Strong in the Broken: Recap

What a lovely summer on the blog, I loved running the Strong in the Broken guest post series. Thank you, readers, for honoring these stories of vulnerability and hope. Thank you, writers, for sharing your experiences and opening our eyes to so many things.

Here are all the posts:

When Extroverts and Introverts Get Married, by Janneke Huisman

Thriving Through Chronic Illness by Singing and Dancing, by Amy Oestreicher

When Cancer and Life Collide, by Nicole Baldonado

Facing Infertility Abroad, by Lori F

Revisiting the Kidnapping, Reclaiming the Story, by Trish

In This Tent We Groan

Learning to Trust, Embracing Vulnerability, by Y.P.

Singing in the Storm, by Serenity

Loving Others While Fearing Others, by Jennifer Brogdon

Living While Recovering, by Daniel Maurer

Sick While Stuck, by Beth Watkins

Female in Saudi Arabia, by Ersatz Expat

Home is Where He Is, by Melissa

And the general post about the series: Strong in the Broken

The Unknown Traveler, Unknown Mother

When I travel with kids, even teenage kids, I am a mother. All mom. People see us and they think, “Mother and children.” We sit on the ground and play Spot It. We split burgers at airport restaurants. We take turns watching the stuff so the others can pee. We fill out each other’s immigration papers. We fight over window seats and try to snatch the single half of a strawberry from each other’s plane food plates. We reminisce about our worst flights ever and we pester each other by constantly asking what time is it and what time is the next flight.

We are a unit and we interact the way we always do – playing, sharing, serving, arguing, invading, bothering.

No matter what my purpose might be for traveling or what my day job is or what I’m wearing/eating/doing, when I am seen in public with my children, I am a member of that group and a mother in the eyes of everyone around me.

What about when I travel alone? No kids, no games, but at the very basest: no familiar interactions. Maybe business travelers are used to this, maybe people who travel without kids a lot are comfortable in this space. To me, it feels dangerous.

Maybe that is why so many affairs take place on the road. Why we shouldn’t make life-altering decisions while traveling.

We are unknown. We can be anyone. Do anything. No one will know. No one will report back home. No one has expectations. There is more time for reflection, to be internal. There is no tradition. There is no safety net.

Who am I now? Who am I when no one is telling me who to be based on who I am in terms of them?

Being a traveling expat means have many experiences of being unknown. Not alone, unknown. Alone is not a word that belongs to travelers in airports but unknown is one of their words. Being unknown here makes me feel nervous at first. I don’t know what I’ll do. Will I be the rude, pushy traveler? Will I eat an entire chocolate fudge sundae? Will I stare at people and judge them? Will I barge into other people’s conversations, desperate for some kind of interaction to remind me of who I was so I will know who to be?

Is this what mothers feel when children graduate and move out of the house? Now who am I? I think might be. We have spent our lives responding to others, meeting their needs before our own, bending our wants, schedules, pocketbooks around their goals. We cook the food they prefer, watch the movies they stream. What would we eat if we had our choice and only our choice? What would we watch if no one else provided input? Do we even know anymore? How can we know? How can we recognize our own tastes and rekindle our own desires?

I think it is a bumpy road and I’m starting to lurch my way down it. We remember ourselves before children and now, as we emerge, like the unknown traveler spewed from an airplane out into a new city, into a world that bares little resemblance to the one we exited decades ago. Now what? Now who?

I don’t think I’m the type who dances on tables or who runs naked 5k races (yes, those are a thing). I am pretty sure I’m the type who smiles at babies, secretly thankful I’m not traveling with one anymore. But beyond these, and other, obvious traits, what else? Am I curious? Am I brave? Am I compassionate and interested and adventurous? Do I hunker down or do I engage? What do I order at restaurants? What time do I go to bed? Am I frugal or do I splurge?

I don’t travel alone very often but my kids are growing up. The older two will graduate in 9 months. Who will I be?

I guess we will see.

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Good Things, the Second. August 2017.

Taking note of one good thing, one beautiful thing, one thing to be thankful for each day.

