Backwards Blessings.

My 92 year old grandmother, my Mother’s mom, moved in with my parents in Mid-April, five months before my dad passed away. I remember the week she moved in – it was an extraordinarily chaotic week for our entire family. Mammaw had had a bad day at her house, which was the impetus for getting her to move in. My sister-in-law’s stepdad passed away the same day. My Dad was in the middle of his first round of Clinical Trials at UAB, requiring him to stay in a hotel downtown three nights every three weeks. My Mom had her Master Gardener’s annual plant sale coming up, for which she was responsible for many preparations. I had a Picture Birmingham pop-up shop at West Elm that weekend. We all pitched in, trying to do what we could…keeping my brother and sister-in-law’s kids so my sister-in-law could be with her mom, helping with Mammaw so that mom could get ready for her plant sale and also accompany dad to the doctor.

Mammaw had moved in because she wasn’t doing well. She couldn’t see or hear very well, and she had an infection that was making her somewhat delirious. She needed a female caretaker at all times, so Mom, Mom’s sister, and I were trading up staying with her. I was super nervous the first time I went to sit with her for five hours. My gifting, unlike my mother, is not care-taking and is definitely not long periods of visiting without doing anything. I am much more like my father – an administrator, someone who needs to be busy when with other people, and a writer instead of a talker. I don’t know what to say in person (if you’ve ever tried to talk in person about something that is vulnerable to me, you are already well aware of this.) But God gave me the idea of reading aloud to Mammaw – I read aloud to my kids all the time, and I had lots of favorite books I could read to her. Plus, the thing that Mammaw missed most due to her declining vision was reading, so it was perfect. I read nearly an entire book to her in the first few weeks, before she broke it to me that she could barely hear me (despite my yelling the pages.) But it helped me get into the groove of sitting with her, and by then I had come to enjoy our time together and had learned to talk better.

But I didn’t realize what a striking blessing Mammaw had specifically been to me until the week before dad passed away. I had been sitting with Mammaw one to three times a week for five months by then. One day I was sitting and talking to Dad after they got back from his last doctor’s appointment. It all of a sudden hit me that I had never, in these last few months of his life, worried that I was not there enough, or that I was there too much. I’d never even wondered if I was bugging them or if I was too distant. I was at my parent’s exactly as often as they wanted and needed me there, and they were thankful that I had been there. Sitting with Mammaw had enabled so many positive things in my life:

– It enabled me to serve my parents in a practical way, rather than feeling useless or wondering how I could help them.

– It enabled me to be present with them on a weekly basis, visiting before and after their appointments.

– Many times just Mom was gone somewhere and Dad was at the house, and Dad would use those days to purposefully invest in my kids while I sat with Mammaw. It was those days that dad taught Noah how to drive the tractor, let both kids drive his truck, and included my kids on making the backsplash tiles for Mom’s kitchen that he was designing out of clay and pressed leaves from their property. Mammaw being there gave my kids more time with their Granddad.

dad and kids

– Mammaw allowed me to never once worry about being there too much or too little or even thinking about those things – and I am prone to worrying, so that in itself is a miracle.

– Serving my parents in that way allowed me to demonstrate to my Dad that I am and will be here for my Mom. I think I have not always been demonstrably servant-hearted to my parents because they’ve always been so very self-sufficient that I didn’t know what could I offer them. Plus, for the last 12 years, I’ve had their grandkids – so most of our interactions have been grandkid-centered. I’d lost the ability to converse / serve / be there for my parents, and I hope that Dad seeing me be there in his last five months assured him that I’d be there for mom after he was gone.

Furthermore, my mom is a caretaker. And Mammaw being there after my Dad’s death is, I think, so very much a blessing to my Mom. She still has her mother, she has someone to care for, she has someone to confide in, and she’s not alone. Mammaw may have wondered at times why she’s still on this earth, why she’s 92 and one of the only ones left of her generation, but I think it’s for my Mom. And, in those last five months, it was also for me.

I was able to tell Mammaw all of this a few weeks after my Dad died, and thank her for what she’d done for me. She cried, I cried, and she said “Thank you, Rachel, for telling me all that. I loved your father so much – he was such a good son-in-law to me and took such good care of me. I’ve felt so bad that I couldn’t do anything for your parents during all of this, and it makes me feel so good that I was able to help after all.”

