What kind of neighbor are you?

Do you know your neighbor? Do you? Do you know what’s going on in his world? Do you know the difficulties she faces? If they were in an emergency situation, could they come to you and ask you to watch their daughter for a couple of hours?

wilson_fencePerhaps you say hello when you walk your dogs in the morning.

Perhaps, when you meet across the mailboxes in the afternoon, you chat casually.

But do you know your neighbor?

I can’t say that I really do. As I get ready to leave this home I have lived in for three and a half years, I find myself convicted. I don’t know my neighbors–not really. We’re friendly. We say “hi” and “how are you,” but with the exception of one (and I’m so glad we became friends, Tianna!), the truth is, I’d be hard pressed to tell you their names.

Shame on me!

My whole life I have dreaded living what I have coined the “treadmill existence.” To me, this is the daily grind. We wake, we go to work, we come home, we sleep, we wake, we go to work . . . over and over again.

To avoid this, I thought I needed to do something exciting. I needed to live overseas and be a missionary. Or I needed to be a best selling author. Or I needed to find something other than this ordinary, soccer mom (or in my case football/gymnastics mom) existence.

Ironically, God seemed to determined to keep me in that soccer mom sort of existence–and if so, either he was okay with the treadmill existence–or (much more likely) I was missing something!

No, huge surprise here, but I now realize, I had it all wrong.

themostinterestingmanintheworld_1426The treadmill existence is not about the job we do or where we live. It’s not about a great list of accomplishments or a wall full of awards.  You don’t need to be the Dos Equis’ most interesting man alive to get off the treadmill.

It is about our mindset. It is about seeing the opportunity for the divine, for change, for influence in every moment.

Perhaps it’s a little easier for me to see this than most. Being a psychology professor, I see how the impact of what I teach has the possibility to change lives, and it transforms the way I look at those moments in the classroom. They are loaded with possibility, potential. What I say today has the potential of altering the course of a life (in a positive way, or possibly, even in a negative way–very humbling thought!)

But the truth is, every moment of our lives is filled with that same potential.

7089479-business-woman-rushingThe other day, I was cleaning up after my work out at the gym. I was in a hurry. I was running late for a conference call, and I needed to get ready to meet one of my friends for a night out. Just as with my neighbors, though I’m friendly with several people at the gym, I don’t really know anyone by name or well, so nothing should have gotten in the way of my mad dash for the door.

But there was this woman, a woman I had never seen before. And she sighed. Not just the “I’m tired” sigh. Not the, “this has been a really long week sigh.” No, this sigh was something different, and I couldn’t resist commenting on the weight of her sigh.

She responded that her workout had knocked her on her butt.

I made some comment about that being the sign of a good workout.

despairTo which she responded, “No, you don’t understand. It literally knocked me on my ass. I have MS. This is my therapy, and I can’t even do it.” And she sat down and started to cry.

I didn’t know this woman. If not for my inane comment about her sigh, I would have walked right on past, and never known the despair that was eating her up inside. I would have made my conference call, hung out with my friend, and this woman would have left with her burden of despair still firmly on her shoulders. Instead, I found myself with an opportunity of helping a fellow human being. It was time to get off the treadmill.

I didn’t know this woman, but I knew her pain. And I knew that I needed to stay and listen, and offer what comfort I could, conference call be damned!

That moment was one of possibility. It was an opportunity to be God’s hands’ extended. And I could easily have missed it.

How many times have I missed those moments, caught up in the hustle and bustle of the treadmill life, the relentless daily grind? How often, with my eyes focused at the task at hand, have I missed the divine, the chance to get off the treadmill, and to make a real difference in someone’s life?

Too often I fear.

Which of my neighbors has cried out to God for help? And I could have been part of the answer. Who has needed to know that they aren’t alone, but I’ve been too wrapped up in my own world to see?

I despised the treadmill existence, and yet I have had opportunity to get off that treadmill,  time and time again, but I have been too blind to see the opportunity.

In his book The Life You’ve Always Wanted, John Ortberg put it this way:

sonrise-burning-bushAnd Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” Everything turned on Moses’ being willing to turn aside–interrupt his daily routine to pay attention to the presence of God. He didn’t have to. He could have looked the other way, as many of us would. He would have just missed the exodus, the people of Israel, his calling, the reason for his existence. He would have missed knowing God. But he didn’t miss it. He stopped. He “turned aside.”

I don’t want to miss the reason for my existence. I don’t want to miss my calling because I can’t see what’s right in front of me.

I need to live my life in this way. I need to have my eyes open so that I see the burning bush moments, the moments when I get to be the arms, and the voice, of God.

I need to get off the treadmill.

And it starts with seeing.

Seeing our neighbors and their pain. Seeing our coworkers and their struggles. Seeing the needs of our community and stepping out of our daily grind enough to be the one to meet those needs.

Our society, according to a recent gallup poll, is one third Christian. Nine out of ten Americans say they pray everyday. And yet, we are notoriously bad about living with our heads in the sand, being too consumed with our own lives to see the struggles of those around us.

handsThis is what Jesus means by reaching the lost–and most of us are failing.

It is time for us to embrace our purpose. To see that each moment is heavy with possibility. To get our heads out of the sand, and to see.

Will you join me?

We don’t want to miss our burning bush–because that is what it’s all about.

 

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Sometimes No Answer is Exactly the Answer We Need

As most of us tend to, I find myself reflecting on what I’m thankful for as we approach Thanksgiving Day.

