Jan 28 2014

Parking Garages and Golden Tickets

validation optional

validation optional

The parking garage.

You pull up, push the button and take a ticket. Once a parking space has been secured, you leave your vehicle, ticket in hand, to do what you left home to do. Doctor’s appointment. Shopping. Lunch with friends.

Your business concludes and upon leaving the parking garage, you show the attendant the ticket and if you’re lucky, it’s been punched. Validated.

The attendant, literally a gate keeper,  looks at the stamp, doesn’t look at you, and nods you through.

You are exempt from having to pay for your parking space. Your activity met the requirement. You’ve been validated. It was time well spent.

Validation.

If only it were that easy to find on a personal level. And yet, we search for exactly that. At the end of the day, we review the activities and accomplishments. We present them to the gate-keeper in our mind for the verdict. Can I validate my existence today based on the list of to-do’s I checked off?

We have been watching American Idol as a family. Nothing says bonding like watching the mechanized wheels of celebrity propel or run over America’s young people. But I was struck the other day with the connection between American Idol and our quest for validation. Those who brandish the numbers on their clothing like marathon runners are gutsy. They step onto the small stage, sing their guts out (metaphorically, we haven’t started The Hunger Games yet) and wait for a nod. A golden ticket. Validation.

Please tell me I’m doing a good job.

As a country and even a world, with similar shows sprouting up everywhere (Korea’s Got Talent, Australia’s Got Talent…), it’s obvious that we all seek validation in some way or another. Human beings desire to hear words of encouragement and affirmation. We long for our efforts to be substantiated, to have meaning and purpose. To be validated.

Recently, I pulled out a paper I wrote in college. The professor  made kind and validating remarks. The words were nice to read, but the impact of validation given so many years ago has faded, just as the ink on the page has begun to fade.

The laurels of accomplishment brown and grow brittle over the passage of time.

We seek that which doesn’t last. Several contestants from American Idol made it through last season only to be eliminated. The golden ticket of accomplishment faded. And so they are back. Seeking it again.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting they should just let it go. Validation is often the fuel that propels our dreams and pushes us to work harder. It isn’t evil. But, I wonder…do we seek validation for our accomplishments because we believe those are the things that define us? Does the validation become the vehicle instead of the fuel?

One of the contestants made a statement before stepping out in front of the judges.

“I’ll either be a successful musician, or a struggling one.”

Her thirty-second performance could alter the direction and course of her career, but it would not define her. She has learned to tap into a different kind of validation. She already has a golden ticket and it says she matters because of who she is, not what she can accomplish.

Are you waiting for a golden ticket? 

Maybe you already have one.


Jan 7 2013

Confessions of a Pioneer

pioneer wagons

Recently a friend referred to me as a pioneer. I had to pause and ponder such an accusation.

Pioneer? Me? Really?

I forced myself to look beyond the stereotypical view of a pioneer. Remove the bonnet. Put in indoor plumbing. Replace a covered wagon with a Suburban. And sure enough, perhaps she’s right.

Maybe I am a pioneer.

We moved to a foreign and somewhat harsh environment. And we are learning new ways.

For example, I cooked a pork shoulder in the crock pot and couldn’t bring myself to throw away the stock left behind. Saving two cups of left over pork stock is new to me. But perhaps even more shocking than saving it, is having a pretty good idea  how to actually use it for consumption later this week. Trips to town are usually once a week and they are an event. Pa drives, we sing songs, and we buy what we need for the week.

But the biggest adjustment is the swing from achieving to surviving.

I have been struggling. Each morning I wake up and think of all that still needs to be accomplished before we can feel settled and immediately my body reacts. My heart starts beating faster. It becomes difficult to take a deep breath. I want to crawl back into bed and hide.

Instead, I swing my feet into my slippers. Did I mention how cold it is? And I recite my new mantra.

“One day at a time.” 

Wait a second. Um, isn’t that one of the slogans for AA? If such a saying is one of the pillars of recovery, and I repeat this saying to myself ad noseum throughout the day, does this mean I am in recovery?

This pioneer woman had to stop and think. 

