My Midnight Library

I recently read The Midnight Library by Matt Haig and thoroughly enjoyed it.  It is a work of fiction with the basic premise of looking how life would be changed if different choices had been made throughout the years.  I started thinking about this in relation to my own life and thought I would write out some alternatives that may have happened had I made one or more different choices in my life or had my path shifted.  

Here is a brief history of who I actually am.  I grew up in a small town with my parents and sister.  After graduating from high school, I went to the local community college for two years before going to Virginia Tech to finish my college education with a degree in family and child development.  A week later I married my high school sweetheart.  We have moved three times and now have a son and a daughter who are teens while I continue to work part-time with the aged and disabled.  I recently began writing more seriously and am writing my first book.

Now to take a look at my midnight library and the tales that could have possibly unfolded had I navigated a different path:

I could have been studying sea turtles in a coastal city if I had majored in marine biology and not feared where I was to live or what jobs would be available and how this would impact my spouse.  My career path would be completely different.  

I could have been a redneck who never experienced the world and got stuck not understanding others.  I could have been racist and uncompassionate toward people unlike me.

Had I not grown up in church, I could have ended up going down a dark path, always searching for answers.

I could have leaned into my faith even more and become a missionary in a far-off land.

If my husband and I had broken up along the way I may still be a single woman wishing she would have found her Prince Charming and wondering if my high school sweetheart should have been the man I married. 

Or I would have found love in another.

I could have started writing seriously much earlier and taken classes and become a much better writer by now.

I could have decided to be a stay-at-home mom instead of working part-time after my children were born.  My life, my kids’ lives, my mental health, and our finances would all be different.

I could go on and on with the possible twists and turns my life could have taken, but you get the drift.

There is no rewind button in life and I don’t like to play the “What if” game, but I think it is important to look at how decisions, big and small, can impact my life and know that I don’t want to live with regret, which is really the heart of the book.  It is good for me to see how I got to where I am and find gratitude for the good in my life while at the same time considering things I want to do with the time I have left.  What is most important?  What haven’t I done that I would like to do?  What should I change?  What should I keep the same?  These are all important questions that The Midnight Library made me consider since I read it. I will not focus on the “what ifs” which are a moot point, but rather focus on the “what can be” which is only limited by my dreams and, most importantly, the pursuit of those dreams.

Simultaneous Grief and Joy

After a brief battle with cancer, my father-in-law passed away six years ago on my brother-in-law and sister-in-law’s anniversary. I haven’t spoken with them about how hard it must have been the day he died and every anniversary since to have a day that is filled with joy and love and also deep grief. I think about it every April 27.

As I was reflecting this year, I thought about how many times we have simultaneous grief and joy.  It is hard to discern when to be happy and when to be sad or how to be happy when we are sad.  

Grieving doesn’t happen only in the event of death.  You can grieve the loss of a job, relationship, home, health, safety or expectations resulting in many feelings including sadness, anger, guilt, shock, and disbelief.  It is natural to grieve.  Grief is personal and we all walk through it differently. 

Can you really simultaneously experience joy and grief?  Here is one example. If you lose your job, you may be initially be worried about finances or embarrassed that you are unemployed or angry that you did not see it coming or sad because you will miss your co-workers, but on the same hand feel relieved that you no longer have the stress you were experiencing in your work or feel happy to spend some quality time with your children or realize you finally have the time and ability to find a job you actually love.

If we are grieving, we may be hesitant to savor any joy that comes our way. We feel guilty for feeling good because we erroneously believe that the only appropriate feeling to have is sadness.  Grieving is important, but we cannot allow ourselves to get stuck in the depths of despair.   When grieving, I encourage you to walk through every emotion and take the time to be sad, but don’t hesitate to search for the good or silver lining in your situation.  We should not only experience joy but to look for it if it is not readily apparent. We must lean into the joy we find and let it flood our world and our hearts.  It will change our mood, perceptions, and outlook. 

Don’t get bogged down in heartbreak long-term.  I am sad that my father-in-law died and that he is not here to watch his grandchildren grow up or to have a conversation with me over milkshakes, but I am so happy for the time we had with him and the sweet memories we have.  I am not going to forget him.  Healing doesn’t mean forgetting.  Loving him now means moving forward, continuing to smile, continuing to laugh, and continuing to live.  He would want that for us.  He wouldn’t want his death to be an everlasting burden for us.

