Friday, August 21, 2020

A Brighter Day

 One of the perks of being a one on the enneagram scale is that when I decide to do something, I plan it out and it gets done. Lists are my friends, spreadsheets my loyal companions. I have been called a lot of things in life, but the word that tends to come up a LOT is the very unromantic descriptor "responsible." In movies, my character tends to throw off all inhibitions by the end and do something reckless that manages to transform her life for the better, but that's just Hollywood's spin on learning how to be yourself. In real life, I am definitely learning spontaneity in ways I never would have imagined before I turned 40, but not at the expense of my good traits - as a complement to them. 

That said, I have had the song Brighter Day in my head for a few days now. If you don't know it, it's an old school Kirk Franklin song playing off an even older school Bill Withers song has a catchy refrain that goes "it's gonna be a brighter day, brighter day, brighter day, a bright-er day!" (Go ahead and take a little dance break if you need it, I'll love you even more for it.)

And as it's been tooling around in my head, I have been pondering just how insane the last six months have been. So much uncertainty. So many unknowns. So MUCH togetherness in the family home. So many days that do not feel any brighter than the one before. It's been truly difficult for so many of us, adults and kids alike, to have so little of life be familiar or plannable. And for those of us with kids who may now be planning to guide them through at-home virtual learning and IEP's and homeschooling, it's so easy to be focused on what we are doing to keep the family functioning, to help our kids' mental health as we transition into yet another unknown, and for many, uninspiring, reality. 

It is so very easy to feel like we are in the dark. To feel sad. To feel angry or hopeless. And it's so very easy to neglect ourselves when so many around us need so much to stay stable. 

I've mentioned before my struggle with PMDD. After a few years of trying more conventional methods to treat it, I stumbled upon a book by Dr. Jolene Brighten called Beyond the Pill. As the pill is the most commonly used way to treat it but as someone who does not enjoy its unhelpful side effects, I was eager to hear if there were alternatives. I read the book immediately (another thing us ones are good at), developed a plan of action and took it to my doctor. I refrained from boring her with a powerpoint presentation about why I should go off the pill and try it, but I was sorely tempted. Thankfully, she was on board with the protocol as it was rooted in nutrtion, exercise and rest (woohoo, science!) and the next day I was busy buying supplements and making schedules. 

Oh the sweet joys of a freshly minted calendar and plan! Within a week, I was happily ensconced in the challenges of lifestyle changes that I knew could make a significant impact on my health. 

One year later, I have seen amazing success when I have stuck to it. I have learned about my body in new and amazing ways. I have a deep and newfound respect for my adrenal gland in all it's glory and power. And as I sit on the cusp of all these changes for my family, I have been reminded anew that I need to get back on this protocol with a new focus. It fell to the wayside when all my kids ended up home from school in March. It was just too much to keep up with three super-energetic boys (one with significant challenges himself) AND the protocol. It was survival mode.

But I can't abide living in survival mode for too long. I want a brighter day. 

I know, it feels like the last thing most of us need, to add something to our life, our schedule. But I know for some of us, this has been such a hard time of sacrifice that we are in danger of losing ourselves, our health, our sanity, to this pandemic. Stress deeply affects us as women. Our hormones respond in ways that make us feel absolutely insane sometimes. 

So today, I picked the book back up while my littles swam at the pool. (and yes, I paused and issued a prayer of gratitude that at the ages of five and six, I can trust them to swim without me in the water, may God bless swim team and all the saints in heaven.) I turned to the chapter with the quiz that helps you isolate what's going on in your body. And lo and behold, my answers had changed after a year. What I had focused on over the past year was doing so well that it is time for me to move on to focus on a different area of health. Adrenal glands check, now we conquer the ovaries :) 

Am I oversharing? Quite likely. 

But I have learned as I hit my late 30's and now have moved into my 40's that we women need to talk about this stuff - hormones and sex drive and body image and reproductive health.That so much of how we grow up talking about these things and learning about them ends up steeped in shame and secrecy and that is NOT any way to be living our lives in connection to this beautiful vessel, our bodies, in which we travel through life. 

