When You Are Stuck….

Last year, we began letting Grace drive the jet-ski a little bit.  We did this for several reasons, but the main one is that she is a spaz and needs all of the experience possible of handling bigger machinery without the risk of death.  As we changed positions and she took the driver’s seat, I said, “Do you see those birds standing in the water?  Do not go over there…it is too shallow.”  She replied, “Got it Mom!”  Five minutes later, we were in the sand, beside the birds, spitting out sand from the engine….we were stuck.

I love using this incident to convey the illustration of when we get stuck in life.  There are so many emotions that you go through when you are stuck.  Your mind races, you get frustrated, and you may panic.  There are also things that need to happen as you unstick yourself.

Don’t panic, you are not helpless.

When I was stuck on the sandbar with 2 fourteen-year-old girls, I could not panic.  I was the adult.  I had to remain calm, cool and collected while on the inside, I was thinking, “Crap!  What if we die out here?  We are in a freaking swamp and this could end up like Gilligan’s Island with no professor, just 2 teenagers!!!!”  I then looked around at where I was and began to devise a plan.  Also, I MAY have been stuck before and I got myself unstuck with time, patience, and work.

Do something.

“Alright girls.  Get off and start pushing.” I said.

“But….we can’t.  Jellyfish.”

“GET.OFF.AND.PUSH!!!” I demanded with gritted teeth and they did.

Despite their irrational fear of jellyfish, they pushed.

We kept pushing and pushing only to find more sand. Life is like that so many times.  We push and push and we feel like we are not getting anywhere so we give up.  We can’t.  Every push forward no matter how small is progress.

Find your sense of humor….do not lose your sense of humor. Especially when it gets worse before it gets better.

As we pushed in the sandy water that was up to our calves, we suddenly sunk in sand that went up to our armpits.  Screams!  Big Screams and all the curse words in my head…only in my head…because obviously quicksand is a real thing and I was the adult so I had to keep my s**t together.

As we were stuck in the quicksand, the jet ski came into deeper water and it began floating away.   I had two options.  To laugh or cry.  I laughed. (I have a tendency to laugh in the worst situations.)  We laughed as we continued to push emerging from the water like 3 swamp monsters giggling.  And after all the fear and screams, I was the only one that got stung by a jellyfish.  Laughing makes most situations lighter.  It has a tendency to take a load off even if it is temporary.

I know this illustration is superficial compared to the tragedies and incidents of life that can leave us stuck.  Death.  Sickness.  Divorce.  Financial Strain. Family. Kids. Work.  It isn’t always a big event, it can be a slow build-up of many things.  I talk to women often and there are so many times we are paralyzed with fear because we are stuck and we do not want anyone to know.  We cover it up with a smile, a wave, and an “I’m fine.”

No matter how stuck you are, you have to keep moving forward.  Sometimes you are moving really, really slow. So slow, you do not feel that you are getting anywhere.  Small movements add up to big movements.  Small movements make a life and produce growth.  Slowly, not quickly, the glue that has you stuck begins to loosen.  When things loosen, you find yourself in better water where you can navigate again and set yourself back on course.  When you look back on that stuck moment, no matter how much time it took to move through, it makes you stronger not because you didn’t sink but because you were the active part of becoming unstuck.

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Love. Respect. Work Ethic.

In my first year of being a principal, I learned so much…by making a tremendous amount of mistakes and dealing with a variety of students, parents, and teachers.  As student after student entered my office, parent after parent sat across from my desk, and teacher after teacher came in and out, I realized that most problems with students, parents, and teachers came down to two things.  Respect and Work Ethic.

As parents, our kids know that we love them.  We say it and we show it.  We do not claim to love perfectly.  Actually, our imperfect loving makes us more real than pretending we know it all.  Our girls have grown up with us apologizing for our mistakes, growing in our parenting, and being real and honest.  We hope to have provided them with a place to make mistakes and be who they have been created to be.  But many parents do not think that discipline is a part of love and we believe it is.

There is not an easy formula to parenting.  Parenting is THE HARDEST job that I have ever had.  Teaching is not easy but one of my strengths is taking a goal and breaking it into the smallest steps so that the goal is obtainable.  How could my husband and I raise two very different daughters to be loving, compassionate and independent?  As much as we love them, we want them to be self-sufficient, hardworking, and caring people that can take their place in whatever or wherever they choose to go.

As a mom, I looked at my parenting and decided to keep my expectations fairly simple.  I had been majoring in the minors A LOT…because when stress comes in I like to hold on to control the best that I can.  Since I am constantly evaluating myself in every role, I knew I needed to stop majoring in the minors and be very clear in my expectations with our daughters.

We sat the girls down and basically told them that there were two no- negotiables in our house.   These expectations were communicated with love and an established relationship.  Respect and Work Ethic.  Those two items are our only rules.

Respect Became a Non-Negotiable

We established “first-time obedience” in pre-school.  There was a day that my youngest (the one that we thought we would send to Military Pre-School) refused to hold my hand and ran out in a parking lot ONLY for the car to stop 6 inches from her.  In retrospect, I knew that I needed them to listen the first time I said something.  Not 3 times.  Not twice.  The first time.  Every moment is a teaching moment.  Whether it teaches you or your children.  They needed to learn respect now.  There wasn’t time to wait.  Just like myself, we would work on one or two of these at a time based on their developmental stages.

What it looked like:

  • First-time obedience means I do not repeat myself.
  • No means no. No matter how much you cry or throw yourself on the ground.
  • Take care of your things and appreciate them.
  • Manners matter. Yes ma’am.  No sir.    Thank you.  Always.
  • It is not what you say. It is HOW you say it.
  • Eye rolls and talking back are not allowed. Use your words and tone respectfully to disagree.  If not, I can think of many creative consequences.

