Saturday, June 8, 2013

Childless in Church is OK

I can tell my church is more sensitive to women like me and I'm so appreciative. I still skipped this Mother's Day service as I usually do (I also skip baby showers), but in several services the pastor has recognized women that aren't mothers and challenged us to consider ourselves as mothers to other younger women or kids in our life and community. I do appreciate that, but hollowly wondered how I could share my love and wisdom with others? I still had feelings of loneliness and longing. Despite these feelings, I knew I'd grown in my walk with the Lord and had made it to a good place to deal with my feelings in light of being surrounded by model families. 

It hasn't been easy. In fact, I would say this has been one of the hardest things I've gone through in my life. My past coping mechanisms of squelching emotions that may well up and keeping "busy" has mostly kept me focused on work, feeling unhealthy, imbalanced and sedentary. Writing helps me think this through and work out emotions; however, I've obviously avoided it and writing just twice a year doesn't yield many results!  I feel like I've been stuck on a deserted island but have only halfheartedly tried to get off. 

What keeps us in these ruts? Surely God has a better purpose for our life. This reminds me of "The Screwtape Letters" by C.S. Lewis. Satan would like nothing more than for me to take the easy way out, the "do nothing" option. I've done that for a long time. It is easy. But it is hollow and not gratifying  It feels like groundhog day, and I catch myself looking at a) how glad I am that I'm not as depressed/frustrated/sad as I was in the past about not having kids, but b) how shallow my life still feels. Three months would pass and again I would have the same conversation in my head. 

In an effort to move forward from this rut, I joined a nine month women's discovery class / mentor group in my church to draw closer to the Lord and to "figure out God's purpose for my life." I quickly learned on day one, of course, that while I will never truly know God's purpose for my life, I can come up with a personal mission statement to help guide my direction. What a relief - I got off the desert island! While I don't know exactly where I'll land from here, at least I feel like I am in a canoe paddling in a forward direction. Check that: let's go instead with a catamaran sailing in the Caribbean in a forward direction. I'll share the exact mission statement in another post, but suffice it to say it reinforced my desire to communicate with others through writing, teaching, and helping. Specifically, communicating God's redemptive powers and love! So as a first step, I just started teaching 3rd grade Sunday school.

While I was in the discovery class, I was also helping out on Sundays with the 3rd graders as an assistant. But I realized as the intense work progressed in the class that I could do more. That I should do more. I've been passive for many years, receiving great support from my church family and other Christian resources, but it is time for me to give back. 

Now, I am really excited about leading these kids and teaching the lesson beginning this summer. But talk about stepping out on a ledge! Did I mention I wasn't brought up in the church and don't know all these stories by heart? The church provides a  curriculum so all I have to do is study ahead and prepare some crafts, and it isn't so bad! I am sticking with the same class I assisted last year, and I like how I can continue to be more involved in the kids' lives. In the past, one of the things that bothered me when people suggested I work with kids was that I wouldn't really get to know them, so what was the point. Maybe by teaching and staying connected to the same grade I can make better connections and see God work in their lives. 

After this commitment...who knows? I'm taking my first bonafide international mission trip this fall to Trinidad - another step out on a ledge. Yet I'm not afraid of these challenges - because "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" (Romans 8:35) He has healed me and held me and I wouldn't have made it this far without Him. By focusing on Him, the blessings in my life have been amazing. 

I think the first challenge He got me through this year was the hysterectomy. My focus narrowed so much heading into it. I was truly petrified of what this surgery would find. This was my third surgery since 2002 and I hope it is my last. With each one, I experienced more and more dread. Yet, I came out just fine and without a single complication. I have given some serious praise on this one; thank you, Jesus. I'm at 150%! 

I had to get beyond the surgery to close a chapter, and I am so glad I had the experience with the discovery class to give me the framework to begin writing the new one. 

"For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."  
Romans 8:38

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Writing The Next Chapter. What Will Yours Be?

Happy New Year and welcome to the entrance of 2013. I started my year with a rainy day "chillaxing" at home after more than a week of baking, partying, wrapping, traveling, unwrapping, eating and generally being frenzied.  I still want another day off! My New Year’s resolutions haven’t changed much since those made in 2009, so I will just say “ditto” and resolve this year to no longer make resolutions. There are a few noteworthy items I should mention to wrap up 2012. 

