Spring cleaning

IMG_2845.jpg

Know what I realized lately? So much of the creative process (and life) is about getting out of your head and following your heart.

Noticing your inner critic—who says you can’t make anything original/you’re not talented/you don’t have a story to tell/you can’t finish that project/etc.—and flipping her script. Talking back, then moving ahead.

Wanna try it?

Repeat after me: I am original, creative and talented. I have a story to tell. I have something to say.

Be your own cheerleader. It’s that simple.

It’s time for some spring cleaning: Let go of the clutter and negative noise crowding up your head space. Replace it with something powerful and beautiful instead.

The world has enough angry voices shouting for our attention. How can you give yourself a little more love today?

The boy who lived

For so many—myself included—Mother’s Day is complicated. The day I became a mother was … complicated.

After hours of labor and an emergency C-section, I almost lost my son.

He wasn’t breathing when the doctor delivered him. I kept waiting to hear his cries, but all I heard was silence. Then nurses calling for backup. Then the medical team, trying to revive him.

I sobbed heavy tears, afraid I’d never meet my son.

Then he joined in, softly at first but gradually stronger. Relief, joy, awe — the sweet, sweet sound of my baby crying.

10 hours later – Cradling my son in my arms for the first time in the NICU took my breath away. Looking at his wrinkly, pink face and tiny hands, I nearly forgot I was sitting in a wheelchair, body aching from labor and surgery. Heart aching from the trauma, I held him close and thanked God for him.

This is motherhood: a forgetting of self, an outpouring of love, tremendous sacrifice punctuated by bursts of happiness. It is magical and terrifying. It is bittersweet.

Today I’m grateful for my mother and mother-in-law, for mom friends and family, for others who mother. I’m thinking of friends who grieve and suffer on this day. And I’m giving thanks for the boy who lived and made me a mother.

Fear and great love

“Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.” ―Frederick Buechner

If we were having coffee right now, I’d tell you the emotion I’ve been battling most lately is fear.

Fear is an uncomfortable emotion to harbor: Fear tells us we are weak and insignificant. Fear makes us believe are powerless. Fear can paralyze us from taking action, the very thing that can save us.

Until I went to therapy a few years ago I wasn’t emotionally aware enough to realize how often I felt scared. I think most of us are more fearful than we let on in our carefully captioned Instagram posts and casual conversations. Everyone’s afraid.

Lately the fear has been acute, like hunger pangs in my stomach I can’t seem to satisfy.

Maybe it was my recent discovery that I’m an enneagram type two, motivated by a deep need to love and be loved by others. (If you have not checked out this personality framework, do it now. It’s my new obsession.) This realization was terrifying and affirming and, like a true two, I immediately wondered what I could start or stop doing so that people would like me more (face palm). I’m afraid I can’t change or work around my weaknesses.

Maybe it’s because I haven’t had many writing “wins” lately and I’m feeling like an imposter. Sure, I’m an editor and I work with words every day. But to claim I’m a writer? Some days I’m not sure I have what it takes. There are so many writers out there who are more talented and have more interesting stories to tell. I’m afraid no one wants to hear what I have to say, that my work won’t be of service to others.

Maybe it’s because my son just turned one and it seems like yesterday we were taking him home from the hospital, nervous and excited. Sometimes I worry I’m missing out on his life, on raising him while I work full-time. I need to work to provide for our family, but I desperately crave more time with my son. What if I regret this choice later? I’m afraid of regret.

I’m afraid. I’m afraid. I’m afraid . . .

Last week on Valentine’s Day I was determined to shake off my anxiety and make this a special day for my family. We had heart-shaped pink pancakes for breakfast. Jack sent his grand and great-grandparents valentines. Jay got me the roses. It was a good day.

It was also Ash Wednesday, so I went to midday chapel. I received my ashes. I prayed.

Then I heard about the Parkland shooting. At first, I felt nothing. I was numb.

As the news rolled in, all I could think about was our son. I imagined him 15 years later, in high school. Jack the teenager cowering under a desk, fearing for his life. The baby I carried in my womb for nine months and nursed for a year shot dead in a hallway, blood splattering the floor. I thought of all the parents who woke up to this nightmare Wednesday afternoon. I thought of my mom an sister-in-law, both teachers. I sobbed and sobbed.

