What I Learned in 2018

Every year, I’m glad to see the old year go and ring in a new one. This one is no exception. There are lots of great things that happened in 2018, but there were some not-so-great things too. No matter what happened, I learned a few things along the way (these are things I’m trying to apply to my own life…not preaching to you, per se):

  • Celebrate every year. I don’t mean blow horns and throw confetti at midnight tonight. I mean celebrate every year. Sure, we’re all getting older, but turning 50 or 60 or 70 is a gift. Celebrate your life by living it! As my parents would say, “Life is not a dress rehearsal.” It’s not, folks. Is work important? Yes! But should your entire life be about work? No. Do the things you have always wanted to do. Want to go skydiving? Do it! Want to write a novel? Do it! Want to drive cross-country? Do it! And for the record…only one of those things is something I want to do.
  • Spend money on experiences instead of things. I actually learned this a long time ago, but I stop and think about it regularly. Do you remember most of the things you’ve purchased this year? Probably not. But you likely remember most of the experiences you’ve had. I bought a lot of things this year, and I remember some of them, but I have memories from every experience.
  • Don’t sleep your life away. This is one of those things my parents used to say. This year, I slept through the month of January, after my mother died at the end of December, because that was how I grieved. At the end of that month, though, I knew my mother would be disappointed if I didn’t “pull myself up by my bootstraps.” Sleep used to be one of my hobbies, but every minute you sleep is a minute of your life ticking away. You can’t get it back. Live it, people. Sure, we need sleep, but too much of it is just laziness, unless you have some health issues. And if your napping or frequent sleeping is affecting others by delaying get-togethers or slowing folks down, rethink it. Do you really need that rest? Or it is just laziness? Or selfishness? Don’t be a Lazy Daisy.
  • Be coachable. Nobody knows everything about anything. I certainly have a lot to learn about life, in general. This is one of those things I heard retired Alabama football coach, Gene Stallings, say…be coachable. Listen to others, and actually hear what they say. He talked about how the best players had good attitudes and were good listeners…the ones who did what he, as the coach, wanted them to do, instead of what they wanted to do. Were they always the best ones on the team? Not necessarily, but sometimes, they got to ride the travel bus just because they were coachable. He also said that, as a coach at a high level, he needed to be coachable too. Sometimes, he had to listen to others to learn…and he certainly had to be “coachable” at home. Be coachable in life. Stay in your airplane seat when the seatbelt sign is on. Don’t pass on the double yellow line. All of those “rules” (or laws) are in place for a reason. Someone before us knew we would need to know. Be coachable.
  • Give grieving people a break. If you haven’t lost a loved one, you don’t understand what grieving people are experiencing. Even if you have lost a loved one, you don’t know what someone else is feeling. We all grieve differently. In grief, I lost my mind. Generally speaking, I have a good memory, but not in 2018, after losing my mother in December 2017. And I lost a dear friend six months later. As scary as it sounds, many times I didn’t even know what month it was. I have been angry. I have been sad. I have been hateful. Maybe someone was complaining about something I considered trivial. In grief, I would think, “Really? Who gives a flying fig! My mother just died!” Every emotion I’ve had this year has been amplified tenfold. And I have been forgetful. I have thought on several occasions I might have dementia, but then I realize it is grief. I have been crazy. I have tried to fake it till I make it. I have tried to hold it together for family. But I’m still grieving, and I know that, because when my brother calls to tell me he loves me, I cry. If I forgot something important to you, or if I was unkind, some of it (not all of it) might have been grief. If you have never lost a parent, I hope that if you do, I can help. I will remind you grief makes you crazy. In fact, I’ve wanted to go back and apologize to people I know who experienced it before me…because I didn’t get it. You can laugh or say I’m making excuses if you want, but we all grieve differently, and obviously, mine manifests itself in crazy. A friend texted me yesterday, “Grief sucks.” And she’s right. I like to think I acquired some coping skills after Daddy died, but I’m not sure. You can read all the self-help books about grief, and you still don’t know about another person’s grief, so don’t throw that mumbo jumbo out there. It’s insulting. You might have some understanding, but every person is different. I have a friend who lost both parents a month apart earlier this year, and even though I lost both parents twelve years apart, I cannot even imagine what she must feel. Cut your grieving friends a break, because you do not understand. Grieving people keep putting one foot in front of the other, because we have to, and sometimes, we think we are OK, but then something happens, and we know we are not. Maybe we’re putting on a brave face. And if you think grief ends after one month or six months, you need to know now it does not. I have been more sad the month of December than I was any other month of the past year. I don’t need people to understand that, and frankly, you don’t have to cut me a break, but I will forever cut grieving people a break. 
  • Fake it till you make it. I mentioned this above in my rant about grief. I still believe “fake it till you make it” is good. I still believe you start to feel happier if you act happier. I still believe you might be able to do something if you convince yourself you can. Just trust me on this one. Fake it till you make it.
  • Let it go. The new year is the perfect time to let go of excess baggage. I’m not one of those people who carries anger and resentment, but a lot of folks do. Get over it. It’s hurting you. Someone was snarky to you? Who gives a damn?!?! Move on. That doesn’t even begin to compare to real problems…like losing a loved one. Let it go!

