Without Him

One of the few memories I have of both of my grandfathers is of their reverence for the Blessed Sacrament.  When we would drive past a Catholic Church, my dad’s dad would always tip his hat (I love that he wore hats) and my mother’s father would inevitably cross himself.

I can remember my older brother asking why once, and hearing my dad’s dad say, “It’s because He’s in there, in the tabernacle.” I recall looking at the church and wondering who could be in there that was so important that my grandfather would slow down and say hello to someone he couldn’t even see from the street.

As I got older, and lost my paternal grandfather, it was only my mom’s father who slowed down to say “Hello.”  I loved him and wanted to make him proud, so I would cross myself too. He would nod in approval and  smile at me when I joined him in this small show of respect.

I’ll always remember the Good Friday when we drove by St Elizabeth’s Church.  As my hand rose to my forehead, Grandpa’s gentle hand reached out to stop me.   “Not today,” he told me. “Today he’s not there.  The tabernacle is empty and the whole world is a little sadder to not have Him in it.”

That’s where my brain is this morning…in that big boat of a car with my grandfather as his eyes welled up and he fought back his sadness.  His mournful voice said, “Today He’s in the tomb and we are alone.”

My mind keeps drifting to the empty tabernacles all over the world with their doors standing open, filled only with the silence of the grave.  How ready we will be for Easter to arrive when we can again bask in his glorious presence.

 

 

Photo – By Nheyob (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Read more at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rebeccafrech/2015/04/without-him-a-good-friday-reflection.html#mj9DX0wkAF2HO1Ph.99

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You Need A Herd

When I told people that I was writing about the modern loneliness epidemic, the first thing they would say is “It’s the social media, right?”

Well, no. Not really.

Our dependence on social media is actually a band-aid. It’s an attempt to cover the ache of isolation and loneliness, but it’s only a small part of why we feel that way.

The more research I did into the topic, the more I came to understand that the problem is the way we live today – our 10 foot privacy fences, 12 hour work days, divorce, cross country moves, low birthrates, insane schedules, long commutes, etc – the way we live our lives almost seems purposely designed to be the very worst things for our feelings of belonging, safety, and community. The feelings that are so important to our mental health and well-being are in short supply these days.

We weren’t designed to live this way. We’re not meant to live lives of such intense isolation.

We’re actually made to live within the safe community of our families or tribes. Human beings do best when we live near to the people who love and know us best, people who work with and support each other. This isn’t news to anyone. We know this instinctively.

We know that in a perfect world we’d have multiple generations helping us raise our children and take care of our elderly or sick relatives. We know that when our babies take their unsteady toddling steps into the waiting aging hands of their great-grandparents, it’s good for both of them. We know this, and yet we make decisions that carry us further and further away from the ideal of a close and connected family.

If you’re living far from home, go back if you can. If that’s not possible, then you need to create a tribe of people for yourself. Not just people of your own generation and season of life, but a broad swath across the spectrum – you need siblings and grandparents, cousins and parents. You need to find people who will stand in the gap created by the lack of family, or a healthy functioning family, nearby.

Depression and loneliness are skyrocketing as we become more and more isolated, and it’s not really a mystery why. We are, biologically speaking, herd animals. Have you ever watched the Nature Channel and seen the look on a gazelle’s face when it gets separated from its herd? The complete fear of finding themselves alone is one that we know all too well. Too many of us are living the life of that shocked gazelle, and not knowing why we can’t find peace and a sense of belonging.

We’re feeling lonely because we’re alone. The only way to fix that is to find our herd – either the one we came from or the one we create. While social media can help you find your people, eventually you’ve got to turn off the screens and get to know each other in real life.

 

My new book on loneliness, friendship, and the search for belonging, Can We Be Friends?published by Our Sunday Visitor, comes out May 2018. It is available to preorder now.

image credit : By Grant’s_Gazelle.jpg: Stig Nygaard from Copenhagen, Denmark derivative work: Lycaon (Grant’s_Gazelle.jpg) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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Searching for Something Real

Last Summer, our daughter made the decision to give public school a try this year. By December she’d decided that next year she wants to come back home. “They aren’t teaching me anything so that I can learn,” she complained. “They just stuff information into my head as fast as they can so that I can pass a test and then we move on to the next thing for me to memorize. I can tell you facts, but no one teaches me the reasons behind them.”

