There is something about returning to a place that shaped you so profoundly, something about the mixture of thoughts, feelings, and reactions – all lobes of the brain engaged in a dialogue labeled “Return.” Whether by car, train, boat, or plane, the exhausted euphoria has as much to do with your mind as it does with your body.
Cairo airport was busy at 8pm on Saturday, October 15th. I left Boston the day before at almost midnight Eastern Standard Time. The overnight flight arrived in Istanbul at four in the afternoon leaving time for a coffee and croissant in the Istanbul airport before boarding the Cairo flight. It’s a short flight and before I could doze off, I saw the lights of the massive city of Cairo below me, a shining beacon rising from the desert.
Memories of arrivals past flooded over me. The first time I visited Cairo was as a 23-year-old. I was with my boyfriend, the man who would become my husband just 7 months later. All our luggage was lost enroute so there I was in a strange city with a man who had suddenly become a stranger to me. A friend he had made a few months earlier picked us up and he, too, was a stranger. In other words, it was all strange and unfamiliar.
Six years later I would arrive with three children, four years and under, to make a home in the city. What was initially strange became dear and familiar, the city pushing its way under my skin, up through my blood stream and into my heart. It made its home there, squeezing in between space I had reserved for other things and planting itself, a pacemaker of sorts that quickened or slowed my heartbeat. You don’t take out a pacemaker just because you move. It stays there, not always working as well as you want it to because it’s so out of sync with its surroundings.
Through the years I have arrived and left Egypt around 26 times, but who or what is really counting? The pacemaker, that’s who.
On arrival, the familiar mixes with the strange, almost like a recipe changing. You don’t remember the recipe quite the way it now tastes. And so it is with return. The picture that you have planted in your head conflicts with the images you are seeing, initially feeling like a betrayal. What happened to that restaurant? That coffee shop? That family? I thought they would always be there. Once the betrayal is confronted, I feel a new freedom to relax and enjoy.
Marty, a dear friend of many years picked me up from the Cairo airport and we happily chatted as the driver dodged the ever-present traffic, finally arriving in Ma’adi, the place where Marty has made her home for 34 years. If outside had changed, inside was the comfort of familiarity in a dear place with dear friends.
Everyone has a different routine when going back to places they have lived in the past. For me, it means carving out of a new niche. This is not metaphorical but concrete. I have to find a new coffee shop, the space where I will go daily while I am visiting. I found it quickly, a small outdoor space with perfect lattes and delicious mint, lemon smoothies. The first few days found me content to just be, casting off the stress of my U.S. life and taking on this extraordinary chance to rest.
I chose the perfect month to return. Cairo in October is generally spectacular, the heat of summer making way for cool mornings and warm days, gentle breezes and even occasional rain. There is a new energy and gladness in folks who had previously succumbed to summer’s lethargy, knowing that fighting it is useless.
A desert retreat, chance to speak, and time with friends would come later. For now, all I knew was that I had returned to the pacemaker, the place where two of my children were born, the place where I learned to be a mom, where some of my most enduring friendships were born. I returned to a desert with splashes of fuchsia, orange, and white bougainvillea creating a striking and beautiful contrast to the dust. I returned to old memories and friendships and to creating new memories and new friendships.
I had returned. I was back and the world was alright.
Author’s Note: Dear readers, I’ll be taking you through a tour of my recent trip to Egypt and Turkey these next few days! Thank you for following along. Here are a few pictures to go with today’s post!
At the time of darkness, more than anything else kneeling is helpful.
St. Isaac the Syrian
I’m weary, and I wonder about you. Perhaps you are weary as well.
When I try and get to the bottom of this I realize that I’m weary of doing the next right thing. I’m weary of praying for my enemies and loving those who hurt me. I’m weary of family fractures. I’m weary of getting up every day and working. I’m weary of walking forward with so many unknowns.
Most of all, I’m weary because all seems dark and God seems so very distant.
