Friday, February 27, 2009

a perfect ten

My pants cling tightly to my thighs with the same maddening tenacity as the growing layer of fat that stubbornly clutches my already-large-ish frame. This morning, I hate them both.

It all began, to my best estimation, with the marathon. Training for a marathon, it turns out, makes you hungry. To be more specific, training for a marathon makes you insanely crave carbohydrates to the point at which you think you will die (or kill) if you don’t have bread. LOTS of bread. For someone with insulin resistance, this creates a problem. The craving grows. It gets out of control. You try to fight it, but it is not something outside of you. It is within you. And it is winning.

Then, just for fun, you throw in an injury. You need to give it time to heal. It is Christmas. Brilliant. A month off of exercise right as the biggest carbohydrate celebration of the year cranks into full swing. Beautiful. Then add vacation. Add winter. Add snow days. Add illness. Add depression.

Add ten pounds.

Six weeks of trying to get back in gear, and the scale is going UP, not down. This is the point at which I go crazy.

I know all the right things to do. The right things to think. To say to myself. To pray about. I know. I KNOW. But knowing, in my life, doesn’t translate to anything changing, no matter what application I am currently running. There is some problem with the file—some virus, some mutation—that prevents the “losing weight and keeping it off” program from running properly. I don’t deal well with that. Input in should equal input out. Decrease calories and increase exercise should equal weight loss. It should be that simple. It appears to be for everyone else.

But, alas, I am not everyone else. And some days, I really, REALLY hate that, too.

Monday, February 23, 2009

a smattering of haiku

I came across several finished but not shared poems as I sorted through my scraps of inspiration this weekend. Thought I'd share a few:

i cannot control
that which should be con-
trollable to me

banging head on wall
blood covering my forehead
the wall does not move

red-stained rag in hand
you speak to me mystery—
“my grace is enough”

two glasses iced tea
and an iced café mocha
make one sleepless night

touch my fingertips
to the sun-speckled surface…
oh, to go deeper

waves lap my heart’s shore
awakening the senses,
bringing refreshing

tired, longing for
divine initiation—
come and move in me

anger and mercy
do not mix where i come from—
i cannot trust you

brush-strokes uneven,
painted into a corner—
no where else to go

low-lying black clouds
limit visibility
obscuring my view

listen as silence
whispers to my heart—all else
clamors to be heard

Sunday, February 22, 2009


Snippets of converstations. Writing prompts. Half-finished poems. Book outlines. Amassed on sticky notes. Napkins. Torn off corners of church bulletins, school papers, scraps off the floor of the car. Entire notebooks, one-word reminders. I spent part of my weekend sorting these bits and pieces of paper into an organized format. At this point, I could take an idea a day and never write them all, and that doesn't even take into account their computerized counterparts stored in files on my hard drive. It is half exciting, half depressing. What if I can't bring life to it all?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

an unlikely turn of events

They were not exactly fast friends. Already five when she was first introduced into his home, Max’s first response was barely short of indifference. To him, she was basically another, albeit hairless, lap cat. But then she started moving. And life for poor Max has never been quite the same.

“Relax, Max,” we have gently intoned ever since. But despite the fact cats sleep twenty-two hours out of a day, Max is not exactly a relaxed creature. When our daughter became mobile, it finally sent him over the edge into full-fledged neurosis. A living, breathing, moving stuffed animal is intensely interesting to an eighteen-month old. And our eighteen-month old was already intense to begin with.

So began Max’s love/hate relationship with my daughter. My daughter loved him dearly, he hated her with a terrified passion. The more she tried to win him over, the more skittish and slinky he became. She’d corner him, carry him, croon over him, and he, in turn, would cower and crawl away, crying for help. To his credit, he was incredibly patient—only turning his canines on her once, maybe twice, when she forgot to give heed to the twitching tail and pinned-back ears. But those were important lessons to learn, and I let her learn them on her own.

They lived in this manner of approach-avoidance for a good seven or eight years with very little changing. But then, one fall, his littermate, Ruthie, became ill and died, and life changed dramatically once again.

