• collecting stories

    When the hush falls…


    I watch the return of Commander Scott Kelley’s return from the International Space Station after a year suspended between earth and moon, and somehow, I feel a kinship. Teach me how to space walk, I want to beg. Teach me how to live in the tension of change. Held and yet un-moored. Spinning at 17,000 miles an hour above an earth that heaves. Teach me how you lived through that(Liminal Space, March 18, 2016)

    It took me nearly a week past the election before I shut down my personal Facebook account. I think I always meant to slip in here, but as the days stretched on and on, I found myself quieter and quieted. A hush fell. I wonder about writing here even now.

    Someone said that the most searched word of the year for 2016 was surreal. A word we search for and use when we can’t find names for what we see happening right in front of us. This can’t be reality; it’s too surreal. Something is wrong with the way I am seeing this, my eyes must be lying. This is not what I know to be true.

    Teach me how to live in the tension of change. Held and yet unmoored.

    There have been tremendously brutal lessons the suffering has taught me over the last three years. Perhaps the most difficult lesson one learns in suffering is that, by and large, you will suffer in a way that few can enter into. Relationships will be fundamentally changed. Many will be stripped away. You will never be the person you were before.

    I am a much, much lonelier, quieter person than I was three years ago. Paradoxically, I am a much happier, much more peaceful person. I can count the people I genuinely, completely trust on one hand. The people I fully trust to share my story with are even smaller than that. People I thought would be on that list are nowhere to be found, people I had known for decades, people I invested in, over and over and over.  I’m okay with that. I struggled with it at first, but now? I was true to myself in those years. I gave from my heart, with genuine care. I don’t have to be ashamed of that girl, that woman, those years. I give those years open handedly to the people who were in my life. I can’t deny, however, that it hasn’t changed how I interact with people.

    I find myself listening much more than I speak.

    That’s the paradoxical thing about finding peace, about living through suffering. You’d think in finding such a thing, you’d want to take people by their shoulders and tell them, hey, I know this really sucked, it was awful, you’re hurting, but I know how you can feel better. I’ve got answers. I’ve got the Answer. It’s not going to be as bad as you think.


    It takes space-walking in the vacuum of suffering for you to see the world as it truly is, heaving, hurting, hopeful, hopeless, achingly beautiful, achingly broken. Once you see it in your own story, you see the thread shimmering in every human you meet. You also realize that there is very little you can say. You can listen. You can pray. You can be present.

    This is what I know to be true, as surreal as it may seem. Peace is already here. It was always here. It will always be here, tucked into the quiet.   

  • collecting stories,  facing grief

    Truth at twilight…

    treesattwighlight dress sketchbook

    The day started out on the completely wrong foot. Usually it’s the children that are off and I am the one soothing and straightening and brokering peace. But what happens when it is mama that is off? I couldn’t even explain why at first. I just knew I was vastly unsettled, struggling to focus, struggling to be present in my parenting and helping the children with their school day.

    I kept trying to focus, kept trying to push through.

    At lunch, my husband noticed something was off. He is an incredibly perceptive and patient listener. Slowly, bit by bit, with his kind ear, I was able to bring into the light and name a fear that I didn’t even realize I had until he granted me the space to bring words to it. Just like that, the day shifted back into more normal lines, the thing unsettling me named and dealt with. His precious gift to me in the midst of a busy, full Tuesday.

    Truth is a strange companion some days.

    I was thinking about President Obama, of all things, and his Blackberry. He has spent eight years within the guarded space of the Secret Service, and hasn’t been able to tote a smart phone on his person his entire presidency. When he entered his Presidency, Blackberry phones were the crack du jour, the precursors to the smart phones we all carry around now. There were very few apps; social media had yet to hit full zeitgeist. He noted how hard it would be to give it up at the time. I would love to be a fly on the wall as he enters private life again, at least insofar as it goes as he enters the smart phone/social media world at his fingertips. Will he find the onslaught difficult? Will his time away help him to quickly find a happy medium, sort what is important and what isn’t?

    This, in my typical rabbit trail thinking patterns which are never explainable or reasonable- I’ve just learned to hold on tight and enjoy the ride- led to a whole host of thoughts- about the election obviously- but it eventually led to a historical novel I’ve been reading, which has a returning soldier in it. I got to thinking about how soldiers even now struggle to re-integrate into society after serving in a tight knit military community, whether in peace time or in war.

    I have railed against the very regimented-ness of the military many a time when I really wanted my Dad present at a life event he couldn’t be at, because, military. They may not be able to call their souls their own in many ways, but military life is very predictable. You have to wake at a certain time. You always know what to wear. You always know where you have to be and when under every circumstance. You know when your next meal will be. You know when you’ll have free time. Even on the worst of days in the worst of wars, you have a purpose and a plan.