One of the worst parts of being a parent is realizing again and again that no matter how hard you try you cannot protect your child from everything. As any mom or dad will tell you, from the moment your child enters your life you will learn to live with the gut-wrenching fear that your precious son or daughter could die at any moment for any reason. Your child gets older, but it never gets easier. In our current cultural context, I think it’s only getting worse.

Places I have to worry about my son getting shot:

  1. Church
  2. School
  3. Mall
  4. Movie theater
  5. Concert
  6. Sporting event
  7. Airport
  8. Basically anywhere

We shouldn’t have to live with this. We shouldn’t have to die like this. And we definitely shouldn’t throw up our hands and say, “I guess since we all disagree on the root cause of gun violence in America, we should just do nothing. This problem is just too complex for us to solve.”

Fear continues to creep in and cripple us—and the very people we elected to protect us—from taking action to address this issue.

In her recent statement on the Parkland shooting, ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton said, “We acknowledge our own failings and ask God to guide us in finding new ways to turn the tide together on both the availability of assault weapons and the lack of mental health care.

But we know that those things alone won’t solve this epidemic. All of us, including the church, must take a close look at ourselves. How are we cultivating a culture of violence, hatred, anger and fear, and how can we participate in building a counter-culture where people can experience God’s intended peace and life abundant for all?”

Amen! Yes, in the U.S. we have a serious culture issue at hand that’s playing a big rule in this mess we’re in. We glorify guns and violence in our media. We socialize our boys to suppress their emotions, to objectify women, to value “winning.” We play violent video games and watch violent movies. We stand idly by as others are bullied or isolated, too absorbed in our own lives, too afraid to show them compassion.

We are broken people. But my faith tells me that we can change. That the church—whose membership continues to be in decline, especially among younger generations—is relevant today because it offer tools for change. The church teaches a powerful, countercultural message of hope, healing, forgiveness and love all wrapped up in the story of Jesus.

I’m terrified of what we Americans have become. But I also have hope. God is calling us, as he always has, to love one another. What would it look like for us to let go of fear and live in great love instead?

Great love means seeking to listen and understand our neighbors before choosing sides. Great love means noticing our own complicity in the problem and resolving to change. Great love means honoring our neighbor’s emotions and stories. It means caring for everyone’s children–not just yours and mine. It also means: Reclaiming our schools and public spaces. Prioritizing people over weapons. Seeking common ground. Resolving our conflicts without violence. Prioritizing peace. Cultivating respect. Loving our neighbors as ourselves.

I’m outraged by the Parkland shooting. And I’m especially outraged because we know it won’t be the last. But we must do everything in our power to stop this senseless, savage violence in our schools and other public spaces. And although we aren’t all politicians or activists, we are all citizens and have an influence on our inner circles. Just look at the brave teens from Parkland who are working tirelessly to persuade our lawmakers to take action on gun control. Together we *can* affect change.

So here’s how I’m choosing to act: I’m choosing to raise my voice and shout, “Enough!” especially to our legislators. I’m choosing to get involved. I’m choosing to raise my son in a way that defies toxic masculinity. I’m choosing to keep praying, to vote conscientiously, to act conscientiously, and to look for the people around me who might need a little extra love.

I can choose to live life afraid. Or I can choose to live courageously in love.

I choose great love. What do you choose?

Highs, lows of 2017 + my 2018 intention

Strybis 36
Credit: Monamie Photography

Happy New Year! As I write this, I’m hiding out in my bedroom while my husband entertains our 11-month-old. I have my laptop, my coffee, a cozy blanket and snuggly dog, and I’m feeling especially grateful to be indoors on this chilly day in the city. It’s heavenly.

It’s been pretty quiet on this blog the past few months. Jay and I are on the other side of a particularly difficult parenting season. To keep things simple and maintain my sanity, I gave myself permission to take a writing break both professionally and personally during that season. In doing this, I was reminded of a valuable lesson: Sometimes, the only way to find inner peace is to let go of the expectations you set for yourself.

I missed writing. I missed this space.

I often found myself composing blog posts during my commute home only to arrive at my doorstep with an overtired baby, overtired mind and daily chores to complete. Once I had a free moment to myself, choosing to consume content versus create it was the easier course of action. After a difficult string of sleepless nights, I was reminded of my therapist’s advice to be gentle with myself. I stopped feeling guilty about getting lost in a good story or scrolling through my phone and just enjoyed it—particularly season two of The Crown, this YA novel, this bookthis podcast series and my fair share of Instagram stories.

