Military Spouses and the Invisible Backpack: a conversation about stress

Military Spouses and the Invisible Backpack: a conversation about stress

“Congratulations on your wedding and welcome to the military!” he said. “Here is your dependent ID card, your application for DEERS and your invisible backpack. Slip it over your shoulders, tighten the straps and you will be good to go.”

“Wait, what?” I said in confusion, turning around, trying to view my back. “You just put a backpack on me? Where? Why? I don’t see it!”

“Oh, you won’t ever see it, but it’s part of the package for every dependent.” he explained. “Don’t worry, every military spouse has one. Try not to let it get too heavy. Next in line please!” 

“What are you talking about??” I tried to ask. Feeling confused, I shuffled out of the room and quietly began my military spouse journey, never fully understanding the baggage I was acquiring along the way. It would take me two decades to fully comprehend the invisible backpack.

****

Moving past that imaginary scenario, the beginning of my Navy life was a little rough, I’m not gonna lie. But through the years I learned to love it and by the time my husband reached twenty years I was 100% in. Sure, I had some strange rashes and unexplained health issues but never you mind that. All was well!

One day during our COVID quarantine, I was discussing mental health with a friend (six feet apart) and our conversation turned to that of military spouses. This friend so aptly described this life like wearing an invisible backpack that gets heavier and heavier as the years pass and I thought her analogy was PERFECT. (Thanks Rebecca!!)

Like frogs in a pot of water that gets warmer and warmer, military spouses often do not realize the stress they are carrying because of the incremental changes. Obviously, we know on the surface that we have challenges before us, but what choice do we have but to go about our business, get the jobs done, get the kids fed and do what we must? We channel Rosie the Riveter, pull up our positive pants, support our spouses and find dear friends to walk with us along the rocky path. But I’ve realized that in spite of our awesomeness, we are not taking enough time to consider the weight on our shoulders and the rock collections we gather. We simply cannot ignore this revelation. It goes like this…

We uproot ourselves and move to a new place. In goes a rock.

We kiss our spouses goodbye and go long stretches of time without seeing them. In goes a rock.

We live with a schedule which is always written in pencil. In goes a rock.

We solo-parent for days, weekends and months. In goes a large, heavy boulder.

We feel depressed and anxious but we don’t want to tell anyone because we are supposed to be “deployment strong”. In goes a rock. And then another.

We live within a constant countdown- when they are leaving, when they are returning, when we are moving- rock after rock go into our collections.

We manage the kids, the job, the pets, the household, the cars, the yard, the next move and all the small but significant details of life which make our backpacks heavier and heavier. But the truth is that we often don’t notice the weight because it disguises itself in the form of subtle, low, chronic stress that feels “normal”. Everyone around us is doing the same thing so this is just life, right? No big deal. (Notice that I am not talking about dealing with the stress of a spouse in war or combat. That stress is real and palpable and impossible to ignore.)

The reality is, these subtle pressures don’t seem like a big deal until our bodies and souls decide enough is enough. My “enough” moment came a few years ago when I was sitting in a dermatologist’s office, waiting for a diagnosis on a wicked rash on my scalp. The doctor took one look at me and said “On a scale of 1-10, this is a 20! Honey, you need to lower your stress, what have you been doing??” I thought about how my husband had been gone over five hundred nights in the last three years and how I had recently moved my family three thousand miles to a place where I knew almost zero people. My shoulders slumped and I began awkwardly crying in her office as I finally acknowledged that I had carried the world on my shoulders and I was exhausted. (So was the doctor after my strange, unexpected outburst!!) 

But the truth is, until that doctor’s appointment, I wouldn’t have told you that I was bearing years of stress. As I said, I genuinely loved the Navy, our base was stellar and I was terribly sad to leave our community, even though it deployed again and again. I would have told you that there were times and periods of stress but far more positive days. So therein lays the problem: because I didn’t “feel” physically stressed all the time, I never did anything to actually relieve it. Because I didn’t “feel” the rocks in my invisible backpack, the stress accompanied me unnoticed and invisible.

I finished that week of doctor appointments with a couple auto-immune diseases on my plate and concluded that ignorance was definitely NOT bliss. While I had a genetic component to ultimately blame for these conditions, I was forced to finally understand that stress was real and active and definitely destructive, if not given proper attention. Armed with new awareness, I needed to remove that invisible backpack and quickly empty as many rocks as possible. NOW.

Do you? Have you ever considered the burdens on your shoulders and acknowledged the weight? Have you sat down and talked with your spouse and family about how you might lessen the load? Because IT IS OK TO NOT BE OK. It’s ok to admit that your shoulders are sore. It’s ok for us to take a time-out, evaluate our habits and start considering ways to help ourselves! 

We can take stress and self-care seriously. This isn’t about going to the beach every weekend or planning a vacation for next summer. It’s about taking care of yourself in small, daily increments. Whatever lowers your stress for a brief moment- DO IT. Not later, but TODAY. Not when a deployment ends, but NOW. Every day. Here and there, make it happen. 

We can be conscious of our schedules and current responsibilities and say NO more often. When your spouse is gone and you are juggling the world and someone asks you to volunteer for something, the answer might need to be NO. When all your kids want to join ten activities at once, the answer might also need to be NO. After my doctor’s lecture, I said NO to everything for a few months in my new city… but felt guilty and uncomfortable. What will people think?? I wondered. Short answer: WHY DID I CARE?? It was my life, my call and my health. I desperately needed that slow time and you might, too. But beware, you might start a blog in the middle of the stillness. 😉

We can hire babysitters or form a co-op to give our busy hands a break. Solo-parenting day after day after day is a weight on your shoulders, even if you adore your young children. Don’t feel guilty. Being YOUR best self is going to make you a better parent. Hear this: there is no golden trophy for the parent who never asks for help or goes through an entire deployment without a minute’s reprieve. The only reward is severe exhaustion. 😦

We can focus on finding community to help and support us– an FRG, an OSG, a neighborhood group, a club or a church. We were created to bear each other’s burdens and live in communion with one another. You don’t need to be a superhero in your own cave- come out and find a tribe!

We can tap into the resources offered to us by the militaryFleet & Family, Navy Chaplains, Military OneSource, and Child Development Centers all have resources to help you. Be brutally honest with yourself and the areas in which you need relief. And if you don’t know where to find it, ask your local spouses. If you don’t know anyone, message me and I will help you!

I have loved our twenty plus years in the military and wouldn’t trade them for the world (my reflections are here). But the subject of stress and mental health must be part of our broad conversation as we go forward. So let’s continue to talk about it, improve it and lighten our backpacks. IT’S TIME. 

Wishing you all the very, VERY best!! 

[Original unmodified photo by Joseph Young on Unsplash]

That Time I Was Forced To Get A Dog

That Time I Was Forced To Get A Dog

Once upon a time there was a husband who wanted a dog. The wife said “There’s no way in the world I am adding a dog to my responsibilities right now. The kids are too little and you are deployed too often. This is not the best time for us.” And so the conversation was put on the shelf.

