Recently a few friends asked me why I haven’t been writing. This made me feel great, because I was convinced that the only people reading my blog were my parents. But the truth is that the past few months have been immensely challenging, leaving me no time and emotional energy for writing.
To beat the winter blues, we started a book club. It’s an eclectic group of friends, and we read an eclectic variety of literature both Christian and secular. One of our attendants, Josh, is a poet and philosopher. When we asked him why he hadn’t written poetry recently, he said:
“Sometimes I’m writing poetry; Sometimes I’m busy living the poetry.”
(Exactly something a poet would say).
But this stuck with me. I’ve not been writing, but I’ve been busy living my stories. When written, I like my stories to have a coherent beginning, middle and end. I like making a point and drawing moral conclusions. But this month I offer none of that. I can only give little glimpses into my sometimes-chaotic daily life; vague impressions which leave you to draw your own conclusions. If I were to depict my life in art, it might be impressionism. I've always loved impressionist art and music . If you stare at any one point on the painting too closely, it doesn't make much sense. Just chaotic brushstrokes of vivid colors. But if you step back, you might see something beautiful.
So here are my unblended, chaotic brushstrokes of thought:
One of the things many people don’t know about me is that I’m raising two unique kids who struggle with mental health. My daughter has ASD (aspergers)/ADHD and my son has some similar struggles, though he’s not autistic. It’s something I don’t talk about much, because most people don’t understand and I’m too tired to explain it. Christians still hold a lot of ridiculous stigma around mental health. If I’m honest, I used to think that “ADHD” was really a silly diagnosis for children who were given too much candy and played too many video games. Don’t medicate your kid, just spank them more and let them climb trees, I thought. But God definitely has a way of humbling our pride and correcting ignorance.
We love our children immensely. They are incredibly intelligent, creative and full of love. They’re also often anxious, impulsive, aggressive, moody, angry, forgetful and struggle with executive functioning. We call this neurodivergent; It means their brains work differently than most. (Autism and ADHD are neurological differences not mental health problems, but a high percentage of neurodivergent children also struggle with debilitating anxiety, mood regulation, and/
or OCD). In scientific terms, it often means that their prefrontal cortex is underdeveloped and their amygdala is overactive. And we spend roughly 25 hours a week with all the needed therapies which help them (and us) thrive. We also utilize dietary interventions, spiritual intervention (loads of prayer), and tons of physical exercise.
Just drop the word “ADHD” into any conversation and you’ll hear one million opinions from people who have no personal experience dealing with it. Perhaps my next post will be called “Things NOT to say to a parent of a special needs child.” I will speak more about it when I have the energy.
My friend Thiziri introduced me to another friend, Tadla. Tadla is kind and soft-spoken. She’s currently pregnant and has severe health issues; she ought to be on bedrest. But her three year old is struggling with sensory issues, meltdowns, and intense behavior. He is most likely on the autism spectrum, and she's seeking therapy and a diagnosis. She recounted to me how her family had “disciplined” him physically and how she’s lost most of her friends and family over this. Mental health issues are even less understood in her culture, and her husband isn’t supportive of getting a diagnosis. She was doing everything she could to find help, but the only message she was hearing was that she needed to discipline her out-of-control child. She was alone, exhausted and overwhelmed.
“You need to hear that you’re a great mom,” I told her. “You’re doing all the right things. Keep advocating for him.” We held hands and sat in tears, and I knew God led me to her because she truly needed someone who understood. I also needed someone who understood, and this was the start of a beautiful friendship.
I love how God uses even the most challenging things in our lives to uplift others.
"Praise be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves have received from God," (2 Cor 1:3-4).
We’ve been sick a lot this winter - covid, the flu (twice), non-stop colds, ear-infections and impetigo (a skin infection) which shut down Jonah’s preschool for a while. During our worst week of flu, my friend Gwen brought us homemade bone broth, Thielli brought a wonderful Algerian meal of stuffed vegetables, and Thiziri and her husband actually drove an hour to deliver me homemade soup!
As I was getting out of bed to run a load of laundry and eat some broth, our ESL director was marching up our steps with a flower arrangement with a beautiful red rose. “It’s from Zargul!” she announced. (I then remembered it was valentines day!) Zargul is a new refugee from Afghanistan. On Tuesdays, I help with childcare, while Zargul and other mothers learn English. Her son, Mohammed, is the cutest, sweetest boy. (I know, I know, teachers aren’t supposed to have favorites). I don’t know her well, but Zargul is always grateful for the time I spend with Mohammed.
In a week I was feeling both physically sick and emotionally heavy, Zargul's flower was an object of beauty and hope. I wish I could tell her all it meant to me, but I couldn’t. I don’t speak Pashto. But the following week, I said “thank you” and she gave me a warm and long embrace.
I ate my broth and stared at my rose, so grateful for this diverse community that God has put around me.
I’ve kept that flower on my table, though it’s dead.
Never underestimate a small act of kindness, or how much you can say without words.
There've been a lot of fun moments these past several weeks, and many heavy ones. Some of these heavy moments included sitting with international friends whose family members were recovered from the rubble after the earthquake, and visiting an Iraqi friend whose cancer returned forcefully and was diagnosed terminal.
Raja is sweet and soft-spoken, with three really wonderful kids. Her youngest is the same age as Jonah. She used to help me as a volunteer with childcare for our ESL program. I visited some during her days in the hospital, and it was gut wrenching to see her - skin and bones, vomiting, with swollen legs. She's retaining fluids from severe malnourishment. Her body is failing her, but her mind and sense of humor are still sharp. Yesterday when I visited, she was unusually talkative and in good spirits; she was telling me about Iraqi cooking (and how it’s better than Syrian) and how she used to be a chemistry professor at a medical college. She had arranged a ride and was going to surprise her husband and kids by returning home. She is now on palliative care and will continue on a feeding tube.
“Are you sure you should go?” Chris asked. “It’s already been a heavy week.” … “Of course.” I said. Sometimes you need to see the dying to remember that you’re still living.
I’ve certainly hugged my family tighter this week.
Though for many reasons (some which I will not share on a public blog) I’ve been emotionally spent, the Lord has reminded me that sometimes I must scrap my to-do list and take a day of rest. And sometimes I need to just show up and keep putting one foot in front of the other. God is still God and he’s got it all together, even when I don’t.
So I will conclude these rambling thoughts by sharing some poems from Evie.
Oh, the places
and dogs and
bees that look –
like fleas and peas.
Rats, mice, birds.
Bats are not very nice.
When you think about rice
Lice, oh no! Lice!
Lice do not eat rice
and lice are almost never in pots.
(You might say it makes no sense, but I’m going to say it’s so deep and existential that you just don’t understand it).
Note: When creating psudonyms for my international friends, I try to find names with meanings that represent them. Tadla means "branches" in Berber, which represents support, because we all need supportive community. Raja means "hopeful" in Arabic, because we remain hopeful for her life. Zargul means "beautiful flower" in Pashto.