Remind Me It’s Worth It

Five Minute Friday.…  on “Friends.”

Navy life is hard on friendships.

We’ve stayed in one place for an astounding seven years and yet so many friends have drifted in and out of our lives.

It gives me much to celebrate and much to mourn.  I have the privilege of having friends literally the world over–Flung from England to Illinois to Washington and California…  I get to live vicariously through their experiences of life worlds away.

In those moments of heartache though, when they need a hug or I need a hug I wish for arms that could reach and can only be thankful for the far-reaching arms of God and send my hugs through prayers.

The moving is hard.  The separation from those I grew up with is hard.  Heart strings stretch far, but not so much arms.

Another friend moved away this week, not because of the Navy, but because of heartache and brokenness at our church.  That brokenness strains relationships that are local as well.  I find, not for the first time in recent months, that my heart is lonely and I wish for more of the kinds of drop everything and go for coffee, watch the kids play, and find  comfort in the well-worn grooves of familiar friendship.  So I’m wading in to other venues…  Intentionally seeking out opportunities to build relationships.  It stretches me and I feel awkward and use analogies about ducks too often, but I also open myself to the miracle of new connections.

I just have to remind myself that the heartache side of friendship in a Navy town and as a Navy wife is all worthwhile for the privilege of wading into the deep and loving hard.

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The Eyes that Matter

I have come to the conclusion many times, especially since becoming a supposed ‘grown up,’ that I am a socially inept little bird.  When I got my ‘freshman orientation’ questionnaire feedback back in college and read that they thought I was likely to be a little socially awkward, I was incensed and frustrated and sure they did not know who it was they spoke of.  More and more, especially after the gauntlet of life since college, I believe those results were quite true.

Today I went to my second meeting of a local Mom’s group.  Now I am *all for* Mom’s groups.  I believe in Mom’s groups.  I started one in our church a few years back and while it was small, it was a powerful force of connection for me, and I would like to think, for others.  Nonetheless, it’s been a long time since I’ve been in a room with that many people, and in a ‘table group’ of several with all new women, trying to navigate the niceties of Mommy social groups and interactions.  And, so far, it seems like in this group at least I’m proving to be a social flop.

Apparently, I never got the memo on how to keep up with the banter that happens at round table discussions–especially those involving small talk.  I swear by the time I figure out a coherent way to enter a conversation I’m already seven steps behind and by the time I’ve caught up on what we’re talking about, I have to shift gears again.  Am I the only awkward duck out there, or can anyone else relate???  Yeah, it’s ok.  I probably AM the only one.  Anyway…  This introverted, introspective girl who is much more comfortable doing thoughts in my head or on paper gets a little overwhelmed in moments like these–especially when I’m the ‘new one’ and not the ‘welcoming one.’

I left this meeting, which I know, wishes to be an encouragement to women, and which I have fully expected to be an encouragement to me feeling…  Well…  Like a socially inept, awkward duck trying to waddle around outside of her comfortable, swimmable pond.  And it’s absolutely NOT the fault of this organization, or the women at my ’round table.’  I’m quite certain it’s a me thing.

Whether it’s my inability to ‘engage lightness’ or just the baggage that comes when you get a weird and scary diagnosis and work through it and try to re-emerge into ‘normal‘….  I just don’t play well with others sometimes.  I’m not grumpy or catty by any means.  I just…  don’t quite connect anymore.  These days I spend too much time wondering how much I should divulge about my current journey and as I have already mentioned get a little bit lost in multi-player discussions.  It’s just…  not pretty lately.

And so I left feeling like an ugly duckling… feeling discouraged and wondering what exactly is wrong with me.  I was doing that awful, misguided thing I do when I focus too much on what ‘everyone else must be thinking’ (I know…  I know–how narcissistic of me, right?!  And also…  they’ve all got their own hang ups…  I know!).  Anyway, as I was driving along feeling gloomy about that, I had this image flash into my brain:

Ms. Carolyn’s face–lit up with relief and excitement and the assurance of knowing she was loved–this morning when I dropped off the library book that we’d forgotten to tuck into her backpack.  It was our first ‘call Mom at home to help fix it because I left something’ incident and while at first I chided myself for not reminding Carolyn it was library day (er…  um…  not even knowing it was library day….) and felt a little exasperated about the extra task I had to squeeze in prior to going to the Mommy meeting, that look on her face…..  Well it was just one of those one-out-of-a-thousand moments as a Mom when you know why you do what you do. I mean it was one of those, “Oh, Mommy…  I knew I could count on you…  Oh Mommy, I knew you’d be there.  Oh Mommy you came, you really, really came and I know that you love me and right now you are my HERO!” looks and I lapped it in.

