There is so much in life that is about standing in the face of a storm to find the rainbow on the other side.

The first half of February felt like one of the hardest periods of my life.  It was filled with deep grief, huge insecurities, and much self-doubt. It was a confluence of obligation and fear.  I was on auto-pilot, surviving, day-by-day, sometimes moment-by-moment.

Then, there has been this last week, where blessing after blessing has come flowing in.  As I’ve said no to one opportunity (because really I am learning that I can’t do it all), another one has come in that is truly aligned with all I’m up to and committed to in the world.

I am living and learning that sometimes you have to say no so that you can say a better yes.

I am so grateful for all of this, for the community that has supported me through this entire month, with all of its ups and downs, for the opportunities that I’ve said no to and those that I’ve said yes to, for my sweet family that is my constant in all of this work, for faith that sustains me when nothing else seems clear.

I am reclaiming my excellence.  I am still standing after the storm.

I am so grateful.

Hard choices

This week, I spent most of the week agonizing over a very big decision. A decision between two great options. I had to make a choice between something known and beloved and something new and exciting.  It was a choice between stability in the present and sustainability in the future.  It was a choice that summoned multiple parts of my identity.

It was a very hard choice.

One that even now I am questioning.

The choice was made harder because it brought forth questions about who I really am, what I really want, and what I’m willing to compromise (and not compromise) about myself and my life.

People who deeply cared for me were going to disappointed when I made my choice.  Although I knew that they would still care for me, I felt deeply troubled by this.

I made a choice.

It was a good choice.

But I still don’t know if it was the right choice.

Part of what always makes choices hard for me is the memory of my very worst choice.  I woke up at 5:30 in the morning, the day my mother died.  I was at my best friend’s house where I had spent the night because we were going to the movies the next day. My mom and I had gotten in some petty teenager-mom argument when she dropped me off the night before.

I woke up and I thought, “I should call her before she leaves for work to tell her I’m sorry. To tell her I love her”

But I chose not to call her.  I didn’t call my mom because it was the era before cell phones.  I was at my friend’s house and didn’t want to disturb anyone.

That morning she was killed crossing the street from our house to the bus stop.

For years, I was left wondering whether that call could have saved her life.

For years, I was left wondering if she was still upset when she woke up that morning, if she was lonely and sad as she crossed the street.

I wondered if her last memory of me was that of a petulant teenager.

This was not that choice.

This was a choice between two very good things.

But every choice feels like it seals my fate, like choosing the wrong thing means there will never be another choice to be made.

I know this is irrational, but trauma does the worst things to you.  It makes you always doubt yourself even when everyone around you believes in your greatness.

It makes you cry on Valentine’s Day, the day before your son’s 14th birthday, although you should be filled with joy at the choices the universe has brought you, at the choices you have earned and created for yourself.

It makes you wonder what would have been.

Each big choice I’ve made since I was 16 years old lays bare my humanity, which is at once, the best and hardest part of me.

I made a hard choice today.


Spaghetti sauce…a grief story

I made it until 5:45 pm today before I broke down into an ugly cry.

The culprits: a jar of spaghetti sauce, a long line at Target and a broken hand scanner…

When put upon a long day, a rush to try to keep it all normal, a near-empty gas tank in the morning, a teenager who thought he needed some things for a project that he didn’t and who answers every text with “Ok.”

When put upon grief.

My friend, Grief, is a shape shifter.  But what I know is, when Grief comes, Grief wants all my attention or at least all of my energy.

To get through my day, I go on autopilot.  I can have things on my schedule, but my schedule becomes rigid and I become laser-focused.  I just have to get through the day and it will be over.

Just get through the day.

So when my husband texted me to ask if I could pick up some spaghetti sauce on the way home (when what I really wanted to was to go to the sushi happy hour next to the cafe where I was working) because it was spaghetti night, we’re on an austerity budget right now and we were nearly out of sauce, I felt just some kinda way.

