Jesus With Skin On Thursday, Feb 19 2015 

There's an old story about a little boy who was scared and needed “Jesus with skin on.” (from this blog post)

Late one stormy night a small voice was heard from the bedroom across the hall. “Mommy, I’m scared!” Mom responds sympathetically “Honey, don’t be afraid, I’m right across the hall.” After a short time, with thunder snapping in the distance, the little voice says again, “I’m still scared!” Mom replies, “You don’t need to be afraid. Close your eyes and pray. And remember that Jesus is always with you.” The next time the pause is longer … but the voice returns along with a little child standing next to her bed, “Mommy, can I get in bed with you and Daddy?” As Mom is just about to lose her patience, her little boy catches her eyes and says, “Mommy, I know that Jesus is always with me, but right now I need Jesus with skin on.”

 

Yesterday, I posted about how much Jesus sustains me. Today it's all about the people in our lives—our community. First off, the hardest thing for me to deal with right now is that my husband is in Alabama and I am here. We're a team. We are literally and metaphorically one flesh. He is my co-parent, helpmate, partner in crime, and my other (best) half. He is my top tier burden-bearer and I am his. I am having to help bear the burden from afar. I am needed in Wisconsin right now. I have two sons who need my attention and a household to keep running. Robert needs to be in Alabama right now to help make hard decisions and provide and receive emotional support with his family. However, I want nothing more than to be able to hug him and hold on so tightly. We need to weep together. We need physically cry on one another's shoulder. For today, the meager substitute was that he cried in Walmart on his cell phone, while I weeped at my desk on my phone. It isn't enough. This experience has made me realize in gratitude the depth of our love and support and for that I am thankful.

It has been a tearful day today. I am an easy crier anyway. I cry when I am happy, when I am sad, when I am moved by a beautiful piece of music, when I see a glorious sunrise, when I laugh too hard. It doesn't take much to get my waterworks going. Although sadness precipiated a lot of my crying, much of the catalyst for my tears has been kindness. It started on Monday with my colleagues. Monday afternoon I had a rental car reserved and was schedule to drive 5.5 hours to the Cities for the night. On Tuesday morning I was suppoed to do a morning extern visit in Minneapolis, then drive 2.5 hours to Chippewa Falls for an afternoon extern observation. I was still planning on going even though Robert was en route to Mobile and Noah was not feeling so great. A colleague encouraged me to cancel and reschedule and then the travel office helped me cancel the car and hotel…so I cried from the kindness. I went to another colleague's office after I got bad news and started to ask if I should teach that day and promptly burst into tears. She told me to cancel my class. I protested with “Yes, I'm crying, but what else can I do? Sit in my office? Go home and do nothing?” I felt very helpless, but I couldn't get a grip and was afraid I would freak out the students. I canceled one class and then the chair of my department got another colleague to cover my afternoon class. Four colleagues stepped up and helped me through the day.

Today, I have been overwhelmed with private messages, texts, and phone calls from friends near and far and from all seasons of life. From Eric, who is taking care of set-up and technology for church on Sunday, to high school friends covering us in prayer. When Robert and I were talking on the phone earlier today we both began to cry in thinking about how many friends we have who show up in the hard times. They ask the right questions, they admit when they don't know what to say, they offer help, and they pray. Robert made the statement that if we needed immediate help for some unknown big emergency that we could be confident that iF we left our housekey in the mailbox and made a few calls, someone would swoop in and care for our animals, our house, etc. at a moment's notice. Man! We are blessed!

We all need community. We are meant to live in social groups and bear each other's burdens, as well as share in one another's joys. We are grateful for our church community, our neighbors, my work colleagues, Robert's pastoral groups, and so, so many people from high school, college, seminary, and our lives in Missouri, Louisiana, and here in Wisconsin, as well as friendships that formed online. I am grateful that both of my boys have girlfriends with whom they can have deep conversations, as well as a community of guys (Los Hombres, as I call them) that they can talk with too. Even though our faith is THE thing, having friends who can be Jesus with skin on is so crucial as well. I am so humbled by our community and the love that they extend to us.

 

Emily Dickinson was right.

