Respecting Freedom

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I am the wife of an American Airman who, three years in, has yet to deploy. We have not sacrificed in the same way that many of my friends and family members have, but we have sacrificed. Among other things, we have moved our little family across the world twice and faced a few separations (6 months and 3 months) from my husband. As I reflect on the meaning of Independence Day, I am thankful for the sacrifices of my fellow military spouses and their significant others. As violence, hate, fear and discord spread around the world and make it an increasingly frightening place, I am also thankful for the people all over who work for peace. Many of them work in other ways that do not involve military service, I am thankful for them, too.

I have seen some progressive voices decrying this day because they view it as one honoring some misguided sense of American supremacy and a celebration of war and violence. I have to respectfully disagree. I can understand and echo the sentiment of worrying about nationalistic worship inside the walls of a church and pairing it with where our true allegiance ought to be, but I cannot get on the side of condemning people who wish to honor this day and the courage of those who came before us.

This is not a day to glorify war, and I don’t think you will find many service families celebrating today because of that. None of us like war. We do, however, celebrate our freedom. We honor the brave souls who, military or not, have sacrificed in service to that ideal. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness still means something today because of all who have worked for freedom and peace throughout this country and beyond. On July 2, 1776, our forefathers declared their independence from the tyranny of a king an ocean away. It is true that what followed included violence and war, and yes, America has a history of many misdeeds in addition to its long list good deeds. Yet the purpose of the American democratic experiment has largely been accomplished. It has made us a nation of free people who, in many ways, are still trying to figure out how best to make this whole experiment work. Various voices share their opinions on how to get there and what it means to live in a free country, but on days like this, the united sentiment–united in our freedom and our wish to honor those who have fought so bravely for that freedom–is a good thing. It does not make us less Christian or more Christian, but it makes us appreciative and thankful to live in America.

And so I’ll just end by saying, “Happy birthday, America.”

Autism, Life, and the Fear of the Unknown

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My little superhero happily covered in sandtable sand

 

This month marks the fourth birthday of my little superhero, Weston. Since he was diagnosed with autism just over a year ago, the flood of emotions I experience daily has intensified. Let me just note that, prior to this, I would not have thought that possible, given that I am already an intensely sensitive person. I mean, have you SEEN the title of this blog? Where Weston is concerned a typical hour can see me ranging from excited to see progress, to sad about repetitive behaviors that are flaring up, to proud of some new accomplishment or word, and then either remarkably confident or dramatically worried for his future. All children on the spectrum are different. The internet meme I come across often lately is, “If you’ve met one child with autism… you’ve met one child with autism.” In my experience, that is quite true. The spectrum is wide and no two people are alike (this goes for everyone, of course, not just people on the spectrum).

Perhaps most worrisome of all is the dreaded “fear of the unknown.” While everyone has opinions, no one can tell me what Weston’s future may or may not hold (but who can say that about any child?). I sometimes sit and hold on to willfully blind hope that he will have an active and engaged social life exactly like everyone else (nevermind that no one is “like everyone else” is and that he comes from two parents who are quite seriously introverted). I assume his intelligence will lead him to excel in academics and that he will at least participate in athletics or some extracurricular activity. I dream that he will fall in love one day and get married. I hold onto hope that he will have children (forgetting that even neurotypical people often decide *not* to get married or have kids for a variety of reasons). He shows such promise that I just expect that these typical life events are not just possible, but likely for him, regardless of his current diagnosis. He’s a bright, loving, happy child who is intensely sensitive and has succeeded in leaps and bounds over the six months that he has been in school and receiving consistent therapies.

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Isaac being a goof on the slide

The fear of the unknown also seeps in where my youngest child is concerned. Isaac presents as more or less typical. At this point, I have no reason to believe that he will be otherwise. At almost 17 months, he says some words and babbles with seeming purpose, understands most of what we say, makes great eye contact, interacts with people, points to things in what seems like a social way (and to indicate he wants something), and–though he doesn’t wave frequently–blows kisses almost on demand.

Yet, despite the evidence to the contrary, there is still a huge, looming, dark cloud of fear hulking in the back of my mind. Every time he does anything that might be even slightly neurologically unique, I hold my breath waiting for the next shoe to drop. I know Weston’s developmental doctor in Germany meant well, but his statement that Isaac would be watched closely (because of the high incidence of ASD appearing in siblings) puts me a little “on edge” at every well-check and every time we are around kids the same age as him. I ask copious questions of the doctors Isaac sees. I watch carefully to make sure he is keeping up with the other kids developmentally. I enjoy spending time with my friends socially, but sometimes I probe for their observations to make sure I’m not missing anything with Isaac.

