Seasons Change

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So we’ve had like five nice days here in Michigan this year.Yesterday it got up in the 80s and I couldn’t believe how many people I heard complaining about the heat. Does nobody remember the seemingly endless piles of snow we just got done shoveling? Maybe I’m the only one driving a car that gets stuck at the end of the driveway if there’s any mention of snow. All I know is that I’m thankful for the heat, grateful for this change of season.

Isn’t it just like us to wish away a season though?

Because in the midst of every season, there is some sorta something that makes us unhappy. It’s too hot, too cold, too humid, too snowy, too sticky, too rainy, too dry. We’re never happy.

It’s like this in life too. We’re never happy in our season. Some other season always looks better and we want to be there. If I could just be in that other season, THEN I’d be happy.

I’ve always wanted to be a mom. I got married young, started my family…and almost immediately started wishing away that season. Babies were a lot of work, they always needed something. I couldn’t take a shower or go to the bathroom alone. There was always someone knocking or fingers under the door or somebody crying on the other side. I remember trying to take a bath one night, I had a book to read and candles lit and was ready for this much deserved break from my two tiny boys. And I remember starting to cry when they wouldn’t stop pounding on the door and crying and screaming and fighting. I thought to myself  I just want them to leave me alone. I can’t wait until they’re older. Now they’re 18 and 20 and what I wouldn’t give to have them beg me to read them one more bedtime story. But they’re all grown up and moving on and I wish that I had enjoyed that season a little more. I wish I’d have seen what a blessing it was to have little ones that couldn’t stand to leave this mama’s side.

I’ve had lots of seasons that couldn’t have gone fast enough. I’ve wished and willed and prayed them out of existence like it was my only job. Because every season has it’s struggles and when we’re in the midst of it, sometimes that’s the only thing we can see is the struggle. But that doesn’t mean that’s the only thing that’s there. I promise you that there is also a blessing…even though sometimes it’s a little tough to find. But it’s there because God doesn’t allow pain without a purpose.

I’ve recently endured some pretty rough seasons. Seasons full of ice and snow and lots of cold. Seasons that I didn’t know how I’d survive. Seasons of caring for my own kids, and other people’s kids, and loved ones and friends that needed help. And there was a season of caring for my dad and if you’ve cared for a cancer patient, you know. And if you haven’t, I hope you never know.  It was a season full of struggle and trust me when I say that I almost always focused on that and almost always missed out on the blessings. But there were times – quiet times in the hospital watching my dad sleep peacefully; visits with my kids when he was feeling up to playing rummy; even when I couldn’t sleep because he’d have “Little House On The Prairie” up as loud as the T.V. would go, but it reminded me of the days we watched it together when I was a little girl. The blessings…they were there in the season too, I just had a hard time finding them in the midst of the struggle.

You may not see the blessing in this season, but you’ll see it in the next. You may not be the first person to see it, someone may have to point it out to you, but you’ll see it eventually. You may not ever want to relive that painful season, but you’ll be able to use your experience to help someone else live through a similar one. And when you do that, it’ll give your pain a purpose and that season won’t seem so bad after all.

I recently read a brilliant quote that said “The days are long, but the years are short”. Isn’t that true? Some of my days are so long they feel as if  they’ll never end. But then I think back on the years that have flown by and I wonder where has the time gone? Where are my toddling children? How can it be that they are taking jobs in other states and flying far away from me? Didn’t I just finish wiping the spaghettios off their little faces?

What’s your season right now? A difficult job? A wayward child? An ailing parent? A scary diagnosis?  I hope you know that it is just that – a season. It’ll pass, as they always do. And although you may have a hard time seeing through the struggle in your season, work hard to find the blessing. It’s there. I promise.

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My Dad

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I had a conversation with my dad tonight that I’ll never forget.

First, a quick recap: June 2, dad was diagnosed with stage 4 throat and neck cancer.  June 9, dad moved in with me and the kids. The rest is sort of a blur, but over the past few months I have learned more than I’d ever want to know about cancer, care giving and I guess just about life in general.

After seven weeks of intense radiation five days a week, and three bouts of an absolutely brutal chemotherapy regimen, dad completed his treatment three weeks ago today.  There have been several visits to the hospital outside of his treatment schedule, quite a few short stays, a couple of longer ones and numerous arguments about him being a less than perfect patient.  This week he had a follow up visit that really wasn’t very encouraging.  He just doesn’t seem to be recovering from the treatment.  We came home Wednesday after having some blood work done, but a phone call from his doctor on Friday about his lab results validated what we both already knew…dad is just really, really sick.  I took him in to the ER and they admitted him into the critical care unit and so here we are again, with dad in his “luxury suite” at Beaumont.

