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Life Hacks

You uproot me from ruin and You plant me to blossom – A. Geddert/A. Ellsworth

There are the rare and beautiful treasures that grow when it’s coldest, when nobody’s watching – Christy Nockels

 

A little-known Meredith-fam fact:

We reaaaalllllly like crazy road trips.

Wait –

Most of you know that.

But what you might not know is that we do them because

we

mostly –

like the gobs of time together.

Once our girls were old enough to survive long hours in the car, these kinds of climbing-mountains-while-crossing-a-megametre (ask Dr. Dave about that one) in-a-day sorts of trips became our favourites.

And it used to be that, yeah, we’d be those parents.

You know, the ones where the car DVD player reallly does the parenting.

And it used to be that, yeah, with the girls tuned out, or tuned in, or whatever iGen is calling it these days,

their parents

would listen to podcasts

or audiobooks

or music

or one of us would sleep while the other drove,

and all of those were good things.

But lately, that’s not how its gone.

Lately, we’ve done some of our best creative work – quite literally – on the road.

Take last year, for example.

We drove to Disney in record time (and with record frugality),

and I can barely remember a podcast we listened to.

Sure, there were bouts of rocking-out-via-air-bass-guitar to crazy playlists of eclectic music

because who doesn’t like doing THAT?!?

Come on. You know you love it.

Also. If you do do this, have any of you figured out the bass line to Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off”? If so, please teach us. It seems to be in its own time signature.

But back to the long road trip hours.

Mostly, we spent them just … talking.

Sometimes it was only David and I; other times, the four of us; other times, a combination of the two.

And the conversations that happened were incredible.

I guess in some seasons, life happens while you’re driving.

Take the first road trip of this summer.

We were headed to a family wedding through the Rockies. I was feeling a bit…. erhm…

Overwhelmed.

There were situations external to me that somehow involved me yet didn’t truly impact me but still roped me in. All of them ramped up and weighed a little heavier leading up to the big day.

By the time we pulled in to a little hole-in-the-wall burger joint we found just off the Crows Nest,

My stress level was nearing epic proportions.

My intuitive husband sensed the shift and asked what he could do for me.

And in the interest of being more honest, because real friends deserve real answers,

and, if anyone is – even in the years we were ‘not-dating-but-arguing-in-the-cafeteria-over-whose-country-of-origin-is-best,’

or when I confidently asserted that I could safely promise ‘never to marry David Meredith,’

(you can see why one of our friends fell over when she found out we were dating)

he is a real friend.

So he got a real answer:

And as one who’s witnessed more than his fair share of labour stories and prenatal class prep-and-debriefs,

he knew exactly what to do:

Distract, distract, distract.

– Have you ever watched those Life Hack channels on YouTube?

I hadn’t.

– I’ve always thought someone should do a parody of them. You know, like a channel of really, really terrible advice,

from someone who’s completely clueless,

but acting like an expert,

with really … erhm… creative logic.

I paused and turned the thought over in my head.

I stopped thinking about all the things that were causing me to hyperventilate.

And asked for more.

Like, I don’t know, using Peppermint oil for eye drops – because it keeps them… moist.

He gives me a deadpan sideways glance to guage my reaction.

I double over.

You’ve used peppermint oil, right?

It makes everything burn. Or go numb. Or both, at the same time.

Achieving his goal, he keeps going:

– Or, like, using sriracha sauce for lip balm, because, it like, mimics blood or something.

All of a sudden I notice the girls have turned off their movie.

The little one pipes in first.

Ohhhhhhhhh. Can I be your fashion consultant? You need a realllly terrible outfit.

The almost-four-teen-ager has a more serious goal:

I am sooooo helping you write those scripts.

And, before we know it, Life Hacks with Dr. Dave is born.

If you haven’t seen it yet, you need to know that it is

literally

the

craziest. thing.

we have evvvvvvvverrrrrr come up with.

So, of course, we did what anyone would do:

We tell our friends.

We must have realllllly great friends,

or maybe? a really great idea,

or – here’s hoping? – a combination of the two,

because they love it.

And immediately want in.

So, on a dreary, rainy, greyest-of-summer-Sundays-you-can-imagine, we shoot the first two episodes.

And, on the week before his 40th birthday,

YouTube gets to see

what I have always known:

My husband is one of the goofiest men alive.

For the rest of our car trip, Dr-Dave-brainstorming does what it’s supposed to:

Distract me from the real-life crazy.

The problem is, as I’ve been learning lately:

distraction only takes you so far.

Anyone who’s heard me talk about labour and delivery for longer than five minutes will probably have heard me explain the brain-chemistry-theory that shows us that

distraction

(aka. refocusing our attention)

might be the most powerful labour support tool we have.

And – for the first stage – the stage where we are getting ready to push the baby out –

it is.

