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.
Continue reading…

Purposefully Kind

During the two weeks that my Mom was home on hospice before passing away from cancer, we were the recipients of many kind deeds from an abundance of people.  One in particular that stands out still is an ice chest that arrived on our door filled with fruit juices, snacks, toys, and a variety of goodies.  It was from two girlfriends of mine that I hadn’t seen in quite some time.  When I first opened it, it seemed like such an odd menagerie of items.  However, as the days passed and I needed drinks for visitors, snacks for kids, and a toy for my toddler daughter who was desperate for attention, it all made perfect sense.  Years later, I received a phone call from a friend who was at a loss as to what to do for a friend of hers whose mom had just passed away.  My friend was asking me what she could do for her own friend, as she knew I had experience with the situation.  The ice chest immediately came to my mind.  My friend took the advice and told me later how grateful her own friend was for the gesture.  Since then, I have given greater thought as to how I can be of service to those around me in a way that is particular to their situation.  We’ve heard this described in several different ways – do unto others, as you would have done to you; be the good; pay it forward; love thy neighbor; and so on.  The motto I am going with lately is – throw kindness around like confetti!

Confetti is like glitter, it gets EVERYWHERE!  That’s what I want kindness to be in my life.  I want it to be EVERYWHERE!  I want to be like the waitress I had two weeks ago.  She had overheard our table conversation of snow clothes needs for our kids.  She immediately asked what sizes we needed for our kids.  I told her and she said, “Let’s exchange numbers so that I can get you what I have.”  She was true to her word too.  She went home, went through her storage, found my kids sizes, contacted me, and handed a bunch of items over and let me know she would keep in touch if she found more stuff that would work for my kids.  Sure you have a friend that might gladly hand over their used items, but a stranger?  Not likely.  And it’s not like snow clothes are cheap, trust me.  For the sake of argument, though, let’s say you don’t stand in need of anything financially and you can easily give away snow clothes without a second thought.  What then makes this situation that much more special?  She was a woman who paid attention to the needs of those she came in contact with.  Sure, she’s a waitress and she should be aware of an empty glass or a missing dish, but her role as waitress ends there.  What makes her extraordinary though is that her kindess wasn’t a product of her customer-oriented occupation, it was something she obviously carried around with her everywhere and then threw it around like confetti.

This is definitely an attribute that I need to improve upon, especially in our home.  I kid you not, I raised my voice at my bickering daughters yesterday to tell them to be kind to each other.  What sense does that make?  Granted, I was in pain, impatient, and frustrated, but that is not an excuse.  In fact, I plan to write a future post entirely about how that is not an excuse for poor behavior.  I wasn’t throwing around kindness, I was throwing around a poor attitude and it was felt by the entire home.  Because that’s how our moods and actions work, remember Attitudes are Contagious?

So, my goal is to heighten the amount of kindness I show others and, when possible, make it more purposeful.  I have started by following the example of that kind waitress.  While I am not in a financial state that I can give away a bunch of stuff, I’m doing what I can.  I recently posted a huge stash of infant clothes up on Craigslist for $30.  It was an entire wardrobe for an infant boy and then some.  Since posting it and having a person call to confirm the price, I have put several more items in the stack.  There’s well over $100 worth of items in there now and it’s no longer limited to clothes, as I learned the recipient is a first-time mom.  I don’t say this to boast of my generosity, because, frankly, I still feel a little guilty that I’m not handing over all of this stuff for free.  I’m sharing it as proof that the kindness and generosity of that waitress has spread into our home and I’m going to make sure I get that kindness everywhere.

What a wonderful time of year for all of us to increase our capacity for kindness.  It’s so easy to get overwhelmed and frustrated during this busy time of year, when instead we should be slowing down, soaking it all in, and spreading kindness.  I flash back to the scene in You’ve Got Mail when Meg Ryan gets in the cash only line at Zabars.  Do yourself a favor and watch the clip.  Then say to yourself, “I will be Joe, not Henry.”  The kindness of Joe brings smiles to the grumpy.

Go ahead and throw kindness around like confetti.  Even better, come back here and tell me the impact that it’s had on the world around you, because it WILL make an impact.  I know because the impact of the ice chest, a warm meal, flowers, snow clothes, care packages, cookies, free baby-sitting, and so very much more, has warmed my heart and brightened my day countless times.

