Friday, March 5, 2021

Here we are!


Here we are, though I’m not sure I can pinpoint exactly where “here” is. This Facebook memory reminded me that we have made it an ENTIRE YEAR of rolling with the punches, adjusting, pivoting, screaming into our pillows (and sometimes at each other), living in isolation, carrying extra stress, shrinking our circles, clearing our calendars of, well, basically everything. This global pandemic has turned our lives completely upside down. 

I heard a saying this week that summarized my sentiments so well. It went something like, “Isn’t it weird how every day feels the same and yet, when you look back a year, you realize that everything has changed?”

IS THAT NOT THE TRUEST THING YOU'VE EVER READ?!

I have always been one who likes to make sense of things. I like to bring order to chaos. And I have an innate drive to find good in the hard, mostly because I selfishly want to know that my pain or sacrifice was FOR SOMETHING. For better and many times for worse, productivity feels good to me. With this past year in particular, there is much to make sense of. I often have wondered how the history books will present these times we're living through. Though one could certainly argue that every moment is a part of history, this year feels like REAL history, history none of us in our wildest dreams anticipated would happen in such modern times. We are progressive! We have technology! We are medically advanced! And yet, here we are, pummeled by a tiny microscopic organism that has shut down the world. It is humbling, to put it mildly.

How has this year impacted us? Oooof. That is a really hard question to answer. In so many ways, we have been striped down to bare bones. We have been forced to show our hands. And oy vey, at times it has been ugly! Racism, sexism, rioting, violence, judgment. I don’t think I have much more to say on this that hasn’t already been said. The deep inner pain we have often kept hidden has been pressed to the surface. And hurting people are hurting people. 

The aftermath of this global pandemic, once it passes (and I think it’s important to remember that it hasn’t) will go with us for a good long while. This isn’t going to be something we all live through and then forget about after the majority of adults become vaccinated. Injured relationships will need to be rebuilt. Anxiety and PTSD and germophobia will be at all time highs. Healthcare workers will fall apart as they deal with the immeasurable grief they have been carrying, but haven’t been able to look at head on because they are simply trying to get through another shift. Kids will need to catch up on what they have missed academically. Adults and children alike will have to brush up on their social skills as they remember what it is like to have in-person conversations. We will have to re-train our bodies not to jump backwards when someone comes within 6 feet of us. We will no longer be able to cover our chin acne with a mask (ha, or is that just me?) 

At the same time, though the repercussions of COVID-19 are many, I need to put my stake in the ground and identify the ways good and beauty continue to show up around me. Hopefully one day, we will look back and see all the growth that took place amidst the hardship that this global pandemic has put in our paths. So today I’m going to list my top 5 "gratitudes" that have come as a result of this pandemic. I hope you will join me and sharing yours!

1) Lower lows also mean HIGHER HIGHS.

On Emma’s half birthday last week, she requested that we pop into our local pet store to see if they had any hamsters we could look at. Ordinarily, this would not be something I would view as “fun,” but I decided to be a team player and make her dreams come true. Never would I have anticipated the sheer joy that 5 minutes in an actual store as a family could bring us. We found the most hyper hamster that has ever graced this earth and we stood around his cage and belly-laughed as we watched the creature whiz around and around and around his tiny little aquarium, nonstop. Would this have been as entertaining had we not spent a year mostly at home with severely limited social interaction? I'm guessing no. I’m so grateful for the PERSPECTIVE I now carry that helps me appreciate the little things that I so often took for granted.  

2) I am learning (very slowly!) to set boundaries. 

Even typing that makes me extremely uncomfortable. This one will forever be a work in progress as I am a people-pleaser down to my bones. It has been really difficult to make the best decisions for me and my crew when they are different from those around me. It’s like one giant, long year of exposure therapy, learning to make my own choices, especially when they don’t please everyone. Oof. I still hate that. 

3) My BFF husband.

This stressful year most certainly had the potential to make or break us. I’m so happy it’s been the former. He has patiently listened to me ENDLESSLY PROCESS, all my inner wrestling that were previously a little more equally shared amongst my female friendships. Now he hears it ALL. ;) The pandemic has also pushed us to dust off our at-home creative dating skills and it has been fantastic to have most every weeknight free to spend together. He truly is my best friend (please cue a cheesy, "Awwwwww").

