A Truer Reflection

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Almost a year ago I wrote a post about my curiosity. In it I mentioned how I wondered whether my future would be one as a single mom, or would Bashir and I remain married. The future has come, and the curiosity on that issue has been satisfied. After many stalls, obstacles and challenges, I managed to ransom myself out of my marriage (again lol).

Looking back on it all, I probably should’ve just stayed out of the mix of Bashir’s new life after we divorced the first time. Even though the divorce was shown to already be null then, with enough time I might’ve gotten to a place where I would’ve just corrected that technicality and moved on. But the truth is I needed to grow and learn to make decisions based on values instead of feelings, and having a daughter was just the thing to motivate me through the pain of that change. In fact, Shukurah is the sweetest blessing to come out of such a fateful mistake.

There are going to be a lot of tough decisions I’m going to be facing. I probably wasn’t ready for them before, because I felt like I needed to appease the storms inside first before anything else. Now I know I don’t have to do that. I can choose what’s important, and let my emotions catch up with that program. I am ready to teach my daughter what it means to value herself, because I know how to do it myself now.

I thought the pain in my marriage was destroying me, but it ended up making me realize what I’m worth. I know without a doubt what I deserve in a husband and relationship. I will not accept anything less than what I’ve chosen, so if it means being single the rest of my life I am perfectly fine with that. I’ve fought too hard for myself and my kids, and we’ve all endured way too much, than to sell our victory for a cheap bit of company during a lonely moment.

I’m not going to jump through any more hoops for someone’s attention and approval. I am beautiful and unique, and I have a rare quality in the way I love. I do age well, both inside and out. I am worthy, just as I am, and someone out there will recognize the hard work I’ve put into my character and cherish me for it. And if no one ever sees what a blessing I would be to them, it’s their loss…because I know how utterly devoted and passionate I am when I am given one’s heart.

In the meantime, I’m enjoying everything about life. I’m not just finding myself, but actively creating who I want to be. Nothing is worth getting me down when there is so much hope for my future- hope borne from who I am in shaa Allah, not limited to what my circumstances are.

Thank You Allah for rescuing my spirit. Thank You for life, ever transforming.

Allahu Akbar

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We all have special days in our lives. Anniversaries of when we met the one we love, graduation dates, the first day of our dream job. There are days we look forward to- like the day we leave for hajj, or the day our baby will be born. There are days we never forget, like the one when our mother passed away, or the day we won the regional spelling bee.

Today is a significant day for me, because today is the day my baby girl Shukurah officially outlived her sister, Nadhiyrah. When my first daughter died, the trauma of it left a scar that rewrote my belief system. This is what trauma does. It makes you believe that whatever you lived through will happen again in the right place, or under the right conditions. That park where you were attacked is the park where you will always be attacked. Or that intersection where the bad accident happened is the most dangerous intersection in town. I’ve lived the last 10 years with a subconscious belief that baby girls only live for a little over 112 days, so after I had Shukurah every day was like an agonizing countdown of her short lifespan.

Logically, we know that this doesn’t fit reality. But the parts of our souls that have been traumatized have their own reality, their own set of laws and rules. Only can a new experience rescript the old, maladaptive one. So today is a day where facts kept archived deep in my psyche are finally reformatted. Today is a day when Shukurah DID wake up in the morning, and she is breathing. Right now she is laying next to me sleeping, turning her little head from side to side with grimaces and grins.

I know I will never lose the vigilance I have with her. I will always be worried about her safety and wellbeing no matter how old she gets. I feel my mind thinking, deep down, that every day hereafter is most likely “borrowed time”, and I will never rest easy that even one day of her life is guaranteed to me. In some senses, trauma never goes completely away.

But then, if we can be traumatized by the lack of a sure thing in life, then trauma is the hallmark of our very existence. Nothing is guaranteed in this life, from one beat of the heart to one breath of the lungs to one dollar to spend. A lover may leave, a business may fail, a friend may betray, and every possession could be burnt to ashes or swept away in a storm. We, in our imperfect state, cannot even depend on ourselves to stand for a single prayer, or even sleep through the night without waking from a bad dream. We cannot stop ourselves from longing for the wrong things or abandoning the right things if we aren’t given divine strength to do so. And though we may know that Allah is the only sure and reliable One to trust and follow, our fallible created nature won’t even let us remember it for more than minutes at a time.

