Friday, August 31, 2012

A singing heart

It's been a month of Re-Gifting fridays, and to be honest, I'm not sure it will reach beyond that.  In my heart, it will, and on paper, but perhaps not in such a structured way on my blog.  As a writer, and particularly a blogger, it's more often a lonely business, like I'm tossing words out to an empty room.  I think many of us in this position can feel this way.  But this morning, I caught these words on my screen - a daily Jesuit devotional sent to my inbox:

What makes my heart sing?

It's this.  The beautiful rubbish of daily life.  The moments when eyes focus beyond the rubbish to see the heart of God in the muck or mundaneness of it all.  In these moments, nothing is truly mundane, nothing beyond redemption, nothing that can't catch the fire of beauty. And there, my heart sings gratitude.

Happy friday. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Just Write: Bird love

I'm just going to say it.  I've been bit by the bird love bug, and it's only been four days.  

It started off as a normal Saturday morning - breakfast with Mom at one of our favorite spots - except there was an unusual guest in the restaurant this day.  A pint-sized parrot, robin's egg blue and green feathers, perched atop the shoulder of a young woman.  I'd never seen anything like him.  She and her husband sat at their table over breakfast, enthusiastically cooing and fussing over him as if he were a newborn baby.  They seemed sweet, perhaps even a little strange, and so it wasn't difficult for me to imagine Ricardo and I in the same scenario, sitting with a parrotlet over breakfast at a cafe.  

When I was eleven or so and I became the proud owner of my first rat, Templeton.  She'd often sit at the dining room table with me, grasping macaroni and cheese elbows in her paws and daintily chewing them one by one over lunch.  I realize that sounds disgusting and unsanitary to the majority of Americans in the general population, but I was also the child who, without qualms, shared my ice cream cone with my beloved dog, whose favorite past time was chowing down on fresh cow pies and road kill.  I may not be eleven, or anywhere near that age, and I may not swap saliva with a dog any longer, but I'd still sit at the table with a small pet and share a meal together if I had the chance.   

I don't know if that makes me strange or not.  I guess I don't really care.  I am what I am and always have been: an avid animal lover.

So, following breakfast with Mom, I rushed home.  And with a sly, irresistible smile, persuaded my loving husband to accompany me to the very same pet store where the breakfast couple bought their parrotlet.  Within two minutes of entering the store, I located the small bird section and fell in love.  A little green Pacific Parrotlet won my heart with her extra fluffy feathers, curious cocked expressions and the hilarious way she would track our fingers as we slid them back and forth along her cage.  I was a little disheartened to see her price tag, however, and knew we would not be taking her home today.  Maybe not ever.  

I could have stood in front of her cage for hours, literally, tracking her moves and expressions, those alert, beady eyes and the way she opened and closed her mouth as if she was speaking to me.  I made the fatal mistake of naming her - Gracie Lou Green Bird (Miss Congeniality, anyone?) - and all the while, Ricardo stood by, shaking his head in this way that I know so well but is hard to put into words.  Basically love, admiration, and incredulation, combined with a slightly dazed look, like, "What were you thinking, God, when you gave me this woman?" 

I love that he loves that I love animals.

I left that day, without my Gracie Lou.  But I confess that I've got birds on my mind, and I may have spent part of the day looking on Craigslist for cheap bird cages and accessories. 

Join me with the community of writers at JustWrite, for other free-write posts.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The language of hands

Hands.  How many words pour forth without a mouth from these ten-fingered instruments.  With hands we greet, flirt, hide, hold; we clutch for control, grip in fear, grope in darkness; we make music, make love, make enemies, make food, make messes, make art.  The nuanced language of hands could fill its own dictionary. 

I can read my soul, some days, by the state of my hands.

This morning, hands balled up with fingers curled fetal, fists clenched.  Fear.  Stress.  Stubbornness. Wariness. Holding tight to what?  Control slips through clenched fists like sand through an hour glass.  I have no control, but still my fingers curl in.

I sit and I read and one by one, his words gently massage those tightened hands.

             He starts in here, walks my eyes over there.

                      He sits quietly with me here - and plays me like a guitar there.

And it's these words that begin to coax my fingers free - "I’ll give thanks anyway … give thanks for this it-doesn’t-feel-like-a-gift gift" (Jacque Watkins).  Hands can speak louder than emotions, if they're brave... if they're surrendered... if they trust.  So curled fingers relax into a cupped hand, a somewhat reluctant offering, and that, too, is okay.  

But it's here, it's these words, that carry me deeper than hands cupped upward.  The words, themselves, sing hope: 

Music is made in stress. That a string pulled tight, it has to be plucked, it has to be stressed. Moved from it’s comfortable, resting position. The bending of the string, this induces stress. And as the string bends, as the string arches in stress, and then releases, it vibrates — and there is the offering (Ann Voskamp).

Could it be, hands in this cupped state of grace, release God's hands to play?

In stress, there can be song.

The resonance is in the surrender. ~ Ann V.

I am his guitar, and he stretches taut my strings to release a song that spills from my life and dances me to the tune of his grace.

