Monday, October 19, 2015

Dead Words & Dead Leaves

I've been reading a book by a Texas author, who I am a fan of--Libba Bray.  I've come across the word autumnal several times in this book.  Autumnal is not a new word to me, though not particularly common.  I love this word, though, as Ms. Bray must as well.  I like the sound of it.  I like the thought of it.  I certainly like all things autumnal.  This is my favorite time of the year--the weather, the colors, fall baseball, football season, and Thanksgiving season.  I love leaves and trees and all that they represent to me metaphorically and literally this time of year.

I want to be autumnal.  I want to be seasoned with maturity and wisdom.  I want to glow with color and life, a sweet respite for others to find shade under.  I want to be one who is not afraid of the present or the future.  I want to be one who stands tall, displays strength, steadiness, and ability to withstand the storms and changes.  One with scars of past storms, one with history, one with a story to tell.

It's been a long time since I've posted.  So long that I forgot my password...which I am notorious for...but here we are again.  I originally started this blog because I'd been asked to, prompted to, called to.  And writing is always something I enjoy, something healing.  I use it to express, educate, enlighten and encourage.  At the beginning I had a lot to say, a lot to process around the last 3-4 years of hard, and I had learned a lot from our struggles and challenges as a couple, as a family, as a woman.  I posted pretty often initially.

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I've been word dead for a while now.  The little posting I did in June and July 5th, the last time I posted, were out of necessity to communicate information more than a need or desire to write. Really, I haven't had the energy or heart to write in months.
 There has been a lot more dead than just my words.

It was about this time last year when I began really feeling the symptoms of what I know now is the autoimmune disease, Sjogren's Syndrome.  I kept blaming my symptoms on a fibromyalgia flare, allergies, and the like.  Nothing worked that normally had. I was unable to workout at the gym any more. I spent most days going back to bed after I took the kids to school.  (I still have to do this often.) In November, I caught the flu.  I recovered, but never felt good.  In early December, I began getting really sick. We kept thinking I was just having a really bad, off year. I was on antibiotics and steroids for the majority of the next 6 months.  Bout after bout of bronchitis, constant coughing, sore throats, vomiting, debilitating pain and exhaustion. I battled sores in my mouth, painful cracks in my tongue, and not being able to eat much or well.  I switched a couple of doctors, went to some specialists, and finally back to my rheumatologist. Finally a biopsy in my mouth of salivary glands gave us the answers.  As a result of the Sjogren's, I now also have been experiencing peripheral neuropathy in my feet and hands--the death process of some nerve fibers.

Fighting this constant illness, having regular and multiple tests, having regular rheumatology visits to monitor the disease process, and visiting many specialists to evaluate and treat complications and effects of the disease uses almost all of my physical energy and much of my emotional energy.  Keeping up routines for the kids, making it to my appointments, and taking meds have been all I've had in me.  I have pushed through to make it to the kids' events.  I've let go of events and functions for which my family and kids are not directly impacted and which drain my energy in ways that don't benefit my family.

While it is helpful and somewhat reassuring to have a diagnosis, to know there is something real, it is also a life sentence that has to be accepted.  And then a life has to be mourned.  This disease has no cure and rarely goes into remission.  I had to grieve that I might always feel this way.  I will definitely not teach again.  I can't be on my feet for very long at all.  Some days I can't get through a shower if I get my body out of the bed.  I was a really good teacher.  I was a really good advocate.  I was an expert in gifted education who was sought out.  I wrote curriculum, led professional learning communities, spoke to parent groups and teacher groups.  I grieved the loss of this before when fibromyalgia took over my body. I had hoped and trained to present for NAMI, touch the lives of families with mentally ill children and teens, and use my skills to help others. I've had to decline all requests for me to present. Here we are again.  Another death.

During the last year, there was a death of a family, a church community--one that I thought was mine after nearly 3 years there.  Events occurred as changes were also occurring in the church which showed me how my children and I were really viewed by a particular minister, a prejudiced view on which we were handled and treated, ultimately because of the lack of faith of my husband.  I tried addressing the minister involved and then the pastor as things continued to unfold and the picture became worse and worse.  Then silence, from a church that preached "we don't leave church, we work through things, we stick it out."  Since last Jan/Feb I haven't heard one word from anyone--not the small group I'd been a part of, people I thought were friends, the ministers I tried to work through this with initially or any other church leaders.  Silence.  A big death.  A death of a church family for us, a death of our beliefs about this body of believers, a death in our collective faith as a family.  A death that occurred as my health was already falling apart.

Just weeks before I was finally reaching a diagnosis for my health conditions, and undergoing a lot of tests and stress and while I was still really, really sick, I received an email from a close friend.  A friend who'd walked through a lot of our hell the last few years, a friend I thought would always stick.  This friend had withdrawn over the year.  The withdrawal was hard to take, but I was too ill to do much about it.  I couldn't keep that up, too. (People don't realize that kind of illness saps you psychologically and emotionally, on top of physically.) When the friend reached out by email during an awful time, another death blow was dealt as she leveled many accusations, was completely unaware of what I was dealing with health-wise (because of her withdrawal), and then bailed.

Right at the same time, a precious former student of mine was killed senselessly and randomly by a felon with a gun who fired into a crowd of college students in College Station.  I attended her funeral the day before Mother's Day, the only child of her parents.  That was a hard loss to take, a shot in the neck.  I have another student who is a quadraplegic who was also shot in the neck.  Shots to the neck and 2 different kinds of death.

