The Horrifying Reality of 3:02 AM


Well, Visitors, what a time we have had. In the past week since Trump was elected, we have been treated to all kinds of images of the most extraordinary fearmongering. School teachers in a large local district wearing black after Election Day, informing ALL children they were mourning the ‘Death of America’.

Ignorant college kids protesting the election, saying they were ‘frightened’ of the upcoming four years. Misinformed twenty-somethings calling for the end of the electoral college, calling it a ‘fearful tyranny of the minority’.

Most incredibly, my peers, college educated middle aged women, being accused if ‘internalizing misogyny’ and being completely unaware of the fearful hell we had just voted down on our heads.

Gracious. In the midst of all this, there has been a small chorus of reasoned voices attempting to redirect attention back to an issue that’s close to my heart- that of genuinely traumatized, fearful people.

I was talking with my gentleman caller – code name “Stockholm”- about this very issue. Privately, Stockholm and I share the same disdain for ‘triggered’ young ‘uns, who need ‘safe spaces’ for ‘self care’. Stockholm is a great deal more diplomatic than I, as I voice my disgust for this at every appropriate opportunity. Stockholm just smiles.

Last night, at 3:02 am, I had a ‘triggering event’.

images

3:02 am, on July 18, 2010, the phone jarred me out of a sound sleep. On the other end, my sister informed me that Chris had lost his battle to the great dragon Cancer, and won his seat at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.

I was traumatized. I broke the news to my daughters, called my son, and drove over to the Hospice in my bathrobe. I stumbled into the facility, and kissed the cool, lifeless forehead of my husband goodbye. I remember it as if it were yesterday.

Now, most of you know that I am of a pretty rational bent. I like things that can be measured. I like things that I can observe, and control as much as possible.

For about a year after that event, inexplicable things happened at 3:02 am. I got spam phone calls. Coyotes would yap at that hour. As was expected, any night terrors would reach their peak at 3:02 am, jarring me into a wide-eyed, heart pounding wakefulness.

Rationally, one would expect that sleep would become a trial for me, and it has. As most of you know who have been with me for a while, I have a horror of getting ‘stuck’ in destructive behavior. Good ‘self care’ is simply critical for authentically traumatized people. A combination of outstanding talk therapy, judicious, short-term use of benzodiazepines, meticulous attention to exercise, and really, really great church family continues to restore me to good health.

So, about last night. My dogs are these little Italian Greyhound mixes. These two possess the hearts of lions, and the brains of walnuts. At 3:02 am, these little beasts spotted a bull elk off of my back deck, and went ballistic. Snarling! Snorting! Bellowing at the top of their lungs! Raising the roof!

And, of course, triggering  me to jolt BOLT upright, flooded with memories of 3:02 am six and half years ago. Heart racing, I crept downstairs to deal with this auditory mess, and slept no more for the rest of the night.

Self care this morning included a sturdy breakfast, prayer, Scripture reading, understanding from the gentle Stockholm, visiting with good friends, and a solid day in at work.

Visitors, let us not allow authentic struggles of people like me to be co-opted by these irresponsible people rioting after the recent election. It dilutes the language, and the progress we have made on this issue.

Rioters, for shame. “Triggered” students? For HEAVEN’S sake, pull yourselves together. Manipulating teachers? KNOCK it off. You are to teach, not preach your worldview.

My people? The genuinely traumatized? The authentically ill-used?  The wounded and the bleeding? The cloud of us surrounds you. You can do this. We are here, and we love you.

Much respect,

Victoria

 

 

What’s The Surplus For?


Check out this shot from my ‘surplus years’, Visitors.

Chris and me black and white

This portrait was ten years ago. I was 42, and Chris was the picture of brawny health. A mere four years later, heartache of the most enormous magnitude would be forced on me. My kids would lose a terrific dad, the world lost a funny and talented teacher, and frankly, I would lose a pretty smooth life.

I traded it for scarred and resilient children. I traded it for working all the time with a high degree of focussed intensity, and I traded it for some hard won successes.  In recent years, my inner emotional ‘bank balance’ has been getting pretty hefty. EA is going swimmingly, my dad is OK and my kids are making terrific life choices. Life is good, and I rejoice in this stretch of peaceful sailing.

