healing

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.

 

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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.

They Took that Bumblebee Off Stage

Let’s start with a little story. When I was 4 years old, I took a ballet class. I’m not sure if I was drawn to the idea of being a ballerina, or if my mom felt pressure to put me in activities like the rest of her friends and their daughters at our church. I took the classes, learned to point my toes, and got the bumblebee costume for the recital. I do not remember many of the details of the classes, except for one everlasting memory. Come the night of the dress rehearsal, I got pulled off stage by my teacher because I was hitting another little girl in my class. Mind you, she was in my spot! I had the yellow “X” and this little lady was in my way! So I stood up for myself, and well, was removed from the stage.

I danced on-and-off again until awkward puberty hit, and my height and my love handles didn’t quite fit in with the girls taking 4-10 classes a week, those lining up for point shoes, and neat costumes and weekend competitions. I turned my attention to Science Olympiad – eesh – and to tennis and getting A’s.  Yet, I kept my dance bag with my name embroidered in red, and three pairs of dance shoes – jazz, ballet, and tap. Maybe my 13 year old self knew I would once again return.

FullSizeRender (1)Time passed, I graduated from high school, and started college, and somehow came across my first pair of ballet slippers hiding in a closet, or a drawer at my parent’s house. I took them out and put them on my dresser, as a reminder of the little girl that still lives inside me. The worn pink leather, my name scrawled in Sharpie in my mom’s handwriting, the delicate nature of small slippers used by young children – all of these things make me cherish my first pair of dancing shoes.

I used to make so much fun of my dad for keeping everything – our VHS movies, our toys, our art, our shoes. These shoes. Quite honestly, I’m not sure if it was Mom or Dad who saved these treasures, but in his absence, these shoes mean so much more to me. We need to remember our inner child, and the joy that comes from dancing. These slippers greet me each morning as I pick out my clothes, and serve as a reminder to remember the little girl who once used them.

FullSizeRender (2)As part of my healing process, and an effort to keep moving forward in life, I signed up for a dance class for adults this year. I got out my old dance bag, and my ballet slippers from age 13 still fit. They are not nearly as adorable, but they hold much potential for healing, movement, and joy.

When I went to my first dance class last week I was absolutely stunned at the beautiful atmosphere that was cultivated in the studio. Women ranging in ages from 18-62 joined together, all types of bodies, all different levels of experience, and we were given the freedom to move.

Much to my surprise, the week’s prompt and meditation focus was moving from sorrow to joy. Never have I felt so called by God to be in a space. The bible verse shared that night was Isaiah 43:2. It was like God was speaking directly to me, saying I see you, I’m with you, you will make it through this. My heart still is overwhelmed by the powerful essence of healing and hope Lighthouse Dance created on an ordinary weeknight.

There is beauty to be found in a grown woman’s old ballet slippers, in returning to a space of dance and joy, and in experiencing God’s presence in the most unexpected of places. Beauty in the gifts of graceful reminders that come from people who do not know your struggles, truth that provides hope, community that allows acceptance of diversity and challenge. Beauty in moving forward, and in remembering that with each point of the toe we build on who we once were and can dance our way into who we are meant to be.

When Life Unravels

Beautiful power exists when we share our stories.

I have had the honor of writing for Invoke Magazine again, and today another installation goes live. For those who are interested in the beauty of sharing truth, being honest, and vulnerable in online spaces, here is my article.

3 Ways to Cope with Grief and Uncertainty (from Someone Who’s Been There)

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Thank you to Anna and Emily for the privilege of contributing again.

With love, bravery, courage and hope.

 

Olive

We got a dog! We jumped in and rescued this lovely little creature, and my heart is swooning. At least until she eats my shoes, which hasn’t yet happened.

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It is my hope that training this new member of our family will be an exercise in healing, in patience, in learning to extend love into other areas of our lives.

I’ve heard people who love rescue animals ask the question, “Who rescued who?” and I’m starting to feel this way about Olive. She seems to see my ache, and her little paws provide soothing balm to my soul.

It was wonderful waking up this morning knowing we had a tiny creature who was depending on us. And during this time of change and the continued processing of grief, as we depend heavily on our supports, this little nugget is filling my heart. Beauty in the acquisition of a new family member, beauty in puppy breath, beauty in the process of jumping right in.

Welcome home.

One Word

One word. Babies.

When my world fogs with confusion, and moving forward feels difficult, I rest in the hope that babies provide.

Now, now, hold your horses. I am not talking about my own future offspring, and I am not expecting a bundle of my own joy. Talk to my mother about her disappointment in my perpetual five year plan. You know the one – when you get married you say you will be expecting kids in five years. I’ve got a year and a half of marriage on the record, but still we say, ‘Oh, we will have kids in five years.’  That calendar is still moving itself a ways out, into the future.

In the meantime, I get to experience so much joy and wonder when spending time with friends who have committed to parenthood before me. There is something beautiful about watching your friends morph into their new role as parents. It is humorous and wonderful to see how they juggle new strollers, baby wipes, formula, and taking turns changing diapers.

Having only babysat for little ones, I caught myself thinking, “they actually know what to do with all of those plastic bottles and lids. They’ve got themselves together! They can take their kid out in public, and are making such a fantastic team!” My heart filled with pride as we got to spend time with one of Dylan’s best friends and his wife, and yes, their baby. A six month old, bubbling burst of joy. This little nugget was the happiest baby I have spent time with.

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Holding his little fingers as they wrapped around my thumb, watching his eyes follow a stuffed monkey as his dad danced it across the table, those experiences are balm for the soul. And as I still find myself weeping in the afternoon, or aching to call my dad to discuss the Rockies opening game, I return to the hope that Jackson provides. This little guy has so much to see, to experience, to embark upon. Let’s continue to make the world a beautiful place. For him, and for me, and for you, because as we move forward, the world needs more beautiful things.

Thanks to Mike & Josie for making such a beautiful little baby.