Sunday, March 27, 2016

Rambling Thoughts on Easter & New Life

Today I am met with another first of this new life: the Easter Basket is filled and ready for a girl who won't see it until Wednesday. She and I spent a wonderful few days of her spring break with our almost-94-year-old Grandpa. Yesterday I dropped her off at her other home where her dad had hidden eggs around the property for an impromptu Easter egg hunt.

I knew she was in good hands, but those hands weren't mine. As I drove out of the neighborhood, I felt a whoosh of emotion. Tears welled up in my eyes and for an instant I thought about reaching out to people to comfort me, but instead I prayed, asked for strength, and found it in myself.

My year of firsts will basically culminate with her ninth birthday--the last big occasion that will take place on her weekend with her dad. I am fascinated by what has become of my life.  I am at the intersection where "creating a writing life" meets with "adjusting to being single with a child." Of particular note is the overlapping way I have decided to "write new narratives" for my own life as I have created characters that before I thought of them, did not exist.

A few weeks ago as I pondered what this Easter day would look like, I felt a twinge of self-pity. Alone without my daughter. Without a place to go after church, etc. The writer in me didn't let me stay there for very long, luckily. Instead, I wrote a different script. I was going to spend the morning with family after all--my church family. They love me deeply and I love them. We would share Easter breakfast and worship together.  My afternoon would be spent on my own puttering around my house preparing for house guests who would arrive the next day.

One of my favorite things is to watch how God uses serendipity and very small gestures to speak to me and to comfort me. He did not disappoint this Easter day.

I had the privilege to put together the Easter worship service and to shepherd the congregation through it. At the last moment as the inspiring sounds of the piano prelude were pouring into the sanctuary by the unbelievably talented hands of our pianist, I began leafing through the hymn book looking for something to read.

My style of worship is not big and loud with hands waving above my head. It is quiet and contemplative, and certain that God will always meet me where I am. Today he caught my attention with the lyrics of hymn 482 of the Community of Christ Sings. This is what I read as a welcome and call to worship:

Now the green blade rises from the buried grain,
wheat that in dark earth many days has lain; 
Love lives again that with the dead has been; 
Love is come again like wheat arising green.

In the grave they laid him, Love by hatred slain,
thinking that he would never wake again,
laid in the earth like grain that sleeps unseen;
Love is come again like wheat arising green.

Forth he came at Easter, like the risen grain,
he that for three days in the grave had lain;
raised from the dead, my living Lord is seen;
Love is come again like wheat arising green.

When our hearts are wint'ry, grieving, or in pain,
your touch can call us back to life again,
fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been;
Love is come again like wheat arising green.

At first, the hymn caught my attention because of the mention of wheat.  Days before, I had taken country drives with my Grandpa and my daughter. He had mentioned how good the wheat crop looked. The fields were bright with the green blades. I wouldn't have been able to distinguish the wheat at this stage of growth from any other crop. And now God was whispering to me reminding me that He is a part of everything I see and experience and that all of these things are interconnected.

I thought about my life in the past few years. How "laid in the earth like grain that sleeps unseen" describes how I'd felt. I was like that wheat growing deep beneath the surface long before the blades of green growth were apparent above the soil. In those years of disappointment and confusion, I was, in fact, doing the hard work of preparing for this new life.

It was the fourth stanza that really grabbed me though. My heart has been wint'ry, grieving, and yes even in pain. His touch--through the prayers of people who love me, phone calls, notes, and the quiet of solitude of this past year--has called me back to life again. It would seem I am my own walking Easter story!

And lest I worry about my daughter missing out, not being at church with her friends on this special day, a mama friend walked up to me and said, "The girls want to share these eggs from the Easter egg hunt with Cadence. What can we put them in?"

Love is come again like wheat arising green. My daughter doesn't have to be present or next to me every moment of her life to feel loved, to be seen, and remembered. There are two young girls remembering her on their own. It brings tears to my eyes as I think of it.

