on getting, and keeping, my shit together

A couple months ago I had the brilliant idea that I should probably get my shit together before nurse practitioner school starts. This is, theoretically, probably wise as I’m about to be busier and more stressed than I have in perhaps my entire life. But it’s also a fairly dangerous territory to enter for someone who struggles with both perfectionism and Seasonal Affective Disorder, and who happens to be a total control freak.

I think my initial desire to get my shit together came from that overwhelming urge to control the unknown. I am so ready for school to start, so I can manage expectations of an actual thing happening in my life rather than being anxious about a nebulous terrifying adventure hanging over my head. This is the reason that I make lists. This is the reason I make lists about making lists. This is the reason that I have three different calendars, all of them color-coded. This is the reason that check boxes are so appealing to me – I have done the thing, it is under my control. And if I can just get my shit together – if I can control everything in my life down to the detailed minutiae so everything comes out wrapped in a pretty bow and I know what’s happening – then everything will be okay.

First on my quest to get my shit together was to figure out what that actually meant, and how to go about doing so. So in mid-January, I posited a question on Twitter, which is clearly the best possible platform for obtaining answers and advice. Trying to figure out the age-old question: What is the most effective way to get one’s shit together?, I tweeted into the universe. And even though Twitter is a veritable fount of knowledge (ha), I guess everyone thought it was a rhetorical question, because no one answered.

So I decided, as I often do, to figure it out myself. (Sometimes this pans out. Sometimes it definitively does not. Guess which one happened this time!) My initial thoughts on the matter initially came from some of the darker places in me, the places where all the self-loathing happens, the places where I’m never good enough. People who have their shit together do ALL OF THE THINGS in the MOST PERFECT WAY, I told myself, because that tends to be my ultimate goal in life. People who have their shit together always look clean and pressed and their hair is done and they’re smiling and calm amidst the chaos rolling around them. People who have their shit together don’t get their feathers ruffled, they don’t have fights with their husbands about whether or not cutting boards and good knives should go in the dishwasher, they juggle twenty balls in the air and never manage to drop one and never double-book themselves for anything. People who have their shit together make time to read grand and glorious novels and also five different newspapers and thus have well-rounded opinions, they cook gourmet dinners and never have to get take-out cause they don’t feel like cooking, they never run out of clean forks, they never run out of underwear and there are never five laundry baskets worth of clothing on their bedroom floor in front of their closet. People who have their shit together exist on minimal sleep and are never tired. People who have their shit together manage work and life and parenting and marriage-ing with grace and finesse, and are well-loved by everyone around them because of it.

In my crazy brain, people who have their shit together are wizards with time turners and Felix Felicis potions hung around their necks, breathing nebulized Ativan all the livelong day.

Obviously, getting my shit together with that definition in mind proved to be a little bit demoralizing, as NO ONE CAN ACTUALLY ACHIEVE IT. I had a breakdown, followed by a breakthrough, one very gray and only kind-of cold day in February. (I hate February, btw, as evidenced here.) My SAD was in full-swing, catching me off-guard after a wonderfully mild and sunny winter, and I was trying to figure out a citation program I’d downloaded that was supposed to make my life easier, but so far wasn’t doing such a good job. I could not figure out how to make it work to save my life. So I re-read my essay for admission into a program for school, decided that everything I wrote was worthless, that I was too dumb and too technologically-challenged for grad school, and that I absolutely did not have my shit together and never would because my kitchen wasn’t clean that day and I WOULD NEVER FIGURE OUT HOW TO PROPERLY FORMAT A TITLE PAGE.

And then a little voice from a more recently-developed part of my brain spoke up and said, “Just do what you can.”

And I stopped, and I listened, because that voice was new. Usually the voice in my head perpetuates the self-loathing and it takes everything I can muster to drag myself out of that dark ugly pit. But this voice was gentle and forgiving, and I said, “Huh. Okay.” I closed my computer because I was too overwhelmed for it to be productive or good for my mental state, and I curled up on my loveseat with a blanket, next to my pretty lamp, and I got out my NRP book that needed to be read anyway, and I read it, because that was a thing I could do in that moment.

