Friday, October 10, 2014

For Jagger.

It's a devastating day for our family. We've lost Jagger. I find myself needing to write, as if writing is therapy for this therapist. We've lost a member of our family, and my brother has lost his best companion. Jagger seems like more than a dog today, and I feel the need to honor his place in our lives over the past 4 years. Four years seems way too short, but there's comfort in knowing that dogs live in the moment; and the moments Jagger had with Casey have been wonderful.

People who have dogs (and have lost dogs) will understand the magnitude of what today means. My heart breaks for my brother, who has raised and trained this dog from a puppy. Jagger was Casey's very best friend, especially when life was terrible and confusing. Jagger was the constant. What is hardest is the sudden and tragic loss of this great dog. Jagger was hit by a car last night but managed to walk back to the front steps of Casey's house to pass away. It speaks so much to how dogs, like humans, need to go home and to a safe place in times of pain. It also speaks to the inseparable bond Jagger had with Casey to get to him one last time.

Jagger was a beautiful, stunning German Shepherd. Watching him run and play was a truly gorgeous sight.

He loved his orange ball, and there was hardly a moment when he didn't have it in his mouth. 

Jagger howled at any siren that passed by the house. His inner wolf definitely came out. 

Jaggy did not like the lake. We took him once, and he was not a fan of being in that water. He crawled and climbed up Casey every time we jumped in.

He was gentle enough to play with toddlers, and Bella grew up playing alongside him. 

He was obedient. He loved to please my brother. 
Jagger was extremely intelligent. He was trained easily and quickly. He was the first dog I had ever seen sit in the yard for 30 minutes until Casey said he was free. He was impressive.

Jagger patiently and graciously played with his cousin, Benson, for the past 9 months. A sign of a truly amazing dog is to put up with a puppy literally hanging from your fur with his teeth and never snap or attack. 

Jagger loved my brother. If you have a pet, you know this bond. They wrestled, played, walked, rode, fetched, chilled, trained, and enjoyed life together. The love of a dog is unconditional and free of judgment. Jagger's place in Casey's life has been indescribable and necessary over the past 4 years. 

When we lost our best friend, Keely, in 2009, the pastor at the funeral asked about animals being in heaven. He proposed that if there was, Keely would be taking care of them. In my last words to Jagger this morning, I said if there's anybody I'd want to take care of him now, it's Keely Ann. He's in capable and gentle hands and is now loved on both heaven and earth.

Our family hurts today. I can count the times I've seen my dad cry on one hand, and today is one of them. We're asking why. We're confused. We're hurt. We're sad. We've got that gut-wrenching pain and sorrow in our hearts of not understanding why this had to happen. We appreciate your prayers and warm thoughts, especially for my brother who lost his dear friend and is experiencing a whirlwind of emotions today.

What a special and meaningful gift you have been the past 4 years. Who knew when you came in as a little, black furball that you would grow into such a loving, beautiful dog. You loved my brother unconditionally and always sought out to please him. You loved my dog and played with him, even when he stole your ball and got on your nerves. You took care of and protected someone very precious to me for over 4 years, and for that, I am truly thankful. More present than anyone else in his life, even friends and family, you were there for him. Our family will miss you and cherish your memory forever, and we will take care of Casey. There will never be a dog who can take your place. We will never forget you. Thank you for these few years, teaching me about patience, obedience, hope, and unconditional love. I am so grateful that God created you and allowed us the time we had together.

Love you, Jagger.

im thankful.
carrie anne

One of my favorite videos: So God Made a Dog

Thursday, September 25, 2014

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Recently, I did some gardening. It was really a forced activity. You see, last year I had this grand idea of creating a flowerbed in my front yard. Not just any flowerbed. No no. It had curves and bordered over half of the yard. It was intricate, and when it was done, it was beautiful. I was so happy to see it completed and almost exactly what I had pictured in my mind. Then I realized a year later that you can't just plant a garden and hope it turns out okay. Hope doesn't tend gardens.

So needless to say, my flowerbed turned into the eyesore of the block. We're talking weeds taller than my knees, root systems so complex that a 4th grader could do an amazing science experiment on 'em, and a scene so unsightly that I refuse to post a before/after image. While I was toiling away, I began thinking of how much this flowerbed was like marriage. I began saying things to myself that couples commonly say in my therapy office. Things like this:

"I didn't know it was this bad."

I seriously didn't. There was no way to prepare me for what was ahead when I finally decided to take care of my garden. I started, and I seriously almost quit right after I realized how much work there was to do. I didn't know it had gotten this bad. At times, I was yanking out weeds, and I was feeling better. The flowerbed looked better, but unless I got the root, I knew it was going to keep coming back. Good therapy addresses the root of marriage issues, not just teaching communication skills and address surface level issues. It's hard and takes longer, but those weeds didn't grow overnight either. Pulling them all out is tough stuff.

"If I had known, I would have done this sooner."

