‘It is permissible to want’ ~ David Foster Wallace
Fortune cookies sometimes have pretty good insight. As I read this one I could quickly say this is true for me. People complain about not following through with their resolutions, being unhappy in general, or searching for happiness. Making and searching for happiness are two very different things. Searching for it is longing for something that may never come. Making it happen is taking life into your own hands.
Reading this I was especially reflecting on this past year as we were eating Chinese on New Year’s Eve. My husband and I have both noted that this past year was great for us. I think it has been the first year in our lives where we have fully taken every situation and made it what we wanted it to be. Every opportunity, choice, decision, big and small I look at my overall goal and our families core values, that I am sure I have referenced before, ‘comfortable home, education and cultural awareness.’ It has simplified life, if soemthing that comes our way will not promote those things, we chose an alternate path to meet our goals.
I have never been one for resolutions, which to me probably helps our success. If I am ready to make a change, waiting for one day of the year to do it, will not foster long term results. Making, creating and choosing what fills my life, fosters happiness.
Pulling in the driveway to my 50s cozy home, playing games with the kids in front of my fireplace, driving through downtown each day on the way to work, listening to planes fly over at night, waiting for trains, work, homework, dinner, bathes, games and movies and bed…. My daily reality. Some may cringe at the thought of some of those things; I however, smile each time I see downtown, hear a plain, the train whistle. Curled in bed with my husband each night we are so content and happy, yet sometimes it still feels unreal. Most of the time it’s just normal, my daily life, I don’t think about what it used to be, rather I am living in the moment. But there are moments, which are quite frequent, that I still get giddy, filled with a rush of excitement, pride, satisfaction. All at the thought, the reality of my life.
It is such a freeing feeling to be living my reality, as it was once an image, an image that was more of a what if, something that seemed unreal, that it wouldn’t, rather couldn’t be a reality. The thought of making it happen seemed unrealistic, impossible, up and moving a family of five, jobs, schools, homes. It seemed like we would be stuck… perhaps we would be content, but content can be mundane. I think contentment can eventually lead to an inability to accept change. Or perhaps content is what we tell ourselves to hide the fact that we’re settling.
I know I am no longer settling. I love feeling relaxed to be in my own home, not trapped, I love having the freedom to experience new things, trying new things. I love that I get excited to spend time with my kids and my husband, that we enjoy each other. That my kids are flourishing and growing….. I love that I am writing to the sound of the train, but yet silence.
That I am living my reality.
I was recently told that we have figured out in our early 30s what most people figure out in their 60s, if at all. This was said to me in a discussion about why we are up and moving to Kalamazoo, only an hour away, but still a significant move for us. For the past 12 years, since my husband and I first dated we have always talked about living different places, owning businesses, being adventurous. But, their is always one reason or another for why we stay stuck, stuck in one place, stuck in routine, stuck in a radius of close proximity to our home town. It never seemed like a reality that we could move away since we started our family here and have always had somewhat limited income. Married at 19 and 20, starting a family within months and balancing one income while I raised our kids for 6 years did not make it easy to have even a little freedom to move. I realize now I also struggled with self-esteem and the confidence to be successful without close family around for built in support. Living in Sturgis we have built wonderful support for our family, made friends, have a beautiful home, meticulously well kept, clean and picture perfect, on the outside of course. Inside, it doesn’t always feel so perfect. In fact, it rarely does. I can stand back and look at it all and it feels perfect, until the moment it all seems to come crashing down. Which has been more often than not lately. In a split moment I can go from blissfully happy, calm, enjoying my husband and kids to overwhelmed, emotionally spent with no energy to remain calm when a little stressor arises. The kids misbehave a little and I snap, something breaks and it all seems defeating, I have a long day at work and come home with no energy, but yet still need to maintain the perfection.
