Reach for the light

Community.

This thing we build on love, on mutual understanding, on acceptance, on camaraderie, and on empathy birthed from hardships.

Life is so breathtakingly beautiful. And in its beauty, it can also be very hard at times.

Life’s about holding the light for one another.

It’s about clinging to hope and faith.

It’s about clinging to love.

And it’s about reaching out our hands and uniting.

This is how strangers become friends, and this is how we remember we are never, ever alone.

Reach for the light.

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Together

Sometimes I sit here…staring at this screen…and I just don’t know what to say. Because sometimes, it’s just not easy. Sometimes, what you want to say and what you feel just aren’t on the same frequency. Sometimes, what pours out of your heart doesn’t always pour out onto paper.

And then fear. Vulnerability.

To me, fear always felt like a hostage situation. As though I was somehow handcuffed to circumstances I couldn’t break away from. And all the while, I’d forget that I also possessed the key to those very same handcuffs.

I was both the hostage and the one holding myself captive.

There’s something incredibly overwhelming about being brought to your knees in pure gratitude. About having your vulnerability bring people together. About being a part of something so much bigger than your self.

There is something incredibly overwhelming about being seen. For all that you are. All that you were. And all that you hope to be.

When I look at it, I am reminded of a fundamental truth…a truth that I nearly let pass me by in my river of sadness. I am reminded that while our own walk with God is just that…our own…our walk through life was never meant to be taken alone.

Because that’s what this life is really about. Crying together. Laughing together. Living together. Reaching out to the heavens…together.

When I Called

I met God for the first time when I was six years old. I was riding in my grandmother’s car on the way to church. It was a warm and humid summer morning, windows down, the smell of farm fresh air blowing through the old sedan, my legs sticking to the vinyl seat, and unruly pieces of messy ponytail tickling my nose as the winds blew. And we met.
I met God again years later when I was twenty-two, standing in the cold autumn rain. Thick, heavy gray clouds blanketed the sky, as I stared at a white plaster house that was never a home, a piece of me forever gone, forever longed for, yet never mine to have had. And we met. Kind of the same way you meet a stranger in line at a coffee shop. Except that He wasn’t a stranger. He was someone I had known my whole life.
I met Samina for the first time when I was thirty-eight years old. It was a beautifully gorgeous day in August. And we met. Not in the way I would have wanted, because it meant my son would have a kidney defect, and she would become his ever vigilant doctor. Yet still, it felt kind of the same way you meet one of your oldest friends from grade school. Except that she wasn’t really an old friend. She was someone I had only just met.

My relationship with God can be complicated at times. Not because it actually is…but rather, because I’m a part of it, and in turn, complexity ensues. I still feel very immature in my faith, and as a result, I often find myself fighting with God. I still want control. I still want answers. I still want reassurance that everything will be okay. But He is patient with me and remains by my side even when I don’t make it very easy to love me. I can’t see Him…but I know that He is there.

My relationship with Samina is never complicated. And realistically, you would think that it should be. We live a distance from each other. We are busy with family and work and seldom have moments to keep in touch. And yet we do. Over time and distance, we are building something. A friendship that is one of the safest places in the world to me. And while I don’t often get to see her as much as I would like…I always know that she is there.

This past year has been horribly painful for me. I’ve struggled with the clarity of friendship – to know what is real and what is illusion. I’ve been lost in the thick and deep woods of how things are, and how I would like them to be. I imagined the months would have been kinder to my soul. That I might have been kinder to my soul. 

I’ve struggled through what felt like a hurricane of my own design. Anxiety. Worry. Doubt. Fear. I struggled to walk away from the lies and walk towards a better truth. I had struggled with the fears that I may never get to be who God wanted me to be…that I may never get to be who God intended me to be. That I would never be enough, do enough. I had struggled with the idea that my fear may forever hold me back. I had struggled to trust…to let go…to surrender. And in essence, what this really meant…was that I had struggled with God. And it had left me feeling very far from Him at times.