If I am in recovery, what am I recovering from?

It was as if a little voice inside shouted back at me, “Well, Miss Rebecca. I’m so glad you finally asked.”

I sat down and braced myself for what was to come.

“Yes, you are in recovery.” Sassed the imperious voice. “You are recovering from an addiction.”

An addiction? An addiction to what?

“Accomplishment.”

My brain rattled a bit. The verdict hit me square between the eyes.

So here is my confession.

“Hi. My name is Rebecca. I’m a pioneer. And I’m addicted to accomplishment.”

And not just normal accomplishment. I’m talking the extreme over-achieving sort. Writing a novel in five months. Trying to remodel an entire house in four weeks. Is there such a thing as type A, extra bold and italicized?

I’ve known this about myself for quite awhile. I’ve never seen it as an addiction. But when one is faced with the task of survival, achievement takes a back seat. Or maybe even gets drug behind. The once mundane tasks of life have grown monstrously. If I ruin dinner, the closest In-n-Out is 45 minutes away. Painting trim turns nightmarish when it takes three coats to cover the pea green paint. I want to see more accomplishment. But there’s not time for that in the midst of survival.

I’ve thought about hiding under a rock, or more apt a tumbleweed, until we pass from pioneers to settlers. But there’s no telling how long that will take. And it won’t happen until all the green trim is painted.

I’ve heard that recognizing you have a problem is the first step toward recovery.

So, here’s to first steps!

What’s your name and what are you addicted too?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Oct 11 2012

The Thin Blue Line — Frayed

The Thin Blue Line -- Frayed

Art by Isaac Qualls

 

The thin blue line is a symbol of solidarity with law enforcement.

But sometimes, the thin blue line gets frayed.

My husband came home the other day with an interesting story. He was in a meeting with some of the management of his agency and the topic of PTSD came up. Sniggers and huffs floated above the table like a cloud of skepticism. Imagine. On that day, in that moment, the thin blue line unraveled a little.

Solidarity. Like-mindedness. Mutual support.

It is difficult to explain to those outside this law enforcement community what it’s actually like to live in the law enforcement community. I understand their uncertainty or blank stares when our children start pointing out other vehicles that are violating the law and deserving of a ticket. They have been indoctrinated into this code and so have I. It’s difficult for outsiders to understand. But what about insiders? What about the brotherhood?

Solidarity. Likemindedness. Mutual support.

When my husband shared this experience with me, the “Joan of Arc” in me started waving the war flag and crying out for followers. “Who will fight with me against this injustice?” It was difficult to believe that men and women within a law enforcement agency thought a claim of PTSD was a load of malarky.

Solidarity. Likemindedness. Mutual support.

When an officer is tragically lost in the line of duty, the brotherhood wears a black band around their badge to grieve and show their support. But what happens when a law enforcement brother comes forward and mentions PTSD? What happens when an officer raises her hand and asks for help? Unfortunately, sometimes, the thin blue line frays.

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t have any degrees or acronyms behind my name to offer any clinical credibility. Just my experience. But, my experience tells me that those who suffer from PTSD live under a menacing cloud. Images and smells and sounds are engraved into their memories and then set loose to haunt and torture.

The journey through the dark and murky waters of PTSD is a frightening and often lonely one. Even behind the thin blue line. My goal is not to become the poster family for PTSD. I’m not trying to wear the victim badge. In fact, my husband retires in less than two months and I would like to move on. But I believe in the thin blue line.

Solidarity. Likemindedness. Mutual support.

Maybe a family needs to hear they are not alone is this battle. Maybe an officer needs to be encouraged to raise his hand and say, “I need help.” Sometimes the thin blue line gets frayed. But we can fix it. All it takes is…

Solidarity. Likemindedness. Mutual support.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Sep 6 2012

End of Watch


17

Alexander is 17.

His father, Officer Youngstrom of the California Highway Patrol, was shot in the head on Tuesday. He made a traffic stop in Walnut Creek. Just doing his job.

Maybe that morning, Alexander’s dad drove him to school. Maybe the night before, they had talked about who gets to use the car this weekend. As of 6:05 pm last night, Alexander’s life is forever changed. He’s only seventeen and he lost his dad.

