Potholes & Moving Forward

Awhile back, I took a day trip and went exploring with some friends. We visited northeastern Washington, toured a cave and even popped up to Canada for a bit. It was great to reconnect with this gorgeous state and its surroundings!! While my friend insisted that I write about how much money I save on food, drinks, etc. by being petite, I decided to go with a different route. Shout out to her creative ideas though! And, who knows, it has the potential for a future post. ūüôā

As you may have noticed, Exhale Gratitude took a brief hiatus. I wish I could say it was for something really cool but it wasn’t. Mostly just me attempting to find the correct combination for how to do this life thing best. The balance between work, writing and school. I’ll be honest, I was in a bit of a funk there. But, we are back! On that note, I’m still figuring out if Sunday works best for new post release dates and am thinking of switching back to Friday. For now, we’ll just strive for weekly and call it a day.

Driving with me can be an…..interesting experience. I promise to keep you safe but it will be a bit more exciting along the way. Exciting as in I have a tendency to hit nearly every pothole, rock, and whatever else we may encounter. It isn’t done on purpose and while I make an effort to avoid them at times, my driving aligns with my personality for the most part. (And no, that term is not reckless.) ūüôā

During the course of our trip (and many other times she drives with me), my friend, Saraa, commented on my lack of avoidance of obstacles within the road. She probably expects it now and can be reassured that no pothole will go unexplored. (Sorry Felix!!! <—–That’s my car.) I slow down and since I drive in Spokane quite often, I now know where most of the potholes are.

I am conscious of where I’m going but also so enthralled by the people I’m with and the situations surrounding me. In celebration of the fullness of this life, I am wanting to drink in each moment I can. This is very much how I live day-to-day, as well as how I set out at accomplishing goals. It might not always look clear and maybe it gets messy at times because of that. Yet, I always end up at my destination, with endless possibilities still before me. And the thing of it is, I don’t wish that I was any different. (I do need to be more careful perhaps in regards to avoiding the potholes situation. Poor Felix.) I charge forward. I keep going, despite the obstacles.

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Reminding myself of this is incredibly important to me, as I am going through some life-changing transitions at the moment. Where plans I originally had are needing to shift and I’m in the exciting, albeit frightening, phase of immense change. Felix and I are not completely broken but sometimes we hit bumps throughout our journey. And while I don’t know the first thing about cars, I know others who do. When the potholes of my life become too much and I need a little work, I reach out. In my faith and personal life, I admit when I am not operating at 100%, whether it’s because I have worn myself down, feel overwhelmed, or am returning to the same old patterns.

 

So yes, I took a longer than a month hiatus and on that note I’m going to be real honest, July sucked a lot. But then, I can’t help but think that this post is launching at precisely the right time. I’ve hit some potholes and man-oh-man do I feel stuck. At first it felt unfair and now, wading the quicksand of disappointment, I am only emerging stronger. The potholes, obstacles, and sucky parts of life will always be there. You can slow down and take them real carefully, but they are unavoidable. It’s gonna get bad and then it’s gonna get real good again. There isn’t some secret sauce so if that’s what you were looking for, no recipe here. People and perseverance are what make the bad parts better. Those potholes sure can sneak up on you so buckle in, bring your peeps, and prepare for the ride.

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The crew

Quiet Strength & Boat Docks

This past weekend, I was lucky enough to spend time in beautiful Trout Creek, Montana. What an opportunity for a previous Montana girl! I was thrilled to be in a gorgeous setting surrounded by people who have done nothing but bless me since I’ve known them. It was refreshing to be somewhat off the grid while being in such a space that allowed me to recharge and focus on¬†getting back to what is truly important in this life. I take sole responsibility for the fact that there was no post last week but am also owning up to the fact that this life is meant to be enjoyed. I’ve also come to the conclusion that one post I’m proud of and took time to write is better than two hurried posts in one week. All about balance friends. ūüôā

A short walk from our cabin (and I mean merely steps), was a dock. On my last evening in Montana, I headed for the dock, book in hand and fully ready for peace. While I was laying there, with the sun dancing out at me whenever the clouds fancied moving out of the way, I was content. As the dock gently held me, I listened to the water swishing against the sides of it and felt such stillness. Between all going on in my life, these moments are rare for me. I become contemplative and exceedingly grateful whenever I am lucky enough to have such experiences.

IMG_20170602_154334612Towards the end of my Montana weekend, I had heard this word, “quiet strength,” used in reference to me. I didn’t know that I had entirely believed it at first but the more I allowed myself to accept love not only from others but also myself, the more I realized it might not be so crazy after all.

