I get broken

I haven’t blogged in ages, but I couldn’t not join in with today’s prompt.

Because well…  Broken is a thing that I get.

And it’s a thing that I am.

Quite literally in fact….  You see, on Tuesday I was being a fun Mom and helping my girls put on a ball in the garage.  And then there were some shenanigans and I was playing chase with A.  I turned quickly, stepped down wrong on my foot and crashed to the ground.  My knee was pretty banged up and the girls were impressed with the blood.  But I’d heard a snap when I landed and my foot felt pretty Rotten.

I watched it that evening hoping against hope that it was just a bad sprain.  The next morning I still couldn’t put any weight on it so in to the ER we went.

Yep.  It’s broken.

And the best part is…  my hubby heads out to sea for a month this weekend.

 

I want to tell you that I’m taking it all in a stride.  I want to tell you that we’ve seen worse than this so I know I can get through this.  You know…  tumors, depression, a year of debilitating back pain.  I mean, we’ve got this right?

But I’m kind of undone with the thought of  facing down three girls and a month on my own while I hobble around on crutches.

So broken is something that I get.  And it’s something that I am so much more often than I want to be.

I will hold my own some how or another.  I will ask for help from friends.  I will pray that nothing happens that requires driving until I have a boot cast and am able to.

And I guess I’ll have to lean in again and trust that God’s abundance will meet me here too.

Wish I hads

I wish I’d understood that my mother was dying much sooner than I did.

Words like ‘terminal’ are hard to wrap your hands around.  I was furious with the word ‘palliative’ that preceded all the treatment options that she had.  “Palliative radiation, palliative chemotherapy, palliative pain control.”

I’d seen enough Lifetime and made-for-TV movies that I thought I knew how the script should go.  I’d read enough blurbs in TV Guide to know how the story should play you.  There would be words like, “Beat incredible odds,” and “Triumphed over a desperate diagnosis.”  I was just sure of it.

My mom knew, I think, from the start that those movies weren’t going to be made about her.  I thought this was depression.  I remember putting a tremendous amount of pressure on myself to ‘bring her hope,’ as she grappled with her reality.  And this was not a bad choice.  To maintain hope in the face of stage IV cancer is always a good thing, and as things went downhill and Mom was on hospice I can remember clearly understanding that “hope” just looked different now.

Just the same, I think in my fog of denial I missed a lot of opportunities to hear my mother voice exactly where she was.  I think I missed the chance to better prepare myself for what was going to happen.

I remember retorting to her when she was in a particularly foul mood, “Mom, just because you have cancer doesn’t mean you get to be snippy.”  She answered back in characteristic fashion, “Well when the hell do I get to be snippy or whatever the hell I want to be, if NOT when I have cancer?”

I remember when she would brave the topic of her funeral and arrangements–a topic that I remember handling with calm that I didn’t know I could muster–that I would always tie things up with, “But remember we don’t want to have to use these plans anytime soon.”

I thought I was being helpful and positive and showing her that we weren’t going down without a fight.

Now I wonder if I only denied her a safe place to talk about what was coming.  I wonder if I cheated us both out of the chance to connect  there.

To be fair we were all protecting ourselves with a fair dose of denial.  The doctor kept cranking out options and possibilities and Mom lit up at the idea of our spending Christmas with her (God how we both wanted that Christmas).

The weekend before Mom was signed into hospice was when it truly hit me that this was a battle we weren’t going to win.  My Aunt was there and we’d started the downward spiral of waking up to some new horror every day.  Mom’s mobility was lost–she couldn’t leave the house without a wheel-chair.  The pain worsened.  She became frail.  Her body couldn’t keep up with the fluid that was building up and she puffed up, and then she quit taking in fluids and her skin sunk in. Things had changed in increments and I didn’t fully see them.  My Aunt was there at that point and I’m so grateful she was there to talk me through the reality that my Mom was dying and it would be soon.

I was only 24 and my husband was on a boat far away and I had a new born baby to take care of and the thought of my Mom not being in the world anymore and not being there to walk me forward into adulthood was too much for me to bear.

And so I hid from reality.  And I chirped platitudes and perkiness.  No, not always (because really when have I ever been perky?).  There were nights of lying on the bed with her rubbing her back as she cried and tried to writhe away from the pain, and nights sitting with her in the living room listening to whatever came into her head…  The delicious breeze coming through the door, baseball games and chewing gum when she was a kid, taking her younger brother and sister to see Mary Poppins, how adorable her sweet grand-daughter’s toes were.  I showed up the best I could and those memories for me are priceless.  I continue to count being with her and helping to care for her at the end of her life as one of my life’s greatest privileges.

