Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Cherish Your Authenticity

Authenticity. What does it mean to be authentic? I’ve been contemplating this concept for a long time, because you hear about it everywhere these days. I want to tell you that my authenticity has been something I’ve fought hard for. It is not by accident that I try to be genuinely me, as much as I can.
“Authentic” means genuine. I am the same ‘me’ anywhere and everywhere I go. I’m ‘me’ at an IEP meeting, at the grocery store, at the doctor, or chatting with you at a coffee shop. But you should know that I didn’t always know who ‘me’ was. It’s taken four decades and a lot of work to first of all know who I am, and second to feel comfortable in my own skin. Four decades, people! That’s literally my lifetime!

I lost myself once. For about five years, I couldn’t find ‘me.’ I literally forgot how to be ‘me.’ I was lost.

From the time I was 13 until I was 18, I was deep in culture shock. And I was functionally depressed. I was able to function in my daily life, but I was more depressed than I’ve ever been. I just didn’t know it. I had no idea what was wrong with me, I just knew that I was no longer myself and as hard as I tried, I couldn’t find myself. I forgot who I had been. And I was terrified, because I was pretty sure I would never remember how to be ‘me’ ever again.

When I was 13, my family moved from being missionaries in Central African Republic in West Africa to living in missionary housing in St. Paul, MN. It was October, and I was going to finish 8th grade at my new junior high. When we left Africa, I had been the only 8th grader in the school. I was the oldest of all the kids, grades 1-8. I had become as used to living away from my parents as I could over the past seven years. My friends at school were my brothers and sisters; we had all grown up together.
When I met my guidance counselor at Murray Junior High for the first time, I stood to shake his hand. For a split second, there was a hush in the room. He hesitated and then awkwardly stretched his hand to meet mine. I realized in a flash of embarrassment that this is not what “normal” American kids do— shake hands.

In Africa, you shake hands with everyone, always. There are even different forms of handshakes depending on who you’re meeting and your relationship. I grew up shaking hands with everyone I met. Even when we traveled in Europe, handshaking was the norm. But I saw in that instant that this was not how American kids greeted anyone. It hit me right in the face how different I was. How foreign this new culture was. How much I didn’t know about how to function in this culture. How hard I would have to work to fly under the radar and not make any more stupid mistakes to draw attention to myself and what a frumpy missionary kid I was. And I wanted to curl up and die.

That’s my first memory of my new, permanent life in America. Technically, I had been to school here before. Every two years, my family lived in America for a few months. My parents always scheduled our furloughs in the fall so my brother and I could experience American school. Honestly, it was always torture for me. I pretty much hated it. I didn’t know anything about American culture. I didn’t know the cool things to wear, I didn’t know the cool things to say, or how to act. It was mortifying, all the time. I was bullied because I would tell classmates I was “from Africa.” They didn’t understand because my skin was white. How could I be African? I didn’t have the words or wherewithal to explain that my parents worked in Africa, and we were visiting America for a few months. I was teased by the white kids and teased by the black kids. They made it clear I did not fit in anywhere, with any group.

It was a nightmare. Now in 8th grade, I was stuck here in the nightmare with no escape back to my home in Africa on the horizon anymore.

After I greeted my counselor in the wrong way that day I visited my junior high for the first time, he took me to my new locker. I had never used a locker before in my life. I panicked. How would I remember where it was in this sea of identical lockers that lined literally every hallway in the school? How would I remember my combination? How was I going to be able to do this?

I went back to our apartment, went to bed, and didn’t get up for days. I could not face the world. I could not go to that school. No one could make me. It was too much. I had faced a lot in my young life, but this was too much. I was not capable of handling this level of stress.

Dad came in to my room after I had missed several days of school. He sat on the edge of my bed and patted my back in his Daddy Way. He talked to me about how going to this new school was just something I had to do. I just had to get up and do it.

Somehow I did. I had a stomach ache almost every day for the next few years, but I did it. I even made friends at that crazy big junior high. And- my claim to fame in my family- I won my class spelling bee that year. And went on to the school spelling bee and the district and county bees! I almost got to State, but misspelled the word “avarice.” A-v-A-r-i-c-e. DUH! Not av-E-rice! I’ve never misspelled that word since. My dad still gets choked up when he tells this story of his little missionary girl, standing up on all those stages in front of all those strangers, spelling word after word into a microphone. My 10 seconds of fame.

After 8th grade we moved to a suburb of Chicago. I thought junior high was a nightmare- ha! My high school had several thousand students. THOUSAND. I had never seen so many people in one place in my entire life. That’s when my Not Me period began for real.
During high school, I realized I just wasn’t me. I didn’t remember how to be me. I didn’t feel like me. I didn’t know how to act like me. Everything was new and weird and scary and out of control. I felt trapped in my head, where I knew who I used to be, but couldn’t make myself act like me. I was quiet at school. Quiet at my church youth group. And I’d never ever been quiet before! I wore baggy clothes to try and disappear. I didn’t fit in with any group. I was just super weird. I just wanted to not get up. I didn’t want to feel my stomach hurt and clench and have to face my new reality ever day.