Lately, it seems a though my situation has been an ‘anguish attractor’. I can’t figure it out. For my Christian visitors, one might ask “What is God doing here?”.

Heartache of all sorts has rained down around me. A dear friend is divorcing an addicted and abusive wife, and asked for my help to rent out his house. Another dear,  close friend lost a relative to a freak accident. Another was just hospitalized for a heart  issue, third time this year. Another has a child who was just diagnosed with bone cancer, stage 3. Yet another has joined the absolute legion of folks my age getting rejected by their spouses and enduring a bitter divorce. All have come to me, seeking counsel from me or merely a listening, supportive ear. I am happy to do what I can.

Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, Chris and I were steered to some wise, Biblically grounded budgeting advice by our pastor. The late Larry Burkett ran a wonderful ministry devoted to helping God’s people learn wise money management according to Scripture. Nearly thirty years later I am reaping what I sowed, and often have a budgetary surplus to share with folks who have less than me.

It occurs to me, Visitors, that surpluses, or ‘extra’ can take many forms. None of my wounded friends are asking me for money, this is Evergreen, after all. But did you ever notice, as time goes on, that the essence of loss is lack?

Ponder that one with me for a minute, Visitors. I lost Chris, the most heartwrenching life experience I’ve had to endure, thus far. In the years he’s been gone, I felt the lack of a friendly companion, a useful partner, a father to these kids, and warm feet under the covers.

The people around me are lacking. Lacking health, lacking loved ones, lacking direction. Our society answers that in curious ways. It frosts my cookies more than I can tell you to listen to the myriad of predators out there who promise the moon to hurting people. I see it with every single hurting situation around me, these days. Take this vacation! Buy these clothes! Eat this product! Use this cosmetic! Do these things and that lack in your soul will be filled! What nonsense.  Listening to these types tell my people that the holes in their souls can be filled by emptying their pocketbooks nearly incites me to violence.

(Perhaps you’ve noticed, Visitors, one thing I lack is tactful diplomacy. My people can’t take this sort of directness. )

See, Visitors, I lost the burning desire to ‘be right’ a long time ago. What drives me now is the desire to be useful. Evergreen Academy is a great example of this. I get the privilege of guiding new parents every day in my job. Most of my clients are self-directed and accomplished, and most are self-aware enough to face their cluelessness head on (My clients are pretty endearing). New parents are easy enough to guide, usually they’re a pretty open bunch.

The newly grieved, though, are an entirely different matter.  The haze of grief is often impenetrable, and is often perceived as permanent. How to be useful to the ones that end up weeping on my shoulder, or slogging through a seemingly endless grief-stricken marsh, like Frodo in Lord of the Rings?

Christian and non- Christian visitors alike, I think the answer to this is found somewhere in the idea of community. Someone I respect once told me that ‘just showing up’ is critical to the meeting of any need. Reaching out in the real and digital domains, a simple “Are you ok? Just checking up on you” enhances the idea that we are not alone, there is a long chain of hands pulling even the saddest of us back from the brink.

I have a surplus of emotional energy now. I’m sure someday that will change, but in the mean time, I’m giving it away. It helps my little community around me, and honestly, it’s the least I can do.

Much love,

Victoria

 

 

 

 

 

Life at 52: Finally Playing With A Full Deck


So, I turned 52 a little while ago, Visitors, and I couldn’t be happier.

When I was younger, I thought that the fifties would be some sort of gateway into senior citizenship. As if five decades carried some sort of identity card that gave me street cred, and I could lord it over those younger than me.  (Oh, wait, what about that red AARP card?  How did they know my birthday, anyway? Creepy.)

Hilarious.

Hilarious.

Instead, I find it cause for meditation and action.  One of my favorite Star Trek characters once said “Recently, I have become aware there are fewer days ahead than there are behind.” (TNG, Picard, for you purists.) Well said. In our fifties, this is likely the case.