First, I enjoyed helping out in the Learning Center for our church, believe it or not. I worked with 5th grade girls last summer and am now involved with 3rd grade boys and girls. I’d like to say it took a lot of courage for me to sign up to for this and that it has been part of my healing process, but that would only be partly true. The church was desperate for assistants and teachers and I really felt that it was my turn to help out. I felt God tell me: “Go ahead, I’m with you, you can do it and you’ll enjoy it”. Turns out, He was right. Maybe I could compare this to someone with a fear of heights who parachutes out of a perfectly good airplane, or maybe I’ve just reached that point of confidence where I’m not as emotional about not having kids as I used to be, who knows. I believe my paradigm has shifted to focusing on what I do have to offer in this life rather than on what I don’t have to offer, and this has made a big difference on my life outlook.

Second, I joined a women’s “Discovery Class” – this has been part bible study, part writing club, part group therapy, but all about writing your life story and determining how to write your next chapters more intentionally.  I’m stopping short of describing it as something that will help me discover my purpose in life as I’m not sure I will ever know what that is on this side of the afterlife. Meaning, I could have multiple purposes in life.  Or perhaps I have just one purpose that was satisfied long ago and now my purpose is to enjoy the rest of the ride and perform random acts of kindness now and then.  Someday I’ll know for sure. The class is a long term session, so I can’t treat it like a 6 week study that I complete and move on to another topic. I’m stuck with these great women, and they are stuck with me! I am learning how to journal and spend more time in the Word, reading some great books, and writing.

Third, we got two more Golden Retrievers, Chickie and Ash.  These brilliant creatures have continued to pull me out of myself, provide me comfort, make me laugh, get me outside, get me walking, and shower me with love.  I felt Ash (7) needed a companion after a few months – she was so prim and proper during the day, the perfect house dog that wouldn’t move or mess anything up.  At night she craved attention. With the addition of Chickie (2), they can wrestle, chase and conspire with each other and they are really fun to watch. We feel like we’ve started Noah’s Ark, however, with two dogs, two birds and two humans. What’s next?

And finally, I've scheduled my hysterectomy for January 29th. I still have moments where I want to call it off, crying “I feel fine!” But I am resigned to getting this done. I have heard that I will feel SO much better from so many women who have gone through this. I think I’ve dealt with the emotional issues well enough to be able to handle this next step, but I am sure I’ll be surprised as I draw nearer to that date.  

I think 2013 will be a great year in a number of ways, but can’t really focus on writing the next chapter or chapters until I get through this surgery.  I have ideas about where I’d like to be by the end of the year, by time I turn 50, or by the time I retire, but I just don’t want to articulate them right now.  As I will have 4 weeks of downtime to recover, I hope to write more about that during that time.

In the meantime, I hope you are finding peace and courage to take you through every day, and are confident in the knowledge that God has plan to prosper you, to give you hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11). While we aren't told literally what that plan is, what do you hope your next chapter will hold? Are you moving confidently toward it? 

"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid."
John 14:27

Sunday, October 21, 2012

There was a time when...

We are all familiar with the phrase “hindsight is 20/20.” As a Christian, hindsight to me is also a reflection on God’s faithfulness and promises kept as I look back on how far I’ve come in dealing with this “childless not by choice” thing. Man, has God ever delivered me through this – and it isn’t over yet (if it ever will be). It’s amazing to me now how my emotions in many ways have changed, and how much more positive I am about my life and my future. Maybe that is just maturity, maybe I have worked through the issues and come to a place of acceptance, but honestly, I think much of it is supernatural and a real sign of God working in my life.

In reflecting over the past few years, I can think of a several situations that I can handle better today. With some, I have learned some good coping mechanisms, but with others, I really can’t explain why.

There was a time when... I couldn’t go grocery shopping without becoming saddened by seeing kids in the carts pulling on their mom to get them some sugary cereal or something. I no longer get that twinge (or flood) of regret, loss and longing.

There was a time when... I hated to get my annual pap smear because of seeing the pregnant women in the waiting room with their nervous husbands. Well, I fixed that by switching to a GYN instead of an OB/GYN! But now I know what potential triggers are and I am better at avoiding them.

There was a time when... I would have to leave early from baby showers, unable to stand my own grief while trying to fake being happy to be there. Today, I give a gift to the mom in advance as I unfortunately can’t make the shower. I don’t lie and make up an excuse; I just say I’m sorry I can’t make it. I’m truly happy for the mom, want to hear all about it from her and I can’t wait to meet the new addition. But, honestly, after driving away with blinding tears from the last shower several years ago, and accidentally driving over and ruining a corner of Emerald Zoysia sod on my friend’s mother’s lawn…I have no intention of ever going to a baby shower again if I can help it. I am not saying I will NEVER go to one, (never say never), but should there be one that I just CANNOT miss, I think I will be OK with it. That one might take a few more years of God’s love and mercy to get me to that stage. Seriously, who really enjoys baby showers anyway?

