Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Not So Busy

I know this may sound weird, but despite all the talk about hustle and bustle this time of year, it's possible to not be that busy at all.

And if you are already a bit out on the margins, a lack of busy-ness can make you feel even less relevant or plugged into a world where tight schedules are laid out in the smallest of increments, and busy-ness is a badge of honor.

I'm not all that busy for a variety of reasons.

Margaret is at an age where there are no more room mothers, class parties, or nativity pageants. She doesn't play an instrument, so we can cross "recital" off of the list. There are no visits to Santa, and thank God, she can go to the mall with her friends now and not with me.

I decided against a family Christmas card this year, so there's no licking and sticking. And if our kitchen smells anything like gingerbread, it's because of the talent and generosity of friends, not any grand effort on my part. I'm much more of an eater than a baker.

Shopping took place right here at my computer with just a few clicks. Instead of circling stuff in the ToysRus or Target catalog like the kids did when they were small, Margaret just emailed me applicable links. It's good for me to shop from home, because when I head out on my own, I'm more likely to sneak off to the thrift store and come home with another car load of chairs.

There has been a bit of volunteer work, and some writing for other outlets (including a second article for Woman's Day!) but not I didn't schedule any speaking engagements for December, so my work load has been light.

Many good things can come out of time spent DOING:  connecting with others, making memories, volunteering, and celebrating the season.

But in this culture (and often cult) of busy-ness, it's good to remember that there may be people who aren't as busy as we might think.

They may be grieving, or lonely, or perhaps just entering a different phase of life with a little more breathing room than they are used to. They may not be feeling very joyful at all.

I sent an email out to my fabulous grief group last week, wondering if we could meet up for dinner. I wondered if it was ridiculous to hope to get together before the new year. We hadn't all five been together in at least 6 months. One by one the emails came back, "I'm in!" and we gathered last night at a local restaurant for a wonderful time together. I'm glad I threw it out there and didn't just assume that each woman would be too busy.

As I write this, things will start to get busier for me. Family is coming into town in just a few days, and we have several parties, plays, and concerts to look forward to.

I don't regret the quiet month I've had at all, and in a way it will help me gear up for what is ahead.

But I'm especially glad that this quiet month has led me to think about others who despite all of the talk about the frantic pace of December may be feeling like their days are far too quiet.

I'm not sure what I'm going to do with this awareness, but I'm grateful to have it.

P.S. Head to Facebook and see the nightstands I  finally found for my friend Arnebya.

I hope you'll check out these recent articles I wrote:
Woman's Day Dec 2014 Print Edition on how to help a grieving friend.
Washington Family Magazine, on some of my favorite books!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Always Learning

Shortly after Rare Bird came out, a friend from my kids' old school invited me to lunch.

We mainly knew each other from the car pool line and quick hellos at school concerts, but I knew enough about Lori to know she is a big pray-er. In Christian circles we call this a "prayer warrior." I knew she had been praying about Rare Bird for more than a year, as well as praying for our family in other ways, because I had asked her to.

You see, Lori's knees hit the floor before her feet do in the mornings. And she doesn't just say, "I'll be praying for you," she does it. It doesn't matter if you are in the Target parking lot or the aisle at church, she will pray for you right then and there, and I love that about her. She is also very real, approachable, and easy to talk to.

When we met for lunch, Lori brought her journals from the time of Jack's accident.

She had something to share, but hoped I wouldn't think it was strange. I assured her that not a whole lot seems strange to me any more. Losing a child is the ultimate in strange.

Lori opened her journal and read about how God spoke to her during her prayers one morning a few days after the accident, telling her, "Go where they found him, and I will meet you there." She knew God was talking about Jack. I asked her what that was like; did she hear an audible voice? She replied that it was a clear knowing inside of her that God was speaking to her. I like thinking about how just as a sheep knows the shepherd's voice, we, too, can recognize the voice of God, especially as we spend more time with Him and know his nature.

The problem was, Lori didn't want to go to the creek. She resisted. Our small community was wracked with grief and confusion, and she didn't want to go to the spot where Jack was found. It was too sad, too hard.

She put it off, but one day, upon driving over the road where Jack's body was found, she pulled over, parked, and walked down to sit in the (dry) creek bed, the steep banks looming up on either side of her.

"Okay, God, I'm here and I'm ready."

And she waited.

She said God showed her a few things pertinent to her own life and her family, but nothing about Jack. Then she looked up toward where she knew our neighborhood was, and the direction Jack's body had traveled. At that moment she saw a large bush hanging out over the side of the creek, in front of a big bend. In that bush were three cardinals, which to her had been signs of God's faithfulness during a very difficult time in her life. At that moment, God spoke to Lori's spirit again, saying,

"Before he was there, he was with me."

