Higher Highs and Lower Lows

Dyrehavsbakken, Copenhagen

My husband and I got into a big fight two days after finally moving into our long-awaited “dream house.”

But to be honest, I would have been more surprised if we hadn’t.

Robin Williams’ laughter and smile were larger than life. They’re still painted in my memory and ringing in my ears.

But his pain was deeper than the ocean.

And parents, especially new parents, are thrust into the greatest joy, purest bliss and calmest peace of life with a precious new child…

So why do so many of them report suffering from the deepest sadness, most severe loneliness, and isolating ineptitude they’ve ever felt in their lives?*

The common thread in each of these scenarios is something that has taken me a long time to learn about life: with higher highs come lower lows.

With the house example, I’ve learned that even good stress is stress. The overwhelming work of packing your life into boxes and unpacking it piece by piece as you get to know and operate and secure each quirk and cranny of a foreign new place is unsettling, even if it’s also exciting. Add to that exhaustion, chaos and competing opinions about priorities and I’m willing to bet many a husband and wife have “gone at it” – in a way that’s far from the christening fantasy they envisioned.

Then there’s the raw, painful story of one of the world’s most beloved comedians suffering so severely he took his own life. I’m not a psychologist but I know many mental health professionals have said in the aftermath of this shocking death, that it’s often the people who smile the brightest on the surface, that are fighting the darkest demons inside. That smile is their armor; it’s certainly not their whole truth. High highs….low lows.

Finally we have the true roller coaster that is parenting. It can lift you, windswept, to breathtaking heights you never knew existed, and then drop you so fast it leaves you spinning and wanting to throw up.

So why does this happen and what can we do about it?

Well.

One more thing I’ve learned about life is there’s a hell of a lot we have very little control over. Like where our husband puts the coffee maker. Or the unbelievable number of times in a day our little one….fill-in-the-blank (Spits up! Wakes up! Cries! Makes me cry!).

What we do have control over, friends, are the expectations we set for ourselves, as parents and as people.

When we expect things to be picture perfect, easy and happy all the time – we’re setting ourselves up for a freefall into disappointment. How can anyone live up to that bar, set as high as a trapeze artist? I’m pretty sure the only thing new parents have in common with a trapeze artist is sometimes feeling like they live at the circus.

Expect yourself to be human. Expect yourself to do some things well. And forgive yourself when things don’t go as planned. Learn to be happy in your home with dishes in the sink, and a baby with spit-up on their onesie. You’ll wash them and change them eventually, but maybe right this second you really just need to pour yourself a cup of coffee or spend 5 minutes zoning out to E! News.

And that’s OK.

Hopefully once we learn to expect that life isn’t roller coaster highs all the time, the lows might even out as well, and we’ll begin to settle into something resembling – what do the trapeze artists call it?

Oh, yeah. Balance.

*PS –  I recognize and respect that sometimes these “lows,” when related to mental health are beyond our control and require the help of a trained professional, and/or treatment such as medication. If you are experiencing something you suspect could be a postpartum mood disorder, please know you are not alone, and you deserve to find the support you need. Here are a couple of resources available to you:

*Postpartum Support International of Washington:
http://www.ppmdsupport.com** has info on PPMD, list of recommended resources and Support Groups
*Peer Support Phone Line (a “warm-line” not a crisis “hotline” – support from women who have recovered from PPMD – if you leave a message, someone will call back within 24 hours). 1-888-404-PPMD

This essay was originally published on the PEPS (Program for Early Parent Support) blog, Highs and Lows.

*photo credit

Why Not Me?

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“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
-Howard Thurman

What is your favorite feeling in the world?

Perhaps it’s the butterfly flutters of a fresh romance, those skipped heartbeats that come standard issue with a hopeful, sky’s-the-limit new love.

Or maybe it’s simple, quiet security. The comfort found in a safe home, knowing your needs are met, that your family is there for you and your life is just…stable.

Maybe you live for adrenaline-pumping thrills and have never felt more alive than when you’re risking your safety and giving your parents near heart attacks as you catapult out of a plane or volunteer in the Middle East.

Your favorite feeling could be wonder. It’s the reason people stop to watch sunsets, flock to the ocean, or lie under the stars. Sometimes we just need to be reminded that this life, and this world….are so much vaster than our own.

