runaway Doug – the usual with tea, 11.

GEG-featured-imageThis morning I am greeted by Doug, the two-year-old dachsund/terrier mix we adopted from a pet shelter the evening before. I have never described myself as a “dog person”, but I am now officially – for the first time ever – a dog owner. Pets were neither a part of my childhood – unless you count guppies…or that one year we had a weenie pup named Quincy who liked to eat cottonballs – nor my grown-up life, with the egg-ception of our hens (may they rest in peace). Besides here-and-there dogsitting for friends, we’ve never had a canine, feline, equine, bovine or any-other-ine living in our home. So it was with reservation and trembling that I adopted a dog. The tech at the boarding center said it would take Doug a few days to warm up to us but Doug turned into a “Jana person” within two hours of bringing him home. On me like GLUE. I admit it’s endearing to have a living thing love you so quickly but, um, I have a moderate amount of dog anxiety that extends waaaaay back to my toddler years. In other words, having a creature who wants to play-bite my hands, perch on the sofa directly behind my head, bounce around my legs like a circus poodle on a pogo stick, and whimper at the bathroom door while I’m showering is going to take some getting used to.

After eggs, toast and a supplement cocktail, I slice up apple for the 4yo, she climbs in our higgledy-piggledy stroller that’s wheels are literally about to come off, and we go on our two-mile hike around the nearby college campus. When we arrive home, the yard guys are leaving and our grass is once again trim. Doug finds one of the kids’ stuffed animals and turns it into a chew toy, sitting with his front paws on it, owning it. He licks the 4yo’s face and makes her giggle. They both sit nearby as I don mascara for a 10:45 appointment. The 4yo asks, “After you get your eyelashes on, will we go?”

We put Doug in the backyard with a bowl of water and make our way to the home of a friend. She has agreed to watch Larkin while I drive to the largest house of worship in Abilene and meet with a woman recommended by my doctor. He’s described her as a “savant” in all things spiritual and wants me to discuss with her both the spiritual and physical implications of fear. So, for an hour – the only hour we’re going to have apparently, as her ministerial roles are soon changing – she tells me about her own battle with fear and how she broke free from its grip. She lays hands on my head and my back and prays out loud for me, snapping her fingers to symbolize the breaking of alignment with the spirit of fear and self-condemnation. I wish she could pray for me like that every morning.

After I pick up the 4yo, she says “Mommy, look” and I glance in the rearview mirror to see her trying to snap her fingers and it makes me think of the anti-fear prayer. I buy a few groceries, a pre-made salad for lunch and ingredients for dinner. Hurrying back to our neighborhood to pick up the 8yo at 1pm – early release day for public schools – we head home. The girls make a beeline to the backyard, looking for Doug. But there’s no Doug to be found. He’s gone. I walk around the house, yelling his name and clapping my hands. Other dogs down the alley bark back at me, but no Doug. The berating of self begins immediately. I inspect the fence. Maybe he wriggled around the chickenwire rolled across the bottom of it. But if he did, I can’t figure out where. The gate is closed but not latched; maybe one of the yard guys forgot to push it tight and Doug nosed his way out. The girls and I walk across the street to ask our neighbor to be on the lookout. She doesn’t seem worried – says she’ll gladly drive around and search for him – but I feel I might burst into tears.

Back at our house, phrases like “failure as mom” and “you can’t even keep a domestic animal in your yard for 24 hours” start nagging at me. The self-condemnation and frustration swell so big I start angrily silent-mouthing curse words, and then I am full-on wailing. I cry so hard I think I scare the girls. They slip off to their room, and I text Brandon the dog-gone news. I feel like I alone am entirely responsible for this loss: I didn’t doublecheck the chickenwire, I didn’t make sure the gate was latched, I was away from the house too long. It’s all on me. My fault. Yet another way I’ve failed at life. There’s a teeny-tiny, naive mutt on his way to being roadkill and it happened under my watch. Brandon calls. I am weeping so hard I can barely hear him when he implores me to “please try and calm down”. Amidst all THAT, my ob/gyn’s nurse leaves a voicemail in a too-perky, gum-cracking tone explaining that because I have “extremely dense breasts”, they want a followup to my recent mammogram, a precautionary MRI done with women whose fibrocystic boobies (TMI?) make mammograms hard to read. Because if I’m already in a tizz about the dog running off, why not just ratchet up the anxiety a whole other level while we’re at it? I’m not thrilled about having to go lay in the MRI tube at 7:30 in the morning and having to wait on the results. A friend texts: “Does that mean you have firm breasts? I get why you have to get them checked but most moms of three would be super jealous of that!” She also reassures me that I am not a loser at pet care.

The compounded sleep deprivation from nights previous along with the massive crying fit exhaust me. While I sit on the front porch and force myself to eat lunch, the girls play with a neighbor friend and I text a pic of the puppy to friends who live in the neighborhood. The 11yo arrives home, canvases a few streets looking for Doug, and eventually joins me on the porch. I’m feeling the need to be outside for as long as possible. Delicate emotional states require sunshine and warm breezes. Helps take the edge off.

dense breasts and dougI sit on the porch for at least an hour. As the day heats up, I exchange my jeans for shorts. But still I roast. Sweat rolls down my legs and between my…extremely dense breasts. We all end up back inside and the rest of the afternoon consists of much moping and commenting about how Doug is gone, possibly forever, and how we need to buy another dog immediately. Everyone is disappointed. At some point, Brandon texts: “This afternoon officially blows.” He also reminds me to breathe. A quote on Pinterest reminds me to breathe. Breathe.

Chicken curry soup on this 90-degree day makes complete sense and that’s what I stir up for dinner. The 4yo loves it but the other two don’t and thus are provided with the opportunity to assemble their own meals. The 11yo heads to church with a friend. The hubs and I drive to the volleyball court at Sonic to hang with the high school students we mentor. I’m so weary with sorrow I don’t even consider playing ball; I sit sidecourt and talk to others who’ve been benched due to various injuries. The girls and I order ocean waters and a cherry slush. By the time we leave, the sun has set and the air has cooled. Spending another hour outside has again worked its magic and calmed me.

Back home, there are baths – lots of sand to rinse off – and the 11yo is feeling emotional about runaway dogs. The hubs says, “It’s nobody’s fault that Doug ran away. Doug made a decision. We don’t know what kind of life he’s had these last two years or what’s driving his choice to run off.” I feel like laughing when he says “Doug made a decision.” It sounds ridiculous. But it also makes me feel less guilty. We say a prayer and hug each other and the kids shuttle off to bed.

