Monday, July 16, 2018

Summer of Discernment

Thanks to our recent move, I’ve been enjoying the unusual and special privilege of spending a lot of time with my girls this summer. I’m making use of our time together. I’m teaching them the art of discernment. Age appropriate, I’m helping them to weed through impulsive words, to look for patterns, and to recognize inconsistencies and hypocrisy they identify in themselves and in others. I’m not making a big show of it. We don’t sit down and have family meetings about this. But I’m teaching it. Because now more than ever these things matter.

“Eomer said, ‘How is a man to judge what to do in such times?’
As he has ever judged,’ said Aragorn. ‘Good and evil have not changed since yesteryear, nor are they one thing among Elves and another among Men. It is a man’s part to discern them, as much in the Golden Wood as in his own house.”

J.R.R Tolkien, The Two Towers

Monday, July 9, 2018

My Vow to Other Women

I’ve said a lot of things off the cuff through the years. The older I get, the more I want to weigh my words, to consider the how important something is—how valuable—before it leaves my tongue.

There is one thing I can’t stand being said to me. And believe it or not, I hear it a lot.

I bet you’ve heard it, too.

“You look tired.”

Major pet peeve. Why? Because it doesn’t take a genius or a clairvoyant to know I am tired. Most of us are tired and it doesn’t always have to do with lack of sleep. Sometimes it’s a sign we’ve sacrificed, we’ve cared deeply, and we’ve loved until we feel wrung out.

I’m learning to take better care of myself. This seems to be something I have to remind myself to work on. My natural inclination is to pour it all out for my family, but then I find myself crippled with exhaustion, depleted, and not all that useful to anyone.

When I see you and I catch you mid-yawn, or your posture is stooped, or your eyes are unscored with dark shadows, I won’t speak the obvious. Instead, I’ll elect to ask how things are going, how I might help, or I may figure out a way to connect and empathize with you.

I won’t tell you that you look tired.

Because we’re both feeling it. Really, we all are. It just shows up more on some of us.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Splotchy Solution

Two rooms down, one to go. I’m in painting mode. When it came time to paint my youngest daughter’s room, my husband and I took a step back and let out a “Ruh-roh.” We bought the gallon of chipper blue paint before we thought about how we’d move the massive bunk bed in her room. With each move it has taken multiple men to haul that beast (and that’s before they put it together). Our heads spun as we proposed a few ideas to our daughter. Paint only one wall? Chevron stripes? It seemed every idea was quickly shot down.

Until . . . stencils.

I got excited, found one she loved, then went to work. When it comes to painting I’ve never been an obsessive perfectionist, but I wouldn’t consider myself sloppy either.

That’s why my heart sunk when I peeled off the first try.

Maybe it was the brush. Or I went to fast. Or I focused on making the color too dark.

But this is what showed up . . .

I then brainstormed ways I’d solve my solution to the original problem. Use the original paint and paint over my splotchy attempt? Fill it in and create a polka-dot wall? My brain began to hurt.

Enter kid.

She liked it. She really liked it.

Still, stubborn as I am, I wanted to prove I could paint the stencil on the wall the way it’s supposed to appear.

And this showed up . . .

 And she liked both. Something about the variety spoke to her. And you know what? I agree. I’m a fan of how it’s turning out.

Oftentimes in life what we believe to be mistakes end up being the exact opposite. Splotchy solutions have merit. Perspective reigns, creativity thrives, and open-mindedness is an excellent teacher.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Reacting to Brain on Fire

Brain on Fire. I read the book. I saw the movie last night on Netflix. Both times I was riveted and brought to an emotional place I try not to tap into too often. Don’t get me wrong, I usually love books and movies about struggle, and I especially appreciate topics that revolve around anything brain-related. But if I’m honest, I didn’t even want to write this post.

Because it drags up so much and it keeps it hot on the surface when I prefer it buried.

Keeps what hot on the surface?

The memories. The reality of my sister still living with a malignant tumor in her brain.

I identified a lot with Susannah Cahalan’s loved ones in Brain on Fire. Their struggle, as they grappled with the confusion and heartache that accompanies a rare diagnosis, felt achingly familiar.

When my sister was eighteen, after her fourth or fifth suicide attempt, in addition to other alarming behavior, a discerning doctor encouraged my parents to have her undergo more tests. I was thirteen when my parents sat me down and told me about my sister’s malignant tumor. Up until the radical behavior change, I’d admired everything about my sister, everything from her fiery attitude to her love of writing. She embodied an electric energy and I wanted to be near that energy every chance I got.

That changed. So much about my sister changed in the years that followed her cancer diagnosis. Other factors contributed to the disturbing behavior that escalated from occasional occurrences to everyday chaos. But I’ve always wondered what my sister would have been like—what she’d be like today—if she didn’t have that cancerous mass festering inside her brain. (Doctors attempted to remove the tumor soon after her diagnosis. During surgery they decided for her quality of life, they would only remove half.)

I told you before that I didn’t want to write this post. I seldom talk about this topic because it consumed so much of my life and waking thoughts growing up. I decided to write about it because I know I’m not alone. Not only do I have other family members who know what it’s like, I realize there are thousands of people dealing with the unique tragedy of losing someone alive. They’re there, but trapped somehow inside themselves. Whether due to addiction, mental illness, an accident, Alzheimer’s, or other brain anomalies, your loved one isn’t who you used to know and you’ve had to adjust to the new normal of who they are now. I cried hard at the hopeful part in Brain on Fire when Susannah makes strides toward recovery. I loved that for her, but hurt for those I know who won’t walk that same path.

