Friday, January 17, 2020

Seeing Him

He walks slowly through the hallway. No one can see his beautiful smile or know the depths of his heart because his eyes are cast down, hoping, praying, that today, they will leave him alone. He just wants to go to school like everyone else. To learn, to make friends, to get through the whole day, ONE DAY, without being pushed or insulted or mocked. Without someone focusing on his differences and using them against him.

But he doesn't make it. Someone whispers "stupid" in his ear as he passes in the hall. Or "wouldn't it be better if you killed yourself?" They push him in gym class, to the point of injury. They interrupt his learning in class to the point where he has to ask to move chairs. Again. But the teacher warns him that the other side of the class may not actually be greener. Kids are mean. Seventh graders, in particular.

His mother cries herself to sleep. She has tried everything. Talking to the other parents. Getting the administration's help - but they barely return her calls. Speaking to the teachers about a safety plan. She builds him up as much as she can. He has friends outside of school who love him, who support him.

But none of this makes a difference. She can't protect him. He isn't like the other kids so they see him as expendable. To be forgotten or tortured or flat out ignored.

So, every day, he comes home heavy. Exhausted by another day of just trying to keep it together.

I was this boy. I remember. When you have no friends around you. When the people in your classes can only find terrible things to say. When people don't see you for who you truly are. And make you wish that morning alarm would never go off.

I was this boy. I have not yet been this mom.

Are you her? Do you know the terrified, exhausted pain of wondering if you are going to get a call that your child has been hurt by bullies? To take him to the doctor to get a concussion treated? Do you know what it feels like to watch him or her cry? To give up? To start to believe the things people are saying to them?

You may be neither this boy or his parent.

But are you human?

Because this is happening. Every single day. Kids are being cruel and horrible. And while some parents react well and make it clear that there are consequences if their children are the bully, too many either ignorantly believe it couldn't possibly be THEIR child or else they say that kids just need to toughen up and get over it.

I think we all know that our kids are capable of a lot we wouldn't necessarily be comfortable with. THAT'S why we teach them to be kind. THAT'S why we teach them to be anti-racist. THAT'S why we teach them about disabilities and inclusivity. They aren't going to be magically empathetic and loving. One look at a facebook thread on just about anything these days will show you just how cruel we humans can be.

So, parents.

This is happening. It's happening at the school down the street. Kids are killing themselves around the country because of relentless cruelty. We have a president who has normalized bullying and name-calling, so much so that I can't even let my children watch a presidential speech.

But we shouldn't be ok with it. We cannot tell our kids to just get over it. Can they be brave? Of course. Can they keep waking up and going to school? SURE. But I refuse to believe that this is who we are. Cruel adults telling kids to grow up and handle it on their own have no place in our society.

Discipline the heck out of your kids who do unkind things. Use those moments to teach them what it means to choose love and to speak up. Show them heroes who have done good, brave, kind things, who have fought for the rights of those who are in the margins. Teach them to see the kid sitting alone. To look around and notice those who are hurting. To sit with them, extend friendship, embrace awkwardness if it's a part of reaching out.

But whatever you do, do something. Don't wait for it to be your child who comes home in tears. Don't wait until you are the one crying yourself to sleep in helpless, terrified frustration.

Our kids lives depend on it.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

How You Do It

Time wound down towards the end of my therapy session. I hadn't had to cancel this one for an emergency, which was rare and lovely. As I began to pack up my things, he looked at me, took a deep breath and said "I'm going to refund your money for this session. I just can't charge you for it. I don't know how you do it."

I don't know how you do it.

Those seven words.

How often have I heard them over the years? Daily? Weekly? Hourly? I guess it has depended upon the season, the level of relentless impossible parenting we are experiencing.

The past two months have been the hourly type of stretch. I have heard those words from doctors, therapists, friends, parents.

I have said them to myself, then taken a deep breath and kept going. Because here is the honest truth.

The quick answer is that you don't. You don't really. There's no choice to do it or not. You just wake up and, to be honest and raw, get the shit kicked out of you for about 12 hours straight, try to reset as best as possible in the evening while worrying about all the things you couldn't accomplish that day, sleep too briefly and start over again.

The only other options are committing a felony or leaving. I'm not exaggerating. That's what it's like.

Normally, when people say those seven words, I just shrug and say "you would do it if it were your life." Which is the trut- most people would. While there are things we can pick and choose, decisions we can make to steer our life in a certain direction, there is also plenty that is out of our control. Some people want to get married and never do. Some people want a child and can't conceive. Some people envision family life the way it's portrayed in the movies and end up with a chronically ill child. Some people have dreams for a career and life and get stuck in a cycle of poverty because of medical bills or job situations or natural disasters.

The illusion of our choices being completely our own - well, it's just that. An illusion. Our only real choice in life is how we react to what is happening and what choice we make in the aftermath. That is literally all I have control over. And, sometimes, I don't even have that. Sometimes I am just too tired, too done, too overwhelmed to choose a healthy reaction. We all have those moments.

I don't write this to ask for sympathy or pity. The thing is that we all have something, at some time or another, that someone else cannot imagine handling. Loss, grief, addiction, illness, divorce...we could all list a time when we knew it was too much for any one person to handle, but in that moment, we did. A friend of mine recently shared the story of the stillbirth of her son and I could not imagine having gone through what she went through and having come through the other side. She did, though. Unscathed? Of course not. But she did it.

