My Easter Journey – An Evolution in Faith

Easter is all about Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, his death, and his resurrection.  It seems like I’ve heard the story hundreds of times. I know I am supposed to feel thankful. Supposed to. There are those words again. When you are grieving it seems like you do everything the opposite of what you are “supposed to” do. Easter was no exception for me.

Last year was my first Easter without Steve. Yes, I put on a brave face. Yes, I did the Easter egg hunts, Easter bunny visits, and most importantly, we attended church. I’m being honest here…I wasn’t happy. I was mad. I was angry. Most of all, I was jealous. Yes, jealous. Why couldn’t Steve rise from the dead? Why couldn’t I have him back? He was truly an angel on this Earth – a person that lived his life for others. Why did he have to die when so many other people get to live?

I tried to listen to the words of the Easter story. What I heard was a different story than previous years. Loss and grief change everything – even stories you have heard hundreds of times. As the tears started to flow in church I knew I couldn’t take any more. I did what I have done so many times – block out my surroundings, retreat into myself, and do everything possible to change my thoughts to avoid a complete breakdown in public. What people see on the outside looks “normal”. Those that truly look can probably see the complete lack of emotion in my eyes or the struggle to contain the tears. This was my Easter last year.

I’ve had a lot of opportunities this past year to reflect on Jesus rising from the dead. I feel like I have come full circle. The Easter story has come to mind numerous times throughout this year. It bothered me to be jealous of Jesus – how could I have that in my heart??  I’ve taken the time to reflect.

This year, I am thankful. A small piece of me is still jealous at the thought of resurrection – but Jesus didn’t just rise and return to Earth. No. He returned and then ascended into Heaven so we may all have eternal life. Without Easter, there would be no heaven for Steve. He couldn’t watch over us – and I know he does. I still get signs that he is there and I will tell you I am a much better person because of it. The decisions I make align with the life we had, the lessons he taught me, and the type of person he was. Steve truly lived his life. He is with us every single day.

I believe in Heaven. I believe I will see Steve again. And, I am thankful for the events in the Easter story. I’m thankful our Lord gave his son so we may all have everlasting life.

1 Corinthians 15:14-20 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised... Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead…reference

The holidays are never easy for people who live with loss. I was surprised at my feelings last year – and I am also equally surprised at how my thinking has come full circle. I’m surprised how much I thought about it – without prompting, without picking up a bible, and without focusing on making a change within myself. This was clearly something that existed in my heart – and when I allowed myself to listen to my heart, I already knew the truth. When I attend Easter service this weekend I will be attending with thanks, love, and gratefulness in my heart.

I hope sharing this story helps someone else feel just a little more “normal” – no matter where you fall on the emotional spectrum during this time.

What is the most challenging holiday for you?

Writing Chapter 2: My First Year of Dating as a Widow

8254344229_cc4e945c10I have surpassed the one year anniversary of stepping into a new relationship – chapter two if you will.

Stepping forward into a chapter 2 is scary, regardless of why or how your chapter one ended. Here are five things I learned along my journey.

1. You Will Never Be Ready

There is no “right” time. There is no magic timeline that exists.

If I had not met Jon, I still wouldn’t be ready for a chapter two. It isn’t about the time that’s passed – it’s about the people that come into your life. You are paralyzing yourself if you over-analyze your “readiness.” Be with people that make you happy – that is what life is truly about.

2. Be Confident

Confidence is hard to come by when the world as you know it disappears. You will never feel like you have enough confidence. The key is to have a clear understanding of what you do and do not want in your future life.

What I wanted was to be happy, to live in the moment, appreciate the people that add joy to my life, and be a good role model for my children. I didn’t know exactly what action I would have to take to get there, but those are the four things I wanted to focus on for the rest of my life.

When you are starting a second chapter, there will be people that actively support you, and unfortunately, there will be people that do not. Be confident in who you are. Understand why this person is important enough to invite into your life.

For me it was relatively simple – he made me smile and he gave me the gift of his time when I needed a friend. Cling to that knowledge when people doubt you.

3. People Will Surprise You

The surprise could be very good – there are some wonderful, kind, caring, and compassionate people in this world. The surprise could also be negative, because there are also people that are judgmental and those that believe widows “should” be doing/not doing certain things on a timeline.

You will be surprised where people fall on the spectrum. Just remember that their response is a reflection of them, not you. Refer to #2 – and have confidence in yourself!

4. Get to Know Your Chapter Two

Take the time to get to know him/her as a person. They are not your chapter one. There are many things I miss about Steve, but there are also many different things I love about Jon. There are new traits to appreciate, and it is okay to miss what you don’t have – just don’t let missing that something take away from the great things you do have.

No two people are the same, and no one is perfect. What is important is your ability to appreciate and enjoy your chapter two for all the positive things they add to your life. They will never take anything away from your chapter one – that chapter was written, and the words cannot change – for better or for worse.

5. Be Open to New Conversations

As I said above, a chapter two relationship is very different from a chapter one. People don’t go through life expecting to ever have the chapter two experience – you go through life hoping to find “the one” to spend your entire life with. When that doesn’t happen you are left trying to figure out how to piece together a life that you never imagined.