I don’t really know how to interact with him anymore.  This makes him living with me a bit awkward.  But he has lost most of his hearing and pretty much all of his speech and I don’t really know how to do much besides talk, so this makes things pretty uncomfortable. I don’t know what else to do so I just keep talking.  And he just keeps either not hearing me at all or pretending that he doesn’t.  So our actual conversations are rare.  But tonight we had one.

I was telling him that when he gets home we need to be more careful about making sure that he doesn’t get this sick again.  I told him that I’d do a better job of monitoring him and making sure that he’s staying hydrated and nourished.  I talked about how we’d start trying to get him out of bed each day and try to work up to taking a walk down the street.  I reminded him of the cane that I’d just bought him and how he needs to start to use it and get up more often.  “You’re going to get depressed if you just keep staying in bed” I said. He just laid there and closed his eyes.

I looked at him for way too long. I stared hard. I realized that I don’t even recognize him anymore.  He doesn’t look like my dad.  He’s just the skeleton of a man that used to be invincible.  His face is sunken in. I can see every bone in his body.  He’s 5’10” and he weighs 102 lbs. His thighs are about as big around as my wrist. His shoulder blades protrude through the shirts that hang limp on his body.  He turned 60 last month but looks like he’s lived a hundred long years.  This is my dad.  My dad with cancer.

He opened his eyes and with the whisper of a voice that the cancer hasn’t taken yet, he spoke. “I don’t know why you’re so good to me.  I’ve never been a good dad to you.”

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that my family has it’s fair share of dysfunctions.  Many of which stem from addictions that my dad has just never been able to kick.  But “never been a good dad”.  Well, that’s a far cry from the truth. I’m saddened that he thinks that and I’m embarrassed because I’ve actually probably felt that way about him at times too.

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My parents were practically kids when they had me.  She was 19, he was 20. They hadn’t known each other long and they’ve never really talked about how or where they met or anything like that.  All I know is that they met, got pregnant, got married and moved to Colorado…in that order…where they had yours truly about seven months later.  My dad could have easily bailed.  But he didn’t.  We stayed in Colorado for years, until (I think) my mom just couldn’t handle being away from family any longer and we made the move to Michigan.

 

My dad was one of the hardest working men I’ve ever known.  He got up early every single morning for as long as I can remember to be to work by 5 or 6 a.m. He was always gone long before I ever woke and came home most evenings with enough time to eat a reheated dinner, since we’d eaten hours before, and then he’d go to bed to do it all again the next day.  He often worked six and sometimes seven days a week like that. He taught me to be a hard and diligent worker.

He made sure that we always had what we needed and that we worked for anything else.  I inherited his love for horses and he made me earn and save my own money to buy a horse for myself.  And then when all of my friend’s parents were buying them their first cars, I was working to save up to purchase a car for myself. He taught me the value of hard work and I learned to appreciate things far more than my friends ever did.

He never did things for me, but taught me how to do everything.  From him, I learned to change a tire, replace a toilet and fix a garbage disposal.  He taught me how to clean a house spotless, cut the grass perfectly and the proper way to change the oil and the brakes on my car. I learned that nothing is impossible and there are very few things that I can’t figure out how to fix on my own with a little hard work and determination.

When my sister Rebecca and I would fight, my dad would make us sit on the couch next to each other holding hands for what seemed like hours.  He told us that “you girls are sisters and you’re all each other will have someday” and that we’d better treat each other right. From him, we learned the importance of family and of course, we eventually grew to love each other. He raised a house full of daughters and I always knew how badly he wanted a son.  When my mom was pregnant with Kari, the youngest, I told my dad that I’d pray for a boy.  After they found out at the ultrasound that it was another girl, I told him I was sorry and he said that it was fine and “who would want a stinky old boy anyway when he could have another pretty little girl”.  photo 1 (3)

My dad used to be a great story teller and loved to tell jokes. So many of his stories ended up with punch lines that when he actually had a one to tell that wasn’t a joke, he’d have to spend an hour convincing us that there was no punch line coming.

Yeah, my dad has issues.  He has fought his demons my whole life, but he’s been as good of a dad as he knew how to and up until a few years ago he was always able to keep those demons at bay.