So I take this moment to thank Allah for shifa, for barakah, and for hope (don’t know the Arabic word for that one, sorry). I thank Him for all the painful experiences that are the alchemy to wisdom and peace. But most of all, I thank Him that no matter how Great He is, He still succors us at our insignificant place of need. Truly, Allah is Most Great. Allahu Akbar.

Squeeze Week

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This week has been very trying for me. In fact, I don’t want to think or even writ about it; but because it has resolved the way it has I want to record it to remember the outcome…and to give me faith at times when it gets crazy again.

When I assess my cases at work for the first time, I break the information down into three categories: biological, psychological, and social. All three areas were affected significantly for me this week. Biologically speaking, I came down with a wicked case of insomnia. It started last weekend, and every night I slept no more than two hours- essentially a nap. I would take another ‘nap’ during the day, and the rest of the time I was wide awake. Fortunately, these ‘naps’ doubled in length by Thursday, and last night I technically got a full night’s sleep. I hope I continue to stay on this regulated cycle.

I know the insomnia was being fueled by stress, and that’s where the psychological aspects come in. I was going through a lot of emotional upheaval and pain, and it was out of my range of control or influence. I had to sit with it. All I could do is continue to turn to Allah and stay focused on my ibadah, which I did. Realizing that this much stress is not healthy for me or the baby, I decided to go back to a counselor I used to work with. I have an appointment with her later on today. In shaa Allah she can help support me and guide me through any emotional crises that may inevitably come up in the next few months.

Then, finally (but not least significantly), there was the social aspect. I was actually traumatized by the results of a traffic ticket trial I had mid-week. Without reliving the gory details, suffice it to say my fine (after being found guilty) was more than twice the fee for the charge I had, plus I was given other penalties that have costs and fees attached. This was really difficult to take, because money is already getting tighter and tighter as I approach my due date. Needless to say, I am going to talk to an attorney to see if anything can be done to make the sentence more reasonable via the appeals process.

Before yesterday, I was feeling overwhelmed by all this and extremely helpless. I can only do what I have the means to do, and it seemed my means for any of these aspects was dwindling away. I could only beg Allah to take care of me and to help me. And He did.

Yesterday was payday. I had budgeted aside a small sum to buy a used rocking chair on Craigslist to use with the baby. I also needed to get a replacement mattress set (again, from Craigslist) for my oldest son’s bed, because the one he has now (although I bought it new in 2010) is utterly broken down and worthless. The box spring is falling apart (literally, the wood pieces are being batted out from under the bed by our cats) and the mattress itself is like a giant sinkhole. I figured I would have to give up getting these items so I could use the money instead for my court fees and fines, since the first installment is due 9/6.

When I checked my account in the morning, I saw that I had actually received a child support payment in almost the exact amount of what I had budgeted for the furniture. This was pretty much a miracle, because most child support payments I’ve received the past year have been less than $30. I was so thankful to Allah for this, because now I could use that for my legal fund and still get the furniture.

…But it gets better! I went on Craigslist to see what was available, and it turns out someone was selling a decent mattress set for less than half what I wanted to spend on it. I called, it was still available, and it is being brought over to me this afternoon. Not only that, but I found a huge, plush rocker/recliner for only $50. When I emailed to see if it was still available and explained I wanted it for my baby, the lady decided she would give it to me for free if I just came to get it. That is also happening later on today. So between the two, I ended up only paying out a fraction of what I budgeted, so that leaves more money for things like food and household needs (which we always seem to be scarce of….growing boys, I tell ya!)

Masha’Allah, Allah really does work everything out when you don’t give up. Even though it was only a small provision, it helped in huge ways. Not having to worry about money and fines helped reduce my stress, and that has helped me get some rest. So with one small mercy Allah has provided ease for everything I was tried with. Alhamdulillah.

A Promise Made is a Promise Kept

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It’s the middle of the night where I am. Today’s technical date is 8/23/2013. Today is the anniversary of my first daughter, Nadhiyrah’s, death. She too left in the middle of the night, so it is fitting that I am awake now and thinking of her, remembering her.

We buried her two days later in the evening. We had to wait to do so because the coroner needed to finish her autopsy, and all paperwork and releases needed to be completed. By the time the burial was finished, maghrib was becoming isha, and I was sore with milk that had not been able to be expelled since her last nursing days before.

We left the Islamic cemetery after making dua and went to a local chain grocery store nearby called BI-LO to buy cabbage, as this was supposed to reduce the engorgement. As we were in the checkout line, I was mindlessly staring at the titles of the latest tabloids and listening to the songs playing over the store speaker. It wasn’t late, but it might have well been 2 am. The next song to play was Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t she lovely”.

