Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Richness of Fall Fever

Our lives are played out in rather humdrum and ordinary ways.  We get up, we go to school and work, we have dinner, we watch TV, we head to bed, and we start it all over again the next morn.  But sometimes, within those 24 hours we find the sacred joins us in the most unexpected ways.  For some reason, God has seen fit to bless me with more of those moments than most, or maybe I am just more attentive to them than some might be, needing them more than others do.  Who knows?  

This past year has had me less attuned to the sacred in my life, and I have felt the lack of its presence as a deep yearning to reconnect, but had no idea how to do so.  Beginning with my mom's fall and subsequent long hospitalization and rehabilitation, moving through the greening of late spring, the dry heat of summer, it was like my soul was drying up as well, wilting in the heat of financial pressures, concerns about our future with Dominick's work, and a lack of opportunities for deeper connections with friends.  Going through the motions, I found myself gradually pulling inward ever so subtly, returning to a Cindy of years ago.  That Cindy had far less warmth, far less empathy, and far less desire to allow the Spirit to direct her path.  Our trip to the southwest brought many feelings of worthlessness and loneliness to the surface, and maybe that needed to happen.

Over the past month or so, as fall came sweeping in with its band of merry colors and cooler temps, something began to shift.  More than ever before, fall became "my" season as I felt an expansiveness arrive, as if I could literally take a deep breath again.  I have no idea why, as nothing changed much in our lives, nothing, that is, but my heart.  I began to pray hard for the Spirit to show up, and show up It did.  The past couple of weeks have included the most intense encounters of my life with friends near and far, people I haven't heard from in years popping quickly into my life, others who are on the fringes reaching in with words of kindness and love that have thawed the chill.  There have been numerous opportunities to reach out to others and help in a variety of ways...meals to a friend post-surgery, emails of encouragement to keep a fellow mom's soul lifted, holding hands and just listening in a gym, carrying another's heart for just an hour or two as they work through things...each opportunity to give of myself created space.  

Which comes first?  Does reaching out to others cause the heart to warm, or does the warming of the heart cause us to want to reach out to others?  I don't know, but I am certainly grateful to appear to be leaving that dry season behind and entering a new one.

And the giving doesn't end there, as I received a wealth of heart from our own kids this week, as sacred moments in unlikely places occurred...they doing their best to fill me up as they saw me doing with others.  How can I describe what it is like to have your child see you...really and truly see you?  Not just "Mom" who pushes and prods and bugs about laundry, but "Mom" who is a person in her own right.

Today I had Fall Fever, and decided to do just a little school work this morning, then take the afternoon off.  As the kids wandered off in different directions of the house to do some of their assignments, I declared that I was going for a long walk, and asked if anyone wanted to come.  Kenny jumped at the chance, while the others declined, so off we went to enjoy the crisp blue skies and the last remnants of golden yellows.  Out in our neck of the woods, if we take a walk "around the block" it means a four mile trek around acres and acres of farmland dotted with small little farmhouses.  Striding alongside alfalfa fields with their final mowing packaged neatly in bales dotting the vast field, Kenny began to speak.

"I love getting time alone with you, Mom.  You are so easy to talk to, and so different from other moms."

"Really?" I asked, "How many other moms have you had to compare with?" I joked.

"Well, one other mom, for sure!" he laughingly responded.

Then he said, "No, really, I can't imagine having a different mom.  I don't think I would have ever landed in a family with parents who are so dedicated to us, and a mom who just knows what I am thinking all the time.  You are a good person to work things out with.  You are logical, and you are a good and wise listener that makes people feel OK to talk about things, so you can really help them.  Some people are logical, and some people are good listeners, but most are not both at the same time.  You always help me work things out because of that combination."

Smiling, I looked over at him and said, "I am so glad you feel that way, you know you can come and talk to me anytime about anything in the world.   You never have to feel uncomfortable."

