A lighted match

Anytime I think I don’t need to go so frequently to the therapist, I’m proven wrong. Every. Single. Time.

Sometimes I internally measure my need for therapy by how long it takes me to start crying in a session. I get a cup of tea from the Keurig that’s provided in the practice I go to, get settled on the couch (yes just like the movies except I’m drinking tea so ya gurl is sitting, not laying down) and let out a big breath.

My therapist sometimes has knitting in her lap when I come in, or meditation beads, or just a pen and her leather bound journal. This time she had beads, and I envied the fact that she had, for all intents and purposes, a fidget. I want one.

Anyway, something had been bubbling up for a few days before that because when she asked me, “How are you? What’s been going on?” I felt a huge release. And that’s because she actually means, “How are you? How is your life? What do you want to explore today?”

And I broke down in tears, not quite to the ugly cry stage, but it was a cry from my soul that I didn’t realize was there until it happened. But I was glad she had the good Kleenex.

“I want my life to have meaning,” I said through tears and exaggerated gestures.

And that’s what we explored… for an hour.

She told me that when people have experienced mortality in some way — through suicide or loss of a family member, or through a different kind of loss like infertility — they begin to think about these things. And I’m two for two on that list.

What I pictured in that moment was that I had been in a dark room, completely dark, so that I couldn’t see even my hand in front of me. I wasn’t even fumbling around; I was just standing in the dark room.

Then, someone lit a match. It doesn’t matter who. But the weak glow from a singular match started to illuminate the dark room, and now I could see things.

And those things I can’t un-see. 

Even if I stand in the same room, pitch black where I can’t see anything in front of me, not even my hand, I will know what’s there.

And that for me is like seeing mortality.

Now that I’ve seen it, I can never go back to not knowing.

I can’t go back to living a life that’s not headed somewhere important. I may not know where that is, but what I’m learning is that the journey is the important part.

We’re all going to arrive at the end of earthly life. The destination is not a mystery. But what we’ll be wondering about is the journey that started with a single match.

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Honesty is the best policy, with yourself

It’s two weeks into the new year but I think I’m finally coming up with a solid resolution. Sure, getting up 15 minutes earlier on work days is great, but I thought of something that will help every minute of every day become better.

This year I’ve decided to be honest with myself. This phrase “honest with myself” has been hiding in my shadow for a couple months now.

What exactly does it mean to be honest with oneself? It should be easy to be honest reflexively because we are the only ones with ourselves all day every day. Right? Wrong.

What I could be is different than what I should be, and all of that is worlds different than what I am. And what I am is what’s getting life done day in and day out. It’s who people see, who they talk to or about. It’s who I represent. The who that could or should be is all in my head. Reality is not matching the beautiful but deceptive picture in my brain. And it all comes down to pride.

No wonder I have issues.

For me this year being honest with myself will be focused on my commitments. This means everything from work to volunteering to running to frequency of phone calls to family and friends….

What I want to do and be committed to has gotten really fucked up in the past several years. Everything has been on the table because the way I thought my life was going to be most definitely is not. It so far has been the biggest eff you ever. And in this process I’ve found out how to be honest with myself. It hurts, so be prepared.

So it starts with the outward – the commitments and relationships – and moves inward to the feelings and intentions. It’s okay to not want to do something just because I don’t want to. It’s okay to consider committing to a 30-day yoga plan and then finally deciding not to. It’s okay to tell myself that I don’t want to be in x relationship anymore because I honestly don’t feel like it’s being reciprocated. It’s okay to be honest with myself about my hostile and violent feelings towards all pregnant women at Ikea on a Sunday afternoon.

And it’s okay to let all the barriers down and cry when I need to cry and laugh when I need to laugh, even if that means being best friends with the Kleenex box in a therapy session in a room that smells like lavender and patchouli.

Expectations, meet Reality. I hope you’ll get along.

Who Am I?

This question makes me think of the character Jean Valjean in my favorite musical of all time, Les Miserables. Prisoner 24601. That’s how he was known for years and years. And I think up until his dying day, it’s an identity forced on him that he carried to his grave.

We all have identities that are either chosen or forced upon us. Up until I was about 30, there was always an epithet after my name… Elizabeth the oldest daughter of Jon and Melissa. Elizabeth, Eileen’s granddaughter. Elizabeth the honors student (again and again and again). Elizabeth the piano teacher. Elizabeth the college student. Elizabeth the wife, and then Army wife.

