Update…COVID & The Cooleys

In the month of June, for multiple reasons, I had a mental health freakout. My anxiety hit the roof, I wound up face-to-face with unresolved childhood trauma; there were parenting crises, & things at work were coming to a boiling point. When one area of my life goes haywire, I can generally process. When EVERY area of my life goes haywire?!?!?! My brain broke.

I wound up reaching out to my pastors, a counselor, & a friend; they all counseled me to take a break, & after pushing the guilt to the back-burner I asked my boss if I could take 4 vacation days over the Fourth of July holiday.

Those four days turned into TWENTY.

For my first day of my vacation, I spent an entire day with my mom. I had her ALLLLLL to myself! We had an amazing time, shared stories, had some adventures, got the car stuck on the side of the road in no-man’s land, & I cherished every single minute. I love my mom, & I love learning from her. It looked like this break was going to be awesome!

Me & My Beautiful Mama!

On the second day of my self-imposed mental health break, I received a text that my son had been directly exposed to COVID. My initial reaction was, “Oh. Well, I guess that’s really nothing new.” It’s not that I didn’t take it seriously–rather, we’d been so good about masks, hand-washing, etc. The environment in which he had been exposed was a small group of kids and 2-3 adults. I notified my family, but that same day I received word that I needed around $2000 in car repairs, so I had more pressing things on my plate…or so I thought. Two days later, our plans for celebrating the Fourth with my family moved forward as usual.

‘Merica!

We spent most of the time outside, and my parents have a large, airy house. Towards midday, I looked at my son & thought, “He seems off. NO WAY.” Out loud, I said, “Mom, do you have a thermometer?”

Lo & behold, my beloved boy had a temp of 102. The bottom fell out of my stomach, & the anxiety hit me like a punch from Conor McGregor. My mom looked at me and immediately prayed; we gave Jericho some aspirin & began hourly temperature checks. We kept him hydrated; outside of the fever & a lack of appetite, he was as keenly interested in the fireworks as ever before, and in less than 24 hours, he was perfectly fine. Whew!!!! We’d spent a lot of time outdoors, so maybe it was just a sinus bug? The next day, we went to the zoo (we were masked), & all seemed fine! He seemed a bit crankier than usual, but it was bloody HOT, so it wasn’t completely out of the norm. Life moved on.

The Zoo!

The next day, I had some tests to run at the hospital. I’ve had a lot of issues with pain and inflammation this year, particularly in regards to my legs. The cramping, aches, and stabbing pains have left me unable to rest, & that’s contributed to my mental health struggles. The testing took two hours; after I left, I noticed that I wasn’t feeling all that great. I stopped and got what seemed like a super-bland lemon-berry slush, & made my way through the hell we all know as Wal-Mart. By the time I got to the car, I felt like I was coming down with the flu–I still hadn’t put it together.

The following morning, I had a telehealth appointment. By the end of it, it was determined that I had better get tested; I was supposed to return to the office the next day. I opted for a rapid test & set up the appointment for later that afternoon. By the time of the appointment, I couldn’t drive, & had to ask David to come and get me. The test, to my surprise, was positive.

I spent the next 5 days in bed…& somewhere in there, David got sick as well (he never bothered to get tested). I stayed in bed from Wednesday evening through Monday afternoon.

People, COVID sucks. If you haven’t had it, it’s horrible. I am still pretty sure that the three of us had a more moderate version of it in February, 2020; I thought I had it again last November, but I never tested positive. THIS, though? This has been infinitely worse than both respiratory things I had in February & in November. It’s been 3 weeks; I still have major chest tightness and unrelenting fatigue. I feel like my lungs have been destroyed by a cheese grater. David still has a cough, along with the fatigue. We haven’t gone ANYWHERE with the exception of work & Jericho’s summer school, since the holiday weekend. I tried to go into a store last week, but couldn’t do it. It’s bad enough that I asked my sister to take Jericho for the weekend just so we could rest & sleep (she’s NEVER cared for him on her own before, so this was a huge ask. Not only did she volunteer to take him for the whole weekend–I had initially only asked her to take him for a day–she knocked it out of the park! They had a TON of fun, & the pictures are awesome!! She braved Sky Zone!!!!!), and so that Jericho could get out of the house.

If I didn’t have a nebulizer, albuterol, & a CPAP machine, I don’t think David or I would have been able to avoid the hospital. I have monitored our oxygen saturation like a vulture. We both have medical appointments at the end of this week that will make sure we’re recovering, but seeing David as sick as he’s been? That’s been terribly alarming to me. He’s never really sick, & he’s terrible about taking anything when he is. We’re both exhausted. The reports that this can take a long time to come back from are not anything I want to read–ain’t anybody got time for this!!!!! Neither one of us can taste or smell anything properly, which I suppose is fantastic for the diet; it’s frustrating for me, because I like food!!!!!! And when you have a taste for something, but can’t taste it?!? ACK!

I personally think COVID was designed from the pits of hell. It’s debilitating, demoralizing, destructive, & deadly. All of the conflicting information, the division, the inconsistencies–I am sick & tired of reading about masks, vaccines, incentives, etc., because from the very beginnings of this mess, the “facts” have constantly changed. I’ve been dragged for being unvaccinated–if I’m willing to keep wearing masks and washing my hands, why do I need to be vaccinated? I’d rather do that, than inject something into my system that is proving to have inconsistent results. And now that I’ve got all of these lovely antibodies, it’s giving me more time to think about the vaccine, the information, the consequences, and the benefits. I’m the type of person that the more something is pushed, the more likely I am to take a step back & say, “wait a minute.” Vaccine incentives & the constant propaganda is off-putting to me, especially based on government involvement. I’m completely content to do my part to reduce the spread/exposure by wearing masks and washing my hands (and social distancing–I love social distancing), & I feel like that’s generally enough–isn’t that what they told us for the first 10 months of this mess?

We take preventative measures to protect ourselves & others. I’m not an anti-vaxxer, but I am someone who has been known to have the weirder, more rare reactions to various drugs, & I don’t want to take any chances. Wearing a mask has zero side-effects to me (I know that’s not the case for everyone) & I am happy to do so. I’m not going to rail on anyone who doesn’t want to wear one (but I will not hesitate to tell you to step off if we’re indoors & you’re not wearing one, ‘k? I’m not getting this crap again).

With all of the preventative measures that David & I were taking, we still got COVID (and it’s pretty clear to me that we got it through our son). With vaccines, people are STILL getting breakthrough cases of COVID. It’s become very, very evident that the designs of this disease are just evil, & even with all of the things we try to do to comply and/or to prevent, it’s mutating past the expectations. I don’t honestly have a lot of hope for a COVID-free future.

Please take every preventative measure you can take! Get your vitamin C (it’s particularly good for the lungs), get your N-Acetyl-Cysteine. Boost your immune system (chiropractic adjustments have been shown to boost your immune systems!), wash your hands, wear your mask if you want. Be cognizant of your surroundings and your distance from people, even when you’re outdoors. Know that your kids can be little germ vessels, and help them take personal responsibility for their hygiene–I think that’s the one area where we let our guard down.

