Grief is a universal experience. Every person will at some point in his or her life experience loss in some form. The only way to stay safe from loss is to never love, never care, never attach. The amount of grief we feel tends to correlate to the amount of love we have for a person, pet, job, situation, etc. As a counselor, I advise my clients to let themselves make space for grief and mourning rather than trying to be “fine” and shoving the grief down, drying up the tears, and getting on with life too quickly. In many cultures, mourning is a sacred time set aside for weeks so that a person is allowed to cry, wail, be surrounded by loved ones who do nothing other than “be” with them witnessing this pain and offering kindness (not advice). Being able to sink deeply into grief and truly mourn enables a person to rise more quickly in a state of emotional freedom in which they can feel joy again rather than numbness. Putting off mourning, trying “get it together” and act “fine” by going back to work and regular life duties too quickly only prolongs the healing process. Sometimes we try to “speed up” the grieving process because we are uncomfortable or even terrified of the sinking- the feeling out being out of control, of emotional pain so severe it is hard to breathe, the fear that if we sink we will never rise again. Other times we try to speed this process up because we are of a practical mindset and feel that there is no time to be “in the feels” and we have things to get done. However, grief always finds its way to force us to experience it one way or another. Sometimes, in maladaptive, negative ways such as drinking too much, workaholism, an affair, emotional numbing, disconnecting from loved ones, etc.
Recently, I experienced a miscarriage. I had gotten my hopes up after an early ultrasound that showed a strong heartbeat and baby growing on target. My blood work was perfect. Everything was in line. Post-miscarriage pathology testing revealed no genetic abnormalities. I was left with no explanation other than simply it must have been God’s will for me not to have this baby right now. I know God loves me and isn’t a magic genie there to just give me all my wishes and make life peachy. I believe that God uses life as a testing ground to teach us the lessons we need to learn to evolve spiritually. Unpleasant experiences teach us things we would not learn from happy times. I can accept what happened and want to ask what I can learn from this rather than “why me”, but I still needed time to grieve as my body endured the physical and emotional suffering for days on end of the miscarriage process at home. For a moment, when I got the news that morning that the baby had no heartbeat and a miscarriage would start soon, I actually considered going into work that night and not telling anyone. I am that much of a workaholic. I had to use my counselor voice on myself and say “Jen that is nuts! Go home!” so I made the radical move of taking a full week and half off from work. Thankfully, I have PDO saved up and could do this. Just FYI, if anyone has to go through this horrible experience I would highly suggest you ask your doctor for pain pills, take the week off from work, get childcare for your kids, make sure you have plenty of Gatorade or electrolyte drinks in the house (hydration will keep you from dying or having to go to the hospital), prepare your mind with prayer and wise counsel (thank you Angela for helping me when I was in spiritual warfare by reminding me of the truth) and plan to settle in for a hellacious ride. I have given birth to two full-term babies with no pain meds at home with a midwife. This was worse simply because the pain was for absolutely nothing. There would be no baby at the end. There was no finish line, only empty arms. If you have never given birth naturally before, it is probably less emotionally and physically traumatic for you if you just schedule a D&C procedure at the hospital. Doing it naturally isn’t something for the faint of heart. It took 5 days for everything to be over.
But, through this experience I realized this was the first time in my life that I have ALLOWED myself the chance to SINK DEEP and truly MOURN. I remember when one of my best friends was dying of cancer, I only took one day off from work. When he passed, I didn’t take off any time to mourn. I never told many people what I was going through. I just kept soldiering on. And I fell into a depression for about a year. No one knew because I just soldiered on being “productive” while feeling barely able to do so. But, this time I would not make this mistake. I would sink and I would rise. I cried until my eyes were almost swollen shut. I lived on the couch wrapped up in comfy blankets for a week. My church brought meals and my Mom kept my boys for a few of the worst days. My husband made sure I wasn’t passing out from blood loss and was eating. But then….it was over. As if I had “cried it out” and truly felt an emotional release of all the pain. I went back to work the next Monday feeling JOYFUL and grateful to be back to being able to help people and shocked at how good I felt. I wasn’t soldiering on depressed and dying inside. I was ALIVE. I had done my work. I had processed my grief because I allowed myself the time to truly “ugly mourn” the kind that many people avoid doing. It requires courage to sink deep. It requires knowing you will come back up eventually and for me, it requires knowing God is there with me in the sinking and in the rising. I feel closure and peace and it hasn’t even been a full month. Sure, I still have moments (usually when I’m alone driving in the car listening to music) that I feel pangs of sadness or “what if?” but they don’t take my breath away and I let them come and let them go like the ocean tide comes and goes. There is nothing to stuff down or soldier through. Only an allowing, a coming and knowing it will eventually go out too.
