Friday, January 15, 2021

Sausage and Apple Sheet Pan Dinner

 This is less an exact recipe and more a flexible process. I'm all about sheet pan dinners, and my family inhaled this one last night.

1.) Preheat the oven to 400 degrees

2.) Add the following to a large, lined pan:

2 packages (8 links) of apple chicken sausage (plain brats will work too), sliced

2 green apples, peeled and roughly chopped into 1/2 inch cubes

3 - 4 large yellow potatoes roughly chopped into 1/2 inch cubes

1/2 yellow onion, diced

salt, pepper, garlic powder, and a bit of cinnamon to taste

add 1 - 2 Tablespoons of coconut oil, toss everything to coat

3.) Bake for 20 minutes, flip, and bake for another 20 minutes

Tastes great with some spicy brown or grain mustard for dipping!

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Nothing to Lose

Moving to a new state the week before a pandemic: 5/5 would not recommend.  

In one fell swoop, I lost my home base and the world collectively lost its sense of normalcy. It’s been doubly jarring and I have yet to walk into a room full of people here with a sense of coming home. Even the kindest people are also unsure or unable (or unwilling? 🥴) to reach out to the new kid in the ways they might have previously had the margin to do so before. 

The loneliness has been crippling lately, and I’m homesick. Some of the things that made it easier to move— like friends dispersing to Kindergarten at different schools— have now been reversed as they all join together to micro-school in response to COVID. I miss our neighbors, our big oak tree, the street we walked on, the parks we played at. I love fall in Kansas City. 

I miss the opportunity to homeschool with our previously public-schooled friends. I miss my old MOPS group. I miss my old hospital and co-workers. I miss Wednesday afternoons with my Aunt. I miss zoo trips with my other Aunt and Uncle. 

I miss, I miss, I miss. And this week the tears are spilling out at inconvenient times, like when I’m charting at work at the end of a crazy day, or when I’m sitting on a park bench on a gorgeous autumn afternoon with my delightful kids. 

While I know in my head this was the right move, it’s harder and harder to feel the truth if it as the days grow shorter and the global anxiety grows. The arguments for and against moving at this time last year were 50/50 at best. I thought God made it graciously and providentially clear that it was time via the gift of the house we live in now. There are so many little details to the story that are too specific to be an accident. 

And yet. I find myself doubting. An old quote came to mind today as I struggled to be present on a hike with my kids: “If you believe that God is good, His sovereign hand is sweet. If you believe that God is not good, his sovereign hand is bitter.”

This month marks two years since Ross and I separated (we are no longer separated), which was followed by 18 months of dark days and long nights. Eighteen months of believing that God got it very, very wrong. That my obedience in him was misplaced. That everyone will eventually let me down. That not even God is faithful. This is what trauma does. It lies to you about who you are and what you can expect out of life. 

In spite of all the good and necessary work I’ve done and things that I’ve learned in the past two years, all the hope I’ve found in the last year, all the miracles I’ve witnessed in the last 6 months, that’s been the last point I’ve been skirting around. Because if God isn’t good, he made empty promises about rest and home and new beginnings when we moved. And I was stupid to believe him once again. 

But living under that assumption is unbearable. Unsustainable. Hopeless. 

So... what if God is good?

What if he is sovereign? What if he loves me lavishly and I always belong in him? What if he’s the anchor I need when my thoughts drift to dark places? What if C.S. Lewis got it right in the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe?

“Aslan is a lion— the Lion, the great Lion." 

"Ooh" said Susan. "I'd thought he was a man. Is he quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion"

...”Safe?" said Mr Beaver ..."Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you.”

What if, once again, I started asking God to meet my deepest needs and trusting that he would provide like he has promised? What if he really offers abundantly more than I could ever ask or imagine? What if he will return the years the locusts have eaten?

At this point, what do I have to lose?

Sunday, October 25, 2020

There's (NOT) an app for that

I never knew it was a pattern, until the counselor pointed it out last August. One of the gifts of Onsite is being able to tell your whole story in a safe space. After we shared our stories, the counselor leading our group gave each of us a handful of notecards. She'd kept notes while we talked, and the cards had "truths" on them. Things we'd implicitly or explicitly said in the telling of our stories, either to transition to the next part of the story, to explain or rationalize a part of our story, or simply some other little thing that was so fundamentally embedded in the way we moved through what had happened to us that we didn't even notice it.

One of my cards said, "there's a pill for everything." 

I've been thinking about that a lot lately and realizing that the story I tell myself around this LIE is a heavy weight on my shoulders. It means that if I haven't found the answer to my problem, maybe it means I'm too stupid or too lazy or too unworthy of a solution.

Even as I struggle to put that thought in print, I feel the truth of it.

