New Beginnings and Miracles All Around!

When I walk into Staples, I am instantly aroused. The pencils, the pens, blank notebooks, sticky notes, whew! I love all of it. So, naturally, going back to school, or now getting my kids ready to return to school, is a very exciting time of year for me. I love making resolutions at the start of the New Year and I am a sucker for the promise of new blooms in Spring, but Autumn rings true as a time of new beginnings for me. I feel most invigorated and most inspired as the leaves begin to show signs of turning colors and the crisp scent of fall wafts through the air. This year, I am wide open, eager to welcome whatever this fresh start brings.

I have also been feeling nostalgic as my son Alexander prepared for kindergarten with great anticipation of joining his older brother, James, at “his” school. We do drop-off, as opposed to riding the bus, and today, when he leaped out of the car, I don’t think he could have been any happier. He was thrilled this morning when I confirmed that he would be going back to school today. So anyway, the other day my mom came over and we listened to some of her saved voice mail messages from the past (please tell me we are not the only saps who do crazy things like save old messages). With her summer tan aglow and her blue eyes sparkling, she said, “oh, this is one of my favorites.” I listened as my very own voice began to speak. I was crying. I said something like, “Hi Mom, this is Anna (sniff). James started kindergarten today. He got on the bus and he didn’t even look back (sniff, sniff)…” So many things came to mind. First, the image of my husband Dan and I coming home from the bus stop that day and literally sobbing together on our love seat. Second, disbelief that that little kindergartner would be entering fourth (say it with me, FOURTH!!!) grade this year. And third, both disbelief and disappointment that my dad wouldn’t be here to share in Alexander’s first day of kindergarten as he was for James. I pictured my mom sharing the message with my dad and both of them reflecting on the fact that their first grandchild was ready for kindergarten. That he got on the bus and didn’t even look back.

I know, I know – my dad is still with me. I do know that, I swear. But even with that knowledge, I yearn to hear the enthusiasm in his voice when I share these bits and pieces of my life with him. I want confirmation of his pride in Alexander, and frankly, in me. He was a great cheerleader, my dad. He would be (is) so proud.

With all my anticipation of a new beginning at the start of the school year – for my kids and for me, I find myself feeling sad too. And as with so many things I’ve experienced since losing my dad, I find that this is a time where bittersweet is about the best we can do. Do I sound like I’m whining?

Enter miracles. Yesterday was the first day of school and the morning was filled with miracles. I got up, showered, and made a delicious, nutritious breakfast for my little ones (as opposed to throwing a granola bar and string cheese at them with five minutes left before we have to run out the door). Then, I marched them outside for a First Day of School photo shoot. Nobody complained (I began to think something strange was afoot, bud didn’t dare question it). Everybody smiled. Everybody posed. I was in Mom Heaven.

We got in the car and Somewhere Over the Rainbow was playing on the radio. This has to be one of my all-time favorite songs. I was a somewhere over the rainbow kind-of girl as a child. The Coffee House version, by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’ has become one of the songs that remind me that my dad is always here with me and it has come on the radio at the most opportune times. As we pulled out of the driveway, we stopped to talk to our new neighbors. They were sweet and smiling and my heart was simply singing with joy. Then I heard my dad’s voice singing. My daughter had found my husband’s iPad on the floor of the car and somehow found her way to my dad’s recordings. AND, he was singing Summertime, which was my lullaby when I was a little girl. Let’s not even get into the fact that I have no idea how the iPad got left in the car, or how Sophia could have possibly found Summertime, especially since she usually goes right for Beyonce’s “I’m a Singlet” video. At that point, I knew my dad was speaking to me.

Sophia said, “This is a Papaw song!” Putting to rest my fears that my little girl, who wasn’t quite two when my dad died, would have no memories of her Papaw. Then she said, “Mama, my butt is shaking and my legs are swinging!” I look back to see her moving to the music, Alexander glowing, and James clapping his hands and swaying his head back and forth. I was in awe. There was no doubt in my mind that my dad was with us. I so much as heard him say, “I’m here. And I’m proud.”

Later, I told Alexander that I wanted to tell him something very special. He looked up at me with his big, blue eyes and I said, “I have been really sad that Papaw isn’t here to see you start kindergarten because I know he would have been so proud of you.” He nodded and I continued, “And today, when we heard his song, I knew he was with us and I know that he is very proud of you.” Heart-melting smile from ear to ear on that kid. God, I love him. There must be so much wisdom in that little five year-old head. And even later, when we got in the car to attend his orientation, These Are Days was on the radio! This was the song that Dan and I danced to at our wedding. And through the years, it too has come on the radio when I’ve needed comfort the most.

So that is my morning of miracles. Later, when I was feeling extremely disgruntled, along with my tired out, over-stimulated children, and trying to get dinner together, a penny from heaven appeared out of nowhere in the middle of the counter. Nope, we didn’t save a life or cure a disease yesterday morning, but we were definitely in the midst of miracles. I spoke out and someone “up there” was listening. This all reminds me that we are always surrounded by miracles. Big or little, there are messages for all of us, everywhere, saying “you are never alone. I am here with you.” And all of that makes me even more excited for this new time of new beginnings…what’s next?!

