Posted in Celebration, Faith, Family, Grief, Thanks

The Gifts of the Darkness

“What gifts?”

A question I have asked myself over and over and over again this week as I settled my mind on “springing ahead,” even the clock speaking of the hope of longer daylight and warmer spirits.

“What gifts came as a result of the darkness of this year of all years?”

I am usually someone who rushes over the grief and wants to spring right to positivity and happy things. I like that. I’m definitely a “spring-forward” girl.

But I am learning that it does NOT work. I can’t just rush to JOY. Nor should I.

So when that question came, I paused. I really paused.

First, I need to speak of the darkness.
Of the soul.
Of the cocoony, wintery, messy, middle-of-the-muck-and-mire-stuff.
Of the death of life as I knew it almost exactly a year ago.
Of all the loss in every facet of society and in my little world.

Losing friends to this monster (youngish ones).
Not having family reunions on both sides.
Isolation and disconnection.
The tearing away of peace of mind.
All the complicated choices to see people safely.
The sheer exhaustion from the stress.
Judgment from everywhere, even my own, about all. the. things.
Lack of motivation.
The constant survival mode feeling.

It’s all been hard. Too hard in many ways. DARK. Really dark.

But my heart (my spring-forward heart) also sees the gifts that can only come as a result of the darkness.

Even the darkness of a horrible-terrible-no-good-very-bad year.

The dark night of our collective souls.

I’ve been watching our rhododendron sleep through the winter, the buds closed tight, hunkering down.

At one point in the coldest and snowiest and darkest of days, the buds were covered with ice and the leaves were droopy and frozen.

I stood there looking at it through my big window, marveling that when the light and the warm and the spring finally comes, each frigid bud will burst forth into all the purple blooms that shout beauty and hope.

The blooms are the gifts of the darkness.

So right back to my question.

“What gifts?”

“What gifts came as a result of the darkness of this year of all years?”

Then another, more clarifying question came as well.

“What gifts do I want to bring with me out of the darkness and into the “spring,” into the light?

To be honest, there are many.

Plenty of rest for this recovering-workaholic.
Moments to stare out the window at my sleeping rhododendron covered in snow.
The freedom from all the soul-killing expectations to be busy, busy, busy.
Deep connections with those most important to me.
White space that grants margin for creativity.
Extra time with the Tender Lover of my soul.
Long walks in every kind of weather and the appreciation of nature that comes with them.

Simple thankfulness for things like paper towels and meals with friends.
Discovery of parts of myself that I hadn’t known before and I now like (a lot).
The narrowing of priorities to what really matters.
Deep empathy from and for others in suffering.

There are more and more and more.

Life-changing “terrible gifts” (as CS Lewis calls them) that have only come as a result of the darkness.

Gifts I will continue to unwrap for the rest of my days.
Gifts I will hold onto like a treasure box only meant for me.

Gifts.

Terrible, beautiful, sacred, horrible, hard, holy, very very good gifts.

The gifts of the darkness.

Have I hated this year?
A resounding YES in many ways.

Do I wish it never happened?
A thousand times NO.

I’m peeking out an my rhododendron on this bright, sunny day.
It’s reaching for the light and its leaves are glorious.
The buds are still closed, not quite as tight, and I can see their faint color through the green.

Soon, the purple will unfurl into all of its goodness.

It won’t be for a few more weeks, but I can feel the gift of incredible beauty as if it is right now.

Posted in Celebration, Faith, Family, Health, Thanks

Ordinary Couch

There once was a woman who DID NOT like ordinary days.

She wanted hoopla and fanfare.
Bluster and rah-rah.

Ordinary meant colorless and ho-hum.
Stodgy and flat.

Who would ever ever want that?

But along came some very un-ordinary days.

She found herself smack dab in the middle of them.

For a very very long time.
Like more than 350 of these un-ordinary ones in a whole, long, very confusing row.

But there was no hoopla or fanfare.
Bluster or rah-rah.

There was strangeness and head-scratching.
Veiled faces and pandemonium.