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Engaging with Isaac at the Museum of Discovery

Stories sweep through my mind about children who did not present with any autism “symptoms” until they were three, so I will probably worry up to and maybe even after he hits that mark. But, if I am being honest, I may not be that different from parents of neurotypical (“typical”) kids. Do I worry *more* now than I did before Weston was diagnosed? Well, yes. But I worried before, too, just a little less frequently and about different things. Did I wait breathless at every well-check before Weston was diagnosed? No, but I still breathed a sigh of relief at any doctor visit wherein good health was the verdict.

At the beginning of this journey, I was told that I would lose friends and maybe family because of Weston’s diagnosis. I was told there would be typical families who would steer clear of us because of behaviors or even merely because of the word “autism.” So far, I am thankful to report this has not been the case. I have found nothing but love, acceptance, and attempts to understand. Some of the bonds I have with family members have strengthened. No one treats my son badly or, to my knowledge, stays away from us because of his “diagnosis.” I have not lost any friends because of the autism–in fact, I have made many more both because of the autism and just because I try to be a friendly person.

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Weston and his daddy in a canoe at the Museum of Discovery

Some people tell me they don’t know how I manage. Well, I have a wonderful support system, a patient, loving husband, and Weston’s a great kid who is relatively happy and high-functioning. But really, you don’t know what you are capable of until you have no choice but to equip yourself. I say the same thing to people when they remark on how “strong” I am to battle lupus or fibromyalgia for 17+ years. When you have to do it, you find a way. You find the strength. There are moments when being the parent of a child with special needs is probably more stressful and challenging than being the parent of a child without similar needs, but I do not feel I deserve a badge of honor for it.

I follow many autism blogs and Facebook pages and sometimes I have to just hide them when it begins to feel like it’s “us” (autism or special needs parents) vs. “them” (typical parents). I do not think that attitude helps spread acceptance, understanding, or love–and, quite frankly, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. For some people, maybe that is helpful, and that’s fine. I say, in most areas of life, do what works for you and steer clear of what is not helpful. Stay away from things and people that are hurtful or harmful and look for the good. Look for the good in and for you, your family, and the world. Look at the positive impact you can make and make it. As the inimitable Maya Angelou famously said:

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.”

It Is Not About the “Should”

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Seriously.

You will have to forgive my absence of late. I have suffered a tremendous writer’s block and have been occupying my time otherwise–with family and friends and reading a lot on various spiritual matters.

Up until almost two weeks ago, my head was feeling clear. I was back to running, something I had not participated in for some seventeen years since my lupus diagnosis. I felt I was in the proper head space to write, or at least headed there. Then a pathetic “tragedy” struck and I suffered a setback. I use the word “tragedy” semi-facetiously here, of course. I have this “problem” ankle that has troubled me since my softball days, throughout which time it underwent more than four fractures (three traditional and several stress fractures) and reconstructive surgery. Each time I think, “Oh, I think this ankle is finally working as it should,” some ridiculous injury follows. This one, my friends, is truly ridiculous as I cannot even really explain what happened. The swelling, pain, throbbing, and limited range of motion have prompted an MRI order. I continue to hope it will just go away, but how often does that happen?

It’s interesting how a seemingly minor setback can wreak havoc on one’s psyche. I have felt wracked with frustration, anger, and sadness since this struck two weeks ago. Then, I have guilt about feeling so terribly about something so “minor.” These things are relative, though, no?  To someone with cancer, an ankle injury is no big deal. To a busy mother of two very active little boys and someone who has traveled a long road with her personal health–reaching a really positive point just before having it stripped away–it feels somehow stupidly devastating. I want to wake up and have it go away. I want to resume my morning runs and daytime walks with Isaac and friends, I want to feel confident about going to play group and keeping up with Isaac, but that’s all been put on hold and it is wrecking my mood.

Why do matters such as this have such control over our general demeanor and mood? In my case, it falls on “the dis-ease of the ‘shoulds’.” When I was a teenager battling lupus, “the shoulds” really got me down. So much so that I fought depression and anxiety every bit as hard as I did the lupus symptoms. At that age, it seemed unfathomable that I couldn’t do things like the rest of my peers. I should have a healthy body like everyone else my age. I should be like all my friends. I should be able to play softball. I should be able to go to school. I should not have to constantly be playing catch up. I should wake up and feel healthy.

But I couldn’t. I didn’t. I don’t. I should have graduated from college in the requisite 4 years. I didn’t. I should have finished my graduate degree by now. I haven’t. My oldest son should be neurotypical. He’s not. We should be still living in Germany. We aren’t.

Even now, there are so many shoulds that plague me, especially in light of this recent injury. My lupus hit a very stable point and I should be able to run. I can’t. I can’t even walk.

