The Light Gets In

I kid you not—this is a different picture from the one on the last post. And I promise I’ll try to take more interesting/less repetitive pictures than this. But if you’ll indulge me, I there’s this one more…

We live in a sweet little home built in 1927, complete with original windows that are high on charm and low on energy efficiency. Every winter, I can tell how close we are to polar-vortex-like weather by the amount of frost on our windows. So far this year, the frost is still mostly on the upstairs windows, which is good. It means it’s cold enough to make the back door creak but not cold enough to give me frostbite on a quick run to the trash bin.

If the frost reaches the downstairs windows, though, look out. It’s a whole different story!

Sitting on the corner of the bed to get ready for the day, I glanced up at just the right moment to see this, little ferns of ice swirling their way across my bedroom window. Looks cold out there, I thought as I leaned forward to put some lotion on my winter-dried legs, only to glance up again from a different angle and find the ice looked completely different, more like a filmy opaqueness of dirt and dust. Certainly nothing that glinted in the sunlight.

It amazed me how such a small change in perspective could produce such a vastly different view–sparkles from one angle, dirt from the other.

The profound nature of this was probably somewhat heightened by my January funk, but I haven’t stopped thinking about that window since then.

About ten years ago, I decided I wanted to learn photography. I read about composition and experimented with backgrounds, but eventually I realized if I wanted to up my photography skills, I needed to learn how to use the manual settings on my camera. To do that, I had to become a student of light.

I began by focusing on amount of light–was there enough light to capture a clear, focused image? If not, how could I play with the settings to capture more light? It sounded simple at the outset–Get More Light–but when I realized that there are at least three settings that control the amount of light captured in any image and that adjusting one affects the others, I started understanding more of the intricacies of images and I began to see images and settings differently.

Eventually I learned to ask myself more nuanced questions. How quickly is my subject moving? How intense is the light? Where is the light not falling? What color is the light? How does the lighting make me feel? I’m by no means an expert photographer or an authority on the manipulation of light, but photography grew my ability to see, and to understand what I see and how it makes me feel.

After my third miscarriage, I fell into a pit of deep grief. The sadness nearly smothered me into giving up, into giving into a lifetime of despair. It was only through the outpouring of love and care, some from near strangers, that I had enough clarity to commit to pursue joy again.

Around the same time, Elizabeth Edwards published a book–Resilience–and not much later, passed away from breast cancer. I’d been no more than mildly interested in John Edwards’ political career, but I found Elizabeth Edwards’ story intriguing–wife of a man with a failed presidential bid, diagnosed with cancer several times, and victim of a complicated and public spousal infidelity scandal. During the press coverage surrounding her book and death, someone explained her life’s anthem, which she had identified as a quote from a Leonard Cohen song:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in

That’s what I want, I thought. If a dying woman can choose to live, and even to use her pain to shine brighter, surely I can find my way out of this sorrow eventually? I set it as my email signature, a daily reminder of the healing and light and beauty that is available to those who choose to continue ringing the bell.

When light encompasses us and brightens our day-to-day surroundings, it looks like…light. We get used to it. Maybe we even resent it when it illuminates our dirt or imperfections. Certainly, we notice its presence far less than its absence.

But when light passes through things–prisms, water, tunnels, cracks, even frosty windows–it looks like magic.

I think it’s that way, too, with the soul. When we live in the light, we get used to the light. But when the light shines through people–

through their kindnesses…

through their acts of service…

through their tears…

through their mistakes…

through their broken hearts…

that light makes magic.

It takes our breath away. It mesmerizes. It holds us spellbound.

This, I think, is the antidote to my wearying journey toward idealism and perfectionism. Reality, of course, is full of cracks. Trying to change that is an exercise in futility. But perhaps the path toward joy is less in fixing or preventing and more in awakening to the beauty found when the light shines through the fullness of all of our messy, frustrated, fractured selves.

Side Eye and Some Feelings

I didn’t even have to see his face to know the extraordinary amount of side eye aimed my direction. That’s what being married for 20 years does for you–you can finish each other’s sentences and feel facial expressions without even looking. (Also–20 years! Squee!!)

You see, it’s January. Every January, I tumble into some degree of a slump, and every January, Tahd is worried about me in said slump and how long it’s going to last/how bad it’s going to be/how far down I’m going to go/etc. So every year, we have varying versions of a conversation that involves Tahd being worried about me and me responding to his concerns and him asking how he can help me and me promising that I’m really fine and he doesn’t need to worry.

