Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Sparkles and the Definition of Me

It began with field hockey. Or maybe it began with chorus. Or maybe it was ABA.

But actually, it began with 1 Samuel 1:11.

I was 21 years old, married for eight months, and had been trying to conceive for five. Not many compared to some, I know, especially coming off of birth control, but I've never been a patient person. In those few short months the honeymoon phase had ended, the sex was a routine chore, and I wanted a baby, because I was going to be an amazing, graceful, loving, godly mother. So one day while I took the minivan (yes, we already had one) to get an oil change, I sat inside a Sam's Club in a display chair. I opened my Bible and discovered Hannah's prayer.

"And she vowed a vow and said, 'O LORD of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give your servant a son, then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head."

Now I realize now that I was no Hannah. Five months of attempted conception after coming off of birth control pills is completely normal, not to mention that at 21 I had a lot of years of fertility ahead of me. But God knew me (and still does). He knew my sinful impatience, and yet He remembered me, just like He did Hannah (1 Samuel 1:19).

So on November 13, 2003, at 1:05PM, IC arrived. I've told many that I later came to see her birth as a foreshadowing of her life, or her life thus far at least. I labored at home starting around 1 or 2AM (or earlier in the evening, it depends on whether or not you count the lighter contractions), and E and I left for the birth center to arrive at the time of its usual opening. We thought it would be quick after that, but IC had other plans. I remember sitting in the jetted tub and hearing a midwife say, "You should be getting close to pushing. Any urge?" No. None. But then there was this immense, constant pain. They got me out of the tub and checked my progress. I looked over my knees to see the midwife and the nurse staring at each other uncomfortably. I was fully dilated. But IC was at a -2 station, meaning her head was not fully engaged in my pelvic bone. But checking my progress had led to my water breaking. In short, to prevent dangerous complications (or further complications), I would need to remain still, flat on my back for the rest of the delivery. And I'd need to start pushing NOW, urge or no urge. So push I did, for about 3 hours. I remember experiencing dizziness and sort of fainting between contractions, telling E that I might die. And somewhere in the middle of all that the insecurity that's always followed me like a shadow crept in and said, "Why doesn't your baby want to meet you?" Her cord was around her neck and she didn't breathe right away when she was born, but I stared into those brown eyes and said, "You are beautiful." Once they had her breathing she let out a long loud cry that continued for a long time. It felt like hours. E took her and held her while they stitched up the awful tears that resulted from all that pushing. She continued to cry, and one of the midwives peeked at me over my knees and said, "Wow, you got a screamer," or something like that.

Fast forward a few hours and I was propped up in the birthing bed holding my sleeping baby, who was still beautiful. And I was alone. The midwives were downstairs attending to moms who were still pregnant, and E had left to pick up some food and got stuck in traffic on a bridge somewhere. It was a little lonely, but I wasn't alone. IC was with me. And as I held her there in that sun-washed room, something happened. God came. And God gave me a song. A song for her. And so I sang.

"Morning by morning, I wake up to find, the power and the comfort of God's hand in mine. Season by season I watch Him, amazed, in awe of the mystery of His perfect ways. All I have need of, His hand will provide. He's always been faithful to me."

The song poured out of me involuntarily, like the baby had hours before. This was IC's song. And it remains so.

A few weeks later. I am holding a baby who seems to never stop screaming. Not crying, screaming. I am alone in a basement apartment, and I don't know how to stop her. If I put her down, she screams louder, so I hold her while I use the toilet, or I lay her on the floor and rub her belly with my foot. I think of the woman living upstairs, who had a baby boy only a month before my girl, and wonder if she can hear IC's screams. I wonder if she is judging me, thinking I'm a terrible mother who doesn't know how to calm her baby. I wonder if I should walk up the stairs and talk to her, and tell her that I am exhausted, depleted, and that it turns out I am a terrible mother, not a godly one. I don't, because then she would know.

"I can't remember a trial or a pain He did not recycle to bring me gain." 

15 months later. And now there is a boy too. He cries too, but not like she did. And yet now they both just NEED. They need to touch me, be held, drink from my breasts. I still can't go to the bathroom alone (well, 11 years later I still can't). They need me, and there is no me. I am no one. I am a set of milky breasts, a tired body that can barely drum up the energy to get out of bed and spoon baby food into IC's mouth while nursing DJ. And I do that about five times a day because IC is underweight and the doctor is worried. I know I am depressed, that somewhere there is a God who loves me, but He's not here right now. Just I am here. I want to go to sleep and not wake up. I go to therapy and wonder if the therapist is annoyed by the newborn and almost toddler who constantly interrupt our sessions, but who I am too afraid to leave with a babysitter (not that I know one).

Two years later. We are in a doctor's office at a hospital. IC can't really talk. It took me a year to figure out that labeling stuff and repeating long phrases from Blues Clues didn't count. She can't do the skills tests they're giving her. She doesn't even understand what they're asking her to do. DJ is 15 months younger and their abilities are close to the same. IC can't tell me what she wants for breakfast, but she can provide the sound effects to every Baby Einstein video we own. Of course she can, I have two toddlers. Baby Einstein is what gets me through my day without wanting to die again. IC's "developmental age" is about 15 months. She is well over 3 years old. She has moderate level autism. PDD-NOS actually. I can't homeschool her, she needs full time academic and social skills work from a trained professional. Everyday. Insurance may or may not cover it. Send her to public school. Not for kindergarten, now. She needs a full day of work five days a week. She'll need help her entire life. I should plan on her always living with me, always needing help. There's no cure. Should there be?

