Sunday, October 23, 2016

Jumpin' In

Let me just start by saying, this is not a sad post.

At least it's not intended to be.

I feel like I need to start with that disclaimer since I will be mentioning loss, and sorrow, and grief, and falling into pits and stuff.

But I swear, it's not sad.

It's more of an explanation. And maybe a bit of an encouragement. If nothing else, it's something to read on Sunday afternoon instead of doing laundry and I can promise it is at least as good as that. Maybe.

You see, this week will be the 13th birthday of our two little ones who never came home.

Thirteen years is both long and short. Say, if you were talking about how long it has been since you had a really good homemade chocolate chip cookie, thirteen years would be a loooong time. (A criminally long amount of time, if you ask me.) But if you were talking about how long you'd like to spend with someone you love, we'd all agree that thirteen years is but a blink.

In terms of loss, thirteen years might seem on the outer edge of how long it is socially acceptable to speak of such things. I mean, at least out loud. Or in writing. Ahem.

And in truth, I do get that. I don't enjoy dwelling on despair or feeling as though I'm dragging anyone into a well of sad feelings they really didn't ask for. And it's a conundrum because while I might have melancholy feelings, and wistful feelings, and, yes, sometimes even weepy moments every now and then, I'm really okay. I choose to remember because I'm not really sure how I couldn't and because that's how we continue to love those whom we have lost.

We remember them.

But I could do all of that without putting it into words and making my story public. I could opt to remember privately. There is nothing wrong with that and many, many days that is what I choose to do. In fact, that might suit me better given my reclusive tendencies.

However, there is a reason that over the years I became more and more open about my experience with infertility and loss, and I can tell you why in two stories.

(If Tracy were reading this over my shoulder, and she might be, she would break in at this point and say, "Tom, I can name that song in two notes." Because she just would.)

The first involves my cousin Tracy and her legendary ability to make a friend of anyone. Waaaaay back when we were both in our 20's and early years of marriage, she became pregnant and had a baby. At the same time, I tried to become pregnant and couldn't. She was having trouble with some aches and pains related to pregnancy so she started seeing a massage therapist. I, on the other hand, was seeing a fertility doctor because of that whole not getting pregnant thing.

As was Tracy's way, she became quite friendly with her massage therapist, learning all about her life. The therapist had twin toddlers who were the happy end result of a difficult run with infertility. This lead Tracy to tepidly open up to her about my struggles and her concerns with how to offer any support. The therapist asked her lots of questions about my doctor and my treatment, none of which Tracy had good answers to since she didn't really have all of those minute details. But her massage therapist friend would not be so easily dissuaded. See, she'd been there and she'd be damned if she was going to let someone else flail around on their own.

Finally, she said to Tracy, "Do you think I could just call her?"

A total stranger to me, connected only through another friendly acquaintance, refused to stay in her own happy bubble world of a successful pregnancy and birth and motherhood because she knew there were people on the other side. She not only wanted to help, she had to help.

She did call me. We talked for an hour that one time. She gave me information I had never gotten from any doctor. She gave me encouragement to make changes I didn't know I needed to make. More than anything, she gave me hope and she made me brave. I never spoke to her again other than through Tracy who would report back to her my own happy success. But because of her, I changed doctors and was pregnant two months later. I'm not exaggerating when I say I believe she changed my life.

(And by extension, of course, Tracy also changed my life with her fantastically friendly ways. But the list of ways in which Tracy changed my life is long and deep and will require a lifetime of blog posts to capture.)

The second story is not my own and not at all original. It's a modern day parable of sorts and I'm sure you've heard it before. But it bears repeating because it speaks to my larger point of being vulnerable enough to share our stories, to the extent that we are able, for the good of those who might be standing on the outside.

A man was walking along one day when he suddenly tumbled headlong into a pit. He hadn't seen it coming. It was dark. It was lonely. And he had no idea how to get out.

He started calling up from the pit, yelling for help.

First a doctor walked by. He peered down into the pit, tossed in a prescription, and kept walking.

Then, a priest walked by. He looked down at the poor man, offered him a prayer, and then he too kept walking.

Finally, a friend happens by and hears the man's cries for help. He thinks for a moment and then without hesitation jumps into the pit with him.

The man looks at him astonished and says, "What are you doing?! Now we are both stuck down here in the pit!"

His friend answers, "I know. But I've been here before and I know the way out."

And I would add that sometimes we may not even be able to show someone the way out of the pit. But a friend jumps in and says, "This is awful. I'm so sorry. But I'll stay here with you until you can find your way out."

So, that's really it. That's the answer.

I keep telling my story and being honest about who I am and where I've been, because you never know who might be in a pit needing someone to jump in with them.

I'm grateful to every single person, whether they be close friends, family, or momentary acquaintances, who ever jumped in with me.

