Abundance and Gratitude

I’ve thought through many updates that I should have written but I’ve not taken the time to do the writing. I’ve been so busy enjoying my days that I’ve not wanted to surrender even five minutes. But I just can’t stand it another moment! I have to shout! My! Thankfulness!

This is the time of the year when we typically bend our thoughts toward gratitude. I was turned on to the power of gratitude many years ago by Sarah Ban Breathnach’s Simple Abundance. It was a trendy book at the time and one of her suggestions for cultivating an abundant life was to keep gratitude in the fore of our thoughts by recording things for which we’re thankful in a “Gratitude Journal”. I teach my students to do this and while I no longer journal gratitude every single day, I am careful to order my thoughts around thankfulness without ceasing; it’s become a habit.

My list of thanks has no end but you have to read about why I’m almost numb with joy. I’m in turns bubbling with giddiness and paralyzed with wonder and this is why:

One year ago my beautiful sixteen-year-old daughter was out of her mind. She was diagnosed with Schizophrenia and was in a psychiatric hospital for the first time in her life. I was out of my mind with shock and grief. For the next several months she was in and out of the hospital and no happy resolution was in our sights.
During her fourth hospitalization the doctor prescribed a new medication and after a two-and-a-half-month hospital stay she came home! The first few months were filled with blissful days but challenging evenings. D’Aurolyn still had bouts in the evening during which she would chase me out of the house with a knife or take off walking to shadowy parts of town.

Two months ago those bouts ceased. For two months we have seen an almost typical teenage girl emerge. Even the evenings are now a delight. She’s spontaneously helpful and makes appropriate conversation with family and friends. She takes the initiative to help with tasks like taking baked goods out of the oven and feeding the cats. The most challenging behavior we face now is her comparatively minor downward spiral in the evening as she tends to obsess over her hands with the belief that there is something wrong with them. Even with this sort of difficulty, she presses forward with her evening; often going to bed at around 7:30 p.m. and waking full of sunshine and cheer.

Friends, even the mass in her left temporal lobe is gone!

In the midst of the most difficult days of the past year I disciplined myself to focus on thankfulness and even gave praise and thanks for what we were facing. I wanted God to be glorified and the enemy to win nothing. It wasn’t easy. It was akin to running up The Jackson Street Hill (infamous with Quincy runners) at the end of a long run. But like running hills it developed strength and stamina; enough to share. And here we are running flat miles in the midst of great beauty. I’m drinking it in and thanking God for every moment.

D'Aurolyn and I were enjoying some spring flower shopping.

D’Aurolyn and I were enjoying some spring flower shopping.

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No Doubt

D'Aurolyn Backpack

This is D’Aurolyn’s backpack. It’s been hanging here for months; hanging on the hook on the door in the hallway. It’s her favorite color. Purple is her favorite color. She has purple shoes, purple hoodies, purple shirts, purple sweaters, purple glasses… But she doesn’t carry this backpack these days. She doesn’t wear her purple shoes. She doesn’t wear her glasses. She doesn’t go to school. She hasn’t even been home in more than two months.

I know where she is. She’s just four blocks away from home on the top floor of an old hospital. That’s where her body is. That’s where her long legs walk the halls. That’s where her long blonde hair sometimes catches the soft breeze of someone brushing past in the hall. That’s where she sometimes giggles when I make funny voices or try to massage her ticklish feet. That’s where her slender fingers copy words onto notecards for me to mail to loved ones. That’s where she sometimes watches her favorite movie, Aquamarine. But that’s not where my D’Aurolyn is.

My beautiful D’Aurolyn is shackled within the complicated recesses of a brain disease. Something is going on in her lovely head that causes her to see and hear things that aren’t there. This disease distorts her perceptions and her thinking. This disease veils my beautiful little girl. She’s there and locked inside her own head. Instead of D’Aurolyn we see a fear-filled girl who reacts in violent rages. What we see causes the most heart-wrenching longing for our little girl to return to us. We ache for D’Aurolyn to be freed from the tormenting hallucinations and from the hell of her sadness at being away from home and family.

Sometimes, when we visit, we are graced with her sweet smiles and her tender embrace. Sometimes we enjoy good visits that are filled with laughter, walks, and simple talks about carefully navigated subjects; subjects designed to avoid the triggering of anything that might set her off. It’s easier to be hopeful about D’Aurolyn’s future on days and moments when she’s doing well. It’s much harder to maintain hope and joy when she flies into what most would describe as a crazy fit.

