Friday, August 26, 2016

letting go

letting go is hard. always. at least a little, and sometimes a lot. there is fear. and what ifs and something's better than nothing. there can be ownership and control at stake (or so we think). there can be identity lost, or other things lost. and emptiness- that feeling of what was but is no longer there. and the meaning in it all, or under it, or hidden in the middle of it. there can be a lot of questions, sweaty palms and curled fingers, and re-grabbing. it doesn't feel good or right, but letting go sets our hands free to see what is next. 

a long time ago, i had to let go of 'normal'. it was a long process with much re-grabbing. for a long time it felt like i was clinging to something that was slipping between my fingers, dripping like an ice cream cone on a hot day. uncontrollable but undeniable. it took years to see that i clung to something that really was never mine. i'll tell you the truth, holding onto the wrong thing brings much more emptiness than letting it go. it's true.

i never thought that zoe wouldn't finish high school. i don't mean that in a judgmental way, it just never crossed my mind. when she was in elementary school and clearly struggling, i figured it was a stage we needed to pass through. i clung to books like "a special education' by dana buchmann who's daughter also struggled with significant learning disabilities, but went on to college. went on to achieve some sort of 'normal'.  "see? that's with in reach." a part of me would say to settle the unsettled bits. but late at night those same unsettled bits would search the internet for the diagnostic criteria of autism, for other syndromes that perhaps we'd missed, for a peek into the black hole of what we were dealing with, for clarity, solutions, for anything that would either give me hope or force me to see reality, depending on the hour. holding the unknown was nearly impossible.

as years went on, zoe went along on her bumpy unique trajectory. and i went along on mine- equally bumpy and unique. perhaps equally lonely. and in many ways, our grasping ate us from the inside out. we did all that we could for her. we made choices and sacrifices. we tried and we believed in her. but what does that mean? what did we believe about her?

did we believe she could do things that didn't appear to be able to be done? did we believe that she would somehow, someday transform into or arrive at this slippery thing called 'normal'? or did we believe in the unknown of her. in the mystery of who she was made to be? 'believing in' can be clinging if we are believing in the wrong thing. and clinging is the opposite of letting go.

life has shown itself loudly enough and long enough to know that 'normal' didn't belong in our hands in the first place- it doesn't deserve to be clung to by anyone really.

someone asked me today if i'm okay- as in really okay- given zoe's challenges this year and her exit from school. it was a good and thoughtful question and i could see the sweet concern in her eyes. ' i am,' i told her, 'i really am.' but i don't know if she could see the truth in that. the freedom in my eyes.

because there is tremendous freedom in letting go. a fullness replaces the emptiness that was feared. a foundness, the lostness. what is better than false control is not having to be in control. what is better than tightness is openness. when clenched hands release, the body can breathe and what was meant to have always been, can finally bloom and grow.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

mind the (widening) gap

life with zoe has never been easy. it has been rough since the start.
she was small and breech and i had to be induced. she was a sleepy preemie and it took her a month to gain back to her birth weight. at three months she was diagnosed with klippel-feil syndrome. at four months they found two small holes in her heart, by then i had some holes in mine. watching her and worrying about her became my normal. milestones ticked by and she didn't reach them, there was always a delay. rolling over came at 8 months, crawling at 14 months, walking at 21 months. talking was there, but it was parroted and repetitive. she flapped her hands when excited and she was excited over things that other kids weren't. at preschool she preferred conversations with herself in the mirror to conversations with the other kids. she cried and covered her ears when she heard a coffee grinder, a blender, a vacuum cleaner. and those ears could hear only a few notes and know it was django reinheardt. she was not like other children.

kindergarten was hard. it was loud and filled with challenges, like learning to read, and finding your way around, and those impossible monkey bars that everyone but her could do. there were birthday parties that happened with out her, and awkward conversations with parents at birthday parties she did go to about how their child was used to being kind to people with disabilities. friendships were few and far between. homework was agony. but she could find a lonely adult in the coffee shop and make them feel like they were queen.

the years went on like this and we had other children. other children who proved that yes, she was not like other children. things got harder. things fell apart. her puzzle-like world began to come clearly into focus and she knew she was not like other children. and that is scarey and lonely and isolating. slowly, the gap began to widen.

other kids began to ride bikes and ride to town, stretching their worlds of independence. but bikes require balance and coordination and motivation, and town requires a sense of direction. other kids began wearing jeans and make up. but jeans are scratchy and makeup is sticky. and school got harder. it wasn't learning to read is was learning to understand what you read and there were metaphors and symbolism and making connections with other books. characters became complex, they weren't just good and bad like fairy tales, they were both sometimes and that was confusing. and social things got harder. the rules became more subtle. everything was not so black and white. and the noise was still there- vacuums and weed-wackers and bells between classes and ticking clocks. the puzzle was getting bigger and the pieces were getting smaller.

