Tag Archives: Family

End Goals: Dealing with Grief, Pain, and Other Uglies

Years ago, another writer composed a poem about the four seasons, and how grief is the other season. It will last as long or as short as is needed, and then it must end so the mourner can live. She had experienced great grief in her life, but the ones she expected to come alongside and help her through that time were anxious that she stop mourning, stop making them uncomfortable.

Around the same time, I battled depression, and the main advice from Christians was “pray,” and from others was “be happy” or “stop wallowing.” In essence, just get over it. People weren’t really interested in listening. That was inconvenient, boring, and uncomfortable. I just needed to paste on that smile so no one would feel guilty for not caring.

The depression lifted after I dug in to Scripture and stopped trying to escape the wilderness, but learned to walk beside God, trusting Him to know the way out.

After my parents’ marriage broke apart, the refrain became “forgive”. I was angry, hurt, shocked. Forgiveness was a bridge too soon. Besides, other people were pouring their own complaints and hurts and angers into my ears, and were too absorbed in their own pain to hear mine.

When forgiveness came, it was after much prayer, many filled pages in my journal, and after much honesty with myself and God.

So, what’s the point of this whiny list of troubles?

A traveler in Dallas needs to go to Paris — that’s his end goal — but there are many miles and an ocean in between where he is now and where he eventually must be. He might agree that, yes, he needs to take a particular route from Lisbon to Paris, but that part of the map is irrelevant at the moment. He’s not in Lisbon yet.

And there are other stops he must make first: from Dallas to Denver, from Denver to Memphis, from Memphis to Chicago, from Chicago to New York, and so on. Once he arrives in Lisbon, then he can make the final journey to Paris.

It’s that way with life. People may think we need to hurry up and arrive somewhere — arrive at forgiveness, arrive at physical fitness, arrive at a buoyant outlook — but those are end goals, destinations that often come only after long journeys.

Although God may provide instant answers, as He sometimes does, most often the noblest things come after hard work. In the journey is where we learn, where we hear His instruction, where we face truths and look in mirrors and come to new understandings.

Oh, what we would miss if God allowed us to nod our heads or wiggle our noses and “genii” our way out of our troubles.

People may dismiss our problems as not worthy of their time and attention, but don’t let pride or bitterness make us react in kind whenever we encounter someone else who, like us, needs more than a peppy motto or a “just pray about it” pat answer or a neat package of memorized Bible verses.

Just as the Word and the Spirit will heal, so too will love and listening, and honest words spoken in kindness.


Comments from an online discussion after this article was originally written and posted elsewhere (April 15, 2015):

Grief is a strange thing. and people handle it differently. Some need to share and some of us need to hide it. Who can say which way is right–I think it depends on the person. It is often impossible to share someone else’s burden when you are full of your own. (Nancy P.)

I don’t always speak what I feel or think — either it’s not the right time or the right listener, or maybe I don’t know yet what I’m thinking or feeling, so speaking about it may be of little use.

That’s why I keep journals. I can work things out on the page, and often God reveals the truth as I write. That’s one reason I write out my prayers, too: I sometimes, when I go back and read them after weeks or even years, I see and understand the words in a new light. Journaling is long-term effective therapy for grief, depression, mood disorders, and more.

Something I (wrote) in my prayer journal today:

There is a difference between showing someone compassion, and allowing that person to feed off of you like an emotional, mental, or spiritual vampire.

There are people in genuine need who simply want you to hear them, to stand beside them, to give them wise words but not to preach at them or scold or be superior. On the other hand, there are people who take advantage of kindness and the desire to help, and they drain you dry. They suck away your joy, your energy, your very substance, and they refuse to stand on their own feet, to seek God for themselves, to find joy where they may.

From such, turn away (2 Timothy 3:5, slightly out of context). There is a time to kill, and a time to heal (Ecclesiastes 3:3). In this case, “kill” means pulling out the weeds that can choke the vine of your life. (Elizabeth E.)


Recommended reading:
The Bait of Satan by John Bevere (1994)
Unoffendable by Brant Hansen (2015)

Advertisements

A Reading Wonderland

Some of my most calming, curiosity-piquing, wonder-filled memories are of libraries and bookstores. Even the smallest or dimmest or least organized are magical places, perhaps made more so by their imperfections and the sense of exploring a cavern of delights.