 

There was a wonderful photo from Brandon's world tour when he aimed his Humans of New York camera on global subjects. Because of copyright, I won't copy his picture here, but please click the link through and see this beautiful photo. I remembered it from this summer because it so echoed the importance and beauty of community. It's a photo of three women and a girl sitting together on a bench with this caption, “We told her to sit with us so we could share her sadness.” (Dohuk, Iraq). That's what it is about. Being present. Sitting and sharing in sadness. Being a witness to the pain. Nothing necessarily needs to be said or done, but the ministry of presence is enough.

 

 

 

 

When Hope Is All You Have Wednesday, Feb 18 2015 

It's been a really hard past few days. Prior to this past weekend, I had been dealing with low morale at work and disgust, fear, and sadness associated with the current budget cuts to the UW System. However, that is mere minutiae now. I am not going into detail or any specifics on my blog, because it is not my story to tell. I will only say this… Robert left Monday to drive to Alabama to be with his family because his dad has some sudden, serious health problems. Robert, and his brother driving from Colorado, both hit the ice that covered the Kentucky/Tennessee areas and had slow, treacherous driving. Additionally, Noah has been sick and we haven't yet figured out the culprit, so we were at the doctor for almost two hours today and are waiting on lab work results. With him, I am not concerned about anything serious, but several niggling problems that we need to figure out. And Adam's girlfriend's dad is also dealing with some serious health problems too. Our hearts are heavy. It's so much pain and it's all happening at once. Part of me wants to pull the cover over my head and ignore the world. The other part of me is rolling up my sleeves and doing what needs to be done, which means going to work, two trips to Walgreens in one day, and lots of phone calls and texting to get news and keep everyone in the loop.

I have two blogs that I write in semi-regularly; this one more than the other. My other blog is from my perspective as a pastor's wife and this one is more just a random assortment of things. As I prepared to write this post, I debated about which blog to put this on. I decided to keep it on this one, since it really has nothing to do with me being married to a pastor and everything to do with my real, regular life as a mom, wife, human, female, person. My faith is part of my identity. In addition to those other roles, I am also a Christian and it has nothing to do with my husband's occupation. So this post goes here.

As we slog through the tough days ahead, my faith is not only a comfort, but a necessity. When bad news sucker punches me in the gut, I don't know what I would do without the hope, comfort, peace that indeed passes all human understanding, and even contentment that comes. I have posted before that I am not a good apologist. I am not particularly eloquent at defending my belief in Jesus with theological and philosophical arguments. I certainly can't prove Jesus to you–that's the essence of faith.

Believing without seeing.

Having trust in what I cannot define.

What I do know is my journey with Jesus, how faith in Him has sustained me before, and how I am confident that I can trust Him again as we walk through this valley. I honestly don't know how I could do the hard, painful stuff of life without that hope and assurance and I grieve for those who don't experience that peace. I have already shed many tears the past few days and I know more tears and heartache are to come. I know I will feel helpless to alleviate the pain of those I love most. But I know that we will be sustained. Even as my heart breaks, I can still experience a peace and deep, abiding joy knowing that we don't walk alone. I know that I cling to a God who knows suffering, loss, heartache, and grief. It seems especially timely as we enter the season of Lent today.

 

It is Well with My Soul has been my favorite hymn for longer than I can remember. I have been clinging to the words of it throughout the day over the past few days.

When peace like a river, attendeth my ways

When sorrows like sea billows roll

Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say

It is well, it is well with my soul.

Aside from the comfort of those words, the story behing this hymn is incredible. Horatio Spafford, an American attorney, wrote the hymn in 1873 after a horrendous family tragedy. He and his family had a trip planned to England. He had some work commitments and sent his wife and four daughters ahead of him on a ship. Another ship crashed into the ship with his family. His wife survived and sent the telegram “saved alone” to him. Their four daughters, ages 2-11 years died in the shipwreck. Horatio immediately got on another ship to meet his wife in England. As he crossed over the location of the wreck in which his four daughters perished, he penned It is Well. That a man who has just lost four young daughers in one horrific accident can write the words “It is well with my soul.” To some those might seem like callous words or a phrase written in denial. However, as I sang this hymn yesterday with tears streaming down my cheeks, I understand that it is entirely possible to confront the pain head-on and still rest in the hope and comfort of Christ. I am not well, but “it,” the whole big picture, the hope, the faithfulness, that is what is well. A God who sustains–it is well. A Jesus who knows suffering–it is well. A Spirit who brings comfort–it is well. The faithful prayers of dear friends and family–it is well.

