Friday, September 26, 2014

When men should have bangs--Confronting Anemia--and Naked Windows. (Or, a small and somewhat meaningless update.)


{the morning after we moved.}



I am supposed to be working, while watching one of the two shows I actually sit down for during the week.

No, this isn't true.  I'm supposed to be cutting Ben's hair, which he has been asking me to do for about two weeks now--but he fell asleep on the lower bunk where Leah and June sleep together (vertically, in their full-sized bunk bed) while trying to get June to "calm down and stop pretending to karate chop her Curious George blankie."  Those were my words, not his, that I said to June right before Ben switched me places and I came out to the family room to settle my swollen feet on the ottoman next to the couch to begin my nightly computer work.

However, he fell asleep, so I don't feel guilty that the haircut isn't happening for yet another night.  Besides, I really like his hair long, when it begins to curl.  This is something we've disagreed about for going on 12 years of marriage, and I will admit there have been times when I've avoided those haircuts as long as I possibly can so I can enjoy one more day looking at the dark curls that grow.  "Men should not have bangs!"  Has been his motto.  Sometimes I agree with this--but in his case, I do not.

Anyway, I sat down to work and instead began reading blogs and started wondering if there would be a time when my words would come back to me to write again....it has been a long, long time.  I miss this side of me.  So, I decided to just begin.

The months that have passed so quickly have provided our family with a lot of twists and turns.  Caleb turned 9, June turned 3, I turned 34, Ben turned 35, we went to Utah to visit family, Ben found a new job, we made it through another stifling Arizona summer, the older two kids began school, Ben passed his dissertation defense, and....we have unexpectedly moved (again).

I'm attempting to gain the attitude of expecting the unexpected with our lives, because that is the way it continues to go--thinking that the element of shock and stress and surprise will leave and I can roll with it better.  Or this is my hope.

I could tell I was in a funk when we had been in the house for 3 weeks and not one picture or curtain had been hung yet.  Not one!  This is unheard of, for me.  I worried I was depressed, honestly.  Or just avoiding the unpacking because I'm anticipating another move in our future and leaving everything ready to go at a moment's notice.  It turns out neither of these was true.

About 3 weeks ago, at the doctor's office for my glucose pregnancy blood test (so extremely un-fun), I was told I have a severe case of pregnancy-induced anemia.  How it was caused is unsure and something the midwife/doctor team is still puzzled about, referring me to a hematologist to double-check things next week.  In the mean time, I have been put on a high dose of iron and have been informed to take this matter seriously.

Week one and two of my iron dose seemed relatively the same, but last week--something clicked.  The iron pumping through my system started working and I began to feel human again.  I no longer had to come home from dropping the older two kids off at school and beg June to watch a movie so I could lay like a zombie on the couch or sleep until it was time to pick up Leah from half-day kindergarten.  I no longer lived on Tylenol or Excedrine (the one without aspirin) because of the constant and persistent headache I had been enduring for almost 4 months.  The room no longer spun each time I stood up.  I no longer had bouts of time (sometimes up to 20 minutes or more) where I struggled to breathe and my heart could not slow down.

And, I began hanging pictures on the walls.

I'm now answering phone calls, scheduling play dates, making dinner, and occasionally taking my kids to the park.  Every day no longer feels like I'm crawling my way through it, but actually getting up and walking through, with possibly a small spring in that step, even.  May not sound like a big deal for some, but unfortunately just existing day to day had become my story before the iron supplement.

Though I'm not grateful for the overly and intentionally sweetened glucose drink I had to consume that day in the doctor's office, I am grateful this anemia was discovered through that glucose test, and handled so I can come back to life just before this fourth baby enters our world.

Our new home is beginning to feel like us.  Curtains still need to be hung though.  Why do windows look so naked to me without them??  We will get there.

For now, I will settle with finally writing something, and getting to look at Ben's curly bangs one day longer than planned.

Also?  This is me, just after drinking that nasty sugary drink, before the iron supplement began, at 29 weeks along.  Anyone in the mood for a cupcake?




Thursday, July 3, 2014

Halfway.




Today I lay against the crinkly tissue, which wrinkled and ripped each time I moved--even when the only movement I made was to crane my neck around to the left and steal glimpses of my children watching the screen above us glowing its fluorescent purple.  It was the first ultrasound they have been to, and will most likely be the last.

We were shown the brain, the eyes, the nose with the sinus cavities, the ears, the abdomen, the bladder, ten fingers and ten toes that continued to wiggle and wave as the probe pushed down against the cold, clear jelly on my stomach.

"The baby isth sthooooo cute!"  Leah lisped with excitement, her hands clasped together.

"Dat baby looks like it's gonna eat dat shark,"  June explained, trying to make sense of the images before her.

"Is it a boy or a girl?" was the only thing Caleb continued to ask, until the technician finally answered.

Girl!

I watched Caleb's face crumple as he brought his knees up to his chest and buried his head down.  Ben reached over and wrapped him in his arms.

"It's okay to be sad, Bud," I said gently, attempting to comfort him while he was out of my arm's reach.   The technician's eyes widened and shifted from my face over to Caleb's tears and I quietly explained, "We knew this would be hard for him, he's wanted a little brother for so long.  The good news is, wanting a little brother has never stopped him from loving his little sisters."

"He's not the first one to cry, it's usually the mom though," was her upbeat response.

We continued the rest of the anatomical exam with a more subdued mood than we had begun, but it was still miraculous to see.  There were so many parts and pieces working, dependent upon each other to connect  and form together.  The femur bones, the four heart chambers, the umbilical cord, the curved spine.  I stared at her perfect little profile and tried to visualize the movements on the screen happening inside of me at the same moment.

I have admittedly been one who stays emotionally unattached--or mentally unattached?-- during my pregnancies, which used to bother me.  I've wondered why I was not the type of woman to talk directly to my unborn child, or sing to them, or read them stories, or be able to associate my protruding stomach to a little baby actually alive inside of me, like I have heard so many do.