COVID SUCKS. Period. David & I are trying to get back to “normal” at a much slower pace. To everyone who has reached out in prayer; to the family that dropped off an amazing meal; to the friends who gave us an Instacart gift card; to INSTACART: THANK YOU. We have appreciated all of the love, prayers, and support. Please be patient with us as we try to get caught up on things & as we try to get some energy back. This feels like a long road to come back from, & I feel like we’re going to need a lot of grace with ourselves and from others!

DON’T GET COVID. <><

Noodle, the #ChiweeniePuggle, demonstrating what we’ve accomplished since the Fourth of July

Radio silent…

I’m posting a quick blurb to say that I know it’s been over a month since I last posted (almost two months, now). I’m going to be way-too candid for a public blog and just admit to you that I’m really, really struggling, & I can’t find a way to verbalize it right now. This isn’t a click-bait, “pray for me” kind of a post; it’s just an update since I’m usually not this quiet. I’m not trying to be deliberately vague. Between my existing physical/mental issues and the overall spiral into burnout, I’m having a hard time and I cannot DEAL with responses like, “you just need a vacation.” I’m not in a place where I want or need a response at all. I simply do not want to talk & am overwhelmed at the thought of a dissecting conversation.

So, it’s not your computer. It’s me, and I’ll hop back on here when the sun has come out once again. There are plenty of things that I have, and I am, celebrating, so please don’t think I’m on a death-spiral of depression. I’m not exactly sure WHAT I’m dealing with, so until I know or can at least intelligently express it, I’m putting my keyboard away. Peace out.

“Don’t Get Drunk and Do Things!”

Like that title? LOL—okay, maybe it’s a bit click-baitey. Life moves FAST, and even though I try to document all of the hilarious things my kiddo says (#ConvosWithRico), there are some things that I just don’t get the chance to write about. Not all of them are funny, but even the “unfunny” conversations have a way of ending with a laugh. It’s just part of how I’m wired, and seemingly, how my son is wired (also, David has a pretty good sense of humor. He’s not as funny as he thinks he is, but he has his moments).

I love #Fail videos. Jericho & I have watched Fail videos since I first discovered Fail Army on YouTube. I’ve loved Fail videos since I first discovered America’s Funniest Home Videos (in its first incarnation, and now, as AFV), and I think it’s because had there been video cameras as easily accessible when I was a kid, I’m sure I could have gone viral for my own idiocy. I once fell over a trashcan in the middle of Disney World…and I once tripped over a Safety Cone in Northwest Plaza, making my poor mother laugh so hard that she SAT DOWN in the MIDDLE of the MALL because she couldn’t walk from laughing. I have a knack for tripping and falling, and it really hasn’t gotten that much better in my adulthood. In fact, if I were to keep writing about all of my klutzy adventures, I wouldn’t stop typing until December. I’m that graceful.

Humanity is one big epic fail YouTube video - Imgflip

So, my lack of coordination and/or general lack of observance has made me fodder for Fail videos my entire life, and if I can laugh at myself when I fall down, I think I have the right to laugh at videos of other people doing the same thing, as long as no one is bleeding.

Generally, we’ll watch montages of Fail videos and they’ll involve things like snowboarding, or stairs, or falling off of porches—all things your Average Joe-Jane can do with aplomb. Sometimes these videos clearly involve alcohol, and this has involved moments of Adam Sandler-inspired parenting:  “Alcohol = puke = smelly mess = Nobody Likes You.” It’s a classic quote, and has served me well in both reminders and in education, about the perils of booze. And let’s face it—Mr. Sandler knew what he was saying. I think anyone can point a finger and preach to someone about alcohol, but how much of that actually sticks? I’ve never, ever forgotten that scene in that movie, and it’s lasted in my brain far longer than any sermon on the topic.

I have a fear of my son taking things like alcohol way too lightly.

He’s 8. Alcohol and drugs are far too commonplace in society, either in billboards or commercials, or in news stories, or in random conversations. Addictive behaviors present pretty early on, and I have to wonder if we intervene with a healthy presentation about what addiction is, and how it can change your life, at this age? Do we stoke curiosity, or do we lay a foundation of preparation?

I joke about being addicted to chocolate (I totally am), or that he’s addicted to his tablet or to YouTube (curse you, YouTube. I rue the day I let you into my house!!!!!!); we talk about how Jesus breaks addictions, and how it’s good to talk to Him about these things.

Fail videos often show cups of beer or obviously inebriated people, doing really dumb stuff. It’s an easy conversation starter along those Adam Sandler lines: “Alcohol = Fall down and look like an idiot, and get made fun of by the entire world = Never goes away in Cyberspace.” We talk about actions having permanent consequences. Drunk people doing dumb things have enabled me to have gentle conversations with my son about feelings of abandonment and sadness, because someone I loved, loved alcohol more than me…Nothing good comes from the abuse of alcohol or drugs, and it’s not the life Jesus wants for us.

I say all of this because this past Sunday, I realized how much of an impact some of these conversations have had—you know, you don’t realize what your kids retain until it comes back to haunt you. David was making pork steaks, and he opened up a beer to add to the marinade.  He put half of a beer in with the steaks and he gave me the rest of it to drink (it was a Wicked Orchard Apple Ale from Aldi, and they’re delicious. They’re also AMAZING to use in beer bread). Jericho looks at me wide-eyed and goes, “MOM!!!!!!! DON’T GET DRUNK AND DO THINGS!!!!”

I laughed so, so hard. Like, snort-laughed. I think he thought that if I drank that half-beer, I would immediately start falling down and being a Fail video star. My son says the funniest things, and he has no filter (much to my chagrin—I have found myself LAUNCHING to intervene after he’s said something unintentionally rude or embarrassing), & I know that will tone down as he gets older. I feel like by maintaining the #ConvosWithRico, I’ve made it where I can retrace every funny thing he’s said that I’ve documented online. It’s sentimental—I know these things will decrease as his awareness of the world and his maturity levels increases. He’s growing up…and there are so many building blocks I want to lay out for him as he’s on his way.

Some things are too heavy for him to understand, and I worry that the world will throw them at him too soon. Corrie Ten Boom has a marvelous quote in her book, The Hiding Place, that I’m often reminded of when I’m faced with a Big Topic:

‘And so seated next to my father in the train compartment, I suddenly asked, “Father, what is sexsin?” He turned to look at me, as he always did when answering a question, but to my surprise he said nothing. At last he stood up, lifted his traveling case off the floor and set it on the floor. Will you carry it off the train, Corrie?” he said. I stood up and tugged at it. It was crammed with the watches and spare parts he had purchased that morning.

It’s too heavy,” I said.

Yes,” he said, “and it would be a pretty poor father who would ask his little girl to carry such a load. It’s the same way, Corrie, with knowledge. Some knowledge is too heavy for children. When you are older and stronger, you can bear it. For now you must trust me to carry it for you“.’

The world wants our kids to grow up way too soon. Conversations about sex, desire, gender roles, drugs, alcohol, etc., are heavy topics, and they’re not meant to bear the weight of them too soon. It’s our job as parents to determine the when and the how of those conversations (and not the schools, although they’ve taken it on as parents are often too naïve or too inattentive to do so). When certain conversations become unavoidable (it’s astounding how much alcohol and drug advertising there is, or how much it sneaks into family programming or cartoons. Beer billboards are a dime-a-dozen in this city–go figure), I try to make them relatable or in kid-friendly terms. Because of my paternal family history, I know that addictive tendencies run deep, so I want my son to understand how dangerous these things are. I want him to know there are consequences and that Jesus offers both freedom, and a better way.

