To My Online Friends…

Last winter was a transitional time for me, as I not only endured hardships but also learned that life could be whatever I made of it.  During that time, I was blessed to have three friends who supported me in every way possible, staying by my side constantly.  They were right there, that day in January, when everything hit the fan.  They were there right after my Skype interview for my new job.  They were by my side when we thought we would be homeless, and when decluttering was becoming so stressful.  They have still been by my side, as I have adjusted to my new life.

The thing is, I don’t know what any of their voices sound like, or even how tall they are.  And none of us have ever exchanged a real hug.

The three friends who, together, were my rock during the darkest time of my life, were people I met online, through the blogging community.  With all of my excitement, over realizing that my reality had so much potential that it was time to reduce my online time, I also found that I was experiencing a certain sadness today.

As all four of us are finding that our journies are leading us to spend less time in front of the computer screen, we are realizing that our relationships with each other are changing as well.  We are being faced with the same good-bye’s that accompany any move or major life change.  Sure, we’ll stay in touch with each other, but it will certainly be on a different level and less frequent.

My friends realized before I did, that this was a natural step, and not something we should fight.  It took me longer to make my peace with the change, and I spent more time online, trying to keep things the way they used to be.

But things should never stay the way they used to be.

Life is a progression.  It’s a journey, and sometimes it is time to leave port.  Over time, with all friendships, we find that there are seasons where someone is a greater part of our life, and seasons where we are in contact less.

But through the seasons, our love never changes.  And we still stay important to each other.

So, Sandy, it is a privilege to have you as a reader, and I enjoyed supporting you as you dabbled in blogging.  Thank you again for always being there to “listen” last winter.  I’ve enjoyed watching you change and grow, and I wish the best for your family.  I look forward to sending lots of pictures of my daughter (as post cards!) out to your neck of the woods, and I hope that we are able to someday meet in person.

And, Dan, what can I say?  You were absolutely right about me, from the beginning, and now I am beginning to see it, to feel it, to live it.  You’ve challenged me to question all that I have been told, about myself and about human nature.  You were right–I have been a “Linchpin” in the blogging world, but now it is time to see if I can do it in real life.  I know in my heart that we each how learned and grown from the other’s journey, and I can’t wait to see that the Universe has in store for each of us next, as we both go out into the “real” world.

Dear Lois, it has been a blessing to get to know you, this past year.  I thoroughly enjoyed our late night “chats,” and your support and friendship got me through many dark nights.  I felt like you were right there beside me, sitting on the basement floor, huddled up in front of that space heater.  I look forward to becoming old-fashioned pen pals, and sending you pictures of all our dumpster-diving finds.  I know that no matter what happens, the sun will always be shining in your world.

It has long been time to embrace the upcoming changes, as my life is once again in transition.  I will no longer be afraid to trust my own voice, and to look for that praise and reassurance from within.

In acknowledging my grief and bittersweet emotions, I find myself experiencing a tremendous sense of peace, and a little bit of anticipation.

We are all going to rock the real world.  If we were able to do so much good, and have so much influence in the lives of those we’ve never met, imagine what we will be able to do for those we see face to face.

Let’s go get ’em!

Needed: Virtual Hugs

Online friendships are a strange thing.

I don’t know what some of you look like.  And none of you know what I look like, with my current haircut (and a lot of you don’t even know that my hair is chin length right now!).  In my mind, the vast majority of you talk like you’re from Northern Michigan.  And you don’t realize that I have a rather high-pitched voice that sounds like a child’s.

We don’t see each other everyday.  None of us know the other’s life situation, in the same detail that we would, if we knew each other in “real life.”

And yet, we’re writers.  As such, we’re often more open in our writing, than in person.  There is a part of me–perhaps the most real part of me there is–that you see more here (and in e-mails) than people who know me, see in person.  We’ve shared secrets.  Many of you were with me, in very real ways, last winter and spring, when my struggles felt unbearable.  Thinking back, I remember love, and that always makes me smile.

Right now, so many of you are going through such challenges.  From my vantage point, it is so hard to know what to do.  Distance makes the simplest gesture impossible.  Often, words are just redundant, and I wish I could transcend time and space and give each of you a hug.

