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.

 

Advertisements

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.

 

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.

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.

Have you been *should* upon today?

Every night, around 7:40pm, I gently close LO’s door and turn to face the mess that is my kitchen. Oftentimes, TMOTH (The Man of the House) is on the ground, picking up LO’s wooden train set and placing its pieces back in their proper spots-or he is at the sink, attempting to noiselessly (a total impossibility) stack some of the dirty dishes to make them more manageable. Even with him there, attacking the mess, at times it feels like its never good enough. Not TMOTH, or his help, but rather, my seemingly endless hours of keeping our home organized and clean. I feel as if I spend much of my day, trying to sort through how to be present with LO while also not going crazy with the insanity that ensues as soon as our day begins with her happy morning squeals.
Whether I take a heavy sigh as I look out onto the chaos of kitchen or swiftly go to the sink and simply start scrubbing what needs to be cleaned, depends on many things, but mostly, where I find my worth. If I am looking for my worth to be found in my perfection…well…let’s just say, I will be heavily sighing (or worse!) the whole night. I will (and have found myself many times!) feeling heavy laden and weary with whoa-is-me feelings. And really, when I’m in my clearer moments, my self-pity stems from my shame that I can’t get it all right–and I feel like I should be able to. I *should* be able to keep my house clean at all times…despite a little person who latest favorite thing is to empty her toy bin and then attempt to place each toy in a cup and then shake it…I *should* be able to cook and serve and eat a delicious, nutrient-rich meal that myself, TMOTH and of course, LO, will like, not just for dinner, but also for breakfast and lunch. And for it to truly be all those things, it *should* be almost entirely from scratch and made up of real foods—and be the perfect blend of protein, carbs and fats. I *should* find time also to wash, sanitize, declutter and organize whatever needs washing, sanitizing, decluttering, organizing in an orderly, timely fashion (i.e. at least once a week) for every room, while also being present and attentive to my daughter’s socioemotional, physiological and psychological needs- as well as my own and my husbands. Overwhelmed yet? Ummmm I am.
While these *shoulds* currently revolve around taking care of a home and a family, before homes and marriage and kids, these *shoulds* existed in full force- they just revolved around other things. I *should* look beautiful everyday, including the first few minutes after I wake when my face can look red and puffy. I *should* look beautiful- at least beautiful enough for others to notice my beauty, but, I *should* also be secure enough with myself that I don’t care whether I am beautiful or not. I *should* succeed at whatever I try my hand at…be it my education, work, new social settings and interactions…and it *should* be effortless, stemming from my natural abilities- and of course, I *should* succeed the first time. And if I don’t, then, at the very least, I *should* be able to feel grateful for the challenge of it all.
Almost ten years ago, a counselor asked me to write down all my shoulds-at least the ones that felt important to me at the time- in an effort to help me realize the standards that I had for myself. Wow. Was it revealing. Seeing my list-page upon page of shoulds- was actually a powerful tool in helping me realize the mantle of shame I lived under. Thin slices (like how I tie in “thinly slice” in all sorts of places?) of unacknowledged shame, each layered upon each other, like the delicate layers of phyllo dough in a pastry, that stacked upon each other are every standard I fail to meet. Writing this makes the exercise sound depressing, but the reality is, I did not experience it that way. Rather, it felt freeing- freeing to see the endless list of shoulds and realize no single person (well, maybe One single person…) could meet every standard I had in my head for what I needed to do or be all the time.
Every so often, when I’d meet with this friend, she would ask me if I’d be “should upon” today, meaning was I living life with my measuring stick out all the time, assessing how I was coming along with my many, many expectations of myself- and for that matter, others. It was hard to get out of that mentality…hard to want to lose that mentality- scary, even. Because without my shoulds, how would I know where I measured up? How did I know how I was doing? What does it mean if life isn’t about should or our to-do lists?
I kept that list in the front part of my journal for a long time. It was a reminder of the perfection I expected of myself and the impossibility of it all. It was a reminder of the grace I’d been given in being freed from my lists- that I could never be perfect, but that that is ok, because life is not actually about that. Life is about living in the moment and truly, it is impossible to BE in the moment if you are concentrating on your lists of shoulds. Seriously. It is impossible. Try it. When I truly am IN the moment, I am not even able to think about the expectations I have for myself or for others because I am simply living. I’m concentrating on LO’s seemingly insatiable desire to pick up a small object and place it in a cup and shake it around like she is an African tribal musician. I’m measuring out the spices that go in my favorite pumpkin bread recipe. I’m listening to The Man of the House tell me about his day and the bizarre story he read in The Express. I’m living in the present and not in the future of all that I *have* to do or dwelling on the past of all that I’ve *failed* to do.
The reality is, the mess I walk into many nights represents a life being lived. It represents the mess that is my life- its imperfections, its failed expectations, its joys and little moments of life. Its a mess that represents the fullness of our lives. Our life as a family is brimming over with good things- even to the practical realities of good food whose traces remain on our plates and on our counters…and, thanks to LO’s fondness of flinging her meals, on our floors.
Now, all this is not to say that I don’t still “should upon” myself frequently…I do. Quite a lot for that matter. And some seasons of my life are better than others in this regard. But, more and more, day by day, I am praying that I can be more gracious with myself and learn to live under a robe of Grace, and not a mantle of shame. Because life goes by too quickly…and I’m never going to get it quite right and if I spend my whole life trying, as Ferris Bueller says, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
p.s. on a side note, I’d written a draft of this post a week ago and just this weekend, on a retreat, the speaker mentioned this whole “should upon” concept in her talk…coincidence? I think not…

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.