Are You There, God? It’s Me, Deanne.

Are you there, God?  It’s me, Deanne.  Where are you?  There is so much uncertainty in the world right now.  So much discord, violence, hurt, illness, death, destruction, injustice, hostility, division, and hate.  So much!  Where are you?

When my son was three years old, my last living grandparent passed away.  We told him that grandma had died and gone to heaven to be with Jesus.  He just nodded his head and went on with his day, not understanding the concept of death at his young age.  When we got to the funeral home, we visited with family and then went up to the open casket.  On our way back to where family was gathered, my son asked, “Where is Jesus?”  At first, I was confused by his question.  Then I realized he thought Jesus would be physically present at the funeral home since I had said grandma was in heaven with Jesus and grandma was lying right there.  Surely, Jesus was nearby, but where was He?

So where is Jesus/God?  He was indeed with us in the funeral home, comforting us in our grief, although my son couldn’t see Him.  God is in the gentle nudges we feel.  He is in the goosebumps, “coincidences,” and the angels on earth we encounter.  He is with us when our paths go a different direction than we anticipated (perhaps landing in a better and more beautiful destination than we could have imagined.)  He is with us when we are in the right place at the right time.  He is with us in adversity and celebration. He is always present, always listening, and always longing for our relationship with him.  

In this world full of strife, we are full of fear, hurt, and pain, but he is with us. Pray for God to draw near.  Lean on Him. Worship the one who is always with us, although we don’t physically see Him. Be watchful of His goodness in your life and in the world. Through all of the worldly tumult and personal anguish, God gives us courage, strength, and peace for the journey.  He can turn our trials into something fruitful and beautiful. Thank you, God, for always being here guiding, protecting, and loving me.

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”–Isaiah 41:10

I Want to Be Just Like You

When I was a freshman in high school, I was NOT an athlete.  I was NOT fit.  I had the flexibility of a steel rod.  I may not have been skilled in sports but my gym teacher, Coach Cisar, pushed me to do more than I thought I could.  For instance, we had a 12 minute run several times throughout the semester.  We all dreaded these days (except for the amazing cross country runners).  I would do a run/walk combo for these timed runs.  12 minutes just seemed like forever.  How was I supposed to run for that long?!  I remember one time Coach gave me a goal to complete a certain number of laps during those 12 minutes.  I thought that goal was unrealistic, but I tried, pushed myself, and I DID IT!  I surprised myself!  Then we went fishing by the Ohio River for gym class one day.  I grew up fishing with my dad but he always put the bait on and took the fish off for me, but in class we had to do it ourselves.  I ended up catching a large bass that day (in my mind it is probably bigger than it actually was–you know–fish stories), but I was scared to take it off of the hook myself.  Coach said that he would not give me an A for the fishing unit unless I took it off by myself.  I was a good student and wanted that A so Coach walked me through how to take the fish off and I DID IT!  He was a teacher who instilled confidence in me and I am forever grateful for that.  Thank you, Coach Cisar!

Good teachers are incredibly important in our lives.  I am so grateful for the many wonderful teachers I had in my small town growing up and for the great teachers my children have had through the years.  You know who the special teachers are…the ones that go the extra mile, that instill confidence in you, encourage you, make learning fun, teach you things that aren’t necessarily in the lesson plans, are kind and fair, connect with you, tell amusing stories, give you their full attention, answer your questions, are incredibly patient, provide hands on examples of what you are learning, encourage dreams to be pursued, and push you to be and do your best.

Even though I am not a teacher (that is not my gift or calling), I want to have many of the same attributes as a good teacher. I want to encourage others to find and actively pursue their path and dreams, be the one that lifts others up, that connects people, and that is fair and kind and a good listener. I want to motivate you to reach that goal that at-first seems unattainable just like Coach did for me in my 12 minute run. I want to encourage you to take the fish off of your own hook and do things independently because you are capable of doing more than you realize. I want my words to inspire and my heart to give generously to those around me–just like teachers.

I can’t imagine how hard it has been for teachers to deal with all of the virtual, hybrid, and socially distanced classrooms over the past year and a half.  I am so thankful for all of the hard work they’ve done and continue to do.  Let’s thank our teachers, past and present.  You, dear teachers, are so appreciated and loved. THANK YOU! I hope you have a great year!

Nobody Talks About This Stage From Hell

I am in a difficult stage as the parent of an adult teen. My son turned 18 this spring and then graduated from high school. He thinks he is now an adult. March 24th he was a kid and on the 25th, he became an independent adult capable of doing whatever he wishes, whenever he wishes, not having to consult a parent (of course this is his perception, not mine). If only his attitude, behaviors, and work ethic matched his now-adult status, I may be in a different state of mind. But for now, my sweet boy has turned sour–unkind, sarcastic, evasive, and, at times, disrespectful. He is hard to like most of the time. I am the worst mom in the world. Anyone else vying for this title? I am hopeful that under my son’s harsh and mouthy exterior, he is still a good kid trying to find his way.

