I made a right turn at love, a left turn at happily ever after, and ended up in Oz

Sometimes lately, I feel like I’ve made my way into someone else’s story. There’s nothing wrong with this story; it’s just not my own. It feels like some great cosmic trickster picked me up and dropped me into a life I never planned on living, and yet, here I am–going through the motions.

Have you ever watched a movie and drifted off for a couple of scenes and when you woke up, nothing made sense? You weren’t really sure how the characters got there or what it all meant? That’s what my life feels like. Like I drifted off for a while and when I woke up, I found myself in a world not of my own choosing, one that I never planned to live–an alternate reality of sorts.

It’s kind of surreal. Like I’m on a cosmic caoursel that just keeps moving, turning and turning, never slowing down, never stopping. Around and around I go . . . no chance to get off and to get on the ride I’m supposed to be on. And yet, all my choices led me here. . . Or have they?

carousel

 

We all set out with a destination in mind. When we’re young, the world is wide open, our minds are full of dreams. There are things we know we want–marriage, children–at least sometime down the road. Some things, we think we want–but when it really comes down to it–we don’t really want them at all. Others, we want, we pursue–but then life gets in the way. These are our dreams deferred, delayed, and sometimes, our dreams forgotten and lost forever. They drift into the land of “should have been,” “could have been,” and “if only.”

When I set out on this journey called “life on my own,” adulthood, or whatever you want to call it, I had it all plotted out. I knew what I wanted: where I wanted to go, who I wanted to become, the lifestyle I wanted to live. I saw it all as a story, and I was the heroine. My life was progressing from one logical chapter to the next logical chapter, and it all looked just how I wanted it to be.

outline

But then I met my husband.

He was part of my story, the story I wanted, the one I had planned. He was, but still he changed it–my story veered, turned, took a side road. The destination appeared to be the same, but it took a different route. He rode in with his charm and his own story–and a pile full of plans and dreams of his own, and so, he changed my story forever.

He was one of the characters I wanted, one I dreamed about, but the thing about life that is so different from a story is that it’s not written by the mind of one, but the mind and wishes and plans of many. Even though our dreams seemed to be in alignment, I was no longer making choices based only on myself–and so the story changed.

And after marriage, of course, come the children. That’s when you really start seeing the unfamilar territory. Road blocks, no outlet, detours. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t get rid of a single one of them (well, at least most days!). They are my joy, but, though we know in theory how much those little people are going to change our lives, the reality is so much more than we can understand until we live it. Nothing in our world is ever the same. It’s not the same story–we’re not even the hero anymore. We become a supporting character so that our children can be the hero or heroine in their own story.

The reality is that we can plot out our lives and outline our story, but life doesn’t work like that. It doesn’t follow our plans, and it certainly doesn’t consult us. Life is messy. Chaotic. Life is filled with the unexpected–disappointments, doors closing and doors opening. It is filled with heartbreak and loss, new birth and growth–and change.

life map

We think we choose our paths in life, but, in so many ways, we really don’t. It chooses us. In the past, they attributed it to fate or the cosmos. Today we sometimes say it is God or maybe mere chance–luck or unluckiness. Whichever way you want to term it, the reality is, so often our choices are few, and sometimes, even when we think we are choosing, our choices are really being chosen for us.

I recently read Lauren Oliver’s trilogy because my students are reading her book Delerium for my class. (I loved that book, btw! So much better than I expected!) In her final book  of the trilogy, “Requiem,” she makes a statement that puts it so well.

“They wanted the power to feel, to think, to choose for themselves. They couldn’t have known that even this was a lie–that we never really choose, not entirely. We are always being pushed and squeezed down one road or another. We have no choice but to step forward, and then forward again, and then forward again; suddenly we find ourselves on a road we haven’t chosen at all. But maybe happiness isn’t in the choosing. Maybe it’s in the fiction, in the pretending; that wherever we have ended up is where we intended to be all along.”

We start out choosing, but so often those very choices are dictated by the pushing and squeezing of fate and the cosmos. So few of us really end up where we intended at all. We come to terms with where we are. We might even love where we are, but it is not where we set out to go in the beginning.

narrow

Maybe this is where I was meant to be all along, even though it’s not where I intended to go. Maybe I ended up here because of random chance and a good dose of both luck and unluckiness. Maybe it doesn’t feel like the life I was supposed to live, but it is the life I am living.

Maybe I’m just having an early mid-life crisis and no one else has every felt this way or knows what I am talking about at all . . . 😉

Or maybe, life is about rolling with the punches, accepting the role of fate and making the most of the choices that God–life–fate–the universe–allow us to make.

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A little dose of clarity and a large dose of gratitude

We live in an age where it is the “in” thing to dis America. It’s en vogue to talk about all the things that we have done wrong. It’s almost chic in some circles to talk about our country with venom and disdain.

I never agree with such opinions, but I’ve gotten used to them. I disregard them with a sort of complacence. I take them in stride and ignore them, most of the time.

Every once in a while there is something that shakes the dust off of my patriotism and makes it burn bright again. The fire of pride and gratitude toward this country that has given us so much begins to pull me from my apathy, and I find it impossible to remain silent. I am PROUD of this country. I am humbled by the safety and prosperity it has allowed me. And I am grateful for all the men and women, alive and dead, who have poured their lives into creating this country and protecting its freedoms.