Later there was a husband and some kids who wanted a dog. The mother said “We are in a rental house and probably moving soon so this is not the best time for us.” And so the conversation was tabled. (But the husband whispered to his children “If we ever return to California, we can get a dog.”)

Then the family returned to California. “Hooray, we can get a dog!” shouted the children. But the mother pouted in the corner because this was NOT THE BEST TIME.    

“When is the best time?” the father asked.

“After Thanksgiving!” the mother replied.

“After Christmas!” she said later.

“After we finish our house remodel!” she added in January.

The exasperated father finally said “It seems like you are delaying this entire thing!”

“That is correct.” she admitted.

Because the truth is this mother didn’t actually like animals. Sure, her favorite tv show was “Crikey” but that’s because she loved Steve Irwin and wanted to be sure his kids were emotionally stable (and maybe she had a mom crush on his son, Robert). Watching the Animal Planet does not automatically translate into the desire to cohabitate with a furry beast. The responsibility, the dirty mess, the lack of freedom. Does this mother sacrifice herself or crush the souls of her children? She found herself in a great conundrum.  

Shocking surprise, THIS WOMAN WAS ME.  

In my marriage, my husband is the Dreamer and I am the Realist (otherwise affectionately known as “pessimist” or “wet blanket”). He adds spontaneity to our family and I come behind to decipher the onslaught of details (often complaining). Over and over he said “Our kids are going to love a dog!” And while I agreed, I couldn’t get past the dirty details- the shedding, the mess, the sleepless nights, the discipline, the years of responsibility, most of which would fall on my shoulders as the kids went to school and he went to work, or worse, deployed for six months. But he and the kids wore me down DAY. AFTER DAY. AFTER DAY. I found my language subtly changing to a “Maybe” and then “If you can find a dog that doesn’t shed” and then finally a declarative “FINE. WHATEVER.”

With gusto and enthusiasm, my husband rushed to fulfill my children’s dreams, scanned the local shelters and then turned to the dark world of online puppy ads. The COVID-19 puppy shortage is a real thing and, unfortunately, dishonest people noticed.

“I have puppies but my mother just died so I move to Idaho. I send you the puppies if you wire me money.” Umm… No. 

“I have puppy but husband died so I move to San Diego. I ship puppy if you send me money.” Umm…No.

“I am electrical engineer and very busy. I have had a death in the family but can send you the puppy.” NO!!! (Is the world one big pool of criminals??)

I kid you not, there was a fourth person. We went to a woman’s house, selected a puppy, named it “Winston” and planned to return the following weekend to adopt him. Then five days later the woman texted “My parents died in the one hundred car pileup in Texas so we will contact you later.” We never heard from her again but she was quick to respond to my undercover teen (and news reports didn’t corroborate her story). All I could picture was Buddy the Elf narrowing his eyes and saying “You sit on a throne of LIES.” All I can say now is: if one is going to lie about puppies and make little kids cry then be warned. God is watching you, Karolina Puppy Scammer. 

So as my children sat in our living room, shedding their tears and childhood innocence that fateful day, I laid on the floor like a beaten horse and said “WHY ON EARTH ARE WE DOING THIS??” But my husband declared “Kim- you are going to love this dog someday.” He pressed onward again, found a breeder online who had one more puppy available and exclaimed that we could hop in the car RIGHT NOW to get her. With enough passive-aggression to fuel the state of California, I sat in silence as we drove an hour to this new family’s house. WHY ON EARTH ARE WE DOING THIS??? I thought over and over and maybe voiced to everyone in the car. This was going to ruin my life. (I wonder in hindsight if I should have majored in drama in college?)

That afternoon we adopted a seven-week old yellow, shedding, Labrador puppy. (Well, technically, she is “champagne” color because we are that fancy.) Her panicked yelping and whimpering in her new crate caused my tender-hearted children to finally emotionally collapse in the car so we spent our return trip home listening to the sobbing hearts of both humans and beast. Stick a fork in us because we were DONE.   

The rest of the evening was a blur of emotion- shock over the Queen of Lies and the loss of “Winston”, and continued shock that we adopted a second puppy who now lived in our kitchen. A living, shedding, messy, feral toddler that I had tried to avoid for years. As I sat in numbed silence a friend texted me and said “You got a lab! We loved our lab! She lived for fourteen years!!” I began mentally calculating the length of time before us, but was interrupted by my teen’s response- “Oh good!! My own children will get to meet her!” Dear Jesus help me, I thought. I will be caring for this lassie until I am a gray-haired grandmother.

And so began our life with our California dog, befittingly named “Cali”. The first month was not my personal best; Baby was put in a corner and lashed out. I might have inappropriately yelled at my family for bringing about this misfortune (#dramatic). I might have rolled my eyes a million times and cried as the wee beastie attacked my legs each morning with her razor sharp puppy canines. I might have wished that the Irwins lived closer so I could send Cali to the Zoo with visitation rights on the weekends. But I did recall that my first month of motherhood was equally shocking and painful and filled with questions about my future. It seems I have a hard time transitioning. 😉

As time progressed, ever so slowly, this beast eventually began to melt my frozen heart. When I entered the puppy zone each morning she started peeing with excitement because YOU ARE THE BEST AND ALL I ASK IN LIFE IS TO BE WITH YOU!! When I opened the freezer she enthusiastically joined my search for ice because IT’S SO COLD AND CRUNCHY AND I LOOOOOVE IT!! If I opened the dishwasher she magically appeared because DO I SMELL CHICKEN OR PEANUT BUTTER ON THESE PLATES IT IS GLORIOUS!! If she cleverly escaped our puppy barriers and raced down our hallway with the wind blowing in her jowls, I couldn’t help but laugh. Her zest for life was contagious. And honestly, after a year of COVID weirdness and perpetual Groundhogs Day, I found myself smiling more often. 

We are now three months into this journey with our Cali-girl and here comes the time when I humbly admit it: MY HUSBAND WAS RIGHT. It’s impossible not to love this hilarious dog. She manically chases the water hose, barks at deer antlers and runs away with kitchen towels like a bandit stealing a truckload of gold. Any human or animal within fifty feet is a friend and anything that can fit into her mouth is a potential energy source. I LOVE FOOD SO MUCH AND WANT IT ALL THE TIME AND WILL EAT MY MEAL IN 2.4 SECONDS WHEN IS MY NEXT ONE?? OH WAIT- A KITCHEN CABINET! I CAN CHEW ON THAT FOR A WHILE… 

While hilarious, it’s not perfection. There is hair everywhere, my new floors are filthy and she’s tried digging multiple holes to China in our backyard. But despite the growing pains, our family has changed for the better. One of my children finally overcame her deathly fear of dogs after almost a decade of real and vivid terror. Another has shown untapped courage and responsibility, learning to discipline and control our new family member. Another has overflowed with motherly affection for this animal but also learned that dogs require significant time and energy. (We remind her that human babies demand even more attention than puppies and SHE GETS IT NOW.)

