Hi y’all! I’m still alive. I’m sorry I have been neglecting my blog and pretty much everything else writing related!
At the end of February I flew to Southern Illinois for a week of talks in Mt. Carmel. That community is so special to me since it was the first one to hire me to come speak at their parishes. This year was just as special to me. I had so many amazing conversations and what I love most about southern Illinois is how much it’s like Texas. I love small farming communities so much, they just remind me of where I grew up in South Texas. Boots and cows. It’s where I feel the most comfortable.
From there I flew to Chicago for the FemCatholic conference. This conference was so amazing that I will need a few blog posts to really write about it. Speaking about Anthony and what God has done for me is really where I feel like I am living out my purpose in life. I will write more about this experience later this week or early next week with links and details! It was AMAZING.
When I landed back in Austin Texas, my husband Stacey was home for Iraq. To catch everyone up: my husband and I separated last September and were on the way to getting civilly divorced (not an annulment) when he left to Iraq. Then in December both of us talked things out, the biggest conflict being he no longer wants to keep our house where my son Anthony took his own life and I can’t bring myself to leave it yet, and we dismissed the divorce and agreed to talk about the house once our debt is paid and he comes home from Iraq. So when I got home at the beginning of March he was home and it was the first time I had seen him in 6 months. Needless to say, I fell off the grid.
We had so much fun together and with our family. We honored Anthony’s life on the anniversary of his suicide and we took our grandchildren to Chuck EE Cheese (ps they sell beer now so it’s not as hellish as in the past!) it was fun all around.
Now he’s back there and I’m home trying to catch up on things that were put aside while I was traveling and while he was home. And it’s a lot.
So that’s what I’ve been up to! I fully intend to be back to a regular writing schedule next week, but I’m not promising anything because there are still a few fires we have burning with issues with kids and my mom is having surgery. But I will at least write a few posts in the next week!
One reason that I have been avoiding writing this blog post is that I already know what is going to happen. I am going to write it all out and people will be so proud of me and offer encouragement or say something like “I wish I could do that” and then my life will fall apart. This has happened over and over as a blogger. I think it is because God likes to entertain Himself by torturing bloggers/writers/authors/speakers.
But here I go anyway.
Part of this need to get my shit together comes from the fact that I have been living in the black hole known as Grief for the last two years and the fog is finally lifting. Several things happened to snap me out of it. The biggest one was probably when my husband moved out in September. That is very complicated and involves things that are not mine to speak on, but I can say that when I no longer had such a close target for my anger or someone taking care of my every need, I had to really come back to being some kind of presence in my life again instead of just being on autopilot.
I got a job and being out in the world reminded me that I love people. I love talking to people and hearing their stories. I love seeing people grow. I also remembered how many people have no clue what the purpose of their lives are and that God loves them so much He thought the world needed them in it to make it better. I also remembered how much I hate waiting tables and how much I love writing. So I quit because I could once my husband and I reconciled.
Step 1 of Getting my Shit Together:
is to write full time. To focus on it and to begin freelance writing and pitching agents for my memoir. I was waiting tables out of the need to pay my bills and also fear. Fear was honestly the biggest factor. When the need to pay my bills was gone, fear was all that was left. I had to make the choice to jump even if I was scared to death. I still am, but now is the time.
Step 2 of #GMST2019 (we are just gonna go modern now and go with this hashtag)
This might actually be #1 depending on how you look at it. Or it might be the pre-requisite. Anyway, it is going back to therapy. Going to therapy and dealing with hard things. You would think that the trauma of losing a son to suicide is the hard thing but the truth is that I had given up on therapy because I blamed myself for his suicide. Somewhere in my mind, I had already failed the most I could fail so there was no reason to even keep healing from anything that happened before Anthony died. Also, I had taken on the punishment of life without therapy as a punishment for Anthony’s suicide. Going back has helped me see that and get my emotional life in order. I do not want to keep on letting anger lead me by the hand. I also am not about to be fake or let people walk all over me so I need therapy to help me balance those two things out.
Step 3 #GMST2019 (see how I keep making this shorter?)
