Grace and Pancakes

Many years ago, while recounting my failed attempts to overcome a difficult task and resulting personal frustrations, a wise person told me, “Sometimes, you just have to give up and make waffles.” At the time my driven, goal-oriented nature failed to see the wisdom in these words, and I irrationally felt more worth as a person ramming my head repeatedly into the same obstacle than in surrender.

Our baby, who can cry and scream with impressive persistence, sometimes calms down while being held and danced to The Piano Guys song that mashes “Fight Song” with “Amazing Grace”. I have listened to this song countless times recently without thinking anything about the combination of these particular songs until the second consecutive night I spent as the only adult caring for a young child and a colicky baby. My husband had to be away for work for several days, and I felt pulled, as I am sure all new parents of two feel, between the needs of each child while my own needs whimpered forlornly from some cast-off place in my soul. Guilt overwhelmed me. I hated myself for having to insist that my son wait over and over, not because he had to practice patience, but because I failed my job at soothing his sister. Her screams became my internal voice’s anvils landing crushing blows to both my spirit and confidence in my abilities as a parent. A small, rational part of me whispered reassurance that we would get through this phase just as we had with our son, but fatigue easily drowned it out.

I glanced at the clock and noticed it, too, ticking off my failures while I stared void of ideas at the pantry with the smallest one still screaming in my ear. Dinner should have been ready an hour earlier, and my hope of bedtime on time whimpered and sighed as it walked dejectedly to join my dream of any moment of personal time in the hopeless part of my soul. I tried to yell at my dreams to come back, but they did not hear me, and my eyes started leaking tears of their own. I put my daughter in a soft sided carrier, turned on The Piano Guys music, and cranked the volume on the stereo. As the music mixed with my tears, I let go of my attempts to change my daughter’s emotional state and instead promised to hold her close as long as she needed to be held that night. There, I found a place of surrender and graceful acceptance that also felt strong. We swayed and danced in the kitchen while my son and I mixed batter for chocolate chip pancakes. My daughter eventually fell asleep on my chest, and my son and I both smiled eating the chocolate.

Gratitude

As I sit here attempting to type with one hand while holding a sleeping baby in my other, I think back on the past year. The difficulty of coping with the many endurance-testing challenges has not faded, but the strength of all those who supported us, knowingly and unknowingly, grows ever brighter in conjunction with our increasing gratitude.

Situations arose multiple times over many months causing us to doubt the likelihood of holding this beautiful gift, healthy, or at one point even at all. Further, I often felt like a failure for being incapable of providing the most basic nutrition to my unborn child. As I started losing weight, I wondered what I was taking from my child. What began as a goal for a balanced, nutritionally diverse diet quickly gave way to simply attempting to get calories to stay in me. The days, weeks, and months dragged on and dragged me with them. I felt trapped and spent five and a half of those nine months within five minutes of home.

To each of you who took a step on this journey with us, thank-you. Thank you to my husband who demonstrated selflessness in every way becoming the persona of the wedding vows we promised over a decade ago. You have truly been my strength. Thank you to my son who offered untaught compassion; I am in awe and proud to be your mom. The memory of the peanut butter sandwich you spontaneously made and brought me in bed will always bring me to tears. Thank you to my parents who have showed up my entire life each time I have said, “Help!” Thank you to those who took the time and effort to drive long distances to visit us, often repeatedly. You seemed to show up at the exact moment I doubted my ability to make it one more day. Thank you to all who scheduled and rescheduled gatherings to try to include us. Thank you to everyone who called, texted, and emailed offering words of encouragement and distraction from some monotonous weeks and months. Thank you to the brave souls who attempted to cook for me when I struggled to keep anything down.

I don’t know what I would have done without our library’s programs and the wonderful people who work and volunteer there. Because of all of you at the library who know us by name, I felt like I could still engage in some part of life and spend time around other people during the many months we stayed close to home. To our friends and family who remained ‘on-call’ day and night for two months with offers to care for our young son, we are forever grateful. You took away a massive stress relieving us from the burden of feeling torn between caring for our son and caring for our unborn child. Thank you to the doctors and nurses who cared for us, the ultrasonographers who helped us see our child, the lab technicians who attempted to stick my rolling veins, and the receptionists who remembered my name. Thank you for going beyond your job. Thank you to the woman who got out of her car to take my shopping cart back at the grocery store. I drove home with tears running down my face. To all of you who read this blog, thank you. You gave me an outlet and a focus outside of difficult moments.

