Your Inner Superhero

It probably won’t come as a surprise that my favorite super hero growing up was Wonder Woman – both the Lynda Carter live action version and the Saturday morning cartoon version on The Super Friends. Wonder Woman was glamorous and smart and could more than hold her own among men. I can remember playing super heroes with my siblings and friends and always being on the hunt for a stray piece of rope to serve as my lasso of truth – I remember being certain that if I could find an actual lasso of truth it would be the coolest thing ever.

I looked up the definition of “superhero” on dictionary.com. It says, “a hero, especially in children’s comic books and television cartoons, possessing extraordinary, often magical powers.” Now, I don’t mean to criticize their definition, however I don’t think this one is correct. It’s not inaccurate; it’s just incomplete. Superheroes are more than just extraordinary, super-powered, exceptionally skilled people. Superheroes are superheroes because they utilize their abilities within a specific context to help in a specific way. I don’t care what the superpower may be, whether it is flying, fighting, webbing, running, super strength, or anything else. If a hero isn’t using that power in a specific context to help in a specific way, then they’re just a person. Having superpowers is one thing, but it takes action to make one a hero.

So what is it about super heroes that resonates so strongly with generation upon generation of people? Sure the super powers are amazing – who doesn’t want super-strength, the ability to fly or laser vision? But it’s deeper than that. I believe that we all have the capacity to be superheroes. I believe that we all have the super powers of heart, courage, wisdom and hope. Each and every one of us has the capacity to dig deep and find our own inner superhero.

Every person walking this earth, both those near and far—can have tremendous power in our lives: the power to speak words that lift us up or ones that crush us beneath their weight,
to reinforce our belonging or magnify our isolation,
 to be the one remaining thread we hang by or the straw that finally breaks us.

It can be easy to focus only on the doubters, the discouragers, the hope stealers, the dream killers. Their presence can be so loud and so disheartening and so disruptive, that it can sap us of our resolve and obscure the sun from view. In a superhero analogy, those people and situations are the evil villains.

But there are radiant people of brilliant light among us, and I am trying to make sure I see them and treasure them; these ordinary superheroes who are daily reminding me of the good in this world.

This week I looked and I noticed them everywhere.

The families in my church who packed sack lunches for the children in a local summer program,  the dozens of people who donated to the food drive my daughter and her girl scout troop just completed, the local school district and library who are making sure no child has to be hungry this summer by providing free lunches to all children every weekday this summer, the city work crew who halted the street work in front of our church during a memorial service, the 2 teenage boys I watched push an elderly gentleman’s car to safety after it stalled in the middle of an intersection, the friend who looked at me and seeing I was feeling overwhelmed gave me a hug and some words or reassurance.

We need to see the superheroes; to recognize the people who carry us, who lift us, who steady us when we are overcome by all that feels so very wrong. Each of us reach moments when we find ourselves crushed under the weight of a world that can so often be “too much”. When we allow enough space in those moments for people to show us  compassion and decency and love and courage; we allow enough space for an everyday superhero to save us. They swoop into our living rooms, news feeds, and peripheral vision at just the right time, and remind us that we are not in this life alone.

Sometimes that can be enough.

On the rough days we need to let ourselves be saved by someone else; to let another’s reassuring presence rescue us, to allow their lives to be the catalyst for our hope in those moments when hope is hard to come by.

And the truth is, we all have this same potentially saving power. Because of this, we need to continue to speak and care and love and forgive, and do our work and raise our families and live well, and look into the eyes of strangers and to ask how they are and really want to know—because other people are watching us and counting on us. For someone else, we might be the difference in the day.

So look around you today and take note of the people who are sustaining you; those who through humor, goodness, talent, empathy, or righteous anger, show you heroic things and give you the strength to go on. Look carefully at the good people crossing your path and you may notice a cape trailing behind.

See the superheroes who are saving you, and be encouraged.

