“We fail to understand the Divine, not because we aren’t able to extend our concepts far enough, but because we don’t know how to begin close enough.”
August 15, 2022
I took the kids to eat at a fast food restaurant yesterday after church. The Cracker Barrel had waiting lines out the door, the air conditioning was down at Noodles & Co., and so we ended up–first-world famished–at a run-down Burger King in Pueblo.
The entrance was partially demolished and blocked off with yellow caution tape, almost as if a car had crashed through the front door, and a hand-written sign suggested using the side door as an alternative.
But the alternative entrance looked like a grocery store parking lot lined with shopping buggies filled with sleeping bags and any other tattered possessions their homeless owner had accumulated along the way.
Sufficiently deterred, I pulled out of my parking space around to the drive-through window, which–to my dismay–was only accepting cash. The lobby register was equipped to take credit cards, the staticky voice politely informed.
Grayson growing edgier by the minute, I resigned myself to a dine-in Whopper, and circled back to my original parking spot, where Grayson, Reagan, and I filed out of the car toward the buggy-lined door.
A waif-like man beat us there and was holding the door for us while fixedly staring at the ground. His hair looked like it hadn’t seen a dollop of shampoo for weeks, but when he hesitantly lifted his pale blue eyes to meet mine, I noted they were kind, albeit heavy-laden; and their watery softness stood out in stark contrast to his deeply etched and weathered skin.
Inside, a homeless man was curled up in a chair, loudly snoring away with his filthy shoes propped on the table. My kids exchanged nervous glances but followed me toward the register, regardless, where we arrived just in time to overhear the recently door-holding man barely whisper, “Just a hamburger please,” before plunking down a pile of change–mostly pennies–on the counter. He was visibly nervous as he slid and counted the coins one at a time, and grew further exacerbated when a man toward the back of the line loudly muttered, “Jesus, how long is this going to take?” before irritatedly slapping a dollar bill on the mound of coins.
Now fully flustered, the door-man forgot what number he was on, and had to start counting all over. The young girl behind the cashier smiled apologetically at the approaching manager, who had, in the meantime, wandered over to assess the hold-up and the ever-increasing line.
His head was bare as an eight-ball, and every last square inch of his revealed skin was covered in tattoos. Strands of looping earlobes swung back and forth as he walked, further highlighting the two gaping holes that lacked the structure of their customary gauges. He looked the part of a fast-food manager, I wryly (and critically) mused to myself.
Stepping forward, I offered to add the door-man’s hamburger to my order, but the manager brushed me aside with a wave of his arm. “No worries, I got it,” he said, sweeping the change off the counter into his free hand. I asked the door-man whether I could buy him anything else, and he quietly added from beneath lowered eyes, that, yes, a drink might be nice.
After thanking me, he shuffled meekly to the end of the counter as if he wished to disappear, and I leaned over to asked whether he might like some fries or onion rings too.
Suddenly, the manager’s swift movements caught my attention, and I caught him quickly sneaking an oversized box of fries into the man’s paper bag. Our eyes met, and he winked as he stuffed an extra burger into the bag.
At once, the scales fell from my eyes and the manager’s heavily-inked skin was revealed as the canvassed dwelling tent of God. Joy trickled from the corner of his winking eye, and his face was awash in white light.
There, in line at Burger King, I stood exposed and naked in my threadbare garment of judgment, while the tattooed manager was regally robed in his charitable works, and the door-man vested in a simple, yet splendid robe of humility.
Even so, the nearness of the Divine, was sufficient to cover me–even me.
Truly, there are angels among us.
It’s early morning, and the sun has yet to show it’s face over northeastern mountain peaks. A loud thump to my left alerts me to the fact that–yet another–bird has flown into our living room window.
I look over to behold the tiniest, most pitiful of creatures laying in an all-wrong position on a board of composite decking–its wings intermittently twitching and flapping. Assuming it to be a near-death flutter, I pull my chair closer to observe the strange transition between life and death.
I note the bird’s faint yellow underbelly and the white markings around its eye, and assess it–perhaps incorrectly–to be a Warbling Vireo. Much to my husband’s amusement, I’ve taken on the self-appointed role of “Family Ornithologist,” thanks to my new Merlin Bird ID app.
As I’m voyeuristically observing the bird’s sacred transition, Cadence, our German Shepherd, lets herself out the front door, and automatically walks up to the ailing bird and rudely nudges it with her nose.
With what seems like its last dying strength, the bird hurls itself over and its head flops back in an unnatural position. Certain that the light is now surely passing from its eyes, I return to my reading, mentally committing the task of discarding the dead bird to my daughter.
Half-an-hour later, Nala, our dingbat of a Golden-doodle, comes sauntering out the front door to lay her head in my lap, completely failing to observe the little bird I believe to be deceased.
After a round of morning scratches and pets, both dogs notice and re-notice the bird. They sniff, circle, and then to my chagrin, begin poking it with their noses. Surely, they won’t eat a dead bird, I wonder to myself, cringing.
