Finding the Gold in the Dark

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My family shows up. We are never alone.

It seems lately as we approach the holiday season and should be surrounding ourselves with all things “joyful” that instead, so many families I know, including my own, has been forced into one tragic event after another.

One of these awful tragedies was the death of one of my cousins a few weeks ago. The unexpected loss of this great young man leaves behind voids that I can only begin to imagine. I will say, however, that the intense grief, love, unwavering faith, and even some good ol’ fashioned laughter that I experienced during my brief visit with friends and family for the services left a remarkable impression on me. Seeing his teenage children weep for the loss of their father. Or the strength in his wife as she constantly kept watch over her two kids to make sure they were okay when the easier thing to have done was to simply not get out of bed. Hearing story after story of the lives my cousin touched and the hundreds of people he’s helped to better their lives. [That certainly made me realize how very little I actually do to make this world a better place. But that’s a different therapy session for a different day.] Seeing and being a part of such deep, emotional experiences left me spinning. Whether you’re 21, 41 or 91, these are pivotal moments in a person’s life. I do often wonder why it takes the death of someone to have some of these “Ah Ha” kind of realizations but I suppose no one ever said hind sight was anything less than a bitch.

But anyway after I got back home after the services, I spent the next week or so just asking myself “Why” over and over. And then later in the week, I came across a line in a book. It read:

“There is gold in every piece of your story.”

As simple as that line is, it stopped me in my tracks. Because my brain does not think that way. I focus only on the negative, and it ends up being a downward spiral of one bad thing after another until I’m only seeing bad things in every situation. And that’s not life. But seeing that line made me realize that I was asking myself the wrong question. Because at the end of the day, the “Why” will never be understood nor will it change the outcome. So instead, I started thinking about what I should be learning from this situation and what I would want my children to learn. I wanted – I needed – to see “the gold” in this part of my cousin’s story because from the outside all I saw was heartache. When I started thinking about the situation in a different light, I was amazed at all the “good” (and I use this word loosely in relation to anyone dying) things that I had seen and heard just in those two days.

While I could ramble on, for me I simply wanted to focus on what I believe to be THE most important message or the “gold” that I gained out of this situation. And that is simply: I AM [YOU ARE] NEVER ALONE. Life can be shitty. This year in particular seems to be exceptionally awful for so many. But damn, what I witnessed at this funeral, and even others this year, has just been phenomenal. Friends and family come out of the woodwork during these tragedies. And maybe you don’t see or even talk to them that often but just knowing that they are indeed there should provide some level of comfort. Because even when you think you’re at your lowest; when you think you’re all alone and no one can help you, all you have to do is look around because there will always be at least one, or 10 or even 100 people right there, wanting and waiting to help you.

For some reason I’ve always thought that it was best to deal with my problems by myself, inside my own head. (Brilliant, right?! Insert eye-rolling emoji.) But that simply isn’t how life should be. I suppose I can say I’ve always known that but I think this funeral actually helped me see that. Don’t stay inside your head. It can get dangerous there. Try to find the gold among even the darkest parts to our stories. Because it is there; it just isn’t always easy to see. God or Buddha or the Stars or Someone gave us each other for a reason. Remember that. And repeat after me: You Are Not Alone.

Ode to my Galentines

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A handful of my local gal pals

This past weekend I was fortunate enough to go on a mini getaway to Milwaukee with a handful of some of my favorite local gal pals. Since then, I’ve really been reflecting back, not necessarily about this trip specifically, but just how lucky I am to have so many amazing friends in my life. Some I might not necessarily see often. Some I don’t even talk to that often, while some I talk to everyday. On the flip side, some I’ve known my entire life. Others I’ve known since college. And some of my more local friends, I’ve only known for a few years. But regardless, each and every one of these women mean something to me and have impacted my life one way or another. And for that I’m blessed.

We had a lot of fun last weekend. We wore matching jammies, attempted way too many (unsuccessful) group selfies and had umpteen dance-offs. I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time, and it just felt good and so refreshing. These breaks away from family, responsibility and just everyday life are essential for the soul. One of the nights at dinner, one of the girls (shocker, she is a teacher) had this great idea for everyone to go around the table and say two good things about each other. Of course at first I laughed and thought this was such a teacher move. But damn, the things that were said not only about me, but about each of us, just rocked my world. It was incredibly eye-opening, empowering and just amazing to hear how we viewed each other. Because of course you never see yourself the way others do. You might feel inferior or not as talented or not as pretty, or not as much a million other things. Or maybe that’s just me and my ridiculous insecurities. But still. The things that were said around this table brought almost all of us to tears. And I promise it was not just from drinking the $100 bottle(s) of wine that we managed to score.

But true friendship isn’t always just about having fun. It’s also about having each other’s backs. A few weeks ago another friend (from another friendship group) suddenly lost her father. It was shocking and horrible. But what did this group of friends do? We dropped all our weekend plans and rallied. We changed schedules. And at the drop of a hat, we organized a five-hour road trip through the bitter cold so we could be with our friend for her father’s funeral. There was no questioning, only doing. And seeing the look of heartfelt gratitude on this friend’s face when we walked in was the epitome of what friendship means.