Five orange pumpkins sit in a row in front of a distressed, wooden background.

There are many things I’m thankful for: my family (near and far, big and little), my country (and all the freedoms that come with it), safety and security in the light of the turbulent world we live in (I think of Syria, and Paris, among far too many others), my health (in a time when I hear about a new person with cancer at least once a week), my family’s health (which I know only too well is a gift), enough food to fill our tummies and then some (I’m thinking turkey and stuffing right now)…

There are so many things I am thankful for, likely we have more to be thankful for than any previous age of man, and yet, the thing I find myself reflecting on the most this Thanksgiving season is Unanswered Prayers. I am thankful for so many of my unanswered prayers.

Wait a minute…what?!

There are certainly many prayers that went unanswered that I am not thankful for–the top of the list would be those for my beautiful daughter, Serena–but there are so many others that I am grateful that God did not give me what I asked for, and it is for those I find myself thankful today.

garthAs so many from my era, when I think of the phrase “unanswered prayers” I can’t help channeling my inner Garth. Garth hit the nail on the head with that song. Sometimes, the best answer God can give to our prayer, is to not answer it.

The twenty something Heather had no idea who the almost 40 Heather would be, much less what she would need. I am glad that young, naïve girl wasn’t the one calling the shots for the map of my life. She would have gotten it all wrong.

There are so many places in my life where I find myself thankful that God did not give into my pleas. So many times when He, knowing me better than I know myself (both the person I was, and the one I would become), did not answer, not out of malice or indifference, but because He saw the me then and the me to become. He saw my life both today and tomorrow, and He knew what the end result could be.

gods-plan-vs-my-planHad He given me what I so diligently prayed for, I’d be married to a man who, though a good man, was very ill-suited for me. My life would have likely headed in a very traditional direction, which, though there is nothing wrong with that, again, it doesn’t really fit me.  I would have lived a life that I could imagine in my finite humanity.

My prayers would have had my life follow the lines of a DaVinci, beautiful, amazing even, but one that fits my scope of imagination.

picassoBut God had something else in mind, more of a Picasso, vastly different than I could have imagined, sometimes, jarring, even bordering on discordant at times, but somehow coming together to make something unique and moving and utterly different.

I am thankful that God does not cave to my whims like a weak-willed parent, but that He holds out, that He withholds, that He stretches me–sometimes even prods me–to be the best version of myself that I can be and to live a life that He envisions rather than allowing me to be limited by my own powers of imagination.

I am thankful for the husband God led me to, who, though we have had more than our share of struggles, has helped me to believe that I really can achieve this dream of being a writer, who pushes me to not give up. I am grateful that he not only accepts my inner geek, but brings it out and encourages it. I am grateful because he challenges simple minded thinking and makes me consider life in all its facets: God, philosophy, science. I am grateful for his out of the box thinking that challenges me to look at life not within the confines of practicality, but instead to push the edges of the box and look at the possibility for life beyond the normal limits. Had God answered my early prayers, I would not have him in my life, and I would not be me. I would be less than I am today.

I am thankful for this crazy journey that God has put me on. Many times it has felt like wandering in the desert. Often I have felt lost at sea. But just as the analogy I heard as a child, I have only seen the underside of this tapestry–my understanding is so limited. God has begun giving me hints of what the full pattern might look like (or at least, a part of it) and I find myself once again grateful for unanswered prayers. What He planned, when it is done, will be something so much more than I had planned.

We all have our unanswered prayers. We tend to feel abandoned, forgotten, or ignored when God doesn’t answer. But we’re not. He’s in the unanswered prayers as much as the answered ones.

Whatever your unanswered prayer is, be it big or small, know that it is not indifference that keeps God from answering.

Some, like the death of Serena, we may never understand or even fully accept–but if I can see God in so many of my unanswered prayers, I have to believe He is there, somewhere, even in those.

the-greatest-giftsAnd with so many others, if you have eyes to see, you will see God’s hand in the silence, in his withholding. Take heart. He knows you better than you know yourself. He knows what He is doing.

He is devoted, not to your comfort, not even to your happiness, but to you becoming who He has planned for you to be from the beginning of time. His plan is bigger than your plan. It’s more.

That unanswered prayer is not a mistake. It’s part of the plan.

Know that, take heart, and watch and see what He will do.

What do you do with your cookie, and what does that say about who you are?

hand-holding-cookie-bite-taken-outWe’ve all had that moment when we’re about to take a bite of the last chocolate chip cookie, and we’re anticipating the burst of flavor that will come with it when our sister/brother/friend/son/daughter/etc. comes on the scene and says, “Oh! A chocolate chip cookie! I want one! Where are there?!”

What we do in that next moment is a window into who we are, a window into how we live our lives, and it is a window into our heart.

Do we, scarf down the cookie quickly, and only then admit it’s the last one?

mouthfulDo we shrug and say “last one” and then take a huge bite from the cookie?

Do we break the cookie in half and cheerfully offer the other half?

Do we offer the other half, but feel a tug of reluctance, begrudging the loss of half of the cookie?

Or do we cheerfully hand the last cookie to the person we love because we’d rather make them happy than have the cookies ourselves?

It’s such a simple thing, a simple test, and we have moments like these every day of our lives. How we respond in these moments defines who we are on a basic level.

I’ve watched this played out among my children. Gavin would scarf the cookie down without a thought, fearful that I would tell him he had to share. Arabelle would hand you the cookie. Lily would struggle somewhere in between.