It had made me wonder if He forgot about me. If He stopped hearing my prayers for understanding. If He stopped feeling my pain. This, more than anything, had been enough to rip me apart.

Just as my grandmother drove the car down that country road all those years ago, dust rising in the air, leaving the view behind me nothing more than a cloud in the distance – not unlike many of the months that had recently passed by. When I got out of the car this time – concealed circles under my eyes, a physical ache and weariness in my body, the weight of seeming defeat on my shoulders, and all the pain in my heart – it wasn’t more than a few minutes before it happened…before the sting of all the hurts I’d buried deep, would press at the surface, and tears started pooling, streaming…before the desperation tried to break loose.

And there she was – Samina. My beautiful friend who – for what totals hours now – has let me cry and share my heart’s deepest fears, deepest longings. My beautiful friend who – while puddles form at my feet – helps hold the shattered pieces of my broken heart in the palm of her hands. My beautiful friend who – speaks words of love and truth that touch my soul. My beautiful friend who – met me right where I was, in the cloud of dust and hazy darkness, loves me in all my mess – came to my rescue.

When I think of all this…all that has transpired on a journey I never wanted to take, I am reminded of a fundamental truth…a truth that I nearly let pass me by in my river of sadness. I am reminded that while our own walk with God is just that…our own…our walk through this life was never meant to be taken alone. I am reminded that when Samina embraced the floodgates of my agony…it wasn’t just Samina. It was God radiating through Samina. It was our God whispering, “See…I’m here. I hear you. I ache for you. And you’re never alone.”

Because that’s what this life is really about. Crying together. Laughing together. Living together. Reaching out to the heavens…together.

When I think upon all this, I will forever be reminded of one of the most beautifully vulnerable moments of my life. A moment when the clouds parted and the light came pouring through. A moment when I called…and He answered.

Okay Together

“You’re my best friend, Mommy.”

Yes, Baby.

There’s so much emotion attached to his statement. If I were the mother of a typical 3 year old, I wonder if I’d feel differently about his words. The fact is, I am his best friend (his mother, his OT, PT, speech therapist, his nurse, his advocate) and forever his biggest fan.

But as much as this melts my heart to know my sweet boy sees me this way, it also stings. It stings because I know it’s true. He doesn’t have friends in the traditional sense and I can’t help but wonder if he ever will.

I know what you’re thinking – he’s THREE! Stop overthinking!

We are early in our journey and there’s so much progress to be made. Yet still…my heart cannot help but ache and long for him to know true acceptance from someone other than his mother. I pray this every day as I drop him at preschool…

“Please, Lord. Give him a friend. Give him comfort and strength. Watch over him.”

There is so much we don’t know – can’t know – until it all unfolds. That’s hard for me. Really hard. I want to know if he’ll ever be able to comfortably associate with peers. I want to know if he will ever initiate instead of always needing an adult to prompt.

Some of the fiercest battles we fight as special needs parents are the ones inside our own hearts. We battle between fact and what we hope and pray will be. We do our best to stay strong and positive and sometimes…sometimes it just becomes too much. In spite of our best efforts, we crumble. Under all the pressures and demands, necessary and self-imposed, we succumb to the battle, knees falling to the rocky ground, and we plead with all that is in us to just make it all okay.

“Please, Lord, let it all, always be okay.”

And when we finally pick ourselves up, brushing off the fear, anxiety, and yes, sometimes anger, we see that our knees bear the scars of having fallen countless times before and yet still, we rise. We rise to do it all again and again because these precious souls have been entrusted to our care. And for as many times as we fall and hurt, they hurt just as much and more – and still, THEY rise.

Our babies fight no matter what. They don’t give up, they don’t complain, they march onward – and so must we.

I would battle thousands of lifetimes to be the mother of the son I have right now. He was meant to be mine, of this I am certain. Our souls have been, and always will be, eternally intertwined.

