Monday, August 14, 2017

movement pattern

My spine is crooked. 

It started curving some time in my childhood, first one way, then another, then twisting another way.  A dangerous way.  It pushed my heart and lungs against my ribcage and the only way we knew anything was wrong, was the twisting disfigurement. 

I was thirteen years old when we went to the hospital to have x-rays done and I was scheduled for surgery--urgently--for a month later. 

I have a scar running the length of my back and two rods on either side of my spine, holding it in its new position.  Straighter than before.  But not actually straight by any means. 

I was given a few days of healing in the hospital, a few days of physical therapy, and I was sent home with a few exercises printed on a piece of paper.  Some weight restrictions.  Lots of activity restrictions.  And appointments for the next few years. 

They prepared me to be able to function again.  Right in the middle of when I was learning about living at all.  But they didn't prepare me to function well.  I was just so thankful to not be as disfigured as I had been, I didn't think I needed more than I was being given.  More preparation, more healing, more therapy.

It would be ten years before I'd ask for those things. 

But what's hard about asking for those things, is the sharp left turn you must take.  The sharp left turn which leads you into difficult territory.  The hard work of starting over.  The hard work of resistance. 

And so much pain.

The body is a master at compensation. 

The body is designed to operate.  Almost no matter what.  It's designed in a beautiful way to make up for where and what we lack.  The dangerous part though is we grow used to operating this way.  Sometimes we compensate in such a way we don't quite notice what's going wrong.  Maybe we don't even feel like something is wrong.

Until it hurts. 

Like a car with alignment that's off. 

Until the tire's tread starts wearing unevenly, until we start veering in the wrong direction, we don't even realize something is amiss.

And it took me closer to fifteen years to find the answers I needed.

The heartbreaking part is I can't fix what's broken.

The empowering part is that I can do more than just function.

That's this journey.

Following the continuum from functioning to optimal functioning. 

Whatever my optimum may be. 

In the training world, mobility and soft tissue work is now my prescription.

There's an expert in the field who I turn to for teaching and in an instructional video the other day he put a lacrosse ball under his back and laid down.

Wriggling around he said, "find the ugly and go to work".

He was, of course, talking about tied up tissues and locked up mobility.  Teaching us to find where it hurts and put pressure there, help increase blood flow there, loosen the knots there.

But I heard it differently.

Pema Chodron says, "when we are willing to stay even a moment with uncomfortable energy, we gradually learn not to fear it".

This is becoming my truth.

When I find something that hurts, when I discover a way in which I am not functioning properly, and I am willing to get down and find the ugliness... if I'm willing to sit with it, to breathe through the uncomfortable, to exhale through the hurt, that's where I'm going to find healing.

Kelly Starrett, the resident expert on this subject of mobility and soft tissue training, also reminds us that we can do work all day long but if we do not correct the errant movement pattern we are just treating symptoms.

If we don't change the way we move, we're going to keep having symptoms to treat.

If we don't change the way we move, the body is still going to compensate and we are still going to hurt.  We are still going to have pain.  We are still going to have tight muscles and sore tendons and inflamed joints and broken hearts.

Changing our movement patterns is painful in a way that recovering an injury isn't.

We have to take off all the weight.

We cannot change our movement pattern and expect to be able to bear the load we carried before.

We have to reestablish balance.

And we have to move slowly.

What's done must be done with intention because we must retrain.  We must defy the pattern which is instilled as automatic.  What we want to do, what we are inclined to do, is not what must be done.

We have to nearly start over.

Humble ourselves and become a beginner again, hoping that moving forward we will find a way to function in wholeness.

That even though it hurt before, we can find a way to move which causes less pain.

We can find a way to move, which is more truth that adaptation.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

7/6/17

I can feel the undertow pulling at my ankles.  If I'm not careful, I will look up and be yards away from where I started.  If I'm not careful, what's moving beneath the surface will carry me far away from where I thought I was.

Everything around me swells, rises, exhales.  Taking my body with it.  I can see the wave coming, building farther out, rising in a way that prepares me.  But then it changes and the crests are closer.  They rise higher, they crash harder.  Instead of cradling, water pushes.  Pushes from above, tugs below.  Before long there's not enough time to catch a full breath before the next wave broadsides me.

Looking up, variations of blue and gray and salt expand each way I turn.  Dragging feet through the water, grit slipping over and under my feet, pulling away.

I'm hit head on, towed away.

How long could this last?  Fighting against the body to move, to stand, indistinguishable tears fall.

Whatever compels me to turn, to move shoulder and face away from the wavelength.  But I cut through, tossed as I go, and rest against what is now behind me.

I am carried.

I breathe.

The farther back I rest, the gentler what carries me becomes.

The submission, maybe, was what it was after.

What was all gray now breaks.  The end of it comes.  Rising up beneath my feet, still pulling, still dragging, but also rising.  What's around me encloses, also propels.  Still with the power.  But  without the fight.

And I am delivered.  By the thing I thought would destroy me.  Delivered home.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

prescribed burn


It was a couple months ago, I guess.  Judah wasn't feeling good and so I took him out to the arboretum to get some sunshine and fresh air.  We pulled in and there was a large sign warning about a prescribed burn.  Don't call the fire department, the sign warned, this is a controlled fire.  

As Judah and I walked around the park, a memory flickered to the forefront.  Ethiopia, seven years ago.

We were down country.  In a part of the world where there were no city lights to block out the stars.  Sitting outside, listening to drums and hyenas.  I remember looking up at the mountains and noticing they were on fire.  Don't worry, Jake had said.  It's a controlled burn.  They set the mountain on fire on purpose to clear all the dead brush and leaves so that in the dry season there's less danger of a natural fire causing damage.  It's preventative.  It's on purpose.   

If you were to research prescribed burns, you'd learn that after a fire the soil is richer than it was before.  You'd learn it yields greater crops the next time a field is planted there.  You'd learn fires are prescribed as a way to prevent greater destruction.  To heal, to increase vitality.

Our seasons need a name.  Our experiences need a name.  Often I seek metaphors to as a way of coping.  This is my way of identifying a struggle in order to move beyond it, to rise above it.  I've often compared the seasons of my adulthood to the seasons of a garden.  Often woefully complaining about the tilling season or the fallow season.  I latched on to this particular metaphor, probably because at the end of it is a harvest season.  At the end of the cycle is a season of abundance.  So if I'm enduring the weeding and the hoeing and the dormant years, a harvest is coming.  I believe in cycles.  Avidly.  

But I always have felt like my cycle got reset prematurely.  Maybe I had a harvest season or two, but they were short lived.  And there I'd be, right back digging up roots and rocks.  

Last year my sister's neighbor's house burned down.

For months and months this shell of a house sat charred and ghostly on their block.  Catching mine and Judah's eye every time we went to visit.  

Until one day we came and it was gone.

Torn down, there was a hollow space on the block now.  Like a missing tooth.  Foundation dug up.  Dirt turned over.  Debris removed.  Ready to be rebuilt.  

It stopped me dead in my tracks that day.  


I am sitting in our room in the back of the Long Avenue house.  This room hasn't been a bedroom in ten years this month.  Now, what little I have left to my name is stacked on the shelves.  Judah's laying beside me asleep right now, as the window AC unit kicks  on and off.  I think it's sunny outside, but it's dark back here.  And I am just sitting.

For the first time in weeks.  I let myself sit still.  So it all caught up.

Rapidly, engulfing.  I slowed down and the wave crashed down.

I rented out my house this week.  Our first home.  The place we've laid our heads for the last four years.  The safe space I built for us.  I handed the keys to someone else on Friday night.

Friday night, when the skies opened up and the torrential rain poured.

Poetically inconvenient, Larry said, that it would pour the rain again.  It did this when I left the hospital last year, when I left Lighthouse, when I left east end.  Rain came, to wash everything clean.

