healing

That’s Going to Be Fun for You?

I read fast. My eyes scan pages and absorb words quickly, inviting me into worlds not my own. Don’t ask me for details about story or memoir, though, because once I’ve finished a title I seem to forget. My reading comprehension sucks. The pleasure is in the journey, not the destination.

On our most recent road trip I read four books. Four. Last week I spent 38 hours in the backseat of a Subaru and there is not much to see from Wyoming to East Oregon. Enter books. Thank goodness I don’t get car sick.

Before the trip I sat down at our kitchen table and opened up a new browser to search for books to download to my Kindle. Picking out books to read is what I live for! I selected five titles and tucked my little e-reader in my travel bag.

Our trip was an amazing break from the day to day grind. When I told some of my friends that I was driving 38 hours across the country, they looked at me like I was crazy. When I told them we were driving with my in-laws, their mouths dropped a little more, and eyes got bigger seeming to ask, ‘That’s going to be fun for you?’

Yes! Fun for me. I am incredibly lucky in that I like my in-laws! My father-in-law drove the whole time. My mother-in-law packed delicious snacks and navigated our route, picking our hotels, restaurants and day trip itineraries. While Dylan and I are both grown people, these two parents continue to extend their love for us as we dozed in the backseat. After a hard year of taking care of hurting, searching people –  ie. myself, my husband, my mom – riding along in the backseat where all my needs were met was just the heart medicine I needed. It is nice to be cared for and out of your routine.

A list of beautiful things from our time in Oregon:

  • New breweries: these people like to drink beer as much as we do in Northern Colorado. I now know how tourists must feel when they come to our town. Another brewery on that corner! No time to fit in all those delicious pints of craft beer.
  • Kite Surfing on the River: no, no, I didn’t try, but we did watch hundreds of colorful kites kiss the sky as surfers handled the wind on the Columbia River. We stuck our toes in the water and laughed as the ripples lapped at our legs.
  • Salt and Straw & good friends: One of my oldest friends Jenny now lives in Portland. She took us to her neighborhood food trucks (THAT’S A THING PEOPLE!) and out to the trendiest ice cream store I’ve ever been to. Apparently Oprah endorses their Arbequina Olive Oil flavor. I couldn’t mentally stomach spooning olive oil into my mouth over and over, but the creamy concoction was delicious on a small metal tea spoon. Instead I turned to the beautiful combination of Carrot Cake Batter with Hazelnut Praline. For those easily overwhelmed types like my husband, they also have vanilla.
  • Canon Beach: We went to the ocean. Nothing like having your feet in the sand with cold water running over your toes. Wind in the hair, sand pushing back against the arches of your feet, reminding you that you wear shoes all too often. Cloud cover and waves crashed together in a soothing blanket of gray. The ocean is big. It makes me feel connected to the edge of something. I loved walking on the sand and exploring that quaint little town.
  • A family wedding: Dylan’s cousin got married and I was honored to be a part of the celebration. As we walked up to the rehearsal dinner which was held in a neighborhood park, huge trees sheltered us from intense sun. Who knew it could be 105 degrees in the Northwest. Rays of sunshine trickled through the leaves. We approached from about fifty yards away watching the bride practice going down the aisle with her dad. I stopped and stood still, catching my breath at the beautiful scene unfolding in front of me. Other members of the family kept walking ahead. One breath. Two. I swatted at a tear starting to trickle down my cheek, escaping my from my sunglasses of protection. I missed my dad as a flood of memories from my own experience down the aisle came back. More though, I was overwhelmed with the truth that I am living in the light again. Grief still exists, yes, but that’s not all. I sent up a silent whisper of thanks in realizing I am returning to living in joy. The choices to be taken care of, to explore, to love and feel loved, those are all beautiful, beautiful things.

 

Here is a list of books I read on the trip:

White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America

Vinegar Girl: A Novel

Someday, Someday, Maybe: A Novel

The Here and Now

Favorite Things – August

August is a big month at my house. My husband and my father-in-law celebrate their birthdays one day apart (well one day and 30 years apart) and the whole month turns into a celebration of Huey men. I’m excited to approach these milestones with them!

As I mix celebration with continued healing, I share this list of my favorite things.

Here are a few things that are worth a mention, a glance, or an impulse buy this month.

