Here Come The Holidays

6 weeks until Thanksgiving. 10 weeks until Christmas. 11 weeks until we say goodbye to 2021 (who thankfully has been kinder than 2020) and hello 2022.

Freakin’ mind blowing. 2020 was a “B”. No way to sugar coat it – it just was. For so many reasons I could write a book about it. But for all the ways 2020 sucked for me (and all of us), 2021 brought about equally as many positive changes to my life. Changes I didn’t know I needed. Changes that giving thanks for them every day takes up part of my prayers each morning.

Even though life is more joyful and happy than I have known it to be in longer than I can remember, my stomach still clenches a little at the thought of the months of November and December. Aside from the fact that for at least the next six weeks work will be insane, Nov/Dec always bring out unrealistic expectations of myself and are flooded with land mines of memories and special dates.

Unlike years past this year I started working through what my expectations were of myself during these trying months before they get here. The answer? I HAVE NONE. I have committed to myself that I will not turn holiday season 2021 into a mental vortex of “gotta do’s”, tears, or judging myself for not being able to do _______________ (insert whatever). Instead I’ve mapped out the things that are important to me and with the fam and the rest will just be taken as it comes. I made plans for both November and December travel that will keep me focused on sandy beaches and frosty cocktails when I feel the stress coming on. My children are all grown so there will be no deck the halls and worrying about what the dogs eat of those decorations when I am at work. No long list of presents to buy and wrap. (hallelujah!)

The goal this year is to spend November taking a moment each day to give thanks for all I have and am blessed with. The goal for December is to remember the reason we celebrate Christmas. God has so blessed my life in the last year! I want to cherish time with family and friends and keep the joy I currently can’t get enough as close to me as possible. THIS is the year I am not a crying puddle of goo by December 25th. THIS is the year that I will savor the good memories, on the important dates, and not mourn what has been lost. THIS is the year that closes a great chapter in my life but starts the next even better one.

Happy Halloween, Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!

Blessings – Amy

Cruising Through Life?

Carnival Horizon peeking through the palms in La Romana

When I go too long between cruises I forget. I forget the energy that thrums through your body when you wake up on embarkation day and realize that FINALLY it’s time to get onboard. I forget how my heart races when my foot crosses the threshold of the ship and every muscle in my body screams “YES”. I also forget the way life just fades away and time slows down for a few days.

But the people? People are different onboard.

The crew you meet…there aren’t words for these amazing human beings. They make you feel like you are the most special person in their world for a week. They have some superhuman capacity for remembering they have met you before. With the thousands of faces they see I have no idea how on that one. But some of the kindest, sweetest, most compassionate gentle souls I have ever met dedicate their lives to these ships and making vacations unforgettable. It makes me physically ill when I see the few that can’t seem to leave their bad attitudes at home and abuse them like they are servants. More on that another time.

Amber Cove – a look at just how big Carnival Horizon is!

I think the most fascinating is how the guests are. 98% are more easy going and open to meeting new people than they ever would be at home. If the human race could tap into the energy and attitude you find aboard a cruise ship? Hell, we’d have no wars or division anywhere. There is something truly magical about meeting someone you wouldn’t have met otherwise (mainly because they live 1000 miles away from you) and feeling your heart click like they are your best friend. I can’t tell you how many of these friendships I have made that remain near and dear to my heart.

Prior to this week it has been 18 months since I was on a ship. The longest I’ve gone since 2012. Now that I have proven to myself I can do it alone, and love it, I can assure you that will be the longest gap I will have for as long as God provides me the ability to keep cruising through life. ❤️

Blessings y’all – Amy

13 Mothers

I have to be careful how much news I watch. How often I get sucked down the rabbit hole of his opinion vs her opinion and all that that entails. It is difficult to get any truly impartial news anymore anyway so often I just tune it out.

