Hope and Beautiful Things

It’s always one of the most tender part of my spring, the blooming of our magnolia tree, a passage of seasons I mark each year. To be sure, I do love that tree, both for what it has represented in my life as well as the unabashed splendor it displays while covered in giant white-pink saucers of blooming flowers.

The tree has just one fault–it drops all those gorgeous petals.

It makes a giant mess and, in the process, becomes decidedly unbeautiful.

It reminds me of our time spent living in northern Maine. Winters there were notorious and protracted, with snow often falling during eight months of the year and snowbanks that didn’t weep their final farewells until June. The first signs of spring were much coveted and long awaited, but each year as the early shoots of green appeared, they were quickly replaced by an ubiquitous layer of sticky brown dirtying everything in sight. Mud–the fifth season of northern Maine. Just when you think beautiful weather is on the horizon, everything looks like death again.

Such as it is with my tree, albeit our midwest winters aren’t nearly as tiresome. I look forward to its beauty every year, but before I know it, my lawn is a mess and the tree looks dead and brown and bare again.  Blah.

Of course, it’s not dead, just like spring is never destroyed by a little mud.  But it can do a surprisingly good imitation between blooming and leafing.

Hope, I’m finding, is much the same.  We struggle through difficult situations and seasons, thrilled when the first displays of relief appear. Much like my magnolia tree in full bloom, that relief can be quite breathtaking, as it was for me when after five years, we finally saw two pink lines on a pregnancy test. Other times, it’s more like the first shoots of green grass in the northern Maine spring, barely peeking up above the surface of a difficult winter but beautiful just the same

But sometimes, hope fades–the petals fall or the mud covers, and everything looks dead again.  And then, it feels like we’re back where we started, but this time we have no idea where we’ll end up. We saw those pink lines during four different pregnancies before we ever brought home our rainbow baby.  Or my dear, sweet, terribly colicky Jude. He teased us many a time with a few consecutive full nights of sleep, only to land squarely back into the “wake up 6 times a night” crazy-making phase for no reason.

This is where I’ve been lately with my anxiety and depression–unexpectedly slipping backward into territory I thought I’d covered already. More days than not, I’ve been finding my heart pounding and mind racing without even knowing why.  How is it that I’m almost 40 and I still feel like I’m a newbie when it comes to emotional management??? I wonder. I’ve done All The Things…the reading, the journaling, the exercise, the meditation, the medication, the counseling. I thought I had more coping strategies than this. I thought I’d done this before and learned some lessons. I thought this wouldn’t be so hard anymore!

I often get stuck here, too discouraged to hope any longer. I’m ashamed to realize my inner dialogue often goes something like this: You thought things were finally looking up. How ridiculous! Don’t you know the other shoe always drops? The petals always fall. Good things don’t last forever! 

Blah.

Tahd’s work took him to Brazil this month, and while he was gone, my mother generously offered to keep my kids on many of the evenings so I could have a bit of a reprieve.  Since my my parents only live a few doors away, I traipsed back and forth through the mess of fallen magnolia petals to and from their house many times during those nine days.

I’m not sure, but I suspect several neighbors find the fallen petals a nuisance. If they had their druthers, I’m sure a magnolia tree wouldn’t be anywhere in their landscaping designs because of the colossal mess, and understandably so. For some people, the mess isnt worth it. The beauty is short, the mess is huge, and it can be quite a bother.

But it’s worth it to me. I deal with the petals because I know they mean something to me.  The mess is temporary; in a few short weeks, the tree won’t look dead anymore, but will rather explode in vibrant greens, creating a canopy of happy shade over our front yard.  The tree will be strong and mature, beautiful in a new way.

Just because something looks like it’s taking a few steps backward doesn’t mean it necessarily is. My tree needs to shed its blossoms to make way for leaves. That’s life, too; sometimes, good and beautiful beginnings dissolve to make way for stronger, more mature growth that can go the distance.  The interim is not always pretty, but it’s not a reason for discouragement. It’s all part of the process.

That’s exactly what hope is–a process. A roller coaster, even. True hope is much grittier than the sweet, fluffy and frilly thing we imagine it to be. It’s tired and uncertain. It wears the pads of your fingers bare while you hold on with all your might, all the while believing that even though everything looks barren–again–energy and vigor still teem within, readying to unfurl their vibrant, mature beauty at the right time.