I had never really paid attention to that song if I had heard it before, nor knew the words right off hand. In the silence of my grief I listened as he crooned,

Isn’t she lovely
Isn’t she wonderful
Isn’t she precious
Less than one minute old
I never thought through love we’d be
Making one as lovely as she
But isn’t she lovely made from love

Isn’t she pretty
Truly the angel’s best
Boy, I’m so happy
We have been heaven blessed
I can’t believe what God has done
Through us he’s given life to one
But isn’t she lovely made from love

Isn’t she lovely
Life and love are the same
Life is Aisha
The meaning of her name
Lord, it could have not been done
Without You who conceived the one
That’s so very lovely made from love

I couldn’t cry then, as I was still in disbelief…though I can do so easily now. I thought about my daughter, and wished I had listened to this song when she was born. Though it was smaller than a poppy seed, somewhere in my heart I began to believe, that night, that Allah would not leave me without a daughter to raise and love in this life. I faintly grasped His promise that He takes nothing away, without replacing it with something better.

Weeks later I began a new job at the behest of Child Protective Services. I had not been working the majority of the time I had been a mother, and I certainly did not feel up to the task of working then, but they really gave me no choice. I was wearing full hijab then, so my ability to get work was limited to whomever might be open-minded enough to let me cover and work at the same time.

I ended up working in a huge warehouse for Ross, the discount retail store. My job was to tag clothing. I was given a gun with a needle on the end, and stacks of tickets (literally numbering in the hundreds) to attach to every item in a particular order. Sometimes I would search row after row for the order, finding boxes of Fubu jeans, creamy Cashmere sweaters, or black socks. The orders always varied, and they were always mammoth. And I was fast, so I was always able to get them done quickly.

But sometimes the boxes, when I opened them to see what new item was to be tagged, contained baby girl clothes. Pink sleepers with lambs on the front, todder-sized Dora the Explorer swimsuits, or frilly and extravagant Christmas dresses. I tried often to swap orders with other workers so I wouldn’t have to do these, because I cried when I had to look at those little girl things. Sometimes, though, I couldn’t find anyone to trade and I was stuck with 11 television-sized boxes of Carter brand two-pieces in pink and lavender.

Pain was inescapable at those times, but I tagged anyway…quickly, efficiently. I started to build my hopes on that promise from Allah, that my grief would one day be sufficed with the birth of another baby girl. Sometimes that was the only way to make it through the order. I never knew when this promise might come, or how long it would take, but it became the mainstay of my survival.

I became pregnant again while working there, but it wasn’t a girl. The grief was fresh again when I found out I was having a son. But there were more important things- a new life to raise, and still other details that continued to come up that needed to be taken care of.

He was born, and a year passed. I got pregnant again, but it wasn’t meant to be. I miscarried at 9 weeks. The most horrible thing about that whole experience is that I had to keep that miscarriage inside me for three weeks, waiting for my body to do it’s work. I had to walk around each day knowing that life didn’t thrive, and it remained inside. And of course, the idea that it could’ve been a girl drove me insane.

After that, I didn’t want to get pregnant. I went on birth control for a few years. There was just too much going on in life, and in my emotions, that I wasn’t ready for any promises to be fulfilled anyway.

When I finally went of the pills, I was infertile. I tried to be patient, to let my body do whatever it needed to do. My infertility lasted for about 3 years, but by then I was ready for my promise. I believed in Allah, after seeing Him take care of me in so many other ways, and I knew he would bring me a daughter someday. I resolved to be patient, to resist the temptation to “force things along” with fertility meds, and waited.

The wait was long, and painful. My body was not working. The hope seemed like a longshot. Then, as time went on, I found myself single again. I didn’t stop believing in Allah’s promise, I just figured it would come in an eventual time in an eventual new life with someone else.

Yet we all know that’s not what happened. My husband and I were brought back together, and before I could even think about daughters and promises I found out I was pregnant. I was no longer infertile. I believed Allah was saying, “it’s time”.

I believed she was a girl before I had any way of knowing for sure. I just believed it as surely as I know my own name. I believed Allah was finally keeping His promise, and it was sheer joy to find out Shukurah was indeed here. I believe she’s here to stay, in shaa Allah. And she is a balm for my heart that there are no words for, no lyrics for, no melody for. She is my promise, and I love her forever.