I constantly battle the death of my faith after dealing with all of the above, one on top of another. Prayer life?  Dead as a door-nail.  I battle the death of Keith's faith still.  And the threat of death to the faith my children still have.  It has been hard to maintain a deep faith in a marriage in which we are united in everything else, very connected, and also very much in love.  It is especially hard to maintain my faith with no support from a faith community.  (I might have one of those if I hadn't lost mine and then been too sick to attend much or connect to others...)

All of these things have killed
my words,
my faith, and
the leaves with any beauty left on my tree.
It's been a winter in my heart and soul the last few months, despite the sunshine and Texas heat.

My dear sister-friend, Sarah, likened me to a mighty oak the other day, one that may bend and sway but never breaks.  I hope I can be worthy of that faithful image, one I love.  I definitely do not always feel strong or grounded or rooted.  Yet, I seem to have an indomitable spirit that just keeps standing back up.

There haven't been any leaves on my tree for a while. 
A new season has been approaching.  
I feel its stirring.

Image result for small leaf clip artBeginning BSF this year and studying Revelation, I initially thought...WHAT AM I DOING HERE!?  I don't know what I believe about this, the Bible, and I certainly do not fit in with traditional evangelical believers!  Agh!  But.  I have asked for prayers from my group.  To see and hear from God.  For the broken places to be healed, hard places softened, for leaves and fruit to grow again.  To find some energy and purpose where I am now, with my limited physical capabilities.

Image result for small leaf clip artI'm finally experiencing some relief from prescribed meds and some experimental treatment.  I find a little more energy, less sores and cracks in my mouth, and that I'm learning how to balance and try to plan for rest I need to prepare for activities and to then recover from them.

Image result for small leaf clip artI'm praying again. It is still difficult for me to pray for myself, but I have stormed heaven for my #TeamEvans family, even as we've buried Cindy. I pray for my sister-friend, Sarah, her brother Mike, and their family pick up after losing their dad 2 years ago and their mom, Cindy, last week.

Image result for small leaf clip artI'm going to a NAMI training this week to be a parent presenter for PTA-type groups as we work to make parents and teachers allies in addressing mental illness in our youth--something I've experienced from both sides--as a parent and as a teacher.  These presentations are shorter, and I am hopeful I will be able to participate in this way occasionally.

Image result for small leaf clip artI want to be autumnal, an autumnal oak tree with beautiful, colorful, changing leaves.  I don't want to be spring.  I want to be a mature tree, one proven and wise.  I want deep roots which keep me from blowing around.  I also want to be one who who is not afraid to let go--of what is no longer needed and what is already dead.

Only as I let go of all of that which has become dead in my life in the last year can I grow again.

It's time to grow.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

To Facebook or Not To Facebook

*I am currently on a break from Facebook.  I am re-activating for a brief period to explain my absence after several inquiries. I also want to make sure anyone who wishes to knows how to contact me.  I am not sure if I will keep my Facebook account, but I am still somewhat active on Twitter (@dhbizzell) and on Instagram (@mamabizzell).  

Several weeks ago,  I deactivated my Facebook account temporarily.  I appreciate those of you who have missed me and sought me out by email, through Keith, and by text or phone call.  Yes, I am ok.  And you all are much more complimentary than I deserve.  I know there are a couple of you who are walking similar journeys, and I am sorry that I have been disconnected from you for a time.  

God has called me, equipped me, and placed me in some really unique positions through heartaches, challenges, education, experience, blessings and victories to use my voice to speak up for others facing similar roads.  For many, there is no one really listening, the fear and stigma keeps them quiet, and the lack of empathy and support increases the loneliness, doubt, and the dark pit they find themselves in.  In my life, this means I speak to and about issues of mental health, race, adoption, chronic illness, care-taking, grief, atheism, guns, flags and learning to thrive in the midst of it all. I also address how churches can help and how I see churches hurt those who need them the most. Sometimes I don't speak at all, I just walk beside those who need me. And they seek me out.  I also volunteer in these areas as I am able to. 

There are people, many people, who do not want to hear what I have to say, as well as those who don't think anyone should hear what I have to say. I'm going to continue to address current events as a Jesus-believing white woman, mother to a black teenager, living in a predominantly black city and neighborhood, while dealing with mental illnesses in our family, married to a de-converted Christian--AKA as an atheist these days, while battling a chronic life-altering illness and having been kicked to the curb by a church body and some close "friends." 

 I upset the status quo.  
I rock their comfortable boats.
I don't see this as a bad thing...

I made the decision to take a break from Facebook after a conversation I joined in a thread in which the hate, vitriol, and group-think was some of the worst I've come across. Ever. And I regularly participate in conversations in which there is disagreement and lively debate. Confrontation and disagreement do not scare me or deter me normally.  People, I live in the tension of differing beliefs--in a big way, in a 21 year marriage to my best friend who is now an atheist.  Guess what?  He is still my best friend and the love of my life.  If we truly care about people, we work through the differences and the growing pains. We do not accomplish this with name-calling, defensiveness, or accusations...and then refusing to listen in return. I will take a confrontation head-on if the heart, mind, character, integrity or body of my child or family is being wounded, or even threatened.  And I will tell you like I see it. I do not have the time or energy to beat around the bush, nor do I see the point in doing so.  I am also aware that confrontation intimidates some people, and that those people can really lash out when passive-aggressive tendencies are also at play. (I find that to be much more harmful than having a confrontation, dealing with it and moving forward.)

