My Own 2 Ft.

Strong. This is how people I don’t live with have described me lately.

Interesting really. It’s the opposite of how I’ve felt. Or maybe it’s ironic? It just depends on the mood I guess, or whether you’re with the coffee gang or the party animals.

My oldest son told me that ‘strong’ is what people see when they look at me. All 4′ 11 1/2″ of me. They see someone who is steadfast and firm in the face of sorrow and tragedy. I see me as someone who acts best in roles that are the hardest to play. Don’t put me at a poker table. Don’t ask me to cover for you with a mutual friend. I suck at lying. I suck at acting. But when the poo hits the big-ass fan, something weird takes over me and carries me on his big-ass shoulders. 

I know. This isn’t how we envision footprints.

This is how I live it. This is how we live it.

Miracles aren’t always slap-you-in-the-face-with-a-big-burning-bush sorts. Sometimes they’re of the everyday wake up with a new sense of purpose types. We’re not standing on our own 2 feet then. We’re standing on something much bigger. Sturdier. Something we can’t touch, but something that can pick us up and carry us through.

‘That’s my footprints’ we think.  ‘I carry myself’, we think. 

True Faith, true character, true living comes from crawling in the dark, tears leaping from our bagged eyes, and just when we think we can’t take another stride, we find ourselves. Running out into the light that we never knew was there in the first place. Running with direction instead of running with scissors. Because we are carried after all. Two feet, one head, and millions of prayers along the way.

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The leaves are falling already,

Their colors never had the chance

To change.

Like loved ones taken

Too young.

Or the last bloom of summer.

Those who say they have

No regrets haven’t lived, or are good liars.

Because no one ever got it right

Every time.

The shadows tell their story too,

Moving ever-so-slowly across the rock walls;

Cold, giant, and underwhelmingly welcoming.

They’re sneaky – those shadows.

We want to climb & capture them,

But they are only ghosts.

And ghosts never change either.

Nor do they have regrets.

At the middle of life,

And I have my color,

And time – 

For now.

Hanging Tough

The New Kids on the Block aren’t so new or so together as they used to be. Prince has passed on. Robin Williams let go of life. Every day another shining star from our childhood dims from this earth into the subtle distance of memory. Our parents are aging or dying, and our favorite high school hang outs are closing or being torn down so that new Starbucks and Targets can emerge just like in every other city across America and beyond.

Life is like that. The older we become, the faster time flies by. It’s something we hear every day from our friends in real life to our virtual Facebook newsfeed friends.

And yet, here we are. We are leading our nation into new places, with new positive outlooks and perspective. Some would say we are becoming more self-aware, opening our minds to different cultures and lifestyles. Others would argue that we are moving further away from God. But something on which we can all agree is that life is a great big circle. We live, we learn, we die. It’s in that learning part that we learn purpose, and consequently feel what it truly means to be alive.

We exist day to day. We commute to work, milk our lunch breaks with the little errands we have no other time to complete, hustle back to work, and then commute back home & off to the extra stuff that makes us happy, but that we have to pay to do. We parents make choices that either enrich or compromise our children’s growth, and we constantly strive to find balance between the happiness of our children and the fulfillment of ourselves.

Life is like that too. The older we become, the easier we achieve balance, because we learn to meet our experiences halfway. We learn that just going through the motions is surviving, while growing through the emotions is thriving. But we are forced to be uncomfortable. Change does that. Relationships do that. And life demands that. We were not accidentally placed here on this planet simply to procreate. What would be the point in that? We are not amoebas. We are not ‘mere animals’. We are humans, with brains and feelings, and logic. If you ever doubt the reasoning behind the creation of Eve, try to live just 30 days completely solo, with no human interaction. We were not wired to be islands. We were wired to be continents, made up of millions of tiny countries.

Sure, it’s extremely important that we as individuals are strong and independent. But just being strong and individually independent isn’t all together satisfying. No. What truly satisfies us, and the human condition demands it, is the fulfillment that stems from having an overwhelming sense of community. So that when one of us dies, the ripples transcend us. We unite, become stronger, and emerge as complete and joyful as we were intended and created to be.