Job’s friends would stop me right now. “Have you looked at your life?” they would ask. There must be some unconfessed sin. There must be some reason why God is distant, why all is dark. But here’s the thing – to believe that all of the dark and difficult things we go through are a result of our behavior is distorted theology. Jesus’ words in the book of Matthew are clear: “for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.” In fact, in the Old Testament, the Psalmist is constantly asking why the evil prosper and do well, seemingly free of trouble, something that turns a health and wealth gospel upside down.
Sometimes there is not an earthly answer. Sometimes all we get is silence. Sometimes darkness is everywhere we turn.
It’s in this season that I have taken to reading the book Learning to Walk in the Darkby Barbara Brown Taylor. This book is an interesting study on darkness. When asked in an interview what her ‘working definition’ of darkness was, she said this:
Darkness is everything I do not know, cannot control, and am often afraid of. But that’s just the beginner’s definition. If I am a believer in God, then darkness is also where God dwells. God may also be frightening and uncontrollable and largely unknown to me, yet I decide to trust God anyway.
Barbara Brown Taylor in Religion News Services 2012
Taylor’s search led her to explore darkness literally and metaphorically. Through exploring a cave; being led in complete darkness by a blind person, physically experiencing life through her other senses; and by spending the night in a solitary cabin with no light to be found, she experienced the physical absence of light. Beyond that is her deep exploration of “dark nights of the soul” and how the physical experience of dark can perhaps teach us something of the spiritual. Her search is not to diminish the need for light, rather, she wants the reader to appreciate the importance of darkness both physically and spiritually.
The book is marvelously free of platitudes and that in itself is a gift for me in this season. But it is also a reminder of a truth I know, but regularly need reminders. When we are in hard, dark places, God may seem distant, but He is as fully present as in the light. He dwells there with us. Psalm 139 verse 12 reassures me of this: “Even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.”
So here in the dark, where I am exhausted in weariness, where I have no words, and where the way forward seems absent of light, will you join me in a quest to believe it is okay, to believe that he is here with us in the dark? To sit as companions, free of clichéd conversation, and know he can be trusted? I don’t have much beyond that for you today – but perhaps that is enough.
“Even when light fades and darkness falls–as it does every single day, in every single life–God does not turn the world over to some other deity…Here is the testimony of faith; darkness is not dark to God; the night is as bright as the day.”
Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor
What place or people gave you your fundamental values and shaped the way you see the world?
A number of years ago when I was worried about one of my children, a wise friend said to me “Every chance you can, remind them who they are.” I remember my silence as I thought about what she had said. It was so simple, but so profoundly helpful.
Remind them who they are. Remind them that they belong to a bigger story. Remind them that they are beloved. Remind them of laughter, of fights, of homes and houses, of moments. Remind them.
I’m thinking about that on this Friday morning. Fall is slowly arriving in our area, evident in the chilly air that greets me each morning. Soon we will see the reds and golds that make this area famous for its leaf peeping. apple picking, and cider donuts washed down with hot apple cider.
I’m in a place of needing to remember what shaped me, remember the stories passed down to me, remember the faith of my father and mother, remember who I am, remember that his mercy indeed echoes down through the generations.
Questions of belonging and identity come throughout life in many shapes and forms. When we are younger, they cause more crisis, more angst. When we’re older, it’s more like a subtle despair and deep longing. We silently chastise ourselves for what we feel is the immaturity of our struggle. We try and push it off on other things like our jobs, our friendships, our churches. But a look in the mirror reveals a more difficult truth. And when, as my friend Liz Rice says, our “umbilical cord(s) of identity”* stretch out to cities, countries, and people who are far away or no longer exist, the result can be a profound sense of loss.
Perhaps the best thing to do is to pause, give thanks and move on to the next right thing. Focusing on the losses has the defeating effect of creating more loss. The older we get, the more unbecoming it is to wallow in self pity or despair. Besides, there are walks to be taken, coffee to be savored, sweet rolls to be made, and pedicures to be had. Wallowing won’t give me any of those beautiful gifts.
And so today I pause and I think about those people and places that have shaped me, that have helped me shape my values, my loves, my longings, and the way I see the world.