Hope and joy could easily drop out of it were it not for the tremendous scaffolding of a hope and trust in the one who loves me most and for the wonder and beauty in all of his promises. I have to be honest with you and disclose that for a couple of days I felt I was at the end of myself. I didn’t think I had the energy to muster the smiles, the trust and belief, nor even the prayers to keep going to work, to continue visiting D’Aurolyn in the hospital every night, nor to keep up with the constant mental wrestling that was going on in my head. The fleeting idea of my own breakdown and subsequent hospitalization sounded more appealing than going on. It would have been so much easier to bury myself than to keep pressing forward in faith. Thankfully, my fortitude and commitment took me to my church home as it does every Sunday; even those Sundays on which I despair at my to-do list, take my pulse, assess my fatigue, and consider staying home. I didn’t stay home, however. I knew that surrounding myself with all of those beautiful, conflicted, and devoted fellow sinners at my church home would be the very tonic I needed. On that particular Sunday morning I claimed a scripture:

Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “Truly[f] I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. – Mark 11:22-26 NIV

As I sat in my Sunday School class poring over that passage, I determined to discipline disbelief right out of my head. I inserted my prayer for D’Aurolyn’s healing and prayed that length of scripture until I lost count of the number of times.

I still don’t know what the future holds for D’Aurolyn any more than I know what it holds for myself, but I know that the enemy will not win this battle for my faith. I will not stop praising God. I will, however, stop acquiescing to disbelief in prayer and God will be glorified.

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Impossibly Content

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When will she come home? When she does come home, how will she be? Will she be happy? Will the hallucinations persist? Will she continue to say that she’s three years old? Will she wake, angry, believing that her hair has been cut? Will she try to hurt herself, others, or me? Will the medication work? If the medication does work, will it keep working? Will she have to live the rest of her life in an institution?

These are the questions that are on the surface in every moment; every moment save the ones in which I garner control and successfully replace them with, “In everything give thanks…Be anxious for nothing…Trust in the Lord and lean not on your own understanding…”

It’s been a nightmare really. It’s been a murky, confusing nightmare from which there is no waking. Navigating the hellish reality that my daughter is terrorized by hallucinations which render her incapable of functioning in our consensus reality we call society has been like walking, blindfolded, atop the blade of an excruciatingly sharp and savagely twisted saw – every step inflicts barbarous injury; unpredictability permeates every molecule; uncertainty ravages any notion of understanding.

Amidst the uncertainty and fear, though, I am overwhelmingly grateful for the care and expertise of the nurses and doctors. They have provided warmth and genuine concern as they work with D’Aurolyn in seeking effective drug therapies and safety during crises. The school personnel have gone far beyond the call of duty in arranging meetings and pursuing support to meet D’Aurolyn’s needs. They’ve been profoundly human and humane in their response to our situation.

Sylvia Plath, in the Bell Jar said, “Only I wasn’t steering anything, not even myself.” While D’Aurolyn might not be steering herself and I’m unable to steer her in the direction I want for her, I can still steer for her. Steering us both in the direction of faith and giving God praise in everything.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 ESV

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The Unexpected

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My sixteen-year-old daughter was recently diagnosed with schizophrenia. She’s a delight when she’s not battling something unseen. She’s funny, sweet, affectionate, and full of happy surprises. She also is intellectually handicapped.  The combination is something else; uncommonly varied.

 

There are the funny moments: We were shopping and as we left the store a pair of Amish women approached the entrance. My  darling girl said, with a broad smile on her beautiful face, “Whooooaaaa, some pilgrims.”  Would Amish be insulted by the comparison? I thought they might be at least annoyed if I laughed out loud so I stifled my giggle until I was in the safe shelter of my ancient Saab.

 

I fight back tears when she weeps and yells because she thinks she’s shrinking and becoming a three-year-old; driving her to filter through her clothes as she relegates many of her clothes to the garage sale boxes in the company of our cave crickets in the basement as she believes they’re too big or inappropriate for a three-year-old.  Even this is easy compared to the episodes during which she suddenly rages in public and screams that I’m not her mother, drawing suspicious looks all around. 

 

The unexpected is exhausting.  The unpredictable and evolutionary nature of this affliction defies reason. I’m at a loss.  And that’s okay. This life is full of the unexpected. Relentless hardships puzzle us all our lives. It’s okay. There have never been any assurances in this life. It makes the beautiful and true more poignant.

