Jan 102012
 


 

Last week I read A Million Little Pieces and this week I’m re-reading I Never Promised You a Rose Garden and The Bell JarAll three are about mental illness . . . and so it’s been a theme for me, these past two weeks…insanity. In truth, it’s been a theme for me these past few decades.

 

I spent some time in a mental hospital during my senior year of high school. I’d been a horrible bulimic for eight years and therapy wasn’t helping, especially since I spent most of my therapy sessions discussing how fine I was and how lovely the weather was. And one day during my Senior Year, I ate too much at lunch, and I thought I was going to die. Because to me . . . full =death. But I couldn’t find a place to throw up. And so finally, right then and there, in the middle of the Senior Hallway, I decided I was not fine - not at all. And I walked into my guidance counselor’s office and I said: “Call my parents. I need to be hospitalized. I can’t handle anything. Someone needs to help me.”

 

Here is a picture of me that was taken the week before I was hospitalized. I’m there in the Blue Suit.

 

 

I was a student government officer to a class of close to a thousand. An athlete, too. Relatively pretty. Smart. Seemingly confident. My Senior superlative was “Leading Leader.” In this picture I was co-hosting the Homecoming Pep Rally for the entire high school. Wearing the corsage to show I’d just been nominated for Homecoming Court. People who need help sometimes look a lot like people who don’t need help.

 

And so that counselor called my parents, and they came right away. And they found a place for me to get help. I often think about what that day must have been like for them. Maybe they desperately wanted to say No, No it will be okay! Not a hospital! We are your parents! We can fix this! But they didn’t. The moment I became brave enough to admit I needed help they believed me, and despite the shock, the pain, the stigma . . . they gave me the exact help I asked for.

 

I’ve never written about my hospital stay before, because a whole lot is fuzzy, and I can’t get a real grip on the memories. Back then not many specialized eating disorder hospitals existed, so the one I went to was a real mental hospital. There were only two of us on the unit with eating issues, the others were there because they were mildly schizophrenic, drug addicted, depressed or suicide risks. Many of them had violent tendencies. I do not remember being afraid of any of them. I do remember being afraid, in one way or another, of most of the people in my high school.

 

There was one man on our unit who spoke only in numbers. I ignored him at first . . . it’s hard to know what the appropriate response is to “Twenty-one ninety-six forty NINE?” But one day I decided to take a guess. “Fourteen?” I responded tentatively. I remember his face changing from empty to surprised to happy. Then back to empty, quickly. But I definitely saw happy, for a moment there. That taught me to try, at least once, to speak each person’s special language.

 

There was a sandy haired girl who always hung her head so low that I never really saw her face. I do remember what her arm looked like, though, because it was sliced up like a pre-cut ham. I saw it up close because I held her hand once when she started crying during a therapy session. She pulled it away at first but then she offered it back to me a few moments later. I remember that her hand was very cold, but it warmed up after a while. I don’t remember her name. I do remember her story and it was very, very sad. She was right to be crazy.

 

There was my roommate. I will call her Mary Margaret. Unable to speak with my little Sister, I allowed Mary Margaret to take Sister’s place for the weeks I was hospitalized. We whispered long into the night, every night. Mary Margaret was from a tight knit, fiercely loving family too, and we wondered aloud for hours how we ended up in that room together. One night, very late, we wrote vows that said we promised to take care of each other forever. We both signed the vows, with crayons because we weren’t allowed to have pencils. Mary Margaret made me promise not to eat the crayons. I told her maybe she should. We laughed. Mary Margaret was eighty pounds during her stay. She used to hide her food in her huge sweatshirt at lunch time and sneak it to me when we got back to our room. Mary Margaret and I saw each other once in the real world and then never again. We did not honor our vows to take care of each other forever. I’ve never looked for Mary Margaret, I’ve never even Googled her name. I’m too afraid. I know the survival statistics for anorexics.

 

There was art therapy and dance therapy and group therapy. It all made sense to me. The things the other patients said made sense to me, even though they weren’t things that my peers in my real life would have ever, ever said. Everyone had to listen to each other. There were rules about how to listen and how to respond. There were lessons about how to empathize and where to find the courage to speak. All the lessons made sense to me. I enjoyed them much more than my high school classes. They seemed much more important to me. We learned how to care, about ourselves and about each other.

