I Am For You

I AM FOR YOU | Accidental Okie

Growing up in San Diego, our church was situated next to a long canyon that started in our little suburb and stretched the five or so miles to the ocean. If you looked closely enough at the canyon, you saw a collection of large, nondiscript cardboard boxes that blended in with the dry, brambly landscape. The boxes didn’t attract attention, and most people who saw them pretended they weren’t there. They housed a community of illegal immigrants, men who gathered every morning in hopes of finding day labor.

Among the men was Victor, who not only lived in our canyon but came to our church.

Victor was short with a thick mustache, proud cowboy hat and self-conscious smile. His already dark skin was prematurely weathered from the the sun. He’d occasionally pack a travel-worn, hard-shell suitcase with everything he owned, return to Mexico to proudly give his family all his earnings, and then sneak back over the border to his cardboard box.

Despite living in a box, only a small blanket separating him from the dirt at night, Victor’s pearl-snap, collared shirts and jeans  were always inexplicably crisp, as though he’d just picked them up from the dry cleaner’s. It was a detail that’s always stuck with me. Poverty is skilled at hiding itself in plain sight.

Immigration is a complex issue, and illegal immigration – that’s a whole other can of worms. The ramifications are broad in our society, economy, national security, and a host of other big ways. Frankly, I don’t read enough or watch enough any CSPAN to help me form an educated opinion. Sorry, but it’s the truth. I don’t know how I fully feel about every aspect of immigration — what I am for and what I am against.

But here’s what I know: I am for Victor.

It’s been almost two decades since I last saw my crisp-shirt wearing illegal immigrant friend, but still his story anchors and colors everything I hear about immigration.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, this for and against thing.

God, in his wisdom and righteousness, laid out all His standards of right and wrong. He gave us a list of commands. There are plenty of things to be against. But his two commands, the ones he placed the greatest emphasis on, were to love Him and to love our neighbors.

Love God. Love People. It’s become the battle cry of my generation.

What I love is that God laid out all the do’s and don’t’s, while knowing we wouldn’t be up for the task. He took care of that himself in the hardest, worst, most beautiful way imaginable. And He showed us – over and over, generation after generation – that despite our problems, our failures, our blatant disobedience, our temper tantrums, He is for us.

Paul even said it. “If God is for us, who can be against us.”

How is that even a thing? It’s grace hard to even comprehend.

Amidst gratuitous grace and not-at-all subtle commands to love, it seems like Christians – or at least evangelical churches in America – are against more than we’re for. And it makes me so very weary.

Somehow the message has been warped: God is for us. We are against you.

Who am I for? Who am I against? What am I for? What am I against? I’ve been pondering this for weeks now. And the past weeks have provided excellent, tragic and lame fodder for pondering. Especially when two things happened during the same time frame.

First, there’s the Target gender-neutral toy section “scandal” – like seriously, don’t even get me started on that soap box. I will just say this, copied from my personal Facebook status:

The week the Target gender toy thing was going on, I was creating a brochure for new college freshman female STEM students with inspirational quotes from young professional women in STEM fields. Their quotes and the reality of the discrimination women still experience was sobering. “Expect to be looked down on because you are a woman.” “Nothing will be given to you.” “Prove them wrong.”

It made me stand up and cheer that little girls don’t have to go to the boy section any more to buy building blocks and regular Legos (not the lame smoothie shop girl Legos).

Heaven forbid a girl wants Star Wars sheets or a boy wants Olaf sheets.

Excuse me while I fetch my fainting salts.

As if on cue, Christians everywhere freaked out. Franklin Graham called for a protest, and people inundated social media with promises to never even drive through Target parking lots again. The fake Target customer service Facebook account made for excellent entertainment, but seriously people. Come on.

It’s like any piece of news large or small warrants a preacher-pundant with a $3,000 suit, spray tan and blindingly white teeth to appear on all the cable news channels and tell us all that this…law, policy, social media platform, entertainer, obscure ruling, celebrity haircut…is something we Christians are AGAINST.

We have become caricatures of ourselves.

I know what you might say. The differences between boys and girls should be celebrated. That’s true. Maybe you’ll call it a slippery slope. Here’s all I can say: 1. Pegboard colors, people. They changed the pegboard colors from pink or blue to a light wood grain. That’s it. 2. The reason we have seven aisles of girls/boys toys is we’ve swallowed the pill that we need all.the.things. Kids don’t need half the crap in those aisles. 3. I’ll see your slippery slope and I’ll raise you piles of dead babies and mass graves.

The Target pegboard “crisis” occurred in the middle of the the Planned Parenthood videos breaking. Planned Parenthood, the organization founded by a self-proclaimed racist and eugenicist who preyed on the poor, the vulnerable, the desperate. Now they’ve been caught selling baby parts. They’ve been caught harvesting organs from late-term, aborted, whole, alive babies.

I once watched a future dystopia movie with Scarlet Johansson that had nearly the same plot. (And just so we’re all clear, the people harvesting the organs were the bad guys).

What they are doing is horrible. It’s unthinkable.

In reaction, Christians organized a simultaneous nationwide protest to encourage our lawmakers to defund Planned Parenthood and better fund the many nonprofits that provide essential, life saving women’s and maternal health services that are not lining their pockets with livers and brains.

In my head I totally get the reasoning for the protests. Demonstrating to leaders that their constituents are against public funding is valid. Doing it en masse provides support to the assertion that defunding PP isn’t something only the crazies want, but a lot of people who fall on many points within the political spectrum.

But as I watched pictures of protests pop up on my news feed, I felt so uncomfortable. Something gave me this feeling of ick, and after a day of pondering, I could finally name it:

I am against abortion, but to the women walking into the clinics, I am for you. It makes me cringe that even one of those women saw the protesters and felt condemned, less than, shamed.

I watched the pictures of the protesters and the women walking into the clinics, and I prayed for the lives that would be ended and the lives that would be forever changed, and I wanted to scream, I am for you!

In fact, it is these very women who cause me to be both a feminist and an abortion abolitionist. Women who have abortions have higher likelihoods of suffering from things like suicide, depression, infertility and certain cancers. To the woman struggling in mental anguish days or decades after an abortion who were watching those same protests on her Facebook newsfeed, I wanted to scream to her, I am for you! Jesus is for you!

I thought about Planned Parenthood and I thought about Target, and I could not help but mourn for everyone.

When Christians scream with equal volume and indignation about pegboard colors and infanticide, we are ridiculous. We diminish our voice, we forfeit our influence, we waste so much.

Are we so busy running around being against things that being for things has become like those French verbs I used to be able to conjugate? Ten years of inattention and that skill is gone.

The 24-hour news cycle did its thing. I think another celebrity couple broke up. Another famous person got a new haircut or a new purse. And all we remember from the already fuzzy, but not so distant past is that things happened and Christians were against them.

Then my pondering on for and against took an even more tragic turn.

It took a little Syrian boy – his shoes just like the shoes I put on Dub’s feet, his fingers just like the sweet baby fingers I kissed this morning – to wash ashore with the bodies of his brother and mama, all three still covered in the tears of their helpless daddy and husband – to wake the world up to the Syrian refugee crisis.

Why did it take so long? And I’m asking myself that question.

I learned that we’re witnessing the biggest refugee crisis since World War II. More than 200,00 people have died, more than a million are seeking refuge. They risk it, though, because if they stay they will surely die. Oh, and America is going to take in 1,000 of them.

