Sharing Shapes Reality

Since Lent began, I have felt this almost spiritual urgency to write. To write about life. To write about truth. To share. To write in such a way that would enable understanding. For myself, of myself. And for others.

And yet, I haven’t.

There are a million different reasons why I haven’t. Time. Fear. Guilt over the mixed motivations I have for blogging (for myself? for affirmation? to be heard?)

Its not for lack of material. Oftentimes, I have thoughts come to mind where I say, “oh yes..I could write about that.” And yet. And yet. I do not. I’ve been afraid that my motivations for writing are not pure enough…that the mixed-up-ness of my motivations taints what I have to write. And thus, I hesitate, I wait. I freeze.

Blogging/facebook…all of it…its such an odd thing to me. Motivations are so mixed. I do it for myself- to express myself, to share my story. And yet if I were writing for that alone, I would write in a journal. So then I spiral to guilt– do I really have to share to feel like my thoughts are valid? Is the very act of a blog/a facebook post…frankly…much of communication in general, does it all come down to a selfish and fear-driven desire for affirmation?

But that thought doesn’t settle well with me. Seems too simple. Too shame-induced (that is my mode of operation, of course).

Certainly, I write for affirmation. I write for understanding. But as I’ve been thinking about all of this, I’ve begun to think about how my reality becomes different when I share it. How vastly distinct it feels to have a thought siloed in my brain versus to share a thought. Ultimately, we share our thoughts not simply because we feel we have something worthwhile to say, but rather, because we want to connect. We desire to be known.

Our lives become real when they are shared.

Something happens to our sense of being when what we have thought and felt, be it explicitly or implicitly (sensed within ourselves) is articulated and received- and even more than simply received, understood.

When I share, I share because I am hoping that in sharing, I will be “gotten”…that my experience…that me, myself…would be understood and received as I intended it.

Sometimes when I share out of anger, when I rage and yell…blame and hurt those around me (hurt people hurt people, isn’t that the phrase? Certainly is true in my experience)..I do it because ultimately, I want someone to see the threads of myself that are quickly unraveling and I want them to care enough to catch them and help me sew them back into myself…or rip them out and help me start anew.

Other times, when I share out of joy, when I overflow with glee…when I glow over a sweet LO moment (for instance, her constant singing of “My favorite things”-my favorite verse to hear her sing is “doorbells and sleigh-bells, and schnitzel with noodles” she says schnitzel so hilariously!), I do it because it spills out of  me…it feels natural and right to share–as if the act of sharing such joy is a gift to myself and to others (what…you don’t want to hear about my two year old all the time?! Seriously? : )

But there is something that feels transformative in the act of sharing.  Without me knowing it, I think I often share because it feels right to invite someone into the goodness that exists.

And if I’m really honest with myself, the things I don’t share? The information I control…the things about myself that I don’t let others in on…I don’t share because of shame. Because of fear. Because I, more than anyone else, don’t want to see those parts of me open in the light because I, more than anyone else, don’t want to see them.

Because to share it would be to invite others into the dark places of myself and that voice of shame tells me that if others were to see, my hidden stuff would disgust them (shame again!) and they would leave. That if I acknowledged the extent of my brokeness…if I shared my broken self truly, and not just bits and pieces, my darkness would overwhelm. I don’t want to see those places…why would I want anyone else to as well?

But here’s the thing…ironically, just as those  places of lightness multiply with attention, these places of darkness multiply with inattention. If I don’t invite others in, those pockets of shame…those areas of struggle that I have…the ritualistic actions I take and hope no one will ever really notice because if they did, they would see them as the coping mechanisms they truly are…they don’t get better when I don’t pay attention to them. They get worst. They procreate and proliferate in darkness.They aren’t like a plant…they don’t go away or even die simply because they are not given light. Instead, they are like mold. They thrive in the dark and the damp crevices of ourselves. They grow and grow until in some way, they spill out into our lives, disrupting us in ways that are far more out of our control than our lack of transparency ever intended.

And so it seems, perhaps even more than or at least, just as much as we *need to connect* in areas of light and joy…we also need to intentionally take steps to connect and relate in our struggles, our dark parts– because inevitably, that which we hide, from ourselves and from others, shadows us from others…it blocks our ability to connect– not just with those around us, but ultimately, with ourselves.

In sharing ourselves, truly, we can receive the gift of freedom– freedom from fear of being found out, freedom from shame, freedom from our many layers of self-protection…and find freedom in how we view ourselves and others.

