Friday, May 31, 2019

Notifications



I received your text message. Seeing it was from you made me smile.

I am so thankful for the prayer you sent by email last evening. Thank you for praying for me and encouraging me.

Thank you for reaching out to me on social media. I love the fact that we can share in each other's day and connect when we live so far away from each other.

I love the jokes you sent me.  I laughed much longer than necessary. Thank you for making me laugh today.


Ding. Vibration. Ring.  All day long every day.  Our phones vibrate, ring, light up and alert us that someone is attempting to get into contact with us.  Sometimes, the notifications are annoying. They alert us while we are working, when we are with a client, trying to make dinner,  or working with kids on homework.  We silence our phone and stash it in a location to be picked up later when we actually have time to address other matters.  But there are also the notifications that make us smile.

When my phone rings, and it my sister or my best friend, I am so excited to see they are calling.  An email from a friend I haven't stayed in contact with very well can change the course of a day.  Even the occasional like or heart on social media. Or the comments of, "You are not alone, me too."  "I miss you, can we get together next week?"  "I love seeing how much your kids are growing up!" These notifications warm my heart, enable me to treasure relationships even more and crave community.

But that is the point.  Technological touch points throughout the day should encourage us to take one step further.  To reach out to the friend going through a tough time and actually sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee together.  To meet that group of friends that has promised to get together for the last year and haven't been able to find a time that works.  Our days should be filled with the physical presence of loved ones, not just the online presence.

My favorite notifications make me smile and sometimes blush. They make me feel good about relationships and affirm what I have been investing in and what I have been encouraged by.  Notifications are often the -I love you, I am thinking of you, I am praying for you, I miss you - that we all need and want to hear.



Friday, May 24, 2019

Close Attention



I wondered for three days if my feelings were justified.  Three days.  I had been hurt by an acquaintance when they were rude to me.  I love being a writer.  It brings me great joy to write about life, what makes me happy, what challenges me and what helps me connect with other people. The person who hurt me asked me about being a Professional Organizer.  I refer to being a Professional Organizer as my day time job.  The person asked me if I was "still holding on to the dream of being a writer."  I knew exactly how this conversation was going to play out.  I explained that I was very much a writer and just because I haven't sold a book to a publisher, doesn't mean that I am not a writer.  She scoffed and replied, "Well, I am glad you are having fun with your hobby," and then changed the subject.

I have come to realize that people do not view writers as writers unless they are on the New York Times Best Sellers List.  That a writer isn't a writer if they haven't written ten books and their name is recognized by the masses.  These two ideas are preposterous.  When this woman referred to writing being my hobby,  I knew that she already had a preconceived idea of what she thought a writer should be, and I didn't meet her expectations. She also thought that whatever I had to say wouldn't be relevant and changed the conversation immediately.

I could have retaliated. I could have spoken up for myself.  I could have volunteered all the ways that I am an actual writer.  I have written over 250 short stories, articles, book reviews and poems that have been published in print and online. I have written and conducted a memoir writing class and created a solid curriculum and instructions for writing a book of 30 short stories in 30 days.  I have 9 anthology book inclusions in the last two years.  I have written two books. One a non fiction short story memoir and the other, a children's book about my son Zach as a teen with Autism. I am working on my third book of fiction short stories. -But I didn't volunteer any of this information.  She isn't a friend. She isn't my intended audience. There isn't a reason under the sun why I should ever feel the need to justify something that I love doing.

I love when people tell me about their lives. About the jobs they enjoy, the work they struggle with, the unrealized dreams of what they hope to do someday.  I also am so excited when I hear of accomplishments and successes. I love knowing when things aren't working out the way someone has planned and how I can be praying for people. I love when my circle of friends live life together and share in every life happening.  This is what friends do.  They love each other. They support each other. They pray for each other.

I wonder how you have been hurt. Started a small business and all of your friends told you they thought it was so great, but no one bought anything or supported you? You shared your dream of what you wanted to do someday and then were told it was impractical and that you shouldn't quit your day job?  Worked yourself to the bone and proved yourself to be a loyal employee only to be passed over time and time again for the promotion you desired?  Finally succeeded and some never really committed to memory what you actually were working so hard to accomplish because it wasn't viewed a worthy? People and relationships are hard!  People are prickly, sometimes downright abrasive and often not supportive.  They are self centered, unwilling to praise others and do not let themselves be excited for someone else's success. To me, that is a sorry state of existence.

I love observing people. Their word choices, their mannerisms, the flow of conversation and even the words left unsaid.  And in all these years of observing people, I have learned that it is very important to pay close attention to the people who don't clap when you win.