1 pepperoni pizza and a sub sandwich all rolled into one and eaten with good friends from far away

2 my youngest playing piano songs she wrote herself

3 listening to my girls rummage through storage boxes of their childhood treasures

4 touring my alma mater with my son and slipping each other handfuls of Swedish Fish to keep energized

5 a quail, startled up from the brush between the dirt road and the wheat field, on my run of seven cool, cloudy miles in new trail shoes

6 picking raspberries while rain rolls in from the north

7 hiking Hurricane Ridge and teenage boys who run ahead just to fill more water bottles and bring them back for younger sisters

8 waterfalls that thunder and waterfalls that tumble and flow

9 free samples of tayberry jam, fresh cheese curds, jalapeno pepperoni jerky, and blackberry honey

10 Mount Rainier and swimming in chilly mountain lakes and teenagers, comfortable in the city and in the wilderness

11 sunset walks and hunts for seashells along the Puget Sound with in-laws and giggling nieces

12 early morning run with a Djibouti friend, in Seattle

13 my daughters trying on my mom’s old dresses, my prom dress, and my sisters’ prom dresses

14 a meal and conversation with a friend who has survived cancer, and the sound of our kids hanging out in the basement, like family, loving each other from the time of diapers to the time of university

15 a deep, vulnerable spiritual conversation with a generous friend able to hold all my questions and doubts

16 digging through photographs from high school and sending them, with giggling emojis, to old friends

17 family and friends from around the world, some who have known me for 39 years, gathered around barbecue ribs and Rice Krispie bars and eager to see photos from Djibouti

18 clean toilets that I vomited in while sick and a large and clean enough bathroom to allow me to sink to the floor until the shakes and sweats subsided

19 the county fair: cheese curds, free ice cream, turtle races, carnival rides, farm animals, grilled pork chops, free Tootsie Rolls (and a quick recovery from sickness so I could enjoy it all)

20 golf! The last time I golfed was 17 years ago, I was pregnant with twins, I didn’t do well. I did a bit, a teensy bit, better this time

21 my daughter accomplishing her swimming ‘rite of passage’ – a 1-mile open water swim, and doing it alongside her

22 10 suitcases packed, 49.5 pounds a piece. 5 roller bags packed, I don’t want to know how much they weigh. 4 backpacks packed. 1 satchel packed.

23 my husband’s dragon war drawing on the paper tablecloth at The Macaroni Grill in the Chicago airport. We are flying home.

24 meeting up with our two teenagers in London – all planes arrived on time and we go onward to Kenya together. Even on airplanes, I sleep better when we are all under the same roof.

25 Kenyan coffee

26 one girl who slept straight through jet lag and woke up excited to start her first year of boarding school

26b watching my kids love each other and make courageous choices without even realizing they are doing it

27 a hike through Karura Forest, Nairobi followed by lunch with Minnesota friends in Kenya and conversations of laughing until we cry and then talking about grief and crying again

28 home again and warm greetings from Djiboutian, Ethiopian, Somali, French, and Nigerian friends as we ran errands all over town

29 wind and rain rendered the morning thirty degrees cooler than usual, a two-hour refreshing respite

30 feeling proud of my cousin, a Houston firefighter, as he spends days helping rescue people

31 three loaves of honey whole wheat bread, baked and delivered to newly arrived staff, and the yeasty aroma that lingers in my kitchen

 

Good Things, the First

 

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Strong in the Broken: When Extroverts and Introverts Get Married

Today’s Strong in the Broken post is by Janneke Huisman, an essay about negotiating marriage and international living with one extrovert and one introvert.

16 years of marriage asks for a little bit of reflection. Here is something I read online:

“Some of the sweetest connections I have ever seen have been extreme innies and extreme outies. They’re perfect at parties together. The introvert can hide behind the extrovert. EX works the crowd just like she likes it and one by one brings her new friends over to the corner and introduces them to IN (just like he likes it). IN doesn’t compete for attention, and EX shields him from the crowds. IN becomes a sounding board for EX, and EX protects IN from disengaging completely. It works. Not automatically and not without intentionality, but it works, and sometimes it works brilliantly well.” Read the whole thing here.

This quote describes us so well. One of us is the 95% EX, and the other is the 95% IN. It’s up to you to guess who is who. That interesting mix of character is also a confluence of brokenness.

In these sixteen years, we moved through two continents and four countries. A lot of transition and stress came with it. Our kids changed school systems three times and switched languages along with it. All that has had some impact on our family and also our marriage. You might not see it on the outside. We do not fight in public and love each other, that is true. We have decided to stick together. We avoid using bad words and we keep searching for the other’s heart, but it is a lifelong search.