When we rise out of intense sadness to grasp the joy we find, our suffering will diminish. I will continue to have milkshakes in my father-in-law’s memory.  I hope that my brother-in-law and sister-in-law can enjoy each of their anniversaries and celebrate their love on that day.  My father-in-law would want nothing less. 

Rolling with the Punches

Dang, we sure have dealt with a lot of change over the past year with the pandemic!  Surely we are on our way back to “normal”, but when multiple and difficult changes come our way, how do we roll with the punches?  How do we stay calm and deal with it?  Here are some tips I put together.

1.       Accept it.  We must know that change is inevitable.  If we tell ourselves that we should expect change and not insist things stay as they are, we will be better at rolling with the punches.  Simply accepting that change is part of our existence, helps us not to hang our head every time a small or large change occurs.

2.       Learn and grow.  We need to take each change as an opportunity to learn and grow.  Through facing each new instance, we become stronger.  We become smarter.  We become more resilient.  Those are always valuable characteristics to have.

3.       Know that you are capable.  You have been through many changes and you’ve cleared every hurdle thus far and can deal with the new one in front of you.  You can do it!  It will take a little extra effort and focus just like jumping a hurdle on a track, but it can be done.  Recognize that you have the ability to work through the new change. You are competent and experienced so you can do this!

4.       Acknowledge the difficult. Some new things will be harder to grasp or accept than others. Admitting to yourself that something is difficult and reaching out to others for assistance or a listening ear will make it easier to roll with the punches.

5.       Take care of yourself.  Mentally and physically caring for ourselves with healthy eating, fresh air, movement/exercise, and doing things that we love, will help keep us in a good frame of mind.

6.       Be positive/optimistic.  Change is not always easy.  I am a pessimist by nature so remaining optimistic is particularly hard for me.  However, if I search for the positives or the silver linings in the situation, it makes change easier to digest. How we react to the change can lessen the blow of another transition heading our way.  I encourage you to not only be optimistic yourself, but also surround yourselves with other positive people. 

7.       Encourage one another.  If we lift each other up and encourage one another, it makes change easier especially if we are all navigating it together.  If you know someone is walking through a time of change, reach out through a quick email or text.  A simple GIF to brighten someone’s day or a quote of encouragement or a note of cheer make us all feel so good–the giver as well as the receiver.  It feels nice to know we aren’t alone in the change and that others have our backs.

I know that rolling with the punches is easier said than done.  Our days aren’t always filled with rainbows and butterflies.  There will be hard days and challenges along the way.  If we acknowledge this and look for the good, we will be much better at rolling with the punches that head our way.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent.  It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”—Charles Darwin

Blob to Beauty

This guest blog was written by Chelle Hoffman. I love her insight. Enjoy!

I believe that even people who don’t deem themselves artists need artistic type of activity for good brain function. As a creative type, I get bored sometimes with normal paint-by-number expressions so when I saw an ad to “throw clay” I became interested in learning this, especially since my only knowledge came from the movie Ghost.  I scheduled my class and was so pleased with the wonderful teacher I met.  Erin had a gift for sharing her passion for clay. 

I went into the studio and she explained the process. I took a seat in a folding chair behind the pottery wheel and she came at me with a handful of glob. The clay looked like something I would see little boys playing with on a rainy day at the park. Nothing impressive at all. Ugly gray and just a true mess. She plopped it down hard onto the middle of the wheel and then she wet her hands and mine with a sponge. She then showed me how to use the pedal to spin the wheel as if I was driving to stay in second gear, smooth and slow. She then placed her hands over mine and explained the types of pressure that was needed to understand what the clay wanted to become. It made me laugh a little when I began to think… ok…. what the clay wants to become!

Before I knew it, we were spinning that blob into our first “vessel” waiting for it to transform. And there it was–my first piece of clay artwork!  I was so impressed with Erin and how she made me feel like this was my actual work.  I was so happy with what we had created. Then she said it was fine for me to try again.  I wasn’t ready but it’s just clay so what the heck.

