Where I’m Supposed to Be

I’m where I’m supposed to be.

This is the mantra that has gotten me through this week as I’ve found myself struggling to make sense of life these days. 

This isn’t new territory, either. A couple of months ago, I was going through some old things and I came across a letter I had written to God. I can remember writing it like it was last week instead of 12 years ago. At that time, I was definitely not where I wanted to be. To be honest, I felt like I was on the road to nowhere and I was lost even trying to find my way there. Not exactly what I had pictured my life looking like at 27. 

In the letter, I poured my heart out to God. All the thoughts and feelings of anger and frustration, sadness and loneliness, confusion and fear. I asked Him to help me know what to do to help myself. 

Here I am 12 years later in a much different season of my life yet feeling those same emotions and a little lost again. And this time it’s not just myself I have to worry about. The stakes are definitely much higher now, and my sense of urgency to know what to do to help myself and my family is much more intense.

Where am I? 

I’m at home.

I’m serving my family. I’m cooking meals, washing dishes, doing laundry, and cleaning up messes. I’m cheering for my daughter as she learns to make a lowercase ‘a’ and for my son as he correctly identifies objects when given two choices. I’m rocking outdoor recess duty. I’m snuggling with Josie when she crawls into bed with me each morning and rocking Moses at naptime because he wants me to. I’m taking deep breaths so I don’t completely lose my temper and reminding myself to keep small problems small. I’m asking for hugs and forgiveness when I fail to do both. I’m excited to see my husband when he gets home so I get to talk to an adult and hear about the outside world. 

When I was at work, I would often announce “I’m going to go change lives!” Now I feel like the only thing I’m changing is diapers. 

Believe you me when I say that I NEVER saw myself as a housewife and definitely not as a stay-at-home mom. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with either of those by any means. It’s hard work and the pay is horrible. I’m one “official” week in and I’m ready to turn in my two-week notice. 

But I’m supposed to be here. Even when I don’t want to wash another dish, it feels right. I don’t have the luxury of knowing why I’m doing exactly what I never wanted to do, but I do have the luxury of trusting that God knows why I’m here and will help me to understand when I’m supposed to. 

Over the last 12 years I have learned that life isn’t about getting where you want to be and staying there. It’s about continuing to live and experience and learn and grow, and that still includes going through some growing pains at times.

I’m where I’m supposed to be

And who knows? This may end up being the best place I’ve been to yet.

The Next Right Thing

A couple of years ago, my church was offering a book to the parishioners called Perfectly Yourself by Matthew Kelly. As a person who spent the first half of her life striving to be perfect in various ways, there was no way I could pass up this book. 

As I began reading, I appreciated how the author described our quest here on Earth as to become the best version of ourselves. And how that might look different from day-to-day. It was as if I was being given permission to be less than perfect. To be human. And for that to be okay as long as I did my best every day to be the best version of myself. 

One of the guiding principles to achieving that goal was to always look to do the next right thing. That sounded simple enough, and it proved very helpful in guiding my decisions at home and at work. Looking back, the season of life I was in was relatively calm (as calm as life can be with two toddlers) and I wasn’t faced with many difficult situations and the concept made its way to the back of my mind. 

I never finished the book even though it stayed right there on the table by my bed. Then a few months ago, I decided to revisit it. 

This time I took my time reading through it and underlining parts that stuck out to me. Today I looked back and found two passages that I had underlined: 

“We seem to spend endless hours planning and worrying about some distant future that is promised to none of us, and yet effortlessly overlook the fact that how we deal with the here and now will determine what the future looks like.” (p. 48)

Little did I know that just a few short months later, I was going to find myself in this exact situation. Where not only was I constantly looking ahead and trying to prevent my worst nightmare from happening, I was focused more on what I could not control (i.e. other people) than on what I could (i.e. myself). The result was that I was mentally and emotionally drained. I felt lonely and frustrated and defeated at almost every turn. And then I came to the point where I couldn’t go on like that. It wasn’t healthy for me, and it wasn’t healthy for my family which I was desperate to protect. 

Which brings me to another passage I had underlined:

“The truth is that we almost always do [know what the next right thing is]. More than 99 percent of the time, you will know what the next right thing for you to do is if you quiet yourself for a moment and go to that place deep within you.” (p. 49) 

In my efforts to try to control the situation and appeal to others to see and do things the way I needed them to, I found myself in the midst of so much noise that I couldn’t hear that place deep within myself that was pointing me towards what was truly the next right thing. To me, giving up fighting for others to protect me so I could protect my family was akin to failing my family. Failing my son. Even though I was exhausted, I faced each day ready to continue my fight. My motto became “I trust God but I don’t trust people”. I spent my time and energy finding people who understood and supported me and growing more and more resentful of those who didn’t. 

