Sunday, August 26, 2012


We just completed the last day of summer camp. We spent ten hours cleaning, vacuuming, washing, and scrubbing down every inch of camp and finally, it's over. Almost simultaneous to completing the last task on today's list, came the feeling, "Holy crap! Now what are we going to do?"

This moment I've been waiting for for most of my life is here. And I'm terrified of it.

I'm done with school.
I'm married. 
We've completed our summer obligations. 
This is the time where I should do all of those fun, crazy, interesting, grown-up things I've been waiting to do. And instead of being excited, I'm inundated with exhaustion and grief.

Shouldn't now be the time when I finally learn to play guitar?
Shouldn't I start thrifting for real? Instead of blaming it on a lack of time?
Shouldn't I get yoga certified?
Pursue personal training?
Figure out some sort of career path?
Isn't this the moment where I have more time to read? And so, I actually do?
Will I play city league sports?
Will I finally have my garden?
A compost pile?
Home-made clothing?
Gluten-free baking?
This seems like the time when I'd get serious about writing.
And music.
And meditation.
And canning.
And being eternally happy.

But all I want to do is catch my breath.
Waste time on Pinterest.
Get to know Jeremy again.

And this worries me. Have all my lofty ambitions during the years I was "caged" in school dissipated once the opportunity actually arrived? Was I all talk? Will I actually do the things I said I wanted to do? Do I even have what it takes to be that person? Am I simply dissatisfied with whatever stage I'm at and forever longing for a different one?

I don't need to cross off these items like a checklist. Whether or not I ever have a compost pile is unimportant. Certainly some things might've sounded intriguing five years ago and don't anymore. But I suppose I'm attuned--for possibly the first time--to a new rhythm. 

A rhythm that's disjointed and unpredictable. 
One that doesn't follow the melody I had in mind (or even sound good half the time).
One that means we are homeless, jobless, and suddenly short on money. 
One that probably can't afford half of what's on that list. 
One that doesn't look nearly as enchanting and sweet as the movies make it out to be. 

And so, instead of that list, I'm going to wake up tomorrow morning and lay in bed. Then brush my teeth. And enjoy one last day at camp. No work. Just play. 

And the next day, I'm going to get in the car with my husband and mosey around Idaho and Utah. Maybe we'll camp. Maybe we'll get a flat tire. Maybe we'll see the most beautiful sunset of our lives. 

But either way, all I have to do is show up. 
Put the list aside.
Be in this moment. 

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Sarah Kay

Friday, August 24, 2012


This week, Family III and Blind Camp are happening simultaneously.

The family campers file quietly and orderly into the cafeteria.
They take turns in line.
They are happy with the food we have in the cafe.
They don't require much.
They pay attention during programs.
They follow the rules.
They say the right things and smile at all the right times.

The blind campers enter everywhere with volume and disorder.
They bump into unsuspecting victims.
They want toast and oatmeal and orange juice and hot chocolate and bacon. Even if there is no bacon.
They need constant attention and direction. To know where the door knob resides.
They talk back to the actors in the dramas and laugh too long and make lots of noise.
They seem to forget the rules. Or dislike the rules and pick which ones they'll abide by.
They say the wrong things and misbehave at all the wrong times.

The family campers are "normal."
The blind campers are "different."

The family campers fit into our society because they are polite and they look right.
The blind campers come out of the woodwork once in awhile to engage with a world that sees them as "the other" kind of human being.

But I really like these "others."
     Adam tells jokes about pickles and Barack Obama.
Sylvia snuggles up to Adam while he shaves her chin. At camp council.
     Timothy runs. And trips. And gets back up again. To run. And trip.
Matthew shoots paintballs at the moving human target and asks, "Did I hit him?" while a staff member guides his gun.
     Beth asks to sing the morning prayer song. Then shys as far from the mic as possible.
Mike shamelessly promotes his best bud's musical abilities by asking everyone, "Do you have an iTunes account? You've gotta check out my friend Tom's music!"
     Bonnie paints ceramics. Completely blind. And loves it.

These "others" remind me that life need not be so clean and orderly and culturally acceptable.
What if your laugh resonates across the lake when the rest of the audience is quiet?
Who says pottery must be painted within the lines?
Who says that children who can't see are better than children who can?
Who says the farting sounds aren't hilarious?