The number of tears falling from my eyes and my alcohol consumption has increased dramatically over the past several months (NO judgment people–I am already judging and regulating myself) and my sleep has decreased greatly. The lack of sleep I have during this stage is just behind the having an infant stage, but now it isn’t just physical exhaustion, but mental and emotional exhaustion and anguish like no other time in my life. I recently reached out to my mom friends that have already had their kid “adults” fly from the nest to see if my kid is the only jerk at this stage. Nope. Apparently not.

Nobody talks about how incredibly hard this stage is. SO. INCREDIBLY. HARD!! It makes me question my parenting over all the years and consider all the ways I have failed. I do remember having a conversation with my cousin a few years ago. Before the past couple of months, this was the only conversation I have had on this topic. I remember telling her how sad I was to think about my little boy leaving the nest. I could not imagine him going away. She swore to me that God prepares us for them leaving by the teen pushing our buttons making us want them to leave. She had already had two adult children by this point so she had first-hand experience in the matter. Even so, I didn’t believe her. No, no! Not my sweet little guy! He won’t ever be like that! He is so sweet, snuggly, and loving and I won’t ever be ready for him to leave. Fast forward to today and I am ready to kick him out of the nest with both of my feet and tell him to get on his way. 39 days until he moves to college, but who’s counting?!

But why don’t people talk more about how extremely difficult this stage is? My poor friends, and even my hairdresser, have had to see my tears and hear my concerns and complaints. Once I started asking, I learned that most kids are complete jerks at this point. Good to know, but that doesn’t make this any easier. My anxiety and worry are through the roof! It is hard not to be angry at him much of the time for his attitude and behaviors. He still needs some rules, whether he likes it or not (but apparently I am the ONLY parent with rules for an 18 year old). I get snippy, emotional, and yell which does not help AT ALL. I know this but I can’t seem to help myself sometimes when he is pushing every button.

I have been told by my friends that my son is still a good kid under the bad attitude and defiance. He is just trying to find what it looks like and how it feels to be an adult. I don’t like it. Not one little bit.

I guess it is good that people don’t spew on social media about the difficulties they have with their teen adults, but I have not heard this topic discussed on talk shows or in magazine articles or anywhere, for that matter. I hope that we are using our friends and support system when we are trying to make it through this complicated, trying time.

So let’s have this conversation.  Let’s support one another during this hard time.  Our stories connect us to each other.  Not only have my friends encouraged me and reminded me that this is God preparing my heart for this change, but that my sweet boy will come back around and love me again (but it may be a while).  For now, I am supported by my friends, Kleenex, pinot noir, and prayer.  Friends, don’t be afraid to talk about the hard and connect with those you trust while going through crappy periods because those conversations and those connections will give us a sense of belonging and understanding. To feel understood is vital to moving us from heartache to hope.  Dr. Bruce Perry in What Happened to You? states, “Your connectedness to other people is so key to buffering any current stressor.”  

This stage does stink. It is hard on a mama’s heart and on sleep patterns. Ladies, use your community! Lean into your friends to help you get through hard times, such as “parenting” your newly adult child. I know I certainly need my friends right now. Thanks, friends! Love you all!

Father’s Day Love & Loss Poem

As Father’s Day approaches, I have been thinking about how hard this holiday must be for all of those who have lost their dads or father-like figures. In particular, I have been thinking about and praying for my cousin’s two sons who are facing this day for the first time without their dad since he passed away six months ago. My husband lost his father a few years ago and in addition to Father’s Day, next week would have been my father-in-law’s birthday.  Even though he wasn’t my dad, he was incredibly special to me for over thirty years.  I miss him terribly. I’ve written about him in this blog on a couple of occasions.  

I recently wrote this poem as a reflection of my grief journey. There are still days when the tears flow, but I know he would want me/us to keep living and finding happiness and not getting stuck in a state of mourning.  This is my take on my experience, heartache, and healing after his passing:

Disbelieving wails bellow from deep within.

My eyes continually overflow with grief.

Shredded expectations, demolished dreams,

Darkness overtakes, how can I go on?

Trembling, denying, shrieking, dying,

Dying the death of reality without you.

Longing for one more day, one more conversation,

Sorrow sinks my body, my legs give way.

In great lament, my pleas to God fill the room.

Weeping, regretting, hurting, howling,

Stunned and immobilized in my loss,

Abundant cries of heartache ring out.

There’s a vast expanse from your missing presence.

I pray with my entire being, “God hold me!”

Commemorating, speaking, memorizing, reflecting,

Sadness gives way to gratitude for time shared.

Relinquishing the what-ifs, clinging to what was,

Loving you means finding joy in what is.

You would want nothing less for me.

Celebrating, adoring, honoring, exalting,

The Holy Spirit gives me strength and peace.

The richness of memories engulf my heart,

Recollection illuminates the good

As I cherish the blessings of then and now.

Remembering, loving, transforming, rising.

“Grief never ends, but it changes.  It’s a passage, not a place to stay.  Grief is not a sign of weakness, nor a lack of faith.  It is the price of love.”

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