There may be kids, exes, extra in-laws, and grief to work through. There are new “meet the parents” moments and families are dynamic to say the least! Your chapter two may be going through their own loss or life transition, and you will need to support them just as they should be supporting you. You will wade through conversations that you never imagined, but having those conversations is the key to developing a strong long term relationship.

In Conclusion

Transitioning from chapter one to chapter two has been a journey of personal development for me. Developing confidence in my ability to survive without Steve, and being a strong role model for our children has not come without challenges and a lot of self-doubt.

This past year has had a lot of ups, downs, and major life changes. There were many tears, but also so many moments of happiness. Life is never easy, but I have learned that adversity makes a person appreciate life just a little more.

This year has made me into the person I am today – happy, confident, and optimistic about the future. I guess that can happen twice ;)!

If you have a chapter two, what else would you add to this list?

Photo Credit: Chiew Pang via Compfight cc

Homecoming

SunsetWho says you can’t go home? I recently wrote about my decision to move from North Dakota to Iowa. Well, this past week was our first trip back “home” to North Dakota. I struggled. A lot. Even admitting that sucks, but my goal with this blog was to be transparent and help people understand that you are never alone in your journey – whatever your journey is.

I am a person that mentally prepares for challenges. I envision the situation, walk through how I expect it to go in my mind, and then generate an action plan based on that information. This technique has helped me excel in high pressure sports situations, handle tough situations at work, and it has helped me immensely on my grief journey. This technique typically allows me to work through my emotions alone, where I can let my guard down and just let the pain hit me. When people have commented on my “strength”, I feel like a fake because they don’t see all the private struggles and pain that it takes to get to what you see in public. As much as I try to prepare, there have been many situations that I just didn’t expect, situations that I didn’t plan for. In those moments there is no stopping the emotions that hit me. This week just seemed to be full of those moments.

My journey to North Dakota actually started from my parents’ house where we had stopped for the weekend. I wasn’t even 2 miles down the road before the tears started flowing. I was able to control my thoughts occasionally throughout the trip, but reality is that they tears flowed for most of the 5 hour journey. I can’t even tell you why or what I was thinking about specifically. Just when I thought I finally was done with the tears I started down the hill to the town of Valley City, and somehow my body found even more tears. I can’t drive anywhere in that town without thinking of Steve. This is both a comfort and a piercing pain for me, and has been since his death. I am so proud of everything he helped build, and I treasure our memories, but wow, it is hard. After dropping the girls off at their grandparents’ house I went back “home” for the night.

Going Home

Pulling in the driveway at my house was weird. I realized I couldn’t pull into my garage like I always did because the person that is renting my house had his vehicle in there. That difference immediately hit me as I had to decide where to park my vehicle in my own driveway. As I walked into the house for the first time the first thing I noticed was the change in decor. It was my house, but it was different.  There was a deer head on my wall. There were family pictures that weren’t mine placed around the house. It was more than I could comprehend as I was simply emotionally exhausted. I quickly walked to my room – my sanctuary – and was surrounded by a room that was exactly the way I left it. This was my home and yet, it was so empty. I did the only thing I could do – crawl into a cold, empty bed, and pray for sleep.

The next morning was Monday, and I was ecstatic to go back to the factory where I had spent the past 7 years. I couldn’t wait to see some of my favorite people. Putting on jeans and my work boots was a simple thing, but also a special treat after having to don a “corporate” wardrobe in my new home. My workday was great – probably the best Monday I have ever had. I joined the girls for pizza at their favorite pizza joint for supper along with my in-laws. It was fun to catch up and see all the kids play together again. Shortly after it was time for me to head back to my house, alone again. I made it home in time for the sunset, and wow, what a beautiful sunset it was.  I sat on the tailgate for a couple minutes to watch it, and honestly, to just breathe and enjoy the beauty of the land and the sky.

My Moments

The week spent back in Valley City was filled with a roller coaster of emotions. I truly enjoyed spending time with one of my best friends over margaritas. I spent a lot of time each night talking to my friend that is living at my house – having someone to talk to in the house felt good. I spent time in Steve’s shop – packing mainly. I couldn’t help but feel sad that he never got the chance to experience this dream he had, but I also felt a sense of accomplishment at having finished what he started. As I walked between the house and the barn I basked in the calm. The wind wasn’t blowing (a rare treat) and the stillness in the evenings just calmed my soul. I felt like I could breathe. I felt comfort from the familiar surroundings. I stood at the door in my kitchen in the mornings and looked out to see the sun start to rise. In these moments I could see the beauty in the world while looking out on dreams that were lost.

