Life at the End of the Road

We’ve hit a dead end. All of us. It’ll be disorienting for a while, but I believe we can, and must, learn to live well at the end of the road.

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This was an actual surprise dead-end we found trying to get our drive-thru shamrock shakes back to the family.

It is likely your end-of-the-road is not exactly like our family’s new and literal end-of-the-road home, but I know we are all sitting in a similar place right now.  An unexpected end has happened for all of us in one way or another. I am admittedly unsure how the road will open up again, but I am confident of one thing: Hope IS on the other side.

Our family of five is huddled in our newly-almost-fully-renovated-three-and-a-half-bedroom-one-bathroom lake house at the end of a road. Rough, I know. Our twenty-year-old is home from college for the semester and our high schooler has resigned herself to the real possibility she’ll spend the rest of her senior year at the end of this road. The eighth-grader thought she’d have this place pretty much to herself, but that is not the case for the foreseeable future. Not much of our move here has gone how I sensed it should, but in the strangest sense of all, it feels like exactly where we are supposed to be.

What if that is the truth for everyone? What if your hard stop is intended for difficult reflection, a reset of priorities, a shift in perspective you never considered you’d need to do?

People tend to fear endings so much, but the more I let myself look at them, the more I believe we are meant to live as fully in our endings as in any other part of our lives. Bring faith to all of it: beginning, middle, and dead/ final ends.

Over a decade ago, I had a premonition I would meet my end at this lake house.

The first night we stayed in our then-run-down little cabin, my husband went out to buy supplies. I had tucked our three small kids into bed and as I stood waiting at the window for him to return, I became awash with fear. I felt so uneasy in the unfamiliar, dimly-lit kitchen and I was overwhelmed by the thought of one thing: mortality. It was a feeling more than it was a word. I thought, “he’s not coming back tonight.” I was sure of it. The nervous energy ushered in an almost paralyzing fear. I was compelled by this feeling enough to write myself a letter to make record. He did come back and I quickly pivoted the admission that the feeling of mortality probably applied to me. It was like the certainty I felt after my husband kissed me goodnight and I knew we’d be married. I simply knew ends at this lake house would happen.

I still believe in that truth. Maybe the COVID-19 world shift is the end I sensed or maybe I’ll meet my actual end here, but no matter what, I’m not afraid of it like I used to be. You’d think knowing what I do about this place, I would try harder to avoid it. That’s what I would do if I wanted fear to carry me. Faith-filled choices carry us too, and without resistance sometimes that means we head right back to face the fears we spend most of our lives avoiding.

The crazy thing is, simultaneous to the thoughts of endings at this lake house,  my husband and I have followed a compulsion to live here and pursue plans to build The Park. Each day we wake up, we’ll continue to work toward that. I do sense, in these crazy times, I should be doing something else too.  The Park, like this house, sits at the end of a road. (sorta think that’s not a coincidence) I feel a new calling to photograph and blog about how we attempt to live life fully while we wait at the #endoftheroad.  I’ll post those photos and musings on my Instagram and Facebook pages.

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For those of you wrangling with the difficulties you have today and the anticipated discomfort yet to come, I am sincerely sorry you have landed where you never intended to travel. I do believe the end of the road is not to be feared, however, and instead sits waiting in invitation to remind us that hope, faith and love are real things that deserve our attention in beginnings, middles and endings.

When all else fails, look to the children. Shel Silverstein was one of my favorite poets as a kid. This morning as I walked and photographed the space of our property at the end of the road, inspired by a photographer who posts pictures regularly from somewhere on his eighty acres, I thought about Silverstein’s poem Where the Sidewalk Ends. Without knowing why I loved it as a kid, rereading it today reminded me that I loved it because he highlights the hope that exists because of children. They are a hope we can look to as we wait at the end of the road for the other hope we know is coming.

Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein

There is a place where the sidewalk ends

And before the street begins,

And there the grass grows soft and white,

And there the sun burns crimson bright,

And there the moon-bird rests from his flight

To cool in the peppermint wind.

Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black

And the dark street winds and bends.

Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow

We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow,

And watch where the chalk-white arrows go

To the place where the sidewalk ends.

Yes, we’ll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,

And we’ll go where the chalk-white arrows go,

For the children, they mark, and the children, they know

The place where the sidewalk ends.

Meagan Frank

Copyright 2020

9/11 Led Us to The Park

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If you were old enough, you remember where you were the day planes crashed into buildings and the world changed forever.

I was shaken awake by my husband at the news we were under attack. “We”: our small nuclear family of three, thousands of miles away from actual destruction, death, and chaos. Yes, “we” were under attack.

What we believed about the world was no longer true. How we trusted goodness and leaned into love was challenged to the absolute core. I’ve never felt more a part of that larger “we” than I did with the events of that horrible day.

Maybe I had no right. I had walked away from the TV images and taken our then one-year-old son to the empty and silent playground at a park in Castle Rock, Colorado. No one was there playing. No one was laughing, or swinging, or chasing, or sliding. No planes flew overhead and yet in that silent stillness I felt this guttural connection to the contrast of noise: the sirens, the roar of collapsing buildings, and the screams of terrified people.

What I discovered at that playground is that we stop living when we’re under attack.

The trajectory of life changed for a lot of people on that day, and our family was no exception.

Later that fall, on a road trip back from Minnesota I asked my husband whether he felt like our lives were purposeful. Lots of people asked that question in the wake of 9/11 and those who spent time truth-seeking found unique and various answers. Some felt called to rush to the scene as helpers. Others felt the need to take up arms and physically defend against other possible attacks. Some moved home. Some set off to see the world. Some got married. Some made babies. Some made art. And some, feeling utterly useless otherwise, set out to the park.

No matter what our next steps were, we all had to step into a brand new world.

The attack changed us. For those who honestly sought guidance to return to truth and purpose, I have watched in so many beautiful ways how the gaping hole of 9/11 has planted gorgeous outgrowth in response.

It certainly happened for me and my husband. It has been a slow-growing and unexpected revelation but we did keep earnestly seeking in pursuit of the one thing that felt like our battle against attack. After eighteen years, we have landed at The Park.

I will spend time in upcoming blogposts writing about how this story has unfolded for us,  but here is a glimpse of the destination we didn’t even know we were pursuing. It is a testament to the power of faith and proof that goodness and love remain. No attack can diminish them.

WOODWIND PARK VIDEO

 

Meagan Frank Copyright 2019

 

An Introverted Writer Goes YouTubing

I post one blogpost and I feel like I’m yelling from a platform–with a bullhorn–at a microphone.

What? You can’t hear me? Oh. That’s fine. I tried. Bye.

I want to say that. After short efforts to put content into the cyberworld, I want to hole up back in my cocoon and be content with collecting and digesting ideas and information, occasionally creating something new, whispering it to the worldwide web, and calling it good.

But it’s not good.

I’ve learned too much about the projects I’ve tackled to keep the valuable information to myself, for just our little family, or for the teams and families I coach.

I am a writer, so I will write, but there is this other part of me that simply hasn’t been given space enough to grow as it should and I need to pay attention to the gnawing feeling I have to attend to it.

I need to teach.

I HAVE to try to share what I’ve learned in whatever media I can. So, I will try harder.

I will write more. I will step into those places I ventured once and build back up the teaching/presenting/consulting muscles I’ve let atrophy.

I heard a baseball coach interviewed this week and he spoke about the mantra they have for their team: “Work while you’re waiting.”

I am waiting to get feedback on my proposal, on queries, on the next steps for The Team Adult Playbook I need to finish, and I have chosen to work while I wait.

