Two Kinds of Fighting

A question was posed to me recently, to be answered in writing: what do you think is worth fighting for?

Depending on what you mean by fighting, I can think of a lot of things.

Initially I kept thinking that I would write passionately about my thoughts on the healthcare debate and potential government shutdown, because I wholeheartedly believe that it is worth fighting for-as do a lot of other people, apparently. I believe in it so much that I applied, and was accepted, to serve on a committee for Cover Oregon, which is the health insurance exchange for our state, and am thrilled to get to be a part of that. I believe it in so much that I worked diligently with our grant writer at work to see if we could secure a grant that would enable us to not only assist with insurance enrollment for those we already serve who are not insured but also do extensive outreach to other hard to reach populations. I believe in it so much that I dreamed about it, composing emails in my sleep regarding things we needed to do. I believe it in so much that when we didn’t get the grant, I immediately started on our back up non-grant plan, because there is still so much work to be done, so many people to help. This fight is worth waging. It is vital. And I thought for a while that I would spend some time writing deeply on those views about why it is so important.

But I’m not going to. Because there’s fighting of another kind that is also taking up a lot of space in my heart these days.

A bit over a year ago, a long time friend took something I’d said, in which I meant no slight to him at all, as something harsh and offensive and it exploded into an hours-long argument/discussion in which we realized that we had a million problems between us that apparently had been lying just below the surface for years. Having felt very strongly about our friendship, and feeling more caught off guard than I thought possible when I learned what he thought of me, I was stunned, hurt, heartbroken and confused. I assumed, after those long hours, that we resolved our fight and had started the healing process, but I later realized he had given up on us me. I tried, in the only ways I knew how, to fight for us. But he wanted no part of it. So eventually I let go. I think now that, despite all we had been through, all that we had helped each other deal with over an almost 7 year friendship, maybe the truth is that we never really knew each other at all.

Friendship is, almost always, worth fighting for. Relationships are the most important thing in my life. So I will remain in the fight for as long as I can. But when it is not returned, when I am the only one putting in effort, the only one who seems to be all that concerned, then I will stop. I will back away. But it takes a lot to get me to that point. A whole lot.

I’ve spent a significant portion of the last year fighting for a different friendship with someone who has played a large role in my life for quite some time. Because I thought it was worth it. Because losing one friend over misunderstandings was enough. Because the people I love, the people I invest in, the people I care about, mean so much to me. And when they hurt, I hurt. When they find themselves in the midst of a CRAZY situation, I will be there to help them try to sort through it. When I get brought into the middle of it through no fault of my own, I will work through that and deal with the madness and forgive and still be there. When it just keeps getting worse and worse and worse, I will still be there. But then sometimes the crazy wins and I’m the one left with a huge hole where there used to be a great friendship. It was worth it in the beginning. It was worth it in the middle. But I can’t fight for this one any more, because there’s no one even fighting with me.

What I find myself fighting for right now-today even-is the ability to not let these things make me bitter. To not let the hurt I am still experiencing change the core of who I am. To still want to love deeply and be there for the people I care about. Because as much as it stings when my loyalty is abused, I don’t want to become someone who isn’t there for anyone else simply because it hurt too much the last time. I don’t want that to be me.

Four Words

Not too long ago, my friend Caitlin posted a picture on Instagram of some graffiti on the side of a building near my apartment. No drawings. No pictures. No symbols. Just these words: “Hold Your Own Hand.” Very shortly after I saw her picture, I was driving home from work and saw the same words written on the side of a building I pass every day. Today I saw them again, painted on a construction sign just down the road.

These words are having a significant impact on my emotions, even if ever so briefly, every time I see them. What a terrible, sad message to be sending. What has happened to you, graffiti artist, that has made you so angry or bitter or hurt? Do you not realize that part of why we are all here on earth is to be there for one another? To love and to encourage and to bear one another’s burdens? To both figuratively and literally hold each other’s hand from time to time?

It’s been quite some time since I’ve held anyone’s hand just for the sake of touching. I can’t even explain to you how much I would love for that to occur. But it’s on a fairly regular basis that I have the opportunity to hold another’s hand, or someone holds mine, to help each other through a moment, a day, a week, a long stretch of pain, hurt, sadness. Have you, graffiti artist, not experienced this? Have you never had someone text you just to see if you’re doing ok? Email you to let you know they are thinking of you? Send you a card expressing how much they love you? Pick you up and take you out for a beer or two because they know what you’ve just experienced is killing you? Offer you a physical hand to squeeze to distract you from another physical pain? Pray for you when you couldn’t find the words to pray for yourself? Sit in silence with you when you simply couldn’t be alone but also couldn’t speak? Cry with you when that’s the only thing you could do? Laugh with you when it’s what you needed most? Cook for you, or bring you food, when you couldn’t get off the couch to do so on your own? Reach out to touch your hand when theirs is cold so that you can spread some of your warmth? This is what it means, more often than not, to hold another’s hand. These are the things we cannot do for ourselves, the things we are here to do for each other.