It is not comfortable.  There is an arch, there is an ache, and my soul is taut.  But it is the only way to create music.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Re-Gifting {4}

Dear friday, time of reflecting gratitude for the grace, the gifts, of this week - of this life - how I need this day.  More words come to mind today than need to be written.  It's been a rare week of dates with my husband, of writing and reading, of tears for the suffering of others.  A week of fervent prayers and wrestling fears.

I know three people this week who lost dads.  One young woman, only four years older than me, ceased to speak, her body ravaged with cancer.  She has a husband and six-year old son.  It's not that I am close with all these mourners or the ones who are dying.  No, it's more like a remembrance of the heaviness of suffering, this crazy, beautiful thing called empathy that seizes my heart, and sorrow wells up in my soul.  For the hearts breaking, the lives turned upside down and inside out in the course of a day, I ache and I pray simple prayers with hope.  

I hold my husband close, trace the curves of his face, sometimes with tears - not of guilt, but acknowledgement of the magnitude of the gift that is him - and I memorize these moments with a breath of gratitude to the God who gives and, in sorrowful mystery wrapped in love, also takes away. 

So here, my friends, is my list for the week.  May we revel in the love of the grace gifts that are ever-present, if we have eyes to see and hearts to receive...

1. Celebrations of life - the new baby of some dear friends, and the man who has left a profound legacy behind. 

2. A poster designed with love by my oh-so-talented and supportive husband, to welcome an adorable baby.

3. An exquisite "beachy" baby shower cake, made by a beautiful friend.
4. Long(ish) walk to the library in the late summer afternoon, with less of a limp.

5. Laughing and crying and receiving inspiration through a book by Anne Lamott.

6.  Connecting with writers of other blogs and supporting one another in our craft.

7. That life truly is Journey, not Destination: Ricardo and I made several late-night trips to the grocery store for "game tickets" to finish off our summer giveaway contest (which we didn't win a blessed thing for), but we delighted in the process together.  

8. Two date nights in a row.

9. Authentic tacos on outdoor grills, margaritas, habanero salsa and live mariachi band - the kindness of a lovely Mexican family.

10. A deeply generous and humbling gift from a friend.

11. Live music at the Market: Washboard, old-time banjo and tambourine on the feet.

12. Writing outside the Crumpet Shop as the crowds swarm around.

13. Freedom from fear, one day at a time.

Feel free to leave your own lists below, in words or pictures, as long or short, as you desire.  You can link up a post from your own blog or leave a list/picture(s) in the comment section.

Be blessed, dear friends!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Grief archives

 * I post these today for several reasons.  First, I'd like to link them from my Grief page on this blog, since they are the earliest writings I have in my journey of loss, but they were written before this blog existed, in notes on facebook.  Second, there may be some readers out there who would find connectedness in hearing how another person felt walking through the initial weeks of loss.  Everyone is different and grieves in different ways.  Perhaps because I'm a writer, I found comfort early on in other peoples' words, when I stumbled across another soul who could understand some of the confusing, overwhelming and intense emotions of loss.  It helped me not feel so alone. It helped me feel that my grief, in all its varied expressions, was normal. I hope my words may offer that for someone else. *

When silence falls

Saturday, August 9, 2008 at 4:19 pm

One thing about hanging out in a hospital all day is that there's a lot of time to think. And thinking is the very thing I try to avoid doing much of right now. I'm still feeling in a state of shock, that surreal "this-can't-be-happening-to-me" state, where I keep hoping to wake up from the nightmare. But the reality of what's going on is rumbling right beneath the surface of my shock, pushing, like an earthquake against my heart and mind. I'm not ready for the earthquake to hit, but I don't know how long I can hold it back. 

So I'm finding some comfort in dwelling on other people's words, like the lyrics from some of my beloved worship songs. The words from this song by Tim Hughes hold a raw new meaning for me and my family:

I've got questions, without answers
/ I've known sorrow, I have known pain
/ But there's one thing I will cling to/ 
You are faithful, Jesus You're true/ 

When hope is gone, I'll call You savior
/ When pain surrounds, I'll call You healer/ 
When silence falls, You'll be the song within my heart

/ Through the lone hour of my sorrow/ 
Through the darkest night of my soul
/ You surround me and sustain me/ 
My defender forevermore

/ When hope is gone, I'll call You savior
/ When pain surrounds, I'll call You healer
/ When silence falls, You'll be the song within my heart

/ I will praise You, I will praise You
/ When the tears fall, still I will sing to You
/ I will praise You, Jesus, praise You
/ Through the suffering still I will sing

/ When the laughter fails to comfort
/ When my heart aches, Lord, are You there?
/ When confusion is all around me
/ And the darkness is my closest friend/ 
Still, I will praise You
/ Jesus, praise You 

One last thing. I experienced this dark night of the soul worship as I never have before last night. I brought my guitar into my Papa's room and sat with a dear friend, playing softly and singing over him for over an hour. Through the tears, it's like I could hear Jesus singing over my Papa. He didn't make any promises or raise dad out of the bed. But His presence filled the room and I felt in my spirit that God was ministering to Papa, some place beyond his coma. No matter what happens, I know He loves my Papa. And He loves us. I hope I can cling to that in the darkness and in the silence.

