I laid in bed early yesterday morning, scrolling through Facebook’s daily reminder of what I’d done that day in history… and since I started Under the Tapestry, I’ve pretty consistently spent New Year’s Eve reflecting on a big theme, a lesson learned, a summary of the year about to end. I wanted to do that again, but my head was pounding and I hadn’t slept well and I needed to be up at and ’em for reasons I’ll explain momentarily, so bliggity blogging remained on hold. Even thinking remained on hold, to be honest.
Instead, I closed Facebook down, took a deep breath, and dialed my nextdoor neighbor. To my profound relief, he picked up the phone.
I’d left Lyle in his bed the night before, honestly unsure of whether he’d still be alive in the morning. He was so weak and confused, short of breath, complaining of a back ache. But all he wanted was sleep. He hadn’t eaten all day, just a bit of water, the glass of OJ his niece and I begged him to drink. He us to leave him so he could sleep. I called the hospice nurse as soon as I got home and though somewhat reassured, I still cried a bit, thinking of what that day somewhere in the near future is going to look like… when one of us finds him in the morning, having passed on. I know that’s the point of hospice, but I also thought the point of hospice was supposed to be comfort… a good death. This doesn’t seem good. It seems hard and scary and uncomfortable. What I’m learning though is that what hospice is truly about is autonomy… about saying enough is enough and living what’s left of your life on your own terms. We don’t always choose the best terms for ourselves, but that’s the thing about choices. No one else gets to make them for us.
As I sat in the maroon recliner at Lyle’s house that morning after the phone call (and a quick run to Dunkin Donuts for an uneaten breakfast sandwich and undrunk cup of coffee), Lyle dozing, in and out, in the blue recliner next to me, I began pecking this post out on my phone. Vague ideas and misspelled, fat-fingered words, just a start. Because I’d realized, despite the headache and the fear, that the idea of what exactly constitutes enough is what I learned in 2016.
Most recently, I’ve worried desperately about Lyle. We’ve lived nextdoor to him since moving in o our house in the summer of 2012, and in that time, we watched Lyle care for his rapidly declining wife, Marlene, Mar, through an awful battle with Alzheimer’s disease that ultimately ended with a broken hip, brief hospitalization, and rapid death last December. In the year since, Lyle has declined even quicker. I’ve seen what a broken heart and battered psyche can do to a man’s body and all the while, I’ve worried about whether what I’m doing to help is enough. As I watch Lyle suffer loss of appetite, mobility, strength, weight, will to live… I’ve constantly wondered about whether I could have done more. I feel like I tried so hard, but had I really tried hard enough, wouldn’t this be a better process? It was yesterday, on New Year’s Eve, as I emptied out Lyle’s catheter bag that I knew suddenly, in no uncertain terms, that I had indeed done enough. Because enough, in this case, is my best… in the face of what Lyle has chosen to be enough for his life. Lyle and I, both imperfect, are both doing our best. For ourselves. For one another.
When I realized that, all the other moments of “enough” throughout this past year flooded into my mind.
After our miscarriage late last year, I needed to demonstrate that I could make my body do something I really, really wanted it to do — for that, only a marathon was enough. And it was exactly what I needed, extreme catharsis.
I desperately wanted (and still want, really) a family, but every aspect of our infertility battle has taken a lot out of us, mentally, physically, emotionally, financially, temporally We were fortunate to find a doctor that understood me, both medically and psychologically – she knew I needed to “leave it all out on the field” or I’d have questions, always wonder, and she advised me accordingly (Christine Broadwell at Generations in Madison, should anyone reading ever need such services). After the second round of IVF with donor eggs, third round of IVF this year, all with no success, we’d finally had enough. Somehow, despite the sadness, profound grief, feelings of failure… there’s also incredible relief in saying “enough!” and believing it.
Likewise, I desperately wanted to make things better for myself and those around me in my place of work and I felt like I fought the good fight for a long time. Actually, I know I did. I tried really hard. But I couldn’t keep doing it. It had become so hard to get out of bed in the morning. So I put down my sword and took a new job in a new department. Two weeks in and I am already profoundly certain that I’ve done the right thing… and I feel good knowing that I did everything I could do to try to stay before saying enough and making the choice to move on.
Enough, upon reflection, is a beautiful thing. It’s a step back from must-be-perfect to as-good-as-it-gets and I’ve-tried-my-best. To say “enough” and really mean it is a huge relief. Yes, even to give up on a baby, to say enough to infertility treatment, though sad, honestly feels like a relief. We’ve had enough.
Getting to “enough” reflects my autonomy to make a decision about what’s right for me, and to have that kind of autonomy and the wherewithal to use it is a blessing. So, hasta la vista, 2016 — I’m glad to have learned from you, but have really had enough. I suspect I’m not the only one.
Happy 2017, friends! May this year bring you the courage to say “enough” and really mean it!
In early November, Seth and I were in Annapolis for a beautiful wedding with lots of old friends.
While there, Seth got a text in two parts. The first part was something along the lines of:
Please don’t say no right away, take some time and think about it…
Time to think about what? The second part was the invitation:
Want to come with us on a 12 days cruise to Australia, Fiji, the Maldives???
We balked, of course. Hence the first part — our friends know us too well. Twelve days off work PLUS the travel time to get to Australia? How could we possibly?
But they’d asked us to think. So we thought. Could we? Should we?
We returned to Wisconsin a couple days later and first thing Monday morning was my final pregnancy test — a negative, of course. We promised ourselves no more. We laid down our arms, walked away from the infertility battle, and thought a little more about that trip.
We’d spent the last 5+ years carefully saving vacation time for trips to and from the fertility clinic in Madison, hoping that our stockpiled days wouldn’t be used for more trips, but for the birth of our baby.
The fact of the matter is, there isn’t going to be a baby for us. So… Australia… Fiji… with our best friends… a once in a lifetime opportunity… why not?
We said yes. We booked flights — CWA > DTW > LAX > SYD. We’re really going!
A short while later, all of the sudden, the new job I’d been working on building/acquiring came to fruition. I start on Monday.
And just like that, we’re hitting the RESET button in a very big way.
