• Orthodoxy,  prayers of the saints

    Wordfull Wednesday- On Sickness

    We get sick and we suffer for different reasons, but often it’s because we have sinned, voluntary or involuntary, or because we have wandered away from God. But, if you are sick, don’t be afraid and don’t worry because sickness is a great gift from God. The sick are God’s special children. The sick are under God’s special protection. They have God’s special blessing. They have God’s love. They are in His embrace, whereas someone who has health might not be. The sick person, the suffering person, the person with illness is in a privileged place, or a potentially privileged place, with respect to God. Those who have never known sickness, and those who have never known suffering, often have a lack of empathy; and often their heart is narrow and small and restricted, and not able to open up and embrace the suffering of others because they just don’t know it. The sick, on the other hand, are often the most loving and understanding and compassionate people that you will ever meet, and they are the ones who will have boldness before God in their prayers for others.

    So don’t be afraid of your illness. Leave it to God. Do what the doctors tell you. When you take your medication, you receive Christ. It’s not bad, or a sign of a lack of faith, to take your medication. When you take your medication, you are receiving a blessing, you are receiving Christ Himself. Do what the doctors say, take your medications, go for your tests, but have no anxiety. Sometimes what’s worse than being sick is being afraid of getting sick. Leave it to God. Whatever God gives you is best for you. God never gives you a Cross without first weighing and measuring it very carefully to make sure that the Cross will result in your spiritual growth. So don’t think it’s random, don’t think it’s chance, don’t think it’s too much. It’s been very carefully weighed and very carefully measured, so that it will result in spiritual growth and spiritual benefit.

    As much as the body wastes away, that much is our life in God renewed. God cannot be born within us without birth pangs. And the suffering that we experience, whether it’s emotional suffering or physical suffering, these are the birth pangs, the travail, the suffering in our life that will enable God to be born and to grow within us. So we should feel pity for the person who has not tasted involuntary pain because that person is not likely to impose upon himself a sufficient amount of voluntary pain. So feel pity for the person who does not know involuntary pain because they’re not going to inflict it on themselves. They’re going to want to stay in their comfortable place, their comfort-zone, and they’re going to resist all kinds of change. Sickness is a visitation from God, a divine visitation. Sickness humbles us, it teaches us, it reshapes us, it awakens us to reality, it enables us to see what is truly important and of value. It is not a punishment, but a divine visitation for our correction and education.

    Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra Monastery

    From: A lecture entitled, “Blessed are the Pure in Heart: Reflections on the Spiritual Nature of Suffering,” by Father Maximos Constas, Patristic Nectar Publications (2017).

    The above was shared with me by my Godmother, and it has brought me tremendous encouragement and comfort. I hope it will for you, too, whatever you may be facing. The italicized portions are my own emphasis.
  • Ebenezer

    Learning to fly

    My grandmother died in March.

    Like so many other things that have happened to me in the last three and a half years, it is only now, months later, that the weight of loss is becoming felt, that I can even begin to process it.

    The week she fell sick was a very intense one for my own family of little ducklings. Some had been ill. Some were hurting. Tears had been shed. Lies had been revealed. One child of mine was spinning so far off center that the fear was that they would topple completely. Tearful conversations with our priest and counselors. Endless nights of broken sleep and whispered prayers. 

    A text message landed like a fiery arrow in the midst of trials.

    She’s really sick. She isn’t responding. Your father is headed there.

    My grandmother is the universal constant in the physics of my life. No matter how the storms raged or the waves crashed or every damn dish slid to the floor in the aftermath, no matter how many mistakes I made, no matter how many times I failed, one thing was certain. Grandma loves me.

    We were compadres, we two. She was the feistiest, funniest, most beautiful woman I knew. Few things were certain in my young life, but I knew when I grew up that I wanted to be like her.  We had so many inside jokes. She knew things out of the depths of my heart that I have never told anyone but her. Months, even years, could slip by as we both grew older, but as soon as we spoke again or saw each other, we picked right up where we left off. I never quite felt lonely, even if I hadn’t spoken to her in months. I knew she was with me. 

    I know she is with me even now. 