Ignorance, head in the sand approaches, closed ears, minds and hearts--those things affect me most, disappoint me and usually remind me how much my voice and perspective is needed.  In this thread, which was the final straw for me, I presented an alternative perspective to some recent race-related situations and shared how hard the beliefs, and disbelief, of some have been on my family--a family with places in both sides of the race-related debates. Vulnerability, folks.  For the most part, I am willing to be vulnerable to benefit someone else--to serve them, guide them, to save them unnecessary grief. 

Back to the thread I am referring to, I heard some of the most hateful things ever said to me on the issue of race relations.  I am not going to debate that issue here right now.  I will say that the varied opinions and perspectives do not surprise me at all.  What has surprised me is the unwillingness of people to even begin to consider anything from a side with which they do not agree or a perspective they have never personally experienced.  I've never seen more people afraid, defensive, unwilling to have healthy dialogue, and SURE they know exactly what happened in racial situations in recent months in our country and exactly who is to blame.  I've also never been called so many names or heard such hateful things directed at myself and my family--for being bold enough to share our story and our vulnerabilities.  And, friends, from the good "Christian" people it was the very worst--that is probably the most disappointing aspect of all I've experienced in recent months.  The assumptions at play and directed attacks were phenomenal, and I don't mean that in a positive way.

We have learned the hard way in these types of situations, from words, phrases and beliefs who we can trust our children's hearts with, as well as our own.  The decision for us is not about having differing beliefs, but rather how one lives out those beliefs when confronted by other, opposing positions.  We don't apologize for doing the best we can by our children.  We hope everyone is doing best by their children and their needs.  I happen to have children who have different needs than the vast majority.  It is what it is, and we are equipped to parent them and are continually working at that. And they are amazing and remarkable.  They are compassionate, considerate, and are becoming loving, resilient people. 

But after this particular thread, I was done. And shocked. And disgusted.  People like this wear me out. And for all of my loud voice, active hands, and time and energy spent advocating for the marginalized in our society, I am still an introvert. Sometimes I need quiet and space.  I deactivated Facebook, because in my life in that moment, it became an overwhelming negative, a drain, and just another source of stress. And although advocacy is an important calling to me, uses my passion, education, research, volunteer work, experiences and expertise--it is something I needed to step away from.  For a time.  I choose to take myself out of the mix as opposed to just blocking people.

I am also someone who struggles with a recently diagnosed autoimmune disease. And stress is a major factor in my daily symptoms. Only a very few people know how sick I've been for months.  I am seeing some improvement physically with treatments, but continue to undergo tests, doctor's appointments and treatment plans--hoping for more improvement. In this break from the Book of Face, I've rested mind, body and spirit, as much as one can rest those while parenting 2 teenagers in this current culture. 

And it was the right move.  But now another move is right.  John Pavlovitz has called me back into action,  into a fight that is just and right. This blogger I do not personally know, but regularly follow, wrote the post linked below a short time into my break.  Just like it was to me personally.  Take some time and read this.  Join us in the fight.
Several of you, my friends and readers, have also called me back to the fight.  

My children and their friends, our friends, neighbors and family are 
And I have a voice. 
And these people that I stand up with and for--
they can't turn off their skin color,  
or their bad experiences, 
or hate, stigma, ignorance 
that faces them day in and day out.  
And they keep going.  
I must go with them. 

Maybe I'll need to change how I do this, pace myself better, moderate and turn off certain people or threads, keep certain criteria for joining or commenting.  That is still working itself out. Prayers appreciated in this area.  And follow me here on this blog and receive any posts by email.  Follow me on Twitter and Instagram, as well, and stay in touch--even if I do not remain on Facebook!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

I have WHAT??!!!

I haven't written a blog post since early May!  I think today's post will let you know why I have had my energy focused elsewhere and why I chose to remain quiet for the time being.

Until I could tell you more...answers.

First, let me say...
Other than that truth above, this is going to be a fairly educational post.  
That's what I do.  
Always. A. Teacher.

I don't talk/write/post much about my chronic health conditions for several reasons.  First, there is little understood about some of these conditions.  Real people walking around sometimes do not believe in certain conditions.  Some people treat these conditions as cop-outs.  I've even been questioned about my own sins as a cause for my conditions in the past by church members.  These conditions prove difficult to talk about and address also, because you can't see the conditions when you see me out and about.  I look "fine" or "normal."

Five or six years ago, I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia.  Coming to this diagnosis took quite a process of seeing my internist, an orthopedic spine specialist, a neurologist, a neurosurgeon, a pain doctor, a physical therapist, and regular dates with the pharmacy as I went through medication after medication.  I also had regular dates at the surgery center having varying types of injections all over my back and hips, a rhizotomy, and also sought chiropractic help and massage therapy.

For your own reference point, this is the overview of Fibromyalgia from Web MD:

Fibromyalgia syndrome affects the muscles and soft tissue. Symptoms include chronic muscle pain, fatigue, sleep problems, and painful tender points or trigger points, which can be relieved through medications, lifestyle changes and stress management.

I did not start getting to the bottom of this issue and diagnosis until I began seeing a rheumatologist.  She diagnosed my fibromyalgia and put me on the only medication that has helped.  This med is also the only one that I've been able to take because I do not have any major side effects from it impeding my life.  I also quit teaching.  I cannot stand on my feet all day.  Sometimes, right now, I can't stand for 3-4 minutes.  Stress and illness and weather also complicate and negatively affect my fibromyalgia.  Listen, after the last 3 years of stress, it's a wonder I'm still standing at all!

