Learning To Let Go

Making Nice in the Midwest

Each morning I would struggle to open my dresser drawers, jammed full with years of holey tights and skimpy swimsuits, until one day I had finally had enough. I pulled out all of the drawers and decided not to put them back again until I went through the contents of each one and refilled the drawers with only what was loved, in good shape, and in the right size. Of course, the drawers sat around on our bedroom floor for about a month until I had finally tackled the daunting task of carefully organizing each one. You guys- there were swimsuits I hadn’t worn since high school! Talk about a waste of space. But now that my dresser is thoughtfully filled with only what I need? I don’t need to take a walk down memory lane when I open a drawer- all I have to do is grab exactly what I’m looking for. Whew!

Before I was diagnosed with cancer earlier this Spring, I definitely felt like my life was just like my dresser drawers- overstuffed with accumulated responsibilities and confused priorities. I didn’t know that’s how I felt at the time- until everything fell apart. I thought I was happy trying to do it all- because I thought that was what I should want. But in actuality, the huge expectations I had heaped on myself to do more, experience more, make everything beautiful, travel more, blog more, socialize more, work more, do more creative work, and make everyone happy in the meantime- it was all just slowly chipping away at my joy and making me feel like a failure. Somehow I had no idea that my life was getting too full and complicated. Part of it was just not coping well with life changes that happen with new motherhood and a bit of a quarter life crisis. Another major aspect that led to my tipping point was that my twenties were throwing all of their big changes and challenges at me all at once. And I was refusing to deal with it. A miscarriage, a new mortgage, almost certain unemployment for Phil, a brand new colicky baby, two knee surgeries for Phil, a scary life-threatening surgery for me, a cancer diagnosis, never ending work on our new house, and never enough time or money.

dealing with cancer

It’s a little difficult, as a contemplative person and a fluid thinker, to ever be at peace when life gets messy. My thoughts were a scary mess that I ignored until I was left alone with them at night- unable to rest, and unable to quiet my mind. I felt like I was juggling all of these responsibilities, fears, and legitimate concerns, but my arms were getting tired. I knew one of those balls I was juggling would fall to the ground, and instead of feeling relief at letting them go, I was freaking out about losing my sense of control. I finally came to the realization that I had been trying to ground myself, through sickness and life changes, by engaging in fulfilling work. But I wasn’t making much money at it, and so it just added more stress by taking away time that I needed to spend elsewhere- like with my family, or even just keeping my house reasonably clean and my body moderately nourished. I realized that what I thought of as “grounding myself,” was actually just distracting me from things that had been building up and needed to be dealt with immediately. So when I got that cancer diagnosis, and I started an exhausting two-month round of radiation treatment, I just let it all go. Not because I wanted to, but because I had to. Either way, it was a good thing that it happened.

During radiation, I couldn’t do much of anything, much less even consider doing everything. Everyone in my life expected me to just quit everything and rest. Thank God. So that’s what I did. And that’s when I realized how happy I am when I’m resting and feeding my soul with loving people and zero expectations. I worked on creative projects that I didn’t share on my blog or social media. No expectations, no worries about what people would think. I went days without even logging onto the internet, and I let my e-mail inbox go ignored. Without even worrying about it! I was so refreshed and amazed at how great it felt to just let it all go. I started taking time to just focus on me. My fears. My life. My body. And my health- mental, physical, and spiritual health.

When I first started feeling sick and realized I had lost all control, at first I freaked out. It was scary feeling at the mercy of life- of cancer, of school levies (for Phil’s job security), of oncologists, and of the innumerable uncertainties of living in a broken world. I started thinking fatalistic thoughts about how uncertain all of life is- about how Phil could even die in a car wreck on the way home from school, and I would just sob thinking about losing him. It was debilitating. But I started praying more. Searching my soul, and letting God work in my heart. It doesn’t make sense until it happens. It’s like something clicks. I began to shift my perspective. No, I can’t control what happens tomorrow, but what is something I can count on? The sun still rises in the morning, the rain still falls. God sends his peace when I ask for it, and I feel grounded by the things that are actually important. I discovered that my quest to control everything, my being too busy, and my feeling like I needed to do more was all just keeping me from enjoying life. I didn’t want to feel exhausted after making it through another day and another to-do list. I didn’t want to keep looking at my list of goals and just feel relieved that I was one day closer to reaching them. I didn’t want to obsess over things that I would someday have or achieve. I needed to live life now. Enjoy what I have now. Love the people I have in my life now. Because we really can’t control what happens tomorrow. Or even if there will be a tomorrow.