I know that I did the best I could with the information and resources I had at the time.  I know I held up remarkably well.  I had the wisdom of a 24-year-old who had never been through something so devastatingly massive and now I have the wisdom of a 32-year-old and hindsight to school me.

But I desperately wish I could have the memory of meeting her there in the fear and the sadness and the finality and the acceptance of it.  I wish I could have loved her in that way.  She needed someone to meet her there.  How lonely it must have been to be surrounded by people denying the reality that was staring them plain in the face.

Hindsight is 20/20 and this isn’t exactly one of those lessons that you can learn from and go out and immediately apply to the next situation.  To be honest, it’s not a lesson I *want* to apply anywhere, anytime soon.  We didn’t get our Lifetime TV movie ending.  Not by a long-shot and almost 8 years later all I can do is offer myself grace for the ‘Wish I hads’ that I still have lingering in my heart.

I have no pithy wrap up to this post or ‘bring it around and spin it’ that I can do. We all have our own ‘Wish I hads’ and today, when I look back, these are just a few of mine.

Eyes Wide Open

I want to live life with my eyes wide open.

For too long I have dodged eye contact, hiding in the shadows.

The pain loomed, a black hole trying to obliterate me…

I felt too much.  Thought too much

Was too much.

 

I backed away

If I shrank back far enough I didn’t have to feel it all.

The too much could not swallow me whole.

 

If I took shallow breaths of the air around me

Instead of deep draughts

Maybe the pain wouldn’t pierce so deeply.

 

 

Slowly and haltingly Life stands in front

Of the little girl that is my heart.

Life’s hands close gently over hers

Her  hands that are pressed so hard onto her eyes that she sees red flashes

On the inside of her eyelids.

 

Life pries those hands away from her eyes

Color floods in.

 

Pain yes.  Piercing pain.

But also joy.  Life.  Light.

Bright yellows.  Vibrant reds.  Verdant greens.  Deep blues.  Dingy browns.  Soul-sucking blacks.

It’s all there.

 

Life holds my hands out in front of me

Turns my palms up.

And says

 

Receive.

 

See.

Words on the Rug

Sometimes it takes telling someone else your story from start to finish to really understand the enormity of it.

I found myself telling my story recently.  I started way back–at a point that seemed ridiculously early, and yet still felt pertinent.   I kept talking and talking and talking.  I spoke haltingly at first, but the momentum built surprisingly fast and I was surprised that I kept circling around to add details and feelings that I hadn’t thought of before.  I talked about losing my Mom to cancer, having a tumor myself, and all the ups and downs in between and surrounding those pivotal moments.  I talked about, deployments and doing life on my own.  I talked about finding myself stuck on the floor in excruciating pain.

She asked really good questions–the woman listening to me.  She made me see my story from angles I hadn’t even considered.  She didn’t minimize a word of it.  I squash my story every time I turn a corner, but she let the weight of what I’d said hang just as it had landed.

My words lay on the floor spilled out between us.  She didn’t flinch from them.  Laid out bare as they were, I could see parts of them clearly for the first time.

It turns out there was a heckuva a lot laying there.

It’s funny, when you walk through life–even writing it down as you go–the day to day of it can numb you to the enormity of what you’re living.  Even writing this here, I want to hide and say, “oh you know…  none of it is THAT big a deal!”

But I didn’t do that that day.  Maybe it was because the person listening didn’t shirk from any of it.  Maybe her empathy brought some long-needed validation.  Or maybe saying it all at once gave me the ‘perspective’ I really needed, as I was finally able to feel the heaviness of all I’d come through and been under for so long.

After the words laid there for a bit, she said the words ‘depleted’ and ‘erosion’ and a light bulb came on for me.  I saw how much had been swept out from under me little by little.   So much disequilibrium has taken a toll.

I got to thinking about erosion and roots and what makes the soil stay put beneath you.  Am I rooted firmly in Christ?  What am I planting around me to hold the soil in place beneath me?

How often am I spending time doing things that make me feel alive and filled up?

Since then things have shifted in subtle but powerful ways.  I’m trying to tap into more of that life-giving stuff.  I’m asking God to push me towards what breathes life into me.  I’m carving out time to do things like yoga, and writing, and filling my mind with things that lift me up.  And I’m finding that my brain is marinating in new thoughts–thoughts that don’t have to do with disease or illness or pain, but that do challenge me to see the world in new ways.

