A Message to My Classmates 25 Years After High School

There were 273 of us. It was 1994, and there were 273 of us wearing the same caps and gowns, sitting in the same folding chairs on the same green grass under a blue sky in the same beloved football stadium. There were 273 of us with our own unique talents and ambitious dreams, our own secret fears and diverse perceptions of what our high school experience had been. We were an eclectic bunch, divided by interests and abilities and circumstances.

But for a sunny day in June of 1994, we were one.

When a classmate asked me to write something in honor of our 25th class reunion (which is impossible, frankly, because we can’t be old enough for this), I struggled to find the words to share. How do you speak on behalf of 273 people, many of whom you haven’t seen for, well, 25 years? How do you speak on behalf of the ones whom we’ve lost? What do you say to the classmates whom you never personally knew? To the classmates who are bursting with excitement to reconnect this summer? To the classmates who have never considered attending a reunion at all? I hoped that the words would come. So I waited. And they finally did.

Here is what I want to say to you, my classmate from MHS: You aren’t the same person you were in 1994.

I realize this isn’t an earth shattering revelation if you are the slightest bit self-aware, but in a world that teaches us that living equals running at full speed from sun up ‘til sun down, I’m asking you to slow down and reflect for just a minute.  Who were you when you stepped onto that football field twenty-five years ago? And who are you when you look into the mirror today?

I’m going to guess that you are wiser. I’m going to guess that you are much more aware of the world beyond 208 Davis Avenue. I’m going to guess that you are more knowledgeable, more open minded, more compassionate, and maybe even (a little) more mature. You are, in many ways, an entirely different version of yourself.

And that is fascinating. And also really, really cool.

Let me give you an example.

In 1994, I was voted “Most Studious” by my classmates. (Yeah, you voted on that, remember?) Those votes were based on my grades and… well… really, that’s probably all. Maybe my work ethic was noticed by a few people, but mostly my grades sealed the deal. At the time, it was affirming; I mean, I did spend a lot of time studying. But as time has passed and I have occasionally remembered that recognition, it sometimes feels like a sharp stick poking at my insecurities. In 1994, as teenagers escaping the confines of high school, there was an assumption that being “studious” would lead to being “successful.” And success in high school meant something REALLY BIG AND WONDERFULLY EXCITING. Success was glittery and attention grabbing. It was flashing lights. It was prestigious colleges. It was big checks and huge houses. It was power, status, and control, the kinds of things that make other people jealous.

And I’m here to tell you that I’ve achieved exactly none of those things. Not one of them.

To my classmates in 1994, those teenagers sitting in that football stadium, that would probably mean that I am dreadfully unsuccessful.

Except that my idea of what “successful” means has changed dramatically with 25 years of life under my belt. And I’m guessing yours has, as well.

Because you aren’t the same person you were in 1994.

So how has my perspective of success transformed?  If you work hard to provide for your needs and the needs of your family, you are successful, in my book. If you sacrifice your time, energy, and resources to somehow serve others within your community, that is success, for sure. If you are trusted and respected by the people who know you  – that is success! And if you are striving every day to overcome the mistakes that you made in the past and create a better life – you are truly SUCCESSFUL, my friend.

Success doesn’t mean the same thing to me that it did in 1994. Those grades were important, but they weren’t quite as important as I thought they were at the time. (But let’s not tell my kids that I said this until after they graduate, okay? What is said at the 25 year reunion stays at the 25 year reunion…)

When we were in high school and our circumstances seemed overwhelming, our problems often sounded something like this:

• Should I try to meet curfew, drive around a while longer, or see who’s parked at
Burger King?
• What color spray paint would really pop on the rock?
• Who am I asking to Homecoming, and how am I going to pay for the tickets?
• If I get a job, can I still play sports and finish my math homework for Mr. Miller? And if
I can’t, would I rather have money or repeat math class?
• If I can’t balance the equations on Mr. Luthy’s chemistry test tomorrow, will there be
trouble in River City?
• How fast am I going to drive back to school to avoid a tardy after open lunch?
• What’s the recipe for the glue that holds the toilet paper in the chicken wire at float
building?
• Garth Brooks or Nirvana?

But in 2019, life looks a little different for most of us. Some of us faced some seriously tough times in high school; let’s acknowledge that up front. But MOST of us have experienced so much more than we could have possibly imagined since we wore those caps and gowns 25 years ago. There have been spectacular moments. The highs have been higher than we ever dreamed. And the lows… Well, those have been brutal in ways that most of us couldn’t have predicted at 17 or 18 years old.

When you sat in study hall with Ms. Livingston and daydreamed about the future instead of studying, you couldn’t have known if you would meet your soul mate in college or marry your high school sweetheart or decide to live the single life or survive a difficult divorce or elope to Las Vegas. When your mind drifted between CPR drills with Mrs. Meeks or Mr. Burke, you had no idea if you would struggle to start a family or adopt your babies or choose not to have children or raise a bigger family than you ever expected. When your mind wandered during gym with Mr. and Mrs. Pape, you couldn’t have predicted if you would experience the heartbreaking loss of a sibling or a child or a parent or a spouse before our 25th reunion. When you dressed in a sparkly prom dress or a sharp tuxedo, you had no clue if you would move to five different states, commit to a life in the military, open your own business, struggle to pay the bills, change careers after 40, follow your creative passions, travel the world, fight depression or anxiety, care for an ailing parent, watch a newborn enter the world, or hear a frightening diagnosis. You didn’t know if your own kids would wear a Marietta Tigers jersey or if your teenagers would bleed something other than orange and black.