That was the conversation we were having just before he gave me said side eye, the conversation in which he said, “I’m worried about you. You don’t seem well.”

And I explained that yes, in fact, I was okay and I just wanted to fold myself into a cocoon and have a long winter’s nap but that I’d be back, I batted my eyes as I pinky promised, and could I just be alone for a few minutes now, please, and I’d be down to make dinner in a moment.

And that’s when the aforementioned side eye made its appearance. Because he knows. He’s heard it before. Especially on the dinner thing. 😉

My counselor has been helping me to focus on feelings and how I don’t really feel mine so much as deny or manage them. Since I had an appointment with her a few days later, I brought up this exchange with her.

“I just want to fold in on myself,” I explained to her. “I want to hide. I just want to BE winter–be slow and at rest and regenerative, and wake up later, eventually, when it’s brighter again. But I don’t know…am I depressed? Is something in me broken? Should I trust this feeling?”

I’m leaving a lot unsaid, but she sent me home from that appointment with a short-term assignment, a prescription if you will: two hours of creative efforts every day.

Two hours!

The idea felt positively indulgent to me, but she explained that she suspected my soul didn’t so much need to hide or sleep as much as it needed to engage in—and be energized by—something different. So I agreed I would give it my best attempt and report back on what I learned.

I woke up on Monday practically giddy. It’s the first time in years I remember being that excited to begin the day. Knowing our schedule, though, I knew it would be more realistic to start smaller. So I did—the kids and I set things up for some independent work and I set a time timer for about a half hour and told them they’d get a candy cane if they let me write uninterrupted for the entire time.

Which they did, and it was GLORIOUS and I was thrilled at the thought of expanding things the next day, which also happened to be Isla’s 8th birthday.

And then the 8th birthday started, and…so did the stomach flu. I kid you not, the birthday girl got the stomach flu, poor lovey! Thankfully it wasn’t terrible, but it definitely changed the trajectory of the day, which led to changing the trajectory of the week because the axiom “Where one person vomits, OTHER PEOPLE VOMIT” held true for our household. So the rest of the week was spent more on vomit than creativity, an exchange which I can assure you was less than renewing to my soul.

I woke up one day this week—I can’t even remember which one because they all ran together—and saw my bedroom window covered in ice patterns and thought I’d better snap a quick picture of it because it might be my most creative opportunity for the day. I was right. It was—both the only opportunity and also an exercise in creative seeing, the frigid crystals simultaneously existing as infinitely normal and startlingly beautiful.

What amazing creativity emerges naturally from ordinary things like water and cold! I wonder how much of it I miss because my eyes aren’t conditioned to look.

It is now the second week of my three-week experiment, and I am starting again, this time with a hint of a rumbly tummy that I hope is really all in my head but I can’t be sure because of THE AXIOM. But after this long, I really hope I’ve earned some immunity.

And hopefully, too, I find that it’s not so tricky to remember again how to see beauty and dabble in beauty and be energized by creative endeavors.

I have to be honest, though. If the choice is between creativity/beauty and no more vomit, I will choose “no more vomit” every time! 😉

4 things that didn’t work for me in 2019 (and also the best book I read all year)

Is it too late for a 2019 recap post?

Yes?

What’s that I hear…go ahead anyway?

Or maybe it’s just my itchy “publish” finger leading me on? Ah, well, I’m going to go with it anyway. Here you have it…four things that didn’t work for me in 2019 and 1 thing that did–a great book.

1. Palmer’s cleansing oil || Leading with something so superficial, but it’s also probably the most practical item on this list, so there’s that. After falling down the Instagram hole at like two a.m. into Jamie Golden’s beauty product stories, I decided to try oil cleansing.

I know. Random.

As I recall, I just decided to pick up some oil locally rather than order on Amazon, and they didn’t have the type she recommended, so I subbed Burt’s Bees cleansing oil and promptly fell IN LOVE with everything—the way it melted off my makeup, the way it smelled, the way my face felt when I was done. Dreamy. Well, dreamy except I didn’t love the price. At $15 a bottle it’s certainly not a pricy cleanser, but it was pricier than I wanted to spend since I was going from washing my face with…gulp…liquid hand soap.

Anywho, when that bottle ran out I was pleased to see that Palmer’s offered what looked like a similar oil and I could buy it for about half price on Amazon. Score! I went through several bottles of it with my makeup melting off and my face feeling lovely every night. Facial cleansing oil truly converted me from being a Skip-Washing-Face girl to a religious cleanser every night before bed.