I believe there is power in telling out stories.  That day, spilling the words out on the rug made space for shifting deep inside of me.  Who knows what kind of new life might be found in the next few chapters?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Again

It’s been a long time since I’ve blogged and even longer since I’ve done a Five Minute Friday.  But here I am, “again.”  :)

The ruts feel so deep I’m afraid I’ll never get out.  I back up and move forward again and again.  My wheels spin.  The engine revs.  And I’m stuck.

Stuck feeling this way again.

Stuck doing the same things each week, each day.

Stuck making a mess in the same ruts of my mind.

I don’t think this is what they mean by ‘establishing routine.’

I’m floundering and uninspired.  And it all seems so repetitive.

I want a fresh, new breath of air to break through and sweep this place clean.  I want the cobwebs blown out and some Fantasia brooms to knock out the last of the stale dust in the corners.

Your mercies are new every morning, but my stale bread-crumb eyes are straining to see that.

Someone once compared God making the sun rise each morning and set each evening to a little kid driven wild with delight at a new trick he’d just learned crying, “Again!” each and every time.

If you’ve made me in your image, give me those eyes God.  Bring me back to the wonder of again.

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas Now

There are two versions of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”  I think I’ve mentioned this before...  There is the “muddle through” version and the “hang a shining star” version.

Being a bit of a realist  cynic, I have preferred for about seven years now the ‘muddle through’ version.  “Come next year, we all will be together, If the fates allow.  Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow,” Judy Garland sang in Meet Me in St. Louis.  Those words gave me permission to live an un-perfect Christmas (un-perfect highlights things better than imperfect in my head today, so I’m going with it).

I have needed that permission repeatedly during the Christmas season as we’ve faced our own special litany of hard and as we’ve teased out the light in different versions of darkness.  We’ve found joy each and every holiday season, but there were some that were harder than others and a year or two that were just doozies.

This year though, I started listening to the ‘come next years’ sprinkled throughout that version of the song.  And they stuck in my throat.  We have time apart from Husband coming down the pike and there is a good chance that our ‘come next year’ will not involve ‘we all will be together’ being a reality.  I’m having a hard time this year living in this year and not awfulizing next year.  I’m feeling bruised by tragedies that belong to us all and tragedies that have been all my own.  And even though I always tell myself not to, I seem to be trying. too. hard. to ‘make Christmas’ in spite of it all.

I got to thinking about this ‘muddling through’ and how the hope in the song is all pinned on the ‘come next years.’  And how that doesn’t really work, nor has it proven true for me.  “Come next year,” has always carried with it it’s own kind of muddling.

As I think of the bigger picture, what has always hit the mark in my heart for the song was the focus of hope in spite of circumstances…  But maybe in the muddling through version the hope is mis-placed.  We’re not supposed to pin our hopes on next year going better.  The miracle of Christmas and for me as a Christian living out a life of hope, is that we find joy and hope and peace in the midst of our circumstances now–whatever they might be.  My dear friend, Sarah, sent me some thoughts by Thomas Merton on this.  He says,

But the fact remains that our task is to seek and find Christ in our world as it is, and not as it might be. The fact that the world is other than it might be does not alter the truth that Christ is present in it and that His plan has been neither frustrated nor changed: indeed, all will be done according to His will. Our Advent is a celebration of this hope.”

And so that expectation of better and of goodness and of brightness and light isn’t a ‘next year’ thing or a ‘tomorrow’ thing or even a ‘when all our ducks finally line up in a row’ thing.  It’s a RIGHT NOW thing.  IN the muddling.

Even old Blue Eyes and his song-writer got that part of it right

“In 1957, Frank Sinatra asked Martin to revise the line “Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow”. He told Martin, “The name of my album is A Jolly Christmas. Do you think you could jolly up that line for me?”[1] Martin’s new line was “Hang a shining star upon the highest bough”. Martin made several other alterations, changing the song’s focus to a celebration of present happiness, rather than anticipation of a better future.”

So this advent as I muddle through the mess in my own brain…  and try not to jump ahead to what next year might look like.  As I ache for the tragedy in Newtown…  As I miss my mother in a gut-wrenching and unexpectedly fierce way…  As I lose my temper with my kids and snap at my husband and am reminded again, and again, and again how very sinful and imperfect I really and truly am….

I also have hope….  Hope in the right now and not just in the ‘not yet.’  Maybe I need to start letting Sinatra’s Song-writers’ alterations in a little bit more, if only to keep my eyes where they need to be: on the shining star, on the light that has overcome all of the darkness, on right now.

That is this year’s light to my darkness.  That is Immanuel snuggling up right next to me where I am.

“Through the years, we all may be together

If the fates allow

Hang a shining star upon the highest bow

and have yourself a Merry Little Christmas now.”

