Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Surfacing

One year ago today I wrote a post about the beauty I expected to emerge from a wretchedly bad 2013. What I was unable to tell you at the time is that in November I realized my marriage was effectively over. While I wrote about mysterious health problems, the death of my niece, and difficult personal challenges, I was mostly thinking about the realization that this thing I had fought for for over a decade, was never ever ever going to be healthy, normal, or fulfilling. Last New Years Eve, I felt that the ground had opened beneath my feet and I was plunging 1000 miles an hour into a pit of sorrow, fear, and shame. I knew what was ahead, though I couldn't foresee the terms or the means or how long it would take to pull the trigger - nor how I would ever get passed the dreams in my heart for a contented, connected, and close marriage in which to spend the rest of my days. A dream that I doggedly pursued since "I do", a dream I had now realized really never would come true.

I was broken. And plain terrified. I'd wake up in the night my heart racing, practically gasping for oxygen. Getting through every day without being crushed by the terror was a triumph. How would I take care of us? I was sick thinking that the close relationship I have with my daughters would be altered forever, worse - that because of us they would turn out to be little drug addicts and serial killers. Who would hold my hand in the doctor's office someday when the cancer diagnosis came in? And after a really abysmal track record, was I, in fact, destined to be alone forever? I longed to tell you then, so I was not so alone in my pain. But I needed us to pick a direction and move in it before doing so. I am shocked by how it has gone. In ways I didn't anticipate, far far worse. But in other ways, with much more grace and peace than either of us should be able to reasonably muster.

Somehow I found the courage to not just tell you I was hopeful for my future, but mean it. Though the destination ahead in unclear, I am no longer standing in wreckage paralyzed by fear and inaction. I am walking somewhere on a path that I chose. And everyone knows that when I start moving forward, there's no stopping me until I reach the finish line, no matter how ugly the march may be. I told you about the upside to forest fires and similar natural disasters, that wipe out flora in an area, giving rise to new plants that never would have survived or thrived there in normal circumstances. What is in my heart, in my life now, are these little seedlings - new dreams, that have grown strong roots and are on the cusp of surfacing.

Aging brings recognition that the experience of life is universally one of struggle -  we seem to merely travel from one crisis or tragedy to the next in life, with little reprieves in between. Sickness, financial crisis, death, relational pain - boom boom boom, these events pummel us like tidal waves again and again. To not drown in each fresh hell, I have discovered the necessity to viciously grasp a thread of hope. Even when hope seems stupid or impossible or useless, it isn't. Hope in something eternal - something immovable and constant. A God. Balance in the universe. The essential goodness of mankind. Last year, though it was barely in my heart to do so, I said the word hope, and by saying it and choosing it, it became real for me.
 Friends, there is always always hope. If this wasn't your year, tonight you can wipe the slate clean. You can skip all the BS about losing weight and taking more time to focus on personal development that we vow on January 1st, and instead just choose to believe. Believe it'll be okay in the end, and if it isn't okay yet - that's because it's not the end.

I sincerely want to thank again those who have supported me over the last year. It's been a long haul. It's not over yet. But I know it would have been 100 times harder if not for you. May 2015 bring each of you blessing, contentment, and yes - hope.

Godspeed.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Divorce

Jim and I are getting divorced.

If you are stunned, or in need of explanation, then I have admirably done what I determined to do. No, it was not to perpetuate a lie on you, but to always cling to what is hopeful and good. My earnest desire concerning our marriage has always been for success and redemption, and my dearest hope was that it would come to pass. I am certain that what you put into the world, and what you focus on, often dictates the course of events. And in that vain, I have presented to you what wasn't the most true, but what I so much wanted to be true. Nobody is more shocked than myself that God did not redeem this union. It didn't occur to me, in my deepest heart that it wouldn't all work out in the end. Yet it hasn't. So I will tell you now what I can, to the best of my capabilities, to satisfy curiosity or confusion while trying to respect our privacy. I trust that you will show it respect as well.