  1. The Story You Need to Tell: Writing to Heal from Trauma, Illness, or Loss by Sandra Marinella

I was given this beautiful book to review and I loved the way Sandra encourages writers of all experience levels to get their stories out and on a page. She walks you through various writing exercises, shares her personal story with cancer, and encourages readers that healing can be found by writing your truth. All sentiments I can get behind. I strongly recommend this book!

2. Essie nail polish

My days as Receptionist at the Natural Nail Care Clinic forever left an impression on me and my medicine cabinet. I am still loyal to Essie products developed for your natural nail. I am loving this new color that was part of the Spring 2017 season. Come on, make your fingers feel pretty!

3. Ansel Adams Artwork

We finally painted our room! Our new, fresh, green walls anxiously await some art work. I’m planning on hanging some work by Ansel Adams like the piece below. My dad loved this artist’s ability to capture nature and peace. Photography and memory – beautiful things.

4. Be Brave T Shirt

Living life authentically takes bravery, compassion, and self-love. I like this t-shirt because it reminds me to embrace all of these things. Wear your mantras. Why not? I promise the women’s styles are more flattering.

5. Sprinkles

Everything worth celebrating is worth celebrating with sprinkles. Let the month of birthdays begin!

PS. I tried searching for manly sprinkles – Amazon tells me this doesn’t exist.

The Office Phone Rang

The office phone rang yesterday. Once. Twice. Glance at the caller ID.

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Photo by Davidson Luna

I picked up the black office phone, untangled the snaggled cord, and tucked the receiver (oh dear, that is what it’s called right) between my raised shoulder and my left ear.

“American Family Insurance, this is Katie how can I help you?”

How many times have I repeated that phrase? I started when I was sixteen, working in my Dad’s office. And now, after his death, have spent over 365 days living out his legacy, still with the company, working for a different agent.

“Hi, this is …… and I’m calling to let you know that my husband died this past weekend.”

I paused. Death sucks your breath out of your bones, even when you don’t know the person who has passed.

“Oh no, ” I am sure I said “I am so sorry.”

I didn’t know this customer and I didn’t know her husband. I do know just how jolting death can be for the living. The ones left behind.

We continued the conversation.

I began to notice, in this customer call, there lived signs of personal progress.

My stomach didn’t drop. Huh. That’s different.

For the last year anytime someone told me another person left this planet my stomach would crumple. My body would sweat, my heart would drop deep into my already aching gut. Empathetic wavelengths would extend like squid, squeezing remnants of emotional energy I didn’t have to spare out to other people.

This didn’t happen yesterday.

We proceeded to talk logistics and I was shocked by this woman’s resolve. Her ability to speak coherently, to share her concern. “He used to handle these things,” she said, “how am I supposed to now know what’s best?”

I hmm’d along empathetically, flashing back to many conversations with my own mom who instantly acquired the title ‘widow’. We spent a better part of a year rebuilding, coaching, working together on learning again to know what’s best. You certainly can’t know in the first few days. Sure you can take action, make decisions, pick a song for a funeral. But what’s best? Baby, that takes a really long time.

I clicked through our computer system and managed to rework this woman’s policies. New options saved her money on her monthly premium. Changing coverage, that’s easy.

I gracefully offered to remove her husband’s name from her policies. Erasing a person from a policy, that’s harder.

Robotically, I clicked an “x” into the Deceased box next to her husbands name, and changed her marital status to widowed.

How quickly our society allows you to mark a box, change a status, erase a name on a billing account. The process of grief is no where near this simple. I still hate this word – deceased. I hate knowing that my dad falls into that category. One simply does not erase a loved one from your own being.

I never once mentioned my own loss in that conversation. I learned quickly that saying, ‘Oh yes, I lost someone too’ doesn’t bring comfort. Instead it brings awkwardness and an urgency to change the subject. I listened and asked if she had someone nearby to help her with these decisions. Support remains vital.

As I hung up that black office phone I felt strong and empowered. For the first time, I noticed how Dad’s death had purpose in changing ME. I was empathetic, calm, and collected when absorbing other people’s stories. I could offer support, problem solve, listen and see, just for ten minutes, her situation and perspective. Her pain was separate from my pain.

This is new. This is healing.

