Thursday, September 3, 2015

To Lecture or To Love

Did you know...
There was a time when popular Christian voices in our country used the Bible to justify and defend the practice of slavery?  

There was a time when many Bible-believing people used piles of Scripture verses to teach the "Biblical principle" of a woman being her husband's property - to defend a man's right to rule, to rape, to retain total control over every aspect of his wife's life? 

There was a time, not so long ago, when Christians declared God was on their side in their fight to retain racial segregation in our country? 

That still, today, Christians invoke the name of God in defense of silencing women from taking on leadership roles, in support of one political candidate over another, in wars and in prayers to find a good parking spot at the mall. 
I didn't know. Not really. 

In my own journey of finding a place to breathe and belong within Christianity - very much an ongoing process - this news is both a welcomed relief and a terrible source of grief. On the one hand, it would be comforting to find that these voices were not the majority, or that we could somehow explain away these beliefs and actions with labels like "nominal" or "fanatical." It would be comforting to tell ourselves that these were not real Christians, not people with vibrant, personal relationships with Jesus, not people that attended church regularly or read their Bible daily - not, in other words, the type of Christians many of us presume to be. It would ease some of the grief and discomfort from reading these facts, but it would not be the truth.

The truth is, these were "real" Christians, regular church attenders, the preachers and teachers and leaders of their days. These were people that took their Bibles very seriously, that devoted their lives to teaching others what they understood its message to be. These were believers so convinced of their right-ness, so full of certainty in their truth, that they stood firmly in their message despite opposition. These were the ones many of us would call "sold out" or "on fire" today.
And this is a relief. It's a welcomed relief, in fact, because it reminds me that no one human, no one group, no one church movement has ever had the market on Truth. It reminds me that the Divine has always been a little too confined by strict dogmas and a little too misunderstood by well-meaning people with all the right answers. It reminds me that God is always at work and always doing a new thing, despite our best intentions to keep him locked in a box, acting just the way our doctrinal statements tell him to.

Maybe your own heart is mingled with relief and grief when you read these things. Maybe you, too, have needed something firm to plant your disappointment with today's church in. Maybe you've needed the reminder that God has always been at work, but not always where we expected to find it. Maybe you needed a little nudge to look up from all the answers, and see something Bigger at hand. 

Here's how I see it: If we allow our hearts enough space to look honestly into our history, it is hard not to sit down with a great sigh of humility. It is hard not to look at these brothers and sisters from centuries past with a sense of bewilderment, even a sense of shame. And it is hard, in light of all this, not to take a humble step back and reevaluate our own moral certainties. To at least give ourselves enough space to say: There could be more than what I now see or know. To allow ourselves the freedom to let go of our reigns of certainty and control, and to see with humility the evolution of human consciousness that continues to alter what we label as "right" or "wrong." 
Because the truth is, what was once so obviously right to many Christians just decades ago, can today be seen as clear moral wrongs. This is not relativism, it is not an "anything goes" license - this is human growth. This is the reality of the learning curve we are all on, and we would do well to humbly admit our place on it.  

Today, who in the church would argue that slavery should still be around? Who would listen to a Christian rattling on about the inferiority of one race over another, and not find themselves ill in disbelief? How many of us could sit under a pulpit that teaches women are the property of their men, that they should not be allowed medical treatment without the approval of their man, that they should not be given a voice in society, not even the right to vote? And yet for so long, all these things were firmly rooted under the "right" category for many devout, Bible-believing people. Many regular church attenders heard weekly sermons praising all these actions as pleasing to God.

Author Matthew Paul Turner puts it this way, "And while a Bible-sized God is easy to fit inside purses or tuck beneath armpits, it can also make human relationships with others more difficult, turn regular Joes into pontificating biblical elitists, and make everyday normal molehills into mountains of biblical proportions. Bible-sized God offers people “holy” excuses to rage against other groups. Throughout our Christianish history, Americans have used scripture to marginalize, manipulate, violate, excuse, and disregard other people."