 

There was the field trip we took to the art museum in Washington D.C. We rode into the big city on a small bus, we mental patients.We had a special appointment time at the museum, our own private tour. Because there were other groups and we weren’t to mingle with the normal people. I remember thinking that was probably best. We had a rule that we would all need to hold hands. In a long line. Like an extremely motley and sedated Conga Line. Throughout our entire tour.

 

I remember wondering why Mary Margaret and I had to hold hands with the group. We were relatively well behaved. We’re people pleasers, we bulimics and anorexics. I thought maybe our therapists were concerned that I would run away and attack the diners in the cafeteria and that Mary Margaret might run away with me and stand there and starve.

 

Then I remember walking by the museum cafeteria, and seeing twenty slices of pie revolving around on one of those buffet lazy susans. And I remember suddenly feeling very grateful that my hands were being held. I felt safe.

 

That’s what we all wanted. Safety -someone or some structure that would save us from ourselves, from the strange real world that others seemed to be navigating so flawlessly and we just couldn’t, at the time, for whatever reason.

 

And I remember trembling the morning of my release. I remember knowing I wasn’t ready, and knowing I had to go anyway, because I would never be ready. Because inside the hospital was so much easier and safer and surer than outside the hospital. And I knew I could get much too comfortable. Much too safe.

 

Because it all made sense to me in there. And that was a little confusing.

 

 

I’ve never done this before, but I’m going to go ahead and publish this without editing it first. I’m afraid that if I edit it at all, I’ll edit out all of it.

 

Love,

 

G

Jan 042012
 

Every time I’m out with my kids – this seems to happen:

An older woman stops us, puts her hand over her heart and says something like, “Oh- Enjoy every moment. This time goes by so fast.”

Everywhere I go, someone is telling me to seize the moment, raise my awareness, be happy, enjoy every second, etc, etc, etc.

I know that this message is right and good. But as 2011 closes, I have finally allowed myself to admit that it just doesn’t work for me. It bugs me. This CARPE DIEM message makes me paranoid and panicky. Especially during this phase of my life – while I’m raising young kids. Being told, in a million different ways to CARPE DIEM makes me worry that if I’m not in a constant state of intense gratitude and ecstasy, I’m doing something wrong.

I think parenting young children (and old ones, I’ve heard) is a little like climbing Mount Everest. Brave, adventurous souls try it because they’ve heard there’s magic in the climb. They try because they believe that finishing, or even attempting the climb are impressive accomplishments. They try because during the climb, if they allow themselves to pause and lift their eyes and minds from the pain and drudgery, the views are breathtaking. They try because even though it hurts and it’s hard, there are moments that make it worth the hard. These moments are so intense and unique that many people who reach the top start planning, almost immediately, to climb again. Even though any climber will tell you that  most of the climb is treacherous, exhausting, killer. That they literally cried most of the way up.

And so I think that if there were people stationed, say, every thirty feet along Mount Everest yelling to the climbers – “ARE YOU ENJOYING YOURSELF!? IF NOT, YOU SHOULD BE! ONE DAY YOU’LL BE SORRY YOU DIDN’T!” TRUST US!! IT’LL BE OVER TOO SOON! CARPE DIEM!”  - those well-meaning, nostalgic cheerleaders might be physically thrown from the mountain.

Now. I’m not suggesting that the sweet old ladies who tell me to ENJOY MYSELF be thrown from a mountain. These are wonderful ladies. Monkees, probably. But last week, a woman approached me in the Target line and said the following: “Sugar, I hope you are enjoying this. I loved every single second of parenting my two girls. Every single moment. These days go by so fast.”

At that particular moment, Amma had swiped a bra from the cart and arranged  it over her sweater, while sucking a lollipop undoubtedly found on the ground. She also had three shop-lifted clip-on neon feathers stuck in her hair. She looked exactly like a contestant from Toddlers and Tiaras. A losing contestant. I couldn’t find Chase anywhere, and Tish was sucking the pen from the credit card machine  WHILE the woman in front of me was trying to use it. And so I just looked at the woman, smiled and said, “Thank you. Yes. Me too. I am enjoying every single moment. Especially this one. Yes. Thank you.”

