Autumn has always been my favorite time of the year: the crisp air, the vibrant colors, the beginning of school. To me, this is the season when the new year truly begins.

In Judaism, we celebrate our new year in the autumn with Rosh Hashana, followed ten days later with Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. The ten days between the two holy days are called t’shuvah, the days of repentance. It is a time for reflection and resolutions when necessary. It is a time to ask for and to offer forgiveness. At the conclusion of Yom Kippur, God makes the final judgement and seals the Book of Life, hopefully with your name written within its pages, granting forgiveness.

While I have never been truly religious, I am deeply spiritual. I do find the prayers and psalms of synagogue peaceful, beautiful, and full of sentimental memories from my childhood, yet I have always preferred one on one time in nature more helpful in providing clarity or allowing me to find a new path, previously unseen.

However, over the last six years, since the fire and subsequent issues that arose from the ashes, my path has been tumultuous, at best.

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A few months ago, as I got the kids ready for bed, we stepped out onto the balcony of my parent’s beach condo to read bedtime stories. We gazed out towards the sea and saw participants of the Challenge Atlantic City full triathlon still making their way down the boardwalk. Some were happily trotting along while others were clearly struggling toward thd end of this massive accomplishment. I began clapping and cheering, “You got this!” breaking the serenity of the Sunday evening hush of waves.

Some racers looked around, confused as to where my voice was emanating from, while others pumped their arms up, perhaps in gratitude, cheering for themselves and their mysterious fans. Some continued trudging along, while others added some bounce and speed to their steps.

The kids became excited and joined in, questioning each passer-by, “Is that a racer, Momma? That one? Go! Go! Go! You can do it! Finish strong! Finish proud! You totally got this! You’re awesome! Go! Go! Go!”

It didn’t take long for me to get choked up, a mix of parental pride at the kid’s overt enthusiasm and sincerely decent spirit towards others, and knowing exactly the point in this journey that each runner felt, be it “I can do this!” or “I’m ready to throw the towel in.” “I need help.” “Almost there!” “I’m done.” “I think I can.” and even, “No. I can’t.”

The children were concerned about my tears so I explained that I am both very proud of them for showing support and cheering others on when they need it most, and that I know how those athletes feel at this point of their race because I am at that same point. I have been there for what has both seemingly and actually has been years. In fact, I think we’ve all been THERE, regardless of whatever journey you’re “racing” in…

An old friend and camp counselor used to share a story about a girl with an invisible IALAC sign. I Am Lovable And Capable. The story goes that the girl’s sign tears throughout the day as some things go wrong or she is insulted. Some tears are barely visible, while others rip the sign in half or even shred it to near pulp. Yet the sign is said to regenerate each night so the girl can begin each day refreshed and ready to take on life.

In school, as part of an anti-bullying campaign, Lady J and Bud are learning about bucket fillers and bucket dippers. The basic idea is that we each carry imaginary buckets. You can choose to fill other’s buckets through compliments, acts of kindness, and inclusion and in doing so, your own bucket fills. Or you can dip someone’s bucket with insults, physical harm, or exclusion, which will also dip yours.

Well, something that my Facebook feed won’t tell you, is that my IALAC sign is shredded and has a really hard time regenerating to full strength overnight but it’s still hanging “pinky strong”, and although my bucket feels half empty many days, other days it feels half full and it often fills and flows over the brim.

So I think I’ll be ok. This part of my journey is just really, really hard.

I’m at the part of the race when you think, hope, and pray that the finish line is nearing, while most onlookers have packed it in and the cheers have almost become silent. The day is nearing an end and they have their own lives to live. This is the part when Fight Song, Carry On, Try, Stronger, Defying Gravity, Final Countdown, We’re Not Gonna Take It, Mahna Mahna,  and Paul Revere {because Muppets and Beastie Boys…} are on constant repeat on my internal play list and I dig deep to fill my own bucket and tape the shredded pieces of my sign back together.

And through the taped up tears in my sign and holes in my bucket, I still do my best to not only treat others as I want to be treated, but to instill that practice into my children because it’s that important and that simple.

So we stood there, the children and I, cheering the racers on from the balcony as the sun began its descent, trying to help others strengthen their IALAC signs and hoping to fill their buckets, knowing that mine will be just fine…

The Great Oak (short version): May 20, 2014

A few weeks ago on Facebook, a friend asked a general question: “In the moment of the unknown, in the face of a challenge…How strong will you stand?”

Here was my response: “We are as strong as the Great Oak under which we spoke our vows. Our branches may sway in the wind, but our roots are deep and our trunks, thick. We are home to our children, regardless of where home is. Our strength comes from within and from without. You may see us leaning on one another and on others for support from time to time but rest assured our strength is rock steady. This family tree will one day be a forest…”

A new house stands on the foundation of our property that we sold just over a year ago, almost 2 years after “the event.” It’s not our house. It never will be.

When I pulled into our neighborhood last Friday to get a glimpse of the new construction, I was honestly hoping for closure. I was wishing that this empty, gut-wrenching feeling of loss would just dissipate. Like pulling a band-aid off and the wound was miraculously healed and I could look back and say something like, “remember the time..?” as though recalling a distant memory with an old friend.

Instead, I was met with an overwhelming feeling of longing to return, of knowing this was where we were supposed to be, of home.

Three years ago, today, I woke to a typical Friday morning, went about my normal routine, and prepared for my friends to join Lady J, Bud, and me at our weekly Mommy & Me play date. {K-Mad was 16 weeks along inside me.}

A few hours later, minutes before our guests arrived, the unthinkable happened…

Forest fires, although devastating, are also natures way of rebirth. New growth takes time as the forest returns to life and takes root.

There are still many days when the ashes smoke and the embers glow bright with the sorrow of loss. My strength as an oak wanes at times.  My branches may sag, my trunk feel hollow and my roots feel parched.

Last week I read an inspirational quote that read: “Courage is not having the strength to go on. It’s going on when you don’t have the strength.” (Mighty Girls)

These past 3 years have proven that seedlings are starting to sprout and roots to dig deep.  So today I stand tall, with the courage for growth. Thank you to all who stand with me, in my forest.