Normal

When most everything feels so abnormal and foreign to us right now, it’s okay to feel it and at least to normalize the feelings. We’ve never been here before, collectively. The adrenaline of new information and new risk is wearing off as we settle into our shelter-in-place lifestyles. The novelty of using Zoom, Discord, FaceTime, and any video calling service is wearing off. And our bodies are finally starting to catch up with our racing minds.

For two or three weeks now, all we hear about, all we think about, maybe all we talk about is the coronavirus and what impact it will have on us. And our bodies didn’t have a lot of time to prepare for it. Personally, I’m experiencing greater levels of fatigue and sleepiness throughout my days than I ever have before in my former, office-working life. My body is teaching me what it’s like to mitigate risk by running marathons, not sprints.

So if you’re starting to feel the adrenaline buzz wear off, the novelty is just not so novel anymore, and you’re missing the old life, it’s normal to feel that. We all lost something, albeit temporarily, so abruptly that we went into fight-flight-freeze mode to get through the immediate danger, and now we’re realizing that the enemy moves much slower, but can run much longer too. We are feeling the adjustment as we shift into road trip mode instead of drag strip mode. Allow yourself all the grace you need and know that it’s normal.

We’ve never been here before. It’s totally normal to feel anxious and worried.

Some of us have never been homeschool parents. It’s totally normal to feel overwhelmed and stretched thin.

Some of us have never worked from home. It’s totally normal to struggle with focus and feel like your work and home are too close.

Some of us have never been without work. It’s totally normal to feel angry and afraid of how you will provide for yourself and family.

Some of us have never stayed in one place for so long. It’s totally normal to feel restless and confined.

Some of us have never been alone for so long. It’s totally normal to feel a need for human touch and affection.

It’s totally normal to feel exactly what you are feeling.

Yes, beloved, it’s totally normal and I hope you can rest in that. Thank your body for taking care of you so well.

Anakephalaiossathai. Grace and peace, my friends.

Bonnie

This is the toughest thing I’ve ever sat down to write. A couple weeks ago, my wife Dixie and I were crushed by a sudden and unexpected miscarriage. This post will be a combination of writings and voices. We will briefly share the news. Dixie and I will each have a section of our own writing. Then, we will close in the prayer we’ve been grieving through for the past couple weeks.

We have been trying to start our family for the last three years. For various reasons, this has proven difficult and leaves us with no luck, even with medical interventions. To spare much of the medical detail, Dixie has PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) which makes getting pregnant very difficult. This involves her body getting off her cyclical patterns and making it very hard to tell when different moments of a typical cycle are happening. What we thought was a “normal” (again, normal for Dixie, not medically typical) late cycle blindsided us as a very early miscarriage.

Here’s a bit of an email Stephen sent out to our closest friends last week:

“We had no idea or indication that we were pregnant until the miscarriage started. By the looks of everything, we were about 4 weeks along the process.

Right now, we’re both in emotional shock with sudden strong waves of grief. It’s not lost on us that we are able to get pregnant, as our health improves and as we continue to pray for the beginning to our family. So there’s an odd nugget of hope in the midst of the huge loss. But I speak for both Dixie and I that we feel stunned, incredibly sad, hurt, robbed, sick, cheated, and betrayed by the body. We are swinging between being furious and angry with God to weeping prayer with Him being our only comfort. Neither of us are sleeping very well at all. Food doesn’t really taste right now. I am finding it very hard to focus at work.
This is very new and very raw for us now, but we needed to let our closest loved ones know. We’re sorry to bring you down into the grief with us, but we don’t know how to do this alone. Thank you, and know that we love each of you dearly. Thank you for loving us.

Grace and peace,”

Following the news going out initially, our family and closest friends continue to bring us tremendous amounts of comfort by their presence and love. We know being in the same circles as grieving people can be uncomfortable and awkward, but a strong hug, a crying shoulder or just a quiet movie night is enough for us to know we’re loved and prayed for. We’re thankful for these who don’t feel like they need to tiptoe around us. We’re also thankful for these who know that we can talk about other things, even play games and have fun.