The problem with the “shoulds” is that they are heartless, persistent, and thrive off this ideal reality that probably never could have existed. Any number of things could have held me back from doing typical teenaged activities and living a typical teenage life, lupus just happened. But here’s the thing: lupus is not keeping me from being a good mom and it won’t ultimately keep me from finishing grad school and becoming a published writer. This injury won’t keep me from being an active mom and running in and eventual 5 or 10k or whatever my running dreams end up becoming.

I have worked hard at re-framing my cognitive structure so that negative thoughts get just a sliver of my actual time. I let them in, feel the dread for a few moments, and then move on. Sometimes I need to talk it out, but I haven’t let myself be down for very long. This has worked well for the last few years, and I think I just have to push a little harder through this one. This setback feels much worse than it ultimately will end up being, I’m sure. I think the key right now is to focus on what I can do.

I can still pray. I can write. I can read and enjoy other entertaining pursuits. I can still giggle and play with the boys even if I can’t chase them around. I can still spend time with my husband. I can still hang out with my friends here. I can still talk to and laugh with my friends and family back East. I can still do all of these things. And I will be able to run again.

In the end, it isn’t about the should, it is about the will.

Be The Change?

Changing the world one step at a time.

Changing the world one step at a time.

I should probably be writing for my class, but that will happen soon. I might also write my top 10 lists of films and television from last year that my friend, Jordan, is desperately awaiting. But that, too, can wait. A few thoughts have been rattling around in my head for about a week now, and I feel compelled to get them out.

Having subscribed to and read many autism and special needs articles, blogs, and social media pages over the past six months, I am struck by their similarities, but even more so by their differences. For the most part, this community of caregivers is abundantly generous with their time and advice. I have found this to be the case locally, nationally, and within the military special needs community. Not all advice will work for all situations because autism spectrum disorder and other special needs children are, like all human beings, unique individuals who cannot be crammed into a one-size-fits all treatment plan.

I have seen a great many caregivers use their words as a way to vent publicly about the struggles of raising a child with special needs. They spout off about everything from the day-to-day personal battles at home, to the ongoing battle with schools and therapists, to their struggles navigating various local, state and federal programs meant to “help” our special kids, to the heartbreaking public moments of judgement, comment, and perceived condemnation. On my own Facebook page this year, which is as private as I can make it, I have vented about our initial forays into the world of special education and working to get our son the services he needs to be his best self. To watch our own child struggle with daily activities and interactions that come so naturally to the majority of the human race is heartbreaking. To be met with brick walls at nearly every turn as we search for what’s best for Weston and while trying to meet the steepest of learning curves after getting his diagnosis has sapped my body of energy and all but drained my mind of its sanity. To feel the stares and hear the whispers of those who witness Weston’s difficulties during some public outings is stressful and mind-numbingly frustrating.

Naturally, I want to talk about the frustration. I need to vent about it. Anger sometimes reaches a boiling point as I trip over the various hurdles each day presents me (mixed metaphors much?). I wish I could change the hearts and minds of those who cannot and especially those who do not want to understand. I wish I could cut through all the bureaucratic red tape or take all the best doctors, teachers, and therapists and somehow clone them so that they can be available to all special kids no matter their geographical location or financial situation. I wish I could read Weston’s thoughts–or better yet, I wish he could tell me what he thinks and feels so that I could help him through it.

The fact is, however, I cannot do all of those things. I cannot snap my fingers and make these hurdles and brick walls disappear before my very eyes. I simply cannot. I am but one person; I am but one mom. The world can no more bend to my will than it can to any other human being’s. So what can I do?

I have given this considerable thought and, as I see it, the most important thing I can control is my own attitude and approach. I can control how I respond to brick walls and the injustices. I can choose to face those ignorant of ASD or of our situation with kindness and compassion. I can make the decision not to assume the worst of every person who stares or whispers while glancing in our direction. I can observe my son and respond to him lovingly, compassionately, and patiently. I can mindfully understand that he is struggling just as much to communicate with me as I am to help him. I can “kill ’em with kindness,” those bureaucrats, therapists, doctors, and others who seem unwilling or incapable of helping the way that we need or the way we want them to help. I can knock on doors, crawl through windows and duck under the really tall hurdles to get the answers to our questions and find the treatments my son needs and deserves. I can choose to never, ever give up hope on him, on those who are there to try to help us, or on myself.

I will fail sometimes. I will get angry. I will probably get a little snarky and a lot sarcastic when things are particularly trying. There will be really frustrating moments where I lose my patience with someone because, let’s face it, we all have our limits. We are all human. I know it is exceedingly difficult for any human being to be a beacon of sweetness and light at every moment of the day and in every harrowing situation. But I also know this: we are only about seven months into it, and if I move forward with a pessimistic outlook as we walk farther along this scary and ever unfolding journey, I will be of no help to anyone. I will not help myself. I will not help my husband or my youngest child. I will not help those who are genuinely trying to help us. And most importantly, I will not help Weston. That is something I cannot live with.

