Why Me?

I admit.  I have been feeling a bit sorry for myself lately  I haven’t been saying it out loud… much.  But still, “why me?” has been floating through my head much more than I would like to admit.

It has just been a tough couple of weeks for us over here in the Indisposable household.  There have been ear infections and stomach flu and two cases of the croup.  And then my stomach decided to take all of the ickiness it has given me over the last twenty years and multiply it and whack me with it all at once.

And for those of you who deal with mood or anxiety issues, you knot that physical illness or stress just exacerbate those issues ten fold.

And so I found myself in the shower at 3:30 in the morning last night, unable to sleep because of the nonstop digestive issues, my mind racing, my hands shaking and things starting to get foggy from messed up electrolytes.  All I wanted in the entire world was to sleep.

And my mind just kept asking me “why me? why me?  why me?”

See I can actually handle the stomach stuff.  It sucks, and it leaves me incapacitated for days, and it comes on from out of the blue.  But it’s my gut.  It can be compartmentalized.  It can be dealt with.

But the other stuff – the mind stuff – that isn’t so easy to deal with.  That gets exhausting.  It’s hard to explain to people sometimes just how vigilant one must be.  How you can never completely let your mind rest.  How you can’t exactly trust it to wander.  How even though you have experience teaching you that you can crawl back from the precipices of what feels like complete neuroses, you also know just how much work and just how much grit and just how much courage it takes to crawl back.  And so you have to make sure not to let yourself fall in the first place.

You can’t always trust how you feel.  You can’t always trust your judgment.  You know that oftentimes your heart will lead you in directions your brain knows aren’t good for you.  You know you need to trust your head.  You know your heart can lie.  And yet, it’s your heart.

It’s this constant battle of the wills — the brain versus the heart, sanity versus neurosis, relative peace versus chaos.

For years, I followed my heart.  I went with my gut, with my feelings.  It’s just who I am.  It’s how I’m made.  But one day I had to turn that off.  I learned that survival meant that sometimes my deepest feelings just simply could not be trusted.  They would lead me to despair.  They would lead me to darkened corners in lightless rooms, trying to still everything around me in an attempt to quiet the storm raging within.

And I’m writing all of this not for pity or to dwell in self pity.  I write it to answer the question, “why me?”

Yesterday, I logged into Facebook, and I found the answer to that very question staring me straight in the face.

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Why me?  Why do I have to fight my battles?

Why you?  Why must you wake up each day and put on your armor and fight your battles?

It’s simple.  It’s because the fire purifies, and the battle makes us real.

Every day I look at my little girls, and I am overtaken by their innocence.  There is this feral instinct within me to protect them.  To protect that innocence.  I think any of us looking innocence in the eye has that same reaction.  It’s rare and it’s pure and it is as luminescent as the sun.

But they won’t keep it.  None of us can.

I always thought that was the tragedy of life.  But what if it’s also the glory of it?  What if our outsides have to get roughed up?  What if our hearts must be pummeled and trashed and broken down?

What if it’s the struggle that finally and ultimately will make us real?

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Christmas Magic

I love Christmas.  I’m a complete Christmas geek.  I love it all – the tree, the decorations, the twinkly lights.  We watch every Christmas show.  We listen to Christmas songs all day.  We really get in the spirit.

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about the lessons the girls are learning about Christmas.  I find myself torn.  I want them to experience all the magic and the wonder.  And I also want them to know the real reason we celebrate Christmas.  Sometimes the cultural idea of Christmas and the religious idea of Christmas see so far away from each other that it can feel impossible to merge them.

I recently read an article where a woman compared Advent to nesting for a newborn baby, but instead of labor and delivery, we are nesting for Christmas.  I liked this idea.  It took all my favorite parts of Christmas and it infused them with more meaning.  And to be honest, it reduced a lot of stress.  Instead of rushing to get decorations up as soon as possible and to keep everything clean and pretty, I focused on preparing my home for Christmas, preparing the gifts we were given so that we can thoroughly enjoy them when Christmas Eve comes.

This is only the second Christmas Eve that we have not been invited to celebrate with anyone, and I am looking forward to starting some Christmas Eve traditions as a nuclear family.   One of my favorite parts of Christmas growing up was Christmas Eve.  I remember our house glowing with the lights and overflowing with the scent of the tree.  I remember how cozy everything felt with those I loved most all around me.  It felt like we had our own little Christmas wonderland where we could block out all of the chaos of the outside world and just celebrate and love.

That is what I want for my girls.

