Pittsburg

flowers2

Hate is not new.  Division isn’t the latest fad.  It is ancient. Beginning in the garden and moving, always forward, with each generation. It slithers and slides, morphing into whatever form is needed to keep itself intact. It feeds upon fear and gorges on superiority. It is a glutton, always hungry but never satisfied with its latest feast.  Its goal is destruction…of relationships, of goodwill, of caring, of families, of countries, of races, of whatever is good…of life. It knows no bounds. It is a manipulator who lies, to gain entrance into minds and some are easier than others. Yet, all know this foe. All have entered into its deadly game at some point or another. All have tasted its fruit. Most find it bitter, but some find it sweet. They do not recognize the poison they are consuming. Or maybe they do, and they are addicted to it.

Once again, hate has exposed itself.  It flaunts and parades through another church wreaking havoc. Leaving devastation in its wake.  It is deafening for a few moments and then silent, as we are left with the result of its rabid attack.  Fading once again into the background, it coils up, waiting for the next strike.  In the meantime, we are grieving.  We are appalled.  We weep for those who weep. Our tears seem to grow with every strike of this enemy of life. The horror of not having peace, even in places of worship, eats away at our hearts. Our friends and our neighbors are moaning at their losses because words fail.  We reach out with sympathy, which seems too small and inconsequential to make any difference in the enormity of the pain.

Underneath, anger seethes because we want it all to stop. We are frustrated with our inability to impede this ancient foe.  Thinking it is a new phenomenon is part of its plan. Its forked tongue flicks, taking the temperature of the environment.  It watches our reactions to see if our minds are open to its influence. Thoughts, then words, then actions. It is a predictable progression. Every assassin has started with a few ideas which morph into perceived injustice. Words roll like a river, until in a frenzy they release into a deadly attack. The ageless foe, slinks into the shadows and waits for its next victim.

The way to crush the head of this enemy is to reach out, not shrink back. Walk out of fear, walk out of the superiority, walk out of the judgment, and love people. All people. The ones who cross your path every day, and those who may not be within your circles. Those who are different than you in race, in religion, and even in political persuasion. Those who are like you, and those who are not.  A secret strategy, which when implemented across all persuasions, will slowly shift the undertow pulling us away from one another.  Instead, the tide will rush in on the shores of respect and love.

Prayers for those in Pittsburg. That they would be comforted by God in their grief.  That they would feel the love from the world. That fear would not rule or squeeze the life from their community.  Open arms would embrace and hold them up as they grieve.  Neighbors would affirm and surround them in this painful time.  That memories of the horror would be erased, and restful healing sleep would come easily without nightmares. That the children would be comforted and strengthened by the adults in their lives. People everywhere would reach out in love which would be inspirational in its inclusiveness.  Healing would begin. Today.

Advertisements

Spa Day

path.jpg

A lovely lady walked me down a short hallway.  She handed me off to another lovely lady, whose hospitality was charming. We chitchatted as she walked me to the dressing room, where she handed me a warm robe.  What a luxurious thing.  Enveloped by warmth, I wondered why I didn’t have a robe warmer at home. I made a mental note to put one on my Christmas list.

I was escorted to a comfy couch and served snacks and drinks while I waited. Ethereal Irish music floated through the air, and the luscious green countryside played on the screen. The sea, the cliffs, the richness of the land, stone walls along the roads, the misty rolling hills with sheep spread out among them…all of the pastoral scenes had me wanting to book a flight.  There were books and magazines in baskets.  Gauzy white curtains hung from ceiling to floor so that I felt as if I were in a cloud.

After a few moments, a nice woman came to get me.  She walked me back to a private room. She asked me where I was from and made small talk as we walked.  The room was beautiful, with a floor to ceiling photograph of a path through the woods.  Whoever put me in this room must’ve known something about me.  Soft music played. The lighting was dim, but warm.  The woman asked me some questions to make sure she had the right patron.  Once it was established I was who I was supposed to be, she moved me over to the machine. She gave me two pink stickers with flowers on them and had me disrobe, one shoulder at a time.

You might just now be getting it that this was no spa, but honestly, it felt like one.  Until the machine, I would’ve thought I was headed for a massage or a facial. Instead I stepped up and did my yearly duty.  First the stickers, then the front, then the side.  Switch sides and do it all again.  It didn’t take very long.  It was mildly uncomfortable when I was clamped into the machine, but I guess that is why they make you hold your breath.  Like a different kind of Lamaze technique, maybe.  I did not get stuck in the vice grip of shame this year, as in previous years.  No one had to come in to turn on the bright overhead light to find and push the emergency release button.

fight like a girl.jpg

It was quite an uneventful test.  All that piped in calming music must’ve worked, because I was peaceful the whole time.  No fear the day of…it is the waiting for the results that keeps me up nights.  My old place gave me results the day off to avoid the anxiety.  It may not have been a spa, but they were efficient to be sure.  Insurance doesn’t pay for the specialty group, so I came to the spa instead.  My thoughts were how far the medical community has come to try to make getting a mammogram more dignified.  I mean, clamping your breasts into a machine will never be fun or less humiliating, and taking those stickers off will not be less painful, but they have at least made an effort to make it bearable.  For that, I am grateful.  Now, if we could just get them to add in a massage afterwards, I think it would be even easier to get checked.

Seriously, ladies.  It is October.  Breast Cancer awareness month.  It is a solemn occasion if you have known anyone who has gone through the battle. It is also a great reminder to make an appointment, especially if you haven’t in a while.  Is it fun? No.  Does it matter?  You bet. The earlier the diagnosis the better the outcome.  Just rule it out.  It’s as easy as a trip to the spa.  😉

 

P.S. My results were all clear!!

Ford vs. Kavanaugh

Michelle yonah (33 of 33).jpgI do not watch politics.  In fact, I even put my fingers in my ears before I bury my head in the sand.  Like any good ostrich, I hope to avoid the circumstances in which I am standing.  However, despite my attempts to ignore the news of the day, there are times the volume gets so loud it is impossible to drown it out even with my self-imposed, sanity-saving technique.  There are days where my social media feed informs me of the current events so loudly, I must pull my head out of the ground and listen, however briefly.

