Good Enough

My teenage daughter recently returned from church camp- the theme…”Enough.” God is enough. YOU are enough.

I am 41 years old. I’ve been through hell and out the other side, had a bazillion hours of counseling, read over 20 self help books and yet I still wrestle with the theme that was enveloped within a camp for teenagers…I AM ENOUGH.

I look good on paper. Employed, single mother of two kids (who are pretty great), a beautiful 2nd marriage on the horizon, 19 years of teaching, 3 college degrees, my house has not been shut down by the Health Department….

I sound like I’m enough. However, late in the night, early in the morning, in the shower and driving to and fro, I often don’t feel like I am.

It’s a constant questioning…can I raise these two kids properly after the loss of their father? Can I be a good wife for my chapter two? Can I be a great step mom to my soon to be bonus daughter? Can I balance all the change and adjustment and not let my OCD go into overdrive? Has gravity been working overtime on my face? What is wrong with me that I am so dang tired???

This inner dialogue is hurtful to me- those bazillion hours of counseling have taught me that- but it is still a constant battle. I’ve realized that self talk is an addiction for me. I hum along pretty well when life is peachy and then…BAM. Something goes wrong and my inner monologue starts in like one of those bullet trains.

I’ve realized that I have the ability to participate in a jovial, sarcastic interaction with a teacher friend on the outside while berating myself on the inside. I’ve realized that I can be preparing dinner and talking with my family while mentally kicking my own tail all over the kitchen. These are not skills I have on my resume or that I’m proud of. However, it’s a truth I have to acknowledge and fix because (as my soon-to-be husband just pointed out) sometimes it spills out and my children see it. OUCH.

So, for my children, for my family and most importantly for me, I am taking some steps to fix my inner monologue. In a premarital counseling session the other day, with the help of my counselor and my guy, I came up with a mantra. My go to statement to repeat when the negative self-talk begins…

“I am good enough. I can’t mess this up.” And yesterday I added “God has this.”

It may be cheesy but a couple of times these last few days it’s slammed the brakes on that darn bullet train of negativity.

I’m currently rereading the book Rising Strong by Brene Brown. I’m convinced that book is like a Stanley Kubrick film- you have to experience it more than once to REALLY get it. Anyway, Brene talks a lot about shame (unfortunately I like to shame myself) and what people with high “shame resilience” do…here is a quick paraphrase…

1. Understand and recognize what triggers shame (for me making perceived mistakes).

2. Reality check the message “being imperfect DOESN’T mean inadequate.”

3. Reach out and share (DON’T INTERNALIZE).

4. Talk about how you are feeling and ask for what you need.

This set of steps along with my mantra above seem to be helping so far. I realize it will take a long time and plenty of prayer to break the bondage of negative self talk. Bad habits are not broken in one day or even one month. Some battles last a lifetime. However, I owe it to my family, myself and the God who created me to fix this.


My grace is enough for you, because power is made perfect in weakness. 2 Corinthians 12:9

Grandma’s Table

I’m a kitchen table person. For me it’s a place for eating of course but also for work, for artwork, for projects. It’s a place to sit to work out the hard stuff- budgets, taxes, college funds. It’s a place for playing games and discussing rules and consequences. Its one of the places we laugh the most. It’s the heart of my home.

My kitchen table belonged to my paternal grandmother. This woman impacted me throughout my life. Grandma told me stories that I still retell today. Recited poems that made me want to write my own, loved her God so big and so hard that she inspires my faith daily. My Grandma made me laugh when she “found her voice” at age 80 and said what she thought the moment she thought it (some of you are laughing because I do that now at age 41.) Not a week goes by that I don’t hear her guiding me. Early on after Patrick died I heard her most everyday saying “This is the day that the Lord has made I will rejoice and be glad in it…now get up Heather.” And I got up and I got going. Her table is a link to her after all the many years since she left this earth.

Tomorrow however, this table will leave my home and begin it’s 4th residence at my cousin’s home. With his wife- a new family. It’s the right thing to do as my family grows, but I’m still a little misty tonight.