God’s blessings sometimes come in backwards, unexpected ways. Never underestimate your value to others.

190108 Ali's 12 Birthday IMG_0758 sMammaw, Mom, Ali and I at Ali’s 12th birthday. Mammaw is doing wonderfully well now.

Hitting Pause.

180605 Cahaba River NWR Trail Piper Interpretive Trail IMG_8693 small

I’ve been struggling through my relationship with this blog for the last three years, for a myriad of reasons.

…Writing is so much harder for me than it used to be (I’ll get back to that.)
…Blogging is a “dead art.”
…My kids are growing up and not as entertaining/deserve their privacy.
…School and life take more time than they used to. When I started this blog, I was blogging during naptimes. Naptimes haven’t happened in years.
…Thankfully, we seem to be on a drought of misadventures, which were oddly always the easiest thing to write about.

But I have trouble quitting anything – even when quitting might be in order.

Every summer I get really close to writing a post similar to this (I probably have half a dozen in my drafts folder) but I always talk myself out of it. But the time has come.

The bottom line is, I need an indefinite break. The thought processes that have gone into this decision are far too vast and agonizing for something as silly as writing a personal blog (I’ve been mulling over it this time for at least 5 months), but I’ve been writing here for over a decade – it’s been a part of my life for nearly my entire career as a mother. So it feels as if it is a big part of who I am, even though I don’t give it nearly the time I used to. The idea of stopping has always felt like peeling off a part of my identity, which seems as painful as peeling off a layer of skin.

But taking a break doesn’t mean I love it any less.

I love what I’ve accomplished here. Over 2,300 posts documenting pieces of life that I certainly would have forgotten if I hadn’t written them down (I know this because I can read old posts and have no recollection of having written them or of them happening.) So many of those posts were my own personal therapy, helping me recount my days in a way that was entertaining enough to make whatever pain was involved feel inconsequential. I loved the way I was able to document Noah as a toddler. There were bats in my baby’s room. There were multiple house floods. There were crazy medical tests and procedures. There was Dysautonomia. And ultimately, it is that last one that brings me to my need for a break.

I’ve become pretty adept at fighting my symptoms of Dysautonomia – I get bi-weekly IVs to combat dehydration, I run and hike several times a week to keep blood flowing up to my brain, I drink powders that keep me going and guzzle crazy amounts of water. I (try to) hardly eat sugar and watch my caffeine intake. But the one symptom that I have found nothing that helps it is the effect Dysautonomia has taken on my brain function. I cannot think, write, or analyze creatively like I used to do on a daily basis. My brain feels sluggish and thick, and it’s not easy to sit down at a keyboard and come up with ridiculous analogies or observations on life. I mourned this loss for the first three years after my diagnosis. I pointedly avoided reading old blog posts because it made me so sad to remember what I used to be able to produce with such ease.

Every now and then, my brain will click on and it’ll work nearly how it used to. I’ve produced a blog post here and there that I have been proud of. But before 2013 I was producing 4 or 5 of those a week – and with hardly any effort. It’s not been the same.  I’ve tried to push through and make myself write anyway – and I’m glad I have – but writing has become much more of a burden than the life-giving therapy that it used to be.

But I want to write so badly.

Or rather, I want to want to write. And I want to be able to write.

To do that, I need a break, so that the negative feelings associated with writing (anxiety, guilt, mourning) can fade and I can start fresh and hopefully one day rediscover my ability to put words on a page.

If, however, I have a fantastic story I must tell, I will certainly tell it here. This blog isn’t going anywhere. I can’t imagine taking it down, and I can’t imagine saying with finality that I’m done. It will wait here, and I will write when I have something bursting to get out. But I need to remove myself from any sort of schedule or expectations of journalling my life.