An affectionate cat to begin with, Max suddenly became downright needy. It wasn’t enough to sit contentedly on your lap. Oh, no. You had to be petting the kitty. And you couldn’t just gently stroke the kitty’s soft, vibrating back. No way. You had to rub the kitty’s nose. Again. And again. And again… And if you didn’t pet the kitty, over and over, the kitty would paw at you and nip at you until you either gave in or banished him permanently from the room. Which, of course, was only possible if you were in a room with a door.

This has been life with Max for the last three years. Scared to death of small hands and feet with big, loud voices yet desperate for the attention of anyone who will give it to him, something had to change. And slowly, without our noticing it, something did.

Sometime within the last year, either the cat changed, or the daughter changed, or both. Whatever the equation, I do not know who this cat is. The-cat-formerly-known-as-Max now allows my daughter to cart him all over creation, without so much as a sigh. He has even been known to follow her—the same cat that scampered away if she got within a ten-foot radius is now following the feet that threatened to trample him. He begged last night, for the second night in a row, to be let into her room to sleep with her. Begged. He sits with her—SITS WITH HER—completely still, for hours on end as she reads, curled up in her lap in a ball. ONLY WITH HER.

How is this possible? How can it be that the child who couldn’t be still enough to lure the cat who couldn’t stand movement is now the one that the cat who won’t lay still for anyone lays quietly upon? Huh??? Who is this child? And who is this cat?

Monday, February 16, 2009

just push her

There are tears coming from behind the cubbies. Earnest, gulping cries rising up over the top, the source unseen by all in the bleachers, but definitely not unheard. A mother makes her way to the edge of the mats, leaning over to assess the situation. She does not appear sympathetic. The cries grow louder, in spite of the flurry of activity going on around them. “Everyone else can do it! Why can’t I?,” the voice questions. “Oh, for crying out loud,” the woman replies, growing visibly agitated.

The child’s teacher confers with them, and talks them both over to the uneven bars located right in front of the bleachers where we are sitting. Her mom badgers her up on to the bar, the child still sobbing, her eyes ever downcast. She flips up onto the bar, her arms tight and her weight perched atop it. She swings her right leg up and threads it through her legs and freezes. Her mom lets out an “Oh jeeze,” throwing up her hands. The girl cries even louder.

The poor girl is afraid. It is evident. She is afraid, from her precarious perch, to tip forward and fall over the edge. “But I’ll be upside down,” she tells the teacher, who has graciously stayed after to help her. Her teacher reassures her. Her mother snorts and continues to badger her. The right leg comes down.

Mom bounces back and forth from the bleachers to the edge of the cubbies to “encourage” her six year old daughter. “I’m going to call your Dad and tell him you’re a quitter and a crybaby,” she yells from the bleachers, exasperated. I am mortified for this child. I am all for overcoming fear. But I am not at all for using shame as the motivator.

Mom begins to threaten. She’s going to call her dad and have him come get her so she can’t go to the sleepover. She’s not going to let her go to the meet tomorrow. She’s going to be grounded. If the child doesn’t do a mill-circle. She is obviously upsetting her daughter. She obviously doesn’t care, and continues nonetheless.

The teacher works with the girl for 30 minutes. The right leg comes up. She leans forward. She freezes. The right leg comes down. The scene is repeated multiple times. Mom is watching. Other kids are watching. At least ten other parents in the bleachers are watching. She is not flipping over the flippin’ bar. “Just push her,” a few of the moms joke. Her mother, however, is serious about it.

I know this child’s fear. I’ve never been perched atop a bar afraid of falling into the unknown, but I’ve stood frozen at the end of a diving board, afraid of being in over my head. I’ve cried the same tears of fear and embarrassment. I’ve had the teacher come along side me and tell me, “It’s okay—I’ll jump with you.” And then I’ve been pushed off the diving board, alone. But here’s the difference—instead of encouraging the hand behind me, my mother was furious. So much so that she demanded a refund and took us to private swim lessons. Would my mother have understood my fear? Probably not. Would she have wanted me to overcome it? Definitely. Would she have pushed me? Absolutely NOT.