    Bear with me, but I kind of feel like a returning soldier at the moment.

    I’ve come off the front lines, so to speak….

    now what?

    It’s when you realize that everything is different and nothing is different and why do I keep checking my phone? Why do I keep cringing when I hear someone step on the porch? It’s because that’s the sound that is made when mail is dropped off and mail is rarely good- so many bills- and I’m actually reacting to a sound?!? When you realize that you can put the phone down. In another room. On the charger. You’re not constantly having to track down a doctor, constantly on the phone with insurance. (Though there are still days…) Constantly text with your husband about this crisis or that crisis. You can use the phone for happier things. Enjoy a laugh. Reconnect with friends. You realize that you can, you must take an hour and draw. Paint. Read. Shower. You realize that you can make that healthy delicious food you’ve been craving but have had no time or resources for. You can take a walk. Or five. You can take a whole weekend and sew a dress, because you want to, because it is important to you- you really like a dress you have but can’t find anymore like it- and necessity is the mother of invention- and it’s okay. You can breathe.

    It’s harder to adjust to than you might think. I find I’m asking myself “why am I doing this?” often these days- and I’m making sure to listen carefully to the answer. It’s a sorting process. Oh, I was doing this thing this way because of xyz and that isn’t true anymore and I can do it differently. Or not at all. 

    One of the most nebulous struggles, post-trauma, I think, is that you realize you have a whole spectrum of feelings and emotions again. It’s why Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is so prevalent in first responders and soldiers- trauma forces you to stay very much in the now whether you like it or not; there is no thinking to yourself, whoa, this is really awful- this scares me- this makes me angry- I’m confused- I’m hurt- I’m on overload- you can’t. You just put one step in front of the other, deal with the now. All the rest of that comes later. The brain literally rewires itself after being under siege for too long, shorts out in a manner of speaking. And I can honestly say that I’ve forgotten that it’s okay to feel, which is the direct correlation to what happened today. I had the time to absorb, process, and respond to something, but I couldn’t name the truth that was being revealed to me because I had forgotten that I could. Saying to my husband that I’m afraid about ——— clicked a neuron back into place in my head, I swear. Oh. That’s how I’m feeling right now. Here’s what I can do about it. 

    Truth has been standing there all along, in the waning light of an afternoon. I’m just learning to see it again.

  • collecting stories

    Fullness and fortitude…

    twilight greenhouse floralcanvas


    it has been a full couple of weeks. A good full, but full nonetheless. There was quite a bit of preparation going into my shop launch at the beginning of the month, then two birthdays for two of our boys, a Harry Potter-themed celebration with friends, field trips to war and art museums, chess club, guitar and ballet lessons, and of course, ever present doctor appointments. We are in the thick of our fall schedule now. It is perhaps the first autumn season in three years that is not laden with hospitalizations for one child or another. Even the ever present doctor appointments are greatly reduced, much to everyone’s relief. We have definitely crossed the threshold into a new normal.

    I have looked forward to this season for a very long time, not realizing that, once arrived, it is very bittersweet indeed. It brings me great joy to see this day arrive, yet I am unbelievably shocked at how far off course my little boat has been blown. The grieving period is transitioning into rebuilding. But oh, how dirty, how exhausting!, such reconstruction can be.

    I am humbled by how distracted I became by the constant buffeting.

    I’m not sure how to characterize it exactly, other than to extend the boat metaphor. A sure captain keeps his eye on the horizon and the stars, the direction in which he is pointed. When the wind blows and storms, he doesn’t watch the wind, though he might glance at it. Neither does he look constantly at the boat, though he likely knows every deck board and sail like his own child’s face. He cares for it, certainly, but were he always looking down at the boat or up at the sails or at the buffeting wind, he would fast be off course. No- a good, wise captain focuses on where he is headed. When the winds blow, he adjusts the sails. When the deck splinters, he repairs. But day in and day out, he is ever looking for his way ahead. A captain that does not is headed for ship wreck.

    That is where I find myself now, a formerly-distracted captain, shipwrecked on some island, most repairs affected and putting back to sea, knowing that the boat, while sea-worthy, will fast find itself becalmed, or worse, wrecked, if I don’t learn (and fast!) how to keep focused on the horizon, remembering the lessons of navigating. A deeply humbling thing.

    I am grateful that each day is new, each day the sun rises, each day I can set my course again. There is incredible mercy in that; a mercy I don’t think I really understood prior to our long storms. The storms taught me fortitude and courage; now I must learn faithfulness and focus.