"Oh, I totally know that!  And I am working through some hard stuff sometimes, so I am glad you are around to keep me straightened out." he said.  Then he added,"I have been thinking about my 16th birthday a lot, and I want it to be something different."

"In what way?  What's going on for you with that?" I asked.

We walked past an irrigation canal, still flowing but soon to be emptied.  The quiet swoosh of the fast running water was the only thing accompanying his thoughts.  I waited, he thought, then he spoke.

"I don't know exactly how to explain it, but it feels like something is happening inside for me, like a new beginning.  I feel like school is finally not quite as hard as it used to be, and now I can read and write pretty well.  At least I feel like a real 8th grader and am working at about that level finally.  I want to discover myself this next year, I want to figure out more of who I am.  It feels like I am just starting out in life, which may sound weird, but it is what I have been feeling the past couple of weeks." he thoughtfully shared.


"So, have you thought about the fact that as of this year, you will have been with us and your family as long as you were not in a family?  Do you think that could have something to do with it?" I asked.

"Maybe, maybe!  I hadn't thought about that at all.  It is sort of like I am finally starting at Ground Zero when I turn 16, and maybe that is why I feel that way.  I couldn't have guessed that.  Thanks, that is exactly it." he said.

"Sort of like being reborn?  A rebirth of sorts, is that what you are thinking?"

"Yea, Mom, that's exactly it.  I feel reborn at 16.  I want to dig more into my faith, because now I can think more deeply about it.  I want to find a hobby or something I am good at.  I want to grow up a little more and I feel like I am finally not just behind all the time, but can move ahead now.  I don't know why I feel that way all of a sudden, but that is what I keep hearing in my head." he said.

Dried corn stalks with hints of green were in rows beside us, listening in to Kenny's soul sharing. 

"Let me see what I can think of to commemorate your rebirth.  I think I have a sense of what you are feeling, and maybe we can do something very specific to address this for you.  I think it is a wonderful idea, and very wise of you to recognize your inner self and be in tune with it.  I see it happening for you, too, Kenny. You are not alone in that." I said.

"Really?" he asked.

"Really...and throughout your life you will have times like this, when you just sense things are changing and you are moving in new directions.  Pay attention to them, because they can be very powerful periods in your life where you will grow into something new."  I said.

"See mom?  I know tons of kids think their parents are so stupid, but you and Dad are so smart.  I am glad we all have you helping us grow up.  I don't know why other kids can't see that their parents know a lot." nice is that?

But wait, there's more filling up to be offered to mom's exhausted and emptied soul..  Angela had helped me cook several meals to take to an old friend who had just had a hysterectomy and had reached out asking for help after complications set in and she wasn't able to do as much as she had anticipated.  She's also Miss Intuitive, the one who is super sensitive to the vibes in a room.  She had seen me visiting with a wide variety of people this past week who had turned to me for a little support or encouragement.  One has a dying father far away, another is locally homeschooling a grand daughter in her custody, yet another is a daughter of a friend of a friend asking for help with Dysgraphia.  Just a lot of this and that, with a couple of more intense situations in the mix as well.

Sitting there beside me on the drive home after volleyball practice, she turned to me and said, "Mom, how are you doing?  Are you OK?  Are you taking care of yourself right now?  Do you need to talk about anything?" 

"No, Angie, I am really and truly fine.  Why do you ask?" 

"Well, I was thinking a lot at volleyball practice.  And I was thinking about you." she said.

"Why were you thinking about me instead of volleyball?" I asked.

She got quiet for a moment as I pulled up to a stop sign, looked both ways, and turned onto familiar streets.

"Mom, I want to say something totally serious to you.  I am not joking, and I know you might try and blow me off but I need you to listen.." she said in an impassioned voice.

Uh oh...I didn't like the sound of that one.  So, bracing myself, I said, "OK, go ahead.  I'm listening." and I turned to look at her.

Taking a deep breath, she started in.  "You know how I am reading about Ghandi?  And Martin Luther King?  And Malala?  They are all people who made a big difference in the world because they were strong and had big hearts.  They are like Jesus in a way."