Because it is in the act of sharing that our realities are shaped. About ourselves. About others.

For light to spread through those cracks of ourselves and spill out onto the other.

A Christmas Thought.

Since becoming a mother, so many aspects of my faith have shifted. Now that I have my own child…gosh, everything is different. To experience bearing a child…loving a child…failing my own flesh and blood by my own brokeness…sharing an intimacy and tenderness with this little one that I never knew possible…my world and my heart are forever changed.

By looking at my own child, I am often struck by what it means to be a child myself…a child of God. And as Christmas approaches, and Jesus’ birth is near, I am amazed-and frankly, baffled at times, at God’s boldness in sending His Son in the form of a child. This is the Lord of Heaven and Earth…He had to know what He was getting Himself into…and yet– if He did, how could He have still chosen to do it? To send the Son of Man in the flesh of a little, tiny, helpless baby?!

So often I think I’ve sidestepped the reality of Jesus as a baby– I’ve chosen to ignore His humanity and focus instead on the man that Jesus became–the Jesus of thirty-three years–Jesus on the cross. Jesus as a man– yes, still God, but old enough to take care of Himself. Its so hard to believe that God sent Him in the form of a vulnerable, needy baby….that Mary, like any mother, felt her baby’s flutters and then kicks…that Jesus, was always the Son of God, even as baby who perhaps wailed, just like my own child, to be fed, cleaned or simply to be held. Those cries, those needs, are not reflections of our broken world, but instead are simply the means by which children, even God, communicate.

When I think about this Father’s choice to send His Son, I am baffled…humbled…perplexed…and in awe. How courageous. How trusting. How…divine. He sent His perfect creation into a world of imperfection– of parents and friends and neighbors who He knew, without a doubt, would fail and hurt this child and then the man by the reality of their (and creation’s brokenness (Jesus being left at the temple, anyone?)

How vastly different God must be to be able to operate in this way…to trust that all would not be lost with this Gift. And how much He must love us to make it all worth it.

 

Choosing between Two Good Options

Its an obvious point, but choosing can be pretty hard.  I mean, sometimes a choice is obvious: ice cream vs. pot roast, sleeping in vs. not, white lights vs. colored lights (oh- is that just me?)- when one option is clearly the lesser choice (or rather, the lesser gain), its not hard to pick. Yet the problem with a lot of life, at least the big stuff of life, is that often its choosing between two good options. Two options with two very different outcomes- both good in some way- and usually both hard in some way. And with one choice made, comes the loss of the other. And that’s the hardest part- at least for me…dealing with the tradeoffs. Because I don’t want there to be tradeoffs– I’m a recovering black and white thinker- I want the good choice (or the BEST choice) to be free of baggage– free of having to give something up to gain it. And it drives me positively MAD that life doesn’t work that way– that for me to choose one thing means I forfeit the other. That reality can be so tough even when one choice is objectively the *better* choice, and made even harder when there isn’t a *better* choice.

Like this stupid school decision. Do I go back and finish the little school that I have, to then have completed what I started four years ago and walk away with a Masters in Social Work, thereby opening various career choices for down the road? Or do I stay home, with the little person that I adore, doing the home thing (which, surprisingly, brings me a lot of joy) and focus all my energy on being at home? With one choice, I miss out on precious time with LO…who is, as I often think, so amazing and so wonderful and SUCH a gift to watch grow up…and yet with that same choice, I gain a world of options, when down the road, LO and whoever may follow after her are in school and off having their own adventures. With the other choice, I gain the chance to passionately dive one hundred percent into motherhood-this season of life that I’m inevitably in with either decision-and create a simple rhythm at home for LO, the Man of the House, myself and open the door to more children (God-willing) sooner rather than later for us because I’m not hurrying to finish up my degree, but I lose all the hard work that I completed before LO’s birth…work that I enjoyed (mostly) and entered into because I felt called…work that doesnt feel as pressing at the moment because its not what’s right in front of me, but work that I know God needs hands to do.

 

Either way I’m gaining. Either way I’m losing.

 

And its really hard.

 

Oftentimes, when I’m faced with options, I end up freezing (thats the fight-flight-FREEZE…the freeze is the one they don’t talk about but is also very real!)- and  sometimes, that inability to decide makes the decision for me, as I miss the window for the option. If I’m honest, that can be a relief– yes there is a level to which I feel shame when I consider that my own anxiety prevents a potentially great experience from happening–but I also feel relieved…”well, at least now I have my answer…at least now the decision isn’t still looming…”

 

But I don’t want this decision about grad school to look like that. I don’t want to wait too long to make it so as not to make it possible. I know myself– and I know there’s a strong likelihood I’d resent Lily or Sean or even myself down the road if I’m don’t own whatever choice I make.

