Counting the Gifts

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“I keep waiting for the phone call,” I whisper to my husband as we snuggle in bed early one morn, reluctant to get up, get going, and start the day

Tim rolls over and pulls me close to him, “What phone call?”

“You know the one where they tell me, ‘We don’t really think you’re ready to be out in public yet.”

“Who’s they?” he asks.

They are out there—the judgers.

Tim’s chest starts shaking, and my head, burrowed in his neck region—eyes cast downward—bobs up and down with his peals of laughter.

“Honey, no one is going to call you. They might think you’re a little sad and introspective, which is normal for your situation, but I don’t think they’ll pick up the phone and call you out on it.”

I pout, “You never know, they might.”

………………………….

Despite his words of encouragement, I feel this way on the tough days—vulnerable and raw—like my soul was scratched by a stubbly three-day-old beard.

I know it takes time—the grief cycle cannot be short-changed. But I can’t keep avoiding people until I decide I am normal again.

(Normal, meaning “not obviously sad”)

So I decide to sign for a women’s bible study and stop hiding from the “judger’s I conjure up in my mind.

I’m tentative in the group. I hold back at first, then talk too much. I cry. I tell them I just lost my mom. I tell them I just lost my dad. I hiccup. I’m a mess.

But no one calls and tells me not to come back, so I show up again.

We are reading Ann Voskamp’s “One Thousand Gifts.”

The study is about living in Eucharist Deo—joy through thanksgiving.

I’m intimidated—one thousand gifts—that’s a lot of gratitude for a temporarily melancholy girl.

Can I make a list of that many gifts? My thanker might be a little beat up–cancer and atrophic brain disease have a way of doing that.

Can I open my eyes wide enough (in the midst of pain) to see that both the suffering and the blessings come from the same hand?

I pray against my inner skeptic and the creeping doubts whispering “this chick is nonsense” in my ear.

But I stay. I listen. I try not to laugh at the weird parts in the video (Ann is a wee bit eccentric) and I force myself to engage, stop rolling my eyes and open up.

Maybe she’s on to something?

So I start a gratitude list because that’s what my homework tells me to do.

Sam’s gifts

#1. I didn’t cry today

#2. Jasmine tea steaming in a mug when it’s 100 degrees outside with the air conditioner on. (another heat wave in So Cal)

The first 20 are hard. Then it flows.

It doesn’t take long—maybe a week or so? And something starts to change in my spirit. The seed of joy burrows in, roots deep, and waits for me to water it.

Time slows, just a tiny bit. Probably because I am forced to stop and notice the details.

#23. the blooming of my garden

#24. the hot sun warming my toes

#25. the abusive Santa Ana winds that make me spend more time in my garden watering. Oh shucks!

I notice I have to be EXTRA aware. More present. If I focus on the past too much or the future I miss the present—the gifts are right now.

#56. the tiny lizard running by my feet as I type on the porch

#57. the sounds of my husband puttering around the garden setting rat traps to protect our tomatoes.

#58. my daughter Faith slams the door—home from school. She will be out here soon, bugging me, asking if we can watch a Hallmark movie together—her favorite treat.

………….

Today at Starbucks, they remember my name.

I stare at my cup.

SAM

Three little letters that fill me with ridiculous joy.

SAM

They didn’t ask me for my name or my credit card. They just knew me and my drink.

#100. the SAM cup makes me RIDICULOUSLY happy.

It’s a gift.

I am known.

And I praise God who creates community. Even this microcosmic Starbucks community—this hodge podge crew of baristas and caffeine addicts that accept me and love me despite the fact that I usually hog the leather chair next to the outlet.

#127 My tall Americano with room

#128 My comfy chair that I share (almost never) with other Starbucks peeps

#129 The friendly dad’s with the local sports page in hand who root for my son on the football field and chat up sports with me.

All of these go on the list

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………

I scroll through Facebook and all of a sudden there’s a picture of my dad staring back at me.

What?

A family friend posted a picture of him (from last year) posing with their daughter Emmy (whom my parent’s adored) at her graduation.

Dad’s smiling his dad smile. Emmy is in her her robe and honors swag looking gorgeous. My step-mom Fran is proud of this sweet girl who spent her high school years living with them. And they are so happy.

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It’s out of the blue. And whack, I am stunned with emotion.

The tears jump like crickets out of my eyes and wet the keyboard–plop, plop, plop.

I stop, I look, and I remember my daddy—all the joy and the love and yes, even the sorrow.

#201 …And I thank God for this gift even though it hurts.

Ok, Ann Voskamp, you got my attention.

