30 Days of Thanks, November 2020

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Wear gratitude like a cloak, and it will feed every corner of your life.

– Rumi

If you’re on social media, you may have seen posts from your friends declaring what they’re grateful for followed by a variation of the hashtag, #30DaysofThanks. I’ve joined this challenge over the years, and it’s one of my favorite practices to participate in during November. You don’t have to be on social media to reap the benefits of this 30-day challenge. Grab a notebook or a journal and write down what you’re thankful for today. Open up a new Word document on your computer, or the notes app on your phone, and type out a list of your blessings. Take a few moments for yourself every day to speak your graces aloud or silently in your heart. Turn the practice into a game of blessing others by choosing a random act of kindness to perform every day this month.

No matter how you recognize what you’re thankful for, there is a myriad of ways to begin a gratitude practice. November is when I take on the challenge because it helps me to get in the right frame of mind for my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving Day, and centers my focus in the right direction for the Christmas season and the stretch of weeks counting down to the end of the year. In all the years gone by, I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling grateful that 2020 is nearly coming to a close.  

To inspire your thankfulness challenge, here is a sampling of the graces I’ve already written and shared during this first part of November:

November 1, 2020

I am grateful for another day to hope, wish, and dream; for, even in the midst of a pandemic, intrigue, creativity, and passion are not masked. “For your heart is like a flower as it grows, and it’s the rain, not just the sun that helps it bloom.” – Charles Fink 

“Dandelion Wishes” by Autumn Purdy

November 2, 2020

I am grateful for the trials I’ve faced, for living through them I have been humbled, strengthened, fortified, and beautified. “The human capacity for burden is like bamboo—far more flexible than you’d ever believe at first glance.” -Jodi Picoult, My Sister’s Keeper 

“Fragile Heart in Sand” by Autumn Purdy

November 3, 2020

I am grateful for Mother Nature’s abundant, glorious gifts. I’m thankful, no matter the time, place, or setting I’m in, I can go outside, fill my lungs, calm my mind, impress my heart with the essence of Earth’s beauty. Today, especially, I plead you to go outside. Find some peace. Walk in awe. Look up. Let go. Be filled with wonder. Breathe in hope. Then, carry that calm with you as sustenance for Election Day. “It is a serious thing just to be alive on this fresh morning in this broken world.” — Mary Oliver, Invitation 

“Duck Lake Skyscape” by Autumn Purdy

November 4, 2020

I am grateful for what I have to look forward to today, beginning with a morning walk in a local park with dear, old friends. “Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.” – Helen Keller 

“Tree-lined Walk in Fall” by Autumn Purdy

November 5, 2020

I am grateful for the four decades I’ve lived. Although I miss the fluidity and grace of my twenty-something form, I’m thankful for the slow and steady pace of midlife, the break from keeping up appearances, and the wisdom that comes with age. “When you’re young, there’s so much now that you can’t take it in. It’s pouring over you like a waterfall. When you’re older, it’s less intense, but you’re able to reach out and drink it. I love being older.”— Sigourney Weaver, Esquire, January 2010. 

“Quenched Pine” by Autumn Purdy

November 6, 2020

I am grateful for the gifts of faith and resilience, for my inner-strength and empathetic nature, for all the intricate threads that knit together my uniqueness. “Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit” ― E.E. Cummings 

“Schiller Park Rower” by Autumn Purdy

November 7, 2020

I’m grateful for this gorgeous day, but more thankful for the time I spent in the sunshine with this beautiful daughter of mine. “I’ve come to understand that art is awesome and beautiful because it’s a reflection of life – but it’s just a reflection, and the real thing is my daughter.” —Chance the Rapper

November 8, 2020

I’m grateful for the chance I had to reflect upon, in the quiet morning light, all I hold dear as I sent up hopeful prayers for peace and positive change, the kind of lasting, impactful impression that I know begins with me. I’m thankful I can look back and figure out how to right the ways I’ve done wrong, to make positive next steps, to share from my privilege and abundance, to choose love every day and live love like it’s the verb that it is. “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me. Let there be peace of earth, the peace that was meant to be.” – Sy Miller & Jill Jackson 

“Peaceful Proclamation in Westerville” by Autumn Purdy

November 9, 2020

I’m grateful for the poets, and I’m thankful for the librarians, teachers, and professors in my life who opened my eyes to their works. I’m grateful for the hardbound copy of the Best Loved Poems of All Time that lived on the bookshelf in my childhood homes for as long as I can remember. I’m thankful I found Langston Hughes’ poems when I did. His poetry first blew me away in my junior high school English class, and my affinity for his words deepened as I studied his verse in The Harlem Renaissance course I signed up for as an English major at St. Vincent College. I’m grateful I can return to his words and be astounded every time. “Go home and write / a page tonight. / And let that page come out of you – / Then, it will be true.” – Langston Hughes

“Langston Hughes Poem, Framed” by Autumn Purdy

O Lord that lends me life, lend me a heart replete with thankfulness.