But, because I’m me, I said that it was no problem.  We’d already left our parking space next to sushi and had JUST passed a Target.  There was another one on the way home.

We were almost there when my son told me he needed gears for a science project.  This is the second time in two weeks that, at the last minute, he has surprised me with a need for said “group science project.”

We go in and split up. I get things for dinner. My son doesn’t find gears. We get in line.

There are 2 open check stands and 3 open self-checks.  I hate self-checks. I believe in keeping people employed.

But I am about to lose my cool. I can feel it.

Finally, a self-check opens. I scan our things.

The hand scanner that will allow me to pay on my Target wallet is broken. I don’t have my Target card.

I paid full price at Target (this is an insult to my dignity).  I didn’t even get the 1% back from Target circle because I didn’t enter my phone number. I was so thrown off by this broken scanner.

Just get home. Just get home.

I knew when I got home, I would only have an hour to eat and get to choir practice.

I got home.  I walked briskly to my room.

I started sobbing.

I hear through the door the joyful exclamation of my son that, in fact, he didn’t need the gears he thought he needed.

I cry harder.

My husband comes home.  He has been barraged by at least 7 angry texts that are denouncing the insensitivity of putting this errand on me after being with me almost 20 years and knowing I am just trying to survive this day.  He tells me we didn’t really NEED the pasta sauce because there was just enough without it, but he knows I like the pasta with more sauce so he thought he’d ask me to pick it up.

He is sorry. I feel a mix of indignation, anger and regret because I am clear I am overreacting.

I cry harder.

Somewhere, about 30-45 minutes into the cry, I realize that I cannot eat and make it to choir practice. I cannot go to choir practice because if I begin to sing, I will cry.  I look at our song list and think of the songs and start to cry.

Oh, there is so much ugly crying.

I have used a half box of tissue by now (but at least they are lotion tissue).

I text the section leader chain on my text messages. I tell them I can’t make it. The music director asks if I need prayer.  I say yes.  The wave of grief is upon me. It is knocking me down.  I feel like I can’t get up. (I don’t exactly say this, but this is how, in actuality, I am feeling)

I don’t want to go to school tomorrow. I don’t want to do any of the million things I need to do. I just want to cry and feel sorry for myself and make everyone take care of themselves.

My husband texts from the kitchen to see if I want a salad.

Yes, I say, but I’ll come out when I’m ready. Don’t bring it in here.

I don’t want to see them until I’m more ready.

It takes a few more minutes, but then, I breathe. I come out of the room.

My son says he’s sorry.  He doesn’t have that much to be sorry for…just poor timing.  He nods.  He gets it.

My 4-year old who just yesterday would not stop asking for her father, comes up to me and offers me a picture with three hearts that says “Jojo loves Mommy.” She tells me that she didn’t know grown ups could have bad days too.  She tells me I can take the picture to my office so that when I’m sad, I can remember that the family loves me.

I start to get teary again.  I cry some more.  I tell my daughter I need to get some tissue, which I do. My husband is still making the salad.

We make it through dinner. We play a family game.

I breathe.

They leave for a dog walk.

I get a few things done for work.

It is time for my little one to sleep. I tuck her in and wait with her while she falls asleep.

I begin writing.

My son comes out to say goodnight.

My husband draws a bath for me.

My friends check up on me one last time.

Many people I love have sent texts and messages throughout the day.

People keep checking in and sending love.

I feel the prayers covering me.

Grief is still hanging around, but comfortable now in the space.

It is time to disconnect. It is time to sleep.

It is time to make space for tomorrow.

Sometimes Getting Better Isn’t Getting Faster

Today, I ran the Surf City Half Marathon and completed my fourth Beach Cities challenge.

My time was a 2:07:52 with a 9:46/ mi pace.  This was about 45 seconds slower than last year, and a little over 2 minutes slower than my best time on this course.

I am notoriously bad at appreciating my races when I don’t improve my times, but today, something different happened…well, many different things happened, and I wanted to reflect on and remember them because they show that I’m making progress on my new year’s resolution to “do less, but be more intentional.”

