When the whole quarantine started months ago I tried to write.  I had some time. I have multiple drafts on here ready to push publish.  But most of them are too raw.  They vary from the feelings of uncertainty and unrest, to anger, back to uncertainty, to sadness.  And so much anxiety.

Most people know I have had anxiety for as long as I can remember. But for the first time in a long time, my anxiety has been victorious in pulling up a chair and telling me all the things that can possibly go wrong.

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When I was younger she(yes my anxiety is a she) was like the long lanky girl with lopsided sandy blonde pigtails that picked at a scab until it bled, and then started to cry because she’d bled all over her white tube socks with the green stripes. She would always blame me for it.  I would sympathize with her, and of course take the blame and say I’m sorry repeatedly,  mostly because I’ve known her for about as long as I’ve known most people in my lives.   She sat up at night with me when I was little and was convinced someone was going to break in and kidnap me or Erin.  And she grew up with me.  She put makeup on next to me in the scratched bathroom mirror at Franklin Middle School, and put so much mascara on her eyelashes they stuck together, just like mine did.  My anxiety and fears grew up, and so did she.  She was who convinced me that parking lots are terrifying, especially Costco.  And no matter how hard I’ve tried to do all my breathing techniques that my counselor Lance has shown me, she has sat right next to me with her out dated Kate Gosselin hair cut saying, “Yeah, you are SO going to hit another car.  Or wait, maybe an old person! Or maybe, a toddler. You know, you DID hit a Dutch Bros stand that one time.”  So, I sit there paralyzed, by her grating voice, sweating and feeling like my heart is going to just pop right out of my chest and jump out of the car bouncing to a less anxious body.

My anxiety, she’s such a crap friend.  The last few months when I’ve been awake at 3 am, anxious because people are complaining about such silly things like wearing masks like their liberty is threatened over something so ridiculous,  I go and check on all my kids and stand in Micah’s room listening to him breathe as his air purifier cleans the air.  I check his pulse rate with his oximeter even though it’s been over a year.  And she waits outside in the hall, and says “OMG(She’s the kind of person, who uses those terms), remember that one time Micah almost died?  Did you see what they wrote on facebook? If they were your friends they wouldn’t have been so insensitive?  Did you see what that politician said?  I didn’t know he was a christian?  Do you think he’s a fake christian for votes? Oh my gosh, do you have any real friends?  Did you see that roll of fat on your neck when you turn a certain way?”  Then she takes a breath as my heart speeds up and I begin to think about everything she’s said, and pick away, as I say Sorry for my part in all the things.

But. But.

As annoying as she has been, I’ve found something that makes her be quiet.  In fact, when I get like this her lips become so thin they almost disappear and she totally disapproves.  She likes me nervous and anxious, and irritable.  That’s when she shines.  And when I wilt.  But I’ve found gratitude is her kryptonite.  And in all my moments of achy heart anxiety I’ve found moments of such gratefulness.

Here are some things I’m so incredibly grateful for, even when they come from some very sad moments.

It is the pits that Jonah can’t have a graduation.  Seriously.  I’ve been planning his graduation party since he was in first grade.  I wanted to be a part of every planning committee, and be all in.  Because Jonah is so special, and I want him to feel so loved.  But. But.  This time has given us time.  I’ve had more time with Jonah the last two months than I have had during the last two years.  I’ve been able to talk more to him, watch movies with him, eat dinner with him, sit next to him, pray with him.  And that’s worth so much.  I’ve gotten to do all those things with him over the years but in quick spurts.  But now I’ve gotten to see him go and lift weights with his Dad and siblings and hear them laugh and laugh.  Soon, really soon, he’ll be gone.  I won’t get to hear him play the piano for hours, and even writing this, it makes my heart ache from the loss I know I’ll feel.  I’ve gotten this beautiful time with him.  None of it is ideal, but so much of it has been an unexpected gift.

Another difficult thing has been not seeing Grace leave elementary school, and do her final walk down that hallway on the last day to the loud cheering from the entire school. She has been waiting for that moment,  her entire life.  I found out I was pregnant with her in the school right before Jonah’s Mother’s tea.  She has never known a day of her life not in this school.  Even when she was a newborn I wore her in a sling as I volunteered.  I changed her diapers there, and she worked on potty training there. I still remember Jonah walking her to her first day in school as she held his much bigger middle school hand.  She’s been waiting for these big moments.  She loved being one of the leaders of the school. She loved spirit days and her teachers.  But. But.  It was a hard year.  Some bullying.  Some mean kid stuff.  Stuff I wanted to shield her from a while longer.  And then we were quarantined.  And yeah, none of this is easy.  This is NOT homeschooling.  This is something else.  But I’ve gotten the chance to keep her little.  I’ve taken her out of some situations that were not healthy.  We’ve been able to work on some aspects of schooling that she wanted to focus and needed to focus on for middle school.  And I’ve gotten so much time watching all the ways she shines.  It’s been so glorious.  Because we are serious about social distancing I’ve gotten so much one on one time with her, and I cherish every second.  She is so fun.  She is magic.

