This morning at church, I sat in the front row and sobbed.
My contorted face and streaming tears were only visible to the musicians on the stage in front of me. I doubt anybody saw me, even though, I wasn’t trying to hide my tears. They flowed freely, the rows behind me unaware.
This morning, my Aunt passed away. She had recently been placed on life support after a long struggle with various illnesses and health issues. My aunt’s family, my parents and sister had been by her bedside for several days as her life teetered and clung to each labored breath.
Her vitals monitored by machines and a staff of doctors and nurses.
Her communication reduced to hand squeezes and eye blinks.
The last time I saw my Aunt was when I was with my family this summer and we were celebrating her 70th birthday. She was always quick to smile and say something complimentary and she did so that night.
This morning at church, I sat in the front row and sobbed.
I’ve always thought “Amazing Grace” was a song about my salvation. My own redemption. My own need for grace. The realization that despite my mistakes, despite my flaws, despite my pride and bad decisions that there was a God who would offer me grace.
a concept that I grapple to understand on a daily basis. This morning at church, it dawned on me that perhaps God’s grace is never fully expressed in our time here on earth. Maybe I’ll never fully understand the concept in this physical lifetime, but only when I finally see him face to face. Blind on this earth, but seeing in his presence. Lost, doing and saying all the right things here in physical being, but found spiritually, completely, in his presence.
“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now I’m found. Was blind but now I see.
I can see you now. I can see the love in your eyes.
Laying yourself down. Raising up the broken to life.”
This morning at church, I sat in the front row and sobbed.
I wept for my aunt. I wept for the family she leaves behind. I wept for the pain they will feel here on earth. I wept for the sadness that she lived much of her life in physical pain. Life, broken.
Then I thought that even though she wasn’t here anymore, she was realizing God’s full expression of grace. Seeing, hearing, running – life, unbroken.
It sounds trite. I’m too smart and too old to believe in fairytales like that. Sure, whatevs.
I don’t write a lot about my faith.
It doesn’t mean I don’t have it.
This morning at church, I sat in the front row and sobbed.
“You don’t have time to feel sorry for yourself, you have a family and a child who needs you,” words my therapist said once upon a post-partum depression.
It sounds harsh, but it was true.
I didn’t have the luxury of wallowing about anything anymore. Not that I’m one to wallow anyway, but in this case I didn’t have a lot of control over these circumstances – and that made it worse.
My therapist wasn’t trying to be harsh nor was she issuing a challenge to be mean or get something out of me I couldn’t do. She was telling me the raw facts. Life is not easy, but we need to go on. In essence, what she meant was I had to work the process and do the emotional work even when I felt sad or angry or confused or overwhelmed or like giving up.
My life had gotten very heavy in an instant but I was going to have to keep moving despite the 300 lb. back squat I felt buried beneath.
Big life changes are no joke. They can be debilitating. Seeing up over the top of the heaviness you are piled underneath can seem unbearable and on days when a shower seems like Everest; taking care of yourself, let alone others is a distant thought.
But you used to be so capable.
I know. Some days it’s just the shower.
So, take the shower.
Here’s what my therapist meant that day. There comes a time when, despite the crap filled hand we are dealt, we have to find ways to plug into life and keep fighting. Fighting for us, fighting for the people who need us. We have to do the emotional work and go to those places that feel dark and lonely and confusing and overwhelming and we have to walk through them.
Even when we can’t.
It seems counter intuitive and it is and you say “well, you don’t understand” and I probably don’t.
But if you need to ask for help, then do that because we don’t have the luxury of ignoring stuff, side stepping issues, hiding from relationships or self-medicating our pain.
That just cannot be the answer.
And there is an entire culture of kids being raised by parents who refuse to plug in. If you don’t believe me, look around. We all have a choice.
Look, things take time.
After the divorce, the job loss, the diagnosis, the death, the birth, the wedding, the separation, the let down, the manipulation, the deception…afterthe thing, we have to keep moving.
Slowly, sure, but in a forward direction.
Remember the 300 lb. back squat that’s been weighing you down?
It’s made you stronger. It’s actually given you power.
