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The Storm (Part 2)

The thing about storms is their uncanny ability to either bring people together or drive them apart. In my own experience, gusting winds, pounding thunder and crashing lightning only make me want to be a little bit closer to the people I love.

As a little girl, I begged my dad to come inside and away from the storms he loved to watch because I was scared for his safety. But I also did so because I was scared myself: I wanted him to pick me up and give me a great big hug and tell me that everything would be ok. Sometimes, you just need the assurance and comfort of someone bigger, stronger.

In truth, my family’s circumstances and experience with Parkinson’s Disease are not particularly unique. People endure “storms” every single day all over the world. When you sit down and face reality, hard times are hitting people everywhere. I know people who’ve lost loved ones too early; have endured the pain of a bitter divorce; lost everything the owned to a flood; lost their job; lost a baby...the list goes on.  

In college, I had the opportunity to get to know and become friends with a young man who was a survivor of the civil war in the Darfur region of Sudan. Over cups of coffee and a period of hours spent in our campus library, he recounted to me his story of survival: separated from his family at 5 years old, he fled to refugee camps in Uganda and Kenya. Along the way, he saw some of his friends killed by rebel warriors or eaten by wild animals. I remember the tears that came to my eyes as I looked at this extraordinary person who had lived this amazing life. I am so selfish to think I’ve ever endured something truly hard, I thought.

It breaks my heart when the trials of life—the storms—drive people apart. In our times of deepest sorrow one would think we should cling to those we love the most for support. But, sadly, this is not always the case.

The fact of the matter is this: We have a choice.

We can chose to open up and be vulnerable to those around us—allowing them to see our hurt and pain and in turn heal it with their compassion. Or, we can close ourselves off to the world and never experience the healing power of love.

The funny thing about my father’s disease is that is has truly brought our family closer than we ever were before. This past year, every holiday, every visit home has been filled with some of the most cherish moments of my adulthood. By drawing together, we’ve somehow tapped into a harmony we never experienced before. In our case, our storm (Parkinson’s) isn’t exactly the kind of storm that goes away. But, I know that we can take it on together, as a family.

As for my friend from Sudan: After three years of living in the United States and through the resources of the internet, he was able to find his mother—the woman he had not seen since he was five—living in Kenya. He traveled there in the summer of 2006. I like to picture my friend on the day of that reunion: I like to imagine that the sun was shining and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky as he traveled along a dirt road surrounding by stretching plains and spotted by wild animals. I also like to imagine the smile on his face. After such an intense storm, he was finally going home. Later, he told me about the experience and about the joy the laughter the tears they shared when they saw each other for the first time.

That’s the beauty of storms: no matter how terrible, no matter how hard, no matter how impossible they may seem—if you will let them, if you will learn from them—they will bring you to the place where you’ve always belonged: Home.  


The Storm (Part 1)

A few weekends ago, I went for a beautiful 7 mile run through Cherokee Park and the Highlands. (If you haven’t put two and two together already, I am basically obsessed with this area of Louisville.) When I started, the air was a hot, smothering 90 degrees. But as I maneuvered among the curves of the road, I noticed the temperature was falling. A strong breeze began to blow and around me leaves were falling: scattered reminders that autumn is upon us.

Amid the leaves and the breeze, I was acutely aware of something else: a storm was coming.

In Cherokee Park, there is a hill that overlooks a small valley where tree tops and sky seem to stretch endlessly before you. For some reason, I love this hill and this view. It fills me with a sense of hope and anticipation (though for what I have not quite decided.) As I topped this hill that evening and looked out at that favorite view, I had to stop for moment because what I saw took my breath away: billowing clouds above me barely broke to reveal a glimpse of heaven, while in the distance the sunset shone through ominous, much darker clouds in an orange haze. Meanwhile sheets of rain fell to the earth against its golden backdrop.

I could already see flashes of lightning in the distance, so I turned toward home. Running in the rain is fine, but running in a thunderstorm is a different story. Along the way, I realized the wind had ceased to blow. No birds sang. No crickets chirped. It was as though the world had gone silent: the calm before the storm.

Storms always make me think of my Dad. He loves to watch them from the safety of our porch. And I don’t mean mild, every day storms. He will stand there, defiant, in the midst of the torrential blasts that send other people fleeing for their basements. As a child, I used to stand in the doorway and plead with him to come back inside, afraid the storm might carry him away. 
 When I was little, Dad was my protector. Whenever I was scared at night, or awoke from a bad dream, I ran to my parents’ bedroom straight to his side of the bed. I’d tap him on the arm and he would wake up, scoot over and let me sleep on his right arm. As long as I was there, I knew I was safe.

As a toddler, Dad held me on his shoulders and we climbed dormant volcanoes near Cimarron, New Mexico. When I was four or five, I got to go to the small college where he taught.  

Armed with a tablet and pen he let me borrow from his office, I would sit and listen to him teach Greek New Testament and write the alphabet out over and over and over. When his class was over, I’d proudly show him my accomplishment and we’d go to a lounge area where he’d buy me candy bars and let me try to play ping pong with him.

At home, my brother and sister and I spent our days playing on a giant rope swing he and a family friend had hung for us on a large oak in the backyard. In the evenings after work, he’d come out and push us on this swing, so that we swung higher and higher and higher. Sometimes, we’d spin on the rope until we were so, so dizzy and see who could run through across the yard without falling down. Other times, we’d play inside in our living room. Dad would play the guitar and the three children would dance like silly little monkeys.

In the midst of all of this, I remember my Mom was there, watching, playing along and laughing.

And so I have this vision of my Dad from those years: healthy, strong, active, and so intelligent.

As we got older, life—of course—changed in the way one would expect it to. Our family moved. We started going to a new school. My dad got a better job. My parents bought their first house (we’d always lived in parsonages up to that point.) We were holding on to the past…our memories of all those nights of fun and laughter…and still moving into our future as a family.

Dad’s hair got thinner and started to grey. Arthritis began to set in. An accident in a stairwell left with him partial strength in his right arm. It became harder for him to play the guitar. But, he was still my dad. And in many ways, I was oblivious to the changes that were occurring right in front of my eyes. We all were.

I was a junior in college when he told me. I’d come home for a holiday and found him in the living room try to strum his guitar one evening. “I need to tell you something.” I sat down, and he walked me through a series of doctors visits that had led to a diagnosis none of us could have ever anticipated: Parkinsons Disease.

I’d like to tell you that our lives changed immediately with that announcement. But, they didn’t. My family approached this new development with the same mentality as any other change we’d experienced. In fact, in the midst of it all, we were all going through major changes. My brother was graduating from high school and moving off to join the Air Force. My sister was getting ready to graduate high school and go to college. I was about to enter the real world. Change was all around us, and in the midst of them, things that had once been easy for dad were becoming harder.

It was not until the last year that the reality of my father’s condition began to bring tears to my eyes. Our entire family has experienced a series of trials in that space of time we never could have seen coming. In many ways, I have come to view the first 21 years of my life as the Calm. The diagnosis of this debilitating disease is—without a doubt—our family Storm. 

(To Be Continued...)


My "Sole" Overflows

I came that they might have life abundantly.”
A “long time ago”, when I was about 14, a close friend mailed me a letter. At the end of this letter, he wrote: “Within us all is the strength to fly, the love to sustain us, and the dream to make us try.”

When you are 14 years old, it’s very easy to accept these words of inspiration at face value. How inspiring! How uplifting! How empowering!

But in the 12 years since the words were coined, I’ve come to a sound conviction: My friend was wrong. Dead wrong.

As the eldest of three children, I can tell you a thing or two about “inner strength.” There is a set of criteria that many would argue govern the psyche of the eldest child. While I know that this does not hold true for everyone, it certainly holds true for me. My mother recounts a story of a defiant two-year-old standing in the middle of the bathroom with one hand on her little hip, the other outstretched waiting for her toothbrush to be placed in it: “Me do it myself.”

I was always the obstinate do-it-myself’er, always telling my brothers and sister, my friends, my classmates, my parents, and everyone in between how it was going to be and how they needed to do it. There was no challenge I could not meet. There was no barrier that could hold me back. It was that same attitude that willed me to load everything I owned into my car and uproot myself from the only life I’d known. Piece of cake, I remember thinking. I’ve got this covered.


It was around that time that the self-reliance on which I’d proudly stood got ripped out from under my pretty little heeled feet. I landed in a heap. And it hurt. Bad.

Broken. Sometimes, this is how I’ve come to think about my heart and my life. This word has been reverberating in my mind for a week, ever since last Sunday when the feelings of loneliness I’ve managed to ward off for the past year began to resurface.

While there is certainly a will within me to achieve and to try, I’ve found my strength will eventually falter. I realize I am limited and can’t fix everything. I can’t give myself the kind of love I’m longing for…the kind that will heal a heart that has been hurt over and over and over. I can't make myself trust again. 

Furthermore, I realize, with increasing astonishment, that everything that I have touched, everything that I have every tried to piece together with my own two hands, is flawed. Try as I may, I cannot produce anything that is perfect. And the more I try, the more I mess it up.  

It is here that my personal convictions diverge from the popular mantra of the generation in which I live:

“Look into yourself.”
“You have everything you need inside.”
“Believe in yourself.”

It both infuriates and terrifies me that we so openly accept this crap (yes, it's crap) as truth.

If the last three years have taught me anything, it is this: I desperately need to be saved—everyday—from myself. I need to know a love that sees my flaws and accepts them, because they may not ever go away. I need someone who understands the deepest way that my heart has been hurt, and can offer the means to heal it. I need someone in my life who is more wise than I can comprehend, who understands the reason I was made, and who can guide me on the path toward the life I was destined to live.

So, anyone who understands even a smidgen of the Christian Faith knows where I am going with this. In truth, I've never been alone (since I was 12) even in the height of my "I've got this covered" days. If the past year and a half has been anything—it has been a lesson in giving every little pain and hurt to Him, one piece at a time.

There’s a freedom that comes with this kind of realization and this kind of practice. I certainly don’t have it all figured out. But I know that I’m on my way to some better and bigger than myself…and that it really has nothing to do with me at all. 
Look at the nations and watch-and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.


Jubilant July

(A Month In Review) 

As we near the 4th day of August, I thought I’d take a moment to briefly wrap up some of the best—and worst—moments of one of my most favorite months: July.

As many of you already know, July heralds the very best day of the year (besides Christmas): My Birthday. In my personal opinion, this day should be an official holiday. Last year, I stretched the celebration across the span of an entire week. This year, it was extended to nine exhausting and fabulous days.

As I kissed the first quarter of my life goodbye, the resolution to embrace 26 with open arms was made. While it is a custom in our culture to dread getting older, I’m actually quite excited about the last half of my 20s. I’ve found a career I quite enjoy, have explored and embraced the hobbies I love and (most importantly) I’ve learned to be comfortable (blissfully happy, even) in my own skin. Besides, people tell me that their 30s were their favorite years. It's all uphill from here.

This year, I spent my birthday with the people I love the most (My Family) at one of the places on earth I love the most (The Beach). Who could ask for a better way to celebrate the beginning of a new year?

July brought with it record heat. It also brought the appearance of some new friends and “interests." Here are some highlights of the very best July 2010 moments and my recommendations for making any month of the year one to remember: 

Things To Definitely Do…
  • Take a boat ride with the Vagabond Cruise line from Harbor Town (in Sea Pines) to Savannah for the day. Drink Mimosa’s, stand on the bow, let the wind blow your hair. Make peace signs.

  • Spring for a Trolley Ride through Savannah. The sites and the city are breathtaking and the guides are entertaining.

  • Dine at the Café on City Market in Savannah. The great service and air conditioning will provide a welcomed relief from Savannah summer heat. (Also, the Antipasti Salad is positively delish.) Don't forget to take a picture with Marilyn.
  • Buy your mom a kite and fly it with her on the beach.
  • Relax by a pool with the fam.
  • Treat your parents to dinner out one night. 

  • Dance. Especially on the beach. In the moonlight.

  • Go for long runs in the park. You'll feel ablaze, but the physical strength and emotional highs are worth the sweat and effort. 
  • Try a pair of “Switchflops.” They’re versatile, fun, and different.

At the same time, I have just a *few* recommendations on activities to avoid.

  • Wear your sunglasses while bodysurfing in the Atlantic. The sea will steal them.
  • Leave your journal on a plane.
  • Work on your vacation (not for even a minute)
  • Have a bedtime of 1:30 a.m.+ for 7 nights in a row.

Ah, so far 26 is a wonderful age. And last month was one for the record books. Here’s to many, many more to come.