Monday, December 6, 2021

Though that was shorter

I’ve been working my way through a bout of anxiety that is most certainly stealing my joy, not to mention my ability to be present with anything going on in front of me. It has made it difficult to think for even a second about the season of Advent that is upon us. I’ve wanted some sort of “spot-treatment” medication to get me through this blip. I’ve been a little miffed at God for not removing this physical experience from my body when I request it.

It wasn’t Exodus, the second book in the Old Testament, that I expected would be the thing to lift my spirits today. It’s never been the book I have heard referenced as a trusted option when “looking for a word of encouragement.” It chronicles horrific plagues in the land of Egypt, frustrated Israelites enslaved in captivity, and one very stubborn and power-hungry Pharaoh who is refusing to release them. The story it tells really hasn’t been very much of an upper so far.  

I was caught off guard this morning when I picked up my Bible to complete this week’s assigned reading Exodus chapter 13. Verse 17 reads, “When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, ‘If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.”

It’s the last part of that first sentence that got to me, “…God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter.”

Though that was shorter.

These words could have easily been left out of the text or deemed an extra detail. But the significance their presence brings to the story is so important. It’s a blatant statement that there was a shorter route out there for God’s people to follow. But it wasn’t the one God chose. I am a lover of efficiency, so this hit me hard this morning.

At first, it felt a little harsh. Some might argue feels perhaps even mean, reading how God had his people take the long way home. I was a bit annoyed myself, until I read the sentence that follows in the last part of the verse. I’m not a biblical scholar, but it becomes clear that the motivation for this indirect route was inspired by deep love and tenderness. God knew that if His people faced war, “…they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” The way by the desert road, though longer in distance, will spare them their freedom. Were they to find themselves in the midst of yet another battle with their former captors, they might to tempted to just give in. So, God, in His mercy, takes them a different way, This “long way home” is for their protection and betterment.

“…God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter.

I think about all the places in my life where I long for efficiency. There are so many hurts that could have been spared, had I been taken on the more direct route. Certainly, I would be less tired if I was on a shorter path. In a world devastated by heartache, it’s easy to be tempted by the ease of the short cut or the appeal of a quick fix.

As I ponder specific instances in my life, I recognize how much richness and depth would have been lost had I taken on the more direct route that I desired. The people I would have missed. All the sites not seen. The mountain peaks and the deep valleys. The rivers I would have never had to forge and conquer. There can be a treasured richness to the lengthy journey, even if it takes more time.  

Whether it’s anxiety we want to get through faster, or some other form of personal health issue that we want to be done with. Whether it’s COVID we want to end. Or increased intimacy we desire in our marriage. Whether it’s clarity of purpose or calling we are looking for. There could be a shorter way. But efficiency often comes with a cost. The challenge I’m bumping up against today is do we trust God enough to lead us through the process? Even if we must take the long way?

Can we rest in the knowing that His path for us, full of unexpected and sometimes arduous curves and bends, is rooted in deep tenderness and great love? Sometimes, in that love, we might find ourselves doing the hard work and sitting in messy places for longer than we would prefer. We don’t need a shorter path. We need to grow our trust.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Safe

A couple months ago, we welcomed a sweet preschool-aged boy into our home for a 5-day stretch. This child’s history was colored and fuzzy, and it proved difficult to make sense of all that he had faced in his short little life thus far. But it was clear from the way he spoke that safety was something that he and his mother talked about regularly. Heartbreakingly, he knew what it was like to be safe, because he had experienced what it felt like to be unsafe. No child this young should have to know the difference between these two. But he knew.

When he came to stay with us, we were strangers. The level of trust his mother possessed, as well as the desperation she must have been experiencing in order to hand her baby boy over to a complete stranger is difficult to fathom. I tried to imagine what it must have been like for her to tell her young son that he was going to stay with a family who she knew very little about, that the crisis they were facing had reached a level where trusting a stranger to take her son for a few days was her best option, until she got her feet back under her. She knew next to nothing about us beyond the fact that we were vetted and background checked by the nonprofit organization through whom we were matched. How do you explain this sort of situation to a preschooler? I wasn’t there for the conversation but I think she must have told her son that he was going to a “safe place.” At that point, it was an act of faith, a freefall step into the unknown, hoping-beyond-hope that this strange place she was sending him off to lived up to the way it had been advertised. The rocky road they had been on, left them longing, needing a safe place to receive care.


We met the duo at a fire station. Maybe the mother told the fireman about the child pass-off arrangement that was about to commence, or maybe she didn’t. All I know is that, when we pulled into the station, we saw a blur of a mini human in full firefighter costume, whizzing past us, and the fireman told us the boy was on his thirty-second lap around the fire truck. It appeared that we were in for a very busy week ahead.

 

But the young boy fit into our home that week like liquid poured into a cup. It felt like he belonged. He meshed into our crew like he’d always been a part, adapting so well to suddenly having three temporary older sibling figures in his life. His fire truck-lapping escapade appeared to be for show; he required very little beyond feeding, clothing and being occasionally doted on once he was in our home. He came with us to our kids’ soccer games. He was present at school drop offs and pick-ups. It didn’t feel like we did much beyond setting a 6th place at our table, and proceeding with life as normal.