Except I started breaking out a bunch. Some deep, painful breakouts. Ugh. It wasn’t until I recently switched back to the Burt’s Bees oil and my face almost instantly cleared up, though, that I realized the problem—the Palmer’s! I’ve been back to my first love for a month now and am shocked at the difference. I wouldn’t say the Palmer’s oil is bad—it worked beautifully and left me feeling amazing. But something in there obviously doesn’t agree with my face. I spent half of last year trying various things to clear up stubborn chin acne and it was as simple as switching back to a former product. So there’s one for you.

2. Not having time alone || Pretty sure I’ve mentioned this as a problem at some point during multiple years. Seems like a theme, maybe? I’ve never counted myself much of an extrovert or an introvert. I need some time alone and I need some time with people and I can swing in either direction without much difficulty.

But the longer I homeschool the more I’ve found myself CRAVING alone time. Time with adults is good, too, but it doesn’t sub in for time when I’m by myself in a bookstore or a coffee shop or my car or running. When I don’t get time alone I start to feel like I don’t even exist other than invisibly or as a being in service to her family. When I’m alone I start to remember who I am again. I feel a little embarrassed about it when I write it out; it seems so melodramatic. But it’s absolutely honest and true for me, so it gets a mention.

Do other homeschool moms feel this way, too?

 

3. Looking for a church || After a loooooottttt of thought, we decided we needed to open our hearts and our minds to the possibility of of a new church home. You guys, I hate church stuff. It makes me feel physically sick to my stomach sometimes. Church drama has literally woven its way into so many corners of the story of my life.

After 4 months of looking, here’s what I can say about this process. It sucks. Which caught me by surprise because I wasn’t even that connected or involved in our church. I’m not in any groups. I’ve hardly been volunteering.  And it’s not like we didn’t see it coming a while back. But none of those things seem to matter very much when I’m tired of being adrift and disconnected. Familiar feels appealing and comfortable. Church plays a huge part in providing me with community and a sense of grounding, and I want to have those things back in my life. So we’re still looking but I’m tired of looking.

4. Health anxiety || 2019 was definitely a year of health chaos for us. In addition to the breast biopsy scare, I also had repeated and peculiar bouts of vertigo, a new experience for me, which—OF COURSE—led me to the certainty that I had a brain tumor. Without belaboring the story, there were often other potential benign reasons I might be so dizzy, so I kept wanting to get those things worked out first before I spent a kajillion dollars on brain imaging.

Why do I do this?????? I don’t know.

I should have just gone in at the first bout and had all the tests and it would have been over with so much sooner. Actually, I know exactly why I didn’t. I didn’t want to spend the money. Our deductible is high and healthcare costs have consistently beaten up our finances for the last decade. So I didn’t go because I didn’t want to spend the money on something that was probably just anxiety or impacted ear wax (another thing I had this year) or just a plain old stress overreaction.

As it was, Gabe had a freak health situation later in the summer that completely maxed out our family deductible, so it wouldn’t really have made much of a difference in the grand scheme of the finances had I gone in for all the imaging. But I didn’t know that at the time, so instead I just kept on obsessing over every little symptom like a boss and tried to make the best of it. It did finally push me to find a counselor, so in that sense it wound up producing something good. And Gabe just needed a bag of fluid and to drink more water, so all’s well with him. And my vertigo magically disappeared when I practiced more deep breathing.

Imagine that!

And now, for the good thing…the best book I read in 2019.

Burnout by Emily and Amelia Nagoski. It was truly paradigm-shifting for me. I knew a lot of the individual pieces the authors discussed, but when they put it together in the way they did it really connected with me and sparked me to implement a few healthy changes in my life.

The book has been everywhere in “best of 2019” lists so I’m sure I’m unlikely to be the first to mention it to you, but if you haven’t already picked it up or added it to your library holds, consider this more encouragement to do so. I read it last spring and still find myself thinking about some of its nuggets.

All Manner of Things Will Be Well

The room was nice enough, at least as far as sterile rooms go–bright and spacious with a comfortable recliner juxtaposed against the exam table. But the buttery walls were no comfort when I’d been left alone yet again to wait for The Next Step.

I have to get out of here, I panicked. Why did I come here alone? Why did I come here at all? This can’t be happening! Stunned and frantic, my insides churned while my mind darted from one bad scenario to another.

Several weeks ago, my doctor sent me to a breast surgeon for an evaluation for some unexpected and unexplained lactation. Usually it’s nothing, she told me, or maybe a benign ductal papilloma. But let’s get it checked to be sure.

