How to Raise an @$$hole

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This is a rather unfriendly public service announcement. Because I’m tired of my kids coming home from school and retelling the cruel moments about when “so and so” made fun of this person or how “so and so” called him this name or said “twins are weird.” I’m tired of kids being rude, unkind, exclusive and for lack of a more accurately descriptive word, just pretty much assholes. On playgrounds. At school. At church. In the grocery store. Pretty much, everywhere.

However, I realize that most of the time, it’s not their fault. Somebody intentionally or unintentionally has taught them most everything they know at this point.

Come on! Let’s give proper credit where proper credit is due.

There are several ways to know if your kid is being an asshole at school. Or daycare. Or church. Or at a random park playground. Or anywhere really. I love the heck out of kids. They’re little sponges. They’ve got massive amounts of intuition, instincts, and innocence. They learn amazingly quick from the ways that others treat them.  Specifically how parents or caregivers treat them and the people around them.

Here’s a brief list of ways to predict if your kid will be an asshole.

1. Do you call your child names, belittle him, dictate what he can or can’t wear, what he can and can’t eat, who he can and can’t play with, all to a ridiculously obsessive level? Do you control him to the point that you would go ape-shit if a boss, spouse or another adult tried to control you to the exact same level?

Ding. Ding. Ding. Your kid may take out some of his pent-up lack of control on “weaker,” more sensitive non-conforming kids at school. Stop over-controlling your child. Let him make some choices every once in a while. Does it really matter if his pants and shirt don’t match? Everybody will know that he picked out his own clothes. And that’s okay, right? Riiiiiiiight.

2. Do you have the same group of friends, never including anybody new? Always the same. They look the same as you. Act the same as you. Do the same things as you. The same group of friends. Always. Do you scoff at or talk about how “so and so” tried to play with your child or tried to include everyone over for a party or play date? Do you have an anxious or allergic or condescending reaction to people who are different than you?

Do you also determine if you will be friends with someone based on their appearance? Where they live? Who they know? How they talk? How much money they have? Or don’t have? Have you ever started a sentence with “I’m not racist, but…” Or do you make generalizations about groups of people or stereotype people on a regular basis?

Congratulations. Your child is learning how to exclude others. From you. Your child is also learning how NOT to appreciate or embrace diversity. From you. Your child learns how to be racist, discriminate, judge others, and stereotype from your words and behavior. You probably think you know everything about everyone. Of course you do.

3. Are you rude, snarky, condescending or unkind to waiters, waitresses, baristas, cashiers, or basically, anybody that serves or helps you in some way, shape or form? Ugh. “Uh-hem”…let me guess, you need more of something? But you don’t ask. You demand. Bark. Bark. Your orders while you’re on your phone. You won’t say “thank you” or “sorry” either because it’s their job or their fault. Always. Never yours. Never.

Your child will quickly catch on to this behavior. And big freakin surprise here…he may want to be just like you. And treat others like an asshole. Gooooooood work. Not really.

4. When your child demands, wants or asks for something, do you give it to him? Always. Right away. Hurry up. Every single time. No matter what. So that you can avoid a tantrum, whine fest or feeling of inferiority as a parent, comparatively speaking. Bonus: you can also teach your child a valuable lesson in being an asshole. Other people should also give him any and every little or big thing he wants, commands, or demands. Immediately. No questions asked.

It’s back to the control issue. You’ve got yours and he’s got his. Big surprise.

The truth is that we’ve all been an impatient asshole at one time or another to some person. At least I think so. I know I have. (See “@$$hole Bedtime Parenting award” post) Acted embarrassingly. We’ve all probably said something insensitive, inaccurate, mean or just plain wrong. Maybe to our spouse. Maybe to our mom. Maybe to our friend. A waiter. A cashier. Maybe to our kids. The problem is not that you recognize you’re an asshole every once in a while because we all have those challenging moments or days. The problem grows out of control when you no longer recognize when you’re not being a decent human being. When you start becoming such an asshole that, ironically, you think everybody else is an asshole.

So, stop being an asshole. The world has enough of them already, right? Riiiiight.