Firstly, so that we are clear about it, our decision has not come about lightly, on a whim, or because of a specific incident or crime against one another. We are, it is no secret, faith filled people, and you must believe me when I tell you that what stands between my husband and I is literally a mountain of unanswered prayer and an ocean of tears. You must understand how long, and how sincerely we fought for our marriage, which has exceeded it's expiration date.

There is nothing in this world I value as much as my commitment to God, except my commitment to our daughters. Our marriage has been difficult from the first moment, and the challenges these last 11 years never eased. While freely admitting that we are a bad match, I believe down to my toes that God meant for us to be married for this season of life. Chiefly, because we created brilliant, empathetic, charming human beings. But also, I suspect, as a catalyst toward change in our own respective lives. I can speak only for myself here by saying that I learn the best lessons by trying. And often failing. By marrying people who were so obviously wrong for ourselves, and attempting to make them fit into what we desired, we have each suffered an enormous amount of pain. Yet, I would have never known what is right, until I so palpably experienced what is wrong.

Because of our desire to give the girls a stability and consistency that we feel we missed out on as children, we walked this road for far too long. When it became apparent that we were merely hanging on until it was the right time for them, and that we could not avoid causing them pain, we decided it was better to end this sooner rather than later. As we are not "plate throwers", and have done a decent job of insulating the children, this has come as a painful shock. However, by modeling for them a marriage that was tense, cold, and lacking in functional friendship (and then unceremoniously ending it when they were emancipated), we set up the likely scenario that they would, like us, choose the wrong people for themselves and pay much more dire consequences. It is an utter horror to perpetrate this type of pain on your own children, the worst thing ever to know it cannot be avoided no matter what is done. If you pray, I would be blessed if you'd consider adding their adjustment to our new situation, to your daily ritual.

Jim and I traveled life together as a couple for thirteen years. This road has now reached it's end. I recognize that there are many victims of divorce, besides the couple and their children. All of you, our friends and family, will have adjustments to make - as you may have allegiances and family bonds to honor. Losing someone that you considered part of the family or even just one of the gang can be confusing and painful for anyone. Worse, if you are "couple" friends, the terrible task of perhaps "choosing sides" comes before you. I want you to know that I have valued and treasured Jim's family and the friendships that we created together. But I completely understand and accept the withdrawal process that needs to take place. And if you identify more closely as "his" friend than "mine", I honor that and accept that you need to do what is best for yourself.

It should be hard to think of blessing during such dark times. The day we told our children what was going to happen was absolutely the worst day of my life so far, as I am sure it was their's. Yet. Yet I can look around and easily call out thanks for so so much. Thank God that He loves us. Thank God that there are two parents here who adore and desire relationship with these kids. Thank God that there are resources available so that neither of us will have to struggle with putting food on the table. And mostly, thank God for the absolutely incredible, supportive, loving friends and family I have, who have been walking through this tough time with me. Never running away from my pain or the ugliness, but daily encouraging me, expressing belief in me, and hope for our future. I am so so humbled. I am awed every day by it, and feel as though I can't possibly deserve it. I know I am being taught an incredible lesson in humility, and what real relationship can be. Thank you to my dear ones, you know who you are.

For now we know almost nothing. Where we will each reside and the division of our children's time remains to be sorted out with the assistance of the courts. But there is one thing I do know - one day, this will all be okay. One day, the pain will fade until it is merely a small scar; we will all be adjusted to our new lives and moving forward once again. More plainly put, what I tell myself is this: "Someday, I am going to be awesome. And my kids will feel awesome again." And with any luck, this will merely be remembered as a sad chapter in a very long and satisfying life story for each of us.