– William Shakespeare

How to Give Without Giving Yourself Away

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Keep good company, read good books, love good things and cultivate soul and body as faithfully as you can. – Louisa May Alcott

https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/298787-keep-good-company-read-good-books-love-good-things-and

Yesterday evening, I walked with a friend as our daughters ran at their cross-country practice. Last night, I chose reading and an earlier bedtime over all the usual nighttime rituals. I’m sure I made the right choice by not watching the Vice-Presidential Debate.

Every night I read a chapter in a devotional and one from a personal development book before continuing on with my current novel. This year, I’ve been reading Judith Orloff’s Thriving as an Empath. I came across this nugget of wisdom in her October 7th excerpt:

Stay aware of the empathic, caring people whom you admire, especially those who are dedicated to self-care. … See how they find satisfaction and joy. Observe how they give to others without giving themselves away.

https://drjudithorloff.com/thriving-as-an-empath/

The last few weeks haven’t gone as planned. That’s all I’m going to say about it. And I’m realizing I’ve been feeling out of balance. All my life, I’ve struggled with pouring out all my energy into supporting those around me to the detriment of my own needs. After years of practice, helpful therapy, and age-gained wisdom, I notice I catch myself quicker each time I throw myself toward other-care before complete burn-out occurs. Part of the learning process has been living intentionally, simplifying, seeking joy every day, and focusing on gratitude. Learning to let go and how to prioritize me over my to-do lists and everyone else’s wants has been liberating.

Although I still struggle with obligation to others and feeling self-indulgent, nothing terrible has ever happened because I chose to do something meaningful for myself once in awhile. When I stop and take the time to check in with myself, I’m always better for it and so are the ones I love. In the choosing of self, I’m reacquainted with my spirit and peace is restored.

My list of self-care practice is quite easy, minimal, unadorned. Yes, I’ve enjoyed spa days and the like, but for the day-to-day implementation of self-care, I choose practical over planned. Walks invigorate me. Nature heals me. Hot tea comforts me. Writing restores me. Checking in with a friend cheers me. Frequent massage improves me. Cooking enlivens me. Detox baths soothe me. Reading relaxes me.

On Tuesday, I was graced by a late morning walk with a childhood friend around a lake at a nearby park. This meet-up was more than just a three-mile trek with masks on and catching up. It was a commitment to being in the company of a dear friend on a beautiful fall day and a positive choice for feeding my soul. Another mid-week blessing came about in the spur of the moment. When I realized my neck and shoulders couldn’t tense up any more than they already had, I called my chiropractor’s office. Lo and behold, they had an hour-long massage available at the perfect hour of the day. I didn’t hesitate to take the open spot and it was the antidote I needed to the stress I’ve been carrying for awhile now.

On the schedule for today was a trip to the BMV. I don’t know exactly what I need today, but I know it doesn’t involve standing in line and waiting for an average of four hours to renew my driver’s license. I don’t know exactly what I need today, but it doesn’t involve scrolling through social media and upsetting the apple cart of my emotions on things out of my control. Grateful I have the freedom to push my BMV visit to next week and I can enact measures to take a break from the news and noise of the world, I’m looking forward to a long walk in the glorious autumnal sunshine as my reward, my reprieve. I’m choosing to listen to my needs. I’m choosing to indulge in a day off. I’m choosing nature. I’m choosing me.

I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order. – John Burroughs

https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/32924-i-go-to-nature-to-be-soothed-and-healed-and

Raising Awareness About Miscarriage & Pregnancy Loss

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At sunset, the little soul that had come with the dawning went away, leaving heartbreak behind with it. – L.M. Montgomery

October is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. Every year at this time, I partake in raising awareness about the prevalence of early baby loss. In 2004, I miscarried my first child—Agnes Elizabeth. After awhile, though still mired in grief, I slowly began looking beyond my central experience toward reading, researching, and reaching out. Soon, the despair began to lift as, little by little, I realized I was not as alone as I originally felt or thought. In fact, I had joined a special subsection of the female population—a sisterhood marked by the scars of miscarriage, pregnancy loss, and stillbirth. Because words and stories have always been a balm to my woes, while suffering the long-term effects of miscarriage, I allowed books and conversation to soothe away the pain.  

We talk about them, not because we’re stuck or because we haven’t moved on, but we talk about them because we are theirs, and they are ours, and no passage of time can change that. — Unknown

https://www.romper.com/p/16-meaningful-quotes-for-national-pregnancy-infant-loss-remembrance-day-19212024

Until I experienced miscarriage myself, I did not know nor realize how common it is for a woman to suffer from early child loss. One in four pregnancies will end before reaching the second trimester. Recurrent miscarriage, as I’ve experienced, is less common. Yet, I’m acquainted with many women who share this type of devastating loss and compounded grief with me.