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Throwing Stones

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I’ve been a bit of a gym rat lately.  I run, I lift, and I work off the grief and stress. 
 
I also look around a lot–I mean there’s not much to do on a treadmill other than watch the three TV stations available.  I tire of Fox News or The Housewives ripping each other’s hair out.  Sometimes I simply prefer to watch gym people–it’s just as entertaining.
 
So, I’m running along the other day, bopping out to Pandora, when a woman catches my eye.  She’s twentiesh and tiny with long hair swishing down past her itty bitty bum.  Offhand, she looked Philipino to me, or Islandy (Islander?)…let’s just say she was some exotic  blend of tan skin and  petite features. 
 
That is until she turned and I caught the side view.  Island Girl’s bust was GINORMOUS.  Huge is an understatement.  I actually gasped in astonishment.
 
I tried not to gawk but her machine of choice was in my direct  line of sight, so then I thought it would look more obvious if I twisted my head and avoided looking forward.
 
Sam’s self talk goes something like this, “Just be casual.  Don’t stare.  Don’t stare.  Don’t stare.”
 
(I’m sweating more from angst than my actual workout)
 
I glance up, oh so nonchalent, to my first full view of the woman.  It looked like she was wearing a Hello Kitty Top with her yoga pants. 
 
A “mall stroller” came to mind.  For those of you who aren’t mom’s of babies, let me explain. 
 
You know when you put all your shopping bags and the diaper bag and your purse on the back of the stroller and everything is fine and dandy until you pull the baby out and then the stroller falls over?
 
That’s what Island Girl reminded me of–a mall stroller–and I waited in apprenhension for her to topple over.  She was so top heavy she defied gravity.
 
Then her t-shirt came into view more clearly.  And I was wrong.  It didn’t say Hello Kitty.
 
It said Hello Titty and the kitty face was morphed into a strange kitty boob concoction.
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When the slogan hit me, I almost fell off the treadmill.  I punched the arrow key and lowered the pace trying not to laugh out loud but making strange gurgling noises in the process.
 
I hate to admit what I thought next–maybe she’s a porn star?  But then  I thought about it again, “In Ladera Ranch?”  It didn’t make sense to me.
 
Now my brain is humming a new refrain, “Don’t judge circus girl.  Don’t judge.  Don’t judge. Don’t judge.  Oh God help me, I’m judging just trying not to judge.”
 
And sadly, I couldn’t look at her without throwing mental stones.  I knew I needed some help.
 
So I got off the treadmill and walked a safe distance away to pray and get a grip on my inner bitch.
 
And I tried to think how God would see this girl. This desperate girl screaming out for attention. 
 
And God whispered, “What if she was your child?”
 
What would I do if my daughter went in for three surgeries and became addicted to the knife in some desperate attempt to feel beautiful or loved? 
 
What if my daughter believed the lie that even negative attention was better than no attention so she disfigured herself to try and find it? 
 
But let’s be honest here, what would make a girl even go in that direction?  Sexual Abuse? Neglect? Abandonement? 
 
Then I felt another nudge from the Spirit, “Where are you in this girl?”
 
Really?  Ouch!  Well, I guess, I too fall into the trap of wanting to be beautiful, to be relevant and to matter. 
 
My definition of beauty might be different than hers, but I still want to take my husband’s breath away.  I still want to be pretty despite my age (41).  I enjoy looking young”ish” even though I’m grateful for the years of growth and maturity. 
 
In all truth, I’m still vain deep down in my core despite my efforts to supress it.
 
Are my desires so different from hers?  I might not wear a booby shirt and flaunt my 32 ZZZ’s at the gym but I understand the desire to be loved and pursued and adored.
 
And it hit me, If she were my daughter, I’d love the socks off her.  I’d love the good parts and the broken parts and the really big parts.
 
(Although we would definitely have a conversation about the Hello Titty top)
 
I got up and walked over near where she was working out.  I picked up some weights and smiled at her when she caught my eye.
 
A friend smile.  A smile that hopefully said, “I see you–not the boobs–just you–and maybe I can lift weights next to you and we can chat without anything wierd between us.
 
No agenda.  Just gym stuff.
 
And I felt God removing the log from my eye, a really big 2×4 that let me see this woman a lot more clearly.
 
I looked up the shirt when I got home.  It’s a BREAST CANCER logo. 
 
I will not even go into the awkwardness of some of their campaigns but I will give the gal props for raising awareness!
 
 
 
 
 
 

broken-FUL

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I’m in a Catalyst coma. 

Thoughts are running amok and drool escapes as I try to unpack all the wisdom dumped on me in the last two days.