4) Have I mentioned my office is now a grow room?

I don’t think I need to say a whole lot more about this one other than to say never have I had this much time at home to sit and watch my plants grow! Graham designed me a custom built-in for my starts and then his dad helped with the construction. I now have what feels like endless room (at least for this second) to grow hundreds of different starts. I’m getting to try so many new and fun things and it’s lovely to have found a hobby that brings me so much joy.  

5) So much togetherness.

Good and also so, so hard, right? Though sometimes I need everyone to PLEASE QUIT TALKING AND ALSO TURN OFF THEIR AUDIOBOOKS SO I CAN SAVOR SOME COMPLETE SILENCE, I wouldn’t trade this year. Whoa. Do I really mean that!? I actually think I do. I have gotten to know my offspring so intimately this year and it’s been cool to deepen our relationship in ways that never would have been possible if they were off at school for 6 ½ hours a day (and if I weren't the one teaching 2 of them). Am I ready for them to head back to school? Let me think about it for a second…..YES!!!! But, I will treasure this year (in a love/hate sort of way).

Okay, now it's your turn! What are your top 5 "gratitudes" that have come in the midst of this pandemic year? I would love to hear the nuggets you have discovered as you have been stretched and shaped and grown. Though I’m sure none of us would care to repeat this year, I hope that one day, we can look back and be grateful for the ways it forever changed us. 

Thursday, February 11, 2021

A rose by any other name...still can't smell it


I was on a run this morning when I was struck by a thought that could have easily sent me spiraling down a path of anger and self-pity. Instead, I found myself nearly giggling in the if-you-don’t-laugh-you’ll-cry sort of way. Was it not three months ago that I was leaning into the gift of fragrance? I have a long-standing history of shutting out my body - ignoring it’s cues, not providing it rest when necessary, and feeling guilty about pleasure in all forms. I have been doing the hard work of redeeming my body as a gift, a tangible way that I can communicate with God, and He with me. His provision for me comes in the form of visual beauty - snow-capped mountains, flowers beginning to peak out in spring. It comes in the form of the senses - taste, touch, smell. I have been doing the work to stay IN my body, not run or hide from it, but to slow down and recognize the ways it helps me experience God and all He offers me. 

A practical way I discovered I could do this was through the lighting of scented candles. I stumbled upon it as a means to keep me present during a much-needed night away alone at a hotel back in November. A candle that smelled like winter baking was an impulse-buy addition to the snacks I already had in my shopping basket. I brought that candle back to my hotel room, lit it, and burned it for 8 hours straight. It’s fragrance smelled divine and the mere act of burning a delicious candle for that many hours felt so indulgent and lavish. Every time I would look up from my book and see that candle burning, I would remember to breathe and smell and enjoy. And then when I left my room for a walk, I was met by a fresh wave of the fragrance when I returned.

I came home from the night at the hotel, high on candle fumes, and full of renewed vigor to burn scented candles around our home on the regular. I brought one up to the room where we do school and set it on the windowsill. It became a little ritual to light it as we began the school day. I loved the reminder to stop and smell and be present. Then enjoy the fragrance and raise a quick prayer of gratitude for my body that helps me experience these good gifts. 

Now back to the thought I had on my run this morning...I was thinking about how November was a month where I very intentionally leaned into the use of fragrance as a way to keep me present in my body, and as a means of connecting me in a new way to God. 

And then came December.

Only a handful of weeks later, I lost my ability to smell. This is the part I was thinking about today that made me laugh, in a way only one can through the gentle buffering and protection of the Holy Spirit. On most days, I think I would be furious at the injustice. (If you read my post on getting COVID, I’m quite confident my bent toward fairness showed up loud and clear). It’s so tempting to think, "Woe is me," and start to lament the audacity of God to take away my sense of smell just when I was beginning to learn to use it to draw closer to Him.

