It's been a while, I must say.
Winter has been long this year. I mean that both environmentally and emotionally. It's felt dark in here. Cold. Hopeless, maybe.
The more mama friends I talk to, the more articles I read, the more I realize I'm not the only one. And that helps some, but it's still hard. It's still sad. It still brings on guilt and fear. Why can't I just feel better? Why does this small task overwhelm me so consistently? Why is he being so sweet to me when I'm such a mess? Why is this house a bigger mess than I am? Do I need more vitamin d? More sleep? (Duh.) More spinach? Less on the calendar? Fewer commitments? Fewer people? Another shower? Another episode of Friends?
Oh my, there are so many people and so much to do and so many things left undone.
And so many things I don't want to do.
And remember when there used to be things that I wanted to do? What were those again?
The past few months have been one confused, foggy mess. There's been sickness, and loss, and the stomach bug. There's been quiet and way too much noise. There's been more travel than my washing machine could handle, more dirty clothes than my heart could handle, and more help with laundry from my husband than a girl deserves. There's been conflict unresolved and sorting and there's been a ridiculous GOP presidential primary. I mean, seriously America?!?
Rather than freaking out and trying to fix this, I've taken the slower, more patient approach. I've allowed myself grace to sleep in when Mark is happy to let me. I've read and written and listened to music and gone to bed still questioning. I've moved an oriental rug under the dining table, so I can ignore the crumbs that fall three times a day like clockwork.
I've tried to incorporate better habits. No late-night Netflix. No intense content in the evening. No blogs selling perfection. Less coffee. More water. More salads. Breakfast. Lunch. Dinner. Vitamins. Walks when I feel up to it. Playdates when I feel up to it. Honesty with friends. Honesty with my pastor.
It helps some, but there are still moments of terror when I think, what if I feel like this forever? I'm not used to being sad. And I'm certainly not used to not being able to explain it.
And yet, this past week some light broke through in surprising ways.
My dear grandma passed away, and I went home, sans children, for the funeral. It sounds like a strange place for such peace to come, but for the first time since becoming a mother seven years ago, I was back with my people, with my 10 aunts and uncles, who spent my childhood telling me I was beautiful, with my 22 cousins, who are the funniest, most interesting people I've ever met, and with my legendary grandpa, who loves his wife and family more than any man I know.
When you are in the dark places, it's so easy to feel alone. To feel like no one else has ever gone through this. To feel like no one understands you.
One day spent in our family's home, lovingly and appropriately called "The Big House," and I went to bed feeling fuller than I had in years. I belly-aching laughed, again and again and again. I told and heard stories, and I felt incredibly known. I lay there long into the night thinking, what is this?
I circled the stories and the conversations, and eventually, I landed on this one thought.
I'm a Manning.
I know that sounds ridiculous, but it was this profound moment for me. I thought about these people, my relations, who live all across America, who've lived vastly different lives than me, and I just was amazed by the ways we are so incredibly similar.
We work puzzles in the middle of a crowd. We talk trash, like a whole lot of trash. We agree more than we argue about politics. We are literally the best story tellers on the face of the planet. We laugh as hard as we cry. We have kind hearts, but sometimes can be assholes. (I'm sorry, but there really is no other word for it.) We love art and music and theater. We care about food, as in there needs to be enough, but we're not snobby about it. Except pizza. We're snobby about pizza. We tell each other what to do, or else, are annoyed at how much everyone tells each other what to do. We love live piano music. We dance in the kitchen. We introvert and extrovert. We forgive.
During the hours of being in the house, just being, as you do together when a loved one passes, a few of us realized that my uncle and dad's old vinyls were hanging out on the third floor, collecting dust.
Literally. There was so much dust!
My twin cousins, freshmen in college, and I are both new to the record world, and so we all spent the afternoon digging through a goldmine. Beatles. Allman Brothers. Sly and the Family Stone. The Stones. Hall and Oates. Eric Clapton. What didn't they have? Seriously, who knew my dad was so cool back in the day?
The "old people" spent the afternoon reminiscing, and the "young(ish) people" spent the afternoon exclaiming over our good fortune. The three of us divided the collection with more joy than I can even explain. It was as if we all thought, I can't believe I'm even getting one of these albums. Everything else is a bonus.
As we poured over the music, the rest of the family wandered through the hidden closets of the third floor, uncovered other buried treasures, stowed away for who knows how long. We face-timed my children to build up their excitement over the new albums coming home. My aunt, who taught me to play hopscotch at a wedding years ago, chatted with my daughter. Samara laughed.
It was beautiful. And safe. And I felt at home. I felt like myself.
My grandma's service was perfect. The gospel was preached, full of clarity and hope. My grandma, Marie, attended mass every single day. She was known and loved by her church family, and so her priest spoke of her child-like wonder and her wisdom with love. And he spoke of the joy and peace she is now experiencing with the Lord, joy and peace that will be hers for eternity.
Others spoke of her hospitality, her never ending love, her faithfulness, her faith, her gracious heart and gracious home, her love for beauty, her kindness.
At one point, my uncle said, "God put her in the Big House to do her work." To do his work.
Mamas, is there a more satisfying thought?
Returning home to my babies and my husband was easy. Mark was patient with the weight of the emotions from the weekend and with my struggle to adjust to daylight savings time. A sweet friend had prepared enough enchiladas and caesar salad to feed us for the week. And the sun shone for six days straight.
The final episode of the Bachelor (#TeamLaurenB) and the start of March Madness (#seriouslyMichiganState) were fun too.
Saturday Night, Mark surprised me with a date. Tacos at our new favorite Mexican hole-in-the-wall followed by an intimate concert, Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors. The setting was an old, beautiful, high school auditorium. With a few friends and folks of all ages from the town, we enjoyed a simple show. Hearty singing. Flawless execution. We sat and peacefully soaked in truth, and my heart was warmed.
One song in particular struck me. It's called Ain't Nobody Got It Easy. It alludes to many sources of suffering from sin to comparison to family, and the conclusion is just as the title suggests. Ain't nobody got it easy.
As I listened to his song, I sat and thought over the pain of just one week. Of the loss of a wife and mother and grandmother. Of the loss of a baby. Of the loss of a job. Of a battle with cancer. Of a triumph over cancer. Of another, slower, painful, heartbreaking battle with cancer. Of sadness over sin and brokenness. Of a tangled web of sin and sadness and brokenness.
Of a winter of confusion, of cold, of sadness.
And I thought, we really are more similar than we realize. We're not all Manning's. (Please, you can only hope.) But, there is comfort in the story of humanity. Life is hard. Ain't nobody got it easy.
And I was profoundly grateful for grace.
And I felt like myself.
It's Easter Week, friends. In a few days, we'll celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the grave. We'll celebrate life. We'll celebrate redemption.
And in the midst of the mess that still is, it gives us a reason to dance.
Lesson Learned: Grace, for others and for ourselves.