Freedom. Adventure. Devotion. Connection. Compassion. Pay attention to the feelings that make you come alive – they’re trying to tell you something.

I’ve known for years that MY favorite feeling – better than any drug or high or great romance or crazy adventure – is to feel truly, madly inspired.

I can single out a number of precise moments in my life that left me floored with this feeling. It has nothing to do with being practical or logical or having a plan – following your passion is about knowing that you can’t not respond to how something makes you feel.

Movies like The Blind Side and Precious have left me deeply moved, determined to walk through life with my eyes open to people who need help, compassion, encouragement, love… They haven’t led me to adopt a child or become a teacher, but my heart is more open to the endless ways each of us has the ability to help others, thanks to their stories.

There have been books I’ve read that have shaken and stirred me, that have engulfed me in their worlds so deeply I never wanted to emerge. These books make me want live a fuller, more aware life.

Now let’s talk about a feeling that we’re taught is bad, but can actually be good… to an extent.

I can’t remember what I was reading recently – it might have been The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown – but it spoke about jealousy not always being necessarily a bad thing. Yes, it can lead to bitterness and be destructive if allowed to fester, but the mere acknowledgement of our own envy, can actually be quite instructive in telling us something about ourselves and what we want (or want more of) in life.

I know what some of these moments have been for me.

There was a Christmas, maybe three or four years ago, where I distinctly recall standing in my parents’ kitchen, watching my sister-in-law tend to her daughter (my niece, and the first baby in my side of the family). It was a moment most would have observed as nothing more than mundane – walking to the kitchen sink with a baby on her hip or something like that. But I was so envious that she got to spend her days with this baby – that that was her life’s work. It wasn’t an “I hate you” jealousy at all (as toxic jealousy can become…) – it was an admirable, awestruck, “I hope that’s me someday” envy.

And today, after years of hoping and dreaming and planning – it is me! Imagine that! I would never change my decision to stay home full time with Anderson… maybe my division of time will morph over the years, but I will forever be imprinted by this season of staying home with him. That envy was telling me of a deep desire, and I didn’t ignore it – I’m living that desire today.

My latest subject of envy is the author Jojo Moyes, because I am still so freshly enamored by her profoundly moving book, Me Before You (I can’t even begin to do justice to a plot here – you simply have to experience it). Reading that book captured me in so many ways. As a reader (I devoured that book faster than I’ve gotten through a novel in recent memory. I felt like I was living in the same world – in the same home – as these characters). As a writer (I furiously scribbled pages of journal notes on insights gleamed from how Jojo Moyes structured this story and the writing tricks she employed that made it “work”). As a human (this story moved me to ponder love and life and death and so many possibilities in between…it was a reminder we only have one life…are we living safely in our comfort zone, or truly taking flight?).

So I envy her, because what I most want to do, outside of being a wife and a mother and a homemaker and a friend, is I want to write. It is what makes me feel most alive, and what makes me feel like I might have something to offer to the world, to myself, to my dreams.

I envy that this woman – this unbelievable story teller – gets to have a family, and also gets to make her living from writing books that change people’s lives and ways of thinking. I’m jealous that her husband brings her coffee and her laptop, and she begins to write, blurry-eyed, each morning from bed. Because it’s what she loves, she makes it a priority. And because her husband loves her, he does, too.

And now her book is selling millions of copies worldwide and being made into a movie.

As Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson’s father taught him to say, “Why not me?”

Why not Jojo Moyes? Why not Jodi Picoult? Why not me?

Within hours of finishing Me Before You, I wrote to Jojo Moyes. It went like this:

I’m sure you get thousands of emails and don’t expect a reply.. but I just finished Me Before You last night, and I don’t have the words to express how deeply it impacted me.  I basically cried in the fetal position and couldn’t talk to anyone after it ended.  I will treasure that story forever. (I think it has officially de-throned my previous favorite book of all time.)You are an amazingly gifted writer.  If I could ever write something that touched others the way your book touched me, my life would be complete. Keep doing what you’re doing – you are a gift.

And then she wrote me back. It went like this:

Dear Beth,

Thank you for your email and your kind words.

I am so glad you enjoyed Me Before You as much as you did and I hope if you read any of my other books, you enjoy those too.

With all best wishes,

Jojo Moyes

So that was cool. And a reminder that she’s just a person – a brilliant, busy, professional writer person – but still just a person who writes in pajamas and responds to emails. So why shouldn’t she respond to me? Why not me?