I didn’t know I was experiencing culture shock. “Culture shock” is defined as the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes. (Lexico.com) “Disorientation” is putting it mildly. If you experience culture shock, it overwhelms you, eats you up, and consumes you to the point that you can’t break out of its prison. Looking back, I realize I was also functionally depressed and suffering from anxiety. I was able to get through the day, and do well at school, make some friends, appear fine. But I was so terrified because I didn’t recognize myself anymore. I was certain that my sense of ‘me’ had been lost forever. It was terrible. I didn’t know where the old ‘me’ had gone, why it had gone, or if it would come back. I would have given anything to be ‘me’ again. I vowed if I ever found ‘me’ again, I would never take it for granted. I would cherish ‘me’ forever.

‘Me’ started to return when I was 18 years old. College was a breath of fresh air. Everyone was new. Everyone felt weird. Everyone was finding themselves. I fit in to that. I started to recover pieces of my long-lost self. And I loved it. I loved feeling like me again after so many years of not knowing what was wrong with me.

There were many years when I tried to just blend in, or blur out. I didn’t want people to notice how different I felt. I didn’t want anyone to know I was “from Africa.” More than anything, I wanted people to like me. Please just like me. Forgive the fact that I don’t know how to fully fit in to this culture, and just love me for who I am— frumpy, weird missionary kid and all.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found ‘me’ in deeper and more meaningful ways.

I can honestly say that I’m at a place in my life where I’m happy and content. I’m so proud to have found all the pieces of ‘me,’ and to have put them back together to make the ‘me’ that I am today. I’m still super weird, but I like being me. I like the clothes I wear and my loud laugh that makes my children blush with embarrassment. I love that I will run across a parking lot to tell a stranger that I adore the color of her yellow dress, and that she looks fabulous. (Which makes my introvert husband cringe and duck his head as he chuckles at my constant authenticity.) I love that I will tell the grocery check out girl that I love her nails. I love that I have a nose ring and wear hats. I love being so easily ‘me.’ I’m grateful every day when I wake up and know that I can easily and comfortably be ‘me’ today, because there was such a long time of struggling to find ‘me.’

Don’t take being authentic for granted. Don’t take who you are for granted, because some people aren’t lucky enough to live inside Authenticity. Some people feel lost and alone, and are fighting tooth and nail to reclaim their authentic selves.

I feel blown away when someone calls me “authentic,” because it’s the biggest compliment I could ever get. Not only have I uncovered the real ‘me’ from the cold prison of culture shock, but I have discovered how to be ‘me,’ be happy, and thrive. I wish I could go back to my teenaged self and reassure her that it’ll be ok. Our 40-something-year old self is completely fine. Completely authentic. Because we fought for authenticity and found it.

Be authentic. Be genuinely you. You were put here, in this life, for a reason. The world doesn’t need a fake you. It needs Authentic You. Life loves you when you can show up as your true self. Sometimes it seems impossible, but that makes authenticity even more powerful. If it were easy, it wouldn’t be a big deal. Authenticity is not easy sometimes. But speaking as someone who lost herself and never thought she’d recognize herself ever again, I can tell you: living authentically is so worth it.

Friday, August 23, 2019

How I Came To Be Grateful

I just finished mowing the lawn. I feel so grateful.

If you have a child who has special needs, like our kiddos, you may understand what a gift mowing the lawn is. Not too long ago, mowing the lawn was impossible. I remember so many times having to stop that mower and answer an urgent scream, either from my children or my husband, about how they couldn’t handle what was happening in the house and I needed to come back in and help. Once in a while, that mower would sit out in the middle of the half-mowed lawn overnight, because I just couldn’t get back to it because the crisis our family was experiencing was just too intense. Sometimes Alex mowed, and I caught glimpses of him through the window, jealous of his break. I yearned for a break. I wanted to put Bono in my ears and have him croon away my life while I made the lawn perfect- something I could not do in the rest of my life. You know you’re desperate when you fantasize about mowing the lawn. 

I feel so grateful for today. Let me tell you where my gratitude started.

I was born in Cameroon, Africa. My parents were missionaries in the Central African Republic for 17 years, and I lived there until I was 13. Well, technically 12, because I turned 13 on our final trip back to America. We were traveling in Europe that day in October, and I celebrated my 13th birthday on a cruise on the Rhine River. Sometimes I can’t believe the path of my life. I can’t believe this is my story.

I like to joke that I grew up three blocks from the Equator. We lived not completely in the “bush,” like not in a mud hut, but it was the boonies. We had electricity from 6pm-10 pm every evening, run by a generator that the missionaries took turns turning on and off. Our little house was one level, with cement floors and a metal roof. During the six months of rainy season, the storms that battered the roof could get so deafening that you couldn’t hear yourself think. It was wild. I loved rainy season. It got down to the 70’s, Dad would build fires in the fireplace, and we would get to wear sweaters and jeans. It was so cozy. 

