Friday, May 25, 2012

Menopausal Girlfriends

Going Menopausal: Reflections of a 51 Year Old Woman On Her Family, Her Life And Her God

Rambling #5:

I struggle with girl friends.  

I didn't learn how to be one until I got older.  I grew up with brothers, competing with them in all physical areas of my life, skiing and waterskiing, wrestling and fighting.  

I was tough and bossy.  

Even after I was married, my little brother would tackle me, pound on my chest and shout in my face saying how good it was to see me. 

I envied those close girlie connections.  

I stood on the outside looking in or that's how it felt.

My mother didn't model girlfriend relationships well.  I was her best friend growing up.  I was her everything.  One day, when I was married and raising  children, I realized this was unhealthy.  I realized I was not responsible for my mom's happiness or her life and distance began to grow between us. Today she has no friends, least as far as I know.  She's chosen to isolate herself from her family, from the world.  She once told me people have always hurt her, so why try.  

She's safe inside her world.

So I've worked hard at developing girlfriends.  

I have a friend who makes me laugh.  She’s big and buxom and broken and loves Jesus just like I do.  

She’s unorthodox and shocking and I love her. 

Sometimes we hurt each other with our words, maybe not meeting our expectations of friendship with each other or perhaps it's our hormones.  We always apologize, sometimes by text, but we forgive.  

She brought me into a group of menopausal coffee friends.  Being ADHD, she's always changing the location.  Last week we met in a beautiful, covered garden with gas heaters and comfy couches.  We chatted and laughed and sipped our coffees, each of us broken, each of us loving Jesus, each of us understanding the other.  I looked up from our laughter once in a while only to notice other women looking on with, what I thought might be...envy.

I have a Solomon friend too. Chocked full of wisdom, I turn to her when I know I need to hear what I may not want to hear. The hard truth.

 Each of my menopause girlfriends fill a different part of me.

Then there are my childhood cancer friends all of us connected through our journeys with our children stricken by cancer.  

All of us lost in some ways.

J is calm, strong in her God, empathetic to my emotions, a good listener.  Her son survived cancer twice.

L grieves the loss of her boy. Strong and spiritual, I marvel at her. She doesn't give up finding the meaning behind her loss.  M lost her son when my son finished treatment.  She is dedicated at making a difference for others.  

 My Summit Sister, loves the mountains and hiking and walking in God’s grand creation just as I do.  She is young, not yet menopausal, but years ago her daughter and her husband fought cancer at the same time.  

We climb mountains together! 

With friends like this, I am rich.  

Recently, my mom became very sick, seriously sick.  And all my "mom issue" emotions came bubbling up.  

I found myself alone in my pain.  I isolated myself.

This was wrong.

I have my menopause friends, I have my childhood cancer friends.  I have friends.

So I reached out.  

I was welcomed. 

I have girlfriends!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

My body and my spirit...

Going Menopausal: Reflections of a 51 Year Old Woman On Her Family, Her Life And Her God

Rambling #4:

I have some physical changes with this menopause movement.  My eyebrows are practically nonexistent, my eye lashes are thinning and it’s wreaked havoc on my belly.  It is as if I was storing up fat for those cold winter days of hibernation.  

I even asked my gynecologist about it.  She didn’t give me any hope really, only told me that as a woman in my 50’s I’d have to exercise for an hour a day seven days a week in order to maintain my weight.  While a woman in her 20’s could get away with moving her butt only three days a week in order to maintain her body weight.   

What’s up with that?

 One day it dawned on me that corn chips with cheese, sour cream and salsa everyday for lunch might not be helping.  I cut back on eating carbs, continued hiking and walking and I’m pleased to say I lost fifteen pounds.  Suddenly my clothes were loose on me.  Oh heavenly days!  

I was feeling so thin I tried trail running, because walking is slow.  Guess what?  My hips began to hurt.  The same hips that carried my five babies and opened wide to allow their births are now betraying me.  So I had to stop.
But I’m finally comfortable in my own skin, a great achievement for any woman with our body image issues brought on by our culture and our insecurity as woman.  And I think I have menopause to thank. 