17 weeks.

The countdown has begun. At the end of seventeen weeks, I can lay that fear aside. In seventeen short weeks, my husband turns in his star and his gun. Retirement. The uniform will hang lethargic in the closet. No more traffic stops. No more wrecks. And we will step around the thin blue line. But, there have been countless days that I have embraced the chance that I could be in Alexander’s shoes. Saying goodbye to a hero.

17 weeks.

I think of Alexander and his family and I hold my breath.

But prayers aren’t prayers unless they are exhaled. Breathed out. Spoken. So I force myself to breath and I pray.

17 prayers.

God, grant your peace.

May your presence reside around the Youngstrom family.

May the tears of Alexander’s mother be counted.

May the tears of her children water their hearts and bear the fruit of wisdom.

May Alexander know that his father is a hero.

 

God, grant your provision.

May the family feel the prayers and thoughts of all who hear.

May the arms of the community embrace Alexander and his siblings.

May Officer Youngstrom’s wife know that she is our sister.

May there be strength in unity.

 

May Officer Youngstrom’s brothers in tan, be granted the gift of grieving.

May we find compassion for the perpetrator and his family.

May God give us the grace to count each day.

May we never forget those who risk so much to serve us.

May we know gratitude.

 

God, we ask you for your Grace.

May you grant us the eyes to see.

 

End of watch. 

Officer Kenyon Youngstrom, after a valiant fight, succumbed to the injuries he sustained after being shot on Tuesday morning. Officer Youngstrom was a dedicated officer and soldier who gave his life serving the people of California. He now joins a distinguished group of heroes whose names are engraved upon the CHP Memorial Fountain and who will forever be remembered for their valiant service and sacrifice.


Aug 30 2012

Death and taxes…

“…But in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

-Benjamin Franklin, in a letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy, 1789

I would have to add to that short list.

Change.

I think change is certain. Empires rise and fall. Flowers bloom and fade. The years tick away, absorbing our youth and elasticity. Says the woman who just had a birthday.

Change seems to be as certain as death and taxes. We all live on the cusp of change. And it doesn’t really matter what the change is. Change just is. It happens often and in varying degrees. The addition of a child, the loss of a loved one. A new address, job, direction. I’ve spent some time recently, struggling to embrace the excitement and heartache of change. And I’ve discovered that change hits me in one or all of the following areas.

Change disrupts comfort.

Last December we moved to a new house in a new city. Not far from our old house but definitely far enough away to leave me looking for a new grocery store. And finding a new grocery store is obnoxious. It sounds petty but you know I’m right. Walking into a giant warehouse size space with no idea which direction to go to find mayonnaise. It can be intense. Not to mention moving away from people you love. It’s uncomfortable. Then I’m reminded by that annoying often faint voice of reason that maybe the pursuit of comfort is not the highest or noblest ambition. I doubt Mother Teresa was concerned with her comfort. I hate that voice sometimes.

Change disrupts control.

I’ll admit it. I’m a control addict. There’s a certain high that comes from watching a great plan come together. But trying to control life is like holding water in your hands. Even if you are strong enough to sustain it safely in your cupped hands, it will eventually evaporate. Loosing my grasp of the circumstances around me means I’m back to controlling what I was meant to control. My tongue and my attitude.

Change disrupts confidence.

There are no guarantees. The inevitable “What if?” What if it doesn’t turn out? What if I fail? But those aren’t really valid questions. Those are surface questions. I’m not concerned that things won’t work out. They always do. My concern is that things won’t work how I want them to. (See paragraph above.)

Change.

The leaves on the trees change every year. It’s just around the corner. They burn with glorious color to celebrate the sublime summer. This year, I intend to take a cue from them. As this season in my life ushers in change, may I be engulfed in vibrant hues of celebration for what has been and what is waiting for me around the corner.

What change is happening in your life right now?


Aug 9 2012

S is for…

Should I stay or should I go?

This blog needs to start with a preface or some sort of disclaimer. I doubt this is concurrent with blogging protocol but some things must be done. So here goes.