So I want to write more.

I can’t say I don’t feel the least bit self-conscious by proclaiming my desire to write. Honestly, it feels like a luxury to be able to have a lifestyle and a space and a schedule and a husband that allows for me (encourages me! He would even bring me coffee!) to do that. I get that, and I am really, truly grateful. I am not entitled, but I’m also not apologetic, because more people need to do these things when they get the chance. Agreed?

Because I believe that if you have the chance to go for your dreams, you should. And how can I raise my child to believe that, if I don’t first believe that about myself?

So I will write. It may take me a few months, or a few years, or (hopefully not) a few decades, but one day you just might see my name on a shelf in a store.

Because really, why not? Why not me? Why not you? What makes you feel so inspired, so alive, so driven, that you can’t stand to merely sit in the feeling of it and not do something about it?

Go after your favorite feeling. Turn it into your reality. Because no one else will do it for you, and what the world needs most is people who have come alive.

When in Doubt, Don’t Ask About:

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Today’s blog post will be a gentle reminder in etiquette for us all.  Myself included.   My name may be on the byline here, but I’m guessing I speak for many of you reading who have experienced the awkwardness, embarrassment, anger or hurt that comes from being asked things that are none of anyone else’s business.

The inspiration for this post was sparked by a friend’s bewilderment over the many people in her life who inquire about her age (and hair color…. “Is it natural?”), and the list goes on… and cemented by my being asked one time too many (just this week, in fact) if I’m pregnant – when I’m not and haven’t been for almost 16 months, but thank you very much for asking.

It got me thinking about all the things that are taboo to talk about – or should be – but people relentlessly talk about them and ask about them anyway. There are the old standbys of religion, sex and politics, of course – but in today’s world, or my life at least – those topics tend to be some of the rarer offenders.

Everyone has a different barometer when it comes to what makes for appropriate conversation topics with the people in our lives, and we all have things that we prefer to not talk about with anyone, except maybe our therapist, spouse, or the closest of family or friends.

I’ll share some of mine and maybe you can add yours to this list. My hope is that the more people are aware of how they might be making someone feel when they ask about x, y or z, the more they will slow down and think before asking.

One of my personal “hot buttons” is MONEY.  I really don’t think I’m alone in my feelings on this matter, but it seems to surface a lot, so here goes: I will take the lead and let you know if I want to talk about the value of my house, my family’s income, or how much I paid  for personal items. But in many circumstances, I  don’t.  If I don’t bring it up, it’s because I find those things unproductive or unnecessary to talk about – or just simply, private.  If you want to genuinely compliment my outfit or my hair or my home – like most human beings, I welcome that! But please make sure there’s a person (me!), not a price tag, attached to your compliment or lack thereof.

Another hot button issue for me (because I am a woman, on planet Earth) is PREGNANCY: Wow. Where do I begin? It would be exponentially quicker to compile a list of things that are acceptable to ask someone you suspect of being pregnant, than of those that are a social no-no. But since clearly many, many people are painfully unaware of this etiquette, for starters:

Don’t ask a woman if she’s pregnant. Ever. Trust me, she’ll tell you if she wants you to know.

Don’t ask her if she’s “keeping it.” I can’t believe I even have to address this….but yes, I have been asked this. While at a wedding. After joyfully sharing with people that Aaron and I were several months along. That wasn’t an awkward moment at all.

Don’t ask a pregnant woman if she’s sure she should be doing that/eating that/drinking that. She probably knows a lot more than you do about prenatal health.

Don’t ask if she wants advice of any kind. Again, if she does, she’ll ask.

BODY: I think this is the one where well-meaning people are most likely to get tripped up. Even asking someone a seemingly complimentary question like “Did you lose weight?” can bring up all kinds of body image triggers for that person, like “Did I need to lose weight?” or “How closely have you been monitoring me?” or “I’ve actually gained weight – what did you think I looked like before??” Tread lightly, friends…we’re all fighting our own battle here.

Earlier this week, while out walking with Anderson, I ran into an old friend I hadn’t seen for some time. We exchanged giddy hugs and happy updates, and she introduced me to her boyfriend. She seemed exceedingly happy in love and in life. She bent down to Anderson’s level and made him smile, and then she looked down at my not-quite-iron board stomach and breezily asked without missing a beat (and in front of this boyfriend I’d known for five seconds), “Are you pregnant?”

