In December of 2012 (yup, quite a long time ago) a good friend of mine whom I “met” online but also have had the great pleasure of spending time with in-person approached me about taking a line Nicene Creed and explaining what it meant to me over on her website as a part of a Year of Faith series she is hosting. Well, the line “and His kingdom shall have no end” immediately popped out at me, and I had one of those amazing, a-ha! moments where I knew exactly what those words meant and what I wanted to write about them. The real bummer is I didn’t actually sit down to write anything when I was so infused with wisdom and months later when I did sit before my computer, my mind was as full of doo-doo as Thomas’s diaper is right about now. But I managed to extract out a few words that I can only hope make sense to some people out there. (Now it’s time to extract my boy’s bottom from his wasteland of a diaper.) Theologian I am not. I’m just an ordinary wife and mom who tries to write as authentically as possible about her faith (or lack thereof). At any rate, thank you to Melanie for having me over at her beautiful blog.
Here’s an excerpt from my guest post:
Three years ago I moved to a new town after supporting my husband through a decade of medical training. It was the end of what sometimes seemed like an interminable chapter marked by tight finances and long hours for him at the hospital and long hours for me as a mom to three active, little ones in 1,400 square feet in a “transitional” neighborhood that never started to transition.
During those long, lean years, I always tried to focus on the light at the end of the tunnel and to remind myself this hard work and all the sacrifices we were making had a payoff and also that there were millions of people suffering under the weight of poverty, sickness, or both, and there would be no end to their labor or suffering. (And, no, I never referred to sticking to a strict grocery budget or sometimes feeling like I was a single parent as suffering, although I did whine about some of it too often.)
But when we moved in to our beautiful, new (new for us, but of the old and charming variety) home and my husband started his new job, I found there wasn’t nearly as much light as I’d imagined. Those first few months felt like I’d fallen back into a dark tunnel and was trapped in a mire of disappointment. Later, I’d realize it was only reality and that it was my great and quixotic expectations that left me floundering in their sobering wake. Life was indeed not perfect. My toddler still threw epic tantrums. Our basement flooded. Our pet fish died. I opened a box after our move to find one of my favorite dishes reduced to shards. I felt alone. I had no friends. My mom became sick.
I sat one night alone at the dinner table with a beautiful feast spread, growing colder by the minute. It was my husband’s birthday. I’d put the kids to bed early and planned on surprising him with a quiet dinner for two. He’d texted me and told me he’d be late. That was around 6 p.m. Two hours later I started to cry, shoulders slumped, my tears falling down upon my plate making the cold food soggy.
What was supposed to be a birthday celebration turned into a lengthy pity party.
This just wasn’t how it was supposed to be.
Shortly after my breakdown, I remember reading Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day aloud to one of my children and realized that I’d been thinking that this new phase in our life was going to be my Australia. (For those of you unfamiliar with the story, a little boy has an awful day or he thinks he does – he’s trapped in that “life’s not fair” funk, which makes you feel like a victim even when you’re not – and he keeps saying he thinks he’ll move to Australia.)
Of course, things did get easier in our new home and our new life, and I love living in our neighborhood now even though we still have bad days, and sad things happen to my family and in the world. But how many times have I been searching for my Australia or really, my Eden, a place where everything goes as I think it ought to, where the government doesn’t infringe upon its citizens’ religious freedoms, where the dignity of every person – from the unborn to the elderly – is valued, where everyone I let go ahead of me in traffic warmly offers me a wave of thanks, where there are no outbursts (from my children or from me), no dust on furniture, and no basements flooding?
His Kingdom will have no end. And neither will humans’ miserable lot in this earthly life.
Each Advent season we head out to a local Christmas tree farm in search of the perfect tree. I am honestly okay with a Charlie Brown tree, but my detail-oriented husband is a perfectionist about things of which I am not and always has a hard time selecting the tree. The kids show him their favorites, and he inevitably finds a bald spot or notices the tree’s overall shape is too sparse or too asymmetrical. Eventually he reluctantly acquiesces with one of the kids’ selections after I remind him no real tree is going to be a flawless shape and height. But we’d rather have real than artificial.