I’m amazed at the reactions of the people we’ve told. They all agree with her assessments of the problems with a school system that is focused on test scores instead of understanding, and yet they are surprised that she would want something more.

“What about the social benefits?” They ask us, as though there are no comparable benefits to schooling at home, or that socialization were something we’d never considered before this moment. There may not be hallway traffic jams or standardized testing at home, but I think she’s going to do alright.

“Even if you’re not going to be at high school next year,” she’s heard people say, “at least you got to spend one year in the real world.” As though the eighth grade in a middle to upper middle class Texas suburb is somehow the  real world, or that Ella was only just now getting to see it.

What they meant was “you got to spend a year seeing what my life is like,” and it is an experience that we’re glad she was able to have. She’s done well academically, and done as well in the shark tank of 8th grade girl-dom as anyone could have done. She isn’t choosing something else because she’s failing at traditional school, but because she knows how much of “real life” she’s missing when she’s sitting in a classroom.

While the friends she loves are living their real world of lunch room politics, standardized testing, learning that’s limited by the number of minutes between bells, cool kids and losers, and all the social pressures that come with traditional schooling. She hungers to return to living in the wider world. Because the girl who travels the country for competitions, hangs out with homeless skaters at  Venice Beach, volunteers at the rehab hospital to meet with children who are newly in a chair, is as comfortable discussing catheters and prosthetics as she is movies and tv shows, and has learned to reinvent not just herself but her whole life,  lived a whole lot of “real world” before she ever rolled through a public school doorway.

This past Summer, I wasn’t unhappy at the idea that our family was transitioning away from educating our children at home. This Spring I learned that the only thing which could make me rethink that was my daughter’s search for something real – a real education, the real world, and her own real life.

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Owning My Weakness

There was a time when I was strong. I went into the gym and picked up all the things. I could out-lift most of the women I knew, and keep up with a lot of the men. My body was strong and healthy, and I loved the way it felt to live in it.

Then my 20th anniversary and three bottles of wine led to a new baby. The gym where I worked closed when I was eight months pregnant, making it hard to find a new place to exercise.

As 2016 became 2017, I settled into a sedentary lifestyle, waiting for our newest baby and forgetting all of the nutritional truths I’d learned in my years of coaching and fitness. I once again became comfortable with a meat and carb dominated diet.

When our girl Rita came along, I curled my body around hers and decided to let myself drink in the bliss of new motherhood without worrying about the condition of my body. She snuffled into my softness, and I was happy to let her. As the months went by, I flirted with the idea of working out, but it wasn’t fun. I knew I was eating terribly, but it was easy and tasted good. I knew how I should be living, but that knowledge wasn’t enough for me to push past my lethargy. I just didn’t want to, so I didn’t.

Then one day I rested my hand on my bicep, and I was surprised by how far my hand sank into the fleshiness of my upper arm. I climbed the stairs to our playroom, and my thighs burned from the unaccustomed activity. My husband walked into our room while I was changing clothes, and I closed the bathroom door so that he wouldn’t see me naked. My blood pressure was high, and it was once again hard to breathe. And I realized how much I didn’t like the body I was living in.

When my husband asked what I wanted for Christmas, I simply said “Crossfit.” I knew that in the sweat, the WODs, and the Olympic lifting was the body I missed having. He gifted me with a couple months membership with the promise of more as long as I stuck with it.

I started back on New Year’s Eve, and it was brutal.

Eighteen months ago, I deadlifted close to 300 pounds. This week I struggled to get a third of that off of the ground.  Halfway through the workout, “Girl pushups” on my knees became so difficult that I had to switch to push ups against the wall. I looked around and saw that I was easily the weakest person in the room. It was humbling and frustrating. My body knew how to do all the things, but just wasn’t able to do them.

My coach saw the frustration on my face, and offered me consolation, “Go easy on yourself. It’s okay to be where you are. You had a baby…”

My husband echoed his words with “Stop being so hard on yourself. You’re not that weak.”

I listened to their trying to talk me down off of the ledge they thought I was on, and then I told them to stop. It’s not okay to be where I am. My health sucks. With a family history of heart disease and obesity, I’d let myself slide backwards towards cardiac disease and a high BMI. I couldn’t be the mom I wanted to be because I wasn’t healthy enough to keep up with them.

