Phase 3: Juxtaposition and Joy

Well.

Well, well.

Well, well, well.

There is a time for everything. And we know not the time.

This is both unnerving and comforting, depending on how you look at it. From where I sit today, it’s both at once–just one of the many paradoxes and funny juxtapositions I’m learning to live with and faintly smile at.

A few months ago, I wrote that I’ve stopped believing in answers, especially simple ones, and have instead hung my hat on certain truths that go beyond mere answers. That’s never been truer than this week, when David and I finally announced that, oh hey, just btw and in case you wanted to know, we’re going to be parents in August. The ironic beauty/day-late timing is not lost on us in the least.

You see, this little life made itself known mere hours before my mom’s memorial service. I never dreamed I’d be telling David, “I’m pregnant,” under such circumstances. But there it was, as mundane and miraculous as a double line on dollar store stick. An immediate pang at what we missed telling her and what she’ll miss, and an immediate purpose for the next eight months… eighteen years… life.

We had so many reasons to bite our tongues for the next two months. There was a necessary season of mourning that everyone around us—and we ourselves—needed to pass through. There were other babies that needed their moment in the sun. The most uncertain weeks of the first trimester to get through. So, I carried this secret, and David kept it with me, wondering when the “right time” to tell the world would be. Good thing the baby bump is pretty easy to hide thus far (did I really just type that?). And we landed on my dad’s birthday as the moment to out ourselves, despite multiple opportunities before then, because it just seemed right to say, “Hey, there are still things to look forward to this year. Maybe there are still good things about getting older.”

And it’s true.

God is still good. Grace is still real. We still have raison d’être.

After holding in our secret for forever, it’s suddenly strange—wonderful, but strange—to bring other people into this personal narrative. Babies mean community, especially when two of your cousins and multiple friends are all due within six weeks or less of your own due date. There are grandmothers that have waited years to hear their grandson say it’s his turn to be a dad. There are parents that have a claim on this kid—a different claim, but a real one. And suddenly this narrative monologue that I’ve been holding with myself for the last few months is part of a bigger narrative that’s still mine, but not just mine. I’m sure there’s some literary theory to expound on, but I neither remember nor care particularly right now. It’s funny to watch how futures collide and expand.

So. Here we are, aren’t we. Smiling to ourselves and waiting for yardsale season to begin so we can snag baby stuff below cutthroat prices. Looking at the still-unfinished bathroom and finding ourselves with, ah, deadlines. Reevaluating priorities left and right. Feeling incredibly thankful that our “five year plan” included the important memories we wanted to make. Renewing our commitment to do the hard things even—especially—with baby in tow (go ahead and laugh, you might be right). Continuing to live everyday life intentionally because life doesn’t pause or suddenly “happen” with one announcement or arrival or departure.

Well.

Well, well, well.

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The Beauty of Routine

A couple weeks after diagnosis, finding a “new normal” has surpassed the immediate grief reaction. And, happily, we’re finding peace and joy in the process. Two weeks is such a short amount of time, and an eternity. You get more obsessed with life when mortality is at your back.

I can’t express how grateful I am for the return to work at [no I’m not saying but it’s big and financial]. At times it feels so strange to tickety-tick away at my keyboard in advertising, that fleeting shout about a fleeting thing. But then, all of life is fleeting, so why should financial services not get its due? The routine feels wholesome, purposeful, an affirmation that our silly lives continue and still give us reasons to smile. Mom had brain surgery (literally, even though it was outpatient and knifeless–how weird is that?) the second day I was back, and I felt so lucky to have pre-built relationships with my coworkers so I could tell a few people without wondering if they’d second-guess my commitment or intentions. My plate is still a little bland, but I’ve been here before–I know it picks up, and I know how to scrounge up the work when it’s hiding.

Talking about it is easier. It’s become an accepted fact, like how the autumn days are getting shorter and moving towards a season of night. I can still love the season, even though I despise darkness. Is this new-found acceptance a type of objectivity, or peace? I’m not always sure. And yet, I never give an “update” the same way twice when people ask, as I discover new concerns, new hopes, and new faith in what God will do.