I write this because we all "do it." We look at others and think they have it all and then find out they have "done it." The bible says that in this world we will have trouble but that we should "take heart" because Jesus has overcome the world. At its core foundation, the "doing it" is an act of audacious hope. That life might get better, that we are not alone in the hardest moments. That Jesus knows what it feels like and hasn't left us out to dry or told us we have to dry our tears or suck it up.

Do I know if anything will change?

Nope.

Do I go to bed dreading the morning a lot of the time? Wishing that I could sleep for 24 hours and see if I might feel better?

Of course.

But we wake up. We do it. We work. We play. We remind ourselves of the truth. We love, even in the most unbelievably exhausting circumstances.

And we choose how to react to it all, when we can. We can choose honesty and rawness and even find gratitude in the days that seem to hold nothing for which to be thankful. And in that choosing, in the doing it, in the perspective, even when we cannot see what's happening, God is at work. Molding our story to encourage someone else. Slowly healing the places in ourselves and our families that we cannot or will not see.

When I head back to my next therapy session in a week, I'm going to hand him this blog and tell him to keep his money. The refund only made me wonder how I possibly COULD keep doing it. And the reality is that I can't. Not alone, not really. That's why I am in therapy. That's why I have friends and family I ask for help. That's why I wake up in the morning before I have to parent, sip my coffee and find perspective for the day in prayer and writing and scripture and song.

That's how you do it, friends. One minute, one step, one choice at a time of how to respond to life, even in its most vicious and relentless moments.

We were never promised ease.

We were just promised we aren't alone in the doing.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

It's My Party

It was almost a year ago that I found myself in the lowest place I have ever been. Fighting for hope, suffering from PTSD and PMDD. Angry, sad, tired, hopeless...all the time.

And since almost a year ago was the year I turned 40, I let it that milestone pass me by.

No big celebrations, no parties...I even told my husband the best gift anyone could give me last year was NOT to pick up the phone and call me because I didn't have the energy to talk to people and pretend I was happy it was my big day.

It felt pointless.

And now, with only a few weeks left until I turn 41, I don't look back and regret that decision. I wasn't in a good place to celebrate. It would have felt disingenuous. I didn't know how to celebrate myself because I wasn't sure I liked who I was at that point.

Since then, life hasn't necessarily gotten any easier. Currently, we are in the midst of a big health crisis with one of my kids that has him out of school and me unable to work much. It's been exhausting and hard and confusing and we still aren't close to answers.

I can't imagine if this had happened last November.

BUT, the fact that I have a job, the fact that I can look back on this year and see the huge risk I took in going back to school, in completely changing careers, makes me feel hopeful. And proud. And joyful. The new life I chose this past year is helping me tackle this newest challenge. Not perfectly, of course, but my foundation this year is so much sturdier.

Dang it, I accomplished something this year, against all odds. When I announced I was going to become an EMT, a number of people in my life were like "But how? When? And...why?"

They weren't wrong or unsupportive to ask it because they knew the complexities of our daily challenges.

And the thing is, I didn't know how we would possibly make it happen. What I did know is that it was exactly what I needed to do to choose new life, to boldly declare something would change, that something good and new would happen.

I had to dare to dream when it felt like there was nothing practical or possible about making the dream happen. Which meant that I had to risk failure. And for me, failure never seems like a reasonable option. In fact, it seems completely out of the question.

But I had to risk it to be able to get better.

And here's the thing. I didn't get perfect grades like I did so much in the past. I had to be satisfied with doing "fine". Not amazing, not poor, but fine.

I passed my class, I passed my registry and I nailed down a job. It wasn't easy, it wasn't quick and it took a tremendous amount of sacrifice by my family.

But when I am on that truck, I truly feel that I am exactly where I need to be. I feel like there is this moment of clarity...that the injustice and pain of the world that so consumes me enables me to focus in on this one person's crisis and I can be their person, just in that moment. I can offer grace. I can look in their eyes. I can treat them with dignity. I can hope for them when they are hopeless.

And that has been life-giving in ways I honestly couldn't have imagined a year ago. Helping deliver a baby in the back of an ambulance, standing quietly with someone who has just lost their someone, sweating as you work to think critically and bring someone back from the dead, maneuvering the streets with an emergency strapped down in the back...all these things are chaotic and beautiful and terrifying but they are life.

So as I stare at 41 coming so soon, I want to celebrate it. Not to replace turning 40. But to declare that turning 40 ended up being a really good thing. That as much as some things have been impossible this year, as much as we are in the thick of a really hard fight right now, God is with me. I have an amazing squad of humans who have cheered me on and made me laugh and loved my kids and brought us meals this last week of crisis. I have a husband who, quite honestly, could have done much better than me but sticks by me. I have an evolving faith that is growing deeper in its understanding of grace and love and sacrifice. I have so much to be grateful for.

I don't know exactly when or how, but if you are local and you want a chance to laugh and dream and, quite likely, dance, you are invited. To a 41st birthday celebration. No gifts necessary, just your presence, your hope, your humanity in whatever messy form it might be in right now.

I don't know what it will look like, but I'm confident that Jesus is ready to party with us.