So what do we do with this? Here is what this history means to me: That it's time we look up and see that there is a bigger picture constantly unfolding before us. That we recognize that there came a point when someone laid down their reigns of certainty and control, and looked beyond the assumed beliefs of their day. That there came a point when brave dissenters caught sight of a whole new beautiful, broken world and fought - often with their very lives - to bring that new world into existence, a world we greatly benefit from today. That there came a point when devout believers realized that God was not just alive in an ancient text re-interpreted for them dozens of times over, but that He was alive and act in their very beings, right here, right now

When I read this history, I have to ask: Could it be that in five years or fifty, we will look at our own lists of "right" and "wrong" and realize we had a few things mislabeled? Could it be that we will see the church's treatment of gays and lesbians with the same sense of bewilderment and grief that today we see racial segregation? 
Or could it be that, in our own lives, we will look back and realize that we have cherry-picked verses and overlooked historical context, using Scripture to label and to lecture, rather than to loveCould it be that many of us are in great need of laying down our hefty handfuls of "right" and "wrong," and instead, reaching out a hand and asking our neighbors, "Will you tell me your story?"

Historical background and inspiration for this piece came from Matthew Paul Turner's book, Our Great Big American God

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Monday, August 31, 2015

The End of the World

Every Monday for the next several weeks, I'll be featuring selections from my new book, One Slender Thread. If you're interested in reading more, you can purchase the book on Amazon today! Today's selection is from the first and perhaps most personal chapter, The End of the World. 


I sat up, startled by the unexpected sound of my husband’s phone buzzing from the nightstand. Rubbing my eyes and trying to focus in the moonlit room, I watched my husband lift himself to his elbows as he answered the call. His eyebrows creased in concern, and then his face turned white. I could not begin to imagine what the phone call was about. 

It was July 6, 2013. We had moved back to the States three years earlier, had our miracle baby, Kyler, and then quickly found out we were pregnant again with our daughter, Havyn. My husband had finished his Master’s degree and began his teaching career the year before. I had recently started an online business and transitioned to staying home with the kids full-time. We had learned to live with the pain of our past, or at least to numb and silence the aches and to busy ourselves with life again.

My husband was on summer break and we had just spent a festive fourth of July with my family. Fireworks, cookouts and a slow, lazy afternoon on the porch. We had crashed into bed that night, exhausted from all the sun and play. 

When I finally gathered my senses, I realized it was my sister on the other end of the line, urgent in her speech. I listened as she explained that my brother, Jordan, and his girlfriend of five years, Loryn, had been in a terrible car accident. My sister reported a few details of the accident, almost none of which would we remember once hanging up. The only thing that rung abrasively clear, lodged unnaturally in my mind, was this: Jordan was fine, but Loryn was dead. 

All the family were gathering at the hospital in Logan, and we, too, started to make plans for our trip down. Daniel left immediately with my older sister, and I waited until morning when the kids woke to make the hour trip to my hometown. I drove unsteadily, dreading the reality I would have to face upon arrival. 

Bits and pieces of the details surrounding the accident started to come together over the next two days - reports from those that had been at the hospital the night of the accident, hushed conversations from friends and family coming to pay their condolences, newspaper articles and police reports, even the state’s morning newscasts. I was desperate for details. Something about receiving one more piece of information gave me a momentary sense of control, helping calm the tide of grief that was swelling inside, even if just for a split-second.  

We learned that Jordan and Loryn had been spending the evening at a cookout with her family. Later that night, they loaded up to head home, Loryn in the driver’s seat of her red Pontiac Sunfire. As she attempted a left turn onto a curvy country road, they were broadsided by an oncoming minivan. Jordan was able to free himself, but Loryn’s side, having received the brunt of the impact, was completely crushed. When rescue workers arrived, Loryn was still conscious and even able to speak. After using the Jaws of Life, she was finally freed and my brother insisted on riding in the ambulance with her, but was denied that privilege. Instead, he met her corpse at the hospital moments later. 

What do you do in light of such loss? 

I was tormented by the fact that neither Loryn, nor the other driver, was cited for anything that night. There was no rain, no fog, no alcohol or drugs involved. Nobody was speeding or texting or fiddling with their hair. It seemed to be a true instance of being “in the wrong place at the wrong time.” A neon sign chiding us, bright and hopeless: You don’t have a say. 

We mourned as a family all week, awaiting the finality of the funeral. I had only experienced an open-casket funeral once before, eerily enough when my youngest sister’s boyfriend was killed in a tragic accident a couple years earlier. I remembered the pale face, the total stillness, the uncomfortable confrontation with my own mortality. But still, I was completely unprepared for seeing Loryn’s gorgeous face and petite body motionless in her casket that day. I was overwhelmed with grief, touching her hand, saying goodbye for the last time.