I hope with everything in me that self-awareness and better habits and positive self-talk are actually changing my brain chemistry. I don’t think the SAD will ever go away completely, but I’m learning to look it in the face and call a monster a monster, and not make the dreariness that spreads into my soul my fault. I’m learning ways to manage it, to function through the gray and the fog, and sometimes when I can’t function, to be forgiving of that. That feels a lot like getting my shit together. And it feels a lot better than wrestling with every imperfect part of my life until I’m exhausted and beat down because my expectations are completely unrealistic.

Ultimately, I’m learning that it’s a balancing act. On one hand, getting my shit together has been an exercise in Adulting, in doing small things that I feel too tired to do which will actually yield pretty decent payoff in the end. (Like loading the dishwasher and then actually remembering to turn it on at night. We haven’t run out of clean forks in almost 2 months! It’s a miracle!!) I’m about to enter a period of my life where laziness isn’t much of an option, and I need to get ready to be pretty tired a lot of the time.

BUT. I’m also learning to decipher what real laziness is versus what I feel like laziness is. I tend to do things the hardest way possible, a fact that I forget a lot of times until my husband reminds me. Sometimes I feel like it’s cheating at life not to do things the hard way, the “real” way. But my perfectionist brain is going to kill me that way, eventually, and I need to get over it. It isn’t lazy to save the laundry for a day when I don’t have to work. It isn’t lazy to sit on the couch and work on my application essays instead of scrubbing the bathroom. It isn’t lazy, and definitely not cheating at life, to bring a grocery store pie for a potluck instead of baking for three hours, or to use a meal-delivery service instead of making three grocery store runs a week and slaving for hours over dinner. (And oh my god, it’s actually kind of life-changing? If Jenny and/or Mary B are reading this, I’m so sorry about the skepticism and judgy-ness, because you guys have actually saved my life. There might actually be another blog post coming entirely about that.)

By my initial definition, I definitely don’t have my shit together. My life still isn’t the beautiful, pristine, cookie cutter image I always envision. But it won’t ever be. I’m trying really, really hard to accept that there are things that will be out of my control, and that’s okay. I’m learning to ask for help, and to ask for advice – particularly from my husband, because he’s actually pretty smart, and what do you know, he loves me and actually wants to do things that make my life easier(Like cook dinner. And make me cocktails. And have them ready for me when I get home from work. WHY DID I NOT DO THIS AGES AGO???) In order to survive the next five (oh my god) years, I’m going to have to suck it up and do hard things, but I’m also going to have to accept that I can’t do this all by myself, and that I can’t be perfect at all the things I want to do. That acceptance? That is how I’m going to keep my shit together.

Luckily I have lots of people who love me to help me do that 🙂

 

a love letter to my younger self

Last week was Winter Cleaning Week at my house. Mark and I revamped our front living area, moved the piano, painted and moved bookshelves, bought some succulents. (Waaaaay late to that trend, but whatevs.) Moving bookshelves meant moving books – lots of them – and culling down Mark’s collection from his grad school days.

In the midst of all of that, I found a stack of old journals tucked away in the back of a shelf, and I sat on our loveseat, reading them, and both inwardly groaned at my melodramatic younger self and felt a pang of such compassion for her as well. Life was so scary for a time, when I wasn’t sure if I’d made the right career choice, when I was teetering on the verge of hating everything about nursing school.

Some excerpts:

May, 2003

…My future is nearly laid out – I’ll be told what clothing to wear (and probably what colors to wear as well), virtually residing in a stark, almost-too-clean hospital, or bound to a stiff, stuffy doctor’s office which overcharges its patients. I’ll be left to do the dirty work, to inflict pain – a job reserved for the lowly position of nurse. I’ll take orders silently, belittled by doctors who believe that they are there to save the world, and their partners (or slaves, as nurses are often mistaken for) are there simply to clean up the mess…

November, 2005

Nursing school is scary. I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or not that I shed more tears over my future career than pretty much anything else in my life. I have more responsibility than I feel that I can handle sometimes. …I should be loving clinicals, right? How could I love physiology so much, and love pathophysiology so much, and not like this? …I’ve been in school for 2 1/2 years now, and I feel like I still haven’t got a clue. I feel stagnant and useless right now, and I just feel like I’ll never be competent, and never be a great nurse. 