And with that, I bid you a Happy 2019. My daughter and I are meeting friends in Los Angeles on New Year’s Day to celebrate new beginnings. We hope to have fun and laugh and celebrate, because that’s what I want to do this year. I’m kicking 2018 to the curb. I wish I could say I’m kicking grief to the curb too, but only time will help with that.

 

 

 

 

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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.

Behind That White Picket Fence

When my daddy was sick and dying of pancreatic cancer in 2006, I learned a lot.

One thing I learned is that we never really know what someone is going through. I remember leaving my parents’ house one evening after spending time with them when he was sick. They lived in a traditional southern style home with a white picket fence. Yep, a white picket fence.

On the outside, everything appeared to be normal…quiet, peaceful. On the inside of that house, it was anything but normal. I remember thinking, “People driving by have no idea how sad things are inside my parents’ house right now.”

It made me think. It made me look at people differently.

As I drove out of their neighborhood that evening, I looked at each house I passed and wondered if everything was OK. I wondered if there was anyone else experiencing the sadness we were experiencing. Were the people in the corner house feeling OK? Was anyone lying in the floor of their house waiting for help? Were people crying around a dinner table because of illness or divorce? Were any of the neighbors having financial problems?

Have you ever been in a restaurant and received terrible service? It’s human nature for us to think, “What a lousy waiter.” But in reality, that waiter might be a great waiter who is going through a terrible time. We don’t know what kind of problems he may have at home. We don’t know if his wife or child might have a terminal illness. We don’t know if he can’t pay his bills. We don’t know if he is dying.

I remember when my daddy first started having symptoms in mid 2005. He was experiencing rapid, unexplained weight loss, which we attributed to the horrible hip pain he had been having. We had no idea it was pancreatic cancer, but we knew something was wrong.

At the same time, my maternal grandmother was in the early stages of dementia, and my mother was having to drive back and forth from the Mobile, Alabama, area to Birmingham, five hours each way, to get her evaluated and help get her settled in an assisted living facility. Daddy couldn’t go with her, because he wasn’t able to sit in the car for that long.

No one had any idea.

That September, right in the middle of all this, my husband’s beloved grandmother died. The funeral was in Mobile. The day before the funeral, my mother had to go back to Birmingham, to meet with medical professionals about my grandmother’s care and to get the house locked up. It couldn’t wait. On the same day, my daddy had to get an epidural for the hip pain. It was a terrible time for my husband’s family, and in a different way, a terrible time for my family.

My parents were very private people, so very few people knew what they were going through.

