Better Late than Never

This past 9-11 was interesting for me.  I suddenly got interested in the events of that day 18 years before.  Yes, every year our country has a day of remembering, and every year I have felt melancholy as people shared different memories from that day. But I did not feel like I was entering into the mourning like my friends were. 

 

When 9-11 happened, I was living in bush Alaska. I had an almost one yr old baby. I was pregnant with my second. I didn’t have a tv. The events of that day seemed very far away. I did not sit in front of the news and watch the events unfold. I just heard about it after the fact, in a tidy little written news article I found on the internet. I also had a very complicated history with the US, having lived in Haiti while the US put that country under a strict embargo. Seeing firsthand the suffering that the Haitians endured because of US politics made me feel very ambiguous about being an American. 

 

When 9-11 happened, I saw it as an outsider. How sad. Those poor people. It was some kind of crazy disaster that was happening far away to people that had no connection to me. 

 

So, this past 9-11, I suddenly felt very curious. I started watching little video clips that people had posted about various aspects of that day. Then I got on Youtube and found where someone had posted an unedited clip of the news, playing straight from 8:30am to 11am on that day. Over a couple days, I sat and watched the whole thing unfold. I cried a lot. Suddenly feeling very connected to the confusion and pain and bewilderment as people watched their country being attacked. I went and found another video that was made a year after, that showed what was happening at the government level during that time. I watched an amazing clip of a fireman who had been in the building when it collapsed and somehow he got out. He gives God all the credit. I watched some footage of different news camera men who had been on the scene, watched their live footage as they lived through the chaos. I watched an amazing little documentary about all the boats that spontaneously gathered to help evacuate Manhattan. And I cried some more, this time at the wonder of people coming together to help each other, uniting.  And then finally, I felt like I had watched enough. 

 

And I wondered. What was that interest all about? I’m still not sure. I do know that I hate mourning. I hate entering into emotional pain. I distance myself from it. It’s not good that I do that. Instead of feeling the emotions, I just shove them down. I used to be pretty purposeful about it too. If something was getting too overwhelming for me to handle, I would literally envision a big walk-in closet. Then I would envision myself going in, taking an empty box, setting the problem into the box, shutting the box, and putting the box on the shelf, and then I’d walk away. 

 

Perhaps God is letting me do some catch up. Let’s open that closet door and start unpacking all those boxes. One at a time. 

 

Masterpieces in Progress

I take my daughter to Nashville tomorrow morning to send her off to Alaska for a year. I have been thinking about what to write today, but have drawn a blank. As I was driving in the car, I realized why I can’t think of anything to write. All weekend and this week I have been systematically shutting myself down emotionally. My oldest kids are leaving the nest and this is a good thing for them. It’s the natural next step in our parenting journey. And it’s painful and I hate pain and I hate goodbyes, so I seal myself off. I’m a missionary kid. I’ve been saying goodbye to people on a regular basis since I was two years old. After a while, you just naturally learn how to distance yourself so that it won’t be as painful. 

 

We’ve been living in the same city for almost 16 years now. I haven’t had to say nearly as many goodbyes. Mostly it’s just saying goodbye to friends of mine who have moved on to other places. You would think that I would have softened my approach over the years. Allowed myself to feel some of the emotions. Let myself cry. You would think. 

 

But, even though I have not reached the place of emotional honesty, where I allow myself to feel the emotion, experience it, and then move on, healthier because of the experience…even though I haven’t reached that place yet, I am at least at a place where I can recognize what I’m doing. Oh look, I am shutting down because I’m about to say goodbye to my daughter. It’s progress. 

 

In the meantime, I will drive my daughter to the airport three hours away while it’s still dark outside. I’ll walk her to the security gate. I’ll hug her as long as I can, pray over her, bless her, and send her on her way. And I’ll shed a couple tears which I’ll quickly sniff away, go get back in my car and make the long drive back home. 

 

Then a couple months from now, I’ll suddenly think about her and burst into uncontrollable sobbing and then have a day-long depression while I finally start processing all the emotions. And then I’ll feel better. 

 

This is the way I deal with emotions. I’m going to make a guess that I’m really not the only one who does this. So, for all you other emotionally awkward people, it’s ok. Fortunately there is no set mold on how to to do life. We all have our stories that have shaped who we are and how we interact with the world around us. It’s been my experience that as I have explored these stories and spent some concentrated time analyzing my behavior, it’s helped me to change some of my negative patterns, some right away, others very slowly. 

 

We are all masterpieces in progress. 

 

 

Emptying the Nest

It is the end of an era. My oldest son is leaving home tomorrow. He’s off to Montana for a year-long bible school. He worked really hard to get to this point. He managed to graduate a year early from high school so that he could have a year in between college to do something different, take some time to figure out his direction. I am overwhelmingly proud of him. He worked two jobs this summer, stayed connected to the church, started dating a very sweet girl. What more can you ask of your child? And now he’s leaving. And I am now swamped with a whole bucket-load of differing emotions. 

