Grit proved in the slide

Digging in again to Five Minute Friday with Lisa Jo of Gypsy Mama fame.  If you’re visiting from there, pop down to my last post–I’m doing a celebratory giveaway!  🙂

 

Here’s the thing about grit.  You don’t really know it’s around until things start to slide a little.

One of the words people used often about my mother was ‘gritty.’  It wasn’t a pretty word, or a flowery word, but it’s one of my favorite descriptors of her.  I think she is one of the reasons that when the going gets tough I try like mad to dig in.  

I don’t like when things are out of control. I don’t like it one bit.  I don’t like when multiple focalities of ‘bigness’ show up at once.  I don’t like treading water in even singular spots of ‘bigness.’

But it’s in these things that I find the grit that God has graced me with.  I find that when I feel like I’m slipping out of his arms–even there–there is something in me that digs in and holds on.  

I have a friend who used to say when things got tough or situations with others were trying, “Think of it this way, Val…  That’s just the sand paper that God is using to sand you down.”  God’s grit on my sharp edges continues to form me into who He wants me to be.  And yet, I think he has designed some traction points into me, and into all of us–Sharp edges, and pointy parts that maybe on first blush seem to be anomalies which need to be sanded away.  But His word says, “For when I am weak, then HE shall be strong.”  

Sometimes those rough edges are the very things that help us dig in and hold on tight.

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BE Rare, SEE Rare. A give-away for my Tumahversary

Read on down to the bottom.  In honor of my Tumahversary I’m doing my very first Bloggy giveaway!

I was reading a devotional yesterday by Lysa Terkeurst  and in it she relates a conversation she’d had with a friend.  Her friend had been encouraging her to stay the course on something hard, not for outward rewards, but because she wanted to please God.  She said these words to Lysa:  “Be rare.”

Rare.  I have a funny relationship with that word.  Most of you know that in June of 2010, when I was 16 weeks pregnant with my Lainey, I found out that I had a rare tumor called a paraganglioma on my carotid artery.  When the doctor called to give me the news he literally had to look it up on Google and Wikipedia to give me any information about it.  It was that rare.  I’ve read figures that say 1  out of every 100,000 people will have this tumor and figures that say 3-8 out of every million people with get a pheochromocytoma or a paraganglioma.

A year ago today I had that tumor removed at the National Institutes of Health (which is, incidentally 3000 miles away from my home ;)).  If you want to read that story check it out over here.  Today is my Tumahversary.

Everybody feels ordinary sometimes.  Every body feels like they are ‘nothing special really.’  Like there is nothing notable about them.  When I was diagnosed, suddenly there was something notable about me.  It made doctors look at me with interest, scrutinizing me like I was a lab specimen.  I could see them get excited and could almost hear them bragging to their cronies, ‘I had a patient with a carotid body tumor today!’  I thought for a good part of the year that perhaps I had underestimated ordinariness.  Truly, I think one of my biggest lessons of the year was to NOT devalue those things that are ordinary.  That every moment is precious if simply because it comes around only once in all of time.  The ordinary moment truly is, it turns out, rare.  In this way I’m learning to SEE rare, though I do  so VERY imperfectly.

But I think another lesson that God is teasing out of me in all of this is the challenge to BE rare.  Just as Lysa says.  Do I want to be the Zebra the doctors get excited to see at office visits because of my strange medical history and dogged insistence that we continue to be vigilant?  No.

Do I want to be the girl who is less afraid to take risks?  Less afraid to stick her neck out?  Less afraid to play the odds and believe that they could fall in my favor?  Less afraid to try even though I might fail?  Yes.  That’s the kind of rare I want to be….  the kind of rare that Lysa’s friend was referring to.

Did I tell you that I started entering contests and raffles this year?  I always saw myself as the girl who didn’t have the luck for those sorts of things.  I always sat and watched other people’s names be drawn out of a hat.  I never thought it was worth it to play the odds until the odds played me.

Now I give it a shot.  I’ve even won stuff.  Free books, jewelry, raffle prizes at MOPS, giveaways.  I figure if I’ve got 3-8 per million look, I might as well try to use it in my favor.

I’ve learned to stick my neck out…  to be audacious.

