Category: musings

Five Years Ago

Five years ago today, on a beautiful late-summer day in Northern Oklahoma, I wrote some letters to my family.

Five years ago today, I kissed my almost-three-year-old for what I was sure would be the last time.

Five years ago today, I washed down the bottle of pain pills with alcohol and prayed for Death to come swiftly.

Five years ago today, I drove my van erratically downtown, hardly able to see through the tears, and parked near the train tracks.

Five years ago today, I staggered down the empty sidewalks, planning to lay on those tracks until the train came.

Five years ago today, I called my brother Matthew to say good-bye.

Five years ago today, he hung up on me and called my husband, Jim.

Five years ago today, Jim raced from his office building and, using the iphone locator app, tried to find me.

Five years ago today, Jim stopped beside a police car that just happened* to be idling by the side of the road to request an ambulance.

Five years ago today, I was intercepted by my distraught man, who clasped me in a bear hug as I beat my fists on his chests and demanded release, cursing him for trying to stop me.

Five years ago today, I was taken to the hospital, handcuffed to a bed in the ER, and given liquid charcoal to drink until it cleared the drugs from my system.

Five years ago today, I entered a mental hospital and stayed for a week, listening and learning.

Five years ago today, I wanted to end the pain. The endless litany of darkness in my mind. The relentless accusatory rhythm of my heart.

Five years ago today, Death beckoned, promising relief.

Five years ago today, I took Death’s hand and walked with him, just for a little while.

Five years ago today, I didn’t think I could ever feel better.

I was wrong.

I am glad.


*make of that what you will




Purposeful Pain

When I was a little girl, I would throw up every time I got a shot. I would worry so much and so far in advance of the actual needle that when the time came to receive it, my muscles would be so tense that the doctor would have to jab harder just to get the damned thing into my flesh. Hence, it was twice as painful and traumatic as it needed to be.

As a woman, I’ve learned that physical lesson over and over again in childbirth. Labor pains are, well, painful. But they do a good work, and if you resist and tense up, they hurt worse and worse. Delivery 101. Not only that, but labor itself winds up taking longer. Longer, and more painful. Who wants that? I was taught–and I learned–to relax, to appreciate the waves of agony for what they were doing: bringing a blessing into my life.

So here I am. Older, but no wiser. Learning all over again how to relax, how to submit, how to stop striving against the pain of this life and instead let it flow over me, let it wash me clean, allow it to bring a blessing into my life. The more I thrash and scream, the longer it takes, and the more painful it is. Why do I do it?

Lack of trust.

I have a deep seated fear that I will simply give birth to the wind and nothing more, that the agony is worthless and void.

This is a lie.

If I will but persevere, if I will trust the one who is orchestrating the music and madness, then I will find that there is great purpose in the pain, that it is bringing with it a great blessing.

Can I trust that much? Can I trust that when things become even more intense and I think I cannot go on one more moment, the event is even at that moment on the horizon? That birth is imminent?

I remember how comforting it was during labor and delivery to hold my beloved’s hand, how he let me crush it as each contraction overtook me, how he didn’t leave my side but whispered words of encouragement even as I struggled. What a beautiful metaphor for the one who stands beside us through the mess and muck and into the glory.

Because it is that: messy. Oh, how very, very messy. And so frightening at times. But if we listen, we can hear the whispers of the encourager as he tells us to persevere.

For so many years now I couldn’t hear the whispers over my own cries. I felt abandoned and distraught. But I believe they were always there. And I’m determined to listen once more.

Is. 66:9


There is a child in our family, and I wonder sometimes what it is like to be him. He is the grand finale, the numero ultimo, the baby. I was the middle in my family, number three of five, and I was happy to blend and meld and otherwise fly well under the radar. If I could not do so in the safety of numbers, I would find a book and hide beneath the weight of its pages so as not to be noticed. This is not the case for my son, this thirteenth of thirteen. He is in-your-face, louder-than-life, and does not suffer being ignored.

Perhaps this is to make up for the circumstances surrounding his introduction to our circus of a family; perhaps he is subconsciously making amends for the naughty disappearing act he pulled at six weeks gestation, when the OB looked at me in the ultrasound room and informed me gently that there was no heartbeat, indeed, no detectable bits of humanity left at all, and that I should prepare for another miscarriage. I was distraught, angry, hopeless, miserable, and inconsolable. For a week I railed at God and anyone else who would listen. At the end of seven days I dragged myself back for a follow-up to talk about D&Cs, since nothing physical beyond some spotting was happening. The moment the wand of goo was inserted, the OB said, with a slight raise of his eyebrows: “Oh. Well. Never mind. There’s a baby in there after all. Looks perfect.”