So I told myself the truth. “It’s not okay. I’m here because I made bad decisions about my health. I’m not going to use the baby as an excuse for my eating like crap and not getting myself up off of the couch. I know they mean well, but I can’t listen to them giving me permission to be unhealthy. It’s not okay to be weak. it’s not okay to be unhealthy. It’s just not okay.”

I’m unhealthy and weak as a direct result of the choices that I have made. It’s okay to say that. It’s okay to say that where I am today sucks. It’s not mean or offensive to say that I need to do better, or that I owe it to myself and to my family.

I don’t have the right to give my family an unhealthy mom and risk my life simply because I can come up with excuses not to exercise or just because bread is delicious. I have an obligation to them to stick around and stay healthy for as long as I possibly can, and I owe it to myself to have a body that I don’t hate walking around in. I may be weak today, but I’m working on it. Because I want to. Because I need to. Because it’s the right thing to do.

Back when my body was strong and I loved living in it

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Can We Be Friends?

Me and my bff, Kara

I just looked at the last time I blogged, and was shocked that it was in September! Then I thought about it and realized “…yeah….that’s about right…” I didn’t disappear because I ran out of things to say, (that could never happen) but because I have been hunkered down researching and writing a book.

Way back in the Spring, I said to an editor I met that I’d like to someday write a book about the modern epidemic of loneliness and going in search of your people. She took me up on it and asked for a formal book pitch (which is a lot of writing for a book that may or may not happen.) It took months of refining what I wanted to write about and what they wanted to pay me to write about, but by mid-summer we had come up with something we thought people might actually want to read.

And I researched. Because that’s the kind of girl I am.

I read sociological, psychological, and anthropological studies on why people are reporting loneliness in epidemic numbers and how to create a tribe of people to fight off the lonely. I read Ph D papers, and all kinds of studies. I had gone into this whole thing thinking “it’s probably the social media,” and came out of it knowing that social media is a part of the problem, but also a part of the solution, and that it’s so much more complicated than just Facebook or Twitter. It’s the way we live, but it’s not a hopeless thing. Loneliness can be fought and defeated!

Armed with that information, I sat down in mid-October to begin laying out what this book would look like once it was on paper, and began writing around Halloween. On New Year’s Day, I sent in the last rough chapter to the editor and she sent the first chapters with notes and corrections back to me.

A bit ago, Our Sunday Visitor started taking pre-orders which is crazy exciting, and I added working on a talk on the subject to my to-do list. I’ve already been asked to speak at three events this Spring about friendship and loneliness, and am talking to a few more for this Summer and Fall. If you’d like to have me come out and speak with your group, I’d be happy to discuss it with you. If you’d like to pre-order my new book “Can We Be Friends?” my publisher would be happy to let you.

I’m going to try to blog a bit more this year, because I miss the community of writers and readers on the internet, and because I still have a bit more to say.

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Public School, College, and Home

For years I joked about the “magic yellow bus that came and took children away.” This year it takes away three of mine.*

After sixteen years of teaching my children at home, five years of medical crises, and a whole lot of other reasons, I’m tired. This past May I began researching curriculum for this school year and I started crying. I looked at the beautiful sleeping face of our newest baby, and I knew beyond any doubt that I didn’t want to still be homeschooling until she graduated high school. The thought of another eighteen years of this lifestyle were NOT the way I wanted to live.

I thought back to the woman I was when I stepped out in faith and self-assurance and made the decision to tackle my kids’ education myself. I was twenty six years old back then, the mom of three small children. My eldest was four and a half, and the boys were almost two and brand spanking new. At no time did I think I’d be homeschooling for the next thirty four  years. It never occurred to me that I could be homeschooling until I was sixty.

Thirty four years. That’s how long it would be if I continued teaching until the baby graduated high school. It’s overwhelming to me to even write it. A friend of mine and I joke that you can’t “do the math” or you’d never be able to do anything, but in this case I can’t stop doing the math. I don’t want to homeschool for thirty four years. I just don’t.

I flirted with the idea of putting the children in school last year, but a hinky feeling and a general mutiny from the children put that on hold. Adding a new baby to the family pushed me over the edge, so I just closed my eyes and leaped. I’m so glad that I did. This school year has had the most peaceful beginning of any in years.