So we plan to go to Christmas Eve mass tomorrow.  And then we are going to come home and have a birthday party for Jesus.  We are going to bake Him a cake, and we are going to sing “Happy Birthday.”  I am going to make a big roast beef dinner and we are going to sit down to the table with our heirloom candle sticks that always remind me of those who have come and passed but who still are very much alive in my memory and my heart.  I think I might even break my no sewing rule and make us a pretty Christmas table cloth.

The thing that has been keeping me stumped is the gift we can give to Jesus for his birthday.  I liked the idea of buying something for kids less fortunate, but I really want it tied in with His birthday, and charities already have all their Christmas gifts collected and distributed by then.

And then today I came across the idea of creating blessing bags for the homeless.  The kids then put them in a huge box and unwrap them on Christmas Eve for Jesus.  This sounded like an excellent idea, but we don’t ever come across homeless people.

But I loved the idea of collecting things in a big box, and I loved the idea of giving to Jesus by giving to the least among us.  After all, we clothe Jesus by clothing the poor; we serve Jesus by serving those in need.  After all, “what you do to the least of my people, that you do unto me.”

Since it is just one day and we can’t heal the world in one day, I figured we would get a box and a bunch of paper and write down the things we have done for those in need around the year.  A collection, of sorts, of all of the gifts we have given during the year.  This isn’t meant as a pat on the back for us.  Rather, I am hoping the girls can see just how much our little gifts can add up over the course of months and years.  I hope it inspires them to live lives of giving and service.  I hope it teaches them that God becomes more fully alive in this world when we act out our faith to those most in need.

I’m not sure how it will work.  The little two are probably too little to get much out of it, but I’m excited to try it.

Often I feel like my Christianity is cerebral.  I focus on it.  I do my very best.  But often it feels more in my head than in my heart, and this leaves me feeling lacking, like a fraud of sorts.  I don’t think this will really help it much, but the only other alternative is to give up, and I surely don’t want to do that.

So for now, I am signing out and saying Merry Christmas to all of you and your loved ones.  I hope you experience the magic and wonder of the season.  I pray the day wraps you in peace and love and all of the blessings that are as timeless as the sun.

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These stockings are sentimental to me because they remind me of one of the only times in my life that I was able to sew with my sewing machine and not end up screaming, swearing, and crying at it.  The dog and cat have ones too, but those are on different walls.

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This wreath was one of my first Pinterest attempts a couple of years back.  I made three.  Unfortunately the other two have not survived storage.

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These snowflakes were time consuming but really fun to make.  I’m hoping to make a lot as ornaments for next year.

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And this is what I made yesterday.  It was my first attempt at fair isle knitting, and while it is far from perfect, I’m pretty proud it.  Ironically, I just looked up at my tree to realize that it is gone.  We have an ornament thief in this house.  She is little.  And cute.  And sneaky.

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My sister sent this to me.  It made me smile.  The girls love how it is sparkly.  I like how the coffee cup even has a cup holder like the ones I knit.

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Can you tell we have two toddlers in our home?  Very few ornaments under three feet!

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Stories

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I’m sitting in the kitchen brushing Magoo’s hair.

Hey baby, do you know why we spell your name the way we do?

Because with this spelling it means “wanted one.”

And why are you our wanted one?

Because you and Daddy prayed really hard for many years asking God for me.

Did you know that I almost fell down the stairs on the way to tell Daddy you were in my belly because I was so excited?

(Rolling eyes) Yes Mom.

And do you know the first thing we did once we found out?

Yes.  You went to tell Grandma and Grandpa.  You cried those tears mommies cry when they are happy.

 

Magoo knows this story.  She’s known it since that day I first held her in that hospital room.  I believe she knew it before then.  Back when she lived beyond the moon and the stars.  Before she came to me. Back when I was her mama and she was my baby and we belonged to one another but we were not yet with one another.

This story has been on my heart lately.  I think it’s because my heart has been so full with these three little ones.  There have been so many giggles and smiles and happy confidences.  It’s hard to believe that from all those years of empty arms and deep prayers came a love so deep it could fill canyons.

That story really belongs to all three of them.  Magoo came first and broke the emptiness, but our hearts were longing for them all.  For the family we just couldn’t quite yet reach.

And I hope they take this story and wrap it around their hearts.  I hope it buffers the loneliness life sometimes brings.  I hope it gives them security and comfort.

We aren’t perfect parents.  We falter.  We err.  We fail.  But not for one single second of one single day does our love falter or err or fail.  Never does it dissipate or wane.

Always, forever, deeply, passionately, and sincerely.