A year later. We moved into the city, partly because the city has ABA. I just dropped IC off at a school building that doesn't have ABA, but does have special ed that could get her into ABA later. The building is falling apart, in a bad section of the city, and has one working toilet. It is an hour from my home with traffic. IC still wears diapers and can't talk. The other kids in the class are as disabled as her. I don't know the teachers, or anyone. I leave her there. I sit on a street corner a few blocks away, crying. How can this possibly be what a godly mother does for her child?

"I can't remember one single regret in serving God only, and trusting His hand. All I have need of, His hand will provide. He's always been faithful to me."

Almost nine years later. I am sitting in an IEP meeting. IC isn't using her educational accommodations anymore, now that she's in middle school. She is missing some homework assignments here and there, and sometimes needs a few extra explanations of new things. She chews on her pencils. But she doesn't need extra help. Her grades are good. She doesn't need this IEP. She doesn't even need her medication. She's going to try out for the field hockey team. She's doing so well.

A few months later. IC decided not to join chorus this year even though she loved it back in fifth grade and she dances around to girly pop music like no one is watching. Oh, and she's not going to do field hockey either, even though she loves that too. She is depressed. She doesn't want to be defined as a chorus member. Or a field hockey player. Or a Christian. She doesn't want people to know who she is. She seems scared. Ashamed. And it's only been a few weeks since she seemed so happy. But she is 12, and that's all it takes.

I want to tell her who she is. I want to tell her that it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks of who she is. That whether she sings or not, plays field hockey or not, she is a daughter of God, and she loves Jesus, even if she doesn't like to talk about that right now. God knows who she is. God is caring for her. God is faithful to her because that who He is. And her whole life proves it.

But I can't do that. Because she needs to know it herself. She needs to hear it from Him.

"This is my anthem. This is my song. The theme of the stories I've heard for so long. God has been faithful, He will be again. His loving compassion, it knows no end. All I have need of, His hand will provide. He's always been faithful. He's always been faithful. He's always been faithful to me." 

Sunday, January 5, 2014


It's been over two years since I've written on this blog, but it has never been far from my mind.  I wanted to chronicle everything.  The struggle and final completion of my thesis proposal and my current struggle to know what to do with it. My internal thought battle over my husband's choice to become a nurse and my eventual acceptance and celebration of that choice. The moment in the spring of 2012 when my husband and I realized that we wouldn't know his now 16-year-old daughter if we passed her on the street, which led to her beautiful act of forgiveness and her reentry into our lives.  The moment we found out that DJ had ADHD and the difficult moments and hurtful times of having a child who says he wants to kill himself.  His eventual redemption through Christ, and the miraculous changes I've seen in him since.  The period of time that HT spent in day care and my mental trial of accepting that I was a day care mom.  E's graduation from nursing school and his commissioning into the Navy nurse corps.  The five weeks E spent away from us at Officers Training Command.  Our move, for the first time, to a new city, a new home, and a new life. The decline and eventual death of my father.  Every birthday, every holiday, every moment of testing or trial or joy.  I really wanted to chronicle them all.

My beautiful step-daughter, AJ.

But this blog was never intended to be a diary of my life.  Admittedly my best writing comes from the moments of my life and is inspired by my personal struggles, but there is a place for diaries, and in my case, the internet is not it.  There are secrets, deep and dark, that you will never read in this blog.  You wouldn't want to.

So what is it then? I'm not sure. A few weeks ago I went back and re-read most of my entries, and realized that this blog represented me in my most real, authentic, true self.  I stopped writing not because I'd lost sight of that self, but it is possible that I lost sight of that self in part because I stopped writing.  The main culprit in my loss of self was busyness.  I stopped writing when I started graduate school again, and I lost all my creative impulse to exhaustion from pouring myself into paper after paper and eventually a thesis proposal for a thesis that may or may not ever be written.

And then more life happened.  Eric graduated from nursing school and received his commissioning, left us for five weeks of officers' training, and then upon his return we immediately moved to a very nice rental home of my choosing in Virginia Beach, VA.  I took a semester off from school to allow the family time to adjust.  Then in October my father began a rapid decline in his already failing health due to Early Onset Alzheimers disease.  He spent a month in the hospital on hospice care, after which my mother brought him home.  Four days later he died.  I hadn't seen him since early August.  I didn't make it in time to say good-bye.  The funeral was beautiful.  I made a picture collage.

I talked about my father's disease, and my fears of it in an earlier post. I can't say that all those fears have gone now that he is dead, but I can say that his death changed a lot.  My very real fear that I too will one day develop Alzheimers is still there, but I've grown comfortable with it, like an old friend.  But when Dad died something broke in me.  I didn't want to spend any more time making myself perfect, ie. a better version of everyone else, so that I could then live out my days in happiness and joy. I wanted the happiness and joy now.  My dad was only 59.  If I do get Alzheimers through the genetic mutation that caused my father's and grandfather's illness, I am now more than halfway through my life.

I think Weight Watchers was my breaking point.  I joined back in July, but I wasn't getting anywhere fast.  It was November when my mom started calling me almost everyday.  It would only be another year or so.  It would only be a few months.  A few weeks.  A few days.  About a week before dad's passing I went to a Weight Watchers meeting, and before I walked in, I actually prayed and asked God to make sure the number on the scale went down.  I simply couldn't take another reason to be unhappy, and I needed something positive, right at that moment.  The scale was up.  I sat down and tried to be calm about it, to tell myself I just needed to try harder, but I was sick of being strong, sick of striving.  I couldn't stop crying enough, and when I noticed people noticing my tears, I left.  I never went back.