But different stages of labour demand different things from us.

The first stage requires us to learn to let the pain come and do its thing.

And the best way to do that is to think about anything but the pain.

Allllllll the things that make us happy are preferable.

But once its time to push, distraction no longer cuts it.

I remember this moment verrrry clearly with my second.

I knew it was time to push.

I turned over from my hanging-over-the-top-of-the-bed-with-laughing-gas-in-hand-thank-you-very-much-position

and told my co-worker-nurse:

It’s time.

She checked me and confirmed my suspicion.

The problem was – I wouldn’t let go of the laughing gas.

My nurse tugged gently at the cord I was gripping with the strength of ten-thousand Amazonian armies to release it,

and – through gritted teeth – I told her:

no. don’t. even. think. about. it.

I wasn’t ready to let go of the thing that got me through the first stage.

A couple of years ago, I was in a similar place:

Not in labour, but in life.

Around that time, I wrote about how the labour pains in our lives seemed to be lasting longer, feeling stronger, and coming closer together.

Paul warned us that’s how it would be:

For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth until now.

And we know that because we see that, yes?

This week alone, the weight of sheer tragedies and joys-amidst-tragedies that I’ve witnessed in family, friends, acquaintances, our city and community,

-not to mention the ones our own family lives day-to-day-

is staggering.

The depth of pain hitting those who seem to have everything to live for astounds me.

Suffering is no respecter of persons, friends.

It hits the young, the healthy, the bold, the prosperous.

Those who’ve done everything right

and

those who’ve done very little right.

It hits those of us who think we’ve already been hit more than our fair share, too.

And it often seems to be horribly, frustratingly random.

We’d love for it to be cause-and-effect; for bad things to happen to bad people, for pain to come only from stupid choices or ill intents.

We’d love that because we’d all like to think that we are good people who don’t deserve bad things and that those who get bad things somehow earned them.

Of course, if that’s true, then as long as we do all the right things, we can escape tragedy.

But it doesn’t work like that.

I was in the best shape of my life when I got leukemia.

Once our family learned to adjust to the new normal, though we didn’t realize it at the time,  we each made an unspoken, unconscious deal with God:

Fine, we’ll do this. But no more.

And there was so, so, so much more to come.

Longer trials, each feeling stronger than the one before, and coming much closer together.

Each were heartbreaks of a different sort that made the little white pills I have (get!) to take every day seem like child’s play.

The biggest ones have come in the last five years.

I remember the first hitting like a ton of bricks.

At the beginning, my eyes could only see the things I’d lost.

It shook some of the unconscious fundamental beliefs of my life:

at least I know _____ will never happen

only holds up as long as

that thing doesn’t happen.

If and when it actually does,

(and its usually when)

we are left to find firm ground in the earthquake.

Sometimes – many times – we reach out and grab whatever seems to not be moving around us.

Those early days of 2015, that’s what I did.

I see it now for the poor choice it was, but at the time it was all I knew to do.

Of course, it slipped through my fingers.

I didn’t see my mistake right away, though.

I reached out for the next firmest thing and hung on.

It, too, slid away.

And so on, and so on, one thing after another.

Until about two years ago.

The summer of 2017 something else started to shift.

Deep within me, I knew these labour supports I’d previously reached out for were no longer cutting it.

I no longer wanted to be distracted.

Instead, I wanted to know what the pain was for.

I wanted to use it,

somehow.

I didn’t know how.

I just knew change was coming, and I didn’t want to start it.

So – I fought it. I told myself it didn’t have to happen, that I could keep things the way they always had been and still press on to new ground.

And then it came anyways:

Ugly and

horrible and

leaving a gaping hole in its wake.

And for the rest of that year, I was left to wonder how it all happened.

While 2018 is sometimes jokingly referred to in our house as ‘The Lana Sleep,’ in reality, I didn’t do so much sleeping as feeling.

And while it didn’t feel good, the beauty of that horrible gaping hole was that

there was really no way to fully distract myself from the pain.

I didn’t need distraction.

I needed to feel. it.

So I did.

Like that moment when my co-worker-nurse-friend tried to tug the laughing gas away from me, so I could meet my second daughter,

I didn’t want to.

I tried to hang on to my gas.

Even if I couldn’t use it, I just held on.

And I pushed.

Or, so I thought.

Fifteen minutes later, I asked my nurse how I was doing.

Her face said it all:

I hadn’t done much of anything.

I’d been too afraid of the pain.

But then one of my co-worker-friends got in my face and said,

come on, now. let’s be done with this.

Push.

I knew she was right.

It’s just that the closer you get to the finish line, the more it hurts.

The closer you are to delivery, the more your body stretches to make room for the new life coming.

But it doesn’t feel like stretching.

It feels like burning.

Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of us pull back when we feel the burn.

And that’s what I’d been doing.