Why do hard things like this happen? I am the first to attest to the words of Romans 5 that tell us that suffering leads to perseverance which then produces character and character, hope. But why is it that sometimes God stands by as we endure hardship? What’s that about? How does a good God allow such things? I don’t know the answer to this as it’s a theological debate for the ages. But what I can say is that what happened to me on my run this morning was a divine moment of protection where I experienced the shielding of the Holy Spirit so tenderly, as He kept me from blaming God for this piece of my story.

In a rare moment of clarity, I saw things as I believe they truly are. This loss of smell is not the work of God. Rather, it’s the work of the devil, who was threatened by my growing closeness with God. He seized an opportunity to plant a seed of doubt, making a move to chisel at my faith, take away my joy, as he felt his hold on me wavering.

Some days are harder and I’m sure there will be many days ahead where I will lament and complain about the injustice of my minimized sense of taste and smell. It’s certainly nothing to be overlooked. (Believe me when I say it has contributed to a dark season of significant depression). BUT I want to document this moment, not as a big bow attempting to cover up the messiness underneath as I convince myself that it’s “okay,” but rather, as an opportunity to declare, in this moment, I have been able to see the goodness of my God in the midst of this trial. 

I don’t know how long I will be without the joy of fragrance. But as one sense is diminished, I’m quickly finding others are magnified. I’m learning to experience my food and surroundings differently as I explore texture and temperature in ways I never have before. I’m leaning into the elation I feel when moving my body. I will find new ways to stay present in this body, the tangible means through which I learn to experience God.  

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Alone time. On steroids.

“I’m just checking to see if you are feeling any better?” 

I hear his muffled little voice trying to make its way through the solid wood door. His sweet seven-year-old spirit swells my heart to overflowing and crushes me simultaneously. I know he misses me terribly and he’s worried too.


“I’m doing okay, Buddy,” I call. “About the same as yesterday.”



How did I end up here, I wonder, shut alone in my room, isolated from my family, calling my husband, who is only downstairs, on the phone, reading Harry Potter to my son via a Zoom call? Knocks on my door, followed by scurrying feet signal a plate brimming with food is waiting outside, or the butter knife I have asked for, or if I’m lucky, a small stack of thin paper napkins. Apparently I am the only member in this household who finds that last one essential at mealtimes.


The sound of plate hitting bare wood floors has become our passive communication. I hear it and it alerts me to wait a minute until the footsteps disappear, and then come fetch what has been left me. They hear it, and it signals them to don gloves and take away what I have left them. When my trash is full or my laundry needs washing, I toss it outside my door and yell to my helper elves. I’m quickly learning this door blocks out the sound more effectively than I realized, at least in one direction. 



Sometimes when I need something between mealtime hours and my shout goes unanswered, I resort to texting or calling Graham. I rapidly discern that when his phone is on silent, I can use the “drop-in” feature on my app to communicate with my people via Alexa. I am relentless when a cup of ice or a fresh kombucha beverage I can’t taste is striking my fancy. It is through this modern technology mode of communication that I learn, well after bedtime, that one of our Alexa devices has relocated to a kid’s room, where I accidentally revive them (I guess they all sleep together now?) from near-slumber with new energy at the sound of their mother’s voice in search of late-night chocolate. Whoops. 


I woke up feeling achy on Monday, December 6th. It had been a rough night so I chalk it up to sleeping wrong. But was that a mild sore throat I was beginning to feel? Nah, surely I’m just reading into things. Tuesday morning greets me again with full body aches. Now it’s getting harder to shake them off. A quick Google search of “body aches and COVID” produces far more hits than I’d hoped. My throat is definitely sore, very mild, but undeniable all the same. A couple more clicks and I find myself on the CDC’s website where a brief set of checkbox symptoms inform me that I meet criteria to be tested for COVID-19. 


I get tested on Tuesday, and ask the doctor at urgent care about separating from my family. Her message is very much The-Damage-Is-Already-Done but I still feel squeamish about how to interact with them while I await my results. I don a mask in my own house, and make it a solid day of wearing it while homeschooling my kids, before deciding “this is overkill” and resume my normal mothering duties sans mask. I won’t let Graham kiss me, but he doesn’t get kicked out of the bed...yet. 