In 2018, I want things to be different. I don’t want to stop reading and watching and listening and learning, but I do want to start creating and sharing more with all of you, friends. God has put a deep, burning desire to write on my heart–and I’m eager to lean into this passion and see where it leads me.

I won’t call this a resolution. By now, I know myself well enough to know I am not a resolution maker. (Frankly, the barrage of life and health and wellness challenges for the new year on social media this year is a bit overwhelming!) Instead, I’ll borrow from the yoga world, as I have done in the past years, and set an intention, a focus, going forward.

This my intention for 2018: to use this space and all the other channels available to me to tell my story, to create + connect with you. I intend to write and post more regularly, to not let fear, excuses, overwhelm and busy-ness get in the way of carving out a little space to reflect and share. The connect part is important to me too—this is my way to make my small corner of the Internet a more positive space, to find common ground with others, to keep in touch with friends, to inspire and encourage you on your journey. Speaking of which, I’ll start with some thoughts on the past year.

My year in review 

For me, 2017 was a year of change marked by the highest highs and lowest lows I’ve ever felt. The biggest change? Becoming a mother, which involved learning to get comfortable with change and challenges as our son moved through various stages of infancy. He’s on his way to becoming a toddler right now and I am amazed by the growth that happened right before our eyes. It seems like just yesterday we were bringing Jack home from the hospital, and now he’s on the verge of taking his very first steps.

As for highs and lows, here’s my list . . .

Highs: Giving birth to my son, breastfeeding and nurturing him, watching him grow and hit major milestones, growing closer with husband and other family members through parenthood, reuniting and connecting with Valpo friends, witnessing our goddaughter grow older, sharing in our godson’s baptism, getting back into yoga, publishing a couple essays, leading Living Lutheran‘s first theme issue, writing about Millennials and the church, sharing stories through this blog.

Lows: Processing postpartum trauma, transitioning back to work after maternity leave riddled with anxiety/heartache/doubt, vacillating from worry to disgust with the current U.S. administration, feeling lonely in our new neighborhood, struggling to keep up with work and home, dealing with my own newfound forgetfulness, receiving rejection emails, sleep-deprivation, illness, grieving the loss of innocents to more mass shootings, grieving the loss of two beloved grandfathers.

Undoubtedly this was the most challenging year of my life and my marriage. And it was also the most rewarding. Becoming a mother opened my eyes to the simple beauty and wonder of childhood and the deep joy and love of parenthood. It also pushed me to build greater resilience and grit.

Although I was at best an intermittent church-goer, I continued to pursue my faith in other ways, through reading and listening to podcasts and praying. I’ve prayed a lot more since becoming parent, and I’ve found the simple word, “help,” (of Ann Lamott’s “Help. Thanks. Wow.“) to be my particular Hail Mary in times of stress.

Our family lost two incredible men of faith this year–my Grandpa Joe and Grandpa Richard. Grandpa Joe was the strong silent type, but he loved baseball, square dancing with grandma, tending to his garden and going to church. Grandpa Rich, too, was an avid church-goer and he sung in the choir. He was incredibly outgoing, a good listener and a diehard St. Louis Cardinals fan. Both were dedicated husbands, fathers and, first and foremost, Lutherans. I really miss them both, but know they’re smiling down on us from heaven.

All in all I’m deeply grateful for the rich blessings God has bestowed on our family this past year, especially the gift of our son. That God entrusted this little wonder to our care never ceases to amaze me. Just today I found myself changing the diaper of my wild baby who would prefer to be naked wistfully wondering when the “real” adult/parent would step in and rescue me. While washing my hands, I looked at myself in the mirror and remembered, “Oh yeah, that’s… me. I’m the parent. I get to deal with this poop on my son’s leg. On my own. (Also, when did I start looking so tired? Have I looked like this all year?)”

This may sound trite, but the poop, the tears, the sleepless nights, the dogged tiredness, the doubt, the forgetfulness, the frustration, the annoying pump sessions… they’re all worth it. All it takes is a giggle, a smile, a snuggle, a hug from my son and my heart just melts. This joy, this love, this wonder–I never knew life could feel so full of brightness until I became a mother.

And that is what I’ll take with me from 2017. I’m leaving behind all the other icky stuff (I know, there was a lot of it) and remembering this: 2017 was the year I became a mother. It was the year Jay and I received the greatest gift of all, our son.

Help. Thanks. WOW.

Blessings to you in 2018.