Questions I use to get them to think about it:

  • Would you like to rewind and try saying it in a respectful way?
  • Was what you just said respectfully said to your sister? Could you say it again in a more respectful way? Thank you. (And if they couldn’t there would be consequences.)

 

In Caroline’s words:

“My mom and dad have always drawn the line with two things; work ethic and respect. At the same time, they have always expected those two things at all times. Nothing has changed. To me, respect is in a way, a type of appreciation for anyone. For example, in the Bowers household we are taught to use our manners.  We say Yes Ma’am, No Ma’am, Yes Sir, and No Sir.  My parents say it, too.  So far, respect has taken me a pretty long way in life including; in school, in the arts, and at home. One time I had so much going on inside of my head and I had no clue how to say it out loud to my mom. There wasn’t a way that I could’ve done it and she wouldn’t be mad. (So I thought) Finally, I just said it. But it came out with respect, and I just told my mom and she wasn’t angry with me. She was glad that I told her, but not only that, she was glad that I said it to her in a respectful way. From then on, we both have grown to respect each other every day, and yes we are not perfect, yes we don’t always have the best attitude, and yes we mess up sometimes, but at the end of the day, what really matters is our love for each other, our moments that we celebrate when we accomplish something, and what we do for each other.”

Work Ethic Became a Non-Negotiable

I am a mom that knows that she MUST prepare her children for the real world. I have seen so many kids fail at life because they just DO NOT KNOW HOW TO WORK.  Parents tend to their every need and do everything for them.  The key is that we were consistent and followed through every time.  We would also allow natural consequences to take place.

What it looked like:

  • They do their homework.
  • They make their beds.
  • They complete all projects.
  • They finish their job and I would call them back to do it.
  • They do it right or they do it again. (at age appropriate expectations)
  • I taught them how to study for their learning style.
  • Work hard then play hard.
  • They did not get an allowance. Everyone participates in our family. (They get paid when they get jobs outside of our house.)
  • Their responsibilities were not mine. (putting folder in book bag, putting things away, etc.)
  • If they were old enough to do it, they could do it. (draw their own bath, laundry, dishes, packing their own lunch)
  • Complaining about what is expected equals more work to do. You can work with a joyful heart or a mad one but you will still work.

Questions I would ask to get them to think about their work ethic:

  • How could you exceed expectations?
  • Look around, did you finish your job?
  • What do you think needs to be completed first?
  • How much time do you think this should take to be completed?
  • Should we set the timer? (to stay on task)
  • Would you like to rewind and respond differently to what I asked you to do? Thank you.
  • What are YOUR goals? How do you plan to meet those goals?

In Grace’s words:

“Work ethic is a steady trait that remains beneficial throughout all areas of life academically, personally, and athletically. Growing up with the expectation of a solid work ethic pushed me to not make excuses when faced with tough situations, but rather to suck it up and do the things I don’t want to do. Academically a strong work ethic pays off by completing homework and seeking extra help if needed, allowing positive test results. Athletically, a powerful work ethic pushes me to become stronger and better every time I step into the weight room or on the field. A strong work ethic carries you far in life and is easier to learn and apply if learned at a young age.  Developing it in small doses as I grew has helped me pace my work now that I am older.  I take my goals and work on them day by day and that hard work has paid off in school, at home, and on the field.”

Writing this blog has been very fun as we dissected and laughed over motivational moments that have grown and shaped them.  We use questions to get them to think about what and why they are doing something and give them a chance to go back and correct it so they learn to do it well.  Love, respect, and work ethic build upon one another but are so closely related.  We are still in the thick of learning these lessons but the foundation has been laid.  We are now “gradually releasing responsibility” to them…. and that will need to be another blog for later.

 

 

Breaking Out…My Eating Disorder Story

I do not remember being called fat.  I  DO remember hearing women talk about so and so being fat or how much weight so and so put on.  It always seemed to be the topic of conversation when I was a little girl.  I was a dancer and a baton twirler at a young age so maybe that is what people talked about in that circle.  I do remember looking down at my thighs in second grade, spread on the chair, and thought, “My legs are big.”  From then on, I tried to hide them.

I grew fast and quick.  I was 5’3” tall in fifth grade.  I had stretch marks from that growth that I would hate for the longest time.  I was called “big boned” and “broad”.  My mother used to say, “Nikki can’t fit into that…she is just too broad.”  To me, it meant that I was too big.  It seemed that I was too much of a lot of things and not enough of most things.  Too slow.  Not fast.  Too average.  Not smart.  Too goofy.  Not serious.  Too much energy.  Not focused.

In high school, I walked into the weight room one day.  It was empty so my friend and I decided to box squat.  We had seen it done but had never tried.  We kept putting on the weight.  160, 180, 200, and the numbers kept climbing.  260 pounds was starting to get harder.  When the guys walked in they began to joke, “What are you going to do…try out for wrestling?”  Can you imagine if the response was different?  But it wasn’t.  Every girl in the 80’s was expected to look like a twig.

That summer before my senior year of high school I worked as a lifeguard.  One day as I jumped off the diving board, a fellow lifeguard commented on how I looked like a “wrestler”.  That is when I decided…I needed to lose weight.

Nobody begins a diet, drinks alcohol, or experiments with drugs thinking, “I can’t wait to be addicted to this.”  Yet, this is how it happens.  For me, it began as trying to lose 10 pounds.  I changed the way I ate and it came off easily.  Then it was 5 pounds more….then another 5 pounds… People began saying kind things to me that they had never said before.  “Wow!  You look good!”  Even my mom complimented my weight improvement.

