Hot or Not.

hot or not

This will make total sense later on…I refuse to believe I was the only one.

We constantly hear messages about protecting the planet and bettering the world we live in. We see campaigns started to improve the oceans or clean up waste. But what are we doing to stop social pollution? What are we doing to protect our minds from being drowned in seas of unrealistic body images, unhealthy relationship goals, and meaningless status symbols? How do we cleanup the mess created by the comparison game; played for years with just highlight reels flashing before us on social media? How do we break the cycle? How do we decide to start taking a stand for more than just our physical environment? Our planet has a problem with pollution, but in 2019 I think we need to focus on some of these issues while we are in the cleaning mood. Netflix devotes an entire series to de-cluttering our lives… perhaps we should Marie Kondo our social media lives! I’m not talking about those people who take fake breaks and make their dramatic debut back to Facebook publicly and hope all 347 of their friends like it. Their best friends will of course comment or at least comment with a funny gif. Come on we all have those on our feed;  if you don’t, it might be you. Hey, listen, it’s okay! This is why we are here…this is kind of like an intervention. Maybe this applies to you, maybe this applies to half of your Facebook friends…either way, let’s discuss this and see if we can find a way to get through it and move forward. Let’s do it for the children…don’t EVEN get me started on kids and social media! People we have to get ourselves straight on this issue so that we can be a better example for them. They are in serious trouble if we don’t. Anyway, back to us and our own sketchy online behavior…

Ladies, this one is for y’all. Please, and I say this with love but like a mama’s love that has some heat behind it, PLEASE for the love of everything holy and good, STOP taking and posting provocative selfies that sell yourselves short. Now listen to this carefully as I lay this out in black and white. Guys are visual creatures and not all of them are good and honest. In fact, some just plain weren’t raised right. Flat out. You can’t fix that no matter how pretty you are, and no matter how much you wish you could. I don’t mean little things like asking a normal guy to be more of a gentleman if he’s a little rusty on his manners…I’m saying some guys just have no clue how to be a man. However, ALL guys (even a gentleman in the right time and place) like boobs. (Sorry there’s no other nice way to say it) If you take pictures of yourself lying on your bed with a mass of cleavage hanging out of your shirt, guys will like it. That really shouldn’t come as any surprise to you. Guess what, if you took pictures of yourself washing a hot rod in a white t-shirt and booty shorts, those same guys would like those pics too. Ladies, this should not feel like some major accomplishment to you…or positive attention. Take a look at their Facebook pages, are they even guys you want attention from in the first place? I’d wager that their friends list is 99% female selfie profile pics.

Moment of hand to heart honest truth…embarrassing past disclaimer, but I hope it helps at least one of y’all stop doing this.

Do y’all remember back when Hot or Not .com came out? Perhaps y’all weren’t young, naïve, and downright stupid like me… For those of you that don’t know, Hot or Not was an online rating site where you uploaded your picture and stats and random users rated your attractiveness on a scale of 0-10. There was a meet up feature that allowed you to start online chatting with other profiles that rated your appearance. The ultimate nail in the coffin was the Hotlists…an added premium feature where they would send you a list of people who made your list. Y’all, this ruled my life for a solid year! For those that have read my other stuff, you know I have a history of unhealthy control behaviors like food relationships, cutting, extremism, etc.. At this point in my life I was a complete wreck…I was single, out of a very abusive relationship, and searching for something to make me feel whole again. I lived with my friend’s parents trying to get back on my feet after that debacle. I had nothing but debt to my name. I couldn’t afford to go out, and honestly I had spent the past two years hearing every single thing that was wrong with me. I had less than zero confidence. That computer and dial-up internet was my only lifeline. I found Hot or Not and I honestly don’t even remember what picture I put up there first, but I remember that my score was a 2.7! Y’all a 2.7. I was devastated. That moment confirmed everything I believed about myself. Everything he had said. I took down my profile and pretended like it never happened. I retreated into my shell. Then one day I got curious again because everyone was doing it…I found a more recent picture and tried again. I got immediate hits and scored in the 7 range…I was on a high. So many ratings and my score was moving up. That was it, I was obsessed. I lived and breathed for that number. I ran every day. I went to the gym every day. I skipped meals. I checked that number like my life depended on it. My mood went up and down with that number. The outcome of my day was determined by that number. My self-worth was definitely defined by that number. I went crazy posting more provocative pictures to get a higher rating. Nothing crazy (it was 2001 after all), I just realized that a little tummy skin and a shorter skirt gained extra points…so that’s what I would wear. I’m serious y’all, my entire thought process revolved around that number. If I was going out, I’d wear an outfit that got me the highest score online because that’s what was obviously the cutest. I no longer had my own thoughts or feelings about myself outside of that rating. Then I upgraded to premium and all hell broke loose. Now I had a bunch of random guys telling me what they thought about me based solely on my appearance, as if they knew me personally. Sound familiar to anyone? They didn’t know me, they knew what I looked like…they knew only what I wanted them to see to get the best possible rating. They also were playing the same game because they were hoping to meet up. Now what exactly do you suppose they were hoping to gain from a meet up? I was lonely, I was looking for someone to understand me and want to be with me. Does that sound like what they were doing on a site like Hot or Not? So I spent many a night feeling like I poured my heart out to guy after guy only to be disappointed when I found out that he thought he was wasting his time chatting if he wasn’t going to get anywhere with me. Heartbroken and lonely still, wondering what was so wrong with me that no one wanted to be with me. Ladies, it wasn’t me! I was looking for a man in a room full of guys! I was putting out stink bait and being surprised when I kept catching bottom feeders. Come on now! I was worth so much more than that and so are you. I was so addicted to this negative attention, that at one point my rating was up to a 9.8 and I had a boyfriend…his roommates found my profile while I was over there one night hanging out and I refused to delete it for him because I didn’t want to lose that high rating. I actually argued that he should be pleased that his girlfriend was a 9.8. Gross. Y’all, I cannot believe that at one point in my life I was this wrapped up in what total strangers thought about my appearance. I guess this is why I feel so strongly about it now. It almost destroyed me from the inside out. When I see y’all doing this on social media now it guts me because I know how you feel, but I also know that it doesn’t really feel good. You are giving away your power every time you let someone else tell you your worth.