We prayerfully discerned what was best for each child, and my three extroverts are loving the crowded hallways and sea of faces in public school. They chatter away about recess, reading groups, and new friends. My two eldest sons are taking classes online and at the local community college through the dual credit program, and our eldest daughter is a college senior studying neuroscience. Which leaves me with only my 10 year old and the sweet new baby at home.

This one child just works best in complete silence, so the strange quietness in my house is suiting him to a T. He has his own learning nook by a picture window where he reads and works for most of the morning. We break for a walk with the baby after lunch, and then he learns until his siblings start coming home around 2:30. There’s a freedom for my child who has sensory issues to be able to be blessedly alone for most of his day, and in getting the one-on-one time with me that he desperately needs. He’s calmer and happier, and when his brother and sisters burst through the door in the afternoon, he’s got the reserves built up to roll with the chaos they bring in their wake.

During the day are these quiet hours when I just get to hang out with the baby. I haven’t had a baby without a toddler nearby since my eldest was born. I’d forgotten how fun it was to listen to screams of baby giggles without hearing “Do that to me, Mom” or “I need to go potty.” I have the time and the freedom to be just her mom for a little while each day, and it’s such a gift to us both. I have loved the joy of motherhood these past twenty-one years, but I’d forgotten about the quiet peace that can be found in the presence of a baby.

When I started homeschooling all those years ago, my husband and I agreed it was going to be a year-by-year and child-by-child decision. I confess that I lied. I thought I’d be doing it until the last child graduated and left my house. I was in it for the long haul. Then I suddenly wasn’t.

I woke up one morning and knew down to my bones that this was no longer the best option for every member of our family, and on that day I was done  teaching all but one. This is going to be an interesting year as they adjust to learning from someone who’s not me in a place that’s not here, and I adapt to a life with all this amazing silence and learn how to spend all of this extra time that I suddenly find on my hands.

 

*Figuratively speaking. I’m driving them not the bus.

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A Mother Gone, A Daughter Missing (part 2)

It’s been a few years since I wrote this piece, with help and approval from my mom, for a TBI survivors’ group. It is one of my favorite things I’ve ever written. I’m resharing it now because we’ve finally written a happy ending of sorts to it. Here’s part two of what is now a 3 part post. Thanks, Mom, for your help with this.

 

My mom sat on the couch in our living room holding our newest baby. She kissed his downy black hair, lifted him to her shoulder and said, “I don’t understand your life. I don’t understand how you got here.”

I knew instantly what she meant – this wasn’t supposed to be the life I had. Her daughter was never supposed to be a stay-at-home mom with a litter of children. I had been raised by a forward-thinking woman who had praised the promises of freedom and prosperity held in a small package of birth control pills. I can’t even begin to guess how often had she uttered the words “the rich get richer and the poor have babies” to me. It was said in a half joking ruffle-my-hair tone, but the message was always clear – having children would tie me down; having a lot of children would guarantee me a life of struggle. She couldn’t imagine why I would choose such a hard path for myself. Why hadn’t I listened and learned?

I smiled at her and said “I know you don’t, Mom.” I lifted my sleeping son from her arms and said, “I know that he doesn’t make sense to you.”

She just shook her head and said, “This was never the plan we had for you, you and I. You should be in Congress by now.”

I think back to that conversation more often than I probably should. In anyone else’s mother, I would think those words were harsh and condemning. From my own mother, I know that they are honest. She doesn’t know how we got to this point.

When I was 14 years old, my mother suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). When she awoke from the resulting coma, she had lost 7 years of my life. The teenage girl standing in front of her was a complete stranger, and had no connection to the little girl she remembered. While her brain has healed as much as it is going to, she still doesn’t have an intact and cohesive memory of those missing years. She describes what she does have as a collection of still photos and movie clips. She has said that she feels detached from the girl in those memories, the same way feels about a celebrity in a gossip magazine – she knows who all the players are but it doesn’t feel personal.

