5 Things To Remember When Facing a Challenge

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What if I come in last?”

 It was a valid question. I needed to answer carefully.

“Well,” I began, “what if you don’t?”

I could see the shift in her eyes, the change her in stance, as she considered this equally valid thought.

It was the night before my youngest daughter’s first cross country meet. She’d joined the team, mainly I think because her older sister is a runner. She’d been to several of her meets, and thought it looked like fun. Only this daughter had never run before. I had no idea what would happen; but of course I wanted to encourage her.

First Item to Remember:  We all need someone to believe in us, especially when we don’t believe in ourselves. Surround yourself with people who will support you.

It hadn’t gone so smoothly. Late August in Indiana is nothing if not humid. So when practice started and my non-running daughter was asked to run 1.8 miles in the steamy heat, she struggled. She quickly grew tired and sweaty and found herself gasping for air at just about every practice. She often had to stop and walk.

Those first weeks of practice were difficult. There were days she wanted to quit. There were lots of talks and tears and a bit of stress for us all.

Second Thing to Remember: No one excels instantly; anything worth doing takes effort, time and practice.

It’s hard to watch your child struggle. I really had no idea what to do. Part of me thought she should hang in there, part of me knows not everyone is a runner; perhaps this was just wasn’t her thing. So I left it to her. I made sure she knew her dad and I didn’t care whether she ran or not; we just wanted her to do what she wanted to do.  She chose to stick it out.

And so here we were, the night before her first meet. Her nerves were setting in.

“What if I can’t breath again, do you think I could have asthma?”

Again, I needed to choose my words carefully. Running is 90% mental. Just thinking she had asthma would worry her, could make her panic during the race.

“Well, you didn’t have any trouble running last spring in soccer,” I reminded her, “I think you’re fine. Just go out there and do your best. No matter what, you’ll get through it, you’ll be okay.”

I had no idea what would happen. But it didn’t matter. Right then she needed me to believe in her.

Somehow, God had given me words to comfort. My daughter went to bed easily, her worries subsided, at least for the night. Too bad no one gave me words of comfort.

The day of the meet was yet another steamy one. My husband rushed home from work that evening and we headed out to the course to see our girl in her debut race. And that’s when it hit me.

What if she DOES have asthma?

What if she CAN’T finish the race?

What if my encouraging words put her at RISK?

The gun went off and I could feel the sweat trickling down from my temples; it wasn’t just the heat. I was completely stressed, worried my daughter might have an asthma attack in the woods where there was no one there to help her.

Just watching cross country is a bit of a work out in and of itself. You watch the start of the race, then hike it over to the middle of the course to wait for the runners to come out of the woods so you can cheer them on, then you run back to the finish line to see the end of the race. When we were midway through the course I watched as girl after girl ran past, only I didn’t see my girl.

What if she DOES have asthma?

What if she CAN’T finish the race?

What if my encouraging words put her at RISK?

By this time I was sweating profusely. Please God, I begged, help her. Finally a few agonizing minutes later, we saw a second round of girls; but still no Abby.

“I don’t see her! Do you see her?” I asked my husband impatiently.

It took him a while to respond, “Yea, I see her, she’s one of the last girls out there.”

Minutes later I finally saw her. She was running, slowly, but she was running!  No panting, no apparent asthma and a silent prayer of thanks from me. We cheered her on as if she were in first place.

Third Thing to Remember: Trust in what you cannot see; and remember, there’s no reason to panic in advance.

Next we ran over to the finish line. One by one the girls ran past us. Girls on fire! Our girl though, was nowhere in sight. Again my panic set in.

What if she DOES have asthma?

What if she CAN’T finish the race?

What if my encouraging words put her at RISK?

 Fourth Important Lesson: The trust thing takes time and practice.  

Many long minutes later and I saw her. She was making her way to the finish and I have to say I was glad to see she wasn’t in last place. A tiny girl in green was a good 20 feet behind her. But it didn’t last long-the girl in green sped up, she got faster and faster and suddenly passed Abby.