With Elliana’s labour.

And – before the gaping hole.

Of course, after the hole came anyways –

as we knew, deep down, it would –

I had nowhere to go but to sit in it.

To push into the burn.

And for the rest of 2018, I did.

I didn’t know what birth was coming.

Truthfully, I didn’t expect a birth at all.

It just seemed like death, and more death.

It wasn’t until the waning daylight hours of the first day of the new year that I realized

maybe death was not all there was.

Funnily enough, it was in the midst of sharing gut-wrenching pieces of the pressing-through-the-burn journey with some of those who’d witnessed it and asked to be invited in,

that the tears were interrupted

with the spark of new life.

It was about my kids, of course.

And for the next eight weeks, I mulled over all the things that happened in the first twenty-four hours of the year

and let my head swim

with possibility.

I started to pay attention.

In some ways, I saw my children for the first time.

I saw their wounds, gaps, and vulnerabilities: places I could step into and help them heal.

But I also saw, in each of them,

New Life.

Beauty.

Joy.

Laughter.

And I thought, seriously.

Where have I been?

Though I didn’t really know what I was doing at the time, or why, I pulled each of them in closer, one day at a time.

Layers began to fall off.

There was so much I’d missed out on.

They could feel it too.

Some where around mid-May, my oldest said to me:

you know, Mom, I really liked you when I was little.

Like, really liked you.

I would have loved it if you had played Barbies with me more.

I get why you didn‘t.

But that’s what I wished you’d done.

A wave of … something … washed over me – regret, sure.

Repentance for being distracted by my own stuff, that, in light of her gentle truth, seemed so insignificant.

And after that, something like … hope.

I could still play Barbies with her.

It wasn’t about the Barbies, after all.

It was about stepping into her life and being present.

So, I did.

And. Wow.

She’s in a labour of sorts too. The tension between child and adult pulls at her in ten thousand directions and I hardly know which one is going to pull harder or when the other side will show up.

But she doesn’t need me to have all the answers.

She just needs me to be there.

She needs to know that even if all the things that make her happy right now come crashing down, I’ll still be there.

Laughing,

crying,

grieving,

rejoicing.

Doesn’t matter.

She just wants me to be there.

At least for now.

So as long as she wants that,

I don’t want to miss it.

And while I’m far from figuring this all out,

this is the most fun I’ve ever had as a parent.

It’s why I went into labour and delivery to begin with. The privilege of witnessing a woman’s transformation to motherhood is, frankly, breathtaking.

Its not always pleasant, of course.

I’ve been yelled at, sworn at, kicked, pressured, lashed out at, and blamed for all sorts of things that had nothing to do with me.

I’ve seen things most people would never even imagine could be a part of my job.

But I also get to be there for a baby’s first cry.

I get to tell women, yes, they’re real and yes, they’re here.

And while I flirt with other job opportunities from time to time, I can’t imagine missing out on those moments.

They really are breathtaking.

The problem is, I think we, as a community – even as a culture – are so afraid of the pain involved, that not only are we afraid to go through labour ourselves,

we’re even more afraid to walk through it with others.

Which is heart-breaking,

because we all know the labours of life tend to come when we least expect it

and we also all know

that women in labour shouldn’t be left alone.

I mean – I get it.

Stepping into the mess is risky.

Sometimes we have great reasons for our hesitance. Sometimes we’ve been in unhealthy spaces not-too-long before, places where boundaries blurred and hearts broke and our minds and hearts lost the ability to tell real connection from a pretend closeness.

Or sometimes we have so much of our own things to carry that we think we have nothing left over or nothing worthwhile to offer.

I’ve been there.

A few years ago, my youngest tugged on my shirt sleeves

– and on my heart strings –

and begged me to have over her new friend and her family.

And I remember thinking at the time,

I don’t have time for this. I don’t have the gift of hospitality. I don’t have a big house. I’m not that much of a cook and my living room is never as clean as I’d like it to be.

I’m not really someone who knows how to make new people feel comfortable.

This is gonna be awkward

and oh my, what if they bring their boys?

I don’t know what to do with boys!

Over the next few weeks, of course, it became absolutely clear this inviting this new family over was what we were supposed to do.

So.

I squeezed my eyes shut,

asked for Help,

and sent the text.

Set the table.

Made the food.

Opened the door.

And said, hey there.

And.

Just.

Wow.

A little more than two years later, I can’t imagine if we hadn’t.

We all would have missed out on so, so much

not the least of which

is a lights-out,

tear-inducing,

mic-dropping,

fist-pumping,

testimony to the Writer of all great stories

Who heals the brokenness of anyone who realizes the mess they’re in and asks.

I tell you this

because

it was something I almost didn‘t do,

and I think there might be a few of you

in the same place I was.

Someone around you might be in labour,

and they’re willing to let you in,

and while you have a stirring to be in it with them

you’re afraid to take the risk.