April, 2006

I’m tired of feeling stupid. I’m tired of being underestimated, not trusted, scared half to death, so much so that i can’t do my job, degraded, and generally not respected as a student. I have not been a nurse for twenty years. I’ve been one practicing in a hospital for approximately 30 days total. I don’t have a license yet, let alone one to lose, thank you very much. I’m still learning. I don’t know everything you could possibly know about IV pumps. I sometimes forget things. I don’t know where the probe covers are because no one’s ever told me, and when I ask, you look at me like I’m stupid. I can’t help it that other people left trash in my patient’s room 5 minutes before you came in and I haven’t had time to get rid of it yet. I don’t know why that bag of normal saline is in here, I know he doesn’t even get that, and it was there when I came in this morning. I’m sorry that I perceived him as angry, and the nurse perceived him as irritable. He cursed at me, he didn’t curse at her. I’m sorry that I thought his abdomen was distended rather than just “big and firm.” I’m sorry that other people at this hospital don’t chart well enough for me to get sufficient assessment data. I’m sorry that you don’t feel that I’m preparing adequately and don’t know what I’m doing, when I spent 3 hours at pre-clinical yesterday and 5 hours doing paperwork for you. I’m sorry that you don’t agree with my diagnoses. I’m sorry that I have failed you, and that you are so freaking disappointed.

As I read, as I ached for myself, ten years younger, I couldn’t get the lyrics of Landslide out of my head.

Can I sail through the changin’ ocean tides – can I handle the seasons of my life? 

I wish I could go back and reassure that jaded 18-year-old, that terrified 21-year-old. Take heart, dear one, it will all turn out alright. You really were born to do this. Trust your instincts – they’ll serve you well. In the entirety of your nursing career, not once will you feel like a slave. You’ll find clinicals that you love, and you’ll make it through that horrible semester, scarred but still intact. You’ll find grace soon enough, and kindness, and the reassurance that there are parts of nursing that make your heart feel whole again.

You’ll start work, and the NICU will wreck you in the best and worst ways. You’ll celebrate every little victory like that child has just finished a marathon. You’ll care for babies that take up your entire heart, then shatter it. You’ll see horrors that no human eyes should see. And you will love what you do so much that you will devote weekends and holidays and nights and days without complaint. You’ll never utter the words, “I hate my job,” but instead, “Sometimes my job is really hard.” And sometimes it is. A friend once told me that we NICU nurses have the enormous task of witnessing the full circle of a life – coming into this world, living in it, and leaving it. The enormity of it is sometimes overwhelming. When babies – especially babies you know and love – pass out of this world and fly to Jesus, you’ll shed tears that most people will never get to see. And yet, even on the hardest of days, you’ll never want to work anywhere else.

I wish I could go back in time and explain how a nurse is never lowly, is never just a nurse. I wish I could go back and tell you how good you’ll be, how confident, give you examples of all the times you’ve saved a life. I wish you could see into the future, could see how all those puzzle pieces will fit together, how you’ll become competent, then confident. I wish you could see how you’ll expand your roles, try a few different hats on for size, a few different hospitals, and figure out what fits you best. I wish you could see yourself in your element, at the bedside of an extremely critical baby, managing pumps and IVs and lab values and vitals, collaborating with practitioners and neos and surgeons as a colleague rather than a slave, and I wish you could understand exactly how much you’ll love it. How you could talk about the NICU for a solid 24 hours, nonstop. How much it will change your life.

And eleven years after you wrote that frustrated, angry rant toward the clinical instructor that very nearly made you leave it all behind, I wish you could see that you’ll be embarking on a new journey, a Master’s program at UAB for the Neonatal track in their Nurse Practitioner program. It’s something you swore you’d never do, but oh, how we eat our words. You’ll be more excited than scared this time around, but let’s be honest, you’ll still be a little bit scared about this whole thing. After all, you haven’t been in school in ten years.

And I wish, just a little bit, that that terrified 21 year old could travel into the future and walk beside me, confident in the person she’ll become, and smile at me with a face ten years younger and say, “You know what? We got this.”

in the waiting space

The waiting space has always been hard for me.

I’m the kind of person who wants to move from Point A to Point B to Point C in very concise, calculated movements, planned to the very last detail. Part of that comes from being an ICU nurse, part of it is our culture of instant gratification, but most of it is just my personality. I like cookie-cutter. I like the expected. I like to make a plan, and to execute that plan.

And so sitting here on my sister’s couch in Los Angeles, holding vigil over baby-watch feels challenging in a way. I’m ready. She’s ready. I’ve gone through every possible delivery scenario in my head. I have ideas about how to help with pretty much everything that can happen after delivery. This is my jam, this baby thing.