What do you do in light of such loss? 

With the funeral behind me, the permanence of Loryn’s still, ashen face imprinted on my mind, I felt bewildered and hopeless. Looking back now, it is hard to know whether it was simply the tragedy of losing someone so beautiful and so young, or the fact that Loryn had worked as my assistant all that previous year and I had grown to truly love and respect her, or the reality of watching my twenty-year-old brother navigate the devastation of losing his first and only love - or perhaps, the final straw in the haystack of grief I myself was still carrying at the time, but I crumbled

I have never experienced the unfettered mourning and shattering that I experienced those weeks and months after Loryn’s death. Although my mourning could not be compared to her family’s, closest friends’ and my brother’s, it was breathtaking still in its intensity and persistence. I became largely functionless.

More times than I can count, I found myself curled in a corner of the kitchen, sobbing. I would try to connect with the kids, but even tending to their basic needs would seem overwhelming; I would fall on the floor in tears, afraid and hopeless. My mind was consumed with Loryn - all the family events we had shared, all the unspoken words I now carried in deep regret, all the life she would never get to live. My husband would take the kids to the zoo for the day, and I would go for a walk in the woods, lie and cry, sleep.

What do you do in light of such loss? 

For the first time in three years, I was forced to face my feelings again. I was forced to acknowledge the pain of loss, the reality of injustice. I let all the old questions rise back to the surface, the deep aches and wonderings and why’s. I found myself staring all those stuffed-away emotions from years past in the face, awakened by tragedy and the remembrance of a life gone too soon. 


Finish reading this chapter, and many others, in One Slender Thread

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Monday, August 24, 2015

Showing Up Is Hard

Two years ago, I found myself crumpled on the kitchen floor, sobbing into my lap. Little hands reached for me, in comfort and in curiosity, and finally I found my way back to their eyes, and back to their world. My heart was heavy and bleeding - with loss and tragedy and grief compounded over the years. I was more lost than I had ever been, drowning in a pain that far too many of us can relate to. 

It would take many more days of crumpled sobbing on kitchen floors and blank stares out of windows before, finally, I found the courage and the wherewhithal to say, "Enough is enough." This was not the "enough" of years prior, when in anger and pain I stuffed the grieving deep, deep down, refusing to feel at all. Nor was it the "enough" of my youth, when every step was carefully measured in an effort to perform and please those around me, to fit myself neatly back into little, labeled boxes. This was a soft, hopeful "enough" rising out of my woundedness, daring me to believe that there was more.

In the weeks and months that followed all that sobbing and staring, I reached for every straw of hope I caught sight of. I reached for more. And, amongst other things, I found writing. I found myself tapping away at the keyboard, for hours on end, spilling out everything my heart had fought for so long to contain. I wrote and wrote and wrote. 

Much of that writing I have shared with you here. I have blogged throughout my healing journey, wrestling alongside you, processing life before you. But there have been pieces that, as they came out of me, I knew were special. Pieces that were longer, fuller, deeper. Pieces that needed their own space to be received in. 

And so, although I never had the intention of writing a book, a year ago I started compiling and editing and working my way toward publishing my first book. And today, I stand with a finished proof in hand, just a week away from the official release of One Slender Thread

Finishing this book is a proud moment. It's a sigh of relief and a smile on my face. But it's also a very personal moment. This is my life. This is me. Almost 300 pages of my heart, penned for the world to know and to critique and to experience and to assume. 

This is vulnerability at it's rawest - it feels like butterflies in my belly and rapid thumping in my chest. I remind myself of what author and researcher Brene Brown says about vulnerability, "It is having the courage to show up and let ourselves be seen." And I believe in showing up - as the real me, imperfect and in-process and all.