I do not think I can ever see life’s challenges as known, pre-planned events that result in some future good. However, I see the responses to those challenges as proof that love’s light eclipses the darkest moments. Thank you to all of you for loving us so well. May our gratitude reach you from these words, and whenever you find yourself struggling in life, may you feel the depth of the love and support you have shown to us shining on you.  Thank you…

When I Fail

I am a super-model on resume paper. My lists of achievements, accolades, education, and certifications paint a picture of my life in air-brushed perfection. However, it is not an accurate picture of my life, but simply a list of successes with the struggles and failures brushed away. Nowhere on that shiny paper does it list my dreams or my hopes. I first wanted to be a writer in elementary school. I still have the first book I wrote with binding help from my mom using cardboard and wrapping paper, essays and short stories from 3rd grade, library poetry contest submissions, and essays from junior year English class. Yet, I took only one English course during my first four years in college – a required technical writing course. I took no creative writing classes, and the writing I entered in contests I wrote at the last minute claiming I wrote better with a deadline. I feared failure. I feared criticism. I feared someone telling me I could not write, and could never learn to write well.

I called writing a dream or a goal, but in truth, it was neither. It was a passion, a calling that whispered to me. But, I denied it. How could it be a calling when I spent so much time failing at it? I was supposed to be in some lofty academic field or living out a life of service to others. I felt guilty for my love of books. I loved the feel of books, the smell of books, and just sitting in a library or bookstore. I had a career I enjoyed that I was successful at. However, I still stared longingly at the covers of books at the library and wondered if my name would ever be on the cover of one of them.

I took a sabbatical from my career this past year to attempt to become a writer. I based my success on completing the book I have spent a decade working on with only a pile of failed attempts to show for it. During the earlier part of the year I decided that I needed to start a blog so that I would at least consistently write something read by others, but I never felt prepared enough to begin. I read information about blogs. I tried to find the answers to my questions of how to be a blogger, but I continued to run into my own doubt. My husband suggested I pretend to start a blog, and then write a month’s worth of posts just to see if I enjoyed blogging. I wrote two draft posts and started a third. I went to a writing conference. I ran a writers’ group. Then several months into this adventure, after nearly two years of unsuccessful efforts to have a second child, we found out we were pregnant. I developed relentless all-day, all-night morning sickness. Just basic life became more of a challenge than I ever imagined possible, and writing became non-existent. In the middle of all of this, I realized that counting on someday allowing me to have the time, ability, talent, and perseverance to achieve this dream only kept me counting on an imaginary, non-existent future. So, I started a blog without a perfect plan, without all the answers, and without assurance that I would succeed.

A year has passed, and I have not finished my book. I have received multiple rejection letters for essays and poems, and I hope much of what I write never leaves my laptop. I have a blog read mostly by kind family members and friends. By the definition of success I originally gave myself, I have failed to become a writer. However, I am a writer, not due to arbitrary success or failure, but simply because I write. Maybe I am not good at writing, but maybe I am a little better at writing than I was yesterday. Living a dream is more than simply dreaming it. I do not know where I am going – if I am going anywhere at all – but that doesn’t matter. This is an adventure – my adventure. If you are looking for the air-brushed version portrayed by my resume, I’m sorry – she does not exist. But, if you are looking for the person who listens to the calling in her heart even, and especially if, it is messy, challenging, and has no guarantee of success – I wave welcome to all who cease to hide behind the image of who they “should” be and instead embrace who they are with all the imperfections, blemishes, and journey-weary beauty.

Life is Messy – Bring a Vacuum

Last week, I went with our young son to an outdoor activity where he needed to bring a single snack for himself. I grabbed a box of raisins on the way out the door. When we arrived at the parking lot, I attempted to place them in my purse, but the box would not fit. I hastily started removing things out of my purse – old squeezer packages, handfuls of receipts, two containers of lotion (I couldn’t find any the day before!), and a plastic bag full of crackers that had evidently been punctured by the uncapped ink pin because mashed cracker crumbs flew across my front seat when I pulled the bag from my purse. Realizing that I needed to take more drastic action, but having no time at that moment to do anything, I tossed the raisins in my purse, and sighed at the mess of trash, paper, and crumbs now filling my cup holders and littered across my front seat.

In most areas of my life, I am extremely organized – I use a label maker for the pantry, my clothes are hung color-coded by season, and I color code our file folders. However, there are a few areas of my life that this organization seems to fail to inhabit like my purse. Though my purse is on the small to medium size, I come from a genetic line of women who have an extraordinary talent for packing large numbers of items into small spaces. Getting thanksgiving leftovers into the refrigerator and absurd amounts of holiday dishes into a single dishwasher load are no match for the women in my family. I carry this trait around in my purse and my continued insistence that I can use carry-on bags only on a plane trip while my husband shakes his head and tells me that my overstuffed backpack makes me look like a pack mule.