What I have not been able to tune out, nor would I want to, the last few days is the heartbreak that 13 mothers are facing. The overwhelming and unending grief that they are consumed by as their brains try and make sense of the news that their selfless children gave their lives for their country. I don’t think I could come close to understanding their pain; but I think that every mother has some idea on some level the agony they would feel if they couldn’t hold their babies one more time. It was instinctual for me to want to reach out to mine this morning. To assure myself they are safe and whole. It brings tears when I think about those 13 mothers that will never have that comfort again.

The solemn procession of a fallen solider to his final resting place

In April Amy and I were fortunate enough to take a trip to Washington D.C. and I will carry the sense of patriotism I felt there for the rest of my life. As we stood in Arlington National Cemetery and watched a fallen soldier be taken slowly and with all the honor he deserved to his final resting place my heart ached for him and all the lives that lay before me. As the 21 gun salute rang out in the distance I got chills. You see I have always considered myself an American. Fred and I always taught our children to thank soldiers when they saw them. Buy their meal or their coffee. Small tokens that don’t equate at all for the sacrifices they make for us. Standing in that sacred space finally gave me a deeper understanding of what it means to be an American.

13 soldiers gave their lives for us. 13 mothers will never be the same. Their hearts are forever shattered. The only way we can honor that is by remembering their sacrifice every day as we go about our lives. Lives that are preciously free because of their sacrifice. By honoring our flag and our forefathers. By uniting as a nation and staring down terrorism and those that wish us harm.

All gave some. Some gave all.

To the veterans, to those on active duty, and to the families that support them. To those that have gone on due to their service. To the 13 mothers with broken hearts that I feel so deeply today.

Thank you. And God Bless You.

Scary When We’re Scared

As I continue to delve into what makes me tick one phrase jumped out in my reading. “We are scary when we are scared.” Holy heck what a statement. If you are being honest how many of you have a monster that takes up residence inside you when life is changing? When things are spinning out of control? When you are terrified? Probs more of you than can honestly admit. But please note that I am over here raising my hand.

I am scared of spiders. Snakes. Those creepy cockroaches that never seem to die. Normal things. Those things don’t make me loony. They are just normal fears that probably 90% of the population has if they are being honest.

The keep me up at night roaring monster fears?

Being homeless. There is scary monster fear. Growing up without security in where we lived because my mother was a fight AND (not or) flight kind of person leaves one with a solid fear of not having a stable home.

Dying. Not in an I’m afraid to die way. But in an I’m afraid I won’t go out gracefully and will leave my kids with enough horrible end of life memories that will overshadow the amazing childhood Fred and I fought to give them. As I watch what is happening with my grandmother that monster is fighting hard to get to the surface. Only God is keeping that one in check.

Never being loved again. Putting that one out there. Pretty sure that fear monster is going to run off any one who tries to get close simply with comparison to a man who was far from perfect but will always be perfect to me. Which leads right into probably my biggest fear of all in losing Fred and the kids getting about getting grown….

Being alone. Truly completely no one to take care of alone. Having to do exactly what I am now doing. Figuring out who I am inside and deal with all the demons from my childhood, losses, and life in general. That monster? She was a scary one who has scarred people she loves in ways that may never heal.

Some people don’t believe in out of body experiences but I’m here to tell you you have never been afraid enough to have the fear monster occupy your mind and your mouth. I cringe when I think about some of the things that have happened in my life the last two years. But I have learned to forgive myself. I have apologized and have accepted that has to be enough because I refuse to live in the past and won’t apologize for being human.

But yah. We are definitely scary when we are scared. And if you haven’t been that scared in your life God bless you. It’s easy to judge others when you don’t know their pain but it’s really different if you’ve walked even a minute in their shoes. That is one of the best lessons coming in “doing the work” as Brene would say. You learn true compassion and empathy – first with yourself and then with others. Emotions that if the world had a lot more of it wouldn’t be in the sorry state it is in.

Blessing y’all – Amy

Cracks & Light

I am listening to Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly and I’ve had to learn how to drive, listen, and take notes to not forget the key sentences that grab my attention. It’s a balancing act I probably shouldn’t be doing but ya know. 🤷🏻‍♀️

One such profound sentence – “There is a crack in everything. That is how the light gets in.”

