Tom Petty was right

Sometimes the was someone says (or sings) something cannot be improved upon: The waiting really is the hardest part. Of course, cancer was the hardest part too; as was watching someone I love being poisoned by medicine that would supposedly eventually make him better, and parenting insecure, scared preteens without much input from their dad, and myriad other things. But waiting…that was and still is a constant suck in our lives. We are waiting for Adam’s side-effects to abate (without knowing if or when that may happen), we are waiting to feel anything but shell-shocked, we are waiting for a family vacation in October (yay!), and more than anything, we are waiting for this mythical new normal thing people keep talking about. It reminds me a bit of when the kids were babies and no two days worked the same way. Adam and I were so ready to settle into a predictable routine, but it never quite materialized. We are still like that. The same problem requires a new solution each day…and that is to say nothing of the new problems that are constantly popping up. But we are so tired of living life from problem to problem. How can you just be when you are constantly putting out fires?



Very worst? Really?

Being a Christian does not mean that I’m like all the other Christians in the world, but that we all seek to be like Christ. There is nothing Christian about pretending a perfection we don’t own. There is also nothing Christ-like about wallowing incessantly in our imperfections. The impossibility of following Christ is that we, broken people, are given a gift as though we were never broken at all, and then we are called to honor that gift by choosing to obey a law that cannot save us. We are, in Christianese, sinners saved by grace and constrained by a law that, apart from the work of Christ, can only condemn us. And we do this because of and out of love. Inexplicable, ain’t it? Ineffable, even. But we don’t all agree about how we are supposed to love God and love each other. We don’t all have the same vision about what it means to obey the commands of a holy God. Some of us are always reverential while others comment irreverently on our poor attempts at holiness. Some think that representing Christ in a fallen world means never showing weaknesses because that would imply that Christ isn’t enough…and He is. Others are committed to authenticity and don’t want to imply to anyone that they have achieved perfection this side of heaven…because none of us do. Both sides have strong Biblical arguments and righteous intentions. And both have a hard time being moderate in their position, so they tend to find the other inexcusable.

I should say now that I fall on the latter end of the spectrum. I am so clearly not perfect and so intensely not interested in pretending that I am. The simple act of not sharing feels like pretense to me. I like self-deprecating humor and am encouraged by other people’s honest tales of redeemed brokenness more than by stories of unrelenting optimism. I love Jamie Wright’s blog. I still laugh out loud at the “Worst End of School Mom Ever” post by Jen Hatmaker. I fight personal offense when I read the above article, because I too write about what a mess I am. But. It’s not incorrect. It just lacks balance. It implies that only serious people are really Christians. It ignores that Paul called himself the chief of sinners. It ignores that the blogs in question continually turn to Christ as the only hope in a messy life. It ignores that C.S. Lewis didn’t only write Mere Christianity, he also wrote about a boy named Eustace Clarence Scrubb…”who almost deserved it.” I’d have an easier time reading the meat of this article and assenting to the undeniable fact that Christ doesn’t allow us to wallow in our brokenness if it didn’t feel so ungracious toward people who have done nothing but share honestly from their own lives. Lewis’ philosophical words are great, but there has to be room in the family of God for the comedian as well as the theologian. Self-deprecation doesn’t deny Christ’s work in our lives. As Christians we do test ourselves and question each other…but we are supposed to do so in love. And we aren’t supposed to challenge each other to uniformity of personality, but of purpose. We are all different and the only one we are supposed to be made in the image of is Christ.

So, for those who are private and reverent and keep their messes to themselves: you are real and are loved by God. You are right that God calls us to do good and not to wallow in our sin, mess and brokenness. He made you to protect your inner self and He redeems you without changing that reality of who you are. And. For those who are performers and irreverent and share their messes: you are real and loved by God. You are right that you are not yet in your glorified state and being a Christian doesn’t automatically fix all your brokenness. He made you to share your inner self and He redeems you without changing that reality of who you are. He uses both types of people to show the world who He is and that He loves us. Let’s show each other grace and strive together instead of struggling against each other.

Hold on a second….