My Message

I went to the accident site and cried in the ditch like I haven’t cried in a long time. I let myself go in a way that I can only do in private. After 20 minutes or so I could start to hear the coyotes howling and the realization of how cold I was set in. I decided to get back into my truck with the heat on, but had no plans to leave. When I turned my truck on, the gas light came on. I knew I had between 1/4 and 1/2 of a tank of fuel. I couldn’t understand what was going on. I thought maybe it was the angle of the truck, so I backed up onto the flat road. The light stayed on. It dawned on me that this may be Steve’s way of getting me to leave this location – a place where the depths of my grief were overwhelming me. I shut the truck off and restarted it – the gas light was still on. I slowly drove back to my house (I didn’t want to run out of gas!). The gas light stayed on. I parked in my driveway, not yet ready to go into the house. I still needed time to pull myself back together. The gas light stayed on. I shut the truck off and turned it back on again. The gas light stayed on. I decided it was a lost cause and figured I had better get myself together quickly before I froze and get into the house. I dried the tears, took a few deep breaths, and walked in the door. The next morning I started up my truck – and saw that I had between 1/4 and 1/2 tank – and I smiled. Steve hated to see me upset in any way. He would frantically try to fix whatever was bothering me. So, Steve, thanks for getting me out of that ditch. Thanks for getting me home safely, and thank you for not letting me linger in the worst part of my reality.

There are times when I need to remember that Steve is always with me. He sends me signs occasionally, and those signs give me comfort, strength, and guidance.

My Takeaways

1. “Home” is about the people more than it is a place. My house never felt like home after Steve died. Going “home” for the first time without Steve made me realize that the house is empty without the love that once existed.

2. You can go back to places that you love, but they will always change and never be what you remembered. Seeing my house after being away for 3 months made me realize how much I missed the memories. There are things I love about the house, but when I look out the windows, I see memories. That is what I really miss. I miss the memories – the moments of the past that will never happen again.

3. I will never have a “forever” home – and I am OK with that. Steve wanted a home for a lifetime and that is what we were hoping to make with some changes to our place. I wanted a home with him for a lifetime, although I was more willing to explore the world a little and come back to our home in Valley City. For Steve, Valley City was home. For me, Steve was home. Every person is different. We had figured out a plan that worked for us. Without Steve, my plan changed. I changed. I know Iowa will not be my forever home, and my version of making a “home” here isn’t about finding the “perfect” place. It is about making perfect memories with my children.

4. There is no amount of time that passes that will ever ease the pain completely. There will always be days that are harder than others. This trip completely exhausted me emotionally. Even when I returned to Iowa I just couldn’t really feel anything  and that is not healthy either. I have to learn how to manage future trips better emotionally.

5. All of this was worth it.

Valley City will always be a home to me. The girls and I took some time to visit the cemetery. Seeing my name on the headstone continues to ground me in the fact that my life really ended the day Steve died, and restarted when I chose to live. A part of me will come back to that place when my time on Earth is done – and that gives me peace as I continue to live the days that I have.

Going “home” was far from easy, but it was good.

10 Life Lessons I learned in Peru

Machu PicchuWe took a bucket list trip to celebrate my chapter 2’s 40th birthday – a milestone that my husband, Steve, did not get to experience. I expected to see some Inkan ruins and learn a little about the Inka culture. What actually happened was an experience in life lessons weaved throughout the history and culture of Peru.

Most people will not have the chance to visit Peru in their lifetime, so I wanted to share the top 10 things I learned about life on this trip.

1. Explore the world around you.

I love to travel. Love it. Peru was never a place I thought I would go, but I am so glad I did! Machu Picchu exists today (as well as most of the world) because people were not afraid to step away from their comfort zone. They were willing to not only take the road less travelled, they created the road. By doing this, they created a history worth remembering.

Create the opportunity to learn about the journey of others – seek it out – you will be surprised what you can learn.

2. Walk

When was the last time you walked somewhere new in your town? We walked an unbelievable amount and by walking we discovered delicious places to eat, neat souvenirs, participated in the local market, and saw incredible Inkan ruins. In Peru, everyone walks – children as young as two can walk longer distances than many American adults. Peruvian adults with children carry them on their backs using a blanket tied around them. People young and old carry items from the market or field to their homes – heavy stuff! The human body is amazing. I am thankful to have a choice whether to walk or not, and just how much I am willing to carry at a time. I’m committed to walking and exploring my new hometown as a family this summer.

3. Find God in your heart

One of the most profound messages I heard from our tour guide was said in passing. In Peru, the Spaniards came and destroyed many Inka structures in an attempt to bring Christianity (Catholicism) to the people. Many Peruvians today practice both Inka traditions and catholic traditions (including our guides). When asked about the blending of cultures, our guide stated, “when you find God in your heart, it does not matter how you worship him. When you truly find God, you will have peace and love in your heart and you will live your beliefs.” The Inka Gods are different than the Christian Gods, but they do not compete in the hearts of Peruvians.

I am a Christian that has struggled to find a church “home” and this perspective was a great reminder that it is much more important to live your life as a reflection of your beliefs than it is to focus on what you need to do to fit a certain mold.

Many people question God when they lose a loved one – believe me, I did! What I quickly realized was that in order to see Steve again I had to believe. If I didn’t believe in Him, then there was no chance of seeing Steve again. I also continue to receive signs that he is around me – these signs have solidified my faith that Steve is always with me. He continues to give me strength and guidance on how to live my life post-loss.