Our conversation on Sunday went from me laughing, to a gentle explanation of the concept I quoted earlier: “Everything in moderation.” Jericho brought it up again yesterday in a conversation about cigarettes (SO. MUCH. LITTERING.) & I rephrased my quote to, “everything in moderation…except cigarettes & drugs. Those are a Hard NO.” I’ll probably repeat that to him countless times as he grows up and faces the world. I hope & pray that David & I are building a foundation with him that will keep him protected from things like being drunk and doing stupid things (and worse). I hope that these gentle conversations that start with laughter still impact his heart, and that the concepts of love, truth, and purity stay with his spirit as he grows…Maybe I’m not taking the most conventional approach? I don’t know…I feel like preaching things “at” him will only push him to rebel, but that being honest about the good, the bad, the idiotic, and the ugly, will help him understand & to respect the dangers that are out there. Kids are going to grow up and make their own decisions…I want to raise this child to make Good Decisions, grounded in faith, with wisdom and intelligence. Maybe we set him on this path with a big dose of faith coupled with love and a sense of humor, to gird him for the journey…

Leviticus, Media Mockery, & Why Are We Still Putting Up With This?!?

Sacrilegious is never funny.

Mocking the “god” of any other culture will get you eviscerated, cancelled, or worse…but mocking Jesus Christ makes you a social media star? Especially around the holiest of seasons, as we celebrate His death & resurrection? How is that allowed?

In studying Leviticus, the weight of salvation stands out heavier than ever before…When you think about the different sacrifices that were made: Burnt offering, Grain offering, Sin offering, Guilt offering, Ordination offering, Peace offering—when you think about the cost of such offerings, even in just the financial sense….When you think about the mental toll it takes, to be a priest and to slaughter animals at an endless rate, to wake and sleep in the surroundings of blood & incense….when you think about the continual efforts of the people, to monitor thoughts and actions, to regulate when a sacrifice needed to be made, and the never-ending list of sacrifices to be made….

And you think about how the Messiah ended it all in the holiest of afternoons….

He carries the weight of the sacrifice, then—2,000 years ago—and now, and forever.

He carries the burden of the continual accountability, the weight of guilt and shame, the oppression of never being able to kill enough to completely wipe the slate clean. He is ENOUGH. He wipes the slate clean with His own Blood, with His Death & Resurrection.

The Cross was never a scrawny white guy held up on two popsicle sticks by some thumbtacks. The Cross was about The Innocent…the very Son of the Most High God…Who was brutally murdered by a people that refused to recognize Redemption in any other presentation than the blood-covered altar of the Temple.

The Cross is about freedom…it’s about Eternity. It’s about drawing us into Him, about allowing us into the Holy of Holies, free and cleansed of all known and unknown sin, without an animal sacrifice and without having to go through another human being as our gateway to the Throne. The Cross bridges the gap between the Outer Courts to the Inner Courts, and puts us on a freeway to kneel and worship with the elders, praising God in a chorus that never stops, because it CAN’T stop, because HE IS WORTHY.

Our relationship with God is not something to be mocked, and it isn’t something to take casually. He’s not “Buddy Christ,” and although He is most definitely our best of friends, He is still SOVEREIGN, and He is HOLY. Time spent with Him is HOLY. This casual attitude of mocking Him…of allowing the news and the media, of allowing movies and music to take His imagery and to twist it in such abominable ways is inconceivable. Conversely, our perception of Satan and all that he brings to the table is also not to be mocked or taken casually, as spiritual matters are serious. Degrading them to a form of blasé entertainment is utter foolishness (which is exactly what Satan wants us to do—the less-seriously we take him, the less seriously we take Jesus, and he’s happy with that).

I caught myself rolling my eyes at recent media outlets that were celebrating a social media star who is blatantly glorifying Satan in his latest video. He’s proud of himself—he says this is how he celebrates his “freedom.” He’s in more chains than he will ever know, until he’s facing eternity…and I rolled my eyes. Like, how am I not weeping over this? How am I not grieving in my spirit over this? I’m so calloused to the media portrayal of spiritual matters that I am reduced to rolling my eyes like a bored teenager, as opposed to crying out to God for a nation that is spiritually bankrupt. I’m disappointed in myself–have I gotten so used to skimming headlines, that I fail to allow them to penetrate my convictions?? How have we fallen so far as a nation, that there isn’t a huge moral outcry to shut this kind of imagery and glorification down??

The further in I go into the Old Testament, the more my salvation means to me…the more I realize my state as a human being that will never be worthy on her own. I so desperately need my Jesus, and I need Him not just as my Best Friend, but as my Holiness. I want to be cloaked in His holiness, to have Him take out the things that make me forget Who He is, and replace them with whatever makes me grow closer to Him. I want the mockery that makes my eyes roll right now, to break my heart until I see His face. I want to understand WHY His sacrifice means so much, not just on the surface, but on a deeper level.

I’m so flawed. I’m such a dichotomy—my mouth needs its own separate redemption, I swear—but in my heart of hearts, I want Jesus, and I want Him to be the center of my life. It’s a never-ending journey, and I’m thankful that He lets us be on it…that He’s with us every step of the way.

Sacrilegious is NEVER funny…but even to those who would openly mock Him, Jesus says, “Come.” He responds to the haters with Love—He did it 2,000 years ago as He was dying on the Cross, and He still does it, today. He says, “Come, and be with Me in My Father’s House.” He invites us to love, and to be loved in a way we don’t deserve, but that He freely gives. He’s Jesus, and He loves you as you are….and He loves you to who He sees you becoming as you grow in Him.

Unpacking the Brain Backpack, AKA, “What grade did my kid just get?!?!?”

My kiddo is smart.

I’m not saying he’s like, “genius-savant-off-the-charts” smart, but the kid can keep up conversations with people three times his age. Half the time, when he’s in trouble, he can skillfully debate with my on a level that leaves me shaking my head (and he definitely keeps me on my toes). I’m not looking forward to the teen years, let me tell you.

He’s quick-witted, easily distracted, and possibly OCD when he gets on a topic of choice. He may have a slight dose of ADD, but as long as he continues to maintain acceptable levels of self-control, I’m not going to look at getting a formal diagnosis. The investment into keeping him in a small, faith-based school means that he’s getting a lot of one-on-one relationships and education, so we’re able to maintain independence as parents when it comes to our child’s unique personality (Unpopular opinion: When your kid is 1 in a class of 24, with 1 teacher, and they have a lot of energy/thoughts/need to express all of the above, the teacher can’t possibly give them the space they need to do that, without affecting the other kids. Kids then fall behind, because they’re not getting what they need and they’re in an impossible environment. It’s hard on the teacher, the child, and the parents, and many times, parents are told they need to get their kids “under control.” The conditioning has become to get your child a formal diagnosis, an Individual Educational Plan, medication in many situations, counseling, and an asterisk that they are “different” or somehow not on a level that’s even with their peers. I feel like this would be the path we’d be facing in public school. I’m not saying it’s good or bad, but I am saying that it’s not for us. Small classes, individual attention, a solid curriculum, and most importantly, a foundation of faith, is the education I grew up with and is the education we chose for our child. I understand it is not for everyone—I’m not here to pass judgment, and am in no way saying that all kids are treated the same, or should expect to be. I will definitely say that I’m a huge advocate for Christian education, and that if you ever have any questions about it, I’m more than happy to answer to the best of my abilities. I went to Christian schools from Kindergarten through my Bachelor’s degree, and my son is now in his 4th year of Christian education, so I feel like I’ve got a pretty good grasp on the good, the bad, and the scary.). My son’s teachers have all celebrated Jericho’s strengths and have challenged his rough edges; I don’t always agree with them, but I will always support them (and when I don’t agree, I reach out to them to clarify my questions, and they ALWAYS respond with kindness).

