much.”  It’s okay to say, “The road is too rough and I want to give up.”  Say all of those things.  Get the words out.  And then pick yourself up and keep going.

You are strong enough.

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The Garden of Hope — May 7, 2017

The Garden of Hope

Somewhere, a few years ago, I heard it said that in some relationships, someone is the gardener and someone is the flower.  Here is my response to that idea:

Once upon a time, a gardener was born.   She didn’t know it when she was born that she was a gardener.  She was an ordinary girl, but as ordinary girls do, she watched.  She watched the men and women in her life who were gardeners already.  She watched how they toiled the soil, tended to their flowers and plants, and made decisions about what to prune and what to cultivate.  She saw them look to the sky and worry for rain and carefully pluck weeds that threaten their plants.  The little girl saw how proud the gardeners in her life were when their work paid off and flowers bloomed into fragrant, vivid examples of nature’s miracle.

The little girl watched and watched and watched.  And she grew up.  And one day, she decided she was ready to be a gardener herself.  She was ready to find a plot of land and dig up rows of dirt.  She was ready to plant tiny seeds that she would tend daily.  She was ready to watch the skies for rain and do whatever was necessary to care for her plants.  She was ready to show herself and the world that she could care for a garden of her own.

She found her spot.  It was small, it didn’t look like it could support much more than a few simple plants, but the girl didn’t care.  She was ready.  She began her work.  She dug.  She planted.  She watered.  She weeded.  She celebrated the tiny shoots that sprung forth from the earth.  She marveled at their growth every day.  The girl spoke to her family and friends and reported how well her garden was doing.  She was proud of her garden.

For a few years, her garden was fruitful. It yielded vases full of blossoms.  Baskets overflowed with vegetables, bright green and red as only fresh-picked vegetables can be.  She was confident in her garden and her gardening skills.  She used the skills she had watched the gardeners before and they were paying off.

As her garden grew, she decided she was ready to add new plants.  New varieties.  Varieties that were exotic and exciting and challenging.  The gardener wasn’t intimidated.  She was sure that all she had to do was do her part, and her new plants would thrive and be just as bountiful.

So she got to work.  She put all of her gardening effort into her new plants.  She worked even harder than before.  She fertilized and watered.  She put in stakes to support the new growth.  She researched so she could provide every ounce of care possible.  At first, her work was rewarded.  Wild brightly colored blossoms sprang forth from vines and thorny branches.

However, they needed constant care and attention. The gardener began to neglect her faithful, productive plants in favor of her needy new plants.  She sacrificed everything she had to make them grow.  The gardener lost sleep with worry.  She searched for every weed and plucked it.  She tried countless plant foods and fertilizers and other sworn-by remedies to help her wild plants.

The wild plants rewarded her efforts, but not in the manner that she dreamed of.  The vines continued to stretch over the gardener’s faithful plants.  The branches that had once yielded countless blossoms now adorned more thorns than flowers.  The thorns poked and pierced and stabbed at the gardener every time she attempted to cultivate her wild plants.  No matter what the gardener did, no matter what she pruned, no matter how much she cared for these plants, the thorns got her.  She was convinced, though, that if she just kept trying, if she stayed faithful to her plants, she would be rewarded in the end.

Then one day, in the corner of the garden, near her faithful plants, a new plant sprang forth.  One that the gardener had yearned for years.  It was tiny and fragile and needed attention too.  There were countless factors that could threaten the livelihood of this little plant, and the gardener couldn’t let anything happen to it.  So she took her attention away from her wild, thorny, hurtful plants and dedicated herself to her new plant.

Her new plant responded to the gardener’s attention.  And something else grew.  The gardener’s purpose had changed.  Now her purpose was to make her whole garden healthy and productive and safe for all her plants.  She tried pruning the wild, thorny branches to see if they could all grow together.  It didn’t work.  The thorns still bit at her.  The plants still demanded attention that she couldn’t give.  The flowers that bloomed were tiny and wilted and didn’t last.  The gardener had only one choice.

To protect her garden, to protect her plants, both new and old, she had to rip that wild thorny plant out.  She had to tear it out by the roots and throw it away.  She couldn’t care for it any longer.  Her garden would never grow properly with that plant there.  It had to go.

