Decide To Be Happy

Sometimes, life hands us lemons. We’ve all heard it…we need to make lemonade. My mother used to always say, “You have to decide to be happy.”

Every single day since I lost my mother in December of 2017, I remind myself that I have to decide to be happy. It’s not that I haven’t experienced any happiness, but sometimes, when I get sad about having lost her, it’s hard to bring myself out of it. And every time, I hear her say, “You have to decide to be happy.”

I try not to write about death and loss very often, because I know people don’t want to hear about it. I know it’s a downer. I know that sometimes, I feel better if I think of something happy. But right now, it’s OK if no one wants to hear about it. It’s OK if everybody skips over this, because right now, I need to write about it.

I’m in the process of closing out Mother’s estate. No, there were no loose ends to tie up. She made it as easy as possible. She had a will. She listed survivors on bank accounts. She didn’t have any debt. She made it easy. Maybe if she had made it complicated, I could have gotten angry with her and been in a bigger hurry to close everything, but nope…she made the division of assets easy. Yet, I still haven’t closed out the estate, and it’s time for me to do it. I should have done it six months ago, but it’s downright depressing.

In fact, I feel more sad now than I did immediately after her passing. Weird, I know, but I guess I feel like closing out the estate is like closing the final chapter on her life. There have been days that I knew would be difficult…my parents’ anniversary, Mother’s Day, her birthday, Christmas Eve (the anniversary of her hospitalization), Christmas Day, the anniversary of her death (December 30)…but I never expected this part to be so difficult. I thought it was completely transactional, and being a tough chick, I thought I’d be able to treat this as a transaction. But I can’t. I realize that now, because I’ve been delaying it…and I’ve been sad.

And I’ve been off my game. Sure, I’ve gone through the motions of regular life, but deep inside, I’ve been off my game since she took her last breath.

And now I’m faced with closing the book on the estate.

But something occurred to me today: Maybe…just maybe…it will be freeing. That’s all I can hope. Maybe I will feel a little sense of freedom, like a weight has been lifted, when I sign all the papers. Maybe closing the estate will actually make me feel better. We’ve all had times like that. We put something off because it’s scary, but once it happens, we feel a sense of relief or freedom. I have friends who put off signing divorce papers, because it was depressing, but once they did it, they felt like the albatross had been removed from their necks. Maybe the estate is my albatross? That sounds terrible. My mother would not like it that I referred to it that way, but she doesn’t get a vote in this.

After my daddy died, mother was talking with her doctor about anti-depressants, and she said, “My husband wouldn’t like it.” The doctor, very calmly, said, “Your husband’s not here anymore. He doesn’t get a vote in this.” And he was right! She knew it, and she actually laughed! For the record, she started taking the anti-depressant, and it made a big difference in her approach to life. Sure, she was still grieving Daddy, but the anti-depressant helped her decide to be happy.

As soon as I receive all the paperwork, I’ll sign off on closing the estate. In fact, I’m going to invite friends to a brunch at my house for that very day, so they can come over and drink some champagne with me to celebrate the closure…the freedom.

Mother would laugh about that, and she would be happy to know that it’s done.

I will decide to be happy…just in time for spring!

 

 

 

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My Daughter Is Starting High School

As the mom of a rising 9th grade girl, I have lots of things swirling through my head, just like most moms of children who will be entering high school in the next few weeks.

On one hand, I feel a sense of relief. We survived middle school. As it turns out, it wasn’t as bad as we thought it would be, but maybe it’s like pregnancy and childbirth…we forget the bad and remember the good. Having a daughter in middle school was stressful at times, but it was a lot of fun too. It was all about survival. They played sports. They had social lives…real social lives they planned themselves. They had drama but solved it themselves. We survived. My daughter even told me recently she loved middle school.

On the other hand, there’s excitement. My daughter is starting high school. I feel like she’s ready. I hope she’s ready. I pray she’s ready.

And while I’m nervous and excited and worried at the same time, I know high school is her job, not mine. My job is to give her the tools to make her successful at this job, but ultimately, it’s her job.

