Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Ugly Struggle

Sometimes I'm shocked at myself at these seemingly unholy attitudes and emotions that get triggered unexpectedly.  Why am I shocked?  I don't know, truthfully, but I do my best to reason them down, remind them that they don't belong and shouldn't be around and should know better than to feel that way.

So far, that hasn't actually been very helpful.

The feelings are still there, except for now instead of being more sedate and holy, they've multiplied into feelings of injustice, hurt, fear, pain...magnified by my (or other's) lack of understanding, acceptance, reassurance...love. They wrestle around inside, pushing me to run and hide while simultaneously fighting to get outside.  The struggle is ugly and messy and fraught with danger for this recovering perfectionist who is fighting to let go of masks and enter into humanity more authentically than my less-than-perfect defense mechanisms have allowed.

When I fight to hide and win, there's no real victory because I pay in other ways - increased anxiety, heavy stress, debilitating depression- that wreak havoc on my natural body creating toxic overload, a prime environment for sickness and disease.

What I'm finding in my journey is that I need a safe place to allow these thoughts, attitudes and emotions to surface, be processed, learned from, respected, acknowledge long before they are corrected, disciplined, changed.  I'm not very good at doing that with myself, but I'm trying because I think that deep down we all need love and acceptance to come before discipline and correction is effectively possible.

If correction and discipline come first, my walls and my defenses deflect anything that might actually be helpful and constructive.  Love and acceptance are what's needed, a space that says "It's ok to voice your ugly thoughts and emotions here, to let them see the light of day, to cry your ugly cry and say things that you might not otherwise say because, baby, when you leave it all inside, pressed down in the dark recesses of your soul, it boils and festers and stinks and didn't some wise one once say 'out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks'?"

Pretending I'm not really feeling those feels and thinking those thoughts is denial.  Fighting with them only strengthens their hold.  Acceptance and love and bringing them into the light over time actually diffuses their strength and means less stink in the dank dark places and more light and hope and freedom.  Otherwise I'm left with a tightly controlled balloon that always seems to peek out behind the walls at inopportune moments, in the moment when that word or that phrase knowingly or unknowingly slings out a razor sharp rock that slices through the thin veneer and out comes all of that stored up mess I thought I was hiding so well.

I think love and acceptance looks like me being ok, as in I'm not freaked out, when there's some errant child running around inside my head.  I've learned this phrase: "Even though I have this __________ (thought/emotion), I completely love and accept myself."  This is usually used with tapping, but even just saying it to myself brings me to remembrance that I am deeply loved and accepted by God in this moment and He wants me to practice the same with myself (see Romans 5:8)

I recently learned a new journaling "technique" called Immanuel Journaling (you can find the journaling prompts here and the book here).  Following this flow of writing has helped me to better learn to sit with myself in these moments, allowing Jesus to be more present to me, to the real me (not that He isn't ever not present but if I'm not aware then I don't believe I receive the full benefits of having Him here), and to receive His healing comfort and experience His healing presence.

It's in the moments when I hear Him say: "I see you struggling with all of that guilt and shame and pain.  That's a pretty heavy load. How about I help you with that?" when the balloon deflates and the walls collapse and instead of pain and remorse and shame I feel hope and healing and release.

And it's really great to go straight to Jesus with all of that mess because He can handle it.  But I also think we are called to do this in community (which can be built into Immanuel Journaling).  Hosea says that He leads us with cords of human kindness and Paul that His kindness leads to repentance. Sometimes I can't get out of my triggered state on my own and need the kindness of a friend to help pull me back to a state of relational connection where I can receive the new thoughts that I need to think via the correction and discipline of God that is also so vitally important.

But first things first: kindness, love, acceptance leads to relational connection which then can lead to repentance which brings a state of openness to discipline and correction...(I think...My rational mind is coming up with all sorts of exceptions to that principle but I think it's safe to say that at least for me personally, if you were to approach me in this way when I'm struggling with thoughts and emotions that may not seem very holy and righteous, I'd come out on the other side of that conversation more healed and whole than if you handed me the list of why they are wrong and what I should be doing instead which I have been SO GUILTY of doing. Ugh. And I also think that there are quite a few others out there, too, that would do well with this approach, particularly children.)