“But let me tell you something about the love of God, even as we muddle through life on this earth. He is never constrained by our decisions. In fact, perfect decisions, if such a thing were possible, might lull us into thinking that we had sufficient wisdom. Imperfect decisions on the other hand, which is to say human decisions, allow for the possibility of grace, this thing that always reminds of how freely, how extravagantly God loves.”
Jen Pollock Michel – Monday Newsletter*
This quote arrived in my inbox under the heading “Grace for imperfect decisions.” It was a Monday morning gift, and I hope as you read this it will be the same for you. I have sometimes had paralysis around decision making. What if it’s the wrong decision? What will I learn later that I don’t know now, perhaps wishing to have made a different choice, a different decision? What has helped me has been my conversations with others around decision making. I’ve had dozens of conversations around the idea that many decisions in life are not about right or wrong, about morality or someone getting hurt. Rather, they are about taking what we know at the time and moving forward in the next right thing. This quote reminds me that grace covers all of the imperfect deciding moments.
One of the gifts that I have been given this past year is a project connected with a recovery community in Southeast Massachusetts. The work has included starting a community advisory board for an organization that does wholistic and comprehensive work with those who struggle with addiction. The project was to create a cookbook that would connect cooking with the recovery journey. Like recovery itself, collectively creating the cookbook was a slow process. But the result is a beautiful book called One Cup at a Time: Recipes for Recoverythat contains stories and recipes from all over the world.
I wrote this in the book:
“One Cup at a Time: Recipes for Recovery is a community project that focuses on food, community, and recovery. Through these recipes and stories, we want to take you on a journey – a journey that is not a single story, but a collection of lives and experiences, of food and family, of resilience and recovery. Through stories we will explore the courage it takes to move into recovery; through food we will savor the tastes and traditions that honor each person’s journey.
Cooking is not about one ingredient or one recipe. It’s about a series of steps: a cup of this, a teaspoon of that, stir this, and mix that. It takes time, thought, and care. Just as in cooking, recovery does not have only one recipe for success. Instead, recovery is about taking one step at a time….
We invite you to the project. Read. Taste. Savor. And through it, become someone who can walk alongside those in recovery.“
I’m not telling you recovery is going to be easy. I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it.
What an honor it has been to do this work! In truth, there were times when I couldn’t imagine that the project would come together. Isn’t that true of so many things? In the middle we can’t imagine what the end will look like. We can’t imagine healing when physical or emotional pain is so strong. We can’t imagine a resolution to a conflict when we feel anger every time we think about the person. We can’t imagine joy when sorrow is so overwhelming. We can’t imagine redemption when all around us is decay. And yet – the cookbook, arguably a human project that will not change the world, is complete – a finished product that is beautiful and useful. And though it won’t change the world, the impact on those who contributed is unquantifiable.
The book is for sale on Amazon and all proceeds go to the recovery community. It is expensive, but it is full color and gorgeous. You won’t be disappointed if you purchase this for yourself or a friend.
A Thought or Two: What I’m dreaming, deciding, watching, and reading….
I had a dream the other night that it rained and rained and rained and rained. Then it rained some more. We are in a drought here in Massachusetts, the grass all around as brown as the desert. The dream wasn’t just about the weather – it was also about my heart. I’m in a drought and longing for the refreshment of rain on my soul. Amazingly, yesterday it rained all day! It gives me hope that the rain for my soul is a heartbeat away.
Speaking of grace for imperfect decisions, I made the decision to leave my 9-5 job and go into consulting full time. It is a good decision, but not without its risks. One of the reasons that I did this is that I want more time to write. I have some writing projects that have I have been unable to get to because of a full-time job.