As an only, and as a human, I have always toyed with the idea of just going off alone and becoming this very self-sufficient, self-satisfying person. I would live off the land, disconnect from everyone and everything I’ve ever known, and morph into this superhuman specialty who depends on no one, and needs nothing for her survival. And then I watched ‘Into the Wild’. My world was forever changed.

My own life has echoed the theme of Chris McCandliss’s life, even though I never burned my money, threw away my car, and escaped to Alaska only to be killed by a tiny little berry.

Sorry for the spoiler alert.

But we can all learn so much from his story, and from the stories of all those great stars we looked up to as kids. Life is short. We are individually okay. But as a unite, as an unbreakable body of Christ, we are so powerful, just as God intended. Don’t deny your true self. Don’t deny your purpose. Don’t deny that you need others. Even if those others hurt you, you are better off for the experience.

Life is like that.

Mr. Bojangles

We all have that ‘one’  – the one that got away.

My one was my dad.

Of course, I don’t mean that in the romantic sense or in any weird way. And maybe I need to qualify that statement and add that my ‘one’ is both my dad AND music. For a little girl who grew up bonding with her dad over song, who learned the organ alongside her dad who was playing the piano by ear, as well as the guitar, bass, drums, harmonica – really anything that played music – the man and the music were intertwined so tightly that you could never sever the one from the other.

While my dad passed from this earth young, my love for him and for the music he exposed me to live on forever. I am so passionate about music and the memories and emotion evoked by song that anytime I hear tunes like ‘Mr. Bojangles’ (Nitty Gritty Dirt Band), or ‘Hotel California’ (the Eagles), I can almost hear him beside me singing still…almost 28 long years (and many lifetimes) later.

And, just like that great old 80’s song says, ‘There’s always something there to remind me’.

Yesterday, I was cursed with a stomach bug and was forced to stay home from work to let it run it’s course. Around lunchtime, when I would have otherwise been chowing down if it had been a normal day, I started watching a 4 hour documentary about Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers. It must be explained that my dad had a thicker version of Tom Petty hair, and his name of course, was Tom. While I don’t remember my dad being a huge fan, it is fascinating to me that Tom got his big break the very year that I was born – 1976.  I took little cat naps during the documentary, but at the end and by some kind of osmosis, I had quickly become a life-long fan.

Just a few weeks ago, I purchased my first Tom Petty CD – Full Moon Fever. I’m pretty sure that purchase is what finally sparked my interest enough to spend the whole half of a sick day delving into his life story. This man is a legend, and truly, haven’t we lost enough of those lately?

In a sense, I felt as if I were watching my dad’s story, had he not been so sick and had he not died so early. My initial reaction was to feel cheated. My dad could’ve been that very Tom we still listen to today. He was born to play, to perform, and maybe even to write. But that wasn’t God’s plan for him. God’s plan was that my dad grace his small town and his family with the gifts God gave him. I was just fortunate enough to have been his pride and joy.

While I will never give up on music or on the memory of my dad, I have learned to appreciate both by compartmentalizing. When life becomes too much, or I’m plagued with the blues of grief or depression, music reaches in and pulls me from the trenches.

I believe that music is God’s way of reaching us humans in the present like a small miracle that reaches far into our spirits and shines its light into the crevices in a way that the light itself takes over completely. Music is the language of the spirit, the voice of Heaven, and the hand of God all at once,  because it becomes the bridge between our free Will and that deeper more peaceful place found through meditation, prayer, and song.

That’s the place where we don’t have to question who we are, what we’re doing, or the paths we’ve chosen. That’s the place we can simply be who we were created to be. My one that got away has gotten me away from all that is toxic and destructive, and I think that’s what they mean by ‘not forgetting’  where we came from.

Only the Martyr

I was having lunch the other day with a new friend of mine, who happens to also be an only child, when it suddenly occurred to me. We onlies are expert martyrs. We stink at receiving. Not compliments. Not money. Not gifts. Sometimes, not even solicited advice is welcome.