When the waves and water are crashing up against the side of the dock, it remains strong and in place. It might sway a bit with the forces of nature going on around it but will continue to stand firmly. I have been pushed along and nearly faltered at times, yet this reserve of strength within keeps me going. It was never about whether the dock moved when situations were uncertain or trying. But rather, the fact that it was able to hold itself up no matter what came at it. Even supporting others in the process at times. What is below the surface when the world is doing its very best to drag us down is the source of something incredibly great.

Our unique characteristics and personalities are not to be shied away from. Each of us exudes our strength differently and perhaps, some are still on the journey to find what that looks like. After the passing of my mom and the events that followed, I began to see how clearly defined my strength really was. It didn’t look like my sister’s, my mom’s or even the woman next to me. It was divinely my own. How I performed under pressure, the choices I made in the aftermath of hurt and seeking to focus on being the very best me I can, no matter what. Looking back, I was shaken and life crashed down on me hard. The waves still rock me, reminding me of the fragility of it all and to take nothing for granted. ¬†One of the absolute best take-aways from these past couple of years is to finally know me. To stand with my head held high in the face of conflict, to admit when I am wrong and to accept others with the same grace I ask for. I am blessed to walk in that knowledge each day. To face the woman in the mirror with 100% confidence and say, “Quiet strength is anything but weak. You are fierce. You are mighty. You are enough.”

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Paper Boats & Forgiveness

You know those moments where you are in the middle of a terrible mistake? Where you are internally fighting to rectify it but externally frozen? In some way, we are halted, and the gravity of our decision is felt in the aftermath. Recently, this was me. And while I cannot go into details because of parties involved, just know that it sucked. It sucked knowing that in a split second, because of a momentary lapse in judgement, I made a left instead of a right. For the girl who spends her whole life making right turns, going the other direction felt highly uncomfortable.

So, there I was, in the middle of my mess. For somebody who talks an awful lot about grace, you’d think self-forgiveness would be something I’d be better at. I’m here to tell you that forgiving myself is a skill I have yet to refine. Among my other traits, I am a perfectionist. Because of my positions in both of my jobs, I¬†take my responsibilities extremely serious, even in situations where the responsibility wasn’t mine in the first place. I forget that we each must be held accountable for our mistakes, that I cannot carry the weight of another’s decision as my own. Perhaps it is being the oldest or the way life played out that causes me to perceive the world this way. Of that part I am uncertain but I do know that falling is hard on me.

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When I fail, when I don’t get it right, or when I make the wrong decision, I most likely carry that for longer than needed. I wish I could turn that part off or find a way of extending that same grace that I offer to others to myself. Instead, I think. I am an over-thinker who has a whole lot of feelings so that can create grand stories in my head as to how I could have done better or why I made a mistake in the first place. It is not an ideal environment for recovering from a setback.

12698394_10153464610623763_2523441078320941151_oAll wounds, even those we created, need to heal. Our lapses in judgement need a second look from a specialist to figure out why. When our car suddenly goes the wrong way,¬†we take it to¬†the¬†mechanic to understand the reason it veered off course. When we are flitting, fretting and freezing instead of standing up to do what is right, we need the knowledge to do better in the future. In large part, it is because we are human, which immediately makes us flawed. When placed out of our comfort zone, we¬†have the tendency to want to fit in. Fitting in is easy. It’s the standing up when everyone else is sitting that’s more difficult. The shouting in a room filled with quiet. It’s turning your car to the right when everybody is telling you to go left.

We need to accept that doing right, even if unpopular, ultimately creates that which is more fulfilling¬†in the long run. We can’t see it initially but it sets the trajectory for a number of choices further down the road. ¬†That often isn’t a problem for me but getting carried away by the whims of the world is easy. You set your paper boat in the water, knowing it will go whichever way the water is flowing. And then, it might stop. Your little boat is in limbo, halted by a storm drain or branch, waiting to be picked up again. So you do. And this time you can set it down wherever you’d like. You could even take it back home if you wanted. Though it’s easy for your boat to be carried away, the course could change in any given moment.

Falling isn’t without consequence but forgiveness, especially of ourselves, can lighten that already heavy burden. It doesn’t write off the time needed for self-reflection or discussions with people who love us and want to see us succeed. ¬†Knowing we are able to create the best version of ourselves each day is exhilarating. The forgiveness part, at least for me, is still tough to do. I am constantly working on it. But for now, I¬†can pick up my little¬†boat and set it on a brand new course. A new day, a new course and the chance to be the newest, better version of me than I was the day before.