This is what I’m telling myself right now. When things are no longer picture-perfect or seem to be regressing, don’t lose hope, Heidi. What looks bleak one day may be making way for a beautiful, new growth in your life that takes you into your next stage of maturity.

It reminds me of a line in Shauna Niequist’s book, Bittersweet:

 

If you’re in a dark, confusing or backward season, don’t lose hope, friend. We may not see the resolution from where we stand now, but we can be sure that just as in nature, the things taking place under the surface and just out of our view will continue to propel us toward progress and maturity.

When We Just Get Through…

April.  It’s April.  When did that happen? I’m pretty sure I still have a stray Christmas decoration or two floating around my house.  In fact, “pretty sure” is a euphemism for “certain” that I actually have a stray Christmas decoration on the shelf in my bedroom from Christmas 2015 that I never got around to putting away.  I wish I were exaggerating to make a funnier story, but I’m not.

Do you ever find yourself thinking, When we just get through X, things will settle down and I’ll finally be able to Y?  For me, X can be any number of things–the terrible twos, Tahd’s next trip, the holiday season, the end of the school year, the rest of summer break…I find myself almost addicted to having those finish lines in sight.  Like a runner in an important race, having an end on the horizon gives me an energy boost that propels me a little harder toward the prize–the rest and accomplishment at the end.

Except…

Around the beginning of February, I found myself plotting out plans for the rest of the year–nothing major, just a filling in of the calendar, really. Phew, okay! Time to get this calendar under control! And as I filled in the dates, there it was…When we just get through summer and into fall, we’ll be able to put our heads down and make some progress! And suddenly, the absurdity of that statement struck me.

When we just get through summer? But we’ve hadn’t even started spring yet!

Yikes!

To be sure, Tahd started a new job this year and his schedule changes are an adjustment. Yes, this is our first year of homeschooling and we’re still trying to find our groove. Yes, there’s the possibility of a surgery (not emergency, more later) on the horizon. Yes, the upcoming summer season will mean a whole host of changes to our schedules and daily routines. But am I really prepared to put life on hold until I get to the “normal” months of fall? And once I get there, what then? We’ll have September and October of “normalcy” followed by the welcome chaos of the holiday season.

Here I’ve been sitting, waiting for normal so I can carve out space to get the important things done. But I think I’ve been wrong all along. Because this life, messy and busy and nothing neatly organized, is my normal.

Messy. Crazy. Beautiful. And normal.

I’m putting off the most important things for a period that’s never going to come.  And the opportunities for those “most important things” could easily pass me by while I’m waiting for the “right” time.

How about you? Do you find that you put off the things that matter to you because life seems too crazy? Or have you found ways to push through the chaos to get to the meat of the important things of life? I’d love to hear more about how you’ve wrestled with this task, whether you’re a mom or not!

A Chicken Pot Pie Story

I’m thrilled and honored to have had an essay of mine published at a new community for moms – Kindred Mom. I’d love to share my piece with you, but even more than that, I’d love for you to get acquainted with this beautiful, encouraging site. It’s full of wisdom and pieces that have warmed my heart!

I walked into my family’s Mother’s Day dinner and tried not to shatter the fragile calm I’d requested. “Please, let’s pretend some part of Mother’s Day is still okay,” I begged my husband to convey to everyone. Feigned smiles and furtive, syrupy cheerfulness abounded, and as I sank into my seat at the table, I could tell my throbbing emptiness had permeated the room and filled their hearts anyway.

It was over. Hours earlier, after five interminable years of secondary infertility and thirteen incredulous weeks of pregnancy, I’d left the hospital emergency room after hearing the words every mother dreads: “I’m sorry. There’s no heartbeat.”

Our baby—a daughter, Mara Shirin—was gone. On Mother’s Day.

At some point in the haze of the next few days, my mother told me that someone was arranging a schedule so we’d have meals provided for us for two weeks. I was flooded with appreciation, relief, and curiosity. What would these sweet friends bring? The quintessential joke about meals like this is that you’ll eat every incarnation of chicken casserole known to man.

For years, I’ve been mostly vegetarian. I wish I could say it had to do with the ethics of animal consumption or the health benefits of vegetarianism, but that wasn’t what prompted my dietary choices. I just didn’t like it as much as I liked other things. As I’ve gotten older and I’ve learned more about both animal treatment and health, my preference has only intensified. I still eat eggs and use chicken and beef bouillon in broth, and I have to be completely honest and say I eat cheese with Abandon. Yes, “Abandon” with a capital “A.” But aside from that, chicken, beef, pork, fish, and their neighbors comprise a very small portion of my diet.