I looked at my girl, worried for her, concerned and wondering how she would take finishing last.  But I needn’t have worried. One look at Abby’s face and I could see her determination. She kicked it in and ran like nobody’s business, passing the girl in green. So much for asthma.

And Number Five: Never under estimate your own or another person’s potential. Anything can happen.

My girl came in almost dead last. I’ve never been so proud.

 

 

 

 

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How Paris Ruined Me

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Once when my daughters were young, I had the opportunity to go to Paris with my mother and mother-in-law.

Seeing Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur and the Louvre, the trip was nothing less than magical. Exploring the streets of Paris, walking along the Seine, dining in a restaurant Ben Franklin frequented; I was in heaven.

It was all divine.  But then I came home.

I’d missed my family desperately while I was away, couldn’t wait to hug them all and just be with them.  But then, just hours after my return, all I could think was this: How did I ever do this?

Because doing laundry and sweeping floors and checking homework and helping little people get clean is a far cry from Paris. Being away made me realize just how much of my time was spent handling the chores of life and tending to the needs of others. Instead of being refreshed from my time away, I was depressed. Sounds selfish, I know.

It took around a week or so, but I eventually got back in my groove and re-adjusted to the only life I’d known before Paris. I came back to my happy self, loving my life as I always had.  Now that my children are older getting away is a little easier. But the re-entry after a trip? It’s still just as hard.

Recently, my husband, youngest daughter and I had the perfect weekend away (our older daughters, busy with their own lives, remained at home).  And now we are back. Home to a house that could use a good spiffing up, home to work commitments and chores and a calendar chock full of the activity that comes with a busy family of five.

All of this confirms what I learned so long ago after my trip to Paris: re-entry into real life stinks.

Because real life is messy. It’s full of dirty dishes and dentist appointments and traffic. It’s chaotic and stressful and joyful all at the same time. But mostly, it’s just busy.

Try as I might, I always have more on my plate that I’d like.  This can make me stressed, irritable, martyr-like even in my attitude.

So on those days when I just want to chuck it all and head to a beach on a remote island somewhere, I find I must pause.  I’ve discovered if I re-frame my circumstances, it makes all the difference in how I feel.  Sometimes I have to dig down deep to get there, but when I do, life is so much better.

Here are three mind tricks I use to help me cope. If you too have trouble dealing with the chaos of a normal, happy but busy life, you may want to join me in getting a fresh perspective.

When thinking about what needs to get done, replace the words “I have to” with “I get to”.

I get to spend time with my daughter as I chauffeur her to her various activities. This one on one time with her is priceless and is an opportunity to get to know her better.

I get to write articles on various topics and get paid for it: writing is work but it’s work I love. How many people get to do work they love?

I get to clean and care for a beautiful home that serves as a respite for my family. It is full of life: three thriving girls, a dog, a hedgehog, fish and a husband I love; how lucky am I?

When headed down the pity-party path, I finish this sentence with the first thought that comes into my head. “ It could be worse, …”

It could be worse; I could be battling a terminal illness, a lawsuit, mean neighbors.

It could be worse; I could have kids who were struggling, really bratty or strung out on whatever kids get strung out on these days.

It could be worse, I could be married to a man who criticizes, or is never home or makes me crazy.

It could be worse, I could have a job I hate, could be writing for free or worse yet, not be writing at all.

Even writing these words reminds me of how good I have it…

And when all else fails (note to self: should probably start with this one), I thank God for what he’s teaching me, because if nothing else, it gives me a healthy perspective.

Thank you God for this very hectic day reminding me to guard my time wisely and not waste it.

Thank you God, for giving me daughters who humble me, who remind I don’t know everything, and who help me accept my imperfection. 

Thank you God for having a healthy body and mind, a fresh start each day and a chance to change my attitude for the better.

Being in Paris taught me how magical the sites of this world are.  Being away from my family showed me how much I love them.  Re-entering into my crazy life, well, that taught me the importance of a positive attitude, no matter my circumstances.