People love to tell me it’s a miracle that my sister, who was only given six months to ten years at most at the time of her diagnosis, has lived into her late 40s. Yes, it is. It’s a complicated miracle. Because in many ways she’s still trapped. And she hardly resembles that fiery teen I put on a pedestal all those years ago.

But I love her fiercely. And no one said loving is always easy.  

Monday, June 18, 2018

Fighting Dispiritedness

We’ve begun the initial stages of settling in to our new home. Painting. Arranging furniture. Recycling boxes. While I feel incredibly peaceful in this house, the weight of the world feels heavy lately. I’m disgusted and dispirited by irresponsible and heartbreaking politics, callous impulsivity, and a real lack of empathy and understanding in our culture. Often when I encounter this type of reaction I retreat. I shrink inside myself, tempting to block out the world—to insulate as a form of protection.

However, in time I’ve learned there are better ways for me to rise above moments of deep disappointment with the world we live in.

Eight Ways I Fight Dispiritedness

Initiate Meaningful Conversation
Not everyone agrees with me. Some may think the world is just fine as it is, some may even say it’s improving. Those are the folks I try to initiate conversations with. I don’t go in with a Debbie Downer approach, but I do believe the most successful road toward change is establishing a broad understanding of the path we’re on, this includes the people we’re walking beside. I have learned to have healthy, robust exchanges. We can disagree, that’s fine. But I crave for people to think. What gets me down more than anything is when people blindly back someone or a decision without garnering understanding first.

Get Outside
I know my triggers and when the world presses in with great intensity and I find myself unshakably sad, the outdoors calls. It’s restorative for me. I’m exceedingly grateful we moved to a place with a calming view and nearby outdoor playgrounds for me—the mountains, the beach, etc.

Seek to Understand
My husband often says, “But the world has always been a mess.” True. But as someone living here and now, I’m driven to understand what it is about our culture that’s pervasively destructive. What’s destroying us? I step back and take time to figure out specifically what it is that’s angering me so much, then I try really hard to dissect the situation, viewing it from unique perspectives.

Speak Up
As I feel led, I’ll reach out to those in a position of power, those who could incite change. I’ll become more vocal. I’ll root around for my voice, then use it.

It’s what I do. For over twenty years the best way for me to sort through anything has been to get it down on paper. It’s freeing somehow.

Check in with My Kids
I have a major responsibility and I don’t take it lightly. I’m raising a new generation of thinkers. Of voters. Of doers. Of changers. I dialogue with my kids and share with them, as appropriate, the things that rattle me about this current climate. I’m curious, does it rattle them? Will she be the one to put an end to this or to create radical change?

I Laugh
It’s so basic, but it’s medicinal for me. Truly. It changes how my brain works. My youngest showed me this video not long ago of a little girl who’s renamed ice cream. I crack up every time I watch. I think it’s healing me somehow—laughter and this video. Maybe it’s the innocence of it all.

Hold Strong to Hope
I don’t always feel my faith. I wrestle more than I care to admit. But neither of those confessed truths alter the reality of hope. It exists. It’s steadfast. And trustworthy whether I cling to it or not. We have a God so billowing with love he won’t ever quit on us even as we destroy all he’s given us.

It can get rough out there, people. I strongly encourage you to figure out what will help you combat the dispiritedness. Because you’re necessary here. We need you. Change awaits.

Monday, May 21, 2018

A Box to the Left

Packing central here. Movers will be here before I know it. Today I’m spending time figuring out which personal items to gather in the boxes that will go with us across country, and which to load onto the moving van.

How does one decide which photo albums are the most meaningful, which childhood drawings possess the most value? And please, is it even possible to sort through my 25+ writing journals? Laughing as I factor in which one I’d be most horrified if somehow it got tossed from the moving van and discovered by an innocent bystander. Imagining Joe Shmoe reading, eyes wide, about a character plotting murder, certain he’s stumbled upon something truly sinister. (Nope, Joe, just hashing out a novel.) I know what Joe’s really stumbled upon—a woman who couldn’t possibly sort the can’t-leave-it-behind important items from all the rest.

In the end, they’re all simply things. Stuff. Try as I might, I can’t shove memories—a lifetime—into a box. I can toy with collecting the sentimental, piling in special photographs, letters, and memorabilia,
as well as passports, medical papers, and school forms.

How do you respond when people ask you what you’d run back in to save if your house was on fire?

I’ve heard pets, photo albums, the Bible, as well as other poignant books. I’m creating a box of memories and it will fall short. It will be incomplete. It won’t make sense to most.

Love, nature walks, laughter, ugly cries, growth, deep and loyal affection—they don’t fit in a box. They exist somewhere else entirely. They’ll be going with me in the car alright because they’re stitched into my being—not to be lost or mistakenly read by some Joe Shmoe. The aforementioned—those are the workings of my life. They go with me everywhere—accessible at any given time.

*Be back sometime in June…on the road again.

Monday, May 14, 2018

The Nest Part II

Life and its mysteries. The day after I wrote my last post, I headed to our basement to continue the packing process. Look what I came across under our deck…

 A mama bird with three baby birds.

One of my daughters drew this for me for Mother’s Day. 

My girls were amused at how smitten I’ve been all week by this mama and her babies. Then yesterday, on Mother’s Day, the babies took to the sky.

The nest is empty.

I find the timing of all of this—discovering the nest and the babies flying off—quite symbolic considering my last post.

Summer of Discernment

Thanks to our recent move, I’ve been enjoying the unusual and special privilege of spending a lot of time with my girls this summer. I...