Back to Wonder Woman. At some point I “outgrew” her the same way I outgrew other fictional heroines of my childhood. She always remained my “favorite superhero”, but I never spent anytime as an adult really thinking about her and what she represents. That all changed last weekend when we had a family movie date to see the new Wonder Woman movie. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. Hopefully I am not spoiling it for those who have yet to see it, but Wonder Woman’s closing words of the movie are a testament to the power of love – the greatest superpower each and everyone us possesses. The super power that we can use to change our world each and every day.

“I USED TO WANT TO SAVE THE WORLD. TO END WAR AND BRING PEACE TO MANKIND. BUT THEN, I GLIMPSED THE DARKNESS THAT LIVES WITHIN THEIR LIGHT. AND I LEARNED THAT INSIDE EVERY ONE OF THEM, THERE WILL ALWAYS BE BOTH. A CHOICE EACH MUST MAKE FOR THEMSELVES. SOMETHING NO HERO WILL EVER DEFEAT. AND NOW I KNOW, THAT ONLY LOVE CAN TRULY SAVE THE WORLD. SO I STAY, I FIGHT, AND I GIVE, FOR THE WORLD I KNOW CAN BE.”

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Too Much!

One day last week I spent sometime updating calendar. There were at least a dozen things – some work related, some volunteer related, some kid related – that I knew were happening, but had not yet made it onto the calendar. I am generally pretty good about getting things down on the calendar as soon as they are scheduled, so it was unusual for me to have to actually make the time to do a calendar update. As soon as it was done, I realized why all of those things had not made it onto the calendar….there is just too much happening in the next month.

That same afternoon I was chatting with a friend at school pick up. A friend who I have seen quite infrequently recently because we both have too much on our plates. I told her about my time spent updating the calendar and how i had decided that if I just didn’t look at it, then none of it was real. We laughed.

Later in the week, the subject of the calendar came up with my husband. We operate off a shared Google calendar, so he gets notifications overtime I put something on the calendar. That day I did my major update, he got a separate notification for each of the dozen or so events I created on the calendar. He joked to somebody that there is just too much on that calendar which functions as our shared brain. But there’s more truth than humor in that statement.

Too much. Even though I have become so much better at learning to say no, there is still too much. Some of it is ongoing – the work meetings and events, sports practices, therapy appointments, medication checks, orthodontist visits, and  tutor appointments are all things that take up space on the calendar on a regular cycle. Some of it is seasonal – year end awards ceremonies, scout events, performances, track meets and parties are all taking up space but will soon give way to the more open calendar of summer break. That calendar is really not vastly different than many other families, but lately when I look at it, instead of seeing the individual events, I just see too much.

And what do I do with too much? I power through. But sometimes powering through comes at a cost, as I was reminded this past weekend.

Saturday morning I woke up feeling mentally tired (my normal these days), but physically fine. By the time I had showered and headed out for a day full of work events, I noticed that my back was a little sore. I proceeded to stand on my feet for the next few hours, and when I finally sat down I realized that my back was actually very sore. Another two hours passed as I sat in a meeting and then drove home. By the time I pulled into my driveway the soreness in my back had become full blown pain. As that afternoon and evening progressed, the pain became worse and worse.

My husband asked me what I had done to hurt myself. My answer – nothing. I didn’t do anything. I could not put my finger on any one act of lifting or bending or moving that had caused strain to my back. His response to that – perhaps it was my body sending me a message that I needed to slow down from the too much. He also pointed out that I can’t take care of anybody else, if I am out of commission myself.

So my body sent a warning shot – a pretty painful warning shot, but one that I am already mostly recovered from physically (thanks to a couple days of rest, ice and ibuprofen). All of those things that combine to be the too much are still on the calendar (in fact a couple more things were added just today), but on most days there is time in between the things that are the too much. And it is how I choose to fill (or not fill) those moments that contribute to or take away from my own physical and mental well being. It’s not all of those dates on the calendar that are causing my strain, it’s my own inability (or unwillingness) to use the time in between to care for myself. So as I lay on an ice pack and drifted off to sleep last night, I made myself a promise to pay more attention to my own needs and make the time to care for those needs. There is very little of the too much that I can actually rid from our lives right now. What I can do is add something to make  the too much feel a little easier….