Groundhog day

Monday, August 11, 2008 at 6:45 am

6:15 am. Day six. You know that movie where the guy keeps waking up and experiencing groundhog day, every day? That's kind of what life feels like. Suspended. Repeating itself. Refusing to move forward. Waiting to see if the groundhog sees his shadow. I want it to move forward...and I don't

Everyday I wake up and it starts almost the same way . Disappointed, heavy, sad, without much hope. I see him lying in the bed, I hear the doctors speak his poor prognosis, I want to cover my ears and wish the talking would stop. I cry, I feel overwhelmed, and then, as the day wears on, I begin to feel nothing. I even laugh and joke around, and by the end of it, I feel a strange calm, like the calm before a storm or maybe in the eye of the storm. And then I go to bed, attempt to sleep, and wake up and do the same thing all over again. Except now, it feels like these repeat days are coming to an end and some inevitable change is going to happen, and I don't feel ready for whatever it is.

Yesterday we had a meeting with some doctors. They told us his most likely prognosis is that, if he wakes up, he will be severely disabled and may require long-term nursing care the rest of his life. Or, they said we can choose to remove the tubes that are sustaining his life artificially and let him go, naturally and peacefully. They want to know what my dad would want. You can't imagine being faced with this decision until it smacks you in the face. So our family is asking for prayer that God will be merciful and take this decision out of our hands. We very much want a miracle. But if that's not in God's plans for my dad, we're praying God just takes him home. 

I realize this is probably fairly heavy and depressing to read. Writing is one of my outlets right now, so you'll have to excuse my candidness. It is somewhat relieving to write. And again, I want to say thank you to those of you who are holding onto the hope for us that we feel is slipping away. I guess that's what people do for each other during times like these. Be the holders of hope.

The day before

Tuesday, August 12, 2008 at 7:10 am
I just "woke" up. Been lying here in the waiting room, semi-conscious since before 4am. Trying to prepare myself for the day. Today is the day before we take Papa's feeding and breathing tubes out and let him go. How does one prepare herself for such a permanent goodbye? 

I dread this day and the next few days, more than I can comprehend, more than my brain can process the emotions. I already feel myself letting go, accepting in some way that he's been gone from us for the past 7 days, but I don't know what I'll do when I can't crawl up next to him and rub my hands along his arm and kiss his face. I feel the anger rising more often as I stand over his bed and see his chest struggling to breathe... no one should go like this... I broke the hand sanitizer dispenser on my way out of the room last night, accidentally. And then I kicked a few large safety cones outside for good measure. They really should consider having a room with punching bags up here in the ICU wing. Or at least Wii boxing.

It's not that I don't feel all the prayers. I do. And I know... I know that I'll live through this. We'll all live through this. We'll live on. But the thought of doing it without him is more than I can bear at this moment. My Papa is more than a dad - he's one of my best friends. And I never wanted to be thinking of what to say at his memorial service at 27. 

Life is precious.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008 at 10:07 am

There must be two kinds of forever. The forever of "the rest of my life" and the forever of life beyond death. Right now, the forever that looms before me is the forever of life without my dad. I know that someday the forever beyond this life will be a joyous reunion with him. But all I can see before me at this moment is that my life from here on out is forever missing him.
My thanks...

Thursday, August 14, 2008 at 1:07 pm

It's a bit too overwhelming to try to contact everyone personally, though I wish I could right now, and thank you for your love and support. Though I may not respond to your calls, emails or notes on facebook, please know that each and every one is a blessing each day. My family is definitely in need of your continued prayers and love. 

My dad died last night a little after 6pm. Thankfully, he finally went peacefully. It was an experience words cannot describe. I can only speak for myself: I am in shock right now, dipping in and out of grief. It feels like Papa's gone on a trip, and I know it will feel that way for awhile. It's way too much to take in right now. I asked my dear friend, Naphtali, who has been with my family through every step of this nightmare, what I looked like yesterday. Shell-shocked, she said. Like I'm trying to process things I know I can't wrap my mind around, and yet I'm trying to. 

Yesterday I was too exhausted to grieve much. It will probably feel like that for a few more days at least. I know all the grief and bereavement information in my head... I've done it for the past year at my internship. But it's a world of difference figuring out how to apply it now to my own life. How surreal.

Bittersweet denial

Friday, August 15, 2008 at 1:17 pm

I never thought much about what the first day after losing a loved one would be like. But I was not prepared for it to be anticlimactic. Yesterday, I woke up and was in active denial. The sun was shining, we weren't in the hospital for the first time in over a week, and life was strangely going on all around us as usual. I think we all tried to do things that helped us feel some semblance of normalcy. Walking to Starbucks. Visiting the library. Having a picnic outside and reading in the sun. Going for ice cream. Laughing. 

I felt more incongruent yesterday than I've ever felt before. Not happy, by any means, but having a decent day. I told myself, denial is sweet while it lasts, so I'm going to live it up while I have it. I will have plenty of agonizing days once this reality has sunk in, but for this day, I will let myself be in denial. 

