Tuesday, May 17, 2011

More Lessons From My Son

My alarm rang out this morning - its sound, along with the noisy tapping of heavy rain on our window, coaxing me out of my slumber.  Stretching, I forced my legs out from under the covers and over the side of the bed.  It's Andrew's birthday, I remembered.  Early in the morning five years ago, Andrew made his way into the world, a loud cry announcing his arrival.  That day marked a significant turning point for me; life has not been the same since his coming.  Celebration, joy, stress, impatience, love, fear, uncertainty, protection, weariness, laughter - these feelings and others more intense than ever before.  Securing my heart with his smile, my little Andrew's vulnerability and innocence demanded that my well-being be intertwined with his, that his joy would be my joy and his suffering my suffering.  Our lives are braided, even knotted together.

(I'm sure that he won't want to be braided or knotted to me in a few short years from now, so I remind myself to enjoy the present.)

Andrew wanted to share soft pretzels with his school friends to celebrate his birthday, so I rose early both to celebrate the time of Andrew's birth and to make the pretzels.  Ten cups of flour were needed for the dough.  I counted...
and then was distracted with another thought.  I'm still not sure exactly how much flour was in that dough.  Still waking up, I felt grumpy, frustrated with my inability to complete this simple task, and afraid that the pretzels would be a disaster.  I pictured a bunch of preschoolers vocalizing their disgust after tasting Andrew's "treats".

Then I remembered a story that I heard while touring the Sturgis Pretzel Factory a few months ago.  Our tour guide explained that hard pretzels came into being as the result of an error in making soft pretzels; legend has it that a baker left the soft pretzels in the oven too long.  He decided to try a burnt pretzel, and was surprised to find that it was actually quite good.  Coincidentally, CBS News was filming during our tour; you can hear the highlights from the story (and see us around 2 minutes into the video) here.

Andrew, Amelia, and Natalie, after touring the Sturgis Pretzel Factory
This memory provided some comfort.  A baking error can result in something just as good as the original.  In fact, something new can be birthed from a "mistake".  For a perfectionist like me, stories such as these, where deviation from rules or instructions have a positive outcome, are life-giving.  They're freeing.  It seems that missteps are often necessary for making the world creative and interesting.  The ability to make and recover from mistakes allows movement and progress without the fear of error.

As a mom, I've struggled to encourage my kids to be their true selves, and to allow mistakes for the value of the teaching and learning opportunities that result.  I have my own, often selfish, standards and ideas and goals for the ways that I'd like them to perform and the people I'd like them to become.  Andrew has his own, very unique, personality and humor seen as early as his ultrasound photos.  He's sensitive, helpful, and social.  He is not a perfect child; at times, he's disobedient, disrespectful, and even mean.  But to me, he is lovable and valuable despite moments of bad behavior or poor choices.  God has graciously given him to me as a gift, so that I may learn important lessons such as these: we're valuable because we exist, not because of what we do (or don't do), and being our true selves brings joy, blessing, and beauty to the world.  Happy birthday Andrew!

Monday, May 16, 2011

An Unexpected Opportunity

We were enjoying a quiet day at home following a busy weekend.  Some clothes purging and organization, a little catching up on email, and finalizing plans for Andrew's birthday were making for a positive and productive start to the week.  Feeling energized and inspired, I even taught my kids a Bible verse.  For months, even years, I've been meaning to work on Scripture memorization with the kids, hoping that it would give them a right foundation that would be helpful in making decisions, maintaining perspective during difficult times, and believing truth about themselves and their relationships with God.

Rejoice in God always; again I will say, rejoice!  (Philippians 4:4)  Singing a childhood song based on this verse, I hoped that Andrew would allow the words to sink in.  I instructed him to try to remember the words of the song whenever he's having a hard day or feeling sad or scared.  I told him how I struggle with remembering God's goodness when things aren't going my way, but that recalling words like these shape my thinking and attitude.  They are transformative.