I don’t expect everyone to agree with everything I write, or even anything I write. You are entitled to believe me petty, immature, misinformed, foolish, and any manner of other things that I frankly strive not to be. But I’m not going to leave comments to that effect on my blog. The opinions expressed here are mine and divergent ones are allowed…but mean or disrespectful comments will be deleted. Even if I made them…maybe especially if I made them. To that point, if you are female and don’t mind being called a girl, that’s cool…for you. It hit me wrong the other day, and no amount of aforementioned stewing changed that for me. This is not a moral issue – of that I am well aware – it is a preference issue, and I explained the reason for my preferences to the best of my ability. If that makes me an immature brat, so be it. Maybe I’ll grow out of someday.

But as for the idea that offending someone, especially when the offense was innocently and unintentionally offered, being the offendee’s problem: I’m not sure I agree. I hate accidentally hurting people, but I know that I do it. It most often happens because I say too much. Looking for the right words means going through many of the wrong ones first. My instinctive reaction is to lash out at the one I’ve offended, presumably in an innate “the best defense is a strong offense” sort of way. I didn’t intend to hurt anyone, so I am angry at them for having the temerity to be offended…. But why am I so bothered by the need to guard what I say (or write, for that matter)? If you can forgive me when I say things that bother you, I can strive not to do it. Why is that so hard? Why is loving people in a way that is meaningful to them, even when it is foreign to me, offensive? Why would my desire to share a way in which people could love me better be offensive to others? Why is it offensive to learn that I don’t like to be equated a child? Or that a word means something to me that it doesn’t mean to you? I call myself a bitch when I am one. That seems much more likely to offend….

So. To be clear: I am not angry at anyone. The overheard comment was not aimed at me specifically, but was used to make a statistical observation. The population in general was adult, not juvenile. The males were referred to as “guys,” not “boys.” Our word usage is often based on cultural context – there is something in mine that makes “girl” mean – at least in part – young, inexperienced, or innocent. I’m not those things. Sorry. In my cultural context, there is no equivalent word for “females of indeterminate age.” My preference, when it is clear that children are not being referred to, is to default to “women” instead of “girls.” Preference. That is all.

This has nothing to do with some sort of life-experience pissing contest. I am no better (or worse) a person because of the situations that I have experienced, nor will the fullness of years that God sees fit to grant me change my innate value. It follows that no person, young or old, can be thus judged. We are all younger than some and older than others – “I am older than I once was/And younger than I’ll be/That’s not unusual…” (thank you Paul Simon). We all still have real feelings, real opinions, real beliefs and are still worthy of respect. Even when others disagree with us. This isn’t, for me, about measuring my…maturity…it is about sharing myself.



The promised quotation correction

Because the actual line from The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley is better than what I managed to cobble together from memory, I present it to you. It is a bit of internal monologue as the main character, Harry, attempts to define her feelings about insomnia: “I rarely feel much the worse the next day, except for a sort of moral irritability that seems to go with the feeling that I ought to have spent all those silent hours asleep.” My moral irritability comes more from spending silent hours reading when I ought to be working. But hey – that’s how I learn all these cool quotations, right!?

