Friday, November 25, 2016

On The Struggle to be More

Somewhere – floating around in this world – is a picture from my 11th birthday.
My friends and I were all crammed on the single set of monkey bars that were behind our row of townhouses. The paint was chipping off the red metal bar; the neighbors watched from their own adjoining backyards while we laughed. My Mom stood back in the grass under an overcast day while the ten of us scrambled to keep our gangly limbs from dropping to a tiny patch of concrete below.
Somewhere – floating around in this world – is a picture of a perfect moment. My perfect moment.
For as long as I can remember, there has been a tension inside of me between who I am and who I want to be. There has been a struggle, a battle, that I could never quite resolve. It was there when I was eleven years old and it was there for the twenty years that followed and it was there every day in between.
The struggle was there telling me that the person I was would never be as good as the person I wanted to be. The person I thought I should be.
I wanted to be popular. I wanted to be noticed. I wanted to be asked to prom. I wanted bigger boobs and I wanted smaller teeth. I wanted the boy that broke my heart to tell me he was sorry and I wanted the girl that tormented me to tell me she was wrong. I wanted long, luscious locks that didn’t have a mind of their own. I wanted to be a world-class athlete. I wanted to feel pretty. I wanted to be delicate and I wanted to wear pretty dresses. I wanted to eat chocolate without feeling guilty and I wanted to wear shorts without feeling ashamed. I wanted skin that didn’t have freckles and I wanted a laugh that was cute. I wanted to be able to sing and I wanted to soar. I wanted narrower hips and I wanted wider vocabulary. I wanted phone calls from friends and I wanted dates on Friday night.
I wanted to matter.
And I remember – during my 11th birthday – feeling that way for a little while. I remember it so very clearly. 
As friends joined to celebrate the day, as I ate cake with reckless abandon, as I thought about the year to come I forgot for a brief moment that any part of me was lacking.
Somewhere – floating around in this world – is a picture of me feeling that way.
This time of year always makes me feel nostalgic. A new year is just around the corner and for me, it has always felt like an opportunity for renewal. It is a time where I  hope for authenticity and a chance to try – one more time – at “getting it right”. My goal, as each year passed, was to lessen that gap between who I am and who I thought I needed be. I was convinced that the more “right” I became the less isolation I would feel.
If you had asked me – at this same time last year – if I still carried this desperation around with me. I would have said no. I would have told you that – with age – I had stopped even thinking about it and that I had indeed grown out of it. And honestly, I believed that to be true at the time.
But it’s been a tricky year for me. It’s been an even trickier last few months for me.
It’s been a year of letting people in and of letting people go. It’s been a year of feeling invisible yet being fully seen. It’s been a year of finding my own security and discovering other people’s lack of it. It’s been a year of healing old wounds and, of course, finding new cracks.
And all of it has made me realize that, perhaps, I wasn’t over it at all. I had simply found new measuring sticks with which to determine my worth; my skills as a parent, the words I wrote, the number of likes on Instagram, the number of Instagram followers I had.
Here's the thing…
They never added up. Which meant that – given the philosophy of life I had subjected myself to for so long – I never added up.
And it recently hit me. Like a bulldozer. Like ten thousand pounds of unbearable truth knocking the wind out of me all at once. And when a bulldozer hits you…the harsh reality is that you’re out of commission. You’re done. It’s over. There is nothing left to do but let yourself be crushed by what is real.

The reality is I'm just not one of the cool kids. I’m not a china doll that is easily dressed up and I’m not a handful of flawless features. But I am a great friend with age spots and ruthless hair. I am not the girl that all of the boys liked in school, but I am the girl that one boy loves for life. I am not an athlete that the world will remember but I am someone who one student will remember for changing their life. I’m not someone who pulls off red lipstick very well and sometimes my past hurts like hell. I don’t leave my impressions with my lips, I leave it with my heart and sometimes I leave it behind in pieces. I’m not the girl that stands out in a crowd for being pretty but I am the very definition of beauty for two little souls that see nothing but magic when I walk in a room. I’m not the girl with perfect legs but I am the girl who walks with purpose and love every single day. I’m not the girl with the most ‘likes’ or the most followers but I am the girl that will make you feel special and loved. I’m not necessarily the person that people notice but I am the person is on the right path.

