Archives for September 2014

We can do hard things

whiteface via kimberlyanncoyle.com

On my final leg of this weekend’s race, I found myself running perpetually uphill with no shade. It was unseasonably hot, and the autumn leaves mocked me with their false promise of cooler weather. After running thirteen miles through the night, I slept for approximately two hours on a gym floor, before my final run. It also needs to be said, I was hangry. One can not run on Reese’s peanut butter cups alone.

Three miles in, I started passing runners who stopped to walk. Four miles in, I started cursing the friend who put me up to this. Five miles in, I wanted to die. And then I thought it might be too embarrassing to die on a seven mile run in the middle of the day with hundreds of people cheering me on. Better to be mauled to death by a bear on a night run. That would be an interesting way to go.

When situations in life begin to feel truly unbearable, I like to pick a short mantra to repeat to myself. Nothing fancy or hyper-spiritual, just a few words to keep me focused. When I stood at the top of an impossible slope in Switzerland strapped in to a pair of skis, I repeated “You’ve got this, you’ve got this, you’ve got this” all the way down the slope.  And I did, until a kid flew down the mountain and nearly knocked me senseless. I had to change my mantra after that.

When I feel fear over new paths or unexpected detours in life, I remind myself that I don’t face these fears alone. I repeat “Gather me now to you” to remember whose wings I find shelter under during the storm. When my kids go wild and my husband travels too much and I can’t take one more day of one more person wanting one more thing from me–Gather me now to you, Jesus. When I fear I missed out, or I lost an opportunity, or experienced a great loss, gather me now to you.

On this particular run, I found myself thinking of my son. My son who hiked these same mountains this summer, who can survive in the woods with nothing but some twine and a few matches (or so I’m led to believe), who burned, cut, bruised, and knocked himself about while roughing it at camp. He can do hard things, and because the child I gave birth to can do hard things, so can I. I repeated “I can do hard things” all the way to the finish.

Running twenty miles. Raising three kids. Staying married. Caring for the dying. Saving a life. Living abroad. Writing my heart out on a page.

I can do hard things.

Grieving a loss, telling the truth, asking forgiveness, extending forgiveness, trusting God, working out my salvation.

I can do hard things.

So often, my mind focuses on all of the places where I fall short. I can list the areas I need to improve with the speed of an auctioneer. Selfishmeanspiriteduntalentedjealousboringlazyintellectuallysluggishvainetc. I could ramble on for miles, running circles around all of my lack, all of the ways I don’t measure up to the woman I want to be in my head.

But, when I consult my heart, when I gaze deep into the dreams and desires that truly matter to me, I realize, I am working my way towards them. Not perfectly. Sometimes not even well, but I continue to strain for the finish line. It lay shimmering on the horizon, its hazy glow just within sight. I may get knocked down on my way there, but I get back up again.

I can do hard things. I can raise the family I’ve always wanted. I can be a faithful spouse. I can run hard and long. I can endure pain. I can face fear. I can, I can, I can.

And you can do hard things too. You’re doing them, right now, this very day. You are doing hard things. You are loving on your crazy kids, turning from anger, making tough choices, getting sober, working hard, remaining faithful, saving lives, facing fear dead in the face, and singing your friends and family home.

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What hard things are you doing? Do you have a mantra you repeat to yourself? Share it in the comments.

Looking for balance

yellow via kimberlyanncoyle.com

Ages ago, probably on a day I had a good night’s sleep and a glass of wine in my hand, I agreed to participate in another Ragnar relay race. This time, we’ll run in autumn in the Adirondacks. Really, it doesn’t get much better, except for the insanity that is twelve people running 200+ miles together in a 24 hour period. Once again, I question why I do this, and once again I’m reminded that not all of life takes place between my ears.

I leave Friday for the race, and while dreading the physicality of it, I look forward to giving my brain a rest. Mulling–I’m doing too much of it these days. The same old questions and conundrums feel like they’re on repeat. I need to give the old head and heart a break.  I need time to enjoy witty banter in a van full of people, eat a few too many candy bars, and remember what amazing things our bodies can do.

Yesterday, I sat in the pediatrician’s office and listened to a little boy tell everyone in the waiting room “Today’s my birf-day. My birf-day is today!!!” His mom gently corrected him with the reminder he celebrated his birf-day last week. This didn’t deter him, and he continued to say it, so proud. I loved his innocence and his insistence that today, this very day is all about celebrating him.

A few minutes later, a woman walked up to the counter and in an insurance dispute with the office manager finally declared, “My husband died in May, we had to switch insurances.” I flinched. The mama with the birthday boy flinched. I darted a quick look at the widow’s teenage son, and his eyes remained locked on the ground.