As soon as the plant was gone, the gardener’s soul reacted.  In the space that the wild plant had occupied, the gardener placed new plants to cultivate.  She discovered new things about her garden that she didn’t know existed because she couldn’t see them among the thorns.  Her tiny plant, the one that she protected with her life, grew as well.  Her faithful plants, the ones that had always been there, spread and flourished too.  The gardener found peace and happiness in her plot of land.

For a few years, the gardener was content to tend to her garden alone.  There was no need to add any new plants.  She only wanted the plants that were safe for her garden to thrive.  But the gardener began to look at other gardens.  She saw that not all gardens had thorny branches that threatened to suffocate the life of the beautiful plants within.  She watched and discovered the key to the other gardens.  She saw that the most productive gardens were those that had two gardeners.  Two people toiling and working.  Two people willing to provide whatever was necessary.  Two gardeners.

So the gardener decided that if God wanted her to share her garden, He would show her another gardener.  God would show her someone else who wanted to work and toil and love a garden.  Someone who wouldn’t be afraid to get his hands dirty.  Someone who would work side by side with her.  Someone who would respect the garden and protect it and cherish it.  Someone who would never take advantage of the garden and would only work to make it better.  The gardener decided that if she could find another gardener like that, she would take a leap of faith.

One of the most precious things that grows in a garden is hope.  Hope in the future.  Hope in the possibility.  Hope in the promise that doing the right kind of work will yield more than ever imagined.

But it takes two gardeners.

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The Gift of Grace — April 30, 2017

The Gift of Grace

This past Thursday, I made a mistake.  A professional mistake.  A big one.  Luckily, the outcome was not detrimental, but the effect on me was huge.  I don’t know about you, but when I make a mistake, I punish myself harder than anyone else would think of.  Even worse for me, making a mistake allows The Judge in to take over and beat me down and there’s nothing I can do to stop him.   Once he’s in, he not only uses my mistake as a weapon, he latches to every other insecurity I have to attack me.  And then a downward spiral of self-doubt and self-loathing begins.  And then even strengths about myself, qualities that I am usually confident in, also become vulnerable.  Nothing is safe when I’ve made a mistake and the Judge comes walking in.

However, within 24 hours of this mistake, it had actually become a source of grace and understanding for myself, and for the people I encounter.  In reflection, the steps I took to reach that point were significant.

Step 1: Denial  I replayed the incident and altered the events slightly so I wasn’t culpable.  I found every reason to blame the other person I could.  I began each thought with, “Well if she hadn’t done…then this wouldn’t have happened,” which might be true, but it doesn’t take away the fact that I made the mistake.  Although my desire was to have these thoughts of denial soothe me, it provided no relief.

Step 2:  Blame  Then I blamed the factors that had an impact on my poor decision-making.  I was tired.  I was impatient.  I had been running ragged all week and I was at the end of my rope.   Once again, although those factors were true, they didn’t offer comfort.

Step 3:  Owning It  This is a tough one.  This is the one that requires me to block the denial, resist the temptation to blame other factors, and acknowledge the truth.  I messed up.  I knew better but I didn’t do better.  I had to replay the whole event as it actually happened and expose the mistake.  I had to look the mistake in the eye and tell it that it might be real, and it might be awful, but I will not let it take over me.  I work too hard to prevent the negative thoughts that could reign in my brain to regain control.  Not this day.  You may take away my evening’s peace of mind but you’ll never take my freedom!

Step 4:  Claiming It  This one is even tougher.   I couldn’t stop at owning it.   I had to claim it.  I had to report my mistake and ask for absolution without backsliding into denial and blame.  Finally, I had to ask for forgiveness and wait for the verdict.

Step 5: Grace  This is the hardest of all.  This requires me to go beyond the act of asking for forgiveness from others.  This step requires me to give myself the gift of grace.  Grace is looking beyond the mistake, beyond the transgression, beyond the misdeed.  Grace looks at the individual and sees the human and pours forth mercy and love.  Grace is looking at the person, rather than the mistake, and genuinely and completely forgiving.

