In my last post, I reflected upon my year and celebrated the good. In order to set achievable and meaningful goals for the next year, Lara Casey leads us (in her Part 2 post) to also determine the aspects of our lives that we’d like to cultivate, as well as the lessons learned from the not-so-good moments of our past.
The two main areas of my life in which I’d like to cultivate, or develop, include (1) becoming a stronger and more consistent source of encouragement for others and (2) re-establishing my connection with my husband, Jordan.
I had gotten on quite a roll with sharing energizing affirmation with others over the course of my summer, as well as the months leading up to it. However, I’ve lost so much momentum in multiple areas of my life ever since the combination of taking time off from illustrating & creating & journaling (due to wrist pain) AND losing Hank. Our new pup, Tate, has restored so much hope and brought us so much joy – please know this to be true. He’s exactly what we and our home needed. However, there’s a part of me that’s still lost. I want to get back to being the source of joy and encouragement that I was before September hit – and also… back to being the wife that I was then, too. I’ve learned that in losing something that I love AND someone that I love, it’s become difficult to connect – and therefore difficult to love (- except for with Taters, for some reason… Ah, can someone explain that? Why has it become so easy to connect again with a pup, yet so difficult to find connection with humans? I’m thinking it must stem from all of the things I learned in Hank’s passing – all of the things that hit me so hard, at once. The level of dependability and depth of loyal companionship, for example, that I found in him, that no human could replace).
Anyway, as mentioned in relation to the areas of my life in which I’d like to cultivate, I identify the hard things of my past year as being the onset of wrist pain, losing Hank, and figuring out how to do marriage post-crisis. Bear with me as I attempt to determine the lessons learned from these not-so-fun times.
(1) Wrist Pain – During the month of July I received and completed my (physically) largest order of two 2ft-by-4ft canvases, filled with the lyrics from my customer’s first dance. I had been so nervous about it, especially since my customer chose a specific custom “font” for me to mimic with my handlettering and had an interior designer who specified a shade of white needed for the backgrounds that did not get sold as a color of acrylic paint in stores. My (dominant, right) hand trembled as I spent two days sketching the words onto paper, and then trembled some more for the next three days as I drafted and then painted second coats on the actual canvases. Upon finishing them, I was so pleased to see that I DID IT! I couldn’t believe how nice I thought they looked – as I (like most) am usually such a critic of my work. Yet, also upon finishing them, I realized that my hand was continuing to tremble… and even ached. In the middle of the night – for many, many nights – I woke to my whole arm being numb. I videotaped the way that my wrist shook every time I extended my wrist… and began to worry. I iced it, purchased a brace, and decided to put my hand on “bed rest” until the school year started – as my “day job” of working with students as an occupational therapist heavily relied upon the functioning of my right hand. By the time the year kicked off, I thought I was good-to-go; I hadn’t had much pain in those final days of August. But – as soon as I began writing, coloring, and cutting with my preschoolers – the intensity of pain shot right back up. I finally saw a doctor who specializes in hands – and the results of my visit inidicated tendonitis; the only solution was to rest.
Ugh, I can’t really say that I’m thankful for the pain, but I can admit the lessons learned. For one, I learned the importance of rest. In order to be able to do what I love, I must plan for and prioritize resting my hand between sessions of high-focused use of it. In addition, I’ve learned through the loss of the ability to engage in journaling, coloring, and painting, just how much I truly enjoy it. Finally, I also learned to actively trust in My God and to lay my plans at His feet. Perhaps He was trying to show me that His plans for me don’t revolve around my “creations,” and that rather my “creations” were to remain as simple, personal inspirations for the more important things He has in mind. Maybe, too, the purpose of the pain was to slow me down – to keep me from running too far ahead of Him, and from forgetting to rely on Him as my ultimate inspiration. I’m still not sure, but I’m thankful for the opportunity to let go and be led.
(2) Losing Hank – Hank was our fur companion for nine years. His full-but-too-short life ended pretty suddenly in September of this last year. You can read his story here. I just re-read it myself, and the tears re-surfaced yet again. As I shared in my story about bringing home Tate, I do truly believe that God uses our pain for good – when we allow Him to do so. By losing Hank, we had a reason to open our hearts and our home to another. In addition to restoring our hope, Tate’s hope was restored as well.
By losing Hank, I learned how much I loved him. Without him being at my feet, I realized how often he had been. In not having him around, I realized how much I had depended on him. In the guilt that I felt for not being as good of a dog mom as he had deserved, I learned the ways to be better, do better, and love better next time. By taking the time to reflect on how good, purely good, he was – I learned from him. His loyal dependability, consistently-excited greetings, easy contentment (found in simply being in the presence of his pack), and his selflessness (in giving of himself – all that he had – in spite of his own pain) – these are some of the lessons I’ve learned from his loss. By reflecting on what a great dog he was, I’m thankful for the opportunity to be a better human.