Suddenly, Cadence flips the bird upright with her nose, and I observe that its eyes are now wide-open and glossy black. It’s hops across one, then two and three planks, then leaps off our porch and flies effortlessly to a nearby tree.
I sit, stunned, as I take in the complexity of such a simple moment, and ponder on the quote I’d just read, “We fail to understand the Divine, not because we aren’t able to extend our concepts far enough, but because we don’t know how to begin close enough.”
Self-admittedly, I lack the ability to extend my concept of the Divine “far enough,” for it is here that I find my words and mental capacity simultaneously reaching their end.
Perhaps this is the holy ground where has God has drawn a line in the sand, thus demarcating the end of language’s capacity and the early frontier of contemplative “unknowing.”
Regardless, it is in this micro-moment that I sense the meaning of “close enough.” It is here, that I sense God’s “smallness” and the way He condescends to fill the fragments–the slivers of time–to bring life and light to motionless birds, tattooed skin, and defeated, pale-blue eyes.
As I found my way to a table and began doling out burgers, the soft-spoken door-man began unwrapping his at a nearby table. I stood to introduce myself and invited the man named “Adolfo” to eat with us. Re-wrapping his burger, he let me me know that people made him nervous, as he was more accustomed to being alone. I told him I understood as he turned to shuffle out the door, the feel of his leathery hand still fresh in mine.
*Disclaimer and warning: Do not read if you are easily offended. There is nothing admirable in the words that follow. My parenting skills are abhorrently MIA, and my actions are questionable at best. There is no point, no glimmering lesson. It is simply a stark, bare naked sliver of reality, written mainly for me. It is ludicrously and embarrassingly vulnerable. Everything in me questions why I write, and I will waffle back and forth on whether or not to share. Yet, as always, the words of Joan Didion come to mind, “Was it by writing or dreaming that I could know what I think?”
As such, I write to make sense of life’s chaos, to attempt to understand all that remains nonsensical until pen is put to paper or fingers to keyboard, and because I know that if I don’t get this out, it will stay in, and fester and rot. So, I muse and ramble, type and delete until I can start breathing freely again, until something clicks, until clarity emerges from the fog, until my words take on a life of their own and randomly stumble upon something that resembles sanity. I write because I don’t know what else to do or to whom else to talk. And I suppose a small part of me hopes to connect with others who feel the same way. With love…
August 7, 2022, a.m.
Today is the kind of day that makes you happy to be alive. The air is cool and the sun warm, and there’s not a cloud to be seen in the sky. My hair is poking out of a hat in a messy bun, and I’m wearing a broken-in pair of cut-offs and boots. Feeling very ME, I practically float down our dirt hill, excited to get started on my morning work.
I spend the first few hours clearing copious amounts of the previous homeowner’s leftover junk from our stable, along with layers upon layers of hardened mouse and bird droppings. Outside, Grayson and Reagan take turns bush-whacking the waist-high weeds. After I feel satisfied with the inside of the stable, I begin digging up old stumps and dragging them into a pile on the side of our road. Dusty snot pours from my nose, and sweat trickles down my brow. I pause for a moment—wiping them both on my shirt—grateful for my body’s ability to accomplish the strenuous work.
After accumulating a significant pile of wood, I hop into our skid-steer to begin hauling the wood up the hill, where Arin—upon his return from Texas—will eventually chop it up to be burned in the winter.
But Grayson has other plans.
“Why don’t we clean out the sides of Daddy’s shop for his birthday?” he inquires.
I agree, touched by his thoughtfulness, and fire up the skid-steer just like Arin recently taught me and maneuver it (fairly) smoothly up our road to the roll-off dumpster. Up top, I pause to snap a thumbs-up selfie for my parents and sisters. Guess who’s driving the skid-steer? I caption the photo, followed by a wide-eyed yellow emoji.
“Grayson, take a picture for Gramma and Bop,” I command, and as he hands my phone back to me, I busy myself sending proof of my newly acquired skill.
That’s where I slip up. I forget my own number rule regarding my son: Never let your guard down.
Having secured his work gloves, Grayson begins dragging over long metal poles cemented in five-gallon buckets. He has planned to place them in the scoop of the skid-steer for me to hoist into the dumpster. I watch out of the corner of my eye as he successfully—and carefully—heaves one bucket into the scoop and then two. But by the third, he is growing frustrated and tosses the bucket a little too hard. I watch, horrified, as the metal pole bounces off the back of the scoop and—as if in slow motion—heads straight toward his eye, backed by the weight of five gallons of concrete.
Instantly, Grayson is on the ground as his gushing blood colors the dirt a rusty shade of brown. With no other clean item nearby, I tear off my shirt and press it to his eye as he screams and thrashes in resistance. Oddly enough, he keeps pushing past me to reach for his foot while angrily cursing our dog. Confused, I look around and finally realize that our dog—assuming I was being attacked—had sunk her teeth into Grayson’s flailing foot.
