Repeat. Remember.

photo-1470319149473-af271634cecfOne of my girls’ favorite books was Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. I am confident I read it 1000-plus times through the years. I can almost repeat it from memory.

What we repeat we remember. I’m not sure Chicka Chicka Boom Boom is going to change my life whether I repeat and remember it or not, but it is full of memories for me. The many hours I spent reading it and other books to the girls, holding them close or hanging out together in the play room, are irreplaceable.

But that time and resulting familiarity could have easily been replaced by something else I had chosen to read and speak often. It could have been better or worse.

There are other things I easily remember without referencing the original source. I don’t ever use a recipe for chocolate chip cookies and haven’t for decades. I am familiar with Ephesians 6:10-20 in several translations. I can find my way around my home in the dark. I don’t have to think much when driving to my mom’s house.

What we repeat we remember.

That can be good but it can also be damaging. What we do over and over, no matter how insignificant we think it is, matters. What we say and think over and over impacts us.
Take inventory today. Reflect on the last week, month, and year of your life. What are you repeating? What are you remembering? What are you soaking in and living out? Your choices and investments matter.

The Mix of Life

photo-1494253109108-2e30c049369bIt’s been baby-shower-season in my life. My youngest daughter’s daughter will be here soon, and it’s been fun to shop with my daughter, chat through her concerns and plans, and, in general, do life together. I’m sure, if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll hear about my grandparenting adventures in the months and years to come. For a short time longer, it’s a bit theoretical. Based on my values, experiences, and personality, there are some assumptions I make about what I believe my grandparenting style will be. However, as my sister recently pointed out, it’s sort of like becoming a parent: I probably don’t know for sure until that season of my life actually begins and reality sets in.

In the meantime, I’ll do life with my family in each season we’re in. In preparation for one of the baby showers, I sorted through tubs of photos to pull several of my daughter for a slideshow. So many photos brought smiles to my face. Some brought sadness and even anger. Photos of my ex and me enjoying ourselves and making memories are hard to see in the context of the sudden and disrespectful way he chose to leave the marriage and family and the way he has disregarded the far-reaching fractures among family and friends. It was tempting to toss some of the photos aside and purge those tubs of family memories, but I know someday my girls will go through those tubs. They will have their own reactions and can decide what to do with those photos. I’m not taking that process and potentially healing experience from them, even if I know it will be difficult.

Around that same time, a friend posted a photo of she and her husband, one of my ex’s best friends, with their grandkids. It reminded me of the fun of the anticipation of becoming a grandparent and the sadness of not getting to co-grandparent with the person I enjoyed doing life with.

Sometimes I share these struggles on my blog because it’s important for others to realize they aren’t alone, that we can have some conflicting yet co-existing reactions to life’s transitions and adjustments. Of course, I am still grieving the loss of my marriage as well as continuing to deal with the way it has impacted my family. Deception and disrespect leaves a trail of sludge that others have to find a way to wade through to find higher ground. But even among the continued remnants and layers of all that ugliness is a contentment. That grief for what isn’t and won’t be lives alongside the peace with knowing my life is good, filled with so many abundant blessings. I thought my faith was healthy when the mayhem hit, and through the trials and challenges, it has only deepened. Being authentic and doing the deep wounding with my girls has deepened our relationships. Being authentic and reaching out to others has deepened friendships and ministry.

Sometimes the juxtaposition of our experiences aren’t conflict as much as co-existence. It’s not all good, and it’s not all bad. It’s simply life. We can’t choose only what we want to deal with and toss the rest aside. If we want to grow through something and help those alongside us grow, too, we need to work through it all. We need to take a humble look at ourselves and take every opportunity to grow. We need to approach others with grace and respond with accountability and forgiveness.

I’ve seen issues and transitions handled in different ways, and I’ve seen the effects approaches have on people. Refusal to face, admit, and process truth has devastating effects on self and others. Many times, I think people choose that approach thinking it will have the exact opposite result; they believe they are being respectful and establishing good boundaries by not sharing with others. They disguise the truth even from themselves because it’s too harsh to face. The light of truth can be blinding for those who have grown accustomed to the darkness around and inside them.

Regardless of your situation, if you’re dealing with trials, don’t be surprised if you have mixed responses to it. You might be taking care of a parent or other loved one and appreciate the fact that you have the opportunity to do so, yet you also get tired and frustrated. You might wish you had a different work schedule so you could help family members more often, yet you are grateful for the job you have and all it pours into your life. You might welcome the joys of retirement but struggle with redefining purpose and refocusing. You might have decided to break ties with someone but wasn’t prepared for some of the ripple effects. You might have thought having more control over your finances or other area of your life would give you freedom, but you begin to realize you still can’t control everything and everybody. You might have longed for children, yet you still get exhausted and frustrated with them. You might have welcomed a season of your life with less people and responsibilities, but you find you are lonely from time to time.
Sometimes that juxtaposition is a prompt to change something. Other times, it’s a reality check that life is filled with the innuendos of jagged remnants being placed into beautiful purpose.