As I enjoy these last few weeks before another year rolls around, the truth is, that all the things I've been struggling with won't be wrapped up with Christmas ornaments. I'm not sure I'll ever be done.  I'm determined to make things different - to be better - to be more. 
The biggest truth of all is that somewhere – floating around in this world – is a picture of me on my 11th birthday being the only thing I’ve ever needed to be

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

On "I'm Sorry" and Forgiveness

I don’t know why some people break the way that they do. I don’t know why some people come out of storms virtually unscathed, while others completely shatter. I just don’t know. But I do know this; regardless of what happens to us while we endure the whirlwind of pain that comes with letting go, the only way out of it is through this one word; forgiveness.

I know this because I’ve had to do it. I know this because I’m one of those people who shatter. I know this because I’ve sat there, aching, waiting for someone else to bring me the closure I thought I needed to move on. I know how much it hurts. I know what it’s like to want just one day without being drawn in by the pain. I know what it’s like to wonder why the rules didn’t apply to me.
But here’s the thing…
When the box you’re being handed stops being enough; when the apology stops being enough; when the final goodbye stops being enough, it means that the gaping hole inside of you is no longer about someone else. It means the sadness and the grief and the torment is no longer about losing them.
It means the person you really need to forgive is yourself.

I think throughout our lives, we form certain relationships with people – either through circumstance or through choice – that bring us face to face with the most insecure parts of ourselves. In that connection – for whatever reason – we see our own darkness, our own fears and our own unhealed wounds. I believe, when we are confronted with those people, we can unintentionally bring more than just ourselves into the relationship. We can bring the five year old in us that is desperately seeking our parent’s approval; we can bring the twelve year old in us that is being bullied at school; we can bring the twenty-one year old in us that he doesn’t love back.
We can bring our hurts with us. Hurts we didn’t even realize were still there.
When those already hurt parts of our selves end up wounded again, the closure isn’t in what they need to give us, but rather closure is in what WE need to let go of. You can wait for that person to set you free, hear you out, put up a fight for you, but that person didn’t chain you up in the first place.
That person can’t say, “I’m sorry that I didn’t tell you I was proud of you when you were a little girl…my parents never said it to me either”.  
That person can’t say, “I’m sorry I stopped being your friend and spread rumours about you when we were young…I was hurting and hurting you made me feel less alone”
That person can’t say, “I’m sorry I was too afraid to tell you how much I cared…my feelings were pretty scary for me”
But you can say those things.
You can stare that beautiful soul of yours in the eyes and say, “I’m sorry.”
“I’m sorry I ever let you believe that you weren’t good enough.”
“I’m sorry that other people took their pain out on you”
“I’m sorry I didn’t stop you from projecting your own hurts onto someone who couldn’t fix them”
“I’m sorry for letting you use a present relationship to try to heal an old wound”
“I’m sorry I never gave you permission to feel hurt when you needed to”
“I’m sorry for holding you hostage to a past that you couldn’t change”
And then you forgive yourself.
You can forgive yourself.
For everything you couldn’t do and everything you couldn’t be.
Because it’s okay. It’s okay to let people in and to be sad when they leave. It’s okay to have pains that instantly take our breath away and it’s okay for them to heal. It’s okay to accept an apology that you weren’t given and it’s okay to give yourself grace even if someone else doesn’t. It’s okay to make mistakes and it’s okay to wish you had done something differently. It’s okay to want closure and it’s okay to also be afraid of it.
But it’s not okay to keep holding onto a box filled with stuff that isn’t yours.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