This life is what we make of it. We get to choose how to write our narratives. I am smitten by life's goodness even in the midst of pain, transition, and adjustment.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Franklin Pierce - A Recap

I am in the thick of the stretch of reading that my presidential biography project advisor, also known as my Brad-Dad, warned would be boring reading.  Since I have a flair for the dramatic, I'm going to call this boring reading the "monstrosity of dryness."  Cadence asked me if I was going to write about it on my blog, and my answer three days ago was, "Yes, if I can think of anything to say."

I finished the biography at lunch today, and I've been able to come up with a few words about President Franklin Pierce. But only a few words.
  • His presidency was a dismal failure and helped move this country closer to the Civil War.
  • This biographer, Michael F. Holt, summarized Pierce's administration: 
    • "...they (other biographers or historians) faulted Pierce for a misbegotten patronage policy and a disastrous decision to endorse the Kansas-Nebraska Act that helped bring on the Civil War. And they usually tended to attribute those mistakes to Pierce's alleged character flaws: a weak will, too great of an eagerness to please others, decided prosouthern proclivities. As a result, Pierce has languished near the bottom when historians periodically go about ranking American presidents...I attribute Pierce's most fateful political decisions to his obsession with preserving the unity of the Democratic Party."
  •  I am grateful for those wrap-up paragraphs at the end of the biography. They helped crystallize what I'd spent most of the rest of my time reading not understanding.  This period of history is new to me. It wasn't covered in any of the classes I took. 
  • As a born and bred Kansan, my interest was piqued when the Kansas-Nebraska Act entered the story. I still don't understand it as well as I like, but I'm getting the gist of it.  Prior to Kansas and Nebraska becoming states, the government was in the heat of determining if they would enter statehood as free or slave states. Pierce appointed incompetent people to serve as territory governors and drama and illegal activity ensued. I am certain that the overlapping quality of this reading project will help me understand the high points as I read Buchanan, another terrible president.
  • While Pierce was a dismal failure as president, he seems to have been well liked as a person.  He was a close friend of author, Nathaniel Hawthorne who had this to say about Pierce: "Never having had any trouble before, that pierced into my very vitals, I did not know what comfort there might be in the manly sympathy of a friend, but Pierce has undergone so great a sorrow of his own, and has so large and kindly a heart, and is so tender and strong that he really did us good, and I shall always love him better for the recollection of those dark days."
  • As I read this volume, there were moments where I felt like I could be reading a contempory book about modern politics. So familiar were the deceits, shenanigans, and tomfoolery.  That's the enduring lesson of this project: if we do not study history, we are bound to repeat it. 
  • I am intrigued by my own interest and tenacity to keep pushing through these boring spots in history certain that more interesting reading is ahead of me. I picked up the James Buchanan biography after work and will get started reading about him immediately.  
  • It dawned on me today that I am only one president away from Lincoln, a real milestone in this project.  As soon as I read his biography, I can begin planning the train trip to Springfield, Illinois, to take in the museums and house tour. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Best Gifts I've Given Myself (in Chronological Order)

“You're taking up a valuable seat for someone who needs it more,” Dr. D teased. At the end of this evening's counseling session, we agreed that I'd worked my way out of this season of needing her perspective.

“Just think, four years ago I returned thinking I was coming in for a tuneup,” I reminisced.

As I pulled into her office parking lot, I thought about how far I've come in the intermittent appointments I've had with her over the past ten years. Therapy is the first of five gifts I've given to myself as an adult.

Before I met Dr. D, I cried in the shower a lot over things new and old that I couldn't work through myself. I felt confused and isolated and generally sad. I didn't understand why I couldn't get over my hurts and why I felt vulnerable and needy most of the time.

“You aren't the same woman you were ten years ago,” Dr. D complimented me. “You've done the hard work, and your life is better for it.”

I understand myself and how I fit into my family, my work, and the world better than ever before. This knowledge guides me smoothly through life's sticky moments by setting and reinforcing boundaries, trusting my gut, re-teaching people how to treat me, and being gentle with myself.

