Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Reflections 10 years in the making: Reflection 1

If you've ever heard my Katrina story, it starts something like this...

"On Thursday night, I went to my first graduate class.  On Saturday morning, we evacuated."  And what I might not say, but I think each and every time is, "...and then life, as I knew it, was over."

Well, August 25, 2005--exactly 10 years ago today--was that Thursday night.  And here I am, 10 years later, ready to start my 2nd (and final) year of graduate school tomorrow morning.

Those who know me well understand that my education is tied into my work and my heart's passions, and always has been.  My hope is to fight for those who have no fight... to support the underdog... to bring justice where there is no justice.  My BA in Family Counseling, although a great start, was not enough to prepare or credential me for the type of work I wanted to do.  Consequently, I knew I needed a Masters degree to find the meaningful work I'm wired for.  The writer of Ecclesiastes concludes that fulfillment in life is found by doing meaningful work (and enjoying food and drink... let's not forget that part!).  After the storm, it was clear to me that I had lost all purpose because I lost my open door to meaningful work.  In the years following Katrina, I had to find meaning elsewhere.  And I didn't do it very successfully.

That might be one of the most painful parts of my story.  I was a brand new wife when we "lost" what New Orleans was supposed to be for us.  We weren't even married yet when we knew we'd lost what our new married life was supposed to look like (along with the house we would spend it in); then I quickly and unexpectedly became a new Mom.  I've watched new moms since then.  I know they're supposed to be happy, scared and excited.  They're supposed to twitter with nervous energy and be preoccupied with which nursery d├ęcor will create the most charming and hospitable environment for their precious new baby.  They should be enjoying the company of doting family and friends, together celebrating the onset of a new journey. 

That's not what I had.  I had my husband's wonderful friends, whom I'd just met, put together a lovely shower for me that I'm sure I didn't know how to be grateful for at the time.  My Mom hosted a shower for me in Maryland (in my absence) and sent me a video along with all the gifts and cards from people who've known me my whole life and were attempting to love and celebrate me from afar during this monumental time in my life.  (Just recently, I came across some of the items from that shower and fell into a puddle of tears because I'd never really understood what I'd missed... or the sweet hearts of the people who were there to support me.)

Not to mention the fact that I blamed my husband for everything "I" had lost.  Not "us".  Not "we".  Just me. 

I was in a foreign place.  We moved into a new apartment three weeks before Isabella was born.  There are some days when I wonder if she wasn't a lifeline to get me through the mess to find meaning again instead of giving up.  I wonder if I would have just run away had it not been for her.

That sounds so fatalistic.  But if you only knew the propensity I had (have?) for self-pity, you would understand.  My skin was not as tough as I wanted people to think it was.  I couldn't handle disaster.  And maybe it was less that I couldn't handle the disaster, and more that I couldn't handle not being in the middle of the disaster trying to fix everything.  I didn't know how to not be needed when the biggest need I'd ever seen was playing out in a place I'd called home.

In any case, here I sit, exactly 10 years after my story began, trying to make sense of it with some finality.  Part of this 10 year reflection process is to hopefully remember who I was and what was important to me before the decade of wandering began.  I know a lot is similar, but I do believe that I disconnected from that person, that life, in a lot of ways.  I want to be whole, and wholeness has to include my lifespan--not just the person I became "after the flood". 

So I want to remember as much as I can, and be as thoughtful as I know how.  My disclaimer is this: I do not claim that my story is heroic or worthy of highlight as we commemorate the 10 year anniversary of Katrina.  There are others who were brave, who lost lives, those who rebuilt and who did the work of rebuilding a city.  There are people who lost more than I can fathom because, although New Orleans won my heart, it was not the place I grew up or grew my family.  There are others who grieved the city more than I.  My hope is that anyone who was touched by Katrina 10 years ago will set out on a journey to commemorate, mourn and celebrate their story in ways that make sense to them.  I also hope that those who so eagerly offered hope and help to us from around the Nation 10 years ago, will also offer a listening ear and a little bit of love as some of us continue working through the meaning of it all.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Second finish line

I can see the finish line of my 2nd semester at Peabody.  I just have a few readings on pharmacological ethics in neuroscience and two projects to complete.  I can't believe that's all I have left for this semester.