If I hadn’t found the courage to tell my story, I wouldn’t have been able to receive the support I needed to fully make it through each of my pregnancy losses. If I hadn’t fully processed what was taken from me and what remains in the shadow of miscarriage, I may not have been able to return the favors of care and compassion to dear friends while they suffered their own miscarriages and multiple losses. Sharing and showing up have been two of the most important pieces of the puzzle to my healing from the intricate traumas of child loss and acquiring the ability to move forward from the physical, mental, and emotional pain of miscarriage.

I felt like I was being carried over the threshold of a sisterhood of loss. I knew I was not walking alone, and that eventually I would bob back up to the surface of the deep, because the women around me showed me what healing looks like.

― Anna WhiteMended: Thoughts on Life, Love, and Leaps of Faith

https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/miscarriage?page=3&utf8=%E2%9C%93

If you have miscarried or lost a child at any stage of pregnancy, or your child was stillborn, I am so incredibly sorry for your suffering and pain. I’m sorry your heart has been pierced in this way. Be assured of my empathy and prayers, and understand you are not alone. If you need support, or you know of someone having a difficult time with their child loss experience, there are many local, national, and international organizations available to help. I would recommend starting here:

I held you every second of your life. — Stephanie Paige Cole, Still: A Collection of Honest Artwork and Writings from the Heart of a Grieving Mother 

The Summer of Collected Memories

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“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.” – John Lubbock

https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/32939-rest-is-not-idleness-and-to-lie-sometimes-on-the

Facing a litany of summer let downs due to COVID-19, I became insistent my family, in our conscious efforts to slow down, mask up, and stay home, would still have a long list of positive memories. Oversimplified and less monumental than summers prior, it was imperative we gathered a collection of sweet, tangible experiences of our own to hold and enjoy. But, first, we would allow ourselves the space to mourn our personal disappointments: the canceled annual vacation, refunded summer camps, no pool days, declining offers to gather, not visiting loved ones with vulnerable health conditions, avoiding crowds and community, only attending virtual mass, and sorrowfully missing our friends and family. Then, we would rest and appreciate the slowness, embrace this time of stillness and isolation, and despite the litany of mourned losses, we would find a way to make the best of it—together. Although, at the beginning of this summer experiment I had rampant doubts about how we would pull it off, I believe we exceeded our goal and succeeded in our efforts to “discover joy amid the pain.”

Once virtual schooling came to a halt, my husband and I scoured Airbnb for in-state cottages and cabins to our liking, in our modest price range, and declared 2020 would be the season of locating the quaint and hidden gems nearby. The fruits of this idea did not disappoint. Intentionally, we spaced our bookings apart so we would have one adventure to look forward to every month of the summer. We filled in the downtime with ease by including treks to local parks, camping in our yard, gathering for family game nights, and letting the days unfold on their own. The choice to have a combination of planned getaways and unscheduled stretches of time spent at home attributed to a quite happy and wholesome break. By allowing ourselves the occasion to branch out toward sections of the state we’ve not visited before, and returning to the areas we favor, we discovered newfound delight in local exploration and realized ourselves more in awe of our awesome state and enamored with the town we live in.

Another unexpected advantage to the pandemic summer was the making of an outdoor retreat tucked away in the woods on the property where my husband grew up. Frequently when visiting my father-in-law, we’ve walked the area together—especially in the winter months when the overgrowth has fallen and our boots can crunch atop the frozen earth. The freedom we found this summer allowed my husband and children to embark on a project together, and they set about clearing out a more direct path from the house to the forest, lining the grassy lane with bits of wood and rock, and making the connection between the house and back property a more delightful experience for everyone involved. Now the children can roam and run free between the yard and faraway wood without the distress of thorny entanglements or fear of getting lost. The joy in carving out this special place has allowed us to share with our kids the type of summer fun we fondly remember having—hot summer days spent in outdoor intrigue, hours gone investigating the natural world, making outdoor revelations on our own, and finding a piece of oneself that can only be uncovered under the shade of a tree, breathing in the fresh air, one’s skin soaking up some Vitamin D. The chance to gift a piece of our past to our kids, to allow them to encounter for themselves the unhinged joys of a simplified and rural encounter, was an unexpected blessing of the summer—a highlight all of us agree upon.

Creating this hidden world for our family to treasure was also an opportunity for peaceful reclamation. Shielded from the cacophony of worldly anxieties, the forest cover has comforted and cocooned us as we dealt with the stressors surrounding and threatening us on a daily basis. Within the personalized hollow, we could forget it all for a little while. We hung up our hammocks between the trees as our Boy Scout practiced and refined his outdoor skills, our youngest daughter worked to identify plants and wildflowers and took polaroid pictures of whatever drew her eyes into focus, and our youngest son walked the length of logs, climbed atop piles of dirt and debris, and gathered sticks and rocks. Nearby, my husband delighted in working to improve the nature-given space, and I indulged in a new novel, read between the camp chair and a hammock, and wrote in my journal. We lit fires and ordered pizza for dinner, looked up at the sky and marveled at the blue, and listened to the symphony of sounds of rural Ohio as we bathed under the light filtering through the trees above us.