Every year for Halloween (or almost every year–we made an exception last year) the kids pick a theme and we all dress up, even mom and dad, according to that theme. This year the kids chose Wizard of Oz, or rather the girls did, and Gavin graciously deferred to them this time. We spent weeks discussing who would be which character from the very first days of October.

wizardofoz_085pyxurzLily wanted to be Glinda, the Good Witch, so Arabelle agreed to be Dorothy. I went online and found a Glinda costume, purchased it, and two days later Lily excitedly tried it on. She postured through the house, admired herself in the mirror–she was thrilled.

But then, a couple of days later, she changed her mind. She didn’t want to be Glinda anymore; she wanted to be Dorothy. Arabelle graciously said she would be Glinda (luckily the costume also fit her) so that Lily could have what she wanted. No harm, no foul. Great.

But then a couple weekends ago, I promised Lily that we would go to the store to buy her Dorothy costume, and as we were browsing the costumes, we came to a beautiful Wicked Witch of the West costume. Arabelle’s eyes lit up. “Mom, can I be the Wicked Witch instead?”

I was stuck. We already had the Glinda costume (and Lord knows I can’t fit into it!). I had promised Lily the Dorothy costume…

“Well, hon, I guess that’s up to Lily. If she’s willing to be Glinda, you can be the Wicked Witch.” Remember, just a few days before, Lily was thrilled with the idea of being Glinda.

When Arabelle asked Lily if she wouldn’t mind being Glinda as they had originally planned, Lily started balling, “But I want to be Dorothy!”

Arabelle patted Lily on the back and put her arms around her. “It’s okay, Lily. You can be Dorothy.” Great response from Arabelle. I wwas so proud of her, but…

But it wasn’t okay. I watched as Lily, without a thought, accepted her sister’s change of heart. And I watched the disappointment bloom on Arabelle’s face.

I pointed out to Lily that she hadn’t even considered for a moment what it was her sister wanted and whether or not she should let her have what she wanted instead of Lily getting her way.

crying-little-girlShe began crying again, “But I want to be Dorothy!”

“Yes, I understand that. But Arabelle wants to be the Wicked Witch. Why should you get what you want instead of Arabelle getting what she wants?”

“I don’t know.”

“You need to think of what your sister wants too, Lily; you’re being selfish.”

There in the middle of Target she started wailing, “You called me selfish!”

“No, Lily, I said you were being selfish. You have a choice in whether you are selfish or not.”

But the problem was, she didn’t want to choose to not be selfish. Though Arabelle tried to pretend that she was okay with it, she had gotten quiet and was obviously sad. Lily cared enough to ask her what was wrong, but when Arabelle told her, Lily would start crying again, stating, “But I want to be Dorothy.” She didn’t want Arabelle to be sad, but she didn’t want to give up what she wanted to take away that sadness either.

The whole exchange really bothered me, and stuck with me. Later that night, I pulled Arabelle aside to tell her how proud I was of her, that her heart, her love and care of people, was something rare and beautiful. I marveled at how she always put others before herself.

support-groups-empathy-signHer response humbled me. She said, “If I have a choice between someone else crying, or crying myself, I’d rather be the one crying.”

Wow. I felt like that statement shined a light on my own shortcomings, my own failure to live up to the example of my nine year-old daughter.

Would I willingly take on pain and hurt to spare someone his/her pain? I would do it for my family. I would do it for my husband, my children, my nieces and nephews, my brother and sister, but would I do it for anyone? Arabelle would. I’ve seen her do it. And even if I was willing to do it, would I do it with the grace and openness of Arabelle, or would I begrudge the action and feel resentful?

I fear it would be the latter.

And then I thought more of Lily and her reaction. She doesn’t want people to hurt, but she doesn’t really want to give up her wants and needs to take away the hurt of someone else. She feels compassion, but it doesn’t translate to action.

How often are we like that? We see the pain of others, we feel badly, but we don’t reach out to them, we don’t try to ease their pain. We see what ISIS does to children, and we feel awful about it, but not enough to try to find a way to help. We know that there are motherless and fatherless children all over our own country, and we feel so badly, but we don’t want our lives rocked or altered by the needs of a troubled child in our own home.

Compassion without action is nothing but a mask concealing selfishness.

And my little daughter has held a light up to my own selfishness. I am humbled.

What kind of person are you? Do you give the cookie away or do you keep it for yourself?

I fear that I split it in half, but give it away with a twinge of regret or even resentment.

I need to do better. I need to learn the lesson my nine year-old is teaching me.

CAM01287-1Thank you, Arabelle, for your kind and generous spirit. I am so grateful God put you in my life.

 

I hate to break it to you, but summer is going the way of the dodo bird…

mean-old-ladyWhen you think of teachers, usually a few memorable ones will pop to your mind, the best of them or the worst of them. For me, the first who always comes to mind is Ms. Putsky, my first grade teacher. She was ancient back then, so my guess is she’s long gone by now, which is a good thing for all first graders everywhere. She was awful. She came from an era of corporal punishment, and though that age had moved on, Ms. Putsky had not. She was known to break rulers over hands, to intimidate and to mock. Political correctness–hell even kindness–was not in her repertoire. I remember her moving my desk to the front of my class, breaking all my pencils, calling me names, and, on one occasion, even throwing away my shoes (they clicked in the hallway when I walked and it annoyed her). I had many wonderful teachers along the way, but sadly, she is always the first to come to mind.