Standing there gripping the stroller, feeling frozen and numb, I instantly sucked in and plastered a fake smile on my face, groping for words that wouldn’t come and thinking to myself, “I can’t believe this is happening again.” (This has happened to me at least four times, many months removed from an actual pregnancy). Then, without even planning to, I lied.

“Haha,” I fake laughed. “No, we just had a big breakfast” I said, while visualizing the half bowl of raisin bran I had consciously limited myself to that morning, after running twice last weekend and intentionally trying to chip away at those “extra pounds.”

That lie was my armor, my safety net, my remote control for changing the subject. The lie kept me from admitting the simple yet complicated truth: there are some women who are neither pregnant, nor unhealthy, nor a doppelganger for a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model. I, among millions of others, am one of those women.

I’ve tried so hard to be an advocate for a healthy body image – my own and others – but standing there on that street corner reliving the humiliation of having to answer that question again­ – that question that essentially accuses that, if you’re not pregnant, there’s no justifiable reason for your body to look like that – I just felt like crying.

If this person I ran into today ever reads this, I would simply want her to know the same thing I would want anyone to know, who has asked me or anyone else questions that were personal to the point of causing pain, at worst, or discomfort, at the least:

“Dear friend – you are a beautiful and wonderful person and I’m sure you care for me and mean no harm. But please, please think of the impact your words may have on others before speaking them.”

One more note about sizing up someone else’s body, even without saying a word: we notice. I notice when I haven’t seen someone in a while and they look me up and down lingering a little too long on my midsection. I notice when someone is fixated on my stomach that happens to be a magnet for any possible pesky pounds I’ve yet to lose, or maybe never will. If I made it enough of a priority, I’m sure I could navigate this new body a little more effectively and customize workouts to get it back to more closely resembling its prior shape. But I shouldn’t have to explain myself to anyone in the meantime, and I shouldn’t have to constantly wonder if people are judging me because I didn’t “bounce back” like the Bodies after Baby! on the cover of People magazine.

So why do people ask such intimate, personal questions? I’m not a psychologist, but I have thought a lot about this, and I do have my own little theory. I believe that people ask overly personal questions for two primary reasons: to connect and to compete.

Best case scenario, these people simply like you and are looking to find more personal common ground on which to connect. They feel closer and more bonded to you upon learning you’re both fill-in-the-blank (rich, poor, 39, blonde via bleach, struggling with your sex life, looking to lose weight….). I totally get that these people, sincerely seeking to connect, have good intentions. I get that, and I’m not saying they’re the bad guys for asking these unknowingly loaded questions. But the questions often are loaded, and we could all benefit by being a little more thoughtful about how deep we dig (and with who, and how soon into the relationship) and how these personal questions might make someone feel.

Worst case scenario, people are delving into your private life to see how your sex life/weight loss/income stacks up to theirs, in a quest to compete, not connect. This is the most toxic version of this question asking, of course. And I think most of us have probably been guilty of it from time to time.

In closing, I’ll state the obvious – I realize we all have people in our lives we have chosen to talk to about money and sex, babies and body image, wars and weight loss. So how do you know if person A will be down with talking about topic B? If you really want to talk about religion, paychecks or politics, put your personal data out there first. If that person wants to reciprocate with private info of their own, they will. If not, well…now you know. At the end of the day, if you’re not really really sure the person in your midst is cool opening up and answering that burning question on your mind, it might be better to leave those hot topics for the ladies of The View.

Me, Naked

This is not a pornographic essay (my parents read this, and not really my thing). Nor is it an expression of artistic nudity (parents still reading and – you guessed it – also not my thing).

This is an essay about why each of us – and especially women – must learn to love and embrace our imperfect bodies. Because they’ll never be perfect – not by our body-obsessed culture’s standards, anyway. Why not save time and be happy now?

 I recently watched an interview with a woman who had lost a huge amount of weight (over 170 pounds), and proudly (yes, proudly!) submitted a post-weight-loss bikini photo to Shape magazine. Problem was, she was a real woman modeling real effects of massive weight loss untouched by plastic surgery. This meant that, though her arms and thighs were trim and her waistline had shrunk a great deal, she had significantly large folds of extra skin hanging from her torso. Because that’s what really happens, people!! Shocking, I know.

