Riding the Rolls and Yaws and Pitches

Five Minute Friday!  

So I hit a wall.  I hit a wall and I had a few days where I cried a lot and I felt miserable.  And I read comments that some of you sweet folks left.  And then I remembered.

I remembered the numbness.  I remembered how closing myself off from the awful feelings and trying to ‘suck it up and deal’ made me forget how to feel.  I remembered the “On and Off Switch” that got stuck.

I remembered John 1:1-18 and the admonishment to memorize it and root it deep into my brain and my heart and to remember that the WORD became FLESH.  That Jesus was HUMAN.  And that I am called to become more and more human–to follow hard after Him and to watch the work of redemption craft me into more and more of who I was created to be each day.

But I have to stay open.  I have to let myself feel.  I have to be ready to roll and yaw and pitch in this amazing journey of life.  I have to remember that sometimes those who are most blessed realize those blessings in circumstances that look more…  HARD than blessed to the naked eye.

So as I walk into this New Year…  I can’t imagine what kinds of curve balls and changes and new journeys it will bring.  I find myself apprehensive about new years because of the number of curve ball years it seems we’ve had.  And yet the lesson in that is that if I stay open to the every day….  If I take it just a day at a time, a moment at a time, an emotion at a time…  I can see the gifts of right now.  I can feel the feelings.  I can become more me.  And I can ride out the waves and the curve balls as they come.  After all, His grace has allowed me to this far.

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Wall Vs. Val

I seem to have hit a wall.

I did really well at finding the light in the darkness for Christmas.  And it was quite a bumpy holiday.  Husband was gone and I felt that acutely.  We were delighted to have my folks visit but dismayed to find that the sickies that almost always follow them home hit them almost as soon as they walked in the door to a rather extreme degree.  Then Baby Girl got stomach flu.  And the kids version of swept up in magic didn’t look quiet and reverent this year, but loud and hyper with a side of obnoxious and disobedient flung in.  I went to bed Christmas Eve bone tired, but still I was finding a light in the darkness.  Christmas morning had it’s wide-eyed excitement and the glory of children playing and that was good for my heart too and then…

Baby girl hit a wall herself.  She had kept up close to her normal level of energy and playfulness until that afternoon–going on three days of stomach flu.  Then she got lethargic.  She laid on me and snuggled–which this little girl does NOT do.  She got progressively less responsive.  Finally she was barely holding up her little head.

So I went to the ER.  She was dehydrated and the doctor and I agreed that IV fluids made sense.  After four attempts of putting in the IV, she finally had fluids going in to her little foot as well as some Zofran for the nausea.  I read John and Abigail Adams letters on my Kindle while she dozed on my lap.  I tried very hard not to feel too sorry for myself.

On the drive back,as I thought about going home and climbing the stairs to our empty bed, a loneliness hit me too my core.  Some little shred of denial was lifted and I felt the distance from my husband and the number of days until we’ll see him again deeply.  He isn’t just at work.  He isn’t on a short trip only to return any time.  He is gone…  to the other side of the world, gone.  With days and days and days until we’ll see him again.

And I am here taking  babies to the ER, being bled on to get an IV placed.  I am here solely responsible for these three babes we love so much.  I am here in charge of bills, taxes, and garbage days.  I am here…  And he is there.

The reality came crashing in and a little piece of me crumbled.

I woke up the next morning with more than the post-Christmas thud going on.  The sleeplessness didn’t help.  What I felt though was real and deep and raw and undeniable.

Back to the Urgent Care again last night because baby girl was heading back to a place that looked listless to me and while we came home with the good news that she was not dehydrated our trip made me miss talking to my husband.  Then the phone finally rang late at night and while the phone call was a decent length and gave us time to catch up on the surface of things the hanging up rent me in two.

That raw, unchecked emotion.

It feels something like despair.

I’m angry at myself for being here.  A month in I should be finding my groove and starting to feel the empowering feelings of, “I really can do this.  We’re going to make it after all, Mary Tyler Moore.”  I should be hitting my stride and laughing in the face of deployment doldrums and gremlins alike.

