Monday, July 2, 2018

Thoughts on Breaking

The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry. Ernest HemingwayA Farewell to Arms, 1929

Here we are, halfway through the year. My oldest child graduated from high school, last month. Many people have asked how I'm doing in light of that, and I've explained: his graduation felt a bit anticlimactic, as he'd moved out at the beginning of the year. He left the nest a solid nine months earlier than I had expected, and the whole situation not only caught me off guard but also devastated me. I grieved like I never had before.

The fact is: I had been struggling with depression and anxiety for years but had stubbornly refused medication. I had worked with therapists, read/studied on my own, and consumed mass quantities of krill oil in an effort to maintain control of my emotions, but the situation with my son pushed me over the edge. I couldn't stop crying. For the first time, I didn't want to be in my own company. I simply didn't want to be with myself.

At the beginning of March, I asked my doctor for medication. He warned me that it might take awhile to work, but from the outset, it did what I needed it to do. I stopped crying. I had no high emotion of any kind: what a profound relief!

I understand, now, that high emotion was the force behind my creativity, and my creative pursuits have taken a huge hit. I've written very little. I've taken photos but have edited very few of them. I haven't read much, either, although I committed last fall to reading through the Bible in 2018, and I've kept up with that goal.

I've been very motivated to move. I'm working out regularly and have lost about twenty-five pounds. I've also made a good deal of progress in my home in terms of purging, organizing, and cleaning. It's been very interesting that so many of the things I wanted to do before are things I don't want to do, now, and vice versa. Overall, I am much happier, now. I don't know what the future holds, but I don't miss my leaking eyes or racing heart. I don't miss fear. I don't miss rage.

I look at this as God's working all things to my good. Last fall, before I had experienced crisis, I was considering how many books I'd read in 2017 and felt suddenly convicted that I'd never read through the Bible. I don't believe that conviction was random but, instead, God's seeing ahead and providing for my year.

I could tell you a million stories like this. The word I chose for the year was "star." I didn't know why unless it was because of something my friend Rachel Britz had said. A couple weeks ago, I was biking upstairs in the gym, thinking and wondering about my word, and the gym's logo caught my eye: a giant star. I just smiled and kept pedaling.

"Differentiation" was my word for a year or two, and maybe I've finally learned it. I've learned that I can't control other people. Anyone I know could turn against or abandon me at any time. No matter what happens, I will be stuck with myself and inside of my body until I'm not. Finally, I understand the importance of being okay with that.

So many men have tried to break me, and in the end, no one could do it like the one I bore, as--this is almost funny--I had not expected him to behave outside of the manner in which he had always behaved, the manner in which I had raised him. I'm not angry with him, as God has always used my son to grow and change me. There's no one I love more; grief has always been the flip side of love; and mostly, I'm just thankful that we're both still here, that we're okay.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Safe Place

My brain tends to see big pictures over details. My brain can, does, and will see details and how they work together, but only with concentrated effort that absolutely zaps my energy. It's difficult to explain to those whose brains work differently, but here's an example of how my brain works (and doesn't).

My daughters' Girl Scout leader provided me with a list of items to pack for a camping trip. I love it when planner-type people provide me with lists because--while I don't make them, ever--I understand that following them will help me organize and prepare. One of the items on the list was a rocket stove. Another item was a pot. I packed both items and crossed them off the list. It never dawned on me that my pot should be an appropriate size for the little rocket stove. I grabbed a big pot because I have a big family. (My big family is my big picture.) Goofs like this make me appear lacking in common sense (or worse), but I get by with a little help from my friends; details just aren't my thing.

Anyway. My youngest first cousin had asked me to take her senior casuals, and I was in route to her when the passenger-side window in my van shattered and fell out. I tried to reschedule for this past Saturday, but she had prom, so I asked about Sunday (yesterday). She reminded me about its being Mother's Day but said they were okay with it if I were, and I was. My mom's out-of-state (and on vacation, besides); my mother-in-law and grandmas are in heaven; and I figured I would be able to go to church with my kids before heading north.