So as I’m sitting there in my car, beating myself up, it occurred to me who the important people in my life are…  And it occurred to me that their opinions of me are what REALLY matter and my relationships with them are the MOST important and that when I see myself through the love in their eyes, socially inept or not, I see someone who is loved for who she is.

It occurred to me furthermore, that ultimately, the eyes of encouragement that I needed to be seeking were the eyes of one who is closer than a brother.  That HE above all gets me….  He created me.  And he doesn’t make mistakes.  I AM fearfully AND wonderfully made, socially inept though I may be, and he stoops down to hand me back the wisdom that I’ve forgotten of who I am in His eyes, just as readily as I find time in my day to drop off a library book for my first grader.

Socially inept ugly duckling or not, I am loved and known by God, and my family and quite frankly, I can keep on waddling along with that just fine.

Growing? Shades of Denial

My Five Minute Friday didn’t go where I expected it to today.  I guess that’s ok.  It’s not very cheery or inspiring, but it’s part of where I’m at today.

Monday I have an endocrinology appointment.

Finally.

I don’t want to go.  We’ve waited so long and I need answers.

But I don’t want to go and start planning again.  I don’t want to go back to the world of wondering and stewing and feeling out doctors.

I don’t really want to know if the other ‘nodule…’ is growing.  I just don’t.  (I mean I do…  I need to  know.  I need to act and take care of it…  but I don’t).

I’m scared to find out.  I’m scared that it is.  And I still have so many questions about why it’s even there and if maybe we don’t have the full story on the genetic issues.  I don’t want  to go back to actually doing something about the vague feelings of worry over whether or not this is nothing or something and about whether or not the rest of this story is going to be ‘boring’ or get terrifyingly interesting.

I don’t want to shake myself out of denial.

This wasn’t the tack I wanted to take for Five Minute Friday.  I guess I should have written about my kids, or little Lainey who is ten months old–TEN MONTHS OLD.  Or I should have written about my spiritual growth or even played around with the idea of ‘growing quiet’ as I did at the beach on our little min-vacation this last week.

But I’m ruffled today by many things, not the least of them being the wondering and worrying over this little thing hanging out on my right carotid artery.  This thing that was poo-pooed away and forgotten about by people until I pressed it and told ‘Oh yeah.  There’s something there.”  This thing…  this new part of who I am and what my story is (not the whole, just a part, but an important part nonetheless).

Is it growing?  Is it something?  Or is it nothing?

I guess it’s time to find out.

Challenged by Joy

Another Five Minute Friday.  I encourage you to read the prompt this week over at The Gypsy Mama and to join with her and so many others who are praying for Sara, “Gitzen Girl.”

Joy

Sometimes I feel like I’m just trudging.

Slogging along.  Feet sludging through the muck.

Trying to move through the stuck.

And Joy…  The word seems to taunt me.

To tell me of what I’m not doing.

Joy?

Joy isn’t supposed to be like that though.

It’s not something that you can’t feel in the presence of sadness, or grief, or even anger.

It is a stream.  A stream of quietness that can flow through you in the presence of all of those things.  In the presence even of fear and overwhelmedness and injustice.  Joy still sits quietly.

It is a not just a thing that is felt and in some places where it exists it is not *felt* at all.

It simply is.  It is.  And it stands firm.  You see evidence of it sometimes in the most surprising places.

Flowers which have bloomed in cracks of pavement or in parched regions of the desert.

Smiles and exuberance in worlds of abject poverty…  Disease and hardship run rampant and resources and possessions do not and yet there are these smiles of joy…

Calm assurance in the faces and voices of those who are sick...  those who are facing their mortality head-on.  The stream sometimes is most evident there.

When I am trudging is the joy really eluding me?  Or am I simply not allowing myself to dangle my toes in the river that flows beneath the surface of my circumstances?

Teach me to choose joy.

Mess

Things came to a head and got messy with our church situation.

One of our dearest friends lost his job this week.

And I am sad.

It has been so messy from the start.  So much imperfection in all of us.  So much imperfection in me.

I reacted as a friend this week.  I was outraged and hurt and angry for him.  I don’t take that back.

Another friend helped me to rediscover some objectivity.  To see the other facets playing into the situation that has blown up in our faces.  But still, I react as a friend and I don’t apologize for that.

We have responded.  We have offered our thoughts to those who made these decisions.  We have expressed our sorrow our disappointment and yes, even our outrage.

We have spoken and written with passion.

We have tried to come together with others who like us, are reeling.

And as I step back I keep asking myself–Have we said or done anything that we didn’t mean?  I hope not.  Have we said or done anything that we regret?  I hope not.  Have we conducted ourselves with honor and integrity?

I  hope so.

Though our words have had an edge to them….  though we have spoken with emotion, I hope we have still spoken with restraint.  I hope we have not burned bridges too thoroughly.

The way through this is messy.  The way through it for us will be more personal as we have left the church.  Those left at the church will be cobbling together pieces and dealing with impossible situations for some time.  I feel, especially now, as though we have abandoned the ship.  Abandoned our family.  And yet, I feel we have to stand by our decision. I feel that it’s time for us to speak with our absence instead of with our presence.  And I feel that for my own spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being…  For my family’s spiritual and emotional well-being, we have to be out of the toxic situations that are still rife there.

Objectivity stinks sometimes.  It means that even though you react as a friend in outrage and anger you can still see how this person that you love so much didn’t do themselves any favors at times.  Sometimes you can see why things happened the way they did almost inevitably.  And then you have to figure out how to love and respond to your friend in the rubble with your own eyes open to that perspective.

It also means, for me at least, that I’m left second guessing myself.  I’m left wondering if I have been the friend I should have.  I’m left feeling as culpable as anyone for all that has happened.

It’s a mess.  It’s a mess entangled in my life and the lives of many who I love.

And my only comfort is that my God is big enough to specialize in messes.  And somehow in all this imperfect humanity He is with us in this.

Sometimes Boring is Just Right

After yesterday’s post, I am reminded again tonight that there is power in telling our stories.

A few years ago, having a rare tumor like a paraganglioma meant that you would probably never meet someone dealing with the same type of disease.  Unless you were lucky enough to make it to a specialist where you might run into other patients, you might never know that there was anyone out there in a similar boat.

Right away it was evident to me that the ‘rare’ factor was going to be isolating and terrifying.  The rare factor means  often knowing more than your doctor about a serious disease threatening your body.  It means that there are not support groups for you.  It means that you have no one to compare notes with.  It’s a very vulnerable feeling.

Except now, there’s Facebook.  I’ve been really lucky to find three different groups or pages on Facebook dealing with Pheochromocytomas and Paragangliomas.

I found them and in desperation asked questions.  Tons of questions.  People who had walked their own paths gave answers and shared their experiences.  They showed up and said, “This is how it worked for me.  Have you considered trying this?”  And some of these people were the ones who told me to consider going to the NIH.

And now that I’ve had my surgery, I’m no longer standing there wide-eyed like a deer in head lights, so I get the chance to be the one to say, “You can do this.  This is scary, but there’s options.”  When people come to the group and say that they’re getting nowhere with their doctor or they don’t have insurance and can’t afford the tests that are needed let alone the treatment, I get to pay it forward and mention the options that helped me so much.

There is something magical when people connect and swap notes and you get to play a small part in someone else’s story.

Today a newer lady made her way to the boards.  I didn’t see her story at first and didn’t notice that her tumor was in the same location as mine until a couple of friends of mine  said, “Hey Val–I think it would really help her if you shared your story.”  My initial response was  “My story is pretty boring.”  Because….  the tough part of these groups is you end up hearing a lot of the ‘worst-case scenarios’ too.  And the thing about worst-case scenarios is that while they are usually not the norm, they garner a lot of attention.  With the screwy nature of the human condition involved some how or another the toughest cases are in some backwards way almost ‘flashy’ (though I know that those living would be happy to NOT have such an attention-grabbing story!).

Luckily, both of the friends who nudged me to share with this new group-member immediately said, “She NEEDS boring right now.  Share your story.”

That was kind of an epiphany for me.  It should have been a ‘duh’ moment, the obvious hadn’t quite sunken in for me yet.

The funny thing is that I’ve felt funny participating in the groups sometimes.  I’ve felt my own strange brand of ‘survivor guilt’ at times, which I’ve written about ad nauseam at other times.  I felt like because so far my story has been relatively low-key I wasn’t as much of a survivor as others, or that maybe I was just trying to be over-dramatic by participating in these groups.  I’ve almost been embarrassed by having a story which has been, up to this point at least, relatively easy in comparison to many in these groups.

But tonight.  BORING was what was needed.  It turns out (and how could I have forgotten this, wide-eyed as I once was?) that boring can be surprisingly reassuring.

I wonder how many times I’ve squashed my voice in other every day things because I thought my experience or perspective wasn’t anything special or that my ‘ordinariness’ precluded me from having anything worthwhile to say.

I wonder how many times I’ve shrunk back when all that was really needed was for me to show up.  For me to be honest about me.  Ordinary or boring or otherwise.

Rare tumors are one thing, but in most ways I’m just your run of the mill wife and mother.  But God can use my story and my perspective in ways that I would never guess if I’ll just show up and share of myself.

He’s so cool like that.

Quacking Into a Vacuum

What am I doing, writing into this vacuum of blog land?

Even as I’m excited to again find my way in this thing called the ‘blogging community’ I’m skeptical.  There are so many words out there.  So many blogs.  So many every day  stories about the same things that I’m writing about.

So why am I here?  Why am I writing in this space?  Why am I putting words here again and why does it suddenly feel important or worthwhile to do so?

Those questions have been playing tag in my mind for a while now.  I’ve read several articles about how blogs really aren’t ‘where it’s at,’ as much as we’ve been led to believe.  I’ve never written here to make money and I certainly don’t expect to now, but part of me is still asking is it worth it?  Is it worth it to do the word-smithing required to put together decent blog posts if only a handful of people are going to read them and only a few people in that handful are really going to be moved and impacted by them?  Is it worth it?

Does it matter if it’s worth it?  What does it mean to be worth it?

My favorite blogger in the world “DaMomma” at Motherhood is Not for Wimps announced this week that she isn’t going to blog anymore.  She has tried to garnish a small amount of income from her blog work and with her resume and credentials behind her she seems like a logical person to be able to make a go of it.  She’s barely breaking even and other priorities in her life have to come first now and so she’s stepping away.

I know that blogging can be a time sink.  A tremendous one.  I started writing here again because I felt this tug…  this feeling that I love to write, I feel like God has gifted me with my ability to use words and in this season I’ve not really been serving that gift.  I want to serve that gift.  I want to practice crafting sentences and paragraphs.  I want to see what could come of doing so.

And so I came here again.  I started trying to write here again.  I started trying to think in ways that made my words stretch and grow.

I guess maybe the question that is really getting at me under my skin is this:  could my writing–my everydaysy nothing special writing be something that God uses?  Some day, some day I would love for my writing to be used in a more public forum, but I’m not in place to get there right now.  I’m not sure how to get there or if I’ll ever be ready to.  I’m not sure if I’m good enough to even try.

There is a loud voice in my head that says, “Really…  Who are you kidding?”  I read about conferences like SheSpeaks and my heart gets both excited and cynical.  I get excited about the idea of pursuing a path of writing or sharing my words in some capacity.  I get cynical because it’s obvious that so many people are hoping for the very same thing.  Realistically most of us with these idealistic hopes and dreams aren’t going to ‘make it’ right?

I keep trying to shush up that inner cynic though.  The reality is, it isn’t about whether or not I get published somewhere or get to share my words from a public platform of any sort other than this little ol’ blog.  The point is that I feel called to use a gift and this is one teeny tiny little trickle of words that I can let out to do just that.  If God wants that little trickly stream to turn into a babbling brook, or a decent sized creek or even someday a river, then he will equip me with the wisdom and ability to make the choices necessary to do get there.

Maybe by showing up this little trickle of words will hit just a few people or even just one person in a way that will leave them feeling encouraged or less alone or lifted up.  Maybe it will help nudge someone closer to Him in the long run.  Maybe this hesitant feeling of ‘calling’ isn’t about affecting the multitudes.  Maybe though by being real, sharing my story, and connecting this little trickle of words could carve out a tiny crevasse that means something valuable to the heart of God even though it just seems like quacking into a vacuum to me sometimes.

I’m going to continue to show up… to share my story…   to smith these words.  I’m going to continue to connect with new and amazing people whose raging rivers or trickles of words have meant something to my heart.  I’m going to keep showing up.  Maybe I’ll see what happens.  Or, maybe it will just be a practice of discipline or obedience.  No matter what I hope that His faithfulness will use something that I’ve laid down here on this screen to His glory.