At Least

I woke up before my alarm normally sounded.  UGH.  Really?!  The one day I didn’t have to hustle or help little ones, and I couldn’t sleep in.  I flipped back the duvet and stiffly stood up.  Might as well take advantage of the freedom, I thought, and decided to go for a run on the river trail.

I dressed in my brightest clothes to match my mood.  Playlist pumping.  Pine trees towering.  Sunlight reflecting.  My steps were light.  My lungs full.

And then I saw something out of the corner of my eye.  It was so faint, I had to focus.  Then, there was more.  Is that…??  NO.  It couldn’t be.  It was the middle of May and the forecast said mostly sunny.

Snow.

I stopped for a photo; the snowflakes floating and fluttering in the sunshine.  It was exactly like living inside a Snow Globe.  Tiny people with rosy cheeks.  Optimistic music.  Joy contained.

Seconds later, I looked behind me.

Dark, ominous clouds were pushing their way into my idyllic world.  Worse, I wasn’t even halfway around the loop.  My pace quickened as the sun was swallowed up by the clouds.  The wind stinging.  The snow turning sideways.

CRAP.  What if I get stuck in this storm?  Or my phone/GPS freezes and I can’t find my way home?  Or what if I get hurt and no one is around to help me??

Shoving my fears aside, I leaned into the calloused weather.  As I did, it hit me: at least it wasn’t raining.  It could be worse!  I slowed to a walk, looked up, and tried catching snowflakes in my mouth.  (As you do.  When you’re, say, six.  Or crazy.)

I laughed at the comedy of it all.  Being stuck in a snowstorm and feeling grateful?!  It’s the idea that anything/everything is relative.  And by comparing your situation to something worse, you feel, in a strange way, better.

It reminded me of something that Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, said in an interview with Krista Tippett.  Sandberg, who lost her husband in 2015, said “you would think that when you’re trying to find a way forward, you want to think about happy thoughts, but actually, what you want to do is find gratitude, gratitude for what’s left. And one way of doing that is to think about how things could be worse. And that really did work, because the minute I thought about the fact that I’m lucky to still have my children alive, what I found was gratitude. Thank god my children are alive. And I can raise them, and I can raise them to know who their father was, who their father would’ve wanted them to be.”

Beautiful, isn’t it?

Also, in direct contradiction to Brené Brown’s advice on empathy.  And while I agree with Brown that hearing someone else say “At least __________ ” about your own situation undermines your experience and invalidates your feelings, there is something healing when you’re the one saying it about your own life.  There, in the reframing, is relief.  Peace spread softly over the sorrow.

The awareness that things-could-be-worse makes you feel better.  So much better.

Family, redefined.

“The _________ family is coming.  And so are the _____________’s.  Oh, and… Erin and her kids.” The words came out awkward and trailing.  As if she said it quickly/softly enough, no one would notice the difference.  But, I did.

She didn’t say family.  She left out the line, “the Hecker family.”

The absence was obvious.  A Freudian slip, maybe?  A subconscious statement?  Or a social affirmation of what family is?

I remember the first day that I didn’t wear my wedding ring.  I was in Kansas, visiting family and escaping the pain.  I went because I didn’t know where else to go.  What else to do.  I had always believed in marriage.  I wanted it to last, to grow old.  I wanted to relish in old memories and inside jokes.  And not in a fluffy, meringue kind of way.  I wanted it to work in the hardest of ways.

But marriage takes two.  Two people who both choose each other.

At least a good marriage.  (I know a few marriages that look less like love/companionship and more like obligation and tiredness.)  And sometimes, marriage is better off left alone.  After years of keeping it on life-support, it’s time to let it slip away.  The hope of it waking up from its coma transforms into an acceptance that it’s okay to say good-bye.

I took off my ring.  I chose divorce.  For me.  For my kids.

I was ashamed at first.  I felt the eyes of judgement.  Worse, I heard the words of judgement.  People, particularly Christians, felt the need to condemn me.  Or, the need to convince me that I was making the biggest mistake of my life.

I still chose divorce.

I still do.

And I didn’t choose it lightly.  Just because marriage is hard, doesn’t make divorce easy.

