Friday, June 22, 2018

The Cute Curse

Older population: "Cute as a button!"
My husband when we were first dating: "Cutie-patootee!"
Women peers: "You are just the cutest thing!"

I'm annoyed.

I got my maternal grandmother's hopelessly short genes, the ceiling of her ancestry height maxing out at a tad over 5 ft. I definitely fudge on all formal paperwork that I am a proper 5'1'' and convince myself that rounding up is mathematically correct. I'm pretty sure at 5 and a third of an inch, math would argue I'm 5 ft flat. 

My paternal grandparents are from where the round cheeks and button nose descend. My dad's nickname in college was "Babyface," and I could order off of the kids menu well after I started shaving my legs. 

I'm not annoyed that I look young. I'll take it. 

I'm annoyed that I get treated differently as a result. That at times I am seen as a mini person with mini ideas and mini offerings and a mini presence. "Cute" feels incompatible with the work of purposeful living, a death wish for the me who seeks Bigness . Cute = light, playful, carefree - all of which I am. But Cute also = for show, powerless, childlike, not to be taken seriously, sometimes fully foolish.

Here's the reason, though, I have no case to be annoyed: 

I've exploited it. 

The very descriptor I detest is one whose shoes I've so masterfully filled. For years - many, many years - I've been experiencing the cognitive dissension of bad mouthing the outer world's response to me as "cute" while playing up its edges like a pro, always cunningly looking for how it can work to my advantage. 

Cute wins me things. Cute wins me compliments, cute wins me favors. Cute strategically played up wins quick forgiveness and a turned head to flaws. 

Cute also works for men. Cute is not the same as flirting, but the line is dang thin. Isn't it cute that I argue there is a distinction?

The truth: I might like to victimize what "cute" does to me, but I'm winning, laughing all the cotton-picking way to the bank of favor. 

The question: Am I willing to stop playing the cute role at the risk of losing a little more? 

The quandary: Am I the one selling myself short? (Yes, DAMN IT: pun intended)

Two Deep.

Two Deep

I learned in Taco Bell my mom was going to die. For once, she and Dad chose words that were not coated in hope and partial truths. A fast food dining room was a fitting setting, both the plastic, fast-food booth and the news unforgiving. The melanoma skin cancer that had existed as a barreling train on the tracks of Mom’s life for five years, always behind her but never upfront about how far back nor how fast it was gaining, was going to get her: she had less than two years remaining.

I learned that my son was going to die on the night he died, but my husband and I got the first news of his congenital heart condition while I was on my back, watching the ultra sound technician squint and stumble over her buttons in an effort to get a closer look at Baby B’s disfigured beating heart.

These two bits of grave information landed on me very close together.

Too close.

I did not know how to lose my mom. I did not know how to house twins, one with a broken heart that would need multiple surgeries to fix once he came out, one whose body would eventually grow too weak to keep up the fight. I did not know how to say goodbye to a cherished life a generation above me at the same time I was bringing one so precarious into the world a generation below me.

What I did know was that I could not handle these deeply emotional journeys – my mother dying and my son sick– concurrently. When pain hits two deep, I learned that there is only so much space for it.

Is your pain two deep? Three, four deep?

May I nudge you: house one pain at a time. Let each one do what it wants with you, fully taking you over – but only one at a time. Let one pain fill you like a water feature with a ceaseless stream cascading into a bucket. Let it fill you until you yield with the weight and gush out – in your bed, in the shower, over your journal pages.  Then, back upright, let it fill you once more.

Listen for the other pain, meanwhile, for when it is louder or stronger or more white water. Then, consciously break from housing your first pain and commit fully to the second. First Pain will not feel cheated or slighted; it will be there for when your bucket is available for it again.

I would take breaks from the knowledge that I had a very high risk pregnancy and a very sick child on the way. I would cry then only as a daughter losing her mom… like that was the only thing in the world to weep over. My tears were not split. One bucket.

Then, I’d return to the pain of my son’s broken body, the medical trouble he faced, we faced. More tears. One bucket.

Sometimes the change-over would happen after days, weeks. Sometimes a handful of times in the same hour. But always I forced my pain, two deep, to take turns.

Like a toddler wanting your attention, give one pain at a time all of it.

My Engine

Even my can opener isn't working. Sorta like my brain. 