A few days after the crumb spraying incident I sat enjoying the fall weather and prepared to tackle my purse. The oldest receipt I found came from a restaurant we ate at last January, and I am extremely grateful that whatever punctured the cracker bag did not also puncture the applesauce squeezer container that I found buried at the bottom under a cloth tissue my son used when his nose ran persistently a couple of months ago. I also learned that over some unknown amount of time chewy granola bars rival holiday fruitcakes in their ability to turn rock solid. Eventually, I found the bottom of my purse filled with cracker crumbs and pieces of granola. Pondering only momentarily, I grabbed my purse and got the vacuum from the closet. With some amount of awkward maneuvering I managed to use the vacuum wand attachment to extricate all the crumbs.

I returned everything that belonged in my purse in perfectly organized fashion with the intention that the crumb catastrophe will never happen again. However, if I am honest, this sort of purse disaster has happened many times before and, unless I make some other change, will likely happen in the future. Sometimes, I find offering grace to others easier than offering it to myself. I “should” do better. This “shouldn’t” have happened. If only I… Why didn’t I… I am a supporter of pursuing excellence in my life and striving to make positive changes when warranted. Yet, acknowledging the imperfections that come along with my humanity without berating myself often proves a challenge. Maybe instead of telling myself all those “should” statements about finding my purse in catastrophe state, I could pat myself on the back for being prepared to take care of a child in various circumstances. Life is messy. Crumbs happen. We trip. We spill. Instead of belittling myself for life’s messes, I think I will acknowledge that I am strong and grateful to have the capability of cleaning up after myself. I will also make sure I have a good vacuum nearby!

When I Play

I love to read. When given the opportunity to sit with a favorite book, I will forget to eat and fail to sleep just to keep reading. Growing up, I checked out stacks of books from the library and then spent blissful days of summer vacation getting lost in them. Yet, somewhere along the way, as I have grown older and my responsibilities have increased, I find that I sometimes go weeks or even months without reading a book despite my continued love of them. I comment about lacking enough time, and part of that is accurate. Reading endlessly for twelve hours with a young child is not a realistic expectation. However, does that mean I should not make time to read at all? I once heard a saying, and I do not know where it originated, that people often overestimate what they can do in a day and underestimate what they can do in a year.

We visit the library about twice a week and check out piles of books for our young son. We spend wonderful times reading him stacks of stories. However, I rarely check out a book for myself. Only recently did I realize the message I tell myself – I am an adult, and I had my chance at learning, stories, and adventure. I think I am wrong. At what age do play and passion fail to be important? If life is simply a list of never-ending tasks, then what is the point? Yes, dinners still need to be cooked, laundry must be washed, and jobs duties must be fulfilled. But, why put my own humanity at the end of to-do lists that endlessly revolve? I find time for exercise because someone somewhere says it is important and healthy. I read articles and blogs about finding balance, but I feel I still spend a lot of time tripping and stumbling through life. I listen to experts, articles, and opinions, but I often fail to listen to the voice inside of me. I want to read. Why? What goal will I accomplish? What is the point? The point is – there is no point. This is my play, my love, my passion, me.

This week, I unintentionally tried something different. When we visited the library a few days ago, I checked out a book. I had not thought about it beforehand. I simply walked past a shelf on the way out, and the title caught my eye. I picked up the book, read the back cover, put it back, walked two steps, and turned around to take it with me while internally berating myself that the book will sit on my nightstand unopened until it is due as evidence of some other project I failed to complete. That night, I sat down in bed, picked up my phone, and started scrolling through social media. I looked away from the screen for a minute and saw the book on the nightstand next to me. I realized I had not intentionally looked for my phone and had no interest in social media at that moment. Really, how much changed since the last time I looked at my phone? I turned off my phone and picked up the book. I finished reading it last night.

Reading this book fulfilled no goal of mine, and it did not check items off my to-do list. It did not further my education, my career, or my knowledge of how to be a good, capable parent. I simply enjoyed it. I played – in my own way. I listened to the voice inside of me. I feel like I received a wonderful gift, and I smile thinking about it.

What is your play? When will you allow yourself to next enjoy it? As for me, the next book is waiting for me.