Before leaving, I sat on the floor of the little townhouse and I thought about praying.  I tried not to cry.  I tried not to imagine other people's belongings filling our old space.  And so I just sat, for less time than I thought I would take, and soaked it all in.

I willed every heartbreak to stay put.  Every tear shed.  Every moment of fear, every moment of lack, every moment of uncertainty, every moment of abandonment, every moment of and rejection. Stay there.  Stay where I leave you, I pleaded.  All the loss, buried there.

I prayed it would remain.

We walked out and locked the door behind us and ran into the rain.  I told the new tenants about the light switch that controls the outlets and the way the back door sticks in the summer time and about the kids in the neighborhood who don't watch for cars.  And we left.

That's the thing about prescribed burns.  In the words of my professor, sometimes we have to experience a measure of pain to preserve our function.  Theoretically as people we live in the tension between enhancement and preservation, and the tension can be painful.  The tension smolders as the flames lick up all the debris left behind by the ones who could not stay, by the fears that bog down our feet, by the dreams fallen heavy from our shoulders.  

It was time to start over.

The intentional deconstruction of our life has depleted me the last few months.  To look at what you've built, and to say definitively it is no longer enough, it no longer serves its purpose, and begin to un-build takes a strength I am still not sure I have.

A methodical deconstruction of every measure of stability and every construct of security I had worked so hard for over the last five years.

But we had to.

What we had built was not big enough for the life God wants for us.  What I had built was not bad.  It was not insufficient.  But it had carried us as far as it could.

So after months of being picked apart by a professional community who did not value me, I took a risk.  I asked to be seen.  I asked for an opportunity.  I asked for the privilege to learn again.

And it was granted.

I was seen.  And heard.  And valued.  And accepted into graduate school.

A one year full time program.

Then I asked for another opportunity.  I stepped up to the plate and advocated for my family and handed over the tools I had obtained over the years, asking quite cautiously if they could be of any use here?

And the door was thrown wide open for me.

Come, they said.  We could use you.

A one year full time program with the College of Social Work at UK.  Accepted into a competitive program for Integrated Behavioral Health and placed at a local pediatricians clinic system to help provide mental health services to young children.

Classes started at the beginning of June.

So I quit my job.  I resigned from the professional community, which had left me worse for wear after  seven or eight short months.  My last day is this Thursday.

I do not have another full time job lined up.

I do not have another part time job lined up.

I sold almost everything we own, except what can fit in a 5x10 storage shed.

I rented out our house to a young married couple.

And Judah and I moved back to Long Avenue Tuesday night.

For one year.

For one year we are going to live as simply as possible and I am going to work as hard as possible.

Because the fire came.

It came and it has been burning everything since.  Smoldering and licking through the forest floor, destroying whatever was of no use.  Whatever served no purpose.  Taking it all, with very little mercy.

To make us safer.  To make us stronger.  To make us more alive.

everything is still hot to the touch.  tendrils of smoke are still rising and the air is heavy with the smoke.  

And then the rain came too.

Friday, June 23, 2017

8/27/13

8/27/13

And here we are.

I didn't think we'd get this far, and there's a small part of my doubting heart that wonders if Thursday will ever come.  But it's Tuesday.  It'll get here.

Our apartment is starting to get boxed up and I'm remembering back to the last time I boxed everything up.  When I was pregnant with Judah.  And all I had was a bed.  And moving to a small apartment with more than one room was an improvement.  The hard, big decisions I had to make to provide for Judah. 

Despite how heavy, chaotic, stressful it all feels, I look at my life and realize we have not regressed.  I say this with trepidation since I don't want to eat my words.  But I think it is ok, from time to time, to be wildly proud of yourself.  To look and see that we have kept moving forward, despite all the harrowing attempts to keep us still.  To pull us down. 

And so last year was a move from a one bedroom studio to an apartment without a washer and dryer.  I will be sad to leave this place, knowing this was Judah's first home.  Fourteen months we lived here, and he won't ever remember it.  Much like I don't remember living on Redding Rd with Larry and Tamera over twenty years ago.  But we were there.  And we are here, for just a few more days. 

Until we go to this new place.  The first place we might stay indefinitely. 

Deep breath, sigh. 

I don't know what comes next.  As do all things in our lives, it teeters precariously and I know one strong wind in the wrong direction and it all comes tumbling down.  But I do know I drove past yesterday, the empty place that waits for us.  And my soul stirred a little.  Maybe I imagined it.  Maybe I made it all up.  But I heard the good things are coming. 

This is entirely counterintuitive for me, because this entire time I have struggled with the idea of making such a huge decision and cementing Judah and myself in our current situation.  We are now immobile.

And there is little to no room for his baby clothes. 

9/11/13

I started writing this a few weeks ago and stopped... ran clean out of words.  We are moved in now, to the new place.  Most of the boxes are unpacked and sit empty by the kitchen door, and it warms my heart a little to know I have a house with a kitchen door.  But I can't quite get rid of the boxes yet because I don't know that we've really accepted this new home.  We're not going anywhere. 

Deep breath, sigh.

Life has hit us hard, fast.  It has been unkind the last few weeks and we have had to fight, scrappy.  If ever I wondered if my character was to have gumption, it has now been tested.  Can my lungs hold that much air, that much survival, can my shoulders bear this much weight?  It has all been tested. 

And here we are, so there's something to be said for that.

It feels a little like pouring brownie batter.  A little like the shaking it takes to even out the chocolate and meet the edges of the pan.  Just a little like that.  Spread thin, all shaken up. 

Or a little like living in someone else's house, in a hotel room.  Except I have to make the beds. 

It doesn't smell like us yet.  And I haven't figured out how to sleep through the night yet, even though Judah has. 



Tuesday, May 30, 2017

29

I feel obligated to be here.

When all the words have dried up, I do my best to return at least once a year.  For review.

But I feel like I just wrote last year's words.

And I sit here at Starbucks, eyes welling with tears as I read them--the old words.

Desperately wanting to reach out to 28 year old Anna and whisper lots of things and help bolster her, steady her, for what would come next.

I thought I had been through hell then.  I thought, and though it wasn't untrue, it wasn't over.

Tears are hot under my eyes.  29 year old Anna is afraid to hope it's over.  Afraid to hope that the storm has died down.

If I look at the pattern of my writing for the last few years, I can now see the waves.  One after the other.  Ready to crest and crash and push me under and try and steal my breath.  Ready to take away my footing.  Thank God we can only see this in hindsight.  Thank God we only know how hard it will be looking back.

A hard life is not a bad life.

When I left my job last year I knew it would be hard.  I didn't expect anything easy.

But did I know it would be one of the most traumatic years of my life?

I didn't.

I knew I would have to work hard and I knew I was taking a risk and I knew we'd get where we needed to be.  But I had no idea the turns we'd take.  No idea how the waves would crash one after the other.

Naively I had believed it wouldn't get worse ever again.  I believed we'd summited.  Not that I believed we would never face hard times, I just believed maybe for a while we'd seen the worst of it.

Maybe we are allowed to believe this so we will continue to move forward.  So we will relax.  So we will breathe.  Because if we knew what laid ahead we'd just give up.  Throw in the towel.  Maybe not in a literal sense.  But all aspiration would cease.  And we'd take the path of least resistance and least challenge and we'd coast.  Maybe we are allowed to believe in calm so we don't leave the path.


Sunday, January 22, 2017

left room

I didn't want to be alone.  In fact, I was actively avoiding being alone.  I knew if solitude came, loneliness came, quiet came, so would the tears.  That the monster who'd been hiding would peek its head around the corner, asking for recognition.

I didn't want to be alone.

But life plays mean tricks sometimes.  Plans fall through and people fail you and you turn the key in the lock and open the front door and it all falls down.

