Friday, October 30, 2015

Sorting it All Out

"I laugh, I love, I hope, I try, I hurt, I need, I fear, I cry. And I know you do the same things too, So we're really not that different, me and you." ~ Colin Raye 

As I sit here listening to the rain hit my window, I feel a strange sense of calm that has DEFINITELY eluded me all week. Remember my big talk about being still? Yeah...I ran back and forth past my bench a LOT this week.

If I wasn't trying to put out fires on last minute things, I was running errands to make sure my little darlings had what they need for Halloween costumes. (Man.. how I wish we were back in the days of me picking out costumes and my mom sewing them.) 

And, when I wasn't racing around for those kind of things, I was stopping just long enough for my heart to break all over again at the news that one of our girls' favorite nannies lost her baby. It's not about me or Kerry or the girls and how sad we are. It's not about our own grief. It's that gut wrenching ACHE I feel for her and her husband, and their undeniably, amazing faith that is carrying them through this whole ordeal. 

I look at my girls and all I can think of is how much she has always loved them and how she cared for them. I want only the best for her - EVER. And to know that tragedy struck her is something I've cried buckets about - as I know so many others have as well.

It's in these moments that it's hard for me to be still. I'm such a do-er. I want to go fix it and build that city! Because, let's be honest, sitting still would mean I have to think about it and know that there's nothing to fix. The pile of sorrow and disappointment is right there in front of me. So, that's what I've been doing... running around instead of being still. 

On Wednesday, Randi and I met to talk about the next chapter in our book and I'm not sure I even did a very good job of focusing on that. I tried. We discussed how we should see God in the every day moments of life. A great topic - and one I can relate to. Don't we all need to stop and count our blessings? (Cue the music. You know you'll be singing it all day. "Count your blessings. Count them one by one." You're welcome.)

So, now that it's quiet and rainy, - and now that I've probably shed all the tears I can for a while - I am going to count my blessings. I am going to share a couple moments this week where I was thankful and where I stood still.

The first was watching my girls get ready this morning. They were laughing and helping each other with their costumes. There were no arguments and no screaming about losing a sock or some shoes. It. Was. Glorious. I couldn't even believe how smoothly this Halloween costume morning went. It's one for the record books, people. I'm not even kidding. It could potentially never happen again, so I'm using it as a thankful moment! 

The other one was even smaller. Gracey was tasked with cleaning her room. If you needed to picture what that might look like, I'd suggest you tune in to an episode of Hoarders.  After a couple hours of what seemed like a small construction crew stomping around and moving things behind that closed door, she emerged with all her laundry. That's not the amazing part - although it's pretty amazing. It was when she took the laundry downstairs, sorted it herself and started her laundry that made my heart sing. That's right: SHE SORTED HER LAUNDRY.  *mic drop*

And as I'm writing this, trying to make sense of this weird week, I just realized something. Isn't life kind of like that laundry moment? 

"Fussy" - Isn't that just the truth?
We have a big pile of stuff that we just leave laying around. We run past it. We step on it. We hurdle over it. But more stuff gets piled on top of it. The good, the bad, the heartbreaking... It's all in there. Then one day we decide to stop and sort it out.

Right then, when we sort it out, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God smiles at us. Not because sorting means fixing. Or because sorting means perfection. But because sorting means we are giving that stuff the attention it needs. He's the proud parent, smiling because His disorganized kid stopped long enough to sort the laundry.

I'll take it. That's my bench for this week. It's a sad, disorganized bench right now...piled with the stuff of the week. And that's perfectly fine. Because I stopped to sort it out. 

I hope you found a bench this week. And, yes, you can still come sit on mine. Just move that stuff over, would ya?

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

You Need Only Be Still

"I said to my soul be still, and wait without hope; for hope would be hope of the wrong thing; wait without love, for love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith. But the faith, and the love, and the hope are all in the waiting. Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought: so the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.” ~ T.S. Eliot

So....without going into a lot of boring details, I'll just say that 2015 has NOT been my year. If anything can be broken, misunderstood,  taken away,  used up or beat down, it has. And, to be completely honest, I'm exhausted. So exhausted that I have literally thrown up my hands and said "nevermind" and "I'm done" and "you win" more times than anyone would ever expect this sassy, outspoken girl to say.

Now that we are in the last few months of 2015, I feel a huge weight being slowly lifted off my shoulders. The end is near. A fresh and unblemished year awaits me - and boy do I need it! I may have to throw a New Year's Eve party. I'm THAT done. (If you don't know me, I can explain. I do NOT stay up late. I like my sleep. Midnight and I aren't really friends anymore...)