I forced myself to look at Aylan’s picture. I said his name. I slapped myself awake up from apathy. Then I leaned into the sadness, let tears fall freely, and I didn’t resist when his lifeless image infected the haunting dreams of restless sleep.

Oh sweet boys, oh sweet mama, I am for you. I am for you.

I have this dream, and I want to tell you about it.

I dream of a day we mobilize as passionately and efficiently for the things we are for as we do for the things we are against. If we did this, we would be unstoppable. We would be so amazing.

What if that day of protests against Planned Parenthood was followed up by a day of service in the same communities?

What if protesters scrubbed the toilets of a dilapidated free clinic where elderly ladies get their mammograms? What if another group called a crisis pregnancy center and asked, “What do you need? Make us a list.” What if the free breakfast pantries of low-income schools were full?

I know there are a lot of churches and Christians doing wonderful things for their communities and world, and I don’t want to minimize that. To everyone who is already mobilized, whose hands are dirty and feet are barefoot, you are rad. To the pray-ers and the people quietly and faithfully serving, you are so close to God’s heart.

I’m not suggesting we chuck discernment out the window and become a people who stand for nothing, nor am I’m saying we need to be bombastic self-promotors. No one likes those people.

I’m saying, what if we are for as loudly as we are against? I think if that happened, people would start to believe us when we say we were for them.

Maybe the poor and the suffering would stop believing we were treating them like pawns in our causes, because maybe we’d stop treating them like pawns in our causes.

It’s my dream that every person who attended a protest; every person who is awash in grief for the refuge seekers, the hurting and the unborn; every person who is used to pulling out markers and poster boards for the next protest or checking off another business to boycott; that all of us would pick something – someone – to be for.

I took the first step today. I researched and found an organization that helps refugees who are in the Oklahoma City area. I want to stop just donating money and start donating time. I’m a natural purger, and take great delight in hauling big trash bags of unwanted clothes and stuff to good will. Maybe I should stop donating things with holes in it. Maybe I should remember the pride Victor took in his appearance. What if I ironed the clothes and organized them by size and dropped them off at a women’s shelter, and found matching earrings? What if I showed how much I care?

I’m committed to making my for’s louder than my against’s. And I’m gobsmacked that through all my stumbling and failing, I am loved by Jesus who said through word and action over and over that He is for me.

Also, I still shop at Target.

Praying for a Second Miracle

praying for a second miracle

We’ve never had nice cars.

I’ve always had Volvos, and I like them. I’d rather have an older, safer Volvo than something new. I was the middle-income kid at a high school that was named snobbiest school in America by Time Magazine my junior year. A handful of my classmates had Vipers. I had Jean Claude, an aging Volvo station wagon I talked to in a French accent.

Jean Claude – he was awesome. I’d show you a picture, but I think I destroyed everything from those horrible brassy hair-dye years.

The Professor is the same way. His first car was an old oil field truck he used for pumping wells in college. It was gone long before I came into the picture, but I hear it was sturdy, but battered, and covered in red dirt and crude oil.

Yes, some Oklahoma stereotypes are very real. 

I think the truck racked up 300,000 hard miles before The Professor and his dad limped it to the lot and traded it in for a used SUV after he got his first teaching job.

Last year, right in the midst of our fertility treatments, our old but reliable cars started dying fast. Both of them. Simultaneously. My Volvo sedan was well over 200,000 miles and the Professor’s old Explorer our “reliable car” was suddenly very unreliable.

It was a time of big stress, but even bigger prayers. I prayed so hard, so often that sometimes I felt a little inside out. Like I dwelled in my heart more than my body. Those were days of deep, intimate times with God.

Now I added our car need to my big prayers. God, both our cars are crapping out, and if they die at the same time, we’re screwed.

Can you say screwed to God? And crapping out? I think you can.

As I prayed, I had this vision of me strapping our baby’s car seat into an SUV. I saw this vision over and over as I prayed, so I began to pray specifically for it. 

I cast a wide net, looking on Craigslist, online, newspapers. Nothing was in our price range.

Some friends were moving back to the mission field after a year back in the states for her to have a kidney transplant. Maybe we could buy their car?

I learned it was on loan to them from an older couple in our church, people we knew. So I emailed the car’s owners, apologizing for my impertinence, but would they be selling their old SUV? What would be the cost?

It was the quintessential casting a big net moment. Praying hard and following any lead.

Just 30 minutes later, I got a phone call from our friend. It went something like this. “Oh Sarah! What an answer to prayer you are. We were just praying about what to do with that car. We have no place to put it and no use for it. So we’ll just give it to you!”

Really, give it to us?

Had God just answered our prayers in this big, majestic, undeniable way? He had, and it was a lot to take in. I started crying. Not in a socially appropriate, pretty, I’m-so-thankful-for-you sort of way. No, slobbering, snotty, ugly crying on the phone with the classiest, most composed lady I know.

A month later, our friends plus one new kidney went back to Nicaragua where they help rescue children from human trafficking. And we got our new car. It was was 12 years old – way newer than our cars. It was our first car with keyless entry. And it was fancy.

I prayed for that car with yearning, and God gave it to us. Really, I just prayed for a car we could afford, not a free one. But that’s what he provided. It was beyond anything I could have imagined.

The next day I had my second miscarriage.

It was hard and horrible because miscarriages are hard and horrible. But this time, I had a glimmer of hope. Intertwined in my prayer for the car was the vision I had of putting a baby in an SUV. Logical or even theologically correct I still don’t know, but in my mind, God gave us a car to put a baby in, so I knew he’d give us a baby.

He had to. 

The next month, we got pregnant again. And miracle of miracles, we stayed pregnant. It all felt so perfect, driving our miracle car with fancy keyless entry to the doctor to check on our miracle baby. We drove it to Texas for baby showers. We transported our loaned bassinet in it, and we thanked God and our friends for such an answer to prayer. 

Then one morning when I was 35 weeks pregnant, we woke up early so I could get to the city for a midwife appointment. I walked outside to find that our SUV had been stolen in the night.

Like really, actually stolen. It was the strangest feeling.

How do you process your car getting stolen? Especially when you live in a nice, low-crime town. We live in a cul-du-sac at the end of our well-kept, but not fancy neighborhood. One of our neighbors told me he leaves his keys in his car and has never locked his house. Another neighbor accidentally left her garage door open the night before and nothing was taken. We almost always put it in the garage, but just hadn’t that night.

It was, in every way, an anomaly.

Being the middle of summer, we figured a few bored kids found some trouble, and the car would show up in a day or two in an empty parking lot or underpass. But it didn’t. Also, our insurance guy had advised us against full-coverage insurance because of the payout versus premium. So, no insurance coverage. And I was 35 weeks pregnant! 35!

I cried out to God with honesty and confusion. What are you doing, God? We’re about to have a baby! The Bible is full of honest prayers, so I think God was fine with those. I really do.

But here’s what he’s not okay with. He’s not okay with us forgetting who he is.

I prayed so big, so boldly before, but I didn’t this time. I didn’t because God already gave us a miracle car. Who was he to provide us with a second miracle car? Add a miracle baby on top of that. We had reached our supernatural provision quota. We were on our own with this one.

I couldn’t ask for more, I decided. And so I didn’t. 