A few weeks ago, my kids donned masks on their faces and strapped backpacks to their bodies, climbed the stairs into their school bus and chose seats near one another, then waved good-bye to my husband and me as they drove off to the start of a new school year. I see a difference in each one of them and it’s not just their sun-kissed cheeks and golden highlights, not just the inches and pounds added to their frames, not just the new shoes and crisp uniforms. I believe the difference is apparent because they’re shining from the sound interconnectedness between them, made stronger from the calmness and maturity they’ve gained, are restored by the ability to be resolute and resilient in anxious times, and fully renewed from having spent a season seeking joy in the minuscule moments of life.

A new time has emerged now, and I’m looking forward to what discoveries await us in the autumnal season. I know there will be more silver linings to weave into our familial story, sweet memories to create together, and small, not insignificant, moments to cherish. As 2020 comes to a close—thankfully so—I’ll spend the next few months measuring the milestones, maintaining the closeness, and continuing to make the best of this unprecedented time by demonstrating to my kids how gratitude is possible even on the worst days and remaining intentional about reminding them: all we have is today. So, let’s live it well, while we can.

We have grown dull toward this world in which we live; we have forgotten that it is not normal or scientific in any sense of the word. It is fantastic. It is a fairy tale through and through. Elephants? Caterpillars? Snow? At what point did you lose your wonder of it all? – John Eldredge

https://www.outofstress.com/finding-joy-simple-things-quotes/

In Search of Silver Linings During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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How many times have you noticed that it’s the little quiet moments in the midst of life that seem to give the rest extra-special meaning? Fred Rogers

 

I live in Ohio and where Governor DeWine and Dr. Amy Acton have mandated a stay-at-home order to ensure that we are all doing our part in taking the social distancing seriously, working together to flatten out the curve and lessen the spread of the Coronavirus. These are uncertain, strange, anxiety-inducing, incredible times we are living in. Each and every one of you must be feeling your own wave of emotions with each passing day. It has been overwhelming, to say the least, that we’ve had to simultaneously just stop life and automatically become something or someone we never imagined or intended to be. We’ve been asked to jump on board without little preparation to turn rooms of our homes into make-shift offices and multi-leveled classrooms, have lost income and precious resources, and halted our livelihoods and meaningful recreation. Our stability and emotional composure feels wobbly and uncertain, at best. We’re all in this together, we are. I have hope that we will get through this, and that the drastic measures put into place will get us through the worst of it and save as many lives as possible.

Last week, my children had their first week of online learning. Their schools are honoring spring break this week, as planned. On Monday, we will start up once again for virtual schooling, until we receive the okay to return to their dearly missed school buildings, classrooms, teachers, and friends. Who knows how much longer this quarantine will remain in place? If I had a hunch, this will be the new norm for the foreseeable future.

On Monday, I felt long lulls of boredom and a few moments of anger, exasperation, sadness, and stress. Today, I’m feeling better. After sleeping in a bit, then finishing my morning reading, I realized that I’ve been in serious, get-things-done mode, cleaning a bit obsessively, putting my family first, and resorting to neglecting myself. Other than sticking to my daily walks, everything I have been focused on has been related to the upkeep and re-organization of our home, schooling, the health and well-being of my loved ones near and far—all without a break or alone time built-in for myself. So, as I’ve set a loose schedule for my kids, I’ve also set a loose schedule for myself, one where I am prioritizing well-being over doing.

One of my best friends asked me yesterday about my “silver linings” in all of this craziness. To be honest, there has been an abundance of good despite the hardships that have arisen because of the many, great changes. These small glimmers of hope are sustaining me through the tough, isolating moments. When I witness, first-hand, the resiliency of all my children and their good-nature despite cancelled plans and missing their beloved friends, classmates, teachers, and schools, it sets hope straight out in the forefront, and a newfound awareness that my kids will be alright, they’ve got this, they’re going to be better for having gone through it all together. When I can literally see my husband work so diligently at supporting his family, it causes a surge of love and appreciation, gratitude and relief within me. When all of us can join together around the table for meals without anywhere to go, except to the cabinet for another board game or card game once we’ve finished our meal, our family bond is fusing together stronger and happier than ever before. When my kids automatically run for great lengths once we reach the path paved along the perimeter of the neighborhood we live in, I see the natural runners they were born to be. Phone calls and texts to loved ones are on the increase. Letters and cards are being sent and received. Creativity and stress-relief are soaring. Out in nature multiple times a day, our bodies are healthier and leaner. Sleep comes more easily, and as I arise each new morning it feels like a blessed miracle; an ever-precious phenomena.

If you are reading this, then my hope for you is that you are able to seek out your own silver linings and threads of welcome joy, and feel peace during these uncertain times.

 

“We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy.” – Joseph Campbell

Encouragement in These Uncertain Times

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“I plead with you—never, ever give up on hope, never doubt, never tire, and never become discouraged. Be not afraid.”

