“The Birds”

*This is a guest post written by my eight year old son, Asher. I sat across the table from him this morning as he gripped his pencil tightly and excitedly wrote and wrote these words down. I felt my eyes well up and my mama heart nearly explode with joy and pride as he passionately filled his page. Please leave any comments you have and I will happily share with him.

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The birds have colors that are mixed together like yellow and orange. Mixed it makes beautiful. The colors make you feel relaxed. Have you wished to fly? I have wished if I could fly. Soaring through the air, the wind up in the sky is soft. And the birds make a great song. It calms you down. It makes you come outside. It is high.

We have a big window and tons of birds come to the window to get some seeds and sugar water. My favorite bird is the hummingbird. It is one of the coolest birds to me. It has beautiful colors like red, orange, yellow together. One time, my mom had one fly so close to her.

The hummingbird could hover. I think that it is cooler that it could fly upside down. But keep bees away from hummingbirds because if a bee stung a hummingbird, it would die. So keep bees away from hummingbirds. One time, a dog saw a hummingbird on the sidewalk. The dog wouldn’t let his owner go so the owner picked up the hummingbird and took the hummingbird home. They found out the hummingbird was alive but he wanted the hummingbird to stay. He feeded the hummingbird sugar water. He trained the hummingbird. I was so amazed. I could watch it again.

When we saw hummingbirds, we would call them super heroes like Flash and Green Lantern and Batman and Robin. We called them those names because they had red and yellow for Flash and green for Green Lantern. Black for Batman.

DSC09510My second favorite is the cardinal. It has light red and black. It is funny that some male cardinals have mohawks. I think it makes them look cool. Some of them have black spots on them. My favorite colors are red and blue. Red and black are cool mixed together.

The blue jay is light blue with some white and some black. It has a cool beak. It has black close to its eyeballs. It looks like it has pretty scales on its wings. It has cool designs. The white with the blue looks beautiful.

I have seen a ton of birds in my life. Some are blue, red, green, yellow, pink, purple and a ton of colors that are beautiful. One of the hummingbirds has light colors. How hummingbirds got their name is because when you listen closely, you hear a humming sound.

Some woodpeckers sometimes peck on our house. Do you know why? Because they get worms out of trees. Have you went on a trail? You see tons of birds and you hear tons of sounds. But when it becomes winter, all of the birds have to go because they can’t survive in winter. Its too cold. But in a couple months, they’re back and maybe you see the same ones!

 

I’m sorry, Brownies

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I’ve learned that when the hummingbirds migrate for the winter, brownies are my best friend. You know the Ghiradelli kind, of course, the ones with triple chocolate chips. They are unlike any other. Warm. Gooey. Messy in all the right ways. But lately, I feel I like I purposely lost my half to our best friends necklace. I’m sorry, Brownies. We have to friend break up because I learned that I have an amoeba infection. Apparently, the microscopic amoeba bastards like sugar. A lot. It appears that I have been providing them with the perfect environment for an orgy of sorts. They have been getting it on like rabbits. Or amoeba, I suppose. I don’t want my body to be a fancy vacation rental home for amoeba whose credit card is declined. I don’t want the pain of cramping, the annoyingness of diarrhea, sleeplessness and fatigue that amoeba tend to carry in their duffel bags.

So, I have now been eating a no sugar diet for ten days. I think. It’s not like I am counting the days or remembering every dessert that I have had to no longer leave room for in my belly. You see, for a girl like me, dinner has always been the home-town opening act of sorts. And well, dessert has always been the headliner. My Justin Timberlake.

Ever since I was a kid, my brain focused on one thing. “Must. Get. Dessert.” Do whatever you must do to get dessert. I would sneak food in my pockets, under my napkins, in my mouth (to go spit out in the toilet) and so on. One time, I remember cramming some food under the coffee mug at a Cracker Barrel restaurant on a family road trip because, “if you don’t eat your dinner, you don’t get dessert.” I should probably write an apology letter, decades later, to the waitress who had to clean that up. But, did I get dessert? You bet.