Catalyst is one of those conferences that seriously messes with your brain. It provokes and convicts and makes me stop and think about EVERYTHING.

And in the quiet moments over the last few days, one word keeps running through my head.

broken-FUL

I guess it’s not really a word, but it’s what I hear.

broken-FUL

God whisper’s to me, “Sam you are BROKEN right now.  A little  beaten down, raw, and vulnerable…and yet you are more beautiful to me in this mess than in any perceived sense of strength or control you think you might have.  In your weakness I fill you with my presence.  So you are FULL of me.”

broken-FUL

And although I HATE suffering at the time, I’m truly beginning to see its ravishing beauty.

Suffering disrupts life as we know it and flips us off the hamster wheel of self-importance and busyness into a heap of wet fur and woodchips. 

Why the wet fur? 

Because our water bowl always gets knocked over when we fly off the wheel screaming bloody murder.   There’s ego and pride, control and image management hurling through the darkness.

All that spinning and craziness is a messy affair. 

But it’s in the mess where he does his best work, isn’t it?

I saw Jason Russell speak today at Catalyst and it reminded me of this truth loud and clear.

For those of you not familiar with him–Jason Russell is the director of Invisible Children–the most watched documentary in the world about the abduction of children who are used as child soldiers by Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). This film centers around a group of Ugandan children who traipse miles each and every night to places of refuge in order to avoid abduction by the LRA.

After Russell’s film went globally viral, (over 120 million views in 10 days)Russell experienced a mental breakdown. 

Basically, God threw him off the hamster wheel.

It was embarrassing.  His woodchips/wet fur mess moment involved his bare bum running through the street and a global audience just waiting to rip him to shreds.

Jason suffered.  Jason went down.  Jason’s celebrity status crashed and burned. 

But not only did Jason survive the ordeal, he’s now a better leader because of the suffering.

Today, two years later, Jason’s mantle is shrouded in humility, compassion and DEPENDENCE on God.  Jason knows the 28 year-old war in Uganda will end only when God decides it will end.  And it won’t be because Jason made the War Lord “Kony” famous.

I sat in my chair and thought about Jason.

“See,” God whispered.  “broken-FUL.”

Here is a man who had everything, lost everything, suffered and suffered some more, and is now empty-handed offering his everything to Jesus.

BROKEN.  BEAUTIFUL.  FULL OF GOD.

broken-FUL

And that’s my prayer tonight.  I’ve got nothing God.  I’m stripped.  Bare. Take my nothing and FILL me FULL of you.

Where is God in your mess?

 

 

 

 

The PAUSE Button

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It’s tough to watch a show on TV with my husband hovering around.  Tim likes my full attention and he doesn’t particularly appreciate sharing our precious moments together with Downton Abbey or Property Brothers.  If I do partake of a little TV therapy in front of him, I’ve learned to make liberal use of the PAUSE button.

It’s mostly win/win.  I pause and listen to him chat about Seattle sports—and he feels heard—then I go back to my show until he interrupts me once again.

But sometimes I push PAUSE and don’t go back immediately.  Maybe a child wakes up or I get distracted.  I turn off the DVR and days pass before I have a moment to sit again. 

And I inevitably lose my place. 

I fast-forward and rewind.  I search and search for just the right spot to re-engage.  But I never really find it if I let too much time elapse. 

Even though the story is the same—it feels different somehow.

This imagery perfectly describes my life right now—a life interrupted. 

Maybe it resonates with you too?

Life suddenly hits the PAUSE button and we spin out of control.

For me, it’s been four months of messiness—relational and emotional and physical wounds to the soul.  I left normal like Dorothy in the whirlwind of the Wizard of OZ.

This week I said goodbye to my mom.  Four weeks ago I buried my dad.  Two funerals in a month—two terminal illnesses and four months of intense suffering and grief are finally over.

This chapter closed.  The PAUSE button lifted.  It’s time to exhale.  Dorothy is back in Kansas.

In some ways the brevity of the loss may be just sinking in, but on the other hand, the intense anxiety is washed away in the sweet release of death.  I never thought I would welcome this separation, but then again, I’ve never seen cancer close up.  I’ve never experienced what a brain on a crash course with atrophy looks like. 

I prayed so desperately to be with my dad when he passed and God granted me this wish.  But with my mom, in the final hours I couldn’t handle it.  Call me a wuss—I’ll own it.  As the shadow of death crossed her face, I fled to the safety of my husband’s arms—as if I could pretend it wasn’t real. 

Unfortunately, it was.  I was on the road driving back when she died. 