I'm standing in my kitchen in a moment of alone, all children in the care of others, school, or a crib. Prepping dinner seems the responsible use of this time, even though it feels wrong to me. Wrong and heavy and burdensome and demanding... another weight. 

Last night I shot up from my pillow, erect, unable to take my pounding heart anymore. Husband says, "Bad dream?" 

I think, This would be a good dream, for it to be a bad dream. There's no way to wake from my quickened breathing, racing heartbeat, sweats, anxious thoughts; they are ceaseless. I settle for, "Something is not right. I'm not supposed to feel this way." Husband settles for holding me while I swirl.

Today I'm sleepless, aimless, worn down, uncertain, confused, foggy... Overwhelmed. By. Everything. And so I choose, in the only free moments of this day, to unnecessarily labor in my kitchen over dinner prep. Since everything feels do or die, the unexpected misbehavior of my can opener sends me into a complete hysteria. Unopened refried beans = everything falling apart. 

Short fused is new. Flying off the handle novel. I watch this unhinged version of myself fling a can opener across the kitchen, blasting into things as it crashes across the island and comes to a halt on the kitchen floor. Startled by my rage, I crumble to the floor. Alone, trembling, scared by what I just did. 

Over the months I journal. I yoga. I breathe. I meditate. I therapy. I exercise. I pray. I talk and talk and share and share. I seek medication. I call in for support with my kids, my home, my duties. I improve. I decline. I dig out. I fall in. 

I wonder if this is the new me. Above all, this makes my heart race the fastest.

Meanwhile, I watch every other woman I know climb the Motherhood Mountain exhausted and harried, but not - like me - completely broken down.

Someone tells me: What if there is a reason for your overwhelm? I grip to this notion like it's a rainbow, a promise of hope. What if this unfamiliar anxiety is not tied to an emotional battle, a depression? What if what is harassing me is rooted in something plainly explainable? 

I learn a metaphor that makes my compassionate self pat my downtrodden self on its worried little head. It is spoken by a specialist who diagnoses learning disabilities and, after testing me, he says this: "You are driving a car with two of its four tires flat. The engine is strong - a fine piece of machinery - but despite this it cannot produce what other cars can. It is overworked." 

I realize my engine, my brain during this season, doesn't just run more slowly. It doesn't just grumble against the pull. It fully blows out. 

I commit to learning about my learning disability like a ninja. 

It takes years. It is not perfect. But I grow to treat my brain like a newborn baby, learning its coos and cries and protests - what is best for it and how and when to rest it. 

I give refuge to my taxed engine. I buy a new can opener and more frozen pizzas for dinner. I sleep well again.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

What's here + What's gone = Confused

It was June 2012 this last happened. I can remember it hitting me then the same way it hits me this weekend: so much fullness and so much goneness that the only way for them both to exist is to be confused. 

People always ask if her birthday brings me sadness. That's an easy one to answer: Nope, it's my mom's death anniversary that gets me. It's the same for my dad - his death anniversary is when I mourn - but usually Father's Day gives me a run for my money, too, especially when it falls the day after Mom's death anniversary.

And that's the way it feels now. Mom died eleven years ago today; tomorrow is the seventh Father's Dad I'll experience without one by my side. 

Like six years ago when they were back-to-back, What. A. Weekend.

But it almost seems that there would be sad beauty to the synchronicity, IF I were able to lock myself in my room for the entirety of the weekend and cry or drink from a vodka bottle or take long baths or watch sad movies where loved ones die before their time or journal or all. of. these. things. at. once. Now THAT would be depressingly delectable.

But, no, I can't do that. 

I don't want to do that.

Well, maybe I do a little bit, but mostly I can't. 

Cuz I have this powerhouse husband who is also a fully kick ass dad to our children. And tomorrow, Father's Dad, is about him, too. There's so much fullness in observing our four darlings spill coffee all over the counter and up the steps in an effort to serve him in bed, in their handmade cards and juicy kisses, in his smiles and misty eyes at the lives he gets to mold and mush around as best he can. I observe all of this with such gratitude and I can hardly believe that I'm missing the other half of Father's Day. I smile. I cry. I smile. I cry. 

And today: My mom's death anniversary, one I spent at the pool with my little brood - smearing sunscreen, propelling tooshes upwards that eventuate into cannonball splashes, wrapping a shivering body in a towel for a lap sit, Dairy Queen blizzards at outdoor tables on the way home. Living. Motherhood. Like. A. Boss. And experiencing all the love and irritability and sentiment and short-fusedness and moment-relishing and doubt and warmth that come with living like a mom who cares her ass off. I observe all of this with such gratitude and I can hardly believe that I'm missing my own mother. I smile. I cry. I smile. I cry.