Until I stopped. 

Last Saturday morning, I told my husband that I needed ten minutes of quiet before he left for a few hours. I went outside and sat on the steps and asked God to help me to know what to do. What the next right thing was. Because what I thought was the right thing for me to do wasn’t working. 

I wish I could say that the clouds parted and I heard a voice from above telling me exactly what I needed to do. How cool would that have been? In reality, after my ten minutes were up, I muddled my way through the rest of the morning most of the afternoon. 

It wasn’t until later that afternoon when I was taking some more time to sit in the quiet after talking to Tyson that I was able to start getting an idea of what the next right thing was for me to do. Somewhere in that quiet, I was finally able to hear the answer. Somewhere in the quiet, my heart and mind were open to the possibility that the next right thing for me was not at all what I had in mind. 

At this point I wish I could say that all felt right with the world and it was smooth sailing from there. Unfortunately, knowing and doing the next right thing isn’t always easy. Even though I did feel a calming sense of peace knowing that I was going to be heading in the right direction, there was still a certain level of anxiety that things were not going to work out the way I wanted and the consequences of that. Especially knowing that other people other than myself and my family would be impacted. 

Now that decisions have been made and action has been taken, there is a part of my heart that is hurting and disappointed while a part of it is relieved and contented. But in the end, doing the next right thing has put me where I’m supposed to be. It is not what I had envisioned or hoped for, and what lies ahead is still unknown. However, I can already see signs of how God has prepared me and my family for this exact season of life I now find myself in. And it’s all because I had the courage to be quiet, listen to Him, and do the next right thing.

My hope for you is that when you’re faced with a choice, you will choose the next right thing for you. Sometimes it’s easy to know what that is, and sometimes is incredibly difficult. In those times, I hope you will be able to find some time and space to be quiet (even if it’s just ten minutes) so you can listen deep down for the answer that will guide you in the right direction.

Source: Kelly, M. (2017). Perfectly yourself: Discovering God’s dream for you. North Palm Beach, FL: Beacon Publishing.

Communication: More Than Just Talking

“Mom, when is Moses going to start talking?”

That’s the question Josie asks me every so often.

My usual answer is, “When he’s ready.”

That answer does little to satisfy her. And I get it. She knows he’s 3-years-old. She knows that Moses’ best friend next door is three and has been talking up a storm for a while now. She sees videos of herself talking when she was younger than three. She also sees that physically, Moses is doing what most other three-year-olds are doing as far was walking, playing, eating, etc. So I get it that it’s hard for her to understand why Moses can do some of things that other kids his age are able to do but not others. Like talk.

To be fair to him, he does talk. I compare it to the babbling that babies do as a precursor to talking. And to be honest, it’s pretty freaking cute. Sometimes it’s just one or two sounds in response to something. Other times it’s a long-winded lecture about something that is not to his liking. My favorite is when he gets really excited and does this high-pitched cheer with a huge smile on his face.

He does know some actual words: Ma, Da, ball, Alexa, yes (with an emphasis on the ‘s’), and no.

But there are many more that he knows but isn’t able to pronounce accurately. For example, “de” is “thank you” and “come” is “welcome”. For the most part, when he says certain things I know what he’s saying. I know that when he says “ble” he wants a cutie, “Bo” is “Elmo”, “Ca” is “Cookie”, and “Gar” is “Oscar”. He also knows the signs for “more”, “please”, “thank you”, “milk”, and a few more.

His go-to form of communication is to either say “c’mere” or grab my hand and walk me to what he wants. If it’s something in a cabinet or the refrigerator, he’ll point to and guide me with “yes” and “no”.

Besides, he communicates in so many other ways.

Is it always easy? No. There are times when, despite both of our best efforts, I cannot figure out what he wants or is trying to tell me. There are times that I know he knows exactly what I’m telling him to do or not to do, like pick up the apple he threw down, and he openly defies me. There are times that I need him to understand what I’m telling him to do or not do, like go outside by himself, and I know he just doesn’t understand yet. There are tears and shouts of frustration for both of us at times.

But overall, I don’t consider his delay in speech to be a major issue.

Besides, he communicates in so many other ways that are even better than words.