dealing with cancer

After all that I’ve gone through in the past year or so, it would be easy to just look back on it all with a scowl and a breath of relief that it’s all over. But I don’t want to continue through life making the same mistakes over again. I don’t have an imminent fear of dying like I did when I first learned I had cancer. But I still want to live life with an urgency to enjoy the day to day, and not fall back into the rat race of controlling everything and losing life to busyness. So instead of letting all of life’s stresses fill up in my life again, I decided some cleaning out was in order. I mentioned once before that after my radiation treatment was over, I wasn’t sure how to get back to life. I wasn’t sure what was important, or what I even cared about any more. So now that I’ve come out of that two month stretch of not doing much, instead of picking it all back up again and trying to juggle all of the roles and responsibilities I had been juggling before, I’ve been analyzing what I want to let back into my life, and what I should probably set aside for now, or maybe forever.

Before I lost control and had my minor meltdown, I had built a persona for myself, fueled by the unwitting encouragement of those around me, that was just growing to encompass more and more things, and causing more and more stress. Designer. Photographer. Blogger. Vintage shop “owner.” Mother. Fashionista. Chef. Friend. Hostess with the mostest. Dutiful daughter. The list goes on. And it’s all just too much to juggle. I love all of these things, but I need to figure out how they all fit into my life. What time do I have to give to each one, and when is it time to just let that role expire? I’m sort of learning that after all of the balls you’ve been juggling fall down, you have to start again with just one at a time. And then figure out a new rhythm that works.

The most important things to me right now are making connections with people, helping provide for my family’s needs, and enjoying life-enriching experiences. If I’m spending time or energy on something that doesn’t fit into this criteria, and I begin to wonder why I’m doing it, I’m just going to stop. That might seem like common sense, but for an overworked, ambitious people-pleaser? It’s so difficult to cut it out and just be real with myself about what is actually important. I’m committed to not feeling like a failure for quitting something that I don’t enjoy or that’s taking up too much of my precious time. I won’t feel like a bad friend for needing to stay home and rest. And I won’t feel deprived when I don’t have the possessions I thought I wanted or needed, because spending time with my family is more important than buying things for them. Oh the pep talks I will need to give myself. And oh, the times when life’s stresses will remind me all over again for my need to simplify and bring my worries to God. It’s a process. And maybe you knew that already. But me? I’m just begin to figure it all out.

Making Nice in the Midwest

photos by Churchill Photography

32 Responses

  1. jeny says:

    What a thoughtful, thought provoking post. I recently just updated an intentions list for my year ( I usually do it around every birthday) and my number one was disconnecting and reconnecting with my family. It sounds like your on the right path for you and your right when all else fails hand it over to God.

  2. rachel says:

    Last year you spoke about the importance of waiting and it really touched me. I went back to it when I needed it in my own life. This post has affected me in a similar way. Your list of priorities,(making connections with people, helping provide for my family’s needs, and enjoying life-enriching experiences) is spot on. I think there is so much wisdom it that list. I hope to refer back to it myself, and to remind myself what i need and what I don’t.

  3. Emmisen says:

    thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. i am on a different path, after years of waiting, patience, and being supported in that from my surroundings… it is so difficult to change. but we know what we have to do, and there’s lots of inspiration, and it might be one of the biggest lessons of life.

  4. Annie says:

    This is a lovely post in so many ways. In our hyper world of activity we need to slow down and find out who we are to be in God. The pastor of our church said something thought provoking that made sense to me. He said that social media, the internet, have caused us to go wide and shallow in our relationships. When we need to go deep -with God, with our family, close friends. Now I am saying there is nothing inherently “wrong” with social media but it’s the way we use it. Like any tool given to us we need to be intentional about how it is used in our lives. I mean I “met” you on the Internet and my life has been enriched by the lives and ideas of so many others. But you are right– too much of any good thing when not tempered through God can leave us unfulfilled. My prayers are right there for you (and me) as we continue to focus on the truly essential.