We have to go through the hardest grief alone sometimes.  Door opened, and my house was empty and the tv couldn't come on quick enough to fill the silent void.  And I crawled on the couch, because it had all found me, the moment I stepped in the door.

Grief scared me to death.  Like so many monsters who are terrifying without a face or name.  Grief lingered around that corner and I was certain that if I faced her, she would kill me.  If I let her show her face, she'd never leave.  

But there she was.  Asking to be seen, asking to be held.  

And I curled up on the couch, with post basketball game commentary humming in the background, and she crawled up there with me.  

Out of the shadows she came and her smallness devastated me.  

But she came and stayed a little while.  Curled her body up against mine as I wept tears, which had been hiding under the surface for more than a year.  If my boy had been here, he would have wiped the tears from my cheeks and told me it was okay.  "Don't cry, mommy.  It's okay."  

But Grief let them fall.  Finding the hollow place in my belly and quietly letting me feel the dangerous things.  

Salty, swollen eyes kept searching for someone else to walk in.  Someone to save me from this ritualistic necessary.  Somehow I simultaneously knew what was happening would both wreck and save me.  But getting there felt heavy.  An ocean of water above my head, pressing on my lungs.

She invited me to the thoughts.  To hold them in my arms and feel their weight and examine their nature and decide where they belong.  To rename them, so I could find their place.  

Secrecy is not the same as privacy, Grief reminded me, as I counted all of her fingers and toes.  And she began to whisper about how, no matter how much I had feared she would, she would not be staying.

I whispered I was sorry.  Through tears and swollen eyes, I suddenly bemoaned how little room I had for her.  That somehow I had not made more space for her to stay.  As she prepared to go, going seemed worse than the staying.

It's not okay, but I forgive you.

Feel all of it, she encouraged me, so you don't have to feel it anymore.  Let me in, she had said, so you can feel something else.  And the bright lights became fuzzy. What had been dizzy, bright, and cold I was then allowed to put behind me. 

It was time to feel something else.

 In the quiet, basketball commentary bleeding into 11 o'clock news, I went to bed.  Navigating a jungle floor littered with Siberian Tigers and Brown Bears and Black Panthers.  

I woke up this morning and she's gone.  The hollow space in my belly has folded over on itself and all evidence remaining is in my swollen face. 

More dark rooms are coming.  I have more doors to open, leading to unknown spaces.  Spaces where room needs to be made.  Spaces, which are asking to be filled.  Spaces where maybe the light will come.  Spaces where the monsters hiding their faces in the corner need a name.

So much bravery is required for the filling and the redeeming.  

Grief left and made way for the courage though.  Her forgiveness left room for the good.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

28

They say the days are long but the years are short.  Every year around this time I remember the walk around the block Larry and I took.  Every year I remember less and less about the details except, he was trying to assure me: "it'll go by too fast eventually.  It feels like nothing's happening right now, and one day you're going to wake up and beg life to slow down".  I'm almost sure it was raining.  That I wore a hood over my head.  And came home and cried in my bed.

We just can never know what's coming and for good reason.  But as I reread my words from last year and I face this upcoming, I wonder how I can make it different.  At the beginning of 2016 I claimed the word "concurrence" as my word for this year.  Distinctly I remember thinking, "this year won't be one of great change.  I will just put into motion the tools I've been given and plow ahead.  I will just do well and keep going."

Less than five months later, I am starting a new job and Judah is starting at a new school and I'm panicking a little bit because I had not prepared for this.

Eight months ago, I didn't know I would be here.  A couple of dates over the summer, a couple lessons learned, a couple warm nights in the ethereal glow of string lights, I remembered there could be magic and it didn't have to do with a person.  This city has magic, as old as it is.  I have magic, as buried as it is.  There is magic in loud company and cold beer and a common interest.  But the summer tried to end and things changed and doors opened and I have since spent six months recovering from just two.  The majority of a whole damn year.  On a million lessons disguised as one.  And I look around and it resonates with me like the car accidents.  With the water dripping and the music playing when it shouldn't and all fast motion coming to a stop.  Pain, then we are shaken awake.  And it's time to be done.  A million lessons disguised as just one.

Hindsight has little to do with what I've learned here, except maybe when I was given the word "concurrence" it certainly didn't mean nothing would change.  In fact, it just and only meant I was good enough and equipped enough to press ahead.  What's coming, He may have been saying, I've already prepared you for.

So 28 came then, and the door was darkened with familiarity, and I woke up to Judah saying "happy birthday!", and my sisters showered me with so much love my heart burst.  Repeatedly throughout the day I thought, "what did I do to deserve this?  Who am I that they'd celebrate me like this?" Every simple gesture just warmed my heart and my eyes welled, and now my toes are painted red.

I came home after dinner with my family and Judah fell asleep and then I fell asleep and I woke up alone and it was storming.  I laid there for a little while, counting Mississippis, and the words of the day scrolled through my head.

Hope fulfilled.

Someone's birthday wish for me.  After so many years of hope deferred, perhaps this is a year of fulfillment.  My mind rolls the word around, because there's so much promise there.  Fulfillment doesn't just mean good things may come.  Fulfillment insinuates there's been a promise made.  An order placed.  I've asked for something, we've asked for many somethings, and fulfillment is the act of meeting the request, of "filling an order".  Hope fulfilled means there's an expectation and the answer is coming.

~

Monday morning Judah sobbed.  The hurt in his eyes was deep and true and he clung to my leg when I tried to leave him in his new classroom.  "Mommy, I want to go home," he cried, burying his face in my shoulder.  

All these years I've been doing hard things for us.  I've been showing up and making sacrifices and changing plans and shutting doors and doing lots of leaving in order to protect us and keep our heads above water.  Only once before now had I asked Judah to do the hard thing, when he had to undergo surgery for his belly.  But now it's different.  I changed jobs, comparing pros and cons so we could continue a trajectory of progress, of "forward".  And that meant Judah had to do a hard thing too.  Leaving a nanny he had been with since he was six weeks old in order to start going to preschool.

Two days in a row he clung and he cried and I cried too.  I would get reports halfway through the day, "both days he has stopped crying five minutes after you've left.  He asks for you at nap.  But he's having a great time."  My strong, resilient boy.  

But on Wednesday morning, after calling our family during the commute and letting each of them encourage and uplift Judah over the bluetooth, Judah and I walked through the parking lot together. Halfway to the door I heard a little girl say, "hi Judah!"

Judah's head whipped around and he grinned, the way only a boy grins when pretty girls use their name, And Judah skipped to school that morning, holding my hand and swinging my arm.  At his classroom door he let go of my hand and looked over his shoulder and I blew him a kiss and he walked in alone, straight to a box of toy animals his teacher had set out just for him.

"I know you love animals so I had them ready for you this morning, Judah!"

And she winked at me and I tiptoed away.

No tears.

All it takes sometimes, I realized then, was to know you belong.  To know you've been seen.  To know you matter to someone.

That's what makes us brave.

That's how we do the hard things.

~

Last night a sweet friend of mine told me she no longer wanted to find herself in the "bar scene".  She wanted to still spend time with her friends, it wasn't about the alcohol, but she knows what's best for her and her family right now and a club just isn't it.

I wrestled with this for a second, feeling somewhat judged and uncomfortable. Not because of anything she said, but just because I hadn't felt the need to make this same decision.  I don't have a problem with that scene. Never have.  I don't drink much whether I'm home or out, and since Judah was born I can count on two hands the times I've been "out".  My response to her was, "I wish we had a house where we could all spend time together" and we left the conversation there.  But I wondered about what I was feeling, until this morning.

I woke up remembering camping trips and bonfires and kickball in the park and feeding each other and togetherness and Tuesday nights and a level of comfort I've found twice in my life but never again.  