― Saint Pope John Paul II, Pope John Paul II: In My Own Words

 

The rapid spread of the Coronavirus is a pertinent reminder to all of us just how quickly life can change in a blink of an eye. Collectively, we have been affected in a myriad of significant ways as our lives, plans, and security seem to be in a downward spiral and we are required to adapt at lightning-flash speed to the newly formed policies and procedures. I’m praying that the fluctuations enacted in your personal lives, places of employment, educational settings, and where you call home will soon lessen in their level of overwhelm; that you can find peace in the peril; and, especially, that your families, children, loved ones, neighbors, and friends are all protected, remain healthy, provided for, and stay safe. This is a tough time, but not impossible to get through.

Yesterday, my family and I watched mass from the comfort of our office/sitting room. At the last minute, our parish priests put it together so that our congregation and beyond could still participate in 9:00 AM mass when it wasn’t possible to be physically present. This was such a blessing, and I know so many other parishes are enacting similarly televised masses and services. In his comforting homily, our pastor reiterated: “prudence, not panic.” In full-disclosure, my anxiety has risen with the crest of this virus, and my tears have abundantly flowed with the crash of each new wave of change and regulation. However, my pastor’s calming mantra is aiding in my ability to keep steady.

It all feels scary and epic, doesn’t it? With the threat of illness always there, looming like a dark shadow hanging over us like a cloud of doom, it’s difficult to remain in the present, in good spirits, able to count our blessings above the burdens, as we anxiously await the worst that could come. I think it’s perfectly alright to be afraid and share those feelings, as I’m doing here.

What’s helping me? Being intentional about instituting longer walks in the fresh air, touching base with close friends and family, and trying to not plan too far in advance are a few suggestions that are helping me to reign in my feelings of fear and overwhelm. I know that when the threat of things out of my control allows panic to set within me, the fear of the unknown unnerves me to the point that I feel I’m unraveling at the seams, and the inevitable changes continue to roll in like a thunder, I can and should acknowledge how unsettling it is and allow myself to feel the fears and cry the tears. Then, I can and will turn to my faith, my journal, and my resources (husband, therapist, close confidants) to help calm my nerves and keep me grounded in what I can control: my choices, my responses, my thoughts, and my actions.

Part of the necessary changes that have me conflicted and unsure of myself? Honestly, the unknown timeline, the stretch of possible scarcity, the chance that one of my closed loved ones will be afflicted with the virus, having my children home with me full-time for the foreseeable future, my husband now working from home, and the upheaval coupled with the multitude of challenges to my routine and schedule of priorities. I know that each and every one of you can relate in your own unique and personal way. No matter how much I will relish the time together, rewriting priorities and accepting the inevitable in a time of crisis isn’t easy. Time is of the essence, so I’m breathing through my reluctance, allowing room for the changes, hoping for positive change, and praying for the blessings to unfold.

So, what is helping me embrace all that’s happening? Having a tangible plan in place, making daily lists, setting a loose schedule, being open to new ideas, a stack of books to read for me and the kids, devising and sticking to a meal plan, and realizing that this time at home will most definitely define all of us this year. On the positive side, it will unknowingly sprout newfound ways to grow closer together, slow us down to a pace of calm and restoration, and allow our hearts and minds to be open to unexpected opportunities for enjoyment and making memories to cherish.

Inspired by the shared Facebook post of one of my friends, I helped my kids write a couple of lists to help them during this time of transition and great change: “Things to do when I am bored” and “Everyday work”. Each of them came up with what they thought they needed to do and what they’d most like to do to help pass the long days ahead. Some of their ideas included:

(When bored)

  • Practice their respective sport skills (soccer, lacrosse, flag football)
  • Play with kinetic sand or play-doh
  • Play a card game or board game
  • Roller skating in the garage
  • Jump on the indoor trampoline
  • Paint
  • Lacing cards
  • Build LEGO
  • Puzzles
  • Paper crafts, drawing, coloring
  • Listen to music
  • Write a story
  • Lift weights
  • Read in my bed
  • Ride my bike or scooter
  • Play with dolls or stuffed animals
  • Play in the backyard
  • Write letters
  • Make a bracelet
  • Crafts
  • Paint nails
  • Chalk on the walk
  • Write stories
  • Read

(Everyday Work)

  • Make bed
  • Fill water bottle and keep hydrated
  • Take a walk
  • Homework
  • Practice dance recital routines
  • Exercise and stretch
  • Read
  • Sport skills
  • Chores
  • Boy Scout rank advancement and merit badge requirements
  • Keep bedroom clean
  • Math facts, Word Ladders
  • Trumpet practice
  • Speech therapy practice
  • Have fun!

