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Posts Tagged ‘changes’

“There’s a problem with the baby,” said the doctor, pressing the ultrasound probe to my belly. It was 2002, and I was 16 weeks pregnant, at the hospital for a normal prenatal checkup. I looked over at Steve. I could tell from his face that he understood that “problem” was a euphemism. The baby was dead.

The next piece of news was almost as bad. I was too far along for a D&C. I had to go home and wait for labor to start. A midwife told me to try not to think about it. Right.

Not only did I fail to distract myself effectively, I obsessed about this dead baby I was carrying. I felt like I couldn’t grieve, couldn’t say good bye, couldn’t move on. I was sad, but what I felt most was out of control. I so badly wanted this ordeal to be over.

I didn’t put this into words, but looking back, I can see that somewhere deep down I believed that if I prayed hard enough and often enough, if I wanted it enough, if I used enough mental and emotional energy, that somehow I could end the torture of waiting.

For two weeks I agonized over continuing to carry my lifeless child. Then the doctor decided to try to induce labor. I spent the weekend in the hospital hooked up to an IV, waiting for labor to start. At one point I was weeping under the weight of it all, and a nurse told me, “Don’t cry. You’ll give yourself a headache.”

The induction didn’t work. I went home again, still praying and straining with all my emotional might, as if I could do something.

About a week later, something clicked. I realized that ending this ordeal was truly not in my hands. Instead of praying that I would go into labor NOW, I started affirming that I released the timing into God’s hands. I made myself a mix tape (yeah, this was a while ago) of songs about release, surrender, and God being into control, and I listened to it over and over. When the ache of not being able to do anything hit, I came back again and again to opening my hands in a gesture of letting go.

The last week of waiting was actually peaceful. One month after finding out the baby was dead, I finally went into labor. I had previously wondered how women handled labor when they knew there would be no live child to hold on the other side. That wasn’t an issue. My experience is that labor pains fill our vision and we can’t think of the future, whether beautiful or tragic.

We saw our baby. I remember how each tiny rib stood out under the purple-grey skin, how the eyes were closed and the head a little misshapen from too long in a temporary grave.

The waiting was over. We could say good bye to our baby, and life could go on.

In another post, I talked about how during depression, something beautiful is growing, hidden in the darkness. But this gestating beauty often has a twin—death that is waiting to be released.  The birth of newness and the letting go of death both create labor pains that eclipse the view of what’s ahead.

Though unseen during depression (as in labor), a future still exists. That future holds the relief of final good byes to parts of our lives we have been needlessly carrying, and the future holds the emergence of new life that would have been unimaginable before going through the depths.

To me, these thoughts are gifts from a painful experience. The hope of both release and beauty occasionally peeks through the darkness of depression and encourages me. May these thoughts encourage you as well.

Photo by Jon Ovington, CC License

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This is part of the March Synchroblog, multiple bloggers writing on the same subject. In the spirit of Lent, this month’s theme is “Experiences in the Wilderness.” Links to fellow synchrobloggers are at the end of this post.

I have a confession to make. I am one of those people that peeks at the end of a story to see how it’s going to turn out. I don’t go straight to the end before I start the book, but sometimes the tension just gets too much for me and I have to see that everything is going to be ok before I dive back into the conflict.

This does not serve me well in real life, because (shockingly) I never get to flip ahead to the end of my story to make sure things will work out. And being in the middle of the story is hard.

There are times when it is encouraging to look at someone else’s whole story, to see how dark their situation seemed and then to see the good that came out of the darkness. Sometimes that annoys me, though. Sometimes I would rather look at a snapshot of the hero at the height of the drama or the depth of their pain and confusion and feel the compassion, the “suffering with,” of someone else having been there, not knowing what would come next.

It is one thing to look at a hero and conclude that their perseverance in the face of hardship was worth it because their side won, or the situation worked out in the end. I can look at Madame Guyon, 17th-century Christian mystic, and take courage from her seven-year-long dark night of the soul, where she truly believed that she was going to hell and that God had abandoned her, because I know that that period of suffering ended with great spiritual strength. But can we take courage from those pictures of darkness even when we don’t know the outcome?