Grief isn’t something we talk about much in our society and most of us just wing it the best we can. But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:31 May you sink and then rise soaring on wings like eagles as the Lord renews your strength.
My son’s occupational therapist shared with me something cute my 8-year-old shared with her at school. She said, “He said my house sure can be a mess sometimes, but its the best mess. Its my favorite place to be.” At first, I have to admit, I was mortified because I carry a little bit of secret shame about my free-spirited, “just trying to survive and stay sane as a working mom” housekeeping philosophy. But, then, I was struck with how profound my son’s statement really was. Our house, our family, ourselves sure can be messy, but messy can still be amazing. Messy can still be our favorite place to be. A big ole come as you are mess is actually quite comforting and endearing. You are always accepted and don’t have to clean up first and fit everything into a neat and tidy toy box. It’s the expectation of shiny, well-organized constant perfection that trips us up in so many ways, isn’t it? I honestly don’t want a constantly neat and tidy house. I want a sanitary house with clean dishes, the litter box scooped, enough clean clothes for the week and the trash taken off, but do I want floors with daily fresh vacuum lines and with toys neatly in their place or my son’s art supplies in perfect order at all times? No, I really don’t.
One of my favorite things about my Mom’s parenting style was that she was very relaxed when it came to her expectations of the house. She would rather let us relax, study, and play at home most days than to have a rigid chore chart schedule. There were times she asked for help or told us “alright that’s it, your room is a disaster its time to clean it up,” but overall there was always a sense of home being a place to rest, get schoolwork done, and to not have to be as tightly wound as the outside world expected. I want my kids to look back on their childhood the same way. That their home is the one place of constant refuge where they can kick back and relax, be messy, be themselves, but also a place where they can earn a dollar if they help Mama do the dishes.
Of course, I’m not advocating never cleaning or letting your house be unsanitary, but I am all in favor of relaxing a bit and instead of shaming myself for my messy home, savoring the fact that this is my son’s favorite place and “the best mess.” My kids don’t care that my desk is overflowing with books and papers for the online class I teach. I’m thankful my youngest son’s room looks like a Lego explosion and he feels creative freedom and relaxation. I’m thankful my oldest son’s room is an explosion of stuffed animals and art supplies where he can shut the door and decompress after school. I’m thankful I can go to yoga or read a book instead of spending hours each day trying to get my home to look like a magazine. I do not enjoy cleaning at all because it is an exercise in futility and I don’t have the time to put any effort into futile pursuits my kids will just undo for me. Why spend an hour picking up Legos or hounding my son to do so when I could instead be playing Marvel versus Capcom with him or even just sitting by him on the couch reading a book, available if he wants to talk while he draws? He is just going to empty out the Lego boxes looking for the perfect Darth Vader helmet tomorrow anyway, so why bother? Ain’t nobody got time for that. I sure don’t. I work 3 jobs for goodness sake and take care of 2 boys, one of whom has special needs that take up any excess energy I might have. When you are just trying to survive as the parent of a child with special needs, you don’t have time to get neurotic about perfection. You start to accept and cherish the beautiful mess that is your life because your ideas about perfection were shattered the day you received that diagnosis.
As I think and write, I realize that housekeeping tends to be a deeply personal issue for me and for probably most of us women. Men are pretty much off the hook because if someone comes over and the house is a wreck, no matter if the wife works just as many hours or not, somehow the spoken accolades or the passive-aggressive disapproval falls on her. Her only hobby after working full-time should be cleaning and childcare right? That is the unspoken expectation so many of us feel. It is us women who frantically announce, “Ya’ll! Clean up NOW Grandpa is coming over in 2 hours!” as we bust out the mop, the vacuum, and the shovel for all of those toys simultaneously in a flurry of panic at the thought that our family member or friend is going to judge us harshly for slacking off and maybe playing with the kids or reading instead of non-stop cleaning.
Who do you allow into your home? I am very selective. I know which friends are my “safe friends” who I don’t have to clean up the house for if they want to swing by for coffee and these friends are the same ones I go to when something serious is going on in my life and I need to share my pain or my emotions without having them judged “a hot mess” or offering to “tidy up” my feelings for me either. There is something beautiful about accepting the messy parts of ourselves, our people and our homes. Let’s cut ourselves and each other some slack as we wing it through parenting, housekeeping, and realize we are all really a mess in one way or another. But we can find the love in our messiness. We don’t have to get it all in the toy box to be loved or enough.