When I arrived at my mom’s house I sat by her side.  Even in death she was beautiful.  I found her red sequin slippers and ever so gently placed them on her feet.  I wanted her to be ready to meet the Grand Wizard—just in case she changed her mind in the last moments.  Just in case Jesus reached out for her hand and she took it.

I don’t know what to do with myself this week.  The vigils are over.  No more hospital visits, no more oncologists and neurologists and high security Alzheimer’s homes.  No more hospice and social workers and home health care workers. 

Where do I hit play again?  Where does the movie start when the entire landscape has changed?

Maybe your movie changed too?

Maybe you lost a child, got divorced or experienced the death of a dream?  Something within you died and your movie is radically altered.

And yet you hold on…

There is a part of you yearning for restoration, clinging to hope, and confident that someway God will build something glorious out of this tragedy.

I don’t always understand the mystery and bigness of God.  I don’t understand how he heals or rebuilds or reignites a flame of hope in the desperate. But I do know when I cry out and hold out my hands HE is there with me in the fire and the storm and even in death.

And he will direct this new film as I hit PLAY once more. The ending might change but the story is still beautiful.

Has your life been interrupted recently?

 

my kind of Crazy

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The honky-tonk music spilled out of the car as my son opened the door. It was one of those “my dog died, the fields dried up and I lost my favorite boot in a pile of cow dung” kind of songs.

Kyle reached for the radio to turn the station before he settled in to his seat.

“Don’t change the channel,” I grunted.

My son glanced at me with concern, “Why, mom? It’s totally depressing.”

“I’m trying to cry.”

“Huh? Kyle shot me a confused look.

“My pipes are clogged. I have a huge lump in my chest and I need to get rid of it. I think its PTSD.”

My son nodded carefully—a wise sage at fifteen, “Good idea mom.”

As we pulled up to the bay of lockers at his high school, Kyle climbed out the car and hollered like a drill sergeant at my open window, “I expect some tears when I get back young lady! Cry! Cry! Cry!

But instead of weeping a gurgled “waaahhhhh” sound of laughter and constipated tears tumbled out of me.

Other people cry pretty. Why do I sound like a broken doorbell?

I’ve always been a little afraid of emotion. I don’t seem to control it well. It’s much easier for me to write my tears than actually cry them.

When I do cry, it’s usually a colossal mess. Tears I’ve stuffed for a solid year (or two) suddenly reach their breaking point and boil over like hot lava. And once I start, it takes ages to settle down. I whimper and mew and mew some more.

It’s best to not go there.

But emotion not expressed seeps out. And under trauma—like I’m experiencing right now with losing both my parent’s—it finds a way to escape. And this escape takes strange forms—like anxiety attacks in grocery stores.

I know this because last week I freaked out in Trader Joe’s. (And maybe I did it yesterday too)

All of a sudden I felt like a lost little kid with no mommy in sight. My blood pressure sky-rocketed and I could feel the tsunami of tears pressing in on my throat.

I clutched the cart and held on for dear life.

I honestly wanted to curl up in a ball and howl in the wine section of Trader Joe’s.

So, I did the only thing I could think of. I took three deep breaths, prayed and called a friend.

But she didn’t pick up.

So I dialed my husband in desperation.

“Tim, I’m losing my (insert bad word) in Trader Joe’s. Talk me off the cliff.”

And so my sweet husband talked and talked like a 911 operators, and somehow, someway, I made it out of the store and to the safety of my car where I could shake and hiccup in peace.

I Googled “anxiety attack” when I got home.

Apparently, I’m repressing emotions.

Really?

I think it’s ironic how our culture affirms the opposite. I keep getting kudos for being “so strong.” Where do we get this idea that strength is devoid of emotion?

I need to be a puddle for a while. The stone face is not doing me any favors.

Like everyone else in Orange County, I look fine on the outside and the inside is a mess.

I’m sort of an anxiety ball that bounces around and functions because I have three kids and a husband. I read my scriptures; I take long walks and pray for the pain to go away. But most days I just wish I could curl up on the sofa under a cozy blanket, crank up the AC, light a fire (sorry East Coast friends) and an arsenal of candles and watch HGTV for a solid week(or two).

As I’ve shared my little “panic attack” moment with a few friends, I’ve heard similar stories. After my friend’s mom died, she freaked out in grocery stores for a solid year. Another friend said her mom experienced something similar after her dad died.

Who knew this was normal? Maybe I’m not the only one out there doing “whoo whoo whoo” labor breathing in Trader Joes to calm down?

Yesterday, I made it out of the store on my own. The checker gave me a few weird looks—probably because I was shaking violently and struggled to swipe my card, but I survived.

