The Strength of Self-Sacrifice

Here is to Strong Women 2016

Night before last the girls and I watched “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t think I had ever watched the entire movie. I know I had not watched any of it in years. By the end, I think everyone enjoyed it but it was obvious the girls weren’t that interested the first hour and a half.

On the other hand, I was soaking it all in. I remembered that the movie was about George Bailey being upset about something job related and then being shown what life would have been like in his community if he’d never been born. I knew it was an eye-opening experience for him by seeing the difference he had made in the lives of others.

However, I didn’t remember the level of self-sacrifice involved. I didn’t recall that he denied his hopes and dreams for the “greater good” of so many others – his family, friends and even strangers. In a world filled with “it’s all about me and what I want” mentality, George Bailey stood- and continues to stand- in stark contrast. No, he didn’t get to go explore the world, do all that he wanted to do and shake the dust off of his feet from that little town. Sure – he missed that fulfillment of dreams and mentioned it from time to time but he didn’t pout and whine or become bitter about all that he missed out on in life. Look at what he gained. He had the love and respect of his family and the entire community. In the end, I think that was more than “enough” for him.

He wasn’t a doormat for others. He wasn’t a weakling. He was strong enough to put others above his own ambition. A weak person doesn’t work to build others up like he did. He wanted to build buildings but what he helped build had a much broader, lasting and a more personal impact. He missed out on a lot but look what he got in return. George Bailey wasn’t a religious man and this isn’t a religious movie but the message is clear. When you put others before yourself, everyone benefits.

I want to be a George Bailey and I want that for my girls as well. I want us to be strong enough to deny ourselves and our own “wants” for the betterment of others, if needed. I want us to build others up and not focus only on what we want to happen. It isn’t our nature but I hope we can be strong enough to do the right things and be selfless even when we don’t feel like it. I hope we all four make long-lasting, positive impact on others. I don’t want this in order to have money thrown at me in times of need or status in the community  (like what happened in the movie) but for the fulfillment in seeing that choosing others over “self” is a worthwhile endeavor. I want us to do this without whining, pouting, sulking, complaining and in general, being unhappy about what we didn’t get to do. By living sacrificially, you may not get instant gratification. You’re still going to suffer at times. But the rewards can be far-reaching, life changing and eternal.

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:12-13

‘Tis The Season

I had Christmas cards printed this year. That probably doesn’t sound like a big deal at all – unless you know what is missing. I had them printed when I was feeling strong and telling myself that I was fine, we were fine and moving forward. Then the box was delivered to my house and I opened it. That didn’t feel fine. The cards have now been sitting at my house for two weeks– not stuffed, not sealed, not stamped. The box – as with too many other things in life – seemed to mock me. Clearly I wasn’t quite as strong as I thought I was.

This time last year I was waiting out the holidays to see if reconciliation was “real” or the “spirit of the season” and the longing to have our family back together was playing with emotions. This year, frankly, I’m just waiting out the holidays and ready to check them off of my survival list. I’m not saying it’s a good or healthy attitude but it’s truth.

I am weary. I feel like I’m grasping – not because I don’t have a lot to be thankful for because I know that I do. But focusing on the positives in the midst of brokenness, sadness, anger and reality checks isn’t easy. There are SO many things to be thankful for but they are sometimes hard to zone in on when a curtain of grief seems to obscure the view.

It has been a long week full of hard things – much like most of the past 18+ months. But tonight, I am pulling that curtain of grief back and enjoying the sounds of two giggling 3rd grade girls who are working on a “best friends” project for school. I am loving the fact that my 11-year-old made chocolate chip cookies. I am so pleased that my 15-year-old is making cupcakes – complete with Christmas tree décor to top them – to take to a family Christmas party tomorrow. I will enjoy spending time with extended family tomorrow where we will laugh with and at each other. On Sunday, I will sit in a church that I love with family and friends to watch my youngest be baptized as an outward display of her commitment to love and serve Jesus. I know there are so many people, events and things that I have be thankful for in my life even when the haze of grief is thick.

Furthermore, I’m mailing those cards. And I will be fine. The girls and I will be fine. Moving forward may be one step forward and two back but not moving forward WILL NOT be an option.