The grief process here is a new one. The sudden strong waves of sadness and loss rise and fall as they have from the beginning. But the in-betweens feel so normal, really like life just keeps going. I (Stephen) expected grief like this to cripple me and confine me to dark rooms and boxes of tissues. Yet life just keeps going. It really is a weird thing to come to terms with as we talk and pray through what our hearts, bodies, and minds are experiencing.

After much prayer and thought and the tender advice of loved ones who have walked this path, we’ve decided to name our Little One. We were so early in the process when things started breaking down that there was really no way to know the sex of our baby, but Dixie has that deep, momma sense that it was a girl. A sweet baby girl, that both wounded us with love and sparked hope for our future. The beautiful answer to our prayer for the last few years: that we could get pregnant one day. So after the Celtic word for Beautiful Good, we’ve named our little girl, Bonnie. We continue to pray and live as though we will meet our sweet Bonnie one day in heaven paradise. We have the faith to believe we will then and there, where “our hearts, wounded with sweet words, overflow, and our joy is like swords, and we pass in thought out to regions where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness.” (Paraphrase, The Return of the King, JRR Tolkien).

 

Dixie

I didn’t even know I was pregnant until the pregnancy was over. It was so shocking. I was so numb and didn’t even know what to feel. I don’t think I felt anything until about a week after everything happened. I was so confused. I still am. I was torn between grieving the loss of this baby and simultaneously feeling content knowing that we can actually get pregnant.

Finally, after years of prayer, doctors, needles, pills, and trying, we did it. I got pregnant. But by the time I realized what was going on it was already over. She was already gone.

I am grieving the loss of our precious girl. I know she is in her heavenly Father’s arms. She was the physical manifestation of all those quiet prayers and bitter tears. She is the very answer to our prayers. She is a representation of God’s promise to me and Stephen. I will grieve the loss of my Bonnie girl and rejoice in what she really meant to us and what this promise means for our future. We can get pregnant.

“Thus up from the garden to the Gardener, from the sword to the Smith. To the life-giving Life and the Beauty that makes beautiful.” (A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis).

 

Stephen

This is a letter I wrote to my daughter in my journal over the last few days.

Bonnie, my dear,

I wish I could have watched you grow in mommy’s belly and spoken to you while you were still growing within her. I wish I could have heard the moment of your first breath and cry. I wish I could have held your little body to my chest. I wish I could have watched you nurse and grow with your mother and witness that sacred bond between you two. I wish I could have held you close and kept you warm during your first winter. I wish I could see your bewildered face when I blow softly on your nose or raspberry your tummy. I wish I could deal with the sleepless nights and endless diapers like I’ve heard so much about. I wish I could listen to your first words. I wish I could teach you the names of colors and shapes and animals and plants and people. I wish I could feel the terror of dropping you off for your first day of school. I wish I could watch you grow slowly and quickly into a woman before my eyes. I wish I could take you on ice cream dates. I wish I could teach you my favorite video games and board games. I wish I could go to your bad middle school choir or band concerts. I wish I could cheer you on while you played soccer. I wish I could dance with you while you practice for your first prom. I wish I could cry at your high school graduation. I wish I could help guide you through college. I wish I could give your hand in marriage to the man who dares to love you. I wish you could meet your grandmas and grandpas, your aunts and uncles, your cousins.

I wish you could meet your mother. Dixie loves you so much, far beyond what I could say in words. She’s much cooler than I am. She’s brave, strong, smart, kind, generous, hilarious, beautiful, passionate, considerate, patient, firm, powerful, creative, and above all, she is loving. She brings so much color and imagination into our home. She would probably sit and watch you and me play for hours, joining our giggles and laughter. She taught me what beauty can really be like, and so do you.

I miss you, my love. It’s so hard to miss you like this. But I know Jesus is holding your hand and teaching you the names of colors and shapes and animals and plants and people. I know he’s as in love with you as I am and is taking the best care of my precious baby. Please give him a kiss for me and wait for me there, love. Daddy loves you so much.