A good friend is someone you can always rely on – through both the good times and the bad. (I guess it’s kinda like a marriage?!) But also someone that you can count on to be honest with you. Someone who won’t be offended if you call you them out on some bullshit. Because in return, you expect nothing less. A good friend is someone who lets you go on irrational rants venting about this, that or the other. And does so without judging. A good friend is someone you feel comfortable going braless around. Someone who thinks you’re beautiful without makeup or fancy clothes because they’ve seen inside your soul. But most importantly, a good friend is someone who values you for you. There’s no pretending to be someone else or feeling the need to “fit in” around them. There’s only you. To me, that’s huge. The various woman I surround myself with are about as different from one another as you can get. But we all have the same heart. And that’s what matters.

So on this Valentine’s Day, after you’ve done all the spouse smooching and unwillingly given your kids a sugar high from all their special treats, I encourage everyone to give a little shout out to all their own Galentines. Because without them, life just might be a lot less fun.

Don’t Let the “Buts” Override the Joys

“Talking About Our Problems is Our Greatest Addiction. Break the Habit. Talk about Your Joys.”

A few weeks ago an old high school classmate of mine shared this on her Facebook page. It immediately struck a cord with me, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. Mainly because It’s.Just.So.True. Rarely do I call my dad up with something “good” or send one of my fellow mom pals a text with something great that my kids did. Most of the time it’s simply me bitching. Me bitching about my kids. Bitching about my husband. Bitching about the weather. Just me bitching about anything and everything. Yet over the past few weeks as I’ve been ruminating on this idea, every time I try to think about something I’m grateful for, there always seems to be a giant BUT at the end. I’m grateful for my health…BUT I hate the feeling of getting old. I’m grateful for my kids…BUT boy do they drive me crazy. I’m grateful for my hardworking husband…BUT why won’t he do X, Y or Z? And it just keeps going on and on. I know I’m a Negative Nelly. I’ve been that way for as long as I can remember. But geez, even for me sometimes I think enough is enough. So I decided to write a post (mainly to prove to myself that I CAN remain positive for once) about my JOYS. The things that make me happy. And there will be no BUTS. The buts are my addiction and it’s true, I do need to break the habit. So here’s my first attempt.

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One of my greatest Joys over the past few weeks has simply been the generosity and kindness of my gal pals. Recently I had a minor procedure done and was laid up for a few days. Now everyone knows I hate asking for help of any kind. I don’t know why I do, I just don’t ever want to be a “burden” on someone else. Yet these ladies simply took charge. I had homemade dinners delivered, goodies for the kids, milkshakes for me. I had numerous additional offers and daily text messages checking up on me as well. Even the women I work out with got together and all signed a card for me. Now these woman will all tell you this was “no big deal” for them, but I beg to differ. Some of these woman work. They’re all raising families, being chauffeurs, cleaners, chefs. Yet they went out of their way to help me. And they did it on their own. That is some good people right there. No buts needed for this Joy.

Now it would be wrong of me to write about my Joys and not mention family. However seeing as I feel this is just a “given,” I’ll keep it short and sweet. My family has each other’s backs. We’ve been around the block a few times in the Village of Hell and we’re are all sorts of crazy, weird and impossible, but that’s what I’m most thankful for. Because given a choice between The Cleavers or The Conners, I’d take the Conners any day. They’re a lot more fun. So even when my phone calls and texts are about 95 percent me talking about my problems, I can always count on my dad to remind me that “this too shall pass” or my faithful cousin, who’s a few years ahead of the parenting/life game than me, to talk me off that ledge. They’re my forever Joys. The lemonade to my lemons. (Sorry, sometimes, I like a good ol’ cliche!)

About a year ago, in my forever hunt for cool vintage items, I met a local woman who has a sweet little antique business that she runs out of her home. Recently she asked if I’d help her with the online portion of her business. Um, hello?! I get to look at and fondle beautiful, one-of-a-kind treasures AND get paid for it?! YES! This woman is grateful for my help, and I’m beyond grateful for simply having the opportunity to “do what I love.” I don’t necessarily believe in all the “you meet everyone for a reason” garbage that people like to say, but I certainly could not be any happier for having met this woman…despite having spent way too much money on all the pretty things that she sells. At least now however, my guilt is justifiably a tad less.

Now obviously there’s a million and one other things that bring Joy in my life. It’s candy corn season. The trees look freaking amazing. My kids are doing well in school. And my husband recently discovered what is currently my new favorite beer. Overall life is good. But it’s just so damn easy to spend so much time focusing on the buts and the negative side of things. (Candy corn makes me fat. Falling leaves means snow is coming. My son writes like he’s in preschool. Beer makes me fat. – See how easy that is??) But here I am, attempting to work on Amy 2.0 and trying just a tad harder to consider that my glass might just be half full instead of half empty. And on those days that I simply can’t do it – a 6-pack and a bag of candy corn make a damn fine way to end the day.