I slather my feet with Waikiki Beach Coconut shea butter foot cream before tugging on thick black socks and sliding into rain boots. It’s the closest I will get to Hawaii as I troll Facebook for pictures of my younger sister’s vacation, living vicariously through her, her husband, and their adult children.
My sky is gray and pours rain today. Again. It has been raining consistently for weeks. Ever since, it seems, my husband made an edict that I would no longer be driving our middle school son to school unless it was raining, it has been raining.
My pedicure is non-existent, waiting in a bottle in the bathroom cabinet. I am grateful that this isn’t sandal weather, as I pull on boots for another wearing before the season officially ends. I grab a sweater while I’m at it.
I long for the breathtaking scenery and list of beach chores and pictures of toes in the sand posted to my sister’s wall. My nephew and his wife are sunkissed in the surf and gorgeous. Other pictures posted shout lovely, relaxing, grown-up family time, and I want it!
I want my sister’s life in this moment but not all the things.
I don’t want the very hard parts, yet those are a part of the sunny day package in the life of another.
And that is the dilemma, especially in the world of photos and social media and the age of technology. We get to see another’s best sunny day and measure it against our gray. We don’t always get to see the flip side.
I tend to fill in the blanks of a great Instagram picture or #hashtag with most awesome backstory and future coming ever!
It feels very gray in my world. The weather has been chilly, rainy, and bleak. My heart has been cold, teary, and weak. And yet, there is someone looking at pictures and posts of my sunny day moments. They don’t see the hard, the struggles, the stress.
Even when I share openly about the hard, there is still the very hard that remains to be sorted and worked through in quieter, more private spaces. I want to run away from it to the sunny that beckons from another’s world. I want to leave this behind and escape my reality, instead of embracing what is and waiting for the gray to fade.
I pull off my boots at the end of the day to the scent of coconut lingering in the air. I drag the rake through my zen garden , smoothing sand, dreaming of the ocean. I open a picture of tiny shells in a text from my sister to show her little namesake who likes tiny things.
I hold gratefulness in my heart for the sunny that she gets to experience; a respite from storm. I ponder why it is harder for me to rejoice with those who rejoice than to weep with those who weep.
A few weekends ago, Steve and I took some much-needed time away together, with the holiday season in full swing. The timing was not ideal, but is it ever? As I type this line, I am transported in my mind to twenty-four years ago when we were saying, I do, at a time that was less-than ideal.
Today is our twenty-fourth wedding anniversary and the twenty-ninth anniversary of the season when we met.
There is a backstory to our time away, and while I could post pictures of festive decorations and divine cheese platters and gush about the reflexology treatment and hot-stone massage that my darling booked for me in advance, there would be much missing. There would be a glaring omission of the reality that we had to fight hard for this time and were almost taken down for the count.
That, dear reader, is the part that I want to share with you. Reality.
The story began last fall, summer, even, when my dearest asked our firstborn and her husband if they could spend Labor Day weekend with the kids so that we could go away together. Three nights alone seemed an incredible luxury. I was looking forward to it desperately.
When back-to-school life got full and pressures started bearing down, a voice inside reminded me that it would be worth it all when we were away. I could work really hard to get the school year going and then relax into the long weekend, emerging refreshed and re-connected with my partner in the midst of all of the madness.
We were both so caught up in our duties and responsibilities that a glaring omission happened. We failed to book a destination. This reality struck the week before we were to go away, when a painful conversation took place, leaving me feeling let-down, hurt, and angry.
Festering heart wounds that I thought had been dealt with, broke open and began to ooze painfully. I spent time trying to figure out a kind, yet honest, way to express my deep disappointment.
Too often I have offered a quick, That’s okay! or It’s no big deal! to things that were NOT okay and WERE big deals. It was a new path for me to sit in the hard place of feeling my feelings without minimizing them and of hurting without accusing my partner in anger. It was a struggle not to lash out at the one I love while in pain.
After these honest conversations, Labor Day weekend found us dog-sitting so that our daughter and son-in-law could go camping. We stayed at the house laboring, as usual. It was not the weekend I had envisioned, and I felt hurt and disappointed.
Steve quickly arranged for the next available time that the married adult couple could come and stay for a weekend. It was months away in December, but just having a date on the calendar was encouraging.
Things were rolling along smoothly. A non-refundable, non-transferable location was booked in Williamsburg, and Christmas Town tickets were purchased. Planning was enjoyable, and we were communicating. I had requested an entire Friday off to have a leisurely morning to myself before stealing away together.
I was picturing it in my head, and it was BEAUTIFUL!
Then things started to happen. Plans began to shift and change for honest reasons. Human error in communication caused the wrong weekend to be booked. We could still go away, but the child-care factor became much more labor-intensive and complicated.
I did not like the revised plan I was hearing. It felt forced and overwhelming and exhausting. Much complicated planning needed to happen just to arrive at our destination. It was not as I had envisioned. To top it off, the night before our planned departure, Steve became ill. He took to bed in a manner unusual for him unless it is serious. It was serious.
I was left in the nebulous unknown of wondering if I should continue to pack children to take to their siblings instead of having siblings come to them. I wondered if we would be able to go away at all.
Frankly, I was finished. Tired. Done.