So, I was praying for people who needed a miracle. I was keeping my eyes and heart open in gratitude to see the many miracles all around us that we all too often fail to see. But, in some ways, I just wasn’t feelin’ it this year. Ever had trouble just getting into the Christmas spirit? You try and try and just can’t quite get there? That was me this year. I had been feeling a little (ok a lot) burned out. Stressed out. Feeling stretched beyond my limits, but without any real options to change my situation or reduce my stress load anytime soon (believe me, I’ve rolled my options around in my head 1000 times, crunched numbers, and I’m just gonna have to hang in there as is unless an amazing new opportunity that doesn’t involve selling anything comes along). My headaches had started coming back. All of this was waaay before Christmas even rolled up…I was feeling like this in November. The past year had been filled with challenges at work, home, financially, everything breaking down all at once, health issues, etc. So that’s where I was at emotionally in early November. Cringing as the stores brought out Christmas decorations and my go-to uplifting Christian radio station started playing “Jingle Bells”. Just exhausted, wanting to hop on the first plane to the Bahamas and run away from it all before Santa even flew in to take up residence at the mall. And then something interesting started happening….
Through a strange serious of events, I was called to help a young woman (not a client). More disadvantaged, alone, scared, and facing many more obstacles than any of my clients, she was someone I could not in good conscience decline to assist. But, if I’m honest with you, I have to admit that some of my first (selfish) thoughts were, “oh no, Lord why me? I don’t even know if I can be of much help or if this is just going to cause me more headaches and be the stress that pushes my sanity into a ditch. I know I’m supposed to be servant-hearted, but I’m dry bones, Lord have mercy I’m tired. And in December? Really?” But, I answered the call nonetheless. It was a situation I am uniquely qualified to help with for many different reasons due to my life experience and professional training. Saying yes, I will help, has resulted not in further burnout, but instead in my own Christmas blessing! God and those mysterious ways again…
My faith is expanding as I’m seeing God work in miraculous ways in this seemingly impossible situation. I’m doing my part to be love and practical help (within my means) to someone who needs lots of love and support right now. In doing so, my heart has been touched deeply, my faith expanded, and I have been re-energized about my calling and my life’s work as a counselor. So many things have come together in such a short period of time. God’s hand is undeniably all over it stirring sweet grace and mercy into the situation with the help of a network of believers as generously as Paula Deen stirs butter into her recipes with a spoon. The Body of Christ has come together so beautifully it is restoring my faith in my fellow Christians (many of us didn’t even really know each other well before this need arose and we don’t even come from the same church family). I wish I could tell you the details and tell you the full story, but I need to keep the details private. My part of it is just doing what I can and thanking God for this Christmas blessing of expanded faith and confirmation that I need to stop feeling guilty for not doing things that are not my callings and the gentle yet firm reminder to say yes to my callings even when they don’t make sense or appear at first glance to be too much. Lord, your yoke is easy and burden light (Matt. 11:30) because what you ask us to do, those things that are our true callings, end up blessing us back in return.
Speaking of miracles….at Christmas, I always meditate on Mary and what it must have been like for her. She was called to do something completely out of her comfort zone, something that initially jeopardized her upcoming marriage/life plan/stability, her safety, stretched her heart and soul, put her on a physically arduous journey to Bethlehem and upon her arrival (in active labor no less) was told there was no room at the inn. No room. No. The world couldn’t make room for her or this baby. Mary did what she was called to do in spite of all of this, even though it was hard and illogical. She was likely feeling exhausted and scared. What that moment must have been like between Mary and Joseph as this young couple struggled through labor and birth far from home in a stable with animal noises and smells. What would it have been like for Mary to be lying on hay, nursing baby Jesus and see the shepherds and the 3 wise men from the Far East converging upon them to gaze at their baby in wonder and awe, handing gifts of great value to this poor couple who no one could make room for just a few hours ago!? Wild. What a wild night. Mary bore a lot, but how blessed among women did she feel at the end of that night? Maybe she still felt confused and tired, but certainly she must have been more sure of her calling and her faith must have been expanded exponentially with baby Jesus lying in her arms and a star shining brightly above that stable.
This is the true miracle of Christmas. The story that we can reflect upon in gratitude year after year with its rich symbolism and continued relevance, regardless of our circumstances. Regardless of if our prayers are answered as we wish they would be in our human understanding, the original Christmas miracle is one that we all too often overlook as we listen to the voice of the world that tells us the lie about “buying Christmas.” I’ll take the original Christmas story over the modern consumerist story any day.
When someone gives you advice, you can either take it or leave it. Feel free to do either, you amazing single lady friends of mine. Here are just a few things I’ve learned from dating and from being a counselor. I see your heartbreak and frustration in your posts on social media. I often shake my head and hold back my advice (not in judgment, but because I’ve been there). My heart goes out to you. But, maybe you could benefit from me just telling it like I see it.