I’ve watched two excellent movies that I want to recommend. The first – 13 Lives – is about the true story of the Thai soccer boys and their coach trapped in a cave in the Chiang Rai region of Thailand in 2018. I had to stop the film several times while I watched it as the intensity does not let up. What I appreciate about that intensity is that the creators help you feel a fraction of the tension the parents, boys, divers, and all involved felt. It is a profoundly moving film. The courage, the teamwork, the thinking way outside of the box, the faith it took – there are no words left to describe this film. If that sounds too intense – and I don’t exaggerate this – then watch The Bookshop, the story of a widow who opens a bookstore on a coastal town in England. It is a lovely story with an ending that I wouldn’t choose.
I’ve just finished Apeirogon – an exceptional story of the friendship between a Palestinian and an Israeli, based on both of them losing a daughter to the conflict and struggling to find and seek peace despite the pain. “It struck him early on that people were afraid of the enemy because they were terrified that their lives might get diluted, that they might lose themselves in the tangle of knowing each other.” p 124
And that’s a wrap. I appreciate you. I appreciate that you read my words when there are so many millions of others to read. I will never have a large space in our wide world, but I love my small space and want to steward it well.
I’ll end with words from the late Frederick Buechner, a writer that I have quoted before, with the encouragement to all of us that good words last. These words are for us – the nomads, the travelers, the ones who sit a spell, and then travel forward.
You can kiss your family and friends good-bye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you.
*I subscribe to Jen Pollock Michel’s newsletter and appreciate her thoughtful reflections and wisdom. If you don’t know Jen’s writing, then I’m delighted to introduce you to her. Her book, Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home is a book for nomads and travelers – people like you and me. She has several other books as well, but this one in particular resonates with me.
This is what happens when you come back. Time fails. Geography wins. We’re in the children’s book by Margaret Wise Brown in which the little bunny keeps trying to run away, but his mother is always there, arms outstretched, embedded in the landscape. This is what [coming back] is doing to us. We are her children, and we are being claimed.”
What Falls From the Sky
“We’re going to Winchendon today,” I texted my husband on a Tuesday morning a couple of weeks ago.
“Safe travels sown memory lane,” he replied.
The “we” referred to my oldest brother and my mom. We were in Central Massachusetts visiting my younger brother for a short two days and two of the places that had been home for our family during furloughs were within a forty minute drive.
My mom was born and raised in Winchendon, Massachusetts before leaving the United States to spend a lifetime overseas. I was born in the same town and spent my first three months of life there before arriving in Pakistan as a three-month old. I returned to Winchendon at four, then at fourteen – each time living for a limited amount of time before returning home to Pakistan. I had also lived in the city of Fitchburg, about a half hour away from Winchendon, when I was 10 going on 11. Though I have lived in Massachusetts for many years now, I had never gone on a trip down memory lane.
Memory lane travel began on Klondike Avenue in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. Klondike Avenue received us, a missionary family with a bunch of kids, made us feel like we were at home, like we belonged. As we drove down the street I eagerly waited to see the house where we lived during that unforgettable year. I remembered it as being an old New England home on a dandelion dotted hill that sloped down to the road. Like many things in my memory, the house was far smaller, the hill was not as large, but the house looked happy and well cared for with bright red and pink geraniums beckoning from the back steps. The area around the house was completely built up, farm land sold to a developer many years ago. Paradise had indeed been paved to make way for homes, families, and urban growth.
Klondike Avenue was thousands of miles away from our world in Pakistan. We traded boarding school for day school, a land rover for a Ford station wagon, Sunday night singspirations for Sunday night cereal. We were the missionary family with all the kids and as we entered, the neighborhood seemed to know we were coming.
Memories flooded over me of swimming in the Pierce’s pool and playing softball on late spring evenings on the Pierce Farm field; riding bikes to the book mobile that came every Thursday and Vacation Bible School at Highland Baptist Church; laughing and talking with Carin Waaramaa who lived at the end of the street and generously offered me her friendship and her family, no strings attached, no motives, just pure grace.
For kids coming from Pakistan, Klondike Avenue was near perfect.
