Finding My Silver Lining

I did not expect to lose it in the shower. I was fine before I got in. But as my hands gently scrubbed my scalp and my mind began to wander, I considered all the tasks I needed to get done on this day. And that is when it came to me; this is…hard.  It was then that my salty tears mingled with the cascade of hot water pouring down from the showerhead and put simply: I lost it.

Crying unexpectedly; this is what people mean when they say grief comes in waves.

My brother and I are cleaning out my father’s house. Because my mother passed away earlier this year and because Dad no longer lives there, we are going to rent his home (Dad doesn’t want to sell it).   And so we are cleaning and sorting and selling. We are going through old clothes and old photos and old memories. We are deciding what to keep, and what to let go.

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Letting go, both physically and emotionally is tough.

And so on this day I am grieving my loss of what was and what is no more. It has hit me hard but I am searching for the good. I am looking for the silver lining.

As a Christian, I know I can count on silver linings. I know there is good behind what I sometimes perceive as bad or sad or difficult. There is purpose in things I do not understand.  There are countless verses in the Bible to remind me of these truths. In Proverbs 3:5-6 I read that we are to have faith, even when we do not understand. In Jeremiah 29:11 God tells me he has plans for me and his plans are prosperous plans, plans to give me hope and a future.   All things, God tells me, work together for my good, the good of all those who love him (Romans 8:28).

As a Christian, I am asked to have faith: I am asked to love and trust God regardless of my circumstances. And so, I will.

So what is my silver lining in this year of change and grief?   It takes a minute, or thirty, but eventually it comes to me. My silver lining is…My father.

My father, who lost his wife, who spent his own time in the hospital dealing with issues related to Parkinson’s, who had the rug pulled out from under him when he suddenly had to move into assisted living…My father, is doing well.

He is coping with his grief.

He is making a new life for himself in his new home. He smiles, he laughs, and he accepts the changes that have come his way.

He is doing new things. In fact, the truth is, my father’s social calendar is much more exciting than mine.

While I’ve been worrying that my Dad would sit around his apartment all alone, I’ve discovered he’s never in his room when I call.

While I’ve worried he might lose interest in his hobbies, I’ve discovered he’s still excited to go to every Colts game, every tail gate, every soccer game and cross country meet of my daughters (how did I ever think he’d lose interest in sports?).

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While I worried he’d become bored, my dad has been filling his time doing things he’s never done before.

In August he went to the fair. He stuffed himself with fair food and rode the giant slides.

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In September he went fishing on a local lake. Two pontoon boats filled with senior citizens catching largemouth bass.  #prettycool.

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In October he called to tell me he went zip lining. ZIP LINING. He even made the local newspaper with that one.

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And this month, I found a picture of him on Twitter. TWITTER. He was posing at the resident Luau party.

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In a matter of weeks my dad will accompany my family to Florida for the Thanksgiving holiday. Due to mom’s illness, he hasn’t flown in a number of years; it will be good to see him put his toes in the sand.

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It has been a rough year for my family for sure. Things are now different, they will never be what they once were.  But if my dad can cope, than so can I.

Cleaning out my dad’s house? Not particularly fun. But I will remember it as a house that was well lived in, a house once filled to the brim with laughter and love.  I can be grateful for that.

And besides, my Dad may be giving up his house, but he isn’t giving up on living.  It’s exactly what my mother would have wanted for him.  It is my silver lining, and it’s a good one.

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Top 10 Ways Halloween has Changed Since I was A Kid

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1-When I was a kid, I used a pillowcase for my candy haul; everyone used a pillowcase. Now my kids have Halloween-themed trick or treat bags. They are in no way as strong as the generic pillowcase, and they are a lot smaller.

2-Back in the day, we made our costumes every year. Maybe it was just my family, but we never bought costumes. A mask maybe…I’ve made a good number of costumes over the years for my kiddos, but oddly enough to me, it was always a fight. They actually preferred the cheap, itchy store bought costumes, at least until they saw the costume we creatively put together.

3-The costumes weren’t nearly as cool as they are now (neither were the jack-o-lanterns). There are so many creative, cool and unique costumes now.  Thank you, Internet. Again, we didn’t buy our costumes so maybe that is why they were of the standard fare. I was a witch, a ghost, a ballerina-once I was a Ho-Bo. Can you imagine a kid dressed as a homeless man in this day and age? It would be appalling and politically incorrect and would likely make the evening news.

4-There were always news reports about checking the candy for razor blades and the like, but it just scared the kids, not the parents. I can remember examining my candy but after checking about 3 pieces or so, I’d give up the fight. It was too much work. And besides my parents didn’t seem the least bit concerned, so neither was I.

