Focus on the Joy

Happy Thankful Thursday #10!

I thought about wrapping it up last week with Thanksgiving. Does a more thankful Thursday exist than National Carb-Load Day?

But the number 10 was staring me in the face, and I just like round numbers too much to not push through at least one more week. Also, I am far from running out of people to thank. I hope I never do. 

I might take a short break for the rest of the month. I’ll focus on crunching out some year end projects, but also take it easy and enjoy the holidays. And by “take it easy,” I mean “run around non-stop to all of the concerts and parties and other events we’ve got lined up through the end of the year.” I don’t know; we’ll see if I can contain my gratitude for a few weeks.

But I can’t hold it in today, because I have been thinking a lot about someone very special to me this past week who I have so much to thank for: My mom. Who is probably watching this from bed in a rehab facility – physical rehabilitation, I should clarify. Although the way she’s been hitting the oxy…. Take it easy mom. I’m kidding. She’s fine. Fine except for the fact that she broke her leg this Sunday. Badly. Both her tibia and fibula broke. And she had to get pins and screws and plates and staples, and she’s gonna be out of commission for a little bit. And it’s a crappy season to be out of commission for.

She had her own calendar full of concerts and parties and other events, and a lot of those plans are going to have to be scuttled. Which really sucks, because there are few things my mom enjoys more than getting together with family for holidays, and wearing this sweater she has with white Scotty dogs and little Christmas colored pom poms. I might be mixing that up with her Snoopy sweater. She has a lot of sweaters. And socks. She has whole collection of crazy Christmas socks. If she tells someone she’ll be there with bells on, she means it. Literally.

But this year, instead of joining her children and grandchildren to the Christmas Philly Pops concert this weekend, she’ll be camping out at a residential PT facility. She’ll be there for about a week. Learning how to get around, just do basic stuff. And then she’s not going on any road trips for a while. Her leg is in a brace right now. I think they’ll cast it after the skin heals up a bit more, and it’s going to go all the way up to her hip. So I don’t know what options she has for transportation. She’s going to be cooped up during the most wonderful time of the year to not be cooped up. And she’s in pain. It sucks. It really sucks. I’m really sad for her that she has to endure this. 

But… eh, she didn’t want me to put this online, but I’ll flash it real quick. That’s my mom, in the hospital a couple nights ago when I visited. She’s smiling, she’s giving a thumbs up, she’s beautiful. That’s not her default mode right now – she’s feeling this, I know she’s really disappointed and shook by all of this and everything the situation entails. But at the same time she is fighting tooth and nail to focus on the joy and to hold on to the peace she has by knowing that this will all ultimately work out for good. She’s a woman of strong faith and prayer. And we have already seen God’s hand over this situation as the right people were at the right place at the right time to provide the right care, as surgery times were cut in half and recovery time estimates have been shortened, and as so many people have come out to surround my parents with love and meaningful support.

My mom can be unsure, and anxious, and discouraged, and at the same time, be steady and hopeful. Kathy Steininger is as steady as they come. She’s my no drama mama. Her and my dad have endured a lot of challenges over the years. They are like crisis magnets – not necessarily personal crises (they have a few of those from time to time), but they are so giving and servant-hearted and they make themselves available as a resource to help other people through difficult situations.

It’s really remarkable how much they bear on other people’s behalf, and still remain steady.

They have been steady for me. Especially my mom. I haven’t really talked about this publicly before, but during middle school and into high school I was constantly dealing with gastro intestinal stuff – it really kicked off in sixth grade when my appendix burst and I was hospitalized for a week, I missed a ton of school, it was hard getting back in the swing of things. And then every now and then I would have bouts of severe stomach and intestinal pain. It would be hard for me to function some days and I missed a lot of school. I went through so many tests to try to pinpoint what it was. The best guess anyone had was IBS. I can’t imagine how my parents felt. Going to the doctor, trying to figure out what is going on with their child’s health. Probably fearing the worst as they waited for each test result, and then getting frustrated when the doctor’s came back into the room with shrugs and no clear answers.

This lasted for several years. And my mom took point. On the appointments, all the medical stuff, taking off work on days that I couldn’t get my act together. She was incredibly patient through it all. By junior or senior year of high school, the gastro stuff had subsided and pretty much completely disappeared by the time I got to college. Huh. Weird. 

You want to know what it was? At least, what I think it was? I think it was all in my head. Don’t get me wrong, the pain was real. But it was caused by all of this internalized anxiety knotting me up. That initial round of missing school and falling behind and stressing out about all the make-up work and grades… I don’t know. I have to ask my parents some more questions about what I was like as a kid, because I always thought I was pretty chill, but apparently I also imposed stomach-imploding levels of stress on myself. Either that or there was an alien inside of me trying to eat its way out of my body.

If I’m being honest – that’s probably how I was – a chill kid with an anxious stomach. Because that’s how I am feeling right now a little bit. I actually just got off the phone with the IRS, which is not how I like to start sentences. I was trying to get some clarification on a notice I received last month, and it turns out I have to pay back a tax credit that I didn’t know I took in 2020. So that’s cool. We’ll come back to this.

This isn’t about me – this is about how my mom endured me and everything I brought to the table. She was so patient and calm through all the medical stuff. And she’s been patient and calm through so many other stressful, waaay less than ideal situations.

When I was younger, I would sometimes brush her off as naively optimistic. How can you not be freaking out right now? To be clear. She’s very emotive. And she’ll freak out about figure skating, and Al Roker not hosting the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. But the hard stuff, when many other people would be “woeing is me” – she’s still upset. She still lets you know how she feels, but there’s a stubborn peace about her. Over time I’ve grown to understand and appreciate that she is not naive at all. She’s seen stuff. She’s just wise enough to know that God is good, prayer works, other people are worth investing in, and you can never put too many chocolate chips in brownies. She has a saying: “Focus on the joy.”

She didn’t just randomly pick that off a Hallmark store shelf one day and adopt that as her mantra because she thought it sounded cute. “Focus on the joy” is a rule that she wrote for herself to help her through situations where it was hard to see any joy at all.

Through faith and practice, focusing on the joy is something that comes naturally to her. And it’s something that I’ve picked up on over the years. It’s something that has helped me immensely as I parent, run a business, get a phone call from my dad that my mom is in the hospital, and get unsettling letters from the Internal Revenue Service. Here – let’s practice this right now.

I owe the IRS money. Bummer. Also, I never received my tax refund from 2020. Double bummer. They held onto the refund money and applied that to the tax credit repayment. I don’t immediately feel great about that. But what would have happened if I did get the refund, and I spent it, and now I’d have to pay 3 times as much for the tax deferral and less money on hand to cover the cost.

It could have been worse. I could have owed more if I did get the refund and spent that on something else. And I have some savings I can pull from. This sucks. But we can take care of it. My mom snapped her leg in half. That sucks, but it will heal. We don’t always understand how things will work out sometimes. But if we’re disciplined to look back and remember how things have worked out in the past. To see how far we’ve come, how much we’ve learned and grown and how God has brought us this far – why doubt that He won’t carry us past this – whatever we’re facing. Why not focus on the joy?

There’s a lot of other things my mom has demonstrated and taught me over the years. But this is the one I’m focusing on right now.

Thank you mom. I hope you feel better soon. Take it easy on the meds. I’ll see you in a little bit. 

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