The gift of grace is one that allows me to forgive myself, even though I feel I don’t deserve it at the time.  I am quick to forgive others.  I am slow to forgive myself.  I set an unusually high standard that I wouldn’t require anyone else to be held to, and yet when I fall short, it’s unacceptable.  Fortunately, when I asked for forgiveness, my wise Witness provided me the tools to forgive myself.  To let bygones be bygones.  To reflect and revise myself so that I avoid the same mistake again.  To heal my hurt ego and wounded professional soul.  Grace given is as powerful as grace received.

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This gift of grace that I allowed myself to accept was given Friday morning.  Later in the day, I had the opportunity to help a few others accept their own gifts of grace.  One, in particular, was when I was called to help with a student.  He had pinched another student and was in a downward spiral of despair.  He was almost inconsolable.  As I talked with him, I could see him going through all the steps.  “I didn’t mean to pinch him.  He was laughing at me.  I don’t want to get in trouble.  Please don’t tell my mom…”  Poor boy.  I knew what he was going through.  So instead of going through the typical “We Have to Be Safe at School” speech, I went another route.  I told him how I made a mistake the day before and I knew how hard it was to be disappointed in yourself.  We went through his excuses and arguments and I helped him realize that relying on them didn’t change his poor choice.  The only thing to do was to admit it,  ask for forgiveness, and then forgive himself.  For this boy, the term “grace” was too abstract, so I helped him with these words, “I can make a mistake, and still have a good day.”  After repeating that a few times, he dried his tears, went back to class, apologized and carried on with his day.

Grace my friends.  Grace is the step that allows us to be at peace with ourselves, even when we are not at our best.  Grace transforms a mistake into an actualization.  Grace shoves the Judge out the door because when you forgive yourself, the Judge is disarmed.  Grace allows you to become a Witness for yourself.  And that’s the most powerful Witness there is.

Conversations with My Son — April 16, 2017

Conversations with My Son

47a5cf29b3127cce985489909c2f0000005010wAcOHLVy4ZtmbUQOne of the greatest gifts my son gives to me is the gift of having a conversation with someone who has an innocent, honest, child’s perspective.  From the moment he uttered is first word, “bird,” we’ve had conversations that I cherish.  Mind you, sometimes the topics are comical.  Other times he demonstrates wisdom beyond his six years.  Other times are cringe-worthy.  A few of those occurred in our recent conversation history.

What’s the Difference?  I’m not that mom who hides the local and national news from Tommy.  I get why people make that choice, but I choose to let him see all of the world, good and bad.  I watch the local news every morning and evening.  And by watch, I mean it’s on in the background while I perform the chores and routines for the day.  Sometimes I pause and watch a story.  Most of the time it’s just on and I catch the drift while I cook, clean, and carry-on with the life events.  Sometimes Tommy is paying attention.  Most of the time he is reading or playing on his tablet or doing what a six-year-old deems important.  I do recall one evening though when the national news was featuring a story about a family with an autistic child.  Tommy asked me what autism is and I explained how it is something a person has and it can be different for every person.  A person with autism has a brain that is fine, it just works differently.  Sometimes a person with autism has trouble speaking, or showing emotions, or handling loud situations. Sometimes the way they handle those situations is by repeating things, or flapping their hands, or fidgeting.

“Do I have autism, Mom,”  he asked.

“No, Tommy, you do not.”

“Do I know anyone who does,” he pushed further.

I thought for a minute and replied, “Jacob does.  You know how Jacob likes to talk about the same thing and how he always has his string?  Those are things for Jacob that help him when he thinks and talks to people.”  Tommy pauses and says, “It doesn’t matter anyway.  I like Jacob.”

And there it is.  To Tommy, his neighbor and playmate was Just Jacob.  Not a child with autism.  Not someone that the world might see as different.  I believe that’s the beginning of empathy building.  We’re all really different in some way.  Sometimes the difference might qualify under some kind of diagnosis umbrella.  Sometimes the difference might just be a difference.  It shouldn’t matter.  It’s the person who matters.  I think that’s what Tommy meant.

Speaking of Differences

“Mom it’s weird because on that commercial the mom was Black and the dad was White and that’s not supposed to be how it is.  White people should be with White people and Black people should be with Black people,”  Tommy declared from the living room while I was making dinner one evening this past winter.