One of our high school friends – let’s call him Ferris Bueller – texts and asks where we met tonight; he would have come if he’d known. He is on our side of town – his second day with his drivers’ license – so, since he missed our Sonic gathering, I ask if he wants to drop by and say hi. While we’re waiting on him to show, I shower off the sand and the sad. I wonder why I had such a visceral reaction to the dog escaping our yard, why I completely berated myself as both parent and pet-owner. And I am overwhelmed by a thought: maybe my instantaneous and exceptionally emotional reaction to Doug’s disappearance happened because…it’s been an all too common occurrence in my life these past few years. Several people I deemed dear friends – people I thought would be friends for life – ran away. Maybe Doug’s escape triggered something in me, pushed itself into that healing-but-still-tender wound of being abandoned by those I trusted. Even with plenty of food and water, a safe place to sleep, and an affectionate family, Doug ran off. With my friends, I did what I could to provide a safe place for them as well, one of authenticity and affirmation. But still…they ran off. Who knows what kind of life Doug had years previous? Who knows what sort of life those used-to-be-friends are hiding in their hearts from decades previous? Just like Doug, they made a decision. And they chose to run. Not because I’m a lame dogowner or friend. They just wanted something different. They wanted more of something I couldn’t provide. More adventure or attention or thrill. More room to run. And that lust for more drives some away from places of love and safety. Probably the case for all of us, on some level. But boiling it down: it wasn’t me. I didn’t fail at the friendship. That puppy – just like those friends – simply wanted something else. Something besides warmth,  safety and a bowl of water. These thoughts spark within me a brief flash of anger. We exchange love and affection…and then you RUN AWAY? But after such a long day, it is too much for my dog-tired mind to ponder for long.

Bueller hears about our markedly emotional afternoon but we don’t discuss it in detail. The teen talks about matters of importance to 16-year-olds, showing us a video of how he almost did a faceplant at the gym. After half-an-hour, we shoo him home; it’s a school night. We turn on the Tonight Show and watch Fallon and comic David Alan Grier mimic Trump and Ben Carson, and their silliness draws a chuckle from my dismayed spirit.

I am tapping out the beginning of this post in the bedroom when Brandon walks in, pulls the laptop away, closes it and sets it aside. “You’re falling asleep,” he says. I am.

 

what fills in the gaps between those photos on instagram…

IMG_7339Our family of five took a road trip to the Texas hill country a few weeks ago. I posted four pics to Instagram from the venture, highlighting our favorite stops: Bouldin Creek Cafe in south Austin, the LBJ Wildflower Center, Storm’s Drive-In in Lampasas, and the Colorado River. Shortly after arriving home from our excursion, I came across a few articles lamenting the “life-editing” that takes place on social media, and I pondered the photos I’d shared from our trip. They certainly made our weekend outing look like a breeze. And while we DID have a great time, there were hiccups too.

My “life-edits” on social media are not intentional. I don’t sit down and consciously decide I’ll share only photos of my family’s happiest moments, cheeriest holidays, smilingest faces. But it happens anyway. Who of us wants to display the mundane moments of our everyday, the mountains of laundry or the spraying off of chicken poo from the back patio? Who snaps pictures of those frightfully embarrassing moments that happen in a household? Like when you yell at your kids. Or hide out in your bedroom stress-eating a bag of Cheetos (So what if they’re made of corn, the most socially irresponsible vegetable EVER. I ATE THEM. And they were delicious.). Does anyone want to see a shot of processed cheese particles on my fingertips? Nope. Does anyone have an overwhelming desire to see my laundry piles or backyard patio? Doubtful.

We leave out the monotony, struggle and despair because we figure who wants to hear? And really…who wants to hear?? A couple years ago I posted a letter to my 20yo self on Facebook regarding the pain of feeling excluded. A friend messaged me, teasing: “Remind me to never piss you off.” When I dug a bit at his comment, he admitted he read my paragraph as passive-aggressive and said I should have confronted in-person whomever had excluded me. Our conversation was pleasant and I was happy to hear his perspective but I also stood by my words, directed to no one in particular and the result of years of feeling on the periphery of various communities. But it was clear my friend didn’t feel social media was the place for my outpour of sentiment.

While some certainly attempt to paint a particular picture of their personas, I think most of us just prefer to focus on the positive. Clinging to upbeat moments help us navigate other lengthy and/or painful life challenges. Naturally we want to share our joy with others (or even just keep a record of those moments to share with our future selves). Some of us enjoy the hilarity our kids provide and like dishing about their funny antics. Some of us love being outdoors and sharing the wonder we find there. Some of us appreciate all things home and like to display its comforts. Food, art, sports, crafts…social media is a way to reveal what is dear to us.

Thus we share our favorite moments, however brief their appearance. The unfortunate by-product is that we see only each others’ smiles, friends, parties, vacations, honors, award-winning children, extended families who all live in apparent peace and harmony, and seemingly solid faiths. And we miss out on the other equally valid and very real aspect of life – each others’ tears, loneliness, bruised feelings about not being included, tight budgets that don’t allow vacations, shame, angry kids, extended families who aren’t so harmonious, and crushing doubts.

So while the photos I shared were a true part of our fun weekend outing, I thought I’d elaborate on some other moments that comprised that same trip that I didn’t share because, well, see above.

  • We watched a cyclist bounce across the pavement of a busy road after being hit by a car, frantically called 911, then attempted to pacify and reassure our terrified daughters.
  • The friends who had planned to travel with us were unable to join due to a sick child.
  • The resident cats were semi-obnoxious. Pretty sure one of them sipped my drink.

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    Feline hair, everywhere.

  • Watched a cab t-bone another car in downtown Austin and re-lived the biker-hit-by-car nightmare with the girls.
  • Lost count of how many times we had to remind the kids: “Stop yelling.” Everything in public is spoken at yell volume for some reason.

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    Yell. Yell. Yell.

  • Did I mention a not-so-welcome guest joined me – JUST me – all weekend? SEE??? These are the things NOBODY WANTS TO KNOW.
  • A napping toddler urinated in her carseat.

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    Probably peeing.

  • The 7yo ended up with a mysterious brown funk on her elbow. Sniff check required. You know, in case the “brown” was ____ . It wasn’t, thank our lucky Lone Star.

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    Ew.

  • Neither Brandon nor I slept much, due to incessant coughing and overactive mind, respectively.
  • The kids ripped a giant hole in the rental home’s trampoline.

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    Or maybe it was me.

  • And on Sunday morning, a near vehicular travesty of our own. A blur whipped into the open passenger window and brushed across my left arm. When I glanced over, all I saw was a black, blue and yellow SOMETHING dart between the console and Brandon’s right hip. And all I could think was ARACHNID. Since neither of us knew what we were dealing with naturally I started shrieking and Brandon’s driving turned erratic as he gripped the door frame in an effort to keep from sitting on a creature that potentially had pincers or stingers at-the-ready directly under his bum. Upon screeching to a halt, we observed an obviously terrified swallowtail butterfly holding on for dear life to Brandon’s shorts. I’m not sure what traumatized her more: my insane screaming or her near-miss of being smashed by a human behind.

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    Our pal Ryan’s reply to this pic: “That butt looks fly.”

