my kind of Crazy


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.


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.


Different But The Same


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.

Two Donuts too Many

Sugar Glazed Donuts

It was a tough morning.  My dad was disoriented. 

It’s been one good day followed by two or three bad, and then a new level of normal is established.  His deteriorating brain condition is a descent into a valley of unexpected challenges and simultaneous sacredness.

We were at church on Sunday morning—the big campus of Mariners—mega Christmas awesomeness on display.

I handed him two donuts.  He looked at me baffled.

“What do I do with them?” he asked.

“You eat them.” I replied sadly.

“But there are two.”

I nodded and braved a tepid smile.  “Let me hold one for you, daddy.”

With one doughnut in hand my dad seemed to understand the idea of eating.  He opened his mouth wide and took a big bite.

Just then, some friends walked up. “Hi Sam.  We’ve been praying for you.  How are you holding up?”

I put on my fake pastor’s wife smile, choked back the tears, and said, “I’m hanging in there.”

And then my dad, who alternates between incoherency and moments of crystal clear clarity, minus a filter, and with the adorable impulsiveness of a toddler shouts out, “Why don’t you tell them how you’re really doing Sammy?”

He winked at me at laughed maniacally.  I stood there floored.

And then I laughed until I cried.

Ok, dad, how exactly do I let it rip?  How do I say, in the midst of church small talk and a gazillion people, that my world is tipping and swaying uncontrollably?  Sometimes I feel like poop and sometimes I feel so blessed.

That my days are spent balancing a big family, work, the chaos of Christmas and two terminal illnesses.  One day I’m decorating a Christmas tree and hanging Barbie ornaments and the next watching my step-dad weep with abandon as he faces a life without his beloved?  I swim in the pool with my toddler and growl like wolverine and then  walk upstairs and cradle my mom’s hands, the hands that raised me and calmed me, as she wince’s in pain as the cancer ravages and steals.  Do I mention the night terror’s that woke me up last night as my dad screamed and cried and slapped my step-mom believing intruders were in the house?  Do I say how hard it is to watch my daddy drift into a veiled world of paranoia, black spells and confusion?

I chewed on my thoughts as we entered the sanctuary.  And then in the mysterious way that only God speaks, we listened to a sermon about Jesus who stepped into the messiness of life.  My step-mom squeezed my hand and we sat back and breathed in the message. 

It felt like God knew EXACTLY what I needed to hear.  That he is with me in this mess.  That he understands why donuts will now forever make me cry and he doesn’t mind that sometimes I babble on and on—half in shock and half in wonder—at the beauty and darkness of my life all jumbled together.

And I knew God was reassuring me as I watched my dad lift up his arms with abandon and worship, punching his fists in the air like a little kid, just waiting for his heavenly dad to pick him up and carry him home.

So, to answer my friend’s question of “how are you holding up?”

I would say, in all honesty…I’m a hot mess.  A teary-eyed, wistful mess—anticipating unexpected lessons in the Valley of the Shadow of Death and both excited (and terrified) to see what the next day holds. 


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