Hanging On When I Shouldn’t

photo-1520588681248-af7a495a45efI’ve coached multiple people through the mourning process that follows a family death, doing my best to help them through those first few days. One suggestion concerns the advice they’ll get from others going through a visitation receiving line. People will say the oddest things at times of crisis. We all handle grief differently. I want to give people the benefit of the doubt and believe they’re saying what they truly believe is the best to say, but I also know some people simply don’t have good social skills, and even if they don’t intend it, the wrong thing said at the wrong time can have lasting effects. To be honest, the right thing said at the wrong time can have lasting effects!

What I suggest is using a quick filter. If what someone says is helpful in the moment, keep it. If it’s hurtful or disrepectful, set it aside and let it go.

Several people have told me the advice helped, and I generally try to live by what I advise, but I struggle with the application at times.

On Christmas Day, I received many messages that made me smile. I was reminded over and over what a great network of friends and family I have. I continue to reach out to a few people who have dismissed me since the divorce. I was a bit surprised at how easily expendable I was to a handful of people. But just as my ex’s decision didn’t control the choices I had in how I responded, a few people’s treatment of me doesn’t control my treatment of them. So, I still send them messages from time to time, because I care for them.

I sent Christmas wishes. Most of the responses were warm and, in the least, were generic, and I don’t know why I didn’t just focus on those. There was only one that contained a jab to remind me how expendable I was.

The text didn’t surprise me. It was consistent with other responses or lack of responses I had received from the person, but it still stung.

Why did I focus on the one that seemed to rub my nose in the fact that I was longer included? And why couldn’t I keep it in the context of the way this particular person has consistently treated me?

“Let it go, Susan.”

There was no reason to lash out. There was no reason to reply. There was no reason to carry the hurt.

I needed to listen to my own advice and let it go. So, I did.

I am sorry the person cannot heal in healthy ways that help others heal in healthy ways, too. But that doesn’t mean I need to choose an unhealthy response. I’m not going to hang on when I shouldn’t.

Sort through what you’re hanging onto today. Pursue the conversations you need to have in order to move on. But if it’s time to move on, let the other stuff go.

Deeper Peace

photo-1530053969600-caed2596d242I have experienced God’s peace in depths I’d never known.

I have experienced God’s peace at many times in many ways over the past couple years as I reeled from my ex leaving the marriage I thought would last a lifetime. God continues to pull me deeper.

That first long night, gasping in the dark with fragments of my life swirling around me, there was a core peace I knew was God’s presence. There was not much I was certain about as I fought to breathe, but I was resolute that God is trustworthy.

As I’ve continued to deal with frustrations, delays, deception, and the general fall-out of the divorce, I’ve reflected on how I’m doing. Sometimes people ask, but I took inventory often enough that I rarely had to think long or hard about the authentic answer. Even when chaos shoved at me, I could nearly always claim to sense God’s peace. It didn’t mean I liked what was happening in my life. It didn’t mean I was shrinking back and refusing to stand up for truth. Peace isn’t avoidance; it’s a reassurance of truth. It’s not about being right; it’s about being God’s.

As much as I have experienced God’s peace, I recently sat quietly and realized I was sinking even deeper into it. God comforted me, challenged me, and prepared me. Every time God takes me deeper, I am reminded that he can take me deeper still. It is similar to the experience of understanding and gaining wisdom, the realization of knowing what I hadn’t known, then realizing how much more I have to learn.

Be willing to continue. Seek more of God not because of what he can give you but because of who he is. Going deeper with him with refine you, and the process will not be comfortable at times, but going deeper is always worthwhile.

 

Criss-Cross Applesauce

photo-1476469535352-80159d0af31dSometimes the old, familiar places are different but still comforting.

Thanksgiving evening, I played on the floor with my cousin’s three-year-old. We put together puzzles, re-sorted the pieces in creative ways, and talked about animals and dance. It was a casual family gathering, and I enjoyed the relaxation. It wasn’t my normal Thanksgiving celebration, but looking back, I’m not sure what I would have classified as a normal Thanksgiving anyway. It’s the holiday that seems to ebb and change across years for my family, especially since my girls have grown up.

This Thanksgiving, I was on the floor playing with another little girl.

She wanted to read and brought me a couple books. I crossed my legs to make a comfortable sitting space for her, and she plopped down and settled in. We went through two books, looking at all the pictures and filling in details not included in the storyline. It makes a book last longer, and it spurs the imagination. As soon as we were done with those two books, they were exchanged for two more, and we continued to read.

I have so many wonderful memories of reading to my girls, as well as reading to kids I babysat or groups of kids at a library, school, or other event. I connect to and through stories, and seeing others’ imaginations and excitement take shape and getting engrossed in a story is thrilling to me.