There was a time when... I would feel out of place when in a group of adults and I was the only one without children. I still feel a little out of place, but now I’m confident enough to just be me and appreciate the group and their kid stories, while not feeling bad or remorseful about my different lifestyle. I’ve learned to accept them with kids, so I assume they can accept me without them. That doesn’t prevent some folks who just DO NOT HAVE A CLUE from asking me why I don’t have kids. I just tell them unfortunately it didn’t work out for me and that seems to nip further discussion about why, and I move the conversation on to some other track. I understand people want to know why; people are naturally curious. I think people mainly just want to understand where I stand in case it might be a judgment on THEIR choice and THEIR lifestyle. As in, do I hate kids and not want to have any and think I’m better than them? Or did I want to have them and couldn’t for some reason and therefore am jealous of them?

There was a time when... I thought everyone in the world had procreated but me. It’s funny, it has worked out now that most of my dear friends either have adult kids or don’t have kids, so I’m not really as surrounded by families as I once was when I was younger. Perhaps it is just natural to flock to birds of a feather. Frankly, it is easier to hang out with people that don’t have kids because they are available when I’m available, can enjoy activities with me and we can relate to each other (probably because we aren’t talking about our kids – we can actually focus on other things).

My observation of the friends and co-workers that have young kids is that they too are surrounded by like-minded families because that is their flock. They take their kids to after school activities and therefore those are the adults they hang out with. They can’t stay out late, have to plan dinner for the kids, don’t have funds or time to try the new restaurant in town, usually have some other family’s kid tagging along that needs to be fed, and probably have to hang out with other family-oriented people for their own sanity, really. So, I think they naturally think that everyone has a family because everyone in their universe does. Therefore, I try not to hold this against them when they ask me “So how old are your kids?” They usually look aghast when I tell them I don’t have any. “Oh I thought you did!” they often say. “No, it unfortunately didn’t work out for me. So tell me about…”

From all this reflection, the Virginia Slim commercial with the tag line, “You’ve come a long way, baby,” comes to mind. But it wasn’t that easy. I think it has taken a lot of prayer, talking with friends, and studying God’s word to know – really know - that I will be OK just as I am. That God has a plan for me, and this plan just doesn’t happen to have kids in it. That God has held me through my times of sadness and has healed me. Plus, He gives me this crazy sense of hope. Hope that my future holds some amazing purpose that could ONLY happen because I am not held back by having a family. I even think that it is possible that I may have kids someday, somehow if it is God’s will. I don’t dwell on this, and I am fine if it doesn’t happen, but I wouldn’t put it past Him. I am just at a point where I trust Him enough with my life that I’m open to whatever possibility he has in store for me, and that gives me hope.

There was a time when I didn’t have hope. I am thankful to be moving past that now.

"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:11

Saturday, March 31, 2012

The boat won’t sink, and the storm won’t last forever

Life became harder for me when we lost Mikey. It was like he was a new addition to the family and I felt cheated out of having more time with him. We had him for just over a year. Having a dog like him was such a relief for me. I could pour attention into him and was distracted from focusing on myself. Walking him provided me with a way to get out in the world and commune with neighbors and nature. He helped lift me out of depression, which was inwardly-focused, and taught me to lighten up and enjoy more of the world and be outwardly-focused.

Losing him was very difficult. I hadn’t realized how much I needed getting out of my own head, and it caused me to slide back. Other areas of my life suddenly became more difficult. I became anxious. Work stress became huge in my mind. Committing to social events became stressful. I needed to have nothing scheduled. I felt like I was walking around grinding my teeth the whole time, like I was riding in a boat during a storm and I didn’t know when it would end.

“A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.” Mark 4: 37

I was classically depressed. I did have sad thoughts about not having a family, and thought losing Mikey aggravated these feelings, jarring them loose from a box that I thought I had shut and forgotten about. I began to rationalize that it was probably best to not have kids. Dealing with the loss of a child would be unbearable. Or, I thought of how I could barely handle the life that I had, compounding it with the extra work required to keep up with kids would have put me over the edge. I even thought about what if the child was disabled or was just plain difficult to deal with – at least I didn’t have that stress in my life.

Finally, after talking with my husband, we decided I needed some help. I started visiting my paid friend that I hadn’t seen since my divorce. In talking with her, I learned to focus on improving some key elements in life as a first step – and this was all I needed to pull up out of the nose dive. Here are some of her recommendations that I can share with you - free of charge!