My rheumatologist has said during all of this time that she fully expected that I would, at some point, test positive for another rheumatological condition. Many rheumatological conditions are hard to diagnose as there are lots of overlapping symptoms among rheumatoid diseases and because it takes a while for some of these markers to show up in blood tests. Until recently nothing definitive showed up on any of my tests.  As of today, I have another diagnosis after blood work, various other tests, and a biopsy of salivary glands in my mouth.  

Sjogren's Disease.
(sounds like you have a mouth full of crackers trying to pronounce the 1st word)

From the Sjogren's Foundation website, a basic definition:

Sjögren’s is a chronic autoimmune disease in which people’s white blood cells attack their moisture-producing glands. 

Although the hallmark symptoms are dry eyes, dry mouth, fatigue and joint pain, Sjögren’s may also cause dysfunction of other organs such as the kidneys, gastrointestinal system, blood vessels, lungs, liver, pancreas, and the central nervous system. Patients may also experience extreme fatigue and joint pain and have a higher risk of developing lymphoma.

About half of the time Sjögren’s occurs alone, and the other half it occurs in the presence of another autoimmune connective tissue disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or scleroderma.
Sjögren’s is a systemic disease, affecting the entire body. Symptoms may remain steady, worsen, or, uncommonly, go into remission. While some people experience mild discomfort, others suffer debilitating symptoms that greatly impair their functioning. Early diagnosis and proper treatment are important — they may prevent serious complications and greatly improve a patient’s quality of life.

Sjogren's is not curable, but it is treatable.  Treatment centers around trying to treat the symptoms.  For each person diagnosed, treatment is individually ascribed.  

My rheumatologist says the Sjogren's disease process in my body is most likely piggy-backing on the fibromyalgia. (Hopefully, that is all it will ever piggy-back on.)

For me, Sjogren's has completely dried out my mouth to the point of being painful. I never go anywhere without water, I wake up at night to drink water multiple times, and I use all of the dry mouth products available--gels, sprays, lozenges, etc..  These things make it barely manageable.  My tongue is cracked, develops sores frequently, and I cannot tolerate spicy foods or foods very hot in temperature.  In addition, my throat clearing, perpetually hoarse voice that I've had for about 8-9 months now, and dry hacking cough are also the Sjogren's disease.  It is also why I have been sick solid since December. 7 antibiotics and 3 rounds of steroids have ruled my life since December. In the last 2-3 months, my joint pain and stiffness has greatly increased. Sjogren's is the reason that it is phyically painful to get out of bed in the mornings, and some days I don't make it out of my chair in my sitting room.

Some days milk shakes are my best friends.

Bottom line = I have felt lousy for a quite a few months now.

All of these symptoms are what prompted more investigating, testing, and the lip biopsy--the only really definitive test for Sjogren's.  There are Sjogren's antibodies that can show up in the blood, but those only show up in 60% of those ill with Sjogren's.  I happen to fall in the 40% who have the disease, but no antibodies.  

Go figure.  
I'm never a textbook case.  
For anything.

My disease process is staged at Grade 2 per the biopsy results.  This means that we are catching it fairly early in the  grand scheme of things.  At Grades 4 and 5, there is usually organ damage and the sufferer is at high risk for problems listed above with the kidneys, blood vessels, liver, lungs, pancreas, etc., and are higher risk for developing lymphoma cancers.  At a 2, I should not have any organ damage.  However, my last chest x-ray did show some interstitial lung condition.  Unfortunately, interstitial lung disease is one of the complications/organs that goes with Sjogren's and which it seems I may have.  I am scheduled for a chest CT next week.  After that, I will know more about my lung involvement.  We will also be looking at the GI symptoms I started struggling with more than a year ago, for which we did not find a specific cause or explanation.

I also had some more blood work today to look for a specific gene.  If I have this gene, there is a medication I can take that slows the progression of Sjogren's disease.  The medication does help with symptoms to a large degree and is usually well-tolerated.  If I don't have the gene being investigated, then my body will not have an enzyme necessary for me to take the medication.  If I don't have the gene and enzyme, I don't know what my other options are just yet.

I will see the rheumatologist again to review my chest CT and genetic testing.  

To end again on a personal note, these conditions are still hard to talk about.  Although I might not be judged for having cancer, I am, and have been, judged at times for having a chronic condition--actually, now, I have TWO chronic health conditions.  UGH!  I try not to focus on them.  I do not want them to keep me from living life fully--especially where my kids are concerned.

I won't have them.  
NO time for that.

Things I've learned from dealing with chronic health issues:
1. NO is a complete sentence.  I don't owe explanations or apologies.
2.  Priorities become even more important and extremely pared down.  Only my husband and children are worth "overdoing it" for. (Mama and Daddy, too)
3.  I have to plan ahead.  I cannot have 2 really full days back to back.  I must schedule life, as much as possible, with built in breaks and time for rest.  
4.  When you want to empathize with a chronic illness sufferer, don't compare any of their pain to yours.  Debilitating pain, frequent illness, and life altering fatigue ARE NOT THE SAME as changes that come from aging, or a brief illness, or a stressful period in life.  Even though your intent may be to show empathy, to convince the sufferer you understand, or even to let them know others suffer things also, these tactics do nothing except to invalidate the feelings and experiences of the one suffering chronically.  Want to say something?  Say, "I'm sorry.  This sucks."  or "Anything I can do to help you today?" even "How is your pain level?" especially "Do what you can.  Don't worry about the rest."

