We Can Do Better

As of late, we’ve started doing something very dangerous. We are painting with broad broad strokes these days. Giant swaths with too wide brushes. We are generalizing and grouping and assigning stereotypes and categories. Somewhere along the way (thank you social media, thank you technology that lets us “know” or “follow” the world without ever breaking bread or sharing space with a single actual person?), we have forgotten that humanity was created with tiny intricate brush strokes. Created unique and wonderful and with detail and in the most amazing image. Each of us with our own backstory and struggle and joy. Individual moments that have defined our journeys and helped determine our steps.

But what we’ve done is stop looking at the bud, the twig, the leaf, the branch, the bark, the trunk and the roots. We see only forests – thick and dense and overgrown. We have let our view stop there. No longer different types- all just one.

In our 140 character society, we grow bored if we have to dig deeper. A story more than two paragraphs requires too much time to read. Discovering what lies beyond the headline, behind the banner- it just takes more effort than our short attention spans want to spend. We want it all to fit in a box, a designated area we create.

So we group millions of people marching as one thing. We decide a particular group of voters are all “this” and the other group is all “that.” If you didn’t march you don’t care, you agree and support and go along with it all. If you did you are a liberal, whiny democrat. An unpatriotic feminist.

I think we are getting it wrong. People are so rarely absolutes, just one thing. By refusing to see the varying degree of depths and nuances of people, we are missing so much. We are missing the beauty afforded us. There are dimensions we are leaving unnoticed. What a horrible waste.

It frustrates and frightens me. But I have hope. I have hope because I can make a difference. If just in my small circle, I plan to keep trying to see more than 140 characters worth of a person. I plan to treat people better than they deserve. I plan to offer kindness, even when it’s hard. I plan to look for the detail of each small leaf in the midst of the forest. Because I don’t want to miss the beauty. There is more treasure to be found than I deserve, but I’m going to look for it. It’s the wealth of a life well lived.

We can do better.

Simple Like Me

I am a simple girl. Making me smile doesn’t take much. Catching a glimpse of my sweet “outside” kitty asleep on the pillows of my bed. Overhearing laughter, whether of strangers or people I know. Feeling the sun shine on my face, eyes closed, arms spread, palms turned up ready to receive every bit of warmth being offered.

The sound of the deep belly laugh of a baby- the kind that is so complete it nearly takes every breath and effort the child has.  The sound of someone in their own world, singing along to the piped in music, not even aware that they are providing a concert in aisle three between the mustard and mayonnaise.

Seeing someone give up their seat for a stranger.  Watching as a soldier walk through an airport and people walk up to say thank you.  Even the sight of someone leaving behind their quarter in the cart rental place at the grocery store.

So many simple reasons to smile.

And to a stranger, I’m sure it looks as though I’m up to something. This woman walking around with a silly grin on her face. One that indicates some sort of knowing.

But it’s true. I do know. I know that a grateful heart is a happy heart (thank you for your wisdom Larry the Cucumber).  In the midst of a bad day or a bad week or a bad life, if we look up trying to find little things for which to be grateful, something happens. A tiny shift. Our hearts lighten, if even an imperceptible amount. And reasons to smile show up. A found penny on the ground. A parking spot up close.

The turning up of the edges of our mouths might be slight at first. But the more places we look to find reasons to smile, and the more simple things we choose to smile about, eventually, we smile from our whole mouths, our whole faces, our whole hearts.

People will wonder what we’re up to. What is it we know?  And like all secrets too juicy not to share, we’ll smile at them, with our knowing. Like an arrow from Cupid’s bow, that smile will reach them. If we’re lucky, that will be the beginning of the tiny shift in them. Because the truth is, we could use a world full of simple.

2016

Another year come and gone. I am beginning to understand what people have been meaning when they say that life is a little bit like a roll of toilet paper. The closer you get to the end, the faster it goes. I feel like I’m well over half way into my roll, and it’s going faster and faster.

It has been a year filled with great beauty and great loss. Of course, one of the most significant events of 2016 was the loss of my beloved mother-in-law. But before that loss came wonderful opportunities for love. Many sweet moments shared. Raw humanity that stripped away everything but the heart of who we are. After more than twenty years, she and I saw, and appreciated, the core of one another. The beauty of 2016.