So, practically, what does creating a safe space in community look like?  I think it starts with conversations that demonstrate an honest curiosity into what is going on by saying something like "You seem frustrated" or "I hear you say that you are frustrated.  Can you tell me more about that?"  And then practice reflective listening.  Another thing would be to start an Immanuel Journaling group with a few safe people in your life.

I'm far from walking this out consistently.  There are plenty of days when I hide and portray a convincing picture of someone with it all together inside.  But there are more and more days when I take the ugly struggle out into the open where it can get some fresh air and sunshine.  And as uncomfortable and unsightly as that often is, it's where the most healing and hope takes place.

Monday, November 9, 2015

I don't feel like it

I really don't want to write today.

But I made this commitment to myself and told a few people that my goal was to write daily.  This is the best way for me to stay accountable to the process.

Today my heart feels a little worn, a little haggard, a bit tattered.  The same 'ole same 'ole come back around again to poke and prod at tender places, hurting places, skittish places.

I'm trying to sit with them a little bit and listen to what my heart is saying, processing with God these complicated matters of memories and mistakes and things I cannot change.  It's not an easy place to sit for long because I'm vulnerable and exposed without my walls of self-protection carefully guarding my heart.

Although my allotted writing time is far from up, I'm going to give myself some grace today.  I've also committed to a few other daily habits-to-form like painting and guitar-playing, so I'll give extra time to those today.

Or maybe I'll just take a nap.

Friday, November 6, 2015

About fear

It's sneaky.  Comes in looking like it belongs here, like it has some space to occupy while it does something worthwhile.

Mostly it works on reminding or projecting, working in the past or looking out into the future.  I'm pretty sure it's impossible for fear to live in the present.  It's very nature works on what has happened and what might happen.

It slides in with a small thought.  There was just enough space there between the words and images for it to go and poke at that place and stir up some trouble.

Suddenly the landscape I'm living in changes and I'm viewing things through lenses built on past memories while trying to see what might be coming down the pike and it's almost always worst case scenario.

Fear thrives on that.  It brings to mind that time that mistake was made or that wrong was done and then it super imposes it on some future event and always in a negative light.  Always.  Its colors are dark and drab and dismal and depressed and it never ever brings joy.


Because somehow I can best prepare for some unknown future event by being fearful, worried, scared, afraid and somehow I can stop something from happening by allowing fear to be the lens I make decisions with or relate to people through or spend time spinning plates over.

"And who can add an hour to their life by worry?" asks Jesus.

Because if I could, I'd sure to have days and days of extra time but all fear does is whisk away the present moments and turn gifts into fearful ponderings that steal joy and stuff pain.  I look out and instead of faces I see potential mistakes and a sea of what ifs and why didn't Is and I should haves.  I miss the nuances of light and color and smiles and laughter and hearts with intentions to do the very best that they can.

Fear tricks me into believing that this way of thinking is most helpful and productive AS IF I could turn back time or go forward in time and then come back and fix time and if I take a step back and look at it like that I can see that fear has no rhyme or reason for this present moment I'm living in, at least not the fear that slipped in the door this morning with whispers of worry and doubt.

There is no joy in fear.  None.  Fear sucks the life out of every moment and throws them aside, discarded and unlived.  So why do I keep inviting it back in?

It knocks.  I answer.  It's not like I don't see who it is.  I know fear, and maybe that's why I open that door because fear is what's familiar.  "Better the devil you know than the devil you don't"?

Except I really don't want to party with any devil, fear or otherwise.

So I take a deep breath, take captive my thoughts, say a prayer of thanksgiving, and show fear to the door.  Maybe I'll be quicker tomorrow to send it packing.  Maybe I won't even open the door.

Because I know this, there is no fear in love and love is where I want to live all the days of my life.  Yes there's pain and yes bad things happen, really bad things.  But so do good things.  Lots and lots of good things and I'd rather fill my thoughts and open my eyes to those moments that fill my day.

Love helps me live present, increases joy, promotes true peace, and gives really amazing gifts.

My future is best prepared for when I'm living in the moment I'm in looking for the gifts love brings, opening my heart to the joy of the now, receiving peace that's available to me right now.

Love strengthens.  Love gives hope.  Love builds trust.  Love connects and restores and replenishes and multiplies and crosses miles and oceans and cultures and languages and gives back a thousand times over what it takes to live present, to live now.