Continue reading…

Attitudes Are Contagious

I recently made the choice to stop contributing on Over the Big Moon.  While I loved the opportunity to add to their website, I felt that I needed to focus more on our family and my recent health concerns.  I would still like to share those past posts here on my own site.  This post below was published back in March, which explains why I still reference being pregnant within the text.  I hope you enjoy!  This is one of my favorite posts and I was glad I had the chance to read it again!

I was skimming through a couple of my books this past week to read the highlighted portions.  I came across one line in a book that stated that courage was contagious and then another book wrote of confidence being contagious.  I nodded in agreement; my own life having been impacted by another’s confidence and courage that they had showed in theirs.  Then, I thought to look up some quotes about these attitudes being contagious.  It turns out, according to a Google search, kindness is contagious too, as is fear, creativity, enthusiasm, cruelty and the list goes on.  Apparently, we are a contagious sort of people.  
There was this one quote though that summed it up, “Attitudes are contagious.  Are yours worth catching?”  The irony of the quote is that it was said by two people.  I had yet to see a quote credited to two people until this one.  I imagined a husband and wife sitting in the same room and the thought must have been so contagious that they both uttered the words simultaneously.  The idea makes me giggle to myself.
I could wrap this post up right now with this poignant quote and call it a day, but I think it’s worth discussing the influence our attitudes can have on those around us.  As I mentioned above, I witnessed the attitudes of courage and confidence in others and it made a significant impact in my life.  Particularly, the attitude of courage.  
About two years ago, I lived in Southern California.  I had plans to spend the rest of my days there.  Most all of my friends and family lived in a 50 mile radius.  It was home.  Unfortunately, it was taking a greater toll on me to live there than I had realized.  The financial strains of the high cost of living, the fast paced life, and the overpopulation were wearing on me.  I felt that a move out of the state would be helpful, but I didn’t have the courage to leave everything I knew behind.  Certainly, there were several reasons that eventually made our out-of-state-move possible, but one of the big ones was the courage of a dear couple whom I admire greatly.  This couple had lived in my hometown for over thirty years and raised their kids in the same home that entire time.  Their home was the type where one always felt welcomed.  Two summers ago, with all of their children grown, they sold their home and moved to Utah.  As I joined in a couple gatherings to say farewell to this amazing couple, I sat back and witnessed the courage it was taking for the wife, particularly, to leave the “home” she had known behind.  But I saw that it was not the end of the world.  I guess I subconsciously thought it would be the end of the world for me if I moved, as it would be the end of the only world I had known up until that point.  The attitude of courage among this couple was indeed contagious.  Saying goodbye to them was one more piece to the puzzle that was coming together for us to move our lives out-of-state.  It was the piece of courage.  Courage that I so desperately needed.  Courage that brought us to a place that I now lovingly call home.
For every positive attitude that gets passed along in our daily actions, there is also the negative that we can, perhaps unintentionally, put out there.  I know this is certainly the case in our own home.  These past couple days are a perfect example.  I have been stressed out and trying to deal with the aches and pains that come with pregnancy.  While I’ve tried to keep my patience, my attitude has been less than positive and upbeat.  In fact, I have been rude and unkind.  My kids got the brunt of it.  My eldest, who soaks up my mood like a sponge, started to get sassy and then overly emotional.  Hmmmm.  I wonder where she got that from?  Oh yeah, ME!  Like the stomach bug that quickly spreads through an entire household, my poor attitude was picked up and passed along until everyone in the home was on edge.  It was like an epidemic and, regretfully, I was at the heart of it.
Attitudes are contagious whether we want them to be or not.  Just like a child is more likely to catch a stomach bug that’s spreading through a home than an adult, they’re also more likely to catch our poor attitude.  My guess is that it’s because a child is not going to break down our behavior and cut us some slack.  It will simply be, “Mom’s being mean.  I’m going to be mean.”  It’s not malicious, it’s just the nature of things.  Whereas, my husband may be more inclined to think things through with, “Sara seems on edge.  I wonder what’s really bothering her or if she’s feeling OK?”  Having patience with our children, during those moments when our negative attitudes start being thrown back at us, can help prevent added angst.  We need to understand that we have the opportunity to spread the attitude of joy or contention to those we come in contact with daily. Of course, be realistic.  We should not be expected to exude enthusiasm at all points in our day.  Our children need to understand that the downs happen too.  But we don’t need to dwell in those downs.  I had the opportunity this past week to recognize my poor attitude and strive to change it for the better for the sake of our home.
Tuesday was a particularly busy morning and it seemed that my daughter was needier than usual.  I kept trying to concentrate on a task and she kept asking me 101 questions.  I grew impatient and snapped at her.  She was just bored and wanted to make a snowflake.  A snowflake that would have resulted in me making it, which I felt too busy to do at the time.  When I completed my task, she had already given up on trying to get my attention.  I realized that I had been a grump and took my stress out on her unnecessarily.  I went and made her the best paper snowflake that I could and apologized to her for being a grouch.  I did my best for the rest of the day to be kinder and not dwell in my low.  I wasn’t perfect, but my sincere apology must have left an impression, as she mentioned multiple times through out the day, “It’s okay if you’re a grouch, Mom.”  I suppose the attitude of forgiveness may be contagious too.
Let us all reflect on the attitudes we are carrying around and ask ourselves if it’s something we want our children, our loved ones, and our communities to catch.  The best part about sending out positive attitudes is that their contagious nature results in them coming back our way.  What a beautiful gift to give the world and ourselves; that of a positive attitude.
Continue reading…