Alternate identities can be a welcome invisible shield from who we really are, especially if the underlying being is of an unsure form. Like me. I grasped onto any positive or powerful or proud name I could through my childhood and early adulthood. I really wanted to please people, anyone: my parents, my grandparents, my sisters, my teachers, and then my boyfriend now-husband.

I wanted to look good on social media, on Christmas cards. I wanted to convey a sense that I had my life together because it was much easier than being honest with not only myself but everyone. It hurt to be honest, to myself especially because you have to live with yourself.

So for years I hid behind my shield, and I had an acute awareness that hiding was exactly what I was doing. But I didn’t know how to put that cloak on the floor. I’d be naked. I’d be seen for who I really am. (FWIW I know this all sounds cliche but guess what? I don’t care. It’s honest.)

I remember a distinct moment when all my alternate identities no longer were serving me. I was “home” in Illinois visiting for Christmas. Earlier that year I’d just graduated with a Master’s degree (a welcome accomplishment and identity to add to the list) and I’d landed a job as a professor.

I made sure that everyone knew I was a professor and not “just” a teacher, like I’d started my career years before that. I felt I had really made in the world. Even if during my ridiculously short tenure as a professor I felt like an imposter the whole time. I didn’t even had a PhD. I wasn’t “Doctor”. Hell, I’d barely even studied much of the subject of the department I was a part of. But I was all of a sudden an expert in my area. No pressure, right? But I clung to that identity as Professor as tightly as I could.

The tidy list of accomplishments that I thought made up who I was began to really unravel for me when we were trying to get pregnant and couldn’t. If I’m honest, my whole life all of my identities were just placeholders for when I’d be a wife. And then they still stayed tight in their places until I would become a mother. But in the same time of about six months, I lost my title of Professor due to moving and having to resign from the job, and then I really lost the possibility of being a Mother when we decided to not pursue treatment and live without children.

That moment during a winter break, I was just Elizabeth, Elizabeth who was loved and who loved her family. Elizabeth who barely wore makeup except mascara or changed her earrings or went on runs before Christmas dinner or watched silly movies with the kids while the adults played games. Elizabeth who likes to read and play music and drink wine and talk about deep things. Elizabeth who’s been in love with the same man for almost half her life. Elizabeth who loves deeply and a little recklessly and takes almost everything personally. Elizabeth who is generally anxious and has a penchant for situational depression. Elizabeth who has big opinions about a few things and doesn’t care much about the rest.

When I realized all the other identities, or rather, qualities that made me up as a whole person, it began a search for truth about who I am, what’s important, and why I’m on the earth. And the answers to any of those big questions really don’t have much to do with my alter egos, my other identities I hide behind in order to not face the fact that most days I am confused about my purpose on the earth. And least of all it doesn’t have much to do with whether my uterus will sustain a child or not.

At first taking off the cloak of epithets was difficult. Painful. Soul-wrenching. I grieved. And then after awhile it was freeing, and now I’d never dream of putting the cloak(s) back on.

 

The Gift of Enough

Sometimes I do the torturous math and think that if we had had a child soon after we started trying, he/she would be a preschooler. And sometimes I think that maybe we’d have had another one by now, too. I guess I aspired to be a mom with kids close in age, and voluntarily participate in the (observed) crazy that goes along with that, especially on Christmas morning.

More children, more gifts, bigger house, more shoes, more socks, more laundry, more…

But my life years not just later but apart from those possibilities is, from a bird’s eye view, empty.

Our Christmas table has four place settings, two more than it usually does. Actually, four more than it usually does since Aaron and I generally sit at the counter on stools to eat almost every meal.

After our Christmas Eve meal and time with friends yesterday, our sink was full of coffee mugs and wine glasses… with more than there usually are. After opening gifts from each other and then with friends, our tree stands alone in its simple glory: white lights, red ribbon, and matching ornaments, not to be outshone by a plethora of gifts below.

It can be anxiety- or depression-inducing to think of all the ways that our life is not enough, but I’m here to tell you (and most importantly myself) after years of infertility and a whole (blessed) year of therapy (thank God), this is all enough.

My one now-dirty coffee mug lovingly embracing my second cup of coffee is enough. Our house, quiet though it is on Christmas morning, is enough. My artificial pre-lit tree enthroned by a beautiful sunrise is enough. Our small Christmas Eve and Christmas Day gatherings are enough. Our simple yet rich meal today will be enough. My husband and I are enough. I (and my empty womb) are enough.