  5. Ruth says:

    Such powerful words. Thank you for sharing your inner thoughts with us. Truly inspiring!

  6. elizabeth says:

    this is such a lovely, thought-provoking, fantastic post. thank you so much for posting it – so inspiring and just real, if that makes any sense. i’ve been feeling pretty overwhelmed by Life lately (although on a smaller scale, to be sure), and knowing that you have gone through so much and despite the struggles, you’re beginning to find some clarity.. it is just so good.

  7. This is so encouraging and it just made my morning :) wonderful post! This should be on yahoo news! Because there are so many people who could benefit from doing what you have just beautifully described. Culturally we are expected to be in a hurry and do it all…especially us women and its a terrible trap.thank you!!!

  8. PS: the photos are lovely!

  9. Lieke says:

    Thank you for sharing. It shows I’m on the right path as well.
    I’m a ‘worrier’ and a people-pleaser and am now trying to let go. Since coming out of a bad relationship, it’s getting easier and I’ve never been more optimistic.

    I’m sure it’s a long road, but we’re getting there.

  10. Meg says:

    “losing life to busyness”. I so totally hear what you are saying 100%. I’m in the same place, though my path getting here was different. Thank you for putting this out there.

  11. Monika says:

    You are so inspiring ! And what a lovely family x

  12. Merci says:

    Motherhood is such a gift! God can use it, if we let Him, to take the small moments and turn them into deep moments that remind us what and who is truly important.

    I think the beauty in life is shedding our “skin” over and over again and letting it grow and change us more and more into the image of Christ so we can be a light to those around us :)
    Thanks Mandy for sharing how God is growing you :)

  13. Alice says:

    This post is resonates with me today as I am learning to not focus on all the things I have not achieved and instead focus on all that is great and beautiful in my life. I have been discontent lately and I dont believe that is how God wants me to live. So no more comparing what I have not done to what others have done and no more undue pressure on myself! Thanks for sharing your journey, the rawness of it really is inspiring to others. Love from NZ x

  14. katie says:

    oh i love this post, thanks so much for sharing so much with us. i was thinking in the first paragrapht that this would be all about physical cleaning and organizing and was already thinking to myself taht I need to clear out my sock drawer when I get home– and then the post went in a much more important direction. this is something i’ve been thinking about a lot lately… intentionality. which activities and people are most important… focus. doing less. this is a great reminder..

  15. Lisa R says:

    Thank you for writing this, Mandy. I know it takes a lot of courage to put it all out there. I too have been struggling for about 6 months with where I want to distribute my time and my focus. It is a hard thing to figure out- do I want to continue working my business, painting more, home upgrades, exercising… I always feel guilty about not doing one thing or another and I think this is a trait only humans have. I love that you have made a promise to yourself to not feel this way if you decide to quit something that isn’t worth it for you at the moment. I feel I try not to “fail” and try to do too much at time. I have been working on simplifying my life as well- getting a smaller suitcase and packing less, getting rid of things that I haven’t used or wouldn’t miss not having around.
    I too vote for more fresh air, laughing and picnics with loved ones :) Thank you for this lovely read.

  16. Lisa R says:

    *Mandi (sorry for the mispelling!)

  17. Girl, you nailed it. This is beautiful and awesome and you are beautiful and awesome. Thank you for writing this. I think you DO have it figured out. <3

  18. what an incredibly beautiful post..
    God bless you and your darling family!
    xx

  19. Em says:

    What a heart felt compelling post, I read it just when I needed to, just as I was angry at myself for not achieving unrealistic goals and feeling frustrated for not being …more. Thank you for grounding me with your honesty and making me realise what is important. I hope you don’t slip back, because life really is a beautiful thing, and should be appreciated for every second of joy that it brings us.
    Em x x x

  20. Carrie says:

    You are such a wonderful writer! Thanks for your inspiring words that bring us back to reality and focus on what’s truly important! I love you Mandi!!!