I've stopped being concerned with trying to be someone other than who I am, because the moment my child is placed in my arms the overwhelming love is so immediate, so thickly bound, that it feels like the missing piece of a puzzle I have been working on for 10 months is finally put in place.  My brain can suddenly compute and accept the reality of growing another little human, and the disconnected time during pregnancy washes away.

One thing that does connect me during pregnancy, is to decide on a name.   And I have, both a first and a middle name, one that jumped out at me a couple of months ago, and I haven't let go of since.  It is a sweet, peaceful name with the middle one also belonging to two women of strength in my life.  Ben isn't completely convinced yet, and this is the first time out of four that we haven't easily agreed, settling as soon as we heard the gender.

When the ultrasound was over, I met my midwife.  I've always wanted to work with a midwife, and was excited to hear at my last doctor's appointment that our insurance covered them, so I made the switch.  We spoke of what the next few months together looked like, and as she spoke, I felt a familiar feeling creep to the surface of my emotions--one I am currently digging through in therapy to continue to overcome.

Fear.

More specifically,  Fear of my own abilities and strength.  I have barreled through many other Fears the past few years, and yet somehow as the midwife spoke, I recognized this Fear as one of the most deeply-buried, intrinsically ingrained of all of them.  Working through this one will reach out and cause a shift, changing other areas of my life, I can sense it.  These next few months will be interesting--that I know--and if I can meet the hurdles I for see ahead with faith in God and my abilities, they may also become one of the most challenging and rewarding of my entire life.

My little family went to lunch together after the appointment, all five of us sitting in a rounded booth.  The girls passed the ultrasound pictures back and forth, and Caleb cheered up over his pasta and mandarin oranges.  I found myself wondering how the dynamics of another girl will alter what we have in this moment, and could tell Ben was contemplating the same.

I am almost 20 weeks along, and feel that Halfway is very much a metaphor of my life right now.  There are so many things unsettled, unfinished, unknown, waiting on one thing or another, still in Forming Mode.

Ben's need for full-time work that will make enough to support us continues, his dissertation is set to be finished (finished!  I can hardly understand this concept! ) and defended by August 20th, our house may be sold while we are renting it, beginning any time after August we could be handed a slip of paper and told to find somewhere new, Ben will begin the application for interviews again in October, and---if all goes well--leave again for the majority of December and January while I do my best to juggle a newborn and three tiny people without the support of family close by.

The unknown of all of this can feel suffocating and terrifying, if I let it.

Like the tiny body parts I watched on the screen today, these pieces of our lives are dependent upon each other in order to grow, systematically working together to create what will become Our Future.  Ben and I are doing our best to hang on,  trying not to stress over how it will all come together.

We are trusting the process we are in, trying to believe in our own abilities and strength, waiting patiently while Halfway continues to develop, in both our lives and with our baby.



Monday, May 26, 2014

crawling out.

It feels as if the last almost-four months has been dedicated to sleeping, or laying down wishing I was sleeping.  Also simultaneously wishing my olfactory system no longer worked so I wasn't constantly fighting the feeling of an impending vomit session.  I have really come to believe my highly advanced sense of smell needs to take much of the credit for the non-stop nauseousness as it kicks into overdrive when pregnancy arrives.  Why do I blame my nose?  Because around week 12, I was hit with a nasty sinus infection that lasted a total of around five days.  At that same time, I was tricked into believing the nausea was finally coming to an end.  I couldn't breathe properly whenever I lay down, but I didn't care.  I stuffed tissues up my nose and reveled in the glorious idea I was feeling human again.  Until the sinus infection was over, and suddenly it returned.  It was a mean little trick to play on me, as I felt swept back under into the darkness of exhaustion and nausea that doesn't care if it's morning, afternoon, evening, or waking me in the middle of my sleep as the sun began to rise.

I am slowly crawling out though, with one or two good days each week now.  It isn't consistent, and I can't figure out what causes the temporary relief, but have learned to just take each day as it comes.  {Otherwise I've been found to spend them feeling sorry for myself on those hard days of sickness, asking overly-dramatic and obnoxious questions like, Will this everrrrrrrr ennnnnnnddddd????}

In spite of feeling as though I've lived in a cave, life has carried on.


Before I was sick, there was Valentine's Day:




Beautiful, imaginative, emotional, soft-hearted, constantly singing and dancing Leah turned 5:










We took a real family vacation, with Andrea and her family!























Ben finished his FINAL, LAST EVER class, and celebrated with a nap on the stairs:



I took a quick trip to Vegas and Utah for a siblings weekend:




Then the sickness hit, and the next thing I could remember was my sister and her family visited over Easter weekend.  I was so sick and felt so badly I could barely get out of bed, but did manage one night to get a babysitter, go out to a fancy dinner and REALLY celebrate their company and the end of doctoral classes:






Preschool graduation:




Mother's Day:





Our awesome, energetic Caleb turned 9:






Then finished 3rd grade:





And those are the highlights!  

Ben has been the champion of champions while I've basically checked out of life,
only putting on makeup maybe once per week, and emerging from the house about the same.  

Before he started his new job, he took on kid-duty, grocery shopping,
laundry and cleaning.  Those were a couple of weeks I barely remember, but am so grateful for, 
because I'm sure he remembers them.  

Now he's working in a new job and is gone several nights a week again,
and I say a lot of prayers and honestly?  The kids watch a lot of t.v.  


I'm hoping I'm getting to the end of it though.  First trimesters are rough, what else can I say?




Friday, May 9, 2014

Motherhood, take 4.