• Exercise
• Play / have fun
• Help others
• Sleep
• Control bad habits which only make you feel worse (in my case, overeating)

Each of the first three have the same result: the release of endorphins helps you feel better about yourself. These activities put my brain on hold and interrupted negative thinking. They gave me positive feelings, positive memories to focus on, and positive interactions with other people.

Friends prayed for me, I prayed, and I was reminded of how God was faithful to me in the past. A friend reminded me that just like the parable of Jesus calming the storm, the boat won’t sink, and the storm won’t last forever. And it didn’t.

Life got easier. I relaxed. Spring came along with daylight savings time and finally the days got longer! Mikey died in February, typically my worst month of the year for negative emotions. Work stress calmed down. Actually, I’m sure it was the same but my concern and worry was reduced.

“He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.” Mark 4:39

Mikey helped bring play back into my life and helped me take my mind off myself. Those are some of the skills that helped me overcome his death, so he taught me a great lesson. That, and knowing the boat won’t sink and the storm won’t last forever, will help me weather future storms.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Life with Mikey

I added a new “child” to my household this year – a golden retriever named Mikey. I actually just hated writing down the word “child” in reference to a pet – there is no correlation to this cute canine being a child other than it is another life form to which I can dote on, brag about, play with, dress up, feed too much, clean up poop and vomit, brush his hair, and teach new things. Other than that, nothing in common.

In fact, when I was younger, I pitied those women who seemed to only have a life that involved working in a cube and going home to their pets that they treated like their children, a surrogate family. I’ll never be like that, I thought. Wait a minute, “We have met the enemy and he is us!" (Pogo author Walt Kelly). Life doesn’t quite turn out as you have in mind. I’ve rewritten my future in my mind several times in my life, and find it is easier instead to joyfully adapt to the life that I have been given.

Mikey, our new canine companion, has turned out to be a great distraction this year and I can’t imagine living in a house without a dog again – although it is a distinct possibility given my horrible dog allergies and the fact that we got Mikey when he was 11 years old.

We adopted Mikey last Christmas (2009) from my dad, a golden retriever breeder. Mikey loves being the only dog in a family now as he gets all the petting, toys, and quiet naps he wants. He also gets to join Tim at his hunting camp, goes on regular walks with me around the neighborhood, and is rabid about fetching tennis balls.

I love the fact that he sticks to us like a shadow, eternally inquisitive about anything we are doing. He loves to shove his big nose in the middle of the anything we are unwrapping (mail, Christmas gifts, groceries, etc.), lay his head on the newspaper or book we are reading, or plop down in a round ball of soft golden fur near wherever we may be, brown eyes focused on us, poised to hop up and follow us into the next room should we make a move. Unless he dozes off, body extended and relaxed, feet twitching as if running in a dog dream.

The best word to describe Mikey besides man's best friend is "hopeful." He's hopeful I'm going to give him an ice cube when I'm getting myself some water, hopeful I'm getting him a treat when I walk anywhere near the kitchen, hopeful I'm going to play catch with him when he drops a sloppy tennis ball in my lap, hopeful I will pet him when my hand falls near his head.

So enthralled I am with Mikey that I even wrote some Mikey-haiku in twitter (3 April 2010) for the #haiku group. The haiku word of the day was “niveous:”

Brown eyes shine / niveous cataracts cloud / still catches ball mid-air

That was my second attempt at haiku that day. The first one was:

Beef knuckle bone came / dog has forgotten 'bout me / his tennis ball waits

Mikey has provided me something to care for, love on, look forward to visiting at lunchtime, and he is company when Tim is off on one of his many self-sufficient pursuits. Tim doesn’t really need me – though I make his life easier and hopefully more enjoyable than without me. Mikey, however, needs me.

So, life with Mikey is very enjoyable and I’m thankful for this opportunity to have him in our lives for however long that may be. We hope to have him for a few more years. We might continue to be a rest home for other goldens that are past their prime (an expensive and short-term mission for sure). That may pull on our heart strings several times a decade, but the pleasure might be worth it. For the dog and for us.

"We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us." - EM Forster

Monday, August 23, 2010

So, I faced it. I didn't have kids.

Ahem. Me here. The-blogger-who-does-not-blog. You may be thinking, "She probably was doing that avoidance thing." Well, that would be partly true. On the other hand, I do have some updates.

You: Did you go talk to your church about what you found on your blog?
Me: Yes, to several people. To one close friend who is in ministry, who read that blog post to the staff. Also, to the women's ministry leader, who met with me and discussed how I should keep writing, share my blog with others and turn my story into a book. Before taking the idea for starting a women's group for women who were childless not by choice further, she wanted to speak to one of the elders who is also a counselor. She did, and then he wanted to meet with me to discuss this further.

