Life is full of seasons. And I'm not just referring to the beautifully guaranteed weather-related kind. I'm talking about the unexpected series of hours, days, months, or even years that creep in quietly - or obnoxiously loud - and challenge us in all kinds of ways... the positive kind... the negative kind... or maybe a little bit of both.
Yes, seasons come and go, and along the journey through each one, life has a funny way of teaching us some of the most profound lessons we'll ever know - even if we don't realize it at first. So, what's the key to overcoming the more trying seasons and arriving on the other side with renewed purpose? Learning to just grow with it.
Change is good, right?
You've likely heard the saying, "change is the only constant." My goodness, have we learned that to be one thousand percent true this year. For better or worse, everything is always changing. Sometimes, the change is hard to ignore - it's obvious and in your face. Other times, it appears gradually, going completely unnoticed until you take a step back, catch your breath, and reflect on all the little things that have evolved in your life.
As human beings, it's only natural to crave a routine - something we can adjust as needed to fit our demanding schedules.
One of the hardest things about coping with change, no matter how it presents itself, is coming to terms with not being able to manipulate it so that it perfectly fuses into our routine - our plan. But if you think about it, change is truly the only thing we can absolutely plan on.
Cue a global pandemic.
Remember when our world came to a crashing halt in March, entirely shutting down before our eyes? It's safe to say we weren't ready and definitely didn't plan for that one (the empty grocery store shelves and resulting toilet paper crisis would agree). What followed the forced isolation could largely be described as nationwide hysteria. You know, one of those obnoxiously loud changes mentioned earlier.
But amid all the noise and craziness, something impactful happened - we found the security we so desired in new 'anchors.' When learning to just grow with change instead of resisting it - because let's face it, this was far out of our control - we uncover things that make the balancing act of navigating an unforeseen season a little bit easier.
Those anchors that keep us positive and grounded when adversity arises can be significant in nature like faith, prayer, or meditation. But they can also be seemingly small and ordinary like cooking, reading, or exercising.
What's your anchor?
Sometimes, the only way to grow into change and genuinely welcome it with open arms is to hear how others experiencing the same circumstances have powered through. The rare opportunity this pandemic gifted each of us to stop and feel every moment of struggle, triumph, or pure grace deserves to be documented and live on through this [new] normal and all the other versions to follow. So, here's a small collection of our work tribe's takeaways from this year's happenings to perhaps bring you even just a little bit of comfort, or if nothing else, good reading material.
Growing Through Loss
Heidi Buechter | Underwriting Manager, Auto
Her anchor: Spending more precious time with family.
My mom was diagnosed with ALS in October of last year. As much as I always tried to make an effort to see her more, most of the time, it was a challenge because I work full-time and have two rambunctious boys who are always in different activities. And when they're not participating in those, their love of playing video games takes center stage – eye roll. Work took all my days, and after I got home, I was almost always exhausted. So, like many other working moms, I found every excuse in the book just to stay home once I landed there.
When thinking about my mom's new reality, I always thought to myself "We have plenty of time with her. She was just diagnosed." But I was wrong.
Once the pandemic hit and we started to do work and school from home, it forced us to slow down. So, I found myself packing up my laptop and pulling the boys away from their video games, and we went to my parents’ house several times a week. I set up a desk space there and was able to eat lunch with them and watch as my boys spent quality time with their Nana and Papap.
It was huge for me to see those memory-making moments happen each time we visited. The boys enjoyed it, and my mom and dad appreciated the time spent with all of us. I could see how much it meant to all of them and me.
Later on, Mom ended up taking a turn for the worst, and we ended up losing her on August 15, 2020.
She may be gone, but I can honestly say it was an amazing gift to be able to spend all that time with her while she was here due to working from home because of the pandemic. The more I reflect on it, the more comforted I feel that I could be there for her and bring the boys to see her more often all year long. If the pandemic hadn’t forced us to slow down, I can’t say I wouldn’t have regretted time not spent together.
The main lesson I learned during this crazy 2020 pandemic is to slow down and embrace time with family because life is too short not to. You never know when that time will run out.