Maybe the last week has been so exhausting and traumatizing in itself that, for one day, a tenuous relief set in. I just can't believe yet that he is gone. Even being a bereavement counselor, I couldn't fully appreciate denial until now, because empathy only takes you so far.

On another note. I kind of chuckled at myself yesterday when I realized I'm the only person I know who uses facebook like a blog. I guess I don't want to maintain two different sites so it feels easier to consolidate. 

One thing I've been yearning to do since this all started is write. Not just "blog," but really write. It feels too early to commit myself to anything, but maybe I'll write a book... I don't seem to be able to express myself verbally right now, but I can write in ways my brain won't formulate words to come out of my mouth. I like the thought of honoring my dad by writing. He always loved to read my writing, and he's always been one of my biggest advocates for dreaming. I need to carry that on. He would want that.

Love you all. Thanks, again.

In the clouds

Sunday, August 17, 2008 at 12:10 pm

I have always loved to worship. For me, there's nothing like sitting with my guitar and singing to God, pouring out my heart. Though I haven't much felt like praying or reading my bible lately, singing I can still do. So I was sitting out on a dock by the lake this morning with my mom and several dear friends, worshiping. The clouds started rolling in a little over the lake, and in the midst of singing "It is Well", we glanced up and saw a cross in the clouds, clear as day. Then the thunder rumbled. And we sat in quiet wonder.

The infamous question

Tuesday, August 19, 2008 at 11:26 pm

I don't blame people for asking. I know most people regret it as soon as it rolls from their lips, and I know it's largely born out of habit and social convention and a sincere desire to know, but "how are you doing?" is a really strange question right now. As a grief counselor, I felt weird asking bereaved family members this question in my outreach calls, and I wrestled with the awkwardness, trying to find different ways of phrasing it or couching it in empathetic disclaimers, or normalizing their inability to provide a clear answer, but really there was no way around it. It's just a poor question in the face of loss. 

Or maybe it's not so much the question that's poor, as it is the social norm of how one feels she is supposed to respond to the question. It would take me awhile to string together coherent sentences to adequately communicate "how I'm doing" at this time, which is probably why I say very little and I write much more. 

So, how am I doing? See, even as I type this, I had to pause and stare blankly at the cursor blinking on the screen. I feel oddly, uncomfortably, as normal as I can feel under these circumstances. I feel people who are not immediate family are reeling more from this than I am; that I am often in the position of comforting others over the loss of my dad, as if it's not my loss but theirs and I'm somehow removed from the situation. 

If I could describe my grief at this time, it would be a shapeless mass, a vague sense of loss. My grief seems stashed in a box under lock and key, buried in some dark corner in a basement, and I don't know what key opens the box. There seems to be a sense of comfort and honor found in experiencing the deep pain of grief, but I feel little pain. I better understand now why some of my clients felt so disturbed by their inability to cry. I better understand now how feeling pain is intertwined with feeling connected to my dad and how it can seem like a betrayal of that love not to feel pain. And I know, in my head, that the pain will seep in over time or it may come in like a flash flood, but right now I'm just on auto pilot and I'm wondering when I'll make that transition from observer to participant. 

I must tack on one last piece to that "how are you doing" answer, though. It's a big piece. For lack of stronger words, I am blessed. God has showered my family with love and provision in amazing ways since all this happened. I am rich in friends and I know I am loved.

The journey

Friday, August 22, 2008 at 9:34 pm

The transition between "is" and "was" is like a cavernous gulf, beset in fog, with a long, shaky extension bridge loosely connecting the two worlds. For the one who dies, the transition from "is" to "was" happens in an instant. But for the ones left behind, the journey is a treacherous passing, while clutching the sides of this teetering bridge and squinting to see through the fog. I'm not yet ready to refer to my dad in past tense. He is still my Papa.


Friday, August 29, 2008 at 12:32 am

One month ago, I had planned on being on the road right now, driving with my dad to Minneapolis. Starting a new life, a new adventure, in a city I had never been to. Living with 5 other girls I had never met, finally living in the inner city where so much of my heart is drawn to. Learning how to be a Northwest transplant in the Midwest, gearing myself up for the frigid winters, preparing to trade in my flip flops in the winter for boots. Putting my hard-earned degree to paid use, finally. I was so excited to share that time with my dad. I was so apprehensive about saying goodbye to him at the end of it...

Perhaps the only thing I feel strongly right now is that this life I have, for the time being, is pretend. My life as I knew it several weeks ago has been suspended in time, while life for others goes on as usual all around me. If I could make a silly analogy, it's like I totaled my car in a wreck and now I'm driving around in a rental car until my other car (or, life) gets fixed. Except I know that I won't get my car back the way it was. It's going to be strangely familiar, but so very different than before, but it's all a big unknown at this moment because I'm still deeply entrenched in denial and unwilling to yet embrace my new reality. 

I'm supposed to be sleeping right now, but it's now that my mind starts working, working, working, like an old camera reel, replaying the last three weeks as if searching for something tangible to hold onto. I could try to wrap this up with some positive statement, something hopeful or courageous or inspiring - but that's not really why I'm writing. For now, I just feel lost.

 Thanks for all the prayers. I don't really need a lot of words, but I do need prayers.