I can tell when this happens because my newsfeed is overflowing with voices, from both sides, who are foaming at the mouth.  They spew out rabid words as if stricken by some unseen disease that eats away their capacity to think clearly or speak with intelligence.  In these instances, God’s name is thrown about and what is most alarming, is how both sides are convinced he is with them, when indeed nothing could be further from the truth.

My heart breaks for him, as he watches his children tear one another to shreds in his name, believing he would pick one and condemn the other.  It proves how far we are from understanding his nature, and I feel his tears of frustration that we still do not get him…AT ALL.  Even after he sent his son to show us his heart, we still do not understand.  He is unconditional love…the opposite of ours. He is truth.  He is light, and in him there is no darkness. He is bigger than two sided arguments.  Jesus showed us how to uplift, not tear down.  How to accept, rather than condemn.  How to identify heartache to bring healing, instead of ripping apart. Nothing could be any less Christ like than my newsfeed, filled with my friends’ words which butcher one another.

kavanaugh vs ford

This week it is the Supreme Court confirmation hearings which have uncovered deep wounds in our nation.  I have found the deeper the wound, the louder the cries. This is because anger merely masks the depth of the pain. As each side tries to discredit the other, the shouting is getting louder, but this is about more than a seat on the Supreme Court. It is far bigger than a lifetime. It is the fight for mutual respect, which underlies most every major conflict we face internally as a country. It is the fight to be heard and the desire to be understood.

ford sworn in use this one

Dr. Ford has a legitimate need to tell her story.  Whether you believe her or not, she has to speak what has been hidden away inside of her for years.  Sexual assault is serious.  Victims are more numerous than we will ever know, and for one woman to dare to speak out in such a public way validates and shines a spotlight on the issue as a whole, not just the one instance. Light in the darkness…and while we shield our eyes so they can adjust to the brightness, it hurts for a moment, until they adjust. Then we can see all that was previously unseen.  All the corners.  All the hidden places where dirt can gather.  All the filth.  It will take all of us working together to clean this place up.

It is a remarkable thing Dr. Ford has done, because sexual assault victims are told by their perpetrators, “If you tell, no one will believe you.” So instead of speaking, victims go silent.  They bury things internally.   They slam the doors of their hearts and say, “never again,” which leads to difficulty of forming intimate relationships in the future, even friendships. And if it was as easy as locking our hearts up tight, we wouldn’t be in the situation we are in today.  Silence eats away the heart, and it either hardens or it crumbles. Victims get stuck. Trauma haunts them. Without the help of a counselor, it is impossible to move forward in life.  Even with help, it is difficult to get past a violation that takes swipes at the core of who you are.  Their identity is wrapped up in the tendrils of being an object rather than a person. It seems unlikely the bonds will ever be cut away, and so victims learn to live with them.  It is like walking with chains, limiting their freedom just to be who they are without the internal stigma of being damaged goods.  They limp.

Victims remember the words spoken in moments of terror, or disgust.

They say, “Stop it!”

Their perpetrator says, “Stop, what? I am not doing anything.”

The younger the victim, the more confusing it is. Self-doubt springs up. Wondering if they are crazy, or if they imagined the whole thing.  Or maybe it wasn’t as bad as they remember, and it if was, shouldn’t it be ‘no big deal’? The turmoil internally makes a victim feel as if they are the ones who are crazy.  Especially if the violator is someone they know and trust.

“You are such a cry baby.” If they tell, that will be true.  A snitch, a cry baby, an emotional over reaction. Again, the victim is put in the position of being ‘less than’ and flawed.

“It’s your own fault.”  Somehow in this twisted psychological game, the victim feels guilty until proven innocent. Yet, the gut knows something isn’t right about that. There is constant cognitive dissonance, which cannot be resolved and so it buries itself deep.

“No one will believe you.”  That statement alone, shows the perpetrator knows what happened is wrong.  Otherwise, why would he have to whisper in the victim’s ear ‘don’t tell’? Tapes play in the mind of the victim of all the women who have come forward, like Dr. Ford and many others.  The psychological violence which bombards women who speak up is enough to keep other victims silent.  Who would want to be put through the emotional trauma of exposure after working so hard for freedom in private?  Yet to get true freedom, the victim needs to know her perpetrator will not be in a position to repeat the deed.  She feels responsible for other women who might cross his path if she doesn’t stand up and speak. It is her obligation to protect her sisters from trauma.  What if her daughter were to be in this situation? Or her mother? She cannot rest knowing she could possibly do something to avoid it.

When the perpetrator is a man of power, all of these thoughts are heightened x 10.  It is not a one-on-one situation at that point, it is taking on a whole system. Pastors, congressmen, bosses, important men of all backgrounds can use positions of trust against women, knowing they have the advantage because the machine they work for will back them. Courts will back them.  Lawyers will back them.  Even the public will back them. It has proven out in the public square for decades. We are just now beginning to see ears open…a tiny little bit.

I feel sure Dr. Ford knows how many years it has been since the incident in question.  I am sure she would like to “forget” or “not dredge up ancient history.” But for her, it is not ancient.  She carries it with her and it has become a part of who she is, like it or not.  She may be a pawn used by the political machine in a game, but she is a brave pawn.  The vote will go the way the vote will go. Life will move on, and things will settle down one way or the other. Probably not for her though. Now, she is marked with a scarlet letter. But what she did for victims of sexual assault is to acknowledge their pain. To validate their wounds.  To speak for the millions who remain silent, that this is not okay. Even in childhood immaturity, assault is wrong. Period. For that, I applaud her.

kavanaugh sworn in

Because of my self-imposed news ban I do not know the whole story of either side on this one. Sexual assault is a serious charge no matter what the age or circumstances. Women need to have their voices heard. On the other hand, false accusations can damage a man and his career in short order. I have worked with men in an elementary school setting who fear being falsely accused by a student of inappropriate behavior.  They go above and beyond to insure they are never alone with a student and are careful of how they speak to them etc…  These men know that one word could ruin their career, even if it is proven untrue, it will not matter because the seed of suspicion will have been planted and trust will be broken.  I have read there is no evidence on Judge Kavanaugh which can be corroborated, if that is true and he is truly innocent this whole circus will mean his doom.  I have a husband and 3 sons, and I shudder to think of any one making up a story that would ruin them.  I also have a daughter who I would encourage to speak up, should she ever have a reason to stand. There are two sides to every story.