The Possibilities are Endless!

I’ve never been much of a “Let go, let God” kind of girl. In fact, it seems that as soon as I sense that I have no control in a matter, I bear down, gripping more tightly than ever. I am not one to gracefully release it. I squeeze it, I hold it, I try with all my might to mold it into something I can control. My lack of control transforms into worry, to fear, to anxiety, and even to obsession. I sometimes lose sleep and I drive a lot of people crazy. You might ask, “How is that working out for you?” And, well, to be honest, it’s not.

As I stood in the shower this morning, obsessing over whether or not our recent move to a new home was a good idea, I decided that this obsession was something I needed to release to the Universe. We moved, there is someone living in our previous home, and there is no turning back. I can’t worry about whether my son will make new neighbor friends, or whether I will make new neighbor friends. I can’t worry about anything like that because what is done is done and only time will tell what kind of friends we will make or not make as a result of this move.

So then I started thinking about the move in general (I know I’m not the only one who does her best thinking in the shower). It all happened really fast and it truly wasn’t part of the “plan”. It went something like this: Husband comes home from work and trips over kids’ shoes in the doorway. Husband tries to put his bag down, but can’t because all flat surfaces are covered with laundry (in the doorway). Husband says, “I hate that our laundry room is in the doorway! I can’t wait to get out of this house!” I smile sweetly and agree that someday we might consider moving to a new house. Husband shares other examples of why he hates our home. I smile sweetly, and nod for good measure. Husband decides to “research the market” and begins work with a realtor. I stop smiling. Dan, my husband, isn’t the kind of guy who spends a lot of time doing research. When Dan wants something, he goes for it. Sometimes he moves so fast, it frightens me.

We thought we might move in 2-5 years. We considered buying land and building a home. We looked at land (meaning we all piled in the car, met the realtor at the land and Dan got out and looked at it while I tried to keep the kids from driving off without him). Dan got serious. We actually asked our babysitter to watch our children so we could attend an Open House for a promising new home. It was a wonderful home. All it took was one deep breath with space to do so and I was hooked on the idea of moving. I was ready to make an offer.

Dan hopped online as soon as we got home to look at the house again (he was not ready to make an offer). After weeks (months?) of looking at houses and prioritizing our needs and desires, and coming to terms with the fact that the “perfect” house wasn’t out there and that a compromise or two may be necessary, a new listing appeared on the screen. There was an Open House there that day and it ended one hour from the time we saw the house online. From the virtual tour on the screen before me, it looked as if it was built for us. From the tile work on the back splash to the incredible timber framing on the ceiling. My dad was a timber framer. It felt like he had a hand in this, like maybe he had found the house for us.

I fully expected Dan to come home to tell me he just bought a new house. We all know, in the world of real estate, especially in Michigan, things don’t usually happen that quickly. So began the agonizing process…would it work out? I began to bear down in fear, in anxiety, and then I remembered that I was evolving and the new and improved Anna would recognize that there were many variables that she could not control. So, I took a plunge – I let it go. I waited. And in the end, it did work out and we all love our new home (I especially love the shower).

And the funny thing is, this wasn’t part of “the plan.” We took a detour. I love Emily Dickinson’s gentle invitation to “dwell in possibility” and each time I see this quote (which is often), it is like someone, Emily perhaps, is giving me permission to let go. To step. Away. From the plan. To open right up, throw my head back and my arms in the air, and look out at all the possibilities.

There are dreams buried deep inside me that I have long forgotten or given up on, and why? Because I’m not sure where to fit them in. Because I can’t figure out where they go in the plan. Because I’ve been so busy trying to control every little detail of my life from when I will get pregnant to when my last child will leave home, that I don’t allow space for things to simply unfold. From this moment forward, I am scrapping the plan. Who really knows what the future holds? Since my dad died, seven women I love and care very much about have lost a parent. Death isn’t planned. It sometimes comes when we least expect it. It jolts us. It breaks our hearts. Sometimes we have to start over.

Little by little I am learning to let go in ways that I never would have imagined. I was okay letting go of some little stuff, but now I think it’s time to let go of the big stuff. I’m sure Dan and I will still have to plan, but I’m playing it a little more loosey-goosey from now on. No more obsessing over the things I can’t control. Years ago, when I first heard the Serenity Prayer, it made so much sense to me. God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. It sounds so simple, really. But for me, especially as I get older, it’s been really hard.

I think in some way, my tight grip on life is born of love. It comes from good intention. Somewhere along the line, I began to believe that trying harder and holding tighter was a sign of my love, or of my commitment to someone or something. Reflecting on life and death and what it all means, thinking about moving when we had planned to stay, and even seeing so many of my friends suffer through the loss of beloved parents – all of this is teaching me that letting go, even a little, and opening to possibility, isn’t a sign of loving less or caring less. I think letting go may even open a pathway to loving more. When you let go, it’s all out there. Rather than limiting myself by hanging on, I might actually find that I can love more deeply, more richly, and more truly by letting go. I’m still figuring this out. Maybe that in and of itself will take a lifetime. Maybe I’ll never figure it out. But I feel pretty certain that when I do let go, the possibilities are endless.