    My husband understood all this, the strong threads that pulled us together, Grandma and I, and before I could even really think about it, I was on a plane. 

    I was on a plane with no idea what I would face on the other end, if she would still be living…or how I would arrive at the hospital. Or where I would sleep. 

    Others would find this strange, this wild jump into westward skies.

    For me, it’s a normal fact of life. Sickness falls so quickly, you can’t plan for it. You can’t make it fit. Sickness doesn’t care. You can fly halfway across the continent with less than $20 in your pocket and sickness will endlessly march on. 

    But under that endless marching blast of reality, there is a whisper, sweet: His eye is on the sparrow.

    Lean into it and fly.

    One three hour flight and two metro trains later, I walked up a parking lot and into a hospital. It, like all its sisters, was sterile and cold. And very familiar. 

    I slipped into an ICU room and was greeted by a surprised family that couldn’t imagine that I’d come so quickly. 

    I immediately felt a grief for them, those family members. Not her, not my dear lovely bird getting ready to take wing, but for them. 

    They did not know the shapes and contours of this place, the dark angles, the companions that sat in the room with you whether you wanted them to or not: fear, anger, dehumanization at the hands of a medical machine that can’t really understand that that which you hold most dear, your autonomy, your sense of self, and your very body is slipping beyond your control. Very rarely are compassion and mercy found in these halls. Some patients heal, some go to God. This is the way of things. You learn this when you spend endless hours in endless rooms with no answers and prayer the only thing to buoy you. 

    They did not know this. They were learning in it in the fire. I wanted to quench it for them and I could not. 

    You have to stay in the moment in a hospital room. To think forward or backwards will break your spirit in ways I find hard to define, but I know the brokeness. You can’t play what if. You just have to exist. You have to eat and sleep and care for yourself, somehow, as the world caves in around you and all time loses meaning. But you have to stay in the moment. 

    I dwelt in that space. I sang to her. I rubbed the backs of my father and grandfather and aunt. I ran my hands along my grandmother’s arms, held her hand, pulled the hair back from her face, kissed her cheek. I held space for peace. I, in my own feeble and broken way, began to understand what a myrrh-bearing woman was, how to be a midwife of loss. I got them to laugh, her closest loves, and I held them as they cried. 

    When I knew it was growing close, her Home going, I knelt over her and whispered a prayer of my Orthodox faith, said every Vespers service, a sort of hope and request to God:

    Lord, now lettest thou thy servant, the handmaiden of God, Marylin, depart in peace, according to Your Word. For her eyes have seen Your salvation, a Light to lighten the Gentiles, the Glory of Your people, Israel.

    I kissed her and left the room, as all the family did in that moment, at a family member’s request. It would be the last time I spoke with her. 

    She passed about an hour later, while we were all in the room, just returned from a breakfast we all sort of desperately needed but none of us wanted to go get or even eat. It’s one of those strange realities of hospital life, that need to keep leaving and eating and going and hoping and sleeping when the one you love lies broken in a bed. It feels so discordant. 

    I was endlessly grateful in that moment that I was in a Catholic hospital, and the saints were with me in a visual form. I normally don’t get that lucky with hospitals. But there was St. Anthony (my third son’s patron saint, no less), St. Joseph, St. Francis. The angels Gabriel and Micheal. And of course, the Theotokos, the Mother of Christ. Christ himself. Everywhere. I could reach out and touch and draw strength. A crucifix above the bed. We were not alone in this shattering moment. We aren’t ever, really, God with us, Emmanuel, but I was grateful for something to fix my eyes on. 

    My faith has never meant more to me than it did in that moment. I could fall into the arms of the Church and be caught in my loss. I had a language, a prayer, to wrap around my grief.

    The next week was brutal. Anyone who has gone through a familial loss can tell you of the bittersweet tapestry that is woven afterwards. Loss and pain and hurt, fraying of edges where the glue has just left us, joy, laughter, hope, but mostly, pain. A person of peace must stay at peace, be the peace when everyone around them is spinning shards of pain. I hope I did this well. I may never know. 