I want to be like some of the incredible friends I’ve met on the journey.  For some of these people those ‘improbable odds’ really socked them.  Not only did they get rare tumors, but they got rare tumors that recurred, or metastasized or were genetic.  They had the odds stack up against them and survived over and over.  They hike mountains and go mountain biking and boldly knock on doors to fight for themselves or for others who also play the lottery of life and come out with the improbable.  I want to face the scary stuff of life and come out swinging and still loving life, like these friends.

I also want to be like the gentleman I saw in the Naval Hospital Pharmacy this week.

Everyone at the Naval Hospital Pharmacy is cagey, impatient, tired of hurry up and wait and then more waiting.  We’ve all been to our appointment, or waited in Urgent Care for too long.

But this gentleman had a sparkle in his eye and he spoke with  kindness and cheer to everyone he saw.  He made his way up to Carolyn and I (we were getting medicine for an ear ache after a trip to the Urgent Care) and asked her and another little girl sitting across from us if they listened to their mamas.  They nodded shyly and he asked them if he knew why they should listen to their Mamas.  And then he told them that it’s because their Mamas love them, and because God asks us to listen to our Mamas and Dads.  He pulled out two golden dollar coins and gave them to the girls for being good listeners and then turned to me.  He told me that he thought I had one of the hardest and most important jobs ever and that he was grateful that I did it and took it seriously.  He, a Navy veteran, essentially thanked ME for my service.  As he walked away I watched him approach other service members and retirees with a kind word for all of them.  He was very much like the guy in the short film Validation just walking around giving encouragement to people.

What struck me in that drab environment full of impatient people just tired of waiting and barely masking their frustration in that was that this man was being rare.  He chose a different path.  Instead of blending in with the grey seats and the grey people surrounding him he was a flash of brightness encouraging those around him.

I’m on the cusp of a few changes that need to be made–as we all are often.  Hard changes, but the every day kind.  So many times I would get overwhelmed at the enormity of things.  Make excuses and say, “It’s unlikely that this will ever really work so why bother?”

It’s beginning to occur to me–I can make the choice to be rare.  I can let this challenge me to be audacious.  I can make the choice to stick it out.  I can make the choice to do the things I do, not for external validation, but to honor God.  I can make the choice to be a ray of light amongst grey drabness.  I can make the choice to stand up for what I believe in even when almost no one else sitting around me does.  I can BE rare in all these ways too.

Getting something “rare” is teaching me to BE RARE and to SEE RARE.  It’s teaching me to take the risks, and try, though it seems like failure is most likely.  It’s teaching me to SEE the exquisiteness of every moment because they all come around only once.

I’m one year out from surgery today.  It’s my Tumahversary.  And I am thankful that the lessons it took me so long to see and give words to are emerging.

So to celebrate I wanted to give away a book written by another person who–much more gracefully and poetically than I–has learned and is teaching others how to see the Rareness of each moment.  I want to give away a copy of Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts.

Now I don’t delude myself into thinking that I have scores of visitors at this here blog, the odds may truly be in your favor  (and I suspect more than a couple of you have already read this book–but maybe you know someone who needs a present ;)), but…  If you’d like to enter this giveaway, leave me a comment before Midnight tomorrow (2-24).  Tell me one way that you’ve been given the grace to BE rare or SEE rare.  I’ll pick names of commenters out of a hat and send a copy of the book someone’s way.  Go ahead.  Be audacious.  🙂

Where to Hang my Hope

I’m addicted to my pastor’s sermons.  Which, I think, is a much healthier addiction than my very real addiction to chocolate and baked goods of all varieties.  There are a collection of past sermons on ITunes and some times when I’m needing a lift in the evenings, I’ll look for one I haven’t listened to yet.  I’m telling you, I’m pretty sure you’d have to be dead to not feel some moving of the spirit within when listening to these messages.

Last week I listened to a sermon that has kind of been rattling around the rafters of my heart ever since.  In it the pastor challenged the places that we focus our hope.  He stated the obvious:  Any place other than Jesus that you put your hope in will disappoint and frustrate you.