We keep saying in our household just how true it is that people die. People die. This doesn’t remove emotion, downplay trauma, or remove loving connection. These words just make it easier for me to live with the truth of death.

This phone call brought beautiful awareness. A gift from my job that can bring comfort and pain at the same time. A deeper understanding of how Dad once worked with customers. The realization that my approach to the world has forever changed with this pulsing absence of Dad. An American Family insurance agent for almost twenty years.

 

ps. Do you know hard it is to find stock photos of office phones? Ha! No one takes pictures of these anymore. Maybe the use of an old office phone is also a beautiful thing.

 

 

“Groceries…”

Groceries. What a nickname. I don’t really remember why Richard’s character in Eat Pray Love calls Elizabeth that name. Quippy sure, but powerful all the same. What we call each other out of affection matters.

This week I have been drawn to this video clip from the movie, and I imagine myself sitting in Elizabeth’s spot. What would it feel like to have someone rush their hands into your face like that? More importantly, why is it so challenging to remember the truth that the universe wants, aches, and desires to fill our lives with abundance and love.

No, I’m not recovering from a failed marriage and I’m not stuck dwelling in shards of love for a person that I shouldn’t be. I do see myself in that red headed character, though. The way she has her chin in her hands, twirling her hair around her fingers, weaving her hurt through the strands. Arms crossed across her body in protection.

Like Elizabeth, I walked into unanticipated loss and beat myself miserably over my inability to prevent such horror from happening. My life changed drastically fifteen months ago. That change felt bad. Really, horribly, achingly bad. Losing a pillar of a person in your life rocks you to the core.

I lost my job. A dream job on paper and that shook me too. Confidence went out the window. Panic and pressure filled my brain – I constantly scoured my writing for extra commas, and squeezed my hands red each time I made a mistake. I had never doubted myself so much, retreating inside for fear of errors, or interacting with a person who could hurt me again.

“Your life’s changing and that’s not a bad thing. And you’re in a perfect place for it. Surrounded by grace.”

‘Not a bad thing?’, I ask, ‘Whatever could you mean.’ I have always been a critic of change.

I now realize I’ve been living in this space of fear and regret for too long. I’m trying to change my perspective. Grant permission to sink into a warm pool of self-forgiveness, of compassion, and of promise. I want to change to embrace my next phase of life with expansion and hope and love. The universe forced, squeezed, smashed me, but I survived. Grace and mercy oozed in clumps in the process, like Play-Dough going through angry fingers in fists.

“So miss him. Send him some light and love every time you think of him, then drop it.”

If someone told me this about my dad I think I’d bite my lip, and mentally punch them in the face.  But when Richard says it, I slowly smile. I’ve spent many months in pain when thinking of Dad’s memory. Tears flowed freely and I’ve gotten stuck not knowing what to do with loss. This line though, this is wisdom. A perfect prescription for living with grief on a daily basis. A formula for healthy adapting. I want to send Dad light and love and smile his way, then drop it. I’ve got living to do.

“You know if you could, uggh, clear out all that space in your mind that you’re using to obsess over this guy and your failed marriage, you’d have a vacuum with a doorway and you know what the universe would do with that doorway? Whoom! Rush in. Rush in and fill you with more love than you’d ever dreamed of. Man.”

Whoa Richard. Calm down.

This is the line that keeps rolling through my brain. Well when I’m not filling it with fear and disappointment and sadness. What happens when I let go, and let love in? I’m not sure, but I’m giving it a try.

Here’s what I found this week:

We traded our neighbors a plant for their used outdoor dining patio set. They simply weren’t using the table and chairs, and they said we could have it, just have it, if they could have the little plant growing in our rocks. You mean the only ‘wildflower’ growing in our rocks? Sure! Done. Trade. Abundance.

I went to a fundraiser for a little boy who has cancer. One hundred and fifty people gave their time, talents, and resources to support a child who is sick. Who has been through fire. Watching community come together made my heart beat fast. Gratitude that I am well. Thankfulness for being raised to give. You can donate to Sam here. Abundance.