Thankfully, at the same time I began the process of Dysautonomia and grappling with what it took from me, God gave me the gift of photography so that I could use it to help The WellHouse. That creative outlet has been my saving grace while I’ve been working through the frustration over my disability to write. It’s something I can do – something that isn’t affected by my brain limitations. It’s been a gift that I’ve been able to lean on. I never wanted photography to take the place of my writing, and it hasn’t – but as I face the inevitable fact that writing needs to pause for a bit, it gives me the creative space to feel like I’m not giving up. And, sometimes, I’ve been able to tell short and silly stories with my photos, and that kinda nearly feels like writing.

So for the next little while, Instagram (I’m @ObjectivityRach) is going to be my main internet nesting place. I’ve enjoyed posting Instagram stories (those little circles at the top of the home page) as we go throughout our day, and I very much enjoy posting photos. I hope to continue writing snippets and short stories as I post (like this one from Sunday), and I hope that you will follow me there for a time. I’ll be on Facebook too, but Instagram is my happy place, and it’s where I end up spending most of my online energy.

Thank you all for being a part of my life, for being my friends and my encouragers over the past decade. It has meant so much to me, and I have loved meeting you – both on the internet and many of you in real life. I don’t want to lose these friendships, and that has been a huge reason that I’ve pushed through to this point. Our relationships are a big part of that identity that pains me to think about giving up. So I hope we don’t have to do that. Please stay connected. Email me. Let me know how to follow you on Instagram (or other channels.) Friend me on Facebook. Text me. Stay my friend.

Thank you for living life with me.

Finding Color in the Gray.

If you follow me on Instagram, you might’ve already read part of this, but I felt like sharing it with a little more detail here.

This week, I finally started venturing out of the house again. I know, I know – I got out the day after surgery to take snow pictures. But then I stayed almost exclusively in bed for the following seven days. In a way, I felt much better right after surgery (albeit in pain) than I did for the week following that (albeit in no pain.)

I was weepy. Super weepy.

My hormones and emotions were all messed up (as surgery and anesthesia always do to me), and I was feeling guilty and gross about doing nothing (because I was in little pain, but if I tried to do anything I was immediately exhausted), and was feeling all the sads because I wasn’t hardly going out of doors, and when I was, it would be after Chris got home from work, which would be after dark, thanks to our super dark Alabama Decembers (the sun sets at 4:40, y’all. Four. Forty. Being on the bleeding eastern edge of a time zone is the worst.)

But on Monday, I took a timid trip out for a careful walk with the kids. We went to Aldridge Gardens, and slowly strolled around the lake. I utilized every bench along the way.

But I carried my camera and took a few pictures. And it felt nearly normal. And I felt nearly alive again.

One of the pictures I took was at a fountain, and I simply liked the look of the wet, smooth, gray stones.

171218 No color Rocks IMG_7535 s

I liked the texture of glossiness, along with the simplicity of the photo. It was nearly a naturally black and white photo – something I don’t take very often.

While I was editing, just being silly, I increased vibrance (which is kinda like saturation but better) to 100% – just to see what would happen. Would it make the grays more gray and the blacks more black and the whites more white?

I was astonished.

171218 Aldridge Gardens IMG_7535 s

All those hues were somehow always in those stones, hiding behind their overwhelmingly gray facades. How did Photoshop even identify and differentiate between them all? I couldn’t see but scant differences in the rocks with my eyes.

The transformation of the photo felt like a parallel for what was starting to take place in my mind and my heart.

Life feels gray sometimes. In my case it was temporary and expected, but that didn’t make it feel any less gray. Having anesthesia and major surgery right at the point that the days are shortest and grayest was bound to make me cry on a daily basis. Other people have much, much worse life situations causing their lives to feel gray. And the gray is only made grayer by occurring during the holiday season – the time of year that’s supposed to feel happiest and most vibrant. High expectations and grayness do not mix.

Grayness, by its nature, always feels inescapable. It feels as if it’s always been there and will always be there. Like there’s no way that any color could possibly be left.

But it is.

I promise.

The color is still there, hiding in that overwhelming gray fog, just waiting for the vibrance to be cranked up again. And when you are able to step outside and the world finally has color again, it is an unspeakably glorious feeling. It makes the color feel more colorful than it ever has been before.

“The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” ~ John 1:5

“In Your light, we see light.” ~ Psalm 36:9