I’m 31 and married with 2 kids. I’ve “settled down.” However, before I got married, I did a good bit of “research” and figured out quite a few things about relationships and men.
My advice is as follows:
Have a list of “oh hell no’s”. Meth/crack/heroin/porn/gambling addict? Chronically unemployed? Felon? Womanizer? Oh hell no, I don’t mess with you. I don’t care how nice and wonderful and what a good person you really are deep down, I don’t want that mess. Girl, you don’t have time for it. You don’t deserve it. You are not Jesus or Mother Theresa. You are just a girl trying to work her butt off, take care of her kids, be happy and keep her kids happy. You are not into making bad choices, so you don’t have time for some guy’s. You can’t “love him out of it” (but he can make you miserable in the process). Most people who are already that far down the road of hardcore drug addiction or legal problems don’t do a 180 change (yes, I know some do, but trust me I see the women they abuse, the children they neglect, and I would say 90% don’t do anything but leave destruction in their path like a tornado. Get out of the way of the tornado ladies!).
Make a list of what you want from your ideal guy. It can be long or short. Include non-negotiables (no legal problems, wants kids, whatever you must have in a guy) and things that would just be nice to have (loves water-skiing and cats). Look this list over often. Compare potential suitors to this list. If you are spiritual, pray for this guy, pray often for him to find you.
Older guys. Go for the older guys (not just 2-3 years older either). You know, the guys who are stable and have already established themselves as non-drug addicts, have some sort of career or at least steady job, and take care of any kids they do have well. Maybe they even own a home. This isn’t to say you want their money or you are materialistic. It is just to say that you want someone who has proven they can “adult” well and not burden you with their financial irresponsibility, emotional immaturity, or whimsical behavior that takes them where ever the wind blows. Also, older guys are from a different generation, a better one. One that understood (for the most part) how to respect women, to treat her with kindness and manners. They know they have got a good thing going on when they have you, the beautiful, intelligent younger lady on their arm. They don’t take that for granted. And they don’t ask you for money.
If he has a bunch of other ladies barking up his tree (you can usually notice this on social media), just step out of that line. Do you really want to be a contestant on “The Bachelor”? Find that nice guy who gets friend-zoned by everyone or that guy who isn’t constantly taking selfies with other girls and talk to him. To him, you will be a winning lottery ticket, not just another contestant in his show.
Don’t date him if he has tattoos on his face and/or neck. I have no issue with tattoos. But, someone who gets “Young Money” or whatever tattooed on his eyebrows has given up on any kind of legit career or interaction with mainstream society. That guy is relegated to drug dealer or stolen goods merchandiser or….yeah that’s about it. Ain’t gonna happen.
Go for the “boring” or “nerdy” guys. It doesn’t always mean they are boring or nerdy in romance or the bedroom. Give them a chance. Because they are going a whole lot farther in life and will treat you much better than the guy who thinks he’s a “gangsta.”That boring, normal, nerdy guy working at the bank or in IT at the county government wants to take you along on his next business trip to the beach. He wants to take you on a real date and give you good conversation over a dinner he pays for. Try it. It isn’t nearly as boring as being stood up or having to bail a guy out of jail.
Repeat after me: It doesn’t matter how hot he is. Looks fade. A hot 20-year-old who posts pictures asking what piercing he should get next is so immature and is just in love with himself. Instead, focus on the guy who posts “I wonder what job offer I should take?”, “I wonder what I should buy my kids for Christmas?”, “What soup kitchen should I volunteer at?” Let the self-obsessed guy go on loving himself and asking all the girls on the internet if he should get a lip ring or not. That guy is probably working at McDonald’s (and not as the manager) or still trying to be a “rapper.” That six-pack doesn’t mean much when he is asking you for money to buy a six-pack of beer.
Love yourself, take care of yourself, don’t “settle” for guys you know deep down are just bad news or players because you _______ (are a single mom, aren’t a beauty queen, could lose a couple pounds, don’t have a great job, etc.) There are so many reasons women settle for icky guys. Don’t do it. You are more amazing and beautiful than you give yourself credit for. Some nice, established older man will tell you so.
Look for guys at places that are on the up and up. Don’t look for your next love on Tinder or on the internet in general. Don’t do bars and clubs unless you are looking for a one-night stand (no, girl you aren’t looking for that). Strike up an IRL conversation with that nice guy with no wedding ring who keeps smiling at you at the grocery store or the bookstore. Try a singles group that goes on adventures or hosts events. Try church groups. Ask a friend to set you up with a nice, mature friend who is also single. Make it known that you are looking for Mr. Right and anyone who spots him can send him your way. Go back to school and strike up a conversation with a fellow student.