I do forget that every time someone who cares about my mom finds out, there will be a strong reaction. I realize more and more how many people she has touched with her quiet faithfulness and compassion, and how many people are taking the news hard. But selfishly, although I’m grateful she’s loved, I get so drained when people grab me in a hug and start crying. I appreciate their intentions, but we’re all choosing our moments carefully, and rationing our emotional energy. Is it rude to wish people would take their cues from our current moods? The lesson for me: remember to enter into people’s grief where they are at that moment–because sometimes it will look like joy, for life is beautiful.

This is the real adulthood. It’s not the close to my roaring twenties I expected, but a full reality of letting hope, happiness, pain, and the fleeting time coexist gracefully together.

Writing Hard and Clear About This Hurt

“Write hard and clear about what hurts.
Don’t avoid it.
It has all the energy.
Don’t worry, no one ever died of it.
You might cry or laugh, but not die.”

– Ernest Hemingway

Whew.

I told a friend last fall that I feel God hasn’t required that much of me in my life so far. And at the time it was true–our kitchen fire resulted in a new kitchen rather than charred house, we had never truly worried about how to pay the bills (though we got good at frugality), and I enjoyed a full family that loved each other and me. Even my mom’s cancer, though the treatment was a bitch, seemed over and done with, some blip on the map, a destination we checked off “we’ve been there” and kept on our way.

Well, here we are. Your perspective shifts a whole lot in the week after you find out it’s back. And it’s not “back” in the “we’ve got to fight this SOB again,” but the “oh eff it was a sneak attack and we’re surrounded.” The eloquent XKCD comic illustrates what that weird word “recurred” really means.  And now, I know what God will require of me: my mother.

Our old pastor dropped by dad’s office and reminded him that, really, we’re supposed to hate death and sickness. In phrasing it to myself, it’s common but not natural. This is not the way it’s supposed to be, and anybody who says otherwise apparently hasn’t walked this road yet. We don’t have to take the news with a cherubic smile and say, “This is for my good.”

I have railed at God and shaken my fist a good deal in the past three weeks (I don’t know how I knew before the actual diagnosis, I just did) and still come back to faith as the one thing that makes sense in a FUBAR world, even if it’s a hard thing. And yes, I recognize that God uses our worst moments for our redemption–to put it tritely, our “good.” Yes, that is true, and I am fighting for truth to win out every day that I process this new reality. But don’t tell me that “my good” in the primary reason for this, because now you’re smoking something.

I’m learning that my God is pained at my suffering, that my God gives comfort and answers me even when I’m most angry. I’m learning that my God will not let me go. That he is faithful in all things, even when I am faithless.  This God is a personal God who loves, not one so far removed from my life that he takes away someone I love and calls it “good.” What he works is good; I can’t think of a single time he calls suffering “good” per se, despite what well-meaning people may say.

Another thing–God is not so small that the primary point of our suffering is his glory. I bristled considerably when someone young blurted out the “this is for your glory” phrase, because it makes God out to be so small and petty that he depends on our agony to draw attention to himself, to give himself a boost. That is beyond messed up and backwards. God has never, ever needed us for his glory, and he certainly has never needed our suffering to somehow “complete” his glory. I want nothing to do with a God whose sees the primary function of suffering as his own glory–that’s like the gods of old proving a point by toying with men’s lives.

My God is close when the waves break over me and I fall apart throughout this process, this discovery of a new normal. He will redeem the worst I can imagine–but he does not force me into it because he needs more glory or thinks it’s good for me. I don’t have an answer for the grand “where does evil come from” question, but I can answer this much: a broken world means brokenness will follow me, and my God has held me even as I’ve beaten my fists against the embrace. He will make sure my family does not endure the worst in vain, but in the good company of hope.

Yes, I can live with that.

Celiac Disease: I Got This. Maybe.

Eating bread

I can’t say being diagnosed was a shock, exactly. I always knew it was a possibility, and that’s why I decided to get tested now when I’m symptom free, before this autoimmune disease with a Greek name could screw me up too much (Thanks for the genes, Mom). Even so, I reasoned that my gluten-light diet (hey, it’s healthier) would mean a positive diagnosis would just mean substituting a few ingredients. I mean, I knew some of the social ramifications would suck, but I thought I understood what I was getting into.