Growing Through Gratitude
Christy Kremer | Complex & Litigated Claims Representative
Her anchor: Taking time to enjoy the view every day.
There’s a country song titled “My Front Porch Looking In” by Lonestar with lyrics that include: “Yeah, the view I love the most is my front porch looking in.” It’s a great song, in my opinion, that can inspire an individual to truly appreciate the people inside their home and life. Like this country song's message, Covid-19 has had a lasting, positive effect on me. How can that be?
I quickly found that my spare bedroom-turned-office nestled away in my cozy home that lies in my little Columbia, Missouri community, provided me with a new window into my neighborhood’s world. I’ve been gifted with a fresh perspective from where I dwell and have been given daily positive affirmations on life when looking out.
After being relocated to home permanently, and perched up in my new “corner office," I have experienced many wonderful moments I had never seen before...
From my window looking out - I saw a Dad teaching his 7-year-old daughter how to ride her bike without training wheels. Hearing her laughter, seeing his excitement, and watching an accomplishment unfold before my eyes were beautiful happenings. I watched on as Dad ran closely behind her, the bike wobbling but somehow staying upright all along. I looked as he built her confidence - her self-esteem - and witnessed the beauty that is a father-daughter bond shining brightly.
From my window looking out - I saw two silver-haired, worn sneaker-wearing ladies (who appeared to be the best of friends or maybe even sisters) take the extra minute or two to stop at my mailbox and inspect my double knockout red rosebush bursting in blooms. They carefully bent over the roses, eyes-closed, inhaling the fragrance of the flowers. I planted those for myself - for my own pleasure. Unknown to me before now, their beauty is shared with many. I've since seen many walkers taking the time to enjoy my roses and other flowers in my yard.
From my window looking out - I saw a 10-year-old boy ferociously bouncing a basketball and playing with his brother. Watching the encouragement he so willingly gave his younger brother after he made a basket, continually applauding him, was precious. I saw teamwork come to fruition before my eyes. I saw many big smiles and high-5's.
From my window looking out - I saw a neighbor who has a prosthetic leg walking his three-legged dog. Seeing this pairing in action allowed me to understand that this dog is more than just 'man’s best friend,' but rather a perfect other-half. They are a sweet combination of two souls that understand one another through overcoming the same pain.
I experienced - and continue to experience - these moments and so many others through the window that Covid-19 gifted me. I now chat with my neighbors more frequently. I stop and listen to the bells and cheerful songs of the local ice cream truck as it stops to give the kids a sweet treat (and perhaps myself - I regularly order an old fashioned dipped cone with nuts on top). I watch in enjoyment as the squirrels play together in the nearby hickory trees. I admire the robin building the nest she painstakingly constructed in my front door wreath so that she can finally raise her family.
No longer do I race home, close the garage door, and go about my inside chores, television time, or social media surfing as I may have done before. I’ve changed for the better. I’m no longer on my front porch looking in - I’m experiencing more all because I have seized the opportunity that's always been there to appreciate the view from my window looking out.
Growing Through Surrender
Ashley Sterk | Executive Assistant
Her anchor: Organizing everything and making self-care a priority.
I have learned in the past to surround myself with a great group of people. So in times of change and the challenges that follow, I have always had great family, friends, and co-workers to lean on. We have an amazing environment at work, so it was hard not to see everyone all of the time. I made a conscious effort to try and take a little time to reach out to people each week to check-in and catch up, which I noticed others do as well. It was and is really refreshing to see that we can still maintain that positive, tight-knit environment virtually.
I also had to remind myself to try and focus on controlling the controllables in my routine. When there are so many unknowns, life can feel extremely overwhelming. Since our world shifted in March, I decided to actively make a list of things I CAN do, so l have a sense of direction. I still maintain this habit today because the gratifying feeling of physically checking things off my list is too good to let go of.
It's no secret that during the pandemic, everything slowed down dramatically.
