Sunday, October 23, 2016

Moments of Grace

We needed to run some errands today, so we did something we almost never do and went to multiple non-grocery stores.

At Lowe's, the Christmas stuff is already out.  I used to be one of those Christmas-season-doesn't-start-til-the-weekend-after-Thanksgiving people.  As years with my small children fly by, I've come to realize that stretching out the season that "engages the whole world in a conspiracy of kindness" is something I quite like. Christmas carols are totally an option by November first. We've never done big Christmases, toy and present wise, but we've alway decorated as much as our meager budget would allow, and spent a lot of time making little crafts and decorations, and doing seasonal activities together. As they've grown, I've just realized that the years with my little ones go by so fast, and there are so few of them, that I don't mind at all stretching that special time into two months instead of one.  So, even though the Christmas stuff showing up immediately after back to school sales makes me a bit crazy (craven commercialism much?), by late October it just starts to light me up inside.

The kids were excited when they saw all the Christmas stuff, and spent more than half an hour exploring it. I came across a 2ft tall resin Santa, and was instantly, painfully, dreadfully homesick. Though it really looked nothing like hers, my grandma used to have an old Santa like that that she would sit on a table next to her front door inside her porch, so that he greeted all her Christmas time visitors.  Michael and I helped grandma decorate her house for Christmas every year of our childhood, and when we were little, she had to haul that heavy statue in because we weren't strong enough. By the time we hit middle school, the roles had reversed, and one of us had to carry it in for her.  We spent nearly as much of our lives with her as we did at home, and decorating for Christmas was our job.  She didn't put up a tree or a decoration until we came up to do so with her.  I know a lot of people who think the Elf on a Shelf thing is stupid (which I totally get, and respect), but those two little elves floating around my house make missing her a little less painful at Christmas time. She had a whole collection of elves of various sizes and appearances that she had had since some of her children were at home, and we'd pin them up on the drapes all around her living room.  So I sent a pic of the statue to my brother and told him I was tempted to drop $80 on this stupid Santa to put by my front door, just because I knew I'd think of Grandma and smile every time I saw him.  Christmas is always magical, but there is nothing that will ever compare to childhood Christmases with Grandma.  Until I got married and had kids, I didn't believe I'd ever love anyone as much and I loved Mom, Grandma, and Michael, and, though I adore my entire family, many of my happiest memories are just Michael and I and Grandma, at Christmas time, in her cozy little trailer.

As I stood there, feeling terribly stupid that I was almost in tears over a 2 ft Santa statue, I realized that that is probably how my kids, and all my nieces and nephews, feel about my mom and her house.  My mom is so good to her grandkids, and I honestly don't know another grandparent that invests that much time in that many different grandchildren.  And as I stood there missing my grandma with a horrible ache that waxes and wanes but never quite goes away, I realized that, despite the fact that in a few weeks she will have been gone for 12 years, she is still very present in all our thoughts.  Our children know her.  And she is very much alive in my mother, in her affection and attention to her children and grandchildren.

And I was reminded again (as I have been, often, in the last few years), that I am incredibly fortunate to have been raised by strong women who always put their families first.  I am so grateful to my mom and my grandmas for nurturing me when I was a child, and through my young adulthood.  I am continually grateful for the way they have taught me to be a mom, and the wonderful examples they've set for one day being a grandma.  I am so grateful for the presence they have in my children's lives, my grandmothers indirectly, and my mom directly.

The last few years have been challenging.  There's been more than enough heartbreak and hurt to go around.  I have, at times, given into to pessimism or frustration.  But that flood of warm, quiet memories burst open a piece of my heart in the middle of a hardware store, and reminded me that things can work out.  It reminded me of the examples that have been modeled to me throughout my life of how I can love the people in my life a little better.

A weary world rejoices.  Sometimes, the spark of hope for a weary soul comes in unexpected moments and places.  For that, I am tremendously thankful to the Lord, and to the people he has bound me to. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

"We are probably those referred to as 'our brother's keepers,' possessed of one of the oldest and possibly one of the most futile and certainly one of the most haunting instincts. It will not let us go.”  
~Norman Maclean

I read A River Runs Through It for the first time when I was 16. Because of where I was at in my life at the time, and what was going on around me, I fell in love with it and it became a favorite. 

There are battles that aren't entirely ours to fight, but that we can't quite walk away from either.  "Strengthen thy brethren" is an exhortation that's very close to my heart, but figuring out what it means in specific situations or relationships can be challenging. 

When it was time to go back to school, the reason I chose nursing is that I hate just standing by when someone is hurt. I need to do something.  If I can fix it, or at least help ease the burden, I feel like maybe things will be OK. I've gotten better at accepting that sometimes all you can do is hold someone's hand and acknowledge the painful reality that they hurt and it can't be fixed, at least right now, and not shrink from that.  But when it comes to spiritual pain, I still struggle to accept when the answer is simply "Watch and pray". 

I forget that that is doing something. You can't give someone your faith. You can bear your testimony, but you can't control whether or not they receive a witness.  You can't take away their doubts or their fears or their sins. You can do everything you can think of to give them love, but you can't make them feel loved. 

When my most important people are broken, lost, hurting or angry, I want to scoop all the little pieces of their broken hearts into my hands and mend them back together. But I can't do that--that is the domain of the Savior, and the Savior alone.  I have seen so much heart crushing of late, and a crushed heart is a deeply difficult thing to hand over, because the very nature of the injury makes it difficult to believe that there is a remedy. So we cover it over with cynicism or anger or bitterness or doubt.  At the exact moment in our lives when we need so desperately to turn towards the things of eternity, we turn ourselves farther away from them.  

When someone we love is facing away from the light of joy, we can't turn them around. All that we can do is be kind, try to exercise love and patience and kindness, do all we can to be one of the lights along the shore, so that when they're ready to come home, there is a familiar face to walk with them.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Brain Quirks

A Facebook friend shared a post about left brain/right brain functions and cooperation, which was more about the true physical and functional differences than just the usual pop culture version of those ideas. Some of the emphasis was on how much one side needs the other for proper function, and some of the problems that result when one side becomes too dominant.

I always had trouble with the left brained/right brained personality type ideas. I've always thought of myself as very right-brained in some ways, preferring stories and ideas to details and facts. I've always been fairly feelings-driven, and enjoyed the freedom to be creative. On the other hand, I have always lived in language, being in love with reading and writing for literally as long as I can remember. I've always had a deep need for order to feel comfortable. So I assumed I must be fairly right/left brain "balanced", if you will, but on little self-assessments over the years for various classes and such, I always tested as much more "left-brained".

When I was diagnosed with epilepsy last year, my neurologist told me that, based on where the pathological activity manifested in my brain, and the symptoms that I experienced before, during, and after seizures, it was likely that my Broca's area (the primary area responsible for processing language into speech, usually in the left frontal lobe), and possibly Wernicke's area (where, we think, our understanding of both written and spoken language is processed) are on the right side of my brain, rather than the left. That's not unheard of, but it does tend to mean that not all of my neural activity fits neatly into the normal dichotomy, or its related cooperative functions.

So I'm not crazy. My brain just has atypical structure.

Wait. . . .