Two Years (For James)

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“It’s an honor to be in grief. It’s an honor to feel that much, to have loved that much.”  – Liz Gilbert

Tomorrow marks 2 years you slipped away in your sleep. Cancer drained you of your essence only months after we gave the strange sickness a name. Treatment made you tired. But you fought until you couldn’t. It all happened so quickly, I never once thought that we were actually losing you until we had lost you. But none of us are really ready for goodbye, are we?

I will choose to focus on the numerous subtleties that I loved about you. Like the millions of tiny stars that make up a clear night sky, you weren’t just one piece. One role. You weren’t just dad to me.

I see remnants of you planted in my eye’s glimmer. Where I once didn’t recognize it as you, I could smile and give a nod to my reflection.

“Yep. That’s my dad alright.”

It’s a softness; whereas I obtained much of my fire from my mother….it was you that gave me the other part. The capability to tread softly through another person; leaving a small thank you card behind. Even in your periods of absence in my life, you were felt and known.

But I still feel too much space today. Since the day you slipped away in your sleep. That’s the only way I can describe it: too much space. As subtle and soft as you were in my life, your absence is painful and obvious. And I’ve had to double take at my reflection some days.

I…we…are left to mainly reflect and mourn. Instinctively reach out and remember no one will necessarily reach back. Not tangibly, at least. We can reach out to one another; mimicking your touch as a small way to keep you living. Even if only in our hearts.

I love you, dad. I miss you.

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33.

Today is the first day of what is known as my “Jesus Year“.

Jesus Christ spent His entire life fulfilling His purpose. However, His Ministry culminated with His Death, Burial, & Resurrection during his 33rd year on earth. So, many believers place emphasis on turning 33. Odd, and a little superstitious, sure. But, I’m confident that the path I am on is becoming less and less randomized and appearing more like a Grand Design.

I still do not know a whole lot. I admit I have much to learn. A funny trend in my 30s, though, has been a repetitiveness of core lessons. What is MOST important to me about Love, Life, Purpose, and Faith has been fortified inside of me through the same lesson that is wrapped in different circumstances. I am reminded of a few things over and over:

1. Everything happens for a reason. Not only are life’s events, no matter how small, packed with inherent meaning, but people are inextricably connected. No matter how much we run from one another, or attempt to classify ourselves into demographics or ideals, God’s Original Design that “It is not good for man to be alone” never goes away. We were made for community. We were made as one people.

2. Because all things have Purpose, that means Someone came up with The Blueprint. The Design for Life. Which means: God exists. But we have done more harm by using Him as a weapon against one another. We cease being students of the Divine and take, what is merely a mirrored image of Divinity, and use it to oppress and violate. I think the saddest fact about most religions is that instead of it being used to offer Hope, it force-feeds Hopelessness.

3. There is nothing that the Human Heart cannot overcome. Look throughout history and see that Human Beings are both fragile, and yet simultaneously resilient. We were created to withstand all of the atrocities that can be thrown at us, seen and unseen. The breath in our lungs is miraculous, because it was originally provided by the very Glory of God. That is our Source.

4. Love does not belong to you. You belong to It. Because it predates all of us. Before the first man was made, God is Love. In fact, our Creation was an act of Love. You disrespect your very existence when you opt out of receiving or giving Love. And I think if we had more reverence towards Love then we would honor each other more. To Love is to Live!

So, here’s to the next 365 days. May I grow roots deeper into the soil that will nourish both my weakened and hardened places. I desire to grow in grace, above all.

Safe Spaces (Thoughts on Being a Therapist)*

I still experience brief panic whenever I’m notified that my next client has arrived. You would think that after working for over 7 years in the mental health field, I’d more often face a new session with solid optimism and focus. There are times, admittedly not as often as in those earlier days, that I simply want to run away.

Is this the type of therapist that you’d want to see? Be honest. If you knew what went on in your counselor’s mind before, during, and after your sessions, would you feel offended? Would it lessen your desire to come back the following week? If you knew the script of anxiety, self-doubt, and soul sickness that he or she ruminated in their minds on a daily basis, how would it affect how you viewed their skills? I’d assume most of you would feel too squeamish to continue bringing your personal problems to someone like this.