Collectively, so many things have happened to bring us joy, and so many things have happened to bring us pain, and now, after 25 more years of being human, we have so much more in common – we are so much more alike – than we were when we were handed those diplomas in 1994.

When reunions approach, there are some common refrains among people who aren’t quite sure about revisiting the past.

“I don’t keep in touch with anyone from high school anyway.”
“I haven’t accomplished as much as I thought I would by now.”
“High school wasn’t the best time for me. Why would I go back?”
“People will expect me to be something that I’m not.”
“I have a lot of regrets from back then.”
“So much has happened. Those people wouldn’t understand.”
“I’m not the same person that I was in 1994.”

You know… You’re right about the last one.

You aren’t the same person, and neither is anybody else.

The cliques, the ridiculous ways we divided ourselves up to sooth our insecurities, well, that’s so 1994.

In 2019, we are a diverse group of people with a deeper, richer understanding of who we are and what it means to be a human. We are a group of people with something else in common, too: We all searched for our identities in the same halls in the same upside down high school in the same wooded ravine in the same small town that has always taken pride in its roots. We all walked the same brick streets. We all skipped rocks into the same two rivers. And even though we have ended up all over the world, we all share memories of one special place that nourished our angst-ridden teenage souls.

Hail our Alma Mater.

Marietta High.

If you are an MHS classmate (or anyone else) who is visiting the blog for the first time, WELCOME! Please check out old posts, find Still Chasing Fireflies on Facebook, and sign up on this page to receive emails of new posts.  Thank you so much for reconnecting!  HUGE THANKS to Missy Pracht for asking me to write something and to MHS alum Melinda Patterson Crone for sharing her beautiful photograph!

~Mary Ann

Ten Lessons I Learned When Life Tried to Drown Me – Part 2

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Don’t worry!  If you missed Part 1, you can check it out here.  If you already read that post, thanks for coming back!  I know the anticipation was killing you, especially since I am a day late . . . Here are five more lessons I learned when life tried to drown me in 2017.

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6. You can’t change people.

We’re approaching the end of January, and gym attendance has already dropped dramatically since January 1.  In fact, according to statisticbrain.com, 67% of people who have gym memberships don’t even use them.  If you are still plugging away at your new year’s resolutions, kudos to you!  Statistically, you were probably more likely to have been hit by lightning or killed by a hippo, but you persevered!

Resolutions are tough because it’s hard for us to change what we are accustomed to believing or doing.  Change is not impossible, for sure, but it’s difficult, even when we really WANT a change to take place. Here’s the point: If it is incredibly challenging just to change yourself, then how would you possibly be able to change another person who sees no reason for an adjustment in the first place?

Let me say this (to myself) one more time.  YOU. CAN’T. CHANGE. PEOPLE.  You can love them.  You can encourage them.  You can share your wisdom and experiences.  You can listen.  You can care about them from the very bottom of your heart.  But you can only change yourself.  You can play a supporting role for other people when they decide to change themselves.  And that could be . . . well . . . never.  Changing them is not your responsibility.  Thank goodness.  Because you can’t do it.

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7. Grief is like a cloud.

Grief is like the clouds in the sky.  At first, the clouds are thick and heavy, and very little light slips through.  The days are foggy and dark, and time feels long and slow and kind of blurry.  Fortunately, as the weeks pass by, the clouds break up and the sunbeams win.  Brightness, clarity, and sunshine become normal again.  The clouds become lighter and fluffier, and they blow by gently, and sometimes you don’t even notice them at all.  Some days there is not a single cloud, just a bright blue sky, and those sunny days are more magnificent than they ever were before.

But clouds always return.  They always blow in and out of the sky.  They are smaller and farther between, but they are never really gone.

Sometimes you can feel a storm cloud rolling in before you see it, like older people say they feel the rain in their bones.  Other times, a single dark cloud surprises you.  It shows up out of nowhere in the middle of a clear blue sky.  You are having a picnic or swimming in the pool, playing with your kids or laughing with friends, and you unexpectedly find yourself running for cover.

But the sunny days, after a while, far outnumber those sprinkled with clouds.

There is no timeline for grief, no good way to measure or explain it.  Be patient with friends who have experienced a loss. It’s okay for you to ask them how they are doing, even after time has passed.  You aren’t going to remind them of something that they have forgotten.  Most likely, there is still at least one cloud in their sky, and they might appreciate that you recognize that.

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8. Your value does not depend on your success or your failure.

After several disappointing team losses recently, my son was feeling defeated as an athlete.  I could see it.  He didn’t need a lecture on how to improve his skills or a play-by-play account of the team’s mistakes. He already knew that stuff, and I’m not his coach.   What he needed from mom was encouragement.

We talked about the season and his goals and his improvements.  We talked about some camps and some training he might like.  But his disappointment was heavy, despite his usual resilience.  I wasn’t really sure what else to say.  And then these words spilled out of my mouth, “I know disappointment is hard, but do you know what would make this experience really tragic?”

He raised his eyebrows and looked up from his phone.

“If your value as a person were actually tied to your wins and your losses.”

I don’t really know where that came from, but my first thought was, DANGTHAT was some good parenting!  Yes, I nailed it!  Then my throat tightened just a little bit because the message was also convicting.  Because sometimes I forget that my own value as a human being isn’t tied to what I do for a living or what I have in the bank or who likes me or how many mistakes I’ve made or what I mark off my to-do list each day.