My year was filled with strong friendships, being forged and strengthened by the hardships of life. Wonderful people, expanding their lives to make room for me, room for my children, room for our joy and our pain.

Rich memories made around tables breaking bread, in cars going places, on ordinary days serving beside friends, in circles holding hands and lifting one another in prayer, while  just putting one foot in front of the other.

Joy that bubbled up like a brook, often times right out of the center of me. Like adding vinegar to baking soda, it grew and rose and overflowed often out of control.

The year also held much softening. Like a tough hide that is worked and worn until it becomes more tender, I bumped against things that made me soften. It wasn’t always comfortable, slamming up against sharp things, but like softening leather, it made me more flexible.  Pushed and pulled by hard situations, I’m now more prepared to bend.

The year held laughter and tears and revelation and loss and gain and brokenness and perfection. It brought much wisdom and revealed how very little I know.

On this last day of the year, I sit here with a grateful heart. Grateful for the wrinkles and gray and breaking of my heart that made me who I am in this moment. And I try to eagerly look forward to the year to come. Goodbye 2016.

Naming the Beast

There is power in calling things by  name. Standing up, looking something right in the face, and calling it what it is.

Anxiety is real. It lives inside you like a constant electrical charge, silently pulsing through your body. You don’t get to control it, but quite often it controls you.

My son was five when I finally felt like I had to do something. I remember the very moment of surrender. I hadn’t yet named the beast; I just knew that something had to change.

I was paralyzed by all of the negative thoughts in my head. I couldn’t leave a room with a light on because I wasn’t being a good steward. I couldn’t feed my kids without beating myself up because it wasn’t well balanced enough, natural enough, homemade enough. I wasn’t a good enough friend, daughter, mother, sister, neighbor, wife. I was never enough.

Those thoughts ran up and down my spine with every breath. The only variation was the volume and how well I could try to live my life inside the noise.

After so much effort of trying to deal with it through counseling, I decided to take meds. Much to the dismay of both my husband and my mom, as admitting weakness and seeking help was not a sign of strength.  But I did it  And I’ve never looked back.

What the medication did for me was unbelievable. Suddenly there was some quiet space in my head. The constant negative chattering was gone. The pulsing electric charge had stopped, and now I could CHOOSE what to tell myself. I could then say “You are a good human. You are a loving mother. You do make a difference.”

Like turning off a radio that had been blaring music filled with hate, the air was quiet. The silence allowed me to hear my own breath. I could hear the sound of singing- me to my children, them back to me. And laughter, I could hear laughter again. It was beautiful.

I looked the beast in the eye, and I called it out. I gave it a name. I began to own it. It no longer owned me!!

For My Friend

Tonight my heart breaks for a friend. Tonight I feel the full weight of the world as it comes crashing down, even as everyone else goes on about their business. In the busy hours while people gather around the table for dinner and return home from work, my friend mourns the loss of her beloved mother-in-law.

She is a woman I’ve never met. Loved by a lady I’ve known only a short amount of time. But the pain she feels tonight is familiar to me, and I ache with her. The bond of loss unites us.

Just as raw as if it were my grief, I experience it. And maybe that’s because it is. Like an unhealed wound that weeps, perhaps my heart cries its very own tears tonight. In one accord, our bones ache and our spirits groan.

Grateful that Nana is free from this broken human vessel that could no longer contain the vastness of her love, I celebrate. I celebrate that my friend knew her love. That her children knew they were adored. That this life spoke of Heaven. And tonight, she is God’s honored guest, seated at the side of Jesus.

The gravity of being left behind pulls down on me just as it bears down on my friend. The weight of it, while it feels it is hers alone, I bear with her. Because the feeling of this loss, it binds us. This bittersweet part of humanity is how we know one another.

Tonight, as I rest my head, I lift you up, dear one. As liquid sadness falls from my eyes, I baptize you in these tears. Know you are loved. You are held. And you are not alone.