Tonight, the speaker asked the campers, "What do you think heaven will be like?" Every little family camper said, "We'll play with lions!" and "I'll have a six-story mansion!" and "Pizza will grow on trees!"

But every blind camper said, "I won't be blind anymore," and "There will be no more pain and suffering," and "I'll see God face-to-face."

While these two distinct groups behave quite differently day-to-day in ways I don't always understand, their view of God is even more diverse. They are longing--spiritually and physically--for a God of restoration to come and make them free and whole. They are living day-in and day-out in a body that doesn't perform the way they wish it did, waiting with incredible hope, that God will do what He said He'd do.

I cringe at the thought that these blind campers have probably been stared at, talked about, or laughed at because they don't fit into our socially-mediated box. They didn't choose this. But their picture of God offers more clarity than my eyes may ever see.

Monday, August 20, 2012


Today, I was talking to the father of an autistic daughter. He adores her. He watches her every move. He delights in her accomplishments. He rejoices in her smile. He says in amazement, "Look at her go. That's my girl." His daughter--who we'll call Ariel--has moments of slow, melancholy strolls and bursts of erratic, spontaneous flinging of her entire body. 

He told me how the other day, Ariel was lingering very closely to a family they didn't know and she started spinning circles and wildly exploring her environment with every limb. He looked anxiously at the family, expecting their dismayed looks and confusion, but instead they smiled and talked sweetly to Ariel even though she couldn't respond. He was relieved. Someone cared. Someone understood. 

There are many different groups of people in the world. Groups separated by gender, by race, by language, by ability, by hobbies, by so many different things. And we all grow comfortable with our own unique group. We become accustomed to thinking, "I am the norm. People different than me are the exception." We all operate with a certain narcissistic quality that makes us think we are all that matters.

But then, I meet Ariel. A little girl who is autistic. She and her family operate on a completely different level of norms. They've never communicated with her verbally and probably never will. A typical day involves dressing her, feeding her, and doing everything in their power to look into her eyes and try to understand what she needs and how to love her.

Sometimes I am welcomed into a world so different from my own. Like when I've been blessed to work in the special education classroom. I love interacting with the students because they are so different. Or when I've worked with blind campers at summer camp. They live on sounds and braille and radio and touch. They are delighted by the smallest things and bent over in laughter at the corniest jokes. They have so many reasons to be bitter and frustrated and sad, but instead they're joyful and generous and alive. 

Just days ago, I was dreading this last week of camp. Going through the motions. Just getting by. Getting it over with. But then I met blind campers we'll call Mike and Jayson and Sophie. People who absolutely amaze me with their spirit. And I'm reminded that while I thought this week would be a hard dose of anxiety and extra stress, it has actually brought me a much needed serving of peace and perspective.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Let Us Lay in the Sun

So, today, I had the thought: I'm done. It's been a crazy twelve weeks. Must we really go thirteen?

After having this thought, the remainder of the day looked gloomier, darker, ugh-er. The mind is a powerful thing and because we still have a week left, I want to get through it with all the joy and optimism I can muster.

I will count every beautiful thing I see.

Hayden Lake.
Little blond boy camper who gives me hugs.
Meeting one of the 1844 founder guys. He's a family camper this week.
Wednesday night's sunset. Probably the prettiest I've seen all summer.
Air conditioning.
The staff quartet who sang us a love song.
Jeremy taking me on a fancy date. To the top of a mountain.
A good run.
Legs. Eyesight. Hearing. Taste. Arms. A heart. Lungs. Skin.
Money in the bank.
The future.
Good people.
A camper this week with autism who brightens my day with her dance.
Random texts of encouragement from my Dad.
Getting mail. Via the U.S. Postal Service.
Sleeping in.
Hula hoop competitions.
Fresh, clean air.
A pretty new skirt.
Newly shaved legs and clean bed sheets.
Blind camp coming tomorrow.
Knowing that we will find some kind of normal (outside of camp) soon.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Three Month Anniversary

This morning, the alarm clock blared its greeting, I rolled over in bed, and Jeremy whispered, "Happy three month anniversary." Then we went on with our day.