It is well.

It is well

with my soul.

 

 

Art Matters Thursday, Jan 8 2015 

quote-1

 

If you ever thought art, writing, satire, music, drama, and the study and pursuit of the humanities were frivolous and inconsequential, take a look at these cartoons in response to the Paris terrorist attack at the Charlie Hebdo magazine office. Here are just a couple, but please check out the link above. They are all wonderful and terrible and thought-provoking.

cartoon 1 cartoon 2

 

 

Art is either plagiarism or revolution. Paul Gauguin

Art is the desire of a man to express himself, to record the reactions of his personality to the world he lives in. Amy Lowell

The aim of art if to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance. Aristotle

To send light into the darkness of men’s hearts–such it the duty of the artist. Schumann

All art requires courage. Anne Tucker

school art

My Word for 2015: Intentionally Thursday, Jan 1 2015 

I am a big believer in resolutions, plans, and goals. While I am the kind of person who embraces surprises, spontaneity, and serendipity, I also believe there is a very important place for setting goals and dreaming dreams.

I usually make a list of resolutions. Sometimes I achieve them, sometimes I don't. For me, part of the purpose of resolutions is the deliberate thinking and pondering that goes along with them. I don't beat myself up if I can't check all of my resolutions off at the end of the year. I think part of their purpose has already been achieved just by writing them, which causes me to take inventory of who I am, where I've been, where I want to go, and who I want to be.

However, this year, I'm not making a list of resolutions. Instead, I am choosing a word for my year. I will use this word to frame my outlook, to call upon when I have to make decisions, and use it as a touchstone when planning my day in the morning and reflecting on my day at bedtime.

My word for 2015 is

 

INTENTIONALLY

Dictionary.com defines intentional as:

1. done with intention or on purpose; intended

2. of or relating to intention or purpose

synonyms: deliberately, on purpose, purposefully, knowingly, by design, willingly, consciously

I also carefully chose the adverbial form of the word “intent, intention.” The purpose of an adverb is to modify a verb, adjective, or other adverb. I want to modify my verbs. Whatever I do, whatever I engage in, whatever I participate in, I want to do so purposefully. I want all of my doings to be intentionaal.

 

 

 

 

Why do I want to be intentional? I want to read more books. I want to invite more people into my home to share a meal or coffee and dessert. I want to write more, both creatively and professionally. I want to make art. I want to do things that scare me and challenge me. (These things include, but are not limited to: baking bread, putting a zipper into a garment/project, upholstering furniture, dabbling in fiber art, learning to use power tools). I want to get plenty of sleep. I want to be thoughtful and reflective. I want to make music. I have the ability and the resources to do all of these things…

But I don't do them.

Why? Because I fritter away time. Because I lack the motivation and focus, Because I choose to be passive more than active. None of those are intentional choices. They result from my lack of intention. Sometimes I will sit down to quilt, but then I check email first. Thirty minutes later and I realize that I don't know where my embroidery scissors are and it will take effort to find them, so first I'll play a quick game of solitaire, which I lose…so I'll just play until I win a game. Then, I decide to check Facebook really quickly, which leads me down a rabbit hole of links to interesting articles, then remind me of something I want to look up on Pinterest, then BOOM! Two hours have elapsed and I am now too tired to quilt.

So what will living intentionally look like for me?

It will mean creating some habits and rituals, like my quiet time with coffee and breakfast in the morning, every morning. It will mean writing in my gratitude journal and reading one poem each night before bed. It will mean only watching TV and Netflix when I purposefully decide that there is something on that I want to watch, not just randomly flipping channels until I find something interesting. It doesn't mean “no TV.” Watching movies and certain shows are fun family activities for us. I'm not giving that up. However, I realized this year that there were certain shows I used to enjoy, like Big Bang Theory and Modern Family, that don't really appeal to me anymore. It's the same thing over and over. I stopped watching them. Robert and I enjoy watching The Good Wife together and I am always creatively inspired by Project Runway, so I'll keep watching those. I'll still be a big PBS-fangirl of Mr. Selfridge, Downton Abbey, and Call the Midwife. However, FoodNetwork and HGTV will likely go by the wayside, as will Friends and Seinfeld reruns that I have seen a million times over.

