Sunday, November 23, 2014

Friday Morning

I am in the business of people.

Of protection and advocacy and fighting for life.

Sometimes the only way to get me to do a hard thing, is to not give me an option.

The only way, ever, is to not give me an option.

I grew up sheltered from the tragedy of death.  I remember two funerals as a child.

Then there was a funeral when I wasn't really a child anymore.

One of those gatherings you can't even call the celebration of a life.  Listen.  Some people are taken too soon.  Some people make choices, which end it all before it should have been over.  Sometimes the young die.

I just don't go to funerals, ok?  I don't do visitations, wakes.  I am in the business of making sure people are safe.

But I remember my sister and my roommate being nurses.  And I remember stories.  I remember the hours after the twelve hour shifts in the ED ended.  I remember thinking, I am so glad I don't have their job.

So when I got my new job a little over three months ago, there was just a fleeting thought about how I had just opened the floodgates.  I was no longer safe.

Most of my days are spent problem solving with people.  Fighting with them to make choices to keep them safe.  My love for the elderly has grown exponentially and my poker face is stronger than it's ever been.  I can reason with the best of them and I am a favorite among the old men.

But every morning we run a census and a new patient shows up with a hospice code.  Every day, there are names we no longer see on the census.  And it's not because they got to go home.  I've stood in rooms with caring and uncaring families.  With scared and impatient families.  And talked to them about what it means to be actively dying.  I've helped fill out living wills and DNRs and helped sons become their mother's Power of Attorney.

But I'm not there when the dying happens.  I'm just the transition person, as I have always been, helping people get from where they are to where they need to be next.

Friday morning was Friday morning.  I forgot to pack lunch and I didn't have my thermos for coffee.  I strolled into the office, and as is my routine I checked my email and I sorted through the mess from the day before.  We waited for the census to print.  Multiple people poked their head into our suite and said certain family members were looking for me.  I got ready for a busy day... and then my coworker's extension rang.

I can always tell when they're calling for me.

"I'll send her right down" they said.  Repeating which triage room I needed to go to.

The Emergency Department never calls me.

All anyone said was that the ambulance was there and so was a distraught family and the person in the hospital who's best at this job hadn't come in yet.  That's all anyone said.  But I didn't have an option.

For those of you who have lost loved ones tragically, I don't even know what to say to you.  I am sorry?  How can I help?  Let me give you some space.  I'm still learning.  But the last one seems the most appropriate.

My job was to make sure an impossible situation was handled.  Really what it felt like was, "Anna, make sure the grieving stays contained.  We have a job to do down here."  Because my job is to keep people safe.  And their job is to save people's lives.

But they couldn't Friday morning.  Save the life.

And the next thing I knew my job became something more like, help them say goodbye.

I've been trying to process ever since.

After it was all over, I felt the gracious heaviness, which comes when you have a job to do and must remain grounded.  Kept my breathing steady.  Head down, one foot in front of the other, I walked back to the case management suite and grabbed my thermos.  All eyes were on me.

I've never seen a dead body before, I told them as a matter of factly as I could.

There wasn't enough coffee in the world.

The pity in their eyes was more about them remembering than it was about me.  Like when you ask someone about when they fell in love the first time.  They have to dig back in the recesses of their memories, through a lot of pain and grit and years and everything they've suppressed.  You are making them remember something they forgot out of self protection.

Oh, they say somberly.

Go get your coffee...

And I left the room.

I am, and will always be, in the business of keeping people safe.

I suppose sometimes this means standing in front of a lifeless body and holding someone close -- someone who is still full enough of life to acutely feel everything happening.  Safe doesn't mean shielded from pain.  Safe doesn't mean no bad will come.  Safe just means they're alive and pointed gently in the right direction.

Growing up, he called it the Island.  A place where people came, alive and pointed in the wrong direction.  A place people came, voluntarily or not, to get redirected.  And when death happened, the Island experienced an imbalance.  The day death happened, we always knew because life is always hard, but is especially hard on the days it ends. And he ate a lot of cheese sandwiches in his sleep the nights after.

Perhaps it takes looking at a body, no longer alive, to understand how deeply you are passionate about keeping people safe.

To understand how sacred and fragile life is and how sheltered you have been.

The prayer right now is a fearful one.

But I would imagine when we are allowed to experience the end of another's life, not only is it a privilege, but it is also an opportunity to grow.  To grow in respect for our own lives.  An opportunity to grow in our passion for those still living.  My guess is the intention, the plan, is not for us to live in fear.

But at this point, I'm still having a hard time closing my eyes.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

pile of good things

We forget sometimes we're not doing this alone.  Which may be why we reach out with our art in the first place, for resonance.  When we speak and cry and express what we feel, we aren't looking to be the only one.  We don't want our experiences belittled or demeaned by the group, but we want a "me too".  A genuine "I understand", from the bravest of voices who know... we just have to tell the truth sometimes.