Chaos ensues. A ripped-off shoe is hurled at the dog, followed by a flurry of rocks, set free from Grayson’s trembling fist. I pin him to the ground as he repeatedly tries to lunge for the dog while threatening to kill her. Finally, after a brief moment of struggling, Reagan arrives, bearing ice and clean rags, then secures the dog in the shop. Grayson peels off his sock as a fresh wave of panic overtakes him upon viewing his multiple lacerations.
Long story short, by the time I get him to the house, his wounds are already coagulating, and I suppose it’s safe enough to remain home and avoid yet another trip to the ER.
Allowing myself a deep exhale, I sit back on my heels and breathe a prayer of gratitude. Considering the weight that had just rocketed a metal pole towards Grayson’s eye, it dawns on me that if that pole had struck just half an inch lower, Grayson would have almost certainly lost his eye.
Major crisis averted, I situate him on the couch with a few bags of ice and return outside to finish my work. But the internal reminder was not lost: When you let down, bad things happen.
August 8, 2022, p.m.
A day and a half post-injury, Grayson attends his first cross-country practice at his new school with a lump on his head and a few bandaids on his foot and runs three miles.
Afterward, he bursts through the door, excited to see Rylee, his older sister, who is visiting for a few days before leaving for college. They start wrestling, and she inadvertently flings him backward onto the couch, where, before landing, he smashes the back of his head on the edge of a sharp-cornered windowsill. Once again, he clutches his head and begins screaming, and once again, the dog moves—barking fiercely—to protect me. But Rylee heads her off and locks her up, and instead of gushing blood, I find only a sizable linear knot. Soon enough, the tears and screams subside to a nervous, then raucous laughter as we all celebrate his “good luck.”
August 9, 2022, p.m.
Grayson has successfully completed his second cross-country practice with significantly fewer nerves, and Reagan, her second volleyball practice at the new school. Moods and endorphins are running high, and it seems like a good night for a bottle of wine.
I am in the liquor store only long enough to pay for a bottle of Kitchen Sink Red Blend, but the second I walk out the door, I instinctively understand something is wrong. The front seat is empty, and there’s a jumbled heap of commotion taking place in the back. In a second, I’ve gingerly placed the bottle of wine on my car’s floorboard and hurled myself into the backseat on top of Grayson, who is lying face-up on Reagan’s lap, fingers firmly entangled in her hair. I can smell the humid salt—they’ve been tousling long enough to break a sweat—and there’s blood on Grayson’s shirt, his hand, Reagan’s face.
“What in the hell are you doing?” I demand to know as I squeeze the sides of his fists to loosen his grip and inch them closer to Reagan’s head, hoping to alleviate a portion of her pain. We meet eyes—hers are water- and rage-filled—and we are all a pile of tangled bodies fighting against each other, for each other, and ourselves.
Several curious onlookers wander by wordlessly, and I urgently plead, “Grayson, someone is going to call the police. Think about what you’re doing. You can stop this.”
When the struggle only intensifies, I realize my words are falling upon deaf ears, and I grow increasingly desperate, “What the hell is wrong with you? Why are you doing this? Stop now, or I’m driving back to the school, and you can explain your behavior to your new coach.”
Reagan’s head jerks back, her hair falls limply around her damp face, and I realize Grayson has released her from his grasp. I motion her from the car with a jerk of my head while maintaining a tight grip on him. Slowly, I move him from the vehicle, where he immediately hops in the front seat—his face blank and overly calm.
“It’s over,” he tells me flatly, “We can go home now.”
“No way,” I push back, breathing hard. “There’s no way you’re going to treat your sister like that, then hop back in the front seat like everything is fine. Sit in the trunk of the 4Runner. I want you as far away from Reagan as possible.”
“Nope,” he replies, and I know he means it. “I refuse. I’ll sit here all night.”
(More curious onlookers, more wondering eyes.)
“Then I’m walking back to the school to get your coach,” I tell him, knowing that I’m lying, wondering if he’ll call my bluff.
He wavers for a short minute, then concedes and jumps in the trunk, slamming the door behind him.
That was easy, I think. Too easy. And I know—we’re in for a long ride home.
I lay out the rules: his back must remain flat against the back seat and his arms at his side. If I even think he’s coming over the back seat to hurt Reagan, I will throw the car in park in the middle of the road and fly over my chair to meet him. I will protect my daughter, I let him know, and I hope he understands that I mean it.
He’s quiet—the bad kind of quiet—and I know from experience that he’s plotting. My brain, also, is spinning and whirring, frantically trying to figure out how to stay one step ahead of his. Last week, he locked us out of the house and threw her cat from the second-story balcony (fortunately she landed in a bush), and I know if I take him back home, he’ll do something along the same vein.
Both Reagan and I are on high alert but are attempting to act casual by sneakily watching his every move in the rear-view mirror. He spins and, in one swift movement, grabs a phone charger from the back seat and repositions himself in the trunk facing us.
“I’ll whip you,” he growls menacingly, phone cord raised in the air.
I know I have to avoid a physical altercation while driving, so—grasping for straws—I try to hit him where it will most hurt.