    Utterly drained, I returned home to my own ducklings. The loss fresh. She was the one who taught me to love my children endlessly and beyond the depths. She was the one who taught me how to love caring for my home, how to bring beauty. To come home into the job she had taught me how to do…I kept questioning if I had learned my lessons at her knee well enough. I think I still am. It is in this I feel the loss of her most profoundly. I can’t ask her anymore, hear her wisdom. 

    The months that have followed her death have only grown in their complexity.

    We sardonically refer to 2015 as the year of hell. It’s a bit of a nod to a Doctor Who episode, but in that episode, it’s called the year that never was. Anyways. In the thick of that year, I comforted myself with the thought that if we could survive the year, we could survive just about anything. Two children desperately ill, constant hospitalizations. Transfusions. Surgeries. Broken cars. No transportation. Empty cupboards. Empty stomachs. Near homelessness. 

    “It won’t ever be as bad as it is this year,” I’d tell myself. “ One foot in front of the other. We’ll make it through. Just a season. Just a season. Keep swimming.”

    How many times our heads went underwater that year. 

    How many times have they slipped underwater since. How intense the storms are right now, another year of loss and intense medical and financial pressures that will just. not. ease. up. It feels just as heavy and just as scary as 2015.

    And somehow, in God’s grace and infinite wisdom, our heads break water again, and we can breathe, buoyed by His people. 

    My grandmother seems as effortlessly close to me now as she always did then, as I walk through these dark, dark days. I feel her counsel as I try to make the best decisions for my ducklings. I hear her tell me that His grace is sufficient for this moment. 

    This is what I hear her say, my Grandmother. What she whispers in my ear:

    His Eye is on the sparrow.

    We are seen and known and heard and loved. 

    She teaches me to fly.

  • Ebenezer,  facing grief

    Sing in the dark. Sing anyways.

    (The artwork is gone and sold, but the idea is pretty fresh in my mind right now.)

    I made the mistake of putting Yo-Yo Ma playing Brahms in my headphones as I sat down to write, and I’m not sure that was a good idea, as it’s nearly putting me in tears.

    Man, I’m tired.

    I slipped in here October 15, and I said, basically, given all that was happening, I felt a very distinct pull to hunker down, draw in, nest, rest- create more margin. We really hadn’t taken many flights of craziness or anything from Sept 1 to Oct 15- it’s not like we were running frantic helter-skelter from one activity to another, but the load felt heavy all the same. I think I was verbalizing that day that I felt like I needed to shift how I was carrying the load, as what was left was necessary and good but heavy.

    How could I have known?

    We had a week of re-focusing that week. Really digging down, seeking margin. Deep breaths. Re-evaluating. Lots of books read aloud in candle light under cozy blankets. That whole week James was a bit off. He was tired. He was dozing as soon as he stopped moving and bless his heart, I was wondering what was going on. He’s always tired and he does drop off in sleep and has done so for years and years but he seemed especially exhausted. We went to church that Sunday, and from my position at the chant stand, I watched him get paler and paler as Liturgy went on. He just looked awful. So much so that we left church quickly so he could get some rest, barely staying for the fellowship we usually so greatly enjoy.

    He steadily got sicker and sicker. He tried to work on Monday and ended up coming home early, in too much pain and too exhausted to work. He slept through Tuesday. By Wednesday, I couldn’t keep him awake, and as he hadn’t eaten since Sunday and was barely drinking, I was concerned by the signs of dehydration I could see. Around 10 am, we went in. He was immediately admitted for a kidney stone (technically, acute kidney failure) and dehydration. Less than two hours we spent in the emergency room- we were in his hospital room by lunch. Even on extensive IV fluids and pain management , he was not improving and his pain was incredible. They decided to surgically ‘blast’ the kidney stone the following morning- emergency surgery. He ended up having to have a stent placed during surgery as well. He did not respond well to anesthesia (he has severe sleep apnea) and ended up being on oxygen until midnight that night. His response was so bad that a neurology/pacu nurse was with us in the room until almost ten pm.

    I’ve been around surgery protocol for so long (both for myself and my children) and in my head I knew exactly what was going on, that he would be fine, that everyone was doing their jobs, but I’m not going to lie. That afternoon and evening were terrifying to me. It was a sudden picture of what might/could happen if they couldn’t get it figured out.