Well, let’s just stop the world right now and address this misconception.   I turned the burners off and sat him down on the couch next to me.

“Let me tell you who should be together.  People who should be together are the people who are going to treat each other with respect.  With love.  And take care of each other.  Skin color has nothing to do with that.  You’re going to see all kinds of moms and dads.  What matters is how they treat each other and how they love their kids.  And that is that.”

“Okay, okay,” he replied.

I don’t know where that declaration came from and, frankly, I don’t care.  What is important is that when an opinion such as that is made, I seize the moment and make it the highest priority to show him how it’s flawed.  Why it’s wrong.  Why it goes against the moral fiber of love and acceptance and understanding that we must live by.

I’m seeing a pattern here that Tommy is noticing things in the world that usually passed him by.  His egocentrism is waning away.  However, what replaces it is up to me and those close to him with influence.  This is the time to take his questions and comments and noticings and help Tommy see them through the correct lens.

On Mommy Matters

One of the things I marvel at in conversations is Tommy’s quick wit and delivery.   I can think of two incidents.  One happened about a year and a half ago.  In the course of two weeks I had told him that A) his dad and I were going to get a divorce and B) once upon a time I was married to a different person.  That’s right, I had a Starter Husband and then Tommy’s dad was Husband Number Two.

Tommy accepted both pieces of information rather well.  It probably helped that I was driving at the time too, with Tommy in the backseat, with nowhere to go.  I highly recommend this technique if you have news to give your kids and you want a no escape route option.  Some of our best conversations have occurred while I was driving and he was in the backseat.

Anyway, a few days after I told Tommy about having a husband before his dad, we were eating dinner at Chile’s.  The great thing about Chile’s is that they have a game kiosk on each table.  Tommy and I usually play Life while we wait for our food.  As we played, my pawn moved to a space that was marked, “Gets Married.”  I groaned.

Tommy said, “What’s the matter, Mom?  Two husbands enough for you?”

Listen, buddy, if I want snarky comments about my relationship choices, I have plenty of people who will gladly share their thoughts.  Keep your wise-cracking, Quick Draw McGraw comments to yourself.

Then, just this morning, this BLESSED Easter morning, Tommy and I were eating the spinach frittata that we made together, and I explain that the recipe is from the Whole30 plan, which I was starting the next day.

“Why, Mom?”

“Well, you know how I had to do a factory reset on your iPad to get it to work correctly?”  He nods.  “The Whole30 plan is like that for your body.  You don’t eat any dairy, or sugar, or grains, or gluten for 30 days because it helps to reset your body to find out what is good for it and what your body doesn’t like.”  (I left out alcohol.  No alcohol for 30 days.  A moment of silence, please.)

“Why do you want to do that, Mom?”

“Well, my knees are bothering me and I also want this to go away,”  as I rub my lower belly.  This is one of  The Judge’s most powerful weapons against me, and I want it gone.

“Eww, yeah!  But Mom, if your belly is so fat why don’t you just wear a girdle?”

Just wear a girdle?  JUST WEAR A GIRDLE?  JUST WEAR A GIRDLE?

Hey, six-year-old, born in 2010, how in the name of Cool Ranch Doritos and Michelob Ultra do you know about GIRDLES and the proper use for them?  I could almost, ALMOST, understand knowing about Spanx, but GIRDLES?  I.can’t.even.

The Mother of All Mom-Son Conversations

I believe that if there was a contest for Mother-Son conversations, and I entered the exchange that Tommy and I had two weeks ago, I’d hands down win for the “Most Awkward” category, and quite possibly the whole shebang.  It started innocently enough, we were sitting on the couch, on a Saturday night, watching one of his Nickelodeon shows.

“Mom, I don’t get it.  You’re older than Amanda, but her kids are older than me.”

“Grown-ups can have kids at different ages.  I was older than Amanda when I had you.  She was younger than me when she had her kids.”

He pauses and said, “How old can people be?”  Uh-oh, Now Entering Reproduction Territory.  Bwoop!  Bwoop!

“Women usually stop having babies between 45 and 50.  Men can become dads until they die.”  Please, don’t ask more questions, please don’t ask more questions.

“Oh…so how do you make a baby, anyway?”