They shame and pressure this poor child for an hour in front of God and everyone. “I just want her to get over her fear. I don’t want her to think she can cry and get out of stuff.” She laughs an awkward laugh—at least she has the decency to be self-conscious. Finally an older and wiser teacher takes over, working with the girl in increments. Putting a big foam block up under the bar, she gets the child to fall forward six inches, then finally a foot. But that is as far as she’s taking her tonight. “She is very afraid,” the teacher repeats over and over in her broken English, smiling but firmly shaking her head. The mother is not happy. It is evident she feels the teacher is a poor, gullible softie and has given in to the child’s tears. But the teacher knows what the mother obviously does not.

Fear isn’t overcome by pushing. Fear is overcome by coming along-side. Had my swimming teacher not broken my trust, had my teacher jumped with me as promised, my fear would have shrunken at least a size or two that day. Instead, she added shame and distrust to the mix, and the fear grew uncontrollably. This teacher knows better. It is a shame this mother does not.

I watch them leave, the daughter’s face downcast, but visibly relieved. The mother is finally silent if but for a moment, shaking her head as they put on coats and head out the door. I wonder what this small victory will cost this poor child. What promises will be broken? What privileges will be revoked? And all for what? But even more so, I wonder what this will cost her mother. What trust has been irrevocably lost between them? What impact will her words have on their relationship in both the days and years do come? And in the off chance she might ever be insightful enough to make the connection that her daughter’s teenage disdain for her might actually have just cause, would she, then, consider this night worth it? But, then again, that might be pushing the issue.

Monday, February 09, 2009


“We’re all going to fall in this life,” he intones in his trying-not-to-sound-like-a-Brooklyn accent. “When you fall, fall with awareness and acceptance.” I am standing on one foot, my other foot perched on my inner thigh. My clasped hands stretch up above my head into “tree pose” and I try not to notice my ankle wobbling ever so slightly. I gaze across the living room, my eyes focused on an object across the way, and I stand firm. This time.

I have had my share of falls. Balance is not one of my strong suites, literally or figuratively. I have gracefully entered a pose only to end up galumphed on my fanny with the beautiful, resounding type of thud you only get from hard wood floors. I have landed spread eagle center stage in front of hundreds of people, which, coincidentally, creates this same resonant thud, only louder. I have sopped up ice rinks, wiped up flights of stairs, and taken home large chunks of muddy trail all over my tail end. I have tripped, I have careened. I have wobbled, I have walloped. I have, indeed, fallen in this life.

As for the awareness and acceptance piece, the verdict is still out. I would like to think I am less mortified than I used to be—more able to laugh at myself, less worried about what an idiot I must have looked like. I’ve come to accept that this is just part of who I am—I am the girl who has to hold the railing every time she goes down the steps. The girl who must always look where she is going when she’s walking. Or driving. Or moving at all. The girl who should stick to sledding and never try skiing, since she’s bound to end up on her fanny anyway, so why not start there. So, I guess I could say that the acceptance piece is coming right along.

My daughter got a taste of this lesson—falling with acceptance—over the weekend. It was a hard one to watch. Coming off of her last gymnastics extravaganza, she went into this past weekend’s meet with great expectations. An expert at expectations, both met and unmet, I encouraged her to just do her best and enjoy herself. Nothing like an unmet expectation to spoil a perfectly good evening. Or week. Or life. But I digress.

Warm ups went swimmingly, and I tried once again to be content with sitting in the chairs and not being the coach. So many words of wisdom to impart, if only there were someone there to listen. Would those words have made the difference? Who knows.