And sometimes getting past trauma is just that—surviving until we find our smile again.

And finding someone else who understands your kind of crazy.

–Samantha

Dance, Daddy, Dance…

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When I was a little girl my dad would put me up on the table and say, “Dance, Sammy, dance!”

And the two of us would dance like maniacs. 

Not too long ago I caught him doing the same thing with my youngest daughter Kolby.  And she giggled and cracked up as she watched her Papa Ken dance like a big goof with all his heart.

If you ask little Kolby, “Who’s your best friend?  She will say, with no hesitation, “Papa Ken!”

Because she knows whose got her back.

……

As a little girl, it was obvious to me that my dad was different than the other daddies.  He got up earlier and he worked later.  He was ambitious, the proverbial Type A personality who drilled into me the importance of the P words!—Perseverance, Persistence and PPMF (Piss Poor Planning Means Failure). 

He was movie star handsome, charming and extremely loyal.  He was a good provider and strong leader.  He was also a bit of a brat (and that’s putting it nicely).

But in the last ten years—slowly at first and then rapidly—my dad changed dramatically.  Oh, he still had all the great qualities that made him a successful doctor and man, but he added to that the inner qualities that set great men apart from the rest—humility, patience, kindness and gentleness. 

If you asked him what the difference was, he would have said God changed his heart.  Many people will say this but my dad lived it out.

Where there was once darkness now there was light. 

I talked to my dad almost every day –although in the last six months because of his brain disease he would forget and say “I miss talking to you Sammy, and I would laugh because we’d talked for an hour that very morning. 

And during our talks he would remind me of our special stories—which usually meant some form of torment for me. 

One of his favorite tales was skiing at Park City Utah.  I was six years old and my step-mom Fran was stranded back in the hotel room with a broken tail-bone—probably relieved to get a break from the slopes with my hard driving daddy. 

We ascended to the toughest run on the mountain.  It was a triple black diamond run with “ski at your own risk” signs and “possible death warnings.”

A group of about twenty men stood at the tip of the cornice and peered over the edge which dropped straight down.  An arctic wind whipped up icy swirls taunting the timid.It was a 30 feet drop to hit the snow. 

Some men were brave and gathered enough courage to jump, but most turned around and went back to the lift with their tail between their legs.

I was terrified and pleaded to return to the lift.

My dad looked at me and said very firmly, ‘You don’t have to ski down, but you will walk. And it’s a long way back to the hotel.”

I glared at him and a deep well of anger churned in my belly. 

And indignation launched me right off the cliff. 

The entire crowd started cheering for the little girl who took the mountain.  My dad said that once he recovered from the shock, he then had to catch up with me—because I didn’t slow down to wait for him.

This same story out played over and over again throughout our lives.  He dared, or teased, and I took the bait.  It’s why I went to UCLA to spite his USC and it’s why I had a chip on my shoulder all those years to prove that a girl was just as good as a boy.

Maybe he knew exactly what he was doing, because it drove me to achieve, but in the end it didn’t matter–in the end I had nothing left to prove.

Once my dad changed, the chip on my shoulder turned to mush. 

I knew without a doubt that he simply loved me for who I was, not for what I accomplished, or the things I accumulated, just unconditionally.

And his love was life changing to a grown up woman with a little girl’s heart still seeking the love and approval of a father.

Some people never realize what they have until it’s gone.  Not my dad.  In the last few years Ken not only recognized his many blessings but he became a huge blessing to those around him.

On Thanksgiving Day this year, my dad said at the dinner table he was most grateful for his relationship with God.  I prayed for fifteen years to hear my dad say those words. 

If I had been honest, which I wasn’t because I am protective of my tears and didn’t want to cry like a baby over the turkey, I would have said, “I am most grateful for finally having the relationship of my dreams with my dad.” 

It might have taken 38 years—but the last few years made up for a lifetime.

On the night my daddy died, I sat and read to him.  He squeezed my hand as I read this verse from Eccles. 3.

“There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven; a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.”

It was right at a time to dance that I got the squeeze.  I jumped up and I kissed his forehead and he raised his eyebrow.

(Pretty good for being in a coma)

They say it’s not how you start a race that matters; it’s how you finish it. 

I believe Jesus is now holding my dad’s hand and putting him in a place of honor.  He is saying well done, my good and faithful servant. 

And I can hear the sound of a million angels singing.

And my dad is dancing on the table like a big goof.

Bear Hunt

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“10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5…” and in a split second the year 2014 ushered in.  I sighed and squeezed Tim’s hand as he leaned over and kissed me gently.  Our neighborhood ricocheted with cheers and the shrill blare of tinny paper horns. 

