Not About the Turkey

A peek at social media during November and you’ll know immediately that it’s the season of thanks.  I don’t participate in the 30 days of thanks, just because to me it feels forced and something to worry about making sure you don’t forget anyone or hurt feelings.  But it’s also because I’m sometimes overwhelmed with gratitude to a point of not being able to express it.

We’re blessed.  Truly.  No other way to say it.

And as much as I want to say that Thanksgiving is just about being together and enjoying family and friends, we *may* have been stress balls trying to get our house ready for guests.  Michael’s sister and her family are spending a few days with us, and we are pretty excited about that.  Our time with his family is rare, and them traveling to us has been happening about once a year since long travel for us became too hard.  It’s hard for some of his family to understand his illness or the difficulties we face because of it, and that’s caused some issues.  Which makes it even more special when we have time with some of them.

And we like them.  You know how you love family but have some you just don’t like?  These are not them.  We like them and love them.  Awesome.
So it should be easier to just relax, let the house be what it is and enjoy them.  But instead, Michael is trying to get 82 last minute things done, I’m shopping and meal prepping and organizing and cleaning.  And working.

What about you- have you mastered “relax and enjoy it” or are you so busy cooking and baking and planning that you’re feeling more stressed than grateful?  If you’re like me and haven’t, these are the things I’m reminding myself, and you may want to also:

It’s not about the Turkey.

pieOr the dressing, pies, cranberry or potatoes.

It’s not about the perfect table setting.

Or photo worthy outfits.

It’s not about the Black Friday shopping.

Or Thanksgiving evening shopping.

It’s about being together, being thankful for memories with those not with you, and having one whole day to reflect on all we have and all those who helped us get here.

From my family to yours- Happy Thanksgiving.

p.s.  The easy delicious caramel pie I’m making in the photo is courtesy of my friend Jill at Made with Moxie.  You can find her recipe here.

The Season Of Joy- And Hurt

I rarely have the right words to say.  So I make jokes, or say inappropriate things, or say nothing.  I can come across as crass or unfeeling quite often.  Not proud of that, just fact.

But it also makes me pretty forgiving of others who don’t get the right words out.  I care way more about intent and heart than about the right words, and there are so many times that words are inadequate anyway.

So for those who are sometimes at a loss in the most difficult of times, I thought I’d give some tips.  Why now?

Because it’s the start of the season of Joy.  But also the season of great loss and sorrow.

Even those celebrating with family and finding joy throughout this season may be missing someone.  Or may be facing financial troubles that overshadow all else.  Or may be healing from heartbreak.  There’s a lot of darkness in homes this time of year.

My 10 tips for helping a hurting friend :

1.  Assume everyone is facing something and give them the benefit of the doubt when their words aren’t quite right.

2.  When you know they’re missing someone who has passed away or missing, let them talk about their loved one.  You don’t have to have the right words, you just have to ask about their traditions or past holidays and listen.  Pretending they aren’t gone won’t make it easier for them.

3.  Don’t ask if someone needs help.  If there’s a reason for you to ask, you probably already know there is a need.  They’re probably not going to tell you specifically or even say so.  Look around- maybe they need a meal, their yard taken care of, or just a coffee brought to them.  Don’t ask, just do.

4.  Give something personal and meaningful.  Small meaningful gifts that remind them they’re loved mean the most.

5.  Don’t offer religious catch phrases.  Did you know that it is not biblical that God won’t give you more than you can handle?  (Great article about that here).

6.  Invite them but don’t push them.  Depending on the situation or their place in the cycle of grief, they may not be ready.  But they also may just need to be asked and loved.

7.  Enjoy your family.  No one hurting truly wants those around them to feel the way the do.

8.  Don’t remind them that it will get better.  It doesn’t help and they probably already know that.  But imagining the time when they’ll miss their loved one less only means imagining even more time passing.

9.  Encourage.  Cards, text, voice mails, all to let them know they’re on your mind.

10.  Pray.  It works.

With two young kids and the most amazing friends, the holidays are full of joy.  But even then there are moments of sadness missing Austin and others.  And I know many for whom the grief overshadows the joy.

I hope this starts you thinking about how you can help a friend experiencing that this season.

 

hurting_friend

 

 

Aunt Cathy’s Dressing

After 12 years of marriage, something is happening for the first time that makes me sweat.  I’m hosting a meal for part of my husband’s family.  His sister and her family are coming to visit, and we’re really looking forward to it.  We don’t get much time with his family- with them several states away and the great difficulty we have with traveling, it’s very rare.  So spending time with them at all is special, but getting to share our home with them makes it even more so.  And did I mention it’s for Thanksgiving?  So feeling auntcathy_dressingsome pressure.