What about me? I have learned a few things, too. 

1) Sometimes us Realists need to give the Dreamers a chance. 🙂 Sometimes the details might not make sense but the dream is still valid and doable and a potential vessel of joy for our children. Sometimes we need to let go of the reigns for a minute and at least TRY. Maybe the scenario might not always work, but it might be more successful than we think! (And maybe don’t yell at your family or exude passive-aggression during the trial period.)

2) I married the right person. I have forgiven my husband for buying a puppy and he has forgiven me for acting like a lunatic. 

3) I do like some animals. In fact, against all odds, I am even capable of adoring them. ❤️ (Well, sometimes. Mostly when they are tired. And not eating my kitchen chairs or digging WWII trenches on my property. 😉)

Hugs to all the other fur babies out there. Have a great week friends!

This One Is For All The Mothers

This One Is For All The Mothers

This is for all the mothers out there who are wearing all the different hats- the lunch-packers, the hair stylists, the birthday party planners, clothing shoppers, chefs of the dinner table and in-home nutritionists and daily counselors. This is for the ones who are math tutors, tech supports, potty instructors, social media monitors, teen book reviewers, and costume creators. You are the healers of scrapes, presidents of fan clubs, drill sergeants of discipline and makers of magic. YOU ARE AMAZING.

This is for all the mothers who are managing all the little things- school schedules, mismatched socks, haircuts, doctor’s appointments, sports registration, orthodontia, classroom parties, daily hydration, birthday presents, laundry baskets, chore charts, winter gear, orange juice levels in the fridge, dust levels in the house, ingredients for meals and a sufficient paper towel inventory. You are the magnanimous multi-tasker for your entire family. WELL DONE.

This is for all the mothers who are experiencing the deep well of emotion- love, pride, exhaustion, elation, worry, amusement, frustration, joy, deep grief, pure happiness, shock, gratitude, disappointment, laughter or stress. You are experiencing the barometer of parenting and gauging the wind of change with each new day (or minute). MOTHERHOOD IS A LOT.

This is for all the mothers who are parenting in their own unique ways- young, older, single, married, widowed, adoptive or foster; and for the extra mothers parenting from unique vantage points- teachers, Aunties, grandmothers, church nursery workers, daycare providers, neighbors and social workers. Motherhood takes many different forms, but YOU ARE ALL APPRECIATED! (This weekend and always. ❤️)

This Mother’s Day is for ALL the mothers, because no two are alike and no two experiences are the same. Let’s rejoice in each other’s journeys. Let’s be each other’s biggest fans. Let’s celebrate the momentous mission of Motherhood together! 

This weekend I wish you many hugs, some quiet moments of grateful reflection and a space to relax without any laundry to fold. Cheers to you!! 🙂

Celebrating Military Kids and Leaving the Stereotypes Behind

Celebrating Military Kids and Leaving the Stereotypes Behind

Each year, April is acknowledged as the Month of the Military Child and my heart immediately opens wide to celebrate this amazing segment of our population. Statistics say that almost one million kids live within the military community and their resiliency and perseverance inspire me. But I didn’t always feel that way.

As I’ve mentioned in earlier blogs, I jumped into this military community with zero information and I didn’t even care. After dating my husband long-distance for four years, he could have told he was moving to Mars and I would have said “I’m coming with you!!” But admittedly, as I entered the military world I held to false stereotypes and negative assumptions of the kids around me, mostly because their lifestyles were so foreign to my own childhood experience. 

I assumed the military life must (obviously) be too difficult for a child. Moving houses and cities? Forced to leave friends? Being the new kids at school? HORRIBLE!! I assumed that by the time our future children were in school, we would need to quit this Navy thing and return to our hometowns to give them a “normal” childhood, like the ones gifted to my husband and me. I assumed this life would be nothing but hardship and heartbreak and no one dreams of burdening innocent children with such things.   

But then I started noticing the military kids around me, especially the teenagers. I started noticing that they were happy, well-rounded, confident kids. I noticed that they had very close relationships with their families, special bonds with their military friends and ways of looking at the world that were different than I thought. (Sure, there were kids who struggled but was it more than the civilian world? Not noticeably.) My heart began to slowly expand…

“Maybe the military might not ruin them…”

“Maybe we could do this a little bit longer if our kids seem okay…”

“Maybe the military might allow them to…thrive?”

MIND BLOWN. Is it even possible, I thought? To spend twenty years moving your kids around and have them still be functional beings? I watched even more closely. We moved to Europe and I saw kids learning to speak different languages, befriending kids from other nations and adapting to the personalities of different adults and cultures. Some kids had bounced from country to country, spending ten years abroad and accumulating a lifetime of experiences that many American adults never acquire. Back in the U.S., I saw kids bouncing from coast to coast and adapting to a wide array of situations. I saw kids move from the city and adapt to small town life. I saw kids from the countryside move to Washington DC and adapt to noise and traffic and fast-paced expectations. Military kids have lived east, west, north and south and are able to account for American culture in very mature, intelligent ways.

I have seen kids walk confidently into new schools, conquer the first dreadful day, find friends and prove to themselves that they can do difficult things. (Such an experience would have probably emotionally unhinged me as a child.) I marvel at the confidence of my own children who have moved many times and developed unique social skills and subtle resiliency that I wasn’t forced to learn until I was an adult, moving away from my hometown for the very first time. As my oldest looks towards college I see a fearless soul who can intelligently debate east and west coasts, who knows that family is always just a plane ride away, and who knows that the world is her oyster and she is untethered and free to go where she chooses. Because she has already gone so many places before.

Now please listen to me… I don’t mean to paint an overly rosy picture of this military life and gloss over the immense challenges. Do some military kids suffer from anxiety and depression? Yes. Do some military kids find the lifestyle difficult to navigate? Of course (as do many adults). Do some families decide that the military is causing too much stress for their children? Absolutely. There are times when the government simply asks too much of these young people and families must pivot. I’ve seen and heard of brilliant military members exit the community at the pinnacle of their careers to prioritize their children’s needs. I stand and applaud these parents! 

I’ve seen children parted from a parent for a solid year and the world seemed upside down, wrong and unnatural. I’ve seen Navy families deploy three times in three years. My own household has seen its fair share of excruciating goodbyes and we know more tears loom in our future. But when all is said and done, I refuse to accept the stereotype that all military children are struggling beyond their emotional capabilities. It’s just not what I’ve witnessed. I’ve seen too many success stories to stamp military kids with that label!