I’m not going to pretend like the climb out of this pit isn’t dark and lonely…it is. You’ll have to decide for yourselves that being alone for a while is better than having the wrong kind of attention from the wrong kind of people. You’ll have to decide that you are better company than giving yourself away to people who don’t deserve or appreciate you. I started by making a list of all the things I wanted to look for in another person…the non-negotiables and the “wouldn’t it be nice ifs”. Whenever I would get lonely, or be tempted to get online and put myself out there, I’d go to my list instead. I’d think of all the times I had been let down by doing that before and why and then I would write. Y’all sometimes my list was pretty pathetic because I realized how low my standards had become recently. At one point in time I had on my list 1. Has a job 2. Has a valid driver’s license. Y’all I was in my 20’s!! That’s one step up from has a pulse! As my confidence grew, and as I spent more time working on my list and rereading how sad some of the things on my list actually were, I realized that I should be reaching a little higher. I started putting better things on my list, and reaching a little higher. I’ll tell you right now that once you write things down they become serious. I started moving things from the “wouldn’t it be nice if” column to the “non-negotiable” column and I started writing my list with a pen. Telling this now is so funny to me because this was such a dark time in my life. I literally thought no one could ever value me, or really want me again. I only saw myself as what I could give to try to make them see me. Years of self-doubt imploding and self destruction. Thankfully I had a couple of great friends…when I say couple, I mean that quite literally, as in 2. I had a few others that were still in the periphery, but at that stage in my life I had 2 by my side. That isn’t the important part, in the end they couldn’t do this for me. They couldn’t love me enough to make me see the truth. Only I could fix this and stop what I was doing to myself. I had to see the truth and accept it. You might be surrounded by love and support. You might feel utterly alone. Either way, you still have to love yourself enough to see the truth and accept yourself. This attention is fleeting and is never going to make you feel whole. You are never going to have a meaningful relationship until you get yourself right. Know your worth and your value. Know what you want and what you deserve. Expect nothing less.

Do all of this and when you least expect it, the rest will fall into place. Trust me, stop putting the wrong content out there and I’ll bet you’ll attract more of what you really want. It might not happen right away, or even on your timeline…but you’ll be ok with that because you’ll be busy working on your list anyway. Girls my epiphany finally came one night when I actually thought I was in a good healthy place. I was out on a date with a guy I had been seeing for a while. I really thought he was great, such a gentleman but still had some red flags. He just wasn’t really emotionally invested…so I was cautious but optimistic. He was a busy guy and I tried to respect that, but we had been dating for four months and he would disappear for days at a time. I thought that was odd behavior after four months. After one date, he disappeared for 4 days and I called to see if we had plans the following weekend…otherwise I was going to make plans without him. Do you know what he said to me?! He said, “I just think you like me more than I like you.” Epiphany! My response? “Uh, nope sorry that I gave you that impression.” Click. I never called him again. I never took a single one of his MANY phone calls after that again. And I never gave another guy the opportunity to think that he was being pursued. Ladies, you are worth pursuing! I was worth pursuing! When I wasn’t busy pursuing the wrong stupid boy, I was able to meet a man who valued me and saw me right away. In fact, he made a beeline for me at the door and hasn’t stopped pursuing me since. Trust that you are worth the effort. Not because you showed some cleavage. Not because you made some suggestive remark on Facebook. Not because you’re willing to jump into something physical right away. You, you are worth pursuing.

So, just so you all know I’ve heard it all in my illustrious Hot or Not days. I had promises from entertainment execs, modeling agents, Hollywood scouts, (personal favorite) the grieving widow, single dads who hadn’t dated in years, personal sob stories of every sort…Girl, they are ALL LIES!!! You are special, I know you are special. You just aren’t special to him, and he sure as hell isn’t anything special. So stop buying his lies. I know you want so badly for just once it to be easy and for it to be true…but trust me, the truth with someone real is so much better than the lie anyway.