Sacred Hugs

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Recently, I’ve had several beautiful and painful moments with my arms wrapped around someone I love. Or with their arms wrapped around me. They’re unforgettable moments: sacred hugs, a holy exchange of unconditional love. Holding each other. Not wanting to ever let go. Pillowed in between the feelings and raw emotions of it all. Feeling the weight of a painful illness, a shitty day at work, a difficult goodbye, an overwhelming sense of appreciation, acceptance, or recognizing our humbling dependence on one another.

I held my grandma in her bathroom today. The best that I could. I apologized for not being as graceful or skilled in maneuvering her as I would have liked. As I held the delicate skin and bones of one of the strongest women I’ve known, I also held back tears. I know a little of what it’s like, as a strong-willed independent adult woman, to be half naked in the bathroom. Fully dependent on another to help get to the bathroom or shower. I don’t know what it’s like to be a grandmother and to need your granddaughter’s help. So I hugged her. I wanted her to look in my eyes and know that it was an honor. A beautiful moment for me.

A sacred hug.

I wanted her to not feel like a bother but for her to know that it was a privilege that I could help her with an admiring granddaughter’s love. I lifted her towards the back of her wheelchair. I told her I loved her. It was a sacred moment that I will never forget. Her voice. Her eyes. Her arms wrapped around me. My long arms holding her frail body. I will never forget the love. The pause in time. Our two hearts beating next to one another. As long as I live.

I wished that every employee that helps with her care could see what I saw when I looked at her. A woman whose body ached most likely every day of her adult life but you would never know it. A woman who cares deeply for her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. A woman who could cook enough food for the masses. Made from scratch. Food that never had tasted so good before. A woman who always served every one else first and rarely sat down at the table. And if she did, she quickly got up to help serve someone seconds. A woman who tenderly loves the beautiful innocent creatures in life. A woman who can smile and appreciate the beauty left despite all that’s been slowly taken from her. A woman who shares humorous, meaningful and difficult stories of growing up on a farm. A daughter. A sister. A mother. A grandmother. A great grandmother. A kind, self-sacrificing and loving friend to all.

Usually when I’m leaving and tell my grandma that I love her, she says, “I know you do, Amelia.” Today, when I told her I loved her she replied,

“I love you too. Not just cause you help me.”

I don’t know how many sacred hugs I will get in my life. The ones I’ve given and received have held a glimmer of this indescribable kind of hope and love and this raw beauty that connects two human beings. In a hospital, on a driveway, in a bathroom, stuck in a moment with each other. Needing to feel loved and understood. No matter what.

We arrive into this world dependent on one another to survive. We need each other throughout our lives even when we can disguise our dependence. Even if when we can walk, talk and do things on our own, we always need each other’s love. Always. From the very beginning to the very end.

Magic Bubbles

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I watched you cry. Silent, trapped cries that pushed and pushed resulting in your gasping and straining. These are the hardest cries to see. And not hear. The tiny veins in your face grew as you tried to scream in protest. And I wished I could do more.

I blew bubbles.

Your dad sat beside you and held you. Your mom stood next to the bed. Your brother played in a different world, he popped bubbles with Buzz Lightyear. I know you wanted us all to leave your room. And leave you alone. I know you wanted to go home. You knew exactly everything we had to do. I wondered if you hate bubbles. A hospital bubble aversion. All that they represent. All that they predict. This place. These experiences. Your pain. And your trapped cries.

I blew more bubbles.

This time for your mom. She stood there, helpless, yet not paralyzed by the unfairness of watching you, her beautiful child, suffer. She talked about the bubbles. She popped the bubbles for you. I hope you weren’t mad that I kept blowing them. For her. She needed the distraction. She needed a role. She needed to feel like she could offer you some comfort, some familiarity, a glimpse of hope.

I exhaled. Slowly. Repeatedly. My breaths filled all of the giant, tiny and medium sized bubbles that escaped. Into the air of your room. Before they vanished or popped.

I heard your father interupt the nurse as she prepared you for another “poke.” I think your dad wanted to protect you. Or maybe himself. Maybe he hoped you would cry less. Your nurse performed her job beautifully. She handled herself gracefully. She calmly stood her ground yet held her tongue. A delicate skill mastered by nurses who empathize, relate to, love and often sacrifice a bit of their pride, when necessary, by not fighting back. Because they understand that everyone’s on the same team. Or should be. A team that wants to get you feeling better. A team that wishes we could cause less hurt to help you. A team that will do some of the hardest things because we have to. To help you. Because we love kids. Especially the most resilient, the kids like you.