I did a quick evaluation of my heart and knew the local "club" scene has no direct appeal to me, even though I am not opposed to it.  But as a single mom without a significant other, what I miss is company.  Diverse, co-ed community.  I miss my village.  I miss having adults around who don't have anywhere better to be than with you.  I miss being able to sink into their company, trust their presence.  I miss laughter.  I miss music.  I miss having a reason to get dressed and get out and pay attention to each other.  

Children change our lives.  For the better.  They are not a reason for community to end or for isolation to occur.  Actually they are every reason for those communities to become stronger.  And for some, this is how it happens.  But sometimes when we shift our priorities we get lost in the shuffle.  When you don't have a partner.  When you don't have much help.  When money is tight, space is tight, schedules are tight.  Energy is low.  And suddenly it becomes almost too hard to say, "can I come back?" or even harder to try to start again, brand new.  

The two or three seasons of my life where I had this depth of community are so imprinted on my heart I am almost brought to tears when I remember them.  I am so deeply grateful for those experiences and so passionate about creating similar experiences for my family and for others.  I believe we need it.  I believe as humans we require it.  We need the good noise and the good lighting and the good food and the windows open and the new introductions and the laughter and to be in the presence of people you trust with your children and to walk in the door and have people call your name.

We just need to know we've been seen.

We just need to know we matter.

We just need to know we belong.  

May this be the hope, which is fulfilled.  May this be the story of 28.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

need the sun to break

I wish I could have taken a picture.  I was driving back to Lexington on US 60 and in my rear view mirror the sky was black and churning.  It was actually hailing and raining over the hospital I had just left.  But in front of me, the clouds had already broken and the sky was blue.  The storm had already passed through where I was going and I was driving into the sun.

I had just quit my job.

Almost two years ago I walked into this community hospital in my home town and landed a job ahead of one hundred other applicants.  It was a job, which would change mine and Judah's lives.  It changed our financial situation, it changed my prospective future, it exposed me to heartbreak, and it taught me about my competence.

Through this job I learned I am a true advocate at heart.

So when it came time to leave, this advocate heart was torn.  I had slowly and all of a sudden learned I was not nearly as safe as I thought, yet I had grown deeply convicted about working in a role where I was allowed to advocate and fight for and protect the people I called my coworkers and my patients and my family.  When it became apparent this was not the priority for some others, I began to search for a way out.

I didn't want to jump ship.  If I had learned anything over my few years as a social worker, I had learned this job is hard.  This job ostracizes you.  This job puts you at risk.  This job will wear you out.  This job will wear you down.  Our education and teaching prior to being hired is different than others' and we arrive to the battlefield prepared differently.  Not better or worse.  But we show up with a different skill set.  To be the only one is isolating and a great struggle.

Looking back on the two years since I began this job, I can see evidence of this struggle in my face.

Jumping ship at the first opportunity would probably just have put me back in a similar situation though, without the stability of years of employment.  We can't just leave because things are hard, I guess I learned.  So when I was offered a couple of opportunities to leave, I decided to wait.

Throughout my life I have also learned how God speaks to me.  And my prayer over the past few months for Judah and I is that God would bring us up and out of the season we've been wading through.  Inevitably when the time came to take a risk, I decided to trust the passion I feel God has placed in my heart, and I made a couple of decisions only a few people understood.

Immediately He blessed those decisions.  Immediately, because I know He knew I needed affirmation, God let me know that He was involved in this process.  Using people from my past and my present to orchestrate opportunities I hadn't expected to have.

Ultimately I accepted a new job right before Judah and I left for vacation, and I put in a three week's notice.  The risk here is so different than I would anticipated.  It's still causing me anxiety, which after all these years I know isn't an indicator of a bad decision.  It's confirmation I've stepped out on the ledge.  I've crawled out to the branches where the fruit is, taking on an adventure and writing part of my story which requires me to be brave.  Here I am, trusting God to put pieces together and use the tools He's given me to create a new life for Judah and me.  

When I left on Wednesday, twenty two months to the day of starting as a social worker in an acute care hospital, I am reminded God asks us to make decisions sometimes long before we are ready to make them.  He can see farther than we can and I have learned the hard way He sometimes asks us to take a different path to avoid whatever was coming around the bend.

Just before leaving one of the doctors told me not to sell myself short.  He was sad to see me go, he said, and kissed my forehead.  Quietly over the last eight months he had watched me, I suppose.  And in his wisdom he had seen me stay longer than I should have.  In every sense of the word. " Don't sell yourself short," he said,"and keep your eyes on the horizon.  If you don't, you'll end up in the trenches. And you don't want to end up there."

And when the rain came, I knew it had come to wash it all clean for me.  Not because more rain won't come.  Not because there aren't more storms ahead.  But for now, while pressing forward, I needed those clouds to break.  To know the narrative I had agreed to was "up and out", even though that climb up the mountain is a harrowing one.

Tomorrow morning I will start work as a case manager for Cardinal Hill, a local rehabilitation hospital in Lexington.  I can be proud of this work.  I hope they will be proud of me.




Sunday, April 24, 2016

Ft Myers Beach

 Sixteen or seventeen years ago we dug a mini van out of a snow storm and six of us drove twelve hours to the Florida panhandle.

It was February.

I had never seen the ocean before.

Jeans rolled up to my knees, sweatshirt heavy with cold saltwater. We held hands and jumped and let the ocean wash over us, under, around, through us.

I don't remember a single other detail about that first trip.

Except sweet Abby thought the sand was snow.

But the rest of my childhood was full of the ocean.

One year the tropical storm blew the window out of our condo.

Another year, it was the last vacation I would take with a crooked and scar-less back.  Before leaving the beach that year, Larry sat me down and told me as soon as we got home we'd be going for a check up.  September 11, 2001 was just a few days later.  I still remember how my sun tan lines were crooked in the exam room.

I have memory after memory from the beach, the ocean.  Memories of feelings of beauty, of falling in love.  I go to the ocean to feel small, to gain perspective, to remember how far I cannot see.

More than a few years ago now, Kat and I packed into my Ford Focus wagon and made an all day drive back to the Florida panhandle to meet the rest of our family.

We'd all come back to the beach to give our dad away.

We arrived just in time to join everyone leaving the beachfront condo to go on a dolphin cruise.  We didn't even go into the house.  Directly from the wagon to a mini van and onto a boat.  Sea spray.  Sunset.  Dolphins playing.

We drove back to the beach condo, but by then it was dark outside.

And we walked to the beach.  The sisters did.

In the pitch black night.

Until now, it remained the only beach memory we'd ever create, which could compare to the very first.

Because we go to the beach to remember we are small.  To remember we cannot see how far there is to go.  We go there, come here, to trust rhythm again.  God meets us there.

And only at night, when you can't see where the sea ends and the sky begins, the moon casts its reflection long onto the waves, nothing else makes sense.

Except tide.


This year, I took Judah to the beach.

I knew I had to, in the deepest part of my heart.  Not because we were running out of time.  Not because he was asking to go.  Selfishly, we had to go because my heart needed it.

I needed the ocean.

And I needed to be the one to introduce Judah to it. By myself, the one to put my seal on this experience.

We pinched pennies and searched for deals and were blessed with a gift of a house in south Florida.

Then eleven days ago, Judah and I boarded a plane with another mom and her daughter.  I walked through security at the Bluegrass airport just like I've done a million times before.  Breathing deeply for the first time in what felt like months, as I reminded myself.  My mantra.

I am capable.

We're going on an adventure! Judah would tell people.

"We are going to the beach!  We are going to fly on an airplane.  I am going to find seashells for Noni.  She is my grandmother."

We drove to the beach later after our flight landed and we got settled in the house.

My skin prickled with anticipation.  I could see the scenery had changed.  The air had changed.  We had arrived.  

However I had anticipated Judah would react to the ocean, I was wrong.  Wonderfully, delightfully wrong.

I didn't change him out of his shorts and underwear before walking up to the ocean for the first time, because I wondered if he would even want to get into the water.  I wondered if he would be scared, timid.  Foolishly, I wondered if he would not be like me.