You Can’t Fix Yourself by Breaking Someone Else

I find human nature amusing at times, don’t you?  The first scene of the movie He’s Just Not That Into You is a perfect example.  It shows a little girl being bullied at the park by a little boy.  The little girl then goes up to her Mom to explain the events and the Mom’s response is, “That means the boy likes you.”  Wait, what?  Being mean is an indication of liking someone?!  I recall, in my own youth, being told that if a kid was being mean to me it’s a sign that they are jealous of me.  This brings me back to my first statement that us humans can be an odd bunch sometimes.

My examples above are that of kids, but some of our backwards behavior carries on into our adulthood.  Are you ready for my true confession of discordant thinking?  I take you back to the first year of my marriage.  This is when a disturbing behavior of mine was brought to my attention.  I don’t exactly recall the specifics of how it came about, but I quickly gained the nickname “Red Pen” from my husband.  The name was an indication of my constantly correcting everything he did.  You may recall the orange slicing incident from my previous post Celebrating Differences?  He’d also respond to some of my remarks with a simple, “Put the gavel down.”  This was his delicate way of saying I needed to quit unrighteously judging him or the circumstances around me.  In short, I was being unkind as well as a micro-manager.  The latter being an annoying habit for sure, but harmless for the most part.  Or is it?

It turns out that I was increasing the frequency of my “Red Pen” behavior when I was feeling a lack of control over myself.  I didn’t really make the correlation until I was sitting in a therapy session a few years back.  I was confessing to my therapist that I tend to point out all of my husband’s faults and short-comings.  She, being a therapist, immediately recognized this behavior as a sign of my own insecurities.  My insecure nature had already been recognized as the root of a large portion of my struggles so I’m sure this behavior came as no surprise to her.  Then she pulled a typical therapist move on me.  She went and said something I had heard a million times before, but had never internalized or applied it to myself.  Her response to my confession was simple, “You can’t fix yourself by breaking someone else.”  Wait, what?  You can’t?  Because somewhere along the way I subconsciously made this a truth.  If I wasn’t able to feel good about myself, then surely I could make my husband feel worse or bring him down and that would somehow put me up higher, right?  Wrong.

Oh, how sad of a way to behave.  How terrible I felt when I realized that I had been breaking my husband down in a failed attempt to lift myself up.  I took the therapy session to heart and began trying to right my wrongs immediately.  It must have worked successfully because I was just telling my husband about the topic of this post being that you can’t fix yourself by breaking someone else and he promptly responded with, “You don’t do that.”  I had to remind him of our first years of marriage and then he said, “Oh yeah, that happened.”  Unfortunately, the micro-managing sneaks back in to our relationship when I am feeling less than optimal about myself.  Thankfully, it doesn’t escalate in to me trying to break him down or point out all of his flaws, as I’ve learned to reel myself in and see the situation for what it is.

It’s tough to redirect ourselves from these unhealthy behavior patterns that somehow get ingrained in us.  Obviously, nobody taught me this behavior specifically.  I was not pulled aside as a child and told, “You know what would make you feel better about yourself?  Bringing others down.”  But I did have to be directly told to NOT act in that manner.  And what about the other behaviors I mentioned above?  A kid who bullies being an indication that he likes you?  Or is jealous of you?  Huh?  That is an odd way to show your admiration or affection for someone.  What happens to the person that buys in to that way of thinking and ends up in a harmful relationship with someone who treats them in such a manner?