So, who is telling the truth, and who is the liar in this one?  Both have sworn to tell the truth. Is it possible they are both telling their own version of the truth?  Can either be incriminated beyond a reasonable doubt?  I fear that both Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford are being used by the political system for its purposes and agendas. I doubt when they are left in the wake of this fiasco, any one from either party will hang around too long.

If we have learned one thing from this experience, it is to teach our children that consequences of their behavior, now…especially on social media…will follow them always.  Wisdom is needed now more than ever. We need healing and to build one another up instead of tearing each other down. Rather than using God as a weapon, we need to get to know his heart.  If we do, we will find he is for us ALL.

 

Shackled

I spoke at a women’s retreat today. It is a group of amazing women who are changing their lives by improving their health.  Several of them requested a copy of what I shared…so here you go girls!  Go and walk in your FREEDOM!

shackles.jpg

When I asked the Lord what word he wanted me to bring today…I got the word shackled.  Really, Lord?  I thought it was an interesting word choice for a freedom conference. I was hoping for an inspiring word like victor, or conqueror, or warrior.  Instead, I got shackled.  After my initial whining to the Lord, which was met with silence from him, I decided to do some research.

Shackle- (noun) a pair of fetters connected together by a chain, used to fasten a prisoner’s wrists or ankles together.

I pictured a criminal walking into a courtroom in an orange jumpsuit. Shackles on wrists and ankles. Doing the little shuffle step. Head down.  Hands tied in front.  This person is going before the judge to be sentenced. The shackles jingle with each step forward.  A reminder of sins committed. Standing before the judge knowing the proper plea is guilty. The person looks up at the judge and sees her own face staring back. Angry, disgusted eyes stare and bang the gavel, shouting guilty!!  The sentence is life in prison…in shackles.

This is how we see ourselves, isn’t it?  We deserve the punishment for our overindulgence.  We are guilty of lacking self-restraint and we bow our heads in shame.  We pronounce our life sentence and declare it over ourselves in anger and disgust. We cannot control our appetites for pleasure and therefore we deserve to be punished. This is the opposite of Freedom.

Then there is the verb…Shackle- to restrain or limit.

Synonyms-restrict, constrain, handicap, hamper, hinder, impede, obstruct, inhibit

Being shackled for life, means we cannot move in ways we used to.  We cannot take big steps of faith.  We cannot reach out for our dreams.  We cannot walk the path Jesus set before us, because we are limited by our weight, and our view from the prison cell we have put ourselves in.  We are angry and defeated.  We have resigned ourselves to be watchers instead of doers.  Life passes us by because we are hampered.  God calls us out and we look at our shackles and say no, I can’t.  I can’t go.  I can’t be on a stage. I can’t direct.  I can’t lead. I just can’t.  We say to anyone who dares to ask us, ‘Don’t you see my shackles.  They are obvious.  Don’t ask me.” The problem with that is usually God is the one asking.  We are paralyzed to move.  Our chains bind us from obedience.  Yet, God goes before the judge as our defense.  He is not an excuse maker, but a true defender.  He uses his words to try to convince the judge, with our very own face, of who we truly are.  Daughters created in God’s image.  Worthy. Valuable.  Beautiful. Pure. The judge plugs her ears, not wanting to hear.  But this defense attorney is not giving up, no matter how many falls off the wagon we have.  No matter how tight we make our chains.

chains.jpg

The scene changes. (close your eyes to picture this)

Jesus is standing beside the prisoner, and they are no longer in a courtroom.  They are standing in front of a closet.  Jesus asks to go inside.  The prisoner says no.

Jesus gently says, “If you want to get rid of your shackles we have to go inside.” The prisoner ducks her head in shame, as she opens the door.  Jesus turns on the light and begins to examine the clothes. He passes by the items in the front of the closet.  Instead he goes to the dark corners in the back.  He pulls a large jacket off the hanger.

“What is this for?” He asks.

The prisoner answers, “That is my favorite coat.”

“But what is it for?”

“To cover me.”

“But it is too big for you.”

“I like oversized jackets.”

“Precious one, you are using this to cover your shame.  It is not becoming on you.  It hides who I have created you to be.”

“These clothes are my fat clothes, for when I am big.”

“They do not fit you.  You are carrying that which you were not meant to carry. The load is too heavy for you.  These clothes represent your insecurities.  You hang onto them like a child holds onto a blanket…just in case.  Just in case you need to hide yourself.  Just in case you need to disappear.  I do not want you to be invisible.  You need to be seen.  Please let me take your shame away.  Please give me the burden of guilt you carry. It will break your shackles. Can I take these clothes from you, beloved?”

“Yes.  Please take them away,” the prisoner said slowly.

Jesus makes a pile of fat clothes on the floor before he moves to the next section of the closet.  He removes a shirt that is covered in stains.

“Why do you have this shirt?  It is covered in stains.”

“I can’t get them out.  I have tried everything. I can’t just throw everything away that has a stain.  It would be a waste.  All the clothes in this section have some stains on them.”

“My love, these clothes mark you.  They show mistakes made in your past.  Drips and splashes that have become a part of your fabric.  They are soaked in.  When you wear these clothes, it is a reminder to you of your past, and every time you see the stain it floods your mind with things you need not remember.  If I don’t remember, why should you? They do not represent who you are to me. I can take the stains away. Do not hold onto these clothes anymore.  Another link in the chain will break if you let me take your stains away.”

“Okay.  You can have them,” said the prisoner feeling a bit lighter.