Honestly, I think part of my relief that we are on the downhill slide of this crappy year comes from the realization that I have a plan. A plan to be still.  Not physically, because I am SO GOOD at being physically still.  I have an intimate relationship with my Kindle and my pillow. I mean still as in still within my soul. I need to stop overthinking and stop overanalyzing. I need to get back to basics and stop the constant movement in my brain.

I've started and stopped this stillness plan a couple times so far. But I think I'm finally getting the hang of it. Initially, Randi and I began Emily P. Freeman's book "Simply Tuesday." She talks a lot about stopping and savoring the ordinary and the smallness of our lives. In other words, being still. 

We aren't very far into the book at all, but so much of it sings to my parched, beaten, overworked little soul. And she puts into words a couple things that I've been thinking about for a while now.

I want to be still. I want to appreciate things. And I want to STOP letting outside influences steal my stillness and my peace. Keeping up (read: competing) with everyone else, letting others dictate my feelings when they show up on my "doorstep" with their hair on fire about something, or spending my precious time doing things I really don't want to do are just not part of my "stillness plan."

One of my favorite quotes so far in the book is: "If the people we live our lives with now aren't sacred companions for us, we'll find ourselves competing with everyone and connecting with no one." Isn't that so amazing? Making sure that those around me are my sacred companions is at the top of my list. I can get all pop psychologist about it and say "life is too short" - but really I just want to make choices based on whether or not those around me are sacred. No more trying to please everyone and fit into some mold that wasn't meant for me. No more trying to argue my point with those who are determined to steal my peace and force my hand.

Another part of my plan is to get back to the basics that keep me grounded. Church and nap on Sunday, quiet time with my journal in hand, writing simple "to do" lists and laughing with friends. Those are the things I want to do more of. I want fewer meetings. I want less Candy Crush and more Scrabble. I want more community and less rushing around. I just want to be still within myself. I want to include do exactly what Emily Freeman suggests: sit on a bench and stop building a city. I don't need to go out and build more to do or more to think about. I need to sit on a bench and enjoy things around me.

If those two things aren't a enough to get me there, I want to include a layer of insulation. I will not let outside influences get to me. It's so easy to let others' insecurities and burdens color my world. It's easy to get caught up in other people's plans too. For once, I think I'll be a little selfish. If it starts to disturb my stillness, I will step away. I know I live in a busy world where everyone has a bandwagon. But that doesn't mean I have to climb on one. Call it denial if you want to, but I intend to look at things from a clear perspective and not from the perspective Facebook, CNN, Fox News, Washington Post or my most outspoken friend. 

And, most importantly, I am going to SAVOR every moment I have with Gracey during her senior year. I'm going to listen to every story she wants to tell me - in halting detail - with "like" in every sentence. I know that I will never, ever get these moments back. She will gone too soon, and I will wish she and her friends were talking loudly over the tv and eating fast food in the kitchen. I absolutely plan to be still in her presence so as not to scare her away. (Ok.. this may be hard. I am pretty impatient. I can almost feel her eyes rolling as she reads this. But I'm going to TRY, gosh darnit!!!)

So, there you have it. My grand plan for closing out the Great Depression of 2015. 

Will you join me on the bench? I hear it's got a great view.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Miles Between Friends

“Nothing makes the earth seem so spacious as to have friends at a distance; they make the latitudes and longitudes.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

Did you miss me?  I thought so.

I want to share my magical summer. (Yes, I know it's October. I'm slow.) But first, let me give you a back story:

Once upon a time back in the 1990's, the internet was REALLY little. There was no Google. There weren't 4,000,000 different websites that gave you all kinds of advice or news. In fact, if you stumbled on a good one, you stuck with it. 

A group of working women found themselves searching for parenting tips on this vast, but somewhat barren, internet. They'd all had babies around the same time and realized that they had MANY questions about these cute little humans who couldn't talk.

When these delightful women happened upon a website called Babynet, they discovered a great webmaster who gave them a place to interact. It was a magical time, when wackos weren't running around online and freaking everyone out. It was just a sweet little site, with great message boards. 

This website was the beginning of some amazing friendships that still exist today - even though the website is gone and the "webbie" passed away. I am one of those women - and I am so very blessed to have these friends. 

Now, back to this summer's adventures.

They made us a sign!
Pam, my long time Canadian friend, invited our family to visit her at her cottage. Not just this year - but darn near every year since they built the cottage. (PS. Canadian cottages are what we'd call lake houses.) And every year, we'd discuss going to Canada and decide that it was too far or too expensive or too much time. We just never seemed to find the right time to do it - until this year. 

We all realized that the daughters who brought us together as friends were on the verge of their senior years. They would soon be going to college and starting their own adult lives - and we'd never been in the same room. How was that possible? They have been the topic of conversation via email, Facebook and telephone for 17 years, but we let the years slide by without even getting them into the same room. Unacceptable! This had to change!