4. Give thanks for the good in your life

The Inka culture uses Shamans (healers) to help them give thanks for what they have in their life. The culture recognizes that everyone has challenges and struggles in life, but there are also many opportunities to give thanks. When a new house or building is constructed, the construction company must have a Shaman blessing with the family or owners before it can be used. If a family purchases a car, they should also have a Shaman blessing for their good fortune. The Inka culture requires a form of meditation (taking the time to reflect) when blessings occur in your life. This could be a house, a child, a job, a new animal or any number of things.

We were able to participate in a Shaman healing ceremony during our trip. The blessing includes gifts to the Gods (these are very small items, but tokens that represent significant beliefs in their culture), but the most profound thing was the 3 coca leaves that each individual receives from the Shaman. There is a leaf that represents a prayer or blessing for oneself, a leaf that requires a prayer or blessing for someone you love, and a leaf that represents a prayer for the pacha mama (mother Earth – this could be something as simple as rain for the crops, clean water, or could be as complex as peace in the world). You breathe life into these prayers by giving a breath over each leaf as they are given back to the Shaman.

Take the time to give thanks for the blessings in your life. When I was at the depths of my grief, the one thing that could bring me out of my black hole was finding something to be thankful for. This takes practice, but practice becomes habit. I plan to focus on developing this more with my daughters. I already ask them “what was your favorite part of today?”, but I have added, “What is one thing you are thankful for today?”. This has led to some adorable dinner discussions!

5. Add Value

In Peru, the expectation is that every person provides value. They have an unemployment rate around 28%, and yet I only had one person ask me for money. One. When was the last time you walked around a US city and only saw one person begging? We have millions of people that plan their lives around government assistance in the US – it is not the same in Peru. Peruvians expect that even those with nothing will add value. These individuals can sell small trinkets and Peruvians will pay more than necessary to help the family. People shine shoes for 1 sol (about $0.32), they wash windows, they knit, they clean. The point is that they must sell or provide some value to the person that is spending the money. Anything less is considered laziness and is seen as disgraceful in their society – they will not contribute to that behavior.

This is one trend I wish America would learn. Life isn’t about handouts. It isn’t about what is fair. Life is what you make it. Everyone has setbacks, challenges, and losses. Some hide it more than others, but we all have struggles. What we do with our time on Earth is what matters. Focus on what you can do in this life to add value to your family and your community. This may be in the form of time, talent, or treasure, but please, please, add value! You are here to make a difference, you are here for a reason – don’t waste it!

6. Help your neighbors and friends.

In Peru, if a person needs help (like a new roof on their house) they will bring bread and some beer (the amount is based on the size of the request) to their friends and family to ask for help with the project. By accepting the bread, the individual commits to providing assistance. Neighbors, friends, and families work together in the fields, in markets, and in their homes.

These practices made me realize that I need to put more effort in to developing these relationships in my new town and be willing to help and be helped when needed.

When Steve died a group of our co-workers (both Grotberg Electric and John Deere) came out to my house to help me finish our barn, repair the horse arena, and help me winterize my house. Their presence meant so much to me as it reminded me of how much Steve was loved by so many, and it lifted a burden off of my shoulders.

Jon and I are planning to pursue opportunities to devote time to local charities along with our children in the Quad Cities. We want to teach them to contribute to the community by being good examples ourselves. Stay tuned – there may be some posts about these adventures!

7. Teach children to contribute

I was amazed at the children of Peru. They are beautiful souls that work hard alongside their parents and relatives. Our guides explained that everyone is expected to contribute (see #5) and it is the parent’s duty to teach children how to work, farm, sell, and buy items. If a parent raises a child that does not contribute, the child is deemed lazy, and the parents are to blame.

We saw children with alpacas on leashes (running around town laughing!) or carrying lambs to allow tourists to take pictures with them for money. We saw 2 and 3 year olds working with their families all day at the markets (and they were very well behaved). We met a 9 and an 11 year old that cleaned the graves at the cemetery for money for their families. I was able to give the children in the cemetary bread as a gift for their families and it was truly humbling to think that bread means so much to them.

Children, especially those from the poorer families, must contribute to the overall success of the family. This in turn teaches the children how to work and survive in the real world. At 5 they know how to safely cross streets alone. They can find their way home. They learn the value of money.

My take away from this is that my children are capable of much more than I ask of them. I need to teach them to contribute to the family more and give them a sense of pride in doing so. They are not too young at ages 4 and 6 – I just need to give up the idea of perfection, and be thankful for the contribution.

8. Honor life with celebrations and remember those that impacted your life

We visited a cemetery to understand the Inka traditions surrounding the loss of loved ones. On the outside of a cemetery was a mural with a celebration. Our guide stated, “Of course we are sad when a loved one dies, but it is our duty to celebrate their life and be happy that they have gone to be with the Gods. We owe it to them to continue to live our life.”

The trip to the cemetery in Peru was hard for me. I missed Steve. At 29, I saw my own headstone – the place that someday will be one of my final resting places.  I worked my way through the grief and sadness the best I could in that moment. I was reminded that my love for Steve is reflected in the way I live my life, how I raise our daughters, and how I remember him every single day. He is with me no matter where in the world I am, and he is always in my heart. I visit Steve in a different way, but just like Peruvians, I take the time to remember and that is the important part.