Second Grade is challenging my son. I have to say that I don’t believe it’s challenging his intelligence as much as it’s challenging his patience and his focus (and looking back, I wish I would have realized the same things about myself as I faced my own academic issues). He gets the facts straight for his classes, but then doesn’t exhibit the focus he needs in order to recall those facts. He doesn’t want to slow down enough to have legible handwriting for his answer to count as correct.  This has led to a number of discussions (many ending in tears) about, “Jericho, what is the point of knowing the answer if you won’t take the time to write it neatly enough to be read? You KNOW this stuff!!!” I find myself getting frustrated. I don’t want to go the route that devolves into hurting feelings, or making him feel like he’s “less than.” It can be challenging to convert, “DO better!!!” to, “Hey, you’re awesome, and you’re enough…and you’re also way smarter than a “B,” so slow down and do the job.”

I want him to understand that he is more than capable, and that it’s WORTH IT to slow down and to do it right…

But what does he hear???

It’s very difficult for me to stop, refocus my words, and to clarify both my intention and my love for him. I look at his little face when he’s turned in a “Bad” grade, and I know he’s beating himself up for it more than I ever could.

When we’ve had remote learning, he’s told me, “I don’t WANT to do the work with you!!  You expect me to be PERFECT!!!!!!!”

It’s not true, but oh, how that hurt my heart to hear. I still want to cry when I think about it—have I failed him, in pushing him towards his potential? Or do I keep pressing in? 

I’m not inclined to accept mediocrity when I know he has the ability to excel, but at what cost?

“You’re not here to be his friend,” I remind myself on an almost-daily basis. I love him too much to let him take the easy way out, even when it’s hard for me to stand my ground.

Now, don’t get me wrong—I’m not Tiger-Momming it over here. I consistently tell him that I want to see that he’s TRIED. If he tries and he gets a “C,” I’m totally okay with that—but I want him to TRY. That’s what matters to me, more than letters. Speaking of “C,” last night, he brought home a “C” on a science test.

I about fell over….the words escaped my mouth before I could stop them” “What in the world?!?  A C?!?!”

Cue the tears.

He cried, and he wailed, and he yelled, and he had a Total. Meltdown. David was working upstairs, and he came down to see what torture I had inflicted in the household, to warrant such a racket.

I hadn’t said a word, other than my initial shock. You see, the night before that test, Jericho had recited almost word-for-word, the entire Study Guide. He knew it all. When I went to bed the night before, I just knew he was going to kill that science test, and maintain his GPA (yes, we talk about it in the Second Grade). He knew all of this stuff, and for him to bring home a “C” was a genuine shock to me.

He cried his little eyes out while sitting on my lap. I shushed him, told him it was okay, and quietly said that I just wanted to unpack what happened (I never raised my voice, if you’re wondering). He kept yelling. It took a while to calm him down and to focus, but once he did, I told him this story:

“Your brain—sometimes, your brain is full of cats in paper sacks. It’s nearly impossible to get your thoughts wrangled together and to focus through to find what you need, right?

Jericho, think of your brain like your Backpack. Say you’re going to Grammy’s house, and you need socks. You throw them into your backpack, first thing…and they sink to the bottom, as everything does when you throw it into the backpack, first.

As the day goes on, more things go into the backpack: Shoes, pajamas, stuffed animals…everything goes into the backpack, on top of everything else….

But you need your socks….and they’re at the bottom of the backpack….So what do you do?”

“You dump the backpack out and you find them.”

“Exactly. So, you sort through everything to find what you need, right?

It’s the same thing for your Brain. Think of your Brain as your Backpack:

You see, you KNEW all of the answers to that science test. You had it!  But things happened….maybe a video game, or a TV show. Maybe you put a puzzle together that you were excited about, or you had a really great recess. All of those were things that went into your Brain Backpack, on TOP of the science stuff you knew so well, the night before.

So when the science test started, you needed to take a few deep breaths, focus, and really concentrate on sorting through all of the “other” stuff in your Brain Backpack, and find the answers you knew in the bottom of the bag—THEN you can pull the answers out, and write everything down as you know it.”

I don’t know if this mental picture will help him on his next test, but I know that as parents, our responsibility to encourage him towards excellence while protecting his self-esteem is very important to me. I never want him to feel like HE is not enough, even when his efforts are lacking. I’m grateful that he’s first of all, in a classroom, and secondly, surrounded by educators who are on the same page as David & I are, in lovingly pushing him towards his potential while giving him space to learn. It’s a delicate, balance and one that I am very challenged by.

Parenting isn’t for the faint of heart, and it’s not for those who aren’t willing to look at tear-filled eyes and still stand their ground (in love). I’m not his friend; I love him so much more than that….and I’m so grateful for my spirited, smart, hilarious little mini. He’s a good kid.

This video by The Holderness Family basically sums up our lives right now, and I couldn’t agree more!!!!!!!!!

Side note—Since my last post, we got a dog! Say “hello” to Noodle the Mutt—she’s about 5 months old, and she & Jericho are still getting used to each other, so that comes with its own set of challenges. I never wanted a small dog, and David never wanted a rescue or a mutt….Noodle happily meets all three of those “nevers” and we couldn’t love her more.

“Nothing Breaks Like A Heart…AKA, “[Don’t] Take Another Little Piece of My Heart Now Baby”

Waaaaaay back when I was born, my mother was told that I had a slight heart murmur that I would most likely grow out of. I did.

In college, too much stress + bad food choices + lack of sleep + tooooooo much caffeine = Cardiac Arrhythmia, which eventually resolved. Everything was juuuuuust fine….

Until it wasn’t.

In 2006, I became pregnant with my first child. As a first-time mom, my complaints of, “Hey, I really can’t breathe too well,” and “Um, Doc? I can’t get enough breath support to sing,” were written off as new-mom, “well, what do you expect? You have a human pressing on your diaphragm,” rhetoric and explained away (I’m just a woman, Mr. Doctor. What do I know?).

2 months before I was due, I started seeing double, having migraines, and throwing up. Basic science diagnosed me with severe preeclampsia, and do you know what the “cure” for preeclampsia is? Delivery. So, my daughter was delivered 6 weeks early, and I was “gonna be just fine, ma’am,” said Mr. Third-Generation-I-Know-Everything OB-GYN….

Until it wasn’t.