All that to say, our trip was so much more than the four carefree-looking photos I posted on Instagram. The moments that filled in the substantial gaps between those snapshots were real life, the sort of life that is always flowing, just like the Colorado River that cuts through the the middle of Texas. Thought you should know.

why it’s been quiet here…

GEG-featured-imageTwo of my three blog fans recently asked why I haven’t been writing much lately. I have, I told them. I just haven’t been sharing. A lot of my writing from the past year is an oversized, not-so-pretty jumble of missives, due to processing several recent relationships of mine that have unraveled in very different ways. I’ve felt abandoned and/or betrayed by some I once called close friends. The mess of all THAT has been plenty. In addition, lesser acquaintances devoted to those with whom I’ve experienced conflict – loyalists to the other party, as it were – have made their disapproval of me clear. In those acquaintances’ show of support to my used-to-be friends (which I get), I’ve felt discarded on a secondary level. Because the fallout of those relationships has consumed so much of my mind this past year, I’ve spent plenty of time writing about it. Just not HERE. Because…anger and deep hurt have been driving out a lot of my words, and I can’t see how sharing rage-infused commentary is at all productive. And because…is it fair to share someone else’s behavioral stumbles, even if it’s anonymously? I’m perfectly fine sharing mine, but not sure it’s my place to share others’. At the same time, those relationships HAVE contributed to my story in very distinct ways. That’s my truth. As salty ol’ Anne Lamott says, “If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” But how to tell the truth without prompting more discord? The thing is, as much as I sometimes want to share my experiences – the truth of my life – because I know it would resonate with someone else out there, and while YOU might not know the antagonists-in-question, THEY would know. Why dish out more hurt? They’re people with feelings and egos, just like me. Dealing with their own demons in their own time. Just like me.

Despite my quietness here in this online forum, I’ve done plenty of talking about my heartache. My trusted life partner, therapist and a few friends have helped me work through the intricacies of these convoluted relationships. But to publicize it? I’ve decided there’s no need. (Not to say there isn’t a WANT. When it feels like someone is getting away with bad behavior, my knee-jerk reaction is to tell the world. You act like a ding-dong, the world shall know of your ding-dongedness by way of justice-seeking Jana Banana!!!) Dumping out relational injustices online feels like the social media equivalent of “making a scene”. Like when someone’s waiting to buy concert tickets and someone else cuts in line and a brawl ensues? Making a scene ensures that others recognize injustices are being committed. I so, SO get that. But I’m not a scene-maker. That ain’t my thang. I don’t see how it contributes anything positive to the world at large. So why would I do it in slo-mo on my blog?

This is a hard call that I’ve been wrestling with for a while now. Many of life’s most interesting experiences – the ones that often most nurture inner growth – include other people. But I just can’t seem to make peace with the idea of sacrificing another person’s feelings at the cost of a riveting blog post, even if their behavior has been less-than-stellar. It’s not worth it. I like what poet Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg says on the matter: “Even if you’re writing about a family member who physically abused you, the writing will be strongest and most transformative if it’s written from the perspective of telling your truth rather than judging and convicting your torturers. What’s the difference? Usually, it’s perspective — having had enough time, space and healing pass through you that you can tell the story that wants to be told.”

That’s where I am. In this place of passing through, from the acute sorrow and want to convict, to a position where I can look back and say, ‘Well that SUCKED. But I moved forward anyway. I survived that loss. And that one. And that one.’ And in the midst of the grief, I lived my life and fed my kids and did boocoodles of laundry and ran errands on no sleep and laughed really hard when I saw my husband tango with another man at the Christmas party. And over time (NOT overnight), the desire to tell the world how so-and-so broke my heart begins to diminish. Funny how it works that way.

All the personal relational ruckus has thrust me into this faraway, removed-from-society place of self-introspection. I’m kind of naturally like that anyway, but this experience of loss after loss after loss of companion – and why those losses have all been so searingly painful – has directed me to examine myself to a depth I haven’t before. My hope is that this soul-searching will help me recalibrate how I interact with people in general, especially those closest to me, including myself. Maybe myself most of all.

So. I will scribble out my discontent privately for as long as I need. Jot it out in my journal and tap it out on Claire (the MacBook Air). Write the ache right out of my heart, and – I’m hoping – pen forgiveness back in. The other day I noticed I had typed out several pages of thoughts that made no mention of those frayed relationships. I take that as a good sign. There’s been some healing. A little, anyway. It doesn’t mean my spirit is settled about what’s happened. I know I’ll visit those wounds again (and again) and wonder why things shook out the way they did. But “time, space and healing” seem to be doing what the poet suggested: giving me new perspective. The hurt isn’t fueling my discourse as much. Which means it feels safer to share my words again.

three-day getaway.

On the first Saturday of the new year, I drove into a brisk and windy Austin for an opportunity to rest, write, and eat sugary dessert things whenever I wanted. Exactly one year before, I had visited the city for a “writing retreat” that ended up being more retreating than writing. This year I came back to the same cozy bungalow in the center of town. Presenting my reflections from the weekend:

Upon my arrival, I made a beeline (as yours-truly tends to make beelines in large metropolitan areas…with exceptionally scenic, unplanned detours) for Mount Bonnell, the highest natural point in the city. The view is stupendous, and I haven’t been up there since moving away twelve years ago. I was not feeling good (headache, heartache, all-over ache really) but I wanted to take in the vista of the curving Colorado River framed by scrubby evergreens and shiny blue sky.

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While the view of the countryside was expectedly fab, I ended up way more entranced by all the peoples. The diversity of cities like Austin – all races, many languages, various forms of ethnic dress – fascinates me. For example…this man’s banana pants.

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Be glad it’s only a shot of his backside.

Apparently one of my ancestors did some vintage zip-lining from the peak of Mount Bonnell. Must be from where I acquired my athletic prowess and risk-taking sense of adventure.

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While chillaxing at a friend’s house on Saturday evening, I first-time watched “It Happened One Night”. LURRRRVED. When Peter Warne (aka Clark Gable) charmingly explains to Ellie Andrews (aka Claudette Colbert) how a man undresses and says, “…after that, the pants should be next. Here’s where I’m different! I go for the shoes”, I laughed out loud. Doesn’t take much.

Pumpkin pancakes, veggie omelet and grapefruit juice at Kerbey Lane? Why yes, I believe I will. “You are the Sunshine of My Life” playing in the background? Yes, of COURSE. Driving in circles around downtown trying to find a parking place? Yes, that too. Blasted one-way streets.

I cannot escape Central Market for under $50. Good thing I had Christmas cash with me. All digested into my belly via apple caramel cookies, gingersnaps, mascarpone cream cheese torte, and blueberry pie. I bought real food too. Gah.

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Had to be done.

Yo. Prius. You parked way too close to my driver’s door. But I forgive since you appear to have a highly developed sense of humor.

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Arresting.

The bungalow where I’ve stayed the past two years is, as Goldilocks might describe it, just right. Within walking distance of UT campus and oodles of restaurants, the secluded yard is adorned by bamboo, a hammock, a trampoline, and several Buddhist statues. The upstairs accommodation surrounded by timber makes me feel like I’m snug in a nest, waiting for a mama bird to fly nourishment my way.

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My temporary nest amid the bamboo.

Except the mama bird is me. Such a strange sensation to be nestling in, with no wee ones waiting for me to drop bugs in their beaks. I acclimated within an hour 😉  For anyone who needs a getaway, whatever your reason, make a reservation HERE. All by your lonesome. Or take a friend, whatevs. Just make sure your friend is ME.

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Having to text my out-of-town hostess asking 1) where the extra sheets were, 2) how to unhinge the screen door, and 3) for reassurance that I would not carbon-monoxide myself into the afterlife due to my ineptness at working a gas stove, made me wonder if she scribbled my name into the High-Maintenance Guest category.