Something changed in my brain.  

 Yes, I have lumps and sag a little here and there.  My breasts which once nourished five babies are now flat and small.  Gravity takes its toll.  

But I accept myself.  

More importantly I accept God’s creative genius in putting together my unique genes, DNA and spirit.  

I finally believe I’m His beautiful masterpiece.  

I don’t feel the need to have enhancement surgeries.  I don’t have the money anyway.  
(Ask me if I feel the same way ten years from now.)

As a young girl I wasted time and angst lying in the sun with baby oil slathered on my skin trying to look like my girlfriends' Lynda, Heidi, Kim and Julie with their beautiful golden brown skin.  Now I’ve had three basil cell carcinoma spots removed.  Who knew?

"What the hell! God made me a white woman!  And that's ok."  

And with my acknowledgement of the masterpiece of me, I am free to squeeze down into my Jesus place.  It’s a spiritual menopause induced lesson I’ve learned and I try not to get prideful about it.  

My Jesus place is the Holy of Holies in the temple of my soul.  With me where ever I go, no matter what is happening in my life, it saves me.  

He is with me as real and true as my life itself.  And nothing can ever separate me from this Truth.   Sometimes I will fail to remember for a time.  But He'll speak softly in my ear. 



I am here.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Menopausal grace...

Going Menopausal: Reflections of a 51 Year Old Woman On Her Family, Her Life And Her God

Rambling #3:

I sit on the lanai of the condo in Maui with the early pink morning sky overhead while the birds sound ancient and primal in their calling and the air is filled with the perfume of exotic flowers.  I was menopausal about this trip to celebrate being married for thirty years. I didn’t want to go. 

"We've been there before.  Let’s do something different", I’d said. 

With money always tight, this particular getaway is best due to a generous friend offering his condo.  So my husband planned it.  

When it came down to it, I couldn’t wait to go, and then I whined about it being only seven days.  Why not LONGER? My rapid verbiage of complaining and disagreeing must have made his head spin.  

Poor man.

And we arrive.  It’s familiar, like an old pair of my favorite jeans fitting my body just right, wrapping me in comfort.  We both meld into doing nothing together in the beauty of lush green jungle mountains and sapphire ocean and warmth. 

It's healing here. 

Vacations are the best marriage counseling there is, for us, anyway.  

My little Italian hairdresser friend says, “Vacation sex is the best!” 

Well, that's part of it.  Stress, fatigue, worries just seem to slough off our bodies as we have only each other to care for. There’s nothing, but my husband and I.  

My prayer has been to fall in deep love again.  Tall and lanky with thin brown hair, I can still see the boy he once was.  My heart thumped in my chest the first time I saw his lean, tan, muscular legs in his soccer shorts.  That was back in the early 1980s when guys actually wore shorts not these long baggy skirt looking things they wear now.  

Thirty years and I pinch myself.  How can it be thirty years?  The devil has certainly tried to destroy us.  

But grace...

The condo sink is full of dishes and I don’t have to clean up.  My man is actually reading a book.  We both feel guilty.  We shove it aside. The unjust guilt that follows us as first borns.  There is no work to do here, an American cultural sin. 

I want him to be my best friend.  I want to be able to tell him anything and everything and have him understand.  But it doesn’t work that way for us.  My Summit Sister, Laura, says her husband is her best friend.  I don't know if I can say that.  But it’s erroneous to compare.  There are marriage seminars and classes for couples teaching how to have a great marriage.  It’s especially prevalent in the church.  But like parenting, I’ve discovered there is no formula.  

 Both first born personalities, not forgetting my female pioneer DNA and let's  throw in the M word... Menopause!  Scary.   Both of us are horribly stubborn.  He, of course tells me he’s more stubborn than I am.  I think he might be right.  I’m a realist.  He’s an optimist.  

I’m sure we keep God laughing.

