You say goodbye, I say hello

January 3, 2016

I don’t know about you, but I have been seeking some inspiration and guidance to start my new year off right. It’s 12:15 pm on Sunday and I am still in my pjs, so no, I didn’t start a new diet or an aggressive new workout routine. I am not creating a long list of resolutions that will wane as the year progresses. I am looking for a more meaningful approach – focusing more on a way of being rather those godforsaken SMART goals that ensure I achieve whatever is on my list. Or to remind me when I don’t.

I have closed the door on 2015. Before I jump into 2016, I want to leave some things behind, and letting go is not a great strength of mine.  But I know the best way to make room for the new is to purge the old – whether it’s in my closet or in my heart. I know that it’s much easier to find that perfect blouse when it’s not buried among 4 seasons and 3 sizes of old clothes. Just like I know it is much easier to feel love in the present when it’s not buried in regrets about the past or anxiety/fear of the future. And I know that the best way to find the energy to make this effort to clear out the cobwebs is from a place of love – because love is a renewable energy that not only replenishes on its own, but also multiplies and spreads to others. It’s literally catching!

So to get some help, I perused my favorite blogs (Marc and Angel, and “Momastery” Glennon Doyle Melton) and  listened to some of “The Bloggess” Jenny Lawson’s audio book “Furiously Happy”. I followed my favorite spiritual icons on Facebook and Instagram (Maria Shriver, Brene Brown, Elizabeth Gilbert, Anne Lamott, and Kid President) and I completed reading  “The Shaken Snow Globe”by a new author Kristy Dominiak, who I discovered is practically my neighbor and fellow Notre Dame alum.

My first thought is that I could really use a cool nickname for my blog persona (I am open to suggestions!). Mostly though, I am marinating in some pretty amazing content.  I think that one of the consistent threads throughout my favorite writers is that in order to live an authentic life – one that is open, vulnerable and full of love, it is certain that I will experience pain. Not just possible – certain.  Ouch. And sometimes big time OUCH! I reminded myself that even though I was experiencing pain and sadness due to the issues my family faced last year, that same family has brought me immense joy and happiness. I relied on what was in my heart – and on my faith that I was in the right place – to remain hopeful and quell the anxiety that always plagues me at my low points.

Another result of this “marinating” is that I am reminded that even though life is messy, that there can be joy in even the smallest moments. The important thing is to be present – to pay attention – to notice, and to STOP and soak the joy in. For example, I stopped writing for about 30 minutes so that Eric, my significant other Jerry’s son, could climb in my lap to snuggle for a little while.

ericlap2
This is me and Eric snuggling in my office chair. Jerry caught us snuggling, and as usual, he had his camera ready.

He discovered that my office chair rocks. I have a feeling that this could become a favorite snuggle spot in the future, and I am totally fine with that! It made my day – and had I decided to keep going so I could finish my “task”, I would have missed out on a joyous moment.

So when I think about last year – I want to let go of that anxiety. I want to let go of the paralyzing fear that destroys my self-confidence and clouds my heart. I want to let go of my co-dependent tendency to over-fix and focus on other people’s feelings at the expense of my own. I want to let go of the need to cross things off of lists. I want to let go of the self-criticism that happens when I am not at my best.  I will no longer say “I wish I wasn’t wired this way” when I feel pain. I am who I am because of how I am wired – and you know what? I kind of like myself this way. In fact, I have worked really freaking hard to figure myself out – and I have come to accept that my greatest strength of empathy can also be my greatest weakness if I don’t pay enough attention to myself and my own needs.

Thanks to Liz Gilbert’s post on New Year’s Eve, I am reminded that I do a better job of letting go when I take part in some sort of ritual.  I am writing these things on pieces of paper and burning them one by one so that I can physically see them disappear. That way when I am sure to get triggered at some point in the future, I can remember that visual and allow myself to let that feeling go.

And thanks to Liz Gilbert’s post on New Year’s Day, I started my first Happiness Jar. The idea is to write down the things that happen in your day that made you happy on a piece of paper – they can be small things or big things. Liz says “When I say that happiness is a consequence of personal effort, this is kind of thing I’m talking about. I’m talking about showing up, paying attention to the instances of good fortune in your life, putting a spotlight on the small good things, and creating a body of evidence that you are (on ALL days) brushing up against grace. Look for it, and you’ll find it.”

happinessjar
This is my Happiness Jar.

