Love Showed Up: Best Friends Know Better

Leigh Kramer is a longtime blog-friend. Her writing, compassion and zest for life never cease to astound me any time we cross (digital) paths. I hope you enjoy and resonate with her story today, that it ignites gratitude and bittersweet memories in your heart as it did mine. 7023751359

I don’t remember if she picked me up or if we met at the restaurant. I do remember putting up a fuss at first. I wanted to stay in my cave. It was cozy, didn’t require energy, and my tears could arrive as they pleased.

But best friends often know better than we do. Erin told me we were going out for dinner, which is how I found myself sitting on the patio of one of my favorite Mexican restaurants a couple of weeks after my grandmother died.

I see us there perfectly but I have no idea what we talked about or whether I had a margarita that night. Grief’s blur covers almost all my memories from that time. I know we went to dinner. I know it was good for me. I know I never would have realized that apart from Erin’s insistence.

I had lost other loved ones, throughout my life really. Losing Grandma the summer of 2007 rocked me to my core. We were close and I was involved in her care during her last weeks. Our family changed dramatically in the course of four months. Or a little less than a year, depending on where we start the story. My great-aunt was on hospice for about 10 months. Grandma was a valiant caregiver but family had to step up more and more as her own health troubles began. In the week after my great-aunt died, Grandma received her own terminal diagnosis. She started on hospice and died almost two months later to the day.

I worked for that same hospice as a social worker. I picked the team for these two women I held dear. I walked alongside and pitched in as much as I could, ever mindful I was a great-niece, a granddaughter. After they died, I tried to resume the old routines but found I couldn’t.

There was no escaping my grief at work. I would do my best to make it through each day, stuffing down tears as families walked down the same path I’d just traveled. When the work day ended, I’d collapse on to the couch in my living room and crack open a book. Book after book after book. Not even good books. I turned to Christian fiction. While I insist good Christian fiction exists (it does!), it is not always easy to find and the series I turned toward in those days would not qualify as “good.” Now it wasn’t Amish fiction or the drivel I had regularly sold while working at The Christian Bookstore- I still had some standards- but it was sure to have easily solvable crises and happy endings. I needed predictability in the midst of my fallen world.

Before this loss, I was the quintessential social butterfly. Afterward, I stopped planning parties and turned down invitations. The energy that had powered me through the last few months deflated suddenly and quickly. I had nothing left to give and I didn’t know how to receive. Books required little of me. I could lose myself in the pages.

Erin let me be. At first. But when Erin decides something, it’s going to happen. We were going to dinner. She ignored my excuses. She told me to decide when and where.

It was a bright moment of normalcy. I’m sure the conversation meandered through all manner of topics because that’s how our conversations go. I’m sure she asked how I was doing- how I was really doing- because Erin is compassionate and caring. I’m sure she also let me decide how much I wanted to talk about the loss, for the same reasons.

I needed to stow the books away for one night. I could return to my grief cave the next day. The dinner was a line in the sand, not forcing me to change but opening my eyes to life again. In the weeks and months that followed, I’d start picking better books and re-engaging with my closest friends. The loss changed me more than I realized possible and set down a map for how I would navigate future loss.

Erin showed up in ways big and small during that time, as did other friends and colleagues. I didn’t need listening ears per se but I needed people to draw near when I didn’t have the strength to reach out. When I didn’t have words for what I needed.

Thank God they showed up.

Bio picture Bio: Leigh Kramer is on a quest; she’s living life on purpose. Her to-do list might look something like this: leave life in the Midwest for Nashville, Tennessee with only fried pickles for comfort, quit steady job as a social worker to chase that dream of writing at last, suck the marrow out of life’s in-between places and revel in the now at every turn. She is a contributor at A Deeper Story. Leigh shares this journey through words of transparency, heart, and just a dash of pluck at LeighKramer.com and on Twitter at @hopefulleigh.

 

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The Melt

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2014 has been an epic winter for the midwest and for us here in West Michigan 5 foot snow piles are a normal part of the scenery.

We have had snow cover on the ground since before Thanksgiving with very little days above freezing and always additional accumulation raising the level of snow in the front yard.

“Alright winter, you’ve proved your point. Enough already. Go home.”

The cloud cover has been endless and it seems as though weeks have passed without a shred of blue sky or sunshine.

But this week? We hit 40 degrees and the sun hit the snow and turned it into fields of translucent glitter.

The kids and I headed out in the warm sunshine to build a snowman from the wet snow in our front yard. It promptly fell over from the warmth of the day.

