How Precious Are You, Really?

My dad had emergency surgery 40 days ago. He is still really sick. Sometimes the doctors tell us he is dying, sometimes they tell us he will pull through. My sisters are really great at doing medical research on the internet and telling the hospital staff how they should be doing their jobs. Actually, sometimes my sisters come up with pretty impressive stuff, like music that stimulates the brain, aromatherapy, a Continue reading “How Precious Are You, Really?”

Starting over from scratch? Don’t forget your plastic shark.

Eight years ago this summer my family was evacuated from our home in Littleton while the Hayman fire raged just miles away.

When the call came to prepare to evacuate, I alerted my two children and we began scouring the house for valuables. Within minutes, a pile of things-too-precious-to-leave-behind had been accumulated by the front door.

The first thing I noticed was the inflatable plastic shark.

I said, “What’s this shark doing here? We can’t take an inflatable shark.”

Kacie, seven, looked at me like I had just suggested sacrificing her sister to a pagan volcano god. She said, “Mom, I LOVE that shark. We CAN’T leave him here to die in the fire!”

Not wanting to provide more fodder than I already do for my daughters’ sessions with their future therapists, we kept the shark.

Kaitlyn, fifteen, added cheer poms and her favorite goose down pillow.

I grabbed the avocado green Kitchen Aid mixer that sat in my mom’s kitchen for years. When my grandmother died, her avocado green Kitchen Aid got passed down to my mom, who then gave me her own. Under those circumstances, what woman wouldn’t save a mixer from a fire?

We rounded up the dogs, fish, photo albums and Kacie’s collection of several thousand Chuck E Cheese prize tickets (she’s saving for the Grand Am).

Kaitlyn rescued the Texas license plate she had salvaged from our former car.

And as we were pulling away from the house, Kacie beamed and brandished a small plastic bag of gum and said, “Look, Mom, I saved the Double Bubble!”

I said, “Thank God. Now we won’t have to turn around.”

We were lucky. We had several hours to gather our treasures. But what surprised me was the ease with which I left the rest behind.  Thousands of dollars of placemats, trinkets, compact disks, doodads, artificial plants, sofas, paintings, office equipment, books, kitchen gear, video games and more.  The stacks of mail order catalogs I love to save.  Forty-seven pairs of shoes. The lamps I bought at Target. Stuff that—as I lingered in the doorway on my way to the car—I realized I could live without.

We spent the next two weeks staying with family in Colorado Springs. Every day we eyed smoky skies and watched the news. As the fire continued to spread, I tried to prepare my daughters for the worst. I said, “Years from now, out of the blue, you’ll suddenly remember something that was lost in the fire, something precious you’d forgotten about until that moment. When that happens, take a moment to think about it—close your eyes, take a deep breath—then let it go.”

We are not unlike small planets, each one of us our own center of gravity. As we orbit through life, we gather things to us: Belongings. Relationships. Dreams. These things in hand, we take great pains to build some sort of personal civilization for ourselves.

But sometimes we lose it all and have to start from scratch.

We were lucky. Our house was spared. But it did make me wonder about the things we keep and the things we can’t. Remember the ol’ icebreaker standby? “If you were stranded on a desert island and could only take three things with you, what would they be?” Sometimes it stops being a game.

Desert island. Divorce. Wildfire. Death of a loved one. Bankruptcy. Loss of a home or job.  Health crisis. Whatever. Sometimes the worlds we’ve crafted crash and burn and we have to begin again.

If we’re lucky, we get to carry a few treasures from the world we lost to seed the one we’ve yet to build. But even when we don’t, well… we’re a hardy lot. We grieve. We survive. In time, we can even thrive again.

With or without our inflatable sharks.

Endings: The birth pangs of brand new things?

Undoubtedly you’ve had times in your life when something has crashed and burned. Maybe it was a dream you were pursuing. Or a relationship you valued. Or maybe even your own hope, happiness and joy as you experienced a season of burnout or even depression.

Think back on those times. Revisit those ashes. Kick around in the rubble a little. What gems are hiding there? Is there a tenacious flower that has taken root despite and loss? Is it growing stubbornly up through the debris, waiting to be transplanted to more fertile ground? Sometimes the ashes and rubble of our worst experiences yield unexpected treasure.

Take a few minutes to make a list of some of the darkest experiences in your life. Now write down any longings, new visions, goals, convictions or desires that came from those experiences. Some dreams need to die, to be sure. Some deserve to be resurrected. Others, in their death, give birth to new and different longing. The truth is that endings and beginnings are one and the same.

I know you’ve experienced endings in your life. The question remains: What new beginnings are waiting to be pursued?

–From the book Only Nuns Change Habits Overnight by Karen Linamen

Swimming in the blue world of grief


Several years ago I faced the excruciating task of freeing my heart from a terminally broken relationship. I walked five miles a day, gave myself pep talks, reinvented my looks, joined a book club and deleted our pictures from  my phone. Some days all that stuff helped. Some days it didn’t.

One day, during a summer thunderstorm, I flung open my bedroom window, sat on my bed and listened to “Refuge” by Vas, one of the most haunting songs I know. The stormy weather seemed to transform my room, and I felt immersed in the elements. The air felt cool and damp, my room smelled like earth and rain, and sometimes all I could hear was the thunder and noise of the rain pelting the forest outside my window.

Anyone watching might have assumed I was wallowing in sadness. But I knew different. In holding my breath and swimming just below the surface of my sorrow, I was searching for a portal. My skin tingled and I felt a sense of anticipation, as if any moment I might find what I was looking for and swim to the other side.

Sometimes there is an invisible veil between us and what we long for. That day, in the midst of the steady rain, that veil seemed to take on shape and substance, as if the elements that usually kept it hidden were being washed away. It felt close, both earthy and ethereal, and I couldn’t help but feel that, if it could be seen, perhaps it could be penetrated, like a membrane, like a birth. Employing all my senses, I drew as near as I could, then nearer still, yearning to break through to the other side.

I think grieving is a baptism of sorts. Submerged, we swim below the surface of our sorrow, searching for portals, for treasures lost, for the way back home.

I’m all for rising above our circumstances. But sometimes, before we rise, we need to grieve. Eventually the need for air and light and life forces us back to the surface, where we catch our breath before diving again. In time, our hours beneath the surface grow shorter and less frequent. Then one day it dawns on us that the blue world of grief has stopped calling our names altogether.

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