She sat down one day on her ordinary couch
in her ordinary house
after a very ordinary breakfast and thought for just a minute and a half or so.

About all those ordinary days she had not liked.

The ones with laughter.
Friendship.
Lunch hours.
Stadium seats.
Picnics.
Hugs.
Lemonade stands.
Conference rooms.
Smiles.
Carpools.
Sunday school.

How silly of her? Not to like them.

She found that she could not wait until she could have just one of them again.

Just one. Count them. ONE. Ordinary day.

A regular sun-up to sun-down.

But on her ordinary couch
in her ordinary house
she thought for another minute and a half or so.

About all these un-ordinary days in a row.

Would she want them back?
Would she say “good riddance?”
Would she find that some of them were just ordinary after all?

The ones with family dinners.
Gardening.
Board games.
Pillow fights.
Cuddles.
Long walks.
Bike rides.
Prayers.
Puzzles.
Firepits.
Books.
 
So on her ordinary couch
in her ordinary house
she thought and she thought and she thought some more.
Maybe three minutes this time.
 
She did NOT NOT like ordinary days anymore.
 
In fact, she liked them a lot.
 
She didn’t need hoopla and fanfare.
Bluster and rah-rah.
 
Because ordinary doesn’t always mean
colorless or ho-hum.
Stodgy or flat.
 
More often, ordinary means
 
family.
kindness.
neighbors.
joy.
friends.
faith.
hard work.
memories.
rest.
contentment.
 
AND
 
love.
 
What she needs the most.
 
And guess what she finally thought about?
 
On her ordinary couch
in her ordinary house
this time gazing at her ordinary dog?
 
There are many many more beautiful un-ordinary ordinary days to come.
 
She can’t wait.
Posted in Family, Motherhood, Thanks

S-T-R-E-T-C-H Marks

One day, a girlish woman looked down at her big burgeoning belly and she had little red lines.

She freaked out a bit.

“Those are STRETCH marks,” her very own mama broke the news. “They will always remind you that you are a mom.”

What seemed like both three days and 75 years later, her big kid, yet still-her-baby, was taking one more step to new-found freedom. Away from her. Out into the world.

She glanced in the mirror that night, tears staining her cheeks, and those little red lines, albeit mildly faded, spoke gently to her about all the ways she had been and was still being

S

T

R

E

T

C

H

E

D.

Before she was quite ready. Often taken-aback by what was in front of her.

To her limits. In…………….all……………the……………..ways.

In her thinking. More open-minded. Less judgmental.

Above and beyond. The call of mom duty.

From the inside out. Just like the burgeoning belly. Bringing new life.

Beyond her imagination. Who knew? There would be all this s–t–r–e–t–c–h–i–n–g?

By her child. Of course.

B

Y

 

H

E

R

 

C

H

I

L

D.

 

She took another hard look at her now mid-life, bumpy belly and she gave thanks for those little red lines.

For all the s–t–r–e–t–c–h–i–n–g. That had happened and was still happening.

Not just on the outside. But on the inside. On her heart. On her soul.

“Those are STRETCH marks,” she whispered to herself. “They will always remind you that you are a mom.”

Posted in Family, Grandparenthood, Thanks

Get Down on the Floor

Dad, this is you and your granddaughter, my then toddler, a long time ago.
 
I could always find you right here.
 
On the floor.
 
Surrounded by my kids and their cousins (and toys and crafts and books).
 
On the floor.
 
At their level. Listening closely. Playing. Getting to know them.
Doing what they love.
 
On the floor.
 
Not too long ago, I watched another one of your granddaughters, my then teenager, crouch down to speak with a child who was asking her questions.
 
I was pleasantly puzzled.
 
“Why did you do that, crouch down like that?” I asked her in the car on the way home.
 
“I learned that from you, Mom. That’s what you do. It feels like it shows basic respect for them even if they are little.”
 
“Oh my goodness,” I responded, “I learned that from my dad. It just comes automatically.”
 