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How to stop worrying about who isn’t listening or reading or watching and start loving the people who are

photo courtesy of flickr creative commons jennifah007

photo courtesy of flickr creative commons jennifah007

I have a confession to make:  Sometimes when I’m talking to my children about something particularly amusing or ridiculous, I project a little louder for other people to hear.

“You learned about how Jesus will heal as long as we cut a holes in the roof? Wow that’s crazy!”  
(big look around to see if anyone else heard that and wants to exchange a grown up eye with me as I ignore the child trying to talk to me about God… <facesmack>)

And sometimes I do this with my husband, especially at parties or social gatherings. If we say something funny together I’ll dump him to go tell other, new-shiny people about it.

And sometimes I do this with my friends

And very often I do this online.

And when I do this, you know what I’m saying? Dear person I’m actually talking to:  You’re not enough, I need a larger, more important audience.  Others matter more than what’s going on between us.  

My need to be noticed trumps what we are sharing in this moment.

It took a season of therapy and a good hard look to realize that the heart of this problem is this:  So often I worry about who isn’t listening and miss out on who is, because I’m valuing the wrong things.

We all do this in life, don’t we? Come on, please normalize this with me so I don’t feel like such a jerk…

We’re chatting with our friends, our people and across the room or the twittersphere when we spot someone we wish we were friends with, chatting with a crowd we wish we ran with and we feel… jealous and small and less than… maybe even crummy and insignificant.

Why? Because we want to be noticed and successful. It’s perfectly normal… but if we’re not careful it can become utterly consuming.  And we should be careful.

We should be careful with the people we’ve been entrusted with, the audience we’ve been given. 

Because odds are that if you look around, you’re already as noticed and significant as you need to be.

Let me give you an example that will potentially make you hate me and burn my blog in anger (I don’t know how that would work, just go with it):

Sometimes when a new person responds to me on twitter I go to check their profile.

Not a big confession, Normal right?
What am I looking for you ask?
Am I trying to see if we have common interests and beliefs?
Nope.  I’m checking to see how many followers they have to figure out how much time and attention I should give them.
I know, I know.  Awful. But I swear It’s getting better…

Why? I’ve stopped worrying about who’s not listening and started loving everyone who is.

I actually remember the exact day that this switch flipped. I got put off by an acquaintance online, someone who didn’t do anything wrong but who, through inaction left me with a wound.

I literally looked at myself in the toothpaste covered bathroom mirror and yelled. “What (name of person) thinks doesn’t even matter! I have people, good people and what (he/she) does or doesn’t think of me doesn’t get anymore airtime in my brain or my time.”

Then I talked about it at therapy. A lot. I talked about how I want to intentionally cultivate depth with the people I’ve been given (gifts each one!) and how badly I needed to stop worrying about who wasn’t paying attention to me.

Then over dishes about a week later I received some news from God.  The kind that just pops into your mind and feels at home, like sweet mind-truth, life giving and free.

“I’ve given you exactly the influence needed, the people you were meant to tend and grow. Love them well and forget the rest.”

And so it was that I learned to love my people, my place in this world.  Not in a passive way, but in an active, daily choosing that leaves me feeling full of life and peace.

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The happiness/gratitude formula

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“I’m feeling happy, and that’s a big deal… for me.”
This is decidedly my favorite line in finding Nemo, and it keeps playing through my mind lately because lately, I’ve felt joy in my life.  The real kind that’s not because of wine or the kids finally being asleep.

The kind I still feel in the midst of the dinnertime rush or the messiness of the play room floor.

It all started about a month ago with a very emotional ride home from church. I called Kel in tears after a trip to church had turned into a nightmare. I told him how the kids ran away from me while I was recycling their juice cups and I lost  them for about five minutes. Which felt like an eternity at the time. (found them in their kids area claiming loudly that their mom had left them. Thanks guys.)

I sobbed to Kel about how tired I was of doing weekends all by myself when everyone else was all together as a family. Then I went on about  how even when we were together, we were never happy about it. Someone was always angry or under slept, something was always not ideal, there was always a reason it couldn’t get classified as a “good day”

“I don’t know what’s wrong babe, but I feel like we’re missing something really important and I think it has to do with something Jesus said, but I want to fix it. Can we fix it please? I just want to be happy.”

We hung up and left things painfully unresolved. When I’d finally closed the garage door behind our dirty mini van I collapsed on our couch in desperate tears of frustration.

I texted a dear friend who immediately dropped what she was doing and called me.  I cried to her for what felt like forever, trying to put words to the churning feelings I was having in my life.