You know those books you read (or listen to) that make you squirm with their dead on application to your life? Brene speaks about perfectionism being a cover for shame. As a shield for vulnerability. Lots of squirming going on over here….

As one of the perfection seeking individuals Brene is directly speaking about in this book I’ve gotten quite good at hiding my “cracks”. Or so I thought. A little extra good deed here, a little extra work there, just keep it all together and surely you must have it all together – right? Keep spackling those cracks no matter what. Somewhere along the way I got the idea that if I didn’t show any flaws people would love me more. Or more people would love me. Not sure which.

The work I am doing in counseling tells me that idea stems from an abusive childhood. Being told constantly that I wasn’t good enough. To do better. To do more. To be seen and not heard. To be quiet and not cause any trouble. To not have an opinion – and if I did keep it to myself if it will hurt someone else’s feelings. To follow the rules – no matter the cost. Even if that cost is my love tank constantly being on empty. I have an 8 year old inside me starving for love. Even now. Even after having been married to the most perfect and flawed but loving man on the planet. A man that knitted together a family to bring love and joy he always craved and a family that completed me. How can that be? How can I have known the love of my life and still feel starved for love? How can I still have cracks?

If what I am taking from Brene’s words is correct (and goodness knows it’s only my interpretation) then my understanding is this…. Those cracks aren’t all bad. Those cracks left from childhood allowed the light that was my husband into my heart. Those cracks let me be vulnerable enough to be a mother – the hardest most flawed job in the world. Those cracks are allowing me to discover, finally, who I am without the responsibility of another soul except the sixteen paws that love me unconditionally. Those cracks promise to bring love and light to my life again. I don’t have to be perfect. I just need to be vulnerable and have faith. Through having faith even when I want to just hide I know the light will come again. Because I still have plenty of cracks. ❤️

Blessings y’all – Amy

Another Trip Around The Sun

43. Who knew? For a girl that literally thought when she was 18 she never would see 30…43 is like getting bonus years.

In all seriousness, some of you know (but many don’t) that this time last year my depression was so bad I would have told you I didn’t want to live to see another birthday. I was locked in a battle of wills between a past I couldn’t let go of and a future I didn’t like or want. The result was a paralyzing soul crushing “there is no point” place. Only the thought of leaving my daughter with no parents on this Earth kept me here. And I’ll tell you openly there was more than one day even that was a slim slim thread. The darkness and pain had life so unbearable I honestly would have rather have been dead to have relief from it.

Many toss around terms like “crazy” or “nuts” for covering their own inability to understand the effects that depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts have on a person. It is so much easier to judge than wrap your brain around how terrifying it can be. “Just doing it for attention” or “all talk” are two of my least favorite pass offs I hear when someone is talking about someone else’s suffering. It is because of that type of non-understanding that those who suffer from those illnesses push them down. Hide them. Keep them away from the people who love them and need them despite the voices in their head telling them all those people would be better off. It’s those types of judgements that led the great Robin Williams to leave us instead of face his fan’s judgement if he told anyone how unhappy he was. Despite how far society has come in understanding mental illness it has SO FAR to go in grace, compassion, and kindness for those who suffer.

Through so much love and support this last year – support coming from places I didn’t expect – I am deep in counseling and medical treatment of a disease I will never be rid of. It was a genetic “gift” from both sides of my lineage and one I finally understand I’ll never escape. I can manage it. I can ask for help on the bad days. I can watch for signs I’m hurting the ones I love in my own pain. I can be open and honest in my struggle so someone else will make the right choice in that darkest hour.

But I’ll always be a little bit broken. God made me that way. Perfectly imperfect! I may not know or understand His purpose for me every day but right now I think some of it is to use my voice to share my journey so maybe others have a shorter path to recovery. Life is messy. It’s ugly. Feeling alone and hurting in the agony is excruciating.