Since Chris died, I have been acutely conscious of the fact that time is more valuable than gold. It’s funny, if you’ve walked with someone to their death, perspective changes on all sorts of things. When Chris was fighting his battle, the cancer establishment that surrounded me often concentrated on achieving ‘more birthdays’, ‘more events’, ‘more time together’. I grew to appreciate that idea then, and treasure it even more now.

I was discussing this type of thing with a new friend the other day. He’s about the same age, and we were sharing stories of how we had gotten to where we are.

I  listened to my friend’s meditative  inventory.  He listed to me all the things that were going right in his life, all the reasons he had to be thankful. I realized that at this age, I do that all the time myself. Kids doing well? Check. Dad all right? Check. Roof overhead, food on the table? Check. No looming disasters of impending doom barreling down the tracks at me? Not today, thank God.

See, Visitors, Jesus said that there are some things we will always have with us. The poor. Troubles. Trials. Oddly, we are to ‘consider them pure joy’ because these things produce endurance and maturity in us. In James 1, we are told that this will make us ‘mature and complete’ lacking in nothing. Yah, I guess I can see that.

I grow so tired sometimes though, of Christians who preach that we are somehow entitled to abundance of any kind. In the midst of the past few years of suffering, I have grown weary of the idea that we are somehow entitled to ANYTHING at all. The Apostle Paul says we are to owe nothing, except a debt of love to each other. (Romans 13) Matthew 25 says that when we are kind to people with less, it is as if we are being kind to the King of Heaven.

So, perhaps we are entitled to kindness from our brothers and sisters.  Imagine with me, if you will, Visitors. What if we actually did share with those who have less, as if we were sharing with Jesus? What if we lived debt-free, except for the ‘debt of love’ owed each other, that Paul talks about in the book of Romans? Hmm. What a wonderful world that would be.

In the mean time, I reflect on my own worldliness. I’ve gotten beat up since Chris, my mom, and everyone had the nerve to die on me. This is true. My list of ‘wrongs suffered’ is pretty long. Really, though, in these smooth sailing times, it’s a lot easier to see that God actually does heap blessing up on blessing to us undeserving Christians. I’d like to see that more clearly in the midst of the storm.

That’s a prayer for myself. Clarity.  Also, to be more willing to share. Share more, share better, give for no reason other then we are asked to do so. Our heavenly Father loves us, and we love Him, and he asks us to do this. Share our money, share our  time, be the kind of Christ in the flesh that Jesus would want us to be.

Share too, of our maturity. Visitors, those of us who have endured great loss, do you ever feel like this? Princess Louisa, a child of the king. Her battle for clarity, purity, servant to her people, all have left marks on her body and scars on her face.

What's next, for my people?

What’s next, for my people?

Or the weariness of Donal O’Sullivan, the last prince of Ireland, preparing his people for a losing siege against the merciless British?

Weariness can overtake.

Weariness can overtake.

Our suffering has given us gifts. (I never, ever thought I would say that.) We are marked, to be sure. Some of our marks are permanent, and hard to view. Hard as it is to believe, people look to us after suffering. People look to us for reassurance, for succor, for guidance. We’ve been where they are. We understand. Let’s lead our people with our endurance, maturity and grace.

Much love,

Victoria

 

 

The Education Of Victoria Faith


My firstborn daughter graduated yesterday, Visitors, and it rocked.

Victoria Faith was the smallest of my biological crew, weighing at at 6 lbs 12 oz. She had the biggest head of the bunch, though, and makes a habit out of apologizing to me every birthday. This running joke still cracks me up.

That head proved to be stuffed with brains, as this kid talked at about eight months, showed remarkable fine motor coordination early, and not an iota of interest in walking until she was nearly 2. Early childhood specialists know that could be cause for concern, so we had that enormous head scanned to check for problems, anomalies and incubating aliens. Nothing out of whack, just a cantaloupe held up on a fragile neck-stalk, and we had to be careful until she grew into it.

Grad Cap Fits

It normalized, eventually.