“Grayson, you’re almost an adult now,” I inform him, “and as such, I’ve decided to charge you $200 for hurting your sister. If you choose to continue, the fine will increase.”
He testily flings and retracts the phone charger, and I screech to a halt on the side of the road.
“I’m counting to five, and that cord needs to be placed gently on the seat, or the fine will jump to $500. One, two, three….”
The charger lands with a soft thump on the backseat, and I snatch it up and continue driving.
His shenanigans continue for the duration of the twenty-five-minute car ride. I pull over, threaten, resolve, and resume.
As we near the house, I whisper to Reagan, “Get out of the car quickly when we pull up to our drive and walk home. I’m going to keep driving with him; I can’t bring him home yet. I won’t have reception, so I’ll just be home whenever I can.”
She moves her hand slowly to the door, and I imperceptibly shake my head. “I don’t want him catching on. Lower your hand.”
I loudly ask her to check the mail as we roll into our dirt driveway for appearance’s sake, then peel out as soon as her door latches shut.
“Hey, what are you doing?” Grayson demands. Then, when he realizes I have no intention of stopping, he lets loose with a stream off innovation, “Stop the car, you fuck-bitch-hole!”
Now he’s flying from the trunk and grabbing a handful of my hair, just like he used to do when he was a toddler. Years later, I find myself—yet again—held fast to the headrest, but without any other children to help.
Eyes ablaze, I challenge him, “Rip it out, I dare you. Pull harder, so I can show your dad my bald spot when he gets home!”
Grayson relaxes his grip slightly, and I break-check him. His unbuckled body slams against the back of my seat, and his hand flies from my hair to brace himself.
“Keep your hands off me,” I warn him to no avail. Immediately, his hands wind their way through my hair once more.
I tell him I’m driving all the way to Texas to see his dad. Partially, I’m bluffing. Partially, I’m not. I’ve got no reception and don’t know how long it will be until if find some. I have no earthly idea what I’m going to do, but I know I can’t stop, and I know I can’t go home.
“TURN AROUND!” he bellows, his voice shaking with rage.
I ignore him, then feel from the direction of my hair that he’s reaching toward the ground.
Click, click, click. I recognize the sound of one of our many black gel pens.
“Turn around, or I’ll stab you in the arm until you die,” he warns.
“THEN FUCKING DO IT!” I scream at the top of my lungs, already burning with shame over my lost temper and choice words.
He considers, then resorts to yanking my hair even harder, and so we continue for the better part of fourteen miles—him grabbing my hair, me pulling over and telling him to get out and walk home, him opening the door then shutting it again.
Now, the sky is rapidly darkening, and I weigh out my options—none of them good. At one point in our insane routine, Grayson calls my bluff and gets out of the car and starts marching straight up a mountain, determinedly disappearing into the trees.
Frantic, I resign and yell out the only words that I know will bring him back. “Fine, I’ll drive you home.”
Instantly, he whips around and walks back toward the car, triumphant. My goal is to get him home safely and keep everyone else safe, so I speak to him through a crack in the window and a locked door between us. “Here’s the deal,” I tell him, “I’ll take you home IF you go straight to your room and go straight to bed. If there is a single threat, if you run away, ANYTHING at all, I will call your dad immediately and tell him he has to quit his job and drive right home.” (Another bluff).
He agrees, and I pass my daughters on the way home. They’re driving to look for us. I order him to stay put while I pull over at our mailbox and fill them in on the plan. Surprisingly, he complies. “Stay in the car with doors locked until I make sure Grayson’s calm,” I tell them. “Then lock yourself in my room until he falls asleep.”
Instead, they drive to the top of our hill to wait, and just as I hear Grayson’s shower running, I receive a text: The elk are out. Come up!
Beyond the point of caring what Grayson does or doesn’t do, I grab a sweatshirt and walk out the back door. On second thought, I return for the bottle of wine I’d left in my car.
I climb the hill as the sun is setting to find my daughters, their faces radiant with excitement as if it were Christmas Eve. “Hurry, mama,” they whisper, “the elk are getting close!”
We pile into Rylee’s car and roll—silently as possible—to the top of the hill, where close to fifty mama and baby elk are peacefully grazing. Rylee puts the car in park, and we shimmy out open windows to perch on her doors. The moon is shining white and bright behind my oldest daughter, backlighting her head like an angel’s. I open the bottle of wine and uncharacteristically pass it around—even to fourteen-year-old Reagan. Besides the fact that my level of give-a-shit has hit bottom, the moment feels sacred, and the wine seems only right. There’s a small cut on Reagan’s cheek, and her eye is slightly swollen. My hair is disheveled, with multiple strands potentially missing.
Regardless, the struggle has bonded us, and an unspoken intimacy passes between us. In time, Reagan laughs aloud and begins regaling Rylee with tales from the night, “You should have heard how psycho mom sounded when Grayson threatened to come over the seat…”
We sip and giggle as the night sky darkens and the elk silently fade away into the tree line.