Jesus used his scarred hands to take each article of clothing that was stained and drop it to the floor. He moved back further.  And pulled some pants that were ripped out of the closet.

“Why do you keep these?  Don’t tell me because they are in style, because there is another reason.  A deeper reason.”

“What? They are in style.”

“They are…but what about the others here.  There are many torn garments, of all shapes.”

“I keep them because they can be repaired and fixed and used.”

“That is not the reason you keep them. My child, you feel you don’t deserve better.  You feel if you wear torn clothes it is because you have never measured up.  When you were broken and torn, you came out with scars.  These clothes remind you of your scars.  They are broken as you are. Some of the wounds never fully healed and now there are gaping holes.  Holes that show your hardest moments.  The times when others ripped you, the times when you felt crushed by life’s weight.  Do not keep these garments precious one.  Let me take them from you.  Let me remove the holes left behind.”

“Please take them away.”  The prisoner wept.

“What about these things?”  Jesus said as he removed an old letter jacket, a mini skirt, gym shorts, and some other out of date items.

“Those contain memories.”

“No, they contain identities.  They are ways you identified yourself in earlier years.  They are no longer appropriate.  They are too small for what I have for you.  Your identity is in me now, and these items cannot contain what I have for you.  They do not fit anymore.  You are a new creature whom I have poured into.  Please let me remove your shackles by taking the old pictures of yourself away. It is no longer who you are.”

“Go ahead and take them.”

“While we are at it, please give me your orange jumpsuit. You put this prisoner identity upon yourself as the judge.  I have just taken your shame, your insecurities, your brokenness, your stains, your past, and your false identities.  Your chains are broken.  You are unshackled.  Please give me the jumpsuit.”

The prisoner removed the orange garment and stood exposed before Jesus.  All the doubts and fears fled.  There were no garments left in the closet.  All of them had been put into the pile on the floor.  Jesus removed his outer garment.  His white robe. And he put it onto the prisoner.

“This is what I have for you to wear…a pure garment, made of white.  It is my robe of righteousness, and it belongs to you.  It highlights who I made you to be.  It is just the right size and shape.  It brings out the sparkle in your eyes and the color in your cheeks. I have set you free…so you are free indeed.”

“Freedom looks good on you!  Go, my unshackled one.  Go and take wide steps.  Reach far for what I have given you.  You are free to move in my plans and purposes.  You are no longer a prisoner.  Move forward. Watch what I will do for you.  Keep your head up.  Do not hide in the shadows.  Do not be hindered, or hampered, or inhibited to do what I have called you to. I will bring you to the place I have for you…but you have to be the one to step out.  It will feel scary at first, but then the exhilaration will take over and you will find yourself in places you never dreamed of. You will be radiant because you are FREE.  Free from all the old.  Lifted up by the new.  Energized by my call on your life.  Hope will fill your lungs like you have never known.”

Then Jesus turned, took all the clothes piled on the floor in his arms.  He walked away from the closet and closed the door behind.  The clothes were burned, and he buried the ashes.

“Beauty for ashes… quite a trade don’t you think, beloved? Go and walk in your Freedom.”

hand and chains.jpg

Lessons of 9-11

911I awoke in the wee hours of the morning to a sky that was crying.  It seems to me each year it weeps on this day, as if the heavens are grieving all those lost 17 years ago.  The clouds hang low, full of tears which overflow.  The gray blanket covers the land creating a kind of shield of sorrow.  I used to could feel it coming weeks ahead.  My heart is my calendar, but each year the time has shortened, until today I didn’t realize what day it was until the rain on my roof reminded me.  I remember not being able to comprehend the statement which came knocking at my classroom door that morning.

“America is under attack.”

“I’m sorry, what did you say?”

“Many planes have been hijacked.  New York is under attack. Do not tell your students.”

My brain wasn’t able to process this information, because hijacked planes where not used as bombs before this day.  Hijackers flew planes, threatened governments, and made demands.  They did not fly into buildings.

I continued to teach. Children were being checked out by the dozens.  Because I was a co-teacher and there were two of us in the room, I left my students to go see what was going on.  Walking down the hall, a teacher whispered, “The tower fell.”  I had no idea what she was talking about.  It was like thick fog in my head, grasping at ideas that were un thought of…could not be referenced to any past experiences.  No connections.  No reference points.  Going into the office where a TV was on in the back room was surreal.  Watching the tower fall on a repeated loop seemed intentionally planned so that the visual could inform the brains of the audience.  This wasn’t a movie.  This wasn’t a prank.  This was reality.  A new reality.

Nausea inducing reality.

My pallor silently announced things were not well to my team teacher when I returned. I took over the kids so she could go watch the nightmare. By the time she got back, the second tower had fallen.  We plodded on through our lessons with pretend smiles.  Over the lunch break, we camped in front of the TV, not the least bit hungry. It was the longest school day I have ever been through, caring for my students and praying my own children were safe.  The unknown dimension and scope of what might be coming was a wisp that floated through my thoughts until banished forcibly.

The next day was worse.  Scared children arrived looking up to the sky.  They couldn’t concentrate on their work for worry that a plane would fly into the school building. There was still so much unknown at the time, we didn’t know how to explain to 8 year olds what was happening.  We didn’t even know ourselves. The order to keep all televisions off was heeded.

We taught all day, and watched news all night.  This went on for months.  We were traumatized as individuals and as a country.

twin towers of light.jpg

 

Then, many years later, our first students arrived who had never heard of 9-11.  They were born after 2001.  They hadn’t seen the news clips, or experienced the trauma.  There was only a vague sense that something important happened on this day.  A moment of silence, the closest thing to prayer you will find in a public school, was the only indicator that whatever happened was bad.  As I bowed my head and prayed during the minute, I felt their little eyes on me.  When tears rolled down my cheeks each year, they responded with stunned silence that the teacher was crying.  Afterwards, they quietly asked questions about my tears and I answered them as best as I could.