 

Motherhood is messy

black and white splattersIt is 11 a.m. and I am laying on the floor of my newborn’s room, covered in a cold sweat. My teeth chatter as I wrap my oversized bathrobe tight around my body and watch my baby play. He is well but I am not. I am overtired and running a fever and the only thing keeping me awake in this particular moment is adrenaline. My lips move but my voice fails me as I let out a silent one-word prayer: “Help.”

That morning, on the floor of my son’s room, I experience my first panic attack. I am so sick I can barely care for myself and I am scared sick that I don’t  have the stamina to continue caring for my three-month-old son. To top it off my husband is out of town for a week-long work trip and it is only Wednesday.

Sick. Scared. Alone.

This is not how I pictured my first week of solo-parenting to go.

I am in the middle of my maternity leave but my husband is back at work and on the road. He is a consultant, so travel is a regular part of the gig. After Jack was born we’d spent six stressful/blissful weeks together learning how to care for an infant. Now I’m on my own and feeling terrible and I am terrified. I fight back tears as I call my husband and he immediately insists I call my mother and ask for help.

“Mom,” I croak when she answers the phone, “I need you right now. I’m sick and can’t take care of Jack. Can you come help me?”

“Of course,” she says, “I’ll come as soon as I can tonight.”

A fresh crop of tears spill from my eyes as I hang up the phone. My mom is coming to help. I am relieved. I just have to hang on until she can finish up at work and make the drive from Chicago suburbs to the city proper where we live.

Jack’s starting to get hungry so I pick him up and take him to the rocking chair. My head pounds as I hold him in my arms and feed him. His 11-pound body feels surprisingly heavy in my arms but I will myself to stay awake. In my head, I count the hours until my mother will arrive. Then I try to channel positive thoughts: I am strong. I can do hard things. I can do this.

FullSizeRender

There is something about motherhood that is incredibly physical, but we often fail to acknowledge it after our babies are born. Labor is taxing, yes, but long after children leave the safety of the womb, we continue to mother them with our bodies: our breasts a source of nourishment, arms a sanctuary place, sheer physical presence a comfort.

So what happens when mom gets sick? On this day when I feel like the walking dead, I draw a deep strength from within me and become a warrior. I get up, and I keep moving. I have to do this for my son.

Every day we sleep-deprived, exhausted mothers summon the power inside to persist, to endure hard things we’d never faced before we had children. We do it for them. We become stronger for our children.

Hours pass. When the doorbell finally rings, I rush to let my mom inside, holding Jack in my arms. When I open it I see my mom, arms full of a handful of bags and smiling at us and immediately I feel self conscious. My hair is dirty, my bathrobe sticky with sweat and I can’t remember if I’ve brushed my teeth. I am a mess, the house is a mess.

“Mom, you’re here!” I almost shout as I hand her the baby and take the bags she’s set gingerly on the ground. She’s brought Lipton soup and throat lozenges and ginger ale–all the things that she used to give me when I was sick as a child–and my heart just melts.

“I am so sorry but I just need to lie down right now…” I say, trailing off. “Are you OK watching Jack for a bit?”

“Of course.”

I retreat back to my room and flop down on the bed. My mom is here and I am safe and loved and so is Jack.

She rocks the baby, cleans the dishes and folds the laundry–she helps clean up my mess. She mothers me and my infant child.

I now understand what people meant when they told me becoming a parent is a lifetime commitment, because now that I’m a mom, I need my mom more than ever before and I’m so grateful to her for the ways she’s kept showing up in my life and mothering me, long after I left the nest.

Before becoming a mother, I had this idealized version of motherhood stuck in my head. I loved following The Bump’s instagram account and looking at perfectly stylized family portraits paired with witty captions. Motherhood seemed so fun and easy! And, certainly it is fun, especially seeing baby develop over time. Easy? Not so much.

What I’ve come to realize is that most days motherhood doesn’t look anything like the photos The Bump highlights.

Most days, motherhood is MESSY. And motherhood is about showing up amid the mess.

Motherhood on the internet is so often a performance, it’s putting our best foot forward for our friends and family and other strangers online. The images we love to share so often capture our parenting highs but don’t show the lows, the sick days, tears, tantrums or tremendous mounds of laundry and dishes waiting to be cleaned in the background.

Let me repeat: Motherhood is messy. In fact, as a default it’s messy and hard and infuriating at times, so why is everyone on the Internet so hellbent on making it seem otherwise?