Normally, when the ball drops, I am jubilant.  I lift my glass and toast to a new year of life and love and adventure.  But this year, as I watched the ball drop and the confetti swirl, I felt a tickle of dread slithering up my back.

Anxiety doesn’t rest well on my narrow shoulders—I’d rather smile and live in the land of denial and lightheartedness.  If I could only push rewind on the clock and go back about six months to the days of summer bliss—before the tempest hit. I’d fork over my entire piggy bank for just one day of my old normal.

I sing a little ditty in the shower.  My husband quizzically looks at me.  “Sam, why are you singing about bear hunts?”

I guess it’s because I can’t get the song out of my head. So, I hum some more.

“We’re going on a bear hunt, we’re gonna catch a big one.  We’re not scared.”

This little refrain is my new theme song.   It makes me feel brave when life is overwhelming.  The bear represents my fears and I’m Katnis Everdeen hunting them down.  Even when I’m quaking in my boots, I do it afraid.  I chase the bear.  If God is with me, then what bear can stop me?

In the story, the family (a mom and dad and three tots) encounter a series of obstacles while chasing a large and scary bear.

Their journey is difficult and they do everything they can to avoid the roadblocks—the raging river, the perilous mountains and the roaring blizzard.  But there is no way around the storms.

‘Oh no,” they say.  “We can’t go over it, we can’t go under it, I guess we have to go through it.”

This is me in 2014.  I’m on a bear hunt.  I can’t gloss over it, or avoid it. I can’t stuff the emotions or hide from the inevitable, I must go through it.

I returned to my office last week—quiet and subdued, more melancholy than my normally chipper demeanor.

“How was your holiday Sam?” my co-worker inquired.

 “Well, my dad cornered my brother and step-mom on Christmas day and beat them with a bed post.  I spent an hour on the phone trying to talk him out of killing them.”

Pause.  Friend opens his mouth in horror.

The next day my father jumped off a balcony believing bad guys were chasing him.  It wasn’t suicide, it was paranoia—it’s evil twin.

I was in Burlington Coat Factory when I got the call–a broken back, compound fracture of the tibia and fibia, and a shattered ankle.  Three surgeries scheduled. 

I remember my dad saying only a few weeks ago, “At least I’m not in physical pain like your mom is with the pancreatic cancer.  She suffers brutally, Sammy, I’m just turning into a nutcase.”

I think it’s a toss-up now who’s in the most pain.  At least, my dad is psychotic–maybe his pain is numbed by brain atrophy? 

Christmas was a blur of beautiful and sacred moments with my mom–trying on dresses and twirling before her, watching the kids open presents, and having a Christmas meal on the sofa like a picnic because she was too weak to sit at the table.  Every minute with her, I pack into a mental scrapbook of treasures–knowing this is my last Christmas with her and cherishing every look, tear, and whisper of love.

There were many visits to the hospital to visit my dad.  It was gut-wrenching.  For a week his eyes were locked shut, his mouth open under labored breathing.  When he woke, he cried out in terror and punched nurses believing they were trying to hurt him.  The nurses retaliated by drugging him back into unconsciousness. 

I don’t blame them.  I would do the same with a random crazy guy, but it’s different when the crazy guy is your daddy. 

The family in the story finally finds the bear in a dark ominous cave.  They accidentally wake the beast and he roars a terrible roar and shows his sharp teeth. The family runs like hell back through the raging storm, the treacherous mountains and the wild river.

Finally they arrive home and lock the door.  They hide in a bedroom and hold one another close and sing, “We went on a bear hunt and we caught a big one.  We’re not scared.”  And they laugh in the nervous jittery laugh of those who have survived their worst fears and looked the demon in the eye.

And so when I answered my friend at work, I laughed this same jittery laugh and thought of the bear chasing me. 

While I’ve never been afraid to confront my fears, it seems like now my worst nightmares are chasing me.  The fear of being alone—orphaned without the safety net of my parent’s covering, the fear of watching a loved one suffer (much less two at the same time) and the fear of letting go and confronting death.

And like the family in the story, I can’t escape.  The pain is present no matter where I go and it doesn’t get any better avoiding it.

I have to face the mountains, the river and the storm. 

And one day, I imagine I’ll make my way home again and hide under the covers and look back in wonder that this journey didn’t kill me.  It feels like it should.  But it didn’t.

The bear hunt will be behind me. And I’ll be different because of it.

 

Different But The Same

graduation

It’s a big week in the Keller home.  Soon one of us will be a Master!