With Mother out of town, my daddy was incapacitated because of the epidural and his hip problems. He was in terrible pain. There was no way I could ask him to keep a two-yr-old during the funeral, and there was no way he or my mother could attend. They said prayers for my husband and his family, but their own issues were big…bigger than anyone outside the family knew.

I’m sure there were some people who thought they should have been there or that they should have kept our daughter while we went to the funeral, but again…you never know what someone else is going through. One person even mentioned it. I just thought, “Bless his heart…he has no idea.” My parents were dealing with two different major health crises in two different cities. Even though we didn’t know the extent of my daddy’s illness, we knew something was wrong. And my grandmother, well, that was just sad. My poor mother was exhausted from driving back and forth…taking care of people at both ends of the state. There was no way my parents could have done anything differently than what they did.

As very private people, my parents would not have wanted me to tell anyone what they were dealing with, but it was a very difficult time.

No one could have known.

When my daughter was starting first grade, we had a “meet the teacher” day. All the parents gathered in the classroom. The teacher announced she would need a room mother for the school year. My friend whose child was also in the class turned to me and said, “You should do that!”

Unbeknownst to her, my husband was scheduled for brain surgery that September. I said, “Oh, I can’t. My husband is having brain surgery soon.” She was horrified. She’d had no idea, because no matter what my family was going through, we had to continue putting one foot in front of the other. I had been living life as usual, but something big was looming over our family. Of course, I told her not to be horrified, because we hadn’t told a lot of people.

This past December, when my mother died, I kept it quiet for a while in Charlotte, because I needed to process it emotionally before dealing with it publicly. I remember going to a meeting at school in early January and running into a friend. I saw her and said, “I have something to tell you, and when I say it, I need you to not ask questions and immediately change the subject.” I didn’t want to cry in public, and I didn’t want to make a scene.

She handled it perfectly. I said, “My mother died at the end of December.” She did exactly as I asked and immediately asked me about something else. Yay! Lots of people would have thought it was strange behavior, but she knew what I needed. I needed to keep going.

That friend and I have known each other for ten years, and until I told her, she didn’t know what was going on with me.

We really never know, do we? Maybe we should take that into consideration when someone forgets to meet us somewhere or forgets to return a call. Maybe that terrible waiter just needs someone to be kind to him.

How many times have you had a friend tell you they were getting divorced, but you had no idea there was a problem in their marriage? I’ve had two friends surprise me with this news in just the past few years, and I actually consider myself to be a pretty darn perceptive person. These are friends I saw regularly at least a few times a month, and I had no clue anything was wrong.

Often, we keep our private lives just that…private.

I know that after my mother died, I dropped out of life for a month. I gave myself permission to stay home, sit in bed, and do nothing for a month. On February 1, I rejoined the living. During the month of January, lots of people still had no idea what was going on in my life. I was grieving my mother, but I wanted to do it privately.

So, as you go through your day, try to remember that lots of people are dealing with terrible things…every day…everywhere. It might be your neighbor who was just diagnosed with cancer. It might be your child’s teacher who has been cranky lately, because her husband lost his job. It might be your friend who hasn’t told you she’s having marital problems.

Often, there are things we do not know. Let’s try to give people the benefit of the doubt.

My Favorite Mother’s Day Gifts

Mother’s Day is May 13…just around the corner.

This year, I will celebrate Mother’s Day as a mother, but I will not be celebrating it as a daughter. I lost my mother in December. If she were here, she would say, “Don’t get me a gift. I should give my children a gift, because y’all make me so happy to be a mother.”

Of course, we sent her something every year, if we weren’t with her. One year, I didn’t see her or talk to her till late in the day. She wasn’t happy with me, and rightfully so. But I did arrive that evening, gift in hand. I’d had a bad day that day, but I didn’t want to burden her with my problems on Mother’s Day, so I just took the heat. I learned my wicked “stinkeye” from her, you know.

This year, we will make a toast to my mother at brunch, and I will tell my daughter some stories about her. That’s how we celebrate Mother’s Day…brunch.