 

So how do I get from here to there? From indecision and anxiety to decision and freedom? Today I’m not quite sure…but I’m hoping and praying for clarity. And for PEACE- knowing I am ultimately free to make either decision because either way, I’ll be ok.

And hopefully, the next time I have to make a *big decision*, my brain will remember a little more clearly that choice is never without tradeoff and that’s ok.

 

An exercise in “Grey Thinking”

So I’m in the process of considering whether to finish my masters in social work in the coming school year (the 2012-2013 year). Its the last possible year I can finish, according to the Head Hoo-Hahs of the MSW world. Being that it is the last possible year I could finish my degree (well, aside from going back and doing the whole program all over again in 15 or 20 years–after the whole raising our kids is said and done…wow…will it really be that long until I don’t have a little person under my roof?! What did I get myself into with this whole parenthood thing?!), the decision feels big. And it kind of is a big deal– whether I go or not decides whether I can add an MSW to my name, if I so choose– it determines whether or not I have “easy” (as in clear-cut) options for a career, if I needed to go back to work in the next however many years.

So, as background, I never really imagined myself as a working mom. Granted, I didn’t imagine myself working and raising a family– but I didn’t actually think out what that would mean, financially. “What?” you say, “How could you not take that into consideration?” Well, that’s how my brain works…I often come to a conclusion that I think is right (really trying not to use right/wrong language these days because of how black and white my thinking can get) good– and then think through what it actually means. I don’t do this all the time– that would just be silly!- but I do think this way sometimes– it feels right- shoot! there I go again– so I go with it and think through all that is behind it later…So, back to the stay-at-home mom thing. I’m not exactly sure how or why when I imagined myself with kids, I also imagined myself at home with them. Probably mainly because my own mom was home with me– but, nonetheless, its the image of motherhood (for me) that I’ve had. And, I’ve been unbelievably blessed because its actually been a financially viable option for us. I recognize- as best I can–that this is a HUGE luxury/blessing/gift…and I can’t tell you how grateful I am to The Man of the House that I can even consider staying at home. Its a mix of his God-given talent, dedication to his development of those talents, dedication to us and the Lord’s leading that we are in a position where, albeit on a budget, I can stay home with LO since she was born.

All that’s to say, as much or as little as I really considered or knew what being a stay-at-home mom meant, I always knew I wanted to be one. And yet, although I certainly made particular choices and had a good 9-10 months to consider that reality prior to LO’s birth, all of a sudden, I feel like I’m being forced to decide– how committed to staying at home with LO am I? Am I so committed that I’m going to give up a master’s degree? Is that commitment or is it just a lack of desire to go back to the grind of school and clinical work? (For those of you that don’t know, MSW programs require you to do 15-20 hours/week of an internship– i.e. I worked at a psychiatric hospital my first year of grad school, running therapy groups, doing counseling and casework.)

The whole question of going back to school/work forces me to consider what and why I want to be at home with my child…and honestly, its an emotionally-draining exercise…and exercise that I’m (shirkingly) aware may not result in a *right answer* (horror of horrors for a left-brained individual like myself!)

Even more than trying to decide whether I choose to identify myself as a stay-at-home mom…this is an exercise in “Grey Thinking”. What is “Gray Thinking” you ask? Well, I think I may have just made the term up (actually, I’m pretty sure I didn’t – I’m not that inventive!), but in general, its thinking and living in the both/and world- not the either/or world. In whatever way I’ve been thinking of staying at home, it somehow (and this is by no means an indictment to moms that work– this is just where my brain is about ME- somehow that doesn’t translate to judging others about this— I tend to be much more judgmental about myself) mixed up with the idea that if I’m at home with LO then I’m a better mom to LO. And the reality is its not an either or. It is not I’m either a good mom or a bad mom and that’s simply based on a formula of being at home. I could be a damn good mother at home– I could also be a damn good mother working outside the house. I could-and this is really going to shock you (well, it does me at least!) be a good and a bad mom all in the same 5 minutes! Or even more shocking, I could be neither a good nor a bad mom but just a mom who is both gifted in some areas and weak in others. WHOA! Have I blown your mind yet?!