So, I’m working on defining and fine-tuning my Choosing to Grow brand. I wear a lot of hats for the various projects I pursue and I want to share the observations, research, and writing in all the ways I can.

I have been Choosing to Grow:Through Marriage for fifteen years now. I just completed the research for Choosing to Grow: For the Sport of It and The Team Adult Playbook is blossoming because of it. I am chronicling the ways I am Choosing to Grow: GREENER and writing ties it all together.

I wear different hats, and I am now standing firmly beneath my Choosing to Grow umbrella choosing to grow in the ways I offer up the fruits of my labor.

If you are a YouTuber, I’d love to have you as a subscriber on my Choosing to Grow channel.

If you are on Instagram, I Instablog on my account regularly @meaganfrank.

I have an author Facebook Page as well as pages devoted entirely to Team Adult and Choosing to Grow: Through Marriage. Oh yeah, and I’m on Twitter too @meaganfrank_ctg.

Thank you for reading the words I write, listening to the stories I tell, and sharing anything you think will be valuable to people you love.

Copyright Choosing to Grow 2019                                     www.meaganfrank.com    

Mental Health Awareness: My Reasons and Resources

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On a recent vacation, I handed a homeless man $10. My family shrank behind me, unsure the gesture was the right thing to do.

“What are you going to do? Give every homeless person we see today $10?” my husband asked.

“No,” I postured in defense.  “That was my last ten.”

On another day, I might give a ten I’m carrying, or a second half of a sandwich, or a bottle of water, or whatever I have in my car when I’m stopped long enough beside a stoplight panderer.

I can’t help myself. I see my dad in those outstretched hands.

My dad flailed on the streets for a time during the worst of his battles with mental health.

It’s a myth that every homeless person is afflicted with a mental illness, but the percentage is certainly higher than the general population. According to the American Psychological Association, “rates of mental illness among people who are homeless in the United States are twice the rate found for the general population (Bassuk et al., 1998). 47 percent of homeless women meet the criteria for a diagnosis of major depressive disorder—twice the rate of women in general (Buckner, Beardslee, & Bassuk, 2004).”

My dad was not the card-carrying type of panderer. If he had held a shockingly truthful sign, it would have read: “West Point graduate, disbarred attorney, father of four, suffering from depression, narcissism, and alcoholism. Need help.” 

My dad has his demons and my risk of sharing them with him are increased simply because we’re related.  In a 2010 issue of the YaleNews, Peter T. Morgan, M.D., associate professor of psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine said, “It’s been clear for a long time that children of alcoholics are at greatly increased risk for psychiatric disorders.”

If disorders are potentially genetic in nature, how far could the reach of mental health challenges go?

I’m a daughter of an alcoholic with a propensity for mood disorders. Ok. Awesome. It could be me. Any. Day. It could also mean the worry monster living in my daughter’s room is bigger and badder than I want to admit. Also awesome.

Mental health issues are all around us. The man who drove his car into a crowd of people in Times Square was hearing voices. A Florida man called 911 asking to be taken to a mental hospital to see his wife Taylor Swift. A recent teen suicide in Minnesota was painfully described in his obituary:  “An intentionally quirky boy who wore size 12 shoes but never grew a whisker; took his life in a bad moment in time.”

This past year, suicide and mental health crises touched too many people I love.

What do I do with that? What do any of us do with that? Do we snuggle up in a corner with our own worry monsters and hope for the best or do we arm ourselves with as much awareness as we can?

I hate monsters. Awareness it is. I have too many reasons to want to become aware and, chances are, you do too. You may think you don’t engage with or know anyone with a mental illness, diagnosed or otherwise, but chances are you do.

Nearly one in five Americans suffer from mental health issues over the course of a year.

That percentage is too high to be ignored. We have a responsibility to one another to learn all we can about the real life stories of people and their experiences. Thankfully, the mental health conversation is getting louder, but we need to continue to share and listen to the stories that will open our eyes and grow necessary awareness. 