I am not trying to offer advice or counsel. This is simply my journey. If you have a similar journey, I hope my words resonate with you and encourage you as you discover you are not alone. If you have an altogether different journey, I hope this gives you a glimpse into the scenery from a different path.

A swift and tragic death is ugly. I’ve shared how there are days it wafts into our home like the faint smell of decay on a spring breeze. You expect to smell the wisteria outside the back door but instead…a fowl stink sends shivers running down your spine.

For so many years I didn’t get it. I pretended it was my imagination. Or it was just part of the territory. I was so blind. So blind to what was really going on. I saw the man I married turn into a different guy. I thought that was all there was to see. And that change ticked me off. And being ticked off lead me to a defining moment. A question.

Should I stay or should I go?

It didn’t take me divorcing my husband to leave. I was ready to pack my emotions in a carry-on and take the next flight out. Intentionally disconnecting and distancing myself from him. Pretend that everything was okay. Go through the motions. Discuss the day to day business of running a home and a family and leave the relationship out of it.

The way I saw it, it was about survival. My survival. Should I stay or should I go? It sounds a bit melodramatic. And I guess when you make a relationship all about yourself, you’re bound to find a bit of drama.

Our relationship had hit a place in time where I felt I wasn’t getting what I needed. And it’s one thing to say “for better or worse.” It’s an entirely different thing to live it out. My marriage got difficult and I wanted to disconnect.

And then I got hit in the head with a two by four. Metaphorically, but it hurt just the same. I was sharing my frustration with a friend and she summed up my situation in a poignant statement. “So, you are upset because he is human.” Going, disengaging, distancing myself was my way of saying that I was better than him. Healthier. And how dare he be human. How dare he be scarred and wounded.

The moment in time, where two people stand before friends and family and declare their eternal love, had faded into the past. Now, two people stood in a living room, staring into each other’s eyes and not seeing the other person.

In between the day we shared our vows and the moment in the living room, a great deal of living had taken place. A great deal of conversations and choices. And I had been just as much a part of those as he had been. But now I wanted to blame him. I like to think that I didn’t cause the PTSD but I can honestly say that for many years, I didn’t help it. I ignored it. But now, with it all out in the open, with wounds ripped open and hearts laid bare, a whisper of hope hung in the air.

Could I stay and be part of the solution? Should I stay and support him? Would I stay and own my stuff too?

I’ve heard it said that the hard choice and the right choice are often the same choice. Aghhh!

So I stayed. Physically and emotionally. I hoped and prayed. I cried a lot. I felt really lonely sometimes. But I chose to stay. I chose to love him as best I could. I don’t deserve a medal. I’m not looking for a pat on the back. Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not trying to judge or make a social statement. This is just part of my journey.

I read this today. “…We are each called to love three people in our spouse–the person we loved first, the person we love now, and the person we are loving into being.” (Heather Kopp, SoberBoots.com) Loving someone in the now and loving them into who they are becoming is sometimes a painful journey. But my husband has done the same for me. So I guess that makes us even. But who’s keeping score, right?

There’s one more letter to go in our PTSD acronym. So next week “D is for…” Can you guess?

 


Aug 1 2012

T is for ticked off

That seems fairly obvious doesn’t it? I mean, do I really need to spell out what being ticked off looks like?

The small child in the grocery store. The tantrum thrower, lying on the vinyl flooring, arms waving and feet kicking. Unintelligible shrieks and sobbing noises come from the flailing body. We pretend not to see them and confine our comments to internal dialogue. “Oh, my yes. That’s a tantrum.” And we somehow manage to pat ourselves on the back for being far more evolved than that.

But are we? Okay, I won’t throw you under the bus. Am I?

As soon as I picked the acronym P.T.S.D., I knew the “t” stood for ticked off. A large part of my journey with my husband through the dark and intrepid waters of PTSD has involved anger. My anger. At him. At the world. At life. And yet, now that I’m sitting here, I don’t want to write about it. I didn’t kick and scream in the candy isle because my mommy wouldn’t buy me a chocolate bar. Because that’s absurd. But there was much shrieking and flailing internally. And really, what’s the difference?