Surely it makes sense that holing up this weekend with my loss, fully honoring that which is gone, would be easier on my mind... I could be singularly unconfused. 

But by now I've learned life is rather not-singular. In fact, it almost always overlaps and vascilates and blends and doubles up. It's never This-then-That, rarely Arrival, Departure, Next Arrival. It's almost always, "Here ya go," pouncing you with lots of both fresh and spoiled groceries with no bag and little time to sort the two out so that you are doing a little crazed juggling dance to keep it all in your arms. 

I've decided to experience the spoil and the bounty simultaneously.

Which is why today I played at the pool and tomorrow I will spoil my husband. And why today I tear up writing this piece. And why tomorrow I'll record in my Dad journal and eat a BLT, his favorite. 

Confusing? Yes. Impossible? No.

I can dance with all of it.

(but a bag would be nice)

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Five Good Reasons Easter Is My Least Favorite

5) I am all done buying my kids shit. OVER. IT. Christmas, Valentine's Day, and now EASTER?? They're gonna start expecting presents for Every. Stinkin. Day. Off. School. Parent Teacher Conference day? Martin Luther King Day? Guess what, little humans? It's not ABOUT you. Jesus's birth. Jesus's death. Jesus's resurrection. Teachers meeting with parents during work hours. Martin Luther King leading a civil rights revolution. Nope. Not. About. You.

4) I don't know how to hard boil eggs. I look online every year. Last year, with newfangled Amazon assistance, I asked Alexa. Apparently, I cannot seem to manage this basic thing; Scott takes over every time. He barely manages grilled cheese sandwiches and yet he kills hard boiled eggs.

The following is a separate thing, but it feels right to include it in #4: I have no idea how to dye eggs with four young-ish kids. I know elementary school art teachers live and dye (intended) by the rule "don't mix colors. keep your colors separate!" but how does that apply with the double dye dipping scenerio? Best yet, how do you place 4 different-colored cups of magic in front of a three-year-old and then expect her to hold a dense object on a toothpick-wide piece of metal for three agonizing minutes to get results when she can barely SIT IN A CHAIR for three minutes?

3) I don't know how to say this without sounding like a creep. But I hate the Easter Bunny.

I just do.

Santa in the mall somehow sets well with me. He represents generosity. You can see his eyes. You know its gender. He is a human being. Red and white are respectable colors.

The Easter Bunny is a whole different beast. There's NO indication of what is behind those mesh eye holes... boy? Girl? Maniac? Not-employable video-gaming-basement-dweller? And the PASTELS... Life-sized bunny rabbit sits on a throne of baby pinks and baby yellows and baby blues. LIKE. THOSE. ARE. REAL. COLORS. The only time those colors ever make it to paint are for nurseries. And there are fully formed non-baby children lining up to see this plush guy/gal mascot surrounded by pastels that aren't even represented in nature's true Spring. Find me a pastel yellow dandelion, would ya? But wait... here's the clincher: I love Santa, because in addition to all things lovable about the jolly dude, he is a modern-day representation of flesh-and-blood St. Nicholas, who lived and breathed, and gave, and witnessed his care for little ones during his time on this earth. Mall Easter Bunny descended from NoBunny.

In short, I just don't dig the dang bunny.

2) I'm gonna get real with y'all on this one. The story of Easter is just intensely difficult to experience or honor with any degree of justice.

You probably thought I meant in our relaying it to our kids.

But I actually meant MYSELF.

I try. I make it to Mandy Thursday services. And Good Friday services. And then, of course, to Easter services. And the heaviness of Jesus's crucifixion is a strong cornerstone to the story of our Chris's full-picture grace to humankind. I mean. I think I get it. And I know I'm supposed to hang tight until Sunday, because that's what makes the story complete and "you can't have a resurrection unless you have a crucifixion" but dang if I don't always feel that this reasoning resonates with me.