Despite the last two hours, I can’t imagine feeling happier, and at that moment, everything in the world seems right.
August 10, 2022 3:30 a.m.
I wake up sweating and anxious, recalling the night before. I’ve been through this enough to know that trying to go back to sleep is futile, so—wrapping myself in a robe—I arise and step out onto my bedroom balcony.
It is the first cloudless night I’ve witnessed since we’ve moved here, and I lean back in my chair, blown away by the sight. Besides the distinctly twinkling stars I’m accustomed to, I behold Jupiter and Mars and clusters and swirls of what I can only imagine being other galaxies. I’m transported to another world, and I sit in the stark silence, watching as one star shoots across the sky, then another.
After an hour, I decide that Rylee simply must see this, so I rouse her from a deep sleep and summon her to my balcony. We sit together in the same wordless silence, and she pulls out her phone to identify constellations with her app—Taurus, Orion’s Belt, and others she can’t pronounce. By the time the horizon is brightening, we’ve seen over twenty shooting stars.
As one exceptionally brilliantly dying star leaves its last blazing trail, I speak my thoughts aloud, “From here, a shooting star is over so quickly, and it looks so simple. But can you imagine what it would be like to witness it up close? It would be so loud and turbulent—nothing like how it appears from the earth.”
I sit, pondering this thought in light of our own preceding chaos. Up close, it all feels scary, turbulent, loud, and violent. But in the big scheme of life, it’s a mere shooting star, a short dash of light in the night sky. Blink, and it’s gone.
So, too, will be my life—chaos and all. It will flicker and burn out. It will be turbulent, chaotic, and catastrophic. It will also be peaceful, graceful, and brilliant. It will be everything, it will be nothing, but it will be mine.
I sit alone, long after Rylee has gone back to bed, and the words ordered chaos come to mind. Not a star falls from the sky without our Creator’s allowance, and I reckon, this is a God I can trust.
Like every other shooting star, my chaos is ordered, it is allowed, and it is for my benefit.
I spend the wee hours of the morning finding solace under this starry blanket of ordered disorder. I’ve heard what people think of my life from afar—I’m put-together, patient, and kind. But I know what my life looks like up close. It’s ugly, embarrassing, messy, spur-of-the-moment flying by the seat of my pants. It’s ALSO breathtakingly beautiful with wine-filled moonlit nights, bugling elk, and giggling girls.
Life is all of the above. I’m all of the above. And that, I suppose, is rather glorious.
Yesterday, Arin and I spent an hour-and-a-half hiking up and down the grassy knolls of our new property and exploring the winding ravines that snake through the bottom of what I’ve secretly labeled “the scary forest.”
Right off, we saw a coyote big enough to be a wolf trotting off into the scary forest, thus confirming my belief that that’s where all the limb-tearing creatures abide. And just last Saturday, a motherless baby bear emerged from down there after I’d spent an hour sitting on my porch in the pre-dawn darkness, listening to the deep and gravelly grunts of what I (later) understood to be her mama. Not only that, but a few days ago, Arin discovered a deer skull and hollowed-out carcass atop a rocky ledge—most likely the handiwork of a perching lion.
All-in-all, I’d say the scary forest is not on my top ten list of places I’m dying to explore.
Later that afternoon, Arin and I took Grayson and Arin’s mom to the Royal Gorge Bridge, where I tapped out on Grayson-duty and relinquished his crossing-the-highest-suspension-bridge-in-the-country caretaking to Arin. (High places and I don’t mix well, and Grayson completely tips the scale). Instead, I focused on remembering to breathe while coercing myself across the gently heaving bridge that dangled from strands of measly steel cables. I held on to my mother-in-law’s skinny arm for dear life, wholly forgetting that it was I who was supposed to be supporting her.
Afterward, Arin spontaneously opted for a detour up Skyline Drive, a narrow, one-lane road flanked by steep drop-offs on either side that more than adequately lived up to its name. Curling the brim of my baseball cap tightly around my eyes, I turned all my attention to the Wordle of the day, squeezing my cell phone like a rubber stress ball.
By the time I got home, I was exhausted and flat-out discouraged by how much of my day was spent feeling anywhere from mildly anxious to outright panicked.
I never used to be such a scaredy-cat; rather, quite the contrary. I was the fresh-faced, twenty-three-year-old mom sitting relaxedly on a bench at the Tampa zoo as my eighteen-month-old son climbed up and over the jungle gym—alone and unassisted. Older mothers with pinched and worried faces hurried over, “just to make sure I knew where my baby was and what he was doing.” Their concern always confused me—how else would my son learn his limitations and capabilities if I didn’t give him the space to try? Back in those days, I rode roller coasters with reckless abandon, went for midnight swims in the ocean, and took solo late-night flights into Detroit to watch my sister play volleyball—and never once did I think of being afraid.
But then Grayson, our Autistic son, came along and taught me—over and over again—the meaning of fear. He was the child I swore would never live to see Kindergarten. When enraged (which was often), he would suddenly dart into five lanes of oncoming traffic, open his door and attempt to leap from our moving car, or shimmy over our second-story railing and threaten to jump—and all before the age of five.