“Through the blur, I wondered if I was alone or if other parents felt the same way I did - that everything involving our children was painful in some way. The emotions, whether they were joy, sorrow, love or pride, were so deep and sharp that in the end they left you raw, exposed and yes, in pain. The human heart was not designed to beat outside the human body and yet, each child represented just that - a parent's heart bared, beating forever outside its chest.” 




this Mother's day weekend, 
i'm focusing again on the choice and privilege i have of being their mom,
all four of them.  

due november 27th,
we're trying to wrap our brains around
how one more member of this family will change us.

and can't wait to find out!

Friday, March 28, 2014

living in a Moment.




Yesterday's late March afternoon was unusual for the simple fact that Ben was home.  Most weekdays, it's rare when we are in the same place at the same time before 10 pm.

The girls were playing in the toy room, and I could hear their squeals and screeches as the ponies in their hands danced and jumped.  They had purposely dressed themselves alike today, in matching grey t-shirts and poofy skirts.  In between fighting, they have become very good friends.

I found myself laying stomach-down on the white comforter of our master bed, only feet away from Caleb who was sitting at the desk finishing homework.  In between helping answer his questions, I was reading a sentence here and there, desperately trying to finish the book I had started over the weekend while I was away on vacation.  I was determined to finish it--the pile on my night stand of half-read novels was getting too high.  Besides, I had been swallowed up by the characters and couldn't leave them until I knew what happened in the end.

It was right as I read the sentence when one of the characters in the book died, that Ben joined me on the bed, laying down the same way so the sides of our arms were touching.  He was texting a friend who needed advice about a car their family was buying.

Though I was engrossed in my book, I felt my senses becoming aware of my surroundings--something I usually tune out when enveloped in words on the page.  I heard the soft whirring of the ceiling fan, the light scratching of Caleb's pencil on his paper, the tick-tick-ticking of Ben's phone as he replied in text, and the girls' sometimes shrill but happy noises.  I felt the comfort of skin from my arm touching Ben's, and became aware I had absentmindedly hooked one of my feet around his, bouncing it up and down on the bed as I was reading.  I saw the afternoon sun coming through our bedroom window, softly enhancing shapes and shadows.

As my senses heightened to the moment I was living in, I remembered words from a television show I had once heard,

"You know how people talk about the Good Ole' Days?  I wish you could know they were the Good Ole' Days when you were actually in them."

I closed my book, laying still, focusing.  I thought of taking a picture so I wouldn't forget what was happening, but didn't want to disturb anything.  Instead I climbed on top of Ben, resting my head on his back, my cheek against his shoulder blade, wrapping my arms around him so they were in-between his chest and the bed.

I knew I had been caught up in the story of the dying character, but as I clung to Ben I faced the thought that one day I would not have the opportunity to wrap my arms around him, or help Caleb with his homework, or listen to my girls happily imagine.

"Well this is nice, what is this for?"  Ben asked about my sudden change in position.

"This life, that we've created together," I began, and stopped because I could feel emotion welling inside of me.  "We just have a really good life, and I'm grateful for it."  

I lay there quietly for a few minutes, letting the beauty of our right now consume me.  And then Caleb finished his homework, and the girls chased each other into our bedroom, and life began moving forward again.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

swinging and bending, part 7: the Book.






Read the first part of this story, here.  
the second part, here.
the third part, here.
the fourth part, here.
and the fifth part, here.
and the sixth part, here.







THE ALL-GOOD CHILD:


"Perhaps the most devastating psychic conflict the all-good child experiences is inauthenticity--feeling as if those who perceive her as good or competent are mistaken.  

The all-good child is the parentified child--trained to parent the parent.  All-good children are typically obedient and loyal, and may function as little therapists in their families.  

All-good children repress awareness of their true feelings and, consequently, are likely to suffer from depression and anxiety. Because they are preoccupied with the emotional state of others, they have difficulty experiencing pleasure.  Although they are acutely perceptive, they lack insight into their own psyche, and may be unaware of subtle depression.  


They.....may feel undeserving of a good life.  They feel as though they have already been given too much, and do not feel entitled to having more.  They may compulsively provide for others what they need for themselves.


Consequently, the all-good child is susceptible to emotional depletion because of the compulsive approval-seeking behavior.  They can feel overwhelmed with responsibility for caring for others, yet not deserving of being cared for themselves.  They have difficulty articulating their feelings and needs, and are extremely uncomfortable with recognition and attention.


In adult relationships, they are often overcommitted and emotionally preoccupied because they fear disappointing others.  They simply cannot say no.  Minor mistakes can trigger a catastrophic plunge in self-esteem, and internalized anxiety prevents them from enjoying their accomplishments.  The emotional energy of the all-good child is heavily invested in avoiding mistakes that could shatter the foundation of the self.


If it were possible to x-ray the self of the all-good child, one might find a porcelain soul with tiny fractures.  Although outwardly appearing uninjured, a child with a fractured soul lives with an inner sense of fragility.  All-good children suffer silently, unable to articulate the source of their pain that is too deep and too old to identify.  Although a fractured soul cannot fully mend, the all-good child learns to protect it from further injury.  Defenses such as denial, repression, and sublimation keep awareness of their pain at bay.  


While all-good children need therapy as much as the no-good children, they are unlikely to seek treatment."


  




Late one night, in the summer of 2008, I shuddered as I read these words.

I knew this "All-Good Child" well.  She had blonde hair, blueish/green eyes and dimples.  She laughed easily and rarely cried.  She was there whenever anyone needed help, but could not ask for support because she could not even recognize her own needs.  She hated being on stage, or celebrating her birthday, or being the new girl, or announcing pregnancies--anything that put her in the center of attention.  Her emotions were based on the emotions of those around her--if they were content, so was she.  If they were sad, she was rushing to comfort, her heart breaking with theirs.  If they were angry, she was afraid, and tried to pacify them with either humor or kindness.  She did not know who she was as an individual, but I knew her.

She was who I looked at in the mirror every day.