Loved.  Wanted.

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Making Home

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One year ago today, TJ had the day off of work.  I had just finished hanging up our stockings; the kids were down for a nap, and we decided to watch a movie.  And that’s when we got the news.  After months of waiting, the sale on our townhouse had been approved.  Tears of joy flew readily.  It had happened!

The only catch was that we had 14 days to close.  And find a new place.  And move.  All while celebrating Christmas with three little kids.  It was a tall order.

During those two weeks, our neighbor’s pipe burst in their kitchen.  This seeped into our kitchen, flooding one entire side of our house — the dining room, kitchen, and powder room.  The fire department came and informed us of the leak around 5pm.  By midnight, all of our cabinetry, flooring, and appliances had been removed.  In their place, we had giant walls of plastic wrap and way too many industrial sized fans.  And of course nails lying around, and holes in our wall so big that mice running through could have been the least of our concerns.

And then the first Polar Vortex hit and took with it our electricity.  All five of us cuddled in our bed for hours trying to stay warm.  The girls cried when their feet touched the ground because it was so cold.  We made a mad dash with all of the kids and the cat and the dog to go hide out in the warmth of my parent’s house.  And then the electricity went back on.

We went back inside and got the temperature up above 10 degrees and out went the electricity again.  Eventually we all got packed up in my van, and TJ spent almost an hour outside trying to get his small car out of our snowed in multi-family driveway.  We drove to the exit of our subdivision and saw the electricity go back on.  We decided to still head out, not knowing how long our power would stay on.  But two minutes on the main roads proved that we were not going to make it anywhere.  So we headed back.

And then a couple of days later, Goosie got sick and vomited in her car seat on the way home from driving Magoo to school.  I went inside to fill up the tub to clean her off.  But no water came out.  Apparently dates got mixed up when we called to take the water service out of our name.  We would spend the last couple of days there without water.

And then the day came and we were out.

I still get sad thinking sometimes about how sour the whole thing turned out.  About how I never even wanted to see our house one last time because while those last weeks were bad they weren’t ridiculously out of sort with the rest of the experience we had there.

I remember when we bought the house, we would go every week to watch the progress on its construction.  We have hundred of pictures of the bones of that house.  And we sold it seven years later for next to nothing to a couple who were planning on renting it out for next to nothing.  That’s the way that whole subdivision went.  When we left, there was nothing much to mourn.

But sad as I get about not missing my first house, nothing compares to the elation I still have of being out of there.

People probably laugh when they hear me gush about my new home.  It’s a rental.  It’s decently sized but by absolutely no means large.  It’s in a great location but definitely not my ideal neighborhood.

But it’s home.

For the last four years we had been in our old house, it never felt like home.  There was the constant fear of rodents and the ever changing cast of neighbors.  There were the grotesque occurrences (the man who had died in his condo and no one found his body for many months.)  There was the drunk driver who went through the neighborhood ramming into any car or building he could find.  There was the 30 minute commute to almost everywhere.

But more than anything, there was the feeling of stagnation.

We weren’t where we wanted to be.  We couldn’t move forward.  We were stuck.

Now I still wake up some days and want to lie on my floor and just hug it.  I now have a comfortable home to raise my girls in.  They don’t spend their entire lives in our car.  And they have a mom who doesn’t feel like she has to hide in a corner or escape with them to hotels to avoid the rodent infestations.

Life isn’t perfect now.  This year hasn’t been perfect.  TJ lost his job six days after we moved.  He has spent the last month very ill.  And we have the normal stresses that any family does.

But we are home.

And despite all of that, I don’t totally regret the experience.  Prior to those years, I never understood just how important a comfortable, safe home is.  Without it, it’s hard to move forward at all.  It’s hard to flourish.  It’s seemingly impossible to find peace.

It also reminds me now of my ability to make a difference.  If I feel overwhelmed, I think back to those days, and I know that I can handle more than I think I can.  I just have to take one step at a time.  I don’t have to do everything.  I just have to do something.

And it taught me that I can take a risk.  Despite the nightmare of our existence there, selling our home was still a risk.  For months, I would worry that we would not be able to find a new place.  But we landed on our feet.

Life isn’t perfect now, but I can find my peace.  I can curl up on the couch at the end of the day with my remote control and my knitting, and I can relax.

I have a place to come home to and to dream from.  A place to nurture my babies and love my husband.

It has been a long year, but it has been a good year  I still get tears in my eyes when I think of how much better our lives are because of that one move.

