Dash

Today I attended the memorial services for an aunt. The pastor read from her obituary as he began. “Connie, 1953-2021,” he cited. He said many nice things about her and about who she was. Then her youngest son spoke eloquently about her from a personal, intimate standpoint. He also quoted from her obituary: “Connie, 1953-2021.”

I got to thinking about that dash. You know, the one between 1953 and 2021.

We put those into obituaries and on grave markers to stand in for the years between birth and death. They symbolize years lived. They encapsulate our lives.

“Connie, 1953-2021”

She was many things to many people. She was all of the female relationships one could be. She was also a neighbor, a friend, and to some, a mentor. She loved her family deeply, and she had an abiding passion for horses. Those two things were talked about the most as well-wishers came to comfort the family. Those two things lived in the dash of her life.

We were never close. Some family members just aren’t, and that’s okay. Not everyone in a family is on equal terms with everyone else.

I listened to my cousin, and I thought about my aunt and the dash of her life.

But I also thought about the dash of my own life. If I died tomorrow, what would people say about the dash of my life? I’ve changed a lot in the last few years. What would people remember? Maybe it’s a natural thing to ponder when faced with mortality.

“Connie, 1953-2021.”

She was a good woman. May she Rest In Peace.

42/43

I’ve been thinking about what I would say this year on my birthday eve. As is my yearly tradition, I wanted to look back on this past year of life and reflect on what I’ve done. This year, though, it doesn’t feel like much. I want to blame some of that on Covid and the general tone of 2020. She was kind of a bummer of a year in a lot of ways.

One of the big milestones for me was that I hit 100 posts on my blog. That was actually something I put onto my bucket list when I drafted that a couple of years ago. I know some of my posts are hits and others are misses, but I do this mostly for me, and if other people get something out of that…well, that’s just a bonus.

I made a few more quilts this past year. That continues to be a source of joy in my life. I just finished two quilts in the last month, and I am quite pleased with them both. If I could make a living quilting, I happily would. As it is, I’m content to give them all away.

We did some traveling. We went with some of our family to the Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg area in April, and Michael and I took the girls to Florida in July. Both vacations were good and needed. I think travel nourishes the soul and broadens the mind, and it is something we look forward to doing with our little clan.

We made several trips home to Crawfordsville to see family as well. Those trips were difficult to orchestrate during Covid, but we did our best to see loved ones and stay safe at the same time.

Probably the biggest thing that changed this year was my profession. Twice. In October I left my chaplaincy job at Parkview. I briefly took a position with Park Center as a therapist. Both jobs took a heavy toll on my emotional health, though, each one for different reasons. Neither departure was an easy decision, and they were events that Michael and I talked through thoroughly. We decided that if I am going to continue on in my doctoral studies, I need to be in a part time position so I can concentrate on school. With that being said, I’ve been working at a branch of our local library since June 1, and it has been a good move for me. A friend came to the library one day and remarked that I seemed relaxed and in my element, and that is how I feel most of the time.

Speaking of school, I took it easy there as well. I had two semesters where I only took one class instead of two, and that provided some needed respite. I realized when I signed up for my fall classes that I only have three courses left before I start my true dissertation work. I am making progress there as well, as I have made contact with a couple of people at Parkview who are going to guide me through what I need to do in order to do my dissertation research there next year. Small steps, but encouraging ones.

Around the house, we started a painting project this weekend. I have disliked the poop-brown color of our kitchen, half bath, and utility room since we moved in, and I finally decided to address the issue. Tomorrow on my birthday, we will complete the painting process on the kitchen, which is now a lovely color called Handsome Plum. The half bath and utility room will follow at a later date.

What will 43 look like? I’m not really sure. More work at the library. More doctoral classes. More time spent with family. We are hoping for a trip to London next summer, and some friends and I are making tentative plans for a small trip of our own. I’ve learned from this last year that I need to take care of myself, and I’m continuing to examine what that looks like. I think I’m on a good track for now.

So as 42 draws to a close, I’m feeling grateful. I’m grateful for the experiences of the last year, the good and the bad, because they have led to where I am now. I’m grateful for people who have stuck by my side and encouraged me when I needed it. I’m grateful for another year of a good life.

Cheers, 42.

Cue 43.

Four Years in the Fort

I went for a walk around the neighborhood this morning.  Actually, my walks generally take me through the two neighborhoods that border ours to the east and to the west.  As I walked through the neighborhood on the east, I noticed that a family is moving in.  “How appropriate,” I smiled to myself.

Today marks four years since we moved to Fort Wayne, you see. 

When I try to think back to all of our interstate moves – Indiana to Arizona, Arizona to Virginia, Virginia to Kentucky, Kentucky to Indiana – it is hard to decide which move was more fundamental or foundational for our family.  I think we learned important lessons each place we have lived.  In Arizona, Michael and I learned how to be a couple on our own, and we learned that we are stronger than we think.  In Virginia, we learned how to budget in a massive way.  In Kentucky, we learned that friends are sometimes as close as family.