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Life is tough…But so are you

Recently a very brave friend has been struggling, and sharing her struggle publicly on Facebook. In recent days she has shared, through words and pictures, that she is feeling vulnerable and broken.  My guess is her posts are making many people uncomfortable, but I see so much strength in her candor and her willingness to share her brokenness with the world.

One day this week, I commented on one of her posts to let her know I am thinking of her, praying for her, and cheering her on. My comment was – One minute at a time. One hour at a time. One day at a time. Whatever it takes to get you through. Her response was one of thanks, but in that she referred to me as “wonder woman”. And I cringed.  I am not a wonder woman.

I am a broken woman who is struggling in my own way each and learning to live my own advice – One minute at a time. One hour at a time. One day at a time. I share my story not from a place of strength, but from a place of vulnerability. Sharing makes me stronger, but I am really no wonder woman. Certainly no more of a wonder woman than my friend. She is brave and candid and something of a wonder in her own right.

In sharing her story, she is definitely helping herself. But more than that she is helping to open a dialogue about an often hidden reality for most people – the reality that no matter how strong we may appear to the world, we are in fact all a little broken. By sharing her story, she is stepping into the light and shouting, “Hey world! Look at me! I am struggling right now, but that is not where the story has to end. And if you are struggling too, know that you are not alone!”

By sharing her story, she is making space for others to share their own stories. In her brokenness there is beauty and light and strength. She is a wonder and an inspiration.

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This is Why..

This is a post I have been pondering for quite some time. Truth be told, I’ve written it dozens of times in my head, but hesitated to send the words out into the world. Why? Because as much as I KNOW this post isn’t about any one person, I am pretty certain that there are people in my life who will think this is about them. But it’s not. It’s not about any single person, or any single incident. It is about setting the record straight for anybody and everybody who doesn’t understand why I am sharing our family journey – and that group of people does include some extended family and friends.

So if you are reading this and include yourself among my extended family and friends, please believe me when I say this is not about you. And with that out of the way….

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We are quickly coming up on the first anniversary of We’re All A Little Broken. What started out as a way for me to first process my own thoughts and emotions, quickly became a way for me to provide a peek into our lives in an attempt to help loved ones understand our reality. In the early days of the blog,  my solitary goal was just to help family and friends understand the day to day challenges in our house. But somewhere along the way, the little blog bloomed into a small community of people all over the world who are reading my words and finding some meaning. Somewhere along the way, our story began to resonate….with those who read and can see a similarity to their own family in us, with those who read and see the struggles and triumphs of their own loved one in my son or my daughter, with those who read and are having their own perspective shifted, with those who read and sigh with relief to know that they are not alone on the journey.

Time and again this past year, I have been overwhelmed by the positive response to We’re All A Little Broken. But it hasn’t been all positive. There are people who have questioned my intent, and even some who have wondered out loud if I might be opening my kids up to ridicule by sharing our story. There were enough of these questions, that I actually spent time really wondering if I am being helpful or harmful. And while I do share openly about the challenges we face in our family – autism spectrum disorder, childhood mental illness, learning disorders, fibromyalgia – I do not over share. I do not tell the stories that feel too fragile.  I take great care to balance out the raw and broken bits of our story with the beauty that is found in our day to day reality. And the people who are beside me in this day to day reality – my husband, son and daughter – are all incredibly supportive of me telling our story. So do I think  I am doing harm by sharing our story? Absolutely not.

I know that there will always be people – both in my personal life and in the world in general – who will never understand the intent and message in my words. And that’s okay. I’m not writing for them. I am writing for me. But more than that, I write for the people out there who do understand the intent and message in my words.

I write for my son, who can’t always find the words himself to express his experiences or feelings, but he reads my blog and tells me how proud he is that his story can help other kids.

I write for my daughter, who is already an amazing force for good in this world and I hope that she find some inspiration in my journey as she charts her own path.

