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God Can Use Even The Circle Peg

“Failure is part of every real success because failing our way to success humbles us.”

I wasn’t planning on posting about this until I had my next step figured out. While partly out of a desire to avoid disappointing the people I care about, I have realized, after some tough, honest self-reflection, it was also a matter of pride. I have always considered myself a goal-driven, overachiever. Failure is simply not an option. But the truth is, it is a reality. And I am trying to learn how to accept defeat with humility, asking “What can I learn from this?” and “What can I do better next time?”

Despite finding and securing the “perfect” job, I quit after just two days. Yes, the job used my college degree. Yes, it had great benefits and decent pay. But I wasn’t happy. The environment was sensory-overload. I felt unprepared to do my job effectively. Simply, I was a circle peg trying to jam myself into a square hole.

No plan. No next step. I put my needs first, despite feeling overwhelmed by my desire to please everyone else, and I took a gamble. I quit.

Before quitting, there was an honest conversation with my parents. “Can I live at home a bit longer than planned?” “Am I allowed to live here if I’m without a job for a few weeks?” “You really should just kick me out.” And, despite already knowing my mom and dad to be unconditionally loving, they surprised me and didn’t hesitate. They put my happiness first, trusting that this job wasn’t the one.

(And while living at home is not at all where I want to be residing at this point in my life, it has been a blessing. With my dad’s recent surgery and mom’s focus on him, I have had the opportunity to be more hands-on with the cooking and upkeep of the house.)

There was also some financial figuring. “Can I afford to pay my bills for the rest of the month without a paycheck?” “Do I have enough money in savings if the job search takes longer than planned?”

And this is where the purpose of my post really begins.

God has provided.

With tears running down my face, I talked to Him on my commute that Tuesday morning. “God, I can’t do this job.” “Please open another door.” “Thank you for this opportunity. I know I’m blowing it, but I can’t do this.” Give me the strength to make it through one more day.”

And He provided. While I was feeling like the biggest loser and failure on Earth, not wanting to tell anyone how badly I wanted to quit out of fear of disappointing them, He gave me the courage to call a friend that night. And she talked to me for hours despite me sniffling into her ear. No disappointment or anger. “I just want you to be happy, Rach.” “If this isn’t the one, this isn’t the one.”

And then another unexpected phone call. A voice of rationality and unbiased opinion to help me make a decision.

Conversations with my brother, his words of comfort reminding me of my worth. “I wish I could do something to make this better for you.” “You’re definitely not a failure.”

You see, God knew how broken and rotten I was feeling. And, months ago, before I even knew I would be looking for a job, He brought these friendships into my life and allowed them to grow. He knew these would be the people to hold me up when I stumbled.

Here’s the deal I’ve been trying to make the past few days: “God, I’m sorry. I’ve messed up, and I feel like I’ve blown an opportunity you blessed me with. Help me find a new job, the right job, a job where I can serve others and share Your love. And then I will use this journey as a testimony to Your faithfulness & goodness.”

Who am I to bargain with God? How is it fair for me to say “if You do this, then I’ll do that?”

So, here I am. Unemployed. Unsure of what steps I’m taking next. Uncertain if God will truly provide. Because I’m a broken person who can’t possibly fathom why God would love me always and offer forgiveness despite my repeated mistakes.

You see, in hindsight, I know God has prepared me for this part of my life story. He has been providing for me for months. I have been meeting with my pastor regularly since June. It started out as a desperate, broken-hearted conversation about death, cancer, guilt, and grief, but it evolved into a challenge of my faith.

It gave me a place to take off my “everything is fine” mask and simply be broken. I am allowed to be confused, frustrated, and make things difficult during these conversations. I don’t have to pretend like my life is perfect, and like I know what in the world is going on. God brought this connection into my life- a person who patiently understands my personality and, from day 1, has reminded me, “You’re going to be okay”– because God knew my faith was going to be challenged in the months ahead.

In the past week of being unemployed, I have had more raw, honest conversations with God and spent more serious time in His word than I have in my life. And He has opened my eyes to how He provides.

Remember my financial concerns? I assumed I would be okay if I was without a paycheck for a few weeks. But God made sure I would be more than just okay. My final paycheck from my last job was more than I was planning due to a short check I received months ago. My car payment gave me the option to skip it this month with a $35 fee. But the bank recognized my previous on-time payments and waived the fee. The cost of my prescription medicine refill for this month was also conveniently waived.

These are small things, I know. It wasn’t like a million dollars landed in my lap. Or a lady with a big sweepstakes check knocked on my front door. But these small things ease my worry and remind me that God will continue to provide.

I still have a long ways to go in my relationship with God. I say to Him daily, “Help me believe, God. I don’t know if I’m even doing this right. Do you Hear me?”

So, I am not writing this post to show off my amazing faith or brag about what’s going on in my life. Because let’s be honest, I’m just a broken Christian, plagued with nagging doubts and uncertainties. I’m unemployed with no idea what’s next. My life’s a mess.

But I’m putting my trust in a God that can turn my mess into a message.

I believe God gave me the gift to write with ease, connecting to people through my written words. So, I’m using that gift to create this post. Maybe no one reads it. Maybe the only purpose is for me to put in writing, “Okay, God. I don’t know what’s going on in my life, and I have no idea Your plans for me. But I am going to surrender my life to You, trusting that you will always provide and lead me on a path to glorify You.”

Because those small things He has provided me with in the last week are truly monumental. The friend that took me out to lunch because she knew I was hurting and stewing. The friend that texts me almost daily to check-in and remind me she cares about me. My basketball girls that, while making me pull my hair out, can fill my heart with joy at the sound of their giggles.