My heart hurts for you, graffiti artist. I hope you find a friend who helps you see that you don’t have to do it all alone. You can be a strong, independent person and still want to have a hand to hold. It’s simply part of being human.

Things Going On/Things On My Mind

Most of you know by now that my oldest kindred spirit (as she called us recently), Katie, almost lost her dad about two weeks ago. His story is quite incredible, starting with going into cardiac arrest while driving in a parking lot, having many, many people who helped him in those first few moments, almost not making it before Katie arrived at the hospital, being given a 20% chance of survival, having his entire family there saying their goodbyes, and then slowly starting to defy the odds and begin to recover, to the point of his heart beating on its own, to his lungs starting to work as they should, to his oxygen levels finally starting to be what they are supposed to be and finally coming off the ventilator this past Monday. It was, I’m fairly certain, the scariest, most exhausting (mentally, physically, spiritually) week + that Katie has endured and she was amazing. Katie and I are in pretty regular contact all the time, but we’ve texted daily for almost two weeks and her strength has been simply profound. You can read more about the last few weeks on her own blog here. I saw a quote on pinterest recently that said “You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place” That is exactly how I felt for most of the last two weeks. My heart and mind are more at home in Portland than they have ever been anywhere else on any given day, but when someone I know and love in another place is hurting, every part of me wants nothing more than to be exactly where they are. I am so thankful that it didn’t turn out to be necessary for me to go, but I had a suitcase and a ride to the airport on standby for a week.

There are some exciting things happening related to work. There are some frustrating things happening related to work. I’m simply putting this statement out there as a bit of a teaser as I plan to talk more directly about this very soon.

Last Sunday night, Amy, Alisha, a random stranger we added to our team, and I participated in “Friends” trivia. Amy does trivia on a regular basis. I do not participate very often. Trivia has a tendency to stress me out. It’s a bit like speed scrabble or time based food challenges. I know how to spell most words. I know the answers to a lot of trivia questions. I can kick some tail in the kitchen. But when you put that time pressure on me, suddenly I forget how to spell “boat” and I can’t remember the name of the first president of the United States and I use salt when I’m supposed to use sugar. Even watching time based food competitions gives me anxiety. I don’t do well being rushed, I guess. All this to say, two weeks ago Amy asked Alisha and I to come to “Parks and Rec” trivia night because she knows we have seen every episode. So we did, and it was fun even though we didn’t do all that well because, while we’ve seen every episode, we’ve only seen them once. But that night they announced that the following week would be “Friends” trivia and we…kind of freaked. I’m not sure how many times Amy has watched it, but Alisha and I have both seen every episode at least 4 times. We quote the show to someone in our lives probably weekly. I can’t even explain to you how many times something happens-in real life-that makes me think back to an episode. It’s a bit insane. But it’s also insanely fun. Alisha and I then spent the next week re-watching as many episodes as we could just for a refresher. I think my roommate was about to go crazy because every time he came home, I was watching more. But he did seem to laugh a bit, so really, he has nothing to complain about. When trivia night finally arrived, we were ready! There were more teams there for that night than any other trivia night they’ve had. I’m hoping that means more “Friends” nights in the future? We did really well! As did almost every other team! We got 3rd out of 23 teams. The thing that got us was Joey’s sisters-we couldn’t remember their names. But it was a lot of fun and I am probably not finished re-watching some episodes, so my roommate is just going to have to deal with that.

The weather finally started turning cooler. You don’t have to know me long to know that fall is my favorite season. Is there a place where it feels like fall all the time? I don’t really want to leave Portland, but I’d consider moving to that place if it existed. I’m currently sitting at home in a sweatshirt and long slouchy pants (as opposed to short ones, or just shorts) but the windows are still open and it is raining outside and simply quite perfect. Nothing says “stay in and read your book and watch movies and crochet for a while” like this kind of weather. The sunshine was nice for a bit, I will admit. But my spirit is happier without all of that heat. I would also be perfectly content with sunny days that happen to be cool.

Speaking of heat, I have been making my packing list for a vacation coming up in a few weeks that’s going to involve a lot of it. And that is totally ok with me because I’m going to be with people I love, relaxing, having so much fun, and enjoying time away. This year is, I suppose you could say, the year of travel for me. I didn’t start out the year knowing that I would get to travel so much, but it has been nice that it has turned out this way! I probably won’t travel at all for a while after this one!

And speaking of curling up and reading, I stumbled on this article today about all the books I was supposed to have read before I reached 30. Well crap. I’ve only read one (“You Shall Know Our Velocity” by Dave Eggers because I always read, and buy, everything by Dave Eggers) and only one other (“Anna Karenina”) is actually on my list of books to be read. My list of books to be read is ridiculously long and growing weekly and how I am now supposed to add all of these too? And I am almost 5 years past the “before 30” mark.