The fact that I am losing my job does not diminish my personal value. Yes, teaching is very important to me, and, yes, I love helping teenagers, and, yes, I am proud of what I have accomplished over the past fourteen years, but my job does not determine my value.

The fact that I am going through a divorce does not diminish my personal value. Yes, it dramatically changes what I imagined for the future, and, yes, it has been a painful experience, and, yes, family is incredibly important to me, but my relationships do not determine my value.

The fact that some people don’t enjoy my writing does not diminish my personal value.  Yes, rejection stings, and, yes, I wish everyone liked me, but what other people think does not determine my value.

Your value, the true measure of who you are, is separate from your parenting, your marriage, your friendships, your job, your hobbies, your paycheck, and your successes. Every one of those things can be stripped away from you, yet you would still BE.

You.  Would.  Still.  Be. 

And if that leaves you wondering where your value actually comes from, maybe it’s time to slow down and reflect on who you truly are and where you put your faith and what that really means.

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9. The opinions of other people matter.  Sometimes.

When I hear my high school students say things like, “I don’t really care what people think,” or “Other people’s opinions don’t matter to me,” or “Nobody is going to tell me what to do,” that can usually be translated into “I am making some very poor life choices right now.” The reality is that I rarely hear those words strung together by students who are experiencing success at school and in life at that moment.

But I specifically remember one girl in my English class who wrote that whenever she makes a decision, she asks herself what her Aunt Diane would do.  Her Aunt Diane’s opinion matters.  She trusts it.  Every person needs an Aunt Diane.

There are people in our lives who play an important role in encouraging us to make the best decisions and in holding us accountable when they see danger lurking around us. Their opinions matter to us, even after they are gone.  (My grandmothers’ voices still play a powerful role in my life.)  But there are a whole lot of other opinions that don’t matter, voices that serve only to distract and discourage us, with no true concern for our well being at all.  There are people who don’t even know us and people who have not earned our trust that complain, criticize, and try to convince us to give up on the good things we are doing.  It’s so important to discern the opinions that matter from the opinions that don’t.

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10. Bravery is not what people think it is.

The bravest people I know do not fit the image of bravery that American culture has created. We like to associate bravery with physical strength and tough words and a lust for adventure,  but brave people are often quiet and humble.  They often suffer and sacrifice in ways that other people don’t even notice.  And bravery doesn’t always sound like we expect.  Saying “I am not perfect” is braver than saying “I don’t make mistakes.”  Saying “I was hurt by what you did” is braver than saying “That didn’t matter to me.”  Saying “I made a mistake” is braver than saying “I don’t see a problem.”  Saying “I can relate to how you feel because this happened to me” is braver than saying “Call if you need me.”  Saying “Actually, life is hard right now” is braver than saying “Everything is fine.”  Bravery can be big and loud, but it can also be quiet and unassuming.  Be sure to notice and appreciate (and maybe even try to experience) both kinds.

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Thanks so much for reading this post, sharing the blog with friends, and weathering the storms of life together!  (We all need a village, right?  Don’t tell me you forgot #1 already!)  Here’s to hoping, but not expecting, to win the lottery in 2018!

*Pictures created using Bitmoji.

Join the conversation!  Which of these ten lessons resonated with you the most?  Comment below or on the Still Chasing Fireflies Facebook page!

Ten Lessons I Learned When Life Tried to Drown Me – Part 1

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Without a doubt, 2016 tried to kill me.  On December 31, my match was lit and ready to set that calendar on fire.  I vaguely discussed some of the challenges of that year in this post last January, expecting (OOPS! – see #5 below) that 2017 would be the BEST. YEAR. EVER.  I thought everything would fall into place last year.  I thought things would change and the world would start to make sense again.  Plus, I totally deserved to win the lottery or something after keeping my head above water during the year that nearly drowned me.  And life usually gives us exactly what we deserve, right?  (Bwahahahaha!  I may have just laughed so hard that Diet Coke came out my nose . . . )

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In reality, what life often gives us feels a little more like this . . .

Hippo Me

Truth be told, the past year was better in a whole lot of ways, and I wrote about a few of the highlights on the blog throughout 2017.  But I’m still in the midst of a difficult divorce, and I just learned that the school where I’m working must close, so this post  would be a big fat lie if I did not say this: I didn’t win the lottery in 2017.  And my joy, as refreshing as it was to rediscover it, was often still entangled in a web of uncertainty, disappointment, and hurt.  It turns out that flipping a page on a calendar (or burning the whole thing to ashes . . . ) doesn’t really fix everything, at least not instantly.  But one thing is for sure: I’m supposed to learn something from these experiences.  The years that tried to kill me have taught me that there is beauty in the tremendous growth and wisdom we gain when wrestling with unexpected challenges.  Here are a few more lessons I’ve learned from my WWE match with life.  (By the way, I think I may be winning . . .)

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1. Stop apologizing already and use your village.

Humans were designed to live in communities, both physical communities and social ones.  Individually, we are unable to compensate for our own weaknesses, but together the gaps created by one person can be filled by another until there are no gaps left in the community at all.  That’s a beautiful thought, right?  And you aren’t weak because you have a need.  You’re just human.

But human nature also makes us act a bit like toddlers, little kids who want to do everything independently, even when they aren’t really capable.  They want to pour the gallon of milk that they can hardly lift off the table.  They want to tie their shoes before anyone has taught them how.  They want to swing the bat their way and dunk the ball in the hoop despite being only two feet tall.  For the grownups, it’s maddening.

