what i am learning at my new job, or, i see dead people - part 1

It’s true.  I do.

I have been working at a funeral home for six months.  It’s a 180 from my last work environment.  For one, it’s 10km from my house whereas my last job was 34.  And of course, the music industry is quite different from the funeral industry.  I remain in administration (desk + chain = happy place), but my connection to the end-user is very clear in this case.

That has required a big adjustment for me.  When I worked in royalties, I had countless digital and live conversations with artists and copyright holders and had an appreciation for their art.  But I met fewer of them than the fingers I have on my hands.  It’s the life of a distribution company, I suppose.  Now, though, I am immersed in the product.  I work side-by-side with an amazing group of people who do difficult things to, with and for people that few others would dare to or even speak of.  While my duties don’t include “the basement” (cue slow, spooky, far-left black piano key tune), all of my work touches death.  Nothing is unspeakable.  We are frank, but respectful, with the inevitable.  My job has placed me face-to-face at times with people who, we both know, when we are reunited years, months, days from now, one of us will be dead.  I share thick, awkward silence with people who have lost a parent or a child or a spouse only hours ago.

There are so many fascinating things too, though.  The cultural and religious customs are plenty and curious and lovely and sacred.  Special clothing and prayers and burn-this and this-must-happen-before-noon and this-hairclip-means-I’m-a-grandchild and the-body-must-never-be-alone...fascinating.

My senses and my emotional capacity are still acclimating to the daily experiences.  I would be lying if I said that I am rock-solid and process each case perfectly in my head and heart and therefore I am a paperwork hero for the grieving.  I am still asking questions.  My eyes still bug out when I read things in files.  I still don’t know how everything I deal with at work is supposed to translate to my appreciation for my life and provisions and relationships.

I just know that God has called me to this place; discovering exactly why is a work-in-progress.

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Learn to do good; seek justice, rebuke the oppressor; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow. - Isaiah 1:17

an open letter to my white hair

Dear White Hair,

Yes, I'm talking to all six of you.  The three musketeers lining my part, Suzie Stick-Out at my left temple, and Misters Long-and-Slow-and-Steady-Wins-the-Race there in the back.

I'm not sure how I feel about you.  I mean, I'm pretty excited about hitting my forties and my friend told me the fifties are even better. My body is loosening up a bit (Today's Special is: "Euphemism") but still fairly in check, I guess. But then there's these - yous - that are testing my aversion to prints. I'm all about solids. The contrast against my black hair is a bit concerning. In my mid-thirties I dreamed about you guys emerging in a cool Bonnie Raitt, Rogue conversation-piece kind of way.  It's not likely.  And that's okay.  I've even embraced your rebel friend that plays whack-a-mole on my cheek. A quick tweeze takes care of that.  But I know you guys aren't going anywhere, so it's time for me to decide how I'm going to handle you.

I feel like a hypocrite if I don't at least try to embrace you for a bit, feel out the idea of the salt and pepper I love so much on handsome actors. (As if.) You've seen my house. You know I won't be able to nurse my roots if I start dyeing. So I'll give you some time. Maybe a year. And then we can revisit.

But in that year, let's make a deal. I will leave you alone, but I need you to grow in quietly and gently. So as to not draw me to vanity and away from more important concerns. Be a collective nudge towards progress and away from complacency. A whisper of urgency to listen, to strive, to obey, to comfort, to relax, to obey, to forgive. I'm a visual learner, so I'm thinking if I see some of you everyday, lovingly aligning yourselves with your dark brown counterparts (I'm talking to you, short, stiff crimpies in the front), I'll get the daily reminder I need to face and walk in the direction our Lord has intended for me, in a less Chicken-Little-The-Sky-Is-Falling kind of way.

 

Deal?

 

I look forward to receiving your response.

Many thanks,

Leah

another look at the deep end

It took me three weeks to publish yesterday's post.

The lesson I thought I had learned on that last day of class evolved into something so different in the days and weeks that followed.

The idea of turning 40 this year has got me on this mission not unlike many of my friends to define and deepen the meaning of my choices, career, etc.  Taking that big plunge into the deep end of the pool that night seemed like a super-awesome metaphor for just doing it, trying new things, chasing crazy dreams, run fearlessly.  And maybe it still is and will be soon.  But I realize that, for me, for this slice of my life, the jump is about something less fantastic and less postable and has much less fanfare tied to it.

It's about admitting that I have been running on fumes for months.
It's about letting go of and delaying some commitments.
It's about nurturing a beautiful marriage that boasts a long tenure but is still so much a delicate, work-in-progress.
It's about pausing during sporadic, desperate prayers for my children and listening for how God wants me to be His answer.