AND.  SERIOUSLY.  I love all my "oily" friends, but please don't tell me I just need some essential oils--either to rub, breathe, or ingest.  Essential oils are not going to change my biology or the condition occurring in my glands and  white blood cells.  I'm looking for best practices, evidenced based treatments, and substances that will not cause more problems with my current medications, conditions, and allergies.  

There have been some recent articles posted that address chronic illness. Two articles in particular give a good idea, from my perspective, of what it's like for the chronically ill.  If you want to know what someone you love deals with daily, read and reflect on these 2 articles:

Tuesday, May 5, 2015


My first Mother's Day, I took 2 week old Jerica to church for the 1st time.  My mama and my Toomama were with us.  It was a bittersweet day in some respects.  I was finally a mama after a lot of waiting, our precious gift, our yes, our hope.  I was also grieving at that time.  I was grieving for a young woman who chose to give her baby a family she could not provide--roots, God, both mom and dad, extended family.  Our baby girl wouldn't have had all of those things if it weren't for the plan her birthmother put in place for her.  We explain the mixed feeling that can go along with an adoption sometimes with the analogy of an organ transplant.  If my loved one needs a new heart and gets one, getting a 2nd chance at a full life, someone else had to lose their family member.  While we are joyful and hopeful, that family is grieving a loss.  It's similar in an adoption.  A young woman spent my 1st Mother's Day, healing from a delivery--no baby in her arms.  And my arms were overflowing.

An oldie, but goodie in a more innocent time. <3

There are other bittersweet feelings related to Mother's Day.  Not only do I think of my baby girl and son (!) at Mother's Day, I think of  my dear friend, Lynn, and her baby girls.  I'm thankful that they have a mom now after losing their Mommy Lynn as little bitty girls.  I also think of my dear friend, Janabeth.  The week that Jerica was born, and the day Lynn's first baby, Sally, was born, our friend Janabeth lost her daughter Denae who was 5.  Mine and Lynn's 1st Mother's Days, Janabeth's arms and home were emptier.

These rushes of emotions 
that seem so conflicting
--joy and grief--
are a part of the experience for me.  

Other women also.  
Many others.

The last few years have added another layer of mixed feelings related to Mother's Day.  Since Keith has become an atheist and will no longer attend a service with us, Mother's Day has been sadder for me. From the time we had children, Mother's Day and Father's Day did include some small gifts, but was much more about spending the time together as a family--beginning at church and then at a park, having a picnic, going to the movies, going to the zoo, etc.  Lots of moms are sitting in church surrounded by their husband and children.  And I'm sitting without my husband, with one child that hasn't always wanted to be living, and the other who has at times argued greatly about going to church when Dad isn't there.  The 1st Mother's Day he didn't go with us was also one I'd been asked to take care of the Mother's Day gifts for the mothers in the church. So, I worked spending time on other moms, went by myself, and it was not a warm, fuzzy, special day for me. So, the last 2 years, I just haven't gone to church at all on Mother's Day.  My only opportunity to be with all of my nuclear family is to stay home, missing any words, blessings, or honorings for Mothers in church on this day.  (And I came from a family that celebrates everything well--birthdays, holidays, and days like Mother's Day and Father's Day.)

From our NAMI parents support group, we know that there are also days like Mother's Day that are hard for these parents--even if their child is living and is stable and in the home.  Mother's Day can be hard, at the least a mixed bag, because Motherhood is HARD.  And when you are walking through crises with a child and life is upside down and not going like you thought/imagined/hoped/prayed for, it's not always a happy day.  And it is hard for most moms to admit this, because we love our children, we wouldn't trade them for all the tea in China, and we want/always wanted them, and so that mommy-guilt piles up on our shoulders.  When you have a child who struggles with life, needing special intensive help, medication, and even hospitalization, you blame yourself.  And truth be told, we know that there are others who blame us as well, communicated in attitudes and also in hurtful words and actions sometimes.  To my moms in this situation, sometimes it helps to admit it to other moms in the same situation and to know that these moms struggle with the same feelings.  We can do this together without judgment, and that is so important.

Below is a letter that was penned to Mothers who have children of all ages struggling with their mental health conditions.
Read this, Moms, 
for whom motherhood is often a struggle, 
an experience in grief, 
a call to advocacy.  
Take it in.

The following was taken from an online NAMI discussion board in May 2009.
To all the mothers in our group,
Let me take the liberty of representing the men of the group in wishing all of you a blessed Mother's Day this Sunday. I'm sure the other guys will chime in. So, for just a moment, please let me speak to you what I believe your kids would say to you special mothers if only they could.

Dear Mom,
First, thank you for never letting me go. I know I am sometimes hard to love and hard to deal with. My mind just isn't working right and I can't tell you always what is really on my heart. Mom, this is a scary world I live in. The only sanity to it is my deeply ingrained knowledge of your love for me. I know it at the depths of my soul, even though I can't always express it on the outside. You keep pulling me back to reality. Your touch, your voice, and your being calm my soul at the foundation. I will never in this life be able to repay my debt to you and I know that you will never stop loving me no matter what. I know it hurts you to think of all the things you wished for me that may never be. That's okay mom. I don't need all that. I have you. If only I could, I would tell you all these things myself. I would do things for you that others do for their moms. I so want you to be proud of me. I am doing my best. That is what you taught me to do. I did listen to the things you said.
Mom, you are the most loving, kind, gentle, and good thing that I've ever know in this world. Please know how much I love you. Please know how important you are to me. Please know how much I still need you. I am so sorry that my illness prevents me from being able to tell you all of this directly - but you, mom, you know my real heart. You can see into my soul. You always have. Look deeply within me and you will see all that I have said here. Mom, you are the greatest mom in the entire world. I love you with all my heart. Please forgive all the things I can't control and know that even if they make me say things I don't mean, that I love you anyway. Thank you for never leaving me and never letting me go.
Your Son/Daughter

So moms of our group: I am confident that what is expressed above is truly the way your kids feel. As you read it, put their voice to it in your mind. I wish you a blessed Mother's Day. You deserve it. You are all the most incredible mothers I've ever had the privilege to know. Each of you is in my prayers.