I look back on my life five years ago, newly married, fresh out of grad school, really digging my life as a scientific writer, and excited about the family we were going to start and it’s easy to see just how big of a reset this is. I expected us to be full on nuclear, in the family sense — focused on having and rearing a couple of toe-headed braniacs with stubborn dispositions (that’s anice way of saying jerks… but they would have been my little jerks). But that’s not reality, and a reset is necessary to bring me back to earth.
I’ve always enjoyed the end of one year and the beginning of another. I love that the advent season, with its time for reflection and focus on the coming light, blends seamlessly with the new calendar year and two weeks later with a new year for me personally when my birthday hits. This year is extra special, a bonafide reset, for three reasons.
First, early on the morning of November 7th, before our last negative pregnancy test, my sleepy Seth rolled over in bed to tell me that no matter the results, he loves me and I am enough. My heart… it somehow simultaneously broke and swelled. He thinks that I, just me, no baby, am enough. I can’t tell you how much that settled me into this new reality. Seth, Curls, and me — a happy little family.
Second, on Monday, I start my new job — my dream job, really. The dream I didn’t know I had until two years ago when I started working more and more with community facing programs and the amazing woman who will be my boss. I’m incredibly proud of the work I’ve done so far and I’m so excited to dedicate myself full time to a position I feel so passionate about. I was feeling a bit insecure on Friday — what if they find out they hate me? But I start during Christmas celebration week and I’m the Leslie Knope of gift giving AND cooking baking… there’s no way they won’t be impressed. Bring on Sneaky Santa!
Finally, on January 28th, we’ll be getting out of dodge, crossing the equator for the first time, and heading to the other side of the world for nearly three weeks. I never thought a trip like this could possibly be a reality, but we’re doing it together, with our friends, and it’s going to be incredible. I know it in my bones.
Meanwhile, a reset is really only a reset if the reset-y things actually change you for the permanent. And in this case, I very much suspect they will.
For the time in maybe ever, I actually believe that I am enough for Seth. Worthy. I know that makes me sound like I’m in some sort of terrible, abusive relationship, and maybe I am… but Seth’s not the perpetrator. My traitorous psyche, the “second track” I’ve often referenced, is. But what further proof could I possibly need than everything we’ve been through for the sake of having a baby, and to have Seth still, faithfully, happily by my side? He thinks I’m enough (block head, frizzy hair and all), and I think he might be right — we’re M-F-E-O*, baby or not.
Second, I’ve found true meaning in my work. I am so excited to dedicate my time and talents to the amazing things being done in the Marshfield Clinic Center for Community Outreach. I see such incredible work going on, such incredible dedication to community health from a variety of perspectives (e.g., high risk youth, alcohol and other drugs of abuse, social determinants of health), and I want to tell the story, give it a voice, make people aware, continue to build programs and make them replicable in other communities.
Finally, I’m going to live my life now — starting by spending the time to go on an amazing vacation. No more saving and banking for something that may or may not happen. And I need to translate that into using “yes” and “no” appropriately at other times as well. Yes to community engagement and social events, but no when it becomes to much and I need to recharge the introvert batteries. Yes to the things that are truly good for me, and no when things hurt. I’m practicing already — we’re going to a dinner party with friends tonight! Yes, yes, yes!
Anyway, given my recent track record, I suspect I won’t write again before the new year — so I hope you enjoy the holidays, wherever you are, whoever you’re with, and I’ll look forward to sharing a new adventure in 2017!!
Another two months without a post, despite working pretty feverishly. The broken bits of me have been so in control. So many days spent tending to my shattered heart blow after blow.
“He wept because God was unfair, and because this was the way God repaid those who believed in their dreams… I’m going to become bitter and distrustful because one person betrayed me. I’m going to hate those who have found their treasure because I never found mind. And I’m going to hold on to what little I have, because I’m too insignificant to conquer the world.”
But, struggling or not, I continue to work slowly and deliberately toward a new and fresh sense of clarity. A shift in my own personal paradigm about what matters. About what makes life worth it.
“I’ve learned things from the sheep, and I’ve learned things from crystal, he thought. I can learn something from the desert, too. It seems old and wise.”
The big shift: I’m done with silver linings.
If I were running for president, you could call me a flip flopper. But good news! I’m not now and probably won’t ever. So… since I don’t actually have to worry about what the press and populous think of me, I’m free to change my mind all I want. Also to inhale. And to have sexual relations with whomever I want.
I could have made much less boring choices…
But. Back to that change of mind, which was my point… change of heart, really.
“Listen to your heart. It knows all things, because it came from the Soul of the World, and it will one day return there.”
I started this blog on the premise of silver linings. The idea that, no matter how awful something seems, there’s always something good hidden inside — a pretty picture in the tapestry. And I believed it wholeheartedly. Mostly. For a while.
But there were some cases where it just didn’t fit. Like when I wrote about the death of my friend Nate. I said, even back then, that sometimes there really is no silver lining. The first crack in my neatly crafted narrative.
More recently, as I’ve struggled through infertility, miscarriage, hopelessness and depression, I’ve become less and less convinced of the master plan/pretty picture and looked harder, further, and wider for something else.
Even in this little video, where forest animals animate a snippet of Brene Brown’s TED Talk about vulnerability, empathy, and compassion, a silver lining comes up as kind of a gut punch… so in constantly looking for one, was I inadvertently delivering the punch to myself?
I’ve never exactly been known for self kindness, but this seemed like a whole new low.
I was searching for something, but maybe I was searching for the wrong thing.
“‘Every second of the search is an encounter with God,’ the boy told his heart. ‘When I have been truly searching for my treasure, every day has been luminous, because I’ve known that every hour was a part of the dream that I would find it. When I have been truly searching for my treasure, I’ve discovered things along the way that I never would have seen had I not had the courage to try things that seemed impossible for a shepherd to achieve.'”
It started when my brother-in-law picked up my copy of Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning — a book written in two parts, the first a description of Frankl’s experiences as a clinical psychiatrist imprisoned in a series of Nazi concentration camps, the second a description of logotherapy, or the pursuit of meaning in life.
It’s a tiny book that packs a powerful punch. But in a way, I feel like the short length actually does it a disservice. When I was reading it, I was incredibly immersed, convinced it would change my life… but it didn’t take me terribly long to read, and I moved on relatively quickly.
