A message to myself, on ‘The Day After’—My Messy Beautiful

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To my heartbroken 16-year-old self;

 

There are some things I need you to know on this quiet morning as you lay in the dark.  To begin with, the answer is yes.  It really happened.  All of it.  That moment right before, when you were laughing and making plans for that night and trying to find your new Alanis Morissette tape.  That moment you felt a bump as the tires left the pavement.  When the car was suddenly back on the road and even more suddenly leaving the road again.  When you saw leaves coming at your door.  When you noticed the car was upside down.  When it all finally stopped and you realized they were gone.  When you crawled under the car to her and heard ‘the noise.’  The passersby, the CPR, the helicopter and ambulances, the ER, the look on your parents faces as they tried to find the words to tell you the truth.  It was all real.  Every last second.

Nothing—-NOTHING—-will ever be the same again.

Today you must just try to breathe.  It will be all you can do.  I know nothing I can say to you on this morning will change the path you are now on, but I need your heart to hear it.  I need these words to provide a beat to keep it going.  This is going to be YOUR messy, beautiful life.

In a few minutes your friend is going to show up.  She is going to do something magical.  She is going to come into your room, climb into your bed, and just SIT.  With you.  There will not be a need for words.  She is simply showing you:  “You are NOT alone.”  This, at a time when you feel 100% sure that no one you know will ever (or should ever) forgive you.  When you are torn between wanting them to stay away and desperately needing them near.  You are not alone.  This is a message that will be repeated throughout your life and one you will fight against for years to come.  You will hear it from so many.  You are NOT alone.

Yesterday Nancy was your strength.  She held herself together as you fell apart.  She was the string holding you to this Earth.  Her calm presence has been tattooed on your heart and years from now, when you live 1/2 the country away from her you will still consider her something of an anchor.  That string will never be cut.  She will always be the only one who knows—who has those moments seared into her memory along with yours.

The next few days are going to be hard.  Again, your job is to breathe.  The shock will carry you through.  It will allow you to do things you could not have done without it.  You will go to her house.  You will cry into the arms of both her parents as they hug you back.  They will tell you how much they love you.  You will somehow manage to walk into the funeral home.  The only memory you will walk out with is of the red carpet.  The shock is strong.  You will go to the funeral in a packed high school auditorium with a heart that feels you don’t deserve to and a head that is screaming YOU DID THIS.  You will go to the gravesite, which will be hardest.  But you are not alone.

Soon you will do other hard things like go back to school and start to drive again.  But I must warn you—the shock is so strong that as hard as this all feels and as deep as your pain goes it is going to get much worse before it gets better.  It is like your heart has fallen asleep.  As it starts to wake up the pain is going to overtake you.

Four months from now you will find yourself bargaining with God after going to bed early and alone on Christmas Eve.  You will question his existence, demand to know why, ask if he hates you, beg for his forgiveness, and ask him to just make it end.  This is your heart beginning to wake up.  Breathing will be as much as you can manage, and even that is questionable.  You will sink into a hole deep enough you become numb again.

A few months after that the real pain will begin.  You will seriously begin to question the worth of your life.  The strength of the message that you are not alone will be met with equally strong walls you have built around yourself.  Your own voice is stronger-whispering that you deserve to be alone.  The pain will carry you dangerously close to the edge.  So close you would have fallen if not for those strings everyone has been tying to you.  First Nancy, then your parents, and each and every one of your friends.  And yet, the edge is there and it is very real.  You will desperately search for an escape in dangerous and unhealthy ways.  You will do your best to create two faces.  The ‘just fine’ face for others and the other one.  The one who sobs in the shower every. single. night.  When nothing is there but you and the pain.  This pain will sink into every cell of your being.  I need you to know that even then you are not alone.  Your friends are watching.  They sacrifice your trust to protect you.  Your parents are watching.  They tie their strings tightly to you.

You will make it through high school.  You will master the two faces.  You will even make it through college.  The pain goes with you, but it is such a part of you by now you wouldn’t know who to be without it.  Slowly the pain becomes such a part of you it doesn’t seem to hurt quite as much.  However, it will remind you it is there.  There will be moments.  Like the day you are walking across campus on a warm sunny afternoon and in just one split second you catch the smell.  A combination of cut grass, warm asphalt, maybe exhaust.  And you are there—back in that field, watching as they try to flip the car off of her, seeing and hearing all that was there.  These moments will sneak up on  you.  When you are riding in a car and suddenly see it veering off the shoulder.  I am not sure they will ever go away.  It is so so hard.  But YOU CAN DO HARD THINGS!!!  You will make even more friends who will tie off more strings.

One day you will even meet your husband.  He will ask you about her.  He will want you to tell him all about her.  And then he will ask you why you are still hanging off that cliff.  It is unacceptable to end two lives.  He will tell you that you owe it to HER to live.  To make this world better.  To make someone smile.  And you will listen.  You will hear him and know he is right.  He will even write to her parents and her mom will call you.  It is around this time you will have your last dream about her.  It is beautiful.  She tells you it is going to be ok and that she loves you.  And she tells you goodbye.