 The thing is – she felt GREAT about this photo, because it signified how far she’d come, extra skin and all – and was stunned and offended when Shape initially refused to publish it, asking her to put a shirt on (they changed their mind amid a media firestorm; full story here: http://www.today.com/health/woman-whose-weight-loss-bikini-pic-went-viral-gets-shape-2D79644325 ).

 Moral of the story is this: She knew she was healthy, regardless of the fact that the resulting image of her healthy body was far from what any of us see on magazine covers or billboards.

 Which got me thinking – “Wait a minute, I know I’m healthy, too – even if a large lunch and lack of sit-ups can make me temporarily look 3-months pregnant. Even if my breasts were stretched from 13 months of breastfeeding and have a newfound interest in gravity, and I may never have a truly “flat” stomach again because it was stretched out by a 9 ½ pound tenant who left it in not-quite-the-same shape (in other words – Anderson, you’re not getting that damage deposit back). “

 My BMI (body mass index) is right where it should be, I can run 5 miles, and my blood pressure has never been lower. Maybe I’ll never look quite like my pre-pregnancy self naked, or in a bikini, but I can feel great in a one-piece (what’s wrong with that?) and if anyone other than my husband or doctor has a vested interest in seeing me naked, I question their motives.

 I know, for sure, that though I may look a bit looser and rounder and softer, and somehow “less than” in society’s most skeptical eyes – I am, in fact, stronger, healthier, and more capable than I have ever physically been.

I’m not saying I’m impermeable to our culture’s influences or expectations. But I’m working on standing firm in what I know is true – I’m working on it every day. And you know what? Honest to God, in many ways – I’ve never felt more beautiful. And no one can take that away from me.

 

 

Flying Solo

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Earlier this month I took a big leap outside of my stay-at-home mom bubble and hopped a plane – alone! – to Chicago for three days. My old college roommate, Catherine, was about to turn 30 and graduate from med school and I thought it was the perfect time to plan a trip to celebrate. I also selfishly was ready to spread my wings a bit and prove that I could do this – be apart overnight from my 14-month-old for the first time ever!
I eagerly awaited this trip for weeks and weeks and dreamed of it being this relaxing, rejuvenating and luxurious time where I could stretch my legs walking the big city, read for four uninterrupted hours on the plane, indulge in bubble baths in my OWN hotel room…. You get the idea.

In some ways the trip was exactly what I had felt I needed and hoped for, and in some ways it wasn’t.

First, the flight:
The last four flights I had been on included Anderson, so it was quite the change not having to juggle a diaper bag, nurse, change diapers, or get a baby to nap on my lap while on the plane. It almost seemed too easy, like I was cheating or something, to board the plane with just myself, a small bag and a book. It was nice to be able to listen to music and zone out, to get lost in a book and not be accountable to anyone else on the plane. But I also got nostalgic and a bit homesick every time I heard a baby cry. It never annoyed me in the slightest, in fact I actually found the sound comforting. I sort of missed the sweet soft skin and warmth of a baby’s body against mine on the flight, of shuffling through board books and watching the hustle and bustle of an airport and flight through a baby’s eyes. There were things that were nice about flying alone – don’t get me wrong – but I was reminded that the extra baggage required to take a baby on board was ultimately pretty priceless.

The hotel:
Yes, it was nice to have a bed to hog and a TV to watch whatever I wanted, but I was also loneliest at night all alone, towering above this foreign place. I had the hardest time sleeping and tossed and turned until well into the early morning hours both nights. It was almost as if things were too quiet, too sterile, too simplified. I missed my own hastily made bed, the hum of Anderson’s monitor beside me, the random knocking sound of our quirky refrigerator. A hotel, no matter how nice, doesn’t hold a candle to home (and mine wasn’t THAT nice…. Here’s looking at you tiny square pillows made for a guinnea pig).

