You are Enough

When Janet exposed me to this pastor, a guy who put out amazing podcasts, she started something that has grown so big, so beautiful, it can only be from God. The study we led using this book, “Beginnings” by Steve Wiens has borne more fruit than we could have ever imagined. For me personally, it changed my concept of my purpose, something I had been chasing most of my life. Like my beasts who run after other dogs who walk with their owners just outside of our yard, along the street, forever out of reach, I knew there was something, it felt close, I just couldn’t get there. But I was searching for one thing, the big thing, the thing God had CALLED me to do, knowing if I just listened, if I was just obedient enough, I would know and then my life would all fall right into place. Like my beasts who forget they have plenty of squirrels right in their own yard, I missed out on years of seeing my worth waiting for the BIG GOD CALL. I didn’t realize the gifts that I share everyday were the ones that matter.

The holidays are often taken over with gift giving. This season when we have no funds to join in the rush and bustle of finding the right coffee mug or sweater for everyone we care about, we find ourselves more intentional about what we have to offer. Extra furniture to one child starting out in a new home, cleaning the home for another who is ready to have her second child,  we are showing up. We can give gifts of ourselves this year, we have time and stored up resources. As I do extra laundry for Mama or take inventory in spare bedrooms, I realize my Big God Call has always been just to be present for these kids, to be steady, to be here. I thought I was supposed to be a mom,  that role defined me. When they all left, I was lost and had to discover my more. I am more than a mom, I am still and always will be a mom. The gifts that I bring to motherhood don’t stop with the two that I birthed, the one I have nurtured for the last 7 years. A new generation has entered our home, now as a grandma I have an ever growing number I hope to shared my gifts with. Yet I have come to see fully that blood doesn’t define family, God doesn’t ask me to only mother in our home. The same gifts I use in mothering are the gifts I can use within the world. Listening, caring, nurturing, feeding.

The anxiety of wondering, wishing, feeling left out, like the only person at church who just doesn’t know who they are meant to be, all gone when I stopped looking and just was. The calm, the peace, like the silent night of song, has settled in, allowing acceptance and growth. I have not one gift, not one big call, but I have worth and gifts and calls for seasons. I am asked to show up and give what I have, who I am, on any given day to any given person in front of me. Maybe sometimes I have to seek out the recipients, maybe they knock on my door. Still, I am enough. I am finding ways to feed the many, the hungry, the ones I know and may never know. No longer chasing the big call, the dogs outside the yard, released energy to carry out the work God was asking of me, the squirrels right in my own yard, if you will.

During this season of gift giving, I pray that you see your own worth as a child of God, just as you are. I pray that you know you are gifted in small ways and large, that your very act of showing up means more than anything you could ever purchase. I know that God has called you to breathe in the turbulence of the world and exhale His serenity. His Spirit will transform our presents into Presence, beyond our comprehension. Let go of the need to find the perfect gift, the last minute rush to stores and long lines filled with agitated shoppers. Maybe you have a calling, a direction so clear you can see the lighted path ahead. If not, my friends, I offer you this gift: tranquility in being. Show up, share love, give yourself this year, you are enough. God will light your way.

Calm

Fevered

Let me first just say I am not proud of my behavior. I didn’t even really try to be better. I was distant, angry, bitter, keeping score. Graciousness would not be a word used to describe me, I barely spoke once they appeared. Certainly before that, we laughed, we played, we all prepped the meal together with enthusiasm. Yet as soon as the brother and wife entered the scene, I became the keeper of all the family troubles, the years of unspoken wounds, the recent outbursts of listing injuries and irritations. I held it all, they were free to loosen the grip long held so tightly, they ate together and behaved pleasantly for a meal with their mother. As if coming down with the flu, I became sicker with each passing moment, the symptoms of each persons negativity resting within me, festering within me, infecting my ability to smile, charm, care. I was ill so they could be well, for one evening.