So to what do I owe this fresh stirring of patriotism?

Well, it started when I browsed my Netflix options a couple of weeks ago. I stumbled on the movie “The Patriot” and decided to give it a re-watch.

Though not very accurate in the historic details, the movie does a great job of capturing the American spirit and the sacrifice required of the revolutionists to give this dream of democracy a chance. So many lost their lives–fathers, husbands, brothers–to give us the chance to live in a land where even the richest and most powerful are held to the law, and where even the weakest among us is protected.

Now obviously, we didn’t do everything right. We had to fight again for the equality of all men in the Civil War, but, may I remind you, that slavery was (and still is in many countries) a world-wide epidemic, and it took us a mere 150 years to begin to right that wrong, whereas most countries took far longer than that to make the same changes we made (not to mention the many countries that still enslave their people today). It was a horrible thing, but even today we are still trying to right the wrongs of generations long gone. Show me another country on this earth who has done the same.

My second surge of pride came from reading “Memoirs of a Geisha.” I’d seen the movie–which I LOVED–and decided to give the book a read. It’s even better than the movie. It is poignant and lyrical, and it pulls you into a world that is so very different from our own–and it doesn’t let go.

What does a book about Geisha in Japan have to do with my pride in America you may ask? Well, it has a lot to do with it in the form of contrast.

You see, I’ve traveled the world. I’ve seen places quite similar to the Japan of pre-WWII. They are places where the powerful rule with an iron hand and no one protects the rights of the poor and the weak. With my own eyes I watched a truck hit a rickshawala and continue driving when I was in Bangladesh. He was left there injured and possibly dying–and there were no consequences for the truck driver. He continued on, living his life untouched by any reckoning for the injury he caused another.

I went to a conference with the leaders of Bangladesh (long story about how I got to be there!) and watched as they ignored the one token woman speaker (because she was a woman of course) who tried to get them to do something, anything, about the number of women who go missing on a regular basis, never to be seen again. These countless, nameless women dead as the result of the anger of a husband who fears no reprisal. And that just touches on the injustice.

What about the poverty? In my country no one needs to go without food. The poor of America are better off than the middle class in a place like Bangladesh! It was with horror that I traveled the streets of Dhaka. The number of mutilated and disfigured people who mobbed my rickshaw was staggering. What was worse was hearing that it was common for a mother to intentionally disfigure her child because a child such as that would receive more sympathy, and thus more money, from foreigners. And that might likely make the difference between her other children eating or starving. Such a harsh reality!

The workers in most of the world can only dream of an eight hour work day and a five day work week!! I wonder what the rickshawalas of Bangladesh would think to hear of the ease and comfort of an American work environment? And what if I then told them of how often we still find reason to complain about it!?

Or how about the little children I saw working in the hot sun? I will never forget the image of a little girl sitting in the sweltering heat with a large rock, a chisel, and a hammer. She sat there making the large rock into pebbles. Why did she do such a thing? Because without the little bit of money she would bring in, there would not be enough money for all the members of her family to eat.

           My children get to be children. My children need not fear that they will not eat. My children know that they are safe and protected.

Many children in our world today do not know this. Many children fear hunger and know nothing of safety. Just like Cheyo in “Memoirs of a Geisha,” many young girls today are still sold into sexual slavery. It’s rampant around the world. Don’t believe me? Google it. You’ll be shocked to see the extent of this horrible trade in our modern world.

I am so incredibly grateful for this country I live in! I am grateful that I am safe, and that my safety, and more importantly, my children’s safety, is relentlessly protected. I am grateful that my country provides a safety net that ensures that those down on their luck need not fear hunger. I am incredibly grateful that my rights as a woman are not secondary to the whims of my husband. I am grateful that we live in comfort and prosperity, because, believe me, we are one of the most prosperous countries in this world! We are so lucky!

I guess what I want to say is that, any time I gain perspective, when I am reminded of the reality of the rest of the world we live in, and compare it to what we have here . . . how careless we so often are! We take so very much for granted and instead of feeling grateful for what we have, all we can see is what we don’t have.

We are the luckiest of people to be born in this amazing country, to have the opportunities that we have, and the freedom and security to pursue those opportunities!

On this Fourth of July, take the time to gain some perspective. Take the time to realize how lucky we are, and how much of a debt of gratitude we owe to the men and women who have given their lives to give this great experiment a chance– and to those men and women who have protected it, for our sakes, ever since.

Hope–You Sadistic Tease!

            I have had a love hate relationship with hope.

            When I was young, hope was a marvelous thing. Hope was golden, full of promise and just waiting to unfold. I had a bit of the Midas touch in those days. Most things I wished for came my way. Yes, I had some disappointments, everyone does, but on the whole, things just kind of fell my way and hope was something to be savored. I took for granted that my hopes would come true, and so hope was a beautiful thing to me.

                                                                       But then, almost overnight, I was introduced to the dark side of hope, the fickle, taunting, almost sadistic side. This is the place of hope deferred, hope withheld, hope denied. This is a dark and agonizing road. There is something terribly heart-wrenching about hope being denied over and over again. It puts your heart in a vice grip and strains your soul to the utmost. It makes it hard to breathe and it makes life itself a drudgery, something to be gotten through, not relished.

            When your hopes have been so long denied, daring to hope again, to put yourself out there again, is a very scary thing. Ceasing to hope would almost seem the safest, kindest route when you’ve been so battered by failed hopes.

