Tuesday, June 26, 2007

another way to say it

i just read Annie Dillard's Holy the Firm. i'm not smart enough to attempt a book review of an Annie Dillard book. i've read 3 of them now, and i'm sure there is more stuff i don't understand than stuff that i do. but some passages here and there strike a chord...

"There are no events but thoughts and the heart's hard turning, the heart's slow learning where to love and whom. The rest is merely gossip, and tales for other times."

maybe it's another way to say what really matters. maybe it contributes to my earlier posts that amounted to an amateur exploration of the psychology of blogging. maybe it is what my friend Chad means when he rants about "mommy blogs." Maybe it points again to the things i want my life to be about.

anyway, i think she's right.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

awash in affection

A couple of months ago, we had one of those parenting moments that you never forget: Ryan and I were on the couch beside each other. Morgan (at the ripe ol' age of 2) came downstairs, walked over to the couch, and wiggled herself in right between us. Then she put her hands up behind each of our shoulders, and announced that “This is my friend Mom, and this is my friend Dad.” :-) Yep – I melted.

Today, I am wishing that I was 2 again, and that it was more acceptable for me to place myself physically near several people and announce to whoever would listen that “This is my friend.” I wish I knew the appropriate way for a 28-year-old to express such honest affection, because I feel it. Deeply and often. Tenderness in children that makes our hearts melt is frowned upon in adults. People tend to regard it as weak or weird or immature. I don't intend to be “cute.” I just want some way to tell you and show you...

Thanks to all of you who show me - clearly and often. And bear with me when I stumble toward you for an awkward thank-you-and-goodbye hug, or when I search for words that come out jumbled and teary. I'm just trying to find some expression that is true to what I feel without creeping you out. I'm still not sure how adults should do this, but I think we should do a lot more of it than we think. Maybe I'm trying to start by writing a blog...

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


I'm encountering a strange thing in the midst of this storm. A paradox that is probably not rare, but quite surprising to me right now:

(this is the set-up, not the confusing part): People are praying for us. More people than I can even imagine are praying for our boy, and for us. We feel it. We know we couldn't even get out of bed if that were not the case. And you know what? The prayers of a righteous man are powerful and effective. People are praying for rest, and we're getting rest (body, mind, soul, and spirit). People are asking for strength enough to make good decisions, and strength enough to just let go and cry when we need to. And we feel strong in both places. People are praying for our marriage, and Ryan and I have really stayed connected to each other through all of this so far. I could go on and on with a list of prayers that are being answered in us moment by moment...

The paradox is that people are surprised when we're doing well. Some seem almost disappointed or even offended if we are not constantly coming apart at the seams. I realize that by all natural logic, we very well should be. And to anyone who doesn't know Jesus and His Spirit in us, our ability to keep going and do this very difficult thing well seems like we are being callous or uncaring or naive or in denial.

But it's not the case. Prayers are being answered, and the Lord is so very thickly present with us right now. He is doing as much in/around Ryan and I as He is in our Athan's little body. I do not pretend that Ryan and I have any kind of "ability" to do this well on our own. We don't. In fact, I can feel some of my natural tendencies being held at bay by the prayers of the saints (like the tendency to withdraw or shut down or be blinded by anger, among others). I don't believe the purpose of your prayers or the Lord's purpose here is to make the grief go away, but to allow us to grieve well. As my friend Cindy sings, "The waves He'll still, or else He will quiet your heart." He's doing both, and He has been from the moment I went into labor until just now as I'm typing this post. I am amazed and grateful and (confession) surprised.

I don't feel "strong." That's not it. In the midst of such awful weakness, I know I am carried by a strength that is not my own. I am not sufficient, but I am swimming in a Grace that is. There will undoubtedly be moments or days in the future when I am not as aware of the hands that hold me as I am today, and I hope I have the courage to call or write and ask you to pray me through that part of the journey as well.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


I suppose it is old news to just say again that communication is important. But as I said, crisis tends to bring out just how important some things are. We can coast through most days resting comfortably in all manner of bad communication habits and practices, but those small hitches become major hurdles in times of high stress. Also, our good communication patterns and disciplines may hardly seem worth the effort it takes to practice them when life is clicking along in predictable rhythm, but they become pure gold when rhythm becomes cacophony. So in the midst of this particular storm we are in, I've been both spectator and participant in communication that is critical for the well-being of several people and relationships. It's made me think...

Communication is a skill – like properly running a table saw or playing a sport or knitting a sweater or playing and instrument. Skills are learned – no one is born knowing how to knit! Yet many of us assume that good communication will come “naturally.” Skills require practice – training yourself to step beyond what you already know how to do and trying things that feel awkward until sheer repetition makes it part of your skill set. But it is rare that we will put forth that kind of deliberate effort about communication. Skills can be taught – by authors or coaches or friends or professionals or whomever - but I can't remember the last time I asked any one of those sources to specifically help me communicate more clearly. It just seems like we would all benefit if we recognized and treated this as a skill to be learned.