Truthfully, I feel it is this, more than any of my therapeutic skills, that qualifies me to be a therapist. Let me explain….

I spend about 9 hours a day, Monday through Friday, helping others unpack and process the most horrific memories. The most dysfunctional thought and behavioral patterns. I walk people through their traumatic histories and admit their deepest secrets out loud for the first time. I’ve seen people cry in moments of grave despair and from being overwhelmed by relief. I’ve been a stand-in/substitute for people to unload their most narcissistic and down-right cruelest philosophies. I’ve seen my clients possess personal breakthroughs and insights, but also be gripped by irrational and rational fears.

Not a full week of sessions will go by without me identifying with something one (or more) of my clients say or do. I can’t help but see flashes of my face while listening; hearing my own voice serve as a faint echo when they speak. Even in some moments when they say something completely irrational, knowing the context, I secretly agree and will understand their thinking patterns.

It is a very thin line to walk. Crossing it would mean that I lose whatever insight I’ve gained through my own treatment. The torture lies in having to relive my history over and over. Circling back through whatever grief I’ve processed; being reminded of a painful past of which I’ve been able to stop dreaming. I sit in silence after a client leaves my office, and complete a self-check. There are moments when I am blind-sided and can only repeat out loud, “You’re okay. You are okay.”

This isn’t denial. Simply reminding myself of my path. The steps that I’ve taken and the storms that I’ve endured to equip me to be a “healer”. I read in a book once that, historically, therapists were seen as healers. Synchronized with that of a shaman, in some cultures. Meaning, we help others fight against unseen sicknesses. Whatever your point of view regarding therapy, we can all agree that there is no poster child for issues such as depression and anxiety. The sufferer changes faces, races, and ages all the time. Healers are meant to be strategic, compassionate, but also experienced when faced with the plight of these sicknesses.

This is why I feel, in some strange way, thankful that I require a deep breath, a prayer, and a period of quiet before a session. I am thankful for the brief battle that occurs before I go out to the waiting room to greet my clients. There is a shift that needs to happen. There are things that I need to remember. I’m never totally sure what needs my clients will bring with them into session. Many times, they aren’t sure themselves. Which is why that moment of quiet is so necessary. If they need a safe space, then I will clear the room to help them create one.

*This is a reposted blog, originally written May 2017.

Good Grief

My husband has already penned his thoughts , so I figured for sanity’s sake I’d better do the same.

I’m facing something new again, and it has been awhile since I was shaken out of a groove regarding parenting. Since my son was born, we’ve naturally progressed into a rhythm that is our own. I wasn’t expecting to get rocked to my core like this until #3 makes his/her entrance this November. Yet, here we are….here I am: staring a fresh experience dead in the face:

My firstborn is starting PreK tomorrow.

We all caravanned to her PreK orientation this morning, box of requested supplies and our nerves in tow. As we made our way into the large auditorium where all the waiting kids, family members and teachers exchanged introductions and polite conversation…I noticed my daughter show some resistance. We were escorted to the table, surrounded by kid-sized chairs, decorated with her teacher’s name. I asked if she wanted to sit and look at a book, meanwhile we were greeted with smiles from other kids and parents. Naomi moaned an emphatic “No!” and clung tightly to my dress.

This episode, filled with much effort on my part, ended with her (in true Naomi fashion) stomping off through the auditorium doors. My husband went after her, eventually bringing back a much calmer, compliant child. I saw tears welling up in my husband’s eyes; “I asked her if she was scared….”, he whispered.

Last night, I cried myself to sleep in my husband’s arms; caught off guard by how soon the “letting go” process in parenting has to begin. I felt that I had time before I even had to think of that part; the letting go. Laying in bed, I recalled a memory…

My first semester of college began with a road trip with my mom and (then) stepdad, in a huge van filled with most of my possessions. We crossed two state lines into Virginia and my parents spent two days with me, going through orientation and helping me get settled. (I can still remember the smell of my dorm room and how empty it looked.)

I thought my parents took the whole experience pretty well. They got to meet the Chancellor of the University, spend time with my roommates’ parents, and sight see in this new, tiny town of Lynchburg.

