Tuesday, December 05, 2017


Crisis is a terrible time.
In crisis, there is no foundation, 
you can't get your bearings, 
your life is turned upside down.
Every nerve ending is raw and on fire.
Often your heart or your body or both are in chaos.
The supports or crutches that you've used no longer 
allow you to numb or distract.
In crisis, you forget how
 to perform the most basic functions.
Breathing, eating, speaking-all might be too much.
Crisis takes us out of Normal.

What is Normal?
Normal is the place where we know everything that will happen.
A place where we know the rules and have already lived some version of the consequences.
Normal is whatever we are used to experiencing.
Normal is the place where we feel comfortable.
Normal is not necessarily healthy, loving, or safe.

Are these Normal places?
Where drinking daily means you don't have to feel anything.
Where your relationship with your spouse bears an uncanny resemblance to North and South Korea.
Where smoking in spite of your lung disease relieves your anxiety.
Where you say the same prayers, like the same statuses, vote the same way to prove you belong.
Where you show up at every event wearing a mask-so no one sees the real you.
Where judgement and labels make everything easier to navigate.
Where your relationship is defined by a birth or marriage certificate-not by any shared experience.
Where you deserve a cupcake (or a few) to make up for the hurt you felt.
Where someone else's discomfort is diminished by your silence.

Art by me...Change is messy.
Humans are incredibly adaptable.
We can get used to anything.
Other animals have to remain in specific habitats or eating the bark of  a certain tree-
but humans have populated most of the globe.
We can persevere-through hatred, war, climate destruction, and lack of dental care.
Our evolutionary superpower is that
we can tolerate the intolerable.
We can turn that Wasteland into a Normal.
We can love the things and people and circumstances that are killing us.
And pine for it when it changes.

What happens when you can't ever go back to Normal?
When rock bottom is the place that you can't stay anymore,
you're usually evicted by factors
 that you can't control or circumstances you would never choose.
Very few people would leave their normal-
no matter how unhealthy, toxic or boring that normal may be.
The road to a new Normal looks like this....

So many people I love are in need of
and hoping to move towards
a new Normal.
It is awful to watch.
How do you formulate a new Normal?
Where is the path?
Why are the steps so hard and debilitating?
Why can't you carry some of the old Normal along with you?
Just to ease the burden a little.
I don't know.
It just doesn't seem to work.

I've been on a journey to a new Normal for a few years now....
and if I'd known what that would look like
how messy and torturous the path to something new would be
I am not sure that I would have continued.
I wish that I could package a healthy, thriving Normal on a map
and show these folks that I love how to find it.
But I suspect that part of finding a healthy Normal
means wanting to leave the old one behind.
Not everyone is ready for that trek.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017


Quick sketch by my son of the hospital atmosphere
My dad has been hospitalized for almost a month.
He's pretty special to me-but he's also complicated.
He's a grandfather to many but I'm 
(of course) 
focused primarily on my little family.
Nothing is more terrifying to children than seeing a beloved adult
buried in wires, machines and sterilized blankets;
knowing that there are hard choices ahead with no guarantees.
My kids adore him and since they are kids, 
they really want all of this to stop so we can get back
to normal.
In the past month, my kids have
morphed between two exaggerated caricatures of themselves.
One version has each kid with 
big, pleading, anime eyes
the other version casts them as 
cranky, irritated and entitled creatures.
They are scared so they keep trying anything to shake us 
out of this nightmare they woke up inhabiting.
It's not working but they keep trying.
And the questions!
The questions just don't stop.

Is Pop going to die?
Is he going to lose his foot?
Will he be able to walk again?
How long will he be there?
Why is he so tired?
How did he get to this point?
Why didn't someone stop him?
Why are hospitals so awful?
Why do WE have to go to the hospital?
When will you be back from the hospital?
Who will feed us?
And inevitably...will you ever look like that?
Will we have to navigate this pain with you mom? dad?
Catching the view from the (hospital) room

I don't avoid.
It is not my way.
We have a family riddled with denial and addiction and dysfunction.
I can't afford to let them pick randomly from
the examples around them to 
emulate a path towards life.
They might not find their way out.
So I do my job and coach them through it.