So many times I walked to the mailbox or pulled in the driveway and saw weeds coming out of the ground. I was embarrassed then but thought that I'd just get to it later. How much easier it would have been for me to just pull a few weeds out of the ground months ago rather than putting in all the work I did after it had gone way too far. Research is clear that couples wait and average of 7 years before attending therapy. Sometimes by then, it's too difficult to move on together after so much hurt. If you're in the River Valley, click here to begin that process with me in counseling. I'd be honored to join you.
"This is really hard work." 

Like... really hard work. Props to all the gardeners out there. You all have my utmost respect. I have been so sore that I have woken myself up at night just by turning over. I am sore in muscles I didn't know I even had. My legs were shaking like I had just left my barre class while I was yanking weeds out of the ground just 30 minutes in. Just like gardening, working on marriage issues is tough business. It's not for the faint of heart and requires perseverance. As mentioned before, it's not enough just to pull out the green stuff and leave the roots behind. As hard as it is, nothing will have truly lasting change until you address the roots. 
"There was never a good time to work on it."  

Yeah, there really wasn't. It was either scorching hot this summer or raining endlessly or I was really tired from a long day or my allergies were acting up or whatever excuse I had until my flowerbed turned into a big ugly mess. There's never a great time to weed the garden, and it doesn't really ever feel like there's a great time to work on your marriage either. I actually tried one day a few months ago to pull out a giant weed while walking back from the mailbox, and some stickers jabbed and stuck into my fingers. Probability went way down for me to try that again. Sometimes you try to address something in your marriage, and you get hurt; it's not worth it to let that continue to grow even though it makes sense why you'd shy away from something that hurts. (See Four Reasons Why You Won't Go to Marriage Counseling). If you wait for perfect conditions, you'll end up waiting forever.

"I can't believe all the work I put into this turned into a big mess."

This was hard for me. I was so proud of my flowerbed last year. It literally took ALL day to complete. Multiple trips to Home Depot, Walmart, Lowes. Supplies. Help from my family. Sweat. Possibly tears. But the end was so great. I was so happy to have checked off that project and have it be something so beautiful in our yard. I found myself disappointed in my lack of responsibility in between my handfuls of weeds and bugs. I could relate to couples who had great expectations and hopes for their marriages and suddenly realized the mess they were in. 

But hope is not a plan. Marriages, just like flowerbeds, require work... and not just once a year. They require care and the decision to pull "weeds" up from the root, even when it's risky and hurts. They deserve the hard work, even when it's inconvenient, difficult, and messy. Take a lesson from me and tend to your marriage before it gets too far. 

It might not be too late. 

im thankful.
carrie anne

Thursday, September 4, 2014

How I Learned to Risk: Part One

In 8th grade, I decided to try out for drill team. I was done with majorettes (that's baton twirling for all you non-band folk), and I wanted to be a Chaffin Charmer. An important fact to point out is all of my dance class history, which was zilch. Another important fact was my athletic ability; I was at the point of my life that I classify as the "awkward phase." Not my best few years. But, nevertheless, I signed up anyway. I went to the classes that taught the tryout dance, and my best friend at the time, Keely (who was 100% athlete and grace combined) helped me many afternoons to perfect my skills. I'll never forget her telling me how great I was at pointing my toes. 

So tryouts came, and even back then, they were a BIG deal. I got in my group of girls, headed into the gym, and did my best. I remember thinking in my head as a 14 year old chubby girl, "Do your best," "Smile," "Show your personality!" I walked out of the gym feeling like I had done what I could, and I felt secure in that, whatever the results came out to be. 

So back at this time, the Internet was not was it is today. The results of who made drill team and cheerleading were read after tryouts in the gym with everyone there to see your face and hear your cries. Spoiler alert: I did not make Chaffin Charmers that year. I didn't bust into tears or sob in my t-shirt. I was simply ready to exit the gym and get home. The only thing worse than being around all my peers in that gym to get those results was facing the barrage of screaming, hysterical, ridiculous moms waiting outside the glass doors outside. I will never forget one mom literally grabbing me and screaming, "DID SHE MAKE IT? DID 'SARAH' MAKE CHEERLEADER?!!!?" She shoved me aside before I could even answer. It was as close to a circus that I have ever been to. (Read Kevin Thompson's Blog What a Child's Mistake Reveals About a Parent for more insight on that area).

My tears didn't come until I walked up to my mom and had to tell her that I didn't make it... with all my green and gold good luck balloons, flowers, cards, and candy in my hands. I remember her hugging me, saying, "Oh baby. I'm so sorry. I'm sure you did your best and that it was great." We went home, and we talked more about the tryouts and the day I had getting these gifts and notes of good luck and a gigantic card signed by everyone I loved at the time wishing me the best. Even in my moment of "failure," my mom comforted me, supported me, and loved me without making me feel any shame. 

This memory came as a fleeting thought last week, and I cried as I began to think of how powerful this has been for me in my life. I cried talking to my husband about it, and I'm crying now as I type. I started thinking about how I had NO business trying out for a dance team - what was I even thinking? How did I even think I had a chance? How many times in my life did I attempt something that was completely out of my reach? How was I able to do that?

