Why Are We Telling Each Other to Breathe?

The first time I remember telling someone to breathe I was following the teenage son of a friend being wheeled into the emergency room several hundred miles away from his family.

I was on staff at a camp and Wesley was playing 3 on 3 basketball. The competition was physical between the older teens, all of them 6′ and more. Wes and an opponent went up for the ball when the other guy fell down on top of Wesley’s foot. His 6′ 3 frame crumpled to the ground.

The hospital was in a nearby town. It was an agonizing ride for Wesley. He was placed on a cart to wheel him into the ER. He bent over his foot holding it in silent agony. I realized in his pain he was holding his breath and I said firmly, yet as calmly as I could, “Breathe, Wesley”.

Today we see that word on memes, mugs and T-shirts. We have it on our phones. We choose it as our word for the year. Breathe

My cousin gave me this necklace as a reminder

My cousin and I have been texting it, writing it and saying it to each other for a few years now.

Why do we have to tell each other to do something we’re already doing? We are all breathing or we wouldn’t be alive.

Just like I noticed Wesley holding his breath when he was suffering we hold our breaths in a figurative sense.

Grief cripples us and our breath becomes shallow. We are trying to hold back the pain.

A hurricane demolishes a community and the effects continue long after the rest of the country has forgotten. Our breathing becomes angry gasps.

Divorce, job loss, miscarriage, empty nest…..they take our breath away. We gulp for air to stay alive but we aren’t breathing in real life-giving breath.

And we say to ourselves and to one another, “breathe“.

To do this we have to loosen our grip around the pain.

Wesley’s pain didn’t go away until he got medical attention. Some of us might need to start with appropriate medication to help us loosen our grip on what’s holding us.

When Beki tells me to breathe I know the she means slow down. Be in the here and now. Stop thinking about the what ifs and what was and what should be. Stop thinking about the unknowns and start with slowing down my mind. When I do that my breath follows and they are in rhythm together. 

The thing I’ve learned is I have to repeat this day after day. My mind is ready to race away with anxiety and worry. When it became overwhelming I sought professional help. While that has brought some relief, it doesn’t release me from needing to create practices that will help my mind and breath find a healthy rhythm.

I often find that healthy pace in the creative process. I read, journal, spend time with people who are healthy and not afraid to remind me to breathe when they see me gasping. I have faith in a God who loves me and restores my breath.

As my son has reminded me, let people help you. It’s how God has always worked in my life – through the hearts and hands of others.

Breathe, friends. Breath in deeply and exhale peace.

Hold My Hand

We walked across the camp grounds, my daughter and I, when she said “I like it when she wants to hold my hand”. Her daughter, 4, has that way of reaching up onto your hand and into your heart and you want to keep holding on. She says it with words too, not just action and she likes feeling her hand in yours.

There will come a time when independce is preferred and you have to take theirs in your hand. Remember wanting to cross the street by yourself or prove you can keep your hands your pocket or behind your back when your mom took you into a store? Sometimes the safest place is to have their hand in yours.

It’s been a long time since I’ve held mama’s hand. Maybe reaching out to steady her now and again as she ambled across uneven terrain or left her “stick” (cane) at home. When I visited her in March I found myself reaching for her hand and holding on for safety. Security. She needed blood work and other tests done and getting her from the car to the Dr’s office and hospital was best navigated holding her hand. Like a child, I could easier direct her way and keep her from harm of wandering off. Unsure of where she was and what was going on around her to take her hand offered comfort. Made her feel safe and she was.

Me taking her hand. Not mother and child but child and mother. The roles have changed and who could have seen this coming? Not living there I never know what to expect one visit to the next. I try to expect little other than to give and let go. Let go of how I’d like life to be.

I’m glad she took my hand. Welcomed my reach and looked to me for answers when they asked. she never says my name but will call me sis sometimes and that’s okay. Any sign of familiarity or recognition, no matter how slight, is a gift.

The old hymn my dad loved comes to my mind. Its chorus singing
“He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock,That shadows a dry, thirsty land;He hideth my life in the depths of His love,And covers me there with His hand,And covers me there with His hand.”

It’s His hand, Gods hand that covers me. Covers us both as we walk hand in hand with His grace.

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Sometimes I Listen

Putting another load of laundry in Anna’s words are still in my mind. She was updating me on her trip to Poland to see her 96-year old grandmother. “The hardest was loosing my brother. I told you about that, right?” she says.