 

Together

Lord, into your gentle open hands, we commit our baby girl to your care and your love. We don’t understand what is happening. We’re mad at you and we’re desperate for you. We want Bonnie with us now, and hold on to the hope that we will all one day meet where our tears are the very wine of blessedness. Kiss our baby girl tonight and tell her all about us. In the meantime, let us love her how we can from here and teach us to glorify you to the end of our days. Amen.

 

Know Normal People

I launched a podcast this month, called K(no)w Normal People. My wife, Dixie, and I host the show together, while we interview the interesting people found in our circles of family, friends, and acquaintances.

The podcast was born out of a desire to have fun conversations with the interesting people in our lives. We didn’t need another show on the internet that interviews the same authors, artists, and thought leaders. If you’re a regular podcast listener, you may have had a similar experience. An author comes out with a new book and begins the media circuit. A podcast you follow interviews the author with some insightful questions and some pretty standard media questions. And then another show interviews them, and another, and another. On the whole, you hear most of the same questions with most of the same answers. Little variety. Once you’ve heard one, you’ve likely heard them all. So why not try a podcast with a fresh format?

We wanted an excuse to interview and learn from the people already in our lives. We knew that we are surrounded by interesting “normal” people and created a brand new show from the idea. We know deep thinking baristas, energetic pastors, passionate leaders, humble business owners, inspiring parents, photographers, musicians; friends. These are the shows we release every week. A fun conversation getting to know the normal people in our lives.

We’re willing to bet that not only are you interesting too, but that you are surrounded by fascinating people! In line for your favorite coffee, sitting in the desk next to you at work, a few rows in front of you at church: all these people have passions, interests, and quirks that make them unique. Why not ask them some questions and dig for something more than small talk? We’ve discovered that it’s a lot easier than we thought and our lives are exponentially more interesting since adopting a curiosity mindset.

Visit www.knownormalpeople.com to listen and subscribe. And remember…

“The only normal people you know are the ones you don’t know very well.” – Alfred Adler

Forward

I just returned from a lovely, subzero weekend spent in Missoula, Montana. My wife Dixie and I rented ourselves a cozy Airbnb tucked into the backyard of the quintessential mountain family home. Beyond the snow drifted front porch of our tiny house rental, we spied the rear facade of a forest green cabin-style home with a pair of raised garden beds in the yard that faced each other to form a fire pit and built-in seating, a raised rack built to hold our host’s canoe and skis, and a small 100 sq ft ice rink. Built into the side of our weekend abode hung a sturdy, overhanging bouldering wall. Beneath the rental’s awning, still outside, mind you, were a variety of shelves full of supplies and linens to restock the rental alongside a fully stocked outdoor library and a simple patio table and chair set. This was undoubtedly envisioned for a warmer vacation than ours. Inside, we discovered a cozy one room apartment with a full kitchenette, bathroom, hightop dining table, queen bed, and a small hide-a-bed sofa facing the double doors toward the covered porch. Tucked into the wall near the kitchen area was what we learned to affectionately call “the little heater that could”. This small electric wall heater successfully kept our little room toasty, even as strong winds outside howled a chilling negative 25 degree windchill. This, we made home for a charming and inspiring 48 hours.

We retreated from home because we wished to convene deliberately, to distill only the essential facts of our life together, and see if we could learn what our marriage has to teach us through our history, to discover the vital signs of our current relationship, and to dream of what the future holds. We borrowed this idea from our marriage mentors. Our purpose was threefold.

First, we reflected on what was successful and good and on what was unsuccessful and discouraging in 2018. This provided a few rich hours of reminiscing on various vacations that we took to Washington D.C., Arizona, Seattle, and Victoria, Canada. We celebrated the launch of new positive habits like journaling, reading, and enjoying a weekly Sabbath free from screens. Losing weight, shrinking student loan debt, and starting to practice yoga together were landmarks to commemorate in their small beginnings and offered as refocused priorities. We did the hard work to remember the bad as well. Tense relationships that acted as sorts of slow acting poison to our home life were brought forward to once and for all pray forgiveness over and let rest. We learned in 2018 that with some, love is best practiced at a distance. Exhausting activities that were misaligned with our priorities were recognized as such and allowed to rest in our history, no longer haunting the present.