On the drive home, Chef was pleased, he was surprised, he felt the grace that comes from giving with no strings. He listed all the ways everyone joined. I was seething, my tongue tasting of vinegar and acid rather than the incredible pizzas and cake Chef had prepared. Normally we spend the drive rehashing the visit, me talking Chef down, finding light, spotting hope. This time, I passionately spewed out words that felt foreign, I wondered about them as they left my lips. I didn’t have sentences, I had no point. I only had the family disease of negative feelings bursting open, I couldn’t contain it any longer. Those emotions aren’t me, hours of sickness came to end. My Chef fed me grace, I vomited darkness. Like any bout of nausea though, once the stored up virus of emotions was ejected, I felt better. My poor Chef was surely bewildered that his cheerleader was not cheering, instead frenzily jeering. The gift I gave them all had run its course, I now contaminated my Chef. I sneezed fury, I didn’t control the pathogens. He changed course, he began his own list of wrongs. I discovered my stomach still hurt, the momentary relief was gone. Too ill to nurse him back to grace, I sought bedrest as soon as we arrived home.

I am not a score-keeper, I can’t exist in an environment that tracks wrongs and highlights injustices. I need light, I seek grace. I just cannot survive where truth doesn’t matter, arguments carry on for years. I breathe in reconciliation, my soul wants healing. I believe in apologies, I believe in forgiveness. Yesterday we gave my Mother-In-Law a birthday party with all of her sons and the local grandkids town, possibly the last party she will experience in her own home. I gave her a party with no animosity, with joy and light. Everyone allowed me to hold their grudges for safe keeping, my fever increasing with each hand-off. Somehow, it was okay. I know the way back to grace. Maybe, just maybe, they won’t collect all that they gave me. Maybe watching my disease progress will be a warning, an encouragement to wash their hands more often, to change their diets from anger to joy.    Surely their souls aren’t beyond healing. I have hope, again. I have found my healing this morning. Still, I must ensure My Chef is not fully infected with the germs of my discontent. Lysol wipes and hot tea, hugs and love, I am eager to help him find his cure as well. Our faith heals us, we pursue a closer relationship with God with ardor. Like the flu vaccine, we may still get sick but our chances are better of making it through the long winter.

I sacrificed my wellness for one night. I am not proud of my behavior, it wasn’t pretty. The night though wasn’t about me. I would do it again, I hope I don’t have to. No one likes to be sick.
Enthusiasm

Stepping In It

What began as a gift to my friend Janet, an evening out with her husband while I watched her children, ended with unexpected yuck, gross, mess. Janet said this was a life lesson. I would have preferred that the lesson was one in which friends do nice things for each other, end of story.

The children and Plum made hanging birdseed ornaments to adorn a local assisted living home. We made a huge mess, laughed while seeds scattered and hands became sticky. When all of the birdseed had found a cookie cutter, each child washed hands, scrubbing away remnants of gelatin and sunflower seeds. As we ate dinner, the children delighted in silliness that comes on Friday evenings when tiredness hits and they are feeling free. I delighted that my friends were having a rare child-free few hours to reconnect. It all started out so good. The middle was great. Then Janet came to retrieve the children and as we chatted at the door her kids left to get in the car. Squish, ick, smash. Child stepped into a pile of beast leftovers in the yard. In his tennis shoes. That he wears all the time. They don’t have dogs, it didn’t occur to child to stay on sidewalk and driveway. Life lesson Janet said. Horror I said.

I wonder what he learned though? Watch where you step, especially in the dark? Feeling free doesn’t mean you are free? All good things end in shit? I can’t let go of this messy evening, stuck in my mind like the dried feces in the grooves in his shoes. Flecks that send out that distinct odor when the moisture of snow is added, thoughts of the ending overtake any other memories of the night. I wanted to give back a small portion of what she gives to me, I gave her shit covered shoes. My life lesson, some gifts are like this. We try to do good, sometimes it ends up with more work, more energy than maybe the gift was worth. Trying to avoid all of the landmines that come with dog ownership or families may mean carrying a flashlight, taking extra precautions. Some may choose just not to step anywhere close again. Deciding if the gift is worth the risk of a potential malodorous encounter is maybe the lesson for all of us.