  I've learned a lot.  I'm not sure if the growth has happened in a way I can understand it yet, but I know there has been growth... and will continue to be growth.  Crazy fast growth that will prepare me and my family for the next step... whatever that is.

Right now, my husband is struggling and praying through some implications for our after-Nashville life.  My brain isn't there yet.  I know we have an after-Nashville life, and I know that part of my grad school journey is to put myself out there for jobs that will be pretty indicative of our after-Nashville life.  But for now, I know he wants to be in ministry again, and that means he also has to pray through where God wants him... and whether or not it is where he thinks it's supposed to be.

And then there's our beautiful daughter who is on this crazy journey with us.  She and I finally got to have some mom/daughter time yesterday after weeks of not really getting any quality time with just the two of us.  It was wonderful.  I look forward to finishing this chapter so I can focus again on being Mom instead of student.

As I write this, I find myself wanting to ask you to pray for us (if you pray).  I begged some wonderful women of God to pray for me about a month ago, and I felt the impact of their prayers almost instantly...they carried me, quite literally.  So I want to ask you, whoever and wherever you are... whether I'm asking only one person who happens upon my blog, or 100 people, or 1000 people (although I know my reach isn't that far), please just say a prayer for the Lytle Family.  We've had big dreams and crazy circumstances in these past 10 years together.  We know there is a future plan for us, and I'm praying that my husbands hopes are restored (in moving back into ministry) and that my training will place me exactly where I need to be.  I'm also hoping for my daughter's heart to belong to the Lord and her faith to move her into her amazing life as she grows.

So if you would join me in those prayers... and any others you may have for us, I would be appreciative.

Thank you.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Exhausted and Amazed--week 3 update

This month has been a journey... and it's not over yet.  I'm in my 3rd week of intensive summer classes, and I'm blown away that I've made it this far.  I'm so full of gratitude that I was chosen to have this "opportunity of a lifetime" as my advisor would say.  I now know why people require a Master's Degree.  The amount of raw learning I've done in 2.5 weeks is more than I've done in years.  The ability to transfer research to knowledge to decision making and application is invaluable when approaching leadership.  It's great to have natural ability, which I know I have, but to be trained and pushed beyond limits is humbling and preparatory for leadership in the "real world".  Not that I haven't been living in the real world, and experiencing amazing things that have resulted in growth.  But now it's time to step up.  To become more of the leader and person I know God has wired me to be.  I am exhausted, but happier than I can remember being in a long time.

This may not be my most well-written or profound blog, but you'll have to forgive me.  Sleep isn't something I've had a lot of, and I have 50 minutes before leaving my house (and I still need to shower, pack my daughter's bag and lunch for camp, and write a summary... which I think may end up waiting until I get to school).

Thanks for walking with me on this journey, and cheering me on (if, in fact, you have done that).  I'm so blessed to have friends and family who believe in me, a husband who's encouraged me to embrace this amazing gift (dreams to reality), and a daughter who makes me want to be my best so she can have an example of a godly (I hope) woman, living the most full life possible.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Thoughts after one week of Grad classes

My first week of school is over.  And let me tell you, for a four week class, it's only just beginning.  I am among some amazing women (and 1 amazing man).  I am, indeed, the oldest, and I dare say, least academically trained, in the cohort. 

We have done a week's worth of reading each night, and I am being indoctrinated to thinking like an applied developmental scientist.  My advisor assures me that she'll make a researcher out of me.  I believe it's true.  To some extent anyway.  :)

Yesterday, we had lunch with the Assistant Dean.  It was at this point that I realized my life is never going to be the same.  My entire adult life thus far has been spent "dabbling" in educational things.  I've learned as I've gone, because one can't help but learn from the experiences they care about.  But now I'm being trained by the leaders of American Education.  These are the people whose names are in the studies.  They are on the front lines, learning what works, setting standards.  And they are the ones teaching me.