    I can handle that in my kids. I did not handle it well in my husband. I was having a hard time compartmentalizing (as I usually do with my children) my care giver role while watching the love of my life suffering and being flat out unable to do anything to ease it.

    ******

    I wrote the above nearly two months ago, on Nov 29.

    He’s fine now. He recovered well.

    He pursued better primary care and has been doing a whole bunch to address his health since; things we had sort of shoved to the back burner with all the challenges we’ve faced with Elliana and Josiah. No longer.

    ***

    My paradigm has shifted again.

    ***

    That’s the thing about life that never fails to surprise me. You think you’ve got it all figured out, learned all the hacks. Swerve and duck and dance. Life laughs back at you and pulls a left hook you couldn’t imagine out of nowhere. Sometimes it’s a nice left hook and sometimes it’s a real mean one. You just never know when to look for the swing.

    ***

    Life has been, well, (whispers it softly)…kind to us…the last two months.

    James’ recovery went well, we had some time away for Christmas, our schedule has been light and just right for us. It let us all take a good, deep breath and it has been a lovely feeling.

    I can’t shake the experience I had at James’ hospital bedside that day. Isn’t it weird how sometimes reality has been reality for much longer than we’re willing to admit it has been? I’ve sort of been running from a calling for a long time, so long, really, that I couldn’t even see it as a calling. And yet it gently edged its way back into my heart that day. Yes, it was a terrifying day. I won’t deny it, I don’t think we should, really, when medical trauma happens. It is scary. But it was also a reminder of all the gifts this long journey with two chronically ill children has given me. Yes, I said gifts. Maybe the better word is tools? Both a gift and a tool perhaps?

    I think, for lack of a better word, I have been called to be a healer.

    I won’t ever be a doctor or a nurse, but this idea of creating space for healing, of being the person that sort of channels that for another? That really resonates with me. It calls to mind the idea of doula, but not in birthing babies- birthing space and kindness and peace for someone who is ill or hurting. I’ve realized that this long, deep, dark journey with illness has given me eyes to see what others often can’t; ears to hear (and translate) what is confusing and complex for others; hands to soothe and work and love.

    I used to abhor hard work- cleaning. Scrubbing. Laundry. Somehow in all of this journey of the last four years, that has profoundly shifted for me and I welcome the feeling of setting things aright with prayer and elbow grease. My dear friends Tonia and Elise taught me ora et labora (pray and work) for so many years, but the lessons didn’t sink deep until I walked through the shadows and storms. To be able to use my hands to bless and my heart and mind to pray is a gift; a gift that is not afforded to all. It is a gift to become these things for my children when they cannot- for my husband when he is ill- for others- to give them a soft space to land.

    This all became super salient and fresh in my mind when my dear, dear friend fell ill just before Christmas. She was seriously, seriously ill. She has spent the last month in and out of the hospital. Glory, glory, glory to God, she was able to come home just yesterday. I think of it and literally want to do a little shuffle dance of joy to think of her home.

    All of these gifts have been brought to bear in loving on and supporting her and her family while she was recovering…gifts I never would have had to give if it hadn’t been for all the dark waters we have been brought through. Things I never would have thought of, or seen, in someone else’s illness, had it not been for what our family has been through. Like a special pair of eyeglasses.

    It’s truly given me new visions of what the future might look like for me and my family, and that’s kind of exciting. No matter what may come, I’ve got this little toolbox in my back pocket to pull out as needed. I have something to give to the world in its pain and its hurt instead of just standing agape and at a loss for what to do. Ora et labora. I can listen. I can make space for healing and stillness and serenity and hope and all of those things that the world so desperately needs more of. This is my calling: Sing while it is still dark.

  • daybook

    Well, hello October…

    My goodness. It is October 15.  The school year took off without me! It has been such a helter skelter month and a half that I feel as if I am just now coming up for air and just barely at that. All that margin I thought we had built in to our days was apparently the teasing placidness of summer break talking.

    Needless to say some things need adjusting.  So let’s check in, shall we?

    Things we did well in September:

    Um. We held on for dear life. HA!