The memory will never fade, even though the events pass on down into history. The unimaginable made real.  The loss of life. The remembrance, year after year as time marches on. What happened on 9-11 changed our world to pre and post.  It made it a scarier place to live.

under the flag

Yet, it also brought us together as a country.  It demonstrated the best of us…as people caring for people.  Unlikely heroes were created that day.  We loved our neighbors more than before.  There may not have been unity in all the governmental offices, but there was unity among the people.  We were kinder to one another.  We cried more easily.  We knew our hearts were broken and we extended grace.  There were tragically beautiful stories which helped us to truly SEE one another, perhaps for the first time. The treasure out of the tragedy.

Unfortunately, healing has been elusive. The goodwill short lived. Division has torn our bonds of unity apart.  Rather than reach out to one another, we turn our backs and walk away, or yell in each other’s faces.  It is a sad day, indeed.  Meanwhile, the evil that invaded and violated us is laughing, knowing he is winning the day.  Celebrating our discord, because he knows when we are separated we are weak, and when we are weak he wins.  He doesn’t have to lift a finger, because we will destroy ourselves.

On this day of sorrow and grief, I choose to remember the unity.  As an act of remembrance to those lost, I look for the goodwill and heartfelt connection which pulled our country out of the pit.  The thousands upon thousands who worked together for one cause.  The ones who reached out to others in need.  Those who fed the hungry, and clothed the weak without question.  It was a moment of clarity, of what is truly important, and what doesn’t matter.  It is my prayer that our country will choose to remember what we learned on 9-11.

love one another.jpg

Losing Things (Guest Blog)

Memory issues– a multitude of obstacles having to do with different types of memory.  Depending on which part of the memory is affected, the difficulties can be wide in range and scope.  The resulting behaviors cause frustration and can affect day to day life in jobs as well as family relationships.

messy desk.jpg

As told to me by Bill Gunnin.

I spend more time looking for things than doing things.  I think I have everything together, but then I don’t.  Lately, losing things and trying to locate things has been more stressful than anything else I am dealing with. I am trying to organize my life because of the new piano tuning business I have started, but there are specialized tools and small things and I have trouble sometimes finding what I am looking for. My stuff is spread all over the house, which invades your space and that won’t work.  I organize and organize and organize, but it always seems I am overloaded. Then I can’t remember my organization or which file I put something into.  There are times I am doing my very best to have everything together, but there is always something that isn’t where I need it to be, like a tool, or a file, or my glasses, or my phone, or some form or paperwork.

One of the problems, and I don’t know how to change it, is that I get obsessed on locating on things.  Because of that, sometimes I lose perspective on how important the item is.  I get fixated, and I forget what I am working on. It is hard for me to realize the thing I am looking for might not be as important as what I am supposed to be doing. I feel if I have the item then I will be ready and I have a desire to be ready for anything.  Sometimes it causes me to go slow, like with packing for a trip.  I have to consider every possibility, and when I can’t remember where something is that I might need, I have to stop and turn the house upside down looking for it.  Then once I find it, whatever it is, I can go back, but then everything is out of place because of my previous looking. My difficulty making decisions jumps into the mix and it just causes stress and frustration, and takes me forever to do things that most people can do in five minutes.

It reminds me of my mom and her brain cancer. Remember how she was always unsettled and had to go somewhere? She was looking for something, but she couldn’t name it and she kept walking in circles. I might not be as severe as she was, but I feel that.  I have to be ready; I cannot be unprepared.  I may not accomplish anything because of getting ready all the time, but I will be prepared.

I can lose something sitting in one place. Like in the car the other day when I lost my sunglasses. They were just gone.  I had not even left my seat and they just disappeared.  I was to the point of insanity in my frustration.  I honestly believed I might be going crazy. I couldn’t stop looking and let it go until I knew what happened to those damn glasses. I have no memory at all of putting them into your purse. That doesn’t even make sense to me, but at least we found them, even though it took 45 minutes of looking in the car first. I get so frustrated, and by the time I find what I am looking for I have wasted so much time, and then I usually have misplaced something else.

As much as I resist order, I know order helps me rest. So, I can’t rest until I find what I am looking for and put it in order.  I think this may happen because it’s not just one thing; it is memory, indecision, feeling like part of me is missing and I can’t find it…just like all the stuff I am always losing, I have lost myself.

compass.jpg

It helps the turmoil when you come to my aid and help me look. Having someone to share the difficulty with makes me feel less like I am crazy. Having you help me makes me not feel so alone in it.  I know it’s frustrating to you to always have to stop and help me.  I know I depend on that a lot and it’s not fair, but I don’t know what else to do when I am in a tizzy.  It is in the moment, and I get stuck there.  Not to mention if we are going somewhere it slows down everyone else.  Plus, you have done this for so many years you are an excellent finder, much better at it than me.  It does makes me mad though when I have been looking for something for hours and you can walk right in and find it in a minute.

I think the problem may be a memory thing rather than an organizational thing. It is because of my need for organizational systems that my memory issues are exposed which increase my anxiety.  I can’t let it go, because I have a system in place.  When I can’t remember, my system doesn’t work at all, and this makes me feel crazy and stupid.  I haven’t left the room, but whatever it is I have misplaced is not there. Things cannot just disappear. I have to keep looking because if I can’t find it now, the search will get bigger tomorrow. At least I know where I have been today, so it limits where I have to look.  Tomorrow my memory will be even worse.

I get angry when I can’t remember things.  When I can’t remember something like the name of the trail I was trying to think of today…Raven Cliff Falls…I have hiked that trail so many times, it is discouraging not to be able to remember it.  It causes me anxiety and fear of what I can’t remember. I should be able to recall more. I wrote and wrote and wrote things down so I wouldn’t forget.  I have notebooks full of stuff, but that doesn’t work because all I do is write, but never accomplish anything.  I don’t throw them away because I am afraid I will forget all of it.  Now there’s a new app to help file notes and things in your phone.  But then I can’t remember which file and it turns into another thing to distract me.

