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. 

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Year of Adjustments

Today is the last Sunday of 2014.

In typical fashion, I am sitting here mulling over the last twelve months, thinking about what I want to tell you.  And how I want to tell it.  The summation of the year means a great deal to me.  As a stories go, it's important to connect the dots and create path and vision for the upcoming year.  Part of me believes it's a shame I put so much stock in the new year holiday.  But I like clean starting points, I suppose.  It's the only way I know to move forward -- to create a foundation out of the old, to use it as a ladder.

I am encouraged tonight by my Kentucky-girl-turned-City-girl, dear friend Miranda who came to visit me today.  Her quiet year in the City just tied up nicely with an engagement ring and a foreshadowing of a busy and magical (and stressful) 2015.  She and I stood in my kitchen and talked for a while today about resting seasons and harvest seasons.  About communities who died and the friendships, which survived.  About abiding and pendulums and listening.  About the resting we have to do before we can be productive.  The abiding we have to do before we can engage.

Perhaps a year shouldn't be measured up by its Major Live Events, which occur within a twelve month span of time.  This may be my first error.  From January 1 to December... whatever today is... only a few significant things happened.  Not enough to constitute a "big year", not enough to get overwhelmingly excited about.


I changed jobs.  Twice.

I quit my safety-net job where I learned how to argue and speak up and advocate. The job, which allowed me time and space to change my body.  I quit and I took a leap of faith in May and landed in a nightmare of a working situation.  Consequently, I learned stepping stones are wonderful tools used by God to strengthen our faith; unfortunately, I am still rectifying the damage the state job did to my body.  Still reconciling my body with some long term solutions.  I've been working out at home since then and have opened the door to a world of holistic healing, natural remedies, and the healing power (or poison) of food.  But it's been a slow journey and healing has taken its time coming.  The journey includes a lot of error, juicing, chiropractic medicine, and a pull up bar in my bathroom threshold.

Judah learned to swim this summer.  We visited the children's museum, the aquarium, and celebrated his second birthday.  In the spring we got a family pet, who Judah named JoJo.  She has too much energy and wouldn't hurt a flea.  But she makes us feel safe and Judah helps me take care of her every day. She's taught him some two-year-old responsibility and how to be gentle.  Right now she's snoring at my feet.

I changed jobs again in August, this time accepting an opportunity dripping with evidence of God's provision.  The hospital job has been my Next Right Move and I have settled in for a while here, learning every day about the medical world and ironically, about geriatric care.  We end up in weird places sometimes.  And I've learned to talk loud without yelling and when to just keep holding someone's hand.

Rachel got married.  It was the longest of hard years for my best, but we celebrated her as many times as possible; celebrating the privilege it is to do life together.  And we drank a little and danced a lot and I slept in a bed with a stranger named Bear.

Brigid had a wedding. I didn't get to go but I have watched from as close as I can get while God writes a new story with her life. So many promises being fulfilled. This year has been a lot of missing her.

Labor Day weekend, after a warm summer rain shower, I wrecked our car.  We hit a wall, in every sense of the word, and if I had ever questioned my protective capacity I no longer do.  This inciting incident rattled my mother-heart and I walked away with bruises and sore hips and Judah left unscathed.  I replaced the car and worked extra hard to secure the new car seat in the backseat.  Marveling, quietly, at how He continues to protect us.

I went on dates.  Does that surprise you?  So many dead end dates and phone numbers and fruitless everythings. It's taking a lot of gall for me to dig back to last January and remember, recall the fiery throes of Online Dating and the rejection and the oddity of attraction.  Companionship, the desire for it, makes us weird.  I met men online.  I met men in the bars.  I met men at work.  I met men at the gym.  (I met a lot of men at the gym.  I don't think it's a coincidence the place I was most comfortable and the most confident was the place I attracted the most attention.)  But all were dead ends.  For so many different reasons.  I won't go so far as to say all men are the same, because they are not.  But for those who've questioned my methods, I'll say firmly: all men are capable of being the same.  And I'm ending the year in the same relational space as I ended 2013.  Kind of.

I learned a vital, necessary lesson late in 2014.

About the kind of man I want in our life.  About qualities, over the years, I had forgotten about or disregarded as no longer important.  Recently I allowed my eyes to be opened again to characteristics and qualities I desire in a man, but had felt I no longer deserved.  False hope, in all it's spite, kept me from opening my heart to the possibility of a man with depth of character.  With an artist's heart.  With exceptional intelligence.  I still believe he's out there, and I have a better idea of what he looks like now.


I've struggled the last few days with feeling as though this year had been wasted.  I came into 2014 thinking the resting season was over.  Thinking big things were around the corner, thinking change was coming.

But the abiding season wasn't over.  Fruit, harvest, wasn't to be had this year.  Not in the fulfilling sense.  But what gives me hope is I am not who I was.  I resonate strongly with Viktor Frankl's words tonight: "When we are no longer able to change a situation we are challenged to change ourselves."  