Somehow though, I’m not.  I’ve read pithy little blogs about how to suck it up and deal with deployments here and there searching for people who haven’t hit their stride like they were supposed to either.  The only place that seems to call it like they see it in the same way I call it like I see it has been Her War, Her Voice.  For my third deployment, and fourth major separation, these feelings sure don’t line up with what I expected a ‘seasoned’ Navy wife to feel.

A new blog-friend of mine wrote a beautiful post about  how God is calling her to contentment right now in the midst of her deployment.  She wrote about how she is being convicted not to rush things until her husband gets home and to be grateful for the every day blessings she sees around her.

As I read the post though, instead of feeling comforted, I was scared.  My heart just wanted to hide.  While part of me *is* trudging on and at least doing the bare minimum of what I need to do to keep us all going, another part of me wants to curl up into a ball until he gets home.  I keep trying to talk myself into setting some goals and making this time an opportunity for me to thrive and not merely survive.  I keep trying to call myself back to the Counting of Graces that Ann Voskamp urges us to.

But my heart feels leaden to it all.  And that scares me.

Have I hit my wall?  Have I hit my limit?  Did the weariness of the seasons previous to this never get fully addressed leaving me less-equipped to take on this deployment?  Am I just out of practice?  Is it the short notice factor?  Am I, as I wondered at the end of our last sea tour when we thought that perhaps we’d be getting out after our shore tour, just not cut out for this lifestyle?

Am I deceived by the ‘mostly together’ appearance of other military wives–do they have their days and nights like those that I’ve had here lately too?  Are the boot straps and big girl panties sometimes missing at their houses?

Is it…  could it be…  Just exhaustion and PMS layered on top of one another?

I don’t have answers or a tidy little bow for this one.  I’m still in it.

I’m talking to God about it.  At least some.  I’m trying to be open to whatever work He may be doing in and through this–even in and through this wall that I seem to have smacked up against.

Though part of me feels despondent I am not completely despondent and it’s entirely possible that I will wake up tomorrow or sometime this weekend or next week feeling the beginnings of ‘the groove and empowerment’ phase creeping in.

Until then, I’m going to sit in this and try not to flinch.  I’m going to try not to yell at myself for  wishing we could fast forward until the time he’ll be in our arms again even as I try not to get stuck in a black hole of wishing we could be doing anything but this.

And soon, I will find that light again.

In Which History is Made and the Laundry Gets Folded

My first year of college I had a dynamic history professor named Tim Kneeland for one of those Freshman level American History classes that came first thing in the morning.  One of the assignments that first semester was to interview someone who had been alive at significant points during the past century and ask what their first-hand recollections were about those events.

I asked my Gramma H. what she remembered about the end of World War II. While my grandfather didn’t serve in the war, they were young adults at the time.  I expected that she’d tell me about some grand-scale celebration in the tiny town of Walnut Grove for the victory in Europe or Japan.  I don’t know why I thought a place that small could sustain a ticker-tape parade or why I thought that in a one-horse town like that folks would flood the streets.  I was incredibly surprised when my grandmother told me she couldn’t recall that day.  She didn’t remember anything significant about it.  Here she’d lived through the history, but had no meaningful recollection of it?  How was that possible?

I was folding laundry last night and watching some more episodes of The Wonder Years when I happened to click over to Google News and saw that the last troops had crossed the border out of Iraq and that the war there, at least, is officially over.

There were no ticker tape parades last night and no one flooded the streets even here in base housing.  I read the news and went back to my laundry.

As I folded though, I thought about the lack of pomp and circumstance I was experiencing. I heard the war was over and I folded another t-shirt?  Really?

The fact of the matter is for me, though the war is over, my husband is still speeding away from me to the other side of the world.  That is a surreal feeling.  For the things happening in my every day life I don’t feel like celebrating.    I do celebrate greatly for those who are coming home from Iraq and will be able to be with their families for this Christmas.  That is a true joy, it goes without saying.  I do not begrudge them their homecoming because my husband just left in the least.  They get a respite from the time apart and those days and nights of worry and fear.  I am happy with them and for them.