Then we return home, and that’s when I start wanting things to be perfect. The tree is just a tree, but the memories we make decorating that said tree better be glittery-gold. So I make homemade cocoa. The girls dip candy canes into warm pools of chocolate. Then they watch The Grinch as my husband laces the tree with multi-colored lights. None of that elegant-only-white-light business; that’s not the kind of perfection I’m after. We do bold and bright in the Wicker house. The same holds true for the ornaments. There are no themes. The decorative danglers cover the gamut – from homemade angels with pictures of the kids’ heads for faces to a bristly hedgehog that was my husband’s as a boy.
I love sifting through the bottomless container of ornaments. So many of them conjure up memories or old loves like the golden horse head molded out of clay that reminds me of my beloved Palomino, Sunny or the Baby’s First Christmas ornament that I received during my first month of motherhood. This is a tradition I savor. My children do, too, and I hope these are the moments they will remember instead of the less sepia-toned ones like the daily fighting that occurred each morning over whose turn it was to open the drawer of our Advent calendar where four M&Ms (all the same color so as to dissuade another fight) were hidden.
I once wrote about how moms are not memory-keepers, but memory-makers. We can’t control what our children will remember or what they won’t. Nor should we obsessively try to document every moment on Instagram. Sometimes we just need to live it even when it’s not so pretty and we’re afraid of what type of emotional sediment might be settling in our children. But again, isn’t real better than artificial? We want real, human memories not contrived ones.
But living it can be so tough sometimes. For whatever reason, my Advent season this year was more stressful, or maybe it just felt that way. (Not being able to run is still taking its toll on my emotional health, but a recent MRI looked very promising, and it seems that my hamstring tear is healing quite well!) These 12 days of Christmas have been much more manageable and enjoyable, too. My husband did not get his perfect tree although it was darn close and a real beauty this year. I didn’t get my perfect memories. That’s life. We gathered around, and kids started pulling out several ornaments from the big plastic storage box all at once. I barked orders about not getting new ornaments out until each child hung up the one in her hand. Then Thomas broke an ornament. It looked like a ball, so he hurled it across the living room. And, of course, all the girls were sad as if that was there favorite ornament of all time. We comforted Thomas because we thought he was scared from the glass ball shattering at his feet. Maybe he really thought it was a ball. Poor guy. No matter that there’s no throwing in the house. Little goober gets away with everything. But then he snagged another ornament off the tree and chucked it across the room where it promptly shattered into colorful shards.
I remember how I felt standing there in the shadow of a beautiful, sparkling tree. I examined the pieces and knew there was no way to salvage that ornament. At that moment, I felt the same way like I’d been broken into so many pieces there was no way I’d ever be made whole again.
Nothing seemed to be turn out the way I had hoped or the way I wanted it to. The Advent memories were not very Norman Rockwell-ish at all. We were a mess. And a very noisy one a that.
So I wonder: Will the children’s memory banks see past all that? Will they take ornaments out each Christmas and smile fondly, or will they remember the shards reflecting the tear-stained faces in their broken shininess?
A few summers back an evening storm flashed in the sky. The girls and I gathered together and read The Storm Book and Storm in the Night by candlelight. They cuddled close and listened to the beautiful imagery of both the books. We weren’t doing anything grand, but no one was fighting and everyone, including me, just seemed content. It felt like we were exactly where we were supposed to be together safe from the storm churning outside. I remember thinking, “This is what I want them to remember. The stories shared. The way their mom’s face looked serene and joyful in the soft glow of candlelight, the way the rhythm of her voice sang out the lyrical words from good books, the way later that same night she did not push us off to our own beds but fell asleep beside us and loved us as well as she could in her raw humanness.”
I cannot go in to great detail because I know it is my job to protect my children and to be their champion and that sometimes means keeping things private, but one of my children is going through a rough patch. It has been going on for some time now, and I’ve been desperately trying to fix things. However, like so much of parenting, I am learning a great lesson in humility. I wince because I fear we have made some bad memories together, and perhaps this is partly why I am found myself almost maniacally trying to make our annual Advent traditions even more golden and lovely in an effort to snuff out the not-so-nice moments that are coming all too regularly.