I suppose it started when I lost my period in high school. It wasn't a mystery; it was anorexia. The "answer," of course, was the birth control pill. 

Then there were the chronic digestive issues, unexplained by tests, no answers offered aside from daily over-the-counter remedies that didn't really help, even in large doses.

There was the asthma that started in college and got worse every year. The antihistamines, the decongestants, the Singulair, the rescue inhalers, the steroid inhalers, the prednisone every time the seasons changed.

There was the persistent running injury when, even after months of PT, the only think the orthopedic surgeon could tell me was to take 800mg of Advil every day. I started questioning the narrative: Is this really the best you can offer me?!

Then there was the acne. Antibiotics until I landed in the hospital with C. diff.  Spironilactone which didn't do anything but make me anxious. Doctor-dosed shame over not just wanting to get back on the pill (the artificial hormones in which made me depressed). Then nine months of Accutane, which forced me back on the pill anyway.

As each step failed me in this medical system to which I had subscribed (I was a compliant patient, after all, and an RN to boot), I had to start thinking outside of the box. 

You know what helps with eating disorders? Counseling and radical self-compassion and finding foods and food systems that nourish you instead of just eating calories to check a box.

You know what helped with the chronic gallbladder spasms? Going gluten-free and regularly getting acupuncture.

I got off of the decongestants thanks to an incredibly painful septo-rhinoplasty and turbinate reduction (ironically performed by the ENT who would later mentor the same brother who-- accidentally-- broke my nose in the first place all those years ago). And even though all my allergy testing never pointed to dairy, going strictly dairy-free got me off of ALL of my asthma medication over the course of a year.

The crazy IT band pain was relieved a little by the chiropractor, and relieved a lot when I started pelvic floor PT after having my first baby.

Remnants of my medical history still live with me, of course, in this body in which I reside. Digestion is a daily battle. My cystic acne has flared up again after 8 years of the glowing skin I always wanted. I struggle with chronic pain and fatigue and hormones and anxiety. I grow weary: if it isn't one problem, it's another. It's all of it.

Even in knowing that the "system" was flawed, even in knowing that the alternative solutions weren't always super cut-and-dry, even as I strayed from the idea that there wasn't an actual prescription medication for what ailed me, I still felt (feel) as though there is one SOLUTION that I simply haven't found yet. And let me tell you, the dogged determination of finding a solution that eludes you is expensive in both time and money.

Walking into Onsite last year, my most recent struggle had been the search for a magical pill that would let me sleep at night without making me even more foggy during the day. The anti-depressant that would make my life feel manageable without giving me a paradoxical reaction or horrible side-effects.

But psychotropics were failing me. Sure, Xanax worked like a miracle... until I needed a higher dose. Then Restoril became my favorite medication ever but was not a long-term solution. I could only spend so many nights having panic-attacks instead of the peaceful slumber that each new prescription promised. I could only spend so many hopeful weeks "letting my body adjust" to a new medication that was making me wanting to crawl out of my skin instead of reducing my anxiety.

So when the counselor handed me that card and I read those words, I felt a veil lift after the initial shock of recognition. Yes, yes this is how I have lived my life: as though every symptom has a solution and if I haven't found it, it's on me.

This has led to (and even still temps me down) paths where I walk a fine line between genius and insanity: vitamins and detoxes and elimination diets and cleanses. These have been most valuable when I DO listen to my body and take what's useful and leave the rest. For example, I can breathe when I don't each cheese. I'm not insanely bloated and foggy-brained if I simply avoid gluten. But when I stop listening to my body and listen only to the protocol-- and the protocol doesn't work-- it leads to despair.

Do you know what's hiding behind this medical timeline that I've memorized for my medical history forms? The story behind the story. The deep hurts, the adandonment, the pain, the lack of boundaries, the pervasive shame I've taken into myself.

Do you know what happened the night I came home from Onsite? After a week of airing my demons and having them dismissed in a loving way, after sharing the worst of me and being received with compassion, I fell asleep without medications. And I did it the next night, too. I put a few small things into practice from what I'd learned there, and I moved forward slowly and took care of myself one day at a time, and I slept.

In fact, I didn't need anything (aside from Peace Juice during the stress of moving to a new state) until I started a new job a year later. And here I find myself letting my boundaries slip as a I navigate a manipulative work situation in which I just want to resort to my people-pleasing ways, even though I know that no longer serves me. 

Plus there's this whole pandemic. And residual moving stress. And the fact that I desperately miss my old job. While I don't mind that actual work of my new job aside from the train wreck that my orientation has been, wearing a mask for 12 hours is exhausting even when you DO have enough red blood cells to transport oxygen effectively (spoiler: I don't). And suddenly, there it is. The panic the night before every work shift that only subsides with a Restoril.