And so when what I say, suggest, argue, represent stirs up even just small ripples, I  am encouraged.

My heart hurts for you, because I know how you feel.  But I know how you feel.

Today I posted a simple quote on my Instagram page.  Mostly because I'm trying to eliminate excess (weight, belongings, accounts with balances, electricity bills, contacts in my phone) in an attempt to solve some problems.  Problems are popping up everywhere.  I am a solver of problems.

I am a solution finder.

But I read these words today, about piling up good things.  And it sounded an awful lot like building to me.  Sounded an awful like the accumulation of life, which I so often feel called to do.

It's not stuff we want to pile up.

It's firsts.

And recipes.

The constants of holidays and family traditions, for those of us who are lucky enough to have those remain the same this year.

We know what's hard.  We don't want to think about it, but we do.  We know how much money is in the bank account to last us until payday.  We know about the behavior of our children that has our patience tested.  We know how the sickness has broken our body down.  We know the stressors of houses on the market.  And rings given back.  And paying for new, small people.  About the aftermath of car accidents and uncertain prognoses.  Being the one who cares for everyone else, first. We know.

But contrary to what society would have us believe, those things do not have to define our daily life.  They must be handled.  No sweeping under the rug around here.  Handle it.  With grace and consciousness and a large dose of, "I don't like this" and keep it moving.  But the way the hard things are do not, in any way, define us.  They are our circumstances, not our story, creating the tension we need to grow.  Creating the resistance required to rise, and strengthen.

So.  What about these good things?

Just from a few responses today on the internet, I know I am not alone in feeling all these feelings.  The idea of growing and building, of shaping our lives and making things different overwhelms us.  I was reading another friend's blog yesterday and resonated so deeply when she says, "I have to change my days".  Not your whole life.  Your days.  And days are dramatically impacted more by the good you pour in, than the less than good we whittle out.

You're not alone.  Not in the fear, not in the overwhelmedness, not in the underwhelmedness you're feeling.  And to build good things, we can't be.  Alone, that is.

I want to know about your good things.

Tell me what your pile looks like.  Tell me what you're going to add, how I can be a part of the good.  I want to share that with you.


Turns out, I think I don't believe I deserve the life I want.

This was a mentality drilled into me from the first phone calls when I told my family I was pregnant.  Actually, long before that, when I married off my younger sister to our sweet brother.  It's no one's fault.  But the mentality is there.  That I don't deserve what others have.

I remember watching one of my sisters get married and thinking, a second family wedding for an older sister won't be this important.  There was some embarrassment in not being the first and the lie crept in: because no one picked you, you are less worthy of celebration.  I danced and laughed and cried and applauded at my sister's wedding because I love her and I love my brother.  And didn't feel a tinge of jealousy until the white tents came down and I stood there in my black, sheath dress and thought, will I get a turn?

When I told my family I was having a baby... well, to rehash this experience would cause me more post traumatic stress than the story's worth.  But let's just say I spent my entire pregnancy walking on eggshells.  Hoping I didn't seem too excited for this sweet baby no one thought I should have.  Dodging the nosy questions, hiding my belly, throwing up on my way to undergrad classes, learning how to graciously respond to less than gracious remarks.  I was thrown wonderful baby showers, where I felt awkward.  Like I was not something, someone, who should be celebrated.  As if unconventionalism trumps the celebration.  

I felt this way when I was asked to take maternity pictures.

And I felt this way when I drove myself to the hospital.

Yes, of course there were many many people who responded negatively to my life's events.  People with crude, ungracious, judgmental commentary.  I was shunned and people turned their back's on us, and I sent people packing who were nothing short of toxic to my small family.  But they were not the majority.  So I am not entirely sure where these deep-seated feelings come from.

But it just always feels like embarrassment.

Please don't take too close of a look at my life, lest you find it lacking.

Once Judah got here, I felt even more confused.  I didn't have the luxury to decorate a nursery.  I barely felt entitled to decorating my own home.  I still don't.  We still have bare walls and our bedrooms have nothing hanging on the walls.  For whatever reason.  We celebrated his first birthday in the park with cake and pizza and a lot less glitz and glamor than most moms plan for their children's first year celebration.  Not because I don't think Judah deserves it.

But because I felt like I didn't have permission to be ... normal.  And I have limitations, then and now, which means we don't celebrate in gigantic ways.

To celebrate in the way every one else around me did.  To declare to the world: we are a family, despite what you see.

We need family pictures taken.  Terribly.  And I'm afraid to ask for them.

Most of the time, usually, I override these insecurities for Judah's sake.  We will put up Christmas trees and we will open presents and I am looking for special Christmas stockings for him.  I want to start Advent this year with him, so he can learn about what Christmas really means while he is still young.  We bake cookies and clean up our messes and have a family pet.

But in so many's eyes, we are incomplete.  And I would be lying if I don't feel the same sometimes.

I do slip up sometimes and think about my wedding, though.

The thought dovetailed with one that sounds like, if I ever get married.  In the unlikely event I ever get married.  If anyone would ever choose us.

And I realize it's not that I don't believe I'll get married.  I think I will.  But I wonder... do I deserve a wedding?

What about engagement pictures?  Or an engagement ring for that matter.  Or a wedding registry?  Or a white, long dress?

People don't want to see those things, celebrate these events, with someone like me.  Do they?

I would want to.  For you.

But I don't think I deserve it.  In the weirdest, deepest sense.  And not at all because I feel ashamed, or because I think I've done anything wrong.  There are those who want me to feel that way, even after all these years they still say things.  But that's just not it.  Perhaps I have these feelings because I assume people would find it odd.  Or because there are better things to spend money on.  Or because it feels like playing dress up, when you've done everything else so backwards.

Maybe because I can't imagine myself marrying a man willing to do this stuff.  I still don't know how you all talk these boys into some of the stuff you talk them into.

I know, if I ever get the chance to have another child, it will come with the great big guilt.  Because I will surely feel more freedom to celebrate.  To be excited. To look others in the face who've scorned us before, and point out there's no "but" to this congratulations.  There will be no "I guess".  Or "where's daddy?" Or the hateful, "God uses mistakes all the time..."

I love Judah.  He is my family and the love of my life.  And I celebrate him in my own way, in ways I never tell any of you.  And now he is smart and loved and handsome and the center of my world.  Interesting enough, even those of you who cautiously celebrated his birth before, condemn my desire for a bigger family now.  Saying I have Judah and he's all I need.

I wish y'all would make up your minds.

But here's what I know:

This needed fleshing out.

The roots of this are deep and look an awful lot like so much false hope.  Being hesitant to want will curb the pain of not getting.  I don't think any of you, any of the good of you, would do anything but dance and celebrate if I said... I found him.  The one I'll call husband and Judah will call daddy and we are a family now and he picks us and we picked him.

I chuckled a little just now, knowing one of you at least would.  You'd have something to say.  Probably about settling.  Or protecting Judah.  Or whether or not this man loves Jesus.

For crying out loud, don't make me go there.

But the majority of you would dance right along with me at a wedding, with white dresses and lights hung from trees and left hand rings.

I wonder then, why I still feel like I would never ask for it.

Want it, deeply.  But never ask for it.

Monday, November 3, 2014


I sincerely thought I would come back here, overflowing.

I haven't been here in four months.

Haven't written a word.

And I pretended it was because I didn't have a way to post here, because a seven year old, refurbished Macbook was finally fried and I couldn't get here.

But that's not why.

I haven't written a word because I haven't had a word.

Because my writing requires an examination of self I wasn't willing to commit to.  Because when I looked into my life, I saw a skeleton and we don't share our skeletons.

I have just survived, am currently surviving, a season of stripping.

Of reduction.

A desert season when and where I've been tested in what feels like every way possible (this statement is not a challenge, by any means, and should not be interpreted as such).

I have lost friends, I have lost comfort, I have lost my security, I have lost relationships, I have lost time.

I have changed jobs twice, I have lost and regained my good health, I have said goodbye a good number of times and hollowed out places, which have not been refilled.  I have read some.  Still have written none.  I have trusted and been betrayed, I have tried to problem solve.  I have researched and I have chopped all my hair off.

Judah has learned his ABCs and a few of his numbers and he knows the color blue.  He has formed opinions I did not teach him and we have struggled severely with a number of family crises, which I pray have long been laid to rest.  He was Mickey Mouse for Halloween and after two solid months of no sleep, he's sleeping through the night again.  Thank you, melatonin and coffee.

None of this did I want to glorify by naming it.  I have been rip roaring mad and so sunk deep in loneliness I couldn't see out.  And none of it made sense because I couldn't connect the dots.  The first job change in May sent me reeling into a situational depression I couldn't quite make sense of, leading me to copious amounts of research, homeopathic medicines, problem solving and desperate prayers sounding a lot like what I've prayed in the past.

Prayers I've prayed before, which were answered.  Prayers which set everything in motion.

Prayers about risk and next right moves and discernment.

And one application filled out randomly over my phone, which landed me in my current job: the North He was drawing me to.

My story is compartmentalized into seasons; as I look out the window at my childhood Starbucks I see the leaves have turned red and people are coming in and out of these doors wearing scarves and tall boots and I know fall is here.

Fall is here and I am speaking newness into our lives.

I speaking goodness into our lives.

And movement.

Coming back here feels a lot like coming back home empty handed. The prodigal son, I come back having thought I could make it on my own.  Thinking without this place, I would be okay.  But here I come, over the hill.  Knowing these words will not have been missed by many of you.  Knowing they will go unread and the story laid out here will be worth reading, if I can get it right.

And knowing as the old season quietly turns into the new, I'll want to be here.  I'll want witnesses.