When possible, I am adding to these lists:

  • reading aloud or listening to classic and humorous tales together as a family
  • catching up on family movies we usually save for summer break
  • keeping music on in the background to lighten the mood and lessen the feelings of loneliness
  • joining together to tackle some spring cleaning projects
  • FaceTime with family and friends
  • sending out drawings/postcards/letters
  • a camp-out in the backyard when the weather warms up a bit

We’ll also put out the hammock soon, plant some seeds, go on some local hikes, watch video posts by authors and illustrators (Mo Willems, Jason Tharp, etc…), check out the Cincinnati Zoo’s Home Safari, and more.

For myself? I’m prioritizing: sleep, daily walks, reading, healthy meals, exercise, cleaning and organizing, adding more breaks throughout the day, checking the news only once per day (not at night), keeping therapy appointments, and taking a weekly detox bath.

Yet, what happens when the kids are feeling tired and bored and nothing on their lists satiates their deep feelings of weariness? What to do when they begin to really miss their friends, family, and teachers? What if they burn out on having enough family time? What if their resolve breaks and their own fears overwhelm their young minds and hearts? What can I do when I’m craving nothing more than a big chunk of alone time or am in need of friend time for myself? What will happen if supplies and patience run low?

Certainly, it will happen folks. All of it—the messy, the hard, the big emotions, the monotony, and the frustration. Uncertainty and fear will ebb and flow. Therefore, we must plan for these unmistakable fragile moments, too. No doubt, with a little foresight, empathy, and compassion, it will be alright. We have it within us to reset, reassure, relax, and restore our loved ones in their pain, confusion, doubt, worries, and stress. We can share in it all, give one another grace and space, and move forward in faith over fear.

Together, we can acknowledge that this entire overhaul of our lives is difficult, but we can be there for each other in a multitude of creative and meaningful ways. We can increase outreach to one other, share our abundance, connect over social media, check-in with loved ones, give helpful suggestions, spread love and stories of goodwill, and do not hesitate to ask for advice and help for ourselves and loved ones. Phone a friend, you know?

We will—all of us— get through this strange and indeterminate time, and arise stronger, closer, wiser, and hopefully, more compassionate toward one another than ever before for having gone through such a time as this. Hold yourself and your loved ones close. And remember: Be wise. Be prudent. Be watchful. Be kind. Be safe. Be flexible. Be open. Be forgiving. Be at peace.

 

I’ve found that there is always some beauty left — in nature, sunshine, freedom, in yourself; these can all help you. – Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl

Giving Up Worry for Lent

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That the birds of worry and care fly over your head, this you cannot change, but that they build nests in your hair, this you can prevent.” 

– Chinese Proverb

Anxiousness has journeyed with me for as long as I can remember, for various reasons, becoming crippling at certain points in my life as I endured tremendous personal and inescapable hurdles. I’ve wasted many hours of my life wishing I was more nonchalant, blasé, even less caring, hoping I would one day wake up and naturally be easy-going, unfettered, and without the constant heavy-laden feel of the chains of angst and emotion dragging me down. After too many years of resistance, I’ve fully accepted all that I am: sensitively hardwired, overly empathetic, easily bothered by difficult matters, worn thin by tending to others and ignoring myself, overly attached, and emotionally driven. No longer do I care or agree that these traits of mine are flaws—they are not—even if these characteristics set me up to be more prone to anxiety, worry, and distress.

Parenting has surely contributed a new dimension to my anxious state by adding more fears to grip my mind and cling upon my heart. One of my greatest wishes for my children is that they are freed of any type of ongoing anxiety and worry about nonsense. Living free of the type of anxiety that has plagued me would enhance their happiness quotas and ensure they are living their best lives, peacefully. The innocent, beautiful, impressionable hearts and minds of my children are one of the prime reasons I’ve been working so hard for so many years to eradicate the disease of worry in my own life. If I can conquer this feat with my faith as the guiding light, then I know in my heart of hearts I can accomplish anything I set my mind to.

Along with the strength, love, and support of my endearing husband, I also have an amazing therapist in my corner. With each consecutive appointment, I’m learning to loosen the grips of control, worry, and anxious despair and improving upon my ability to cling on to hope, love, and the promises of my faith. But, man. It’s a daily struggle.

“Every tomorrow has two handles. We can take hold of it with the handle of anxiety or the handle of faith.” – Henry Ward Beecher

Last month, as I began contemplating my 2019 Lenten journey, I kept envisioning being set free from my anxieties, no longer shackled by the chains of fear, finally wearing the wings of freedom instead of continually fretting about the past and over the future. Longing for the ability to remain in the present and to take on the mountain I’ve been slowly ascending my entire life, I made the decision to give myself the gift of tackling my biggest roadblock to happiness: the trifecta of control, worry, and fear of the unknown.

