This year, as part of the jubilee year of mercy, I’m writing a series of posts to explore the challenge of living mercy in everyday life. I’ve created a landing page where all those posts will be archived in one location. I hope you’ll join me there for Mercy on a Monday.
But I’m in this weird in-between time when, according to Merriam Webster and everyone who is older than me, I am most certainly NOT middle-aged; I am still a young’un. And yet the opposite is very clear whenever I talk to engaged couples about NFP and realize I have no street cred because I’m too darned old.
And if I step back and shake my head at the ways in which I feel my body changing, people who are older than me make sounds of disgust and set out to educate me about what REAL aging looks like.
It’s kind of annoying, if you want to know the truth.
I’m forty-two today–the meaning of life age. Things are much different than they used to be. I’m beyond pulling out the gray hairs (although I never did that anyway). I can’t sit cross-legged on the floor anymore, at least not for long. It hurts my hips. Two nights ago I laid awake for hours with a low-grade discomfort in my back that I couldn’t alleviate by changing positions. I can’t run around barefoot anymore because my feet hurt due to a mock-plantar fasciitis, and various burning in the foot tendons and tightness in an often-sprained ankle are, though thankfully treatable through massage therapy, still a constant reminder that I’m no longer a young’un, no matter what others may think.
This is not a complaint, but an honest recognition and acknowledgment of the place in my life I’ve reached. Other things are changing, too, things I note with bemusement. My sense of smell is way, way more sensitive than it used to be, for instance. This is both a blessing and a curse, depending. I’ll let you work that one out on your own.
Other side effects of aging are unqualified blessings. Charting cycles for four-plus years without interruption by pregnancy or nursing has clarified much about my body—trends in moods, in weight retention and loss, difficulty or lack thereof in sleeping, the little signs that accompany hormonal shifts and fertility—and I can see them shifting with age. Self-knowledge is a beautiful thing. It makes a girl so comfortable in her own skin.
I embrace the growth in understanding that comes with more years. I’m able to step back and see the way good and bad coexist in various philosophies and perspectives with honesty, without imposing absolutes upon them, and for that reason I’m much, much harder to manipulate. I am capable of greater mental and physical discipline; I’m better able to handle chaos, and I’ve learned how to function in company despite being an introvert. I’m more flexible, and I have gained coping mechanisms and a certain perspective that makes anxiety more an aggravation than a twenty-ton monster these days.
There are often times when I wish I’d had this discipline at a younger age, and times when I feel nostalgic for the simplicity of times when I had fewer responsibilities. But I also know that age and growth in discipline grow together–and you couldn’t pay me enough to be eighteen again. Or twenty-five, for that matter. I am a happier human being now than I was then, more capable of love, more capable of good work, in every sense. And I fully expect that in another twenty years I’ll be happier still, even as my body continues to change in inconvenient, annoying ways.
Bring it on, age.
I suppose I should also acknowledge that no, I did not post yesterday, and no, I will not post tomorrow. I’m down-shifting to twice a week, so look for me on Monday and Thursday from here on out.
It is sometimes a strange thing to be a pastoral musician. I have this gift, and I know—because I’ve been told so repeatedly—how much it means to families to offer it to them in the pivotal moments of their lives. It’s an honor and a privilege to sing or play for a funeral, and when it’s the funeral of a friend or loved one, all the more.
And yet frequently the only way I can do it it is by emotionally dissociating. I’m a cryer, see. I cry over movies, books, occasionally even a particularly affecting advertisement. (Though, to keep it real, it has to be a pretty darned good one, and I have to be in the right place in my cycle.) In any case, funerals, especially in the case of an untimely death, are inherently emotional. And you can’t sing when you’re crying.
This woman is the third of my peers to pass away in the last few years. When I got the news, my first reaction was to reach out to my college roommate, through whom I met her. The stupid thing is that my roommate and I live an hour and a half away from each other and routinely pass through each other’s towns, and we haven’t seen each other in, I don’t know. Years. I thought of her often but always forgot to email when I got back to the computer. There were books and songs and blog posts to write, kids to chauffeur and phone calls to return.
We started playing catchup by email and soon progressed to plotting a camping trip. As the signals shot back and forth, I shook my head, smiling as I thought that our mutual friend must be up in Heaven smiling at the way her passing had managed to reconnect two people who have loved each other since we first started practicing across the alcove from each other.
The pianist and I had already started playing when my friend and her family arrived at the church on Saturday, so I could only wave hello. At the Sign of Peace I went over to hug her and it was a shock to my system, how familiar was the feel of love and belonging that sprang from that embrace. It was like no time had passed at all, even though since we saw each other last we’ve both sprouted gray hairs and miniature wrinkles around the eyes.
Everything about that funeral was beautiful. The sanctuary, the acoustics, the music, the people, the family, the love. But most beautiful of all, for me, was spending a few hours with someone who used to be my best friend, and, I discovered, still is. I’ve always said I only have one close friend at a time. I can name them in consecutive order, starting with elementary school.