  • collecting stories,  facing grief,  the mothering arts

    Native soil…


    Children have this strange way about them of seeming both ancient and brand new. It is strongest when they are tiny babes in arms, but they never really lose it; I can catch a child of mine deep in thought and he seem a thousand years old, and then he’ll turn and seem younger than his chronological age. It’ll always take your breath when it happens. The intensity of the responsibility of shepherding such a soul can take your breath too.

    I find that we are entering into the first days of autumn quite weary, all of us. In some ways, this makes no sense. We’ve had a an exceedingly quiet summer with very few medical challenges. On the other hand, it makes perfect sense for us to show all the strain and weariness–we’ve finally been able to stand still, all of us. We are no longer being bombarded with one piece of bad news after another, no longer having a sibling disappear into the hospital for days on end, no longer scrambling. It is only now in the last month or two that we begin to realize just how intense the battle was.

    The children are all grieving and healing in different ways in a way that drives me to my knees in prayer daily. I can live in my adult brain for a while and speak to myself about the challenges I am facing and help myself process through what I am seeing and feeling- and I forget that children don’t know how to do that unless we teach. It has been an intense learning curve, yet again. I am listening and I am sorry (for)… are daily said here. We are learning new paths. I think the saddest part of our American culture when it comes to grieving is that we force the punch line far too soon, and I am reminding myself of this when shepherding my children. There is no straight line to healing, and healing isn’t a destination. It’s a journey. Their pain is not trivial, either. It is very real. It may not match what an adult might consider painful, but that does not make it any less so. I find I have to consult with that ancient wise little girl in my own head often these days, have her remind me of what is to be a child.

    I find myself contemplating what my native soil is now. The storms of the battle dreadfully uprooted so many things; it is disconcerting. If I feel off-kilter and struggling to find a new center, how much more so my children? One of the saddest things for me in regards to all that has happened is that due to the intense pressures we were under, I had no time to mark or grieve or process or transfer a child’s last passage from babyhood into toddlerhood, and another child’s passage from toddler to child. We didn’t have time.  It’s gone now. I’ve felt the lack of it, and both children have too. These milestones and rituals are important; they help us fix our compass for the next stage of the journey.

    I had barely stopped breastfeeding Ellianna by mere months when all her troubles began. She is our youngest and of course there is some unconscious spoiling we all do, but it is not helped by the fact that she is so small; in physical appearance (due to her illness) she looks about three and a half. She is a full head shorter than children of the same age. I find myself constantly having to remind myself that she is not a toddler- she is an incredibly whip smart kindergartner, and I should shepherd her as such. Josiah was barely beginning kindergarten when it all began, and he is now seven.  I find myself contemplating how I might help both them and myself re-calibrate and mark this transition now, because I think it would be a healthy thing for us all. We won’t ever pass this way again, either as parents or as siblings, (unless we adopt or foster at some point, but that doesn’t seem in the cards for us at the moment), so how best to honor it? It is something to think on.

    If there is anything my children’s grieving process is teaching me, the lessons I want to carry home to that little girl child tucked deep in my soul- I want to remember their resilience and their patience. Kids have this way of grieving loudly, openly, and in such a way that makes you think that they’ll break their hearts at it, and then half an hour later they will be joyfully laughing over some joke their brother told, just as loudly and openly. But kids don’t see a dichotomy there. They can be sad and happy and one does not preclude the other; it dwells and comingles equally within them. They are so much more resilient for it- they aren’t forcing their feelings, their grieving, their joys, into prescribed boxes- they just live it out. Josiah has taught me joyful patience. How many times has he undergone something physically painful, seemingly endless, and he waits quietly and joyfully? Always waving a hello to the nurses with a bright smile, always finding something to giggle over. There are certain things he cannot do, must watch his siblings do, he on the sidelines, and he doesn’t look after them longingly. He plops down and starts inventing worlds in the dirt with his cars. I am learning to plop down with him. He seems most ancient in those moments- he that has learned a lesson few adults can master.

    This is the secret parents know. We are given the awesome responsibility of shepherding these souls for a time, but the greater reward is how much they will teach us, in return.

  • collecting stories

    Dear old hills…


    I remember the first time I ever passed through the Appalachians. I was eleven. I was born in the shadows of the towering Rockies, living nestled in the suburbs of Denver. My dad had joined the Navy when I was eight, and we had led vagabond lives since- first one house, then another, as he completed his training. The training completed, he headed out on his first assignment. We, in turn, returned to Colorado for a time, to visit with family, to tie up many loose ends, and begin our new Navy life in earnest. We drove across the country to head to the new place on the East Coast. The endless, monotonous flatlands of Kansas lulled my siblings and I into sleep as my mother drove. Missouri and Arkansas didn’t make much of an impression on me, except for when we crossed the mighty Mississippi River as we crossed into Tennessee. We’d manage about a state a day, finally pulling in to collapse into sleep in some hole in the wall motel off an exit. Tennessee itself took a very long day and I remember drowsing through most of the afternoon with heat and boredom.

