Carrie Cotton

Just a Girl In The World Sharing The Ups and Downs of a Messy Life

Let me tell you right off the bat – I love my kids. More than words can express. I love my kids. I love their uniqueness. I love their quirks.

What I don’t love is the stuff they don’t prepare you for.  I don’t love the struggles. The battles. The head to head competition.

My youngest signed up to play soccer.  Meaning – we the parents, paid a LOT of money to sign her up for soccer.  She had been hounding us for a while, so we gave in and got her signed up. Thinking it was a good thing. She would finally be doing something that didn’t involve a tablet or technology. My husband was thrilled that one of his daughters was finally going to get involved in the world of sports.

Four games into the season and last night she refused to go. We could have forced her to go. I guess? Is there a “right” answer here?  Make her go. Force her to play. After all “we paid a lot of money”.   Enforce the “it’s a commitment and you can’t let your team down”. Yes, we played that card too. Aside from tie her up and drag her there, what is a parent to do? Take away the phone? Make the one thing she wanted to do for FUN become a punishment of sorts?

Let me tell you, it’s super easy for others to judge and say “I would do this” but it’s just not that easy. I’m not sure parenting always has a one true, 100% correct answer, and that in itself is a bit overwhelming at times.

You feel helpless sometimes as a parent over the smallest of things. You feel so alone. And sometimes, in the smallest of situations, you wish someone would swoop in and save the day.  Why can’t there be easy answers? Where is the guide for parents to follow? Why DON’T they come with instructions?

This morning her class was off for a school trip. A friend of hers picked her up for the early morning departure. I stood at the door, sad that I wasn’t needed. I wasn’t “wanted”.

That was my conversation. My thought process. “Oh my God. She doesn’t even want me to drop her off.”

You want to teach your kids everything. You want to be their cheerleader and motivator. You want them to be good human beings.

But then it feels like in a moment, they turn on YOU.  The ONE person in their corner.

The most rewarding job in the world is not without struggle and judgement and fear and frustration. None of us are doing it right all the time.  We have to love on our kids fiercely and keep on doing the best we can.

Nobody ever said it would be easy.

 

 

 

It’s a topic that came up in church service last Sunday and I’ve been sitting with it ever since.

Do you know your purpose?

I don’t believe I ever lived with purpose until I started going to church and working on a relationship with God. I never questioned it.  Maybe it’s something that comes with age.  “What am I here for?  What is my purpose in life?”

I look back on my life, and see that there had to be a bigger picture.

I look at my career as a radio announcer, and still sometimes wonder “How in the world did I get HERE?”

I’m super shy – or at least I always was.  My dad said my nickname as a kid was “Olly Ostrich”  because I would always duck my head and hide from everybody.

It’s when you look back, you start to think, “Maybe there really is something to this. Maybe I didn’t accidentally end up here.  Maybe it’s been God’s plan all along.”

We learn in church, that we all have a reason, a purpose, for being here.  Each one of us has our own unique talents.

I look back on my life, and see at least three times when I could have lost my life.

The first time – I was a kid who snuck her way to the community swimming pool, against her mother’s wishes, and nearly drowned. I remember it vividly to this day. Fighting to get out of that water.

The second time – when my family was killed.  My mom, brother and sister went into “town” for food and a movie. I went upstairs to grab my money, and when I came back down they were gone. I could have/ should have been in that car.

And a third time, I fell asleep driving home after a late night out of town. I thought I could get by on a few hours sleep.  I realize now, just how easily it can happen.  I woke up to the car spinning.  And I remember vividly, it felt like someone reached down, like a kid with a toy car, and stopped it.

Until recently, I had not given much thought to those incidents.

Maybe, it’s because I am here for a reason and I still have a job to do.

I’d like to think, what I’m doing, is not just a coincidence. That I am doing exactly what I’m meant to do.

I hope so.

 

 

trauma

I tell myself I’m being dramatic when I see a post like that and agree with it.  Trauma lingers.  Maybe for some. But not for me.

I tell myself,  “I don’t have PTSD – that’s for people that went to war.”

Truth is.  Maybe I do.

My sister n law has mentioned it, in the past, in conversation.  I was irritated.  Offended.

“But, I’m fine.”

Why do we feel we have to defend ourselves? And pretend we were never hurt or deeply wounded?  Why do we belittle how we feel or react?