It is a beautiful thing to realize I’m wrong.
The kids have been entranced by the Olympics lately. Michael calls them “Olymp-kicks.”
Last week my friend Kelley posted this status update on Facebook:
Went for a walk with the kids. Arrived back at the house carrying a bike, a helmet, a guitar, and a pair of shoes. #momlympics2016
Other moms chimed in with these:
“Thinking the f-word without actually saying it”
“I’m hoping to just place in the “They all ate at least a meat/protein product today (veggies optional)” event.”
“I’d definitely get gold in “Eating secret chocolate.”
I definitely qualified in the semifinals for “carrying everyone else’s crap, you’re welcome”
First seed, for sure. Second seed: the burrows of the Grand Canyon. They ain’t got nothin’ on you.
What’s my contribution?
Well, the thing about having kids who are getting older is they take care of their own dressing routines. Only they aren’t always on top of it all. They sometimes skip steps. Like brushing teeth, and washing hands. And other things. The other day I found myself saying this: “Michael. You wear ONE pair of underpants and ONE pair of shorts. Not two pairs of underpants and shorts. Not pajama pants and shorts. Not shorts with no underpants. ONE pair of underpants. ONE pair of shorts.”
So I guess my contribution to the aforementioned #momolympics2016 is actually #kidolympics2016: Michael takes gold in Going Commando To The First Day Of School.
He also should at least get an honorable mention in the category Going To School In The Afternoons But Still Needs Nap
My only actual contribution to the #momolympics2016 is to wash out in the Stay Off The Internet So You Can Get Some Work Done event.
All joking aside, I’m having serious thoughts about setting aside blogging. Hits are way down and I am wondering if I have said everything I have to say that people want to hear, or whether it’s just that people don’t read blogs anymore. Either way, I am seriously questioning whether it’s a good use of time.
Speaking of Time…it’s Time to get the kids up for school…and mow the lawn…and grocery shop…and figure out where I can carve out an hour or two of writing time today.
I hope you’ll bear with me today, because there’s a reason I’m about to tell this story.
One thing that sometimes accompanies an extra 21st chromosome is “pronation.” This means that due to low muscle tone, the feet turn out. Julianna has fabulous health and good cognitive functioning but her feet are regularly regarded as the worst the experts have ever seen. She’s been in orthotics—shoe inserts—pretty much since she learned to walk.
Up till now, her inserts have carried a price tag of $1400 per pair. For several years this caused no issues because we have great insurance (because my husband is a public employee). But a year ago, our insurance changed and the provider was no longer in network. So we switched providers and went on faith that we just needed to hold the course. Unfortunately, Julianna has spent the last year with blisters (and now callouses) on the inside of her foot, where her body was fighting the insert because it was no longer what she needed. Even more fun? The insurance denied the claim. After six months of Christian beating them up on the phone, the insurance and the provider got their signals straight, but the upshot was nobody paid for the braces—insurance forced the provider to eat the cost.
This year, we went in wiser. We switched back to the provider we had worked with successfully; we called in the doctor for a meticulously-worded prescription; we talked to the local (taxpayer-funded) organization that funds services for people with special needs; and we made sure they were both in contact with insurance. It turns out Julianna needs a far more restrictive brace—one that goes all the way to her knee. Here’s the cost estimate:
This is the pre-auth form; for now, as you see, the insurance provider seems amenable, but after last year we’re not counting our chickens.
I began this process in mid-June, and yesterday after a 1-hour consult, about a dozen phone calls and two more appointments, finally we brought home Julianna’s new braces.
Which is where Part B comes in: Sensory Issues.
Another thing that frequently goes along with special needs in general is sensory issues. Some kids cannot wear clothes with tags. Some kids need particular fabrics. Some kids cannot deal with being touched; others freak out with loud noises. I have long said Julianna’s only sensory issue is oral defensiveness, but I’m realizing I was wrong: any touch that smacks of medical practice makes her lose her ever-loving mind.
Step one: Casting.
They covered her leg with a sock and then wrapped the leg with the foot held in position, using a fast-setting moist, Ace-type bandage. I intended to document the whole process, but this was the best I got:
…because within 10 seconds of taking this shot, both Christian and I were on duty, me holding her body as still as I could and Christian holding her leg in the proper position so the orthotist could do the casting.
The rubber tube goes over the sock to help space so they can cut the cast off after it’s set. Total time at the orthotist’s office: 1 hour 15 minutes.
We came back 10 days later to pick up the braces. But it’s not that simple. See, there’s also padding inside the brace, and that has to be done when you come to pick them up. The brace does the major corrections, the pads do the minor ones. And when we got there last week, the lead orthotist decided the braces weren’t tall enough. They needed to be remade. Total time: 1 hour 15 minutes, with nothing to show for it.
We came back for a third time yesterday, at the end of the first day of school, to find an emergency procedure had set them behind by several hours. So we arrived at 3:40 p.m. and left at 6. And there was much wailing and shrieking and flailing of locked-up muscles, along with the word “No.” Otherwise she lost all verbal capacity. And this is what we came home with:
And we have to go back on Friday to make sure they’re not rubbing her skin wrong…and possibly again in two weeks for followup.