We chatted away about how getting down, becoming the same size and having our eyes at the same level might just make little kids feel like we are equals and that we are both of the same importance.
 
BASIC RESPECT.
 
So Dad, thanks.
 
Thanks for getting down on the floor.
 
With me first. And then with my kids.
And in your heart, with everyone you meet.
 
Thanks for being a respecter of persons.
 
No matter if they are…
 
3, 23 or 83.
Disagree with you or think exactly like you.
Brown-skinned or blue-eyed.
The mailman or the doctor.
Asking for or giving you help.
Your grandchildren or your coworkers.
 
The world (including me) has a lot to learn from you right about now.
 
It would do us ALL good to crouch all the way down, listen closely, play a little with each other and perhaps understand one another just a little bit more. We might even figure out that we love some of the very same things.
 
BASIC RESPECT.
 
The floor is looking like the right place to start.
Posted in Celebration, Family, Motherhood, Thanks

A Recycled Candle Jar

A recycled candle jar.

But not just any recycled candle jar.
 
One turned into a gift for a mom.
 
100 little notes (“+ a few bonuses”) nestled inside the glass.
 
With butterfly stickers to boot.
 
From her littlest big kid.
 
A mom who fought fiercely to love this kid.
 
All of her kids, in fact.
 
Not perfectly by any means.
 
Kind of messy.
 
Kind of mixed-up.
 
Kind of all-over-the-place.
 
But with her whole heart for sure.
 
A mom who made up family traditions as she went along.
 
Valentine’s Day indoor picnics on the floor.
 
Ice cream every night on summer vacation.
 
Money egg hunts on Easter from middle school on.
 
Traditions that were just what the mom needed maybe even more than the kids.
 
A mom who created memories from moments big and small.
 
Ones that never seem to fade a teensy iota.
 
Others that echo all the mom’s unending and tireless (and tiring) effort.
 
Even more that call timeless past treasures right into the present.
 
Memories that speak to the truth that the love of a mom does not change.
 
EVER.
 
A recycled candle jar.
 
But not just any recycled candle jar.
 
One turned into a gift for a mom.
 
All those memories…
 
All those traditions…
 
All those gifts of love…
 
Have now just returned to her ten, twenty, even hundred-fold.
 
She can assure you of this: it was all worth it and then some.
 
And then some more. And more. And more.
Posted in Celebration, Faith, Family, Grief, Thanks

I Can’t Stop Staring

 

I can’t stop staring at my tree.

For the first time ever in the history of my “very-organized-and-get-it-all-put-away” self, I decided NOT to take our tree down just yet.

Yes, the ornaments are all put away, labeled in their correct boxes.  But the lights are still shimmering quietly.

I wonder if it’s because it’s the last thing left from 2020, the year of all years.

That feels strange, but it’s mostly likely true.

Part of me doesn’t want to “let go” quite yet and plunge into the “back-to-normal” (if there even is such a thing) 2021 to come.

I’ve loved and hated 2020 just like the rest of you.

Hated all the division, sickness, suffering, anxiety, loss, isolation, yada yada yada.

But I’ve come to LOVE some things that I don’t want to let go of.

Like less expectations and shoulds.

More enjoying what’s right in front of me.

Less running around like a nutcase.

Embracing the simplicity and monotony of each day.

Figuring out who my people are…my real people who have stuck with me and by me through it all.

Clinging to the Source of Hope like never before.

It’s probably why I’ve kept my tree up with it’s sparkly lights.

Why I can’t stop staring at it.

It’s giving me permission to go slowly again into this year.

Not follow my usual rules.

Allow it to be different (because, let’s face it, it is different).

Let go of all that never really served me in the “before times.”

Grieve all the loss and hang on to all that I’ve found.

Continue to feed the hope that burns in my soul.

The light that cannot be snuffed out.

I can’t stop staring at my tree.