Ouroboros

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To be honest, I’m scared. In some ways, this year will likely end in the way it began. Despite the fact that I remember what that was like, even that it wasn’t so horrible….and remember that there are far more painful things I’ve endured since then, I am still frightened. In my humanness, I wish that a detailed itinerary of all the ways Allah will meet my needs and be there for me would be outlined for the next several months or years. In reality, I often only find those things out in the days or moments of the clinch. And that’s OK, because it’s still teaching me that Allah isn’t letting me down.

But at night, at around 11 PM or so, it gets quiet and lonely. I think about everyone whom I love or loves me, and who is on my “team”. I know who has my back. It’s just sometimes, I wish one of them were here to sit with me at my dining table, share a cup of cocoa, and let me cry on their shoulder. I wish they were here to give me a hug and a kiss on the cheek. Sometimes you can know things in your head, or even get late night texts of encouragement that come without warning, but there’s nothing like a good old fashioned embrace or real hand to hold when the landscape of your world is redrawn yet again.

I write every day to counter the buildup of hindering emotions. I write all the secrets that I can’t share here: all the predictions that play out choreographically, all the events that unfold sequentially, and all the hopes that lay themselves to rest one by one, stacked in shallow graves. I write them in hidden diaries, filed under obscure names, on a hard drive across town.

I make dua, constantly. Every twinge that crosses my heart I circle with my words and give to Allah. I tell Him everything, even when I feel I have made too many of my own mistakes, because when it all boils down He is my only Wakil. I hang on to the belief that no matter what emotional state I’m in, what circumstances I face, whether I am being treated rightly or wrongly, He is there with me, knowing what it’s like to face such things. I thank Him for every blessing, even if it’s something simple as a kindness that is my right anyway. I cry. As often as I need to, I cry to Him when it gets to be overwhelming….like I am right now.

I think what’s most frightening about my present place is knowing that it is one that won’t leave a loophole, an exit to return through. This change will be a final change, a permanent shift. It’s as though I’m watching the door close slowly…a little more with each new development. I stand fixed, though it’s painful, reminding myself in so many ways why this is inevitable, and why it’s really not a bad thing.

I would love a glimpse into my life a year from now. To see Shukurah at about 9 months old, and the boys all ready to start another school year. Jedidiah will be a freshman in high school then, and Eden will be in 7th grade. Jabiyr will be in 4th. What will I be writing about? What will I be missing from this old life, what will I be savoring of the new? Will I do something crazy, and leave all the dunya here behind and go home? Will I be sitting in a small apartment in some small California town, getting a hug from my newest sister-friend? That wouldn’t be so bad….but it’s not sure. Perhaps I will still be living in this house, making cocoa by myself, and sitting at the kitchen table with my cat Honey and silently crying because it’s hard to give up hope that’s been held so long. I’m sure I would write a poem about it then, and at least feel sated enough to go to bed.

There’s this thing I do, that in sufi tradition is called “maraqaba”. It’s not something that anyone taught me to do, or that I even knew was a “practice” among any groups until years after I did it the first time. To be honest, it’s something I started to do as a Christian, because I had a very lonely and isolated childhood and it was the only thing I could find comfort in. I used to imagine I could talk to Jesus then. I would tell him my worries, and imagine what he might say to comfort me. I guess when I became Muslim, I thought I could still do it, just in a different way. I never thought I was doing anything significant or intentionally mystical…just a small thing to help me through a long night.

The first time I imagined being able to talk to Prophet Muhammad SAWS was in 2005, when I was going through custody for the first time with my ex husband. Things were in a very bad place, but I can’t share all the details of why here. I needed someone, and I was alone…so I imagined I could travel back in time and talk to Prophet Muhammad SAWS to find some ease. Sure enough, I found ease, and in my imaginary scenario Prophet Muhammad SAWS chained up my ex husband so he could do me no harm. Interestingly, I won the first court battle, and the second when he tried to re-file on grounds that it was a misjudgment. Since that ‘maraqaba’, my ex has not had any leverage over me at all.

The second time I did this was around the time I began this blog, regarding all the circumstances that were going on then. I was essentially told all those issues would work out…and they did.

A couple months ago I did it again. This time I was told that no matter what happens, I have support because my intentions are good. I’m going to try to hang on to that. I know it could just be my imagination, but if one believes they have divine support in the face of immense challenges and heartbreak, then there is strength inside the fear, isn’t there? There’s courage, and courage is what I need right now.