I’m feeling what I would describe as generally “not great” come Thursday afternoon. I’ve survived a 4-day stretch of homeschooling while feeling unwell and I get a hankering for a peppermint mocha. I know I shouldn’t leave my house with test results pending so I pull out the decaf and come up with what I decide is an extremely sad substitute for “the real thing” that is my occasional winter Starbucks treat. It tastes exactly like…..nothing. Did I not just melt a fresh square of peppermint dark chocolate into a shot of espresso? I might suck at coffee but surely I should taste something. 


I’m only mildly worried and decide to pivot and go the salty route for my afternoon pick-me-up instead. For some reason, I only allow myself the luxury of nachos when I’m not feeling well (a topic for another day) and today I’m not, so I microwave myself a small plate. Again, I taste nothing. I tell myself I’m just creating problems now. My imagination is severely compromised (according to my husband) but it is not entirely dead. Surely I’m dreaming up symptoms to justify the “overreaction” of my going in to get tested.



I text Graham that I can’t taste my snack and we laugh it off. But in reality, this is my “Oh crap” moment. At dinner that night, I prepare a new recipe, chicken breasts pounded thin, rolled around asparagus, and wrapped in slices of prosciutto. I’m sorely disappointed with the final result - it is blah and flavorless and when I pipe up to say so, my family looks at me like I have two heads. I shut my mouth quickly, realizing I’m alone in my opinion. I give Graham the eye and he laughs nervously.


I wake up Friday morning and grab my morning cup of Joe. Usually I enjoy it downstairs but, on a whim, decide to take it back up to bed where my husband is waking up slowly. It’s his day off from work, which means it’s my day off from homeschooling. Little did I know that was to be the last time I would leave my room for the next week. My phone rings and I’m suddenly swirling with exposure dates and quarantine timelines and being told to isolate from everyone in my household. By this point, Graham has roused himself from bed to get the kids started on their morning routines. He walks in the room while I’m still on the phone and I frantically flail at him and motion for him to back away and get out, as if he hadn’t just been in here with me, breathing the same air. 


Suddenly the switch flips. I am contaminated. The door shuts, masks go on. It’s surreal, going from unknown to known. This is how I got here, to this very strange existence. 


I start crying. I feel everything almost instantaneously. How did this virus crack it’s way through our caution? Why me? Where did it come from? I feel ashamed, embarrassed, guilty, burdened,  and sad. I feel like I’ve failed, as if COVID is a giant game of evil tag and I somehow misstepped and failed to avoid it. Now I have let my team (my family) down. Graham will have to call into work for weeks. And this, on literally THE DAY that vaccine gets shipped out for emergency use. Ten months of calculated decision-making and risk-tolerance assessing, ten months of saying “no,” being told “no,” and everything in between. Only to fall victim to this thing we’ve been avoiding in the final leg of the race.


I’m sad and all the other things. But also, I am angry. No, it’s probably more accurate to call it furious. I followed the rules! It was just us for Thanksgiving! We have had no one in our home! I wear my mask! I order my groceries online! We are homeschooling! Meanwhile, people all around gather, have others in their homes, celebrate in various Christmas-y ways. My internal fairness meter is alarming off the handle. It’s a good thing it only sounds in my head, otherwise neighbors for miles in all directions would need to be donning earplugs. 


The short of it is, this simply doesn’t seem fair.


I know I can’t stay in this headspace forever. If there’s any hope of sanity while I’m locked away in isolation, I’m gonna have to hit a reset. 



I start looking for silver linings. I pray and journal and practice gratitude. Friends and family in my life show up in such amazing ways. Every day someone reaches out to ask if they can run and pick anything up for me. Our porch is covered with deliveries every time my little elves open the door - meals, fresh loaves of homemade bread, magazines to keep me entertained, lattes, crafts for the kids, cookies, cookies and more cookies, fresh grapefruit, flowers, the most adorable little Grinch tree, chocolate, croissants, groceries, bottles of wine, gifts, a virtual reality gaming system (I’m not kidding!), a card table for puzzling, puzzles and nail polish. I could go on and on.