There was absolutely zero plan to delve into the categorical history of the Beat Generation writers. But that sure IS what I did for well over an hour. Um, how did I get to 40 without reading Ginsberg, Kerouac, Burroughs and that whole posse? They pretty much pioneered the social revolution of the 1960s…HELLO?!?

Because I drove into town with a head and heart full of aches, I made it my subsequent mission to pursue head-clearing and heart-warming activities. I went for a walk in the late afternoon sunshine, stood silently at the lectern of the nearby seminary chapel, read Anne Lamott’s newest book, and did a little writing.

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The giant contact lens used by God to watch humanity roam the earth, on display in Shelton Chapel.

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Buechner, Lamott, journal, my laptop Claire.

I also jumped on the available trampoline. Of course I did. I mean, I HAD to. It was THERE. I then attempted the challenge of snapping a mid-jump, action-shot selfie. Which means I started laughing. The thing about a 40-year-old woman who has birthed three 9-lb babies bouncing on a trampoline while giggling uncontrollably is that her aptitude for pant-peeing goes up…waaaaaaay up. It might have happened two or five times.

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What I look like while involuntarily relieving myself mid-air.

Spotting families-of-five about town made me really, REALLY miss my own. I could barely make eye contact with the children, much less the babies (!!!), without a huge swell of Love blasting my heart. I like my getaways but they make me miss my people, the ones who bring me joy AND drive me batty. Taking a break from my crew reminds me how much I like having them around.

I lived in Austin for three years and never ate at Bouldin Creek Cafe. HOW??? The coffee, hash browns, and veggie omelet were so on point that I went back the next day and ordered a lavender – yes, LAVENDER – mocha and a breakfast taco surely assembled in the heavenly realms.

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See??? REAL food!

The friend who recommended Bouldin Creek mentioned that he used to live nearby so, just for kicks, I tracked down his old pad. It has blue sparkly spires and a moat. I wasn’t surprised. It’s Austin after all.

You can take a break from your outward circumstances (job, family, hometown) but grief, fear, Life will follow you everywhere. Heartache, brainache, backache will follow you everywhere. There’s just no leaving it behind. So…the self-medicating thing? I get it. Dealing with my own stress and grief usually entails chasing after 1) indulgent foodstuffs and 2) excessive affirmation (which I’ve pushed for to embarrassing measures with some people), but I see the appeal behind all the other things that give humans a temporary buzz or sense of control: shopping, neurotic cleaning, sex, alcohol, pharmaceuticals, extreme exercise, even violence. But they never address the root of one’s fear or anxiety. I’ve spent hours, dollars and so much energy obtaining things that only temporarily quell the ache. When the sugar or shopping or whatever buzz dwindles, when the momentary moment of a seeming sense of control fades away, the ache remains. What does genuinely heal a wound? Bandages only hide the trauma. What heals?

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Being pensive about life and such.

On the way out of town, I stopped at the campus of Riverbend Church, where I once worked at the preschool. There’s a sweet chapel set apart from the main campus, behind it a memorial garden. The ashes of hundreds are buried there. Enveloped in trees and tranquility, a path winds down the hill through the garden and bottoms out at a creek forking off from the Colorado River. The sun was shining and the air was crisp so I moseyed down into the canyon, gravel crunching under my feet. I followed the trail through the woods, looking up through the naked branches at the gorgeous blue expanse, and all I could hear was water cascading through the creek bed. The experience was so otherworldly I felt a fluttering through my middle and half-expected some ancient being to materialize from the forest. (Tried not to dwell on the thought of a mountain lion materializing…) Compared to where I spend most of my days, I guess it WAS otherworldly. Just the deep, rustling quiet of creation. Highlight of my trip. IMG_5033

One of my fave bloggers often describes life as “brutiful”, equal parts brutal and beautiful. That’s just what the weekend was for me. Life is never either/or. It’s both. All the time. So was my getaway.

This final shot I snapped from a bridge in the memorial garden. It pretty much describes where I feel I am in the process of becoming myself, how to be me wholly and genuinely, transforming from a person of insecurity and resentment into one of compassion and contentment. I don’t know how long these sorts of journeys are – I suppose they’re different for everyone – and, let’s be honest, I could get hit by a truck tomorrow and game over. But as far as walking the path to spiritual health here in this world, this is kind of where I feel I am. Onward.

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lessons learned, 2014 edition.

GEG-featured-imageSpotted these words last week from blogger Mandy Hale: “I hope you find some time to get really, really quiet….to sit silently in front of your life and contemplate how magical it really is, before we turn the page and greet a new year.” I like the sound of that. And I realized…thanks to my parents, I do just that every December. Sometime around the century-turn, my mom and dad requested that their children each write them a letter reflecting on “lessons learned” during the previous 12 months. So, for about the last 15 years, my brother, sister-in-law, husband and I have all gotten quiet, sat silently, contemplated our lives, and turned out the resulting Lessons Learned letters. Here’s my list for 2014, minorly-abridged (some things are a tad too personal for the blogosphere, you know?):