9. Have fun!

We happened to be in Cusco, Peru for the final day of Carnival. And, wow, what an experience! There are parades and music, dancing, laughter, and fun. Carnival involves people spraying each other with squirt guns, throwing buckets of water on people, covering each other in silly string, and even some shaving cream. There are drive by squirtings…I have never seen so many people having so much fun – adults, children, tourists, and locals. I will say as a tourist *most* of the locals did not try to “get” us. However, it didn’t take long on our walk to get covered in shaving cream, have a water balloon popped by my head and all over me, and get squirted with a water gun. And I laughed, giggled, and just took it all in. What a pleasure to be a part of an event where people genuinely have fun together no matter who you are! It was a great sense of community and it was so humbling to see the people of all societal levels enjoy the camaraderie of each other. Carnival was one of my favorite memories on this trip.

10. Do the unexpected for others.

This trip was humbling in many ways. Our tour guides did so many little things that made a huge difference in our experience, but there are two specific stories I would like to share.

We opted to have a traditional Peruvian supper at the home of a local Peruvian family one night. During the dinner, the question was asked about why we made the trip, and we replied that we came to celebrate a birthday. Raul (one of the tour guides) immediately leaned over to me and asked how to spell Jon’s name. He wrote it down, finished his food quickly, and got up from the table. This was not unusual as he was translating for the host family and us due to the language barrier. Between the main course and the end of dessert, he was able to find a cake, get it personalized, get candles, and communicate with the host family what was going on. How he found one at 8:30pm I will never know! The host family sang the Peruvian version of happy birthday and we sang happy birthday in English immediately afterward. Once the candles were blown out, Raul informed Jon that he had to bite the cake – like bite into the side of it before it could be cut! When he went to do that, Raul pushed his face into the side of the cake – and it was all caught on film. Jon got him back by kissing his cheek with his cake covered face. It was a celebration to remember and my absolute favorite memory of this trip!

The second story was when we left at the airport. Raul pulled us aside and said he wanted to give the two of us a gift. He gave us each a necklace with the cross of life. He stated that he could feel that our hearts had been through a lot of pain (we did not share any part of either of our pasts with people on this trip), and stated that surviving that type of pain makes the heart stronger. He said that he could feel the love that we had for each other, and that a love like ours was a blessing that should be treasured. He gave us the cross of life to remember that when one part of life ends, another begins, and we have an opportunity to still live a great life.

What amazing and profound words from someone that has only known us for a few days – someone that had no clue what either of us has gone through.

There are times in life when you feel blessed, humbled, and thankful for the angels that walk this Earth. I believe Raul was sent to make a difference in our life, and give us a message focused on the strength and power that we have together. There are people that still don’t understand our journey, but that is OK. It isn’t their journey it is ours.

My take-away from this is to look for opportunities to go out of my way for others. I also need to step out of my comfort zone more often and encourage others to live life to the fullest. The day I returned, I recieved an email from a widow looking for someone to talk to. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

Peru was a beautiful country – I can’t even begin to describe it in words and the pictures do not do it justice. The country is safe, and the people are very nice. Our experience on a very quick 4 day trip was excellent, and I learned an incredible amount about the Inka culture, Peruvian people, and most importantly, I learned more about life.

What are some lessons you have learned through traveling? What is the best place you have ever been, and why?

(Christmas) Tree Of Memories

IMG_0591We set up our Christmas tree right after Thanksgiving this year. That may not sound like a feat, but it was. This tree was the first tree in the next chapter of my life – another “second first”.

The girls and I spent our Thanksgiving in the Quad Cities so they could spend time with their new friend, Alexa, and visit their new home and school. Jon and I had decided ahead of time that we were going to get a Christmas tree with the girls and take the time to make some memories around this Christmas tradition.

Christmas Past

We didn’t have a tree last year. It was one of those things that I just couldn’t get myself to do, despite the guilt that my daughters wouldn’t have a tree at home. We always spend Christmas in Minnesota, and it just seemed like too much work as I was barely making it through the day.

Fast forward one year, and my goal was to have a tree. I wouldn’t let my daughters miss this tradition for the second year in a row.

The first step was finding some ornaments to bring to Iowa. This meant opening a box of memories. We didn’t have plain, matching ornaments. We had ornaments that told the stories of our life.

I gingerly picked up the “Our 1st Christmas” ornament, the “Baby’s 1st Christmas” ornaments and my heart broke. I continued through the box and found some of the ornaments I made as a child, and I remember putting them up on many Christmas trees throughout the years. I remembered the innocence of those ornaments. I remembered the joy of decorating the tree.

Then came the ornaments from all of our little moments – a cruise, a trip to NY, the ornaments from our first Christmas when we were dating…and I cried. These ornaments were precious memories, time capsules of the little moments that will forever live on in my mind.

They are the symbols of new memories that will never be made, the lost parent, and the innocence I once had about life. But in those ornaments was life. They told the story of love, laughter, adventure, and friendship.