I challenge you to go to your social media accounts and do some housecleaning. Delete the pictures that aren’t just you being you. Be honest ladies…none of us lie around in cleavage shirts taking pics of ourselves by accident. On the flip side, if this applies to your social media friends, let’s encourage them by loving them for all of the good things we see in them other than their appearance. Obviously they need to hear more of that from positive sources so they stop seeking it from the wrong places. Lastly, if you are a guy reading this…look up the true definition of a man and strive for that at all times. The world really needs more men. If you are a man reading this, then I know that you probably know exactly what I’m talking about because these are the exact guys that make your blood boil also. Just like every woman isn’t a lady…not every guy is a man.

I do think we all have a huge responsibility to clean up our acts as adults on social media because our kids are watching what we do. The second we make this behavior acceptable, we are telling them that this is how they should be determining their worth. With the alarming increase in cyber bullying and suicide rates, can we really be this careless? How you are received online absolutely, 1000% does NOT determine your worth! If you post a picture, and how it is received positively or negatively impacts your day, you need to stop posting pictures immediately. If looking at other people’s pictures elicits negative feelings in you, then you should stop looking at people’s pictures immediately. Stop playing the comparison game…stop comparing your failures against their highlight reel. Just stop! Take care of you however you need to take care of you. Clean house, or move out completely…but stop the cycle now.

I do share this with love because I’ve been on both sides. I know the pain and loneliness, which is why my heart breaks when I see it now in others; even before they might see it in themselves. Please accept this challenge without judgment. I’m trying to raise daughters who know their value, to become women who trust who they are and their worth expecting nothing less from a partner. I’m raising a son to be a man, not a guy who is easily distracted by selfies and empty promises. I want him to pursue a lady of value because she knows that she is worth his efforts…and even if she forgets, he will be man enough to remind her.  First we have to be willing to set the example that we expect them to follow. I love y’all and hope you know you are worth it.

 

Did You Know I Almost Drowned?

True story… I almost drowned. Imagine a gorgeous day in Cancun. My first time ever in the Caribbean Ocean. We had literally been in the water less than 30 minutes. We hadn’t even been in the country a full day yet. This was our first day of the vacation…we had arrived, checked into our hotel, put on our swimsuits, and hit the beach. So here I am in the crystal blue water for the first time. Now, I had lived in Southern Florida for a few years in my pre-teens, but due to my asthma I have never been what anyone would call a strong swimmer. I have survival skills, but I just don’t enjoy any activity that involves holding my breath. So I figured the Caribbean Ocean would be like the other beaches I had been to before. Well, it was a little different. I got caught in a rip tide that was sweeping me further and further out so that before long I could no longer touch the bottom. I didn’t know that when this happens you are supposed to swim or walk sideways to get out of it; instead of trying to fight it and get back to shore head-on. So now I’m in panic mode because I realize that I’m in trouble and I’m getting tired of fighting the tide. My poor boyfriend (now husband) didn’t know, at the time, that when I am panicked or in pain, I laugh hysterically; so he assumed I was playing in the waves having fun. He didn’t try to save me because to him it looked like I was having a blast. Y’all I was in serious trouble. I guess finally he saw the panic in my eyes and realized that I wasn’t really having fun at all. Once he was close enough, I was able to tell him that I was really in trouble. Meanwhile the lifeguard is yelling at us to go sideways because we are too far out (Yeah, thanks buddy). After I was safely on the beach and could catch my breath again, he was able to tell me why he didn’t think I needed him. He was actually kind of upset with me for laughing when the situation was so serious. He was like, “You could have died, and you just kept laughing!” Until that day, I never really realized how dangerous my defense mechanisms could be. I had relied on them for so long to help get me through difficult situations, but I had never stopped to consider how that was really affecting me.

So now I make a point of telling people, and so does my husband, that I laugh when I am really hurt. Just because I’m laughing doesn’t mean I’m not hurt…sometimes the harder I laugh, the deeper the pain. Isn’t this kind of true for all of us though? Aren’t we all a little guilty of this? When someone hurts us, isn’t it sometimes easier to laugh instead of telling them that we are hurt? Then, just like me, you go and tend to your wounds when no one else is around to see how badly you are really hurting. Sometimes it isn’t another person that inflicts the pain, sometimes pain just comes and we laugh because we don’t know what else to do and everyone else is laughing. We don’t want to spoil the party with our pain; so we laugh, and then we go and catch our breath alone. Sometimes we cause the pain; so we laugh because that is what we do when we are in pain. We hurt others when we laugh at the pain that we caused them. I’d wager that we all have pain that we have tried to laugh off at one time or another.