Awareness is wanting to know what it looks like to walk alongside someone with mental illness so we are not tempted to retreat to the other side of the street.

RAISE YOUR AWARENESS

There are courageous battles being waged in households all over this country and there are books that tell important mental illness stories, pulling the curtains back from previously guarded windows. My most recent read:

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Virginia Pillars’ book, Broken Brain, Fortified Faith: Lessons of Hope Through a Child’s Mental Illness, is a powerful memoir about her family’s journey  leading up to, during, and after her daughter’s schizophrenia diagnosis.  Virginia presents her pain, frustrations, confusion and intermingled hope with raw honesty. It is a beautiful example of how love and a deep-rooted faith can be powerful companions on the walk with mental illness.

 

 

 

OTHER RESOURCES:walks on the margins

 

In a past issue of Books Make a Difference magazine, I covered Kathy Brandt and Max Maddox’s co-written book, Walks on the Margin, about Max’s struggle with bipolar disorder. The book is an inspiring look at how awareness, treatment, and art moved him to a healthier place.

 

 

On my to read list is Mark Lukach’s recent release: My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward: A Memoir.my lovely wifeAwareness about mental health issues is an ongoing endeavor. Sometimes it’s a decision to stay on the same side of the street as the outstretched hand and other times it’s a decision to stop by the house of a friend who is struggling. A willingness to learn from the stories being shared, is a step in the right direction. We all have reasons to engage in the mental health conversation, and I’m grateful for those brave souls who start the discussion by writing down their stories.

National Alliance on Mental Illness https://www.nami.org/

 

Copyright Choosing to Grow 2017                                     www.meaganfrank.com                                        @choosingtogrow

Capturing Life and Love while Dying

Dan poster

My friend Dan died on Saturday. The news was something we had been anticipating, but it was heartbreaking nonetheless.

I met Dan two years ago, at the opening for that year’s photography show. I had gone to listen to a friend sing and I was drawn in to the work of the local photographers and to Dan, in particular.

There was something about him. A genuine passion for the pieces on the walls, an apparent care for the people who had placed them there, and an immediate engagement with me, a perfect stranger.

He invited my questions that day and entertained the possibility that I too become part of the group. I joined the following fall.

For two years, I’ve had Dan as a teacher. He’s taught me about photography: breaking photos into thirds, avoiding white corners, following sight lines, depth of field, and capturing light.

More than that though, Dan has taught me what it looks like to live life fully and to love others completely… not just when we are dying, but in every moment we are given.

Photography gives us a window into a person’s soul. We get to see  what captured their imagination for a moment. We have access to someone else’s truth. We get to ponder their focus and, in that, our own perspective has an opportunity to shift if we let it. Dan was a phenomenal photographer and an incredible teacher.

That’s what I told him the last time I saw him. I told him that my perspective is forever changed. Because he was willing to share his focus with me and others, I see the world in moments worth living and capturing.

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I was thinking of Dan when I captured the photo I’ll have on display at this year’s show. It is called “Layered Spring”. The light and reflection caught my eye as I prepared to leave the library a few weeks ago. I couldn’t stop myself from walking across the parking lot and up to the water’s edge to catch the image. I also hoped that Dan might have been looking out his window at that moment because, from his house, an elevated view of this scene would have been possible.

The symbolism of this particular photo is appropriate too. I see all four seasons. I see wind, fire, earth and living water. I also see stillness and dark shades of still-present ice. I see the complications of full living. There is beauty, joy, suffering, pain, cycles, and an immediate moment. I love that I see that. I love that Dan is a part of the reason why I do.

I know when I told Dan that my perspective was forever changed because of him, he knew I was talking about more than photography. I know that because when I leaned in to hug him one more time, he whispered, “I love you,” and I believe that to be completely true. His life and his photos say the same thing.