    I think, the success I see in September is that those rhythms we’ve really built in to our family culture held somehow over this last month. We ended September relatively right-side-up even though no one had really had any time to think about or put towards those rhythms. They just held. We are consistently praying together and reading aloud together as a family just about every night, which has been a huge goal for a long time, and I wondered if it would hold during this new season. It has. Our kitchen/dinner/meal planning routine held, relatively speaking, and that in itself was a wonder to me, as I didn’t feel like I had any brain space to devote to it.

    Laughably, the second two of my goals for September, keep pounding away at the medical bills and more art, more art, more art barely blipped the radar. I had no idea what was coming around the bend when I wrote that.

    As seems to be a constant in our lives, lately, we had a series of breaks. James’ car, which has been quite literally limping for nearly a year, had another catastrophic failure. We had to devote all of our financial margin to get it back to some useable form. It seems to be a constant measuring for us with so many of our large appliances/tools as to whether to finally scrap it and go without or attempt limping some more. We couldn’t find any more of a workable solution for the financial margin available than the reality we already had, so it limps along and lives to fight another day. We keep having things break for no other reason than perhaps to frustrate us: our lawn mower, most of our large appliances (save the oven and dishwasher, which were finally replaced around Christmas time last year), sometimes even just the simplest things…it feels a bit perverse!

    It has been a lesson in taking deep breaths and just living with the reality. It’s hard in this culture of ours, but it’s necessary.

    I’m thinking here of our lawn (and recalcitrant lawnmower(s), yes-plural- we have three, only one of which *sort of* works) which has been at all levels of shorn and meadow-like and half-hacked throughout the summer. Our side and front gardens have completely gone to weeds multiple times this summer, only to be weeded back to presentable-ness, only to get completely out of hand again. We live in your typical suburban has a home-owner’s association and perfectly manicured, cared for by professionals green lawns neighborhood. A lot of the owners are middle-aged or retired. They have expectations, is what I’m saying. And we can’t do a thing about it. We do what we can, when we can.

    Just this last weekend, James was able to somehow-rig the sort-of-working lawnmower enough to start again, and we set to work with a vengeance, all of us older ones, each taking turns. The back yard was nearly a foot long, the front, about half that. I started in on the back yard late in the afternoon, got about four rows in, and then…OUCH. ouch. OUCH. ouch. Glance down, and then, as calmly as possible and as quickly as possible, get out of the back yard. I had run over a yellow jacket nest that had somehow established itself in the three weeks we couldn’t get the lawn mower to work. They were so angry. I got nailed, twice, and I think it was only by God’s grace that it wasn’t much, much worse. My body was working faster than my brain for once, and I was moving before I even realized I needed to move, if that makes sense. Needless to say, a decent sized patch of the back yard remains un-mowed until we figure out how to wisely deal with the yellow jackets. I was so angry when it happened- though that might have been the adrenaline talking- but I was just so frustrated that we just couldn’t, for just once, get the yard mowed all the way. And I couldn’t even walk the rest of the day. OH, how I stewed! But maybe it was the Bendadryl haze, or the prayers, or the sleep, but the next morning, I couldn’t stop laughing and rolling my eyes at how ridiculous and perverse this stuff has been, and a bit of an awed laugh of grateful thanks that the Lord preserved my life! It could have been a thousand times worse! It could have been James, and I would never have been able to get to him in time.

    James can’t go near it- he is life-threateningly allergic. It would be suicide for him to try…which leaves me. And I don’t know how to ‘fix it’. So we have to figure it out. And it’s yet another thing…another smudge and besmirch on our standing in the neighborhood. They don’t know our lives though. And I’ve learned to just shrug and get back to work. Do what you can, with what you have, where you are. I understand that it a pretty profound way now. The lawnmower is just the last in a long, long train of lessons.

    Sometimes you can’t fix or change things. Sometimes what is, just IS. 