There are only a few sugary things I have missed out on this past ten days. Most of which, I have strangely chosen to make from scratch for my family. Similar to the weird and addicting trend to watch somebody play with toys on Youtube, I have found some amount of comfort in watching others eat sugary foods. I am also pretty competitive so I have inner dialogue with the amoeba folk. “You think I can’t make chocolate chip cookies without eating one? You’re on, amoeba bitches.”

Then, I show them who is boss. Self control, I need you now tonight. And I need you more than ever. Once upon a time I was falling in love, now I’m only falling apart.

There’s nothing I can do. It’s a total eclipse of the heart.

It’s me. Not them. I’m in charge. It’s my body. And my body belongs to me. The party is over, sugar addicts.

I thought I should jot down my sugar diary lodged in my memory into a bullet format:

  • I have baked brownies which is my go-to dessert move. But this next one was new, I made homemade caramel sauce for said brownies. Then, I scooped ice cream. Brownie sundaes. Duh.
  • A few days later, I made chocolate chip cookies. Holy hell. Do you know how hard it is to NOT taste-test the batter? Thank goodness, my five year old could do it for me. I should have YouTubed it.
  • To celebrate Mardi Gras, I made two cinnamon King cakes. We had friends over so there could be an even bigger crowd for me to watch eat the cake. Maybe I have a problem.
  • Later in the week, I thought we should use those free Lamar’s donuts coupons. And I may be in withdrawal and hearing things due to the lack of sugar, but I am pretty sure I heard several of my favorite donuts crying behind the glass. I turned my back on them.
  • Oh man, at a family birthday party, I even had the self control to skip out on my mom’s homemade strawberry cake with it’s best friend in tow, Costco vanilla ice cream.
  • Typically, when I pick up laundry in my boys’ rooms, I usually snag a piece or two of their candy (don’t get all judgey. It’s kind of like I imagine them giving me a tip in candy form for doing their laundry. “Thanks Mom, for picking up those clothes right next to the hamper. Here’s a snack size twix bar.”) I haven’t eaten any of their candy. In ten days. Doing laundry really sucks now. Maybe my husband will accidentally leave a five dollar bill in his jeans pocket. A girl can dream.
  • Enough of these bullets. This is getting more sad than I intended.

The point is, if I must have one, that it’s really hard to change behavior, make sacrifices, stand out or do things differently. It’s challenging to alter the way we think, feel and act. Eating is a huge part of our lives. Physically. Emotionally. Socially. Spritually. We plan our next meal, think about food, indulge in food and perhaps, as I have learned about myself, over-indulge in food. I have had my momentary pity parties, but for the most part, I have kept a great attitude because I truly feel better. Just don’t tell Brownies yet. It has helped tremendously that I have a supportive husband and sweet kids to cheer me on. Stevia, (the only sugar substitute I have approval to use) has not helped. That stuff is just nasty. I will take my coffee black, thank you very much.

When my 21 days of eating and drinking a no sugar diet are done, I hope to stay in tune and conscious of my sugar intake because I think it’s a healthy practice for my body, mind and soul.

In breaking fickle best friend news, my current new best friend is Bengal Spice tea. Celestial Seasonings doesn’t play around when they make their tea. They must have people on sugar-free diets in mind. All the flavor, no sugar. No caffeine either. Say what? Get ya some.

Shattered. The healing place.

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I will meet you at the place. The place where it hurts.

I will meet you in your pain. I will hold you through your grief.

I will meet you in the place where your dreams shattered off the wall.

I will join you in your tears. I will drop my hand gently on your back when you’re sobbing. When you’re curled up into a ball with your back turned away from the world.

I get it. I understand. The rest of the world should be crying too.

I will journey to that place with you.

The hurting place.

That place where I have been before.

I know the way.

I don’t need a map.

I see you. Your eyes. I hear you. The words you don’t have to say. I feel you. Your pain. The after shock.

I recognize your broken eyes. I can sense your empty, crowded brain.

I can help you take a breath.

I can tightly hold your hand.

