Coping

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I’m in one of those periods I’ve thankfully only had a couple of times in my life, where your world is suddenly turned so upside down that no aspect of daily life is normal. Perversely, I find these times intellectually interesting, noting what becomes important when I suddenly have to narrow my focus to only that which is critical. I always learn something through these observations.

I’ve learned these last couple of times that sleep is more important than hygiene. When you’ve been awake for more than 30 hours, even food becomes secondary. Vanity falls away quickly: makeup, jewelry, and matching clothes are luxuries. Working out and listening to music–normally considered daily requirements–are as distant a dream as a beachfront hut in Tahiti. It’s also interesting what I add back first, as things slowly normalize. Toothpaste and underwear made it into the first Walmart run this time, a sleep mask in the second, dental floss in the fourth.

It’s amazing how quickly you settle into a new normal. Wearing the same shirt and jeans for two, maybe three days is fine. I know where the hospital stashes their towels, tiny and scratchy and thin as they are. My trip to the refrigerator now includes a 30 yard walk and a monkey key chain hanging from a hook at the nurse’s station. After five days, I finally broke down and spent $16 on a hair dryer that I don’t need at home so that I don’t have to go to sleep at night on the hospital fold out chair with wet hair and chattering teeth.

Yet there’s just no way to feel sorry for myself for long. Scared, yes, worried for my daughter, yes, but not sorry for myself. We can hear the hospital’s helicopter coming in for a landing from our room. It comes with sad regularity, at least half a dozen times a day. Too many kids in wheelchairs in the hallways are bald. Others have the expression of a child who has never had the normal routine of my children’s lives. We are blessed.

We will continue to cope our way through this period, putting one foot in front of the other day by day, sometimes even hour by hour. We will focus on what matters. We will allow those who care for us to surround us with love. And we will work hard to remember that the God who created the universe placed our special daughter here with us for His plan, and remind ourselves that He loves her far more than we ever can.

“If you aren’t in over your head, how do you know how tall you are?” –T.S. Eliot


Light

 

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I was driving too fast on the interstate in the middle of the night to race my daughter the three hours to Children’s Hospital in Little Rock. (Unbelievably, they were out of ambulances in the tri-county area.) About ten minutes after turning east on I-40, I saw a light in the sky ahead, high enough that it clearly was not on the ground, but still right there in front of me. The light quickly took the shape of a cross, an unexpected but pleasant surprise.

For several minutes, the cross shone in the sky in front of us, guiding our way on our frightening errand. The lighted symbol gave me instant peace as I drove through the dark night, long after we passed the hill on which it was perched. I wondered who constructed it: did they know how much it would mean one day to at least one traveler in need of comforting? That power has always been the beauty of this holy symbol, instead of the horror which it should have been. The cross saves and comforts those who are willing to turn toward it; it has always required us to make the first move. But that night, it gave without expecting anything in return except to appreciate the gift it represents.

“The Christian religion, though scattered and abroad, will, in the end, gather itself together at the foot of the cross.” –Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


Stress

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I’m in the middle of one of those times that seems to happen too frequently, when my stress level feels off the charts. It’s a series of fairly normal worries and transitions which, for some reason, always seem to happen at the same time. I know all of these will pass and will work out eventually, but it still doesn’t feel good at the moment.

There’s an interesting TED talk out there that talks about how bad stress is for us. Or (spoiler alert), how bad it is for us if we believe it’s bad for us. The speaker shares three things we can do which will completely offset the unhealthy aspects of stress.
• We must reframe our view of stress to believe that it’s our body’s natural way of helping us respond to our situation. Only if we believe our stress is bad for us will it harm us.
• We need to connect with others. Oxytocin, one of our natural stress hormones, drives us to seek comfort from others when we are stressed. We always knew human connections make us feel better…now we know there’s a biological reason for it. Stubbornly trying to get through it alone is fighting science.
• We need to focus on others. Studies show that we can greatly offset the impact of stress by helping others. I think it’s a really cool irony that just when we are the most inwardly focused is when we most need to look up and out.

Thinking through these three simple tips already has me feeling better, feeling more in control of things that feel a little out of control right now. I will tell myself that I know it will be ok, and that the stress I’m feeling is helping me get to the other side. And I will surround myself with others who are good for me and who I can be good for in return. Limping through this life successfully will only happen by not going it alone.

“Many of us feel stress and get overwhelmed not because we’re taking on too much, but because we’re taking on too little of what really strengthens us.” –Marcus Buckingham


3 BR, 1 BA

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My husband’s parents never lived in a home with more than three bedrooms and one bathroom in their 50 years of marriage. That may not sound unusual until you know that they were the parents of 14 children, including 12 sons. Mom and Dad got one bedroom and the two girls got another. That left one last bedroom for up to nine brothers, the peak number at home before they grew up and began moving away.

My husband is number ten in the pecking order. To this day, he loves getting new socks and underwear, even before the old ones have worn out, because they were only a dream when he was growing up. He never started the school year with new clothes or even new crayons. Leftovers after meals were a novelty when we got married. He is emphatic about purchases being “even” in our family: if one kid gets something, the others get something, even if they don’t need whatever it is.

