Study Break 2013

Every year, I get a study break.

Every year, I try to take a bit of it.

This year, I’m doing it right.

(Here is a little glimpse of last year’s break…)

I’m taking the entire break in one big clump, as encouraged by my boss (who had a terrific, extended study break during his sabbatical last summer). After Easter, I tidied up a bit and then left creative planning in the hands of my remarkable team at PCC and set off. I spent the majority of the first week in Savannah, where I managed to renew my soul and spirit through connections with my daughter, her friends and an incredible church. I did some good, hard study preparing a message for City Church, and enjoyed the challenge of sharing a message from God with a group of relative strangers. Great conversations were had, incredible food was eaten and the 2013 Study Break was off to a great start.

Sarah and David…

I followed up with a trip to Raleigh – with my eldest daughter and her boyfriend – to see her reconnect with her brothers, and to see my eldest son’s drum line take first place in the AIA championships. It was a good, if incredibly exhausting, Saturday.

This week, I am mostly home. I’ve set aside specific goals for each day; yesterday, I reconnected with a husband who held down the fort (in spite of a sinus and bronchial infection) while I was gone, and I did my part at his music store by teaching some incredible musicians their private piano lessons.

You know who you are…

In this photo, you’ll see one of my students’ hands as she begins to work on a Clementi Sonatina that I played in high school. What goes around, comes around. I find that one of the greatest joys in my current existence is the privilege of working with piano students. To see music come alive for them, as the discipline of years of practice and dedication pay off – wow. It connects everything internally – my love of teaching, my passion for music, my genuine fondness for my students – and the reward is like nothing else. It is passion and purpose, and spiritual in ways that I can’t even articulate.

I took a walk through our little village. It’s no Savannah, but it’s home.

Today I was a domestic diva, staying home, listening to my former pastor preach via the magic of the internet (Jamie Rasmussen, Scottsdale Bible Church – the man God used to teach me the most about grace) and cleaning. Sort of. I’m a half-hearted cleaner who is easily distracted, so it was not difficult to interrupt the day with a conversation over coffee with a good friend who also happens to be my current pastor. And my boss. Lots of great stuff going on in life and in our church, and it was good to reconnect.

I was inspired to cook by the incredible tacos at Foxy Loxy.
These are a far cry from Foxy Loxy, but they were homemade and it’s a start….

I visited my church, enjoying very much the glimpse of the faces I love who are carrying out the mission of PCC. I visited my husband. I came home to visit my son, and I listened over the phone as my daughter read a dramatic interpretation of her testimony, which is entangled with my own, and I found myself very emotional.

The freedom to move throughout the day with the undercurrents of grace and inspiration all around me fuels the best, deepest part of my creativity. Things begin to churn and swell and before I know it, they erupt. I know I am where I am supposed to be, and expanded breathing room like this helps me to be my best.

The remaining days of the week include focused study time, artistic inspiration, a structured retreat at Richmond Hill and moments with my boys whenever I can find them.

I’m also thinking of planning a big party. I’m turning 50 in just a few weeks!

I’m grateful for every day of every one of those almost-fifty years; with each day that passes, my gratitude grows for the privilege of life, well-lived. Working, study-breaking, vacationing – it’s good just to be alive.

Mother’s Day 2012

 This was an unusual Mother’s Day; the first time in memory without all five kids.

As my kids grow up and move on, I’m thinking more about how my identity has been forged in my responsibilities to and for them. Being the mother of Sarah-Shannon-Sydni-Daniel-David has been my life for over 20 years. It remains so, but that life expands and broadens with every passing season. Or school semester. Or tuition payment.

Fall 2012 = three girls in college. At the same time. Ow.

I digress: Mother’s Day today, and two of the five – the oldest – are away. One to the south, pursuing the education of her dreams. The other to the north, investing her summer months in a future career.

In years past, they’ve congregated and planned a meal, a housecleaning, gifts and cards and pedicures and all sorts of wonderful blessings. This year, in the midst of a lot of major transitions, we opted to make a new memory.

Today, they gave me beautiful cards with heartfelt sentiments; small, sentimental gifts that meant a lot and were just what I wanted.

And then we went to lunch, me and my youngest three kids. And I thought about the privilege of tackling this second generation of parenting with the two boys (and a few short weeks with the girl) in the time that I have left. I’ve joked with friends who are my age and done, because they had one kid, or maybe two, and the nest is empty and they have time and nobody drinks all the milk and the house stays clean. I look at my youngest and know that I have six more years of active parenting, six years before he’s 18 and able to step out on his own. Sort of.

Some times that seems daunting. But lately, I’ve been seeing it as a privilege. I’ve learned so much in the past 20 years. I’m a different mom now than I was then. I’m praying that I can apply it and invest the time and energy they deserve. I figure God chose me to be their mom. I do well to honor that gift.


