The List

28 Jan

to doEvery morning I wake up, I am confronted with an impossible to-do list riddled with tasks of all varieties.  Some of the things I have on my list have specific times or deadlines by which they need to be accomplished.  Other things on my list include a laundry list of errands and chores that continue to pile one up on another like a precarious set of children’s blocks.  Then there are the “me” things on the list that have been included because I’ve been told so many times that it is important to take care of myself – exercise, reading, meditation, crafts and hobbies …

Every night when I go to bed almost everything on my to-do list from that morning remains in place, ready to be included on the next day’s list.  Typically most of the deadline or scheduled items have been accomplished.  A handful of the errands or chores have been, but they typically have had to be relisted as they have already been undone.  Rarely, if ever, are any of the “me” things on my list accomplished.

As I lay in bed each night I toil in my mind through my list.  I try to analyze my day, and critique my efficiency.  The voices in my head typically chastise me for failing to take life seriously, or failing to have my priorities straight.  Inevitably it is during this quiet time at night, I will suddenly remember some critical “to-do” that somehow failed to make the list.  Many nights this awareness will occur in the midst of a dream, as if some slumbering scepter whispers in my ear.  It will suddenly creep into my consciousness, and in the midst of the early morning hours, in the dark, I will be panicking about how to fix this oversight and keep the world from crashing in.

Like the piles of laundry, stacks of clutter, jam packed bookshelves, my to-do list has become so overwhelming and unwieldy.  I work frantically through the day simultaneously exhausted and desperate to check items off the list while trying to “take time to smell the roses.”  I fall in bed defeated each night in the still and the quiet no longer able to busy myself away from the angry voices in my head.  I gasp … I pray … I yearn for the day that the to-do list is complete, while simultaneously acknowledging I will never achieve this goal.  I will always be three steps behind … Always dropping the ball somewhere … perpetually disappointing someone … excusing myself from those things that bring joy in meaning so that I can tend to the albatross list.

I sit here now with three minutes  remaining before I have to drop off a child … with dishes scattering the counters … two weeks of laundry on my floor … lessons to be planned … homework to be completed … children needing loved and tended to … friendships requiring nurturing … money to be earned … room upon room to be cleaned.  Every corner confronts me with condemnation and I just yearn to hide where my list can’t find me.

Once upon a time …

27 Jan

Over twenty years ago when I was in the process of planning my wedding, I was surrounded by catalogs, magazines and “consultants” talking about “my special day”.  We love to romanticize landmark moments in our lives.  Watching television commercials and movies we see whirlwind romances flow right into happily every after … Mothers lying blissfully next to their sleeping infant in a well appointed room … even graduation is painted with gleeful seniors shiny faced tossing caps in the air.  While every one of these life events (marriage, the birth of a baby, graduation) are cause to celebrate and rejoice, they are not protected within a bubble that keeps the real world out.  I wonder how much heartache, disappointment and failed relationships are created out of this marketing of perfect moments.

wedding

In the midst of my wedding planning, I was aglow with playing princess in a dress and picking just the right flowers.  Weeks after the wedding, the dress hung in the closet with wine spilled on it and the flower  had all died, life started getting real.  I had watched movies and television.  I knew that we should be settling down into our cozy cottage home.  I had consulted magazines and read  books, and discovered that this was the best time of my life.  But, it wasn’t … it really, really wasn’t.  We had no money, my new husband had no job.  Living at my parents house and working temp jobs didn’t fit the script I had written.

Years later, we had our own home and had good jobs, but it still was not the fairy tale I had anticipated.  Rather than romantic dinners, love notes and stolen kisses, our lives often consisted of screaming, throwing and leaving.  When I compared my life to the pictures I had seen in my magazines, the movies I had seen or even the jewelry commercials on TV, I knew we had failed.  This was the validation I needed to confirm that we had clearly made a mistake, where not made for each other and should never have gotten married.  I knew that love alone could see you through anything, and we were sinking.  Clearly, what I thought had been love, couldn’t have been.  Tragically, and I do mean tragically, sad I cried in mourning … with grief … at the end of my marriage.

I no longer felt giddy when he walked through the door unless he was walking out it.  The “chemistry” that had been there was gone … the fireworks had died out.  The moment was over, and I saw no future.  I prayed, and then I read, and then I educated myself … that is when I was introduced to the profound concept that would allow me to persevere another 15 years into marriage.  Marriage is not a fairy tale.  Some days you are not going to like your spouse – or at least what he does.  He is going to tweak you when he leaves dirty dishes out.  He is going to occasionally say things that hurt your feelings.  He won’t be able to tell you need a hug just because you do.  He is a person, a perfect fallible person – and so are you.  To expect a lifetime relationship to reflect all of the expectation of a static marketing photo is ridiculous, but so many of us do it everyday.

We could have so easily been a statistic.  It seemed inevitable.  We didn’t follow the rules in our “courtship”.  We didn’t take the time beforehand to date and get to know each other.  If you could have bet on our marriage we would have been an against the odds long shot.  Thankfully, I found one book in my pile that stripped the veneer and painted a realistic picture of successful marriage.

Our Hollywood and Madison Avenue fantasies of life are fairy tales.  None of us are blemish free.  Mother’s don’t always smile every time they pick up their baby.  Babies don’t always smell like powder.  Husbands don’t always buy diamonds …

Good, loving husbands won’t always bring flowers … Good, loving husbands leave cars without gas in them … Good, loving husbands fall asleep when they are supposed to play with kids … Good, loving husbands come home late and grouchy …

If I got to tell a story about marriage, it would include stories of a man who worked two jobs to make sure the bills are paid.  It would have the princess wife making eggplant, which she hates, just because her husband yearns for it.  This romantic story would be filled with tales of small moments, understated thoughtfulness and two, imperfect and tired people.

Forty is the new …

24 Jan

Regardless of what decade of life I faced, I was perpetually 19 in my mind … not the fun sort of 19, but the awkward not a kid and not an adult 19.  I donated most of my 20s to getting married and having babies.  My 30s were a blur of keeping my head above water as a now homeschooling mother of 4.  Then I turned 40, yet still had this awkward 19 year old living in my body …  It wasn’t a dramatic “loss of youth” sort of moment.  To be honest, in many ways it was a relief because I never thought I would turn forty.  I never have been able to perceive myself as a grown person, so I figured I would probably just die at 39.  While pleased as punch when my 41st birthday came along, I was at a complete loss of what to do or how to feel.  I have never been concerned about being “old”, so much as not knowing how to feel like an official, know-what-I’m-talking-about, “don’t talk back to your elders” grown-up.  I have been perpetually 19.  Old enough to be held responsible, but too young to be trusted with important decisions.  Yet, here I sit with a 19 year old son who is busy making important decisions … even if he doesn’t realize it.

dawn

For me, in many respects, 40 is the new 20 (but not the way you or People magazine thinks).  After having a few years to linger in this decade, I have finally had a spiritual birthday and am no longer 19.  It happened somewhere around my 41st birthday when I knew I would be on this planet for awhile longer and I began to think about my future.  There was the initial, “Oh my GOD I’m dying … I have already lived half my life.”  However between periodic irrational bouts of cancer fear, I began to realize that a page is turning and the plot is thickening.  While my financial means are limited and my time is still primarily allocated to familying, I am dreaming again.  I began to think about life in much the same way I had in high school.  “Where do I want to live?”   “What would I like to learn?”  “What job would I like to do?” “What is the purpose of life?”

For myself and I’m guessing for many parents, particularly stay at home mothers, forty is very much parallel with your high school years.  The door is opening up to a life that is your own and independent.  As a teen, you are considering stepping out on your own for the first time.  You finally have an opportunity to make  your own choices and mistakes.  You see frightening, yet exciting opportunities laying ahead.  As a fortysomething stay at home mother, I also see a light creeping through the slightly ajar door.  For the first time in decades I am envisioning a life independent of the responsibilities of child rearing.  You face the frightening realization that soon your days will be spent alone, yet there is a bubbling sense of excitement and adventure that brews up as well.  Every deferred dream, every back-burnered passion can actually be dusted off and pulled back to the front. Even more exciting are the new dreams and passions you have discovered on the journey to this moment.  As you reach for the doorknob you begin to envision yourself as someone … just you.

I cry, I do (please don’t tell anyone), when my big boy goes away to school.  I have small bouts of anxiety as I become suddenly aware that these bitty people I used to carry three at a time are now budding adults.  They talk about college, dress up in big people clothes and say really, really smart things.  I know that the sun is on the horizon, and very soon they will be leaving me to live an independent life.  When I examine that sun sitting on the horizon though, it is not setting … the beautiful awareness arrives that it is a rising sun, and the dawn is upon me.  The day is coming and spring is here.

My Abnormal Children and I

23 Jan

Have you missed me?  Well I have missed you terribly.  I have been busy building an unprofitable business, schooling four children, going back to school and ignoring a lot of housework.  Lately, however, I keep having thoughts to share and points to ponder running through my brain.  To sooth my nerves, and document the fact that I do indeed occasionally have deep thoughts, I am back online.

Image

Since we last were together, my youngest daughter has been scrutinized, analyzed and evaluated.  Despite many pediatricians in her younger years urging me not to compare, it turns out I was right all along and Caroline has some developmental delays.  Any time you acknowledge that your child has some definable difference from typical children it leads to a lot of sessions in the shower crying, as well as random outbursts of tears when listening to just the right, or maybe wrong, song.  We have a long way to go in discerning whether there is a specific definition for what she “has”, but to be honest I have been dragging my feet.

I have to some extent been avoiding a definition.  Definitions are, well, definitive, and that scares me.  I am scared that someone is going to tell me what she “can’t” do.  I am worried that all the beautiful dreams I have dreamed for her are going to be dashed, and they will tell me instead a sad story of dependence and deficit.  I am a pro at denial, and this has been no different.

However, more recently, there is another reason for dragging my feet.  That is this concept of definition.  I don’t want my daughter defined.  I know that regardless of what doctors and specialists may find, she is Caroline.  She isn’t a type, a disorder, a syndrome or a deficit.  While I acknowledge it is important for me to continue to pursue definitions of her physiological makeup, I don’t feel the need to now what is “wrong” with her – if for no other reason than there is not a thing wrong with her.  Just like everyone else, she has been “fearfully and wonderfully made”.

Over the course of our adventures in homeschooling and beyond, we have been blessed, and yes I do mean blessed (to often this is just a euphemism thrown in for affect) – to know so many kids with something “wrong” with them.  Some have subtle differences that allow them to fit in more easily.  Others have dramatic differences that demand attention, and are regularly a source of sideways glances from strangers afraid to make eye contact.  Some of our friends unique attributes are cognitive or developmental, others are physical.  These folks give me perspective, and have allowed me to see the beauty, and completeness, in each of God’s creations.  A popular perspective in the Christian community is that we have been created by God, and God doesn’t make mistakes.  Therefore, each of us has been created exactly the way He would have us be.

The final straw in ending my blogging sabbatical was while reading my textbook for Developmental Psychology.  In a particular chapter of my text there was an abundant use of the phrase “abnormal child”.  Truly this brought tears to my eyes.  What level of education must one receive … what knowledge must one possess to define a person as normal and abnormal.  What attributes assure us that we are “normal”, and what characteristics must we be plagued with to be defined as “abnormal”.  Now I get what they are saying.  I know what is intended.  There is no value between one person versus another implied, but gosh darned it, there is.  In what world is being abnormal OK?  I get that there are characteristics and attributes that most of us illustrate, and when we veer from this typical development we are different … we are unique.

The question comes however, to what degree do we choose to value these unique attributes.  Elizabeth Taylor was considered astoundingly beautiful in part because of her unique, violet eyes.  While this attribute was unique, would we have ever defined this Hollywood movie star as abnormal based on this physical attribute?  We regularly idolize folks with unusual strength, height and intelligence.  Each of these individuals representing attributes that are unique and not typical.  However, when we see a child with a severe physical developmental differences … a child who learns atypically … a child with severe cognitive differences – why are these folks typed as “abnormal.”  I would argue that each of these folks presents unique qualities that make them uniquely able to see and do things a way that is different from the norm.  This makes them special, not “special”.

As a corollary to this is the idea that somehow if you look the same, think the same and act the same as others you are “normal”.  The truth is, you are not.  And ask any teenager (ideally between the ages of 14 and 16) and they will tell you you don’t want to be normal, typical  or average.  The one thing my textbook did get right is each of us is a unique creation.  By definition then there is no such thing as normal.  Each of the attributes we have been born with are designed to equip us to fulfill the calling we have on our life.  We are all a collection off strengths and weaknesses.  There is no one that is mostly weak, nor anyone who is mostly strength.  We all possess a balance of both, and what sets us apart is what we do with each of these.

At different times each of my four children have had an easier time than others in “fitting in”, and each of them have had their moment to be “abnormal”.  The truth of the matter is that I would hate to think of them as a clone of normal, or to suppose that there was nothing unique and set apart about them.  While no mother of a “disabled” child is able to disregard their unique medical, developmental or educational needs, they cannot be beaten down by a culture and a society that defines their child through a list of limitations.  We as a culture and a society need to learn to embrace the unique qualities individual possess, and empower parents to become the force that opens doors and sends their child forth into the world to answer their unique call.

Too Smart …

21 Mar

Growing up, I always imagined myself in a high-power executive position probably either in politics or finance.  I was, while admittedly a distracted and occasionally lack-luster university student, a driven individual with loads of professional ambition.  Even early in my college years I work for the Department of Defense and took initiatives that led to the automation of an entire division within one of the agencies within DoD.  Not to shabby for a 19 or 20-year-old.  Near the end of my college years I became enamored with a political candidate began as an envelope-stuffing volunteer and ended the year as the Chief Procurement Officer working in the national headquarters for a presidential candidate.  While well acquainted with some big names on Capitol Hill and the White House, I began a job as a temp in a mortgage division of a local savings bank.  Within months, I was hired as a permanent, full-time employee and began a career in mortgage banking.  Within 7 years, I had advanced within the field to the point that I had held jobs that put me in the position of rating the quality of portfolios for senior bank officials, working as a high-priced consultant advising bank presidents nationwide, owning my own mortgage consulting position and then ultimately serving as an executive officer for a large bank.  I received my promotion to bank officer by the time I was 30.  Shortly after that I had my third child, and quit.  I was offered some pretty substantial packages to go back to work … salaries and bonuses designed to cover nannies, transportation, meals and clothing.  I never went back.

I mention all of this not to impress or to promote myself, but, I guess, to illustrate or underscore that I am where I am largely by choice.  Where I am today carries a lot fewer accolades and doesn’t play nearly as well at sophisticated social events.  My wardrobe is more welcomed at Target than at Nordstrom’s these days and our family often struggles with financing car repairs and such.  Today, I am essentially a self-employed, stay-at-home, homeschooling, small business owner (VERY small business owner).

People who learn about my background will often question why I am not still pursuing “greatness”.  I occasionally hear from former work friends and they wonder why on earth I live like I do.  I have heard so often how I am too smart, too qualified, too good to be living the life I am living.  Honestly, it always fluffs my ego.  It also always helps me realize that I didn’t stumble and fall to the place I am today, but after considering my options I chose it.

Having grown up during the era of the women’s right movement and ERA, I am so proud of the accomplishments women have made and continue to make in the world.  One of the greatest feats I think we can hold up proudly as a society is our ability to choose as men AND women what our priorities will be without judgement.  I think it is fantastic that we live in a world where women can be today’s captains of industry and men can be seen pushing strollers through the park.  I think, however, we sometimes overlook the power in choosing to accept a more traditional (while I assure completely NOT traditional) role of staying home with children.

I look forward to the days ahead as I enter different seasons of life and my priorities evolve and change.  For today though, I think that I am too smart and too knowledgeable to allow social ambitions or expectations to dictate my choices.  The experience and skills I have gained over the last 11 years of staying home have enriched my life so tremendously and have offered my such a great depth of understanding of who I am – While I could have continued on a successful career track, I doubt I would have the ability to obtain the level of contentment I enjoy right now.  Life isn’t always what I want it to be.  I have dreams of new things in my future.

I hope to always be strong enough … ambitious enough … smart enough … to choose my own path in life.  I hope you are too …

 

She’s back …

15 Mar

I think it has been nearly a year since my last post … I suppose you began to wonder what happen to me … or maybe not … Nevertheless, I am back.

I always do better when I can process my thoughts in writing, and I always enjoy, often anyhow, sharing my ponderings.  When I do, I am often offered perspectives I had not considered, and those perspectives typically give me a whole new outlook on my circumstances.  This often allows me to manage a little bit better because of it.

Many of the folks I know are aware that my family has recently found ourselves in the  midst of a life changing crisis.  So many of the stages and changes we face in life, we elect to participate in.  Even when we suppose we don’t, we do.  We choose to do whatever it takes to be part of a high school or university graduation.  We elect to attend college to begin with.  We choose to move … choose to take a new job … choose to get married … sometimes even choose to have a baby (although in my experience, they sometimes just show up…)  There are, however, life-changing moments you do not choose.  You cannot plan for them.  You don’t take time off of work, or set money aside to cover the expenses, they just happen.  Often these are not the kind of life changing experiences you would choose to be a part of.

This month, this has been what my family has faced.  On Ash Wednesday, February 22nd, my mom suffered a hemorrhage as a result of an aneurysm in her head.  As uncommon as it may be, this is the second time for us.  She had had the same vessel rupture about 10 years ago.  Despite our experience, nothing about this experience was predictable or anticipated.  Suddenly plans to attend church services, work schedules and everything else was thrown aside as my husband and I and my sister and her family drove desperately for 2 hours to reach the hospital where my mother was at with no idea of what to expect.

I praise God for providing me with the man he did to be my husband.  There is only one person in the world who can soothe me like my mom and it is him.  What a blessing to have him with me on this drive.  Desperate calls were sent out to any and every person of faith I could think of for prayers.  How amazing to see the Body of Christ in action … no kidding … the Lutherans, Pentecostals, Baptists, Catholics, Methodists and more were on their knees with one call.  She even received long-distance prayers via a healing service an hour and a half away from her bedside.  It was through these prayers, scripture that was sent via text, hymns and songs of praise and my husbands strength and love that I managed to function at all.

Over the course of the last three weeks we have gone from pleading for  her life and fearfully answering every phone call to an assurance that she will be “OK”.  Today, we prepare ourselves for what “OK” may look like.  While we yearn for an immediate reversal, instantaneous answers and healing today – we know that the process will be slow, but with the right care and love, she will be very much back with us in time.

In the meantime I have learned to love my mom in a new way.  I have found ways to express affection while spooning pureed food and simultaneously holding her up with the respect a mom deserves.  I have had the chance to spend an inordinate amount of quality time with my dad … possibly more individual time than we have ever had in my life.  I have learned to see my relationships with my kids differently and harbor the hope that someday I can mean as much to them as my mom does to me.  I have had the chance to tackle real-life with my sister, and although we are regularly ships passing in the night (since she does weekend shift, while I do weekday shift) we are able to collaborate on this task and even see things the same way 🙂  I see my husband in a whole new light and now can imagine he and I as an older couple.  While there are some scary aspects of that, I have found tremendous peace knowing that God has truly blessed me with the other half of myself in him.

I am ready for this moment to be over, and move on to the slower pace that I failed to appreciate before.  However, I feel so blessed to be able to see God’s gift in this very difficult time, and I am hopeful that as we travel down this road, I will continue to see the blessings God is providing me each and every day …

Wrestling with faith …

23 Mar

Let’s get something out of the way straight away … faith doesn’t make sense.  I know, faith by definition kinda means that it doesn’t have supporting evidence.  It seems though we always want it to make sense.  We want it to be logical, to have rules or to somehow make something a little more predictable.  We regularly find preachers on TV or publishing books arguing that life will be better if you buy into their brand of faith.  Many of them will argue that your life will actually be financially better. 

i don’t know what it is like to be an adult who grew up in the church, who was taught a particular belief system, who was guided in the church.  My experience was more diverse and very open.  Something that at one point in time was particularly frustrating, because more than anything I wanted to blindly believe in something.  It isn’t to say that folks who have had that experience have blind faith, but rather I didn’t have anything to hang my hat on until I built my own proverbial coat rack.  So many people it seemed had their hook provided for them and as they got older they could decide whether to use the hook they had been given or seek out one that better suited their hat, but if I wanted to have a hanging hat, I had to find the hook myself … OK, so I totally killed the hat analogy, but I hope you understand what I mean.