 

 

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Searching For Answers I Cannot Find

photo courtesy of bing images and found on: http://iamtrustinggod.com/2014/02/10/words-to-live-by/

Dear God,

It’s me, Tracy. I’m writing to you today because there is just so much I don’t understand. So much I can’t grasp. So much grief, so much pain, so much I wish I could comprehend about your ways.

I know you love me. I know you care about all of your children. I know you have plans I cannot even begin to fathom. And while I really do trust you, if I’m honest, I have to tell you I still don’t get it.

I don’t understand why bad things happen to good people.

I don’t understand why my daughter’s close friend had to die in a senseless accident.

I don’t get how my friend, a friend who is such a good soul could discover that her cancer is back, for a third time.

I can’t make sense of that fact that another young friend who became a widow just weeks ago, who lost her father less than a year ago, is now laying her younger brother to rest.

I don’t understand.

And this is just the icing on the cake for what has already been a year of difficultly for me. A time surrounded by death and cancer and terminal illness and sadness.

A year where I honestly don’t have enough fingers and toes to count the number of people I know, including myself, who’ve had to face tragic circumstances. I am saddened. Hurt. Confused. Mystified. My faith is strong and, truly, even that doesn’t make sense to me.

But I believe in you. I believe in the plans you have for me. I believe your ways are better than my ways. But I do not understand. And most of all I don’t know what to do with all my emotions. Don’t know how to share with others just how much I care.

Somehow in my humanness, I have this thought that it should be a fair world. I want for those with a pure heart to experience only joy, and not pain. I want for those who were born into a difficult hand, those who’ve never known you, to find you.

I want for those who love and honor you in their lives to be dealt the best hand.

But that’s not how it works.  We do not earn our spot in heaven.  We do not earn on blessings on this earth.

So tell me. Not why, because I know you can’t. And I know if you did, my human brain which comprehends only logic, could not make sense of it anyway. I also know it is more than I need to know.

But tell me God. Tell me what to do, how to feel, what my heart is to learn from all I have seen in this year. I’m here God, and despite all the darkness around me, I’m not going anywhere.  And I’m ready to listen.

Love,

Tracy

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Directionally Challenged

Abby & Tracy canoeing 2014

We’d been in the water for all of 90 seconds.

“Wait,” I spit out, “you’re paddling the wrong way.” And then boom-before I knew it, before my muscle memory could recall how to navigate us out of the situation, my daughter and I found our canoe stuck in the reeds. Seconds later, two kayaks crashed into us.

Luckily, as soon as our canoe started to tip, it all came back to me. I quickly re-balanced our boat, used my oar to push us out, and paddled furiously until we reached a clear path in deeper waters.

With a three-hour ride ahead of us, I realized it was going to be an interesting afternoon.

And it was. Only not in the way I’d originally thought. This trip wasn’t just about teaching my daughter how to paddle a canoe; it was also about me remembering the best way to steer through life.

It all started back in May.  “Oh we’ll come with you,” I’d said with a laugh, “I mean if you’re looking for some company…” And with that I’d invited my daughter and I to accompany my neighbor on a canoe trip she’d won at our elementary school carnival. But at the time, it was just talk. I often talk about all the fun things I’d like to do, but let’s face it: I don’t always follow through.

Instead, I get busy with my days, work through my to-do list. I finish up writing assignments and shuffle my kids to the dentist, the doctor, the next social activity.  All plans for memory-making activities are forgotten, never make it onto my calendar.

But my neighbor didn’t forget. So when she called a week ago and asked if we were ready to go canoeing, I said yes without hesitation.  I said yes without even asking my daughter. Yet when the day arrived, I felt a bit…nervous.

Nervous? About canoeing? I know, I know, what is happening to me in my old age?  Somehow I find now that I’m in my forties, the old lady in me keeps coming out. She is ridiculously practical and boring.

She thinks about how tipped canoes and wet clothes and chasing coolers down a river are not really fun.

She loves music, but worries over how expensive concerts are. She also knows if she’s up late, then she’ll be too wound up to sleep afterwards.

The old lady gets so stuck in her daily routine. She is so busy getting through life, that she sometimes forgets how to live.