Damn.  Damn, damn, damn.  Before I uttered the words, “I’ll tell you when you’re older,”  I decided to borrow the Facebook advice that a friend of mine posted, and tell Tommy the truth, in the fewest details necessary.  It worked for her son–he was grossed out and didn’t ask any more questions.  It should work for Tommy, right?

I’m pretty sure all these words came out in the same breath, “You know that a man has a penis and a woman has a vagina. The man puts his penis inside the woman’s vagina and then something called sperm comes out of the penis and then a woman has an egg inside her–not the eggs we get in grocery stores, but a different kind of egg–and if the sperm gets to the egg then the egg will attach itself to something called the uterus inside the woman and that’s where it will grow for nine months and then the baby is born.”

Please say, “EW,” and let it be done. Please say, “EW,” and let it be done.

“Oh.  Wait a minute…”  (I’ve learned to dread that phrase, Wait a Minute.  It means Mr. Smarty-Pants is putting two and two together, and I can’t hide from the truth.)  “Wait a minute, does that mean…my dad…(please don’t finish this sentence, please DON’T)..put his penis…(PLEASE!)…inside your vagina?”

Now.  Now I understand why parents say, “I’ll tell you when you’re older.”  Or why The Stork story originated.  Now I know.  But there’s no turning back now.  Once your son has uttered the words “my dad put his penis inside your vagina,” there’s nowhere to go but up.

“Yes, Tommy, that’s how we made you.”

“Okay.”  I exhaled a long breath, believing our Facts of Life conversation was over.

“Wait a minute, Mom.  Wait a minute…did it hurt?”

Did it hurt?  DID IT HURT?  There aren’t enough can’t evens in the world for me to can’t even.  In that moment, I am certain I thought of a thousand responses.  From the sarcastic, It doesn’t hurt if you do it right, to the morose, The emotional pain came later, to the honest, Nah, I had a few beers so I was feeling good.  But for my son’s question, a valid one-word response was all that was necessary.

“No.  No, it didn’t hurt.”

Then I had to go on the offense, “You should never talk about these things with your friends or at school.  NEVER.”  Tommy shook his head emphatically and agreed.  Dear God, if that conversation was awkward, I can’t imagine what Tommy’s teacher would have to say if he decided that The Facts of Life should be a recess discussion topic.  Lord, I don’t need that phone call from Tommy’s school.

Bottom Line

Despite the topic, when an opportunity presents itself, I’m committed to seizing it.  “We’ll talk about it when you’re older,” isn’t in my arsenal.  If he’s asking about it, or commenting, he’s thinking about it.  He’s forming his opinions and perspective.  It’s my obligation, no matter what, to help him form them with honesty, and empathy, and truth.

Even if it hurts.

 

Living on a Prayer — April 2, 2017

Living on a Prayer

For the past eighteen years, April 1st was more than the traditional April Fool’s Day. It was also my wedding anniversary. My SoonToBe and I decided to elope on that day.  When we told my family, they thought it was an April Fool’s Day joke. Especially when they saw the marriage license and the presiding judge’s name was the Honorable James Puffenburger.

But it wasn’t a prank. It was real. As real as marriage can be.

For sixteen of those years, we lived in the same household. We had happy times. We built traditions together. We had a house and pets and eventually a son together. I stood by SoonToBe as he tried to face job losses, a bipolar diagnosis, alcohol addiction, and a dependence on prescription pills for a variety of reasons. I believed that if I made his life easier, he would be able to conquer his demons, and he would find his way to becoming a true partner, rather than an emotional and financial dependent. I endorsed the promise checks he wrote me–he’d quit drinking, he’d find a job, he’d help me take care of a home.

But his checks always bounced.

Through it all, I did what I could. The thing I did the most was praying. I prayed that SoonToBe would quit drinking. I prayed that he would rely on counseling to help him handle his psychological problems. I prayed that he would find a job. I prayed and pleaded and begged. My prayers went unanswered.

Then one day, I sent God a different kind of prayer. Two years ago, I was at the end of my rope. I wanted SoonToBe gone. I couldn’t share a home and watch his self-destructive behavior any longer. I couldn’t let Tommy think that this was an acceptable way to live.  I told SoonToBe how I felt and he mockingly told me that I couldn’t kick him out of the house because his name was on our lease too. There was no way I could make him go. I was stuck.