And I hope one day I will want to drive by again and remember when.  Remember when my babies ran outside in the grass.  Remember when the snow drifts came all the way up over our heads.  Remember the sidewalk Magoo walked down on her way to the car on her first day of school.

That time isn’t now.  Those memories are sweet, but for me, they aren’t tied to that place.

But it will be there, and I will be here, and maybe one day my heart will soften and I will think back fondly.

One day.

Maybe.

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Invisible

Magoo told me that I smell good today.

We were sitting on the couch.  I had just showered, and my skin had gotten so dry over the past two weeks that I finally took two seconds to search for some lotion.  I found some lemon scented lotion that I bought last year for our bathroom, and I slathered it over my arms.

She reached over and put her little nose right against my elbow and took a deep breath.  “You smell like banana,” she said.  And she smiled.

I didn’t know what to say because it was so weird.  It was so unbelievably weird to be thought of as corporal.  For someone to recognize that I exist.  For someone to smile.  To be more than the arms that hug away tears or the hands that tie laces.

I thought about the drawer in the back of my closet.  It holds probably a dozen different perfumes.  All of them are years old.  I don’t think I’ve acquired a new one since being a mom.  Some of them remind me of my early adult years, and some harken back even longer than that.  A quick whiff of one of the Gap’s signature scents will bring me back to a classroom or a bar room in Milwaukee many years ago.  Back when I was Mandy.  Before I was Professor Knapp.  Or Mom.

I looked at Magoo in that moment, and I made myself a promise.  Some day many years from now when she is a mom, I will look at her.  I will look at the fatigue in her eyes.  I will hear the stress in her voice.  And I will look at her, and I will tell her that she is beautiful.  I will see her.  Not who I want her to be and not who they need her to be.  I will see her.  And I will take her in.

I will tell her that I see the tension, and I see the love.  But I also see her.  I will tell her that I still see the little girl who loved to twirl and make up stories.  I will tell her that I see her compassion and her strength.  I will tell her that I see her sorrow.  I will tell her that I see how much she tries.  How very hard she tries.

I will look at her hands, and I will notice their callouses and the years that have gone between manicures.  But I will also tell her that I see the hands that like to write stories or throw a ball or mold a loaf of bread.

I will look at her eyes, and I will see the mother who never lets them out of her sight.  I will see the compassion she shows for those around her.  And I will also see the eyes that have taken in the world.  The eyes that read the books and saw all of the sights and twinkled by the light of the Christmas tree all those years.

Some people are good at balancing motherhood and self.  Many people can even add a job into the mix.  Nearly everyone can do all of this better than I can.

I cannot balance.  I cannot juggle.  I cannot find a way to keep my own head above water while I am treading water for those around me.  I lose myself.  Way too easily.  And to be honest, I don’t know how to reclaim myself.

All I know is that in that moment, when she told me that I smelled pretty, I don’t know if I have felt that loved or that seen or that worthy in a very long time.

That is a gift that she gave me.  One gift amongst a lifetime that she shares with me.

I hope that some days I am able to share that gift with others.  That I have the strength and the insight to reach across a table, to look into a tired mama’s eyes, and say, “I see you.”

Isn’t that all any of us really want anyway?  To be truly seen.  To be known.  And to be loved despite it all?

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Anxiety and Monsters

My kids sometimes ask me if monsters exit.  I tell them that monsters aren’t real.  They aren’t hiding under their beds or in their closet.  There is no such thing.

But I think we all know that’s not exactly true.  Monsters very much do exist.  They just aren’t ten feet tall with horns.  We each have our monster.  Mine is anxiety.

For me, anxiety was always there.  I remember being five or six and hearing about AIDS for the first time.  I didn’t know what it was, but I knew it was bad.  So surely I had it.  And for me, compulsions were always quietly there.  They aren’t strong.  They don’t define me.  They are all mental.  But still.  I do my mental gymnastics, and I probably always will.

I was talking about anxiety today.  I was discussing current minor anxieties, and I remembered back to when there was no such thing as a minor anxiety.

I spent most of my twenties living in two different worlds.  I was in the outside world.  The one where I went to school or taught.  Where I had friends and conversations and responsibilities.

And then there was the real world.  Or at least the one that felt the most real.  This was the world inside my head.  Whole lifetimes could go on in my head in the matter of mere moments in the outside world.

The outside world was usually calm and ordered and predictable.  The real world, the world inside, was anything but.  A black circle would start somewhere in my chest.  It would almost immediately work its way to my brain.  My brain would find a reason to obsess, and the black would take over the entire world.  It would cloud my every moment.  It was fuzzy, and it swirled, like I was inside one of those machines that spin faster and faster around you while you try to remain some sort of equilibrium in the center.

