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.) 🙂

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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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How Volunteering Changed My Heart

When I walked through the darkness I experienced in the spring of 2015, I was unaware of the ripples that would span for years to come. After the loss of my mom, coupled with my most painful breakup, I knew I needed something else to focus on. Hence, I made the decision to become a mentor. At the time I started mentoring her, she was a darling 5th grader. As of this spring, she has grown into a fierce and spunky 7th grader. I honestly wasn’t sure if she would still want me in her life when she reached junior high, fearing that having a mentor was “uncool.” But, here we are. I spend 30 minutes with her each week during her lunch break. It doesn’t sound like much and for all the moments where I wonder if I have any sort of impact on her life, there are 1,000 other moments where she pours her heart out to me in which I realize that yes, this is where I’m supposed to be.

I had always felt compelled to give but never truly devoted myself to it. (Aside from kids’ ministry at my church in Wisconsin, which has forever touched my heart). Mentoring sparked something in me and I found that the traits of my unique design I previously felt made me flawed or too different, could be put to great use. My compassion and emotional sensitivity were not to be changed but instead, channeled. So, that’s precisely what I did. After finding a church I meshed with, I immersed myself within it by volunteering there. And am I so thankful I did! The people I met and the relationships formed have brought tremendous change, strength and positive growth into my life. After that, I was called to bigger projects where I formed even more connections. I’ve worked alongside refugees as they develop the tools to one day operate a small business. I’ve seen little kids approach me in wonder to tell me all about their day while I listened patiently. Finally, I am being urged to lead other young women in a variety of ways and while I never pictured myself landing here, I am nonetheless willing to stick my toes over the line that is my comfort zone as I take these steps towards something bigger.

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Photo Credit: symphony of love Flickr via Compfight cc

 

It’s true that when we start giving, we want to give even more. I couldn’t imagine a life without service to others. Where my eyes and my heart have been opened by true, meaningful experiences. Where I have shared and listened. Where I have found myself feeling as if I am the one receiving more than I thought I would. Here I am, yet again, after another breakup and leaning deeper into the giving of my time. It is here, when I listen, lean in, close my eyes and trust in all I am capable of. Here, in this period of change and the in-betweens of life, that I have been the beneficiary of sweet reminders. Reminders of how blessed I am, of all those who love me in this life, and of the unopened doors I have yet to enter during this next journey.

Notes to My 11-Year-Old Self

This week, my littlest sister turned 11 years old. I can’t believe how fast she’s grown! I remember finding out my mom was pregnant when I was 16, shocked and a little upset that this newcomer would be throwing off the balance of our already established family (after all, we were a family of 4 and that was pretty much perfect). But oh, how wrong I was. And I’m so glad! She was born and I loved her, doted on her and had a blast watching her grow from a spunky toddler to a big-hearted young lady. I can’t wait to see what big plans she has in store for the world and what life will bring as she matures. As I reflected on her big day this week, I couldn’t help but wonder….what do I wish I had known at 11??

Hey 11-year old self,

It’s me. The grown-up version of you. You’re much older now (28 to be exact), though really not that much taller. That’s alright because after some struggles, you’ve really come to love and accept who you are. You’re even a fan of your freckles and curly hair! (Who knew that day would come??) I bet you didn’t know it at the time but Harry Potter turned out to be a pretty big deal! (They even made movies out of the 7 books J.K. Rowling wrote! Amazing times we live in.) And, in a crazy turn of events, you’re going to have a littler sister one day (she’ll show up about 6 years from now) and she’s going to be just as obsessed with Harry Potter as you are.

So, you’re in 5th grade huh? You’re probably pretty bummed because, from what I recall, that’s the year your best friend moved away. But, don’t worry! You’re going to become best friends with somebody else in your tight-knit class and you will have SO many laughs together, all the way until graduation day! Also, this is the year you end up getting glasses. I know, I know you think they’re dorky but you MUST wear them. One day, you’ll have really cute ones! You won’t even hardly want to wear contacts eventually because you’ll end up liking your new glasses so much.

Right now, you don’t think you’re pretty and that feeling is going to last for awhile. You’re going to have reservations down the road and a great deal of self-doubt as to whether you’ll EVER feel pretty. Well, little miss, I am here to assure you that yes, you are freakin’ beautiful and you’re just going to morph into this lovely young woman before you know it! (And, don’t forget, you’re going to dislike that you look so young but you’ll come to realize it’s a blessing one day.)