A budget. You guys. There are just somethings that I do not understand the concept of when people say them. Like “dress in layers” or “surrender to God’s plan for your life” or “just budget your money”. First of all, I hardly have ever had money and second I do not know what those words even mean. But I have a friend who does know what a budget is and how to make one so I asked her for help. She explained.things to me over coffee and we talked about other things so it was also time with a friend. I left that coffee date with a new understanding of how to manage money. I have been using the YNAB (You Need a Budget) app and it has changed my life. I have all my bills and expenses covered and my choices on what to spend my money on are more intentional. I am also so grateful that I understand how to manage money instead of feeling like money is in control of my life. No, I still do not have endless amounts of money so I have to make choices, but I am making them, they are not just happening to me.
Step 4 #GMST2019
A daily schedule. Time is like money. It has to be managed. We only have so much of it and the things we have to do take time. I took the things I learned about a budget and applied them to time. I busted out my Blessed is She planner and started budgeting my time. Putting it all down helped me to see what my priorities are and make them happen and also to see what I can and can’t say yes to during the week and why. This daily schedule helped me to see goals in their context rather than just being things on a random list somewhere that I expect to just happen. That is not how things materialize in our lives. If we want something, we have to work towards it. A daily schedule telling me what space in my day is going to be to focus on this specific goal is how I will get there.
Step 5 #GMST 2019
My priorities. Prayer, myself, family, school, gym time and daily Mass. I had to sit down and set my priorities and put them in my life. For so long these things are just concepts that either get attention or they don’t. Sometimes they even compete for attention. Using my budget and daily schedule I can put them in their place in my daily life rather than just think about them. I had to stop feeling bad that self-care comes right after God for me because I am codependent and have no boundaries so that is what works in my life to make me the best version of myself. Then I had to put myself on my schedule. That meant putting “bubble bath” on my weekly schedule. Or putting “gym” time in my daily schedule. Once I set my priorities and put them in my weekly schedule I could see how it was possible and could stop feeling guilty about taking care of myself. I can also see how taking care of myself helps me to care for everyone else. I can also see how much time somethings are taking out of my day and out of my other priorities. Like social media. And I can adjust or adapt accordingly. This means taking Saturdays to write and schedule blog posts, learning how to schedule social media posts and limiting myself to an hour a day on social media.
All of these things have helped me gain some control over my life over the things I can control. I know there is plenty that I cannot control, but that does not mean just letting life punch you in the face all the time. That will happen anyway, even if you have a budget and schedule and goals. But having my shit together might make them easier to handle when they come along. I don’t know, I might end up saying this is all too much and going back to binge-watching Netflix and eating McDonald’s for dinner. I will let you know.
What are some things in your Get Your Shit Together Plan?
My friend Jen Fulwiler and her husband came over to our house the night we found my oldest son Anthony dead by suicide and ordered food for my family. We didn’t even remember we needed to eat because we were in such shock we had not even realized how hungry we were. Before she left she handed me a wad of cash that by God’s grace was given to her by her dad and said “money does not fix anything but hard things are easier with it” (I am paraphrasing) Right from the start I learned how right she was.
The money she gave me was almost the exact amount that I needed to pay the light bill which kept the lights on since they were going to be shut off the day after we found Anthony. On the day after my son hung himself in my garage, I was at the bank putting in cash Jen gave me so I could pay the light bill. If there has ever been a moment in my life when money and electricity seemed so meaningless and stupid it was that one. Then came the funeral planning. Again, money seemed so pointless and meaningless. My son was dead, nothing at all mattered to me next to that. Anthony’s suicide was the kind of problem money could not fix. But now that I have two years to look at in hindsight, I can see how the money helped cushion the blow of it.
This is why when people ask how to help a friend who has lost someone suddenly I always say to stock them up with paper goods, cleaning supplies, cash and gift cards. In the aftermath of death, nothing matters. Buying toilet paper seems so pointless when your brain is screaming “YOUR PERSON IS DEAD!!” at you.