Her statement sucked all the air out of the room, until not thirty seconds later, the little boy shouted, “Today’s my birf-day! My birf-day is today!” And he performed a little dance in the center of the room. Isn’t it just like life to bring grief and joy into one place together and let them rub shoulders? Without one, we wouldn’t understand the depth of the other.

I hope this weekend will bring a sense of lightness to balance out some of my mulling and head-scratching lately. I hope this first autumn weekend kisses you with its soft glow, bringing you the same.

Making music with our lives

making music via kimberlyanncoyle.com

I sat in the other room listening to my girl plink-plink Beethoven at her piano lesson, silently thanking God for her piano teacher’s patience. They used a tiny clip of a piece to practice, and my daughter stopped after three attempts and asked how Beethoven could write music if he was deaf. The teacher explained that he understood music in his soul even more than he understood it with his ears. His soul wrote music, even when his ears no longer worked. My girl didn’t respond but picked right back up again, missing notes here and there, running through the piece as fast as her fingers could take her. She played it with fervor, but to me, the piece sounds more like a lament.

“Songs don’t stay in one place,” I hear the teacher say. You must use more of the keys for the fullness of the song to come out. You can’t play the same few notes over and over and make music. I hear my girl say, “But I don’t understand!” and I shake my head because someday, she will. On the drive home later, I think about Beethoven and wonder what despair he must have felt at the loss of his hearing. I imagine he wanted to die, when his dreams of making music slipped through his fingers like water through a sieve.

He may have desired death for a time, but we know that he chose life. He lost the ability to perform, but Beethoven went on to compose his most magnificent works after his ears could no longer hear the end result. He knew the shape of his soul curved full and round like a musical note, and when dealt a tragic blow, he decided to continue playing it. Songs and souls don’t stay in one place. They have the ability to stretch and expand, to use the breadth and width of all the keys. Souls aren’t static, and when compelled to move, they create music out of our lives.

I’ve clung to dying dreams, withstood a few tough blows, and tried to understand the world with my ears rather than my soul. But, I’m beginning to play all the notes on the instrument of my life. I know the shape of my soul, and slowly I’m learning to move the breadth of the keys in unison with it. Are you hanging on by thin, tensile strands of an unravelling dream? Have you heard the word “no” so often it’s begun to warp and twist your shape? Come, let us make music together. It may be a song of lament, but it is a song nonetheless.

 

Reclaiming the conversation: Talking to our kids about sex

footprints via kimberlyanncoyle.com

I was twenty-four and naive. I’m pretty certain my mouth dropped open when she said it out loud at work, sitting in the middle of the nurse’s station, surrounded by paperwork and co-workers and a number of men. She said, “If my husband ever left me, I would become a stripper for the money. I’d need it to support my children.” She said it straight-faced, and gave all the why’s and how’s and what she would do’s. This from a woman with two daughters, a college degree, and a stable job in her profession. I sat on the fringes of the conversation, and judged the heck out of her. I know better now, having heard enough stories of desperate women and rotten marriages, but it still bothers me that she believed her body was the best way to make a buck.

No one within earshot blinked an eye. A few guys cheered her and said she “had the body for it”. (I’m sorry. What? Was this supposed to be a compliment? Help me, Jesus. I wanted to strangle them.) A few women gave a quick eye roll , and one said, “Whatever you have to do, girl” The nursing assistant beside me shifted the conversation slightly and said, ” If my man started going to strip clubs, it would be over.” Which led to incredulous looks and jeers from the men, and total silence on the part of the women.

The nurse left the conversation at the sound of the call bell, and with her out of earshot, I agreed with the nursing assistant next to me. I said something about  the objectification of women and my potential response if my husband visited strip clubs or became involved with pornography (see above reference to strangling). Didn’t men consider these women in clubs and movies and magazines belong to somebody? They are daughters, wives, maybe even someone’s mama. She nodded in agreement, and it never came up again.

A few weeks later, one of the men who stood in earshot of our conversation told me every time he considered going to a strip club, he remembered what I said. I like to think this was a win in my personal fight against men viewing women merely as sex objects, but I know he visited the club with a fistful of dollars anyway. Fast forward fifteen years, and I have a much tighter intellectual grasp on how difficult a battle it is for men and women when it comes to setting boundaries around our sexuality, and how easy it is to fall into the trap of sex as the world sells it. We’re all just a website away.

I’m part of a shrinking minority, one of the few women I know whose life hasn’t been directly affected by pornography. All of the important men in my life, from my father to my brother to my husband, and my closest male friends actively try to keep it out their lives. I believe men of integrity still exist, and I happen to find myself surrounded by more than my fair share of them. Overall, it’s remarkably absent in my relationships, and I know few people can say this anymore. However, I’m not as naive as the 24-year-old me. I know our hyper-sexualized culture invites my husband, my friends, and even my pre-teen son, into a world where porn is carried around in their pockets, with access to it at the click of a button.