My first stop for help was my Aunt Cathy.  She’s a great cook, but in particular does the.best.dressing. every year- I asked her to send the recipe, and instead of emailing or sending a message, she took the time to hand write it and stick it in the mail, along with a recipe for gravy.  It’s in her handwriting, and something I’ll pull out and use year after year for as long as I cook.  It’s more than a recipe, more than instructions- it’s our family history.

About ten years ago, before I even realized how much our family history meant, or knew that I’d soon be missing loved ones every holiday, my Aunts and Mom knew.  We spent hours writing in recipe books, sharing our favorites with each other in our own handwriting.  I didn’t cook a lot- and still don’t honestly.  But now I pull that book out and find extended family favorites that have become our favorites too, and feel the connection.

I see my grandmother’s handwriting- sharing her potato soup, vanilla nut cookies, and surprise lemon cake.  Recipes she used with her family of 6, that she then passed on.

She’s gone now.  But the written words and legacy are an ongoing gift.

I see my mom’s recipes for things that Austin and I grew up with as favorites, and remember.  And I make them for our family now.

I’ve tucked my Aunt’s recgrandma_cakeipes into that book, and have decided to start building it again.  This year, my brother-in-law will be preparing some of their favorite things too.  And I’ll add those into our book.

I’m realizing that our traditions can continue to grow, and despite missing people at our table this year, we can celebrate those gathering at our table for the first time.

I’m thankful that there are plenty of empty pages left in the book to be filled in.  I’ll always look back to the special recipes written in my grandmother, aunts and mom’s handwriting.

But I’ll keep building new memories too, that can become my kids family history.

What are the traditions that you’ll honor this year?  What will you do new?  I can’t wait to hear!

The Help Experiment

A few weeks ago I learned about a leadership team being formed to start something BIG.  I wanted in.

The Help Experiment: We are a collective of individuals joining together to help others. We do it because we can, we do it because we should, and we do it because we think… you would too.  That was the vision of the man behind the project, Jon Levesque.  He is passionate about this, and assembled a team who is as well.

It’s the early days, but what has already happened?

People are offering help.  People are being helped.

In small ways and big.  People who thought they had nothing to offer have realized that their skills and talents are valuable and needed.  There have been offers of logo design, health and fitness coaching, baked goods, meals delivered, Christmas cards designed, Christmas gifts for kids in need, and many more.  We have seen people who needed encouragement and to believe that people care find that.  We’ve seen people who needed to realize that they have an important gift to give find those who are so grateful.

I truly believe we’ll start to see lives changed.

If you’ve read much of mine, you already know I can get on a soapbox about ‘DO SOMETHING!’ when there is a need, vs. something that makes you feel good but truly helps no one.  This is my chance to be more action than words, to not just fill a need, but to help give you, my friends, the opportunity to do something meaningful, however big or small.

Check it out- the website including stories of lives impacted will be launching soon- but amazing things are already happening on the Facebook page.  Click over, join, and look for yourself.  There’s no risk, no commitment, just come see…. I think you’ll stick around.

This month we’re reminded of how much we have to be thankful for and how much we have.  Now, it’s time to give.

help

Charlie & The Least of These

Earlier I was reading a blog post that was really powerful, but I had such a strong response to that I had to stop and wonder why.  You’ll have to go read it to fully understand, but in essence, Josh Collins reached out to truly see someone that most of us would overlook, a guy named Charlie.

I’ve never been that guy- the one who has so little, is unseen in society, or could disappear with no one noticing.  So why did I connect?  Because, if Austin is alive, he is no doubt one of “the least of these.”  And I realize that Charlie is loved by someone and maybe even missed by someone.

He may be someone’s Austin.

My brother didn’t disappear because he wanted a different life or because he was on the run from criminal activity or afraid for his life.  He didn’t take money and isn’t living the dream on an island in the Caribbean.  Austin disappeared because he was ill, because depression had taken over, and because he’d stopped seeing that it could change.  We believe that.  The only missing piece is what happened after those last moments we know about.  Did he become a Charlie?  Or are we right in focusing our search on a search for remains?  It’s unlikely, very unlikely, that he’s alive today.  But if he is, he’s almost certainly living a life like Charlie.

And maybe someone like Josh Collins is showing him some compassion and seeing him just for a few moments as God does.

Josh wrote that he thought about Charlie’s family, and about where Charlie had been and was going.  I pray that if Austin is out there somewhere today, that he encounters someone like Josh.  Someone who can see him worthy of being acknowledged and spoken to, and even helped.

Sometimes it’s harder to picture Austin out there facing a hard life alone than it is to picture him in the arms of God.  Sometimes for me, hope looks like the opposite of what people expect because of that and I shut out the possibility.

But I thank God that there are people willing to stop and see the Charlie’s of our world.  Not just because that’s what God wants from us, but because in someone else’s story, Charlie may just be named Austin.