I was staying at my dad and stepmom's home for a few weeks on our way from the group home in North Carolina to Arizona, where we would begin Ben's journey of doctoral school.  My brother Tyler had let me borrow the Book, one he'd been recommended by a therapist he'd been seeing for a couple of years.

"She said I might be able to find something that relates to my childhood, but I haven't read it yet.  See what you think and let me know," he said, as he brought it to me.  I wasn't sure what to expect, but started reading.  In less than 48 hours I finished the Book, underlining and highlighting entire sections of it.

I called my brother.  "Holy crap, Ty.  HOLY CRAP.  Have you even started this book?  I'm going to have to buy you another copy, I need to keep this one,"  I said over the phone.

I explained to him the Book had shaken me, in a most unexpected way.  I felt at times like the author had filmed scenes from my childhood and written about them.  In the Book, I read about my parents, about my siblings, about myself.  I read about my grandmother.  I read about who I had become as an adult, my weaknesses and strengths.  I read about my marriage.  I read what I would continue to struggle with as I aged, and I read that I would be the least likely of the entire group to seek therapy--because I viewed myself as a survivor of trauma and doing "just fine," instead of as someone who could not recognize my own needs and emotions due to stuffing them down for so long.

It was both validating and terrifying, to read the words of my life.  Validating to know someone out there really understood; terrifying to realize that now that I knew, I would need to do something about it.  I had never been to therapy before, and had attached the stigma I know so many attach to it:  therapy was for people with real problems, who are a mess, who can't cope, and the list goes on.  I wasn't fitting into any of those categories, yet I knew after reading this, therapy was something I needed to pursue.

This Book altered the course of my life, in many ways.  It continues to alter it, for the better.  Because of this Book, I was brought down a path of self-awareness that eventually helped me to find self-worth, learning to untangle my emotions and needs from those of others around me.  Eventually it is what led me to seek help when my lack of ability to believe I deserved good in my life created situations that threatened to take the things I loved most away.

And when my own self worth was finally planted and I could truly feel it, I finally had the ability to help others, with similar stories, find theirs too.

The Book started me on this journey, but it took years before I could reach the end of it, an ending that led me to much closer to Peace.  But there were much more difficult things I had to face first.....

Thursday, March 6, 2014

scattered.






It's getting to the point where I'm no fun anymore

I am sorry

I am yours, you are mine, you are what you are

You make it hard



Remember what we've said and done and felt about each other
Oh, babe have mercy
Don't let the past remind us of what we are not now
I am not dreaming

I am yours, you are mine, you are what you are
You make it hard



--"Suite: Judy Blue Eyes"

Crosby, Stills & Nash



aside from ben's school, there have been other difficult things going on in the past couple of months.  writing honestly?  my dad is going through his second divorce.  unlike my parents' divorce seven years ago, this one came as a surprise, and (also unlike the first one) was finished swiftly.  i know that how it appears on the outside isn't necessarily the truth of the inside, but my brother, sister and i were very surprised--and devastated.

after years of my childhood spent in an unwanted front row seat of a somewhat fractured and chaotic marriage, i found myself ready to see both of my parents start over--beginning with a new person, hoping this time would be different.  coming from a fragmented family made me peer through leery eyes as to what this new picture would look like, but i was willing to be open, and try.

what i found on the other side was the gift of getting to know some new really amazing people... most importantly, my stepmom.  brenda has this incredible capacity to immediately love and accept others, without judgment, question, or conditions.  because of her,  i was given the ability to heal pieces of my heart broken long ago, ones i thought could never be healed by another.

though i understood that this decision of divorce was made with a lot of thought and prayer, to hear that she and my dad were no longer going to be together terrified me.  truthfully, it still does.  i don't know what a fractured-family-from-a-fractured-family looks like, and i'm worried.  about my dad, about my siblings, about our relationships with those who have become a significant and important part of our lives for several years.

as i was driving caleb to school this morning, a song from my childhood came on ben's classic rock station on the radio.  i turned it up, yelling back to caleb, "i love this song!"  and started singing along.

immediately i was flooded with happy memories as a kid with my dad in the family car, beating his hands on the steering wheel like it was his own personal drum, belting out harmonies with a smile on his face as he sang these same words.


I am yours, you are mine, you are what you are

Something inside is telling me that I've got your secret
Are you still listening?
Fear is the lock and laughter the key to your heart

And I love you 

in my memory, i could see my young father, probably around the same age as i am now.  he was full of music and corny jokes, even amidst the havoc in his life.  i imagine that he visualized his life in his 60's as a time of stability and calm, watching grandchildren grow as he retired and looked forward to hobbies, traveling, and family barbecues.

right after we learned of the divorce, he spent a couple of weeks with us here.  through him i saw such a strong desire to feel hope again that was palpable.  it was difficult to know how to help or what to say.  i was also working through my own complicated feelings, but because i love him and wanted to be supportive, i tried to put those on the backburner.  i wanted to tell him everything was going to turn out alright for him, but i was no longer sure.  i worried he would sense my hesitancy, so i hugged him and told him how much i loved him, and that he could come back whenever he needed.  as i watched him drive away, i felt hollow.

after dropping caleb off this morning, i sat in the car in our driveway and continued listening to the song that reminded me of my young father.  the tears came, and i let them.  i cried for what has happened, for all he has lost, for his present day that looks so unlike what i'm sure he had idealistically pictured his story to become, for the choices he's made in this life that require him to start over yet again.

Tearing yourself away from me now you are free
And I am crying
This does not mean I don't love you, I do, that's forever
Yes and for always

I am yours, you are mine, you are what you are
And you make it hard



between this and the roller coaster of ben's school situation, the month of january shook me up, leaving me feeling separated and tossed into the wind to be scattered around.  the month of february helped me find and gather my scattered pieces, and march is already helping me to patch myself back together, preparing for wherever the wind tries to carry me next.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

what matters most.