That’s not exactly what I wanted to say, though.

There was a famous writer who, when asked if she loved writing, replied, “No. but I love having written.” What I wanted to say to this sweet woman was, “Are you sure? Are you sure you don’t mean you love having parented?”

I love having written. And I love having parented. My favorite part of each day is when the kids are put to sleep (to bed) and Craig and I sink into the couch to watch some quality TV, like Celebrity Wife Swap, and congratulate each other on a job well done. Or a job done, at least.

Every time I write a post like this, I get emails suggesting that I’m being negative. I have received this particular message four or five times – G, if you can’t handle the three you have, why do you want a fourth?

That one always stings, and I don’t think it’s quite fair. Parenting is hard. Just like lots of important jobs are hard. Why is it that the second a mother admits that it’s hard, people feel the need to suggest that maybe she’s not doing it right? Or that she certainly shouldn’t add more to her load. Maybe the fact that it’s so hard means she IS doing it right…in her own way…and she happens to be honest.

Craig is a software salesman. It’s a hard job in this economy. And he comes home each day and talks a little bit about how hard it is. And I don’t ever feel the need to suggest that he’s not doing it right, or that he’s negative for noticing that it’s hard, or that maybe he shouldn’t even consider taking on more responsibility. And I doubt anybody comes by his office to make sure he’s ENJOYING HIMSELF. I doubt his boss peeks in his office and says: “This career stuff…it goes  so fast…ARE YOU ENJOYING EVERY MOMENT IN THERE, CRAIG???? THE FISCAL YEAR FLIES BY!! CARPE DIEM, CRAIG!”

My point is this. I used to worry that not only was I failing to do a good enough job at parenting, but that I wasn’t enjoying it enough. Double failure.  I felt guilty because I wasn’t in parental ecstasy every hour of every day and I wasn’t MAKING THE MOST OF EVERY MOMENT like the mamas in the parenting magazines seemed to be doing. I felt guilty because honestly, I was tired and cranky and ready for the day to be over quite often. And because I knew that one day, I’d wake up and the kids would be gone, and I’d be the old lady in the grocery store with my hand over my heart. Would I be able to say I enjoyed every moment? No.

But the fact remains that I will be that nostalgic lady. I just hope to be one with a clear memory. And here’s what I hope to say to the younger mama gritting her teeth in line:

 “It’s helluva hard, isn’t it? You’re a good mom, I can tell. And I like your kids, especially that one peeing in the corner. She’s my favorite. Carry on, warrior. Six hours till bedtime.” And hopefully, every once in a while, I’ll add- “Let me pick up that grocery bill for ya, sister. Go put those kids in the van and pull on up- I’ll have them bring your groceries out.”

Anyway. Clearly, Carpe Diem doesn’t work for me. I can’t even carpe fifteen minutes in a row, so a whole diem is out of the question.

Here’s what does work for me:

There are two different types of time. Chronos time is what we live in. It’s regular time, it’s one minute at a time, it’s staring down the clock till bedtime time, it’s ten excruciating minutes in the Target line time, it’s four screaming minutes in time out time, it’s two hours till daddy gets home time. Chronos is the hard, slow passing time we parents often live in.

Then there’s Kairos time. Kairos is God’s time. It’s time outside of time. It’s metaphysical time. Kairos is those magical moments in which time stands still. I have a few of those moments each day, and I cherish them.

Like when I actually stop what I’m doing and really look at Tish. I notice how perfectly smooth and brownish her skin is.  I notice the perfect curves of her teeny elf mouth and her asianish brown eyes, and I breathe in her soft Tishy smell. In these moments, I see that her mouth is moving but I can’t hear her because all I can think is – This is the first time I’ve really seen Tish all day, and my God – she is so beautiful. Kairos.

Like when I’m stuck in chronos time in the grocery line and I’m haggard and annoyed and angry at the slow check-out clerk. And then I look at my cart and I’m transported out of chronos. And suddenly I notice the piles of healthy food I’ll feed my children to grow their bodies and minds and I remember that most of the world’s mamas would kill for this opportunity. This chance to stand in a grocery line with enough money to pay. And I just stare at my cart. At the abundance. The bounty. Thank you, God. Kairos.