I saw my weight not just as an imperfection or a simple flaw, but as a deep wound.  I hated my body, and I continue to hate my body.  Healthy diet and exercise feel like a punishment for being fat.  And I am done punishing myself.

So after the funeral and the Thanksgiving holiday I set out to get help, not with weight loss, but with acceptance and love.  Don't get me wrong, I have people around me who love me.  The unconditional love of my husband is more than I could ever repay, and when I think of God's love for me to send His Son to die for me, I am ashamed to feel unloved.  But that is how I feel.  Why.  Because I don't accept this love that I receive from God and from those people He puts in my life on a deep enough level.  My mother says she loves me? Pah, she is goofy and sentimental and still sees me as a sweet little child.  My husband says he loves me? Well, he only says it when I ask so that must mean he's just trying to keep me around until he finds someone better.  God says He loves me? That's wonderful, but how can a fat, judgmental, unfaithful sinner like me really accept that love unless she spends every waking moment striving to be better to show Him her gratitude?

"Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." (Psalm 46:10, NIV)

On my very first day with my new therapist, she quoted this.  And then she told me that "be still" here is best translated as "let go" or cease striving.  

I still haven't wrapped my mind around this.  Cease striving?  Stop trying to do things to show God, and for that matter others, that I love them?  Stop trying to be the best wife, the best mother, the best Christian, the best everything that it's in my power to be?  It goes against everything my sense of work ethic has taught me.  It goes against things my father taught me.

But it's perfectly in line with God's teaching.

I am not a Bible teacher, I have not been to seminary, and I do not feel qualified to sit here and tell you why I believe that.  I'm just going to tell you I do.  Maybe this is just His word for me, I don't know.  But right now this is what I'm going to do: I'm going to cease striving.  I'm going to be still and know.  I'm going to know that God, my husband, and my family and friends love me.  I'm going to accept that by faith, and not question it.  I'm going to learn to love me the same way.  I'm going to learn to accept myself as is, not because I am perfect, but because I am weak, and His power is made more perfect in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).  I am going to learn to live without comparison, without judgment, without perfectionism.  I'm going to live, laugh, observe, listen, relax, create, play, and rest.  I'm going to take naps.  I'm going to love me, and everyone else, the way God does.  And I'm not going to do it perfectly.  I'm going to do it authentically.

Call it my new year's resolution.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Five Minute Friday: Beyond

I have been having trouble finding the time, and in particular the mental energy, to blog lately. I find that most evenings, when all the necessities are completed, I am more in the mood to curl up in front of the TV than to think hard and deep about my life. So I'm going to take an idea that I first saw on my friend Mama Bear's blog, that originated with the gypsy mama: Five Minute Friday.

So now I get to write about the assigned word for five minutes without stopping to edit or erase or to think about whether or not it's the right thing to write. If I can do that. So here it goes.


Beyond the Sunset. It's a beautiful old hymn I sang at my grandfather's funeral this past July. I know a lot of old hymns but I didn't know this one, and I'm glad I do now. "Beyond the sunset, oh blissful morning, when with our Savior, heaven is begun, earth's toiling ended, oh glorious dawning, beyond the sunset when day is done." 

I've been sick this week, and I've spent a lot of time thinking about how unhappy I am with my body. I will be happy when earth's toiling is ended and I get a new one. Certainly there are a lot of people in the world who suffer through worse sickness than I do, but I am frustrated with this weak body of mine none the less.

Beyond the horizon.  I wonder what's out there. I wonder what is ahead of me in life that I can't see coming, that I have no idea is waiting for me.  That I am unprepared for.  Things I will love, things I will hate. Blessings, both of them. 

And that's five minutes.


Thursday, September 29, 2011

Chocolate Covered Brownies and Purposeful Living

The fact that I found clip art for this means I wasn't the first person to make this mistake.

I do not know what possessed me to volunteer to co-lead IC's brownie troop.  Normally this is exactly the kind of thing that I avoid like the plague.  There is so much about it that seems to scream at me that I should not do it.  First of all, my volunteer application has not yet been approved, and since my background is less than perfect, I'm not sure that it will be.  I had to divulge my deepest secrets to another mom who seems to have it all together, who I'd only just met, and then to a professional employee of the local Girl Scout council, and finally on an online form for complete strangers to read.  I shook while I typed every one of those emails.  Tonight I had to lead a meeting that involved corralling seven girls in an echoing kitchen, and baking. I don't consider myself skillful at leading, working with children, or baking, and a room that echos gets on my nerves when it's quiet, let alone filled with seven and eight year olds.  Next I had to lead the push to promote our fall fundraiser.  Thankfully the head leader was able to talk to the moms about it while I did the baking with the girls, but I am also not good at promoting things or selling things, particularly things that I know people are only really purchasing because they like your cute kid and want to support his or her extracurricular endeavors.  Honestly, I've always wondered why more groups don't consider forgoing organized fundraisers altogether and just sending kids out to beg for money.  It's the same thing, and involves a lot less paperwork.

So thus far I have spilled my guts to complete strangers who I perceive as being better than me and who have the opportunity to judge my statements, I took on a leadership position when I am most definitely not a leader, I volunteered to work with children on a regular basis even though I usually find that raising my own is quite enough for me, I baked even though I have yet to get through a recipe without asking E's opinion on something or other, I worked in a loud room, and I asked people I don't know to spend their time selling stuff that no one wants and acted like it was a great idea.  We just finished our second meeting.  Lord, what have I done?