Best case scenario with love?  I live present. I get presents.
Worst case scenario with love? I live present. I get presents.

It's a win win.

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Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The fog

The damp gray blanketed the world  as I began my morning routine: boil water, make tea, grab journal and Bible and devotionals and pens.  The day looked as grey as I felt.  Journaling and reading and processing did their work in me but my mood was not lighter, my heart no more brighter than the morning light muted with fog.

With the sun, the fog began to lift, so I slipped my feet into worn sneakers for the walk I knew I needed but didn't really want to take.

I pressed on anyway.

I walked the block to the trail nearby, and as I neared it I noticed the grass looked like glass, tiny droplets of water lining blades transforming each into an iridescent show.  My eyes took note.  My heart began to waken just a bit.  My toes got wet as the drenched grass brushed over my shoes.

Now on the trail I began to pay attention to the places the wet gray blanket had left gifts of beauty: the long stalks of some native grass whose tips criss-crossed with spider webs had become a sprinkling of intricate flowers made of water droplets and finest of threads.  My awareness increased and realization came that what had been a dreary beginning had actually been the makings of a display of intricate design woven throughout the night then dressed in diamonds by the morning fog.

As I continued my walk, I now began to look for more signs of wonder made of gossamer and H2O.  Here, there, everywhere I see the perfectly shaped webs now star-studded, the moisture clinging, weighing down the web as it's creator patiently waits in the center of its masterpiece.

Many mornings I make this walk.  Many mornings I see the trail and the grass and the trees.  Occasionally I glimpse a magnificent web yet unbroken by breakfast.  But never have I seen so many arrayed in such splendor.

I breathe in the moment knowing that what at first appeared to be a blanket of dreary grey had now become the very substance that transformed an ordinary walk into an extraordinary holy moment.

This day at this moment in time revealed a gift I couldn't have anticipated finding had I not pressed through the perspective that wanted to wrestle my heart to the ground, the despairing voice in my head saying: haven't you had enough fog in your life, haven't you been in this season long enough, isn't it time for something to change.  And yes, and yes, and yes...but NOW I have experienced that the fog leaves a gift if I'm willing to wait, if I'm willing to see, if I'm ready to appreciate.

Makes the fog I've lived with for so long now different somehow....  It's no longer something to suffer under, to whine over, to despair about... It's become a master artist at work on a gallery so resplendent my heart must expand to receive it in all its glory.

There's beauty coming...are you ready?

Isaiah 40:31 AMP But those who wait for the Lord [who expect, look for, and hope in Him] shall change and renew their strength and power; they shall lift their wings and mount up [close to God] as eagles [mount up to the sun]; they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint or become tired.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

To my overwhelmed mom friends

In less than two weeks I graduate my man-child. He's 6'5", size 17 shoe. He can see the dust on the top of the fridge, reach things I have to go up 5 rungs on the ladder to grasp.  He's smart, witty, creative, gifted, loving, gentle, kind, strong, brave, encouraging, daring...he's also challenging and stubborn.  He is 17, after all, and learning how to be himself apart from me.

But once upon a time, he was a part of me.  He grew within my belly, and when time came for him to emerge into the world, he came out at break-neck speed, leaving "skid marks," as the midwife called them.

And it looks like he's going to leave home the same way he left my body...at break-neck speed.  Where did the years go?

I've read over the past year many posts and blogs in response to the "older mom telling the younger mom" to enjoy these years because they pass by so quickly, with the younger moms saying "yeah, we know that, but look at this overwhelming amount of parenting I'm having to do right now.  This isn't helpful!"

I wish I would've listened to those older moms.

Here's what I know, what I'm learning, now that I have one child living on her own, one about to head out the door, and four more still in my daily care...I wish I would have known how to do what those older and wiser women were encouraging me to do...to live life present.

As I young mom, I was tired.  I had six babies in 10 1/2 years which is a lot or a little, depending on who you are.  I was also a perfectionist and therin lies (and continues to lie) the problem.  I was tired and overwhelmed not just in body, but in heart.