But I was wrong.

Wonderfully, deliriously wrong.

Before I could even get him into his swimming trunks, Judah was running towards the water.  Kicking sand up with his feet without even a hint of hesitation.  And before I could stop him, before I could even decide if I should, he was waist deep in the ocean.  Water was spraying his face and small waves were crashing against the backs of his legs and he was running back up onto the shore asking for me to take his clothes off.

So I stripped him down to his underwear.

And he just kept playing.

And I watched, standing there letting the ocean kiss my ankles as my toes sunk deeper into the sand with each wave.

Tears welled in my eyes.  The ocean is in my child's heart, just like it is in mine.

Hot and salty, my insides rose to meet the sea, saying hello after so many years gone.  Welcome back, darling.

I've missed you.

Tears of pride and joy and gratefulness, pooling.

I am so thankful, so very thankful, I was able to provide this first experience for my son.  This small child who's made me brave, who's made me bold, who's brought me so much joy and helped me build so much strength.  What a gift to be able to share with him something made up of so much of my heart.




How will I cherish those first few moments, realizing what a big thing lives in Judah. 




Wednesday, April 13, 2016

up and out

Not too long ago, I was able to breathe a sigh of relief.  I had been looking for trouble.  Around every corner, up every hallway, in every parking space.  I was anticipating it, and one day not too long ago, I took a deep breath and felt peace.  When I was much younger, a similar thing happened.  A break up, closure, and a dream.  Specifically, I remember dreaming and who I had loved was not there for me when I needed him.  I remember telling this dream to someone new.  This peace and dreaming and all the metaphors launched me into a new season of life, which utterly changed me.

But that was almost ten years ago.

This time, I took a deep breath.  The kind of deep breath you take when the suspenseful scene of a movie is over.  When you no longer have to look through your fingers at the screen.  There was no immediate launch into a better season of life this time.  Just a deep sense of having been looking for something somewhere it could never be, and giving up the search.

For more reasons than one, the last few months have been overwhelming.  I have struggled with deep senses of shame and fear and sadness.  Winter was ending, but spring didn't seem to hold much promise.  I have been frustrated and indignant and afraid.  And bored.

I have been utterly bored.

With myself and all my plans.

There is nothing boring about being a mom and a social worker.  It's even less boring to be a single mom and a social worker at the same time, every day without end.  I have struggled with the challenge.  I have struggled with motivation to get up each morning, to do the dishes, to participate in anything.  Just because it's been exhausting.

But there is boredom factored in, because the trust and hope that better is coming has been almost extinguished.  This is not the life I wanted for us. I do not know how to make it better.  I feel like I am wasting time.  I feel like I am actively failing some days. And it took far too long for me to find the word to identify the emotion I was feeling regarding our circumstances.

I've known the word lonely.  I've known the word stressed.  I've known the word overworked.

But not since I first announced I was pregnant, have I felt the strength of the word shame.

Here's the wicked thing about shame, though.  It's a lie.

Sure, when you're pregnant and everyone is judging you, shame makes some sense.  When you're nine months pregnant walking on a college campus without a wedding ring, or going to labor and delivery classes alone, or trying not to answer all those questions from all those people.  Shame takes root quickly because it seems appropriate.  Embarrassment is a better word, but it isn't the one the enemy likes to use.

Shame embeds itself in us when it doesn't make sense.  When there's no good reason.  When the enemy just truly wants to take you out.  But subtly.

I have felt trapped in this shame, trapped in the boredom, trapped in the fear of what we've been through.  There isn't much I don't regret about the last year of our lives, and I wish I could undo it.  I rarely feel this way.  I rarely give regret a foothold.  But these last eight months I wish I could strike from the record.

There had to have been an easier way to learn all the lessons I did learn.  And those lessons are the only hint of redemption at this point.  Lessons I'm afraid I'll never be able to put into practice again because, shame.

I've been studying Brene Brown's work inside and out.  I identified the monster of shame and have been acquiring weapons against it ever since.  All my life I have had to fight against the lies of the enemy, knowing my greatest defense against those lies was identification.  Call it a lie.  Forever my first piece of advice.  Call something for what it is.

Some wisdom has come my way in the past couple of months, as I've vulnerably sought healing.

1. Shame has made it hard to forgive myself for letting this happen.
This is a huge revelation.  One I appreciated being pointed out to me.  Forgiveness of self is not something I practice often, so when shame comes to call, this is where it takes root.  I often think, I should have known better, or, I should have done better.  But if I look back through an objective lens, I know while there were mistakes I made, there must be room to forgive myself.  Whether I like it or not, this season of life is part of my story now. It cannot be redacted.  I may not want to read it out loud, like so many other seasons, but it is there.  On the permanent record.  And I can either forgive myself for my part of it, learn from it, and press forward... or I can stay stuck.  Hating myself for what my choices did to my family.  For having so much false hope.  For returning.

2. It is only possible to manipulate me, if I believe a kernel of truth.
This truth hit me hard.  Side swiped me with the discomfort of it.  The only reason I am ever able to be manipulated, is if I believe a small truth in someone's words or actions.  If faced with a disgracefully manipulative human being, you have to learn to disbelieve anything they say.  This is drastic.  This isn't a privilege afforded to many, as we work and live and function with these manipulative people on a daily basis.  And the deepest trick of the manipulator is: they use truth for their purpose.  I, however, have the "luxury" of totality here.  To avoid being pulled back into the gravitational pull of what I'm trying to leave behind, I cannot believe there's truth there anymore.

This seems impossibly hard.  And hurtful on a level I didn't want to face.

At this point, I am having to choose to believe love wasn't ever there.

3. Real life is hard.
It's easy to stick to your diet when there's only vegetables in the house.  When everyone around you is also making healthy choices.  When resources are readily available to make it easier to do the right thing.  What's hard, what's a truer testament to your strength and discipline, is when someone brings in the cookies.

Lord have mercy.  The point behind this analogy is simply: when I am experiencing temptation or struggle, it is not necessarily always an attack.  Sometimes it is just real life.  And real life is hard.  And it's hard to put our discipline and wisdom into practice when external or internal factors are causing friction.  The cookies show up, and you feel like you're being tested.

It's easier on the path of least resistance.  But not many of us get to choose that path.

*

I have been praying for a while now that God would bring us up and out of the season we are currently in.  So many factors have presented as hurdles and challenges.  And I've lived just long enough to know these challenges make me a better person, woman, and mother.  But I want some things to be different and I am doing my best at this time to control what I have power over.

I want to pursue promotion and no longer settle for lateral life decisions, with little positive impact.  I want to hold myself to a higher standard of performance, but also aspiration.

*



Saturday, February 27, 2016

Flaws

We all have flaws.  Even people who truly believe they are without fault will, for posturing's sake, tell you "oh, trust me... I'm not perfect".  Most of us are acutely aware of some of our own flaws and many of each other's.

I have a distinct memory of my dad, although I couldn't tell you what year it was.  A story about a flour mill.  And a God who peeks behind a curtain of stars.  A desire to be fully known and completely loved. As I've gotten older, this shared desire makes me feel closer to him.  I get it, I always think.  If anyone saw all the bad parts of me, they'd run.  Run fast and run far.

These are the words, which have been bouncing around in me head in the last couple of weeks since I decided it was time to start writing again.  This post may be the reason the words haven't come; it's that necessary.

And I'm sitting here now trying to think of everything to say except what must be said.

Deep breath, jump off the edge.

I don't believe if people can see my flaws, they'll still love me.

I struggle, all the way to my core, with the belief that if you saw me get angry, if you can sense my insecurity, if you engage in an argument with me, if I talk too much, if I worry too much, if you're privy to my poor boundaries, if you've ever tried to criticize me, if you've ever tried to encourage me, if I've ever bossed you around... there's no way you'd find love in your heart for me.  I assume, to be more articulate, if you know these flawed parts of me surely they're all you see.

