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Day 1. January 1st. A fresh start. 365 days of possibility stretched out before me. New beginnings. A chance to do better and be better. But, I’m still feeling the sorrowful weight of 2018. I don’t know how long it will last. Here’s what I want for the new year…

EASY-button

I don’t make resolutions anymore – I never keep them. What I do is hope. I hope to be intentional this year, in my relationships, my work, my health, my writing, my travel, my rest, my faith, and most of all, my family.

2018 kicked my ass. I am down for the count and I’m fighting to stand back up. I moved beyond sad awhile ago and I’m struggling with depression. This past week I had friends on Facebook asking us to list three good things that happened to us in 2018, and I sat there numbly staring at my screen. Could I think of three?

  1. Amsterdam & France. The mom’s mystery trip was the best thing that happened to me in 2018. Traveling to another country with some of my close friends and spending the day with Don in France was AMAZING!
  2. Erin graduated in May. Erin is my neighbor and one of my “daughter from another mother” kids. Traditional school was not a good fit for her, so I worked with her mom and we helped her homeschool her last two years of high school. Homeschooling is HARD, but I am built to do hard things.
  3. I’m thinking…

In the name of processing hard things, here’s my 2018:

At the beginning of the year I started a new job I thought would be amazing but turned out to be awful. I don’t want to work for abusive people with zero integrity who lie and manipulate others to get what they want. When I started back at GJK in June, I came home and cried that first day. I had forgotten what it felt like to be treated with respect and as an integral part of a team. The joke has been that I took a five month sabbatical from them and everyone is glad I’m back. Me too.

Someone dear and close to us broke the law and twelve months later we are still walking through the fallout of that bad decision with them – it’s not over.

What I initially thought was a break from my church turned into a break up. I am dismayed by much of American Christianity and navigating what that looks like for my faith journey. I’ll be blogging more about that sometime this year.

The mystery trip was a wonderful adventure, but I was betrayed by a friend shortly after we returned home. I didn’t see it coming and it completely blind-sided me. Then she cut me out of her life and I just don’t understand. I’m still mad as hell about it.

For the first time in twenty years, I missed out on summer camp. I had just returned to work with GJK and Benny was job hunting. We just couldn’t make it happen.

Letting go of the cigar shop and dealing with unemployment for a few months was a huge challenge. We survived it, but I can’t even talk about the difficulty of that season. It’s still too raw.

Kids: Max had two car accidents and two tickets, we had to sell his car for scrap when we couldn’t sink any more money into it to fix it (it wasn’t the car in the accidents), job changes for the kids, teenage hormones and angst, and a medical issue that had us worried for months that seems to be resolved now, and all three of my children had their hearts broken, which hurts a momma’s heart too. It was a hard year for the whole family.

We have several friends fighting serious health battles, a few of whom have stopped treatment and are trying to live their best life with the time they have left.

And death, oh the deaths. One of my former students passed away. The loss of a child in one’s life is particularly hard. A sweet young lady we’ve known for many years shocked everyone who knew her when she took her own life. We love her family and feel their heartache. As you know from my last post, Avon Shields lost her battle with cancer and that devastated me. My 14-year-old niece Sarah got sick and passed away the week before Christmas. While I didn’t know her because we’ve never lived close, it was excruciating to watch my sister lose her only child. It was terrible speaking with my dad on the phone and hearing his voice break. Her funeral was last Saturday on Pete’s birthday. On Christmas Day we learned of the passing of our friend Davon the day before. It was a year of great loss and I’m still reeling.

There are things that happened in 2018 that I am processing privately. Hurtful, ugly things that make me want to change my name, move somewhere no one can find me, and tell the whole world to go to hell. That doesn’t sound like me at all, but it’s where I’m at. 2019 has got to be better, right?

And now that I’ve purposefully tried to think of three good things about 2018, I’m remembering several more…

  1. I made new friends.
  2. I enjoyed lots of planned coffee dates in person and messenger or phone dates with friends far away.
  3. I saw some good movies.
  4. I read a lot of great books.
  5. I met several amazing authors I love.
  6. I got a free educator’s pass to Denver Comic Con – spent some time with my friend Rebecca and we got a photo with Val Kilmer.
  7. I reconnected with old friends I haven’t seen in years.
  8. I wrote a little bit.
  9. I led some fun field trips with my homeschooling mom friends.
  10. I prayed for a lot of people and was prayed for too.
  11. My food bank was thriving and I helped lots of families
  12. My dad and Shari came for a visit.
  13. I learned some new skills that will serve me well in the future.
  14. I bought a vintage 1930’s typewriter and won a pretty cool 1970’s one for a poem.
  15. Benny got a great new job.