These first three months of marriage at camp have been hard. Neither of us has felt very happy. And while it's hard to say: that's okay.

In June, it was not okay. Not happy? Why are we not happy? What are we doing wrong? What's wrong with our marriage?

In July, it was not okay. Not happy, still? What's wrong with everyone else? Why can't they make us happy? Or maybe it's us? Did we bring this on ourselves?

In August (on the 13th @ 6:28pm), it's okay. This is a season. It's not the season I had hoped for and not a season I would necessarily want to repeat, but "happy" is still available to us even if these first few months have been lacking.

When "happy" feels so far away, I tend to get anxious. Scared. Unsure. As if this season determines all other seasons of our life. Forever. But I know, that there is a time for everything, and I'm hoping that the "happy" portion of that time comes around again soon. And chances are, it will. Because it always does. Even when I'm sure it won't. It will.

These three months have been important. Maybe we needed them. To be humbled. To be lonely. To meet new people. To make connections. To be frustrated. To cry. To live in a new place. To check out the northwest. To impact someone somehow. To feel. To experience and move forward.

Thank you, first three months, for what we have felt and tasted and seen and learned.

Our contract ends in less than two weeks and we'll be happy to pack up the truck, clean out our desks, and depart for our next adventure. Currently, the plan is to take our time driving to Colorado; maybe stop in Bozeman or Arches National Park (pretty much anything we can do cheaply). Then we're going to our friend, Alicia's, wedding. We hope to see a few friends on our drive through the mountains and spend some time with my parents on the other side (...of the mountain).

At this point, the plan is to head back to good 'ol Nebraska. It's been home to us for a few years and we have truly wonderful friends and family there. This summer, I've been reminded of how very important those friends and family are.

We're looking forward to finding a home.
Finding jobs.
Spending time together.
Spending time with people we love.
Capturing some sense of normal.
Enjoying moments where we can do un-normal things.
Planning for the future.
Throwing parties for no reason at all.
Discovering new places.
And relishing in old ones.

Saturday, August 11, 2012


I’ve known Helga ever since I became anorexic. It’s no coincidence that these two took up residence simultaneously. Because you can’t have an eating disorder and be a balanced, confident, whole-hearted person at the same time. It’s one or the other. You either have respect and admiration for yourself as a human being or you have an eating disorder. You just can’t have it both ways. If you can choose starvation, you’ve already decided you’re not worth feeding.

Helga is a jerk. She’s that voice in my head that convinced me I was literally devoid of worth. I didn’t deserve food. I didn’t deserve happiness. While her influence on me has lessened as I’ve recovered these past few years, she is still that voice of evil, of manipulation, of hatred. She’s loud and obnoxious and comes fully-loaded with abusive, critical comments about my body, my reflection in the mirror, my skin, my abilities, and my value as a woman.  I used to get her voice confused with my own. I used to think that we were one and the same. But I know better now and I’ve learned to distinguish my voice from hers.

Recently, I’ve been reading the book When Women Stop Hating Their Bodies by Jane R Hirschmann and Carol H. Munter. They talk about how we know the critical voice in our head, but we need to refute that with a voice of truth. We all have the need for an inner care taker. A presence within us that knows forgiveness and grace. That comforts when we’re down and cheers when we’re up.  For most of us growing up, this was our mother. But we’re not kids anymore and some of us have not learned how to healthfully care for ourselves when we’re uncomfortable or scared or anxious. So find ways to cope and they're not always better than the pain we started with. 

Helga needs an opposite.
I’ve named her Grace.

Grace is new around here. She’s still settling in as I’ve only recently begun wanting her around. I hate Helga with a passion, but at least she’s familiar and predictable. Grace is neither.  She doesn’t use sarcastic comments and guilt-ridden aggression as a means to control me. Instead, she’s kind and compassionate. She’s not forcing her way into my consciousness, but she’s just waiting until I’m ready.

I think I’m ready. I think I need her. I need to be reminded at times that my transgressions are forgivable. That my needs are not insatiable. That my heart is not a problem. And that I—right here, and now—am doing just fine. Grace reminds me that I am worthy and valued and good.