My stepdad called me the moment they pulled into our yard when they got home after the trip. He told me that my mom cried all the way home….from the second they left campus and for most of the 4 1/2 hours back home to SC. He told me this because he wanted me to know that they loved me, were extremely proud of me, but that they already painfully missed me.

I’ll never forget that. It wasn’t until last night that I felt a similar feeling to what my mom felt on that drive home: a mixture of pride and grief. I have a feeling that many experiences parents go through is rarely congruent on the outside, but often paradoxically connecting two emotions with one another. Last night, my husband jokingly called it like “good grief”.

But that’s an amazing way to describe it; I watched my daughter curiously float her way around her classroom this morning and felt my heart swell with excitement and pride….only to remember that she will do the discovery part in that same room either on her own or guided by two women that I only met today. I’m grieved by that.

I’m realizing that this just as new for her as it is for us. I remembered while walking back to my car this morning, that when my parents drove back to SC all those years ago, I was sitting nervously in my dorm room, wondering how I was going to pull this off on my own. And then, pleasantly realizing that I wasn’t doing this completely on my own.

And that fact hasn’t changed.

Parents. New students. Teachers. Grandparents whose message inboxes are flooded with pictures. All and any of us. We won’t be doing this alone.

(My) Truth on Marriage

Not to sound totally self-depreciating, but I am not an easy woman to be married to. Combine my usual contentment with being alone and a learned ability to emotionally detach when tired or vulnerable; you can say that the mental and psychological calisthenics needed to keep up cannot be overstated. We have been married 6 years and together (more or less) for 11 years. I can say with confidence that I have given him more than enough reasons to give up.

My husband is a good man, through and through. Even the spark of his temper only glows when provoked. And I will admit that I have not always been gracious, patient, or selfless. I have manipulated him, used him, and disrespected him.

On the flip side, I do remember times when he has left emotional scars. He has been selfish and thoughtless. I have cried more tears than were necessary because of him. He has not always been a good leader.

Here’s one thing that I have learned:

Superficially, Nick and I have a marriage that we have been told is enviable. Our well-shot candid photos and joint resume of community service places us in a certain light. And it isn’t that these things aren’t genuine. It’s just that they tell a small part of our story.

If I’m combating semantics, I would say that we do NOT have a solid marriage. We have struggled throughout most of it. Been on differing wavelengths at least part of the time. We’ve looped around the same arguments and reopened the same wounds in each other purposefully.

I wish I could say that we have prayed when we needed to. Consulted God together more often than not. But, after 6 years, I can simply say that we have a marriage that has been filled to the brim with Grace. I cannot stake it on any individual or joint effort made by either of us, only that God has carried us this entire time.

If one must face his/her’s total depravity prior to accepting Grace, then this is true for a relationship. Joining together with another person does not ultimately add to your piety. You need Grace even more now.

What about the Love?

Oh yes. That is there. Though this statement is overused, Nick is my best friend. Truly. We enjoy doing things together and have a bond that can exist outside of a romantic one. He makes me laugh everyday. He seeks out my input and cares about my opinion. We encourage one another’s dreams and will sacrifice for one another. I know that at the end of the day, Nick will support me.

So, this extremely vulnerable post is to describe a very real, growing, & determined bond between a tall country girl and a nerdy poet from Newark.

**Photo taken by the Lovely Meridith De Avila Khan. Check out more of her work (or better yet, BOOK HER) HERE !

The Silent Treatment

I remember a close friend of mine paying me a visit while I was over a month into the 100 day-long stint of bedrest with my first child. I had just gotten discharged from hospital-mandated bedrest at UVA & was able to do the remaining 6 weeks at home. She was also pregnant; only 2 weeks ahead of me. And also pregnant with a sweet little girl. I was glad to be out of the hospital, but still frightened of very real possibility of pre-term labor and many months of NICU. I remember she seemed preoccupied at the beginning of the visit; meanwhile our husbands were heard laughing in the next room.

Eventually, she spoke up*:

“I need to be honest with you. I have been avoiding you. I didn’t know how to be around you because things are going pretty well with my pregnancy. And I didn’t want to make you feel sad or trigger any negative emotions in any kind of way. I figured me staying away was more helpful.”