5-The parents never went out with us. Maybe yours did, but mine didn’t. “Have fun,” they would say as we took off with a bunch of neighborhood kids.  I think they were grateful to have us out of their hair for an hour or two.

6-We actually wore our costumes to elementary school. Somehow over the years, this has become taboo.  When I was young, pretty much everyone let his or her child celebrate Halloween, and if you didn’t, well that was your deal, no one cared. The rest of us wore our costumes to school and had a party. We even called it a Halloween party. And no one got too scared, at least not that I can remember.

7-There were no set trick or treating hours. We left as soon as we could, and we stayed out as long as we could.  And when the parents ran out of candy or got sick of answering the door, they turned off the porch light.  We kids knew it was the signal so to speak.

8-No one handed out healthy treats, and if they did, we didn’t go back to their house the following year. Back in the day, candy was the name of the game. No Goldfish crackers, no popcorn, no apples. No one counted calories or worried about childhood obesity back then. In some ways, we kids had it made.

9-And if you did buy your kid a costume…You didn’t have to worry about it being too sexy. Seriously, as the mother of 3 daughters, and yes I am conservative, but some of the costumes out there! I could care less what adult women wear, but kids need to be kids.

10-Pumpkins were round and orange and that was it. A few years back my daughter wanted a white pumpkin. It was cool and different and…for me, just not the same. I think all the different gourds are interesting but when I’m carving a jack-o-lantern, I want it to be round and orange.

May your Halloween be filled with cute little Disney princesses, handsome Spidermans, scary zombies and lots and lots of candy. The apples can wait.  

 

 

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Learning to Spread Our Wings

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“Remember to ask your teacher about your project when you get to school,” I said.  

 “Why can’t you just email her?” she asked.

 I could have, and the truth was, it would have been easier.

“Because you need to learn to handle things on your own,” I replied.

“But I’m only 11,” she said; she did not want to handle things on her own.

“I know honey, but you’re almost 12,” I said, “It’s time to spread your wings a little.”

Though they sometimes resist, I am often nudging my growing girls to do things on their own. I am striving to teach them to be responsible.  I want to help them spread their wings.

When my girls were young, I found the steps for doing this to be fairly intuitive.  I encouraged each child as she learned to walk, potty-trained her, taught her how to get dressed and cheered her on as she went to school.  Next we tackled chores and homework and learning to ride a bike.  Like all parents, I gave my girls baby steps toward independence.  But the older my girls get, the more blurred the lines of freedom and responsibility become.

At what point is a child responsible for tracking his own homework?

When should he be held accountable for doing chores (without reminders)?

How old is old enough to stay home alone?

And as they enter the teen years; how much freedom is enough, how much is not enough?

There are no ‘right’ answers.  Parents are simply presented with situations and thereby forced to make decisions.  Sometimes I make good ones, sometimes not.  But I try to remember I get only 18 years to raise my kids, 18 years to teach them how to fly.  I use this truth as my guide.

I am so fascinated by birds. I love how cheerful they are, love to watch them as they search for food, prepare a nest and protect their young.  These tiny creatures appear to be so happy and carefree.

I recently watched a video of a mama bird teaching her children how to fly. Mostly the video focused on the babies in the nest. How long it took them to leave! First they watched their mother fly away, their heads swooping up and down as they observed her. Next one or two of them peered out over the nest pensively. Their body language revealed their unease; after looking out at the world, they suddenly backed up in fear.

Leaping out into the great unknown; even baby birds are anxious when it comes to leaving the safety of the nest.

Stretching our wings is never comfortable. But it is also how we learn.

By doing.

By falling.

By getting up again after we fall.

Sometime I fear my generation doesn’t allow our children to do this. We love our children so much so that we don’t want them to fall or fail.  We know how much it hurts.  So instead we smooth the edges of life’s storms in order to shelter them. We limit their responsibility and freedom so that we can protect them.  We email their teachers because it is easier then relying on our child to be responsible for himself.

But good parenting involves stretching.

So as easy as it is for me to email my youngest daughter’s teacher about her project, I won’t.

As hard as it is to trust her when she tells me she has a handle on her homework, to give her a little freedom with social media, to allow her go off to the park with her friend (without me), I will do it.

I will trust my gut, trust my daughter and trust God as he helps me raise her.  And when she falls, because she surely will, I will help her get back up again.

I will allow her to stretch her wings now, in hopes that later in life I can watch her soar.

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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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