October Gifts

A few days ago, we opened the windows and left them open all day. Fall poured in bringing invigorating smells attached like gift tags to happy memories of autumns past. I felt my favorite flannel blue and green jacket I wore at age six drape against my shoulders. I saw the colored leaves we picked up on a leaf walk with my mom while pulling a red wagon. I felt my own laughter in my chest as I ran to jump in crunchy leaf piles. I tasted the hot dog from a high school football game as the breeze chilled me through my band uniform. I flirted with the boy who grew into the man I would someday marry. I pulled the paddle of my kayak through the chilly lake water smiling at my husband as he tried to splash me while we explored the colors of the trees from the lake. I joyfully rode hayrides and cow trains, picked pumpkins, and played on outdoor slides over our son’s lifetime of Octobers hoping that one day those memories might flow through his open window tied to the scents of this time of year.

Memories are strange things. We hold within us memories of good times and of bad times. We wish to remember the good memories more and think of the bad memories less. But, attempting to forget the bad memories seems to only invite them to overstay a never given welcome like the college friend who leaves a late night fast food bag in your dorm room trashcan resulting in a stale, morning odor no amount of air freshener can cover. Nothing covers the past. Nothing erases it, and sometimes the rotten stench coming from it distracts even the most focused mind from more pleasant thoughts.

The morning we opened the windows, I felt broken. Unpleasant memories flooded my mind. My body felt sluggish, and I felt discouraged that I once again remembered so vividly what I most wanted to forget. Our young son asked to go outside. I did not want to go. I wanted to go back to bed, pull the covers over my head, and start the day over tomorrow, but I knew he would only see the covers over my head as the start of a never-ending game of blanket fort building. So, we went outside, and we stayed outside – for three hours.

By the conclusion of our outdoor adventures, we had played a variation of croquet with made up rules I never grasped, flown a kite with only enough wind to keep it airborne if the person with the string ran, drawn chalk drawings on the driveway, and took turns on a swing. Somewhere between the chalk and the swing, I started smiling. I could still smell the hint of the unpleasant remnants of my past lurking around, but I could also smell the present. I grasped at the day’s beauty and unwrapped every happy memory the fall breeze brought to me while enjoying the gift of the moment I had before me. We can never change the memories from yesterday, but we can add to the good ones we are able to recall tomorrow.

Walking in Other Shoes

Years ago, my husband and I took vows in front of family and friends to attempt to create one life from two. In those solemn moments, we vowed to love each other “when our love is easy and when it is an effort”. With a great deal of effort, laughter, and tears, we have created a combined life that works for us, but we will always be two separate individuals. A couple of weeks ago, we argued. I felt angry enough to hear the voice in the back of my head suggesting I should step away before I said something I regretted, and this time, unlike many other times, I listened to it and gave my anger time to dissipate. My point and my opinion did not change, but once the fiery anger cleared I realized I still sat across from the man I loved more than any other person on this planet. No matter how intimately we know each other, we can never truly know what one step in each other’s shoes feels like. Sometimes, part of loving each other is faith built on years of developing trust – believing that though we may not understand the other’s perspective, that perspective must still be important because it is important to the one we love. So, we try to listen and to understand. Sometimes, we fail and spend time feeling like adversaries, but we try again. We try until we find ground on which we both feel comfortable walking.

I have difficulty watching or reading the news. The challenges facing our world seem so large, and I feel powerless to effect any positive change. I don’t know good answers to hard questions, and I doubt any one person does. If finding common ground with an adored spouse, who I trust with my life, sometimes seems difficult, how much more challenging is it to try to find common ground with strangers in a news story. We question motives. We draw imaginary lines and bash the people we have never spoken to on the other side of those lines on social media. We look for others who support our opinion believing that the more people we can group together with similar opinions, the more we can proclaim our opinion as the most correct one. I am not a history scholar, but from what little I know, division does not heal but leaves pain in its path.

Few people will ever be in the position to make decisions on major national or global issues. However, we all have choices with how we treat and understand those in the communities around us. If I want to attend a religious service, do I ever choose to attend one that I know little about or that professes beliefs different from my own? Do I call a friend to go eat dinner at her favorite restaurant which I doubt serves food I normally enjoy? Do I take time to really listen to my young son when something that I deem as trivial, like whether his sandwich is cut in half, seems so important to him? Do I truly seek to understand my spouse’s perspective when our opinions differ?

May we all look down at the shoes of those around us, try to find common ground, and attempt to walk as friends and neighbors with those around us.

This is one of my favorite songs covered by One Voice Children’s Choir called “J’Imagine”.

One Voice Children’s Choir “J’Imagine”