Kirsten Panachyda

Writer, Speaker, Singer-Songwriter

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All that Loveliness

A pair of sandhill cranes has taken to wandering my parents’ neighborhood. In fact, I’m pretty sure they believe they have taken over the neighborhood. These four-foot tall birds poke their beaks into open garages. They linger, chatting, in the middle of the street. If a human should be so impertinent as to tap a horn, they cock their heads, look the car up and down, then slooowly meander off the pavement. The huffiness is palpable. On my daily walks, I look for their red-crested heads and greet them. Sometimes I know where to look, because I can hear the distinctive echoing call. I am quite fond of them.

They always seemed funny and friendly to me until one day when I came home with a car full of groceries. There were my buddies, foraging in my parents’ front yard, next to the driveway. “Hi guys!” I sang out, lifting the first bags and heading into the house. I walked back out, and saw these masters of the neighborhood in a different light. They came toward me purposefully, not meandering at all. For the first time, instead of admiring their red and variegated gray plumage, all I could see were those beaks. Six inches long and pointed like a rapier. And they weren’t making the trumpeting call. They were sort of… growling. In fact, they sounded just like the velociraptors from Jurassic Park.

Why were they mad at me? Did they think I was after their bugs? Or did they want a share of the groceries? Was this a shakedown? All I knew was it felt risky to walk past them to the car. I retreated, and my dad, God bless him, was left to shoo away the tall feathery dagger-raptors.

I still love them. I love that they mate for life. I love that the male and female build the nest together and care for their fledglings for nine or ten months. I love that these mated-for-life pairs still perform ritual mating dances together, until death does them part, which can be as long as twenty years. They are beautiful and entertaining.

I would rather have a few risky moments than not have all that loveliness.

It’s the same with all the best things in my life. My marriage, my children, ministry- all these come with risks to the heart. Loving anything or anyone is a risk, because it always comes with a sharp edge of possible hurt, possible loss.

I would rather risk loss than not have all that love.

Bonked on the Head

There it is. The deception, again. The hiding, the lying, the misleading- so often a part of relating to a loved one who struggles with mental illness. The broken trust, the processing, the rebuilding. Helping them have healthier coping skills and responses to distress. Being supportive, drawing loving and firm boundaries.

But… but… but… What about the fact that I am down-deep hurt? What about that knife wound of betrayal? What about my anger and frustration?

As caregivers and support system members, we are supposed to recognize that the illness is the enemy, not the one we love. We are not supposed to take it personally. We are supposed to stay the course with kindness and good training. Especially when we are the parents- we are the ones who need to be mature and act like grown-ups.

But you know what? It does hurt. We do get angry.

When my kids were little, one of the hardest things for them to learn was that it is right to say sorry even if you hurt someone unintentially. If they threw a ball that missed the mark and bonked someone in the head, they should apologize. An apology is not an admission of guilt in that circumstance, but a recognition of being the cause of someone else’s pain.

My kid can cause a wound with behavior that is not aimed at me personally with the intention to inflict hurt. But I still have the wound. What do I do with that?

Forgive. Recognize he is the cause, even if he didn’t mean to. Every good answer starts with: bring it to Jesus. Talk about it. And listen to His gentle but implacable command to forgive.

Reminding myself that my kid is not the enemy and to not take it personally might take some of the sting out. But only forgiveness cleans out the wound and allows for healing.

Comparison

“Comparison of wit to wit, courage to courage, beauty to beauty, birth to birth is always odious.” Miguel Cervantes

Comparison. That poisonous cycle. It is so easy to fall into the trap of comparison, and it can be so hard to escape. In a world which measures everything from movie ticket sales to singing talent to determine success and failure, it is easy to feel like we never measure up.

I’ve seen some positive pushback in recent years, though. The “Every Body is Beautiful” movement helps women appreciate their unique physical attributes. Lots of articles and blogs have taken on the “mom wars” and offer support instead of criticism to different parenting styles. Even something like the tiny house trend speaks of a growing desire in our society to stop comparing our material wealth to feel successful.

The temptation to compare can be more subtle though. As people of faith, we want to serve and glorify God. But what if my service isn’t as “good” as someone else’s? What if my gift is not as important? What if someone else’s task seems like more fun?