in three weeks she'll be 17.

today is day 4 of 9th grade. or it was. because we have decided to mind the widening gap. to listen to the cries of a girl who is exhausted. whose world for 17 years has demanded more from her than mine ever has me. to be honest that the gap between her and her peers has widened to place where she could fall in and get hurt.  we have decided that what matters is her heart. here laughter. her sense of self. that she is at risk of falling into the abyss of that gap never to return. that we could lose her to our desire for her to be someone she is not. we have decided the best thing to do is stop pinching her into a world that doesn't fit, and adjust her world where we can so she feels more softness than edges. more love than defeat. more success than failure.

so today the three little kids went off for their fourth day of school and zoe got up and got dressed and stayed at home. we met with the school and shared where we are, what we are hearing and seeing from zoe and we all decided to take it very slowly. she will come with her aide for her drama elective, and the rest of the day will be creative learning from home. for now.

the widening gap is hard. it pinches and pulls and mocks. it says "you've failed!" it tries to shame and blame and return you to places of "what if" and "why didn't i". it calls out to your sorest, oldest spots inside - the ones that scream for value in the wrong places  - the ones that fool you into thinking that other people are responsible for your being enough- that identity is grounded in markers of our successes or our kids successes. poppicock and hogwash! as zoe would say.

yesterday after listening long and hard to zoe and her aide about the day, and listening to the voices of the widening gap, i decided to listen to God. i inquired of the Lord. and as usual, i heard the gentle but clear truth pointing me to see where my small self sat in all this. He said things like, most of the world doesn't have even an 8th grade education, and they are functioning and happy. and things like, don't you think i have a plan for her? because i do. and don't you think that it's perhaps and probably a better plan than you could have? 

this is about trust and obedience.

in exodus God commands the israelites to respect the sabbath during their time wandering in the desert. this was the time when God was providing all their food in the form of manna that would be on the ground each morning for them to gather and eat that day. and that day only. anything they tried to save would spoil. except for the day before the sabbath, when there would be enough to gather for two days and it wouldn't spoil. God provided for them to be obedient. He cared so much about their obedience that he changed the properties of the manna so that only on friday night the left overs wouldn't spoil but on every other night it would. that speaks to me of a present and relational God. a God who can be trusted and who will provide for me and give me what i need to be obedient.

17 years ago i was on bed rest. i knew i was having a girl and that we were going to name her zoe which means 'life' and that i couldn't wait to meet her. i didn't know anything about klippel-feil syndrome, or autism and it never occurred to me that she wouldn't go to college or learn to ride a bike.  but i did know this God who i could trust to provide.  i had no idea that the trust would be like the manna- that i would need to trust daily for a portion of grace. and  that i would be given just enough- enough for that day- for that diagnosis- for that parent-teacher conference- for that episode in the grocery store. i had no idea that provision would be in the form of therapists and school aides and seamless clothes. but i did know those everlasting arms that are holding us as we mind the widening gap.

Friday, August 19, 2016


i started to write the day that zoe ate 3 earthworms. i was off on a run trying to regain my sanity, which had been lost earlier in the day while homeschooling her. she was 10 years old.

on the run i thought, 'it wasn't supposed to be like this.' 

i wasn't supposed to be a homeschooling mom. i was a doctor. my life wasn't going as planned.

i had entered a world of sticky thoughts and meltdowns and medications and reactions to medications and medications to manage the reactions. there was music to stimulate the right brain and exercises to cross the midline and gluten-free diets and social groups. there was occupational therapy and physical therapy. there were appointments and waiting rooms and conversations in waiting rooms with other mothers whose lives weren't supposed to be like this either. and there was the waiting.  waiting for the appointment to be over. waiting for things to get better. waiting for the other shoe to drop when things were better. waiting for it to become like it was supposed to be. and the waiting gave time for worrying. worrying about the meltdowns, when and where and if i could only figure out the why. worrying about transitions, about the day, the next day, the year, the rest of our lives. worrying that maybe it never would become like it was supposed to be. and wondering.

the day she ate the worms, i wondered what 16 would be like.

about a month ago she ate a marble while i was watching a tv show with my other kids. she is 16. have things changed? yes and no.