But the baby seems pretty comfortable hanging out in utero, and babies don’t tend to follow plans very well anyway. I know this, and I know it well – none of the babies at work ever follow the plan. They come out early, they come out sick, they come out with all sorts of things that surprise us. And yet, sitting in the quiet midst of the watching and the waiting, as the due date comes and goes, as the contractions start and stop, as we feed my sister pineapple and The Salad and red raspberry tea and Mexican food and Chinese food and, hell, why not In ‘N Out Burger just for good measure, as we walk, and walk, and walk some more – I find myself growing restless. I’ve planned what’s going to happen when the baby comes, after the baby comes. But I really hadn’t planned on what would happen before, because I didn’t think there would be this much before.

I had kind of a breakthrough today, though, after pushing my flight five days later than I’d originally planned to come home. It shouldn’t be a breakthrough at all – it should be so obvious, and I should be so thankful. I am thankful. I get five extra days with my sister and her husband, who live over 2,000 miles away from me. And for a week now, I’ve gotten to do life with them. I get to do life with them for another week. I get to grocery shop with Kelly, to snap beans with her just like we’ve done for years and years, bringing us both for a moment back to our mom’s kitchen in Southeast Tennessee. I get to stay up until the wee hours of the night, just talking to my brother-in-law about a hundred different things. I get to make cupcakes and walk to the donut shop and go out for ice cream at almost 10 o’clock at night. I get to figure out how the heck to use my sister’s record player. I get to laugh while she does squats, complete with giant belly, trying to ease her little one down with the help of some gravity. I get to have foot reflexology massages side-by-side with her, hoping that that might trigger something. I get to sit with her and with Colton, to hang out with their friends, to relish these last days when my sister and her husband are just my sister and her husband, baby-not-included.

And so instead of sitting in the impatience of it all, I’m trying to see this waiting space as a gift. It’s as if God smiled down on me and said, “Here, precious child, I know you’re tired and you’re weary. Take these extra days of rest, take this life-giving time with your family, take these days and cherish them.” And that’s what I’m doing. Of course I’m excited to meet my nephew – I want him to come out so I can see what he looks like, so I can kiss his precious head and hold him so close because newborns are my very, very most favorite, so I can watch Kelly and Colton take the first few steps on the long road of parenthood. But until that happens, I’m going to be content to sit on the couch and cook and laugh and talk (and sleep. I’m definitely trying to relish the sleep, and I know they are too.)

Thanks be to God for gifts of love, of time, and of patience. And of cuddly little babies to love on, who will come out in due time.

 

beautiful vessels

I breathe in. My arms extend to the sky, my back slightly arched, then I swan-dive into forward fold, or as close as I can get to it. I raise my back up for half-forward fold, then back down. Breathe in, breathe out. I feel the stretch in my hamstrings, and then I step back into plank. I lower myself down to my mat, my shoulders burning, and push up into cobra. I pull and push and bend into downward dog, my favorite transition, and hold for a moment – breathe in, breathe out ­– then reeeeeeach with my foot to step back up to my hands. Half-forward fold, forward fold, then I’m diving upward, reaching toward the heavens. I lower my hands into standing prayer pose as I exhale one last time, and I breathe gratitude for my body.

I first learned how to do a sun salutation thirty-two days ago in my pastor’s family’s living room before church. Three days after that first lesson with Angela, I attended my first yoga class, a free one offered at Woodlawn UMC, taught by Angela’s good friend Mollie. An hour and a half with Mollie and I was falling, hook, line, and sinker.

That night before we began, Emily, the pastor of Woodlawn, introduced Mollie and said that yoga feels very much to her like how God wants us to take care of our bodies, to honor them. After having done yoga almost every day for a month now, I can’t say she’s wrong.

I love everything about yoga. I love the mindset, I love the pace, I love the poses. I love my body when I’m doing yoga.

I haven’t always loved my body. I’ve had to practice that, just like yoga. I’ve had to combat the Western tradition of hating my body, of pushing my body, of nit-picking my body to death. I’ve had to combat a distorted body image and learn to see myself just like the people who love me best see me. I’ve had to stop frowning at cellulite (yes, even skinny people have that sometimes), to stop critiquing my profile, to stop begrudging my body for all the things it can’t do.

 Yoga, instead, celebrates all the things my body can do.