 

Boundaries & Blooming

Once a week, I have lunch with a spunky and sassy 7th grader. We’ve been doing this for two years now. Back then, she used to whoop me at Connect Four or Hangman in the library. Now, she loves fake nails and the subject of boys most always pops into our conversations. The school she’s at is bursting at the seams with toughness and she has grown to fit her environment. The cafeteria, with its chaotic symphony of curse words and reprimanding teachers, makes me dizzy. This has been my toughest year as her mentor. I honestly don’t know how we made it to the end of the school year some days.

A couple of weeks ago, I¬†made the decision to end our mentoring session early. I 100% didn’t want to do this but her actions spoke loudly that day. I can see how much we both have shifted. Her, on the cusp of childhood ending and wandering into that space where we discover who we are as women. Me, wanting to let her know that absolutely anything she yearns for in this life is attainable. Both of us at a standstill in this space. I have come to adore all pieces of her because even in the moments of frustration, when the language is unbearable, I catch glimpses of her sweetness. I’ve learned she is not the sum of these actions but trying to stay afloat in the sea of changes she is constantly presented with has worn her out.

I didn’t want to walk away that day but I needed to. We had consistently approached the topic of respecting our time together and that day, all such discussions went out the window. I told her friend I needed to leave and explained why. I went to my car, with the tears flowing from the weight of my decision. Being a mentor (at least through this program) is a fine line some days. It is limited to contact only within the school and there are guidelines, understandably, for the safety of the students. I needed her to know how great she was but how do I convey that when everything else is trying to pull her down?

We create boundaries, not only out of need for ourselves, but to say we care. Drawing that line. Saying no more. They don’t seem like acts of love do they? They are when we show up again. When we know the lesson is needed. When we halt, take that person by the hand and say, “I want you to see all you are capable of. The brushstrokes you will one day leave behind on the masterpiece of life. But, it can’t be here. Not while you are unwilling to take care of yourself. We need to resolve that part first.” So, we build the fence and leave that opening. Healthy boundaries mean we recognize that person can come back when they’re ready. And you’ll be there waiting, ready to take those next steps.

I’m beginning my Masters’ program in the fall and will have to put off mentoring. I felt guilty about this at first but have finally been able to find some peace. I haven’t the slightest idea if she’ll remember me down the road. If the truth I spoke into her life will make a difference. She needs room to bloom though, that I can tell. I will keep hoping and praying she knows she is enough. That this big world can be pretty sucky (especially middle and high school) but it’s how many times you get back up that counts. I’d love for her to do great and wonderful things in this life. I also have to accept the fact that not everything blooms. Some struggle and pop out of the ground, suddenly, after years of nothing. Some might not at all and the ground will be tilled in order to begin again.

We can never discount the simple fact of showing up, each week, as a reminder that someone will be there.¬†Though difficult and heart-wrenching it may be, boundaries create space for love. When there is struggle and strife, when we are challenged to meet that person in uncertainty and where we may not feel comfortable, it’s not the time to quit. Make the line in the sand. Let them know you’re there. And when they’re ready, they just might take your hand. Ready to erase the line and welcome in something new. That which they might not have recognized before is now so clear. The simple and delightful notion that they are loved.

And Then We Watched the Sunset

I started writing this post last spring, when it had been one year without my mom. While it is very personal to me, I felt it was time to share. I know Mother’s Day can be a difficult time for some but a mother’s love is forever. Be sure to squeeze your people tight while you can. And don’t spend too much time in that place of hurt. It’s more than acceptable to grieve and feel but take time to remind yourself of all the goodness that still surrounds you. Happy Mother’s Day to all the mom’s out there. You do the greatest work known to mankind.

I wanted to watch the sunset with you today. So, I went to the prettiest spot I know here. Where you can look down into Latah Valley and see it all. Trees, the first signs of spring. Life moving forward. Even if it I felt as if it stopped, I knew that wasn’t true for everybody else.

I wanted to watch the sunset alone, except for you of course. We listened to Elton John because I know how much you love him.¬†It was a little bit chilly outside but I didn’t care. Being with you that day was really all that mattered.

I wanted to watch the sunset because I knew I’d find you in the moment where everything becomes still.¬†When the hues of yellow, blue, orange and pink all blend together on the pallet of sky, finally disappearing into complete darkness.