Posted in Celebration, Health, Thanks, Word of the Year

How to Choose Your Word of the Year (simple steps and helpful reminders)…Find Out Mine

A “Word of the Year” is intended to be a kind guide that walks along side of us during the year, not a harsh master that dictates a set of “to-do’s” (God knows we don’t need any more of those voices in our heads).  It’s a friend that accompanies us during our journey.  (The Dolly Mama)

When I was a young girl, I had the New Year’s resolution every year of reading through the Bible.  On January 1, I would read 40 chapters of the book of Genesis and then by January 8, I would be on Genesis chapter 43.  I’ve made that same resolution about 20 more times at points in my life and guess what, I have never read through the whole Bible no matter what I’ve tried.  It’s been the same for me with exercise plans, diets, organizational goals, etc.

You know what I mean.

You feel the same pain.

Bottom line: resolutions rarely, if ever, work.

On the flip side, I’m all about HOPE.  I love a fresh start.  A new day.  A new week.  A new month.  And especially a NEW YEAR.  Hope “rocks my socks.”

Thank God He gives me a fresh start every morning, even every moment.  I don’t know what I would do without the place where I can begin again, take a first step toward change, growth and healing, and then come to that same redemptive position again and again.  HOPE.

HOPE, my first Word of the Year (hereafter known as WOTY) is the main reason why I opted to throw away all New Year’s resolutions and choose a WOTY.  I need HOPE. 

A word of the year encompasses HOPE.  It’s an inner, gracious guide that allows room for us to change and grow.  Resolutions are harsh external masters that heap shame on us when we “fail” to keep them.

Here’s why:

  • A resolution concentrates on “DOING.”  A WOTY values “BEING.”
  • A resolution instructs.  A WOTY inspires.
  • A resolution is mandatory (“work out three days a week”).  A WOTY allows for room to go at your own pace (taking the next baby step).
  • A resolution is limited in possibility (“lose 10 pounds”).  A WOTY is expansive and limitless.
  • A resolution can be “broken.” A WOTY cannot (it is a gentle friend).

If you’ve never done this, it’s a lot of fun.  I know people who spend an hour (me) and some who spend a weekend (my husband). 

It’s not a race.  It doesn’t matter when.  But it might matter IF.

It might seem overwhelming.  It’s not.  It’s just fun.  Give yourself the treat.

Helpful reminders:

  • Concentrate on who you want to BE(come) this year, not what you want to get done.
  • Cup your ear to your hopes and dreams.  Be mindful not to listen to your doubts and fears.
  • Be true to yourself.  You want your  word to represent your unique needs and desires.
  • Remind yourself that it doesn’t have to be perfect. This isn’t traditional goal-setting.  This is grace-filled friendship-making. There is plenty of room to change your mind.
  • It’s intended to be a kind guide that walks along side of you during the year, not a harsh master that dictates a set of “to-do’s” (God knows we don’t need any more of those voices in our heads…I call that “shoulding” all over yourself).  It’s a friend that accompanies you during your journey.

Simple steps:

  1.  Ask yourself a simple question:  What do you need?  Many times, we concentrate on improving ourselves instead of being kind to ourselves.  This is a huge starting place.  Don’t skip this step.  Write down all the random things that come to your mind.
  2. The next question can be (after you haven’t skipped the first one) who do you want to be(come)?  Write down a few of the most important things that jump into your head.
  3. Make a list of words that come to mind.  Write as many as you want.  It can be a noun, verb or adjective.  If you need help, click on this printable alphabetical list I put together for you for some ideas. (Word of the Year Ideas)
  4. Cross out the words that don’t work for you.  Narrow your list down to at the most 10 words.
  5. Check out the definition of each of the words, its origin, synonyms and antonyms.  You might just be surprised at what you find out!
  6. Give yourself some time to process the list.  Allow yourself to “try each one on for size.”
  7. Take a deep breath and choose your word.  Take a few minutes to write your thoughts about how you hope it might play out in different areas of your life and relationships.
  8. Write your word down on something and post it on your mirror, your car, your computer, wherever you will see it every day.  I found a picture and put it as the background of my computer (it will feel weird to change it out).  Look at it each morning and remind yourself about this friend who is with you today.
  9. Give yourself permission to change your mind.  If you want to, take the time to reflect and re-evaluate your word at any point in the year.