Maybe it’s due to the fact that we spend our entire lives attempting to negate those stereotypical labels of being spoiled brats. Maybe it’s because we became SOOO good at sharing that it morphed into sacrifice. Whatever the case, it’s not ‘healthy’ to stink so badly at receiving. It’s not ‘healthy’ to play the martyr all the time no matter how naturally it comes for us.

So, why isn’t it good to be a martyr? I mean, giving is good, yes? Taking is bad, yes? Well, not all the time. Here’s the thing – martyrdom, like anything else, is good in small doses only. Here’s my experience-breeds-wisdom based list of WHY you should take up….errr…taking.

  • It makes others feel good to give or help – I am aware that this isn’t ALWAYS the case (but really, what is?), still…9 times out of 10, if someone is offering to help you with something, it’s because they can and they genuinely want to, and by giving them the satisfaction of helping you with something you need, you are actually still participating in a different form of giving, right?
  • Sanity Maintenance – The more we take on, the better we feel about ourselves, right? Wrong. Up until a certain point, we may feel quite impressed with ourselves, but if you keep throwing more balls into the juggling queue, eventually you’ll end up dropping them all, and it’s not so funny when someone signs you up for the funny farm.
  • Taking time for you and yours – Chances are, when we say ‘yes’ to help, we are also saying ‘yes’ to sharing that freed-up quality time with loved ones. While you may do no more than spend that time cuddling or sharing a meal and conversation, one thing is for sure, you won’t regret it. Life is so full of activity sometimes that we forget to enjoy the moments. The more moments we have in full presence, the fuller our lives. Period.
  • Reciprocity – If none of the other arguments worked, this one SHOULD. The more we allow others to give and ourselves to receive, the more others will allow us to give in the future. Nobody should keep score in love and friendship. I have bought into that philosophy since first watching ‘Love Story’ back in the 90’s (I know…. a little late). The motto for that movie was ‘Love means never having to say your sorry’. If either love or friendship were tallied on a simple putt-putt score card, I’m betting that neither the scores aren’t always tied. This is because we’re human! I’m also betting, however, that when all is said and done, the two most successful ‘players’ end up pretty close to each other – both numerically and emotionally.

In other words, we have to work on being REAL. Being real means admitting when we’re exhausted, lazy, overwhelmed, or just plain over-committed. For the sake of our sanity and the sanity of our loved ones, we’re doing no one any favors by playing the martyr, no matter how naturally it comes to us.

So go on…take that outreached hand. It’s actually comforting to know that we onlies are not doomed to forever be lonely, but we have to make that choice to ‘take’ a chance on others.

Letter to an Ex X

Dear X,

If I had known what I know now, we wouldn’t have gotten married. We wouldn’t have had an amazing child together. I wouldn’t have stopped trusting so openly and without cause. I wouldn’t have been carrying around baggage. I wouldn’t question myself on every single decision. It’s likely that I wouldn’t have sold the family business. I wouldn’t question my mind.

But it happened. You conned me. You fooled me, my mom, my family, and your step-son. When it comes down to it, you felt unworthy. You started using more routinely. Because, I believe you were already using. You decided that you couldn’t do it without superhuman characteristics. So you sold your soul, and your wife, your ‘sons’, your dreams, for something that made you feel so good at the time.

I have a hard time understanding, because I haven’t been there. I won’t even take antibiotics. But I have been addicted to things. I ‘needed’ cigarettes for many years, and diet coke, and sugar. So that makes me just as ‘bad’, even though I manage to hold a job, pay my bills, pay for our child’s holidays, birthdays, school functions, soccer, karate, church functions, and playdates.

I have accepted that you will never be a part of anything financial in our child’s life. That you will forever disappoint him because you cannot test clean. I’ve watched every episode of Intervention. So has my boyfriend. We have talked in great length and depth about how we will never unburden ourselves or Ethan from this massive web of destruction you have casted upon our lives. I have had nightmares about what you are doing to destroy your life, and how that affects our son. He loves you, but he accepts that you are not here. You cannot be there for yourself, let alone him.

You talk as though everything wrong you have ever done is in the past, yet you have zero proof that you are any closer to that next milestone of where you ‘should’ be. You have clued me into how you cheated on your lab tests. How you used until 3 days prior, and then switched to suboxone – the very drug that now, people are getting hooked on. The very drug that could kill someone like me. I didn’t deserve this, but no one that lives through the cleaning up of an addict does. Why should I be immune?