Think on that

Saturday, September 6, 2008 at 11:48 pm

Now that I have time on my hands to read, it's been a challenge to find something that I can actually stay focused on, something that isn't too heavy, thought-provoking or overwhelming. Which pretty much rules out most of the books on my "To Read" list, unfortunately. But I was at a thrift store the other day and saw this lone book on a shelf of craft and beauty products, totally out of place. It's called Without reservations, by a journalist named Mary Steinbach, and it's been a Godsend at bedtime (since my body decided to convert to insomniacism). 

This is the travelogue of an intelligent, ambitious, independent woman who set off to rediscover her self through a long sabbatical in Europe, and what I love is that she's a journalist. I can relate to the way she talks about observing the world and how the art of drawing out another person's story as journalists (and counselors) do is different than the vulnerability required in revealing yourself in friendships. I can relate to her independence and ambition, as well as the challenge to not define yourself by those ambitions. 

But what I wasn't expecting in her book was to come across some profound statements about the experience of loss. 

I appreciate the art of conveying emotion through words. Much of the time, it is truly satisfying to find my own words to convey an emotion or experience that it seems no one else can fully understand and that I've been working so hard to make sense of... and other times, it is hopeful to read someone else's words and realize that, though they may not have had the same experience, they have put into words something I have been struggling to say.

These words leapt off the page at me: "the fragility of permanence - the stunning ease with which an entire life can be broken and changed, in minutes, on an ordinary day." Even these words, poignant as they are, don't do justice the experience of suddenly, tragically losing someone you love. But they give an idea, and something to think on. No one wants to think about these things, because they don't happen to "us" they happen to "other people." Yet uncomfortable as it is, life is fragile. It's not something I can make sense of, but when it comes pounding down your door, there's no denying it's true. It certainly flies in the face of my own tendency to live in the future - who I want to be, where I want to live, and what I hope to be doing with my life - instead of in the moment. When an entire life can be broken and changed in mere minutes on an ordinary day, I guess the best thing to do is to enjoy the life you have in the moment and the people you love, for there are no guarantees for the next moment. Easier said than done.

Friend or foe

Friday, September 12, 2008 at 12:07 am

Denial and I seem to have a strange love-hate relationship. I know a lot of my notes are laced with this theme, because I'm realizing it takes many little steps to move beyond it. Tonight, I refused to watch the slideshow of my dad, the one I haven’t seen since his memorial service. In the very beginning after Papa’s death, my mind was straining actively to process what happened, to let the reality of this loss sink in, to somehow make sense of the non-sensical. But after a month of vacillating between denial and some beginning stage of acceptance, somewhere along the way I’ve given myself over to denial. No more flirting – I’m committed. And denial works for me, at least for now.

That is, until this thin veneer that has become my fortress is threatened, and my heart starts racing, while deep within the panic starts to rise, reminding me that denial cannot protect me forever. I push the panic down and force my thoughts back into the closet, where they belong. For now.

I can’t decide whether or not denial is friend or foe. It’s not unlike that “friend” most of us had in elementary or middle school. You know, the one you could never quite figure out. The flaky, we’re-like-best-friends-this-week friend, with whom you feel comfortable, most of the time, who even invites you along on family vacations. The one who, the very next week, is whispering about you to your other friends while still being sweet to your face. And it’s a pattern that repeats itself again and again and again, until you want to grab your friend and shake her (not too hard, of course – I’m more of a pacifist, remember?) saying, “Hey! Are you my friend or not?” In other words: Can I trust you?

I really do know the answer. I’m not dumb. But right now, I want to believe denial is my friend, because I’m afraid of what it will feel like when she’s gone and I’m all alone, just me and reality. And if tonight was any indication of what it may feel like not having that fortress to shut myself up in, I’m not ready yet to go there. 

This week, denial is my friend.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Just Write: Live-in comedian

Poor guy didn't realize, when he married me, what wedding a writer would entail.  How I delight in the telling of everyday stories, of the people I love, and now he is the closest to me, skin to skin.  I grew up the daughter of a preacher and it just came with the territory, being inserted into his sermons from time to time.  I was too young to really care, but my sis, I think she felt each mention of her name in a sermon as the gradual loss of shreds of dignity.  The kind of dignity that teenagers cling to with cheeks flushed.  And I wonder, sometimes, if that's what Ricardo feels.  

This makes me pause.  I'm treading on new territory. 

You see, I have stories inside - great stories - and I burn to tell them.  Of my live-in comedian, the man who feeds off my silliness, or perhaps I feed off his, depending on the day.  The man whose positive outlook on life's challenges reminds me often of my Dad, the preacher.  His mannerisms, too.  Of the companion who shows me in his cheerful way what partnership looks like, how he's got my back on the littlest things, the ones that add up to a heap of importance.  Stories of all those moments laced across four months of our not-so-fairytale beginning, when his chuckle, his mischievous eyes, his overly dramatic facial expressions, his playful movements, lit a fire of laughter in my belly and melted my heart.  

And it's more difficult than I thought, to navigate this territory as a married writer, choosing carefully which stories to tell.  This story doesn't only concern me anymore.  It's Our story.  His story, my story, fused together in a beautiful, messy telling; and this, it turns out, is a learning curve.  I want to honor Us in the telling.  