(No not a Jedi, but close…)

My husband Tim graduates this week from Talbot Seminary with an MA in Theology.  It’s been six years of late nights, endless papers, and many many nights with no daddy at dinner. (Wah Wah Wah)

When Tim walks on Friday afternoon-in his black cap and gown decorated with honors-it will be a glorious sight to behold.  I am proud beyond words (and yes, a wee bit weary, can I say that too?).

My husband stood at the top of the stairs this morning and mentioned he felt guilty for celebrating.  With everything going on with my parents right now he felt lousy throwing a party and making a fuss.  And more than anything he wished they could be there by his side.

But I interupted him and said “Stop, don’t go there”

“Tim, we will celebrate you.” 

We will celebrate the good in spite of the bad. I will clap and whoop and holler “Keller” super loud and obnoxiously (in honor of your friend Bill who passed away) and I will laugh when people squirm in their seats.

I will wear a big cheesy grin (and maybe your favorite color orange) because of this awesome achievement. 

We did it!  (And yes I take a little credit for the degree because it takes a family and oh yeah, I edited a few papers…)

I will raise my glass of wine (or two) and toast to your accomplishment.  I will laugh and be happy, and for a time allow myself to just be Tim’s wife and not a grieving daughter.

We will celebrate you with gusto, baby!

I don’t know that I used to think this way.  I used to have good days and bad days. It was all so black and white.  But, life changed in the blink of an eye.  Everything has intensified, as if my world went from black and white to pops of vibrant color and shades of midnight.

I see differently now–HD versus a grainy screen.

I pass through a windy stretch of mountains when I drive home from visting my parents–one through the Ortega and the other from Beaumont into Moreno Valley.  Both passes are breathtaking by day but treacherous at night. I’m always a little scared driving through but the reward is worth the fear and I promise myself a Starbucks on the other side.

I’ve clocked more than my fair share of miles recently traveling back and forth to oncologists and nuerolgists.  These vists are always depressing with no cures and more bad news.  Often I’ll cry and let it all go on the road but I wipe up my tears before the mountains come. 

I know I need to focus.  As the darkness decends my sight must be all the more keener.  I have to watch out for the semi-trucks and stupid deer and obstacles in the road–all things I can see in the light, but the night distrorts and plays tricks with.

It’s true of the mountain pass and true of our lives right now.

My mom put it this way about her cancer, “everything’s the same, but everything’s different.”

And she’s right. 

Which is why I want my husband to revel in the moment and celebrate.  To not look behind or beyond but just to enjoy the fruits of his hard work. 

Because the image of Tim in his cap and gown on his big day just might be the thing to help me find my smile and my way home through the mountains on a gloomy evening.

He’ll be a Master now, kinda the same…but different.

The Family Discussion

PuppyBaby

“Mom, Dad, we have something we want to discuss with you.”

My husband and I looked at each other in apprehension.  It’s always a little scary when your three kids—even the toddler—band together for a “family discussion.”

My oldest son Kyle took the lead, “You said if mom didn’t get pregnant by Christmas, we could get a puppy.”

The girls nodded their head in agreement and three-year-old Kolby chimed in with a chant, “puppy, puppy, puppy!”

I exhaled a big whoosh of exasperation, delighted at my children’s tenacity and complete frustration at my old and rusty uterus. 

The kids are right.  We’ve tried and tried and it’s time to own up and pay our puppy dues.

I really do want my kids to get their dream dog.  I also really want one more baby.  I guess I want both.

I don’t want to throw in the towel yet (I’ve still got a month) but my biological clock seems to have stalled and stuck—it’s been two years and two miscarriages—so unless we explore infertility, I am more likely picking up dog poop in the near future than changing diapers.

(Insert a melancholy tune)

Sometimes I wonder if I’m the only one who feels this breathtaking sadness at hanging up the cleats in the baby making department. 

I see women all the time who have one or two kids and are so adamant they are DONE. 

While I respect their resolve, I’ve never had that feeling stick.  Not even once! 

No timer dinged loudly in my brain or heart.  The only thing holding me back from the Brangelina adoption of a mini-tribe is money. 

As far as I concerned, the more (munchkins) the merrier.

When I hear people complain about their kids I cover my ears.  Yes, these little (and big) suckers drive me bazonkers, but it’s a beautiful chaos. 

Call me crazy, but I just want more.  More kisses, more cuddles, more baseball games and tutu’s, more giggles and yes…even more teenage angst. 

Children are life—ravishing reminders of God’s blessing and love in a world of chaos. 

Maybe my thinking is broken.  Maybe it’s letting go of control?  I don’t know.  It’s just hard to watch the baby years come to a halt. 