I can hug your shaking body.

I can sit up against the wall with you.

If you only will let me in.

I’ve been to the hurting place many times before.

I know it can be an awful, lonely and scary place especially if no one ever comes to knock on the door.

Let me help you. Hold you. Hear you.

Let me in.

When you’re ready, I will lift you up. We can take one step and then another. Or we can stop and take a break.

I will be with you. You don’t have to look up. Yet. You will know that I’m there. We can journey to the healing place.

I’ve been there before too.

I will show you the different paths that I have tried.

Maybe you will see a different way. We can journey together.

Next to each other.

We will make it to the healing place.

Undressed Emotions

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I guess I will get my emotions dressed up for you. You seem to handle them better with make-up on. All nice and pretty and seemingly unaffected by the storm of life happening around me. I don’t like to pretend but I can’t handle the pain of my feelings being used against me. So, I will disguise them in humor or unrealistic optimism and perhaps a bit of exhausted joy just for you. Then, you will feel better about me. And my diseases.

Every day I wake up, in the middle of the night, like tonight, and I live my life with diseases that let their presence be known. Always. Every single day. I don’t forget that I have them. Ever. My body won’t let me and neither will my heart and mind. That’s the definition of chronic. But I make a conscious decision daily: I choose to rise above the pain, the frustrations, the inconveniences, and the disabilities. It’s an extremely delicate balancing act which is difficult because I’ve always been a bit clumsy. If I talk about it too much, I’m perceived as letting the disease control me or define me. If I don’t talk about it all, I’m somehow resilient yet I feel ashamed, dishonest and like I’m denying myself of tiny, yet powerful everyday kind-of luxuries that I grant to those whom I love. When I say luxuries, I mean vulnerability, compassion, grace, forgiveness and honesty.

Most days, if you looked in on my life, you would never know the burdens that I carry. Because I probably don’t want you to. I don’t want your pity, your hopeless looks or your unintentional alienation. I also don’t want to feel so damn different that I become the chameleon who is awkwardly late to adjust to her new surroundings. I know I’m different. But I also believe that, thankfully, we all are. There’s no possible way that nearly twenty years of chronic disease cannot impact your physical, mental and emotional well-being. It affects who you are, how you relate to others and all the ways that you live your life.

If I show you or tell you about a horrible experience or a day that will make you want to cry, it’s because I trust you to handle my disease in a dignifying way. Or perhaps I’m willing to sacrifice a bit of my pride or privacy in hopes that you will grow in your understanding, compassion or sensitivity to others around you. I’m not trying to gain attention to boost my ego. But is it helpful when people who I value encourage me? Yes. Especially in the moments when I’ve been wounded so deeply that I’m tempted to never speak of this disease again.

I will pull myself back up again and remind myself that oftentimes I speak for a group whose voice has been muffled or lost or ignored. Or misunderstood.

I will write for the mothers who are too damn tired because I have strength in this moment. I will write for the daughters who are scared and hopeless and feel excluded. I will write for the boys and men who have been told they should keep fighting yet that they’re not supposed to cry. I will write for anybody who has ever been momentarily bullied by life. I will write for all those who feel the shivering, aching presence of grief. I will always write because the light, the good, and the extraordinary capabilities of the human spirit triumph all of the shit. Time and time again.

Life is rarely a bowl full of cherries but that doesn’t mean that it still can’t be something pretty great.

I guess I have changed my mind. And my heart. Again.

I will not dress up my emotions and feelings to make them prettier or easier for you to handle. They are real. Raw. Truthful. Difficult. They are joyful. They are powerful. And they are practically impossible to conceal. I spent many years pretending and hiding and being truly myself to only a handful of people. Fear had a tight grip on my shoulders. I didn’t fully trust God’s beautiful awesome power to use the bad to cast a spotlight on the good. Thankfully, I have adapted and evolved over the past twenty years. God continues to perfectly place people in my life who fill me and strengthen my soul with hope.