So, if you have STUFF going on with your parts. If you don't love the way you feel, if you are struggling with body image or health issues or PMDD or PCOS or menopause (can I get a witness on how MANY fans I now need on in my room at night?), I'd like to issue you a friendly challenge. 


Seriously. Think. Do you want to feel better? Do you want to be a healthier version of the already beautiful you? Are you tired of people promising quick fixes and just want to make some lasting changes in your life that take a shot at it being a brighter day?

I may not be great at empathy or helping us figure out our emotions, but heck am I good at accountability and dreams! 

So in a moment of spontaneity, BEFORE I have made any lists or plans on what it would look like, I'm diving in.

I'm going to reboot my journey with Brighten because I know it worked for me and I know I need to concentrate on my health as I move into a new phase of helping my kids learn at home. I am not selling anything, nor am I an expert. If no one wants to join me, I'm doing it anyway, because I'm also a raging introvert and perfectly happy to do something alone. 

BUT, if this resonates with you at all, I'd love to invite and challenge you to join me. We can do it together. It's a plan written by a doctor and based on science that involves exercise, nutrition, rest, spiritual growth and joy. 

Adding community to it can certainly only help. 

Who is in? 

Friday, August 7, 2020

Facebook, Friendship and the Trials of Seventh Grade

Her text came through at a moment that I wasn't ready to read it.

"You are isolating yourself again," it read. I glanced at it, ignored it, and moved on with my day. It's a pandemic, for goodness' sake. EVERYONE is isolating him or herself. There's no problem here.

Except, there was. There IS, really.

About two weeks ago, I decided to get the heck off facebook, for the most part. I found that watching people call each other names, watching bullying, watching the extreme ways in which we are willing to be keyboard warriors that shout and rant from the privacy and seclusion of our homes was taking a huge toll on me. Particularly on top of all the uncertainties with the pandemic. It was affecting the way I parent, how I do my job, which thoughts and voices I let set up shop in my head during the day. It was sucking time from my day and energy from my soul. It was distracting, disheartening and, most of all, paralyzing. 

But why? 

As I have slowly detoxed from that world, God has brought something sharply into focus for me: Seventh grade is still a big part of how I do life.

Seventh grade was 30 years ago. I really only remember small details of that period in my life. A lot of what I know about it is what my mom has told me. Apparently I cried. A lot. Probably more in that year than I have total in the 30 years since. I dreaded school.  I isolated myself because the risk of friendship became too painful. I had very few friends and basically none at school.That was the only year of my life where that was true. I have mostly loved school, craved learning. I was mocked for being smart, left to sit alone at lunchtimes. In recent days, I've started to remember how closely I watched the clock on the wall in the cafeteria, begging for free time to finish. It's made me wonder if my inability to sit peacefully in the now, to practice mindfulness and presence, is rooted in that wish for time to hurry up and finish then. I started my struggle with insomnia, a struggle I deal with to this day. I started running to dissipate the anger and sadness, a practice that has served me well, but has also sometimes taken the place of the hard work of lament and healing. 

Mostly, though, in this past week, it has become clear to me that the way I view female friendships, the way I retreat and isolate and keep to myself, is largely a product of that time. I don't trust women. I don't trust that they aren't gossiping. That they don't have nasty things to say behind my back or, honestly, straight to my face. Have I had some truly amazing friendships with women since 7th grade? Absolutely. However, do I assume those women are rare and unusual? I do. Do I avoid all women's ministry events at church? 100%. 

As I think about how I feel after I spend time scrolling or commenting, I recognize that facebook doesn't bring out the best in me. Nor in many of us, if we are honest. It reinforces my assumptions. It tightens and defines the boxes I have built. It allows me to villify and "other" people and it drives me inward. Bottom line, it usually makes me worship and focus on what I can do or say or believe much more clearly than who God is or what He is doing or saying. 

And that's a dangerous place for me to linger. 

Seventh grade still has power. But I don't want it to. I have never really sat down and hashed it out. I've never truly asked God to heal me of those deep wounds. To show me the ways I have let the pain of that year drive my relationships for 30 years now. So while I am grateful to facebook for unearthing how clearly that period still has power, I also know that it's time for a real and true break so I can lot God do the deep work of healing that He is clearly in the business of doing.