Never beg for affirmation. Never work for a friendship or for someone to like you.  Sometimes, it is time to circle the wagons and tighten your sphere down to the ones who naturally clap when you win.  To pare your relationships down to those that matter.  To surround yourself with people who build you up and not tear you down.  To only love  people that love you and take mutual joy in all of your successes and walk with you through the dessert of pain and suffering.

Those three days that I spent wondering if my hurt feelings were justified?  Those were three wasted days.  My feelings were justified and I do not need to look elsewhere to understand this fact.  There is a reason why this woman who hurt me is an acquaintance and not a friend and involved in my every day life. Her referring to my "hobby" reminded me exactly why she has been kept at arms length.  The next time she and I come face to face, I will be kind, I will greet her warmly, and I will move on.  Because I do not plan to waste energy on those that do not clap for me.



-Side note- Do not greet me with a round of applause the next time I see you. You know who you are my snarky friends.




Power




I have found myself many times thinking about trials and suffering. Probably because I have seen more than my fair share in my lifetime. My dad left my family when I was 12. I took ill with Lyme Disease when I was 14. Struggled with family dynamics and relationships when I was an older teen. I had to dropout of college because we were poor and I ran out of money. I married young and then struggled with infertility issues.  Dealt with harassment in the workplace. My first child had severe developmental delays and was later diagnosed with Autism. My husband was diagnosed with a medical condition that will forever change his life and he will never fully recover. I took ill again and faced 4 significant surgeries over the past two years. So many trials, some have questioned how I continue when faced with such adversity. That inner strength is Christ in me.

I was raised in a small family in the country in Minnesota. My parents were encouraging and poured into my sister's and my life. They provided a faith foundation and made sure we went to a Bible preaching church and answered our questions about God and His Son Jesus. We were provided with Bibles and shown how exciting the stories and lessons from the Bible were. We were able to attend summer camps and youth retreats where our knowledge about God as a loving Father and as the creator of the Universe grew. Our parents understood the importance of us as children developing a faith in Jesus that was our own. Not just a faith that our parents practiced. As a teenager, I discovered a saving faith in Jesus and continued to seek after Biblical knowledge, spend time in The Word and spend time in prayer.

Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. -- In this verse alone, I found that faith was about hope and assurance. Two things that most people continually desire in life. But the most important aspect is confidence. Confidence in the saving grace of Jesus who died on the cross for my sins.

I do not practice a religion. I do not associate with a denomination. I identify as a Christian (a Christ follower) who has a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I place my faith and my trust in Him. I have placed my life in His hands.

With any faith or belief system, it is often personal, yet life changing.  And my Christian walk has been just that. Through each trial, in every challenge, I am reminded that I am not alone, I have a personal God who cares and provides for me.  I am also reminded that suffering is temporary and lasts but a night, and joy comes in the morning.  (Psalm 30:5)

I am joy filled person. And it is the Joy of the Lord that is my strength. (Nehemiah 8:10) I love life and live it to the fullest.  I enjoy being a wife, a mother, and friend. I want to encourage, help and serve others when I can and pour into their lives the way my parents did for my sister and I.  I also love being a writer.  I write about life and what matters. I write about my family and relationships with other people. I write about what hurts, what makes me smile each day, and I write about the importance of a personal faith foundation.  My strength isn't self supported. I have absolutely nothing to do with it. I am faulty human at best.  But I am strong because the same power that raised Christ from the dead lives inside me. (Romans 8:11)

When I tell you I am just 10 weeks into recovery from extensive surgery, most would still be curled up in bed and resting at home.  I get up each day, I pray and I ask for strength.  Strength which I do not possess on my own, but strength that is found in Jesus. When I smile and laugh and enjoy each day that is given to me, I know that each day is an actual gift and we are not promised another. So I choose to live each day to fullest, to seek out others who choose to do the same and share my faith. That is where my true inner strength is found.  A confidence in what I hope for, yet can not see.







Friday, May 17, 2019

Always - A Love Letter


I will never tire walking these hills.  It just isn't the same without you.  What once was an adventure has become a chore.  You and me was how it was always supposed to be. Then our always turned into for only a short while.  I will love you always. Nothing will change the way I feel about you.

Everything was so challenging at home. Dad had lost his job 8 months prior, and mom was working two jobs and we were barely making ends meet.  He started drinking the day he was laid off and never really stopped.  Mom cried while making dinner. She cried when she went to bed. She also cried each morning in the shower.  She never thought that I saw her or heard her.  But I saw how much pain she was in every single day.  I sat with her when I finished my homework and we would watch a movie every weekend. Our times together were few, but I loved to just be with her.