"Yes, they are.  They were pretty important people who did a lot to change the world we live in right now." I said, not really getting where she was going with this.

"Well, I am going to say something that you are not going to want to hear or believe, but I really need you to believe it.  Mom, you are like them.  You are like Jesus.  I was thinking about how almost every single day, you are helping someone, and no one thinks about it.  It is just you.  You email and help so many moms with kids with disabilities or who are having trouble with adoption stuff, you are always there for your friends, and then you look at our family and us kids...even getting us was a really big deal that we don't really think about."

A little stunned, I sat there quietly, headed toward home as the clouds were alight with the very last tinges of oranges and pinks.  She went on.

"I don't think it hit me until I saw you visit your friend with the food we made.  You were just so kind to her, and it was like I was watching you from the outside or something, seeing you differently. I am just so used to you being you, and I think none of us sees how really good you are inside, more than any other mom I have ever seen.  You would do anything for someone you knew needed help, and I guess that I never thought much about it until this week. I even counted the ones I knew about.  Did you know you helped 8 different people this week, not counting us?  But what really got me was when the woman in front of us started to cry in church Sunday, and you were the only one who got up to sit next to her and hug her.  Mom, I wanted to cry myself because it was so how you are, and I was  proud of you and wondered why you are the one who always sees things like that and then does something about it.  Maybe it was because we were in church then, but all of a sudden I realized how much you change the world for people.  That's what Jesus did, he was strong and he loved everyone.  That's you, Mom.  I really hope you listen to me because I think it is something important for you to know."

A mile from the house, tears were streaming down my cheeks.  Of course they were, how could they not be?  I couldn't speak a single word, I just grabbed her hand and held it tight.  As we pulled onto our road, I stopped the car at the mailbox, turned to her and said, "And you will be, too, one day, because you see it all, and are fearless and will act with passion.  You will be making a difference, too."

I think the Fall Fever has helped break up a lot of things in my heart.  I am softer again, and God is sending messengers from many different directions to fill me up in ways I have never been filled up before.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Nutshell Time

Oh Blog, I've missed you so!  I have been so busy traveling and writing for other reasons, that I have neglected to post here.  I am going to write an "In a Nutshell" kind of post, and will try and be far more prosaic in another post, maybe later this week.  For now, here are the highlights:

1)  Traveled with Kenny to Shriner's for a cleft team meeting.  It is like returning home, the staff there is so warm, and they always remember their patients, even if it has been a long time since they have seen them.  Kenny has to go back into a palate expander and braces yet again (3rd time), then another surgery to attempt for the 3rd time a palate closure.  They may be forced to take part of his cheek or tongue for tissue, but he is bothered by the opening in his palate, so it is worth it.  Probably going to be advised to pull a couple of teeth.  It was confirmed that as soon as his face grows to full maturity, he will need orthognathic surgery to break his lower jaw and bring it back to proper placement to match his upper jaw.  Yea, fun times ahead...and this young man has such a great attitude.  Shriner's also offered to do a neuro-psych evaluation for us, which might provide us with more answers about Kenny's ongoing cognitive/memory/processing issues, and that will be done December 11th back in Chicago.  Grateful for it, and yet it is another trip this year.  Seems I just get home and we have another ahead of us.

2)  Matthew and I travel to Shriner's in Salt Lake City for an appointment to schedule his back surgery, which will be after the first of the year sometime.  We have to be there on November 20th, and both of us are looking forward to time together, sans other kids.  Whenever I get time alone with any of the kids it is always a treat.  He is quite nervous about this, and I don't blame him, I am nervous, too.  Maybe the long drive will allow for time for conversation and reflection about what is ahead.

3)  Volleyball season is ending, with tournament play for all the kids but Angie tomorrow, and she will have hers next Saturday.  Looking forward to a fun day ahead, and the kids are so sad for the season to end.  I am glad to have some of the running settle down and get some schoolwork done.  Ready to settle in for the late fall and winter.