My daughter went on a school trip today.  Five hours away.  It didn’t take long for the panic to set in.  To start to worry about the drive and pray that nothing would happen to her while she was there.

It seems to happen when there is a new situation. Something beyond my control.  I react. I expect the worst.  I hate feeling out of control.

Ever since that July day, when I lost half my family in one night, I don’t completely trust that people will stay in my life.

I don’t completely trust, that they will come home at the end of the day.

I run through the situation. I know how it will play out.  I know how quickly a call will come if something were to happen.

It’s ridiculous how “prepared” I am for disaster. I have it all played out in my head before the situation even happens.

My family died in a car accident. Someone blew through a stop sign going way too fast.

I would say my fear of driving comes from that.  Mostly in traffic. I don’t drive in big cities. I hate the idea of merging.  Nope. No thank you.  I’ll pass.

My drive to work can be stressful at times.  There are days I drive to work, and in my head, I wonder if this is my last day.  I wonder, not always, but some days, if today is the day a car doesn’t stop.

I get tense behind the wheel.  I think about my life.  I think about what I said to my husband and kids before they headed out the door. I replay my words as if they were my last.  I make sure to kiss my husband and tell him I love him, just so he knows, should I not see him again. I get really upset with myself if I don’t.

Yep.

Maybe people are right when they say trauma lasts.  Maybe people are right when they say “I think you have PTSD”.

I KNOW that life is not guaranteed. And I KNOW that just because I expect it to be a regular day, doesn’t guarantee it will go as planned.

I believe I’ve gotten better over the years.

But, some days will trigger the response even more.

Today it was my daughter driving five hours away on a bus, without me, and not in my control.

It doesn’t run my life, the fear of the unknown, but it does linger.  I have to trust in God that I will be OK no matter what happens.

 

I made chili today and as silly as it sounds, it took me back in time.

My mom used to make chili with tomato soup and kidney beans.

She used to TRY and add onions, but some of her kids (namely ME) were super picky and would make a fuss if they even thought there might be onions in something.

So they were pretty much always left out.  Probably easier that way.

It’s something I remember her making, so clearly.  Chili with tomato soup.

When I started living with my husband, we each had different ways of doing things and I remember him being so surprised that I would add tomato soup to chili.

He thought it was odd.  He had always made it with tomato sauce and tomato paste. So when he makes chili, it’s made his way.

I knew I wanted to make chili for dinner tonight and I didn’t have the tomato sauce or tomato paste.

But I had a can of tomato soup.

I love the connection I feel, being in the kitchen and making something she used to make.

Such a simple thing.  Comfort food on a Sunday afternoon, just like mom used to make, is one way I feel close to her again.

She used to say everything she made was made “with love”.  And we would laugh at how cheesy it was.  I miss that.  So much.

I chopped up the onions for the chili, in my kitchen this afternoon, and it took me back. To those days. When she was still here.

Mom was right.  She told me I would grow to love them and appreciate them in cooking.  (Gotta hate when parents are right.)

So today, as I got ready to make my chili, I remembered her making the chili with tomato soup – hold the onions please!  But  I also remembered the days after she died. Almost thirty years ago.

I remember my Aunt Shirley came to help us with things – like finding a dress for the funeral.

And I remember her making a batch of chili.  And I remember thinking it was all wrong.

I’m not sure why on a July day, chili would be a go to.  I guess it was her way of helping. Making sure we were fed.  Making sure we had something that would last after she was gone.

What I remember so clearly was the onions.  I remember watching her cutting up onions.  In big chunks.  And I remember thinking “mom doesn’t do that!  mom doesn’t add onions!” “if mom were here she would tell you how we like chili and it’s NOT with huge chunks of onions – stop!”

I remember feeling so much anger at that chili.  Watching her cut those big chunks.

Knowing we would never want to eat it because that was not how mom made it.

That is not what mom did.  She knew not to use onions, and if she did, she knew she pretty much had to chop them so small we would never detect them.

It was a moment I will never forget.  It was a huge realization that life would never be the same. That person was gone. 

So today, as I chopped up the onions and threw them in the pot of chili, I remembered that day nearly 30 years ago, when life was collapsing all around me.

chili

Something as simple as chopping onions was the beginning of the end of things as we knew it.

Nothing would ever be the same.  That person that loved us enough to leave the onions out was forever gone.

So trivial yet so huge.