As I sit here writing this post I think about the countless meals that have been eaten around the table. First for 40+ years in my Grandma’s kitchen, then in the teeny tiny dining room of our starter home and for the last 11 years in the kitchen of this home- my safe place. I’ve eaten at the table right after coming home from the hospital with each child. I’ve eaten there when times were hard financially, when times were happy, when sadness crept in. I’ve sat at that table and labored over science projects and math homework with my eldest child and as my youngest child learned to write his name. I’ve celebrated each child’s birthday at that table. I’ve sat at that table with some of my closest friends and family and tried to open my mouth to chew- because when you are grieving sometimes you just can’t chew or swallow…or breathe. I sat at that table with just myself and my kids and pretended it was normal to have that empty 4th chair until one day- it actually was normal.

The last number of months I’ve sat at that table with my children, my fiancée and his daughter as we began the journey of becoming a new family. Just like all the other journeys in my life it is also full of ups, downs, twists and turns but I have solid faith in love, my chapter 2 and my future.

Tomorrow that table and its 4 chairs will leave for John and Lindsay’s- for new meals and new memories and a little piece of Grandma. Tonight though I will sit here and write, cry and remember. I Love You Grandma- I think you’d be proud of all of us!

The most treasured heirlooms are the sweet memories of family. ~Author Unknown

Frozen in Time

The last month of school brings a tide of several feelings- exhaustion being the most prominent of these. You know that exhaustion- the kind that sucks your soul out through your toenails until you think it’s Friday and it’s only…well Tuesday. It’s a VERY familiar feeling this time of year.

For me the final stretch of this school year has brought multiple emotional minefields and pitfalls as I navigate the end of April. While I may be functioning well out the outside on the inside I am just terribly sad.

Overall my life is pretty amazing. My kids are thriving, I’m getting remarried in two months to a wonderful man, my chapter 2 and my job is awesome. I’m handling the day to day of single parenthood within the insanity of two busy kids as well as one can. I laugh, I’m sarcastic as always but given 5 minutes of downtime- I’m terribly sad.

I realized today as I was running and crying (again apologies to my county neighbors) that my daughter, my first born is really going to high school next year. Like August. She’s really going- it’s not a test or a joke. This weekend brought her last Cotillion, Tuesday is her last band concert and she just made the high school dance team. She is moving forward, moving on to her next steps in life and it just seems like too much.

It seems like too much because, you see, when she started middle school, her Daddy was alive. Life was completely different. He was so excited about her going to middle school but still covering his face at the thought of his little girl doing middle school things. Liking boys, dances, ball games, drama/hormones. He was your typical 6th grade father. However, he didn’t live to see the end of this stage of life. He was there at the beginning but not the end of middle school.

When Patrick died, Morgan still looked like a young girl, dealt with tween problems and still seemed like a child. In a little less than two years she is registering for AP classes, wrapped up in a social world that is light years beyond where she once was and looks like a young woman. She has strong ideas, goals for the next 10 years and will be operating a motor vehicle in 17 months. (Now, let us pray.)

I’m so proud of this woman she is becoming. I’m proud of her heart, her faith, her drive, her determination. I’m proud of her adjustment to change and her ability to adapt.

I’m sad though, deeply sad. Her proud father didn’t get to see this metamorphosis, this mighty change. In pictures with him she is forever frozen in time as a child, no make up, slightly messy hair, whatever t-shirt and mismatched socks. He never got to see her dream of making the high school dance team come true, her straight A streak continue and her newly unwavering commitment to shoes and fashion. He never got to see her evolution into a confident woman unfold.

As we prep for end of middle school events and high school beginnings it is bitterly poignant for me. We are accustomed to him not being there but this month, today, I am terribly sad that Patrick doesn’t get to see our amazing girl. I look at a picture of the two of them laughing, Morgan with a messy ponytail and her Daddy gazing at her with immense love. That father/daughter bond frozen in time.

I’m thankful for all the time we shared and the precious memories too; for all these memories are a comfort when I lovingly remember you. ~Author unknown

Maybe In My Next Life…

I think I’ve started at least 10 sentences this week with the words “maybe in my next life.” You know “maybe in my next life I will be calm and not throw a toddler-like fit about all the broken stuff at my house.” Or “maybe in my next life I will not respond to teenage attitude with 40 year old sassy single mom attitude.” You know…stuff like that.