We cringe at that behavior, but think about the crazy things we do just to prove that we can do them.  We consider it an accomplishment to handle everything on our own.  We drive ourselves to the emergency room when we are practically dying.  We try to manage impossible schedules without asking another parent who is going to the exact same place to give our kid a ride.  We agree to things that we don’t want to do so that we won’t look incapable of juggling one hundred and fifty seven responsibilities at once.  Seriously, it’s ridiculous.

If you are lucky enough to have handled everything on your own until now, you win a . . . well, nothing actually . . . but, really, that’s pretty amazing.  Still, I will advise from experience that you should start building your village today because everyone gets caught in a storm with no umbrella eventually.  (Or wakes up seriously sick with a kidney stone in the middle of the night . . . We all have our own issues . . .)

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2. Don’t just sit there and expect people to build a village around you.

I once read a string of comments on the Today Parenting Blog in which some moms lamented that neighbors aren’t thoughtful anymore and that people with a caring village are just lucky and that no one ever helps them when they need it.  Now, maybe these ladies live in towns where everyone looks a bit like the Grinch and no one shares a casserole anymore, but I find that a little hard to believe.

I find that a lot hard to believe, actually.

Remember the famous line from Field of Dreams?  The voice that Ray hears over and over as he envisions his own baseball diamond says, “If you build it, he will come . . .”   So he builds it, and people come.  Even ghosts come, for goodness sake.  Most of us aren’t interested in attracting dead baseball players, but the advice is solid: The magic is secondary.  First, you have to do the hard work.

If you don’t have a village, start by envisioning the community you want to create.  What kind of friend are you wishing to have in your life?  Then – and this is the secret that the ladies I mentioned above may have missed – YOU HAVE TO BE THAT FRIEND.  You have to make the first move.  You have to start the conversations.  You have to help the mom who looks frazzled.  You have to notice the stressed out woman and buy her a coffee.  You have to invite the neighbors over for dessert.  You have to show up when it is totally inconvenient.  You have to send a card to someone who needs a lift.  YOU have to lay the foundation for the village that you want to live in.

If you build a baseball diamond, baseball players will find it.  (Maybe not ghost ones, but ghosts are creepy anyway.)  And if you build a village that starts with you being the kind of friend that you want to have, then you will attract the kinds of friends you are looking for, too.

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3. You can survive more than you think you can.

You know all those people who have overcome huge challenges only to move forward and contribute to the world in positive ways?  You read about them or see them on television, and their optimism and fighting spirit seem superhuman.  Their stories are uplifting and really do motivate us to be better and stronger and more hopeful than we were before.

But at the end of the day, they’re people, not superheroes, people like you who are just trying to make something good out of an otherwise crappy situation.  Hopefully, you would do the same thing, too, if you were faced with a similar adversity.  And although your resilience would inspire others in really wonderful ways, you probably wouldn’t feel all that inspirational – because moving forward after a crisis really just feels like, well, survival.  You have the strength to survive hard things, too.  You are no different from those people.  You have the power to thrive and to inspire others and to make something good come from your own despair.

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4. It’s important to stay busy.  But not too busy.

Balance may be impossible to achieve, but it’s certainly something to aim for.  This is especially true when you are faced with hard times.  Unfortunately, many people who encounter scary hurdles resort to extremes – either staying so busy that they never face their problems and emotions, or isolating themselves so much that they are more apt to sink into a very dark place.

As Winston Churchill famously said, “If you are going through hell, keep going.”  The danger of standing still, of course, is that you will never come out on the other side.  Spending time with friends and family, contributing within the community, and finding your bigger purpose can help you to feel contentment and joy.  But quiet time for reflecting, reading, journaling, connecting with your faith, and talking privately with close friends is also really, really important in order to move forward.  It’s okay to give yourself time to process and time to be alone, just not too much.  I’m still seeking this balance.  So should you.

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5. Your expectations will shape your outlook.

One of the greatest barriers to finding happiness after a loss is accepting that your life no longer looks like the photo-shopped image of the future that you had already plastered in the album in your head.  It can be very, very difficult to let go of the expectations you had for today and for the future so that you can appreciate the beauty of what you actually have – which is still probably pretty awesome in a lot of ways.  And the longer we hang onto expectations that are no longer realistic, the more time bitterness and anger have to make themselves really cozy in our hearts.

During a run this week, I tripped on an uneven sidewalk and skinned myself up.  It was totally embarrassing, and, DANG, a skinned knee hurts more than I remember!  (So sorry, kids, for telling you to suck it up . . . )  While I was bandaging a few scrapes, I inadvertently knocked my phone in the water.  So my kids came home to a limping mom with a bag of ice in one hand and an iphone in a bag of rice in the other.  “You had a really bad day,” they said.  And I probably should have felt like I’d had a horrible day, but I didn’t.  (Disclaimer: I definitely can’t say that I always handle situations like this so calmly!  I nearly threw my computer out the window just a few minutes ago when the wifi stopped connecting. . .)  Here’s the thing.  When you stop expecting life to be perfect, some of the situations that might have seemed tragic in the past lose their power.  And sometimes overcoming some of the bigger problems in life brings a healthier perspective to the smaller issues and helps you to focus on the positive.