But it is still scary to show up. And I would be doing a disservice to all the other brave storytellings who have gone before me if I claimed anything otherwise. Showing up is hard. It means exposing ourselves to the ignorance and arrogance of others. It means opening ourselves up, both to joy and disappointment, to connection and judgement. Showing up means, today we may succeed, but then again, we may not. It means endless room for error and a constant reckoning of our humanity. Showing up is daring greatly

I did my best to show up, fully and authentically, in ever page of One Slender Thread. Which is why today I am trembling as I write: You can purchase the book here

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Monday, August 17, 2015

May We Be People That Hear

When my son Kyler was two, he was quite the talker. It was not unusual for him to talk non-stop in the car, until I finally would have to ask him to please be quiet and rest, for the sake of mama's sanity (anyone relate?!). I remember him pointing out everything he saw along the drive, many sites jogging random memories from the day, which triggered more stories, more talking. As he chattered away, every now and then he would pause in silence, awaiting a verbal confirmation from me that I was taking in all of his words. And often, he would not resume his story until I repeated back to him the last line or two of what he had just spoken. Even at two, he wanted to make sure he was being heard. 

I got pretty used to his adorable, two-year-old speech, and could almost always quickly decipher at least the essence of what he was trying to communicate. Until one day. He sat in the backseat, buckled and babbling away on a warm summer day. And then this:
{Kyler}: "Eina-ray-dee-tah-tu!" 
{Me}: "What buddy?" 
{Kyler}: "Eina-ray-dee-tah-tu!" 
{Me}: "What??" 
{Kyler - with increasing emphasis}: "Eina-RAY-dee-TAH-tu!" 
{Me}: "Can you try to explain it to me?" 
{Kyler - almost hysterical now}: "EINA-RAY-DEE-TAH-TU, MAMA! 
{Me}: "Buddy, I'm so sorry, I cannot figure out what you are saying." 
{Kyler - in tears, looking defeatedly out the window}: "Mama. Ray-dee-tah-tu."
Oh, I was so heartbroken that day by his desire to be heard, and by my inability to decipher his message! I rolled those syllables over and over in my head, hoping somehow they would begin to make sense. Kyler sat in silence, looking out the window the rest of the trip. And as I watched his sullen, chubby boy face through the rearview mirror, I couldn't help but think, "I know, buddy, I know. It is so hard to speak and have your words fall flat. To share and not be heard."


I know what it's like to practically shout "Listen to me!" and still find your words falling flat. To talk for hours, with tears and determination, in the mirkiness of grief or disillusionment, and wait for someone to repeat back at least the essence of what you am trying to express. To wait with longing for confirmation that your words are being received, and thus your heart with it. 

But often, my experiences looked more like this:
{Me}: "I just don't know how to grieve. I mean how do you experience loss like this and live again?" 
{Listener}: "You're doing great. Look, you've got a great job now. The sun is shining. It'll all work out! (Which sounded more like, "You're wrong for thinking about the loss. Just see the good in things")."
{Me}: "I feel like I just need someone to struggle through this with; I feel so isolated and alone. That loneliness hurts as much as the loss."  
{Listener}: "Maybe you could find a counselor (Which sounded more like, "Don't look at me, I'm not available!)"
And as with my two year old son, it never seemed to matter how many times I repeated myself or how many tears spilled out on the table, the message just would not come through. We may as well have been speaking different languages. And perhaps we were.

And like Kyler, I lost the will somewhere along the way to be heard, and for a season turned my head with tears and fell silent. It became too frustrating, too disheartening, too confusing to never really be heard. And so I stopped talking, and just looked out the window of life for a few years.

And here's what I saw: We are all longing to be heard. We are all longing to be understood, to be known truly and fully, even if simultaneously the thought of that scares us to death. Even if we have spent most of our lives hiding behind roles or rules, behind our best attempts to live up to others' expectations or to be the best "fill-in-the-blank" we possibly can be, numbing our loneliness or confusion or disillusionment with more work, more food, even more "God." Even if the thought of being fully known has never consciously crossed our minds, still, more than anything, we want to be heard, to be fully known.

I also saw this: Many of us feel misunderstood. We feel like strangers in our own lives, exhausted from all the striving and masking, from all the talking and falling flat. We may find various levels of contentment, or even happiness, in careers or kids or causes, but still there is this lingering sense that I am not fully known. That all these people passing me every day don't quite get me. That unless, or until, I can fit myself into a few acceptable molds, I will never belong. 

And why? Why is it so hard for us to hear each other? Why, so often, can we look a grieving human in the face and miss their heart completely? Why can we talk and talk and talk, surrounded by people all day long, and still fall asleep with a deep sense of alone-ness? 

I know for me, I have done this when I am too busy - busy with daily tasks, over-committed to a variety of causes, distracted by a never-ending "must accomplish" list. I have done this when I am depleted and insecure myself - when I am deep in the trenches of hiding my own fears or masking my own many unmet longings.

