Self-Improvement

I have a long, LONG list of things I’m trying to work on. Many of them deal with spirituality, parenting, or just being a better person. Since my list is so extensive there’s no way I could write about all of my shortcomings, especially since that list is always changing. In my experience, every time I feel like I’m making headway on improving one specific thing, I begin to realize about 10 more inadequacies. I guess that’s life though. I’m trying to make sure I’m not delusional about who I really am and that I’m self-aware enough to see my short-comings. On the other hand, I don’t want to be overly critical of myself to the point where I am self-loathing. All of that to say, today I’m going to write about one area I need to work on in each of the 3 categories I’ve mentioned: spirituality, parenting, and personal.

Spirituality

I’ve embarked on a (much needed) major overhaul of my life since November. I know. That was only 2 months ago. But I had a wake up call that led to some self realizations. It was good/bad. There are times that it takes something negative to bring about something positive. I have coasted for too long in my spirituality. I have simply been relying on my strong Christian background and the fact that I go to church 3 times a week, just as I have all of my life. But to be truthful, I have been stagnant. My faith hasn’t been growing. In fact, it has been diminishing. I wasn’t habitually reading and praying, and my thoughts weren’t on spiritual things. I was in a self-induced trance of some sort and I was pretty checked out from life in general, including my faith. So as you can imagine, I have several areas that need rebuilding. However, I know that things won’t change over night and that I can’t fix it all at once. So I’m trying not to get overwhelmed and to focus on one thing at a time. The first, and really the easiest thing I’ve focused on, is simply habits. Read everyday. Pray at least 3 times a day. And, this is the biggest change for me, do my best to focus completely while reading and/or praying. That’s it. It’s not something hard or special but it’s made a tremendous difference. In this short time I can already see a big change in my attitude, my thoughts, and my feelings. My faith is growing again. My relationships are improving, and hopefully, so am I. Every day I read my Bible or listen to sermons. I do it without distractions and I try to stay engaged and present the entire time. It’s not always easy, but it’s something I need to practice. While it’s important for me to do the right thing, it’s also important that I am engaged in what I’m doing, otherwise the impact is lost. I am also praying several times a day, including one time that I pray aloud with my family. My husband and I have prayed before bed with our boys since they were little, but honestly, there were nights we neglected it. Maybe we didn’t all pray together because one of us put the kids to bed while the other was showering. Or we put the boys to bed at different times so we weren’t all four praying together. Or, we simply neglected it because we were just ready for the kids to be in bed already! Whatever the case, we weren’t all four saying separate prayers out loud together, as a family. I know now, more than ever, how important that is. Since I’ve previously written about this topic I won’t elaborate now. I’ll simply say, praying aloud has made my husband and I so much more mindful of what we pray for and how we pray for it.

Parenting

Where do I begin? I feel incredibly inadequate as a parent so many times that it’s hard to pinpoint one specific skill that I need to work on. So to stay with my theme of simplicity, I have chosen to work on showing my children, and my husband for that matter, that I believe in them. I want to use language and a tone of voice that will mold their inner voice to be encouraging, kind, and loving. I don’t want my kids to have an overly critical inner voice that tells them they can’t do it or that they are inadequate. To me, just having a parent say, “You can do it!” isn’t enough. We have to constantly show our kids that we have faith in them so that they truly believe they can do it. This happens not only by how we speak, but how we treat our children. I recently re-read parts of Parenting With Love and Logic: Teaching Children Responsibility. While I don’t agree with everything it says, it did give me some perspective on helping my children to build a positive concept of themselves. One section talks about children having a three-legged table of self-concept that is built through implied messages that we give. If any leg of this table is weak then it will wobble and rock. The three legs of the table outlined in the book are 1) I am loved by the magic people in my life (making sure kids know that they are loved unconditionally, our love isn’t contingent on their behavior or accomplishments), 2) I have the skills I need to make it (giving kids the self-confidence that they can do it by themselves without their parents), and 3) I am capable of taking control of my life (this helps children to be responsible by knowing that they can make decisions and think for themselves). The book says that we need to let our children fail in non-threatening situations while emphasizing their strengths by being uncritical and not protecting them. This helps children to learn to believe in themselves, but it can be very difficult for parents. I’m not a controlling person at all, but no one wants to see their kids fail. However, wouldn’t we rather them fail and learn the lessons now, when the consequences are so nonthreatening, as opposed to when they are older and it really could alter the course of their life? Of course. I want my children to take responsibility for their actions while also having the confidence in themselves to know that they can discern what the right choice is in a situation. This happens through my tone of voice, implied messages that I give them when I speak, and in the way I treat them. I’m doing my best to keep these things in my mind in my daily interactions with all three of my boys. But most importantly, I’m trying to lead by example and show them that I believe in myself. This is by far the most difficult part.