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So, I’m arming her with some tools. The first tool she has is experience. She earned experience on her own. You can’t hand your child experience, and there’s only so much they can learn from their parents’ experiences. Besides, they have to go to school, so they all get their own experience. Simply by making it this far, she has experience from which she can build. Hopefully, she has learned and will continue to learn what works for her and what doesn’t. Of course, I will share my own experiences with her, and maybe she will hear some of it.

Another tool: encouragement. She shares with me what her goals are, and I encourage her to do everything she needs to do to accomplish those goals. Let’s say she wants to try out for a sports team. I provide encouragement when she needs it. I tell her I love watching her play, even after a terrible game. When the coach is not happy with her play, I continue telling her I love watching her play. I encourage her to work hard and play hard. I encourage her to be the best she can be. The same can be applied to schoolwork. History test coming up? It’s her job to study and be prepared. I’m not a mom who helps with homework. I usually don’t know what her homework is…and that’s how I like it. But if she comes to me and tells me she is studying hard for a history test, I offer encouragement. I tell her I know she can do it, because I do know it. I remind her hard work is her friend. She is more likely to make the grade she wants if she studies efficiently and works hard. I encourage her to set aside the time to get the work done and get it done well.

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Unconditional love is another tool. It’s an important tool, in my opinion, as the parent of a teenager in high school. We hear it all the time: teenagers’ frontal lobes are not fully developed. It’s true. They can’t always reason through things, and sometimes problems appear larger than they are. They need us. They don’t need us to make problems go away. They need us to love them through their problems. My daughter needs to know I love her “no matter what.” That doesn’t mean I don’t get angry. It means she knows I love her even when I’m angry. Sometimes, when we’re riding in the car or sitting at the dinner table, I will say to her, “I love you all the time. No matter what, I love you. If you have a problem, come to me first. Things aren’t always as bad as they seem.” That’s what I want to give my daughter: unconditional love.

Another tool? A bit of wisdom: Get to know your teachers. I tell her the story of my freshman year in college. I had done well my first semester of Calculus, but about two weeks into the second semester, I was struggling a bit. I made an appointment to meet with my teacher, and we set up regular times to meet, so he could tutor me through his class. I had a low A going into the final, but then I bombed it. I received a B in the class, even after bombing the final, and I know it was because of my effort. After seeing my final exam score posted, I stuck my head in his office, and he said, “Oh, Kelly, you did not do well on the final.” I told him I had seen that, and I was sorry to disappoint. When I asked him about my grade, he replied, in broken English, “I give you B. You do good in long journey.” You do good in long journey has been one of my favorite quotes since then. My daughter has heard that story many times. From that, I hope she learns to know when she needs help in a class and “nip it in the bud” by meeting with teachers for extra help.

What more can we provide?  Freedom…freedom to make their own decisions…bad or good. Good decisions can propel them forward, and bad ones can help them learn how to make better decisions. We can provide them with independence. We can provide them with the opportunity for lots of rest. We can provide them with the opportunity to enjoy their social lives. And we can provide them with plenty of study time and a good place to study. We can provide them with healthy meals and with a home in which they can be themselves. But we have to give them the freedom to make their own decisions about all those things.

Is it going to be easy? Heck no! It’s going to be difficult, but together, we will get through it, and we will both enjoy it from different places.

Let’s do this high school thing!

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Forgiveness

Today, I was looking through Facebook while I was sitting in an airport, and a friend had posted a video about forgiveness. The video is really good, and I will tell you where to find it in a minute. When I boarded my flight, I couldn’t stop thinking about that video and what it meant. It was in my brain! “Forgiveness” is a word we hear all the time. There are lots of quotes and Bible verses about it:

The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.–Mahatma Gandhi

It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everybody.–Maya Angelou

I can have peace of mind only when I forgive rather than judge. –Gerald Jampolsky

Forgive yourself for your faults and mistakes and move on. –Les Brown

To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you. –Lewis B. Smedes

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you.–Matthew 6:14, New International Version of The Holy Bible

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Forgiveness.