            And yet, life without hope, well, that is all but unthinkable! To accept that this is it, that this is as good as it’s going to get? That is not to be born!

            And so I have wrestled with hope, and in the wrestling, I wrote this poem. I hope that you enjoy it, though I can’t but hope that you don’t identify with it! I wouldn’t wish that on anyone!

 

Mirage

 

What once was bright with promise

Is now bent and broken with time

For life does not seem too careful a bearer

Of youth’s fragile dreams.

Heavily laden, I find myself plodding forward,

Crippled by disappointment’s wounds,

But life does not allow the time

To stop and heal before forcing us ever onward.

 

So weary is my soul that I long to close my eyes

And look no more down

The halls of possibility.

I long to close my eyes to hope

And so deny its allure.

Instead I would embrace what is

and shun what might be.

 

Stubborn hope!

Such a compassionless friend!

Beckoning . . . enticing . . .

 Luring me further on.

Like the mirage of water

In the heat of a summer’s day

It disappears as I think to arrive

Only to appear again

With empty promises further down the road.

 

Aching, yearning,

Looking longingly

for what never will arrive.

I cannot stop;

I stumble forward,

Incapable of ceasing to try.

 

No truer words were ever written,

Than those of hope deferred.

For to lure the broken heart to hope,

And hope yet again to deny,

Is a blight to my soul.

 

 

Teetering on the Verge of Insanity

         This is part two of our journey after losing Serena. If you missed part one, feel free to click here to read the first blog titled “Is God Just a Big Cosmic Bully or What?”      

 

           Usually when a woman gets pregnant, it is a time of excitement and of joy. It is a time of the high pitched squeals so characteristic to women. Usually the news of a baby on the way brings a flurry of hugs and well wishing. There is an aura of elation that overshadows any lingering fears you may have about parenthood or the pregnancy. It is an emotional high. Usually.

            For us, after Serena, it was something quite different. At the best, the news of our pregnancy brought a weighted silence followed by a “Well, we’re there for you.” At the worst, it was greeted with accusations “How could you be so careless!” and recriminations “I will never forgive you if you make me walk through that again!” (The extreme irony of the latter comment floors me to this day ! What this person felt in grief at the loss of Serena was the palest shadow of the hell we experienced and yet her concern was not at what we would have to go through all over again, but what she would go through!)

            When I found out that I was pregnant with Gavin I think I went numb. I swear my heart stopped beating for a second and my blood turned cold. When my heart started again and the blood resumed pumping, it all rushed to my head and I felt like I would faint. God help us! The decision had been made for us and I felt by turns a numb hope and a bone-crushing fear.

            I told myself it would be okay. It had to be. God wouldn’t make us walk through that again, not so soon? I mean, He wasn’t that cruel, right?

            But, I was by no means certain. Walking through what we did with Serena had shown me that I really had no idea of what God would or wouldn’t do. I had learned the hard way that He cared a whole lot less about my happiness and comfort than He did about some overarching big picture which I couldn’t see much less understand. I had experienced the very real lesson that being a Christian does not exempt us from pain and hardship. I could not say what God would or wouldn’t do. I felt like I was standing on the edge of some great balck nothingness that was going to swallow me alive.

            So, in my lack of faith that God would take care of it, I appealed to Fate and to Chance. Yes, there was  a 25% chance that the baby would be sick, but the odds that we would roll that number twice in a row . . . no one could be that unlucky, could they?

            I remember sitting at our table and rolling a four-sided die over and over again trying to convince myself that the odds were with us. It didn’t work, especially since I had met a mother online who lost four children in a row to SMA. (And she was a Christian too by the way!) God didn’t stop her from walking through hell over and over again. Why should I be any different?

            We were referred to a geneticist who walked us through what SMA really was, how it worked and what we were looking at for the pregnancy. We would need an amniocentesis at 17 weeks. The sample would then be sent off to one of the two labs in the country capable of analyzing at the DNA level. They would look to see if there was at least one copy of the gene necessary for reproducing neurons. If at least one of us gave the healthy gene, the baby would be okay, if not, well . . . .

            The assumption was that if the baby wasn’t healthy, we would abort it. If anyone has ever had a reason to consider abortion, it was us. We had walked through the pain, the grief, the absolute hell of watching our daughter get weaker and weaker. We had watched our daughter stop breathing and felt our hearts stop right along with hers. Time and time again my husband had breathed the life back into her little body to give us more time . . . until eventually there was no more time. If anyone had a case for abortion, it was us.

            And yet, we barely needed to discuss it. It wasn’t an option. To abort this baby was to say that Serena had never deserved to exist at all, that the days she had were meaningless. Serena had lived and she had loved. She had known happiness and joy in her brief days. She may not have had many of those days, but could we deny her the few she was given to spare us grief? Could we do that to another baby?

            The idea of walking through it all again was unbearable, but the thought of taking away even the few days given to our child was simply unconscionable. We needed to know if the baby was healthy, but we would have it regardless.

            It took a month to get back the results of the DNA test. I lived on the brink of a panic attack. I could barely breathe. Luckily, two weeks before we found out we were pregnant I had started a new job and I had started my graduate program. I immersed myself in the busyness. If I was too busy to think, I would be too busy to let the emotions in, so I tried to box up the grief and fear and I put it somewhere in the back of my heart and I kept moving, one foot in front of the other.