The trip up was supposed to take less than four hours but took 5.5 with traffic/accidents/construction. I was concerned about our losing light, and a storm was rolling in; in fact, it was supposed to start raining thirty minutes after my arrival. I reminded myself that I work best under pressure, which is true and the great up-side to having a brain like mine: a brain so accustomed to things being amiss with details that it is able to stay focused on the big picture and just get the job done.

I took photos of my cousin around the creek, in front of what used to be our grandma's house, and all around the barn. As we were finishing up, my cousin said she wanted to get a few photos at the end of the road, so we drove and parked there. That's when I felt God say something to me like: "Look, Brandee! For Mother's Day, I brought you to your safe place!"

And it was true; in fact, my mom, friends, and I had been on retreat together in April, and we were led through a visualization exercise in which we were supposed to go to our safe place. I felt caught off guard and pinged around like a white ball in my mind: where am I? where am I? until I found myself on the road in front of the house where my grandma used to live. Yesterday, on Mother's Day, I was there for real with my aunt (my second mother) and cousin.

Some day I will tell you about the rest of the visualization exercise, but for now I will just say: my grandparents were (and are) central to my walk with Christ, and rain didn't fall on their old property, yesterday, for the entire hour we took photos.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

To Cade, on Your 18th Birthday

Dear Cade,

Walt Whitman wrote in an 1855-56 journal entry: "Understand that you can have in your writing no qualities which you do not honestly entertain in yourself. Understand that you cannot keep out of your writing the indication of the evil or shallowness you entertain in yourself. [What you love, think, grudge, doubt, etc....] will appear by what you leave unsaid more than by what you say. There is no trick or cunning, no art or recipe, by which you can have in your writing what you do not possess in yourself." I have carried this quote with me since before I carried you, and I have waited to write certain things (about my story, not yours) because I want the heat to be gone. I will not write certain things in anger, and I will not try to write them around anger because it's impossible.

What I really want to tell you about the Whitman quote, though, is I think the word "children" could almost be substituted for the word "writing." It's not a perfect analogy; still, in reading Genesis, we have an airplane's view of some of the earliest people, and sad to say, they run together a bit. They're all the same. Each generation seems to make the same mistakes as the generation before.

The seventeenth year of your life will go down in history as the year in which I learned: you didn't fall far from anybody's tree, either. I guess it had seemed for about 17.5 years that you miraculously embodied all of your dad's and my positive qualities and none of the especially negative ones. But the negative qualities are there, too. You are--for the most part, for good or ill--your dad and me thrown into a bag and shaken.

Here's the bad news: you are imperfect. Sinful, even.

Here's the good news: you know your dad and me. We, your parents, have been 100% present, so you know our weaknesses, mistakes, sins. Surely you can do a bit better than we have done. Surely you can do a bit better than you have done.

Here's more good news: if you read Margaret Atwood's "Happy Endings," you'll see that ease and perfection don't make for a particularly gripping story. Also, Enoch. "[He] walked with God: and he was not; for God took him" (Genesis 5:24). There's not much more to Enoch's story. Admittedly, he fathered Methuselah and a bunch of other kids; otherwise, what a snooze. There's not much of a plot when there's no trouble.

And here's the best news of all: Jesus.

I love you. I haven't fallen far from anyone's tree, myself. I am like your nana: I love my children without condition. There is nothing you can do or say to make me stop loving you. Also, I am like your papaw: I have my convictions. I will neither support your terrible decisions nor play pretty with anyone who does or means you harm. I have pressed further into my own character over these painful months. Don't you remember Liz Rosenburg's Monster Mama? We read it over and over when you were a little boy; we knew it by heart. "I am your mother, even if I am a monster."

I have been your "fast-moving freight train" for eighteen years. I am weary. I recognize that it's past time for boundaries: that you must learn to take care of yourself. I pray you'll be fearless like Patrick Edward; "use your powers for good, never for evil"; "remember that strength is for the wise, not the reckless"; and be proud and defensive, always, of your mother.

Happy manhood. I love you. What have I said. What haven't I


You know where to find me.