Like the way his face lights up when he sees me walk in the door. The way he gets up, does his little preparatory dance, yells “Ma!”, and then runs to hug me. The way he giggles when I chase him around the kitchen. The way he watches and mimics Josie, especially when she’s dancing. The way his lower lip sticks out and he tucks his chin down when he gets hurt or sad. The way he pats my back as I hold him and hug him tight. The way he cuts his eyes to the side before he makes a break for it when I’m trying to get him dressed.

One of the most common questions I see posted from mothers who have just found out their baby will have or does have Down syndrome is, “What can I expect?” And I know from experience that what they’re really asking is, “What hardships or challenges can I expect?” It’s no secret that a person with Down syndrome will have physical and cognitive delays to some degree. However, what I feel like it is virtually impossible to help those new or expecting parents to realize is that those delays will actually serve to highlight strengths not only within their child but within themselves.

Josie started talking when she was a year old and hasn’t looked back. Knowing what she was thinking, needed, or wanted has never been hard to figure out. To be honest, I feel like we were quite spoiled in regards to the ease in which we were able to communicate with her early on.

However, with Moses, I feel like we have actually been given the gift of realizing that communication goes much deeper than words. With him, his communication might be more underdeveloped for his chronological age, but in that I find that it still has more of the simplicity, authenticity, and genuineness of that of a younger child. With him I don’t have to wonder if he truly means what he’s communicating because he is still so genuine in what he feels, needs, and wants. Sure, I may have to pay more attention to his nonverbal cues, but is that really such a bad thing? Especially if it means that I am more in tune with my child and it also helps me to be more in tune with others that I communicate with?

The next time you’re talking with someone, take the time to pay attention to how her eyes light up when she’s talking about something she’s passionate about. Or how his body language changes as he searches for the right words to explain what he’s thinking and feeling. Think about whether or not her facial expression and tone match up with the words she’s saying. Pay attention to these things within yourself, too. Are you fully communicating your honest thoughts and feelings?

Moses has taught me that when it comes down to it, while spoken words are important and meaningful, the true beauty of communication goes far beyond words. The beauty is found in the genuine and raw thought and emotion that children are so artful at showing. Adults are capable of showing the same thing but learn to mask it for a variety of reasons. Moses communicates in his way without malice, without ridicule, without hidden meaning or agenda. I never knew that my child with a speech delay would be teaching me lessons on communicating. But then again, I shouldn’t be that surprised. He is pretty extraordinary.

Trust God…But Don’t Stand Up in a Small Boat

Here in our little corner of Southeast Missouri, things are going to start returning to a new version of “normal” tomorrow.

The way I understand it, the guidelines set forth by the Stay at Home Order will be lifted to a certain extent. Businesses are expected to follow certain guidelines to ensure the healthy and safety of their customers and employees. However, there is no restriction on the size of social gatherings although the 6-foot social distancing practice is still being encouraged.

For small business owners, I’m happy for them. Especially the ones that have been completely closed for the past four weeks.

For those who have felt any personal strain of the Stay at Home Order, I’m hopeful they will find some relief, too.

As for me, my anxiety is back and I am dreading May 4th.

Believe me when I say I am ready to be able to see and hug my parents. To have a glass of wine (or three) with my friends in person. To go to the grocery store without wearing a mask or fearing I’m going to infect my family despite my best efforts to sanitize everything before it goes into the house.

Today I have cried as I’ve grieved not getting to hug my parents when they came to visit us through the window and bring the kids cookies.

I’ve cried because I’m scared this virus is going to come back if businesses don’t adhere to the guidelines for keeping their customers and employees safe. If people don’t continue to practice social distancing as they are being encouraged to do.

I’ve cried because I miss my family. I miss my friends. I miss my students. I miss my work family.

But I also know that for my family, we have to continue staying home. We have to continue doing everything we can to stay healthy.

As I wrote before, Moses is considered high-risk not so much because he has Down syndrome but because of his history of respiratory complications. If RSV, a common cold for most people, could put him in the hospital requiring oxygen less than 5 months ago, I don’t want to know what COVID-19 could do to him. But I do know that I never want to have to relive watching him be kept alive by a ventilator, which is what I had to do for 6 excruciating days when he was just 3 months old. And which is what could very well be what would have to happen again if he had complications from COVID-19. Trust me when I say that if you’ve never sat by the hospital bed where someone you loved more than life itself was laying, watched the monitor, and prayed that their oxygen level stayed above 90 so that the alarm wouldn’t go off again, it’s not something you ever want to do.