Merry Christmas my friends–in whatever NOW you may be living, I wish you hope, and light, and peace.  I wish that you would know the meaning of Immanuel right where you are today.  Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas…  now.

The New House and the Old Tree

A new house needs a new Christmas Tree.

It’s time to get out the decorations, and we’re behind the power curve just from sheer habit now.  I think about the tired old tree  that we’ve had since the first year we got married.  It was purchased with a Wal-mart Gift Card the day after Halloween because we knew we’d be spending our first Christmas apart.  Husband would be at Boot Camp.  We celebrated in November, and I tearfully gave him presents and sang Christmas Carols a month ahead of time.

Eight Chrristmases have passed since then and it’s served us well, but I thought I might be ready for a new one for this ninth Christmas Season. Surely, it’s time for new things. For a new season not laden with So. Much. HARD.

A new house needs a new Christmas Tree.

All is clear on the tumor front, husband is HOME this year, and the back pain that taught me so much about Jesus’ nearness in the midst of our many kinds of pain has miraculously abated with the help of medicine and spinal injections.  So we should be all clear for insane Holiday Happiness of all kinds.

Right?

Except I find I’m all blah-humbug.  I’ve dug so deep all the other years:  The years husband was gone and I had to put on a brave face for little girls missing Daddy, the year that a tumor lurked, the year that a babe was lost, the year that my mother was gone and the world stood on its head, and death and darkness surrounded us thick.

This year I don’t have to dig so deep.  But I find I’m stuck…..  Maybe I don’t know how to do Christmas unless I’m drenched in the darkness.

Maybe when the floor has shifted beneath you for so long you don’t know how to walk on level ground.

But we’re in this new house, and at the beginning of a new season, and I WANTED A NEW STINKING CHRISTMAS TREE!

So we got one.  We tried to find the nicest one we could with a price tag we could afford.

We put it up this morning.  It didn’t take long to realize that it tells the tale of a limited budget much more readily than the story of children with sugar plums dancing in their heads.

Tempers flared over the branches.

I clench and unclench my hands and my jaw.

It just doesn’t look right.  It’s not even a good Charlie-Brown tree.  And even if it was we’re passed the Charlie Brown tree Season, aren’t we?

That’s only part of the story.

The lists of Christmas gifts to buy are so long.  All the things we have to do press in.  I bought Christmas cards so we MUST fill them out right?  But we don’t have a good picture to go with them…  and should I write one of those Christmas letter family-update things?  Is that who we are?  The traditions that MUST BE STUFFED WITH MEANING overwhelm me.  And the kids keep acting like KIDS!!  Don’t they know that we’re supposed to be mild-mannered and full of good-cheer this time of year?

And it dawns on me:

I have to put the line in the sand here.  I have to put the stake in the ground.

It is past time to set the intention of the season.

I haven’t survived all those other Christmases taking upon myself the lessons of each of them for nothing.  I haven’t dug deep into my gut for joy or looked around me for the teeniest-tiniest pinprick of light that I could find to get myself tangled up in the tinsel of the ‘hustle and bustle and whine of our current Christmas culture.’

I will NOT go down this road.

So we take back the new tree.  We put up our old one.  We dip our toe into new traditions and try to hold loosely to old ones.  And I repeat to myself:

Christmas is a time where we embrace the light in the darkness.

Christmas is a time when I remember that God came to be Immanuel.  He put on skin…  and even more incredible, diapers.  And he did it to be with ME, with all of us.

If He can be a light in the darkness, he can be a lifting of the greyness of blah-humbug too.

I have choices.  So many choices about how to DO this holiday.  Even better, I have choices about how to BE this holiday.

I can say no to the events on the calendar, at least some of them.

I can let myself off the hook if we don’t get six dozen picture-perfect Christmas cookies made and decorated.

I can follow my kids’ lead as we try on new and old traditions this year.

I don’t have to get tangled up in the tinsel.  Instead I can snuggle up with the baby in the manger and the babies entrusted to my care sleeping in the bedrooms upstairs.  I can ponder so many things in my heart right alongside Mary.  I can choose to reach into the darkness of someone sitting near me and offer them a share of the light of found.

That old tree has borne witness to Nine Years of our family searching for a light in the darkness.  Maybe a new house doesn’t need a new tree after all.  Maybe instead those branches will anchor us to where we’ve come from as we take on the new seasons of light and darkness coming our way.  Maybe it will whisper to us of light sought-after hard and love poured out and the giggles of our growing girls.

A new house doesn’t need a new Christmas tree.  It needs an anchor to the past and a reminder of the faithfulness we’ve found each and every Christmas.  New tree or old, I hope we always have that.