(To be clear, I don’t believe in reincarnation personally, although I find the whole concept interesting.)

I watch those “zen like” women who calmly go through life seemingly non reactive while carrying a nice purse that matches their outfit. I truly have the upmost admiration for those women. How does one get to that point at this stage of life? Was there a class I missed? Am I lacking a gene of some sort? Should I do more yoga and not just wear the pants?

You see I’m just not wired in that calm, zen way. I’m wired more like Big Thunder Mountain at Disney World- twisty, turning, hills and valleys, sheer joy all wrapped up in one wild (read crazy) ride. I feel things strongly- joy, pain, sadness, peace, injustice and oh yeah- irritation. I am passionate about the people and causes I care about and one never has to question where I stand. (If my lips aren’t moving just read my face. It’ll be right there.) I tend to insert my foot into my mouth entirely too often and SOMETIMES bad words sneak out, a little (or a lot).

I really try to be better. I do several devotions, read self help books, pray daily and still see my grief counselor (I’m fairly certain he entertains his other counselor friends with my bizarre, emotionally charged stories.) Despite all the intervention and attempts at being better- I’m still me- messy, talks to much, listens to little, me.

Joyce Meyer (who knows how to hit me right where it stings most mornings) says that we are all cracked pots. If you put light (God’s love) in a pot without cracks, no light shines through. However, as a cracked pot (oh how many, many cracks there are in this pot) I have a lot of opportunities to let God’s love shine. After my attitude adjustment, I can apologize to my teenager and model repentance and grace. After my hissy fit about heaters and garage doors I can push forward and get stuff done modeling perseverance and confidence in a better day. I can pray to be better, share my struggles and walk forward in faith.

I don’t get a next life, only this one and sadly I’m INCREDIBLY aware how short this life is. I am trying to embrace who I am, how God made me and be the best version of myself. I have come to accept that I’ll never be matchy purse, calm lady…I don’t think I have it in me. However, I can be messy me all the while trying to smooth out a couple of my rough edges.

“No better you than the you that you are” ~Alessia Cara

A Letter About God’s Love

Dear Friends, 

When I started this blog I really only did it for me.  (Sounds really selfish but it’s true.) It was a place to unload all the swirling thoughts in my head.  I didn’t know if anyone would read it and I don’t really think I cared one bit.  

Over the past few weeks I’ve started to receive messages from people and speak a bit more to folks about my faith and relationship with God through my grief journey.  I want to take a minute to respond in general to some of the raw, difficult things others have shared.  I am not a pastor, I don’t have a Masters of Divinity degree, I am far from a religious writer but here is what I know for sure.  

God loves YOU!  He loves you if you haven’t prayed for 15 years and haven’t darkened the door of a church for even longer.  God is right there ready to work in your life- all the parts of your life.  Even the little things.  God loves you and your story.  It might be one big sucky mess of a story but he loves you and wants to see you thrive.

God has great big shoulders.  He can take your anger, your questions and your fear.  He is right there in that horrid, darkest, darkness at 2am and also beside you when you’re sitting in a stupid meeting ready to smack the person beside you.  (Sit on your hands Heather.  Close your mouth Heather.)  Your faith may falter but he is unwavering in his love and care for you. 

There’s a song we sometimes sing in worship that goes “He knows my name, he knows my every thought. He sees each tear that falls and he hears me when I call.”  God REALLY does hear you.  He wants to talk to you and if he can handle my volume of tears this past year then I promise he’s up to the challenge of yours. 

Much love,                                                                Heather 

Grace, Forgiveness and Naptime

I’ve always been hard on myself which is not terribly surprising since I’m a first born, type A female.  I can actually hear Patrick laughing from heaven as I describe myself saying “Heather you are probably more like type A+.” I like high grades, lists, plans, the organization aisle at Target and order.  I meal plan a month at a time, put all small pieces in Ziploc bags and I love filing things.  At this point you are either nodding your head and smiling because you ARE me, are married to someone like me OR you have begun twitching and think people like me should be smacked.  I get it.  We aren’t easy to love sometimes (or maybe a lot of the time depending who you talk to).  

My “type A behavior” had always caused me to be hard on myself when life didn’t fit neatly into my fantastic plans.  Infertility, job loss, job changes, kid issues, the weather…there was always something.  I would berate myself for things not working out as I thought they should.  To say I tried to “get ahead” of God is a massive understatement.  It is also quite safe to say that my fears were often greater than my faith. 

Suddenly becoming a single parent was not on any of my legal pad lists or the family calendar last summer.  It was a like one massive explosion followed by small fires that had to be constantly put out.  My kids went from two super involved parents to one parent who was barely limping through.  I often felt like I was watching a slow motion video of my own life and boy it wasn’t pretty. 

Looking back, I was tremendously hard on myself those early months.  I silently beat myself up every time we had to eat fast food, return home for forgotten items or be late somewhere.  (Type A me does NOT like to ever be late- anywhere, ever.)  I would berate myself when I misplaced something, forgot an event, had to ask for help or just simply wasn’t my best self.  My kids had one parent and THIS was what they got?  

Over time and through A LOT of reading, praying and continued counseling, I began to see that I really wasn’t all that bad.  In fact I was doing pretty ok considering all of the heartbreak and changes.  God extended grace to me everyday and yet I couldn’t extend it to myself?  God forgave me when I messed up but it was next to impossible for me to forgive myself?  I was imperfect and stumbling but somehow surviving.  Finding my own way had to include huge doses of grace and forgiveness- from me to me.  I had to see my own successes (everyone ate today, was loved and got from point A to point B then point C then back to B).  I also could acknowledge my missteps and look for ways to do better the next time (get up earlier or take a breath before growling at small children).  However, after that acknowledgement, I needed to pray for peace, patience and then MOVE ON-not wallow in my mistakes.  

Jennifer Maggio, who writes for single mothers, calls this “handing over your bags.” You give those bags…those heavy, sucky bags to God and then they are gone.  It is then your responsibility to move forward with God’s help.  Learning to do this has certainly taken me a lot of time and focus.  I still have a ways to go but I’m definitely getting better at it. 

I’ve also learned to take care of myself.  For me that meant taking naps some Saturdays and nearly every Sunday during the school year when I’m teaching.  Sleep is a luxury for all parents especially full time, single parents.  There were many weekends this past spring when I laid down to take a nap with a washer full of wet clothes and roughly 276 cars, trucks and tractors all over my family room floor.  It didn’t matter though, my body needed the rest and the magical thing was- it was all there when I woke up an hour later.  (Fun fact- small children and teenagers are amazingly capable of cleaning up their own messes but that’s another story.) 

I recently read a Facebook post about how we “move through” grief.  We don’t move on but through.  I think a key to this- to moving through any life altering change- has to be offering kindness to ourselves.  Extending the grace and forgiveness that God gives so abundelty to ourselves.  We have to release ourselves from the negative talk and hand those sucky bags to God.  Once you’ve handed over those bags- I mean really handed them over…go grab a nap!  

In order to heal we must first forgive…and sometimes the person we must forgive is ourself.  ~Mila Bron 

A Lesson in Resiliency- “Choose Happy”

Up until the past year I don’t know that I’d ever given much thought to the word resiliency.  I’d hummed along pretty well with a ridiculously normal childhood, great college experience and 17 stable years of marriage.  I’d certainly suffered setbacks, disappointments and heartache but nothing that was truly insurmountable to recover from.  Until last summer…then the “r” word started appearing. 

“Children are so resilient” people would tell me.  “Your tougher than you know.”  “You’ll be amazed at where you are in a year.”  At the time those words were well…words.  Hollow, empty, useless words. Words that people say to “dress up the suck”. I was sad, lost and so very broken.   I didn’t care about any of it- at least not at first.  

Then I started watching my children and you know what?  Children ARE resilient.  They can have something terrible happen to them but they find a way to play, to laugh to continue being children.  They still make messes, belly laugh, push their Mommy’s buttons and sing loudly in the car.  They still are wide eyed at Christmas, go crazy with party poppers at their New Year’s party and wake you up at 6:30am by poking you in the face to tell you they love you (why must it always be the face??)  Their resiliency left me amazed.  

One spring evening I asked my daughter about her year (she was absolutely amazing in handling her busy life despite the loss of her Daddy.)  We talked about how she was feeling and where she was emotionally (rare, special moments with a teenager). Without missing a beat she told me “I know that each morning I can choose to be sad or I can choose to be happy.  I choose happy.”  BAM!  Choose happy.  

Now I’m NOT going to go all Pollyanna on you.  There have been and will continue to be some ROUGH days for all 3 people in this household.  We get tired, overstressed, overwhelmed and cranky somedays.  There are nights that my bedtime prayer is “Dear God help me be better tomorrow because I totally screwed up today.  Amen”.  I lash out, I make mistakes and I cry.  However, I’m working more and more at choosing happy…to channel the resilience of my children.  I’m trying to let the little junk go to focus on the big things- the things that really matter.  It’s not a perfect recipe for success but more than once choosing happy has pushed me out of a funk and toward a funky dance party with my kids or a fun night out with my friends.   Choosing happy has allowed me to focus on the beauty of the sky and not the vast number of weeds in my flower bed.  Choosing happy has meant more runs, more laughs, a heart that is healing and less worry about tomorrow.  

Elizabeth Edwards once said “Resilience is accepting your new reality even if it’s less good than the one you had before.  You can fight it, you can do nothing except scream about what you’ve lost or you can accept that and put together something that’s good.”  We human beings are wired for resiliency.  It comes from deep within, from unwavering faith and belief in a future that we can’t yet see.  

Choose happy on the days you can and pray extra hard on the days you can’t.  Be resilient. 

Empty Chairs and Pictures of Three

I used to scrapbook.  I was never terribly good at it and would certainly never win any “cutesy” awards but I enjoyed telling the story of each of my children through cropped photos and journaling.  All of that came to a grinding halt after Patrick died.  

We crappy club single moms have a lot of guilt we have to learn to compartmentlize and handle.  Guilt over everything from “no father” for the “father events” at school to guilt over unfinished projects like my scrapbooks and what the heck to I do with all these videos on my phone?  We lack time and often we lack the intestinal fortitude to just dig into a project that is so wrought with memories.  The potential to break down is great and sometimes it’s just easier to leave the photos in a box or on your phone…but then you feel guilty…again.

So with my “guilt albatross” around my neck I recently dug into those photos.  I had over 18 months worth of pictures developed and have been putting them into regular photo albums.  It’s summer, I’m a teacher, so if this project was getting done in the next year then the time was now.  What I found in those pictures was strangely both eerie and hopeful. 

Within the photos from the last 3 weeks of Patrick’s life, I found a number of pictures that were almost a prediction of my future.  There were pics that he took of us- our immediate and extended family.  In several, the  chair he had occupied prior to taking the picture was sitting right there…empty.  In others from our California vacation there were multiple shots of myself and the children smiling and laughing in front of the gorgeous scenery.  It was more pictures of just the three of us I think we’d ever had from a trip before.  (I usually jumped in one picture per trip so we’d know I was there too…you camera lugging parents can relate).  I stared at these pictures overwhelmed with emotion.  It was both haunting and holy to look at those glimpses into a future I didn’t know at the time and so reflective of how I feel right now.  

In many ways we have gelled as a family of three- myself and the kids.  We are that photographed smiling threesome innocently laughing by a scenic vista in a picture from San Francisco Bay.  We are now a unit and we function as one (well most of the time anyway).   There is now a normal rhythm to life that does not constantly revolve around loss.  We eat, we play games, we cackle with laughter and we even have a vacation coming up.  We’re finding that ever elusive “new normal.”  (Now if you are reading this and your loss is fresh,  please know it took months and months to get to this point.  But you will, I promise). 

These photos remind me of the way grief works over time.  We don’t get over it we move through it, our hearts heal and we learn to live again.  The chair remains forever empty but the new family unit can still find happiness, laughter and grow together all the while honoring the empty chair.  Grief doesn’t get better it just gets different and God’s never failing provision allows us to move forward.  

Silver Linings from Saddness 

I’m pretty sure around 11 months ago I wanted to punch people who would tell me that somehow “good things” would come from the tragedy of losing my husband.  However, after nearly 40 total hours of counseling and many more hours spent on my knees, I’ve come to realize that silver linings do come from saddness.  Here are a few of mine…

1.  Improved/deepened family relationships             I have always had strong family ties and good relationships with both my immediate and extended family.  However, through processing and handling this loss, many deeper and more loving family connections have been made.  I no longer take my vast support system for granted and I am thankful daily for my tightly woven family. 

2.  An improved outlook on humanity                       My son and I were eating a super nutritious fast food breakfast  the other day when an older gentleman struck up a conversation with me.  He told me the world was terrible and that there was too much evil.  I told him that I’d basically turned off the TV because my family had processed enough saddness this past year.  I now just read my news.  I also told him that the saddest days of my life had been filled with people loving and praying for myself and my children.  Many times those people were folks from my community, from my school, people who just loved us through even if they weren’t our closest family and friends.  These many beautiful, kind acts had really renewed my faith in humanity.  This kindness continues even now- extended to us day after day.  I know there is evil in the world but I also know there is SO MUCH good! 

3.  The importance of church family                                   I grew up in church, my kids are growing up in church, it’s just part of who we are. However, until the chips were down,  I never gave nearly enough thanks for church family.  My church loves us so big and so hard that sometimes it feels like my heart is going to burst.  My church family has hung exterior lights, stained our swing set, fed us, cried with us and prayed us through so many stages.  I know my church makes Jesus smile.  

4.  Nurturing friendships                                                      Like many married, working mothers, I neglected a lot of my friendships for many years.  Losing Patrick has brought renewed closeness with so many of my friends.  I treasure the humor, perspective and joy that they bring to my life.  My friendships cheer me on as I navigate this single, 40 year old mom path and encourage me to be myself no matter how wacky or difficult that self can be.  I know God has put each of these people into my life for specific purposes- his planning is perfect as always.  

No one ever really wants to hear about silver linings when they are in the threshold of grief.  It’s after you come out of the fog and take a look around, that you really see how God has never stopped working in your life through all the people around you.  I once read somewhere “rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”  I think that might just be true…stay tuned. 💙

I’m not OK and that’s OK

I’ve been up since 4am…on a Saturday morning…churning.  That’s the only word to describe the multiple emotions that are whipping through my mind right now.  It’s almost impossible to pin each emotion down but dread, excitement, anxiety, saddness, joy and exhaustion are amoung the contenders as the sun rises today.  They are swirling around in my brain, my stomach and in my tender heart…a soup of emotions…churning.  

I’m not ok today.  I’m not ok because today is my son’s 4th birthday party.  Part of me is so excited for him because when you’re little, birthdays are SO MUCH FUN!  I can’t wait to decorate and pick up his cake and watch his sweet face light up.  But I dread it to.  I dread it because Patrick won’t be there.  Yet another milestone he won’t be there for and oh boy, here come the tears. 

I’m not ok because I’m overwhelmed with all I need to, how tired I am and how it sometimes just stinks to have it all on your shoulders.  I’m dealing with the anxiety that I might not have all the food ready and perfectly timed out (even though I know it ultimately doesn’t matter).  I’m just not ok today.  Not even a little bit.  

The good thing that I know now after nearly 11 months of learning to live this new life is that it’s perfectly OK that I’m not OK.  It’s ok because I will get up here in a few minutes, go through my list, line out my day and proceed.  I will hug my son and rejoice that the party is, in fact TODAY and we will start blowing up balloons.  I may cry the entire time I’m in the car going to get the cake and that’s ok.  When I get home and I’m cutting up fruit I’m may be angry for a bit because Patrick is not here but that’s ok too. 

I may pray the entire time I’m setting tables, vacuuming and mopping the floor for God to give me strength and energy and peace and that’s more than ok.  I may tear up when family arrives and my mom gives me one of those knowing hugs that mothers can give because she knows I’m struggling and that’s ok too. 

It’s all ok because I’m raw and human and it’s my little boy’s first birthday without his Daddy.  Patrick won’t be there for anymore parties and it sucks.  Plain and simple.  I’m allowed to feel joy for my baby’s 4th birthday and overwhelming saddness at the same time.  The churning.  

So this morning I’m giving myself permission to feel what I feel and not judge each emotion.  To pray and breathe through the churning and to not be ok but still be PRESENT and full of love because THIS DAY won’t ever happen again.