Here is what I say:

Your pain will always hurt EXACTLY that much.
It will be there waiting for you-
it is patient and relentless and yours.
Lots of people will sell you quick tickets
to get away from pain but it is a scam.
There is no antidote.

Pain is a companion to this life
because it is the price of participation.
The amount of pain you feel is directly in proportion 
to the amount of life you experience.

It cannot be reduced, reused or given away.
If your dog dies, 
your marriage ends, 
you get fired, 
your parent forgets your name-
the amount of pain you feel has already been prescribed.

You cannot run from it
hide from it,
convert it,
or bargain with it.
Pain is pain.

Showing Up

What mitigates pain?

Pain can't be changed into something else.
There is only one thing that I know
that will mitigate pain.
A chaser or companion 
that makes the pain more bearable.

Do not hide.
Open up that heart.
Let it break.
We need to experience that pain to grow.
We need to be present
so that we can learn what the pain does;
what it leaves behind.
Glennon says that pain is a traveling professor, here to teach us.
I say, you have to step into class for your lessons.
Get into the classroom-don't play hookie.

You can't fix most things.
Anything really.
Don't show up with that expectation.
You'll just find a new kind of pain.

Show up 
expecting nothing
and giving what you have to give.
There is something present when we show up
that helps us navigate the pain.
It doesn't diminish the pain or take it away.
It just helps us live with it.
Show up.

So when you look back
you will see
where you showed kindness and compassion
that you got up when you were scared,
that you allowed your heart to get broken,
that allowed your heart to get bigger,
you'll realize how many things were better
because of the pain.

It's going to hurt anyway
so you remember where the scars came from
and why any of it mattered.

Floral arrangement by my daughter for our Nourish group meeting.

Friday, November 03, 2017


My dad has been hospitalized for about a week with a 
life threatening medical situation.
The current situation is a culmination of his life choices, 
his experiences, and his pathology.
All of this was preventable
but none of it was preventable by the person that he is.

It's made me reflect on the ways that we understand our parents
the context that they have for us
and how the view of a parent evolves and matures as we do.

This post is sort of a portrait of the man who is my father-
but I fully recognize that this is only one of the facets of him-
not the sum total of him or even how others see him.
He's beloved.
He's human.
He's complicated.
My PawPaw and my 15 year old Dad.

My dad is a high-functioning alcoholic.
He is a passionately dedicated smoker.
He is a lover of all salted pork products and doughnuts.
He is a product of his generation and place....
where men worked hard, lived harder, and died happy.

He thinks exercising as a purposeful activity is stupid.
He actually thinks lots of things are stupid.
Hobbies, fiction, non-fried vegetables, TV preachers and politicians.
That's the word he uses...stupid.
But he says it like sch-TEEEEW-pid.
With feeling and finality.

He was a custodial engineer for 20 years with a school system.
That is a fancy way of saying he was a janitor.
Before that, he was a sewing machine repairman in textile mills.
Like everyone else in our family and our area during that time.
During the week, he worked 12 hour shifts.
On the weekends, he mowed, gardened and chopped wood-
in 12 hour shifts.
Until this year, I have never known a time that he was not physically active.
So I guess that is why exercise makes no sense to him.
Who needs to practice lifting and hauling?
Only lazy people in his mind.
My Dad and me circa 1975.
Two years ago, he had a stroke and was hospitalized for about a week.
Before that, he had been to see a doctor twice in his adult life.
Once to get a general physical required to get his custodial engineer job.
One more time as a follow up to that appointment.
And then never again until the stroke.
He didn't go when his breathing sounded like a car back-firing 
for an entire winter.
He didn't go when he broke his wrist at his grand-daughter's roller skating party.
He didn't go when his legs hurt while he waxed the floor at school
or when he ached as much in the morning as when he went to bed at night.
This time around in the hospital, he's getting his first ever doses of antibiotics.
Can you imagine?
He has never had a z-pack.

Dad's first ever hospital visit-it was scary but not as scary as this one.

He is a creature of obsessive habits.
Any change in his routine is a red flag.
He prescribed himself a regulated amount of alcohol for years.
During the week, he had six beers nightly.  
On weekends or holidays, he might have 12.
Very rarely did he change his consumption by more than 
one or two beers
which is how we knew something was wrong two years ago
 when he had a stroke.
He forgot to drink.