Therefore, after living years and years in a steady state of flight-or-fight, I, the mother who was once young and cool-as-a-cucumber, can barely remember what it’s like to feel the absence of fear.
Somewhere along the way, as one catastrophe piled on another, something inside of me began to shrink and shrivel, and my ordinarily expansive soul-space grew tight and gnarled as an atrophied muscle. I started perceiving once trusted civil servants—like teachers, doctors, and police officers—as enemies, and the world—previously open and inviting—turned dark and threatening as the scary forest. It was then that I started feeling afraid. All the time.
I nearly jumped out of my skin when I once snapped a pencil underfoot in the dark. Little boys riding bikes down the street made my heart race as I frantically searched my memory, only to recall that Grayson was in school. And the sound of my cell phone ringing turned my throat dry as the Sahara desert.
This compilation of fears—accompanied by the new sensations from the day prior—caused me to linger in bed when awakened by a bright white moon at 4:00 a.m. this morning. Normally excited for the start of a new day, my feet typically hit the floor and head straight to the coffeepot the second my eyes flutter open. But today, I heaved a weary sigh and pulled the covers back over my head to block out the streaming moonlight and avoid another day with myself.
I felt tired of being afraid, sick of battling my fears day in and day out; I just wanted them gone. I imagined ripping them from my chest like Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber, then hurling them over the edge of the Royal Gorge Bridge where they could never bother me again.
I’ve experienced enough crises to know that trauma can get “stuck” in your body, which is part of the reason I wanted to move. I needed at least eighty acres to bleed out all the chaos from our past—the police restraints and hospitalizations, our oldest son’s rollover car accident, the disgusted glares from strangers at the grocery store, the nightmares of Grayson falling and falling through layers of black space…
But today, there doesn’t seem to be a mountain big enough to handle all my fears, and I worry they’ll remain trapped inside me forever. I lay there under the covers in moonlit darkness for a long time; then, finally roused myself and started writing: Yesterday, Arin and I spent an hour-and-a-half hiking…
Just the day prior, my sister, Dani, had texted me a page from Susan McCain’s new book, Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole, and something about it had struck me, although I couldn’t put my finger on it then. So I went back this morning and reread, “I believe he’s telling us, It’s enough to be aware of it, and to feel its sting. Because this, in the end, is what connects us all…By turning his experience into poetry, Issa invites us to the shared story of being mortal, the communal longing of being human; he guides us to the love that I’ve always felt to be the unseen power source of all those sad songs with which we’ve inexplicably filled our playlists. This is the ultimate paradox: We transcend grief (or fear, in my case) only when we realize that we’re connected with all the other humans who can’t transcend grief because they will always say, because we will always say: But even so, but even so.”
I realized that as much as I want to rip the fear from my chest and chuck it over a bridge, it is this fear that keeps me connected to others; for it is our pain, our suffering, and our lack of control “that guides me back to the love that is the unseen power source of all…”
Regardless of how desperately I long to rid myself of my fears, at the end of the day, I must value them for the gift they truly are. They are the thorn in my flesh that leads toward compassion and away from pride; they’re the link that binds me to my fellow co-laborers in life, and they’re the constant weakness that remind me to depend more fully on Christ, the ultimate and most pure source of strength.
Perhaps one day, my fears will magically evaporate, and I’ll find that I can breeze effortlessly across the Royal Gorge without a second thought. Or maybe, and probably more realistically, I’ll continue battling, struggling, reminding myself to breathe, and occasionally pulling the covers back over my head to find some relief.
“Your Aspens look diseased,” my mom offhandedly remarks from the breakfast table that overlooks one of our many new-to-us Aspen groves. “You could get an arborist to come up here and take a look,” she suggests.
Instantly, my chest tightens with stress—yet another expense, one more item on my to-do list, and my head has yet to stop spinning from our move. We’ve been hemorrhaging money for the last six weeks—repairing stucco, mitigating radon, paying for moving trucks, and then another when we ran out of room. Besides, we are not talking about a few backyard Aspens; we’re talking about forests of Aspens, mountainsides of Aspens, and dollars being flushed down the toilet to our easily-clogged septic tank. I feel overwhelmed and discouraged as dreams collide with reality.
Later in the day, I sit at the same breakfast table staring dejectedly out the window at my diseased Aspens, practically panicked over the dead limbs and black festering fungus that has gouged holes out of the trees’ once healthy trunks. My eyes follow the trunks down to the earth and then out, where they behold flexible saplings sprouting up in every direction.
In a moment of epiphany, I feel at once freer than a bird drifting on the breeze. This mountain has been here long before my presence and will remain long after my death. Aspens will grow, die, and regrow year after year—without my assistance or the advice of a professional arborist. The mountain doesn’t need me, the trees don’t need me, and I am not here to assume dominion over nature but merely to be a grateful participant and witness in the ebb and flow of life.