Thursday, March 27, 2014

Going Somewhere

Insert trite saying here, such as "life is a winding road" or "the only constant is change" blah blah. I got some news, that I was loathe to tell anyone because, obviously, then everyone will know. And judge, cheer or jeer. And of course there is the huge barnacle that all perfectionists carry - what if I FAIL? and everyone knows it. But I am going to share this because there are a lot of folks who think, in regards to making big changes, something like: "it's too late" or "I'm too old" or "that's too scary". But, it is the example of some lovely women I know that have made those big leaps and sacrficies that inspired me to do the same. So, in the spirit of encouragement here ya go: I am going to college.

Let me back up and revisit the moment, at our big HS senior party when I won some sort of drawing. On the entry ticket you were required to write your name, and where you were attending college. After spending 12 years in the Catholic education system, not going to college was unthinkable. Even the slower kids and slackers were going somewhere. They drew my name. "Shelley Anderson!, " he read. "Shelley is uh.....going nowhere." A cheer went up in the crowd. I felt for a moment like a hero - brave enough to make a decision that quite a few wanted to make, but didn't have the courage to because of family pressure. But I wasn't a hero, just a kid who knew herself. The reason I didn't go? I am a practical gal - I simply didn't have a dream. (sort of like the anti MLK Jr. "I don't have a dream..." ) Why waste money and time, just because I was "supposed to"? I never liked doing what I was supposed to, so I didn't. And I don't. I rarely regretted the decision. Perhaps only in those odd moments when groups of strangers were trotting out their credentials. And I had none of my own.

But this isn't entirely honest. 90% of the reason I didn't attend college after High School was because I couldn't think of anything I specifically wanted to pursue, that would lead to a decent career. The other 10% was fear based. I graduated in the top 20% of a pretty smart bunch, but deep down - I didn't think I could hack it. The truth is that, besides a natural propensity for language, I kind of felt like I was ...well - dumb.

But things change. I've had 17 years out of school and 9 years out of the workforce, to look after my gals. And a lot of time to think. I've been some amazing places, and done some confidence building and worthwhile things in the last decade. Staying home to raise a family is admirable and worth doing. But I find in myself, that my contentment is inextricably linked with advancement and achievement. I am satisfied most in life, when I make progress. I want to work. I want to gain knowledge. I think I kind of NEED to.

So a few months ago, when I felt a call in my heart to pursue a particular profession, I had to make a decision. Keep on doing...not much. Running my non-profit, writing for a little extra cash, hanging with my kids in the summer. Or do the really poop in your pants terrifying thing of go to college so I can have...wait for it - a CAREER. That is insane to even think of, for a girl who has had more low end jobs in 8 years than most would have in their lives. College.With a bunch of kids. And face down the algebra demons, and the chem lab ghosts. And the field I've chosen, it couldn't get much worse, really. I HAD to pick the thing that was like insanely HARD to do. I've had several admissions reps tell me it's difficult to get into this program. Pile on the stress!

But though they made me tear up a little and get down for a moment, I had made up my mind. This is what I am going to do. If I can't go in the front door, I'll go in the back door. I will get into this program - I am determined, because I want a better life for me and my family. I am 34 years old. I have not sat in a classroom and taken notes in 17 years. But, as my buddy Josh says: I have to take my life to the Next Level. I am not going to stagnate here. I want more. Everything I've done up until this point has been a stepping stone to the thing I fear most - taking a risk and possibly finding out, for real this time, that I am not good enough. I hope I will find the opposite. But my willingness to TRY is a huge win for high anxiety self doubting perfectionists everywhere. If it isn't too late for me - then it's not too late for you either. We only get one shot in life...blah blah etc etc. DO something.

Godspeed.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013: Beauty from Ashes

A recent survey conducted by the Economist revealed that 2 in 3 Americans think 2013 stunk. It's good to know I'm not alone.

While I am a much more emotionally balanced and optimistic person than I once was, that doesn't prevent me from saying this:

2013 has been unequivocally, the worst year of my life.