Victoria Faith was, of course, one of four reasons why I felt the burning desire to start Evergreen Academy. As most of you know, Visitors, Jefferson County Public Schools is a flaming train wreck, and is getting worse as time goes by. (More on that later)

Jeffco was in bad shape in the nineties, and I simply could not abide the idea of sacrificing my children on that particular altar. Victoria Faith was a case in point. When she was three, she had a preschool teacher that went a little overboard on phonics instruction for preschoolers. Three year olds should not have direct phonics instruction, and I was constantly correcting that particular teacher. That said, Victoria Faith made these mysterious synaptic connections, and one day when she was four, Chris caught her reading Curious George out loud to herself. Fluently. With expression.

Faith’s intellectual development proceeded by leaps and bounds after that. I knew what was going on, and as with all my kids, I handpicked their public school teachers when they entered public high school. Largely, Faith’s public school teachers were a good influence on her, and Chris and I mitigated the influence of the bad ones.

Salutatorian Faith

She rocked the Salutatorian stage.

Chris and I started saving for our children’s post-high school education after they got their Social Security numbers. (With four of them, we knew we better start early. ) When Chris died,  all of the kids really dialed in on the financial arrangements for college.  All of them could see me working hard for that goal, and were hugely appreciative when Poppa wrote the occasional check for that purpose. All of them stayed on task, but Faith’s path was the most torturous, in my opinion. THREE sections of Organic Chemistry? Organic Chemistry FaithThat says “Orgo III Reaction Guide – Wheeee!”.  (I have very sarcastic children.)

Jeep picture with Chris

Victoria Faith was about thirteen when this picture was taken. Chris was diagnosed shortly after.

Chris left us when Victoria Faith was sixteen, and that considerable brain power was knocked cleanly off the rails. Victoria Faith, like all of my children, was devastated.

I have never gotten permission from my children to detail  here what they experienced when they lost their father. Life was shattered for all of them. They loved their dad. Life, though, has this tendency to go on.

Faith End of Freshman Year

Victoria Faith struggled through her first year at DU. She made it.

Fem in Stem pic

She developed her own interests, and her own delightful friend group.

Robin and Faith

Distinctive Thesis Award -Faith

 

 

 

 

She made a wonderful, wonderful connection with this woman, Dr. Robin Tinghitella. Dr. Tinghitella  is a PH.D primary investigator at DU’s Tinghitella Lab, where like minded-scientists study rapid evolutionary change in organisms such as crickets and sticklefish. (http://mysite.du.edu/~rhibbs2/Robin_Tinghitella/Welcome_1.html) With Robin’s rigorous review, Victoria Faith earned a Distinctive UndergraduateThesis award.

All of this with me providing the most minimal, diminishing guidance. Visitors, those of you who , like me, have been visited with loss, remember the days when it seemed like nothing would ever change? Loss is here. It is defining. It rains on my days, it deepens my nights. I will not see the clear light of day anytime soon, maybe not ever.

Mom and Faith Graduation

Faith in auditorium

 

 

 

 

 

Things change, Visitors.

Things change for the better.

 

Like a friend of mine once said – “What are you going to do with it now? ”

Faith and Mom Walking

I’ll keep you posted.

Much love,

Victoria

Full Throttle Aging: Here We Go!


Volume One: Who Are You And What Have You Done With My Body?

     Visitors, I turned 50 over a year ago, and it’s more fun than should be allowed. I’ve got this curious affliction going, where time just rockets along the older I get. Ever notice that yourself?

I’ve been toying with the whole aging thing since Chris died. Honestly, all of us know that colon cancer is usually an older person disease, Chris was part of that 3 percent that gets diagnosed before 50. In the five years that he’s been gone, I’ve been slowly settling in to the fact that time keeps rollin’ along. I have this horror of getting stuck anywhere along my timeline, so I figure I better shake it off and figure it out.

When I turned 50, I noticed a peculiar thing happening. Pre-50, I could pretty much eat whatever I wanted, go about my usually frenetic lifestyle, and hover around the low 130’s, weightwise. During the winter of my 50th year, I  noticed the Newkirk Chubby Handles growing a little bigger. Well, hell, it was November, barreling into the usual confections of Christmas and New Years, who cares if I got a little bigger? January melted into the hearts of February, and March arrived with me fully twelve pounds heavier than that the previous fall.