If his cheeks are ever flushed at the reading of my stories, I want it to be from laughter, from pleasure, from sheer emotion of our shared journey, not from embarrassment.  But, oh, what a gift it is to have a live-in comedian, best friend, partner and lover, all rolled up in one perfectly imperfect man. 

"No mas fotos, por favor."

*This post is linked up with a Tuesday free-writing exercise, Just Write

Friday, August 17, 2012

Re-Gifting {3}

Time for a little Friday reflecting on the beautiful gifts of this week.  I even have a few pictures to go along.  And to kick it all off, I'm thankful I FINALLY figured out why the Linky Tool hasn't worked, at the bottom of the post, for anyone to link their own blog posts to.  It's this simple: I just needed to change my blog template.  Apparently I'd chosen one of the few template options that isn't compatible with Linky Tools, among many other things.  Phew.  So, here we go.  I find it's much easier to write this list when I've been jotting it down all week long...

1) Working out kinks in my blog design - yipeeeeee!!!

2) New running shoes, and rocking BOTH at once.

3) Name change and new photo on driver's license (Praise God, no more picture of me with dark brown hair.  It was a phase.)

4) A week of "firsts": First time walking all around without the aid of any devices in three and a half months. First trip to the gym with my now husbandFirst time going on a walk together since the wedding. First time taking out trash and recycling since my injury (and strangely, really stoked about that little feat). First time washing and vacuuming the car in... well, suffice it to say, it's been awhile. First early morning swim in the lake since we moved here.

5) Coupons for haircuts and, much to my surprise and delight, an outcome I like.

6) Lunch with my family on a rough anniversary.

7) Goat and umbrella decals, custom-made with love.

8) Ricardo's ongoing Albertson's treasure hunt.
9) Parking on a towel at the beach in Kirkland, watching a kite surfer with glee.

10) A bag of "new" clothes, hip hand-me-downs fitting perfect.

11) Watermelon water, homemade, snuck into the movie theater.

12) Lovely salmon on their journey through the Locks.

13) Neon bandaid decorations on a stinkin' cute kid (read: my niece).

14) Swimming twice in one summer day, just because I can.

15) August 27th: My back-to-work date.

16) That one blackberry I could reach, plump off the bush.

17) Practice walking without a limp (not limp-free yet, but working on it!).

Anyone care to join in? I'm not kidding, I'd be so thrilled to read your lists, too.  Don't be shy.  If you have a blog and want to give it a shot, just post the list on your blog, then link up here, at the bottom of this post.  If you don't have a blog, no worries.  You can leave a list in the comment section...

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Starting points: A tribute to Papa

I will remember the last conversation between Papa and I forever as eerily punctuating my transition to writerhood.  The temperature remained solidly in the upper eighties that week in August as he and I worked together on an outdoor painting job.  I painted in shorts and a bikini top, to maximize the inevitable tan, since we were mostly working secluded in a backyard.  Working between free-flowing conversation and silence, we had been talking about my plans for the near future.

I was but two months out of grad school, just two and a half weeks out from packing my belongings into my Honda civic and driving cross country with my dad to Minneapolis.  I had big hopes for working with an organization in the city that provided culturally creative mental health services to refugee clients who’d survived major traumatic events.  This is what I’d been grooming myself for in grad school these past two years, and really, what I’d been preparing for all of my twenties.  And here I was, twenty-seven, finally on the brink of launching out into my field.

I stopped to give my forearm a quick break and turned to look at my dad a few feet away with a paintbrush.  The sun fixed its gaze on me with beady eyes, until the sweat crept from my temples and quietly rolled down my cheeks.  “Papa?”


“I know this sounds crazy and ridiculous, considering I just finished school with a Master’s in counseling, but, all I’ve wanted to do since finishing school is to write.”  I studied his face, which didn’t look at all surprised by this confession, feeling a secret weight roll off my heart.  I hadn’t told this to anyone.

“I don’t think that’s crazy, honey.  If writing’s what you want to do, then do it.  You’re an incredible writer, I’ve always thought so.”

I nodded my gratitude.  I could always count on my dad to understand.  After all, I’d inherited my distaste for conventionality, my hunger for adventure, my artistic bent, from him.  My dad didn’t fit into a box, and I admired him for that.
“I don’t know what that means,” I continued, “Where to start, what to write, what, if anything, I’ll ever publish.  I just know it’s in me, it’s what I love.  Much more than counseling.”

Our conversation shifted to plans for the big move.  Something in me felt that I’d just gotten the blessing from my dad, to be something more than I went to school for.  To unleash more creativity in my dreams for life.

I recalled this conversation with a growing sense of displacement and detachment just a few days later.  The evening following our conversation, I sat down to write.  Finding a computer with internet access in the ICU waiting room at Harborview Medical Center, I posted a note on facebook requesting prayer for my dad.  He fell off a ladder and hit his head on the concrete driveway while painting that morning.  Now he lay in a coma in the hospital.  I had no clue what sorrow the next week and months and years would bring, only this deep down rumbling, this knowledge that I would not be taking that cross country trek to Minnesota with my Papa after all.