When I stretch into downward dog, my heels don’t touch the ground. That, as Mollie would say, is beautiful. My heels may never touch the ground. And if they don’t, it will still be beautiful.

The first time I ever tried boat pose, I held it for as long as Mollie did, even as my legs shook as I suspended them above the ground. That was beautiful. Eventually, they will hopefully stop shaking. That will be beautiful, too.

When I try to bend into forward fold, I’m not very folded. My hamstrings are impossibly tight, and my knees won’t stay straight. And all of that, my bent knees and my half-folded fold, is beautiful. Even if I can’t ever straighten my legs with my palms flat on the floor, even if my head never ever touches my knees, it will still be beautiful.

When I stand in Warrior 2, I feel an incredible amount of strength and energy coursing through my arms, even as they grow heavy from holding them out in front of and behind me. That strength is beautiful.

No matter what, folding or half-folding, hands on the ground or on my knees, legs bent or straight, boat held or collapsed, warrior strong or not quite so much, my body is a beautiful vessel, a gift from God, given so that I may walk through this life and experience the wonders God has made. That is beautiful.

To mark the coming of summer solstice – the miracle of the day with more sunlight than we’ve seen or will see for the rest of the whole year – I met with some fellow yoga-lovers to do 108 of the sun salutations I’ve grown to love. That’s quite the challenge for someone who’s only been doing yoga for about three weeks, and admittedly, I didn’t do all 108 – I maybe did 90-ish; I wasn’t counting because that wasn’t the point. The point was to mark the season, to celebrate with people who also love their bodies, to gather with friends in the park in my neighborhood that I love. It was beautiful. After, I joined some friends for dinner in a pub, a sweaty mess still in my yoga clothes, and that was beautiful. My arms burned the next three days, so badly that I had to get Mark to put my stand mixer in the cabinet for me because I couldn’t physically lift it, and that was also beautiful.

 Yoga, right now, is exactly what I need.

For a while, I was going to the gym and trying to do some (not very heavy) weightlifting. I’ve had some unfortunate back problems that come when you’re a nurse, even when you’re a nurse to tiny babies. Our cribs don’t always allow for the best body mechanics, and I am small and my back is not strong. My goal was to strengthen my back and my arms, to start running again, and for a while it was great. I loved the gym, it was a super-positive atmosphere, no judgment, with helpful trainers. I would put my earbuds in and blare music that I’m sure will eventually cause me hearing loss, because I can’t run any distance at all if I can hear myself breathing or hear my feet hitting the treadmill or the ground. But then I started to walk the dogs more because it was good for them and for me, and I just didn’t have the time for a workout with running and weightlifting and dog-walking.

But I don’t need a gym for yoga. I can get up in the morning and roll my mat out in the sitting room in front of the windows and literally say hello to the sun as it rises.

What yoga gives me, and what I need, is space. Quiet. Peace. I work in an exhausting, stressful job where my whole goal is to leave everyone I take care of in a better place than they were when I arrived, to get all my work done by the end of the day, and also to hopefully leave on time. Sometimes the babies cooperate and that happens. Sometimes they don’t, and it doesn’t. Either way, I stay busy. I stand, I walk, I run, I think, I reason, I rush, I push, I bag, I beg. And it’s not just hospitals that work like that; our entire culture is wrapped up in a rush-rush-rush, go-go-go, push-push-push, get-it-done-5-minutes-ago mentality. I finally decided that I don’t want my exercise to be like that too.

Yoga doesn’t push or rush. It stretches. It bends. It is forgiving. It never yells, only speaks in a quiet, calm voice that encourages you that where you are right now is where you are supposed to be. “No pain, no gain,” never steps onto a yoga mat.

Some mornings I do three sun salutations and then I’m done because it’s time for work. That’s beautiful. Some mornings I stretch through a thirty-minute you-tube video. That’s beautiful. One day I stopped after five minutes of a video a little too advanced for me, and even that was beautiful, because I was listening to my body.