The Comfort of Clean Sheets

I love clean sheets. I mean I love clean sheets on my bed to an extent that it might be considered ridiculous. That said, I would never admit to anyone (especially not since my mother is probably reading this) how infrequently I actually change my sheets. Much like every single other household/life “chore,” I like the end result but hate the process of doing what needs to be done. I hate the actual process of taking the sheets off of my bed, washing them and then putting them back on the bed. I don’t know why I hate it so much. It’s not like I use a tub and washboard and hang them on a clothesline to dry them. Yes, I have approximately 100 throw pillows on my bed so it takes a bit of time to get everything put together but it is certainly doable. It’s probably just that it’s a household duty and the only household thing I enjoy is flipping the channel to see that an original “Law and Order” is playing. (I don’t really think you can consider watching TV a chore but give me a break…it isn’t that I don’t do the things that need to be done. I just don’t enjoy doing them.)

My Nanna washed her sheets every single day. Like waking up in the middle of the night to mop the kitchen floor, this is yet another of my Nanna’s traits I didn’t inherit. As a child, I thought it was a bit over the top that she did this every day. As an adult, I KNOW it was over the top. However, that didn’t change the fact that I still recall her having the best bed in the entire world and I spent many Saturday mornings crawling into that bed after spending Friday night with her and Pap. I remember that bed as the most comfortable place in the world.

My Nanna had a gift of making people feel special and comfortable. Even though I rolled my eyes plenty of times at her declarations, it always felt good to hear her say that I was wonderful, that every girl wanted to be my friend and that every random guy we encountered was flirting with me. Don’t even get me started on what she thought about people who had hurt me – whether the hurt was reality or just perception. In her eyes, I was a prize worth being treasured. I think she even felt that way about my sisters and cousin. 😉

It’s been years since Alzheimer’s took Nanna from our family and almost two years since death took her completely. I still miss her. During the past 18 months, I have wished for her more often than normal but in crazy and indescribable ways, I feel like she has still provided comfort. I hope someday I can be that “comfort” to others – to my kids, nephews, niece and in 20 years or so, maybe my grand-kids/nieces/nephews too. I want to share that gift of unconditional love – even to the point of outrageous –with them. I hope I inherited that quality from her.

I would love to have the opportunity to roll my eyes at her exaggerated statements again. I would love to actually hear the security of her unwavering support. And I would love to feel the comfort of her super soft bed with her freshly laundered sheets surrounding me. While I’m wishing, I wouldn’t mind having some of her fried chicken and a piece of her apple pie too…

 

Six Months…

Six months. It has been six months today since my life was up-ended for the second time in 18+ months. Some days six months feels like an eternity ago. Most days it feels as raw as though it happened yesterday.

Some days I think I could probably write a book on all that I’ve learned – and am in the process of learning – about myself, my kids, others, God, life… Most days I think it would probably be a better idea to write a book on what I think I’ll never understand or know.

I hope that some of the things I have learned stay with me for life in positive and encouraging ways – not in hurt, anger, bitterness and unforgiveness. I decided to write about some of those things I want to remember – in case I start to forget.

I hope I never again question the amount of time it takes someone to grieve. Every person is different and it doesn’t help anyone’s situation to tell him/her they should be “over” something that broke his/her heart. Even if you don’t tell them that in words, sometimes your actions and/or attitude communicate that opinion. I believe most people wish they were “over it” and could flip a magical switch to get there. Unfortunately, it’s a process that doesn’t ever “end” or finish up by being wrapped up with a pretty bow on top. It’s a process that many people apparently don’t realize is one step forward, several steps back when open emotional wounds have salt poured in them. You think it’s exhausting for you to support someone grieving? Try living it 24/7 and living with your kids who are too.

I hope I never give my opinion on what someone “should” be doing without being asked. Of course there are always absolutes but there are also a lot of options. I hope I praise those grieving for the good things they are doing and the “ugly” things they aren’t doing and not focus on what they should be doing. No one is perfect and no one handles any situation perfectly – especially when raw emotions are involved. Especially when the raw emotions of your children are involved. Unless asked, give love and support –not advice.