But I will hold on hope
And I won't let you choke
On the noose around your neck



And I'll find strength in pain
And I will change my ways
I'll know my name as it's called again
--"The Cave"
Mumford & Sons



i feel like i closed my eyes to blink, and opened them to realize february has come and gone.

i can finally write freely about the past few months with ben's school, because it is over.  we both did the best we could, and gave it everything we had.

ben's ability to match and leave on internship by this summer has been denied, the process of all of it hitting every angle it possibly could;  mental, physical, emotional and even--maybe especially?-- spiritual.  the hits have not all been delivered negatively however, there has been so much good we have seen and felt, and will not deny that.

we are here another year in arizona, and though there was disappointment about not being where we had hoped when it came to this already-lengthy process of school, prolonging the finish line even further, i was surprised at the amount of peace i felt when the decision was finally made for us.

i have learned many lessons during the past 5 years of ben's doctoral program....but i think the most important lesson for me has come in this last trial of our life in limbo for months, decisions made out of our control, then denial of our hopes, and it is this:

stop waiting for happiness.

i've felt many times through grad school as if i've been enduring some sort of punishment, waiting for it to end so i can finally begin---but begin what?  this is the question i've been asking myself, trying to shift the paradigm that the rest of living my life has to be put on hold.  having babies, traveling, my return to school, taking up yoga, becoming more social--these were all things i've been terrified of or avoided because i was waiting for this period of our lives to be over.  i was waiting for help during dinner and bath times, waiting for someone to sit next to me at monthly boy scout meetings, waiting for date nights, waiting for someone to pack up the picnic i had prepared for the day trip with the kids, waiting for someone to laugh with over late movies under blankets on saturday nights.

to be honest, i've been waiting to get my husband back.

a couple of years ago i realized how lost i felt without ben.  it was at this same time i realized how lost ben was in school.  being an introvert and marrying an extrovert had perks i hadn't understood until they were taken from me and i was left to my own devices.  suddenly i found myself a shy homebody who felt trapped in her own life, sweating in the heat of arizona, caring for two kids with an unexpected third on the way, mostly flying solo in parenting, socializing, taking care of the home, and other areas.

i blamed what i could for this entrapment--the stifling heat, the advisors who viewed ben having children and a wife as a liability, the full-time overnight jobs he worked, being without a car, having no family close by, our extremely limited budget, having friends who had their own lives and didn't need to be bothered....the list went on.

but i learned {the hard way} that i was the cause of my own suffocating.

there are always options.

i just continually chose not to see them.  it has only been the past couple of years when i began to start viewing life differently, realizing i could be whoever i want to be, living however i want to live.  even with these options before me, i purposefully chose this life, with these circumstances.  there is so much good here, so much love, and so much ability to be happy that i hadn't even tapped into.  this was when i started choosing happiness within this life, and stopped waiting.

i stepped out of my comfort zone to a job that has been financially helpful, i started reaching out to others for social things regardless of whether or not ben would be there with me, i got to know a lot of babysitters in the neighborhood so i could set aside a few hours in the week--even if all i did was go grocery shopping on my own.  i began more proactive and intentional parenting, and proactive and intentional time as a couple with ben.  and when i felt myself emotionally carrying more than i could handle, i signed back up into group therapy for an automatic safe place to emotionally release when i needed to without unleashing my often-overwhelmed self on the three innocent little people i adore who didn't deserve it.

i have no idea how long school is going to take for us to be finished with it.  i have no idea if, once it's over, ben will be able to find a normal 8am-5pm job, or will have to take what's offered.  and heaven forbid, what if the time away from his family is even more demanding than school has been??  what then?  i need to know i'm going to be okay, regardless.  not just okay, but happy.

and the good news is, i actually am happy--more so than i have been in my life, ever.  and more fulfilled as a mom and a wife because i'm more fulfilled as an individual.  i'm not waiting anymore.  

so the internship not happening this year, was it disappointing?  sure, it wasn't ideally what i had hoped for.  i'd really love for ben to just be done with school.  but was it devastating?  not even close.  we have a really good life inside the walls of the Pink House, even in the often stifling heat.  what matters most is here.  the rest of it--whether it's a doctoral certificate or all of the other outer layer things that can feel so important sometimes, those are the distractions to take my focus off-kilter.

we find ourselves readjusting, once again.  and although it's our third extra year of graduate school, and the finish line feels further from our reach, this time we're readjusting with smiles on our faces, looking forward to what this extra year has to offer us.



Sunday, January 26, 2014

the power of words, and muffins.



{this is my friend kelly, who will probably kill me for posting this picture of her cleaning my house.}





“In the end, though, maybe we must all give up trying to pay back the people in this world who sustain our lives. In the end, maybe it's wiser to surrender before the miraculous scope of human generosity and to just keep saying thank you, forever and sincerely, for as long as we have voices.” 




what a difference one week can make.

i don't often reach my breaking point.  i'd like to believe it's because my rope has a longer tolerance than most, but unfortunately it's more likely because it's hard for me to recognize my own needs and emotions.  this is something i've been changing for the past 4 years, but sometimes i fall back into old habits of pushing my needs back down and shouldering on through whatever difficulty i'm treading water in, carrying the emotions of others and answering those whose needs feel more urgent than my own.  i have a tendency to shut down and isolate, and though i'm getting better with this, i'm still a work in progress.

after my last post, i realized as the words flew through my fingers without stopping, they were serving two purposes:

1)  to update friends and family.  i'm not great at talking about it unless asked-- it's a complicated situation without a clear answer yet, but i knew there were a few people wondering what was going on with ben's school situation.