There were no stores in our village. No groceries. Nothing. There was one dirt road in and out of our village, that was called Baboua. Tall elephant grass grew up on either side of that dirt road, taller than a man. There were a couple missionary families on our mission and we all shared vehicles. Most of the Africans didn’t have cars. They were lucky if they had bikes. The women usually walked everywhere- sometimes miles for fresh water, and then miles home with a huge, heavy metal bowl perched on the top of their heads and a sleeping baby tied on their backs. In the dry season, everything was so crisp and parched, wild fires spread easily. I remember watching a fire come so close to our mission station that you could feel its blistering heat from right across the road. The Africans would dig a ditch around the mission to try and make a barrier the hungry fire couldn’t jump. Christmas falls in dry season, and instead of snow, long pieces of black ash would float down from the sky from all the fires. The dust from the Sahara would march its way across the dry plains and into our home, making Mom frustrated that she could clean, and an hour later there would be a thick film of desert dust coating the furniture again.

The jungle came right up to our back yard. Sometimes you could hear elephants way down in the thick carpet of trees. Monkeys snuck onto our back porch and stole our bananas that we stored in huge bunches the Africans carried to our door to sell to Mom. I have yet to witness anything as breathtaking as the lazy red sun setting over the jungle in the heart of Africa. In the jungle that was my back yard.
Mom and Dad wouldn’t let us walk on the station at night because of the ever-present possibility of a poisonous green mamba falling from a tree and biting us. We were not allowed to go barefoot either because of the risk of becoming infected with worms. We kept anti venom in clear viles in the door of our gas fridge, in case someone got bitten- either one of us or an African working in his field. There was constant danger. Medical help was at least 2 hours away in the neighboring country. The closest grocery store was a day’s drive away. There was nowhere to buy things like you buy in America-clothes, shoes, toys...

Mom homeschooled my brother and me for my preschool and first grade years. I remember the day it all changed. I remember the fear in the pit of my stomach that changed everything. Mom got sick. Really sick. It was dry season. I remember having to be very quiet so she could stay in bed, uninterrupted all day, every day. I remember she didn’t teach us anymore. Our house keeper had to boil everything Mom touched. We couldn’t spend very much time with her. Her thick, purple bedroom curtains had to be pulled closed against the boiling sun. I was scared.

One day, all the missionaries gathered in our living room and sent me out to ride my little red bike. I tried to bike as fast as my 7 year old legs would take me, trying to outrun the terror that I couldn’t escape. Something was happening. Something bad. I didn’t know what, but I knew it was the worst thing I’d ever experienced. 

When I was allowed back in the house, everyone had left. Dad told me that Mom had to go to America because she was so sick. We had to drive quickly to Cameroon, where a tiny medical plane would take Mom to America, so she could have doctors help her get well. Dad, my brother and I had to stay in Africa for a few more months. I would go to the American boarding school in Cameroon, while my little brother would stay with Dad while he finished his work. 

That sick fear sat like a ton of bricks in my belly, and made its home there for a very long time. 

If Mom hadn’t gone to America, she would have died. We almost lost her, although I didn’t know that at the time. All I knew was that my life completely changed in an instant. It was unrecognizable. I went from being with my close-knit family, leisurely walking through African days, to being alone with strangers at a small school in another country. Alone. I got to go home to Baboua every other weekend, and for holidays and summer vacation. Other than that, I didn’t see my family. I was seven years old. 

A lot of my missionary kid (MK) friends do not have the same feelings I do about our boarding school. I’ve talked to many of them, even my brother, and no one felt the level of abandonment and loss I felt when I was left there and my Daddy and brother drove away. I stood on the steps of our small dorm with the couple who were our “dorm parents” and tried to choke back the sobs that threatened to break me as the only people I loved in the world left me. 

I think that’s why I couldn’t remember it for 30 years without crying, while my MK friends talked about it freely, without tears. I finally realized that we all came to The Dorm, as we called it, under different circumstances. My entry into that world was sudden, unexpected, and filled with grief. My brother got to decide a few years after that whether he wanted to come to The Dorm, or have Mom (who miraculously recovered and came back to Africa with us) continue to teach him. He got to have the control, the power, of making a tough decision. That was not my path. 

Our boarding school had grades 1-8, with two teachers and between 10-15 kids at a time. I have incredible, hilarious, beautiful memories of my seven years at The Dorm. I made life-long friends who still feel like my brothers and sisters. Those years shaped me to be who I am, and I’m eternally grateful for that gift. But I lived with that palpable, heavy fear of loss for the next 30 years.

The last couple years, I’ve worked really hard to walk through my grief about what happened when I was 7. I decided I needed to heal that little girl inside of me, who cried herself to sleep more nights than I want to ever admit, who spent the next 3 decades panicked that loved ones would leave. And I can honestly say I’ve done it. Truly. The little girl in me who was so wounded by loneliness and grief has been hugged and comforted and told she is enough and everything is ok and that it’s ok to feel all the feelings. I no longer cry every time my boarding school years are mentioned. I can talk about the day Mom left without weeping. It’s so freeing to heal old wounds. I am so grateful for healing.

Even during the years when there was a gaping gash of loss in my heart, I was grateful. Somehow, I have always had the wisdom to know that my life wasn’t “normal,” and to cherish all the incredible things I got to experience. Who gets to grow up in Africa? Who gets to travel European countries as a kid? Who gets to call people from all around the world “friend?” I am lucky and blessed. I still feel Africa beating in my veins. She will always be a part of me, and I am so grateful for that. 