 

** Josh, you impacted more than just Charlie.  Thank you.

 

Austin in happier days

Austin in happier days

Life Is Good

We always have something going on in this family that acts as a speed bump.  So much so that over the years I’m almost more uncomfortable when there are none.  {Almost}  We dump a lot of plans because of Michael’s unexpected hospitalization or the build up of illness before it, and we always seem to have one child or the other sick as well.

But last week’s still threw me for a loop.  Though it shouldn’t, since a variation of this story seems to happen every two years.

I’ve had a very small and very slowly growing ‘something’ on my neck for several months, not of much concern.  But early last week I realized it was hurting, growing rapidly and very red.  Consensus was that I should see the doctor.  But I was traveling a few days and couldn’t get in ahead of that and really figured it would be okay to just wait and see if it went away.

So I spent the next few days convincing myself it wasn’t really that bad, and thinking it might just go away.  It didn’t.

Friday morning, I went in to the doctor and was promptly sent to the hospital.  I genuinely didn’t feel sick, though going in I’d known it was pretty bad.  The hope was that it was an infection of some sort, but could possibly be something even worse.  If infection, it’s location made it more dangerous than it might have been otherwise.  So, off I went.

Actually, first I was on a conference call for an hour or so getting some work done, then I sent out some emails, all while waiting for a call that I had a bed. I finally went and the same concerns were repeated, and potential plans were discussed.  I had some tests that night, and learned the next day that it was infection thank goodness, and started strong IV meds. Then some painful stuff happened {let’s just block that from memory} and we waited for meds to begin working and to figure out exactly what was growing.  The assumption was a really tough infection that would mean me going home on 10 days of meds through a PICC line.

Oddly enough, throughout the ordeal I felt pretty good.  Well, other than when my skin tried to crawl off as a reaction to the meds, but we switched meds and all was well.  So, feeling pretty good, Michael and I hung out and actually enjoyed some time together.  We watched about 10 episodes of Arrested Development, we watched football, we joked about our idea of a good date.  A few friends visited and my mom brought the kids to visit.  I even got to Facetime in to my birthday party.

Yeah, that part stunk.  I had joked with a friend about how something always comes up around my birthday, and hers was just last week, so we got together with another friend whose birthday is between ours, and planned a fun night.  I missed it.  Of course.

Eventually, the unexpected happened.  It was determined that I can take oral antibiotics, which meant going home and without a PICC line, which would have been a major speed bump to some plans over the next few weeks.  I felt like we’d broken out of jail!

Truthfully, there were some scary moments, and I’m grateful for the prayer and love from so many.

We hate the speed bumps, but without them we might forget how much we have to be thankful for.

So, back at home, back to work and back to hanging out with the kids I love.

Life is good.

some of the meds

some of the meds

 

 

In the Middle

When I was in high school, I once told my closest friends that I was going to find new friends.  Not because they were mean or bad friends, but because I was tired of being around people so much prettier.  They weren’t just pretty- they were talented and intelligent and caring.  I was all those things on a much less scale- not ugly, not dumb, not without talent, but being in the middle bothered me.   I was {mostly} joking about finding new friends, but the feelings remained.

As an adult, I don’t usually consider dropping friends over their awesomeness, but I do still struggle with the feeling of never quite measuring up.  I feel like I’m really good at a lot of things, but great at none, and spend way too much time being discouraged by the people around me instead of encouraged.  Instead of focusing on what I’m doing, I judge my success on those around me and how they’re doing- and I just keep falling into the middle.

That warped way of thinking was stronger than ever the past few weeks.  I’m

part of a group of terribly talented people, all working on pursuing a dream.  The dreams and talents are different, but it’s a group of people really making things happen.  But I’m so busy looking around at all they are accomplishing, and letting myself get down over what I’m not.

It took me a few weeks of wallowing in my ‘not measuring up’ to see the reality.  My path is not the same as theirs- my challenges and goals are not the same- my successes won’t be the same.  I’ve been cheering for them all along- never anything but thrilled for them- but busy being sad for me.    But I’m back.  Redefining goals and success based on what God has planned for me- not by what God has planned for those around me.

Am I the only one who needs to refocus back on God wants for me?  How are you doing at measuring success by what you’re meant to be and do, not by the world around you?  I’d love to hear.

I’m not in the middle of anything but my own story.

In the Middle of My Story

In the Middle of My Story

Nice

You are already all smart people who get this when I forget it.  So yes, I know this doesn’t apply to everyone.

But I do.  I do forget.

I forget that doing something nice for someone really is doing something for me.

I forget that doing one small thing to make someone smile does the same for me, even when I’m not going to get anything out of it, and they won’t even know I did it.

I’m struggling through envy and self-doubt and am throwing a bit of a pity party for myself right now.  I’ll either snap out of it and tell you about it soon, or not snap out of it and tell you about it so I can at least laugh at myself soon.

But through all that struggle, I had the opportunity to do something fairly small for someone, and almost chose not to.  Why?  Because of said pity party and feeling like things never turn out, why give to others who already have so much good happening for them, when is it my turn, blah blah blah blah blah.  Yes, fully aware I am a whiny brat.  Working on that.

But I did it.

And as I did it, I remembered that there really is much joy in being the one who can give something.  There really is as much in the giving as the getting.  It probably does me more good than it does them.  And I’m grateful for the chance to do it.

So yeah, let’s be real here.  I’m not over the whiny pity party.  But I’m trying, and I’m a step closer than I was yesterday.

In case you need the reminder (though I imagine everyone reading this to be much bigger and more mature people than me), it’s true.  Giving is {almost} as awesome as receiving.

nice

 

 

Why I Love College Football

This weekend kicks off college football, and I couldn’t be happier.

A few lot of years ago, I was starting college at the University of Florida, without a clue about football.  My parents weren’t football fans, and my high school won 2 games in 3 years, so it just wasn’t something I knew about.

But I quickly learned.  I was dating a guy who loved the Gators and taught me a great deal, and had a good friend who was born with Orange & Blue blood.  So I went from not knowing what ‘1st and 10’ meant, to being able to recap players and plays, better than most I knew.  The boyfriend was proud.  I even spent a few seasons working with a team of girls helping with recruiting, and was able to see parts of the facilities that most never do, as well as meet high school boys who would go on to become great players with big careers.

I learned about more than just X’s and O’s, and learned about the strong history, the players and coaches backgrounds, and knew I was cheering for more than just a University, but for people who were living their dreams.

I love it all.  I love college football, and especially my Gators.

In the years since college, I’ve grown to appreciate those stories of triumph even more.  And today, I’ll be watching to see who becomes a legend, who writes a page in our history book- who makes the dream happen.  I won’t just be cheering for the hard hits, spiral passes and touchdowns, but I’ll be cheering especially loud for these two players, who have stories worth sharing.  They’ll remind you that today is about more than a score.

#20, Marcus Maye, takes the field today honoring another #20 from years past who drowned just before his first season, and never did run on the field on game day.  He carries with him the heart and support of the mother who didn’t get to watch her son, James McGriff, play.  His story will touch you. 

#37, Mark Herndon, went to bed hungry most nights last season.  He was a walk-on to the Gator team, who came from a family that struggles financially and couldn’t send money to their son.  Not being on scholarship meant not even being able to eat with the team, so Ramen was his meal of choice.  He worked hard.  He went hungry.  It was worth it to pursue his dreams.  And this week, he earned a scholarship, which means he’ll now be able to focus on school and football, not on where his next meal comes from.  I’ll be cheering for him today.  And I’ll be sharing his story with my boys, who need reminders that dreams don’t come easy, but can be achieved. 

These are the reasons that College Football season is the best season of all.  The history, the dreams, the battle.  I love it all.

Go Gators!

 

anita

Caution: Expect Delays

Several days ago a sign popped up on the road out of our neighborhood that advised us of delays this week.  This road just happens to be the only way in and out of the area, the only way to our school, and just happened to be the first week of school for the county on the other half of the road, with their school one block off it.  But even with the sign, I thought that the planners would surely minimize disruption under those circumstances.

I was wrong.

Monday morning as I rode my bike with Drew, about an hour before we leave for work and school, I realized that it may have been a bigger endeavor than I thought.  The dozens of people gathered at the end of the road waiting were a bad sign.  But still, there was nothing blocked, no equipment that looked like it would tear a road up, all was clear.

An hour later, I pulled out and realized that they weren’t kidding.  One lane of the two lane road was blocked, half of that lane was torn up, and the backup coming my direction (towards the school) was so bad, that I had to wait 10 minutes until they let us out.

I was not nice.  No one heard me, but I did more than grumble.

It wasn’t until later that I laughed a little bit.  I laughed because they had warned me.  I laughed because I hadn’t heeded the warning.  But mostly, I laughed because “Expect Delays” is a common theme of my life right now, and yet I still haven’t adjusted.  As a matter of fact, the grumbling gets louder and nastier, with each delay I face.  The delays are usually expected, always a pain, but also usually worse than they warned or I thought.

But no matter what I do, I’m not going to get there any faster.  Sometimes, delays just happen.

How do you cope when you see a sign somewhere in your life, on a road, at work or in a dream you’re working towards that says

Caution:  Expect Delays

Maybe you have some tips for me.  {seriously, tips anyone?!}

I should have believed them

I should have believed them