My memory gaps cause so much distraction for me.  I am spinning wheels, because I never feel ready to do it, whatever it is.  It is like when you go somewhere and you feel like you are forgetting something, and you are wracking your brain to think what it is.  You trace your steps trying to make sure you have everything.  It is common for me to feel that way at some point every day.  It drains my pool of mental resources. Getting ready…trying to remember where I put things. Memory issues prevent me from moving forward.  Shame is involved.  It makes me feel embarrassed.  Angry at myself, and I get tired of it all the time.  I just want to be able to get my stuff together.

I have tried to make some systems to help.  I check when going in and out of buildings to make note of what I have with me when I go in, so I can check to make sure I still have them with me when I leave. I have made it a habit most of the time, except when I forget.  As soon as I realize something is missing, I try to call all the places I have been to find out where I left it.  The sooner I call the sooner I can go pick it up and get back on track. I am trying to be intentional in what I am taking with me and where.

I feel like I live my life on a roller coaster. I feel very capable and smart sometimes and other times I feel like a total idiot. I mean, who loses things without even moving out of a chair?  That is crazy. And now it takes a long time to get prepared for things, and I know it used to take less. That scares me a bit.

I have a new thing I have tried to do more recently. I am consciously trying to find a place where things belong.  I am trying to get into the habit of putting things back where they go. I know other people do that, but it has always been hard for me to remember where the place is and believe it is the right place to keep it.   I’m frustrated, because when I haven’t found a place for something to go, I lose it. Do you think that could be why I get so frustrated?  Is that possible?  Does it make sense?

You ask me does it feel like being a little boy again, since my tears and anger seem like that to you. My first thought is what does it feel like to be a little boy? I have trouble remembering. When I think about that, it isn’t a feeling I want to have.  I’m afraid of not being able to express frustration with words…just feelings without names and my inability to figure them out. As a little boy, there was confusion about my feelings…the usual development part of being a kid…until I learned how things worked. I guess, in a way now, it is like the confusion and pent up emotion from when I was a kid.  I know the embarrassment feels the same, only now I am not a little boy. It seems like the shame is bigger, because a grown man should be able to remember more than I can.

Sometimes I am certain I have a memory of something, but then I can’t figure out if it is a true memory. Is it from this day or years ago?  If it is vivid and I KNOW it happened, I still might not be able to figure out when it is from. Sometimes the memories are clear, but knowing when I had them is not. I can be certain I put something in a place, but I cannot be certain that it was today when I did it.  No matter if I make notes on paper, or in my head, I still cannot always tell if the memory I have is the most recent one.  Like, I remember putting a tool for my piano in a certain place, but the tool is missing; it is not there.  So, did I not put it there? Or do I remember something I actually did, but I have done many things with the tool since then? Or did I put it there when I first got it and not yesterday like I thought?  These are the questions that go through my mind to torment me while I am looking in every possible place.  And I still haven’t found it, so I cannot finish working on my piano. It is maddening.

People do not know how this kind of problem can affect daily life.  It seems to me that everything I do takes three times the effort of other people.  It is hard just for me to get through the day intact sometimes.  If it was only the memory issues maybe I could adjust better, but throw in all the other things that are silent parts of my injury and how they affect my thinking, and I feel like I will never get to where I want to be.  I will try, very hard, but I will not succeed.  That is the worse feeling in the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kayaking

Kayaking.jpg

In an effort to keep my body moving, I have desired to take up kayaking for a while now.  My legs still work, but some days I am not sure how long that will be true.  The cartilage in the joints is disintegrating thanks to chemo, so hiking can sometimes be painful.  Being a paddler in my younger days, it just made sense to me to find another activity I enjoy to mix things up from time to time and to give my legs a break.

We were going to rent boats the last time we were in Seattle to go out on the Sound, but we never did.  In fact, I have been wanting to rent boats for the past couple of years, but have never gotten Bill to agree.  This time, when we decided against it on our trip, I made him promise me we would do it when we got home.  And so, when I drove past a sign at the Olympic Rowing venue in Gainesville advertising kayaking classes, I signed us up.

My intention was to learn how to get in and out of the boat as well as to learn the differences between canoe, raft, and kayak strokes.  I mean, how different can it be? Since we both have paddled everything except a kayak in our pasts, I figured it would be a big review for us. I dragged Bill to our first lesson and he was a good sport since he had promised me we would do this.  We were supposed to have 6 people in our class, but 3 dropped out, so it was us and one other guy.  When we met our instructor, an Olympic kayaker, it should have been my first clue this was not going to be the beginner class I had imagined it to be.

First off, the boats were not the little recreational kind you rent at different lakes around here.  They were “real” kayaks with cockpits, and they did not have flat bottoms for stability.  Our first lesson was what to do if you capsize…save the boat from sinking by turning it over. I guess they assume since you are wearing a life jacket you will not need saving.  The next lesson was getting in.  The instructor was showing us, very slowly, how to move from standing to sitting in the kayak.  My mind was watching his movements and knowing my knee couldn’t do what he was doing. Fear crept into my throat.

Bill, on the other hand was just ready to get on with it, and was halfway in his boat.  The problem was he didn’t finish watching the lesson…brain injured ADHD doesn’t really allow that…so he was jumping ahead of the instructor.  The boats are unforgiving of such things, and it tossed him right into the water.  He remembered lesson number one well, and reached for his boat to turn it over as I was yelling to forget the boat and get his brand new very expensive glasses, which were floating to the bottom of Lake Lanier.  Meanwhile our instructor, still giving his how-to-get-in-the-boat lesson, turned around and said, “I wasn’t finished with the lesson.  You have to listen first, then do it.”  He was quite patient as Bill tried to get the boat, save his flip flops and hat, and get back onto the dock.  Lesson #1 was quite a bit more expensive than we had planned.