I have learned some valuable lessons through the years. When I was a teenager growing up in church, I always thought people with tragic testimonies had a direct link to God that I just couldn’t understand. They would say things like, “Until you’ve walked this path you can’t know” or “I thought I knew God before this happened, but I had no idea” or “I had a spiritual awakening”. I wanted all of those things. I thought, good grief why does something bad have to happen to me for me to really know God?!? Then my young teenage, hungry for God, mind would kick in and I’d pray for something to happen so that I could have my testimony. Was I COMPLETELY insane?!?!? The answer is YES. Yes, I was. I was a teenager. I was too young, and too in the forest to fully understand that I was already living my testimony. My home life wasn’t uber stable and I didn’t handle that in healthy ways at all. My brother went to war when I was 14, and I was being sharpened for what was to come. I won’t lie, when my mom died a few years later, I seriously questioned whether or not my silly teenage prayers for a stronger testimony had finally been answered. I seriously screamed out to God that this was not what I meant. I never wanted a testimony this big… But guess what, this is the story that I have to live; how I live it is up to me. Y’all I can’t laugh my way through this. I just can’t. Don’t y’all get tired of laughing when all you want to do is be honest and say it hurts? Or that you are tired? Or that you are just okay? Sometimes it is okay to not be okay. You don’t have to laugh or cry…just be. Some days that is a feat in and of itself…am I right?

My man literally saved me from drowning that day in Mexico. He has continued to save me in so many ways over the years. The thing is, as close as we are, he still doesn’t always know when I’m sinking. Sometimes he hears me laughing and doesn’t know that I’m really hurting. I am surrounded by friends and family that love and support me, yet sometimes I don’t know how to start that conversation. How do you just stop laughing and tell them that something hurts? How do you look them in the eyes and tell them that you aren’t really laughing, you’re drowning? …tell them that you need help? …that you need them to reach out and grab you, pull you back in because you are tired of swimming and fighting the tide? It is so much easier to keep laughing, but sooner or later you’ll go under. You won’t be able to touch anymore, and you can’t keep swimming and laughing forever. No one is that strong. Eventually the tide wins. Friends we have to figure out a way to stop laughing at our pain. Understand that no one ever expected that. No one ever asked for that level of self-sacrifice; and if they did, they need to move along.

Now don’t misunderstand me here… I certainly am not one to believe that we should wallow in our misery and wear it like our favorite pj’s. I’m not talking about when we are in a bad mood and just want to stew for a minute. In those cases, perhaps we all need to figure out a way to pull up our own britches and get a move on. There is a distinct difference between being in a mood, and drowning…if you don’t know the difference, then you’ve probably never almost drowned before. It honestly isn’t a feeling you’ll forget.

I have lost too many friends in the past several years to suicide, and depression related diseases. One is too many. My heart aches when I think of how many times they might have been laughing, but they were really drowning. They felt broken and tired, but all I heard was their laughter. I saw what they wanted me to see, not what they needed me to see. When I remember back to times that I might have been able to help, or to reach out to them had I only known they needed me to… my heart breaks. I just wish we could all be better about asking for help when we need it. Ask for help before we need it. Establish those lines of communication so that they are open and ready when we really need them. Don’t wait until you’re drowning to try to get someone’s attention. Ask for a hand, a shoulder, someone to talk to when you just don’t want to be alone. Look around, are people drowning around you? Do you realize they’re drowning, but you don’t want to get involved? I’ve never lost sleep at night over the people I’ve offered to help that might not have needed me…

Find your person, your community, your boat…be those things for others. We are all in this together. No one should ever feel truly alone. Be bold, reach out.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline  1-800-273-8255

SuicidePreventionLifeline.org

My Goodbye Letter To You

 

Dear Mama,

I have felt so cheated that I never got to say goodbye and tell you everything I needed to say before you left this earth. I’m not even sure how that’s possible, but I’m sure saying something is better than the nothing I was able to say. So here goes…