Africa was my teacher. I learned independence. I learned to love. I learned that friends can be family. I learned that family means everything. I learned that in every “hello,” there is a “goodbye.” I learned you can live through loss so huge that you feel like it will swallow you whole and you’ll never be able to catch your breath again. I learned that eventually, you will breathe again. I learned I am capable of healing any wound, no matter how old or how deep, and then recognize the blessings that even a wound can bring.

I have a friend who is a life coach, and he knows some of what our family has gone through- the kids’ special needs, our diagnoses, how challenging life has been. When I recently told him a little bit about my childhood, he said, “Wow, your soul really signed up for a lot of challenges!” I said, but that’s how I learned gratitude. 

I’ve always heard people say things like you don’t need a church building to worship, blah blah. Yeah right. You still get brownie points for showing up at church on Sunday mornings, right? Points with God. Points with other worshipers. Points that prove you have your life together enough to get your family somewhere on a weekend morning, dressed and with cowlicks slicked down, wearing shoes that match and staying quiet and angelic through a service. I used to think those points with other people were very important. I used to think God counted points.

I haven’t been able to get church points for 17 years. My family can’t fit that mold, as hard as I’ve tried. Going to church is too difficult for our family most weeks, because of sensory issues and anxiety issues and overwhelm issues and ADHD issues...we’re a hot mess. If we do somehow make it to a worship service, I’m armed with a load of noise-blocking headphones, quiet activity books, pencils, paper, quiet snacks, fidgets, drinks...like I said- hot mess.

No points for Carrie. She can’t even get her kids to church on Sunday. She’s a bad Lutheran. She’s a bad Pastor’s Kid and Missionary Kid.

That’s how I felt.

But change has been stirring in my soul. A change in what I believe about myself. 

My life coach friend told me I live in a constant state of worship and gratitude, so much so that I don’t even realize most humans do not function that way. I’ve never thought about that, because normally you don’t think about your thoughts. But I’ve been mulling that over for a long time, wondering what my friend meant.

Then I had an epiphany. I worship every day. I realized I was worshiping while I mowed today. My neighbors see a Mama who hasn’t showered, with no makeup on, in a baseball cap and scrubby clothes, pushing a loud, stinky mower around our yard for an hour. But here’s what’s happening in my mind: I think about how blessed I am that each of my children is in their school building today. Without any crises looming on the near horizon, threatening to upend our new school routine. No one had a rage this morning. My big boys are walking out the door, together, every day, WITHOUT FIGHTING. NO RAGES. They drive their new car to their school every day, without a problem. A couple years ago, I didn’t think they would ever be able to drive because they were so angry it would be dangerous to have them on the road. Not long ago, my big boys had a rage every. Single. Morning. The stress of facing the day was overwhelming and they couldn’t cope because their brains were so inflamed. My boys are in the process of APPLYING TO COLLEGES. I’m serious. MY boys. COLLEGES. A little while ago we were contemplating having them live in a residential care facility because we were having so much difficulty meeting their extreme needs, before they were accurately diagnosed with Lyme and PANDAS. Now they’re planning their futures will succeeding with the present. They’re almost unrecognizable. My heart is bursting with happiness and pride at how we’ve been able to uncover their True Selves, under all that illness that threatened to destroy them.

I marvel at the fact that I can find an hour to mow the lawn in the beautiful morning sunshine, because how many times was my hour interrupted over the years because of a rage? Because someone in the house was screaming at the top of his lungs, scaring the dogs, throwing things, swearing...because his brain was inflamed and we didn’t know. I am amazed because this morning, Ella didn’t say she was scared about school before she boarded her bus. She didn’t cling to me with anxiety. She just waved goodbye and got on the bus! I’m shocked because Aidan got on his bus by himself while I took the dogs for a walk. Just a minute ago, it seems, I was dragging him to the bus stop every morning while he had an excruciating panic attack, trying to force him on the bus without success. I love that Aidan feels comfortable at his therapeutic school. I am so grateful for my kids and the gains they’ve made.

I’m grateful that our family is fairly healthy; we’re not in a symptom flare from exposure to classmates’ germs yet. 

I glance in the window and see Aidan’s service dog watching me as I move up and down the yard, striping fresh grass. I’m so grateful that Aidan has the opportunity to have a new tool to try and combat his anxiety. I love sweet Bama’s crooked ears, cocked to the side as he listens to me mow. 

I have my earbuds in, and as music flows through me, it brings along memories of people and places that have touched my path. People that have impacted my life in ways they don’t even know. “Galileo” reminds me of Anne. “With or Without You” makes me think of Mari and Matt. “Grease” reminds me of Helle, and the Beatles’ “Love Me Do” brings Sonja to mind. I remember when Lynnie brought her tapes to The Dorm and I heard “Duke of Earl” for the first time...I roll these memories around in my brain and smile. I am so grateful for my family of childhood friends.

I think of Nekea. She would understand what joyous freedom I’m feeling right now, mowing, all by myself. She would understand that even though there’s no imminent crisis, I’m always on edge. Always waiting for a call with bad news. Years of trauma have left me a little shattered. I’m so grateful I have friends who truly know me and do not judge me.