God was sharing with her that before Jack's body was trapped and stuck, he was already in God's presence. What Lori experienced that day mirrored what I feel in my heart, and what others have shared with me.

She also felt God was telling her the words, "Sacred Ground" about where she sat.

Lori didn't explain why she hadn't shared her journal with me three years earlier, and I didn't ask.

I just figured there must have been a good reason. That is one difference between the Anna today and the Anna of three years ago. I have started to embrace mystery, and let go of having all the answers.

I don't get to choose to have Jack safe and alive with us to adulthood.
I don't get to choose which prayers get answered in the way I want them to.
I don't even get to choose how and when comfort comes to me!

You see, with my conservative faith background,  Lori would have been the ideal, even expected, messenger to deliver God's comfort to me, and I would have surely put her story in my book.

But she didn't share it. Not then.

Yet still the comfort came. Through the Holy Spirit.  Through blog readers around the world. Through a dear friend whose spiritual side had seemed wacky to me. Through dreams and visions. Through symbols as seemingly insignificant as clouds, blue jays, songs on the radio, and now, three years later, the hearts I seem to find everywhere around me.

I believe that if God wants to tell us something, in this case an assurance that Jack was with his Heavenly Father almost immediately, His message will get through. "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."

I wonder if  this was a case of my being stretched, personally, so that when the time came for me to use my broken heart to start reaching out to many other grievers, I would be able to listen to their experiences solely with love and not skepticism, even if their experiences differed widely from my own. Perhaps it was so that I would have to trust that the examples I put in my book would be the right ones to touch readers in a way they needed.

I don't know. It's a mystery.

But I am grateful to Lori, who listens to God. I am grateful to God, who finds ways to get through to us again and again. And I'm grateful to YOU, for being here with me.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

End Times and End Tables, OR, Can this Friendship be Saved?

I think I’m in trouble.

So my friend Arnebya has been itching to do some furniture rehab. We’ve talked types of paint, good thrifting locations, and ideal shades of gray. For months, she has struggled to find the perfect nightstands for her bedroom, and when she came across some on Craigslist, she sent me the link. They looked promising. Since they were in my town, not hers, I ran over to pick them up.

I was hoping they wouldn’t be too heavy for me to carry to the car. Not a problem. The tables were not just small, they were Lilliputian. And as sturdy as a soggy piece of cardboard. In a word, they were ANNOYING.

(I'd love to show you a photo, but after 2 hours of trying to get one to post, and having it want to break my blog, I've decided to forgo putting a pic here. You may use your imagination to conjure up the sheer crappiness of the nightstands or take a peek over on my Facebook page)

Take that bottom drawer, for instance.

If Arnebya happened to be in bed and needed a little something something from that drawer-- say, um, reading glasses-- and she leaned over the side of the bed to get them, she would surely fall on her head.

Did I want to be responsible for Arnebya’s goose egg? I thought about putting wooden feet on the bottom to raise the stands up a bit, but there was nowhere to anchor them. And that top “shelf?” Puhlease. Not enough room for a lamp! Forget about a box of tissues. Annoying.
I tried to decide whether the nightstands were as terrible as I thought, or whether I was just PMS’ing. It’s not like my furniture standards are all that high. Our nightstands, TV cabinet, side tables and numerous chairs came off of people’s trash piles. Choosy, I am not.

But maybe I put too much pressure on myself because I was shopping for a friend, not myself. I mean, when it comes to shabby chic, I am the shabby, Arnebya’s the chic. She wears high heels, she smells good, and her hair deserves its own Facebook page. She has standards. So I turned down the nightstands on her behalf, and promised to find her something much better and much less annoying.

Except now she has no nightstands at all.

I wonder if she’s mad at me. I mean, perhaps a nightstand in the hand is better than two in Arnebya’s um, you know. After 6 fruitless trips to various thrift stores, with no suitable tables in sight, I think I flew too close to the sun on this one. Sure I’ve had stellar thrifting success in my day. Yes, my chair collection is the envy of the dumpster diving set, but what right did I have to turn down Arnebya’s nightstands? What made me think I could find better? What if she hates my taste? I mean, in addition to our shoe incompatibility, she doesn’t like beans. Eep. I think I’m screwed.

So if you are local, and you have a heart:

If you see smallish (but not ridiculously small), vintage (but not fussy), nightstands in need of some TLC, please let me know!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wishing you a happy Thanksgiving. I am thankful for YOU!