From whom much is given, much will be expected.  And if there is no other word that describes my experience thus far, "much" definitely fits.  It's a lot of work.  And I'm expected to do it well--"thoughtfully" is the word my advisor uses a lot.  So I'm thoughtful (as is typical for me), but in a totally new direction than ever before.

This morning, I needed normal.  So instead of cracking open a journal article, I cracked open my own journal and Bible.  I randomly turned to Psalm 111, which ends with these words:

"Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true wisdom.  All who obey his commandments will grow in wisdom."

I will grow in a lot of knowledge over the course of the next 2 years.  But the fact remains that without setting my eyes on my God, and obeying HIS commands, my knowledge will never be full and my understandings will fail to be transformative.  It is the knowledge of him that creates my thirst for academia and "Clout" (if you want to call it that) to make a difference.  It is His wisdom that spurs me on to utilize the wisdom of the world for the betterment of people He's created...especially the ones who are powerless. 

And these are some of my thoughts--one week in. 

For now, I'm going to embrace an entire morning of normal (berry-picking, swim lessons, showering) while my journal articles, scholarly critiques and discussion questions sit on the backburner, simmering just enough that I can hear the pot lid jiggling, until this afternoon.  Have a great weekend!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Reflections before my first day of school

Today, I've been busy getting our house ready for my sister to get here.  She just graduated from college and gets to be full time Aunt for the next two weeks while I, for the first time since 2002, return to full time student status. 

Last night, I attended a "social" hosted by the second year students in my program.  My husband and daughter attended with me to show support and to get a glimpse of what this part of my world is going to look like, who the players will be, and what the setting is.

The players, to my knowledge, are all younger than me.  They are interesting, educated, diverse, and, in perhaps a few cases (but not many because we're mostly psychology nerds and do-gooders), a bit pretentious.  The latter is really hard to judge in severity, but since we all border on pretention at times, I believe it's a safe assumption.  The setting is one of the most beautiful and historically significant colleges of education in the US.  And this part of my world is going to look nothing like anything I'd ever imagined. 

If you had walked with me through the last year, you would have seen my disbelief turned awe and gratitude that this could be the plan for my life.  But I will say it again.  In 2005, when Hurricane Katrina washed away my plans for Graduate School, I never could have imagined the plan God had for my education.  Had I known, I'd like to think I would have waited more patiently.  In reality, I think the knowledge would have been too much for me, and I would have run scared, believing I didn't belong among (what I would consider) the educational elite. 

Maybe I'm crazy, and it's not that big of a deal.  And maybe to some people, it isn't.  But for me, it is the cause of faith, awe and wonder at what God can do with a willing heart.

The image that keeps coming to mind as I type this is from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  During the "introductions" in the beginning of the factory tour, Willy gives a run down of the basic integrity of each child.  One is greedy and fat and ate chocolate until he got a ticket, one is competitive and will do anything to win, and another is spoiled and gets anything she wants by pouting, whining, complaining, manipulating, etc.  Those character traits are what led to their presence at the factory that day.  But when he turns to Charlie, Willy says,  "And you... well you're just lucky to be here, aren't you?"

Yes, yes I am. 

And just to be clear--I'm not likening any of my cohorts to any of the other children at the factory.  But the comparison between Charlie and I is very real for me in this moment. 

I am "lucky" to be here in so many ways.  God has given me a gift.  And it's not for me.  This education is not for me.  And while we're at it, this life is not for me.  It is a gift of God meant to be shared with those He puts in my path.  That is how I hope to live this out. 

So for now, I will breath deeply, chat with my sister for a bit, go grab some almond milk from the store so we have it for smoothies in the morning, and take one day, one hour, and one breath at a time. 

Thanks for caring enough to walk with me through these thoughts. 

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Authenticity > Pretentiousness

A few weeks ago, Pete preached a sermon with this same title during the "Greater" message series at www.Crosspoint.tv.  The ideas are still ruminating in my mind and heart, and I'm actually listening to it again as I write this. 