Second, we set out to determine our household priorities for 2019. We desire to build a united front as we move in to this year. It is our hope that common purpose will work to amplify the voices and actions of two beyond our natural maximum volumes and capabilities. With what I began calling our “big words”, we set a vision for our near future: Health, Freedom, Creativity, Together. These are the themes that we will continually revisit throughout the year, a heading of sorts, helping us navigate what lies in the future. We crafted a weekly schedule down to the details, because we believe that freedom lies in discipline. We have made time set aside to exercise, to read, to talk, to create, and to explore. Things that don’t serve our “big words” are much easier to say “NO” to now that we’ve sorted out what we want to say “YES” to. We also began drafting what we’re calling our family constitution. Lifting the idea from Stephen Covey’s, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, we are beginning the process of composing a written constitution for our family today and in the future. We aim to establish “what people like us do”, to craft a home and family culture by beginning with the end in mind. By intentionally defining the kind of character, integrity, and values we will have in 20 years, we already set our faces in the right direction.

Third and finally, we allowed our imaginations to carry us into the ideal future. With no holds barred, we each brought lists full of “things to pitch” and crazy big dreams. In our minds, we talked and acted out what it will be like to launch businesses, to own a home without ever needing to take a mortgage, to graduate college, to run a self-sufficient life on the edges of town, to vacation overseas, to own property in other countries, to make music together, to give heaps of money away to causes we believe in. We envisioned podcasts to start, books to write, movies to shoot, albums to record. All these and more went swirling into the air with abandon. Then, we chose a couple to focus on in 2019.

What happens next will test our resolve and our follow through. I’m inspired to live into a future that we’ve dreamed up together. Together, Dixie and I envision a life full of rich health, deep relationships, rewarding work, and exciting creativity. We’re moving forward. On his podcast Side Hustle SchoolChris Guillabou closes each episode with a tagline that has been rattling around in my head for weeks:

“Inspiration is good, but inspiration with action is better.”

Purpose

What could I offer the world that it doesn’t already have? I’ve been pondering this question for what feels like an eternity, terrified of clicking the publish button, to launch a creation of my mind into the world. What do I offer that is unique? Common advice says to be an expert in something. And truthfully, the only field in which I feel any expertise, at this point in my life, is myself. Interesting? Maybe. Conceited? Definitely.

The fact is, I’ve experienced what I consider a drastic amount of growing, maturing, and learning over the past couple years. I don’t know how typical this expansion is, considering I only get this one life and I can’t speak to anyone else’s experience. But I’m brimming with ideas that I’d love to share with even a couple people who might find what I have to say interesting and compelling.

To be upfront and honest, this blog is going to be more for myself than anyone else. I envision a life for myself where I’m not timid to launch a new creative project into the world, be it an art series, album, podcast, book, or online class. I’m using this blog to help me work out and grow my “yes it’s not perfect, post it anyway” muscle. I have historically used artificial barriers to entry as an excuse to postpone this kind of work, but I am done fighting that internal battle.

I aim to publish a new post once a week on Monday mornings. I’ll bring what I’ve been ruminating on during the last week. I will discuss daily habits, practices, and rituals that I’ve learned to incorporate into my life and relationships that I believe may add value to your life. I will have podcasts to recommend, whole feeds and individual episodes. I will share book reviews as I complete new titles. If it offers me an exercise in creative and critical writing, it’ll likely appear here at some point. Follow me on socials if you like. Check in on what I’m reading on Goodreads or at the bottom of my home page. You can even follow me on Spotify, following the link above, if you’re curious what I like to listen to.

This is in exercise in added value. The act of thinking through writing will undoubtedly add value to my life. I sincerely hope that I can add value to your lives in the process.