 

Moments like this will help fuel me with the energy and love I will need to endure the painful times ahead.

Welcome 2016! Presence is my mantra. My heart, my eyes and my arms are wide open. And PS – Eric is back on my lap, and I am happy.

 

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Casa Dolce Casa (Home Sweet Home)

This is my house on it's 1 year anniversary.
This is my house on it’s 1 year anniversary.

I am sooo happy to be home after a 8 days of a wonderful short vacation to DC with a business trip tacked on. As much as I love to travel, I am always excited to come home to my own space…to my sanctuary…to recharge, relax, and enjoy my surroundings.

About an hour ago, I received an email from my mortgage guy saying “Happy Loan Anniversary!” While I appreciate Lorcan’s thoughtfulness in wishing me a happy loan anniversary, I am not exactly celebrating the fact that I owe the bank so much money for my little nest. But, I am so happy for the reminder to celebrate the wonderful decision I made to buy it.  So forget the money I owe, I am celebrating my house – and all that I have accomplished since getting it!

Since I haven’t posted in a while, I decided this was a very good reason to sit down, turn off all of my distractions and reflect on the year I have spent here. It was pretty crazy in the beginning. Anyone else remember the lightening storm that resulted in the firemen visit, and the A/C, fridge, and internet/cable not working in the first two weeks?? My anxiety about lawn maintenance, robbers and flood insurance? Last summer while exciting was nerve wracking to say the least. I had a lot of doubts – mostly in myself – about my ability to do this on my own – financially, emotionally, physically…

Here I am a whole year later, and all is well. In fact, all is more than well. At the very least, I have maintained the house pretty well as I haven’t killed my lawn, and I have managed all of the basic repairs and the associated bills along with them. I was and still am incredibly lucky and grateful to have the help and support of my friends and family. Otherwise, this would be so much harder – and much less enjoyable! I have a healthy list of people who have pitched in at different times…to move furniture, hang pictures, repair steps, help decorate… you name it, they have done it. Sometimes in exchange for meatballs or wine. Whatever it takes!

But more importantly, I have been making a lot of progress in making my house my home. Slowly but surely, this place is evolving, and every day that I walk in the door, I feel a sense of peace and satisfaction. That is such a powerful feeling…one that I hope never goes away. I reflect about how scared I was a year ago, I now feel joy.

I still don’t know what the future holds – does anyone? But I am a lot more at ease living with questions than I was a year ago. I am more comfortable with being open and vulnerable than I was a year ago. I am much better at enjoying the present than I was a year ago. And I have more love and joy in my life than I did a year ago.

There is a lot more to come – this I know. There will be ups and downs – this I also know. There is more joy – but also more heartache and pain ahead too – that is just how life works.

I can’t say it better than my favorite author Brene Brown:

“To love someone fiercely, to believe in something with your whole heart, to celebrate a fleeting moment in time, to fully engage in a life that doesn’t come with guarantees – these are risks that involve vulnerability and often pain. But, I’m learning that recognizing and leaning into the discomfort of vulnerability teaches us how to live with joy, gratitude and grace.”
― Brené BrownThe Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

Happy 1st Anniversary to my “Casa Dolce Casa”!

Let it Be…

Sometimes I think God speaks to me through my car radio. Not in a creepy booming voice kind of way…it’s just that sometimes the perfect song plays at the time I need it the most. This has happened to me more than a few times – at either incredibly painful or joyous times…these songs and the way they made me feel have become defining moments for me.

I have been wrestling with a lot of questions lately – a lot of uncertainty. This is not a comfortable place for me, but I am working hard to stay vulnerable – to be conscious of my feelings, to be deliberate in my actions…to resist fear and take risks. Trying to adopt requires this… some days it is easy, and some days it is hard.

My big question lately is when does it make sense to let go, and when does it make sense to dig deep? I really struggle with this – I do not have a clear answer. I don’t think there is an answer because I think the answer changes moment to moment for me. Sometimes I want to let go of the angst, the uncertainty and to just let the inevitable happen. Most of the time, I don’t know how to actually do that. Other times I feel I need to dig deep and try harder. And much of the time I am not sure what to do. Sometimes I think I need to do both at the same time – let go AND dig deep. Ugh! Can you feel the tension?

