Thursday, January 24, 2013

Fibro Arms

The mountain of laundry was looming at me. I knew I had to do it, burning arms and all. You see, that is what happens...the burnig arms was one of the first signs to me that I had fibromyalgia, but I did not know it at the time. thought I just has so much laundry to fold that I was getting a good arm workout. I would fold laundry and my arms would burn. Now they always burn when I fold laundry if I’m in a “fibro-flare”.

I had two babies when I first noticed it. I remember mentioning the arm burning thing at a La Leche League meeting. The other moms looked at me like I had two heads when I mentioned that I got lots of exercise from laundry folding. I’m sure they thought I was delusional. Maybe one could define it as such. All I knew is how I felt when I exercised...that’s when your muscles burn, right? That’s how it feels, but instead of lifting weights, you are folding a dish rag. That’s fibro. And instead of dumping the dumb-bells back in their racks and being done with the workout, and feeling pride, you just have another pile of laundry to fold. Chances are you folded the same items two days ago. It’s SO not exciting. I know you know this. You have laundry, too.

Fibro can sure change your day. I thought I was going to get twice as much work done today as I did. I planned on going to Costco this afternoon. I’d already taken two kids to the dentist this morning, and while they were busy getting their teeth polished, I ran over to the Walmart by the dentist’s office in order to grab my “Walmart items”...you know, the stuff that is cheapest there like garbage bags and cat food... So I felt like my day was moving along nice and efficiently. I was in control. After dropping off the two dentist kids at home, I zipped over to the Walmart near my house because I still needed gluten free pasta and some yarn and the other place did not carry those items. Then I swung by the library, picked up M from work and it was home for lunch. I was so grateful to have B, because when I dropped her off at the house after the dentist, she put some sweet potatoes in the oven to bake for lunch. I was on top of things, getting things done and looking forward to more shopping in the afternoon.

I was going to go to Costco for the meat and fruit and lemon juice, olive oil and butter. Except I didn’t. Suddenly after lunch I was very very tired, and I stayed tired for the rest of the day. I knew I could not drive safely. There’s tired and then there’s the kind of tired that tells you you should not drive the car. That’s the kind of tired I’m talking about. The kids did their school work and I stupidly vegetated. I did a bit of laundry and eventually threw some frozen vegetables and a chicken into the oven for dinner. Dinner was late, and tasted about as exciting as the amount of effort I put into it. The day felt wasted. Now it means tomorrow will be extra busy. So that is how I came to the end of my day with a mountain of laundry that needed to be folded. And only me, with my burning arms, to do it.

It’s called asceticism. It’s called “death to self”. Those of us who are married-with-kids don’t get it in very glamorous forms. And no one remembers our ordinary lives. There’s only one way to get through a mountain of laundry with burning fibro arms: “O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Vignette number 3: Hungry Ghosts

The ghosts are angry tonight. They are angry with me because I told them I would not feed them anymore. The ghosts are dark and they lurk in that place, the vast uncharted territory of my heart. If I were to map it, I’ve always imagined the map would be a wasteland with the label: “Here Be Dragons”. Dragons, ghosts, ghosts of dragons, monsters of the dark...whatever I want to call them, they are my own.

They say that the best way to get rid of an unwanted animal is to stop feeding it. So, I have determined that the ghosts will not get fed. They clamor, creating a fear inside of me...shaking the cage and screaming at me that if I do not feed them, I will be hungry forever. They scream at me, that I don’t deserve to be hungry, and that I should feed them because by feeding them, I am feeding myself.

But they lie to me. The hungry ghosts have been lying to me since I was about thirteen years old. Looking back, I can see things so much more clearly than I did back then. There’s a name for what was going on with me when I was thirteen. I look at my pictures and I can hardly believe that the girl in the photos was me. I thought I was Jabba the Hut, when in reality I was shaped a lot more like Marylin Monroe. Now, most thirteen-year-olds don’t want to be shaped like Marilyn, so no wonder I felt odd....but the ghosts were born, and they lied to me. I had body dysmorphia. What I saw in the mirror did not match reality. And the ghosts were born.

The ghosts were born the day I was taken to the gyno for an exam, and it was so very very painful that I screamed and gagged at the same time. All the grownups in the room were yelling at me to relax. They said I must remain a virgin forever unless I got cut because I was “too tight”. “Nothing wrong with her periods that losing twenty pounds won’t fix,” the doctor glibly chided as he left the room. I went home and went on my first diet. Shame raged, and the ghosts were born.