They lined up along the floor for their first event, the uneven bars. One of her favorite events, this was usually a high score for her. She should be off to a good start. She told me later that as she watched the other girls go through their routines, she began to get nervous because the judge seemed “really strict.” When her turn finally came, she ponied up to the bar and began to swing. “I told myself I was gonna do my best, Momma. I told myself I was gonna get a 9.” She went at her routine in earnest, and probably a little too fast. She ended up falling out of two important elements, and walked away with a 6.9. She wouldn’t even look at me, or her yellow ribbon.

My heart ached for her—I knew the feeling of coming off a huge success only to have a failure meet you where another happy, shining moment was supposed to be. I also knew how hard it would be to refocus for the remaining three events, if she were to try to redeem the rest of the day. I wanted desperately to talk to her. I had to hope past conversations would resound in her head instead. She moved on to the beam, and managed to pull off a nearly flawless routine. Red ribbon this time—though many parents around us thought her score should have been higher, I was just relieved she had pulled it together. But I still wanted to talk to her.

As luck would have it, this particular meet was held in two separate but connected gymnasiums, which meant a huge shifting of crowds and athletes was necessary half way through the event. I took advantage of this mass exodus to snag her and her ribbons. I looked down at the yellow ribbon, where she had written “I sucked” on the back of it. On the front she had crossed out “Achievement” and had scribbled in the word “Failure.” I gave her a “what is this about” look. “I SUCKED,” she verbalized, burying her head in my chest and receiving my embrace. I pulled back from her and took her face in my hands.

“You’ve got to shake it off, Bub. Everybody falls. You’ve got to shake it off and keep going. Thinking that way isn’t going to help you.”

“But Momma…”

“No buts, Bub. You remember Momma’s yoga video? What does he say about falling? We ALL fall, don’t we? We have to fall with what?”

She looked at me blankly.

“We have to fall with awareness and acceptance. Acceptance. You fell. So what. Shake it off, and go do your best.”

She grinned, slightly embarrassed. “Okay, Momma…” And off she bounced.

Wouldn’t you know, she pulled herself together, and pulled off a 9.1 on floor and a 9.05 on vault. Two blue ribbons. The day had been redeemed.

In the car on the way home, she lamented that she had hoped for four blue ribbons, like the perfectly tall and proportioned Amanda from one of the lower levels had gotten. “Acceptance, Bub. It’s about acceptance. You pulled it together after a rough start and got two of the highest scores of the day—I think that’s pretty huge. Don’t you?”

She wouldn’t answer me, but I didn’t push it. We pulled into the Cracker Barrel parking lot and I simply announced that we are going to celebrate. The night had been a huge success, and we were going to acknowledge it. She ordered the biggest breakfast she could find on the menu, ate it all in one sitting, and together, with smiles and laughter all around, we celebrated falling and getting back up again.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

what's in a name?

I first met Much Afraid in my early twenties, introduced by a mutual friend who adored Hind's Feet on High Places and, as usual, determinedly wanted me to share in her delight. The more she persisted, as was her nature, the more I resisted, as was mine. Perhaps it was the dated cover image, perhaps it was just a subconscious attempt to say to her "I am not as like you as you'd like me to be," but, for whatever the reason, I just wasn't interested.

I don't know why I picked up the book years later, nor do I know when. All I know is that the timing was right and the story was even more so. How this author knew me so intimately, I'll never know. But there is was--the inner workings of my heart--played out in allegorical form for all to read. I have never related so strongly to a story before, nor have I since.

Hind's Feet on High Places tells the story of little Much Afraid, a crippled and disfigured young woman who lives in the Valley of Fear with all of her Fearing Family relatives. Much Afraid loves the shepherd who comes and tends his flocks there, and as he befriends her, he begins to tell her of the High Places upon which he roams. She longs to accompany him to these High Places, but is certain her disability will prevent her from ever being able to do so. Finally, however, in a moment of desperation, as her relatives attempt to force her to wed her cousin Craven Fear, she goes away with the Shepherd and accepts his promise that he will make her feet like the feet of the deer.