But, for me, the times I have misunderstood others the most - the times I have looked fellow humans in the eyes and missed every word they were saying - are the times I was living in certainty. When I have given my soul over to blacks and whites, to easy labels and sure fixes, to clear rules and cramped religion. When I have let how things are "supposed to be" replace the heart of the human standing right in front of me. 

Certainty - and her brother, Pride - have acted like earplugs in my life, immensely limiting my ability to hear or my willingness to know the person standing right in front of me. For me, that certainty was found mostly in fundamentalist religion, but it could be found many other places, too. Anywhere right answers are valued above real lives, anywhere truth is held outside of the human experience, anywhere labels trump love - there you are sure to find Certainty & Pride. There you are sure to find people hurting to be heard and longing to be known. 

I have seen this again and again, and recently as I watch people debate the Pro-Life/Pro-Choice issue, I see it so clearly. How many of these people, spouting vehement words of right versus wrong, have walked a day in the shoes of the other? How many have stopped long enough to really hear the other's voice, let alone to help them? Perhaps some have, but many have not. Ann Voskamp articulates this beautifully in her piece here.

May we be people that look beyond labels. People that lift humanity above dogmas or policies. People that seek to fully know and respect the soul standing before us. May we be people with enough humility and perspective to say, "Maybe I don't get it. Will you help me understand." 

May we be people that hear.

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Thursday, August 13, 2015

One Slender Thread: My Book!

Ya'll, it is hard to even type this without feeling a little out-of-body, but here I go: My very own book came in the mail today! It is titled, One Slender Thread, and was crafted over two years - years of exploring and threading, growing and reading, typing and tailoring this stack of stories into what it is today - and now we are just weeks away from a finished product. I cannot wait to share it with all of you soon!

Here's a brief synopsis of what One Slender Thread is all about: 
Here's one of the only things I know for sure: You have a story to tell. And so do I. For the past two years, I have spent endless hours writing my story, searching for even one slender thread - of truth, of hope, of my true self, of God - in the midst of all the loss and the longing, all the mess and the mundane, that can fill our lives. I yearn for the Divine; I yearn for more connection with those I love, for more freedom from self-imposed expectations, for more life lived from a whole heart. I want to grab hold of this life, to make the most of my days. And I want to do it with courage and intention. Telling my story has been the pathway to the life I’ve always yearned for. Today, I invite you to join me!
Eek! That's my book! (thanks for indulging my giddiness for a moment)

A few people have gotten a sneak peak of it already, and here is what they had to say:

As I read, I realized that Noelle’s story is mine, and likely yours too. It is a story of being ruled by and then letting go of perfectionism. Of trying to numb oneself from facing pain directly. Of somehow finding hope amidst heartbreak. This book is a treasure, and I will cherish it!
from the foreword by Anna Whiston-Donaldson,
NYT Bestseller of the book, Rare Bird

Noelle's One Slender Thread is courageous and compelling. She bravely explores deep questions of faith and family, betrayal and redemption, even when she must surrender all that she once held as truth. Noelle honors her life's darkness and light, and all the luscious gray between. Through her fearless seeking, she emboldens us to examine our own hidden depths. Healing waits in these honest, heartfelt pages. Don't miss this one.
Amanda Fall, author & creator of The Phoenix Soul

As a writer and spiritual director, I often use the language of "following the thread" to illustrate our search for the Sacred. Noelle's own search for "one slender thread" and her emphasis on the value of knowing and telling our stories serves as an invitation to dive deep into the waters of the soul where the true self and the Divine can always be found. With her own vivid storytelling, coupled with writing prompts to begin telling your own stories, you'll soon find that when when you follow the thread stitched throughout this moving book your life will never be the same.

Lacy Clark Ellman, author of Pilgrim Principles & creator of A Sacred Journey

One Slender Thread will be available for purchase beginning
September 1, 2015.

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Monday, August 10, 2015

Finding Courage: Journeying to My Authentic Self

The following is a guest post by one of my current 30 Day Writing Challenge participants. Every quarter, I am baffled by having the privilege to work alongside so many brave souls in telling their stories. This quarter was no different, and today, I am excited to get to share one these pieces with you!