Yes, motherhood is fun and rewarding and joyful, but it’s also: milk-stained shirts and dirty diapers and dishes piled up in the sink and three-day-old-hair and dark circles under your eyes and sometimes getting bailed out by your mom when you’re sick so you can just get some rest.

I have a request for all the mothers out there: Can we start talking more about this? About the messy stuff that happens in between our pretty family portraits? Can we honor mothers with more than words of gratitude in a card or Facebook post but with a heartfelt word of thanks for your incredible service, too?

Let’s stop pretending! Let’s embrace the joy and the beauty and the mess that comes with motherhood.

Maybe if we start talking more about how hard women work in the home, maybe our politicians will start working for women instead of against us (see: the war on women’s bodies, on women in the workplace, etc.).

Better yet, let’s just start electing more moms into office. Why? Because they understand what it takes to raise good citizens, they are experts at dealing with messes and also–they’re strong as hell.

 

How raising a puppy changed my life

This week my husband and I are celebrating the one-year anniversary of the day we got our beloved pug, Gus. That day, January 4, 2015, will be forever etched in my memory as the day I learned what it felt like to fall in love at first sight.

img_0030
That’s me, meeting Gus for the first time. He was so tiny!
One year ago my husband and I were sitting in our car in a gas station parking lot in Merrillville, Ind., feeling a bit uncomfortable and anxious as we waited to meet our breeder. The brutal January wind whipped at our windows as I shifted in my seat. “What kind of car did she say she had again?” I asked him for what was surely the ten millionth time. As he answered, the very van we’d been searching for finally pulled into the parking lot and we looked at each other with wide-eyed excitement.

Then there I was, standing alongside our breeder’s gold minivan with a powder blue fleece blanket in my arms when all of the sudden a tiny, fluffy, fawn-colored pug puppy was thrust into my arms, a life that would change my life—our lives—completely. He was eight weeks old.

Look, I know everyone says, “A baby changes everything,” and as we are also expecting a baby, I know that is so true and I will probably have much more to say about that in the weeks ahead—I can’t wait, honestly, to know more about that. But I also believe the same could be said about getting a pet, especially your first dog who also happens to a puppy and is completely new to the world and needs constant attention, love and training (especially of the potty variety). Extra bonus points if you decide to get a puppy in the middle of a Chicago winter. Oh, memories!


OK, confession time: I grew up with a cat.

Phew! Glad that’s out of the way.

When I was younger I did not get dogs, nor did I want anything to do with them. (I also did not get cats, as the cat I grew up with only had eyes for my mother.) In my mid-twenties, something changed and I became quite enamored with the idea of getting a dog. My husband and I dreamed of getting a city dog that wouldn’t mind our tiny apartment; other requirements included being good around kids, laid back, fun-loving and, of course, super adorable. We developed a minor obsession with #pugsofinstagram, and after researching the breed further, we decided this was the dog for us.

Our journey to get Gus, which I playfully dubbed #pugwatch2015 (not a real hashtag), involved multiple visits to the allergist as well as multiple failed attempts to adopt a pug in need. I was overjoyed when we discovered a reputable, loving breeder through a friend at the gym, and even happier when we learned we’d been approved to adopt one of her puppies.

That January day we took Gus home was exhilarating and joyous and terrifying all at once. It was a day we had prepared for, reading Pugs for Dummies, Click for Joy and Don’t Shoot the Dog (Err… I only half-read that first book but my husband read all three),  assembling the crate and buying all the things–food and puppy shampoo and toys and a nail trimmer we’d never end up using. We’d even readied ourselves by rearranging our lives for Gus, with my husband taking some time off from his busy travel schedule for a short puppy paternity leave. (This month, as we finish getting ready for baby, I’m feeling an odd sense of déjà vu.)

Of course nothing could prepare us for how much love and frustration (and heartache!) puppy brought into our lives.

So what, specifically, changed?

My home life

When I think back to life before Gus, I have a hard time remembering my old routines and habits. While I did workout most mornings before work, I didn’t have much of a post-work routine. What I did in the evenings varied, whether it was working late or meeting up with friends or heading to book club or catching an evening yoga class. An extrovert at heart, I did whatever I could to avoid spending time on my own when my husband was traveling, which was most weeks.

Enter Gus. Mornings with puppy always included a bathroom break (or two) outside  and a meal, and it was the same in the evenings, punctuated by plenty of playtime. Luckily there were two of us at home to manage our puppy’s routine, which helped a lot. Although I continued to keep up with my regular commitments, the number of spontaneous outings in my life tapered off significantly.