The love and care we received from so many filled our tanks to overflowing. Truly, it blew us away! Graham was floored by my friends and kept exclaiming things like, “Kelsie! You should get sick more often!” And quite honestly, the outpouring we received makes that ever-so-slightly tempting. Kidding! ;) 



One of the most eye-opening pieces of this whole ordeal for me was what it took for me to feel 100% permissed to go entirely off duty. No one expected anything of me. Zero. I can’t think of another time in my life where I was so free of pressure and duty. 


I didn’t realize the freedom I was experiencing until it was gone. Isn’t that so often the case? Once I was no longer contagious and my bedroom door was free to open again, suddenly I was forced to stare down all the “shoulds” and “coulds” in my life that perpetually fight for my attention. I no longer had strict, understood-and-respected-by-everyone orders to rest and recuperate. Now I would have to make those things happen for myself in addition to my obligations like feeding my family and raising my kids.  


As “unfair” as it may be that I was the one to get hit with COVID after all my efforts to fight against it, I’m (slowly!) learning “Is this fair?” isn’t perhaps the best question to be asking when I encounter hard circumstances like those the last couple weeks have held. As I tell my kids all the time, “Life isn’t fair!” And yet it’s so much easier to bark those words at them than accept them as truth for myself. This week I was challenged to ask myself a different question, a mantra borrowed from my pastor a few months back: “God, what are you trying to teach me in this?” I have a long way to go but I found asking myself this question helped me reset without discounting the hardship I was facing. (Important Kelsie-ism: never discount my feeling or experience, just ask my husband. ;))


Miraculously, none of my family members caught this nasty virus, despite interacting with me for a week before we knew I had it. As I type this, we are waiting for the final test results for a second round of testing so we can officially end this Christmas Season Quarantine and Graham can return to work (and get his vaccine!) Even though I would not choose to do this again, I’m grateful for a strange and unexpected way to hit “pause” on life and take an extended Sabbath of rest. 


THE END.


(Important author’s note: don’t let this get into the wrong hands but I actually didn’t mind a week of alone time in a small space without having to cook or take care of anyone. Which probably goes to show just how desperate us mamas can get who are with our kids constantly. Or it might just mean I’m a good candidate for jail. You be the judge).

Friday, October 30, 2020

On bacon and being "too much"


This isn't a picture of me, head under blanket in the backseat, trying to shut out the world. But it might as well be. Today is supposed to be my day off and I had great plans to isolate myself in the corner of a coffee shop with a mask and a laptop. Instead, I’m on my bed with a space heater and comfy pants after just crying to my husband in the kitchen over the fact that we needed bacon

HELLO HORMONES! Hello backlogged pandemic feelings. Hello carrying a heavy load for a bit too long. Hello random, unpredictable episodes of overwhelm. 


The exact formula that led to my tears over pork products is a series of events that will probably never again be repeated, but the theme behind them in consistent:


Some days are fine, other days are not. 


As I ride the waves of this pandemic and all that it has meant for my personal life, my home life and my relationships, I’m struck by the fact that there are good days and there are bad days. And just because I experience one version today does not negate what I experienced yesterday nor what I will experience sometime tomorrow. I might be “OK,” “not OK,” and all of the above within the same span of the same 24 hours. 


The very palpable reality of this pandemic is that little is dependable in our world right now. So much can change overnight and this is a bit of a recipe for crazy-making. 


I liked homeschooling my kids two weeks ago. This week, it felt like hell. Both experiences are fair and valid and by no means do they cancel each other out. I’M ALLOWED TO CHANGE MY MIND. And if next week I find homeschooling to be the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done, then so be it! No one is holding me to any rules about my feelings outside of my own personal subset of Kelsie’s Laws. I can experience one thing today that tomorrow might feel as foreign as a coin accidentally swallowed into the belly of a child. My feelings may be inconsistent but they don’t make ME inconsistent. 