An old colleague of mine sent me an email full of beautiful things. She shared of her journey from divorce to living the travelers life. She encouraged me in my writing, shared her inspiration for her stories, and reminded me to listen to the words in my own heart. Across the country, through the waves of wifi, she sent love saying, ” Don’t expect that you have to know now what kind of a writer you want to be. Don’t pigeon hole yourself or expect too much. Do give yourself permission to try and try and try and try again and to change and ebb and flow. Not even try and fail. There is no fail if you are writing. You only fail when you don’t write.”

The words I want to believe, but have trouble accepting because of all the other ick rolling around in my brain. The stuff I should clear out. She wrote them out and sent them to me, without evening know where I stood.

Whoom! Love. Abundance. Gifts.

“Groceries….. I think you have the capacity some day, to love the whole world.”

Boy I hope so. Love is my goal. For myself, and for others, and for the journey.

What can you clear out that will lead to more love, abundance, confidence and gifts in your own life? What examples of bountiful provision and beauty have you encountered? How do you choose to turn off your brain?

 

Be The Horizon

We have a family therapist. Or rather, had a family therapist. One wise gentleman that counseled my mom, my dad, my brother and me. This therapeutic closeness to each of our situations was wonderful and horrible all at the same time.

You know how you have to spend the first few sessions with a new therapist explaining your background? Tell me about your mom, your dad, your childhood trauma. Well this guy already knew – perhaps way more than I did – about my mom, my dad, and their childhood trauma. This was nice. Cut out the time-wasting backstory telling. Jump right in to my perspective of things.

This closeness also caused challenges. Like when I heard of a family’s new news from  Said Therapist on a phone call, rather than the source. He assumed I already knew. I didn’t.

Said Therapist is wise and kind and has supported my family in unspoken, spiritual ways. He was the first person to call me, after my mom and Dylan, to offer kindness the day we lost Dad.

So when my dad died, who also happened to be one my therapist’s good friends, I had to stop getting counseling from Said Therapist. Grief and family closeness swarmed in on itself, collapsing one of the support systems I had previously relied on. While difficult, the choice to stop receiving therapy from this person remains to be a healthy one.

I’ve tried a few therapists since the loss and neither have clicked. And since mental health is NOT covered by my insurance I’ve taken a break from therapy. Another healthy choice because I tend to over-process myself into a tight spiral. Sometimes taking a break from counseling can be a beautiful thing.

However, Said Therapist’s wisdom continues to whisper in my ears and I am thankful for his lessons that he helped me grow into. I am thankful he taught me mindfulness, and thankfulness, and grounding exercises that help me remain in the present. Old lessons, like worn socks, which we take off and put on again, when we remember there are easier solutions to cold feet than freezing.

So today, when I got a phone call that a banking situation is going less than perfect, rather than panic I took a deep breath. I am a grown woman, I can problem solve, this, like all things, will resolve itself.

“BE THE HORIZON” Said Therapist would say.

Maybe Said Therapist never ever said that phrase to me, but it is one our family adopted. One my dad would share in texts, and my mom and I continue to repeat over and over again.

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You know when you look out at the ocean, the line where the water meets the sky continues to remain steady. Yet, waves are always churning, water always moving, creatures and weather and ships interacting in patterns of chaos.

That darn horizon continues to stay true and steady and straight.

“Be the horizon.” Breath deep, remember you got this, stay the course.

Grounding exercises are beautiful and I’d like to think I’d accept reminders to take it one moment at a time with open arms. Too often, though, these reminders are in the form of tires that need replacing, and broken shingles, and bank accounts, and lost book shipments and the rearranging of schedules. Inconveniences and annoyances that remind us we are not in control.

Life is less than perfect. Perhaps these moments of perfect frustration should be seen as beautiful too.

This morning I was scrolling on Facebook, the grandest of all time wasters and anxiety provoking messages reminding me of how not-good-enough I am. I found this poem.

“It’s as if what is unbreakable—
the very pulse of life—waits for
everything else to be torn away,
and then in the bareness that
only silence and suffering and
great love can expose, it dares
to speak through us and to us.

It seems to say, if you want to last,
hold on to nothing. If you want
to know love, let in everything.
If you want to feel the presence
of everything, stop counting the
things that break along the way.”
—Mark Nepo

I found this poem before the day unfolded and it caught my attention.

As the day progressed, its beautiful gift seemed to sink in more.

I want to stop counting, letting go of the broken, and moving forward to embrace all the good.