            In the moments between classes and work I found myself listening to the song “My Immortal” by Evanescence on repeat. The words of that song seemed to express my grief in a way I couldn’t. I remember sitting in my car singing that song and sobbing, briefly indulging my pain before drying my tears, squaring my shoulders, gritting my teeth and willing myself to go to work, smile and pretend that the world was still good.

            At one point in one of my classes we had to take a stress test. It looked at all the things that are considered stressors, added them up, and then told you where you were at. My score blew the top off the test. In fact, my professor asked if anyone had scored over a certain point and I raised my hand sheepishly. The whole class just stared at me when I shared the score. I shouldn’t have been functioning. They didn’t even know what to say.

            The test hadn’t taken into account the effort of will. How did I keep functioning through what should have paralyzed me? I wasn’t a quitter. I could barely breathe, but I wasn’t going to quit. I wasn’t going to let life win. I was going to keep walking. Somehow, I was going to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I lowered my head and just kept moving. I was too stubborn to give up! I may not have been living, but I was existing and I was faking the living part really well!

            Every time the phone rang, our hearts stopped. We would stare at each other. Neither of us wanted to answer it. As much as not knowing was torture, to know, if the news was bad, would be hell itself. Was it the call we were waiting for? With bated breath we would answer and with part relief and part frustration we would answer the phone to find one of our parents or a friend on the other line.

            Every day, for an agonizing month, we waited with our heart in our throats, until finally, one day, after class, as I was about to leave for work, I got the call. It was a boy, and he was okay.

            I couldn’t stop sobbing. I tried to call Aaron, but the truth is, I probably scared him half to death because I COULD NOT STOP sobbing. I tried to call work to tell them that I was going to be late, but I couldn’t stop sobbing. I just couldn’t stop.

            I was going to be a mother again, and this time, I wouldn’t have to watch my child die. This time, I would get to see him grow. I would get to hear him say “Mama” and I would get to feel his little arms around my neck. This time I would get the joy of motherhood, not the sorrow.

            The truth is, my heart was too broken for joy. I didn’t feel the same rush of elation that I had felt when Serena was born. I felt like Humpty Dumpty. I didn’t know if “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men” could ever put my broken heart back together again.

            The reality is that my heart is still not put back together. There are still craters and fissures and barely healing wounds riddling my heart, but every time one of my children tells me that they love me, every time I feel their warm little arms around my neck and their soft cheeks nuzzling mine, each day I get to see them grow a little bigger, my heart heals a little bit more. (As if on cue, the cutest little three year old just came and whispered in my ear that she loves me . . . her little lips brushing my ear. Like I said, it heals a little bit each time! :))

            This is Gavin now. He just turned eight!! He is an enormous blessing. He held our marriage together. He kept us sane. He was counting on us. We couldn’t allow the grief to swallow us because of what it would do to him. We weren’t ready for him, but God knew we needed him anyway!

            Finding out that Gavin was okay, was not the end to our journey of fear. We had two more children after him, and the truth is, our journey with Lilian was the scariest of all in many ways, but that is a story for another day. 🙂

Is God Just a Big Cosmic Bully or What?

            Yesterday was my son’s birthday. Every year on his birthday, I find myself reminiscing about him and my second chance at motherhood. It was a day that I never thought I would have. It was a day I longed for, hoped for, but was too scared to believe could really happen.

            You see, though I’ve been pretty up front about our journey in losing Serena, I don’t talk about the journey to our second family very often. I’m not quite sure why that is. Maybe there was just so much pain that I spend most of my time focusing on the biggest source of it or maybe it’s because the journey to our second family ended up having a happy ending, as unlikely as that should have been.

            The day Serena was born was the happiest day of my life. The rush of joy, complete and utter bliss, that I felt in that moment is simply indescribable. I was so in love with my baby girl and with my husband. It seemed impossible that anyone could be so perfectly happy, but I was.

            Motherhood was everything I had hoped for and more. I didn’t mind the sleepless nights or the toll that being a caretaker takes on you. The few times I could be pried away from Serena, I missed her instantly. My favorite thing to do was to watch her sleep. I was enthralled.

            In my darker moments I’ve wondered if my very happiness was too great a temptation for fate. I’ve pondered the idea that there is some great cosmic balance that says so much happiness needs to be balanced with an equal portion of pain. Sometimes I’ve even wondered if God is simply sadistic. I think it was something far simpler than that actually. I think we were just unlucky.

             That day, that horrible, nightmarish day when we found out that our perfect, beautiful girl was going to die, we found out something else as well. Any child we conceived could have the same genetic defect, in fact there was a 25% chance that any child would have it. Not only were we going to lose our only child, but having another child came with the unbearable risk that we would have to walk through the same hell all over again.

            The five months between when we found out Serena was sick to the time she died were consumed by her. Those moments were spent in keeping her alive and treasuring every moment we had left. We were numb, on auto-pilot and consumed by anguish in turns. We waited in horrified anticipation of the day we could not prevent. We couldn’t think; we could merely exist.

            Then the horrible day came when Serena left us and time started moving again. We were left with a void, a complete absence of purpose. I had spent every moment of the last year taking care of this little person, straining to hear the sounds of her alarms in the night, and suddenly, my whole purpose for living was gone. Into that absence came the very real possibility that I would never be a mother again. I can’t even begin to explain the double agony of this realization!