Hopelessness is a terrible place to live.

So I said a new prayer. I told God that if I am supposed to stay, help me to find a way to stay. But if I’m supposed to leave, find me a way. Find me a path. Point me in the right direction. Be my compass, God.

The very next day, I repeat, THE VERY NEXT DAY, I received a text from a friend that she and her husband had purchased a new house and wanted to rent their current home. She wanted to know if I would be interested.

For sixteen years I had prayed for something and it didn’t happen.

For one day I prayed for God’s direction, and He pointed the way.

My reaction? I was scared to death. Terrified. Because now I had a path. A divine course of action was revealed to me. Even though God answered my prayer, and I knew I had to do my part, I wasn’t sure if I could go through with it. As awful as it was living in a toxic relationship, I knew leaving SoonToBe would devastate him. He would have nowhere to go and no financial resources to rely on.

On the flip side, living with him was devastating me. I was emotionally bankrupt. As hard as it was going to be to hurt SoonToBe, I couldn’t believe that anything was going to improve. He had violated my trust and taken advantage of me for so long. He was never going to do what he needed to do to be a better father, a better husband, a better man.   The hard truth that I realized was that as long as I was there to be the living example of co-dependence, he would never change. Nothing would change.

So I did the hard thing. I delivered the devastating news. I endured the backlash. I held firm to my plan to move forward for myself and for my son. I moved from the house that was toxic and dark and plagued with stress. I moved to a home that was filled with light and hope and solace. I am a better mother, a better friend, a better sister, a better me.

In fact, since that day, I am discovering who I am. For sixteen years, I compromised who I was in an effort to help SoonToBe. However, I am really trying to not criticize myself for that time. If things had happened differently, if I had cut bait earlier, I might not have Tommy now. I fiercely hold on to that truth when The Judge tries to let regret and shame in.  Regret and Shame have no place in my home. They’re like vampires; they can’t come in unless they’re invited. I’m doing my damnedest to block that invitation.

This was the last April 1st that I will be married to SoonToBe. Divorce proceedings are under way. He and I are finally in a place that we are able to co-parent civilly.  He’s made a few steps towards recovery that make me hopeful for him, for his own sake and for Tommy’s. But that’s where it ends. There is no chance for reconciliation, which is a relief for me.

One of the strongest things I ever did was to admit defeat on my marriage. As soon as I waved the white flag, I began empowering myself, rather than enabling him. It still hurts, but not as acutely. I still cry at times, but not for a marriage that died. I cry for the marriage that could have been. To comfort myself, I rely on the words that Glennon Doyle Melton used when she and her husband divorced. “Our marriage isn’t over.  It is complete.”

Yesterday, on April 1st, I noticed a sign of completion. I had my offertory envelope for church next to me as I wrote out my donation check. My church sends preprinted envelopes with the parishioners’ names and addresses on them. My envelopes have always had both my name and SoonToBe’s name included. I always scratch off his name. Yesterday, when I went to scratch off his name, it wasn’t there. It was just me. My church envelope finally represented my new life. It’s just me. It’s just me living on an answered prayer.47a7da20b3127cce9854803374fc0000001010wAcOHLVy4ZtmbUQ

 

The Light of Spring — March 26, 2017

The Light of Spring

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For approximately 90 days out of every year, I wonder why I continue to reside in the state of Michigan.  I know there are people out there who love the cold and snow of winter.  I am not one of them.  In fact, I believe I have earned the right to be a charter member of the Winter Completely Sucks Club.  I’m taking applications for other individuals who hold the same belief.  Applications are due December 21st–see what I did there?

I will acknowledge that winter has its merits.  When you have nowhere to go, and the snow is gently falling in huge, feathery flakes, I will acknowledge that it is pretty.  When the sky is blue, and the sun is shining, and the air is not so frigid that your eyes water, it can be invigorating to take a brisk walk.  When your six-year-old gleefully throws himself down in fresh snow to make a snow angel, your heart warms your whole body.