Her sense of disconnect is not helped by the fact that in the years that followed that event, I mostly lived somewhere other than with her. For a variety of reasons – some personal and some academic- I lived in the same house as my mother for what adds up to just over another two years total if you piece it all together. In the short amount of time that I lived in her house, she was not yet the woman she is today – she was mentally more on the level of a child or young teen and was not capable of being any kind of mother to me. (She freely admits this, in case you were wondering. I’m not telling tales out of school here.) When I was 18, I moved 12 hours away and it would be years before we spent more than a few days together in any given year.

We have talked of this often, my mother and I. On the days when she can articulate it, she says that she feels as if her daughter were stolen from her at age 7…kidnapped…and that somehow she was handed back a woman in her early 20’s, fully formed and already engaged to be married. I had made the unfathomable decision to postpone finishing my college education, and was planning a wedding years before she would have thought prudent. In the years to come, I had baby after baby and never did finish that degree. Those decisions will never make sense to her. How could the girl she had placed so carefully on a certain path have ended up wandering in the opposite direction?

With no memory of the events of many of the major events of my life, she is mystified by how we got to the place I’m at today. She loves the grandchildren, and rejoices to meet every one, but wonders why there are so many. How did the girl she knew become the woman she knows?

Her daughter is missing.

It’s not about genetics, because clearly I’m still here. She’s missing the girl she knew. What happened to the child who dreamed of politics and had plans laid out for her life before she even left elementary school? That girl was still charging ahead until that fateful day at age 14, when my mom died and I had to learn to live without her.

It was while living without her that I discovered boys and learned about heart-break. I went out into the world searching for love and intimacy without a guide to help me understand what that looked like. I made horrible choices and met awful people who wrote themselves on the history of my life. Eventually I met the other kind…the good and honest ones. I had learned to recognize their value, so I held on tight.

I left the Church, and that decision was met with disinterest by those around me. With nothing to call me back, I drifted lost for many years. It wasn’t until my baby lay dying in the NICU that I hit my knees and rediscovered my faith. I studied and learned, prayed and listened. I became a woman of strong and quiet (and sometimes not-so-quiet) faith. It became my rock and my support.

I struggled with the after-effects of contraceptive choices on my body, and learned to love the babies from my unplanned pregnancies. I had become a Catholic woman a 12-hour drive away from my still-healing mother, and nearly 20 years beyond the girl she remembered. Eventually, I found my voice and began to write. I poured out my heart on a blank computer screen, and began to learn to know and love the woman I had become. That’s a lot of life to have lived, and her memory is missing almost all of it.

I sat on the couch with her this past December, listening to a tape of the mother I had lost. After a few minutes, we heard the bright chirp of my own girlishness and she sighed. We listened to the voices of the people we miss most and cried together – for my mother who is gone, and for her daughter who is missing.

The daughter she lost

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A Mother Missing, A Daughter Gone (Part 1)

It’s been a few years since I wrote this piece, with help and approval from my mom, for a TBI survivors’ group. It is one of my favorite things I’ve ever written. I’m resharing it now because we’ve finally written a happy ending of sorts to it. Here’s part one of what is now a 3 part post. Thanks, Mom, for your help with this.

It’s been a long time since we lost my mom. There are days when it’s been so long that I can’t even remember what she was like. I no longer have the memories of her laugh or her voice anywhere in my mind. I don’t know the sound of her footsteps any longer. I can’t recall how she sounded when she sang. I no longer know the touch of her hand, or the comforting feeling of being held in her arms. The sure and powerful bulwark of my life had disappeared. She is so far gone from my mind that I sometimes wonder if the woman I knew ever existed.

I called her last week and asked her if she can remember being the woman she was. She said sometimes…when she sleeps. Which is fitting, because the only time I see the mom-who-was is in my dreams.

It’s been nearly thirty years years since we were out running errands and she ran a stop sign. A lifetime since a suburban slammed into the driver’s door and I lost the woman who was my mother….forever. I woke up in an emergency room strapped to a back board. She didn’t wake up at all – comatose, brain injured, with severe internal injuries – dying…

and then she lived.

Brain injuries and comas are strange things. No one tells you that in the hospital. You sit by the side of someone you love and hope that they will wake up so that you can take them home. Nobody prepares you for the fact that the person who wakes up may no longer be the person you loved.

They also don’t tell you that you’ll never be allowed to say that.

She died. The mom I knew died.I’ve said it over and over again through the years. Relatives cursed me for my insensitivity. Therapists got so frustrated that they yelled. Family friends begged me to stop saying something so ugly. I could not, because it was the truth.