I wanted to watch the sunset because things needed to feel real. I didn’t want sympathetic looks from strangers or the “I’m sorry’s.” They mean well and heck, I’m sure I’d do the same, but gazing at the sky with you finally brought back some normalcy into this life.

 

I wanted to watch the sunset, not to be reminded of everything I’ll¬†miss, but of what¬†I still carry with me. The concerts and plays where I found you in the stands. Silly moments and arguments. Cooking lessons where I spent more time with my nose in a book than actually learning how to cook. Christmas mornings and holidays where we didn’t have a single place to be except together.

I wanted to watch the sunset but also I didn’t. Because of what that would mean, of what I would feel. Of the tears flowing too easily. For what I would learn in this shared quiet moment between you and I. In the way the memories flood back, making it difficult to catch my breath. So for a bit I could forget the unfairness of it all, shrinking away from the tragedies that form our stories.

I wanted to watch the sunset because to say I needed a place to visit you sounds so cliche but yet, I did. To glimpse past the veil that seems to separate us at times, between those who are here and who have left. To see more in the stillness than we generally allow. To recognize that the love is greater than the loss.

I wanted to watch the sunset. So we did. It wasn’t perfect but it was beautiful. It was the point where bliss and hurt coincide. The sharpness of the pain meets up against your unbroken¬†love. We hurt, we heal, we start again. In it all, we never stop loving. In the sunset that day, though I felt my foundation was shaky, I found assuredness in you. In each gift you’ve given. In each smile. In every moment I saw your heart. And wouldn’t you know it, the sun keeps rising and setting. Just like that glorious circle, your love reminds me to rise and to rest. To cover all I can with my own love and warmth.

Thank you for so very many of my best days and for the strength to make the rest of my days as beautiful as those I spent with you. I love you mom.

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Brooklyn Accents & Choosing Joy

This week I had the chance to babysit two wonderful boys whom I had previously nannied for last year. How I became so lucky as to even become their nanny in the first place is beyond me. All I know is that these two young gentlemen make me so darn happy each time I see them.

Even though I have generally been around children in some caregiving capacity (through church, watching my littlest sister, etc.), there was something unique about being a nanny. Perhaps it was the amount of time we spent together and how I was able to watch changes take place as they navigated life. (And I am lucky enough to be in touch with them still!) How little shifts would occur from week to week, sometimes subtle and other times significant. No matter the case, the joy that has been brought to my heart by caring for them has me feeling all sorts of happy.

The conversations you have with a 5 year-old and 2 year-old (at the time I was their nanny) can tend to vary from wildly amusing to….”Is this actually happening right now?” I once had a 20 minute discussion with the oldest in regards to the eating habits of the loch ness monster. (And yes, I was pleasantly surprised by what I learned, although, also not sure what I was expecting.) I truly thank these boys for how much they’ve given me. I play more. Laugh more. And smile more. Because without any of the fun, life is going to be arduous and exhausting.

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Last week was no different than how our time together normally looks. There was the usual dinner time, play time outside, getting ready for bed and then clean up. But, there was also hide-and-seek. And learning the funky chicken dance in the kitchen. And let’s not forget my impression of the elves speaking to Santa with a Brooklyn accent, which left the children in fits of laughter. (These parents are really great for allowing my shenanigans.) ūüôā

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Photo Credit: symphony of love Flickr via Compfight cc

 

I am reminded of kindness when the oldest asks me to save whichever insect was lurking about the house (Spider? Fly? I can’t remember)¬†and take it outside. I see wonder when we build leprechaun traps. I find¬†that celebrating small victories isn’t so silly after all. And in the middle of it¬†all, I am still blown away by the pure and simple¬†fact that the everyday¬†moments hold the greatest secrets we will¬†learn¬†in this life. I loved caring for these two and I still do. I think it is absolutely wonderful that we have both been able to teach the other something.

I belt out “Dancing Queen” in my car and sometimes I dance at work. I love going on walks so I can take in the seasonal colors and scents. Laughing makes me happy. I try not to take myself too seriously and if a particular situation or act brings me joy, I fully intend on participating. This life is constantly playing a reel of joyful moments and we were made to partake. What a beautiful gift we were given! Walk in that joy, share it with others and find renewal in what those moments look like. Keep that little joyful candle burning so brightly that you light others just by being near them. In case you were wondering, I don’t have it all figured out. I certainly don’t have the answers¬†but I think I’ve found a couple of kids who do.

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