There was no way out.  Or so I thought.

I had a student once write a paper about treatments for anxiety disorders.  She was writing it from a place of hope.  She said people can recover.  There is a way out.  Silently, I scoffed.  Surely she had a cute little form of anxiety.  Perhaps she was a bit jittery or worried too much about due dates or natural disasters.  She couldn’t keep up with me.  My anxiety could not be quelled.  It could not be treated.

I found a sort of perverse pride when I would speak with therapists.  They would tell me how severe my anxiety was.  They would tell me that there were biochemical abnormalities that must be dealt with because the ordinary coping mechanisms and treatment methods simply weren’t working.

I used that as proof.  The anxiety is real.  It’s me.  There’s no way to separate the two.

But then I was sitting there tonight, and I was talking about anxiety, and I was talking in the past tense.  Yes, I absolutely most certainly still have serious anxiety.  But the days of living in two worlds are few and far between.  Yes my brain always works about ten times as fast as I think it should.  Yes, I obsess.  But it’s not the same.  That black cloud is gone.  And I only know that because I still get brief glimpses of it.  And normally I am lucky enough to watch it pass away.

I use the word luck because as much as I probably should give myself credit for overcoming those darkest of days, I can’t.  It still feels out of my control.  It still feels bigger than me.  It is still my greatest fear.  My monster.

I sit here in relative peace, and I still ask myself why.  It is the question I can remember asking for as long as I can remember.  Why does this have to happen to me?  Why my brain?  Why my brain?  Because when the problem is in your brain and your heart, nothing else goes right.  Because that’s where it all starts — in the brain and in the heart.

But then I think back to before it got so dark, before the monsters made themselves fully known, and I start to wonder if the reason is possibly that the monsters are our greatest teachers.  What if it is the monsters that make us human?  What if they take the bones and the soul and the heart and like clay, the monsters mold us into more fuller versions of ourselves.

We all have gifts to give and to share.  But what if our greatest offering to the world is our brokenness?  We can all relate to the joy in others.  We can laugh and relax and make merry.  It’s easy to love the good.  But it also can leave us a bit distant.  What really unites us to others are the broken parts.  It’s seeing the weary in another’s eyes and seeing yourself.  It’s seeing fear in another and recognizing that it’s the same beast that lives within chest.

Our monsters don’t need to be the same.  It’s that they exist that brings us together.

Show me a smile and I will see a happiness.  Show me a tear, and I will see a soul.

I look at my girls, and I constantly worry that they will fall prey to the same monsters I have.  I look for every possible glimpse, trying to stave it off as soon as it shows its face.  I want to protect them.  I want them to stay innocent and whole and unbroken.

But as diligent as I may be, I can’t protect them from the monsters that were created for them.  And perhaps in the long run, I wouldn’t even want to.  To completely protect them from the battle would also protect them from the prize.

God gave me these three precious, beautiful little souls.  They are my suns.  But the sun needs to meet the storm in order for the rainbow to appear.

I know they will falter.  We all do.  And my heart will break every single time they do.  But I hope I can trust that they will rise above.

And I hope that one day I will trust myself to falter.  I hope I will look at my monsters and I will stand up strong and stare them down.  I hope someday I will see my journey and I will see victory rather than luck.

It took me a long time to get here, and it will take me a long time to get there.  But the race isn’t to the swift.  And that’s good because I’m running with monsters on my back.

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Christmas Peace

Christmas can be a difficult time for those of us with little kids.  There is just so much pressure.

For me at least, I want to make it magic.  I love the secular part of Christmas — all of the twinkly lights, all of the gift giving, all of the carols.  I crave that stuff year round.  There’s very little that makes me happier than a cup of hot chocolate, some Christmas lights, lots of cozy blankets, and my favorite Christmas specials.

These aren’t just random pleasures either.  These are all hard wired into me from years of magical Christmases when I was a child.  Nothing was better than Christmas.

And it all seemed so simple.  We said, “let’s get a tree!” and we would all pile in the car, pick out a tree, and then magically it would go up and we would put some lights on and it would be perfect.  Another day, someone would say, “let’s do the outside lights!” and Bam!  I would be standing on the sidewalk with my brother and sisters waiting for the big reveal.

It was all so… magic.

And thirty some years down the road, I try to recreate those memories for my children, and I realize that it’s all so… much work!