But for me, the deployment continues and the absence continues.  The war is over, but my husband’s job goes on.

I also feel the same conflicted emotions that many Americans feel about this war.  It has been speculated about and pontificated on so much that I can’t make heads or tails of it.  I felt ok with not being able to make heads or tails of it before, but somehow at its ending I wanted a black and white way to feel.

I thought of the thousands of service members and families for whom this war will never really be over:  Those who lost a loved one, those who were injured, those suffering TBI or PTSD even if they look “fine” on the outside.  I thought about the ripple effects that will have on our society for years to come.  I thought of the impact that all this has had on the citizens of Iraq….

I don’t know how to feel at the “end” of this war.  I don’t know if it’s really “over.”  I know better than most that our troops are still out their serving.  They’re still willingly saying good-bye to their loved ones for months at a time to do a job that this country has asked them to do.   I wonder about those serving in Afghanistan and even those on my husband’s ship…  Do they feel forgotten right now as the media trumpets the word “over” repetitiously and the politicians pat themselves on the backs?

I thought of all of these things and I folded another t-shirt, and another…  I thought about the “endings” of the other wars in our history.  What did it feel like at the end of Korea?  At the end of Vietnam?  Is there always, in some way, an understated quality to the news as the world keeps spinning and the laundry keeps being folded?  Are the black and whites always a little muddy grey in the end–even in wars that we believe in hindsight made sense like World War II?  Thousands upon thousands of individuals were killed, untold devastation was wrought.  Did even the greatest generation find it hard to know how to feel or what to celebrate?

I folded more laundry and I continued to feel the absence of my husband still so acutely even as the headlines said, “Over.”

And I thought about my Grandma…  who had no recollection of the ending of World War II.

When my grandkids ask me about what I recall about the end of the war in Iraq what will I have to say?  Will I tell them that their grandfather was on an aircraft carrier speeding miles and miles away from me…  that I read the headlines and quietly kept folding laundry?

Why the Swedish Chef Should Be Written Into Parenting Manuals

We have pajama parties on Friday nights when Daddy is away.  We usually put on jammies and snuggle up and watch movies.  Tonight we decorated Gingerbread Cookies instead.  We listened to Christmas music and we destroyed the kitchen and the dining room table with powdered sugar, flour, and frosting.

Then bedtime rolled around and we’d had TOO much fun and so winding down was hard. I was nursing the baby and listening to the shrieks and shouts above me and resolving NOT to yell upstairs and well…  You can guess how well that went.

So our Gingerbread making Euphoria came to an abrupt end and C started doing that thing she has done since she was teeny, teeny tiny and pushing to the limits and then past the limits and then painting herself into a corner of ugliness and consequences…

That’s where she found herself when I finally kissed them goodnight.  I sang the normal lulla-bye to A.  C refused hers.  C refused her bed.  C curled up on a particularly soft portion of her bedroom floor with her pillow pet because she thought it would really show me if she didn’t actually get into her bed.  She refused hugs and kisses and so I told her I loved her and came downstairs to settle into watching The Wonder Years on Netflix (did you know that they have The Wonder Years on Netflix Instant Play???  I am SO. EXCITED!!!).

Well, I got about 21 minutes into the pilot and Karen had just announced that Winnie Cooper’s brother Brian had been killed in the war when Abigail crept downstairs weeping.

“What’s wrong, Abigail???”

*sniff*  “Carolyn is running away!!!”

I called C downstairs and tried my normal running away bag of tricks and said sadly but non-nonchalantly, “It’s too bad that you’re running away.  Especially since Papa and Nonna will be in town in just a couple of days…  And especially since we have all these presents under the tree for you…  I guess I’ll have to find someone else to give those to.  Plus I will just miss you so much.  BUT if you’re going to go, be sure to dress warmly, and take your piggy bank.”

She still held onto her steely resolve.