The biggest change in my effort to live intentionally is my relationship with my iPad. It is not unusual for me to watch TV with my iPad in my lap. Sometimes I'm doing work, but other times I am playing a stupid game like Bejeweled Blitz, surfing the web, perusing Amazon, or checking Facebook. Passive, time-eating pursuits of limited benefit. My new rule is that my iPad stays in the breakfast area. I can only get on my iPad when I am up there, which means my family is likely downstairs in the family room. I want to spend more time with them than my iPad, so it logically follows that less time will be spend on my iPad. I do use Pinterest and Ravelry for a lot of crocheting patterns, but I will just print them out instead. Right now though, everyone is downstairs watching football and here I am typing away. However, I intentionally made a choice to write this blog post right this moment, so I am okay with that.

However, I am about to intentionally learn to play cribbage with my oldest son, then intentionally do some more decluttering, followed by intentionally reading the wonderful book that sits on my bedside table.

Bring it, 2015! I'm ready to live you out intentionally.

 

 

 

 

Dazzled by Possibility Monday, Dec 29 2014 

 

 

Today, I laid down for a post-grading recovery nap. I read for a little bit, had a kitty snuggled up to me, and started to doze and daydream. As tired as I was (late night of grading), I couldn't fall asleep. This is somewhat shocking as I am the self-proclaimed “world's best napper.” I love naps and plan on taking one every day of my semester break. At any rate, the reason that I couldn't fall asleep is that I literally was bubbling with excitement.

Why was I so excited? That's the beauty of it…there's no real reason. Nothing specific that I can put my finger on. As I was lying in bed feeling those anticipatory butterflies happily floating around my gut I thought about the first time I felt this feeling of nebulous excitement. It was when we lived in Texas in 1993. Robert and I had been married for almost three years and we had started talking about trying to get pregnant. I remember (again during a pre-nap) thinking about how weird and exciting it would be to be parents, to have a human being grow in me. It was a terrifying, exhilarating thing to try to wrap my brain around. This was that exact same feeling. No, we aren't planning any more babies. I realized that the fluttery belly feeling is simple the feeling of…


POSSIBILITY

 

As I was daydreaming this afternoon, I was thinking about all of the books I want to read, art I want to create, places I want to go, ways I want to change my teaching, experiences I want to have with my family, relationships I want to nurture, the prospect of moving into our dream home, etc. and that got me excited. I'm just thrilled about the possibility of it all!

I don't know if we will be able to sell our house or if we will find a house that we love. I don't know where I will go or the people I will meet in the coming year. I just know that the options are limitless, that anything can happen, and that the possibilities loom large. That's what creates the feeling of excitement.

The thing is, that feeling isn't a Christmas Eve anticipatory excitement. It's not a “we're leaving for Paris in the morning” kind of elation. It's deeper, more mature, more stately, and richer than that. It's bliss. This “imagine the possibilities” kind of feeling is to excitement as joy is to happiness. It is not fleeting. It is abiding. It is not contingent on circumstances. I want to embrace and it keep this feeling of possibility at the forefront as I head into the new year. Well, not a feeling exactly, but an attitude of possibility. As Emily Dickinson said, “I dwell in Possibility.” I want to dwell there too.

 

 

 

 

2014 in review Monday, Dec 29 2014 

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 6,200 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

My Last Lecture…to You (or What I Wish I Would Have Said) Tuesday, Dec 16 2014 

Last week, I taught my last class to the second year graduate students. Next semester they will all fly the nest and be scattered all over the U.S. completing their externships, the last step in their graduate careers. I have taught these students five separate courses in graduate school, at least one per semester since Day 1 with two courses over the summer. Some of these students I also taught in undergrad for two to three courses and I have known them for four years. I have also supervised them in clinic and helped them grow into speech-language pathologists.