I shouldn’t. That’s the truth. It was God’s plan for me, and God will continue to see me through. Losing our home, my car, your job, your income, your support, is not the worst of it. In truth, the worst of all of this rests in something much deeper.

Our child has learned that he can only depend upon one of us. Now, he is happy to lean on anyone else. This creates the gang-mentality that I will likely have to always combat. I always dreamed of having the family I didn’t have. That will likley never happen because of the environment your addiction has created within our lives. But as a Christian, I am supposed to forgive you, accept you, and turn the other cheek. And this is the worst part. I hate myself for not being able to do any of that.

You have ruined my life. You have ruined our child’s life. Instead of starting from the bottom and working our way up, I am forced to start in the trenches. Our son is 8. Your addiction, you say, began when I was 5 months pregnant. You are repeating what you knew. I am a workaholic, repeating what she knew.

You had a horrible childhood. Your parents both had serious issues, and were heavily medicated. They spent most of your childhood unemployed because of it. Guess who gets lost in the shuffle?

I refuse to disappoint our child. He deserves a family who shows him love, who teaches him how to love unconditionally. I may not be able to reconcile what you have done, but I can work to improve the future of our child. And while I may have spent the bulk of my life believing that I don’t deserve more, I believe that I absolutely do.

So my plea to you is this – please work on you. With everything you are, and everything you ever wanted, work on you. Make strides in that direction. Go to meetings. Make valuable friendships, based on trust and clean living. Pray. Listen to what God has to offer. Earn a living. Be a grown-up. Show our child what it’s like to be a man.

We will take your recovery seriously when you do the same. When you’re finished with the lies, the manipulation, and the fiction. Our son wants his dad back. You told him the truth. Now live the promise. I refuse to assist in the lying, in the promises, in the fairytale. The work is yours to do. Whether you do it or not, our child will feel loved, with or without you. It’s your call. I cannot do it for you, and I cannot help you anymore.

If anyone out there is contemplating destroying their lives, consider this. When you were a child, you had those lucid, beautiful moments. You will continue to experience those, but not if you are leaning on substances. Those are lies. BE YOU. Naked. Truthful. Genuine. And vulnerable. Beauty is found in solace and serenity. Not in substance.

Solitary Contentment

Do I enjoy alone time? Absolutely! I always have. I can remember as a young child, sitting in my room, listening to albums & playing paper dolls for hours on end. On some days, the only reason I left my room was to eat. Truth be told, If I had been blessed with a real working kitchen in my room (at least with a microwave, fridge, and pantry), my mom and dad probably would’ve entirely forgotten me!

While mom was busy taking care of my dad, I was busy amusing myself. Not that she didn’t do her part of the raising, but the ‘entertaining’ part was up to me, especially after dad’s kidneys failed.

As only children, most of us learn at a young age how to self-entertain, self-console, maybe even become self-aware, and have a strong sense of self-love. Maybe that’s why we (as a species;) come across as so self-absorbed. In reality, most onlies that I know are actually so self-aware that we can become rather lost in our own thoughts and appear to not care what others are feeling or thinking at all. BUT also in reality, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Most of us truly want to understand others, but we’re too afraid of putting ourselves out there, which is really what it takes to form healthy relationships.

As onlies, we don’t always know how to relate to others or how to reach out and ask others for help. When we feel as though our worlds are crumbling, many of us turn inward, to the only person we can fully rely upon; ourselves. That’s not to say that people with siblings aren’t the same way at times, but I would say that onlies have nailed the whole solitary confinement thing….to a fault.

I remember when my boyfriend (also an only) and I started dating. We fervently read every article and blog we could find on ‘only’ couples… ‘only’ to find discouragement and disappointment. Most opinions and stories erred on the side of either ‘don’t do it’ or ‘it never works out’. After almost two years together, I think we would both agree that this is not true. Like any other relationship between any two people, effort has to be made, people cannot take one another for granted, and compromise and full communication should be practiced daily.

