“People have an expiration date – we just don’t know when it is.”

“People have an expiration date – we just don’t know when it is.”

I have been thinking about this line since I read it yesterday. It’s undeniably true, yet most of us like to ignore it and not think about it. I have always found it a bit odd that in medical reports it is quite common for the doctor to dictate that the patient “expired” at such and such a time. That is always what it made me think of, they expired, ran out of time, reached their “good by” (or goodbye) date.

Except with people, there is no sniffing the milk and figuring it’s still good for another day or two, or knowing that the expiration date is a “suggested” use by date. Food doesn’t go bad when the clock turns midnight on its expiration date. People, however, have no extra seconds past their expiration time. When it comes, it comes, and that’s that. No extensions.

I wonder if we knew people’s expiration dates if we would treat them better, love on them more, reach out more often. I wonder if we would take the time to tell them we love them, to make absolutely certain that they know what they mean to us. Memories are great and all, and a wonderful thing to share with others, with our children, to keep that person alive for them, as well as for us. But memories don’t do the person themselves one bit of good when they aren’t here to relive them and relish them with us.

Don’t wait until someone’s past their expiration date to tell them how you feel about them. You never know when that will be. It could be decades from now or 5 minutes from now. They could feel a bit under the weather, have a test, get a diagnosis, and be gone in a month, or in a heartbeat, all while you were making plans that included them for a year from now. Trust me, I know.

Tomorrow is never promised. There is only now, today, this moment.

Don’t waste it.

I try to always let people know how I feel about them, because I have learned from experience that you never know when the last thing you said to them will truly be the last thing you ever say to them. If I achieve nothing else in this life, I hope at the very least that every person I care about knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that I truly do care about them, what they mean to me, how very much I love them. I think that’s why it bothers me so terribly when people have shut me out, because I have no opportunity to tell them what’s in my heart, and I can only ever wonder what’s in theirs.

I hope that whenever my expiration date comes, be it today, tomorrow, or 30 years from now, I will leave no one wondering what I thought of them and especially how I felt about them. I hope the one thing they can be absolutely certain of when it comes to me is that

they. were. loved.

And I hope that knowledge stays with them, deep in their being, embedded in their bones. Always.

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Excerpt from an article I just read on idealists:

“You have more thoughts before 9 AM than most people have in a day.

Because your mind is the internal equivalent of the Civil War.”

Because your mind is the internal equivalent of the Civil War.

Man, what an apt description.

Did I offer peace today?

‘Did I offer peace today? Did I bring a smile to someone’s face? Did I say words of healing? Did I let go of my anger and resentment? Did I forgive? Did I love?’ These are the real questions. I must trust that the little bit of love that I sow now will be many fruits, here in this world and the life to come. ~Henri Nouwen

These are questions I try to ask myself frequently, if not nightly and, if I can’t say yes, I vow to do better the next day.

Mother’s Day

Melancholy rolled over me yesterday for a few different reasons and while I largely tried to ignore it, I couldn’t shake it off either.

Mother’s Day is always a mixed bag for me. I try to focus on my kids and the moment and just enjoy them, but I feel my own mom’s absence even more acutely on this day because reminders are everywhere and inescapable. And then I get texts in the middle of church from my sis about how she is struggling today too and I’m the only one who understands, and it becomes exceedingly difficult to not get teary myself, both because I know she’s feeling sad and the reason why, and she’s too far away to actually see and hug today. I feel guilty sometimes that I cannot fully embrace the day and just enjoy it with my kids, and selfish that a large part of me would like to skip it completely.

So when today dawned gray, foggy, and rainy, I didn’t mind.

I enjoy posts and pics about people and their moms, but seeing them also makes me achy, so I only peek at the internet here and there or mostly stay away. People have every right to enjoy time with their moms and I wholeheartedly encourage anyone who has that privilege not to waste it, it is a thing to be treasured and cherished. Admittedly, seeing the pics, sometimes I have all the envy, but I am also happy for those people.

They passed out tulips to all the ladies at church today, and that was a thoughtful thing to do. I appreciated it.

The pastor talked about handwritten letters and how they’ve really become a lost art, and then he read a story about a woman who wrote letters, many, many letters. She had told one of her children that she had always wanted to write a novel, and they asked why she hadn’t. Her response was something about her purpose in life being to write letters and that she believed that the act of writing them could somehow connect the person to her words and they would feel them, even if the letters never actually reached them, that letters connect us to each other.

I love that thought. I love the idea that writing words about and to someone could affect them in a positive way even if the actual paper they’re written on never reaches them, and how much more powerful it must then be when they hold the missive in their hands and see the words meant for them. I have always thought of writing letters as sending a little love out into the world, maybe a little light, but this story transcended that and took the thought to a whole new level.