I’d keep working on this list, but I really just want to move through the grief process and look forward to good things in the new year. I know every year is a mixed bag. That’s life, and it’s never fair, but for now I’m signing off with this…

Good riddance 2018. You may have kicked my ass, but 2019 is going to kick yours.

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I can’t breathe.

Is there anything heavier or sharper than grief?

If this was a movie, I’d be slumped on my side having just been run through with a sword. No, it won’t kill me, but to deny that death more than stings for those of us left behind would be an atrocious lie. Papercuts sting. This is so much more.

Talk of heaven doesn’t comfort me. I don’t want hope right now. I want to press into this moment of terrible otherness – the rending of life. Don’t talk to me about her reunion with Jesus or the promise of being with her again someday. Those thoughts will come in the days ahead. Today let me mourn and don’t try to stem the torrential tears. Just hold me close and let me be.

Twelve days ago, one of my “mothers” chose her ending – to enter hospice care at home with her precious family by her side. She’d been battling cancer and the treatments didn’t work. Last night, she took her last breath.

Avon

I stole this from her Facebook page. I love her mischievous grin.

Avon Shields, known by thousands of women around the world as “Momavon,” was my dorm mom in college. She has been one of the most influential women in my life. I could write volumes about the lessons I learned from her, but I’ve tried my best to live them out instead. The way she loved the girls in her care made me want to be a mom even though I swore to her that wasn’t part of my plan. She just laughed and hugged me tight, “Oh Niki, my sweet girl, you may change your mind one day.”

Three weeks after my eighteenth birthday, I packed everything I own and waited for my friend Erin Beske and her parents to take me away to my new life, one I’d been dreaming about since the seventh grade when I first stepped foot on the campus of York College in York, Nebraska. Finally, and against the odds, I said goodbye to my childhood in Wisconsin and swore I’d never call it my home again. Yes, I’m a bit dramatic like that, and apparently I swear a lot.

There were only two women’s dorms and I was assigned to the one Avon lived in. Someday I’ll write about the many kindnesses and miracles of that life-altering first year, but this is about me and Avon. She told me once she loved me from the moment we met. That strong, patient woman poured love and guidance into me, a broken girl with too many holes in my bucket, and when I apologized for being so needy, she pulled me close and said that was nonsense.

She saw the leader in me and gave me responsibilities, showing me I was capable. When we joked and teased her about her many rules and forms, I was secretly relieved at the structure and stability she provided after growing up in my chaotic family. I’m totally a rule bender, but I needed her to help me set my life on a better course. I think we both knew it. A lot of the major decisions I made at York were discussed over tea in her apartment. She talked me through all the things my mother couldn’t, and I’ll be forever grateful. When she did finally meet my mother, she was kind and gracious to her, which was also a gift to me.

Avon loved Benny. She loved to remind me that she knew he was the one I’d choose maybe even before I knew myself. It’s been many years since we’ve sat together with a cup of tea, and I’m glad we had Facebook to help us peek into each other’s lives. I’m thankful for the brief moments we’ve shared in the 25 years since we lived in the same space. There are so many stories to tell, and all of them are coursing through me today with a painful and beautiful cadence.

I love Avon’s family and ache for them right now. Her husband Ron is a kind and funny man. I don’t know their eldest son Alan, though we’ve met. I’ve always admired Lynnette and her beautiful artist’s soul. I know her son Paul the best as he was my editor when I worked on the school newspaper staff in college, and his wife Shalee is one of my kindred spirit friends I wish lived next door. I can’t be with them this week, but my aching heart is there, attempting this dance of grief and celebration with clumsy feet.

When we lose someone we love, we often choose to immortalize them as their best selves. We know they were flawed but we overlook those things to remember them as the heroes they were in our lives. I’m okay with that. I think it’s the way it should be. It’s what I hope for someday too, to be remembered as the best of what and who I was.

I will remember you, Avon. I promise. I learned how to patch my bucket and I’ve tried to be purposeful about pouring into others. Thank you for showing me how. Thank you for guiding me through my baby steps of adulthood and loving me when I didn’t feel lovable. Thank you for cheering me on as I spread my wings and flew away. It’s been years since I’ve hugged you, and I hope to hug you again someday. Thanks for being a mom to me.

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If you had the chance to change your fate, would you?