Take care, James

This year as Mother's Day approaches, I feel shattered and the tears flow easier than normal.  Because there is a mama in Irving, a mama I've known for nearly 10 years who is burying her only child this Saturday.  And she will have to face Mother's Day.  Without her girl.  Without Lacie, who is the spitting image of her.  Lacie, 19, was the victim of a shooter this past weekend, just as she was about to head back to Irving for the summer.  Lacie, a beautiful spirit, a lover of animals, in the wrong place at the wrong time.  A senseless act.  A thug.

Pray for this mama this Sunday, as she faces life without this child of hers.

I do not know if I will be up for church this Sunday.  I have been feeling like I might be this year, simply because Keith won't even be in the country this Mother's Day.
So maybe it will feel better? 
But now.  
I have to get through the next few days.  I'm going to a funeral for a young woman who should not be dead, who just wanted to be a veterinarian and save every animal.  I'm going to hug a mama who has to say good bye to the only child she's been able to carry.  I don't know how Lacie's mama will even be able to pick her head up off the pillow this Mother's Day.

And I am completely undone.  
And none of this is ok. 
Fellow Moms, especially those whose lives don't look like they had hoped, dreamed or planned, keep looking for the stars even as you sit in the rubble.

And take in this song.  
A place I understand.  
A place I hope to still reach.

A prayer for you and me...

So, if you see women alone this Sunday, hug her.  She might be missing a child, her own mama, her husband, or the life she thought she would have.  Hugs.  Just hugs.  No platitudes or empty statements.  Just love.  Tears are allowed to.  Just let them flow.

Hugs, physical presence and tears heal a lot more than words.

If you know a single mama, take her kids for a few hours.  Give her a respite and take her kids to pick something out for her on Mother's Day--something she didn't have to plan, pull off, or even pay for if you are able to help monetarily.  These mamas often get overlooked.

And should you feel moved to continue the legacy Lacie hoped to leave as she cared for all of the animals, please visit this Gofundme site for Lacie's Legacy.  The funds will be used to establish a non-profit foundation--For the Love of Lacie's Animals.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Long Time, No Talk (or...Write)

Wordy Friends!

It has been a while.  While there are always thoughts, ideas, plans, and prayers flowing through my head, there is not always time to commit them all to paper!
This is Bizzy season at our house!  
We have baseball tournaments almost every weekend, practices during the week, homework, awards programs and ceremonies, orientations, parties, and the list goes on!  Not to mention STAAR/EOC testing...

It's also birthday season--one of my favorite times of the year!  My baby boy turned 14 on March 30.  My baby girl turns 15 on Friday!  How did this happen?  They are turning into such interesting,  remarkable individuals with great sensitivity and strength.

I always find myself reflective this time of year, not only because of our two babies--2 miracles I treasure remembering, but because of a very dear friend.  A dear friend who unselfishly hoped my baby came before hers.  A friend who cheered me on as a friend and as a parent.  A friend who became a mother just 4 days after me!  A friend who lived and died with faith, grace, and love.  Every year, around the birthdays of my 2 and her 2, I also feel a twinge, a tear slips quietly down, and many memories are quietly treasured.  I miss her!  I always will!  I also know she will be in my cloud, and I will hear her angel voice again.

Reminiscing on birthdays, 
a treasured friend, 
and the years and tears and laughter 
that have passed are a special story.  

The Story of Who We Are

This is not a story I could have ever written or created--in my wildest dreams or my darkest nightmares.  

Most of all, it is a story of true friendship, unconditional love, resiliency and how God works in all of it.  That is what keeps this mama going. I may not see the light every day, or lose sight of the end of the tunnel, but I know we are not in this alone.

And we have a story to tell.

There are many pieces to this story, just a few of which I have related in my blog.

As we continue in our journey in this life, I continue to see the resiliency and strength that has grown in us.  The last 3 years have been the hardest in our lives collectively and individually.  Yet, here we are.  A strong, loving family.  We do not doubt each other for a second. We don't have to agree, even on matters as big as faith and spirituality, but we know love and we do love, without conditions. 

 Love that does not leave, hide, shame, or condemn. 
A decision.

We have walked together a road no one could really walk with us at the time, nor were some willing to walk it with us.  And that, too, is part of our story and how we know what helps and what hurts.  

We use the pain with the joy to illumine the path for someone else. 

Using our story and allowing our story help others does not include sugar-coating, or over-looking, or ignoring the uglier, messier, hurtful parts.  And now, we have a witness, a track record, and we can walk with others.  Over and over that is being affirmed as we have had many opportunities outside of social media to cry with, hug, hold onto, text, and stand up for--families, individuals, and couples who wouldn't have known who to call or where to go for help. But we have, we will, and we're glad to make the way easier for someone else.

That is my moment of reflection on this day.

And because I know you need to hear encouragement, I want you to know that you need to hang in there.  Life is hard, damn hard. It will not always feel as hard as it does right now.  Life will get better.  And it will get hard again.  Yet, better again after that.  And some of us are going to need to hear your story.

