the meeting

After a very rough and long night, we exited our hospital closet and walked the five steps to the NICU. It was one of those nights where you battle sleep because you never want the sun to rise. You soak in each hour and the seconds between the minutes hoping they stretch further and further apart. We were quietly ushered into a sterile conference room – one wall plastered with team goals written colorfully on construction paper and another littered with lists of candidates vying for department head. We knew this morning’s meeting was going to try us, possibly break us. We sat silently, staring at thirteen empty chairs, chairs soon filled with strangers. Their names ended in various abbreviations all representing a specialty we never knew existed, each one with an opinion about Birdie’s heart. As they trickled in, pagers going off in sequence, some immediately rushing back out, most avoiding eye contact, Mick and I sat stone-faced. We were frozen, trying to decide if it was all real.

As the conversation began there were disclaimers, minor disagreements, words you cannot find in a regular dictionary. My body was broken and tired, my mind so entirely overwhelmed that it was shutting down. I couldn’t speak, I could barely hold up my eyelids. I hated everyone in that space and resented their words before they even spoke. I refused to cry, I refused to show any emotion. With what energy I had, I stared deeply into everyone’s eyes – I needed to see they cared. I needed them to know we had a story, we were not simply another case on their desk. We adored our daughter and her life, her mere existence deserved ALL of their respect. After what felt like hours, all “professional and medical opinions” were laid out. Some with the utmost care and others so clinical I wanted to scream. Suddenly, it was our turn to ask questions. I could barely breathe let alone speak – my heart littered my insides. I turned to Mick – he sat stoic and calm – I am certain neither of us blinked. He gently rested his hands in his lap, looked every single person in the eye, and began asking well thought out questions. He respectfully let certain people know their opinions did not matter and preferred they keep them quiet. He somehow knew what to say and how to say it. I was baffled because the only words I had were inappropriate and filled with rage. As the meeting came to an end, everyone returned to their daily rounds and caseloads and we sat motionless, in a sterile conference room, facing thirteen empty chairs.

THIS moment, the one before our exhaustion and utter despair set in, a moment of quiet where words settled, and finality reared its ugly head, our world ended. As the door clicked closed, the last white coat disappeared from view – our resolve, the facade of strength and courage we showed dissipated into sobs, as we crumbled into each other. Our precious friends crawled down into our despair sobbing and wailing alongside us. Everyone shattered, everyone in shock. This was the day they told us, YOU have to decide what happens to her.

WE had to decide.

After that meeting we quite literally prostrated ourselves in the hospital chapel for hours pleading for her life. We didn’t sleep, we couldn’t eat. We called our families and they were all soon on planes heading west. We roamed the hospital halls like zombies as Birdie went through another echocardiogram and MRI. Once she was back we stood over her – memorizing every inch of her tiny body, every ridge in her finger nails, tracing every vein on her belly, counting fingers and toes, the way her hands grasped when she sensed we were close and the slow of her pulse as I sang her every song I ever knew. She was absolute perfection, and we had to let her go.

There’s a reason it took me 5 years to put this to paper. Maybe it’s the quarantine – a time to revisit our lives and realize there are still bandaids left to remove. This part of our story isn’t flowery. It isn’t something we share. This is raw and painful and unfathomable. To accept that you must determine whether your child lives or dies – there are no words. I don’t share this for sympathy, because I don’t think I want it. I don’t share this so you perceive us as strong or admirable, because we certainly feel the opposite. I also don’t share this to shame or sadden anyone. I share this because someone out there needs to hear it, feel it. They need to absorb its reality and its grace. I know that sentence is obscure and slightly opposing itself. But, this is what I know – my heart for Birdie was divinely planted – it’s strength, it’s passion, it’s unwavering pursuit was far beyond my capabilities. As painful and horrific the reality we faced, we had to face it and choose love over ourselves. We wanted to be selfish, we wanted to ignore science, we wanted to say we believed in miracles (which just meant we wanted what WE wanted). Without grace, making that decision would have sent me to a very ugly place. But with grace – I suffered, I questioned, I faltered significantly, but every time I wanted to give up, grace caught me. It showed me, no matter how twisted my thoughts, how broken my heart, or how doubtful my soul – I was loved and valued. Despite my rage, my hate, my anger – I was carried, I was held. Glorious, unmerited favor.

It is not an easy corner of the world, this one without our Bird. We do not always wear our story with the grace so selflessly given to us. Reliving these difficult moments is both healing and yet still so raw. The questions do not stop, the doubts often sneak through, and my self-assessments vary between rejection and acceptance of our outcome. The last year or so has revealed a few truths to me personally. 