The shift began slowly, deep inside my head.  5 more pounds became a challenge and something that I had complete control over.  Every eating disorder patient will tell you of a different high they would get.  My high came from being empty.  The longer I could be empty, the more euphoria I had.  It is when I felt the best.  However when I ate I would learn that I could make myself throw up.  This gave me more options.  I had control.  And control is what I love.  I could be empty whenever I wanted.  This emptiness created a prison that would be ALMOST impossible to escape.

I became a Christian right after graduation.  I was hoping that God would heal me instantly.  Healing like this does not happen from a lightening bolt from the sky.

I thought about it day and night.  Would I eat?  Would I not?  If I did, could I throw it up?  Did I need laxatives?  How many calories?  When would I run?  When my parents needed milk, I would run to the store and run home with the milk.  I ran in the middle of the night if I could not sleep.  I slept with weights buckled around me (my own contraption) hoping it would make my stomach flat.

In 1.5 years of dieting, my body weight was cut in half.  My hair was falling out.  I was addicted to laxatives.  I used a variety of objects to shove down my throat to engage my gag reflex.  And I was not finished losing weight!  I had 5 more pounds to go.  Just 5 more.

I had been too weak to finish playing Fall Ball for softball in collegel. I was lucky to finish exams.  On December 17, 1990, my dad took me to a special eating disorder unit in Baltimore.  I screamed at him not to leave me because I wasn’t finished losing weight.  He looked back with tears in his eyes and left.   It was a place where I would be “fixed”.

I did not return to college and lost the scholarships that I had.  I was the youngest woman on the unit and I finally felt understood.  I didn’t have to explain myself.  I did not have to hide my addiction.  In this unit, you had to gain 1 pound a day.  If you did, you had privileges, if you did not, you had to stay in the common room and could not go back to your room, use the phone, or have visitors.  On Christmas day, my friend Ann and I were the only ones not allowed privileges.  We sat in the common room and watched everyone have Christmas.  I remember thinking, “How could my life get any worse than this?”  Yet, it did.

Nobody from my family showed up for family therapy…..because we did not have any problems.  It was my problem.   My brother was a drug addict and I almost died from my eating disorder but we were all good!  I went to individual therapy where the doctor just stared at me, I talked, nothing was really solved, and time was up. I went to group therapy where we talked about our body image and I was encouraged to “let my feelings out”.  I was given Prozac to help my OCD tendencies.  I was on my way to recovery…or that is what everyone thought.  Actually, the thought was, “If you just eat, you will be fine.”

Being in a hospital where they make your food, watch you eat your food, take your meds, watch you go to the bathroom, talk about your feelings….that is the easy part. You then have to go back to your dysfunctional family that never visited you in the hospital and live it out.  That wasn’t going to be challenging at all.  Not at all.

After 2.5 months in the hospital, I was released to go home.  I really cannot put into words what happened but in one month, I lost 15 pounds again.   In a heated argument with my mother, I told her what I had wanted to tell her since kindergarten. I finally “let my feelings out.”  It was the best feeling in the world.  However, it landed me out of the house with some belongings in a trash bag.  I was kicked out of the house.

That was the moment I realized that getting better was my responsibility.  Recovery was up to me.  I couldn’t blame anyone for where I was at this point (which was pretty low).  I had to make decisions every day to get better.  This was also the time where my friends became my family.  I moved in with my childhood best friend.  Her mom loved on me the way I needed.  She always had dinner and then you were expected to clean up and not throw up.  It was soooo hard.  But slowly I gained some confidence.  I took a year off of school and worked three jobs.  After several months of minimum wage jobs, I decided that getting my degree is what I needed to do.  I did not have any money.  I had my work ethic, my determination, and a glimmer of my sense of humor.  I slowly began to rebuild my life.

Every step forward seemed to push me two steps backward.  It seems that “just eating” doesn’t get rid of the demons that caused the disorder.  There was a lot of work and pain to process. I had to unlearn the bad habits and relearn the healthy habits.  The magic pill of Prozac had to be taken regularly. And I would not do that. That left me suicidal and participating in self-mutilation.   The demons and I battled every day.  Some days I won, some days they won.

From the outside, I looked “fine”.  If you asked me, “I was fine.”  Everyone expected me to be fine.  So to please everyone….I was.  I hid my wounds and became a master of this.  I participated in the life everyone expected me to do but inside I fought a battle every hour to keep myself sane and fed.

When you are a perfectionist and people pleaser this is what you do.  I had food rituals that could not be disturbed and I constantly fought the question, “Do I rent this or own it?”

I filled my life with work and school.  I went to school full time and worked three jobs. This busyness kept me structured.  But it also kept me from eating.

There were pivotal moments in my recovery that made me realize that life was worth fighting for daily.  My dad pleading for me to live made me choose small goals to heal for good.  Getting my first teaching job made me realize that I had to be fueled to keep up with elementary school students.  Meeting my husband that knew all my brokenness and said, “I love you anyway” and encouraged me to lift because my body was so strong made me want to be better.  Becoming pregnant when they did not think it was possible was another milestone.  Having two girls back to back made me want a different childhood and healthier perceptions for them both.  I knew I had to heal so they would have better.

I have learned to give myself grace to not be okay.  I have learned that recovery is not perfect and takes a long time.   Relapse happens but it does not have to be a downward spiral to undo how far you have come.  I have learned that being honest about my struggle helps others.  I have learned that I have wasted so many years obsessing over the expectations that others have for me instead of discovering my own.