But a real diagnosis is kind of like hearing that creepy kid in eighth grade likes you–you had your suspicions, but AREYOUFREAKINGKIDDINGMENOWAY. Here I am, just ten days after being told I’m Celiac (by the way, we need a cooler name for us gluten-intolerant folk), and saying, “So I’ve been diagnosed with Celiac disease–now what?” Just like everyone else who gets diagnosed. I’ve got a leg up on know-how, food prep and stuff, but I’ve been surprised by my own reactions. Life seems to have changed dramatically, even though it hasn’t changed much at all.

Perhaps the most surprising bit is how isolated I suddenly felt, despite a wonderful husband and great friends. It’s weird to suddenly belong to a minority with restricted food privileges. So here I am, writing for the Internet (and other newly diagnosed Celiacs who wander across this post) about the reactions that surprised me, so other people know they’re not crazy for feeling so emotional about a dumb protein. If you’re diagnosed with Celiac disease, here’s what you need to know.

1. Your relationship to food WILL change. I’ve never had to argue with my body over food until now (I recognize that I’m really lucky). I see a cookie, I eat a cookie, then I have a salad because I hate feeling stuffed and I actually like salad. I make conscious decisions on what I eat and enjoy the balance. But food has never been an enemy. But suddenly, almost overnight everything is suspect. Suddenly, for the first time in my life, the presence of food makes me mildly apprehensive. Can I eat this? I want to, but is it going to hurt me? Since I’m symptom free so far, I won’t have the benefit of hindsight for next time. You will have the same reaction–it’s all because you want to be healthy but the job is tricky. Even if you’ve had a model relationship with food up til this point, be prepared for a new paradigm.

2. You can’t really ease into a GF lifestyle. You become GF the moment you’re diagnosed. I told myself that I wouldn’t go cold turkey on the gluten stuff, since my tests show that I haven’t inflicted too much damage on myself yet. But that’s just the thing. Now I know that every bit of this weird protein I eat is actually, truly, cumulatively damaging me. A week after the diagnosis, I’m still eating some things that have small amounts of gluten, and I am conscious and guilt-ridden every time I do.

3. The transition will be easier than you think. Declining the tasty coffeecake someone brought is kind of a bummer, but you know, it’s just one choice. Making one deliberate choice isn’t hard, and my week is just full of individual choices. That’s the easy part. After all, a healthy diet naturally excludes a lot of gluten. You’ll find that a lot of foods you love are already GF, and that most parties include a veggie tray or coffee. You’ll be super glad “there’s an app for that” and so many more options than there were 10 years ago.

4. The transition will be harder than you think. You’ll have sudden moments of realization about how different life is even though it hasn’t changed much on the surface. You have to take the food with you to parties and on vacation because you can’t guarantee what will be available. You realize that people you made meals for probably can’t do the same for you, because they don’t automatically watch for cross-contamination and derived ingredients like you will. You help friends move and can’t take advantage of the traditional beer and pizza reward. You realize that you’ll have to grill the restaurants and your friends with questions about ingredients for the rest of your life. And yes, it will suck.

5. You WILL feel alone. I know people who have Celiac disease, and many more who are gluten intolerant or allergic. There is a community, and you’ll discover more and more people who live the lifestyle. But your larger community will have no idea. When you realize you can’t accept food from people because you don’t know what’s in it, and that the people closest to you can only sympathize, you will feel alone.

6. Like all life changes, in the end, you will be okay. Yes, life in America revolves around food and now you’ll have to undergo a radical shift in how you approach and think about food. But “is not life more important than food”? Sometimes you’ll be keenly aware of being Celiac, but many times it just won’t matter. Your faith is still the same; your friends still want to raise a glass with you. As summer comes, you can go hiking and running and watch old episodes of Doctor Who when it rains.

Maybe you’ll have Celiac-related issues pop up now and then, maybe not–but everyone has issues. The relationships with people stay the same, and you’ll learn how to ask for support and how to accommodate yourself and how to not snap at people close to you when they absentmindedly offer you a Krispy Kreme.

This is different, and I certainly empathize better with folks who have crazy food allergies and moms who worry about their kids accidentally ingesting something normal but harmful. But you know? I’m healthy. I have a supportive husband and friends. And life is still good.