I don’t know what the outcome will be for my dad right now.  But I do know that he won’t be around forever.  And I think that I have done him, and probably myself and even my kids, a disservice over the years.  I have spent far too much time focusing on what he’s done wrong as a dad and not nearly enough time on what he’s done right.  My character has, in so many ways, been formed by my relationship with my dad.  And honestly, my relationship with him wasn’t all that bad.  I know that he loved me, that he cared for me and that he has always wanted the best for me.

I have learned valuable lessons from him and I’ve also learned a lot of “what not to do” things.  But that’s alright.  I haven’t been a perfect parent either.  I plan to start giving my dad a lot more grace in the parenting department because after all, I hope my kids do the same for me.

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39 years, one month…and a never ending winter.

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Well, I survived the first month of being 39.  It was sort of anticlimactic in that it felt pretty much the same as 38.  Not that I really expected it to feel any different, but I was hoping I’d feel wiser or something.  So far, the only thing that’s been different about this year is that we seem to be stuck in a never ending winter. But I’m pretty sure that has nothing to do with my creeping up on 40.

I am not a fan of cold weather.  However, I am not going to complain about the long winter…or the sub-arctic temperatures…or even the mountain of snow that once was my yard. I am committed to seeing the glass-half-full…but my heart is yearning for Spring to come.  I am craving sunshine and warm breezes.  Green grass and flowers.  I’ll even take the mosquitoes.  In all of my years, I don’t recall ever wanting a season to end so badly. I feel desperate for change.

This past week I was talking to a friend and we started lamenting about the weather. It’s sort of a shared misery here in the mitten, an easy topic to grieve over. And I thought about how I have this new ache in my heart for it to be Spring.  Then I heard a song on the radio that had a line “bad times make the good times better”.  And that’s what this is.  It’s a bad time that is going to make a good time so much better.

When If Spring arrives this year, I promise that I will not complain about chilly temperatures, or rain or even the bugs.  I will be grateful for the beauty of the grass and leaves and flowers. I will enjoy every single bud that I see.  I will appreciate the scent of the rain, even when it smells like worms. I will be thankful for every day that I can venture out without wearing a coat.

But I also want to remember this bad time, my “winter of 39”. Because when I forget the bad times, I start to take the good times for granted.  I wish I didn’t slip so easily back into that habit, but I know me, and that’s what I do.

I’m not talking so much about seasons of weather as I am about seasons of life. This winter has served as a reminder to me that my bad times will make my good times better. I don’t want to take a single good thing for granted in my life.  I want these bad times to make my good times better and sweeter than ever before.

So as these literal and figurative winters (hopefully) come to an end,  and as I continue on towards the big 4-0, I vow to remember the bad, and even to try to remember it fondly, so that I live a life full of gratitude for all of the good that is to come.

Confessions of a Not-Quite-Perfect Mother

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Today has been one of those days.  Not a good day or a bad day…just a day.  But a day that seems like it’s been going on for years.  It’s 7:15 p.m.  I just put little B down for bed.  It’s 45 minutes before his normal bedtime but thankfully he doesn’t know the difference.  He’s been tired and fussy since I picked him up from childcare which is the worst because I miss him all day and then I finally get to him…and ugh. And then he yells and cries all the way home, no manners at all. “Use your inside voice” I say, forgetting that he’s only a year old and has no idea what I mean.  So he refuses to listen, and I turn up the radio hoping to drown out the crying and in the end I get a headache from Miley Cyrus instead of BenJovi.

But today didn’t start out this way. This morning while I was driving Corey to school, he told me that I should write about being a perfect mom.  I laughed and told him that’s silly, because nobody’s perfect.  To which he replied, “I know you’re not a perfect person…but you’re a perfect mom”.   I thanked him for thinking so, but assured him that I’m nowhere near perfect.  And he looked at me, unconvinced and as serious as could be and said “Maybe you don’t think so, but you don’t get to decide because I’m the kid and I decided that you’re a perfect mom”.  Well, alright then. Who am I to argue with his nine year old logic?

How can it be that he thinks I’m perfect, or even good, when right now I’m sitting here with a sink full of dishes, bath toys still in the tub and I’ve put the baby to bed early just to catch a break.  My sleeve is still soaking wet from giving Ben a bath because I can’t even manage to control a toddler and keep him from splashing.  My kids ate sandwiches for dinner since I didn’t have time to cook when I got home from work because we had to rush out of the house for play rehearsal and Jiu Jitsu class. The laundry that I started this morning is still sitting in the washing machine and the 87 loads that still need to be done are clearly not getting done today. Toys are still covering the floor which hasn’t been vacuumed and I should be packing lunches for tomorrow, but I still have to go back out to pick up kids again and all I really want to do is go to bed.

And then it occurred to me that my kids couldn’t care less about all of those things that I haven’t gotten done today. Nobody does. All of the expectations I had for myself today that I didn’t accomplish, I’m the only one disappointed by them.  All of the crazy pressure I feel to juggle everything perfectly, never dropping the ball on anything…I’m the one that’s putting it there…and it’s okay if I stop doing that to myself.  It’s probably actually even good for me to stop it.

My kids love me simply because I love them and they know it. And today is just that…a day. It’s one day which is just a tiny little dot in the big picture. It’s going to be over shortly and tomorrow I’ll get to start all over again.  Being a not-quite-perfect but not-all-that-terrible-either mom.

Everything’s Amazing

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I remember a couple of years ago watching comedian Louis C.K on Conan O’Brien. I had never seen him before and haven’t seen him since, but this guy was not only hilarious, he was brilliant. He joked about how “everything’s amazing, but nobody’s happy.”  I laughed at the ridiculousness and at the same time thought to myself how very unfunny that truth actually was.

Then I read an article today that had the same idea. It talked about how awesome technology is and how we still complain. Our televisions aren’t big enough, the pictures aren’t clear enough, our cameras don’t have enough pixels, our phones aren’t fast enough and our networks drop calls. For crying out loud, it seems like just a few years ago that nobody had even heard of HD, a television weighed a million pounds and you actually had to walk across the room to turn the channel.  Phones were only connected to the wall in your house and if you weren’t home, you simply missed the call.  Now, pretty much everyone walks around carrying a computer in their pocket and can connect to anywhere in the world…and we complain because it takes 2 seconds instead of 1. There is more technology in our cell phones than there was in the Apollo space craft and we are still not happy! What is wrong with us?  Why can’t we ever be satisfied?

Now, to be totally honest, I don’t really care all that much about technology. It’s cool and all, but I think I could do without it. But even if you put technology aside, everything is amazing. EVERYTHING IS SO AMAZING. 

If you know me at all, you know I have a deep-seated passion to see all people have access to clean water. Do you even realize how amazing it is that you and I can walk a few feet to one of probably several faucets in our house and turn it on and have clean water?  We live in a land where water gets brought from wherever water comes from, and it goes underground through massive amounts of tunnels and pipes to some magical place where it gets cleaned and purified for us and it comes out right in our homes and we could leave it running for hours and hours and it would just continue to come out! (PLEASE DON’T DO THIS…I’m just proving a point here!) But come on, that’s amazing.

Have you ever stopped to think about the fact that you could grow pretty much any food that you wanted right in your backyard? You can go to the store, pick up some seeds, throw them in the ground and in a few weeks, or however long it takes to grow stuff, food will spring right up out of the earth and you can pick it and eat it. That’s amazing, right?

Or, have you ever considered how awesome your body is? I know you might not feel like it’s all that great, but honestly, for a second just think about your body. I can’t even pretend to know anything about the detail and intricacies…but I know that it’s complex. I know that I can just eat pizza and I don’t ever have to think about how my body is going to process it, it just does it. And if I cut my finger, my body knows exactly what to do to fix itself and I think that’s amazing.

And just today, I saw a tiny bit of grass poking out from under the snow and I thought how absolutely, crazy, awesome it is that something could be SO DEAD and yet it will still come back to life.  It blows my mind, especially after this winter when we’ve had like ten feet of snow, that everything will come back to life in the spring. The flowers that have been dead and buried for months will bloom and the trees that have been bare all winter will grow branches full of brand new leaves. And as I thought about that this morning, for the first time in a long time, I was amazed. And it felt really good.

I want to be amazed. I want to be satisfied with what I have. I want to be happy with the life that I’ve been given. I don’t want to live with the mindset that the world owes me more and that the things right around me aren’t good enough.  Because they are…they are amazing.

I’ve spent a little time recently in my own winter.  We all do, right? Where things seem snow covered and dead. And to be honest, for me there was a minute or two when it felt like it might be winter for a really long time. But man oh man does it feel good to see some green.  It’s not super green yet and there are still a few patches of snow. But I believe that the more time we spend appreciating the things around us that are amazing, the faster our own springs will get here.

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