So we baked brownies.  I will now pause so you can either giggle or roll your eyes at this clever idea.....
It didn't go how I wanted it to go for a number of reasons. I totally underestimated how long it would take these girls to work on a recipe together, in part because our first meeting was attended by four mostly quiet little girls, and this meeting brought seven, a few of whom seemed to bring out the hyper in each other.  To make a long story short, my evening was filled with a lot of echoed screaming and giggling, and in the end each girl went home messy, carrying a hunk of chocolate sludge wrapped in foil, and an hour past her bedtime.  By the end the other moms were begging for it be over, IC was crying in the corner because she hadn't even eaten dinner, and the head leader's cousin/babysitter was pretty ticked off.

In the past five years I have endeavored to live a rhythmic, unhurried life, and to keep my family moving at a pace that gave them space to be truly thoughtful about their choices and day to day activities.  When I write it that way it sounds boring and a little silly, but I made the decision to work this way purposefully.  Keeping open space in our schedule allows us to have more times when we find ourselves at home, together, with no obligations hanging over our heads to pull us apart.  I think that my children are enriched by deliberately having some time when they aren't doing homework, or chores, or extracurricular activities.  Creating blocks of open time allows me to remain purposeful during the busy blocks of time because I can slowly and thoughtfully examine how I spend my time and know that the time investments that I make are fulfilling my ultimate purpose: to love God, and grow closer to Him.  In Matthew 19:26 Jesus said, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."  Many people interpret this verse to refer specifically to the pursuit of wealth and retail therapy on all of its various levels, and rightfully so.  But I think that most people, when they think about it, would also admit that they treasure their time at least as much as they do their money.  I've always felt that time is of the essence in my life, and for some reason I've always felt hurried, not just in the day to day moments, but also on a larger scale.  Weeks after I started college, I couldn't wait to graduate, weeks after getting married, I couldn't wait to have children, and as soon as I did that I was ready for them to grow up.  A major cause of this is my concerns about my health and genetics, but it's also caused by my acceptance of the common societal ideal that our value is based on how much we can produce.  Yet I know for a fact that that is not how God defines my value, or the value of my children.  I desperately want to teach them that our life's focus should be on our relationship with Jesus Christ, not on how much they can get done, and when I talk to them about how Jesus loves them and how God wants to have a relationship with them, I'm right on target.  But when I get frustrated with them and myself because we simply don't have time to accomplish everything that our schedule is asking of us, I am failing at this.

So I guess the question now is, am I failing to follow this concept of deliberately living at a slow pace and creating space in my life by keeping margins of unscheduled moments in my schedule?  I've struggled with that in these last few weeks, as we run from the bus stop to soccer practice to cub scouts, and then home for dinner and straight to bed.  I struggle with it even on the nights where (praise the Lord) we don't have any extracurricular activities, because even then I have my time filled with preparing fundraiser materials and answering emails and uploading photos and making sure we have parent-teacher conferences scheduled.  My Tuesday morning ladies' Bible study is about to begin reading Breathe by Keri Wyatt Kent, a book that I suggested, and the book that first introduced me to this idea of living slowly and deliberately.  I am very conscious of the fact that as I am about to tell my friends that this is the path I've chosen, my life does not really reflect that.  Yet while I know that the rhythm of my life is running at a frantic tempo right now, and I know that it may be necessary to make some changes to this simply so that I can endure it, I am not outside what God would want for me.  After the brownie meeting tonight I felt frustrated but a friend reminded me that sometimes the moments that seem the most disastrous are in fact the most memorable.  I am co-leading IC's brownie troop because my mom served as my Girl Scout leader for four years, and continued working with other Girl Scout programs for years after that.  While my relationship with my mother has always been complicated, I knew even then that she was doing it for me, and I valued that, even during those early adolescent moments when I wished that she would butt out.  This is an investment in my relationship with IC, and this in particular is something that will create memories for her and I alone.  In this she can know not only that I did this for our family, but that I did this for her.  

Keri talks in her book about living in a rhythm of activity and rest, and that is what I am doing. "To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven" (Ecclesiastes 3:1).  Right now life is crazy, but I know that it isn't going to last forever.  Soccer season will end in November right in time for IC's birthday, and then Thanksgiving, and then of course Christmas, but a moment will come, probably sometime in the first week of January, when I am going to stop, take a deep breath, and know that nothing right then is more important than resting, being still, and thinking about the goodness and mercy of Christ.  Remind me.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Blogging By Moonlight

This must be what writing a boring blog after the kids go to bed looked like in 1901.

On Thursday it will be one month since IC and DJ's first day of school.  E started his classes for this semester a week after them.  Surveying everything that has changed since then, I think that I am finally starting to see all of this come together into that magical comforting place I call a routine.  I am a very regimented person, but unfortunately that is not the type of life I live, as much as I try to make it work that way.  I am a homemaker, which is a term I prefer over "stay at home mom" because it sounds more active and intentional.  My job as such is to serve as the manager for the day to day needs of four other people, each with a great difference in what those needs actually are.  The problem is that my desire for routine leads me to try to set things up for myself so that I can take care of each one's needs proactively, but three of these four who I care for change on a daily basis, and change their lives completely every few months. I've mentioned in the past that I have really struggled with finding any sort of comfort zone with my husband's schedule ever since he started nursing school a year ago.  The difficult part about E's life and IC's life and DJ's life is that they are always changing.  It takes me the full sixteen weeks of E's semester to get comfortable with when he's here and when he isn't, and to know how I should react to both.  Then, of course, the semester ends, and it changes again.  IC's and DJ's changes revolve around the changing seasons of after-school activities.  Currently I am trying to figure out how to balance our weekday evenings: Mondays- no activities, but double homework to prepare for Tuesday; Tuesdays- get dinner on the table before kids arrive home, pick up kids, feed them dinner, straight to soccer, then bring IC and HT home while E takes DJ to cub scouts; Wednesdays- 1st and 3rd of the month- allow E to care for kids while I attend church, 2nd and 4th of the month- take IC to brownies, every week it's double homework to prepare for Thursday, etc. It makes my head spin.  I'm realizing though that there are a few things that I can rely on that will probably be present everyday.  Everyday, E will get up as soon as the first child wakes up, even if I offer to let him sleep in like a bajillion times.  Every night E will claim he has to stay up and study when instead he will fall asleep on the couch and accomplish nothing.   