I am over on Modern Loss today writing about our first Thanksgiving without Jack, which I was not able to write about until now. For those of you experiencing a similar first today, you are in my heart.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Red Dress

I was a few weeks into my freshman year when I got the call from a senior I didn’t know, inviting me to a semi-formal party. I told him I wanted to meet him first, so we met on campus and chatted a while, before agreeing he would pick me up the next Friday for the event.
I asked how he found my name and number, and he explained that he and his friends had picked dates out of the book of incoming freshman students. Not FACEBOOK, but a face book, a slim booklet that included each freshman’s head shot, hometown, and campus phone number. I had sent my high school senior portrait in over the summer to be included. Apparently, when a bunch of upperclassmen were combing through the pictures, my face caught a young man named Brian’s eye. On Friday I put on a red silk dress, another holdover from high school days, and went to the party.

Those first few weeks of college had been exhilarating, with the heady intensity of summer camp. There were so many people to meet in my co-ed dorm, classes, campus Christian groups, friends of friends from back home, and during sorority rush. I was seventeen years old, and in those early weeks I had kissed more boys (3) than I had in all of my years of high school combined (1). Going to a party with someone I had just met did not feel strange in any way. I felt flattered, and it seemed like just one more way of saying yes to the college experience.

Things would eventually slow down as some of the early friendships flamed out, and we settled into lasting relationships, some of which are still strong 27 years later. My kissing stats would diminish considerably, too, as I began dating a friend from another college.

But what happened on that date?

Well, I met Brian’s friends. We danced for a while, with me slipping around in my black suede pumps on the beer-covered linoleum floor. It was loud and hot in the party room. If he had asked if I wanted to go upstairs to his room, I would have said yes, welcoming a quiet place to hang out and talk. Yes, talk. Not that I didn’t find him attractive. He was at least 6’2”, blond, and strong—a college athlete. But he never asked, so when the party ended, he walked me home, and we kissed a bit under the buzz of a fluorescent light outside my dorm.

You may have read the Rolling Stone article last week about another freshman girl, in another red dress, at another Virginia college. Her date with an upperclassman ended much differently than mine did. It is a long, difficult read, but it is well worth your time.

It will likely disgust you, and make you think. The story has gained a lot of traction in the past few days and has resulted in UVA suspending all sorority and fraternity activity while the allegations of sex abuse on campus are investigated.

The article made me reflect on my college years and how grateful I am that with all of the parties I went to, no one treated me with anything other than respect. Some of my friends would have vastly different experiences to share. You could say that I made good decisions when it came to alcohol, hung out with the right crowd, and somehow let it be known what my standards were. Maybe those things came into play, maybe not, but they shouldn’t matter in whether someone is sexually assaulted or not.

Sexual assault is wrong.


The article reminded me of that long-forgotten date, my red dress, and an upperclassman who had picked my face out of a book.  The key difference between the two stories is that my date was not a rapist. He and his friends did not plan and collude how to brutalize me and then go about their college years with impunity.

As a mother, I wouldn’t be thrilled if my daughter went out with someone who picked her from a book  (website) because of her looks, and quite possibly because of her youth and vulnerability. I was only 16 years old when that picture Brian saw was taken. But my daughter and your daughter would have every right to do so and not be harmed! Of course I will try to instill in her the self-confidence I had, the idea spending time with me was worth it because of who I was, not what I could provide physically.  I will tell her to keep her phone on her, to never leave a drink unattended, to use the buddy system.

But I realize it was not my self-confidence or safety rituals that kept me safe. It was the young men I spent time with. And that seems to come down to luck more than anything. I barely knew these guys. They, too, were in fraternities. They, too, were often immature and sometimes ruled by mob mentality—abusing alcohol and at one point taking searing hot coat hangers and branding their skin with fraternity letters.

I don’t know how those young men were raised differently than the ones who rape.

Than the ones who look at women as worthless, but then go home to spend Thanksgiving break with their mothers and sisters.

Who are never held accountable for their brutality, but then go on to get married and have their own little boys and girls to raise. It feels hopeless.

There is so much darkness in these situations, and it can play out for generations.

So I am grateful for the Rolling Stone article, because it will shed light on sexual assault, get us talking, and hopefully send a message to rapists that what they are doing is not okay.

And I don’t think my daughter should have to be counted as LUCKY if she somehow manages to avoid this kind of evil.  It’s what she and every girl deserves.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Dream

The first winter after we lost Jack, my friend Courtney shared a dream with me. If you have read Rare Bird or followed this blog for a while, you remember how she and other friends experienced signs, visions, and dreams regarding Jack during those first few months. I was no longer surprised, so I just took it in.

I was disappointed that this dream didn't have to do with Jack, but with me.

In it, Courtney saw me walking beside a creek. Not THE creek in the woods behind our neighbors' house, but a different one, on a bright day. I had bare feet and I walked in about an inch of water that saturated the grass beside the creek. Then, I lay down face-first in the grass, getting wet all over. People walking with me tried to tell me to get up, saying that I didn't need to get myself wet, telling me I might become muddy. But I stayed on the ground, wet but not muddy, and continued to splash the crystal clear water. Before long, another woman whom Courtney knew, in pain and also grieving, traced my footsteps, following me.