While having faith in a certain ending can encourage us, it can also do us harm in our dark nights. If we attach our hope, our reason for perseverance, to a specific outcome, we can miss the gifts of the process. The problem with these gifts is that they are kind of like getting underwear and socks in your Christmas stocking—you need them, but you don’t really want them, especially not as a present. And to be honest, the gifts of suffering are often even less appealing than those Christmas undies.

It is hard to separate the gifts of the suffering from the outcome of our dark seasons because during the night the seeds are planted, and during the following day, the seeds come up and blossom. The seeds transition seamlessly into plants. Once we start seeing the plants, we forget about what they felt like when they were just seeds. And when they are still seeds, we may be blind to them because we are too busy looking or hoping for fully-grown trees.

During the last few years, which have been a desert, wilderness, dark night—whatever you want to call it—for me, the future has been totally clouded. That has enabled me to be more fully in the present. Though I have no idea what will come out of this time, I have been hanging onto the joy of the seeds I see going into the soil.

One of these seeds is that I have been discovering my limits. This is not a fun gift. It has been really painful to lose illusions about my time, energy, influence, and power. But one of the first gifts of this time of burnout was learning that I have much more joy when I accept my smallness and respect my limits.  

Another seed of change is feeling connection with people that I used to think were different than me. Unravelling who I thought I was has torn down walls that I thought existed between me and others. Again, ouch! It’s just a seed, because I know more of who I’m not anymore than who I am, and so I feel homeless, community-wise. I don’t feel that I fit anywhere yet, but at the same time I feel a more universal connection—that I share something in common with everyone, when I used to only feel connection with people like me.

I have made brave baby steps. I haven’t turned myself into a successful writer, but I have put my writing out on this blog and submitted some web-content articles. I still struggle with being vulnerable and open, but I have shared scary things with close friends and still been loved and accepted. Steve and I don’t know our direction in life yet, but we made the step of acting on what we did know and moving back to America. In these things, the gift of darkness is the status quo growing so uncomfortable that I become ready to move into a new stage of growth, even when the way ahead is cloudy (or pitch-black).  

Even though this is not a complete story with a glorious wrapup, I hope that the middle of my story is encouraging to some of you. I would love to hear some of the things that are being planted in your lives in the midst of hard times.

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I caught myself red-handed earlier this week. It was somewhere between the excessive consumption of ginger cookies and the laundry. I actually caught myself hoping that Christmas would be “perfect.”

Catching myself shooting for perfection is a wake-up call for me these days, so I set my expectations on to mull with the cider.  The word that eventually bubbled up was “character”; I want a Christmas with character.

In Anne Lamott’s book on writing, Bird by Bird, she says about characters in our writing, “Now, a person’s faults are largely what make him or her likeable.” (p.50)  I think that is true not just for people, but for homes and events and relationships. Of course, we spoil our appreciation of all that lovable imperfection when we demand flawlessness.

At first, thinking about a Christmas with “character” started me down another road of unrealistic expectations. Does creating character require, for example, bungee jumping in Santa suits? How creative do I need to be to make Christmas character-filled?

At that point, another take on “character” came to me. Each Christmas has its own character. I do have a role in shaping that, but I am not the supreme being that makes Christmas what I want it to be. In fact, I enjoy Christmas most when I step back and allow it to take on the shape that it wants, the character that comes alive in part from what each family member and friend brings to it, and in part from what is beyond the control of any of us. But in the end, as a child is more than just parts of dad and parts of mom, a special time like Christmas seems to have an individual breath and life that is more than just what we put into it. And just like with a child, trying to control Christmas doesn’t go so well; it causes me to miss out on watching and enjoying what it is becoming in its own right.