As weeks and months went by and I slowly moved past the miscarriage and into another round of IVF, I felt really ready. But when I went through all of it again and still failed, I found myself back at the bottom of the pit, wallowing, binge eating, crying, so quick to anger, frustrated with everything and everyone — convinced that I am worthless, pathetic, and pointless. But also desperate to claw my way back out (and unable to run another marathon to do so).
Sometimes, like with the marathon, my desperation makes me almost manic. (I realize, of course, that I’m not using that term in a clinically correct way — but it is definitely a frenzied feeling, the need for action, to fix things and fix them NOW.) I thought about the book that Stu had ultimately taken home with him and chose that as my starting point. Because if the problem is that one lacks a point, then it seems as though the solution would be to find one, to search for meaning, yes?
“You will never be able to escape from your heart. So it is better to listen to what it has to say.”
And so I read. I read and read and read… and am still reading. (See book suggestions below.) But the most important thing that all this reading has done for me to date is to really shift my focus. Away from trying to figure out why the cloud is there, from trying to paint the inside of it silver… and instead, trying to find meaning in the storm.
Searching for silver linings can be a fruitful personal pursuit and I’ve done an awful lot of it; sometimes they even exist to be found. It’s shallow, though. And I have come to believe that the search for meaning is more consistently productive and more fulfilling in the long run. Not only because humans are hard-wired for meaning (Rorshach test, anyone? no? What about Jesus in toast?), but also because meaning is determined from within rather than without. As such, meaning is within my control and subject to my will, not the fickle will of a chance-driven universe.
I know that to say meaning is in our control is contentious… and I was unsure of it at first. But according to the experts in logotherapy that I have read (manically, maniacially?) over the past several weeks, there are three paths to meaning:
Creative (what you make)
Experiential (what you do)
Attitudinal (how you feel)
While all three are technically equivalent, attitudinal is the one of the three that is always at our disposal. No matter what. Even in a concentration camp. Even in the depths of the darkest pit. We always get to choose our attitude.
“That’s what alchemists do. They show that, when we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better, too.”
Importantly, choosing our attitude is decidedly not the same things as putting on rose colored glasses or pasting a smile on your face. Because meaning is not the same thing as a silver lining.
For example, I truly believe that there is no silver lining to infertility. I am not going to wake up someday and realize that omg, it was so awesome that I spent five years unsuccessfully trying to start a family or that my miscarriage was the result of a baby that just “wasn’t meant to be.” I will forever grieve those things; they have changed me on a fundamental level. BUT I can find meaning in sharing my struggles. I can find meaning in supporting the women who struggled before me, alongside me, and will struggle after me. I can find meaning in the fact that the family I might eventually have someday will be intentional in a way that not many families truly are. I can find meaning in the education I received through the process — about how love changes hearts, about my own seemingly infinite capacity for hope, the necessity of equality in family building for same-sex couples, the universality of human struggle no matter what form it may take. And perhaps most importantly, I have been given endless opportunities to clarify my values and live an authentic life centered on the things that mean the most to me.
“The boy continued to listen to his heart as they crossed the desert. He came to understand its dodges and tricks, and to accept it as it was.”
After I miscarried, my dad told me that I’d find meaning someday — because the universe was teeming with it. It felt a little like a platitude, but I knew that it wasn’t, because my dad doesn’t speak in platitudes. He was just 10 steps ahead of me down this road, I think. Maybe that’s because it’s a road that can only really be known by experience. By crossing the desert, and listening to your heart as you go.
“‘Everyone has his or her own way of learning things,’ he said to himself. ‘His way isn’t the same as mine, nor mine as his. But we’re both in search of our Personal Legends, and I respect him for that.'”
Maybe you believe that meaning is to be found in a gift from the universe. And you can keep looking for your signs, omens, and silver linings. It’s ok if there’s where you think you’ll find meaning. But I know that I won’t. I can’t believe in meant-to-bes — because if I do, I have to believe that I’m not meant to be a mom. And I can’t believe in #blessed because what does that make me? #cursed? And I know now that silver linings are desperate and unfounded strokes of luck that seem like meaning, but really aren’t. Meaning is something more than that. And meaning is what I truly desire, in my heart of hearts.
Most importantly, when you find meaning in your life… you cannot also be pointless. A meaningful life is never pointless.
“No matter what he does, every person on earth play a central role in the history of the world. And normally he doesn’t know it.”
I’m getting there. To a point where, on more days than not, I can see meaning. I can feel it. And at the very least, that allows be to peek my head up over the edge of the pit.
Last week, on the brink of pregnancy, an implantation scheduled for two days away, I got a phone call from my clinic… canceling the whole thing. Nearly 60 days of drugs and injections, thousands more dollars, hopes as high as hopes could be over our 4 – 5 fertilized eggs and it all came crashing down one more time. I cried. There was snot. I had to call Seth. I went to the office next door to get kleenexes and comfort from a coworker. I worked late. I went home. I ate marshmallows and cried some more while my sweet pup licked tears from my face.
I experienced legitimate grief. Disappointment. Frustration. I dangled my feet over the edge of the pit and looked into the abyss. And then I took a deep breath. And another. Even thought it was nearly 8 pm, I got up, I went into the kitchen, and I cooked myself a nice dinner. I vegged, watched The Bachelorette while I ate. I snuggled Curly on the couch and went to bed. I knew my life wasn’t over. And by the end of it all, I knew we still weren’t quite done trying — because our hearts are broken, but they still beat family… family… family…
“The boy and his heart had become friends, and neither was capable now of betraying the other.”
When my dad told me that the universe teems with meaning, I thought of silver lined clouds and blessings-in-disguise. But I really understand meaning now and I’m letting it into my heart, day by day, little by little. It’s a better way… for me.
[All quotations above are from The Alchemist by Paul Coelho — with thanks to Nicole M. for the perfect and timely recommendation. This girl knows what’s up.]