In my quest for a religion, I would try other people’s churches on for size.  I loved being with them.  I loved how confident and shiny everyone was.  The trouble came when I began to ask why.  The answers I received where not much better than the mom response, “Because I said so.”  My reasoning mind could not accept that answer.  My reasoning mind wanted something that made sense and had observable supporting documentation.  Not too likely, I know.  Well, after a dramatic year and half period, I finally made the big step … I believed because I believed and I accepted my beliefs on faith without measurable, quantifiable documentation.  It felt remarkable.  I was anxious to join the whole church clan.  I was ready to put on my new faith and take it out to church to show it off a bit.  “Yep.” I would say, “This is my new faith … did you notice that I believe ALL of this without one shred of evidence.  Pretty faithful (ha ha) of me don’t you think?”  I anticipated that people would find me quite mature and quite an example of the modern Christian.  I loved Bible study where I would smile confidently and share my insights and give it all up.  It seemed I was in good shape.

However, somewhere along the way I gathered the impression that folks who have faith are some how vacuum-sealed away from trouble.  That they have faith so they don’t have suffering and strife the way the rest of the population does … the way I had prior to my revelation.  Unfortunately, life got hard.  Some of my other faith friends got mean and did unkind things.  Our family continued to face hardships and life was quite a struggle.  While I never really had bought into the “prosperity doctrine”, I had somehow thought that some sort of white picket fence and Donna Reed lifestyle would come along with my cross.  I was disillusioned and hurt and very confused on where to place the blame.  Over the last several years that issue never really resolved itself completely.  I continued to work on it and work on it.  As I did friends died, financial struggles hit, family suffered and the reality of life pressed on.  The good news is that God was good … He didn’t forsake me … He stayed present in my life through the Holy Spirit who guided me.  He never left me alone, but allowed, perhaps encouraged, me to wrestle with these questions.  It just occurred to me in much the same way he wrestled with Jacob.  Time and time again I was confronted with scripture that actually supported a rather unappealing perspective on the Christian life.  Throughout the Bible, particularly the New Testament, we are told the truth of our situation – prepare to be persecuted … prepare to suffer for your faith.  (for example:  “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted…”  2 Timothy 3:12)   For whatever reason it seems churches don’t include these bits of scripture on their doorhangers 🙂  I was hooked though.  I couldn’t not know what I knew, so the only choice was to reconcile how could the God that loves me … the one I accepted without any empirical evidence … allow me to suffer.  There are a lot of answers to this question.  A lot of people have a lot of perspectives on this.  One thing I know to be absolute though is that Jesus (God himself) suffered and his suffering has changed the world.  If I could have even the smallest percentage of this impact on the world for good, I will have lived a life fulfilled. 

Today, life is often pretty crummy … OK, honestly, a lot of times its much worse than that.  Many days I wake up and have no idea how I’ll make it to the next day.  I have suffered heartache that seemed unbearable and in between my mournful wails (because, yes, they are there), I am able to smile and shine knowing that no matter what reason I must be in such dark places, God is with me there … “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil:  For though art with me …” (Psalm 23:4)  I am able to persevere.  I have learned that my understanding of the world is infintile compared to God’s (and yes, here I literally mean as an infant.)

Like Jacob I will walk with my crippled hip.  I have been forever changed by my wrestling with God, but through it all I can’t conceive of being there without him.  So I will hobble along no longer flaunting my shiny faith, but rather humbling acknowledging my limp as my mark of faith.

Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”  Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”  But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.  So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”  The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip.  Genesis 32:28-31

Please forgive whatever may seem incoherent … after a day sick and a night catching up on work, it has gotten late, but I wanted to make sure I honored my commitment … hopefully if I have rambled too much, there have been bits of insight that can be gleaned 🙂