I’ve been taught to submit to my husband.  And he is to love me like Christ loved the church, willing to lay down his life for me.  I tried to "submit" for many years, or at least attempt what I thought was meant by the word "submit".  Trying to look and act and talk like I thought I was supposed to, the model and picture the church presented, trying to be a godly woman.  So, I spent much of my life trying to be what I thought I was supposed to be instead of being the person Jesus created me to be.  I tried to make my marriage look as if it were godly and holy just as the books and seminars pictured instead of allowing it to be what Jesus had intended in the first place. 

Marriage needs to be mutual submitting, one to the other.  Shifting back and forth and together.  

I am beginning to understand.  I am growing into myself.  My husband is standing back, watching and allowing me the grace I need.  I’m grateful.

The Bible says woman was made from man’s rib to be his helper. Genesis says they walked along side each other with God in the cool of the evening.  Adam and Eve together with God.  They were made in God’s image.  Together they display a picture of God with His feminine and male qualities. Both loved and charged with tending the earth together.
And Satan came to Eve and said, “Eat of this fruit and you will be like God.”
And she ate while Adam did and said nothing. When Eve offered it to him, he also ate.  Crazy thing is, they ALREADY were “like God”, made in His likeness. We continue this corruption by striving, earning,  pushing to be what we think God wants us to be.  

We have forgotten.
As time has passed and I’ve learned how to listen I begin to see who I am. Together we are a marriage God created, unique, lovely, not without challenges and problems, but filled with godly hope.  


Allow grace in, I remind myself. 

Friday, May 11, 2012

Guilt Tripping...

Going Menopausal: Reflections of a 51 Year Old Woman On Her Family, Her Life And Her God

Rambling #2:

It was Christmas 2011. 

We were all home for the holidays, a rarer occurrence than in the past.  It was time to cut down our Christmas tree, a tradition featuring a short drive to a nearby tree farm and the drawing of straws.   Our “adopted” son, Athan, a gift given to us by the mommas of the Greek Orthodox Church, was with us for the day.   We met Athan, or should I say, "Jathan" during our first visit to Camp Agape on the Sandy River.  A camp for families who have a child with cancer, it’s run by their Church with all the love and quirkiness of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” women.   Athan was assigned as my son's buddy.  From the start our girls loved him as a brother and he, having no sister, adopted them as his.  That first year at camp the girls were often asked if he was their brother.  

“Oh, yes.  He is our brother, Jathan” was their dishonest reply.  It was easy; they just added the “J”.

Between college breaks he visits us, spending the night, bonding with my son, the lone boy, attending our church, which leads to lively discussions and cutting down Christmas trees.  With our pioneer DNA it’s been hard to raise my girls as stereotypical girls.  Each is fiercely independent in their own distinct way with strong personalities and unique gifts.  

As we climbed out of Old Agness, our trusty, dented, white Astro van, I vanished into the background becoming ears and eyes and silence.  This often happens with four grown daughters. They have their own relationships with each other apart from me.  I observe their interactions, playful and tomboyish with Athan and my boy in the midst of it yet not quite able to be “sisters.”  They wrestle and romp, run and howl, like puppies.  I hope this never changes. 

The drawing of the straws was added after the year my son had a meltdown over not being able to pick "The Tree".  Being a cancer survivor plus the only boy in our family has definitely shaped him.  He does not like NOT getting his way.  Thus the solution of drawing straws; whoever chose the shortest straw got to pick "The Tree".  One year, my son cheated.  My husband and J4 figured it out and when they confronted him, the then nine year old boy; all hell broke loose.  I love these cherished memories of holidays past.

But this year Athan was with us.  He was given the honor of choosing.  He found "The Tree" and the girls each took turns zipping the saw across the trunk bragging about how strong they were. As we walked back to our van with "The Tree", my grandson and his mommy safely riding on the tree farm's truck back to Old Agness, I asked Athan a seemingly benign question that had been anxiously coming to the service of my brain.
“Athan, do you think I’ve raised my girls to be too independent?”  

My invisible observant mommy self had begun to feel insecure.  

“What have I done?” I thought.  