Everyone was in their boat but me, so the instructor had me get into the boat on the dock, because I knew I could not do what he had demonstrated. When he pushed me into the water he said to pretend I was going down a rapid. I gripped my paddle and swallowed hard.  I made it in without going over, and I felt accomplished. I wondered, ‘Can I get out now?’  Our lesson was 1 ½ hours and it took us 45 minutes just to get into the boats.

paddle

Next, the instructor got in a little motorized boat so he could film our technique and show us how we were doing. Great, just what I wanted. Documentation. I was just happy to be upright.  He showed us the proper strokes, and how our arms needed to be placed, while we were twisting our core, and catching the water just so.  There were, like 10 movements to think about, all happening at the same time.  The guys were moving right along, and my kayak was veering left.  I was reverting back to canoe strokes to line it up again.  Then I would veer to the right.  I could not go straight to save my life.  How did I know this you ask?  Because it was all being filmed by the instructor in his little motor boat, as he shouted, “head up and straight, twist your core, move your arms further apart on the shaft, elbows down, catch the paddle by your feet, shorter strokes, etc…  He was trying to help, but I was going in circles.  When the lesson was over, I rolled out of my boat onto the dock, wondering what I had gotten myself into.

Lesson # 2 was with a Paralympian named Nik, who had a prosthetic leg, lots of tattoos, and muscles for miles. He is ranked one of the fastest kayakers in the world, and he was very passionate about his sport, and he wanted us to be as well.  He was really quite amazing, taking off his leg and jumping all around, carrying his boat to the water.  I felt a bit stupid telling him my leg doesn’t bend very well so it is hard for me to get into the boat.  He just laughed at me, but said he could give me pointers…which he did. He had me sit on the dock and then just scooch over into the boat on the water.  So much easier than holding my breath and hoping whoever pushed me off the dock would do it correctly.  However, I continued to go around in circles the entire lesson and he followed me in his kayak, trying to help me figure out what I was doing wrong.

Then he got out a tandem boat, that looked like a rocket in the water.  I got in the back and he was in the front paddling us around.  It felt like it was going to flip and anytime I tried to paddle I thought we were going in.  He kept it in balance the whole time, using his back and core muscles…the ones with the flaming skull on them. Turns out kayaking isn’t only about the arms.  We all had turns with him so we could feel what a competition boat feels like. Then he got out another one which was super streamlined and completely round on the bottom. He had Bill get in, which lasted about 10 seconds before it threw him in the water.  He taught Bill how to climb back in the boat from the water, which was quite impressive. His intention was to show us how much more responsive the other boats are so we wouldn’t get discouraged with the ones we were using because “as you get better you will graduate to the better boats.”  He said this as if we were going to continue past the three lessons we paid for.  It had the opposite effect on me, I decided I never wanted to move past the boat I was using. Bill was all in as usual, and I thought- ‘What have I created?’

Our last lesson was almost canceled due to rainy weather, but when we arrived our instructor was ready to go, even though he was leaving early to compete in the World Championship in Portugal that afternoon. He gave me some tips on how to fix my arm positions, and told me just to practice only arms…not to worry about going in circles.  He filmed some more from his boat and then worked with Bill quite a bit from the dock. I had a bit of a breakthrough, in that it seemed all of the different things came together and a couple of times I actually went straight!

kayak with paddle.jpg

Our instructor had to catch his flight out, so we wished him well and said our goodbyes.  I’m not sure he made me into a kayaker in our lessons together, but he certainly has two new fans who will follow his career. As for us, we will continue to kayak, but I think we will stick with the little rental places around here. Even in the unexpected level of lessons, I reconnected with my love for being on the water that I have missed. I don’t think you will see me in any competitions any time soon…but if you do, I will be the one going in circles.

(I got all of these pictures from unsplash.com)

True Love

IMG_1791

I had the privilege of being raised in the overflow of True Love.  My parents set an example, which has inspired me on the toughest days of my own marriage. Their relationship started when she was 13 and he was 16, and going steady was the way things were done.  Their young love never wavered from that path, growing steadily until they eventually married.  If you look back in time, which we did last weekend going through slides from their courtship, it is evident from the sparkle in their eyes how much they loved each other.  You can see it as she pinned him at his commissioning ceremony.  You can see it in pictures of the two of them at a picnic. You can see it in the wedding photos, and in their young hope-filled eyes on their honeymoon. You can see the sparkle of love in each stage of life along the way.  If a picture paints 1,000 words, then boxes of pictures paint a lifetime of words that can be summed up in three…I love you.

Notice I didn’t say theirs has been a perfect love.  It has not.  They bicker.  They have their differences of opinion.  Their personalities sometimes rub each other wrong.  But in the tough times, the sharp edges have worn off leaving behind a gem which is even more beautiful than it was in the very beginning.  It is a love formed by decades of shared life, and now is needed more than ever before. As Mom’s memory begins to fade, Dad has to step in more and more.  It is a role reversal for him.

mom and dad

If you know my Dad at all you know that patience isn’t his thing.  He is a go-getter, type-A.  Work is his love language.  Getting things done, in high quality and as quickly as possible is his measuring stick for life.  We have called him the bulldog, because when he gets on a task he doesn’t let it go until it is accomplished. That pertains to our tasks as well.  He is laser focused, until we finish what we start.

Mom is the nurturer.  She is the slow-down-and-smell-the-roses to his full-speed-ahead.  She is the color to his black and white.  She is the one who had the insight to know he needs a task to be happy, so she signed him up for photography classes as he neared retirement to give him one. His beautiful photography is the result of his hard work, but it started with her intuition. Her wisdom is carefully thought through, her roots go deep. She is the encourager of the family, which glues us all together.

To see Dad slow down to take care of Mom, is one of the most beautiful things I have ever witnessed. The way he lets her go at her own pace. The way he helps her when she can’t find words.  The way he plans things so she can still do the things she wants to do.  He is becoming her memory.  It is amazing to watch him be patient, when I know that is the opposite of his natural tendency.  And even though sometimes her eyes look confused, when she looks at him the sparkle rises to the top.

Growing old together isn’t always the fun we all imagine it to be.  It isn’t all rocking chairs and grandchildren circled around.  In fact, the more I watch, the more hardship I see in the “golden years”.  Yet, even through all that aging brings with it, I am still living in the overflow of True Love. It is still an inspiration to watch my parents love each other well.