Traveling, sporting events, and concerts are some of my favorite past-times, so those things being taken away were the biggest let-downs for me. After the initial shock of canceling all of my plans, just like everyone else in the world had to do, I realized this freed up some special time with my family in town that I could now fully take advantage of.
During quarantine, my family and I had lots of dinners, game nights, and binged-watched way too many tv shows. I could also finally take care of myself for a minute - which I've never really done before. I took the time to get in a good workout routine and start cooking healthy meals. I even set aside a few weekends to organize my life a little. From going through all my clothes, down to arranging my pen drawer, it felt great to get rid of all of the clutter and have fresh new spaces! The frames that had been hung on my walls for a year were happy to have pictures in them finally.
It was hard not to see our family on the west coast, especially our older grandparents. We attempted to FaceTime, but technology isn’t their favorite. So we’ve started writing letters back and forth - you know, old-fashioned style. Even though I would much rather get to see them in person, this has been the most memorable thing to come from being forced to slow down in this pandemic, and I will now be able to treasure those letters forever.
Growing Through Admiration
Vera Douthitt | Accountant
Her anchor: Relaxing more, instead of always rushing through the days.
I live in a small town and have commuted to work each day since I can remember - up and out of the house early and home late. In March everything changed. I now work from home and for the first time, I have been able to enjoy my home. Every day since everything was turned upside down, I have been able to enjoy the sunrises and the sunsets.
This Spring I watched from my “office” as the trees budded and turned green and the flowers pushed up through the ground to greet the new season. I have seen the birds building their nests and the hummingbirds preparing for their migration.
This change from the normal to the 'new-normal' has been a blessing for me. Each day I can enjoy the beautiful world that God has given us. It is amazing how much stress relief is obtained when you have the time to stop and appreciate all that God has given us. Quarantine has taught me to slow down and embrace this wonderful world of ours. I am looking forward to Winter and to be able to really enjoy the changing of the seasons. I feel so blessed that I am able to give my best to my employer and also to give my best to my Creator.
Growing Through Self-Reflection
Taylor Borgstadt | Underwriting Assistant
Her anchor: Eating healthier and nurturing her valued relationships with friends, family, and co-workers.
Coming up with words to describe my year for this project wasn't easy in the beginning, but after spending some time reflecting on it all, I think I know just what to say.
When we were told to work exclusively from home - on top of already having been continuously warned by health officials to go out only when absolutely necessary and isolate yourself [from the world] - I was on the verge of a breakdown. At first, I was okay with the new rules (I didn't really have a choice), until I realized how much of a social butterfly I actually am - I quickly found that I valued social time more than I thought.
The Hardest Days:
I missed the faces I once saw every morning at work while making rounds to say good morning and ask how everyone was doing.
I missed the 5-minute commute to work where I could play at least one song that set the whole mood for my day. Slowly, I noticed my own lack of determination towards daily life tasks since working solely from home. After all, my commute now consisted of walking from one room to another.
When I did go out, the masks gave me anxiety, along with feeling claustrophobic. So I found myself not wanting to leave the house as much anymore, if at all.
I would call or FaceTime friends and family to get updates on their life and sometimes - most times - it just wasn’t enough. I craved the face-to-face human interaction I once knew and loved.
The Easier Days:
At some point during quarantine, I had a quiet, internal epiphany. I finally came to the realization that life didn’t have to be as challenging as everyone made it seem on the news.
Knowing the risks that the media often harped on non-stop, I decided that I needed to safely start going back out into the world and visiting with loved ones. I would take little trips to see my family and spend an occasional evening outside at the local winery catching up with a few friends from month to month. All while practicing safe social distancing.
Socializing was possible, after all.
I didn't want to live in fear anymore because I saw what it was doing to my mental health. So, I learned how to maintain a similar way of living as I did before the pandemic, but with a little more caution and awareness of my actions and surroundings.
Since having this positive change in mindset, I've started habits I want to continue for many years to come, like eating healthier and finding new meals to cook. I've also found that the comfort of my optimism regarding a future where life will go back to some version of the old "normal" has kept me going during this difficult time. It's a process I intend to keep taking on step at a time, one day at a time.