Courtney and I both interpreted this dream to mean that I was letting myself feel my grief, and while that might have seemed too messy or uncomfortable for others who so wanted to spare me pain, it was something I was going to do anyway. And there were others, even people I didn't know, who came behind me, observing.

I didn't realize at that point that my grief journey would be a public one, first through this blog, and eventually a book. I didn't have any sort of mission to demystify grief, or to peel back the curtain as to what survival could look like. I just wanted to get through the holidays without giving up. I wanted to shake the cobwebs of shock and horror out of my head, and write from my heart. I wanted write about my fierce longing for Jack, a longing that grew out of great love.

I don't know if I will write about grief forever.

There are other things to be discussed, of course. Light topics such as fleece-lined tights (yay!) and the making and eating of scones. Heavier topics such as our failure to live better, as lights in the darkness, even when we know better.  

I never planned to lose Jack. I never planned to write about grief. In my first years of  blogging, when people asked me what kind of writer I was, I  would answer, "A Life Blogger" because I wasn't sure if my writing was more about my kids, decorating, my faith, or candy corn.

And even in writing so much about death, I guess that's what I still am. I write about LIFE. And I hope I can do justice to those dear ones who come after me, watching.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

What I've Been Up To, and A Shopping Re-Cap

Recently, I heard about an opportunity for bloggers to tour a thrift store, buy fabulous items, and then feature them on their blogs. This would be followed by a delicious lunch at one of my favorite restaurants. And the thrift store in question was not just any thrift store, but my home away from home for the past 9 years! Where I got my kitchen chairs, dining room set, and pretty much every other piece of furniture in my house except my mattress. Where I got the jeans and vest I'm wearing as I type! The blog outing was right up my alley, but I can't go because of a prior commitment that day.

You see, I have not been overly busy, but since Rare Book came, I've been spending time connecting with people about grief and the book. I have been speaking to book clubs and small groups and getting together with individuals who want to talk/process. Without the pressure of a deadline, my calendar has more breathing room than before, and a typical day while Margaret is at school often looks like this. Wed: Susan, Jennifer. Thursday: Panera--Joan. I have been taking things slowly, cherishing these opportunities to spend time with people face to face, hear stories, and connect. I have also been open to opportunities to speak to larger groups, and that's something I definitely want to pursue, but I have been cherishing these small pockets of connection all fall long.

On the morning of the thrift store outing, I will be speaking to a group of Presbyterian educators on "Ways the Church Can Better Support Families in Trauma." I am really looking forward to it, and I have a feeling I'll be listening as much as talking, drawing upon their expertise on a topic that is so important.  Perhaps it will lead to a blog post that can be a resource.

Since I couldn't go to the thrift store outing, I popped over there on Monday instead. I found a cute shirt and dress for myself and then I saw them...

Pink HUNTER rain boots!

Could it be? Margaret is very brand-aware, and I've been searching for used Hunter Boots on my forays for over two years. I picked one up and checked the size. Perfect! I quickly stashed them in my cart and covered them up with my other clothes. They were listed at 12.99, but with a discount coupon, they ended up being $9.00. I felt triumphant! Sure I threw in a couple of items I didn't need, and that served to jack up my total, but I had dropped off a big box of donations on my way into the store, so I was feeling a little giddy.

I decided to text Margaret a picture of the boots when I got home, because I knew she would be so excited. Lining them up on the kitchen counter, I could tell something was amiss. Why was one boot taller than the other? I picked up both boots and checked the sizes. Are you kidding me? They didn't match. Someone must have donated TWO pairs of pink boots, and they had become mismatched in the process. Nooooooooooooooooooooooooo!

My shopper's high quickly led to buyer's remorse. And it wasn't like I could re-sell them, unless I found a very specific buyer, with a size 2 and a size 3 foot. Perhaps not impossible, but well out of my realm and energy level.

Margaret's eyes lit up when she saw them! "No way! Thanks, Mom!" and then, "Wait. What's wrong?"

I told her about the size issue. She could not believe it either. But with some padding of one foot and some tandem-tugging and scrunching on the other, we managed to get her into them. And she wore them until bedtime. Victory!

Boy, those boots took me on a roller coaster ride on Monday, but ended with a happy and excited girl who just needs a rainy day so she can wear them before her foot grows too much. Whew.

Speaking of excited, an article I wrote for Woman's Day (Dec Issue) is out now! Please check it out when you are at the grocery store. I love how the article turned out. It is a heartfelt shout-out to all of the people (YOU!) who have lifted us up since our family's tragedy. You are our Unexpected Blessings.