Personal

When I was thinking of personal things that I need to work on I started thinking about it in context of relationships. How can I be a better wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend. I think that one thing I need more of is patience. I can wish all day that I was patient but I needed some real steps that I can take to work on being more patient. Since I become impatient when I’m highly frustrated, the first thing I’m working on is just being more relaxed. There are many times when I’m trying to help my kids or instruct them on how to do something. For example, I’m trying to decorate respectable looking cookies with my boys. I can do it caring about the outcome and get super frustrated, or I can just let them have at it and save myself the headache. So now I’m asking myself if it is that important that this particular task be done well. Most of the time the answer is “no”, and so now I’m just letting it go. Another thing I am doing is trying to slow down. Most things take time, and if I’m not willing to put in the time then I shouldn’t do it knowing I’m going to be in a rush. This is sometimes hard for me, because unlike my husband and my first-born child, I’m not a perfectionist. Their need to do things meticulously “right” really drives me nuts sometimes. I want to get things done, and done right, but I’m not stressing over every small detail. In order to be more patient I am trying to add more time to things to account for the detail-oriented nature of both Cale and Max.

I’ve been trying to choose specific things to work on for only about two months but I can already tell a difference. This time of year people are always coming up with resolutions for the new year. I’m really not into that because let’s be honest, no one keeps them. I’m no different, I lose my steam and my enthusiasm wanes just as quickly as it began. However, I know that I have some personal deficiencies that need improvement no matter what time of year it is. I’m making it a point to write more and to write down the things I want to focus on. I always have a journal and I write it in quite often, but instead of just making a list of things to work on, I’m writing about specific ways I can improve on these things. I only hope that this will help me to stay focused and remind me of the things I can do every day to become a better version of me.

A Decade…

Less than a month after I turned 22 I got married. Cale and I met when we were 18 and his sister Joy was dating Cullen, my cousin. From the moment I met Cale I really didn’t have any inclination about him at all except that he was quiet. We likely didn’t even talk at all when we met. However, after a few months we got to know each other just by hanging out in groups with other mutual friends from church. I really knew nothing about Cale, but we developed a rapport very quickly. We had the same sense of humor and I knew he was smart. After a few months of hanging out we exchanged email addresses and began occasionally emailing one another. I wouldn’t get my first cell phone until later that year. Our emails, which I still have, were hilarious. The only point of emailing each other was to make up outlandish and funny stories that would just amuse the other person. Believe it or not, you can find out a lot about a person that way. I knew I liked Cale after we began this entertaining friendship, and although I knew he liked me back, I wasn’t sure if he would ask me out. He is pretty shy. Well, we went to the 4th of July meeting in Missouri and spent the entire time together. To my disappointment, Cale never asked me out. Never the less, we had such a great time together that I wasn’t worried about it and just figured he needed more time. I guess I was right, because right after the meeting he asked me out. Via email. Haha. I didn’t know what that meant at the time, but I said “yes.” I didn’t know if we were just going on a date or exclusively in a relationship. Our first “date” was in Louisiana. After that weekend  I had no doubts that either of us would date anyone else.

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Cale asked me out in July of 2000. One month later he told me he loved me. ONE MONTH. He had never told anyone else he loved them, so I knew he was serious. I never told anyone outside of my family that I loved them, and I was majorly hesitant to say it. Those are words I don’t take lightly. When Cale said that he loved me I told him I wasn’t sure if I loved him or not yet. About a month or so later I told Cale that I loved him. I had liked other guys and dated, but I always seemed to be turned off after a while. I didn’t have any long relationships, nothing this serious, and it was all new. I didn’t know what to expect and I didn’t know if my feelings would last. We were both starting our first semester of college. He was at OU and I was at UNT, but we embarked on a long-term, long-distance (only by a few hours) relationship. I changed my major several times during my first year of college, unsure of what I wanted to pursue. Cale decided instead of majoring in pre-med he would get his degree in chemistry. We decided to stick it out and graduate college before moving to be closer to one another. While I remember it being rather difficult at times, we figured out a way to make our relationship work.