My initial Psalms-like “where are you, God” prayers quickly turned to bitter, accusatory rebukes. 

This was the car God provided for us, for our baby. In just a few weeks, we were going to drive it to the hospital and a few days later actually buckle a baby into a car seat.

Now what? Now what, God? You let this happen, now fix it. 

This went on for a few weeks. A few very unproductive weeks. Shock.

One Saturday three weeks later, I was driving home from the grocery store praying my usual, “What were you thinking, God?” I can tell you what intersection I was at when I heard a voice deep in my heart, deep in my ears. 

“STOP!”

And when you hear God tell you to stop, you stop – your angry prayers that is, not your car in the middle of traffic. There have only been a few moments in my life where the Lord’s voice has been so…so present, so undeniable. It was a stern rebuke, but it was gentle and loving, too. 

“Pray that I would work this out in a way that would give me the most glory.”

To my shame, in three weeks, it never even crossed my mind to pray that prayer. Even knowing our car being stolen was a complete, total anomaly, I never thought about God’s glory. Instead, I had assumed I was marooned, forgotten.

When I forgot who God is – that he doesn’t abandon, he doesn’t forget – I began to focus on my inconvenience, my suffering, my beautiful ideal vision shattered. 

So I prayed, God work this out in a way that would bring glory to you. Let this be a story about you, not a story about a car. The more I prayed it, the more I believed it.

Later that day, we got a phone call from some family members. I won’t mention who they are because that would embarrass them, but they are awesome parents, foster parents and intentional in their community.

They needed a different car and couldn’t get a fair trade-in value for their older-model Volvo SUV. They were so annoyed that they decided they’d rather give it away to someone than essentially give it away to a car dealership. Did we want it?

Wait, what?

The story unfolded. Two weeks prior, they realized they weren’t going to get a fair trade-in value. She started dreaming of driving halfway across the country to give us their car, but that’s ludicrous, right? So she kept it in her heart. Then, on that Saturday, her husband brought it up to her. He had been praying about it, too.

We could only afford to pay them what the dealership offered, but they refused and God worked in some cool ways to get a few repairs it needed done at a lower cost. Our family came together and paid for some of the repairs. The Professor’s dad flew out to help them drive the car to Oklahoma. They arrived the day Dubs made his eventful entrance into the world.

It’s equal parts amazing and humbling. No, it’s more humbling to be loved in such a real, sacrificial way. 

God is not a genie in a bottle. He wasn’t waiting for me to say the magic words so my wish would be granted. But he was, I think, holding out his grand solution until my heart changed, until I remembered who he is.

It’s hard to ask for a second miracle.

It’s hard on our egos and it really seems just too much. God already brought miracle provision. He can’t possibly do it again. He forgave that massive screw up. No more grace for me. I already prayed for and had a healthy child. Can I pray for another miracle? Like, am I even allowed to?

Over the coming weeks after Dub’s birth when my postpartum anxiety/OCD became very bad, that car became more than a car. It was a standing stone (errr…a rolling stone) of God’s faithfulness, and a reminder that I could come to him moment by moment.

That vision I had of buckling Dubs into his carseat in an SUV came true. Like the rest of this story, it was completely different than I had imagined. Our first trip by ourselves was three weeks after he was born and we went to my first counseling appointment to begin tackling my postpartum anxiety.

I’m by no means wise or anything like that. But after this experience, this is what I know: When we believe God is who he says he is, we can pray for a second miracle. Or a seventh or hundredth.

Because who God is, is enough.  

Losing My Mind and Finding it Again: This is Postpartum Anxiety/OCD

 Most people have heard of postpartum depression, but very few know about postpartum anxiety/OCD. I didn’t even realize it existed until I began searching for answers to why things were happening in my mind. I wrote this post to give you a glimpse into my struggle with it. Like a message in a bottle, I hope this makes its way to women who have found themselves in this unlucky situation. For spouses and friends of women suffering from PPAOCD, I hope that in reading, you might be able to understand better and help more effectively.

We were in our going home clothes.

Me, a nursing dress, Dubs his embroidered sleep sack, and The Professor, who, well, never got to wear any special clothes while we were in the hospital. I lay in the bed, Dubs snuggled in my arms, waiting for discharge papers, listening to music on my iPad. Then the song, “He’s Always Been Faithful,” by Sara Groves began playing.

Season by season I watch Him, amazed
In awe of the mystery of His perfect ways
All I have need of, His hand will provide
He’s always been faithful to me

The song was an anthem in my college apartment as we prayed for the wonderful husbands God would eventually bless each of us with. I’ve heard the song a thousand times. But this time, the verse caught me by surprise. In awe of the mystery of His perfect ways. The tears began to flow. Slowly at first and then quiet sobs, oddly both at home and out of place of this peaceful moment.

A few hours before, our midwife came to check on us. It was the first time I had seen her since Dub’s birthday. She explained what they theorize caused our scary birth. The umbilical cord was wrapped multiple times around Dub’s body, so much that it held him in place. After 15 hours of labor and no progress, an epidural caused him to finally come down enough to break the waters. Once the waters were broken and he wasn’t floating, the cord was pinched and he was in distress. That’s when our peaceful hospital midwife birth became an emergency. That’s when the grace of God, an excellent medical team, and a bunch of seemingly unrelated circumstances converged to avoid a cord accident. 

Now two days later, I lay there on the bed with my perfect baby and I realized all the what if’s. All the near misses. I thought about our desire to labor at home as long as possible after my water broke. Heart racing, throat clenching, the logical conclusion of the what ifs played out in my mind. It was too much to think about. So I held my baby, and leaned against my husband, and I listened to my song, and through the quiet sobs, I said aloud “thank you,” over and over.

Manic Alertness

Postpartum depression and its cousin, postpartum anxiety/OCD can happen to any new parents. However, they are more common with traumatic births. Thinking back, my postpartum anxiety/OCD and PTSD symptoms began while we were still in the hospital.

It began with anxiety. I’m not talking about worry, but elephant-on-your-chest, full-bodied fear.

The best way I’ve heard it described is manic alertness.

I was at once infuriated that my mostly irrational fears weren’t shared by The Professor or my mom, and at the same time, I was too afraid to voice them. Warring within me was the understanding that my anxieties were irrational and a fear that if I said them out loud, they would come true.

It was little things at first. I was afraid to touch my phone and then touch the baby. I washed my hands about 10 times an hour. I was afraid to take off my wedding ring. I knew that if I did, something terrible would happen to The Professor. I wear an anchor necklace that reminds me of God’s faithfulness during our fertility treatment and early miscarriages. At the hospital, the thought of taking it off put me in a panic. Taking it off meant not remembering our lost babies. And if we didn’t remember our lost babies, how could we be trusted with this whole, perfect one? Taking it off meant something would happen to Dubs.

Once home, I was terrified of putting up our “please don’t ring the doorbell” sign. If we did, they’d know. Who was they? I have no clue. But they certainly would know that we had a perfect, vulnerable baby in the house, and they’d come take him in the night. The thought of The Professor leaving the house to go to the grocery store put me in a full-blown panic. 

I lay awake all night long and watched Dubs breathe. If I took my eyes off for a moment, he would stop. Six months in, and this one is still a struggle. It’s as though I feel like my hyper-vigilance is what is keeping everything safe.

This monster, this thief, became a security blanket.