The beautiful, rare and unexpected gifts that accompany pain and chronic illness will always loosen the ever-present restraints. I breathe easier with an adjusted perspective, overwhelming gratefulness, a heightened awareness of mortality, and the undeniable presence of being surrounded by unconditional love. Thank God for the camouflaged gifts and for all of those who graciously give my heart more space to grow through it all.

 

RIP “Rocky” the dead sidewalk squirrel

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Sometimes I write deep and plain sad shit. I know it. Whew. Then I feel like I need to write something funny. I actually have a blank blog post titled “Something Funny.” Tonight, I thought I could either do a birth announcement for one of my kidney stones or write about a dead sidewalk squirrel. Since I didn’t want Jesus to feel like my kidney stone was anywhere near as important as his upcoming birthday, and also Shutterfly is not running any specials on kidney stone birth announcements, I’ve decided to go with the dead rodent piece.

If I’m honest, I will admit to having had a bit of remorse for weeks about not writing an obituary and failing to have a ceremony for this unnamed neighborhood squirrel. If it makes me seem less cruel, I have been more kind lately to squirrels stealing our bird feed. I look at them with love instead of disgust. I feel like I want them to know I didn’t kill Rocky. I feel like if they saw me shoving Rocky into that Saltines box, they may have gotten the wrong idea about me. By the way, I just named him “Rocky” for this piece of writing. Prior to writing this story, based on a true story, I referred to him or her as “the dead squirrel in the Saltines box.”

I picture Rocky as a happy, young and carefree squirrel. Although I never knew him in this way. I only knew him as a bit creepy and a lot dead but I would like to imagine him alive for a few paragraphs.

Oh, Rocky. I can just see him being a big show-off climbing to the highest branches of gigantic trees, shouting,

“Hey! Look at me!” as he jumped from tree branch to tree branch. Rocky probably loved hiding his nuts in all kinds of crazy places. His acorns. Sheesh. Come on. Maybe the other squirrels resented him or absolutely adored him. Perhaps a bit of both.

The one thing that I think I know is that Rocky had one of those crazy awesome imaginations. Well, let’s face it, his creativity basically stemmed from the many hours he spent watching TV. He loved to sneak up to houses and peek in their windows. He pretended like he was looking for his nuts but he wasn’t. He always knew where his nuts were. Rocky absolutely loved watching TV. You would think Rocky liked funny shows like “Modern Family” or “Seinfeld” but he really gravatated towards the laughing, then tear jerking dramas. He liked to laugh, but he also loved a good cry. When “Parenthood” ended, Rocky didn’t come out of his tree for a few days. He was starting to get into “This is Us” before he died. Which is pretty sad in itself.

The night before he died, Rocky layed down on the highest branch of his favorite old Ash tree. Rocky always sprawled out on his belly and put his head in his tiny paws like he was laying on the floor watching TV. Every night to go to sleep, he would pretend he was watching a mini television set up in his tree and then he would doze off dreaming about where he hid his nuts and his favorite TV shows. Usually he would wake up in the morning when he heard the loud sound of the school bus’s engine flying down the hill. He thought the bus should probably slow down. Sometimes he even yelled, “HEY! Slow down, school bus!”

Something strange happened on the night Rocky died. The moon hit his eye like a big pizza pie. It’s like he had eaten a bad nut or something was in the air. He slept so hard that he fell right out of the tree, landing smack dab onto the ground beneath the tree, next to the sidewalk.

Tragically, he died on impact. (Sorry. The title warned you)

He rested on the cold ground. Dead but looking rather alive. Eerily alive.

My boys and I walk to school. Most times, we run to school. Because, well, we are always running late. One of my sons was running out in front. My other son and I chased him down the hill.

All of the sudden, the son in front stopped.

“MOM! Look. A squirrel.” (It was Rocky)

We made it to Rocky’s tree and looked down.

“Oh, no. He’s not moving. I think he’s dead.” I said. Although, he did look like he was happily watching cartoons on his belly. Or tear-jerking family dramas.

“That’s so sad,” he said.