Two white butterflies flutter away from the monster mower as I swing it around, and I think of Ella. She loves white butterflies because it reminds her of angels. I love that she loves angels. I’m grateful that my daughter knows she is loved and protected, in the physical world and beyond. 

As I climb the small slope in our yard, I’m so grateful to my nurse friend, Renae, from our Lyme doctor’s office. When I went in yesterday for an appointment, I told Renae I’d had a migraine for 3 days. She gave me a shot of an anti-inflammatory that helped, and an IV of fluids because I was dehydrated. Because of her kindness, I only feel my migraine today when I turn the corners of my striped lawn, wrestling with that heavy machine to stay in my perfect lines of new grass. The shot even lessened the all-over-sometimes-it’s-hard-to-even-move pain that my body has been weighed down with the past few weeks. I try not to let the pain and fatigue win, even on bad days, but it’s still a crazy huge gift to not have it be so intense while I live life the way I want to. I’m grateful that my body is able to handle the lawn mower today.

Then I laughed at myself. It’s sort of annoying to live in my head, accidentally being grateful for so many things. Like doesn’t it kind of make you want to puke? It sort of makes me want to puke, and I live with myself! It’s not something I’m trying to do, to find gratitude all day every day. It just comes to me. Living with the challenges I have had in my life has made me focus more intensely on living in the present moment, and finding gratitude in the mundane. Alex jokes that if I lived in a cardboard box on the side of the road, I’d still find something to be grateful for every day. He’s not wrong. 

I don’t know what crisis is heading our way next. I don’t know what loss or what grief or what crazy situation I’ll have to figure out next, but right in this moment I am so blessed and grateful. Things have been way worse than they are today, and I am overwhelmed by the ease of this morning: getting my kids ready and off to school. Mowing my lawn. Walking my dogs. Taking a shower. Writing. Feeling the soft breeze blow through the curtains. Getting ready for Ben’s IEP meeting, where I know he will be supported and encouraged for being perfectly himself. These are “normal” things that “normal” people do, but have historically been so hard for our family. I’m so grateful to experience a little Easy.

I take nothing for granted. Because life has been a lot, LOT worse at times. I know how blessed I am to have the life I have. 

And that is called worship. Giving thanks. Finding space to meditate on the little beauties, the small miracles in your life. And you really can do it anywhere you are; it doesn’t have to be in church. Recognizing and feeling grateful for all the people who have meandered through your life at various times, all the sunsets you have seen, all the things that have made you who you are right now, that is worship. Maybe I’m not a failure as a Missionary Pastor’s Kid after all. :)

Without the challenges I have faced, I wouldn’t know to recognize the grace and beauty that surround me. I would take for granted all the miracles happening with my children. I would not understand that I am married to my perfect partner in this circus of a life. Yes, challenges suck. They totally suck. But they are also tools for learning how to be a better human. Challenges are an opportunity to learn to be present in the moment, to trust that that moment will not last forever, and to revel in gratitude.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

My Night with Bradley Cooper and Dax Shepard

It’s late; it’s the time of night when you know you should be responsibly in bed, but the darkness feels too full of magical possibilities to sleep. Candles glow as I enter a room full of handsome men. A hush falls and all eyes turn to take in my red dress. I walk through the crowd, to where Bradley Cooper and Dax Shepard are casually sitting and chatting, oblivious to my grand entrance. They obviously do not know who they are dealing with, and what a catch of a woman stands in front of them. I stop in front of Bradley and say, “Will you accept this rose?” He looks up at me with those crinkly eyes and calmly says, “No.” 

I don’t lose my cool, I’m not flustered. I am level-headed and persistent. Confident. I explain to Bradley that we don’t have to go on a date. We can just hang out, we can just get to know each other and be friends. Bradley considers this and decides to accept my rose after all. I move over until I’m standing in front of Dax. I ask him, “Will you accept this rose?” He smiles his crooked smile and replies, “No.” I say, in calm disbelief, “Are you kidding? Did you just see what happened with Bradley? I’m going to convince you to take this rose, so why not save us the trouble and just take it! No romance necessary, we can just hang out and be friends.” Of course Dax agrees to be my friend. It’s great to be the Bachelorette.

Then my alarm rings.

I don’t usually remember my dreams. And I never dream really delicious, fun dreams. Although sometimes I do go shoe shopping in my dreams with my best friend who lives in Denmark that I only get to see once every few years. Those are fantastic dreams! But back to Bradley and Dax. When I woke up, I took a minute to ponder this Bachelorette dream. It’s no secret that I’m quite fond of Bradley and Dax. But did the dream just serve as a way to interact with my celebrity crushes? I felt like there was more to it. I woke up with a feeling of satisfaction, like I had worked hard at something and gotten exactly what I wanted. I think the dream had a deeper meaning.

I actually had this dream the night after I made one of my real-life dreams finally come true. 

For the past year, I have been trying to connect with a particular shop in Lake Geneva, WI. If you’ve never been to Lake Geneva, it’s adorable. Cute shops, cute places to eat, cute places to stay, fun things for the whole family to do. I love it there. If I could live there, I would. There’s a little shop right on Main Street, called the Queen Bee Artisan Market, that holds treasures made by many artisans. When I visited it for the first time last June, I knew I wanted in. I always follow my heart instinct when it comes to big life decisions, which include business decisions. I can feel in my gut whether something is right or wrong. I knew this was the right fit for me and my line of weighted products. 