So today, with a cupboard missing ingredients, I cooked up some chili just like mom used to make.  And I smiled, and I remembered just how much she loved me. And I smiled, because she was right.

 

 

 

I used to tell myself, that if a certain “thing” happened, I would never survive.

I used to tell myself if a certain “thing” happened, I would NOT tolerate it.

I would not forgive it. I would not be able to go on with my life.

Yet, here I am.

Living and breathing.  Going on with my life. Survivor. Tolerater.  Forgiver.

Overcomer.

I have made it through some really tough stuff. Oh boy have I.  Losing half my family in two days was tough.  I was nineteen and alone when I had my son. I was a #metoo victim. I’ve been cheated on and a few times I probably should have lost my life.  But God.

Thank you God for getting me through all that “stuff” I never imagined I would have the strength to go through.

We think we aren’t strong enough.  We tell ourselves those situations that happen to other people,  WE would NEVER put up with or stand for.

Not us.

It’s really easy to say what we wouldn’t tolerate or stand for when it isn’t our situation. Our pain. Our heartache.  It’s really easy to THINK we would somehow be BETTER at handling it.

But when that day comes, let me tell you, you will likely put up with a lot more than you ever dared to imagine. You will likely be a whole lot stronger than you even dreamed was possible.

I look back on my life now and think “Wow.”  How did I EVER make it through?  How did I keep breathing?  How did I forgive and continue on?

How? Looking back, and now, getting stronger in my faith walk – I have to say “But God”, otherwise, I have no clue.

This time of year is tough.  My Facebook reminds me of events that unfolded in my life a number of years ago.  My Facebook memories reminds me of how I FELT and how badly I was STRUGGLING to keep it together.

A moment in time I did not believe I would make it through.  A moment in time I never imagined I would even have to fight my way through that kind of darkness.

But I did.

You have to be very careful sometimes, even with the memories. They can take over, and knock you down.  You might start to believe that some of those old thoughts and feelings are still true.  Don’t believe the lies.

I am AMAZED that I am standing sometimes.

I am AMAZED that I am not bitter or resentful or full of rage.

A close friend of mine is going through a really rough situation and it is heartbreaking to have to watch from the sidelines and not be able to help.

All I can say is this “You are so much stronger than you think. You are capable of amazing things.  And you will heal from this tremendous heartache.  It won’t be easy and it will take time.  What you thought you could not handle, you will.  And then you will heal. But the hurt, the pain, the THING that caused it, won’t leave you completely. It will always be there. It will be a part of you and a part of your story. Forever intertwined with the rest of you. With prayer, and perseverance, you will emerge stronger and more compassionate.  Life will never be the same.  But sometimes, we grow to be our truest selves in our darkest days and biggest challenges. Don’t sell yourself short.  You too will overcome.”

It’s not easy, this life.  I am so thankful.  I used to dwell on the problems. On the situations. I used to wait for the next big thing to hit.

Now I appreciate that I made it through. All of it.  All the big things that could easily have ruined me.

become

You know what strengthens me?  Even now? Even today?  Sharing it – with you.

I hope if you are struggling, that you realize you are strong and capable. The storm will pass and you will be stronger for it.  And when you look back – you too will be AMAZED at your strength.

With love,

me

 

I used to think I knew what love was, and my thoughts were big and bold and grandiose.

They were stereotypical.  Driven by big Hollywood movies, and magazine articles.

I was insecure, and lacked confidence to begin with. So when I got into a real relationship, I had some pretty unrealistic expectations.  I was afraid of being alone, and afraid of not being good enough, and at the same time I wanted my husband to make me happy.

I wanted what I saw in the movies. I wanted to be swept off my feet.  I wanted to feel loved, safe and secure. I wanted a lot. I expected a lot. I gave little in return.

I was a broken individual when I met my husband.

I put a lot of pressure on one person to make me happy.

I thought to be enough, I had to be like someone else.  I wasn’t being true to myself, but didn’t realize it until it was almost too late. I tried to be like the magazines told me to be.

And I wanted my husband to be like the man in the magazines and the movies.  I expected him to “fix me”.  Fix my brokenness.  I pushed to be different. I pushed him to be different.  I questioned. I criticized.  I compared.

All that I thought I was doing to be a “good wife” almost cost me my marriage.

I thank God daily, because I believe with all my heart, it was through prayer, and a faith in the impossible, that our marriage was saved.  Not only saved, but strengthened, and I have been forever changed.

