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Always Learning

Every time I saw a piano, I hesitated. Could I honestly say that I played it when the verb was just that – played – as in, past tense? I took lessons for at least 12 years, after all, from age 5 through undergrad, with a few breaks in between. I would tinker on keyboards when I saw them. I never lost the ability to read music. Yet I hadn’t actually sat and TRIED in years.

There was something very deep, almost sacred, and a little scary about sitting down in front of my current piano when I received it two months ago. Half of me feared I would have forgotten everything. The other half expected my mind and hands to immediately remember the most difficult pieces I’d previously mastered. Two months ago, when I first re-started, my initial ability was somewhere in between (of course!).

It has taken my fingers time to relearn the spacing between notes without looking, it has taken my mind time to trust my fingers to play the right notes, and it has taken practice to play pieces beyond the earliest years of my lesson books (which I am thankful to have!). And this is all GOOD. It is good to use a gift I have had for most of my life, and it is good to take the time to learn new pieces. It is good to practice something over and over until it is as easy as I wanted it to be right away. I believe this is good because I believe that the commitment to practice and improve is beautiful, sometimes more so than a seamlessly played sonata. It is hitting the wrong notes, making stink faces, and trying again where passion for the instrument is developed. And honestly, once I master a song, I move on, and play it as a warm-up for the REAL thing – the practice of the piece I next want to conquer.

So why am I waxing poetic about piano practice?

Well, I’m about to be “new yet not” to something even bigger in my life – my job. After four years at one district, six if you count the years spent subbing while in grad school, I’m going to a new district, taking on two new grade levels of English content, and going down to half-time. I feel like I’m sitting in front of a new piano again, wondering if I will fail or soar.

Hitting the wrong notes today reminded me that I won’t have a perfect day every day, but that will only push me to keep going. Hitting the right notes without much regard to the sheet music or my hands on the keys reminded me that some days things will go smoothly. Most days will be a mix, which, in this profession, is to be expected in the beautiful way in which we get to model being the kind of persistent learners we hope that our students will be, too.

Switching from English I to 8th grade English mid-day might be like a song that insists on multiple key-changes; jumpy at first, but to a beautiful overall effect when mastered. Adjusting to halftime hours and all the what-ifs that it brings will hopefully bring a strong rhythm to my life. Finding where I fit in two new departments, in a new building, in a new district? Well, just like I do with my piano, I will show up every day. I will give my everything. I will love every second, even when things go a little more sharp or flat than they should.

Limitations

I want to write this angry, and I want to write this sad. I suppose I should want to write this out of peace and acceptance and knowing trust, but, I’m not in any one place yet. After church this morning, I’m in a rehashing the history place, a wanting to turn guilt to grief place, a needing to know if this is a limitation to honor or fight against place.

This is about motherhood. Not abstract. The physical limitations of motherhood. See, I have three conditions which are embroidered into my life’s tapestry with one common thread: infertility. I think I was 14 the first time a doctor told me that I would have fertility issues, when a tentative diagnosis of Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis was handed to me. When I experienced amennorrhea from age 18 until 23 (roughly) as part of anorexia, it was a medical matter of course that I would struggle to get pregnant from that alone. When I was in my late 20s and recovered from anorexia and in remission from hashi’s and married and finally entertaining the thought of what children would look like, I was diagnosed with Lyme Disease, and told by a doctor again to wait on trying due to the risks involved with treatment, and the likelihood of miscarriage.

You all know how this story continues; I’ve written before about my beautiful Augustine, this miracle child conceived after a short month of “trying,” who was carried so snugly, so perfectly within me, the only blip on our prenatal radar the fact that my body refused to contract even after the water broke naturally. He is a miracle.

But last summer, my thyroid bugged out again, and the rounds to physicians and endocrinologists and naturopaths began again. Each time a medical professional heard I was a nursing mom, they asked about his birth story, expecting IVF and long months of pain and miscarriage to have been a part of it. I don’t blame them, after all, I’d been told my whole fertile (?) life to expect that story. To the point where I felt legitimate guilt that it wasn’t a struggle after all. (OOPH, that’s another layer, though).