We had planned for some time to accompany Chef’s mom to her doctor’s appointment, to have time to talk with him regarding diagnosis, prognosis, medication. We discussed the travel arrangements daily, sometimes several times a day with Mom who no longer remembers so much. When we arrived at her home though, we stepped into a pile of family dung 40 years deep. What began as a gift to all of us, to determine the true nature of her health care status, morphed into tears loud voices accusations. Phones ringing with sudden blasts and then the quick click to signal the call was over, we had stepped into feces and no one knew how to start cleaning. Further, the ugly horrid smell surrounding us all grew as each layer was exposed to air but not addressed, reconciled and cleaned. Old piles left in the yard decompose, but if the hard outer crust is disturbed, the smell permeates the air again, the process must start over. I know this from years of having beasts and Chef missing days of poop patrol. So putridness got exposed and we are all sitting in the stench.

Janet was right though. Life lesson indeed. Grab a toothbrush, start cleaning. Get all the tread, sorry it smells but it has to be done. It must be thoroughly cleaned or the bits will haunt you forever. We may not be able to clean up this mess with the brothers, yet we do have an opportunity to choose how to respond. We don’t have to accept all the poo that is directed at us, we can offer grace back. If we understand that the smell is coming from places of hurt and a lack of faith, we can show up with our Jesus face on. While dealing with old family hurts requires more grace than we often feel we have, we no longer have the freedom to avoid the interactions. The pile of feces we call family may stink, but with a bit of cleaning and nurturing, it can be fertilizer as well. A chance to grow something beautiful out of the filth. Today we will return to celebrate Mom’s birthday, it might get really smelly. I think I’ll take an extra pair of shoes, knowing we may get covered in excrement. I’m praying we find a way to clear the air.

 

 

Back into Place

He said to just relax. An impossible request with the pain clouding all thoughts as I lay prone on the floor, hoping the beasts wouldn’t take this as an invitation to play. My pelvis had popped out of place again, several days of excruciating pain with any movement, inability to stand without a groan escaping meant I couldn’t hide my condition. With enough physical therapy sessions under my belt and a long car trip looming, I decided it was time to teach my Chef to do a correction on my tail bone. First I showed him, then I lay down. Relax, he said. But I never relaxed when the professional was working on my twisted body, how could I under these circumstances. And then he touched my tailbone and gasped. Yep, he felt that it was not where it should be, he felt that it was sticking way out.  He pushed like I taught him, he maintained the study pressure, it slide enough that I can walk again. Now I can relax.

I realized as I let the steam from the shower calm the muscles that had tightened and the tendons that were pulled the wrong ways, that I was actually relieved that he had felt the protruding bone. I was vindicated. The culture in my family of origin is one of distrust when I am ill. I didn’t put it all together until recently, how much the family needed to invalidate my truth. Our very existence together required that I not be believed. This story has carried on though into adulthood in ways that are harmful, a story that the family hasn’t considered whether is true, fits, works. It is supported by subtle comments and jokes. Thus my tailbone sticking out and someone in the family touching it instead of a paid healthcare worker pleased me in a sick way.

In the summer before high school, I contracted Stevens Johnson Syndrome, a rare compilation of symptoms that attacked my mouth, throat, and then my insides with blisters and sores. Rushed to the hospital as they fought to diagnose and then find a treatment, my mother was told I might not live through the night. They were preparing to do a trach, I was struggling to breathe. Something worked, some swelling reduced, I began to fight the infections. I was left though with vocal cords that respond to colds with laryngitis almost every time. I was left with kidney issues that have plagued me well beyond pregnancy. I was left with crazy symptoms that have been discounted almost as soon as I left the wheelchair and enter the car to go home. My family made fun of me for losing my voice, it became a thing in our family. The culture of distrusting what I said was so deep that even with this serious event, they all needed to fall back into the habit of invalidating my voice, or lack of one.