4)  Preached a sermon last Sunday, still so uncomfortable doing it.  I keep trying, hoping that one day I will find a little confidence hiding somewhere.  Not sure it will ever happen, but it is an honor to be at the pulpit anyway.  My sermon theme was about being will to say "I don't know", and as I type this it is hard not to chuckle about just how often I have had to say that over the course of the past 15 years.  It was a treat to have our former choir director play the day I preached, and with the knowledge that she and her hubby are moving in the spring, I realized I am already grieving that loss.  Funny how certain people crawl inside your heart, how I will miss her sensitive and gentle spirit, and how I have appreciated her quiet presence in my life.

5)  Olesya was treated to a shopping day for her had been tough to schedule it so Miss Jill took her out last weekend.  Olesya looked so beautiful in the outfit they bought, and Jill's patience with the difficulty in making decisions was much appreciated.  I wish I had taken a photo of Olesya, she looked so happy and I know she felt beautiful, something she struggles with as she battles this awkward stage in life.

6)  Joshua is changing so rapidly, that from day to day I don't recognize who is in front of me!  Boy flew out the window, and Man arrived overnight.  Never seen it happen so fast in a child, and though fun to watch, he is feeling unsettled at moments and I know this hit him a little sooner than he expected, too.  I don't often think much about the outward appearances of our kids, but I looked over at him this evening, and I saw the most handsome young man before me, my heart melted a little.  Then he came up and put his head on my shoulder, and I had little Joshie again for a split second longer.  Oh, this growing up is hard on everyone, even when it is beautiful.

7)  Preparing to give birth to my new little online business is taking up an extraordinary amount of brain space and time, but it is exciting to see it take shape, sort of like watching an ultrasound screen.  God spoke a lot to me about it this past weekend, sending numerous people my direction to chat with.  I have no idea if it will be successful, but we are working hard, everyone in the family is heavily emotionally invested in it and has taken on a role.  It would be impossible without a beloved friend who is putting her talents to work to make our dream come to life on screen.  We'll see what happens, but the next couple of months will have a lot going on, and might keep me from updating the blog as much while I write content and work on other tasks.

8)  In other ways, this fall has been the sweetest ever.  Our trip did a lot to help me purge some things, and the effect was dramatic.  I am not even sure what really happened for me, but there was a deep internal shift, and life began anew.  I had been in the longest dry spell, disconnected from the spirit and from other hearts.  I have been quite lonely, actually, which probably sounds nuts in a large and loving family, but I mean lonely of a different sort.  This past week has found me circled with all kinds of loving connections, big and small, and one budding connection that is touching my heart in ways nothing has in years.  Having had a challenging couple of days with school and learning disabilities making things very hard, every little outreach of others took on great meaning.  I am straddling many worlds this past couple of years, and fitting into none of them well.  In one particular area, I just finally gave up and told God I had worked very hard to find a place for myself , but it was obviously not going to happen, so I thew my hands up...and within a couple of weeks the tide turned, maybe because I turned away and looked in a new direction.  All I know is that it feels like the Spirit is back in the driver's seat, and I am filling up to the point I can pass it on once again.  I have absolutely hated the emotional place I have been in, like being on an island with no boat drifting nearby to get me off.    The older we grow, the more internal work to be done, I guess.

Not a very thoughtful blog post, but it's all I have to offer this night.  Unfortunately, I appear to be entering another phase of insomnia, which has plagued me periodically as an adult when my mind is in overdrive and I can't pull the key out of the ignition.  While that doesn't help during the daytime, i usually bodes well for my mind and late night blogging, so who knows?  I might be blogging more than usual in the coming weeks.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Soul Peeks

I have always said you can tell loads about a person by the way they they side hug?  Pat on the back?  Gingerly lean in?  Full on bear hug?  There are so many versions of The Hug, and each one reveals a lot about a person.