There’s a quote from Gandhi that has never resonated with me before as much as it does now:

Be the change you wish to see in the world.

Too often, I think we pull out a famous quote and fail to really ruminate on the meaning of the words. As I have battled lupus since the age of fifteen, I have faced horrors, especially as a teenager. I have gained friends, lost friends, and had people look at me with pity. I have been judged, insulted, and made to feel like my disability (if that’s what you want to call it) is not as real as others’ because it is not usually visible. Now Weston, my courageous, charismatic, intelligent, funny child, has an invisible disability that will make him see the world with a uniqueness that will challenge him at every turn. He will be judged. He will probably be insulted. And he will have people look upon him with pity. I cannot magically make these obstacles and heartaches disappear from his future. What I can do, however, is help instill in him (and in his brother) an optimism, an outlook that will allow him to face each day bravely with determination, joy, and hope. I can model for him the type of person I wish we could all be and hope that maybe, by example, my actions and my choices will make a difference. Maybe someone will see me or one of the boys handle some situation with a little more grace and compassion and face their next challenge with the same.

Maybe I can change the world simply by changing myself. Or perhaps that’s just a terribly narcissistic statement, I’m being horribly naive, and I should just shut up and go on about my day. Whatever the case, it’s a nice thought and one with which I will continue. I will attempt to “be the change.”

I know I will sometimes lose the battle. But as long as I keep moving forward and try harder next time, I cannot lose the war. (I realize that metaphor sounds terribly combative when I’m trying to be all sweetness and light, but I hope you get my meaning.)

Blessings to you all.

Resolution or No?

The force is strong… that force that pulls at each of us as every old year presses to a close and the new year rockets toward us at breakneck speed. Of which force am I speaking? Well, I’d have thought the title would give it away, but okay: I’m speaking of the force I am calling “resolution pressure.” It’s like peer pressure, actually, but really, it doesn’t matter if your peers are making a resolution or not, at the end of the year, this force weighs on each of us to make a resolution. Make a change! Improve yourself! Make 2014 better than 2013! Do something with your life! Be successful! Lose weight! Get healthy! Quit smoking! Be nicer to people! Read more books!

Whatever it is, whatever resolution you feel pulled toward, make it count. Do not just resolve to get healthy and give up on January 6. Don’t start wearing the patch and then casually pick up a box of cigarettes at the convenience store. Do not approach days 1-4 with sweetness and light and then buckle at the first sign of frustration. In the words of Nike, “Just do it,” (is that even their slogan anymore?). Do not make a resolution that you cannot possibly live up to, no matter how tempting it is. Be practical, of course, but if you are going to make a change, just do it.

I have heard people say, “I don’t do resolutions, but this year I’m…” Nice try, but newsflash, that’s a resolution. If you feel better not calling it that, well that’s okay. If you are making a decision on January 1 to change something in your life for the better, yep, that’s a resolution. Maybe it’s not very specific, maybe it’s something you’ve been meaning to do anyway, but regardless of your reasons or what word you use, it is still a resolution. There was one year, I think, when I said I wasn’t making a resolution–maybe it was last year because I cannot even remember last year’s resolution–but then I did. In the SAME BLOG POST. Pathetic. It’s a resolution. So this year, rather than play semantics, I’ve just decided to give in and go with the crowd. I like having a goal, anyway. And what better time to declare one than at the start of a new year?

When I thought about what my resolution would be, a quote from Meet Joe Black came to mind,

“You have to try, because if you haven’t tried, you haven’t lived.”

It’s actually part of a much longer quote from Anthony Hopkins’ character about the importance of passionate love in life, but this last part has always stuck with me. My only real resolution this year is to try new things, especially if I don’t think I will like them. I am the type who assumes they don’t like something simply because it is popular not to like it. I said for the longest time I didn’t like sushi, and then I met my husband who took me to many sushi restaurants before I actually gave it real a try (my very first attempt at sushi years before literally left a bad taste in my mouth). And guess what? I loved it. I love it maybe more than he does now.

So far, it is January second and I’ve tried exactly nothing I wasn’t already planning to try. I don’t want to force the issue, though. When things come up, so long as it doesn’t violate my pescetarianism, compromise my health and well-being (or that of anyone else), and is not illegal or in some other way a violation of my own moral code, I vow to seriously consider giving it a try. I realize that is heavy on the caveats, but it’s not as if I can try veal for the first time this year or start base jumping just because it’s something I assume I wouldn’t like. Veal really compromises almost all of those caveats. And, er, the very idea of base jumping terrifies the living hell out of me and I’m fairly certain it doesn’t exactly fit in with maintaining my well-being.