In all of this I always put my own desires about how to spend my time last.  I am not whining; I do this by choice.  It is simply easier for me to know that I am caring for my family if I know that I at least can be the flexible one, even though I am the last person you would describe as being flexible.  None of my plans are ever set in stone.  I am not a martyr, because I do my best to keep careful track of my most pressing needs and when necessary I will take care of them.  I don't skip meals, I catch a nap or sleep in when I'm feeling sleep deprived, and I chat on facebook or attend a church event when I need some social time.  But if those particular boxes are filled or close to filled, I move on and continue to manage everyone else.  

Generally I'm perfectly content this way, but never for very long, because sooner or later something will start to itch.  Sometimes music calls me, and I feel as if I will never be satisfied with my life again until I can start taking voice lessons again or sing with a professional choir.  Other times it's travel, something I have never done.  Lately I've been getting the itch to move again; thinking that if I don't get out of this city and experience a new place, like, tomorrow, I will never be able to go on.  Today the writing bug bit me, and it's itching.

My women's Bible study group labored over the choice of a new book to read this morning, and happily they chose a book that I suggested, Breathe by Keri Wyatt Kent, who is one of my favorite authors.  I was excited about it, although of course there was the necessary side dish of guilt ("Did I push it too much? What if everyone hates it and it's a waste of their time?").  Anyway, I hadn't checked out Keri's facebook page or website recently so I took a quick glance and ran into something kind of new and that's when the bug got me.  Keri and twelve other female writers have founded the Redbud Writers' Guild, a group dedicated to "fearlessly expanding the feminine voice in our churches, communities, and culture".  My heart was clicking my internal "like" button a million times when I saw it.  I read through a few pages of blog posts from the members, all so different, yet all so thought-provoking and reflective.  Oh the joy that would be mine to belong to such a circle, to have my words read and respected with the likes of these.  And then I noticed that one can actually apply to join this sacred circle.  My heart was dancing. A writer! Me! I want to join! Ooo, Ooo, pick me, pick me!

Stop, deep breath.  You are a lowly blog writer who has a whopping eight followers, only one of whom it not a personal friend (and thank you to that one, you give me hope!). You write your blog at around midnight on the nights you even get that far, and you fight to stay awake while you do it.  You will never be eligible for this.  I looked at the membership application, and it is pretty certain that I do not have the prerequisite experience for this group.  There was a large space where one was to list all the books and articles she has published in the past.  Although the button at the top of this page does say "publish", I doubt that a free blog is what they have in mind.  I have never published so much as a classified ad.  

No matter, I will have to start small and dream big.  That's the advice I'd give one of my children.  Figure out how I get there from here.  Take the first step, write the blog, and explore ways of getting it out there.  But where?  I'm not even ready for that question yet.  The bigger question for me is when.  Maybe I want to write because I am imagining these ladies sipping tea on their porches and typing on their laptops while they listen to the birds and smell the flowers.  I don't even drink tea.  I don't even have a laptop, now that E has commandeered the one we own for his schoolwork.  I write on an iMac that is situated between the kitchen table and the Jumperoo.  Yeah, I am so not a writer.  Just like I was never a singer, or a missionary.  So many intentions, so much time spent gearing myself up to take the first step, but questioning in which direction I should go.  

But I'm not ready to stop believing that any of these things could happen to me.  Heck, all of them.  I did sort of manage to bundle them all together in the ethnomusicology program I was doing.  But how do I break this down so that I can know what God is trying to tell me with all these desires to do things that right now seem so vague and beyond my reach?  What is it that I really want to do?  

I want to speak (or write) words that someone will hear or read, and it will change their life.  I want to look someone in the eye and offer them the love of God, like a gift wrapped up and given just for them.  I want to do things, say things, and write things that will shift someone's perspective so that they will think deeper, see God's love for them clearer, and love themselves more in the process.  I want to offer someone mercy and encouragement, even if I will never completely understand their situation or their struggle.  I just want to love someone.