First, without selfless love, either bestowed on me or given by me, I will never accomplish big, earth-shattering things. It requires honesty, it requires vulnerability and it demands a willingness to not be OK all of the time. Second, I have zero control over anything. I spend so much time obsessing and over-analyzing every part of my life, I can actually miss out on it. Third, I am the luckiest person to have loved Birdie Anna. I wouldn’t change a single second of those seven days. She was awe-inspiring, a force to behold. For whatever reason, I, this broken flawed girl, was entrusted with her existence. There is a lot of responsibility there, to be good stewards, to share and be honest about all its parts. Fourth and final, our story is worthwhile because she breathed life into it. My hope beyond hope is that it inspires one other person to be brave with their life, honest and raw, and to find the grace and joy that can bloom from despair.

Tis the season

This time of year stirs up feelings of joy, togetherness, generosity, and hope. Hope for a new year, a new way of doing things, a better version of oneself. Hope for better, more functional relationships, and of course, stronger thighs and tighter abs. This time of year also draws out all the ugly we repressed for the last 300+ days. Feelings of sadness, loneliness, grief, trauma, pain, addiction. I don’t know if it’s the placement of the moon, the winter solstice or all of the subliminal holiday messages of happy families flush with cash. Whatever the trigger, we all find ourselves in one or more of these emotions, states of being. Maybe we are reminded of those we lost – an empty chair at Christmas dinner, the movie we used to always watch with that person, the first Christmas ornaments that never were. Wherever you fall on this spectrum this holiday season, know you are seen, you are loved. You are better today than yesterday, and if you just raged on someone at Target for taking the last * insert whatever it was here * – good news! You can start fresh tomorrow. 

I say this every year, but if you know someone who goes to a dark place over the holidays – reach out. Leave a gift, a card on their doorstep, hug them in the grocery store, cry with them if they need it…notice them and their pain. You don’t have to make a big deal about it or go overboard. If they don’t want to cry, that’s OK too (they’re probably closet or shower criers – let them have that). The simple act of showing them love, letting them know you remember their hurts and their broken pieces, it means more than you know. If you don’t know what to say, it’s also OK to say, “I don’t know what to say.” It’s so much better than the awkward pause or disingenuous gestures.

Christmas in and of itself is JOY and HOPE – it’s also a call to be these things to others! Pay it forward, show kindness to strangers, give of yourself. As you sit down with family or friends (or dogs and cats) this Holiday – stop and breathe. Notice those people, in that space and show gratitude for however they showed up. Notice the breath in your lungs and what a privilege it is to share space and life with others. To share highs and lows, disagreements and redemptive resolution. This day represents promises kept, selflessness given, and the everlasting promise of eternity.  

Happiest Holidays to you and yours! Wishing you peace, joy, hope and continued growth in 2020!

the wild of our unknowns

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This past year my typical approach, my self-identifiers, have faced more opposition than I can remember. All past methods do not work and seemingly create more conflicts or unknowns. The need for control does nothing when one is completely out of control. It truly complicates life further and sets everything off kilter. Through grace, bucket loads of grace, I am slowly learning that all-important lesson of stillness. I am getting in touch with emotions, those founded in love, empathy, and shared wisdom. Since moving back East life has felt unsettled, filled with uncertainty; a plethora of obstacles and unknowns. I often struggle with balance, with rest. My mind is always onto the next thing or it’s processing multiple realities and solving a myriad of problems all while grocery shopping. Sitting still and resting in these things is a last resort, a laughable suggestion, and not typically part of my life practice. 

People always want to see external evidence of change; for example, I can say – I am softening, I am becoming more open and loving and vulnerable. You may not see it, or maybe only bits and pieces. I don’t necessarily smile more or make friends everywhere I go, and my party attendance has actually decreased. The changes of which I speak are 90% internal – a change in thought process, a deterioration of walls, and an approach to others with more grace and empathy. I am working to cultivate relationships differently, to invest a lot more in others, to take emotional risks and be OK if they don’t pan out. It doesn’t hurt that I am surrounded by genuine people, ones who give away love and grace effortlessly, without condition. It is inspiring and I am beyond blessed to watch it, take part in it, and receive it. They provide this safe space where failure is merely a stepping stone, where love has no limit, and being seen is the only way to be. They remind me of who I am and who I am becoming. Meeting people who see through your walls or are entirely unaffected by them, has been challenging and eye-opening in so many ways. It makes me love them all the more and crave more relationships like that. I am so thankful to have people who remind me to stop, look up, breath in the chaos and just be still. 