Years ago, I used to spend my lunch breaks at The Snooper’s Barn on Towson Avenue in Fort Smith, Arkansas, poking through the dusty stackes in the back where history books and old volumes — some antique — were shelved higgledy-piggledy, sometimes in precarious Jenga-like towers.

I recently introduced my eldest niece to an excellent independent bookstore in Oklahoma City. When we entered Full Circle Books — serving readers for more than three decades — we stepped not through the looking glass, nor through a wardrobe, but through a modern glass and metal door, yet the magic still welcomed us.

entryway, Full Circle Books, c2015, KB
entryway, Full Circle Books, c2015, KB
fireplace and sitting area, Full Circle Books, c2015, KB
fireplace and sitting area, Full Circle Books, c2015, KB
an old friend, c2015, KB
an old friend, c2015, KB

She fell in love with the rambling space filled with hidden rooms and cozy nooks, and the old-fashioned ladders that travel back and forth on metal tracks in need of oiling.

The children’s rooms are well-stocked with old friends and new, including a French copy of Dr. Seuss’s One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish — my niece’s first excuse to climb a ladder, but I don’t think she really needed a reason. 😉

children's reading room, Full Circle Books (c2015, KB)
children’s reading room, Full Circle Books (c2015, KB)
IMG_2986^cropped
the red ladder (c2015, KB)
IMG_2989^vignette brown
by the light of Winnie the Pooh (c2015, KB)
IMG_2994^cropped
French Seuss (c2015, KB)
IMG_2999^light
I love Sandra Boynton books. (c2015, KB)
IMG_3000^light
another old friend (c2015, KB)
IMG_3006^vignette pale
familiar author names (c2015, KB)
IMG_3003^HDR soft
funky covers (c2015, KB)

Same spaces have the atmosphere of a comfortable corner of someone’s home, and every doorway welcomes.

a comfortable study (c2015, KB)
a comfortable study (c2015, KB)
c2015, KB
c2015, KB
IMG_3008^HDR soft
c2015, KB
IMG_3028^cropped
a cheery welcome at one of the several doorways (c2015, KB)

I came around the corner and encountered mysteries. There’s a metaphor there, I’m sure.

IMG_3014^saturated
c2015, KB

My niece later found another reason to climb a ladder — various collections of Edgar Allen Poe, to which she coined a pun: “If one is perusing the works of Edgar Allen, one could be said to be reading Poe-etry.”

We are a silly lot.

Jamie reading Poe (c2015, KB)
Jamie reading Poe (c2015, KB)

On the mantel of one of the fireplaces stands this whimsical fellow:

c2015, KB
c2015, KB

If you ever visit Oklahoma City, try to carve out time to visit Full Circle Books, especially if you’re an independent author. The staff are friendly and professional, and the store supports indie and local authors, and the variety of books is vast.

front desk and beyond (c2015, KB)
front desk and beyond (c2015, KB)

 

reposted from Adventures In Fiction

Home

Last month, due in part to the American holiday of Thanksgiving, I visited my old hometown, stayed with one parent but met often with the other, and attended a few services at Mom’s (once “our”) church, and was struck by the truth behind the old saying, “You can’t go home again.”

Although I was glad to be there and see people I knew, I didn’t call nearby friends or arrange to see them, nor did I drive by my old house or former workplace. The old life didn’t cross my mind, at least not long enough to dwell on or even matter. Nothing tugged at me.

Except, very soon after my arrival, a desire to return home.

Not to my old house, but to where I live now.

There was nothing wrong. There was no family argument or problem, no falling-out with friends; I just didn’t feel at home. Not anymore.

It is a strange state of being and state of mind that one is home yet not home, as if one has dropped into a surreal story and must find the way out of an Alice in Wonderland maze and back to reality.

I am a far different person than I was when I lived in that town, went to that church, spoke with my parents every week. The beliefs I once held as truth have shifted, perhaps even fallen away, so that only core truths remain. Life has a way of shaking the pan, dividing gravel from gold, helping one to clearly see the difference.