But, crucixion/resurrection talk aside,one of my issues is that I feel like Easter should capture so much meaning in my faith life but often I just can’t seem to conjure it up. Additionally, I think I get pissy about Easter morning's show woman ship (cuz - let's just be real - the outfit ensembles are the work of mostly women in the family). The day is emotion-laiden if taken seriously. Mysterious, Awe-filled. Surprising. Weird. Scary. Hard-to-Believe. And yes, these many years later, Celebratory. Life over death. Light over Darkness. Right over Wrong. Good over Evil. Things of the Sprit over Things of The World. This, for me, is in many ways the crux of my faith, so I ought to be cheerleading my way to church on Sunday morning.

But instead I feel a little like we are all mainly excited to get a really good picture.

I know!!! I'm so darn cynical. But #2 is #2 and I'm being honest and it's actually a real problem for me, so go easy. And, please be in touch to offer your help, if you have any.

Oh, and also part of #2, I have no idea how to frame the Easter story for my kids. I'm  too busy dealing with ME.

1) The plastic eggs and the green straw. Every year I save them. Every year I tell myself that, since I've done such a kick-butt job conserving the batch from that particular year  and since I have an impeccably labeled tote storage system in my basement, I will save myself the trip to the Dollar Tree the following year. But every year I cannot bare to open the tote containing passed-down batch of mismatched  plastic eggs and hand-me-down jelly-bean-stickified straw that has been restlessly awaiting its debut. I would rather pay $3.85 for a fresh batch. This means that I now have thirty eight totes I never open in my basement.

But at least they are tidily labeled "EASTER - DON'T OPEN!"

I found an outfit I never wanna take off

It was in 2007 that I took off my cross necklace for awhile. At that point, I had been feeling unsettled about my status as a Christian off and on for a solid few years and had committed some serious energy to discerning whether I was one any longer.

It felt weird to go through this, let me tell you. "Christian" was like fifth on my list of identifiers as a person. Woman. Mother. Wife. Runner. Christian.

It also felt weird to have been raised happily in the church  (Sunday Schooled, Baptized, Church Camped, Youth Grouped), to have gone to church by choice all through college, to have worked in a church out of college, to have become all growned up and join as tithing members with my husband to a church congregation and to yet nonetheless wrestle so.

I was not wrestling with God (loved Her!). I was not wrestling with Jesus (loved Him!). I was not wrestling with life (loved It!). I was not wrestling with church (loved Church people!). You see, I hadn't been burnt by any of the distinct entities that made up my faith life. I was simply wrestling with the broad definition of "Christianity."

My goals during this process were two-fold: #1) To determine the definition of "Christian." #2) To determine if I was one. My thinking was that if I couldn't faithfully believe/follow/make sense of  50% or more of my findings from #1), then I probably wasn't one. And, yes, I am aware that 50% is failing, so I was being generous.

It took about six months to determine the outcome.

I flunked.

I decided I had been wearing the Christian costume long past it fitting properly. And taking it off without an alternate costume meant I was religiously naked. Didn't even have the jewelry of my cross necklace. Damn. Naked.

But then, about a year and a million books and conversations later, something fantastic happened.

I realized that I was both terribly wrong and pinpointedly right. I was right that the old Christian costume was indeed too small, too itchy, and too clostriphobic. I was wrong that that meant I needed to let go of Christianity altogether.

There was a whole new costume, a Christian one too, awaiting me. Who knew! This new one is all roomy and down-filled and allows for all my appendages to bend and stretch every which way. Best of all, it grows with me. I won't need to swap it out for another ever again!

Step One: Put cross back on. (Then silently beg for passers-by to ask about my new costume, cuz this beauty of a cross means something quite different than it did to me a year ago)

Step Two: Spend some serious time breathing in this new identity as a Christian. This meant keeping a serious spiritual eye out for old trappings and keeping my personal communication with God consistent, frequent, and pure. Yes, and also giving myself time... it takes time for the full adoption of a new way of looking at things.

Step Three: Be relentlessly choosy about our church home (Which, as timing and relocating would happen, was poignant)

This is exactly what I did. And now, so many years later, I'm still growing into my costume. While my jewelry and church home choices  are secure, I work on Step Two ongoingly. And, truth be told, I also still silently beg strangers to ask me about my faith. I keep thinking that if folks knew what I have found to be true of God and of Christianity 2.0 since my 2007 crisis of faith, they'd be lining up to get charms, tattoos, pendants, and hair cuts in the shape of a cross. Or a heart, maybe. Or a peace-sign. All three would work great, too.