Recommended Reading (if you like any of these ideas):
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
The Will to Meaning: Foundations and Applications of Logotherapy by Viktor Frankl
Meaning in Suffering: Comfort in Crisis through Logotherapy by Elisabeth Lukas and Joseph B. Fabry
The Alchemist by Paul Coehlo
The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk
Yesterday was a hard day. In the same way that every day has been a hard day, but a little bit worse. I had a big work deadline during the day and a remembrance service for the baby in the evening. Work was stressful, I got home late, Curly couldn’t even be bothered to say hello when I got home (oh that moody pup can cut me!), and the remembrance ceremony was more than just hard — it was disappointing and untouching and all it did was make me cry more tears without any of the healing I had hoped for.
I’m sure it wasn’t the service, I’m sure it was me. I’m sure it was the bitter shell that’s building up around the outside of my tender heart. There were so many families there. Families with kids. And I wasn’t prepared for that. I expected a room full of other sad women and while it probably was actually a room full of sad women on some level, my eyes could only see something that made me feel jealous and angsty and ungrateful. I felt ugly from the inside out.
But before that, between my bummer of a non-greeting from Curls and the short drive to the hospital chapel for the service, I opened some mail and sat down to the table for a quick bowl of chili and walked through the park with my pup on a leash. Though hurried, I felt like I had a couple moments of clarity where some big stuff started to coalesce…
We’d been gone for a week with the mail on hold and Monday was a federal holiday, so the stack that arrived on Tuesday was kind of enormous. I studiously ignored the multiple insurance EOBs (people talk about children being expensive — non-children are too and it hurts quite a bit to open those up and see the bill for a broken heart continue to grow and grow) and other bits of business-y junk and not junk, but kept aside a letter that made a rattling sound from my friend Adriane and a heavy envelope from my Auntie Pam.
For a second I thought that maybe Adriane, realizing my appreciation for the dramatic, love of all things microbiology, and need for rest (maybe in a coma), might have sent me some anthrax spores and a guaranteed trip to an isolation suite in a hospital in Minneapolis near her where she would be my only visitor. She’s tiny and adorable and would be really hilarious to the out-of-body-coma-me seeing her in a big biohazard suit. It was such a good idea, but I was disappointed on the spores end. What Adriane had actually sent was a really, really beautiful note and an incredibly thoughtful gift of forget-me-not seeds. Forget-me-nots. Because she knows I’ll want to remember.
My Auntie Pam (the reason I’ll always insist on being an auntie and never an aunt) also sent a beautiful note and gift of remembrance — an angel ornament for our Christmas tree. But she also sent me two ridiculously exciting and probably haunted books she picked up at a little used bookstore across the street from the super-haunted Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, located very near to my best cousin and his best wife’s house. (To be clear, Mike only has one wife, I don’t mean to imply that there are multiple and that Christina is the best — she just earned the title of “best” when she married my best cousin.) She had thought of me, really me and my gone forever baby and the things I love, even while she was there visiting her own newest (and probably best (see above)) grandbaby. More tears.
After I opened the mail, I sat down to my finally-cool-enough-to-touch chili and re-read the words of Shauna Niequist about grace that I had already read once in the morning. I started reading Savor again on Monday morning. I had put Shauna away for a while, unable to bare her musings that sometimes (often) include family and motherhood in a way that I just couldn’t hear for a minute. But Monday and Tuesday were both about grace and powerfully so.
I re-read those passages and looked up from my bowl. My eyes and my mind flashed around the kitchen at the clutter on the counter top and table that I had been (jerkily, ungratefully, offensively… but probably somehow protectively) referring to as “pity presents” and they suddenly weren’t that any more. They were, all of them, tangible reminders of so much love.
I finished my chili and picked up Curly’s leash for a quick walk through the park. My mind turning over and over and over in the cool air. Pieces clicking together even as I bent over to bag up dog poop (because I’m a super responsible pet owner, even when distracted) and threw it away.
I was mad at God and the words “God has a plan,” the words I’ve heard so many times since the middle of September, felt like acid crawling through my insides. Because if God has a plan and his plan includes infertility, the months and years of waiting for nothing, then God is kind of an a-hole. And if God has a plan, and his plan is to take my baby, to prevent me from being a mother, to punish me or to hurt me or to cause me pain, then God is a jerk and I hate him. But that didn’t really fit for me because if God stops the hearts of babies, then God must also be responsible for whipping up the atmosphere into the frenzy of tornadoes and hurricanes. God must also slam tectonic plates together in a way that causes earthquakes and tsunamis. God’s blueprints must include untold levels of death and destruction. I don’t think I believe in that God.
And, bag of poop in hand, I realized I do believe that. Always. Because in addition to God, I also believe soundly in biology and physics. Meteorology and plate tectonics. Love doesn’t change biology, it can’t stop gravity from happening. Love can’t seed a rain cloud or move the winds. Love can’t shift the earth’s crust, make mountains or waves. But love can and does, as I have soundly witnessed, stir people’s hearts to do amazing things in the wake of unpleasant biology, physics, meteorology, plate tectonics, or any other unchangable earth-fact.
Love sends words and notes and gifts of comfort and remembrance (i.e. not pity presents and I’m sorry for ever even thinking it). Love is the reason anyone ever healed or rebuilt, from the (universally speaking) small miscarriage to the large floods of New Orleans and earthquakes of Nepal. When these things that cannot be helped, by God or anyone else, happen, when our lives are shattered, God is love and love is there to help us pick up the pieces, to inspire others to grace and compassion and goodness in ways that were unknown before the break.
And I hate that and love that for the same reason that Shauna Niequist wrote about yesterday, October 13th, when she said:
“I don’t really want to need grace… I prefer to believe instead that the math works: there are good things about me, but they’ve checked the math and because I’m funny enough, they can let go of how terrible I look most days, or if I’m interesting enough, the fact that my house is dirty isn’t such a big deal. But that kind of math is specifically anti-grace. Grace isn’t about netting out on the right side of things.
If arithmetic is numbers, and if algebra is numbers and letters, then grace is numbers, letters, sounds, and tears, feelings and dreams. Grace is smashing the calculator, and using all the broken buttons and pieces to make a mosaic.”
It doesn’t have to make sense or to work out mathematically. Which is what I’ve been trying to do. To account for the heartbreak of infertility and miscarriage as something deserved and the kindness of others that, since not earned, must be pity. The God I believe in, the love he is and inspires, the grace, compassion, goodness, and even grief, that necessarily follows, just doesn’t work that way.
So what about Under the Tapestry? My whole premise — the idea that God is weaving a design that, no matter what it looks like from down here, is really, really beautiful “up” there. From the other side, whatever that might mean.
Well. Apparently in August of 2013, I had an idea, and it was a good one, but even I didn’t completely understand my own words — the bedrock on which I based all the rest.
I still believe that God is the weaver. But what this experience has taught me is that he is not the spinner too. Life produces threads, sometimes we color them ourselves — sometimes we do even more than just color them. Sometimes we shear the sheep, clean the wool, card, spin, and dye it all ourselves before we hand it over to the weaver. Sometimes life does it for us — biology, meteorology, physics, time. God just (not really just, but I think you know what I mean)incorporates those strands into our tapestry. Weaving them all together with the love that he is, into the design we cannot know on this side of eternity. A love so big and broad that it spreads out to all the people in a way that seems huge, but is really only a tiny glimpse.
Love begets compassion and kindness. Love begets grace and forgiveness. Love even begets grief and hurt. All those things stem from love and God is love. Love. Not a genie, puppeteer, or master of the physical universe. Not an architect, blueprint in hand. Not in my mind, anyway. He can work on our hearts, souls, and minds… but not physically. I really don’t believe that that’s how it works.
As hard as it is for me to wrap my mind around the above, it’s even harder to write about. Honestly, and not humbly, it takes some courage to put my thoughts about something as big and contentious as the idea of God out in space knowing that someone could hate it; will hate it. Especially when my thoughts aren’t exactly reverent (e.g., “then God is a jerk and I hate him”). While I was in Hawaii, though, my friend Dawn (bringer of light — her name is perfection) demanded I listen to a podcast (my first ever, truth be told, which is surprising for an Audible fan like myself, don’t you think?). Dawn has often sent me inspiring and powerful and thought provoking things to read and I’ve never been disappointed, but she has never ever demanded anything. And this time she demanded, so I listened. The voice on the line (Thomas Keller — here) was talking about how when we express our emotions and our questions, even the angry and fearful ones, it’s a prayer. A prayer for understanding, acceptance, peace, grace. Considering my general opinion of myself as an absolute crap do-er of prayer, this was music to my ears. I may not be good at on-the-spot holy father thou arts and such, but confused, out loud emoting is definitely my kind of thing. So let’s chalk this up to a prayer of that type. I’m confused and I’m hurting and I need desperately to better understand God in a way that brings me comfort rather than anger, because I don’t think anger is the point. And it’s certainly not a healthy place to stay. I wish mightily to be a person who is comforted by a well-timed bible verse or a phrase like “God has a plan,” but I’m not. I don’t find a lot of meaning in platitudes, no matter how true, probably for the same reason I don’t like small talk. It has to be deeper for me. Nearly 2000 words deeper plus 217 other posts, I guess, all to get to the place where I started:
The dark threads are as needful
In the weavers skillful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern he has planned
So I guess God is good. Always. Even still. Because how can love ever be bad in a world that can be so hard?
My sister-in-law Kayla, Sister Athletic Trainer, is an absolute genius at puzzles.
I don’t mean that Kayla likes puzzles, although I suspect she does. I mean that she is literally a puzzle genius. She can walk by a table holding a 12,000 piece puzzle entitled “sky on a cloudy day” and find at least 6 pairs of matching pieces before I can even figure out which way to orient the picture on the box.
I am not being facetious.
Maybe Kayla has just had a lot of practice. She has spent three of our last 11 week long cottage vacations doing puzzles as she recovered from major knee surgery (as good as she is at puzzles, she’s not exactly awesome at keeping her own ligaments from tearing). Maybe it’s a gift from God or something. (Drop Dead Gorgeous reference… anyone?) I don’t know. But she’s real good.
At the moment, I feel like I’m staring at a complicated and beautiful puzzle and all that I have left is one particularly challenging bush or patch of sky or something. Once I get a couple pieces in place, the whole dang thing is going to fall together, but I can’t figure out where to start and I am le frustrated! (The “le” is intentional– I’m pretending that the word frustrated is French.)
Here’s what’s up:
In my job (like my real J-O-B) I work as a scientific research writer, which basically means that I help clinicians and scientists to write grants and manuscripts (and yes, sometimes even eulogies and other speeches and such) about whatever scientific endeavor they favor at the moment. I’ve worked on tons of different things. It’s awesome, really, because as much as I dig STDs, 6 years of nothing but gonorrhea and chlamydia got to be a little bit much. I’m not that into it. In my current job, I get to learn about new and interesting things all the time– oncology, genetics, bioinformatics, cerebral palsy, Alzheimer’s disease, chronic kidney disease, pancreas divisum, diabetes, neuroprostheses, patient navigation, and the list goes on. It’s awesome… like being in school minus the grades plus a real salary. Life is good.
Because I really love science and because nerdiness is my life, not just my job, I get quite invested in the things I do. And it’s all that much easier to get sucked in when I work with really passionate investigators… and so many of these investigators, just wow. These clinicians see a problem in their practice and come to us to either study the problem or solve the problem, and it’s inspiring. I have three projects swirling around in the back of my mind all the time right now. And there’s something about them that’s similar, they are related, they are somehow the answer to one another’s problems, but I can’t figure it out. That’s my puzzle. And it’s becoming my obsession. How can I make these things work together for the good of patients? I won’t know until I can fill in the sky!
Not long ago, I worked with a pediatric nephrologist and learned about Bardet-Biedl syndrome (BBS)– a rare genetic disorder that results in cilia malfunction and many consequent symptoms affecting nearly every organ system in the body. Because the disease is so rare, finding care for these kids, especially coordinated care with specialists who truly understand the disease, has always been a major problem for BBS families. Recognizing that challenge, Dr. Haws started The Treatment Center for BBS at the Marshfield Clinic to provide coordinated, comprehensive care for patients around the country… and even around the world. It is the only BBS clinic in North America and has already served 16 individuals from 14 different families in its 3 clinics to date. I helped Dr. Haws capture survey results from providers and families that participated in the clinics and the comments from the grateful families were overwhelming. I was particularly struck by the woman who blogs here at 71toes.com (polydactyly is a common symptom of BBS and her family of 7 was no exception– how clever!) as she documented her family’s participation in the clinic. So cool!
Coordinated care for kids with special medical needs… it’s a thing that’s done well for many kids at Marshfield Clinic. But what about kids in the foster care system?
I have also spent a lot of time working closely with the medical director of the Marshfield Child Advocacy Center. She is totally committed to creating a Foster Care Medical Home (FCMH) for kids in the foster care system in Central Wisconsin. Medical homes are a really effective and interesting way to make sure that healthcare needs are met in a timely, consistent, and patient-centered manner and it’s something Marshfield Clinic has really embraced in recent years resulting in huge cost savings as well as huge reductions in the need for emergency care and hospital readmissions. We don’t have one for kids in the foster care system, though, and they likely really need it. At the moment, I’m working with Dr. Iniguez to complete an American Academy of Pediatrics planning grant for the FCMH and we just completed our third of four focus groups with foster care providers and past participants. Holy… wow! These families. I mean, I was into it before, I thought it was a great idea… now? I’m smitten! I want this to succeed, to help these families, so very, very badly! I am committed. But how? Where do we find the funding? Whose going to coordinate the care? Can it be like the BBS clinic?
And finally, behavioral health. I told you about my big fat $1.5 million HRSA grant? The one that kept me from blogging for over a week, right? What I didn’t tell you was this: due to a “misinterpretation” of the guidelines, the grant was triaged without being reviewed. WTF, right? I know, I’m furious, but trying to be cool about it… because the program is just way too important to let die now. Yes, it was a big mistake. No, I was not at fault (thank goodness, right?!). But dang, do I ever feel responsible… disappointed… dejected even. It was unpleasant news for everyone involved. And now we’re looking for another way. Another way to bring behavioral health services to patients in the primary care setting who desperately need them, but cannot get them due to the provider shortages we face in our area. How does this fit in? Well, you know who else desperately needs behavioral health services but can’t get them? Kids in the foster care system. These kids benefit tremendously from the notion of trauma-informed care… care that keeps in mind, always, that these kids have been through a really stressful, really awful situation and that those traumas subconsciously inform their every single action.
So, in conclusion, I feel like there’s something there… an invisible thread weaving its way through these projects and constantly tickling the back of my mind. It alerts me to the fact that there’s something in common, some answer that I’m overlooking, some person who needs to be contacted or informed or something. I just can’t find what that something is at the moment. I am missing a vital piece of the puzzle– I’ve got to find my special purpose! (The Jerk, yes?)
Two winters ago, my husband’s grandfather set up a card table in the living room and worked on a puzzle all winter to keep himself occupied while it was so cold. He did a bigillion piece puzzle or something and it had a lot of sky in it. Lots and lots of plain, blue pieces spread out on the table. And when he got to the very end? One was missing.
There was one piece of sky that was blank.
And it stayed blank for a while.
Until one day, Ed, my grandfather-in-law, bent down to put his shoe on and found a puzzle piece in it. It was in his shoe! Right there! All along! He snapped it in and the puzzle was complete.
I’ll find the piece. I’ll make the connection. We’ll make the foster kids a medical home and extend behavioral services to the population that needs it.
When my husband and I first started dating (many, many moons ago) meeting his family was definitely the scariest thing ever. EVER. He was my first serious college boyfriend and it was the first time I ever had to actually meet the parents, because they weren’t people I had grown up knowing. That made it scary enough, but add to it the fact that we had to drive 4 hours to get there and then stay overnight (no escape if things get awkward!) and I was terrified!
My fears? Totally founded! It was every bit as terrifying and awkward as I had it hyped up to be.
(Please, Marilyn, I beg you– keep reading! It gets better!!!)
But it had nothing to do with them, and everything to do with me.
My in-laws are different from my immediate family in a lot of ways. Have you seen the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding? You know the scene when Ian’s parents roll up outside Toula’s parents’ house wearing sweater sets and see the big Greek lawn party, complete with a lamb roasting on a spit in the front yard? Sort of like that. (And in the movie that is my life, I’m playing the role of Toula.)
My parents are omg-we’re-so-happy-to-meet-you-tell-me-your-life-story-and-I’ll-share-mine-let-me-take-your-coat-and-get-you-something-to-drink-please-do-sit-down-and-don’t-mind-the-dog kind of people. That’s what I was used to. My husband’s parents are also incredible people—they are kind and thoughtful and brilliant and generous and hard-working and truly 100% amazing, but they are reserved. And that freaked me out.
Because when other people are reserved, it leaves way too much room for me to be awkward.
Let me just illustrate with an example.
Seth met my parents for the first time the night before my cousin’s wedding in Marquette. We were at my aunt and uncle’s house for a yooper-style dinner,* complete with potato sausage, pastie pies (that’s past-ee, NOT paste-ee, fyi), and venison chili. As I was snubbing the chili (I do not like venison) my mom leaned over to Seth, my brand-new boyfriend, and said, “Rachel doesn’t eat any vegetables… we don’t know how she poops.”
In contrast, Seth’s parents didn’t make a single poop joke the first time I met them. (And in fact, they may not have made one yet in the eleven years I’ve known them. Interesting…)
As horrified as I was at the time, my mom’s use of bathroom humor upon first meeting certainly broke the ice right away. And what could Seth have possibly done that was more awkward than that? Whew. That was my comfort zone. The quiet at Seth’s parents’ just begs a person like me to make an awkward joke. Or an awkward comment. Or awkward gestures (omg, what do I do with my haaaands?!). Or all of the above.
This weekend, I had a lot of time in the car without any other humans (once there was a plant and once there was a dog). Lots of thinking time. I spent a lot of that time thinking about the family I’ve since become a part of, despite the initial awkwardness.
On Saturday, I was on my way home from a baby shower for Seth’s cousin. Seth’s grandma and mom were there along with lots of his aunts and cousins… and it didn’t feel awkward to me at all. I just felt like I was with family. And while I recognize that since Seth and I got that fancy piece of paper that says we’re married, they legally are my family, a lot of people don’t ever get to feel that way. (At least I assume that’s the case… because if they did, there would be very little material for sit-coms.)