What contributes to the success of these special people? I’ve thought about it over the years and the answer is obviously unique to each family. But I would offer one idea here: the formation of character, forged through trial and fire. We Gen X-ers are often accused of coddling our children and it’s difficult to deny (*cough, cough* participation trophies). We desire to produce character and perseverance in our kids but we have fallen prey to the narrative that discomfort is bad and happiness is always good. We move mountains to protect our children from challenging situations but then wonder why they don’t exhibit confidence. We take away the opportunities for emotional growth but then wonder why they are immature. 

The truth is that some characteristics cannot be academically taught, but must be organically grown and experienced- like resiliency, bravery, perseverance and fortitude. Military children grow in character every day as they face the smaller and larger challenges confronting them. Navigating through friendships, change, discomfort and sacrifice forces them to dig deep, plant strong emotional roots and ground themselves in ways beyond their years. I’ve seen it again and again. They have climbed mountains, conquered the steep terrain (even if they fell down a few times) and proven that they are overcomers. And that’s why my heart will be forever touched by this population. ❤️

So as we celebrate the Month of the Military Child, let’s take a minute to honor these special kids who serve our nation in such a unique way. Let’s give them a loud round of applause because I think we can all agree that THEY DESERVE IT. 🙌 🙌 🙌 🇺🇸

Hey America, can we take a deep breath?

Hey America, can we take a deep breath?

Hey friends. Can we talk for a minute? I’ve debated for weeks about whether this topic is worth approaching because I am a peacemaker who hates confrontation…but I think it is time for a frank conversation. Can you keep an open mind and not burn down my house after you read it? Thanks. (If you cannot commit to this agreement, please ignore this post and go to Pinterest.com to look at fall decor and chocolate desserts.)

Ready? Ok. 

2020 is a year of heavy anxiety. We all feel it for fifty reasons. We are TENSE. WOUND-UP. STRESSED. EMOTIONAL. We are spring coils taut with tension, waiting to snap at any moment. This year we have experienced the range of feelings- shock, sadness, anger, despair, and desperation- down to the marrow of our bones. We are right to strongly feel these sentiments because America is confronting some VERY SERIOUS issues. Adding a presidential election to this year is like placing a huge rotten cherry on top of the worst sundae in the century. Sooo, it’s not a surprise that our political conversations are also emotional…but I worry that America is losing its mind over this election. I worry that we have lost all rational thought as we lay claim to the hills upon which we want to die and the issues we so avidly support.  

Indeed, there are many important issues that deserve adequate attention, debate, discussion and consideration. We need to think very seriously about the direction in which we prefer America to go in the next four years! However, I worry that our enthusiasm has dangerously evolved into sheer panic as election day looms and we are all boarding our emotional rollercoasters, careening towards a gigantic crash and upheaval on November 3rd. Is it too late to slow down? Is it too late to change course, firmly grip our emotions and retreat into a state of reason? It seems to me like we all need a timeout to regroup on the sidelines. Can we collectively take a long, deep breath and talk about this for a minute? 

I am worried that our emotions are overriding our good sense. I see people yelling at their own family members who they love. I see people sulking in anger and avoiding their closest friends because they are frustrated about being unable to secure them as political allies. I see friends judging people harshly for having varied opinions about issues and man oh man… that is very difficult to watch! Have we lost all civility in public discourse? Have we lost the ability to calmly and rationally debate issues and then agree to disagree? Can we thoughtfully debate issues then hug each other goodbye? Again, is it possible to take a step back and return to reason? If you love your family and your friends, don’t let politics get in the way of your relationships. It’s just not worth it!! 

Additionally, I am grieved to see many friends throwing away rational thought and broadcasting large stereotypes, especially into cyberspace. People are categorizing the other side as a small, uneducated band of misfits, or worse “racists” or “evil communists.” Have we forgotten 2016? Voters split the ballots 48% to 46%! When people say “those Trump voters do this” or “those liberals do that”, they are speaking of a huge percentage of our population! Such numbers cannot be confined to a small box; 60 million people cannot possibly be voting for one presidential candidate for the exact same reason. And they are definitely not all “haters” or “moochers”.

Have we forgotten the size and scope of the United States?? South Dakota is not the same as Washington DC.; California is not the same as Alabama. Our cultural variety immediately precludes agreement at the polls so let’s stop advertising generalizations and return to a sensible playing field. The plain, rational truth is that there are lovely, intelligent people voting Republican, and lovely, intelligent people voting Democrat for very legitimate, educated reasons. PERIOD. If you do not know a brilliant, articulate person on the other side, then your bubble is too small. Sorry to be blunt, but it’s true. 

I am also worried that our emotions are hindering us from thoughtful debate. Are you not curious why 60 million people voted differently than you in 2016? Or is anger and resentment standing in your way? Is it not interesting that your neighbor has completely different passions than you? Where did those passions originate? Have you ever sat down and calmly asked her about her experiences that led her to where she sits? Why not? The world is a big place full of fascinating people and if we only sit in our bubble, listening to the same voices promoting our same issues, we miss all the colors around us. Let’s escape from the black and white! It doesn’t mean we need to change our opinions, but maybe, just maybe, we can understand what it’s like to walk in another’s shoes. Maybe, just maybe, we can truly grasp that everyone has their own unique experiences that lead them to vote a certain way. Such thoughtful conversations have the power to diffuse the anger, build more understanding and remind us that we are all humans with valid opinions.

Finally (although not exhaustively), I am worried our emotion and fear are overshadowing our visions and hope for the future. All of us have been tempted and seduced by fear this year. Myself included. It’s hard not to fear for our health and the future and the state of our nation in 2020. In this political season, it’s also difficult not to feel emotional and afraid as we worry about our way of life being under attack, should the other candidate win. News flash: both sides are carrying this weight, this worry that the other side will take away their rights. Can we take a quiet moment to consider this equivalent anxiety? (Again, might this yield more understanding between us?) 

Maybe people will disagree with me, but I think our fear and worry over November 3rd is blinding and distracting us to the possibilities beyond that day. If our candidate loses, does it mean we can no longer fight for our causes? Do we throw in the towel, eat a gallon of ice cream and bury our hopes and dreams? NO! (Do we rant incessantly on social media, burn buildings downtown or start a neighborhood militia? Also NO.) 

What if we funnel our emotion into action? What if we start thinking of ways to fight for our causes, regardless of who wins the presidency? Could that plan alleviate some of the fear of election day and bring down our blood pressure? For example:

Are you pro-life? You can volunteer at a pregnancy center, become a foster parent or give to adoption organizations.

Are you concerned about climate change? You can donate to environmental organizations and seriously analyze your own carbon footprints. 

Are you advocating for immigrants, racial justice, gender rights, education? You can bring it down to your city, your community and your neighborhood. You can get involved. You can love your neighbor as yourself and extend kindness and influence to those on the sidelines. We don’t need a specific president or a specific party to do everything! Whether our side wins or loses, we always have hands and feet and wallets to fight for our causes. Our work goes far beyond November and that should shine a ray of hope into our future. Hope casts out fear and actions can help us override our weary emotions. Let’s commit to this. 