So, I'll save the lists of my definitions (both old one and new one) for a different post. I'm sure you'll be holding your breath, so as a teaser, here is a teensy description of the identity of my new costume: It is one that sort of giggles at definitions and prefers poems and parables and paradoxes to legal documents. It's one that nudges me closer and closer to the behaviors of Jesus, which is to say a pure and real love for people, especially the ones who the world deems furthest from the bull's eye. It takes you as you are, questions and doubts and worries and fear-filled and prideful and imperfect and all. And it privately snickers at those taking themselves too seriously. And it grieves when it sees fake preside over real. And it wants all of you. All of you. And all of me. And I'd want it no other way.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Clinge loosely

"Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

And yet...

"Which of you, if you had one hundred sheep, and lost one of them, wouldn't leave the ninety nine in the wilderness, and go after the one that was lost, until he found it?"

Life is a funny little thing, isn't it?

I find myself uncertain sometimes of how hard to cling to it. This, coming from a woman who happily weeps when holding a newborn infant and commits to bleary-eyed sobbing at the news of funerals of strangers.

I went through a phase in my young adulthood years, where I often internally acknowledged, "I could die today. And that'd be ok."

I wasn't depressed, mind you. And not obsessed with death, though it sounds it, in the least. Quite the opposite. More: obsessed with living. Fully recognizing that it [life] is not guaranteed to last and fully accepting that living it to the best of my ability was what made that knowledge ok.

And then, during a recent gathering of women who dedicated some discussion time to what our role ought to be following the Parkland shooting, one participant brought an unexpected thing to light. The conversation had been caught up in a whirlwind of emotion, some of us sad, some of us mad, all of us distraught. And this one friend, who happens to be an ICU doc, said, "I think it is important to remember that people die every day. Hundreds. Thousands. Many not in as sexy a way as a school shooting..." I forget exactly how it went from there. I'm pretty sure we weren't buying it... so zero-focused on the current event and its awfulness, the whole school kids thing and the unnecessary senselessness thing making loss of life feel so much worse.

She wasn't downplaying awfulness; she was leveling the playing field of human life and, inter-connectedly, death.

When the towers came down, I remember shortly afterward finding myself in a church van on a road trip returning from leading a church event with two of my 40ish-year-old youth pastors. At the time, I was newly out of college and serving a church as the youth intern, so lost about how to frame the event for the teenagers in my sphere of influence, must less for myself. We stumbled upon the subject in the darkness of those interstate miles and this is what my youth pastor said: "This is how it goes. The facade that peace is guaranteed is nothing more than that: a facade. No nation is exempt from unexpected horrors and history is evidence of that. Loss of life is loss of life. Why do we think we are any different?" My. Youth. Pastor. Said. That. I remember being both heavily disturbed and oddly comforted by what seemed like a dismissal... a "What's the big deal? Move on!" response to one of the most devastating losses of collective lives in our country's history and THE most hard hitting events in my own lil ole life.

And then there was the death of our dear Duncan. After four and half months of many joyful and happy moments but mostly while weak and fragile, our little guy suffered two cardiac arrests in the hospital in a short time and was responded to quickly enough by a roomful of docs and nurses and meds each time to be brought back. In the hours that followed, Duncan was not in good shape, and Scott and I spent most of them prayerfully discerning: we felt that God were asking us to let Duncan decide...that we ought not take additional measures were his heart to stop again.

His heart did stop again. And we let it.

For us, loving him best meant not clinging to his life.

I think sometimes it is hard to approach the paradox of life...

One guaranteed to be individually valuable enough to be pursued, followed, sought after by the Divine, even when there are 99 identical bleating back-ups on deck


One also summed up by the word "dust"... part of something, yes, and only separate from the bigger whole for this short time, insignificant compared to the rest.

We are taught to believe deeply that this life matters. And it does. It matters so much that becoming lost while in it will send a search-and-rescue team. How do we live it like it matters that much while keeping loose our grip upon it, resisting the tempting notion that we must fight to keep it?

I don't guess I really know.

But discussion group gal and youth pastor and Duncan all have taught me about perspective. And I think that's the best place to start... When I discover myself gripping, it's usually when I've zoomed in too small. When I zoom out big, I find myself most at peace and in connection with the Divine and ungrippy. It's then that I tend to remember what Perspective has to teach me : God's got this. Always has. Always will. This life isn't all there is. Mine is a life that is part of something bigger.

I'm both a speck of dust and a damn-important sheep.

And this makes me cling loosely.