Those still surrounded by gravel may think the gold-seekers are off the mark, mislead, gone astray, so they try to warn them and hem them in again in safe places, in the grey cocoon of what’s humanly possible, of what’s comfortable and can be controlled, but they miss what the gold-seekers see — that glint of something more.

For we are strangers before thee, and sojourners, as all our fathers were: our days on the earth are as a shadow, and there is no abiding. (1 Chronicles 29:15, ASV)

“And there is no abiding” — not until we’re Home.

Letters

(c2013, EE)
(c2013, EE)

In my closet is a box of handwritten epistles inside envelopes. Yellowing envelopes from my late grandmother. Decorated envelopes from an artistic friend. Varicolored envelopes that contain holiday cards. Bulging envelopes holding old stories exchanged between friends. Sometimes I open the box and read the letters, and hear once more my grandmother’s voice.

There was a time I could neither read nor write enough letters. I waited impatiently for them. I scribbled them when something unexpected happened, or when my friends wouldn’t write fast enough.

Along came instant messaging, internet chat rooms, e-mail, and communication flew between us. I reveled in the instant exchange of news and ideas.

But the charm faded. I couldn’t get away from people. There were questions demanding immediate answers. Friends or colleagues  planning events or meetings, often last-minute. My digital inbox expanded. An accusing mouse pointer or blinking cursor prodded me to drop everything and communicate. Now.

That pushiness is one reason I’ve never owned a cell phone. When I owned a landline, there were days I’d let the answering machine catch calls. A wielder of words, I had nothing to say.

As years passed, as career shifted, I’ve relaxed communications. A message may sit in the e-mail box for a few days before I compose a response. Although most messages I receive are the digital equivalent of casual scrawls, even from my colleagues in the professional realm, I tend to write as if each message is a letter. There are paragraphs, proper sentence structure, no text-speak. There is still courtesy.

A few days ago, engaged in spring cleaning, I found odds-and-ends of stationery. The paper is excellent, and the feel of its thick texture against my fingertips renders me nostalgic. Some of it is printed with designs at the bottom or along one edge, leftovers from my adolescence or from someone’s humorous birthday gift a decade or more ago. Some paper is still attached to a gum-adhesive strip at the top, keeping the leaves together, and much is loose-leaf, stacks of pale parchment waiting careful calligraphy.

How impatient will friends and acquaintances be if their e-mail receives reply by post?

Or will they look on the envelopes in puzzlement?

I wonder.

Strings Attached: One Tough Teacher and the Gift of Great Expectations

51ct7umFcIL._SY346_Strings Attached: One Tough Teacher and the Gift of Great Expectations is a memoir that reads like a coming-of-age novel about two young girls who meet while music students, then reconnect as adults when their former teacher’s younger daughter goes missing.

The authors, Joanne Lipman and Melanie Kupchynsky, are a journalist and a violinist, respectively, and Kupchynsky is the elder daughter of the aforementioned “one tough teacher”, and the sister of the missing young woman, Stephanie, who also grew up to become a music teacher.

I love music. I love singing, and plinking around on the piano or strumming a guitar, but I’m good at neither singing nor playing. The lessons I took as a child and a teenager were minimal, offered by kindhearted folks at church, or by persevering teachers at school. I was that student who thought she wanted to be better, but never had enough perseverance or patience to actually put for the effort to be better.

Writing and storytelling, however—those I did want to improve. Hours passed before I realized, especially if a writing session was going well, or if I was absorbed in studying or researching, or simply reading for entertainment. I didn’t need someone standing over me with a stern look, a stick, and an eye for the clock, because I was motivated all by myself.

But what happens when uncertain, shy, and even seemingly untalented students encounter a loud, particular, demanding teacher who is determined—by shout, by thwack, and by sparing praise—that they are going to succeed?

Mr. K’s subject, of course, was music. But the lessons he taught his students are universal: about resilience, and the power of optimism, and achieving success. And about humor, too, not that he was necessarily trying to be funny.

It’s hard to imagine a Mr. K in today’s world. Parents would be outraged; administrators would be pressured to fire him. Yet he was remarkably effective. His methods raise the big issues we grapple with now ourselves, as parents. Are we too soft on our kids? How do we best balance discipline with praise? How hard do we really want our kids’ teachers to push them? And if our kids do complain, how do we know when—or if—to interfere?