I am so sorry for all of the times that I hurt you with my words and my actions. I hope that somehow you are given a window into my life to see that your words and example reached the core of my being. I may have fought you at every turn, but that was hopefully because I was being molded by you. Clay is always hard when you start working with it. I want you to know how I cherish all of my memories of growing up with traditions. I know how hard you worked to make sure we had special memories even when we didn’t have many resources. I have carried on many of those same traditions with my own children. Your silly spirit and ability to laugh and have fun is something that has changed the way I parent our chronically ill daughter…we approach everything with some jokes. Our nightly talks, unwrapping our days and helping each other solve the world’s problems taught me how to talk to my kids. I valued that time with you so much but I don’t know if you ever knew. I just thought it would always be there. I thought you would always be there. Like when you always wanted to teach me how to sew…I really wanted to learn, but I thought there would be time when I was older and I wasn’t busy having fun. I was wrong. Your surprise drop-in visits at my college apartment…bringing goodies to me and all of my friends, seemed like such an intrusion sometimes (even though my friends adored it). I’d give ANYTHING for one of those visits now. Our multiple phone conversations every day…and the running joke that after the last one, you’d still call right back because you forgot to tell me something. “Just one more thing”, you’d always say and all of my friends would laugh. What I wouldn’t give for that little annoyance today. I have so much to tell you! So many things you’ve missed that I know you really wanted to be there for. There have also been some really dark days when I just needed you. I never told you how much it meant to me that you would let me cry while you held me and let me trace the lines in your hand. You didn’t try to fix anything until I was ready, and then the world better watch out because mama bear had some solutions for me. I never told you how much it meant to me that you always had my back and believed me; you never doubted me or questioned my integrity. Now as a mother myself, I wish I could tell you how thankful I am for the example you provided in being a strong mother. You didn’t push everything on dad, we didn’t want to mess with you. I never wanted to disappoint you. You were tough but also loving. I wish you could have known the impact you had on so many other kids’ lives besides your own kids. Our friends, the kids at church, the kids at the Job Corps…you were so loved. You had no idea how much. I didn’t tell you enough how beautiful I thought you were. I was young and had my own insecurities; I had no idea or perspective on aging yet. I should have been telling you all the time how great your skin looked, and how beautiful your hair was styled. When you were down on yourself, I should have been better about shutting down your negative voice and lifting you up. I hope you see that this is who I strive to be now. You were one of the most honest people I have ever met. I always admired that about you. I hope my kids say the same thing about me someday. You also taught me to be a friend to the friendless and because of that lesson, I have made some of the best friends of my life. My kids walk into a room and that is the first thing that plays in their brain (if they know what’s good for them). When people think of my family, I want them to immediately associate our name with a sense of belonging…”Oh them? Yeah, I know them, they’re like my family”, is music to my ears. I got that from you. You wanted that in our home. You always wanted a home like that. I’m just sorry that you aren’t here to enjoy my family because you would love them. You would see each and every one of them for the unique soul that they are, and you would just adore them. I finally found the one my soul longs for, and you couldn’t have picked a better husband for me. You would have him doing projects for you all the time.

When I think of what it would be like to have you in my life now, the possibilities break my heart. Today would’ve been a fabulous day to hit Half Priced Books, get a pedicure and some lunch. You would love taking walks in the nature preserve, or swimming in our pool. The internet would blow your mind! Don’t even get me started on how you’d react to my craft room that he built for me…

Thank you for teaching me more than you realize. Thank you for loving me without question. Thank you for always being there…even when I didn’t seem like I wanted you to be. Thank you for pouring into me for 20 years the tools and lessons I needed to build a fabulous life. Thank you for caring if I was a truly good person. Thank you for showing me how to be compassionate. Thank you for teaching me how to laugh and dance in the rain. Thank you for teaching me that being a pretty lady really has very little to do with outward appearance if the inner package is rotten…you know lipstick and a pig and all. Thank you for taking me to church; to build a relationship, not for show.

I had no way of knowing this at 20 years old, even if I would have had the opportunity to tell you. A life lived without you, has given me this perspective, so I’m telling you now. I miss you every day. I love you more today than I ever have because I’ve seen life through your eyes now. I just wanted to tell you that you were a great mom, and I hope that you think you did a great job too. I hope that I’ve made you proud. Happy Birthday Mama, I love you!

Right to Remain Silent…Or Option Two?

abraham-lincoln-quotes-it-is-better-to-remain-silent-3My Mom always taught me the old adage, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”  Well, that was a VERY difficult lesson for me to learn apparently.  One that I guess I only half learned.  For those of you who know me well, you know that I have a “strong” personality (if you want to put it nicely).  I have zero qualms telling people how I feel.  If you have toilet paper stuck to your shoe, I will tell you.  I will be as discreet as possible, but I will tell you.  I won’t laugh at you.  I won’t tell everyone that I just saved you from public humiliation.  I will just tell you and move on.  That same honesty heads your way when you are in the wrong.  When you are being a jerk, I will let you know.  I have been so fortunate to have friends that do this for me in my life. I don’t know how people survive without honest friends who call each other on the carpet.  I think sometimes we convince ourselves that is what we are doing in our circles; when really we just have an entire circle of no one wanting to tell each other what we really think for fear of hurting each other’s feelings…but isn’t that what it takes sometimes to be real?  Don’t we need to get down and dirty before we can get to a better place?

I think of when I purged my closet recently.  I had to take everything out and my room was a COMPLETE DISASTER!!!  Then after I went through each item and decided whether to keep, trash, or donate…slowly but surely, not only was my room looking cleaner, but my closet was amazing and so organized.  I felt so clam walking into my closet and being able to see what I had accomplished.  All of the garbage was gone.  I didn’t see the bad stuff anymore, the clutter was gone.  I could actually move around and my mood didn’t get sour just falling over stuff in there.

Sounds kind of like the negativity and baggage in our relationships that we just sweep over thinking it will blow past but it never does…it just builds up until the relationship collapses and breaks.  Or we break.

This is me being R.E.A.L.

I am in the struggle of my life right now.  I am hanging on by a thread and I am trying so hard to be true to myself and not let this change me.  I am desperately trying to not let it change my kids.  Believe me, I know that we never really know what goes on behind closed doors, or in the lives of others…but I also know that most of the people we surround ourselves with have not known true heartache and strife.  Most of the teenagers and young adults my kids are friends with have no idea what true struggle and adversity means.  They will someday, and that will be life changing, but to claim that their characters have been built upon the adversity they have met thus far is insulting to those who have actually survived real challenges.