Typically, I teach the graduate students only three courses and the last one wraps up in the summer. It is usually very anti-climatic because summer is so fast and furious, we are all so tired when it is over, and even though we are finished formally spending time in a classroom together, we will still see each other often in the clinic and around the halls. It is just the formality of the classroom that is missing, so it seemed weird to offer any parting thoughts. However, with the end of fall semester and the fact that I won't ever have these students together as a captive audience, I felt the need to attempt to wax eloquently about the time that we have spent together, the wonderful careers that await them, and the joy of being a speech-language pathologist. I was feeling emotional, so I basically rambled in a very inelegant manner, tried not to tear up, and cracked a few jokes. A few students teared up as well, and I got flustered and we just wrapped things up.

 

So, here's what I wish I had said (with apologies to Randy Pausch):

The last day of any class is emotional for me, but it's especially true with graduate students. And even more true this year because of how many classes we have spent together.

I have known some of you for almost four years and the rest of you a year and a half. I saw your nervous, excited faces that first week of graduate school as you wondered what you had gotten yourself into after all of that worrying and fretting about getting into grad school. You had achieved your goal and you were optimistic and confident, but a little anxious about what to expect. You jumped in with both feet and read, answered questions, tentatively began your first clinical assignments. Meanwhile, I was frantically trying to learn your names and a little about you.

Over the weeks, your sense of humor began to emerge. I got to know you in a different way as I worked with you in clinic, chatted with you in the hallway, or met with you in my office. The little cliques borne of familiarity of those who attended the same undergraduate college began to meld and a real camaraderie developed amongst you as a whole. You started to loosen up, become more comfortable with your skills and knowledge, and more open about what you didn't know.

A lot of emotional ground has been covered in this past year and a half. When we work (live?) together in the “garden level” for 40+ hours a week, we get to know each other pretty well. There's been a battle (and victory!) against cancer, as well as some other serious health challenges among your cohort. Some of you have lost family members and walked through that grief even while attending school. You have had your hearts broken. You have been stressed and overwhelmed and not always performed your best. More than a few of you have cried in my office because of tough clinic problems, fear of your abilities, or the general stress of grad school.

But there have been times of joy as well! There have been many, many engagements and quite a few marriages that have occurred during these past four semesters, including an engagement in the department! I have had to keep up with ever-changing last names and remain dazzled at how you got married on a Saturday and turned in a complex assignment the following week. There have been inside jokes, the excitement of seeing your clients “get it,” and the feeling of accomplishment when you “got it.”

 

 

I feel good about your knowledge and skills and confident that you know how to use resources to find out what you don't know. As you go into your externship, you will find out that there is a lot you don't know. That's okay. There is no way for us to teach you everything and no way for you to learn it all. Remember to embrace that cognitive dissonance. That means you are growing and learning. That keeps you on your toes and that makes your career stimulating and interesting. The day that you feel 100% confident in your skills and knowledge is the day that you should retire. The questions and the puzzles are the learning opportunities to embrace because they will stretch you and help you develop into your best self as a clinician.

Also, never forget that you are working with people. You aren't working with that “cleft palate kid” or that “guy with Broca's.” You are working with individuals and their families–real people with dreams, hopes, accomplishments, hurts, and all sorts of feelings. One of my biggest beliefs in life is that all people want two things: (1) to be loved and (2) to have a friend. Communication is essential for being able to develop those relationships. One of my heroes, Helen Keller, was once asked if she had a choice, would she prefer to be blind or deaf? She responded with “Blindness separates people from things. Deafness separates people from people.” You are in the business of giving people a way to communicate with other people–that is the essence of what makes us human. We are social animals, meant to live in community with each other and you get to play a role in faciliating that and making that happen. Don't ever, ever forget what a sacred honor and privilege that is.