It sounded like: “Kel and I can’t stop fighting, we can barely pay the bills, the kids ran away from me in church and we’re never just happy together.  Ever!  It’s not going to change with our circumstances, it has to change with us but I’m so lost and I have no idea what to do next.  

This is the abridged version people, the real version was far more incoherent and dramatic.

She listened to me graciously for over well over thirty minutes. Then she added her advice and a hefty scoop of encouragement.  But I took away two very important things:

1) You can only change you, stop worrying about what Kel will or won’t do.
2) Gratitude changes everything

She texted me for the next few mornings to remind me of both these truths, “Don’t worry about Kel, just change you!  God can take care of him, I promise.”

Then she texted me a really helpful gratitude flowchart the gist of which was this: So many of the things I was unhappy about were above and beyond what God had promised me, or any of us for that matter.

I started asking myself: “Is the thing that I’m upset about over and above what God has promised me? If yes then I guess I don’t need it and I will choose contentment and gratitude”

Laundry day started to go like this: “I hate laundry, God how am I ever going to get through all this, why do we have to wear SO MANY clothes?!?  Wait, I could have to haul all this to the laundromat in the snow or have to wash it in the bathtub, but I don’t.  Thanks God for in home laundry that works like it should.”

At the grocery store: “I hate having to grocery shop with a calculator, I wish I was one of those people who could just throw stuff in their basket without worrying about it.  Wait, we have enough food to eat, period. We’re eating healthy stuff that i enjoy making.  Thanks for the content of this cart God.” 

And in these little moments of self talk, of counting gifts, or thankfulness I have started to feel happiness.

Then I watched this Ted Talk which confirmed everything for me:  

“It is not happiness that makes us grateful, it’s gratefulness that makes us happy.” ~ Brother David Steindl-Rast

Happiness doesn’t come from having everything you want, it comes from wanting everything you already have.

It’s helping with my marriage and it’s making a difference in my parenting.  It’s reducing my anxiety and depression and it’s causing me to finally feel joy in the midst of the uncertainty of life.

I find myself breathing small prayers of gratitude as I move through my day
Thank you for a warm home, a safe place in the snow
Thank you for this box of clementines, easy snacks I feel good about
Thank you for this move night with my kids, together under one blanket.

Thank you for this simple life, for this profound truth and for filling my home and heart with good, good gifts.

 

One Day in the life (2013)

Yesterday I spent the day as usual, there were dishes, kid meltdowns, preschool drop off and laundry. The one thing that make it different is that I took time to document it, both the little and the obvious.

I did this as alongside many others in a project called One Day headed up by Hollywood Housewife.  This was my first year doing this and it was fantastic.  Every couple of hours I would go to Instagram and check out the hashtag #onedayhh and there was life.  There were other people’s coffee cups, diaper changes, mini vans and laundry baskets.

And you know what?  It overwhelmed me in it’s simple and really profound beauty.  All the minutia of daily life adds up to the loveliness of the human experience.  I may have teared up one or thrice.  

Okay so here we go, a day in my life.

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 5:25- I finally get out of bed where I’ve been laying awake since Caedmon begged for the 6th time to get into our bed and I caved. He proceeded to kick me so I finally got up to greet the day.  Not a great night’s sleep, but I’m awake… ya know?

I turned on the porch light to check the weather. Nope, no snow but sparkly frost, I headed out in my bathrobe to get a decent picture but quickly gave up and headed back inside where….

This lovely little girl is waiting for me way, waaay too early.  She is usually my 3rd up and has been known to sleep until 7:30, which is late for our kids.Oneday1

So while Noelle and I chat I start to unload the dishwasher, which is one of the best choices I can make in the morning.  Then the kettle whistles and I pour it into the french press to allow the water and grounds to make love and coffee.  Noelle gets in on the action too wish warm milk and a splash of coffee in a sippy cup.  This has been our routine for at least two years.

Finally I give in and go downstairs to let the yowling cat out of his nighttime storage area.  If we don’t do this he keeps us up at night.  While I’m down there, I start some Leapfrogs for Noelle, then I come upstairs to try to do some devotionals.  I love She Reads Truth plans as view on the YouVersion app.  I’m just finishing up James… late. #typicalforme

Today it’s talking about patience, which I sorely need in my life right now.  I want all the future things, now.  Like our next house and Kel’s next job.

As I do I admire this distressed, almost whitewashed looking end table, that I love.

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6:35 The second one is up and fussy, in this shot he’s mad that I didn’t give him cereal with a red spoon.  Yes, I caved and hauled the red spoon out for him, then I promptly sent him downstairs to watch tv with his sister.

Am I the only one who’s mantle looks like this?  Pumpkins and Christmas trees?