In fact, I would say that the most difficult factor in an only dating an only is that we are so fiercely wired to turn inward when we don’t know how to react to an emotion that we choose instead to bottle up the hurt. While my boyfriend and I rarely fight, I can honestly say that any and all of the disagreements we’ve had have resulted from one thing; a lack of communication.

Lesson… in progress…

Still, communication takes lots and lots of effort from both people. Leaning on each other when we’re accustomed to sucking it up solo is the first step. While that feels a bit awkward and out of our neat little boxes, it’s not nearly as uncomfortable as I had expected. I think this is monumental and essential for all couples, but especially for relationships involving two onlies.

While one only can understand another only better than anyone, we also tend to have the same passive aggressive tendencies, and let things go on far longer than we should. It’s far easier and less confrontational to shove those small disagreements under a rug than to sweep them out into the open and work through the kinks. Unfortunately, as we all know, if you gather enough small things together they collectively become a very huge thing. That huge conflict under the rug becomes a major obstacle over which neither of us can avoid tripping.  And because we really ARE two separate people, with two separate pasts and two separate loads of dirty laundry baggage, we’re not always going to completely understand. And that’s okay.

We all come at these relationships with our own muddled perceptions, and whether we’re onlies or otherwise, it takes oodles of communication, effort, and determination to build a strong healthy relationship. But above and beyond everything else that takes effort in this world, love is worth every last bit of blood, sweat, and tears. After all, we may have come into this world alone, but that doesn’t mean we’re supposed to live a lonely life. Like my good friend Michelle always says (and I couldn’t agree more), there really is a ‘lid for every pot’.

Here’s to Heroism

When our mothers pass away, something happens to us. Now, I am not saying this as a person who felt disconnected from her mom, but as someone who felt she was a huge piece of her mom. While my mom passed 2 1/2 years ago, one of my oldest, dearest friend’s mom just passed on Christmas Eve day. My best friend’s mom passed years ago, and years before my mom would pass. She always used to say that I ‘couldn’t understand’ because I wasn’t ‘part of the club’. Of course, that stopped when my mom died.

We were all close to our moms, all cared about pleasing our moms and making them proud. And we’re all a mess, all in our various places in the grieving process. One thing though, that we all have in common, is that particular loneliness that we all share. To say that we all feel disconnected from the world as we’ve always known it, is a downgrade from how we actually feel. To say that we feel like we’re floating around solo in a black galaxy feels a bit closer to reality.

I visited our newest member Julie, just tonight. The one thing that stands out most is her saying that she could ‘hear her mom’ in her own words. This continues to be the case with me on a daily basis. I am a person who rarely ever displays anger or edginess with a stranger, even though I don’t hesitate with those with whom I am closest. Yet, since my mom’s passing, I find that I don’t have as much trouble standing up for myself or those I love. Sometimes, the words passing through my lips surprise even me, and in some small way, I can feel my mom patting me on the back. I do this without much thought or planning. So to me this feels foreign, more like an out of body experience than my actual life. For Julie, who is naturally more assertive and aggressive, this same thing is taking place, and she recognizes it as the manifestation of her mom. Yet, she asked me ‘why isn’t my mom communicating with me?’. This is a question I receive frequently.

My answer is simply that, it isn’t time for her to communicate. That time will come. In those everyday life decisions, where you have no idea how to react, just ask. She will come surging through your veins and mouth quicker than you can think it through. It’s at that moment that you will know, that in her own way, she is there. Really, she never fully left.

While it may have been her ‘time to go’ because she was exhausted, tired from the fight to sustain life, she knew (and loved you so much) that you could not completely release her. That’s when the Holy Spirit stepped in, disguised as her, to comfort you with her spirit. Years after my mom’s passing, I only believe this more intensely. I am constantly comforted by this. It’s as if her love for me remains, even though her spirit has flown away in bliss.

This has become my understanding of God, and Heaven, life and death.

We all grieve differently. Absolutely. No two people grieve the same. But we are all sent the Holy Spirit as a gift to help us through. There is no time limit for the Holy Spirit.