As you go on and get your CCCs and start your first jobs, you will find that Medicare red tape, billing, reports, IEPs, and various bureaucractic policies will eat your time and start to steal your joy. Those are necessary evils of the real world and they are also crucial for you to do so that you get a paycheck. However, keep your focus on your clients, your relationship with them, and the ultimate goals of communication. Step back and be grateful that they allow you into their inner circles and that they reveal their soft under-belly to you as they struggle to communicate and allow you to see their weaknesses. Be an advocate for them and a voice when they have none. Be dazzled by the complexity of language, speech, and the messy process of human communication. Be in awe of the brain and its mysteries, knowing that you will never understand it, but seeking to always know more about how it works. Push your clients harder than they think they can endure, but never focus so hard on your own goals that you forget to ask what their goals are. Be humble and admit when you don't know something, but be resourceful and try to find the answer. Do a good day's work, but then leave it at work.

With all the good you are doing in the world, you must take care of yourself and your family first and foremost. Don't give the people you love the most your leftovers. They deserve the best you. Finding that balance is tricky, but make it a priority. For that, I will leave you with the words from one of my favorite contemporary poets, Jane Kenyon. I have this in my office and look at it often:

I am proud of each one of you and so glad that the paths of our lives have intersected.

Go and do great things.

 

 

 

True Confessions: I Suck at Advent Sunday, Dec 14 2014 

So here it is, the third Sunday of Advent, and I am behind in Advent posts and pondering externally and lacking in the peaceful, prayerful preparation internally. Every year I vow to be more organized and more intentional during the period of Advent. And every year I don’t meet my own expectations at the least, and totally fail at most.

ad·vent
ˈadˌvent/ noun

  • the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event.
  • the first season of the Christian church year, leading up to Christmas and including the four preceding Sundays.

I love the whole notion of Advent, the idea of a period of prepration for a notable person and/or event. For the Christian church, this means a 4 week period preparing to celebrate the coming of the Messiah. A time to reflect, ponder, and joyously await that time in which God, the Creator of all, put on human skin and became a helpless, weak infant born to a teenaged virgin and her bewildered fiance. Emmanuel–God WITH us. Fantastical? Yes! But real? Again, yes, I believe! God has a history of using ordinary people (Moses, a man who stuttered, to be His spokesman to the Israelites; David, a mere boy, to defeat the Philistines) to do extraordinary things. Not only is Christmas the second most important holiday in Christianity, but I also like preparing and anticipating. Think back to the “will he or won’t he call?” days of teenagedom–how deliciously exciting! Or when I circled the due dates of both of my sons on the calendar and saw those dates come and go with no baby. When will they decide to be born? The time of of the unknown, when the anticipation is palpable, and the wonderings are all-consuming…that is the sweet spot of Advent.

I minored in English in college and I remember having to read Ode on a Grecian Urn by John Keats in my Romantic Poetry class. (FYI, romantic poetry is not about romance in the traditional sense–one of the many things I learned in that class). In my early-20s frame of mind, I was especially enamored by this part of one stanza:

Bold Love, never, never canst thou kiss

Though winning near the goal—yet, do not grieve;

She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,

For ever wilt though love, and she be fair!

The point of the poem is that all of these scenes are forever etched into this urn and the moments are caught at the supreme pinnacle of anticipation because isn’t the leaning in for that first kiss almost more wonderful than the actual kiss? Isn’t the giddy excitement of Christmas Eve more stimulating the post-Christmas carnage of ripped paper strewn about the floor and the dry tree dripping needles?

I always plan to be very intentional and prayerful during Advent and I start out well. I was following a photo-a-day plan from OccupyAdvent and made it a total of 3-4 days, before not posting a photo and reflecting upon the word and scripture of the day. “I’ll make it up and post twice tomorrow,” I told myself, but then it was the next day and the next, and then it just seemed kind of overwhelming and I missed the boat. Advent was moving forward without me.

I have made mental excuses that Advent comes at a terrible time for a professor. Last Friday I taught my last class and then tomorrow starts finals week. I have had to write exams and now am in the thick of grading lengthy projects, answering emails, and wrapping up the semester. On top of that, there are extra parties and various social gatherings, many of which involve not just the time and energy commitment of attending or hosting, but also the additional cooking that accompanies such events. In addition to that, December is THE birthday month for us. Noah’s 18th birthday was yesterday, my birthday is Thursday, my brother-in-law’s birthday was 12/5, and my dad’s is 12/28. There are special meals to be cooked, desserts to be prepared, gifts to be purchased and wrapped for birthdays, in addition to all of the Christmas festivities. Just to keep things interesting, I’ll be having surgery on Thursday, so I am trying to prepare for that and my subsequent recovery too. Oh! And Adam comes home from college too.