Attack of the Serial Hobbyist

This photo epitomizes David’s very first ride on his restored Enduro motorcycle.

Sadly, the awesomeness of this photo cannot be conveyed by the image alone. This picture needs less than a thousand words though, as the explanation is thus: after more than a year of blood, sweat, under-the-breath mutterings and a ton of work, David finally had the thrill of coaxing his beloved 1973 Yamaha D125 Enduro bike to life, and rode it all the five miles to his parents/sister-in-law’s houses (I was at work). The bike performed quite beautifully, if noisily, all the way to his parents’ driveway. His mother happened to be outside and returned his wave with wild gesticulating and pointing at the fuel tank. At this point, David dismounted in the front yard and actually looked down to figure out the cause of her consternation. That’s when he realized his bike is spurting flames. Yes, real ones, from leaking gas that’s apparently ignited. So he threw the bike on its side and waited for the flames to die down.

They didn’t.

By the time they reached four feet in the air, his mother had run to get a fire extinguisher and David singed his leg hair putting out the blaze. But all was well in the end, although he had to drag the bike home on his dad’s trailer. Apparently a loose screw in a gas tank opens the floodgates, and a hot carburetor leads to crispy wiring.

Now, I can tell this story because David thinks it’s hilarious, and actually called me to exult in his “first ride” story. His mother may not agree, but staying sane with David kind of depends on operating with “all’s well that ends well” as a motto. So I have to laugh and agree – congrats, honey, that’s quite the ride.

David’s a serial hobbyist – he hyperfocuses on blacksmithing for a few months, then small engines, then chess, etc. – and I’m glad. His boyish heart assures that I pay attention, and I must confess that his hobbies yield pragmatic value. I’m also glad that we’ve given ourselves “fun money” budgets that we can blow on whatever we so choose, so no one worries about how much the other is spending. Especially when the other absolutely cannot understand the appeal of the hobby (13.1 comes to mind). So off we go with our fun money, both comfortable knowing that we can splurge or save however we choose.

I wasn’t so sure fun money in designated checking accounts was really necessary when we began the habit, as I thought it would just encourage spending for spending’s sake. I admit that I was wrong. Instead, the system allows David to have fun without worrying about worrying me (remember, I’m the penny pincher under all circumstances), and actually encourages me to HAVE hobbies. Because there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch, even for cheap curiosities and ladies’ nights. Having a designated budget gives me room to breathe and explore possibilities I’d otherwise ignore.

So cheers to you on a great ride, David. I’ll be right there with my camera next time.

Sometimes Half Is All the Way: Marathons and Personal Finance

I did it. Well, I’m going to do it. And yes, this might the first sign of mental breakdown, but I’m remarkably okay with that label if it carries me across the finish line. After all, a dash of crazy is a prerequisite for a half marathon, and even more for the full 26.2.

Yep, I’m signed up for the Richmond Half Marathon and made my first training run with the group on Saturday. Apparently I’ll do almost anything in pursuit of a car sticker, or so I’m discovering. Now that I’m passed the quarter century mark and inching ever closer to the inevitable 30, I imagine the window of opportunity will close before I realize it (we’ve made it four years without an “oops,” but the odds can’t be in our favor much longer, heh. And I’m not running my first giant race with a baby belly). So 2012 is the year I woman up, and November 10 is the day I prove it.

I’m running with the novice team – no surprise there – but why I’m a novice instead of an intermediate runner is much more interesting.

Of course I’m no Usain Bolt. However, my pace had essentially nothing to do with which level of runner I am. The novice training teams include pace times from 7:00 minutes to 13:00 minutes or thereabouts, which means some folks are running almost twice as fast as others even though we’re all lumped together. Likewise, the intermediate teams are spread out across the board, and some of the paces match the novice teams. What gives?

Before I took the plunge on the training team, I sat at the feet of Head Coach Ro Gammon for an info meeting. A bunch of us were sitting on the floor of a dance studio in American Family Fitness, all us of trying to look casual without being too ridiculous in a room full of strangers. Coach bounced up and down on an exercise ball with way too much energy for someone her age as she gave us the details. She advised us to sign up for intermediate or novice based not on our time, but on our miles.