Don’t seem desperate or crazy. Desperation and codependency-fueled crazy is a huge turn-off for most decent men. Resist the urge to text him all day long. Send one text, maybe two per day. Hold back. Put the ball in his court. Don’t chase him. If he wants to go, let him go and thank him for moving on. There is this thing we learned about in counseling school called the “pursuer, avoider” dynamic. If you pursue someone like crazy, they usually avoid you. They run. If you avoid a little bit, hang back, act like its no biggie, act sane, then he will start to pursue you more. I’ve seen it work many times. A guy doesn’t work hard to get a woman who is already chasing him. He chases after that woman who is walking on with her bad self wherever she pleases taking care of her business and creating her own happiness. Guys are drawn to her like flies to honey.
11. And last, but certainly not least….If you do introduce your suitors to your kids, just introduce them as “Mommy’s friend” and never let them see you show physical or verbal romantic affection. To many kids, “Mommy’s boyfriend” = “Finally, I have a Daddy who loves me” and when that relationship dissolves, it just another loss for a child who has already been let down too much. Better yet, don’t introduce your kids to your new guy until you are engaged. Kids don’t deserve guys popping in and out of their lives. It really messes them up.
I wish you all love and happiness. I know its hard and confusing to be a single lady navigating the minefield of not-so-great guys to find that one diamond. Don’t settle for a lump of coal.
Thanks to my husband’s passion for gardening, I’ve started playing in the dirt again myself. The first lesson I learned is that gardening is really a metaphor for all life. If a plant is in unsuitable soil, it won’t thrive. If a plant’s roots aren’t doing well, it won’t produce healthy leaves or anything edible. Also, every plant species is unique. Some can thrive in pretty crappy soil and extreme temperatures, while others are more delicate and die off unless they are in lovely, nutrient rich soil and kept at certain temperatures. It is important to figure out what the root issues are when you have a plant that isn’t thriving. Get the soil tested, look for bugs, fungus and the like, supplement the soil if it is depleted, make row covers or hoop houses to protect from extreme temperatures, etc. With plants, we don’t just slap a band-aid and some Miracle-Grow on the withered leaves and call it good enough, we figure out what is really going on or call that plant a total loss.
Why then do we treat our bodies and the bodies of our children worse than we do our plants? In our society when we have a physical or mental health crisis, we just go to the doctor who gives us a few medications or offers to cut us open and we change nothing else because this is our paradigm and we don’t know what else to do. It has even gotten to the point that doctors are flabbergasted when I tell them my son isn’t on any medications for his autism. “But he is doing so well….” and then they ask if I want meds (bangs head on desk, you just said how well he is doing, no I don’t want any free samples thanks). Doctors don’t typically ask about our “soil” or the environment we are in. When was the last time your doctor asked you if you hated your job or if your husband was abusing you or how your daily nutrition/exercise regimen was going? We are just given pills (sometimes pills we don’t need or pills that have worse side effects than the issues we had) and we go on as usual. Ain’t nobody really got time for real health in managed care. But, if we really want to be healthy, we might have to look at our environment, our lifestyle, our habits, our nutrition, our priorities, and realize that just because something is covered by insurance doesn’t necessarily mean its a long-term health bargain. While modern medicine certainly has its place, particularly in treating congenital malformations and acute health crises (infections and traumatic injuries), chronic illness tends to be better served by figuring out what is at the root of it. Perhaps it is something that can be helped by surgery or medication, but what if there was another way to treat and truly heal many common chronic conditions? What if there was a way to heal and improve conditions that doctors just don’t know the cause of or how to heal?
This is my experience of trying that other way, a more holistic way. How in the world did I stumble upon all of this? I got started down the holistic health journey when I took the first job I could find to get out of a really bad work environment which was causing me anxiety and depression. The first job I found happened to be as a receptionist at a local naturopath’s office inside a healing arts spa where I was introduced to all sorts of funky and amazing things that I had never experienced before such as essential oils, probiotics, drinking lots of water with mineral drops and fruit in it, massage, detoxification, nutrition, naturopathy, yoga, and so much more. Not only did my anxiety and depression go away within a week or so of leaving the toxic work environment and coming into this positive environment, it just so happened that a few months after I started this job, my oldest son was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. He wasn’t talking at 3 years old…at all. He was having intense behavioral problems that broke my heart daily. He had to go to a special needs school because typical daycares couldn’t handle his behavior. I was told there was nothing to do but put him in therapies like speech therapy, occupational therapy and physical therapy and try medications to control his behavior. I was told my son probably wouldn’t ever talk and would become even harder to handle as he got bigger and stronger. I was terrified and so sad it was physically painful.