So I took THEM to lunch today. And I gave each of them a personal letter, with my sentiments expressed as best I could. I told them why I valued them, what I loved about them and my commitment to them.

It was the best way I could think of to celebrate. I got, and I gave. And I know this: I wouldn’t be the woman I am today without being a mother.

And these kids made me a mother. I’m grateful.

By the way; to the two girls who live north and south, don’t worry….yours is coming. I love you ALL.

In Which The Truth Comes Out

I’m house cleaning. Music pours through the empty halls and off the walls as I wait for three of my five kids to make the 45-minute trip from their dad’s house back home. I’m in the kitchen, and I can hear the shuffle of the melodies from the living room.

Eminem – Tenth Avenue North – Susan Graham – Michael Roe – U2 – Willie Nelson – A.R. Rahman – Andrew Bird – Dave Matthews – Jay Z – Lecrae – Hillsong – Sting –

I’m unsure about so many things these days, including what kind of music I want. So I put it on shuffle. It works brilliantly. There’s a little bit of everything – a LOT of everything!

I think, to myself, “This music….it’s like I’m schizophrenic or something…” and I imagine me saying that to someone, because I do that, sometimes, when I’ve spent a few too many hours alone.

And I pull up short in that moment. It’s that word, schizophrenia. Because I have learned, recently, that comparing the challenges of a mental illness like schizophrenia to the razzle-dazzle of an eclectic music collection meets a wide range of criteria for wrong.

There is no comparison. Bad analogy.

I’m not schizophrenic. I just have diverse taste in music. I don’t have a mental illness.

But my daughter does.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

There it is. I said it. The truth is out.

And oh, the roaring rush of wind that blows through mind as I even type those words…it is loud and it is fast and it blows where it will. And I can’t control it.

So I am giving up control. I have decided (with her permission) to let it go.

It seems, at times, that we live in two separate worlds. It’s not the biggest secret; there are many who will read these words and acknowledge what was confided months ago. Coming out is no surprise to all.

But we have lived in this other place, where we read blogs about bipolar and pass around a book called Loving Someone Who Is Bipolar and we talk about and pray for friends who are exhibiting symptoms that we recognize so well. We talk about our extended family, and those who have gone before, some undiagnosed, and what cousins are struggling still. We see the scarred branches of our particular family tree and have learned to find new names for what we once simply called moody. Or over the top. Or intense. Or hyper.

And we live in this place where we are all just a bit sensitive to the mania and the depression and the way the tendrils of either one can wrap around our legs and throw us on our collective asses.

Bipolar disease has changed our family dramatically, because we live here, now.

Sarah was diagnosed just a few weeks after her 19th birthday. Calling it what it was – naming this thing that was bouncing off the walls and scratching itself bloody on our backsides – led to a decision (hers, mostly) to walk into St. Mary’s psych ward here in Richmond. Reliving those moments as I watched my child – my baby girl! my daughter! my beautiful child! – walk through doors locked to keep me out as much as to keep her in brings hot, tense tears even now.

Of all the things that life has brought; of the many mistakes I have made, the pain I have caused, the injuries I have inflicted, the wounds I have felt, nothing – absolutely nothing – compares of the utter agony of a suffering child.

My suffering child.

And me, rendered completely incapable of helping her. In fact, quite the opposite, as therapy and hot dialogue reveal that the initial triggers all connect to me, somehow. Those tight, tense strings of maternal love and affection can also carry deadly, destructive disease.

I am her mother. I bring healing, and I bring pain.

There is a special place for this sort of motherhood. I’ve yet to determine any analogy, any comparison. I know this: that there is a depth to my soul untouched and likely unreachable by anything but the fiery coals that sear this tainted love, the kind that rages within the boundaries of mania and weeps with the despair of depression. Only this particular, unforgettable fire burns this deep. None other that I have felt.

I love my daughter. She is bipolar. And we will never be the same.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Sarah is incredibly wise and proactive and continues to embrace – even to own her life, in a full and vibrant way. The challenges of living with mental illness are greater for her, the affected individual, than any of the rest of us; but Sarah has a unique, God-given ability to consider others around her. Perhaps it’s because she is the eldest, the “big sister”. Years of looking out for everybody else created habits and patterns of bold love and heartfelt kindness. It’s a beautiful thing.

Today, she sent a note to me and to her sisters, quoting a book she is reading. It was the trigger to finally tug these words out from beyond the walls of our house and into the light.

So, now you know. And I wonder if some of you read this post and were surprised.

It’s everywhere. There are people and families all around us who live with bipolar and other mental illness. The spectrum of treatment and life engagement varies wildly. You never know.

In opening the door to our situation, we hope to offer an invitation toward healing for other families who are living with bipolar disease or other mental illness. And we want to help eliminate the stigma. Everyone around you is carrying some sort of burden. Some of them struggle with mental illness. Don’t forget that.