Some people argue that yoga is a gateway into Eastern religion or the New Age movement, and that Christians shouldn’t participate. I disagree – I actually feel closer to God when I’m doing yoga. It makes me stop for a moment, short or long, makes the thoughts scurrying through my head hold still, and fills me with gratitude. The psalmist writes, “He says, ‘Be still and know that I am God,'” and I do. I stand in the presence of God in warrior pose, grateful for my two strong legs that make my foundation, that anchor me to this world. I lie in awe at the inner workings of our complex spines as I twist my body left and right into belly twist, then sit up for half lord of the fishes. I learn to forgive myself over and over again when I stumble, or can’t quite balance on one leg, or when my legs or arms shake, or when my poses don’t look much like the YouTube instructors’. And at the end, I settle into child’s pose and find that it’s one of the easiest places I’ve ever prayed.

That spirit of gratitude is one of the best things yoga has shored up in me. That’s how I think God wants us to live our lives. Grateful for ourselves, for the miracle of life abundant, for the miracle of a body that will stretch and bend and not break. Grateful for the beauty of a sunrise, grateful for the sweat that pours down our foreheads and our necks as we do our stretching outside because it means we are very much alive. Grateful for a sitting room sized just right to fit a purple mat right in front of a window. Grateful for the ability to forgive imperfection, to celebrate it, even.

 Let us go and live in such a spirit of gratitude, both for our own vessels and everyone else’s.

Our bodies, our vessels, are such wonderful creations, miracles, really. When we were doing sun salutations in the park, I watched in fascination at the way everyone moved and bent. We didn’t all bend in the same way, or step in the same way, or stretch in the same way. But we were bending and stepping and stretching together, all of us made wonderfully different in the perfect image of God. And that, my friends, is maybe the most beautiful thing of all.

 

summer in the south

I’m sitting on my porch, rocking gently back and forth while I write in the creaky swing whose screws I really hope don’t pull out of the ceiling, a bead of sweat rolling down the back of my neck while the gentle breeze flutters my hair into my eyes. My planters are spilling over with admittedly dry petunias, somehow still thriving and vibrant even in the face of not much rain and an absentminded plant mama who sometimes forgets to bring out the watering can.

I’m walking the dogs, the early morning dew budded on grass-blades, wet against toes that poke out of my sandals, cooling my feet against the already-hot air. Birds are chirping, neighbors wave, and the sun beats down on my bare shoulders as I circle the path in the park just seven blocks from our house. I pass the bluest hydrangea bushes I’ve ever seen.

I’m walking home from church. Life’s good when your pastor and his family are your neighbors, and life’s better when you have church at their house. The honeysuckle vines are in full bloom, reminding me of my grandma and home and childhood, and their sweet scent combined with the heady gardenias I pass hangs heavy in the air. I stop and speak with four different neighbors I don’t know, and I pause and listen for a moment to the plucking of guitar strings coming from another neighbor’s porch, the kind of music that can only happen on the laziest of Sundays.

It’s summertime in Alabama.

There’s something about summer in the South that reminds me where I’m rooted, reminds me why I stay in this tumultuous place. March comes and with it, the sun and the warmth, and I can feel my heart start to get fuller. By June, this feeling – intensity, love, joy – threatens to burst out of me in a fit of sweaty exuberance. Oh, how I love this place in the summer.

I don’t always love the South, admittedly. Not every day. Not even every warm, sunny day. I’ve lived in here my whole life, my time spent in an uneven split between Chattanooga and Birmingham, but there are days I wish with all my heart that all those blue states up north weren’t quite so cold, because sometimes I feel like giving up and packing up and moving up.

Alabama can be problematic. We’ve got a bad reputation with the rest of the country, mostly because we deserve it. Racism, both systemic and personal, runs rampant here. We have a ridiculously high incarceration rate. We have severe, debilitating poverty, and we’re the sixth poorest state in the US. Our education system, particularly in some counties, leaves a LOT to be desired. Our state and local leaders frequently become a laughingstock on national news, because seriously?? We have lots of very loud people who discriminate against those who are different – different colors, different religions, different political beliefs, different sexual orientations, different gender identities, different ideologies – and unfortunately they often drown out those of us who are shouting love.

But Alabama is also beautiful. (So is Tennessee, where I grew up.) Alabama has honeysuckle and gardenias and hydrangeas and azaleas. Alabama has green, green grass and lots of pretty trees and mountains and rivers and beaches and farms. Alabama has long summers and short winters and not very much snow (which is very important to my SAD-addled self.) Alabama has a LOT of VERY GOOD barbecue. Alabama houses my precious neighborhood that I love so dearly. Alabama has lots of people living in it who are passionate about racial equality and ending LGBTQ discrimination and creating community and ending poverty and mass incarceration. Alabama has lots of people passionate about local food movements and clean air and water and public health. Alabama has lots of people passionate about loving each other.

