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.