Dad finally realized he needed help and agreed to go to treatment.  He didn't want to, and would then go three more times before becoming sober. But at least he finally said yes.  That left mom and I at home.  The peace was wonderful. Dad was no longer there to pick an argument with mom every night when she got home from her second job.  But without dad there, my mom also didn't know how to fully function anymore. The crying continued, but she didn't do it as often anymore.

The first time dad came home from rehab, he was angry.  Still angry about losing his job, angry that mom never came to visit him and angry that it appeared that our lives continued on without him.  Almost as if he wanted us to be struggling even more in his absence. He didn't want to know about what we had done when we weren't together.  He may have not been drinking, but he still believed the world revolved around him.

Six nights after dad returned from home, mom was two hours late coming home from her second back to back shift.  When she got home, he never gave her a chance to explain. He hit her across the face as he yelled, "And don't try to tell me that you were at work! I know that the restaurant closed two hours ago!"  I came running as I heard the yelling escalate and ran into the kitchen just I saw my mom hit the floor.

"Rachel! Rachel I am sorry! I didn't mean to do it!"  My dad broke down as my mother cowered away from him.  He came near and she kicked at him and held her hand up in the air.

"Get out. Get out of this house.  You will never hit me again. Do you hear me?  You will never hit me again."  My mother's voice remained calm and collected.  Tears streamed down both of our faces as I sat down on the floor next to her. I wrapped my arms around her.

Dad looked down at the floor, and nodded once. He then turned, took his keys from the kitchen table and left. Just like that. We heard from him the next day.  He called to tell us he had been arrested for public intoxication and disorderly conduct. He agreed to go to rehab again. He said his attorney would deliver his car keys and the additional information in the next day or two.

I was hurting so much. I was hurting for my mom, for my dad, for my little family.  I didn't know what to do.  My mom and I would surely have to sell the house.  How long would dad be gone? Did it really matter? Was their marriage even something that mom wanted to try to save? 

The only way I could avoid the dark cloud of sadness that poured over our home was to leave and roam the hills and surrounding valleys.  Unfortunately I discovered that the sadness had already taken up residence within me, no matter where I went. I began to walk even further each day as I only returned home when there were no more tears left to cry.  One afternoon, I  saw a tall stone structure over a grassy hill.  As I approached I realized that I could see through the stone. Was that a window?  I got to the top of the hill and I could see the entire structure. I was in awe of what appeared to be the ruins of a very old church.

I approached quickly so that I could take in all the beauty. I could imagine the singular window that was still standing once filled with gorgeous stained glass.  What a beautiful site of all that was left standing. The rest of the aged church stood in piles of rubble here and there.  I am sure that over time, many had come to pillage the useful stone to create property markers or adornments for a yard.  But this last standing wall refused to bow and crumble as the elements threatened to take over.

Then, I saw you.  You sat on the ground next to the rocks looking up at the sky, maybe even admiring the birds overhead.  You played with the long grass in your hands and worked at intertwining two pieces in a design only you understood.  You then glanced in my direction.  When I saw you looking at me, I immediately became aware that I had been watching you for quite some time.  I shouted a friendly hello and you waived in return.

When I approached and you greeted me, I found myself immediately at ease. All of the grief and sorrow that I had carried with me on my walkabout was still present, but was no longer so heavy and weighing me down.  We fell into a comfortable conversation and I basked in how natural it all felt.  We shared about where we lived, our families, that you were home for two weeks from college and that I would be graduating the next spring.  You talked about how hard it was to be the eldest of six kids and I spoke of how lonely it was being the only child.

We sat on the amazing large rocks near the ruins for what seemed like hours.  I noticed the sun was setting and we both watched it in all its beauty.  Then you turned and asked me if I had been crying while I was walking.  I remember becoming worried that my makeup had smeared when I attempted to wipe every tear away.  You saw me trying to fix my makeup and you reached over and touched my arm as if to tell me to stop.  You were the first person to tell me that I was beautiful.

Your smile, your deep ocean eyes. We agreed to meet the next afternoon at the same time so that we could enjoy another spell together.  We both arrived with umbrellas wearing rain boots. I saw you at the top of the hill. I was so relieved to see you even in the rain.  There was that beautiful smile I had come to admire the afternoon before. Our conversation picked right up where we had left off. We spoke of heart hurts, life hurdles, and glimpses of joy. I shared about my dad and the fact that my mom was now a shell of the woman she once was.  You took my hand so naturally as I spoke, I couldn't imagine a time you hadn't already been holding it. I wondered if you felt it too. That current between you and I.  That electric shock each time you pushed a stray hair away from eyes. Or when I traced the outline of your fingers with mine.  We were drawn to each other in every way.