  • Things happen for which there is no explanation. The sooner one can accept this hard truth, the better.
  • For many years, I’ve placed too much security in and excessive value on my interactions with certain people. This needs to change.
  • If you go to Austin by yourself for a writers’ retreat, you might get a little writing done. You also might overbuy on treats from the nearby Central Market.
  • I try hard to be authentic in my speech and actions. I expect others to do the same. Not everyone does.
  • People will say/imply that they are in relationship for the long haul…and then they won’t be.
  • When several close friends fall away, you may feel there is something inherently wrong with you; when several other close friends insist that there is NOT, you will try to believe them. If you instead alter your perspective and consider that God may be directing you into a sort of necessary wilderness – a place of deep growth – the loneliness will be easier to accept. Welcome even.
  • As much as I crave for others to express affection for me, when everyone pours it on for my 40th birthday within one weekend, while appreciated, it will also reaffirm the fact that I do not enjoy being the center of the attention.
  • Friends who see you at your silliest and saddest, most honorable and most wicked, and still pursue relationship are The Very Best Kind.
  • If you text your doctor and therapist and tell them you are in despair due to not sleeping for four nights in a row, you will be a priority patient and land a spot in their offices within hours.
  • It’s hard to pursue relationship with anxious people when you yourself struggle with anxiety.
  • Care for yourself. As much as others love you, they can’t know every desire of your heart or the depth to which those desires extend. No one can care for your spirit like YOU can.
  • Dealing with grown-ups acting like children turns out to be good prep for dealing with children acting like children.
  • If you are going to wake up at 6am EVERY MORNING, you might as well write something.
  • Anger is perfectly acceptable. But if you sit with it too long, it turns to bitterness and resentment. No sense in staying there. Move along.
  • Really glad I didn’t go to Europe for seven weeks with three children under the age of ten.
  • Loved having seven weeks with my girls while the boys traveled. Loved us all being reunited.
  • While your handyman husband travels overseas, the yard sprinkler will fritz out, the city will deliver a citation for “low-hanging vegetation”, and a hailstorm will pummel your one-and-only car.
  • Don’t try to outrun the hailstorm.
  • Having a 10yo playing baseball means you’ll be cheering him on wrapped up in a blanket this week and sweating in the bleachers the next.
  • Your 7yo will take a gymnastics class, seem older and more independent, and it will freak you out a bit.
  • Having a curly-haired, dimpled 3yo living in the house will be an endless source of entertainment.
  • Surviving hard circumstances and relationships will show you that you’re stronger than you might have initially thought. Even if circumstances remain the same, you can allow yourself to be transformed into a more content, compassionate, forgiving being. This sort of change is painful, which, I suppose, is why many people resist. But after observing this sort of metamorphosis in others (and the very beginnings of it within me), I think this is where I see Love in its most complete form.
  • Some folks really wanna micromanage the details. Let them. While at times their behavior may annoy, it also means one less thing you have to think about.
  • If you hear a teenager say things about herself out loud that you think about yourself inwardly, you will carefully consider the advice you give her, knowing that if it holds true for her, it holds true for you. Are you willing to take your own advice?
  • It takes time to build trust. If you break someone’s trust, it will take more time to rebuild it.
  • Practicing yoga might incite prolific crying.
  • There is a time to homeschool; there is a time to public school.
  • The Japanese Gardens in Fort Worth are worth every penny for admission.
  • A relationship with a close friend will present you with the (heartache-inducing) opportunity to figure out where exactly you’ve been placing your self-worth all these years and question why you have esteemed the approval of specific people for so long. This event will make you contemplate those in your life who extend the hand of welcome – grace – even when, especially when, a relationship is in a delicate spot. Because of your own experiences of receiving grace, you will think a lot about how to be a person who offers it to others.
  • I could live in New Orleans. But only in certain neighborhoods. And not during summer.
  • You will drive into the heart of Dallas sick and sleep-deprived to pick up a friend from the airport so you can talk in the car for three hours uninterrupted on the way back to Abilene. It will be one of the highlights of your year (and you will tear up typing that into your Lessons Learned letter).
  • I’ve spent so much energy getting to know other people. Maybe it’s time I get to know myself.
  • Watching Abilene’s Christmas parade from the 2nd floor of The Wooten might beat watching the Macy’s Parade from a condo overlooking Central Park.
  • My life partner isn’t perfect but he’s pretty perfect at helping me handle life.
  • The simple practice of looking at strangers and praying for them (“May you know love and peace. May you be free from suffering.”) will change the way you feel about strangers. In a good way.
  • When your heart tells you to wait…WAIT.
  • Healing takes time. time. time.
  • Today, I believe.

trash turned treasure.

IMG_2350One Wednesday morning a couple weeks ago, a friend texted me a snapshot of a photo from several years back that she presently has displayed on her windowsill. The framed pic is of my friend Mandy and her young daughter Tatum at Cook Children’s Medical Center; Tatum had just been diagnosed with leukemia. Adhered to the frame is a note I wrote Mandy during that Christmas season, the words of Jesus to the father of an ill child: “Don’t be afraid, just believe.” Her message was a note of simple thanks, and I immediately wrote back: “Thanks for reminding me to believe. It’s been a challenge for me my entire life, on several levels. I love that my note has encouraged you over the years; thanks for encouraging ME today.” Mandy replied: “We recently spoke at church on the verses in Mark when the father of the sick boy says, ‘I believe…help my unbelief!’ Any other verse I would have said no to speaking. But we live this verse daily. We believe! Help us stay there, Lord.”

Later that morning, I booted up Miracle on 34th Street so I could have a festive holiday flick playing in the background as my toddler and I festooned the tree. In and out of the room, I missed half the movie, but happened to be watching with rapt attention when Doris Walker says to her precocious daughter Susan: “Faith is believing in things when common sense tells you not to. Just because things don’t turn out the way you want them to the first time, you’ve still got to believe.”

Then, as I strolled into our house of worship that evening, I glanced through the open blinds of someone’s office and observed the colorful block letters across the top of a wall: BELIEVE. I hadn’t noticed them before. Okay. OKAY. I got it, Spirit. You want me to believe. You want me to believe. Believe WHAT?

Rumination commenced. For the next three days, I rolled that word over and over in my head. Believe. Believe…that God exists? that there is a Divine Entity permeating our lives? that Love took human form to give humanity a primer on how to be? that Jesus came back to life? that the note I have hanging on my mirror: ‘I am well. I am healed. I am whole. I am Loved.’ is true? that I really am good enough, in my fragile/broken/neurotic/sometimes anxious state of mind? that humanity is rife with good and truth and light and Love, even when the networks and news feeds insist otherwise? What am I to believe?

I didn’t come up with anything. No more coinciding texts-from-friends, movie scenes, and wall signs elaborating on an answer to my inquiry. The curious synchronicity of Wednesday’s events began to fade.

On Saturday morning, our family-of-five and two friends drove to a nearby field we had spotted a week earlier growing a crop of plastic baggery. We donned our gloves and started plucking litter from the thorny weeds. I noticed a nondescript index card wedged into the dry, dormant grass. I could see there was one word written in the middle of the card in another language. My first thought was Russian. Because if it’s not English or Spanish, it’s all Greek to me. Turns out it actually WAS Greek. Possibly written by the hand of a Bible major at the nearby Christian university. With the telltale signs of being a flashcard gone AWOL, I flipped it over and almost dropped to my knees. There I was, standing in the middle of a field, suddenly weeping, my skin goosebumping, my son yelling across the plastic bags at me, “Mom! You okay? What are you looking at?” Of all the fields, of all the flashcards, of all the words…it was THAT field, THAT flashcard, THAT word. What are the odds? The Greek was πιστεύω. Its translation? I believe.

When I relayed the whole story to my 10yo, he exclaimed, “That’s so WEIRD!” When I asked his thoughts on what I needed to believe, he replied, “That God is real?” His dad responded: “Believe in God. Believe in yourself. Believe that this period of your life will pass and you’ll be better because of it. And believe that your husband is awesome.” Such wisdom 😉

I don’t know exactly. But I don’t need to. And I feel pretty okay about it. It wouldn’t be God if there wasn’t some mystery surrounding Her, right? I don’t need to know right now. It’s enough to be in the middle of a barren west Texas plain, the wind whipping around me, and find a holy index card (that now has a prominent spot atop our upright piano). Makes me think of Elijah hiding out in a cave, searching in the wind, earthquake, inferno…and finding God in a whisper. Makes me think of shepherds in a field over two thousand years ago, being spoken to by a heavenly presence. I wasn’t guarding sheep, just picking up trash. But maybe a heavenly presence was whispering to me too. Right now it’s enough to know that Someone is talking to me at all.

This sort of thing rarely happens to me. Or maybe it happens often and I’m just not tuned in enough. Whatever the case, I can’t help but think Someone Somewhere was trying to get my attention. IS trying. Yours too. The details – the people, the events, the flashcards – of our lives are different, but the Teacher is the same. Believe it. I do.

IMG_2352

 

spinning madly – the usual with tea, 10.