Copyright Choosing to Grow 2017                                     www.meaganfrank.com                                        @choosingtogrow

 

 

The Difference of Blogging

I am assigned the task of writing about the difference blogs/books have made in my life. I am taking part in a bloghop hosted by the magazine I work for, Books Make a Difference. It’s harder than I thought it would be. I have procrastinated all month, and although I could blame my husband’s annual departure, our impending house sale and move, or the general expectations of my job and child-rearing, it is also true I have not made time to write through this piece.

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Blogging hasn’t always been this way. I used to have to restrain myself from putting out too many blogposts in a week.
Blogging with small children was as necessary as breathing.

I started blogging fall of 2003, and I found the support, encouragement, friendship, wisdom, connection and sounding board I so desperately needed.

That’s what writers do essentially, right? We write to hear an echo back from the world. We write in the hope our words will be important to someone else. Maybe not every writer needs emotional feedback, but I sure did. I was a stay-at-home mom unhappy with having made the deliberate (and seemingly permanent) decision to stay home and raise our children. Motherhood wasn’t what I had expected and I needed to know I wasn’t the only one who felt that way.

As I grapple with the focused subject of this post I am sitting in the back hatch of my car. My laptop is open on my legs and I am lounging near an elementary school playground . I glance up occasionally to make sure the girls are happily playing and taking frequent breaks to pet the dog. Big Sprout is building his muscles and stamina at a dryland hockey practice at a gym in town and I’m admittedly a bit nostalgic.

I never thought I would be at this point in motherhood.

Over and over again, in the early years of blogging, I’d write about the permanence of motherhood with small children. It was either pervasive frustration, or bouts of hilarity. I’d catch the sprouts teaching me things, and without a classroom to hash out the life-changing reality of the motherhood experience, I decided instead to put my stories out into the world for commentary.

I am most grateful for the commentary.

As I write this, I am watching a young mother with her little boy. He is about the age Big Sprout was when all of this blogging madness started. When I started to blog, Big Sprout was four years old and starting preschool, Middle Sprout was just over a year old, and Little Sprout was merely an idle egg in my ovary. I felt as though life were never going to be any different. Big Sprout turns 13 this month, and long gone is the permanence of mothering small children.

Blogging, instead, has been my permanence.

I was talking with someone yesterday about the shelf we have moved seven times during our marriage. We are preparing to move it again. It is a plain, white, cheap, particle-board bookcase, but it is the most important piece of furniture we own. On one side of the bookshelf there are hand-scrawled marks denoting the height of each of our children at various points in their childhood. If I’m grateful for any of my ideas, I am grateful I made the decision early in their lives to put this record on something portable. I didn’t ever want to have to paint over the marks or leave them behind. I guess that is sortof what blogging has been for me too.

Blogging is my portable marker. I can go back to old posts and I hear the voice of a woman I hardly recognize. I see linkbacks to women who have remained important friends in my journey through writing and motherhood and I can hardly imagine what type of mother I would be without them.

So, what difference has blogging made in my life? Having a space to write through and mark the growth that has happened for our family, and for me personally as a mother, has truly made more difference for me than I have words to explain.

 

Meagan is constantly moving, but you can sometimes catch her these places:


Website:
www.meaganfrank.com

Twitter: @choosingtogrow

Facebook: MeaganFrankAuthor

Email: choosingtogrow@meaganfrank.com

 


Copyright 2013                     Meagan Frank                     Choosing to Grow

Feeling Grief…Embracing Joy

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“They only have two hours of childhood left.”

It was this fleeting comment by a woman in Newtown, CT yesterday that has rendered me useless. I cannot shake her distraught and heart-broken expression as she explained to the rolling cameras that she was across town to console her friends while delaying the pick-up of her own children. She wanted her kids to enjoy their innocence for just a few hours more.