For almost 12 years I have been under medical care for an autoimmune disease that seems to be running along the lines of MS. This leaves me unable sometimes to join in, sometimes so exhausted to go to events, often without words by the end of the day. Seasons come where I lose the ability to walk, where I have tremors so badly that I can’t hold a cup. Still, this condition is not believed in my family of origin because that is our culture. Relax, stay stress free, sleep when you need, this is the advice of my neurologist. I have to take care of me. No longer worrying about whether I am believed, whether I am heard, I just carry on. Until today when Chef pushed on that bone.

Much has been written about life in families where alcoholism and sexual abuse occur, the need for secret keeping and the roles each member plays. My honesty was sacrificed every bit as much as my body, my voice had to be silenced. Discrediting me was our glue, an agreement unconsciously made to keep each of us together. With each joke, each jab at me, the whole of the family could relax while I tensed. Knowing now why they couldn’t believe me, that it wasn’t about me but about what else I might say, I can relax. And just like that, everything slides back into place.
Relax

Icing on Our Home

We are iced in, an unusual December storm sealing our home into forced togetherness. A week before Christmas when the usual activities mean we have more of drive-by relationships, rushing through lists and completing projects and shopping. My Chef has always worked long hours, I helped out selling gift cards. While we were in the same building we rarely had more than 10 minutes to talk, maybe a shared plate of chicken and mashed potatoes hurriedly consumed. The holiday was measured in gift card numbers which equate to January and February sales first, the birth of Jesus in the back of our minds until confronted with truth on the 24th. We spent many years growing the business, years without the funds to purchase presents ahead, relying on that bonus check to finally come through to go shopping. Later years meant we were able to have some security, some savings, but still minimal time together. The restaurant ate up our relationship space, spit back money.

This year, we have time together and no money. Savings gone after 6 months of unemployment, dipping into stocks and no idea about our future, the adage of time or money never truer. With so much uncertainty hovering, tainting our days, still we are together this season. We are in the same room, in the same car, eating the same food at the table like normal families or what I have imagined all these years. I need no other gifts, I am working on learning to talk to my Chef again, recapturing the intimacy that drew us together initially. Like the dishes that are served in a professional kitchen and have to be delivered to the table immediately before they lose their heat, mine has cooled while we both were too busy working to notice. I got old, broken down, the deliciousness gone. I pray I am not thrown out like the stuff left in the fridge too long.

We are together, Chef has discovered Pinterest. The power saws I purchased last year are in full use, the garage now a worksite instead of a dumping ground. Besides helping my brother finish his basement, gifts are coming from Chef’s own workshop. While I snuggle on the couch reading, the sounds of hammering buzzing creating filter in to remind me I am not alone. A comfort, what I always imagined other families experienced, together time, even if they weren’t in the same room. My Chef has taken a huge hit to his confidence, to his sense of self during these last months, but also he is finding the him I have always loved. No concerns about being thrown back, I see the reason we were attracted to each other in the first place.

We are iced in and our Plum is here bringing another chance to feel like a family during the holidays, a Christmas card vignette actually in our home. Chef and Plum made gingerbread cookies, we played endless rounds of Uno, watched The Little Drummer Boy and read Christmas books. We never got dressed and we drank hot cocoa throughout the day. A beautiful golden retriever and a yellow lab lounging next to the reading child completed the Folger’s ad picture. Christmas carols played through Pandora, I found myself humming until Chef delightedly taught Plum to sing “Grandma Got Rung Over By a Reindeer.” Laughter and trash talk and gingerbread and shouts of Uno look like Christmas here. Pans of fudge and cookie cutters filled with bird seed hide kitchen counters. This may be the best year ever.

Every Christmas past has found Chef and I moody, frustrated, exhausted and distant. Gifts for the kids were always a shock to each of us, not a joint venture. How our marriage survived an industry that chews up most is a testament to God, not us. This year we are given the chance to thank Him, to put Him first and find our family again. Forced into togetherness that normally doesn’t happen until late January or February, I am not missing the message. I am fully aware of the gifts we are receiving, not to be squandered but cherished like that babe in the manger. We are iced in together, our own gingerbread home. Life is good.