A couple of weeks ago, at a certain moment, we were a bit tense and sad. (At least we were in tune, although it was pretty much in a minor key.) At that very moment, Jelle found this article, and it came to us at the right time. The author compares a marriage with two rivers who confluence and find each other, although not without conflict and two different backgrounds.

“But what we almost never take into consideration is that the biggest thing my partner will contribute to our relationship is her brokenness. Just as the biggest thing I contribute to our life together is my brokenness. This can be masked, can be hidden, it can be denied, it can be compensated for. But eventually our true colors are up the pole, flapping in the wind.  What I choose to do with my wife’s brokenness, what she chooses to do with mine, this is the true test of our hearts; it’s the anvil on which our commitment will be either shaped or shattered.” Read the whole thing here.

The author, Bill Black, includes a lot of pictures of confluencing rivers, ending with the Drava and Danube, around the corner from us. I felt overwhelmed by God’s loving kindness and care in sending this to us at the right time. The strength of our lives lies in our weakness and finding the other in the brokenness. (2 Corinthians 12:9) “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

May God be always at the center so we remain the chord of three strands what is not easily broken, because God, the author of marriages, confluenced us together.

You can find Janneke at her blog

and on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/janneke.huisman.98

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Strong in the Broken: Thriving through Chronic Illness by Singing and Dancing

Today’s Strong in the Broken essay is by Amy Oestreicher: Thriving with a Chronic Illness By Singing and Dancing About It: How Writing a Musical About My Life Helped Me to Reclaim It. She got me by line 3 because my husband would love it if life were a musical and sometimes he pretends it is. This is a story of turning weakness into strength, using the detour of brokenness to accomplish a creative dream. I love how Amy figured out how to not give in to her sickness but how to be the boss of it and find hope.

It all started with a dream.

I grew up doing musical theatre.

Let me rephrase that. I grew up thinking my life was a musical. Call it the “theatre bug”, call me a “drama queen” or a great big ham – I lived for the world of the stage. For me, singing and acting were ways I could connect with the world around me. When I took a deep, grounded breath from my gut, I sang what my heart longed to express. I found comfort in the words of my favorite composers. I read scripts like they were novels. I would play with my playbills from various shows I had seen like they were my Barbie dolls. Through theatre, I had a place in this world. I could make believe by inserting myself into characters from every era, situation and mindset, while still expressing my own individuality.

I was the kid who got sent to the principal’s office because when the teacher left the room, I would jump on her desk and start tap-dancing. I was the girl who forced every unwilling classmate to join me in a Les Miserables medley, assigning them their designated parts to pass the 30-minute school bus ride.

Even all the way up to high school, I was the theatre-girl. It was my identity, my passion, my livelihood. I sacrificed my social life and gave up many opportunities to immerse myself in what I loved.

I’ve always been warned not to put all of my eggs in one basket, but theatre ran through my veins – it was all I thought about, lived and dreamed. I’d write songs in my assignment notebook as I waited for the school bell to ring, then hop on the train to the next open call I’d read about in Backstage. When I fought with my brothers, I could only debate with them if we could do it in the spirit of a musical theatre duet. They weren’t so keen on that.

So what do you do when you’ve invested everything into your passion and you can’t follow it anymore? I’ve always thought about what would a world-concert pianist would do if he injured his hand, or a dancer breaking a leg…

…but sprains heal and wounds can eventually mend. Dire circumstances felt much more long lasting; when at 18 I awoke from a coma. Although the medical staff—that suddenly became everyday faces—was more concerned about keeping my organs and me alive, I was still trying to grapple with one frightening new concern:

Would I ever be able to sing and dance on stage again?

With a ventilator and a tracheotomy, I couldn’t even talk. From months of bed-rest, the first time I was able to stand up, I was alarmed at how they trembled, as if my legs were Jell-O. I lost the energy to even think about what I loved, and being unable to eat or drink in these new medical circumstances turned my once-steady focus to mush and irritability.

I remember asking every person I could find in the hospital if they thought I would ever be able to sing and dance again. I was faced with many apologetic “I don’t knows”, sighs, shrugs, and awkward changing of the topic. However, I remember one occupational therapist gave me words that to her, felt like words of encouragement. She looked at me compassionately, and said, “You never know – the human body is amazing. I had one patient who showed no signs of hope, and a year later, when he was discharged, he only needed a wheelchair!”

(These were not exactly the words of encouragement I was looking for.)