The story is an allegory of the spiritual journey many of us embark upon when we set off to follow Christ and become, in our feeble and lame attempts, more like him. Her journey could not have possibly been any more relateable to me. Given Sorrow and Suffering as her companions, she heads off on her way, only to discover that the path leads her AWAY from the mountains, not toward them. This is but the first of her detours as she is pursued by her Fearing relatives who are determined to bring her back, lest their darling son Pride be wounded. Deserts, desolate beaches, sheer rock cliffs, and fog-enveloped forests are but some of the things she must endure as she learns Acceptance with Joy and Bearing the Cost. They are lessons hard learned, but unlike me, who would still be standing at the very first crossroads stomping my feet, she does, indeed, learn them.

Much Afraid makes it to the High Places, though the journey is not what she at all expected. But Fear cannot abide with Perfect Love, and so she must be given a new name to mark her tranformation. The Shepherd changes the names of her travel companions into Joy and Peace--the companions she had wished for all along. And upon our little Much Afraid he bestows the title Grace and Glory, and she is so overcome she cannot speak.

For years I prayed that God would transform me from Much Afraid into Grace and Glory. It was the cry of my heart for nearly a decade. And then I got pregnant.

As I began to search for a name for my firstborn, I scoured every name book I could find. Finally, one day, the thought dawned on me that I should look up my own. I flipped through the pages, headed for the L's. There it was: Lorie. I did a double take.

Lorie: Literally Crowned With Laurels; Victorious, Glorious Victory. Hmmm... Very interesting.

I moved on to my middle name, flipping back to the A's. Finding Anne, I gasped.

Anne: Grace.

Grace. Glorious Victory. Grace and Glory. How was this possible? How did my parents, seeking merely to add a unique spelling twist to a popular name of that period, name me EXACTLY what I would pray for later in life? But the story gets even more interesting, thanks to my friend Kim.

Sometime in my early growing up, I decided I did not like the name Lorie. I can't remember why. I just didn't. And so I announced this to my mother, decrying her choice and lamenting Why did you name me that? "That's fine," she responded with an impish grin. "We'll just call you Gertrude instead."

And so she did. Gertie stuck, and was my nickname for nearly twenty years. Fortunately, I have a good sense of humor, and even more fortunately, I actually liked it. To this day, I will still sometimes sign cards to my mother with this moniker, and have even made it a part of my current email address. Which is why Kim knew this additional namesake, and, I'm assuming, why, when reading a recent post in which I lament not being able to live up to my name, she must have looked it up.

It is no secret I have lived much of my life feeling defeated. It is also no secret that I long for this to change. I long to stand, both here and in eternity, with the crown of laurels upon my head and know that I have seen the victory over all that has bound me. Victorious over my fear and anxiety. Victorious over my lifelong fight with depression. Victorious over my struggle with my weight. Victorious over my struggles with food. Victorious over the chronic pain. Victorious over selfishness and pride. Victorious over marital depreciation. Victorious over the voices in my head that tell me I can't, I shouldn't, I won't. But how? How does one who has lived as Much Afraid find this victory? It is amazing to me how my mother has aptly named me not once, but twice.

Gertrude, Kim informs me, means Beloved Warrior.

When I read her comment, I laughed out loud at the God who put my name upon my mother's heart over 38 years ago, knowing I would pray years later for such a name and countenance. And I laughed even louder at the wonder of a God who named me yet again, years later through this same woman, for me to experience, today, in a moment of need, Him pressing yet another reminder of how he sees me onto my war-weary heart.

So you must excuse me, as I must be off to climb a mountian. Renewed in strength, I will take the hands of my companions and trudge forward. After all, the High Places await...

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

road blocks

Ain't it just the way? You're moving along, minding your own business. Then, you try to make a change. Go a different direction. Get out of a rut. And suddenly life spins out of control. You can't stop it. You grip the wheel tightly. You try to regain your course.

You slam into a curb.

Yep. That's just the way life is.