I began to ask around about how to get into this adorable little shop. The owners are fantastic. And also super duper busy running multple businesses. Every effort I made to get in touch with them to see if I could be a part of their shop was unsuccessful. I called the store multiple times, I emailed, I facebook messaged...nothing. I know that sometimes life is overwhelming, and I believed these owners were truly trying to do the best they could to handle their growing, thriving collection of businesses.

I believe there is a perfect time for everything. I tend to want to rush the things I know I want, and not let them percolate and develop and come to me when the time is right. I’m practicing patience. I decided not to get upset with this year-long pursuit of my dream store. I just knew the timing wasn’t quite right yet. But I didn’t give up either. 

In November, I did a craft show at a fairgrounds in our area. Ella and I decided we should take a walk around the show while Dad manned the booth for me. Craft shows are the best. I love the people, I love seeing what humans are capable of making all by themselves, I love the creativity and charisma of everyone at a show- both vendors and customers. As Ella and I walked around the enormous event, we were drawn to a booth that was selling handmade jewelry that was exquisite. It had soul and style and beauty. 

Because I’m me (insert my family doing a collective eye roll), I began talking with the owner and found out she had several businesses. She was so fun to chat with, and I felt like we bonded quickly. She told me her name. I recognized it from somewhere...and then I realized she was the owner of the store I was trying to get into in Lake Geneva! I couldn’t believe it. What are the odds that I would just accidentally bump into the very person I’d been trying to reach for months at a craft show we were both working? Crazy. That’s what you call a God Wink, or a synchronicity. Or a miracle! 

I explained the products I make to my new friend and she said she definitely was interested in having my products in her store in Lake Geneva. I was thrilled! One of my dreams was coming true!

And then I lost touch with her for another 5 months. 

I called the store, I emailed, etc etc. Couldn’t get in touch with this busy team. But I didn’t stop hoping and visualizing my dream coming true. I knew it would, because I’m calm and determined when it comes to getting things I really feel are good for me. I refuse to give up. Must be that timing thing again, I thought. I guess it just STILL wasn’t the right time. 

(Sometimes I get a little irritated. You’ve probably heard the phrase, “In God’s time, not my time...” Sometimes I argue with God because I think I know what’s best for me and I’m a teensy bit irked that God doesn’t agree with my timeline. But I digress.)

At the end of April, I went on my first ever women’s retreat with a small group of women who became fast friends. The weekend was organized by 3 of the most incredible women I’ve ever met. The weekend was called, “Crazy Blessed,” and it focused on how to heal your heart, and how to work through things that have come up that you want to be different in your life. 

The retreat experience was life-changing for me. In more ways than one. I have never been able to experience getaways like so many people I know are able to do, because my family has never been at a point where it was feasible for me to leave them with Dad for 2 whole days and have everyone be calm enough to handle my absence. This retreat fell in my lap and I just decided to say “yes!” And figure out the details after that. I knew I couldn’t miss it.

The retreat was held in a sweet little B & B in guess where...Lake Geneva. I thought, since I’m going to be going right by that little shop I really think I need to have my products in, I’m just going to pop in there and check it out, and make contact with whoever is working there today. Probably it will be another dead end, but it’s worth a try. 

I entered the store and explained to the friendly woman who was working about my mission: how I had met the owner, she wanted my things in her shop, but I can’t get in touch with her because she’s so busy.

Get this—- The woman said that BOTH owners (a husband and wife team) were IN the store RIGHT THEN. She said that NEVER happens, because they are so incredibly busy, they hardly ever are able to be at the store, and never at the same time. She brought me over to the owner that I had met at the craft show 5 months earlier, who remembered me! She called to the back of the store for her husband to come up and bring a contract for me because they need my things in their store.

Inside I was jumping for joy. Ok, a little bit on the outside too. In fact, I was so exuberant that the owners asked if I would consider working one day a week in their shop as well as having my products there. I would love to do that, but once again, the timing for our family isn’t quite right. I don’t want to make a commitment I can’t follow through on, and our family is too up and down with crises to commit to something concrete like even a very part time job.

A couple weeks ago, I brought my line of products into the Queen Bee!!! I am so excited. My dream is finally a reality. The timing must be right. It is all working out. It is the most satisfying feeling when you’ve worked hard for something, you’ve persisted through challenges, and then you get exactly what you want.

After leaving my products at the store, I remembered my Bradley and Dax dream. This is what the dream was showing me: that when I calmly focus on what I know is right for me, or my kids, or my business, I can make anything happen. It might take a long time. It might take a lot of struggling. But if I hang on to that gut feeling that something is right, truly right, it will happen. I stay calm and determined. I keep my eyes on my path and know that no matter what comes my way, I will get to my destination. Even if it means taking a few wrong turns or detours. I will get there!

Now, if Bradley or Dax show up at my doorstep asking for a date, I will have to tell them that while we can be friends, I am blissfully married to the perfect man for me. Sadly for them, I already gave my final rose to a man who accepts me without question. 