Or when I curl up in my cozy bed with Theo asleep at my feet and Craig asleep by my side and I listen to  them both breathing. And for a moment, I think- how did a girl like me get so lucky? To go to bed each night surrounded by this breath, this love, this peace, this warmth? Kairos.

These kairos moments leave as fast as they come- but I mark them. I say the word kairos in my head each time I leave chronos. And at the end of the day, I don’t remember exactly what my kairos moments were, but I remember I had them. And that makes the pain of the daily parenting climb worth it.

If I had a couple Kairos moments during the day, I call it a success.

Carpe a couple of Kairoses a day.

Good enough for me.

Sep 292011
 



Dear Anonymous,

Tish’s fish, Sadie, died last week. We’ve been through the passing of a fish before, but this time was special. My little man, Chase, experienced what I can only describe as an existential crisis. He cried and shook and begged me for answers . . . for two hours. He said things like, It’s not about Sadie, mom. It’s that everything we love is going die. How do we survive that? And – I know what you’re going to say about heaven, mom, but how do you know it’s real? You don’t. And I don’t know if I can believe it.

I didn’t offer many brilliant answers to my baby’s brilliant questions. But I was grateful to be able to tell him truthfully that Yes, I believe that there is some sort of heaven, though I doubt it’s like anything we’ve heard described. When he asked how I believed l told him that I believe because I have to – because if I didn’t believe, the terror that was gripping his heart, the terror of losing the people I love forever would overtake me and I’d have no joy or hope and I’d die inside. I told him that I believe because I have no other choice, because I was made to believe, because if I didn’t believe in life after death I wouldn’t be able to live life before death. I’d panic and then freeze.

When he asked me what I believed heaven was like, I told him that I believe heaven is a place where everyone loves each other perfectly.

When he asked me, Why, mom? Why does God send us here, where things hurt so much? Why does He make us love things that He knows we’re just going to lose? I told him that we don’t love people and animals because we will have them forever, we love them because loving them changes us, makes us better, healthier, kinder, real-er . . . stronger in the right ways and weaker in the right ways. Even if animals and people leave, even if they die- they leave us better. So we keep loving, even though we might lose, because loving teaches us, changes us. And that’s what we’re here to do. God sends us here to learn how to be better lovers, and to learn how to be loved, so we’ll be prepared for heaven.

When I finished this part, Chase looked right into my eyes and his tears cleared for a moment and he said, “Yes. I can believe that part. That sounds right. I believe that.”

And I agreed. I thought – Wow. Yes, that’s actually what I believe. I can buy all of that stuff I just said. That sounds True to me, thank God.

Anonymous, I am trying to become more loving down here. I am trying to learn. And you, willing or not, have been a teacher for me. I want to apologize for my response to you. It was a great essay. It really was. But this place has never been about great essays. This place is about Love. And I have learned that sometimes I have to leave a great essay unwritten in order to love better. Because it is better to be kind than to be “right.”


If I speak with the tongues of men and angels but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.


As I read and re-read my response to your comment, Anonymous, I realized that I must have sounded pretty clangy to you. Because what I did was announce that I was going to turn the other cheek, and then didn’t. At all. What I did, actually, was defend myself and then sweetly judge and attack you. My least favorite part was when I wrote “people like you.” I don’t even believe in people like you and people like me. I just believe in people. I’m sorry for using those divisive and unfair words.


To be clear, I don’t regret writing that essay, just like I wouldn’t change what you said. I don’t spend a lot of time beating myself up and I hope you haven’t either. I’m grateful for this whole process. We needed to go through all of it to get to here.

But now I know I didn’t really listen for the love in what you said. I listened for the judgment, so that’s what I found. Seems to be how it works…seek and you shall find.

If I’d really turned the other cheek, I would have simply tried to explain to you why I want to adopt, which is so hard for me to put into words, but would have made for an even better, kinder, truer essay. Less sassy, but better.