My mother asked if I wanted her to convey any dietary restrictions, but I declined. I wasn’t very hungry to begin with and figured I could eat around any meat if I found myself in the mood for dinner. My husband and son like meat so I figured it would be quite a treat for them.

The meals started coming—quiche, chicken and vegetables, spicy beef soup, chicken salad. It has been seven years since our loss and I still remember those meals. My servings were small, but with almost every dish I went back for seconds or leftovers. I couldn’t help myself. Something about the meat, the chicken in particular, felt good in my belly and nourished my broken heart.

Several months later, I found myself craving a chicken pot pie, a dish I’ve made for years, but usually without the actual chicken. A veggie pot pie, I guess? But this time, it was all about the chicken. Click here to continue reading.

Bring It All

Winter sun poured through my dining room window, warming the table onto which I slumped. A hot tear or two slid down my cheek, but only one or two because a full cry required more energy than I could muster.

I just can’t do this anymore, I thought. I can’t keep up! I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I’m so tired. And sad. And tired of being sad. God, help me! What could I possibly be getting so wrong that I feel like this?

Somewhere along the way, I’d fallen into a lifestyle of personal responsibility, which is good in some areas, but less so in others. Mine was in the vintage of a “God helps those who help themselves” mindset.  The running conversation in my head went something like this: “I’ll take care of the stuff I can take care of and I’ll let you know when I need your help, God. Wouldn’t want to bother you with anything frivolous or unimportant!”

So, the laundry? My thing. As was juggling the family’s schedule, keeping everyone moderately happy, refereeing the arguments, managing the money, reading the books, cultivating everyone’s faith, cooking the meals, washing the bathroom, combing my hair, keeping up my marriage, and providing everyone’s education.  The list goes on, but I’m sure you know it because I’m guessing it’s basically your list, too, in one form or another.

I’ve long been aware that the “help themselves” theology isn’t actually found anywhere in the Bible. This isn’t a perspective I actively chose to embrace. But it had crept in so surreptitiously that I didn’t realize it had taken hold until every day was marked by weariness and discouragement.

Sometimes when I ask these existential questions, there’s no answer. Most of the time, actually. Sometimes there’s an answer that appears gradually and over time. And other times, the answer is sudden and surprises me with its clarity, just like the answer was to this January afternoon lament.

“Heidi, you only come to me with the big stuff, with the totally tired stuff, with the end-of-your-rope stuff. If it’s ‘little’ and you think you can do it, you do, and without giving me a second thought. That’s why you’re here, exhausted and dry and in this predicament, you know.

“You have to bring it all to me. The little stuff, too. The stuff you think you can do on your own. The stuff that you hardly have to think about in order to accomplish. All of it. When you do the little stuff in your own strength, you’re using yourself up! That’s not what I intended.

“I don’t think you’re a bother. The supper, the laundry, the paying the bills, the sweeping crumbs under the table for the hundredth time…it’s not a bother to me.  Bring it all to me. I’ll lighten your load.”

I wouldn’t say every problem is a spiritual problem, and I most certainly wouldn’t say things like depression and anxiety can be prayed away. But I would say we exist in several planes–the physical, the emotional, the relational, as well as spiritual–and our problems can exist across several planes simultaneously. I find I often overlook the spiritual plane for those that are more tangible.

I wish I could say that when this answer appeared, relief flooded over me and I’ve been living in peace and bliss since that moment. Instead, I’ve been chewing on this for a month now. Working out my salvation, I suppose. How does this actually happen, bringing it all? How do I cultivate the discipline it takes to stop relying solely on what’s tangible and what I can control and, rather, lean into the spiritual instead?  How do I live with a happy heart independent of my circumstances? How do I learn to view my life differently, so I see all the planes and dwell in their fullness?

In her gem, The Quotidian MysteriesKathleen Norris brings it full-circle: “It is a quotidian mystery that dailiness can lead to such despair and yet also be at the core of our salvation…It is in the ordinary, the here-and-now, that God asks us to recognize that the creation is indeed refreshed like dew-laden grass that is ‘renewed in the morning’ (ps 90:5), or to put it in more personal and theological terms, ‘our inner nature is being renewed every day (2 Cor 4:16).” (10, 22)

It is through the dailiness, through learning to bring it all, that I will find the renewal I so desperately crave.