We did the therapies, I prayed so much. I just couldn’t put my baby on powerful psych meds. I don’t judge you if that is the route you chose to go, but personally it is unacceptable to me to put my 3-year-old son on powerful, psychotropic medications (with all of their side effects and serious warnings) which are not approved by the FDA or the American Academy of Pediatrics for use in children under the age of 6. Research (much less longitudinal studies) on the use of psychotropic medications in preschool age children is seriously lacking. What if these drugs made my poor baby’s brain worse? What if his sleep and eating got worse? Sure, psychiatrists and even some pediatricians use these drugs on young children “off label” saying the benefits outweigh the risks in some cases, but I say that we parents have no idea what the real risks even are without adequate peer-reviewed research and longitudinal studies to determine if these medications actually have positive long-term outcomes or if they cause long-term health problems, brain damage, or even addiction.
So that said, in my desperation as a mother, I decided to have the naturopath test my son for nutritional deficiencies, heavy metals, etc. and give me gentle nutritional remedies for my son’s sleep issues, stomach issues, and agitation. My son ended up testing for a B vitamin and magnesium deficiency. We also added cod liver oil (rich in brain-building, focus increasing omega-3 fatty acids), probiotics and bovine colostrum (for healing gut issues) to his daily protocol. Our whole family started taking Juice Plus+ gummies (which are a blend of the juice and pulp from 17 fruits and veggies) because he was such a picky eater at that time. I started giving him nightly massages with lavender infused olive oil and giving him plenty of time in the bath to relax his hyperactive sensory system. We did horse-assisted OT and ST. He had PT and went 3 days per week to the early-intervention preschool program. We learned about the Son-rise program (check it out on Youtube for free). We kept him on a balanced routine of peer interaction and time to rest at home. We love him and try our best to treat him with kindness and respect.
The results were nothing short of MIRACULOUS! He started talking, he started sleeping better, his stomach issues went away, he started eating more foods, his meltdowns decreased dramatically, and now at age 10 he is still psych med free and is THRIVING. He is communicating and reading on or above age level. He hasn’t had a single meltdown in years. His personality is funny, empathetic, and kind. He actually has fewer behavioral problems than most typical children. He sleeps from 9pm-6am every night. He talks non-stop and is currently going on and on about GhostBusters and the Brutus the Dog show he wants to make when he grows up. He went from severe, non-verbal autism that prevented us from going out to eat, to church, to the movies, etc. as a family to just a quirky, happy little guy who loves to go out and about anywhere our family decides to go. Sure, he still flaps his hands and jumps a lot when he is excited about something. He still needs a stable, predictable daily routine. However, his quality of life has so dramatically improved that I no longer feel any sadness or worry about his future. I no longer suffer from extreme sleep deprivation and exhaustion. I know he will be ok and finally I am ok.
What is more, my youngest son started developing “tics” such as rapid eye blinking, throat clearing, shoulder shrugging, etc. after a bout of strep throat last year. The tics kept getting worse. I took him to our naturopath and he suggested magnesium cream to calm the nervous system, probiotics, and immune-boosting herbs in case there was a lingering sub-clinical viral or bacterial infection. My son’s symptoms improved, but lingered. Then, because I had so much success with acupuncture curing my migraines and anxiety, I took him to have acupuncture done. He has been “tic-free” ever since that session months ago!
My own health has dramatically improved ever since I started to understand that in order to experience real health, you must look for and treat the root causes of imbalances and health problems. It all started with getting out of the “bad soil”, the bad environment of a hostile and abusive work environment. What if I had just stayed there and popped some depression and anxiety pills to keep on truckin’? I wouldn’t be the happy, healthy person I am today. My kids wouldn’t have had a mother who could help them improve their own health. I think of people who are stuck in bad marriages, bad jobs, or self-sabotaging habits and thought patterns and my heart breaks because no amount of pills will be a true cure until they find a way out of toxic soil. You know the saying that before you diagnose yourself with depression, make sure you aren’t just surrounded by a-holes? It’s true. Creating a positive, healthy environment at work, home, etc. is a great starting goal when working towards physical and mental health. It’s ok to take a chance on making a change. Even though it was scary, I will always be thankful that I took the first job I could find in order to get out of a bad environment. I am also thankful that I didn’t just accept having chronic migraines and trigeminal neuralgia and accept all of the pain medications the MDs wanted to give me. I tried acupuncture and Traditional Chinese herbs and have not had a migraine or nerve pain in 4 years now! I take no meds daily either.