    She shook me awake not too long after we passed through mid-state.  Look, Joy. Look at the mountains in the distance. I distinctly remember being pretty annoyed at being woken for what, in my eleven year old mind, looked distinctly like foothills. I told my mother so, in annoyed, sleepy voice, and she laughed. I was under-awed by those ancient and bowed mountains, covered with green. They had no granite peaks, no snow caps, no startling thousand foot drops, no aspens. They weren’t mountains. They weren’t home. 

    I wouldn’t remember much about the Appalachians for many years, except for the occasional times we passed back through them on our way out West over the years on vacation. I preferred the more northern route through West Virginia and Kentucky, Ohio, when we did go, because the mountains were higher there. It wasn’t and couldn’t be my beloved Rockies, but at least the views were better.

    My teenage years were very restless ones. I had lived on the East Coast for nearly ten years, but I was still an outsider. The rest of my family adapted well to the new challenges, or at least, they seemed to. I felt rootless. I would pay very little attention on those long car trips, always aching to cross the Colorado line, always straining my eyes to watch how the land would begin to fold slowly, and then more suddenly and shockingly, as we made the trek into Denver and back out again, headed for my Grandparents. Those mountains were my home.

    Until they weren’t anymore.

    It happened all of the sudden, the last family trip we took together before I would head off to college.

    There was a ridge on the outskirts that I loved topping that last night of travelling. We always seemed to get into Colorado late in the afternoons and would be hitting the outskirts at twilight. It was always a beautiful sight to me, the twinkling lights of the city, the gray green foothills behind, the sun setting behind those dark sentinels of granite. It was how I knew I was almost there. Until the last time. The last time, we made that curve, topped that hill, and the scene laid out below was alien. Denver had quite literally moved up the foothills, obliterating them- there was no divide between urban and wild anymore. Everywhere there was dust, as years and years of drought had taken toll. The aspens were scraggly, and the Rockies had this horrible scarred appearance to them, shorn and naked as they were of vegetation that particular year. I kept telling myself I was too old to cry, they were just stupid mountains, but oh I wanted to, so badly. It was such a shock. It had also been many years since I had been there, and I realized in a rush that Colorado would likely never be my home again, and it hadn’t been for quite a few years. I just hadn’t realized it until that moment.

    The years that followed that Colorado trip were some of the scariest, most tumultuous years of my life, as it is for all teenagers that are turning adults faster than they can keep up with it. I would make some disastrous and not-so-disastrous decisions in those years, all fueled by the fact that I felt I had no ties, no roots. I can see that all now. It’s always easier to see the reasons, looking back.

    I would eventually find myself tucked into another fold of mountains- the Appalachians- when I began college. I resented them for it, for their rounded, smoky, blue-ness. I’d occasionally beg my friend turned boyfriend turned fiance to drive me up to Sam’s Gap in North Carolina so that I could gaze out over miles and miles of quiet peaks and imagine that they were just a bit rockier, a bit grayer.

    When the whole world would crash down around our shoulders, my husband and I would make a long looping trip up into the Highlands that straddle three states, all hills and valleys and winding mountain roads. We’d drive and talk and breathe and stop and just stare at the majesty laid out below us. Before I even realized it, those mountains became more home to me than any home I had known previously. Now, my roots lie deep in those ancient hills. My children were born under their stars. There is a piece of wilderness there that has been woven into my blood- I’ve made love in those hills, I’ve buried a child there. The dirt and the cosmos of the place echo in my veins. I may not be there right now, living at a river delta on the East Coast, but my soul walks those hills every night as I sleep. My ancient hills. My home.

    Every four or five months or so, the pull gets too strong, and we load up and make the days trip, spend a week. Sure, we could go on a ‘proper’ vacation, but we’d rather go home. Rather be with those we love. Fill up the tank, so to speak. It’s usually a crazy jumble of things and not very vacation-y at all- helping friends move, helping aging parents fix house things they can’t anymore, those sort of things- but we don’t mind. We belong here and they belong to us and it’s home. Do we wish we could plan it better sometimes? Sure. But the harrum-scarrum of it is half the fun. We come home oddly refreshed, when you consider what we’re up to when we’re up there, and we can carry on for a while longer. Until we can’t anymore, and those mountains call us back with their beautiful, ancient, come-home song. Beautiful mountains that they are, bowed by age. I hope I learn their song well.