Beautiful things will come.  A daughter who loves all life so much you can’t get down the sidewalk with her when it is raining because she stops to help every worm.  A son whose life force is so strong you can only sit back and watch him.  You will love your family so much it hurts.  But this time in a good way.  You will smile and actually mean it.  You will find a job where you get to help kids feel better.  All the time.  You will begin to tie your own strings.

You will do this.  It will not be easy, but life never is.  You will simply get through the day.  And then when morning comes you will do it again.  And one day you will look around you and for the first time in a very very long time you will accept that your life has value.  In all of its messy beauty.

 

This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!

 

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Negativity

The last few weeks have become increasingly more difficult.  As excited as I am about seeing a little sun right now it just isn’t enough.  I am feeling overwhelmed by the sheer amount of negativity in the air.  The thing is, I have a job that partly consists of being the person to go to when things are falling apart.  And it’s spring—so things are falling apart.  This means my day is made up of trying to squeeze a few kids in between episodes of meltdown.  I am absorbing the frustration of children—and adults.  I sit with kids while they cry it out, or kick it out, or yell it out, whatever they need to do for it to come out.  I walk with adults as they talk it out.  And then I turn around to see five more waiting.

Here’s the thing.  I completely realize this is my job.  I completely realize I WANT this job.  And I completely realize it’s dumb to complain about the job I want.  With that being said, weeks like these I so often find myself no longer swimming upstream.  No longer treading water.  But I am beginning to get swept away.   It’s wave after wave of negativity without a moment to catch a good breath, much less gain any ground.  I know that letting myself go that direction is not an option.  I am not here (on this earth—in this place) to talk about problems and do nothing about them.  I know sometimes people need to talk about their problems without you trying to fix them.  And that’s ok.  But that can’t happen every day.  I can’t live that way.  I have to work to gain some ground.  Let’s turn this flipping ship around people!

As I tried to go to sleep tonight (obviously didn’t happen—as I am now typing this) I kept thinking that I can NOT become negative.  I will not just sit and complain about the way things are every day.  I must continue to be positive despite the tsunami I am faced with each day.  The real issue is that my supply is getting low.  I need to work on me.  I need some refill time.  Some turn my face to the sun and just sit with my eyes closed time.  Some watch the birds from the deck time.  Some sing and dance in the car to Pharell time.  Maybe some color in a coloring book time.  Just thinking of those things makes my heart feel lighter.  Tomorrow I am going to hand out hugs and smiles like nobody’s business—no matter whose nerves it gets on.  Maybe I will start a secret campaign of positive note writing.  That is what needs to happen.  I am a one woman undercover positivity campaign.

Thank you world for listening—I think I can actually fall asleep now :)

What if…

Boomer loves to drive us crazy with never ending ‘what ifs.’ Today I finally one-up what-iffed him!

Me: “Do you guys see those kids jumping on the trampoline?”

Boomer: “yeah, but mom that could be dangerous because what if they jumped super high and landed on the road?”

(They were about 20-30 feet from the actual road)

Me: “I’m pretty sure they won’t make it that far.”

Boomer: “But what if Papa came and did a super jump and made them go really far?”

Me: “really?”

Boomer: “yeah, what if-”

Me: “what if it was a super trampoline that could launch them into space?!?!”

Boomer: “what if-”

Me: “what if it wasn’t a trampoline but was actually a trapeze and they could swing all the way over to the grocery store?!?!”

Boomer: “what if-”

Me: “what if it was really a catapult and their mom put them in it and shot them all the way to St. Louis?!?!”

Silence

Boomer: “The teacher just became the student…”

Life and death

My grandma passed away last Thursday.  I had lunch with her in December and while she didn’t remember all the details of my life (thanks to that horribly ugly little disease known as Alzheimers) she did remember me and was happy to see me.  She was quite happy that all my boyfriends would let me take time away to visit with her.  :)  In a little over 2 years I have gone from 3 grandparents to 1.  Seeing grandma without grandpa was strange.  They were such a part of each other that the halves were no longer whole.  She missed him.  And now we miss them both.  I am leaving my kids and husband tomorrow to fly down to say goodbye.

Funny how death makes us evaluate life.

I grew up going to church.  Death was always very abstract and simply a gateway from here to there.  My first up close and personal experience with death happened at the age of 16 and was overwhelmingly painful and traumatic.  Death walked right up to me and slapped me in the face.  I was changed in a very profound way.  And yet death was something I felt intimate with—I hated it but am not sure I feared it.  As I grow older I have increasingly found it more frightening.  I have not lost my faith in the ‘there’s more than this.’  But it doesn’t seem quite so simple anymore.  I am not content to just ease through my life marking days off the calendar until I get to cross through those pearly gates.  That doesn’t feel right.  This life is more than days on a calendar.  It is more than smiling and nodding and clocking in and out and in and out.  THIS is where we are NOW.  And for that reason alone it is more important than anything else.  I am not content to wait for the ‘more.’  Today there is nothing more than today.  Each minute is the most important one.  And how many of those do we spend completely numbing ourselves with technology.  As I work to decrease technology in my life I become so intensely aware of the pull.  After sitting with my kids for 5 minutes my hands automatically reach for my phone.  For what?  Email?  Facebook?  Check the news, the weather?  There is no intention behind the action, it simply happens.  Then I stare at the screen hitting buttons trying to figure out what I am searching for.  And what I am avoiding.  The answer is both life and death.  For it is easy to ignore death when we ignore life.  But that’s not the point.  I don’t want to clock in and out anymore!  Today is my most important day.