            I was angry, incredibly angry. I felt certain that God was a sadistic bully who liked toying with my heart. How else could I rationalize a God who allowed me to taste motherhood, fall in love with it, only to rip it away from me and deny it to me forever? 

            I became bitter. Looking at other mothers, especially the ones who didn’t deserve the name, made me fume. Expectant mothers were like a knife in my gut. I begrudged them their happiness. They didn’t even know how lucky they were. They took it for granted. The injustice of it was eating me alive.

            We wrestled with our grief and it felt to us like everyone watched in judgment of how we handled it. Our parents were so worried that our anger would destroy our faith in God that their concern became stifling. We had to grieve, and anger was a part of that process, so we ran away to Europe.

            Like Sabrina from one of my all-time favorite movies, I packed my journal, my camera and my drawing materials intent on sitting on the various bridges of Europe (not just Paris like she did, but that was one of the stops) and writing/drawing until everything started to make sense again.

            One of our main topics of conversation on the trip was if we should stay together and if we should ever try to have children again. We contemplated separating. That would be an easy solution. The chances of us finding another person who was also a carrier were only 1 in 40;  surely we couldn’t be so unlucky as to fall in love with another carrier?

            We thought about it, but, the problem was, we still loved each other. We were best friends. We didn’t want a family with someone else. We wanted it together.

            That brought up the second part of the conversation, could we, should we, take the risk of having another child?

            I was so desperate to be a mother again that I was willing to try despite the risks, but Aaron was not, and he couldn’t say that he ever would be ready to take that risk again. We talked, we fought and I agonized, but he wouldn’t budge. I told myself to be patient (something I can be incredibly bad at!) and to give him time, which I tried to do (and failed miserably at!). And I waited.

            Despite trying to respect Aaron and taking the steps to prevent a pregnancy, we became pregnant about a year after Serena died. I had been willing to take the risk in theory, but when that choice was taken out of my hands in actuality, I found that I was nearly paralyzed with fear. Imagine feeling like at any moment the axe is going to drop and you are going to find yourself back in hell . . . yep, that’s pretty much what it felt like. Sheer terror.

I’ll blog the rest of the story in a couple of days . . . it’s just too much too put in one blog! Nobody would read the whole thing! 🙂

“Do Not Let the Hero in Your Soul Perish”

I’ve been really struggling with my allergies this season, struggling to the point where my eyes have been nearly swollen shut. Being completely miserable, all I’ve wanted to do was veg. on the couch and watch mindless tv and just try to get through the day and hope tomorrow will be better.

Having burned through the Vampire Diaries (again!) and Gossip Girl during my last bout of flu, endless laundry folding, and my daily workouts, I was looking for something new.

Like I said, the goal was for mindless and mildly entertaining, something I didn’t really need to pay too much attention to. I browsed through Netflix and stumbled on One Tree Hill. There sure were a lot of episodes . . . and what could be more mindless than a teeny bopper show mainly about teeny boppers love lives? What the heck! May as well give it a try, right?

For the most part the show fit the bill. It was definitely mindless . . . for the most part. What I didn’t expect was the smattering of literary quotes that were well picked and profound, like a gentle prodding toward something more than this hum drum existence, a reminder that there is more to life if we dare to push ourselves toward it.

In fact, in one of the first episodes they quoted Ayn Rand from “Atlas Shrugged” and I have to say that the words impacted me more than any words have in years. In fact, it felt as if they were a battering ram against this dam I have built around my heart.

“Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark, in the hopeless swamps of the approximate, the not-quite,  the not-yet, the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish, in lonely frustration for the life you deserved, but have never been able to reach. Check your road and the nature of your battle. The world you desired can be won, it exists, it is real, it is possible, it’s yours.”

 

You see, when my daughter died, so did so many of my hopes and dreams. The life I wanted died with her. The girl I was died too. I have spent the last decade of my life mourning not only Serena, but the life I might have had and the girl that I was.

I have struggled with bitterness; I have battled anger. I have railed at God and at life. I have grieved the girl I was while trying to get used to this stranger that I am. I have lied to myself, trying to convince myself that this stranger was somehow better, stronger than that girl who was so full of life and passion. It was a lie.

My fire has gone out, at least, it has burned down to the embers. My soul is perishing in the frustration of the life that might have been, the life that should have been. If that girl who was me dies, the woman I was meant to be dies with her.

You see, I realized she’s not dead. She’s buried behind the wall I have built to keep the pain out. That girl hurts too much to breathe, so I buried her and she has spent the last ten years slowly starving to death, wasting away.

I cannot let that girl die, but that means that I have to let the pain in. It means that I need to come to terms with a God who, though able to heal my daughter, chose not to, and a world that is anything and everything except fair. I need to wrestle that pain, claim it, make it my own. I need to let this stranger that is me meet the girl that I was and come out on the other side as something stronger and wiser than I was but more alive and passionate about living than I am now.

The girl I was was too sheltered to claim the life I desired. She had the heart, but she lacked the depth. Now I have the depth, but I lack the heart.

I must tear down the wall and blow on the embers before the fire dies completely.

But, with the damn broken, and ten years of pain waiting to be voiced, how do I not drown in the flood?

The Day My Muse Died

               I have been a poet without a muse for ten years. That means for ten years I have not written a single poem. I’ve written other things, but not poetry. That was gone. No matter how hard I tried to push passed it, the voice was gone.