And I was right, life had a very different turn in mind.  Nine days after that conversation with Papa, he passed away, not having woken from his coma.  The past four years have been my journey to uncover and accept the beautiful in a landscape of rubbish.  It’s a story very much in process.

The story continues today over at DaySpring's blog, my first online "publication," and a fitting tribute to my Papa on the anniversary week of his passing...

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Just Write: River of concrete

A three man band plays to the street underneath a tent, singing of a man born near a river of concrete.  He thought the river always would run dry, or so the song goes, carrying me along with the riveting pluck of mandolin strings and percussion beat.  And I sit enchanted on a plastic chair in the middle of an L-shaped river of concrete on the edge of our little downtown.  The river here is all but dry, though the sun bakes us through the middle.  It teems with life.
I watch a steady flow of people moving up and down the street with cloth bags and a leisurely pace, a cool breeze blowing. Arms and bags and mouths fill with chocolate truffles from the shop down the street; an organic artisan ice cream truck; handcrafted cheeses; bouquets of flowers as vibrant as the scarves sold at Guatemalan markets; garden grown bushy leaves of kale, bunches of carrots, heads of cabbage, the final crop of apricots, plump peaches, tender plums, husks of corn, green tomatoes, snap peas; gluten-free goodies; farm-raised cuts of beef, lamb and pork; food trucks offering beef or pork tamales, quesadillas stuffed with market fresh veggies, gourmet burgers, wood-fired pizza, and spicy sausage dogs.

The music continues to carry us with the current through the streets.  The woman spoon-feeding her elderly mother ice cream.  The young dad with long hair and sandals, pacing back and forth with a sleeping infant nestled in a pack against his chest.  The little girl with shiny black hair and dark eyes waving shyly at me as she passes.  The teenage boy and girl lying on their backs in the grass, in the shade of tree, talking and laughing.  The small child pulled in a red wagon beneath a canopy, hauling fresh food for home.  The man on crutches trying to keep pace with his family.  We are all swimming in this river.

This is our Sunday market, concrete come alive.

* This post is linked up with Just Write, a Tuesday free-writing exercise.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Re-Gifting {2}

Friday is here, time for the second installation of Re-Gifting, and on the correct day this time.  Hehe.  I tell you, being without schedule is completely disorienting.  So let's try this again.  It didn't receive any responses the first time around, and just maybe, it will take a little time and coaxing to catch on.  That's OK.  Whoever wants to join in, I think we could have ourselves a little fun with our re-gifted lists of gratitude.

1) Hard conversations working to deepen love

2) Friends of different ages, and not even noticing

3) Heart etched in a mound of red spice

4) Ethiopian cooking class

5) Sharing a meal with strangers

6) Conspiring with others to bless someone we love

7) Handwritten card from Grandma, with an unexpected gift inside

8) Weekly check for medical leave

9) Calf stretch growing wider

10) Shoes on both feet for the first time in 3 1/2 months

11) Cluttered house, reminding me what's more important

12) Scar on my leg, reminding me of lessons learned in injury, of the gift of recovery

13) Delirious giggling

14) A dip in the lake at dusk and picnic dinner

15) Peace that truly surpasses my understanding

Ok, friends, I'd be so thrilled to read your lists.  Remember, there aren't any rules.  Lists can be any length, about anything big or small or somewhere in between.  Just give them thought and make them about real gratitude.  Oh, and I'm still working out the kinks to make this easier and more sophisticated for those with blogs (using Linky Tools).  Very soon, you should be able to add your blog as a link to a list below and upload a thumbnail image to go along with it.  For now, however, please leave your list in the comment section.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Prayers for Terence

Some days, I admit, I haven't wanted to get out of bed.
I haven't always realized what a huge gift it is,
to get out of bed.
And walk. 

And some days, I, too, have sat by the bed of one I loved, 
playing my guitar and singing with as much faith as I could muster to the God 
who always hears.
It's too easy to take the ones we love for granted.  
This couple, in their own journey, have shown me a glimpse of what real love is.  
And it takes my breath away, it's that pure.  
What a gift it is to look into the faces of the ones we love, 
as long as they have breath, and let our eyes do the talking. 
To refuse to give up on living life, savoring each moment as long as you are here ... 
this is something even cancer cannot steal, 
as Terence and his family have shown us. 

There are moments, too, that will forever be etched in our minds,
 framed on our hearts.
These are the ones we reach out and take hold of gently,
storing them away for the days when we need to remember love.
For love lives on,

Terence, Terence.  Eyes so blue and pure and true.  Thank you, for showing us the way of love ~ in the quiet strength of your smile, your unwavering persistence, your selflessness and faith.  Thank you, for showing us Jesus.  He holds onto you, as you hold onto him.  And he won't let go. 

My prayers are with Terence Luttrell and his family, as he continues to fight for his life and hold onto Jesus.  

Please join with the thousands who are praying.


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Just Write: Four years of water

What a difference four years makes.  One thousand four hundred sixty-two days, in fact, since I've seen my dad alive.  Yesterday marked four years since our family got the call that catapulted us into an eight-day vigil in the ICU at Harborview Medical Center.  Dad in a coma. 