Every single day offers a lesson, a challenge to be better versions of ourselves. We get the honor and privilege to love and be loved in return. We can view our unknowns with a child-like curiosity of where life will lead, or we can get lost in our worries and need for control, missing out on the beauty of it all. I would be naive to think this is all random. I would be remiss to brush it off as a season, or simply the act of maturing as I inch closer to 40. There are no coincidences in this life. There are choices. There is the action one takes in making said choices, and there is acceptance of the outcome. These choices, these moments in life where we either step up and admit our helplessness, our brokenness, and our weakness, they are divinely planted. They are rushing waters of love flowing toward us, open hands asking us to trust, to love, to be exactly who we are and recognize the endless amounts of grace, the richness of life and love, and the one who gently whispers – come to me – Cast your cares on me. 

It will be a year in a couple weeks since we moved back east. It will also be ten years that Mick and I decided to share life together. There are oh so many things we are learning and relearning and so many things we’ve overcome. Through it ALL there is a steady faithfulness, a continued promise of being renewed, and a future ripe with more adventure. We just have to embrace all the parts, the highs, the lows, and especially, the wild of our unknowns.

** image found via Pinterest; words by the lovely Morgan Harper Nichols

“It upsets me, and it upsets Christ.”

Once on my lunch, I saw a squirrel funeral outside the local cemetery. One of their brothers/sisters was struck by a vehicle and lay dead in the road. Five various squirrels created a circle around the ‘body’ and wouldn’t move for any car. I ended up driving on the wrong side of the road to pass. It was quite heartbreaking. As my eyes glistened, two extreme thoughts naturally surfaced: 1. Was that squirrel saved? 2. Were they mourning or do squirrels eat their dead and they were playing best out of five – rock, paper, scissors – to see who got the carcass?

A little background: I grew up in a fairly religious home. We went to church generally twice a week. Our circle of friends consisted of 93% church peeps and 7% school and family. We didn’t own a TV and we could not watch movies over a PG rating unless pre-screened by our parents. The radio was generally set to talk radio or church music. I was a puppeteer at VBS [that stands for Vacation Bible School you heathen], I participated in all children’s plays/choirs, I played the piano during the offering and unless grounded (which was more often than not) I attended every youth group function. This was all I knew and I didn’t mind – I loved the people and the family atmosphere. One of my dearest friends dates back to a small non-denominational church we attended in a windowless building. Also, it’s important to note: I was not forced to wear long skirts, I was allowed to cut my hair, and I could walk ahead of any boy/man if I damn well pleased.

Growing up alternating between non-denominational church [themes being spiritual warfare, angels/demons…etc.] and Southern Baptist [summers spent in TN fearing eternal damnation to the fiery pit] I may, or may not, have lived in fear. I had panic attacks on a monthly basis – waking up at night shaking and crying because 1. I was afraid to go to hell or 2. The Nazi’s were going to find me and take me away. I spent many nights sipping warm milk, singing myself to sleep and battled a year-long stint of fainting on the regular. These fears also translated into wanting to save everyone and everything from the devil. I was overly concerned that my pets, and everyone else’s, needed to be saved. There is a chance, if I was ever at your house between the ages of 7 and 12, I prayed the salvation prayer with your pet.  I am not kidding. My cats got saved every other weekend just to be sure I would see them in heaven. I even made sure my stuffed animals were saved just in case they had souls. If I’m being totally honest, Buddy and Maeby are lucky they haven’t been baptized.

I spent a lot of my life concerned about the eternity of others. I was afraid of death, of war, specifically in the Middle East, the book of Revelation ruined me (it speaks of an apocalypse of sorts; the rapture). One time in middle school we were going to buy lunch, a classmate took a little too long in the bathroom. When she came back to class everyone was gone – she honestly thought the rapture occurred and she was devastated. She was still on earth which either meant she wasn’t saved, or, she was one of the few left to be persecuted for years and years. (See the Left Behind series for Hollywood’s perspective on this – Kirk Cameron, the Christian Scorsese). Good content for kids too – the world is going to end and you will likely be tortured, and it could literally happen ANY DAY! I spent so much time worrying about who was saved and who wasn’t and judging those who believed differently than me. It was a way of life.

Through adolescence and my early twenties, I made my own decisions when it came to church and belief. I followed many of the same practices but also developed my own worldview. It all began to feel robotic and methodical, lacking in emotion, lacking in a relationship – simply put, focused on ritual and social status. I soured to the entire idea of Sundays – standing up, sitting down, only to stand up a couple more times. People going through motions, rarely questioning their significance or whether they actually wanted to do those things. It felt vacant and rehearsed…and if you know me, I don’t typically fall in line with trends or ‘shoulds.’