Anonymous, I am so in love with this brutiful world that I feel torn up a lot of the time. I find people to be so beautiful, so strong and this world to be such a painful mess for the brave people who live here. I tend to take on the pain of others as my own pain, because I believe it IS my own pain. Because I really, truly believe that we all belong to each other. I believe that heaven, at first, will be a revealing, a lifting of the fog when we will look back down on Earth and see that we were in fact, one big family. And that hell will be seeing that and knowing that while living our lives, we let our brothers and sisters and mothers and father suffer and starve and die, while we had more than we needed. That will be hell, I think, for awhile. Knowing the truth. Knowing we let our own family members die. But then God will wipe our tears, and forgive us, and make everything new, and redeem us all. And we’ll heal, and become whole and enter our eternal family with forgiveness and understanding and love for all.

That is my interpretation of Matthew 25:33.

And so I just want to be part of my eternal family now. I love being a mama, and I love other mothers. I am awed by our strength and sacrifices and bottomless love and passion and courage. And I don’t understand why I get to raise my babies and some mamas don’t. Why I have every resource I need and more, more, more and some mamas, dying of AIDS, have to travel miles in bare feet to beg for medicine for their starving babies. Babies whom they love and cherish every bit as much as I love and cherish mine.

Thinking about this disparity drives me close to what I would consider the edge of insanity. I hate it. I don’t understand. And I feel compelled to do something, to show my love for and solidarity with these women, these mamas who are just like me. And so I think, I can’t do what I want to do, which is to fix things, to make things fair so that these mamas can raise their own damn babies. But I can give one of their babies a home. I can offer one of these mama’s babies every good thing I have- which is my husband and my children and my home and my faith and my friends and my joy and my hope. I can do that part, I can beg God to use me to answer another mama’s prayers. I can care for her baby since she can’t. I can be part of the second best thing. And I can love that baby and raise him to know how much his first mama loved him too, and when I get to heaven I can put that baby into her waiting arms, because I’ll know her, and she’ll know me, and we will finally be a whole family.


And all of this- it still doesn’t describe completely or precisely why I want to adopt.


There is a book I love, called Pillars of the Earth. In it there is a man named Tom, whose dream it is to build a cathedral. He sacrifices everything -his family’s money, future, security, even health to realize his dream. Some people, even in his own family, decide that he’s a foolish, selfish, crazy man.

When he finally gets his big break and the man who holds the power to make Tom’s dream come true asks him: Why? Why do you want this so badly? Why have you sacrificed everything to build this cathedral?

Tom replies:


Because it will be beautiful.


That’s my real reason, Anonymous. I want to adopt because it will be beautiful, to me.


That’s why I’ll never be an adoption advocate, which has been requested of me several times. Because I don’t believe that everyone should adopt. I believe that everyone should discover what she finds to be most beautiful and then create it.


So anyway, that’s what I should have said, Anonymous. I should have tried to bridge the gap of understanding between us instead of building a bigger wall. I should have explained instead of defended.


Also, Anonymous.

I may have been extra sensitive for this reason:


Craig and I had to make the horrible decision of letting our adoption go last week. We were as close as a family can possibly get to bringing our baby boy home, but we had to say no, we’re sorry- we can’t. Please give our baby to another family.


My health, it’s getting worse instead of better- and there was a bit of an intervention from some people I love.

Glennon- you’re sick. You’re barely making it through the day. You can’t do this. You must take care of yourself and the family you already have. You must heal.

It was quite familiar to me, actually. I’ve been through a similar intervention before. That one was tough to hear too, but necessary. Good things came of it.


But you can imagine, Anonymous. It’s been hard. After all these years.

It’s been hard, but not impossible. I have a friend who’s doing impossible, and I know the difference.

We have some emptiness now, Anonymous. Empty space in our hearts where we thought that baby would be, an empty nursery, empty time, empty plans where shopping and decorating and nesting used to be.

But if there is one thing I’ve learned about empty, it’s that empty can be more exciting and ripe with promise than full. There is space, now.

What will come fill it? What will enter our lives? What’s next?


I hope that healing comes next. From this loss and from my disease. I hope that I will learn what healing is, what it means, what it looks like, and that I will be able to share the whole healing process with you. Because we are all healing, right? So we might as well do it together.

Love You, Anonymous sister.

G