                Years ago, while taking a poetry class in college, my professor asked me to share with the class my process in writing poetry. I was one of her favorite student writers and I think she assumed that it was something that I really worked at and had a process for. I’m pretty sure I disappointed her.

                For me, my poetry has never been something I worked on.  It is something inside of me that has to come out. It’s something I feel rising from a place deep inside myself and when I feel the stirrings, I grab a pencil and I let it come. It is its own voice.

                In my youth, my muse was full of passion and possibility. It was a voice of idealism. It was a voice craving for life, all of it. It was the part of me that thirsted for all that life had to offer. It was the voice of my deepest longings and my greatest hopes.

                The last poem I wrote was in the days before my daughter died. It was the day my muse died. It was the day that the voice of idealism and hope inside of me died. It was the death of possibility and the birth of pain, a pain so deep that it had no voice.

                For years I tried to give a voice to my pain. I tried to pull a muse forth. For surely, such a wealth of living, such a windfall of pain, must come with a voice? I forced a few poems, but they lacked the magic, the power of a muse inspired poem. Quite simply, they were not good. I don’t know if I even kept them. If I did, they are buried in some old notebook or some abandoned stack of papers somewhere.

                I had all but given up the hope that I would write like that again, when last month, a new muse stirred somewhere deep inside of me. It was not a rebirth of my old muse. That muse was the muse of youth, a muse that gave voice to the hope of a life not yet lived. This muse is darker. This is a muse of life lived and lost. It is the muse of a decade of pain without a voice and the broken pieces it left behind.

                I am glad for this new muse. I am grateful that my pain, my loss finally has a voice. But I am sad to say a final goodbye to that muse of hope and possibility, the muse that made the world something of light and wonder.

                As a eulogy of sorts, I want to share the last poem I wrote, the poem where my muse died.

 

Between Yesterday and Tomorrow

 

I am caught between yesterday and tomorrow.

Yesterday was full of sweetness—

Girlhood, new love, stolen moments, baby kisses.

Tomorrow is ripe with possibility—

Places unseen, adventures unlived, love yet unborn.

But I am forced to live in today.

 

Today is confusion, pain, despair.

Today is the limbo between life and death.

Today is the day baby kisses might end,

Soft, warm snuggles turn cold,

And sweet baby babble turn silent.

Today is consumed in dark Maybe.

 

Today is the knowledge that

Dimpled fingers will not reach for my hand,

Sweet, soft lips will not know love’s first kiss,

Tiny, tiny toes will never feel the squish of sand,

Smooth, kissable cheeks will never feel the blush of youth.

 

Today is blackness without hope,

Sunshine without sun,

Life without reason.

Today is the nightmare

I’m living while awake.

 

All I want is yesterday returned to me

Or tomorrow untouched by today.

What I want is for today to have never been.

Live Life with Your Arms Wide Open

            We’ve all been hurt. Sadly, it’s often the people we love the most and trust the most who end up hurting us the most. What we do with that hurt can actually be more harmful that the hurt itself.

            So many of us leave a trail of broken relationships in our wake. We’ve been hurt or we’ve hurt others and rather than working through the conflict, we let the relationship go. Sadly, it’s easier to let go than resolve the conflict, even if it is a mother, a brother or a best friend. What we often don’t consider is how every broken relationship, every unresolved “betrayal,” changes us forever.

            Many of us build walls around our hearts. In theory, the walls are supposed to protect us from getting hurt again, but in reality they do more harm than protection. It is these walls that keep us from living and loving to the fullest. When we allow the pain of our past to impact our present by putting us in protection mode, we are the ones who lose.

            For years I lived with walls around my heart. I was so scared of getting hurt that I didn’t let anyone close enough to hurt me. I was lonely and longing and I began to realize that not only were the walls I had built keeping the harmful relationships out, but also the very ones that I longed for the most. You see, the thing about walls, they keep people out, ALL of them.

           With lots of prayer, journaling and tears I tore the walls down.

            Some of the best friends in my life (including my husband) entered my life shortly after this. I would never have allowed those relationships if my walls had still been up; they were far too risky. Every one of these friendships was well worth the risk!

            I’ve been hurt over the years now that my walls are down. One friend hurt me repeatedly. But the thing about letting your walls down, well, they are DOWN. At least for me, it meant living my life with my arms wide open. Despite getting hurt, I can’t help it, I love unreservedly and I forgive without question, sometimes again and again.

            Recently I was going through an especially dark time and I called one of the people who is on that top tier of people. I was at my wits end. I was near to despairing and I needed to know someone loved me and I needed empathy. What I got was something very different.

            Instead of getting love and compassion, I got judgment. I was told that it was my fault, that all these bad things totally out of our control that were happening to us were somehow our fault. I was told that there must be something wrong with us that made us a target for all the bad things that happened. I was not only hurt, I felt betrayed.

            I didn’t yell or get angry. I didn’t defend myself. I listened and I let go, determined to not talk to this person until I received an apology for the truly terrible things she said. This wasn’t the first time she had hurt me and I have always forgiven and let it go despite the hurt she has caused, but this one . . . well, when I needed her the most she made it abundantly clear that she did not intend to be there for me.

            So I built a wall, for the first time in years, and I waited for the phone call of apology that would bring the wall down. But the phone call never came.