He gets up at 8 and goes to bed around 9.
He watches the Young and the Restless every day.
Every Day.
He gets up in the morning 
and drives to the gas station to get a
biscuit, a paper and a pack of cigarettes.
Every day.
Until recently.

Halloween in the 80s-he was a very padded,happy clown.
He is vain.
In spite of his dislike of doctors, he will happily go to the dentist.
He wants his hair and beard trimmed.
He keeps an NC State cap perched on his bald head at all times.
He likes his person and his house to be neat and tidy.
He has incredibly blue eyes and refuses to wear glasses.
He can see fine thank you very much
while he holds a paper out 2 feet from his face.

In fact...he is always 'FINE'.
That is code for leave me alone.
He is fiercely independent and does not want anyone looking at him.
As a child, he had a speech impediment and was weak and sickly.
He can still be hyper-sensitive about being the focus of attention.
He will go to great lengths
including ignoring his own health 
to keep people from interfering in his routine or 
badgering him, or being a burden.
He is the single most stubborn human I've ever met.

He is superstitious and a constant worrier.
Watch out for thunderstorms on the way to work SugarBear....
(what will I do if I encounter a thunderstorm exactly?)
Do you have enough gas?  Don't ever let it get below half a tank.
Are the eyes on the stove off?
Did you check?
Is the iron plugged in?
Go back and see.

Be careful.
Be safe.
You're getting on a plane to where?
Are you crazy?
Watch out for snakes, fast cars, hateful men, spicy food, 
citrus fruit, loud noises, illnesses.
Be careful.
Me and Dad last Thanksgiving
He is careful.
Full of care.
He is tenderhearted and gracious.
I have watched him all week in this hospital be kind to people 
who are putting him through his literal idea of hell.
Needles, doctors, foreign surroundings, IVs and alarms that beep
loudly for no apparent reason.
Plus they took his clothes (except his NC State cap).
You could not craft a more terrifying experience for him.

And yet....
When he has nothing nice to say...even in hell...he shuts up.
Occasionally he makes a joke about his pain or discomfort.
He has convinced all his nurses to make him milkshakes.
And ignore his steady intake of cookies and Halloween candy 
given by the grandkids.
He is pleasant and welcoming.
He is gracious.
He is full of grace.

He has a deep, deep voice and when I was little, 
I was scared of him.
He's often super serious-even when delivering a joke.
And when I was little...he was sooo big.
A giant at 5'7".
Until I figured out that he is the sweetest of the sweet.
He has several shotguns but he hasn't killed a deer in 40 years.
He will eat what others hunt but he can't bring himself 
to kill something so beautiful.
He taught me how to do a dove call with my hands cupped,
how to sucker a tomato,
how to honor a moment,
and how to turn the other cheek.

He recently told me that he is a Presbyterian.
This cracks me up because I've seen him willingly inside 
a church only at weddings.
But he said it so seriously so I will have to take him at his word.
Presbyterian he is.

I have called him a redneck Buddhist since my early twenties when his 
advice to a bad breakup was....
"I sure did like that boy but...he will reap what he sowed.
Just watch and see SugarBear.  
What goes around comes around.  
I know your heart is broken but better to know the truth. 
You take care of you.  
The world will take care of that boy."
He was right.

He has never said one word about my mother
that wasn't calm and supportive and saving room for a child's love.
She's my mother and he will always honor her to me.
Not because she deserves it by her behavior to him
but because to do less would be forsaking his job of Dad.
That he can maintain that perspective after
everything my mother has done to him and to our family
is something I would love to be able to emulate.
He is a father and a grandfather extraordinaire.
Dad and 15 year old me

He graduated high school as his highest level of formal education.
He doesn't have a checking account or a credit card.
He carefully tracks and regulates his spending-never going outside of his means.
He despises travel-
anything farther than an hour or so is not really worth seeing.
Not if you have to be away from home and routine.
Not if you have to eat strange things.
But when there is something that he wants to know or understand
he can be quietly relentless.
When I told him I planned to go to college, 
he asked me why I would want to do such a thing.
And then...he became incredibly engaged in what I was studying.
He would ask about my subjects and then find 
articles or information to talk about on my breaks.
When I worked for a startup in the dotcom glory days, 
he educated himself about stock options.
If it comes on the news, he will know it.
If it sparks his interest, he will dig deeper.  
How he manages to dig deeper I haven't figured out 
yet since he doesn't know how to use a computer.
He's probably a genius-although he really 
hopes you don't figure it out.