It has been hard this year getting our decorations up.  My back went out.  TJ has his messed up leg.  Magoo and I both spent some time vomiting this past weekend.

But finally today, we made some progress.  My dad came over and hung up our outside lights for us, and I worked some more on my snowflake bunting and I hung up some inside wreaths.  We are still far from being done, but we are getting closer.

And so finally I started to relax a bit about the magic of Christmas, and then I started panicking because I realized that while I am in the midst of fretting about creating a magical Christmas, we are all getting caught up too much in the trappings, and we are neglecting the real meaning of Christmas.  The spiritual meaning.  The meaning behind the lights and the songs and the joyous celebrations.

And so then I panicked even more, and I was running around in circles in my head, and I found myself sitting in Mass tonight thinking of Gilmore Girls.  Because my mind never wanders during church.

As I was trying desperately to pay attention, I kept finding my mind drifting back to that show in an attempt to determine why it has such a hold on me.  Why, when I do not normally watch much television, to I find myself craving a GG fix multiple times a day?  Why, when I kept her away from any grown up television for over six years, does Magoo know most of the characters on the show and the names of the actors who portray them?  Why is it just so comforting?

And I think I came to an answer, but I came to it via a round about way.

The choir was singing “Immaculate Mary,” and the lyrics were about peace and gentleness, and as they usually do, they made me feel manic and chaotic.

But then I started to wonder.  Can a person be high strung and be peaceful?  Is peace possible for someone like me?  Someone who needs to always be moving?  Someone whose motor is set just a little faster than that of the rest of the world?

And I realized — yes.  Peace and chaos can coexist.  Because peace doesn’t come from the stillness.  Peace comes from the present.  It comes from being fully in the moment and trusting that the next moment will play out just as it should as long as we are acting just as we should in this moment.  Peace is about trusting that we are right and that God is right and that the world, in its infinite chaos, can be right if we just take it one moment at a time.

And I thought back to the Gilmore Girls and I realized that my affinity for the show isn’t solely based on the massive amount of knitwear and knit home goods on the show.  It’s because it’s a show about a bunch of really weird, eccentric people just doing them.  It’s about people who aren’t trying to be other people.  It’s about being okay being a goofball or a bookworm or a grump or a daughter of the American Revolution.

Gilmore Girls is about people getting by just doing things their way – without worrying about it or comparing themselves to others or wondering how or if they stack up.  And peace is simply all about us all getting by doing the next right thing now.

We don’t need to know everything.  We don’t need to be everything.  We don’t need to compare our tree to our neighbor’s tree.  We don’t need to lament Bob’s tradition because we instead choose our own.  We don’t need to worry about our kids waking up and wondering why their Christmases were never magic.  Because the magic of Christmas is about the peace and the joy and the ultimate gift.

So we can decorate if we want to.  (And I most surely want to!)  And we can bake cookies if we want to.  (And I most surely do NOT want to.)  And we can watch this special and skip that one.  We can listen to Christmas music sometimes and regular old crappy pop music other times.

And we don’t have to worry.

And we can teach our children about the meaning of Christmas.  We can talk about it.  We can read about it.  We can listen to music about it.

But the best teacher they are going to have is hidden within our very own hearts.

A couple of weeks ago, the priest at Mass said that it wasn’t enough to just do good.  We need to do good because of God and for God.  It needs to be motivated by love for Him.

And that’s how I am approaching this Christmas season.  We are going to have a birthday party for Jesus.  My daughter is completing a little Christmas project.  We read the Christmas story as often as we can.

But more than all of that, more than all of the trappings, I’m focusing on doing it all in thanksgiving of the birth of Christ.  Those lights are magic because of what happened 2000 years ago.  We put up the tree in anticipation of the birth of a king.  The snowflakes and the twinkles and Santa Claus and all of that — it’s all to celebrate the greatest gift given to this world.

And if we keep that in the front of our minds, I have to think that the peace of the season will be ours to cuddle and to share and to spread and to emanate.

It’s not about doing it all or being it all or doing it all the right way.  It’s about doing us for the glory of Him.

Peace isn’t just for the chosen.  It’s not just for a few.

It’s sitting there, right within reach, calling to us.  Asking us to be silent for just one moment and hear its call.

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Listen Please

I tend not to watch cable news anymore.  It gets me very agitated and angry and depressed and anxious.  But in the wake of the Ferguson grand jury decision, I decided it was time to venture into that brave new world.

I had so many opinions in the days after I turned on the television.  I wanted to share them.  I came to my computer to write them out.  And yet I could never hit publish because I couldn’t shake the sinking feeling that by writing, I was contributing more to the problem.  I was becoming someone who had a whole lot to say who hadn’t done a whole lot of listening.