Like last year, I have also decided on a word of the year. This was a concept my friend Emma (brilliant lady that she is) introduced to me. I wasn’t overly successful in implementing my word last year: CALM. In fact, that’s more often how it appeared in my mind during tough times, in uppercase letters and bold: C A L M! 2013 was anything but calm. Dealing with a new baby, my oldest son’s diagnosis, and a major move from Germany to Pennsylvania (for two months), and then on to Little Rock, Arkansas (for the foreseeable future) brought much stress into our lives and sometimes, we freaked out a bit. However, the word came to mind each trying moment and that reminder did, I think, help me calm down much more rapidly than if I hadn’t declared it my word of 2013.

This year, we’re continuing to work on our “calm” and intermingling “JOY.” This may be an easier task, there is so much joy in my day already with my two little guys when they wake up and give me a bright beaming smile or giggle out loud about something silly. Or with my big guy when he gives me a kiss as he returns home from work or we snuggle on the couch to watch fascinating television together. I just want to appreciate these instances more and stop to reflect, even briefly, on other moments that may bring joy. I want to look for joy even in moments that do not seem particularly joyous. I just feel like, for most of us anyway, our lives are what we make them. We can choose to see a whole lot of trouble at every turn, or we can roll with it and, in the words of the endlessly fascinating Buffy character Faith:

“Find the fun.”

So that’s what I’m going to do: find the fun. Except that I’m calling it joy because it just sounds classier.

Try.

Joy.

I can do this. Here’s to 2014!

Time: So Little and So Much

I like time. There’s so little and so much of it.

– from “Angel”

My little family of three is less than three weeks away from becoming a family of four (and even more heavily testosterone laden). At moments during this pregnancy, it felt like these weeks would never arrive and now that they’re here, it seems as though they’ve come around quite suddenly. Pregnancy, like many things in life, feels at once blisteringly fast and painfully slow. I do not wish to wax poetic about the joys and struggles of carrying a child for nine months nor complain about the pleasures and stresses that come along with motherhood. I realize there are multiple perspectives and am fully aware that many do not get to experience these gifts.

As I sit here watching my son play, intermittently happy and then running to me upset when he becomes frustrated (which happens approximately every minute or so at two-and-a-half years of age), it occurs to me that time is an incredibly curious phenomenon. In many respects, it does seem as though it passes more rapidly as we age. It is true that a minute is a minute regardless of how old we get, and yet there’s a relativity to time that shifts dramatically in varying circumstances. Two minutes seem an eternity to a two year old stuck in a time out, but fly by for the student trying to squeeze a few more test answers before the professor announces, “Time’s up!” Waiting at a red light for sixty seconds is incredibly frustrating (especially when running late) and yet those same sixty seconds tick down ever so quickly to the football team desperately trying to score the winning goal at the end of the fourth quarter.

Time’s fleeting and seemingly bi-polar nature is something wholly out of our control. I suppose the moral of the story is to enjoy every moment of life and try not to worry about those things over which we have no control. My easily frustrated toddler who, at the moment, cannot get enough of Mama’s love and attention (especially at the most inopportune moments) will become a busy young boy soon enough and, let’s face it, I’ll miss these days and that “clingy-ness” that sometimes wears on a tired pregnant mother.

Yet another curious observation about time is how easily some seem to classify it as “wasted.” Priorities in life differ from one person to another. So, too, do our interests and hobbies. People occasionally deride those who spend their leisure time watching television or playing video games. Such time is clumsily classified as frivolous and wasted. It may be true in some cases. Some who enjoy nothing more than the “great-outdoors” find it “sad” that there are those of us who, for one reason or another, do not. Then there are those who enjoy spending their time with their nose in a book and laugh at those who stare “mindlessly” at the “idiot-box” for hours a day (I am a reader and would argue there are plenty of books out there that are doing absolutely nothing to contribute to one’s IQ or knowledge base).

Any number of comparisons can be made regarding what is and is not wasted time. This, I think, is a judgment that is largely relative and best left for each individual to evaluate alone. For my money, I agree with this sentiment:

“Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.”

-Marthe Troly-Curtin

I will leave you with one final thought from C.S. Lewis, as I seem to be turning to his wisdom with increasing frequency even when I do not, necessarily, agree:

“The future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is.”

– C.S. Lewis

Enjoy whatever time you have, however you choose to spend it.

Blessings!