Whether a teacher with a positive influence or negative influence comes first to your mind, the reality is someone does, because a teachers influence us all. There are certain people from certain professions you might go your entire life and have no interactions with, but a teacher, well, none of us can go through life without living day in and day out with them, at least for portions of our lives. Which is one of the biggest reasons I chose to be a teacher, to have influence, to give back, to be a positive influencer, not a negative memory like Ms. Putsky is for me. Most teachers go into the profession for similar reasons (God knows it isn’t for the money!).

teacherWhat people don’t realize about teachers is, though we may love our jobs and love the big or little people we pour ourselves into, there is a large part of us that lives summer to summer. After all, if we’re going to pour ourselves out and into others year after year, we need  the chance to refill, or we too, will turn into a Ms. Putsky in our dotage–that’s what happens when you’ve poured it all out and yet you’re expected to keep pouring from an empty watering can (though, I have to say, in the case of Ms.Putsky, I think she just hated children and derived pleasure out of tormenting us!)

When we first step through the door of our classroom in August, we are already having a few stray thoughts of what we’re going to do next summer (often, the things we somehow didn’t have time for that summer). Throughout the first semester, the thoughts are fleeting, but they’re there. We start making lists. We start noticing all the things that aren’t getting done because of all the piles of grading we have, but those tasks have only been shortly abandoned, and though we might look at the yard work that is needing to be done, the floors that need a deep cleaning, things have only been neglected for a short time, and so they don’t press on our consciousness too terribly much. Besides, we think, with Thanksgiving Break and Christmas Break, surely we can at least catch up on those to-do lists then.

teacherburnoutAnd we do, at least somewhat. The only problem is that this list gets inevitably longer every day that passes, and, if, like me, you have a young family who seems to absorb mommy’s time like little sponges, you can never really get everything done that you had hoped to do, so you start telling yourself spring break, I can catch up on all of this when spring break rolls around.

The only thing is, that by spring break a teacher is starting to burn out. The constant social interaction (especially for the non-extroverts of our profession) is wearing us down. The piles and piles of essays to get through start to feel like a ball and chain around our mental ankle. The school responsibilites and the home responsibilities seem to press in, and by the time spring break hits, well, that to-do list, pressing though it might be, takes second seat to the desperate need for a break. So, instead of crossing things off that list, the list gets longer.

summerThat is when we teachers start thinking and dreaming about summer break in earnest. We start making lists of all the things we will accomplish: the home improvement tasks we will tackle, the deep cleaning we will do, the piles of books we will read, the places we will go, etc.. We begin our countdown and we watch that approaching day in June with at least as much anticipation as the students, and when that day finally comes, we think we will actually get everything we hadn’t had a chance to do during the course of the school year–finally–done.

The only problem is, at least for me, it never seems to happen that way. Here I am, looking up and it’s mid-July, my summer is half over, and my list is still so incredibly long. I blame it on the little people in my life. They seem to add two things to that list for every one I cross off.

mombalancing actI have to admit, I look at my childless teaching friends with a fair amount of envy (yes, Heidi, I have you in mind!). Whereas so much of my time is spent feeding my children (someone should really warn pre-mothers that they will need to prepare three meals a day for those little darlings…that means shopping for said meals, cooking said meals and cleaning up after those said meals…how much of my time disappears in that cloud of smoke?), cleaning the piles of laundry that they seem to go through on a nearly daily basis (how many shirts can my son wear in one day!! And why does he have to change back and forth from clothes into pajama pants throughout the day creating more and more clothing that makes it’s way down my laundry shoot?!), cleaning up after their general mayhem (the debris that somehow ends up scattered throughout my house on a daily basis resembles a small tornado in force, magnitude and destruction), carting them from one summer activity to another (next year I think I am going to keep track of the miles and minutes that I rack up from being the chauffeur…I think it would be quite shocking), and entertaining and spending quality time with those little people (by far the most enjoyable of the time-consuming tasks). There goes the bulk of summer, poof! And I haven’t even touched the things that I want to do or the special projects that have been waiting patiently for me to finally get to them over the course of the long academic year (it makes me tired just thinking about it!).

good-lifeWhereas, my childless teacher friends (Ahem, yes, you again Heidi) get all that time to do all sorts of things: traveling to Houston, traveling to Las Vegas, traveling wherever the whim takes them…going to concerts and shows, fancy restaurants and movies, reading the piles of books that I wish I could read…their time is their own. It has been so long since my time has been my own…

So, yes, here I sit half way through my summer, and my house still has not entirely gone through its deep cleaning. I still have not sorted through and organized my garage, much less my attic. My bathroom is, as yet, unpainted, and the dining room chairs, well, I had almost forgotten about my intention to paint them this summer. The great pile of books I intended to be through by this point sits largely untouched (I’ve gotten through a few, but there are still so many waiting!) and the book that I intended to be done writing by the end of July still has a little less than half way to go, and only two weeks to meet my goal. Sigh…

Back_to_schoolAll of this, and I am starting to see the words “Back to School” pop up in ads and at stores. My children have begun wondering who their teacher will be for this coming year, and I feel the second half of the sands of my summer slipping through the hour glass at an alarming rate.

How much of my to-do list will be pushed off to next summer, and then the next, and then the next, until my little birdies fly the coop and my time is my own again?

And yet that doesn’t make me any happier, for if I was to choose between the two, my time or my birdies, I would choose to keep those little loves close every single time.