This starts to look much like those cartoons we've all seen with a good and bad presence on each shoulder. But I've never seen those images and found them to be un-true. They've always made complete sense. Because I've lived with Helga for awhile. I've become familiar with the notion she preaches that with just the right amount of self-hatred and contempt, maybe, just maybe, I'll be good enough. But that's never how it works. Grace reminds me that I can't get to a place of love and balance and peace with hatred and name-calling and cruelty. Grace is good like that. She speaks the voice of truth I've always known, but needs uncovering. 

I’ve been putting this thinking into practice this week, learning to listen to the voice of Grace. On Thursday night, we went to a get-together where there was chili, cornbread, and apple pie; all foods that I enjoy, but have gluten in them and always make me sick. So I avoided them, right? Nope. Ate ‘em. Quickly too, as if to dispose of the evidence as soon as possible and convince myself that what just happened didn’t just happen.

Under typical circumstances, I usually realize what’s happening, hate that it’s happening, and eat as much glutenous food as fast as possible because it-tastes-so-good-and-I-shouldn’t-be-eating-it-but-I-am-so-screw-it-I’ll-just-make-it-an-all-out-binge.

But that didn’t happen on Thursday night. My recognition kicked in somewhere around my third bite of cornbread. I realized I could stop and might not feel too stomach-achy in the morning, but I didn’t stop. I just kept eating. And instead of letting Helga harass me about it, I listened to Grace instead, who said, “This might not feel great in the morning, but I’m not going to leave you. I’ll be right here when you’re done.” So I kept eating the food that would make me sick and went to bed feeling not awesome, but okay.

The next morning, with my bloated tummy and stomach cramps (per result of gluten allergy), I was quite susceptible to Helga's attacks and she let me have it. But instead, Grace reminded me, “We’ve been here before. It’s not comfortable, but it’s not the end of the world either. Let's move on.” And I did. And that was that. I was uncomfortably bloated and sick the rest of the day. I regretted eating the dang cornbread. But Helga's guilt only makes me feel worse, so I'm learning to shut-down Helga’s abusive rants every time I make a wrong turn. Because I’ll be more likely to make positive changes when I welcome the acceptance that Grace is eager to give.

Disclaimer: I am no artist. So I have no idea why Helga is larger proportionately or why her eyes are so huge. Their hands are behind their backs, because drawing hands is so flippin' difficult. But the act of giving these forces a face was important for me. There's a reason why they are both female in my mind, why Helga's breasts are larger and clothes are skimpier. There's a reason why Grace has freckles and a smile. Through this process, I realized how much these things matter.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Scraped Knees

Monotony convinces me that I am weak.
That I am delicate and incapable.
Only a few wise thoughts here and there.
Mostly abstract.

The routine I find myself in for most of the year instructs me to play small.
To game it up here and there, but at the given and appropriate times.
We do indoor things.
We play card games.
We use our inside voices.
My nails grow long.
As does my leg hair because it's rarely seen.
My limbs are clean and scrape-free.
My skin becomes a pale white.
My one-piece swimsuit lines disappear.

My movement is restricted mostly to planned events.
Six AM workouts.
Frisbee at the park.

But camp is different.

At camp, the sun loads me up with enough vitamin D to nearly overdose.
Opportunities arise without a moments notice.
I move. A lot.
I play hard.
I eat to fuel my muscles.
I crash and burn.
I run and dodge.
I get dirt under my finger nails.

I go skinny dipping.
That just doesn't happen in Nebraska most the time.
I am drained by the sun and the sweat.
Showers soothe the aches and the bruises.
And I crash into my bed exhausted and ready for rest.

Yes, camp is good at reminding me how very capable I am.
I can learn to wake surf.
I can climb stuff.
I can play hard.

So, here's to sunning it up in Nebraska.
To more nights under the stars.
To making time for physical challenges.
To testing my body (outside of the gym).
To trying new things.

Here's to adventure.

Saturday, August 4, 2012


Last week, I talked to a guy we'll call, Justin. He told me about how last summer, he was in an incredible boating accident. He went over the front of the boat and his head was sliced open by the propellor. He remembers very little of the accident, but recalls an out-of-body experience where he saw "someone" in an accident being taken out of the water, strapped to a back board, and rushed to emergency surgery. He was in intensive care for his severe brain injuries, yet recovered by way of physical therapy, and returned to college in the fall. Later, the hospital mailed him his wet suit, sliced open by the boat's propellor, still bloody. He rinsed it off with a hose and moved on. He still wears it when he goes boating.