(On a sidenote, are you a follower of Christ? If so, let me gently remind you that we don’t need to live in a state of fear or anxiety! We can rest in the truth that the Almighty God is ever-present in our lives and in the midst of this chaos! He came to bring you PEACE, but are you claiming it??*) 

I truly believe we can still be a United States on November 4th, but only if we roll up our sleeves, grab the hands of our neighbor and continue the calling placed before us. Our nation is better than this divisiveness, this judgement, this bitterness and anger. We are better than our emotional rants and daggers thrown over the fence. We are a nation that can accomplish big tasks and live in freedom with different cultures, religions and opinions… but that only works if people continue trying to live in peace. It only works if you and I can overcome our differences, see the colors around us and continue marching forward. Can we do this? Can we set aside our raw emotion and sow peace in our circles of influence? Can we focus on understanding and compassion, rather than anger and resentment? Pretty please???? 

Election Day is coming. Let’s commit to acting like civil adults, regardless of the results. And, hey, if we can’t say anything nice in the end, Pinterest is always ready to welcome us back with more chocolate desserts and impossible crafts. Godspeed to us all!! 🇺🇸

* “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” – John 14:27

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Crying Over Spilled Champagne: the guilt and struggle of 2020

Crying Over Spilled Champagne: the guilt and struggle of 2020

Years ago, when my husband was on a long deployment and my kids were little, I recall a civilian friend comparing our seven month deployment to her husband’s short business trip. “I know how you feel”, she said. I politely smiled but in my head I said “Umm…my situation is MUCH WORSE.”

Later, when my husband changed jobs and never left town I grew accustomed to his presence and almost panicked when he told me he had to travel for seven days. IN A ROW. I remember eating my words a bit and realizing that both situations presented some anxiety for mothers of young children, even if one scenario was more intense. Noted.


Fast forward to 2020. Admittedly, my life during this pandemic has been pretty easy. Since March, my family has not worried about unemployment or paying the bills. We have not worried about groceries or healthcare or a safe place to quarantine. My husband’s job continued as always, I had time to help my kids with online school and our stay-at-home orders found us watching movies and completing puzzles within the safety of our house.


On paper I have zero reason to complain. I have a large backyard in which my children can play, I have a community of friends around me who offer support. Plus, I am an introverted person who prefers to be at home above all else. Isn’t this what I always wished for? More time with my kids, more time at home and less time in the carpool lane? Haven’t I always valued the slow life? Haven’t I wanted time to stop so I can savor this stage of parenthood? YES!! EXACTLY!! So… what is the problem? Why am I feeling… down? (Is that something I can even admit without sounding like a complete jerk?)


Things could be so much worse, I tell myself. People’s businesses are going under, people’s loved ones are dying, people’s homes are being foreclosed and you are feeling down? Your husband isn’t deployed, your family isn’t sick…pull up your positive pants and make the best of this year! STOP CRYING OVER SPILLED CHAMPAGNE!!

But…I can’t. And I am consumed with guilt over it. I feel sad and… (dare I say it out loud?)…a little depressed. I’ve spent the past few weeks trying to snap out of it and distract myself and focus on the positive… but I am still struggling to maintain status quo. And I haven’t wanted to tell anyone because it makes me sound shallow and ungrateful for the ease of my life.


But might this be similar to the example above? If another person has a more intense experience than me, does it void my own? Someone could say “I have it worse than you” and I would agree 100%. No argument. But does that make my struggle unworthy of addressing? (This is my own self-talk here.) What if I stopped ignoring my feelings and actually dealt with them?


See, I haven’t been sleeping or eating or feeling well. My stomach hurts. I have found myself uninterested in doing much besides eating chocolate cake. (Maybe this is why my stomach hurts.) My best analogy is that I am living in a never ending holding pattern with no landing strip in sight. We circle around and around every day, on the same route, watching the same scene below, hoping somehow we will return to Earth.

We will invite friends to our house when COVID ends.

We will return to school when COVID ends.

We will attend church again when COVID ends.

We will travel to see our families when COVID ends.

I won’t be teaching third grade math when COVID ends.

But when is the END?? We don’t know! And that in itself is mentally exhausting. As a military spouse I can say that anything is possible if you have an end date. The unknown is what wrecks the mental game. So here I sit, admitting that my mental game is a bit haggard and disheveled. (Is yours?) Our short term survival-mode has turned into weeks, months and seasons, taxing our adrenals with its nebulous timeline and making us mentally tired. (And I haven’t even mentioned the stress of racial justice, wildfires or our nation’s upcoming elections. God help us.)


For the very first time in my life, this vague timeline feels more like an absence of a timeline. Every year I have progressed from one step to another, into another phase, another journey, another season. But in 2020, I am doing the exact same thing today that I was doing six months ago (just in a different state) and I am unsure when my movement will again begin. My kids are still schooling at home, public venues are still closed, activities are still cancelled, we are social distancing with all of our friends, and still not seeing our families. Our mental states are not only weary, but perplexed. And therein lays the root of my “problem”.


So how do I continue managing my mental health in an era of time that doesn’t seem to move? In my rational moments I do know that our world will eventually get past COVID-19, just like we moved forward from the Spanish flu and other pathogens. (And if not, Jesus is coming back y’all, so start investing in His heart and yours!) But the question remains- what do we do in the meantime, the “down” time, the never ending home quarantine? I’ve been thinking about it.


— We need to honestly acknowledge our feelings and talk with a trusted person about them. Maybe even a counselor. Are you aware of the common signs of depression?

Hopelessness

Lack of interest

Anxiety

Sleep problems

Changes in appetite

Irritability

Fatigue

*BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF.*


—We need to try to focus on the here and now, rather than three months down the road. We only know what life is like this week. Or this day. Or this hour. (And hasn’t 2020 taught us that the future is unpredictable?) Make today count!


—We need to try to find small ways to boost joy and keep the time moving forward. Maybe it’s a new soda every Thursday night (true story), decorating your Christmas tree three months early (considering it), Zooming with your best friend every week, leaving your house/ isolation unit for a day in nature or finding ways to volunteer and help your community. Make it happen!

— We can continue to give ourselves the same Grace in Quarantine Land that we offered to our souls in March. Have we forgotten this already? Admittedly, I needed a refresher.

Although I have days where I feel stuck in a never ending spin cycle of kids yelling at me over Google Classroom, I am trying to continue moving forward. One foot in front of the other, one more breakfast prepared in the kitchen, one more morning logging into our computers, one more afternoon reading with my sweet kids, one more evening kissing those precious faces goodnight. I have successfully passed much, much harder challenges than this. Truly, I am grateful for all that I have been given.


But if I feel a little downcast some mornings, I’m learning to be okay with that, too. 2020 is an entirely new sport and the former rules don’t always apply here. Some days I may win and some days I may lose, but I will try my best to make my plays count. And if not…well…there’s always more chocolate cake, right?