It’s important to have hopes and dreams, to work hard to achieve those, and to maintain high standards for your life, but make sure that your expectations aren’t setting you up to be an unhappy person.  Accept that life isn’t perfect.  That you can’t always have what you want. That people will make mistakes.  That things will happen that aren’t fair.  That you can’t predict the future.  All of that sounds pretty bleak, right?  It really isn’t.  Life is full of wonderful things, as well.  But these truths are, well, REAL, and we often prefer to live in the pretend rather than in the reality, which creates unnecessary disappointment.  Expect problems to happen, because that is just life, but also recognize that the overall quality of your life isn’t determined by a single problem, even if that problem is a big one.

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You can read Part 2 of this post here!

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*Pictures created using Bitmoji.

 

When God Sends You Friends

Friends Canva

My girlfriends and I sat around the black high-top table in my kitchen, the one with the worn edges and the water marks and the stains from children painting.  Stacks of papers and art supplies unloaded at the end of the school year had been shuffled from the tabletop into precarious piles on the counter nearby.  There were chocolate chip cookies, one for each of us, sweet distractions that tempted us from a clear plastic bag.  The glasses of water were filled to the brim when we gathered and remained mostly untouched when we finally hugged goodbye.

And there was a box of tissues in the middle.

Where we could all reach it.

Because when you’ve surrounded yourself with the right people, either nobody cries or everyone does.

That’s just how it is.

This wasn’t the first time someone in the mom squad had called an emergency meeting of the black table.  We had gathered around with cookies and a box of tissues in the middle before.  And, because life is hard, I’m sadly confident that it won’t be the last.  The scarred black table has become an unlikely refuge for the broken and weary.  It’s like a crutch.  We hold one another up there.

I am so grateful for all of the very special friends and families that continue to play an important role in my life’s story.  God intended for people to grow and love and serve and seek help in communities of family and friends.  There’s a beautiful illustration of this kind of relationship in Exodus.  In Exodus 17:11-12, the Israelites were locked in a difficult battle after an attack by the Amalekites.  Moses recognized that God’s blessing on the Israelites was being funneled through him: “when Moses held his hand up . . . Israel prevailed, and when he let his hand down, Amalek prevailed” (NASB).

When Moses first realized that the Israelites would triumph as long as his hands were in the air, this probably seemed like an easy task.  Really, how hard could that be?  But over time, Moses’ strength began to wane.  His muscles became tired, and “his hands became heavy.” I imagine that his arms began to shake with the fatigue.  Moses’ burden hadn’t become greater, and the circumstances that he faced had not changed, but, as time passed, the responsibility literally became too heavy for him to handle alone.

How many times have I tried to control a difficult situation that I thought I could manage by myself only to realize that I actually needed some help?

It’s important to remember that God was working through Moses, but Moses wasn’t God.  He was just a guy with tired arms and the heavy burden of securing victory for his people.  Since I am human, and Moses was human, I have to believe that Moses called out to God in his struggle.  That’s what we do.  What would he have asked God to provide?  Maybe Moses asked God to bring the battle to an immediate end so that he could rest.  That seems like a reasonable request.  But that did not happen.  Maybe Moses called to God for physical strength.  That would be logical.  But God did not replenish that, either.

Instead, God sent him friends.

When Moses’ brother, Aaron, and his friend, Hur, saw Moses struggling to hold his hands in the air, “they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it.”  And then there is this beautiful picture of friendship as they held Moses up: “Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other.  Thus his hands were steady until the sun set.”

God saw that Moses was struggling.  And his response was to send him friends.

Sometimes God does not respond to our prayers in the ways that we expect, and as a result we may miss that he actually answered.  When you are praying for specific answers and you do not see those coming to fruition, don’t overlook the friends who show up around your table.  Maybe that community IS your answer.

Moses most likely remained exhausted, both mentally and physically, even after Aaron and Hur took control of the situation.  His arms probably continued to shake and to ache.  His back may have hurt, and that rock probably wasn’t too comfortable.  His friends couldn’t fix all those problems.  However, they stayed with him and they supported him and they held his arms in the air until the battle was won.

They did not give up on him, and they did not leave him before his struggle had ended.

In our “who’s-the-best” culture, it’s worth noting that God didn’t send Moses a “BFF.”  He sent Moses a team.  Friendships are not competitions but rather collaborations where friends look for and fill the gaps within their communities like a family.  And when Aaron and Hur helped Moses, they indirectly helped the larger community as well because the Israelites achieved victory.  Aaron and Hur served Moses, which allowed Moses to serve the Israelites.  One act of service often leads to another and then another, allowing kindness to spread through our communities like an ink drop in water.

My girlfriends and I sat around the black high-top table in my kitchen, the one with the worn edges and the water marks and the stains from children painting.  Stacks of papers and art supplies unloaded at the end of the school year had been shuffled from the tabletop into precarious piles on the counter nearby.

We sat around the table with the worn edges because, just like the table, sometimes our lives have tattered edges and our pasts have scars and our dreams are stained.  Sometimes our present is messy with piles of problems and heaps of heartbreak that seem overwhelming.

But our true friends will not give up on us, and they will not leave us before the struggles have passed.  They can’t fix our problems, but they can hold us up.  God can funnel his love and his comfort through them to provide a response to our needs.  We can gather around the table with them with our chocolate chip cookies, our glasses of water, and our box of tissues strategically placed in the middle.

Where we can all reach it.

Because when you’ve surrounded yourself with the right people, either nobody cries or everyone does.

That’s just how it is.

 

I See You, Mama, and I Know It’s Hard

I See You Mama

I wanted to write something flowery for Mother’s Day.  I wanted to honor my grandmothers, who were strong, morally upright women, or my kind, resilient aunts, or my mother, who has been a relentless cheerleader throughout my life.  I tried to do it.  I stared at the page, typed, deleted, typed, deleted, while time ticked away.  But the words would not get in line.  When I tried to write about the glory of motherhood, my quiet thoughts were drowned by a louder refrain:  Life is so stinking hard sometimes.