  21. irene says:

    This is so inspired me. Thank you for sharing this. This morning, i read this on my office, and i can’t stop thinking what you said about worries and scary things. Maybe we just a human. we are not perfect. somehow, we are forget what we really want to do and we lost our focus. That’s because we are to scary for live in this life. I’m agree with you, sometimes we need to figure it out.

    Well, i will pray for the best for you too.. God have a time for you. And that’s a good time! So, keep have a faith for this life! Keep believe with His way.

  22. Lisa W. says:

    THIS is wonderful…and you ALSO may help change many people lives. We all can so relate to this post!!! I have had a very troubled heart. I went through back surgery 4 weeks ago today…not fun. IN NO WAY what you went through with your cancer AND all your treatments that follow there after. But no matter I had to “learn” to let things go BIG time. AND it is not easy…osd cleaner, got to make dinner, have to make a dinner that everyone will like…have to call this person and check in on them…have to clean out that closet…have to sweep…catch up on scrapbooking, you know the list goes one.

    I have cried…been mad…sad…and all the above, this post REALLY makes me realize I have to take care of myself, AND boy do I need to do some cleansing, and its just gonna be alreight! Thank you for this, I am already feeling better…more positive…thankful for all my dear freinds and family. THANK YOU!!!

    Your pictures are simply beautiful!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  23. It’s so interesting to me that the only truly constant thing in life is change. It’s inevitable and resisting it seems to make it worse. I think it’s very strong and inspiring of you to write and share something as thoughtful as this post with the world. Everyone has to deal with changes. Some are scary, heartbreaking and devastating, but your perspective on it all is really refreshing and uplifting. Thanks for this!

  24. Greetings! I’ve been following along on your journey through your blog for a few months now. I don’t have amazing wisdom or insight to share: all I want to say is thank you. Thank you for letting us readers get a small glimpse into your world. Your words have inspired me and really resonate with my own journey in discovering the important things in my own life. Peace

  25. Hello,

    I’m so happy I took the time to read this post tonight. I need to sit and meditate on exactly what most of it means to me, but I believe that all of it resonates. My fiance is fighting cancer, a constant custody battle for his children, and we are struggling to afford our home now that he cannot work. I am taking care of him while working full time as a manager and going to school full time to earn my masters. I tell myself I am a happy person. But some days I’m afraid that I may break down and will not be able to fix myself again.

    I especially love this quote:

    The most important things to me right now are making connections with people, helping provide for my family’s needs, and enjoying life-enriching experiences. If I’m spending time or energy on something that doesn’t fit into this criteria, and I begin to wonder why I’m doing it, I’m just going to stop. That might seem like common sense, but for an overworked, ambitious people-pleaser? It’s so difficult to cut it out and just be real with myself about what is actually important.

  26. Samie says:

    Beautiful.

    There are lessons in all our struggles, and it sounds like you not only figured yours out, but are doing so much to live that simpler life. I’m tempted to pull out my dresser drawers and begin the process!

    I’ve never been here before (followed a link from Campfire Chic), but will be poking around!

  27. Sara says:

    beautiful post :*

  28. Miche says:

    What a beautiful post. Thank you so much for sharing your feelings through such a tumultuous time. These past couple of months have been incredibly difficult for me (things I would never dare share on my blog), I commend you for your braveness and honesty. And you are definitely right, it’s all a process (something I need to remind myself of more often)

  29. Alison says:

    Thank you for this beautiful post. There are so many times I find myself always trying to live in the future – wishing, hoping and dreaming.

    I just have to be. Thanks for reminding me of that today. x

  30. Allison says:

    Your blog is inspiring in so many levels. I felt deeply moved by your writing. All throughout I was thinking of how many of those feelings you describe so well I have felt before. It’s so refreshing to see someone who can communicate so humanely and share a piece of their mind with the rest of us.

  31. Your honesty is beautiful. The metaphor of juggling balls completely resonates – thank you for putting into words what’s been in my thoughts for a few weeks now x Elena

  32. Love this, Mandi. So much! I feel like I went through a mini version of this last year when I was flipped off of a motorcycle and was literally forced to do nothing for months while I recooperated. I might *still* be coming to terms with realizing I can’t do it all, now. It’s tough. So tough! You’ve been through so much and I’m so happy that everything seems to have helped you find a new centre and priorities – you’re amazing, lady! :)