If you think about it, this whole motherhood thing kind of sucks. You take these newborn babies and pour your life into them. Every decision you make for the next 18 years takes them into consideration. Will this be good for my kids? And then they start growing up and developing independence and you run the tightrope walk of trying to make sure they are safe and also giving them the space they need to learn how to take care of themselves. And then they grow up, they learn everything you expected them to learn in their time at home…and then they leave. And it kind of feels like your heart is walking out the door…Except, this was the whole point. From day one you have been working to get them to Here. Where they can now step out, fully equipped, and start living their own lives. 

And there are tears because you can’t believe you made it to this point. There were definitely some moments along the way where I was positive my child would never make it to adulthood. And you are kind of in awe at God’s mercy and grace that got you and your child to this point. And so there are tears. 

And then there is relief. After all, part of leaving the nest is outgrowing the nest. There’s not enough room here for my mostly-adult child to become a full adult. He needs some space. It’s hard to stretch your wings and learn to fly when you keep bumping into your parents. And it’s hard to get on with parenting your other kids when there’s an overgrown chick bumping into you all the time. And so I am relieved that he has found a good place to spend this next year. And I’m excited for him, excited for all the adventures he’s going to have and all the things he’s going to learn. 

And he’ll be back. Christmas, summers, transition times when he just needs a safe place to land while he shifts gears.

My oldest daughter is also taking off in a couple weeks for a year in Alaska. 

Needless to say, my heart is doing that crazy thing where it is swelling up with pride and joy and at the same time, breaking in half. 

Man. Being a parent is painful. 

 

 

Fat Fridays: Week 28 Death of a Dream

Today has been a bit of a shock for me. 

Yesterday I went to my yearly check-up at the doctor’s. I mentioned that my blood sugar problems seemed to be worsening. The doctor ordered me a new glucometer since I haven’t used one in two-and-half years: since I was pregnant and had gestational diabetes. She told me to check my fasting blood sugars a couple times and after I’ve eaten a couple times and if the numbers were high to give her a call. 

So this morning I obediently took my fasting blood sugar at 6am and it was 130. It’s supposed to be under 100. Not good. Not good at all. I ate a low-carb protein breakfast of eggs, cheese, and grated carrots. An hour later my reading was 149. Not good. I called the doctor and left a message with the nurse. I expect I’ll hear back from them in the next couple days. I know that one high reading does not make a diagnosis. In fact, the Mayo Clinic website says that TWO fastings over 126 make a diagnosis. I’m just thinking that if my body can do it once, there’s nothing stopping it from happening again. 

The specter of Type 2 Diabetes has been hanging over my head for eleven years. Way back when, I was pregnant with my 5th child and had gestational diabetes for the first time. The nutritionist, who wasn’t exactly the encouraging type, told me that I would probably have Type 2 Diabetes within the next five years. I did a lot of research, figured out the whole low-carb approach, and stuck diligently to a strict diet, checking my blood sugar regularly. My 6th pregnancy I had no diabetes. Had it for the 7th, not for the 8th or 9th then had it again for the 10th pregnancy. By then I knew my weight made a big difference in how my sugars were doing. But how to keep the weight off? 

Type 2 diabetes runs in my family. My grandfather was Mexican-American. According to a NCBI article, “Diabetes and Mexicans: Why the two are linked”  

Mexican Americans, the largest Hispanic/Latino subgroup in the United States, are more than twice as likely to have diabetes as non-Hispanic whites of similar age (13).

I know of a lot of cousins and aunts and uncles on that side of the family who have diabetes, my father included. So, it’s not like it’s a big surprise or anything. I considered myself “Pre-diabetic”. It’s one of the pressing reasons I have wanted to lose weight. But…to see those numbers this morning was a kind of death. Death of the dream that I would lose weight and get in shape before my genetics and the consequences of being overweight caught up with me. That somehow I would hold it off by becoming the picture of health. 

I basically feel like a failure. Not that I want to wallow in that, but still, I am mourning. 

What it means, of course, is that I need to make a new dream. New goals. Gird myself for battle. I am not going to lie down and just accept this. I have read story after story of people who had a Type 2 diagnosis and they lost their excess weight, adopted a different lifestyle and changed their numbers till they technically weren’t diabetic any more. I know it can be done. And I want to be one of those people that do it. 

Lord help me. 