The Curious Problem of Resolutions

I am of two minds on the subject of resolutions. On the one hand, recognizing a problem and wanting to fix it is certainly nothing to scoff at. I admire a person’s willingness to change. On the other hand, change is seldom easy and so few people actually stick to their resolutions that they are often quite meaningless. I had three goals last year, none to which I strictly adhered. I probably did write something every day, but it was not always the kind of writing I intended. I definitely finished many books in 2012, but most of these were seminary related and hardly amount to all of the books I started in 2012. We did not keep to our “one family PT day per week” goal. We did venture out a lot more in 2012, but hardly to the extent we would have liked. This pregnancy has been hard on all of us and made that whole goal a bit impossible (perhaps after I recover from the birth of our second son, we can get back to this one because it’s incredibly important).

Three 2012 resolutions set, three 2012 resolutions that were less than resounding successes. Apparently, I’m not alone in failing to keep these resolutions. After discussions with many friends and reading the plethora of sarcastic internet memes referencing these seemingly universal failures, I have decided against declarative resolutions this year. I have purposely not even written on the subject until January 7, so powerful is the “dangerous” temptation to set such resolutions.

I have read that New Year’s resolutions are successful only when they’re specific, but such is the nature of any goal, yes? With the impending birth of our second son and my desire to return to seminary after taking just one semester off, I do not wish to set goals so broad or so many that I am doomed to failure. I keep thinking to myself, wouldn’t it be great to sit here around this time next year and write about how I accomplished a goal I set at the beginning of the year? Would that be enough to spur me toward making meaningful year-long goals and keeping them? I know not. At least several times a year, I vow to do something every day and just do not (but, if I had set a goal to get out of bed every day, take care of Weston, and put away the dishes, I’d definitely have succeeded!).

Instead of making resolutions bound for failure, I will simply make myself some promises. First, as most of you know, I am a big fan of C.S. Lewis. Much of his work has significantly shaped my theological thought process. I have a book called A Year with C.S. Lewis in which each day contains a paragraph from one of his brilliant works on religion and theology. So far in 2013, I have read one page (day) per night without ever declaring this as a resolution. It’s not a resolution, in fact, it is merely a new piece of my routine.

Second, I improved significantly in becoming a calmer person last year after the panic over finding a specialist to treat my lupus. When all of that worked out (along with some other, even more personal issues), it finally dawned on me that yes, indeed, things really do always have a way of working out. I am not sure if this came just with my age or if it is one of those lessons that does not sink in until it has been learned many times over. I certainly have not mastered the art of calm, but I have started to approach more of life in the same way that some of my favorite people do: “It will be okay.”

Recently losing a dear friend, Cindy, to cancer on Christmas Eve, helped put things into perspective. I never thought that the last time I spoke to her would be it. As I reflect on our conversations, I can smile with the knowledge that Cindy knew how much she was loved and appreciated. I am relieved to know that we never exchanged a harsh word in our years of friendship. No one expected her recent cancer battle to be such a short one and her passing helped confirm how precious each and every moment of life is. I suspect we each have different reactions to the death of a loved one, but as I went through holiday festivities, I marveled at the outpouring of love I witnessed for such a great lady. I thought to myself, “Could we not all pass on with some peace knowing we were so well loved and fondly remembered?” Reflecting on my own faults, the tendency of my brain to head to the “worry” and my inability to, in many cases, “find the fun” (and I take a beat here to smile thinking of how Cindy would delight at my quoting Faith) leaves me hoping to improve upon these traits. I am never going to be a social butterfly and I am, often, quite a serious person. These are probably not things that will change in any appreciable way, yet I think I could do with some calm and find some peace and, yes, a little more FUN, in something beyond the mundanities of life.

I wish much luck and success to all of those who have actually set resolutions in 2013! May you accomplish your 2013 goals. As for me, I am going to continue to focus on short-term, attainable goals and hope to write to you next year a calmer person, having read all of A Year with C.S. Lewis, and “found the fun” more frequently than not. Of course, a little wine a time or two a week after the new baby’s born may help with at least two of those goals, particularly if I wish to maintain my sanity while raising two boys as a military wife and finishing seminary, eh?

Blessings to all in 2013!

I Am Not a “Joiner”

Despite my best laid plans and intentions to the contrary, I must confess and accept that I am simply not a “joiner.”

Perhaps I once was. I remember a very busy childhood, throughout which, despite all of my socially-based anxieties, I managed quite a bit of sport and extracurricular involvement. I had a difficult time adjusting to middle school where I began to feel quite out-of-step with my peers (though, I have surmised this is not an uncommon phenomenon). I became involved in sports medicine and coaching in high school, believing, after two ankle fractures in softball (and reconstructive ankle surgery), I probably was more suited to these roles. This was a way of involvement that allowed me to maintain some sense of self and, yet, a sense of belonging. It also provided me opportunity to help people without feeling like I had to compete with my peers (my distaste for competition is a subject for another day).