It began with mysterious health struggles, that still persist. Continued with the pain and shame of cancelling and then resigning from a race I founded and love. Then my niece died. My athletic ability faded away. My body saddled with constant pain. My parents sold our childhood home and moved away. Depression. Anxiety. Serious personal difficulties. And more than my share of emotional pain. And at times - anguish.

So I am not sad to see the door close on 2013. In fact, I can hardly throw it out onto the street fast enough.

Yet, time and circumstance changes all people. So, though I have been staring hard at a few rotten trees this year, I can still see the forest. There is good that comes from pain...balance in the universe. In fact, I am unable to think of one bad thing that has happened in life, that didn't give rise to something good. Maybe not equally as good, because no one said life was a zero sum equation. But good, nonetheless. Christians call that "beauty from ashes".

In the mountains - forest fires, landslides, and avalanches can destroy delicately balanced natural systems. But ecologists are quick to point out that there are hosts of species, unable to survive in old growth land areas. Change in surface environment creates a diverse environment where new species can survive. So, after the devastation, new things will take root that never existed in that place before. Different plants, attracting new wildlife. Creating some of the most rich and beautiful landscapes. Yes, there is destruction, but eventually there is new life.

So while I am excited to say goodnight to this awful year, I anxiously anticipate the new growth that will come. I write this to encourage those who have suffered far worse than myself. Those who have lost the ability to see the forest any longer. Take heart, Americans. The seeds are sown, it won't be long now before they surface.

Godspeed.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Harper's Legacy

"Dear Diary,
I had that dream again. The one with the stillborn babies. This time they were lined up on small brown mats - dozens of them lying identically and lifelessly on their sides. They aren't grotesque - they are beautiful and frail and delicate, curled into perfect balls. Sometimes there is one baby, other times - like last night, too many to count. 1 in every 160 births. 2,000 babies a day.

I've been having this dream since the day Harper arrived. The days before that it was of me and my sister, heavily pregnant in the forest. Waiting to give birth to death. But after she came, it has been the babies. Bones and ashes. Helpless little bodies. I don't spend my days dwelling on her, but the dreams still come.

I got to lay eyes on her just that once. On her graceful perfectly formed hand. The pearly shell fingernails. I couldn't help it. I bent down to the tiny casket, that was shorter than my shin bone, and pushed my face right in. Studying her hands and her face. The mind cannot comprehend a human so small. I had to get close to be sure she wasn't a doll. Her existence defies definition. She was never "alive". Yet you wouldn't dare think that, because she so obviously was. I memorized her hand, poking out from under her ribbon cuffed gown.

What can be done for these that I dream of? Featherless birds, perished from nothingness to nothingness? There is only one thing I can do - clothe them."

I wrote this in my dear diary on July 6th, two weeks after our niece Harper was stillborn. I had been haunted by these dreams ever since leaving Louisiana. Harper had been clothed for her photos and funeral by a non-profit called Threads of Love. They provided a beautiful gown and bonnet, as well as some memory items, to Wendy and Steve in the hospital. The gift touched them so much that they asked for memorial donations in Harper's name to be directed there. I read up on the international ministry, that has more than 100 chapters world wide, and found there wasn't one in Western NY. I'll have to change that, I thought to myself.
And then I came home. And life goes on and you and I and everyone else is busy with the things that we are busy with. But the dreams were persistent. Every night it was - tiny babies, perished and unclothed. I wasn't frightened or tormented by them,  they simply visited me very matter of fact in my sleep. One morning with the visions fresh on my mind, I put my to-do list aside, sat down, and sewed a tiny white gown. The bodice so small it fit within my palm. That afternoon I sent off an application to form a chapter of Threads of Love. The dreams never returned once I began to sew.

My family has, as I am sure millions of families around the world have, felt the burden of being able to do nothing to heal my sister and brother in law - to remove their pain, to somehow bring her back. But this is something that we do in her honor. It is a practical gift - a blanket, a memory envelope, a prayer, and a gown for a child too small to wear store bought clothes. It removes the painful task of shopping for a burial outfit. Gives these tiny humans the same dignity we give to others in death. But it's not about clothes. Not really. It is about God. It is about shared grief. It is about letting a devastated family know that somebody cares. God cares. We care. So along with my mother and best friend, we have created Harper's Legacy Threads of Love.

