Your Life is an Occasion

For the past few days, I’ve felt like I’ve been in a bit of a slump.  I couldn’t seem to pinpoint it’s origin until a few moments ago.  I think what it comes down to is that I’m bored with the wash, rinse, repeat cycle of life right now.  Are you familiar with this cycle?  Of course you are, especially if you’re a parent.  I know I’m not alone because I saw a meme just today that read, “Do you want to know what it’s like to have kids? 1. Gather everything you own.  2. Throw it all on the floor.  3. Pick it up. 4. Repeat for infinity.”  I’m not sure what’s exacerbating the issue, as it’s not like I’m a new stay-at-home-mom.  Perhaps the combination of increased time indoors due to colder temps, or the stage of my six-month-old’s eating habits (feeding baby mush gets tiring), or the fact that my to-do list seems to be never-ending (even worse, at times, never-starting)?  I can’t say that I know for sure, but the only thing that’s going to change it is my attitude, which brings me to Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium.

Have you seen Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium?  I don’t understand why the film has such a low rating?  As far as kids movies go, it’s quite endearing.  I only recently had the opportunity to watch it.  I don’t know how I’ve managed to not see it until now, as it’s been out for almost 10 years.  I wish I could say it’s because my children hardly watch TV, but that’s hardly the case.  I digress.  The movie has a line that struck both my eight-year-old daughter and I as powerful.  In the scene, Dustin Hoffman, who plays Mr. Magorium, is saying farewell to his assistant, played by Natalie Portman.  In his final goodbye he tells her, “Your life is an occasion.  Rise to it.”  And so it is.

I need to rise to it.  I need to make my life more than wash, rinse, repeat.  Don’t get me wrong, I get that life is made up of such things.  But the only way it’s going to be more than that is if I rise up and do something more.  Then the question remains, “How?”  How does one rise to the occasion?  If we take an actual occasion, such as a birthday, then we get ourselves spiffy,we eat our favorite foods, we spend time with loved ones, and, if we’re hosting a shin-dig, we pull out our coordinating paper plates and napkins.  Not gonna happen.  My daily life is going to have to be a different type of occasion.

I’ve pondered much on what I’m seeming to miss these past few days.  I thought if I turned the word “rise” into an acronym it might help me in the future, should I start to slip into the doldrums again.  So, here it goes, my best guess at what I need to make my life an occasion, or rather, make the most of each day: R – recommit; I – initiate; S – savor; E – evaluate.

This is the biggest one for me right now.  I’m sort of floundering lately.  I need to recommit myself to productivity.  For example, right now I have things around the house that have been sitting on my To-Do list for so long that I’ve stopped taking them seriously.  I look at the list, rationalize why now isn’t the best time to do such a task, and return to my mindless social media scrolling.  The killer is that even though I think I’ve escaped the chore, the weight of not doing it is so heavy that it’s taken away from the joy I could be feeling had I accomplished the task.  You may be thinking, “but aren’t chores a part of the wash, rinse, repeat cycle?”  They are, you’re right.  But maybe if I recommitted to their value in my life and adjusted my attitude, then I could escape the feeling of captivity that I’ve been associating with the endless cycle?  My baby step on this item is to recommit by doing 15 minutes of an activity today that I’ve been putting off from my list.  My hope is that I will feel better for having accomplished something beyond knowing what a random person “liked” on Facebook today.  I chose a 15 minute increment because my Mom used to say to me, “I can do anything for a short amount of time.”

This one might be different for everyone.  When I think initiate, I think of an activity that is most therapeutic for me, which is spending time with loved ones.  Others may need to initiate an outdoor activity or a workout into their day.  I admit, I should probably initiate more of those activities as well.  However, I personally benefit most from the relationships in my life.  I feel edified after spending time with my loved ones as we talk about matters of everyday life.  That’s what I need to initiate.  A text, an e-mail, a phone call; these things initiate opportunities to strengthen my relationships; which I deem as one of my highest priorities.

When I think of savoring something, I imagine having to slow down to do so.  So, the S in R.I.S.E. may be interchanged with slow down, if you so choose.  I did look up the word though and there is no connection with savoring requiring time to be fully accomplished.  In fact, my favorite definition for the word was, “to give oneself to the enjoyment of.”  We could stop with the letter S and call ourselves good.  That is what I need right now.  I need to give myself to the enjoyment of life.  Prior to looking up the word though, I intended for this to be a reminder that I need to slow down and take in the beauty I do have before me.  I can choose to focus on all the dishes in my sink that I will have to wash all over again tomorrow or I can savor the moment that my boys play on the floor together or my girls come in the door from school giggling about their days events.  Granted the floor playing isn’t always peaceful and my girls sometimes come in the door distraught from their day, but inevitably there are a couple moments each day that, if the appropriate background music could be added, would be suitable for the last couple minutes of Parenthood when life seems to be savored more fully and everything seems right in the world.

::COMMERCIAL BREAK:: Speaking of Parenthood, I certainly took the time to savor their series finale last night.  It was so good.  I’m going to miss that show so much.  I almost didn’t want to start the series finale because I knew it would come to and end and I wasn’t ready.  It reminded me of when I’m reading a good book and I can’t put it down, but I try to slow down my reading just to prevent it from ending.  ::BACK TO YOUR REGULAR PROGRAMMING::

When all is said and done, evaluating is key.  I knew something was afoot with me all week.  Moments of anxiety were happening for no particular reason and I just seemed to have a bit of a cloud over me.  I’m still not sure I know exactly what triggered the feelings, but I’ve never been afraid to evaluate my situation to find out.  I like playing devil’s advocate with myself.  I tend to learn a lot of “not-so-pretty” motivations behind my actions and behavior sometimes, but I think it’s important to face the “not-so-pretty” in an effort to make one’s life something more.  The sooner you can understand yourself, the sooner you can begin to fix the kinks you may be facing at the time.  I’ve learned that my comfortableness in evaluating myself is a strength that has brought me great peace.  It’s been so valuable that it’s one of the motivating factors behind this blog.  As we evaluate our personal needs and desires, we can begin moving forward in obtaining them in a healthy manner.

So, today is a new day.  Wish me luck, as I R.I.S.E. to the glorious occasion that is my life.

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Actively Engaging in Relationships

The following post was originally published on Over the Big Moon earlier this year.  I was still pregnant at the time.  This is a perfect post to piggyback last week’s post on being Purposefully Kind.  Reading this post again reminded me how I need to recommit myself to this endeavor.

The larger portion of the year 2010 was a particularly difficult time in my life.  Feelings of loneliness, depression, anxiety, and hopelessness were all too familiar to my daily routine.  One day in February
of that year, a small package arrived in the mail addressed to me with the return address containing my own address and the sender’s name noted as Secret Friend.  Inside was a little note and a package of Godiva chocolates.  I don’t do well with mysteries, but I did quite well with the delicious gift.  My spirit had been lifted in that moment.  I tried to get to the bottom of who the sender might be, but could not figure it out.  Then March came around and I received another package in the mail sent in the same fashion.  I was so touched and still so mystified.  I even started to analyze the handwriting with other cards I had received in the past.  I remain stumped.  Then April brought a spiritual message and May brought a thoughtful gift for Mother’s Day.  The remaining months of 2010 were each filled with a package or note being sent to me from my Secret Friend.  Then in January 2011, my final package arrived informing me that my year with my Secret Friend had drawn to a close.  I never did figure out who the sender was; although I have an inkling.  What I do know was that I looked forward to those arrivals.  I felt of the love this woman had for me in a time where I felt so unlovable.  I felt the joy that comes from friendship and small acts of kindness.

The treasured gift of friendship and our role in nurturing those relationships is what I wanted to share today.  This has been at the forefront of my mind, as I am homesick for many of my friends who live far away.  Plus, as I have been struggling through the roller coaster of pregnancy emotions, I have realized again how crucial friendships are in my life.  Sadly, I have done little to nurture those friendships that bear the burden of being long distance.  I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve lulled myself in to believing that following people on Facebook and Instagram is sufficient in keeping a friendship alive.  As I’m sure you know, this is not the case.  Nurturing friendships requires more than observing another’s life through what they choose to share on social media.  However, at the same time, it may surprise you the impact you can make in a friendship through even the smallest of acts.  The operative word being acts.  Nurturing a friendship, or relationship of any kind, requires action.
I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know, but perhaps a reminder to actively engage with our friends is needed.  I know I need it.  Having moved out of state a year and a half ago from everything I had ever known, I have watched as friendships have slipped by the wayside.  I’m quite familiar with the three types of friends we encounter in life – those we have for a reason, those we have for a season, and those we have for a lifetime.  The thing is, I have a lot of lifetime friends that I have failed to actively engage with since moving away.  It’s not in my nature to do this, so it’s been disheartening to me.  Part of me wonders if I’ve stopped nurturing these friendships out of pure laziness or out of protecting myself (you know how sometimes connecting with somebody makes you miss them more)?  Regardless, I’ve learned that not only do I need these lifetime friends in my life, I want to feed these relationships in the same manner that I have been so richly blessed – with surprise packages, thoughtful texts, a shoulder to cry on, or a phone call just because.
The beauty of a friendship is that nurturing it doesn’t have to be filled with grandiose things.  Oscar Wilde said, “The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention.”  How true that statement is!  I had the pleasure this past week of catching up with one of those above mentioned lifetime friends.  It seems silly to think that a phone call qualifies as an act of kindness, but boy did it fill my heart with more joy than I anticipated.  I laughed so freely as we went on and on about all the craziness of life.  How grateful I am that we had a moment to actually talk rather than merely intend to call one another.  I was also blessed to receive a call from another friend who lives miles away, though we did not have the opportunity to catch up, who just wanted to chat.  I felt of the love of these women despite the many miles between us.

I think what it comes down to is that things have been rather tough for me as of late.  This pregnancy has not served my emotions well.  And I’m learning how blessed I have been to have such beautiful friends placed in my life to help lighten my load and increase my joy.  These friends, whether they know it or not, are re-inspiring me to actively engage in the world around me.  Each kind gesture brings me the same feelings of love that I felt with those monthly packages I received back in 2010.  I want to be better about returning that same joy and hope to friends and family.  I’ve grown tired of caring for relationships superficially.  So, please share with me those acts of kindness that you have either given or received that enriched your relationships.  My goal is to engage more fully with the many wonderful people that have been placed in my path.
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The Truthiness About Strength

I have to laugh.  The quote that’s been on my mind lately is Steve Maraboli’s quote that, “Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving, we get stronger and more resilient.”  I’m sure you could guess why that quote has been on my mind based on my post from last week A Stroke of Luck. I had full intentions of writing a post around this quote, only to find that I already did a similar post back in June called Strength and Purpose from Our Trials, which compliments and references yet ANOTHER post Finding Happiness Amongst Trials.  You think maybe I have a strong opinion on the matter of trials in our lives?  I guess it’s a good point of view to have, as many people have been telling me that I’m such a strong person in regards to my recent news.  The remarks got me thinking though, what qualifies someone as strong, as I certainly don’t consider myself such a person?

In trying to answer that question for myself, I analyzed how I was handling all the events of the past couple weeks.  I still came up without answers.  So, I decided to contemplate how a weak person handles things?  Perhaps I don’t know a weak person to reference, as I was still stumped.  Does a weak person cry?  If so, then I am weak, as I sobbed hysterically when they told me I had had a stroke.  I saw no point crying over the prospect of the tumor, as it’s level of concern had not yet been determined.  As a side note, I have since received word that my tumor did appear on the MRI from two years ago and is the same size now as it was then.  This means that the tumor is deemed as stable and I will now receive annual MRIs to ensure it stays that way.  So, you see, there was no sense in crying.  I was worried, of course, but I think that’s understandable.  I imagine a weaker person worries.  This leaves me 2 for 2 in the weak department.  However, people kept telling me I was strong.  Is that just something someone says to make you feel like you can handle the scariness of the unknown?  I genuinely wanted to know so I asked a dear friend of mine her thoughts.  As any kind friend would, she said lots of nice things about me and indicated that I was, in fact, strong.  Her thinking was that I had been through a lot in my life thus far and didn’t seem to let it get me down.  I also got remarks about how some marveled that I would be out and about doing stuff so soon after my baby was born and shortly after the stroke and tumor news.  So, I’m deducing a positive outlook and movement is the sign of a strong person.

So, lets talk about a positive attitude.  I hardly consider myself an optimist.  That’s always been my husband’s role in our relationship.  I rarely think positive when it comes to matters of my own.  But I am quick to see the best case scenario for someone else.  Does anybody else do this?  The times when I do feel at peace or seem to have an it’s-all-gonna-be-okay attitude are when I have spent much time on my knees in prayer.  My positive attitude comes from answered prayers and the comfort and love felt from my Heavenly Father and my dear friends and family.  It is not my own doing.  And, if I do seem to have a positive outlook on a difficult event in my life, it is because I believe 100% that every trial I have faced has made me stronger for the next.  Maraboli’s quote is truthiness.  And, in case you’re wondering, truthiness is a word.  Go ahead and click on the word for proof.  Thanks, Stephen Colbert, for getting this word officially added to the dictionary.  It should have been there all along and that’s truthiness.  Alas, I digress.  Oops. I just realized that if Maraboli’s quote is truthiness, which it is, then I am strong; or at least stronger.  I am not stronger from any magical thing that I am doing.  I am stronger by enduring each trial.  This means that each of us grows stronger day by day with each hit we take and get back up from afterwards.  Certainly, I am not the only one experiencing trials in life.

Although, I imagine the key to becoming stronger after a trial would be the whole get-back-up part.  This brings me to the topic of movement as a sign of strength.  Yes, I have been doing my best to keep moving as though nothing has happened.  Who wouldn’t?  A full recovery from a stroke tends to bring the marvelous abilities of a healthy body in to perspective.  Just being able to sign your name or brush your teeth seems to have a whole new appreciation.  So, yes, I’m going to get out there and use this full-recovery-stroke body I have.  That’s one reason that I keep moving.  The other reason that I keep moving may seem confusing to someone who considers themselves as weaker.  I’ve spoken to a couple people on this matter and they told me that if it were them they would just hide in their home.  Well, I suppose hiding in their home would be the method that would bring them comfort.  The thing with me is that hiding in my home tends to bring me down.  I don’t go out and do do do because I’m strong.  I go out and do because that is my medicine.  That’s what I have to do for myself to keep my sanity when life has me down.  I will admit that there are many times that I do choose to hide in my home and let myself throw my very own pity party.  I am quite good at hiding out so no one has to deal with Debbie Downer Sara when the time comes.  But, overall, if I want to feel better, getting out and moving is my therapy, because life is like riding a bicycle.  To keep your balance, you must keep moving.  Thanks, Albert Einstein, for that quote.  Oh, and thanks for all that other cool physics stuff you came up with too.  Much obliged.

So, if the conclusion is that strength comes from a positive outlook and moving, then I am surrounded by people that are stronger than they realize.  Because aren’t we all trying to survive the challenges of the day?  Sometimes our days have harder challenges than others and sometimes we handle our challenges gracefully and sometimes we sit and pout.  However, I think if you’re facing each day, then you’ve got enough positive attitude left in you to believe that things can improve and you’ve got enough movement in you to give that day’s challenges a go.  And, as life tends to do, things do improve and the movements become easier.  Then you’ve done it, you’ve come out stronger and more resilient.  So, while I still contest my being strong, I do consider myself stronger.  And that’s the truthiness about strength.

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Strength and Purpose from Our Trials

The topic on my mind this week might be considered a delicate topic by some.  It’s something that I ponder often.  So much so that I suppose it’s no surprise that it compliments a previous post I wrote almost a year ago entitled Finding Happiness Amongst Trials.  I genuinely appreciate trials.  Perhaps not in the midst of the trial itself, but I do strive to find the silver lining even in the moment.  However, today I wanted to speak about finding purpose in the aftermath of our trials.

I was recently writing a piece about my battle with depression and Bi-Polar Type II.  A friend was proofing my work and questioned one of my remarks.  My sentence read, “Thankfully, I’ve learned that each high and low I have faced has strengthened me and equipped me for a healthier future.”  Her comment in the margins was, “Is this honest?  Sounds a bit too good to be true.”  I can answer without hesitation that it is 100% honest.  I abhor the lows of my Bi-Polar Type II.  That is how intensely painful those moments feel to me.  I feel legitimately check-me-in-to-a-mental-facility crazy in my times of darkness.  BUT, when I am able to come up for air and see clearly again, I find I am stronger.  Even more rewarding than seeing those moments through until I am back in the light, is the level of empathy it has provided me.  Prior to this personal struggle of mine, I had zero understanding of the pain and heartache that depression and mental illness can bring upon an individual.  It was not until I was able to experience extreme highs and lows in a short period of time that I was truly able to see how deceiving such an illness can be.  Deceiving in the sense that you will come across someone who seems perfectly happy and fine, but struggles silently with unseen darkness within.  This is why I find it so crucial that we Have a Merciful Heart.  It probably does sound too good to be true that I am able to find the good in such pain.  I didn’t always feel that way.  It’s taken time for me to understand that all of these trials are for my betterment AND that enduring these trials has afforded me the opportunity to be there for others who have or are suffering similarly.

The ability to be there for others is one of the greatest blessings that has come from all of my trials, whether they be big or small.  I just don’t see how enduring through our trials should be an isolated event.  When appropriate, I find that sharing our trials and how we “survived” them helps alleviate others who are going through similar difficult times.  I know I am grateful for the men and women who have been courageous enough to share their trials and tales of perseverance with me.  They have strengthened me.  The one that comes to my mind right now, probably because I am at the tail end of my pregnancy, is a friend of mine who shared her story of being on bed rest.  With my past two pregnancies, I was sentenced to bed rest.  I say “sentenced” because my personality does not thrive in such situations.  My husband always jokes about the irony of how women are more likely to be ordered on bed rest and how they seem to detest it.  He assures me that a man ordered to bed rest would gladly embrace day after day of watching TV and playing video games.  Alas, I digress.  When struggling with being on bed rest, my friend shared her experiences on bed rest.  She had to be flat on her back in a hospital for multiple weeks.  She was not allowed to sit up at all.  She told me that the first meal brought to her hospital room was spaghetti.  “How am I supposed to eat spaghetti laying down?!,” she said laughing.  Then she shared with me how her sister came and shaved her legs while she was bedridden.  She spoke of all the numerous services that were performed on her behalf that she struggled with accepting.  She spoke to my inner struggle at the time.  She encouraged me to graciously accept all the acts of service that I was receiving and not feel guilty about them, as I had been.  How grateful I was for her sharing her trial with me and confirming that I would get through it and soon I would laugh about it all.  And, of course, she was right.  That is just one of countless stories that has brought me peace and hope during a trial.  My prayer is that I have been able to lift another similarly by sharing my own struggles with them.  If for no other reason than lifting another in their time of need, I am grateful for the trials I have endured.

I want to share one last story with you on this matter.  It is the story that I read this week that inspired this topic in the first place.  This is the story of Antoinette Tuff, a 47-year-old bookkeeper at an elementary school in Georgia, and Michael B. Hill, a 20-year-old armed with an AK-47 who entered that same elementary school on August 20, 2013.  Hill encountered Tuff inside the school and Tuff quickly learned that Hill had stopped taking his medications and no longer wanted to live.  Tuff calmly responded to Hill saying, “I thought the same thing.  I tried to commit suicide last year after my husband left me, but look at my now.  I’m working and everything is OK.”  Tuff’s remarks soothed Hill and he relinquished his weapon and not a single person was injured that day.  If you want to read more about Tuff’s story, she wrote a book called Prepared for a Purpose. I have not read the book myself, I read about this story in the February 2014 Costco Connection magazine.  In the magazine article it states that, “Now when Tuff looks back, she sees the struggles of her past in a new and more meaningful light.”

I share her feelings.  It’s not that I enjoy the trials when I’m in the middle of them.  It’s that I’ve learned to appreciate their purpose in my life and perhaps in the lives of those around me.  I have become fully aware of their strengthening powers.  I love how Steve Maraboli puts it in his book Life, the Truth, and Being Free, “Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving, we get stronger and more resilient.”  How true that statement is and how grateful I am for a stronger and more resilient me.

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Having a Merciful Heart

I originally posted the following post on Over the Big Moon (OTBM) under the title of Having a Merciful Heart.  As has become my custom during the week prior to the third Sunday, I am featuring a previous OTBM post here in anticipation of my new OTBM post this Sunday.  Normally I wouldn’t do so, but I did do tweaks to this post to make it less holiday focused since it was first published in December 2013.

My Mom battled Ovarian Cancer for five years.  In the latter part of those five years, the battle grew increasingly more difficult.  She was always good to put a smile on about the whole affair.  People would ask her how she was feeling and she would give an optimistic response.  I knew differently.  I recall there was one gentleman at church that would say, “How are you, really?”  I guess he was catching on that my Mom wasn’t offering up her true feelings and state of physical well-being.  It wasn’t that she was trying to lie, I think she just thought it best for everyone if they didn’t worry about her.  I suppose I don’t really know what her purpose was in keeping a strong upper lip on the matter.  As I sit here, I wish I could ask her why she kept so many in the dark.  In some ways, I’ve made a conscious decision to do the opposite, but at the same time my default is to put on that ever-smiling face no matter what.

Since I had never really been a private person, it wasn’t until the darkest time that I battled depression that I even realized I too hid the pain and ugliness.  It just seems that people don’t want to know the real ugly thoughts we each endure.  So, with those thoughts unshared, they become thoughts of shame and grief.    I chuckle recalling my friend’s remarks when I confided in her about my desperate struggle with depression.  She said, “You’re the happiest depressed person I’ve ever met.”  She was not the only person to make comments along these lines.  People would honestly ask me if I was ever in a bad mood.  If only they knew…

Before I go further, let me say that I do not suggest that we should constantly be putting our dirty laundry out, nor carry around a sour disposition, nor spout to all the woes and heartbreak we feel.  I truly believe that constantly feeding negative thoughts begets more negative thinking.  Perhaps that is one of the reasons my Mom kept her times of sorrow private.  She had an attitude of optimism.

In that same breath though, I think it’s important that we allow ourselves to be vulnerable amongst our loved ones.  It’s this misconception that everyone is doing perfectly fine that creates this false feeling to the downtrodden that they are alone in their suffering.  I know that is exactly how I felt when I experienced Postpartum Depression (PPD).  In my eyes, every Mom I had met spoke of an immediate connection with their child and joy beyond compare.  I loved and adored my infant daughter, but I was not experiencing those same feelings that they were describing.  I applaud the first woman who opened up and shared her less-than-positive feelings regarding post childbirth.  It’s that same reason that I have since strived to be open about my own trials.  Since I am, apparently, quite good at hiding my pain during my daily activities, I’ve had to be forward in sharing my true feelings.  Even close friends seem to be baffled when I confess to them that I am barely coping in my daily life.  But, I think it’s important that women, and men, realize that pain and suffering is not set aside just for them individually.  We all must endure and we all must be merciful.

I have had the opportunity to be a listening ear to many women over the past years.  In my efforts to be honest about my challenges, others have felt comfortable in sharing theirs with me.  Some stories included pains I cannot comprehend.  I believe it takes great courage for us to confide in another regarding our deepest suffering.  In my respect for their courage and trust in me, I held their stories private.  But, sadly, I later overheard other women speak unkind words and make judgments regarding these women who had confided in me.  I wanted to shout out, “If only you knew what they were dealing with privately, you would not be so quick to judge.”  So as not to damage the trust that those courageous women had placed in me, I held my tongue.  I simply tried to suggest to the gossiping women that these other women may be dealing with more than they understood.  That experience, more than any other, taught me that we ought not make unrighteous judgments.  Every person has their own story and struggle and rarely, if ever, do we have the whole picture.

I once had the pleasure of spending time with this sweet couple.  The husband was sharing with me how kind-hearted and tender his wife is in everything she does.  He gave the example that even when they’re driving on the road and someone cuts them off, his wife is quick to come up with a myriad of valid reasons as to why the driver did so.  He admitted that he would quickly become agitated until her suggestions of “perhaps they didn’t know it was their turn-off,” “maybe they have a loved one who is ill and needs to get to the hospital,” or simply, “they must be having a hard day” would calm his nerves and change his heart.  When he shared that story, it encouraged me to reconsider people’s unpleasant actions and try to find the unoffensive reasoning behind it.  I once overheard another couple talking about their occasional misunderstandings.  The husband said to his wife, “Whenever I say something, just know that I mean it in the most positive way possible.”  An easy out on his part, but likely true nonetheless.  There are so many ways to interpret actions, aren’t there?  Often we are quick to assume the worst.

What I’m trying to say is let’s be slow to judge, quick to find the positive, and courageous enough to be vulnerable from time to time.  If we but try to bear one another’s burdens and joys with merciful hearts, we will each be blessed with more peace and hope.

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Breaking Through Boredom

Another post later in the week due to another beautiful girl’s birthday taking place.  My second oldest is as kind and precious as her picture conveys.  Celebrating her birthday was a nice pick-me-up amid a rather tough week.  This pregnancy has given my emotions a whirlwind of a ride and I’m about ready to get off.

I saw a “Bored Board” pinned on Pinterest and I had to pin it in my Helpful Tips Board, not my Kids Board.  The reason being that I have been bored.  It’s not that I don’t have a laundry list of things I should be doing, I just have zero interest or motivation to do them.  Even some of the fun things I enjoy or seek out as my time-wasters, Facebook and Pinterest, are of little interest to me.  I am bored.  That’s why the “Bored Board” was so intriguing to me.  The original source that I have found for the “Bored Board” is on a blog called Grateful for the Ride.

I’ve had to force myself to do some of these items this week just to hold on to my sanity.  I think that’s what made my daughter’s birthday such a fun day was that I really got to put the “Bored Board” into practice.  I was able to…

Be creative with her birthday cake…

Enjoy Outside play while we flew kites…

Read this darling children’s book to the birthday girl’s class called What Animals Really Like

and Did something helpful by…um…WAIT!  Isn’t my whole role as a Mom to be doing something helpful?  I’m pretty sure I could put a lot down for the letter ‘D.’  You may be asking yourself, “Sara, what about the letter ‘E’ for exercise?”  Yeah, that one has kind of eluded me lately.  Having had two preemie babies, I do what I can to keep a baby in me for as long as possible.  Twenty minutes of exercise isn’t conducive to that goal.  Although, I’m sure my body could stand a 20 minute walk around the neighborhood.  However, I feel like just running errands with a toddler in tow should count as an exercise.  I know I have to exercise a lot of patience to survive it.

So, there you have it.  I’m still battling the feelings of boredom, but applying the “Bored Board” really did help break up the doldrums.  What do you do to break through the boredom?

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Facing Our Fears

Last October, I had written a post on Over the Big Moon regarding fears and how to cope with them.  In case you did not have a chance to read the post at the time, I wanted to take a minute and share it here on First You Must Begin.  It’s a post to address fears of all shapes and sizes; from the deep dark ones that we specifically try not to think about for fear of a self-fulfilling prophesy to the less typical fears such as hornet stings, scurrying mice, and ants in our pantry.  The latter being a fear that has plagued me since growing up in my childhood home where it seemed we lived on an ant hill.

A few years ago, I brought my fear of ant infestation up during one of my therapy sessions.  The therapist sweetly reminded me of my size versus the ants.  A good point, for sure.  But what actually has helped me cope was a question she asked me that day: What’s the worst that can happen?  I told her all the things that I dreaded about an ant infestation in my home – the vulnerability of knowing they’ve invaded my space, the food that has to be thrown out, the clean-up process, the potential laundry that has to be washed, and the possibility of them crawling on me.  All of these things still give me the heebie-jeebies.  My therapist listened and then calmly suggested that most of those issues were merely inconveniences and that an exterminator visit could put most of my concerns to rest.  She’s right.  Ants in my home will not result in World War III.  So, why allow myself to escalate to the point of paralyzing fear?

I am fully aware that my therapist’s question is not a cure all for every fear.  But for the fun of it, let’s put the same question to the test for my daughter’s fear of bees and hornets.  An honest fear for her to have based on the fact that she received three hornet stings and two bee stings in the course of one month last summer.  All of the stings came when she was doing nothing to provoke them.  She just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, fives times.  So, what’s the worst that can happen?  My daughter would say that the worst that can happen is that she gets stung again.  But that is not the worst that can happen.  The worst that can happen was what she started to do.  She started to fear going outside and avoided opportunities for trips to the park.  That’s the worst.  She let the bees and hornets take away her freedom to play outdoors.

These examples of fear are on a smaller scale, but I often wonder how much fear could be laid to rest if we merely asked, “What’s the worst that can happen?”  Again, I’m not trying to put this question to the test with true tragedy and trauma, though it does work when I reflect back on even the hardest trials I have faced.  But how many fears could we overcome in a day if we tried to bring things in to perspective?

Perhaps we have a fear of speaking in public?  Or being seen without make-up?  Or someone coming over to our home only to find that we don’t keep it perfectly clean and tidy?  We have these fears that we’ve created for ourselves that just aren’t rationale or fair.  We worry about imagined judgments being made on us.  And in cases where the judgments may come, they likely would have come no matter how clean our home was, how perfect our make-up looked, or how refined we were in our speech.  We could all benefit from seeing the bigger picture rather than just that single situation.

Broadening my perspective has made a significant impact in re-evaluating even my darkest trials.  When I realized my Mom would die of Ovarian Cancer, I began to mourn her loss before she was even gone.  I would sit and sob over how I would not be able to function without her.  I was certain I would not get out of bed for days when the time came.  There was a point when I was spending more time hypothesizing about my level of devastation with her passing rather than enjoying the time I still had with her.  Thankfully, my husband pointed this out to me and I redirected my thoughts and started to more fully embrace my remaining time with her.  Then the time came and my Mom passed away.  My heart ached (and continues to ache) in ways that I had not experienced prior.  I’ve yet to find the right words to properly express the magnitude of my sorrow or the deep impact her absence has had in my daily life.  However, I kept (and keep) moving forward in faith.  After her passing, I never once failed to get out of bed.  Although, I admit, those first few months are still a blur.  What was the worst that could happen?  It happened.  My Mom died.  But, thanks to my faith, the worst that really happened is that I have to wait a little while and then I can be with my Mom again in heaven.

I survived through the passing of my Mom, my best friend.  It didn’t ruin me.  If anything, it made me stronger.  As is the case with every trial I have endured, they have all made me stronger.

I speak from personal experience that even the darkest of nights has a dawn. During a severe bout with depression, I spent a long while clinging to my couch thinking that somehow I could be safe from pain if I just staid there and slept. My anxiety increases just reflecting on this time in my life and my heart sinks thinking of all the lost moments of life fully lived.   I was doing, then, what my daughter was doing with her fear of bees and hornets. I was hiding.  What was the worst thing that could have happened in that situation?  It wasn’t hiding, though that was bad, it would have been giving up.  Had I given in to my fears of worthlessness, hopelessness, and despair, I would not be able to enjoy this incredible chapter of my life that I never dreamed possible.

I think fear is really the apprehension that comes from the unknown outcome of a personal struggle of any size.  I get discouraged, downtrodden, and fearful just like anybody else still.  But I have a friend that is sweet to remind me that, “[I] can do hard things.”  And she’s right.  I CAN do hard things.  And sometimes the hardest thing I have to do is not give in to fear nor give up on myself.

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Living a Life Based on Truths

I attended California State University, Fullerton (CSUF) in the Fall immediately following my high school graduation.  It was not my first choice, but it served me well and I’m actually quite pleased with having graduated from there with my B.A. in Communications.  Before entering the University, I hadn’t a clue what to major in nor what career path to take before I reached my ultimate goal of being a Stay-at-Home Mom.  While I did enjoy writing, it fell in the unattainable dream category, as I had no faith in my abilities.  With no real direction in mind, I decided to choose my major by default.  No joke.  I sat down to the list of majors available at CSUF and
crossed them off the list one by one until only one remained.  The result was Communications with an emphasis in Public Relations (PR).

As I began my courses, I was pleased with my decision.  However, the further I studied my emphasis, the less engaged I was in the curriculum.  That’s when I read the beginnings of a book called What Color Is Your Parachute?.  The book was originally written in 1970 and has been updated virtually every year since.  It’s basically a job-search manual.  While I did not finish it, the first few chapters were eye-opening.  I completed a series of exercises to help figure out which career path would best fulfill my unique interests and abilities.  You’d think this would be something I could have figured out on my own, but I struggled to understand my true self at the time.

Here I was preparing myself for a big career in PR and it turned out I wanted nothing to do with it.  Communications was still a fruitful major, but my emphasis no longer suited me based on the knowledge I gained from the above mentioned book.  I moved forward with my education plans, but I decided to change the direction of my job search.  Surprisingly, I had discovered that I genuinely wanted to be an Administrative Assistant.  The responsibilities of an assistant nurtured all of the aspects of my abilities and interests.  Certainly, the position did not offer as much praise nor prestige, but it was what I wanted to do.  Bear in mind, being a Mom was not probable at that early of an age for me and being a writer had still been pushed aside as not even being plausible in my eyes.

Now, I told you all of that, to tell you this – sometimes we get lost along the way and need to hold on to the concrete things that we know to be true.  I’ve been thinking about this more and more, as I’ve been struggling with the affects of my mood disorder in conjunction with pregnancy hormones.  Times have been tough for me.  Things that I would normally enjoy have felt dulled.  When I laugh, there is a part of me that says, “Oh, look, you’re laughing.  That feels good.”  I don’t think laughter should be a rarity.  I believe laughter is a necessity.  I mean, heck, I wrote a whole post on the importance of Living a Life with Laughter.  So, I’m sure you can imagine how disheartening it feels when joy evades you for no particular reason.  I’ve been here before, but it hasn’t made it any easier.  In fact, sometimes feeling this numbness and disinterest adds fear to my situation, as I am aware of how bad it can get.  Before you go worrying about me; don’t.  Just keep reading.

I’m gonna be okay.  I know this because I’ve learned that holding on to the concrete things in my life pulls me through.  During a particularly difficult time a few years back, I discovered a technique that helps me fight off anxiety.  I find that anxiety is usually a result of thinking excessively about the unknowns of life.  Unknowns can create a mess load of panic and worry.  I found that instead of obsessing over the unknowns, I could reflect on memories of my Mom or concrete things that I knew to be true.  For instance, I would ponder the tangible blessings in my life, such as my husband, my children, my knowledge of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the roof over my head, etc.  The memories of my Mom might seem like a strange thing to contemplate during difficult times, but they are truths versus unknowns.  The truth is that I have several wonderful memories of my Mom that I get to look back on.  How much more joy can be found in thinking about the goodness of life than worrying about the unknowns?  Especially since oftentimes the unknowns are beyond our control.

Thankfully, anxiety is not the weight I am having to bear at this time.  My difficulty, as mentioned above, is enduring the numbness that overcomes me with no reasonable explanation.  This is where I think back on What Color Is Your Parachute? and realize that I find enjoyment and satisfaction in unsuspecting places.  I am a task-oriented girl, so I’ve learned that a task will help me through the day.  Of course, I never want to start the task, because who wants to begin anything when they’re down?  Am I right?  But a task helps me, so I strive to begin even when I don’t want to.  I also learned from the above mentioned book, that I gain fulfillment from organizing and planning things.  It somehow brings me peace to put things in order.  So, while I’ve been struggling to find purpose in my life, I’ve given myself tasks that suit these aspects of me that need fulfilling.  It may seem odd, but going through my digital pictures and organizing them into chronological folders can calm me down and lift my spirits.  That’s what I loved about this book.  It helped me discover that there were activities, though not outwardly rewarding, that brought me inner peace and happiness.

I think what I’m trying to say is that life is tough.  Sometimes it’s tougher than feels necessary.  I find that during these tougher times, it’s okay to take it easy and hold on to the concrete parts about yourself that you know will help.  It may not be glamorous.  The things that fulfill you and help you move forward may not be a big fancy PR job, it may be merely assisting someone else in their role.  And you may not spend every day out there taking on the world.  That’s okay.  Create a life that feels good on the inside; not one that just looks good on the outside.

I worked as an Executive Administrative Assistant for a few years before obtaining my dream job of being a Stay-at-Home Mom.  Ironically, being an assistant on an executive level proved to have more perks than I could have imagined, such as an all expense paid trip to Barcelona, Spain with my husband.  The role of mother turned out to be the more challenging, and simultaneously most rewarding, position for me.  The entire job of being a mom is built upon unknowns.  A world of unknowns that has led me to this wonderful opportunity to cultivate my love for writing and share my experiences with those out in the Internet abyss.

My writing may not look good on the outside, but it sure feels good to do it.  My role as a mother is chalked full of imperfections, but it feels amazing during those moments, like last night, when I finally helped my girls with their first cross stitch project that they have been begging me to do.  It’s not a prestigious life, but it’s filled with beautiful truths that I hold dear.  I have no idea when I’ll get some relief from this down cycle in my mood disorder.  In the mean time, I figure I’ll take it a day at a time and keep nurturing those tangible truths and activities that bring me personal peace.

May each of you find joy and fulfillment in the concrete things in your life and let go of the unknowns that can feel overwhelming and potentially lead to anxiety.  And, if you’re having a difficult time understanding the basic actions in life that bring you true fulfillment, perhaps it’s time to find out what color your parachute is and allow yourself to soar.

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Coping with Depression

I’ve still been pretty down and lonely lately.  I’m not going to lie.  I’m doing my best to stop whining about it, but sometimes life just hits you.  It’s not like any one thing is bad.  I have it quite good, honestly.  However, I suffer from Bipolar II disorder.  Basically that means that nothing has to be wrong for me to feel depressed and I can seem perfectly happy at times and nobody but my husband and those closest to me would know otherwise.  I take medicine to treat the disorder.  I’m sure there are many out there with a thought on the matter of my method of treatment.  In respect for my current state, let’s not put down a method that has saved me from the depths of the darkest time in my life.

It’s funny how life works.  I never had much sympathy for depression or people that had to take pills to make themselves “happy.”  Sadly, I looked at it as a weakness on their part.  It seemed like the easy way out to just take a pill when life got “too hard.”  Boy, was I put in my place.  A pill is not a cure-all and depression is not the definition for merely having a bad week.

Depression first hit me in the form of Postpartum Depression (PPD).  My husband would tell you it hit me the moment I learned my Mom had Ovarian Cancer.  Maybe he’s right.  I just know that it did not become crippling to my daily functioning until after my eldest was born.  It’s truly disturbing how handicapped it can make you.  Seeking medical attention was the first step in the right direction and the hardest.

As if you don’t feel down enough, you have to walk in to the office and say, “I give up.”  Of course, taking medicine isn’t giving up, but it sure feels like that.  You feel like such a failure.  I tried to be smart about it and coupled my physical health care with mental health care and began seeing a therapist in April of 2007.  At that time, my Mom was still alive and looked at my need for therapy as a failure on her part.  It’s amazing how seeking help somehow implies that we’re weak or a failure.

Thankfully, I had a therapist who helped me address my need for medicine in a healthy light.  She reminded me that depression is as real as Diabetes.  Diabetics need medicine for their health.  It doesn’t make them less of a person to take that medicine.  The medicine does not make things perfect by any means in either case.  It makes one functional.  It brings the individual as close to “normal” as possible.  Certainly, there are additional things that Diabetics and individuals that suffer from depression, or what’s now been diagnosed as Bipolar II disorder for me, can do to help fight off dangerous episodes.    I suppose I need to up my momentum to do those activities.

Exercise is a good start.  How ironic though that what you need most during those lows is the first thing that you can’t even imagine attempting.  That’s when I try to start small.  First goal, don’t fall asleep.  Sleeping just begets more depressive thoughts.  When things were really bad, I slept for hours on end both day and night.  It sounds heavenly for the exhausted working Mom, but I was an at-home-Mom and that’s just considered flat out neglect.  So, stay awake!

Reading is another excellent tool.  There are so many things out there to uplift and edify.  Particularly, reading scriptures.  I’ve decided to work on this part of my life.  I suppose this paragraph isn’t relevant for those that read my blog who do not have faith in a Higher Being.  Though, I wonder, if scripture reading would help all readers regardless of their faith.  The scriptures merely teach some basic truths and do-good-attitudes.  For me, it helps me see the bigger picture.  My Mom doesn’t seem as far away, as silly as that may sound.  For instance, we read scriptures as a family tonight and we were reading about the Lord’s ability to give us strength beyond that of man.  Then we asked one another in what ways has Heavenly Father given us the “strength of the Lord” in our personal lives.  My first thought was that He gave me strength to move from all that I’ve ever known in Southern California.  At times like this, it’s particularly hard to be away from some of my core support from back “home.”  The second thought though was how Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ have given me strength to live my daily life without my Mom around.  I miss her so very much.  Her physical absence in my life has changed me in ways that I did not anticipate.  Then, I recall the bigger picture and take comfort that my time with her is not done.  It’s eternal.

Another thing that helps me cope with these lows is admitting that I need help, as mentioned above.  These times are less frequent with medicine on board, but I still need help.  It’s that whole pride thing that gets me every time.  I don’t want to admit I need help.  I don’t want to admit that I’m not doing any of the things I should be doing.  I want to pretend that I’m perfectly fine.  Isn’t that easier for everyone else around me?  Please don’t take this as a cry for help, as I really am functioning fine and my logical mind is still in control enough to recognize the many blessings in my life and the support that I do have.  Honestly, because I am properly medicated and do have an excellent support system, I don’t think I’m feeling any different than the rest of the population who has a down time now and again.

But maybe if you are reading and feeling more down than your typical behavior, try the above mentioned things.  Try to get moving, get reading, and get help.  Whether you need medical help or an increase of emotional support, don’t think less of yourself for asking for it.

If you are fortunate enough to be in a happier state at the time, remember Scottish author, Ian Maclaren’s, advice to, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

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Real Is In

My friend posted a video on her Facebook page yesterday about Pinterest Perfection.  In the video it speaks to the impossible task of living up to the Pinterest world.  At one point, the woman confesses, “Real is in.”  Well, if real is in, I’m about to give our readers a full dose of real.

Do you remember my post two months ago entitled No Excuses, No Explanations?  Well, I’m stocked full of them right now.  You may or may not have noticed that I did not post last week.  I noticed because it got added on to my list of reasons why I’m feeling like a pure flop right now.  Are you ready?

I was already feeling blue before last week even hit me.  Three out of my four closest friends in my new hometown somehow managed to plan all of their end-of-summer vacations at the same time.  How dare they, huh?  Add on that my BFF (Best Friend Forever) was visiting from Southern California and she left to go home on Monday.  Post-BFF blues kicked in.  Add on that my husband had been working crazy long hours.  Are you seeing how my social support was lacking?  That’s a sure sign of impending doom for my emotional well-being.

Then last Tuesday, I tweaked my back in the morning during a routine struggle to get my son in his high chair.  I could tell right away it wasn’t good.  I tried to work through the pain.  I couldn’t take any of my known remedies, as there was a small chance that I was pregnant.  As a result, I was left with Tylenol and ice as my only relief.  Thankfully, I live in a very supportive community.  I had a friend come and put my son down in his crib for his nap.  That allowed for some rest on my end too.

So as not to drag out the story, I will sum this portion up with the basics.  Husband called off from work, a trip to the ER was had, tests confirmed I was not pregnant so I could receive appropriate medication, x-ray showed a straight spine in all the wrong places, and my legs were completely uneven.  In short, pain killers and muscle relaxers were not going to give me enough relief to get back to better.  Plus, we had to cancel a destination wedding we had planned to attend this past weekend since driving for hours on end would be physically impossible.

Then, hormones hit.  Oh, blasted hormones.  How I despise you!  As if pain hadn’t made me grouchy enough, hormones had to arrive on the scene.  Sadly, my family were the real victims in this downward spiral.  My eldest daughter took the brunt of it.

Every single time I think I’m going to seriously lose my mind with my eldest, I am forced to look at myself in the mirror.  Does anybody else out there sometimes turn in to this ugly person that affects the behavior of all those around them for the worst?  Generally, I would like to think that I bring out the best in others.  That was certainly not the case this past week.  I would gladly have preferred being sent away from society so as not to emotionally damage those in contact with me.

So, as things were looking particularly bleak, I began to add on more negative thoughts to really make the week eventful.  I started to think of all the things I was NOT doing right.  Our budget is a good example.  Two pay periods of following the budget.  Then BAM!  Back to School needs hit.  Now, I’m over budget, lacking in my usual social support, taking things out on those I love most, in pain, and fighting my primal desire to turn in to a werewolf the way Jacob does in The Twilight Series.

I managed to hold it together enough by continually pondering this analogy I once read:  If you get a flat tire, you fix it and get back on the road.  You don’t go and poke holes in the remaining three tires.

I really did try the best that I could to stop jamming a knife into my remaining three tires.  My husband may say differently.  He said one of my screaming fits with my eldest was almost comical.  He referenced remarks made in Bill Cosby, Himselfwhen Bill Cosby speaks about how his wife was once beautiful and then she had kids.  It may sound hurtful, but truly it’s the most honest bit of comedy gold when he describes how children change us.

I really was trying, then nature poked a hole in one of my remaining tires.  I came down with what feels like a sinus infection.  Surprisingly though, I’m surviving today better than I anticipated.

My friends have returned from their vacations, the close friend that tended to me all week is still talking to me, I had additional friends help me out, my husband and children seem to still think I’m pretty special, a Chiropractor visit made my legs the same length again, and we had a few fun and memorable things happen over this past week.  My son said his first official word: shoe; and we hosted a last minute outdoor movie in our backyard with the help of some friends.

So, there’s a nice dose of real for you.  Feel free to share some of the “real” you have going on in your life.  I find that sometimes we just need to cry on the side of the road for a bit before we fix that flat tire and get back out there.  My crying is done.  Time to fix the flat.

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