For the first time in a long while, I feel absolutely blissfully irrelevant and unnecessary. After twenty-one years of parenting, of being needed almost every second of every day, here is a place that requires nothing of me yet welcomes me still the same. I do not have to DO to earn my keep; I only have to BE.
My tensed muscles let down, and I suddenly grow tired—so, so tired. After weeks of striving and endless details, I feel, for the first time, able to rest. Aspens will live and die. The mountain will not crumble without my presence. No one needs me…no one needs me…no one needs me.
Relief floods my soul like a soothing balm. Already, this mountain has begun working its way inside of me. Perhaps I’ve had it all wrong. Perhaps it’s me that has the need.
In his book Desert Spirituality and Cultural Resistance, Beldon Lane asks the profound question,“What do you learn to love and what do you learn to ignore?” He elaborates (and forgive the lengthy quote, but I believe it to be quite relevant), “Imagine yourself out in a desert…There, your ‘image’ doesn’t matter in the least. Your presence is unneeded, superfluous. You lack any significance. Realizing this, you’re initially tempted to panic and run, as a result. But if you stay in the place that cares nothing about your persona, your false self, you may slowly begin to realize that you are saved in the end by the things that ignore you…the things that remind us we aren’t the center of the universe. You may sit there for a long while in the desert silence, perhaps in the shadow of a rock, studying the majestic stone face of the canyon cliff before you. And you ask yourself, ‘How did the canyon cliff change on the day of my divorce? How was that sandstone face moved on the day my father took his life when I was thirteen years old? How did that great expanse of rock shift on the day I admitted my dependence on alcohol, that I was totally powerless before it? How was that precipice altered on the day I admitted the shame I had carried all my life?
Surely the canyon cliff must have changed on the day your world fell apart. The whole earth must have fallen down the day your world fell to pieces. But you find in the silence there, that the canyon cliff didn’t change at all that day. You realize that something remained constant and unchanging in the midst of your pain. A silent immensity waited there, ready to accept every bit of grief and sorrow you could pour into it. The canyon, like God himself, was listening there for you, accepting you without any accusation, waiting there in silence. Strange as it sounds—and this is one of the great truths I can’t understand in my head but know to be so in my gut—something poignant happens in the canon cliff’s utter indifference of you. At that pivotal moment in your life, you know yourself for the first time to be truly loved.”
I rise from the kitchen table and succumb to an unheard-of mid-morning nap on the couch. Blanketed in sunbeams, I choose to ignore the festering fungus. I drift off to sleep in our new house on the face of a mountain where I am completely irrelevant.
In the end, we are saved by the things that ignore us.
An “amusing” half-day in the life of a mom and a kid with Christmas anxiety
Wednesday December 21, 2016
3:00 p.m. Grayson gets in the car with an amazing bag of Christmas goodies from his teacher.
3:01 p.m. He immediately gives everything away to his sister because “it’s stupid.”
3:02 p.m. …and quickly takes half of it back because “it’s actually pretty cool.”
5:30-5:45 p.m. A flurry of questions concerning what time we will have to leave to get to church, how long church will last, how long the drive will last to get to Christmas dinner destination, will we eat or open presents first, if we will open presents all at once or one at a time, if he can open Christmas presents alone in a room instead of with everyone, how we will get all the Christmas presents back to our house, etc…etc…etc…etc…etc…
The Loathsome Hover Ball
8:30 p.m. Grayson is allowed to open one early present after asking a mere 50 kajillion times. He looks at the half-spherical soccer ball that lights up and gives the appearance of floating (that I THOUGHT he would enjoy), somehow manages to clench his entire face almost completely shut, throws the ball on the ground 3 times all while jumping up and down and raging about how stupid it is and crying hysterically. I’m simultaneously trying to hush the muffled laughter of four other children so things don’t entirely explode.
8:31 – 9:00 p.m. A series of going down to his room to cool off and coming back several times eventually ends in him agreeing to practice the CORRECT way of graciously opening a present that you don’t like and keeping unkind thoughts “in your brain,” to which he adds upon the conclusion of our practice session, that next time, he will wait until he’s calm to tell them that they didn’t pick out a good present. Sigh… I give him an “A” for effort (as I’m trying to keep the simultaneous exasperation and laughter “in my brain”).
9:02 p.m. …aaaannnddd he is fighting with his sister over who gets to play with the AWESOME soccer ball and trying to think of a good place to hide it where no one will be able to find it while he sleeps.
9:15 p.m. Grayson decides to move all of his presents down to his room so that he can open them alone in the dark in peace and quiet.
9:16 p.m. He decides that upstairs is actually better and returns them all to their spot under the tree.
9:45 p.m. He is sleeping!!! Husband and I giggle and plan next year’s holiday game – everyone has to act like Grayson when they open their worst present. Grayson opening “bad” presents is rapidly becoming an annual tradition that we have learned to find a certain amount of humor and endearment in.
9:50 p.m. Mom labels presents from #1-7, worst to best, so that he will know what to expect and wraps a jar of pickles to practice on in the morning.