She plopped the second glob down. Before I knew it (and with some of her help) I had made a spirally whimsical bowl that was a little lopsided so we added a handle and a spout and there was my second masterpiece.

Time to go completely solo but I felt ready.  Down plops the third blob of clay. Wetting my hands and sponge I took my time, remembered my pressure points, used my way too long fingernails, and created my first true solo vase! It wasn’t perfect, but it was all mine and I was proud. 

When Erin asked me which of the three pieces was my favorite, I explained the first is my favorite because it was my first ever experience with a new adventure.  That one will go to my daughter so she knows to never be afraid to try new things.  The second is also my favorite because it is whimsical and shows me even when we make mistakes it can still turn out a-ok!  And the third is my favorite because it was done all by myself without any fear, but rather confidence. Confidence as a woman is so hard to come by because we are always our worst critic, but this showed me I might just actually be able to do anything if I try and if I can’t, that’s ok too!  I won’t choose one favorite. It doesn’t work that way- love doesn’t have favorites or limits. 

Creating these “vessels” from a plopped blob on a spinning wheel was just like everyday life for all of us.  We are just trying to create something we can be proud of with our lives even though some days it just looks like a plopped blob!

Little Did I Know

On March 13, 2020, I went out to lunch with a friend.  We knew that this was our kids’ last day of school for a while because a thing called Coronavirus was spreading across the country.  My son and daughter were told to bring home all of their books, notebooks, etc from school because they were going to be doing school at home for the time being. I truly believed that it would only be a few weeks and the students would return to finish the school year in the classroom.  Little did I know…

The waitress told my friend and I that day that this would probably be one of the last meals we would have out for a while and that restaurants would be changing very soon.  My friend and I rolled our eyes at that thought.  Really?  Is our world actually closing down this much?  I am not one to follow much of the news so little did I know…

Not long after this, my sister-in-law offered to make masks for my family.  I told her, “No thanks, we won’t be needing masks.”  Little did I know…

On March 13, 2020,  I could not imagine that school would be virtual for the remainder of the year.

I could not imagine that restaurants would shut down.

I could not imagine wearing masks.

I could not imagine most of the world working from home.

I could not imagine not being able to get the groceries and supplies that we wanted and needed.

I could not imagine that sports would stop being played, both for my kids and on a national and international level.  No March Madness?  Madness!

I could not imagine not hanging out with my family and friends for nearly a year.

I could not imagine that two people from my family would die from this virus.

Little did I know…

Once I learned more about this pandemic when the world shut down and the fear of this dreaded virus kicked in, I thought I would not be able to finish the book that I am writing because I still needed to interview many more people.  Little did I know that Zoom would become a viable tool to get it done and that I would reach many more people far and wide with this option. 

Before March 13, 2020, I felt time quickly slipping away with my whole family under one roof.  I had limited time with my kids, who were a junior and an 8th grader, and knew that soon I would have my youngsters flying from the nest.  Little did I know that there was plenty of family time to be had (although I quickly learned that hanging out with mom and dad was not on the top of their wish list).

Before March 13, 2020, I often complained that I was too busy.  I was always running here and there with work, errands, groceries, driving to before and after school activities, carpooling for sports, and watching many soccer and basketball games.  Little did I know that it would all come to a screeching halt and I would have ample time to do many things I wanted:  reflect, ponder, read, write, walk, learn, and relax.

Little did I know how the world and my world would be completely changed.

Little did I know that many positives and blessings would come from these hard times.

I know I’m not the only one who was changed for the better in the past year. My hair stylist just told me that she recently went to a pottery place for her first private lesson to “throw clay” and was moved by the experience.  She was delighted in the process of turning a blob of clay into beautiful art that she was proud of.  I told her that it is a good metaphor for life and for life since Covid: to create and find beauty in messes we’ve been given.  

I was able to take the unknown, misshapen, messy blob we were handed on March 13, 2020 and form it into something beautiful, find the benefits in it, and be transformed in the process.

Little did I know.

Will Your Dream Come True?