The video I saw is on a Facebook page called Have a Little Faith. And the speaker in the video is a woman named Nadia Bolz-Weber, who is described on the site as “a feminist, no-nonsense Evangelical Lutheran pastor who will blow you away with her honesty, hilarity, and plenty of ‘holy sh*t’ enlightenment.” Wow. I’m not sure I would have found her at all except for the video my friend posted. You can see the video here. She says forgiveness is not about “niceness.” She says holding onto anger “feeds the evil.” She encourages us to think of forgiveness as “snapping the chain that connects us” to the evil. It gives us freedom. Free people are not chained to resentment. While she has an unconventional approach, I like what she has to say about forgiveness.

It’s a simple concept, really. Choose forgiveness. Find a way to choose forgiveness. It’s not a sign of weakness. Instead, it is a sign of great strength. It can be difficult, but it’s just like most things in life…the more we practice, the better we become at it. It is a choice, and for me, it is a choice that I make not so much for the other person as for myself. I simply cannot be tethered to anger. It will suck the life out of me.

In my 51 years of life, I have offended many…usually unintentionally, but sometimes, it was intentional. Most of the intentional offenses occurred in my younger days…usually in response to a perceived transgression against me. There’s that “chain” concept. As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned a lot more about forgiveness. Frankly, it’s a lot more fun to forgive. Holding on to anger or hatred is exhausting. And seeking revenge is exhausting too. All that anger only hurts the person who harbors it. I’m not that person.

Of course, there are some people who just can’t forgive. I don’t think there’s anyone I haven’t forgiven. There are people I don’t want to spend time with, because of personality or value differences, but as far as forgiveness, I have forgiven. I don’t harbor anger toward anyone. Well, I can’t think of anyone toward whom I harbor anger. If I can’t think of anyone, I guess that means there’s no anger.

Yet, there are people who, I’m sure, haven’t forgiven me for perceived transgressions over the years, and I have a way of handling that: I forgive myself. As long as I have offered a sincere apology, I forgive myself and move on. That’s because I truly feel that if someone is incapable of forgiving me, then I don’t want to be friends with them anyway. I don’t need to be chained to them. So I move on without regret. My 14-yr-old daughter once summed it up this way to me, “Mom, when you’ve offered a sincere apology, you’ve done everything you could do…especially for something unintentional. Let it go. There is nothing you can do about it now. But you have to forgive yourself and move on.” She is right…the wisdom of a 14-yr-old. I wasn’t always able to do that, but fortunately, I learned a way. Remember the Serenity Prayer? “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

My mother had the Serenity Prayer framed in several rooms of our various homes as I was growing up. A favorite was one that matched our kitchen wallpaper in Spanish Fort where we lived from 1975 to 1977. It looked like this, except hers was in a nicer frame:

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The wall decor is a good everyday reminder. It reminds me to forgive (the things I can change) and move on (the things I cannot change). To see/purchase Prayer of Serenity wall decor from Amazon, click here.

Years ago, my dad was talking with a friend whose sister had gone through a bitter divorce. For years, she had harbored hatred and resentment toward her ex-husband. But one day, she let it go. Her brother told it this way: It was like she was swimming down a river holding a big pack of gear. The pack was heavy and cumbersome. She was working so hard to hold on to the pack that she couldn’t see the beautiful foliage, birds, and other wildlife on the banks of the river. She was missing it all. Eventually, she was too tired to hold onto the pack. She let go of the pack and started swimming with ease. Suddenly, she noticed the beauty of life around her.

There are some people who want to carry anger. That’s their choice. I choose not to carry that load. I choose to see the beauty life offers. I choose joy over anger, but we all live differently. We also all sin against God and against each other every single day. If you think you don’t, you are lying to yourself. Because I know how to forgive, I live a life of peace. I try to remember this: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”–John 8:7.

If someone can’t forgive you, as my daughter says, “That’s on her/him.” And she’s right.  Thank God for the wisdom of a 14-yr-old.

I must have done something right.