It has been 27 years.  I am still trying to figure out so many things.  Life is not fair for anyone.  We are dealt a family and their choices have consequences.  We make choices and every choice has consequences.  There were many days that death looked better than what I was facing.  And every time in that loneliness and despair, God showed up.  From the outside, it would not look miraculous but when I was on my knees pleading for a better way, I would always find the strength to rise.  God would guide me to paint beauty with the ashes.

If someone were to call me a wrestler now, it would be the biggest compliment.  I am a strong woman.  I have muscles.  My body can do amazing things.  My confidence and self-acceptance does not come from people’s admiration.  It comes from me knowing that I have worked my a** off mentally, physically, and emotionally to be standing here today.

I love the life and family we have created.  If someone would have told me that I would be standing here with the confidence and strength I have now I would have never believed it was possible.  Because my brain was hard wired in a certain way and critical elements were not met when I was growing up, I believe that I will always be fighting my demons.  The only difference now is that my winning streak is so much better and my armor is more complex.  The past 40 years have been spent fighting to unlearn and undo things while breaking out of a prison that I created.  The next 40 years?  They will be spent living in the freedom I fought so hard to have.

What Can Your Body Do?

I survived bathing suit shopping with my teenagers.  Let us pause for a moment of silence and ponder why they do not sell wine in fitting rooms for moms.  For years I have been taking them both shopping separately because they are both so different.  One grew tall before she grew out and the other grew out before she became taller.  My thinking this year was that everyone is the same size and at a good place mentally so this should be easier.

I was wrong.  Very wrong.  We left sullen, grouchy, tired, and I was just sad.

How is it that when women look at themselves in the mirror, we feel such self-hatred?  No matter the progress that we make, it is never enough.  IT IS NEVER ENOUGH.

We constantly hear:

  • Low carb? No carb?  More carbs?  Paleo?  Gluten free?
  • In six weeks you can look like this if you do this.
  • Try this drink.
  • Put this in your coffee.
  • Eat eggs. Don’t eat eggs.
  • Do cardio.
  • Lift weights.
  • Eat this. Do not eat that.
  • That food is bad. That food is good.
  • I cheated.

And we will do almost ANYTHING if we think it will work and work fast.

Soooooooo…..everybody should look the same?  Everybody should do the same thing.

I am not buying it anymore.  I quit this craziness.  I have been in the process of quitting this craziness for 27 years because that is how long it takes me to grow.  I am always in the slow lane of progress and I am really okay with that.

I would like to offer a solution for you. THIS IS NOT A SOLUTION YOU WILL SEE ON A MAGAZINE COVER. It is a different way of thinking to help you in your process of self-acceptance right where you are now.  Let’s turn the focus from the numbers and what we look like to the question I ask myself every morning:

WHAT CAN YOUR BODY DO?

I believe our bodies are fearfully and wonderfully made.  I believe that we are more than the number on a freaking scale and a pair of jeans.  We were created to do amazing things with our bodies and our minds.  Why do we not celebrate what we can do?

I began this conversation last year with our girls and I will continue to refocus them when caught up in the superficiality of their looks.  I, too, am just as guilty AND I REALIZE IT.  Once you realize it, you have to look at how you can change it.  Soooo…

WHAT CAN YOUR BODY DO?

  • I can get out of bed in the morning.
  • I can walk down the steps pain-free.
  • I can play ball with my crazy dog.
  • I can do “the worm” when I dance.
  • I can pull weeds and mulch my yard.
  • I can change all the light bulbs in my house.
  • I can do push-ups and pull-ups.
  • I skateboard.
  • I surf.
  • I can jump on a trampoline and sometimes not pee my pants.
  • I can jump rope and sometimes not pee my pants.
  • I can squat both my daughters at the same time.
  • I can also wrestle them to the ground. (Yes, we do that for fun….don’t ask.)
  • I can walk on my hands.
  • I can run but I do not like to do it.
  • I can move better now than I did 5 years ago.
  • I can swim.
  • I can jump off cliffs.
  • I had two beautiful girls when I was told that I would never have children.
  • I have recovered from an eating disorder.
  • My digestive system is finally on track and has made great strides.
  • My migraines have improved.

This is what I celebrate.  We have two ways to always look at our life…what we have or what we do not have.  What we do not have can push us and motivate us but it can also debilitate us.  I am always forced to change the way I think before I set goals and begin working to get there.

While I am raising two girls, I pray that they will not have an eating disorder.  It is one of my biggest fears.  And yes, it could happen.  Easily.  I am pushing against the current of society, social media, and my past to help create healthy thought patterns.  However, it is their process that they have to do.  Only they can do this.  It is one of the realities of letting them grow up and realizing they need to own their thoughts because our thoughts become actions.

So here is one of my speeches or “Motivational Moments”…

“Ladies, look at you.  Really look at yourself.  You are beautiful.  That beauty shines from the inside.  And as we look in the mirror do you see all the possibilities that you can do?  One of you is made for a completely different purpose than the other.  So why compare?  Grace, you were made to run.  In order to do that you need strong legs with muscles.  In order to compete and do what is asked of you, you are going to need to be physically strong in all areas, mentally and physically.  Look at how far you have come already.  Look at what your body can do!!!  Caroline, you sing.  You need a completely different skill set and training.  Why would you expect to be anything like your sister?  You will need to train your talents differently.  Will you need to be strong?  Yes, but for different reasons. You will need to be able to sing and dance at the same time.  You will need lung capacity and different training.  GO and DO YOUR THING.  YOUR THING.  Go and use the body and talents you have been given to accomplish your purpose.  You are just getting started.  BUT ALWAYS….ALWAYS…celebrate what your body can do for you every day.  Feed it well.  Celebrate how you can move.  Celebrate the small things it does that we take for granted and the big things, too.  You are so much more than your reflection.  You are more than the number on that tag.  You were created for something amazing.  Go do it.”