And all this because it was time to get still, bringing leaning on God back to the top of my priority list instead of assigning the concept a hashtag, time for entering into hard, necessary conversations, making difficult decisions and understanding the truth of my past and current choices.

I stopped my Lenten fast two weeks ago.  What worked beautifully in the last two years was not this time.  With the season starting much earlier that usual, in the middle of a challenging job transition, my expectations were unrealistic and my motives were facing the wrong direction. (Since when do I post recipes?!)  It was doomed from the start.  And even the plan to stop had poor motives...I'll break it with a home-baked loaf of bread that I saw on Pinterest.

Come on.  Seriously.  I've never even baked bread before.  What was I thinking?

Sure enough, God called me on it.  I walked into church that Sunday, discovered it was Communion week, and was quickly corrected.  This was the bread He wanted me to have, and This - He - was enough.

I eventually did bake a few loaves of bread, by the way.

I eventually did bake a few loaves of bread, by the way.

I'm still walking through a valley and I don't really have anything poetic to round that off. The last two weeks have been more intentional and rich and rough and still a bit exhausting, all at the same time.  And maybe this is perfect timing. In absence of the unrealistic meal-planning, the five books I was reading at once (not kidding), unreasonable expectations of myself and the ones I love, and pursuit of my own glory over God's, I am assuming a more proper, humbler posture towards the amazingness that this coming week commemorates.

graduation day

I passed Adult 1 swim class recently.

I was exhausted and my muscles ached all over, but I can now do the back crawl for about 12m and the front crawl for 10m (with the world's worst form).  But all the bullets have check marks and I have the beginnings of a life skill I have pined over for almost thirty years.  Now I have to practice over the spring and summer, before I forget to point my toes, relax my knees, keep my hips close to the surface, fully extend my arms, keep my ear pinned to my shoulder when I turn to breathe, breathe and not drink, all at the same time.  It's so automatic and instinctual for all the young kids on the other (deep) end of the pool, but we adults have so much fear laced in this whole process that tying all that together is so difficult.

At one point while trying to perfect my back crawl, my rising right arm splashed water onto my face, breaking my momentum and opening the door to flailing panic.  Staring hard at the ceiling, my mind switched to the scene of Jesus asking Peter to step onto the water.  In the second half of that instant, I realized something. Get a grip Leah, you're learning to swim on your back in four and a half feet of water at a community pool in the 'burbs, with two qualified lifeguards nearby.  Save your nerves for the heavy stuff, for, well, Peter's sake.

So, when our instructor suggested we go into the deep end for the final five minutes, I yawped YES.  And then when he said the life jackets aren't out and do you want to try jumping in without them, I swooshed my foot down in the water and declared yes once again.

And in I went.

There's something about my time in the deep end that is making me want to go back.  A kind of freedom, albeit for only about five seconds at a time.  There's no floor immediately below andit feels mysterious-therefore-scary but exciting and warm and enveloping all at the same time.  Plus I had my two child leader-lifesavers standing by, telling me as I'm launching off the big foam island thing to go for it.  If young J and A had my trust for my survival at 7:58 on Sunday night, then surely I could try harder to place it in God's irrefutably more capable hands for the bigger and bolder. 

 “Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”” ‭‭(Mark‬ ‭9:24‬ ‭NKJV‬‬)

 

My report card!

My report card!

dear world

Dear World,

This day is a big one for me. This was the day, eighteen years ago, that my big girl, my first born, was due to arrive. She was late by eight days and, in fact, if it had been a year like this one, she would be one of those funny leap babies with only a handful of birthdays under her belt.  She was late, and yet so, so early, I thought. Too early for a very unready me. For years I thought the timing was wrong, that everyone was looking at us thinking we were too early. But then she started teething at six months and took her first steps at eleven. She made us laugh so hard with her bounciness and funny words.  I learned, not early enough, that she, that we, happened right on time.

In the sleepless hours of those early months I'm sure I pleaded for her to grow out of this phase quickly, and maybe again when potty training was lagging.

Her prom dress has arrived and we took her to a college interview yesterday. Foolishly, may I wish to slow this phase down?

Next week you will tell me that she is no longer mine. She is an adult and by law there are certain freedoms she now has independently from me and her father. Fair enough. I have been trying very, very hard on that transition from manager to adviser in the last few years, not without a lot of hopeful, maybe desperate, subliminal life lessons (moms and dads: values first!). I am loosening my grip ever so slightly, as slowly as a sentimental mother who wants her child to grow strong and not screwed up can. But as I release her, let me make one thing clear.

I am not giving her to you.