Growing Through Acceptance
Morgan Graning | Marketing Content Specialist & Author of this Blog
My anchor: Actively embracing a healthier lifestyle - emotionally and physically.
In my senior year of high school, I was voted 'Most Gullible.' And I admit I am pretty naive but never thought of it as a significant blemish to my personality. It just meant I didn't like to see the negative in any situation, but rather the parts I wanted to focus on... you know, the good stuff. So what's my yearbook title got to do with the active pandemic we're all trying to survive? Everything.
Earlier this year, I, like many other Americans, assumed a harmless 'flu-like' virus would run its course in a few weeks, and we could quit being so scared of it. I thought it might affect a small majority of the population overseas, and even if it did make its way over here, I didn't need to fear it because I was the epitome of good health - my family, too. But again, like many others, I was wrong about the severity of the entire situation.
On March 13th, I was told I'd be working from home for a while. I thought, maybe a few weeks of change - that's not so bad. I had always been a little envious of the work-from-homers and now was my chance to see what the hype was all about. Plus, most days, I wished I could just stay home and skip the morning rush I had become so accustomed to. So, initially, I was okay with that set-up. In my mind, it was very temporary, after all.
But after a few days of being home all day, every day, and sharing the same space with my two needy little ones full time who had been exiled from school like the rest of the world's students, my acceptance shifted dramatically.
I quickly found myself spiraling into a recurring depression-like state that I just couldn't shake. I am a naturally happy person and had been so lucky not to have ever experienced real, prolonged anger, hopelessness, and exhaustion before. But I felt those emotions and so many others as I stared at the same four walls for months and all of a sudden became both a full-time employee and stay-at-home-mom.
I missed my alone time during my half-hour commute to the office, jamming out to my favorite music and soaking up the sunrise-drenched views of the countryside along the way. I missed my treasured work routine of grabbing coffee in the break room and looking through the big, clear windows at the beautiful walking trail in the mornings. I missed talking and laughing with my co-workers throughout the day. I missed prepping for fun events. I missed getting dressed up and feeling good about myself. I missed all the things I took for granted about my workday all the years before.
It's funny how, when the simplest things are stripped away from us, we have this aha moment of "wow, I had it really good." And that mantra applied to the entire isolation phase we all experienced during quarantine. Simple everyday occurrences like running errands freely, dining out, and traveling were no longer allowed - it was a lot of change all at once.
My naive, optimistic personality was being tested daily for several months. And then one day, I turned some massive, long-awaited corner in my head and heart. I learned that to love my 'new normal,' I had to stop living in denial about what was happening around me. The light may be at the end of the tunnel, sure - but we're not there yet, as a world. And that's okay.
Things will get better eventually, but in the meantime, you 'gotta work with what you have. And what I had was amazing.
I learned to love my new commute of going outside for a jog over my lunch-break. I learned to love the view looking out my living room windows as the seasons changed, instead of that walking trail scene from the breakroom. I face-timed with my co-workers and friends when I could to catch up and talk about how crazy the world had become - which brought the comfort I needed to deal with it all. I embraced a healthier lifestyle, cooking more, and taking walks with my dog, who had only ever gotten to see me from the hours of 5-9 pm. I planned fun new outdoor adventures with my kids - the kind I never had time or energy for before because I was so run-down from the workweek grind.
You may have heard the quote that preaches, "change your thoughts, and you'll change your world." Well, I can tell you it's 100% true.
There's not a thing any of us can do to mend the devastation that 2020 has brought and continues to serve up. But you can change your mindset to counteract all that chaos. You must be intentional about it, though, I've learned. It's a full-time job to stay upbeat during a very emotionally taxing time, but it will pay off tenfold when it comes to nurturing your mental health and staying sane.
While being Most Gullible seemed to be my downfall early on in this life season, it has also proven to be the one characteristic to provide me with the faith needed to literally survive. The world may have gone a little bit mad this year, but I'm happy to report I haven't.