It’s weird, I know, but I typically write with only a vague sense of where I am going.  I don’t check the map and I don’t chase the words.  Ideas approach, and some are shy and scuffle away, and some unpack and make themselves comfortable.  Then words push and shove their way to the front and, if I’m gentle, they allow me to sculpt them like clay.

So far, they haven’t failed me.

So maybe this is what I’m supposed to write this Mother’s Day.  Maybe I’m supposed to say to you that life is hard sometimes.  Like really, REALLY hard sometimes.  Maybe I’m supposed to say to you that Mother’s Day is nice, but it is not enough.  Maybe I’m supposed to acknowledge that you may be cherishing a new grandchild this Mother’s Day or you might be grieving the loss of your own mother this year or you may be celebrating joyously with all of your children in a few days or you may be spending Sunday on your knees, praying that your child will be walking a better path by the time the next Mother’s Day rolls around.  Maybe I’m supposed to say that I see you, that I hear you, that I know that motherhood is fun and rewarding but also the greatest challenge of your life.

Maybe I’m supposed to tell you that when the waves are crashing against your family and they are so high and you are so afraid, I know that YOU are the one who battens down the hatches and selflessly fights so hard to keep that ship afloat.

That’s what you do, Moms.  I know it.  I SEE you.

Not just on Mother’s Day.  On every day.

When you feel like you could vomit every minute of the day and your insides are being karate chopped by tiny knees and elbows, you are the one who drags herself to work so that your coworkers aren’t inconvenienced and the family has insurance.

When you smell like baby puke and your shirt is wet because you forgot to grab a nursing pad and you wonder if you will ever feel like your cute self again, you are the one who sacrifices yet another shower because the baby won’t stop crying.

When you feel like a completely inadequate parent and wonder if your child will not go to college because you are swaddling him wrong, you are the one who reads another book or attends another parenting class or calls on your mom squad for help, even though you are probably doing just fine.

When your toddler throws up all over everything in the middle of the night, you are the one who is gagging while washing the sheets at 3 a.m. and scrubbing the carpet when you would rather just sell the house tomorrow instead.

When your preschooler is throwing the mother of all fits in the checkout line and you have $200 of groceries piled high in the cart, you are the one who refuses to buy the Milky Way despite the glares of  customers who have forgotten that preschoolers are  little monsters with cute faces.

When a person your kids love drives you within a minute of insanity, you are the one who remains calm and composed so that those important relationships can flourish.

When you are so worried about paying the bills that you feel physically sick, you are the one who makes sure that your children feel safe and secure and unaware of the gravity of your concerns.

When you are so tired that you can barely stand but your child has an important project that everyone forgot, you are the one who runs to the store to buy the glitter glue for the finishing touch.

When it is cold and wet and you want to curl up with a book by the fire, you are the one who slogs through the mud to sit in the pouring rain to cheer for your kid who’s playing soccer.

When you feel broken and empty and unable to give one more thing, you are the one who digs deep to find an internal spring of love and kindness and compassion.

When you are sure that your head will explode at the thump of one more bottle flipping onto the ground, you are the one who redirects your kid’s attention to his equally annoying spinners.

When you are overwhelmed with guilt because your kids have exceeded the pediatrician’s recommendations for screen time almost every day of their entire lives AND they don’t eat enough vegetables, you are the one who packs everyone up for a healthy picnic and a hike at the park instead of going to your book club.

When it’s clear that your child just isn’t cut out for the band or the basketball team or the drama club, you are the one who cheers just a little too loudly and gives her a standing ovation from the crowd.

When your heart is pained because your child has been treated unfairly, you are the one who grits your teeth and calmly advises him even though you would possibly derive more satisfaction from punching someone in the face.

When you are emotionally exhausted from constantly fighting for your child’s unique needs to be met, you are the one who refuses to settle and takes more time off work to meet with his teachers about the accommodations outlined in his IEP.

When your child’s skin is so hot and she is so sick and she breathes those germs right into your face, you are the one who pulls her in closer knowing that you will be taking some sick time in just a few days.

When your child’s teacher calls to tell you that she cheated on a test, you are the one who says, “Thank you for telling me” when your internal mama bear wants to scream, “I know you are wrong because my child would never . . .”

When your child or another loved one is in the hospital and you really aren’t sure if everything will be okay, you are the one who holds your kids tightly and tells them that you will get through this together.

When your faith hits a rough patch and you question who God really is, you are the one who loads everyone in the car to go to church and models a commitment to spiritual growth even through adversity.

When you know the family vacation is more work than fun for you, you are the one who makes all of the reservations and packs all of the snacks and stuffs all of the suitcases and then handles the complaints because you bought the wrong colored Gatorade and you didn’t grab the right bottle of hair gel.

When your teenager’s attitude toward you is hurtful and disrespectful, you are the one who suppresses your tears and takes the phone and the car keys, knowing this will make the next week like hell for you.

When your daughter cries and questions her decision when you leave her at college, you are the one who hugs her and reassures her she is doing the right thing and then sobs for five hours on the drive home.

When your child disappoints you by doing something you never ever thought he would do, you are the one who sits down with the principal or pays for the rehab or visits the jail cell and offers that son or daughter the purest and most sincere love and grace.