 

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. –James 4:13-14 ESV

 

 

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A Detour

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You’re contemplating a detour. There’s a new course on this altogether familiar avenue. The unexpected detour sets your hands and feet atwitch. It could be just what you need in that moment. It could be just the beat to get you to work faster. You might avoid danger and other traffic pitfalls. You might encounter landscapes that stir a new place in your insulated core, or some interesting architecture, or brush up against some interesting new people. You might even meet someone who changes your life.

Eeehhhh but it’s risky. You’re approaching the detour and you need to make a decision. Should you take it or should you stay the known course? You know the regular route. You know where the potential risks lay and because of the familiarity you’re able to skirt the perils. You can’t decide. Maybe you could try the detour another day. Maybe tomorrow you’ll feel fortified in a way that today lacks. Maybe you should research this divergence before nosing that direction. But, Gah! “Just do it,” you think! “It’s not going to kill you and even if it were to kill you, you’ve likely outlived your allotment anyway so why not take this risk. It’s not even a colossal risk. It’s not as if you’re emptying your retirement account at the age of 50 to invest in some sketchy IPO. Just stop thinking and take the blessed detour!”

You wonder what others would do. You know your friends have detoured and failed…succeeded, too. What would V. Woolf do? She’d take the detour…unless she were blue in which case she’d smoke and write. Mother Teresa? She took some serious risks. She abandoned everything but that was for Jesus and not this detour. You won’t even ask the proverbial WW–? Though you’re thinking it.

You’re a silver-lining kind of girl. So just focus on the rich gifts that can come of the detour. Stop thinking from a place of fear. Get down on your ever-loving yoga mat, work up your gratitude, open your heart chakra and take the detour.

Oh, and, wear a hat.

Interestingly, I just found a verse attributed to Mother Teresa and the title is Do It Anyway. Though applying the “do it anyway” philosophy to a detour is a stretch, it was still an interesting first item in my Mother Teresa googling. Here’s a link to the poem: https://www.msu.edu/~jerrymc/quotes/anyway.html

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“Red hair, sir, in my opinion, is dangerous.” ― P.G. Wodehouse

Some days are like this.
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Maybe the night was short. Perhaps it rained on your morning run and there was no time to wash, dry, and style your hair before work. It might be that you had such a beautiful morning that you didn’t want to relinquish a moment of goodness to hairstyling. No matter the reason, your hair is a fright.

No problem.

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Shroud those unruly locks in the warmth and beauty of an Impossibly Cute Hat. Smile. And have “thank you” on the lips because you’re going to be bathed in compliments. They’ll tell you they love your hat. They’ll say that you look beautiful in that hat. They’ll ask, “Where did you get that hat? It looks great on you.” They will. Trust me.
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Rejoice!

cream hat edit

Good news! Don’t you just love good news? I have much about which to rejoice! My darling daughter is coming home today! That’s one joyful reason to give thanks! There’s also much about which to lament in this world but where’s the profit in moaning and complaining? It feels so much better to find something positive on which to dwell.

Eight years ago I had cancer and for the week preceding surgery we believed that it was in several areas of my body. We all know is a sad prognosis that likely indicates a brief remainder of life. I knew that I just had to think of a positive aspect of that cancer or I may as well die already. So I gave thanks that I was the one who had cancer rather than my daughters. It was good. It kept me smiling.

What positive notion can we possibly find in the deaths of thousands in the Philippines?Where is the bright spot in human trafficking? For what can we be thankful when a child is diagnosed with a terminal illness?

Sometimes the only thing for which to be thankful is knowing that we are children of God. Rejoicing in the Lord; not in any creature comfort or earthly enjoyment, but in the Lord. God chose us and is reason enough to rejoice. Everything in our lives could be falling apart and we still have a peerless reason to celebrate in God’s love for us. That’s where our thoughts should dwell in every moment; in His love.

So hold those thoughts captive and adorn that darling, much-loved noggin with a great hat!

Be glad then, ye children of Zion, and rejoice in Jehovah your God; for he giveth you the former rain in just measure, and he causeth to come down for you the rain, the former rain and the latter rain, in the first month. – Joel 2:23

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Walking each other home…

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“We’re all just walking each other home.” – Ram Dass

I love that beautiful phrase for the way it captures a wealth of meaningful experiences. A walk is never idle; idle neither in thought nor activity. I’ve a storehouse of memorable walks. There’s the time I walked, with my Grandmother who was in her late eighties at the time, up my hilly driveway that spans nearly half a mile – today she’s a spunky 90-something lady. I’ll always remember that childhood walk that was forced on us after the wheel of our truck fell into a hole in the bridge on a dark country, dirt road in the middle of the night with my grandmother, aunt, and her baby as we sought after a drunken family friend who was reportedly taking Grandpa’s bulldozer for a midnight joyride. And there are the serious-talk walks I’ve had with my daughters during which we’ve discussed college plans, sex, finances, death, etc.; discourse is always easier while walking. Just the other night I enjoyed a walk with a beautiful soul who talked and walked me through and out of deep sorrow.

Those are the literal walks and the figurative walks through feelings. Rich stuff. Endearing. Tender. Simple.

But the “walking each other home” tells a greater story. It’s a fascinating epic about living life in relationship with one another. All of those shorter walks, basted together, fashion our lives. It’s a long walk, if we’re lucky. And as most of us on a longer walk discover, more is required of our ability to endure; more is required of our faith. More is required of others to help us sort through the messes, laugh through the comedic moments, rejoice in the joyous events, and simply wander through the mundane.

As we journey we should carefully choose those who walk us home and we must exercise great trust and faith in the one who gave his life for us. These are not easy things to do. As we walk in the midst of this chaotic world and muster the mettle to meet all of the challenges facing us, it helps to wear a really great hat.

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Fix your thoughts…

soft blue and cream hat 1 edit for blog
Imagine mothering a darling little girl for sixteen years. Imagine her precious little newborn fingernails and fine baby hair; her innocent and trusting smiles. She is one of the three of the most important people in the world. You would make any sacrifice for her. You would die for her and even kill for her. It’s a fierce and expansive love that imagines nothing less than doing everything in your power to ensure her safety and wellbeing.

Now try to imagine that, over the course of her sixteen years, you learn that there is nothing you can do about her cognitive disabilities. You can only help her navigate this world and give your best so that she is happy and safe. Imagine, now, that there is nothing you can do when a mass in her temporal lobe is discovered.

You learn to accept her challenges and let go of the grief. You look, desperately, for the bright side. You refuse to worry because worry is unproductive and unhealthy. You even praise God for, exactly what, you’re not sure, but you praise Him in everything…so you sing praises for these challenges and trust that He will see you through this. You know that, “He will not fail you or leave you without support,” – Deuteronomy 31:8.

Imagine that it gets worse. There are hallucinations and raging tantrums directed at things only she can see. You finally realize that this is beyond your own expertise and abilities; you take your darling girl, after she tearfully entreats you, “Just take me to the hospital.” You hold her hand and walk, on trembling legs, into the hospital.

You visit her every day. On a new medication she improves. After ten days you bring her home. After only a few days back in school you’re summoned by school officials and find your darling girl raging; screaming at things unseen to us and a danger to herself and others. Her father says demons inhabit her. You worry that the mass in her brain is growing. She is readmitted to the psychiatric ward. Your heart aches. Your body aches. You refuse to let the fallen world get the best of you. You pray. You ask others for prayers. They pray.

Your baby, ten days later, is still in the hospital and because her father took a photo of her in the hospital you are not allowed to visit her. You think you’ll combust from the ache of anger, fear, frustration, and sadness.

You are reminded that, “No weapon formed against you shall prosper,” – Isaiah 54:17.

You hang, with all your might, to the promises of God. If you’re like me, you’ll run a bunch of miles and maybe make a hat or two. You’ll delight in the small things and remain thankful for what is beautiful, happy, and holy. You’ll take God’s word seriously. You’ll be thankful for people who care and lift your little girl up in prayer.

You’ll cast the whole of your care—all your anxieties, all your worries, all your concerns, once and for all—on Him; for He cares for you affectionately, and cares about you watchfully. (1Peter5:7 Amplified)

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Jazz, Lipstick, and Hats

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Dark and murky ideas burden the sunniest dispositions. Encumbered as we are with the weight of a fallen world, the cold and the shadows press in and would have their way with us. To counter this relentless foe I like to surround myself with beauty, positive thoughts, and comfort. Light a fragrant candle – my favorite is Bob’s Flower Shop by Trapp with Winter by Bath and Body coming in second. Play some Dizzy Gillespie (because it’s sophisticated and fun) . Put on some lipstick and a darling hat. You’ll look smashing and feel better, instantly!

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