I thank God for our family’s good health and for leading me to stumble upon this passion for holistic health that doesn’t just pop pills to cover the symptoms but finds the root cause, treats it with nutrition, herbs, acupuncture, exercise, yoga, avoiding toxic chemicals such as MSG, lab-made dyes, and toxic beauty and cleaning products.
I am often told that holistic health is “just too expensive” or “out of my price range” and to that I can only respond with my personal experience. I have never been rich, a kept woman, and I’ve never even had more than a thousand dollars in the bank at one time. I made about $1200 per month when I first started on this journey and would use one of my paychecks per month on the supplements and treatments my children and myself needed. I have found ways to prioritize the things I need for my health and my children’s health by cutting costs elsewhere. No, we don’t need a new game, gadget, clothes, beer or to go out to a movie. I do need to buy $50 of magnesium, cod liver oil, B vitamins, probiotics, and some lavender oil this month for my sons. I will also spend $50 on our family of four’s Juice Plus+ monthly order. So, $100 per month on supplements. Not free, but do-able if I prioritize. Sure, I could pay $0 for some psych meds for my son thanks to insurance, but that may not be a bargain if they are just zombifying him temporarily and stunting the growth of his brain and body long-term, creating more problems that I will eventually have to face with his behavior and health. Even though it means working some extra hours while my kids are in public school and only shopping at thrift stores, I will find a way.
Of course, this is not to discount the struggles of people who are literally struggling to keep a roof over your heads and food in your mouths. Even if you are in that tough situation, there are things you can do in the short-term (as you are trying to improve your financial situation long-term) to increase health such as applying for SSI so that you have the money to buy some supplements, using free resources online or at the local library to learn about natural healing methods (check out anything by Dr. Andrew Weil), using food stamps and WIC to buy canned and frozen veggies and fruits to get some extra nutrition into yourself and your kids and taking everyone to the park for some exercise on a daily basis (especially those ADHD kiddos who need 3 times the amount of physical exercise than typical children). Many of us are perfectly able to find creative ways to cut back on buying things we don’t really need, find ways to generate a little extra income, and using free resources to get our kids active and healthy.
I don’t write this post up on a high-horse or to judge anyone. I write it as a summary of our journey towards health and healing in case anyone else out there is wondering how to get started or if it is ok to try things other than meds for your 3-year-old on the autism spectrum. Nowadays, it is almost a rebellious act to choose natural healing as the first thing to try over just jumping into medications. I want other parents to know there are success stories, even if your medical doctor isn’t aware of them or won’t tell you about them because they are “only anecdotal”. I want you to know that I am still human and struggle to make healthy choices and sometimes I just throw caution to the wind and eat whatever sounds good. My youngest son is a little chubby even though we don’t keep unhealthy foods at home (thanks Grandma). My immune system is much stronger now than it has ever been, but I actually got such a bad case of strep throat last year (thanks to a lack of rest, the stress of my van breaking down with thousands of dollars in repairs needed, and sucking at self-care for about a month) that I had to have an antibiotic shot in the butt due to strep-induced inflammation causing heart palpitations. I was thankful for modern medicine on that day. But, I learned that I have to stop skimping on sleep, stop working myself into a frenzy stressing about money, and do better with self-care in general.
It is an ongoing process choosing to move towards getting healthier each day. My hope is that we all can change the paradigm from one of thinking meds or surgery are the only options for mental and physical illnesses to a paradigm of making habits that promote health and wellness the top priority day to day and becoming aware of the host of holistic options that are available to us when we are in need of healing. Be informed. Be well. Treat the roots that the branches may blossom. May we all thrive as we wing it together towards a healthier body, mind, and spirit.
It makes no difference to me what you call it…I call it a lot of different things myself and I realize that none of my words, my labels are sufficient at all. Words just fail me. That’s the beauty and mystery of it. God. Great Spirit. Great Mystery. Great Weaver. The Universe. Abba. Divinity. Holy. That which cannot be explained. Supernatural. Awe. Wonder. Agape. Energy. Life Force. Creator. Healer. Lover. You are all of these and so much more to me. I tried to deny you based on logic and reason at one point, as any scientist “should” (but wait, aren’t we taught absence of evidence is not evidence of absence?) And yet, I feel you all around me in inexplicable ways. In the weeds, the radio, books that jump off shelves at me at the thrift store, a tree, my messy and crazy job, and thinking about babies….How does all this stuff connect? This is how it weaves together for me:
I feel you, hear you, see you in…
Thrift Stores. A book found me at the thrift store this week…I say it found me because it literally fell off the shelf as I walked by. It is called “My Grandfather’s Blessings” by Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D. and although I am only half-way through, I feel God speaking to me through every story within the pages of this gift of a book that Rachel has blessed me, and all who care to read it. In it, I have found such pearls as this which I need to be reminded of as a counselor: “We do not serve the weak or broken. What we serve is the wholeness in each other and the wholeness in life. The part in you that I serve is the same part that is strengthened in me when I serve. Unlike helping and fixing and rescuing, service is mutual. There are many ways to serve and strengthen the life around us: through friendship or parenthood or work, by kindness, compassion, generosity, or acceptance. Through our philanthropy, our example, our encouragement, our active participation, our belief. No matter how we do this, our service will bless us. When we offer our blessings generously, the light in the world is strengthened, around us and in us. The Kabbalah speaks of our collective human task as Tikkun Olam; we sustain and restore the world.”