GEG-featured-imageBreakfast is comprised of scrambled eggs, buttered toast with homegrown honey, and jasmine tea. After the 10yo and his dad shuttle off to school and work, the 7yo and I settle into the sofa and read from the graphic-novel-like Action Bible (about long-haired Samson), McGuffey’s Third Eclectic Reader (for oral reading practice), and C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe. I cannot read many of the passages about Aslan without choking up a little. Okay, a LOT. This paragraph gets me weepy: “…there they saw Aslan and Edmund walking together in the dewy grass, apart from the rest of the court. There is no need to tell you (and no one ever heard) what Aslan was saying but it was a conversation Edmund never forgot. As the others drew nearer Aslan turned to meet them bringing Edmund with him. ‘Here is your brother,’ he said, ‘and – there is no need to talk to him about what is past.’”

Around 10am, the girls and I load up for a visit to the doctor. Over a week ago, two fingers on the 7yo’s left hand turned swollen and bloody thanks to a case of eczema gone out-of-hand (get it?). Today is a check-up to see how things have progressed after a few days of applying a topical steroid. As we sit in the waiting room, a woman with a blonde-haired child who appears to have Down’s syndrome signs in. We all end up in the corner with the toys, which includes a green, plastic toddler-sized rocking horse. My daughters stand back and take in the girl’s mannerisms, while I try to decipher her grunted words. Her mom calls her Deborah so I ask, “Deborah, how old are you?” She holds up both hands, one with her thumb folded down. “You’re four?” Her mom chimes in, “She’s seven. But that’s the first time I’ve ever seen her hold up her fingers like that!” And then Deborah is pulling the girls’ purses and jackets from my lap, pointing for me to climb on the rocking horse. I laugh and say, “I don’t think I’ll fit. It’s gonna be awkward for everyone in the waiting room if I get stuck there.” Her mom chuckles. Deborah throws herself across my lap in an effort to hug me, so I reach forward and we do. “She never meets a stranger,” says her mom. Somehow we start talking about homeschooling, and she mentions that their family is home on furlough from the mission field in Guinea, one of the countries in the epicenter of the Ebola outbreak. When she adds that they arrived home only two weeks before, I feel a flash of fear. She then comments, “People are so afraid -” and I can’t tell if she says “here” or “there”, so I ask her to repeat the sentence, to which she replies, “People are so afraid HERE.” I feel a bit ashamed about my reaction…and my home country’s reaction. As grateful as I am to live here, we Americans sure are an anxious bunch. Is this the by-product that comes with a lifetime of first-world privileges and luxuries like hot water, books, shoes, and decent healthcare? An undercurrent of fear that it can all slip away in a heartbeat?

I want to ask Deborah’s mom more questions but then we’re called back, so instead I say “Nice to meet you, Deborah.” Her mom says, “Have a good afternoon.” I reply, “Have a nice life!” and we both laugh. What are the odds of us ever crossing paths again and me getting the rest of her story? Probably nil. This spinning through each other’s lives…so strange and intriguing to me.

Back at home, Skylar works on her math lesson while we listen to the Narnia film score (which makes me cry too). Larkin illustrates a birthday note for a friend; I wrap the gift. Nachos are assembled for the girls’ lunch. I eat a chocolate/cherry/cashew bar while waiting for Brandon to arrive home so I can go to counseling. It’s been three weeks since my last appointment, so a whole bunch tumbles out this time around: thoughts on how to raise children in a grace-filled fashion, on how to stay on the same page in marriage, and about working through dissonance with friends. On the way home, I buy a Cherry Coke and veggie sandwich from a downtown eatery, and while the girls rest, I tune the tube to Dr. Phil. Haven’t watched that guy in years. Today the show is about sex; specifically, women’s reasons for having it. Interesting 😉

Our sitter shows up at 3pm, and I leave to shop a bi-annual consignment sale started by two sisters, both friends of mine. While I’m perusing the goods, I hear a song by The Weepies that’s the favorite of a friend of mine: “…and the world…spins maaaadly on”. I love the song, but the friendship is on the backburner, so it makes me sad too. For a grand total of $50, I purchase a small turquoise-painted desk for the 7yo, a vintage-looking red coat, a pair of earrings, a bracelet, and a scarf. Realizing I’ve left my phone at home, I zip back to get it, then return to the sale to work a six-hour shift. On the way, I stop to take some shots of dozens of American flags set out for Veterans’ Day near a downtown museum, flapping and snapping in the wind.

My volunteer responsibilities for the evening have me assigned to the check-out desk, and my table partner is someone I’ve worked with before. We quickly resume our conversation from the last sale, whenever it was, six months ago or maybe a year. The next several hours are spent giving my best friendly hello, scanning tags on clothing, and asking people if they want to pay cash or card. A local dessert vendor is set up in conjunction with the sale, proffering strawberry and apple breads, orange-cranberry-chocolate-chip cookies, and pumpkin whoopie pies. PUMPKIN WHOOPIE PIES. I take orders from my table partner and one of the entrepreneur sisters; between the three of us, we buy almost every delicious option. The whoopie pie is ALL kinds of scrumptiousness and definitely NOT gluten-free (pretty much given up on that since I spent a weekend in New Orleans two weeks ago). About an hour later, I cruise around the corner in my floral work apron to order dinner from a local joint. The young greeter is so kind and helpful that I text my friend, one of the co-owners, to let him know I’m impressed with his hire. I order the shrimp-and-grits plate with a side of sweet potato fries. As I’m strolling back to the sale, I overhear one of the patrons sitting at a table outside: “…and that was the end of some really good sex.” Kinda sorry I missed the first part of that story. Or maybe not.

After I nosh on the shrimp, I climb up into the window box to snap a pic of the sale so I can promote it on Instagram. My table partner picks up a call from her dad that her mom is ill and she disappears into the night, visibly rattled. Another sale volunteer takes her place and we do the get-to-know-you chit-chat in between checking out customers. A couple women show up in the crowd around whom I feel uncomfortable, for different reasons. My perception is that neither of them care to interact with me. If I could view them as women with deep-seated insecurities, like me, maybe my heart would be softer towards them. But this evening I just feel a deep, loser-ish sadness, an annoyance with them that they aren’t friendlier, and an annoyance with myself that it bothers me so much. While thinking on such things, I load the new-to-me desk in my car and try to combat the berating voice within reminding me of my loser-ish status. When I arrive home around 11pm, I’m trying hard to focus on my sweet-deal finds, the several kind people I crossed paths with at the sale, the general feeling of camaraderie between the volunteers, and the pumpkin whoopie pie…but I’m irritable, focusing more on the women who I perceive don’t like me. I want to learn – I MUST learn – how to extend love to people for whom I feel little compassion, those who have inflicted pain on me or the ones I love. I want to learn – I MUST learn – to love my frienemies. (“Enemies” has always struck me as such an overstatement in my modern-day, first-world life. An enemy is someone who comes running at you with a sword or cannon or something, right? Even people who have wounded me deeply, I have trouble calling them “enemies”. So I’ve started going with the more current “frienemies”. Just makes more sense in my book.) I guess these opportunities give me plenty of practice at learning that virtue.

I sit on the loveseat in our room and shoot off steam to the hubs for half-an-hour. He does the same about some goings-on in his life and I listen in return. Then I eat a cocktail of chocolate pudding and sleep supplements, and we watch the Halloween episode of “Modern Family”. It’s 1am before I switch off the light.

And the world spins madly on.

drooling over yoga.