I write for my husband, who is my partner, ally and greatest supporter in this life we didn’t expect.

I write for the childhood friend who has confided her own son’s struggles that in many ways mirror my son’s challenges.

I write for the high school friend who has shared her daughter’s challenging journey with me.

I write for the college friend who talked with me about her own hunches and fears on the eve of the first in a series of diagnostic appointments for her young son.

I write for the friend who’s adolescent nephew has been recently hospitalized as he battles with depression.

I write for the woman I have never met, who sent me a message thanking me for words that helped her feel that her family was not alone in their own struggle.

I write for all of the parents and caregivers who are searching for answers.

I write for all of the family and friends who are trying to understand and wanting to be supportive.

I write because the raw and broken parts of our lives are as real and formative and important as the beautiful parts of our lives.

And I will continue writing as long as somebody out there continues reading.

Choosing Grace

Should.

That’s a trigger word for me. I know I use it with myself too much, but I make an extreme effort to not use with it other people. In my opinion, “should” feels critical or judgmental. It diminishes the possibility that there is more than one “right” way to do or be or feel. Should lacks empathy and limits perspective. It is a word that has the ability to make a person feel small and question their choices. It is not a positive word.

Clearly I have an opinion on this. But why?

I am my own worst critic. Truly I am harsh on myself. There have been periods in my life when I constantly and consistently “should-ed” everything I did or said, or didn’t do or say. Those were seasons of self doubt. Hand in hand with the shoulds I put upon myself,  I would also absorb the shoulds that that world put upon me.

Life and time and age bring the gift of perspective, if we are open to receiving. Thankfully, those long seasons of self-doubt are somewhere back in my younger days (along with big hair and questionable fashion choices). That’s not to say that I don’t still occasionally slip a “you should” into my own self-talk, but it does mean that I am infinitely better at not allowing the shoulds of the world color my perspective or choices. It also means that I try really hard to not limit the perspective or choices of others – I’m not perfect, but I am certain that should is not a word that passes my lips toward another person very often.

Bottom line? Should removes the space in which grace – toward myself and others – can thrive. And instead of choosing to live by should, I have chosen to live with grace. Dozens of times each day, my inner voice reminds me “Grace in. Grace out.” When I remember to treat myself with grace and treat others with grace, I counteract the shoulds. Living with grace means allowing for possibility and perspective and choices. Living with grace means allowing for mistakes and second chances.

As a parent, wife, daughter, sibling and friend – instead of choosing should, I choose grace. With my voice and my actions – instead of choosing should, I choose grace. In a world that is becoming increasingly divided – instead of choosing should, I choose grace.

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Too Peopley!

I woke up this morning and for the first time in months, realized that there was nowhere to be, nobody who needed me, and nothing that had to be done. Bliss!

I am an introvert, who lives a life that is undoubtedly more suited to an extrovert. My world is super people-y. Much of that is by choice –  I chose a career that is people-centric, volunteering in my kids’ school and writing this blog. Throw in balancing a partner and one child who are extroverts with another child who is both introverted and struggles with anxiety and life lived at full speed has a tendency to catch up with me.

This week, life caught up with me. I have been feeling physically and emotionally exhausted. So when I realized that my Friday off was actually a Friday off for the first time in months, I excitedly planned for a day that would look something like this (but substitute the pizza with leftover curry chicken that I cooked for dinner earlier in the week)…

But that adage about making plans and God laughing? That is a running theme in my life in ways both big and small. I spoke out loud my intent to recharge by avoiding the world today, and within moments I heard from my daughter “The cat is spraying and it looks like there is blood.”

It sounds awful to admit it, but I was SO RESENTFUL of the fact that nowhere to be, nobody who needed me, and nothing that had to be done had turned into someplace to be, because somebody needed me, and it really could not be put off until later. Yup. I was resentful of an elderly cat who clearly needed to see the vet. Not my finest moment.