She’s adventurous, feisty, and desires to control her own destiny. She’s a gifted archer and good with a sword, but it is her spunk that drew me in. I love her playful relationship with her dad, and I love her bravery!

merida1

Merida of the Clan DunBroch

Don thought I’d choose Katniss Everdeen. I thought about Belle from Beauty and the Beast. I could have easily chosen Eowyn again, or one of the other kickass heroines I love so much, but Merida has been on my mind. I relate to her defiance against traditions and expectations, and admire her fighting spirit. And who doesn’t love her red hair? 😉

I share some of her less desirable qualitites as well, I suppose. She’s brash and sometimes acts without thinking only to regret it later. Been there. But I couldn’t help cheering when I watched this scene:

She’s been my Facebook profile picture many times, she’s currently my cover photo, and friends send me pictures of her. Fans of Merida have drawn and painted amazing depictions of her. This one by artist Heather Theurer is my favorite:

Merida_sm

A few years ago, my friend Michelle bought me a figurine which now sits in my office. Every kid who stops by wants to play with her because she’s beautiful, posable, and her accessories rock! She only came with one arrow, which I assume is enough – she’s that good. I love her.

She inspires me when I write by reminding me I too am brave.

merida figurine

 

Have you stopped by my fellow challenger’s sites lately? We still have a few days left to catch up and finish our challenge!

Don at https://donhillson.wordpress.com/

Beckie at http://free2b2much.blogspot.com/

Tracy at https://countyroadchronicles.wordpress.com/

 

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For Christmas in 2013, Karen gave me a copy of Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection. She had already read most of it and was sure I’d love it, and she was right! I’ve been reading it and incorporating it into my life ever since.

Vulnerability-Quote-2-Brene-Brown

Brene Brown is a research professor and storyteller who studies vulnerability, courage, authenticity, worthiness, and shame. She’s written three #1 New York Times Bestsellers, her 2010 TEDx talk “The Power of Vulnerability” is one of the five most viewed Ted talks in the world. She inspires millions of readers like me through her websites, interviews, and public appearances. I post her quotes on Facebook a lot.

From The Gifts of Imperfection:

“People may call what happens at mid-life “a crisis,” but it’s not. It’s an unraveling – a time when you feel a desperate pull to live the life you want to live, not the one you’re supposed to live.”

As I’ve been working my way through the book for the second time, reading all of my underlined passages again, I am painfully aware of the places I’ve been digging deep, being brave, and making difficult choices that are making me a more wholehearted person. The word “No” isn’t as scary as it used to be, and I’ve increased the frequency of its use. Friends, it is SO much better than saying “yes” and being pissed off later because I knew I should have said no in the first place. I’m doing hard heart work, and the results are beautiful!

Some other lessons I’ve learned:

  • Our stories aren’t meant for everyone. Hearing them is a privilege and we should ask ourselves who has earned the right to hear them. (p. 47)
  • Incongruent living is exhausting. (p. 28)
  • Cultivating self-love and self-acceptance is not optional. (p. 28)
  • Practicing courage, compassion, and connection in our daily lives is how we cultivate worthiness. (p.7)
  • Courage is contagious. (p.54)
  • Here’s what is truly at the heart of wholeheartedness: Worthy now. Not if. Not when. We are worthy of love and belonging now. Right this minute. As is. (p.24)

I own the other two books and will read them soon. Check out Brene Brown. She’s one of my courage-boosters and currently on my list of Top Ten Most Inspiring People.

These people inspire me too:

Don at https://donhillson.wordpress.com/

Beckie at http://free2b2much.blogspot.com/

Tracy at https://countyroadchronicles.wordpress.com/

 

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anne lamott quote

This CHALLENGE is aptly named. Some people are more challenging than others, yeah? I could let myself off the hook and choose a mother figure, but part of the reason I do these challenges is to make myself do hard things. It’s good practice for life. Life is hard.

I haven’t had any contact with my mother since July. It’s by choice, both mine and hers. Mine because there has been a need for stronger boundaries and healing in our relationship for years and I’m finally taking care of myself and drew the boundaries I needed. Hers because she chooses not to take responsibility for her actions and doesn’t respect boundaries. I won’t go into detail here, but I will say that I plan to post more in the future regarding dealing with parents with mental illness.

I am not blind to my mother’s good qualities. She loves God, her family, and her friends. People who meet her think she’s nice. She’s creative and artistic, and resilient. She’s also overly medicated for her many different mental illnesses, disorders, and a varied set of physical issues due to polio when she was a child, and extreme allergies as an adult. Add to that her horrifically abusive childhood, and you get a small glimpse into my life as her oldest, and only girl child. I know I’m one of millions with family members who fit a lot of that description. I’m guessing someone out there will read this and nod their head, understanding me on a deeper level because they’ve been there. Mental illness sucks.