As I have put myself out there as a writer and potential author, I have heard numerous people say they are proud of me for pursuing my dream.  It makes me feel good about myself but I have started questioning how rare it is for people to go after their own goals and dreams.  If you are not going after them, WHY NOT?  Why are we so hesitant to do what we feel we are called to do or what our heart desires?  Why aren’t we just doing it?  Perhaps it is because of money, time, self-doubt, lack of resources, lack of confidence, lack of motivation, or putting others’ needs before our own.  I ask you to evaluate how much you want your dream?  You want it?  Badly?  Make it happen!  Maybe take baby steps. Maybe just go for it!  You need to figure out how to make it work. 

I have said before that I felt God directed me to write the book that I am writing.  I drug my feet for a while wondering if God actually put this on my heart.  I am just a social worker and mom who has enjoyed writing over the years. I kept getting nudges and it was clear I should continue to write and keep pursuing this endeavor.  By being obedient and following through, I have been abundantly blessed in the process.  Whether or not this book is traditionally published or if I have to self-publish, I feel good about making it come to fruition.  I am praying that if God laid this on my heart that He will do with it what He desires, whether that it is for this book is to change others or if I’m simply to be changed in the process.  I have worked hard to make this book a reality.  How will you pursue your dream?

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”–Eleanor Roosevelt

“Consult not your fears but your hopes and your dreams.  Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential. Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what it is still possible for you to do.”–Pope John XXIII

That is NOT me!

I hate being a leader.  I hate being put in the spotlight.  I am not good at directing, managing or delegating.  I know that because I have tried and it is just not my thing, not my gift.

I believe we put a lot of pressure on children and teens to be leaders.  It is talked up in abundance in schools.  Be a leader!  Colleges want to see leadership abilities when determining whether or not to admit students.  I think this is good and bad.  For those with that gift, it is great to encourage and nurture that in young students.  But for those like me, it is possibly like trying to make a square peg fit in a round hole.  You may be able to finagle it to make it somewhat work, but it will not be a perfect fit and it will be uncomfortable.  It was not what that person was designed to be.

I think I have always known I was a follower.  One particular experience sticks out in my mind.  I drove and followed my uncle’s family hundreds of miles to our beach vacation because we wanted to stick together on the drive. Upon reaching our destination, my uncle complimented me on how well I followed.  I agreed, “I am a good follower!” Now I understand that goes beyond just following in a car.  

I recently had a self-revelation.  I am a behind the scenes player in life, but that does not make me any less important or valuable in what I have to offer my job or society.  Oftentimes I do things which go unnoticed, and that is exactly how I like it.  I don’t need to run the show.  I am an encourager.  I am a helper.  I am a discrete doer.  We all can’t be calling the shots, right?  We don’t need all generals and no privates.  Just because I am not a leader doesn’t make me less than.  We all have our important roles to play.  Be a leader.  Be a follower.  Find your gift and just be you.

Not everyone can be the leader

Disappointed

I ordered a Peloton bike shortly before Christmas. When trying to decide if we wanted to make that large purchase, I chatted with a customer service rep to get more information. I was told that the bike would arrive in eight to ten weeks.  Then, imagine my surprise and excitement when I received a text saying it was to be delivered January 11.  Happy dance! On the evening of January 10, I received a call.  Thinking I was going to be given the delivery time for the next day, I was disappointed to learn that there was no inventory of bikes and that my new delivery date was February 3.  

I got a call February 2 and yet again, there is no inventory of the bikes so my new delivery date is February 24. Then, I had another surprise the morning of February 3.  I got a call from the delivery driver stating he was on his way to deliver my Peloton and would be here in 20-30 minutes.  I was so excited! Then nobody came.  Hours went by.  I called and texted the number the delivery man had called me from and got no response, so I finally called the delivery company.  I was told the man called in error and there was no inventory of bikes.  My delivery date will be February 24.  I cried and moped all afternoon and evening.  The roller coaster of emotions of that day was a wild ride, ultimately leaving me incredibly disappointed.  

What is this? Disappointment. Place for Peloton

I did not feel like making dinner after that, so I went to pick up food at Panera.  The Thai chopped chicken salad is our favorite salad there and I was told that they no longer carry it.  Disappointed again!  I felt sad, let down, discouraged, and a bit bitter.  I know, first world problems.  There are things that are much worse happening in the world and in my community of family and friends, so I should just get over it already, but I need to pout and sit with my disappointment for a while.  I felt similar when the pandemic started and I was upset about how much and how quickly things had changed. I needed the time to mope then too.