I hope I never blame the person grieving for things they did wrong – even if they did huge things wrong. I’m pretty sure most people grieving because of a broken relationship are acutely aware of all of the things they did wrong. That doesn’t mean they are responsible for the wrongs that were committed against them but it is nearly impossible to actually believe that in the midst of hurting. They don’t need to be kicked when they are down especially since they are probably kicking themselves enough.

I hope I am the type of friend who reaches out, listens carefully and tirelessly and helps others in tangible ways. I want to be a caring, supportive friend and not try to be an advisor. In the midst of difficult times, you see who your true friends are and they make you want to be a better friend. Unfortunately, you also see the people who claim to be your friend but never reach out. When someone’s life is turned upside down, if you can’t make time to even send a text or Facebook message to check on them, then you probably aren’t a “real” friend and you shouldn’t pretend otherwise.

I hope I never, ever utter the words “new normal” to someone in the thick of grieving because even if it is true, it isn’t helpful.

I want to be aware of the magnitude of personal loss and change in small and big ways that grieving people face. For example, when you have been “we” for 20+ years, sometimes it takes at least six months to even catch that you are still saying “we” and start to correct yourself. And it stings.

Doing the right thing because it’s the right thing. Taking the high road. Being rationale. Acting Godly…all things that a grieving Christian KNOWS. I hope I never beat someone up when they fail at doing what they know is right when they are trying so hard to be perfect. Most people I know who have been through hard times are actually trying to move forward and do better and don’t need reminders or criticism when they fall short – they know.

Putting the kids first, sheltering and protecting them doesn’t look the same to everyone so perhaps, not judging those in the midst of a grief process for not doing things the way you THINK you would do things, isn’t a good idea. Furthermore, kids handle things in their own individualized ways too. So, please remember that the person neck-deep in their own personal grief may be juggling the emotions of more than one child – each at different stages of “process” and who handle things differently from each other anyway – so it probably isn’t a good idea to hand out advice on how to handle the kids – unless you are asked.

I don’t want to be where I am emotionally in life right now but I’ve learned over the past 18+ months that there is no set timetable no matter how much I wish I could check the “finished grieving” box off of my list of things to do. I’ve also learned that there is no proverbial “there” to actually get to when it comes to life. I don’t want to be ruled by emotions – especially not hurt or anger – but by truth and love. I’m not where I need to be yet but I have no plans to quit moving forward.

I want my kids to look at me and see a deep faith that doesn’t have all of the answers but refuses to stop looking to Jesus. I hope my kids see me apologize for my mistakes and then actually do better. I can assure you that they do not have a perfect mom but I hope they see they have a mom who loves them unconditionally, puts them above herself and who moves forward with hope.

We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield.

In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name.

May your unfailing love be with us, Lord, even as we put our hope in you.

Psalm 33:20-22

Keely is 11!?!

Keely 11yo

This sweet baby girl changed the world to a better place with her arrival eleven years ago today! Her smile lights up a room. She is kind and caring. Her choice of how to celebrate her birthday night is to help pack shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child because, as she said when we volunteered a few weeks ago, ONE box can change a life. She wants to live life like that-helping others. She is a tender-hearted peacemaker who is more likely to carefully think through a situation than blurt out her thoughts and feelings about it. However, don’t mistake tenderness for weakness-she is strong and courageous.

She has wrestled with questions of faith no child should have to but as she has struggled, her faith has grown even stronger. Her foundation is strong and I am so proud of her for moving toward God even in the midst of her confusion and hurt. She loves Jesus and wants to live her life serving Him and others.

She’ll definitely be the one most likely to take care of me when I’m old (but we may need financial help from her sisters because chances are her service-oriented career isn’t going to bring in the big bucks.😂) It will probably be me living with Keely’s family of four kids and who knows how many animals.

Keely is smart and beautiful through and through. She loves reading, playing soccer, and hanging out with her cousins and friends. Her laughter is contagious -especially when she laughs until the tears flow.

Happy 11th birthday to my sweet Keely! She makes my heart smile and my love for her is immeasurable, unconditional and eternal. She is a gift I’m grateful to treasure.

The Cost of Happiness

A few weeks ago I had a startling and disturbing realization about myself. It’s not pretty (and I’m going to work on it) but the truth is, at this point in my life, I think of being “happy” with negative connotations. It isn’t a good thing and definitely not something I’m proud to share but I’m hoping that writing about it will be therapeutic.