I also want to share an article and a prayer that both ministered to me today, words I did not pen, words someone else needs to hear, too.

First some advice on what to NOT say to someone who has been hurt by a church or church people.  The article uses the term "spiritual abuse."  Don't let that throw you, and don't let it keep you from digging deeper.  It's a hard term to use. It's an even harder reality to live. But hang on.  Keep searching.  There will be a place that will care well for your soul, and I'm thankful to have found mine now after a string of hurtful church experiences.

And to close this post and this day, a prayer from Momastery's Glennon Melton:

A Prayer For All Of Us Today
"May God bless us with a restless discomfort about easy answers, half truths and superficial relationships - so that we may seek truth boldly and love deep with our hearts.
May God bless us with holy anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people - so that we may tirelessly work for justice, freedom, and peace among all people.
May God bless us with the gift of tears to shed with those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish - so that we may reach out our hand to comfort them and transform that pain to joy.
May God bless us with enough foolishness to believe that we really CAN make a difference in this world - so that we are able, with God's grace, to do what others claim cannot be done."- The Benedictines

YES, PLEASE. Send us discomfort, holy anger, tears and enough foolishness to use it all as fuel to heal the world.
Let us pray for Nepal and Baltimore and all those hurting but while we pray let us also MOVE OUR FEET AND REACH OUT OUR HANDS. After we have learned enough, let us get off the couch, turn off the tv, stop lamenting that we can't heal the whole world and GO OUTSIDE AND HEAL THE WORLD WITHIN OUR REACH.
Let us do for one what we wish we could do for the world. Small things today. Small things with great love.


Sunday, April 12, 2015


Trigger Warning:  Suicide

I've told you before about our boxes.  Our boxes contain all the things we're dealing with in our life, things that can drain us, sap us, and/or stress us.  When a box is full and can't fit anything else, it's full. It doesn't matter if the things in my box look "worse" than things in your box.  When a box is full, it's full and you just can't deal with anything else.

My box has been pretty full lately.

Trips to hospital emergency rooms add to my box.  Keith's change in employment and changes to our habits and routines add to my box--even though this job is awesome, just what he wanted, and just what we need. It is still an adjustment, and that can be scary depending on how our children are affected by just such a change.

Learning of a family member's suicide this past Tuesday, a young 22 year old active duty Navy man, adds to my box. Suicide in itself is a topic and occurrence that can fill my box quickly.  My heart hurts any time I hear of a suicide, even if I don't know the victim or the victim's family members.  In addition to dealing with our own suicide attempt, I have had 3 students over the years who attempted suicide while they were my students--middle school students, bright kids, full of potential.  Our neighbor of many years committed suicide in his driveway when our children were younger, and I had to shield them from sights and a knowledge they should not and did not have at that time in their lives.  A year or so after our suicide attempt, one of my mom's best friends, whom she'd been in a prayer group with for over 35 years, committed suicide.  She was part of our family.

All suicide losses are HARD losses.  It is a grieving process more complicated than the "typical" death experienced naturally, be it old age, a disease process, or tragic accidents.  The questions, confusion, judgment, what-if's, and shock/surprise of such a death impedes the grief process, often prolonging any healing that may come.

I've titled this blog "underdogs."  I LOVE underdogs.  I'm often the one choosing to root for the underdog if "my team" is not playing in a game.  I thrive on stories about underdogs, because I want to see them beat the odds, prove everyone wrong, and reach beyond the "potential" anyone ever predicted.  I think that may be one of the qualities or character traits in me that lead me to teaching, but specifically teaching middle school students--definitely a misunderstood group.  Let's face it, an often disliked group of kids, too.  Those are hard, hard years.

Many people will not understand this, but teaching gifted students and advocating for them also was often a practice in working with, for, and trying to undo negative educational experiences that made me a champion for this population.  I am a natural born educator, researcher, social worker and advocate.  Some day, maybe, I'm going to put all that to work together.  Right now, I am those things for my children.  Right now I advocate for other families in the mental health system and its inadequacies that fail us and help to feed the stigma.

And sometimes those children 
were "mine" 
in another time and setting.  

This last June, I went to a high school graduation.  One of my "underdogs" was graduating high school, when most teachers tried to hold him back, a kid who spent the majority of his 6th grade year sitting in hallways and in in-school-suspension.  DAILY.  He is a brilliant and creative kid, making it to Destination Imagination Global competition during his junior/senior year of high school.  He actually graduated early from high school as well.  He is a reserve Marine soldier now, providing him money for school, a place to belong, a place that gives structure, and fulfilling a lifelong dream.  This kid loves the military.  And he's the kind of soldier you want on your team--so he's not using his brilliance against you!  I could tell you many lessons learned about this kid. Someday, he will write a book about his life, and teachers will have big roles in his story--both positively and, unfortunately, very negatively.

He will always be one of "mine," 
and I will always be in his corner cheering.

And, listen, a few of us cheered even louder when the person on the stage handed him his diploma and shook his hand.  This educator happens to be on the list of people who looked at this student and told him he wouldn't make it.  THAT is poetic justice at its finest.  Fortunately, there was a high school teacher who saw what we did, taking him under her wing and becoming his guardian.

This student is one of my favorite underdog stories, probably because it's a dramatic tale and a cautionary tale about how much difference teachers can have in a student's life. We even had to fight teachers to get this student into our gifted classes, which meant he was no longer on their class rolls and didn't have to do anything related to him ever again!  A student most had written off long ago as lazy, disobedient and incapable of learning.  This student, who tested as being in the top 1% of gifted individuals, when normed against other gifted individuals.