My dream can be your dream too! You may not want products in a store, but we all have a special dream we wish would come true. When you have a goal or dream that you feel you’re truly meant to accomplish, remember Dax and Bradley. If I can convince them to be my friends (in my dreams), you can do anything too! Don’t give up. Just keep taking small steps forward, keep your eye on the end goal, and I promise you can make anything happen. If little old me can do it, anyone can.


Monday, February 4, 2019

A Service Dog for Aidan

My boy Aidan. If you are lucky enough to be a part of his life, you are truly blessed. He is full of light and spirit. His name actually means “little fire,” and we picked that name for him when I was pregnant with him because of the constant gymnastics he kept up for 7 months. All my babies thought they were fully cooked at 6 or 7 months of pregnancy, so they decided to pop right out and not worry about their under-developed lungs, brains, immune systems, eye lashes…silly kids.

Our fiery Aidan has always felt that life is challenging. At first we didn’t recognize how hard regular life was for him. We thought he just had some quirks and would grow out of them. He didn’t. The quirks turned into full-blown challenges. Full on Special Needs. 

People often remark that they never saw Aidan’s difficulties coming. “He’s so social,” everyone says. He is social. He has always been social. He adores people and animals. But if you have lived with him and cared for him every day, like we have, you would have seen the struggles coming from the beginning.

Aidan never liked to leave the house, even as a toddler. He preferred to stay home. He had sensory issues from birth. He couldn’t sleep. He gave up naps the week he turned 2. When he was three years old and went to day care for 2 hours, twice a week, it was a nightmare. Every single day of preschool, Aidan cried when I dropped him off. He spent two years at the same preschool, with the loveliest teachers you can imagine. He loved his friends, he loved his teachers, he loved learning. But he couldn’t stand to be away from Mama. I learned to give him just a whisper of a hug at Drop Off. I would quickly kiss the top of my boy’s head and with my lips will him to be able to handle the day. I’d hand him, crying and screaming, to his wonderful teacher and I would turn the other way and shed my own tears in my mini van. 

Aidan’s separation anxiety never got better. It stayed at the same intense level even when it should have been lessening and he should have grown out of it. Aidan reacted the same way to getting on a school bus in Kindergarten, 3rd, or 6thgrade as he had when I dropped him off at preschool all those years before. With terror. So many days I had to force him on the bus. So many days I would carry my boy up the stairs of the bus, plop him next to the bus driver, who would slam the door shut as I made a quick exit, Aidan screaming the whole time. It never got better. 

But Aidan got bigger. And there comes a point when a Mama can’t lift her boy onto the bus anymore when he’s screaming and thrashing as if you were making him walk the plank to his imminent death. There comes a point where you can’t force your boy to do what he doesn’t want to, or can’t, do. There were so many moments, watching Aidan struggle in unimaginable ways, that absolutely ripped my soul from my body. I can’t even describe what the past few years have been like for him. Gut wrenching.

Then a Mama really feels helpless. And hopeless. And like she’s a total screw up because she can’t even get her kid to school like all the other Mama’s can. 

And there seems to be nowhere to turn for help. Many people – even those who are meant to help us -- do not understand the struggle of invisible disabilities because they can’t see the problem. There’s no wheelchair or physical differences. There’s no outward sign of anything being wrong. Aidan looks like a friendly, beautiful, spirited, “normal” boy. Aidan looks fine. So there must not be a problem. It must be all in Mama’s head. 

A Mama sometimes really feels helpless.

But I never give up. So even when I don’t know where we will find help, I dig until I find it. I ask friends questions, I read books, I question doctors and therapists, I search the internet when I should be sleeping, I look until I find something to try. 

We got Aidan all the help we could find. He did every therapy we thought might help him. For years. Our psychiatrist put him on medication to try and alleviate his discomfort that life thrust on him. For years, we begged his school to give him the accommodations he so desperately needed. He didn’t get the help he needed as soon as he needed it, because his disabilities are invisible. Some people don’t believe in anything they cannot see.

It took a lot of advocating to get Aidan’s needs met. We’re talking years. Years. Despite my very very best advocating efforts. Despite hiring lawyers, an advocate, a behavior specialist familiar with Tourette Syndrome. Despite everything I did, invisible disabilities – even when you have concrete evidence of their existence – can be denied by others who need to see to believe. 

It makes me sad that people can be so narrow minded that they can’t acknowledge that something can be unseen and still be very real. As Robin Williams so perfectly put it, "All it takes is a beautiful fake smile to hide an injured soul and they will never notice how broken you really are."

In 6thgrade, life got to be too much for Aidan to handle. He completely shut down. He became more anxious and depressed than I’ve ever seen him. To the point that we could not leave him alone. He physically could not go to school. I tried every single trick I had to help him cope. To help him get to school. To force him to get to school. Every morning I would put my arm around his thin shoulders and pull him along to the bus stop, where all the other middle school neighbors waited patiently for the bus, and my boy would be screaming and crying hysterically and freaking out to the point I would start crying too. 

These are pockets of memories that I try to block because they are some of the most raw and heart wrenching experiences I’ve ever had with one of my children. To see your child suffering to this extreme is just too much.

It was just too much to bear. It was too much for either of us to bear. 