Growing Through Faith
Gloria Driver | CFM Policyholder & Breast Cancer Survivor
Her anchor: Confiding in God.
For most of my adult life, I have had this little fear in the back of my head that I would get breast cancer someday. I don't know why. It's not like we have a family history of it. But the thought would just creep into my mind ever so often.
When Your Fear Becomes Your Reality
I can all too clearly recall the abnormal mammogram I had right before my diagnosis that made me a little apprehensive but didn't bother me enough to stress about it. After all, I had had an abnormal mammogram several years ago with a breast biopsy, and everything turned out fine.
After a repeat mammogram, ultrasound, and biopsy, I was told that I would have results in about seven days. The next day, as I was simply returning a phone call to my dear friend and doctor, I was given the message that I had breast cancer. Little did I know, he had put a rush on the test to receive the results more quickly. This conversation caught me off guard. I thought I was just getting a 'Hi, how ya doing?' phone call, but ended up hearing my unfortunate biopsy results.
I will forever remember that I was casually strolling down the aisle at Walgreens after a relaxing massage when I heard those dreadful words that no one ever wants to hear. My eyes teared up, I was a little stunned, and then I turned the corner to see my friend and neighbor Dee Dee. I will always be grateful that God put her in that place at that time. We hugged and cried a bit before I headed back to my car. Later that evening, I would find out that I was meeting my oncologist the very next day to map out my treatment plan.
Everything seemed to move so fast. I had a good cry in the shower one day and quickly became teary-eyed if talking to someone about my diagnosis, but I never really cried about cancer itself. I never asked, "why me?" I just knew I had a disease to fight for a while, and then I could get back to my normal life. At least, that was the plan anyway.
Since those early days of finding out and enduring the tornado of emotions that followed, I've learned so many lessons.
The Lessons I've Learned:
1. Never take life for granted.
The peace of mind that comes from being healthy and financially stable was gone immediately after I was diagnosed. I constantly worried about how I was going to care for myself while living alone. How would I pay the routine bills along with medical bills? Who would take me to appointments and surgery? All this was for naught, as I gave it all to God to figure out for me. He truly does work in mysterious ways. When I look back, only by the grace of God did everything work out.
2. It's not easy letting people in on your personal struggles - but it's worth it to do so, no matter how uncomfortable it feels.
Telling my father that I had cancer was probably the hardest thing I've ever had to do, and I still remember the pain in his voice when he replied, "oh no." I learned that as much as I really would have loved to have had my mother with me at times, I am so glad that she was already gone. Parents worry about their children even when they're grown, and I didn't want my parents to worry.
I found that I have so many warriors in my circle. My great family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers stepped it up a notch to comfort me and be there for me when they certainly didn't have to. They were more supportive of me and my newfound battle than I'd ever imagined possible. At Christmas, right after my mastectomy, before opening gifts, my family gave me a present. It was a shirt that read, "In this family, no one fights alone." I was obviously touched with the thoughtfulness and love behind this gift. Then, I looked up, and all my family - the little ones all the way up to my elderly dad - took their outer shirt off to reveal they are wearing that t-shirt with the bright pink ribbon in support of me. This was another one of those teary-eyed moments for sure!
I received so many gifts of food, lap quilts, pajamas (my favorite thing ever), chocolate, blankets, hoodies, inspirational books, cards, texts, calls, etc. And TONS of prayers. It sure made me rethink what kind of friend I was to others in need and how I could be a better person going forward.
3. Hand your fears over to God and he will never fail to send the peace you so deserve.
I know that my God is a gracious God and would never forsake me, but I felt this so much as He took care of my every need along my breast cancer journey. When I thought I could drive alone to my first chemo appointment, although a little scared internally about how I would feel after arriving, my brother, Roger, pretty much demanded that he would be taking me. I so appreciated that gesture because the weather was not ideal that January day, and I was a little worn out, probably from all the sleepless nights I spent stressing about it. God knew I needed my brother in that moment and sent him my way.