As I said, this is obvious and it’s not a new thought to me, but it made me do a reality check.  Have I mentioned lately how hard deployments are?  Oh, several thousand times?  Sorry about that.  So anyway…  In the midst of a deployment–at the beginning or the middle or even nearing the end when you’re just tired and worn down and the hard has just been so hard it’s so easy to see that ‘end date’ as the thing in which to put your hope.  It is the light at the end of the tunnel, and my wonderful and amazing husband gets to be cast as the super hero that will swoop in and chase the bad guys away.  I glamorize the welcome home and imagine that when he walks through the door and our family is again complete that the angels and little birdies will sweetly sing and my inner and outer world will be at peace at last.

I’ve been through this a couple of times.  And that bit actually happens sometimes.  For a couple of days.

Of course if that Rockwellian Happy Ending is what I put my hope in, I set myself up for a rather dramatic thud a week and a half into his being home when I’m knee deep in smelly boat laundry, feeling cramped in bed, and trying to figure out how exactly to let him back in to the running of the household that I have been managing just fine by myself thankyouverymuch.

Because then, the girls get rowdy and wild and instead of it just being me pulling my hair out, it’s me AND my husband pulling our hair out.  The dance of reintegration gets tricky and we start snapping at each other as we try to remember how we fit together again and as we assess where we changed and where we grew and where we got harder as a result of the challenge.  The honeymoon stage ends and life’s challenges creep in and we all have to re-calibrate.

If I put my hope in this deployment ending…  If I put my hope in my husband coming home and ‘rescuing me’ from this hard, I WILL be disappointed.  As great as the man looks in tights and a cape (or rather…  in Dress Blues and a Dixie Cup cover), I have to remember this.

If I put my hope in Christ, I WON’T be disappointed.  And I don’t have to wait til we get to the ‘end date’ to sink into the joy and peace that placing my hope there can bring.

 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

–Romans:3-5

I’m not trying to over dramaticize things by calling the challenges of deployment ‘suffering.’ When I apply these thoughts to my life though, I categorize pretty much everything that I consider ‘challenging’ as stuff that can produce perseverance and therefore character and therefore hope.  Deployments call for perseverance and endurance.  There’s just no getting around that.

So I’m doing my best to hang my hat on my hope where I won’t get disappointed.  I’m trying to hang it some place that won’t cause erosion to my relationship to my husband.  He’s pretty incredible, but if I hang my hope on him, he WILL fail me and then I WILL feel crushed and disappointed and angry.

Some days I have to remind myself over and over and over again–Hope in Christ.  He is here NOW.  He is in this NOW.  The end of the deployment looks like the perfect happy ending, but putting my hope in the right place means that the happy ending is unfolding even as we speak.  It is happening in the development of perseverance and character.  It is happening in the comfort I find in the hard days and the joys that I can count along the way.  It is happening in the places where I find abundant life sprinkled in and amongst the challenging stuff.  It is happening in the redemptive work being done inside of me as God faithfully promises not to waste even these relatively minor struggles.

I can’t wait for this deployment to be over, but I’m hanging my hope where it belongs.

Fight the Gray

Five Minute Friday.  One of my favorite bloggy days of the week.  We write for five minutes.  We don’t over think.  We don’t super edit.  We just write.  And then we share.  And then we read and encourage.

I have allowed the grey to encircle and encloak me.  It is mid February in the Pacific Northwest.  Gray is a thing we do well at this time of year.

Every day I spend so focused on getting by and going through that I forget to chase after those things that delight me.  I settle for small things–eating too much chocolate (which ultimately leads to feelings of defeat and shame, I might add), too much time on Facebook,  TV shows after the kids go to bed.

When is the last time I breathed in deep the freedom-filled air of delight?

It’s not that I don’t enjoy my children or the world around me.  I do.  My youngest I have described many times in all her babyness as ‘my delight.’  Their giggles and joy in the world are always a shot in the arm of joy.  But something more is needed here.

I have not been cultivating the freedom of delight in my life as I wish I had been.  I’ve been too tired and overwhelmed.  The days have seemed too full of places to be and things that needed done.