Let It Be Love

I’ve been thinking about what I’d like my legacy to be, of how I’d like to be remembered. I want it to be that I made people feel loved. Whether they know me well or just crossed paths with me a few times, I want deeply for their thoughts of me to be that I loved well.

So, like an athlete trying to master her sport, I practice. I am in training to love better. It’s not always an easy thing, to choose to love. But I am trying. I pray that God gives me His eyes to see people. Because through those eyes, love is easy.

I still get it wrong, plenty of times. But I’m mindfully working on it. I’m trying to expand my own capacity, that I might truly make/hold even more love. Like hollowing myself out, scraping away at the negative stuff taking up space that love could fill. Replacing that negative thought with this good one. Stretching myself to dig deep and get rid of that doubt that has long ago taken root.

And it feels amazing. Because I think it’s working. I hear myself laughing louder, and smiling more often, and taking chances offering my words to people even when it’s not “safe.”  ‘Cause here’s the thing- my job is simply to offer it up. Their job is figuring out whether or not to accept it.

Like a muscle that gets worked and toned, I want my heart to become my medal winning quality. When neighborhood kids show up at my house because they know a hug waits for them, or a girlfriend will wade through the crumbs to sit at my table and share a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, or a stranger feels she can tell me of her ailing brother-in-law while we are waiting in a checkout line, those are moments when I feel like I am getting closer to being able to take the podium in the winner’s circle.

More than anything I’ve wanted in a long time, I want this. And I’m willing to work at it. Everyday. At home. In my car. At the grocery store. Online.

So I guess I should warn everyone. If you get too close, I may just make you part of my new exercise routine. Sorry (not sorry) if I get some on you. You might just need to back up.

Hiding Out

I’ve been hiding out.  Hiding out from this place because I wasn’t sure of what I wanted to say, or what you wanted to read,  or if I was truly ready to put it all out there. Because, let’s be honest, there’s a WHOLE LOT going on in here. Perhaps the world isn’t quite ready for it yet.

And I’ve been hiding out from people. Because in the climate we are in, people are spewing hate and anger and words they’d never say in person through cyberspace onto walls and to inboxes everywhere. I’ve been hiding because people want to assume that if you are in their life, and they like you, and you’ve broken bread together, and you are a good person, and you share a love of “x” or an interest in “y,” you must be just like them. But I’m not. And I’m not ready for your unkindness, so I’ve been hiding out.

I’ve been hiding out by letting myself sleep more than I should, read more than I should, eat more than I should, (fill in the blank a thousand different ways more than I should) because there is work to be done, and I don’t even know where to begin. I am overwhelmed by the magnitude and am unsure where or how to begin, so I’ve been hiding. I’ve been hiding because it’s unpleasant work, uncomfortable work, work that’s not within my strengths. So I hide by busying myself, often with things I’m good at and that are natural.

I’ve been hiding out by sitting in the quiet comfort of my car, because in here the world is small. It’s just me and there is no one to disappoint, no one to make demands, nothing screaming for my attention. Like a retreat on four wheels, I shut myself in for “one more song, one more hour, one more article.”  The solace is wonderful, and once the door opens, the world gets in.

And I’ve been hiding from the world. This place that is my temporary residence but not at all my home. I’be been tucking away into this quiet, warm place inside myself because, let’s face it, the climate is better in here.

So if it seems you haven’t been able to find me lately, it might well be true. Don’t worry, I’ll be back- just not today. 😊

I’m Coming Out

imageOkay, so here it is. This is the one hundred percent total truth. I’m done hiding. I’m done pretending that my house looks like this because “I’ve been so busy” or because “I’m never home” or because “My kids are making memories.”  Sure, some of those things are true, but the real reason my house looks like this is because I suck at being a housewife. Saying it is “not a strength” doesn’t clearly describe it. It is more like an Achilles heel. A really bad, totally busted, going to need surgery, may-never-walk-again Achilles heel.

We all have gifts. I give a mean hug. I consider that a gift. I’m pretty good with a blank piece of paper and a pen. Now, trying to locate said paper and pen in this pile, or is it in THAT pile, oh wait, here it is on the bathroom counter, is a completely different story.