Good luck to us all,

To All The Toys We’ve Loved Before…

To All The Toys We’ve Loved Before…

When my kids were little, my daily challenge was to see how much I could accomplish during a single episode of “Doc McStuffins”. This lovely character fixed and mended toys with her magical stethoscope and became part of our family at just the right time. Like brushing teeth or eating lunch, watching that show was something we did EVERY SINGLE DAY. Doc held the attention of my kids for twenty-two glorious minutes while I frantically sprinted through the house trying to do ten loads of laundry and a week’s worth of chores.

But more than entertainment, Doc became part of our lives in other ways- she helped my kids be more comfortable at the doctor’s office, explaining “check-ups” and stethoscopes. She encouraged my kids to try new foods and brush their teeth and this Mama appreciated the backup! Two of my kids dressed like her for Halloween and our Doc doll (along with “Lambie”) became bedtime buddies.

Fast forward a couple years and my kid was cleaning out her room and threw Doc and Lambie in the donation pile. (You know what else was in the pile?? Winnie The Pooh!! But I can’t even talk about that one right now.)

“Why would you give these away??” I asked in horror.
“Well I don’t really play with them anymore…” was the response. I knew she was right but my heart sank. Of course my kids weren’t going to always love a character from Disney Junior. I knew that in theory but seeing the confirmation in our hallway filled me with sadness. Are those childhood days really gone? How did they pass so quickly? Weren’t my kids just in diapers, grabbing things out of our kitchen cabinets and crying incessantly for me to carry them around?

And then I thought- “WAIT. Didn’t I WANT those days to pass quickly?” When diapers leaked into my clothes and sleep was some sort of magic from my past, I confess that there were times I longed for my kids to be older. I longed for them to wear pants without arguing, stop playing “Skidamarink” on repeat and listen to me like angel children.

And then one day it actually happened (minus the angel children part). My kids grew taller and leaner and cannot easily be carried. Their interests expanded beyond cartoons and we arrived at a different stage of childhood/parenting/family life. So here I stand saying “What?? Already??” SOMEBODY STOP THE TIME!

It’s in hindsight that I am now able to view those baby/toddler years and see them for what they really were- a beautiful juxtaposition of good and bad days, enjoyable and difficult hours, pleasant and not-so-pleasant minutes. In one minute my kid would be vomiting all over my shirt… but in another one she would be asleep against my chest as we rocked quietly in our nursery chair. All those moments coexisted to make a beautiful life.

For so many of us, fictional characters or toys or “lovies” symbolize this yin and yang. They witness us running around, tired and frantic and needing a moment of solitude. They also witness us seated on our couches, blanketed in kids, savoring the stillness together. Stuffed or plastic or whatever material, these unremarkable objects lovingly hold our memories like treasure chests. When we see them on the toy aisle or in our storage bins or even in our donation piles, they transport us to those moments in time. And to the memories of those little hands we held so often.

For all the parents in the middle of the beautiful mess- if you scarcely have time to breathe (or shower), if you have had a few rough days (or weeks or months), say a prayer, follow Dory’s lead and keep on swimming. Pick yourself up, clean that vomit off your shirt and wait for the clouds to part. When the sun comes out and you glimpse a baby smile or a sweet act from your toddler, take in the scene and sear it into your memory like a thousand photos. (And if your child wants to play “The Elsa Game” for the 1000th time, know that it won’t last forever, dear sister.😉)

However tempting it may be, try not to wish the ages away. Your children won’t always be this little. I PROMISE that someday you will sleep again and your kids will wear pants. And when you hear people say “the days are long but the years are short” repeat it to yourself. Because the years are VERY SHORT.

At this point it shouldn’t surprise you that when it came time for me to take the donation box to a charity, I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Doc and her friends. I, the 40-something mother, wasn’t ready to let them go. Someday I will be, but not yet. 🙂

So like a mature, adult hoarder, I removed those loveable stuffed toys from the box and placed them on display in my adult closet. I DO NOT LIE. Maybe one day they will be replaced with a soccer medal or graduation cap or some other special memento, but for now, it’s Doc McStuffins on display. And each morning I walk into that space and see her. “Why, yes, Doc, I did sleep very well last night. Thank you for asking.”

To all the toys we’ve loved before: thank you for the precious memories.

You thought I was joking.

Before and After: An Ode to Quarantine

Before and After: An Ode to Quarantine

Dear Quarantine- our nation has many different thoughts about you, as do I. You presented different types of challenges to different people and we will grapple with those facts for years. In the midst of your historical debut, you somehow managed to weave goodness into neighborhoods like mine. We had it better than most, but there were still lessons to learn. Here is our story and here’s to you…

*

BEFORE you came, my neighborhood was loud, Type-A and fast.

We waved hello and waved goodbye as people shuttled past.

Kids stayed quiet, off to school, then sports, Chinese and dance;

Something happened every night, do not neglect the chance

To fill the schedule to the brim with busy plans and games;

Weekdays, weekends, doesn’t matter, every day’s the same.

“Nanny she will pick you up, your mom and I are working.

Not sure when we’ll have the time for dinner, we are searching…

Life is busy, that’s the truth, but someday we’ll slow down!”

The hamster wheel spins faster still, around, around around.

*

BUT THEN…

Life went silent, all of us were slammed flat on our backs.

Staring wide-eyed at the world, we start to see our cracks.

Tunnels underground are where we lived within your rules,

There we worked and there we played and there we did the school.

Forced together, burrowed in, we held each other tight,

Mom and dad, they worked from home and teens were here each night.

*

Months they passed and days they flew then slowly we emerged,

Blinding light punctured our eyes and thoughts began to surge.

All the things that held us fast and tight within their grips

Let us go and pushed us back and took away our ships.

No more passing in the night, but stuck home altogether,

We found joy in simple things, like puzzles and the weather.

*

Families they went on their walks and played games in the street,

All at once six blocks of homes had found the time to breathe.

My neighborhood of fast and loud became a time of slow;

Kids found jump ropes, bicycles and other things to tow.

It’s like somehow we all returned to childhood in the 80s,

When kids played outside, families talked and girls made chains of daisies.

*

We also found that we had time to care for all our neighbors,

Checking-in and buying food and reaching-out with favors.

And we realized other friends were also very near!

A simple Zoom-call conversation gave us time to hear

And wonder why we didn’t contact all these friends before?

(Because our schedule always called for more and more and more.)

*

So thank you, Quarantine, for stopping time for just a spell.

Thanks for showing me what matters- love and time spent well.

But now we’re called to move on through, this year has more to say;

Important issues face us, maybe the biggest of our day.

But don’t forget what we just did, what we had time to feel!

Don’t forget what happened when we all jumped off the wheel!

*

I know that…

Sometimes life is full of choices, but sometimes it is not.

Sometimes fate hands us a card and that’s our given lot.

(But) if you have a choice to make ’bout where to go from here

Think about this Spring and what you’ve learned so far this year.

Do you long for busy? Or do you long for slow?

Two roads diverge in the woods- down which one will you go?

If we do not ponder it, the wheel will just spin faster.

And though some might prefer BEFORE.

I’ve decided… I choose the AFTER.

The Heartache of Moving and the pieces of us we leave behind

The Heartache of Moving and the pieces of us we leave behind

[Note: These thoughts were written prior to COVID-19 which makes the heartbreak of a move even worse. Many of us have been robbed of the chance to say proper goodbyes, to thank our teachers and coaches, to hug our friends and visit our favorite haunts. We are cutting the strings without having the chance to tie them in tidy bows before we depart. Moving without that kind of closure is a psychological and emotional challenge for adults and kids alike. My family is already reeling from the disappointment. Surely it will become part of our story as we reflect on 2020 and the ways COVID-19 disassembled our lives. Godspeed to all of us as we navigate this upcoming PCS season.]

• • • • • • • • • • • • • •

“I’ve put down a lot of little roots these two years,” Anne told the moon, “and when I’m pulled up they’re going to hurt a great deal.” – Anne of Green Gables/Avonlea

My husband and I have PCS-ed many times with the Navy. That’s military- speak for packing our Earthly belongings and moving to a new base. A Permanent Change of Station contrasts with Temporary Duty- TDY- a shorter separation from where you reside. Yet any military family can see the irony in the names. 🙂 We understand the need to differentiate the two statuses but truthfully we know we will never have a permanent station until we actually end our military service. And therein lies the challenge.

If I have learned anything in these moves, it is that we need to approach each PCS with expectation and not be afraid to pursue a new life. Our QUALITY of life depends on it, even if we know that ultimately our situation is not permanent.

When we drive into a new town, we try to jump into community as quick as possible for the sake of our kids and our family. We survey the ground, find our special spot, dig down deep and plant our roots. Military spouses like to say “Bloom where you are planted!” but the first step is CHOOSING to plant ourselves. Flowers cannot bloom without their roots attached… and people cannot thrive without community. So we take the plunge.

Like a plant finding life-giving minerals in the ground, we wrap ourselves around that which sustains us- people and places and experiences. We spread our thirsty vines across the city and create a new normal, knowing in the back of our minds that it will not last forever. Someday this tour will also end, but we need water immediately and extend our roots just a little further.

We introduce ourselves and meet new friends.

We find a church and community that feeds our soul.

We land jobs that we love.

We bond with our kids’ schools and community and sports teams. (We cheer for joy when we find cool kids with cool parents!)

We watch our children learn to walk in our “new” old house. We nurse them when they are sick and celebrate birthdays within those sturdy walls.

We learn the aisles of the grocery stores and the backroads around our neighborhood.

We spend hours strolling in the woods near our house.

If we are lucky, we have two years, maybe three years of the new normal. If we are unlucky it is less. But just when our lives seem full and settled, the government greets us with news shaped like an hourglass. What?? Already?? It’s time? Another PCS looms ahead, another impermanent change of station has been added to the calendar and in one sentence our world shifts…again.

Immediately half of our thoughts belong to another town. Do I know anyone who has lived there? Are the schools good? What about the rental market? Hand me my phone, I need to look at Zillow.

The sand begins to fall, the countdown begins and we act differently. Don’t fill the freezer with anything else! Don’t buy any candles, alcohol, Costco toilet paper or condiments! (For goodness’ sake, don’t buy any Worcestershire sauce because it takes two years to use that stuff.) We don’t subscribe to any new magazines. We ditch the summer camp flyers and school announcements for next year’s programs; none of that matters anymore. How on Earth do I transfer my kid’s school credits?? Hand me my phone again.

We clear away the superficial but eventually, the shift becomes more personal… and more difficult. We take a deep breath, stare down at the roots we so lovingly planted and nourished, and start to pull them up.

We pull ourselves out of the running for long-term projects. Maybe we could have earned a promotion at work but now we are leaving.

We pull ourselves back from new friends. We don’t have the time or emotional energy to invest in new people. It’s too late.

We pull ourselves back from our homes which we never finished decorating.

We pull ourselves away from the world, sometimes burrowing within our houses to cover our emotions and avoid the onslought of approaching goodbyes. Our hearts begin to ache.

The problem is that our hearts are now entangled in this new life and if you have ever tried to pull a plant out of the ground, you know there’s a certain ripping that occurs. We can handle the roots delicately and sweep away the surrounding, unattached dirt, but the tearing still happens when we aim to fully remove roots from their home.

We watch our kids hug their friends goodbye and shed their own tears and we think Are we ruining their lives??  We start saying goodbye to our own friends and silently think Will we ever see them again??  It hurts.

We sit in our empty house, listening to the echoes of footsteps. Is this really the end?  We close the door, hand the keys over to our landlord and start weeping in the driveway because Will we ever return to this house again??  Oh man, it hurts.

During the long walk to goodbye, we shed tears and feel broken-hearted because WE ARE. We are tearing away parts of our heart and leaving them with that person or place forever. It’s a painful process.

NOW STOP. Before we cry ourselves to sleep or eat a gallon of ice cream at the mere thought of relocating, let me tell you this: I’ve learned to see blessings in it all. Stepping back and seeing the bigger picture gives us a beautiful vantage point.

Even though the uprooting hurts, the pain is a blessing because it tells us that our heart and roots bonded with something or someone. Ripping ourselves away never feels good, but that doesn’t mean it is NOT good. We are meant for connection and the heartache is evidence of our success.

The heartache is also a blessing as it explodes into fragments our simple definition of “home”. If “home is where the heart is” then this nomadic lifestyle (and subsequent heartbreak) allows us to experience this idea in special ways.

The town that sheltered my broken soul as I recovered from a miscarriage and the death of a loved one, warranted giant tears when I departed. In a short time I had planted myself deeply. To this day, glancing over a map, my eyes will rest on that town because part of my heart never left. Although I will shall never reside there again, it will always feel like “home”.

Or the house on another continent that became our safehouse, our place of comfort and the scene of tremendous growth in our children. So much of my heart was left within those walls that I felt physically “homesick” for months after our PCS was complete. (I still do!) It will forever remain special.

Or the friends that we meet during a tour- the ones who become our confidants and kindred spirits… those goodbyes are painful, but as we share bits of our heart with those people we will be rewarded with great joy when our roads converge again. Even people can feel like “home”.

Whether we desire it or not, this nomadic lifestyle changes and moves us. We experience new things, new friendships and new cultures that cannot be unlearned. Even if we hate where we live, we are still changed! Our hearts are the parts that change the most- growing, expanding and reshaping after we leave bits of them behind. So while the molding and shaping can be painful sometimes, I’ve concluded that it is ultimately VERY GOOD.