I am captain of a fitness team at work as part of a global trek competition and it is fun to have extra motivation not only to be more consistent with running but also in choosing to walk more places than I usually would. Our team is doing well, racking up the miles every day, in our journey to cross the virtual globe and hopefully win some money that goes toward purchasing health and wellness goods.

Last Saturday Alisha and I hiked on Mt Hood. More important than the hike and the exercise was the opportunity to sit by the lake and talk about the hurt and pain our loved ones have experienced, what we ourselves have gone through, and how much we want to see more love in the world. We followed it up with more deep conversation over smooth beers and delicious food at one of my two favorite breweries in Hood River, Pfriem. It was one of the most refreshing Saturdays I’ve had in quite some time.

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I think that’s all I’ve got in regards to what’s been on my mind lately. Here’s to getting back into writing a bit more frequently and with a bit more intention, starting very soon.

Behind My Gray Hairs

Several years ago, David was standing over my head while I was sitting in a chair. I was way overdue on coloring my hair. I said “don’t look at the grays.” He said “I love each and every one of your gray hairs.” That’s one way I know he loves me a lot. Because I have a whole lot of them.

I wish I could be content with my grays. I wish I could not care anymore and let them go. I wish that every time I looked in the mirror, I wasn’t checking to see if they are yet starting to show, and counting the days or weeks left until my next color appointment. I wish I could pull off a mostly full gray head at age 34, because I think what’s behind those gray hairs says a lot about who I am. They tell a lot of stories. They hold a lot of memories. They come from some strong roots.

My dad likes to remind me from time to time that my grandmother went gray early too, which is likely where I get it from. Sometimes when I look at those hairs, I think about her. About her strength and her deep faith and her stubbornness and I wish that I had more of those first two than I do of the 3rd which I know I have plenty of.

These now-gray-but-colored-brown hairs have been on some amazing journeys. Back when they were highlighted blonde, they started travelling the world. First to Poland, then to China and then to Azerbaijan and then to Kenya and then back to Poland and then to Trinidad and then to London and then to China again. These hairs have seen a lot of the world. But then I think about how much more of it there is left to discover. Thinking of blonde highlights also makes me think of Katie. And Adirondack chairs on the beach of St. Simmons, and an entire lifetime of the world’s problems we solved by sitting in those chairs.

Somewhere in the midst of those travels, I stopped lightening the hair (and it started turning gray) and went a bit darker than what I am naturally, I think. And that color, or a close variation of it, has stuck. The change to a darker color takes me to a few years of fumbling around a bit, finishing grad school, trying to find the right job, figuring out what it meant to be an aunt, recovering from the emotional and spiritual toll that China had taken on me, and searching for a place I could live that would feel like a place I belonged. In the midst of this stumbling around, there were some really good times, some fun trips to Chicago and Statesboro and Disneyworld. A couple of forever-friendships were sealed in those years too, even though the likelihood of living near each other again is small.

Then there was a cross country move. A drive to change my life that I’ve been told is impressive or admirable but I viewed as necessary. In that change, there were a lot of gray hairs, because it took a while to find a good beautician that I could afford to go to regularly. I should have just gone all gray then. That was my opportunity.

But then those grays started being covered up, and I settled into a place that feels like home, and a career that seemed so destined, yet right this minute leaves me somewhat unfulfilled…that’s a string of thoughts for another time.

I really started thinking about my gray hairs a few weeks ago when I had to stretch out my appointments to longer than normal, and was briefly avoiding mirrors if I could. And I started thinking about not only what stories they could tell from the past, but about what they are carrying right now. A bit of heartache. Some missing connections.  Longings yet to be met. Some beautiful friendships. Amazing adventures. Perfect days. Insecurities. Impossible moments. What feels like a whole lot of challenges. A faith that wants and needs to be strengthened. An attempt to be steady, safe and stable, for myself and for other people. Thoughts of how much of me has changed over last few years, but how much of me has truly stayed the same, and how few people really seem to see both who I am and who I want to be. Feeling like, even now, I am still, in some ways, searching for what my small place is in this anything but small world.

Maybe it’s because of the work I do. Maybe it’s because of things I’ve watched family and friends go through. Maybe it’s simply because I find that eternity is regularly on my mind. But I often find myself thinking about how fleeting life is, and what it’s going to be like at the end, whenever that happens to be for me. And I find myself wondering what my full head of gray hairs (I’m hoping) will be holding then. Will I look back at the life I lived and know that, mixed in with all of my many faults, I loved well, helped the hurting, was an encouragement to those who needed it, was grateful for how much I’ve been loved and the grace I’ve received, and lived a life that honored God? I don’t know if that’s what these gray hairs will be saying then, but it is my hope.

These are the things I think about when I look at my own reflection in the mirror, when I find myself frowning over how quickly the grays return. If I can, instead, think of the life behind them, them maybe I can begin to view them as something positive instead of just something to cover up. I’m doubtful I’ll feel that way any time soon, but I can try.