So here I stay. In the winter, I pray for the summer to come quickly, and until it does, I sit and I try to be intentionally thankful amidst a sea of conservatives who sometimes make it hard for us liberal folk, who make it feel like we’re swimming upstream, but who still have things to teach us, and who can still love us in spite of our differences. Here I stay, thankful, among some of the best neighbors I could ever ask for. In the middle of one of the most gorgeous places on this earth. In a church community that’s more amazing than I could’ve ever dreamed. In a house that Mark and I have made a home.

We may move, someday. If we do, there are some things might be rejoicing over – maybe we’ll finally live in a blue state! But if we do, we’ll also leave part of our hearts here, among the honeysuckle vines and the cracked sidewalks and our porch swing. And I will be grateful, then, that this paradoxical place will always feel like home.

 

where does the good go?

I surprised myself yesterday morning.

I’d started writing this post at about 5:30 AM when I couldn’t go back to sleep, about tragedy and the forces of good and evil, and was interrupted by a mini-fight with Mark revolving around a misunderstanding about a certain scary thing I had to do that day. Bolt came into our bedroom and got in my lap, all 75 pounds of him, and I bent and laid my head on his, mainly because he’s soft and gives good hugs. Then a noise startled him and he popped his head up into my jaw and made me bite my lip, which hurt, but was nothing compared to the intense pain that slowly spread through the opposite side of my jaw that he hit. Ouch ouch ouch.

I have TMJ (temporomandibular joint) Syndrome, and I’m prone to inflammation anyway, but it’s been particularly irritable since my last trip to the dentist, and that knock to the jaw just pushed me over the edge. The internal swelling was so intense that I couldn’t clench my teeth for several minutes after, and got sick to my stomach from the pain. Tears sprang to my eyes, and then for some reason unbeknownst to me, they wouldn’t stop, not as the pain began to subside, not as it was gone, not when Mark sat and rubbed my head, not when I got up to get ready for the day. It dawned on me that I was having a delayed, very visceral reaction to reading and writing about the traumas that have shaken Orlando to its core this last week. I was a little shocked, to be honest. I don’t have visceral reactions, at least not with any frequency. I process, I am sad, I move on. But yesterday morning, I escaped into the bathroom and sobbed in the shower for a good fifteen minutes over the atrocities of this world, because that’s the best place to do things like that when your in-laws are in town and you don’t want to make them worry that you’re losing your mind or getting a divorce or something equally terrible.

It was nothing like that. It’s just that my heart is broken. The world has broken it. Keeps breaking it.

I stole the title of this particular post from a Tegan and Sara song. I almost decided to go with something else, because that song is about love lost, and the anger and frustration that go with it, and I thought that wouldn’t be quite appropriate for a topic with so much weight. And yet, isn’t that exactly what the topic is about? How best to deal with a broken heart?

Where does the good go?

Last week was a brutal week for Orlando, and by extension, our country. First the death of Christina Grimmie, shot while signing autographs after a show, then 49 people dead and 50 injured in a mass shooting at a night club, then a toddler attacked by an alligator in a freak accident at Disney World of all places. All horrific traumas that I can’t even wrap my head around. On the internet, I read the over-stimulating overshare of information that social media offers, which literally causes our brains to process things differently than they once did and spawns comments which leave me either sitting in wonder at humanity’s perseverance and strength in the face of tragedy or just plain make me want to pull my hair out. And also curse a lot, which I do.

Where does the good go?

Where is the good when people get gunned down at a church service? Or at a movie theater? Or at an elementary school?

Where is the good when the cancer kills, or the baby dies, or the medicine just isn’t working?

Where is the good when words of hostility are thrown out instead of words of comfort, of hope?

Where is the good when people, particularly people that we love, disappoint us so immensely that we feel we might not be able to recover?

I have officially given up on humanity more times than I can count this year. I literally utter those words, usually when I’m reading Facebook comments, or about Donald Trump, neither of which I should do because they are not good for my mental health. Or probably my blood pressure, which is not typically high, but Lord, if anything will do it, that will.