So Advent has taken the backseat. Preparing for and contemplating the meaning of God come to Earth has been placed on the proverbial back burner, but ah…isn’t that just like Advent.

We know that Jesus most likely was not born on December 25. It is an arbitrary date that was picked for the celebration. What we do know is that Jesus was born at a most inconvenient time. Unlike today when people schedule C-sections around vacations and work obligations or ultrasounds alert OBs to necessary inductions, back then babies always came on their own schedules. I can’t imagine how exhausted Mary was after the long, arduous trek to Bethlehem for the census and then how she must have felt to rest her swollen body outside amongst the livestock. It was not a lovely sanitized Hallmark moment of “the cattle are lowing, the Babe He awakes, but little Lord Jesus no crying He makes.” It was the messy business of amniotic fluid and afterbirth amongst the cow dung and donkey urine. Animals were bleating, mooing, whining. Instead of cute onesies and diaper wipe warmers, this baby was wrapped in scraps and put in a feeding trough covered with animal drool. Mary’s breasts were painfully engorged with milk, the newborn was spitting up and crying, and Joseph was confused and feeling helpless. Nothing like this had likely entered Mary’s mental picture when she was told that she was highly favored and that her son would inherit the throne of David.

Maybe the timing of Advent works out after all. Maybe my failure to embrace the season of expectation is really what Advent, and ultimately Christmas, are both all about. God stepping into the mess of humanity when we least expect it and when we are the least prepared…yet He comes into our chaos, He draws us to Him, and takes us where we are and as we are. The One who was born away from home amongst farm animals looks at my pile of grading, the unwritten Christmas cards, and another dinner of leftovers and steps into the mess nonetheless.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel.

 

It’s All About the Focus Saturday, Dec 6 2014 

After a long, good sleep filled with many dreams that weren't work related, I got up this morning about two hours later than I intended. Normally when I sleep too long I have what I call a “bed-headache” in which I have a dull headache that Advil can't touch and it lasts all day. However, today I feel great, so I must have really needed all that sleep. My plan for this morning was to REALLY clean the house and finish the Christmas decorating. However, I don't have ANY grading today and I don't have any plans until 5:30, so I am taking the day slowly and letting it unravel as it will. Before I start cleaning and finish decorating I am sitting in the living room with a cup of amaretto coffee, listening to my James Taylor and Harry Connick, Jr-laden customized Christmas Spotify playlist. If I look to the left, I see our snow-covered backyard and slightly right of midline is our finally decorated Christmas tree that we adorned with lights and ornaments last night. Noah, one week shy of 18 years old, is still a huge fan of all things Christmas and it was fun for us to put on ornaments together. Due to his 6' 5″ height, he is also very helpful with hanging ornaments without a ladder.

As I sit looking at the decorated tree in the house that has yet to be cleaned, I realized that everything comes down to focus. Attitude, appreciation of beauty, gathering wisdom, worship, priorities, relationships…it all comes down to where we CHOOSE to direct our attention and energies. And it is important to remember that it is ultimately a choice. I think it is what separates the glass half-full people from those lamenting their half-empty glasses.

Yesterday, I spent about 30 minutes at a Christmas party for the Aphasia Group in our clinic. Aphasia is a language disorder that commonly occurs after a stroke in the left hemisphere of the brain, where language is housed. There are diffierent kinds of aphasia, but most of the group had the kind where their comprehension and understanding of language is basically intact, but they can't easily access the language that is in their brains to adequately express themselves through words, either oral or in writing. However, with support from clinicians and their spouses they were about to talk about Christmas plans, which mostly involved looking forward to time with grandchildren. They gave each other time as each one in turn struggled to find the words to express oneself in halting speech. They ate Christmas goodies with their left hands as their right hands typically rested loosely in their laps, unable to move well. My eyes welled up the entire time with tears just at the brim, waiting to spill over as I thought about what a precious community of shared experience, compassion, and understanding this group had created. I was also humbled once again about the privilege and honor that I have as a speech-language pathologist to help people find the words to connect with others—the essence of what makes us human.