On Sunday, I had to bring our pup to the emergency vet just past Mosinee and it was a rather trying ordeal. I stopped at my in-law’s house on the way back to Marshfield to get her some water so she’d stop panting, and again, no awkwardness. I stopped in the garage and said hi to my father-in-law (and my sister-in-law, who was wrapped in cardboard painted like an otoscope on the garage floor, but that’s another story for another day…), ran into the house, grabbed an ice cream bucket, filled it with water, and went on my way.
As I headed back toward Marshfield, out of Mosinee and through Halder (love small-town Wisconsin!), I wondered about when I had achieved this level of comfort… I still remember worrying all those years ago that I would never be accepted, that I would never fit in. When did things change? When did they start to like me? (Or at least get really good at pretending?)
Despite all that time I had to ponder, I still can’t really put my finger on on when exactly it happened. But what I did realize was that it wasn’t the situation that had changed and it wasn’t Seth’s relatives that changed either. It was me. I grew up. I grew into myself—into my awkwardness, my big hair and big feet, my sense of humor, and I got over a lot of my worries and decided to just be myself.
As myself, I got to know Seth’s family and I adore them, all of them—I love them even, because they are my family too. I have a second set of parents (complete with love and support– not to mention their rockin’ garden and incredibly handy skills at everything). A new set of grandparents that come with a farm— and an insane level of unfounded faith in me as they let me drive a tractor around it!! I have three little sisters, two of which I didn’t have before, and because they both have curly blond hair too, no one knows it’s not by blood! (Seriously, no one, a lot of confusion when Sister Doctor and I started working a the same place.) I’ve been blessed with more new aunts, uncles, and cousins, than I can count… and all of their spouses and kids and animals on top of that.
The night before my wedding, one of those brand new cousins sent me a message telling me how excited she was for our wedding, but that as far as she was concerned, I was already part of the family. It made me cry– I was so happy! (And Meg, you will always be my favorite for it! Always!) That may not have been the moment, but it was a pretty solid reminder of how this family had, over time, become my family too.
So, in-laws can be scary, but in-laws really can be family, too. For me, a little bit of time and a lot of attitude adjustment made all the difference. That, and awkward jokes.**
Some days, it can feel like the entire world is Darth Vader, beckoning us to join him on the dark side. And I get that because it’s true, there are a lot of sad things. Bad things. Mean, dark, catastrophic, tragic, and disturbing things out there in the world. And that darkness can be so powerful.
But there are also so many people in this world with beautiful hearts. People who drench the world in love and kindness, people whose radiance brightens even the darkest of corners, people who remind us that the best and most beautiful things grow up out of the dirt.
Today, Jeannett told us about how she’s helping her kids to cultivate kindness and to grow up to be good-hearted citizens of this world.
I want to raise kids like that– to care for the hearts, souls, and minds of others. And I want tobelike that, too.
Today, Chris explained that you don’t know what you don’t know about a person and you should act accordingly.
Word, Chris Lema! There’s so much more to the people that surround us than we could possibly see at first glance. Thanks so much for the reminder!!
Last night, Lara wrote a whole post meant to encourage you.
Seriously, how nice was it for Lara to use her insecure writer’s support group time to tell other people that they are awesome?! Talk about giving back!
A couple days ago, Dawn shared some really beautiful words that have made an impact on her life.
Dawn literally shared the most beautiful contents of her hand-written journals and gave us all a way to carry those types of words around with us.
And finally, a heartbroken momma has chosen to use her grief to inspire so many through The 19 Days— a time to honor her beautiful baby girl, Avery, through random acts of kindness this October 5th through 24th.
I will be performing 19 random acts of kindness and with every one, I will think of that sweet little girl and her huge hearted mom and what an amazing force for GOOD both of them are in this world.
As my brother tells me James Joyce said, because I never would have known otherwise (Tom is very well-read), “Love loves to love love.” And it’s so true. Like water follows salt (it’s science), love follows love. Kindness follows kindness. And goodness follows gratitude. (Maybe that’s science, too?)
These days, the negative is still there in the news and on my Facebook feed, but I’m listening more carefully and taking the time to be more observant of the quiet undertone of goodness and love beneath it all. And I think that this is part of the Christmas present my dad created for my sister, brother, and I last year. It was a beautiful slide show set to music in which he juxtaposed images of absolute disaster and tragedy with the powerful and unknowable presence of God. If God’s not your thing, think love, spirituality, humanity, kindness… think everything good that is. It’s always there, even when it seems like it’s not, like it couldn’t possibly be. You just need to listen for it, look for it, try your hardest to feel it all around you. If Bridget can find it through her daughter’s death and Chris can find it in an elevator on the way to deliver a speech, I imagine it can be found pretty much anywhere and everywhere. What good luck!!
And sometimes, a little kindness toward yourself first can help you look later. Pedicure, anyone?!
The Department of Homeland Security has a public service campaign it calls “If You See Something, Say Something” for the purposes of raising public awareness about indicators of terrorism and terrorism-related crime. Makes sense to me– we can’t always assume that someone else is going to see the same thing we saw. And if they do, we can’t assume that they’re going to do something about it.
But I think this idea can apply to a lot more than anti-terrorism measures, and I propose the following:
Seriously, does anything feel better than a heart-felt compliment? An expression of gratitude? So why not tell someone when you like their dress, think they did a good job speaking in a meeting, got something done faster than you expected, looked really beautiful or happy or glamorous or clever in a photo on Facebook? What’s the harm in saying something nice?
I’m not suggesting that we all walk around with a false “you look lovely today” on our lips, but I know that nice thoughts pop into my mind all the live-long day and it seems silly to waste such happy thoughts on my brain, marinating in its juices all alone in my thick skull all the time. Why not share the thought and take a chance on making someone’s day just a bit better?
When I first started toying with the idea of starting a blog, I really wanted to make it a positive place. In fact, my original working title was “This is a Positive Blog.” Of course, that was before the whole tapestry idea came about and I’m glad it did, because I like that much better. Regardless, this is a positive blog. And I want to be a positive force in the lives that I touch. There’s enough negativity out there to go around.