But since I can’t, I do what I can do.  I say the words that aren’t enough.  I give you advice that you don’t need, hoping that you’ll read the message between the lines–that you aren’t alone.  It is both an experience of helplessness, and one of love, in its pure form.

I know many of you, if not all of you, are reading this now.  And many others, who have someone else, whom you have never seen in person, who wants nothing more than to give you a hug right now.

And all I can share with you, with all of you, is this.  Don’t feel bad that people worry about you, when times are difficult.  Don’t feel like you’re “dumping” on those who care about you.

Instead, feel blessed.  Feel lucky, that people care enough to worry.  Smile, with the understanding that you are not alone.

And treasure those inadequate words, because they really a hug, in HTML form.

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Take a Moment Tonight

It doesn’t matter who you are, how much you’ve screwed up, or how many jerks you’ve met.  I am willing to bet that somewhere, there are people who love you.  Lots of people.  People who have gone to bat for you, who care about you (although they may or may not have said so), people whose lives you have touched without even knowing it. 

More powerful than counting your blessings–especially more powerful than counting your possessions, it is important to spend some time everyday remembering and thinking of those who love you.  Love is an action.  It is a gift we choose to give, with no strings attached. 

So accept the gift already! 

Allow yourself to feel the love you’ve been given.  Allow it to make you strong, to make you whole.  Then, think of those who have given it to you.  Pray for them, and wish them the best. 

Understanding how much you are loved, will allow you to see the world through love-colored glasses.  You will see more people in need, more ways to show love, than you ever realized were possible.

The best poem I’ve ever found about unconditional love (a redundant phrase–love is always unconditional) is actually from a children’s book. It’s written as from a parent to a child, but I’ve found that it really applies to all relationships and friendships:

Wherever You Go, My Love Will Follow

I wanted you more
than you ever will know
so I sent love to follow
wherever you go.
 
It’s high as you wish it. It’s quick as an elf.
You’ll never outgrow it…it stretches itself!
 
So climb any mountain…
climb up to the sky!
My love will find you.
My love can fly!
 
Make a big splash!  Go out on a limb!
My love will find you.  My love can swim!
 
It never gets lost, never fades, never ends…
 
if you’re working…
 
or playing…
 
or sitting with friends.
 
You can dance ’til you’re dizzy…
 
paint ’til you’re blue…
 
There’s no place, not one, 
that my love can’t find you.
 
And if someday you’re lonely, 
or someday you’re sad, 
or you strike out at baseball, 
or think you’ve been bad…
 
just lift up your face, feel the wind in your hair.
That’s me, my sweet baby, my love is right there.
 
In the green of the grass…in the smell of the sea…
in the clouds floating by…at the top of a tree…
in the sound crickets make at the end of the day…
 
“You are loved.  You are loved.  You are loved,” they all say.
 
My love is so high, and so wide and 
so deep, it’s always right there, even 
when you’re asleep.
 
So hold your head high
and don’t be afraid
to march to the front
of your own parade.
 
If you’re still my small babe
or you’re all the way grown,
my promise to you
is you’re never alone.  
 
You are my angel, my darling, 
my star…and my love will find you, 
wherever you are.
 
You are loved.  
 
–Nancy Tillman

 

Tonight, remember that you are loved.

 
  • Lying Tulips Stock Photo

 

P.S.  Check out my guest post on The Simple Year.  Thank you, Kerry, for featuring my piece!

The Gift of a Good Editor

Sometimes, when I am writing a something of particular importance, I will send it to some friends to be edited.  What is the worst thing that those friends can say?

“That looks good.”

I know it looks good.  If I didn’t think my writing had any merit, I wouldn’t publish it for the world to see.  But I seek feedback, because I want to make it look better.

I teach English (once again!), and editing is always something very difficult for my students.  By criticising someone’s writing, they feel that they are criticising that person.  My challenge is teaching them that their writing is not who they are.  Writing is something we produce.  And it can always be improved, no matter how good it is.