Daughter:  It is really hard.

Me: I know.  If I could prevent you from going down my path, I would.  But it is your journey.  I just want the words you say to yourself to be the ones that pull you together not unravel you more.

And just like each of us, they have to work through their insecurities, anxieties, and comparisons to celebrate what their bodies can do.

WHAT CAN YOUR BODY DO?

 

 

 

 

This is 45.

45 is knowing the value of life and death.

It is knowing till death do us part and in sickness and health can and will happen.

It is watching your daughters grow up to be young women that can think for themselves.

45 is growing a 2-inch chin hair overnight.

It is knowing that you are good enough for where you are right now.

It is looking in the mirror and seeing the woman you are and the woman you are growing into.

It is forgiving yourself.

It is drenching your PJ’s in the middle of the night because HOT FLASHES are from the inner depths of your soul.

45 is for real friendships that show up.

It is being scared and brave simultaneously.

It is a smaller and more intimate circle of friends.

It is saying no.  Simply no.

It is spontaneous lunches.

45 is planning 3 months out to see your friends because our kids are busy and we are driving them.

It is knowing you are going to have wrinkles but deciding if they are going to be frown lines or laugh lines.

45 is not needing to explain yourself.

It is setting boundaries in relationships, work, and commitments.

It is deep conversations and tears.

45 is knowing you color outside the lines and owning it.

It is walking away from toxicity whether it is family or friends.

It is for doing hard things in all areas of your life.

It is listening to your gut when you know someone is bats**t crazy and running away from the situation.

It is knowing your character flaws and working on them.

It is questioning everything you were told to believe and looking for the truth.

45 is finding gray hair everywhere.

It is a time to stop fake compliments, superficiality, and small talk.

It is knowing you are not fine and being able to say it.

It is enjoying your own company.

45 is giving yourself time and grace to grow.

It is staying in your lane and living the life YOU have been given.

It is gradually releasing responsibility to your children and watching them grow and fail through it.

45 is your kids knowing you are having sex and not worrying about them knowing it anymore.

It is a time to finally heal some wounds.

It is using discernment with how you spend your time.

It is fixing the things that are broken instead of getting something new.

It is knowing that tomorrow is NEVER guaranteed.

45 is for eating carbs and fat.  It is eating to support the lifestyle you lead.

It is cheering younger women on.

It is laughing so hard you pee your pants.

It is knowing that your life sucks and is great all at the same time.

Ready or not….45 is coming.  I like what I am becoming slowly.  This is 45.

 

 

 

Doubt In The Darkness

Almost every night I get up in the middle of the night.  I am not sure if it is my age or that I have always struggled with sleep.  When I wake up, I usually go downstairs and get a drink.  There are two things I never do when this happens: I do not turn on the lights and I do not open my eyes.  I do this because, in my crazy reasoning process, I think it will help me go back to sleep quicker.

Although my house is familiar in the dark, it is inevitable that I step on a dog bone left behind, I turn before I should for the steps, or I “hulk” stomp the last step thinking that there is one more.  No matter what, I move cautiously, hesitantly, and quietly.  I do the same thing in life when the darkness overcomes me.

Because I have always struggled with anxiety and fought depression periodically in life, the darkness is not new to me.  I have learned several lessons in the darkness and if you are there, I hope that it can give you some hope.

Sometimes the darkness comes because it is situational.  Something spurs it on and although you think you are processing it and handling it well…all of a sudden you are not.  It catches you off guard and there you are in the darkness sometimes spiraling and sometimes it is a slow fade.  At this stage of my life, I brace for it and it STILL takes me by surprise. ( I am okay, I am okay…NO, I am not.)

The other way darkness can engulf me is based on really no rhyme or reason, I just become stuck.  I know it is most often chemical and I have to reach out for the help needed to get me through those times, too.  Post-partum with both girls was no joke.  My eating disorder was never ending.  So what does one do when they are in the darkness?  You do not have to say what you do.  I will go first.

I can’t see.  I get scared.  I have doubts.

Shewwwww….that wasn’t so bad.

I doubt my abilities.  I doubt my emotions.  I doubt my past.  I doubt my present.  I doubt my future.  I doubt my relationships.  I doubt where God is in the situation.  I doubt my decisions.  When I am in the darkness I doubt the big and small things.  I know we do not talk about this kind of thing.  But we should.  You are not alone and there is hope.

Recently, someone that thinks they know me well questioned where I was in my faith.  I thought it was very bold of them since we have never had a real life conversation but they read my blog.  That is the reality that exists if you put yourself out there.  I want to share what I have learned and it has grown me.

When I have doubts where God is in my present situation, I feel guilty.  I think, “I must not be good enough.  I should be a better Christian than that.  I am horrible.”  I slowly pull away from what I know because of guilt and shame.  Guilt is an emotion that I deal with often and it dances in my life with doubt, anxiety, and depression.  It is quite the four-person dance team that plays quite the illusion.

I have recently been looking at the time right before Jesus was hung on the cross.  We like to skip to the part of the resurrection and celebrate the good but we often forget the darkness that occurred before that.  In the garden he struggled with what he was asked to do.  He knew the reason and what was ahead, he would pay for all sins by being separated from God so we would not.  We need to remember the darkness before the light.  And in our darkness, God is still there, even in my doubts.