Tonight I was driving home, lost in my thoughts on a tough day. I turned on the radio, and the very beginning of the Beatles “Let it Be” came on. Ahhhh… I immediately felt better. What a lovely song:

When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
And in my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be

And when the broken hearted people living in the world agree
There will be an answer, let it be
For though they may be parted, there is still a chance that they will see
There will be an answer, let it be
Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be
There will be an answer, let it be
Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be
Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be

And when the night is cloudy there is still a light that shines on me
Shine until tomorrow, let it be
I wake up to the sound of music, Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
Let it be, let it be, let it be, yeah, let it be
There will be an answer, let it be
Let it be, let it be, let it be, yeah, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be

The perfect song for the perfect moment. Again. God speaking to me through my car radio.

So next time I struggle with this question (which is likely to be tomorrow) I’ll remember how peaceful I felt on my drive home tonight. I’ll try to “let it be” in that moment…

Onward

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.” – Steve Jobs

My New Year’s post is a little belated this year. The past few weeks have been an emotional roller coaster for me…marked by the tragedy in Newtown, the holidays, the sad news about the Russian adoption ban, attending a close friend’s mother’s funeral, and then the excitement of attending the Notre Dame/Alabama National Championship game. The game (painful as it was to watch), gave me some ideas of how to articulate my thoughts and feelings about the start of 2013, and where I am in my own personal journey.

The day after the game, the University of Notre Dame posted this on their Facebook page: “Thanks to Notre Dame Football for an outstanding season. It’s been quite a ride. Onward.” That summed up exactly how I feel – about the game, and about my life. Of course I was disappointed at how Notre Dame played, and I had wished for a different outcome. But, overall, I appreciated how amazing the season was, appreciated feeling the excitement building each week, and appreciated the opportunity to be at the Championship game, win or loss. At the end of this crazy season, despite the whooping by Alabama, Notre Dame football is better off than they were a year ago, and that is “forward progress.”

I love this concept of the “forward progress” rule in football. My loose definition is this: no matter how far the runner or receiver is pushed back by his defenders, forward progress means the ball is placed at the best possible spot – the furthest point he was able to make it before going down or out of bounds. Even if he is pushed back 10 – even 20+ yards…WAY behind the line of scrimmage, the refs pick that ball up and put it back down at the best possible spot, and the next play begins.

Now this is where I get serious…because this post in NOT about Notre Dame football. I want my life to work like the forward progress rule! And I think it can if only I can see it that way. As a concept, forward progress sounds so much better to me than the idea of “starting over.” Who wants to go all the way back to the beginning just to cover all of the same ground again? How exhausting. Not me – I want to KEEP MOVING, to figure out what I need to learn from what just happened by healing, learning, making my adjustments, and moving forward.

A few weeks ago, I was devastated by the news that Russian President Putin signed an adoption ban, no longer allowing US residents to adopt children from Russia. You see, after a long discernment process of over a year, adopting a 2-3 year old from Russia had become my “plan”. I had completed my home study this fall, and was ready to submit my application to US Immigration, only to find out a few days after Christmas that this was no longer going to be an option for me. My heart literally ached (and still does) for the 650,000 children in orphanages or foster care in Russia, and every day I pray for the 50+ families that have already been placed with their children, that they are able to complete their adoptions and take their children home. That said, I have been thinking nonstop about what happened, and trying to figure out what to do and how to move forward without having to start over from the beginning.

I don’t make decisions like this easily or quickly, and when first hearing the news about the ban, I truly felt like I had wasted over a year of my life. I felt emotionally drained, feeling like I had to go back to be the start. I felt lost and overwhelmed. Remember how mad you would get playing Chutes and Ladders or Candy Land (or Uncle Wiggly for the board game fanatics out there that can remember that one)? The end of the game is in sight, and on the last roll, you end up on that awful spot that makes you have to move back all the way back to the start.

Well, I felt like that but a whole lot worse. Life is a lot more complicated and emotional than a board game. Once again, I had to give up on the vision I made in my mind of what I had expected to happen. I had to process the loss I was feeling. I had to admit that despite every effort I had been making to have control over the process, I actually had no control. Having children, like life in general, is not geometry – there is no such thing as a straight line being the shortest distance between two points. That is not how life works.