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During the Spring of my senior year of college Cale proposed. It wasn’t a surprise, we had already talked about marriage, we were just waiting to get out of school. A decision I don’t regret. After 3 years of college I graduated and began a teaching job in August of 2003. We planned to get married that December, after Cale graduated. Looking back I don’t remember it being too crazy, but I was in my first year of teaching and coaching and I was planning a wedding. Volleyball season is from the beginning of August to the the end of October, and it was hectic. We also bought a house in November. I actually didn’t care much at all about the actual wedding, thankfully. It would have been too bad if I had, I didn’t have time to worry and stress about things. Anyone that knows me well knows I’m not detail oriented and I don’t care about perfection, I’m the complete opposite of my husband. I guess that can be a good or a bad thing, but when it comes to wedding planning I guess it was a good thing. My wedding was nice, but it was relatively small and pretty modest. You see, my parents told me I was allotted a certain amount of money to spend however I wanted. Well, instead of blowing it on a one night affair I put most of it towards the down payment of a house. Yep. No food at my wedding, you people will have to eat some other time, I’m buying a house. Etiquette matters not to me. In 6 months time I graduated college, started my first teaching job, bought a house, turned 22, and got married. It was a crazy time.

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Being married was awesome. It still is. Going from living with my parents to living in my own house with my husband, who I had NEVER lived in the same town with, was amazing. I had my best friend with me all the time. We both adjusted amazingly well. Although we had been together for 3.5 years and we knew each other extremely well, but we still had a lot to learn about being married. Unfortunately, our honeymoon stage was cut short. After being married for 6 months I was in a life changing car accident with an 18 wheeler. It was hard on me, but it was also hard on our marriage. I know Cale surely felt helpless as he saw me depressed and in constant pain. We didn’t know then that this accident would cause chronic pain that we would both have to learn to deal with.

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A year after we had been married Cale decided to get his masters in chemistry in order to further his career opportunities. I continued to teach and coach and Cale quit his job so that he could go to school full-time. In the Fall of 2006 we started thinking about starting a family. I was ready, and with Cale graduating in the spring, we knew the timing was about right. I found out I was pregnant in December and that I would have a baby boy in August. Cale and I were beyond thrilled. The plan was always that Cale would work so that I could stay home once we had kids. This put the pressure on Cale to find a job right out of graduate school. I finished up teaching in May and Cale then graduated from school. We prayed for the right job to come along so that I wouldn’t have to go back to work in the fall. God worked it all out, and in a matter of weeks Cale had a great offer that allowed me to quit teaching. It was bittersweet to stop my career. I had taught for 4 years and I loved it. Coaching high school volleyball was amazing, and I was sure going to miss the girls. Nonetheless, I was willing to give it all up to stay home with my baby and I couldn’t imagine leaving him with anyone else. My precious Max Ry McAlister was born on August 8, 2007. He was adorable and precious and he was a high maintenance, colicky, sleep-fighting baby. I’m not going to lie, it was a difficult transition for me. It was hard for me to go from working to staying at home. It was difficult being a mom and having another person completely dependent on me. It was hard going from just me and Cale, to me and Cale and Max. A lot changed, and change can be fun and exciting, but it can also be difficult. It was a transition, and we had to learn how to adjust to the added responsibility this new little person created.

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I alway knew I wanted to have my kids close in age, so it was planned that we would get pregnant again fairly soon after having Max. In June of 2008, when Max was 11 months old, I found out I was pregnant. Another boy would soon complete our family of 4. After staying home with Max for 6 months I decided to coach club volleyball. I found out it was in my best interest to work a little on the side. Even though I was pregnant with Jake, I got a job teaching about 10 hours a week at a private school and coaching volleyball at a different private school. It was a little ambitious to say the least. After the volleyball season ended, and we moved, I decided to only teach. Thankfully the school let me take February to May off so that I wouldn’t have to return until August. It worked out perfectly because Jake was born on March 18, 2009. In the mean time Cale got his dream job at Alcon. It was great timing and he was so happy to advance his career. It was another transition to go from one child to two children, but luckily we make a great team, and we weren’t first time parents this time.