Most of us who are anxious by nature like to be in control. When we face a situation that is beyond our control, we often begin to worry.”  – Gary Zimak

Being the reader that I am, I began searching for a self-paced Lenten guide. My research led me to Gary Zimak’s Give Up Worry for Lent. It happened that shortly after it was revealed to me worry was all I needed to sacrifice this Lent, I was in the Marian Gift Shop of my church home, and Mr. Zimak’s book was set out for the Lenten display. Without hesitation, I bought the book then and there. As I was driving to an exercise class only a few days later, I heard Mr. Zimak speaking on the local Catholic radio station to promote his book and take calls from listeners on the very topic of worry. (I thought my anxious state was rare. Unfortunately, it seems as if I’m part of a majority group, sadly so.) For all these reasons, I knew my quiet contemplation (a result of my Lenten focus from last year) brought me to the right focus for my inner-state this year. I’m a flawed individual, yet wonderfully made, and I’m trying to harmonize all that I am made to be.

I’d love to know (please comment):

What is your Lenten focus this year?

What areas of your inner-being would you like to refine, refocus, or renew?

What has been your greatest Lenten sacrifice?

 

“When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened.” 

– Winston Churchill

Be Yourself! A Journal for Catholic Girls {Book Review & Giveaway!}

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***BLOG POST UPDATE ***

The winner of the giveaway is reader Gian!

Thank you to those of you who participated and for your readership!

 

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, which means the blog author may receive a commission if you click a link and purchase something that the blog author has recommended. While clicking these links won’t cost you any extra money, the blog author may receive a commission from the affiliate. Please check out our disclosure policy for more details. Thank you for your readership and support!

“Let your light shine!” – Matthew 5:16

The Christmas and gifting season is upon us, and books are one of my favorite gifts to give for birthdays, Christmas presents, and other special occasions. I’m always on the hunt for books that inspire and encourage the children in my life. My hope is to always support authors, encourage thoughtful readers in my life, and spread around my love of literature and the written word. Going forward, I’ll be featuring some book reviews on this blog, and I’m thrilled to share my first one with you today.

When I found out through social media about a journal written specifically for Catholic girls age 9 and older, I couldn’t wait to get a copy! My first impression of Amy Brooks’ Be Yourself! A Journal for Catholic Girls was “Wait! Where was a journal like this one when I was growing up?

Talk about relevant and necessary! Personally, I believe every Catholic Christian tween and teen girl would benefit from being gifted a copy of Amy’s creative work for their birthday or under the Christmas tree this year. It’s that good. Here are a few reasons why:

  • It’s a guided journal that allows the girl to start where she needs to go that day—from listing hopes, dreams, blessings or worries; exploring her prayer style, special talents, and identity in God’s creation; opportunities for reflecting on a myriad of ways to show love to herself and others; and a tangible outlet for quieting herself, praying, thinking, dreaming, coloring; and so much more.
  • The writer speaks directly to the girl, making this special journal a safe and inspiring place for her to be alone with her thoughts and feelings, all the while receiving spiritual encouragement from her Heavenly Father, the Saints, and Mother Mary from the included, thoughtful Bible verses, inspirational quotes, and relevant Saint stories.
  • It’s a fluid, open-ended journal, with various ways for girls to creatively explore their relationship with God, strengthen their devotion, and increase their Catholic faith. It’s one that I can envision so many different types of our precious girls enjoying in so many different ways—all of the reasons just as good, beautiful, pure, and strong as the content of this well-written, enchantingly illustrated journal.

My soon-to-be-eight-year-old daughter was thrilled to have the chance to look through this attractive and interesting Catholic girls’ journal. Although, she’s not quite ready for all the material this journal offers, she shared that her favorite parts of the book are:

  • The cool pictures to color on almost every page throughout the entire journal.
  • The “happy” quotes and Bible verses that popped out at her as she leafed through the book.
  • The Letter to Jesus page which she said she would use a lot to write to Jesus about what’s on her mind and in her heart.

The author was so gracious to gift me two copies of Be Yourself! A Journal for Catholic Girls—one for sharing with a special girl in my life, and one for giving away to a lucky reader of my blog. Please, enter this giveaway for your chance to win a copy of this finely written and illustrated journal for a tween or teen girl in your life! It would make a perfect Christmas gift, or anytime treasure!

To enter the journal give-a-way:

  1. For ONE chance: Please comment on this blog post with a favorite Bible verse or quote from a favorite Saint.
  2. For TWO chances: Add to your comments by telling me about how a beloved book or favorite author resonated with you when you were a tween.
  3. For THREE chances: In your comment, please let me know that you’ve shared this blog post and giveaway on social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter).

***I will choose the lucky winner by random drawing on 11/17/18!***

Be happy in the moment. That’s enough. Each moment is all we need. Not more.”

~ Saint Teresa of Calcutta

 

On Grief and Gratitude

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“Ye have lost a child—nay, she is not lost to you, who is found to Christ; she is not sent away, but only sent before; like unto a star, which going out of our sight, doth not die and vanish, but shineth in another hemisphere.” ~ Samuel Rutherford

 

This October, as in years past, I honored the short lives of the children I miscarried. In appreciation for those that traveled with me (and my family) through the compounded grief of losing six children, I’ve been seeking ways to give back and offer personal help to other mothers wrought with the raw pain of losing a child they’ll never hold.