I’ve found that it is the same way with life.  When we see a friend making decisions that are harming them–or even just making their life more difficult–we’re hesitant to say anything.  We don’t want to hurt them. 

But, we are not our writing.  And we are not our decisions.

A decision is something that we make.  It is not us.  It could be something that is making us miserable.  And when that happens, the kindest thing a friend can do is to gently suggest that to be the case.  This isn’t nagging.  Just like with writing, in life we create the final product.  We get to pick and choose what advice we take, what we think about and decide upon later, and what we ignore. 

Throughout this winter, especially, I was able to grow and make changes, during very difficult times, because a few of my friends had the courage to speak up, kindly, when they saw that I might now be acting in my own best interest.  Having some perspective from a third party, helped me to see the situation with better clarity.

We’re here to help each other out and support each other.  So let’s make sure that we’re doing that, even when we have to say things that are less than comfortable for us to say.

 

Give-away Update:  Thank you to all who participated.  We had more books than people, because many of you donated anonymously and did not post comments.  The participation, on Gracyn’s website, is heartening!  Please continue to spread the word and encourage your friends to donate.

If you wrote a comment, your name was drawn at random, and you have been notified by e-mail.  Please get back to me by Wednesday, or you will lose your spot.  Thank you, everyone!

Facebook-Free, Four Months Later

Last December, I pulled the plug on Facebook.

I despised the fact that I was spending way too much time online, and much of it was spent on Facebook.  I spent hours scrolling through my newsfeed, looking at pictures of people’s breakfasts, engaging in pointless arguments, and not hearing from the people I really wanted to chat with. 

Finally, I decided it wasn’t worth it.

To be honest, I was a little anxious when I made my decision.  We’re pretty isolated, where we live, so interacting with people online is one way that I stay connected to the world outside of our family.  I feared that everyone would be “too busy” to continue our discussions, via e-mail, and that I would become more isolated.  I knew that, if we couldn’t be bothered to write each other directly, then it was time to go our separate ways, but I was afraid that was the case with everyone.

Long story short, it wasn’t. computer

However, my break from Facebook was had its share of surprises.  Here are some unexpected results, of my decision:

1.  I lost touch with the vast majority of my Facebook “friends.”  About 10 of them wrote initially, and we exchanged a couple of e-mails.  Now, I only correspond with 2-3 of them, on a regular basis.

2.  Instead, I have developed some amazingly close friendships with people I have never met in person.  The vast majority of my correspondance is with other minimalist bloggers, all of whom I have started writing since I quit Facebook.  I also write to other crunchy mommies from Michigan Natural Parenting, and a few of my readers, who have contacted me.  We have discussed politics, religion, and the meaning of life…and, also, what we ate for breakfast…

3.  My blog traffic has increased significantly since I deleted my account.  Social media has become completely unnecessary, to the accomplishing of my purpose.

4.  I get many more comments, after quitting Facebook.  In the past, people wrote comments on my Facebook page, instead of on the blog.  It’s been very beneficial to have all the discussion take place publically, in one place.

5.  I still spend a lot of time online, sometimes.  But it’s time spent in more valuable ways.  I used to regret the time I wasted, on social networks and the like.  But I spend most of my time writing now–it’s therapeutic.  I’m spending more time on my blog posts, and putting more thought into them.  I will not regret using my creativity in this way.  The only other activity I do online is write e-mails–and I also will not regret spending time cultivating friendships and growing spiritually and intellectually.

6.  I’ve had to come up with more time-filler activities.  When I’m in a waiting room, or doing some other similar boring activity, I can no longer keep checking and refreshing my newsfeed.  And “I’m bored” e-mail discussions only go through so many exchanges.  ( *smiling at those of you who have participated in such discussions* )  Once my blog posts are written for the week, I’ve found myself reading ebooks, writing guest posts, and doing other writing–activities that are much more valuable than checking my news feed!

Overall, my decision to quit Facebook has been the right decision.  I no longer feel like my online time is guilty, wasted time.  I often regretted spending so much time social networking, but I have not regretted spending time writing, learning, and developing friendships.

Technology can be used for good, worthwhile purposes.  It’s just a matter of being intentional.