At this point we were miles into memory lane and I wondered aloud if we could find East Street School, the old brick building where my youngest brother and I went to school that year. Just around a corner, we unexpectedly came on it. It’s sad facade begged us to stop and pay attention, clearly no one else had. Windows were boarded up and resilient plants sprouted their way through cracked concrete. A young woman with a brilliant smile that sparkled of good dental care had pulled up to the side of the road. She looked at us curiously, what would bring people to stop and take pictures of this sad building? Through an open window I explained to her that I had attended this very school many, many years before.
Highland Baptist Church, an old New England Church with white clapboard and a tall steeple, was our next stop. We chatted with the current pastor, my mom relaying some of her memories and we hearing some of the current happenings in the community.
On to Winchendon where we visited the cemetery where my grandmother and grandfather are buried, as well as two stillborn children and a first wife that my brother buried before he was 28 years old. Sometimes you need to be reminded of the suffering of your siblings. In that space, the midday sun shining brightly on us, I remembered.
We drove on to the veteran’s cemetery, the graves lined up like tidy soldiers, a startling contrast to the untidiness of death, to the untidiness of war. It took a couple of text messages and looking on a website to find my father’s grave. Not having thought ahead, we shamelessly “borrowed” some flowers from another grave for a photo op, and we will ever be grateful to the family of Kenneth Proos for their unknowing generosity. Immediately after the picture was taken we returned them to their rightful owner. I like to think that the laughter it brought us was gratitude in itself, but we will never know.
My mom’s childhood home at 485 Central Street in Winchendon was our next stop. To our amazement we connected with Mr. Walker, a man who has lived there for decades and remembered my grandparents. “You’re a Kolodinski?” he asked my mom. He and his wife bought the house not too many years after my grandmother moved. It was a poignant connection and gift to hear memories of the house and neighborhood. As we drove away, we weren’t thinking much about memories. Pizza and subs were on our collective minds. How can memory make one so hungry? Revived by sub sandwiches at a local pizza place, more family stories were told.
Our last stops were the schools we attended and 40 Hyde Park Street, the street and house where my cousins lived, a home base of sorts for us every four years until it wasn’t. My great grandfather, a Polish/Lithuanian immigrant, bought farm land when he moved to the area hoping his son would take it on after he died. Like so many immigrant families, what the parent wanted and what the adult child wanted were two different things. The farm land was slowly sold off, in its place stand an assisted living center and other homes. We had lived in the house next door for my freshman and sophomore years of highschool, a perfect location with cousins, an aunt and uncle, and grandmother next door.
As I looked up at the windows of the tiny room that had been my bedroom, I remembered tumultuous teen years in a place where I didn’t fit, a round (quite round as I gained a lot of weight that year) peg trying desperately to fit myself into all of the square holes around me only to realize that I was too round, too different, too “other.” And yet, I still remember sweet friendships with people who could reach across the barriers that divide, inviting me into relationship and connection.
It was mid afternoon when we began to drive back to Clinton. There was still a lot of daylight left, the summer sun not yet tired, but our return trip was quieter, perhaps each of us were lost in memory and story.
I have often tried to forget this area, to deny my connection to the geography or people. Whenever I thought about Winchendon, the only colors that would come to my mind were grey and sad, while the colors that came into my mind with Pakistan were brilliant reds, yellows, blues, and greens. But it is as impossible to forget this area as it would be to forget Pakistan. They worked in tandem to raise me. This is a place that has been part of my extended family for generations and has given me a heritage that I cannot deny.
Each of us has an invisible box of told and untold journeys and memories. Some of these have names and faces, roads and mailboxes. Others have emotions and conversations, wishes and regrets, dreams and hurts. There are the valleys of gravestones and unimaginable pain and there are mountains of unexplainable joy. Memories remind us who we are, where we’ve come from, what we’ve lived through. They connect us even when they are hard and sad, for a life without contrasts is no life at all.
It is now a couple of weeks later. Life moves forward and, as Dumbledore tells us, “It does not do to dwell on dreams (or memories) and forget to live.” Perhaps that’s why we need the caution to travel safely down memory lane. For whether the memories be good or hard, living color or deep grey, they can trap us into imagining life was far better or far worse than it actually was or is.