When it comes to our kids, especially our son, I’m afraid of what this kind of instant access means for their future. When I think about my boy, the one who still likes me to tuck him in and kiss him goodnight, I wonder how to protect him from the constant onslaught of images. Especially when the girls at school willingly sell naked photos of themselves to fellow students, a sad but true story.

We install the software and monitor the apps and Big Brother the heck out of the kid, but we still don’t know how to keep the path his eyes travel pure. It’s a conversation we engage in repeatedly, and my husband shakes his head because what is a a twelve-year-old boy with limited impulse control and raging hormones supposed to do? How do we teach him to say no when all it takes is one rogue friend with no supervision to have free rein on the internet?

I don’t know how to protect him or my girls entirely, but I do know it starts with engaging in difficult conversations and ends with me spending time on my knees. I hope the Holy Spirit will guide us through the messy middle. I refuse, wholeheartedly refuse, to let discomfort stop me from talking to my kids about sex, especially the dark and dangerous side of it. If everyone else in the world can talk to my kids about sex like it doesn’t matter, than I can talk to them with unflinching honesty because it does. It really does. I don’t want to live in a state of constant hand wringing. There is no magic bullet, but I’d rather move in the direction of something hopeful, than be caught standing still. I want to reclaim the conversation.

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If any of you are struggling with how to start talking to your kids about sexuality, in particular pornography, my pastor is currently preaching a series called “The Elephant in the Room” (a PG-13 version). You can view the weekly message online here. If you’re a parent and have any tips for me, I’d love to hear them.

SO much trouble

DSC_4593

Chris slid into the green pleather seat behind me on the bus. “Oh my gosh! You won’t believe who got suspended for giving Ms. Younger the middle finger,” he said. “I don’t know, who?” I responded. Insert the name of the dark-haired, eighth grade boy I later married. “He is in SO much trouble!” Chris said, as if to really drive the point home. I got to the bottom of the story eventually. It wasn’t the middle finger, but an equally rude gesture which caused their fellow classmate Andy to laugh and then rat out my husband. (As a former bus monitor, Andy, I applaud you and your commitment to gesture free zones.)

In school and life in general, I follow the rules. I came out of the womb a mostly good girl, and then my parents drilled the rest of the good girl into me. I avoided conflict and fled at the first sign of trouble. I can’t imagine any scenario in which my middle finger or any body part for that matter, would be put to use to express my displeasure with an authority figure.  Fast forward twenty years, and opposites will attract, and I married the kid who made rude gestures behind the teacher’s back. I love my man, but I always knew my good girl genes could never overpower his naughty ones when it came to procreation. And thus, two of my children prove me right as often as possible.

My love and I spent the last few days on a trip to Chicago, so my mother-in-law, soon to be venerated as a saint, came to stay with our kids. The kids like to take advantage of Mum Mum whenever possible. They tell little white lies about how many snacks they can eat before dinner or how many tv shows they’re allowed to watch. This I can handle, and so can she. It’s the other craziness I worry about. Craziness such as working Mum Mum into a tizzy because she accidentally broke a knife while cutting cauliflower for dinner. Not running with knives, or throwing knives at my kids, but cutting cauliflower. According to my children, she is in “SO much trouble. Like, serious trouble.” They repeated it so many times, she started researching overnight delivery on a replacement knife. Nothing like striking the fear of her daughter-in-law’s wrath to send a widow on a fixed income on a wild goose chase for an expensive serrated knife. What kind of children threaten older ladies prone to exaggerated responses? Mine do.

A few days into our trip, she discovered a pocket knife (aka a weapon of mass destruction according to our school district) in one of my kids back packs. Apparently, my child brings weaponry to school in a cute little silver package labeled “Survival kit”, not at all out of the norm in their Swiss school. The offending knife has since been removed, but my mother-in-law spent an entire day terrified my child would show it around and find themselves in the custody of the local police department. She didn’t fancy telling us that story either.

As if she hadn’t experienced enough fear and trembling, on our final day away, one of my kids never arrived home from school. As in, never came home. No call. No warning. No little kid at the side door come 4pm. There’s nothing like sitting in a comfortable chair reading a book, sipping a glass of red wine, enjoying the silence of thousands of miles between you and your feral children, only to find yourself interrupted by a frantic text from one of your kids saying the other kid is missing and Mum Mum is going crazy. After a flurry of texts and moments of mild panic, the missing child finally called to say, “Sorry, I’m at the playground! What? I missed German class? What German?”

And as it goes with all saints, Mum Mum performed a miracle by keeping it all together until our flight arrived home. She left this morning, and I’ve never seen a person pack their belongings so fast. I think she left tire squeal marks on the driveway.

Genetics, man. They cause so much trouble.