When you are hurting deeply because your child rarely calls or visits, you are the one who waits with a broken heart but with arms that are always wide open.

When you cry because you miss the innocence and dependence of your kids, you are the one who remembers that your job was never to maintain little children at all but was always to raise strong men and women who would leave you.

Yes, motherhood is an amazing journey of incredible highs, but it is also a journey that is peppered with the most gut-wrenching of lows.  The emotions are extraordinarily sharp on both ends.  We idealize motherhood and spend a lot of energy projecting the bright spots in our journey to others, so it is easy for really good moms to feel alone and insecure when times are tough.  But the truth is that you are probably your most impressive when you FEEL like you are at your worst.  Because those are the times when your ability to handle motherhood was really put to the test.  And you didn’t quit.  You may not have showered.  You may not have fed your kids vegetables.  You may not have said exactly the right words.  But you did not give up.

If you are a mom, I hope that you are honored this Mother’s Day.  I hope that someone buys you some flowers, and I hope your kids write a nice note in a pretty pink card.  I hope that you celebrate the special women in your life, and I hope that you are reminded to congratulate your fellow moms every single time you see their kids accomplishing goals, sharing their talents, or, most importantly, just being good people.

But if you really want to honor special women this Mother’s Day, look for the mom who is tired.  Look for the mom whose son or daughter is struggling.  Look for the mom who is nursing a sick child or the mom who is grieving a loss or the new mom who is just now adjusting to this mysterious new identity of mother.  Look for the mom who has to fight every single day for the rights of her kid.

SEE HER.

Thank her.

Love her.

Remind her that she is doing the most selfless and important work in the world.

Then jump on her ship with a bucket, and help her keep that thing afloat.

 

Not Today Satan and an Invite to Birch Bear!

Blessed Mama

Every once in a while when I’m out and about, I run into someone who says, “Hey, I follow your blog!  I really liked that one post you wrote about that one thing!”  Those compliments always bring a smile to my face; it’s nice to know that somebody appreciates what you do, right?  But sometimes someone stops me and says, “I loved that post so much that I shared it with my sister,” or, “I follow your blog and I told my friend she should follow it, too,” or, “We printed this out and we’re giving it to our coach.”  Those comments definitely warm my heart – because I know that when you SHARE something, you REALLY LOVE IT!  So today, I’m paying it forward.  I found something that I LOVE, and I want to share it with YOU.

A few weeks ago I ordered a couple of new t-shirts to spruce up my summer wardrobe.  I’m getting old, which is evident in so many ways, one of which is that I prefer easy, comfy, and does-not-need-ironed clothes over the high fashion, high maintenance, gentle-cycle-lay-flat-to-dry clothes that I wore before I was tired all of the time.  Still, I was hoping to find something at least a little bit classy or clever, something that would say, “See, I’m cute without even trying hard,” rather than, “Just shut up because parenting is hard and you’ll be a slob someday, too.”

This is when I stumbled upon Birch Bear Co and the cutest stinkin’ t-shirts EVER.

Birch Bear

I have found online shopping to be unpredictable, and I have been burnt on Etsy before, so I ordered one t-shirt from Birch Bear Co with high hopes but lower expectations.  But it turns out that this small business is just awesome.  I loved my new shirt, and when I posted a picture of myself wearing the Birch Bear tee below on Easter, SO many of you wanted to know where I got it that I contacted Kayla Ernsberger, who owns and operates Birch Bear Co with her husband in Michigan, to tell her that I love her work and to ask her to team up with me to help my friends get some fun shirts, too!

Capture

Before you start shopping, let me give you six reasons why I love Kayla’s shop:

  1. The quality of the t-shirts is MUCH nicer than others I have ordered online.  I ordered two more shirts with a discount Kayla gave me so that I could recommend the company with full confidence.  They are all comfy, light, and soft, and the t-shirts are high blend premium tri-blend, which gives them a heather color and a richer look.  (Just FYI – they are not fitted t-shirts, but the V-necks seem more fitted than the crew neck shirt I bought.)
  2. Birch Bear Co has a really large selection (over 700 products), and Kayla researches trending sayings (like the one I bought) and designs so that you can find what you want and more . . . and even more if you keep looking.  It’s dangerous.
  3. Birch Bear Co is committed to the details, which makes your purchase feel special, like it came from a boutique.  My t-shirts came neatly packaged in a small box that felt like a gift in the mail.  (This reminded me of the feeling of opening a Stitch Fix box, if you have had that experience!)
    image5
  4. The branding at Birch Bear Co is smart and adorable.  The logo itself could be a t-shirt, and Birch Bear Co shirts can be identified by the company tag added to the lower corner of each one.  Again, the details.
    image4
  5. If you compare t-shirt prices on Etsy, Birch Bear Co is reasonable, with prices lower than some other shops with lower quality products.  Also, you are supporting a small business.
  6. Working with Kayla has been dreamy.  She loves this business, and she values her customers, and it shows.  She is very responsive to customer needs.

Let me just remind you that I don’t know Kayla personally, that I found Birch Bear Co by accident, and that Birch Bear Co did not contact me.  I contacted Kayla because I was excited and wanted to share her shop with YOU.  Kayla shared with me that she and her husband started this business a year ago when she was looking for a creative hobby.  They made their first sale in June 2016, and Birch Bear Co has been so successful that they have both quit their former professional jobs already to keep up with their shop and their two-year-old son.  Birch Bear Co is ALREADY ranked 299 out of 1.7 million Etsy shops – so I am not the only one who was impressed.  Wow.