That's certainly not how I see you.  I believe I am capable of seeing others and recognizing their strengths and their weaknesses and loving them for their whole selves.  But I don't trust you can do that.  I don't trust you're capable of seeing all the bad in me and loving me because of it.  Add this to the long list of my flaws.  I'm not sure what word you'd tack on to this feeling, but God help me, it sounds a lot like emotional superiority.  And that sucks.

I don't want to be loved despite my flaws.  I don't want you to look at me and listen to me and do life with me and love me, even though... fill in the blank.

Because when I look at you, even though I may have known you for years, even though I may have been through hell and back with you, and I know those flaws and I see those personality traits, I have to go digging to remember them.  I'm not ignoring them.  I'm not sweeping them under the rug to make loving you possible.  But for those of you I love, it's just all intimately intertwined.  The goodness and the not-so-goodness.

Daily, however, I struggle with believing if you can see the bad parts of me then you won't want a relationship with me.  A friendship with me.  To be my family.

I compartmentalize a lot of my thoughts.  I situate words and memories in my brain so some have to be dealt with and others can collect dust in the corner.  The Time Warner bill is hidden in those shadows, along with my primary care appointments, and the way he called me a "slut" last week and a bad parent last year.  I don't want to think about that shit.  So.  Any inkling I have that you might know me, you might see how messed up I am, gets shoved into the corner.  Not because I believe it's not true.  Not because I am believe I am perfect.  But because I don't want to think about what you know.

Sometimes I sit across from the table at Qdoba with Rachel and I talked ninety miles a minute and I watch her face and I make myself slow down because I know I'm talking too much.  And I am concerned I am a bad friend, that this makes me unlovable.

Sometimes other people try to encourage me and I am sit stuck, deep in a rut of my discouragement.   I worry people are recognizing this difficult trait in me and I worry this will ruin their desire to do life with me.

Sometimes I talk to my family about my love life.  Against my better judgement.  And I worry they see my decisions and attribute them to my flaws and my failure.  I worry they respect me less because I am almost thirty and a single mom.

I have started to worry Judah will love me less because I couldn't give him a family.

I worry my coworkers hate me because I am so easily frustrated.  Because my voice gets loud.

So I push it all into the corner so I can function.  I am actively trying to work on all these flaws.  Every day when I learn about something less than attractive about myself, I try and make a point to do better.  Those things don't go in the corner.  But what I am afraid you think about me because of my flaws, straight to the corner it goes.

Because my greatest fear is if you fully knew me, you couldn't completely love me.

The last six months have brought this fear front and center.

A hot compress drawing infection to the surface, my experience was equally painful and healing.  My daily prayer has become: I hope others don't see me the way he did.  I hope the hatred he expressed when things went wrong is not the lens everyone else sees me through.  While there was always a grain of truth in the hatefulness, I remind myself it was not constructive and did not come from a place of love.

I don't want to sit with anyone--not my boss during an evaluation, not my partner, not my friend, not my family--and talk about my flaws.  I develop ulcers just thinking about it.  This is a large part of why I hate criticism so much.  Not because I believe I am above reproach,not because I don't want to admit I am fatally flawed, but because if I know you see the bad parts of me, surely that's all you see.

I resonate most deeply with this quote:

"I myself am made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions."
 -Augusten Burroughs 

I often entertain the thought, "it is not my place to identify flaws".  My job requires me to navigate personalities.  So often I feel we identify differences in someone and instinctively call them "flaws".  In reality, most of our differences are not attributed to flaws but to personality traits.  And the real challenge of having relationships with humans is to navigate those traits and explore them.

I'm working on this.  I'm getting help with this.  But personally, part of the getting better is always the confession.

As I write, realizing I'm almost finished, there's some apprehension about being so honest.  I fully expect you to say, "Anna, you have to love yourself before anyone else can love you" and a bunch of bullshit like that.

That is not what this is about.  This is not about self awareness or self love, although I have my blind spots.  In the dusty corner sits the thought: there are flaws in me I don't recognize and they are driving you crazy.  This thought goes there because it embarrasses me.  However, I work daily on being aware of myself and attune to your reactions and responses to me.  I'm not perfect.  A thought I have pulled from the corner to dust off is, my flaws outweigh my strengths.  

This isn't about self love and a lack of self confidence.  Over the years I've worked to become more self assured.  Done the hard work to identify parts of myself I love.  That felt like harder work than this. It's not that I don't struggle with it... But it's just a different topic entirely.

I am just afraid after all the work I've done to become a better woman, all you still see is the bad.

I may be afraid this is why I don't have a family.  Afraid this is why I struggle at work.  Afraid this is why I've lost my community.  I'm afraid the goodness in me can't be seen for the neon flashing lights, which are my flaws.

My intentions are good.  I have some goodness in me. I just have to learn to trust you more.  I have to learn to believe you are capable of loving me the way I try to love you.  That you may believe there are parts of me you wish I'd work harder on, and there are days I am not the person you want to talk to, but even in my worst form I am a person you love.  Wholly and fully.


Saturday, February 13, 2016

Concurrence

In January, I packed up the car.  I buckled Judah into his car seat and early in the morning we merged onto 75 south. It's practically instinctual for me, to fly south for the winter.  And for so many years I had been resisting the urge.  Telling myself it wasn't safe, I didn't have enough money, that Judah couldn't handle the drive.

But I had something to prove to myself. After months of questioning my ability, my independence, my bravery, I wanted to prove to myself that our story wasn't going to leave us sedentary, rooted, settled because of fear.

It felt so much like going home.

I can't count the trips I've made down the southern stretch of highway.  Or the times my eyes have adjusted just in time to notice dirt turned to clay and small mountains instead of rolling hills.  Tall, skinny trees instead of old oaks.  And the moment when the highway takes a turn, and just over the rise you catch a glimpse of the skyline, and country turns to city; whispering, "welcome back, old friend".

There was nothing truly remarkable about our few days in Atlanta.  Nothing out of the ordinary, no wild epiphanies, no inciting incidences.  Which was exactly what I needed.  I needed to know Judah and I were capable.  I needed to know that my wandering heart had not been buried too deep. That my adventurous spirit, which had grown out of a cautious childhood, had not died along the way.  I needed to know I could teach Judah, that I could take Judah, that we did not need anyone's help in order to brave.

My heart was overwhelmed with pride.  And when we saw Tiffany come around the corner in Target, where we had chosen to meet up, I felt the quiet rumble of the earthen plates of my heart rub together.  To see her, to have her meet Judah, to watch Judah walk alongside me in this city I love, was equally surreal and natural.  I was proud.  Of myself, of my son, of our story.

We drove back on Sunday morning. Reluctantly leaving Griffin and Tiffany and city lights behind us.  Judah slept the entire way after lunch and I drove with Brandi Carlisle and Adele's new albums on repeat.  Just before leaving, I asked a few of my closest friends to be praying.  It was a new year.  I was trying to avoid the obligatory resolutions.  But I wanted a word.  I needed a word to attribute to this coming year, even though I did not even have a word for 2015 yet.  I didn't want a resolution or to make promises or set goals.  I just wanted a word, to speak wisdom over what comes next.

 It only took until Tennessee.

I know from years of experience, when you ask for something with an open heart and prepare yourself for any answer, God usually loves to speak.  And if He doesn't speak, I'd like to think He turns our heads to look.  Much like when Judah is looking for one of his special toys.  "I no can find it, Mommy," he will cry to me.  More often than not, the toy he's looking for is in plain sight.  I can see it, right there, but he's not looking in the right place.  So if God doesn't speak to me, He usually just guides my eyes.

But on that New Year's drive home, He was speaking.  And what I heard Him say, I'm clinging to as truth.

Anna, you are already good enough.