GEG-featured-imageLet me set the scene for you. I tiptoe into a yoga session with about a half-dozen other class-goers, all of them quiet and relaxed, meditating themselves into a yogaesque daze. The only space left to roll out my mat is near the front. Great. The front row is NEVER where I want to be. I’m not the most coordinated woman around, and I don’t need everyone else watching me lose my mojo in the dojo. But…it also happens to be the spot nearest the Kleenex box. Which I take as a sign, since I’m about 7-to-1 making it out of yoga class withOUT crying. (My instructor says the waterworks are totally normal. TOTALLY NORMAL.)

The room is long and narrow, with a hallway running parallel to it; two windows are cut into the wall between the room and the hallway to let in some light, lend some openness, whatever. Rolling out my mat, I decide I want to peer out into the hallway via the window and have a looksy because, as my 10yo later puts it, “You’re like a little kid.” So I lean forward…SMACK! into a pane of glass. All the class-goers gasp, startling out of their supposed meditative states when the sound of my forehead slamming into glass rings out like a gunshot. I continue to set up my area, avoiding all eye contact and confess, “Yeah. That was me. That was my head hitting the window…there.” Super-fun trying to explain that to a bunch of strangers. There is uncomfortable shifting around amongst the others. Another concerned instructor asks if I am okay. I say I’m fine, just blushing. When I joke that this will make a great Facebook status, the girl next to me snickers.

Then, as if that isn’t enough, somewhere amid all the posing, I drool on my mat. Not once. TWICE. (Possible head trauma?) And of course I followed through on the expected weepfest. It’s nice that they turn the lights down low, so as to conceal all the blushing and drooling and crying. Sometimes the instructor massages our scalps, ears and shoulders during class. That night I was the only one. Can’t imagine why. Afterwards, someone asked again if I was alright, and I said, trying to redirect the conversation with a compliment, “Those windows are SPARKLING CLEAN!” (Unlike my mat, by the way, which is now covered in saliva.)

I’m not worried. At the end of every class they all say “namaste” which translates: “I bow to you”. No matter if you’ve tried putting your head through a pane of glass, can’t keep your spit in, and use up all their tissues. Those yoginis love me. They have to. It’s what they do.

the usual with tea, 9.

GEG-featured-imageWe wake the kids earlier than usual to observe the lunar eclipse. Emerging from sleep, the 10yo mumbles, “Why is it still dark outside?” By the time we are all in the yard, the moon is sinking into a bank of clouds. We miss seeing the earth’s shadow but the moonset is still quietly breath-taking. Then I grab my camera and turn east to chase down the sunrise. I like chasing light, no matter its source.

Tea and egg casserole for breakfast. The husband informs me a work crew will be starting their unshingling of our hailed-on, totaled-out roof this morning. Later I overhear the roofers cursing outside the window about an infestation of wood ants. They also butcher one of our trees due to its close proximity to the house, and it annoys me. Leave the trees be. I’ve got Lorax blood in me.

Piling in the car to deliver the 7yo to school, I tell one of the crew that he looks like a modern-day pirate. “Maybe I am,” he replies. With two hoops on both ears, a white mustache and goatee, narrow eyes that shine through shocking blue, a shaved head with scars across the right forehead and temple, he has the weathered look of a man who’s been on a lot of seas…or roofs. The teacher at the 7yo’s school is a few minutes late so I chat with another mom and realize we’ve attended the same church for the last five years and I’ve never seen her.

The 3yo and I head to a bookstore to return an Anna doll (Frozen? Ever heard of it?) that I found five bucks cheaper elsewhere. I ask the teenage cashier to please not take the doll out of the bag (so the 3yo won’t see it) and she replies plainly, “We’re going to have to take it out of the bag.” Seriously? I distract the 3yo with impulse items. Then we mosey to the coffee shop and I order an almond croissant, a hot chocolate, and a “tall single-espresso with two shots of mocha” because I am a moron when it comes to espresso. As we wait, the 3yo does the candy dance, extolling the loveliness of every confection at the counter. She also requests to push buttons on the card reader. The barista hands me a cup with less than an inch of liquid, two-thirds of it mocha syrup; it’s sickeningly sweet. An older woman at a nearby table approaches me. She says she liked watching Larkin’s and my interactions; she is impressed that my child didn’t throw a fit about not getting candy. I laugh and reply, “Oh, she can definitely throw a fit!” I had noticed the woman and her male companion as well, so I say so. “Your husband?” I ask. She says they’ve been together 48 years and her smile grows. “What’s your trick?” She shrugs, then says, “Best friends.” “Since the very beginning?” “Yep.” That’s the last thing she says to me before they leave.

We head to Target to buy birthday gifts for friends. Larkin wants to push more buttons on more card readers. Driving home through the middle of town, we pass a college campus whose focal point is a towering chapel. “What’s that?” she asks. When I describe it as a church building, she says, “To sing and pray?” I say yes and she replies, “I want to go there with Mommy and Daddy and Rowan and Sissy and Grammy and Pa and Mimi.” “Why?” I ask her. “Because you like singing and praying?” She shakes her head no, then says, “I just like to dance.” I laugh out loud.

Downtown we drop a few books at the library and I feel guilt when she asks to check out more and I say no. We step into the chocolate store and buy treats for a friend with a newborn, stopping by their house on the way home to meet the barely-week-old bundle of sugar. Back at our residence crawling with roofers (and wood ants, evidently), I get a notice from the 10yo’s school that he is missing a vaccine. Our contractor drops off paint swatches and asks me to pick out a new color by the next day. A friend living in Colorado texts: “I can’t tell you how often I think ‘Jana would love it here.’ Or ‘that’s so Jana.’ The hippie, laid-back, organic, farm-to-table, small-town granola vibe makes me really think you and Durango are perfect for each other. And I’m not just saying that because I wish you were here for my sake. It reminds me of you. Like a mini-Austin, in the mountains.” I ask her to please stop texting me such things because I really want out of this place right now. If you’ve ever lived in Abilene for extended periods of time, you might be familiar with the feeling of wanting to get the heck out. Or maybe if you’ve ever just wanted to hit the re-start button on some aspect of your life.

We lunch and hit the road again to pick up sister. The 7yo’s teacher asks someone to take a picture of the class to celebrate their butterfly release. A grandmother offers but I’m in front of her, closer to the camera, so I take it. All the parents are standing around, quiet, and grandma says, “Just hold down the button and take a bunch.” I know she’s trying to help but when I hold the button down it doesn’t take a burst of pics and then I’m embarrassed about my apparent lack of iPhone skills. I think about the moment for way too long on our drive to Hobby Lobby. The girls flit around on the fake flower aisle, then we stroll over to look at paints. And of course they both need to use the restroom. I’d rather pee in the grass on the side of the highway with my fanny flapping in the wind than use a public loo. But I’m not the one who has to pee, so in we go. Back out on the paint aisle, I find a set of watercolors. Painting with a friend the weekend before has lit a fire under my…easel. For years I’ve been hoping for a more convenient time (I’ve been a little busy this last decade, alright?), but have recently decided…I’ve just gotta do it. Can’t wait for a studio or a class or a better time or anything anymore. Just gotta do it. I stand in the checkout line – the looooong, slooooow line that is Hobby Lobby checkout – and finally give up because I’ve got to get to the other side of town to pick-up the 10yo from school.