We are getting help. We are working on it. I am trying to remain hopeful and to remind myself that this too shall pass. I am trying to not let my fears that I have failed her as a mother or that she may always struggling this much eclipse the hope I have not so much in myself or even in my precious child but in an all-loving God who can make up for each of our humanness, who can take our very brokenness and transform it in to a beautiful life.
A friend of mine sent me a poignant post about how maybe Advent is supposed to be a little sad because we so desperately need a Savior. We are broken, hurting. We are not satisfied. We need hope – Christ – to be born in our hearts. We are not like that shattered ornament. We can always be redeemed and pieced back together.
I am not sure what my children will remember. Maybe they will recall the creamy cocoa, the silliness, the Tomie dePaola Advent and Christmas tales more than the fights over who got to hang up what ornament and then Mommy’s shouting over the din that she won’t take anymore of this. But maybe they will have some memories that are less than sparkling. Maybe they will have a little Advent darkness, and maybe that’s okay. I’ve enjoyed the Christmas season so much, partly because our Advent wasn’t so easy. I similarly feel that when I am back running again, I will be wiser and appreciate each step I am able to take that much more.
My kids might have some darker recollections, but perhaps they will have the Christmas memories, too. The memories where we all got it right – not perfect but right for the moment. There were broken ornaments and sometimes broken promises, too. There were silly stories and happily ever afters, but there were some tear-jerkers thrown in there as well with endings that weren’t all neat and tidy. There was a mother who did her best. Sometimes that wasn’t nearly good enough for what her children and family deserved. But many times it was. It was somehow amazingly enough. There was hurt, but there was love that was inexorably linked to mercy and forgiveness.
And there was always grace, and it almost always was born out of the darkness. It came in the child who hugged the sad Mama and told her something she’d heard that sad Mama tell her, “There’s nothing you can do to take my love for you away or to earn it.” The grace came in a “just because” note a child scribbled down and shyly handed to her mother. It came in an apology. Grace filled our hearts as we filled cups during an Advent tea for the grandmothers. It was marbled in an email a father wrote to his daughter. It came in a love note of thanks from a husband on Christmas evening, the best gift a wife could ask for and one that made her cry tears of joy and thanksgiving. It came in a hot cup of cocoa, a homemade ornament with the face of a child propped upon a lopsided gingerbread body, and a sweet, family sing-along. Grace slipped into our lives just when we needed it. It was a gift that grabbed a hold of hearts even if we were lousy at preparing ourselves for it. Somehow, like Christmas for the Grinch’s Whos, it came all the same without boxes, packages, or bags. Without perfect mamas. Perfect children. Perfect memories. Grace was there. Joy was there. This is what I hope, God-willing, these children of mine might remember.
…stop running you fool.
Here’s the good news. For those of you who could care one iota about running, I won’t be hitting the pavement for a long time, so I may not be blogging much about it either.
Then again, I may need the catharsis because my dear husband encouraged me to get an MRI last Wednesday (I’ve been processing everything for over a week now), thinking that I may have taken the whole “no pain, no gain” thing too far. Further good news: The MRI showed that my piriformis is just fine, thank you very much.
And now for the not-so-good devastating-oh-my-gosh-how-am-I-going-to-survive-months-maybe-a-year-of-recovery news. Per the MRI I am the lucky recipient of:
- Partial tear left semimembranosus tendon at ischial tuberosity (AKA partial tear in the upper hamstring. If you search “worst running injury ever,” a forum will immediately pop up debating which injury takes the prize. Guess what? My lucky injury wins. Yay for me!)
- Reactive marrow edema left ischial tuberosity
- Proximal left hamstring muscle complex edema with no intramuscular hematoma or rupture at myotendinous junction
- Edema does surround left sciatic nerve
- Mild left femoral shaft periostitis (This lovely medical mumbo jumbo can lead to a stress fracture if I’m not careful.)
- Edema in the gluteus minimus bilaterally with possible partial tear of the tendon at the greater trochanter on the right (only partially imaged)
- Small scattered areas of muscle edema bilaterally likely delayed onset muscle soreness secondary to the recent race
Translation: My body is breaking down, and I won’t be running or doing much of anything for several weeks. Total recovery time is nebulous. I was given the range of eight weeks to one year. That’s 365 days. Yes, I cried me a river.