It weighs me down, thinking it's all on me. So it's hard to explain that freedom is found on the other side of the same coin: the answer isn't necessarily outside of me. The new doctor, diet, pharmaceutical, or detox isn't going to save me from the human condition. 

EVEN KNOWING THIS, I still slip down the hole of searching the internet for a new protocol or herbal remedy or... fill in the blank. Today it came to me again: I've come so far, but at the end of the day, I still believe there's a "pill" for everything. Even as I struggle with anemia, the genes for hemachomatosis suggest that taking iron supplements for years has not been beneficial. Heavy periods come every 23 days (insanity-making, to be sure) and I still beat myself up for not doing something right or sticking to something long enough for it to work. 

Yes, clearly anemia is a real problem, but all of my other labs are annoyingly, frustratingly, fine. Yes I've also paid out-of-pocket for lots of labs that the "normal" doctor won't order. Yes, they're mostly fine, too. And this has been crazy-making. My symptoms are very real, but the causes are totally unclear. Which means there is no clear-cut cure to chase down.

Last month, a nutritional coach I've been working with simply told me, "your labs haven't shown you something that can be labeled as a problem? GOOD!" I've been sitting here thinking that it means either a) I'm crazy and it's all in my head or b) I'm not crazy but the answer must be incredibly rare and uncommon. Turns out I'm really good at black-and-white thinking and there's actually another option: while my problems are very much not "in my head," since they aren't exactly on my lab results either, it means it's within my power to address them in the exact same way I'm learning to address every other thing in my life: as a grownup with boundaries and compassion. My physical well-being is not separate from my mental and emotional well-being, and in fact they're so intertwined that it's almost impossible to parse through which issue started where. 

So here I am, beginning again, knowing everything and nothing is the same.

Friday, July 24, 2020

One Art

It's hard to believe it's been a year since I've written in this space. It feels like a hundred years have passed between then and now. I can't pin down one emotion at the moment, thanks both to the fact that we moved to a new state this spring and the fact that the world caught on fire a week after we moved. I expected the upheaval and loss that comes with a move. I didn't expect the world to shut down a week later thanks to a virus that may or may not be as contagious or widespread at the media makes it out to be. Who can we trust? Who has our best interests at heart? What is going on, and why?

Writing a list of losses, both literal and emotional, makes me feel less crazy. If you're living in 2020, it's a lot. And if you had any pre-existing life stressors, well, maybe it's possible that in terms of mental health crises at least misery loves company?

My list of losses includes little things like gift cards, bigger things like hearing aids, intangible things like time spent not sleeping or badly coping or zoning out. Then things like our sweet little house and the city in which I've spent the most and best years of my life and the job I'd made for myself that I loved. Then farther and faster, the way I thought marriage would be, the kids I thought I would have, the way I thought my life would look.

This Elizabeth Bishop poem comes to mind not infrequently these days:

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. 
Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:

places, and names, and where it was you meant 
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! 
my last, or 
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. 
And, vaster, 
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, 
a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

The only time this doesn't feel hopeless is when I can zoom in one day (one hour) at a time: what can I do right now? What am I actually in control of? What daily habits can I start today that will get me where I want to go? Or when I zoom way out: God is good and sovereign and nothing is wasted. But when I dwell in the messy middle, it seems the only thing I'm good at is the art of losing.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Make the Rough Edges Smooth

Lake Coeur d’Alene is big enough to have waves, and I couldn’t help but look at the smooth rocks in the surf with trepidation last week. The water rushing over the rocks makes the rough edges smooth, and it sounds nice. It looks bearable and maybe even relaxing. I know I have lots of rough edges, and the hardships of life have made me softer, even as I have so far to go. In Isaiah 45:2, God says, “I will go before you and make the rough places smooth.” What if the rough place is my heart?

If you’ve been a Christian for a minute, you’ve heard Romans 8:28 in which we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good. If you’ve been a Christian for two minutes, you know God’s definition of good isn’t always the same as mine.

In times of trauma, the line between my "good" and my perceived ruin feels paper thin. Imagine a storm on the lake, gentle lapping replaced by pounding waves, relentless, one after another. Instead of gentle rocking, rocks are thrown around, against each other, unresting. Maybe it accomplishes the same end faster, but is it really necessary? I find myself asking “why” a lot. Why this way, God? And where’s the line between smoothing a stone and pulverizing it into sand?

If God is a wave working for my good, and I am the stone in need of polishing, he feels downright cruel. This is where I’ve been for months and months. Mad at God’s seeming cruelty in the name of my sanctification.