This young man's story is an easy one to tell.

I have another underdog story to tell you.  This particularly story is one that is totally wrecking me right now.  This story begs to be told but it is not an easy one.  I do not even know why yet.  I don't know if there will be any happy endings.  I don't know if it's possible or if I even believe in them.

This tragedy that occurred to a former student has added quite a bit to my box in the last couple of weeks--so much so that I couldn't even commit to writing a blog post. The tragedy occurred years ago, but I only learned of it recently. I have been overwhelmed with the grief for him, a deep compassion and empathy, and an ache that takes my breath away when I contemplate his current life.  This has been the source of the quietness on my blog as of late.

I just. Couldn't write.

This story is about a young man who I was fortunate to get to know back in the late 90's when he was in my 8th grade English class.  We'll call him, "G."  Actually, there are some similarities in these 2 young men separated by more than 10 years.  G was more intelligent than he let on.  G was very misunderstood by adults in his life, including most teachers.  Misunderstandings lead to mistreatment, unfortunately, for G.  I did everything I could do for him at the time.

In my classroom, G was safe.  He was valued.  Suspicion and skepticism were not the lenses through which I viewed G.  I saw him as a kid.  He was a kid trying to navigate life without all the tools or support necessary to do so.  He'd given up on himself along with others in his life long before 8th grade.  The best he was hoping for at the time?  This his younger brother would not follow in his path and would make something better of himself.  This from a jaded 14 year old boy.

I worked hard to open up all G had to offer.  He would work for me, give new things a try, and was always congenial and respectful.  I don't think he always believed the things I told him about himself, but he did know that I believed them and that I believed in him.  He had the chance to show me who he was.  I didn't take the opinions of teachers before me or the warnings about his group of friends.

When he left middle school for high school, G and I managed to stay in touch as I have with other students over the years.  (Something especially easy in recent years with the advent of social media like Facebook.)  For a while I would hear from G.  Occasionally I ran in to his younger brother, who would give me an update and G's latest whereabouts and contact info.  The last time we talked much, in my recollection, was after he'd learned that he was going to be a father--long before it should have been his time.

Life for me became pretty hectic around the same time, as I became a mom--twice in 11 months time!  Then came my broken arms, surgeries, my best friend battling cancer, teaching again, graduate school, etc.  I list these things, because it makes me feel better.  Truthfully, though, nothing can make me feel better about this.  I should have known. I should have been there.  A vigil at a hospital.

I do not know 
how I did not know 
what had happened to G.  
When it happened.

A couple of weeks ago, G was on my heart one evening, out of the blue.  I decided to look him up on Facebook, I don't know why I hadn't done so before.  I did find G on Fb, and
my heart instantly sank.  
A face and smile I recognize, 
but a body I don't.  
A body no longer connected to the the spinal cord, nerves, and brain necessary for it to function in any way.
Wasted away.

What happened was that while he was sleeping in his bed as a young adult years ago, G's father entered his room and shot him.  The 1st bullet entered between his lungs and heart.  He jumped up to run and the 2nd bullet lodged in the spinal cord in his neck.  His father then put the gun to his own body, committing suicide and falling on his gravely injured son.  A month long coma, miraculous awakening, concern for his dad, beating the odds continually and an irreversible condition altering forever the rest of G's life.  His family's, too.  Unfortunately, no family can provide G's extensive care at home.

Sweet, Jesus, I can hardly handle this right now.  And it didn't even happen to me.  This isn't about me.

A 30 year old young man.  
In a body.  
In a health care facility.  

I had fears for G after he left my middle school world for high school.  This was not one of them.  Never was this one of them.

This tragedy has completely devastated me, all the way around. Like it just happened. To the point that processing it has required putting my current grief boxes back on their shelf, because this one needs my attention.  I need to process this situation, not only because I love its victim, but because this kid needs me.  Maybe he needs cards, packages, calls, or visits.  He definitely needs a cheerleader again.  A cheerleader rooting for his G in a completely different underdog way.  I will be that person again for him.  Once I grieve and accept.

Family members have shared that G has a positive spirit, he hopes to touch the lives of other troubled youth, and is always looking for a medical miracle.  G also possesses a forgiving spirit.  He is a better human than me.  I have yet to forgive his dad.

I remembered tonight, the advice of my friend, Kimberley, who helped me in my own grief after our suicide attempt.  So, I am reminding myself that to be able to move on from this place of devastation, I must let go of hoping for a better yesterday.
For G. 

Trying to find a card to send him, has left me in tears.  Thinking about a gift package to send him, leaves me pondering scenarios that no one should have to ponder. What? How? Who?  I have yet to be able to pick up the phone and call him.  But I will.  Soon.

And I will see him face to face.
And cheer him on.

I do not know the many lessons that may come out of this story. The 1st underdog story above reminds me why I taught and fought for and loved my many underdogs. G reminds me that: Underdogs matter.  
Underdogs are people.  
Underdogs can be written off by both teachers AND their parents.  
Do not do this.  
Do not label an individual, child or not, as incapable, unworthy, not salvageable.  

*As a side note, an important one, if you know of the individuals to whom I am referring, feel free to comment, but please do so without using actual names.  If you wish to speak to me or comment more directly or specifically than is appropriate in an anonymous fashion, please send me a private message.  In G's story, there are individuals who have been protected from the full knowledge of the facts in this story, most of which I left out purposely to respect and honor that.  If you know already what happened, you might inadvertently mention something that could hurt those being protected.