When I was so nauseous from chemo and nothing seemed to help, He gave me naps so that I could sleep through the discomfort. Whenever I didn't have an appetite, and suddenly I thought I might be able to eat something, it's like my sisters just knew and they would bring me anything that sounded good! I've never tasted anything as delicious as those many crockpot chicken dishes they'd bring me.
Whenever I physically struggled, my Devotions seemed to speak directly to me. I would write down those bible verses on sticky notes and put them on my bathroom mirror. The first one was, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." I would repeat that many times over the months of chemo treatments I would endure.
My first chemotherapy treatment in January rocked my world a little bit. I experienced nausea, extreme fatigue, bone pain, diarrhea, headache, foggy brain, sore mouth and tongue, and had zero appetite. Luckily, that first chemo encounter and all the symptoms that came with it prepared me for the second, third, and fourth rounds. My third chemo treatment - for whatever reason - was the hardest one for me to battle physically and emotionally. While those side effects are unforgettable and seemed unbearable at times, I got through it. I did it. And I know I couldn't have harnessed the strength to do so had it not been for Him.
4. Choose your employer wisely and be sure they value your health and well-being, first.
After my diagnosis, I quickly realized that I work for an outstanding company that provided for me financially and allowed me to keep extending my leave according to my chemo side effects, flu season, and Covid-19. I am thankful to have a director that was generous with my leave, told me to take care of myself, and only wanted me back when I was 100%. Another one of God's miracles on my breast cancer journey was allowing me to stay on top of my costly medical bills by ensuring my short-term disability provided by my employer kept me financially afloat.
5. Educating yourself about the things that scare you most can bring you comfort.
From the start, I made it a priority to learn - dive all in and really research - about breast cancer, the different types, the staging, the treatments, and more. I am thankful to have found my cancer early and be diagnosed at stage lb. Even though I had triple-negative cancer, which is aggressive, I am grateful that I only needed to have four chemo treatments, which is shorter than most. I am especially thankful that the cancer did not spread to my lymph nodes, and therefore did not require radiation. It helps that I genuinely like and trust all my doctors who have been on this journey with me.
Breast cancer has seen so many advances over the last several decades. I am thankful for all those patients who have gone before me and allowed testing and studies to be performed, which in turn makes better treatment plans and outcomes for others. I was grateful to have participated in a study that may benefit others, as well. I found it empowering that women get to hop in the driver's seat on their breast cancer ride - they may choose to have a lumpectomy, single mastectomy of the affected breast only, or double mastectomy. And insurance agrees to pay for these decisions, along with reconstruction surgery. That little sense of control during a time you feel absolutely powerless helps immensely. You then get to write the outcome of a story and diagnosis you certainly didn't ask for.
6. Be vulnerable.
As an RN, I'll admit that it's hard to be the patient when you're used to being the nurse. It puts you in a vulnerable position and quickly humbles you. I hope I've learned to show a little more empathy and compassion to my patients because of this role-reversal.
Speaking of being vulnerable... I'm not going to lie - I was a little afraid to shave my head. I was told my hair would fall out around day 16 after chemo, so I chose to be proactive about things and scheduled an appointment with my hair dresser. This big step - the hair cut of all hair cuts - included the company of my two sisters and nieces for reinforcement, along with some wine. I hoped that I wouldn't cry, and I didn't. God gives us the necessary people and humor to mend emotionally taxing situations, and sometimes you just gotta' roll with it.
7. It's okay to mourn the things you've lost along the way - just don't dwell on them for too long.
I miss many things that cancer took from me. I miss my breasts sometimes. I miss my peace of mind, my old energy, my old self. But would I trade it for what I know now? I don't know. I'm always living and learning, which means I'm constantly growing. But I do know how different my story would be if I hadn't had my routine mammogram, and my cancer wasn't caught in the early stages.
The most important thing I've learned from this situation is that I'm braver than I thought!
Adversities are a part of life. It's all a giant growing experience and those one-of-a-kind battles we're handed to courageously fight are what make up our life story. What matters is how we respond to those pot holes in our path. God is good! He's got me in His hands and that's the perfect place to be.