It's because of my mom. 

When I had a grand idea or some lofty dream, she was there to tell me I could do it and do it well. There was no doubt or discouragement when I said I wanted to try out to be a Charmer; she sent me the biggest good luck balloon there was. When I said that I wanted to to try out to give a speech at my high school graduation (when really I should stick to just writing and not really ever public speaking), she was my audience for a mock performance giving me the standing ovation in the living room. When I wanted to move across the country to spend a summer in Atlanta, she threw me a goodbye party, rode with me halfway, kissed me goodbye, and said I'd be fine. When I wanted to go to graduate school, she was there to say I could do it and that she was already so proud. When I wanted to go skydiving, she said I love you and be safe and watched as I got on a plane.

*Photo Cred: Stuart Lippincott

Mom, you were my safety net when I stepped out on unsteady tightropes. You were my parachute when I jumped out of tiny, beat up planes. You have been my safe place of loving support for my entire life, and it's because of you that I learned to leap and not fear the fall. You have given me a gift that many kids don't get... that will last all of my life and into my future children's lives. To say thank you is not enough, but thank you from the bottom of my heart. So many times I swung for the fences, not even knowing that I was a t-ball player in a major league game... all because you confidently held up a pendant reading "YOU CAN DO IT!" from the bleachers. You are the reason I can risk... because I know that you will be there if I make it or not, saying I did my best and that you love me anyway.

im thankful
carrie anne

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

How to Deal with the Storms of Life

The storms of life hit all of us at times. We encounter loss, heartache, grief, and sadness, and a lot of times we have no idea how to make it through these particularly difficult parts of life. Everyone around us has their suggestions and advice, or even worse, nothing to say at all when we go through a painful situation. But what are we supposed to do when things go from better to worse and then worse to worst? What is the plan when one wave of life knocks us down and another one comes before we can even find out footing again?

Whether it's the loss of a loved one, divorce, a breakup, traumatic event, difficult news or a shocking diagnosis...Here are my thoughts for 4 ways to make it through painful moments in life.


1.) Survive
This may seem simple, but I can certainly assure that even surviving can feel like climbing Mount Everest for someone going through a difficult time in life. And what I mean by "survive," is just to simply make it through each day. Eat, drink, sleep, and survive.  When you're drowning in the middle of the ocean and fighting to stay above the waves, you aren't concerned with the form of your strokes or your tan lines. You just have to keep your head above the water. Forget the "fluff" of life: thank you cards, meetings, laundry, miscellaneous appointments, etc. At least temporarily, if it isn't required for you to survive through the day, let it slide.

2.) Stay close to supportive, loving people you can trust
Support of trusted friends and family can make an enormous difference in your grieving process. Being honest with them about what you need and don't need is also very important. If you're the type of person who wants people around and doesn't like to be alone, then vocalize those desires. And conversely, if you're the type who likes to be alone and grieve in solitude, then by all means, let that be known. Sometimes family and friends do their best to show support and love, and their best way of showing it may not be what you need/want. And if you know someone going through a difficult time and don't want to say/do the wrong thing, please read this article. I think it beautifully describes how to be a good friend to those in painful situations:  How Not to Say the Wrong Thing

3.) Avoid people who will cause confusion, irritation, or hurt
This may seem like it would be obvious given #2; however, it deserves its own bullet point. In the grieving process, it is all about YOU. You get to decide who you let in and who you don't, and there is nothing wrong with avoiding people who you bring you down during that process.

My family went through a traumatic experience when my sister was diagnosed with Leukemia at 5 years old (To read about my sister's survival and beautiful story, Click Here). My parents had to learn the hard way that some unexpected friends would be there for support, and other friends they counted on to be there wouldn't be. At times, some people were judgmental, mean, and downright nasty to my parents. In the process of caring for their terminally ill daughter, I can see nothing wrong with avoiding the people whose only function was to bring my family down. Basically, if someone's not throwing you a life jacket and helping you to keep from drowning, they aren't necessary to keep close to you.

4.) Cling to the truth
One of the most important things to do in the process of dealing with "waves of life" is to cling to what is true. So often, people in situations with horrible loss and almost constant hurt can become confused, lost, and afraid. One of the best ways to counter these emotions (other than to lean on others who are supportive) is to cling to what is true. Find Scripture that speaks to God's fondness of you to help if you are fighting doubts about who you are as a person. Review facts about what has happened and what may occur in the future in order to focus your mind and help to keep it from spinning out of control. Sometimes it seems impossible to focus your mind during these parts of life; cut yourself some slack. Be kind to yourself, and if you don't have the support system you need, consider seeing a therapist to help you organize and sort through the overwhelming spot you're in.

One thing that is guaranteed for all of us in life is to encounter difficult moments. For some of us, those moments may last longer and have fewer breaks between now and the next one. Hopefully, these 4 ideas might help you get through a painful situation or help you to be a better support for someone who is. I hope this brings some encouragement for those currently in painful situations... that surviving through it may be the best way you know how, and your best is enough.

im thankful.
carrie anne