But if I had said to a person burying a child with no money “money doesn’t matter” that would have come off as arrogant and clueless. Because money does matter. Money is how we pay for food, lights, gas so we can have heat, clothes to keep us warm and all the other things we as human beings need to survive. It is how we pay to bury our children. When people who have money and material needs met tell people who don’t have money or material needs met that money does not matter, it is a statement of ignorance and privilege. It would be easy for me to say “money does not matter” as a person who had plenty of money to make sure that I could have the funeral I wanted for my son thanks to the world sending me donations to do. A funeral that expressed my love for him without having to worry about cost. I could easily tell people that money did not matter to me because I didn’t have to worry about it when it came to Anthony’s funeral or the aftermath. As Jen told me, money made Anthony’s suicide easier to deal with even though it did not fix it at all. I would trade it all to have him back.
This is what I think about when I hear people who write or speak for a living and get paid to do it and have money to pay for their bills with that money tell other people that they do not do those things for the money. No, maybe money is not their motivating factor but they still get paid and still have money and material needs met that those of us who write and speak for small fees, or no fees, do not have met. It is easy to say that Jesus should be the only reason a Christian should write or speak when you are getting paid enough to cover your needs. If it is truly all about Jesus then don’t get paid and live off donations. The greatest evangelizer I know did that so I know it is possible to do. But do not say that it is not at all about money if you are getting paid and have your bills covered and have health insurance and are not working a day job to cover expenses while you write at 2am on a blog that makes you no money. Because that is just douchy. It is also not being thankful for the gifts you have like lights and health insurance.
Everyone has different circumstances and we cannot make blanket assumptions about other people’s motives or intentions. Not even when it comes to Catholic speakers and writers. Just because you see someone do or post something you feel is not Catholic enough does not mean that that person is not living their lives totally in obedience to Jesus. It just means that who they are called to share the Gospel with is not who you are called to share it with. And they have been given different gifts to do what it is that God has called them to do. This is what I call the “diversity of gifts”. The gifts needed to talk to strippers, gangsters, and prostitutes are not the same gifts needed to talk to teens or suburban housewives. We all have the gift to tell our stories of what God has done for us. Some of us have the gift to do that through social media or on a stage or in the secular world or in our everyday work life.
It is a Grace to be able to look at people who are in very difficult circumstances and be able to not see the mess but see a child loved by God. It is also a Grace to be able to speak to a crowd. Some people have two or three same gifts but then those two people can be totally different in other spaces. There is no ONE WAY to speak on the Grace of God. We can see this when we read the stories of the saints. The real stories, not the ones that people tell so that it looks like all the saints were perfect people who never did any wrong.
Right now the world needs to hear about Jesus from different people in different ways. I have tried to stop cussing or listening to pop/rap/hip hop music. I have tried to not watch reality TV or stop loving the Kardashians. But that is just not who I am. I am me. I have all the gifts that God wants me to have to do what He wants me to do. I am fearless when it comes to seeing God in all things secular. I can talk Jesus while in a dive bar taking shots with total strangers. I can have a full conversation with a hooker at 9am while drinking a beer with her without batting an eye. I feel more comfortable among strippers and gang members than I do in a Bible Study at my suburban parish. I am learning how not to be bitter at people who have not had the life experiences I have had (it is a very slow process that requires me to let go of my own assumptions) but I will probably always be more comfortable around people who seem so far from God than those who, from the outside, look like walking saints. My life has always been about duality and living in two different spaces, it is no different now that I have converted to Catholicism. I live in both spaces and I am starting to see that as a gift too. Just do not ever think that because I share Cardi B quotes or Ariana Grande music on social media that I am not living out the mission God gave me. In fact, do not think that of anyone. We are all on the same team.
We are all trying to do our best to live out the life God has given to us the best way we can, using the gifts He has given us while also paying the light bill. Sometimes we do that by preaching to the choir and sometimes we do it by going to the dive bar to smoke newports and take shots of Jameson preaching the Good News. And if you think that is not possible, you are not giving God enough credit. God has diverse gifts to give to us and sometimes we are lucky enough that those gifts help us pay our bills and there is nothing wrong with that. Sometimes the gift is speaking pagan fluently. Who are we to say what God can or can’t use to bring His people to Him? God is much bigger than our limited view of Him. The best thing we can do for each other is asking each other “how can I help you?” or just shutting up and letting God do what God does.