Finding Heart and Brain Space

I really like how I feel when I am accomplishing things. As much as it sounds like paradise to be able to sit around and do nothing but read, the reality is that those days leave me feeling cranky and dissatisfied. There is a phrase from Robin McKinley’s book, The Blue Sword, that perfectly captures it: “moral irritability.” As in “she wasn’t exactly tired, she just felt a sort of moral irritability that came from the belief that she should have spent those hours in sleep.” (I don’t actually have the book here with me at the cancer center, so that isn’t exactly right. I’ll correct it when I get home!) So yeah, moral irritability. That uncomfortable feeling of knowing I should have done something, but the reality that I didn’t…and even that I just couldn’t. I am fighting inertia that is bone deep and related not to physical fatigue, but to mental and emotional exhaustion. I miss my husband. I miss relaxation untinged by grief and stress. I miss being able to plan for even the immediate future. I miss sharing the decision-making. And I feel guilty for feeling so negative. Because Adam is still here and we have every reason to hope that he will recover fully. He will be back and so will my so-called normal life. And I am so thankful for that…though I’m often hesitant to count on it. Maybe that is what I miss the most: that sense of certainty as to what the future will hold. So I don’t have the strength of heart or head to plan anything concrete. I am balanced precariously on a beam and cannot see the end clearly, so my equilibrium never quite stabilizes. I know that this feeling won’t last forever, but for now I am fighting paralysis. My big achievements are along the lines of getting the floor swept, the pool treated, the taxes sent to the CPA, and the laundry done. I still stink at getting the dishwasher unloaded, but loading it and doing the hand-washing are doable tasks. You will notice that getting the bed made is not on the list…not an oversight. We can’t even get the trash taken to the road about half the time. Grocery shopping and cooking are also spotty. No one wants to eat. And I hate cooking for an unappreciative audience, even at the best of times. So I keep wondering why I feel so tired at the end of the day. And how it is that I have no energy to write. I don’t even have the attention span to finish reading books half the time.
But. I don’t want to stay here, and I am trying not to give in to the exhaustion. I want to find space in my heart and in my brain to do both those things that I need to do and the things that I simply want to do. The exhaustion-induced inertia and the attendant moral irritability are…exhausting. The cycle is deadly. On the one hand, there are things that are simply going to be true during this time in our lives while Adam is in treatment, and there with be a natural recovery period after it is over where we will address many things. On the other hand, I can’t put everything off until that point and simply hope that it will all get better “later.” I keep thinking of the Brandi Carlile song that says “even a fool can tell you / someday never comes.” But still, someday Adam will have to recover strength, will regain some of the weight he has lost and will overcome chemo brain. Someday, we will take a celebratory family trip to Disney World and he and I will take a belated birthday/anniversary trip somewhere too. None of that can happen until chemo and radiation are done. But how low will I let myself get in the meantime? Will I let myself gain weight through comfort-eating, knowing that I will just have to lose it again? Will I let my kids and myself get lazy, knowing that we will have to relearn a how to live with discipline and rules and chores eventually? Obviously, I can’t remove all the stress form our lives or expect any of us to move through our summer as though nothing weird is going on. But there has to be a happy medium; something in between pretending nothing is wrong and wallowing in the wrongness. So I am writing. And I am spending more time reading my Bible instead of only disappearing into fantastical fiction. I am cleaning the pool, doing the dishes, swiffering the dog hair off the floor and even cooking some of the time. I am even trying to watch what I eat so that I can stop gaining one pound for every three that Adam loses. I need to start exercising because that commercial about depression hurting? It’s true. Whether I am depressed or just stressed or whatever, I hurt and I hope that exercise will help. So just like Adam has to mentally prepare for chemo, I have to mentally and physically prepare to be a single parent for most of one week out of two. And that preparation is finding the end of the beam we are balancing on: having to remember that our focus is on God – an immutable strength outside of ourselves who sustains us and to whom we give all praise. I may prepare, but I am starkly aware that none of the ability comes from me. At least, I can but hope it will work out this way…because all I can see right now is the space right in front of me. I will trust the end of the beam is there and I will continue to look toward where it must be. Because maybe finding heart and brain space is really about having faith that it is there somewhere. Because where else is there to go?

Adventures in Parenting

“There is no way…I mean like one chance in a billion…a billion to one possibility…that I am ever going to ask for help.” So saith my son…he’s a little bit independent. This lovely and encouraging quotation came at the end of what can only be called a verbal altercation between the two of us; an altercation that started when I told him not to slide off the couch and land on the dog…which he did anyway. Because he couldn’t stop himself once he had started. Though he tried not to land fully on the much beleaguered (and always underfoot) dog. We will skip the part where I failed to calmly and firmly correct the disobedience and instead turned into a raving lunatic banshee and get straight to the part where we talked out what each of us should have done differently. First and foremost: he has to obey whether or not he wants to or thinks what we have instructed is the best course. In fact, once he realized that he could not recover from his slide off the couch, he could have asked for help. (That’s where the above quotation fits in, by the way.) We ended the moment taking turns looking up words in the dictionary – hyperbolize, for one. I assured him that I love him…and that if he cannot obey, he will be punished. He was calm and chastened…and I left the room feeling like a failure because of the whole return of the banshee thing. Ah parenting. So rewarding.