So I’m remembering the characters of past Christmases. The year that Christmas was during Ramadan, and we were trying to juggle being part of Bahraini culture with celebrating our own traditions. The year that someone put curry in the turkey gravy. The year that I freaked out in the grocery store on Christmas Eve because there were shiny Christmas decorations dangling over the ladies covered in black, and the speakers were literally blasting out “Feliz Navidad,” while the guys behind the meat counter sported red Santa hats. The year a whole gang of us had a sleepover at a friend’s house on Christmas Eve and opened our stockings together the next morning. Every year, singing “Silent Night” holding lit candles with a room full of Christians and Muslims who loved us and wanted to share our holiday with us.

This year, Christmas’s character is both happy and sad for us, and I appreciate both. I am grateful for the sadness because I have special friends and beautiful memories in Bahrain to miss. And I am savoring the incredible sweetness of being with family in America for Christmas. Feeling one allows me to feel the other more fully, and vice versa. And I am trying to sit back and enjoy experiencing this Christmas for what it is.

I’d love for you to share about the character of your Christmas in the comments.

Happy Holidays to all of you!

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This post is part of a synchroblog. December’s topic is Advent as a Journey. You can find a list of all the participants here, and I will put them at the end of this post when they are all in. 

I’m trying to picture Mary on her donkey, passing the time on her journey to Bethlehem reading What to Expect When You’re Expecting God.  I’m guessing it would be strong on nutrition, weight gain, and why you shouldn’t travel far from home in your ninth month (oops), but maybe a little weak on the whole sword-piercing-your-heart thing. 

I don’t know what Mary expected her son to be, as she travelled toward Bethlehem. She had a nine-month meditation on carrying treasure in a jar of clay, but I wonder if she even had the beginning of an inkling of how different Jesus’ path was going to be than what many dreamed of for their messiah. 

I’m pretty sure I would not have had a clue. I say that, because of all the expectations that have been challenged and knocked down in my life, the ones that have most taken my breath away have been my expectations about God.

Sometimes the lessons of un-learning our expectations are little, and we can take them in stride. Sometimes we fall down and have to get back up again after our hopes fail us. Sometimes you get not only the rug, but also the floor and the earth pulled out from under you and it feels like you are floating through space with no way of orienting yourself.  Option number three is what my last few years have felt like.

For years, I thought I was building my life on Jesus and on truth, but I was really building on the expectation that God would bring about the internal change in my and others’ lives that would stop needless pain. It wasn’t that I expected bad things not to happen, or for life not to hurt, but I did expect healing for those internal wounds that get in the way of love and relationship with God, others, and self.

The  recipe for collapse had to do with sinking into despair over personal struggles of my own, pouring my heart into friends whose internal suffering was not easing, sprinkled with an unhealthy helping of a too-fast pace of life, and a pinch of health problems. When one of those hurting friends called me to help intervene in an urgent and traumatic crisis–it was the blow that knocked the hope out of me. What happened that day seemed to sum up the failure of everything I thought God had promised.

Dr. Brene Brown calls the process that followed “unravelling,” and I totally agree. I felt the snap when the thread broke that was holding my worldview together, and the yarn has continued to unwind and unravel as I see expectations and beliefs that I previously thought were certain disappear. 

The thing is, when you knit a sweater that turns out to have three arms and no neck, you will be a lot better off in the long run if you unravel it than if you try to wear it. I consider this process that I’ve been going through to be very good, though it still brings tears to my eyes to talk about the loss involved in having banked on hopes that God did not inspire.

All this reminds me of the road to Bethlehem–of Mary, not knowing the pain involved in her blessing; of the Jewish people on the long journey toward the messiah, hoping for a different type of salvation than they were given; of those who were looking for a king and found an impoverished baby.

For me, advent this year is a time of reflecting on expectation. It is a time for looking at what I have expected Jesus to be, at ways that wrong expectations have been undone, and at ways that I have lost hope. I actually don’t have a new set of things that I am certain of, and I don’t know what to hope for from God. But I do have a sense of expectation…that I believe he’s there, even if it’s been quiet for quite some time, and that I believe something is coming, like an unborn baby. And like expecting that baby, I am now trying to hold any ideas about how he will come with an open hand so that when he comes, I can see him for who he is, not for what I want him to be.