Wow, I can’t stand this lady. But here’s the good news: This woman has friends and family around her who push her out of her turtle-like shell. Thank God these people invite her along for their ride.  Because left to her own devices, she’d likely never get around to doing anything.

And then she’d forget how much fun it is to spend an afternoon on the water with friends.  How great it is to teach her daughter how to canoe and skip rocks in the river, observing turtles and blue herons all the way.

She’d never stay up late at a cookout with old friends, would miss out on recounting old stories, discussing life and impulsively deciding to purchase concert tickets. (Yes, we are going to Kiss/Def Leopard; I can’t believe it myself). 

Without prodding, she’d give in to her to-do list, and then miss the great conversation around the fire pit with her oldest child, the one so busy living that she’s rarely home.

The most important things in life are often the things I put off doing.

Canoeing 2014

In True at First Light Hemingway wrote,  “When you stop doing things for fun you might as well be dead.”  Granted Hemingway had a slew of problems in the end (leading him to commit suicide at age 61), but the man had this one right. Fun is always worth it, even when you risk tipping your canoe, being tired and getting behind on your to-do list.  The dishes can wait.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Fifteen Again

I was unsure of how the night would go, wondered who’d be there, questioned if I’d be capable of making small talk, after so many years.

So I did what I sometimes do when I am driving and thinking and wondering: I decided whatever song came on the radio next would be my metaphor for the evening. (I know this is weird but I just do it for sport, so stay with me).

Where was I headed? To my high school reunion.

What song came on the radio? Fifteen by Taylor Swift.

It made me laugh out loud.

Whether you like Swift or not, you have to admit that the lyrics to her song capture well the emotions of what it is like to be in high school. Just hearing it on the radio brought it all back.  I remember…

On good days, I thought: I am so awesome, I can do anything, the world loves me and I love it back.  

On bad days I thought: I am such a loser, no one likes me, no one ever will like me and I have way too much homework.

Add to this: school clubs, dances, romance, drama, homework, football games, yearbook, paper writing, friendships, and a whole lot of “I-like-you-but-you-like-her” scenarios and there you have it: High School. It’s a wonder anyone survives.

Ironically, before going to the event, I’d spent my afternoon researching for a creative essay I’m working on. The piece is set in the ‘80’s. To help me write, I pulled out old yearbooks, photos and journals from my high school years (I graduated in ’84).  I was hoping to bring my memories of this time to the forefront, and spent a good hour reading through my journals. Guess what I discovered?   I don’t know the girl who wrote them.

*The girl who wrote these journals had a neat, billowy script unlike me, whose writing no one can ever read.

*The girl who wrote these journals was wise beyond her years but so also naïve. She had no idea who she was then or who she would become later.

*The girl who wrote these journals had so many good qualities but she was so busy putting herself down that she could not see them. She was also very self-involved, could often not see beyond herself and her feelings. She took much for granted.

*The girl who wrote these journals could never imagine herself 30 years later. If she’d gotten even just a small glimpse of the future, maybe it all would have been easier. Or perhaps, she needed to go through all that just to get where she is today.

The reunion was fun. I saw old friends, caught up on what people are doing these days and laughed over a few stories I’d long forgotten about. On the surface I find most people, at their core anyway, are the same. It’s comforting. But it all makes me wonder; if I don’t know the girl who wrote these journals, did they?

 

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Advice for My Younger Friends…

photo courtesy of:  http://carmelharrington.com/2013/05/03/my-mind-says-im-in-my-20s-my-body-says-yeah-right/

How old are you again?

What year were you born?

Are you fifty yet?

That’s what happens when you get old!

Enough already.

For all the years I’ve been a mother to children who could speak, I’ve been hearing questions and comments about my age. My husband too likes to chime in, because yes, I am older than he (by a year!). Most of the time I can take the teasing with grace, but lately I find such comments are beginning to sting. I guess it’s because the numbers are really getting up there.

But there is one good thing about aging:  wisdom gained.  

So while my daughters, husband and younger friends (you know who you are!) may have youth on me, I have the experience that can only come with age. Below are a few important things I’ve learned over my nearly, but not quite, five decades of living.