Last night at the candlelight service, our pastor preached on how Jesus met people where they were. That Jesus’ birth in a manger was announced to the shepherds because they would know to find a manger in a stable. That the wisemen were given a star because with their knowledge and wisdom of the cosmos they would be able to find Jesus.

And on this quiet Christmas morning with just my sleeping husband and dog upstairs, Jesus has met me where I’m at, and that’s enough.

“Good with children”

I’ve always been this way, good with children. If there’s such a thing as a maternal instinct, I have it. As much as I’d like to say I always played with Legos and didn’t prefer my Cabbage Patch Kids and doll house and play kitchen, I’d be lying if I did.

Not that having a maternal instinct and being domestic, as it were, go hand-in-hand, but for me they do.

So when I was first in the throes of infertility after its discovery, I for awhile believed that my being good with children was a farce, and something forced on me. But truly, it’s not.

I internally cringed when my therapist told me that I’d find ways to ‘mother’ others. I did not want to mother other people’s children, you know. I had wanted to mother my own, dammit.

But here I am to say that she was right, and I have known that this thing about myself is real and true and I can’t divorce it from my empty womb and healing heart.

I act on it all day long in my job with elementary aged students, attending to their sad faces and knee scrapes and tattling about their classmates. I act on it when I ask the youth if they need a ride home. I act on it with my many nieces and nephews, even from afar. I act on it when I run with a friend’s daughter during a 5K.

It’s just manifesting itself much differently than I thought it would, but I’m so grateful for those opportunities that other afford me with their children because infertility or not, it’s who I am.

A Little Bit (of) Sad

Today during a lesson with a newcomer student, she and I were chatting in Spanish and she said that I seemed a little sad to her. I told her, I was a little tired actually. And in her sweet Honduran Spanish, looking down at the letters she was tracing with her adorable dark pigtail braids, she told me that in her heart and mind she knows I’m a little sad.

She’s right.

In addition to being a little sad, I’m also so touched by the perception of a seven year old child who for all intents and purposes acts like a drunk adult, hiding under the table, jumping out from behind the door, skipping in the hallway. But still she (and I’m convinced all children everywhere) has an innate and intrinsic knowing about humans. They see straight to the truth.

How presumptuous we adults are, thinking that kids aren’t listening, or that they’re too young to understand. But their amusing and sometimes downright frustrating behavior belies the knowing in their hearts.

I have no idea the trauma or struggles this student of mine has gone through to now be here, on the East Coast of the United States, immersed in a language and culture she hasn’t fully grasped yet. But she knows what sad or hurt people look like. And she calls it out.

I think I’ll always carry this little bit of sad with me. I think everyone has a little bit of sad they carry with them as well. Some are just better at hiding it than others, stuffing it deep into lined pockets. Concealing it in between the couch cushions.

But unlike adults having to dig to find the little bit of sad, children can see exactly where it is and hold it gingerly for us to look at and ponder.

How interesting and providential that the absence of children broke me and now their presence has been aiding in my healing.

Catalyst

I went through a few years playing faith and going through the motions. I felt I really had no viable option otherwise. I hadn’t lost my faith but I didn’t feel connected either. The time after my first grandma died was also the time I was initially grieving children we would never have, and for its entirety I felt like I was watching faith and religion be played on the big screen after I had given away my ticket to the show.

I prayed, most definitely I prayed. I felt God’s presence, but more as an obvious thing, like the fact that on a sunny day the sky will also show itself to be blue. I believed, but believing in Jesus was believing the sky is blue.. an obvious fact without depth.

About these references to the blue sky. I spent, and do spend, a lot of time viewing, admiring, and analyzing the sky – particularly sunrises and sunsets. On summer days I was convinced that the sky was just not as poignantly blue as it was in El Paso.

And then I’d start to reminisce about El Paso and begin to miss it. But not the physical city itself.. the feeling of belonging and home. In a city where I was the minority for once, I still made sure to make it my home. Inevitably in my mind I’d get off on a tangent about what am I doing in Maryland anyway. What is my life amounting to. What’s the purpose of my life anyway.

That thought of purpose brought me back to sitting on Mimi’s deathbed with a fuzzy blanket. A literal bed where her death occurred. There have been very few times in my life where God has revealed himself to me. But in those last hours before we left her, God was there. Just as He was there when she came into the world as she left it: alone. He was orchestrating the entire event. And before my heart had broken with the finality of her loss he’d already begun to mend it.

To be completely honest I had no other option, and He knew that I think. It was all or nothing at that point for me, and I needed a catalyst to not be a wallflower to my faith, or my life, anymore.