(3) Doing Marriage Post-Crisis – Jordan and I relied on each other heavily in Hank’s last days, as well as after we lost him. We were a team. But, it’s the moving forward part that’s been tricky. For me, anyway. I do feel that our recent disconnect is because of me. To be honest, it’s as if some of the lessons gained in Hank’s loss evolved into a decreased need for humans. I know, I know – I NEED humans, especially my husband – but really, truly… I’ve been having a difficult time connecting with anyone, other than Tate (as alluded to earlier in this post). It’s as though my heart subconsciously concluded that dogs are better than people, and therefore cut itself off from feeling for people. #Geesh #GoodDoseOfVulnerabilityHere
I’m not sure what all of the lessons will be from this one. Though, I have learned the need to stop and consciously prioritize Jordan over Tate upon returning home after school, by greeting him with a hug & a kiss and asking about his day – before ear rubs are given. Granted, the physical routine will likely change back to ear rubs first – once my heart follows my mind’s lead and begins to naturally prioritize appropriately ;-) However, I’m beginning to think that all of this is good practice for when human children arrive! Maybe the connection with Tate is due to a maternal instinct that’s kicked in for the first time, and I’m just needing time and focused effort to figure out how all of these pieces go together. Also, hopefully through this weirdness I’ll learn the needs that humans – primarily, my spouse – fulfill(s), of which dogs are incapable. Maybe? Hopefully. For now, I’ll trust in The One who holds our marriage in His hands. I know we’ll make it through this rough patch. It’s not that it’s even rough, it’s just different. It’s a season different than any we’ve yet experienced. I’m thankful for the opportunity that seasons such as these give us to grow stronger & more resilient together as a couple, as well as the ability to more fully embrace & enjoy the seasons of ease.
To further expand our gratitude, Lara leads us to acknowledge the people in our lives who, specifically over the past year, have made the good stuff possible, and the not-so-good times a little easier to endure. So here I thank…
My husband, Jordan – Oh my goodness, my life is the amount of fun and goodness that it is because of him. He pushes me to do the things that I love, purchases the supplies needed to do so, and expresses his belief in me. In addition, he’s the one who comes up with all of the ideas to go and do together! Such as this year, our impromptu trip to Virginia Beach and our first experiences with Airbnb. Finally, he’s the one who’s helped me find balance. He encouraged me to start seeing Carol a couple of years ago, but along the way has worked with me to apply the things that I learn with her. He answers my distraught phone calls when he’s at work, without complaint – and calms me to sleepytown. In addition, he’s been so patient throughout my grief over Hank, and my (slow) attempt to reestablish normalcy in our relationship. Gosh, he’s the best. (Thank you, Lara, for giving me a reason to stop and reflect on his goodness!)
My friend, Meredith – Together, we’ve been doing an ongoing blog-of-sorts through google docs as we read devotionals across different states. She’s allowed me to be my completely raw self – and has celebrated with me in the good, and encouraged me on in the not-so-good. She, too, is patient with me – especially during this weird phase. She knows when to be direct with me, as well as when to be gentle. For her and the growth & deepening of our friendship, I’m especially thankful this year.
My therapist, Carol – I actually haven’t seen Carol as much this year. Rather, she’s deemed me “healthy” and permits my coming & going as needed for “touch-ups.” But this year especially, I’ve reaped the benefits of all of the time and work she’s given and done with me. (Yes, yes – I’ve seen her since Hank’s passing and she coached me on my need to be patient with myself, to simply BE in the state that I am and allow myself the time needed to grieve). Anyway, I’m so thankful God guided me to her when He did – and for the self-discovery that’s taken place with her help, allowing me to experience the firsts, memory-making, and balance that this year brought me.
My dog-loving people (My dad, The Neighborhood Crew, Trisha & Kevin, Abby, Lisa, Karen, so many co-workers, and many of YOU) – Thank you so much for loving Hank, selflessly & geuinely meeting us in our pain, welcoming Tate, and selflessly & genuinely meeting us in our joy. I don’t have the words to thank you appropriately.
My online friends, aka… YOU! – Thank you, thank you, thank you for being such a HUGE reason behind all of my firsts (explained in my previous post) – by challenging me to try new things, and for joining right alongside me in all of our vacationing adventures with your comments and our dialogue, and for being an inspiration for me to keep finding balance and experiencing growth. Thank you for your words of encouragement and affirmation throughout the ups and downs of the year. I am so thankful for the community, sense-of belonging, and friendship – yes, friendship – I’ve found among all of you, online ;-)
Thankful, thankful, thankful – even after devoting a couple of hours to the worst parts of my year! It’s so neat, how gratitude works. By stopping and thinking about the lessons learned from not-so-happy experiences, I can look forward to the year ahead with confidence in that, come what may, lessons will continue to be learned amidst the pain and therefore, growth will continue as well.
Today’s Encouragement – Don’t let your states of brokenness from 2016 jade your year, and don’t be afraid of the states of brokenness that lie ahead. Sit and reflect on them – determine the lessons that can be learned from them. And let those lessons learned allow you to shine :)