If I am honest with myself, there were some key moves made this year, but even more internal change.  A moving around of parts.  A strategic set up for a comeback, if you will.  2014 will not be measured by Major Life Events, but by Adjustments.

The day to day challenges of life in this household are enough to change us.  How to budget, how to parent, how to provide, how to protect.  When to shut doors, where to draw lines, when to stand up and fight and when to pick over a battle.  The daily growth and love and adventure, which happens on a daily basis cannot be discredited.

So as the year wraps up, there's so much I want to leave behind.  There's so much I want to lay to rest here.  But what we will focus on is what is ahead.  Because, at the risk of jinxing it, I believe what's coming is great.  Great in the: great, transformative, plot changing, great-soundtrack-scene in the movie kind of great.

And one of the Adjustments, one of the lessons I have learned in these two years of resting and preparing, is resolutions are not to be made.  We don't make promises around here.  But we do set goals.  I set goals.  Viktor Frankl also said, "Even when it is not fully attained, we become better by striving for a higher goal".  We aim, set a goal or a target, to determine our trajectory.

Vague is safe because it creates room for error and makes accountability difficult.  Vague also leaves room for interpretation, leaves room for creative license.  The target is vague, for this very reason.  The target is also vague because as I sit here sharing with you, I realize for the first time in many years I don't know what comes next.  I haven't a single clue.

So this year I am making no promises.

I am setting targets, making declarations, instead.

Goodbye 2014 and all your heartache and passivity.  Goodbye to the pain you caused and may you keep with you the people who don't belong in my world anymore.  With you I leave an old voice, old insecurities, old beliefs about myself.  From you I take memories of my sweet Judah, but little else.

And in the coming year, I will aim to:

Show up
Play
Not give up easily
Pay off debt
Worship
Participate
Be Ok with Good Enough
Build community
Rebuild my body
Produce
Limit expectations
Take no shit

I will do better, as I always declare I will.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas Magic

Th dishwasher is running and I have a pile of boxes and wrapping paper almost as tall as me sitting next to the door.  Running on about three hours of sleep, I'm resting for a moment while Judah naps.  It's Christmas.

I've been stirring up memories of past Christmases for a while.  Wondering where magic came from, how to recreate it, and mostly how to beat the blues.  Christmas is a difficult time for me, with its long, anticipatory build up.  The let down has nothing to do with presents.  I'm not some spoiled child who thinks Christmas is better the higher the pile of presents.  I think Christmas is better when it feels like Christmas.  And the formula for creating a feeling is just forever elusive.

The magic for parents on Christmas is the power to create the magic.  I'm starting to exercise this super power and reap a return.  As my sister said the other night, there's nothing more gratifying than knowing what someone wants and being able to provide it for them.  A lot of pressure maybe, but I am responsible for Judah's Christmas magic for at least another decade.  Hopefully two.

Ironically... Katherine's the same sister who knew I would wake up this morning and gladly, delightfully give my son presents, but not open any of my own.  She knew this and handed me two packages yesterday at our Long Avenue Christmas.  Packages labeled "from Judah to Mommy" and that was that.

The magic for grown ups on Christmas is also in identifying a need and helping fill the empty spaces.

The magic is in the intentionality.  In the small choices we make on these Big Days to help set them apart.  But as I spend my eighth Christmas Alone, as an adult and out of my parents' house, I find myself with more and more of a desire to not restrict Christmas to one day.

I had to work yesterday.  The first time I've ever had to work on any holiday, which was more significant than the 4th of July.  I worked almost a full day while my family cooked and baked and listened to Ray Charles and the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack. Walking into a patient's room on Christmas Eve and knowing they'll spend Christmas in that bed, will do nothing if not humble you.  Nothing if not make you thankful that in order to leave this place, all I had to do was swipe a badge.

I talked to a family just moments before they lost a loved one yesterday.  And walked away hoping my face, their memory of me, would fade with the pain of their loss.  All their Christmas Eve's from now on wouldn't ache with sadness.

I swiped my badge yesterday and left that place and we had Christmas.  As we have grown older, the sisters and I, we have accumulated people as well as an excellent gift giving ability.  The Rehnborg-Rector-McCarty-Vaughan family draws names due to our increasing number of family members.  Ironically yesterday, we each drew each other.  I drew Noni, Noni drew me, and so forth. The thoughtfulness and the intentionality behind each gift was overwhelming and my favorite part was gift exchanging was the shortest part of our day.

As true Vaughan boys do, Judah cried.  Overwhelmed by his love for his new toys and the offering of still-wrapped presents, he just couldn't hardly handle it and he would repeatedly remove himself from the room in hysterics. Wailing pitifully about presents and "no, no, no".  I walked out of the room with him at one point and looked at Noni, muttering something about how this was the rest of our Christmases, if he got that gene.  The Christmas blues.

Truthfully, I thought I would be more sad than I am.