Here are two shirts I purchased.  I generally wear a small, but the crew neck shirt has a loose fit, so I could probably wear an XS.  I like the fit of the small V-necks.  (Selfies.  Ugh.)

image2image1

If my co-teachers, Katie and Ann, buy this one, they are in big trouble:

coffee

And there are days when I probably could wear this one:

Cuss a Little

Here are a few more of my trending favorites:

One more thing . . . Kayla is SO SWEET that she created a promo code just for my Still Chasing Fireflies friends.  This code expires on May 5!  Click here to go to Birch Bear Co where you can use this code to get 10% off:

Code

Today’s a great day to have a great day – and maybe to treat yourself to something fun for summer.  Please feel free to share this post and code with your friends.  Thanks, again, Birch Bear Co!  It’s been a pleasure!

 

 

Bleed

“There is nothing to writing,” Ernest Hemingway once said.  “All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

Ernest was right.  Sometimes when you pull up a chair and your fingers stroke the keys, you spring a leak, and the things hidden inside of you seep out.  They bleed onto the page or into the air, and the blood is words, and sometimes when a soul starts bleeding it is hard to plug the hole.  Sometimes the words are a confession and sometimes they are laughter and sometimes they are heartache and sometimes they are love.

typewriter-and-bleed

Like blood, words give life to the thoughts and emotions swirling within us.  And the blood that leaks out when we write or we speak, those words, they have incredible power.

My words.  Your words.  ALL words.

Just think.  A writer can sit down with a blank sheet of paper that costs no more than a penny.

blank-paper

And that writer can add some ink, also nearly worthless on its own.  And then that little bit of ink sprouts into lines that stretch into letters that bloom into words.  And those words, when nurtured, flourish and grow and burst across the page.

Now those words – recorded in that ink on that worthless piece of paper – hold the potential to change a person’s day.  Or a person’s goals.  Or a person’s life.  Those words, although it may seem crazy, have the potential to change the entire freaking world.

This week my students will read “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” arguably one of the best examples of effective argumentation, written from a jail cell after Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested for peacefully protesting for civil rights in 1963.  His passion, in the form of words, bled onto napkins and toilet paper and anything else he could find in that jail, and those words continue to move us half a century later.  Just think about that.  A little bit of ink that seeped onto cheap toilet paper in a cold jail cell resonated with people around the world and awakened the social conscience of a nation.

Wow.  Our words have power.

Words can be persuasive, transformative, inspiring.  They can heal broken places or break what was whole.  They can become contagious and quickly race around the globe.  They can penetrate social and cultural divides with ease.  They can provoke reflection and conversations that change the way we think about ourselves and our purpose and our world.  They can excavate feelings that were deeply buried, brushing the dust off our frustrations and dreams, exposing hidden sadness and unseen joys to the brilliant light of day.

Words, when precise and controlled, can evoke feelings with an intensity that makes the page feel like reality and reality feel like the dream.  Ink can be tamed just as a wild horse can be broken.  A person can say things that change people and write things that make a difference.

You might think that only professional writers can harness the power of words.

But you are wrong.

Think of the power of these very simple words at your command:

I love you.  I like you.  I enjoy you.  I trust you.  I miss you.

I messed up.   I hurt you.   I’m sorry.  I regret my decision.  I am sad when you are sad.  I want to fix this.

I did not know. 

I believe in grace.  I believe in you.  I believe in us.  I forgive you.

I am alone.  I can’t do this. I  am empty.  I need help.  I need you.

I am on my way.  I am here.  I am with you.  I am for you.  I have your back.

words-are-your-power

I will fight for you. 

I will help you.  I will stay with you.  I am always on your team.  I will protect you.

I pray for you.  I hurt with you.  I have felt this, too.  I understand. 

I don’t understand, but I care about you.

I admire you.  I respect you.  I am proud of you.  I appreciate you.  I am thankful for you.

I see you.  I hear you.  I know your heart.  I am listening. 

I promise.

I can and I will.  I will tell you the truth.  I will give you my share.  I am thinking about you.  I see your beauty.

I am better because of you.  I want to be like you.  I treasure your advice.  I value your ideas. 

I don’t agree with you, but I still love you.

I am not perfect.  I am no better.  I am glad you are my friend.  I can do hard things with you.  I see your courage.

I am happy when you are happy.  I love to see you smile.  I cherish my time with you.  I do not deserve what I have been given. 

I can’t imagine a better friend.

I choose you.

When you feel powerless, remember that you have words.

When you want your relationships to grow, remember that you have words.

When you want to make a difference in your life, your home, your family, your neighborhood, your world, remember that you have words.

So find blank pages and some ink.  Breathe life into them.  Harness the emotions and ideas that are swirling within.  Let the words that are hidden inside you begin to leak out.

Your words are your power.  Never forget this.

Ready.  Set.

BLEED.

regret

Hey, fireflies!  Thanks for reading this post about the power of words.  I hope you enjoyed it, but my greater hope is that it inspires you to take fifteen minutes out of your week and write meaningful notes to a few of the people in your life.  Maybe there is someone who deserves your thanks or someone who needs you to make something right.  Maybe there is someone who does not know how much impact he or she has had on your decisions.  Maybe there is an adult who needs your encouragement or a child who needs your love.  There are so many possibilities!  You may be surprised by the doors that open when you let what is on the inside leak out!  I challenge you to write three notes this week, and then come back and let us know what you did and how you felt!  Thanks for reading, friends!   ~Mary Ann