As for me, my travel down memory lane was safe and secure, full of stories and laughter, a day of being claimed by the memories and geography that make me who I am.
In some ways, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning.
Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
Boston is immersed in a heat wave. We lazily walk around in the evenings, speaking “weather” to neighbors. The conversations go like this “Wow! It’s hot!” “It sure is!” “Keeping cool?” “Trying to.” Then we limply smile and amble off. Of course, to my Kurdish, Pakistani, and Egyptian friends, 95F (35 C) is not hot. 120F or 49C is hot. And yes, there is much truth to that. But, let us wallow in our heat wave. I, for one, love it. All I can think is how much better it is to be hot than to be cold.
It was fascinating to see the response to my post on TCKs and Post Traumatic Growth. There were emails, texts, and messages that showed much interest in hearing more. One of the biggest things that came out of conversations that I had with people is the importance of story or narrative in post traumatic growth.
As a reminder, Post Traumatic Growth, or PTG is about “positive psychological changes experienced as the result of the struggle with major life crises or traumatic events.” So what does trauma do? It shakes our world, it confuses our lives, and it challenges our worldview. When we face trauma, the story we have been living is massively impacted. Our stories change. Our trajectory changes. Life takes on a narrative of before and after – before the earthquake, after the earthquake. Before the Twin Towers fell; after the Twin Towers fell. Before a death; after a death. These are, to use the earthquake analogy, tectonic plate-shifting events. When the losses have been so great, how do we not live within them? How do we move into new growth?
We learn to “re-story.” As humans we are wired for narratives. Most of us are more likely to remember the story than the chart, the illustration than the data. Whether we are the story teller or the audience, we make meaning out of stories. And when trauma has altered our stories, we fare best when we can find meaning within it. This doesn’t mean that we wish the tragedy and trauma hadn’t happened. I would give anything to have not experienced some of the stories I’ve lived through. But I don’t have that choice. The trauma happened. Now it’s about what I do with it.
Into these narratives of loss and trauma comes the idea of re-storying them by incorporating the loss into the new story. This is not about sugar coating the past; rather it is about self-reflection and coming to terms with how we have grown and things we have learned through pain. Research shows that when someone reflects on painful memories and experiences with the goal of making meaning out of them, they gain wisdom. This wisdom translates into making better decisions, more effective problem solving, and the ability to give better advice. This making of wisdom and gaining perspective is Post Traumatic Growth.
Joan Didion emphasizes this:
We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely… by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the ‘ideas’ with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria — which is our actual experience.
Practically speaking, how do we do this? There are many articles and books that speak to this, but a June article by Arthur Brooks in The Atlantic called “Making the Baggage of Your Past Easier to Carry” gives some easy practical tips. The first is to keep a data base of postitive memories, the second is to practice gratitude, and the third one is this:
“In your journal, reserve a section for painful experiences, writing them down right afterward. Leave two lines below each entry. After one month, return to the journal and write in the first blank line what you learned from that bad experience in the intervening period. After six months, fill in the second line with the positives that ultimately came from it. You will be amazed at how this exercise changes your perspective on your past.“
I don’t know what your re-storying looks like. What I do know is that it isn’t about finding answers, because in truth, there are few if any. It is about finding meaning within the trauma, and that makes all the difference.
It’s high summer in Boston. Tourists wander, water bottles in hand, silently glancing at fitbits, observable proof that Boston is indeed a “walkable” city. Chalk drawn hopscotch decorates the sidewalks in bright blues, greens, and pinks. Jimmy, the icecream man, is parked by a large park where tourists and locals wander. His business is understandably booming. And my favorite café barely has room for me to settle with my computer and thoughts. I squeeze in and find my way, happy for the busy chaos after a couple of years of masked misery.
I’ve been thinking a lot about post traumatic growth, the specific growth that can occur after deep trauma. PTG or Post Traumatic Growth theory was developed in the mid 90s by two psychologists (Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun). They wanted to be able to explain how people can move beyond deep trauma with a deeper appreciation for life and a strength and resolve to help others.