I blew bubbles.

Over and over. Again.

And again.

Until it was done. I left momentarily to go find your prize. When I returned to your room, I looked at you. No more hurt. No more crying. There, I saw it, resting in your lap, your two tiny hands gripped my pink and purple bubble container the best they could. While I was gone, you chose to hold the bubbles. I watched you happily play as you pushed the bubble wand in and pulled it back out. This helped me feel a tiny bit better, knowing that maybe you didn’t hate bubbles after all.

I put the bubbles away into my bag. I let them rest. I knew I would be using them again. A lot of times today. The next time my pager beep, beep, beeped at me.

So I walked into the next room. And I saw you.

You laid across your daddy’s lap. Your sweet ocean colored eyes peaked out from the hair that had tumbled down around your face. Your tiny half-naked body was completely surrounded by unfamiliar faces. You needed a quick distraction. Something to look at. To play with. Something to occupy your active toddler mind. I grabbed the magic container from my bag.

And I blew bubbles.

On my knees, at your level, I blew hundreds of bubbles for you to watch float around the room. They bumped into you, your dad, the nurses and doctors. Your dad blew them. And you did too. Your contagious and playful smile encouraged every adult to reach out and play along by popping the bubbles that drifted their way. Like a bunch of silly big kids. We would all do just about anything in our power to see you smile and hear your giggles.

Blowing bubbles seems like such a small thing to do. Sometimes it reminds all of us to breathe. Sometimes the bubbles remind us of your innocence. Your transparency. Your fleeting busy minds. Sometimes the bubbles can stop crying. And sometimes bubbles possess this quiet magic to momentarily take you away from the present pain.

I think I’ve watched a million bubbles take flight. And I will gladly watch a million more. If it can help in some small way to  make you less scared, less worried, more playful. And especially if it can make you feel more like a kid and less like a patient.

Disappointed

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I disappoint myself. At least once a day. Usually multiple times. Some days, there are far too many instances to keep track. I won’t get something done that I really, really needed or wanted to get done. Like yesterday, I needed to mail a package. I loaded it in my car. And drove it around all day, but didn’t mail it. Or later, I had to go to the bathroom really bad. I told myself I was just going to use the bathroom in Barnes and Noble and NOT buy any books for myself. So, I read a chapter of a book of short stories on my way to the bathroom. I liked it. But I set the book down. I didn’t dare touch the cover to my face to feel the book. Whew. It was a close call. I came out of the bathroom and began reading a few children’s books. One in particular made me laugh out loud. Come on. If books had feelings, which I’m certain they do, how could I set that one back down? How insulting. So, I tricked myself into buying that book “for my kids” and nieces. (“The Day the Crayons Came Home”) It wasn’t for me, right??

I make a promise to myself then I break that promise. Constantly. I say one thing and then do another. I know I disappoint people around me too. Which is not surprising because people disappoint me too sometimes. When you hold people to a certain level, and they don’t even know it, they will fall short. Most times, people may not even know they’re disappointing you. That whole communication piece is crucial although sometimes it’s easier to not tell someone they’re disappointing you because what if you tell them? And they don’t care or they get defensive and they keep on disappointing you. When it keeps happening, time and time again, it hurts. People can be downright disappointing.

If you venture outside, you may notice that nature rarely disappoints. The Kansas sunsets are typically mesmerizing. They show up evening after evening. If I take a hike or ride throughout the beautiful forests filled with a million different colors of leaves, I feel inspired and recharged. They never hurt my feelings. When I look up at the moon playing hide and seek behind the smoky thick clouds, I’m enchanted. A late night trickster with the best intentions. Truly the only game it plays is to move in and out from behind the clouds. What about a gorgeous, perfectly unique itty-bitty snowflake hitching a ride up the hill on my scarf? Beautiful and delicate. I would never expect that snowflake to fold my laundry or take the time to read my blog.