I’m learning that sometimes I hesitate to speak up because I don’t want to be viewed as All. Freaking. Over. The. Place. I wish I were a more even-keeled person with steady levels of emotion. But the only thing consistent about my emotions is that I have a whole lot of them. I am sensitive and feel everything so deeply and often this leads to a fear of being too much. I have been known to spend a lot of energy filing down edges that could be perceived as sharp in an attempt to hone myself into a more palatable size medium, a middle-of-the-road, non-controversial individual. I want to be viewed as stable, trustworthy, dependable, never pegged as overly-emotional, and, heaven forbid, too much.  


Like a chameleon in hiding, I fight to keep any colorful vibrancy at bay, exchanging deep passion for an outward go-with-the-flow attitude. I quiet and silence and shut myself down to neutralize any spice. I try not to ruffle feathers, share strong opinions or make waves. 


And toward what end? 


I do it so people will like me, for acceptance. Because of the deep-rooted fear of being labeled as “too much.” It’s the bane of the people-pleaser’s existence, is it not? While a degree of sanding and smoothing of rough edges is healthy for all of us in the name of personal growth, Jesus is nudging me toward confidence in the way that He has wired me, EVEN IF IT MEANS SOME DAYS ARE FILLED WITH EMOTION IN THE KITCHEN OVER BACON. 


Recently I came across the following prayer by Laura Jean Truman:


“God,


Keep my anger from becoming meanness.

Keep my sorrow from collapsing into self-pity.

Keep my heart soft enough to keep breaking. Keep my anger turned toward justice, not cruelty.

Remind me that all of this, every bit of it, is for love.

Keep me fiercely kind.


Amen.”


The phrase that really got me is in bold above. “Keep my heart soft enough to keep breaking.” 


My fellow sensitive types will get it, all you who wrestle with muting your emotions. You are soft and easily-impacted for a reason. God made you this way. Don’t numb and dull those precious emotions. They keep you human and real and alive and relatable. They are nothing to be ashamed of. Your ability to engage with pain in your unique way creates space for others to feel heard and carried in their pain.  


As much as I would love to trade in for a more even-keeled version of myself, I am reminded today that that the same inner wiring that leaves me crying in overwhelm over how we will obtain breakfast meat on the harder days, is also the part that keeps me soft and empathetic to the pain of those in the world around me. The two are not mutually exclusive.


So much grace is needed in this crazy time, bacon tears and all.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Catch Me Singing


I don’t know who else needs to hear the words of this song today but it popped up on my Pandora station as I was running this morning. It was the title that peaked my interest first.

Catch Me Singing.


I felt it immediately in my gut. I awoke feeling low and discouraged, not personally for once, but as if I was carrying the weight of the pain and heaviness of all those suffering around me. Some days lately it feels too much to bear. I can only do what little I can do. I can’t fix the problems in this world. I can’t eradicate COVID-19. I can’t make the people I love agree on politics. I can’t lift the weight of depression. I can’t take away the anxiety and overwhelm. 


But every song that flooded my ears on my run challenged me to praise God. “Catch Me Singing” was the tune that serenaded me as I rounded the corner approaching my house. I began to weep as I took a seat on my porch to absorb the message. Gardening lyrics get me every time but these words feel particularly poignant in the days that we find ourselves in. When springtime comes, will I be caught singing? Regardless of who is chosen to lead our country for the next four years, will I be caught singing? Even if my life never returns to “normal,” will I sing? Will I trust him in the famine? And bless Him in the feast? He’s been God for a long time and He always finishes what He starts.


I hope these words land on just whomever needs to hear them today. 


Catch Me Singing

by Sean Curran


You always finish what You start

You always finish what You start

What You have grown into a garden

You planted in the dark

You always finish what You start


Good things just take a little time

Good things just take a little time

Your hands are working in the soil

And bringing me to life

Good things just take a little time


I will trust You in the famine

I will bless You in the feast

When I'm standing in Your victory

When I’m on my knees

I will praise You with the rising

And the setting sun

You're gonna catch me singing

When the springtime comes


This story has an empty grave

This story has an empty grave

Jesus the process is a mystery

But Your promise never fades

This story has an empty grave


We will be walking through the fire

And dancing on the waves

This story has an empty grave


You've been God for a long time

You’re the final word

You're the finish line

Everything's going to be alright

You've been God for a long time