“No. No, just your other brother you’ve spoken of.” I answer. Her stories mingle together, the gloomy gray cast on her trip to Poland and the tragic loss of a loved brother four years ago. The pain she has only been able to face recently, without crumbling.

She’s a talker, Anna is. She’s talked about her other brother and difficulties he’s had. She’s told me she and her husband have decided not to have children, about the remodeling on their house and her mother-in-law’s sudden death earlier this year. We talk about travel and trips we’ve taken or will take. She’s asked about my children, my son, in particular. It was during a difficult time when she first asked and my eyes reddened. I think that was it. That’s when our friendship began.

I don’t know Anna well or see her often but as I left she hugged me and said, “I always love talking to you.” Anna is my dental hygienist and I might think “of course you love talking to me. I can’t respond with your hands in my mouth.” but I think it’s more. I hope it’s more. I hope what Anna sees in me is a gentle heart that listens with interest. I hope there is something she sees or senses in me is more. Is this selfish to think this way? Too many times I don’t want to be bothered. It seems that way, especially with strangers or ones that pull that energy from you every time they give you that needy smile. There are days I don’t want to listen. To anyone. The sound of the clothes dryer is enough noise some days.

But on the good days…..and how can they not all be good days? They are. They are not all filled with energy or saying the right things. Still, they are good because I am loved. I am broken, tired, selfish and snippy but I am loved.

And being loved is enough.

We Are the Loud Family

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It’s been several years since Henry, my quiet, introverted husband told me “we”, meaning the McFarland’s, are the Loud family. This may have come from a conversation he was overhearing between my brother and me. Or it could have come from the many times Henry has tried to get in just a word only never to be heard over the Loud voices of my brother, his offspring who carry the gene or me. Our children seem to have missed this particular gene.

My sister and I don’t share the same father who passed on this gene to my brother and I. But it was her laughter today that mama kept hushing. It’s a 45 minute drive to mama’s residence so Lisa and I had time to share her latest observations of mama. We spoke to the director when we first arrived. Joan always makes time to stop and share with us her observations and gentle guidance.

We hadn’t been in mom’s room long when Lisa laughed at something and mama shushed her. Which caused her to laugh more followed by me and joined by mama. What better thing can three women share than their laughs at life. It’s as if we’re saying ‘You don’t scare me, life. We can laugh right along with you.’ And we’ll do it loud.

It occurs to me later we live loud. It’s not just our voices that rise to be heard over the nearest competitor. Its our life. Over 30 years mama has lived her life so loudly in this community that people continue asking about her. There is rarely a place we go someone doesn’t stop Lisa and ask about Pauline. She has been the Salvation Army in this town, living loudly her service to others.

There is nothing louder than this life of service that has been our inheritance. It’s not the words but actions of mercy and grace that have been heard above all from this servant. That’s the kind of loud I want to be. I have the volume part down. Henry knows that full well. But the actions of giving, selflessness, volunteering, loving……these are what I want to be heard from my life. I want those to drown out the cheap words I manage to utter.

I hear my nephew now, running through the hall of the house on the wood floors. It’s loud, his footfalls hard. But this is a Loud family. Meant to shout out life! Can you hear me?

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I’m Walking on Sunshine & Liebsters

“I’m walking on sunshine, whoa-whoa, and don’t it feel good!” 1985 Katrina & the Waves

I’m a bit overwhelmed with the generosity of my friends Melis @ http://iamnotshe.wordpress.com and Jen@http://steponacrack.wordpress.com for bestowing on me the Sunshine and Liebster awards. It’s amazing how you can get to know people you’ve never met and become part of a mutual support and encourager through the blogosphere. I am thankful to learn from both women who have much to share of perseverance and triumph. Please check out their blogs.

There are rules to these awards and, well, I’ll be adapting them a bit. Did I hear someone say control? I’d like to deny it but every time I think of my rationale it still sounds like control. I’ll own it.

The first rule of both is to give thanks to those passing the award on to you and link back. That is my favorite part and done.

The next part for the Sunshine award is to tell something about yourself in the way of favorites and the Liebster asks you to just share the love. Here’s where I’m going to twist it up some. I’ll share some of my favorite things and blogs so you’re getting the combo deal here. Did someone say “super-size”? No problem, ‘have it your way’ 😉

Favorite place to spend time doing nothing: the beach

Favorite new hobby: taking pictures and blogging

Favorite place to take pictures: the beach

Favorite place to live if I could live anywhere: near the beach (sensing a theme?)

Other favorites include blue, the number 14, family, grace, God, friends, music, arts, the beach. 😀

I do have some favorite blogs I read regularly and will gladly share them with you.

Heidi at Good Life No Alcohol. She writes honestly and helpfully about recovery. Excellent blog.

Debbie at Two Minutes of Grace is a master with words and does it most gracefully, of course.

My Mother’s Brain: love in the time of dementia posts sporadically but I have found it to be touching and comforting as I go through the same journey as Beatriz

It’s Not Really About Me is a new one to me but I appreciate the simplicity of Judi’s life and her deep faith.

Yes, this is just a handful but most have been mentioned by others and deservedly so. All of these blogs have taught me, comforted me, encouraged me and uplifted me. I am thankful to God for using others to speak into my life.

Passing the Baton

Time to learn something new and accept a worthy pledge. Thanks to Melis (and Jen) who are passing this pledge to Blog for Mental Health. Both of these women are valiant warriors in writing of their struggles with addiction and recovery. The physical and mental are too closely connected for one not to affect the other. Many thanks to these women for setting such examples to follow in telling our stories in an effort to help others.

The rules of the pledge are:

1. Take the pledge by copy and pasting the following into a post featuring Blog of Mental Health 2012.

 I pledge my commitment to the Blog for Mental Health 2012 Project. I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others. By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health. I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.

2. Link back to the person who pledged you: www.iamnotshe.wordpress.com

Mel writes honestly about her battle and current recovery from eating disorders. She is also a gifted artist and shares pictures of her art on her blog. Please drop by her blog and say hi.

3. Write a short biography of your mental health and what this means to you.

Mental health. My mental health. Were my family reading this now they would all be laughing. Loudly. Simply for the reason that’s what we do. We’ve joked too long about the family being not quite right to take this requirement too seriously. However, this is not the time for joking as mental health is a most serious matter.

My family history includes depression, alcoholism, drug addiction, divorces. It also includes strength, support, openness and a deep spiritual foundation. This is where we find our strength, where we get our help.

I’m currently involved with working with men who have substance abuse issues. This has opened a new area of understanding the psyche, if it can be understood. It is a daily learning and one I’m privileged to sit ringside and glimpse the process. It is what most often informs my writing.

On a more personal level, my 73-year old mother has dementia. Five months ago we were able to move her into an assisted living facility. She lives 3000 miles away from me. This is also teaching me. About love, about serving, about compassion, about grace.

If there is ever anything I share through my words that touches you it is completely because of my creator God and his compassion on us, on me.

The final requirement of this award is to ask five others to take this pledge. I fear my first three choices may be duplicates but I am not deterred by this and encourage you to check out all of the following blogs.

http://goodlifenoalcohol.wordpress.com Heidi writes about recovery with sure clarity of mind.

http://twominutesofgrace.wordpress.com Debbie’s writings on grace are medicine for a mind that is searching for peace.

http://katharinetrauger.wordpress.com Katharine’s Home’s Cool! blog will take you deep in the spiritual mind and not lead you astray

http://doctortisms.wordpress.com His blog says Dr.T-ism’s wrestling with God. I can tell you God is winning.

http://12stepsthinkaboutit.org A wonderful blog for recovery and more.

This isn’t part of the pledge but a site I hope you’ll visit as they are very much a part of calling attention to issues of concern with mental health. To Write Love On Her Arms, www.twloha.com, got its start by surrounding a young woman afflicted with depression and addiction to drugs and self-harm. They surrounded her with love and grace. Please read their story.

Fellowship of the Broken (the fall of superwoman)

It was the third day in a row my heart had been having moments where it felt like it was beating too fast, too hard. They were quick flashes, sometimes. Others a little longer. The longer ones were the concern. For years I’d have these flutters, as Henry and I had come to call them. Enough to catch my breath but then gone. The Dr. had said probably stress. Maybe too much caffeine but no indication of anything else. But this was more. Henry urging me to call the doctor and me, wanting to wait it out. Deny anything was wrong. I was fine. Felt fine. Except for this.

I called. It was too much, I knew that. The doctor’s office said they were booked could I come next week and why did I need to see the doctor. I explain and find myself with an appointment later that morning hooked up to an EKG and being told, it’s not my heart. I never thought it was.

The questions start. Are you sleeping? “Not well. Not at all.” Physically I seem fine. The doctor, a woman younger than I, her voice gentle and concerned begins to ask other questions. What’s going on in your life? I feel my face crumble, the tears form and I can barely speak, all for no reason. Really. She says, “you have a stressful job”. No, it’s not really, though people tell me that. Family? “Well, I’m grieving a mother that is slipping away in dementia. She lives far away. I can’t get there often. There’s that whole thing that starts with an “M” and I can’t get my mouth to actually say it.” I give a weak smile and she smiles back. “And our sons brief marriage has already dissolved. There’s no family or friends close by but that’s not new. I’m sure it’s post-Christmas blues.” I tell her. I’m sure.

She says some caring words I don’t remember. Her face looks genuinely concerned. She tells me I look great but this can be a hard time. Emotions unable to control. A lot going on. Then she asks, “would you want to try something for anxiety?” I think I was hoping she would ask. I’d denied it too long and advised others accept help when needed all the while denying myself. This time I don’t deny it and I fill the prescription she gives me for anxiety.

Breaking through the clouds

A year later I’m still taking half of that little pill and a Melatonin every night. And now I’m writing about it. Mama would not be happy. We don’t talk about that on that side of the family. We keep our struggles to ourselves and we fight through it.

Nearly five years ago when we were transferred to Tennessee I kept it to myself. It wasn’t good. Not really. It was a year-long period of crying in the shower because it was easier to conceal. A year of feeling displaced and unsure. A year of darkness in my soul. I clung to Henry and he knew it. He knew I was struggling. He is always gentle but he was watching. Closely. “At this age”, as all doctors were starting to say to me, the common thought was menopause. No doubt, that was part of it. But it was more.

“As I began to write about my journey online and shared about it when I’d speak at churches, more people surrounded me in prayer and support.

 And then something beautiful began to happen.

I started to hear “Me too.”

Other people were out there in the same Valley of Death I was walking in, but we were all surrounded by so much darkness we couldn’t see one another. And the darkness told us we couldn’t speak up.

We were all just waiting to know we weren’t alone. We were eating to be rescued. And it took someone first saying, “I’m broken,” for the others to hear that voice and realize we were surrounded by others just as broken as we were.” – Anne Jackson, Permission to Speak Freely

I have used more words than I would want in a post. All this to say, you who have found your way to my blog have shared with me your stories of brokeness. Those of you who walk with me day after day. I’m a reluctant voice in this chorus preferring to be the one giving rather than taking. But I need to accept too. Henry calls it the fellowship of the broken. And aren’t we all? In one way or another there are chips, cracks, sometimes gaping holes where we feel the wind blow clean through. But God doesn’t want us to stay in the darkness and he has brought us together through the light each shines. Beyond that, all I know is He will continue to use who He will use.

Caring for the Caregiver

mom and one of her sisters in mom's new home

It’s happened again. That sneaky grief grabbed my heart and flooded my eyes. Mom was moved into her new home yesterday. My sister and her friend have made it so homey with many familiar things from moms house. They sent me pictures. I was desperate for pictures so I could see how the empty space I’d seen had been turned into mom’s own. That’s when it happened. That’s when my eyes couldn’t contain the water that was spilling down my face. I don’t even know why I was crying.

I looked closely at the pictures making them larger on my iPhone. I could see the family picture of all 11 siblings and their mom taken at grandpa’s funeral many years ago. It sits near her chair where she can hold it and look at faces, some still familiar to her.

I see the framed War Cry cover from the early 1900’s depicting Oklahoma. I bought this off eBay as a birthday present for her as Oklahoma is her home state and the Wary Cry is a Salvation Army publication she still reads.

All these wonderful things for mom and yet my heart is breaking. I’m alone when the tears come and I don’t want to share this. I have shared with the men in the ARC about mom. They know, They are praying for her, for me. But this cannot go on. Can it? I’m caught in that area of caregiver / mourner. I am still grieving the loss of the living but I’m called to offer care to others.

I walk into the dining room at the Center to get ice and I see Keith. I can’t stop myself from telling him about mom’s place and how good it looks. I’m telling him because I’m trying to convince myself how good this is. My voice cracks a bit. Keith asks if I’m going to show the pictures on the screen to all the men. I think his question is ridiculous and say no, I’m not putting them through that. What am I teaching them? I don’t know which way to go here. I refuse to be the constant mourner to them but don’t they need to see I need comfort too? I’m not understanding the words “come unto me…” today.

Keith talks to me about his mom. One year younger than mine. She is healthy, no dementia problems but his thoughts are about the past. How much he wants to make up for that and how he realizes his time with her grows shorter each year.

Here I am again. Reaching out to an addict. Someone trying to “get it”. And here they are reaching out to me. Reaching out of their need to give.