A few days after we were home, my mom and I ventured to Walmart in search of underwear tall enough to go over my c-section incision instead of sitting right on it. I already hate Walmart with the passion of 1,000 yellow smiley faces, but Walmart seemed the logical choice for granny panties (it’s not, by the way – we ended up with expensive maternity undies that got the job done).

As we perused the aisles, I had to keep touching Dub’s hands to make sure he was breathing. About the tenth time, I had a realization. I had Walmart germs on my hands. I touched his hands. He puts his hands in his mouth. That’s when I had a real life, honest-to-God panic attack. At Walmart. New low, people. New low.

As fast as my post-cesarian body could handle, I booked it to the car, my mom trailing behind, still trying to figure out why her daughter was making a scene. There I found diaper wipes and wiped each of Dub’s hands with three wipes.

On the way home, at one point my mom quickly changed lanes – well she attempted and I still hold that it was a dumb move that could have easily caused a fender bender, but nothing more.  However, at that moment in my mental state, I lost it, bursting into big, ugly tears. She had put me and my little, helpless baby in perilous danger. Already, the people were going to come and steal him in the night. Horrible things would happen if I took off my jewelry, and now this.

It waxes and wanes with victories and defeats, but the anxiety is never far from me. I have to remind myself this manic alertness is a problem, not my very own super power that holds the world together and keeps everyone safe from a thousand spoken and unspoken dangers and fears. This anxiety, it is not my friend.

Intrusive Thoughts

The next day, was the start of one of the hallmarks of postpartum anxiety/OCD – intrusive thoughts. I picked up Dubs, and as newborns do, his head bobbed a bit for the millisecond between when I lifted him and when my fingers got in place to support his head. In that moment, I saw in my mind Dubs being shaken, his neck whipping back and forth. Was I the one shaking him? Was someone else? The momentary intrusive thought put me in a tailspin.

For a the whole day, I wondered. Would I hurt him?

Despite everything I tried, the thought replayed each time I picked him up and supported his neck. Soon there was another scary thought that replayed multiple times a day, and then another. They all left me reeling, scared for my baby, scared for me, and scared of me. Filled with fear and shame, it took me several days to even tell The Professor.

Thankfully after a late night feed, I messaged a friend in another state who is a psychologist. She agreed that these were more than just baby blues and that I see a local counselor. I already knew one, and we quickly started meeting. It was helpful to have someone to talk honestly to. To say the fears out loud and not be hushed when my mind wandered through the what if’s of our birth. To realize that once our fertility treatments and miscarriages began, I got on battle mode and never quite stepped off that treadmill. I learned steps to dial down my anxiety and a process for dealing with intrusive thoughts. Apart from medicine, there’s nothing really to do to stop intrusive thoughts. You just deal with them head on. Every time.

I acknowledge I had that scary thought. But I know it’s not real. It’s just my brain feeling a bit confused. That thought holds no power over me and I know I won’t act on it. I am a good mama.

Over the coming weeks, the intrusive thoughts intensified and multiplied. Now my mind played on repeat the worst things you can imagine. There were a dozen scary thoughts and each could rival any horror movie. Six months later and the neck one is the only one I can talk about because it’s the only one I still don’t occasionally struggle with.

Many of the thoughts revolved around things in the kitchen. That whole adage “if you start thinking about putting your baby in the oven, it’s more than the baby blues.” It’s true. The Professor would sometimes come home from work to find me hunkered on the sofa, surrounded by a nest of necessities for the day. I had barely eaten and hadn’t heated dinner, all because I was afraid of going into the kitchen. 

Isolation & Needs

Caring for a newborn is exhausting. Being alone with a baby all day is isolating. Add all of this junk to it, and I was spiraling downhill fast.

I would long for The Professor to return home for the day so I wouldn’t be alone, but I’d dread night – the time when my anxiety was (and still is) at its peak. Even though I was on maternity leave, I longed for the weekend – when my parents would come visit and The Professor would be home, and finally I wasn’t alone.

I began reaching out. It was no easy task. First, between not sleeping because of the new baby who eats every 45 minutes and not sleeping because of the massive anxiety, you have to be awake enough to carry on a conversation. Then you have to be vulnerable enough to tell a friend these bizarre struggles – a real difficulty when you’re pretty sure you’re losing your mind. Then you have to put forth the effort to actually call. Finally, and most difficult, you have to be brave enough to articulate the question, “Can you please come over and sit with me?”

Which, let’s be honest, feels pathetic to say out loud.

This wasn’t a quick phone call to see what’s up. It was a lifeline.  I began being a little more honest about my struggles. I began learning how to say that I needed help and that things were not a perfect, happy Baby Gap commercial at my house.

Some friends were amazing. They would appear out of no where and sit. They would come bearing tacos and cupcakes.

They would invite us for dinner every week so I could be out of the house. They would message me to check in.

Near or far, talking once a day or once every few weeks, these are the people who showed up. Who didn’t let go.

For some, I could tell I was a bother. Sometimes I think this was in my head, because that’s what happens when you are isolated, anxious, depressed and out of sorts. But many times, it wasn’t. I had become the needy annoyance, spoken to in patronizing tones.

I would remind myself – No! You moved to New Zealand by yourself. You are competent at work. You have been lost in far away cities without problem. You are not needy!

The truth was, at the moment, I wasn’t needy, but I sure did have a lot of needs. And that’s an important distinction, I think.

Others were brazen enough to tell me they knew I was struggling, but were purposefully staying away because I needed to learn how handle this on my own. Or that this was my fault – the result of excitedly preparing for an unmedicated childbirth that I should have known was unattainable.

People actually said those things – like out loud.

And by the way, I’m not saying these things because I want to shame or embarrass anyone. That’s not my heart. My heart is that someone finds this post who is or knows someone going through this little-known form of postpartum depression, and they have an idea what to say or do or not do or not say. That’s my heart. God knows I hold the record for the stupidest things said at the worst moments. So, there you go.

I found an amazing traumatic birth support group on Facebook, and I knitted together a group of friends who all had babies within a few weeks of each other. We are part 3 a.m. comedy club, part support group, part eager advice givers and takers.

By the end of my maternity leave, I knew who was there for me and who wasn’t, and I stayed cocooned in my little safe circle. And that was a very good thing.

Throughout it all, The Professor was amazing.

On days that were bad – which thankfully became less and less – he would come home and not say a word about having to make dinner, do all the dishes and clean all the mess.

He bought a few chunky necklaces from Charming Charlie, my favorite inexpensive accessories store. When he would come in to find me having a bad day, he’d go out to his car and come back with a necklace.

That man. He’s a keeper.

One day when I was crying about not finishing my thank you notes, he boxed them away and told me my priority was our baby and my mind, not thank you notes. 

Now

Dealing with this, it’s big and it’s long and it’s hard. There’s no big conquering end to my story.

Going back to work was a huge help because I wasn’t sitting around, stewing in my own anxieties all day. It’s much better, but I still struggle significantly with anxiety. I know that part of that is standard new mom worry and part of it is a true struggle with anxiety rooted in a traumatic event. It all equally has to be given to the Lord every day.

One of the most helpful things was learning my triggers – the things that caused anxiety and intrusive thoughts. Isolation is a big one. Once I realized this, Dubs and I tried to get out of the house once a day. We wandered around Target or visited local shops. I also learned that reaching a certain level of exhaustion is probably the biggest trigger, so The Professor and I are very careful about me getting rest. As weird as it sounds, there are still foods I can’t cook because they are still triggers.