I’ll be honest, by the time I graduated, I thought my testimony couldn’t get any more real.  I thought I had one of the most difficult lives of any of my friends…which was probably true at that time.  And then I lost my mom at 20…suddenly, and with no warning.  At 21, I thought my story would never get worse…now, 20 years later, I have a sick child.  I can promise you, I pray there is nothing worse than that…but even so, I have 3 beautiful kids, a husband that adores me, an abundant life, lifelong friends, and blessings too many to count.  Although my testimony continues to surprise me, so does God by carrying me.  I have days that exhaust me.  Days that terrify me.  Days that I just can’t move forward.  Other days are wonderful and perfect.  Life is full of twists and turns…some are dark and twisty, some are exhilarating.

I guess my point to this story is this…sometimes it gets difficult to hear people speaking about overcoming adversity in their lives that seem pretty perfect from the outside.  Maybe they do have some unseen struggle.  Maybe they’re thinking the same thing about me….

The fact is, it’s ok to not be struggling.  It is ok to be ok.  I think in a world that is topsy-turvy, people think they must have some inner darkness in order to fit in.  Especially Chrstians…we think we have to have some dark and twisty road in order to have a great testimony.  That simply isn’t true.  I think sometimes people think they need the street cred in order to be taken more seriously as Christians.  Trust me, I’d trade my scars and road rash for one more day with my Mom.  I would trade my entire story, if my daughter could attend every birthday party her friends have; to feel “normal” and healthy.

Your testimony doesn’t give you character…your character gives you a testimony.

Your story will come.  Don’t live your life waiting for your story.  Your life is the story.  Go live it, and live it well.

Fighting a Battle with a Wrapping Paper Tube as a Sword

Have you ever been so overwhelmed by the fight ahead of you, that you just sat and mentally ran down the scenario of fleeing?  Sometimes I get so buried, that all I can do is play out in my head the scenario of me running away to some fabulous location.  Fiji perhaps.  My problem is that sometimes I get so frustrated that I give voice to my plan and make the mistake of telling my family that I’m planning my escape.  I don’t want them to be surprised by my disappearance.  This is where things get dicey…my husband, and my kids always want to join my escape.  So fine, they can come too…and for sure I’m taking the dogs (all 3 Great Danes)…and we’ll need some of our favorite things, clothes, I need books, and snacks.  By the time I finish mentally gathering all of my necessary running away items, I decide it is probably easier if I just stay put.  This puts me back at square one…facing my life.

If I am going to face this, I’m going to need a good weapon.  It feels like the world is coming at me with swords, and I’m trying to fend them off with the tube left over from my Christmas wrap.  Reminds me of playing light saber wars with my brother when we were little.

For the most part, we deal with our daughter’s chronic illness quite well as a family.  Take for instance yesterday…I received a call from her school a few hours after the day had started, that they had flu cases in her class.  In an attempt to protect her from catching yet another bug, I went and picked her up for the day.  Sounds fun, right?!  Well, upon calling her doctor office, they inform me that now that she is on the mend from her last series of infections, she really needs to get her flu shot…pronto.  So, we head to the pharmacy since they have the vaccine in stock.  As we walk in, she announces to me that it’s a 4 needle day since she has her infusion later that night.  UGH!  We crack jokes, and I tease her about possible ways that I might embarrass her during her shot.  I tell her that I might scream when I get mine, or that I’ll tell the pharmacist that I just need a second to tie her up before she’ll sit still for her shot.  All of this to lighten the mood…she thought she was getting a nice day off with mom…no such luck!  The pharmacist finally comes over to give her the shot.  So I’m standing outside the partition when I notice the lady in a complete and utter panic.  I look over the wall, and blood is squirting down my daughter’s arm.  The pharmacist is doing everything in her power to stop the leak, but it is coming too fast, and too much.  She’s soaking cotton balls by the second.  My sweet girl is just sitting there trying to console the employee, even as her arm is swelling up, getting hot and red.  She downs a Benadryl and announces that it is now my turn.  My turn goes without a hitch.  Unfortunately all of the bad mojo was her luck today.   By the time we return home, all she can talk about is a nap.  She feels awful, but won’t say so.  She naps and then gets up to work on her Science project during her infusion.  Our fun bonus day off is a bust.

This morning she was back to school, ready to move on.  This is what she does, she fights even when it doesn’t seem like she’s fighting.  We crack jokes, and make up silly stories to give a gentle voice to some of the pain and fear.

These are her physical battles.  What about all of the birthday parties that she can’t attend for her friends because they are going bowling, or to a trampoline park, or to the movie theater?  Germs and infections lurking in every dark crevice.  Too risky.   What about all of the parties and events that she just doesn’t get invited to anymore?  How do I help her fight those battles?  The emotional attacks that she really can’t help.  What about the school that she has attended since Pre-K, that now isn’t sure they are the right place for her next year?  How do I explain that rejection to her?  She has a disease that is completely beyond her control.  Hiding behind faceless committees, they might decide that the place she has enjoyed learning for 7 years, might be better off without her there. She tries so hard to make up for it in other ways.  How could anyone, in good conscience, turn their back on her?  Does anyone ever consider her spirit in this battle?  How much can one little girl face before it is just too much?