The latest research on kids and motivation, it turns out, comes down squarely in Mr. K’s corner. Recent studies show that overpraising kids makes them less confident and less motivated.

One study of fifth-graders—kids the same age as Mr. K’s beginning string students—is especially striking. Psychologist Carol Dweck and her colleagues divided the children into two groups and gave each a simple test. One group was then praised for being smart, and the other for effort. The result? The “smart” kids became far less confident, while the group praised for hard work became more confident, performed better, and in subsequent tests was eager to take on more challenging tests.

“The whole point of intelligence praise is to boost confidence and motivation, but both were gone in a flash,” Dweck noted… “If success meant they were smart, then struggling meant they were not.”

The concept that hard work trumps innate ability is at the core of current thinking about business success, too…

…(R)eal experts don’t want soft teachers: They want tough ones. Unsentimental ones. Ones who give them “painful” feedback.

We couldn’t imagine a more accurate description of Mr. K. (Foreward, xv-xvi)

Back in the 1970s and 80s, I was one of those kids praised for intelligence rather than effort, and came to equate difficulty with failure or stupidity. Or, horror of horrors, no talent.

…(T)o Mr. K, there was no such thing as an untalented kid—just a kid who didn’t work hard enough. You are going to fix this problem, he said when he diagnosed whatever was wrong, and there was never any question. Of course you would. It was just a matter of trying and trying and trying some more. He yelled, not because we’d never learn, but because he was absolutely certain that we would. (p83)

Joanne comes from a nice, middle-class family that Melanie envies, while Melanie grows up with an invalid mother and a driven father, who essentially becomes a single parent when his ailing wife can no longer live at home. She plays piano, and he violin, and he passes that skill to their daughters—whether they want to learn or not.

As for his school students, well, they adapt—sometimes humorously. Once, in his Ukrainian accent, he denounces the group’s “cheeken plocking”, and a rubber chicken flies from the back and lands at the podium.

One day, Joanne’s parents drag her to a recital. She’d rather go to the fair or read Harriet the Spy.

I yawned and fidgeted in my seat as the first few groups played, daydreaming about frozen custard and Ferris wheels. But I was jolted back to reality by a commotion on the stage. Mr. K was clomping across the floor—my, could he do anything without making a racket?—looking for something. I watched as he noisily dragged over a podium to the center of the stage.

(The) quartet drifted out from the wings: three teenage girls and Melanie, Mr. K’s daughter. Melanie was wearing a smock dress and shiny black shoes with ankle socks…Melanie’s red hair was even shorter than mine, and her jagged bangs looked the way mine did that time I got hold of my mother’s scissors and started snipping away… .

Melanie was tiny, so it was a good thing she had the podium to stand on. Hauling herself up the two big steps and positioning herself on the top of the box, she lifted her little violin with a theatrical flourish. The other violinists looked toward her expectantly. Michele, who so easily lorded her authority and wisdom over me at home, was gazing at this little girl with respect. She sure never looked at me that way. (pp 58-57)

Eventually, Joanne braves Mr. K’s furious methods, learns the viola, and joins the quartet, playing with Melanie and her sister, Stephanie, who plays the violin.

Melanie recalls a performance:

I can feel how nervous Steph is. She and Joanne play alone for the first few notes. Steph’s bow is wobbling. I suck in my breath and hold it, trying to will her to be calm.

…(M)y dad is right. We are ready, and after the first few measures we settle in to doing what we have done so many times before. The music flows. The audience seems to recede into its seats, and even my dad fades into the background. We stop thinking about the crowd and focus on the music and on one another. I only have to nod slightly, or glance up from the music to lock eyes for a millisecond with the other girls, and we all lean in to the music, or play softer or louder, or dig in to a passage together. We really are breathing together. We really do feel the music as if we share one brain…

When we get to the end of the piece, we all exhale at once. This is something none of us has experienced before, a secret bond that we’re sure nobody else can understand. The audience is cheering, but it barely matters to us…

When it’s all over, my dad hugs each one of us in turn. He plants a kiss on Stephanie’s cheek…”Go celebrate,” he says. “You earned it.” (pp98-9)

Praise from Mr. K is rare, subdued. When “Again!” and a thwack across misaligned fingers is common, a nod, a quiet “pretty good”, is enough. More than progress, it means a job well done.