And one of my all-time favorites is the ocean. The ocean is constant, beautiful and it never ceases. I don’t expect the ocean to take the trash out. Or pay my bills. Or quench my thirst. I would not be disappointed if I ran out past the shore line, jumped into the waves, fell down and gulped a big mouth full of ocean water to discover that it tasted salty. Oh, so salty. Because it’s supposed to be salty. I can expect that. I’ve experienced accidental gulps full many times. I’ve gagged, coughed it back up and spit it out. But I didn’t hold a grudge against the ocean. No way.

Several years ago, we took our three year olds and one year old boys to the ocean and they played in the sand. Then, the waves invited them in. The boys jumped, fell and quickly ran out of the water disgusted, practically foaming at the mouth and crying because of the unexpected and overpowering taste of the salt water. Whoops. It didn’t taste like bath water or pool water or even lake water. It was painfully different. They had to learn to prepare for salt water every time they fell in with their mouths open. When they rubbed their eyes, it hurt too. They learned that they needed to close their mouths and eyes because the ocean does not change. Not even for overexcited little boys who would play in its waters all day long.

People can change though. I believe it. It’s hard. Uncomfortable. Awkward. Humbling. If they’re open and willing to listen to the hard stuff. If they want to grow, if they want to hear someone else’s perspective, opinions, or counsel.  If they want to be accountable. I don’t think people like to be a disappointment. I would rather you tell me that you’re pissed at me and you want to punch me in my face than to tell me that I’ve disappointed you. I will take most words but those, not those, please.

I have found an enormous amount of freedom and peace in knowing that there are people who readily love me despite the fact that I disappoint them. I find an even greater peace in knowing that God’s love is like the ocean. Never a disappointment. Beautiful, enormous, persistent. I am so very small, in comparison, but I am loved nonetheless in a gigantic non-stop kind of way. No matter how I may disappoint other human beings, dogs, guinea pigs, etc. God readily accepts and loves me. Always. Every day.

Frustrating, tardy, scatterbrained, confused, stubborn, messy disappointing little speck of sand me. Not only does God love me, God humbles me and believes in me. And this motivates me and helps me and challenges me to be better.

I’m sorry if I’ve disappointed you. You can tell me sometime. I’m willing to listen and grow. And change and do better, if possible. I’m also willing to admit that I will most likely disappoint you again. Unfortunately, it’s a prerequisite for being in a relationship with me.

Truth or Dare

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Truth or dare: a classic childhood sleepover game in which I always preferred the dares. Not surprisingly, I would have much rather done some ridiculous thing than share a previously unknown fact or “secret” about myself. It seems safer and easier to predict another’s response to a “dare” than to predict her response when she finds out a truth.

As a fun and light-hearted joke of sorts, I played the old game with a couple of sisters and friends last night. My boys saw me creating the game and asked if they could play too. So we played a fun kid version of this game today. My boys were also drawn to a certain side of the game. They laughed and thoroughly loved smearing whipped cream in their faces, kissing a tree and dancing with the dog and a broom. They each asked me if they could play the game again, only with “more dares.”

Life has always been a bit of both, specifically in parenting. No matter how many books you read, none will prepare you for the emotions, the feelings and the raw truths that parenting will reveal in you. Your pride, your hopes, your fears, your insecurities, all hidden in the midst of the gut-wrenching and utterly beautiful moments of raising a child.

From those first overwhelming minutes of meeting this new life before you, the piercingly beautiful sound of your baby crying upon breathing his first breaths, to the seemingly millionth cry in the night. Your baby that desperately needs to be fed, burped, or changed. Your baby that must need something again. You. There’s your toddler that needs constant help but doesn’t want to accept it. Or your preschooler that can communicate what he wants to eat but can’t begin to understand the emotion he feels when you say ice cream isn’t a choice for breakfast. And the parenting journey continues on.

Your child has this mysterious power to take a heart that you’ve possessed your entire life and place it delicately under a magnifying glass. For good and bad. All of the sudden, you’re whisked back to moments. To the classroom where somebody made fun of you. You’re feeling emotions all over again, in a different way. You’re seeing things in a more sensitive way, a more honest way, and a more difficult way. All through the magnified lens of your past experiences and through this new and innocent life constantly pulling, tapping, tugging and elbowing for more space in your heart. You’re feeling those difficult-to-describe emotions through the eyes, ears, and skin of a little human being dependent solely on you in countless explainable and unexplainable ways.