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Yes, we miss Grace’s plays and theater club, tennis, and baseball.  We’ve miss band concerts, tap dance, and my band.  I miss all of those things so much, but there are things we have gotten instead.  I’ve gotten to sing duets with Grace.  Jonah has gotten so good at the acoustic and electric guitar.  The boys play ping pong for hours. No one can beat Danny.  We’ve had time to do bike rides and long walks.  The gift of not being over scheduled has given more time for family.  More time for family meals and prayer together.  We’ve taken long drives and talked the whole time.  The kids have read more books than I can count.  We’ve watched old movies, and new ones.  The boys have fallen back in love with old cartoons “Avatar: the Last Airbender” and have watched all the Marvel and Star Wars movies in order. Grace and I’ve watched musical after musical.  My kids are already close, but seriously, they’ve never been closer than right now.  It’s been so special to watch.

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As hard as it’s been to miss mass, and not attend Church in person…we’ve had time to attend church as a family in the comfort of our living room.  We’ve been able to pray and bring Jesus into our house in a more profound way.  When I was growing up and I lived with my Dad in the summer I didn’t get to go to church.  You may not know, but for most of my life I wanted to be a religious sister and a nun, and not going to church was really hard for me.  I would ask every week, and usually we got to go maybe twice a summer, especially when my sister started driving and could take me.  But I started having my own “church” in my room.  And Jesus showed up every week.  I think some of my first real faith experiences happened during those Sundays.  My kids have learned the same thing.  God shows up, and He doesn’t just live in one building.  That’s why He’s God, and if we don’t let Him be a part of our homes we are doing a huge disservice to our souls.  My family isn’t ready to go back to a church service in our church, not yet, not with crowds of people, not with this virus still mutating,  but we aren’t missing out.  God is God, He shows up when you ask Him.  Let Him shine in your hearts and your homes.  Stop confining Him.

I miss my family so much.  We are all grieving graduations and I don’t know when I’ll get to see my parents.  But one amazing thing is, I’ve gotten to ZOOM and facetime with all of them.  Two of my sisters work in health care, my brother’s girlfriend is an ICU nurse, and both of my dads have very compromised health.  And we are ALL on the same page.  I never have to worry when I share my fears, and they know my anxiety as well as they know me.  And I realized something…our parents raised us ALL to care more about others than ourselves.  None of us are spouting off about our rights being taken, and conspiracy theories, instead we are all looking at ways to protect our parents better and make our communities safer.  I’m so thankful our parents raised us without an ounce of entitlement.  I get to talk to my grandma every week. She is still very quarantined in Montana where she lives and I get to pray with her, and laugh with her.  And hearing her voice and knowing who is worthy of our protection is better than any anti-depressant.  Ps.  Who is worthy is ALL of our vulnerable and compromised. My grandma. My parents. My in laws.  My sister.  My Micah.   They are the greater good.  They are worthy of our protection. I’m just so grateful my parents raised us to see beyond political views and ideologies, but to live the beatitudes and remember my life isn’t worth any more than someone else’s. I consider it to be the greatest value they continue to teach me.

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I was so tired when this all started, I had just finished a term of 18 credits, was overwhelmed with stresses with work and life, and raising teenagers.  Chris’s job was so consuming and overwhelming. Both of our hearts were so heavy.  And this happening couldn’t have happened at a worse time.  But time gave us so much more than we were hoping for.  Chris made a change with work that gave us back so much life and peace.  And I was able to step back, and really pray, and realize that I needed to make a change for our family with my own job.  So much of this is a continuation of the gift we were given after Micah got sick.  It’s clarity.  It’s the bigger picture.  It’s restoration.  It’s not being surrounded by negativity, but being where we can serve God and others with love.  Whenever “she” begins to talk incessantly about my failings or how “if you were smarter/better/prettier/more worthy this wouldn’t have been so hard.” I remind myself of how far we’ve come.  And then I wrap our family in prayers for protection from this horrible virus.  So many have lost so much during this time.  I think of them constantly. I pray for them all the time*.  I think many of us forget them.  I don’t want to forget that even when things are so very difficult we can always find something to be grateful for.

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Even on my darkest days, God has been so faithful in so many ways. He’s never left.

He’s reminded me that anxiety isn’t the only voice that likes to talk.  Gratitude, she gives me so much life.  She offers so much joy.  And she’s been here just as long.

When I was little, she looked like my Mom teaching me prayers with her soft voice.

She was in the deep soothing voice of my Dad singing me Patsy Cline.

As a teen, she was in the faces of my sisters who always included me, and saw the best in me.

As a newlywed, she was in my husband’s tight embrace and the safety of knowing he would always love me exactly how I am.

And over the years,  she was wrapped up in the laughter of my children. In the joy of seeing them grow and turn into beautifully kind, flawed, empathetic, good people.

And last year, she was in the miracle of seeing color come back into Micah’s face when I realized after days of looking at deaths door, that he was going to live.

And today, she is in a face that looks a lot like mine.  A few extra stress pounds resting on my waist, and without an ounce of makeup on. No nail polish, or long eyelashes.   Extra roll on my neck and all.

“But….But”  She says…my anxiety hoping to start my head spinning.  Hoping to take my joy today.

Not today. I tell her. I have nothing to be sorry for.  I’m going for walk with Chris.

Nightly walks.  Another thing, I’m grateful for.

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*My heart goes out to every single person who has been hurt during this time.  Please be rest assured of my prayers and love for you. You are not forgotten.