The celebrating:
It was good to see my longtime friend. We had a lot of catching up to do on our very different lives. She introduced me to three amazing restaurants and made sure I was well-fed and well-acquainted with where I was going (I would have been lost without her…). I was reminded that emails and texts can’t replace the ground you can cover catching up in person. I’m glad we made the time for each other, and that I got to walk with her in her home city of the last four years before she moves across the country yet again. I find it fascinating to witness a life path so different than mine, and am so proud of all she has accomplished!
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The city:
It was a bizarre sensation to be so completely untethered to the identity I wear like clothing every day here in Seattle – that of a mother. I have typically one or two small blocks of time on my own each week at home, to run errands, do my appointments and so on. But having an ENTIRE WEEKEND devoid of my mom hat entirely was a strange and almost disorienting feeling. As I walked for miles through the city, smelled the food and crossed over the river, window shopped, and got coffee, I figured I probably could have passed for a single, local woman about town. I did things I never ever do by myself or at home.

Like spend two blissfully quiet, meditative hours meandering through an art museum:
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Or spontaneously attend an Aretha Franklin (yes, seriously – Aretha Franklin!!) concert at the famous Chicago Theatre:
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I had a good time in Chicago. But undoubtedly and by a mile, the BEST part of my trip, was coming home to this:
back home with baby
I did not fully realize how much I had missed him until he was in my arms again. We were glued to each other for about an hour; I didn’t want to let him go. My coming home again to Anderson was one of the sweetest moments of my life. He made these sweet cooing sounds and showed me smiles I’d never seen before at the sheer joy of our reunion. I knew in that moment there was no place in the world better than this.

How You Do Anything

How You Do Anything

We’re moving later this month, and that has sort of put the pause button on home decorating, but when we’re into our new place, one thing I am itching to do is frame and prominently display some quotes that inspire me.  One that has stuck with me as 2013 has faded into 2014, is this:

“How you do anything is how you do everything.” 

I came across these words as the cornerstone of the editor’s letter in Real Simple magazine’s current issue on balance. The RS editor writes that sometimes, when we feel so overwhelmed that we’re not sure we can do anything well – like we just don’t even know where to start – we need only to choose ONE thing, and do it well

For her, one harried, hurried morning, that meant spending 15 minutes she really didn’t have (know the feeling?) making her son the exact home-cooked breakfast he wanted.  Schedule and to-do list be damned, that morning, for that 15 minutes, she focused on making her son an exceptional breakfast.  And you know what I think?  I think her son, and his mom, will probably remember that breakfast more than they’ll remember what was on the news that morning, or who forgot to put the trash out, or how many minutes they may have been late to school or work.  She made that egg dish as if, by it, her life’s work would be judged.

“How you do anything is how you do everything.”

My husband is really, really good at this.  He is the type of person who will respond to each of the hundreds of emails that come through his inbox each day.  He’ll make time to call his mother on his drive home.  If he’s making us a meal, he often takes time to make me these perfect little bite-sized “snacks” of whatever he’s cooking, so I don’t get hungry while I wait.  He is extraordinarily generous and kind in the way he treats people, be it his employees, his neighbors, or a homeless man on the street. Aaron is someone who typically pushes just beyond what any given situation calls for.  He chooses to do ANYTHING the way he wants to do EVERYTHING.  I believe all those little “anythings” will add up to the big “Everything” that is the legacy of his life.

I have been meditating on why I have felt so compelled by these words.  To me they have felt like a call to action – consistent, character-molding action.  And I have questioned whether such a seemingly tall order can co-exist with my “Sometimes you just have to buy the cake” philosophy.  I’ve decided, it can. 

For me, this challenge isn’t about striving for perfection, or pouring 110% into all we do to the point of exhaustion.  It’s about being fair.  Fair to ourselves, fair to all of those around us, and even in our character.  I think there are several realms in which this challenge is particularly engaging:

One is in our public vs. private lives.  How many of us are guilty of talking, acting, ignoring, neglecting in private, in ways we would never dream of in public?  They say that our thoughts become our words, our words become our actions, and our actions become our character.  What a challenge it is, to behave as if others are watching, even if they’re not. 

“How you do anything is how you do everything.”

Secondly, it makes me think about how unequally we treat the people in our lives.  For example, I might be bitterly rude to the barista who’s “making me late” for an appointment, then two minutes later be all smiles and easy breezy “life is good” as I float into that salon.  Or I might reserve all my patience for my baby, and none for my dog. 