I have been struggling in my attempt to define the most courageous act of my life. Seriously struggling. Ideas flit around my head like lightening bugs in a jar, burning bright then fading. What have I done in my life that has taken the most courage?

Is it forgiving and accepting my recovering-alcoholic, biological father back into my life, against my domineering, outspoken mother’s wishes?

Is it forgoing a state school to attend a small private university - where I worked two jobs, became president of my elite sorority and landed an extremely competitive dream job in New York City before graduation - all this, when no one in my immediate family had even obtained more than an Associate’s Degree from the local community college?

Is it when I fell in love with then co-worker-turned-boyfriend-now husband, and chose him over my safety net college boyfriend?

Is it when I finally shared with said husband every last shameful detail of my childhood, family of origin, and wild young adult life?

Is it when I moved with my husband and our babies back to the Northeast, against the wishes of my seemingly well-intentioned yet, undeniably controlling in-laws?

Is it when I finally stopped caring what those "monetize everything" in-laws thought of us, and stood up against them - for me, our kids, and my emotionally scarred husband?

Is it when I delivered the eulogy at my beloved Pop Pop’s memorial service in front of tear-filled, expectant and critical eyes - swallowing the insecurity that always threatens to flatten me whenever there is a chance of my pre-college and post-college worlds colliding?

Is it finally answering the eternal question in my head: Why am I not writing and sharing my story?

Sure, these things took courage. But, I wonder, is it all I have?

I am in the lucky and dreaded sandwich generation. My patchwork parents need me to support them, while my 3 children need me to raise them. Simultaneously, my husband has been holding tight to the lowest priority position, with hopes of one day rising to the top again. I am staring my 40th birthday in the eye, I lost my only constant and first father-figure, my beloved Pop Pop, a few weeks ago, and I am nursing a 5-year-long estrangement from my in-laws, which obviously has had a ripple effect on the entire family. Even as this list pours out of me, I am screaming inside,

I am determined to mine for a glint of gold - a hint of me - through all of the shit; to set aside the carefully constructed shields of armor I have worn and polished over all of these years, and to finally take pride in all the facets of me. To uncover who me truly is. I am tired of being a mask, a role, a fulfilled or unfulfilled expectation. At forty, finally, I am ready to journey to my authentic self.

But I am equally sure of another thing: It makes me nervous even thinking about what answers I may find.

I must stop here and say, I am no wilting flower. I am from a scrappy, blue collar town outside of Philly, the second child of a teenage mom that has been married 3 times and who still remains unhappy with her life. This made me street smart, feisty, and clever early in life - well beyond my years. I learned quickly that it didn’t matter if you graduated from Harvard, joined the union, went to rehab, or did time in jail - if you show up for Sunday dinner, you had a seat at the table. But I also learned that this potent recipe of unconditional love, paired with low expectations, was too easy for me. It sent me straight into people pleasing mode, and very early I became adept at matching my personality with my audience. A chameleon was born!

For my Mom, I was her trusted girlfriend and confidante from the minute she told me she loved me more than my brother, because I was a planned pregnancy (even if my father was a loser drug addict). After their divorce, just before my 5th birthday, I had the unique experience of living with her and her divorcee best friend. I watched her navigate the dating world in the early 80s, party like a rock star, take on two jobs to support my brother and me, and deal with both the ever-present disappointment and the unwavering support from my Mom Mom and Pop Pop (her parents) when she dropped us off for days at a time. It was intoxicating and it made me savvy and mature at an extremely early age.

For my Mom Mom and Pop Pop, I became everything their wayward all girls Catholic school daughter was not. Straight A student, Advanced Placement classes, Class President, Varsity field hockey team captain, soloist in choir, student representative to the school board, Governor’s School graduate, and the list goes on. My Pop Pop was the first man I knew who was truly good - he held me as a baby, attended every game and event, bought me anything I lacked, took me to dancing school every week for years, trimmed my toenails willingly, drove me and my friends everywhere, overlooked my mistakes, and walked me down the aisle, just 4 months after my Mom Mom’s death. My Mom Mom called me every morning of my life from second grade until my senior year of high school to ensure I was awake. Her calls became my alarm clock. Her voice, the opening act of each of my school days.