I finally had to excuse myself when one of the spouses piped in and shared how blessed this group was. Here were a group of people who had faced a terrifying medical scare, that has impacted their whole bodies in terms of movement and independence, as well as their ability to express themselves and they were all nodding their heads in agreement. They are blessed. At the point the tears started to spill, so I left before it got ugly and I lost control. They were focused on the right things–not what they lost, but what they had.

As I look over at my Christmas tree, I realized that we get to choose what to focus upon and that determines the rest. I can enjoy the lights and the ornaments that have been created or given to us over the years and reflect on the beauty of the tree, the scent of the pine, the glow of the warm light, and the memories that the ornaments evoke…

 

…or I can choose to focus on the dropped pine needles, the ugly and necessary utilitarian tree stand, and the mess that a live Christmas tree creates.

 

 

I think I'll choose the tree, the lights, and the ornaments. A vacuum and tree skirt can cover the ugliness and redirect my focus where it needs to be.

 

 

 

Compassion Fatigue Wednesday, Nov 26 2014 

Since my last post talking about how drained and overwhelmed I have been this semester, I spent the better part of a week in Orlando at the American Speech Language Hearing Association (ASHA) National Convention. It's always nice to break away from the usual routine, go to a new place, reconnect with friends from my doctoral program, go to seminars, learn new things, and network. It's also very tiring. I spent 8-10 hours a day learning and teaching, then the evenings are spent talking, connecting, and interacting. To top it off, the convention is always the week before Thanksgiving. What that means is that I work frantically to get ready to miss work for three days and make sure classes and clients are cared for, go the conference, and then come back and play catch up on class prep, grading, emails, and voice mails in the three days before Thanksgiving. Then…we usually have from 6-15 people, many of whom I have never met until that day, to our house for Thanksgiving. Because I have been exhausted this semester, I suggested to the family that we put the kibosh on inviting international and other transplanted students and faculty over for Thanksgiving. Instead, we are just having our little nuclear family of four. The menu is scaled back, we'll eat whenever it's ready with no time constraints, and we may even break bread in our pajamas. It will be laid back and restful. The afternoon will be filled with our traditional outing to a movie, followed by naptime.

We made this decision before I went to ASHA, but it was reconfirmed as being a great decision while I was there. Most of the sessions I went to were about research and evidence-based therapy techniques. However, on Friday I attended a two hour seminar on Compassion Fatigue led by a speech-language pathologist and her social worker sister who specialized in working with people experiencing traumatic stress. It was just what I needed! As the speaker listed the symptoms of compassion fatigue, which is common among those in helping professions, I mentally checked off each and every one. No wonder I am so exhausted and feel like I am treading water. I think I have a double-dose of it because I am emotionally invested in 4+ speech/language therapy clients, as well as over 100 different students. All of those clients and students have different needs, including some fairly involved physical, emotional/psychological, and family issues going on.

 

 

The speaker made the point that we have different kinds of energy to expend: physical, spiritual, sensual (not sexual, but relating to deep connections with others), intellectual, and emotional. Our clients (and students), plug into us as part of our therapeutic/educational interaction which then drains us of our energy. If we aren't consciously refilling, then we can be drained and spent. Although I am very conscious of the need to rest, reflect, and take care of myself and have done a pretty good job of it thus far in my 23 year career, I hit a wall this semester. I felt validated at this session and got some good practical tips on how to better care for myself and prevent burn-out from happening again. Basically, I need to be aware of the energy drains in my day–a challenging client, a difficult meeting with a student, a class that isn't going as planned. Then I need to intentionally plan, schedule, and stick to building “energy lifters” into my day. Humor, beauty , exercise, and prayer are things that build energy. The speaker suggested things like fresh flowers in the office, watching a 5 minute Jimmy Fallon clip at our desks between meetings, taking a brief walk at lunch, etc. These have to be intentionally scheduled each and every day.

I am looking forward to replenishing my energy reserves over this Thanksgiving break and finishing out the rest of the semester intentionally balancing my energy expenditures, by putting some new habits in place.

 

 

 

 

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