And now we’re at that typical mark of “will we have another?” and my heart wants to throw caution to the wind – look at this perfect boy, given to us so readily! But my doctors are saying “no” again. They’re saying it won’t or shouldn’t happen again. And so I find my mind going back to the patterns of protection it’s worn since  14 of “I don’t need/want/care” about this, but I am trying to be brave enough to say now that I do care. I do care about this. I am terrified of another baby and the chance for miscarriage. I am terrified at the thought of another year of sleepless nights. Of another round with postpartum depression. Mike and I are talking about the adoption possibility, too, and I’m terrified at the chances for reactive attachment disorder, of not honoring another culture correctly, of the litany of unknowns.

But I also want Augustine to know the joys and character-building challenges of having a sibling. I look at his crib and feel this tug in my gut because I never imagined it would be just “his.”

I’m terrified of doing the wrong thing.

I chide myself for being selfish. I have one darling, easygoing, bright ray of sunshine of a son that has already defied medicine simply by coming into existence. Isn’t it selfish to want more?

I don’t have to be “right” in this. But I don’t want to be wrong even in trying one thing or another.This feels like a crossroads, and today instead of fighting to know which fork is the right one to choose, I’m fighting to believe there is no hurry. That whatever kind of limitation this place and this body have us in right now, this limitation does not need to steal all joy even while it warrants some amount of grief. I know this on a level, I’m working to make it my truth.

Rhythms of Growth

Thursday morning, as I merged onto 235, the sky overwhelmed me. It was early, just light enough to see yet dark enough to see no sun. A giant, dark mass of clouds filled two-thirds of the sky, hovering menacingly over downtown, and the most striking thing about it was its resemblance to an open-mouthed beast. I did the dangerous thing that all enneagram fours would do and tried to capture a picture of it (not on the interstate, at stoplights…mostly). I could not get over the *presence* of this sky-scene. It was heavy with metaphor, and my face was wet with tears.

This monster wanted to engulf my city, myself, all of us. I am old enough to admit that dragons exist in all of our tales. I felt God calling at my heart to let myself cry as I drove, to be sad that darkness hovers over and throughout our stories. I was early to school, so I parked my car facing east; facing the beast. None of the photos I’d taken while driving (or stoplighting) were in focus, and the closer I got to school, the higher the sun rose and the more the cloud-monster disintegrated. But I was compelled to take a clearer picture and share something of my experience, which I did, unsure if anyone would “get” it.

Later that day, I felt myself wrestling in tension, making some mistakes, trying to make amends. I cried for different reasons, I practiced letting go. I was grateful for and reluctant towards my church’s practice of the Prayer of Examen as I realized both where I had not invited God into my day into the easier part of repentance into the hardest part of release. (I am so very, very unused to release).

Then this morning, church was again the place where truth and conviction hit me with equal force. Mercy was a theme, in the communion message, and again in the sermon when discussing the risks of relying on performance. I have God-given mercy for my students and my son, but for some adults there are times when I lash out. When my expectations are too high and too rigid. When conviction hits, my mind rushes to my own defense; these people have hurt me for years, have fallen short for years, enough is enough. When truth hits, I see how the whole point of mercy is the absence of the requirement for deserving it.

And then it goes even deeper to recognizing my own struggle to accept it. Oh how hard it is to believe that I am good or worthy. How hard it is for me to stand under the flowing oil of God’s mercy and accept the feel of it. Is it any wonder, then, that I stumble and fail so profoundly when trying to offer it to others?

I see the hope in this vulnerable admission, though. I see that in learning to accept mercy, I will learn to give it just as in learning to give it, I will learn to accept it. I see the rhythm and its gentle magic.