2 days after I delivered, I couldn’t breathe…coughing and choking on top of a C-section incision is no fun. My sister ran for help, my mother prayed in tongues at the top of her lungs, and the nurses (who were in the middle of changing shifts, as of course, I have fantastic timing) & doctors realized I was in severe congestive heart failure. Over 20 pounds of fluid were drained out of my heart and lungs in the next 24 hours, and I went in for the fight of-and-for my life….while also trying to be a new mom to a premature infant.

Peripartum cardiomyopathy with congestive heart failure and pulmonary hypertension became the noose of a diagnosis that hung around my neck for the next 6 years as I went from specialist-to-specialist, trying to find a cardiologist that would both “fix” me, and would work with me as I wanted to try to have another child.

Once the heart has been blown up in CHF (my left ventricle was three times the size of the rest of my heart. I like to call it, “Grinch Syndrome.”), it tends to sort of hang around like a balloon that’s been overstretched. It’s kinda gross, if you think about it. My heart was literally broken in every possible way….by my body, by grief, by everything.

Image result for grinch's small heart grew

So, I had a few years of echocardiograms, medications, etc., until I found a doctor at Missouri Baptist that ordered more tests and found that my heart issues, outside of blood pressure, had miraculously resolved. I didn’t have any of the long-term problems they expected me to have, and we went on to have Jericho with the help of infectious disease specialists, cardiologists, perinatologists, and a whoooooole lotta grace from God….but it wasn’t without consequences.

As expected, even with a strict regiment of really miserable medications, I went into heart failure towards the end of my pregnancy with Jericho, and was rewarded with a lengthy hospital stay. After delivery, and after promising to never try to have any other children, I have a continued medication regiment that I’ve stayed on, and will be on for the rest of my life. I have my son; I have ZERO regrets.

The meds work great! Most of them are the same ones I’ve been on since 2006, with very few side effects, and with positive results. My CHF numbers stay low (the key number is the ejection fraction for the left ventricle. I’ve been under 10% before. My current numbers are around 40-50%, which is almost normal). My weight has been a challenge (particularly in the post-thyroid world), but has stayed in the same general area since my first pregnancy (give or take 40#. I gain, I lose, I gain, etc.), and my blood pressure stays under control with medication…it’s all working, which is crucial.

SO, why am I telling this story? Why does it matter? It matters, because YOU matter. 1 in 3 women in America are dealing with some sort of heart disease–that’s more than all other cancers, combined: https://www.goredforwomen.org/en/about-heart-disease-in-women

Per the Go Red for Women campaign, “80 percent of cardiac and stroke events may be prevented with education and action.” That’s what we can do. That’s what I can do–I can share my story, and maybe help others to become aware of the resources, the signs and symptoms, and the protocols that can help them understand heart disease more clearly. Knowing is the first step of prevention, right?

Today, my heart is functioning pretty darn well. In fact, I really don’t think about it very often, which is awesome when you consider that at one point, it was ALL I thought about…I couldn’t go up the stairs in my own home without feeling like I was going to pass out! I don’t have any limitations from cardiac issues, and I don’t worry about it…but I AM very conscious of it, and of paying attention to it when something seems “off.” I had some episodes last year of almost passing out. I wanted to ignore them, but I know better, so I called my cardiologist. Turns out, my blood pressure medication needed a simple adjustment….it was nothing complicated, and a simple phone call, and listening to my body, made all of the difference.

Take care of your heart, people. It really is the engine that drives you…and we all know that if the engine is broken, you’re not going anywhere. Love your heart….Live Fierce…and Go Red for Women!!!

Insomnia…

I know a lot—too many—people who really struggle with sleep. I’m one of them. For me, it’s a combination of general anxiety, stress, and chemical imbalances related to either diabetes or my thyroid issues (I don’t have a thyroid, if you’re not up-to-date. I take thyroid replacement hormones. That’s an uphill battle that’s an entirely different blog…I may write it someday, but as I’m still too frustrated with the process, I’ll spare you the details). I realize that some people are like, “YEAH, BRUH, I’LL SLEEP WHEN I’M DEAD, YO!!!!” That’s not me. I have issues with sleeping, and I’ve recently come into a few things that seem to be helping, so I’ll share:

  1. Everyone that I know is quick to say that prayer is the best way to get to sleep. This doesn’t always work with me, as I find myself on mental rabbit trails that are anything but peaceful. However, it’s worth a try, as God loves us and is always ready to hear us out. Also, I do find that I fall asleep faster when I’m intentionally trying to draw nearer to God in prayer, LOL—of course.
  2. Get off of the electronics. I struggle with wanting to reach for my phone when I’m trying to fall asleep, but YOU HAVE TO UNPLUG YOUR BRAIN. Some experts say that getting off of electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bed. I wish my alarm clock wasn’t ON my phone, but it is—maybe keeping it in a different room would help (but oh, the anxiety while getting used to it!!!).
  3. Storytime!!!  I’ve recently discovered that even as an adult, I love storytime before bed. I read to my kiddo on the weekends, or we listen to an audiobook (Tim Curry’s narration of the Lemony Snicket books is AMAZING!!!!!! I just borrowed it from my library and had no idea Tim Curry would be the narrator. He’s perfect!); you can check these out from your library, or you can download them from the Libby, the Library App. I have always used Libby for my reading, but when I realized I could also use it for audiobooks, I was so excited!!!  I very rarely purchase books or audiobooks anymore; however, I recently discovered a podcast called, “Nothing Much Happens,” by Kathryn Nicolai. When I realized she’d compiled a bunch of these stories into a book/audiobook (with no commercials—commercials will jerk me out of a solid sleep like nobody’s business), I redeemed all of my Google Play points and I got the audiobook. Her stories are simple, descriptive, and sooooooooooo dreamy, and her voice is like butter. I’ll set the timer to 30 minutes, and I’m out like a light!!! 
  4. Music: Finding the perfect music for sleeping is DIFFICULT. For me, it can’t be piano, birds, or anything that’s high-pitched; I prefer delta-wave sounds or Deep Sleep Music.  I don’t want any chanting or weird psychic new-agey stuff; I’ve been tempted by guided meditations, but spiritually, it just feels “EW,” so I stay away from that kind of thing. I also really like basic rain sounds.
  5. Not bothering your Significant Other: Waking up your spouse with your sleeping “stuff” defeats the purpose of a “peaceful sleep.” I found these nifty headphones that are an eyemask (this is an essential piece of my sleeping habits—now my son wears one, which is hilarious), and they Bluetooth to my phone (I found mine much cheaper on Mercari). This means that my audiobook and/or sleep music is set to a volume that I like, and the lights in the bedroom can stay on so that David doesn’t trip over anything when he comes to bed (he goes to bed at least an hour after I do, since he gets up 2 hours after I do). Sleep masks may help your body’s natural production of melatonin–more on that, below.
  6. Have a schedule. This is SUPER hard to do if your spouse isn’t supportive. Mine has figured out that I’m more of a nightmare without sleep than he can handle, so he’s been on-board with helping me get this figured out for a while. I have to have 8 hours of sleep each night. This may sound like a luxury to some people (I don’t understand you 5-hours-of-sleep/night people!), but it’s an absolute necessity for me, particularly since losing my thyroid. Sleep > Almost Everything Else. I literally can’t function without enough sleep, so I keep a pretty set schedule throughout the work week. I think this was easier when my son & I went to bed at the same time, but now that he’s going to bed later than I am, it’s more of a challenge for David (who is AWESOME). So, build a schedule, and make sure your spouse is on board with it and is understanding.
  7. Aromatherapy: I like lavender, geranium, etc. in my diffuser. Diffusers don’t have to be super-expensive, and essential oils don’t need to break your bank (I’ve linked my favorite EO company–it’s NOT an MLM, rest assured). You can also use roll-on oils on pulse points (I like the ones from Ruministics), or sleep blends for either direct use (make sure you don’t need a carrier oil) or for diffusing.
  8. Planning ahead: This goes with #6, and is very important in helping to unload your brain at bedtime. If you take just a few minutes to plan ahead, you can help your morning to go so much better, and avoid unnecessary stress at night. Common sense, right? It’s surprising how many people go to bed having done nothing to plan for the next day, and then wonder why their mornings are so dreaded (adding to the stress of going to sleep)! I have a few hacks that make this go easier for all of us, particularly as David gets Jericho ready for school in the morning, and I need to keep things as simple as possible to make their mornings work, too:
    1. I plan my work clothes out for the week on Sundays. I know this is really Type-A, but I don’t want to wake my husband up when I get up at 4am with a bunch of drawers and closet doors opening and closing. I need to get up and get out, so planning is a must.
    1. Stay organized. Sometimes, I change my mind from what I’ve planned for the week. My closet is very organized so that I know where things are, and I minimize the amount of time I spend searching.
    1. Lunch plans: I try to grab my pre-packaged stuff and take it to the office on Mondays (yogurt, oatmeal packets, etc). For Jericho, I use a Shoe Organizer in the laundry room, and I fill it in advance with a juice box, a snack, a dessert, chips, etc., so that each day all he needs is the fresh stuff—a sandwich, fruit/veggies, etc.) It cuts the amount of time to prep lunches in half.
    1. Clothes packets!  For Jericho, I bundle a shirt and pants (or hoodie, t-shirt, and pants) together into his drawer. He grabs a packet, gets dressed, and life is EASY. I think everyone in the house sleeps better when they know they’re ready for the next day.
  9. Journaling: Some people swear by this. I can see how unloading your brain each night would be helpful….This does not work for me, because I can’t seem to get consistent at it. It’s a work in progress. Land of My Sojourn on Etsy makes BEAUTIFUL journals that just might help even me get consistent in journaling!
  10. Get Medical Help: If you have prolonged insomnia, get help. It could be anxiety; it could be hormonal. It could be psychiatric or a physical imbalance, or even a neurological disorder. It could be spiritual; it could be ALL of the above (which is what I run into). You can do all of the things that you can do on your own, but it’s not always enough. The stigma of taking medication for chemical/mental/hormonal issues has got to go—people die every day because they don’t take unseen illnesses more seriously. You’re worth it. You have a few options to think about:
    • Melatonin: This is considered a “natural” solution to support sleep, and is available over the counter. I hear people talk about giving it to their kids all the time; please don’t do that without talking to their pediatrician, as it’s been linked to causing seizures in children (even those without a history of seizures). I’ve tried sublingual (under the tongue) melatonin and a melatonin capsule; someone recently told me you could do both, but that seems a bit extreme. Melatonin is a hormone that your brain produces in response to darkness (a sleep mask may help you more than you think!) and is meant to be taken as a short-term solution. I’ve probably been on it far too long. Synthetically produced supplements are cheaper than the naturally-produced ones; I’ve heard from many people in alternative healthcare that synthetic melatonin can cause crazy dreams and nightmares, so be careful! Synthetic supplements tend to be “all filler, no killer,” so if you have access to whole plant-based supplements, use them (check with your chiropractor, if you’re looking into it. Side-note: Chiropractic adjustments are a GODSEND for insomnia. Your spine houses your spinal cord, which is part of your nervous system. When your spine gets out of line, it has a huge impact on how your body switches from sympathetic to parasympathetic dominance. Do some research–it’s massively important to your overall mental function & ability to actually, physically RELAX. ).
    • Medications: There’s a ton of them, and I’ve tried a few. Ambien and other medications like it are, in my experience, too dangerous to be on the market. I’ll have to tell you the story about Ambien shopping sometimes—we had a good laugh, but it was very scary in retrospect. I’ve learned that medical doctors will sometimes prescribe medications for insomnia without regard to the psychiatric side effects. I recently spoke to a psychiatrist about a medication that my MD had prescribed, and she said it was far too strong. Her recommendation was a much lighter, non-habit forming medication that is doing a tremendous job! If you don’t need to “bring out the big guns,” don’t do it. Ask your doctor to start you out with the smallest dosage of a non-habit forming medication.
    • Sleep apnea: Sleep apnea is a HUGE issue that has a lot of preconceived notions. Nope—fat people aren’t the only ones who struggle with sleep apnea. I learned that it’s almost always a spouse that finally convinces a patient to get tested for sleep apnea or other sleeping issues. People with sleep apnea STOP breathing. I had a patient once who had a stroke in the middle of the night from untreated sleep apnea, and almost died; it was at that point that I basically forced my husband to get help. Shortly after David got a CPAP machine, I found out that the tumor in my throat had basically caused my windpipe to become deformed and my airway was limited. I had to get a CPAP, too, and boy-oh-boy, aren’t we attractive?!?! But you know what’s sexy? A GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP, so I’ll take it. CPAP machines have come a long way, as have the masks that go with them. I wear a full-face mask; David wears one that only covers his nose. There are a TON of options to make you feel comfortable!!!! And being alive is always cool. 🙂 Sleep apnea is first determined by a sleep study, which is a pretty simple process that involves a few different methods of diagnostic testing. There’s a take-home sleep study that your doctor (PCP) or specialist (pulmonologist) can order; there’s also an in-office overnight sleep study they can order. It’s painless, and well worth it!

If you’re not sleeping at night, please consider some of the options I’ve listed. Sleep is so important! You and your family are worth you at your best, and we can’t be at our best if we can’t get some rest (hey, I’m a poet!). I’ve listed a few ideas that can help (NONE of these can be considered as medical advice, as I’m not a doctor and I’m not pretending to be one), and you may have read about even more (like, get a better mattress!!!). Take the time to figure out what’s blocking you from a good night’s sleep, and get a breakthrough!

Or, if you’re really tired, just re-read this blog. It’s long enough that it should knock you out in no time. 🙂

Sweet dreams, y’all….

Saying Goodbye to Santa…

I always knew this day would come, but I thought it would be more like, 9 or 10.

I knew that even barely introducing the concept of Santa Claus would have its consequences, but at some point I decided that cuteness and imagination outweighed whatever those would be….and now it’s time to pay the piper. My son has announced that “Santa isn’t real.”

Telling Kids the Truth About Santa | POPSUGAR Family
This might be the most fearsome Santa I have ever seen. Get this guy outta here!

Now, I have never confirmed or denied this fact. I’ve simply given him a response that is inspired by my life mentor, C. S. Lewis: “Is that a gamble you want to take?” This is loosely based on C.S. Lewis’ Trilemma, of whether or not you want to live your life in such a way that believes Jesus was real, or that He was a madman….It’s a pretty big gamble, and it makes perfect sense to me to utilize this logic when it came to the possibilities of Saint Nick, who is, as we know, based on a true story. But I digress…

The facts are the facts, and now my son is calling me on my bluff. In the interest of never again undermining my parental truths, this is the year that we metaphorically end Santa in our household…but how to do it in a way that spares imagination? In a way that keeps Christmas full of childlike wonder? IN A WAY THAT GETS ME MY GOSH-DARNED PICTURES AT CABELAS OR BASS PRO EVERY FLIPPING YEAR FOR THE SAKE OF CONTINUITY!!!! IT’S FOR POSTERITY, PEOPLE!!!!!!!!!!!! Ahem….

So, this year, I have a plan….Okay, it’s not much of a plan, but I thought I’d share it with you. Here goes:

  1. Jericho has only ever received 1-3 gifts from Santa. I think that’s only fair, since we work our butts off and deserve most of the credit. He’s not used to getting giant gifts from Mr. Claus, because Mr. Claus didn’t slave over an overflowing desk for the previous 11 months.
  2. Jericho has gotten a letter from Santa several times, including one which contained a gift certificate to Goodwill. Yep–at that point, Goodwill didn’t even MAKE gift certificates…but I know a fluffy lil’ elf who’s handy with clip art, thanks to years of yearbook editing.
  3. I got one gift for Jericho that’s earmarked from Santa, and it’s something he knows I would NEVER in a million years buy him. Really, I just did it to mess with him. I’ll pay for the therapy later.
  4. Finally, I wrote him the Last Letter from Santa that he will ever receive. I think I’m sending him out with a bang; I’m including it below. Feel free to borrow it if you need to.

Although I have a few regrets about introducing my kiddo to Santa in the first place, I don’t feel bad about how he’s ending. I think I have successfully brought the focus full circle, and that I’ve managed to write something that keeps the wonder and miracle of Christmas in a child’s reality, as opposed to something that’s magical and unattainable. Santa may not be real, but hope and joy are, when they are founded in the Reason for the Season.

It’s Jericho’s last Christmas with Santa, and it’s mostly sweet as opposed to bitter. He’s growing up…why does it happen so fast? I’m nostalgic, but I have so much hope for his beautiful future, and for the destiny God has for him. It’s an honor to get to watch this kiddo grow up.

Make beautiful Christmas memories, y’all. For those hearts that are hurting this season–and I know far, far too many–may His peace fall over your hearts and souls, and may His Love be the healing you need. Merry Christmas to all…..

Dear Jericho:

Merry Christmas!!!!! I see that you’re doing so well this year: You’re getting good grades, you’re learning about Jesus & the Bible, and you’re learning new things! You’re growing so much…you’re growing up, and that’s why I’m writing you this letter.

You see, when little boys and girls start growing up, certain things lose their “sparkle.” Stories about Santa Claus and reindeer are replaced with Mario and video games, and books about the North Pole are replaced with YouTube. It’s all part of getting older, and since I’m over a thousand years old (yes, over a thousand!!), I’ve watched generations of boys and girls grow up and move past believing in me.

And that’s okay.

You see, Christmas isn’t about me—it never was. In fact, all I do, and all any of my workers do (my workers—you know, the guys in the stores that dress like me, that Mom makes you take pictures with? Yeah, they work for me—but you’re right, they’re not me!) is to try and represent the truth of Christmas to a world that needs love and hope far more than it needs toys or games. When I lived in Europe (waaaaaay back in the day), I would see people in need and I would try to help them get food and shelter. Many people lived in poverty, and had no homes. I would try to get toys to the children, to bring joy to their lives, because many of them lived in sickness & in sadness. Jesus says that “the poor you will always have with you,” & it’s true. There are many, many poor & homeless people that live on this earth—even in Arnold or in Imperial!….And for every person that is poor or homeless in their body, thousands more are poor in spirit, living a life without Jesus in their hearts.

I know that you know “Santa Claus” as the TV and movies show him, is not real.  But the hope & joy that people feel when they see me is VERY real, & it’s a bright light to their soul that shines this season—almost like that beautiful Star of Bethlehem that shown over the stable where Jesus was born! THAT’s why we celebrate Christmas—not because of me, Santa Claus. We celebrate the Birth of the Baby that would save us from our sins, & Who would give us love, hope, & life forever. He’s a Reason to celebrate all year long!!!

So, you’re grown now…you’re 7, & you’re very, very smart. You’ve learned my secret…that no, I’m not real, but that I represent things that are very, very real: Hope, Joy, & Love. These are things that can only be found in Jesus, & I lived my life on earth in a way that celebrated Him to all of the people I knew.

Jericho, this will be my last letter to you, & my last present to you, so I decided to make it count…your mom might get mad at me over this, but she knows if she says too much about it, she’ll wake up with coal under her pillow!!! May your Christmas always be full of the hope, joy, and Love that comes from our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Always Your Friend,

Santa

Overflow…

After losing my Uncle Charlie last week, my Aunt Bonnie passed away this week. I wasn’t “close” to either of them, but they were still people in my circle, and still people that I knew and laughed with at family functions. I’m not going to be falsely dramatic and say that I’m devastated, etc., because it’s not true; however, any time you lose someone in your circle….someone you’re connected to, in any way…there’s a sadness and a sense of loss. Both my aunt and my uncle were on different sides of my family (my maternal uncle, and my biologically-paternal aunt). They both had wicked senses of humor (I still remember my Uncle Charlie making fun of my parents’ Christian bumper stickers on the “church van” one Christmas, LOL), and my Aunt Bonnie had a laugh you could hear 3 houses down. I think we may have had that in common. Family relationships can be complicated and tangled, and hard to explain–but they’re still family, regardless of whether you see them every few years, or every day.

My family, like many others (but few that I know of, directly) contains adopted family members, step-family members, biological family members, and a few people that we aren’t technically related to, but may as well be. We’re a mid-western melting pot. I remember being so sad about it when I was a kid; everyone in my tiny school had one mom, and one dad, and 2 sets of grandparents, and “normal.” What the heck is “normal,” now? I was sad because I was 7 or 8, and I didn’t understand what a blessing it was, to have so much variety in the definition of that word: “Family.”

“Family” means a lot of different things (and it sure as heck isn’t defined by blood, because that doesn’t BEGIN to make sense in many families). For me, it’s primarily that nuclear group that’s “in my bubble,” thanks to COVID: Mom, Dad, Sister, Husband, Son, Extra Parents. My in-laws, whom I haven’t seen since March because of COVID, are in that group, and I miss them. I miss all of them.

I think that missing friends and family magnifies any loss, even when you’re not that close to someone. This crazy COVID world has us all on edge, all isolated and spread apart, and all feeling the tinges of loneliness (for some, it’s much more than “tinges”). I had a moment yesterday where I was almost in tears, because I miss my friends; I miss spending my Friday afternoons having lunch with friends, getting things off of my chest and/or listening to them do the same.