To-do lists will always be there. Concerts and vacations will always be there, but they will not be, and how I will miss them when they go!

first-day-of-college-cartoon1So, as much as I hate cleaning (and I really do HATE it!), and as much as I beat myself up for the never-ending to-do list that never diminishes, I am glad for the opportunity to spend this time with my little sponges. Soon enough, they aren’t going to want to spend their precious summer moments hanging out with their mom!

Well, hello there! Long time no see!

comfy chairThe other day I had a rare day off with an empty house. My children were at school, my husband was at work, and for the moment, it was just me and my own thoughts, a turn of events I have become unaccustomed to in recent years.

I smiled in bliss at the solitude, appreciating the absence of sound. I settled into my comfy leather chair, snuggled beneath my favorite afghan with a steaming cup of Joe in hand, ready for a nice long chat with myself, a veritable wandering into the hallways of my own soul, reconnecting with an old familiar friend.

But this time, I greeted my solitude, and myself, as a stranger. When I tried to connect with my thoughts, I was overcome with silence–like friends too long apart I had become awkward in the presence of my own mind. My thoughts tumbled around my children, my husband and my job. They skittered amongst the practical, the responsible, the mundane. The thoughts of reflection, of self-knowledge were gone, their whisperings lost in the clanging of necessity. All I heard was the noise of the practical, the thoughts of others, ideas borrowed from books or the radio, my voice, the voice so uniquely me, was silent.

It is a very uncomfortable thing to come face to face with one’s self and to see a stranger. It is a feeling a do not like at all.

I used to be intimately acquainted with my own thoughts. I started a journal at the tender age of ten when I was too young to put much beyond the literal happenings of my day onto the paper. But, the practice led to introspection, which led to reflection. I grew in my knowledge of myself. I discovered who I wanted to be. I reflected on my place in the world and how I interacted in it. I knew who I was, who I had been and I had a clear picture of who I wanted to become. I don’t know this any longer.

It is not an altogether new thought, this reality that I am no longer intimately acquainted with myself. It has risen to the surface, a bubble appearing on the surface of a pond to disquiet the surface by its presence, but the ripple caused by the bubble spreads and fades, and that knowledge is ultimately forgotten in the noise of adulthood, of motherhood and marriage, and the clamor of needs.

disappearNow, I know who I was, but not who I am, nor who I want to be. In this moment of quiet, I confronted the stark reality that I as an individual have gone “Poof” up in smoke, no more substantive than the roles I fill. Me, the individual, this woman named Heather, exists only in relation to others, take them away and there would be nothing to ground me, I would drift away like a bit of fluff in the wind.

From the comfort of my chair, I stared unseeingly out my windows to the gray day before me and wrestled with the questions. How do I, when there is so little time and not enough of me to go around as it is, become re-acquainted with myself? How do I delve passed the responsibilities and the grinding of daily necessity to find the me that I am, not the me that I was?

I am a wife. I am a mother. I am a teacher. All these are things I am.

But these are all roles I fill, parts I play. I am more than the sum of these roles I play for others.

Who is Heather, the woman? Who am I apart from necessity and responsibility?

I was stumped.

Freight-11-728x400This year the reality of this freight train called life has come crashing into my consciousness. My son and my eldest daughter are transitioning from childhood to tween-ness and all the craziness that entails. My baby is not a baby but instead an increasingly tall, long-limbed girl as if she were a piece of taffy that God pulled from both ends, stretching her out. My husband and I have been married for fifteen swift, fleeting years (dear God! How did that happen! Surely I am not old enough to have been married for so long!). And this summer marks my twenty year class reunion. Excuse me as I swallow passed the lump in my throat . . .

I remember going to my ten year reunion and there was another class who was having their 25th reunion. I remember thinking how old they were, and how far removed from high school. I remember feeling so incredibly far from them, as if they were at a place I could not quite conceive of myself as ever reaching . . .

But here I am, a breath away, nearly there–and the breath within me stops, and I feel a suspicious knot in the vicinity of my heart. I am so busy with living, that I am not living, and my life is speeding past and soon I will be old.

CAM00708-1The High School I teach at is putting on a play of “High School Musical” and the director sent a campus wide call for high school pictures from all the teachers so last night I went digging through my old albums to see what I could find. It took a while. Apparently I left almost all of my childhood behind when I left my little rural town for the big city, and I didn’t really look back. I left almost everything at my parents’ house. I uncovered one year book and just a handful of pictures. One of the pictures was of my mom and I on graduation day. I recognized myself. That’s the me I know, the me I remember. That’s still how I look, isn’t it?

The more I looked at the picture, the more I realized that that girl is not me and I am not her. I looked at my mother in the picture and realized that I am the age my mother was when I graduated (actually, I’m a couple of years older!). I likely have more in common with her than I do the girl brimming with youth and hope.

I looked on that girl as a stranger and wondered what she would think of me if she were to meet me today, as I am now. How would she view who I have become? Would she think I’ve accomplished anything worth accomplishing or would she think that I had settled, defaulted to the original setting of life, the treadmill, that factory setting?

Would she recognize me as once being the her she is or would I look so entirely different that I would be nothing more than a stranger she just happened to be meeting?

Perhaps it’s a mid-life crisis, or perhaps it’s an epiphany brought on as I sense the ever-widening distance between myself and the students I teach, but I find myself realizing that we can never allow ourselves to become too busy to know ourselves. That is simply not okay. We cannot be a stranger to our own minds, our own dreams and aspirations. And we cannot rest on old dreams, the aspirations of our youth.