So yes, Baby. I am your best friend. Today, tomorrow, through every sting and every scar. Together, it will be okay. Together we are okay.

Enough

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“Do you know how special you are? Do you know how much Mommy loves you?”

As I drew him into my chest, nestled tightly in my arms, I whispered in his ear. I tickled him under the arm, he giggled and squirmed, trying to toddle away – I only had his attention for a few seconds. I snuck a quick kiss on the bridge of his nose, and just like that, he was off again.

He’s 18 months now and ready to take on his world. He’s curious, and yet, still cautious. He’s bold. He is relentless and can be impatient. He is determined. He is focused. His enthusiasm is unbridled and untainted. There is adventure waiting, and he’s on the cusp of the age where he knows it. He is sensitive. All animals – fictional or otherwise – are friends (or named, Greta), and are deserving of his hugs and kisses. His heart is real and it is big.

Growing up, I was a very sensitive child. I was the kid who wore her heart on her sleeve, apologized to my animals, made sure no one felt left out. I was the girl who sat with the lonely kid because I couldn’t, not. I treated others – including inanimate objects – with the sensitivity and attention I so desperately craved. I learned early on the world was not as soft as my stuffed animals, and not everyone would treat me in the same way.

I was young, I can’t recall the exact age, but I can pinpoint one of my very first moments of rejection. I wanted to climb in to my mother’s lap. I wanted to snuggle. To feel secure, to feel safe. I was rejected. It was “too hot” or she was “too busy” or I was “too heavy”. Transition to pre-teen years when I was self-conscious, even more sensitive. My self-esteem was a seesaw that in a moment, could plummet to the unforgiving asphalt beneath. I was mocked by my own mother for doing my hair, painting my nails – for what I now realize, was taking a little pride in my physical self. In those moments, teetering low, I prayed the black abyss would swallow me whole. I was devastated. I spent most of my childhood being a social chameleon just to get the acceptance I so deeply wanted. Needed.

I eventually learned to laugh it all off – rejection. My skin grew thicker, my emotions buried deeper, only to be unlocked in later years. I have grown and learned since I was a child. I realized I could live like a victim, I could continue to love in spite of it all, or I could become cynical. My choice vacillated between #2 and #3.

I wanted to be everyone’s everything. I wanted to be the favorite. I wanted to be the pretty one. I wanted to be the thin one. I wanted to be the popular one. I wanted to be the athletic one. I wanted to be the smart one. I wanted to be the creative one. I wanted to be the funny one. I wanted to be the trusted friend. I wanted to be everything – to be it all. The people pleaser – THAT’S ME! I wanted to be loved. I soon realized that in order to have everyone like me, I had to be many things, and it was exhausting. To some, I was too nice, so I needed to be tougher. To others I was too aloof, so I needed to be more sociable. It left me realizing that I no longer knew who I was.

It’s taken time and experience for me to realize not everyone will like me – and that’s okay. I will hold myself to a standard of grace, not perfection.

I am certain as I continue this blog and my honest writing, I may have friends who depart from my life. And I also know, I will gain new ones. Before I started this blog I worried constantly about putting myself out there, and in my inevitable style, made a pro and con list. It was PACKED with “what ifs.” What if someone doesn’t like the real me? What if someone thinks I’m weird? What if I offend someone? What if I’m doing life all wrong? What if someone takes what I write the wrong way? WHAT IF?! And in the pro column, scribbled all by its lonesome, “why not now.”

The time to be real is now. To be authentically and unapologetically, YOU.

Although I occasionally still get stuck on that seesaw and can get caught up in the cycle, I know I cannot be everyone’s everything. I can’t be everyone’s favorite, everyone’s friend. People will love me and people will hate me. People will judge me and people will accept me. Take me or leave me, people will be people and my purpose in this life is not to win them over.

We were not placed on this earth for everyone to like us. We are here to be true to the individual purposes we have been given.

I know one of my purposes: to give all the love I have to a brave and beautiful boy with innocence in his eyes and a spirit bright as the sun. I know I am here to give him myself. My time, my energy, my hugs, my kisses. To put all my heart into raising him, nurturing him, helping him grow into everything he can be. I can’t be a favorite to everyone, but I can be his favorite. Every time I put down the phone, the to-do lists, toss out the worry, the fears. Every time I scoop his 25 pound body into my arms and smell his hair. Every time I lay on the floor and let him crawl all over me. Every time I make his day by taking him to the park for a run, act silly and [so badly] dance around the room to watch him laugh. Every time I play cars, roll the ball, and scream and yell just because we can. Every time I rock him and sing our special song. Every moment I am consistent and faithful in following through on my promises to him, and to raising him with all the best that is in me – that is enough. Every hour. Every day. Every week. That is why I am here.

I have a little boy who needs to know that being himself is more than enough. And when the day comes when the world reveals its true colors and his heart is bruised, I will not let it harden. I will tell him,

“Do you know how special you are? Do you know how much I love you? Always be you, no matter what. You are more than enough. Not everyone will like you, and that’s okay. You are loved. You are always loved.”

We are all enough. You are enough. I am enough. Quirks, flaws, highest highs and lowest lows, you are enough. Don’t you ever change. You are loved. Always loved.

Motherhood – Part 2

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This piece first appeared on the St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children website as a 3-part blog series.

http://stchrishospital.blogspot.com/2015/05/guest-blogger-laurel-youse-mother-of.html

GUEST BLOGGER: Laurel Youse

Monday, May 11, 2015 – Part 2: Motherhood

Mothers dig deep. We open ourselves to love in spite of the cost, in spite of the unknown. We harbor great burdens, hide sorrows only our hearts can know, and we relish in great victories and amazing joys. We cling to hope that is steadfast and sturdy and cherish the moments when a tiny, smiling face, an intentional and knowing glance, the tight squeeze from a fragile hand, can cast all doubt away. We find strength often times not of this world. We find the power to love unconditionally and without reserve. We find faith. Or maybe it finds us.

In the months and year that would follow, our little growing family would find itself faced with multiple challenges – a diagnosis of HELLP Syndrome for me, requiring early and immediate delivery of our Luke, heart surgery at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children for Luke and the diagnosis of a kidney defect, ongoing physical and occupational therapies, and always more tests and procedures. And in the midst of all this – this path I certainly did not choose – I have found joy. Yes. Beautiful, bountiful joy.

While life can still be scary and uncertain, and although the original dreams I once had are gone, they have been replaced with better ones. Brighter ones.  More meaningful ones. The plans I made – expectations of the perfect birth, hearing his first cry, snuggling my newborn on my chest, nursing my son – those things still hurt a little. Some days, they hurt a lot. Maybe they always will. Developmental milestones – I will never take for granted a spoken word and no step will ever be considered ordinary. Yet, I’ve had great privilege – the honor – to know my child more intimately than most. I’ve sat at his isolette for hours, memorizing every feature, every crease and line. I’ve fought for him, prayed for him, whispered into his ear how loved he is, how his mommy is always there. I taught him how to drink from a bottle to rid him of that dang NG! I’ve shuffled bunches of machines and tubes and wires just to hold my baby only to have the pulse ox alarm with every slight movement. I have navigated my way through medical jargon and cared for my child in ways that are natural and ways that are very unnatural. I have learned him like the back of my hand. I have seen his heart from the inside. And his heart – his beautiful, perfect heart – was broken so that mine would one day heal.

This year – MOTHERHOOD – has taught me FAITH, JOY, PATIENCE, LOVE…and even more FAITH.