After pick-up, we drive to the bookstore on the university campus near our house. With homecoming only a few days away, I want a new t-shirt sporting the name of my alma mater. The 7yo locates some over-sized foam fingers and hilarity ensues. When we step back outside, we spot a couple monarch butterflies; the 7yo chases after them, all the way across the lawn. I sit down in the grass and observe her joy. After she makes her way back to where we’re lounging, she and her siblings start throwing acorns at each other, then me. They say they want lemonade. We buy some inside the campus center, but the 10yo expresses irritation that I didn’t also purchase french fries. I say something like, “Drop the attitude, my friend”, and he replies, deadpan, “I’m not your friend. I’m your son.” Lemonade privilege gone. Firstborn mad. We sit on a couple benches and a sorority pledge stops by, apologizing for the chant she’s “required” to yell three times. The kids are so confused.

We head home, and the roofers all want to make sure I know that they have ERADICATED THE WOOD ANTS. Inside I assemble homemade potato salad to accompany the barbeque chicken I’ve made for dinner. Brandon comes home and we deliver a portion to a friend across town. I love the way my 7yo and my friend’s daughter hug each other. We admire their days-old kittens, a ball of mewing fur in their garage. The 3yo throws a squalling fit when it’s time to leave.

Back at home, because of a certain child’s lack of manners at the table, I leave and finish dinner in my room by myself. Sitting on the loveseat I glance over at the mirror and notice in its reflection a photo by Brandon’s side of the bed. It’s of me from over ten years ago. My squint lines are much less defined, before the days of kids, anxiety, insomnia, and significant friendship fall-out. My fourth decade has been my most life-altering thus far, in so many ways. I go say goodnight to the kids, lying down on the bed next to the 3yo. She wraps her arm around my face and whispers in my ear, “You are my beautiful girl.” Something in me melts.

a beautiful bunch of strawberries.

GEG-featured-image“There is a story of a woman running away from tigers. She runs and runs and the tigers are getting closer and closer. When she comes to the edge of a cliff, she sees some vines there so she climbs down and holds on to the vines. Looking down, she sees there are tigers below her as well. She then notices a mouse gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful bunch of strawberries close to her, growing out of a clump of grass. She looks up and she looks down. She looks at the mouse. Then she just takes a strawberry, puts it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly. Tigers above, tigers below. This is actually the predicament that we are always in, in terms of our birth and death. Each moment is just what it is. It might be the only moment of our life; it might be the only strawberry we’ll ever eat. We could get depressed about it, or we could finally appreciate it and delight in the preciousness of every single moment of our life.” – Pema Chödrön

So…my present moment is enveloped by a Big Case of Feeling Friendless. I say feeling because I know I’m not actually friendless. I had an in-town BFF text me last night to tell me she’d been missing me. But my dance card is mostly empty. The heavy hitters, the MVPs, the VIPs are almost all gone from my roster, having left town…or just having left the relationship. And over the last few years, the relational losses have continued accumulating in rapid-fire succession before I’ve had a chance to fully process the previous ones. As heartbreaking as it’s been (and it really has), please don’t hear these statements as whiny. It just IS. It’s my present reality. I write about it here because I figure there might be another who 1) is in a similar place and needs to know they’re not alone or 2) has been here in the past and has wisdom to share about the blessings it can bring.

During the past three years, my growing friendship deficit has included two besties moving hundreds of miles away…two long-standing, meaningful relationships dissipating (one verbally terminated by the other party with no definitive reason as to why, and one fizzled out due to general life busyness and lifestyle differences)…another close friendship going on indefinite hiatus, initiated by me…and a small community of folks our entire family felt a connection with falling apart over the summer due to various circumstances. It’s not that there aren’t people of a friendly caliber in my corner of the world – there are plenty, and a few seem interested in pursuing deeper relationship. But after several years of high turnover in the friend department, I’m exhausted at the thought of having to start over from the beginning…again. Most of the folks I have history and/or intimacy with live hours away, are busy with paying jobs, and/or have children to raise. It’s all contributed to a sizeable, relational void.

So I’ve been praying. And listening. And reading. And via all the prayers/meditations/books, it seems the wisest teachers are advising: make peace with your circumstances as they are. It’s okay to want friendship, to want community. Of course it is. It’s in our DNA. But the mostly empty dance card? Stop expending precious energy fighting against it…and accept it as it is. The idea that this is the way it is frustrates me at times (in regards to a lot more than friendship), and my knee-jerk reaction is to either blame myself for the predicament I’m in (you’re not strong enough or clever enough to find a way out of this) or to blame others (if s/he would just CLUE IN and stop behaving that way and do this or that BETTER, my outer circumstances would be rectified thus resolving my inner strife). Maybe things would have shaken out more pleasantly if some of the folks in question or I had behaved differently. But they didn’t. And neither did I.

So here I am, dangling isolated from a cliffside. Tigers above and below. Mouse nibbling on the vine. I know I’ve got people in my corner but the crowd has diminished substantially. I could get depressed about it (and I have) but I would much prefer to delight in the preciousness of it. So what’s my patch of strawberries?

  1. More time to enjoy my kids. I don’t mean more time to spend with my kids. As a stay-at-home homeschooling parent, I do plenty of that already. I mean more time to ENJOY my kids. Not just being in the same room together, not just surviving diapers and tantrums and low blood sugar…but learning and adventuring together. Ten years into this parenting gig, and it’s finally starting to feel plausible. The other day I told the husband I wanted to secure an RV and travel the USA and Canada, all five of us. Don’t think I’ve quite sold him on that yet.
  2. More time to clear excess from my house, mind and body. Not that the clutter will ever be entirely gone. But with less relationships to maintain, more space is available to deal with the glut weighing me down (the build-up of papers, toxins, emotions and such that happens when one is pleasantly distracted with other people). Or as my yoga instructor advised yesterday afternoon: clean out the junk drawers.
  3. More time to pursue spirit-filling, creative endeavors: writing, reading, photography, painting, sitting outside watching the sunset, taking a walk under a blue sky, sitting by the fire when it’s wintry outside, trying to embarrass my 10yo, etc.
  4. More time to ponder why friendship, community, and all the good things that grow from friendship and community (affirmation especially) are important to me. At what point does my healthy, innate need for community morph into an unhealthy addiction to people and their approval? And there’s more space to contemplate which qualities I truly desire in a friend: loyalty, trust, taking initiative, mad-phat active-listening skills, cheeky sense of humor, willingness to discuss all things spiritual, occasional delivery of fancy chocolate.
  5. More time to listen to The Spirit. Outside of genuine community – the kind Jesus encouraged – I most often connect with God/Love while a) being still or b) in direct contact with creation (outside with toes in grass and wind in hair). But again, when I fill up my time with people (or the chasing of people), there isn’t much left for relating to God/Love. As one of those aforementioned VIPs once jotted to me: “…the only real, lasting happiness is some sort of deep connection with God, and that can only be found with lots of space and inner quietness.”

That’s quite a delicious-looking tangle of berries if I do say so myself. Here’s to savoring the scrumptiousness while dangling in a precarious cliff-hanging predicament. Could be a challenge. But I think it’s doable. Off to nosh.