Earlier this week I decided to commit to writing letters again since it’d been awhile, so the timing of this felt a bit like affirmation. Going with that woman’s line of thought, that the words affect people even if they never read them, I may have to write some letters to send some love and good thoughts outward, even though I can’t mail them, in hopes that they will reach those people.

That lady may have been onto something. The notes I have from my parents in their handwriting, and especially letters from my mom, are very powerful ties to them for me. I read her words and in my head I can almost hear her voice again, her inflections, her laugh, and most of all, the love. For a brief flash, I can almost feel her presence again, enough that reading one moves me to tears every single time I see her handwriting and read her thoughts. Most of them are just simple glimpses of a few minutes of her day or week, but I absolutely cherish them.

I needed a bit of her with me today, so I wore this.

My mom apparently had a charm bracelet with four charms on it, one with the name and birthdate of each of her four children. The Christmas following her death, one of my brothers surprised us by giving my sister and me each a bracelet and my brother a keychain holding our individual charm. It has been one of my favorite pieces of jewelry since.

Judging by the scratches and somewhat worn look to the charms, I’d guess she wore the bracelet quite a bit at some point. I know some people might get the scratches polished off and make it smooth and shiny again, but those scratches mean she wore it, that it was next to her skin, and that it got dinged during her movements. To me, those scratches represent life, her life, and this simple little bracelet is one of my favorite pieces of jewelry.

I’m not really sad, but my heart is a bit achy. I’m enjoying the day and trying to relax. I decided to come home and put on some of my favorite soft clothes with a touch of black lace (I am a huge fan of black lace) and now that it’s quiet, I’m about to curl up with a cup of tea in my mom’s teacup (Mom loved her tea) and a book I’ve put off reading because even though I know it’s really good, when I started it months ago, I was in tears before page 3, so tremendous was my empathy for the protagonist, and I put it back down because I didn’t want to be weepy. Today seems like a good day to pick it up again and dive in, because I feel a little weepy. I think I kind of need to cry a little.

And that’s not a bad thing, or even a sad thing, not really. It’s actually a joyous thing, because I was so blessed, so fortunate to have once been so loved that the loss of that love and that understanding has echoed through 19 years and is felt every bit as strongly today as it was then.

So today I’m a little teary. And grateful for it.

But my kids make me smile.

Surrounded by Beauty

Lake Michigan

There is so much beauty in this world. Out your window, in the person next to you or the one you pass on the street, sometimes in the cracks in the sidewalk or the most unexpected places. Sometimes in some of the sounds we tune out. Pause for a minute and look for it. Listen. Seek it out. Find the beauty in your days, large and small. Take a moment. Breathe it in. It helps restore your spirit. It lets your soul breathe. Sometimes it’s subtle and you have to really look for it, but if you seek it, you will find it. You’re surrounded by beauty in so many forms. Don’t miss it!

“Holes Can Still Ache Even When We’re Whole Again”

I was sort of half writing a post in my head/half thinking to myself this morning, as so many things were rolling around in my sleep-deprived brain. Thoughts of maybe I don’t belong/fit some places anymore and that I probably never really did, the people I would hope to stay in touch with, the ones who likely would never notice if I were gone, the reasons why I came, the reasons why I should leave, and just how hard would it be for me to walk away, or maybe it’s just because it’s February and February always seems so hard for me and I’m thinking too much (who, me?!) and next month maybe I’ll feel differently, all mixed in with a conglomeration of thoughts and, of course, feelings.

And then I came across the above statement in a blog article I was reading and there was that moment of YES, someone summed it all up in one short sentence. That statement encapsulates so well what I’ve been feeling, on so many fronts.

I guess the even shorter version is:  I miss people.

There are too many painful holes in me where people are missing. Most days they’re a dull ache I learned to live with long ago, but there will always be some days they throb and stab and that’s just something I’ve come to accept. Then there are other holes that I just want that ache to go away. I don’t want to think about it or feel it anymore.

The only thing I am certain of is that those holes are so deep and so painful because my love for those people was so deep, so profound, and they were so very important to me. So I guess having the ability to love deeply means the flip side is feeling pain and loss so deeply.

I can try to reframe that into I feel pain and loss so intensely because I am capable of loving so intensely and caring so very deeply for people, and try to view that as a positive.

But there are days it’s hard to see that as a positive, when those soul holes ache so badly for people who were an integral part of my life, who were family either by birth or by choice, grafted into my soul as a permanent part of me.

Their absences are like emotional phantom limbs that some days I still reflexively think will be there, reach out to where they should be, and feel utterly lost at the emptiness I find instead.

Soulholes can still ache even when we’re whole again.