I have gone back and read the journals I kept when I was 14 and 15, just the way that my mother taught me to do. I screamed and railed on paper my anger at the chaos my life had become. I shouted in indignation over family members who disappeared when our catastrophe became too uncomfortable for them to endure.What I cried out against with all that I had on those pages was the lie that somehow this person was my mother.

I’ve also read the journals that she kept during that first year back at home. She wrote of me, “There’s a girl in this house. I don’t know her. Her mother has died and she cries for her. I don’t like the crying and wish that she would stop. If she won’t stop crying then she should leave.” The daughter in her memory, the me she knew, was 7 years old. Her daughter was missing and she screamed at me demanding that I bring her girl back.

People tried to reason with her and said, “This is your daughter, right here.”

She would look at them and scream, “LIAR!

and she was right.

It had not taken very long for the people we were to be replaced by the very beginnings of who we would become. Those strangers were as foreign to us as they were to each other.

She had been a capable woman. That’s the first word that comes to my mind for her – capable. Strong, brilliant, independent, fiercely protective – and then suddenly broken. Every part of herself in which she had once taken pride had been stripped away from her. What was left was the raw truth of the woman who had been underneath, and that truth was ugly to behold.

The woman who had set out that day was gone, and we brought a frightened and confused monster home with us in September. All that was left of the woman she had been were anger and fear. She raged and roared at the world. She lashed out in a murderous fury, and I learned to hide and cringe in terror.

Healing took years. It was a slow painful crawl until we got to a place where the woman she became replaced what she was. But she was not the same. The confident ambitious woman had become timid and unsure. Her brilliant mind suffered from confusing lapses in memory. No longer protective, she was easily swayed and convinced. The hard shell of her had been smashed and what was left was still  determined, but humbled and kind.

She came to visit us ea while back and brought with her a cassette tape. After the rest of the house had gone to bed, she motioned to me with her awkward hands. “I have a treasure to share with you,” she said.

I sat next to her on the couch in the front room as she worked it into the tape player and pressed ‘Play.’ From out of its muffled speaker came the laugh of a woman I had lost. In that long ago voice, she sang and played with my younger brother. They sang of twinkling stars and the Good Ship Lollypop. A weight wrapped around my chest until I couldn’t breathe.

“That’s my mom…” I choked as the tears streamed down my face.

“I know,” she answered.

“She died.”

“Yes, I did.” Her cold fingers gripped mine tightly.

“You’re nicer now.”  I told her.

She nodded.

“But I miss her terribly.”

She reached up and wiped my face. “I know you do.”

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On The Funny Bone

Three years ago, my friend Calah Alexander dragged me to the Edel Conference. I was reluctant to go in the midst of our medical drama at home. She was right. It was exactly what I needed. This week, I’m getting ready to head off to Edel again. This time I know that it’s what I need, and I’m eager to get there. 

I thought I’d re-share my experience from way back then while I’m packing and getting ready to go now.

I didn’t want to go. I’ll start right there. Back at the beginning of the year, when I was in the midst of unplanned pregnancy/miscarriage drama, Calah from Barefoot and Pregnant wouldn’t take excuses from me when she bought my ticket. “You’re going to be ready for this break in July,” she had said. That was back in the simpler time before the mystery illness crashed into our lives bringing frustration and loneliness with it.

“I don’t play well with others.” I tried to tell her in June. She shook it off and said then I could play badly with her.

As July 1st arrived, I stared at the word Edel on my calendar, and sighed. It was one more obligation on a pile of “too much.” I read through the plans and saw that Friday night was set to begin with a cocktail party and crazy shoe contest. I handed my check card to my eldest daughter, told her my budget, and let her shop. A few days later, these arrived in the mail

Glittery cupcake shoes were enough to break a crack through my fog, a small one. Shoes meant a party, and a party means people. The extrovert in me clicked her heels for joy. People!

I’ve made no secret of my loneliness. Reeling from tragedy to tragedy for the past two and a half years has stripped away all but the most devoted friends and even family. I have the people who live in my house, plus one close friend left in Dallas. When you add in a parish that has been spectacularly unresponsive in helping or ministering to our needs, I’m in the midst of a desert. I ache for people and community, and the loneliness of here is almost as crippling as the recent tragedies.