Space

I feel like I just need to sit down and write more often. My fear is that I have nothing of value to say. To be honest this entire thing no longer has any sort of theme. Who the heck reads it anyway. But then am I really writing for a reader? This is my space. Where the insides come out. Where my soul can exhale.
However, if I’m not writing for a reader why make it public? That is actually a question worth pondering. In the past I have used this space to share our lives with those who love us. Quick updates for grandmas and aunts. Recently my daughter has spent a lot of time reading old posts laughing at her own antics. It feels strange to think of stopping. I like to write. However, there is no doubt that ensuring the privacy of my children has left me able to write about 10% of what I would like to. It’s easy to say I can just write about myself, but so much of myself is them.
This post doesn’t even have a theme! Except, perhaps rambling. This is me world! Turning in circles talking to myself. Always trying to choose a direction to go.

Soulercise

The last few years I have been increasingly finding myself slowing down and looking inward.  I think it has a lot to do with the kids being so much more independent.  I am not sure how anyone has time to think when they have kids under the age of 5.  But now we are in a new phase of life.  While my kids and husband are the center of my life, I am spending a little time figuring out the me part.  Trying to answer the who am I question.  Turns out it’s a  hard one, which is what I guess is the point.  We are here to figure it out.  I am constantly re-evaluating what I previously thought was true.  Trying to spend more time reflecting on the day, month, year, lifetime.

This week has been yet another re-eval.  January, just as the last 5-6 Januarys, I found myself motivated and ready to do some serious work on my fitness.  It was time to get skinny, toned, and in great shape.  I recruited some friends to hold me accountable and keep me from quitting, I set weekly goals, I bought a groupon for Crossfit!!!  I made it all the way until last weekend.  I was logging on myfitnesspal everyday and going to Crossfit twice a week.  And I was miserable.  I went to bed Sunday night feeling completely depleted.  Despite the fact everyone at Crossfit was nice to me, there was never a doubt that I was not part of the ‘group.’  I would spend the entire day dreading going, feel awkward once I got there, feel like I was going to die during the workout, and like the slowest person in the world when we finished.  And it wasn’t getting better.  I can’t say there was any part I found fun or looked forward to.  It simply did not make me feel happy.  And I think in a way that is what life is about.  Being happy.  So after being honest with Michael (who told me to quit) and my group of supporters (who told me to quit AND drink a Dr. Pepper) I decided it was time to take a week off and reflect.  I spent this week thinking about my goals (again) and what my priorities are (again) and whereto go from here.  I thought about what DOES make me happy.  And I realized a few things:

1.  I will never look like a Victoria’s Secret swimsuit model.  And I’m actually ok with that.

2.  I should do things that make me feel good.  Before, during, and after.  For instance, this week I went to the Y to play basketball with Savannah.  We laughed, we had fun, AND it was a workout.  It felt great the entire time.  Today Boomer and I went to climb stairs at the mounds.  We talked, we exercised, we got sunshine and fresh air, and even learned a bit of history.  It felt great the entire time.  THAT’S the exercise I need.  The kind that is good for my body AND my soul.  Soulercise.

3.  I should carry over that philosophy to what I eat.  There are foods I like to eat that make me feel great as I am eating and like complete crap for the next 6 hours (hello, chinese buffet).  And then there are foods that I enjoy as I eat and later, those are usually a little better for me.

4.  When I have a choice between sitting and moving, I simply need to choose moving.  Outside if possible.

5.  If I start feeling guilty, miserable, fat, worthless, it’s simply a sign that I need to walk out the door and let nature fix me.

 

Sunshine is a powerful thing.

Freedom Fighter

“Mom, I know what I am going to do this summer. I want to write down the words to all the freedom songs we have learned at school this year. Then when I am a grown up I will teach them to my wife and my children. So someday if slavery ever tries to come back we will sing them.”

My son is ready for a sit-in! I am so thankful for the depth of education our kids are receiving. He didn’t just spend a day/week/month talking about Martin Luther King and/or black history. His class discusses social justice every day. They play ‘unfair’ games in performing arts to better understand how it feels. They actually practiced making a human chain to feel the strength of holding on to one another. He talked to me in depth about Gandhi today and how he was an inspiration for both King and Mandela. How thousands were arrested for taking salt from the sea. How he was not allowed to ride in first class on the train because he had brown skin even though he was from India! (that part truly intrigued him)

We shall not, we shall not be moved.

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