But now I don’t fit the mold.  Especially, the Hobby-Lobby-framed-Christian mold.  My kids are shuffled between households and expectations.  They have two churches and celebrate double holidays.  They have to keep the peace between their parents who couldn’t.  Instead of being a part of one family, they now have two.

Do we look like a typical family?  Two parents, two kids, one dog, a white-picket fence?  No.  But, we are still a family.  We. Are. Still. Family.

And while the divorce signaled the end of one thing.  It’s also the beginning of another.  A new life.  A new chapter.  A family, redefined.

What Wasn’t

I set the table, placed the candles in a stack of pancakes, began singing, and started recording.

It should have been simple.  It should have been like any other birthday breakfast.  Happy.  Smiling.  Sugary.  Sweet.  But what should have been, wasn’t.

Half-way through my serenade, Duke realized that his sister wasn’t singing.  “Eloise!  Sing!” he demanded.

“My voice… I can’t,” she croaked while pointing to her throat.

“Yes, you can!  SING!!” His desperation became obvious as tears welled up in his eyes.

I put down the camera and tried to salvage the situation.  “Let’s do it again.  Eloise, please sing.”  I started slowly, “Haaaaaaapy Biiiiiiirthday…” waiting for her to join in.  But, she just sat there.

“I forgot the words,” she offered coyly.

Duke, by now, was in a full blown melt-down.  Sobbing.  Begging her to sing.  Reminding her that he sang on her birthday.  The candles still lit.  The wax melting.  Pancakes wilting.

By the third try, Eloise – deadpan and dramatic – sang along while Duke stood grim-faced and frustrated.  He blew out the now-stubby-candles.  I cheered and Eloise fled to her room, crying.

It was everything that shouldn’t have happened.  It was disappointment. Harsh words.  Hurt feelings.  A lot like life.  Not one of us will get to the end without a long list of shouldn’t-haves and I-didn’t-ask-for-this.

I remember telling a friend how I hate seeing my kids in pain.  Especially when my choice to divorce is the very thing causing their pain.  And you know what she said?  She reminded me that we’re all given a bad hand.  That we all will experience pain.  She added, “your kids are just experiencing it earlier than others.  And you’re giving them tools to help them deal with it.”

It was comforting – in a weird way.  It helped me reframe the purpose of pain.

When I was young and super naive, I thought all you needed was love.  That the Jerry McGuire “you complete me” line was real.  And that happily ever after was possible.  But things didn’t turn out that way.  Turns out, you need a lot more than love.  And that if you’re looking for completion, you’re doomed before you begin.  It turns out that happiness is one of many side effects of living, along with  frustration and pain.  Fear and delight.

I never knew life would be hard because growing up was easy.  I assumed it would always go as planned.  And then it didn’t.

Lately, I’ve been listening to Anne Lamott’s s new audiobook, Hallelujah Anyway.  She quoted Frederick Buchner as saying the main job of the teacher “is to teach gently the inevitability of pain.”

It’s hard lesson to learn, but I want my kids to learn it.

Because, life isn’t fair.  Sometimes, you don’t get a happy birthday.  Situations/relationships/experiences will disappoint you.

And it’s okay.

It starts with acceptance.  But it doesn’t have to end in defeat.

Reality.

To most of the world, Texas must seem a strange and foreign place.  It was once a republic. It has more land than any country in Europe.  And it boasts enough high school football stadiums to hold the entire population of Oklahoma.

I hadn’t been back in nearly two years, and with a list of restaurants to visit, I met my friends for a BBQ dinner.  As we pulled into the parking lot, I laughed.  Two well-fed (and well-sedated) Longhorns stood in the To Go Food parking spaces.  We learned that they were hired for a rehearsal dinner, which helped explain it.  Kind of.

Once inside, Matt and Mendy tried to convince me that the horned rooster on the wall was real, while Chris pointed out the black-and-white photo of an old Texas rancher.

“Do you think people in Texas actually decorate like this?”  I asked the table.

Erin quickly answered, “No… This is just what people think Texas is like.”

“Yeah, but did the stereotype of Texas come from a reality?  Or, did the reality grow from the stereotype?”

Maybe my question was irrelevant.  As full-blooded Texans, most of them had never considered the Texas-themed-image.  That’s what they knew.  What they lived in.  The restaurant looked like Texas because it was Texas.

But, I couldn’t help but wonder how often an image or false reality is played off as true reality.  When the cubic zirconia is misidentified as a diamond.

We live in a world where social media is often our only lens into another person’s life.  And trust me –  that filtered, edited, glossy image is not the authentic reality.  But we create this online personality.  This image.  We create a brand.  And with enough time and enough practice selling the brand, we believe it.  And become it.

The imitation is our reality.

I can’t imagine that Texans decorated with the chintzy, over-the-top decor of the BBQ restaurant.  But now, perhaps they do.  The cheap, gaudy imitation is now its own brand.  And people buy into it.

This past year, I’ve stepped back from a lot of social media.  It’s hard not to see through the superficiality.  The platform for selling skincare and snake oil.  Accomplishments and accolades.  There must be something deeper.  Under the surface.

And yet, I fear that for many, the mask has become more comfortable.  Or, it’s been worn so long that it’s impossible to peel off.

 

 

I want you to know that you are enough.

Exactly as you are.

You don’t have to pretend.

 

 

 

 

When Ready

The desert is like Mother Nature’s modern art gallery.  It’s blank and spacious and then pop! A burst of color.  Or a strange Picasso plant.  Bizarre to some, captivating to others.  For me, there is something alluring/exotic about the desert landscape.    It reminds me of the bottom of the ocean – but instead of blue liquid, it’s blue sky.  Cactus instead of coral.  Gliding birds instead of swimming fish.

I met my mom and sisters in the desert.  Tucson, to be exact.  And while there, we decided to hike the Catalina Mountains.  We planned on the Canyon Loop Trail, “an easy hike, with rugged mountain views.”  But, when we rolled up to the Ranger Station, the smiling-eyed volunteer insisted that we take the Wildflower Trail.  No need to convince us!  It was our bi/tri-annual girls trip and without kids to drag entice, we could spend as much time as we wanted.

We set off with no expectations. No preconceived ideas.

The night before, we had been talking about Things.  The heavy Things – like relationships and boundaries.  Regrets and decisions.  My sister, Laurie, had unpacked an old diary and read an entry dated six years ago.  Words that she wished she could have shared with me.  I cried the silent way as she read.  I confessed that I had no idea she had felt that way.  That my pain had caused her pain.  And I said stoically that I couldn’t have received the message then.

I wasn’t ready.

Now, on the wildflower trail, our conversation bounced between these same thoughts and memories.  We talked about the fact that you can’t change people.  And as we walked, more and more colors dotted the landscape.  Obnoxious fuchsias and canary yellows, all the more vibrant against the sandy canvas.

Our pace became slower and slower as we stopped to take notice and take photos.  We mused at how amazing it was that we happened to be here at this moment when the wildflowers burst open.  Of all the weeks, in all the months.  Our timing couldn’t have been more perfect.

And yet, it wasn’t the calendar that prompted it.  The flowers bloomed when they were ready.  The right conditions.  The right amount of sun.  The right amount of water.

Those closest to me waited patiently until I was ready.  No amount of talking, coaxing, or convincing could have changed me.  Which is extremely and tragically frustrating.  All you can do is wait.  Pray.  Hope.

Some seeds, despite the best conditions, simply won’t sprout.  There is no explanation or reason.

Others, if they’re ready and when they’re ready, will finally/beautifully bloom.

 

Longing

The old-timers said it hadn’t been this bad since ’93.  The new-comers said they didn’t know what they were getting themselves into.  With nearly 60 inches of snow, quadruple the annual average,  and a record-breaking 10 school closure days, Father Winter has won this year.  No contest.

And while a lot of locals are starting to think of snow as a four letter word, others embrace the outdoor activities and bundle up.

So, with snowshoes and a picnic lunch, I joined my friend Lisa for a Wintery Adventure.  When we arrived at the Nordic Center log cabin, I half expected Oaken from Frozen to be standing behind the counter saying “Hoo-hoo!  Big summer blow-out!”  Instead, there were a handful of customers milling around.  A wood-burning fireplace blazing.  And an ancient gas stove holding giant pots of chili.

Once were got our trail passes and stern reminders to Stay. Off. The. Nordic paths, we were off.  We crossed over the Cascade Lakes Highway, noticeable only because of the sign, then trekked towards Todd Lake.

The last time I was there was in August.  Wildflowers blooming, frogs croaking.  Every color imaginable was within eyesight.  Now, it was blanketed thick with snow.  White upon white upon white.  I was struck with how different it looked in a different season.  The monochromatic landscape, the starkness, the stillness. This otherness held it’s own beauty.

We stood in awe.  The peace and mystery were overwhelming.

After all the driveway shoveling and round-about sliding, Winter starts to drag on.  It’s easy, in the cold, to become obsessed with the warmth.  To wish away the present and long for the future.

I know what it’s like to be filled with longing.  To want something you don’t have.  And to be reminded of it constantly.  It’s like when you’re longing for a baby, and you see pregnant women and baby announcements everywhere.  Or longing for love, and seeing anniversary pics and endearing, gushy posts all over social media.

You notice everyone else with  ____________, because you’re so hyper-alert to this longing.

And then someone with good intentions and terrible timing says, “Once you stop thinking about it, you’ll find it.”  Ah, thank you Life Coach.  That’s like saying, “Whatever you do, don’t think about an elephant.”  See, what I mean?  You couldn’t not think of an elephant.

Yet frozen underneath the ground of this trite truth, is something breathing.  It’s the idea of being present.  Of showing up to your situation.  Your life.

There are days when I feel like crawling into a hole and dreaming of warmer days.   When I miss the Texas heat and I long for this eternal winter to be over.  Or when I hate being divorced and wish I had someone to go home to.  A warm body to sleep with.

But, then what?  I would be missing out on this.  This season.  This beauty.  This otherness.  And the present is the only thing we have.

 

To create

I’m a fan of a lot of things.  Err… a little fan of a lot of things.  But, I’m a major fan of a few things – and one of those is words.

Perhaps it started in childhood.  With an older sister who did most all of the talking, I learned that if I wanted to add something to the dialogue, it better be valuable.  Humor usually gave me an audience.  Or, a witty comeback got me noticed.  And eventually, over time, I discovered the platform of written words.  What I couldn’t articulate in person, I could craft with the pen.

These letters, smashed into words, squeezed into paragraphs, could form a shape.  And the ideas could exhale emotions and paint a reality.  They could affect someone.  Raw and ready.

I think we all have this creativity inside of us.  If we were made in the image of God – the creator of all things – then we must have it down deep in our DNA.

It’s easy for it to get buried in the laundry and To Do lists.  In the bills and homework of life.   Yet, with a little nudging, I think you can coax Creativity from the ground.

For my friend, Megan, it’s gardening.  She literally squealed as she showed me her new heirloom seeds catalogue.  For my sister, Laurie, it’s building something sturdy:  bunk beds, tables, and tree houses.  For a woman I met at a conference, it’s painting intricate little flowers on river rocks.  For you, it may be sautéing .  Or crocheting.  Or singing.  Or spreadsheet perfecting.

The point is, that we do what we are good at and what makes us come alive.  It’s not for others.  Sure, others play a part in the process.  But, we do it for ourselves.

Because to create is to give life.  It’s to breathe color or capture light.  To craft a narrative or move a hardened heart.  And sometimes, or actually often, the person affected most by the creating is the creator herself.

Shauna Niequist said, “If you don’t create something, the universe will survive.  But, you may not.”

The question is, what will you create?

Space/Time

Space and time.  The two ingredients needed to diffuse feelings.

Recently, I was in California visiting this famous (or is it infamous?) spot called The Children’s Pool in La Jolla.  I had listened to an episode on This American Life detailing the controversy between the seal activists and the beachgoers.   It was like Westside Story – minus the snappy singing – as the shared use side clashed with the seal activist side.  And perhaps “clash” is too soft a word.  More like screamed, agitated, assaulted, and threatened. Apparently, the whole city fell in one of two camps, and suddenly neighbors became bitter enemies.

I wanted to see what all the fuss was about, so with my dad driving and my mom navigating, we headed towards the action.

And would you believe what we saw??  Nothing.  Nada.  A sign swinging from a rope informing us that the beach was closed during pupping season. Tourists taking photos.  A lonely tie-dye vendor looking bored.  And a few dozen seals nursing.

There was no conflict.  No hurt feelings.  No reactions to regret.

We ventured around to the back of the cove and discovered an open beach.  There, too, were tourists taking photos and a handful of seals.  But no rope.  No sign.  No drama.  We stood a respectful distance away in awe of the new life.  The sun bouncing off the waves, and seals bouncing up the beach.  It reminded me of how grateful I am that seasons don’t last forever.

When you’re in It – whatever It is, you can only see It.  I’ve told many friends that in this season of divorce and rebuilding, I can’t imagine what my life will look like in a year because I can’t imagine what my life will look like tomorrow.  The hurt, the grief, the brokenness is too big.  It’s all-consuming.

At the beginning, like morning sickness, every little thing would trigger a reaction.  I cried a lot.  I cussed a lot.  I wrote and wrote and wrote some more.

And then one day while driving to my therapist’s, on a slushy-street day, I realized that I didn’t have anything to talk about.  My agenda sat blank.  I apologized to her for arriving empty-headed and unheavy-hearted and she said all therapisty, “That’s good.  That means you’re healing.”

Ahhh.  Healing.  I like the sound of that.

The thing is, you can’t force it.  We all heal at different paces, and in different ways.  Give it time.  And some space.

Preservation

Madras, Oregon is not the first place you would pick for a destination.  It’s deserty and dry.  A barren ranch-land that shoulders a reservation.  But it’s also home to one of the world’s top collections of antique airplanes.

Friends and neighbors had talked about the exhibit, and with a growing itch to go on an adventure – we chose the Erikson Aircraft Collection in Madras to be our salve.

Inside the newly constructed space are nearly two dozen vintage airplanes and bombers.  We walked around and underneath and peaked through these giant beasts of the air.  As soon as we were impressed by one, the kids would race off to another.  Each aircraft as dazzling as the one before.

We felt like ants next to the gigantic wings and weighty underbellies.  And like ants living in a world of humans, we were both dwarfed and reverent.

As we left, Eloise exclaimed, “This is the best day of my life!”  I smiled.  Forget Disney.  Or cruise ships.  This is where it’s at.  Exploring.  Together.

On our drive home, we passed a decrepit and disfigured house.  Left to the ravages of time and weather, I imagined that if the walls could talk, the stories they would spin.  And yet there it was.  Left alone and forgotten.

I wonder what makes certain objects worth preserving?  Is it their significance?  Their value?  Why do we fill our junkyards with old machines while maintaining/protecting/polishing others?  Perhaps it’s as simple as the fact that some things aren’t worth preserving.  Maybe they’re better left forgotten.

The past holds us up.  It provides the context and background to Our Story.  The good, the bad, all it.  But sometimes we have to let go.  Is there a dream, a career, or a relationship that you’ve been preserving that isn’t worth the work?  At one point it served a purpose, but now, it no longer does?  It’s okay to let it go.

And let history be the judge.

Marching on

I thought #15 would never get crossed off the list.

Be in a march?  Protest?? Please.  Maybe in Austin – a leftwing city suffocated in the middle of a rightwing state.  But Bend?  A town of 80,000?  Doubtful.

Not to mention the fact that I didn’t want to march in just any march.  It had to be meaningful.  Personal.  And important.

Then Trump got elected and women’s marches started popping up like champagne bubbles.  Big cities.  Tiny towns.  And Bend, Oregon.

It had the energy of a race.  Or a concert.  Bright clothes, bright signs, big smiles.  I saw moms pushing strollers, teenagers shuffling, and grandparents hobbling.

Families, friends and complete strangers converging in a park to show unity, before marching through downtown.  It was overwhelming and empowering.

Today, I marched for women.  We live in a man’s world without equal pay or equal treatment.  Double standards are not okay.

I marched for my kids.  I want them to know they can stand up to bullies.  Being a passive bystander is not okay.

I marched for my students, especially those who do not fall in the majority.  Whether its their race, religion, or sexuality, they deserve to be heard.  Oppression is not okay.

And I marched for me.  I will not sit quietly and condone disrespect, undervaluing, or passivity.

Together, I believe we will be okay.