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The other day in a math reader (The Great Number Rumble), I read to the kids about the “butterfly effect.” The theory is that something as small as the wind from a butterfly’s wings can set in motion a series of changes that can lead to huge weather events months later (small causes can stir up large effects). 

This year I made a change in the way we are approaching math in homeschooling, and I am beginning to notice ripples of change and am wondering where those changes will lead. (Bear with my brief background of the change, and I’ll get to what I’ve noticed.) At the end of last year, I felt that I needed to experiment with our approach to math because of some of the blocks that Bethany was experiencing. In researching ideas, I came across a program called Living Math, developed by a homeschooling mom named Julie. It takes a literary and historical approach to introducing math concepts; we read about the people who first came up with different math ideas and what was going on at that period, and why they came up with innovations in mathematics, and it gives a framework for the kids to then explore and learn those mathematical concepts.

This has been a fun and interesting way to come at mathematics, and I think it has been positive for the kids. However, it was some resistance that tipped me off to one of the main changes coming through this program. Bethany expressed some frustration with not being able to check something off and be done with it. Last year, she could do the workbook pages I assigned, and yes, there was a whole lot of negative emotion involved in the process, but she could do it, be done, and move on. This new way of doing things, however, requires us to all be present for the process– engaged, willing,  hopefully enjoying, but most of all, completely there.

I would say that I have thrown up resistance to really engaging myself in the present with things that I don’t want to do…and even some things that I enjoy. It’s often easier to be mentally in the past or the present or in some alternate reality, and to just let now be on autopilot. Yet, being present, and accepting the present, has probably been one of the most valuable, persistant, and life-changing skills that I have been learning over the last several years. (And I want to say that I’m not very good at it yet, but just having that thought reminds me that I can enjoy where I am now in the process even if it’s not where I hope to be someday.)

That resistance that I glimpsed in Bethany (and see regularly in myself) is to me a sign that we are wrestling (in a good way!) with allowing ourselves to be right where we are, whether it’s in learning math, daily jobs, relationships, spiritual upheaval, or identity upside-down-inside-out-ness.

One of the things I really want for my kids as I homeschool them is that they learn to enjoy and immerse themselves in the process of learning rather than racing ahead to an end or an outcome. That’s really what I want for them in life too, and what I’m learning for myself–to go ahead and enjoy the process, even when (and because) we’re still learning.

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I have taken a long hiatus from writing during our move and transition from Bahrain to America. When I am overwhelmed, I like to make my world very small; I seem not to be able to focus on relationships other than my immediate family or places other than right where I am. That has always been the case for me in times of transition, even just visiting the US for a holiday, and it is even more true for me during such a big life change. I do want to assure my friends– both those back in Bahrain and those waiting for me to show my face in public in America–that my heart is with you even though my focus has been small. You are not forgotten, and I’m not avoiding you 🙂

I have not felt like I have had anything to write here. I know that is strange, since there has been so much going on. Sometimes there is a fine line between having no thoughts and having so many spinning thoughts that it feels like none. I will try, in the next few weeks, to grab a hold of a few of those spinning thoughts to be able to tell you about moving to America.

I will say that the kids are doing very well with the transition. There is little sign of the sadness that was present in anticipation of moving. Bethany has friends in our neighborhood. We really like our home, though we may remain 30% packed for an undefined period of time 🙂 I still have packing paper on our upstairs windows.

We started homeschool nearly three weeks ago. I’m sure I’m having more fun than the kids, but I think they are liking it as well. We started a new math program called Living Math, which I love. It is also wonderful to be starting a year on American History while living in such a historic area. Though there has been (and still is) a steep learning curve to moving to a new country, we are happy to be here and feel like we are in the right place for now. More to come soon.