Maybe I’m afraid of who I am when I don’t have a passel of children around to distract me.  Before I had kids, I was a little lonely.  I was a (mostly) only child with a large age gap between myself and my half-brother.  A large family fills that gap. 

The laughter, the noise, the energy…I love it.

Tim and I told the kids we would seriously consider our prior agreement. 

I also told them to ignore any strange noises from our bedroom. 

 “EEEEWWWWWW!!!!! Gross!” yelled my middle schooler.  Kyle just smirked.

(This is one way to guarantee you will never have sex, because kids are smarter.  Kyle simply stays up until 1:00am doing homework, Kolby and Faith wake up at 5:00am since the time change and just for good measure, Kolby also wakes up in the middle of the night to go potty)

We have to be sneaky in this house.

And we just might need to call a handyman to repair the broken fence on our dog run (just in case).

Sexual Matters

There is something sacred about stumbling upon an older couple sneaking kisses or holding hands.  In our counter-cultural age of fast-food relationships over before the kids have reached kindergarten, seasoned love is a treat to behold.

I don’t know about you, but I crave this “old people in the park holding hands kind of love.”  I want my husband to desire me at 41, 51, 61 and 91 (Lord willing we attain this age).

But sex is such a tough issue to broach in the church.  We clam up, get awkward and pretend that good Christians don’t really need it.

(As if God didn’t create us to be sexual beings)

We forget that sex is a crucial factor in romance and it is the glue that keeps a marriage chugging on and on over the years.

It is also the one vital factor which separates friendship from love.

Sex matters in a marriage!

Sex helps you feel more connected to your partner, it makes you feel cared for and comforted, and, hello ladies, it’s fun, remember?

My friend reminded me of a comment I made to her years ago.

Sex is like working out.  It’s a pain in the ass to schlep all your gear to the gym and to drag your butt on to the treadmill or into the Zumba class, but once you get there and get warmed up you remember how much you actually like it and then you relax and enjoy the ride (no pun intended).

Yep. Sex is like working out.  And we all know the benefits of a regular workout routine.

The problem is (with both sex and exercise) we make excuses to not be active.  Because, let’s be honest, it’s far easier to be lazy and pretend to be asleep when our husbands make a move toward us.

Life certainly invades…

Through the years, we all change both physically and emotionally, and the days become chaotic with family and sports and demanding work schedules. But, even with the inevitable curve balls we will all encounter in and outside of our relationships, it is possible to keep the sparks flying (or at least smoldering!)

Many couples erroneously believe that the natural attraction and sexual desire they enjoyed during the honeymoon of their relationship will seamlessly carry over, without any effort, throughout their marriage.

Sorry folks…this is a lie.

Romance, desire and sex, will cease to exist unless it is both honored and nurtured by both parties in a couple.  

As neuroscientific research has proven, during the first six to eighteen months of a new relationship, our brain excretes a variety of neurochemicals, which helps to accelerate our biological mating dance.  Our brains are flooded with serotonin and dopamine, which keeps passion ignited, with very little effort on our part.

Then, as mysteriously as these mating neurochemicals arrive, they depart. And when this happens, usually within eighteen months of the start of a relationship, it’s time to roll up our sleeves and work a little harder when it comes to our sex life.

So if sex is a priority, (which it should be!) then we need to make it important and red flag it on the calendar for the one we love.

Maybe it means taping a favorite show or going to bed earlier or putting the kids in their own room…

According to Rachel Sussman –author of the Breakup Bible, you can keep passion alive and thriving through regular and productive (no blaming, shaming, or complaining, please) communication with your partner about sex.

Be sure to discuss the following:

  • Make a commitment to make sex a priority!
  • Take the time to discuss what sex means to each of you.  To my husband sex=love.  To me it equals affection.  His need might be a little more pressing than mine.
  • If you lead a busy life (and who doesn’t) it’s perfectly OK to put sex dates on the calendar. Don’t worry that scheduling may become “formulaic” –looking forward to sex is a treat for a guy.  And ladies, if you put it on the calendar…do not change the playdate without a conversation and a reschedule. (It’s like telling your kid you are going to Disneyland and canceling because you  have a headache.  Be kind to your man!)
  • Shake it up.  Try something new.  I’ll leave it at that!
  • Worried that you won’t be “in the mood”? Allow yourself a “transitional time”. If sex is in the calendar tonight (or if you’d like it to be) – prepare yourself earlier in the day. Send your spouse a flirty text. Take a bubble bath, grab a glass of wine and allow the days stressors to slide off. Light a few candles, grab your iPod and set the mood.

Have fun, enjoy the love of your life, and make your marriage a priority!

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