For my in-laws, I became the polite lady from the “right side of the tracks,” showering them with tales of my college and early work-life experiences, travel anecdotes from my backpacking trip across Europe, and carefully edited snippets of my childhood. This editing was likely the first poison dart in our relationship. For later on, when I attempted to reveal my true self to them in a vulnerable moment after the birth of our second daughter, I saw it wasn't me they had ever actually known or accepted. Their reply is one I have never forgotten: “Why are you still so upset about growing up poor? That is not your life anymore.” While in a sense, I see they intended to assuage me and they might have been directionally correct, I resent that they didn’t want to see that part of me when I was finally brave enough to discuss it with them. I had created and thoroughly became the very image that was intended to impress them, to keep them close, but instead, only served to alienate and confuse them - and me.

For my husband and my best girlfriend, I am me. In their presence, I finally found a place where my true self is welcomed. They know my insides and have witnessed my ever-changing outside throughout the many chapters we have journeyed together. I have spilled my guts to both of them at different times in my life. Always, t
hey have loved me unconditionally, and have dried more of my tears than I care to remember.  They are in agreement as they have chorused so many times over the years, “If people think less of you because of your background, then f ‘em! They do not deserve to know you. We love you more because of your experiences!” They have reminded me that I am not my past, I am not my family, I am me.

As I have matured, I have discovered that I will never again be the struggling blue collar hometown girl that I once was, nor will I ever totally be the comfortable stay-at-home mom in the affluent suburb I now call home. These are titles and roles that I once embodied or currently play, but they will continue to change over time, leaving their mark, but never fully defining me. I am me.

After my Pop Pop’s memorial service and luncheon, after I kissed all of my extended family and saw off all of my friends that came from near and far, my Mom and I had an exchange that has perseverated in my head ever since.

“Your eulogy was great! Everyone said so. It made me laugh and cry AND damn, it was true, too! Thank you. Why aren’t you a writer?”

I replied with my simple truth, “Mom, I am a writer. Just because I haven’t published a book or started a blog or become famous doesn’t mean I am not a writer. I have always been a writer.”

Part of me hopes that the most courageous thing I will ever do is yet to be done and therefore, I simply don’t know. But as the word courage tumbles through my head and heart, I know that I am in the midst of this act. The act of finally letting go of the shame and insecurity, anger and resentment that have revealed themselves, yet again, in my inner life. I hope I possess the courage to permanently uncover and love my most authentic self. 

Some days I am not even sure who she is. Other days I beam with pride that I have figured out a piece of the puzzle. In my best moments, I openly embrace my complex inner self, juxtaposed against a seemingly simple outer self. That conflict of who I am and what I appear to be is in a constant war that I let define me in my darkest moments. But deep down, I know I am both and everything else. All of it.

For me, I am slowly discovering what I no longer wish to be. I do not want nor need to be that armor-clad chameleon, who adapts to my surroundings because I am too afraid to reveal my true self. I no longer want to rely on my trusty talent of becoming a projection of what I think those around me might like best. It is clear to me that I have only just begun. I know in my heart that the next step in this journey is to write about and share my story. To heal my heart and fill my soul, for no one else but me. A risk for sure, but one step closer to discovering my most authentic self and by far, the most courageous thing I could ever hope to do.

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Monday, August 3, 2015

Learning to Believe in Good Again

The kids waited excitedly by the front window, watching every car zip past our house with disappointment that "It wasn't them..." Havyn, the three-year-old-going-on-thirteen, had chosen one of her best dresses to wear and had enthusiastically asked me to put her hair into two braids. "I need to look fancy!" she'd said as we were getting ready. Kyler, mostly focused on the thrill of having a big boy around to play with, threw on a pair of soccer shorts and a t-shirt. I busied myself with a running list of pre-visit chores: mop guest bedroom, scrub bathrooms, wash linens. Daniel helped check off the to-do list, while also entertaining the kids and keeping the peace. We were all beyond excited, the result of an anticipation built from counting down the days until this visit for weeks, and then days, and now minutes.

Joel Makham was coming to visit!

If you've read much on this blog, you are sure to have stumbled across our journey with adoption, and the first loss we experienced in that world. It is hard to believe that all that waiting, all that hoping, all that praying and finger-crossing and searching high and low for a route toward Yes, ended abruptly with a tragic phone call, now 5 1/2 years in our pasts. More than five years since cuddling up with him and his blanket for our last bedtime together; more than five years since waking to his coo's and calls for "Mama" before the sun was even shining; more than five years since the most gut-wrenching wave goodbye I have ever experienced.