Most things in life, I’ve discovered I’m discovering are not black and white. Many things are both/ands not either/or– meaning choosing to go back to school for a year does not mean that I will never go back to being at home with my kids…nor does it mean that I’m not a dedicated mother. I can be in school and working AND be a good mom. Its a both/and. Yes, its different than what my current roles are today, but that doesn’t mean its better or worse or right or wrong. To go back to grad school or not does not make or break me as a mother or LO’s sense of being.

To be honest, its the fact that there isn’t this clear cut answer that makes this decision so hard. It would be great if there were a right and a wrong answer…then I wouldn’t have to wade into the unknown…make intentional choices…have things I miss out on…

So this decision is pushing me…its forcing me to grow. Forcing me to realize that a drop of ink on a white canvas doesn’t necessarily taint the canvas but rather enhance it. Add life to it. Add some color. Even if the color’s grey.

 

 

Rejoice over you with singing.

For a long time, Zephaniah 3:17 has been a verse that I’ve held close to my heart. It came into my life during a time when darkness was being lifted, but clouds were still present…and its message felt like a gift from God, written just for me. Scripture is amazing like that, sometimes. For such an incredible verse, I feel like its not as well known as it needs to be. Here it is:

 

” The Lord your God is with you,

he is mighty to save.

He will take great delight in you,

he will quiet you with his love,

he will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17)

 

When I first read it, I was overwhelmed with the idea that I, Catherine Bridget (at the time!) O’Connor, could cause the God of the Universe to be delighted– so delighted that He would burst into song. I tried to imagine what that was like…and the image I felt like God gave me was one of a father holding his infant daughter in his arms, lifting her up over his head and throwing his head back in joy at simply being with his precious child. In the mental picture, the baby was too young to really be *doing* anything that would cause her father to smile…no funny faces or cute drooling…the father was simply delighted that his daughter existed and that he was with her.

 

That idea…that God could be delighted in me just because I was his was profoundly transformative for me. And its a thought that has tossed about in my head, like the ocean throws around a rock, tumbling it to fit its sea-since that verse first entered my world.

 

At other times, the “quiet you with his love” has been the aspect of the verse that I’ve clung to– to be quieted, calmed, by love, is so beautiful. The idea that God’s love could take my anxious mind and body and quiet it through love…and that love has come in many ways through God’s gift of Sean for me. God knows, literally, how often Sean has held me and helped calm my spirit, when my mind has raced far beyond my own ability to tame it. Other times, it has come directly from God, through practicing His presence and reminding me that only in Him can I live in safety.

 

But this morning, I was drawn to “he will rejoice over you with singing.” I’ve been reading Curt Thompson’s Anatomy of the Soul and despite my having read this chapter quite some time ago, I was drawn to a section of it that uses this very verse to illuminate God’s experience of us.

Curt says,

               Take a few moments in a quiet and comfortable place, free of distraction, and simply imagine, the you can, being in God’s presence while he is feeling delighted to be with you, while he is quieting and rejoicing in your presence. Imagine God singing about you. Until I wrote that sentence, I don’t think I’d ever actually thought of God singing. Is he a baritone, a tenor, a soprano, an alto, or perhaps some blended combination of vocal beauty that is impossible to describe? The point is, he’s performing an opera in your honor because he takes so much pleasure in you.

                Still don’t have the picture? Think of U2 holding a concert just for you. In your honor. But now imagine that instead of Bono, it’s God. Too cool. We often consider how we should feel in God’s presence. But have you ever imagined how he feels in yours? Do you feel Jesus feeling delight, joy, and peace? If not, what do you feel him feeling instead? What do you imagine he looks like? How does he sound? What does he say? What is the tone of his voice? and then, what do you feel yourself feeling as you respond to these initiatives of God? (Anatomy of the Soul, p. 107)

 

The idea that God would sing over me has always felt a little forced…a little distance…and frankly, cheesy. Except that when I thought of it this morning, I remembered a sweet moment that Lily and I shared a few days ago. Lately, she has been really into using her alphabet blocks to create tall towers. She likes to stack one upon the other and is so unbelievably proud of her creations. And she’s getting pretty good! Nine or ten blocks stacked on top of each other! The other day though, she invited me to help her (or rather, as she says, “Help you?”) so I came into her room and we began stacking the tower,  each of us taking turns taking a block and stacking it. She got such a kick out of doing it with me and the time with her felt so precious…very much a “this is why we have kids” moment…I felt overwhelmed with love for her and frankly, as I thought about this moment this morning, I finally had an experience and an image with which to imagine God singing over me…just because he loved me. For I now know that feeling…I could easily have broken into song over my love for this sweet child. Easily. And it wouldn’t even have been weird…it would have felt natural. What a gift from God to experience love like this for my child- so I can now, in turn, understand a little more how God feels about me. That He takes great delight in me…quiets me with his love…and rejoices over me with singing.