And just like that, just as I type it out, I realize that I do that everyday.  Maybe it's not on the scale that I dream of, and it's not in the format that I would like to speak from, and maybe I don't succeed all the time.  Maybe I need more practice.  But I do all those things.  I do them when I explain to IC that the reason she must try the Trader Joes potstickers I made for dinner is not only because she will be rewarded with a restaurant trip on Friday, but also because eating a variety of healthy foods is essential to her body feeling healthy so that she can do all the things she wants to do.  I do them when I button up DJ's cub scout uniform while he's changing his clothes in the car, and I tell him that I can't wait to see all the exciting things he will learn and do this year.  I do them when I hold HT after he suffers yet another bump on the head from his overly eager efforts at learning to walk.  I do them when I remind E that he will make mistakes as a nurse, and that yes, his mistakes could kill someone, but that even then he needs to be able to go on and still know that he is good at what he does and that he does it out of a God-given desire to care for others.  There's four people right there, over and over again, in one day.  I'm not saying that this satisfies all these itches that I keep getting, but it does tell me that one day I will accomplish grander things, because right now I have these four people to practice on.  And most of the time, these four people seem pretty happy, and feel pretty loved, so maybe I'm doing a good job.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

What I Want To Do When I Grow Up by Melanie

{Insert overused movie cliche here.}
So, have I had writer's block for four months? If by "writer's block" you mean two kids plus a baby, a husband that's always hanging around, an insane summer and not a lot to say that's intelligent, then yes.  My mind has been consumed by the needs of the moment for months, and the thought of tackling any sort of higher level thinking has brought me nothing but exhaustion.  Even now I'm struggling with what to say here, but the writing bug is back.  There's a portion of myself that enjoys being completely invested in my children, not just in the sense of caring and loving but in time spent.  That portion of me still gets excited when late August back-to-school time is getting close, and looks forward to buying new composition books and pencils. Somewhere in all that excitement I realize that in a way I'm jealous of my children, barely scratching the surface on living their lives and heading off everyday to spend their time learning new things, surrounded by their friends.  I have the personality of an eternal student; I am never satisfied unless I'm studying something. The trouble is the practicalities -- being a student doesn't exactly pay much.

I have been been married for nine years, and I have been a homemaker the entire time.  I didn't really plan it this way, but the whole concept of choosing a career has always scared me.  I mentioned once in a previous post that just from casual observation it seems like my generation has a fear of relationship commitments, yet I have continually sought out deep commitments in every relationship I have, to the point that I think I intimidate people, because friendship with me seems too complicated.  Yet, as invested as I am in every interpersonal relationship I make, I have never been able to settle down and choose exactly what it is I want to do with my life.  Reading that would come as a surprise to anyone who knew me when I was eighteen; at that point in my life I acted as if I knew everything that was set before me, and my life would simply be a matter of connecting the dots.  But, while I was able to fool even myself much of the time, it was only an act.  I majored in music, and while it's true that I am unfulfilled without music in my life, I really only chose it because I had confidence that I was good at it, something I couldn't say for any other subject I enjoyed.  E had a similar experience when he chose to go to music school.  While he was probably quite sure that he would be successful at many different subjects, he had talent in music, and as we have both observed, when a person has what others perceive as "natural" talent in an art form, the people around that person tend to believe that that individual should pursue that natural talent to the point of excluding any other abilities or inclinations that are seen as more common.  More on that another time.

My initial college major was music education, but truthfully I never intended to be a music teacher.  Like Mr. Holland in Mr. Holland's Opus, I thought of teaching as something to "fall back on" if performing didn't work out.  My plan was to begin school as an education major, and then re-audition as a performance major after benefitting from a semester or two of college-level vocal instruction.  For those of you unfamiliar with music school vernacular, a degree in "performance"= the expectation that one will become a professional musician.  Everything changed in my first semester though. I realized really quickly that I was mediocre at best compared to the other sopranos at the exclusive conservatory-like school that I'd chosen mainly because it was just for singers.  E came along in the middle of that realization, and my sudden dive in self-esteem probably played a big part in making me just crazy enough to agree to marry a man eight years my senior who I'd only met a few months prior.  Falling in love changed everything, as it tends to do.  From that point forward my only real goal was to finish college so E and I could get married and raise a family.  I did graduate, in fact I took accelerated and summer courses so I could get done faster, and only completed a degree in "music".  Again, for those of you unfamiliar with the vernacular, "B.A. in Music"= "not good enough to perform, uninterested in teaching, not serious enough to do any more work".  So I finished school a year early, and was married and trying to conceive a baby before my degree came in the mail.

After almost eight years of parenting now, I know that this is not really what I want to do with my life either.  I know it just as well as I knew that I didn't really want to be a teacher, but that I'd be one if there wasn't anything else out there for me.  Parenting has become what I "fall back on".  And truth be told, I am no better a parent than I would have been a teacher.  I don't really enjoy it all that much either.

Let's be clear here.  It is perfectly acceptable to not enjoy parenting.  When I say that I do not particularly enjoy parenting, I am referring to the job of parenting.  The things that a parent must do on a daily basis, the stuff of life with kids, the practicalities that it seems like I'm always complaining about on this blog.   I am also only saying that I don't always enjoy parenting, not that I never enjoy parenting.  I love my children and value them far above my own life, which is why I do the job anyway.  They need me to do the job in order to fulfill the objective of childhood, which is to grow up.  What I'm trying to do here is define a separation between a parent's feelings about his or her children, and his or her feelings about the stuff they have to do in order to raise them.  For example, I love HT, I love watching him grow, I love watching him figure out how to walk, I love cuddling him, I love reading him books, I love his little face and his chubby belly, and I love imagining how simple his brain functioning is right now, and how complex it will be when he's 5, 15, or 21.  I do not love being bitten on the thighs because he is teething and wants my attention, I do not love changing dirty diapers, I do not love having to scold him for trying to eat cat food fifteen times a day.  But all of that stuff is just as much a part of parenting as cuddling and reading, and I find that there are really just as many parts of this job that I don't like as there are parts that I do.  Is it all worth it to give children that I love the care that they need? Of course.  But it's perfectly OK to not enjoy the job of parenting.  There are so many moms (and probably dads too) who seem scared to complain about the un-fun aspects of parenting, as if the fact that they don't like having spit up running down their arm means that they don't love their child enough.  Hogwash.  While there are some who are able to overlook the bad parts more than others, and many who won't admit to there being any bad parts, no one likes having spit up running down their arm.  Look at it this way, would you clean all those dirty diapers or get all those stained shirts or do all that scolding and demanding and disciplining for a kid you didn't love at all?  If your answer is no, then you're like me, whether or not you admit it.