This led to us having the talk that pretty much solidified our friendship. I’d already known her for years at this point, but it was then that I figured out she deeply cared for me. She called me out that day, even. Told me that she recognized how I was trying to cope — by putting up a wall and trying to do this alone. She told me she would not let me. And that once she realized she needed to come clean about her maladaptive ways of giving support (her unprompted distance), that she would try and offer what we both knew I needed: genuine support.

I’ll never forget that day.

Fast forward over 4 years, I am finding myself somewhat in HER shoes.

I am pregnant again with an, albeit unexpected, miracle, but cannot stop thinking about those I care for whom this news may be triggering. I find myself wanting to do like my friend did: stay away. Stay silent. Not post pictures or make conversation.

It’s like these months may be constant reminders to someone I love; serving as a string of unintentional, insensitive provocations. Without words or social media posts; simply my presence can sting. And I want to be present, so desperately.

So, almost instinctively, I have chosen to hide. Out of respect and love.

Today, I had a gentle, but tearful, epiphany. And it prompted this post:

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I work majorily, with those who have experienced trauma, loss, and grief. I know good boundaries are necessary –lest I overempathize and lose myself in their experience.

But that’s professionally….

How much harder is it when you are sitting across from, not a client, but a friend?

So, what is needed is what my friend took the chance to do on that day: she effectively came alongside me in genuine support by recognizing her individual position. How my pain was affecting her, dealing with it in a very real and honest way, and then walking out her empathy. She did not dwell in isolation; assuming she was doing me a favor. And she did not become self-focused in order to distance her discomfort.

She loved herself in order to love me. She regarded herself with open eyes, and as a result, was able to see me clearer.

Where I errored, with sitting in silence with my pregnancy at times in these past few months, is to engage in complete self-denial….in hopes that I can be a better support to loved ones who have very different paths to motherhood.

Just as my friend’s distance was not helpful, my fear-rooted silence does not equal empathy.

 

 

*I’m paraphrasing, because it was 4 years ago, so….

Where is God?

I’m coming up on the infamous 20 week mark of my third (and probably final) pregnancy. I have my next appointment in two weeks to do the anatomy scan of the baby…and to see if I have, once again, beaten the odds of having the same issues that I had with my oldest, Naomi.

I’m nervous, of course. With my second child, I experienced a completely healthy, boring pregnancy with no pre-term labor scare, which reveals that probability is on my side. My naturally worrisome heart speaks otherwise. Not to mention I have struggled with feeling excitement about being pregnant again since the day I found out 14 weeks ago. I have prayed about this little one’s purpose. Expecting for God to reveal a set a of bread crumbs, which would lead me to feeling secure that I am actually on track…and not having completely derailed where my little family was headed.

I know, I know. No baby is a mistake. I am aware.

What you do NOT know, however, is that my other two children were not planned either. My oldest was a complete shock because of issues I had with ovulation/menstration since I was a teen. I never thought I’d get pregnant, anyway, without medical assitance at least.

With my son, Noah, we were shocked again — well not so much because I didn’t take a day of BC after my daughter was born (ha). But this time, God spoke to me the moment I saw the “pregnant” indicator on the pregnancy test.

He said, “Joy, this time around….”

This time? Not a word. God has been silent, it seems. And I have desperately needed to hear from him. I remember driving to work recently, and said aloud: “God, where the heck are you?”

Funny question, isn’t it? Where is God?

I’ve been thinking that most often, those who inquire about His whereabouts have looked for Him only in familiar places. But I’m starting to think that this isn’t God’s style at all.

Just look at Jesus.

Folk were looking for him in the palaces and places where Kings dwelled. They figured the Savior of the World would HAVE to come through royal lineage to establish His Kingdom. And what does God do? He goes and sends the Messiah through a poor Virgin and a local carpenter from a town that nobody had heard of.

I’ve been looking for God in familiar places, through Burning Bush moments where God audibly spoke and the Way was too obvious to ignore. But now it seems He is actually in the more common and mundane; hiding in plain sight.

Where is God?

He’s here. Right here with me. In the quiet when I catch myself rubbing my belly. Or in the moment when my son points to my stomach and says “Bay-bee!” He is found in the calm of the morning before the day’s rush hits me; when my house is settled in serenity and He is breathing peace over my family’s sleeping bodies.

I do not have to look for him. Because He is with still me. Always.