But I’m done making excuses, and today I’m coming out. I am a horrible housekeeper. Hopefully, if you love me, you can look past it. Maybe you can see past the piles and the clutter and decide you just don’t care that much.  If you can’t, feel free to believe my house looks like this because you caught me on an off day, because I’ve been busy, or because I’m just never home. But the truth is, I suck in areas of domesticity. And today, I’m owning it!!

Dear Younger Monica

There is a Mercy Me song that keeps playing on the radio and playing through my head. Dear Younger Me. And as I’ve listened over and over again to the lyrics it’s made me wonder- if given the chance, what would I like to be able to say to a younger me?

There’s a trick here though, because it’s hard to know how much of who I am came from a result of the struggles and joys and breaks before now. The choices I’ve made and the experiences I’ve had- they pretty much equal the sum total of who I’ve become. What if I said something that prevented the greatest crack in me, the one that lets all my crazy show and lets all the light of God shine through? What would the world do without my special kind of crazy?

For the sake of this exercise, I’m putting all of that aside. If I could only do good by sharing these things with myself, this is what I’d say. And hold tight, the list is long.

You are enough!  You don’t have to do or be or play or pretend or fake at being enough. You are, right now, just as you are.

Only one thing will fill that giant God-shaped hole in you. It won’t be good grades or boys or men or kids or stuff or jobs or service or food. For the love, IT WON’T BE FOOD!!

You are enough!

It’s not as bad as it seems. This moment, while it feels like forever, it’s not. It will pass and the weight of it will seem ridiculously light (especially compared to the real weight of some of what lies ahead. Though I wouldn’t really say that part because I’m sharing these things to encourage me, not scare myself into the fetal position).

There is a context. It’s bigger than what they’ve explained, and significantly more important than you currently realize. It is a pretty big deal. Trust me on this one and just don’t do it.

Those all-nighters in college, TOTALLY worth it!  Stay up late playing cards and making memories and still make time to get good grades. Some day your kids will ask about your grades. You don’t want to have to lie.

You can be feminine and independent at the same time. Go ahead and wear the jewelry and the lipstick and stop assuming that people that take the time to do the same are any less deep than you. Get over yourself!!

Enjoy your body. Use it. Dance it. Explore it. Stretch it. Own it.  Push it. And rest it. It’s the only one you get.

That is NOT love. I’m not exactly sure what it is, but love it is not!

Try guacamole sooner. And oatmeal is better if you put stuff in it- that’s what you’ve been missing. Oh, and don’t learn to say “just one more.” Because for you, that ends up meaning “just until the box is gone.”  Remember that hole won’t be filled up with food (no, not even with delicious donuts!!).

It’s NOT ABOUT YOU. Let me tell you this one again: it’s not about you!  Stop getting caught up in thinking it was something you did or didn’t do or that “if you had only.”  Sometimes, often times, things and people just are, and it truly has nothing to do with you. Let them own their own stuff.

You do not have to tolerate inappropriate advances for the sake of being polite. People will be prone to cross the line with you- learn that shutting them down is not being unkind, it’s self defense.

Always carry an extra pair of panties in your car. Don’t ask, just pack them.

Pay more attention. Try to retain it. Not just for now, but for life. Some of these things are really important.

Stop trying to be perfect. News flash- you’re not. But no one else here is either. We’re all broken, just in different ways. Discover your brokenness, acknowledge it, admit it and move on. It doesn’t have to define you. In fact, in your particular case, it’s your brokeness and willingness to show it that draws people to you.

Set aside a lot of money for hair color. You will gray early and need it. Also, buy stock in Fruit of the Loom and Hanes, as some day you’ll have dogs. You’ll thank me later.

Mostly, try to relax a little. It’s a tricky road. But look for the words that will be a lamp unto your feet. Trust me, you won’t find your way very far in the dark, and you miss most of the beauty because you’re busy looking down. Things are so much better out here in the Light.

Oh, and always, always, always try to find a way to be kind. You decide later on in life you kinda want that to be your signature move.

Good luck, and I’ll see you at the end.