God has blessed me with a support system to take care of me during my lows. And I know they will celebrate with me when I reach my highs. He has also allowed others to express their disappointment, speak their “I told you so” words, and break my heart with their disapproval. Because He is teaching me that the only acceptance, the only approval I need is His. I can’t keep finding my worth and value in people. They will fail me because we are all broken. But if I find my worth in Him, He will bless me beyond belief.

He already has.

-rs

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You’ve Got A Friend In Me

It’s amazing how God brings people to us in the season we need them most, even when we may not realize it until later.

I remember when Katie first started working with me. She doesn’t know this, but I just assumed I didn’t like her. (I’m sure she’s laughing right now, because she knows my terrible habit of disliking literally everyone before I even meet them.) I wanted nothing to do with her, actually. So, I said very little to her in the beginning. I regret that so much now, because I think of all the crazy adventures we missed out on due to my stubbornness. Our boss probably misses those days of me hiding out in my office, “working,” though, since Katie and I have become virtually inseparable now.

I have always imagined life as a puzzle. The people we meet, the moments we share, all coming together to form a beautiful picture. One of Katie’s favorite hobbies is doing jigsaw puzzles so it seems fitting to write about her with this analogy.

Katie has become a key piece to my puzzle. Over the last year or so, a lot of my pieces have fallen apart. I’ve lost many pieces: some by choice, some by cancer, and some by geography. Losing these pieces changed my picture. I forgot how lively, fun, and beautiful the picture could be with the right pieces.

In those early days, I assumed Katie’s piece didn’t fit with mine. Boy, was I ever wrong. You see, Katie’s piece is actually the connector to so many of my life’s puzzle pieces.  Her piece brought loyalty, joy, support, silliness, and encouragement back into my life. Once I let our pieces connect, it was like a domino effect. All of these good and lovely feelings came flooding into my life. I was reminded about what it truly means to have a friend in this crazy life.

First, Katie’s piece reconnected my own puzzle with loyalty. She is an incredibly reliable, faithful friend. I know I can count on her, no matter how big or small my obstacle may be. If I need someone to vent to and eat ice cream with, she’s there. No questions asked, even if she’s had a long day. If I need someone to drink too many margaritas with on a Tuesday night, she’s my girl. No judgement, even if she’d rather be in bed.  Katie is the friend that will volunteer to a six hour road trip to help you take care of your niece and nephew on a Thursday night. No complaints, just a willingness to help.

I’ve encountered a lot of people whose loyalty pieces only jammed together with excessive force. They might say “Let me know if you need anything” or “I’m here if you need me,” but they never just showed up. Katie always shows up first, then asks how she can make my life easier. Sometimes she doesn’t even ask, she just jumps in and starts making my life better. I’m not sure if I will ever find someone who has such a natural sense of loyalty. I’m forever thankful for the lessons of faithfulness in friendship that she has shown me.

If there is ever a Red Rover tournament, I know I want to lock arms with Katie because I’m not sure the biggest, toughest man in the world could break through the support her friendship builds. Seriously, Katie’s piece of the puzzle has such a strong, supportive core. If you know me, I like to say that I follow the motto, “Go big or go home.” I can’t do anything halfway or small in nature. It has to be bigger and better than anything I’ve ever done. Unfortunately, my oldest sister got all of the artistic genes in my family. So, while I can envision epic ideas, I can never turn them into a reality. Katie has this ability to understand the craziness of my thoughts and turn them into exactly what I envisioned. Last fall, our boss let me create a game for our annual volunteer banquet. She suggested something basic like BINGO or trivia about our workplace. But I imagined a giant game board, tied into the theme of the banquet and combining elements of many of my favorite childhood board games. I explained it all to Katie and then she produced this amazing, giant game board. And, being supportive, she stayed and facilitated my game when I had a basketball game on the night of the banquet. Then, there was the day last winter when I looked at her and said, “I think we should do a 5k fundraiser.” She got that “bring it on” look on her face, and we immediately started planning. It was an amazing, successful event, and she put so much work into pulling it off. It was my wild idea at the start, but with my busy schedule away from work, Katie picked up the slack and never complained about doing the majority of the prep work. The fundraiser never would have had a finish without her support in the middle. Katie has this determination that inspires people around her. When I give birth to these insane ideas, I get tired about halfway through. I want to give up, and I get discouraged. But Katie comes alongside me and encourages me to the finish. She leads by example rather than words. Katie truly is a woman of action, and I am forever thankful for her leadership in my life.

While I will always be thankful for the loyalty and support Katie has brought into my life, I think I am most thankful for her childlike heart. (I promise, I mean this in a really good way!) She is always, always down for one of my silly adventures. Whether it’s impromptu balloon darts or three-legged races, staff egg races or water balloon fights, or rounds of Guess Who or games of Scrabble at Dairy Queen, Katie is always ready to feed my love of fun.

She always gets behind my love of silly holidays, birthday celebrations, and Taco Tuesdays. She tells me often that she loves my laugh, but the truth is, I love that someone has brought so much joy back into my life so that I can laugh freely again. It has been a long time since I have chosen happiness, and I have no doubt Katie is the source of my choice. 

Katie will always be “my person.” I am a dark and twisty person by nature, and while Katie can be, too, she is mostly light. We tease her at work that, despite being in our presence for a year, she still has some hope and goodness inside of her. We couldn’t quite bring her over to the dark side. Joking aside, I am glad Katie is like the light at the end of a long tunnel. When she showed up down the hall from my office a year ago, I had no idea how much light she would bring me.

While I am sad that the light in her office will be turned off, I am so excited for what lies ahead. I know Katie has amazing things awaiting her. Because of who she is, she will accomplish greatness. Her loyalty, support, and light will make the puzzle a bit clearer for someone else.

I am also excited to see what pieces we will continue to connect together. I know our story is only beginning, and based on the pieces we’ve put together so far, only good things lie ahead. I have no idea what our pictures may look like, but I know, together, we will make them beautiful.