I didn’t mind, actually, because I was in love with our new little puppy, and our new life together. Spending time with my two boys brought me so much joy–it was often the highlight of my day. Rather than scroll through my phone, habitually checking the news or my newsfeed, I poured my time, energy and attention into bonding with Gus. My puppy gave me a new appreciation for what it means to be present in the moment, something I craved for my life but really needed to work on. I knew I had issues with being present, I knew I was a little addicted to my phone.

Gus taught me to be present by teaching me to play again. His energy and enthusiasm was and continues to be boundless.

What is it about growing up that sucks away our desire to just play for the sake of playing? What happens to us along our journeys that downplays the important of play for humans? It’s as though we reach a certain age and at that age we are taught to be embarrassed by play, by indulging in silliness. 

Dogs seem to have it all figured out. They know play is essential to life and will go to great lengths to engage their owners to do so (at least ours does!). Gus certainly knows he needs play to survive and thrive–he’s actually a play bully, often pushing his toys into us or barking when he knows he needs a good session.

With Gus, home life is anything but lonely. When I am home with Gus I get to practice being present, I get to rediscover the joy of play.

My relationship

My husband didn’t spend much time at home before we had our puppy. The nature of his work is such that he could be asked to take a regional trip within a day’s notice, and he’d often be gone for the majority of the month. 

This was hard on me, as my love language is quality time. Even though we kept in touch while he was away, there have been times when I didn’t get enough quality time with him to fill my tank. Raising a puppy changed all that.

My husband stopped traveling for a couple months and became the primary puppy parent. (This was super helpful speeding up the potty training process and I’ll be forever grateful to him for it.) To my delight, he was usually home to greet me in the morning and greet me in the evening when I came home. So was Gus. For the first couple days, it seemed surreal, too good to be true. As I became accustomed to our togetherness the heartache I’d felt for so long when my husband was gone began to heal.

In those early days, I once came home to discover my husband had put together a spreadsheet of puppy’s potty schedule, documenting Gus’s day, hour by hour.

Leave it to an engineer on vacation to do something like this.

It sounds absurd, but it was actually super helpful. I loved it and loved the ways we were working together to raise Gus, sharing responsibilities and troubleshooting any problems that arose.

I remember the first time we gave Gus a bath. We kept checking Pugs for Dummies to see if we were “following all the steps correctly” while Gus looked on and waited for us humans to figure out what we were doing. It was a little clumsy but we got through it, congratulating ourselves as we patted him dry with a towel.

I remember the day Gus graduated from puppy school. We were both so proud of Gus, and the hours we’d spent training him to sit, lay down, walk away, and come when he’s called, really seemed to have paid off.

Raising Gus brought us even closer together than we already were. Not only did that special period in our life when we first got Gus give us hours of time together, it also forced us to communicate about milestones the puppy reached on a regular basis. In the process, we divvied up domestic dog duties and even developed our own silly nicknames and language for talking about the dog and it just worked.

My understanding of unconditional love

The third and final way raising a puppy shaped my life was the way it taught me about unconditional love.

In Sunday School we learned Jesus loves you no matter what and that is unconditional love, but I still grew up a people pleaser at heart and never fully digested the message. What I know now: Real love isn’t something you need to earn. And Gus helped with that. 

Through a leadership course and therapy that winter, I was just starting to notice how I acted to seek approval from others. Nowhere was this more clear than at work, which happened to be going pretty terribly when we got Gus.

I often would come home troubled by ______(fill in the blank with a ridiculous story here)_____, and troubled by Chicago traffic. I was under a lot of stress.

But nothing quite compares to coming home and being greeted by a dog who is just so excited to see you he can’t stop wiggling, wagging his tail or licking you. Gus was truly a therapy dog for me then and continues to be one for me now. (Oh, and those daily struggles? They’ve dissipated.)

If there’s ever a time when I’m feeling down, however, it’s as if Gus has a sixth sense and will stop whatever he’s doing to show me some love. 

Because of Gus I know I don’t have to earn love. I’m still working through patterns of people-pleasing that don’t serve me. But Gus, who loves me because I am me not because of anything I’ve done, has helped me see the transformative power of unconditional love. It is good and pure and true–a gift to be treasured.

Conclusion: Puppies – not for everyone.

I could tell you a plethora of other ways Gus has changed my life–our lives–for the better. We get outside more; he helped us meet new neighbors; he helped me not take life for granted.