But what really struck me was his reaction to the idea of letting someone help him fix his problems. I’m not sure that anyone could have captured that aspect of Ethan any better that his own statement did – and I’m not even sure it is hyperbole…. There really is only a one in a billion chance that he’ll ask for help. I mean, I’ve known him for ten years, and it hasn’t happened yet…. Even on the few occasions when it has happened (because, you know, I’ve been known to hyperbolize a time or two myself), he doesn’t actually accept the help that is offered. The sheer dogged determination that he was born with is exhausting…and often overwhelming for all of us. If he can harness it and point it in a worthwhile direction, he will accomplish so much…if I don’t squash him in a fit of pique in the meantime. But how do I make our family be about something other than the overwhelmingness that is Ethan? Or that is me, since many of you are smirking and thinking that anyway…. Or that is chemo, for that matter. How do the comparatively calm and laid back members of the family make themselves heard? Well, in our case, the get really sweet – you know, kind of annoyingly sweet – right in the midst of storm and then wait till everything is calm to stage their own nutty. It’s awesome. We take turns, see? So there is always some sort of insanity going on. Parenting. So rewarding.


Oh shit. Now it occurs to me that I am going to offend someone because I am not appropriately thankful for the opportunity to parent. I mean, I knew the banshee thing might be offensive and worrisome – it worries me – but I almost forgot the offense of not being grateful. And yes, my tongue is in my cheek…sort of…because I’m also being serious. It is offensive to see someone take their blessings for granted…even when the blessings come with difficulties. My kids told me the other day that I should let them have something they wanted because it was easy. I told them that “easy” went away forever the day we decided to have children. Kara, horrified, said, “You mean you didn’t want us?” Of course not! I said “decided” – children are a blessing and I love them and cherish the responsibility to them…but it is hard. Everyday, something is difficult. Maybe it’s the fact that I have to say no even though it would be more fun to say yes, or it’s that they are in a cussed mood and nothing satisfies them…or that I am. Maybe it is that they are having a hard time academically, socially or emotionally. Maybe it is that someone is sick and my plans get torpedoed. Then there are the little irritations of the sheer number of lost, broken, scattered, and ruined things all over the house. We were organized once upon a time…. But now we have two more people in the house with us. And there is nothing I like more than people. Even when they make me crazy. Because when I step back, they are so much more precious than any thing I can think of. So yes. Parenting. So rewarding.

But please God…banish the banshee…amen.

A Wonderful Weekend

We had an absolutely gorgeous weekend. The weather was beautiful, Adam felt good, and the soccer was awesome! My favorite part of parenting so far is watching my children grow up. I know. That thing that makes me a bit sad or brings that bittersweet lump to my throat is also the best part. Growing up means learning new things, mastering skills, having real conversations, coping with disappointments, earning accolades, and so many other things. I love that. My son got a “player of the game” patch for his work in goal during their first game – I wanted to cry and hug the opposing team’s coach for choosing him. But mostly I just want to be thankful – and yes, happy – for the great weekend. The kids (players and siblings alike) swam at the pool, played with friends, and generally acted like the crazy kids they are; and when it came time to play, they played hard and with heart. Not much sleep was had, bruises were incurred, and tears ensued at times. In fact, Ethan had to stay home from school today and has a doctor’s appointment (oh, I’m tired of those) this afternoon because he is feeling pretty bad from allergies, lack of sleep and general exhaustion. But he coped. The whole time. Even when the other team scored. Maybe that is why I can’t seem to stop being so happy about this weekend. The wins were great – really great. But Ethan held it together. Ethan. While he was sick, tired, hungry and imperfect. Held it together. Thank you God, for my maturing kid! And thank you to some wonderful coaches and teammates. Do you know what a really great coach does? He teaches, loves, encourages, chastises, cheers, rewards, denies, punishes, challenges, and pushes a kid to be better than the kid even knows he can be. He helps a group of competitive individual egos become a team that works together. He teaches that sportsmanship is about playing, winning, and losing with grace and dignity. He knows when to let someone else teach his team things he can’t. And he never quits being on their side. So congrats to the Rocket City United Development Academy U-10 Gurley team on your gold flight championship performance at the Hoover Havoc tournament and a special shout out to Coach Aaron – he’s one of the good guys! Thank you for a wonderful weekend…and for a happy post – one that isn’t about cancer at all!