Katie, thank you for being the best work bestie I could have ever asked for. I’ll miss spending my work days with you, but I look forward to spending a lifetime as your friend! 

Cheers.


-rs

All About “B”

April 2nd is National Peanut Butter & Jelly Day.

April 2nd, 1999, was also the day I became an Aunt to the peanut butter to my jelly.

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I can still remember the corner of the rug where my six year old self stood while telling my kindergarten classmates about my niece’s arrival. I’m sure my voice was quiet, shaking maybe. But I was so proud of my new title as Auntie.

I never knew how much joy the job of Aunt brings. When my niece was born, her arrival unlocked a piece of my heart that will forever be full. Bailie’s presence in this world is one of the greatest gifts I will ever receive. She has taught me how to be a loving, protective, and cool (don’t roll your eyes, B!) Aunt. img_8234One of my most favorite parts of life is being her Aunt.

Since B came into my life, nine other tiny humans have followed and call me Auntie, too. I have never known a love so real or deep. And I have never felt more pride than hearing one of them say “I love you” or run into my arms for a bear hug. But today is all about my first niece and one of my very best friends.

I always thought that, when Bailie turned 18, I would look back on her life and see all of the things I have taught her. I never ever thought she would be the teacher. Bailie was the kid sister I never had, and within all of our crazy memories, she has taught me how to be a better human being.

Bailie has given me endless lessons in unconditional love. Oh, how I picked on this sweet girl growing up! We went everywhere on my bike: me riding and steering, B standing on my pegs, holding onto my shoulders. I crashed us into bushes, I left her behind when she fell off while a big dog was chasing us, I almost got us ran over by a semi, and I gave her a terrible tire burn on her leg. But no matter how many times I messed up, she always got back on my bike for another ride. B, thank you for loving me despite my flaws and I’m glad we never actually got ran over.

Bailie has always been supportive of my ideas.

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One of the many poses!

When I was convinced I was going to grow up to be a photographer, she sat in my room for hours while I told her how to model for various pictures. (Pictures taken with my fancy Fuji disposable camera!) And then when I decided I would be a coach when I got older, her little legs ran up and down my staircase dozens of times while I practiced using my new stopwatch and told her she had to beat her previous time. I know I will always have a #1 fan as long as B is in my life.

Bailie is brave, and she has inspired me to make courageous choices. When I first got my license but was too shy to place my order in the drive-thru (yes, that was a real problem I had), she happily rode with me and ordered, usually in an accent. When I was nervous about asking a store employee a question or a stranger to take our picture, Bailie spoke right up and asked for me. img_8231-1Over and over she has taught me how to be brave, and now it’s me that finds the courage at the top of the Ferris wheel to calm us both down. I am inspired by her decision for the next part of her life, and once again, she is wearing bravery on her face instead of fear.

But one of the biggest things B has taught me is what it feels like to be valued and admired. She has followed in my footsteps, and sometimes in my shadow, throughout her life journey. I remember her playing basketball, because I played it first. I remember her thinking about band, because I played in the band. But mostly, I remember how important it made me feel to watch her want to be like me.

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After B’s Scholastic Bowl meet which, yes, I had been a member of too!

She looked up to me, and it made me want to be a better person. I will always demand to be valued in my relationships, because Bailie taught me what an amazing feeling it is.

I have always teased Bailie about the special treatment she gets by being the first grandbaby and niece in the family. It never fails- we both do the same stupid thing but family members laugh at her and scold me. (I guess this is what every older sibling must experience!) But, as she turns 18, I realize why she deserves the special treatment. She has taught all of us what it means to be a mother, grandparent, and Aunt or Uncle. She has paved the path for her siblings and cousins to grow up being loved and cherished.

Without the gift of B, we would all be stumbling around trying to figure out how to embrace our roles.

Bailie, you are my person.

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I anxiously watch out the window on holidays, waiting for you to show up because that’s when the fun starts. You are the only person in the world I am comfortable enough with to sing along (loudly) to the radio. You are the first person I call when I need my hair done for a fancy occasion. You will always be my first-pick to go on the fair rides with me.img_8226 You are the Dwight to my Michael, the ketchup to my potato chips, and the peanut butter to my jelly.

 

 

 

Happy 18th Birthday, B! I love you, and I am proud to be your Auntie. img_8242

I can’t wait to cheer you on in the next adventure of your life.

-rs

The Boxing Ring of Life

Have you ever entered the season of life where it feels like no one is in your corner?

I have always imagined that “corner” as the corner of a boxing ring. (By the way, why is it called a ring if it’s actually a square?) When life has thrown a knockout punch, I see myself hurled into the corner of the ring. I’m barely standing upright, grasping at the ropes for support. In these seasons of relationship drought, there’s no coach or teammate to tag into the ring. I either crumble under the weight of life’s punches or I rise to fight another round.

I used to think the best kind of people were the ones who showed up when your life falls apart. The people who hold you up through the storms of life; the ones who wait out the tough moments by your side. These are the people waiting in your corner- when life flings you backwards, they are waiting to pick you up and encourage you to continue the fight.

But the more I live and experience, I realize these aren’t the people I want surrounding me. Don’t get me wrong- I will forever be thankful for their support during some of the most trying times of my life. However, I am done fighting to keep them in my life. The hollow promises made when I’m vulnerable and at my weakest have broken me. Their empty words have filled me with hope and expectations that are never met. Why should I have to wait for life to throw me backwards to feel their support and hear their encouragement? Where are they at during the middle of my fight?

Instead, I want to surround myself with people who stop me in the middle of a boring Tuesday and ask me how I am. I want to fill my life with the people that pick me up late at night for a taco run. I want to build my relationships with the people that surprise me with my favorite things for no good reason.