I dreamed of my mom for over two years, yet when I sold her business, it all stopped. However, when my boyfriend and I went to Ireland, those dreams started up again. It’s as if God knew there was room again, and need again, for the Holy Spirit to sprinkle itself upon the memory of my mom, and all that she was to me.

Death is not the ending of life, but a renewal of the love we shared. I am grateful for this gift. for the comfort and serenity it delivers, and the love and hope it springs. We must do our part. Keep living. Keep breathing. But there will be times, there will always be times, when we feel despair. And for those moments, there is the love of the lost to comfort us. They are not actually ‘departed’. The are simply there on another level, a deeper level, and they will never actually part.

Why Worry?

My mamaw was like many downhome Southern grandmothers who had been raised poor and gone through lots of unspeakable hardships. She worried. Constantly. And about everything.

The sun could be shining, everyone employed, everyone healthy, garden growing, food in the pantry and fridge. Everything could be perfect in our family, but she would seek out someone – a cousin of a friend’s sister’s aunt – and worry about her sad diagnosis at the doctor.

This isn’t to say that she was a ‘negative’ person. Not at all. We would pull over on the side of the road in late spring to pluck daisies and black-eyed Susan’s and make bouquets for neighbors. I can’t remember a single night spent with her that I wouldn’t awaken to the sounds of her singing a beautiful gospel song while she fixed up her famous sausage, eggs, biscuits and gravy.

She was so positive in fact, that I can’t see a sunrise, a sunset, or a butterfly without feeling her presence even though she died over 4 years ago.

We’ve all heard it said that ‘worrying does not empty tomorrow of its troubles, it empties today of its strength’. For the most part, this is true. Like anything else in life, too much worry is bad. But what is worry in the first place but sympathy or empathy ignited by a genuine love of others or self?

Worry in and of itself is not bad because it fills today with a reason to pray, to talk with God, to think about what is on your heart and ask for God’s hand in your life. Should that be the only time we pray? No way! We should always give praise and thanks. But when we come to God as vulnerable, flawed humans asking for help, we are coming to God as naked and raw as the day we were born. This is when we get to experience true closeness to God.

However, like most things in life, we don’t need to dwell in the land of worry for too long. My contention is that worry gets us started in prayer, and that is wonderful, but by the end of the prayer, we should completely give it to God. We do this with sins, with gratitude, with bad memories, but sometimes we surrender to worry and live there forever. This lifestyle spits in the face of Christ. It’s like saying ‘I don’t like what you’ve done with my life, and I’m going to make you suffer through me for the rest of my days’. We’ve all known people like this, right?

Let’s not be that person. Let’s NOT spit in the face of Christ. But let’s do worry. Just a little. A little worry goes a long way in prayer. Just don’t live there! It’s like a houseguest or a vacation – while small doses are appreciated, long stays are overkill. Don’t let worry control you, rather let it guide you gently to prayer.

 

Evil Ego

Between two loving beings, there is no room for ego. There is no room for impatience, nor fear. There is no room for doubt, or hurt. But inevitably, in every relationship or friendship, the closer we become, the more likely it is that the ego will try butting in and messing everything up that you’ve worked so hard to build. Why does this happen?

In my very humble, very human opinion, it happens because the bigger the love grows,  the bigger God becomes and the more the ego feels threatened.

You may have heard people say that the devil is trying to win someone over. The ego is the devil. He can destroy the strongest of castles, harden the softest of hearts, and possess the humblest of people. What he can’t do is continue to exist in the shadow of love. We have to recognize the evil ego and stop his flames before they destroy us. It’s an every day battle, and then sometimes it’s not. But when couples have been married for decades they say (and they always do), ‘it hasn’t always been easy’, this is what I feel it boils down to.

There is no reason to feel attacked by those negative feelings when the ego gets out of control. No. We should recognize what’s happening and understand that the love we feel, the glue that holds us together, must be strong and wonderful stuff if the evil ego wants so badly to destroy it. We should feel flattered.

So, be flattered, and then destroy it. Every last bit. We can’t control the behavior of others, but we can control our own. We can choose to feed that ego with anger and watch it overtake our lives and relationships, or we can choose to feed that love with tenderness and devotion and watch God grow instead. We have that choice.