When he chooses a difficult Brahms piece, Joanne wonders what he could possibly be thinking.

What made him think his orchestra was up to snuff to perform a piece better suited to college symphonies and the New York Philharmonic? (p103)

But she and her sisters gather their instruments and go to the practice room to warm up before the performance. The other quartet members are there, too, but scattered throughout the room as the orchestra struggles to play in time with one another.

“Quartet weel demonstrate proper way to play,” he announced. “Girls, you play.”

The hair on my arms stood up strait. My heart dropped to somewhere in my bowels…

The four of us timidly tried the passage. We were used to looking to Melanie to give us a nod to start, and then to each other as we played. But the other girls were nowhere in my line of sight. As we started to play, they sounded impossibly far away…The notes came out all wrong, the timing out of sync. My heartbeat sounded louder to me than my own playing.

Mr. K scowled. “Again!”

Tentatively, we tried it once more. I was so nervous that my bow skittered along the strings. Melanie sounded louder, more insistent this time, as she tried to lead…from the other side of the room. You could tell the rest of us were straining to follow.

“Again!”

I took a deep breath, mustered my courage, and attacked. This time, the four of us cut through the silence in the rehearsal room with a precision I had no idea I was capable of. Mr. K glanced at the high schoolers arrayed in front of him with a look of satisfaction. “Like that,” was all he said. (p104)

The orchestra wins competitions, as do individual musicians, and Mr. K is acknowledged as an effective instructor. He takes his students to nursing homes, and they play at events, even at the funeral of a classmate.

Generations pass. Those early students grow up and send their children to be taught by him.

Then, one busy work day at The Wall Street Journal, Joanne receives a call. Mr. K. His younger daughter, Stephanie, is missing.

She never misses lessons with her violin students. Where is she? Is she even alive?

How do her family, friends, former classmates deal with life with that terrible question hanging unresolved?

Her mother dies before it is answered. Now elderly and retired from teaching in public school, Mr. K remarries, moves down the street, gardens, teaches a few private students, and compiles a book of poetry written in Ukrainian.

Life moves on, only to be interrupted again, this time by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Then Mr. K dies.

Gathered to perform at his funeral, former students try to polish rusty skills while exchanging reminiscences.

Joanna:

Across the room I spotted my old classmate Ted Kesler, the boy whom Mr. K picked on so relentessly, who sat at the back of the first violin section. When I thought back to Mr. K at his toughest, Ted always came to mind. I could still see Mr. K forcing him to play alone—”Again! Again!”—while the rest of the kids in the orchestra watched. Ted was a college professor of education now. We greeted each other warmly, but I was puzzled. Why show up for a teacher who tortured him so?

“In some ways, Mr. K was a terrible match for me,” he readily conceded.

But then Ted told me something I didn’t know when we were kids. His mother had died when he was in grade school, before he moved to East Brunswick. His father was a Holocaust survivor who was raising for children on his own; other family members had perished in concentration camps. Mr. K showed his father a respect, a deference, that you didn’t see with the other parents. “Mr. K was hard on me in part because I was lost and aimless and unguided,” Ted said. “You know, he wanted more from me.” What’s more, “the orchestra kept me connected within a community,” he said. “It sustained me. All of those musicians in the group effort kept pushing me forward…That kept me going: the collaborative energy.” (p309)

Mr. K was a youth in Ukraine during World War II. He knew what Ted’s father had survived, and he knew what Ted could overcome.

On his way home one afternoon, he heard something that stopped him cold: the sound of a violin. He was transfixed. The music wafted through an open window and to the street below where he stood, motionless. Inside, a German soldier—one of the occupying forces—was practicing.

The music transported Jarema [Mr. K’s first name]. It took him away from the war, away from the death surrounding him, away from the uncertainty that was his future. It opened up, instead, a world infused with beauty. The music filled him with so much joy that it pushed out the darkness. Jarema yearned to play the instrument, too. It was a revelation, these melodies that lifted him up and chased the demons away. It was an escape. It sparked in him an almost spiritual belief in the power of music to heal.

“I want to learn the violin,” he told his mother.