Valentine’s Day and Thoughts on Love

So I chose “love” as my one-word theme for 2013. That being said, I find Valentine’s day to be rather annoying.

So it’s a corporate holiday, where we’re supposed to spend money on cutsy cupids and little hearts. Or maybe a piece of jewelry. We’re supposed to celebrate “love,” which is the stuff of Hollywood and romantic comedies. It’s where you see someone, your heart does this flutter-flutter, and you just can’t help but “fall in love.” You send cute gifts, get expensive things, and have a fancy wedding. It’s all cute, pretty, neat, and tidy.

Folks, that’s not love. Love isn’t cute. It isn’t neat or tidy. It isn’t pretty. And it isn’t something that just happens to you.

Love was my husband coming home, dead tired, after work, the day after our baby had spent an entire night screaming in pain. Love was him coming home with a candle and a flower–the candle from Beanie because she knew we’d figure out what was wrong and make it better; the flower from him, because the only way we’d get through this was together.

Love was my friend, listening to my frustrations about my daughter’s screaming and health issues, just listening, hearing it all and taking it all in, offering no advice, no platitudes, but saying, “I love you” and not being turned away.

Love was Rob, after Moonraker’s near-sinking, pulling me close, and saying “this can either bring us closer together or destroy us–and I won’t let it destroy us,” right before we began the “great purge” of our house.

Love was Rob’s cousin, after we had decided to have Beanie tested for autism spectrum disorder, telling me to call her any time, and offering empathy and advice from the trenches.

Love was Rob coming to me, during a rough time, and saying “You can do this. You’re strong. I don’t doubt you at all.”

Love was a close friend, checking up on me through e-mail, multiple times a day, through multiple days, just to make sure I was all right, and to offer encouragement, during the same difficult time.

Love is not borne out of beauty. Like a flower forcing its way through concrete, love is beauty that comes into being in the middle of–and in spite of–great ugliness and great darkness.

Love is not a cute little card, or a stuffed cupid. It’s not an expensive ring or a fairy tale wedding.

Love is standing together, hand-in-hand, amongst the ashes of what was once your dreams, your reality. And proclaiming, for everyone to hear, “We’re going to build something better!”

Love vs. Approval

Judgment does not only take the form of criticism. Approval is also a form of judgment. When we approve of people, we sit in judgment of them as surely as when we criticize them.

Positive judgment hurts less acutely than criticism, but it is judgment all the same and we are harmed by it in far more subtle ways.

Like all judgment, approval encourages a constant striving. It makes us uncertain of who we are and of our true value. This is as true of the approval we give ourselves as it is of the approval we offer others.

Approval can’t be trusted. It can be withdrawn at any time no matter what our track record has been. It is as nourishing of real growth as cotton candy. Yet many of us spend our lives pursuing it.

Ruth Naomi Remen, Kitchen Table Wisdom

It took me years to stop seeking approval. In fact, it took me specifically, to this month, this year, to understand the difference.

I always hated it when people said positive things about me, or anything that I had done, because I knew it was fleeting. No one thought highly of me permanently. Once I showed myself as being human, the compliment was retracted. So I was always skeptical of anything positive that anyone said. In fact, I would often sabotage myself, in order to hasten the process. Trying to maintain perfection was an impossible, time-consuming task.

We talk about the concept of “unconditional love.” But, actually, all love is unconditional. The thing that isn’t is approval. And that’s what I was experiencing–it’s the poor facsimile for love that we all experience (and give) all the time.

We become perfectionists when we are seeking approval. We internalize the standard and give and withdrawl approval to ourselves.

Love looks at someone as a whole. It sees and, yes, admires their strengths. But it doesn’t require perfection. It doesn’t hate them when they struggle and when they fall short. With love, we help each other grow and become stronger. With approval, there is only fear. We can only grow so much, when it’s done out of fear.

Hafemania: Daring to Soar

I’ve written some exciting posts. Being featured on Miss Minimalist and interviewing the Fly Lady were certainly up there.

But writing about Hafemania is a different sort of honor.