So what do you say? Will you join me in my crusade for kindness? My goal of goodness? (My attempts at alliteration???) It’s as easy as saying out loud the thought that’s already in your head. Piece of cake! Piece of delicious cake…
My husband and I have some extraordinarily (and I mean EXTRA-ordinarily) generous friends and were recently gifted Jawbone UP bands. It’s basically a bracelet you wear that tracks your activity and sleep patterns… and it’s awesome. (Well, mine has been awesome. The hubs seems to keep breaking his over and over and over again. Perhaps he’s too active or something. I haven’t had that problem.) Anyway, when you first get it you have to sign up for an account and when you’re all done signing up, this is what shows up on your screen:
Boom. Sexy data. I LOVE THAT! What a clever thing to say!! (And seriously, I’m so excited that I get to show off that screen shot right now!!)
And the best way to think about data??? GRAPH it! Everybody loves a good graph! (Don’t pretend like you don’t. Graphs are the bomb-diggity and you know it.)
My UP band graphs all sorts of things for me and it’s super fun to see patterns in my sleep and number of steps and such. (Apparently, I’m a bum on Fridays, but I go way over my daily goal when I mow the lawn. Good to know.)
So, when I started blogging my cousin Steven (well, he’s my mom’s cousin, my second cousin, but he’s an excellent blogger regardless) recommended the WordPress plug-in Jetpack to help me do lots of blog-like things, including… TRACK DATA! Yay!! More data!!
So, I’ve been watching visitors and views and clicks and searches and such over time, and I noticed an interesting pattern over the past two weeks:
(Yes, I removed the axis labels. Number of views is on the y-axis, date is on the x. The numbers themselves are irrelevant, but the pattern is interesting, isn’t it?)
Clearly, views are cyclic and they seem to decrease considerably on the weekend. I totally get that, I rarely check in on the virtual world from Friday night through Monday morning because I’m too busy interacting with the actual world (read: vacuuming my house, getting my laundry done, and sleeeeeeeping and sleeping and sleeping…) so based on these* data, I thought I might do well to change up my blog format just a touch. I’m thinking that I will focus on posting my primary material Monday through Thursday and then I’ll check in over the weekend with photos, short notes, and funny things.
BUT, I’ll save the real thought-provoking (and hilarious) stuff for during the week. Deal? Deal.
*You know you’re a scientist when… “these data” — not a typo 🙂
PS: I could have sworn there was a PhD comic at some point about how to get out of trouble with your advisor by making a graph. Did I imagine that? I couldn’t find it, even with the Google… anyone else know what I’m talking about?
Comparison is an important concept in math and one of the most important math lessons you have to carry over into life. (I often compare prices at the grocery store, it’s pretty rare that I solve differential equations.) Comparison also has other useful functions. Is this bluegill bigger or smaller than this sunscreen bottle? (Bigger? It’s a keeper!) Is that bag of popcorn bigger or smaller than my stomach? (Answer: it’s always bigger… and my stomach always hurts after a movie.) But comparison can also be touchy when we apply it outside of math.
In my mind, and probably only in my mind, comparison is at the root of so many of our problems. For most of my life, I’ve looked at another girl… and then another young lady… and then another woman… and seen how much (fill-in-the-blank)-er she is than me. Prettier than me, taller, shorter, fatter, younger, older, cuter, smarter, etc, etc, etc… and that has always been my point of reference. The place from which I begin my relationship with this girl… young lady… woman… before I even know her.
In thinking about these comparisons now, however, I realize that there is no way to truly compare myself to any other person on this earth. The endless number of physical, emotional, intellectual, and even environmental and circumstantial characteristics that can be used to describe a person truly are unique to that person and are always changing. I have my own set and it is literally impossible for the same set of characteristics to describe two separate people, even if only because two people cannot physically occupy the same space at the same time, assuming every other single thing is the same (which it’s not and never will be).
So how can I really compare? It can never really be apples to apples. So perhaps my life would be more enjoyable if I just enjoyed being an apple and accepted the orange for the orange that she is without feeling the need to point out how, as an apple, I’m more or less anything than the orange.
(Although… edible skin? Apple win! But that’s not fair. I really don’t like oranges at all. Especially the way they smell.)
Granted, comparison isn’t always a bad thing. We can learn so much from each other’s differences. But the key is to use comparison to point us toward the unique quality in the other person rather than using it as yardstick for ourselves to measure up to.
Yes, yes, yes… all beautiful and thoughtful things to say. But how do you put it into action? How do you make that leap from bad comparison to good comparison? I wish I had the answer. I suppose the first step is admitting you have a problem. So…
Hi, my name is Rachel, and I’m a compare-aholic.
(You, in unison now: Hi, Rachel!)
Thanks, friends. Feels good to get that off my chest!
The weird thing: you will never be too anything to me. (Yes, you.) My comparison is always focused entirely on myself. (How narcissistic of me!!!) And as much as I try for good comparison (my friend Melissa is so much kinder than me, being around her makes me feel calm and grounded…) I often find myself focused instead on bad points of comparison (my friend Melissa is so good at eating vegetables, I embarrass myself eating around her). (Both of those things are true by the way. Melissa is the kindest, calmest vegetable-eater I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.)
The worst part of this crippling comparison syndrome is that I short change myself and miss out on opportunities for awesome things, like friendship, because I’m too busy comparing. For example, I work with an amazing pediatrician on a regular basis– she is kind and interesting and so different from me in so many ways, I find her absolutely fascinating and I think I want to be her friend-friend (as opposed to just a work-friend). (Good comparison!) But, she is a beautiful and stylish physician (you know, first class doctor), and I hate myself for saying this, she is… thin… and therefore, would never want to be my friend. (Bad, bad, bad comparison!) So I find myself hesitating when I interact with her, afraid to say the wrong thing or wear pants that might “make me look fat” when I know I’m going to meet with her. My rational self says, “Seriously?! WTF is wrong with you?!” while my jerk second-track prods me along down that self-limiting path. Ugh. That second track.
Am I the only one out there with this crippling comparison syndrome? (No, pumpkins have it too. Which is really unfortunate because everyone knows pumpkins actually are the best.)
PS: Do you like my math joke in the title? Not a very good joke since I had to point it out, huh? But I’m going to force it anyway.