The parenting journey continues and I’ve learned it doesn’t always get easier. In some ways, yes. In others, no. Your child unknowingly dares you to do hard things on his behalf: make sacrifices, humble yourself, apologize, ask for forgiveness, confront your past, ask for help, and step outside of your comfort zone on a routine basis. Your child dares you to ruffle waters. Dares you to belly up to confrontation. You find yourself in a principal’s office fighting back tears to advocate for your child. You find yourself having difficult conversations on behalf of your child. You oftentimes feel lonely, isolated, different because you don’t want to fit in if fitting in means compromising on certain parenting issues. You routinely end up in hard conversations where you and your child bump, bump, bump into a door. Maybe it’s just temporarily stuck or maybe it’s locked.

The truth is you don’t have all of the answers. You never will. The dare is that still you readily leap into the familiar and unknown parenting waters. Time and time again. Not always gracefully, but willingly. You’re alternating strokes on a daily basis. Sometimes hourly. Often doggy paddling, back stroking and plunging yourself deep down, holding your breath for what seems like forever. You come up gasping for air. And the crazy unexplainable thing is that you will do it all again. And again. For your child.

Daddy on a Plane

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If you tilt your head back and look way high up to the sky, you might see a plane, it may be hidden by the dreary February clouds.

There may be all kinds of different people on that plane including a daddy. He hugged each child tightly before he said goodbye. Then, he leaned into the car and gave his wife one of those good kind of kisses. He carried his guitar on his back as he walked away inside to the airport terminal.

You may get to sit next to this daddy. He may ask if you need help getting your bag into the overhead compartment. He’s a helpful guy but he’s also a little worried about his guitar. He will ask if you would prefer the window seat, he usually likes to sit on the outside. If you seem friendly, he may talk to you about where you’re from or where you’re going. He will listen to you and make you feel like you’re the most important person. When it’s time for a drink, he will kindly ask the flight attendant for the whole Coke, not just the tiny airplane cup full.  He will probably listen to his music and he may sing, but you shouldn’t mind because he has a beautiful voice.

You may notice that he is different. He possesses this rare, endangered species kind of energy, love and passion for people and life. He will probably fidget or pull down the tray table or tap his foot or his leg. He doesn’t realize that he does this. It’s hard for him to sit still. He will pull out the in-flight magazine and laugh at the ridiculous things or find others that he needs to make or buy. If he has to go to the bathroom, he may see a guy who looks a lot like somebody he knows or he may make friends with random people in the aisles along the way.

If you sit next to this daddy, you’re lucky. I just thought you would want to know. Most nights, when he walks in the door, three boys run to him, pile on him, hug him and get as close as physically possible to him. They are so happy he’s home that they won’t stop touching him. He’s a bit of a celebrity. In his household. And while he’s away, he will be missed in both small ways, like taking out the garbage, and enormous, like offering endless support and counsel to his wife, kind of ways while he’s on that plane.

If you notice he seems a little sad, it’s probably because he wishes his family could be sitting next to him. Or he might be replaying last night’s dart game, where his wife beat him by one bullseye. Either way, please be kind to him. He’s one in a million.

 

Tears in Heaven

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We started our drive. I don’t let my kids use technology (most of the time) as we shuttle around town. For a reason. We have these really silly imaginative or extremely deep, awesome and sometimes hard conversations in the van. At red lights. On the highway. In our driveway. Or we listen to music.

The other night, one of my seven year old boys asked, out of the blue, from his backseat by the window,

“Can a kid cry in Heaven?”

Oh man.

I think we have more talks about God, Jesus, dying and Heaven in the van than the average family. My kids ask really, REALLY hard questions that most times, I don’t know the answer to. Questions that cause me to think about the most painful stuff as a parent. A child dying. My child dying. Going to Heaven before me. But without me.

Suddenly, a million thoughts floated frantically around in my head like a snow globe that had just been picked up and shaken hard. By a little boy. I suffered from a rare temporary loss of words, I didn’t know how to answer him. So, I dug a little deeper. I asked him a question back, knowing that his sweet answer may cause the huge lump in my throat to expand, making it difficult to talk. Or answer him.