So in these moments I know it is important to ask the question.  It’s an important question for the livelihood of my soul.  What delights me?  What sweeps me off my feet?  What gives me the room to take a full deep unencumbered breath?  I need to find these pockets of delight and curl myself into them.  I need to put them on the to-do list I have to.

My heart and my soul will be better for it if I do.  And I may just find some splashes of color amidst the gray.

Table Legs Revisited

I wrote this in 2001.  I found it tonight…  There are things I’ve written that I look back on and go, “Oh Val…  you thought you knew so much.”  I was happy to read this tonight and be reminded of something that I need to remember again.

I remember the undersides of tables. I used to sit under our kitchen table for long periods of time, no doubt spinning fine tales of a wild imagination. Sadly, I’ve lost the memory or the worlds I explored with my creative mind as transport, but I haven’t forgotten those table legs.

Have you ever considered why we loved being under tables when we were younger? (perhaps I am the only one who did love being under tables.) Maybe it was the security that a place so small and cozy could offer. Maybe, it was the privacy tables afforded. My guess, however, is that we retreated under tables because they were a place all our own as small people. Those humans of a larger size might condescend to enter our sacred territory once in a very long while, but for the most part, the space under tables can be inhabited only by those of very small size. I had the authority in my worlds under tables. And they could be transformed into incomparably amazing places.

I was in awe of the legs of our kitchen table. There were interesting colors stained into the wood and burbles of funny round rings all the way down to the floor. I can remember the feeling of running my hands down those table legs. They were smooth and cool and bumpy. I’m told that when I was two or three, I spent an unusually long amount of time under that table one evening, and at supper my parents discovered that it was suddenly wobbly.  Upon closer inspection they noticed that the screws holding it together were strewn all over the floor. I guess I got a little carried away with the discovery that screws can come out! Other tables were fascinating to me as well. My grandmother’s table had vertical wooden bars going all across the front. This table, of course, turned into a jail and a zoo on several occasions. And, the end tables in our living room had these funny nut/bolt contraptions that looked to me like loud speakers. The ends of the tables were smooth and round, and the legs were square with funny indentations carved into them. I can remember the feel of the textures under my fingers.

We still have the end tables. I’m tempted to go see if they feel the same way.

I’m sitting here remembering how very much I enjoyed the undersides of those tables.  How the little details of them are significant memories from my childhood. When I started  remembering tables, other details of childhood pleasures came to mind: the texture of the upholstery on our old couch–all the tiny squares made from little threads woven together. I remember the old water pump in my grandmother’s front yard, and the funny rocks in the cement base that it stood upon. And how I reveled in sliding down steps on my rear end! Who needs fancy amusement park rides when you have basement steps?!

In THE RAGAMUFFIN GOSPEL, Brennan Manning tells about a man named Abraham Joseph Heschel whose remark before dying was this, “Never once did I ask God for success or wisdom or power of fame. I asked for wonder, and he gave it to me.” Later Brennan says, “Our world is saturated with grace, and the lurking presence of God is revealed not only in spirit but in matter–in a deer leaping across a meadow, in the flight of an eagle, in fire and water, in a rainbow after a summer storm, in a gentle doe streaking through a forest, in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, in a child licking an ice cream cone, in a woman with windblown hair. God intended for us to discover his loving presence in the world around us.” I would submit that this loving presence and saturation of grace can be found in the undersides of tables as well.

I could ask you now: What were your ‘table legs’ when you were younger? But I think a more important question would be: What are your ‘table legs’ now?  What small things do you take pleasure in as you go throughout your days? We reminisce about the wonder we had as children, but we have no excuse not to have the same wonder now. What small things caused you to sigh deeply and let your imagination run wild with today?

“I asked God for wonder, and he gave it to me.” May my prayer be the same.

What To Do if the “Coping with Deployment” articles aren’t helping you cope

So I have these moments…  a handful a week actually, where the deployment is just kicking my butt and I am at my wits end and the fit that whichever girl just threw plus the pile of laundry which is ever-present and never gets smaller makes me want to cry, and the cereal that I swept off the floor two times already today is crunching under my feet again, and I’m tired to death of eggo waffles, and I just miss my husband.

In these handfuls of moments I go looking for others to commiserate with me. I look for articles about coping with deployments.