I have recently realized how well I hide my stress, people that I’m closest to did not see how much anxiety and stress I hold in. I hide it for multiple reasons, one is that I’m still able to function quite well considering, it’s what I take pride in, one of my strengths, another is that if I don’t put on a good face I will cripple and not function much at all and last it’s the concept of putting on a smile and eventually you’ll feel happier. It does help, if I feel exhausted and then look and present as exhausted it adds to the exhaustion, like wallowing in my stress. Yuck, I hate doing that. Either way the reality is that many things are stressful and time consuming, maintaining a large beautiful home takes so much energy, hours spent each week cleaning, doing yard work, paying bills, grocery shopping. There is only so much time in a day and for me I have a specific standard for my home, maybe unnecessarily high, but I am not comfortable and relaxed if it does not stay clean and meticulous. After working 40 hours, doing all of the necessary “stuff,” we still need to cook, do homework, spend time with our kids, time as a family and exercise….. I am exhausted. Not even a physical exhaustion, but mentally and emotionally. And no matter what I will still go, go, go and do what I can for everybody else as best as I can. And I still love to do that, it’s who I am, if I didn’t I would have stress from not helping others, not having time for my friends, not socializing.
So, where does this leave me?
I had to change things, we had to do something different. We had to eliminate stress. I started to look around and hated having space, space I wasted time cleaning, hated having stuff, stuff that had no real purpose and did not bring me true joy, just more to maintain, bills, money we spent on things we didn’t really need that accumulated by living up to what we thought we needed. It all seemed pointless when what really matters is my family. And everything we built was to give our family more “space,” but we don’t need space. We need to be closer together, spend more time together, spend our evenings active together and not apart in different rooms of the house.
We evaluated our values, which come down to a comfortable home, which means some financial stability to maintain it, education, to provide our children knowledge and possibilities for their future and to teach them cultural awareness so they have empathy for others, care for people and live life without judgement and fear of things a little different than their “normal.”
We then evaluated our life, what we needed to do to make all of that happen, I was tired of talking about all of the things we want to do and never doing them.
Reducing our bills, cutting our finances, minimizing our mortgage and square footage and yard size are all things we came up with. Moving to Kalamazoo is a wonderful solution, more affordable housing in smaller sizes, more culture and family activities to educate our children and… bonus… the Kalamazoo Promise will help our kids through college, another check off our list to financial freedom. I prepared for a smaller house by eliminating anything in our home that wouldn’t comfortably fit into our main floor, we cut expenses, paid off debts and had our home listed for sale within 2 weeks of deciding we were moving on to something new.
We have been told this seems impulsive, that we made the decision quickly. In a way this is true, we are a family of ADD/ADHD, impulsivity is in our nature. But it’s really 12 years coming. We can’t wait to see what this new venture will hold for us, at least for the next 12 years and the boys are all through school. After that, who knows what the next chapter will hold for us. For now we are slowing down, enjoying every minute together and taking every opportunity to enjoy life with our children.
I have been so grateful lately. Thinking about my husband, specifically. The journey we have had, things we have overcome, what we have learned, how we have grown. What that means basically is that we learned together how to have a healthy, loving, appreciative, successful marriage, friendship, partnership.
At one point, thanks to a conference, I looked at my relationship and imagined what it would look like if it was exactly what I would want it to be, kind of like a fairy tale I suppose. Then I was asked, are my actions and words fostering that picture? No, they were not. Maybe sometimes, but not enough. That was a changing point in my life.
I see on Facebook all the time articles of what marriage really is, fights, bad days, struggles, people proud to degrade themselves or their partners. I cringe anytime I see people proud to be a “bitch” or thankful their partner “puts up with them,” when they degrade their partner on social media. These are articles and posts that make me sad; maybe that is what many marriages are, maybe that’s “common,” but it’s not healthy. And, it does not have to be that way….it is a choice.