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It is now less than a month until our big move back to America. Getting ready for a huge life change is a roller coaster ride. Steve and I keep reminding ourselves to expect and roll with the ups and downs. Aside from really losing it a few times when thinking about having to leave close friends here, my dominant emotion has been excitement. I’m excited about being near family and friends without having to say good-bye after a couple of months. I am looking forward to my kids getting to be with their grandparents more.  I can’t wait to go out and walk in green, green Virginia and go for picnics in parks. I’m already drooling over having access to a public library and keeping a mental list of all the books I want to devour (A Primate’s Memoir, Stephanie Plum #16, a couple of Jennifer Weiner books, Pema Chodron…to name a few).  I am hoping to watch the Colbert Report as often as possible, and I’m looking forward to seeing Season 6 of The Office. I am excited that I will get to homeschool both kids this coming year. Even though I slowly waded my way into homeschooling , I have thoroughly enjoyed diving in  full time this past year with Bethany, and I am excited about coming into it with a little more experience this year.

Cooking is kind of a hobby for me, and I’m looking forward to having more ingredients available to play with. I want to take my kids to the museums in Washington, D.C. and to let them see Virginia in the fall when the leaves look like warm, colored snow. Winter, autumn, and spring have all been pretty much theoretical since we’ve lived in Bahrain, and I’m ready for them to be real again. And did I mention I can’t wait to soak up all that green? (you know, grass and stuff)

Of course, all that forward-looking excitement likes to alternate with anxiety.  Culture stress is one aspect of that, and starting over with a new life is another.  Whenever we visit America we experience that feeling of being out of sync, like watching a movie dubbed in another language. There are different particulars that catch us off guard with each visit, but some are always the same. I always feel strong anxiety in grocery stores in America. Go figure. Shopping is disorienting and overwhelming even though I  look forward to the products available.  Church is often the place of biggest culture shock to me, even though I feel like I “ought to” fit in there.  I also find that I don’t know what is “normal” about me and what is not. I don’t really know what daily life is like for other moms because I’ve never been a mom in America.  When I am at the playground surrounded by folks in my stage of life, I know that I look just like them, but I don’t know if I am like them or not.

I also really wonder how Bethany and Joshua will do with the culture change. Even as their mom, I can’t fully see all of the ways they have been shaped by growing up in the Arabian Gulf. Their differentness is invisible, and I hope I won’t miss seeing the things that affect them the most.

What scares me most is also what I am most deeply looking forward to–starting over. There are many reasons that we decided to move back to America. I find it hard to capture the reasons in words, and sometimes the factors are different for me and for Steve. One way to explain it would be that we have changed a great deal over the past few years. There has been stress and burnout and depression and disappointment…which all sounds pretty negative, but we feel like it has been a catalyst for a lot of positive change in our lives. The problem was that our life didn’t seem to fit right any more. We are still in a state of internal transition, so we are in the uncomfortable but hopeful place of knowing we want to change direction but not knowing what direction we are to head in next. So, we are ready to feel our way forward step by step in a new place.

I am incredibly grateful for this chance to start over, to let go of some of our goals and even long-time dreams and to find a new way of being. It is scary too.  I’m not scared of being in the dark or of not knowing what’s next. I’m scared because I don’t know how to communicate who I am to people right now. I’m going to meet new friends, and I don’t know how to define myself to them. Scarier than that is people I already know–I have changed a lot, but I am too much in the middle of the process to be able to defend that change. I fear that I will not be who others expect me to be, and I am worrying about that a lot.  In the last few years, I’ve been wriggling out of the expectations cocoon, which has taken a good amount of courage, but going back to America and not being what people expect is a really big jump for me on the bravery continuum.  (As a side note, this is one of the reasons I have been rather sluggish with this blog–I keep second-guessing whether I really want to be authentic and honest about who I really am and what I’m really thinking.)

So there you have my excited and my scared, my hopeful and apprehensive. I feel really good deep down about this move, even about the bravery I will have to summon to confront my fears. I’m grateful for my friends on both sides of the ocean who walk with me through this process.

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