Being a mom is one of the hardest jobs in life, and I didn’t want to be one because I thought I’d stink at it. I cried when I found out I was pregnant with Max because I was so scared I’d become my mother. It turns out I’m pretty good at this mom thing. Still, every Mother’s Day is a struggle for me to view the holiday through the eyes of a mother instead of a wounded daughter. I’m getting there. I haven’t mailed any cards that say, “Happy Mother’s Day, I’m thriving in spite of how you raised me.”

She did some things right, but they get overshadowed by the things she did/does wrong. I know she struggled to be a single mom and there were many times my brothers and I didn’t make it easy for her. I know she thinks she did the best she could. As a child, and again as an adult, I vowed I wouldn’t be her, or parent like her, or be the kind of wife she is, or deal with my struggles like she does. I know women joke about turning into their mothers, but for me that was a real fear. I wonder if she felt that way too; her mother was no picnic either.

Generations of women in my family have passed on a legacy of fear, control, and manipulation to their children. I refuse to live like that. I fight NOT to be those things. I cannot, do not, and will not continue the cycle of abuse passed down on my mother’s side of the family. It ends with me, even if that means she is no longer part of our life. I don’t know if the future holds mending for our relationship, or if I even want that right now. Here’s what I do know…

Our last interaction was on July 4th. America’s Independence Day. It wasn’t planned that way, but it‘s become quite symbolic for me. Since then I’ve experienced a freedom I have been craving for most of my life. Freedom comes at a cost, but I keep reminding myself that I am not responsible for her – what she does or what she says, and that feels really, really good.

Anne Lamott once said, “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

I agree.

Read about my fellow challenger’s moms:

Don at donhillson.wordpress.com

Beckie at free2b2much.blogspot.com

Tracy at countyroadchronicles.wordpress.com

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42clusterIt’s the eve of my 43rd birthday. Let’s pretend it’s Christmas in July – that’s the only other time I feel like I have to sit and reflect on a whole year all at once. And please, feel free to drop off presents under our evergreen tree in the front yard! 😉

As I was reading through my journal (aka my Facebook timeline) for the past year, the big highlights were mostly sad. I suffered some devastating losses of friends and family, a good friend went to prison for two years, my transgender cousin’s suicide made international news, a doctor friend was made famous by contracting Ebola, and my relationship with my mother came to a painful end. That last one was not on Facebook as it is still too raw.

Amidst such a long grieving period were many moments of victory, bravery, and beauty. We moved to a town we’ve wanted to live in for years. I taught my first drama class and not only did I love it, it was a huge success. I made two trips back to Wisconsin to visit my family and reconnected with two of my best friends from high school while I was there. I worked on my novel. I fed hundreds of people through the little food bank I run. We reinstated Niki Day and Benny Day into our family schedule. I went to lots of movies and read a lot of books. I nourished old friendships and formed several new ones. I began passionately pursuing my husband again.

In times of reflection, I can’t focus on the bad without the good. I made some really dumb mistakes this past year, but I’ve also had my moments of wisdom and clarity. I’m learning I’m better for both. Through a year of deep suffering, I’ve clung to my joy.

I know who I want to be, but better than that, I know who I am.

In his book, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, English writer and humorist Douglas Adams said 42 is the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything. I’m still laughingly pondering that, but hoping for better questions and answers when I’m 43. Adams also said, “I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I’ve ended up where I needed to be.”

Now THAT is the story of my year!

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It feels good to be writing again after all the tragedy of the past few months. Today I’m honored to be featured over at themitchroush.com. His monthly series, “Music Changed Me” showcases people he knows and loves sharing the music that has impacted their lives. My piece focuses on disliking the word “secular” being used to label songs that are sacred to me, and the love song I have on repeat during this season of healing.

I’ve known Mitch for over 20 years, and oh the stories I could share about him. Ha! He’s an incredible man. Take some time to get to know him through his writing. He does an excellent job weaving faith and creativity throughout all he does.

It brings joy to my soul to hear him describe me this way: “Niki is one of the most eloquent feather-rufflers I know. An edgy soul, not out of attention, but out of a fierce love that has no other way of being expressed. She’s passionate and wants nothing more than for everyone to have a place at the table.”

Thank you, Mitch. That means a lot to me!

Here’s a teaser:

Music is one of my love languages.

If my inner 80’s child were to make you a mix tape and share with you the soundtrack of my life, you’d grin and possibly groan at the quirky variety of my musical tastes.  I bet you’d find something that suits your tastes too. Now and then, I get stuck on a song to help me through a particular season, repeating it until the music cleanses me or the season passes.

– See more at: http://www.themitchroush.com/music-changed-me-13-love-on-repeat

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