Two strong women have spoken in church these past few weeks about the metaphor of Hansel and Gretel in our spiritual walks, and I find myself sliding into their imagery as I process this new phase of learning. I have been working with my counselor on my anxiety, on my control issues born of my anxiety, and I have finally found practices that have become second nature and truly bring healing. I have felt like that was my dark forest and also just this week I have recognized an unfamiliar feeling as freedom from that crippling companion. I remember the moment where my heart became aware of this new thing; I was sitting in our old golden rocking chair next to Augustine in his high chair while he ate dinner. The lighting was low and he was beautifully happy and chatty. My heart felt a very real (and increasingly familiar) fullness, and my mind felt at peace. In that warm glow of our dining/living room, I felt immersed in a taste of wholeness, and I did not feel panicked that I was not worrying about something nor did I feel guilty. And in this awareness, I realized that this full feeling is replacing the worry compulsion. I realized that my intentional practices of gratitude in times of worry had indeed become the norm, not the need. I found this verse the next day that confirmed for me what this healing is and can continue to look like:

So while I so recently thought I was out of the dark forest, I am realizing there are more bends in my journey, right here, right now. As I learn to let go of anxiety, I must learn to go beyond gratitude to true and full acceptance of mercy so that I may offer the same in abundance. I don’t relish this thought, truthfully, although there is the measure of excitement that all learning opportunities hold for me. The image of the cloud at its darkest still shimmers in my mind, but I think it was no coincidence that the only in-focus image I captured was of the beast’s disappearance. This visual reminds me that while the rhythms of growth involve the pain of refinement, they are all in place to let light truly shine through.

There’s Only One Way to Find Out: Lucy and Aslan and Me

“Look! Look! Look!” cried Lucy.

“Where? What?” asked everyone.

“The Lion,” said Lucy. “Aslan himself. Didn’t you see?” Her face had changed completely and her eyes shone.

Lucy Pevensie is one of the main characters in the Narnia series. Usually a school-aged child from war-torn England in the 1940s, sometimes a grown Narnian Queen, always emotionally driven and in-tune, discerning, loving. Aslan is their God. One who had seemingly been missing from Narnia for quite some time, hence the Pevensie children returning in this book from which these quotes are pulled, Prince Caspian, to help the titular prince in a time of great Narnian need.

A reader unfamiliar with the book would think, then, that Lucy’s discovery would be met with excitement and/or relief, but no. Instead she is met with skepticism. Doubt. She stands her ground on what she saw and even pushes for what it all means:

“And he wanted us to go to where he was – up there.”

“How do you know that was what he wanted?” asked Edmund.

“He–I–I just know,” said Lucy, “by his face.”

The others all looked at each other in puzzled silence.

Lucy is met with more doubt.

“The only question is whether Aslan was really there.”

“But I know he was,” said Lucy, her eyes filling with tears.

“Yes, Lu, but we don’t, you see,” said Peter.

“There’s nothing for it but a vote,” said Edmund.

Practicality overrules her emotions, her intuition, her faith. She does find one ally, who had learned from experience, but consensus and leadership vote against her.

So they set off to their right along the edge, downstream. And Lucy came last of the party, crying bitterly.

Oh how I relate to Lucy. I am emotional to the core. I live and breathe emotions, in myself, and in what I sense and observe of others. I feel the deep betrayal she feels; the very real pain of having others not understand how to trust what you know to be true because they have not experienced it. And to sit in that state a little too deeply, a little too long, to get lost in it, even.

Friday night found me crying bitterly. I won’t get into it all here, it isn’t necessary to the point of this posting, but it was a needed release of a lot of frustrations. Yet it was also tempting to sit in that place. My frustrations are valid. My pain is real. But there is more to the story, and more to Lucy’s:

Lucy woke out of the deepest sleep you can imagine, with the feeling that the voice she liked best in the world had been calling her name…

“Lucy,” came the call again, neither her father’s voice nor Peter’s. She sat up, trembling with excitement but not with fear…

And then–oh joy! For HE was there: the huge Lion, shining white in the moonlight, with his huge black shadow beneath him. But for the movement of his tail he might have been a stone lion, but Lucy never thought of that. She never stopped to think whether he was a friendly lion or not. She rushed to him. She felt her heart would burst if she lost a moment…

“Welcome, child,” he said…

There follows a brief but deep reconnection, where Lucy is reassured of who Aslan is, and how he is. Then,

“You have work in hand, and much time has been lost to-day.”