And then I kicked him squarely in the gonads.

Since then, this child has never left any doubt as to his presence. From the time he was born, he breastfed only enough to slake his hunger and not a second more. Never for comfort. It was almost as though he was embarrassed by his needs. When he was ten months old he launched a nursing strike that I was too weary to combat, so bottles he got, and bottles he loved. He is to this day demanding, opinionated, determined, and insightful beyond his years. He calls me out when I do things like throw a wad of gum from the car window (MOMMY THAT’S LITTERING), eschews hugs and kisses with a vengeance, fights with his nearest brother incessantly (they have one another’s buttons memorized), and insists loudly that he is not, nor will he ever be, the baby of the family (I AM NOT A BABY).

And yet, there are moments when he is ill or exceptionally tired that he will crawl into my lap and deign to be rocked for a while. This makes those times all the sweeter for their scarcity.

All his firsts are lasts for me; no one is up and coming behind him, no one will follow in his footsteps or wear his cast-off clothing. He is a solitary, curious little man, this baby of the family, and fiercely independent. I am proud of him, and melancholy, at the same time. But what is there to do? Time marches on, that magnificent, terrible bastard, with no regard for me and my little motherly longings. It will not turn back so I can nurse him once more, nor will it give me another chance to smother his chubby toddler cheeks with kisses. It will not tarry, nor will it dawdle so I can remind myself to enjoy these days of firsts and lasts. If I don’t remember, the grief is mine alone to bear, and bear it I will, for I am not sentimental under most circumstances.

Today the baby graduated from Pre-K. He has a long road to trod before he wears a mortarboard at the close of twelfth grade, and yet the shadow of things to come lies just there, beneath the black nylon, in his grey-green eyes that see, and absorb all. I write, and weep, because I am wise enough to know by now that it matters not how slowly the days pass, they do pass, and the only chance we stand of fighting it is to record it. And so I do. Goodbye preschool; you were full of fun and educational pursuits. Hello, future. Please be kind.


Happy Soul-Wrenching, Mentally-Exhausting, Emotion-Spending, Never-Ending, I-Pooped-Out-Offspring Day!

Someone once said that motherhood is “the hardest job you’ll ever love”. I support the sentiment. And it’s nice when you love it. It’s nice when you get the grubby handful of dandelions and a lisped “luh you”. It’s nice when you get the hand-drawn card and self-made verse. It’s nice to get a hug from one of your children. It’s nice when you get help with the housework. It’s nice to have a house full of your very own homemade people.

But *whispers* here’s the truth:

You don’t always love it. Sometimes you hate it. Sometimes the disciplining, the lecturing, the emotional roller coaster, the temper tantrums, the educating, the arguments, the doctor visits, the sleepless nights, the stuff that makes your heart ache til you wonder if you’ll ever get any part of this parenting thing right…it makes you feel like running away.

It’s a hard gig, this parenthood thing. It’s not for the faint of heart.

I am often faint of heart.

I took a quiz once that said I should have 0 children. I guess it revealed a deep inner selfishness or something. Maybe too high an instinct for self-preservation. Anyway, it made me laugh. Sometimes I yearn for the cloistered life I used to aspire to. Sometimes I long for singleness and solitude.

But then I look around, and I realize…this is the work of refining. This is the fire. This is the purification process, right here. My children, who sniff out selfishness like bloodhounds and reflect exactly what I have sown and nothing less, are God’s tools for turning me into who I need to be in the here and now.  They are the lathe that carves me into something beautiful. They are the strong hands that mold the lump of clay.

We know that we shape our children, but even more than that, they shape us.

I am not the person I used to be. I am evolving every day. And I have my children, by and large, to thank for that.

So thank you, children. Thank you for bearing with me and putting up with my foibles and all the ways I fail you on a daily basis. I am your fellow sojourner here on earth, and I know nothing about anything. We are in this together. I love you dearly. I praise God for the days I pooped each one of you out.





When None of This is What You Expected or Asked For

One day, as you make the umpteenth call to the psychiatrist for one reason or another, it will hit you: this is not what you signed up for.