And I read a few.

And I get mad.

Because they all say, “Stop crying in your cheerios!  It’s not like you’re the only one!  Go do something to better the world!  Go to school!  Build a house!  Run a marathon, dagummit! And whatever you do, STAY BUSY!  In fact, go ahead and exhaust yourself!  You are a NAVY wife!  Stop being pathetic!”

And really, they just don’t make me feel much better.

So I’m writing my own post, darn it.

Val’s version of What to do if the going is getting hard in a deployment and the “Coping” articles just aren’t cutting it.

1)  It’s ok if you don’t feel happy and perky all the time or if you don’t feel like conquering the world to fill the vast void of emptiness that you feel in the missing of your deployed service member.  It’s ok too if you don’t want to read articles that make you feel like you’re a sissy if after a month or two of deployment you still have moments of just plain ole wanting to be done.  In those moments, my best advice is this:  Find someone who will tell it like it is.  Find someone who will flat-out say it.  Just go ahead and find someone who will just plain say, “Deployments STINK!  Like rotten awful eggs!  They are awful!  They aren’t fun!  Even if they make you stronger they don’t feel good!”  Maybe I’m the only one, but sometimes I just flat out need someone to commiserate with me and ‘get it.’  I don’t mean constant sympathy clucking.  But sometimes I don’t want to be around positive girls with big girl panties and ample boot straps all the time.  Sometimes I just need to say what I feel and know that that’s ok and understood too.  Which I guess translates into:  Find people who speak your deployment language.  

2)  Keep your routines if/when it feels good.  Abandon them if/when it doesn’t.  It’s ok if your convictions about that change daily.  All the other articles say that you must not only regiment yourself to your normal routine, but you should actually add to it so that your brain is so exhausted from spinning into all these other projects you won’t actually register that missing your deployment service member feels like you are bleeding out of an open wound.  I see value in routine.  I do.  I also know that after about 2 weeks of trying to rehabilitate myself and stick to any routine religiously, I get ticked off at the structure and kick it to smithereens.  So to that I say, even if you’re two months in and you feel like crap and don’t want to wake up and get dressed or brush your teeth or make your bed one day…  Well  DON’T!  If you want to eat breakfast for dinner for three weeks in a row, go ahead!  If you have kids, you have to keep them clothed and fed and safe.  You have to take care of the necessities.  In my opinion there is wiggle room on all the rest.

3)  I know you are trying your hardest not to be mopey all the time, but I say–It’s your deployment and you can cry if you want to.  Paying careful attention for signs of depression, if you have a day or an hour or a week where you feel mopey, you have MY permission at least to Mope.  Come over to my house.  I keep a supply of Cheerios just for crying into.

4)  Don’t read things that make you feel guilty.  If you are doing a deployment and continue to wake up in the morning, face the day, go to sleep, and wake up again, over and over and over again, you have something to feel proud about.  You ARE  achieving something great in my opinion.  If you WANT to train for a marathon or learn Spanish or crochet 2 bazillion afghan’s for unfortunate Chihuahuas.  Then do it.  But, in my opinion, surviving these darned things is hard enough without being told that I have to focus all my energy into some grand achievement to make myself feel better or to show the world that I accomplished something when all is said and done.  Piloting me and three emotionally variable little girls to the end of this thing WILL BE A MAJOR ACCOMPLISHMENT.  I promise you.

5)  Communicate with your service member in whatever way works for you  both.  I hate the articles that say “Don’t EVER tell them that the car broke down and the kids are sick, and you’re so tired your eyes are starting to bug out of your head because it will make them feel angry and guilty.”  I try to never, ever communicate the hard stuff in a way that says, “Why aren’t you here you dorkfish?  I’m so mad at you for abandoning me!”  But do I tell my husband, “This is hard.  I’m tired.  Sometimes I’m not sure if I can do this another day.”  Yes.  Yes.  I do.  It gives him a chance to say, “Honey.  I love you.  I believe in you.  And you can do this.”  And most times, that’s what I really, really need.  If you don’t function like that and that works for you great.  My husband knows enough to worry more when I don’t  talk about the hard stuff because that means it’s gathering on my innards and I will soon be on the road to implosion.