Moody

Fishing

The Holy Trinity, the three wise men, faith hope and love, important trios that underscore my life. Bad news also comes in 3’s, celebrity deaths see to happen in 3’s, the Stooges numbered the same. Like a triangle that closes all the gaps, maybe one side longer but still all is contained within, I notice threes. When only two bits of news arrive, I grow anxious for the next hit. Even understanding disagreements which include not two sides, but yours, mine and the truth, I see threes. There is a symmetry in this number, welcome or not, throughout my life. I know that really I just stop counting at three, start over, but this is my own construct, my reality. So when I got some upsetting information two weeks ago, I new more was coming. I was right. Two more nuggets hit that have rocked my sanity, wormed into my world and just keep ricocheting with no safe place to land.

I have searched for evidence of my daughter online, blocked from her on Facebook and phone calls. I seek out any possible user names on reddit and twitter, looking for boards on Pinterest, trying out Instagram. A desperate fishing expedition that yields nothing, she is determined to hide. A skilled hacker could surely find her, just as a real fisherman knows the right bait, the best waters. But I am not trying to lure her home, that is beyond my current dreams, more like a tracker, who can sense where she is hiding, where she has been, where she is going. She doesn’t want to be found, I cannot get to her. Still, we maintain a connection that has not been severed despite all efforts. I knew, before I was told, her news. A mother knows. I told myself it was fine, I was okay, I already knew. Yet I am left with more emptiness that actually feels so much like horrible pain I might need a trip to the ER.

I also learned information that rocked my perceptions about my entire life, changed what I know to be true and shifted anger and frustration all around again. News that woke up old hurts and anger with absolutely no outlet, no resolution to be had. I remember one vacation as a child when my older brother was fishing off of a pier in Florida and somehow caught an eel. It snaked up the line and was coming towards him, he was screaming. This bad news is like that, I just want to scream and run and get away. Someone quickly cut the line, sent the eel back into the water. I can’t snip this line and send the monster back. I can’t figure out how to be free of this squirming ugly sliminess coursing through my soul.

Finally, I learned recently that bridges are sometimes rebuilt because pain just cannot be borne alone.  Fear like planks laid down one after another, reaching out towards the other side where hope and support will meet. The very act of joining means we carry some of that pain, hold up some of the worry and share our hope and faith. We built a bridge and now I have news that is scary and painful and out of my control. Like the time I caught a catfish, glorious on the hook but whiskers that pierced when touched, I got near and now I bleed from the encounter.

The three’s in my life are bringing worry and pain and fear. I thought I was managing this latest batch but have to admit I am floundering. I am twitching, I am teary, I am that fish on the bottom of the boat, gasping for breath. I have been caught, I need release. First step is recognizing the problem, then remembering that first trio, the Holy Trinity. Back to my ultimate 3. More healing than the ER, more accurate than hiring a hacker, the transcendent bridge builder. I cannot manage these new hurts alone, they are too big and too scary and bring more than I can bear alone. Father, Son, Holy Spirit, the 3 I am seeking today.
Fishing

New Coffeemaker, New Start

It was the kind of day I hate. I need plans, order, schedules. Control, you might say. From the moment I opened my eyes, reached for my phone to check the time and found a text requesting my assistance in just an hour, my day was a mess. I didn’t have time to ease into my morning, no hot coffee and quiet reflection. Rush, run, squeeze. It didn’t help that venturing downstairs led to the indications of very sick dogs all over my floors. What little time I had before heading over to Mama’s to get my Plum ready for school and on the bus was spent scrubbing, moping, awakening to the knowledge we had entered into the vet zone, a costly area I didn’t want to visit a week before Christmas or really ever when it wasn’t for well checks. No time for coffee, I got into my frozen car and set out to meet my pajama clad Plum. A very pregnant Mama had a list for me: shower the boy, take the dog out, drop medicine off at school. Nothing too taxing except I still had no coffee and I wanted a restart on my day. I wanted to offer services not be told. Cranky. Not very giving. Ugly a.m. attitude, worse than morning breath. I pushed through and every task was crossed off my list only to return home to find more mopping was necessary.  Vet appointment made. On to my small group with faith filled women who listen.