5:33 a.m. I am awakened to thunderous footsteps tearing through the house and a breathless child excitedly telling me that he opened another present but don’t worry it was an electric toothbrush that clearly wasn’t for him because it was dumb (it was for him). I tell him I don’t care if he opens all of his presents. I want to sleep. Leave me alone.
5:34 a.m. He is back to tell me that he won’t open any more presents and maybe I should hide them…just in case. I tell him in the most patient words I can muster to get out and never come back.
5:35 a.m. He’s back again. He wants to know what he should do with the toothbrush. I’m getting up as I can see that this sleeping thing is clearly not going to work for me.
5:36 a.m. I’m stumbling (literally) to get coffee and explain my disappointment… “I like to watch you open presents…Daddy isn’t even here…I’m going to have to keep all your presents in my room so you don’t do this again.” Grayson looks at me with his eyes filling up with tears, his chin starting to quiver and explains to me in a cracking voice, “I just wanted to practice so I could do a better job at opening my presents.”
5:37 a.m. All of my irritability and sleepiness drain through a single tear trailing down my cheek. I shut my mouth and stop explaining and start listening. As hard as it is for me, it’s harder for him. I hug him and tell him, “Good job. I’m proud of you.” Thank God for my early Christmas gift – a dose of humility and a reminder to slow down and sit with him in his world.
To my new friend…and for anyone else who is struggling to feel that they are “enough…”
I can see you have a hard time recognizing the beautiful person you are and all of the wonderful things that you do.I shared that until you are able to see for yourself how amazing you are, you would have to learn to trust those who best know you.I realize that I just met you and don’t yet qualify for that role. But I have been where you are and my heart hurts because I understand how you feel.
You approached me because of our shared struggle in raising special needs kids.My impression of you right off was that you live with gratitude (you didn’t have to come up to me to say thank you), and you are courageous (for being vulnerable with someone you just met).I quickly realized that you are exceptionally amazing because you willingly chose to bring two struggling children (that are not yours by birth) into your practically empty-nest home.I don’t know if you recognize the magnitude of this choice.It doesn’t matter if you have been scared or have second guessed yourself…you willingly exchanged your life for theirs and there is no greater love than this.
And forgive me, but I Facebook stalked you tonight.I looked at your pictures and I didn’t see irritability or failure or anything else that you mentioned.What I did see was a strong woman fighting to give two children a normal life; children that would have otherwise been lost to the proverbial system.I saw two children living in a house surrounded with beautifully tended flowers and attending church in a loving community.I saw birthday parties, extravagant school projects, Halloween costumes…all things that these children would never know without you.I saw your beautiful smile in many pictures.How many forgotten children never receive a genuine smile?Do you realize what normalcy, consistency and safety you are giving to these kids?
Of course I know that there is more to meet the eye than what is portrayed on social media.I know that you rage and cry and scream and want to drive off in your car and never look back.But I also know WHY you feel this way.It is NOT because of who YOU are.It is because of the situation you are in and the ways you are being stretched and pushed beyond your capacity.You are strong day in and day out.You can’t even truly rest while you sleep because of the dreams and nightmares.You are trying to love two children as your own, even though you missed out on the essential bonding years of infancy.Not only that, but you work full time!!In my book, this certainly qualifies you for some kind of major award!
I can see that you truly want the best for these kids.You really love them.But I can also see that you’re tired, you’re depleted and you’re running on fumes.You are human and you have a limited amount of time and energy.So you have to, for everyone’s sake, eliminate all the needless junk in your life.By this, I mean get rid of the self-imposed guilt.Expel the hovering, vicious thoughts telling you that you’re failing.And especially, eliminate (as you are able) all of the self-doubt that pushes you to believe that you’re not good enough, patient enough, loving enough, whatever enough.You are you and that is enough.At the end of every day you are empty.This is because you have given everything so that they might want for nothing .It will never feel like enough because they are bottomless pits at this point (regarding their neediness).But with time, maybe their special needs will be less because of the backbreaking work you are putting forth now.
Above all, try to look at yourself and everything around you with soft eyes.Pursue beauty and that which feeds your soul.Your face lit up when you talked about books…maybe you could make yourself a cozy reading niche? Perhaps gardening or photography are undiscovered talents? Regardless, figure out how to love, cherish, and respect yourself. It is not selfish…it is survival. Celebrate the small things, turn your morning coffee into a sacred ritual. Give yourself permission to sit and do nothing without judgment. Fight for joy and pray for the eyes to see light and beauty.
And though I don’t know you well, know that I love you. We are connected through our struggles and sufferings and I understand. I understand that you sometimes feel trapped in your own life. I recognize that you constantly feel as if you are on the verge of a mental breakdown and I am all too acutely aware of the guilt that has become your constant unwanted companion. But I also see that you are strong enough. You will have to work hard at resting, strive to surround yourself with love, and be a continual advocate for yourself and your family. But I know that you can do it. Hang in there and believe me when I say that you are amazing. Good strength!