In the car after church that day, I asked my husband if he thought I was pretentious.  I've been asking myself the same question over the past couple of weeks.  And as I think about it, I realize that pretention has become a part of my very being.

My pretention is not toward others.  It's toward myself.  I pretend that I'm better than I am, that I have less issues than I do.  And in actuality, what I'm doing is hiding from myself.  I'm hiding my insecurities, my frustrations, my sadness, my happiness.  I'm pushing away the glimmers of truth--whether they be amazingly joy-filled or desperately sorrowful.  I'm becoming more and more numb to my own life.

And I don't want it.  I don't want to live in a numbed stupor--whether I numb myself by avoidance, eating or ignorance.  I don't want people to see me pretending to be something else.

"You are already a person who is deeply pleasing to God."

Everything about me--the core of who I am--already pleases God.  After all, He made me, right?  Did he not mean to make me the way I am?  Did He not give me emotions to walk through?  Did he not give me convictions to share?  Did he not give me a family to fully love?  Did he not allow me imperfections in this life so that I can see his goodness "in the land of the living"?

What am I thinking trying to hide everything about who I am?  It is for His glory that he has created me.  I am called to live life to the fullest--it is a gift from the Creator of this world.  Whatever my life is full of in the moment, I'm called to live it--not stuff it, ignore it or numb it. 

So back to authenticity.  Back to reality.  Back to imperfections and joyous occasions.  Back to real life.

Lessons and Reflections from Robin Quivers

"You need to get past the idea that food is communal--it's not.  Eating is personal.  You're not having what your spouse is having or what your neighbor is having--THEY'RE eating it, and now their body is going to have to deal with it."

--Robin Quivers, The Vegucation of Robin

This summer, my husband has deemed our kitchen "vegetarian".  This is not a shotgun decision.  It comes after years of his reading books and watching documentaries about food, the value of it, and the rape of it by our government and mass producers.  This decision has been a long time coming... and not an easy one--after all, my husband is an Italian who grew up with a lot of Mexican friends.

Now, he won't admit to this, but I've asked for this in the past and touted it's benefits.  I even decided to go a semester as a vegetarian, for which he did modify his cooking a bit so I could eat accordingly.  But in order to make this a family decision,  he had to get there on his own.  And because he's the foodie and cook of the house, I have followed along with whatever food decisions he was (or was not) making, thinking I was the martyr for doing so. 

Last night, I engaged him in a discussion of our future kitchen--if we are in agreement that this is a better way of life we want to see sustained in our family.  We agree that it is.  I expressed to him that I finally feel empowered to eat and live the way I've always wanted to because he, being my other half, is on the same page (barring the occasional addition of morally produced meats).  I also explained to him that, in the past, I've felt bullied into eating a certain way because those around me are not making the same choices I want to make.  The worst of this happens when we have family or friends in town.  I find that I resent visits from out of towers because it means I'm going to have to eat foods that make me feel gross, fat and unhealthy.

So because people are in town visiting, I have to make myself feel unhealthy.

What is wrong with me?

Enter The Vegucation of Robin.  I picked this book up at the library because I thought my husband might want to read it.  Not so.  This book was 100% for me.  I needed someone who understood my own personal journey with food/healthy who has walked the path ahead of me to teach me the real life lessons that come with leaving behind emotional eating, overeating, heavy eating to embrace something that makes me feel good and healthy in every aspect of my being.  The quote that opens this blog is one I read this morning and directly relates to the conversation I was having yesterday.  Feeling bullied into eating a certain way doesn't have to be my lot in life.  I can be empowered to make my own decisions based on how my own body and mind are going to feel about eating X, Y or Z.  I'll deal with my decisions and others can deal with theirs.  Period. 

This might not be news for you, but it is a freeing little tidbit for me... so much so that I had to blog about it in order to reference it in the future.  Feel free to respond or discuss.  I'm always interested in what other people think about food and lifestyle.  This part of my life will forever be a work in progress.  :)