 I got angry. “Why do I have to deal with this? This isn’t what I signed up for.”

And then I would hear it. That little sarcastic voice in my head that thinks it’s okay to parent me. “So when you said, ‘For better or for worse, in sickness and in heath,’ there were qualifiers to those statements?”

To which I repied, “Well no. But he isn’t living up to his end of the bargain.”

“So you are mad at him for being human?”

And then I would get angry at that internal voice for being right. Yes, my husband had some things that he needed to deal with. But my response, my internal kicking and screaming demonstrated that I had some things to deal with too. We are both human.

Shortly after our son was born, I started taking him to the park. Normal right? And I would get a call from my husband. Still normal.

“How’s it going?”

“Good.”

“Where are you?”

“We are at the park.” Wait for it.

“Are you watching Isaac?”

Seriously?

“Nope, I dropped him off. Since he can walk on his own now and I thought I would run across the street to the 7-11 for a Slurpy. I’m mad thirsty today.”

That’s what I wanted to say.

It ticked me off that he would have the audacity to believe that I would be that irresponsible with our son. I’m not looking for mom of the year here but a little credit would be nice. What was intended as concern came across more as gigantic votes of no confidence.

I saw enough to realize that he meant well. So I ignored it. Or at least I thought I did.

Anger is like cheese. It doesn’t turn fuzzy and green overnight. But eventually, it does turn fuzzy and green.

And here is the irony. I was mad at him. He was the one ruining our family. It was his behavior that caused me to feel the way I did. He was making me so angry.

And then that exasperating voice, “No one can make you angry just like no one can make you love. They are both choices.”

Blah!

I could choose to be angry or let it go. But that wasn’t the choice I wanted to make. I was ticked off and I thought the choice in front of me was “Should I stay? Or should I go?”

But I’ll save that for next week. When you can read “S is for should I stay?”


Jul 25 2012

P is for partially blind

An outing to the zoo the other day warranted the taking of many pictures. My girls quickly took control of all picture taking devices and began to document our adventure. The above photo is one from that day. Can you tell what it is?

Yeah, me neither. After close inspection, I have made out some concrete and a shadow. Hardly a kodak picture spot. And maybe not a great representation of a day at the zoo but an apt representation of the beginning part of my journey into the world of PTSD.

P is for partially blind.

They say love is blind but I beg to differ. I think love is only partially blind. I was drawn to a man who is compassionate, courageous, and loyal. A man of honor. A man who takes his oath seriously. “I subscribe in word and deed to…fulfill my oath as a soldier of the law…” I was not blind to those things.

I was partially blind.

I knew my husband to have those traits. But I was blind to the fact that they came at a price. His loyalty and compassion are not bound only to the situations that he can control. He can not turn them on or off at will. So, to the little girl that died in his arms, he remains compassionate and loyal, even years later regardless of forced good-byes.

I was partially blind.

I can’t see her. I have heard about her and the tragedy of that day, but I have no vivid pictures, or smells or tastes associated with her. But my husband does. And the burden of those memories, of the hopelessness of the outcome, exact a heavy price.

The caring man I married grew more and more impatient and aloof. His sympathies began to turn sour like spoiled milk. One of our children would get injured and he would be rendered incapacitated. Nightmares, anxiety, and unending mantras regarding safety. Locks on doors, emergency drills and angst. The beautiful family I thought we had was changing. Or better said, the rules that governed our home were changing and I didn’t see it.

I was partially blind.

There was a new sheriff in our home. The past. Those moments in time when beliefs in justice demanded a different outcome. The little blond seven year old girl should have lived. But she didn’t. And that is only one image among dozens. Each tragic loss of life has a face, a name and a memory. The man of compassion and loyalty was being stretched to the breaking point. The past began to invade and it would take no prisoners.

I have since realized that although my husband has been diagnosed with PTSD he is not the only one who sees the past command unwarranted authority over the present. We stand in our situations. Our trials. Our issues. And we don’t want to let go. There is an obscure security in defining ourselves by our scars. Our battle wounds.

I saw my husband changing and I thought it was just his issue.