I think Said Therapist would say, ‘That sounds good Katie. That sounds good.’

His Wings are Big Enough

As I stood in line at the grocery story to check out this afternoon, I kept staring at the little girl in front of me. Probably two or three, wearing little pink leggings with a diaper sticking out at the top, this blond child was fascinated with the loose screw clinking on the sliding check stand.

You may not remember what a check stand even is (that’s certainly not the technical term), but – you know! – the little platform that slides in and out of the counter, making it easier for those in a wheel chair to write when completing their transactions.

Over and over again this girl’s tiny hands spun the loose screw on the edge of the platform that was just her height, as her exhausted and exasperated-looking mother tried to load this week’s load of sustenance into their cart. The little girl was determined to figure out what made the nuts on the screw work, moving her tiny features closer to the swinging table. Her mom kept pushing the table back into its proper place, only to seconds later have the young little gal pull the table and the fluid metal out again.

I smiled. The world can be a fascinating, perplexing, and enjoyable place if we stop and choose to fixate on things that draw in our interest.

I want to be more like the little girl, choosing to get my eyes closer, get my hands on the kinds of things that interest me, and let the rest of the chaos fade to the background.

How often do we give ourselves the time to really stop and examine anything so intriguing? For me, the answer is not often. There are so many circumstances that pull us out of that fixated state of interest towards a list of “something elses”.

I was reading a devotional this weekend as we stayed at a friend’s house. I picked up the pocket-size book Jesus Lives by Sarah Young and turned to this page.

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It can be eerie just how much God knows the words you need. I take comfort that He uses others to share thoughts of connection, of purpose, of divine inspiration.

And as I sat there, in the guest room bedroom, reading this page, I was reminded that I am still in restoration mode. And this position of healing takes focus, dedication, and REST. The kind of attention that blocks out the world and instead focuses on the delightful results of slowing the heck down. Much like the little girl at the store, I need to choose to devote my attention to the personally intriguing.

In other words, “Dear exhaustion, perseverance, pushing through. I can’t. I’m exhausted.”

I am choosing instead to rest in the shadows. To draw near to myself. To explore and delight in the simple things.

I think this week beauty lives in interactions at the grocery store, in this granola recipe, in a full fridge, in sleeping in, in celebrating family, in rest. In being taken care of, and in
conversations with wise women, in walking to get ice cream, in prepping for lunches for the week ahead.

His wings are large and encompass all the beautiful things as I allow my spirit to sit and rest. It takes practice and permission.

Restoration will come.

 

“Grace always bats last.”

*Vulnerability alert – choosing to share my sticky emotions because they too have a place for beauty. Continue reading if you so desire.*

 

I am getting ready to celebrate my birthday this week. We went to a play with my mom and my brother on Friday evening. It was a lovely performance full of live music and dancing and emotion. Pure passion put on stage with a mixture of honesty, struggle, heart. Just what art should do for us. My dad was not with us, just as he won’t be with us for the rest of my life. And friends, it makes my heart ache.

We are getting closer to the year anniversary of his death, and they say that as you move through all of the monumental dates in the first year without your loved one, a weight can be lifted. I hope what they say is true.

I am taking time to honor the beautiful tears that come when you acknowledge loss, the waves of deep sadness that come right along side the desire to celebrate, to move on, to be cheerful.

I am scared to turn another year older without him.

And then, just today, I came across this beautiful passage from Anne Lamott and remembered that ‘oh yes, I am so very far from being alone.’ I’m cheating a little and sharing the words of another. Beautiful, beautiful words.

Anne Lamott writes,

When people we can’t live without die, everyone likes to quote John Donne, “Death be not proud.” Yeah yeah yeah, thank you for sharing. My father died of brain cancer when he was seven years younger than I am now. He was my closest person. I did not love it. My best friend died years ago, leaving behind an 18 month old daughter. She was my closest person. I did not love it, or agree to it, and just barely survived it.

My darling friend Ann Brebner passed away early Friday. (You were so incredibly generous to donate to the fund for her home-care. Your generosity has given me such huge abiding hope in Goodness and miracles. We were down to almost no money. She accidentally spent her life creating and directing plays, loving us crazily, laughing and listening to music, giving to charity, instead of investing.)