In our own ways, we are trying our best to move the ball forward, to get to the goal line whatever that may be. We all have incredibly squiggly lines on our journeys, don’t we? At this point, my path has zigged and zagged all over the place. There are so many obstacles in our way – and sometimes we have to run out of bounds to avoid getting clobbered. Sometimes we actually get clobbered, and have to get back up, wounded and sore, take time to heal, breathe deep, and get back on the field. We take our lessons learned with us. We take the memories of those that we lost with us. We cope, heal, and start to realize that we are better people because of those lessons learned, and because we were loved by the ones we have lost.

This is my most recent picture of the Notre Dame Grotto, one of the most beautiful, peaceful places on Earth.
This is my most recent picture of the Notre Dame Grotto, one of the most beautiful, peaceful places on Earth. The Grotto gives me a great deal of comfort at times like these.

I love the idea of picking up the ball and placing in at the best spot, and NOT going back to the start. Instead of starting over at square one in my journey to motherhood, I realize now that I have gathered a great deal of knowledge about adoption that I didn’t have a year ago. I have met some amazing people, have made new connections, and have been “practicing” my risk taking abilities. I know myself better. I am continuing to try to embrace vulnerability as a strength, not as a weakness. I have dipped my toe into the “arena” (remember my reference Teddy Roosevelt’s Man in the Arena speech from my post “One Year Later), and now realize I am ready to step in with both feet firmly on the ground.

I have the courage to tell the “world” out there my story, not just my closest friends. I did NOT have that a year ago. That is forward progress.

Onward 2013.

One Year Later…

I realized a few days ago that I started my blog just over a year ago. I didn’t really know what to expect when I started it. Starting was simple. I went for a run with a close friend – someone I enjoy having deep discussions with – and I realized on that run that I had something to say that I wanted to share with the rest of the “world.”

Then, as I continued to write and find my “voice,” I realized that my blog has become an exercise in vulnerability. It has been about expressing who I am and sharing it with the rest of the world. At times, I have really questioned whether to hit the post button – do I really want people I may barely know to know my innermost thoughts and feelings?? I think I have been motivated to say yes because this is not something that is easy – and I think that discomfort means something good for me. Plus the encouragement I have received has been enormous, and has helped me to push further into the unknown.

Somewhere along the way, I found my all time favorite book called: The Gifts of Imperfection, Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are,by Brené Brown.

I love this book. I have marked it up with notes, highlighters and these really cute goldfish sticky notes I bought at shop in Georgetown (same place I got the latest Wonder Woman mug). I have read and re-read it, I have taken notes in my journal about it.

My dog-eared copy of The Gifts of Imperfection

I keep it on my night stand or coffee table to refer to often. And what is so strange is that I NEVER do any of those things. Normally I read a book and am on to the next one. I haven’t taken notes about a book that I read “voluntarily”…ever!

Brené (I refer to her as Brené because I am pretty certain if we actually knew each other, we would be friends) is a researcher with a PhD in social work. She has studied shame, authenticity and vulnerability for many years, and has concluded that only one thing separates men and women who feel a deep sense of love and belonging from others who struggle for it. She writes “If we want to fully experience love and belonging, we must believe we are worthy of love and belonging.”

Her book is about the “gifts of imperfection” – courage, compassion and connection that help us to live a more authentic, whole-hearted life.

Courage comes from the latin “cor” – which means heart. She says that originally before it morphed into heroism, courage meant “to speak one’s mind by telling all of one’s heart.” Hmmm – she is on to something.

Compassion has Latin roots meaning “to suffer with” which probably sounds scary to most people. Most of the time when we see people in pain, we either self-protect or try to fix. She says that at the heart of compassion is acceptance, and that better we are at accepting ourselves – being compassionate to ourselves, the more compassionate we can become to others.

Connection she says is “the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgement; and when they can derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.” She also says this energy must travel in both directions – a reminder to me to seek healthy connections, healthy balanced relationships.

For me, this book is not necessarily life changing. Rather, it’s life “clearing” – a validation of the work I have been doing to have a more balanced, fuller life.

Brené is also famous for her TEDx Talk on the power of vulnerability. If you can spare 20 minutes – it is well worth every second. Almost 6 million views – clearly her messaging is resonating. Here is the link: brene_brown_on_vulnerability.html

This is not easy. I fight vulnerability all of the time. To the world – my coworkers, friends and family, I want to appear capable, confident, and strong. To admit that uncertainty absolutely freaks me out, is difficult. To take a risk and admit to myself or others my deepest fears, and to figure out what I need help with – and then to ASK for that help remains to be incredibly challenging for me. Vulnerability still makes me think of getting hurt, experiencing pain, and admitting weakness.

I put so much pressure on myself to have the answers. Lately in some situations, I have been finding myself outwardly angry and resentful, and inwardly anxious and stressed – and even though I recognize what I am doing to myself, I have found it hard to resolve. My MO is to make myself busy where I don’t give myself the space to figure out what are the REAL questions are that I am struggling with. And when I say busy what I really mean that I try to numb my heart – meaning my feelings and emotions – by keeping my brain engaged whether playing Words With Friends, watching TV, reading books. I trick myself that by doing something that actually is constructive for my head – but at the sacrifice of my heart.

So now I know I need to sit in some big questions and contemplate how to better live with uncertainty.

And thankfully – I have Brené’s books to help me practice. I just picked up her newest book released this week called “Daring Greatly.” The title comes from a speech by Teddy Roosevelt known as “The Man in the Arena” speech.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred with dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly…who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly.”

-Theodore Roosevelt

I would like to dare greatly. I want to be in the “arena” and not the supporting actress in my own life. I would like to redefine vulnerability and think of it as the key to courage – and not a measure of weakness. I can’t wait to pick this one up – I have my post its and highlighters ready!

More to come later…

Life Without Cruise Control

Today I decided was going to be different. Let’s back up. I had planned my eight hour drive to Wintergreen Resort in the beautiful Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia a few days ago. As I always do, I used Google Maps to plot my course before the trip, and I found two options; Option 1: The Scenic Route; Option 2: The Interstate. Both options were within 20 minutes of each other, so I immediately chose Option 2 because I knew these roads, and therefore knew what to expect. It’s all about minimizing risk,… right? Hmmm I don’t think so.

Favorite greeting card with the perfect message

Fast forward to today. I got in my car, programmed Hugh (my GPS with the Australian male voice), and sat for a few moments while he found his satellite connection. Hugh picked the Scenic Route for me…so I sat in my driveway and reconsidered my decision. The voices in my head started up: What if I break down in the middle of nowhere? What if I get a flat tire? What if I get stuck behind a slow car? What if I get lost? Could my day turn in a Stephen King novel or an episode of Vampire Diaries? Hmmmm.

Then I shifted my view of what my day could be like.

What if I see a part of SC and NC that I hadn’t seen before? How could the adventure of these twists and turns on the scenic route give me energy for the drive? What unexpected stops might I enjoy along the way? All of a sudden, I remembered one of my favorite family car trips as a child where Dad drove us along a creek just to see if he could find a place to eat lunch – and we ended up finding a little waterfall. Could my day be memorable like that day 30+ years ago?

Listening to Casey Kasem’s best hits of 1983 on the radio and feeling inspired to have a new experience, I put my trust in Hugh and off we went. The trip started great – singing along to Lionel Richie, Culture Club, Falco, and Men at Work, I was feeling both energized and peaceful. I lost Casey’s signal about 2 hours in…so I plugged in the iPod and hoped for the best as I pulled off the Interstate and onto State Road 52 in Florence. Ahhh…all was right with the world…Blue Sky set the tone for the next few hundred miles as I let my iPod shuffle my music and I explored places like Society Hill and Cheraw, SC. I can’t remember the last time I felt so relaxed behind the wheel of a car – not one orange cone or truck in sight.

As I drove, I thought about how different this drive was than it could have been. If I had taken Option 2 – I would have programmed my cruise control – and gotten annoyed every time a bad driver forced me to click the brake to release it. Maybe even more than annoyed. Probably more than annoyed. I would have been on the SAME highway I have taken probably hundreds of times…yes I would have known what to expect – really boring highway with trucks and drivers who don’t know how to use the left lane properly. I would have arrived after eight hours exhausted, hyped up on caffeine and would have had trouble falling asleep.

Instead, here I was feeling connected…peaceful, and yet full of energy. Hugh was my co-pilot keeping me from getting lost, not a gadget that I had to “beat”. I felt happy that I took the “road less travelled” and vowed to be wary of the temptations and security of cruise control in my future.

And then I started thinking about what this shift in outlook could have on my life in general.

What could my life be like if I took a different path? Yes – most of the time I have a destination (or a goal) in mind. But what new possibilities could exist for me if I chose another way to get there? Could I feel the same energy – the same peacefulness, the same connectivity between my head and my heart that I was feeling right now? What could my life be without cruise control?

What WILL my life be without cruise control?