The literature is careful to distinguish between PTG and resilience. Resilience is described more as the quality or characteristic of being able to bounce back and resume life. When someone has experienced an event that affects their core beliefs, they sometimes can’t bounce back. Their entire world has been rocked to the core by what often seems like meaningless violence or trauma.
In an old article called “The Post Traumatic Growth Theory: Measuring the Positive Legacy of Trauma,” the authors talk about being able to measure growth after trauma through a 21 question-inventory. The inventory looks at positive responses to questions that address appreciation for life, relationships with others, new possibilities that have emerged, personal strength, and spiritual change.
“People develop new understandings of themselves, the world they live in, how to relate to other people, the kind of future they might have and a better understanding of how to live life,” Richard Tedeschi.
Until very recently I never knew there was a theory or an inventory that identified PTG. What I do know is that I have watched some of my refugee, immigrant, and TCK friends live out this reality. I’ve watched them move from bitterness to using appropriate anger for positive change. I’ve observed them taking deep pain and loss and using it to empathize and work with others. I’ve benefitted from their joy and strength, the color they add to the world.
How are some people able to do this, while others remain in a place of post traumatic stress? I don’t think it’s always about the level of trauma, although complex trauma has many, many layers. Yet, even with complex trauma there are examples of people who are able to move forward. One important factor seems to be not being pushed into growth or a positive response. People need time to come to this on their own. For the caregiver or friend, this is difficult. We want to see any small signs that a person is coming out of their pain or darkness. We see every little movement as hopeful and then fall into our own traps of believing nothing will ever change for the person. But experts and counselors working with trauma victims are careful to stress not to push someone into discovering positive growth until they are ready. Healing occurs in stages and the stages are not linear.
I want to look at this in more depth, but I feel this is an area where TCKs can benefit. To know that childhood or adult trauma can be transformed, leading them into personal and professional growth is hopeful and encouraging. This is not rocket science, but when we are in the middle of the hard pieces of life, it feels that way.
So why look at this? I’m not a trauma expert, I am not a counselor. I look at this because in the past few years I have walked with more and more people who have experienced profound pain in life. In addition, I’ve had my own realization of profound pain. My practical theology and belief in a God who is good has led me to believe without doubt that God does not waste pain; that pain, when given to God, is a transformative gift. It doesn’t make pain and trauma easier, but it does make it less senseless.
If you want to take a look at the inventory to take it or have it for reference, click here.
“I am convinced that in every generation God has his people and is working out his plans. What more can I say?”
My mom turns 94 today. From an earthly convential perspective, she has no platform, no followers, and would not be considered an influencer in today’s world. Yet, she has led an extraordinary life and has influenced thousands in her life. She has spoken words of wisdom that people still remember. Most of all, she has been faithful to what and who she believes.
I asked her last night what advice she would offer to younger women. Initially she said “I have no advice!” I pushed her and she said what I have quoted above. I love it, because it’s a reminder to me that though our view is limited, God’s is not.
The question I asked my mom came out of a post that I saw earlier this week from a younger woman who posted a series of prompts on social media focused on women in the second half of life. She talked about watching some women ‘coast’ their way to the finish line. It got her thinking about what it would look like for her to pursue a heart of wisdom, to live fully and faithfully in this second half of life. I loved the questions she posed and wanted to publicly answer a few of them. If anything resonates, I’m grateful, but as with anything I write – if there is not wisdom or grace in this, then blow it away.
If you could go back in time and whisper one thing into the ear of your 40 year old self (and know it would take root in your heart) what would it be? Belonging is not about a place, though place does matter. Belonging is about a Person. Identity is the same. When I forget whose I am, I forget who I am. I fall into that trap all the time, and I wish it would take root. Somehow, the weeds of insecurity and envy get in the way and I forget.