I selected a few ornaments from my treasures, wrapped them carefully in bubble wrap, and secured them in my backpack for the flight.

Christmas Present

The day came to set up the tree. First, we took the girls to a local nursery where they saw Santa, created a wreath together, and picked out what they considered to be the “perfect” tree – and it was perfect.

We got it all set up, and hauled up some decorations from the basement. We had a fire going and Christmas music playing – we were excited to watch the girls decorate.

Then came the memories and the stories of all the Christmas items. The questions came about the ornaments from innocent children excited to find pictures of happy couples that no longer exist in this world. The adults seemed to take turns needing a few moments to take in the sadness separately, and return to the joy that is children at Christmas.

It seems every item at Christmas has a story. If we are lucky, there are love and memories that live on as well. I proudly hung my Dallas Cowboys ornament for Steve on the tree, and a NY Giants ornament was promptly hung right next to it. I guess this may be a new Christmas tradition!

I think back to those that I deeply miss at Christmas and I think of the little things we do to remember. For my Grandma, it is remembering her smile at a huge plate of seafood and a glass of hot sex (don’t ask – it’s chocolate liquor!). We play Quelf to remember our last Christmas with her that put her under the table (no alcohol involved!). We still hang Eldor’s stocking every Christmas and Santa still brings a bottle of E&J Brandy along with a Hershey’s King Size chocolate bar. Last year, to remember Steve, we all did a round of Crown Royal shots – his drink of choice the night he stayed up drinking with my dad to ask for my hand in marriage – on December 23rd. I realize we may sound like alcoholics – I assure you, we are not!

Christmas Future

The point is to remember. Remember in the way that makes sense to you. There will be grief and sadness – but there will also be moments of joy and new memories to treasure. So, hang up the ornaments, put out the stockings, make a nice meal, and do whatever else makes you appreciate the time you have with your loved ones. We can’t change the past, or predict the future, but today is the real present – enjoy the gift of life this Christmas.

What are some of the ways you remember your loved ones?

The Scariest Step Forward

We are moving. To Iowa.Fly

This is a huge decision for me and the girls – and one of the scariest decisions of my life. There is a chance I could fail and that scares me beyond belief. The journey so far has been full of tears, soul searching, anxiety, pain, guilt, but also excitement and a renewed confidence in myself.

I spent months thinking about what I would do if the opportunity to move presented itself. I had one opportunity for a position in Moline about eight months ago, and I sought people’s opinions about it because I wasn’t sure of myself. That was a mistake, but also an opportunity to grow. The opinions (that yes, I asked for) hurt. That hurt stayed with me for a long time.

I was used to making decisions as part of a couple – Steve and I were a team. In the past, I knew that I couldn’t go wrong, because I had Steve to back me up. When we made a decision, it was our decision, and there was no doubt in my mind that between us we would figure it out. Making such a big decision on my own paralyzed me.

There was a lot of soul-searching and many tears over the past few months – without them, I wouldn’t have established the confidence I needed to put my name in for a position that required relocation.

Here are seven learnings I had as I stepped out of my comfort zone and started to make that scary step forward.

1. Define Your Boundaries

There was a woman at work in a leadership position that shared her experience in setting boundaries with me. She gave me the book Lean In to read. Most importantly, she forced me to tell her what my boundaries were when Steve died.

Telling her what I needed from my job to be able to balance work and life was uncomfortable and scary. I always believed that you accepted a job knowing the commitment that came with it and if it didn’t align with your personal life then you looked for a different job.

Saying what I needed from my position was harder than it should have been. However, it became easier when I realized that by defining my boundaries others could understand what I needed in order to be successful in my work. Defining my boundaries enabled me to be successful!

Here is a list of some of my boundaries when I considered a new position:

  • I was willing to accept a position in North Dakota or the Quad Cities (no other Deere location).
  • The position had to have enough flexibility to allow me to work remotely (this removed me from a lot of jobs that aligned with my current career path).
  • Travel requirements needed to be low.
  • The position needed to fill a gap in my list of career experiences.

Needless to say, my boundaries eliminated a lot of potential jobs for me. If it wasn’t right, I wasn’t interested. The why behind each requirement was important to my overall happiness. I have a network of friends in North Dakota and the Quad Cities as well as a level of comfort in both of those locations. Working remotely enables me to be home with a sick kid, see them at sporting events and enables me to work while visiting family (preserving vacation) in the summer. Low travel requirements enable me to be at home with the girls most nights. I do enjoy travelling, so some travel is a bonus.

Knowing my boundaries helped me focus on my needs and the needs of my family first, which enables work-life balance second. Boundaries aren’t just for work – I have them in many areas of my life. Understanding your boundaries makes it easier to say yes or no to opportunities in your life.

2. Identify a Goal (Even if It Changes)

You need to have a goal, in order to have some sort of focus and motivation. I kept getting asked what I wanted to do at John Deere. My response was that I was willing to try almost anything because I love to learn (which is true).

I got called out on that statement recently. Another woman leader said to me, “I never want to hear you say that again. You need to know what you want or you will never get there.”