            I’ve spent the last 2 ½ months debating what to do. I don’t want to be a door mat. I don’t want people to think that they can treat me like crap and that I’ll just come back for more. I don’t want to be weak. BUT, am I willing to lose this relationship because of my pride and just because I’m right? Is it really worth that?

            I couldn’t get around it. Despite how justified my reaction might be, it is not worth losing the relationship. The wall has to come down. I have to call her, even if I never get my apology. It’s the right thing to do, even if I don’t like it.

            As I came to this decision I had an epiphany. In every single relationship we have, we are going to hurt people. We don’t mean to, we don’t want to, but we are going to do it despite our best efforts. It is part of being human. So often, those we love the most, we fail the most.

            However you feel about the Bible, you can’t deny the truth of grace. Grace is given, not deserved. I need grace from all the people I have hurt, as unintentionally as it might have been, I still hurt them. I want their grace. I need their grace. As much as I love my children, it’s inevitable, I will hurt them someday, maybe even fail them in some way. I need grace.

            If I want to receive grace and forgiveness from others, I also need to give it, freely, even when it isn’t deserved, because the very definition of grace is that it is not deserved.

            So how many times do I forgive my brother who has hurt me, seventy times seven. I forgive without fail. It doesn’t matter what they’ve done. Withholding grace does not punish the one who doesn’t receive it as much as it hurts us for withholding it. We become stingy and small of spirit. We become jaded and stunted. Grace is as much for us as it is for them.

            So I will swallow my pride, pick up my phone and CALL. I will live my life with my arms wide open. It’s worth any pain that comes my way.

Move Over Red Shirt, and Make Way for the Heroine!

There is so much of being an adult that isn’t what I expected. I’ve always considered myself a fairly rational person (despite my idealism . . . maybe I didn’t have a very real picture of myself after all . . .).

Maybe I should blame it on being such an avid reader. After reading so many stories that follow the same basic principle, maybe my subconscious actually started thinking it would work that way.

You know, the heroine, misunderstood and under estimated, meets the boy who sees her for who she really is, they fall in love and walk merrily into the future hand in hand where everything comes up roses and sugar blossoms. Happily Ever after and all that.

Like I said, I do have a fairly large rational streak, and I certainly never thought that is how it would work, in my head at least, but my subconscious expectations, well . . . maybe they weren’t so rational after all!

I guess, whatever it is I expected, this wasn’t it. The normalcy of life, the hum drum progression of days where each one looks pretty much like the one before, this is NOT what I expected. The endless succession of ordinary tasks . . . getting the kids up for school, getting them out the door, cooking cleaning and cleaning some more only to start over with the same list of “to dos” the next day . . . . I have more in common with a scullery maid than the heroine in a story!

And see, there is the rub. I used to feel like the heroine in my own story. The same feeling I feel at the beginning of a good book, that feeling of potential and anticipation where the unexpected, the magical could be waiting for me just around the corner . . . I lived life in that charged place.

And like a good story, insecure, underestimated girl did indeed meet the boy who helped me believe in me and who swept me off my feet. I heard the swell of Andrea Bocelli in the background and felt the fireworks in his fingertips. I had my story and I was the heroine and it was glorious.

Next comes the happily ever after part, right? Like I said, I was too rational (and too smart!!) to really believe that. I knew that life in the real world was something very different. What I didn’t expect was that I would stop being the heroine of my own story.

These days I feel much more like the red shirt in my story rather than Captain Kirk. Aren’t I supposed to be the protagonist in my own story?  I feel like an insignificant extra. I feel like when I had my children, my story ended and theirs began.

Maybe a good mother would be okay with that. Maybe a selfless person wouldn’t think about it  twice. Certainly June Cleaver never would have spared a second for such selfish thoughts! But, then again, I am no June Cleaver! Though I am a good cook, even Rachel Ray’s 30 minute meals are fancier than I tend to cook. Not to mention that when it comes to housework, well, I am simply an abysmal failure. All my extended education did not prepare me for the impossible task of balancing the endless mountains of laundry and the messes left by some of the world’s messiest people! And I always thought that I was so good at multi-tasking! Hmpf!

But I digress. Maybe it is pure selfishness that makes me so crazy about not being the heroine of my own story. Maybe it shouldn’t bother me. Maybe a good mother is content to fade into the back story and live her life through her children.

But I don’t think so. Shouldn’t we all be the heroine of our own story? Should our sense of potential and anticipation disappear just because girl has already met boy? I don’t think so! My story is not over at 35! I won’t allow it to be!

Ah . . . but then there is the guilt. Shouldn’t this be enough? Shouldn’t I be perfectly happy just as I am? My husband is hot and he is my best friend to boot. I have three amazingly beautiful, smart children when genetics should have kept me from having any at all. Shouldn’t this be enough?

My family is my world and I would die for any one of them in a heartbeat. I know I am a good mother. I do put my children first and I suspect I always will, but that doesn’t mean that I need to play the role of martyr either.

I think the modern mother walks a difficult road. We have left the role of June Cleaver behind, but we see the error in the career mom who is an absentee mother. We long for balance. We want to be the heroine in our own story while teaching our children at the same time to be the hero/heroine of their own stories.

Most days it leaves me feeling like there is an internal tug of war being waged inside of me, and sadly, most often, it leaves me feeling like a failure at pretty much everything.