What are some pitfalls you see women in their late 30s and early 40s falling into today? I ache for women today. From TikTok to Instagram to Twitter to Facebook to whatever will be the next big platform, there is so much competition for your time, your intellect, and your soul. I see oversharing and it scares me. I see selfie on selfie on selfie. None of us need that many pictures of ourselves. I see outrage spewing off the pages day after day. There is a lot to be angry about, but it is not sustainable. You will wear yourself ragged. Your kids and family will suffer. You will suffer. And you will not change the world. I’m not saying don’t have a presence. I obviously use social media, but I’ve learned the hardway of what it does to my mind, emotions, and soul. We have to control social media and not have it control us. Mostly though, here is the truth:
The world needs the embodied you, the you who shows up with persistence and resilience, the you who is learning to love well, forgive continually, and laugh with abandon in your family, place of worship, neighborhood, and broader community.
What are unique challenges facing women in their 40s today? What would your advice be for avoiding them? My generation did you a disservice by making you think you could do it all. You can’t. Pick your priorities and stick with them. When you are looking at major work decisions, ask the question “Who do i want to like me when I’m 80?” It’s probably not the organization or institution that you are giving your life blood to and for. It’s definitely not the people online, because they may cancel you before you’re 50.
What are you thankful you leaned into in your 40s? My 40s were still so busy raising kids, learning how to parent college students and still be present for a preteen and teenager. It’s in my 50s that I leaned into speaking and writing. I am so glad I did. When I first began writing, I didn’t know it would turn into books and magazine articles. I didn’t know I would get paid to write. I wrote because I wanted to become a better writer. I’m deeply grateful that I finally had the discipline to write daily. As for speaking, I remember long ago realizing that by God’s grace and goodness, I could be a good communicator. At that point, I made a promise that every opportunity I was given to speak publicly, I would do so. I had to readjust that through the years, but at the time, it was a good decision. Building on both writing and speaking as ways to communicate across boundaries has become something I am passionate about.
What did you intentionally do in your 40s that made what you’re doing now possible? I took every free opportunity for training that came up in my career. I ended up with a diverse set of skills, knowledge, and training ability. From brease and cervical cancer awareness to chronic disease to mental health first aid, I ended up with an eclectic skill set that worked perfectly in serving diverse communities.
How did your mothering shift as your kids became teens? Negotiation became the big word. Instead of saying “Go clean your room – NOW!” I learned to say “Your room is becoming a public health hazard. You have until Friday to clean your room. Please make sure you do it by then.” Oh my gosh. I would be a wreck! I’d think inside “I know they won’t do it, I know they won’t do it, I know they won’t do it!” And then – they did it! It was amazing. It helped me learn a lot about releasing control. That release of control has to go into adult kids as well. They don’t need me to constantly tell them what I believe. They know. They don’t need me to tell them how to parent, make decisions, or anything like that. As the title of a book says “Keep your door open and your mouth shut.” And I have learned the hard way that this is true. I am grateful for the grace of my kids and God’s grace in this journey.
What are spiritual disciplines you’ve leaned into that weren’t as much a part of your earlier years of walking with him? An embodied faith that leans on Divine Liturgy and prayers of the Church. I wish that I had not been so stubborn about entering into the Orthodox Church and faith tradition. In Prayer in the Night, author Tish Harrison Warren says “Patterns of prayer draw us out of ourselves, out of our own timebound moment, into the long story of Christ’s work in and through his people over time.”
What is different about your walk with [God] the longer you live? Leaning into mystery. I am so grateful that mystery can be a part of my journey. I’m so grateful that I don’t have, or need all the answers. Again from Prayer in the Night “I needed this moment of crisis to find its place in something greater: the prayers of the church, yes, but more, the vast mystery of God, the surety of God’s power, the reassurance of God’s goodness.” (emphasis mine) And I think if I could raise kids all over again knowing what I now know (or don’t know) I’d focus more on the big, grand story of Redemption, a story that is so much bigger than we can imagine. I’d focus more on mystery and grace. I’d be careful of the do’s and don’ts and focus on the freedom that comes with faith. And, in more words from my mom, I would look them in the eye and say: “I think you’ll find your way!”