In spite of my isolation, I didn’t want to be around strangers. I’m still not playing well with others these days, and didn’t want to have to be fake happy all weekend. My emotional responses can be off after the past few months, and I didn’t want to cry in front of people who would judge me. My daughter wouldn’t listen. She was a girl with a plan, and that plan included me.

Her BFF of five years has suddenly become much more than that to her, and she needed to get to San Antonio for a DTR (that’s a define the relationship talk, y’all.) She could drop me in Austin and then drive the remaining two hours by herself. (If you’ve been reading me for a while, this is the same kid who asked my husband’s permission to write to his daughter. We like him.) She’d be back on Sunday to pick me up. She had decided that I needed to go, and she was taking my means of escape.

 I walked into the lobby of the Omni on Friday afternoon and exhaled. I silently prayed “Just help me to hold it together this weekend.” I looked around, and my heart sank as I realized that I knew no one.

Within five minutes I heard, “Shut up! You’re Rebecca Frech! I love you!” and I was enveloped in a warm hug that left me breathless. It was a feeling I was to experience often during the weekend. I apologize to the women whose warmth overwhelmed me, and I broke down sobbing in their arms. The isolation has broken me over the past few months, and I was overcome to no longer be alone.

By the time Calah and I were dressing for that night’s party, laughter had replaced tears and we giggled like college girls. We checked for VPL (visible panty lines) and fixed one wardrobe malfunction before heading down to the party.

After the party, we ran up to our room, threw on pajamas, and ventured back down to the lobby to play Cards Against Humanity with the other slightly wrong, dirty minded, absolutely hilarious Catholic women. We shed our identities as wives and mothers at some point and were just ourselves… and the people we are are HILARIOUS! I kept finding myself wondering where these women had been my whole life. After years of thinking myself an anomaly, I had found my people at 2am in Austin.

Saturday afternoon, the CAH girls slipped into the back row of seats as the speaker sessions began. We snorted with laughter and giggled inappropriately, tweeted and texted, and played in that back row until the speaker took the mic. I can’t tell you what she said, although the tears on the cheeks around me said that it must have been amazing. I couldn’t hear her over the swirling in my own head. This was the living Church. This was the Body of Christ, and I was happily taking my place within it.

For a lot of years, I studied hard and tried to be smart enough to be part of the brain of the Body of Christ, and then I tried to be generous enough to belong in the heart. I admired those whose humility allowed them to be the feet which carry us, or the hard work of the hands who do the work, but knew I wasn’t the hands or the feet. It was only after a weekend filled with karaoke, off-color jokes, squeeze-you-breathless hugs, and laughing until the mascara ran down our cheeks, that I have at last found my place upon the Body of Christ’s funny bone. It’s where I belong. The weird thing about that funny bone – it can make you laugh, but it’s also the part of the elbow that you lean on when you pray.

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The Smell of Home

The baby is asleep on my chest, the 5-year-old is snuggled so close that she has my left elbow pinned to my side, and the 7-year-old is seated between my feet, leaning against my knees. Clearly these children of mine have no concept of the idea of personal space. I’ll be honest, it’s enough to make an extrovert feel pretty claustrophobic. Plus, I have to pee, and I don’t know how I can do that without waking the two girls up.

And then my 7-year-old son nonchalantly turned his head to the side and sniffed my leg.

He sniffed me!

“Did you just smell me?” I asked him.

He got this goofy shy smile he has, and said, “You smell like home and being safe.”

At that, his 5-year-old sister peeked open an eye and chimed in with “You smell good and safe.” And then she sniffed me too.

As I sat there trying very hard to not pay attention to my bladder, I distracted myself by thinking about what an amazing gift it is to be safety and home to these small-ish people. The trust that they have in my abilities to heal injuries and broken hearts and to keep the boogey-man at bay is humbling. I’m just an ordinary woman, but to them I’m so much more than that. I’m MOM.

I eventually slipped out from underneath their warm selves (Freedom!!!!) and came back again, settling myself on the opposite end of the couch. My husband gave me a knowing wink seeing that I’d managed to carve out a little elbow room for myself. It lasted just long enough for the dog to see that my lap was empty and take full advantage of that. I guess I smell like home to him too.

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