This brings me to my final thought, which leaves me recalling a line from the movie French Kiss.  The main character, Kate, is frustrated with the manner in which the French share their emotions in an opposite fashion to their true feelings and exclaims, “Happy, smile.  Sad, frown.  Use the corresponding face with the corresponding emotion.”  My final thought echoes that of Kate’s: Let’s use the corresponding behavior for the corresponding results.  If you want to feel better, be kinder and better.  If you want to feel love, show love.  Let’s strive to lift one another up in an effort to make the world a happier place rather than bring someone down under the falsehood that we will somehow be lifted higher.  Let us compliment people and magnify their strengths, not their weaknesses.

I learned that bringing my husband down did not make me feel any better about myself.  I must have been disillusioned into thinking so, as I had made a habit of it, but it was not the reality.  I often felt worse about myself, as I was bringing unnecessary contention into our home.  However, lifting him up and lifting others up around me actually does make me feel better about myself.  Joy begets more joy.  I know this to be true because there is more joy, understanding and compassion found in our marriage now than when I was trying to fix myself by breaking him.

May we each begin to recognize the true happiness that is felt within when we lift others rather than break them down.

Continue reading…

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.

Continue reading…

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.

Continue reading…

3 Ways to Bring Sunshine to the Soul

Don’t you love those times in life when you somehow feel more upbeat or at peace no matter what life is throwing at you?  I’m in one of those happy places right now and I’m trying to analyze every little aspect of my daily actions to see what is making the difference.  I think I’ve deduced that there are three things contributing to my happier demeanor – focusing less on myself, tidying up, and the joy of sunshine!

I tried to word that first one – focusing less on myself – carefully.  At first I wanted to put down “doing service” or “thinking more of others.”  But in reflecting back on my week, I don’t know that I’ve been doing any grand acts of service or even thinking of others more than usual.  I think what it comes down to is that I’ve been trying to focus more on the good in life in general rather than constantly dwelling on my short-comings and undone tasks, which there are plenty of the latter these days.  I think what it comes down to is that I’m trying to embrace Abraham Lincoln’s quote about how, “Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.”  I’ve struggled with this quote because there are plenty of times that I want to be happy and I think that I’m doing all I can do make it happen and it’s just not happening.  But perhaps it’s not just about making my mind up to be happy, but rather making my mind up to not dwell on the unhappy, or rather, striving to focus less on myself.  When I say focus less on myself, I’m not saying to ignore the personal nourishment that my body, soul, and mind needs.  By focusing less on myself, I mean looking beyond myself and seeing the beauty around me and the opportunities that abound.  It seems to me that focusing less on myself is the way my mind chooses happiness.  This might not be the case for all.  Perhaps it’s worth thinking about this quote and trying to understand what actions need to be taken for your mind to decide to be happy?

The second thing that just made life a little brighter was tidying up some odds and ends around the house.  I still have seven weeks to go in this pregnancy, but my husband is convinced the nesting period has begun.  Last night, as I busily cleaned up clutter and messes that I had let fall by the wayside for too long, my husband was literally chirping and singing some made-up song about what types of twigs and such do I put in my nest.  Just sharing that makes me giggle all over again, which makes me think that perhaps the goodness of my husband ought to be on this list of things that have been bringing sunshine in to my soul.  I say it often, “I married up.”  But, back to the topic at hand, a tidier home just makes for a happier home, does it not?  I’m not saying perfectly tidy, because lets be honest, I am a mother of three.  I have learned that each child produces more clutter and mess.  I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about the added mess of yet another kiddo.  Comedian, Jim Gaffigan’s, line from his stand-up show Mr. Universe is in the forefront of my mind often these days, “You want to know what it’s like having a fourth kid?  Imagine you’re drowning.  Then someone hands you a baby.”  He goes on to say how happy he actually is to have four (now five kids), but that doesn’t take away from the reality that more kids = more chaos.  Perhaps that’s why my efforts to get our current level of chaos better under control helped calm my nerves a little bit.

Lastly, I truly believe my soul just needed some literal sunshine.  While I love the varying seasons here in Oregon, I can certainly tell how my mood responds to a few days of good ol’ sunshine.  The best part is that it rarely gets too hot here.  So the days filled with sunshine are days that seem almost too perfectly beautiful and comfortable to be real.  Yesterday just happened to be one of those days.  We headed down to the river as a family and met up with some friends.  The kids rode their bikes all over the place and threw rocks in the river, while we visited and took in the beautiful sunshine and scenery.  Taking time to enjoy the beauty of the world in which we live and spending time with loved ones just warms the soul.  It’s truly that simple.

So, if for whatever reason, you are having a difficult time feeling the sunshine in your soul, perhaps one of these three pieces of revelation will help brighten your spirit and your day!

Continue reading…