Wait. Maybe we could just talk again about the ten deer we had just stopped to see. As we pulled up next to them eating at sunset, they nonchalantly stared back at us. All of their eyes looked up at us, as they chewed on their grass. My boys thought it was awesome. I did too. One of my boys said he would like to have a pet deer. To which his younger brother replied, “do you want one with horns or not?” No bucks. Good to know.

All of these spontaneous thoughts volunteered to help me change the subject, but I just couldn’t ignore his question or dodge it either.

So I asked him, “Why would a kid cry in Heaven?”

Then out came his too-quick-of-a-response.

“Cause they miss their mom and dad.”

My heart dropped. Or maybe it stopped for a second. And then I was driving and silently crying. His sweet answer physically hurt. His honesty, his innocence. It really doesn’t matter how great Heaven is if you have to go there without your mom and Dad. That’s scary and sad. I got it. I understood him. And so I talked about how God and Jesus and so many others, like Gammie, would hold, carry and love on a kid in Heaven and how even though it seemed like a long time to not see their mom or dad for a little while, they would get to spend forever with them. One day.

Then my son said, “I wanna be a kid when I go to Heaven.”

I quickly replied,

“I don’t want you to be a kid when you go to Heaven. I want you to be a grown up. A lot older than you are. Like Grandma Fritz.”

“No, I don’t want to die like a kid…..I just want to be a kid when I’m in Heaven.”

Oh. Okay. I could understand why he would want to have a kid’s body and energy to live and explore and play in Heaven. Maybe because Grandma Fritz needs help moving, going to the bathroom, or getting out of her chair. She also has a hard time hearing. She’s 94. That’s who they know that may be going to Heaven soon. Its not easy describing how our bodies may look or be different in Heaven in a way that is easy for seven year olds and four years to understand. Or me. And it’s not like I’ve been there to speak from experience. So then, he asked me a few more questions.

“Does it hurt when you die?”

My goodness. Another tough one. I talked about how I hope it doesn’t hurt. How I hope it’s peaceful for Grandma Fritz. But I said I didn’t know. Again.

We had twenty more minutes to drive. The sun had set. The car was dark. And I was mentally and emotionally exhausted. It’s hard thinking on painful things that aren’t supposed to happen. Things that are my worst nightmare as a mother. It’s hard to be separated from my boys for a few long shifts away at work. I definitely don’t want to think about death separating us. Too soon. Before I’m ready. But it will happen. A temporary separation. One day. Hopefully, a long, long way away.

Of course, it’s more fun to talk about pet deer. And taking rides on shooting stars. And the human body, especially the spinal cord. Most days, I would even choose to talk about how to handle mean kids that mistreat and call others names than talking about Heaven and dying. But, for some reason that night, my son needed to know if a kid could cry in Heaven. So, I answered him the best I could.

Then, I started to think about the moms and dads that go to Heaven. Too early, too young. Too soon. Without their kids. How I would cry in Heaven too. Cause I missed my boys. Temporarily. Just a blink of the eye when compared to forever. So, I will keep believing in forever. I have to. Even when it’s hard, painful, confusing or unknown. And a little scary. Maybe there are temporary tears in Heaven. Maybe not.

Either way, I shake up the snow globe of my thoughts again. This time I think on the excruciatingly happy moments of life. I imagine the joy of birth, hearing my son’s first cries. Holding them for the first time. I picture their arms wrapped around me, snuggled up in the rocking chair. I imagine them reaching up and saying, “Hold you, momma. Hold you.” I imagine the joy of seeing my school-aged boys waiting for me to pick them up after a long day at school. I imagine the joy I felt when I hugged my big sister after not seeing her for over a year. I imagine the time my husband showed up at Starbucks when I was working and he had just gotten back from Australia. Or when my best friend flew in town and showed up unexpectedly in my hospital room. I remember the joy of driving home with the windows down from the hospital after weeks of being there. I think of our crowded dinner table, growing up and still, everyone talking, eating, and laughing.

The moments keep coming. Accompanied by the joy felt when experiencing all of these times and a million more. I collect all of this joy. Gather it up, and set it in a special nook in my heart. I hold it tightly. Dearly. This happiness. And it helps me feel a lot better if there are temporary tears in Heaven.