 I was partially blind.

And not fully seeing causes one to react. But my response to the unfamiliar and undetermined changes happening in our home is for next week. When T is for ticked off.


Jul 18 2012

PTSD

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Panic. Temper. Strain. Depression.

Several years ago, I had no idea how four letters could turn someone’s life upside down.

Today is my wedding anniversary. Thirteen years ago I married an amazing man. I envisioned having beautiful children and a beautiful life. For many years that is exactly what we had worked to create. And then something changed. Suddenly a monster was living in my home threatening to destroy all that we had worked so hard to establish.

For years, the monster remained nameless. But its presence was no less intrusive. This monster laid open a path for fear, anxiety, even depression. And I felt helpless. It was terrifying and overwhelming.

I have alluded to this issue in past blog posts but there has been a hesitancy in me to discuss it in detail. Maybe it’s one of those things that is so painful it’s just difficult to talk about. But, it’s my anniversary. And I have much to celebrate. I think it’s time.

It feels impossible to transcribe our journey in a single blog post so I intend to make this a series. As I pondered how to cohesively write a short group of blogs I thought of doing an acronym. I seem to like those. So this will be the first post of five. Each post after this will highlight a specific part of our journey. And what better acronym to use than P.T.S.D.

Please understand that I am not a doctor or psychologist. Writing about this widespread and debilitating issue is strictly based on my own experience. And even that being limited. I am not the sufferer directly. I am not the one haunted and tortured and controlled by horrific images and memories. I am the bystander. One who has had to learn to love in the midst of the paralyzing unknown. However, I am intimately acquainted with the condition. I had a first row seat as I watched my husband wrestle and fight a foe that was unseen. I watched as the father of my children was nearly taken from me.

I am the spouse of a highly decorated law enforcement officer. He is courageous and honorable and broken.

Happy anniversary to us and I hope you check out the next blog, “P is for partially blind” and take this journey with us.

 


Jun 29 2012

Rights!!

My family and I are getting ready for a short term mission trip to Mexico. The last time I was getting ready for a short term mission trip to Mexico, I was in high school. Four score and seven years ago.

I will never forget the preparation for the first trip. My youth pastor sat us down at one of the meetings to watch a video. It was Loren Cunningham, the founder of Youth With a Mission. I was so impacted, I still remember the point of his message.

Missionaries have no rights. 

You do not have the right to a comfortable bed. You do not have the right to a warm shower or a shower of any kind for that matter. All those things that we accept as rights are more in line with what the rest of the world would call privileges. Clean bathrooms, potable water from the faucet, indoor plumbing…privileges.

Since those many trips to Mexico and other adventures, I have discovered that the relinquishing of rights is required of more than just missionaries. Anyone who would call themselves a disciple has been given that same charge.

Disciples have no rights.

Our contrived ideas that 12 men sat at the foot of the Master with legs and arms crossed taking notes are devastatingly misplaced. Jesus told them to follow Him. He told them to bury their dead, sell all they had, become as dependent and single minded as children. To relinquish their rights.

There are times when my children try to exercise their rights. Often they attempt to evoke the fifth amendment. They falsely believe that they do not have to say anything that may or may not incriminate them in an illegal or inappropriate activity. That does not get them far.

But I also will try to invoke my rights. The Declaration of Independence tells me that I have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And yet…

He [Jesus] called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

I struggle to relinquish my rights. I find myself often ready to stage a coup against those ills and injustices done to me. I am ready to rise up and defend my position. I whine and complain. I feel entitled. I want to grab the situation with both hands and force it to yield to my vision of how it should be. To take no prisoners. To exercise my rights.

And yet…I am asked to lay down my rights. To relinquish control and to become dependent upon the Giver of Life. Like a child. Unless I change.

I have no rights.

I don’t like it. I fight this idea on a daily basis. It goes against every grain of my fiber. But that’s the point. The coup that must be staged is within my heart. My self-righteousness and pride and self-assurance must be extricated by the roots and surrendered.

How about you? If you are wondering if you hold onto certain rights, watch your attitude today. And I will do the same. May the coup begin!