Here’s the quote Sarah sent us, how she is helping her siblings walk this road:

The effects of mental illness on brothers and sisters
Mental illness can lead to a variety of emotional effects for brothers and sisters of the affected person. For example, they may feel:
Confusion about their sibling’s changed behaviour.
Embarrassment about being in the affected person’s company.
Jealous of their parent’s attention.
Resentment about not being like their peers.
Fear of developing the mental illness.

What brothers and sisters can and can’t do
What you can do
If your sibling has a mental illness, you can:
Talk honestly about your feelings and encourage others in the family to do the same.
Be active in improving mental health services – for example, through local mental health support groups.
Avoid making the ill person the axis around which the family revolves.
Maintain your focus on living and enjoying your own life.
What you can’t do
If your sibling has a mental illness, you can’t:
Be totally responsible for their welfare.
Make your sibling behave in a certain way – for example, force them to take their medication.
Solve all their problems or feel you ought to.
Lessen the impact of the illness by pretending that it is not there.

And this is the back story, then, to the tremendous emotion behind that post I wrote. You see, leaving home and taking this step towards her future was something that she wasn’t sure she’d ever really be able to do. That’s why we cried; that’s why we rejoice.

You never know.

David’s Eleventh Birthday

Guess who had a birthday today?

David turned eleven.

I can hardly believe it.

Seems like just yesterday, I was laying on the couch, eating Cheetos and Oreos, processing the fact that I was going to have another baby. Number five.

The timing didn’t seem right, but boy, was I surprised. David has brought such joy to our family, and a unique tenderness to me.

His talents are ever-increasing and surprising. He is fiercely loyal. He is a quiet kid, with a deep, thoughtful heart.

It is our family tradition to allow the birthday boy or girl to choose their favorite food for dinner. Each kid has some sort of special request; frankly, most of them choose to go to Grandma’s house (because NOBODY cooks like Grandma cooks…) When I asked David what he wanted this year, he replied, “I would like a selection of my favorite meats.  Bacon. Pork chops. And steak. Oh, and some macaroni and cheese.”

The boy knows what he likes.

We settled on ONE meat – steak – and Grandma’s homemade mac and cheese. It was a good time.

 He was excited. Note the props to Maida Vale, a fine rock and roll band….

Tony gave him some sort of funny card. It had the word ‘fart’ in it. David loved it, of course.
Oh, yes. A bunch of plastic dinosaur bracelets.
His one specific request was for the Iron Man 2 PSP game. He got it.
I love my son. I love him for who he is, for the person he is becoming. I am shocked at how quickly manhood looms ahead, and I can’t say that I like it much.
It goes without saying that motherhood changes you. David’s presence in my life has shaped and molded me in powerful ways.
Tonight, we celebrate eleven years of his life and I am grateful.
Happy Birthday, Dave.

What Comes Next

I’m considering furthering my education. Just starting to think about it…

…I think I want a seminary degree. I want to study the Bible, seriously. But I don’t want to go to some rubber stamp let’s-make-a-minister joint. It’s tough to decide which direction to go.

Or maybe I could learn some new technology. Study graphic arts, seriously. I’d love that.

Or dig back into another music degree.

I don’t know.

I just know I’m approaching a season of life when I’ve poured a ton of energy into raising kids. I still have tons of work to do in that direction.

But I’m starting to think about the things I want to do in the time I have left. It’s feeling really precious to me. There’s a lot I don’t know. There’s a lot I’d love to learn.

While I’m thinking through this, I’m going to spend a lot of time hugging my kids. I’m thinking that by the time David’s 18, I’ll have figured out what I want to do next.

Swagger

Just a few days ago I was thinking about how my family dynamic has changed since my oldest girls got their drivers’ licenses.  Used to be, we had to pile five kids into the Suburban together to go anywhere. We didn’t fit anywhere else. There were always heated arguments about who got to sit up front – they would run towards the car screaming, “SHOTGUN!!!” and subsequently debate whether or not the word itself trumped the physical possession of the front seat. We’ve argued and sung and laughed our way through many a mile in our big red Suburban.

No more. Now Sarah and Shannon have their own cars and the occasion for all of us to travel together is rare.

I remember the first van we bought; it wasn’t worth much, an old square GM van we purchased in Hico, Texas. It didn’t last long; it came with a bum transmission and within a few months we were trading it in for something that actually ran. With only two kids in the family, we weren’t quite mini-van material, but from that point forward we needed large vehicles to transport our crew.

I love my Suburban, but these days it’s used more as a shuttle for Sunday morning church services than it is for our family.

So this made me smile, and just a bit nostalgic. I’m thinking about all the folks I know with young children and swagger wagons. Those days passed way too quickly, it seems.

Enjoy – creative marketing and great filmmaking.