Letter to My 10-Years-Ago Self, an excerpt: Things I’ve Learned

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[I am participating in a 30-day writing boot camp (and pretty jazzed about it). Our first assignment was to write a letter to our 10-years-ago self, and then finish it up with some life lessons learned. Turns out I had a LOT to say to my 10-years-ago self, mostly quite personal (it’s been an eventful and at times very difficult decade). I surprised myself by writing for a solid 90 minutes and roughly 2600 words. Beats staring at a blank page with writer’s block. Anyway. Here’s the excerpt of the things I told my 10-years-ago self that I have learned in life thus far, including the last 10 years.]

1. Middle-age isn’t nearly as “old” or as bad as people make it out to be. You will really not mind being here. You are much more comfortable in your own skin. You worry far less about what you look like or whether people like you. You are much more comfortable with an attitude of “This is me and I make no apologies for being me.” This especially holds true in regard to your being sensitive and deeply feeling, so very high in empathy. You no longer care if people think you’re “weird” in your depth of feeling or the way you think, or look at you like you’re from another planet. This is very freeing. You now think, “Love me or leave me, this is me.” It has taken you a very long time to fully embrace who/how you are. It’s about dang time.

2. One of the biggest lessons of the decade – and most difficult: You need to stop giving your precious time to people who don’t have time for you (we’re still working on this one – Self, we’re bad at this).

AND

3. Other people’s behavior is not a reflection of you. The fact that some people don’t value you does not mean you don’t have value and worth. Your worth comes from within, not from without. You cannot let people mess with your head and your heart in that regard the way you have in the past. (Self – Be patient with yourself. We have to undo years – nay, decades – of negative reinforcement in this area.)

4. One of THE most difficult things to do is to trust again after being devastated, to be vulnerable again after having been deeply wounded, to reach out again after being rejected. Do it anyway, no matter how terrifying it is; BUT be discerning. Choose wisely. Even then, you can (and will) get kicked in the teeth on occasion. You WILL get hurt. But being vulnerable is how you reach people. It’s how you connect and encourage. It’s who you are and when you close yourself off, you’re not being true to your authentic self. You’re being just a mere shadow of yourself and it just feels wrong. I know this is really tough for you, that it would be so easy to close off and become cynical, and honestly, it will hurt like hell sometimes, but fight that and stay open. Believe me, I know how very hard that is to do, how very scary it is to risk all that hurt yet again, but I have to believe some people really are worth the risk.

5. People will disappoint you. Even if you have very few expectations or none at all, people will still disappoint you. We are all human and flawed. It will happen. It’s how they behave next that matters. COMMUNICATE. Always listen and work toward understanding why people do what they do. Be forgiving.

6. You will disappoint people. You are nowhere near perfect. You are very flawed. This does not make you disposable, not good enough, or unlovable. Own your mistakes. Apologize. Make it right if you can. Again, COMMUNICATE. The people who truly care will not leave you because you make mistakes. You are NOT your mistakes.

7. Your dark periods and tough times will show you who your true friends are. The people who draw near when you are at your lowest or most difficult and not great to be around – those are the people who truly care. They are there for you, not because they need or want something from you or because of what you can do for them, but because they care about you. Keep those people.

8. Everyone has hurts, struggles, insecurities. They are often not visible. Be compassionate. It is not difficult to be kind and give the benefit of the doubt. We don’t know what people are carrying, and we all carry something. Sometimes a word can be the straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back or a literal lifesaver. Being kind is always an option. It is a choice. Always choose to be kind.

9. You will never not make a stupid face in photos except for that rare selfie (and you know how hard that is!). Give it up and just laugh at all the many derp faces people capture of you and try not to avoid the camera like the plague. I know you HATE having your picture taken, but your kids will cherish those derp photos some day, so force yourself to be in more photos. You know how much Mom avoided the camera and as a result how few pics you have of your parents, especially Mom, and how much you cherish the few you do have. So do it for your kids so they’ll have those precious memories. (It’s not like they aren’t an accurate reflection of your true goofy self anyway.)

10. Laughter and a sense of humor are still – always – one of the most imperative necessities in life and one of the things that makes life worth living. Never lose your sense of humor. There are bad things coming and your sense of humor will help save your sanity.

11. Time is fleeting. It goes faster and faster. Focus on what matters most (people – it is always people.) Spend as much time as possible with your kids. You will blink and they will be graduating, engaged, starting lives of their own. You won’t believe how fast it goes. I still struggle with it some days.

12. Say I love you. Say it often. Tell people how you really feel about them. Never assume they know. You’ve always been aware of this and pretty good about it, but it bears repeating. We both know how life changes on a dime and people are just gone in literally a heartbeat. Make sure people know how you feel about them. It avoids regrets, yes, but even more importantly, they need to know. Don’t make people wonder where they stand with you or question if you even care. That’s an awful place for someone to be. (You know, you’ve been there.) Remove their doubts by telling them. Trust me, they need to hear it, even if you’ve told them before or 100 times before. It can make all the difference if you take the time to tell someone that they matter to you, that you care. Don’t take for granted that you can do it later. Sometimes now is all you have.