They have been taught that getting married and having babies is not the only noble profession. But that's what I had been taught. They have gone through college or are in college or are heading to college.  But I never completed college. None of them are married though J1 has a son.   J1 and J2 have had their hearts broken by boys.  By boys, I mean, not men.  They don’t fit into the mold of what a godly woman should be as taught to me by my childhood church and often conservative Christian society/tradition.

Athan responded, “What do you want me to say? That’s a loaded question.”  

He chuckled. Agreeing with him, I tried to take my question back.  But toothpaste can never be put back into the tube, so there it was, that question hanging in the air.
And Athan finally said, “They can be pretty intimidating.”
There it was.  

"I've ruined them for life", I thought.  They’ll never find a partner and live happily ever after.  The devil himself was whispering in my ear.  

"Why do I listen?"  

I find Satan comes to me often with words of deception.  I’ve learned to tell him to scram, but sometimes I forget, for a while.  God is always working in our lives.  He never rests.  My girls are strong and beautiful and full of compassion. God is in them.

Besides, my girls have never had a chance. Not with my female, pioneer DNA encoded deep in each of their cells.  

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

I've been married 30 years...

My husband and I went to Maui to celebrate.  The warm sun, ocean breezes and total lack of stress inspired me to write again.  

Rambling #1: 

Going Menopausal: 
Reflections of a 51 Year Old Woman On Her Family, Her Life And Her God

My mother once mentioned how the process of menopause was a breeze for her, how she never really had any of the symptoms often mentioned and commiserated about among older females.  Not true.  I remember my mother being a crazy woman, embarrassing me on more than one occasion with her rants, her angry, emotional tirades sometimes in public, sometimes in her own home filled with guests, and often with family.  No one was spared.  I knew then I was doomed.  Doomed with illogical emotions, sudden tears, sorrow filled tirades, but far... hot flashes, dry skin and sweaty nights.  Instead, I get cold now.  Going menopausal is a fact of life for all women and there’s comfort in knowing women have been taking this journey since the beginning of time.

Menopause is actually a blessing I’ve decided.  After all I have something concrete to blame my behavior on and with doctors telling us it can last for at least ten years, I'm set.  I warn my husband often of its duration and hormonal imbalances. Then I ask his forgiveness.  He rolls his eyes. It’s nice to be able to point a finger at hormones instead of myself.

I don’t know when I began going through “the change”, but I’m sure I started earlier than most woman and I’m equally convinced it will last longer than others too.  I know this for a number of reasons.  First of all, I have five children.  Five.  What was I thinking back then?  Two were born in the late 1980s, two more in the early 1990s (all female) and then a SURPRISE male millennium baby when I was 39.  

Second of all, I became a grandmother at the ripe old age of 48.  Yes, this was a complete surprise and not a part of any plan. Of course, God loves when life doesn’t follow our plans.   

Third, my youngest child was diagnosed with cancer when he was four years old and the ensuing years of trauma aged me. I have felt extremely weary for six years, but as year seven gets closer, I sometimes sense a slight renewal of energy.  But then there’s the inevitable bouts of post traumatic stress that sneak up on me always when I least expect them which can look a lot like a crazy woman. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. Managing a child’s long term medical issues does that to a person, even a strong person. 

Fourth, my husband works for a Christian non-profit raising our full financial support.  We live out of the goodness of other people’s generous hearts.  Somehow God has seen fit to give us just enough to pay our bills, barely.  Money is always tight.  

Sixth, I work and volunteer for different childhood cancer nonprofit organizations, which means I know children who die.  It doesn’t stop. Grief comes and goes rapidly as true as the solidness of the ground. It’s a tangible part of my heart, right next to joy.  I'm thinking about tattooing “Now Jesus Wept” in Hebrew or Aramaic on my body soon, probably the next time my husband  is in Africa.   I like to surprise him with something new whenever he comes home from his three week trips.  One year it was a dog.  Last year it was a totally gutted bathroom! He doesn’t like tattoos, so I've been hinting about this one.   