Marriages flounder and struggle and die. Fingers are pointed, blame is passed around. We declare, “I am not happy” as if our spouse is to blame for the lack of happiness we feel. “I don’t love him anymore” we say, not realizing it is hard for someone to love us, when we ourselves are lost even to ourselves.

mom self careHow can someone really love me if I don’t know who I am? And how can I love myself if I don’t even know myself? And how can I be happy if I don’t even know what I want?

I value my role as a wife and mother too much to give them a pale copy, a shadow of the woman I was meant to be. And I can’t become that woman if I don’t know myself.

Knowing who I am, who I want to be, is a responsibility too–and it is one that we, as women, too often neglect. We need to move it up our priority list. We need to give it time.

Do your husband a favor. Do your children a favor. But most importantly of all, do yourself a favor. Don’t become a stranger to the person you are. Take the time to reaquaint yourself with the you you have become, and take the time to figure out who you want to be in the future. You owe it to yourself, and you owe it to your family.

A Letter to my Students

child hospitalAs a teacher, I am continually exposed to the suffering of others. This year has been particularly bad. I hear of these kids struggling with real-life, grown up suffering well before they should be. I hear of their fights with cancer and cystic fibrosis and diabetes. I hear of broken families and death. I hear of rape. I hear of abuse. I hear of suicide. I hear the pain in the words they write, the things they share, and I see it in their eyes. They are too young for such pain. Childhood should not be shadowed by its presence. I wish I could take it away, make it better, do something. But I cannot take it away, and I can’t really make it better, though maybe by simply listening I do make it just a little bit better, because in listening, they know that they are not alone.

Dedicated-to-the-rape-victim--28502This morning as I was driving into work I was thinking of one of my students and what she has gone through. I see the effects of the trauma she experienced playing out on a daily basis. She is a sweet girl. A good girl. She did not deserve what happened to her, but we seldom do, do we?

I was thinking of what I would say to her if I could. What wisdom have I gained on my own road of suffering? What pearls of wisdom could I pass on?

I thought of my journey, my own pain. I remembered the heartache. I remembered my idealism shattering. I felt the echoes of the soul crushing agony and how my journey of childhood, naivity, came to a bone crushing halt as I found myself thrust in to the heartbreaking world of realism.

I reflected on the story we’re currently reading in my classes, Annie Dillard’s “The Deer at Providencia.” Most of my fellow teachers hate teaching this story. It’s not an enjoyable story, but I find that I love teaching it. I love it for its realism, for the lessons it has to share. And I know those lessons to be true, and I am glad that I get the chance to share that wisdom with my students. Those are the messages I would pass on.

suffering1We all, when suffering comes our way, ask why. Why me? Why God do you hate me? What have I done that you turn your face from me?

We feel alone in our suffering. But we are not alone.

There is very little that is guaranteed in this life, but one thing that is is the reality that you will suffer. Life itself cannot exist without suffering. For our continued existence, something must die. Even if you are a vegetarian or even a vegan, your life is sustained by the ending of something else. It is the cycle of life.

When that suffering comes, we must remember that, though we feel alone in our suffering, though we feel like no one has suffered like we suffer, we are not, in actuality, alone. The person sitting next to us on the bus has suffered. The woman in the car next to you at the stop light has suffered. That friend from high school who seems to have the perfect life on Facebook has suffered. We might not look like we have suffered to an unknowing eye, but don’t doubt it, not for a moment, we have suffered.

It’s not like we wear a badge that says “Yes, I have had my fill of suffering.” We don’t have bumper stickers to announce it to the world, and most of us don’t splash it all over social media. But we have suffered. We all have. You are not alone.

angryThe next thing that I think I would want to tell my student is to allow herself to feel the raw emotions. Feel the anger, the rage, the bitterness. Allow yourself to acknowledge the feelings of wrongness. It was not fair. It should not have happened. It was wrong. Life shouldn’t be this way. Those feelings are there, and they need to be acknowledged. We cannot ignore them, push them down, and pretend that they are not there. It’s only in acknowledging them, embracing them, that we can begin to let them go.

I remember after Serena died I had a hard time seeing couples with a little baby. I felt a surge of anger and bitterness. Why was their child allowed to live when my darling girl had to die? Why were they allowed their blissful parenthood when mine was shadowed with pain? Why, in this world of healthy babies, was mine marked to die?

It did not make me less of a person to feel this way. It did not make me a bad person or less of a Christian. I wrestled with my feelings. I howled at the sky. I cursed God.

stormBut the thunder storm quieted to a downpour, and the downpour dimished to a rain, and the rain faded to an intermittent shower which gave way to gray skies . . . and finally . . . I found myself in a place of acceptance.

Eventually I stopped asking “Why me” and I began asking, “Why not me?” In this world of suffering, why should I have been given a free pass?

Let yourself feel what you feel so that you can come to a place of acceptance. Those demons need to be acknowledged, confronted and wrestled with. They won’t go away just because you ignore them; they will just keep rearing their heads and poisoning your life until they are dealt with.

Acceptance. That sounds sort of trite. Optimistic. As if I am giving my approval to what has happened, saying it was somehow right or good.

Let me be clear. I will never give my approval to these horrendous moments of suffering. I will never say it’s okay. I will not try to say that the pain is outweighed by the “goodness” or the growth that comes after.

heartI will never accept the “rightness” of what happened, because it will never be right. What happened to you was not right;what happened to me wasn’t right either.