The old adage, "Time heals." has never sat well with me. The professionals agree that this is a myth and undermines the true reality of grief, which is cyclical and ongoing, and requires our full engagement for healing to occur. Time alone is not the healer. Time gives us the opportunity - the place and the space - to heal, though much more is required in the stew of our grief for that healing to come about. Time offers us a chance to explore our story, to gather courage from the stories of those around us, to gain perspective and the needed realization that we can still experience joy, even deep joy, despite our loss. Time does not heal, but with willing patients, time can be the recovery room our souls need - a space to find our way again.

I needed a lot of time in my own healing process. It took three full years from the day we lost our first son, before my heart was in a truly open, receptive space again. And even that is not quite accurate, because along the road of those first three years, there were little droplets of hope, droplets of perspective, droplets of belief and joy and courage, all filling my grieving heart and urging me along in life. There was the birth of our first biological son, and then the birth of his baby sister, drip, drip, dripping so much joy and hope and perspective into my heart. There were late night conversations with friends and new successes in business, dripping courage and insight and purpose back into our days.

And still, I resisted at times or was too busy at others, and the droplets would need to gather for months - even years longer - before reaching a tipping point. In reality, they would need the gush of rain that came from a second tragedy, a second loss beyond words, before finally tiny, fragile starts of new life began to appear in my heart again. Starts watered by all those droplets along the years, nourished by the courage and truth of others, rooted in the power of soulful storytellingToday, I know losses like this remain a part of us, stitches in the stories of our lives, forever woven into who we are. My story will always include the joy and the pain of loving and losing our first son.

It will also include him. 

Because somehow - miraculously, unbelievably, serendipitously - he is in our lives again. So much of my healing has rested on the need to fully press into the reality of our pain, to name our loss for what it is: the loss of a child

And yet, our loss is different, too. Our son did not pass into that next, mysterious phase of forever, and he did not even disappear from the reach of our contact. He has remained a living, breathing being on this Earth, and that has made grieving easier at times, and much harder at others. 

We were first reunited with Joel two summers ago in Niagara Falls. Although the trip was enjoyable, my heart had just reached that three year mark where enough droplets had gathered to give me the courage to even go on the trip. I was not yet able to fully receive the gift of having Joel back in our lives, or process what that meant for our grief or our healing. And so we continued to correspond over the next two years, years in which my heart truly sprouted to life again. Birthday cards and holiday Skype-dates kept our families connected, until this past Spring, when Joel's wonderful Canadian mother asked about another summer visit, this time a three-day visit in our own home here in Ohio.

And so there we were, kids pacing by the front window and me frenzied with finishing touches, all awaiting our second reunion with Joel Makham. Against all odds, Joel was coming to visit!

And what can I say of this miracle - to you who have lost your loved one forever? To you who wait month after month to conceive? To you who said goodbye with no chance of a future Hello? What can I say, but that at the depths of my soul, I believe our little miracle on Earth is the tiniest reflection of some future hope. That our weekend as a family - Kyler and Havyn and Joel all playing as though they've known each other forever, now four devoted, united parents, doing our best to love and support - that this is a sign of something bigger than us, a taste of Heaven on Earth even. 

Not that even this is perfect, or that it replaces the loss and years of grieving, but that there is beauty and joy and redemption in it still. That there is hope. Yes, that is what I would say to you. Cloaked in fog, misty-mirrored, faint and far too far away, but still, a light at the end of the tunnel.

That there is hope.

And I have been in your shoes, and I know your weary heart wails, "Easy for you to say!" But it is not that easily said, because three years ago, I would have still stood with my bitterness and anger and judgment, and let the grief of our own loss cover the light completely. Before I started telling my own story, before I fully engaged with my own heart, before the space of time allowed all those ingredients to work deeply into my being, I would have experienced this past weekend as salt on a fresh wound. It would have stung and burned and left me aching even more. Three years ago, I could never have uttered words like hope and redemption in relation to our loss of Joel.

But today, I can. And for me, this points to the incredible wonder of every human spirit - our capacity to love again, to be a part of something bigger, to speak with rawness and courage and find joy in the midst of grief, to see that faint light at the end of the tunnel and believe it is something good

May you experience this hope in your own life, dear friend, and may you find the courage to believe in something good.

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