You, who ties so many ifs to beauty and taunts with fake greener grasses.  You who glorifies comfort and instills fear of failure. You who favours instant and easy and loud and famous.  You who delights in revenge and finds such distaste in suffering and surrender.

No, you may not have her.

She isn't really mine to give anyway.

I was just a steward, shaping on behalf, under direction, of her Creator.  I wasn't perfect at it, but did my best.  She has her dad's eyes and dimples, her mom's lips and maybe her sass, but she is wonderfully made in her Creator's image.  Her lungs fill with His breath, her passion is fed by His spirit. Her heart is young and feisty but it beats for the good things that He has placed in her path.  She has a purpose, quite unknown to us all as yet, and you are a player in the plan, I am sure, but the purpose is His.  So if I have to let go of this baby-girl-turning-woman, it is to put her back in the hands of our God.

So no, you may not have her. Not on my watch.

non-breaking breakfast - overnight oats

When the easy-tear resealable top isn't so easy.

When the easy-tear resealable top isn't so easy.

Last night I had salt and vinegar kettle chips, dumplings, ribs, a can of coke, and a scoop of cookies and cream ice cream.  Don't read that back to me, that's disgusting.  But I also prepped my breakfast for days one, two and three of Lent.  Overnight oats, based on the Oh She Glows Vegan Overnight Oats recipe, a wise recommendation last year from my girlfriend and guru of good eating.  Bear with me - I am no food blogger.

3 heaping tablespoons of quick oats
1 teaspoon ground golden flax seed
1 teaspoon chia seeds
1 teaspoon hulled hemp seeds
A dash of cinnamon
Some pumpkin seeds
Some raw sunflower seeds
Unsweetened almond-coconut milk
Fruits - this week I've got frozen raspberries and blueberries

After dinner the evening before, throw all the dry ingredients into a mason jar.  

Add milk to reach about an inch above the dry ingredients.  Stir to get the milk and dry ingredients incorporated with each other.  

Cover with the lid and leave in the fridge, you guessed it, overnight.

The next morning...

The next morning...

In the morning, empty the contents of the jar into a bowl, add the fruits and enjoy!

It's become my go-to breaky beyond my fast, because it satisfies the restrictions but is still yummy.  A fantastic time-saver when you make several jars ahead of time.  It was awesome in my last job when I had way-early shifts and had to eat breakfast at my desk.

january book eats

I read just over a dozen books last year, and hope to average sat least two per month in 2016.  I almost missed it, but yesterday, as #2 was on a date with Daddy, I brought my second book to the mall and sat in the food court beside the youngest, equipped him with a scoop of death by chocolate and Minecraft (okay not my brightest move as a mother) and flew through the final pages while the oldest danced around the clothing stores as teens are programmed to do.  With a new, shrunken commute, I hope I'll still be able to keep this up.

 

For The Love by Jen Hatmaker

For reasons I can't explain, after following her blog, pvr-ing her Today Show appearances, wishing I had the American HGTV, scouring the podcast world for her talks and interviews for several years (which explains why I say y'all now), this is the first book of hers I have read.  I am officially one of The 4500, the sea of people who applied to be part of her launch team to promote the book, but didn't score a spot.  In applying, though, I got a couple of free chapters to enjoy before it released.  I knew from then that I had to get my hands on this book.  She is a lover of Jesus, her family, cooking and community, is utterly honest and Hi. Lari. Ous.  This book was like a date with your best collection of girlfriends, with generous doses of zoomed in and panned out looks at ourselves, our people, the big-C Church, and the world, wrapped tightly in a blanket of out-loud laughter.

 

Stir by Jessica Fechtor

Once I return it to the library (after exhausting my renewal allowance), I will have to buy my own copy. I loved it so much.  Part memoir, part recipe book, Jessica Fechtor, author of the food blog Sweet Amandine, begins with the morning an aneurysm burst in her brain, and moves through the messy, scary long road that followed.  Multiple surgeries, loss of sight, loss of smell.  Sprinkled across the pages are glimpses into her youth, college years and life in young adulthood, where you meet and quickly grow to love her tribe of friends and family.  Then, as the best bonus ever, almost every one of the 33 chapters ends with the recipe mentioned in the narrative, giving the reader the exact gift they are hoping for by the time they catch on a few chapters in.  And save for the Five-Fold Challah, because I'm a bit lazy for a four-pager, I want to try each of the recipes.  Not in a Julie and Julia mission kind of way, but because they are all amazing and proven unforgettable, obviously.  A word about Jessica's writing, though.  It is beautiful and brilliant.  Okay, that was two words.  The way she paints the scene for her audience, so vividly you start feeling like you're reading fiction, ugh.  See?  I am reduced to grunting just thinking about it, I'm so speechless.