Maybe this passing seems less death-y, as she was 93. But believe me, she had done the dying part, the closing-up-shop part, the leaving-us part, just like everyone has to do. It’s death 101 for everyone here on the incarnational side of things: we do it with no owner’s manual (Death for Dummies?) , and at the end, alone. If I were God’s West Coast representative, I would have a different system in place, i.e. less mysterioso Ouija board enigma. More grok-able My grandson stood nearby her at church as she sometimes painstakingly got out of our car. He always called her Ann Brevner, one word. “Hi, Annbrevner!” I told him Friday night that she had passed, and his mouth dropped open. “AnnBREVNER died?” he asked. Then, “I wonder what that’s like? Dying?”

So I thought I would tell you what I know, because this thing, this aspect of reality, this weird scary aspect of life, can just wreck everything if you don’t figure out at some point that it is what makes life so profound, meaningful, rich, complex, wild. If you try to outrun this existential truth, with manic achievement and people-pleasing and exotic distractions, it begins to argue a wasted life. Everyone we love–and I am just going to add, in a whisper, even our children and nieces and nephews–will die. They will no longer be here, on this side of eternity. We Christians see death as just being a fairly significant change of address, but still, our most cherished people will no longer be here, to have and to hold, or reach by phone.

This can kind of ruin everything. When my son was little, he asked if we would die at the exact same moment. When I said, No, probably not, he wept, and then said, “If I had known that, I wouldn’t have agreed to be born.”

Do you want to have instant meaning and incentive and almost heartbreaking appreciation in your life? Live, starting now–as if you have three months left. At some point, this will true. Tick tock.

But won’t death be scary? Annbrevner’s wasn’t. Just weird. Her death, like every passing I have witnessed, was beautiful, gentle, sometimes hard and confusing, and completely doable. At some point, for almost everyone, it is like being in labor. Especially if, like me, dilated 7 centimeters after 24 hours of labor, you realized you didn’t like children. But in both cases, birth and death, something beautiful is coming. Ram Dass said death would be like FINALLY getting to take off the too-small shoes we had been wearing our entire lives. Think of that. Getting to rub those sore arches and wiggle those baby toes, after all these year feeling cramped, like Chinese foot bound women, tiptoeing to minimize the pain.

But back to my grandson’s question, of what dying will be like, and why, I don’t think you need to be afraid:

So many people will surround you, your dearest family and friends, both the quick and the death–Ann’s father, who died fifty years ago was with her; her son who died last year was with her. And we were with her, encouraging and allowing her to be real, to share her deepest thoughts and and fears about what was happening to her, and how annoying liFe (and we) could be. The most important you can do if someone is dying? Show up; listen; nod.

And maybe even more important, we shared with each other our worries, memories, sorrow, impatience, and anxiety about the process, how much more, and much sooner, we could have done this or that. We showed up, we listened to each other, we told others how much we hated everything, and how much we loved each other, we listened some more, we nodded, and put the kettle on for tea.

We let each other complain and not know what we were doing. We tried to remember what we DID know: that the great cosmic Something had always been there before. That the Divine It had brought us and our beloved ones through ghastly loss, disappointment, and failure, against all odds. That crying and grieving heal us, cleanse us, baptize us, moisturize us, water the seeds hidden deep in the ground at our feet.

Our pastor came to anoint her the day before she died, not knowing if Ann’s home-going was an hour or a month away. Hospice was on hand to help with the pain. (If you know your person is dying, call Hospice. Once Hospice is on board, almost everything will sort itself out, I promise you–everything. Secret of life.

Every single person I have loved and lost had us around–their most beloved–and had Hospice, had the richest most astonishing love and sense of safety at the end. They had peace, like a river. Even if their death was sudden, Grace always bats last. They got to take off the tight shoes. They got their Get Out of Jail Free card.

Death? Be as proud as you want: bore me later, because Love is sovereign here. Life never ends. Joy comes in the morning. Glory hallelujah. And let it be so.

 

joy

Yes, even grief can be beautiful. And people who show up to wipe your tears and honor your loss are beautiful as well. Joy comes in the morning. The sun will still rise, God will still be present, we can still choose to get to living. After all, this thing called death is a part of it.

Psalms 34:18 is also beautiful too.