Spending time sitting criss-cross applesauce (which isn’t as easy to get out of as I get older) was my favorite part of Thanksgiving this year, and it was a day filled with many blessings and smiles. It was different than in years past but had enough similarities that I found comfort in the familiar places.

As holiday family gatherings approach, be open to changes and find comfort in the familiar. You’ll have both, and both have value. As you combine the old and the new, you’ll make new memories that will serve as a foundation for the future.

This Year’s Decorations

photo-1514193880418-896682417f97I wasn’t planning on decorating for Christmas.

Last year was the first year I was on my own. I left the Christmas tree with my ex, so I got creative with decorations. I had used three small trees on the front porch at the old house, so I covered a small table with a blanket, then put the trees on top. It was simple but nice. I put a few other favorite decorations around the house, especially since my girls and I were celebrating at the house I was renting. After I had already put up the trees, I found a tree on sale, and I stored it in the basement for this year.

But this year, my girls and I are celebrating somewhere else. I’m still in the rental house, and I decided to wait until next year to put up the new tree, perhaps when I’ll have a house of my own.

A few days ago, I decided to put out a few decorations. I like Christmas, and the familiar decorations I’ve put out through the years are cozy to me. Even if I don’t have my own house, I have a home. It’s my safe, comfortable place.

Why not put up the tree? So, I decorated my home for Christmas yesterday. I turned on Christmas music, hauled totes and boxes from the basement, and smiled as I sorted and decided what to put where.

I sighed at the familiar.

Sure, it was a bit different. My ex always put up the tree and covered it with lights, then I (and often the girls) would finalize it with ornaments. But I opened the Christmas tree box for the first time. I broke the seal. I sorted the branches, and I followed the color-coded layers and shaped each branch. I wrapped each branch with lights I’d also bought on sale last year. I went through all the blinking options and chose a calming setting. I added favorite ornaments and set aside the ones with less-favorite memories. I decided on a creative, different tree topper.

I stood back and looked at the tree…and smiled. I finished choosing the rest of the decorations I most wanted around the house, then I put all the boxes and totes away and cleaned the house.

I was content. I brought pieces of the past into the present, and I incorporated newness of my future. And I was content.

Living on my own is new. Sure it’s been almost a couple years since my ex decided our marriage was over, but the suddenness of it all after so many years of marriage has taken a while to adjust. And I’m sure I still have much room to grow and heal.

But for now, I can look around and sigh, appreciating where I am, the many friends and family I love and do life with, and hope for the future.

Life is good. Because God is good. Life is always hard, but in the context of God’s goodness, I find peace and contentment.

The Grief of Christmas

photo-1482517967863-00e15c9b44beThree years ago, I knew it was my dad’s last Christmas. It was bittersweet. I didn’t know exactly when he would die, but I knew it would come before the next Christmas. It was shorter than I expected – only a couple weeks later. And it was difficult. Yet there was a sweetness to that Christmas despite the uncertainty. There were several moments that are etched in my mind, because I was intentional about looking around, noticing the details, and taking a deep breath to soak it in.

The following year was difficult, but I took the grief process one step at a time and learned a new rhythm of life. There were more moments of grief as a good friend’s husband unexpectedly died in an accident and a friend and mentor died after a short and ugly cancer battle. Death awakens us and adjusts our perspective on life. I also adjusted to a new job, enjoyed adjusting to a daughter and son-in-law moving closer to me, helped my mom as much as I could, and bought a house and moved with my then-husband.

Christmas approached, and while it had a taste of bittersweet to it, I also felt a deeply abiding joy. I had settled deeper into God’s presence through the grief process. I was healing. I sat in the corner and looked around the living room in the new house, filled with our family – our two daughters and the men they loved. We laughed, made new memories, and I sighed. Like the year before, I was intentional about looking around, noticing the details, and taking a deep breath to soak it in. I appreciated life and relationships in a clarifying way.

But I didn’t notice all the details.

What I didn’t know waa there was another person in that room, not physically, but relationally. My ex was in the process of leaving his family, and throughout that day, he contacted his girlfriend many times. It might have appeared as if he was there and invested in the rest of us, but he had stepped away emotionally. He was on his way out. He wouldn’t announce it until about six weeks later, but every Christmas gathering that year – with our immediate family, his extended family, and my extended family – included his girlfriend and his disconnection.

I was about to face grief yet again, although this time, I didn’t expect it.

Would it have mattered? I’m not sure. What I know is this: grief is a process. It looks different based on our perspective. It is difficult. It is revealing. It can be confusing and clarifying. It burdens us, yet we also experience uplifting moments as we do life authentically with others and heal along the way.

I know a lot of people will deal with grief this Christmas. Some are reeling from it. Some know it’s coming. Others, including me, have no idea what the day after Christmas or the new year will bring.

Regardless of what you’re aware of and what you’re experiencing, be intentional about looking around, noticing the details, and taking a deep breath to soak it in. Appreciate life and relationships in whatever snapshots you can.

Life can be bitter at times, but it is sweet, too.