This: the mental health upkeep. OCD, Anxiety, Bipolar, Depression, ADHD. You name it, we got that. A veritable smorgasbord of variety in the brain-aberrancy-department. Children who wash obsessively, who think obsessive thoughts. Children who cannot pull themselves up by their own bootstraps (and what the every-lovin hell does that mean, anyway?). Children who struggle with so much anxiety over doing what the world would label “simple” things, it wrings tears from their eyes on a regular basis.

But hey, what did you sign up for?

Joy. Peace. Love, both given and taken. Sunshine. Smiles. Children rising up and calling you blessed. “Well done, good and faithful servant”. Certainties.


Oh, those were nice, weren’t they? Remember them? The idea that if you did X plus Y then Z would result? Homeschool, teach scripture, sew dresses, wear dresses, bake bread, break bread, get rid of the tv, don’t allow the m-word (magic), carefully monitor movies, go to church, etc etc etc…..then your children will grow up happy and healthy, and in the fear and admonition of the Lord, to boot!

But that was Before. Before reality took hold. Reality, that major buzz-kill that swoops down and pours rain on your carefully-crafted parade on a regular basis. And does the guilt ever stop? Is there an end to the self-accusation, much less the others-accusation that you face on a daily basis? Because yeah, others do look, and judge, and point, and advise, and thank their lucky stars that they are not in your shoes.

Maybe you exist only to be an example, a thing to cause others to be thankful for their own lives.

Would that be okay?

Mother Theresa is said to have voiced the thought: The Lord did not call me to be successful, he called me to be faithful.

And that, right there, shakes me to my core.

Because I want to be successful, in the way the world judges success: happy children. Independent children. Children who are resilient, who bounce back from disappointment. Children who find love and raise families and are financially independent. Success = an empty nest and a full heart. That is, according to the world.

But what is success to God Himself?

What if success looks entirely different to Him? What if being successful means keeping the faith even in the face of utter adversity? What if success looks like having a child who cannot, without taking their own life into their own hands, step outside the safe walls of your home? What if success looks like utter failure in the eyes of the world? Who cares, anyway, what the world thinks? The world can go fuck itself, for all I care.

In the end, this is probably how I’ll be found: with the phone in one hand and a stiff drink in the other.

All I know is, I will keep loving my children in the best way I know how, and keep making those phone calls. Til the day I die.




Ten Again

When I was about ten years old, I wanted to be a nun.

On the other side of the playground from my parochial elementary school, there stood the abbey, and inside that building lived the sweetest habit-bedecked woman I had ever met. Unlike the formidable stanchions of respect that taught us five days out of the week and smacked us with rulers upon occasion, this nun (whose name I have completely forgotten, if I ever knew it) was wizened and gentle.

My friends and I used to sneak over during recess and knock on her door. She would welcome us in and give us hard candies and prayer cards printed with saints and Mary. The atmosphere when you stepped into her small kitchen was one of perfect peace, and unnerving quiet.

After a few weeks of banging at her door on a daily basis, we were told to stop pestering the longsuffering sister, that it interrupted her day and that she didn’t like it. At eight years old I was skeptical (I have always been a little skeptical). She had never greeted us with anything but open arms, adjured us to pray, and told us to come back anytime. The conspiracy to thwart my daily escape from the noise of my sweaty and boisterous comrades on the playground seemed patently unfair.

I obeyed, however (I have also always been obedient), and never went back. I missed her. I wonder if she missed us. I am still skeptical that the injunction to cease and desist actually came from her lips. When I think back on it now, I have to think hard as to why, exactly, I thought her life was so incredibly cool; why, exactly, did I want it? And I know the answer.

The little house was always dim, and silent. The noise of the playground sounded far away and faint. She never gave the impression that she had been doing anything but meditating and praying when we knocked. Her life was one of patience and holy stillness, and peace. I didn’t have that in my life. I wanted that.

Instead, I grew up and had 13 children. Peace now is just as difficult to find as it was then, when the canvas of my home life was tension and stress and anxiety, stretched tight over the framework of my days.

I think about that little nun, and her solitary existence, and sometimes I wish I was a cloistered sister in a monastery; sometimes I think there would be nothing better than to escape into silence and vows and daily liturgy.

My life lacks serenity.

And I feel the craving for it, like a pot that’s boiled all the water away and now sits over the fire, burning into nothingness. The stench of my need is acrid like smoke, and it fills my heart.

I don’t want to be catholic, nor a nun, not really. I love my family and the boisterous, obstreperous people that populate my days. My soul, however, needs the quiet assurance that this life, this noisy chaos that dominates every waking hour has legitimacy too, that it, also, is holy in the eyes of God.