last week i took the kids to eat american fast food in uganda- which is a giant thrill and a huge treat. afterwards we went to the market for a few things. zoe lost it. i mean lost it. it was over a bunny plush toy cartoon character that she didn't have money to buy. it started with a sticky thought- she wanted the bunny, couldn't put it down, tried to convince me to buy the bunny, she couldn't take no for an answer. the next thing i know she is clinging to the rack of sunglasses by the check out line shouting that she won't leave with out the bunny. that she will sell the kindle that she is clutching with her other hand, to buy the bunny. she is shouting that she can't calm down, that she can't trust me, and she is refusing to budge.

when a three year old does this- you can pick them up. people understand. people smile with that "don't worry, we've been there" face on. when a 16 year old does this- you are stuck and people look at you like, "please do something because we don't know what to do".

 6 years ago, i would have been horrified at the thought of dragging her out of a grocery store at age 16 over a bunny plush toy. but that wasn't the awful part.

the awful part was in the car on the way home as we listened to her heart pour out all the hurt and anger and fear and confusion and loneliness that she feels. all. the. time. to hear her tell us that her life is worthless, that her life is a puzzle and no one understands her, that she will never get better, that it will always be like this. that she feels like a grenade waiting to explode.  it just broke me.

it wasn't supposed to be like this. but it is.

6 years ago, i would have been so terrified, so overwhelmed, that i would have let that brokenness be covered up with anger and shame. 6 years ago, i wouldn't have listened. i would have talked. talked over her, corrected her, told her that she will get better, that people do understand her, that there is hope, that it won't always be like this. i would have told her she has people who love her and she doesn't need to be afraid. i would have denied her feelings and told her the things that i needed her to believe so that i could be okay.

but this night, i listened. i just listened. i said 'i hear you' and 'that must feel awful' and 'that must be scary and hard' and 'i'm here for you'. when we got home. we sat together with mike in the living room and the kids recounted the drama. zoe slowly calmed down. i looked at her, crisscross applesauce, snapping her hands like she does when she's nervous, and i was overcome with love for her. and then i started to cry. and zoe started to cry and she sat on my lap and we wept.

it felt like we wept tears that had been denied time together. like we finally could be in a place of feeling it out loud- and see each other in the hurt messiness of it and know it's shared. we were letting it be known that this is what it is- laid bare. it is hard and lonely and sad and scary and overwhelming.

after a while we got up and got ready for bed. i read her mog the forgetful cat which always makes us laugh and tucked her in and prayed remembering lamentations, "because of the Lord's unfailing love, we are not consumed! His mercies are knew every morning."

sometimes God allows cartoon bunny plush toys to show you how far you've come, but that 'far' doesn't look like you thought it would. 'far', i would have thought, would be the absence of bunny plush toy meltdowns. but 'far' is bigger than that. 'far' is allowing for truth to be spoken and felt and shared. 'far' is letting it be painful because it is sometimes, and letting that be alright.

so instead of fighting that it wasn't supposed to be like this, 6 years later, i can see how i am becoming who i am supposed to be, in this which is my life.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

owning your slippers

it has taken me a long time to realize or to admit that i have made a choice to live on the other side of the world.

“The key to your happiness is to own your slippers, own who you are, own how you look, own your family, own the talents you have, and own the ones you don't. If you keep saying your slippers aren't yours, then you'll die searching, you'll die bitter, always feeling you were promised more. Not only our actions, but also our omissions, become our destiny.”abraham verghese, cutting for stone

it's time to own my slippers. or more appropriately, my flip-flops.  i've been wearing them for years now and i've been wondering. wondering things like, are they comfortable?  are my kids happy that i wear them?  will i grow tired of them? are they my style? are they worth the price? i mean, i don't have to wear these flip-flops. but i have been wearing them and watching as other people move on to shoes. i've been wearing them and wondering at what point i will get so sick of dirty feet that i too will trade in my flip-flops for some shoes.

i've known inside myself that these are my flip-flops since i was 17 years old and went to kenya. i didn't know when or how or even why. i just knew. but knowing it and wearing them are different. and trying them on and buying them are different too. 

because of that knowing, five years ago when we moved here it felt like an easy choice. it felt like one of many choices we'd made in our lives- moving to atlanta, moving to san francisco, moving back to atlanta. moving to africa was another move, just a bit farther. only it's not. it's on the other side of the world and a different time zone, and i mean that in decades. maybe it would be another move if it were sandwiched between moves. if after 3 or 4 or even 5 years we decided it's time to move home and buy shoes. but look, 

i'm still wearing these flip-flops and i think it's time for me to own that i'm wearing them. 