It’s difficult to explain the intensification of the anxiety/ocd symptoms while also looking at the day to day. Some days were great. Some days I had no anxiety and no intrusive thoughts. Some weeks even. But as they came, there was an escalation of the fear, and then slowly, a few months in, a deescalation as my hormones normalized, I learned to deal with intrusive thoughts, and I worked through my emotions.

Since I’ve been back to work, there have been two week-long stretches Dubs has been sick, and I’ve stayed home with him. While I love the extra cuddles, the exhaustion and isolation quickly start to take their toll, and the intrusive thoughts begin again. Once again, I start my multi-step process of dealing with them.

Overall, this experience, it changed me. 

I learned that I cannot invest my time and emotions in people who are going to be at best dismissive or at worst cruel. My close circle, it’s significantly closer and smaller than it used to be. And that’s okay.

At the same time, it’s showed me how to have better grace with others. We all are going through hard things. Seeing past the saccharine Facebook statuses – there’s nothing quite so valuable. 

I’ve also learned to have a lot of grace with myself. If you want proof, just come to my house and see how badly it needs vacuuming. 

I have family members who have dealt with chemical depression their whole lives. I don’t understand that struggle at all, however I now have a glimpse. I now understand what it’s like to not be in full control of your mind. I have my own sliver of understanding at how scary it is. I now understand the value of showing up and just sitting and watching Gilmore Girls in silence. 

I’ve learned to listen differently.  If I get a call from a friend going through a hard time who wants to get together, everything might be fine. She might just want an adult conversation or a pedicure buddy.

Or that phone call might be the loudest cry for help she can muster.

I’ve learned that when I bring dinner to a friend who just had a baby, I need to ask questions like, “How are you feeling emotionally?”

This year – fertility treatments, miscarriages, pregnancy, labor, scary birth, anxiety – I’ve learned that I’m stronger than I ever thought possible. But I’ve also learned that I’m weaker and more vulnerable than I knew. There’s beauty in this strength and fragility.

I’ve learned that, just like that song said, God is faithful. He’s faithful through the hardest of hard times. He’s good.

If your friend or wife is going through this, all I can say is this: Show up. Just be there. Be the one she can call. Be the one who doesn’t judge. Arrive to do dishes or watch the baby so she can go to counseling. Be her support, even though what that looks like might change from day to day or moment to moment.

The closer you stay, the better you’ll know what she needs.

I know this whole thing doesn’t seem rational. That’s because it isn’t.

If you’re going through postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety/OCD or PTSD, I wish I could come give you a hug. I wish we could sit in silence, together. I wish I could take your scary thoughts and throw them far away. Since I can’t, I’ll just say this: Go to counseling – don’t mess around with this. Get medicine if you need it. Release the guilt. Know that you can simultaneously hate what’s going on in your mind and fiercely love your baby. Find the friends and family who will truly support you, and don’t worry about the rest. Learn your triggers and avoid them like the plague.

And slowly, it will get better.

Save

Save

Save

When the World Falls…And Then Gets Back Up Again

I’ve had so many swirling thoughts about the tornado that ravaged my state.  I’ve never said on AO where I live in Oklahoma, but I will say this: we were close to the tornado.  Fifteen minutes away.

May 20th.  I was home with the stomach flu that day.  I turned on the TV because the skies looked menacing.  The general rule here in Oklahoma is that if the meteorologists haven’t commandeered the airwaves, it’s not that bad.  A soap opera was playing, so I was happy to see  it was indeed not that bad.  My relief was short-lived.  Within seconds, the soap opera was gone, replaced by a meteorologist who said, “Folks, we’re going to switch to the weather for a while.  Something could be brewing.”

He was right.  It didn’t start out all too menacing, though.  There was a suspicious cloud with a hook, ready to spawn a tornado at a moment’s notice. For now, a menacing but harmless thing. Then there was more rotation.  Then it was a little funnel, just barely touching the ground and dissipating.  Then it tried again and wisped away.  It was just another little tornado, the things that populate our spring television sets, allow us to beef up our arm chair meteorologist cred, and momentarily disrupt our lives.

By May 20th, the sirens had already gone off two times in our neighborhood this spring.  The first time, The Professor and I sat in our closet with the cats to wait it out.  The next time, we knew the storm had passed our neighborhood by a few miles, so we did rednecks proud and stood in the street and took pictures of the developing funnel cloud.

photo-1

Bad weather, it’s sort of normal around here.

And that’s what this tornado looked like – sort of normal.  Trying to touch the ground, not succeeding, and trying again.  Gaining speed to become a little EF1 or EF2 tornado and then back to originally scheduled programming.  Except, that’s not what happened.  Eventually it hit the ground and stuck.  And in seconds, it went from a small wedge to a behemoth. A super cell, long track tornado headed straight for the city.  The stuff of nightmares.

It was hard for me to comprehend how big it was.  Soon it was crossing rivers, plowing through roads I’d driven on and intersections I could see in my head.

And then The Professor’s school was one of the landmarks on the weather map.  My heart dropped.  But I did the projection, geographic calculations we Okies, accidental or not, can do in our sleep.  Storms travel North East.  This one was traveling East North East.  He would be safe. I was safe too.  That’s why I stayed on the sofa when the tornado siren began screaming.

I watched powerless as the shaky TV footage showed the tornado taking out houses.  Then whole neighborhoods.  Then businesses.  And schools.  The debris cloud was so dense that the tornado and its conquests were one large dustbowl extending from the evil skies.  It was on the ground for 40 minutes.  A two-mile wide monster leaving death and destruction in its wake.  Then it was gone.

I watched helplessly as reporters made mad dashes to assess damage.  Helicopter footage showed large swaths of neighborhoods gone.  Then they discovered the schools.  One reporter relayed news while the other listened to police scanners, their normally tidy anchor desk covered in paper, their words less smooth.  One school had every child miraculously accounted for.  But not the other.

Then a reporter started to cry.

We’ve all watched disasters unfold on TV – 9/11, floods, tsunamis.  I was watching this one on TV too, but it was happening 15 minutes from my house.  It was a cognitive disconnect I still can’t quite comprehend.

As if to serve as a reminder that I wasn’t watching a feed from a far away place, our wireless Internet and cell phones went out.  They’d stay out until 11 that night.  Even if the phones had come back, reporters were relaying desperate pleas for people to stay off their phones and keep the network unclogged.  I got one text out to my mom that we were fine.  Everyone else had to wait.

A few hours later, The Professor came home. He’s not emotional in this sort of situation – facts, by the book.  But his voice was anchored in sadness and concern.  We watched the news for another ten minutes and then turned it off. The sadness in our house was thick, and we didn’t want the news reminding us of why we were and would continue to be heartbroken for our community.

It’s been several days now since it felt like the world fell out from beneath us – since 25 of our friends, neighbors, classmates lost their lives to the menacing skies. Part of our city looks like a war zone.  Then for people like The Professor and me who weren’t directly impacted, things are normal, or as normal as they can be.  It’s a strange set of realities.

Mixed with sadness and loss are stories – miracles great and small.  A friend was on the team of meteorologists who surveyed the damage and the path (and other sciency things, I’m sure) to determine the tornado’s place on the EF scale.  He said he was encouraged by the number of stories of unlikely survival.

