As part of a class I’m taking, I have been trying to bring to mind any life experiences that I perceived as negative at the time they occurred but that ultimately brought about blessings, or at least good things that would not have otherwise happened.
When we live our life moving forward from one decision to another as time naturally unfolds, we do not have the perspective to know if we are making wise choices. We do our best with the information and circumstances at hand and usually don’t spend much time in reflection until much later in life, if at all. However, when circumstances give us an opportunity to call a “time out” and to take a look around at our life thus far and where our choices have taken us, it can be a priceless gift.
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Our immediate response to the recent damage to our home was to reassess. We began small, but our thoughts and ideas quickly grew to larger perspectives and eventually we were questioning much more than just a house. We started thinking, “If we were unattached to this physical location, where would we like to be?” We both felt that we weren’t particularly attached to Houston so we considered what it would be like to live in a few of our favorite cities. Mr. B probably doesn’t know that for 5 minutes, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to live abroad for a year. Ultimately we focused solely on moving to Austin. We spent a couple of weeks looking at neighborhoods, talking with friends there, and seeing what houses were on the market.
I noticed that in my thinking about moving there, I felt free from the limitations I have felt in Houston. I was excited to imagine filling my time there with art, meaningful study, and healthy living. Mr. B was excited about the physical terrain, being near close friends, the large Hill Country homes on beautiful properties, as well as its music scene.
We got somewhat far down that thought experiment path when I remembered that the sole reason that we chose to move to Houston 11 years ago was that my family is nearby. Now, once again, I came to the exact same decision. No amount of music or natural springs could ever replace the value of being able to have an impromptu Sunday visit with my parents, siblings, nieces, and nephews. Especially since Sweet Girl is an only child, we want her to have those close relationships with her cousins. I’m also amazingly blessed to still have my grandparents right down the road and I enjoy meeting them for lunch or facilitating their relationship with their great-granddaughter. Family is just one of those aspects of life that is irreplaceable. Nothing else matters nearly as much.
Once we decided to remain in Houston, we thought about living in other areas of town, considering what daily life, the schools, and the houses available there would be like. Each time, I noticed that I’d get really excited to envision making new friends, having more free time, being outside on the walking trails every day with my camera.
I’ll spare you all the other considerations because we ultimately chose our very same city, our same plot of land, the same school and friends and environment. However, in choosing again what we naturally ended up with as a result of many tiny life steps, it reaffirmed for me that we are happy and secure in our physical placement and that we are pretty good at making decisions that lead to contentment and peace of mind. All those choices were the right ones for us, and that knowledge makes me feel pretty darn good about our judgment and content in trusting ourselves to continue making the right decisions.
At one point, we thought that if it were “just the two of us,” we would leave Houston in a heartbeat. We thought that we were choosing to stay so that SG would be close to our family. But we weren’t thinking of the amazing friendships we have made here (ones upon which I have relied heavily these past few months). We didn’t consider what a close-knit school community we are part of, and we forgot that our neighborhood itself is fairly unique. And it was only after this storm experience and it’s aftermath that I realized what a richness of humanity we have in our very own City of Houston. We would have been searching for something that very much resembles what we already have.
Thinking of what would be best for SG also led to a large shift in my parenting perspective. Until 3 months ago, I had been far too reluctant to set clear boundaries and expectations with her. Finally at a breaking point, I sought professional help and heard the words I have been hoping were true for 9 years now: “It’s not supposed to be this hard.”
With this too, I can begin again, but in a different way. I am finding my path with what kind of parent I need to be for my curious, creative, smart young girl. It probably seems like no change at all to her, but I feel a drastic shift. In fact, had I been ready to make this shift years before, we might have 3 kids by now! I am appreciating her for exactly who she is, rather than comparing her behavior to some imaginary expectation I have. By doing what this child and this momma need, life is smoother and much simpler. That is going to be true no matter where we live.
I was also aware that in making the decision of whether to move to Austin or not, my primary focus was on making my husband happy. He has made it a natural thing to think of me before he thinks of himself and I usually feel that I have a ways to go to catch up to him in that regard. However, in this instance, and in a few since then, I’ve noticed how strongly I wanted him to be somewhere where he felt content, happy, and far less stressed. I wanted that for him so much more than I wanted anything for myself. Ultimately, I think he realized that he could be all those things regardless of where we live and he has been taking steps to get himself there.
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When you have big choices that weigh on you and you can’t talk or think about much else, it’s exhausting. It was such a relief to come to some decisions and then take action knowing that we are on solid ground again. (There’s a pun in there somewhere.) Through it all, I was trying to tap into what we were “meant to do” and nothing was coming to mind. It felt like my intuition was on vacation.
I’ve come to believe that there is no huge “right decision.” There is only taking the next small step. Just like driving a car and being lost with no idea where you are, it’s only in making some movement in any direction that the GPS will show you a path. It may be slightly outside of your original intention, but you will end up in the same place.
Throwing open the doors of possibility and giving myself the chance to determine what I want for myself and what we want for our family has been one of those good things that come out of a negative circumstance. It’s not like I watched the rising water 13 weeks ago and thought to myself, “Oh good. I’m going to really assess where I am in life and the choices I’ve made.”
But what an opportunity! Why not go out more often to hear live music because it makes us so happy? Let’s spend more time appreciating and cultivating our relationships with the people who mean so much to us and with each other. Let’s give our time to projects and people and experiences that directly fill us up.
When I truly thought about my life and what I want from it, everything was crystal clear. I don’t think I would have otherwise examined it this way. I’m not grateful for the storm and such devastation, but I can take something invaluable from the experience.
I am not being Pollyanna-ish about this, I don’t think. I have been before in that utterly hopeless place where nothing makes sense, everything feels personal, and darkness hovers, inescapable. Actually, having endured that thrice before, a damaged house is no big deal. Fixable.
I don’t have a lot of free time these days with all the logistics that go into shuffling our possessions all over the city and now us moving to a rental home, let alone the long process of designing and building a new house, but what time I do have is spent deliberately. I am focused on the blessings and not the inconveniences.
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I believe that we always have a choice in how we respond to a situation. Think Nelson Mandela not letting the walls be an enclosure. How do we approach daily life? What is our mindset toward the people we interact with every day? How do we think of our body? Do we see the good or the not-so-good in every minor situation?
If you really think about it, it is our mindset that affects most of our daily life. My dad gave me a little gold metal card when I was about 16 that starts with “Life is 90% attitude.” It’s a reminder that our mental framework has the power to shape our reality. Maybe there’s some chance or luck tossed in, but primarily we get to decide how we view the external world.
A travel delay could be just the time you need to catch up on something or with someone. A broken ankle could cause you to slow down and start making different choices. I don’t have any answers for why awful things happen in the world, but for this particular event, though it’s an enormous headache and hassle, it’s also helpful (for me) to think of it as having a silver lining.
It’s exciting to be able to shape your own future, to take the reins and decide what you want your life to look like. There are so many possibilities. It’s a real life “choose-your-own-adventure” book. Sure, it needn’t take a natural disaster to bring about such a profound shift, but it often does take something big to shake us up enough that we get some perspective and reevaluate. I wish for each of you that you too will find the silver linings in your life.