Nostalgia can be another kind of comparison. Remember when our women’s Bible study was full every week? Remember when we all prayed for a miracle and that little girl was healed? More personally- remember when I used to sing all the songs in church, happy and loud, my feet dancing and my hands clapping? What happened? Why can’t God work like that now?

2500 years ago, Jewish exiles, led by a man named Zerubbabel, returned to Jerusalem from Babylon. The place had been devastated and was barely recognizable. God sent the prophet Haggai to the little band of returnees with this message:

“’Who is left among you who saw this temple in its former glory? And how do you see it now? Does it not seem to you like nothing in comparison? But now take courage, Zerubbabel,’ declares the LORD, ‘take courage also, Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and all you people of the land, take courage,’ declares the LORD, ‘and work; for I am with you,’ declares the LORD of hosts.”
‭‭Haggai‬ ‭2:3-4‬ ‭NASB‬‬

Comparing one work of God to another is as pointless as comparing physiques, parenting personalities, talent. He does the unique, right thing for the time and people He is working with now. We are asked to “take courage… take courage…. take courage… and work.” God is with us. Let’s focus on what He is doing now in our lives, and join in.

8 Beds

Today I sent a card to a darling girl. She is the daughter of my friend and she made the brave choice to reveal the suicidal ideation she was experiencing, and get help. The zip code I wrote on the envelope is not of her hometown, or in her county, or even the next county over. She is staying at a hospital which is a 2 1/2 hour drive from home. Her parents both work and there are younger siblings in the family.

I have met so many families in my friend’s situation since my son first showed signs of mental illness. Family support is crucial for the young person who is ill. Also crucial is income, company health insurance, caring for the other kids. Parents agonize over the constant juggling and less than ideal choices.

Today I want to applaud a new choice parents in the Syracuse NY area will have for their children. After years of talking and planning, Upstate Hospital has announced they will be opening eight beds for adolescents in need of psychiatric care. It may seem like a small step, but for the teens and their parents who get to stay in their own community to receive the treatment they need, it will be life-changing.

I and others have been praying for this project to come to fruition. We continue to pray that treatment options will expand even more to meet the great need, not just in the Syracuse area, but across the country. Will you join me?

Here are some things to pray for:
– that more hospitals will have in-house treatment
– that more talented young medical students will choose pediatric psychiatry as their field
– that families will receive the emotional and practical support they need when their kids are ill
– and especially for the precious kids themselves, that they would get effective treatment and assurance that they are loved by God

(With apologies to Ludwig Bemelmans)
In a building in Syracuse
Made of glass and of steel
Waited eight prayed-for beds
In which to rest and to heal.

Fantasy Life

I tried not to hobble as I made my way to the kitchen. Hobbling did not fit in with the fantasy I was trying to maintain during my trip: living as a Parisian woman in my charming apartment two blocks from the Seine. I ignored my sore feet which had been carrying me all around the city and through miles of museums. They had been shod in supportive ankle boots, not fashionable heels, so I did not consider their complaints legitimate. They were going to have to get on board with the fantasy, and at least let me walk gracefully across the room.

I fixed the perfect meal for Dan and me (he did not care about the fantasy and was lounging with his feet up): slices of baguette from the boulangerie down the street, glasses of wine from the bottle bought, after much discussion with the clerk, in the shop around the corner, three kinds of cheese chosen with help from the passionate fromagerie owner at the market. Eating cheese was one of my favorite French pastimes. So. Much. Cheese.

In France, cheese and wine are characterized by region as much as by variety. The concept of terroir reigns among the vintners, farmers, and cheesemakers. Terroir refers to everything in the environment that affects the product: water, minerals in the soil, plants eaten by the animals, climate, neighboring crops. It’s possible to receive quite an education simply by taking the time to ask questions and then listen to the market vendors and small shop owners talk about their food.

We all grow the fruit of our lives affected by our unique terroir. It can make our produce sickly and bitter, or it can feed those around us with delicious nutrition. We have a choice about what we want to offer the world. The psalmist tells us the one who follows the Lord is “like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither, and in whatever he does he prospers” (Psalm 1:3). God provides the best terroir for our fruit, and in return we can extend it to our hurting families and communities. If our fruit is grown in the environment of God’s love, then it will impart the fragrance and taste and healing of His grace. Dwelling in the environment of God’s love also keeps us – the vines, the sheep, the trees – healthy and ready to grow.

Friends, sink your roots near the life-giving water. Eat in God’s green pastures where He leads you like a Shepherd. Be nourished yourselves so that God can nourish others through you.

And sit down with some of the delicious bounty from the earth. Indulge in a little fantasy of your heavenly home, waiting to welcome you someday.

Monet and Maureen

The benches welcomed me with cushioned comfort; the hush invited a loosening of neck and shoulders. A handful of other visitors spoke in low tones, if at all. I spent a few minutes on each bench, before getting up for close examination, and then a move to the next viewpoint. Serenity intensified the experience of color, scope, light, mist, life.
I spent a holy hour at L’Orangerie in Paris, letting Monet’s magnum opus get under my skin. The oval rooms showcase the massive canvases of the artist’s offering: the view of his gardens from the blush of sunrise through dazzle of afternoon to the depth of dusk. After my lingering circuit, I returned to a bench in the last room.
This is not the view on the Monet-themed postcards, coasters, stationery, umbrellas- not the bright golds and pinks and teals. This panel shows the garden in the velvet purple and indigo of twilight. Light has departed. The vibrating life in the rest of the oval rooms is hidden by the ruling shadow.


Fifteen years previously, I had visited these paintings, but then I had lingered with the dazzle of daylight. Now my eyes followed the subtleties of brushstroke and fade of dark to darker. As I traced the artistry of shadow, my appreciation of the aging master artist grew. It occurred to me that Monet had lavished just as much care and attention on the dark section of canvas as on the rest. His eye perceived the details and beauty of the twilight garden. He didn’t just paint a block of black to indicate nightfall; he labored over day’s end with affection. He knew that the day in his garden was not complete until deep dark cloaked the view.


Last week I lost a dear friend to cancer. There is a gaping hole in her family, and in her circle of friends. We all reveled in her brightness, in the color she brought to our lives, the exuberance. When my family was deep in the crisis years of Nicholas’s illness, she faithfully prayed and listened and emailed. In the dark time, God painted her as a glow of His love.


Oh, how we will miss her! It’s not hard to wonder if God messed this one up.
But our Master Artist cares about every brushstroke that composes the picture of our lives. The times of darkness, the walking in the valley of the shadow of death, receive the same tender care and attention as the rest. He sees the sweep of the whole canvas. He chooses every shade with love. Perhaps when the view is obscured, we can more easily see the the purity of His hand at work. When I’m not distracted by the pretty flowers, bridge, ponds- maybe then is when I can focus on the Hand that is doing the painting.
Maureen, I will miss you every day on this earth. I’m grateful for the parts of your painting I got to see. I am so happy for you that you now stand encircled by the everlasting arms and see the whole thing.

Cabin Life Part 2

My hand drifts to the mug next to me, fingers curling around the warm rough pottery. My third cup. Where else could I sit and muse over coffee all morning? This place- its quiet, isolation, lack of agenda but fulness of life- I could never have imagined it.

The cabin in its maturity feeds my woman’s soul as the rawness of its youth never did when I was a kid. Now it draws my gratitude to the surface, bubbling up through layers of weariness and cynicism. During the “crisis years,” when my boy was so ill and I was so afraid, this place gave us rest.

Respite is essential when a crisis grows and spreads from a moment to weeks, months, years. I found the slices of rest during that time to be grace from God. I came to recognize them as gifts He longed to give me. Rest for my disquieted mind and sore heart was His love.

Cabin life isn’t required, but vision is. Sitting on the porch in the woods with the sun sharing its glow makes me slow down and contemplate. Right perspective changes my attitude in the same way. Asking God to help me see His love unclenches the crisis response. I consider the hard work it takes to bring a life to fruitful maturity. Just like my dad could see how special our Vermont home would be decades later, I want live the truth that “He who began a good work in (me) will be faithful to complete it” (Philippians 1:6) and “then (I) shall be like Him, for (I) shall see Him just as He is” (I John 3:2).

I am thankful my parents had the vision for our family home. I am even more thankful that God lets me peek into His vision for my life. The view includes grace generously poured into this broken world, and rest in trusting Him for the Big Picture.

I reach up high , stretching my lazy body into the sunlight. Finally rising from my rocking chair, I gather my empty mug, journal, and Bible. I head inside to slip into the rhythm of the day- gentle housekeeping tasks, singing along with the radio, conversations trivial and deep, until the next lingering time on the porch.

Cabin Life

Leaning back in the rocking chair, I let the sun warm the side of my face. A spider web glints delicately between the birdhouse and one of the sturdy cedar posts supporting the porch of the cabin. I’ve come out to escape the heat inside. The wood stove has done a little too efficient a job at battling the early morning chill of Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom.

I am surrounded by memories here. My parents, my sister Linda, and I all live in different states and the house I grew up in was sold years ago. This cabin serves as the family home and the logs have soaked in not only our memories, but a good portion of sweat, blood, afternoon cocktails, and tears.

My parents bought this land four hours north of our house in Connecticut when I was about ten. It was nothing but woods then, and our first years coming up for vacations meant building and using an outhouse, then a small A-frame shelter. Within a couple years, a driveway led from the road 1/3 mile down to a clearing, ready to accommodate the only big machinery that would come to help with the project: a backhoe to dig out the basement of the future cabin.

This development improved matters somewhat, once the first floor was laid, forming a ceiling for the basement. We lived in the underground concrete room while we worked on the cabin. We even had a wood stove down there. My sister and I spent our time clearing brush, stripping bark from cedar logs, hauling water from the spring, collecting kindling. My parents, and especially my dad, worked their tails off actually building the cabin log by log, cut by cut, course by course.

I was so unappreciative. I love being outdoors, but I have never enjoyed roughing it. Plumbing. I love plumbing. And I’m not too keen on extensive physical labor either, to tell the truth. Black flies, grit in my shoes, an unrelenting list of jobs sucked the gratitude right out of me.

There were good moments of course. There is a small lake a couple miles down the road where Linda and I could swim for hours. We liked to go “into town” when there was a movie in the tiny theater. I distinctly remember one rainy weekend when it was too wet to work much and I read Wuthering Heights for the first time, in the A-frame by the light of a Coleman lantern.

But in general, I whined and complained. There may have been a vow to never return once I was grown up and could make my own choices.

I didn’t have the vision. Not then.

To be continued…

How Many New Normals Are There?

“The New Normal.” It’s a phrase on its way to cliche. Encapsulating that odd experience when life’s unthinkable changes morph into habit, “the new normal” helps us make peace with transition.

Now that I’m back after a brief summer sabbatical, I’m ready to talk about yet another new normal. Last year at this time, I was glowing with the joy of sending Nicholas off to college. How could we have imagined, two or three years prior, that this kid with unrelenting suicidal depression would be able to make such a step? The victory felt so real that I could almost see the gold medal shining on his chest.

He had a successful year, with some bumps in the road. He handled the separation and homesickness, the schedule, and the unfamiliar environment. Not all his grades were stellar. He suffered a relapse in January that sent him to the ER one night for evaluation (he was sent back to school, not needing a higher level of care. First time an ER evaluation didn’t result in hospitalization!) However, he finished with a solid grade point average, and with his mental stability intact. Success.

How I wanted him to be all set- merrily following the path to independence and adulthood and a career he loved.

He did not go back to college this fall. He is still doing well. This change is not the result of his illness, but of a change in direction. His original major didn’t work out and now he wants to major in something his school doesn’t offer. In taking a year off to explore the new career path and new colleges, he chooses wisely.

I’m the one who struggled a bit to turn the ship around. One day it occurred to me that it’s kind of funny: a mom who spent fifteen years providing alternative education for her kids through homeschooling, now wrestling with the idea that one of them is straying from the traditional path. It also took me a while to come to terms with the truth that this new decision doesn’t take away any of the remarkable success of last year.

So how many New Normals are there? As many as there need to be for God to work His plan. Or maybe I need to accept that a life lived following Christ is never about normal. It’s always about trust, and grace.

Whatever success is, it surely rests on this:
“Be content with such things as you have, knowing that He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’” Hebrews 13:5.

Bold to Approach

Please check out my guest post on Fruit of Brokenness:

You Make Me Bold: Kirsten’s Story

 

Thanks for inviting me to share my story Melinda!

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