I want the people who show up during the good, the bad, and the boring.

These are the people that sit in the front row and cheer me on in the ring. They clap the loudest, and their cheers are deafening. These are the people that jump into the ring, no matter the consequence, and fight with me when I am struggling. These are the people that stand in the corner and scream at me to tag them into the fight when life has left me defeated. They pick up where I left off until I am ready to fight again.

I’m not perfect. One of the hardest struggles I’ve faced as an adult is growing my relationships despite my busy schedule of responsibilities. I’ve let friendships slide down my “to-do” list, and I haven’t always been that encouraging spectator. I’ve found myself jumping into the corner when people hit their low points, but, in the good moments and the boring moments, I’m not even in the arena.

I challenge myself to do better and to be better. I also extend that challenge to you. Don’t get caught daydreaming in the stands. Don’t fall asleep in the corner. Make your presence known. Show up for the people in your life. Fight for them. But most importantly, fight with them.

-rs

2016: A Reflection

Like the majority of people on my social media sites, I am ready for 2016 to come to an end. What. A. Year. As many terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days comprised 2016, I refuse to let the year close without pausing for reflection. It’s often in the darkest moments that the greatest lessons are taught.

A few years ago, I started a tradition of selecting one “focus word” for the year ahead rather than planning out multiple resolutions that I would (most definitely) give up on by January 2nd.

For 2016, my word was intention. As I wrote last year around this time, I want my choices, relationships, and daily decisions to grow me towards the future I want to live. As I reread my blog post from last year, I found myself reflecting on 2016. Let me share a bit.

“I want to intentionally choose the job that will grow me towards the future I envision.”

  • In early February, I sat down with my boss and had a difficult conversation. While my job at that time was meeting some of my goals, there were so many areas I was gaining zero experience for the future. And there were the adult responsibilities I was struggling to manage- bills, student loans, daily expenses, etc. I was going to have to leave for a different job. I had spent all of December 2015 and January 2016 job searching and even submitted some applications. But when my boss presented me with additional hours, including experience in many of the areas I wanted to work in, I made the choice to stay. My focus went back to intention. I couldn’t select a job simply for more hours or better wages- I needed to be intentional. I knew my boss could grow me, and my coworkers could challenge me to become a better person. I knew my new job description would grow me in many areas- working with seniors, grant writing, program development, etc. I was intentional in my job decision, and I couldn’t be happier.
  • Furthermore, I picked up an additional job in July 2016. I was still facing some struggles with my bills (I mean, who doesn’t understand that struggle??), and my friend sent me a promising text about a job opening through Lutheran Social Services. Knowing social work was a field I wanted more experience in and the high wages for this job, I accepted the mentoring position when it was offered. I spend anywhere from 6 to 12 hours per month with a young girl doing things like shopping, playing games, going to the park, eating, etc. In so many ways, this job has been a saving grace. It never fails that I am always scheduled to mentor after a long, stressful day at my main job, but as soon as I hang out with this girl, she helps me embrace my inner child and find the joy in simple things. Often, she sings along to the worship music playing in my car and it brings such comfort to my heart on the days I’m struggling. I am so glad I was intentional with this job choice.
  • And lastly, I accepted not one, not two, but THREE coaching positions this fall. After losing a former basketball player in August 2016, I decided I needed to be back on the court. It seemed like every door shut as soon as I knocked until I received three offers within a couple of weeks. My first offer was within a local program, and I said “yes” only to hear nothing back. Assuming that offer was gone, I immediately said “yes” to a position coaching a travel team, including many former players. In so many ways, those girls and that season healed the pain in my heart. My former player, Riley, should have been in the team huddles with us and when I looked at the bench for her and my heart broke again remembering she wasn’t here, one of my girls would say or do something funny and bring me back to reality. Their crazy joy for life was refreshing to my soul, and being back on the basketball court allowed me to work out my grief through the game. Shortly after I agreed to this positon, I was offered a position through an area school district I’ve coached for in the past. Not wanting these girls to forfeit a season due to no coach, I said “yes.” They were such a sweet group of girls that reminded me why I got into coaching in the first place. Remember that first offer? While I was in full-swing with these two groups, I was approached again with that original offer. Having a terrible problem of not being able to say “no,” I became a coach in that program, too. The last part of October 2016 and the first part of November 2016 were CHAOS as I was coaching all three teams. But, now, down to one team, I find myself reflecting on my choices. In the moment, I didn’t find myself intentionally choosing coaching jobs for healing- I mostly said “yes” because I love the game and I love helping young players find their potential. But, as it worked out, I did find healing in the game. I was so grief-stricken after Riley’s death, as well as other losses in 2016, that I didn’t even want to pick up a basketball. I was depressed. I was angry. I was overwhelmed with emotions. However, picking up a basketball and interacting with these groups of girls proved to be the healing my heart needed.

“I want to be intentional with who I choose to be around and who I let go.”

I had no idea how big this statement would be. I have always liked the quote, “It’s better to have 4 quarters than 100 pennies.” I found out this year the importance of quality over quantity in terms of my relationships. For so long, I had been the person to make the plans, to invite my friends, and to show up when others needed me. Without making myself sound like a selfish person, I wanted to see who would show up and invest in our relationships without any nudging. I stopped being the planner and waited for the invitations. It was so rough at first- I was (and most days, still am) guilt-ridden. I feel like I gave up on these relationships- I constantly have to remind myself I just took a step back and only a few people made the choice to take those extra steps to come after me.

On the good days, I am so thankful for my intentional decision with my relationships. I have deepened my existing relationships- my friendships are so much more authentic. I have also created new relationships with people who have reached out and embraced me from the beginning. After my first mentor passed away in 2013 and the lady I developed such a special friendship with in 2015 moved away last summer, I have been at a loss. While I am still in frequent contact with my friend that moved, I needed someone local that I can vent to and seek advice from in person. After keeping my heart open through most of the year, I can confidently say I have found that person. I am so thankful for this relationship, because I know she will help me grow and challenge me to be the best version of myself.