 

Tears in Honor of You

It’s Tuesday evening. Time to write my blog for Wednesday. All afternoon I’ve been wondering what to write about. My mind circles around the thought and then instantly turns to something else. I think I’m going to read a bit more of my book. I think I’m going to practice piano a bit. I think I’m going to wash the dishes. And of course, the children are a constant presence of distraction, look at this mom, watch me mom, Mom he hit me, Mom I’m hungry. I allow myself to be distracted all day. And then, this evening I think, I need to go write my blog. And the thought comes to me, in order to write a blog, you have to think about something. Ah yes. There is the problem. I don’t want to think. Thinking is painful right now. A very good friend of mine’s grandbaby died this weekend. She was just a baby. A sweet wonderful baby. I didn’t know her, but I had heard all about her from her proud grandparents. I’d seen the occasional pictures scattered across Facebook. And I still feel paralyzed by the thought that such a loss has touched people that I know and love.

I don’t want to think because every time I let my mind focus on something, it comes back to this pain. Feeling pain and mourning are not things that I am good at. I am a missionary kid. I spent my entire childhood moving from one extreme place to another. Studies have been done on missionary kids and it seems to be a universal experience that we all struggle with mourning. We uproot so many times, have so many goodbyes to say to all that is familiar, and we rarely take the time to properly mourn all that we have lost. Mourning is painful. I think we naturally try to avoid pain. I know that for myself, my coping mechanism is to suppress it. Ignore it, push the thoughts down until they stop resurfacing. Drown it. Except that the pain doesn’t go away, it just lingers below the surface, waiting for a chance to reappear. And then it shows up in strange, unexpected places. Like the time I had my first miscarriage.

It happened while we were out of town, camping in another state. I was staying at a campsite in our camper with our children while my husband was working nearby, 14-16 hour days, working on a construction project. It was a couple weeks long project and the kids and I had gone with my husband so we wouldn’t be separated for so long. I was in a campground trying to take care of six children on my own and I miscarried. It was early on in the pregnancy. There wasn’t anything I could do. And I didn’t have time to mourn. I cried a little, but I was in shock and overwhelmed and trying to put a brave face on for my kids and my husband. And then, a month later, we were back home in Tennessee and I was sitting in church, the service had just ended and something snapped and I started sobbing. For a long time. And I am so relieved that this particular grief rose to the surface so I could properly mourn.

My friend who lost her grandbaby, she is special to me because many years ago she started me on a long journey of healing. I don’t know how to describe her relationship to me except as a co-therapist. We listen to each other. We provide a safe place for each other and other women as we dig down and resurface these stories that haven’t been properly mourned. And it seems that the only way I can honor my friend and her grief is to not let myself run away from the pain, as peripheral to my life as it is. To let myself feel it, mourn alongside her. Not suppress, let myself be sad. Give myself permission to grieve.

So, My dear friend, this is how I honor you and your ministry, your family, your devastating loss. I will allow myself to grieve with you.

There Are No Words

It’s a rainy Sunday morning. I am home with most of my children. My husband took one of our teenagers to church because she was scheduled to help teach Sunday School. The rest of us are staying home in hopes that we can avoid exposure to any flu germs that might be floating around. Our county has been overwhelmed with flu, to the point that they are closing schools for the second time this coming week. We have been extremely fortunate that none of us have gotten sick yet. I decided that we would lay low for the next couple days and hopefully manage to avoid the sickness completely.

Our fire is going strong in our wood stove. The kids have been in a good mood, playing with each other, reading books. We had our own Sunday service, sang some songs, read a bible story, worked on memorizing our next Bible Verse. The kids are now watching some cartoon videos about the 10 Commandments.

It’s one of those mornings when you just feel happy and content. It’s the kind of feeling that you wish you could bottle up somehow and pull out on your bad days.

 

(time break)

 

As I was writing about how content and happy I was, I received a text from a very good friend of mine telling me that her grandbaby had died in the night. I am in shock. I find myself just saying, NO, no, no, no…somehow, if I deny it, it will make it untrue. The rain outside feels sinister. My house feels cold. I feel fear as I look at my children. What would I do if one of them died? I can’t even go there.

Last night I dreamed that my husband had died. The entire dream was about trying to avoid the Overwhelming Physical Pain of his being gone, and it couldn’t be avoided. And suddenly that dream has become reality for my friend and her family and I have a desperate need to help them. How can I lessen their pain? It is impossible.

I think about the bible verses we talked about this morning, hardly an hour ago. 1 Corinthians 13. God is love. This is what love looks like. Psalm 139. God knows us completely. There is nowhere we can go to flee his presence. Matthew 22:36-40 What’s the greatest commandment? Love God. Love People.

Lord, this love thing hurts. My heart is hurting. It’s a physical pain. And it hurts more because I know that my level of pain is only a small fraction of what this family is feeling. I have no words. Anything I say would seem pat and condescending. There are no words to say to someone who has lost their child.

All I can do is cry alongside you. Mourn with you. Let my heartbreak join with yours.

May you one day feel peace again. Until then we mourn with you.