We talked, I tried to complete some tasks but was drawn into the rhythms of the voices, I let go into the moment. The “moment” only lasted for the hour and a half we met, back to reality. I called Chef who was out of town, I wanted him to come rescue my day, save me from the anxiety of too much. I kept that to myself, I rarely tell him when my heart is longing for his presence. I know I can’t have him near just because I cannot face what is looking back at me, I dig deeper and find my own strength. More coffee, on to the vet. I complain loudly about my beasts but felt maybe history was repeating, maybe I was losing one or both just like New Year’s Day just a few years ago when my black lab suddenly got sick and then was gone. This vet understood my anxiety and assured me some medication and a bland diet for 3 days would turn these guys around, she was confident we weren’t dealing with cancer and didn’t see the need for extra tests to confirm her diagnosis. They helped me load the boys back into the car, I didn’t fall on any ice trying to corral 200 lbs of beast. My heart felt lighter even if my wallet was crying.

Back home I tried to start my day again, get my home in order for a boy getting off the bus in just an hour. I needed more emotional time but that was no where on the agenda. I made cookies instead because coming to gran’s house requires the smell of baking and something warm from the oven. This I could control. My boy rushed in to tell me the biggest event of his day, not that the teacher had given him a gift, still wrapped in his backpack. He told of a child in his class who ran into a pole and got a nose bleed. My Plum said he began to pray. He climbed under a desk and talked to God.

Boom. There was the fix I had been seeking all day. If I had just paused before I had even reached for my phone and given the day to God, if I had reacted to the first text with a plea to guide my day, if I had searched for God in the moment instead of my own comfort, what would it have felt like? What would I have felt? My Plum said after he prayed he stood up and asked his classmates if anyone else was praying.  Three other children raised their hands. This child is absolutely bold. When faced with a scary situation, one he couldn’t control and his teachers couldn’t either, He sought God. He trusted that his Heavenly Father would sort it all out. He didn’t ask if it was okay to pray in school, he didn’t ask if the child wanted prayers. He reacted based on his soul, he listened to the nudge from the Holy Spirit and followed what he knew to be true: when in need, pray.

As we finished setting up our plates for dinner, he asked if we might say another prayer for his friend. He began. His words could heal the world, not just a bloody nose. They heal a gran. Praying can be a habit, as critical to my day as that first cup of coffee or the satisfaction of compiling my list. I need those actions to get me centered otherwise I am off, I get anxious and cranky and unpleasant to be around. I pray at night before falling asleep, I pray in times of trouble or when friends are experiencing distress. I seek God when an email comes across regarding a specific need or my newsfeed alerts me to a global catastrophe. My praying habits are well established just as my morning rituals are ingrained. I wonder if I could somehow make my phone send me a message each morning to remind me to begin my day seeking out God before I search for the coffee beans. I know without an intentional break in my pattern, I will keep forgetting to give God that territory first thing, just as I forget to take vitamins. I know it is in my best interest, I just haven’t added this into my coveted predawn turf. My Plum has me thinking though. How different could my life as a Christian be if I started out with Christ, dropped to my knees regardless of my surroundings or asked others to join me when I was afraid?

I have learned I need coffee as soon as I get up. I have learned I need to make a list for my day, create order. I am learning I could probably do away with all of the ways I try to establish control if I just gave up some soul time with the One who woke and handed me the day. Maddening how much I have to learn still, how much I fight to be in charge. Ridiculous that instead of leaning on God when I know my Chef can’t be near, I double down and congratulate myself on my own power. Like the coffee that I warm and warm again, never as satisfying as the first sip, without changing my prayer habits I am never going to find my day fulfilling. Thank God I have a six year old teacher to give me lessons so often. It is up to me pay attention and make adjustments. I hope there is an app for that. What if my coffeemaker came with a prayer reminder: please insert beans, add water, push grind, now pray. Absurd maybe, but I need help changing my ways.
Maddening