This idea brings to mind a passage from the New Testament, which implies that, as Christians, our character is judged not by how we act in church, or on Facebook, or with the people we find easiest to be around, but with the most difficult, inconvenient, downtrodden, burdensome people in our lives:

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’  – Matthew 25:40

So if I’m rude to my barista, it’s basically like I’m being rude to God?  Yep, she’s His child.  He’s offended.  And Lord knows I could go on and on with examples…. You get it. 

“How you do anything is how you do everything.”

So this year, I strive to be consistent with my character, with the effort I put into my words and my actions that mean something to others. 

Now, we don’t always have 15 minutes to spend cooking an egg.  And for that I have another quote I refer to often.  This one I want to put next to my bed, so it’s the last thing I read each night before I go to sleep:

“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.” 

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Finally, never forget that no matter how you fill your days – by being a lawyer, or an egg chef for a 4-year-old, or a teacher or a CEO – the work you do matters and how you do anything is noticed by the people in your life. You have a chance, every day, to be GREAT at whatever it is you do.

As Abraham Lincoln once said, “Whatever you are, be a good one.” 

Frozen

Frozen

I want to apologize to anyone who has ever needed me, and I haven’t been there.

Today, our family on Aaron’s side memorialized a family member who died way too young. One year ago today, Aaron’s cousin, Johnny, was taken suddenly and tragically, leaving behind a wife and three young, sweet kids.

It is truly unfathomable to me how I would even go on living if I were in his wife’s shoes. Attempting to wrap my head around that reality is like trying to solve an advanced physics equation or explain the existence of God – I don’t even know where to begin.

Today we went out to breakfast with Aaron’s family and everyone took turns talking to Aaron’s uncle, the father who suffered the heartbreaking loss of his son one year ago today. For a number of reasons (time, logistics, passing a phone around), I wound up being one of the only people who didn’t personally speak to this uncle today, and offer my condolences. Aaron said he offered his on our family’s behalf and not to worry about it, but it has stuck with me all day.

Lying in bed tonight, reflecting on this day with Aaron, it occurred to me – there was a small amount of relief in not talking to the uncle for this reason and this reason alone: I don’t know how to handle tragedy. I really struggle with what to say or do, whether my words would be helpful or a hindrance to someone else’s grief. I am uncomfortable in the presence of others’ grief. That probably sounds pretty selfish, but I just kind of…..FREEZE. I don’t know what to do, when I see someone crying, know they are hurting, or fear a heart is breaking. It’s as if I’m protectively scared that if I get too close to someone else’s pain, my heart might break, too.

I have friends and family members who have been broken to their core, suffered deeper losses than I’ve ever known, and who probably could have used more support and love than I knew how to offer in those moments, months, years… Tonight, I know this. And tonight, I am sorry for my shortcomings.

This last month has been the month of half-written blogs for me. I haven’t published anything because I can’t seem to finish anything. Anything I’m happy with, at least. I have this yearning to write and I have things I want to say, but I wonder if my words are relevant enough, important enough, interesting enough. I hold myself to a high standard as a writer, and yet I know (or I certainly believe, anyway) there are far better, more compelling writers than me. But the world needs each of us, all the time, to give exactly what we can, no less and no more. That is why I write.

So this is not a perfect essay – it’s not catchy or thoroughly edited. I didn’t even plan to write it 20 minutes ago. But it’s from the heart. Tonight when I had this ‘aha moment’ in bed, admitting to myself and to Aaron that I don’t know how to respond to tragedy and sadness, my husband told me I’d hit the nail on the head simply by admitting my weakness, and my desire to not be numb, to not freeze – to do more. He told me that, in the face of tragedies he has faced, it would have meant so much to him if his friends could have simply told him that they didn’t know what to say, they didn’t know what to do, but they wanted to be there for him.

There’s something about this time of year that lends itself to quietness. To reflection. To gratitude. If the holidays carry with them a sort of drunken, carefree spirit in the air, January follows with the sobriety of a cold shower. When the Christmas tree is down and the lights dim, we realize that it’s how we live these other 300+ days a year, that make those ones in December worth celebrating. And some of those 300+ days are bound to include some bad news. Some hard times. Some conversations we’d rather not have and facts we’d rather not face.

I’m learning that even when we want to freeze, and hide, and convince ourselves we have nothing to offer – we DO and we SHOULD. Our friends need us to care – more importantly they need us to let them know that we care – even if that caring is clumsy and vulnerable and not at all practiced. Let people know you care. They really may never know it if you don’t.