I don’t talk about my faith very much, or at all. I have a heart for specific things, and sometimes, specific people. I don’t believe our words have to be rehearsed or even sound acceptable to the confines of spirituality – which basically means I curse a lot. I believe in sound theology – The Gospel; death, resurrection, and forgiveness of sin. However, I equally believe in Love. I believe that Jesus ALWAYS, always, lead with Love. It was His love for us that made him approachable, that allowed him to rebuke but also show endless amounts of grace. He lived His life without filters and it endeared him to the lost, the poor, the sick, and the dying. I also believe our humanness, those hurts that shape our individuality, are more profound than any cliche, anything scripted ever could be. It’s in our messy and raw realities where redemption is found and lives are changed.

I now know, I cannot redirect anyone’s eternal trajectory, as difficult as that is for a control freak to grasp. But (there’s always a ‘But’ isn’t there?), I can share my (many) broken pieces, practice empathy, and love people, love the CRAP out of them. As the brilliant Bob Goff says, “I used to want to fix people, now I just want to be with them.” Doesn’t that idea instantly relax you? Every time I read it, my shoulders drop a few inches and my jaw unclenches. As much of an introvert as I am – and the idea of sharing my highs and lows here gives me anxiety some of the time, it is in our vulnerability that Love and Grace thrive.

** title is a quote (I think) from Steel Magnolias **

The house we live in

Big change tends to stir up those things we repress. It draws out any ugliness we try to cover with the “New” thing or the “New” experience. I guess the real adventure is embracing every part of the process – not just the shiny newness, but all the brokenness that brought you there in the first place. Since we moved I have been a lost and found box of emotion. I have tried detaching, scare tactics, distraction, numbing, close up magic (just kidding) – none of it works. At the end of the day I look like an out of control emotional crazy person, and basically, I am.

Over the last six or so months I have been a little obsessed with personalities. There is a part of me that always wants | needs to know the “whys” of things. Why things happen, why two people can look at the same situation and come to separate conclusions…etc. Back in September a friend introduced me to the Enneagram (read: diagnosed me). The nerdy researcher in me began reading everything and anything I could get my hands on. It’s an absolutely fascinating concept, and dare I say, spot on. I am familiar with various other methods of personality typing, but this one described me perfectly, to the point where I may have had a small identity crisis. If you aren’t familiar, and are willing to see yourself in the best and worst sense, I would encourage you to check it out.

On my quest to gain a better understanding, I realized my biggest enemy, other than grief, is stress. When I am stressed I either get very sick or basically turn into a monster. I could be a monster to those closest to me, those within a 3 to 5,000 mile radius, or just to myself. I researched introvertedness, logical | critical thinking, sensing, feeling, judging; all the ways we as humans emotionally react to any given situation. I am incredibly hard on myself, the expectations I chase are more often than not impossible to catch. When I disappoint myself I take it out on others. When I am angry or lonely or sad or frustrated, but cannot put words or emotion to it – I project. It is a vicious cycle, one I am desperately attempting to correct. Stress inspires a way of acting/reacting that gives me visions of what I would have been like as a cavewoman – absolutely terrifying. If this were a sitcom we would flash to a scene: me in torn clothes, feeding on raw meat, blood trickling down my face, dirt smeared skin, and grunts and growls being my only form of communication. It also gives me an appreciation – like a deep tear inducing appreciation – for friends and family who love me in spite of my gnashing of teeth and/or disappearing acts.

Who we are and why we are those people is an important study. I was insulted at first by my personality typing and I was incredibly unkind to myself as a result. I am thankful for so many of the things that make me, me – but there are scary parts – there is a wildness that needs – not taming so much as love…self love. I read a quote the other day that basically said – the words you say to yourself, become the house you live in. Throat.Punch. The house I live in is weighed down by words of frustration, sadness, and weariness. Words of joy and gratefulness are certainly scattered in there – but self reflection is no joke. I need to strengthen my walls with encouragement, lower my expectations, accept my lack of control. I need to stop withholding grace – be OK with time: time for growth and healing.

I have been horrible at balancing life this last month. I have been difficult, cold, and ambivalent. Here’s to embracing all the messy broken parts – accepting responsibility and owning the process. Part of showing myself grace, is also a practice in showing it to others, better than I have in the past. Recognizing we are all works in progress – and the only way we can do this life is together is by simply loving ourselves and one another. Love has no expectations or pro and con lists; it is kindness, it is grace. And when we do a crappy job, which we ultimately will, love is owning that failure and trying again, over and over and over.