i'm doing a lot of work these days on listen inside and holding my hands to be open to the mystery. i'm working on, as richard rohr says, 'the sacrament of the present moment, that will teach us how to actually experience our experiences, whether good or bad or ugly, and how to let them transform us.' 
i'm working on accepting that 'reality requires more of a both/and approach, than an either/or differentiation.' 

i'm working on how to wear these flip-flops, and how to wear them really well. 

sometimes they hurt if i'm walking far or too fast, so they help me to slow down. 
sometimes my kids don't like them, they prefer to be barefooted or shoe-ed, and that's okay.
sometimes they don't match what i'm wearing, sometimes i want something sparkly or heeled.
and sometimes i get tired of dirt stained feet. 

these things are true- but that doesn't mean their not meant for my feet. 

we need to own our choices. owning them gives the freedom to embrace them, live fully in them, invest, engage, and grow in them. bloom. thrive. 

here i feel most myself and least like i should be on to the next thing. i love what i see when i drive along the bumpy road. i love the heat of the sun on my arm out the window. i love the sound of the night and the smell of burning things. i love it in a way that probably makes no sense to people who like to wear sneakers. but here i'm no longer searching for other shoes. 

and maybe that's how i know the slippers are mine.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

from here

it's hard to know where to begin. it's hard from over here to know what to say.  we seem to be standing in a great divide- that seems the farther you get away from it, the more crazily tragic it all is. so much of life now has become snippets, quotes and hashtags. we read headlines and get inflated- we are appalled or we are poignantly moved. we "stand" with victims of tragedy by changing our facebook picture. we brand ourselves with our outrages. we try to find solidarity.

we become known by our alliances - do we welcome the refuge or do we protect our borders? do we hate trump or do we hate hillary? do we hashtag #blacklivesmatter or #alllivesmatter ?  do we stand with paris and belgium or do we include bangladesh and istanbul? do we grieve the loss of lives differently if those who died lived different lives than we do? do we care who marries who, or who pee's where?

tragedy surrounds us. we see from every side the brokenness. we are overwhelmed. it's too much. there is so much anger. there is so much fear. we don't just pick a cause we pick an enemy. anger and fear beg for a target. a channel.

this is where i land- the same place as most of us. the place of what now? silenced by the weight. knowing words are only words.

so i'm left asking myself, am i strong enough to let the anger become sorrow?  can i lean into God and let Her hold up both my hands- a hand for black men and policemen, for children in school and adults at a gay nightclub, for all the suffering that comes at the hand of another person wearing skin no matter what country that suffering is in.

am i strong enough to let it break me? break me open so i can look inside at my own brokenness? my own prejudices, my own hatreds, my own selfishness, my own failings?

am i strong enough to let it change me?

am i strong enough to love through it? to take up my cross and follow? to love my enemies? to love my neighbor? to love myself?

am i strong enough to grieve the truth that i share skin with those who died and those who killed. with those who marry differently, and dress differently. with those who are at a different place in the same path we all walk- a path of evolving consciousness- a path that hopefully leads us into the arms of a deeply loving God- a path that hopefully transforms us, grows us, opens us.

a path that i pray gives me the strength to feel, to break, to change, to love, and to seek the truth.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

what not to do and why

here is what not to do if you wake up on a saturday morning with cramps and a headache, and you can already hear your kids fighting in the next room.  

#1. do not decide that you need to get up. in fact, decide the opposite. decide that probably the best thing (for everyone) is to get some advil and a hot water bottle and go straight back to bed.

#2. if you do get up, do not decide that things need to get done, that people should stop watching the movie and clean up, 'cotton-pickit, you've been looking at this mess all week!' because while you are annoyed at the mess, you will be even more annoyed when they whine and complain and then don't do it. no. let them watch, it's saturday.

#3. do not decide that your teenage daughter who has been sick for 3 days, now, right now at 8:30 am on saturday morning, must take a bath. because her resistance (which is there on a day when she's not sick, and when you have much more of yourself present to assist) will only further your compromised state of mind. no. don't do that- go make coffee, or better yet- get back in bed.

#4. do not decide to make the todo list for what needs to happen in the next two weeks before family comes to visit, most of which requires your husband's involvement, and then do not decide to share it with him. instead, decide to finish your cup of coffee and live with whatever color your accent wall is, just switch seats at the dinning table so you don't have to look at it. they're his relatives anyway.

#5. and if you do share the todo list with your husband, and he happens to seem annoyed by your eagerness, and you feel yourself getting annoyed as his annoyance, and your kid comes out of his room because he can sense his parents argumentative tone, do not snap at him. that's never good,  instead, smile at him, ask if anyone has seen the hot water bottle, and head back to bed.