This week, I’m more proud of my accidental state than I’ve ever been.

The Home Depot next to one of the neighborhoods hit became a drop off and triage site for all the pets found in rubble.  Now the farmer’s market where I buy watermelons every summer is housing lost pets and orchestrating sweet reunions.

The local gluten-free communities are banding together to provide gluten-free food for displaced celiacs.

The entire community came together to give a new backpack filled with goodies for every kid whose school was leveled.  That was 1,000 backpacks collected and filled in about 18 hours.  Our local cupcake bakery supplied 1,000 cupcakes.

Big Truck Taco, the world’s greatest gourmet taco-truck business was serving breakfast tacos to first responders the next morning.

My university is housing 100 people in dorms.  Employees gathered supplies like sheets, toiletries, and diapers and the university set up a free store for families to shop from.  Our state school is partnering with a church to provide free daycare for the kids staying in the dorms so the parents can sleep, talk to insurance adjusters or sort through the rubble.  And our cafeterias are serving meals to search and rescue crews that have come from across the country to help.

Volunteers were sent away because so many people showed up.

Within hours of the disaster, the churches in my town were a mobilized and unified front, a single Body of Christ meeting needs 24/7 for a week now.

Westboro Baptist Church, a sad cult of deranged and misled people, are reportedly in town to picket children’s funerals.  The Freedom Riders got to the funeral first along with thousands – yes thousands – of citizens who created a human shield for mourning families.

The grocery store I shop at is donating huge proceeds of their sales to the Red Cross. The value supermarket in town provided 20,000 snacks for kids.  The bake sales and car washes manned by children on almost every corner are donating all of their sales.

(If you want an even more impressive list, look at this blog post).

Last night at 10 p.m., The Professor and I drove up to Oklahoma City after a last-minute need came through our email from church.  A jewelry store in Midland, Texas, had put a call out on the radio that they would collect donations and buy supplies.  The store, along with a few other local businesses, was packed with people dropping off money and supplies.  Midland sent the high school band’s semi with 100 tons of supplies.  My heart skipped a beat when I saw the huge Texas flag streaming off the back of the truck.  The Texans had arrived.

The supplies were amazing – tons and tons of bottled water and Gatorade. Diapers and wipes. Someone donated garment bags full of nice suits.  There were Pack-N-Plays, nursing pillows, shovels, scrubs, and boxes of new pillows and blankets.

DSC02527

Most of the water bottles were heavy 40 bottle packs.  Then we’d get to the more precious offerings – 5 rolls of toilet paper from someone’s home, a four pack of Gatorade.  Gifts from people who gave what they could, meager as it was.  The widow’s mite – sure to be blessed and multiplied.

As I hauled in my place, I found myself praying over the boxes.  That each item would find the right person.  That the business man who needs to get back to work would find the nice donated suits. The nursing mom would find the nursing pillow. The Disney princess backpack would find just the right little princess.

DSC02539

I don’t know if you know this, but I hated Oklahoma when I moved up here.  It was my duty as a Texan to hate it.  But the longer I’ve been here, the more I’ve come to love this place.  It’s not a “getting used to it” sort of love, but a deep affection.  This week, amongst the tragedy and the triumph, my heart is soaring for this state.

Here in Oklahoma, when the whole world falls down, we get back up and put it back together.Oklahoma Home

We’re Okay

Oklahoma Home

I know I’ve been silent on my blog lately.  It’s been a busy season for my business.  I’m coming back soon with some big surprises for Accidental Okie and Swoon Designs.

But I wanted to let you all know that we’re okay.  The horrible tornadoes that ravaged Oklahoma were too close for comfort – just miles away.  The movie theatre currently being used as a triage center is where we saw Batman and Harry Potter and Les Mis.  But we’re safe, unharmed, thankful, and praying for those who can’t say the same.

Pray for our state.  Pray for our neighbors.

The Uncomfortable Budgeter

the reluctant budgeter

Several weeks ago, I was the guest blogger at Lark and Bloom.  I wrote about my adventure into the world of budgeting and my journey of becoming a budgeter.  Well, a reluctant budgeter.

After a month of trial and error, I have some things to share in the coming days, but in case you missed it, here is the guest post, which served as an unofficial kickoff to the series.

Go to Lark and Bloom to read my original post, or check it out below.  Well, go to Lark and Bloom anyways.  You’ll find it to be one of the most genuine, kind and all-around interesting blogs written by an equally genuine, kind and gosh-darn interesting person, Elizabeth.

 * * * *

Everyone, meet Sarah Warren! I am beyond happy to share the first of several guest posts for An Uncomfortable January. Sarah has been a friend of mine since college. We were freshman who were equally obsessed with Jane Austen, fine china and bowls of pad thai.  She went on to get her masters in writing and now writes at The Accidental Okie.  This means that she sees the hundreds of grammatical mistakes I make on my blog & loves me anyway. Sarah also is the one who did the design for Lark & Bloom, for which I am eternally grateful. Give her a big Lark & Bloom welcome & join in her discomfort.

Sarah- The Accidental Okie and Uncomfortable Budgeter.

I’m on an uncomfortable journey: learning to budget.  Let’s not mince words.  I hate it.  I’m growing to embrace it, but I still mostly hate it.

A combination of being a stereotypical creative right brainer, not excelling at numbers, and hanging on to hefty emotional baggage led me to pass off budgeting responsibilities to my husband.

Last semester he started teaching a college class for extra income. That’s on top of being a high school science teacher.  He didn’t have time to do the budget anymore.  It was ignored for a few months and gross overspending ensued.  I needed to take something off his plate and we realized the person spending the money really should be the one setting the budget.  Since I do all our shopping, I was the natural, albeit reluctant, choice.

I’ve already had a few successes and failures, which I’ll be documenting on my blog over the coming months, but here is a preview of what I’m learning in this uncomfortable journey.

Tackle Demons

For several years of my childhood from middle school to the first year of high school, we were poor.  To this day, thrift stores and canned soup literally cause my heart to beat faster as I momentarily relive those meager days.

Most people walk into a thrift store and think about cool vintage finds.  I remember the year I had to buy my new school clothes at a thrift store and nothing fit my awkward mid-puberty body correctly.  I remember having to work three weeks of babysitting jobs after a friend stole my graphing calculator because she thought it would be funny.  I remember my friends asking why we always had the exact same groceries, and me never telling them that we stood in line for our box of groceries every week at the food bank.

For me, budgeting equaled counting pennies, which equaled feeling all those things again.

When I think about budgeting, I think about my parents arguing about money.  Any time my husband brought up the budget, I was sure he was mad at me.  Our monthly budgeting meetings consisted of him trying to talk and me defensively evading every question.  Not super productive.

The practical steps of setting up a budget are important, but for me identifying and dealing with my own junk and establishing new ways of thinking have been equally necessary.  In my soul searching, I realized I’ve been more secure overspending than budgeting because if I could overspend, it meant I wasn’t helpless like before.

Seek Wisdom

I’m not doing this alone.  Once a week I meet with a mentor at Barnes and Noble.  Pat and her husband’s life story revolves around coming out of major debt, and now they enjoy helping young couples avoid the traps they found themselves in.  We drink coffee, pore over my budget, look at spread sheets and share tips – well, she shares tips with me and I write them down.  Bottom line – if I was doing this alone, I probably already would have given up and gone back to my old ways.