On What You Can Learn in 16 Birthdays

It seems like just yesterday I was walking into the residence and spotted a very handsome guy across the hallway.  I remember telling my girlfriends that I thought he had one of the most beautiful smiles I’d ever seen. There was something about him that made me instantly know that he was destined for me.  We stuck like glue.  That was over 15 years ago when I met the love of my life.  I always thought it only happened in movies when people fall in love immediately and “just know” that they are going to spend the rest of their lives together.  Well, fortunately, it does happen in the real world and it happened to us.  I remember telling my mom, after dating for only a few days, about this amazing guy I had met and that I knew I was going to marry him some day!  Like she said, when you know, you know.  And I did!  So I want to write a letter and not just any letter.  A letter to my love on his birthday…


Where do I begin? Oh yes, happy birthday babe.  As I sit here and think back on the past fifteen years, I can’t help but smile with a faint tear in my eye.  We have had the most amazing journey so far.  We’ve had times where we can laugh until all hours of the night, cry on each others shoulders, and sit without saying anything at all.  I can’t imagine my life without you.  You are my rock.  You are my soul.  You are my strength when I am weak.  You are my encouragement.  You are my best friend.  You are my happiness.  You complete who I am and who I was meant to be.  You are always there for me when others aren’t.  You always tell me the truth even when it hurts.  You love my family as much as your own.  You can always make a bad day good with just a smile and a flash of those dimples.  You cherish your friendships and I love that.  You make the world a better place.

A girl asked me about our wedding the other day. She was young and excited and wanted to hear about all the pretty details.
“Wow”, she said. “That must have been the best day of your life”.
I smiled at her, in all of her youthful exuberance, and I agreed “it really was a great day…but there have been so many more since”.
“Wasn’t it the BEST, though?”, she persisted. She needed to hear it. The twenty-five-year-old standing in front of me needed confirmation that the wedding day she was so anxiously dreaming about was going to be the best day of her life.
And that’s okay, because, right now, she’s young and excited and has watched one too many romance movies. One day, she’ll understand.
She’ll understand how much more there is to look forward to. She’ll understand, if she’s as lucky as I am, that only after the dress has been worn; the flowers have died, and the food has been eaten that the real fun begins. She’ll understand that, while a wedding is great but a marriage is better.
When I woke up this morning, on your birthday…I wondered what I’ve learned about you in 16 of your birthdays celebrated together. The truth is…I know nothing about the fairy tale that girls dream about! The bigger truth is, I don’t need to know anything about it, because “we” aren’t a classic fairy tale. “We” aren’t this universal truth that applies to all. We are us. You and me. Our crazy lovely life. Our family. And that’s what I’ve learned 16 celebrations later…

Babe, it’s the way you run your fingers through my hair when I’m crying with my head on your chest. It’s the way you let me think that I’m hilarious. It’s the way we can spend hours and hours in a car together without killing each other. It’s the way we dance with our boys. It was the look in your eyes when you feel hurt. It’s the way you took care of me after we had our babies. It’s the way you tell Kingston how smart he is. It’s the way we get through life as if we are inextricably connected. It’s the way you think that 25 Facebook likes is just the beginning of what my writing will do one day. It’s the way you put your head on my lap when you are hurting. It’s the music we listen to as we drive. It’s the immense joy we found while binge watching Dexter. It’s the road to Patson court and Jack Astor’s and crooked cobblestone walkway to OUR first home. It’s our own backyard and starry nights in the hot tub. It’s my endless tears and your endless patience. It’s the way you kiss me goodbye each morning. It’s the way you let me embrace my insomnia. It’s the way you fold laundry. It’s the way you never complain when I spend too much money on coffee. It is a stocked wine shelf and morning coffee.  It’s watching the sunset over Three Mile Lake and your breath on the back of neck while we sleep. It’s the warning signals you give off when you’re hungry and the way you still love me even though I never put gas in the car. It’s the way you hold my hand when you’re driving and how nuts it drives you when I leave the car a mess. It’s doctor’s appointments and mortgage payments and first days of school. It’s embracing the big things and bickering over the little things.