I pretty much stuck to CNN during my news binge, and the number one thing that stuck out to me was that there was a whole lot of talking and yet not a single person listening.  Newscasters would interview people who would loudly and proudly state their claims, completely oblivious that any other opinions could exist.  And then they would interview someone with a different perspective who would loudly and proudly state their claims, just as oblivious to any other viewpoints as those who came before them.

And then they started interviewing experts and each other, and things just spun even further out of control.  Everything was black and white.  There was a clear good guy and a clear bad guy.  And every single person who had a microphone knew who that was without having heard the grand jury details or having been at the scene or even sometimes having had spoken to anyone at the scene.

But we all knew.   And we all could speak.  And none of us had to listen.  It didn’t matter on which side we came down.  We were right and there was no reason to seek out further truth.

And sadly, that it is where we are as a culture.  Anyone can find their fifteen minutes of fame.  Anyone can comment on a news article.  Anyone (yes even someone like me) can start a blog, and we all can talk.  And those of us who talk the most and incite the most passion are the ones who are heard the most.  We started out as a moderate culture with a few extremists, but the louder the extremists got, the less moderate the rest of us get.

And I spent years moderating debates in my college English classes.  One of the single hardest parts was teaching students to discuss the opposition’s viewpoint.  At first I thought it was just intellectual laziness that was blinding them to another side.  But slowly I started to realize that many of these young adults truly could not understand the viewpoints of the other side.  They didn’t even know what those viewpoint were.

And that’s where we stand right now as a culture.  We scream without listening.  We feel so entitled to our particular viewpoints that we don’t feel a responsibility to inform those viewpoints by listening to all sides.

But then as usual, I started to look closer to home.  I started to look within my own heart.  I have three little girls who like to talk a lot.  Enough that I doubt there have been thirty consecutive moments of silence when they are awake in years.  And usually they are speaking to me.

“Mama look at this…”  “Mama, did you know…” “Mama, guess what happened at school…”

And I can tell you that I try with every ounce of my being to listen to them.  To really and truly listen to them.  I think listening is one of the most important gifts we can give to those we love.  It allows us to know them and it allows them to be seen and heard.  After all, the easiest way to become invisible is to spend time in the company of those who won’t listen.

But even I, with my intense commitment to listening, find myself tuning out and casually shaking my head yes to a statement I barely heard or chuckling to a joke of which I didn’t catch the punch line.

And it makes me mad at myself.  That I fall into this trap.  That I do unto others what I so hate being done unto myself.

And when you start to look around, it’s everywhere.  It’s not only with our children and on the news.  How often are we in the middle of conversations where we barely hear what is being said because we are so committed to what we are going to say in reply?  How often do we disregard those who disagree with us as being ignorant or foolish when we truly haven’t taken the time and energy to fully listen to them and fully understand them even if we don’t agree?  And how many relationships have fallen into ruins when all we allow ourselves to hear are the insults while we close off our ears to the motivations or the pain behind them?

As with pretty much everything I ever write, I’m useless when it comes to solutions.  I don’t know how to fix the world.  I don’t know how to mend the broken that comes to a heart that gets isolated within itself when no one opens an ear to it.  All I know is that I can try to fix my own ears and my own heart, and I can commit every day to listen before I speak.  To seek to understand more than I seek to be understood.

But to be honest, even that is hard.  Because it is so hard to muster the humility to listen when you don’t feel heard.

But no one ever said that acting in love is supposed to be easy.  No one ever said it was painless.  All we are told is that in the end, it is what we are called to do.  To be love to each other.  To be Christ for each other.

And in most cases, the best way I know to do that is to open my ears and stand witness to the pain around me.  To hold space for the tears of a friend.  To listen to the pain behind the anger.  And to love anyway.

Always to love anyway.

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Comparisons

They say that comparing ourselves to others based upon social media is like comparing someone else’s highlight reel to our everyday.

If only I could get that to sink into my brain.

I’m a big fan of social media.  I consider myself a very social person, but I spend most of my days at home, and even when I have the opportunity to go out and mingle, I occasionally get shy, panic, and hide under the covers of my bed.  It sounds like an oxymoron – the shy social person or the socially anxious social person.  Then again, I might just be a moron.

But that’s where social media comes into play.  When I’m holed up inside my house and it’s bitter cold outside and I have a sick kid (or a slipped disk in my back as is currently the case,) I can go on Facebook, and I can remember that there is a whole wide world out there.