My day off dawned, not as I had planned. It found me driving kids to school instead of rolling over for a little more sleep. After the drop off, I checked in with Steve who was not sure how he felt and did not look great.
Our revised plan had been to drive two cars to drop the kids with their adult siblings in Richmond on our way to Williamsburg. That would leave a vehicle for them to drive back to Harrisonburg that would fit everyone. Steve didn’t look up to the driving challenge. I was already less-than-thrilled with that idea BEFORE sickness crept in.
Let’s just not go. This is getting ridiculous. When are we going to read the sign that says this is not a good idea? What else has to happen?
We had until 11:00 to cancel the massage appointment he had booked. He wanted a little more rest, leaving me to make a teary call to my sister to help me process. She helped me sort out my heart, and when we hung up I realized that I needed to try.
Trying looked like seeing if there was any way to have the kids cared for here in town overnight instead of having to drive them to Richmond. The Richmond connection could drive themselves here the next day and hang out until we got home.
I reached out to friends and family who were able to say yes. While Steve slept, I arranged and drove around and packed up and picked up and dropped off. When he woke, I presented the new plan, which I think was plan d by this point. The kids were accounted for, he could sleep in the car while I drove, and we would at least be away, alone together.
If he felt better, great. If not, he could sleep while I read, addressed Christmas cards, wrote, did yoga, got a massage. We could watch movies or listen to podcasts together. It actually wasn’t looking too bad!
The bottom line is that we were able to go away, but it wasn’t easy.
We listened to podcasts together in the car. After a night of rest, Steve felt well enough to walk in the woods while I experienced a restorative massage. We ate at The Cheese Shop in downtown Williamsburg and walked around Merchant’s Square. We napped and relaxed. I didn’t write any Christmas cards. We didn’t make it to Christmas Town.
Our time together was too short. It always is. But it happened.
Just breathe. Take a deep breath in. Let it out. You can do this.
Days begin early with this reminder. Coaching myself through each part of before school, during school, after school, and evening routine, they continue.
Take deep breaths. Slow it down. Be present.
I try, really I do, to believe that it is working. Breathing is important, as is mindfulness. I am mindful of the fact that this is an overwhelming time.
I’m still breathing. That counts.
This morning, I scramble out the door with my mini in tow reminding me of the essentials, Do you have my gift exchange gift? The candy canes? Your key lanyard? Don’t forget your coffee. This little one knows me well.
I grab a roll of wrapping paper to take along to wrap her gift, as there is not a scrap of tape in the house. Of course there isn’t. I have only been to the store countless times this week picking up ONE THING AT A TIME, while forgetting basic others like tape. Because lists? Checking twice? Who has the time and energy for THAT?
We run on the edge of slightly behind, but traffic is kind, and lights are green. She beats me to our classroom where she will wrap the gift while I go retrieve my charges, so that we can begin our school day together. I walk in to check on her, trying to slow the pace of my racing heart.
Move through each part of the day mindfully. Take deep breaths. Just breathe.
I say this audibly to myself, but little radar dish ears pick up the sound waves of my whisper, and a little person begins to laugh. As air mindfully and deeply fills my nostrils, I know exactly what is so funny.
I farted, and you just breathed it in!
Yes. I. Did. Deeply. Mindfully.
And that, Friends, is a perfect picture of how things are in these parts. I keep trying to control what I can, but there’s a lot of stuff I can’t control that just stinks.
I’m tempted to want the great treasure without
While missing the treasure within.
My heart isn’t cheerful.
My words aren’t kind. I lose sight of the race to win.
How do my words sound to those that I love?
I’m grieved to say hasty and loud.
My heart doesn’t ponder the wisdom to use;
instead I am angry and proud.
I long to be gentle,
to speak answers soft,
to be glad and be cheerful of face.
Be content with my little
and mix up my herbs
and stay present
to finish my race.
~a real-life exercise from Proverbs 15, as I finally type the last line at 10:15pm after an incredibly long day, week, season and lose patience with the child who asks if I have seen their heap o’ dirty clothes needed for tomorrow and is the washer available~
You are still my shepherd. My Good Shepherd. I am not lacking. You are providing for me in ways I cannot see or understand, but you are making me lie down and the pastures are green. You are leading me and the waters are calm.
Leading means moving away from one thing and towards another. Whether it is moving away from the known to the unknown, from safety to risk, or from summer to fall, you are leading.
Sheep are slow. I am slow. Movement takes time.
You restore my soul. Restoration from devastation.
You are leading me in paths of righteousness for your name’s sake. My life is for you. You are using me to fulfill your purpose, and I am not alone.
Whatever my even though, what can separate me from your love? Not even walking through the valley of the shadow of death ~ whatever that death may be.
Today it looks like the death of an expectation, but sometimes it’s the death of a dream, or a season, or a person, or of self. It’s a place of deep darkness.
I don’t need to fear.
It feels pervasive these days, yet it is not new. It is not a surprise, and you are with me, comforting. Your rod and your staff are close. I trust in your defense of my heart. My life. You fend off evil so that I can eat at the table you have prepared for me.
I am not an afterthought.
My life is not an accident.
You have chosen me and anoint my head with oil.
My cup overflows. It is messy and cannot be contained.
Goodness and mercy follow me ~ in what direction am I heading? I am ever~moving on towards the time when I will dwell in your house forever, leaving behind a trail of goodness and mercy.