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When Jake was 8 months old I decided to go back to school and get my Masters. I found a great program that would allow me to take my classes online. Now I was teaching, being a mom to two boys that were 19 months apart, and I was going back to school. I look back at many things and wonder what I was thinking taking on so much at once. As life progressed my chronic pain became unbearable. I was sitting and doing homework every night and weekend for hours and a new debilitating pain began shooting down my legs. I finished my teaching job in April, graduated from school on May 13th and had a spinal fusion on May 16th. The recovery from surgery was difficult, especially with a 4 year old and 2 year old to take care of. I had a walker and a huge brace. I couldn’t bend at the waist and I couldn’t lift anything. I know it put a large burden on Cale and my mom, who I often had to call and ask for help. I hated depending on others, but I also hated not being able to pick up my kids and just do normal day to day things. I was very hopeful that this surgery would fix my chronic pain, but perhaps my expectations were unrealistic.

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The last few years have been difficult. I worry that I did too much and brought some of this on myself. I think 2011 was probably the toughest. I have had one health problem after another since then. Just when I think I can really focus and attack one aspect of my health, another problem seems to pop up. In 2012 I got a job as an adjunct professor at Tarrant County College. I was thrilled for the opportunity, and that it would allow me to stay home and teach just a few hours a week. Another big change occurred that year, after living with chronic pain for 8 years, I finally decided to get on medication to manage it. It was life changing, and I finally felt like I was no longer riding the roller coaster that I had previously been on for too long. I still have pain, but I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that it is something I will always have to live with and manage. If that means medication for the rest of my life, then so be it. If it allows me a better quality of life and makes it where I can do things with my family that I couldn’t before, then I’m okay with that. Finally. However, this year another problem has crept up. Depression and anxiety. I’ve experienced full blown depression that has put me in a hole. It’s overwhelming and paralyzing. Sure, it comes along with the territory of chronic pain, but after trying to get myself out of it time and again, I finally got help. Or so I thought. After trying several different anti-depressant medications that would help with anxiety, and insomnia (which I also deal with), I found out through trial and error that these medications have side-effects. Every one I’ve tried, and I’ve tried several, have either made me crazy, completely flat and unemotional, or they had no effect at all. I feel like I haven’t been myself for sometime, not just because of the medication, but because I’ve just been in a funk. I haven’t been at all the kind of person I want to be for years. I haven’t asked for help. I have thought I could deal with things myself. Can you imagine the frustration Cale must have had being married to someone like that? I’ve felt sorry for myself and I’ve let that feeling reside for far too long. My attitude has been bad and I honestly haven’t been motivated to do much of anything. My last surgery this past September landed me in the ER twice and took a lot out of me. It’s been hard to bounce back with every passing surgery, and this past one makes 8 total. But through it all, you know who’s stood by me? Who’s seen me at my absolute worst (and trust me, it’s been bad)? My husband. Even when I’ve done my best to try and shut him out, he has kept his promise to be there through the good and bad. There have been times that I’ve wondered, if he knew then what he knows now, would he have still married me? But that ship has sailed. Our commitment has been made. Our love is a choice that we constantly make again and again. Cale has chosen to pick up the slack when I so often can’t manage. He’s learned how to deal with me when I’m simply impossible to deal with. He’s so much better than I am in so many ways. I only hope that if the roles were reversed that I would do the same for him.

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So here we are. Ten years of marriage. A lot has happened. I know this is lengthy but I’ve really just hit the highlights. It definitely hasn’t been easy, but it’s brought us closer and taken us to a very positive place. Right now I feel like things are looking more positive from my perspective than they have for some time. I’ve got a lot to do to make up for lost time and I’m more committed to my marriage vows today than I ever have been. There’s been a shift, and slowly but surely the old Renae is coming around more often. So I know it’s all possible. I can move past this, and 10 years from now I hope that I will look back at this time as a small speed bump that doesn’t define my life or who I am. I’ve recently thought a lot about the idea that as we grow older we think things are going to get better, that our lives are going to improve. But what if the best years of our lives are already behind us? Can we still go on to make the best of things knowing that? Sure we can. Regardless of the circumstances of our future, I know that Cale and I can make it together. If we can’t overcome it, then we can endure it. Together.

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