The school sent their social worker to try and get Aidan to school. She came several mornings. It didn’t work. The school told me to take Aidan out early every afternoon and homeschool him for a couple classes so he could be home more. It didn’t work. Finally, the world was seeing what I had seen a decade earlier: that for some sensitive children, typical life is too much to handle. That some beautiful, sweet souls need a lot of extra help to get through “normal” life.

Aidan started going to a therapeutic day school almost exactly one year ago. These people, they’re amazing. They give Aidan what he needs. They understand him. But there are still struggles as big as mountains. The school is an hour away from our home. That’s a long commute for anyone, especially a 13 year old boy with intense anxiety. Aidan’s depression keeps him from getting out of bed some mornings. His anxiety keeps him from completing his modified school work. His agoraphobia keeps him from leaving the house. His ADHD makes focusing on his school work near impossible many days. His OCD gets in the way of completing assignments efficiently. His PANDAS and tick-borne illnesses cause his body to have tics and other symptoms that frustrate and exhaust him. It’s a daily, constant, ongoing struggle. 

Even though there is an excruciating battle going on in Aidan’s head and heart every single day, between anxiety and who he wants to be, Aidan is still full of light. His energy is more beautiful than I can put into words. All living things feel drawn to him- humans, animals, even plants. He has always made friends wherever he goes. Always. We’d show up at a playground when Aidan was a little boy, and in literally 3 minutes he’d be leading around a pack of kids he’d never met before, like Peter Pan and his Lost Boys. All of them running and laughing and following my Aidan. Aidan’s siblings chuckle because they have no idea how he can instantly connect to anyone, anytime. Despite his challenges with invisible disabilities, Aidan loves being around people and animals. He truly is “so social.” Sometimes his disabilities just get in the way of who he really wants to be.

Recently, Aidan’s therapist recommended that we look into getting him a service dog. We couldn’t believe we hadn’t thought of this before! Aidan is so attached to our two little Shih Tzus, and every animal he meets he falls in love with. When we go anywhere, Aidan asks if he can bring our puppies. But they are not service dogs. They are not allowed to come with us to restaurants, to school, on airplanes, to the ice cream shop. So Aidan refuses to go to those places most of the time. He refuses to go to his Grandma’s houses. He refuses to go to the movies. He refuses to go play at the park. Sometimes he refuses to go to school. He is shutting more and more of Life out.

I didn’t know the first thing about getting a psychiatric service dog, but I knew I would do whatever it took to figure it out, because it would be life changing for Aidan. 

I researched how to get a psychiatric service dog for anxiety and depression. Most psychiatric service dogs are only trained to help veterans with PTSD, so it is difficult to find an agency that can help a child like Aidan. I reached out to all my contacts that might have information. Aidan has some incredible angels in his life, people who still feel touched by him even though they no longer interact with him. These special people helped me locate agencies that might be able to help us. 

The first agency I applied to declined our application because they didn’t have a good fit for us at this time. I spoke with the owner at another agency in Florida- Canines 4 Hope. (canines4hope.com) She told me about their program and I told her about Aidan. She said they can definitely help us. My heart soared. The owner said once we complete the initial paperwork and send in our deposit, Aidan will come and choose the dog that he feels a connection to. He will get to name it. He will be in charge of caring for it when it comes home with us. He will sleep with the dog, eat with the dog, eventually go to school with the dog. The dog will be legally allowed to go anywhere humans go. We will travel to Florida several times for Aidan to participate in training the dog. When we bring the dog home, it will be Aidan’s best buddy.

When we told Aidan about this, he glowed. He was so full of excitement and joy, it was like sunshine washing across his whole face. 

A service dog costs between $16,000 and $40,000! Gulp! We will have to include several trips to Florida as well. Most people who need a service dog do some form of fundraising, so we decided to start a Go Fund Me page. 


It took a big leap of faith. We know everyone has struggles, and it is hard to ask for help because we don’t want to burden anyone else. But we also know that this dog would be the best possible tool we can give our boy to help him handle life. That is the most important thing for us. So we will do whatever it takes to accomplish that goal. 

We don’t know how this adventure will play out, but we know Aidan needs it. So we will figure it out, like we figure out everything our children need. No matter the cost or the fear or the bumps in the road, we will figure this out for our boy. We want Aidan to have a companion that will make his life feel more manageable. 

The owner of Canines 4 Hope told me stories of successful dog placements. She said that one boy got a service dog when he was just about Aidan’s age, and struggled with the same things Aidan does. This boy was able to go – independently – to college, with his service dog beside him! That brought tears to my eyes because at this point, I cannot imagine how Aidan will be able to do anything like that. Aidan can’t even go to his public middle school right now. And there is no change in sight for him. We hope he will be able to take a class at his public high school eventually, especially because they are completely amazing with special needs. But that’s a long ways away. With a service dog, I can envision Aidan being able to do anything a typical boy does. 

I am so hopeful for Aidan’s future with the idea of a service dog by his side. I can’t wait to give him this tool.  I can’t wait to see how his joy grows.

We want to truly thank all the people who are helping to make this dream a reality for Aidan. You are directly responsible for helping Aidan be able to lead a happy, satisfying life. We are so grateful for each of you.
We love you!