So, Kerry and I began our planning. We looked at airfare and calendars. We consulted with Pam on weather, location, currency, and travel trajectory. Have I ever mentioned that I'm a planner? 

#tx2can - Check instagram for all our zany stops!
We gathered passports, ordered Canadian currency, bought a selfie stick for the roadtrip, and loaded up with our hashtag #tx2can. (Yes, you have to order Canadian money when you live this far away from Canada.) 

Oh - and thanks to Randi - I put a new app on my phone called Roadtrippers that gave us ALL KINDS of places to stop. And away we went....

Largest totem pole
This 2-week trip, covering more than 1,600 miles one way, spanning 8 states was the very best vacation of my life. Not only because we laughed more than ever, but because our end goal proved that some friendships were just meant to be. And, thanks to technology, the Woods and the Smiths are forever linked. The only way to describe it is magical. But before I get to them, let me share a few highlights of the trip.

PaPa got hold of the selfie stick....
We took our time, stopped whenever it struck our fancy (ok... when it struck MY fancy), and spent some time researching family history. We also spent some time with my daddy and Keren which is always fun. I fell in love with Indiana and decided Illinois has the worst roads. Oh - and we tortured the girls every chance we got by making them take pictures with us at the "World's Largest [fill in blank]."  It was great!
Largest catsup bottle

Largest stamp (and it's NOT rubber)
We also stopped at Niagara Falls. They were pretty amazing - but we really got a bigger kick out of discussing Gracey's faux pas in middle school when she mispronounced it and practically said the "N" word. (She was horrified, of course.) It's definitely a wet experience!

I can't begin to tell you how much fun it was to drive all those miles together. Some people hate to road trip, but the Smiths are professionals. We don't even need games to keep us busy because we have Sadie! She kindly provides us with hours of entertainment whether with bodily functions or just a little toothbrushing...

Once we got to Canada, we stopped at some other friends' house on the Georgian Bay. (Do you like how a speak with such authority on that? Yeah... me too.) The kids go to school together but they are Canadian and fly the coop during the summer, so it was fun to see them. Their cottage and view are amazing and their hospitality even better. And after some R&R, we headed for our final destination: Pam and Garry's cottage!
Arrival! We took our Texas flag!

Are you wondering what big adventures we had planned? Are you expecting crazy stories of things we did that we'd never have done otherwise? I'm sorry to disappoint you. We just chilled. (And drank a lot of chilled beverages.)
The babies who started it all.

But, here's the thing: it was the most relaxed, comfortable and natural fit ever. 

Making new friends.
Everyone just fell right into the daily pace of cooking, boating, swimming and visiting. The kids all loved each other. (Maddy, unfortunately, was only there for about 24 hours because of work. But the girls still managed to hit it off!) Garry was always up for taking the girls fishing, and his nightly quizzes and/or games kept us all laughing. Pam and I made jelly, reminisced about old conversations and shared our latest parenting antics. Sadie and Nathan spent untold minutes chasing minnows and playing on the Lily Pad.

No deadlines. No agenda. No uncomfortable moments. No negativity.

Family pic minus Maddy. Last night in Canada.
I'm sure it helped that Pam and I have talked at length about her cottage life - and how she enjoys it. Not to mention they are the most amazing hosts EVER, so we wanted for nothing. Oh - and the cottage is Heaven on earth.

Whatever the reason, I believe that God knew what he was doing when he put Pam and I online at the same time all those years ago. We seemed to just click at every turn. I'd cook a meal one night - and she's incorporate the leftovers into the next night's dinner. She'd be vacuuming and cleaning the living room while I'd be folding laundry. I guess the only thing we didn't do similarly was sleep! They are bigger night owls than we are - but then I attribute that to our internal clocks set permanently to "wake early to go to work" and their's were set to "cottage time."  I feel sure with practice, we can retrain ours!

Packed up and ready to leave. :(
We were there for 6 days - and when it was time to leave, a sadness swept through the house. You know how some vacations are meant to end? Or a visit with friends reminds you that being alone can be a good thing? This wasn't like that at all. It was just.....sad. 

We drove away with SO many good memories and such a love for our friends that it was really hard to count the miles separating us. They made us promise to come back next summer - and we made them promise to come to Texas to see us - or at the very least we could all meet somewhere before then.

Next summer can't come soon enough. And countless memories show up in our daily conversations. If I was thankful for Babynet all those years ago when I needed help with a teething baby or potty training woes, I am a hundred times more thankful for Snapchat, Facebook and iMessage. Because 1,600 miles are just too many.

Thank you, Pam and Garry (and Nathan and Maddy.) We are beyond blessed to call you "framily", eh?