I have spent most of my children's childhoods dreaming about what I will do as their needs decrease and they become less demanding of my time, energy, and mental capacity.  I've come up with a few ideas, but haven't followed through on any of them.  A year ago I came pretty close to committing to getting a masters degree in ethnomusicology, and even took four semesters of classes and began a thesis, but I never managed to shake the nagging feeling that I was just taking the courses to keep myself busy, and that in the end I would just be back to the same old choice -- teach the subject, or find something else.  There aren't any ethnomusicology factories where I could work.  I could pick a different subject, since there are a thousand that I would love to study, but they all lead back to the same place.  I think the part that I hate about this the most is that my parents told me this would happen.  When I came to them and told them that I was not going to get the education degree, and that I would be getting a B.A. instead, their immediate question was, "What are you going to do with it?"  I told them some lame story about how I could do anything with it because I had a balanced liberal arts education. It's what my advisor told me to tell them, and it's probably a script that liberal arts schools have written down for all advisors to memorize for when parents call concerned about what little Johnny is going to do with a bachelors degree in medieval glassblowing.  The truth was that I was going to do nothing with it except graduate early.  So here I am, investing a lot of time and energy into helping my kids find out what their interests and affinities are in different areas, all the while feeling like a hypocrite since I know that for most people, the interests and affinities they discover as a second grader have little to do with what pays the bills when they're in their thirties.

In the end, the fact that I even have the freedom to think about these things and to even consider making a decision that would lead to my actually acting on any of my interests or skills is a blessing.  I have all the freedom in the world to continue leading my charmed little life, sitting in my house in front of my computer for hours on end, loving on my babies and thinking about all the other interesting things I could do, and never do any of them.  Despite my parents' missteps, and despite my vague college degree, I have managed to come to this point having exactly what my parents did not have -- choices.  Whether or not my parents had a choice in their future employment is debatable, but I do not think they saw a choice.  My father is a farm owner because his father was a farm owner, and my mother is his wife because she fell in love with him when she was only 14, and she is a farm manager because my father is a farm owner.  It was really no different for E's parents. They worked a variety of jobs to put food on the table, and they did those jobs well enough to put two children through college, both of whom have now exercised the luxury of choosing a career to which they felt called.

Though admittedly much of my blogging is a transcript of my thought streams that I often hope will help make my decisions a little clearer, I now have no idea what I will do with my life, and I'm pretty sure that I will never see a day when I can tell anyone exactly how I'm going to occupy myself for the rest of it.  Maybe tomorrow I'll sign up for spring courses and start that ethnomusicology degree again, or maybe I'll never take another class.  Maybe next year I'll decide to put Henry in day care and start working at the Department of Transportation again, or maybe next year I'll still be sitting here blogging and playing facebook games in front of the computer until 2AM.  I do know that my children need me, even when I don't like what I have to do for them, and that that would be enough to keep me busy, if unfulfilled.  I also know that the lack of fulfillment is just a feeling, like any other feeling, and that in truth I have just as many moments of fulfillment as I do unfulfillment.  So maybe the real goal is to take hold of the fulfilling moments, and make those the ones I write about.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Living Blind*

I began this blog with the intention of committing to a specific range of topics and sticking to them, but instead I've found myself branching out and making it a bit more personal then was my intention.  I still want to commit to not making this a journal of my daily life, or even my daily thought life, but nevertheless my thought life, and the events and situations in my life that stimulate it, are what I have to bring to you.  I hope to also include some opinions and theories based on research into the psychological and sociological topics that interest me, but as I've come along with this over the past month I've also felt led to share the lessons I've learned and the moments that touch my life, in the hopes that I can offer new insight or even hope to someone who may read this.  (If I do, please comment! I think there is also a link to contact me privately by email, or alternatively you could post it as a comment, but mention clearly that you do not want me to post your comment, and I will read it without posting it.)

I am not a fan of ignoring or bottling up my hurts.  I believe that the first step of learning to cope with or manage the negative feelings and painful circumstances of life is acknowledging one's emotional responses to them, and that keeping them contained in some back corner of one's brain prevents a person from dealing with the pain, which can only result in more pain in the future.  Usually I can be accused of just the opposite of this, in fact -- I am often guilty of stating my feelings in the moment, without stopping to think about how others may react.  In the past few years, however, I have experienced a few hurts that have shown me that bottling the feelings, or keeping them boxed up on a shelf as I like to think of it, has its place.  For the first time in my life I am encountering something so painful that trying to deal with the hurt as I experience it is simply too much for me.  If I were to allow myself to truly experience and express my emotions on this as I felt them, I would be an invalid, because these feelings would overcome my ability to live a normal life.  For that reason, I store them away and don't talk about them much, and then only with those with whom I feel safe.  I can have it no other way, simply because I have a family and responsibilities and I need to keep on living each day.