At the end of the day I believe the pain is worth it. The friendships and experiences under my belt are priceless to me, even with the accompanying heartache. How lucky am I to feel homesick for so many people and so many places?

If you are moving soon and wondering if you have the energy to create another new normal, I say: don’t wait until you are withered and dry. Dig in and plant those roots as soon as possible, even if you must pull them up later. Give your heart to new friends, even if you know there will be a goodbye in your future. Feel free to spend a little time mourning over your last duty station, but don’t let the tears blind you to the riches of your new town. These miles of new soil will bring different opportunities and different experiences so go ahead and survey the ground until you find your special spot. Then plant yourself.

“[Anne] was leaving the home that was so dear to her, and something told her she was leaving it forever… things would never be the same again. And oh, how dear and beloved everything was… all the thousand and one spots where memories bided. Could she ever really be happy anywhere else?” – Anne of the Island

Yes… she could. And she was. And so will you and I. ❤️

Grace for Everyone in Quarantine Homeschool Stay At Home Land

Grace for Everyone in Quarantine Homeschool Stay At Home Land

So here we are, three weeks after my last blog post about COVID-19 and most of the country is staying at home and homeschooling in quarantine. Well this isn’t what I thought I would be doing when we rang in the New Year! Damn. Have we ever quarantined? When was the last time our entire country educated at home- when George Washington was President? This is crazy.

I don’t know about you, but in a matter of days I went from a quiet house to my husband working from home indefinitely and all my kids here 24/7. A week later, Virginia closed its schools for the remainder of the school year (hello five months of togetherness) and then the Governor declared stay-at-home measures though June 10th. So like a tornado in Tulsa, this virus just blew the roof off my house.

With all my own commitments blown away, I am now parked at my kitchen table every morning coaxing my children through hours of online school- helping one kid with Virginia Studies and the migration of Scottish-Irish immigrants while another continues acrostic poems and parallel segments (“Is it snack time yet?). I am searching our house for quadrilateral shapes (what’s a quadrilateral?) and listening to my teen talk about acids and bases. Again, not how I predicted 2020!

For my friends and family in the healthcare industry, who figuratively had their entire houses blown away, I know 2020 wasn’t what you predicted either. Please know how much we appreciate you. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you for your work and dedication and sacrifice. ❤

For the emergency responders and essential workers who are bearing the stress of providing our basic needs, I hope you know how much we appreciate you, too. By managing our cities and stocking our groceries you are stemming chaos and providing the heartbeat for our modern lives. My contribution of staying home feels petty in comparison but I will do my best to follow the rules and protect the health of our community.

While history unfolds in our laps we cannot know how this will ultimately affect us all- culturally, financially or psychologically. Unknowns loom before us. But I do know that we can choose our thoughts right now, or at least harness them in a mindful direction. And my own thoughts keep circling back to the concept of grace. How can we offer it to ourselves and others in this dark time?

While the word “grace” can be defined in different ways, I view it today as a temporary exemption, a reprieve, a kind of mercy or pardon. (Thank you Merriam-Webster.)

So to whoever needs to hear this:

You are temporarily exempted from your normal life and your normal self. This never-seen-in-our-lifetime event has crushed our normalcy. It’s okay to be winded. It’s okay to feel like the rug suddenly pulled out from underneath you. It’s okay if you don’t feel like your normal self. We are all struggling because THIS IS NOT NORMAL.

Give yourself an exemption, some grace, when your emotions get the best of you. Every day is a new day and another chance to adjust our attitudes and appropriately manage our stress. I was a manic-depressive monster during our first week of quarantine until my husband finally told me to get myself together. Roger. I knew I could do better than that.

Give yourself grace to process what could have been in 2020. Maybe missing sports seasons, graduation ceremonies, weddings and other life events are first-world problems, but their cancellations still bring real and legitimate feelings of grief. We had anticipated so much joy but instead sit crestfallen and utterly shocked. Or maybe you saw your career shifting into high gear but now find unemployment and mortgage payments looming before you. Even if we are fortunate to have our health, 2020 will be heavy with personal loss. It’s okay to release your waterfall of tears.

Give yourself grace when your quarantined friends on social media start to peck at your core. When everyone starts bragging about their self-improvement plans, their exercise regimens, their sudden interest in learning three languages or another instrument, or their homemade organic spelt tortillas that their four year old loves to make, know that you don’t need to compete. That is their life, not yours. Don’t let them steal your confidence.

Additionally, give yourself grace as you see the Online Joneses homeschooling (oh my, have mercy upon us.) As they infiltrate the internet with their glorious plans to produce Harvard graduates, let me say loud and clear that YOU DO NOT NEED TO DO ALL OF THAT. Your kid doesn’t need to be able to speak Mandarin Chinese when we emerge from our caves. Log out of Facebook and Instagram if you start feeling inadequate. Right now, life is stressful enough without the burden of comparison.

Take a deep breath.

We also need to extend grace to people around us, many of whom might be processing/experiencing this pandemic differently than you or me. Telling the mother of a graduating senior that she shouldn’t be sad because you grew up during a Lebanese civil war is not helpful (thanks but no thanks, Facebook lady.) We don’t need to play the “who has it worse” game. Likewise, telling someone to “praise God in all circumstances” when that person has a loved one in the ICU, minimizes people’s feelings and negates their emotions of the day. Join your friends where they are. (Emotionally, not physically, stay home!)

Give your kids grace, too, as they process all of this, especially teens. Remember, their friends are their tribe, even moreso than their families. Friendships are one of the MOST important aspects of their life so when that slice of the pie is suddenly stolen from them emotional chaos ensues. They need time to adjust and mourn in their own way. (And by the way, screens will happen now, more than ever. It’s just the way of the world in quarantine. Boundaries are still good but this isn’t normal life.)

It goes without saying, but give grace to your littles, too. They didn’t choose to cancel school and uproot our social systems. While we gaze upon our shredded calendar, they are simultaneously trying to make sense of this scary, ever-changing world. We can do our part by being a shield of peace and protection over them. (Meaning, turn off the damn news when they are awake!) With God’s mercy upon us we can get them snack #1,373,938, cuddle on the couch and help them find a new, temporary normal.

As we go about our days, let’s give mercy and grace to our whole society- to our government officials, teachers, co-workers, neighbors, spouses, and everyone else in this shocked world. Change has touched EVERYONE.

As the famous saying goes- “This, too, shall pass”… eventually. 🙂 Our Earth has seen hard times before and has managed to continue spinning. So to all the people in Quarantine Homeschool Stay At Home Land, keep calm and press onward. It’s all we can do. Grace will see us through.

Original photo by Leon Biss on Unsplash

**If life has become difficult to manage, please know that resources are available to help you. There’s no shame in seeking to be your best self.

National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) 24/7, free and confidential

National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-8255

Substance Abuse and Mental Health National Helpline 1-800-662-HELP (4357)

MilitaryOneSource Free counseling 1-800-342-9647