“It is really sad. Poor squirrel. We will have to bury him.” Why did I say that, I immediately thought. We have a guinea pig cemetary in our backyard. What’s another rodent tombstone, right?

“Come on, guys, we gotta get to school!” I said.

I dropped my boys off at school, but I dreaded walking back up the hill. I hoped that maybe Rocky was a sick jokester and wanted to scare a lot of kids on their walks to school. It turns out he wasn’t or maybe he was. Not that day. He was dead.

I thought, “Surely the people who live in the house by Rocky’s tree will properly remove him and bury him or cremate him. Or maybe Viking funeral him.”

One time, I almost removed a dead opossum from the sidewalk far away from our house because it looked awfully sad and made my kids pretty sad, too. It’s not that I want to quickly remove or ignore or not grieve dead animals on sidewalks but it seems wrong walking past them time and time again. The problem is I scream a lot or squeal and my muscles tighten up and I freak myself out. I feel dead animals move or I trick myself into feeling dead animals move. Or strangely, I’m afraid other animals may be watching me remove the dead animal and they may think I killed the animal.

I didn’t want to have to remove Rocky from the sidewalk and put him into a Saltines box but my conscience told me it was the right thing to do.

Long story short, I got the courage up to get him into the Saltines box with some sticks and a bag and I threw some acorns on top of him. I’m not sure if that’s cruel or not. I felt awful putting him in our trash can but the ground was frozen. I didn’t know if guinea pigs and squirrels got along.

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As it turns out that night, after removing Rocky, I had to do a bowel prep. I had to drink Go Lytely which some real sarcastic asshole named. It does not make you go lightly, and it tastes like an awful combination between another person’s sweat and straight-up-make-you-wanna vomit ingredient. I encouraged myself to keep drinking by reminding myself that I do hard things. Like remove dead squirrels from the sidewalk.

Did the nurse need to tell me that I didn’t need to do the bowel prep the next day? Probably not. Did the spirit of Rocky and Mother Teresa help me get the prep down? Most likely, yes.

RIP “Rocky” the dead sidewalk squirrel. I’m really sorry about your fall. But congrats on living life to the fullest.

P.S. A deeper life lesson from Rocky: You must first acknowledge the dead squirrel on the sidewalk. It’s really there. It exists. Quit walking past it. Or ignoring it. Breathe deeply, now deal with it. Build up the courage up to do something about it.

P.S.S. Did you know that they have black squirrels in Canada? I was a but obsessed with getting some video footage. I will try to upload since you probably care.

Nobody Understands Land

It’s a dark and lonely land. You don’t go there often because you know that not much good comes out of even a brief visit there. It’s totally quiet in the house. After bedtime. Outside your window, you can hear the crickets and locusts talking nonstop to the moon but that’s about all.

It’s nighttime.

You’ve somehow managed to make it through another day, but you’re so tired. More like exhausted. You desperately need rest. You crave sleep because your body keeps borrowing calories from itself to fight the diseases. Your diseases.

You let yourself think about it momentarily. Living with chronic illness. Even when the physical symptoms subside, the emotional and mental drain persist. The disabilities you think you disguise so well in attempts to not gain pity or unsolicited attention, worry or that look in another’s eyes.

But tonight, you let go. You give yourself the freedom to temporarily think about all of the hardships. The many ways your life is different, more difficult. How even now in the dark, by yourself, you’re afraid to take the deep breaths that you need because you may start coughing. Damn lungs. Then, your guts will ache. Damn guts.

Your sad late night thinking helps you catch the red-eye flight. Destination: “Nobody Understands Land.” You’re on the plane. Without flight attendants. All alone.

You arrive.

Hello, there.

Welcome to “Nobody Understands Land.”

Only nobody is there to greet you. It does not feel like an all-inclusive vacation. Or a romantic get-away. It feels cold. Empty. Desolate. It feels like you’re standing in an uncomfortable place. A place where your thoughts and feelings chose to go. But strangely, your weary body knew better. You don’t have a jacket. Big surprise: all of your luggage got lost.

Everyone you were traveling with must have hopped on a different plane. A plane that you could have caught a long time ago before your life changed forever. Before you got sick.