In that moment I voiced what I had been afraid to say – I wanted to be a factory manager. Why was I afraid to say that? Honestly, I don’t know if I am good enough to get there. I don’t know what it takes to get there – or, if what it takes conflicts with my boundaries. If that’s the case though, then I’ll just set a new goal!

I rarely voice my dreams, because I don’t want anyone else to know that I failed if I don’t get there. That is the voice of the old me – the one that tried to be perfect. I’ve changed, I’m a real person with successes and failures and I need to be vulnerable in order to truly live.

In that moment I realized that if I didn’t voice what I wanted, then I also wouldn’t have any help getting there. In my new world, you need all the help you can get! This career goal gives me direction. What I discover along the way may lead me to a different destination, but the journey is the best part!

3. Timing Isn’t Always Everything

There is never a perfect time for change. Never. My girls are young, the Welken family is here. They kids can’t fly alone, and they cannot drive. I appreciate the help I receive from my mother-in-law, Deloris,. They love being spoiled by their grandma.

Fast forward 5 or 10 years – they will have friends, a larger social life and likely be engaged in numerous activities. So, which time is better? It’s a toss up, but from talking to numerous people that have moved their children, it seems that the younger they are, the easier they adjust.

Finding the perfect time will paralyze you. If you are considering a big life change, understand that no time will ever be perfect. There is risk in every decision. Sometimes, you have to go with your heart.

4. You’re Not Trapped

Understand your options, because you do have options! I realized a few things in my journey:

  • It’s not hard to find work in North Dakota.
  • I could work in Fargo, and move there if being in my house was too difficult.
  • I could stay in my current position for a long time, in my current house.
  • I could move closer to my parents.
  • I could do anything I put my mind to!

I could Bottom line – there are options. There are times that people will make you feel trapped – saying things like, “Jane Doe did this and she regretted it forever.” or “Joan Doe kept her place and raised her kids. She didn’t need to move.”

There are a million ways to make people feel trapped, and most are not intentional. Realize that there is no one like you. We each have our own story – and yours is different than everyone else’s. You need to make the decisions on how the next chapter will read.

Change is hard and scary, but you always have options. Sometimes options can make you feel selfish, scared or even humble. Sometimes you question your sanity. If this happens to then you are normal!

5. Weigh the Pros and Cons – Then Toss Your List!

I weighed the pros and cons of this decision so many times, that it isn’t funny. I was able to come up with a tie almost every time.

The benefit of the pros/cons is that you understand what you want, what is important, and what options you have. This is a great exercise, but just because you have eight pros and 10 cons does not mean you are considering a bad decision. If the pros make you feel like you are truly living life, and the cons can be worked through, then GO FOR IT!

6. The Most Powerful Question

What’s the worst that could happen?

This question was the game changer for me when I was considering a move. The worst that could happen to me (with this move specifically), is that I hated my life in Iowa and the girls didn’t adapt to their new home.

Is this likely? No. However, I love many things about Valley City, things that I cannot take with me to Iowa. One of those is the people here who loved Steve – who care enough to share their stories and support me when they can.

You cannot recreate that sense of belonging, support or the stories anywhere else. I’m also very sentimental – and I love my house here. I love my space – space that Steve created for us.

Moving to an area without family is a huge risk and it may be a mistake. What options did I have if the worst happened and we weren’t happy in Iowa? Could I come back to Valley City? Yes! Would coming back here make me feel like I failed? Absolutely not! If I come back, I will come back with the knowledge that this is where I belong.

How powerful is that? Could I imagine living here and not living surrounded by the home Steve made for me and our girls? No. I could not come home and live anywhere else!

So, what were my options? I realized that I could start saving, so I could afford to keep my house for a period of time. I didn’t have to sell anything. I could take baby steps. And that is exactly what I am doing. I can afford to keep my house in ND for a period of time and the level of comfort that gives me is amazing.

Taking a step forward may lead you to a new sense of knowledge about yourself and what you want out of life. I’m looking forward to the journey – with my security blanket firmly in place.

7. Be Prepared to Ride the Roller Coaster

This journey has brought excitement, fear, sadness, happiness, guilt and everything in between. I had never made a decision this big alone in my life. This decision impacted more than just me – it impacted my girls and our families.

I felt selfish. I felt torn. I also felt like I needed to do this for my soul. This move isn’t about a job, it’s about finding the new me. It is about finding my rhythm as a solo mom. It’s about living.

I wondered if I could even handle living on my own, without the crutch of family close by. I questioned my sanity, because I realized that I am happy in Valley City. I’m happy with my job. I love the people. There is nothing wrong here. All of that doesn’t mean I won’t be happy somewhere else though. I realized that I would always wonder, what if?

I needed to take a chance and bet on me. I knew I would regret not taking this step – not believing in myself enough to think that I could do this and thrive. I firmly believe that I can be happy anywhere in this world as long as my girls are happy. Happiness is a choice we make every single day.

Do I think Iowa is where I belong long-term? No! I have no clue where I belong at this point in my life. I envy those that do. What I do know is that Valley City will always hold a very special place in my heart. Valley City will always be home – home is a place of love, and there is no doubt that I have that here.