It’s not just Moses that I want to keep safe, though. Over the last month, I’ve read stories about seemingly healthy children and adults in their 20s, 30s, and 40s who have fallen victim to this relentless and unforgiving virus. So while Josie, Tyson, and I are not considered to be in the “at-risk” population, it doesn’t magically grant us immunity from the virus and it’s possible ramifications.

There’s a sign in my in-law’s cabin at the lake that says “Trust God but don’t stand up in a small boat.” I fully trust that God is watching over my family and hears my prayers to continue letting us stay healthy. But when tomorrow comes and others open their doors and go back to “normal”, we’re going to go ahead and sit tight at home a little while longer.

Finding Forgiveness

On March 17, what was supposed to be the first day of my leave of absence, I drove up to Ste. Genevieve to meet my sister to get a playhouse for the kids from her and to just spend some time with her. Usually when I’m driving by myself, I have the radio on, the volume turned up, and I sing as loudly and out-of-tune as I please. However, on this drive, I ended up listening to a Catholic radio station. I can’t remember what was on when I first started listening, but what came on next ended up being the starting point on my path of healing and recovery from the icy waters I kept finding myself falling into.

I can’t tell you if the person on the radio was a priest or a guest speaker or what, but whoever it was, he started talking about forgiveness. He spoke about what forgiveness is and what it’s not. About how important forgiveness is to our own mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being. Honestly, most of what he said were things I had heard before. (Although, I did learn that there’s an International Forgiveness Institute and thought that it was pretty interesting.)

As I listened to the speaker go on about forgiveness, the names of different people who had hurt me somehow started popping into my head. As I would think of what I had gone through with each one, I found myself getting angry and feeling hurt all over again. This surprised me a bit because I thought I had forgiven those people and moved on. Clearly, that was not the case.

Coincidentally, just a few days earlier, Tyson had shown me a website he had found with prayers for healing that he thought may help me. I scrolled through the page and saw some prayers that seemed fitting to what I was experiencing, some that didn’t, and an emotional healing exercise at the end of the page. The exercise was all about forgiveness, letting go of people and/or experiences that had hurt you, and finding peace. Some of those same people had come to mind then, too.

Back to the person on the radio, as I listened to him talk about how giving and receiving forgiveness looks different for different people and different situations, I realized that for some people, I hadn’t fully forgiven them. I had said the words in my mind, but they hadn’t reached my heart. Thinking back to the emotional healing exercise, I knew that was something I needed to do for myself.

I wish I could say that when I got home that afternoon, I immediately got to work and felt better by that evening. In reality, it took me about a week to feel ready to do the exercise because the first thing you had to do was go back. Go back and feel the hurt, sadness, heartache, disappointment, anger, shame, and guilt that I thought I had let go of but had apparently just pushed down.

Here’s a basic rundown of how the exercise works:

  • You begin by writing a letter to the person telling him/her how angry you are at them for hurting you. You write all the ugly parts of what you experienced with that person and describe how you felt and tell him/her that you are angry at them for that. You tell them how it affected you then and now. You tell them what you wish had been different.
  • Next, you write a letter to yourself from that person apologizing for the way he/she treated you and acknowledging that you did not deserve to be treated like that. You write the words you need to hear from that person.
  • After that letter, you write a prayer. In your prayer, you release the person into the Lord’s hands. You pray for Jesus to wash away the negativity left by the relationship with that person.
  • Finally, you write a letter to yourself from God. You let him tell you what you need to hear from him.

After I finished going through the exercise the first time, I could not believe how amazing I felt. It’s hard to describe the lightness I felt in my mind and in my heart. Yes, it was hard to revisit the pain of the past, but it was also necessary to find this peace in the present. Each time I completed the exercise for a different person and experience, I felt so much relief in the end.

While none of the letters were easy to write, the one that was the hardest was to myself. Writing about the ways in which I had contributed to the hurt and pain I had gone through that was weighing me down so heavily was extremely difficult and even mortifying at times. But to be able to finally forgive myself for all that – especially the guilt and shame I felt for allowing others to hurt me and for hurting others – I had to do it. And I’m so glad I did.

Once again, God knew what I needed. Forgiveness, for myself or anyone else, was not a part of my plan to heal and restore my mental and emotional well-being. Thankfully, God knew that finding forgiveness was exactly where I needed to start.