2)  to recognize i do actually have a breaking point, and had reached it.

after posting the words, i found myself wanting to take it all back--to say life is fine, and i am fine, and what's going on will be fine.  i felt vulnerable--or embarrassed?  a little?  that i was weaker than i wanted to believe, or wanted others to believe.  i worried i would be perceived as searching for attention, and began to minimize my feelings, questioning why i was having such a hard time with all of it, when i genuinely find so much happiness in my life.

i thought about re-writing, making sure to end it wrapped up in a nice, neat package with an inspirational quote about perseverance or not giving up.  because that is what i actually know, and who i am, most of the time.

instead, i decided to let the words sit where they had been placed, and find peace inside of not always having to be fine.

it's okay to not have to always be okay,  

was the phrase that continually rolled through my mind on wednesday.

and then,

comments and texts in response to my post began showing up... extending love, kindness and validation.  i read them, letting them sink in as i went throughout my day, feeling my weariness lifting.

ben was interviewing in ohio at the time, and would be driving to pennsylvania that night for another interview, not to come home for 3 more days.  a friend of ours had found a family willing to let him stay in their home, which blessing came when we needed it most--checking our bank account daily with the hope of seeing a student loan deposited, and biting my nails off when each day passed without it happening.

he called me on his drive to pennsylvania, telling me of the family he stayed with, who had opened their homes as well as their hearts.  he was given food that lasted him the entire day so he didn't have to spend money we didn't have.  he was taken care of and had been treated as a friend instead of a stranger.

his interview in ohio had gone really well.  at one point, all of those being interviewed were in the same room together, and began talking.  out of the entire group, only ben and one other were married while in school, and ben was the only one with children.  "my wife and i have purposely waited to have kids while i'm doing my dissertation and interviewing--we're too stressed out, " he was told by the other married man.  ben was asked how he was surviving a doctoral program with three children and a wife, while also working for almost the entire 5 years.

"i told them," ben said through the phone, "it was because of my amazing wife."

as he spoke those words, his voice cracked and he began to cry.  and oh boy, nothing makes me cry more than when someone i love is crying.  we both sniffed as he continued to tell me how grateful he is for my support and efforts in this much-longer-than-planned journey of school.  i didn't know how much i needed to hear him say that, but i did.  and let those words sink even further, as more weariness lifted.

the rest of the week was full of family and friends extending more love and kindness.  as hard as it was, i forced myself to accept help, and by friday morning i was feeling much better emotionally, ready to handle life again.  there were dishes and laundry and sweeping to be done.  also?  it was mid-january and my christmas tree was still up, though i had pulled the empty tubs waiting to be filled with holiday decorations out over a week ago.  for some reason i had a mental block about taking it down by myself, but finding a night where both ben and i were together wasn't happening.  i had decided this morning was it, and resolved to take it down alone.

then there was a knock on the door--my dear friend kelly, who showed up with muffins in hand.  "i made extra this morning and thought you might need some," she explained as she and her adorable daughter vi walked into my disorganized home.

three hours later, we hugged before they walked back out.  as i closed the door behind them, i turned around to see an empty and scrubbed kitchen sink, swept kitchen floor, vacuumed living room, and--most importantly--the christmas tree taken down and the holiday tubs filled, ready to be carried into the garage.  we talked as we had worked together, and i realized again how important good friends are when family doesn't live close by.  those three hours may not have been a big deal for her, but i felt overwhelmed with gratitude.

just then, ben called to give me details of his pennsylvania interview.  as i answered i began to cry, explaining what kelly had just done for me, and all of the other kind things that had happened at the hands of others while he had been away.

once the phone call was finished, i sat down in the quiet, thinking back through the past week.  i've heard those who say they cannot see God during their trials, only after they are over--only during the times when things are going smoothly or miracles are taking place can they recognize His goodness and love for them.  yet our trial with ben's school was not over, not by a long shot.  not much of our situation had changed at all, in fact.  we know there are still mountains to climb.  but by allowing myself to not be okay, i allowed others to love and take care of me, and i found God again, through them.

and was (and still am) so, so grateful.

thank you.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

the awakening of resistance.





“Life always bursts the boundaries of formulas. Defeat may prove to have been the only path to resurrection, despite its ugliness. I take it for granted that to create a tree I condemn a seed to rot. If the first act of resistance comes too late it is doomed to defeat. But it is, nevertheless, the awakening of resistance. Life may grow from it as from a seed.” 





i've felt a little lost, all day.  for so long through this ride called Graduate School, i've felt surety and seen clarity--even when ben could neither feel or hear those things himself.  today is rare, when both of those things have been missing inside, and the void of them has knocked me off my normal balance.

it looks as though the Miracles he has been working so hard for are not going to come to fruition--again.  if we accept what he is being told, (which we aren't being given much of an option) then we will be accepting a 3rd extra year of school.  extra.  on top of what is already required.  and as much time as i've spent emotionally preparing myself for this possibility, because i could see us heading for it months ago, today i've finally felt a piece of what this good man has felt for a long time:

weary.

he came home tonight and we hugged, holding on like two deflated balloons trying to cling to whatever small pockets of air were left.  i told him for the first time in a while, i didn't know whether he could look to me for the usual pep-talk-filled-with-affirmations i provide when he walks through the front door of the Pink House with furrowed brows and sadness in his brown eyes.  i no longer felt sure of my speech--tonight i needed someone to give me that lift.

though we will most likely be here another year, we are learning--ben is learning-- this battle is not just about Graduate School, but is his lifelong battle of Worth.  for some that battle takes place in relationships, or careers, or childhood trauma, or addictions.  for him it takes place in School.

we are used to defeat, and have accepted it too easily for most of our lives.  it is what we have both known for so long, in different ways.  but we have been changing these past few years, building ourselves up from the rubble of defeat we once accepted, because we have seen Worth, and God, within us.  this is what pushes us to keep climbing.

he began the real fight today, one that has the potential to turn ugly, quickly.  it's against the grain of our characters to fight this way, contacting Legal Advice with the intention to take this war to the top of the chain of his school.  i'm purposely withholding the details until i can say more, but just the thought of what we might be in for makes the Peacemaker within feel drained.  how is it we can be tired before we've even begun?

we've considered this option in the past, but were too fearful of its repercussions, and held back.  last year the theme was mine to combat Fear in my life, and this year he told me he has adopted the theme as his.  and so, we're 14 days into january and that theme is being challenged.  God hears you when you make these commitments to growth, did you know that?  we don't get to choose how He will show up, whether in small hills or enormous mountains, but we do get to choose to stay committed, take risks, fight fear, awaken our resistance, trust Him--or to run.

ben is packing his suitcases right now, choosing to stay committed.  i am worried for him, and proud of him.

more than anything?  i'm hoping my balance returns tomorrow.