I sat with the same dilemma while at my desk in Minnesota. I sobbed at the overwhelming loss. At the grief that enveloped my every thought.  I longed to hold my children, to grab their precious faces in my hands and gaze endlessly into their bright little eyes. I knew they would come home from their school-days without a clue about what unfolded in horrific fashion hundreds of miles away, and all I wanted was to stop the vicious clock from ticking.

The clock is the problem, you know. We know all childhood, all innocence, all life will inevitably end, but we hate the truth of that. We pine for more joy than grief as we’re living, and we hurt so much for the children because they are our balance between hope and loss.

When my 12-year-old bound in the door, I greeted him in the kitchen and held him. We embraced in silence until he mumbled into my shoulder, “You alright mom?” “No” I explained and pulled back to make eye contact with him. He had heard some rumblings, and we talked about the news, and the horror, and the overwhelming feelings of grief, anger, sadness, confusion, and despair.

He knew better than to give me away when I hugged his sisters just as hard.

The girls are in fifth and first grades. They are who I picture cowering in closets or hiding in cupboards, and I was hopeful they would stay unaware for quite a while.

I knew the fifth grader would eventually catch on, and when she asked me about an Instagram photo she saw, my heart gently splintered. Our first-grader still doesn’t know, but I can hear that deafening click of the clock hand.

While I cannot help but to consider something will have to be done about this…measures will have to be taken…forward movements will need to be made, there remains this space of time that needs to be lived too.

It brings me to another scene I watched unfold this week reminding me that where grief exists, joy can too.

Most weekdays, about 2:30 in the afternoon, I watch a young man arrive at the house across the street to visit the teen-aged daughter who lives there. Most days he gets his crutches out of the car and slowly makes his way to the front door.

The young man’s name is Zach Sobiech, and he is a 17-year-old boy who is dying from cancer. His ticking clock is loud, and he hears it, but he has made a conscious decision to live in spite of it.

The last few weeks he has been in the news for a song he wrote to say good-bye to his friends and family. 

I can never watch the video dry-eyed and I think of the grief and the loss for this boys’ family and for his girlfriend, Amy.

Then Zach gave me a gift of joy I will never forget.

One sunny and somewhat unseasonably warm day this week, I noticed Zach out of his car. His crutches were sticking out of the snow, and he picked up snowballs and threw them. He launched one down the street, one at his car, and he threw a few gently down at his feet. He walked painfully, without his crutches, over to the snowplowed pile of snow in the middle of the cul-de-sac. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. He picked up another few snowballs, and after throwing them, he made his way back to the drive.

A silent tear streaked down my face and I said to my husband, who had turned from his work to watch Zach too, “he’s just a kid playing in the snow.”

The next snowball he grabbed was cupped and hidden behind his back as his attention obviously moved from what he was doing to something down the street. Amy’s car pulled into the driveway, and it was apparent he was readying himself for a surprise attack.

The driver’s door opened and when Amy realized the plan, she quickly shut it. He raised his empty hands in innocence, and Amy made her way out of the car. It wasn’t long before the two of them were in the powder of the yard.  Zach arm-swiped the snow toward Amy first, and she quickly returned fire. She approached him laughing and he offered her a hug. They embraced for a moment in the sun-kissed snow, and then she let him slowly pull her down into the snow with him. They splashed each other with powder and I found myself breathlessly smiling and crying in the same glorious moment.

Life is full of triumph and tragedy, celebration and sorrow, joy and grief. It is only what we choose in even the smallest moments that define the lives we live. There will be those who rise in anger about what happened in Newtown…there will be those who rise in action…and there will be those who will be unable to rise for quite some time.  There’s no telling how we’ll react until we are in any particular moment.

In this moment, in my small kitchen in Minnesota, I hear the girls making play-doh worlds to the backdrop music of some boy band. There is a clock ticking in the background, but maybe my job as their mom is not to do what I can to keep them in an ephemeral childhood, but rather to embrace the fleeting moments, and to throw myself into that proverbial pile of snow to make snow angels any chance I get.