I have learned that I must be an active participant.  I do not know why life is so hard.  I do not always know the reason for the darkness. When I can’t see God, I look for Him.   I have been angry with God many times in my life and asked, “Why have you forsaken me?”  It is so easy to blame God for not caring.  I pull away from God.  I turn my back.  Many times I have stopped praying because I feel He doesn’t hear or care about my prayers.  In my broken human condition, I doubt God’s love.

As I trudge through the darkness I walk cautiously, hesitantly, and quietly, but I do walk.  I do look.  When I do not see anything, I still hope.  I hope because in my past darkness, I have always found the light.  It may not have been how I wanted it to happen.  It never is.  The struggle in the journey is not about appreciating happiness.  The struggle is about growing in wisdom.  Every time I fight my way through the darkness, I come out stronger and wiser.  I am more appreciative of everyone’s struggle.  I love better.

God has my heart and because He does, He seems to chase me down.  It always comes back to God.  I have said it before and I will say it again….I do not speak Christianese.   I simply know that God has transformed me slowly in the past 25 years despite my doubt, anxiety, fear, and lack of faith.  God uses broken imperfect people to accomplish His purpose.  Never in the Bible did Jesus scan the room for the most spiritual person and say, “Hey you!  You are so perfect!  Good job, now I can use you!!”  God uses all parts of us…the good and the bad.  He will use your strengths, your failings, and failures.  Your mess will always be your message.  And that is what I know in the darkness.  I know I will learn.  I know my heart will grow.  And I know that God will use the struggle to understand the life I have been given better and help me connect to others in a new way.

 

 

BOLDLY Stepping Into 2017

I had one thing on my Christmas list.  I wanted RED cowboy boots.  RED.  BRIGHT RED.

John: Red?

Me: Yes.

John: Red?

Me: Stop asking me that.  Yes. Red.  This coming year is the year to be BOLD.

BOLD.

I am BOLDLY kicking 2016 out of the way and BOLDLY walking into 2017.

I do not have high expectations of 2017.  We enter it with a series of tests for John and decisions to be made.  I am taking what I have learned in the past two years and applying it to every part of my life.

I live in the “I DO NOT KNOW.”

Is John better?  I do not know.  Will he need surgery?  I do not know.  Has Grace decided on a college?  I do not know.  What are your plans for the weekend?  I do not know.   You are not working, are you going back?  I do not know.

All of this used to scare me.  It used to render me speechless and riddle me with anxiety.  But now…”I do not know” has turned into a very good thing.  “I do not know” forces you to ask really hard questions about your life, the people in it, and yourself.  There is really so much that we do not know but we like to pretend that we do.  I do not have to do that anymore.  That is really very freeing.  Now I am asking questions:

  • Do I really want to do that?
  • Is that really true?
  • Is that really necessary?
  • Does that really matter?
  • What do I want to do about that?
  • Do I really care?

I now answer to 2 things.  I answer to God and my family.  My friends know this and respect that.  My circle of friends is small and they have watched this slow growth of realization.  Some people think I am rude.  That is okay.  I say no without an explanation and I refer to the questions above.

I am BOLDLY living in the “I do not know.”

I am silencing the critics that do not matter.

I have critics.  These critics are in my family and some used to be friends.  I also have critics in my mind that have been implanted since childhood.  The critics of “guilt” and “shame” that motivated me to please others, live my life to please them, and at the same time I learned to place my value on whether they approved or not.   I have been working on silencing the critics that do not matter.

Some critics do matter.  These people are the people that truly care about you and can speak truth and love to you.  They are my husband, close friends, and mentors.  They have a way of doing this because I know that they unconditionally love me and care for me.  They have been in the trenches with me.  They showed up.  They didn’t ask me to be something I am not and patiently waited as I slowly grew.  They have cheered me on and hugged me hard.  They want the best for me and have shown it over and over again.

The other critics do not matter.  The people that think they know me but do not.  The people that want me to be something that I am not and never will be.  The people that sit behind a computer and read into things that are not there.  Some of these people have told me that they loved me and taught me to love based on conditions.  Those people left me miserable and hating myself.   I do not do this anymore.  I do not participate.  I do not engage.  I do not put them down or talk about them.  I just move on.

I have BOLDLY removed the critics.

I laugh a lot….at all the things…because life is so very short.

I am stuck in middle school and that kind of humor cracks me up.  Having that kind of humor and not being uptight about it has helped my relationship with my kids.  They will tag me on Instagram with things that they find hilarious and think I will too.  I like to play jokes on people, especially my kids.  I like to belly laugh to the point of not being able to breathe.  I also laugh at things I shouldn’t.  I have used humor to get me through the worst moments of my life.  John and I have used humor to help pull us out of situations that are heart wrenching.   I joke about myself and I can take a joke and not get offended.  Laughing every day helps me feel more human.

I am going to laugh more….BOLDLY.

I am going to love big and give more grace.

You cannot go through the past two years without something having changed deep inside of you.  At the end of the day I have to ask myself, “Does my husband know how much I love him?  Did I show him today?” because there is a reality that he might not wake up.  “Do my kids know that I love them and did I show them today?” That doesn’t mean I gave them everything they wanted.  I just need to make sure I am following everything up with an appropriate “I love you” or “I am sorry.” (just in case I lost my s%*t on them that day).

So many people talk about living every day like it is their last but there are not many people that really do.  Our family does NOT take every day for granted.  And when you REALLY have to live that way you can get REALLY impatient with the people that do not.  We do not know.  We really do not.  I need to give grace to the people that have not had to figure that out yet.  I need to be more patient with them.

I am going to BOLDLY love and give grace.

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I am getting my red cowboy boots on and boldly stepping into 2017.  Head up.  Chin up.  Smiling  I have grown.  It is time to apply these lessons boldly and brilliantly….ready or not…here I come.