When you finally stand that weight up, you’ll realize that you are ready to move on. To do the things you’ve always done.
Get help when you need it.
Let people stand in the gap for a time.
And when you are ready you can and will move mountains.
(I should clarify that 300 lbs. is not a weight I’ve ever gotten on a back squat. I can’t say I’ve ever even gotten 200 lbs. heavy is heavy regardless of your PR).
When I was a kid I remember my parents taking us to one of those glass blowing shops where they crafted a small glass figurine right in front of you. I was fascinated at how the glass would bend and twist under the heat like molten liquid but once it cooled you didn’t dare try to bend it. I remember getting my initial made and then stained in my favorite color, green. I can still remember my small head peeking up over the ledge to get a closer look at the workmanship, standing to my tippy toes in an effort to make myself just a bit taller.
Last week, I had the privilege of taking my children to watch artisan glass blowers create an intricate vase right before our eyes. Instead of peering over ledges on our tip toes, the glass shop had us sit in the same room as the craftsman about thirty feet from the fiery kilns. Despite large fans blowing to keep the room cool, we could still feel the extreme temperatures on our skin as we watched the workers begin the process.
First a small piece of glass (silica, soda ash and borax) is pulled from the large kiln. It is a bright piece of molten glass that looks like a miniature sun and seems just as bright.
The craftsman uses a long stainless steel pipe, called a blowpipe, to transfer air from his mouth into the hot glass attached at the other end. He blows it into a small bubble and then rolls it onto a steel table to make a circle or sphere, actually. He takes turns blowing air into the glass and rolling it onto the table to make the desired shape before returning it to the kiln for another layer of glass. Once removed from the kiln, he blows again into the steel pipe and rolls it onto the flat surface until it is no longer round, but oblong.
He takes much time to get the oblong shape so perfectly oblique that we are all surprised when he takes one end and begins to twist the piece into a sort of double helix. He then returns the object to the kiln adding another layer of glass and so on and so forth until the double helix is no longer on the outside, but just a pattern on the inside. Two craftsmen worked in tandem to look for symmetry, flaws, small bubbles or other nuances in the piece.
When the piece is mostly done, the two craftsmen hold it under a blow torch to work through the last stages of hand-crafting. They hold it under the blow torch to keep the glass hot and pliable without having to return it to the kiln each time. The piece remains attached to the steel pipe for the entire crafting process until the very end when one of the two craftsmen takes a small hammer and carefully, but forcefully, breaks the entire piece from the steel. With a blow torch, they reheat the point where they broke it and even it out with a flat stamp – creating a base.
Finally, the vase is placed into an oven to cool. More heat. 24 hours later, the vase is taken from the oven and allowed to cool. It is at this time that it begins to show what the artisan refers to as it’s “true colors” – meaning it will change colors as it cools.
My husband and I have been in the heat for some time. I mean figurative heat and quite literally, the heat of the Arizona desert.
I do not like the heat. Never have. I’ve always preferred cooler temperatures where I can layer clothes, wear boots and see my breath. If you see your breath in Arizona it’s because it was your last gasp on earth and your innards have turned to dust. Not a lot of layers to wear or breaths to be seen here.
But as I sat and watched two artisan glass blowers create something beautiful and amazing and fragile and intricate out of silica, soda ash and borax and lots of fiery heat, I thought maybe I’ve got it all wrong. Maybe the heat is exactly where we need to be. Our life has some very beautiful moments. Moments you snap and post to the instagram of your mind. That beauty is born out of the moments after being placed in the furnace. See, we don’t make a lot of memories IN the fire. It’s once we are out of the furnace and in the cooling oven where we pause and take note of where we are.
It is the moments just after the furnace when the craftsman takes your life and begins to smooth out your shape as he rolls you onto the cooler surface. Just when you think you are done, he returns you to the heat to add more life to your years, more layers, a twisty pattern not to be seen on the outside, but on the inside. No, you cannot touch the pattern, but you can see it because the glass surrounding you is clear. That is until you are placed yet again into the heat of the oven to cool down while time allows your “true colors” to form.
Most of us look at the heat as unbearable. Myself included.
The heat is what makes us who we are. It is where we learn what we are made of and most of the time I’m not interested in knowing.
I’ve fought it (ever see a stray ember trying to escape a bonfire? That’s me).
I’ve screamed in the furnace.
I’ve cried in the furnace and no matter how many tears fall in that fiery place, there are never enough to cool it even just a bit. It’s unrelenting heat must do it’s work.
But when the craftsman pulls you from the furnace and forcefully but swiftly breaks you from that steel blowpipe, your true colors will show.
You will emerge a work of art. Someone created out of fire. Someone created over time. Someone created with patience and care. Someone with intricacies only those willing to see will find.
If you are in the fire, hang on.
The craftsman still has you on that steel blowpipe and you aren’t done. You will emerge stronger, more beautiful (if not more fragile) and more intricate than you could ever imagine.
I’ve been in the fire enough times to know, we all make it out okay.
A little hot at first, but once we cool our true colors will emerge and when they hit the sunlight just right, we will be reminded that the fire is only temporary.
The world rarely rewards or give praise to people who see small details. Nuances. People who notice the sad person at the party.
We encourage. We exhort. We blend in.
The world wants shiny.
Fast. Faster. Fastest.
Strong. Stronger. Strongest.
Don’t get me wrong. I too am drawn to sparkly things that catch my eye in the sun, elite athletes and attractive, beautiful things. As a kid, I admired the popular kids. The way they moved seamlessly in crowds, the way they could talk to anyone, the way they were effortlessly interesting. The way they showed who they were without telling us everything. The way they did all the things we’d expect them to do – dance well, act well, dress well, behave well.
Trust me, I played the game.
The world gives awards for all kinds of things and when they are out of rings, ribbons and medals, they’ll give you a certificate so you don’t feel bad about yourself.
Participant, they’ll say.
Thanks for coming out, it reads.
But there aren’t any awards for the kids who spend the summer in their rooms curled up with a stack of books or the ones who are distracted because they are doodling masterpieces in the margins of their notebooks during class.
See, no one is going to give me a medal for setting limits for myself in a workout – for knowing what I can and cannot do. No, the medals go to those who throw down and push as far as they can – and I’ve got plenty of those in a box in the garage. No one will hand me a plaque for telling the eight year-old street vendor in Mexico that I don’t want an ankle bracelet so that I can “be more sexy” because things like kindness, intelligence, courage and faith are more important to me than being sexy. Nobody will announce my name from a podium because of the hope I have for that kid to be different than every other man in his family. No silver or gold medal around my neck for spending the past several nights since I met him praying that his life is different.
That kid waved me off and laughed at my suggestions as he looked for the next table of ladies to give his pitch “Want to see my secret weapon bracelet?” he says with a wink.
I’ve never gotten prize money because I can feel, actually feel in my whole body, when someone is hurting or hiding or just getting by. No one cares about that cute waitress because, she’s cute and dressed well and so therefore she’s fine. But I know better because I can sense that maybe she needs a few extra bucks added to the tip. I don’t know her struggle, but it’s there because I hear more than the words she speaks. No one saw the homeless man listening to his radio at the entrance of a restaurant while he lit up a pipe full of who knows what – but I knew he needed some food and so I brought him some even if he was high. Because that’s not my call and I’m not looking for praise or for your confirmation.
His name was Jim and he had excellent manners. “Thank you, Priscilla” he said when I told him my name (he asked) “and God bless.”
I spent most of my life winning awards to meet the world’s standards and I wouldn’t trade that for the world. But now that I am unable to do physically what I could do in my youth, I see how fickle and focused the world can be about their prizes. Everyone clamoring for a place on the podium. The red carpet. The stage.
I just want people to know. Prize or no prize. Medal or no medal. Podium or no podium.
We’re all pretty amazing just as we are. Even if we don’t cause one single ripple in the pond, we’re all part of a bigger picture.
We all play a part.
I am way more than a box of trophy’s and plaques collecting dust in the garage. I’m a testimony. I’m an example. I’m a story.
When I played volleyball, I was an outside hitter.
That means I spent most of my time on the left side of the court and attacked the majority of sets from the outside or left side.