One day that excited 25-year-old girl, if she’s as lucky as I am, she’ll understand…

She’ll understand that the best day of her life isn’t going to be her wedding day or the day she meets her Mr. Wonderful, it’s going to be all of the days after because then she’ll realize that her wedding day was only the beginning.
And as I woke today, 16 birthdays later, I did actually know one thing for sure about the man I married…
I’d choose you all over again.

Today, Tomorrow and Always,
Happy 35th Birthday, Handsome


Sunday, June 12, 2016

On Loving Your Village

I think sometimes we forget that life is not an island. We think that we live in these remote places of our mind, all alone; making new memories, healing past wounds and discovering a new self.
Yet we forget.

We forget that our decisions, actions, our immense pain... all ripple. Our experiences radiate out and extend to the people that care about us most; whether we want it to or not.

Sometimes things happen.  Sometimes life happens. Sometimes it happens in tiny little increments as the days and months pass.  Sometimes it happens all at two o'clock in the morning...while the rain pours down outside your bedroom window and you can barely keep your eyes open and stop the tears from soaking your pillow.

Either way, happens. And if you're lucky (really fucking lucky) you have a handful of people who will raise you up and meet you at the shore. They draw you out of your secluded mind and remind you that you aren't in it by yourself. They will sit next to you, listen to you and bring you out of isolation.

The last year has been challenging for me in a lot of ways. But if it has taught me anything, it's that I'm one of the lucky ones. From the unexpected phone calls; to the code red tea dates; to the text messages that made me laugh. It was a reminder that my struggle isn't an island either. It never was and it never will be. As I start to pick myself up off the rocks I can see the waters begin to calm and the tide begins to change... the ripples begin to calm.

I am beginning to see a familiar reflection staring back at me once again. The gratitude that is flowing from my soul is immeasurable.

Love your village hard, my friends, because of them, you will float instead of sink.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

On The Bullet-Loader

I stood out in a nearly empty parking lot today …just staring up at the sky.  A breeze blew across my face and tears rolled down my cheeks.

Something about this time of year makes me nostalgic.  This time of year makes me hurt deeper…feel heavier…ache longer.  As the snow melts away and the days get longer and the world prepares to rise again, I unknowingly find myself standing in my own deep winter; buried in memories of past grief and loss.

It made me think a lot about rejection; about conflicts gone unresolved; relationships broken apart; memories left tainted.

I don’t try to find myself here. It just happens.  As surely as the sun rises, the wind always makes its way back and carries a piece of me with it.

I remember enduring my first real heartbreak just after high school and feeling as though I would never be whole again.  As though the hurt would forever change who I was.  Of course – we bounce back.  I always bounce back.  The human spirit enables us to rise from the ashes and heal the broken pieces of ourselves.  We learn. We grow.  We start to become the person we were always meant to be.  But some days – some seasons – past hurts just rush forward again and I find myself struck by the undying ache that often comes with saying goodbye.

I don’t sit well through the discomfort of rejection.  I try to negotiate it. I try to romanticize it. I try to rationalize it.  But I don’t sit through it. Because it hurts.

Rejection brings to the surface some of my deepest and darkest insecurities.  It opens me up to some of the scariest things I’ve ever believed about myself.  It leads me down a rabbit hole that I’ve spent my entire life trying to climb out of.
I used to plead to {please deity name here} to take away my agony, my darkness, my deep wounds that never seemed to heal.  I used to plead to bring me validation from the person who hurt me so that I could move on with life feeling like I was “enough” again.  I just needed someone to tell me how to make things right again, so I could be free from the shame of having made it all wrong.

Because that’s what rejection is for me; it is someone else holding the gun while I handed them the bullets. And it never once occurred to me that it didn’t have to be like that.

Until one very recent day, it did.
Until one day, I stood in a wet parking lot…unclenched my fist…and dropped the bullets on the ground.
Until one day, I decided to give myself the permission, the forgiveness, and the grace I had been waiting for all along.