 

Learning To Wait Well

“Don’t pray for patience girl….you will get yourself into a hot mess that will never end.” This was advice from an older teacher that I worked with in Baltimore.  I was young.  She was not.  She had stories, scars, and a sense of humor that would make me pee my pants.  I thought I knew it all like most 20 somethings.  Her words of wisdom stuck with me over 20+ years.  I never, ever, ever, prayed for patience….but here I am.

I am a fixer.  If you are ever in a situation with me that calls for a cool head and a plan of attack, I am your woman.  I got it covered.  I do all of the things….as long as there is control.  But what about when there isn’t?  Have you ever realized how much of life is not in our control?  Health?  Death?  People’s actions?  Consequences?  We really do not control as much as we would like to think.

I have learned that for me there is a process that I go through when I am given bad news that is not something I can control.  The teacher in me likes to break things down to the smallest parts, analyze them, and put them back together in a way that I can understand it better.  There is a process of waiting that I have learned to work through.  This is not researched, it has just been experienced and I have a feeling I may not be the only person that struggles with this.

Denial

This can’t be happening.  Are you serious?  No.  No.  I do not accept this.  This can’t be right.  We will get a second opinion.  We can try this.  Or this.  What about this?  No.

I frantically search my brain to see if it can be solved despite being told that it can’t.  I stay in this mode for however long it takes trying to solve a problem that I can’t solve.  I like to spin my wheels and that leads to the next phase.

Frustration

Last year our crazy dog was on a leash and he ran after something taking my middle finger with him while I stayed where I was.  He actually broke my finger but when everyone standing there asked me if I was okay, I said, “Yeah…I am fine.”  I got in the car and I let the &%$# fly.  Holy macaroni!  It freaking hurt!!!!  This is the second part.  We have a lot on the inside that is going on more than we let the outside see.

You realize that you do not have control and the emotions begin to settle.  Anger, sadness, exasperation, exhaustion, regret, grief, and the list goes on.  Many times through our insistence that “WE ARE FINE!”, we really are not.  This is where the struggle is because this part is the part that we often try to skip but it is the area where we grow the most.

We like to go to from denial to pulling up our big girl pants and dealing with it.  I get it.  I do it.  BUT, I am learning that those emotions are real and they need to be expressed and felt especially in a life changing event.  This is coming from someone that has stuffed things for over 30+ years.

“I am okay.  I am okay.  I am okay…” isn’t a coping mechanism.  It is still denial.

I am the worst at feeling the feelings.  I am learning that it is healthy and necessary to allow yourself to work through this process on your time table…not somebody else’s.  As a mom, I want my girls to know that it is okay to have feelings and emotions.  What we do with them and how we respond are two different things.

During this process, I also look for the good.  I celebrate small things when I can.  Dinner together as a family.  I savor it. My husband reaching for my hand to hold.  Hope.  Both girls in a good mood at the same time. Bingo.  One girl in a good mood. I will take it.  No dogs eating a piece of the house.  Yay.  Simple things become the most important and the most appreciated.   Looking for the good helps you to balance out the bad.

I am learning to feel these feelings and I do not need a safe space, just a few good friends and a physical outlet to express myself.  I need a place to entertain my “What if’s…” and a short pity party.  Those emotions come and go and leave you feeling stronger because it takes you to the next part.

True Surrender

After you have felt the hurt, anger, frustration, regret, guilt, etc. you begin to look around and see that that pain didn’t destroy you.  It hurt.  It was hard.  And you can handle hard things.  You learn that no matter what the outcome is…you will be okay. There is a peace that comes upon you.  That peace makes the struggle worth it.  It will change you…it always does.  But you will have grown.  It always hurts before you grow.

Wait on a test. Patience. Wait on an appointment.  Patience.  Wait on results.  Patience.  Wait to see if you are healing.  Patience. Wait on more appointments.  Patience.  Wait on a plan of action.  Patience. Waiting on answers. Patience.

I have realized that we spend most of our life in the waiting process.  We wait on things constantly.  The small waiting develops you for the big trials of waiting which gives you confidence.  I see this process in the smallest moments to the biggest moments.  I have learned that every moment matters to teach us and guide us for something bigger.  Be realistic and celebrate what you can and mourn what is lost.  You will be okay.  You are still here.  You are still fighting.  You are still waiting. You are developing patience.

 

 

My Kid Is Not Great

 

I thought it was bad when I was 16 and was learning to teach swim lessons.  A parent said to me after their child refused to sit on the wall, swim, or stay at the pool, “We never say no to our child.  It is not a nice word.”

I thought it was bad when I was asked to change a grade from an F to a D during my first year of teaching because we didn’t give “F”’s even though the child did nothing.

I thought it was bad when a sophomore got her feelings hurt when I was coaching volleyball when I said, “They do not pay me enough to shag your volleyballs….hustle.”  The parent said I was OBVIOUSLY in it for the money.

But no…it has become worse.  Much worse.  Look around…do we really think this behavior is acceptable?  Parents…we are to blame.

We Reward Mediocrity

I cannot tell you how many times parents came into my office when I was a principal and told me how smart their child is because they can download an app.  No.  Your child is not smart because they can push buttons…so just stop.

Yay!  You did a chore. Reward.  Yay!  You were well behaved.  Reward.  Yay!  You participated.  Reward.

We are limiting our kids because we reward everything.  What happened to knowing you did your best just because it was expected?  What happened to internal motivation?

There Isn’t Any Delay of Gratification

There is nothing to look forward to or aspire to in childhood.  Kids get to do everything now.  All stars in minor league?  Yep.  Three teams of all stars?  Yep.  Eighth grade formal…let’s act like it is prom.  Kindergarten graduation?  Let’s dress them in robes and celebrate that they know their letters!