My lupus diagnosis, which came toward the end of my sophomore year (after I had already missed four months of school), did nothing to increase my level of involvement. I remained a student trainer and coached when I was able. Still, I didn’t want to leave high school involved in only NHS and training, so I tried several new clubs my senior year. This busy-ness (and a bad medication) led to an eventual “crash” and hospitalization in the spring of that year (I will spare you the details). You see, pushing myself to be a “joiner,” something I unequivocally am not, was not kind to me then. It is not kind to me now, either.

Since becoming a military wife and moving to Europe, I have tried to overcome this “not-a-joiner” status to no avail. I am better in small groups or, better yet, one-on-one. It is not that I do not like people, I actually do quite a lot (why else would I aim to become a pastoral counselor?). It is just that social situations make me incredibly uncomfortable and cause a level of stress that is not healthy for me as I live with and battle lupus and fibromyalgia. This level of stress makes these activities unenjoyable, despite the wonderful people with whom I might congregate. While I’m pregnant, in seminary, and raising little Weston, I can handle one social activity per week. Any more than that, and I feel overwhelmed and risk a flare-up that I cannot afford to have right now.

I know that when Weston (and my yet unborn baby, Isaac) are grown a bit, they will be involved in many activities. I shall enthusiastically support them. I will be their biggest advocate and “cheerleader.” At this point for me, however, especially during times when my body doesn’t cooperate, I just have to accept this fact: I am NOT a joiner. I am not a gregarious, outgoing social butterfly. I am a homebody. I like to spend time with my boys, read, study religion and philosophy, and analyze pop-culture from a spiritual standpoint so that I am able to meet people “where they are.” While my two little guys are still young, I shall stick with my level of comfort so that I am able to care for them best.

It may change over time… or it may not. I have reached a point of acceptance about which either outcome will be fine with me.

So, to all my friends: you are loved and appreciated. I do want to spend time with you. Sometimes, however, the very idea of an impending social function causes flare-up inducing stress and I am physically incapable of attending. Please do not take it personally when it seems I drop off the edge of the Earth every time a new social event is announced. I’m still here… safe and comfortable in my happy bubble, and I’m okay here.

Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.

-C.S. Lewis

Blessings to all!

Double Trouble

Greetings readers (however few of you there are)!

I know I promised to write more frequently, and I think I have, actually. Just not as frequently as I would like. Life has been busy in our little home. Between Aaron’s work and class, Weston’s busy-business, and my seminary classes and related activities (not to mention the fact that I’m growing a whole other person), we are full up!

The impetus for this particular blog is to announce that we’ve found out we’re having another boy! The ultrasound tech told us that there is absolutely NO doubt about it. Yes, double trouble is headed our way (or triple, if you count the husband… to return any sense of balance, we’ve got to get female pets, y’know, whenever we do get them).

I want to express my excitement at this turn of events. The ideal family is, in many minds, mother, father, son, and daughter–“one of each,” as they say. Aaron and I long ago determined that we probably “only” wanted two children (both of us were of the mind that, once they begin outnumbering you, you’re just begging for chaos). So we’re not going to have that “ideal” family in the sense of having both a son and a daughter. Funny thing is, I kept telling myself, I think we’re having a girl! Mostly because I thought I wanted a little girl. Sure, I liked the idea of having a “mini-me” and carrying on that strong female Cherokee heritage I’m so proud of. True, Aaron doesn’t get his “daddy’s girl.” And maybe my boys won’t be into watching the Disney films I’m most fond of (Hello, Sleeping Beauty).

I thought all of those things. And yet, immediately upon hearing, “That’s definitely a boy,” I felt a sense of relief. Yes, relief. Lifted is my annoyance with the idea of doing someone’s hair other than my own, gone are some of the teenaged-year concerns most associated with having daughters, and vanished is my trepidation at having to explain that unfortunate female “curse” to a severely bummed out daughter. While true that the trade-off is an insanely busy set of toddler years (boys are busy bees!) and a heightened sense of worry over their seeming lack of anything resembling sense or the slightest hint of fear when performing “death”-defying stunts, I have to be honest in saying that I am much more comfortable with the boy thing.

sI know what to do with boys. I was a tomboy growing up (I have since embraced both sides of my personality, however). The thought that I never have to have pink in my house is much more than just the slightest bit comforting (seriously, I need to blog about my hatred of the color pink, with the sole exceptions of the accents on my wedding dress and my WWBD t-shirt from a friend). No dresses, tutus, or complicated outfits. Boys wear pants, people, PANTS. They don’t care about their hair and they LOVE their mamas. I’m going to go ahead and call this a win for us.