“I want to be intentional with my daily decisions that create my lifestyle.”

This was a vague statement that I could apply to literally any situation. I’ve found myself being intentional with daily decisions in the form of becoming more of a morning person and managing my stress. I’ve worked on making daily choices to handle my anxiety, too. And, most importantly, I’ve made a dedicated effort to growing in my relationship with God.

While all of these habits are still major works in progress, I never would have started working on them had I not sought out what areas of my life needed intentional action. I’ve taken small steps within these different areas that, with time, will lead to powerful results in my life.


 

So, I think 2016 was pretty intentional. There were some big decisions that were made with a precise intention in mind, and there were so many small, daily choices that were made because of my commitment to living an intentional life. I refused to fall into the same old habits and didn’t want to become comfortable living life in a rut. I am proud to say that most of my decisions in 2016 were made to get me closer to the future I want to have.

Now, before I wrap up this post and this year, I have spent several weeks reflecting back on the events of 2016 and I have chosen a word to sum it all up: loss. Heart breaking, soul crushing loss.

Cancer has stolen too many people from my life- my grandmother passed away in February, a high school classmate passed away in August as well as my former basketball player, who was only 12 years old. 2016 marked three years since my mentor and best friend passed away after her battle with cancer. Many, many other community members have ended their battles with cancer by earning their Heavenly angel wings this year. Other community members have lost their good health, and they are now in the fight with cancer. Another high school classmate lost his battle with remission, and he inspires me every single day as he continues his fight with cancer. Loss- terrible, horrible loss.

On a smaller scale, I’ve lost some pretty important friendships. Like I’ve already mentioned, it’s not easy to let go of relationships you’ve spent years investing your time and love in. It feels like quitting on the other person, and some days it can quite literally defeat my spirit. Loss- terrible, horrible loss.

However, shifting my focus back to intention, I have spent time reflecting on these losses and how I can turn something painful into a life lesson.

The brokenness created through these losses can be replaced with a new kind of beauty if I make the intentional choice to grow upward rather than sink downward.

I picked three of the losses of 2016 that have broken me the most:

  • My Grandma: She was healthy one day, and she was gone the next day. For as long as I live, I will never forget her final hours and how quickly she faded. Her loss has taught me that nothing is guaranteed. Love your family- even when they drive you crazy.
  • Riley, my former basketball player: Riley courageously fought cancer for months before earning her wings. Throughout her battle, she was a reminder of strength and determination. Her loss has taught me how fragile life can be. Life is short, but we should be brave anyways. Live your life with courage, embrace every single day. Most importantly, share your smile with everyone you encounter. Riley certainly did, and her legacy will now last forever.
  • Aaron, my high school classmate: Aaron earned his wings after a brief battle with cancer. I wrote about him in a previous post (To My Soul Friend), but, in summary, I regret not reaching out to him in this lifetime. His loss has taught me not to hesitate. Reach out and tell people what they mean to you. A brief word of kindness could change someone’s entire day. And make sure you share your gift with the world- Aaron was a talented musician that shared his talent with others.

2016 has sucked. It’s been painful, and it lies behind me as a pile of broken pieces. As it comes to an end, I have spent time carefully picking up those pieces and analyzing their sharp edges and rough corners. They’ve hurt me, and they’ve caused me great heartache. But, as I welcome 2017, I refuse to leave the pieces in a pile. I am going to pick up those pieces and fit them together, creating a beautiful mosaic of brokenness. When I look back at this chapter of my life, I don’t want to see the individual pieces scattered like the chaos I felt within my heart, but rather, I want to see how the pieces came together to change me and grow me into a better person.

This is why my word for 2017 will be growth.

More on that later.

-rs

Being Thankful For The Empty Chair

Every November, it happens. People spend time reflecting on what they are thankful for- Facebook fills up with 30 days of thankfulness and lists of appreciation fill school hallways.

Too often, these lists are cliché, predictable even. “I’m thankful for my family and friends.” “I’m thankful for my health.” “I’m thankful for my job.” We are quick to fill in that blank… I am thankful for _____.

Do we even spend quality time reflecting on these things? In our fast-paced world, do we just try to scribble down a vague topic on each feather/finger of our handmade turkeys?

Even worse, what happens when we approach this time of year and we aren’t feeling very, well, thankful? As the invitations are extended and the meal is planned out, we begin to notice the empty chair and the empty plate. Our loved one that should be at the table sharing in food and conversation.

Whether the loss is recent and the chair hasn’t been empty long or the loss happened decades ago and cobwebs have now decorated the chair, the hurt is the same. The hollow feeling in your core and the ache in your heart; those pains are the same no matter how many years have passed. Our loved ones are incredibly missed, and the image of the empty chair strikes painfully deep.

However, we can’t be quick to put the empty chair in the corner or place the empty plate back in the cupboard. We need these reminders despite the tender ache they bring. We must learn how to be thankful for this emptiness- because these symbols represent so much more than loss.

As this Thanksgiving day approaches, I think of three examples of poignant loss in my life.

  • Thanksgiving day will mark nine months since my dear Grandmother left this world. We managed to gather as a whole family last fall, for the first time in years, and the memories we made with Grandma will be forever treasured.
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    Grandma- pretty in red ❤️

    Grandma was the one that taught me family is the most important thing in this world; she lit up our holiday celebrations with her presence alone. No doubt, our dining room will be a bit darker this year. Her chair will be empty, but our hearts will be full… full of memoires, full of love, and full of hope.

  • A few months ago, my former basketball player earned (and I mean, earned) her Heavenly wings. Sweet Riley had a personality bubblier than the marshmallows on top of the sweet potatoes soon to be on my plate (well, not mine, because ugh sweet potatoes, but other plates).
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    Riley and her best friend- a couple of “turkeys” at our Thanksgiving practice (2013)

    Her joyful, vivacious personality gives me motivation and inspiration daily. My heart aches for her family this year, and the empty chair at their table. I know their holiday pictures will be missing her contagious smile. Her chair will be empty, but our souls will be full… full of determination, full of inspiration, and full of courage.

  • And my first mentor and true friend, Willy. I smile as I think of her love for life and her infectious laughter. If anyone lived out the thankfulness of Thanksgiving day to day, all year long, it was Willy.
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    My dear friend, Willy.

    Her passionate spirit moves me forward each day, even though she has been physically absent in my life for over three years now. I know her family’s table will be just a bit quieter again this year. Her chair will be empty, but our spirits will shine brighter, bigger, and bolder.

Put me in a trash can and call me Oscar, I have been a grouch as the holidays quickly approach. My heart has been broken, and my soul has known great sorrow. The empty chairs at my holiday table can quickly bring back those all too familiar feelings of anguish.

So, we must choose to cherish the empty chairs and empty plates. We cannot simply shove them into the corner or the back of the cupboard. We need their painful reminders of the fragility of life. We need the chair’s gloomy shadow to help us find the light. We need to study the chip in the plate to help us remember memories of holidays past.

This is our life now. We have known great loss, and our table is dotted with empty plates and lined with empty chairs. Cherish the memories made in those chairs, and celebrate the traditions created alongside those plates.

Sit by the family member that asks too many personal questions. Hug the family friend that constantly teases you. Soak up the crazy and the chaotic. Celebrate your people- whether they are family by blood or choice. They are here, and they are yours.

Be thankful for the memories of the past. Be thankful for the empty chairs for they represent the people we have loved and we have lost. But do not hesitate to make new memories- we must create something to remember in the future.

Leave an empty chair at your packed table. Leave an empty plate next to the ones brimming with food. Remember the loved ones you have lost- do not shove their memories in the dark corners of your heart. Share stories, cry, laugh, and, most importantly, love.

Be truly thankful- for the moments you have shared with those the empty chairs represent and for the memories you will continue to make with the “full” plates around you.

Thankfulness has to be without limitation and without conditions. We cannot say, “I’ll be thankful when _____” or “I’ll be thankful if ____.”

We have to be thankful now. We have to choose thankfulness over the sorrow. We have to choose to be thankful for the empty chairs for we owe it to the ones that once sat in them.

Happy Thanksgiving.

“No matter what happens, always be thankful, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.”  1 Thessalonians 5:18

 -rs

 

For My Soul Friend

Most people have a few of those dark chapters in their book of life… the ones scattered within the shadows, the ones we don’t like to reread. 2013 was one of those chapters in my book of life. I had my first experience with death and loss… the kind of loss that shakes you and empties you and drains the last bit of hope from your soul. She was my best friend, which may be weird to some, given that she was 20 years older than me. She filled other roles, too: my second Mom, my encourager, my support system, my comedic relief, my listening ear, my shoulder to cry on, my rock. And then, overnight, she was gone.

I struggled. I cried. I grieved. I vented. I screamed. I tried to put one foot in front of the other. Other days, I didn’t get out of bed. By 2014, I knew I had to be more proactive in my climb out of grief. It was like a giant pit, and every time I got close to the top, I lost my grip and fell back to the bottom. After hitting rock bottom for what felt like the 100th time, I made the decision to finally get out of the pit.

I committed to attending a local grief group for a few months. It was an emotional choice… I felt embarrassed, ashamed, but I also felt a sense of belonging, a sense of relief. I hid my weekly meetings from most everyone (some family and friends may be learning of this for the first time through these words). But it was here that my post truly begins. It was here that my soul connected with Aaron Fry.

Normally, I would ask Aaron’s permission to share these intimate moments, but, with his recent death, I think it will be okay. I want to share the beauty that was Aaron Fry, and I want to create an opportunity for others to continue on the legacy his kind-hearted nature started.

For those of you who have never attended a grief group, it is everything like you see on TV and it is nothing like you see on TV. I missed the first few weeks of this group, but on my first day, I had to introduce myself and tell about the person I lost. I was hesitant to speak, my voice was quiet and fragile. I was uncomfortable; I didn’t want to be there. But, you see, Aaron and I had first crossed paths in the halls of our high school a few years prior. He knew the person I had lost, a beloved teacher. As I spoke, I looked at Aaron, and he smiled at me and nodded for me to keep going. I will never forget that silent sense of support, a smile that felt like 100 bear hugs. A face of reassurance that gave me the confidence to share my story.

The first meeting I attended had been created as a day to share music that reminded you of your lost loved one. Most everyone brought in a cell phone or a mix CD and shared a few songs. And then there was Aaron. He pulled out his guitar, and he began to sing. I have never felt such powerful emotions from a song. Aaron wrote this song, it was called “Undertow,” and he sang it with such hurt but also such hope. He sang a couple other songs, and I remember the anger he sang with. I could feel his pain and his sorrow. But Aaron didn’t live life as an angry, depressed man. In fact, he was just the opposite. Aaron greeted everyone with a smile, and he was friendly to strangers. He was easy-going, and he had a heart of gold.

For months after my experiences in grief group, I tried to write Aaron a note. I wanted him to know what a difference he made for me. He could have been so angry or bitter towards me… here I was grieving a loss of a teacher (she was so much more than that to me, but exteriorly, she was a teacher) while he was suffering the loss of his mother. I had never known the loss of a parent or sibling. But Aaron never made me feel judged… he just helped me heal.