The goal of Harper's Legacy is to supply every hospital in Monroe County with a bereavement package for families who have lost a child due to miscarriage, stillbirth, or NICU death. This will take money and time. But I don't believe that God's plan for Harper ended when she was unable to take a breath. She has a legacy, as every person does. And this is a part of it. I hope you will take a few moments to visit our website. Share it with anyone and everyone you can. This will take an army of volunteer sewers, knitters and crocheters. It will take money and fabric and thread and time. And prayer - that Harper's Legacy reaches far beyond our family, and has no end.


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Beginner

There once was a girl who was full of excitement and curiosity. She called herself a 'Starter'. Because she was not a Finisher. She wanted to learn everything and do everything and know everything. She worked hard, and in whatever she did, she was pretty okay. Or kind of good. And sometimes - great. She was stubborn and insisted on learning everything by trying it. So she began. A lot. And she learned to be content to be a beginner, and a rare finisher.

It's not that there was a dearth of half painted pictures and abandoned odd jobs around her house. She would finish one project. Maybe two or three. And then grow distracted and decide it was time to learn more. Many times her passion led her down one path, but the path turned out to be shorter than she'd expected. And her road ended because she was bored, or weary, or in too much pain. No matter what though, she tried never to end on a bad note. For after all, she was simply being what she was made to be -  a Beginner. Not a quitter.

And if it were worth it. If what she began was special enough, the Beginner sought out a Collaborator or a Finisher. Someone who could take what she began and keep it from dying. And so, our protagonist spent her life making something from nothing again and again, and because of her care - the special things outlived her influence. And it was her legacy. Famous for nothing, but for being the Beginner.


I wrote this little story to console myself upon my retirement as director of Mind The Ducks. Because, though I believe the words above, there is a small voice inside that is reminding me that commitment is honorable, and because I lack it, I am dishonorable. But I know it can't be true. The reality is that in 2009, when I began MTD, I thought I'd be lucky to make five years out of it, because I knew how my passions waxed and waned. And also because of the toll that race planning took on my mind, my body, my relationships. When I began, I already saw the end. I never did envision the new beginning it was given.

I have thought often about my problem with perseverance. In fact, I readily admit that there are only a handful of things I have made a long term commitment too and succeeded in keeping - and most of those things are relationships. Marriage, faith, motherhood and friendship. None of my projects have held me captive for too long. I quit Mind The Ducks in part due to the physical strain, in part due to the anxiety and emotional tax, and in part because the things that I want to spend my time doing and thinking about no longer include race directing. Ultrarunning is a worthy pursuit. So is race directing. It is a very selfless thing to do, I suppose. But it is not the selfless thing I want to be doing anymore. I have other ideas in mind. As usual, the winds...they've shifted.

But, to start something new again means that I am yet again, the Beginner. Will this then be the endeavor I see through to the end of my life? Realistically - no. But if I can help one person? Two? Ten? Or thousands - does it matter? Haven't I still left the earth better than I found it?

I pen this because there are a lot of people like me - curious about everything, unable to commit to much of anything - who feel like if they cannot sign on the line marked "forever", they should just stay in bed and rot. But it is a waste of your life, isn't it? Isn't it better to begin than to never start?