Remember my friend Bridget, of Living a Life Inspired? Her husband received a double lung transplant days after we lost my husband’s mother. They were given the gift of more time. However, after not hearing much from them, we read in Bridget’s blog that Jason was rejecting his new lungs. Their gift of time was not going to be as long as they had hoped.

So we know how the story will end. But, really, we all how our stories will end, we just don’t know when. And that’s not the important part. What is important is how we deal with the here-and-now.

And so it is with Bridget and Jason.

“For the truth is that I already know as much about my fate as I need to know. The day will come when I will die. So the only matter of consequence before me is what I will do with my allotted time. I can remain on shore, paralyzed with fear, or I can raise my sails and dip and soar in the breeze.”
― Richard Bode, First You Have to Row a Little Boat: Reflections on Life & Living

Even in the beginning of the summer, there was no remaining on shore. They scheduled a private movie showing for all of their friends. We tried to set up a meet-up in Traverse City, but the week we spent weathered in at Presque Isle threw off our timing. So they had a romantic getaway in Mackinaw City instead.

Then, their friends began to plan a trip. They asked people to chip in.
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And chip in, people did. All of Jason and Bridget’s friends helped where they could, and put together an awesome itinerary, based on Jason’s “bucket list” of things he wanted to see and do in his lifetime.

So, this is the story of Hafemania (based on their last name, Hafelein), an adventure that rivals our summer journeying in every way. I am telling the story based on their trip itinerary and pictures that their friends and traveling companions took. I use pictures, because you need to see this couple in order to understand them. You’ll see that the are not in need of any pity–Yes, feel sorry for them because they aren’t going to have the time that they deserve, but understand that they are making the most of every moment. And you’ll see that they are not artificially stoic in the face of tragic circumstances. They are people–a happy couple who was blessed to meet each other–playing the hand they were dealt. They have lived every moment of their time together, rather than frittering so much of it away, as many of us are guilty of doing. And here they are, still adventuring. They are definitely not on the shore, “paralyzed with fear.” They are, indeed, daring to soar, both literally and figuratively. We all would do well to take a lesson from them and do the same.

August 21 – early morning: Depart Midland, MI
afternoon: VIP tour of Jim Beam Distillery in Clermont, KY
evening: tour of Cumberland Falls in General Lee (Dukes of Hazzard car)
dinner at Original Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in Corbin, KY
evening: overnight in Corbin, KY

While they had originally been planning on flying to Florida, they had to drive due to Jason’s lung issues. His respiratory therapist was their chaffeur, and they had plenty of friends along to take pictures!

Bridget: The cast from the Dukes of Hazard actually sat and ssigned the inside of three car…it was cool!

August 22 – early morning: Depart Corbin, KY
late morning: fire H&K MP5 automatic rifle at Coal Creek Armory indoor
firing range in Knoxville, TN
9 pm: arrive in Orlando, FL

One interview of many…

August 23 – early morning: drive to John F. Kennedy Space Center in Merritt Island,
Florida to watch launch of Atlas V rocket, tour JFK Space Center Museum
mid-morning: drive to Cocoa Beach, FL
late morning/noon: return to Orlando for rest
late afternoon: day at Universal Studios
5 pm: backstage meet & greet with wrestlers at Impact Wrestling
8 pm: Impact Wrestling taping
11 pm-?: “CLASSIFIED” – per Jason. LOL

August 24 – 9 am: Jason & Bridget arrive at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom
9 pm: Main Street Electrical Parade at Magic Kingdom
10 pm: Wishes Nighttime Spectacular at Magic Kingdom
10 pm-11 am: “Extra Magic Hours” at Magic Kingdom

August 25 – 11 am: arrive at Star Wars Celebration for meet & greets and “something
special” from the 501st Stormtrooper Legion
6:30 pm: arrive at KSA Rode in Kissimmee, FL

August 26 – late morning: depart Orlando for Atlanta, GA.
late afternoon: optional stop at World of Coca Cola
early evening: dinner at world-famous drive-in The Varsity
9 pm: arrive for overnight stay n Sevierville, TN

August 27 – late morning: Monster Truck ride and helicopter tour at Outdoor
Adventures of the Smokies in Sevierville, TN
early afternoon: lunch at Calhoun’s Restaurant in Pigeon Forge, TN
late afternoon: rest
6:30 pm: optional visit to Tennessee Smokies baseball game in Kodak, TN
overnight stay in Sevierville, TN OR return to Midland, MI

So, that was Bridget and Jason’s adventure. What can we take from it? Well, first of all, Jason didn’t want to spend more time at work, or more time cleaning his house. The important things to him were spending time adventuring with his wife and friends. As humans, we are by nature social creatures, but we often forget that in the day-to-day grind of work (in and outside of the home). We need to make friends and family more of a priority than they are. In our case, it was the social interactions that make cruising on Moonraker such a joy, and we have decided to make an effort to see our friends more often, at least once a month.

Second, we must notice the power of dreams. Dreams are the things adventures are made of. Like Bridget and Jason, we should never, never stop dreaming, even when the circumstances seem bleaker than ever. It’s not about smiling when you want to cry. It’s not about hiding your true self under false stoicism. It’s about being brave enough to live as long as there is life inside of you. To truly live: to do the things you’ve only dreamed of, to go where you’ve never gone before.

We all have life. So let’s get out and live it!

Living a Life Inspired

Yesterday, I mentioned sharing stories with my friends at lunch, back in school.

Well, it turns out that I will be exchanging stories with my best friend from school once again.

I met Bridget in the first grade, but her reputation preceded her. For the first week of school, to help us transition from kindergarten, they had us go half days only. I went in the morning, and Bridget went in the afternoon. When our classmates saw her nametag, they got all excited. (I never told Bridget this, by the way…) We both turned 7 in first grade–she had gone to pre-first the year before, and I had done developmental kindergarten two years prior. By the end of September, we were inseparable.

All through school, we played creative, dramatic games and wrote stories about people who were much more interesting than anyone we’d meet in real life. When we went camping, we pretended to be Russian and were convinced that we’d fooled everyone. Bridget was as confident about her identity as I was unsure of mine. Even in middle school, she was absolutely resistant to the pressure to conform, and never stooped down to the level of the bullies who constantly tormented us. She may be the only person in the world to emerge from those years with no regrets.

As we got older, we went our separate ways and ended up going to different high schools. We got back in touch shortly before she married her high school sweetheart. We did some double dates, and Bridget stood up in my wedding.

After my job took me up north, I heard through the grapevine that Bridget’s husband, Jason, had lymphoma. Later, my dad saw them at the store and learned that her husband was going to have a bone marrow transplant. He made it just days short of clearing the time period when rejection is no longer a threat, when he developed graft-versus-host. Three years ago, I heard that he was having lung problems as a result and only had a year to live.

We kept them in our prayers, and I posted a prayer request on Michigan Natural Parenting as well. Time went by, without much news, then my friends and family convinced me to join Facebook. I found Bridget there, and Jason was considering a double-lung transplant. They were always so upbeat, while facing a situation that would bring anyone to their knees.

When it did happen, I missed it. I was in Midland, last May, managing my mother-in-law’s Facebook account two days after her sudden, unexpected death (it was also the night I wrote this tribute), when I saw that Bridget’s husband was recovering well from his surgery.

What?

We had donated Rob’s mom’s organs and tissues, so of course I had to do the math. The timing was not right for him to have received her lungs, but that really isn’t what matters. What matters is that another family made the same decision, through their tears and disbelief, and because of that, many families received that life-changing phone calls right before Mother’s Day. At the funeral, and at all the family gatherings surrounding it, we all expressed our desire to have our organs and tissues donated as well, when the time came.

So, as far as Bridget and Jason were concerned, there were frequently new pictures on Facebook, with him becoming healthier in each one. Now they are looking into adoption, and I can’t think of a couple who deserves children more that they.

And, yes, Bridget and I will be exchanging stories again, and you are invited to read about both of our adventures! I am adding her new blog, Living a Life Inspired, to my blogroll. Be sure to check it out! Bridget and her husband have seen their share of storms, and I guarantee you’ll be inspired my her faith, her kindness, and her inner peace.