I didn’t have the privilege of knowing Aaron as a close friend, and I will always regret not reaching out and getting to know him. However, his recent death has greatly rattled me. I have questioned why for days until I realized how unique our relationship was. We shared such precious moments within those walls of grief. We learned about stories and feelings that may have only been discussed inside those walls. Moments so personal that I cannot yet share them here. In so many ways, we shared our souls with each other. We trusted each other, and we simply grieved our great loss. From now on, I will always think of Aaron as my “soul friend,” because he not only shared his soul and listened to the secrets within my own, but he also was a man with a cherished soul. Aaron was truly special.

Aaron, these are the words I tried for so long to write to you. These are the thoughts I have kept tucked inside my heart for over two years now. I will forever be thankful for your gentle spirit and kind eyes… many days, you were the only reason I was able to sit through grief group. And through our experiences there, I started to find the healing I was so desperately searching for.

Forgive me if I mess up the words, but from my memory, these were a few of the lyrics to “Undertow.”

Wherever I am going… wherever I go, I’ll just call it home.

Aaron, thank you for teaching me, through my healing, that home is wherever I go. Home is all the pieces and people that have stitched together my soul… thank you for being one of those people.

Aaron, you will be missed. But I truly hope you are Home, and you will forever find peaceful rest.

-rs

Until I See You Again

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Tracey “Willy” Williams

3-17-1971 to 4-3-2013.


Psychology classifies flashbulb memories as detailed and vivid memories that are stored on one occasion and retained for a lifetime. April 3, 2013 will forever be my flashbulb memory.

I woke up that morning and checked Facebook, the awful habit I’m still stuck doing. I saw the first post… I can still remember which Facebook friend posted it. Refusing to believe it was true, I closed my Facebook app at the same time my best friend texted me: “Rachel!! What happened??” Questions filled my mind… with no answers. I opened Facebook again. This time I saw posts from a couple of my childhood teachers… it was then that I knew it was true. You were gone. No warning, no goodbye.

I woke my mom up next and, through shaking tears, I told her the news. She hugged me so tight… I thought she might crush me. But her tight squeeze still hurt less than my broken heart.

I somehow found the strength to get dressed and ready for my morning class. I poured myself some cereal and then just pushed the little pieces around the bowl with my spoon. I texted my big brother, the person I can always count on and confide in.

My best friend and I went to our morning class; I remember sitting in the classroom… four or five rows up from the front, in the middle of the row with two of my best friends. I don’t remember a single word our professor lectured. She sounded very much like the teacher in Charlie Brown.

I emailed the professors of my afternoon classes… I just couldn’t compose myself enough to go.


You see, for me, one of the hardest pieces of this sudden loss came later that evening. Two days prior, she had asked me to judge the high school writing contest, and we had made plans for her to stop by my house on April 3. She, of course, refused to let me come to her to get the documents. I remember, still numb and shocked from the day’s news, sitting on the couch in our front living room that evening. I watched out the window for hours… there was still a thin shred of hope that maybe, just maybe, it was all a lie and she would still pull up out front. I sat there for hours… watching and waiting. I kept checking Facebook… hundreds of posts filled my newsfeed all honoring the life and legacy of Willy. It was while I was sitting there, absolutely broken, that I received the first message that started putting the pieces of my heart back together.

Mrs. Jennings, my former high school teacher, was the first to message me. It was a beautiful message that filled me with enough strength to get up from the couch that evening. She has been one of my biggest pillars of support over the last three years. I will forever be grateful for our friendship that has emerged from our shared grief.

Nici, the mom of my former basketball player, was another phenomenal lady that got me through those first few months. She stayed up late into the night with me many nights, letting me talk and vent. She helped me study for my college finals when my focus was absent. She brought me my favorite food after I, somehow, finished the semester. She drove with me when I was ready to go past Willy’s house for the first time… a simple task that was unbearable for months.

The office staff at the high school that let me sit in Willy’s classroom the Monday after her death, the place where our friendship blossomed. Deena was literally my strength as she wrapped her arms around me and walked me down, what seemed like, a never ending hallway. I’ll never forget how Mrs. Gillen waited for me at the end of the hall after I left the classroom, arms open wide.

Doron, my youth pastor, who had never met me before but opened his office and his heart so many times over that first year. I’ll never forget when I first visited him in June 2013… I barely spoke but his words filled my broken spirit with a breath of fresh air and hope. It was his guidance and support that led me to choosing to be baptized in October 2013. I was so honored he was able to baptize me… he had spent hours with me in those first six months, over and over again showing me how good things can come from unbearable pain.

And finally, Rachel, Willy’s youngest child and only daughter. There is absolutely nothing I wouldn’t do to give this sweet girl back her mother, but, selfishly, I am so thankful for my friendship with Rachel that bloomed from our loss. I was nervous and apprehensive when I first went to talk with Rachel a few months after Willy’s death. However, that was the first afternoon that I felt like my heart was beating again since April 3rd. Rachel has her mother’s personality… her kind and caring heart is so full of pure and genuine love for others. On so many days in my grieving process, it has been Rachel’s strength that has carried me though to another day. She has her mother’s smile, too. Rachel lights up whatever room she enters and the spirits of those within it. Since I can’t bring her mother back, I will forever cherish and build my friendship with “Little Ray.” I’ll never stop cheering her on to the enormous success she is chasing in life. Good things really can come from darkness.

There are dozens and dozens of other people I could list… all equally important and treasured. My friends, family, and even strangers have picked me up on the hard days, laughed at shared memories on the good days, and have given me new pieces of Willy to hold on to as I continue to move forward in life.


As I waited for Willy to arrive at my doorstep on April 3, 2013, it was then that these people who loved both her and me, started arriving at my door instead. Some came right in, others knocked and waited for me to open the door and my heart, and still others stayed out there, silent like the old wooden rocking chair on my actual porch, waiting for me to come to them. Willy never made it to my doorstep that dreadful April day, but through my friendship with her, I have met and I will continue to meet hundreds of people who knew her and can share a little piece of her with me. And these pieces are helping my heart heal.

I am a changed person over the last three years. I have grown and matured in a magnificent way.never-get-over-great-losses-life-daily-quotes-sayings-pictures I find myself looking for the positives in every frustrating situation. The “problems” I had three years ago are now like pea-sized pebbles on my path of life… I kick them over to the side or simply crush over them. I love deeper. I laugh more… and try to make others laugh more, too. I try to always be kind. I try to make others feel important and loved. I used to hate simply calling Willy my teacher… I didn’t want to confine her to a single box when she did so much more than teach me about verb tenses and comma usage. Now, though, I can see that Willy taught me all of these other things. She didn’t open a textbook and point them out to me. She didn’t keep me after class and teach me from the white board. She taught me through her actions. She truly was the greatest teacher, inside the classroom and out.

Three years have passed. It feels like yesterday, and it feels like a lifetime. I’ll forever miss her, and I’ll forever yearn for the day we meet again. But, until that day, I promise to shine bright and live like Willy.

-rs


To my dear Willy,

It took me over two years after losing you to find my new normal. It took me over two years to figure out how to flip my world back to right side up. Some days, it took every bit of strength I had to get out of bed and go about my daily routine. You will forever have the biggest, most profound impact on my life. You saw me though some of my toughest trials, and you took on my pain and heartbreak as if it were your own. You never grew angry with me when I sent too many Facebook messages or stopped by your classroom every single day. You always knew if I needed a patient, listening ear, an encouraging word of advice, or a tough-love moment. You pushed me so many times, even when I totally hated you for it, to work harder in my relationships with my parents. You pushed me to forgive my family and friends, even when they hurt me. You pushed me outside of my comfort zone over and over, always believing in my ability to find success. I wish you were here today to see how much I have kept working and pushing myself in all of those areas… I wish you were able to see how much I have grown in my relationships with my family. But, I know if you12516000_10153984306140699_1772678986_n were here, I may not have grown in these ways. It was losing you that forced me to reevaluate my life and my relationships. If I could lose my favorite teacher, trusted confidant, dearest friend, and second mom, I could lose anyone else just as easily. I now try to approach every relationship, whether it’s with family, friends, or coworkers, with the unconditional love and unwavering support that you always showered upon me. Thank you for teaching me what it looks like to be a truly beautiful soul, an angel walking on Earth. I know I will never get to the level of beauty you exemplified with your life every single day, but, thanks to your constant example, you have given me something to strive towards. I love you still. I miss you always. I will see you again.

 

Happy Birthday in Heaven

March 17th.

St. Patrick’s Day.

Children’s Day in Bangladesh.

289 days left in the year.

Nat King Cole, Rob Kardashian, and Hozier all celebrate this date as their birthday.

So does Tracey Williams.


As I took a walk today, I found myself thinking of Tracey. As I have shared in other posts, I LOVE birthdays. Of course, I love to celebrate my own special day, but I always find an unexplainable joy in celebrating the birthdays of the people around me. I love making them feel important and loved… often giving back the love and kindness they share with me day to day. 21795_10153127208430699_5489461792317306101_n

Tracey, my former teacher, mentor, and friend, was an extraordinary lady. I only knew her for five years, but she packed so much joy into those years of friendship. It was a privilege to make her feel special on at least one day out of the year.

There was the year I had my classmates help me pull off a surprise party during our English class… in retrospect, locking her out of the room while we lit candles on the brownies sitting on top of her desk wasn’t the best plan. Let’s just say the principal got involved…

There were a couple flower bouquets sent to her… a bright, beautiful bouquet for a bright, beautiful soul.

And then there were the giant birthday cookies. I’ll never forget her message to me after the first birthday cookie… I was experiencing some chaos in my home life that year and Tracey thanked me endlessly for that cookie, followed by dozens of questions and encouraging advice about my own situation. What a truly selfless lady.

To celebrate Tracey’s 45th birthday, and her third birthday in Heaven, I have baked several giant birthday cookies. I will share these cookies with some of the people I interact with daily… people who make me feel important every single day. Some of these people never had the privilege of knowing Tracey so I will also get to share a piece of her with each piece of cookie they take.

I am not a poet, at all. Tracey always told me I had a gift for writing… but I know she was not including poetry in that statement. However, below, ignoring my great rhyme struggle, is the poem I wrote to go with each giant birthday cookie I give away.

Some believe St. Patrick’s Day is full of luck,

while others wear their shades of greens.

Others still search for gold to tuck,

away in the pockets of their jeans.

But I see the 17th of March,

as a day to celebrate,

it’s more than the rainbow’s arch;

it’s more than just another date. 

Today is the birthday of my dear friend,

A lady worth more than a pot of gold,

But, you see, today she will spend,

Her special day in a place where she will never grow old.

As the angels of Heaven sing that birthday chorus,

I know my friend will shine her smile,

Lighting up the sky just for us,

Her whisper, in the wind, “see you in a while.” 

So, today, I choose to remember,

With a birthday cookie, please take a piece,

Six years ago, I made the same kind for her,

Now, I share this day with you as a release. 

As you chew each tasty bite,

Please think of my friend,

Be kind, it would be her delight,

Or give a smile, something we all can lend.

On March 17th, and every other day, I promise to honor Tracey and her legacy by living life to the absolute fullest. She was never without a smile or a cheerful greeting. She was always kind and always laughing. She was passionate with her actions, and she was quick with her love. She woke up and lived as if every single day were her birthday.

Cheers, “Willy!”

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 -rs

 

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