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I want to be like my four year old daughter

Doesn’t it seem like we see it all on Halloween?  Super Mario Brother’s family? A dog dressed up like a latte?  Tony Stark and Pepper Potts?  (These are some of my personal faves from real life)

With the addition of the internet I don’t think many awesome costumes pass without our knowing about it.

But the most amazing part of my Halloween?  Watching my four year old pass out candy to other trick or treaters for the the first time in her life.

There are things about your children that are innate and have little to do with in-house parenting strategy.  They’re all nature and not much nuture.

Noelle’s encouraging spirit is one of those.  Can I be honest here?  I’m not the most encouraging person you’ll ever meet.  Although I’m working on all of this, my standards are too high and I’m an ENTP, who always sees room for improvement.

Then God gave me a tender, beautiful daughter from whom love and encouragement flows endlessly.

Halloween Noers

Last night when the first round of trick or treaters came to the door she held the candy cauldron with delight.

“Here guys, have some candy!  Great princess costume!  Good trick or treating guys!  Good job!  Thanks for coming!”

The phrase: “great trick or treating guys” undid me and I laughed as instant tears welled up in my eyes.  I had nothing to do with parenting that, that’s a piece of thread woven by a God who creates masterpieces when he makes people.

It was one of those moments where you see something on the face of the broken earth that rings so loudly of heaven it nearly brings you to your knees.

So pure and beautiful you don’t dare touch it because you’re sure you’ll screw it up.

As the evening went on she started to refer to the trick or treaters as customers and when some came while she was in the bath she wailed: “Mom, there’s customers and I’m naked! Dry me off and get my PJs, quick!”

Her face was a perpetual grin. She even complimented the people passing out candy on how well they did it. “You’re a great candy hander outer!  Thanks!”

There is no costume on earth that could have awed me as much as her spirit did on Halloween.

It amazed me and scared me to my core.  It caused me to sing God’s praises and beg for his help all in the same breathe because I don’t want to be the one who infects her heart with cynicism.

I don’t want to be one of the reasons she stops loving so purely.

When we see something of heaven down here on earth, we can react a myriad of different ways.

We can write it off, too busy to fit it’s wonder in our busy schedules.
We can take a picture or memento to try and remind ourselves of what was and could be someday.
As for me?  I am going to hit my knees and pray for the wisdom to nurture the beauty entrusted to me, a tongue that flows words like water, less muddied as the years go on.

Pray for a spirit that looks a little bit more like my daughter’s, so: “Great blog reading guys, thanks for coming!”

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I like your costume

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I love Halloween, I always have.  There’s something inside all of us that loves to play dress up, to pretend to be something entirely other than ourselves, if just for a night.  To let our inner avatars come to life.

I’ve dressed up as Captain Jack Sparrow, a Geisha Girl, Little Red Riding Hood, Flo the Progressive Girl… and this is just as an adult.

Every year of my kid’s lives I’ve made their costumes by hand. Not to show off, but because it was a commitment I’d made before they were ever born.  I wanted to use my hands to help their creativity come to life and not just by swiping my card.

I’ve always known I’d be a homemade costume mama, it’s the reason I took sewing classes in my early twenties. It’s important for me to sew, crochet and hot glue their imaginations into reality.  

I think it’s just because I love the whimsy of Halloween, the one night where we all play dress up and pretend, where imagination wins all.

I get giddy over opening my door for Trick or Treaters, to see their visions come alive and to smile at the parents standing proudly behind their little lions, ghosts and minions.

We all roll our eyes at the “too old” trick or treaters. The high school kids who shoulder their way through the little ones to get their hands on our bowls full of Snickers and Reeses.

Because, I think at some point we’re supposed to be done with trick or treating, and rightfully so.  It’s a place for the littles to play.

Yet, I don’t think any of us should ever give up the whimsy of Halloween, the belief that we can put on a hat and fulfill our wildest dreams.

We should dream big, fulfill our inner passions, finally become the firefighters and veterinarians we always thought we would be.

But the dreaming of dress up has to live side by side with a love of the sweet right here, the seemingly ordinary right now.

If little “trick or treat” you rang your doorbell this Thursday, do you think they’d be disappointed in who you’ve become?

Do you think they’d be sad that you’re not a professional wrester or stunt rider?

I bet they wouldn’t.

I don’t think we’re letting ourselves down as much as we think we are.

I know you feel like you haven’t arrived yet, like you’ll be better when you achieve this or that. 

But please don’t buy into that lie, because you’re beautiful today.  In the costume you have on right now.