Change in Plans

A month ago today, March 17, was supposed to be the first day of a voluntary three week leave of absence from my work. After finally recognizing I was in the throes of burnout in various areas of my life, I made the decision to take the time to rest and restore myself to a place mentally, emotionally, and physically so that I could find a way back to being the person I wanted to be.

Burnout is one of the things that we are taught to watch out for when entering into the field of school counseling. This is one of the best descriptions I have found for burnout:

Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest and motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place.

Burnout reduces productivity and saps your energy, leaving you feeling increasingly helpless, hopeless, cynical, and resentful. Eventually, you may feel like you have nothing more to give.

HelpGuide, 2019

I found an online burnout self-test, and when I took it over a month ago, my score was 59 out of 75. Based on that score, I was at “severe risk of burnout” and encouraged to do something about it “urgently”. The next level would have been “very severe risk” as opposed to “severe”. I also filled out a compassion fatigue questionnaire and scored at-risk on it, too.

There was a time in my life where I would have looked at my scores and thought, “Oh, you’re okay. You only scored 59. If you were really burned out, you’d score 75. Maybe you’re not working hard enough.” Like many others, I had been conditioned to wear stress like a badge of honor. That if I wasn’t filling every second of my day with something productive, then I was lazy. That while I might be going through a hard time, others were going through even harder times so I should suck it up and quit whining.

Thankfully, in my 39-year-old wisdom, I was able to recognize that I had to stop going down the path I was on. Actually, I don’t know if it was wisdom so much as exhaustion – mental, emotional, and physical exhaustion. Either way, I was able to recognize that I was not okay and that I needed a break. A break that would allow me the time to figure out what was going on, how to handle it, and work on creating new habits for both my personal and professional life.

So I made a plan.

As I have often found throughout my 39 years on this Earth, when I plan, God laughs.

Actually, I don’t think He laughs. I think He shakes His head and says, “That’s not quite what I had in mind.” And then the whole “Thy will be done” thing comes into play.

Here’s how it happened:

  • February 26: I hit bottom. That’s the morning I woke up and thought to myself, “I can’t do this today.” I ended up taking two days off work.
  • March 4: I spoke to my husband and then principals about taking some time off of work. A three week leave of absence was scheduled to begin on Tuesday, March 17 and I would return to work on Monday, April 6. During my time off, I was going to go to church, get a physical, see my counselor, go to the dentist, read, write, exercise, get good sleep, clean, get a skin cancer check. I couldn’t wait.
  • March 5 – 13: I got my last rounds of classroom lessons in for my students and teachers. Some small groups were met with one last time and arrangements were made for other small groups to continue in my absence. Practice MAP tests were ready to go for 3rd & 4th grades. I met with some of the students I saw on a regular basis to make sure they were well-equipped for my hiatus.
  • March 15: While at my parents for an early St. Patrick’s Day dinner, rapid updates were coming in about steps being taken, including school closures, to combat the spread of the coronavirus in Missouri. The reality that I wasn’t going to get the leave of absence I desperately needed and wanted began to hit me and panic began to set in. As I drove my family home that evening, I felt defeated. I drove home in silence. When I went to bed that night, I cried. I’m talking about full-body sobs. The hope I had been carrying that I was actually going to get better was gone.
  • March 16: My school district announced that schools would be closed beginning Tuesday, March 17 through Friday, April 3. Classes were to resume on Monday, April 3.
  • March 17: I spent the day at home. With my children.
  • March 19: My day was spent at school preparing for distance learning.
  • March 20: I spent the morning running errands, stocking up on food and supplies, and beginning to experience real anxiety about the reality of how the coronavirus could affect my family, especially Moses.
  • March 27: My school district announced the school closure was extended through April 15.
  • April 9: Governor Parson announced that public schools will remain closed through the end of the school year.
  • April 17: We’ve settled into somewhat of a routine here at home. We are muddling through homeschooling two preschoolers at best. The children are living their best lives. We may not be able to convince them to go back to school, whenever that may be.

During this month, I have been able to take time for myself to rest and find some peace mentally, emotionally, and physically. I took the online burnout self-test again today and my score is now 46, which indicates I’m still at risk of burnout and that I still have work to do. But it also shows that I’m on the right track.

This last month definitely hasn’t gone the way I envisioned on so many different levels. Again, my plans and God’s plans don’t often seem to mirror each other. Thankfully, I learned to let go of my plans and trust in His a long time ago. Even though I still don’t understand why this has worked out the way it has, I trust that one day I will understand and maybe even be grateful.