I am a full on bear hugger, an enveloper, desirous of letting those I am hugging know that at that very moment I am all theirs.  I'd put most of my friends in the same category...long, warm, arms fully wrapped around you kind of hugs.  Dominick is a great hugger, as are all the kids...Matt a little more reserved than others with the exception of us, Joshua sometimes on uncomfortable days a little less "whole", Olesya still learning to trust and at moments a tad more distanced and yet other times giving in to what her heart feels, Angela long and slow hugs that really try to say something, and Kenny...he gives the absolute best hugs in the world, sort of melt-into-you embraces that make you want to protect him and treasure him in all that vulnerability.

Recently I realized there is another very unique way to take a peek into a person's soul.  Viewing what has been saved on iPads or what photos have been taken has been so revealing.

While we are on vacation, I challenged the 3 kiddos taking photography to use the trip to come up with a few really solid photos using the composition rules we had been learning about.  Olesya, Angela and Josh all spent a fair amount of time shooting, and by golly, when we had our next class and shared what we thought were our best photos, it was clear they had been paying attention and had learned a lot!  I'll share their photos soon, once they are done editing them, but we all were surprised at the differences in the kinds of photos we took.  Mine were a combination of landscaped, people, and stills of things.  Olesya had virtually no people in any of hers, and she tended to like closer photos of nature scenes, a reminder of the tiniest shell she still has around her that is ever gradually melting.  Angela was taking expansive landscapes and almost nothing close up, her eyes always on the horizon for the newest adventure or scene to be revealed.

Josh was far and way the most interesting, every one of us saw his favorite photos and turned to each other saying, "Wow!  He has a real eye!!"  Josh sees the world differently, and has this lovely sweetness that unexpectedly showed up.  He took a few family photos, a couple of which were quite wonderful, and these unique and unusual abstracts.  At almost every turn, he saw something none of the rest of us saw at a particular place.  He had carefully researched and purchased a small pocket Canon camera, and quickly learned all the features and functions so he could get the most out of his little $60 camera.  I hope he continues, as at 11 years old, he really surprised us all with his artistic side reflected in photos.

We also joked that he will be the one out of all of the kids to eventually be the King of Selfies, as he was fascinated with taking photos of himself and then manipulating them with software into oddball images! Haha!

Angela and I were looking at Matt's iPad as he was showing us a photo, and we both glanced at each other at the same time as he bypassed a few things he had saved.  I asked him to show them to us.  Lovely, soulful quotes, images that were not the kind you'd usually find in a 15 year old boy's photo collection...reflective landscapes, fields of blooms, in fact at this very moment his screen background is a tulip covered field with a farmhouse nearby.  There was also the occasional macho jet or motorcycle, but they were actually few and far between.  Angela and I spoke afterward and she said, "Mom, know one knows how deep boys can be."

Kenny's heart is revealed more in the music he has compiled, a small collection of church favorites, old hymns and anthems, some contemporary Christian music...and a handful of younger kids's songs that we are not yet ready to abandon.  Unlike the other more tech savvy kids, he has saved little, but his writings are there, long missives about his understandings of God intermixed with a story or two about Knights and Kings of old.

Contrast that with Angela and Olesya's incredible mix of world music, Russian pop songs, Bollywood hits from India, and more.  Olesya tends to lean more toward a little bit of the American teeny bopper pop music, while Angela enjoys contemporary country from the likes of Brad Paisley and a little Garth thrown in.  Matt totally digs 70's and 80's slow rock, and Josh's musical tastes are All Disney All the Time.

Each young person who resides with us is so unique and wonderful, so different.  What I have been surprised to see over time is there has been no trash saved on iPads, nothing that a parent of typical teens would roll their eyes is as if that little tablet encases a tiny extension of their precious souls, and what is contained therein is Important Stuff.

Every day I am learning, every day I am exploring through the eyes, hearts and minds of those who are accompanying me on this journey of life.