You see, my heart was carrying a burden that it was never meant to carry...the burden of making sure my children were consistently well-behaved, were up-to-speed on all of their age appropriate skills, obeyed the first time every time, ate healthy foods (with the definition of healthy always changing...), went to bed on time, got up on time, nursed enough, played enough outside, had enough play dates, slept through the night, had shoes that fit well, got their check ups, were spiritually disciplined, were well-read, could play musical instruments, had a chance to play sports, etc., etc., etc.

Now I know some of these things are my responsibility because it's what a mom does, but where my downfall came was in thinking that if these things weren't happening in the way I expected them to or the way I believed they should in the time frame that I gave them, then I had to figure out what I was doing wrong and fix it before everything went to hell in a hand basket.

I put pressure on myself, was critical of myself, put pressure on my children, was critical of my children...All of this internal and external striving caused me to miss God's grace that was present in every single overwhelming moment if only I would have known how to take time to breathe and look.  I did get it sometimes, but I was truthfully stuck in an unhappy loop because I could only be happy if everything was going well, or at least if I could see progress in the right direction.

When my oldest daughter was 10, I had a major light-bulb moment: she no longer was asking me to hold her, to rock her.  Up until about that age, she daily asked to be held and/or rocked.  I was tired and overwhelmed with lots of young children, so more often than not, I told her "no, honey, I'm too tired.  Maybe tomorrow."  And I did that enough times and suddenly there were no more tomorrows.

And I thought: "OH!!!  They aren't this way forever..."  So I slowed down as best I knew how...

That was nine years ago, and it's been a slow process of allowing God to teach me how to unwind and to let Him untangle me from some faulty ways of thinking that led to a tired-hearted momma.  He has set me free, mostly, from the tyranny of time that says that things have to happen at a certain time, in a certain way, or else... He has moved me into learning what love really looks like, that love takes time, slows down, doesn't pressure, doesn't cajole, doesn't threaten, doesn't hurry and scurry and go this way and that way...

Love breathes, love trusts, love hopes, love believes, love rests...love doesn't worry whether or not the dishes are done, the floors are clean, the laundry is folded and put away.  Love doesn't get bent out of shape or harried or scared.

I do, though.  But HE never does.  He holds time in His hands and His plans and purposes never fail and since I didn't learn to slow down and appreciate the moments then, I'm going to learn it now because these people in my care...they leave quickly...they grow up and they move out and they do great and amazing things in spite of and because of their time at home with me.

I want each of my children no matter their age, when they walk into the room, to feel my complete and utter delight in them.  They don't always because truthfully some days are hard and I'm still overwhelmed and still not trusting God and I still sometimes stress because they aren't where they are "supposed to be" academically or spiritually or physically or whatever measure I'm looking at in the moment...and I go down into this whirlwind of unbelief and doubt and fear and stress and anxiety until I catch myself or, rather, HE catches me, and I remember that these moments don't last forever...

I breathe, I hand my fear to God, I choose to trust His timing...I choose to not let my heart be led by fear and anxiety that's ever present in the moment and choose to remember that He's got this...my God is big and strong and good and He loves me and loves my kids.  Most of all I'm learning to remember that He redeems and He restores and He makes all things new.  He really and truthfully does.

I miss moments because I am too worried in those moments to believe the truth: God is love and is all the things that love is and does and while what I do IS important it never overrides His power, strength and purpose.  He doesn't give stones. He gives bread...

So, my overwhelmed mom friends...take a moment.  Breathe.  If your kids are newborn, toddlers, elementary-age, teens, adults...God's got this.  Love them.  Be present with them.  Ask the Holy Spirit to show you what ideals and expectations and pressures and standards are you holding onto that He never asked you to.  Let Him take those burdens.  Let Him lift the heavy load today so that you CAN treasure these moments, be present to those He has placed in His care, be kind and compassionate to yourself...you're doing the best you can and He is alive and active and working in and through and outside of your efforts.  Ask Him to take your fear and your overwhelmed so that you can see where His joy IS your strength and how HIS power is made PERFECT in your weakness.

Cry out to Him who is able to make all grace abound to you.  He's got new mercies for you today. Know that you are loved, that His love is carrying you even in those moments you think you are alone or have made a mess of things or can't possibly fathom how this is all going to work out for good.  It does.  He is.

Take a listen to the song below...let it reach into the marrow of your bones.
"Take a Moment" by Will Reagan