Maybe you’re like me and you’re tired, too. Maybe you have a lot of balls in the air and not enough arms in which to catch them. Maybe you know things shouldn’t feel so heavy and difficult, but they do anyway. Let’s hold hands and find the path out together. I know I could use some company on the journey.

Growing Up, Growing Tender

growingupgrowingtender

Must be so nice, I thought, snug under my yellow Holly Hobby coverlet, my golden ringlets piled on the pillowcase. It was night and my mother had just left my room…again…after scolding me for something, which probably involved me hollering incessant questions to her while I was supposed to be falling asleep.

I do wrong things all the time, I lamented. Grown-ups never do anything wrong! I can’t wait to grow up so I won’t make mistakes anymore!

Ah, sweet innocence!

**********

Parenting, she’s not easy. I’d been a middle school and high school teacher, so I never held any happy-go-lucky illusions of motherhood. Babies would be hard. Toddlers and preschoolers would be doubly hard. School-age kids might hold a little reprieve. Preteens and teenagers would be maddeningly hard. But when I came across this photo the other day, its truth reminded me again of how “hard” doesn’t even begin to capture all that is parenthood…

image

And it’s not just parenthood that’s leaves me with a perpetual string of “What am I doing?” questions around every corner. Parenthood is but one area of perpetual uncertainty. It’s life, really. Many facets, if I’m being perfectly honest, like…

|| managing the money (for now and for the future–um, hello, I have no clue how much to budget for food for February, let alone how much to budget for future food purchased during SEVERAL DECADES of retirement!)

|| choosing the right dietary balance so we don’t all wind up obese or with cancer or an autoimmune disease. Have you seen Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead???

|| being married–don’t get me wrong.  I love my husband with my whole heart and he makes every facet of my life better. But living with, loving, and baring my soul to another human is freaking hard sometimes, and it has refined me like nobody’s business.

|| what kind of career to pursue–when am I ever going to figure out what I want to be when I grow up?

|| watching coverage of tragedies and things like the Syrian refugees, the children in particular, whose unspeakable tortures I can’t even begin to fathom, and who I have no clue how to help

Yes, for sure it’s not just this parenting gig that leaves me questioning. The little girl inside me is still waiting for the day when I finally feel like a grown-up, ready to stop making mistakes and know for sure what I’m supposed to do. At this point, I’m guessing that’s not going to happen?

family

I turn 39 last week, and (if you’re good at math like me) 😉 this means 40 is just around the corner. I’ve probably reached the half-ish of my life! And while it has been terribly good, there are still surprises, especially where my emotions are concerned. Most surprising, I don’t feel grown-up.  I don’t feel less uncertain or less timid. I don’t feel like I know what I’m doing.

Really, I just feel more tender.

In fact, with each passing year, as the tenderness has grown, I worried–am I getting this adult thing all wrong? Why don’t I know what happens next? Why do the world’s problems seem bigger, more encompassing? Why do questions seem more innumerable, the answers more elusive? Why does it hurt more when I see my children struggle with something as they grow up? Why is it not just sad, but paralyzingly sad, to watch the news and see the suffering and the war and the refugees? Why am I not growing used to loss and death, instead finding that each time someone passes, the holes they’re leaving seem bigger?

raggedyann

A few months ago, it dawned on me that maybe this burgeoning tenderness wasn’t so much a sign that I was getting things wrong but a sign that I was really growing up. Maybe growing up didn’t look in reality like my childish eyes expected. Maybe I’d been seeking the wrong certainty all along.

Maybe tenderness means learning to lean into uncertainty, not because you know the answers will magically appear but because it’s the only true and worthwhile thing to do. Maybe tenderness means learning to grieve well because you trust that by loosening your grip on the temporal you open your hearts to the transcendent. Maybe tenderness means feeling the thorns but keeping your eyes open because you know beside the thorns come rosebuds and beauty. Maybe tenderness means making a lot of mistakes and being okay with that because mistakes mean you showed up and really lived.

Maybe tenderness, in fact, is the secret of growing up.

I don’t know if I’m right or not. I figure it has taken me 40 years to come to this realization. Give me another 40 to figure out if I’m right, and I’ll let you know. Maybe by then I’ll have figured it all out. Or at least know what I want to be when I grow up? 😉

 

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...