I ran. I ran and ran and ran, and still I could not manage to be shaped like the stars on TV. I looked at all the small women, and wondered why I was different. And I ran and binged and ran and binged. Exercise bulimia...that’s what they call it nowadays. Back then it was tear-filled Friday nights crying to my ever-patient mother who waited up for the storm after my babysitting job that always resulted in me eating too many sweets, followed by nausea-inducing runs on Saturday mornings to "make up for it". The ghosts were having a hay day.

“You don’t get to eat. You are fat, You are ugly. You are a loser. You don’t have a boyfriend because you are FAT. FAT FAT FAT FAT FAT.” The hungry ghosts yelled at my constantly, and I would lie in bed falling asleep hungry. I would go to school and be hungry...starve all day and binge in the afternoon when I got home from school. All I fed were the ghosts. I watched my thin friends eating sandwiches, fruit, cheese sticks...good things. All I ever packed in my lunch was two rice cakes with a thin smear of peanut butter, and an apple. I tried to live on crumbs. But the ghosts wouldn't let me.

I did not know how to care for myself. I thought taking care of myself meant drinking diet coke instead of the regular stuff.

And as soon as the running came to an end (I got injured), the weight started to creep. After four babies and a bum thyroid it stopped creeping and just piled. And through the years, the ghosts were with me. Always yammering. Always judging. Always screaming inside my head, full of shame and loathing.

Of course from time to time, I would pull myself up by my own bootstraps and start a diet. I would determine that I’d be good to myself, that this time would be different. But the hungry ghosts who filled me with loathing and shame...they wanted to be fed. Because as long as I fed them, they could keep existing and the cycle of loathing could continue. I could be secure in that comfortable, familiar place where I’d lived for so many years. I never understood why I would sabotage myself. But now I know about the hungry, angry ghosts. The fear I feel when I’m faced with hunger, those are ghost noises, ghost feelings. The anger over all this...when I eat about it, I am feeding the ghosts. Those feelings of helplessness, the desire to throw in the towel...it’s all about the ghosts. I MUST stop feeding the ghosts.

And so my new rule: Don’t feed the ghosts. They will starve, they will shrivel, and they will go away. It will take work. I will have to unlearn a thing or two...but I think I can learn to recognize a ghost when I see one, feel one, hear one, think one.

And through all this, I cling to the advice my priest gave me a year and a half ago: Peter, sinking into the water saying “Jesus, save me!” That is SO me. I am Peter. I am drowning in hungry ghosts. And I cry out “Jesus, save me!”

Don’t feed the hungry ghosts.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

What Do You Want?

Sometimes the process of setting a new goal can shake you up and make you see things more clearly. At least that is what I have been experiencing this past week. I’m taking a writing course, and it is a huge challenge for me. The first thing I realized was that I have been very very bad about setting goals in my adult life. Once I finished graduate school and became a mother, the only goals I had were to fix the next meal, change the next diaper, and...three more times...have the next baby. I’ve been in survival mode and I’ve been pouring my life out for my family and in the process I’ve become a muddle. My one-day-at-a-time existence has allowed eighteen years to slide by, mostly treading the path of least resistance.

Yes, there have been things I’ve learned over the years. I have accomplished some things-most of them domestic. I taught myself to sew with a sewing machine I purchased with wedding gift money. The end result of that effort has been that I’ve made a few wedding dresses and some baptismal gowns for people. People think I’m a seamstress. Perhaps I am. Perhaps I am not. I always know I could do better.

I’ve gotten to be a fairly good cook over the years. I make most everything from scratch...even stuff like mayonnaise and occasionally ketchup. I have learned how to can things like green beans and broth and leftover soups. I do allegry-free cooking...So I have definitely not been a slouch in the kitchen.

I can knit...and I’ve made sweaters, socks, hats, ... lace, fair isle patterns on socks. Again, it’s a homey and domestic sort of thing.

I always have the urge to create something...to try something new. I’ve dabbled in so many things: Folk Art painting, crochet, playing the mouth harmonica, playing the guitar, song writing, embroidery, cross stitch...dabble, dabble, dabble.

But a few things have eluded me: Losing weight, making money, and being organized (and not necessarily in that order of priority). And guess where “society” “our culture” --and the inner shoulda-oughta-why-doncha voice-- puts the emphasis? On being thin, on making money, and on staying on top of things. Because unless I can hit those BIG THREE, I am not a success.

Supposedly.

But when I focus on the things I am doing well, then the list of things I want to improve on does not seem so daunting. When I let go of what I cannot control, the things I CAN control seems more approachable.