My father was diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimers Disease at fifty.  My grandfather, his father, died in 1987 of the same disease, along with my great aunt a few years later.  It is suspected that their father also died of the disease, and possibly a number of other relatives before him, though the Alzheimers diagnosis was not available at that time.  About a year ago my father received the results of some genetic testing and what we'd always suspected was confirmed -- our family carries a gene mutation that causes the disease.  With this confirmed it leaves me with at least a fifty percent chance of contracting the disease, probably around age fifty, and dying about ten years later, at sixty.  And there it is -- my greatest pain, my greatest fear.  It is a fear that consumes me, despite my best efforts to keep it in a closed up box at the back of the closet that is my brain.  It is a fear that prevents me from being able to fully cope with the reality of losing my father to the disease, probably within the next five years.  In fact, my father's disease leaves me so terrified that I find myself afraid of my father himself.  This disease being what it is, it seems to be gradually consuming his personhood, and while I value him no differently, to see him and speak to him is to see a shell of the man I once admired.  He seems lost in a fog, lonely, at times reaching desperately for the parts of reality he can still grasp, at other times just quietly slipping away.  

When I think about the very real possibility that I will one day be the one slipping away, it grips me.  I am not afraid to die.  I am somewhat afraid of the pain, or more likely the mental anguish of slowly becoming lost in my own mind.  But the fear that threatens to undo me is that of what I will do, and what I have done, to my husband and children.  I may carry a gene mutation that will cause my brain to slowly turn to ameloid mush, and unlike the more typical form of Alzheimers disease that comes after age sixty-five, this may begin as early as my late forties, and kill me by sixty.  And so my thoughts go:

When I am fifty, my children will be twenty-seven, twenty-six, and twenty.  My husband, who will be tasked with carrying for me, will be fifty-eight.  I have one child with a disability, who may or may not continue to live with us at this point.  I may never know a son or daughters-in-law.  I may never know grandchildren.  I may never see my children become the age that I am now.  They will have their own lives, and I will interfere with them, needing care around the clock, but unable to thank them for it because at some point I will forget their names.  And then the worst thought of all -- if it happens to me, chances are strong that it will happen to at least one of them too.  

On Christmas Day, the first year after my father's diagnosis, E, IC, and DJ and I were driving up to visit my parents for the holiday week.  We stopped at a truck stop, where friendly employees and truckers headed home themselves stopped to admire my sweet babies.  One trucker sat down at the next table to talk to me while I nursed, and mentioned that he'd always wanted to have kids.  The reason he didn't?  He had ADHD, and didn't want to pass on such a "terrible thing" to a child.  This was the moment when it first hit me about what I had potentially done to my children, simply by becoming their mother.  Already lost in one of the worst periods of depression in my life at the time, I hit rock bottom for awhile.  I had never seen myself as a good mother, but now my parenting didn't even seem to matter -- my children were doomed by their genes.  While the genetic mutation was not yet confirmed in my family, I had always assumed it to be there.  Three generations of dementia and early death can't be wrong.

The floodgates opened up again last night when I read a friend's blog in which she lamented the possibility that she may have passed on bipolar disorder to her son.  I cried for quite a while, I sat in a dark room and watched the rain, and I pitied myself and my family.  I asked God why.

Then this morning, sitting in church trying to keep my brain the in service and not on which child needed what and when, I followed my pastor's instruction to open my Bible to John 9, and God spoke to me, and I was reminded once again why we call it a "living Word".  In this passage, Jesus is walking along with the disciples when they see a blind man.  Apparently this wasn't unusual; the man had been sitting in the same area begging for probably most of his life (9:8).  They didn't have the Americans with Disabilities Act in ancient Israel.  The disciples ask Jesus the same question I asked God last night -- why.  Why would God allow this man to be born this way?  Informed by what they had been taught as good Hebrew boys, though, they made an assumption.  They asked, "Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" (9:2).  Having read this story a hundred times, their question seems immature to me now, but isn't that exactly what I was asking God last night?  Why, God?  What did my father, or my grandfather, or my great-grandfather do wrong that made you decide to curse my family with this awful sickness?  What can I do for You so that it doesn't happen to me?  Why am I facing this horrible way to end life?  Why is there even a possibility that my children will have to deal with this? WHY?  Though it was uncommon for Him to do so, Jesus gives them a direct answer:

"Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life."

My pastor went on to talk about how the disciples looked at this blind man.  They saw him, and perhaps anyone who was seen suffering, to be a sinner, doomed to suffer with illness because he had sinned.  Jesus directly challenged this assumption, and explained that God uses illness to show His greatness.  Our pastor wanted to change our perspectives with those of the disciples, to see weakness in others as a canvass for God's strength.  Today, for me though, I was sitting in the other seat.  I was the blind man.  I might even be the blind man's parents.  I realized that I was still holding onto an idea I'd had as a child -- that my family was cursed with this illness.  It's amazing how childish thoughts, left unchecked, can grow to become a part of our adult perspectives.  It'd been there so long that I'd accepted it as fact, never accepting this simple truth, that our weakness, including illness, exists to showcase God's strength.  

No, I have no idea why or how God will use Alzheimers disease to reveal his goodness through my father, or perhaps me.  I still can't really imagine something good coming from something that still hurts me so much.  But what I can see is how God has already used my father, and I have enough faith to know that He still can, even as he slips away.  I don't believe that God will miraculously heal my father, like Jesus did the blind man, and I don't believe that He will heal me if I do indeed develop this disease.  What I believe is that there is more to life than how or when we die, and that Christ conquered death, not just so we can go to heaven, but so that even crippling illness and death can be enveloped in His love.  I don't quite know what that will look like, but if I see it in anyone, it will be my dad.  

*Please note that this post was written on Sunday, 5/15/11 around 10PM, but Blogger was down, so it is being posted now.