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.

 

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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.

 

 

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?

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.