#6. and if your husband happens to follow you back with a concerned look and asks if you want to be alone or talk, absolutely say 'alone' because you are not going to say anything that is necessary, or entirely true, and certainly you won't be saying anything nice. by all means recognize that this my friend, is not your day and choose to do no harm.

#7. do not decide to appease your kid who asked for a mohawk haircut yesterday, by redoing the haircut now while your other kids are rushing you out the door. you're in a hurry and you're in a bad mood- put the scissors down- it won't go well- he may end up bald. 

#8. and when you don't put the scissors down, and he tells you he looks even worse and that from now on dad is cutting his hair, do not decide to tell him that he's impossible to please and should be thankful that he even has hair. because that is ridiculous. instead, tell him is sounds like a great idea for dad to cut his hair, that's one less thing you need to do.

#9. do not decide to let your husband choose who will drive across town in traffic to get your kids to a party when you have another party 3 hours later on another side of town. because he is not insane and will choose to stay home. and then you will think about how hot it will be in the car and the children fighting and you will ask your kids if they really want to go to the party and they will take one look at you and your other kid's hair and say selflessly 'no'. but then your husband will feel badly for them and volunteer to take them. you will not only feel like the big jerk that you are, but you will miss the chance to see some of your friends too, and while you are home with sick zoe reading 'bunnicula' outloud for the 40ith time, he will be relaxing having a beer with the dads.

#10. finally, do not then decide to make it a 'spa day' to make yourself feel better. because you won't- you will feel worse. you will mess up your nail polish, cut yourself shaving, and be very dissatisfied with any cute outfit because your stomach is bloated. instead decide that a better choice is getting into your largest most expandable pants and your softest shirt, and climb back into bed with a good book.

a small nap (or a large sandwich) will keep you quiet for a little while and let everyone else recover.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

loss and faith

it's season of loss. again.

june is a month of goodbyes. there is a lot of leaving going on and a lot of being left. and i'm left feeling silent and wondering. the wondering comes as part of the goodbyes. wondering who will come next? when will we go? how do we do this? this life of transitions. wondering where is our home? who is our core? and knowing that where ever we are, life is going on without us somewhere else.

what happens to a life, when you disappear for 5 or 10 years to the other side of the world, and then return? you are no longer you and they that remained are no longer who they were either. there will always be that wondering. who exactly am i? who will my children be? what happens to third culture kids?

last night i led bible study. it was hebrews chapter 11- all about faith. and faith in God, despite what mainstream christianity often reports, is hard and messy. faith makes you ask questions about the thing you have faith in- and understanding God, is complicated.  people say they have faith in God, 'so everything will be fine', or 'if you only have faith... it will work out'. but life is often not fine. and things don't always work out. so is God fake or are we wrong? neither, i think we just get lost in the details.

God never promised that things would be fine and work out the way we want. God promises non-abandonment. God promises fullness of life. God promises to hear us and help us when we ask. God promises forgiveness and redemption and restoration. faith is believing those things, and believing them even when they don't look like how we think they should.  

in this season of loss i can pray with faith for a new group of friends. and i may get that, God certainly can do it, but i may not.  God goes deeper than our words- God goes to the heart of our words. He promises to give us the deepest desires of our heart when we ask. but how do we ask? sometimes we stumble around explaining to him our solution for meeting those desires- 'i want a new group of friends who are staying longer than i am because that way- i won't be left anymore.' but what if instead, i get a season of incredible personal growth because in my loneliness i spend time in prayer and meditation and see and feel the indwelling light of God so clearly that i am forever changed? did God not answer my prayer? or does He know me so well, that He knows the deepest desire of my heart is intimacy, joy, growth and security, and that those things can be given in many ways.

my life has been a series of events where God continues to show me that when i seek His will and give up my own, amazing things happen. but often those amazing things are interwoven with a lot of pain. and that is the messy part. the beautiful agonizing truth of opening ourselves to faith. the paradox that God is love, and there is still pain.

Quiet friend who has come so far,
feel how your breathing makes more space around you.
Let this darkness be a bell tower
and you the bell. As you ring,
what batters you becomes your strength.
Move back and forth into the change.
What is it like, such intensity of pain?
If the drink is bitter, turn yourself to wine.
In this uncontainable night,
be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses,
the meaning discovered there.
And if the world has ceased to hear you,
say to the silent earth: I flow.
To the rushing water, speak: I am.
Sonnets to Orpheus II, 29
Maria Rainer Rilke