Last week I was angry and frustrated, too, because the first injury, in particular, is rare and not easy to treat. I’ve played the it’s not fair game. Well, of course it’s not fair. But it’s not fair that children are involved in human trafficking, and that brides are still getting burned in Asia. Or that people get cancer. Kids get cancer. It’s not even fair that my parents’ sweet dog/pet therapy superstar, Ivy, died yesterday. Maybe “Why me?” should really be “Why not me?”
There have been moments when I’ve wanted to scream and pound my fists because I feel like I am capable of so much more than my body is allowing me to do, but I’ve got to make peace with this broken body of mine.
I’m supposed to rest from all aerobic exercise, not just running, for several weeks, so I am afraid that I am going to turn into to a useless, energy-sapped lump, and all my muscles will atrophy. Yoga and Pilates – or anything that stretches that hamstring of mine – is off limits for the short-term, too. So I guess I’ll be doing lots of push-ups. Those don’t hurt.
Funny aside: Apparently the proximal hamstring injury is more common in elite athletes and older athletes (older than my 34 years). I was bemoaning this aloud when Madeline, my “glass-is-half-full” 8-year-old said, “Well, Mommy, that means you’re an elite athlete.” I was very grateful she didn’t say something about me being old.
Ann Voskamp wrote, “Patience is a surrendering to suffering — a willingness to wait — a carrying of the Cross.”
I have to embrace a willingness to look beyond myself and my real or perceived flaws, and then to just wait it out.
I want to take action and make this better. Now. I don’t want to believe the naysayers I’ve found on the Internet who say they’ve never been able to overcome their proximal hamstring injury. (Here’s some advice for anyone dealing with a sports-related injury or even a sickness: Do not read discussion boards or forums because you get the miracle stories and the hopeless ones. There are plenty of “in-betweens” who don’t share their journeys online.) But I am rendered powerless. All I can do is ice, rest, and wait.
Pray that I will wait with grace.
No Kiawah Half in December. No fun girly runs for several weeks, probably months. But I’m determined to make a comeback and to beat my 1:44 half marathon PR that I ran with a jalopy of a body.
But you know what? I must be nearing the acceptance phase of all this because I’m okay with it if I come back as a turtle. Slow and steady and healthy. Or even not at all. I will be okay if I never run another day in my life. I don’t think that’s the case, but I will be okay.
It was a wake-up call when even the physical therapist who is known in town for getting runners back on the streets or treadmills looks you in the eyes and tells you that rest is the very best thing for you right now. He tells you that the way he saw you running on the treadmill made him believe you were feeling pretty great. Now he knows I just push too hard. He also reassures you that your biomechanics aren’t messed up and that you’re probably sitting there injured because of over-training and perhaps not being more mindful of sleeping enough and eating enough. He reminds you that perfectionism is not the bar to set for you. If you want to be the best runner, mother, spouse, whatever, then it’s your idol because it’s impossible. Perfection is impossible.
Is “PERFECTIONIST” stamped on my forehead? Because more than massage therapy or stretching at my PT session yesterday I received a much-needed “come to Jesus” talk.
In this hardship I’ve seen how blessed I am. Since I don’t see my running peeps for workouts anymore, we met to crochet and knit. We’re cool like that. Two other dear friends left cards and care packages at my doorstep. They get it. They get me.
A dear, lifelong friend of mine who knew me during my eating disorder days recently had dinner with me, and she gently reminded me that I don’t have to perform at running or anything else. I know this has been a persistent theme over on this blog and in my life lately. I’m not sure why I’m struggling again, but the first step to overcoming these chronic feelings of inadequacy is to recognize them and to counter them. This same friend also said that I have a history of running myself in to the ground and that maybe this injury is God’s way of urging me slow down a little and to just soak up life in all its beautiful simplicity.
And, my friends, all this angst and emotion is not just about the running or lack thereof. Something is unfurling with in me at a much deeper level. I write to heal, so I’m writing. That’s all.
Have a happy and safe Halloween and a lovely Feast of All Saints. I hope to post some photos of tonight’s motley crew and tomorrow’s saintly crew.