If you have made a similar life change, please add some advice in the comments for me and anyone else faced with change!

Photo source: Pinterest

Death With Dignity – One Widow’s Perspective

Erin's Phone Dump 10142013 803This post is going to be different than some of my other posts. There will not be a list of tips, no brand new ideas, but maybe there will be something for you to ponder.

This past week a young woman named Brittany Maynard received a lot of attention for ending her own life. You can read her story here. To sum it up for you, she decided to move with her family to Oregon so she could be prescribed medication to end her own life. She had terminal cancer and died at age 29.

This past week also marked the passing of someone a little closer to me – Steve’s uncle Denny. Denny passed away at his home at age 67 after a life of many medical ups and downs.

There is a reason I write about these two individuals. I couldn’t help but read all of the judgments and comments placed on Brittany’s decision by the world. Some agreed, some disagreed. Some became extremely agitated and bothered by a person that they have never, and will never, meet. Some of the people commenting have never lost anyone close to them, and others were fellow widows. What disturbed me the most was the polarizing effect of this entire conversation around death. As a society we have become so selfish as to think that our personal moral compasses are always “right” which automatically means that there are other people that are “wrong”.

I’ve been faced with death a few times in my life. The three that stand out the most are three people that meant the world to me. Three people that helped shape who I am. Three people that I have loved and lost – Eldor, my Grandma Maxine, and Steve. I’ll take the heartache of losing them for the simple fact that the joy they brought to my life was worth the sorrow. I feel like I have some qualifications to speak on death because it has been a significant portion in my life.

Death Is Personal

The only person that can decide how they would like to die is the person dying. If you are one of the people in the room when that decision is made, don’t speak up. Don’t try to convince the person that your idea is better. Only that person at that time can determine how, when, and where they would like to go. I would venture to guess they have spent hours, days, weeks, or months pondering their decision. Support them with your entire heart. For Brittany, it was prescribed drugs. For Denny, it was a chance to see home one more time. Don’t take away the person’s right to make their own decisions if God has given them the opportunity to do so.

Death with Dignity Doesn’t Exist

People have seemed to get hung up on these words that reflect the Oregon law that allows prescription death. They take offense to Brittany’s “Death with Dignity” campaign, even going as far as to challenge her for being weak when their loved one “fought to the very end…through pain…etc”. Death is death. How you choose to spend your last days is your choice.

However, there is life with dignity. Did you live life trying to make the world a better place for others? When people spoke to you, were they uplifted or brought down? Were you thankful for the little things in life today? Death is death…it is hard and can be quick or very slow. LIving is where we can leave a legacy. Everyone dies, but not everyone truly lives.

You’re Never Prepared for Loss

You can never prepare for the pain and emptiness you will feel when someone you love dies. Steve was gone instantly and there is nothing that prepares a person for that. In the case of Denny, my Grandma, and in some ways even Eldor there was a chance to say goodbye. I had the chance to let them know they were loved. I was able to tell my grandma how much she meant to me in a private conversation and I was at peace knowing I didn’t leave anything left unsaid. However, when that moment came and she took her last breath, the loss was huge. It is final. When I received the call that Denny had passed all I could think about was his wife, Paula. I know she had her time to prepare, but I also know that there is no way to prepare for a life without the person you planned on spending your entire life with. There is no way to reduce the pain of the finality of that loss.

We Don’t Need More Widows

Denny’s wife Paula is now a widow. There is no escaping the fact that she has to walk into an empty house that will likely never feel like home again. I get it. Brittany also left behind a widow. He gets the opportunity to carry on her dying wish to be happy, have a family, and continuing to push for the right to end your own life with prescription drugs. He had his time to make her last year one full of memories that he will cherish, but those memories don’t make the bed less empty. The memories don’t give you the person you laugh with, cry, and just love as part of yourself. No matter how the loss came about, no matter what choices were or were not made, those left behind have lost someone that cannot be replaced. That loss is universal.

Judgments Aren’t Neccessary Either

Going back to the start of this post, I have to wonder why people in this world feel the need to take time out of their day to judge a 29 year old with terminal cancer for her decision on how she would like to die. She made it a point of conversation so other people could have the same opportunity that she had. She never stated that everyone should follow in her footsteps. She never stated that this was the best decision for everyone. She said it was the choice she made for herself. Would I make the same choice? I don’t know – I have never been faced with her circumstances.

Think of all the time that was lost in this debate/argument/criticizing/defending campaign. What could we as a society have done with the millions of minutes spent focused on a single topic?

We could have donated our time to make our communities a better place to live. We could have wrote a thank you card to a friend we haven’t spoken to in awhile. We could have spent time playing with our children. As one person we may not have spent more than 5 minutes reading or thinking about the topic of the right to die in the way you choose, but think about all your neighbors who also took that time…how can we live life better in that amount of time? How can we make a difference and truly Live With Dignity instead of focusing on Death with Dignity?

What is one thing you will commit to do this week to truly live your life in a way that reflects how you want to be remembered?