The Delusion of Permanence

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When I listen to techno music, interesting things happen. (I know, haram/bidah/kufr/shirk etc. Yes, thank you, and moving on…) For whatever reason I start to feel my finite place in existence, and the reality of the magnitude of everything takes focus. Strange as it may seem, when I’m in this state I tend to think more of the hereafter and eternity, and what it does and should mean to me.

I mention that because earlier this week, I had to go to a meeting at work. I left the satellite radio on BPM, even though I customarily listen to mellower stuff. I hadn’t gotten a half a mile from my house when the shift happened, and the thing that came to mind this time was how easily we trick ourselves into thinking that whatever we are going through will remain- the delusion of permanence.

The truth is, nothing at all remains the same. From moment to moment everything is as uniquely different as infinite fingerprints. We may drive the same road to work each day, but never is the trip exactly the same, never are the cars on the road the exact ones from before, and every thought, mood or event that occurs en route are different from any previous ones. This is just a small example, but if you really think about it you realize that no moment will ever match a previous one, or a future one. Yet despite this, we waste so many of them in preference of living in our heads.

The delusion of permanence is a mental state. It’s a frame of mind that tells us whatever is going on right now, will always be this way. When things in the marriage sour, when a new job just can’t be found, when the nagging cough lingers for another day…we tell ourselves it will never change. It will always be this way.

Likewise, when we are healthy and well, or getting along with others, or making good money, we take it for granted that it could never change eventually. We become comfortable in our ease, and become neglectful, ungrateful, and careless. The delusion of permanence tells us we have nothing to worry about, so go ahead and be a little heedless.

The delusion of permanence isn’t something that happens in real life. If we were living in real life, we would see that no moment is duplicated; and so there is no blessing to be overlooked, no hardship to be taken as a reason for giving up.

I got caught up in the delusion these past few days. I was looking at the past- looking at all the similar events that mirrored the current one- and decided nothing will change. I began looking to the future and imagining similar events taking place that would prove me right, that would justify my despair. This is how the delusion works, this is how it thrives. It takes our lives and groups similarities, and convinces us to believe the “inevitable”. Yet, if we broke away from that for even a few minutes, and really invested in the present, we remember that nothing is inevitable until we die. If we manage to live our lives that way, we empower ourselves to find more meaning and growth in this existence, instead of the stagnation and limited outcomes that the delusion offers.

Let the Sunshine In

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I’ve been working at home for a little over a month now. When I first began, I was able to keep to my regular schedule in a fairly decent way. The past couple weeks, however, have been more disruptive and the effects have begun to wear on me.

It started out innocently enough -doesn’t it always happen that way? Just minor things like staying up a little later and sleeping in a little longer because I no longer had to commute. Eventually, my body took over, and I started having some significant insomnia. I began waking at 2-4 AM, no matter how late or early I had gone to bed. Even if I only slept a few hours, I would automatically wake and my mind would be over-active.

I tried at first to take advantage of the energy. I started doing more work on the website I help with….to the point that there’s very little left to be done by others lol. I thought that maybe the decrease in physical activity since coming home was merely being offset by an increase in mental energy, so I thought burning it off would bring the balance.

…Well, not exactly. As the days continued to rob me of sleep, my emotions and thoughts became unbalanced as an effect. I started feeling slightly depressed, and easily triggered to cry. I don’t believe this is healthy, for me or the baby, but I didn’t feel I could control what was happening (as I was trying to resume my regular schedule every day by staying up in spite of lack of sleep and making sure my diet was not a culprit), and I wasn’t sure where this was going to go.

The past couple days, as to be expected, the pendulum began it’s track back in the other direction and I’ve been excessively tired and sleeping more than usual. However, it has so far done little to balance the way I feel psychologically. I’m still waking early, and I’m still trying to stay productive…and yet something is still missing.

I decided this morning that it’s the sun. Maybe this is silly of me, but I feel like I need fairly consistent exposure to the sun. Not only because its been scientifically shown to have health benefits, but also because I spent the first half of my life in a place where sunshine was nearly constant. I think that nurtured me into “needing” it more, on some level; because ever since I’ve lived in Georgia with all its clouds and trees I haven’t felt quite right.

Since I’ve been home, I’ve only left the house once or twice a week; where before I was leaving every day for work. Not only that, but it’s been raining nearly every day since then, so not a lot of natural light is making its way into my room- despite my two huge bedroom windows. So I think I’m going to make a plan to get out of the house at least every other day or so, even if it means just driving around before Maghrib. Maybe a couple weeks from now we will see some improvement and balance restored, in shaa Allah.