But I'm not here to reminisce about those eight days, or the one thousand four hundred fifty-four after, since he's been gone.  I've already written a lot about this journey of grief, in the nitty gritty raw emotion of experience, but today, I'm just thinking about how grief and water go together.  What can I say, I'm a girl who likes her similes.

In the ICU, grief was like a raging river, dragging us along in the grip of its current.  We could hear the waterfall roaring in the distance and hoped we'd be rescued from the river before we reached it.  But on August 13th, we fell over the top of the falls as we said goodbye to Dad - Mom and Sis and the rest of our family and me - tumbling together to the bottom, paddling to stay afloat.  

In my bereavement counseling internship, leading up to Dad's death, I learned that grief is not linear.  It's more like waves of the ocean.  Waves that start off looming large, cresting hard and frothy, falling in cascading roars like the open jaws of a lion.  In the beginning, one wave hitting after another, eventually spacing out.  And over time, those waves decrease in intensity, less distance to fall from the height of emotion to the surface of the sea.  But anyone in grief knows, a sneaker wave can come in at any time.  I remember those waves very well.  Every now and then, a wave still hits, though they're spaced out much farther apart and not often as intense as those earlier months.  

In Guatemala, less than two months after his death, grief was like the thunderstorms that popped up in a matter of one minute of an otherwise warm afternoon.  The skies would open and release torrents of rain in a clash of thunder, relentlessly, for several minutes.  And then, the clouds rolled up and the sun returned.  I remember standing in awe of those thunderstorms, almost in jealousy, wishing for the ability to release my grief with such force, only to peel back the clouds so quickly and allow the sun to shine again.  

And now, grief four years out, feels more like coasting along in a tamer river.  Most of the time, I'm floating the river and it's peaceful and gentle.  And then I'll hit a little whirpool here, or a stronger current there, and occasionally some rapids that toss me around for awhile.  But most of the time, I'm just floating, remembering the man who helped bring me into this world and walked alongside me for twenty-seven years.  The man who gave me his eyes and blonde hair, a quirky sense of humor and ability to laugh at my own jokes, an affinity for words and my propensity for dreaming.  Yes, I think of him. 

*This post is linked up with JustWrite, a Tuesday free-writing exercise

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Re-Gifting {1}

At the end of this week, I find myself wanting to look back.  Not in regret or introspection, but in reflection and gratitude.  It's not a new thing for me, this topic of gratitude, but I have a small idea that I think I'd like to try out, specifically on Fridays here on my blog (by the way, I realize just now that I jumped the gun and it's not Friday... but we'll just get an early start this first time!).  I just need some others to join me.

I'd like to call it Re-Gifting.

What if, every Friday, I were to close the weekdays and enter into the weekend on an intentional note of gratitude?  I'm not one who typically enjoys making lists or reading other people's lists... but when it comes to thankfulness, that desire changes.  It actually helps me, changes me, to make lists of the gifts I'm thankful for (even the hard stuff), and if I make a practice of doing that on Fridays, what a great way to remember. 

So, why Re-Gifting?  It just fits.  I know this term often has a slightly negative connotation (e.g., getting rid of our unwanted gifts), but in this case, I like it as a way of sharing the gifts we have with others through written word.  Maybe some of my weekly gifts include something I appreciate about someone else or an interaction with a person that positively impacted me, and my sharing it is a way of giving the gift back to them and touching someone else... 

But I don't want to stop with posting my lists alone.  What gets me really excited is the thought of you, my readers, some whose names and faces I know and others I've never met, sharing your lists here.  In this community.  To inspire each other.  To challenge each other.  To remind each other.  Would you join me in this simple venture?  It doesn't have to be long or eloquent or profound - or even comprehensive.  The simplest of lists will do.  Just be sincere and own it.  

If you'd like to join me, please post your list on Fridays on your personal blog and link back to this site, then post the link to your blog in the comment section here (I need to figure out a more streamlined way of doing this, as I see happen on other blogs, but for now this will have to do).  If you don't have a blog, you might consider starting one, or simply let us know some of your gifts in a comment.  Either way, it's great to hear from each other.

Here we go... my first (delivered on Thursday) Friday Re-Gifting list:

1. Stumptown coffee, browsing bookstore, salted caramel truffles and fried plantains with  Ruthie

2. Mastering new technological skills after frustrating hours of trying

3. Ricardo's beaming face, holding up new polo shirts with his business logo printed 

4. Engrossed in the Olympics, for hours on end

5. An aching heart for a family in pain, driving me to pray

6. Stiff limping barefoot in the house, first time without a walking boot on my injured leg 

7. Breaking a sweat on the stationary bike after months of no workouts

8. Lingering in long conversation with my sweet Leah in the summer afternoon

9. Husband scrubbing dishes in the bathtub when the kitchen sink is plugged

10. Catching up with Juli (and seeing bubbly baby Andrew) at Volunteer Park Cafe

I hope we can have fun with this together.  If you're interested in reading more about keeping lists of gifts and living full of gratitude, check out the author who inspired me on this journey and her bestselling book, One thousand gifts.

Happy Re-Gifting, friends!