The fourth afternoon we met, I brought a picnic dinner and a blanket as the grass may have been wet from the night before.  It wouldn't have mattered. Your kisses were urgent and searching as if you wished to gain knowledge of who I was that I had not yet offered.  I wondered if there other girls at school whom you spent your free time with and then found I didn't care. All that mattered was you and I and the time we had together.

The idea of you heading back to school in a week hit me with such unexpected urgency.  You brought me home to meet your family and enjoy dinner in your very loud home.  Your mother gave me a handkerchief that she had just finished embroidering.  You thought it was an odd gift to give, but I treasure it to this day.  You held my hand as you walked me home. You insisted on walking as it would take longer and allow for more time together.  Mom was always working until 11 p.m. and I always welcomed you in.  Time spent in your arms was the only place I wanted to be.

Two days before you returned to school, my mother had a rare Sunday evening off work and said she wanted to meet the young man that had been occupying all of my time and thoughts. I was embarrassed, but only for a minute.  She saw a difference in me, that difference was you.  You made us laugh that evening at dinner.  To see my mother so filled with joy made me think that things were finally going to turn around for us.  She was enthralled by your stories of campus life. Of professors and classes and study groups.  You were so kind to answer each of her questions.  She thanked you earnestly for making me happy again and for spending time in our home.  You hugged her so warmly and smiled when you told her that it was a honor to even be allowed to be with me.  You had my heart from that moment on. I knew I loved you.

Tuesday morning came and I decided to not go to school so that I see you off.  I got to your home as your father was packing the car. Your mother stood on the porch wiping her tears with a dish towel. Your youngest brother and sister that were not yet in school played in the yard as you hugged your mother goodbye.  And then you turned to me.  I searched for that smile that I loved, but believed it wouldn't be found that morning as we said goodbye. You kissed me and held me. You wiped my tears and promised to return the following summer. You promised to call me and text me.  I felt a piece of me leave with you on that cold Tuesday morning.

Once you got back to school and settled in we texted each other constantly. We spoke almost daily, usually late into the night. Just hearing your voice when I closed my eyes, made me feel you were still right here with me. I went to school and got a part time job so that mom wouldn't have to worry about paying for any clothing or activities for me.  I kept busy in your absence just waiting for your return come summer.

Your text caught me off guard.  - I love you. I am sorry. I had to take a job here near campus this summer because there aren't enough jobs back home.  I need to pay for more of my tuition
as some of my grants and scholarships decrease next term.  We won't be able to spend the summer together.-  I cried for two days.  I didn't even answer when you called.  I just couldn't do it.  Not speaking to you enabled me to pretend that maybe I had misunderstood.

Your summer job took up so much of your time.  You were working about 60 hours a week and sleeping whenever you got a chance.  We spoke maybe once a week and your text messages became few and far between.  I have to admit, I stopped making as much of an effort as I had.  I didn't want it to seem that I was over eager and you seemed so cool when we spoke.  I saw you becoming further and further away from me and I felt helpless.

I accepted that we may not be a forever thing when I saw the For Sale sign go up in your parent's front yard.  My mom came home one afternoon and said she saw your mom at the grocery.  She said they were moving 250 miles away, closer to where your father's new job was located.  I then knew that you had less of a reason to return home.  Less of reason to return to our ruins on the hill.  Less of a reason to return home to me.

I hadn't spoke to you in three weeks when I decided to call you and tell you I had met someone.  I wasn't sure if my new relationship was going to turn into anything, but Jamie was there with me.  I could see him, touch him, love him.   I heard your voice crack.  I cried and tried to muffle any noise that I could.  You said you were sorry.  I told you I was sorry also, but I really wasn't sure what for.  You said you missed me already.  I told you I would always love you. Always.

I return to our ruins but it isn't the same. The beauty still surrounds, but you aren't there.  Even these 10 years later, I still remember seeing you on the rocks like it was yesterday. Someday, I will tell my children of my first love.  Of the boy that smiled and looked at me like I hung the moon. Of the boy that captured my heart and returned the joy I had lost. Of the boy that restored hope and laughter to my home. 

Distance and time may have separated us, but I will love you always. Nothing will change the way I feel about you.










Going Back

Michael winced at the pain in his shoulder. It had started hurting by about the fifth time he put the oar in the water.  How was he goin...