I was, and still am, overwhelmed by the thought.  I turned up the music a little more as our car meandered up the highway, long stretches between exits.  What did this mean for me?  If it were true, this already being good enough, what did it mean for what comes next?

It was wild the way my thoughts rippled from that one truth.  Like a Jacob's Ladder toy.

After months of feeling attacked, of being treated as an inferior, of fighting, of disagreements, of doubt, of worry, I was hearing words again.  Thrive, wholehearted, continue, synchronize, curiosity,  challenge.  I felt like I was chasing these words, hearing their truth, and watching them point forward to one word, which would mean the most.

I switched my music to Gretchen Rubin's podcast and the stream of words changed.

I felt validated.  I heard, "Anna, the things you have begun are good.  You've done well.  You need to keep doing what  you've already learned how to do." I was sure, by this, I was being encouraged not to start anything new this year.  That the things I had explored and begun and desire in the past, would somewhat come to fruition this year.  The things I had already obtained for myself, taught myself, pursued for our lives, needed to be implemented.

In congruence.

At that time the highway I was on, merged into a bigger highway just north of Knoxville.

And I received my word.

Concurrence.

There are multiple definitions for this word. But the one, which resonates with me the most is this:

"A situation in which two or more things happen at the same time" (Merriam-webster.com)

The peace I felt was overwhelming.  Judah and I stopped at a Starbucks in London, Kentucky and did a little dance in the parking lot.  We had made it from Georgia to Kentucky without a single pit stop. We loaded back in the car, with the sun setting, and continued the short hour drive back to Lexington.

Later I would make a list.

1. Exercise
2. Mindful journaling / writing
3. Read
4. Simplify
5. Grad school
6. Travel
7. Meal plan
8. Dave Ramsey
9. Podcasts (for commute to work)

These were things, habits, rituals, achievements I've already accomplished over the last year or two.  I have either taught myself, or had someone teach me, how to do each item on that list.  At one point in time, I have also been exceedingly successful (with the exception of grad school) at each habit listed.

I know how to do this.

I know how to be successful.  I know how to be ambitious.  I know how to run a household.  I know how to take care of my body.  I know how to build knowledge.  I know how to build community.  But over the years, as each achievement as moved to the top of my priority list, other achievements have taken a back burner.

So this year it's about adding a ball to the juggle.  One at a time.  Synchronizing what makes me healthy and whole, what makes my family strong.  Turning gears so in unison, there's forward motion.

As always with the New Year, there was a false start.

Money ran out.

There were more fights and more tears.

Sickness relapsed.

The job got harder.

I held onto the truth I heard on my trip, but my grip was loosened.

I felt doubt and sadness and so much like failure was imminent.  I was impatient and I was not paying attention.  I have not been the parent I want to be, the employee I want to be, the friend or sister I want to be.  I felt like I had lunged forward and fallen on my knees and I still wish that a new year meant newness at all.  But it doesn't.

And so I added something else to my list.  Not a new thing.  An old thing.  An old thing, which worked before.  That I've been avoiding because of cost, because of vulnerability, because I was afraid it was all my fault.  Afraid I'm the broken one.  Afraid at some point I'm going to crack and break and be beyond repair.

But I added it.  Just this week.  And I followed through.  Head down, one foot in front of the other, to avoid thinking, to avoid backing out.

Now I can start my New Year.

Friday, November 20, 2015

to tell the truth

I slammed the car door shut and wiped the rain from my cheeks.
Turned the key over in the ignition and the Bluetooth picked up, suddenly and quietly filling the car with Adele's voice.
I reached over to turn on the windshield wipers, just as my eyes caught a glimpse of color.

I was encouraged months ago to write about now.  Not what was, not what could be, but about the truth of the right now. We had known then, she and I, getting caught up in the history of things can slow down the words. The stories were getting bogged down by the explanation.  By the process of making them acceptable, presentable. A watering down might as well have washed them away. Despite the desire to set the stage, here we are in the very middle of things.

I keep trying to decide what is mine to tell. Trying to edit the story so I don't have to be vulnerable twice.  Since vulnerability is the red thread through this whole story.  But as I work through the writer's block of the last six months, all I know is to keep telling the truth. As I sip on my three dollar wine from Trader Joes out of a plastic stemless wine glass from Target, I remember to write drunk. Just write hard and clear about what hurts. (Hemingway) I'll sort out the rest later. If they wanted us to speak nicely of them, Anne says, they should have behaved better.

The sickness had settled into my chest and I felt slow and my eyes felt heavy and it was Monday. In the monotony I was trying to be faithful.  Showing up when showing up wasn't easy. 

The door opened behind me and I didn't even turn. Every morning, the same, and we would gather around the table and problem solve and disperse again. Returning every morning. Repeat.

The door opened behind me and more bodies than usual entered the room.  Suddenly Monday and the heaviness and the end of August meant a great deal more. 

I would pray. Praying in a way feeling so much more like begging. I would watch and listen and I would piece together and I would pray some more. I measured myself and mourned my shortcomings and prayed for grace and for courage. There was light and there was promise and I kept showing up, listening as God started dusting off old dreams.  Unrolling my old crayon drawings of purple horses and whispering to my heart. Keep showing up, and remember how big the world is? But mostly, I still work like this.

What has happened since then, I can barely remember.  A whole lifetime packed tightly into not quite three months.  I'm left now to sift through the soot for whatever remains. 

I had so  much hope.  I would look at this new face and believe things for myself and for my family I hadn't dared to believe in a while. I loved the energy, the listening, the speaking, and the smells.  I remember the first time arms were around me and I don't remember a single thing after.  I had heard words I believed to be true and laid them out as my foundation.  Where I normally would have lacked confidence, I relied on something my spirit called a truth.  This propelled me forward into a story I'll never forget.  I was so excited and the excitement is what embarrasses me now.

Our whole world was turned upside down. I prayed and I fought and I learned.  I listened and adapted and prayed again for humility and a teachable spirit.  I made a certain kind of effort I've never made in my past.  I kept reminding myself to be gracious with myself and I kept asking for grace. I kept falling short.  But there was always the coming back.

My feelings were hurt repeatedly and if it hadn't been for what I believed to be the truth, which I clung to, I would have walked away.  Lies swirled around me, clouding my vision, and I struggled through inadequacy and loss and trust.  The ways I criticized myself were innumerable.

I came into the story hoping the best parts of me would come alive. I should have thrived, should have felt confident in what I could contribute, felt excited about what could have been accomplished. I had dreams of teamwork. There were days I felt encouraged, there were days I felt giddy and joyful and believed in what it was so deeply you couldn't have changed my mind.

I questioned my parenting. I questioned the last three years of provision and protection, but simultaneously a new hope was ignited for redemption. Had I done my best?  Would Judah succeed or fail, based on my performance as a parent?  I struggled to shield him from any uncertainty and yearned to give him something he'd never had.

Most days I felt inadequate.  What I brought to the table didn't seem to be of much worth.  I wouldn't have dared say those words out loud. But I did think about walking away.

The hard questions were asked and I struggled with the doubt. And any thought of leaving, was honestly challenged by this one pervasive lie.

It won't get better than this.  If you let this go, you won't find anything better.  If you walk away, you've walked away from your best story.

Ghosts followed us everywhere.  I had questions, which were never answered.  I had thoughts I never shared. And while all the lies and the doubt swirled, we would wade through the crowds together. And people would stare.

I am used to the staring.

But people would stare with admiration in their eyes.

They would watch and there would be hello's and each time there was a leaning in and a whisper, "your family is beautiful" and nodding thank you, I would keep moving.

The doubt and the lies and the insecurities would rise like the tide and there was leaning and the whispering, and waters would recede again.  I could catch my breath.

Ebb and flow

Just enough to keep us moving forward.

Just enough so every time I was told I wasn't doing enough, I thought maybe it was truth. 