And lastly, I’ve been married to the same man for 30 years.  And with all of our differences, the pain we’ve endured together, the joy, the heartache, the challenges and the adventures I still look to him to complete me.  I desire him to understand my soul, see into my heart in total love and adoration, just like in the movies.  And he fails. Damn it.  He fails each and every time.  Oh, ya, that’s right!  I forget!  He is human.  With one swift butt kicking, I remind myself…again…only Jesus truly loves me, adores me, knows me and completes me. I’m learning to let my husband off the hook.  Maybe he’ll be totally off the hook by the time we celebrate our 60th.

As a woman, much of my “me-ness” has been shaped by my mother.  My relationship with her or lack of relationship, which is then connected to the matriarchal line passed down from female to female in my family.  In my childhood up into my married years my mother and I related in a way that counselors would label “enmeshed” or “unhealthy”.  Today we no longer really connect.  Sometimes it’s ok.  Sometimes it grieves me.  She chooses to live in her own “little world” isolated and safe.  I do not receive emotional support from her.  I never really did.  But it’s ok, because we each can do only what we are able.  And as author Anne Lamott’s friend says, “Lower your expectations.”  I’m working on it, but seriously, how low is low enough?

I’ve been impacted and coded with my female ancestor’s strengths and weaknesses and yet I am still “me”.   I’ve realized how I’ve merged into a feminist, a Christian feminist, in the best sense of the word.  My grandmother, Beulah, a strong, sturdy, intelligent woman, whose parents were true pioneers and whom I’ve always admired, once told me she was pro-abortion.  Being a good conservative Christian, and knowing the history of my conception, I was quite appalled.  What ensued was a lengthy discussion between two open hearts.  She heard my thoughts and I heard hers.  Her longer years on this earth with story after story of women caught in unfair circumstances and situations of our patriarchal society shaped her thoughts and convictions in this area.  As she was a devout believer in Jesus Christ, God the Father and the Holy Spirit, a member of the Assembly of God Church, I just couldn’t mesh these two convictions at the time. I think often of that discussion.
Digging in the dirt reminds me of her.  She was a steady gardener with the greenest thumb. This was not passed down to me.  I grew children instead. And as the years have worn on me, I’ve come to an understanding of why she felt the way she did. 
Once I  watched “The Stoning of Soraya M” with its graphic bloody injustice.  On the same level of graphic violence, “The Passion of Christ”, both movies feature actor Jim Caviezel.  I did not sleep that night.  Both aching and fearing for the women of the world and thinking about my own four daughters, I was disturbed. I grieve the injustices brought onto women from the actions of Adam and Eve in Genesis. The Fall.  I thought about Beulah, her life, her death, our discussion.  Jesus came to change our faulty systems. We were created equal, men and women. Jesus brought His Kingdom of Grace, which means he was not about systems or traditions.  Jesus believed in women. He stopped to talk to the woman at the well.  He knew her.  He loved her. It's a beautiful story.

 I once heard an Episcopalian priest say how we have forgotten we are made in God’s image.  She said we know as infants we are created in His likeness, but as we grow and experience the sin of this world it gets buried deep in our hearts. Our conscious minds have forgotten.   I wondered if we would remember again at the time of our dying.  I wondered if Beulah knew this when I crawled in bed with her as she lay on her death bed, frozen in a fetal position noisily gasping for air unable to speak or move.  My mother could not bear to be there with her, her mother.  She said it was too painful.  Stroking her silver head, I whispered in her ear of my love for her, my gratitude for her life, my admiration.  I reminded her it was her time to go.  It was time for her see her Creator in the fullness of being Beulah, His perfect Creation.

 Though still pro-life at my core, I’ve softened in my convictions and ideals from my twenties and thirties.  A menopausal blurring of the edges of my idealist black and white convictions which once dominated my world view have altered me as I watch my own “Little Women” merge into womanhood.   The DNA of our woman-ness, strengths and weaknesses, have been passed from Beulah to my mom to me to J1, J2, J3 and J4.  Don’t ask me why I named them all with “J” names.  

Menopause had nothing to do with it.