We have bought into the idea that kids have to have everything now and when they do, why would they have to work for it?  If you get to experience everything, what do you get to day dream about or work towards?

Kids Lie…Stop Believing Everything They Say

Kids will do whatever it takes to get out of trouble and work.  Be aware that your child is VERY capable of lying.  It is not always the other person. Kids are manipulative.  Very manipulative.

The World Does Not Revolve Around You

In the big bad world of adults…

  • You get your feelings hurt.
  • You do things that are not fun. Most of your day is not fun.
  • You do things that are gross.
  • You do things that require work with nobody giving you a sticker…it is just your job…so you do it.
  • Nothing is free.
  • You are responsible for you.  Don’t blame others.
  • Own your mistakes.
  • Fail forward.
  • Life is boring and mundane.
  • Details matter.
  • You have to finish your job.
  • You are not in control.
  • There are MANY THINGS YOU DO NOT KNOW!!!
  • You have to start at the bottom. Every single time.

What are we doing now to prepare our kids for this?  There shouldn’t be a new flash at the age of 23 because that is what is happening and they do not have ANY COPING skills to deal with this.

And here is the BIG NEWS FLASH:

STOP EXPECTING SCHOOLS TO DO THIS!!!!!  IT IS YOUR JOB AS A PARENT!!!!!!! 

My kids are not great.  They are average.  They have talents and they have AT TIMES been big fish in small ponds.  Not anymore.  Both girls know that anyone can be a middle school super star, but work ethic, hustle, and personal responsibility get you where you need to be in life.  AND…there is always someone better working just as hard.

Scenario 1:

Daughter: “Mom…I do not understand my Math.”

Me: ”I wasn’t in class.  That is your job.  I have my degrees and I got them by myself.   How can you figure it out?” (Besides she has passed me with math.)

Daughter: “It is hard.  I can’t do this… The teacher…. I am not good at this….”  Insert sobs, kicking of feet, etc.

Me: “Pity Parties are fine for about 20 minutes MAX.  Then, get over yourself and be a problem solver.  Let me know how it goes.”

Drops mic.

She gets on Kahn Academy…..teaches herself….does not get F.

Scenario 2:

Daughter at 12: “I want to play midfield.  I do not want to play defense.”

Me: “Play defense. You do not get to choose where you play.  Learn to play defense the best. You are not consistent as a midfielder.  You have to work harder and get better.”

Daughter crying: “But, it is hard.  I deserve to be a mid fielder.”

Me: “No. No you do not.  You are not the coach.  Play where you are put.  Complaining isn’t going to make you better, working hard is, so suck it up and stop being a pussy (yes, I said that, notice mom of the year trophy doesn’t exist).  You do not get your way just because you want it.  AND EVEN WHEN YOU WORK AT IT DOESN’T MEAN SOMEONE IS NOT BETTER THAN YOU!!!”

I hope I am not the only mom having these conversations.  I know people are doing it better than me and more articulate.  After working with kids from the ages of 3-Early 30’s over the course of 20 years, I can guarantee one thing…..my kids will not be spoiled brats.  I love them too much to allow that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nope…We Are Not With Her

Over the last weeks, we have had some amazing conversations in our house.  I want my girls to think.  I want them to make decisions.  I want them to be strong on a variety of different levels.  I want them to choose their role models wisely because I believe strong women can help grow my daughters and challenge them.  They are at the age that they need to select them.  Hillary Clinton is not a role model for my daughters.

The standard that which our family holds itself to is the Bible.  I do not go around speaking Christianese or quoting scripture.  It is not my jam.  But when my character comes up short, I look to the Bible, not what others are doing or not doing to point me in the direction I need to grow.  We do this as a family.

Also, when choosing people to align ourselves with, we need to choose wisely.

Last year, we were having some wonderful “motivational moments” that seemed to consist of selfishness, negativity, and dishonest behavior.  When we are out of check, we do not compare ourselves to Hollywood, social media, or friends.   We take it to scripture.  We let that step on our toes.

As a mom and 2 daughters, we dove into Proverbs 31:10-31.  My favorite verse that I recite to the girls as we turn into school on 2 wheels most mornings is “She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.”  I claim it as my life verse.

This passage is about the wife of noble character. I asked the girls to read it and as we read it, we compiled a list of characteristics of this strong woman described in the Bible.  This is the list we compiled:

  • Noble
  • Practices Discernment
  • Physically Strong
  • Speaks with kindness
  • Wise
  • Selfless
  • Dependable
  • Smart
  • Trustworthy
  • Creative
  • Resourceful
  • Multi-tasks
  • Giving
  • Positive Attitude
  • Prepared
  • Put Together
  • Sense of Humor
  • Loyal
  • Honest
  • Provider

This is the character traits I want my girls to aspire to and when choosing a role model, I want them to use this as a guide.  Nobody is perfect.  We look at this list and see areas we do well and areas we need to grow.  In our house, honesty and trustworthy are at the base of all healthy relationships.  Integrity is hard to gain and easy to lose.  I want my girls to know what they believe and why they believe it.  I want them to hold their ground, but be able to listen to others and be respectful.  I want them to choose their friends and allies wisely. The question was asked:  Would you choose Hillary Clinton to be in your corner?

The girls responded quite simply.  No. She is not a role model at all.  She has worked hard but we have to question how she did it.  She doesn’t know what she believes.  She is not a role model.  Just because she is a woman does not give her good character and does not mean we follow her blindly. We can find much better role models.

Nope…we are not with her and we never were.