Today’s time was slower, yes, but I felt great during and after the race and I ran negative/ even splits throughout the whole race.  My slowest two miles were at the start and my mile splits ranged from 9:19 (at mile 13!) to 9:52.

This is remarkable for me because I have previously started my races with a goal of getting a sub-2-hour time which means that I generally start at a sub-9 minute pace (which I can usually keep for about 5-7 miles) then crash really hard. While my times are slightly faster when I race this way, I end up in a lot of pain post-race and I feel super exhausted.

I also was really happy with the race itself. In the past, if someone were to ask me my time and I had gotten the time I got today, I would have said it reluctantly with the caveat that it wasn’t a PR and that I had been sick during training.

But today, I felt really proud of myself and what I ran.  I went out and ran my race.  I listened to an awesome K-pop mix (with a sprinkling of Lizzo, Moana & Soy Yo for good measure) while I was running and I felt joyful to be running in a cool marine layer for the entire race, walking to drink water and take energy gels and looking out for teammates.

After the race, I dropped my friend that I had carpooled with off at her car, picked my son up from Chinese school, went to lunch with my family, then went to put flowers at the gravesite of my mom, grandma and aunt, three of the strongest women I have ever known.  I walked up the hill without any physical pain. I got to start my week honoring my mom, spending a moment near her.

Tonight, continuing our recent Sunday evening tradition, we had a living room dance party.  And I was able to dance with my son and daughter.

All of this, I guess, to say that sometimes, it’s not about the result, the destination, the time, how fast you can go, how successful you are by a numeric measure (this makes me smile because it’s actually the message of my upcoming TEDx talk too 😉 ). Instead, perhaps it’s really about the beauty in the most human of moments, in the journey, in the connections — in being able to be present because you didn’t overextend yourself.

I’m not sure, but I do know that today was a good day and I’m feeling surprisingly good for having run 13+ miles this morning 🙂

Making space for a familiar friend

Today has been strangely hard.

Until about 5 minutes ago, I really didn’t understand why I’ve been feeling really bleh today.  I made an excellent first-timer Eggs Benedict for my son this morning.  I had back-to-back phone calls with colleague-friends who are amazing. I got to have lunch with my sister-friend whom I love dearly. I got a decent amount of work done. I even watched the end of Toy Story with my little girl before tucking her into bed.

It was a good day.

So why was I feeling so bad? And why was I doing the things that I know I do when I’m trying to avoid being with something.

Then I realized that tomorrow is February 1st which means Monday is February 3rd.

My mother died on February 3rd.

Today is a Friday that my son has off from school.  He hurt his ankle yesterday and was limping around the house today.

My mother died on the Friday between semesters, a student in-service day. She had hurt her ankle earlier that year, twisting it in a hole as she ran to see me start a race.

There have been so many sudden deaths recently, of young parents, before their time.

My mother was 56 when she died.  I was 16. She was healthy (still recovering from her major ankle sprain, but otherwise fine) and a fighter.  She was everything to me, the person who knew me best and the person who I always seemed upset with.

Until she was gone.

So, I took a deep breath and said to my grief, “Welcome home. I’ve been expecting you. You’re a little early this year.”

My mother died in a car accident on February 3, 1995.

It will be 25 years since she died on Monday.

Some days, it still literally feels like yesterday.  Or today, even.

Some days, it feels like it’s been 25 years.

Today, it feels heavy, but calm. Sad and present, familiar.

Today, it feels collective, as my local community still grieves a very public, very sudden loss less than a week ago.  And yet, it feels private, this version of grief that I have been carrying for 25 years.

Right now, I am breathing.  I am taking this moment in.  I am sitting.  My grief is sitting alongside me. I am waiting for more words to come or for me to know that it is time to end this post.

Be gentle. Make space for my friend, my grief, my survival. Make space for me.

There are battles we don’t see.  And there are those we see but don’t know.

I’ve learned to make space for it all.