I am not one who likes to give advice when it’s not wanted or tell others “just do…” because productive communication does not really work that way and some things are easier said than done. People value somebody to just listen and not offer advice. Which I am more than happy to often do. At the same time biting my tongue from offering unwanted advice can be very hard when I see people I love so sad, unhappy, struggling, drowning, surviving in relationships. Day to day getting by for so many reasons, kids, vows, religious beliefs, finances, stability, dedicated years put into a relationship that they don’t want to walk away from. And I get it, I really do; we have had struggles, downs, ups, uncertainty, times we struggled to like each other. But the day I listened to that speaker though it hit and I decided I don’t just want to love my husband and be happy some of the time. I wanted a healthy marriage, to be happy to be with him all of the time, all day, mutual respect, to laugh, be mesmerized, feel butterflies, spend time together (not only in front of the tv or just being in the same house), quality time. I wanted to always love and like my husband.
From that day on every interaction was a conscious effort, conscious awareness of what I said to him, how I said it, what actions I showed him. Were my actions and words kind, loving, respectful, did I show him appreciation and that I value him? If I thought about what I wanted my marriage to look like was I acting in ways that would make that possible? Each day was about the present and future going forward, not months or years ago. I had to let it all go, start over and only hold on to the good. Not holding on to things that happened in the past that harbor grudges, resentment or hostility. If something upset me I kept it about that moment, not all of the past things that often get brought up in arguments, no more revenge. I made him coffee each morning, not because I felt I had to, but I wanted to start the day doing something nice for him. I thanked him for helping with the dishes after dinner; and I remember that first day so clearly because he told me I didn’t need to thank him for something he should be doing anyway. I said “yes I do, because I appreciate you.” These little gestures make an amazing difference, these are not things that were natural for us, I dont remember most adults/relationships I watched as a kid looking like this. Maybe I only saw it on tv shows that seemed so fake to me. The posts on Facebook that portray “real” marriages to be not so great in my opinion, was more normal to me. People happy to have time “away” from their spouses, fights, sleeping on the couch, etc.; that was normal. Don’t get me wrong, my husband and I have disagreements, but we don’t really have fights anymore, we are happy to have time to do our own thing, but not to “get away” from each other. We communicate our feelings, talk to each other, respect each other, take an effort to share in each others interests…. we like each other and have gotten to get to know each other all over again.
Is this easy?
No, it is a lot of work, and it may be harder for some than others, maybe it won’t work for others. I know for me making the decision to be happy and go forward is what I needed. If people can’t forget things from the past, maybe the relationship will never be what I have. I also believe all people deserve to be happy and if that means ending a relationship, then maybe that is what that means. I know that may go against many peoples beliefs, it’s not my ideal either. Of course this also takes effort on both people, my husband and I have both learned a lot, we are both growing, always putting full effort into our marriage. But for me it was my choice to change my actions and thoughts, I couldn’t expect anything in return, what I did was for me. Over time I saw a difference, I received back what I had put in, we both smiled more, spent more time together and grew to appreciate each other and love each other more than I could imagine.
I haven’t posted in some time as I have been processing the stages of grief and I have been consciously aware that my emotions could have gotten the best of me if I let them control my writing. Each week at church I have been contemplating what I would write, but I could not focus on writing a new topic because my thoughts were preoccupied. Until the past few weeks anyway.
Right now has been a several week series titled Home Run Life, where baseball has been a metaphor for scoring in life. Start at home plate, win with God; run to first, win within; run to second, win with others; run to third, success; and score at home, again win with God. We have only gotten to 2nd base as of now reflecting on how we must first win with God and win within ourselves before we can win with others and have success. As I have been reflecting I can say that I have been seeing this play out. This has not been a short journey for me.