I think back on what I have learned from Mind The Ducks, what I have gained, and find that it has given me much more than it took from me. And I call to mind as well all the triumph, the friendships, the life changing and transcendent moments that our racers had, and think how can one say it is not worth it to have started something this wonderful, simply because I couldn't complete it? Maybe they would have had their breakthrough, big win, or broken spirit at another race. But they didn't. They had it at MINE. I did that. Me. I dreamed it. I worked for it. I made it happen. And because I love it, and because I realize that IT is worthy, I found someone to take up the cause and keep it alive. Someone who was just as capable, if not more so, than myself. I would not have handed it to anyone who couldn't do my baby justice. It is likely that I would have just continued it myself as the quality faded along with my waning enthusiasm. I am grateful to and excited for the new race director. There s a great deal of work, yes - but also a great deal of joy to be had in the job. And as for me - it is time to use my gift of beginning somewhere else. I have nothing but pride in what I began, and in myself for having the courage to realize the road was at it's end, and take another path.

Whether you are simply a starter, or you are the type who can commit for life, I encourage you to follow your passions (practically, okay? - don't blow through all your savings on a motorcycle because you have some latent fantasy about being a motocross racer) where they lead you, and spread positive influence -wherever and however you were created to.

Godspeed.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

You are not alone in this


Saturday evening I received a call from my father, telling me that my sister, who moved to Baton Rouge last year, had lost her daughter. She was 34 weeks pregnant with baby Harper, and was planning on a home birth. She had had a previously successful birth, no history of pregnancy troubles and things were going well. When out of the blue the baby stopped moving. When she delivered her daughter's corpse yesterday, the cord was wrapped around her neck 4 times, around her back and shoulders and then tied in a knot. It was too much. Her body was 3 lbs 14 oz, and at this stage of pregnancy could have lived had she been born alive. But she wasn't.

My grief is for my sister, for how can I really grieve for a child I never met? I had trouble sleeping on Saturday night. I cried for hours for the pain they faced ahead. Labor and delivery are just about the most frightening and painful trials a woman will face in life, and the strength to bear it comes from the fact that there is a prize at the end. Your child. Who gets to come home with you and be a part of your family. How would she bear this? Find the strength for it? This is something only a mother understands. Men may bristle at that statement, but aren't there things about the male experience women can't know? It isn't meant as an insult or a dismissal. Ask a mother what she would think of that lifelessness inside of her. A baby shaped shell, when she almost held her prize-child in her arms. So close to the end. So so close. It is horrific. There are no words to explain it, save for that. And how would she find the strength to do it? She would. And how will they find the strength to go on...to hope again? They will. You just do.

I lay up tormented by painful vignettes. Leaving the hospital empty armed. Baskets of folded diapers and bibs that will never be worn. Her sibling saying her name and asking after the one you worked so hard to teach him about. I dreamt tortured dreams - alone with my heavily pregnant sister in dark places, dim moss covered woods filled with bats and inhuman noises- waiting for the labor to begin. I cried myself to sleep and I cried myself awake.

Speaking to her that night on the phone I didn't know what to say. My mouth was useless. Words were meaningless. Yet I offered to pray, somehow. And I recalled what Job said after his riches, his land, his home, and his children had all been stolen away: "Naked I came into this world. Naked will I depart. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be His name." It is the only response to any tragedy really, because there is never ever ever a "why" that is good enough. You can choose not to accept it. You can choose to be angry. But that changes none of the facts. Later on I opened to those first few chapters of Job, a book I have read repeatedly over the years for comfort. After Job's wife recommended that he "curse God and die", his three friends from far away hear of his predicament and go to him. When they find him, his house blown down, his body covered in sores, everything he worked for and loved taken away - they are stunned. Then they cover their heads in dust, sit down in the ashes and don't attempt to speak to him for a week.

And for the first time, in a life that has had a minimal to average amount of suffering, I understood the Isrealite tradition of rending their clothes, throwing dust in their hair, refraining from eating and speaking, when faced with tremendous grief. It described perfectly what I wanted to do. To share her suffering somehow, by suffering even a small bit myself.

Harper's funeral is Thursday morning. I, a friend from far away, will go to her and Steve, proverbial dust in my hair. Because the worst part for my family is being far away - with only words to bridge the divide, when words are stupid and useless and vulgar right now.  To share their grief, and show them that they are not alone.


Just watch: