I live in a creative community that inspires me. With my family and friends, I create...memories.

Thursday, May 17, 2012


Perspective.  When you are dealing with depression, perspective is crucial.  It seems that the counseling I once had, not to mention a slew of self-help and inspirational books I've eyed, are focused on changing our perspective.  Once changed, we can move along with life, our minds no longer playing games with us.

Once, I worked in an office.  I had a great salary and incredible benefits.  I complained about my work sometimes, but I really enjoyed it.  I enjoyed the sense of accomplishment I had, I enjoyed the people I worked with, I enjoyed having my very own office with four walls and a private door, lit with lamps I'd brought from home and my giant Moonstruck movie poster on the wall (I was working in a film school in New York City and living in Brooklyn, after all).

Back then, I had a fairly healthy perspective on my life.  I worked a bit too much, but I also did things I enjoyed, starting a graduate degree in a field I found interesting, spending lots of time with friends and my amazing husband, developing hobbies and interests, and worshiping God in wonderfully powerful ways, both at church and intertwined in the lives of a beautiful community of faith.

When I had my first child, my perspective shifted...well, it sort of fell off a cliff.  I was wholly unprepared and incapable of caring for this beautiful person.  My whole life up to that point was moot, a waste.  This child had needs I couldn't fill.  I wanted to escape -- all the time.  I eventually sought out community among other moms so I wouldn't feel quite so desperate.  That gave me a purpose I was having a hard time finding with this one little child who was to be my world.  For him, I was simply not enough and I never would be enough.

When my daughter was born, my perspective was altered again.  Now, I was really a Mother in my mind.  I had a newborn baby and a three-year-old with very different needs.  Their needs filled up my day, and it somehow seemed more worthwhile to spend the majority of my energy on two kids as opposed to one.  We were a Family, and I was the linchpin holding us all together.  Sometimes, I still looked for non-profit jobs online, but it seemed ridiculous for me to even consider working for peanuts and putting two kids in childcare; the economics alone made no sense.

One day, my daughter almost died from sudden respiratory failure.  After three weeks in the hospital, we brought her home without answers, but more thankful for our children than ever before.  We soon learned that she had a genetic disorder that necessitated life support and continual monitoring every time she slept.  It was a very unpredictable disorder aside from the standard need for breathing support.  Today, I never know if we will be in the hospital again tonight, next week, or next season.  She can go from playful and happy to respiratory arrest in less than 24 hours.  To say my perspective has shifted again would be an understatement.

My new perspective is bizarre.  There is no other word for it.  I'm still trying to figure it out, and I'm certainly not making sense to a lot of other people who perhaps once felt they understood me.  I'm not looking at life or even each day in a "normal" way.  It would be crazy to convince myself that our lives are normal.  There are very few people who share my perspective, and even my husband doesn't have the near constant burden that I feel...the sheer weight of my child's life or death, of her mental and physical health on my shoulders 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  It's difficult to find inspirational messages that match my perspective.  The Bible doesn't seem to cover daily looking at your child and trying to discern if her life is threatened by something unseen like rising carbon dioxide levels in her blood and daily hooking her up to machines that keep her alive.  It's hard to maintain the perspective that God is in control when her life seems to hang on the medical decisions we as parents make for her.

Our perspective is unique, and that makes it hard to relate to us many times.  But your perspective is unique, and so is everyone else's really.  We might cleave to others who have similar perspectives, and in doing so we begin to feel like our perspective is somehow better or fuller or wiser.  Or we might set ourselves up against others with different perspectives to make ourselves feel superior...or just plain different, unique.

The current "Mommy Wars" highlight how different perspectives can cause strife.  Not just about "values," these conflicts emerge from how we view the world and our lives in the whole.  A wise mother I greatly admire recently said to me, "I don't even think about organic food."  She is a craftswoman, a highly thoughtful and intelligent mother, but she lacks the resources to afford organic food.  I have no doubt that she does her best to offer her children a healthy diet and that if she chose to work full-time rather than stay home with them, she might be better able to afford organic food if she so desired.  Instead, she doesn't think about it.  That is her perspective on the world around her.  Can I fault her for it?  Should I judge her and think that she's not doing the "best" for her kids?

A lot of the decisions that are battled in the "Mommy Wars" come from a securely middle-class perspective.  Whether to stay home or not, whether to provide organic food or not, whether to breastfeed or not, all assume that mothers have full luxury of choice.  Women who do not anatomically make enough milk or whose babies have palate issues do not have a choice to breasfeed.  The poor, rural women among whom I grew up did not have a lot of choice to stay home or live organically.  Single mothers often have very clear choices.  Unfortunately, these are not choices made purely on values.  They are choices made out of one's perspective.  Taking into account the full sum of my life, of my responsibilities, of my resources, how do I soldier on?

Our perspectives are all different.  Built from the sum of our experiences, of our hopes and dreams, of the roles we must fill, they color how we lead our lives.  They color how we judge the people we encounter in our lives.  Sometimes, they make it hard to simply live out our lives.  If you want to truly love someone, if you want to touch a heart and not simply a need, try to wrap your head around her perspective.  It will be different from yours, your assumptions will be shot to bits, and your perspective will be changed, too.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

To Plan or Not to Plan

I am an unabashed Planner.  I am never happier than when my calendar is filled with lots of activities and my to-do list is full of do-able tasks.  I've even been told on several occasions that I should be an event planner (from people who really know me, like my mom).

Planning has served me well...I initiated and planned three successful Parent-Child Valentine's Dances for my neighborhood.  Not only were these heartwarming affairs to celebrate that great love bond between parent and child, but they also raised money for local charities and introduced many to our MOMS Club.  And of course, I planned that MOMS Club.  Which in as many years grew from one to three chapters.  That took some planning, along with some great fellow Planners.

In the past year, however, my love for Planning has been upended.  It all started when my child went into sudden and completely unexpected respiratory failure.  We didn't know for sure if she would survive or what life would look like at all for us.  In the midst of the chaos, the Children's Pastor at my church (I think it was her...remember this was CHAOS) gave me a new devotional book, Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence by Sarah Young (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004).

Initially, the first-person voice of Jesus was pure comfort as we struggled at the beside of our child in the PICU...August 10: "Relax in my healing, holy Presence" (233).  August 12: "Come to me when you are weak and weary" (235).  August 17: "Find me in the midst of the maelstrom" (240).  August 18: "Anticipate coming face to face with impossibilities: situations totally beyond your ability to handle...Allow me to fight for you" (241).  August 20: "I am the God who heals" (243).  August 22: "Trust me, and don't be afraid" (245).  August 23, the day H-Bear's breathing tube was successfully removed: "Entrust your loved ones to me; release them into My protective care.  They are much safer with me than in your clinging hands" (246).

However, as I continued to read the devotional through the fall months, Jesus began to attack my need to plan everything.  October 10: "Trust me enough to let things happen without striving to predict or control them" (297).  October 27: "Many people are so preoccupied with future plans and decisions that they fail to see choices they need to make today" (314).  November 3: "Every time something thwarts your plans or desires, use that as a reminder to communicate with Me" (322).  On and on, the devotional made clear that my need to plan, organize, and orchestrate my whole world reflected a flawed desire to control my own life and a lack of trust in God.

I believe my ability to administer is a gift, but like all good things, too much can leave a life wholly out of balance.  I'd always envied my sister-in-law's spontaneous nature, expressed to a smaller degree in my husband, who is clearly NOT the Planner in our family.  I recognized even as a teenager that my need to line everything up before acting often built a roadblock to my own joy.

Yet, my role as a mother necessitated lots of planning and organization.  Inspired by a fellow East Nashville mama, I even created a little morning chant (recited monk-style):
     Lord, please give me patience
     Patience for this day
     Strengthen me, encourage me
     As I chart our way.
You can substitute wisdom, courage, joy, or whatever you feel you'll need in place of patience.

All day long, I was in control of my little ones, and I was indeed charting our way.  Some planning simply had to happen.  Getting children to school with good hygiene, clean clothes and all their supplies, making meals, and paying bills all required planning.  After H-Bear became sick, some elements of planning became crucial to her health and well-being.  No long car rides without her ventilator, since she was sure to fall asleep, gave way to planning all activities for when she was sure to be awake.  The sheer amount of equipment needed to keep her alive at night demanded some organization and forethought.  And the 50 -- yes, 50! -- medical appointments she had in the last 4 months of 2011 required some Planning.

At the same time, I began to realize I could no longer make calendars of fun-filled activities and family trips months in advance, because H-Bear could suddenly become ill at any time.  Two weeks ago, she helped me in the garden, and we made a pizza together.  As I was reading her bedtime books, I hooked up her oxygen sensor to find she was below our acceptable range.  By 3:00 a.m., we were headed to the hospital, where she stayed in the PICU for 2 days.  Completely out of the blue.

Such sudden and unexpected disruptions to my previously orderly lifestyle forced a new style of planning, one that I'd thankfully experienced just prior to H'Bear's initial medical crisis.  In early August of last year, we planned a four-day trip to Tulsa to visit my brother.  M-Cat would be starting school only 2 days after we returned, so I made sure we had all his "standard school attire" and other supplies in order before we left.  Thank God.  We were in Tulsa with H-Bear for two weeks.  A week in, M-Cat flew back to Nashville with his Grandma, who started him in Kindergarten.  Everything was ready for him to make a successful entrance into his new stage of life.  Mommy learned, and has not forgotten, that procrastination is inadvisable in a life that can change in a moment.  When there's opportunity, things in our home get done...often far in advance.  Now, that's some good Planning!

Another new trick that I've developed is backing up spontaneity with some of my beloved Planning and research.  When H-Bear and M-Cat are doing well and ready to seize the day, we have far fewer grumps-about-the-house times, because in my mental repository is a list of wonderful things I can't wait to do with the kids, many of which I've already researched online just in case.  When H-Bear is lowly and can't go to school, I pull out activities like painting and stickers that I've shelved knowing that lonely weeks in the house with little companionship or novel diversions aren't too far in the future.  This Planning is sort of like dreaming a beautiful life for my kids and family, while receiving the days as they come.  Mentally, it helps me to accept a difficult week and embrace a good one, because I've Planned options without putting them on a calendar.

As I have been able to let go of Planning, I have learned to enjoy life more day by day.  I still struggle with the balance.  Many of the memories I want to create require advanced effort -- excursions to the strawberry patch, a campout birthday party, trips to visit long-distance friends or to theme parks, or renting the RV M-Cat so earnestly desires.  It's scary to want, even need, to do things for my family that can't be done without putting a date firmly on the calendar.  I guess with any gift, we must learn how and when and how much we should use it.  Right now, I'm planning this afternoon as we for next week, well, I don't really know!