 

 

So excited about her tower, she decided to roll with glee.

 

Getting so good at blocks, time to move on to Daddy’s drinks.

Birthdays & Baggage

This morning I have been up early praying and thinking and journaling. I just celebrated a birthday and I find it so fascinating that the older I get, the more I realize how much baggage I carry. With each year, as I attempt to become more present to myself (my emotions, my thought processes, my past), I discover more and more ways that I long to be stripped of some of this stuff that I unknowingly have packed in my many bags along the way. I have bags upon bags of experiences, wounds, misbeliefs, hangups that I so often don’t even realize I’m bringing into the room with me…or even more poignantly, into a relationship with me.

And yet, and yet. I’m grateful for age because as I grow older, I’m becoming so much more aware of the baggage I’ve collected. I can now even call out some of it by name. In fact, I’ve discarded quite a lot  of it already! Some of the bags have been habits that once worked for me, but I’ve since grown out of…others have been stuff I never intended to carry– in fact, sometimes it has been someone else’s stuff that I was given and just carried along with me, without even questioning why I was carrying someone else’s things.

But I’m grateful. Grateful that with age has come an increasing boldness to shed all this extra stuff. Its amazing what actually *looking* at your emotional baggage (I kind of hate that phrase, actually, but it serves a good visual and symbolic purpose at this point) will do for you…and how freeing it is to realize that you don’t actually have to hold onto it.

But I think we get so daunted by the painfulness of really looking into our experiences…and we don’t know how to hold the pain with the good–especially when it comes to our families…its hard to acknowledge both the pain and love that can co-exist. So, our baggage collects and gets bigger and bigger. And the longer we go not looking at it, the more scary it becomes.

So again, I’m grateful. Grateful that with age–and God’s grace, I’m not afraid to look at my crap. Well, that’s not true. Sometimes I really am afraid– the same old track plays in my head…”if you look at this [choose your own adventure: the brokenness in this relationship, the pain, the unhealthy habit I've formed and feel unable to reverse etc. etc.]  you won’t be able to handle all that comes with really looking at it. and you’ll be worse off than you were before.” But what’s so incredible is how shallow a lie that thought is…because once you begin to make sense of something broken, it actually can begin to heal…and the momentum of that healing makes it possible to look at something else, and something else…once you really confront that lie of not being able to handle it, you realize how much more capable you are to handle anything, really.

 

AndI feel so so grateful because truly, with each year, I feel more and more capable…to boldly to look at my stuff, make a little (prayerful) sense of it, and oftentimes, leave it behind.

I undo the buckles, I unzip the seam, I take out the things that don’t fit anymore or were never mine to carry…and I move on, knowing that I am stronger for having examined and assessed it….and more alive for having done so. To move forward without excess and to live more and more as the person I was created to be. Free.

back to it.

and….i’m back. a very short post to say i’ve been gone far too long. summer and early fall always throw me for a loop with their non-scheduley schedulessness. i’m a wannabe free-spirit, but i’m also a girl who a little too type-a to feel functional with no schedule at all. that said, as the peanut, the hubs and i settle into our weekly routine, its taking some adjustment! i keep trying to *schedule* in blogging time, in addition to training for a triathlon (good god is squeezing in working out with a kid hard!), trying to keep our apartment clean (thank god we only leave in 1000 square feet! if it were more, i’m not sure if our counters would ever be clean! not that they’re very clean these days as it is…),  have some semblance of a social life…and oh yeah, be a thoughtful, intentional mom to the tiny sponge that follows me around and calls me mama…anyways, doing all these things well all the time clearly does not happen– and figuring out a schedule to fit them all in has come to no avail…one of these days, i’m going to find a system that works(or that’s the dream/myth i keep chasing …) for now, i’m trying to do some trial and error and realize, i can always try something one way and if it doesn’t work, simply readjust. no biggie.

no biggie. trying to believe that. and trying to scorn the shame of not getting it *right*.

if i keep telling myself the truth, eventually it’ll set in, right?