In meeting with the elder, he revealed a) that the church has a hard time creating special interest groups led by one person - that it needs to be something that will be self-sustaining regardless of the leader (which I agreed with wholeheartedly); b) that clearly - after handing me the Kleenex box a few times - I needed to seek counseling with my husband as he was part and parcel to the problem over which I was weeping; and, c) that maybe I should start by writing some articles for the church newsletter.

Hmm, call me crazy but I'm detecting a theme here. I haven't written anything yet. I'm thinking about it.

You: So, did you get the "stuff" taken out?
Me: Not exactly. I tried to. I called my Dr. Second Opinion back and said, "I'd like to schedule surgery with you." Her response was, "Yeah, well, I'm not comfortable performing this surgery on fibroids your size via laparoscopy, so I recommend you speak with a very experienced specialist in this area, Dr. Third Opinion." Well, alrighty then. I contacted Dr. Third Opinion. He (ugh) is a very well regarded fibroid and laparoscopy specialist; that is all he does. Apparently it takes months to get in to see him, and the first available appointment wasn't until December. I gave them my information and waited. The day before the appointment, the office called and said that I should prepare to pay the first time patient consultation fee of $700. "Do what?" I said. "But I thought you took my health plan?" I cried. "Do what?" the nurse said. "Sweetie, we don't take your insurance. In fact, we don't take most people's insurance. We don't have to - there are lots of women in Atlanta who pay cold hard cash for this doctor. He is just that good."

I of course asked (or thought) all the other questions: Then why did you take all my coverage information months ago and not say anything? Why didn't you tell me your insurance policy that day on the phone? Why did you not give me any inkling that this guy wasn't going to be Dr. Third Opinion before I went through a few months thinking soon I would get my "stuff" taken out and be done with this dilemma? And what do I do now?


And then came the holidays.

And now it is August the following year.

You: So you did nothing?
Me: Yes, sometimes "doing nothing" is the best option, even for professional avoiders. You see, I really wasn't suffering from any of the classic problems some women have with fibroids (severe cramping and bleeding), other than I have a "bump" equivalent to the size of a 14 week fetus (the way GYN's measure this stuff, seriously). I really felt fine and I thought that perhaps I was put through those experiences for a purpose: to make me deal with the fact that I didn't have kids and wasn't going to have kids. And that I should be OK with that, because He wanted me to be. My lesson was to take life as it comes, rejoice, and be glad in it.

And, I really do feel sort of liberated in a way. I didn't have to go through what in my mind is a very serious and life-threatening surgery (OK it is routine for most docs but not for ME). I went through a year of mentally working through and turning over the situation. I spoke to several people at my church and to a few close friends about what I learned on this blog and, in the process, spoke about my problems. I did write more and I enjoyed it.

So, I faced it. I didn't have kids. Now what?

Friday, November 27, 2009

I guess it does get better

Holidays again. This year I had all kinds of plans for Thanksgiving - brother-in-law in town without his kids for the first time. I was going to hang out with the boys and enjoy all kinds of grown up fun: motorcycle riding, hunting, dinner at our friend's house whose kids were with the "other" parents. Unforutnately, the creeping crud conspired to bring me down.

I was pretty bummed yesterday when I realized my Thanksgiving dinner would be a solitary bowl of chicken soup next to a box of Kleenex as I sent my hubby and his brother packing to the friend's house with casseroles. But, I didn't get as bummed as I have in years past about not having a family to spend this time with - in sickness and in health.

In years past, I had invited these same friends to a holiday dinner or brunch or something to celebrate, but they always had their own family events to attend to and suggested we get together when "the holidays calmed down - how about January?" They didn't realize they were my family, all I had during the holidays besides my hubby. And this year, when finally I would get to spend time with those friends on the actual holiday...I couldn't make it. Dagnabit!

I have to say I've gotten pretty good at distracting myself. Call it avoidance, call it redirecting my thoughts to something else. I find myself dwelling less on the sadness or depressing aspects of not having a family of my own (other than my hubby, and my dad and sister in other states), and instead focusing more on the joyful aspects of my life. On the freedom I have to do what I want. On enjoying my time to myself. On being able to focus on work or a book or going on a hike with a friend. I don't feel as shallow as I used to when I tried to think this way.

So, I had a cold for Thanksgiving but I also had a decent time. I discovered Pandora (awesome Internet radio); got caught up on a presentation for work; indulged my pets; ate chocolate; caught up on TIVO and my bible study. Tomorrow I hope to feel well enough to take a long walk by the river. Life is not all that bad.