6)  K.I.S.S.  Keep It Simple Stupid.  Will you stay busier if you make a four-course meal for you and your kids every night?  Sure!  Would there be less time to feel mopey about missing your loved one if you put the kids in activities 24-7 and schlep them around constantly?  Maybe.  For me…  a gal who is not as high energy as some, it’s just a recipe for burn out.  And the last thing I need on top of deployment angst that is kicking my butt is burn out too.  So…  pick one activity for the kids to be in and go with it.  Find meals that are easy to put together, or resort to Eggo Waffles like we do.  Send the kids outside to play when it’s warm.  You don’t always have to concoct elaborate experiences for the betterment of all of you.    Don’t panic about extra screen time when it’s not warm.  Staying busy constantly works for some of us.  For others, we have to simplify.

7)  Find something that you love to do.  That you really, really love to do and do it every day.  Find something that you love to do with your kids.  That you really, really love to do with them and do it every day.  For us it’s been reading The Chronicles of Narnia.  I get caught up in the story.  They get caught up in the story.  They get snuggles.  They also get sleepy.  Note:  If this falls into a routine as in #2 and it starts to tick you off, it’s ok to divert from the course as needed.

8)  Hug your kids (if you have them) when things feel especially yucky.  Hugging pets I suppose would work too.  Unless you have Iguanas.  Abigail knows just what to do when Mommy says, “Do you know what Mommy needs, right now?”  Today I scooped little Lainey up and held her tight and she wrapped her little baby arms right around me and for a few seconds, all was right with the world.

9)  Relax your expectations.  Give yourself grace.  If your laundry hasn’t been done in a week because you have a broken boob (ahem…  did I mention I have mastitis again?) and every time you try to clean you have to corral a kid and you get tired of picking up and vacuuming and doing dishes with a 14 month old on your arm, tell yourself that you are doing something just by continuing to go on even when you aren’t sure you can anymore.  Some people get through deployments placidly and make it look like it’s just another version of normal life for them (and sometimes that is true).  Others of us have our moments.  Lots and lots of moments.  That doesn’t mean we won’t make it to the other side.

10)  Write your own post about How to Cope when the Deployment is Kicking your Tuckus.  Do it your way.  We all do this differently and so much of the advice out there seems standardized to me.  I’m not saying it’s not good advice.  What I am saying is that there’s more than one way to skin a cat.  There’s more than one way to be a military wife.  There’s more than one way to cope when the going gets rough.  And my rough doesn’t look like your rough so sometimes my coping doesn’t look like your coping.  Write your post.  I’ll read it.  I might not do it like you do, but I’ll cheer you on if that’s how you need to do things.

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Like a Weaned Child is My Soul

Five Minute Friday with the Gypsy Mama!  Five minutes of writing with our hearts and seeing where our fingers take us.  This one was tricky for me.

My baby girl got her 12 month shots today (we’re two months late, but who’s counting?)…

I always dread the look of absolute betrayal that comes across their faces after they get jabbed in their sweet little thighs and they register the pain that just came from the hands of grown ups.  I can handle the crying and I can rationalize the necessity of the pain but that look of betrayal kicks me in the gut.

I scooped her up after the bandages were on and she snuggled in to me for comfort.  I nursed all of my kids when they needed comfort and when they were tiny there was a part of me that was bizarrely jealous of the milk I provided because when my babes were sad it seemed it was the milk they craved…  not me.

So when I registered that baby girl calmed and quieted almost immediately not because she was nursing but because she was in my arms I marveled at the sweetness of recognizing a milestone has transpired.  Baby girl seeks comfort not just from the nourishment I provide her body, but also because of the nourishment I provide her spirit.  The milk she craved after the shots today was the solace and comfort of a Mama’s care–the person she trusts most in the world right now to ‘make it better.’

“I have calmed and quieted my soul.  Like a weaned child with its mother is my soul within me,” so goes the Psalm. It’s a line that comes to me off and on.  It’s in two of my favorite songs both affirming trust in God.

My baby girl gave me a picture of those words today.  Seeking solace because I trust the character of my God is so much deeper than the seeking of a physical sustenance we so often crave and demand.