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

miracles on Pink House Street.



woah, my goodness.

here it is--almost christmas...yet the high for tomorrow is predicted to be 80 degrees.  80!  this afternoon i cleaned the backyard while simultaneously playing house with leah (she was the mother, i was the daughter, and Hippo played the newborn baby), and i began hosing off some of the dusty/dirty outdoor toys.  i rolled up my jeans to hit just below my knees, preventing them from getting wet with the spraying water.  i worked from one end of the yard to the next, throwing away broken plastic, sweeping leaves and wiping surfaces, all the while quietly cracking up as i watched leah bounce around with baby Hippo on her hip.

when i finished, i came inside to dry off my legs, and noticed i had new flip-flop tan lines.  tan lines!  on december 16th!  i'm a girl who was born of christmases filled with frigid temperatures and falling snow, and though this will be our fifth winter in arizona, the december warmth still takes me by surprise.

we are currently working on Miracles over here, in our Pink House.

ben is scrambling to write his dissertation, with the hope he will be able to actually attend the interviews for internship he has accepted to show up for all over the country during the month of january.  his adviser has (again!) told him to accept the fate of not going out on internship this year, with the very unlikely possibility of his dissertation being finished and defended by the date of january 31st, 2014.  we are continuing to (again!) ignore his persistent opinion of ben's demise and push on as though it's meant to all come together.  are we delusional?  quite possibly.  at this point, delusion is all we have.

so although he has been unemployed since the end of november, i have not seen much of him and expect to see even less with the coming weeks.

i have signed myself back up in a group therapy, have i written that yet?  probably not, since i haven't written much lately.  this is something i've wanted to do since the beginning of the year, and for several reasons purposely held off until october.  i am back to fighting that fear again, pushing myself out of my comfort zone in many ways--and then in other ways i am so comfortable in this environment.  i absolutely love it, surrounded by women who are digging out unhealthy while uncovering the source of its roots so they can be moved, changed.  i still have roots there, more subtle and less deep than the last time i started, but they are there.  i sense them when i feel discomfort or fear of vulnerability or desire to be liked.  this environment helps me to sense them quicker and more often, so i can begin my own digging again.  it's both exciting and terrifying, in almost equal parts.

it's come at a perfect time, when i am giving so much that monday mornings have turned into my sanctuary--what i have to count on, just for myself.  i used to feel guilty about needing this.  i no longer do.  after what i learned the last time in group therapy, i know this will mold me to becoming a better version of myself, spilling over into all of my different roles.  i know good comes from this, when my heart is open and vulnerable.

i have my theme for 2014 already picked, but i won't say it yet.  it was a thought that came to me a few days ago, and once it was there, i knew that was it.  working on eliminating fear in 2013 was a stepping stone to getting to this new one, and i can already feel the difficulty that lies ahead.  but i look back at what i have learned this past year, and how free i have felt.  the best part is that i can't remember a time when i didn't feel this way, which is surprising on its own. i used to recognize this feeling as foreign and new, and was hungry for more of it.  now it is what i know--and i feel this is my own small Miracle.

the kids are doing well--leah has recovered from her tonsillectomy but unfortunately still has the sleep apnea we hoped would be cured.  we'll do another sleep study in january to see where things are at with her.  caleb has lost his two front teeth, and went on his first bike ride without one of us there with him.  another Miracle.  ben and i cried when he came home and we heard how well he did.  these things that are so easy for some and a struggle for others--that's what life is all about, isn't it?  recognizing them, overcoming them, crying when we return from the battle.  june is fighting a beast of an illness right now, and is passing it on to us as we drop like flies one-by-one, but otherwise is her usual chattering, puppy-pretending self.

we are busy and happy and stressed and grateful.  i don't love that i haven't made the time to write, because when i look back it appears i've missed so much that's important to remember.  even though i'm living fully in them, when i can't look back and read about them, the hours seem to slip through my fingers as if they've never happened.

though now that i'm looking back, it seems december is like this every year, isn't it?  so i guess we'll just roll up our jeans, enjoy the tan lines while we can, and keep working on Miracles. 

  




Friday, November 15, 2013

sometimes a little Katy Perry is a good thing.


{ben on the airplane--how many photo bombs can you see? i spy 3, with a potential 4th}




I used to bite my tongue and hold my breath
Scared to rock the boat and make a mess
So I sat quietly, agreed politely
I guess that I forgot I had a choice
I let you push me past the breaking point
I stood for nothing, so I fell for everything

You held me down, but I got up
Already brushing off the dust
You hear my voice, you hear that sound
Like thunder gonna shake the ground
You held me down, but I got up
Get ready cause I’ve had enough
I see it all, I see it now



this past wednesday morning found all five of us buckled into our dark blue minivan, driving along highway 60, heading west toward the phoenix airport.  only one small suitcase was in the back and the clothing inside didn't belong to me.  i looked around my shoulder to see the two girls happily munching on snacks.  caleb was further back, with his seatbelt on but laying down with a garbage bag resting next to him because he'd been complaining of stomach pains--something we straders have learned not to take lightly.

the song changed on the radio, and the beginning of katy perry's "roar" came through the speakers.
 