You don’t care much for boys because you know there will be lots of time for that one day. I can’t lie darling girl, you’re going to get your heart broken and you’ll break some hearts along the way too. After your most heart-wrenching breakup, you’ll wonder if love is even within your reach. Then, one day, somebody is going to carry you when you feel too weak, reminding you that yes, it’s real, lovely, and true. He’s going to be quite wonderful and, over time, you’re going to become an incredibly strong woman. (In large part, thanks to this amazing man and all the ways he has continuously shown you how much you are capable of.)

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You’ll really learn to love yoga….and sometimes do said yoga with dogs

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You’ll live in an adorable studio covered in ivy…and find ducks wandering around your neighborhood

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Finally, you’ll adventure to the breathtaking country of Spain for a wine class and occasionally chase after goats

In all of this, I urge you to really, really love life. Fill your cup up with experiences and adventures. With laughter and beautiful memories. Though I don’t wish to frighten you, you’ll lose somebody extremely close to you and although you have read the stories and seen the movies, you will be shaken by the reality of how this awakens you to your very core. This loss will precede that difficult breakup and you will transition into the darkest period of your life. But, never stop moving. Yes, you must heal and recover from this achingly painful time but I implore you to push through. And, as I am a witness, I know that you do. You are resilient.

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The muse that inspired this post (when she was a lot smaller!)

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Always, always smiling

So, 11-year old self, your life will be anything but a walk in the forest but just know, you’ll reach the other side. Never give up on that huge heart of yours. It is going to do incredible good during your time on this Earth. Each day you wake up, incorporate fun wherever you can. Don’t be afraid to fail at your dreams because it’s better to have tried than to have lived a life wondering, “What if?.” You are smart, talented and valued in this great, big world. Find peace with your unique design, utilize your God-given talents and love like there’s no tomorrow.

 

Sincerely,

28-year old Heather10426876_10152240749293763_5916045892170636038_n

Feeling Deeply & Loving Fiercely

To the girl crying in the airport terminal, I see you because you are me. The one who misses her family or significant other with an aching so badly, you fear it could leave a hurt permanently etched deep into your heart. I feel you, sister. You are not judged for the snot running down your face and the enormous tears dripping down your cheeks. Or the fact that you would really like a beer and good conversation to make you momentarily forget the pain that comes with leaving. And maybe a quiet spot to send a quick text, reminding those you love of just how much they mean. Yes, you probably have a pretty neat outlook on the world. You love mighty fiercely and continuously, like a fire whose embers continually burn, despite the conditions surrounding it.
As a young girl, you might have felt you didn’t fit in. You cared (and still do) so deeply for those you love that any harm that came to them instantly created intense emotional turmoil within. You cried during the sappy movies, or when you felt you weren’t good enough, when that boy broke your heart, and when you fought with your best friend. I’m telling you that’s OK. Don’t fight that compassionate, sensitive side of you. I think the word sensitive has gotten a bad rep lately, especially in regards to how we raise our young boys to be men. Sensitivity is not equal to weakness and certainly doesn’t mean you can’t handle the situations life throws you. It means the way you input information and emotion is different from those around you. That you believe in encouragement, kindness, and love. That your heart is a well of unending goodness and you’d love nothing more than to share it with others.

Use your powers for good Supergirl and don’t ever, for even one second, let the insanity of life jade you. You were meant to feel with all the beautifully sewn together pieces that God gave you. Sometimes that means the tears don’t stop for a bit but just know that, eventually, you will have figured out the best possible way to channel all of that emotion. Even if that might mean going to a room on your own to collect your thoughts or simply just accepting the fact that bawling in your seat on the plane is what works in that moment. You will decompress, pull yourself together, and keep loving today, tomorrow, and the day after. One day you’ll even know yourself so well that, despite the hurt, you know exactly what you need to bring yourself back up from that down. And finally, you will find somebody who loves that sensitive side of you, even if they are the complete opposite. They will wrap you in their love when you hurt, reminding you that the pain will subside in time. With tears comes renewal and a reminder of what it means to be human, that there are still things worth fighting for in this madness. You are a wildly brilliant canvas and those tears just blend those colors together a bit, creating something incredibly gorgeous and new in the process. Feel every single bit of it.

Missing all of these beautiful people!