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.

 

 

Running from the present…into the present

In high school, I was the girl who absolutely dreaded- I mean DREADED- being told I had to run for sports. I’ve been active and athletic my whole life. I never had a problem with running, as long as I didn’t know I was doing it. As long as there was a purpose (read: ball) which required a chase, I was game. But, running for running’s sake? Count me out. Except for my ill-fated choice to, along with the most of the other girls on my high school lacrosse team, join the winter track team (what was I THINKING?), simply running was never something I would *choose* to do. But, fast forward a few years, and add in two destroyed twin towers (so close I could smell the stench of the burnt buildings and bodies) a few miles away from my new home, an emergency appendectomy, two childhood homes unexpectedly sold in a matter of weeks, a roommate who kept our dorm room at a “comfortable” 92 degrees because she came from the Carribbean, a broken nose and you find an anxious, actually TERRIFIED 18 year old in her first year of college, and wow, somehow, running became appealing…enticing, even. Like the stereotypical bad boy in a teen rom-com (think, Heath Ledger’s character in “10 Things I Hate about You”-be still my heart! Or even, James Franco in “Freaks and Geeks”- pre-his bizarre academic-soap opera acting-Oscar hosting episodes…), everything that I’d once found repulsive about running- its isolation, sterility, intensity, exhaustion!- now became part of its appeal. With running, things were measurable. Things were contained. Things were focused— things were achievable. What I expected, I could map out and achieve. Unlike my life at the time, when things felt so chaotic, so confusing, so lost, in running, I could escape.

Granted, I didn’t realize I was using running to escape. That’s the cruelty of pain. It hides. It buries. Like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, it can mask itself as something good- life-giving even. I mean, being active, exercise, running– it is, truly, good for you. Yet, for me, at that time in my life, running became how my brokenness sought to be made whole. It was an illicit affair-convulted desires, intense need for meaning, even moments of passion hinting at-though certainly not capable of attaining- the satisfaction of a profound love.

And yet, eventually (THANK GOD), running, along with a few other choice methods of escape, betrayed me. Like any false love, it led me further astray. I found myself hurting even more. I found my escape had become my prison. In choosing to run from my life, from the confusion and pain and anxiety and hurt, I actually had been running towards death. So, I had a choice- a choice to face it all, as scary as it was-and trust me, my running from it only made it all the more scary (isn’t it awful how that happens?)- or to keep running, to continue to choose to believe that I could not handle it. Whatever “it” was. Because, you see, what I’ve learned is- our need to escape…our belief we *must* escape– its our fear-our anxiety- predicting our own failure. Fear that we will not be able to handle it– and shame over our failure. Because we believe that if we actually faced it, we wouldn’t be able to handle it. Its shame. Shame that we will fail. Shame that we aren’t strong enough. That we don’t have it in us.

Fast forward about a decade. Running is back in my life-though trust me, its been a rocky relationship at times. There have been points when I’ve had to walk away– times when my needs were too much for running to handle. Times when I’ve sought to abuse it- to use it to escape my present, rather than ground me in the present. But I am grateful. Grateful for what I’ve learned running can’t do for me– perhaps more grateful for that, than any of its other benefits. Grateful I no longer believe I *need* an escape. Grateful I know I am strong enough, through God’s grace, honestly, to face my present. Grateful that running, just like me, has been redeemed. That my runs no longer are a means to escape the present, but truly to remind me how to live in the present. One foot in front of the other, one move at a time. Looking towards the open horizon, concentrating on the ground beneath when I need to. One step…one slice, at a time.

thinly slice?

About 8 or so months ago (gosh, has it really been that long?), a few months after the birth of my daughter, a dear, wise person (ok fine, my therapist-but I consider him a dear, wise person!) encouraged me to “thinly slice” my life. Actually, we were specifically talking about my daughter’s sleeping-or lack thereof- and the broader reality that I had a little person that I was now responsible for…that it was my job to get her to sleep.

Her lack of sleeping, or as I thought of it- my failure as a mother because I couldn’t get her to nap for more than 25 minutes- was the cause of much consternation and intense anxiety for me-though, the reality is, overwhelming anxiety was nothing new. While becoming a mother certainly intensified that anxiety, I have long needed to practice thinly slicing through life. To “thinly slice” means to take life from moment to moment. To do exactly what you need to do in that moment and discipline yourself from letting your brain leap forward to moments in the future. For me, life becomes very overwhelming very quickly when I think of life from my anxiety-filled vision- in milliseconds, my brain imagines life as always being as hard and as awful as it is in this moment-thats where the panic sets in— if I were just thinking of it as a moment…it wouldn’t seem so overwhelming but when it becomes forever…all of a sudden, my vista becomes LO not sleeping now or ever and me ever sleeping again…and I freeze, I become paralyzed.

So, thinly slicing through life? Much needed wisdom. the way my brain conceives of the at the time, I needed to think simply about what I had to do for LO (Little One, as we called her in utero and still now) right then- what do I have to do for her now? All I have to do is change her diaper…Ok…I can do that…I can change her diaper.

Turns out that “thinly slicing” life makes a lot of sense not just for a relief to anxiety, but also learning how to live in the present moment. By practicing considering life in its individual moments and not the vast expanse, being present to the moment becomes doable, even…God forbid! Joyful. Granted, some moments, even if they are thinly sliced, are just not easy or happy moments, but, by thinly slicing your way through them, they stop having the power to color the rest of your life’s picture. They become a season. A fluttering in the fabric, rather than the fabric itself.

And so, my daughter’s inability to sleep for anything longer than 25 minutes became a season. I took each nap, each diaper, each profuse spit up event as it came. And, just like that…the way a piece of cake disappears from your plate one nibble at a time , LO began to sleep- in fact, she’s snoozin right now.

I began to thinly slice.

And live in the moment.

While I’m far from living in the moment for every moment, I’m much further down that road than I was a year ago. Thank God for that.

And for the record, I think of cake every time I think “thinly slice”. And that’s ok by me.

 

LO is asleep?!?!

taken not only because she is amazingly adorable, awake or asleep, but also because sound sleep was such a rarity at this point, it had to be documented.