They don't plow our street. This is the first problem. Snow accumulates. People drive on it. It gets slushy. It makes a mess. It freezes. It becomes ice. It melts. I becomes a slushy mess again. Cars drive through the mess, leaving ruts. It freezes again. The cycle repeats. And repeats again. Then, it doesn't get above freezing. The ruts don't melt. They are smooth, solid ice. And when you try to get out of one to turn to get off the God-forsaken street to go pick up your son from kindergarten, your back end spins out and your front end lurches toward the curb and you end up, at ten miles an hour, nose to nose with a cement barrier.

Life has been a never-ending cycle of slamming into curbs and fire hydrants. Stuff accumulates. Hurts. Frustrations. Vows. They form ruts I bump along in for years. I get tired of the ruts. I try to get out. Do something different. Go a different direction. Take a different street. But something inevitably ends up in my path, denting my inner-bumper and leaving a streak of gray across my psyche.

A layer of salt, perhaps? An ice pick? Or the promise of a weekend thaw? What will it take to clear the way and make traversing the landscape safe again? What will it take for me to get to where I need to go in one piece?

hold nothing back

Write those things I say to you. Write and hold back nothing of all I shall say to you. For I shall speak to you in the darkness and shall make your way a path of light. I will cry to you out of the confusion round about, and you shall hear my voice and shall know that which I do. for my way is hidden from the rebellious, and from the disobedient, and from those who seek to walk in their own wisdom. But look to me, and I will be your beacon in the night, and you will not stumble over the hidden things. You will walk in the way of victory...

From Come Away My Beloved

This passage, as evidenced by the circling and underlining and highlighting and starring that surrounds it, has spoken to me greatly over the past year as I've completely devoured this very intimate devotional. It speaks to me, again, today, as if I've never read it before. As a "seeker of walking in my own wisdom," I long to walk in the way of victory he describes. My name, after all, means victorious. How can one possibly feel at peace in their own skin if they are living contrary to their very definition, imparted to them from before birth?

But so much darkness and confusion can begin to engulf me, obscuring my vision, making it hard to see my way clear through the inner maze of my heart. But he gives me a light in that darkness. He tells me what to do. Write. "Write and hold back nothing of all I shall say to you."

For years I avoided writing again--it felt too vulnerable to even consider the thoughts in my head, much less put them to paper. To do so would mean to feel, and feeling was something I had generally been avoiding. Even as I returned to writing five years ago, I barely dipped my toes in the pool, afraid to dive in--afraid, as always, of the deep water. This was fine when it was just my husband and me--he was content, most of the time, to sit on the edge of the pool by me with an occasional splash thrown in to remind him he was still alive in the water. But not now. Now we have children, and they play right smack dab in the middle of the water, where I cannot reach them from the edge. And they are begging me, as is their father, to come on in, the water's fine.

This is my attempt to get over my fear of the water. My attempt to shatter my fear of the deep. My attempt to reconnect with my heart, and with those who have been affected by having severed that connection years ago. This is my attempt, however imperfect and inconsistent and inane, to "Write those things I say to you," hoping and praying that as I write my way through this darkness, He will be faithful to "make my way a path of light."

Monday, February 02, 2009

building boats

Working on an outline for a workshop I'm giving on Wednesday. Ironically, I'm going to talk to other Moms about how to not worry about their kids. (Stop snickering. No, really. Stop.) Came across this quote I'd underlined a while back...

Parenthood is a never-ending journey down a wide river of worry and love. You get in that boat with your kids and you never get out. They get out--they build their own boats and row into their own destinies--but you stay in the original boat, always their parent, forever caring...
Elizabeth Lesser

I don't like this whole "build their own boat" thing. It seems a cruel joke to me to invest so much of my heart into these people who will leave me and eventually only call once a week, at best. It is more than my heart can bear to think about now. They tell me, however, that the teen years will make that transition easier...

We'll see.

Sunday, February 01, 2009


My BABY turns six Tuesday. I am not old enough to have a six year old BABY. Thank God he still LOOKS like he's four--I couldn't take it if he grew up any faster!!!

The monkey cake my little monkey asked for...