And it wasn’t just one moment, it was several moments of my loudly lamenting that my plans of hiding from the world had been ruined. Honestly, I was pretty irrational for about 15 minutes. But I pulled it together, because that cat is as much a part of our family as any of the people who live in the house. And we love her. And we show up for those that we love. So off to the vet we went,  and of course my whole day wasn’t ruined – it took less than 90 minutes from the time we left the house until the time we were back.

The moral of the story – I clearly need to be doing a better job of self care and carving out people-free zones in my life.

And the P.S. to the story – I typed this blog post while snuggled under a cosy blanket with the cat snuggled in sleeping next to me. I am getting my planned day after all!

I Believe in Santa Claus

I adore Christmas. To me, Christmas has the ability to bring out the best in people. Christmas  is equal parts magic, wonder, joy and love – all things this world could use more of on regular basis. The stories of both the birth of Jesus and of Santa Claus fill my heart and my soul.  I love the decorations, the special traditions at church and home, the choosing, wrapping and giving of gifts, the tastes and the smells. But most of all, I love the music of Advent and Christmas – the church carols, the traditional secular songs, the modern versions of traditional songs, the corny and sappy songs made famous in Christmas cartoons. I love all of it.

Growing up, my mom had a “rule” about when it was acceptable to  pull out and start listening to the family collection of Christmas music. The record albums and tapes (first 8-tracks and then cassettes!) were off limits until the day after Thanksgiving. But once we reached that magical day after Thanksgiving, it was pretty much all Christmas music all the time. This “rule” has stuck with me through life, and for the most part I still follow it today. I adore Christmas music, but it loses it’s magic when you listen to it too far ahead of the season!

My “favorites” have changed over the years. While I still appreciate and enjoy almost any version of Santa Claus is Coming to Town or The First Noel and , my favorite albums tend to change from year to year and are somewhat reflective of how life has shaped me over the course of a given year. Right now I have an eclectic mix of Christmas albums that I’m listening to in heavy rotation – Vince Guaraldi Trio, Rend Collective, Jewel, Francesca Battistelli , Straight No Chaser, Lady Antebellum, and Pentatonix have been playing on my phone in the car and in my office pretty much nonstop. There’s some really amazing stuff on these albums – some that is soul stirring and some that is just joyful and fun to belt out in the car.

While those have been my go to albums this season, there were a couple of times this past week when I got in the car, tuned to one of the Christmas stations on the XM radio, and was greeted by an oldie but goodie from my childhood. It is a song I hadn’t thought about in years, but was one in my mom’s frequent rotation for a good part of the ’80s & ’90s.

That song is “I Believe in Santa Claus” written by Kenny Rogers, and recorded by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton in 1984.

The first time I heard it on the radio this week, it brought back a flood of childhood Christmas memories. It was warm and fuzzy and lovely. The second time I heard it on the radio this week, I really listened to the lyrics and was blown away by the fact that the lyrics speak to not just what I love about Christmas, but also about what I fundamentally believe in as a person.

I am particularly struck by the last verse of the song:

I believe in viewing life
As a journey that we’re on
And looking at our troubles
As another stepping stone.

And I believe that everything
That it is what it’s meant to be
I believe there is a God somewhere
Although he’s hard to see.

I believe I am so therefore
I should do all that I can
To be a better piece
In the puzzle of God’s plan.

And I believe in Santa Claus
I believe in Santa Claus
I believe there’s always hope
When all seems lost.
I believe in Santa Claus.

So very much YES! These lyrics capture what I love about Christmas. The words inspire  magic, wonder, joy and love. But they go deeper than that. The lyrics also capture the essence of how I view the world, how I try to live in the world and how I hope to inspire my kids to live in the world as well.

I do believe that we can reap the most good out of the bumpiest parts of our life journey. I do believe that everything happens for a reason. I do believe that God is everywhere and in everyone (although I don’t agree with the premise in the lyrics that God is hard to see – He really is everywhere if you just look for Him). I do believe that we all have an obligation to go out and do all the good we possibly can in our own way each and every day. I do believe there’s always hope. Kenny Rogers was spot on with these lyrics.

I do believe in Santa Claus!

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