You don’t accept that you deserved it, because you didn’t. She didn’t. I didn’t.

But you accept that it happened–you accept its presence in your life–and you embrace it.

The only choice we have in suffering, the only power we have, is in how we allow it to change us.

Suffering sucks, there is no way around it. It it not okay. It hurts us and it breaks us. It tears and it rends. It’s agony. But if we embrace it, acknowledge it’s inevitabilty, and it is inevitable, we can become stronger, better versions of ourselves.

innocenceIn Dillard’s story, “The Deer at Providencia” she begins the story with the description of a deer that is caught and suffering, awaiting its death. She describes this full grown deer in terms that would resemble a fawn in the area where I grew up. It was delicate and frail. Small and “thin skinned.” Fragile. Breakable. Childlike.

I think that her description of the deer is symbolic of what we are like before we suffer. Though we may or may not be full grown, we are still as children. Fragile in our ideals. Breakable in our naivity.

It is in the very process of suffering that we grow, that we understand. It is a part of our coming of age, though we don’t really define it as such.

It makes me think of the process of weight training. To grow our muscles, we must break them. We stretch our muscles beyond their endurance causing little tears. These tears, when mended by our bodies, cause our muscles to increase in size and strength.

Suffering is like weight training for our souls–if we embrace it and let it do what it is meant to do. The little tears mend, and we become stronger, better, wiser versions of our selves.

Unfortunately, many never accept it, much less embrace it. These individuals become lost in the past, in the world of “could haves” and “should haves.” They continue to feel alone, singled out, picked on. These inidividuals become angry and bitter. Instead of their souls growing stronger and into something more intricate and wise, the wrinkle and shrivel like raisins in the reality of their suffering. They become the worst versions of who they could be.

Some tears, some breaking, is beyond what we can easily endure. Just as with muscles, sometimes we are pushed beyond what can  easily heal. We rip the muscle. It pulls from the bone. We injure it beyond the normal process.

In weight training it can take months for the body to heal these kinds of wounds.

It can take the soul even longer to heal. But it can heal from the greatest and most horrific of suffering.

WieselI think of Elie Wiesel. I think of what he suffered, what he endured, living through the Holocaust. As awful as losing my daughter was, his suffering was so much more. It is hard to believe that the human psyche can survive what he survived, much less become anything but a bitter husk in the aftermath, but he, and so many like him, are living proof that even the grossest of injustices, the most debilitating of suffering, can not only be overcome, but can also be transformative.

The power we have in our suffering is to embrace its transformative nature, to allow light to be shed on our misconceptions, to send its searching eyes into the darkness and imperfections of our own souls, and to see our inclusion in this mad story called the human existence.

We are all part of the story, and we all contribute to the song of suffering. It is unavoidable.

So my dear students, I so wish that I could take away your pain. I wish I could ease your suffering. I wish I could tell you that this world was different, gentler and kinder, than it is.

But I can’t. I can’t tell you that all your dreams will come true. I can’t tell you that you won’t know loss and betrayal. I can’t tell you that you will never be touched by injustice or the wild spin of chance. I can’t tell you that suffering will not come to your door. I can’t even tell you that it will come once, but never again.

rainbow-after-a-stormWhat I can tell you is that you are not alone. I journey with you. We all journey with you. We might not know what it means. We might not know why we suffer, why God allows it, but I can assure you, that it doesn’t have to cripple you. You can be transformed by even the ugliest this world can give you. You can become beautiful in a way that is intricate and real, not despite of your suffering, but because of it.

And I can tell you that though the world is ugly, it is also beautiful. The very ugliness brings the beauty into such sharp detail because of the very contrast. Don’t allow suffering to overshadow the beauty that exists, but instead to throw it in sharp relief. Allow it to make you, and your world, beautiful in a way that is more real, and more true, than it was before you suffered.

 

 

You Don’t Have to be Alexander the Great to Change the World

I was very discouraged last week.

I wrote a blog, pouring out some of the greast lessons I feel like I have learned in life, and I crafted them with great care. I wrote, I paused, I pondered, I wrote, pondered some more, and rewrote. The end result was a blog that I felt captured the heart and soul of what I wanted to say. With a feeling of accomplishment and pleasure in a job well done, I posted it and waited. And waited . . . and waited some more.

A handful of friends and family read it and appreciated it. A handful. I was discouraged. As so many writers, I blog because I have so much inside myself that needs to come out, but also, because I am a writer–I have things to say and I hope that they are worthwhile things that can speak to the human soul, the human angst, the human experience, and thereby, that my influence, my voice will be appreciated by the masses, not a handful. I was discouraged.

As so many of my fellow bloggers have wondered at some point in their blooging lives, I couldn’t help but wonder why I even bother? Why do I spend my free time writing for an audience that doesn’t emerge when I could just as easily simply put my thoughts and ideas into a private journal? Why spend my time agonizing over word choice and turn of phrase, putting my thoughts out in the universe, when no one is going to bother to read them?

But then I began to remember something. It started with a comment a friend who I haven’t seen in ages wrote on my facebook page. She read my blog, and it impacted her. It helped her. It spoke to her in her present pain, and helped her see that she was not alone, that what she was living, is normal. I cried.

In that moment I remembered a truth that so many of us tend to forget.

I have always wanted to change the world. It has always been a burning passion in me. I want to leave this world a better place when I leave it. I do not want to simply take up space, but instead, to know that my living will have an impact, that my time spent on this planet will mean something.