I’m not sure what we have learned yet in Indiana.  With all of the other moves, I have the benefit of hindsight.  I don’t yet have much hindsight about Indiana.  This last year feels in some ways just like the other years, but in some ways totally different.

In our fourth year in Fort Wayne, we sat through Covid-19.  The girls did remote learning for the fall semester in 2020, and Michael worked exclusively from home.  I guess we learned that we can share space as a family without coming to blows on a daily basis.

In our fourth year, we did some traveling.  We went to Gatlinburg for spring break, and we went to Florida just a week ago.  The world is still out there, waiting to be explored.  Sometimes it requires masking up when you don’t feel like it, but we learned that we can follow rules with the best of them. 

In our fourth year, I changed jobs.   Twice.  We learned that we are resilient and can make decisions that need to be made for the good of people’s mental health.

In our fourth year, we refinanced our house.  Yesterday, to be exact.  We were reminded that we are adults and we do adult things, even when we feel like there should be some other more mature adult around to help us make decisions. 

I’m already looking into what year five will hold.  We will have children in junior high and in high school, which does not seem possible.  We will celebrate more birthdays, and another anniversary.  We will live in this house which Emma declared four years ago was NOT her home.

Home is where the family is, and home is where we are together.  Home is where you grow and learn.  There is no place I would rather be than home with my family. 

Cheers to another year at home in Fort Wayne.

Focus

Some days, I have a hard time focusing. Like today.

I got up late and did not want to start on homework right away.  I knew I could find other things to do.  I took a walk.  I went to the pharmacy to get a prescription.  I called and rescheduled an appointment.  I ate lunch.  I napped. 

Eventually I did work on homework, and I achieved what I set as a goal. But it took focus that I did not want to put forth.

As I typed my weekly reading reflection for class, I noticed that there is a small icon on the bottom of Word that simply says “Focus”. I laughed when I saw it because it seemed appropriate. Even my computer was telling me subtly to focus.

I don’t know what clicking the icon does, but I know it somehow changes some focus on the document.  I’m too chicken to try it, I can admit that. 

I wonder how often life is like that.  I think we all have the ability to change our focus and see things differently, or focus better, or whatever my “Focus” icon does.  But how often are we too scared to change that focus?  How often do we look for some other way to get things done without the focus that we need?

Lately, I have lost my focus on what is important.  I have changed jobs again, and I think that has thrown me off somewhat.  I have been thinking about changes in salaries and implications for what life looks like with less money.  I have been forgetting to look at the bigger picture, which is why I changed jobs (less stress) and the benefit it gives me (more time for grad school). 

My focus has been off in other ways as well.  I have not read my Bible since the end of 2020.  I have rarely prayed, except for when I told people I would for certain situations.  My focus has been on myself and my problems, rather than the bigger picture and what my faith used to look like and how I used to serve.  I am struggling with the idea of changing my focus there, and how to do it.

I think it is appropriate that today is not only the middle of the week, but the last day of June.  Tomorrow starts the second half of the week, and the second half of the year. 

May your find the focus you need for the second half of the week and the second half of the year.

April 5, 2021

After another short night, we had another early morning. We had a light breakfast at the cabin, said goodbye to Adam, and headed down into Gatlinburg.

The girls wanted to go horseback riding, so we went to the Sugarland Stables at the edge of the Smoky Mountain National Park. We three girls rode and Michael stayed behind to take pictures and people watch.

We lunched in Pigeon Forge at a Mexican place called Cielito Linda. It wasn’t too bad. It just wasn’t our regular place in Fort Wayne.

Back at the cabin, I did some homework for a while. The girls waded in the hot tub one last time, went for a hike with Michael, and then played down in the game room.

My parents stopped by briefly and sat a spell on the front porch. We chatted about what we had each done for the day, and we made plans for the rest of vacation.

At 7:00, we had tickets for the Titanic museum. The girls wandered on their own while Michael and I stayed with my parents. I think everyone enjoyed it.

It’s our last night in the cabin, and I’m sad. I always hate when vacations end.

April 4, 2021

Easter Sunday. It felt weird to not be in church.

We all went to the Apple Barn for breakfast. The ride there was fun because Adam was with us, and he just makes everything fun.

After breakfast we hung out at the cabin for a few hours. We have a game room downstairs, so the girls have plenty to do in addition to the hot tub and their devices.

While Adam napped, we decided to go to a place called Goats on the Roof. It’s pretty much what it sounds like. They have conveyor belts hook up to stationary bicycles, and you can peddle food up to goats that are…well, on the roof. They also have a mountain coaster that everyone wanted to ride, as well as ice cream that everyone wanted to eat.

Back at the cabin, we took apart the back of the SUV and finally rescued Emma’s lost Air Pod. She was happy, and Michael was relieved that it didn’t involve removing a seat.

My parents came over for dinner. Michael grilled burgers. We sat and talked, which was nice.

After dinner I had to do homework. Adam, Michael, and Sofia played a couple of rounds of Dutch Blitz before deciding that they needed a Taco Bell run. We later played one last game of Trivial Pursuit. It was a nail biter, but Michael eventually won.

April 3, 2021

I didn’t sleep last night. I can’t tell why I didn’t sleep. I can tell you that everyone in my cabin got up to go to the bathroom in the night, and I can tell you that our cabin is not soundproof. I can also tell you that the road in front of our cabin was super busy at 4:00 this morning.

My parents came over this morning and brought donuts and coffee filters. Both were greatly appreciated.

After Michael and the girls played at the resort playground, we went down into Sevierville to the outlet mall with seemingly everyone else in Tennessee. We spent more money than we meant to, but we had a good time.

Back at the cabin, we relaxed in the hot tub and played games. My parents came over for dinner and to watch basketball.

Michael and I stayed up late playing back-to-back games of Trivial Pursuit with Adam. I won the first, but Michael crushed us in the second.

April 2, 2021

Today was a travel day, which is never the most exciting.

Emma lost an Air Pod in the car between the seats, 30 minutes into the trip. That was fun.

We were stopped in traffic both in Cincinnati and in southern Kentucky for an hour each time. That was fun too. That extended our trip from 7 hours to 9.

It was legitimately fun in some ways too, though. The girls watched “Anne of Green Gables”, and their commentary was hilarious.

We stopped at Red Robin for lunch, and Sofia found a new mac and cheese that she is in love with.

We have a great cabin close to my parents’ great cabin.

We had a good dinner with my parents and brother.

It may not have gone according to plan, but it was a good day. I’m looking forward to what tomorrow brings.

As-is

One of the best things I get to do in my counseling job is co-lead therapy groups. I like the interaction between group members and witnessing how they are all growing together.

This week, a group member voiced struggling with the concept of being a whole person. That struck a chord within me and got me thinking about wholeness.

If you’ve seen the movie Jerry McGuire, you’ve heard the awful quote, “You complete me.” Chances are that if you’ve heard the quote, you have heard the equally bad response of, “You shouldn’t need someone else to complete you.”

My group member’s struggle with wholeness found me wondering how many of us will never really be whole? But what if not being whole was okay? What if being enough was, well, enough?

Many years ago, I spent nine months as a (terrible) car salesperson in Arizona. I learned that used cars that are out of their warranty come with a sticker that says As-Is. It’s a warning of sorts to the buyer, but also coverage for the dealer absolving them of any problems you may have with the car.

But here’s the thing about the as-is car: someone is going to come along and want or need that car. It’s going to get a chance to serve its purpose. Sure, it may need maintenance from time to time, and it may get costly. But it will still be worth it.

None of us are perfect. I suspect most of us could use an as-is sticker. But not being brand new or whole or complete doesn’t make us any less valuable. We all still have a role to play in life, incomplete as we are. And we are all still worthy of love.

Hope

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I didn’t make any resolutions for the new year.

Personally, I just don’t do goals, period. You know the part of job interviews where they ask you where you see yourself in five years? What are your short- and long-term goals? I’m always blank. Even when I try to prepare for those questions, the answers feel forced. For whatever reason, I’m just not a goal-oriented person.

Because of that, I don’t make New Year resolutions. I wouldn’t stick to them anyway. (I’m also not terribly consistent.)

Last year I decided I wanted to read the whole Bible in a year, and I actually did that, but it wasn’t something I really set as a resolution. Just something I kind of wanted to keep working at. Don’t get me wrong: I had some days where I didn’t make time or remember to read, and then I had to make up the lost time by reading twice in one day. I wasn’t particularly consistent with it. My longest streak was 85 days, and that was at the very end of the year. But I made it.

So far this year, I have had the word “hope” stuck in my brain. It’s been rattling around up there since December 31. I was wondering what I hoped for the New Year. And that’s when I decided: this year I want to have hopes for the year, rather than goals or resolutions.

Maybe it’s a quitter’s way out, by not really committing to something. Maybe it’s just easier to say that I hope to do something rather than planning or resolving to do it.

But I know myself, and I know the kind of self-love I need to show myself. Part of that self-love is not casting in stone something that I think will fail. Saying that I hope to do something feels kinder, and more loving somehow. Maybe it’s just me.

So I have hopes for this year.

I hope to travel again, which we all know cannot be set in stone at this point. We are talking about vacation destinations already, but with the knowledge that it may not be feasible again this year.

I hope to love my family better. I hope to dig into really knowing each member of my family, and taking the time to see and love them each for who they are.

I hope to love myself better this year. I had a couple of depressive episodes last year, and I’m trying to learn from those. I have needs, and I want to be mindful of them.

Above all, I hope to be hopeful. Our world is still all topsy-turvy, and there is no telling when we will regain a sense of equilibrium, much less normalcy. I don’t want to get caught up in the negativity of what is out there. I want to live a life of hope that something better is coming, if not already here.

I hope that you have hope as well.

Happy New Year.