WHAT on God’s green earth was going on? Now, before you think me the shallowest of body-obsessed fools, consider this. Unusual weight gain or loss is a sure sign of physiologic change. This was very unusual for me, so rather than just blithely go along, it behooved me to pay attention. I have folks who worry, after all.

So I made the rounds. Thyroid, check. Other cancer markers, check. Routine blood tests, check. Menopause (that silly word) comes late in my family, check. No cancer or other soul-sucking disease, today, anyway. So what was going on?

The answer from my doctor, a giant, crashing NOTHING!

“It happens, Victoria. Things slow down. You’re probably eating slightly more, and working out slightly less, and your metabolism isn’t as efficient.”

Huh. It happens. I pondered that for a while. Honestly, I’m sure all of us have heard the same thing, friends slow down, start complaining about their various ailments and expanding waistlines, how it’s all downhill after 50.

Not for ME it isn’t. So I thought about it. Eventually, I connected with my trainer, the illustrious Michele Sodon and her Fit Photage program. Fit Photage is a hard core regimen of diet,  and deliberate, conscientious exercise. I decided to take the twelve week plunge on this thing, and work toward the prize of an excellent photo shoot with the wonderful Dustin Sheffield of Dustin Sheffield Photography.

See, Visitors, I had heard this story so often it was trite. So many of my clients, after producing a string of bouncing babies, go about their lives and blossom into these heavy, complaining Evergreeners who mourn their age, their lives, their slipping athleticism,  and eventually the hand God has dealt them. I just can’t stand that.

Michele is this  deeply caring little firecracker of a woman, who used to lift competitively and still competes often. She scorns skinny jeans, and trash talks her clients nine ways to Sunday. The schedule was intense, I saw Michele four days a week, and picked up the slack the other two on my own.

The gains I made were impressive. I lost nearly two inches on my waist, picked up about an inch and a half on each arm, and the two inches I lost on my waist reincarnated themselves into a firmer, stronger back and chest measurement. I also stopped eating wheat entirely, cut out my daily Starbucks cold turkey (FORTY SEVEN grams of added sugar. FORTY SEVEN. That’s what, eight teaspoons, fellow lifters?) and ate six or seven times a day. I refocussed my eating toward protein, fresh everything and processed nothing, and lost almost six of the twelve pounds gained. I also learned to leave the scale obsession back in my dancing days. It wasn’t good for me then, and it’s not good for me now.

The thirty year old 132 lb dancer was a pretty good stage, but this 51 year old power lifter is even better. I’ll take it.

Much love,

Victoria

Next time- Full Throttle Aging: Dancing with the Stars.

 

(Photo credit: Dustin Sheffield of Dustin Sheffield Photography. He makes me look pretty good, don’t you think? )

 

Serial Killers and Mother-Daughter Bonding Time


They're everywhere.

They’re everywhere.

So, my daughter and I just spent an hour bonding over an investigative show devoted to teenage female killers. I’m a graduate student now, pursuing a criminology degree in investigative psychology.

It’s fascinating stuff, Visitors, and I often get asked, why, at age 50, this is a course of study I want to pursue. I haven’t come up with a decent answer yet. Those of you who have been with me for a while, know that a lot of ‘watershed moments’ happened to me all at once, starting with being widowed in 2010. Friends died horribly, wrenching betrayal happened, my  mom died dramatically and suddenly. I wrote a column exploring a personal application of PTSD (Jeff Mackleby And the Art of Advanced Forgiveness) which detailed my own furtive journey into some pretty dark territory.

It in, I described what I now can recognize as a situation of predation. That is to say, “Jeff” and “Christina” were authentic predators, people who look for the vulnerable, the trusting, and who exploit them for personal gain. In short, authentic psychopaths, and I was easy prey.

I just finished a segment in my studies about psychopathy. There is a lot to write about there. The general public usually considers a ‘psychopath’ to be a knife wielding, blood soaked movie figure bent on pointless violence. The truth is a lot more chilling, and I’d like to bring some of those things to your attention later.

I am still a director of a local Christian preschool, and this course of study has sharpened my perception of my role immensely. Scholars have spent years studying how innocent babies grow up to be wreakers of havoc, and many of them have their roots in simply awful childhoods. When I go into the infant nursery in particular, I am filled with an immense sense of gratitude that our Lord has placed loving, caring people in my employ to show consistent care to these, the most vulnerable of our population.