Which is how I found myself being shuffled from mammogram to ultrasound, alone and coming apart while waiting for second looks and lymph node assessments and instructions on what would happen next.

Papilloma? Ectasia? Ductal Carcinoma? Surgery? Nothing?

Freeze.

 

Is it not the most millennial thing ever to take a selfie while waiting for the surgeon? lol

I walked out of the hospital that afternoon with orders for a biopsy and more questions than answers, a fact I found terribly disquieting because I went into the appointment expecting answers, expecting reassurance. The entire world felt like someone had shaken it and swirled it upside down for a while and now I had to wait for a biopsy as well as the debris to settle to know which end was up.

That’s where I’ve been. Waiting–rather inelegantly, I might add, but also terribly stifled in my emotions because I. Am. Never. Alone. Not during the day because I homeschool my kiddos, not in the evenings because I have a 14 year old who stays up later than me. Not when I go out in public because…hello. Public. There is no space to cry without it being awkward.

The evening of the first tests, I loaded myself, some books, and my emotional baggage into the van and trekked to the bookstore, my favorite place for retail therapy. Sure, it was public, but at least it would get me into reality and out of my head, or so I hoped. The gusty winds whistled eerily and rocked my old, arthritic van, the atmosphere heavy with impending rain. Everything about me felt unsettled–finally being alone, the weather, the surreal situation, and I found I couldn’t tolerate the quiet of the van, so I flipped the radio to NPR. Impeachment news has a lovely way of distracting me from my anxieties. But instead of news, it a rather unpleasant mixture of music and static. No news at all.

 

I went about my errands and stops, all the while tuned to the NPR-turned-static station. I kept twiddling with the knob like we did in the 80s to see if I could adjust it up or down a bit to get a clearer signal, but I think I was mostly on autopilot because even though nothing cleared the signal, I kept going right back to the station and listening to the jumble.

Quite suddenly, the static gave way to these crystal-clear lyrics that pierced my numb anxiety:

You are not hidden
There’s never been a moment
You were forgotten
You are not hopeless
Though you have been broken
Your innocence stolen
I hear you whisper underneath your breath
I hear your SOS, your SOS
I will send out an army to find you
In the middle of the darkest night
It’s true, I will rescue you
There is no distance
That cannot be covered
Over and over
You’re not defenseless
I’ll be your shelter
I’ll be your armor

During our saga with infertility, I often found myself looking for “signs” that God would give us a happy ending, a baby to love and care for and raise. When desperation took hold, everything seemed like it could be a sign–the words said to me by a stranger at the post office, a maternity dress mis-stocked amidst the racks at Target, the verse to which my Bible fell open. To be sure, there were some real “signs.” It’s easier to identify them in retrospect, and they were much rarer than I hoped they’d be.

But the longer our journey progressed, the more I began to realize that most of my fortune-seeking and signs were just a coping strategy, an unhealthy one at that, a form of magical thinking to give me the illusion of control, hope, and fulfillment in a situation where uncertainty and despair were the norm. Instead, what was happening just beneath the surface, what I miss while I fixated on the magical surface and knowing the future, was the real work of God. I’m here, Heidi. I know this is hard. Hide here, under my wing, where I can wrap you in the comfort of the infinite, the softness of my tender love for you. Tomorrow is not your guarantee, but moving gently with me through what comes is. I have set a path that rescues your heart and soul to me. This is my covenant with you.

This new situation had different details, but the desperation felt similar. God, I begged, please let me be well. I can’t bear the thought of making my babies suffer fear and grief, of leaving my babies behind. Who will remember to put lavender on their skinned knees, tell them the stories of their squishy baby days, remember to tell the hairstylist about the little cowlicks here and there? Their father will take care of them, but it won’t be the same, God! Please don’t let this come to be! These were the constant tracks playing in the background of my moments while I waited for tests and results.

Some might argue that the song on the radio was nothing more than coincidence, but I’m certain it was a message for me. Not a “magical fortune telling sign” that I didn’t have cancer, but a sign and reminder of sorts of the things God taught me the last time I was desperate and had reached the end of myself.

I’m here, Heidi. I know this is hard. Hide here, under my wing, where I can wrap you in the comfort of the infinite, the softeness of my tender love for you. Tomorrow is not your guarantee, but moving gently with me through what comes is. I have set a path that rescues your heart and soul to me. And I am now and will always be the same God to your children as I am to you. This is my covenant with you.

I tried hard to live in that truth during the interminable interim. I can’t say I was very successful, but just as the meditations teachers teach you to keep coming back to your breath if your mind wanders, I kept coming back to this truth.