    Which leads to the third goal, more art, of which there has been precious little. I had wanted to launch a new collection on September 15. It is now October 15. I have serious doubts that it will arrive on Nov 15, but that’s my new re-set goal. I did, somewhat for my own sanity, jump on the #inktober2018 challenge wagon over on IG, only to promptly fall of said wagon due to more pressing concerns. I have serious doubts there will be much of it in October. It just isn’t in the cards for me right now. For some reason, September to December are always my absolutely nuttiest months, and it’s time for me to recognize and embrace that and stop trying to shoe horn more stuff into it.

    Things I’d like to focus on in October:

    Erm, October’s half gone at this point.

    I think my main focus has to be on a bit of weeding. None of us in the family are happy with the current state of margin, so we’ve got to weed back until we feel like we’ve got the proper amount of breathing room. I hate that it takes me nearly a week to read/respond to emails, the sort of administrative side of being a homemaker and homeschooling mom type things. I can’t think straight, and that’s a bit problematic. When I don’t have enough time to brain dump and plan, that’s when I really start making mistakes. Costly mistakes. Easily avoidable mistakes. So yeah- MARGIN. That’s my goal for the last two weeks of October.

    Things I’ll leave behind:

    GLUTEN. *cough*laugh*cry*laugh*cough* Guess who was diagnosed with Celiacs in September? Yours truly. I was already pretty decently gluten free but would often ‘cheat’ (more like ‘not care’) when not around Elliana. Since the diagnosis, walking that last quarter mile to being zero gluten— UGH. It has taken so much brain space. And it’s hard. It was, perhaps, so much the easier for Elly four years ago because she really didn’t know what a good something-or-other tasted like. She’s always had the GF version. Me, though. My Scotch-German genes are rebelling LOUDLY. I haven’t been doing any grains (not even GF options) at all, or sugar. I’m okay as long as I can’t smell the real deal. My brain just can’t handle smelling yeasty, bready goodness without being all engines GO. NOW. Every time I’ve been near a bakery or something like that my body goes in over-drive, and all of the sudden my stomach is growling like I’ve never eaten in my life….each time….major head ache. It’s so weird. Even if I’ve literally just eaten. So now I can’t even enjoy the smell of it! Hopefully that will eventually fade. I am having a hard time dealing with the hangry that happens if I get too far out of a meal. I haven’t quite gotten my protein balance right. BUT. I will happily leave behind twenty pounds last month. It balances itself out then!

    How about you?

  • celebrations,  daybook

    Fresh beginnings…

    It’s our first day of (home)school today, September 4.

    It’s also my Namesday. My chrismated name (or Christian/Baptized name, as Westerners might be more familiar with) is Hermione, for St. Hermione of Caesarea. As most Orthodox will tell you, the Saint choses you…mine certainly did. While a catechumen waiting for my Chrismation, I could not decide which was the wisest to chose and so told my priest. The three saints’ names I had narrowed the list down to were written on strips of paper, left under the Gospel throughout Liturgy, and then pulled at random by lots by my Priest after the service. Anyone that knows me well knows how much I resemble (moreso in temperament and thirst for knowledge that physical appearance) Hermione of the Harry Potter books, so it was rather a sweet, yet funny thing that the original Hermione chose me. (Hermione in the books is named for none other than my St. Hermione; J.K. Rowling often referred to Foxes Book of Martyrs for names. It’s also where she got the name for the hospital- St. Mungoes. There’s a few more Easter eggs like that throughout the books.)

    It’s also the ecumenical new year, as the new church year started on September 1.  My parents came for a visit over the weekend.

    Just a new page all around, really.

    It has been a sweet, quiet day.

    I’m not sure what September holds for us yet. Looking back over August, I feel a sense of relief. It felt like the first month that we really and truly found our footing in many areas after months- years, really- of upheaval. Doesn’t feel like we’re running frantically from one plate to another and tossing them, just trying to keep it all in the air.

    I’ve been looking back over August as I look forward to September and establish my goals, and I thought I’d drop some of those thoughts here.

    Things that we did well in August:

    our food prep/kitchen/grocery budget flow. (This has been a huge goal for me for at least two years, so to see some progress feels SO good.)