I don’t need to be the center of the universe. I don’t even need to be the center of my little family. But I do need to know that there is more waiting for me around the corner than Saturday’s soccer game. I need to know that I still have a role to play in this crazy story of life and that my role is more than just being the expendable red shirt.

I need to know that I am indeed the heroine of my own story, and that my story is not over, not now at 35, not at 55, not even at 75.

I think we all have a duty to step up and be the hero in our own story, to not sit back and let the story happen, but to find our role, to be an active participant.

Ever hero has to overcome, ever heroine has conflict and crisis that must be met. If you don’t have conflict, if you don’t have crisis, you’re not living your story.

Or, if you’re like me, and have had lots of conflict, always remember, the hero always has a choice; he can rise to the challenge and overcome and live the story he was created to live, or he can sit back and be the forgotten red shirt.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be a red shirt! I won’t be a forgettable extra in my own life! I haven’t figured it out yet, but I’m going to keep trying to find that line, the line of being the best mother I can be while at the same time being the best me I can be.

Life is in the Risking . . . Success and Failures Alike

All day long I having been mulling over the words of a book I’m reading:

Doubt, despair and disappointment are not only a reality of daily life, they are also the tools God uses to grow faith, hope, and love in us. If we run from what we fear or find displeasureable, we actually rob ourselves of the joy God intends for us to experience as we walk through our past, play with our future, and live now with new passion. (Dan B. Allender, “The Healing Path”)

This quote is so reminiscent of the belief I held as a young adult. I believed that real life was lived not in the comfortable middle ground of existence, but by embracing the extremes of life. I believed that the fullness of happiness, love and joy could only be experienced if you had also suffered great loss. That was what living really meant.

Living was not being safe and secure. That was to exist. To live was something infinitely more. And I wanted that “more.”

I have tested this belief to its core. Though it sounds great in theory, its application is so incredibly painful and difficult.

The little adage, “Be carfeul what you wish for” is aptly displayed in my life. We have known devastation in the loss of our daughter. We have known suffering in a multitude of ways that I will not go into. We have struggled with doubt and despair as the long road of suffering seemed to stretch on and on with no relief. The lure of safety and security was never stronger than in the last couple of years. And to give up, well, it has been a temptation.

And yet, I find the stirrings of something deep inside of me: a resonance with the quote above.  Maybe, just maybe, I was onto something that I did not fully understand back then. Maybe, if I can embrace all the difficulty, I will find that the reward is everything I once believed it to be.

Difficulty, disappointment and even devastation are a part of life for everyone at one time or another. We tend to fight it. We avoid it when possible, and we run like hell to escape it when we can’t.

I certainly do not think we should go out looking for it. I am no masochist, but, maybe, to experience the fullness of life we really do need to open ourselves. Sometimes that embracing of life brings the incredible, such as falling in love. Other times it brings the pain, like the broken heart you are left with when someone leaves.

But truly, we can never know those highs without opening ourselves to the risk of experiencing the lows.

Years ago I had a poem published that talks about this very thing. I have lived this poem in the fifteen years since I wrote it. Time and again I had my heart and my hopes dashed and it has been an effort of will to keep my heart open despite the losses I have been faced with. Sometimes I have succeeded, other times I have closed myself off to the possibility of what might have been possible because the risk left me too fearful.

Lately, I have found myself at a similar crossroads. I find old poem is inspiring me once more today.I can give in when faced with all the defeats I have encountered or I can try, one more time and one more after that.

I hope this poem might encourage you as it encourages me. It is titled “RISK.”

Would life call me Fool

or merely brave,

this soul that alights to the

spires of hope?

Is it folly to chance,

and so to perish,

with Risk’s failed attempt to fly?

The lofty heights of love’s aspiration

call braver souls than I,

yet, I and not they,

from the mountain’s height plunge

in the hope that love,

as a sweet breath of wind,

will catch these wings

and so lift me to the spheres of fabled love.

 

And yet, not once, nor even twice,

have I plunged to the rocky crags below.

The wind has failed,

these wings have faltered

and I have landed far below.

There I’ve labored for a time

resting the wounds of battered dreams,

entrenched in pain and mournful disillusionment,

so sure these wings were beyond repair.

 

Yet time . . . it heals,

and Hope, though bruised

does not perish.

It is an immortal friend.

Pain dimmed, failure forgotten,

I rise to Hope again.

 

Failed attempts do not hinder

the soul determined to fly.

No matter the number of failures,

Love’s Fool abandons itself  once more,

and those moments of flight

far outshine the gloom

of our sometimes reality.

 

Oh! The hope that I might fly,

not for a moment,

but for a life,

calls this soul to the fearful friend Risk.

Hope outweighs wisdom’s fear,

and I abandon myself once more.

 

So, am I Fool, so to plunge

in the hope of a beautiful dream?

Perhaps, yes, perhaps it’s so .  .  .

yet I would rather be Love’s Fool

than be Fear’s forever slave.

For one of these times,

the wind may lift Hope’s wings

and perhaps, just perhaps,

I will fly.

 

And if not, the heights of Hope

hold far more luster for me

than the safety of earthbound

Practicality.

 

So, fool though I be,

I abandon myself once more,

for Risk is worth the prize.

If only, one day,

I might fly.

I pray that I never stop risking, that I never settle for the safe and secure, and that I always push the limits to find what might be!