What am I doing well? Being tuned in to my family’s needs...each person. I’m here. We are here together and I love that. My teenagers have a cameraderie with each other that I’m happy to see. We laugh together, we are silly and we also get some learning done each day. I’m sensitive to the special needs of each one and am quick to try to help them find coping strategies to enhance their successes. (Sometimes this is very difficult, especially when people’s needs conflict, or I lack the ideal resources.)

I”m also feeding my family well. Enough said about that.

We make it to Church. We have family prayers. We read the Scriptures together. That’s another area that I am faithful in.

And glory to God, another thing I have learned to do, thanks to my various illnesses, is to delegate! I went from being the mom who does everything herself, to the mom who makes her kids clean the house....and they do a fine job of it, too. So that’s a success.

Where am I falling down on the job? Well, I am a Fly Lady dropout and a weight watchers failure. And I don’t do very well in keeping up with some of the home school paperwork that the state of KY does NOT require me to do, but which I really ought to do better on. So there’s a pattern here, isn’t there? I don’t like structure, I don’t like limits and I don’t like someone else telling me what to do, even if I’ve given them permission to do so. And I’m a muddle at being organized when it comes time to read up on what services my daughter with autism might qualify for, or to find her a new doctor, or to grade last week’s history assignment. I feel pulled in so many directions, and the things I am weakest on fall by the wayside too easily.

But my biggest struggle of all is setting goals for myself. For so many years my goal was always “this is the year I am gonna get skinny” and I’ve limited myself so much in my own self-perception, that I have honestly had to struggle to get past that, and to ask myself “What ELSE do you want?” What do you want, Alana? What is your dream? What do you want for yourself?

That’s the biggest thing I’m getting out of this writng course I’m taking...is learning to ask that question. And learning to sit still, and listen for the answer. In my case, I do some of my best listening at the keyboard. I know this about myself.

Now I just need to get busy and write...and maybe in the doing, I will find the answer.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Vignette 2: On Barriers and Grace

I have always gone through my life with the feeling of being an imposter. It’s a strange thing to describe-even to myself. There’s a sense that I am living inside a silicone cube which I cannot get out of. An odd memory surfaces from my High School days: I was an avid jogger for many years, and that turned me into a cross country runner my junior year of High School. But there was a speed barrier in my running career I could never cross. While I was good at what we called “LSD”-long, slow, distance, I could never get my body to build up enough energy and strength to improve my speed, no matter how many hills I sprinted. It just wasn’t in me, no matter how hard I pushed, no matter how many intervals I ran. The uncrossable barrier dogged my steps. I was slow.

Some of the kids on my cross country team told me that the secret key to their better performance was that they lifted weights at the YMCA. This seemed like a mysterious ritual to me, and I had no idea really, how to proceed. Somehow I found myself signing up to do volunteer work at the YMCA in order to earn myself a membership-so that I could work out and improve my running times. That volunteer situation was not a good fit at all. I was utterly intimidated by the place, and at that point in my life American body language and gestures were still often confusing and vague to me, so I was never quite sure what I ought to be doing there. I don’t remember the volunteer gig at the Y lasting very long at all, and I certainly never worked out there. I was confused, terminally shy, and utterly non-assertive. The invisible barrier hemmed me in.

In a way, this above description shines a light on my character. I’m still that person. That I have learned to be a little bit outgoing, to smile at people and to greet them, to ask questions when I”m confused and need clarification...all these things feel like a miracle to me.

There have been times in my life when I’ve felt the invisible barrier hemming me in more than at other times. I think I felt somewhat free during my college years, but even there, I was utterly shy of getting to know some fairly interesting people in my department. I kept my head down and kept to myself for the most part. I always felt a bit lost and out of my element. I was the type of person to play it safe. I was easily led. I would NOT have made a good heroine for a novel of any sort. I’m the boring type that heroines of novels nowadays rebel against being.

But this sad little tale has a point. Here I am, exposing my worst darkest secrets to the world. There’s a reason I’m doing that. First of all, I want to encourage anyone else who feels stuck behind an invisible barrier, or like an imposter, or like they just don’t fit to keep on plugging along and someday you will find a place to fit. There’s room for everyone on this planet. Secondly, I want to say that I believe this feeling of being an imposter, or having an invisible barrier around me has helped me relate to my kids (and husband, surprise surprise) better, who are on the autism spectrum. (Yes, I’ve taken the test...no, I’m not quite “on the spectrum” but I’m sort of close for a “neurotypical”). So, in a way, it has helped me to love.

And so the worst thing...has become the best thing. And that, I can only attribute to grace.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Theophany Song

He became just like me
clothed in humanity
hungry and tired
so close to harm.
God lay as a baby
in frail arms.
O great mystery!

