Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Top 10 Reason the Titus 2:1 Conference Changed My Life

You know the feeling. You come home from a conference all aglow – energized and enthusiastic with all you've learned and the friends you made. As the weeks and days wear on, 'real life' gradually snuffs out the glow leaving you to wonder what happened to all that enthusiasm. It was a good thing while it lasted. It just didn't last forever. Sigh.

In April of this year, I opted into Titus 2:1 not knowing what to expect. I'd been to a writers conference but had never even heard of a bloggers conference. At the last minute, I jumped on board. Seven months later, I shudder to think how close I came to missing this life altering opportunity.

Not only am I still awash in the glow of the experience, I've already signed up for next year's event. Wanna know why you should join me? I can think of about ten good reasons!

1) T-eaching: The faculty consisted of homeschoolers who blog. Conferees were free to pick and choose sessions about homeschooling and/or blogging. Session content was both practical and actionable.

2) I-nspiration: Experts in both ventures including Rachel Carmen, Christine Young, Kendra Fletcher, and Heidi St. John spoke to the issues that concern each of us as homeschooling moms.

Courtesy and in Loving Memory of Christina Jones Hooker
3) T-actics: Both homeschool moms and homeschool moms who blog look for and appreciate strategies to improve productivity and efficiency. 2:1 faculty spoke to these needs in encouraging and inspirational ways.

4) U-nderstanding: I found my peeps, and they get me. In the months since the conference, relationship building has been ongoing. I have continued to make new friends through the alumni group and cement friendships begun during the conference. I am 'at home' as a blogger and as a homeschooler in the company of this community.

5) S-upport: The 2:1 community offers ongoing support after the conference is over. Got a homeschooling concern, express it. Got a blogging question, ask it. In seven months, I have been amazed at how quickly this community responds to each other in helpful and instructive ways.
Courtesy A. Hughes

6) T-echnical expertise: Again, whether the questions and concerns have been about blogging or homeschooling, this community has been a wealth of consistent support and information. If anything, the community has grown more vibrant as the months have passed.
8) O-ptimism: You know me. I'm a fraidy cat. This community has challenged me to try new blogging ventures like (gasp) photo-editing and HTML. When I despair, they keep coaxing me along, even via phone tutoring sessions, until I have 'eureka' moments. They refuse to give up on me even when I have given up.

9) O-ften: I am in touch with the friends I made at 2:1 every day. We text. We inbox. We call. We have become IRL friends. During a recent personal crisis, they became part of the fabric of my life, my backbone. When I was able to see some of them at the October Allume Social Media conference, it felt like a family reunion.
Courtesy B. Creasy - 2010

10) N-oble: The goals of this community are trustworthy. Each of us wants to see the other succeed in our homeschooling and blogging efforts. We want to help equip each other and spur each other on to love and good deeds.

And now for the bonus you've been waiting for!

11) E-veryone who homeschools, especially those who blog, should take advantage of the 2:1 opportunity. I can promise you, you will come home knowing your life has been changed. 

(Today, I am happy to be part Top 10 Tuesday hosted by Many Little Blessings!)

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Saturday Song and Sight for Sore Eyes

Are you feeling as though the darkness around you is so dark that even God cannot find you? 

Not a chance. Know how I know? 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

River of Tears

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative

I jabbed the radio button letting the soulful Latin strains swell up and around me until the music became a magic carpet. I didn't understand a word of what I heard, but it didn't matter. I floated up and away till I was weightless. The relief was unexpected, welcome, and shocking.

More and more in the last few weeks, I sought this same refuge. At first, I was afraid to trust my magic carpet of escape. This time I sighed a ragged sigh of emerging trust and let myself be washed away.

I felt like a fern unwinding from the tight furl of infancy. I let myself float above the storm that consumed me. I tried to remember when I had not been holding on to rigging for dear life.

From the safety of my magic carpet, I looked below. I saw a river of tears, twenty-three years in the making, stretching out behind me. I could feel those tears pushing me along into a future I could not see. The current had been subtle and quiet until the storm reached a final frenzy. Then, the current erupted into an irresistible force.

May 2012
Looking back, I could not explain how the current was born or why it became strong enough to spur me to act in ways I never imagined. I had been without a gyroscope so many times but always found my way. This time was different. This time the storm had ripped away the mast, rigging, and motor of my life along with the gyroscope.

The words began to rain down around me like scud missiles of the soul. The boom was deafening and soul-shattering. I had endured before. This time the words were almost fatal. "You! This is your fault! You started this. Now you finish it!" It was a gentle introduction compared to what would follow.

When it was done, nothing was left. Not even a hint of who I had always believed myself to be. I folded inward in the days afterward trying to match the me I was with the me I had been dubbed. What
was true? What was false? How to know the difference among the voice that echoed in my head.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
When the current began to build into an irresistible force, I reached for the two-year-old bottle of pain pills. Three cracks in one leg had not hurt nearly as much as a broken soul. I swallowed one and eased away on another kind of magic carpet. A few nights later, one pill became two. Before too long, I found myself reaching for a third.

I held it in my palm and wondered how long before two would fail to numb the pain. How far was the leap from one to ten magic pills, and when would I stick the landing with both feet planted fully in the land of addiction? I dropped the pill back into the bottle and went cold turkey waiting for sleep that would not come.

I ventured out into public with decreasing frequency. I was sure that if what I had been told about me was true, I should cloister myself to protect me from public ridicule and disdain. If those epitaphs were false, I could not remain where I was and survive. I was dying a slow death of the soul. Of that fact, I was sure.

Slowly, slowly I began to fight may way back. I told myself I was up to the task. I could make peace with where I was and where I was headed. Success lay in the ability to quiet the noise in my soul. Drown out that angry voice, and I would survive.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
If only it had been that simple. The storm would wax and wane but never wear itself out. Looking back at my river of tears, I count the cost of each one. Was it worth it? Will I ever know?

I thought of Lot's wife, turned to salt because she disobeyed the angel's warning not to look back at the life she was fleeing. She was fleeing to safety in advance of God's hand of wrath, and yet what she was leaving was too familiar, maybe too comfortable, to believe flight to safety was necessary. She looked back and was frozen in time – a pillar of salt.

Oh, I am not her and yet I understand being frozen in time. I understand looking back and wondering 'what if' and 'what now'. A future I never dreamed of looms ahead. It is ominous. I close my eyes and let the music carry me away. I tell myself the one who created me knew this day was coming. I tell myself he saw twenty-three years of tears.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
What about you fraidy cat? Has life become a river of tears with a past that drives you into a foreboding future? You don't have to say a word. You are welcome here. Walk with me? Come back again. I'll be here.

Psalm 56: 8 (The Message)You’ve kept track of my every toss and turn through the sleepless nights, each tear entered in your ledger, each ache written in your book.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The People in My Bucket – To Meet Before I Die

Courtesy L. Fleming

By the time bucket lists became popular, I was too close to the proverbial bucket to wanna think about making a list. My older son is still young enough to have grand hopes and dreams. He has walked on the Great Wall in China and flown in a hot air balloon over Australia. He makes a mamma proud. Son #2 is making his way into the big, wide world and is even more adventurous than his older brother was as a teen. I wonder who they got that from.

I'm passport avoidant. It comes with the fraidy cat territory. I get wanderlust a lot, but it involves little things: visiting New Mexico again, seeing the aurora borealis, going to the Gulf Coast. Pretty tame compared to some bucket lists.

It dawned on me today, that if I were to compile a bucket list, it would involve people more than places and activities. When I grow up, I want to spend my time asking people questions a la Katie Couric or Barbara Walters.

Yea, I guess that ship has sailed, hasn't it? But, a girl can dream. And since she can, here's my dream list of folks who fill my bucket.

Suitable For Entertaining
These are some of the folks with whom I'd love to share dinner and a leisurely, meandering conversation. When I think of the questions I could ask these folks, I'm about as giddy as I was when, as a fourth grader, I'd rush home from school to read both the morning paper and the evening paper. No such thing as too much information.

Terry Bradshaw – a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame who is one of the funniest guests Jay Leno books. I'd love to talk to him about faith and fame and ask what he'd choose if he got one 'do over' in life. 

Victoria Clarke – true confessions, I'm a C-Span nerd. She is former Asst. Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs from back in the Donald Rumsfeld era. Her pressers just fascinated me. I'd ask how her childhood and adolescence prepared her for the life she's led. I'd ask what's on her bucket list.

Sebastian Junger – author of The Perfect Storm and War because he ain't no fraidy cat as his travels and writings bear out. I'd ask who his personal hero is and why. 

Barbara Kingsolver and Olive Ann Burns – authors of my favorite books of all time, The Poisonwood Bible and Cold Sassy Tree, respectively. I'd hate to ask them boorish questions about their 'craft', so I think I'd just sit with them and people watch while brainstorming ideas for plot and character based on the action going on around us.

Robin Roberts – anchor of Good Morning America currently on medical leave after undergoing a bone marrow transplant. Our mammas were both church musicians and played the same hymns. Robin's mom passed away just before her recent transplant. My mom died two years ago after 50+ days on a vent. I think we'd just compare notes about moms.

Salman Rushdie – author of Joseph Anton. He survived a fatwa and, in the process of living to tell about it, maintained a wicked sense of humor. I'm not sure I could say anything because I'd be dumbstruck, but he does an amazing interview. I hope I could squeak out a question or two about how he maintained his sense of humor in the midst of adversity.

Meredith Vieira – former Today Show news anchor whose husband lives with a chronic illness. I'd ask her about her hardest interviews and if any one interview impacted her in a life-changing way. I'd also ask how she copes with the day to day realities of her husband challenges.

Bet you'd never have guessed in a million years the these folks fill up my bucket. Wonder what this list says about me? Whose on your bucket list of people, and what would your list reveal about you? Something to think about, now isn't it? Not that I'd be caught dead giving weekend homework. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

In the Company of Brokenness

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative

I have been here before, but the terrain is uncomfortable and unfamiliar. I have been the new girl. I have never been this new girl. I move on autopilot as if swept along by an invisible tide of humanity. In truth, only one or two stragglers are moving with me. One of them looks at me with a question in her eyes, “Do you know where you are heading?” 

We pause because she has guessed rightly. I do not know where I am headed. I am stunned that I am here. She points me in the direction of the visitor's center. I have practiced my next line for over a week: in the car running errands, in the mirror after brushing my teeth, and on and on it has gone. I have practiced as if the line will be the first spoken at the opening of a new Broadway show. In truth, my only goal is to complete it without collapsing into tears.

I loathe the moment those awkward words will slip from my lips. I anticipate the pained smile about to wash over the face of the kind one who is about to see me for who I am. When I ask, she will know that I am asking to join the company of brokenness. The greeter looks up and knows before I speak. I see it on her face just as she sees it on mine. She nods with wordless empathy as the words 'Divorce Care' seal her educated guess.

I am lucky. I get a two-for-one reaction. She hands me off to a runner who all but leads me by the hand to my destination. “I am so sorry.” What more can she say when she knows anything more would be insufficient still.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
I try to glide through the door knowing all eyes will turn to me – the new one who is starting six weeks out of sync. Disjointed thoughts chase me as I move forward. Shouldn't they issue passports upon entry, I wonder. I feel like a foreigner in a country whose language I do not speak. I am in a God-forsaken place.

Another face greets me with muttered words of solace. I smile and coo while trying to pretend I hear every word she says. I try even harder to pretend I care. The cacophony echoing in the room is enough to deafen me. They are in the company of friends. The camaraderie of pain has sealed them into a tight and cohesive group in six short weeks. I am the new girl who is starting late.

My pain will have to find a home among any cracks and crevices that remain as yet unsealed in the evolving group dynamics. I cannot catch up with my own life. How can I catch up with theirs and make it blend with mine? I am tired of being the new girl. Now I am the new girl in the land of brokenness staring into vacant space as stories begin to wash over me.

My mind wanders in and out of the room first replaying a scene in my own life and then flitting back into the present just in time to absorb a passing detail of the lives around me. It is not a dream. I am in the company of brokenness.

We are mostly me. Women who have launched or are launching children. I am stunned that we outnumber them – the young ones who are young and savvy and fit and lovely. If I saw them on the street, I would wish I were still young like them. I would wish I was them. I would have no clue that they were broken too.

Laughter startles me when it ripples across the room both often and with abandon. I try but fail to mask the startled jerks that overcome me every time the ripples rain down around me. At times I smile, but the smile does not hide my shock. I am ready for this, this season, to be over. Even in my shock I know it has only just begun.
Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative 

I look across at the face of the funny one who has mostly sparked the laughter. In my other life, I am her – the comic relief among my friends. I know her face and voice but not her story. Only after the class is over do I know why I know her. She reminds me of our common friends and our times spent together in the company of those friends.

She and others wish me well and invite me back. I wander out as the same trance that carried me in moves me back home. The words pour out of the quiet of my soul in search of my good God and his good plan. “Show me. Show me the next step and next. Lead me to that place where I can say, 'Jesus is too sweet for me not to trust him.' Do not tarry for I am faint of heart.”

If you or someone you know is facing divorce, click on this link: Divorce Care

Psalm 51: 17 (Amplified Bible)
My sacrifice [the sacrifice acceptable] to God is a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart [broken down with sorrow for sin and humbly and thoroughly penitent], such, O God, You will not despise.

Psalm 40:11 (Amplified Bible) Withhold not Your tender mercy from me, O Lord; let Your loving-kindness and Your truth continually preserve me! 

Friday, October 5, 2012

Dancing on Broken Glass

Courtesy D. Horocks
I wish I knew when walking on eggshells became dancing on broken glass. Looking back now, I can't tell you when one ended and the other began. I am sure of one thing. I am so weary I almost have to think, “Beat, heart, beat. Breathe, lungs, breathe,” to make sure both keep happening.

When my heart does beat, the thud resonates like the peal of a blacksmith's hammer on anvil. Is this what a broken heart feels like? I saw it on the news: broken hearts literally kill some women. I can understand why.

This thing that is happening to me, to us, is like some great flu taking me to the brink of emotional death. In the process, the physical exhaustion leaves me feeling like the victim of some fearful tropical disease. Sleep, even deep sleep, does not bring energetic enthusiasm with the dawn of day. I just keep doing the next thing and the next thinking I will eventually find that I've awakened out of a nightmare.

By permission and in loving memory of Christina Jones Hooker
When I wake up, I find that I am again in the midst of some tortuous replay of the day before. My own personal and inescapable version of the movie Groundhog's Day. In the process, life is dragging two sons along with me. Even though they are no longer little kids, they have begun to do what kids do.

They are taking their own inventories and seeking reassurance that they did not cause or hasten what is raining down around us. Tears fall. We sit together and pray. I say over and over, “You did not cause this separation nor did you hasten it. Let's be as calm, reassuring, and encouraging of each other as we can. Let's not let this sadness wash the rest of what we are away.”

How do you celebrate a milestone, a birthday, when 'we' are no longer 'us'? What will happen to us next month or next year? What will we do for money? The questions have begun to mount as the sons get brave enough to ask. I repeat what I repeated with daily regularity when we were homeless:

God wastes nothing in his economy. He is a good God with a good plan. He will redeem our loss in his good time.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
Inwardly, I grieve wondering if my words will be sufficient for any of us. There's school to do and chores to stay caught up on. There are decisions to make, activities to attend, and a new career to foster. I struggle against the tide of anger and frustration that over-washes us when we least expect the flood. After we are spent, I try to do the next thing despite the fatigue of brain, spirit, body, and soul.

I tell myself this new place is preferable over dancing on broken glass. When I am alone and it is safe, tears begin to fall. Early on, they are slow and quiet like the first spits of rain on a hot summer day. The soul-clouds holding back my agony reach the saturation point of no return. My sobs are thunderous and echo as if bouncing off mountain walls.

Did I give all I was to a cause that was lost from the beginning? Did I give up too soon? Should I have given up long ago and salvaged what I could? Who will I be when this mess is less a disaster scene and more a Superfund clean up site? Will my sons survive intact? Are they already broken beyond repair because of choices I made or did not make?

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
My thoughts meander through the terrain of Biblical truth with which I am so familiar. God hates divorce. His mercies are new every morning. He makes all things new again. He turns our mourning to dancing. He will give us a heart of flesh for a heart of stone. He knew my days before one of them was numbered. The words seem as foreign as they do familiar because I have never walked this way before.

I look for poetry in the pain. I seek consolation in the fellowship of Christ's sufferings. I tell my good God that I want to know him in the way that sets me free to say, “Jesus is too sweet for me not to trust him.” I am still that girl who wants to be his head cheerleader even after all these years and all this wrestling. 

And so tonight in the quiet of my waning tears, I whisper, “Even in this pain, I will trust in you. Give me strength to keep on walking and do so in such a way that others will see you when they see me.” 

Hello, fellow fraidy cat. Have you forgotten when walking on eggshells became dancing on broken glass? If you are walking a broken, lonely walk, I get your pain. You don't have to say a word. Just let me say, “You are always welcome here. Come back    again real soon and stay awhile?” 

Psalm 34: 18 (The Message)

If your heart is broken, you’ll find God right there; if you’re kicked in the gut, he’ll help you catch your breath.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Seven Things I Miss About Me

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative

I wonder who I am now. I have been defined for twenty-three years as wife and mother. Everything else about who I was flowed out of those two labels. Now that the 'd-word' bomb has exploded in my life, our lives, the future looks even more scary than it did when 'all' I faced as a rapidly approaching empty nest. I feel dizzy at the thought.

I have moments of calm clarity that crumble into bouts of breath-taking apprehension. I wonder how I ended up where I am given all I did not to be here. I wonder who I used to be. I wonder who I will be and if I ever will be again.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
I realize that much of what I have been through has made me who I am now. Those same events have robbed me of who I am as well. Is that the ultimate contradiction? I compare these two statements and my breath begins to come in raggedy gasps until I wonder if I need a peremptory 80mg dose of Aspirin.

I practice my anti-anxiety attack strategies until my heart is not on the blacksmith's anvil anymore. Then, I wonder what happened to the me I used to be? I squint and will back the curtain of time straining to remember what it was that made me simply 'me' before I was complicated 'us'.

I used to do beautiful embroidery – cross-stitch and crewel and another needle art whose name I can't even remember now. That's how much of me is lost. The last time I completed a piece, it was rejected because it was imperfect. I put my soul into the project. While the shirt still hangs ignored in the closet, that part of my soul did not survive rejection. 

I used to make baskets. I loved the rhythmic motions of the ins and outs of twining reeds until something that had never existed rested on the table before me. I wonder how I let that slip away too? What made me think  giving up all that made me who I was would placate anyone for any length of time?

I wanted to paint. Not walls out of necessity but folk art kinds of projects. Once when it seemed safe to do so, I slipped away and took a three hour class. As I had come to expect, I returned to a home in chaos. I learned to make myself content with a trip to the grocery store and let the dreams of art slip away. 

I miss the sound and feel of handbells. I know it is too froo-froo and too high church for most folks these days. But, oh, there is nothing like holding those bells and waiting till it is your turn to join in and help make the magic happen.

I miss the sound of my music coming from piano keys. I take consolation in hearing one son play the bass guitar and the other play the piano and keyboards. In the still and quiet of the late night when I am here all alone, I wonder what it would be like if I could still play with abandon.

I used to love to read. Anxiety induced ADD makes it hard to read more than what I write. I tell myself I will read again as stress ebbs farther and farther away. I tell myself.

I miss the me that used to believe in me. Little by little she was whittled away as I tried to cope with and hold back the tide that always threatened to wash us away. We did not survive, and I gave up all I was for naught. Was it worth the fight? I guess time will tell.

The night has become the early morning. Before I am ready, I will begin again and hope I get today 'more right' than I got yesterday. I will breath deeply and tell myself this stress is better than the old ones. I will tell myself that the new horizon I am walking toward will be a calmer one. If I look hard enough, I am hoping I will see the old me waiting up ahead. Waiting for me to catch up with her before it is too late. I wonder if she missed me as much as I've missed her.

Psalm 71: 20 (NLT)
You have allowed me to suffer much hardship, but you will restore me to life again and lift me up from the depths of the earth.