I stopped pushing and expecting and comparing.

I started giving and doing and appreciating.

I saw that love wasn’t about those grandiose gestures.

Love is putting ketchup on the fries.

Let me explain.

A date night recently, my husband (who now suggests date nights more than me) suggested we go out to eat.  We ordered.  When the waitress brought the plate of fries to the table – my husband reached for the ketchup.  He opened the bottle, and started squirting the fries with ketchup.

I said to him, in surprise “What are you doing? You hate ketchup!”

To which he smiled, and softly said “I know. I do. But you like it. ”

In that moment, all these years later, I felt so loved.  Unbelievably, unconditionally – loved.

To me, that was the grandiose gesture I had been craving.  Beyond the Hollywood movie, or magazine article.

Ketchup on the fries.

It’s a moment I will never forget, and when I think of it, I always smile, and I always feel loved.

Love isn’t about the flowers, or the money, or how much you spend, or what can you give me.

Love is in the gesture, the actions, the everyday stuff. Like ketchup on the fries.

I think of just how close we were to the end of our marriage, and today I am oh so grateful and oh so thankful that we got to the point where my husband puts ketchup on the fries.

 

Oh I had it bad.

As Joyce Meyer calls it – a case of “stinkin’ thinkin’ “. I was totally caught up in the negative.

It didn’t take long either.  A quick comment from a friend that came across as negative and judgemental toward me, in an awkward situation where I was already feeling unsure and insecure and uncomfortable, left me feeling even more alone.

A few emails from someone, each feeling like a missile attack.  Sharp, cruel, and meant to destroy. At least, that’s how I took it. That’s how it felt. Words sting.

It was a tough couple of weeks with shots firing all over the place.  I took the offence.  I felt under attack in a big way.  I couldn’t help but wonder why and what the heck is going on?

Our church service this weekend, was a reminder, that as you grow in your faith, you will have opposition and it could come in many forms.  Like criticism. And when it comes you need to learn to dust off the dirt, move on, and “shake it off”.

It was like a big light went off. I had that “AHA!” moment.   After everything that had been happening over the past few weeks, this message could not have come at a better time. Shake it off.  Three words and a message that has come at me through so many different sources lately.

I thought about how I have been doing just that.  Praying in the morning, with my morning coffee.  Leaning in to God.  Playing my worship music in the car. Having a little church service every morning on the way to work.

I was back to coaching, and working on my health and fitness, and feeling really, really GOOD about myself. My marriage, my kids – everything was GOOD.

I shouldn’t be surprised to be attacked. But I felt it. Everywhere. And my focus was on the negative.

I found myself getting stuck in the stinkin’ thinkin’.  I was reacting in a negative way and I didn’t like that I was doing that AT ALL. I was not proud of my behavior.

The message kept coming. In a Zumba class on a Wednesday night.  “Haters, gonna hate hate hate. Shake it off”

And let me share this – and I believe this is how God works in our lives – before Sunday, before I did any shaking or dusting – I went to a workout class.  I wanted to work through the emotions and get still with myself. I wanted to go to a place where the negative didn’t exist and I could drown everything out. Before the workout even started, here’s something that happened that I didn’t realize until later (in an aha moment), that was such a huge blessing.

Someone who hardly knows me, stopped me to compliment me on my health and fitness journey. To compliment me on my strength and determination and drive.  To compliment me on my results and my attitude.

Yeah.  That happened.  And it changed my world.  In a second.

It helped to drown out the negative.  And that person probably had no idea in that moment how very much I needed that positive reinforcement.

God works in mysterious ways through different people. We don’t need a burning bush to believe.  Sometimes it comes through a few words from a near stranger.

The next day I was determined to stop focusing on the negative words that had been spoken over me.  It was time to take back control over my thoughts, stop worrying about a few comments, and get back to me.  Shake it off.

I bought myself a new workout shirt “Fierce – Focused and Fearless”.  Bright colour. Bold statement.

It was a reminder.  Shake it off. Focus on what is true about you.  Not what someone says or tries to make you believe to be true.

I also used the moment to give back. I dropped off some food donations to a charity fundraiser that was happening in our community to help homeless teens. Let me tell you, when you get yourself off your mind, and make an effort to do something for someone else, no matter what that is, it changes your perspective in such a positive way.