As I paused to ponder what to say next, I gazed out the kitchen door to our deck, and I caught a glimpse of this:

Note the very long snake hanging out on our deck.

I stepped back in surprise, shock even.  We live in the city; we aren't supposed to have creatures like this lurking in our backyards.  Cockroaches, yes.  Mice, yes.  Stray cats, yes.  Long, scary snakes, NO!

I have to confess that despite the repetition of the verse just seconds before this situation, I was not praising God for the snake.  I got on the phone, first with Dave, and then with emergency responders, who I'm sure thought I was crazy, and referred me to a critter control company.  In my mind, this was much bigger than critter control.  When I called Dave a second time, he suggested that I ask my next-door neighbors for help.

Now my neighbors moved in nearly one year ago, but I still don't know them very well.  Most times when I'm walking by their house, I'm getting ready to go somewhere, and I'm in a frenzy because we're late and the kids are not listening to my stress-filled instructions.  Honestly, I'm a little ashamed of my behavior, and this is my excuse for not initiating.  Anthony and Angela are parents to a very charming one-year-old.  Anthony is kind, calm, and strong.  And he works second shift.  Realizing that Anthony might be home, Dave also had a feeling that Anthony would not be afraid of snakes, and may even like them.  

Anthony seemed to welcome the opportunity to handle the snake.  He walked out onto our deck, and after taking a quick look at it, picked him up, told me that it was likely someone's pet, said he would take it home until someone came to inquire about it, and asked if I'd like him to search our backyard for more snakes.  Holding back tears, I thanked Anthony and watched him take the snake home with him (sorry Angela).

We've had quite the week with critters at our house: a spider on our bed, a millipede with me in the shower, termites in our woodpile, ants in our kitchen, and now a snake on our deck.  (I assure you, this isn't normal; our house is typically pest-free, at least I think it is!)  Each time, I've wanted a superman to come to my rescue - someone to swoop in and remove the nuisance, to lift the fear and burden.  I'm feeling thankful that sometimes our difficult or scary situations lead us to ask for help and depend on others, even others we don't know very well.  Today this snake led to communication and relationship with my neighbors.  It even resulted in an invitation to ask for help in the future.  For this, I am grateful.  In this, I can rejoice.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

What Does A Runner Look Like?

A few days ago, I was telling Dave how I'd like to purchase some new running attire.  During our conversation, I shared that most of my athletic shirts seem to be cut for men or small women; they don't provide much space for a woman like me, who has hips.  The pull and stretch of these shirts across my hips and bottom is uncomfortable and sometimes even embarrassing.  "My hips are just too big.  I don't look like a runner," I lamented.

Thank goodness for a husband who quickly challenges the untruths I speak.  Dave responded by pointing me to a forum post from a woman who was venting about an unpleasant experience at a sporting goods store.  She approached a salesperson, asked for information about a particular sports bra, and was dismissed with the remark, "You don't look like a runner."  Maybe this woman's legs weren't the right shape, or maybe she even carried a little extra weight around her waist.  In any case, an interaction like this is can be devastating to a sensitive runner.

What does a runner look like?

The other day, I spied my kids checking out my latest issue of Runners' World magazine.  Wow, I thought,  I'm encouraging the next generation of runners by leaving my reading material on the floor!  When I asked what they were doing, they told me that they were looking at belly buttons.  I believe it.  There are, indeed, many pictures of belly buttons in Runner's World.  Belly buttons on super-thin, very muscular, tan, young, beautiful people.  Runners of course.

Is this what a runner looks like?

I'll show you what a runner looks like.

Here we are - my sister, me, and my sister's roommate Hilary.  We're running the Pasadena Half Marathon.  We're putting one foot in front of the other, challenging ourselves, taking in the scenery, and enjoying our time together.  We may not belong in Runner's World magazine.  Maybe we don't look like we need the sports bras reserved for serious runners.  But we are runners.