But I’m not lucky! I’m often on the wrong side of the good statistics!

— I am with you.

This is too hard! I can hardly breathe!

— Your soul is safe with me.

How will I ever care for my babies in their trauma if I’m facing trauma myself?

— You only need to move gently with me through this moment.

I’m not ready to die. There’s so much more I want to do.

— You are with me on a path to rescue.

And then, eventually, the call.

Benign.

I trembled and cried and Tahd held me and I felt scared and joyful and relieved and exhausted all at once. There are too many of “ands” in that sentence, but they’re there because it was a simultaneous having of #allthefeelings, with relief topping them all.

A handful of moments in my life serve as markers, stakes in the ground significant “befores” and “afters.” This experience is one that has been added to the few. It will take me more time to unpack it’s implications, but I want to be sure to wring out all the clarification and significance so that my life is better aligned. If there is any gift nestled in stressful situations like these, it is definitely their fire of refining, allowing what’s valuable and important to shine through the fog that builds up during thee monotony and busyness of regular days.

I want to write more about this but I’m still processing all the feelings as well as some changes I want to make, so that will have to wait a little while longer. I do want to tell you more about the nuts and bolts of the biopsy, though, because a few quick google searches didn’t turn up many of the real-life accounts I wanted to read. It’s more likely that my search terms were faulty than that the blog posts just aren’t out there, but I want to contribute mine to the mix nonetheless.

It is not lost on me that others who go though this experience don’t always enjoy the same outcome. I’m carrying them in my heart a little more closely these days and am wishing them strength and complete healing. 💗

Exhausted And…

Exhausted and…

content || his blond mop-top nestles under my chin while his rhythmic breaths of sleep exhale across my chest, and if I take a deep breath I can practically smell the powder and lotion from his six-years-past baby days. He still snuggles and it is delightful.

Exhausted and…

frustrated || there. is. so. much. bickering. There is so much asking for stuff. There is SOMUCHYELLING!!!!!! Over the last year, I’ve become awakened to the unhealth of my idealism, especially how readily I resign myself to failure when my reality doesn’t match my idealistic expectations. Perhaps I should be thankful that my children’s interactions have sensitized me to an area of my life needing growth, but it is SO LOUD AND UNRELENTING and I just want some peace and quiet and maybe some knitting together around the table in candlelight while we sing kum-ba-yah and drink tea. IS THAT TOO MUCH TO ASK??? 🙈

Exhausted and…

nervous || I’m making a visit to the breast specialist tomorrow. It’s all probably fine and I’m probably fine and all manner of things will probably be fine. But still…nervous.

Exhausted and…

trying || to be less exhausted. It’s a little haphazard, but I find myself trying to go to bed earlier and giving myself permission to be more ruthless in my prioritization. Nothing has gotten less important, but I’ve realized I have to do the most important thing first because I can’t do #allthethings. And in being perfectly honest with myself, I realized that more sleep is really one of the most important things.  I hope that with a few months of more sleep I won’t keep being chased by the monster of “Perpetually Worn Down and Depleted.”

Exhausted and…

wistful || given that it’s the end of September, it’s probably time to admit that fall is really here, isn’t it? Summer went fast for me this year. I’ll miss her and her warm breezes, open windows, and bare feet.

Exhausted and…

hopeful || I went to a counselor last year, just a trial visit. I didn’t love it—she was nice enough, but it just wasn’t the best fit. Naturally, my thought process went like this:

Me: well, that one person didn’t work so I guess I’ll just never be able to find a counselor. It’s not even worth the effort. I’m sure I’ll be able to figure out how to be fine on my own.

Announcer: Heidi could not, in fact, figure it out on her own.

In a recent 2AM fit of anxiety, I remembered the name of a second counselor someone had suggested to me last year when I was looking for the original counselor. I wonder what counselors think when they see 2AM time stamps on emails? Like…whew boy…better get this one in quick. She’s gonna have a lot to work with! 😅  Anyway, we met a few weeks ago and I looooooove her. Why did I wait???  She listened to me for A WHOLE HOUR and she didn’t interrupt me or yell at me once <hi kids>. And she didn’t make me feel like an overly crazy lunatic, which I have felt when talking to other counselors. So I’m excited about this development. I’m excited to be listened to. I’m excited to have someone help me sort out my frustrations. I’m excited to have someone who’ll help me remember who I am, just me—not me the mother or me the homeschooler or me the whatever. I’m excited to let the light in again.

 

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