For me, my dream costume is that of “published author” as it is with so many writers, I’ll finally be okay when I publish a book, that’s the magic moment when I’ll feel like my writer costume isn’t a joke.

But you know what?  I think if 6 year old me came to our door on Thursday night she’d see our comfy home complete with a cat, two kids and an awesome playroom and be thrilled.

If teenage me peeked in our window and saw the romance in our marriage to a good, good man she’d breathe a sigh of relief in knowing that it all works out in the end even if she IS 16 and never been kissed.

In the end, when you look down at the costume you wear in daily life, even if it’s not the end all be all fulfillment of your deepest passions, it’s still a pretty good gig.

I’m not saying don’t dream big, I’m saying that you’re already somewhere worth celebrating, so grab a snickers (or if you have supremely good taste, an Almond Joy) and celebrate the costume you get to wear every day.

Because it’s lovely in it’s here-ness.  So is mine, go us.

What did little you want to be “when you grow up?” OR What is your Halloween Candy Kryptonite (what can’t you leave alone?)

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Apple by Apple

Today I’m blending the pictures and poetry of our trip with to the orchard with the Burden Family into a prayer for autumn.  All photos compliments of my lovely and dear friend Jillian Burden.  

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Like any good Michigander, I can measure my years by trips to the apple orchard.

I can still remember with vivd clarity my kindergarden trip to the pumpkin patch and cider mill.  After wandering the fields of orange and green we were rewarded by a warm donut and fresh pressed cider as we squeezed together on the picnic tables.

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There is nothing in the world like a cake donut with fresh pressed cider, If you love it, you know it’s a comfort food born early.

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Trips to the orchard ring altogether wholesome, holding hands while crunching apples and leaves as you fill heap your wagon full of fruit.

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The After Miracle

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I went to 4 colleges and at one point or another I claimed 6 different majors

At one point I planned on going to Bible school in New Zealand. I even got my passport, but it was never stamped until our honeymoon and even then it was for Mexico.

I went to grad school for a bit, but I left after 2 semesters.

We’ve already discussed how many different jobs I’ve held (it’s 17.)

I own more books that I haven’t read than those I have.

Our basement is home to more than one unfinished craft project… some of them furniture.

I’ve started training for at LEAST 6 different 5ks that I never ran.

I have gone public with a lot of dreams that never went anywhere at all because I abandoned them for the next big idea.

But writing?  I can’t walk away.  This is my thing. Continue reading

A God Light Expert.

It was the end of the evening, after dinner but not quite bedtime, when I heard my four year old Noelle call to me from down the hall.

“Mom!  Come here, I have to show you something! It’s a surprise in your bedroom, you’ll love it so much!”

Outwardly I said: “Alright sweet girl, I’m coming!”

Inwardly I thought: “I wonder what mess she’s made this time.”

She was waiting for me on the khaki carpeted floor at the entrance to our bedroom, just sitting there grinning.

“Look Mom, it’s light.” she said with reverent awe.

And then I saw it, a beam of light that had made it’s way through the faux wood blinds of our bedroom and into the hallway, translucent-gold as the the dust of daily life passed through it.

My breath caught, this was not was I was expecting to be hauled down the hallway to see. Kitty games, forts, book towers… yup, expectable.  This golden stream of light?  It struck me as perfection.

I plopped down next to her and told her that it was light coming through the window, a focused beam of light shining on our floor.

“It reminds me of God.”  I told her, “the way his light streams into our lives and makes things beautiful and bright.”

 “So God is light?  That’s God?”  She asked me.

“Yes, and no” I told her. “That reminds me of God, the way his light always finds the cracks and comes into our lives.”

And that’s when she really popped my heart open: “Yeah, I know mom.  I’m a God-light Expert.”

God-light

I’m not sure what a God-light expert is guys, all I know for certain is that I want to be one.

An expert in seeing God-light in the unexpected places
In believing in it’s transformative power
An expert in being it, bringing it and letting it flow through me in all sorts of unlikely ways.

I’m sick of walking by the God light in all it’s many forms because I’m too occupied with busywork and worry.

I want to be stopped by the God light
I want to bring it where I’m going
I want the mini blinds of my heart to open wide to let in more than just cracks of it.

I want to swim in it, or at least realize that I already am swimming in it… and always have been.

I want see my children as the experts in God-Light and I, the novice as the they daily delight in the little bits of daily light.

I want my grown-up cynicism to crack like a breakfast egg and all the good stuff to run out and nourish another day of life on earth.

I want to be a God-Light expert too.  Don’t you?

How do your kids teach you about God-Light?  Where are you seeing it these days?