“You will,” she said. “We will get you lessons.”

She was never able to deliver.

One day, the window was closed. There was no music. There never would be again. The soldier was gone; to another posting or to his death, Jarema would never know for sure. (pp256-7)

Ted was right. Mr. K understood better than anyone the bond music creates among people who play it together. Beyond his bluster—and behind his wicked sense of humor and taste for Black Russians—perhaps that was his lesson all along. (p310)

On sale October 1, 2013, Strings Attached: One Tough Teacher and the Gift of Great Expectations is a story of survival and understanding, perseverance and courage, and most of all love—love for music, love for country, love for a tough teacher who accepted nothing less than the best. It’s recommended reading, not just for teachers or musicians, but also for anyone from any career field or walk of life.

I finished reading this book several days before attempting a review, but the impact is such that, even now, I’m letting the book speak for itself. Although my copy is an ARC (advanced reader copy) with a paperback binding covered in quotes and information rather than the nice image of the final published copy, and although this ARC has spelling errors and missing punctuation, it will remain in my library. After all, just as Mr. K didn’t have the distinguished manner one associates with an orchestra conductor, this book may not have a pretty cover, but what matter is the music, not the face.

Always Greener

March 2012, c EE
March 2012, c EE

We work all week so we can rest for a couple days. We scurry through chores so we can sit down and enjoy a moment of quiet, watching TV, reading a book, playing a computer game, solving a puzzle. We dream about winning a million dollars, retiring from a decades-old job, having more time, doing only what we love.

The grass is always greener. Our lives are always better. In some rosy far-off paradise in the future, everything will go our way and we’ll have everything we want.

In your mind, how does that future look? Who will be there? How will you spend your time? What does happiness look like?

In the present, I’ve caught myself complaining about things I once loved but now cause my jaw to clench. They chase away sleep and inspire rants.

Am I someone who is above being pleased? Never satisfied, plagued by perfectionism or idealism or just plain I-want-more-ism?

Maybe that’s not it.

Yeah, I’m like ‘most everyone — I dream of that nebulous someday — but what if the source of angst and complaint is something fixable? Not a bad attitude and “it’s all about me”, but something more tangible?

I’m reminded of a story told by Philip Yancey: He once served as the managing editor of a magazine, a job he could do but one that robbed his sleep, stressed him, and took away from his writing time. So, after trying and praying and plodding onward, he quit. Best decision. Now he could sleep.

A while back, I left a long-time job, and suddenly I could sleep. When I woke, I was rested.

Now, the sleep-thief is back. I’m doing a job for which I’m perfectly fitted, skill-wise, but temperamentally, not so much. The perfectionist in me expects more of others than they may be able or willing to give.

Do I quit?

Or do I alter my approach?

Do I change myself but still quit?

I’ll let you know.

Patriotic Grandmothers

Several years ago, I wrote poems about my paternal grandmother and my maternal great-grandmother, both hard-working women I admired. (Good cooks, too!) They survived troubling times and circumstances I don’t even want to imagine, and they still smiled. Well, they complained a time or two, but what I remember most is their work ethic and their humor, although my great-grandmother’s was less apt to come out to play.

Both loved this country. One grandmother became pen pals with a president and his wife, and another came from “t’ Old Country” and never lost her accent.

Therefore, in honor of those strong women, and as my own nod to my rights as an American citizen on this Election Day, I offer these poems — not high literature, just simple, blunt tributes.

Elsie

Despite a generation’s haze,

her smile still shines

from the photograph,

a girl laughing,

grey head tilted,

audacious youth

in my grandmother’s face.

c. EE

My grandmothers died many years ago. Why, then, do they still seem so alive?

Immigrant

Ellis Island saw her come,

and Lady Liberty lit her way

across a continent

to the logging camps

far from the Old Country,

and something hopeful grew

in the muddy ground

she slogged while cooking and washing

for sawdust-covered timbermen.

Widowhood could not uproot the dream,

nor could a daughter’s disdain.

Faith’s fruit was bittersweet,

but she dwelt beneath its branches,

leaned upon its strength,

and tilled its seeds into my soul.

c. EE

There are times I still want to write them letters, or call them on the phone, or stop by for a visit. What better legacy than that?