The pastor preached on Psalm 16 this morning, and the middle of the psalm proclaims, "the boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance." As I read it today, a verse that I once loved tasted bitter in my mouth. I find myself believing that there is no one to stand up for me. My safest places, big and small, have been taken away: relationships, my home, my health which I guard so carefully, my perceived idea of the future I thought was mine. I rage at God, yet return every Sunday because if I don't have Him, I have NOTHING. Yet, I don't even feel like I have him.

Today at church I asked God once again, “can I trust you?” As I cried next to a friend while the church band sang, “glory glory hallelujah, Jesus you are good,” an unbidden image came to my mind. 

What if God isn’t the wave? What if he’s the shoreline? The foundation under the rocks and the destination and, most importantly, the boundary for the waters. I feel like those places in the Old Testament whose borders had been devastated and whose cities had been ruined, and I blame God because, isn't he in control? And doesn't he love me?

But Job 38:1-11 says,

Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. He said:

“Who is this that obscures my plans

    with words without knowledge?

Brace yourself like a man;

    I will question you,
    and you shall answer me.

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?

    Tell me, if you understand.

Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!

    Who stretched a measuring line across it?
 On what were its footings set,
    or who laid its cornerstone

while the morning stars sang together

    and all the angels shouted for joy?
 “Who shut up the sea behind doors
    when it burst forth from the womb,
 when I made the clouds its garment
    and wrapped it in thick darkness,

when I fixed limits for it

    and set its doors and bars in place,
 when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther;
    here is where your proud waves halt’?"
I know God can calm the seas, and he's not calming mine. I'm angry. But this is a small bit of hope I can cling to: he's still there. I picture him standing firm and saying to my calamity: "This far you may come and no farther" and I want to cry tears of gratitude, because maybe he still sees me after all. 

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Write This Down

Last September, I started feeling a tug to write again. Like, really write. The One Conference lit a little flame, and small things kept popping up pointing me in that direction. I was in the throes of sleeplessness, but willing to hold space for this passion without feeling obligated to dive in. Then in January, life turned upside down and a big little voice in my heart told me unequivocally that this is the story you need to write. I know writing doesn't have to equal publishing, so with little to no pushback, I said yes to the "Big Magic" as Elizabeth Gilbert calls it.

Which also means that 6 months ago, I dove headfirst into some of the really good memoirs out there (a genre I'd previous been ambivalent about). I've been inhaling books on writing. I went on a reflective writing retreat in March, and I started thinking seriously about what it meant to be A Writer. And of course, I've been sitting down at my laptop to write. So far, I only know this: every effort I've made to sit down and write-- something that happens once every few weeks at best-- has been rewarded with a simple overtone of clarity. The art of holding my attention span to an uninterrupted task until I've wrestled the subtext out of a certain situation or emotion is a reward in itself. I strongly feel that if no one else ever reads my words, that's okay.

However, I wasn't holding so loosely to my words that I wasn't devastated when my toddler dropped my laptop, breaking the hard-drive, rendering the first 10,000 words of what I'd come to think of as MY BOOK un-recoverable. You'll ask if I had backed it up, and I'll tell you, of course I didn't. For the past 6 months, staying alive has been my mantra. Making it through one day at a time. Short-term memory and critical thinking have been reserved for life-threatening situations, mostly involving my children. The rest is just details (as those t-shirts from the 90s used to say).

So here I sit, mourning those words I poured out when the trauma was fresh, grasping in vain at the wisps of ideas that I know passed out of my head and through my fingers a few short months ago, but had been released from the forefront my brain because I felt they were secure on paper. Which is, interestingly, one of the most therapeutic things about writing! It's a fascinating sort of amnesia to read something I wrote any length of time ago. The words, their rawness and confusion, whether coherent or jumbled in nature, take me right back to the space I was in when I wrote them, but I never fail to see the situation more clearly re-reading my words later than I did in the moment.

But now, some of the most crucial words of my life have disappeared into the ether. This both reminds me that they must not have been the most crucial words, and also that words and ideas can be frangible but enduring. They are worth writing again, and worth protecting, even if no one reads them but myself.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Ham and Sage Pasta Toss

16oz gluten free pasta, cooked to package directions

1.5 cups beef stock

2 Tbs grapeseed or olive oil

1 lb mushrooms, sliced

1 cup diced ham

1/4-1/2 tsp dried sage

2 Tbs butter

2 cups fresh spinach, chopped

Bring beef stock to boil until reduced to about a cup (12-15 minutes) (Optional: add 1/2 cup red wine as well)

In large non-stick skillet pan, heat oil over medium high heat, saute mushrooms until soft, then add sage and ham. Saute ham until lightly brown.

Stir in butter and beef stock reduction. Allow to thicken slightly over 2-3 minutes and then stir in spinach and pasta (and 1/2 cup parmesan or Italian cheese if using).