Queen Esther and Me

My name is Esther. This has always been a special part of who I am. My mom told me, years ago, that when she first got pregnant with me she knew I was a girl and my name was going to be Esther. I was named after the Esther in the Bible. She has her very own book which tells the story of the beautiful Jewish girl who is compelled to join the Mighty King’s harem when the king puts out  a search for beautiful virgins. He is looking for a new Queen and Esther ends up being the chosen one. Later, she uses her influence as Queen to save her people, the Jews, from a genocide.

I can’t tell you how many times I have read the book of Esther. Innumerable. When I was a kid my Dad set up a rule, for a time, that we had to read one chapter of the Bible before bed every night. I would often go searching for the shortest Psalm that I could find or I would head back to the book of Esther and read it again. Esther was my hero. I was her namesake. I felt a deep connection. She was beautiful and brave, a Queen, everything a little girl could hope for in a hero.

As I grew older I found some biblical historical fiction about Esther, where authors had written the story of Esther, filling in all the unknown details, and adding their own twist to the story. I loved reading these. It awakened an understanding that these people in the Bible were real people. With real emotions. Real problems. They weren’t just a flat image on a page.

Of course, as an adult, understanding Esther to be a real person has lead me to have a much darker view of the whole story. I have a good imagination. I try to imagine what it was like to live in a harem. To not have the kind of marriage that I think is normal, but instead just be one of many. What was it like to interact with an older man when she was most likely a young teenager? To interact with the most powerful man on earth when she was just a young girl from a family with no power or prestige? How did she navigate all the palace politics? What was her day-to-day living like? Did she have children? Was Vashti (the previous Queen who was dethroned) still in the harem to cause problems? After the “Happily Ever After” ending of the book of Esther, what happened then? Did she remain on good terms with the King or did he replace her with a long series of new favorites from the harem? Did she find a way to bring meaning to her life?

I have a lot of questions. Sometimes I feel myself getting a little panicky. Like the answers to these questions are tied up in my own destiny. If Esther actually lived an unhappy, unfulfilled life in the harem, what does that mean for me? What does it mean, if you are named for a hero, to find out that your hero was actually a pretty unhappy person?

In the last couple years, I have found myself getting very emotionally caught up with the stories of the women in the Bible. I find myself angry. Why did God let that woman suffer like that? Why did God allow polygamy, despite all the stories of women being hurt by it? Hagar and Sarah. Leah and Rachel. Hannah and Peninnah. Why did God allow the practice of concubines? Why were they worth so little to the men in their life? Thinking about the story of the concubine in Judges who is murdered. Why? Yes. My brain knows that when sin came in the world, all these bad things were part of that Sin. Yes. My brain knows that God has a long term plan to deal with Sin in the world that centers around his Son Jesus. Yes. I know we have free will which means that bad things are going to happen because of the consequences of our sin. I know these things, but my heart still hurts when I read about the suffering of these women. I need to know that God cared about them. That he loved them just as much as the more prominent men who carry the lead role in the story. I need to know this.

I think I need to know this because I am Esther. I am connected to these characters hidden in the pages, surfacing in between lines. I am simply a continuation of their story. I am a woman. And I need to know if I am just as important to God as the men. Am I just as significant? Am I loved? Am I important?

Today I started reading the book of Esther again. I came up with a whole new list of questions and I started googling my questions, wondering if other people had thought about these things too. I happened upon a blog written by Rachel Held Evans. I really liked what she had to say and as I read through some of her blog posts I realized that she was an author and had several interesting books. One of them really stood out to me so I got it on my Kindle and started reading it. The name of the book is A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on her Roof, Covering her Head, and Calling her Husband “Master”. You have to admit, it’s an intriguing title. I’m several chapters in. I feel like I’ve met my new best friend and she just doesn’t know it yet. This is not to say that I agree with everything that she says or thinks, but what I love about her is that she questions things. I resonate with her questions. I resonate with her curiosity, her desire to dig deeper.

I just want to tell you one little bit in the book. The author and a friend get together and have a little ceremony where they Remember some of the women in the bible who suffered. They remember Japheth’s daughter who was sacrificed. They remember the concubine who was murdered. They remember Hagar. They light a candle for each woman, and they manage to bring it all back to the Cross. This made me sob. These women that have somehow managed to creep off the pages of the Bible and work their way into my heart and my mind…These women are important to me. And it was like someone telling me that there was going to be a funeral and I could come and mourn, and give honor to those who had died. Have some closure. While reading her book, I felt like I was there, joining in the ceremony. Mourning alongside them.

This is a journey that I am on. What does it mean to be Esther? What does it mean to be a woman? What does it mean to be a Christian Woman? These questions. This is why I keep reading the book of Esther, and Genesis, Samuel. The book of Acts. Because their stories are my stories. Perhaps by understanding the past better, I’ll have more understanding to face the future.