And because I'm always ready for a little Christmas, I'll leave you with this thought:

Happy Sunday, friends! 

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

How's it going?

Over the summer, I had many kind-hearted friends who wanted to know how I was feeling about our upcoming move. You'd think after answering the same question so many times I would have come up with a simple, rote answer.

I never did.

I was never entirely sure what to say and it often depended on the day, or even the moment. Sometimes excited, sometimes nervous, sometimes weary, sometimes I just wanted to scrap the whole crazy plan.

In the past month that question has been replaced with a new inquiry, " is it going??"

Again, I don't have a perfect elevator speech that can sum it all up in 10 sentences or less.

But the answer I most often come back to, even if only in my own mind, is simply that it has been exactly what I expected it to be. Meaning, it has been a little bit sad, a little bit fun, a little bit exciting, a little bit scary, a little bit lonely, a little bit easy, and even a little bit surprising.

It's been a mixed bag which is exactly what I knew it would be. You don't uproot your whole life and think you can just snap your fingers and instantly have the same continuity, routines, and normalcy you had in the place you lived for almost 25 years.

(A quarter of a century, people.)

So, the thing I just keep telling my thoughtful friends is that it's good, and we are happy, but it will take time.

I'm a great believer in the magic of time because I've seen it work miracles over and over again in my own life and in the lives of others. Things you thought would never be resolved, never heal, never change, never improve, and never grow- suddenly do.

But it's never 'suddenly', really. It might feel that way. Or it might look that way from the outside. But usually that miraculous turn of events is really the long awaited reward that comes from days, weeks, months, or years of waiting, praying, and never giving up hope.

He has made everything beautiful in its time... ~Ecclesiastes 3:11

If you know me, you know that the fall, and especially October, can make me a little melancholy so forgive me for a second for conjuring up a rather unhappy memory to make a point. I'll try to swing it around at the end and give it a happy flourish to close it out.

(That's kind of my signature move).

Anyway, when I was in grief counseling after the loss of our babies, I remember saying to my counselor, "I know I'm going to find my way through this somehow. I know I won't always be this sad. I really do feel confident of that. I just want to know when. How long? Give me a date and then I can circle that day in red on my calendar and just hold on until then."

As good as my counselor was, she never could give me that date.

And, of course, it wasn't a specific day, or moment, it was just a slow, quiet unfolding until you realize you are no longer clenching your fists trying to fight your way back to life. You look down to find your hands are open again, ready to receive whatever bounty the day has to bring you. Whether it be joy, or laughter, or even possibly pain again, you are no longer afraid.

So, the point is, I know what it is to wait.

What I'm getting better at is what to do in the waiting.

Yesterday, I took a leap I didn't think I would make quite this soon. I met with the principal of a small, Christian preschool/primary school about becoming one of their regular substitute teachers. I've always made it clear that I really only like "pretend subbing" and by that I mean I am only interested in substitute teaching at one small school where I can actually get to know the kids and teachers. That was the blessing I had in subbing at my daughter's school in our old neighborhood, and I knew I'd need to find a similar arrangement if I were ever going to venture into subbing in our new home.

And even though the sloth in me wonders why on earth I am not going to continue to just bask in my long, quiet days at home, the voice in my soul is telling me that level of isolation is not ultimately doing me any favors.

I mean, preschoolers, my friends! A tiny school full of babies with no one older than the fourth grade! It's like a dream come true. And the lovely thing is, it's a blessing for them, too. A small school like that has difficulty attracting substitute teachers and yet their teachers get sick and need vacations, too. They were all so delighted I was really interested in coming on board. I swear they all kept looking at me like I might be a mirage.

Sometimes waiting means taking time to rest and heal and be quiet. But other times of waiting require us to be patiently active. We start moving toward those things that allow us to use our gifts and talents, knowing that you never know where and when you might find what it is you are looking for.

So, I look forward to meeting my new young friends and in the meantime will continue to relish the luxury of my quiet days at home.

I've always been a big believer that the "sacred is in the ordinary" which is why I tend to be pretty content with a life that borders on some reality TV version of Groundhog Day. 

Sidebar: (Oh my stars. My life would be the most boring reality TV show EVER. Wouldn't you love to have watched me type this blog post for the past hour? Riveting.) 

But given my inordinate love for the ordinary and everyday, I was pretty happy to come across this quote by Henry Ward Beecher to back me up:

The art of being happy lies in the power
of extracting happiness from common things.
~Henry Ward Beecher

Thank you, Reverend Beecher. I will continue to do just that. 

Just a picture I snapped after leaving Annie's horseback riding lessons.
The fog had settled in on the hills and all you could see was pasture land, trees,
hills and sky.
I suddenly felt very grateful to live in a place where horses and open spaces are
a part of our everyday.
..."extracting happiness from common things."