Luke’s heart taught me how to use my own: To be present in all the moments of life because tomorrow is never promised to any of us. So laugh. Cry. Give sloppy, wet kisses and squeezy hugs. Be positive – even when it’s hard and you think you can’t; dig deep. Give freely – your time and your love. Be not only a pillar, but an example of strength for your family. If you are reading this you have likely been touched by a child and although our journeys may be different, in many ways they are much the same. The story in your heart is the universal story of mothers. A mother’s heart always knows, always believes, and always whispers hope. Each one of our children has been born to us of perfect love and in that love we too, have been reborn as Mothers.

There is faith. There is joy. There is kindness. There is purpose in pain – we have to find it. And when we do, embrace it – as tightly and lovingly as a mother embraces her child. Nurture it and watch beautiful, bountiful life flourish. The gift, the blessing, of motherhood.

Yet.

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Seeing the glass half full has not always been intrinsic to my nature. Positivity is a trait I had to earn through years of dark struggle, therapy and self-reflection, combating demons – past and present. Until I saw absolutely no other way to be, it was as if a light was turned on…what was once a flicker, a glimmer in black night, turned golden, fiery, and burning bright.

We all have struggles. Life is rough. We learn what we are made of in times of uncertainty, discomfort and doubt. When all the odds are (seemingly) stacked against us, we have a choice. We. Have. A. Choice. Always. How many times have you taken the path of negativity? It’s so EASY, isn’t it? We wallow in self-pity, thinking of all the wrong and mess in our lives, we spiral down like a roller coaster, our stomach in our throat, knots of anger and perhaps even loathing and envy for what someone else’s life may seem to afford. It’s nasty – negativity. It breeds like a brown planthopper insect, carrying with it a virus and the ability to infect and devastate its host and the crops surrounding it. It can take out the best and strongest of us even in our finest season.

But…we can rise above it. We can find that flicker of light, however bright, and we can cultivate it. We can nurture positivity, we feed it into our lives by the thoughts we keep. The deep thoughts, the ones at the core of who we are, in our soul.

Here is my example.

Luke has been struggling with the use of his left hand, something I didn’t want to fully admit to, because of all the other medical and therapeutic appointments we keep on a weekly basis. Privately, I would work with him, always researching methods and creating games and activities to facilitate use of the hand he guards and keeps so tightly fisted. It has bothered me greatly, this lack of use, but not for the reasons you might think. Certainly I want him to have full function. I want him to be able to hold a cup, feed himself, pick up and throw a ball, pet his dogs with an open palm. To not be seen as different or weird or incapable. But he has been seen this way. A stranger felt the need to point out that he could not grasp the Cheerio he was trying so deliberately to pick up and “shouldn’t he be better at this at his age? What is wrong with him?” (I won’t delve into ignorance – that’s for another time.) His determination would not let him quit. He struggled and tried again, concentrating, fixating all his energy on that tiny “O”. It’s heartbreaking at times, to watch as he struggles, but I know one thing. One very important word – YET. Luke doesn’t have full use of his left hand – YET. That one little word changes everything. It changes the tone, the meaning, the attitude, the perception of ability. Before you could ride a bike, could you ride a bike? Of course not! You didn’t have the balance, the coordination – the confidence! Our thoughts become beliefs and our beliefs become words and those words we either whisper or scream profoundly, become actions and actions become the path we walk. We can choose what we tell ourselves, what we tell others. I know what I tell Luke, and what I will always tell my son who for now, never gives up. If ever the day arrives (I’m sure it will) when he is made to feel inadequate or cannot do “that thing” my response will be, “yet” – “You can’t do it, yet.”

We need to repeat positivity until it bleeds the blackness from our thoughts, from our words. Until it becomes the only way we know how to be. It’s hard, I will not lie. Some days are a real struggle. Recognize the struggle. Own it, replace it with full, shining, bright and pure light and move on. Move past the doubt you have in your heart. If you can’t do it today, in this very moment, let tomorrow be your chance at “yet”. I know you can do it.