It seems that no matter the uncomfortable journey you find yourself on, there is someone who has wisdom to share.

These days, I’m a reluctant budgeter.  Maybe someday I won’t be so reluctant.  It seems the only way to get from here to there is to continue on this uncomfortable journey.  I might even go shopping at a thrift store by the end of it all.

****

If you have any budgeting tips, I’m all ears!

But What If?

The Professor and I don’t have any kids yet.  Someday, just not yet.

As I think about someday having children, my heart is full of excitement and expectations and a thousand unspoken and spoken fears.  The “but what ifs?”

But what if when we start trying, we can’t have a baby?
But what if we have a baby with Down’s Syndrome?
But what if I have a still birth?
But what if I have conjoined twins?
But what if our child gets a horrible childhood cancer?
But what if we have a child with debilitating autism or cerebral palsy?
But what if something happens to The Professor and I have to raise a baby alone?

There are thousands of questions.

The reality is that when we have a child, no matter how perfect we think he or she is, between the ten fingers and ten toes and ringlets of blond hair, our bundle of joy will be imperfect in some way – an imperfect little person born into an imperfect world.  A world where babies are born with impairments.  A world where that perfect little angel will learn how to manipulate and disobey within months.  A world where children get terminal diseases.  A world where babies die in their mothers’ wombs.

A world where beautiful little children learning colors and shapes and how to tie their shoes are killed in their kindergarten class by a man filled with so much hurt and so much anger, he decided to make other people hurt as bad as him.

Even if we have a baby and there are no complications, the risks don’t end there.  So I guess I have two options – take the risk or hide under a rock.

It’s days like today that I remember this verse:  “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”  John 16:33.

Pain, imperfection, injustice – they seem to be guaranteed.  And apparently all the anxiety I can muster won’t change a thing.

It takes a smarter person than me to say why bad things happen.  All I know is that He promises he’ll win in the end.  And when Jesus faced loss – even knowing he would win – he wept and cried up to heaven.

So that’s what we will do.  We will weep and pray.  And strangest of them all, we’ll keep hoping.

The Lump

I like to keep my blog light. The greatest controversy I’ve addressed is my tiptoe into the xanthum gum versus guar gum debate in gluten-free baking.  No politics.  No arguments.  There’s enough stressful news out there.  I’d rather be a fun place for my readers to come and hear funny stories about my cats and read yummy gluten-free recipes.

But I decided to make one exception.

Unless you’re blind (or color blind) and haven’t seen the bags of pink M&Ms and pink KitchenAid Mixers and even pink goal posts at NFL games, you probably know it’s national breast cancer awareness month.

This month took on a new meaning for me two-and-a-half years ago when the doctor found a lump in my breast during an annual exam.

From the moment she said lump, life stood still.  Within three days, I was at the breast cancer center in a room full of 70-year-old women waiting for my mammogram.  Thankfully I got good news, the best news.  I was all clear.

Over the coming days, I had a hard time recovering from the emotion of it all.  I’m from a medical family, and I knew that being 28 and having breast cancer was not impossible. My aunt works at a breast cancer center, and for years I’ve heard stories about the patients in their twenties whose cancer was especially aggressive.

After I got the all clear, I inexplicably cried in bed for days.  The Professor was amazing.  Somehow he knew exactly what to do –  sit next to me with his hand on my shaking back.

I cried because I’m an excellent emotional represser.  Having spent the days before in a box of stoicism, I had to let my emotions catch up with my mind.  Partly I was crying for thankfulness that all the what if’s hadn’t come true.  Partly I was embarrassed.  I told only a few people about the lump and tests in strict confidence.  Within a few days, I began receiving well meaning but unwelcome get well cards from people I’d never met.  I had become a source of gossip, and was mortified that strangers were sending me cards about my boob.

And partly I was crying because of the image I couldn’t get out of my head.  I was sitting in the conference room of the breast center.  That’s where you go to receive your diagnosis.  The doctor came and put the mammogram film and ultrasound footage on the lit glass and showed me proof that I was fine.  I started uncontrollably sobbing.  Through my tears, I kept looking from the mammogram film to the large conference room table.  Back and forth.  Why were there so many empty chairs?

I knew why.  There were so many empty chairs because I was fine.  There were other women, women who’d had the same unwelcome discovery during a routine exam, women who had the same uncomfortable tests, women who came and sat in the exact chair I was sitting in, only they learned they were not fine.  Some women walked into that room and the chairs were full of specialists, each bringing their own unique weaponry to the life or death battle.

As part of my decompression, I wrote a poem.  It really helped me organize all my crazy, scattered emotional highs and lows, and unearth my true feelings.  I may be a writer, but I’m certainly no poet.  Still reading over it again brought back so many emotions.  I decided that two-and-a-half years was long enough to wait to tell people about my story.

As a show of bravery, I decided to publish my poem here on my blog.  Now you have to return the favor and be brave – breast cancer is not your mother’s or grandmother’s disease.  Get annual exams.  Know your body.  Ask questions.  Be vigilant. That’s the brave thing to do.

When They Find A Lump In Your Breast

When they find a lump in your breast,
You urgently call your mom, but then recant.  It’s not a big deal, right?

When they find a lump in your breast,
You wonder why you’re waiting so long to have a baby.

When they find a lump in your breast,
You list all the benign things it could be,
But the one unthinkable alternative lingers.

When they find a lump in your breast,
You have to come home and tell your husband, and let out a brave whimper of a cry.

When they find a lump in your breast,
You vividly remember images of young, widowed fathers in Race for the Cure pictures.

When they find a lump in your breast,
You take a day off work for the test but don’t tell anyone why.

When they find a lump in your breast,
You think about the tingling feeling of your husband’s soft touch,
And shudder at the thought of it being taken away.

When they find a lump in your breast,
You remember your aunt talking about the 20 year olds at the breast cancer center.

When they find a lump in your breast,
You want to be shrouded in prayer, but also feel strange and private.

When they find a lump in your breast,
You reach out to a few trusted people for support, but then learn you’re being gossiped about.
Or ignored.

When they find a lump in your breast,
You tell your husband not to come with you because it’s no big deal.
And then change your mind.

When they find a lump in your breast,
You make sure to wear lipstick to the tests because nothing can take away your femininity.
You skip the mascara though.

When they find a lump in your breast,
You wish you learned how to do a self examination.

When they find a lump in your breast,
You feel a twinge of guilt after you curse your long and unruly hair.

When they find a lump in your breast,
You fluctuate between feeling stupid for worrying about the small chance and anxious because of the small chance.
Eventually you stick to feeling numb.

When they find a lump in your breast,
You stay awake most of the night before the test, too full of thoughts and fears.

When they find a lump in your breast,
You learn things your grandmother never told anyone.
They found a lump in her breast, too.

When they find a lump in your breast,
You drive to the hospital speaking no words, but you’re holding hands tight.

When they find a lump in your breast,
Well, it hurts, because they poke and prod and squeeze and push.

When they find a lump in your breast,
You sit in a room and wait.

They found a lump in my breast,
But in the end, it was nothing.

They found a lump in my breast,
And when I learned it was nothing, I sobbed, my heart full of what could have been.

They found a lump in my breast,
And I apologized to God for not standing next to my friends who I didn’t call when they found a lump in their breast.

They found a lump in my breast,
And I cried for the women who had sat in that room and received a different answer.