One promise though I've always made myself as a mother, is I would cherish the privilege it is to raise my child.  I would prioritize his well being and I would make decisions for our lives, which benefit us both. And above all else I would protect him. 

Judah and I have felt our fair share of fear.

Honestly, I feel like the times I've held him closest in the last three years have been when our safety and security has been jeopardized.  I've had to pray and beg for intervention and protection more often than not, and we have learned to not be paralyzed by our fear. But we have also learned to pay attention to it.

And there was an unravelling. 

And what was left was the thin, smoky veil of fear and there the story has to end. 

Leaving happened quickly and I was left on the floor, surrounded by hot wheels race cars and stifling the kind of sobs my three year old hates to see me cry. 

I'm still not sure what I'm grieving.  But the grief is still there. 

My eyes caught a glimpse of color.  I stepped out of the car, face bent against the rain, and grabbed the yellow piece of paper stuck beneath my windshield wipers. Ink ran. I closed the car door again and sat with the limp note on my lap.   

My hands are black from the ashes.

I think there's beauty here.  But as it always does, the rain has washed everything else clean. 

Sunday, May 10, 2015

after this

I saw it coming.  The drums kicked, people whirred by, glass bottles broke in trash bins.  Slow motion, blurred as it washed over him.  I watched it happen far too quickly all the same, and I couldn't stop it.  He wanted something.  He was hungry and he was hot and he was tired and what he wanted right now, more food, more pizza, was right in front of him. We were there though, at the festival, and there were lines. And crowds. Dogs and strollers and drunks, weaving in and out of a tangled mess.  He wanted what he wanted, now.  But I couldn't deliver.

I spent the better part of an hour consoling him.  Walking down Short Street with a thrashing toddler in a flimsy stroller, eyes fixed straight ahead, allowing the gawking strangers to stride right along. Don't mind us, don't mind me.  The light was buried in his eyes, and every noise and every texture overstimulated him to the point he would rock. And reach. And cry no.

When he had calmed enough to let me hold him, when the light had come back, he cried about a cut on his finger. He asked for water.  He shuddered as the last of the tears left him.  And I prayed quiet prayers in his little ear.

~

He's sleeping beside me now and it is Mother's Day. He made me a mother three years ago, and when I held that 8 pound 5 ounce 21 1/2 inch long baby in my arms I just remember staring.  I remember the way my dad's face cracked open and the way he spilled out when he walked in to see us. And I remember the fleeting, quiet moment when we were first left alone.  Judah and I.

"There are moments, which mark your life. Moments when you realize nothing will ever be the same and time is divided into two parts -- before this, and after this." (Fallen, 1998)

The after this, is what has made me a mother. Even though I became a mother the first time I heard his little heartbeat, buried deep and hidden under so far we barely heard it. The after this, is what has changed me.

I can hear him breathing as I type and I am certain if you'd told me what was in store, I wouldn't have believed you.  I wouldn't have believed it would be okay. I wouldn't have believed we would make it.

Judah has grown up to be a tall, brown eyed boy.  He is energetic and boisterous. He is curious and affectionate beyond measure.  He has a short fuse and a gentle heart. He is easily overstimulated; noise and temperature create chaos in his little brain. He is opinionated and physically strong; instilled with a deep sense of self esteem and an excellent sense of humor and some inherent rhythm.

Who he is, who he has become, and the life we've lived since the day he came has made me a mother.

I have parented this sweet boy by myself since day one.  I am his and he is mine. We are a small, feisty tribe.

I've had the support of some people over the years, who are willing to step in and bear some of the load of every day life. But I am this sweet boy's one real, true parent. I kiss the scraped knees, I cut up with the hot dogs, I force feed the vegetables, I say goodnight prayers.  I buy the diapers and swat the hands.  I make the doctor appointments and I keep them and I brush his teeth and I wash his clothes. I am who he has daily conversations in the car with. I am who he runs to greet at the end of every work day. I am who he wants, not always, but always when things are hard and scary. And if nothing else, today I celebrate Mother's Day with him because I know he loves me.

I have fought for this child.  The after this has been filled with so much war. So much of me coming across the table and so much of me shutting doors and so much of me being forcing myself to be gracious.  So much of me standing and talking to doctors and signing mortgages and ending relationships and so much of me setting the alarm each night to do it again. Not because I am capable. Not because I am a hero. But because I am not.

I have fought for this child, because the after this changed the story. Because I believe, in my deepest heart, I am raising one who will break a cycle. I am raising one who, regardless of what else my future holds, will always be my best friend. I am raising this child because all roads pointed to here and no one would fight this hard against us if there wasn't a world changer under my roof.

~

Motherhood teaches us both patience and how to lose it. It teaches us how to hear a cry and discern its meaning. How to stand in the face of giants and not be swayed.  Motherhood teaches us how to move somehow with both strength and grace.  Motherhood teaches us to look at the gawking, jeering faces and keep pressing. Motherhood has taught me how to fail in the worst ways. It has taught me of a ferocious loyalty and panic. How to always pack snacks and keep Buzz Lightyear in my purse.  It's taught me how to pick my battles and how to muster forgiveness in myself out of a place so dingy and hollow it almost got lost.

So when the drums kick too loud and the heat falls too heavy and we don't get what we want when we want it; when texture and light and our hungry bellies make it all seem impossible, too overwhelming, and all our after this seems so caught up...

May there be a drink of water waiting for you.

May your tears be wiped dry.

We are whispering prayers over you.

You are our, after this.

Friday, May 8, 2015

27


I remember exactly what I wore. There’s a picture around here somewhere, taken at Winchells on a warm Friday night at the beginning of May.  I was wearing green, and I had just turned seventeen. Friends who were like family were visiting from Georgia. I remember kissing his shoulder and getting caught. And after dinner we went to a tucked away park after dark and played for hours on the swings.  We were breaking rules and being silly and we thought we were adults. We thought we were in love. 

That was ten years ago. 

The letter I got from my mom yesterday put to words an almost imperceptible longing in my heart. I am looking for an end. And I am looking for a beginning. For years now, I have been living in the very middle of things. No discernable beginning or end, the hardest parts of each story have melded together like one long breath.  Contractions.  Like contractions at the height of labor, during transition, there’s been almost no pause between the intensity and the pain, not nearly enough time to catch my breath. 

I am looking for an end. And I am looking for a beginning. 

There have been some beginnings. Some newness. I hold on to the newness, the freshness, as long as I can. Cherish it as a new memory and a promise of growth and change. But on the hard days when all the pain blends together, regardless of how meaningful, I still find myself needing a reminder.

There is a story here. 

For years since Africa, since passports and risking and chronic illness, I’ve lived my life on this continuum of story.  For years we’ve trusted the story

I am not a passive trust-er, however, and have built more than I’ve trusted. So the mantra has changed. 

My tribe has quietly had to change the words they use to encourage, because even on the good days, the injuries of repetition and these hollowed out spaces are sore. 

There is a story here. 

Damn it, if it’s not even a good one. 

Sometimes change is gradual and quiet and has to be this way because otherwise we pay too much attention and we will resist it.Quick change brings pain and my deepest heart wonders if we aren’t being spared of that right now.  So we are quietly growing over here. Pushing through the soil, breaking shells, climbing tresses, turning our faces to the sun, so we can bear some fruit. 

To the seventeen year old in the green shirt, riding in the big truck with the boy who by next year would be gone, I would say,  

One day you will turn twenty seven.  And you will have done a lot of things and been a lot of places and witnessed a lot of miracles. You will have created a brand new life. And you will have built one too. And the people who love you will call you a fighter. The people who love you will call you a survivor. The people who love you will call you an encourager. And your son will call you his best friend. 

It’s a good story. 

If only because there is a story being told here. Right now, even in the quiet lulls. Right now, even at the height of the contraction.

Because we know what comes next.