I miss planning play dates with my kiddo (WHAT ARE WE GONNA DO OVER CHRISTMAS BREAK?!?!?!?!?!). I miss calling someone and saying, “Hey, can we come over?” (Let’s be truthful–I almost never call anyone and say, “hey, come over to my house!!” because I have no parking and I feel self-conscious about the mess of having 3 people crammed into a very small space. But if I COULD call someone and say, “Hey, wanna come over?” I’M AT THE POINT WHERE I WOULD.).

So, this is a short blog (for me). I’m sort of “in the mullygrubs,” as we say (but not at the point where I’m sobbing into my morning coffee. Maybe this blog is a way to get it out of my system before I get that far?). I know of a few people that are really struggling in this season–from loss, from the election issues, from winter blahs, whatever. This tends to be a season where many have a hard time finding their joy in a “normal year,” but this year? There are some dark struggles happening, and the spiritual/mental battles being waged are MAJOR. We’re a world in need of Hope, more than ever.

Writing is one of the ways that I refocus, and that’s what I’m doing here. Yes, you’re basically reading my personal therapy session and I have little-to-no concerns about oversharing–but you probably know that by now! 🙂 I choose Hope…I choose Joy. It doesn’t mean I’m not sad; it just means that I’m leaning on Jesus and pushing through….like a lot of people.

Please pray for Connie, Tammy, Travis, Tiffany, Alvin, Sabrina, Richard, Dena, & their families; they’re missing someone they loved so much, so close to Christmas. There are a lot of families really hurting right now, and all any of us can do, is pray. Don’t forget to reach out to your friends and family right now; stay safe, but stay sensitive to those nudges from the Holy Spirit to not forget those that need to hear kindness and concern right now.

We’re gonna get thru this year, people. We’re allllllllmost there…. 🙂

The Beautiful Moments…

I think I reiterate this every year, but I. Love. Christmas!!!! I’ll spare you all of the things I love about it, but I think I love it more every year.

I really, really love Christmas songs–the Name of Jesus is proclaimed on virtually EVERY radio station, every TV station, all over Hulu, Netflix, Disney+, EVERYWHERE, and music is constant! Sad Christmas songs make me like, three times more emotional than any other sad song–can we NOT?!?! I like happy Christmas songs, and I’m not going to apologize for it. I usually start the Christmas music the day after Thanksgiving, but I started early this year because COVID is sucking my will to live. Thanksgiving bummed me out a bit, and I don’t know what our Christmas is going to look like this year (I miss my church homies, and I miss baking for them!), but in the meanwhile, there is-and-always-will-be, Christmas music.

Our church is meeting in home groups for the foreseeable future, and has for some time now. It’s taken some time to adjust to, but interestingly enough, we no longer meet on Sunday mornings (GASP! It almost feels blasphemous to say it out loud). Once a month, we meet corporately on Sunday afternoon (we livestreamed the last meeting, since we’re being uber-careful about ‘Rona), but weekly, we’re meeting on Friday nights (currently on Zoom, again, due to COVID). This means that Sundays are…wait for it…FREE. Wait, let me retype that as how I truly feel: FFFFFFFFRRRRREEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (said in my Adam Sandler/Bedtime Stories voice)

I’m usually doing laundry or stuff around the house, since it’s the only time I’m not cramming full of other household things. This week, though, outside of a 7:30pm meeting (again, Zoom), our whole day was blank like canvas. I slept in, we had soup, there were Wii games and yelling, and it was nice. “You’re rambling, Cass. Where does this tie into Christmas?!?” you ask…

I found a YouTube Channel that plays Christmas music on a livestream. To my surprise, it’s pretty good!

The scene above was on our TV in the living room. If you look at it full-screen, you’ll see the details, down to the little dog parked down by the threshold of the fireplace. This is such a cozy scene; it reminds me of my parents’ house, and their best friends’ house, and the house I imagine for myself when I can’t sleep at night (what, you don’t play Imaginary Decorator when you can’t sleep?), and interestingly enough, it matches my Christmas decor.

David & Jericho were in the kitchen building a Christmas present for “someone,” and I was listening to their conversation…I was sitting on the couch, reading a book (!). None of us were out of our pajamas, and the Christmas music was playing in the background. I was suddenly struck by the beauty of this simple moment. I had such a breath of gratitude in my spirit.

I can remember being in a friend’s house and seeing their family together…the dad and one of the daughters was singing in the kitchen, working on dinner, while the mom and the other daughters & their husbands were milling about, talking about various subjects. Grandkids were running up-&-down the stairs in their beautiful home, and I had a moment of awe that was spiked with a bit of jealousy. This was AMAZING! Like, this is the kind of scene that TV tells us is normal, but that life says is anything but! I felt like I was on a 90’s TGIF sitcom, in one of those sappy “aw-shucks-hug-the-dog” moments. What was this?!?!?

I can remember being in the kitchen in the house that I grew up in, and I don’t remember what we were doing, but my mom, my sister, & I were all singing Gatlin Brothers’ songs. That’s one of those moments where everything was happy, and harmonious (literally–my mom’s a killer harmony singer), & I remember breathing it in and sealing it in my brain (BTW, click the link to hear the GBs if you’ve never heard of them). They’re still awesome).

The moments we get to stop and build a metaphorical monument in our brains–where we take a bit to breathe in what we’re seeing and feeling, and we seal that memory–are so precious. I have a ton of amazing memories of life in general, but especially at Christmas. I’m learning that no matter what gift you have for someone, you can’t force those moments. Those moments happen by the grace & love of Jesus–those moments are in & of themselves, like spontaneous worship. Those moments hit us in our spirit–they catch our attention and remind us to stop and to thank God for the life that He’s given us. They’re completely genuine, without pretense; they probably happen far more often than we know, because we’re so busy. Having that blank Sunday to rest and stop allowed me to remember what I was surrounded with, and to be so, so thankful.

Maybe that’s a blessing in all of this COVID garbage–maybe it’s giving us time to stop and think, to stop and appreciate who we have and what moments we’re surrounded by.

I’m so thankful for the Beautiful Moments…I know this little blog doesn’t go very far, but one thing it does do is serve as a marker for the memories I want to keep. I want to remember seeing the Christmas lights, the sappy scene on the TV, the silly pajamas and the paint on the kitchen table. I want to remember a lazy Sunday full of cozy blankets and soup, & a good book.

I want to remember that feeling of gratitude, and to go back to it on the days where I’ve lost my focus and have let the Hamster Wheel of Life detour my emotions. I want to hold onto the Beautiful Moments, and to pay attention so that when they come along, I’m ready to take that deep breath and to seal it in, to give thanks to God for making it all possible.

May this Christmas be a time of Beautiful Moments for you and all of your family…if I don’t see you until the New Year, may your 2021 be (and this is where I don’t say, “less of a dumpster fire than 2020”) a year that brings you closer to God, and closer to each other. Peace and Love to you and yours!

This is a small collection of the COVID photo shoots….the picture in the bottom center is the only one taken by a professional. We literally shot the rest ourselves with cell phones because we couldn’t be bothered with real equipment…which we have…but 2020. Also, based on these pictures, which were taken 3 completely different times, I am dubbing 2020 the “Year of Denim,” because I evidently couldn’t get away from some incarnation of a denim shirt in Every. Single. Picture. 🙂 Photos taken at Strawberry Nature Reserve and at Bee Tree Park, by David Cooley and Emmybee Photography