Having moved well past my acute pain and piercing suffering, I finally feel free enough to turn my grief experience into service and action. My writing has been a solace to others, and I’ve personally aided friends through their own child loss journeys over the years. Though, this fall I have felt the call to do something more for the cause.

Locally, there is an organization that exists for this very reason—to shepherd families going through the unthinkable sorrow of losing a child—and I’ve had personal experience with the compassion, care, and services this important ministry offers. Reaching out, I started by writing a guest blog post last month, and hope to do so much more for them and the community of families whose hearts and lives have been forever altered by the loss of a child.

{You can read my guest post on their blog, here.}

 

Now that November is upon us, I have turned my focus toward gratitude, seeking out pleasure in the simple joys, and giving thanks for all the things I too often take for granted. Over the years, this practice in listing my blessings for the thirty days in November has refined my mind and heart—especially when the threads of my inner-being have threatened to unravel into disrepair. My struggles are incomprehensible at times, but I refuse to be broken and ungrateful.

No matter your circumstances, dear reader, I hope you will find the will in your heart to join me in pausing, savoring the good, and giving praise and thanksgiving for any fleck of beauty, moment of grace, and glimmer of hope you find in your world today, and the whole month through. Today, I am grateful to you for taking the time to read what I have written.

 

“Wear gratitude like a cloak and it will feed every corner of your life.” ~ Rumi

 

 

Resting in the Stillness After Personal Struggle

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Silence, I learned, is some times the most beautiful sound.” 
― Charlotte Eriksson

“Slowly, simply, silence, stillness” was my Lenten mantra, my focus, my goal for the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter morning. A lofty goal, yes. Yet, I was convinced this intentional journey would yield the peaceful rewards I was seeking in my personal life. Of all my Lenten fasts, in comparison to all my past sacrifices, in judging the level of self-denial I’ve deliberately imposed on myself, this year’s “halt of self” has been the most challenging in refinement of my mind, body, and spirit.

Do you trust the silence? Or, are you a skeptic of stillness, like I tend to be?

Have you found a way to rest in the stillness? Do you ever allow yourself the chance to rest your weary mind and bones?

Do you welcome in the peace? Or, are you prone to catastrophising out of innate fear?

Have you lived out loud, with joy and freedom from the chains of your mind? Or, do you lurk along in misery, always waiting for the other shoe to drop?

The last three years, for me, have felt like an ultra-marathon, filled with hills and valleys of tears, running at a snail’s pace, feeling completely lost and unprepared for the race set before me, as I carried a weighted pack on my shoulders, trudging through mud, falling down too many times that I’ve lost track. Over the last few weeks, I have seen the finish line in sight and I’m eager, yet still so apprehensive, to finish the race and rest in the notion that the biggest fight of my life thus far, is finally done. I am having a difficult time accepting that the grueling miles I’ve run have amounted to much more than having run a race I was thrown into, without adequate preparation. Now that my desperate pleas and prayers seem to be answered, it’s difficult to switch gears to a place where it’s time to rest, recuperate, recover from the incredible feat I have just accomplished, emotionally.

For so very long now, I have carried that burdensome cross of mothering a struggling child without a compass, my headlamp dimmed, my resolve shaken and trampled on. Yet, here I rise. The truth is the only way I’ve survived the mountainous terrain of my parenting journey is that I’m finally allowing myself to let go of control. Though fears still grapple me with super-human strength, I am diligent in practicing how to breathe through them, pray through them, write through them, and further unloading them in dialogue with my amazing therapist, trying to leave them in that space between us, not letting them drag me to the floor once I return home.

I’ve practiced a lot of self-forgiveness as I’ve fallen flat on my face and the need to forgive and seek forgiveness will remain a focus in my life. Despite my missteps and mistakes, I can recognize that I am loving as best I can today, and have let those circumstances, hardships, and some relationships to just be, freely flying away to where they need to go—even if that means far away from me where I can no longer enact any type of chance to insert my will, my advice, my vision, or my control.

The most humbling lesson I’ve learned in the last three years is that it’s okay, preferable, actually, to let go of perfection and preconceived notions, allowing God to do His job, and to just love—myself, others, my family, strangers, my friends, and enemies—right where I am and right where they are, without expectation nor conditions to that love. Truth be told, it’s a difficult, often heart-wrenching choice, challenge, and cross to bear going on in love when you feel so beaten down and defeated by the compounding hardships of life. But, going on in love and patience, staying mindful to live each day as best as I can, choosing better than before, these new choices and changes only feel strange and unnatural for a time before the transformative lightness is shining from deep within my heart, mind, and soul, changing me for the better.

Slowly, simply, silence, stillness. This has been my Lenten focus and will remain my prayerful path going into the Easter season and throughout the remainder of this year. Hoping for heartfelt and mindful changes for you, me, and the world abound. Be at peace, friends.

“Whenever there is stillness there is the still small voice, God’s speaking from the whirlwind, nature’s old song, and dance…” 
― Annie DillardTeaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters