Category Archives: Growth

Connection, preemies, and African violets

I’ve been thinking about African violets today. When I was little and just starting to learn about plants, my grandmother told me that African violets thrive best when the leaves of different plants touch one another. I am like an African violet. Touch and connection are critical if I am to thrive.

I’m thinking about connection because of an experience I had this morning. Andrew has a cool brain wave machine to help you relax, sleep, concentrate, or whatever you need to do. It has alpha, gamma, delta, and beta waves depending upon what program you choose. I haven’t been sleeping very well (jet lag) so I was going for relaxation, alpha waves. I’ve only tried the machine three times and each time I’ve had some really interesting insights. I write about today’s insights below.

There are a lot of amazing and wonderful things going on in my life, but I’ve also been feeling a level of angst and distress that I couldn’t explain.

I realized during the session this morning that my distress is about connection. I view connection as the most basic and fundamental of human needs.

I was born two months prematurely and spent the first month of my life in an incubator. I was born in my grandmother‘s home and the doctor, who arrived shortly after my birth, immediately took me away from my mother and rushed me to the hospital. He put my mother to bed for two weeks to recover, because apparently that’s what you did at that time. My aunt, who became my godmother, came to visit my mother shortly after my birth. She came to the hospital to see me as well, once. Because I was in an incubator for the first month of my life, I was not held. I was touched minimally. The belief was that I needed all of my energy and attention to be focused on growth. During that month, I largely grew alone.

My father and his parents met the doctor at the hospital almost immediately upon my arrival there. They could only see me in the incubator across the room.

This reality of separation has led me on a lifelong journey seeking connection. I have not been very successful at achieving that. I am estranged from my biological family for reasons I will not get into here. I do not communicate with my mother or any of my siblings. I thought I had found enduring connection with my husband. I felt that we were soul mates. While we were wonderful together for a long time, that ended as well. We have two children, a son and a daughter. I felt so connected to and needed by these amazing beings. I was their center, I grounded them as they grew. When they were born I wished for both of them to be strong, loving, and independent. They are both exactly that, in their own unique ways, and so much more. I wished for them to be close to one another always, to be able to rely on one another. After all our siblings are often the longest relationships of our lives. My siblings and I were not raised that way. Closeness with my siblings was what I desired, and so, what I wished for my children.

With Covid, and the trajectories of our lives, I have felt my connections with my children weakening. Not our love for one another, but our willingness to reach out to one another both for casual everyday connection, and in time of need. Maybe that’s just a natural part of the growth process. My children are adults with their own lives.

Our weakening connections have been especially hard for me as I view connection as the most fundamental and basic human need. I view our connections as part of what makes us strong and able to manage anything that we’re faced with in life. I do not believe that any one person can ever meet all of the needs of another person. I believe that all of our important relationships offer something unique and of value that is irreplaceable. I have often said that the reason I am able to go out big in the world is because I have my people to come home to, figuratively if not literally.

Being locked down through Covid and physically separated from my son and daughter for longer than ever before has been extremely hard on me. I haven’t seen my son in two years. I’ve been fortunate to have seen my daughter several times during this time, but far less than usual. The physical distance is hard.

I am blessed with a wonderful partner, also a preemie, who loves me, understands me, and supports me more fully than anyone ever has. He truly sees me and his desire for connection matches mine. I am fortunate that I have found my home with him. He is my person. He is my heart.

In many cultures around the world the bonds within families, the bonds between parents and children endure and are strong for a lifetime. I wonder why in our culture we push so hard for independence and doing things on your own. That seems unnecessarily difficult to me. I wish that we could recognize the importance and significance of the basic human need for connection. I wish we cherished and nurtured those connections that make life so much fuller and richer.

Maybe I feel this need for connection more strongly than others do because of that first month of going it alone in an incubator. Maybe that’s why I understand the African violet’s need to touch in order to thrive.

Forgiveness and Anticipatory Hope

“Forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could have been any different.” – Oprah Winfrey https://chopracentermeditation.com/ *

I don’t hold grudges. I don’t harbor resentments. For much of my life I simply forgave and forgot any transgressions against me – to the point that one night, over dinner, my best friend and my ex-husband recounted all the negative things that had happened to me since they’d known me. When they recounted the events, I knew they had happened, of course. I just didn’t value them enough to remember them. I might not even have been able to recount them without their prompting.

What I do hold onto is what I call anticipatory hope. Anticipatory hope is my belief that the bad, the negative, the hurtful, the lack in my past could have been different, if people had made different choices. Because I believe these alternative choices were possible then, I believe they remain possible in the present and in the future.  

In a recent conversation with my daughter about an upcoming event we were both dreading, she was lamenting all the negative things she expected. I was trying to lift her spirits talking about how this time things might be different. Alyssa paused, looked me full in the eyes and said, “That’s your problem, Mom. You always look on the bright side. You always believe people can be better, that they will be better. When they don’t, when they act like they always act, you feel let down and hurt. That’s the downside to you always having this anticipatory hope thing. It’s exhausting. You’re not realistic.”

Alyssa in her blunt, no-nonsense way had really hit on something. I’ve always viewed my anticipatory hope as a strength. It helps me be optimistic, remain positive in difficult moments, see possibilities.

Because I believe that anything is possible, that anyone is capable of making a different choice at any moment, it is hard for me to release those in my life who repeatedly choose to be other than who they have the capacity to be – to be honest, those who are damaging to me. More importantly, I hope they will treat me differently than they chose to treat me in the past.

When I first heard the meditation at the opening of this post, it was as if I had been punched in the stomach. Sometimes truths are so profound that when confronted with them, they change something immediately and fundamentally. Sometimes they are the catalyst for a more gradual transformation. For me, this truth was both.

I listen to these meditations to help me sleep. After hearing this statement, I knew there would be no sleep that night.

I turned to my journals for insight and realized I had been writing about the same issues for 1, 5, 10, even 20 years! My anticipatory hope made it impossible for me to let go, to move on.

I believed I had forgiven. But in the same way that holding grudges, harboring resentments, not forgiving, keeps us from releasing the past and moving forward, anticipatory hope does the same. Because I held onto anticipatory hope, I had not released those I needed to release.

I am still a work in progress. Releasing the “what could be” is hard. It’s a desired future we hope for. It holds us bound to the past, hauling the weight of the past into the present and the future. Releasing that burden. Releasing those who are not who we wish they were (which, to be honest, is not their job in the first place) is true forgiveness. And, in the long term, a gift to them and to me.

* 21 Days of Meditation – Finding Hope in Uncertain Times

Musings on time, this week in my family’s history, and growth

Three years ago this week, my daughter Alyssa shredded her knee, severing her ACL, MCL, tearing her meniscus, and bruising everything above and below her kneecap. Through hard months of waiting, finishing the semester on crutches and a motorized scooter, surgery, PT, recovery, learning how to bear weight, learning how to dance, she persevered. Today she is again an amazing dancer. She is lovely and graceful, strong and passionate. Today she is a college graduate off on her own. So much has changed in 3 years.

Two years ago this week, I fell on the steps of Elliott Hall the building where I work at Wichita State University. I tripped and sprawled on the steps on my newly healed wrists. I sacrificed my right ankle, which I badly bruised, to keep from landing fully on my hands and arms, but it hurt. It really hurt. I sat on the steps and cried, injured and afraid. I was too shaken to move as one colleague walked around me on the narrow steps, the contents of my purse and computer case strewn all over the landing. Her disregard hurt worse than the fall, her ignoring me as I cried on the steps. The Elliott School’s administrative assistant Bill, the lifeblood of the ESC, came to my rescue. I was finally able to recover my cell phone, and I called him, crying, to come help me. He did. He picked up all my stuff, helped me stand, using my elbows, so he wouldn’t hurt my wrists, and helped me to my office. Today I am at the two-thirds point of an amazing yearlong sabbatical, three months of which I spent on a writing retreat in Florence, Italy. Today my wrists are healed and I can again do hot yoga. Today I am contemplating what I want to do with the next phase of my life. So much has changed in 2 years.

Six weeks ago this week, my son and I were robbed at gunpoint by a young man who kicked open our locked front door.  That day I had pink highlights put in my long blonde hair. For me hair is a toy. I’d worked on my website: http://DrDeborah.co with my friend Davis.  It’s still a work in progress, but that was a watershed day. I was happy and content. Then I was scared and threatened. Today, I have magenta and purple highlights in my long blonde hair thanks to the talented Jessica, and my son Stefan and I have moved into a new apartment, a lovely apartment. We are moving on with our lives. So much has changed in six weeks.

Time is an interesting thing. In the middle of rough moments it seems to stop, then drags so slowly when it finally begins to move again. In the beautiful, life affirming moments, time often moves so quickly. Time, as the cliché says, also heals.

This week has led me to reflect on the past, something I don’t do often, to examine the path that got me, that got my son and daughter, to where we are today. These events are simply a small part of our journeys.

I believe we have a choice about how we view the happenings in our lives. We can choose to view things as crises or adventures. As I reflect back on those three events and the emotions they raised, the ups and downs of negotiating them, I recognize our choices. None of us would describe ourselves as victims. We simply do not view things as crises. We are optimists. We do what needs to be done. We deal with what needs to be dealt with and we move forward. We learn and grow from our experiences.

We are stronger, as are my wrists, because of these events. We see the world differently than we did before, because of the events of this week over the last three years. I am inspired by the words of Anne Lamott on Facebook. Yesterday she wrote , “Life is a precious unfathomably beautiful gift; and it is impossible here, on the incarnational side of things”. I am inspired by Japanese Kintsugi pottery, the art of reassembling, of repairing, broken pottery with gold. We are each like a precious piece of pottery. The world tosses us about, breaks, chips, and often shatters us. We reassemble ourselves , often with the help of those who love us. We are remade, more unique, more different, more precious than we were before.

wood-fired-bowl-kintsugi-repair

Image of Kintsugi Pottery taken from: http://lakesidepottery.com/Pages/kintsugi-repairing-ceramic-with-gold-and-lacquer-better-than-new.htm