I was chatting with a friend of mine who told me he was happier than he’d ever been. I’ve known this friend for a long time and I am glad he’s happy but my gut-instinct thought was “but what did it cost someone else?” I know the answer for his situation (nothing – it was genuinely a good thing) but how sad is it that my immediate reaction was that question?

Recently I’ve had a lot of people tell me I “deserve” to be happy and maybe I do but what if what I think will make me happy causes someone else unhappiness? Do I “deserve” happiness more than someone else? In real life, it is possible that someone’s personal happiness may come at the cost of another person’s. The sense of entitlement that one person “deserves” more than another person seems to be a prevalent theme.

Our own Declaration of Independence gives us rights as American citizens stating that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The PURSUIT of happiness is a right that we have as American citizens. But at what cost are we willing to claim that right?

I tend to think I would be happy if I lived on the beach – year round. Living on the beach isn’t a need or a requirement – it’s just something I think I would like. But, my children and family members aren’t on the same page. I could pick up and move and they would probably recover but why is what I would like more important than what my sophomore in high school wants? I think I’d be happy if I could eat a cheeseburger for every meal but when my health plummets and my kids are having to take care of me, I suspect they wouldn’t be thrilled with my choices. I’m pretty sure I could spend all of my money at Barnes and Noble but my kids seem to think they need things and the people to whom I pay my bills would not be pleased if I only considered my own wants.

Those are light-hearted examples but I think this self-first attitude shows itself in big and small areas of our lives. We’re all selfish in some ways and we want what we want – and most of us want it right now. Many of us act like overgrown toddlers when it comes to our attitude of getting what we desire and we’ll punch whoever gets in the way in order to have it.

When you pick yourself over others, you can say you’re sorry, ask for – and maybe even receive – forgiveness but you can’t undo the damage. I’ve been there, done that and when I “got” what I thought I wanted it led to sickness and shame. The cost was too great. I still wasn’t happy and I’d hurt others in the process – making me even less happy than I was when my pursuits began. I picked myself over others because I focused on how unhappy I felt – choosing not to be content but instead dwelling on what I thought I still wanted. I chose to focus on the emotion of the moment rather than truth.

When focusing on your own happiness, where does love for others come into play? What about self-sacrifice? What about laying down your own life for others? What about basic kindergarten educational values of don’t be selfish or take someone else’s stuff?

Obviously there is a need for balance and no one should be a human doormat but why do some people believe that what they want (or how they feel) takes precedence over the rights of another? I am NOT saying people shouldn’t pursue happiness but I am saying that sometimes we should consider the cost of happiness – if there is one – and ask ourselves if we deserve it at the price of what it is costing someone else.

Third Morning. First Week.

It gets us every. single. year.

I knew it was coming but I hoped this would be the year things changed. It wasn’t.

The third morning of the first week of school is when reality starts to kick in for our crew. It is when hope that we will become morning people who don’t hit the snooze button continuously and be unrushed and pleasant people while getting ready for school dies. It is the day “normal” kicks in and we no longer can pretend we can be leisurely during the morning hours.

I may have even wondered how much longer it was until Christmas break as I hit the snooze button again.

The contrast between the 1st/2nd morning and the 3rd morning is huge. On Monday, we had a hot breakfast cooked with love. Today, as we were backing out of the driveway, I asked if the little girls had eaten. When they said no, I pulled back into the garage, grabbed a box of sugary cereal so they could eat out of the box on the way to school. Of course, half of the box was spilled all over the van on the way to the schools.

We were still on time (even early) for school – all three of them. However, in between the first and second school drop-offs, I noticed that a wallet (with the school ID in it) and textbook had been left behind from the first drop-off. That sweet child of mine – who had been impatient and frustrated and therefore, had rushed out of the van without grabbing all of her things – began texting me asking me if I could bring them to her and to please hurry because the bell was about to ring.

Sigh.

They made it to school on time, with breakfast eaten (such as it was) and they were even dressed, had their backpacks and their lunches with them- I’m pretty sure.

Maybe next year we will conquer morning three with a little more dignity and pleasantness – but I’m not optimistic.