If you have been a friend I have pushed away, I truly apologize. If you have been a friend I have othered or vilified, may God reveal that to me so I can ask for forgiveness. If you have been a woman who has pursued me and tried to love me and been met with rejection, please know that I am working on this. I truly am. Part of what God has been showing me during this pandemic is who I truly am, in all the areas that are good and beautiful but also all the areas that still need growth.   

In the meantime, I'm going to sit back and breathe. Journal. Paint. Run. Speak with humans face to face. Stay pretty much off of social media. Garden. Try to find my laughter and smile. Love and serve the heck out of humans on my ambulance. Pursue my husband. Use my punching bag. Pull out the guitar. Have amazing conversations about justice and shalom and grace because those things give me life. And just ask God to heal. To reveal. To redeem. And to infuse my soul with hope that this pandemic WILL one day end and that I will come out of it stronger, kinder and a better friend. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

End of an Era

March 2020
Two weeks ago, I had my last conversation with my Granny. She had been talking about having dinners in her memory care facility and talking with the men there. I asked her if she had a boyfriend. She replied "I don't remember...most likely!"

Sass until the end.

I didn't know that would be our last conversation. She was doing relatively well at the time. She remembered who I was, but wasn't sure at all who the little four year old with me was.
Me and my grandparents, 1979

Just a few days ago, it became clear that things were coming to a close. And in the midst of all that is going on in the world, we all knew that meant that she would be mostly alone when the time came. My mom, thankfully, lives close by and they lifted the Covid-19 visiting restrictions so she could move in with her for those final days.

Since there is no real place to be alone right now, I spent an hour in my car yesterday morning. I recorded my granny's favorite hymns (How Great Thou Art and Holy, Holy, Holy) on marco polo and my mom played them for her. What a miracle technology is! My mom is certain she heard me singing. Afterwards, I told her I loved her and that it was ok to say goodbye if she was ready.

But now.
Granny and her whole crew, late 80's

She's gone. 41 years of memories of an incredible woman are all that remain for me. Some of those memories are just captured in pictures but many others are clear to me...summers on the Cape with all the cousins and her digging for clams with our heels, the balcony view in her Florida condo. The hilarious interactions between her and her twin sister, Ann. She and my Gramps shouting back and forth when they both became hard of hearing. She was always up for a trip to the beach and she knew EVERYONE in her neighborhood. You could find her in the hot tub talking with anyone and everyone or on the golf course or taking classes just to enrich herself or at mass. Bringing my besties in high school down for spring break and then again my Hoohah friends down four short years late and Granny just fussing over all of us the whole time. My husband and I visited her the week after we got engaged and she insisted on taking us to the "club" for dinner and dancing. I will never forget she and my Gramps dancing to their song (Harbour Lights) and wishing us the best in our own upcoming nuptials.

She was a one-in-million kind of lady.
Their family: 60's

And now my family wrestles with how to say goodbye when we can't go travel. When there won't be a funeral anytime soon. When we have to grieve alone in our homes while the demands of everyday life continue around us.

I'm not sure where to go from here. I'm not sure exactly what grief looks like during a time like this.

I guess, just like real life right now, it's one day at a time.

Hank and Bea
I got the news of her passing just as I was getting my littles down to rest. They didn't really understand why I was crying and why I couldn't really read them books or do all the normal things. After I had them settled, I sat on my bed and looked through pictures and just remembered. Remembered a woman who always made me feel safe and loved. Who always made me laugh and stuffed me to the brim with food. Who insisted I take pre-frozen bottles of water from her freezer to the pool anytime I ever went. Who wasn't afraid to call out bullshit when she saw it but always did it in love. Who loved God and her family fiercely and faithfully.

Granny, words can't fully express how deeply you were loved and how much you will be missed. I can't wait for the day when all this current craziness passes and our family can give you the celebration you so truly deserve.

Rest well, good and faithful servant, beloved mother and grandmother. The world is changed forever.