An Update From Yours Truly:

My WOTY for 2020 was “Hygge.”  I don’t want to give up this friend.  I love her.  She’s been a kind, yet forceful voice in my life, the best of the best.  I have a long way to go in my friendship with “Hygge.”   She is “the feeling of coziness and well-being.”

The good news is that just because I make a new friend does not mean I have to give up my old one.  “Hygge” can come along with me into 2021 and who knows, maybe my new word will stand hand-in-hand with her.  When I think about all my WOTYs since I’ve started, it makes for one wonderful Dolly Mama posse (HOPE, BECOME, DEPTH, TEND, SHALOM and HYGGE).  That makes me super happy.

Now, that I’ve welcomed them all, I would like to invite another new friend into my life for 2021:  my Word of the Year is BREATHE!

Breathe.

After 2020, my muscles are tight, my brain is fried from all the decisions, my adrenaline is overused, my body is drained and my soul is plain-old exhausted from clinging to HOPE in the middle of all the heartache. 

Breathe.

This “just-the-friend-I-need-right-now” WOTY will give me the courage to do this…

PHYSICALLY.  Shoulders down.  Lungs open.  Slow, long and deep.  Often.

EMOTIONALLY.  Let the good in.  Get the toxic out.  Good boundaries.  Open heart.

MENTALLY.  Take one step at a time.  Like a snail.  Gracious.  Steady.  Intentional.

SPIRITUALLY.

Breathe.

INHALE the grace of God.

Breathe.

EXHALE the shame I heap on myself.

Breathe.

INHALE the peace of God.

Breathe.

EXHALE the fear that threatens to overwhelm me.

Breathe.

INHALE the love of God.

Breathe.

EXHALE all that tells me otherwise.

Breathe.

Back to You:

Consider joining me on this journey to find out what word can come along side you and be your gentle and kind friend throughout this new year that we are embarking on.  When you do, please please send me a note letting me know what your word is or post it in the comments on social media.  I love to remind you every so often throughout the year about your new-found friend.

Happy New Year from my heart to yours!

Posted in Faith, Family, Health, Thanks

2020, Thanksgiving, AND

BUT I SHOULD be thankful because…

I have technology to communicate with my family.

none of the people I love is sick right now.

my husband just got a job.

BUT I SHOULD be thankful.

BUT.

BUT.

BUT.

 

I’ve lived for a long time in the land of the BUT.

Hoping that happiness would spill out as I pondered all the “awesome” in my life.

Hoping that even though XYZ was hard, pointing out the good would quiet down the raw grief that kept welling up inside.

Hoping beyond hope that gratitude would spring up and overflow to all those around me.

 

Dirty little secret.   It didn’t work.

I just felt guilty, like an entitled little brat who didn’t get her way when her mom told her “no more cookies.”

I stuffed down my sadness in favor of all manner of positivity, only to find it leak out in ways like resentment and unkindness.

I brought this yuck into my marriage, my parenting and my friendships, only to perpetuate this vicious cycle.

 

One little word changed all of this.

The word I’ve come to desperately NEED and LOVE, especially in 2020, the year of all years.

The word that helps me to embrace all of my humanness and yours too, giving us opportunity for true and real connection.

The word that’s holding me this week as we head into Thanksgiving, giving space for gratitude in a whole new way.

 

This word:  AND.

AND.

AND.

AND.

 

It’s goes something like this.

 

I am very sad that I can’t eat turkey and watch football with some of my kids this week

AND I am thankful because…

they are able to see each other and I have technology to communicate with them.

 

I am anxious about this dang virus and all the numbers going up

AND I am thankful because…

none of the people I love is sick right now.

 

I am angry that local businesses are shutting their doors and the holidays are kind of being ruined

AND I am thankful because…

my husband just got a new job.