I asked Justin, what I assumed to be a no-brainer question: "Did going through this accident and recovery make you have a far greater appreciation for life itself?"

"I wish it affected me more," he replied honestly. "I wish I thought it about it every day and was eternally grateful, but I've just kinda moved on. I'm grateful to be alive, of course. But it's not like I think about all the time."

What makes Justin so resilient? How has he been able to recover and move on with so little emotion as he re-tells the story of the day he almost died?

*     *     *     *     *

My dear Grandpa (who just passed away in May), outlived three wives. His first wife died of cancer. His second wife died in a car accident. His third wife also died of cancer. I wouldn't have blamed him for dying of a broken heart, but he didn't. His body just gave out, but his spirit never ceased. How did he have the strength to get up every morning? How did he remain such an optimistic, whole-hearted person until the day he breathed his last?

*     *     *     *     *

My lovely friend, Kylie, just returned from a visit to Nepal. Alone. She didn't know anyone before she left. She took these amazingly vivid pictures of the children she met and the places she visited. She told me stories about her travels, her experiences, and how excited she is to go back. She will be moving there soon and staying for three years. Wow. How is she so brave? How does she adapt so well to completely foreign environments and still honestly enjoy herself?

*     *     *      *     *

I've never survived and recovered from a boat accident like Justin.
I've never had to endure the death of a spouse, or two, or three, like Grandpa.
I've never so gracefully adjusted to change like Kylie.

I've heard from people who have had abortions, who have been raped, who have been abused, and who have literally had to run for their lives. People who have lived through divorce, destitution, poverty, gang violence, cancer, and disease. I hear these stories and sit back in amazement because I wonder if I could handle half of what they've been through. It seems to me I've endured far less-traumatic events in my life and have had a much more difficult time recovering from them.

I wanted Justin to tell me that he had nightmares. That he spent months recovering. That he still fears being around boats. That the sight of that bloody wet suit sent him into a panic. That he's still figuring out how to move on. But he's not. He's fine.

He's just fine.

*     *     *     *     *

On Monday, I asked my counselor (over the phone), if there is some sort of gene that makes certain people more resilient than others.

"Well, that's a nearly impossible question to answer, because it implies that we're all equally equipped creatures from birth. But we're not. We have different tendencies, different DNA, different cultural norms, different childhoods, different everything. There is not one right way to respond to adversity."

This is the point at which I disagreed adamantly, telling her that how I respond to everything is wrong, puny, incorrect, bad. That there is surely a more ideal way to respond to trauma than to cry or plead with God or remain paralyzed in the same fear.

And this is the point where (I'm sure) she rolled her eyes, took a deep breath, and said, "You don't want to believe me do you? You so badly want to know that you're okay, that you're acceptable, that you won't even allow me to tell you the truth about the human experience? That there isn't one right way. That maybe you're doing just fine. And you're experience doesn't need anyone's judgement."

*     *     *     *     *


  1. (of a substance or object) Able to recoil or spring back into shape after bending, stretching, or being compressed.
  2. (of a person or animal) Able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions.

I think that many of us define words based on our own experience. For example, I define my own "resilience" compared to some incredibly tough people I know. But does that mean that I will, by default, always be a wimp? Does truth only depend on how it compares to the biggest, the best, and the brightest? No. 

Because to someone else, I am resilient. 
To someone else, am strong. 

I am, therefore I am.

*     *     *     *     *  

I know this girl. She's so great. She's kind and talented and good with people. She's human and she struggles, but she's also tough and she thrives. Sometimes she looks outside herself for validation that what she's doing is okay. But she knows she doesn't want to do this and she's working on it, but not berating herself until she's perfect. She has an emotional vocabulary that will knock your socks off. She's wise. She's good at expressing how she feels. She's good at reading others. Her life has had ups and downs like everyone else's. Some she surely looks back on with a twinge of regret. But at the end of the day, she knows that--big or small--those trials have made her who she is today.

She is resilient.