I am usually one to encourage others to look for joy or blessings in their situation (shout out to Jill for starting this mindset in me!) and I will eventually do that, but I need to work through my disappointment first. We cannot and should not move on after a loss, struggle or trial without first taking the time to feel all of the feelings and process it all.  As verses 1 and 4 in Ecclesiastes 3 say: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:….a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.”  I know this too shall pass and these things are not a big deal, but for now I will take time to be a little sad and disappointed.  I am certain after a short while of reflection, I will find joy in the morning.

Is It Beautiful? Is It Good?

A new year has rolled around.  Did you make a resolution? I normally do, but this year, I am resolving to keep things simple and that includes not making a resolution.  Too often my to-do list overpowers what is really important in my life, so this year I am merely going to seek beauty and goodness in the world around me and in the troubles I encounter.  I know there is good everywhere, if I open my eyes to find it.  That is something simple I can do that does not feel like an extra task on my ever-lengthening to-do list. In fact, finding the good makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Here are some examples of the beautiful and good things I witnessed and experienced over the past week: 

  • Walking in nature and smiling as the sun brightened the frigid winter day. 
  • Sweet friends surprised us with homemade treats.
  • I marveled at the large snowflakes falling all around me (and I may have twirled and stuck out my tongue to catch a few as they floated down).
  • I relished making memories with my family, especially the seemingly insignificant times together like working puzzles or watching a favorite show.  (Those days are fleeting as a family of four under one roof and I won’t forget that.) 
  • I was perfectly content as my dog napped peacefully on my lap. 
  • I was filled with inspiration, hope, and goosebumps as I listened to Amanda Gorman’s poetry. 
  • A good medical report made me abundantly grateful that each person in my family was healthy. 
  • I rejoiced in answered prayers. 
  • I swelled with pride upon hearing good news.
  • Seeing random acts of kindness in my community warmed my heart. 

The list of the beauty and goodness I found during my week was much longer than anticipated. It is amazing all the good you can find when you look for it. The beauty in these little things is what I savored and want to continue to take delight in all year long. 

If 2020 taught me anything, it is to seek the good and enjoy the simple. That is my plan for 2021. How about you?

Don’t Forget 2020!

We are all anxious to leave 2020 in our rearview mirror. We are tired of being six feet or more apart. We wish we could be together again with family and friends. We want to go to school, work, sporting events, and concerts. We are itching to travel the world. We long to celebrate birthdays, weddings, and graduations in large groups. We need hugs. Community is what we desire. How fast can we speed away from the year that has been filled with distance, devastation, and death?

Hold on! Should we quickly leave 2020 in our dust and erase the memories of this wretched year? Should we be so hasty to forget what we have been through?

After 9/11, we often said “let’s not forget”.  After that tragic day, the whole country came together.  Flags were flown everywhere.  Patriotism was palpable.  We wept together.  We prayed together.  It was a beautiful time after that horrific day.  But slowly, all of that faded away.  The feeling of community and national pride quietly disintegrated.

After the initial panic at the onset of Covid-19 (and hoarding of toilet paper), many positive things started happening around us.  We began to notice and applaud the essential workers. Hats off to teachers, healthcare workers and grocery clerks!  We shared good news in the world on the news and in social media.  We extended kindness more than usual.  We looked after our neighbors.  Generosity was abundant.  There were many stories that warmed my heart and brought a tear to my eye.

We learned what was truly important.  We soon realized how necessary touch, company, and gatherings are to our mental well being.  We missed contact with others.  We made due with phones, FaceTime, and Zoom because that is what we had (so grateful for this!), but realized that having others in our physical presence was a paramount connection that technology simply could not substitute.  

I pray that once Covid-19 is a distant memory, we don’t soon forget what we walked through.  Let’s not take community and togetherness for granted.  We should continue to bring good to the world and those stories should be highlighted for all to see.  We need to keep looking out for others and continue offering kindness and generosity.  As Maya Angelou said, “When you know better, you do better.”  Let’s not forget what we have learned and continue to do better as we leave 2020 in our rearview mirror.