Sustaining and restoring…don’t we all need some more of that, on the personal, familial, societal, and environmental levels? Why is it so hard to love one another? Why must we get caught up in these us versus them battles that rage constant? What would happen if we all took on this collective task? What does it look like for me to take on my part of this task just for today?
For me, today it looked like getting up and trying to love on my family the best I can even though I’m not perfect and they aren’t either. It meant going to church, singing my heart out, and finding something beautiful in the sermon and loving the people there even though they aren’t perfect and I’m not either. It means tomorrow going to work at a shelter for women and children who are fleeing domestic violence or who have become homeless in other ways due to it.
Muck, Mess, Shattered Glass. My job isn’t glamorous and doesn’t award many accolades; it often stretches me to the edge physically, mentally, and spiritually, but it is my calling and it is one of the places where I feel God teaching me and breathing life into my spirit the most. There, my job is to show love, to offer guidance and encouragement, to not rescue or fix, but to serve the best I can in a woman’s empowerment and her children’s healing. Sometimes that looks like carrying a woman’s bags in as she and her children move in. Sometimes it looks like unloading a truck full of food to feed our residents until my back is aching but I force myself to be thankful for my strong back that will feel just fine tomorrow. Sometimes it’s holding and rocking a sick child and wiping their boogers or a child throwing up on me. At times, it has been wiping poop or dealing with overflowing toilets or being hit and scratched and cursed at by traumatized children…and learning to show love anyway. But other times, I am unexpectedly blessed with the giggles and smiles of children dancing in dress-up clothes holding my hands twirling around when the realization of how far they have come in the few months since they have moved in and how far I’ve come since I started this job 5 years ago comes to me like a light bulb coming on. I am a better mother, friend, daughter, wife, human because of this job. It has helped me find God and understand how to love in the ugliest, hardest situations. In the muck, the mess, and the shattered glass on the floor that I have to clean up. Trying to piece it back together into something new. Something beautiful and strong. Like God is doing with me and the women and children I am privileged to serve in this way.
Trees. There is a tree in my yard that has fallen and we thought was dead, but somehow year after year remains alive. I walked down to the creek to see where the base of the tree was and how this thing was still alive at all. The base of the tree roots is hanging down into the creek. When it fell, the roots slid right into water. I relate to this tree. When my life was at its worst and I was free-falling, I somehow fell into living water. Into the divine. Into a spiritual journey that is still going and I pray never ends. Something awoke in me. And when I saw this tree, it too became a part of my awakening.
Songs on the radio. I have playlists of songs that speak to my heart and soul and make me feel different things. But, my favorite thing is getting in my car after work or just going about my day and hearing a song that makes time stop and my spirit connect with something important that somehow got lost in the day to day shuffle. It doesn’t matter who the artist is or what genre. This week it was Tracy Chapman and Adele reminding me of the deep love I have for my children and reminding me that is exactly how God feels about me.
God is in the weeds. I used to be a waitress and when we would be up to our eyeballs in customers and about to lose our sanity and tips, we would say “I’m in the weeds, help!” to each other. That is when someone would give us the most help and where a lot of friendships and alliances were made. In the hard times, we find out who will love us and help. We appreciate it all the more. We can see God’s love in those “in the weeds” moments when people help and when we help them.
I think God is also in garden weeds. Last week, I watched as two birds danced around my poke plants, eating the berries and thought “what if I had pulled it up? I wouldn’t have these two unusual and beautiful birds dancing around blissfully in my yard. I wonder what else would be missing if these birds weren’t here?” I felt a holy awe as I watched and gave thanks for the interconnected nature of life and for embracing the life of this “weed” many would just pull up and toss aside or spray RoundUp to prevent growing in the first place.
Be still and know. Seek and you shall find. Perhaps we don’t even have to try that hard to find, but just be open to receive the awe and wonder that is all around and trying to get our attention…in the thrift store, in a book, in a song, in birds, trees, weeds, and so much more.