Safety, is another enormous consideration. Dawn Hochsprung, the slain principal of Sandy Hook, has become a hero to me. She and I followed a comparable career path, and she was about my age when she confronted Adam Lanza and took a bullet for her trouble.

So many interesting aspects of this apply to all of us, Visitors, many of which I would like to bring to your attention in future days. Dawn, for example, were she allowed to have been armed, and had arms training as part of her leadership studies, might have effected a very different outcome at Sandy Hook. But for Dawn, and any other person besides the on duty School Resource Officer to bear a weapon within 1000 feet of a school would have been a violation of law. Hmmm.

Rachael, esteemed #4 child, shares an interest in extreme human behavior. She is enrolled in a dual studies course of forensic science at a local college, in addition to being a junior in high school. The video tonight provoked a lively discussion about ‘normal’ teenage girls setting aside what they know to be good and true, and taking another human life with ease.

Rereading that, I can see how many might consider this course of study to be somewhat awry. But for me? I find this immensely hopeful. Many people have terrible childhoods. Many are exposed to drugs in the womb. Many are disengaged, addicted, disenfranchised in their adulthoods. Many, my own husband included, lived with the fear of unpredictable days precipitated by an abusive parent.

Most, my dear Chris chief among them, do not turn out like this. Most go on to be decent human beings, by some measure. Most find a job, pay their bills, stagger along, even have successful relationships, and put one foot in front of the other regardless of some pretty incredible baggage.

What happened? How did ‘most’ turn out for the better? How did ‘most’ manage to discard these predictors of later trouble and turn out to be reasonably decent human beings? That’s what I want to find out.

I’ll keep you posted.

Much love,

Victoria

Some Sundays are Like That


This is a picture of Christopher a couple of years ago when he was improving his accuracy skills. “Accuracy” in skydiving, means jumping out of a plane two miles in the air, piloting your canopy to a landing spot, and placing your feet within a three foot circle. In competition, it means stomping your foot on an eight inch circle that sounds an alarm, while the judges mark you for points.

He called me up after this jump, and with his heart in his mouth, breathlessly told me “First off, Mom, I’m still alive.” (Great opener, son. ) Turns out, he had misjudged his landing and collided with an unexpected gust of wind, and had gotten dragged along by his face for several yards. (Later on that year he won a bronze medal in a National Collegiate accuracy event.)

It’s funny, Visitors, how grief can sometimes feel that unexpected. Those of you who are grieving, ever notice that? Things in Lierheimer Land are actually pretty good right now. Christopher’s interning in LA on a massive subsidized building project, Faith landed a competitive yearlong spot in England at the University of York, Abi is buzzing along in Savannah, and Rachael comes home from Warren Tech with the most interesting tales from her forensic studies. (It’s hilarious to watch crime shows with her now. She’ll stop CSI and yell “Wait! No! They’re doing it WRONG! Mom……)

I’ve started Class Two in my graduate sequence in Criminology, with the emphasis in Psychopathology at Regis. It’s utterly fascinating. It’s fast, engaging, a ton of work and very much where I want to be.

I think too, that I’m getting a handle on this single thing. Except when I’m not, like today. Lazy Sunday mornings were a favorite around our house. I’d make banana pancakes, Chris would make coffee, and the kids would laze around until it was time for church.

Now, today, I feel like my son in that picture. Sort of raw. I miss Chris’ warm feet, I miss him stumbling around until coffee, I miss (acutely) telling him what all these kids are doing, and man, didn’t we do the right thing by them (so far, anyway).

Well, anyway. I try and draw something out of this, if not something good, at least something useful. It was a beautiful day when Christopher marked up his face,  and it’s a beautiful day today. I get to go to church with Rachael and Dad, and that’s always a treat.

I suppose I’ll always miss Chris to some degree or another. Were he here, I think he’d encourage me to go out, get the gym, go to church, and not sit gazing out the window and wondering what he’s up to.

Warm regards, Visitors. Much love to you all.

Victoria