Abigail continued sniffing quietly, not being so wise to the ways of Carolyn’s ‘running away plotting.’  It’s been a while since she’s tried this particular tactic, and Abs is a little tender about the idea of family members packing bags and going anywhere at this point.  I sent them back upstairs to bed and told C to stop the running away nonsense if nothing else for A’s sake.

In the meantime I hit the computer to check my email for a message from hubby and to look at Facebook.  I happened to see that a friend of mine had posted the Muppet version of the Carol of the Bells.  About this time, Abigail crept down again to tell me that Carolyn had still not budged.  She was packing her bags as we spoke and soon she would no longer reside in our household…   I told her to call her sister downstairs.

She came around the corner with her sweatshirt pulled on over the Daddy shirt she was wearing as a night-gown, with the cardboard box that a Teddy Bear came in a week before packed full of odds and ends for her journey.  I pulled her up onto my lap.  I could have taken the reasoning tactic, or the ‘we love you so much that I don’t ever want to hear you talking about running away again’ tack.  Or I could have leveled more consequences and spoken with her sternly.  Instead I didn’t say anything….  she sat on one knee and Abigail crawled up on the other and we watched The Swedish Chef, Beaker, and Animal sing us “Carol of the Bells.”  I laughed and laughed.  Abigail giggled and Carolyn tried hard not to crack a smile.  Then I turned on a few Swedish Chef videos and not even she could suppress a giggle or two.  It was all over for all three of us when the Swedish Chef used a Bazooka on the pumpkins who were hoping to avoid being carved and ended up with two perfect talking pumpkin pies with whipped cream eyes on their tops.  We sat there guffawing together at the nonsensical food violence of The Swedish Chef.

Maybe it’s not what the parenting books would describe as the best way to handle discipline with a spirited child… and maybe it was past their bed times…

But for a few minutes I had perfection with those two little birds who though they are my ‘big girls’ will always be my babies.  Both girls snuggled in and giggled hysterically, while taking turns picking the next video to watch.   I forgot about the mess in the kitchen and my to-do list before bed, and I was distracted from that place in my chest that constantly aches with the missing of husband.

As for Carolyn?  She decided not to run away after all.

She wants to watch more Swedish Chef videos on the computer when she wakes up tomorrow morning.

Connected

Five Minute Friday again!  Today’s word is Connected.  We write for five minutes–just five minutes on the given topic and remember how much we love words and how if we let them they will teach us things we didn’t expect.

We met the first day of college in this oh-so-groan-worthy Freshman orientation course that I can only assume was common to small Christian colleges called “Connect.”  He had cowboy boots on.  He looked nice enough.

We got to know one another little by little.  He invited me to the symphony and I insisted it be an “Undate.”  We were friends, really good friends for two years.  And then suddenly we hit that place where it seemed like there was something deeper happening.

Now we’re on our third deployment.  I’m thankful for the language and schema that Madeleine L’Engle books give me.  I think of the idea that WHERE doesn’t matter, but WHO does and I remember that even though he’s somewhere past the International Dateline and I can’t keep track of what time zone he could possibly be in, that we are still connected.  Our hearts still beat together.  Even so far apart, we are still somehow one.

I miss him deep into the marrow of my bone and am stymied by how much harder this is than I remember it.  I want not to let myself get totally numb.  I need to do this humanly.  I need to do this as ME and not as other wives who seem to be able to shrug these long separations off as though it was just a business trip.

We are connected.  We will discover it anew this time.  There will be days and ways that we will ‘just know’ something of the other and moments when his words in an email or a letter will touch something in a way that he couldn’t have known I needed from the other side of the world and that heart connection regardless of distance will be affirmed.

Why I love Christmas

I love Christmas….  but not for the normal reasons.

It’s not because of the music or the warm feeling or that everyone is kind to each other.  It’s not the giving or the charity or the good will that we have toward fellow-man at this time of year that gets me.  It’s not the cheeriness or the warm smells or even the time with family.  And it’s not even JUST the wonder of the nativity and the Christmas story.  The thought of Jesus as a baby brings wonder…  but there’s still something more to it for me.

I love Christmas for this reason that feels almost backward.

I love Christmas because Christmas doesn’t hide from darkness.  I love it because I don’t have to be happy to get it.  I love it because my heart doesn’t have to feel a single “Holly Jolly” in order to participate in the drama and the magic of the season.  I love Christmas because it is a time in which the parts of me that are most dark can be named and because time and time again in a beautiful God-ordained love song, God has shown me that a light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.

Here is a truth of Christmas–it GETS the darkness.  It doesn’t shy away from the darkness…  Even in the movie versions.  How many Christmas stories involve some of the darkest circumstances?  And still somehow hope triumphs.  How many Christmas songs are sung in a minor key and still somehow the sound resonates within us?

Christmas gets the darkness…  (And so therefore, so must GOD!)  It stares it down hard.  Somehow it’s in that darkness–the completeness of it, the deep and dazzling quality of it–that we are able to understand the miracle of the light.

My church is focusing on the first 18 verses of John for Advent.

In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made.  Without him nothing was made that had been made.  In him was light and that light was the light of all men.  The light shines in the darkness but the darkness has not understood it….

The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.  In the darkness of separation from the one that I love.  In the darkness of the loss of my mom and being with my husband’s family to gather as his grandfather slipped away–Andrew in Iraq…  That  Christmas season was so dark it was almost palpable.  In the darkness of the aftermath of a miscarriage:  the songs about how “A baby changes everything,” and the endless repetition of the words ‘newborn’ and ‘infant’ and ‘babe’ as I was coming to terms with the reality that the babe I had wanted would never be.  In the uncertainty of a new year facing a surgery and an uncertain disease.  Christmas and the Christ of Christmas embraced these darknesses and allowed me to name them.  I felt them deep unto my bones.

And somehow in each of those times and in each of those places the light pierced through.  Sometimes in pinpricks and sometimes with flood lights.  Somehow I was sustained and thrown a lifeline of hope.  The light shone in the darkness and the darkness did not understand it and the darkness did not overcome it.

It happens each and every year.  It is part of the divine drama of Christmas.  In it is some of the best of the good news of the gospel.  The darkness will not overcome the light.  Not for any of us.  We may think it’s been completely snuffed out.  We may think the light has been hermetically sealed out and still somehow there will be a spark that will hit the wick of a candle and the light will seep through and the light will overcome.

The life that was the light of all men has been let out.  In the dark of the night there was a mewling cry and it’s now grown into abundant life.

Christmas GETS the darkness.  It stares it full in the face.  And in subtle, gentle ways or in dramatic flourishing ways, the light of God overcomes.

And THIS.  THIS is why I love Christmas.

Some days…

It’s all I can do to make it to the end of some days…  Not that I want to wish my life away and not that I don’t cherish my girls.

When it’s day 3 of mastitis and the pain and fever have gone but the exhaustion and the achiness haven’t.

When the phone finally rings and I can hear his voice for just a few moments and I know they have to be enough to sustain me for a few more weeks until the next chance to call comes…  When the voice shakes me out of the numb I had started to nestle into and the longing crawls out full force.

When A’s temper can’t be controlled and she lashes and lashes and lashes hurting her sister in ways that scare me and then screaming and pleading and tantruming until she leaves us both wrung out and spent.  When she pushes and pulls me.  When I waffle on giving her comfort in her consequences and letting her feel what alone feels like.

When the missing of Daddy becomes more than she can bear and C collapses onto her bed bereft of Daddy’s hugs and kisses and curls into a ball screaming for her Daddy and my heart breaks in two.

When C leaves “loved notes” on my pillow that slay me in their sweetness and break me in two with her first-grade brave spelling of, “I noticed you’ve been sad since Dad’s been gone.  I love you.  C”

When I finally sink down to let it all go and I hear the baby’s plaintive cry.  She needs mama too and mama is plain wrung out…

On these days it’s all I can do to make it to the end.  And I wonder how I can keep waking up and doing it again for these long months to come.

But I will.  By grace I will.  Somehow the strength will be there.  And not all days are like this.