Say you run 15 miles a week at a 8:00minute pace. Better stay in novice. Say you run 25 miles a week at a 10:30minute pace. Bump yourself up to intermediate.

Ro emphasized over and over that the training is really about how many miles you have on your legs. It’s not how fast you run, but how far. I had to digest that for a minute. After all, most races are about how fast you can get across the finish line, the end. But once you hit the long distances, your body will give out if you push too hard, too fast. There’s a steady 10-20% a week increase rule for mileage, and if you bust through that, you’re almost guaranteed to get injured during training. And nothing guarantees a DNF like a worn down body.

So yeah, I’m definitely running with the novice folks. I have no interest in biting off more than I can chew and nearly choking myself to force it down. I want the smaller goal of 15 miles a week, even though it means I won’t be as close to running a full marathon, because this gives me a better chance of success long term.

Success depends on wisdom, and wisdom dictates that you don’t ramp up too fast, lest you burn up your mental and physical resolve. For me, it also means not going it alone, and sharing the experience and struggle with others who have set those same, smaller but still noble goals. We’re already breaking down the walls, and I know we’ll be cheering for each other come the full 13.1.

And you know, it all cross-applies to how we manage money and build wealth. Start slow, finish well. Small goals on the way to big goals. Don’t feel the pressure to turn everything around at once. Find a community that will talk you through. Break the taboos and train together. Same principles, just a different sphere.

Over the past year, personal finance has lost its fear factor for me, partially because of my job, partially because of great blogs like Get Rich Slowly, and partly because of personal experience. I’ve demystified the phrase. It’s no longer a phrase that inspires images of cutting back and mumbo jumbo jargon, but has become a natural extension of the way I live my life. Really, that’s what personal finance should be – a path to make and meet your goals and find freedom.

It’s like running a half. Sometimes, halfway really is all the way. Because if you put the miles on your legs and get in the habit, you’re going to keep climbing.

Orange You Glad (We’re Back)?

There’s an inverse relationship to the amount of content one has to blog and the amount of time one has to actually write. I’m sure there’s some strange Internet axiom about that, somewhere, though I’ve never seen it alongside Godwin’s Law. Anyway, rather than bore you with all the details, let’s just say the end of the school year mobbed us with commitments and we’ve been recuperating quite happily this summer. But we have made time for some lovely adventures.

For starters, we took a mini beach trip with my family mid-May. I managed to split the wiffle ball in half when we played on the beach, effectively winning the game (I’m pretty sure that’s how it works). It’s crazy that my family now has enough people at the right age to play an even game — I remember years of 5-year-old twins having meltdowns mid-game because they’d been at the beach too long. Can’t say I missed that!

There was lots of wind and chilliness going on that weekend. But aren’t my parents cute?

We even dragged ourselves out of bed for the sunrise.

I committed to keeping my DSLR in manual mode this weekend, and am happy to say that one picture in 100 turned out stunningly. Haha.

And of course the trips to the Mathews cottage continue… and now that my SIL and I both have sweet cameras, we’re having a lot of fun with light painting and such.

We spent some lovely evenings with friends, including a Friday on Brown’s Island for Dawes/Sara Watkins.

We also took on church music (funny story…), a bathroom remodel (thanks leaky toilet), the Monument Avenue 10K with Joe and Megan (did you know mayonnaise is a great pre-race food?), and lots more. But the pictures most worth sharing are from just this past Saturday at the epic Color Me Rad 5K, when some friends joined forces with us to constitute Team Orange You Glad. It’s best explained in before and after pictures (and no, I did NOT risk my DSLR at this event).

Before the 5K and colorbombing:

After the 5K and colorbombing:

It took me 45 minutes to desmurf after the event (and there was blue earwax for days… no seriously), but it was totally worth the memory and the pictures. Plus I ran into some of my favorite local bloggers, who were super gracious despite my incoherent excitement at seeing them. I have to laugh at myself too because I would have run very far away from this race back in highschool, when I was rather a Miss Priss. Now, I’m the one who drags David to this kind of thing. Maybe I’m learning to take myself less seriously, eh?

Kudos to everyone in Richmond who added some color to their life this weekend!