But a funny thing happens.  See, I go on Facebook during my most lazy moments, and I go on there, and I see highlights of my friends’ days.  And all of a sudden I don’t stack up.  I would like to think that I am more self aware and savvy than to fall into the traps of comparisons, but I am not.

I look around the mess and chaos of my house; I look at the pajamas I have been wearing all day; I think of all of the crafts we could have done or all of the books we could have read or all of the sensory tables I could have made, and suddenly I don’t add up.  It doesn’t matter if I have spent the day cleaning my house and being a regular old Martha Stewart.  I simply cannot add up to the visions other people paint of their lives through social media.

This had been my relationship with social media for quite some time, but then a funny thing happened.  I started to notice that people were doing the same mental gymnastics with me.  Yes me!  Imperfect, messy, chaotic, anxious, melancholic, spastic, crazy me.  People were seeing crafts that I had done and were comparing themselves negatively to me.  People were hearing about books I have read and were wondering why they couldn’t read as much.  People were hearing about my bi-annual cleaning episodes and were thinking me incredibly productive.

And again, I started to realize just how one-sided social media is.

And the thing is that I don’t know what to do now.  I find myself at a standstill.  I love to post pictures of the byproducts of my 15 minutes of weekly creativity.  I enjoy writing about my passions.  I enjoy sharing pictures of things that I have created.  And yet I don’t want to paint a false picture of myself.  Because I know that the 15 minutes of creating that I did stand in stark contrast to the other 23 hours and 45 minutes of my day.  I know those were my best 15 minutes.  But to others out there in Facebookland, that’s not always apparent.

There’s this saying that has always haunted me.  It says that we all have the same number of hours in a day and a week.  Often people use this to shame others.

If I can get to the gym for an hour a day, you should be able to as well.  After all, we all have the same number of hours in a week.

I always hated that saying.  After all, nothing good ever comes from shaming either ourselves or others.

But then I heard another interpretation of it.

We all have the same number of hours in a week.  Whenever we make a choice of what to say yes to, we have to say no to a whole host of other things.

To me, that idea is liberating.

Yes, I spend a lot of time tangled up in yarn.  I spend (usually, but not lately) a decent amount of time writing.  I have dance parties as often as possible with my kids.  I like teaching them to make things.  I like reading with them.  I like talking to them.

These are the things that I am good at.  They are the areas that I excel in.  They are near the top of my personal constellation of skills.

But for every book I read, there is a load of laundry that isn’t done.  And for every load of laundry that isn’t done, there’s a morning rush to find the clean socks or the clean uniform shirt.  For every Taylor Swift dance party we have, there is 15 minutes less to prepare dinner.  For every blog post, there is a room left uncleaned or a game left unplayed.

Because we all have to make choices every single day, and one of the most profound of those choices is how we spend our time.

And so next time I read about the dozens of books a friend goes through in a week or I hear about the amazing trips or the incredibly organized way she handles after school activities, I’m going to try my best to remember that that is her highlight reel.  That is where she excels.  I might not excel in those areas, and that is fine.

Because none of us can be it all.  None of us can do everything and be everything.  All we can be is good at some things, bad at some things, and plain old average at a whole slew of other things.

I wonder what would happen if each of us took every moment we spend negatively comparing ourselves to others and instead used that time to truly appreciate the gifts given to those around us.  How different would our worlds look if we were able to respond in awe and gratitude rather than with shame and negative comparisons?  If we saw beauty in others and we built up her rather than tore down ourselves?

I don’t know what that world would like, but I would bet it looks a whole lot better than this one we are currently residing in.

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Blessed

I’ve been sitting here for ten minutes trying to put into words what it is that I feel this evening.

But I can’t.

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Because I look at this picture, and I think of these girls, and I think of my life, and I look at my husband, and I can’t hear the words.  There is nothing to pass forth from these fingers through this keyboard and onto this screen because it’s a feeling.  A peace and a love and a comfort, and an overwhelming sense of being bathed in blessings that are beyond anything I could have imagined.

Life is beautiful.

Sometimes that very simple fact can get hidden in all the broken, but still, it is always there.  The simple, magnificent, magnanimous, eloquent beauty of it all.

Perhaps if we resided in this beauty too long it would burn us.  Perhaps that’s why it comes in moments.  Perhaps it’s just a glimpse of the beauty we will reside in one day over the rainbow.

I don’t know.  I don’t think any of us do.

I think all we can do is catch our breath, look up at the sky, and say “thank you.”

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