1-If you lose something, don’t panic. This is life after forty: you lose things: your keys, theater tickets you ordered way back when, forms you need to fill out, your hidden cash stash. Don’t go right out and try to replace whatever you’ve lost. If you do, you’ll be guaranteed to find the original shortly after. Instead, just wait it out;  more often than not you’ll eventually find your debit card, house key, the extra battery to the dog’s electric fence collar. It’s kind of like Christmas when you do.

2-Not all your friends will be forever friends. It’s sad but true. Some friendships whither and die, some people move on, some people were never truly a friend in the first place. It’s hurtful, frustrating and not anything you can control. If you don’t know who your real friends are, just have yourself a life crisis. The people who hang in there with you? Those are your friends.  Just remember to be a friend back when it’s their turn to have a crisis.

3-Things Change: Everything is a stage. How many times have I lost hope when my job wasn’t going well, my kids were having hard times, the money for a new appliance or clothes for growing children or college just wasn’t there? So many I can’t count. I now know life is full of ups and downs, good times and bad. Everything is a stage or a phase. You may have rough times, but you won’t have them forever. Hang tough. Same thing for happier times, moments come and go, embrace the good.

4-Joy is ours for the taking (and it’s free). No matter your situation, joy is waiting for you, free of charge.. Sometimes it can be hard to find. Sometimes I stubbornly don’t want to search for it, prefer to give in to by misery.   But joy is always there, hidden behind my stress, my pain, my pile of dirty dishes in the sink. Some days it stares me in the face.  You know those days: the sun is shining, the peeps are agreeable and everything is going smoothly.  But I have plenty of days where I have to pause, redirect my heart and choose to be joyful.  On those days it is a harder choice, but when I manage to get there, it’s always worth my effort.

5-Most things aren’t about me. I once did volunteer work and found the committee head throwing me under the bus for the way I handled a situation. So not nice! I was pretty darn mad (it was volunteer work after all!) and didn’t think I’d done anything wrong.  So I stewed for a while, but then I realized her reaction was more a reflection of her than it was me.  I think this is often the case.  So while I don’t use it as an excuse for my own behavior, I do try hard not to take others actions so personally.  There are always two sides to a story, and holding on to anger is never good.

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Listening to Grace

When I called her back, I had no idea how the conversation would go. Because I thought she’d called to check-in, to suggest we get together soon, spend an hour over lunch catching up on life. I was wrong.

She’d called because her life was in shambles. She’d called because she needed to talk to someone. She’d called because she was mad at God and she was looking for answers.

I could tell from the tone of her voice, from the silent tears I knew were streaming down her face, that my words could make a difference. Could affect how she thinks and acts going forward. My words? In moments like these I really do wonder if God knows what he’s doing. But my doubt is momentary; I do believe He does, even when I don’t.

I certainly don’t understand the ways in which God works.  But I do sometimes feel a push in my gut, an alarm in my head if you will, stirring me to realize the need to act.  So I did what I often do when faced with such a situation. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and asked God to get me through it.

And then I went for it. Let go of my worries about saying the right thing or having all the answers or knowing what I was doing. I just tried my best to help her. I tried to listen, understand, and empathize. I shared what I do when I am lost, afraid, mad. I told her I’d pray for her.

It’s been a few months now and my friend is doing well. Her troubles have not left her but she is coping. I’ve prayed for her every day. And now looking back, I really don’t even remember what I said, or if we want to get technical, what God said to her through me. I also have no idea if my words helped or hindered or made any difference.  We’ve never discussed it. And really, it doesn’t matter.  What matters is that in this instance I followed God’s lead.

photo courtesy of: http://lfcbrf.wordpress.com/2012/03/15/god-has-a-plan-and-god-works-his-plan-even-in-our-plans/

What does matter, is that I

*Acted when I need to act.

*Listened when someone needed me to listen.

*Prayed when my friend needed prayer.

If only I could do this every time someone in need of a loving touch from God came to me.  If only we all did-what a world it could be.

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