Because here’s the thing…
I can’t control whether or not I’m “enough” for someone else. I can’t control whether or not I’m pretty enough or funny enough or smart enough or giving enough.
Most of all, I can’t control who stays and who walks away.

I can only love and care and breathe and place my armour gently on the ground for those who are standing in front of me.
The moment I realized this, a strange thing happened, the hurting didn’t stop. The sting didn’t go away. The dull ache didn’t just drift with the wind.

But it did stop holding me hostage.

Instead, it began to act as a beautiful reminder that bravery happened at the site of such lingering pain. Being a human is scary sometimes.  In this life, filled with other scared humans and lots of scary uncertainty, it’s a true act of courage to open yourself up to another person and let yourself be seen.

So today, I will not run from it.  Today, I will sit with it.
Maybe we can converse.  Maybe we will write together.  Maybe it has a story to tell.

Maybe I will let it remind me that all roads, all pain, all hurt led here.  To this beautiful place, with bullets on the ground, and grace blowing in the wind.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

On Learning From Experience... the hard way

As we drive home from daycare I often ask my son, “What did you learn in school today?”  Lately, his answer is “the usual.” And so I have to prompt him a little to be more specific – "what is 'the usual”?
“Oh, math and reading…same as always.”
“Well what kind of things did you learn in math?  Did you ask any good questions?”
This will usually elicit more detail and I’m glad to hear him itemize the small parts of his day, to hear him attend to detail about the time he's spent away from me. Some days he tells me he doesn’t remember what he learned that morning. OK, that’s fair; some days I don’t remember what I had for breakfast. Or if  I had breakfast. I'm grateful that at least (so far) he hasn’t told me he learned nothing.
Recent events in my life - more specifically some failed relationships - made me think about how innocently K explains what he learned.  I wondered...

How often do we minimize or discredit what we’ve learned from an experience?
As parents, we teach our children by modelling behaviour. When I talk with K about things that have happened in his life, I do some role playing and have him try to view the situation compassionately from multiple angles rather than to judge. I often ask him, “OK, so what have you learned?” His answers are surprisingly insightful.
When given the opportunity to think through a situation, to empathize with another’s position, it’s much easier to answer the question, to have someone guide us toward that realization, than it is to asses a situation on our own.
But we don’t always have those prompts when faced with real life and that’s where learning self-reflective behaviour is good. In fact it’s imperative. In order to truly grow as human beings, we must put self-reflection into practice. We must be able to not only understand a life experience, but also understand what we can learn from it.
I recently read that: “Knowledge can be acquired only by a corresponding experience. How can we know what we are told merely? Each man can interpret another’s experience only by his own.”
How true is it that no matter how often we hear something, we don’t truly understand until we’ve experienced it personally? For me the last year and a half has been eye-opening in that regard. I have faced surprising and unexpected challenges in the pursuit of my goals and I’ve learned a few things for certain as a result:
You cannot change people. You may get them to change their habits, perhaps. But ultimately a person will not change unless it is their desire to do so. and if that happens, you won’t get a vote. You can only choose to disassociate from the situation if that is a healthier option. You can only control your own decisions.
You will not hear an apology from someone who does not believe they have done anything that warrants one. Don’t try. Move on.
It does not matter what other people believe. Whether complimentary or not, what other people think of you is simply their opinion. What you think about yourself matters a whole lot more. Just make sure you are thinking clearly.
Everyone has days they believe only the worst of themselves. Self-doubt is normal; self-brutalization is unhealthy. When you find yourself awake at night questioning every choice you have ever made, do some self-assessment, re-focus on your goals, and screw your head on straight.
Don't Chase People.  People can say a lot of things just to keep the peace.  They can say that they value you. They can say they like you.  They can say that they miss you.  Don't chase after people based on their words alone.  My experience has taught me to keep an open heart and mind but DO NOT chase after people who pay lip service.   Allow people to show you their hearts and feelings in actions.  Believe them when they do.  