With time, patience, and dogged determination, I was eventually discharged from the hospital. What I’m glossing over are the multitudes of surgeries, setbacks and frustrations, because what was the most important was my passion – I never forgot how I missed the stage. Even not being able to talk or stand up on my own, I still visualized me singing and dancing. Without theatre, I felt disconnected, purposeless, a has-been. I missed the vibrant girl I remembered being the first to sign up for auditions, now condemned to a realm of medical isolation.

I had always had a dream of combining song and dialogue in a show of my own design. I love the idea of storytelling through theatre, but as a teen, I didn’t really have much of a story to tell. But sometimes, a setback is an opportunity in disguise. Suddenly, I had a tale of hurdles, triumph, and heart.

Eight years after my coma, I was finally headed towards a life of medical stability. I learned through experience that things can heal with time, and that’s not always the prettiest or easiest way. It was an extremely difficult journey, yet when I started to put together a musical of my life, things felt like they had happened for a reason.Now I had a story to tell, a message to share.

My one-woman musical autobiography, Gutless & Grateful, started out as stapled pages of my journal – a few pages from the thousands of journal entries I had completed when unable to eat or drink for years. I selected 16 songs—some of which I had written – that had always resonated with my journey and me, and loosely strung them together to sing for my own therapy. I’d perform Gutless & Grateful for my parents, my dogs, but mostly for myself. Through the songs, I could allow myself a safe place to feel the charged emotions I was still trying to process from years of medical trauma.

I called it my “world in a binder”.   My parents called it “Amy’s little play.” It was no surprise when I had many looks of concern and gentle warnings when I decided to book a theatre in New York for my world premiere!

I performed Gutless & Grateful for the first time in NYC in October 2012. It was a frightening, bold, vulnerable, and breathtaking experience. In it, I told everything – the pain, the medical, the joy, the infuriating – with music, drama, and humor, most importantly. I had played “roles” before, but for the first time, I was honestly revealing my own medical and emotional struggles for hundreds of strangers every night. It was a risk to lay my soul bare, but the reward was in how my own vulnerability caused others to become vulnerable and moved by my own struggles.

Since then, I’ve been performing it in theatres, hospitals, and groups in need of any kind of inspiration and encouragement. When I realized how combining powerful firsthand experience could transform lives, I developed my little-show-that-could into a mental health advocacy and sexual assault prevention program for students. Nearly losing my life at 18 years old, I’m now reaching out to students at that same pivotal point in their own lives.

Medically, my life is far from perfect, but now when a surgery goes wrong, I use it as more material for my show – if we can’t learn to laugh from hardship, we can’t learn anything. And for me, when I learn, I feel alive – that just as trees grow, change and evolve with every season, I can too.

Through Gutless & Grateful, I’m sharing my story and helping others find the gifts and the gratitude in the hardships. And in healing other people, I heal my own self a bit more every day.  I’m not there yet, but just like my show – I’m on the road.

As a performer, all I want to do is give back to the world. Being up on stage and singing is one part of the joy, but what brings the process full circle is knowing that somewhere in the audience, I am affecting someone and making them think in a different way. That is the power of theatre – stirring you to see things differently. Doing what I love, my passion once again can freely flow through my veins, and I’m a person now, not just a patient or a medical miracle. Passion may not heal 27 surgeries, but passion has healed my heart. My passion has re-anchored me in who I am. And for that, I am Gutlessly Grateful.

Amy Oestreicher is a PTSD peer-to-peer specialist, artist, author, writer for Huffington Post, speaker for TEDx and RAINN, health advocate, survivor, award-winning actress, and playwright, sharing the lessons learned from trauma through her writing, mixed media art, performance and inspirational speaking.

As the creator of the Gutless & Grateful, her one-woman autobiographical musical, she’s toured theatres nationwide, along with a program combining mental health advocacy, sexual assault awareness  and Broadway Theatre for college campuses.

To celebrate her own “beautiful detour”, Amy created the #LoveMyDetour campaign, to help others thrive through difficulties.

As Eastern Regional Recipient of Convatec’s Great Comebacks Award, she’s contributed to over 70 notable online and print publications, and her story has appeared on NBC’s TODAY, CBS, Cosmopolitan, among others. 

She has devised workshops for conferences nationwide,  and is this year’s keynote speaker for the Hawaii Pacific Rim International Conference on Diversity and Disability.  Learn more at amyoes.com and sign up for updates on My Beautiful Detour, her upcoming book.