Friends, please.

For your sake and theirs,

Do. It.

As our pastor said this morning –

if you do, you’ll see strangers become family.

And praise God, we have.

See,

In the middle of a season where our life was far from what we wished it was,

we more clearly saw the gaps in the lives of those around us.

Some of those brave souls invited us in.

Without even really knowing what we were doing,

fumbling and guessing as we went,

we managed to step into their stuff and say,

you’re not a stranger here.

We’ll walk with you.

Of course,

when we first sent that text,

we had no idea

that they’d step into our stuff too.

And I guess that’s the real life hack.

We have very little control over making our life the way we want it to be.

But experiencing the gap between what we have and what we wish was

enables us

to see with a little more clarity

others

who are also walking in that gap.

And, sometimes, we have a bit of what they need

to make the gap a bit smaller.

Or less traumatic.

Or less… lonely.

Regardless,

that’s what people who have known what its like to be on the outside do.

They welcome in.

Even – especially –

when it feels awkward, unpleasant, or impossible.

And that doesn’t depend on how clean our houses are, or what kind of food we’re making, or

how big our house is.

But I’ll say more about that –

later.

I’ve got people coming over who haven’t been here before.

Because that’s what we do now.

We send the invite.

We set the table.

We open the door, ask for Help, and say

hey there.

We press right into the burn

and know now

we will see new life.

Friends – I hope you’ll try it.

I think – no, I know – you’ll be blown away.

After all, it’s the only Life Hack I know.

For the rest, there’s Dr. Dave.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Sammy McMurphey #

    Hi Lana… once again, your writing rocks ; ) Early on you hit upon what I’ve always told friends and my kids for over 40ish years, when I really understood its meaning – that my favorite word in life and the english dictionary is: “DISTRACTION”. I’ve been in any and every scenario during my adult life, especially, where ‘the word’ has never let me down, works every time… Even if its effect is only for a little while, ‘distraction’ always worked to make the person get out of their own way so to speak… They’d stop crying, their thoughts were interrupted so they had to take a breathe, the old adage of turning their frown upside down might have just happened, a totally different memory came back for the person, a new discussion started, or other results came out of it. And as for myself, being by myself for years, I would have been so ‘down’ if I didn’t distract myself with good books I can’t stop reading, a tv series where I love a certain character and can’t wait to see what they do next, a very interesting documentary – people or nature, just get out for a drive and enjoy my photography, look for that ‘shot’, etc. I try my best in emails to friends to put some humor in them somewhere… or create funny e-birthday cards & post them to their facebooks – takes me hours to make them appropriate to the person, but at the same time, while surfing the net to find some good humor/ribbing things, it’s entertaining me too!

    For the past 5 years, I have been creating our co-op’s seasonal newsletter. Besides the usual committee articles, I always include some crafts/games/humor for the kids and try to get the parents to laugh too and do some of these activities with their kids. Us parents easily get into ruts of things to do, so it’s fun to read about something different. But my fav thing is called “Getting to Know Your Neighbors”! I choose a different unit ea issue and interview the family to really get to know them – where they were raised, how on earth they ended up in Abbotsford(!), what hobbies/sports they liked to do, both as youths and adults, maybe an interesting job, what they do now, etc… you get the idea. Here’s the point – they all say before we start that they haven’t done anything interesting. I just say, ‘trust me’! I just ask them some basic things, and like magic, memories start flooding back to them, and the next thing they noticed an hour’s gone by of non-stop talking, ideas and laughter! They’ve surprised themselves! And I’ve come away with a few interesting things to write about, 100% positive tone and info – heck we both learned a lot of things about each other!

    My goal is for other members to enjoy the articles, but mostly hope that they will find something in common with the family to open up conversations! For instance, this issue has a member it turns out was born in Ireland – we have several members in here that have irish in them, including me – so there’s a conversation starter. I used myself for the first article, and when I mentioned I used to drag race my ’69’ dart swinger 340, I got a knock on my door from a neighbor across from me who held up a photo of his ’69’ dart swinger 340 – he cracked me up by saying, “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours!!” I’m kinda, “excuse me”?? then he holds up his same-car photo to my screen door window, and the conversation was on… an hour of memories of hot rods, photos, and stories and laughter, and a little daydreaming that we were back in ‘the day’! Yep, both DISTRACTED, and feeling much better ; )))

    Love ya!
    Sammy

    October 6, 2019
    • Sammy – thank you! I meant to reply much sooner :/ I love that the benefits of distraction and reaching out to those we don’t know were your takeaways here. They were mine too! I’m working on the next post right now and those two themes are building – the importance of intermingling distraction from the pain and awkwardness while also embracing that same pain and awkwardness… in ourselves and in others. I hope you enjoy it!

      December 12, 2019

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