IMG_1790

Today they have been married 60 years, which was proceeded by several years of growing up together.  They have been together so long they are bonded together and even their bickering is cute and sweet.  In our culture, 60 years is a milestone of significance, but in our family, there was never a doubt they would make it this far. Their love is deep enough to weather storms and wide enough to keep all of us in its embrace.  True Love is like that. It spills over and rains down on all those who come into contact with it.  I have lived in its mist my whole life and I will be forever grateful to my parents for their True Love.

Winnie the Pooh

img_6071.jpgI have always been a Pooh fan.  I remember the books as a child and the wonder they created when the pictures and text danced together upon the pages.  They were unlike “regular” books and, because of their creative formatting, little girls and boys would be curious enough to turn and discover something new on the next page and the next.  The images blended with the story until neither could be separated from the other. Generations of children were mesmerized by the humble little bear who had no idea how wise he was. As kids, we didn’t know he was wise either.  He just seemed to be kind and gentle, as well as continuously in predicaments where it took all his friends helping to work things out.

IMG_6045.jpg

Now, I can see the genius of the work.  Now, I can understand the two brilliant men who brought the characters in the Hundred Acre Wood to life.  I went to the High Museum of Art to see the Winnie the Pooh exhibit on Friday.  It was a fitting tribute to the artistic ability of both the author and the illustrator.  Quotes lined the walls, and framed sketches of the pictures in the books immediately summoned old feelings to the surface of my imagination.  Warm and fuzzy doesn’t begin to describe my sentimental journey back in time.  The drawing of Pooh holding onto the balloon brought the story of him trying to get the honey to the forefront of my mind. The one of him stuck in Rabbit’s hole did the same.  I don’t think I really understood the visual impact the illustrations had on me as a child until “re-seeing” them as an adult.

IMG_6056

The quotes were filled with wisdom beyond the understanding of a young child. I think it is one reason the stories have lived so long.  Adults appreciate the word play with the characters to teach their young children about life.  Here are a few from the bear of very little brain.

“You’re braver than you believe and stronger and smarter than you think.”

“People say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing every day.”

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

“If the person you are talking to doesn’t appear to be listening, be patient. It may simply be that he has a small piece of fluff in his ear.”

“Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.”

I could add a million more of the humorous and profound lines to the list and most of us would know them.  They are etched in our memories from spending time visiting the Hundred Acre Wood.

img_6070.jpg

When the stories came to life on the television screen, the voice of Pooh was added.  It became part of the intertwining of text, illustration, and then audio which made Winnie the Pooh a beloved iconic character loved by millions of children.  That unassuming voice communicating honestly with viewers won us over.  I haven’t been to the new movie yet.  I hope it does justice to the original work.

img_6044.jpg

I think our culture is longing for the simplicity of Pooh these days.  We trust his gentle ways and the authenticity of his character.  We all relate to the band of friends in one way or another.  We know a negative Eeyore or a pretentious Owl.  We have Tigger friends, or we bounce around ourselves.  Fun, fun, fun, fun, fun. The connection we make to those long-ago characters reminds us of the simplicity of friendship, the uncomplicatedness of love, and the importance of believing in ourselves.  We seem to have forgotten those things.  We all need to revisit the Hundred Acre Wood. Leave it to a stuffed bear, named Pooh, to revive these things we have been missing.  The character who wakes us up is as unassuming as ever, and the perfect vehicle to give us some food for thought…covered in honey of course.

IMG_1358.jpg

Cave Rescue

caveOur Uber driver told us they found the boys in the cave alive. “Isn’t that amazing?” he asked. I had no idea if it was or not, because I had no idea what he was talking about.  I stopped watching the news a couple of years ago, around the same time I removed political opinions from my posts. I pulled out of the cycle of fear and being force fed disgust of anyone not like me.  It was a decision to protect my thoughts and my mental and emotional health.  On vacation, we never even turned on the TV, so I made small talk with the driver and tried not to be ignorant, which of course I was.  In the airport, I did a Google search on my phone and was immediately hooked on the unfolding story of the boys team trapped in a seemingly impossible situation.

The next few days I followed the rescue attempts and the weather.  It seemed a race against time. I told Bill, “I can’t wait for the movie to come out, because someone has got to make one.”  I was on the edge of my computer to see how they would save these boys. After they were free, I saw some of the video of what they did to get them out and knew I would have not be able to do it, yet here was an international team of rescue personnel all working together…in unity…for one cause…in a life or death situation.  It did not matter what country, what race, what language, what gender, what religion, what political party, what background, they all worked together.

It occurred to me how much different the world would be if we could work together like that on everything.  In our own country…it seems our oxygen is running low and the floodwaters are rising.  The passages out are at an impasse.  Fear is the primary emotion, and rather than coming together, we are splitting apart.  Are our differences so great that we cannot put them aside in a life or death situation?  Our country is starving. It is in the dark.  In a dire circumstance, with no way out but to trust.  Only we cannot trust.  Anyone.  Left. Right. Red. Blue. Black. White. Men. Women. Gay. Straight. Christian. Muslim. Jew. We are blinded by the darkness. We are weakened by our lack of nutrients.  We are fed a steady diet of animosity which we eat hungrily on all sides, but it does nothing to satisfy, it only increases our appetite.  Bitterness wreaks havoc and sucks up our oxygen, which is already in short supply.  Superiority turns away humility and refuses to allow it entrance, because it is a foreign concept.  Trust cannot be found.  The motto is “We know best.” (Insert, your group name for the we.) But what if we don’t? What if, we are all wrong, focusing on the unimportant and we are wasting our breath?

It will take a rescue effort of enormous proportions to get us out of the cave we are trapped in.  I wonder if there will be any effort on our behalf to supply food, or oxygen, or to pump the sludge out.  I wonder if the tiny spaces that must be traversed will allow for passage as long as there is abhorrence and revulsion of one another. I fear the aversion we have for those breathing the same air will not lead to a solution in which all are rescued.  We can watch the drama unfold, from our viewpoint in the cave, not fully realizing the danger in which we have put ourselves.  My hope is a resolution like the one in Thailand, where unity was victorious because it was top priority, and where they walked out by trusting each other.