If you don’t know her, you are really missing out on something special.  Even with the possibility of not being invited back to her school next year, she searches for a silver lining.  She refuses to be beaten by this battle.  I, on the other hand am completely heartbroken by the betrayal.  She has determined that other kids have been home schooled in middle school and then come back to even more friends in later years.  This girl leaves a wake of smiles everywhere she goes.  Her sweet heart, and spirit for others, is contagious.  She will make the most of whatever life throws at her.  That doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.  Kind of like her needles…she tells her siblings that just because she is used to the pain, doesn’t mean that she doesn’t feel it, and that it doesn’t still hurt.  She feels pain, she just doesn’t give it power.

I have no idea what path her life will take, but I don’t really have to know…I just have to remember that God loves her even more than I do, if one can imagine that vast amount.  He has a plan for her story, despite some of the unspeakable trials along the way.  I might only have a cardboard tube in my hands, but I have a mighty warrior on my side.  She can rest in knowing that her battles will never be fought alone.

We all have our own struggles.  Take a lesson from a child, stand tall and face them bravely with a smile and a joke.  Laughter is great medicine…never lose your sense of humor.  Take some swings with your wrapping paper tube, but remember that is not your only weapon.

Raising My Tribe

As a parent, I struggle with remembering that my kids are real people.  I know that sounds weird, but what I mean is that they are their own people.  They have their own thoughts, beliefs, and dreams.  We invest so much over the years, trying to raise these little creatures into the kind of people we can stand to be around.  We literally spend years of our lives trying to influence and control every decision and every outcome.  We spend countless moments counseling and explaining, lecturing and reassuring, praising and guiding their every move.  All of this in the hopes that someday, they will become the people we want them to be.

These past few years, as my kids have begun the real  transition into adulthood, I am realizing that they need to be their own people.  God has a plan for their lives; it really isn’t up to me how they will turn out.  I can do my best to impart wisdom and values, but in the end, how they turn out is really up to them.  I can’t make every decision for them, nor do I really want to forever.  I want them to grow into their skin, and make decisions that they can live with.  I want them to find their voice, and learn to use it.

I want so much for these kids, I sometimes try to force the outcome that I think is best.  I put my stamp on their thoughts, trying to make them think as I do.  Yes, it is my job to teach them well, and raise them to know where to find the truth they seek.  It has never been my job to make them into me.  In reality, I wouldn’t want them to be.  I’m far from perfect, and I have made more than my fair share of mistakes.  I actually want better for my kids…I want them to have an easier road to walk.  Sometimes I get caught in the trap of trying to remove every stumbling block, pothole, or diversion from their path.  That is not my job, and I’m so glad that it isn’t because I really don’t think that is possible…or wise.  Keeping my kids from making their own decisions because they might make a bad one, isn’t teaching them anything.  The reality is that they will make bad decisions, they will make choices that I didn’t even consider, they will fall; it’s my job to help them up, dust them off, and set them back on the road.  I can, and should, help them learn from the choices they make.  I should point them in the direction of truth.  I should give them advice from an open heart.  I should not try to keep them from growing into their britches though.

I guess this is just one more step in the letting go process.  I’m learning to bite my tongue, bide my time, and avoid verbiage that sounds like “I told you so”.  They need to know that it is okay to fail.  I’m still going to love them, they’ll always have a safe place to learn from their mistakes.  I need them to be confident enough to try.  I need them to be willing to fail.  I need them to trust themselves in difficult situations.  I need them to trust themselves, period.  How can they ever get to that point if I don’t trust them?  If I have done my job correctly, they will be well equipped to handle themselves appropriately.

Let’s say they do fall every now and again…why do we as parents, feel like their poor decisions are a direct reflection on us?  Raising capable adults, means allowing them their own freedom of choice.  Sometimes their choices will line up with what they have been taught; sometimes they will go completely rogue and make a choice that seemingly forgets everything we ever taught them.  This makes them young and maturing; this doesn’t make us bad parents.  I have to stop wearing them as badges of honor.  Their accomplishments are theirs, their poor decisions are theirs…they are their own people, good or bad.  My job is to love them regardless, and to help them when they need guidance.

I cringe when someone says that a parent should’ve taught their kid better than that.  Most of us do, but that doesn’t mean that they always listen or agree with our teaching.  In the end, the decision will be theirs to make.  All we can do is teach them well and pray!  We can pray that our words found the way into their hearts.  We can pray that they will choose right over wrong.  We can pray wisdom over them.  We cannot take the fall for their mistakes though.  We cannot blame ourselves when our kids don’t think just like us.

So, I’m learning how to step back.  I’m learning how to just listen to my kids.  I can’t shoulder the weight of everyone’s decisions.  As they grow, they should be able to carry their own weight.  This doesn’t mean that my heart doesn’t ache when they are faced with difficult choices.  I still feel their pain, sorrow, stress, and anguish…after all, I am still their mom;  their #1 fan.  I feel every step, and every misstep.  I’m learning to just love them through these times though; not try to shield them from everything.  I’m trying not to clean up every mess just to save face as a parent.