Plus, I get to refer to my little family as “my boys” forever, which is something I am supremely excited about. Now, if my little brother could just have at least one daughter, that would be excellent. I’m going to have to do some praying about this because I NEED a niece. Then I can spoil the heck out of her, she’ll never get mad at me (because, let’s face it, I’m so clearly going to be the beloved “cool aunt”, like my Aunt Jen is to me), and I don’t have to deal daily with teenage girl hormones. Win-win 🙂

I have many friends with little girls and they’re super cute and I know their families love them to pieces. Kudos to those of you who have beautiful little ladies, raise them well 🙂 I have nothing against girls. But two boys for us? It is the right course for this mommy. When my family says they’ve always seen me with boys, I can understand that. I think I’ve always seen myself with sons as well. It just makes a perfect kind of sense.

So please pray for a continued healthy pregnancy and that little Isaac is as healthy as his big brother, Weston. So far, so good.

Blessings, all.

You Can’t Win

Recently, I have been listening to Kelly Clarkson’s excellent song “You Can’t Win” often. It is one of those songs that is inherently relate-able (regardless of whether you like her music or not). The message of the song is pretty clear: It matters not who you are, what you do, or what you believe, you really cannot please everyone (or often, anyone at all). I could take apart the song, lyric by lyric and discuss how I relate to it, but I’m just going to go with one for now:

“If you speak, you’ll only piss ’em off. If you don’t, you’re another robot. If you go, they’ll just say you quit. If you don’t, you might lose your sh–.”

The impetus inspiring today’s iTunes repeat Clarkson-a-thon, is the recent rise in snarky or nasty political tweets and FB comments I seem to come across regularly. I do not wish to engage in a political debate on my blog or any other social media format because I am not sure it serves much purpose other than needlessly making enemies of friends and family members. Certainly one *can* share whatever comment one wishes to, it’s a free country and a (mostly) free internet. But just because you can, does that mean you should?

I think part of the problem is the rise in social media use and the feeling of “anonymity” associated with it. The online forum encourages people to say things that they would not dream of uttering in person. Ironically, the Internet makes everything one says quite public, which is why any notion of online anonymity is a complete façade. I learned a lesson years and years ago about taking care with my political comments (all of my comments, actually). I once boldly expressed my political opinion anywhere I was permitted to do so, but that has changed dramatically for me in the last 5 years (in part because I have been called to ministry). Now I often leave my personal opinions off social media (FB, especially), because I do not wish to lose friends over these sensitive topics.

I suppose I take particular umbrage with the instances where even having a thought or belief about something or stating that you watched, for instance, the RNC or DNC speeches is somehow an affront to someone. Those who know me, know I’m not a nasty person, bigot, racist, sexist, or homophobe and yet somehow the very idea that I am a Christian is somehow offensive to some people.

Something that is lost on many these days is that, as Christians, we are to follow Christ’s example of genuinely loving and accepting everyone. I try to follow this path each and every day. So it baffles me that when my moral code is a point of derision. Yes, I believe life begins at conception and that abortion ought to be used VERY infrequently in special circumstances. Why does this make me some kind of enemy to my fellow women? I do not wish to offend anyone. I can respect your opinion, and I’m not trying to take away anyone’s rights. I just don’t understand when it became a crime to have a belief system and a moral core. But, I digress.

Social media, in and of itself, is not to blame. Individuals chose what to post and what not to post. Certainly, it is the polarizing nature our two-party system in election season that brings out the worst in many of us. Social media is probably only at fault insofar as it makes all opinions more widely visible. Were people always so nasty and angry? I certainly hope not. Nor do I hope this is a trend heading in that direction for the duration of our time on Earth. I think it has always been the case that a bold and vocal minority makes bigger waves (especially online) than a silent majority. I am proud that, in America, all opinions are able to be presented, regardless of how agreeable or disagreeable. I am exceedingly grateful that we all have the right to practice our faith, no matter what we believe. My only wish here is that people on all sides would think before speaking and use more caution in the public expression of their opinions. I realize commentators and talking heads are paid for their opinions and that is all well and good. Read whomever you want, but think about what you read critically and temper your approach if you wish to maintain good relationships with others.

I don’t know, maybe you just can’t win. Perhaps my public thoughts here will fall on deaf ears. You are all welcome to your opinion just as I am mine. I implore you to consider that this political season will eventually come to an end, and my hope is that we all find we have as many friends after as we did before.

May God bless us all.

I shall close with lyrics from my favorite singer (who also happens to be vocally liberal), Aimee Mann:

“All you wanna do is something good, so get ready to be ridiculed and misunderstood. ‘Cause don’t you know that your a [expletive] freak in this world, in which everybody’s willing to chose swine over pearls? So maybe everything is all for nothing, still you’d better keep it to yourself, ’cause God knows it’s not safe with anybody else.”