    –  staying in the moment.  One of the unfortunate side affects of medical trauma-rama is focusing *in* the moment, because it feels like there’s always something barreling down at you and also that you barely stood up from the last thing that ran you over. It gets hard to just enjoy the moment and not think about it all. I feel like we really truly did this as a family in August, just enjoyed each other’s company and celebrated the every day things. That’s with my husband having a kidney stone that necessitated an ER visit about mid-month. I feel like we did the right things to recover and didn’t rush the process and trusted our intuition as to what was needed both for him and for our family. Trusting that voice is hard after what we’ve been through, and I’m really happy to report that we did. And James is definitely on the mend!

    – working hard to get all the past-due and collections medical bills PAID in full this month. It was so unbelievably squeaky tight in August because of it, but it is SUCH a relief to start September in the black. There was a huge paperwork snafu when the two medical systems here merged into one (we had bills at hospitals in both networks) and the new merged network sent a bunch of bills repeatedly to a decade-old address right after the merge. I found it odd that we had stuff showing on our EOBs from our insurance but no bills were coming. It took a solid month and a half and a billion phone calls to get it straightened out and then we got slammed with a number of collections as soon as they got the right address dating all the way back to the merge in January. No chance to negotiate. It was so frustrating and humiliating, especially when it was the new medical system’s fault in the merge, and they had correct phone numbers for us the whole time. (Sigh.) But it’s over with now! We still have larger bills set on payment plans that are okay and weren’t affected by the merge, but no more collections! Yay! That’s huge. The more important thing to me is that we didn’t just survive while doing it this month, we thrived on the challenge of it. It didn’t knock the wind out of us like it has often done before, keeping us up at night. We did our best each day and slept well.  I don’t think the kids really noticed a difference one way or the other, and that is really important to me! They don’t need to be worrying about it. It’s been a stressor for all of us for so long that having healthier responses is BIG.

    Things that I’d like to focus on for September:

    building up our pantry. I have planned to set in some ‘winter stores’ like a proper squirrel in September. We’re already halfway there on the fourth day of the month: my parents gifted us a membership to a bulk store with better prices on our bulk daily needs, we found an even cheaper place locally for 50 lbs of rice and oatmeal than I had originally researched (score!), and there was enough wiggle room in the grocery budget to take advantage of both. Some of the things we still need I am researching for best prices, and we’ll finish it up in the second half of the month. The fact that I can even say (and know!) that there is space in the grocery budget is HUGE! YAY! I want to work on baking and freezing some meals, too.

    – keep pounding away at the medical bills. Again, this is already showing fruit- James and I both have some side hustles going, and we’ll able to put some extra towards that goal this month. This is the first month we’ve felt comfortable taking on extra work, knowing that it won’t burn us out or unbalance our rhythm.

    – more art, more art, more art! I’ve been working on a collection all summer called Bird-In-Hand. It is a culmination of many quiet, healing moments of painting and drawing this summer, and God willing, I’ll introduce it the world on or around September 15. With the return of our school rhythm, I’ll have more time to devote to art, and I am very excited about that. I have so many things going that I am always sorry to put away and having more focused time will be wonderful!

    Things I’ll leave behind:

    – giving up. I tend to shut down when I feel overwhelmed instead of finding some practical steps forward away from whatever it is that has me so locked down. Sometimes it’s just a simple thing like getting dressed. Making good food for myself. Calling someone who might know the answer to the quandary or has similar life experience. All small things, but they aren’t standing still and not doing anything at all, and that’s where the forward movement comes from. Step by step.

    – crappy food. And crappy people. Both seem to be hitting me on the same level lately. I want to invest my time in life-giving things and not life-taking things. Stronger boundaries and fences! And better food, for crying out loud. My body deserves better. So does my soul!

    – escapism. I notice that I start to check in to social media and mindlessly scroll when I am feeling overwhelmed. I am checking in with myself when I pick up any technology as to whether what I’m about to do is life-giving or life-taking. The answer is usually pretty obvious to me when I ask that- I know when I’m using it as a tool towards something that gives me life (like art tutorials or dear friends’ thoughts or looking up a recipe I’ve forgotten, balancing the checkbook, writing blog posts etc.) or whether I’m just escaping from the noise of the kids or the school day or whatever. One is usually done with intention, and the other is done mindlessly without a goal in mind.

    How about you?