They found a lump in her breast,
and now the battle would begin.

Sometimes A Win is a Win

I made a big dinner two nights ago.  It was supposed to be an amazing blog post based on a recipe I’ve made a few times before – pasta with a bacon mushroom béchamel sauce and sauteed veggies.

But this time it was an absolute disaster.

It started out good – bacon and a Dutch oven.  What could go wrong, right?

Everything, apparently.

I wanted to have a bit of bacon flavor in the veggies.  That didn’t work.  Greasy, burned bacon grit quickly coated my beautiful bell pepper and zucchini.  I ended up rinsing the veggies out in the colander.  It semi-salvaged the operation.

Next in Operation: Kill Dinner, I mistimed the beautiful Tinkyada pasta.  It was a mushy mess.  I rinsed it in cold water to stop the cooking process, which made it a cold, mushy mess.

And the béchamel sauce took a lot longer to thicken.  By the time it finished, the veggies were cold and didn’t reheat like I thought they would when intersected the hot sauce.

The cold pasta probably had something to do that. 

The mushroom flavor didn’t infuse into the sauce like I hoped.  Then my camera’s battery died, so now I can’t even salvage a tutorial on making a gluten-free roux out of the whole mess.  It was a total fail.

We ate it for dinner because A – we have a food budget and B – I didn’t have time to make anything else.  Shockingly, the next day when I was forced to eat it for lunch, the microwave didn’t magically transform the food into a culinary masterpiece.  It was still gross.  And mushy.  And a little lukewarm – but that one was my fault.  I guess I didn’t put it in the microwave long enough.

After we ate our icky dinner, we had to go straight to Bible study.  No time to clean the kitchen.  We got home and went to bed, and then got up and went to work the next morning.  (After I cleaned cat diarrhea off the floor).

Sorry – TMI.

And so yesterday when I got home, I was faced with an ethical dilemma: clean the kitchen or make dinner for The Professor, who was on the way home from a long day of teaching all day at school and then going to the local community college where he teaches a college class – because he’s an amazing provider like that. 

I chose making dinner.

And slightly redeemed myself with a half bag of sweet potato fries and a quick grilled chicken salad with apples, pecans, Parmesan cheese and a walnut-pomegranate balsamic vinaigrette recipe I’ve been tweaking for a post on fall salad dressings.

It was really good.  But then my kitchen looked like this.

Nights like these cause me to pause and redefine my definition of wins.  Some nights, you get the whole kitchen clean – floors mopped and everything.  And other nights, you’re lucky to get the perishables put back in the fridge and the dishwasher running. 

That’s okay because a win is a win.

Sometimes a win is making an edible dinner.  And that’s okay, because a win is a win.

My kitchen doesn’t look like this anymore, but it’s not perfect.  I’m okay with that.  I’ll take my wins where I can get them.

Remembering

My memories of September 11, 2001 are flashes of moments.  They play back like a movie reel of a character’s life flashing before his eyes.  Moments of realization, stress, emotion.  Fear.

I was a sophomore at Baylor University and a resident assistant.  I had the two beds in my room joined together to make a king-sized bed to facilitate my natural inclination to sleep diagonally (a trait which The Professor has come to loathe).  I remember being comfortably stretched out on my bed when my phone rang.  My mom told me the reports of someone flying a plane into the Twin Towers in New York.  I told her that it was probably a copy cat from that other terrorist attack.  In my mind I saw the tail end of a small prop plane sticking out of an office window.  I went back to sleep.

Next I remember recognition – this was really happening.  It wasn’t a prop plane.  It wasn’t just one window in one office.  I remember watching the second plane fly into the building.  I remember covering my eyes with my hands.  I remember turning away when they showed people leaping to their deaths.

A large part of the day was a blur of mothering fifty freshman residents who were somewhere on the emotional spectrum between shock and hysteria.  I was paid to be their rock, their adviser, their advocate and their referee.  I spent the day doing all those things.

I’m not a good crier.  I rarely cry, and when I do, it’s usually from being overwhelmed more than anything else.  That day was no exception.  I was too busy being the rock, the resident assistant, and so I buried into my own brand of stoic self protection.

I had a test.  I remember that.  It was with a particularly loathsome professor who announced that the only way you could get out of the test was if you’d had a family member in the Twin Towers, Pentagon or any of the airplanes.  I remember taking the test with a mix of anger at the professor and zen-like ambivalence  – what were tests anymore, now that the whole world had changed?

Ironically, that’s the only thing I remember about that class – I don’t remember the professor’s name, the subject matter.  I have a vague recollection of a lecture hall, but that’s it.  All I clearly can remember is that one moment of callus in a sea of support I found at Baylor that day.  It is a reminder that how we respond in times of crisis will be remembered.

I called my grandmother and asked her if this is what it was like when they learned Pearl Harbor had been bombed.  Her words caused the hair to stand up on my arms. “No, Sarah, this is worse.  Pearl Harbor was a military base.  These were civilians.”

Perhaps the scariest part of the day was looking for my dad.  He had flown to New Jersey or Boston or New York the day before.  I couldn’t remember which.  And did he really fly yesterday?  What if his flight was today?  What if he flew there yesterday but then flew today to another city in the region?  He always flew American Airlines.  The what-ifs were suffocating, and although I had been assured by my mom and by my dad’s business partner – whom I had called in a protocol-breaching move of desperation – that he was okay, I refused to believe them.  Not until I heard his voice.  The lines were too busy on the East Coast and I couldn’t get through to him.

At dinner I sat in the Collins cafeteria alone, cell phone in hand, eyes glued to the TV.  The phone rang and I saw Daddy pop up on the screen.  Maybe it was because I had to be the strong one all day with my residents, maybe it was because I was overwhelmed and tired, maybe it was relief that my game of what-if’s was over – but as soon as I saw his name, I burst into deep, loud, ugly sobs.  I answered and uncontrollably cried for five minutes while my dad assured me over and over he was okay.  He had met some people at the airport who were also stuck on the East Coast.  They were going to rent a car and drive home together.

When I hung up, I looked up from my tray of cold food to see a dozen strangers around me, hugging me, hands on my shoulders.  They had heard me crying, and they had come.  When it was finally my time to break, when it was my time to lose it, when my shift of being the rock was over, people appeared and listened to me incoherently mumble “my dad’s okay,” over and over between gasps of breaths.

It remains one of the most touching and lasting memories from my years at Baylor.

I remember writing in my journal that the whole world had changed.  The America of my childhood was gone.  I knew war was imminent.  I highlighted verses in my Bible about not being anxious, and marked 9/11/2001 in the margins.

I went home that weekend.  My dad still wasn’t home from his cross-country drive.  They dropped people off all throughout the South, each person thankful they could secure a scarce rental car, each person desperate to be around the warmth of family.  All I remember about going home was that I had nightmares of people attacking our house.  And I cried as I pulled out of my driveway to go back on Sunday.  It was the only time I ever cried leaving my house.  I was scared to go back to college, scared to leave my family, scared to venture back out into the world.

After 9/11, I got into the habit of checking the news on my computer every morning just in case something happened overnight.  I remember struggling with anxiety, and I remember praying constantly for our military and intelligence services to stop another attack – an attack which I along with many others felt was inevitable.

I think those moments will stay with me forever.  They should stay with me forever.  They should be passed down to future generations so that no one forgets.

What do you remember?