Let me emphasize a few points:
1. This is a process we will go through every single year for the foreseeable future.
2. We will never have a guarantee that these suckers are going to be covered by insurance.
3. We have to do this, because the alternative is that her legs grow crooked and destroy her knees.
4. This is only one example in the array of issues dealt with by families who have loved ones with special needs.
I tell this epic-long story, breaking all my rules about keeping posts short, because I want people to understand that many of the life philosophies we cling to, philosophies that make a great deal of sense IN THEORY, really only hold up under circumstances where everything—or at least most things—go “right.” Small government and self-reliance are praiseworthy goals, but they must be pursued in tandem with a view of the world that is “pastoral,” to borrow a word from Church circles.
In other words, rules and guidelines are good, but people are more important.
My family is really blessed to have amazing insurance as well as advanced degrees and jobs that allow us to spend the time and mental gymnastics to successfully navigate the shoals of coverage/not coverage.
An awful lot of people don’t have those benefits.
If I have made any point today, I hope it is that special needs are, by definition, extraordinary. Some problems cannot be solved by the private sector; some problems are too big to be borne by individuals without help. It’s not enough to say, “These kids have a right to be born.” If we’re going to support the right to life of children, we also have to support their right to a healthy existence once they’re born. It’s wrong to tell parents they HAVE to have these kids, and then withhold the support needed to raise them. (In another context we’d call that an “unfunded mandate”.)
I post this because I hope it will provide a needed perspective in this election season. This is one of many quiet, nuanced issues that receives zero attention in an atmosphere charged with shrieking about things that, when it comes right down to it, really don’t have much impact on people’s lives. I hope, at a minimum, our story gives people a perspective they never considered before.
Sometimes it doesn’t make any sense to add my own words to the clutter in the blogosphere, because other people have said it so well.
“It is Sunday morning, and I am once again late to church but determined to go. I moved to this new town in east Texas a few months ago, and I know two people. It’s time to make some friends and find a good church.
As I make my way through the parking lot, I see a young black woman with three boys heading towards the large church door. The boys are reluctant to go, and I hear her encouraging them to keep moving. She’s black and about to walk into a church auditorium filled with a 1,000 white people.”
…the rest of this post is mercy in action, and it humbles me.
And in contrast, given my recent experience, this really resonated too (language alert):
I just spent the summer traveling around the country with two spirited children and I have met lots of you. You usually like the idea of us. You start out eager to chat with me at the pool or the park. You ask if my boys are adopted. You tell me you’ve always thought of adopting… later. Someday. You tell me how beautiful they are. They are.
Don’t think they don’t notice. Don’t think it doesn’t hurt my kids’ feelings to be rejected and side-eyed. Don’t fool yourself into thinking they are doing anything but their absolute best. They want the exact same thing we all want- to be seen and loved and appreciated for who we are.“
(Click through to read the full posts. They are both amazing.)
I’ve wanted to zipline for years, but this is not on Christian’s list of things he wants to do, so I never had the chance. Until this week, when Alex and I were hosted by Eco Zipline Tours over in New Florence (for the locals, at the Hermann exit). I’ll be reviewing the experience in full at Pit Stops For Kids in a couple of weeks, but I wanted to share the photos now, because this was without question the highlight of my summer. I always thought this might be terrifying, because, y’know, you have to jump off a high place, right? Wrong. It’s a whole lot easier to sit back and pick up your legs than it is to jump. It was so much fun. I could do this all day. Every day. Writing? Who wants to write when you can soar over the treetops?
I remember as a child going to Confession and telling the priest that I never felt anything about my faith. I thought I was doing the right things, generally, but I wasn’t feeling anything, and I thought there was something inherently bad in that.
He told me if I see a guy shivering with cold and I feel bad for him, that doesn’t help at all. What the guy needs is a coat, and it doesn’t make any difference if I feel anything when I give him a coat, the point is to give him a coat!
I think we all like to go around feeling holy, and sometimes we mistake that for actually being holy. I reread my mercy posts the other day and the one that highlighted itself in my head was about mercy heroes, and how easy it is for that warm glow you get when you do something good to turn into halo-polishing. Better to do so darned many good deeds that it’s a yawn-worthy occurrence, something you don’t even think about afterward.
Because when you get right down to it, nothing I do will ever be enough. I cannot lift a homeless person into a secure, productive life on my own steam. I can’t singlehandedly save a family, or even a single person, from the temporal forces that act against them. All I can do is an act of kindness, an act of generosity. It never feels like enough, but maybe that’s okay. Because if I ever felt like I did “enough,” the temptation to give myself the credit might well make me insufferably sanctimonious. The tension keeps me humble.
Today’s daily reading, from 2 Corinthians, was really uplifting that way: a reminder that I can’t see the big picture, anyway, and that someone else is putting the phantom power behind my microphone:
Amen and Amen.