We have much, so much to learn, Self. I swear every year we realize more and more how little we know. Hang in there. Here’s to us both growing in wisdom and grace over the next 10 years and to making 10 years from now me/us proud of who we become.

Thankful Thursday

Today I am thankful for:

1. My pup, who is always by my side – literally – I have tripped over her multiple times today. Currently, she has her head on my lap, all sweet face and pretty eyes, patiently waiting for a Cheez-It.

2. Friends, old (ha) and not so old who make me smile and chuckle and are close in heart, no matter how far in miles.

3. Bacon.

4. Bones!

5. A kid with a sharp mind who likes to challenge me in games, especially word games, even if he starts SEVENTEEN games of the same game all at once and it takes me half an hour to catch up on all of them.

(Hug!)

Onward

December 31st is usually a time for reflection for me. I usually look back on the year with maybe a bit of frustration with myself, certainly a bit of melancholy for how quickly time passes, and always to find moments of joy for which to be grateful. Some years they are more difficult to find than others, but there is always something.

I had hopes for 2014, plans, serious expectations of myself, and none of it really came to fruition. I’ve decided that beating myself up further over my failures is pointless, and it would be wiser to redirect that energy into a renewed determination to do better in 2015.

The past 4 years have been very difficult in various ways. They have certainly been very rough emotionally. Stress has been a nearly constant companion far too often since early 2011; that was one of the few years I can ever remember being absolutely eager to bid goodbye and good riddance to and firmly turn my back upon. It didn’t really work though, as in some ways 2011 sort of slowly crept back in and then finally demanded that I feel and face the things I didn’t have the luxury of doing in the middle of it all in 2011, made more difficult by losing a major source of support and encouragement. Of course, 2014 presented its own challenges, as each new year does. All in all, it’s just been a rough couple of years and I am so very ready for a good year.

This next year will bring more changes that are inevitable and very good, but also cause those twinges of mixed feelings. Those I look forward to, even though my mind can scarcely comprehend how it is possible that time has passed so astonishingly quickly.

I have hopes for 2015. I hope to learn to teach my inner voice to encourage me rather than berate me, to build me up instead of tearing me down. I need that voice to believe in me. If I can just get that voice to start believing in me, I think there is much I might be able to do. I dream of touching lives, one at a time, with my words, with my writing, with a simple heartfelt hug, just to let one person know they matter.

I’ve decided not to set goals for the year, but rather for each month. I’m going to decide what I want to accomplish each month and challenge myself to follow through with those things for 30 days, then assess what I’ve accomplished, what I need/want to do next, and set the challenges for the next 30 days. A 12-month goal seems so daunting and like a huge unscalable mountain. I think I will accomplish much more if I attempt to climb small hills, one at a time, for 30 days. By the end of 2015, I hope to be able to look back and see more accomplishments than failures, to be less frustrated and disappointed in myself, and to hopefully have laughed at myself and experienced more joy along the way.

The last few years have definitely felt like they have taken more than they have given, and I’ve spent too much time stressed out and emotionally wrung out. I’m going to try to change that. I’m going to try very hard to focus on loving people as often as I can, when and where I can, and as hard as I can, and if they accept it, yay, and if they don’t, I’m going to love anyway and just try not to dwell on it. I’m going to try to teach myself to reject rejection and not internalize it, to just love and let go.

The years are flying and time feels ever more fleeting and infinitely more precious. I don’t want to waste it on negative feelings or thinking, and I’ve realized this past year that I need to value my own time more highly, as I do others’, and be more discerning where and how I spend it. I am trying to live with more intention, and it is my heart’s desire that the omphalos of that intention is always love.

Love comes in many forms, and even though you may be waiting on romantic love, if you have the love and loyalty of family – be it blood or chosen, a staunch pet, or a single unwavering and indefatigable friend, you are rich indeed in a way many are not.

As we leave this year behind, I want to say to anyone who has lost someone this year that I know how emotionally difficult the turning of the year can be. There are the mixed emotions of wanting to put some distance between you and the pain of loss, but there is also the gut-wrenching realization that this is the end of the last year, the last memories, you will ever have with that person, that they will have have no part in this new year, and that is really rough. I know there is nothing I can say or do to ease that, but please know that you will get through it, and to you I offer a hug of silent understanding.

For 2015, for all of you, as well as myself, my sincerest wishes are for hope that remains unshakeable, love that is steadfast, faith in yourself as well as someone who believes in you, and peace in your soul.

Happy New Year!

and the last ((hugs!!)) of 2014