The Holy Spirit
came down like a dove
the voice of the Father said:
This is my Son,
beloved, in whom I'm well pleased.
O great mystery!

He breathed the air I breathe
such his Theophany
touching the water
the air and the land,
fully God yet he's fully man.
O great mystery!

But the whole universe
cannot contain
Him, so all
is forever changed.
His very touch
makes us holy again.
O great mystery!

O great mystery!
God is a trinity,
a humble deity,
and all things made new.

1-6-2005

Baptized in Dirty Water....

Today is Theophany, when the Eastern Church commemorates the baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Jordan River by St. John.

So it is making me remember my own baptism, as it probably should.

I was 12 years old and one night I was lying awake in bed, thinking about life, the universe and everything, and I heard this thought: "You should be baptized. You believe in me, don't you?" For some reason I was scared to tell my parents that I wanted to be baptized, because it seemed like such a BIG THING, and I imagined them giving me the 3rd degree about it, imagined grillings and lectures.

Finally I screwed up my 12 year old courage and told my mom I wanted to be baptized. "Oh, OK. We'll arrange it." That was IT? Where was the lecture and the grilling that I was so afraid of?

Since my dad was a minister, it was easy to find a minister to do the deed. We weren't formally members of the Swiss Reformed Church, so it made more sense to have a service elsewhere.

So, on the 8th of April, 1982, I was baptized by my dad with a small group of friends gathered around, in the Rhine river, in Basel, Switzerland, on a boat ramp. It was extremely cold. Words were said, I got dunked. The water was opaque. It was in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. I was wearing baptismal garments of blue jeans and a dark blue University of Basel sweatshirt. I think the boat ramp was about five blocks from our apartment.

Afterwards we went home pretty quickly and I took a hot bath and got some clean clothes on and I seem to remember a little Bible Study or something happening. There was probably food and hot tea, but since that was more than 30 years ago, my memory fades.

But I remember my baptism every year on Theophany, and on its anniversary.

And also whenever I hear the line in the song "God Love Her" by Toby Keith, I feel a little squiggle...because that ONE LINE fits: "She's a rebel child and a preacher's daughter, she was baptized in dirty water..."

So I don't know if any priest has ever thrown a cross into the Rhine river on Theophany, to bless it, but I do know this: One little girl who wants to grow up to be a saint, and whose life has become a cross was dipped into the Rhine one day. Maybe that's good enough to turn the Rhine into holy water, by God's grace.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Keeping it Safe

New Year's Resolutions....love 'em? Hate 'em? Do 'em? Avoid 'em?

I've been resolutely avoiding new year's resolutions for the past several years. And in the past, I've always had the typical diet, get in shape, get skinny resolutions that the rest of almost everyone in America has.

This year, I have some new dreams, but I don't know that they are necessarily having anything specifically to do with the new year....they are just things that are bubbling to the surface at this time in my life.

Oh, I wish I could tell you my whole story face to face! I would have so much more to tell. Deeper stuff, more personal stuff...things that should not be said on a blog. You know I'm a mom, and one of the things I've tried pretty hard to do is protect my children's privacy somewhat. So, that means I can't just write about what they are doing and what is going on in their lives and the dumb or silly or cute things they have said.

But because it involves my parenting, I also can't share with you my deepest heart breaks and biggest griefs. I have to respect my kid's privacy. Especially now that they are getting older. Those boundaries matter.

So I always feel like I'm holding back here on Morning Coffee, because I am. Last year, two of our big goals that we had as a family came to fruition. We moved house (same city, same section of the city) and we absolutely love where we are living now. It's nice to be out of the apartment and to have four walls and some grass. We adopted two kittens, who have grown into very large cats (a brother/sister pair) with amazing medium length fur. And, our oldest turned 18, and finally because of her special needs, we were able to get her on disability. This is a great relief to us. Additionally, our second daughter got her first job and is doing well in it and enjoying her work, as she continues to homeschool for high school. So there have been some big changes this past year.

So I do know what it is like to have a dream, make goals, and to meet the goals and to accomplish something big.

But what I don't know how to do, is to dream for myself, and set amazing life-affirming goals for myself. I am so close to being the servant who buried his talent in the ground, and then returned it to his master with no interest and no extra income. "I kept is safe, Lord." It is so easy for me to just give up and not even try.

And honestly, I don't really know where to go from "here". "Here" of course being my current role as mom/homeschool teacher/homemaker/wife....I want there to be more to me than this. I need to learn how to dream, and then set goals and set out to accomplish those goals. I have absolutely no idea how to find "God's will"...if such a thing exists beyond the keeping of the commandments, but one thing I do know: I'm tired of keeping my "talent" secret and safe.