In my heart I am still ten, a little girl in need of direction, in need of purpose, in need of a word from her Creator. I sit in my small monastery, my wee house, the little room built with such great love,  and I pray. And he comes, and he whispers “be still” and he whispers “courage, dear heart” and he whispers “you are mine.”

And I find peace amidst the strife.

Top Ten Ways to be a Big, Fat, Jerk*

10. Patience is for pussies. Have none.

9. Desire to control everything. Insist on things being done your way. From filling ice cube trays to loading the dishwasher, your way is not only the best way, it’s the only way. Unless you’re an idiot.

8. Treat service people like they are below you. They are. That’s why they are serving you.

7. Make more work for others. They’ve got nothing better to do. Leave your mess everywhere; somebody else with far more time on their hands will clean it up.

6. Monopolize conversations. Yours is the most soothing and melodious voice. Naturally everyone wants to hear it over all others!

5. Be too good for common courtesy. Friendly waves, thanks you’s, and holding the door for someone are simply enormous taxes on your limited strength.

4. Be easily offended. The bad drivers, the person who didn’t hold the door, the waiter who give you bad service…they are doing those things on purpose because they think you are  a schmuck. Prove them wrong by acting like one in return. This is certain to work.

3. Walk only in your own shoes, ever. Never assume that someone else’s way might be the best way for them. Don’t extend grace. Don’t give the benefit of the doubt. If someone is doing something you disagree with, it’s because they’re stupid. The end.

2. Have no respect for the natural world. Look at the earth myopically. Kill snakes. Smash spiders and bugs. If it doesn’t look like you, it doesn’t deserve to live. God gave you dominion, remember? He doesn’t care anything about all that other stuff he made. Stomp away!

1. Beware others’ opinions. They are almost certain to be bankrupt. Surround yourself only with those who agree with you, so that your ideas are never challenged. Forget that “iron sharpening iron” thing. It’s stupid. You’re the only iron around, anyway.

*this list was frighteningly easy to come up with. What does that say about me?



Skip to the End

Here’s a confession: I read books back to front. I sneak peeks. I look ahead.

When the final Harry Potter book came out I ran to Wal Mart to snag a copy and stood there in the aisle, reading the last few pages. I had a very specific list of things that needed to happen, and not happen, in order for me to invest the time and energy in reading the whole blasted thing.*

Perhaps I overvalue my time. Perhaps I am a control freak. Mostly, I think I just don’t like surprises, even when they might be pleasant ones. Uncertainty stresses me out.

Unfortunately, there are no guarantees in life. You don’t know what tomorrow will bring. No one can ensure that those you love will not suddenly be taken from you, or that you, yourself, might not cease to exist on this plane in another moment. Every breath is a gift. Death is the only certainty, yet it always takes us by surprise.

I know that, as a Christian, I can claim the pat promise that God is working all things together for my good, and that His plan, ultimately, is what I can trust in wholeheartedly. There is a vast gulf between believing this, I have found, and being okay with it.

I have felt at times that my life is like a pinball machine, with all my children and my loved ones careening about the board, sometimes with disastrous results. I imagine God pulling the plunger again and again, laughing maniacally. In other words, He causes the action, but the results are random. I’m not sure what sort of philosophy that lends itself to, but it’s not terribly encouraging.

Other peoples’ lives seemed much, much more orderly and predictable. Mine, with thirteen children in play, tends to resemble anarchy and chaos more often than not. I used to feel that I had to control everything around me, to reach out and grab the pinwheeling metal balls and force them to go where I wanted them to go. I thought it was all up to me. I was wrong.

Some people believe that all control is an illusion; that we control nothing at all, ultimately, and that the universe carries us along and everything is just as it needs to be in the moment. There is a lot of comfort in that idea, but I don’t know why it’s easier to trust “the universe” than it is to trust in “God”. Perhaps they are the same thing, ultimately.

I don’t know what I believe. All I do know is that thinking I needed to control everything, by my thoughts, words, and prayers, was destroying me quite literally. The idea that I was moving God’s hand to do what was best is one I embraced and now eschew.

God will do what is right, and the only things I can control are my own thoughts and actions. If I trust in a higher power, I must give myself up to it completely, and not constantly be in a tug of war over what is mine and what is its. It’s all going to be all right, in the end. If it is not all right, it is not the end. Or so the saying goes.

For now, it works.

*I read the final book, and loved it. Mostly because I knew that things worked out according to my specifications.

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