It took a long time for us to sort out the disaster of my childhood.
He is incredibly patient and kind...
and as a dad, he just tried to do the next, right thing.
Sometimes he screwed up.
But most often...he was brilliant-even though I didn't know it.
He held the light for me so I could find the path of 
when everything around me was dark.
He's complicated.
But he's also the best.

Current view of my dad.  All prayers for him are appreciated.

Monday, October 16, 2017


Last post was a good old fashioned 'BEFORE' picture.
You can review it here: Insights from a Garage
I opened up all the dirty laundry that was hanging out in this 
little bitty shack behind our house.
Then I gloated a little bit about how trans-formative a change it has been.
This post is all about the 'AFTER'.
Who doesn't love a good before and after?
You've seen the mess:


And so you might be expecting to see a complete and utter re-do-
where everything is different.
Where the life that existed 'before' is completely over-hauled and off-set by several thousand dollars of purchases or plastic surgery or weeks of intensive exercise. 
Isn't that what a good makeover show will do?
Allow you to get rid of your life and replace it with someone else's?
I don't think so.
The big reveal.....AFTER!
At least...that's not what you'll see here.
We didn't buy new furniture or remake our lives with more stuff in this transformation.
We didn't become butterflies from caterpillars.
We are already enough-we don't need to be someone 
completely different or inhabit a whole new land of stuff to prove that.
There were a few trips to Lowe's Home Improvement 
but we had almost all the containers that we needed.
Sit with that for a sec...under all that pile of dysfunction
It was already there, 
waiting to be uncovered or put into it's actual, right place.
Am I totally on drugs to think that this is such a good metaphor for living a whole life?
The last time we had a live Christmas tree was B.C. (Before Children)

The first day of the garage weekend cleanout weekend, we pulled everything out of the garage.

We split it into 3 piles:  trash, sell, and keep.
Our current yard is a tenth of an acre.  Approx. a tenth of that is grass.  

The trash pile was easy to agree on.

The pile to sell or get rid of in a different way was harder.
That required quite a bit of negotiation.
We owned a lot of stuff.
Some of it was valuable-but only valuable to someone else.
Motorcycle helmet? No longer needed.
Rock climbing gear? Haven't used in 16 years.
Cool strings of lights with hearts on them ? Still in the package.
We had to assign a value to the item and then try and sell it.
Some of it did not sell.
This stuff was heavy.
It needed to go.
There was real risk of it settling back into some new nook or cranny
 if we didn't have a plan.
We agreed on a timeline...
the stuff that didn't sell was donated to our church's youth group
 who was having a yard sale.
We have a lot of need to strap things down and hang things up.....
Now onto the stuff that we decided to keep.

We agreed that it is useful and necessary.
But....there was a lot of it.
How do we put that back in so that we can actually use it?
How can we help this space work for us 
instead of maneuvering around things constantly.
Everything has a place
This took most of the second day.
And some fiddling.
But the things we need and use most often (bikes, tools)
are handy.
The things that we only use occasionally 
(golf clubs, camping gear) 
are stored away.
No more random piles of screws, nails, bolts, hooks.  They live in this handy containers.

We grouped like with like.
So...all the tools are with similar tools 
(hammers together, screw drivers, ratchets).
Also, tools for similar projects are together-
painting supplies are in one area, 
electrical work in another.
Fuses and cables and cord-OH MY!

And labels are on many things.  
Labels to remind us where things go so we don't have to try 
and hold the pattern in our tired brains. 
Labels to remind us what we have 
and what we don't.
Labels so that we can understand the system and continue it. 

Calling a thing what it is, keeps it in it's place.

Our garage is useful now.  It's not just a thing that we have to carry around or fill up with stuff.  I keep wondering..how did I get this life that is so beautiful?  And also...how much more beautiful this life is when I prepare for the beauty.

Chairs for soccer and room for a little bit of beauty