In order to get the best positioning to hit either angle or line, you had to begin your approach outside of the court, about ten or twelve feet back from the net and between a one and two feet outside of the court. You are usually at about a forty-five degree angle to the net and you have enough room to take a three or four step approach.
I took three.
Left. Right. Left.
From that position on the court, I was able to see everything I needed in order to put the ball away on the other side. I could see how many blockers I had up, where the defensive players were set up on the other side, whether or not there was a hole in the block or if I was up against a solid two or three person block and many other nuances a hitter needs to process in a short amount of time.
If I was in the right spot to attack, I’d have excellent perspective on the situation before me so that in the two seconds it took for the ball leave the setters hands, I could make a decision on where to hit the ball.
If I could assess all that, I’d have a better shot at winning the rally for my team. If I was too far inside, my vision or perspective might be limited to what was immediately in front of me. If I was too far outside, I might not make it to the ball in time for an effective attack. I had to be three steps away to begin my approach to be most effective.
Left. Right. Left.
Over the past year or so, I’ve taken on several amazing projects. I’ve worked hard for them all, asked questions and have sacrificed what little “free time” I have to pursue them.
I love all of them.
However, there are times in the midst of a project when I can get very limited vision. I can become so invested in details that I lose focus as to the purpose of my role in the project. I may begin to feel envious that others are better than me at a certain skill set or that they have more experience than me.
Sometimes that feeling makes me want to try harder, invest more time, take on more commitments in that particular arena even when that’s not my strong suit.
Sometimes I feel like I need to be doing what someone else is doing.
I start to lose perspective.
That’s when I have to remind myself to take three steps back.
It’s not just a volleyball thing. It’s a life thing.
When I take three steps back and view something, some project, some friendship, some commitment from the best position – I can better assess the situation.
Left. Right. Left.
I have a better shot at winning the rally for my team.
See, I have to know what I am good at and execute that set of skills for my team. I may be called upon to play another position or step in for another team member from time to time, but I am the most effective when I am doing what I am best at.
I am best when I take three steps back and see exactly where I am needed for a certain play.
Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes you need to be in the thick of things.
Sometimes you need to be right up in the action, because that is where you are needed.
But when you feel overwhelmed, over committed or like you can’t quite see why you have chosen something, some friendship, some job, some relationship, take three steps back.
If what you see isn’t something you need or want to be a part of, step off the court.
If it looks good from there, go ahead and attack.
And if perhaps, you are playing volleyball – just swing at the ball, this is a metaphor not my advice for outside hitters.
My kid has been asking a lot of questions lately about how to build a real life light saber. Those are his exact words.
Of course, we encourage him to ask questions and to look for answers – but we all know there is no such thing as a real life light saber. (This is when the TSA agents at the airport who loved me for wearing a Star Wars tank top at the airport this week look at me in utter disgust and start threatening to keep me detained until I revoke that last statement).
Anyway, when my kid gets on one of these kicks, we help him do some research and most of the time we all learn something in the process.
In our collaborative research, we have stumbled upon many youtube videos of Star Wars enthusiasts talking about building light sabers. One of the most promising videos came from a theoretical physicist named Michio Kaku who hypothesized what it would take to create the different parts of a light saber. His one stumbling block seems to be finding a source to power the plasma torch he needs to create light that stops. You see, using a laser beam – what most people think when contemplating designing a light saber – isn’t possible because the light of the laser will not end.
My husband and son continued their search for answers and asked the smartest person we know, Dr. Ryan. He’s our pastor, but he’s also a rocket scientist – or something like that. He has an undergraduate degree in Aeronautical Engineering and his Doctorate in Science and Engineering of Materials. And, no he doesn’t only believe in science, but he did seem to echo Michio Kaku’s laser theory saying quite frankly, “you can’t get the light to stop.” And depending on the power source, theoretically, light could go on forever.
Light doesn’t stop.
If the source of power for the light is strong enough, it could go on forever.
I got to thinking as I often do and drew a parallel to our emotional and spiritual lives. When we have joy, or light, in our life we can’t get it to stop.
Depending on the power source (us) it could, theoretically, go on forever.
So, not only do we have light in our life, we seek out light in others too. Why? Because our light is infinite and it is constantly seeking out places to illuminate. Darkness cannot exist where there is light and if you have joy (or light) you want others to shine too. There is no threat to your light by illuminating someone or something else.
We seek to make others shine because we shine.
Light is not threatened by more light.
Someone on twitter said this today “A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle” – um, bingo.
Don’t be threatened by others who are talented.
Don’t seek to snuff out their light.
Don’t freak out because someone you know is so super awesome at something you struggle with.
We don’t have to exclude people because they are talented or bright or joyful. We should bring them along because, the more light, the better.
When you have enough light of your own, you won’t worry about the light others are shining.
For athletes to have permission to be real and be honest?
What will it take for club sports and parents and universities to train whole athletes?
I’ve had this vision and passion since I graduated college that was intensified in my graduate program to train athletes beyond their sport. To train them physically, spiritually, emotionally and mentally. To train them to be elite athletes and elite human beings. To be people of character.
I believe in sports as an amazing avenue for a child to set goals, learn to advocate for themselves and to learn character, but somewhere something goes wrong. Somewhere along the way our kids and our athletes become their sport.
I’m no different. I became volleyball. I became my sport. And when it was all said and done, the transition to normal life was rough. Oh, I’ve got stories.
I know, don’t feel sorry for me. I got a full-ride and played at a Division-I school. I set records, I broke records, I still hold records. I got a degree. I played professional ball. Do you know the percentage of hopefuls that do that? It’s less than 10% across the board and some sports are less than 1% (this study shows more).
I’m one of the lucky ones. Right?
Sure, you could say that.
But look around.
Our gyms and sand courts and baseball fields and football turfs and mini-soccer teams and basketball courts are filled with wide-eyed kids and greedy parents (not you, or course) looking for the next big thing in sports. We park our rears on our fold-out chairs and watch while our kids do what they do, while we sit on our keister’s and take in the hopes and dreams we have for our kids.
It’s good for them, we say.
Then we joke about the NBA or the NFL or MLB or Team USA. We’re only kidding. Well, kinda. Wouldn’t that be cool? Trust me, I hear ya.
Right now my kids are little. I have purposefully kept them from team sports until they come begging me. And why would I do that when I had such a wonderful experience as a student-athlete? Why would I keep them from the very thing that gave me purpose and direction and a healthy outlet? Because I’m not ready for you guys.
I’m not ready for the parents. I’m not ready to compete with you and have to shield my kids from you. I’m not ready to drive them all over kingdom come so they can have an overuse injury by the time they are fourteen.
I want to train their character before I train them as athletes.
I want them to be whole athletes.
Tonight my son told me he didn’t want to try piano. I said “you need to do piano before you try the drums” (he’s been bugging me about drum lessons). He told me he didn’t want to do drums anymore that he only needed to throw footballs because you don’t need piano in the NFL.
Playing in the NFL is not something we have ever encouraged him to do for a living – even though I love me some college football #godawgs.
Innocent fan, right?
Not when it came marching up into my house and crawled into bed with my seven year-old last night. You better believe there was a long discussion about why “NFL” isn’t a college degree. I told him he wasn’t going anywhere until he finished 1st grade – oh, we’re not done yet. I don’t know if he’ll play college football, let alone flag football, but right now I am concerned with his character. I’m concerned with his heart and his motives and his actions. Who he is. What he stands for.
I teach him this now because, I wasn’t a whole athlete. I want him to do and be better than I was.
See, I was a good volleyball player, but I was kind of a disaster.
I was a jerk. I was mean. I was a bully. I didn’t make the best decisions back then and I didn’t have the resources to deal with the pressure of growing up and keeping a full schedule of classes, practice, training and rehab. I’m guessing I’m not the only one who experienced this, but we all just did it because it was expected of us. We had a huge support system in place for us as athletes, but when it came to boys or stress or anxiety or team dynamics – well, most of that we worked out on our own. At least I know, I did.
Gosh. I learned so much from my time there, but I also had a lot of pain that had nothing to do with volleyball.
We expect our athletes to perform as seamlessly off the court as they do on the court and most of the time there is a big disconnect.
I know I’m not alone. Any time I speak to a former student-athlete we all know that we know that we know. Now it’s just time to do something about it.
This article ran in Damsel Magazine in June of 2008, just six months after my son was born. As a new mommy, I had the surprise of my life. Really, nothing prepares you for a child and yet, along the way you hit your stride and things are just as they should be. This piece will always be important to me.
If you have ever read my entry on post-partum depression and anxiety, you will know how much this post means to me. I am so grateful that I fell so hard (both in love with my son and on my face in prayer) during my son’s first year. He and his sissy are the most amazing blessings that continue to teach and refine me as a mother, wife and as a person. My lovely friend, Luann , was my editor at the time and she gave me the wings I needed to fly to become a writer – she’s my writing mama – and gave me my start in print which I promptly loved and became infatuated with.
There have been more inspirational people and mentors along the way as I have grown and changed as a writer, but none with more impact than my children. Enjoy (and no that is not my kid. It’s stock photography, baby).
YOU HAVE TO CLICK THE LINK FOR THE FULL ARTICLE (unless you can read it here, which in that case, you are awesome) ——> Rainbow Connection
We train. We perfect movements and skills. We condition. We believe.
Still, a game is determined in large part by the shift in momentum and how we with those shifts – the loss of it and what to do when we get it back.
For example, we were playing our biggest rival in college. We had lost the first two sets and came back to win the second two sets and were battling out a fifth set in rally score.
In the 90’s, we were still under the regular scoring rule where you had to serve to get a point. The fifth set was usually pretty tight, but we took an early lead and were primed to win. I’d jump served us to a large lead and all we needed was two maybe three points (don’t remember exactly*) to win the match. Then the momentum shifted.
We lost the serve. In rally score, however, two points is nothing. Easy peasy…unless.
When the momentum shifted, we never got it back. I was stuck in the back row and only able to hit from behind the ten foot line. I did not execute from the back row and our team struggled in the next few rotations.
Our coach called two time-outs and we scrapped our way back to get possession of the ball, but it wasn’t enough.
We lost our big lead and we ended up losing the game.
Broken hearts everywhere. Daggers right to the soul.
I mean, twenty years later I can still taste my tears. Some losses cut really deep (I’m such a brat).
Momentum is powerful.
In sports it’s the difference between winning and losing.
When a team loses momentum they have to fight to get it back.
That takes grit and determination. It doesn’t shift on it’s own.
Momentum in our lives is a similar process.
But it’s not forever. It’s how we deal with it that wins or loses games.
Think about it this way – momentum is a push. It’s a start. It’s us on the blocks and we’re the first ones off.
Keep the momentum and we close the game out right now. We take the win. But what if it shifts? What do we do when we lose momentum.
It’s how we respond that wins or loses games. I could deconstruct that old game all day (sometimes I do). I could say that I got stuck in the back row. I could say that our middle blocker was injured. I could say that we didn’t pass well or that we didn’t dig enough balls. All those things are true.
But the bigger truth is that we didn’t deal well with the loss of momentum.
I wrote my booty off in December and January. I wrote for like four weeks – solid. I researched, queried, interviewed, made phone calls to people I’d never met and stayed up late putting things together. It was work. It was tedious and there was no reward. I thought I’d never see that work come to fruition.
But all that tedious, unrewarding work was quietly building momentum.
In fact, I have a little of that momentum right now. Several of my pieces have ran over the past few weeks and it’s been fun to watch. But I can’t sit here and admire anything for too long. I need to continue my work. I need to keep putting in the hours. I need to stay up just a little bit late and stretch the hours I have in my day to get things done.
If you don’t work, there is no momentum.
Momentum does not just show up because you are lucky or because you think you deserve it or by sitting on your hands.
Momentum is the result of work.
We lost that game to our biggest rival because the other team out worked us. They dealt with momentum better than we did.
If you lose an opportunity. If you lose a game. If you lose a relationship it’s because you stopped working.
Work builds momentum.
*(Exact scores and details of the match are fuzzy. Fuzzy because the tears in my eyes blur out my actual experience. Losing is hard, people!)