As I reflect on starting another year on this planet I can tell you I have hope. I believe God has me exactly where I am supposed to be. I have faith each of my children are firmly in His hands and that God can protect them far better than I can. I have peace that Fred and I raised good kids who will put good into the world. I have hope there is someone out there for me to share my life with. Not someone to replace my Fred – there is no replacement. But someone who can love me understanding all that I have been through before him. I have God protecting me and the ability to talk to Him daily for probably the first time in my life. I have a job I adore that supports all the changes this past year has brought me and pushes me to follow through with taking care of myself. I am grateful that I am still here. I have far to go but from where I was a year ago? Sheesh. I feel lucky to be alive.

Ok.. enough pontificating. Birthday celebrations about to happen.

Peace y’all. Love each other. Be kind. Life is precious and short. Make every moment count. ❤️

Reflections of a Wounded Heart

They say everything changes when you turn 40. Actually they say it all goes to hell in a hand basket. 🤷🏻‍♀️ Things droop that didn’t before, going to bed at 8 am no longer seems appalling, the eye doctor says the dreaded “bi-focal” word. You don’t FEEL 40, heck you don’t feel 30, but the number keeps climbing.

More importantly your perspective on many things changes. For some, it happens naturally and without pain. Maturity just grows along with the number of candles on your cake. For others, 🙋🏻‍♀️, it takes catastrophic events to shake them out of the protective bubble they have cast around themselves. While I wish dearly I had fallen into group “a” my life has always dictated I do things the hard way.

If you have known me long or been reading here you know I’ve been going through massive changes in my life. Some of my choosing but most, well, not. What I didn’t anticipate as I fought, scratched, clawed, disrespected, and basically did everything but throw myself in front of things beyond my control is that God was working. He was allowing me to screw up to the “nth” degree. On purpose. Letting me get to a place there was no light. No hope. No joy. No love. Nothing at all left of the stability I craved with every fiber of my being.

Before you jump ship saying He wouldn’t do that – hang on. God had been trying to get my attention for years. Aborted journals reflect that. Times I cried out but quickly “fixed” it myself attested to that. I am a “fixer”. There is nothing (so I thought) that I couldn’t analyze for all the possible negative outcomes and navigate myself or someone I loved out of danger. I mean c’mon. If you were dealing with a human that dumb wouldn’t you let them fall as far as they could before you showed them the way?

Not saying God has any such thoughts. But I certainly would have looked at me and say “you have fun with that let me know when you need real help”. Blessedly God has abundant mercy and grace. He is patient and knew long before I did that this dark season was coming. Sometimes I wish he had given me some warning but if I look back really hard I bet I can find the warnings I chose to ignore.

Recently a co-worker told me he’s finding many people our age running into self reflection. I can’t speak for anyone else but self reflection is putting it mildly. Self analysis, soul searching, self questioning, self correction, self remodeling…you get the idea. Coming face to face with every one of my imperfections and analyzing and agonizing over how I have handled some parts of my life. How it changed relationships in my past or present. How it passed down to my children. Who my own fears and insecurities erased from my life. It’s exhausting. I’m not a bad person – I know that – but I, like any human, have places I could have chosen a different path.

It would be easy to blame it all on the very broken environment I was raised in. And while the lions share of it belongs there (validated by the counselor) at some point I consciously or subconsciously made choices for my own protection from pain. I willingly tucked my family in closer than it should have been (to be healthy) because I was afraid the world would break the happiness I had found. I guarded the nest Fred and I created with the energy of a tiger protecting a steak. When I suffered the catastrophic loss of my husband I somehow pulled my children in CLOSER. Unknowingly stifling their growth and happiness.

Regardless of what anyone thinks not a single choice I have made has been with ill intention. Not one. I am discovering how very hard it is for others to know that. In a society where judging comes first and any sort of compassion and understanding comes second it appeared controlling. Only those closest to me, who know my purest heart, understand who I am. As I embrace the woman God intended me to be, and get the love I need from Him (where I should have gotten it all along), I am finding myself still battling stress and regrets but with a softer tongue and a self awareness that comes with maturity and being shaped by pain. I find myself understanding which wrong turns I took and how a different path would have landed a different outcome. I find myself letting my children know where I went wrong so they can avoid making the same painful mistakes. Fully understanding that in their young immaturity they’ll probably have to make them anyway but once a protective mother always a protective mother.