At today's appointment, I listed the ways I've implemented those tools in just the past three days. I actually clapped my hands with the excitement of it all. I like the sound of Dr. D's “atta girls,” but I like the sound of my own even better.

The second gift I am grateful for is yoga. Five summers ago, I stood at the counter of a store my sister likes to shop at when she visits. Her birthday was approaching, and I was buying a gift card so that she could shop next time she was in town. As I waited, I noticed a flyer for a yoga studio that replaced another store attached to the building I was standing in. I made my purchase and took the flyer with me.

A few days later I took a class on a day off. It was hard, really hard, but something clicked inside me and I knew I had to try it again. My company had a wellness program that would pay a portion of the yearly membership, so I bought it planning to be reimbursed. One month later I was downsized. Yoga taught me how to breathe through difficult situations and in uncomfortable poses. It taught me to love my body and to trust its strength and power. It taught me how to love my arms in tank tops and my long legs in short shorts.

Five years later, I do a short routine nearly every day on my mat in my bedroom—something I never imagined I would be able to accomplish. I started small and now I can't imagine my life without at least some yoga in my life every day.

In therapy, I learned the difficult truth that we teach people how to treat us, and that I was no exception. In being polite, non-confrontational, and people-pleasing, I had taught people that it was okay to take advantage of my good graces, to be takers because I would always be a giver, and to operate in double standards without mutual respect.

I wondered how this could have happened. I learned that I routinely did not set boundaries in my relationships. This was one grand weakness I set out to conquer. Now I'm a boundary boss. My life is so different because I've set boundaries.

I was afraid of what would happen when I took a stand for myself, but there wasn't much to be frightened of. It truly is scarier to navigate life without boundaries. They make things less complicated and provide clarity and structure. Taking the risk to set boundaries in my life is a gift that will not stop giving to me over time.

As I write about these gifts, it is apparent how connected they are. They have built on each other. Their power expands when combined. The first three gifts I gave myself set the stage for the fourth gift, which was my divorce. I had contemplated this dissolution for years before I moved forward. I shed many tears, prayed many prayers, and tried everything in my personal tool box to preserve the relationship. I was heartbroken. Divorce was not what I wanted. I was worried about how it would affect my daughter now and in the future. And then there came a day when I realized more harm would be done by staying than leaving, and I moved in that direction.

I created a mission statement for proceeding through my divorce: to choose to dissolve the marriage as peaceably, amicably, and with as much kindness as possible. Each time I hit a difficult moment, this brief phrase guided me to the next best way to proceed. It was an invaluable tool through a stressful time. Therapy, yoga breathing, and setting boundaries also helped to shape the multitude of decisions that occur during a divorce.

Today, I feel light, free, confident, and capable of so much. I am grateful that my daughter has two engaged, happy, healthy parents to co-parent her through the rest of her childhood and into her teenage years and beyond. This difficult decision created new opportunities for health and happiness.

My fifth gift is the Haven Retreat I took last June just days after the divorce was final. It was a vulnerable time for me to leave home—personally and financially—and yet, my gut told me it was the time to go. I asked for help through crowd funding, which helped to offset the cost. In the midst of pine trees and a mountain range, a body of water and cloud-puffed blue skies, I peeled back the next layer of understanding myself as a writer. I made friends who will remain in my life forevermore, and I received world-class instruction and encouragement to keep writing.

Nearly one year later, my memory flashes moments from that retreat on a daily basis. I am reminded that I “have what cannot be taught,” that dialogue is a strength, and that people are interested in my voice, what I have to say and the way I happen to say it.

In the case of each gift, I took a risk. I stepped outside of what was familiar or what I thought I knew about myself. I chanced that therapy, yoga, setting boundaries, getting a divorce, and going on a writing retreat each could offer me lessons, depth, change, and freedom that would invite transformation. I was right on every count. I am generally risk-averse,. I am a creature of habit in the extreme—even when the habits aren't good or healthy. I am so grateful that I was willing to thrust myself into the uncomfortable unknown. It is there in all of these gifts that I found new life.