“Yes, wasn’t it a shame?” said Lucy. “I saw you all right. They wouldn’t believe me. They’re all so–”

From somewhere deep inside Aslan’s body there came the faintest suggestion of a growl.

“I’m sorry,” said Lucy, who understood some of his moods. “I didn’t mean to start slanging the others. But it wasn’t my fault anyway, was it?”
The Lion looked straight into her eyes.

“Oh, Aslan,” said Lucy. “You don’t mean it was? How could I–I couldn’t have left the others and come up to you alone, how could I? Don’t look at me like that…oh well, I suppose I could. Yes, and it wouldn’t have been alone, I know, not if I was with you. But what would have been the good?”

Aslan said nothing.

“You mean,” said Lucy rather faintly, “that it would have turned out all right — somehow? But how? Please, Aslan! Am I not to know?”

OUCH. Lucy’s sitting in her emotions, crying bitterly, yet going along with everyone else was reasonable. Practical. But not what was best. This hits on another level. I have been learning about myself through various means that while my emotional intelligence is a gift, my emotional tendencies can be self-destructive. That although there is a certain comfort to be found in sitting in any one emotion – even the melancholy ones – there is not always goodness there. That although what I feel in a given moment is real, valid, and even quite often intense – it does not always reflect a whole picture of reality. It is not always what should propel action, and action that needs to be taken is often missed.

I recently practiced a posture of letting go. During church, the pastor created space for us all to sit, eyes closed, hands opened, and time to just let go, listen, reflect, and dream. During this space, these scenes from Narnia came to me very strongly (and so here we are). I couldn’t shake it; I didn’t want to. Is this in mind because of something I have missed or failed to do? Is this in mind because I’m on the precipice of doing so? I don’t know, honestly. But once I started typing the pieces from the passage that were brought to mind during that space, I kept reading further. Aslan responds to Lucy:

“To know what would have happened, child?” said Aslan. “No. Nobody is ever told that.”

“Oh dear,” said Lucy.

“But anyone can find out what will happen,” said Aslan. “If you go back to the others now, and wake them up; and tell them you have seen me again; and that you must all get up at once and follow me–what will happen? There is only one way of finding out.”

Pause – what would we do at this point? Surely having learned such a deep sorrow of missing out, we would jump at the chance, right? Or would we continue to question, continue to have some measure of doubt and fear, as Lucy herself proves to?

“Do you mean that is what you want me to do?” gasped Lucy.

“Yes, little one,” said Aslan.

“Will the others see you too?” asked Lucy.

“Certainly not at first,” said Aslan. “Later on, it depends.”

“But they won’t believe me!” said Lucy.

“It doesn’t matter,” said Aslan.

OOPH, right? I can tell you right now that my inner self disagrees with that not mattering. I am glad I kept reading. That simple phrase: “It doesn’t matter” seems to me an important part of why this story is in my mind as I work on letting go. You see, part of the context of that Sunday morning space is the church’s 2018 goal of Freedom. And my personal need to let go of control is no secret; I have blogged about it before. I have worked through it in counseling and on my own over the years. And the phrase “it doesn’t matter” and even the phrase “there is only one way of finding out” are very hard truths for emotional and controlling people to hear. “It doesn’t matter” feels false because I feel certain that it will matter. If others don’t believe me or join me, I will feel hurt. And I feel feeling as utmost reality. Which is where “there is only one way of finding out” comes in; what would practicing belief that some emotional experiences are not indicators of a greater whole be like? Well, there’s only one way, as they say. Lucy seems to process these words very similarly to myself:

“Oh dear, oh dear,” said Lucy. “And I was so pleased at finding you again. And I thought you’d let me stay. And I thought you’d come roaring in and frighten all the enemies away–like last time. And now everything is going to be horrid.”

“It is hard for you, little one,” said Aslan. “But things never happen the same way twice. It has been hard for us all in Narnia before now.

And in Aslan’s response is hope. He is not patronizing towards her feelings; he validates them. Then he lovingly offers perspective. As I open my hands to seeing things differently, here is bolstering proof that there is understanding awaiting ahead and others’ experiences behind.

As you look and let go, what freedom do you see?