Look, puppies aren’t for everyone, but if you’re considering adopting, know you are about to be gifted with a huge privilege and undertaking that cannot to be taken lightly. It is time-consuming and life-altering. Yet everything you invest in your dog, you will get back x1000.

I am a better person because of it. I feel so lucky to have the privilege to care for a dog. 

How about you? Do you have a special pet you’ll never forget, one that changed your life for the better? I’d love to hear about it in the comments. 

 

 

 

Lessons from 30

Today I turn 31. This particular age feels simultaneously foreign and familiar, like a too big, too old-fashioned coat you once bought and thought you’d never wear that now mysteriously fits so you reluctantly just wear it.

birthday cake with candles
freeimages.com/art brazee

My husband and I have birthdays a week apart, so he is 31 too. I wrote in his card that 30 had been a rollercoaster year marked by a surprising flux of highs and lows. “I’d never felt so much like an adult until I turned 30,” I’d remarked more than once this year. He agreed.

Several of my friends have described 2016 as a bit of a disaster, and with all that’s happened in the world, I’ve been tempted to say the same. Yet in all that disappoints or disturbs, my faith challenges me to seek out God’s silver lining, as there is so much to be grateful for in this life. This world, it’s both stunningly beautiful and broken, perhaps best characterized by the word “bittersweet.” I discovered this description from one of my favorite authors, Shauna Niequist, who offers this advice about life’s ups and downs: “When life is sweet, say thank you and celebrate. And when life is bitter, say thank you and grow.”

In the spirit of gratitude, here are a few things I’m thankful I learned at 30, three lessons I want to share with you.

On life and death

We’ve all been told life is a fragile, ephemeral gift. But at 30, that really sunk in for me. It started when my husband’s cousin died unexpectedly.

I remember the night my husband came home from the hospital, red-eyed and downtrodden. (Plagued with morning sickness, I’d regrettably stayed home.) He had looked up to his cousin TG so much, and it devastated him to see a man he knew to be so full of energy and love and kindness on life support. TG passed away that night.

The loss of TG shook us to the core. It was so sudden and shocking and it just seemed so unfair that someone as big-hearted as TG could die so soon, at the age of 45. TG’s funeral was an incredible testimony to his life and spirit. He was, in a word, unforgettable.

Just as the funeral was coming to a close I saw a text from our pet-sitter, who asked me to call her immediately. Already weepy, I stepped away from the funeral to make the call. I broke into hysterical crying as she broke the news: Gus, our puppy, had been hit by a car, she said. A freak accident when he slipped out of his collar.

As we raced to the Vet ER in a panic, I feared we’d mourn two losses that night. Helplessly I watched the minutes tick away on my Google maps app as we got closer and closer to our final destination. When we finally arrived, seeing Gus in the ER was both a relief and terror. Hooked up to oxygen in an unfamiliar place, he looked so helpless and afraid.

He was just a puppy. This just wasn’t fair.

The veterinarian had said Gus would be OK if he made it through the night. So afraid we’d get a call from the vet, I could barely sleep that night. Doubtful and angry, turning to prayer felt like an impossible task. So I sent out an SOS to my women’s group and to others, asking them to hold our family in prayer.

When the first text came in, “I’m praying for Gus, Erin,” my heart softened and I felt a wave of relief. One by one the messages came in, and I began to hope, and I even attempted my own feeble prayer, “God, if you are out there, please let my puppy live.”

To our surprise, Gus made it through the night and the next day, and the day after that. It was truly a miracle. I was beyond grateful that Gus survived.

The lesson in all this? Ever since that day, I’ve practiced resisting the ease that comes in taking life for granted. Each day is a new opportunity to tell someone you love them, to find beauty in the highs, the lows, the ordinary moments.

On trying (and failing) and trying again

This year I was rejected from a small handful of career opportunities I really wanted. To be clear, these weren’t all job applications–I actually love my current job–but they were certainly new challenges that I thought I might be a fit for. Well, I wasn’t. #fail

It’s hard not to take rejection personally, especially when you’re a creative. As a writer, so much of my work IS personal, so hearing “We think you’re really talented, but you’re just not a good fit for us” can be pretty hard to swallow.

I’m also a self-described “recovering perfectionist” who has spent nearly 30 years people-pleasing, so I know I take things harder than others might. I’m working on that.

The thing I’ve learned about failure, though, is that even when it really hurts, it’s actually a really good thing.

I still remember the first time I practice taught part of a yoga class at the start of my teacher-training journey in fall 2015.

Um, I was awful. I couldn’t remember the sequence, my voice was too quiet and I had no presence whatsoever. It was pretty uncomfortable for everyone. #fail

And, you know what? It was also awesome. It was so incredibly freeing to fail. It gave me such a rush–I wanted to do it again, to try again, and maybe get a little better but probably only do an adequate job at best the next chance I had to teach. So I did.

By January 2016, after more rounds of practice teaching than I can count and hours upon hours of learning and practicing yoga at my studio, I was certified and on my way to teaching power yoga with confidence, grace and good humor towards my shortcomings.

Throughout teacher training, my instructors never once framed trying and making mistakes as failure. They were encouraging to each and every student who was brave enough to put herself or himself out there, and provided direct, gentle feedback to promote an atmosphere of growth. The experience pushed me to let go of my deep-seated fear of failure in ways I never dreamed possible.

What I know now (and I can’t believe it took me this long): Getting rejected or failing at something is key to growth. And rather than let rejection slow me down or scare me away from pursuing my dreams, I will keep trying, and failing, and trying again at 31.

On putting down roots

Earlier this year my husband and I made the decision to buy a house. With a baby on the way, we knew it was time for us to put down roots. So we started talking about and dreaming about house-hunting. After eight years in Chicago, we weren’t convinced that this city was the place we wanted to raise our family.

Sure there were great things about the city, but we’d grown tired of the crime, the high taxes and the soul-crushing commute times. Oh, and I’d be remiss if I did not mention the soul-crushing weather! We’d read that Illinois was (and continues to be) a state with a very high rate of residential departures for warmer, fairer states.  Was buying a home even a good investment here?

Uncertain about the city, we resurrected our dream of moving west and settled on checking out Denver again this July. I’d always loved the area but hadn’t been back in a while. It seemed to have all the things we were looking for that we couldn’t find in Chicago–better weather, the great outdoors, a slower pace of living–to name a few. After returning from that trip, once again enamored with the city, we made a pro/con list and pitted Denver against Chicago. Guess which city won?

It was Denver, by a longshot. We were moving. So we started putting things in motion in Denver, looking into realtors and remote work policies and how the move might impact our family. We were on the way to making the leap.

Near the end of the process, the week before we’d fly to Denver to look at homes, I started feeling a little doubtful. Moving to Denver wasn’t convenient but it seemed like the right decision, it seemed like we would finally be pursuing our dreams of living somewhere new. And, it won by a landslide in the pro/con faceoff!

I talked about this with a dear friend who was dreading the prospect my moving. “I can’t really talk about this with you because I’m biased, but, I’m not sure it’s a good idea,” she said. “I don’t want to influence your choice though. . .”

After that conversation I went home and practiced an exercise that podcaster Jess Lively describes as “writing to your intuition.” I answered the question: Why do I have this inner conflict? As I started typing, I was startled by what I found.

It seemed that even though moving away seemed like a logical choice on paper, it didn’t jive with my values. We couldn’t just move away from my entire network of friends–and of course family–when we were having our first child. I am a person who thrives on relationships. Even though we’d seen so many of our friends move away from the city in the years we lived here, we still had new and old friends we loved who were a big part of our lives. It seemed completely foolish to abandon the incredible network and church we had here, especially given the ways we’d need to lean on them–and of course my family, for support in the year ahead.

That night, laying next to my husband in bed, I told him I wanted to stay in Chicago. He said he did too. As soon as we talked, I felt calmer and more at ease. We knew the decision was right. We just had to rework our plans a bit. And even though it was stressful, in the end we found the perfect place to live in Chicago. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

What I learned: Listen to your heart, not your head. Big decisions take time–and even when you think you have your mind made up, you may have a change of heart. And that’s okay.

Onward and upward

There were, of course, several other lessons I learned at 30, more than could be detailed in an already-long blog post. What will 31 have in store, I wonder.

For one, a baby–as long as I have a safe delivery, I pray–and the ups and downs of motherhood. And another, more stories. For a long time I’ve wanted to start a blog. And finally, at 31, it feels like I have more to say, more to explore, and I need a space to do it. It is my hope that I can use this tiny corner of the internet as a virtual “room of my own”(inspired by Virginia Woolf) to write and to share more moments with you.

I’m sure there will be times when it’s hard to for me to post consistently, and others when the writing muse will strike, as it has for me now. Either way, if you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading. I look forward to connecting with you.