 

I am having a very hard time with all that’s been ravaged, lost, ripped away from the collective “us” this year

AND I am thankful because…

God is good and near and kind and with me in the middle of all of it.

 

So on this very 2020 Thanksgiving, my friend, let’s give ourselves permission to kick the land of the BUT to the curb and pitch our tent in the terra firma of the AND.

Posted in Family, Grief, Motherhood, Thanks

TWINGE

It hits you when you least expect it.

That TWINGE of mom grief.

The lump in your throat, tear in your eye, and melancholy in your mom heart.

It might be something as simple as…
watching your 10-year-old jump in a pile of leaves knowing this might be the last time she feels carefree enough to do so because she is heading into those self-conscious middle school years.

TWINGE.

Or…
your eighth grader asking to stand back-to-back with you so he can prove he has passed you up in the mom/son height race.

TWINGE.

Maybe even…
your newly-licensed driver waving goodbye to you as she backs down your driveway headed off for the very first time EVER alone in the family car.

TWINGE.

How about…
unthinkingly grabbing your son’s favorite cereal in the grocery store a week into his college freshman year? You slowly put it back on the shelf.

TWINGE.

It happened to me today. Again. A sign on the beach I frequent often, one I had never noticed before.

A simple board with words reminding me that I am here, standing 428 feet from the Atlantic Ocean and my 21-year-old is snug as a bug 30 minutes from the Pacific Ocean, almost 3,000 miles away.

3,000.

TWINGE.
TWINGE.
TWINGE.

I stopped.
I stared at the sign.
I sighed.
I teared up.
I wiped my eyes with my shirt.

TWINGE.

That ever-so familiar TWINGE that…

…sparks gratitude for this mom journey I love.

…moves me THROUGH the hard of missing all the good that once was

…takes me TO the good that still lies ahead, waiting for me to enjoy it.

It won’t be long until I feel that TWINGE again.
It will hit me when I least expect it.
But I secretly don’t mind it at all.

Posted in Celebration, Childhood, Family, Motherhood, Thanks

Y-E-S

When your big kid texts, “Can I come home for the weekend?” you jump at the chance and say a resounding “Y-E-S.”

When your big kid pulls in the driveway, you run outside, wave frantically and give her a hug like you haven’t seen her in five years (even though it’s only been five weeks).
 
When your big kid dumps her stuff all over your kitchen counter, you hold your tongue and remember that it’s only for a couple of days, knowing secretly you miss the “mess.”
 
When your big kid asks, “Mom, do you have ___________,” you search your house until ___________ is found underneath the sink in the back corner.
 
When your big kid shows you the tomatoes and peppers she brought you from her garden, you say, “WOW! That’s amazing!” and you figure out how to use them over the next week so you can post a picture on social media and tag her.
 
When your big kid wants to take an online who-you-should-vote-for test, you spend five hours talking through all the issues, learning and listening to her perspective while speaking your own truth, both feeling more connected afterwards.
 
When your big kid rakes the leaves into a pile on your driveway, plops herself right in the middle, throwing them into the air because fall is her favorite season ever, you take a video and post it everywhere.
 
When your big kid holds her dad’s hand during your lazy, long leaf-peeping walk, you watch from behind and your heart almost bursts because you love her more today than you ever have.
 
When your big kid snuggles with you on the couch, watching football and eating popcorn, the official family snack, memories flood your mind of a little girl spinning in a circle humming while she eats the fluffy white goodness. A lump forms in your throat.
 
When your big kid gets ready to leave, you help pack her car, make sure she has air in that tire with the flashing light on, make a bag of goodies for her two-hour ride, and give her another hug like you won’t see her again for another five years (even though it will only be five weeks).
 
When your big kid pulls out of your driveway, you shout “I love you,” hands flailing in the air, as tears well in your eyes and you allow them to flow. Your heart is sad and thankful all at the same time.
 
When your big kid texts you, “I’m home,” you breathe a long, mom sigh of relief, anticipating the next time you will be given another chance to jump and say a resounding “Y-E-S!”
.