"oh mom, this is my favorite song!"  leah squealed with her cute lisp.  "PLEASE turn it up!"

as much as my alt-indie-music-loving side wanted to protest, i turned up the volume for my beaming 4 year old.  within a few seconds, all of us began loudly singing along to the words, caleb included.  even i had to adimit the song is catchy.

ben and his suitcase were packed in our van for texas, heading there to meet with the court he's working with for his dissertation research project, as a last-ditch attempt to save the ability to write his dissertation this next month and go out for residency next fall instead of waiting another year.

when i wrote a blog post about this, i assumed it was over for us.  i had found peace in the idea of staying in arizona for another year, even if it wasn't what we had planned or hoped for.  ben had been given the date of when he needed to have his approval letter from this texas court, and as the due date grew closer i began looking for the positive in our lives--trying to soften the blow i knew this was going to be for him.  that week was emotionally taxing.  i was recovering from a miscarriage while trying so hard to be the cheerleader and positive force to pick him up and motivate him to keep going.  and he kept going--in every way possible.  physically, spiritually, mentally and emotionally.  he pushed through and refused to quit.

as we talked more and more, our perspective on the situation began to shift.  we spoke of looking forward to enjoying december together, spending quality time with the kids and their needs, possibly traveling a little, and then finding a new job in january while we waited.  we actually became excited with the idea of staying.

on the due date of his approval letter, i sat down in the early afternoon and opened up the computer.

and there it was.

the court in texas had months to send this letter, but now, just a mere three hours before ben was scheduled to meet with his advisor with the sad news that he hadn't received the acceptance letter on time, it showed up.

i sat still for a moment, rereading the words, trying to believe it.  and then, i could feel it--Him, there with me.  because i had learned to recognize God's voice when He speaks to me, i knew it was Him.  it was not me who made my back tingle, and goosebumps cover my arms and legs.  it was not me who caused a feeling of overwhelming Love and Peace to wash over as tears filled my eyes.  as He made me aware of his presence, i knew He was saying that the timing of this email was because of Him.  i can't explain it any other way--except knowing this.

"thank you," i whispered as those tears spilled over, down onto my cheeks.  i reached for the phone and called ben.

"DID YOU SEE WHAT JUST CAME THROUGH THE EMAIL?!"  i screeched when he answered.

"no, what?"  he replied.

"THE ACCEPTANCE LETTER!!"

"are you SERIOUS!"

ben took that letter into the meeting where his advisor had been planning on telling him he needed to wait another year, and promised to call me afterward.

i wanted to shout from the rooftops that the approval letter had been sent just in time, but i knew the fight wasn't over.  instead i sat by the phone, nervous but hopeful --this advisor is known at ben's school for being tough, and ben has felt disapproval from him several times as they have worked together the past couple of years.  he is the one who required ben to re-take one entire year of school initially, and had made it clear that his intention this year was to do the same with having him wait to apply for residency until next fall.  i worried that even though ben had what the advisor asked for, he would find a way to tell him no.

the phone rang, and i listened as ben told me his advisor had allowed him to continue, but only on the condition he would now need to have all of the data for this research project from texas in his hands by november 15th, otherwise he would still be held back for the year.

they had given him two weeks.

inwardly my hopes sank, knowing the two-year-long history we've had working with this court in texas.  their severe lack of communication, along with doing anything in a timely manner was the reason ben had to be held back for the second year, and was all i could focus on.

"welllllll," i said hesitantly on the phone, "we're still in this fight.  it's not over yet.  you have two weeks, so let's do what we can to get this to happen."

which is what brought us to wednesday morning, driving to the airport, all of us singing katy perry at the top of our lungs, in a desperate attempt to show up in person and light the fire under the rear ends of the people at the court in texas.  we knew it would take a miracle for this to come together, for them to actually be able to hand it over to him by friday, but we promised to do our part to make it happen.

as embarrassing as it is to type, while we were mid-family-sing-along, suddenly i became emotional, and looked at ben with tears in my eyes.

"this is it, this is your theme song.  no matter what happens, this is what you're not only teaching others, but teaching me, your children, and yourself.  you're going to do everything you can and not quit, even if someone tells you no.  you're not giving up.  and every time that lame advisor says something that makes you feel like you're beneath him, or a loser, i want you to stand up and start singing him this song at the top of your lungs!"

we laughed about that visual, and i said maybe instead he could just to have the song run through his mind when his advisor was hard on him.

i kissed him goodbye at the airport, and waited.

this morning, just after i dropped caleb off for school, he called.

"I GOT IT!!  I GOT THE DATA!!!"

and he texted me this picture:



today is november 15th, the due date for having the data in his hand.  and he has it.  if it wouldn't take days to write out the details of the journey of the past two years--all of the bumps in the road and soul-wrenching moments we have both had, i would do it.  but since i can't, please believe me when i tell you the tears of gratitude we both shed during our phone call this morning were justifiable.

i felt Him again, with us as we cried and spoke to each other.

i know in the grand scheme of life this will probably be a minor deal some day to us.  today though, it is not minor.  i write these things down to remember Him.

this is obviously not really about an approval letter and data.  for ben, after years and years of being told he was not smart enough for school, and entering a doctoral program anyway, this is material evidence that fighting through those lies are worth it.  we both felt this is God's way of telling him to keep going.

i'm sure i could dismiss this as mere coincidence.  that the timing was just because of one thing or another--but i won't, because i undeniably know He is the reason this came to happen.  i have the choice to recognize it, and i do.

so, the journey for us continues.  i'm crying again as i type those words.  ben will now work his tail off to write and complete his dissertation by the end of december--while also flying around the country interviewing at potential residency sites at the same time.  i will do my best here at home trying to hold it together.  i'm not going to lie, it's going to take more miracles for him to finish in time, pass his dissertation, and match with a residency.....but we're grateful we're still in the fight.

and i know
with God's help,
miracles happen.