Your life is different now. From all of theirs.

Tonight, you’re right. Nobody understands the pain of living with the daily physical reminders of your fragility. Your broken guts. Your struggling lungs. Your twisting kidneys. And all of the other parts that ache or quietly whimper. Nobody could possibly understand the isolation associated with the millions of different directions your diseased thoughts can go.

Yet, somehow their favorite guilty pleasure and escape is, “Nobody Understands Land.”

Only, it feels hopeless there. It should never be a final stop. A brief lay-over might be okay. A place to sit for a moment. “Alonely,” as one of your boys might say. You stop, sit down. You think and think until you feel a tapping on your shoulder. That nudging. Oh. God interrupts you, picks you up and carries you to catch your flight back home. As you’re in God’s arms, you look around. Ahhhh. You see. It’s not empty. It’s not so dark anymore. There are others. Tons of others. All of them are looking down as they hold their heads in their hands. You can’t leave yet, you need them to know too. They are not so different. They are not all alone. You see them. You need them to see you too. You jump out of God’s arms to tell them that you understand. Because you do.

Every single time, He gets you out of “Nobody Understands Land.” Because it’s not true.

Somebody always understands. Somebody sits in the chair and aches right next to you. Perhaps a different physical hurt but somehow the same feeling. A universally understood hurt. Empathy can be real. There’s always someone somewhere who gets it. Someone who truly understands or wants to try and understand. Someone who feels your pain, recognizes the pain in your eyes and wants to take it all away. But since they cannot, they sit next to you. Holding your hand so you can feel their presence or so that they can feel yours.

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You are not alone. You never have been. You never will be.

Somebody always understands.

Thanksgiving Day Birds

imageMy rational thinking mind knows that it’s pretty selfish to assume that God sent hundreds of different kinds of birds to my backyard this morning. It felt like a beautiful gift. Just for me. Perhaps, He sent them to bring me hope or joy or to peck away at my grief or sorrows, my heartaches and hopelessness.

Despite my disbelieving mind, my spirit-filled heart completely trusts and believes in a God that hears my cries and hates for me to feel the heavy burden of grief, loss and heartache. I believe that He hates for me to be trapped in my feelings. Isolated. All alone. I believe He lifts my chin and helps me see the beauty, the freedom outside my window.

So, as I sat staring out my kitchen window in amazement and wonder at the sudden appearance of all of the Thanksgiving Day birds, my soul surrendered to the simplicity, the beauty, and the ease at which His tiny creatures fly from branch to feeder to fence post. I made eye contact with one of my favorites, the yellow finch, “my Grandma bird,” whose feathers have transformed to accommodate the next dreary season. No longer the striking, bright yellow summer feathers. I sat close enough, only a few feet way, separated by glass. I could barely see the pale yellow neck feathers hidden beneath the new tree trunk-brown winter feathers.

In moments like these, I feel my Grandma and I miss her in an indescribable way. I want to be in her presence. I want to hear her voice. I want to feel like everything is going to be okay. I don’t know that she understood the secret gentle power she possessed. The ability to heal my aching heart.

She had this instinctual ability to relate to me on a level that few can. I miss her honesty. I miss her openness with her feelings, the joyful and sad, painful-to-hear ones and all of the complicated ones in between. I miss the little things, like sitting next to her and filling her cup up with fresh iced water. I miss watching my boys run down the hall to swing open her door and surprise her. I miss her sweet voice telling me some powerfully encouraging words. I miss hugging her and telling her, “I love you, Grandma.” I miss her habitual response, “I know you do. I love you, too.”

Holidays are typically supposed to be happy times but they can be so hard when you’re missing a person. They can serve as a painful reminder that someone who was always around is not here anymore. Just gone. The robins, blue jays, yellow finch, doves, cardinals, and all the other birds flying around today reminded me of my Grandma. I like to think of her as strong and totally freed from pain. I like to think of her. I’m grateful that the zipping crowds of birds outside my window helped remind me of her and her never ending love.