However, those moments are too few for me to embrace winter.  Usually, a heavy snowfall arrives during a commute and it seems every driver I share the road with has completely forgotten how to drive in the snow.  The sun goes on vacation for weeks on end.  As much as I enjoy watching Tommy play in the snow, I would be just as happy watching him splash in a wave, or build a sand castle.  Sorry, Winter.  It’s not me.  It’s YOU.

However, there are about 270 days of the year when living in Michigan makes complete sense.  I was reminded of that this past Monday, March 20th, when Spring officially arrived.  Signs of spring revealed themselves, even without the calendar declaration.  Pale green leaves pushed through the softening soil.  Chirping birds perched in naked trees announced the new season.  Longer days of daylight promised warmer temperatures to come.

And, for me, with every sign from Mother Nature, something else arrives.  A mood shift occurs.  The sense of dread at facing the elements when I step out the door weakens.  The Seasonal Mood Disorder that I’ve self-diagnosed (thank you again, WebMD) starts packing its bags.  Every drop of spring sunshine, every warm breeze, every sign of new life is a beacon for my winter weary soul.

Upon reflection, the exit of winter is not just about warmer temperatures and increased daylight.  Spring is also about the metaphorical rejuvenation that occurs.  With every layer of outerwear that is shed, a psychological layer sheds as well.  As nature awakens, something inside me awakens.  Something that was dormant during the cold, dark months.  Something that my soul needs.  Something that must require some period of hibernation to recharge because it cannot sustain year round.  Something that I miss desperately, and rejoice when it returns.

The second reading at church this weekend helped me to identify my Spring Something.  As these words were read aloud, “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.  Live as children of light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth…Therefore, it says, ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light,” (Ephesians 5: 8-9, 14)  a connection between the reading and my Spring Something began to form.

Hearing those words reminded me of Father Gregory Boyle, a priest who works with the inner city gang members of Los Angelos through his Homeboy Ministries.  In his book, Tattoos on the Hearthe wrote:

Jesus says, “You are the light of the world.” I like even more what Jesus doesn’t say.  He does not say, “One day, if you are more perfect and try really hard, you’ll be light.”  He doesn’t say, “If you play by the rules, cross your T’s and dot your I’s, then maybe you’ll become light.”  No.  He says, straight out, “You are light.”  It is the truth of who you are, waiting only for you to discover it.”

Friends, we are light. YOU are LIGHT. I.AM.LIGHT.

And that’s what Spring’s rebirth awakens in me.  I am light.  I am good enough.  My flawed, messy, perfectly imperfect self is good enough.  For 90 days I dwelt in the harsh, dark, cold winter and that was enough for me to know that I didn’t want to stay there any longer.  Physically or metaphorically.  I welcome the sun and the warmth and the light in the world and within myself.  I’m so excited to enjoy it for the next 270 days.

P.S.  Today’s media is the drawing of a lifelong friend, Dave Loveland.  I cannot find the appropriate words to proclaim how talented he is.  I’ve admired his work since we were in Mrs. Snyder’s third grade class together, which was also the first time we collaborated.  I wrote a story about a monkey and a snake in the jungle and he provided the illustrations.  We won the chance to attend Young Authors, a celebration for elementary authors and illustrators, sponsored by Adrian College.  But Dave isn’t just a talented artist, he has a beautiful spirit as well.  Thank you, Dave.

Lane Choices — March 19, 2017

Lane Choices

This past Monday, my sweet 97-year-old grandfather passed away.  Monday evening, my brother, sister and brother-in-law toasted Grandpa Crisp with a Manhattan, his favorite cocktail, which he enjoyed every day at 5:00.  We not only shared a drink, we shared stories as we reminisced the life of Grandpa.   One story was how my grandpa used both feet when he drove–one foot for the gas and one foot for the brake.  He grew up on a farm, and he learned how to drive a tractor first, which required both feet.   When he began driving a car, he never broke the 2-foot method.