Add to the list, one more person came forward and spoke such encouragement over me in such a powerful way, it was incredible and unforgettable.  As she spoke words of affirmation over me and my life, a butterfly made it’s way between us.  It lingered.  Flittering and fluttering back and forth and all around us.

Another blessing.  An acknowledgement. A reminder.  “You are not alone.”

I was so stuck in my stinkin’ thinkin’ that I didn’t see the blessings all around me in such a big way. I didn’t see what was right in front of me.  I do now.  And I am so incredibly blessed.

That’s how you get back at the enemy.

Not today Satan.  Not today.

 

There’s a quote I love that says “God is up to something or the devil wouldn’t be fighting you this hard.”

I think God must be up to something really big, because it feels like the whole universe is against me.

My sixteen year old pushing boundaries, just being a teenager who wants to do things, and stay out late, but I feel like I have to put my foot down.  She hates me and I hate that.  It’s so hard to be hated.  My mom used to give me the silent treatment – I remember it well.  And I’m doing that to my own daughter.  Funny how we repeat behaviors without even wanting to.

A few people in my close circle have made a few remarks in the last few weeks that have been quite hurtful. It’s been hard to let go of the negative energy that comes with it.  It’s been a surprise to read or hear words spoken to you in a condescending, belittling way. So unnecessary.

I’m usually pretty good at shaking it off.  This week has proven difficult. I feel like I’m being attacked at every angle and I can’t catch my breath.

I’ve taken all the remarks and comments to heart. It’s made me question who I am and what I’m doing. It’s made me doubt myself.

A recent conversation with a long time acquaintance brought up a moment in time I’d rather forget.  Something so long ago, but the mention of it is like ripping open deep wounds, that had only finished healing.

It shook me to know that someone else, outside of MY CIRCLE knew that part of my story. The part where my husband and I had real struggles. The part where our marriage was being tested in a huge way.

I am so thankful for our struggles because I know I needed them to grow. It doesn’t make it easier to be reminded of it.

All these things coming at me and it’s been hard to keep my head above water. It’s been a struggle.

What do YOU do when life is coming at you?  When it feels like the universe wants to destroy you?

I thought it would be fun to go to my favourite Zumba class. Sweat it out.  All the built up frustrations. Safe place.

Good idea or a very bad one. I haven’t decided yet because I ended up leaving the class in tears. Not able to say goodbye to anyone.

All those doubts swirling in my head were brought to the surface as I tried to figure out some new dance moves, and remember the others. I tripped over my feet. I got frustrated. I watched the other girls in the class who were so good at all of it. They knew the moves ahead of the instructor.  Which only amplified how I was feeling in that moment.

The build up of doubt.  The negative comments. The feeling of inadequacy.  The presumption I wasn’t capable of the simplest of things. Piled onto every other life event.

It was too much.  Exercise is so therapeutic, but you’d better be ready for it, because it will take you down without warning.

I thought Zumba was my “safe space”. Where I didn’t have to deal with any of the “stuff” that was being thrown my way. Little did I know that an hour would bring it all to the surface in a healthy, “let it out, let it go” kind of way.

What’s worse, as I felt the tears start, I immediately started talking down to myself “Oh great, way to bring the energy down for the WHOLE CLASS.  Nobody needs you to be the Debbie Downer”.

I’m known for being “positive”.  Sometimes that title is too much to bear.  Sometimes – even the ones who always seem so positive need to step away from that word and the enormity of it.  And not be positive.  Sometimes we need a safe space to just BE in the moment. Negative or sad or angry or all of the above. Without the pressure of being positive.

I thought I could take my mind off all the “stuff” with a few dance moves.  I thought I could escape for an hour and not think about anything other than the words in the songs, and the direction of my feet.

But my struggles did not want to be contained. They did not want to be buried.

I danced.  I struggled. I worked through it.  And all the way home, I listened to a few songs to help me process all that I was feeling and it was so good.

Cyndi Lauper – True Colours.  A reminder to keep being true to myself.  Haters gonna hate hate hate.

Lauren Daigle – You Say.  A reminder that even if those voices in my head tell me I’m not enough. Those lies that I will never measure up.  I know that God sees me as perfect.  He’s my strength. He’s my power. With Him I am enough.

So remember. If you feel like you are in the middle of the storm and it’s dark and you can’t see what’s coming, and the winds are strong and the rain keeps hitting your face – maybe something really big is coming your way and you’re just in the middle of another test.

 

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