I won’t be sending my mother a gift this year, but maybe I’ll receive a gift (or two) from my family. If you need to get a gift for someone who doesn’t drop hints, here are some of my ideas (hint, hint):

SKYLIGHT FRAME According to their website, the Skylight Frame is a digital touch screen 10″ photo frame that displays your digital photos and can be updated remotely via email. It promises “clarity, color, and brilliance.” Part of the setup process is connecting it to Wi-Fi. From what I understand, each frame has its own email address, so you can update the photos anytime from anywhere. Sounds like the perfect way to display new photos in your own home or at Grandma’s. Priced at $159, I think it is a great gift (hint, hint). You can get more information and purchase the Skylight Framehere.

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FRESH FLOWERS I know it sounds cliché, but I love fresh flowers in my house. I think most women do. I love walking into my house and seeing fresh flowers, even if I was the one who picked them, ordered them, or purchased them. They don’t have to be the most expensive flowers, you know. If you have some lovely flowers in your yard (we have some beautiful roses), make up your own bouquet and present them to Mom.  There are lots of awesome places to get beautiful flowers. My personal favorite in Charlotte is The Blossom Shop, simply because they have never failed me. Everything they’ve ever done is beautiful. You can see their website here. You can also pick up fresh flowers at most grocery stores and make up your own arrangement.

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BAKED BY MELISSA MINI CUPCAKES I wrote about these recently, but I’m adding them here again, because they really are some of my current favorite things on earth. My friend, Amy, sent me some for my 50th birthday last May, and I think about them every day. In fact, I placed an order for my “family” (myself) earlier today. They are delightful little bite-size treats and come in lots of flavors. Personally, I love the package called the O.G. (Original Greats). You can’t go wrong with this. To see what they offer and place an order, click here.product-the-og-25-pack_1_

SEND A MEAL This is a website from which you can send a voucher to any recipient…on Mother’s Day, that would be your mom. Mom spends a lot of time keeping the family fed, so give her a break on a day of her choosing. Prices vary, but it’s worth a look. I’ve looked through their website many times, and every time, I find something else that looks fantastic. One friend told me she had ordered from them, and the food was fabulous. They have a vast array of offerings including pasta, pork, chicken, beef, meatloaf, and more! They even have meals for special diets like Diabetic meals and Gluten Free meals. Check out their website here.

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US NATIONAL WHITEWATER CENTER This is a great, fun place lots of people forget we have in Charlotte. For an adventurous mom, a gift of adventure at the Whitewater Center would be a great gift. One year, for my birthday, a friend gave me a Canopy Tour at the Whitewater Center, and it was an incredible time! Guides take participants through a series of ziplines and platforms around the Whitewater Center. There are lots of other activities at the Whitewater Center, as well. Check out their website herehttps://usnwc.org/.

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BY D GRACE OF GOD PRODUCTS While watching CBS Sunday Morning, I saw a story that I had seen before but forgotten. It’s the story of a man who received an unsolicited Facebook message from someone in Liberia. Believing it to be a scam, the recipient proposed that the sender take some photos of the living conditions in his area. After receiving some photos from him, he realized the man in Liberia needed a better camera. He mailed him a camera with which to take photos, thinking he’d never hear from him again. But he did. The story is a touching one, and worth a readhere. The two men are now in business together, selling photos of Liberia and more. You can purchase their productshere. When you give Mom her gift, tell her the story behind it, and she will be thrilled to be a part of it.png_book_1024x1024.png

Whatever you choose to do for your mother, remember…you only have one mother. After mine passed away, a friend said to me, “I cannot imagine losing my mother. I don’t have any other family.” I said, “You have your husband!” She said, “I can get another husband. I can’t get another mother!” Of course, we laughed.

Spend some time with your mother and do something thoughtful for her this Mother’s Day. These were some suggestions, but every mother is different. Do something she will like.

God bless mamas.

XOXO,

Kelly