This little snapshot of my grandfather’s driving habits reminded me of the other men in my life who had driving particulars.  Anyone who knew my father knew he followed specific self-declared driving rules.  It bothered him immensely when other drivers did not adhere to his rules.  It amused his children immensely as he yelled and shook his head at those drivers who should have known somehow the Tom Ball Rules for Intelligent Driving.  A few examples were:

  1.  Use the route that avoids the most traffic, stoplights, and unnecessary distance.  I’ll never forget when I told him I was driving from Adrian to Livonia and took I-94 to access I-275.  He shook his head and annoyingly exclaimed, “No, no, no, take 94 to the Willow Run exit and then veer to the left to get on Michigan Avenue and take that to 275 north.  You’ll have a few more lights, but you’re driving too far east if you take 94 to 275.”  And he was genuinely annoyed that I didn’t inherently know that route.  He was right, though; his way was better and faster.  Thank you, Dad.
  2. Do not drive in the improper lane.  During one of my first driving experiences with Dad as the co-pilot, I was driving east through my hometown of Tecumseh on Chicago Boulevard.  There were two lanes that went through town, and I knew the right lane merged into the left as you exited Tecumseh.  I thought I was savvy when I moved from the right lane to the left ahead of time, but about a mile too early.  There were at least five intersections that posed the possibility of a car that would be waiting to turn left and block our path.  Once again, Dad admonished, “No, no, no!  Not yet!  You’ll get stuck behind someone!  You don’t merge left until you cross Maumee Street!”  Sorry, Dad.
  3. Let Archimedes takes over sometimes. My father was famous for taking “the back way.”  If there was a country road route, he took it.  Often these roads had long curves.  If there was no on-coming traffic, Dad would cut the curve by driving in a straight line, even though it crossed over into the opposite lane.  When his children yelled at him to get back over, Dad would simply state, “The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.”  Lay off the geometry, Dad.

There are others, but those were the ones that have influenced my driving habits.  To this day, I can hear my dad’s voice whenever I take a route that wasn’t the fastest.  Sometimes, I adjust, because to break the rule feels sacrilegious, and sometimes I say, “Sorry, Dad” and do it my way.

Even though my father is gone, his driving legacy lives on, not only in the firmly imprinted rules but also through his son, my brother, Michael.  Driving with my brother is just like driving with my dad.  Well, except for one thing.  I can tell my brother off when he criticizes my driving.  Just recently, I was driving Michael to the airport, and he questioned why I was driving in a lane.  A heated discussion ensued.  I may have made the comment, “If you don’t like my choice of lanes, you can Uber your ass to the airport.”  And then we both laughed and had a discussion about the decision-making process of when one decides to choose to be in a lane.

For example, I hate merging into another lane if there is a large amount of traffic.  Despise it.  It makes me anxious.  If I know I have to be in a lane to turn right or left, I’ll choose the appropriate lane as early as I can, even if it means I’ll get blocked or there’s more traffic.  (Sorry, Dad).  I worry that if I’m in the wrong lane and it’s time to merge over, there won’t be room for me.  I won’t be able to blinker my way in and I’ll miss my exit or turn.  For me, it’s more important to be in the correct lane, than it is to avoid the obstacles, even if it means it will take me longer.

After I dropped my brother off, I proceeded to my next destination and found myself driving in the right lane, of a seven-lane road, because in two miles I had to turn right.  As I drove, the car in front of me putzed along while the vehicles in the lanes adjacent zoomed past.  I heard both my father and my brother screaming at me, “WHY ARE YOU IN THIS LANE?  GO AROUND HIM!”  I looked ahead, and sure enough, even if I got out of my safe lane, the lane I thought I needed to be in, I had room to get around the car and get back to the spot I needed.  I can’t tell you how liberating it is to figure out that an obstacle isn’t really an obstacle.

And that, my friends, is how a Metaphor for Life, is born.  How many times have I felt like I was in the correct lane, but moving at a slower pace, because there was a putzy car in my way?  How many times did I let anxiety and fear prevent me from looking ahead to see a path around the obstacle?  How many times did I think I was making the safe, responsible choice, but it was actually the choice that slowed my progress?

I don’t think I am going to truly answer those questions.  I don’t want to invite regret and shame in the door.  I think, for now, I will recognize the new possibility of lane choices.  The possibility that by changing lanes, obstacles can be left in the dust, while the path to the destination remains the same.  The possibility that an anxious fear doesn’t have the control that it once did.  The possibility that at times I might have to blinker my way into the lane I need, but I have the strength and persistence to accomplish that.  The possibility, gasp, that my brother was right.  (Boy, he’s going to love that.)

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