Life is hard. Even the most exciting or desirable pursuit will still hold challenge. There will be days you wonder why you thought your goal was a good idea; remember the reasons why it is. If it is your passion, do not give up. Strap on your crash helmet and keep going.

Monday, January 11, 2016

On Watching the Tower Fall

When I was about ten years old, I can remember one particular Christmas. My family and I had all driven to Hanover to spend the holidays with my grandparents.  The traditions that we established each year remain as some of my fondest memories.  There was lots of snow on the ground and I remember having the most beautiful Christmas tree that year…filled with what seemed like a million white twinkle lights.  There were more presents under the tree than I could count and homemade sweets by the plateful.  But, what I remember most about that particular Christmas, was the night that my Aunt, mom, and cousin stayed up until all hours of the morning playing Jenga.

Do you remember that game?  You start with a tower of wooden blocks and for each turn, you’re required to take one block from the middle and move it on top.  The idea is to build your tower as high as you can…until eventually, it comes toppling down…and it becomes time to build a new tower.  The intensity of that game almost made me crazy with anticipation.  And I remember us laughing!  The 5 of us – my family – laughing until our stomachs hurt.  Laughing until we just couldn’t take it anymore.  Laughing until we accidentally knocked the kitchen table and the tower came falling down!

That was almost twenty-five years ago now and every year – around the holidays – I find myself thinking about it.  Remembering it.  Wondering about it. I find that life, in so many ways, is just like that tower; we have all these blocks that shape our reality; work, family, friends, home, hobbies, and countless others.  Together – they create this beautifully strong structure.  Solid.  Balanced.  But, individually, if moved to the wrong place or at the wrong time, they can throw everything off and bring your whole world crashing down.

I would know.

I work really hard to keep my tower stable.  Really hard.  I always have.  Over the last few years there have been more blocks added to that tower than I ever imagined possible…and all the while, it remains standing.  But I have watched it crash on more than one occasion and trust me, it isn’t pretty.  It’s loud.  It’s messy.  And it’s incredibly disappointing when you stop to consider how long it took to build in the first place.

I have recently been recovering from such a crash.  Pieces everywhere.  Dents in the floor. As I pick up the pieces again, it seems that they fall again. More crashing.  More dents.  More shattering.  And honestly, watching the pieces fall out from under me was devastating.  It used me to make me feel like a complete failure; to myself and everyone around me.  The recovery from that feeling alone was enough to make me want to put all the pieces back in the box and hide them in a closet.  But in the aftermath of this most recent mess, I did something that I had never done before;  I actually took the time to look at the mess.  To look at the pieces scattered around my feet.  To look at the infrastructure that clearly wasn’t working.  And as I sat there, with all of these wooden blocks staring back at me…I began to notice that it was the same blocks that were knocking my tower over every single time.  Furthermore, they were blocks that I had never intended to build with in the first place.  They were blocks of guilt…disappointment…expectations.  And they were just too heavy.  The weight of them was constantly throwing everything off balance and destroying everything I had worked so hard to build.

This wasn’t an easy realization for me to have.  It was rather heartbreaking actually.  But it was also an incredible blessing because in order for something new to be built…something had to fall apart.  I had to fall apart.  And once that happened, I could start the process of putting the pieces back together again…and this time, I could leave out the ones that didn’t fit.  Ideally, to be replaced with blocks of acceptance…

And so…I built.  I continue to build. 

Today – less than a month after Christmas…and almost half a year since I began to pick up the pieces…I can’t help but remember that little girl inside of me; our tower fell that night.  The pieces strewn everywhere.  A loud crash came with it. And yet, what I remember is the laughter.  I remember the company.  I remember building the tower…not losing it.  In fact, that little girl screamed with excitement as the blocks came crashing down. I think because deep down, that little girl knew.  She knew that our towers inevitably fall.  She knew that, sometimes, things just can’t help but give way.  And she knew that maybe – just maybe – once you’ve gathered up all of the pieces, the best part is actually starting all over again…