Maybe you struggle with this whole letting go thing too.  I certainly hope that I’m not alone in this process.  For some reason, I don’t think that I am.  Love your kids and hold on…sometimes being a good parent is a bumpy ride; but it is so worth it.

Laughing In The Storm

To say that the past few months have been stressful would be a humorous understatement.  I mean there is stress, and then there is STRESS.  I think we all know the difference.  We all have stressful days, or moments of anxiety to work through in our daily lives.  But then there are those times when the stress seems crushing, like the world is just trying to kick you when you’re down.  That is where I have been the past few weeks.

Being the primary caretaker of a chronically ill child just sounds stressful.  Maybe that’s why I try to avoid checking that box on my job description.  I do it, but I have to do it without paying it much thought.  If I focused on that aspect of my job, I do think I would struggle to find the joy.  Rather, I am just a mom who loves her kids…all of them.  I do my best to take care of them individually, and all that that entails. Obviously, sometimes one child will need me more, or in ways the others might not.

My daughter has been fighting this last infection since October.  That virus that you called your pediatrician about, just took her out for 7 weeks.  Yeah, try explaining to people how your child is still sick with a “sinus infection” for almost two months.  If you thought that sounds crazy, then your reaction is pretty spot on.  I have been asked if I am giving her anything for it.  I have been asked if she is still sick.  And then there are the looks that people give me…the ones that make me feel like I better keep talking and explain it all away.  People can’t be understanding about things they don’t understand.  I feel like it is my job to make them understand.

Here is the thing though…I decided a long time ago that we were happy.  We are a happy family.  Being together is what makes everything OK.  We actually don’t sit around being sad about her illness.  Most days, that fact just lives in the background.  She takes her medicines morning and night (sometimes in between when she is sick), and then goes about living her life.  Even when she is home sick, we try to focus on other things rather than dwelling on how bad she feels.

A huge ingredient in our recipe of happiness, is noticing things to be thankful for.  Sometimes these are huge blessings, and other times they are little things that just make life easier or better.  Trust me, there are plenty of days that I have to consciously look for things to be thankful for.  When we are heading to see yet another specialist, and traffic is stopped, and everyone is a little nervous…we are still thankful for good insurance and a car.  I am thankful that if my daughter has to go through this, at least we are blessed with my ability to stay home and take care of her.  I honestly don’t know how working moms deal with sick kiddos.  We are blessed that on the days of major appointments, my husband has the flexibility to leave work and come with us.  I am so thankful for our family.  I really do think it is a rare treasure.

There are days when I wish that I could just build a cocoon around myself and hide.  When I’m asking her ten times to take her meds, when the dishes are a mile high, when we aren’t getting any answers…hiding and quitting seem like great alternatives.  I get trapped in this alternate universe where nothing can exist outside my walls.  I’m so consumed with trying to get her healthy, stay on top of some semblance of order in my home, not to mention the renovation project we are in the middle of on an investment property; that I just can’t give the real world a thought.  I almost seem surprised in these moments that the calendar keeps moving.  Events and responsibilities just keep coming whether or not we are in a good place to deal with them.  Deadlines are real.  It’s learning to find the joy, even in these moments of extreme stress, that bind us and propel us forward.  I could sulk, I seem to remember being pretty good at it as a kid; but then, where is the joy in that?  Moving past those moments and getting back to the good stuff…knowing there is still good stuff, is the important thing.

God never promised clear skies, but He did promise to walk with us in the storm.  There is no avoiding the rain, it is coming whether you’re ready or not.  Maybe it is just me, but I feel like every storm loses some power when it gets filtered through joy.  My daughter and I have made each other laugh in some of the most stressful situations, because we needed to practice joy.  Doctors and nurses have come into her room and expected to see a morose child feeling sorry for herself, and were surprised to find her in good spirits.  She is truly an example to others about having joy versus happiness.  One’s happiness is dependent on outside factors, and can change depending on circumstances.  Joy is a choice, one has to choose to be joyful.  Not always an easy assignment, but worth it every time.  I’ve never thought that I wasted time being happy or laughing; however, I have thought back over time wasted being sad or low.

So, the next time that you are planning your escape into hibernation, remember to look for things in every situation that you can be thankful for instead.  Don’t focus on the storm, have fun jumping in the puddles.  Maybe it is a really bad storm, then you just hold on tight and wait for the amazing rainbow that was promised.  It is in the knowing that the storm will pass, and the sun will shine again, that we have the power to overcome.  Don’t be a storm chaser, just waiting for the next big one to hit.  Let the sun shine brightly on the good days.  If you just can’t see anything in your storm, reach out… you are never alone.

Be thankful and find your joy.  Live so that others can see that you are joyful even in the rain.  I know that I have difficult days, but I genuinely hope and pray that everyone can see joy in my heart.  I’ll keep working on it…