I say all this to say…take time for reflection. Allow God to speak to your heart and show you the way. If you are still young avoid youthful impatience in your choices. Be mindful of the longevity of adulthood and how lasting decisions really can be. But know that if you are nursing a wounded heart? God still has plans for you. He does for me and while I’m impatient to find out what they are I know it’ll happen on His time. And that I am learning in every second that I am waiting.

God Bless – Amy

Walk by faith, not by sight…

For a supremely focused on details have to know what is happening at all times person…walking by faith is not my default condition. As a matter of fact at 42 years young I am learning that when taken out of the control all things – predict all outcomes – prepare for anything bubble I’ve lived in all my adult life I become agitated, aggressively protective of all things I deem to be mine, and my mind skitters out of control. It triggers deep anxiety, panic attacks, and depression. It also triggers a no filter ready fire aim reflex that has consequences I can’t even begin to see in my agitated state. It’s confusing to those who know me to be kind, loving beyond measure, and deeply compassionate. Who is this monster saying these things? For me it’s frightening in it’s intensity and after shocks. It’s like waking up after a car accident where you didn’t even realize you were driving and being surrounded by bodies…

I’ve always attributed smaller episodes like these to be my “Mama Bear” syndrome. Do not – under any circumstances – mess with one of my children. The consequences have always been swift and razor sharp. There are more than a few teachers or parents who made the mistake of singling out one of my children as an example that can attest to this. Or a school district who failed to recognize the patriotic importance of Memorial Day as the case was. Or a coach that didn’t recognize family time on an every other weekend schedule as more important than a Sunday practice. It has always been an involuntary launch at whomever made one of my children cry, made them sad, or threatened their welfare. No thought process just “go”. And if you draw tears from one of my children – for any reason – I see red. Just…RED.

As I am learning daily grief when Fred died literally stopped time for me. The kids stopped growing in my mind. I stopped my life. Sure, I did things. Traveled, worked, had friendships. But I made no significant progress at healing or recognizing that life should continue on. I started counseling and stopped when it became uncomfortable or hinted at those things needing to happen. I avoided people who needled me about the kids needing to have outside interests. I mean we were having fun and seeing the world – what IS your problem?

I DEFINITELY resisted the call of God in my heart to lean on Him. He took my husband away. Just three short years after taking my grandfather, the only father I had really had, away. Why on earth would I trust GOD? My life had been a series of heartache, pain, and bad events. Birth defect, abusive mother and a series of step fathers, now the loss of my beloved spouse. Didn’t He just put me on this earth to suffer? No way He wanted me – I was just His punching bag.

With all three children out of the house now I have no distraction from the call of God. And with the pain I’ve been in for the last almost year and a half – I’ve got no other option but to feel His pull. As I’ve learned to lean into Him the gentle nudge I’ve been given is to walk with Him without knowing what is next. Walk by faith not by sight. Without knowing if my children will be ok. Without knowing if I will be alone forever. Without knowing if my health will stabilize. The repeated message – in so many different ways I’ve lost count – is “Trust me child”.

My brain wars with itself every single day. The old demons are still there. The gentle peace I’ve felt small tastes of are there too. Some days I get a headache from telling myself to let go and just trust. Some days He sends so many signs I’m surprised He hasn’t taken out a billboard (He did three times on the way back from Lubbock a couple months ago). He’s provided me with a church that lights up my curiosity about Him. He’s provided the NEED for the peace of prayer. I know He can but He hasn’t gotten me completely past the anger, anxiety, and depression. I assume He’s still teaching me something with that. Some days I wake up so tormented it’s a wonder I can function. USUALLY those are the days I wind up praying so hard it’s amazing I do anything else and by the end of the day I’m peaceful.

The message in all this rambling? If God can take me…someone who literally has felt most of her life that she was being punished…and make me understand I am His child? Walk by faith. It’s HARD. I struggle with it and probably always will. But I’m learning He has a plan for all of this crazy life. And I’ll be ok if I trust Him.