I’m not alone in this desire. It is a somewhat comman desire, that we leave our footprint, our fingerprints, on this world. I think however, that sometimes we look at that and think to change the world we must do so enmasse, in one fell swoop. We have the misconception that we change the world by personally affecting the lives of many people personally, but that is not how most of those who change the world, change the world. They do so one person at a time.change

I have an absolutely wonderful grandmother. She is smart, she is kind, and she pours into the lives of her eight children and her many, many  grandchildren.

She poured into my life. In so many ways, I am the person I am today because my grandmother instilled within me a moral compass, a compassion for others, and a will do to the right thing because it is, quite simply, right.

My grandmother is getting older. As she is walking into the twilight of her life, she spends a lot of time reflecting on the life she has lived. More than once she has spoken with me about her struggle as she contends with a life that, she feels, has not had an impact, has not been important, has not left an imprint.

She was a stay at home mom in a generation of stay at home moms, and now she wishes she had done something great. Something important.

What she doesn’t understand is that she has changed the world.

Behind every world changer, there are many individuals who have changed them.

Martin Luther King Jr. did not change the face of our country alone; he had behind him all of those who impacted him, who encouraged him, all of those who believed in him and told him not to give up. Every great man or woman does.

My grandmother doesn’t think that she changed the world, but she changed me, and I am determined to change the world, be it one person at a time. Every time I impact one of my students, every time I write a blog that changes someone’s outlook, every man woman or child I helped in my times overseas–my grandmother was a part of that. She changed me, and I in turn changed them.grandma

She impacted her children, who have gone out and impacted others. And she has impacted her grandchildren, directly and indirectly. She helps cancer patients through my sister, she reaches countless adults, women and children through my Uncle Mark, and she has touched almost every continent in this world between her various children and grandchildren. By changing one, we change the world.

And so, though my blog is not read by many, and though my impact is negligible, I will not be discouraged. If I impact one, I have made a difference. As a writer, as a teacher, as a citizen of this planet, I will never be able to impact everyone, but, just like paying it forward, if I can give of what I have and of who I am, and if those I pour into will also pour into others . . . then that is really enough, isn’t it?

Sometimes the Most Ordinary is Extraordinary

I’ve always admired people who are content. Contentment has always been an elusive, out of reach quantity to me. It doesn’t seem to matter where I am, what I’m doing, or what I have, there is always a persistent longing. I want more.

I’ve always envied my sister this quality. She has always seemed content. It doesn’t mean that she lacks ambition or success–she has both in her life. Rather, she seems able to enjoy where she’s at while she’s there without longing for the next step.

Not me. From as early as I can remember, I always wanted more. I wanted to be the best, the prettiest, the most successful, and, no matter what I achieved, it never felt like enough. Yes, I have a competitive nature (I come from a highly competitive family after all), but it seems to me that this is something deeper than competiveness.

I think that I am a product of the child psychology of my day–Baby Boomer psychology. Unlike their parents, the parents of my generation taught us to aim high. They were idealists. The sky was the limit and we were told that the only thing that would stop us was ourselves.

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I grew up hearing that I was special–I would change the world. I had a destiny that I needed to reach for, a life I was meant to live. I was special. Not ordinary—the definition of special. I was extraordinary—extra-ordinary

This all sounds great. Everybody wants to be special and who doesn’t want to change the world? I embraced it.

After I graduated from High School, I put those ideas into practice. I traveled all over the world trying to make a difference. I went to Russia, Bulgaria, Turkey and Bangladesh doing everything from teaching English to providing cyclone relief to teaching Bengali mothers the basics of hydration and hygiene.

And then I got married. I had children. My life changed. I changed.

Now, I find myself living a life that is the epitome of “ordinary” and the only things that I have been changing are years’ worth (literally) of dirty diapers and the dryer vents from the mountains of laundry that I do on an almost daily basis.

I am the epitome of the “soccer” mom (though my kids don’t play soccer). I have my 2.5 children (we’re going to round up in my case), a mini-van (well, actually an SUV), and my lovely house in the suburbs (which includes a pool to splash around in on those unbearable Texas summer days). I attend PTA meetings and little league (okay, so maybe not baseball, but football and gymnastics). My life is very, very ordinary–but it’s quite lovely—but it’s ordinary—and I am supposed to be extra-ordinary. I’m supposed to change the world.

I’m sure most of the Gen Xers didn’t take their parents and teachers quite so literally. They didn’t soak up that idealism and let it worm its way into their very DNA. But I did, and despite my lovely life, I long for more. I have not learned contentment—contentment is not something I was taught, and it slips through my fingers, completely intangible no matter how hard I try to grasp it.

But I’m learning.

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I’m learning, that it is not in the quantity, but in the quality.

I’m learning that I don’t need to change the world, just a few–and that starts right here right now. It starts with the neighbor who had a new baby, the friend who has cancer, and the student who thinks no one cares. It starts with what I can do in the world that I am in.

I might not get to sing for an audience any more and soak in the applause of a crowd, but when I sit down to play on my piano in my study and belt out a Broadway tune, my children sit enraptured. Theirs is all the praise I need.

I might not turn heads when I walk down the street, but my five year old thinks I’m beautiful.

I might not be the most popular mom on the block or have the most friends, but my kids sure love hanging out with me.

Being special doesn’t have to mean that you are better than everyone else—it means that you are extraordinary to a few. And my daughters think I hung the moon.

For today, that’s all the special that I need to be.

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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.

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. 🙂