I recently received a compliment that I have seemed happy lately. That I am for sure of, it is true; but I of course still contemplated and wondered…what am I putting out there that is different, what are other people seeing that is different from a year, two, three years ago. I wondered, could it be that I have been focused on my health and exercise; which had really raised my self-esteem? Then I heard the first sermon on Home Run Life, and I went, uh duh, light bulb moment…. I have been back at church for the past year. While God was never absent from my life, this past year I have been “winning with God” and truly focused on myself so that I can have the capacity to love others. To really be the way I want to be with my husband, kids, friends, family. And I can say it has been a progressively great year and it is getting better. Full of promises and the potential to be living the life we really want to have, more simple, secure, family oriented and fun filled. I will admit this reference to a home run life is just one example where I have seen or am seeing this play out, and it is a slightly more materialistic of an example as it does revolve around career success and a little more financial stability. I can truly say though I am at a point in my life that it will not be squandered, underappreciated or taken for granted. I want what to me, seems like basic things to come from financial stability, to not stress over monthly bills, get my kids a college education and give them experiences in different cultures. I want a smaller house not a bigger house, I want less expenses and more of a God filled life, filled with family and friends. To me that is SUCCESS!!
Each Sunday seems to have direct meaning to some area of my life. Of course, I think if we are all introspective and look for meaning in things each and every part of our days can be a learning experience. With God empowering us on Sunday mornings, for me those mornings are some of the most meaningful connections I make.
We were led by a story of the disciples crossing the sea of Galilea and Peter asking Jesus to tell him to come to him, Peter then took a step of faith and walked across the water to Jesus. This story was a demonstration of what it means to have faith, to take risks in life to follow God. That taking those risks and following God leads us to the divine.
I can say that in the past I have for sure jumped in and took risks. I have always been one to put my faith in God to get us through tough times, most often the struggles in the past have been financially. Today I realized even more connections of where that faith and jump has led me. I jumped into a career that seemed to be pulling at me and just felt like the right move for me, that God was calling me there. With that however, meant a pay cut, a part time job and really, little room for advancement. But I knew I needed to do it and looking back I can see how God has provided for us through that time. And now, finally leading us to more financial security as we have entered our 30’s. With the storms I have been faced with recently I made more connections today of how God has led me to this path. I was led to working in a career with addictions, I was taken into a path to learn empathy for situations I could not relate to, I developed a passion for what I do and with learning how addiction has impacted my family I feel this is the path I needed to be on to get through the storm I am facing. Had I not jumped into this career and trusted God, I may have sunk in this storm. As much as I know about addiction and how it impacts families, I can picture myself going down another path had I not had the supports in place that I do, had I not learned about addiction as I have.
“We lose sight of Jesus and begin to sink.”- Pastor R.
I can see times where I could have started to sink; I am always thankful that I have never fully lost sight of God. This statement could lead me to a spiral of what if’s, what if I didn’t learn about addiction, what if I had learned about the impact it has had for my family when I was much younger, what if I didn’t have supports in place or a loving husband, what if I had ever experimented with substances – where would that have left me. Fortunately I feel God has put me where I need to be and I don’t dwell on the what if’s. I feel blessed to be where I am at in my life because I never understand why one person’s journey is harder than anothers. I agree with Pastor R this morning when he said “the best decision we can make is to go, go and follow Jesus!” We need to “Just Jump!”
We were then asked “what are you needing to take the risk in yet? The risk to tust and follow Jesus.” One thing in my life I am most contemplating with is my career and the long term path of finances, stability, getting a masters, do I need more money, should I be content? I mean after all I know God led me to this path, so if he put me here should I be content? I finally thought of this a new way today, that maybe I had to “just jump” to get the knowledge I needed, to learn the empathy I needed, to find the supports I needed to get me through this personal storm. But, maybe in the long run I can still take another path, that God may stear me somewhere else, that I may need to “just jump” again when the time comes, even if I am afraid. That maybe I need to “just jump”more when it comes to facing things head on, especially conflict, because I can definitely shy away from conflict. I mean it is very uncomfortable.
Whatever we are doing in life, if we are following Jesus and not just mimicking the motions, we should be jumping. Jumping all in and trusting the path God takes us in.