When I think about how my husband’s family grew up, I’m reminded how spoiled many of us, including my own kids, are today. We practice frugality in many things, but I know the lesson isn’t fully taking hold. My kids know to order water at restaurants, because what costs $2 there is only 20 cents at home. We only buy clothing when it’s on sale. But they know these are only token acts simply by looking at our home, our cars, our vacations. We tell them stories of our childhood, in vain. Yet maybe they are listening more than we think, or maybe they are wiser sooner than us. Our oldest is not pursuing money and things, only peace. He wants even less than 3 BR, 1 BA. I find myself, for the first time, wishing for less for my children…only peace.

“You may get an emotional thrill when you buy something, but emotions are fickle. You buy that one thing you think will complete your happiness, but after awhile the feeling goes away and you have to go to the next thing. You just keep going from purchase to purchase looking for the one thing that will finally satisfy. But stuff can’t satisfy.” –Joyce Meyer


Birdsong

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Our house is five years old, and they’re just starting to build on the last half dozen lots in our neighborhood of one hundred or so homes. That means there are few mature trees in our neighborhood, and therefore, have been few birds…until this year. We’re in our third summer here, and what a difference a year makes. Starting this spring, the birds arrived. Most trees are still not mature, but there are lots of them, and we have apparently reached a bird tipping point. It’s wonderful.

You don’t realize how important birds are until they’re not around. A robin signaled spring this year. Their morning gossip is loud enough to be heard in the house when I get up before dawn. And the swallows jealously guard their nest in the eaves of the house across the street, dive bombing us when we take our trash to the curb. If only they knew how grateful we are that they are here, they would know we are friend and not foe.

When the girls have grown and we downsize out of this house, the trees will be mature, and the birds will be thick. I will miss them; they add joy to my life. And I will search for a new place where they thrive, for I have found that I do not want to live without the lessons their songs can teach.

“Faith is the bird that feels the light when the dawn is still dark.” –Rabindranath Tagore


Fork In The Road

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It’s that time again, one of those moments in life where I can’t have it all and have to choose between option A or B. I tend to overanalyze decisions like these, causing myself more stress than necessary. I also tend to question if I’ve made the right call, well after I’ve chosen. I’m way better at both now than I used to be, but I’m still my own worst enemy.

I’ve been telling myself all my life that choices are good, just as I remind friends and family members when they face them. We all know that’s true, but it doesn’t really help much. This time I had two good choices, with no real downside. But I still had to turn a good choice away. I had to decide between a path where I was comfortable and a path which would make me stretch. I had fully rationalized why the comfortable path was the right one. Luckily, a good friend saw straight through my logic, though I’m not sure how. I had laid out my thought process so carefully to her that I was stunned when she came to the wrong conclusion. But she did, telling me it sounded like I already knew what I should do.

So, like so many other big decisions I’ve made, I chose the course which I believe will stretch me the most. I’ve always done that, and I’m not sure why. My husband has never understood it. All I know is there’s an obvious upside to that drive. So I tell myself yet again to ignore the discomfort and the nerves and the fear, that my track record is not one of failure, that it takes tackling the unknown to grow. I don’t expect to ever become fearless, but I guess I am finally–almost–getting comfortable being uncomfortable.

“If you come to a fork in the road, take it.” –Yogi Berra


Scars

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I’ve got enough life behind me by now to be almost grateful for the scars I’ve gotten along the way. While earning them has been painful, they’ve made me who I am. I hate the saying that what doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger, but I have to admit it’s true…except, of course, unless you allow it to break you. What’s killing me now is watching my kids earn their own scars; it hurts me more when they hurt, than when I hurt for me.

When they are born, we tell ourselves it will be different for them. We will watch over and protect them. We will teach them our hard-won life lessons so they won’t make our mistakes. We will apply much of our financial resources to give them every advantage. How naive we are. It doesn’t occur to us that countless generations of parents before us made the same pledges, and yet the human condition remains largely the same. Yes, technological improvements over the last couple hundred years have partially lifted the burdens of billions, yet suffering and war and sickness and disaster are ever-present. But mostly we are still left with our own inexperienced, flawed decision-making which, for most of us, remains the largest source of our own, self-inflicted scars

Growing up is hard. I don’t know how to help them beyond giving them advice and making sure they know they’re loved and accepted. I know, you say, that is helping. But that’s never enough for a parent, is it? We want to fix it. And the hard part is, we want to fix it our way, not theirs. We not only can’t control the situation, we can’t control them. And so we care…care just as deeply (or more) as if it were happening to us, but without any control. It’s awful.

I’m trying to tell myself the obvious, that if I’m thankful for my scars, I must patiently wait for the day my children will be grateful for theirs. Somehow, we seem to need to learn important lessons the hard way. If they are hurting, they are learning and growing. While I pray for my children, I will also pray for myself, to remember that this is its own good.

“Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood.” –Helen Keller


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