You know, life right now isn't how it should be.  It's not exactly operating smoothly.  And the Holidays shine a spotlight on those shadowy corners and missing pieces.  I feel a little sad at night, when things slow down and I remember I don't have cable anymore and Judah's asleep and the Christmas tree is twinkling and it's just me.

But sad certainly isn't the overwhelming emotion this year.  It's there, but it's staying quiet.

I am just thinking about magic.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

full circle

I was nineteen years old.  I was in a place where community was just desperately lacking.  Ironically in community college, working in an office with middle aged women, and recovering from the first real heart break.  It all started so simply, without me realizing it.  Later a suppressed memory of seeing him sitting on a stool with one of my hometown friends would surface.  But for the longest I just didn't even remember how the rest of my life got started.

We built a community.  We did meals together, played music, and celebrated holidays.  We waded our way into the poorest hubs of the city and settled there, sinking and settling in a way only people who love people can do.  We took trips and we made church, practically wherever we went.  I remember late nights in the backwoods of rural counties. I would be dragged, practically against my will, down to a veteran's memorial park in the center of the city.  I would be taught how to see.  How to feed the hungry and how to protect myself.  Learn when to walk away.  I would make statements I already have renounced -- about where I wanted my story to take me, the way I would raise my family.  Life just began there.  In the simplest way.  And the lessons learned, I took with me when the chapter folded over on itself.

I looked for community again for years.

I lived in a corner of a room in a small apartment by the park and one autumn a group of twenty-somethings serendipitously gathered together within walking distance.  We'd talk about risk.  I would show up for one reason, walk through the door, and know certainly I'd stay for another.  I would make best friends and learn how to pray.  And we would feed each other.  And we would serve together.  We would go to church together; in essence, it would never be as organic as my first community experience.  But they were my family and we protected each other.  I got my heart broken there, because protection doesn't mean we don't get hurt.  And I left, to return to the poor.

Obviously, I am the most stubborn.  And I was dragged, practically against my will, back to the hub.  To the streets lined with shotgun houses and forgotten trash cans and downed power lines and broken concrete.  Chained up dogs and plastic lawn chairs on front porches and dirty windows covered with sheets.

To gifted loaves of bread and kickball games and an overabundance of hot dogs and pizzas.  Dirty faces and braided hair and greasy hands.  And the most joy and purpose I had known.

I had traveled, laterally and slowly, from barns with bluegrass music and campfires and flannel shirts and church in kitchens, to the deepest ghettos I could find.  To spoken word and tight beats.  To line ups and a brand new perspective on what diversity means, what trust means, what competency and leadership means.  What it means to give well, to invest, to listen, and to make the bold, brave decisions.  To protect each other.

But listen.

Life happens and with it comes so much hurt.  And a broken heart stayed broken for a while.  And people I trusted to be trustworthy hurt me.  Secrets were revealed.  And I was chased down dark streets and pinned up against cars.  I gave up on what I knew because what I knew had failed me.

And we are here now.

Living in one of these hubs of poverty and violence and grayness.  Raising my little boy and working with the elderly and navigating relationships, which have failed to flourish.  There's a lot of emptiness here, yet so much growth and more trust than I had ever known I could muster.

There are words and scripture intertwined throughout my entire story.  A common thread, winding through each chapter, providing the sense and congruency I need to keep pressing.  There's a church sign.  And there's Don.  There's words about Boaz, words about Esther.  And a word on the fringe of my memory, about trusting God to do what He said he would.

The common message is serving and culture and I just have to get myself back to a place where I can begin building again.

And I've been praying about where.

I've been praying about the man who will one day join our family.  

I've been praying about the culture in which I will raise Judah.  

And while I was praying, I was connecting dots.  My heart craves the simplicity.  The minimalism.  The art.  The artist I am has been starved.  But the last few years have not been wasted.  As I pick up the rocks, the bricks, to build what comes next I know I have been equipped.

I have been rounded out, fleshed out, built up in the ways of community and culture.  I have something new to give, because of my experience.  

Thinking about reaching out has my palms sweaty.

I require a lot of grace. Might even demand it, because I know the truth.  We all require grace.  I want to teach people to serve, to create, to love unconditionally.  I want outreach to look like all the meals I've cooked and like a village helping to raise my child, among others.  I want community to look like music and beer and no street in this city left unloved.  Like reconciliation, integration, partnership, and development.  

Today, positive steps toward this include blocked telephone numbers and sitting down to write out these words under the lit Christmas tree while Judah naps on the couch.  It looks like asking for help and showing up, especially when it scares me.  It looks a hell of a lot like purging and about speaking worth over myself and my gifts and the family I have.  And looking for the people who don't have to be convinced.

But, it also looks a lot like the simple sharing of meals.  Recognizing my gift of hospitality looks different than the perfect housewives'.  The ability to open my home, my heart, and share.  I've come home, in my heart, to this place.

"Everybody has to leave, everybody has to leave their home and come back so they can love it again for all new reasons." DM