In my darkest moments, when everything feels completely hopeless, sometimes I wish that the world would just really be that terrible so I could bring fulfillment to my promise. So I could give up on humanity, and mean it, and stop getting my heart broken over and over again. (Those of you that know me at all know that this is wholly against everything I fundamentally believe about people and humanity and that my heart would have to be forcefully ripped from my body for that to happen, honestly.) But this world is a fickle world, and every time I get so mad I can’t see straight, something always turns me around, gives me some glimmer of hope.

I believe, some say foolishly, that most people in this world will do the right thing if given the choice. I really do. And I will tell you why: we are all made in God’s image. Every person on this earth. God breathes life into us from the beginning, and while I do very much know and feel that this world is broken and our bodies are broken and we are all imperfect, I also believe that everything light and good and holy and right in this world will triumph over the dark and the bad and the evil and the wrong. That is the joy and the hope in the resurrection. And, believing that, I can’t help but believe that parts of us that look like God will push their way to the surface when the rubber hits the road.

Obviously that’s not true of everybody. That’s not always true of anybody. Sometimes the darkness wins for a moment, or a day, or even a lifetime, and what havoc it wreaks, killing people, shaming people, making people doubt themselves and each other, beating people down. But we are a tenacious breed, we humans, and we always do manage to stand back up, to find the best parts of ourselves with which to move forward, and if we can’t, we usually at least try.

So where does the good go?

It doesn’t go anywhere.

The presence of good doesn’t erase the bad, but the presence of evil doesn’t drive away the good, either. In Orlando on Friday, Christina Grimmie’s brother tackled her killer to the ground, placing his own body in between the gunman and the crowd. On Sunday, in the midst of too many gunshots and too many people falling, an Indian man, a former Marine, kept his head and opened a door in the back of the club so people could get away from the gunfire. A nursing student put aside his own fear to save a man’s life, using t-shirts as tourniquets and his own hands to stop the bleeding. I’m sure there were others performing courageous and comforting acts that we will never hear about. That’s where the good went.

The good came in the form of half-day waits in the hot Florida sun to donate blood. The good came when even more people donated food and water to the blood bank staff and the donors waiting in line. The good was there in the tears and sweat of the hospital staff that cared for the injured, both Christina Grimmie and the many, many victims of the Pulse shooting. The good came in a sixteen hour search for a little boy’s body so his family would not go home entirely empty-handed.

The good comes in the hugs and tears of friends comforting each other in the wake of unspeakable tragedy. It comes in the form of an Ecumenical service where clergy offered prayers and silence both, where someone read the names of every person killed in the Pulse shooting on continuous loop, where artwork was done and letters written in honor of the victims and their families. It comes in the form of perfect strangers holding hands while singing hymns about unity, about needing each other to survive.

For my part, I can’t make the bad go away and I can’t keep the world from breaking my heart, but I can cultivate as much love as my individual body, my single soul will allow. I can participate in community, I can take care of my body and my soul, and the bodies and souls of others.

And I can hope. Hope springs eternal, they say, even in the midst of such horrid tragedy, even when you know there will be heartbreak before any kind of victory. I can choose to march on anyway.

So where does the good go?

The good shows up wherever love grows. May we all tend fruitful gardens.

 

On This, the Occasion of the Anniversary of my Ninth Year of Marriage: A Study of Haiku

awake. i roll o’er,

amidst a sea of covers,

and see your bare skin.

 

you say i steal the

blankets. after nine years, you’d

think i’d learn to share.

 

into the kitchen.

chips, open on the counter,

and i roll my eyes.

 

lights left on, glasses

left for dogs to spill, asking:

“are you mad at me?”

 

a million ways to

irritate each other, and

yet: we’re still standing

 

leaning on the love

that outlasts fights and ire and

everything but us.

 

nine years ago, my

best friend became my husband.

a ceremony,

 

vows, a kiss, a dance.

what god joined then, let

none put asunder.

 

nine years ago, a

white dress and a tux and some

promises we made

 

equal a life, in

spite of open bags, stolen

sheets and rolling eyes.

 

thanks be to god for

the little things: hugs, meals shared,

peace won, books read, trips,

 

a mowed lawn, our dogs,

dinner on the porch at dusk,

a brush of our hands.

 

this is what marriage

should feel like: simplicity,

fullness, joy, honor.

 

the gratefulness for

a life well-lived overwhelms,

and i sit in awe

 

at how two people

become more like one each day;

a miracle, really.

 

and here stands my truth:

my life is better because

you, love, are in it.