Below are my sister's reflections on this subject.  Please check out more of her writing at http://revisionsblog.blogspot.com/

And I'd love to hear your response to this topic too...

If you had to guess a sport I play, you’d probably pick basketball. And you’d be right. Sort of.

At 5’11” and with a wide build, I was trained in high school to use my body to block out and get the rebound. I wasn’t the fast, agile center.

But that’s all guess work, based on common assumptions about athletes and their build. You wouldn’t guess that running is my thing.

A few months ago, I was discussing some knee inflammation with a doctor. This has been a chronic, mysterious symptom, one I suspect is related to an auto-immune disease I was diagnosed with a few years ago. My doctor — a large, athletic middle-eastern man with broad shoulders and a strong handshake — didn’t inspect my knee. Instead he encouraged biking or swimming for a cardio workout. “People built like you and me, we aren’t meant to be runners.”

We both knew what he meant — he didn’t need to explain further. He was referring to tall, broad folks with some meat on their bones. Runners, the assumption goes, are small, thin, all muscle and bone. Narrow hips and natural athleticism don’t hurt.

The thing is, I love running. I don’t pretend to think I’ll ever be competitive. I probably won’t ever run in the Boston marathon (you need to qualify for it). My fastest mile split to date is somewhere around 8.5 minutes, which really isn’t fast by most standards.

But there’s just something about it. It’s the joy of being outside. It’s getting up the hill. It’s racing the sun as it rises in the morning, or chasing it when it goes down. It’s exploring your city from a whole new perspective and discovering streets and alleys and vistas you might never have seen if you hadn’t been running through it.           

So that’s why, when my doctor suggested running wasn’t for me, hot tears threatened my eyes and I had to look down to blink them away. After the hurt had passed (the hurt from his insensitive comment and all that had been implied by messages I’d received before this one), I smiled a little to myself. I remembered how so often people’s comments mirror their own disappointment and have little to say about me. And I renewed my commitment to give my desire to run — and enjoy it —precedence over whatever my build might say about me. Or what sport I should play.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Too Much Information

I love the spring.  The first signs of warmth coax people out of their homes and into the streets.  The city is alive with the sounds of happy children, reunited neighbors, and ice cream trucks.  Our weeping cherry tree is in her peak - her pink blossoms brightening our spirits.

But the spring also reminds me that flip flop season is right around the corner.

I love to wear flip flops when I'm all alone.  But I can't bring myself to wear flip flops in public, at least not without some careful planning.  My feet are not out for display; I try to keep them hidden from view.  I don't want others to see the affect of years of running (and perhaps other factors) on my feet.  If you can think of any unpleasant foot condition, I likely have it.  I noticed the first of the problems around 13 years ago.  The foot issues have grown, sure and steady, more numerous and more complicated, since my first discovery.  And growing right along-side these issues is the shame that I've experienced as a result.

So I cover up.  I hide.  And this makes the affliction worse - it likes the dark and damp that results from all of the masking that's going on.  I avoid thinking about it, treating it, or asking others for help.  I don't want to acknowledge that I'm not well, even though it's (literally) painfully obvious.  Sometimes, when I don't treat the earlier problem, I get something called an id reaction.  This is an itchy and painful, eczema-like rash that appears on my hands as a secondary reaction to the initial, untreated condition.

I wonder how often this situation mirrors my everyday life.  I'm in need of help and healing in one area, but because I'm too ashamed or busy, I don't pursue treatment, and so the sickness presents itself in all kinds of other places and in all kinds of other ways.  So perhaps my latest diatribe against my husband or children isn't always about my most recent frustration; it's really a symptom of something else, but presenting itself in a new way.  This is a good thing - yes?  A reminder to reengage, to reflect, to ask what is wrong and do the patient work of getting well.

Today, my sore hands are a reminder that I need to take care of my feet.  And my bitter words are a reminder that I need to take care of my heart.