But here's where it gets a bit fuzzy for me: Skill level varies. Some people are just plain better at certain skills than others. This is the part that gets a little touchy, and I'm having a tough time navigating. Communication is a skill, but it is not just a skill. It is also a place where we express so much of our personality, identity, preferences, and peccadilloes. I think some of our bad habits need to change, even at the expense of being “true to ourselves.” That can so quickly become a trump card we play when we don't want to be uncomfortable in the learning process any more. But I also don't think the point is to just learn to conform to someone else's personality or preferences in communication. The goal isn't to be just like each other in every way. Unique styles of communication are part of what makes the communication worth it!

I guess I'm just wondering how to tell the difference between the elements of skill and elements of self as I'm learning to be a better communicator, and also to respect the difference between those two things as I'm helping others do the same.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

what really matters

Crisis brings out what matters. Ryan and I were in my hospital room talking on Day 2. “Did we used to fight about things that don't matter much?” I asked him. The petty things were shown for what they are. Things that I waste time on seem so small and distant and unworthy. I'm glad for that kind of revelation, painful though it may be to realize how often I have wasted time and energy and emotion on weightless affairs. In the refining fire, the dross rises to the top to be removed. Painful, but good.

But the things that DO matter are also shown for what they are. Dross is shown to be dross, and the gold - the things that are good and real - are shown to be gold. The things that matter get bigger and weightier when crisis hits. It is happening to/for me: When time will allow it, I still want to engage in the conversation spurred by Chad's blog, to hear more about my good friend and her relationship with her daughter, to learn more about why Appalachia is one of the poorest areas of the country, and to love people well. It still matters very much that my friend's marriage is tough, or that another's new job is stressful. I still find myself wondering and hoping that I can escape my own bent for materialism and live a simpler life than America sells. Am I living this part of my journey well - doing what I can to bring His light and life and hope to the darkness that can be so thick for so many in the NICU?

And this stuff I've been working through and writing about here – truth and intimacy and community – they still matter. They matter for me in the midst of this crisis, and they matter for Athan, too.

One of my most treasured friends e-mailed me to ask if I was letting anyone in. To use my words, she asked if I am choosing intimacy or isolation in the midst of this crisis. Am I risking the vulnerability required to really let some people walk with me, not just walk near me? The answer is “yes, I think that I am.” Because if it ever matters to make that choice, it matters now. I don't get to/want to set aside the necessity of deciding to risk intimacy and community and honesty, using my son as an excuse to just revert to old coping patterns.

The first few hours and even days, we were still wondering whether Athan Ryan Strebeck would get to have life at all. Now, as the question turns to what kind of life he will have, I pray earnestly that Ryan and I can show him (and Morgan and anyone else who's watching) a life full of things that really matter.

how I really am

I'm keeping another blog about my son Athan, and we are trying to keep the content primarily about him and his progress. I think anyone who wants to know more about me and my thoughts and reflections will be reading this blog, too. So for those if you who have been asking, this is the best I can do to explain how I'm really doing:

The following is cut-n-paste from the other blog and from an e-mail I wrote (with some editing), plus a little original stuff added in:

Today, I feel such relief. I know we have a hard road ahead, but any road ahead is a good one when you had to consider the possibility of having to bury your baby. It is still frightening and sad to hear some of the things Athan might have to deal with for his whole life, but he IS going to have a whole life. I'm just so very glad for that!

As we told some friends today, the time of panic has subsided. I don't feel overwhelmed like I did at first. I'm first and foremost relieved that Athan is alive and thriving! I can't help but smile each time he is able to come off of a med or loose another tube or get a positive report on morning rounds. When it comes to walking out all that this will mean for our family, the best word for how I feel is "resolute." We can do this. Athan can do this. Leaning heavily on our Jesus and His church, we can keep walking (or running or limping or crawling) this out. I know there will probably be times when I'm overwhelmed again, but we can face that, too. And the other word for how I feel is just "sad." I know Athan can do this, and I'm grateful that he is alive and has the opportunity to do it. But I am also immensely sad for my little boy because he has to do this. He's just a little boy.

The hardest times are thinking about yesterday and tomorrow.

About yesterday - mostly the guilt. Ryan, too. "Surely I could have/should have/would have done something differently." Waited longer to stop using birth control. Stayed in Texas so Leah could deliver and we'd be closer to home. Tried harder to take care of myself during pregnancy. Refused the nausea drugs. Or taken them sooner. Exercised more or rested more or prayed more. Made different decisions between 3 a.m. and 7 a.m. the day after he was born. I know it's all fruitless. Especially right now. But I can't always shut it off.

About tomorrow - how can spend all the time Athan will require without losing Morgan? Will I be able to get him to take his meds at home? Hospital bills and cost of meds he'll may be on his whole life? Long-term effects on his body and development, and therefore his whole life? What does this mean about our plans - stay in school? move home? buy a house? Ryan get a job here? finish school, but slower? or pursue a whole different vocation? or stay mostly the same?

When I think about today, relieved, resolute and sad are really what I feel. And when I'm able to be still for a minute, I am usually gently reminded to give yesterday and tomorrow to Him again. and again and again and again. and again.