The task that feels mundane and meaningless might just be the very thing that carries the greatest significance. 


This is what God is teaching me, lately. But I’ll get back to that. 


Five days passed, and when our time together came to a close, I packed the boy’s few belongings back into the reusable grocery bag they came to us in. As I buckled him into the carseat in my van, I told him it was time to go back home to his mom. I will never forget what he said to me next. I swear the world fell totally silent as he looked me in the eye and announced in the candid way only a child can, “This is a safe place.”


It was so matter of fact. There was no question in his voice. It was a clear statement.


THIS is a safe place. My house. My car. My yard. My family. My kids. My husband. Me. All of it.  By the grace of God we lived up to the words his mom offered up to him before we met. 


“You are going to a safe place.”


I’m sure at that point, she said those words as a wish, a hope, a prayer for herself, willing them to be true, trying to believe them into fruition. And here her precious little boy sat, confirming their accuracy now that he was on the other side. 


I could barely keep myself from weeping. I was equal parts elated that he experienced us as safe as I was devastated that he had to have experienced the opposite in order to know the difference. It’s unfathomable. 


I hope this experience forever changes me. As I think about our world right now, I’m acutely aware of the importance of, and desperate need for, safety, both in the physical sense as well as in the emotional. I keep thinking about what it means to be a safe place to land for those around us. It is not often the big one-time acts that provide a sense of safety. Rather, it is the repetitive showing up, being available, and proving oneself trustworthy in the little things that leaves the lasting impact. It’s the constant, subtle awareness of presence, the knowledge that someone is for you and behind you and saving space for you. This is a topic I hope to explore and ponder more in the future. This five day stretch of time reminded me yet again that even the mundane matters. What feels like nothing is a building block for something. The feeding and clothing and cleaning and driving. Just being present and available.


The task that feels mundane and meaningless might just be the very thing that carries the greatest significance. 


We fed and watered and attended to the basic needs of a human for a few days. And those actions resulted in a feeling of safety. If that’s not encouragement to keep trudging through the mundane day-to-day, I don’t know what is. Because Lord knows we all could use a few more safe places right about now!

Thursday, June 17, 2021

You can't uncork a champagne bottle slowly


(This post is primarily a massive vent-fest and has been intentionally left mostly unedited. Consider yourself warned).

 

The title of this post is the mental picture that surfaced when I thought about the waves of feels I’ve been riding this week. Once you pull the cork, out comes the contents, often with great force (and hopefully with some celebratory bubbles thrown in there somewhere too).

I thought I was mostly fine, or at least, I wasn’t expecting such a sudden outpouring of emotion when I allowed myself to slow down and actually consider all that was running through my mind. I’m so tired. That’s the root issue at hand. The fact that school is “out” for the summer tomorrow feels like some sick joke to me. It’s hard to rejoice in something being “out” when it feels as though it wasn’t ever fully “in.” I’m daunted by the idea of 5 days a week of kids at home with me, needing someone to create for them structure, needing for someone to keep them safe, needing for someone to take care of their every need. Perhaps this is what we all signed up for as parents but I will bet half of what is sitting in my savings account right now that no parent reading this will disagree with my saying that yes, we signed up for this, but we were also intended to shoulder this heavy load of rearing humans with a heck of a lot more support (and breaks!) than have availed themselves to us over the past 16 months of worldwide pandemic history in the making.

So yeah, I’m feeling really done. I have worked so hard to keep up my big girl panties and continue doing what I believe is being asked of me and oh man am I feeling over it. I’m so tired of being questioned. I’m so tired of people disagreeing. I have extreme decision fatigue. I’m so tired of having to weigh every situation and interaction and decide about the safety of extracurriculars because I am responsible for these 3 humans of mine, all of whom fall into the frustratingly grayer area where they ineligible for the vaccine. It's a lot to think about all the time.

Yesterday Emma made the following statement, completely out of nowhere: “I hear when you say thank you more, you are happier.”

It was humbling to hear the 4th-grade version of the importance gratitude come rolling off her tongue. Especially when not two days earlier, I had been venting to a friend how I know that eventually I will need to pull myself together and get out of this yucky ungrateful headspace and work on my level of contentment. But for right now, just for these couple of days, I wanted a guilt-free pass to just be tired with a side of angry. On a head level, I actually think this wish of mine is okay, essential even, a part of working through the layers of grief that this pandemic season has left in it’s wake. But it certainly is uncomfortable, especially when you have a constant narrator running in your head telling you that you are "supposed to be grateful" like I do. 

Some days though, it’s probably okay to just be tired. And overwhelmed. And weary.

I have to be honest. I really don’t want to do summer. Summer is typically a harder season for me to begin with – the lack of structure, the lack of alone time, the hours on end of parenting 3 humans with unique needs which means a one-size-fits-all technique never works. I kind of lost it on Graham last night when the topic of summer came up. I felt unfounded fury (which I’ve felt at various points throughout the pandemic) that he gets to LEAVE to go to work. This is entirely unfair as he is working his butt off at a very stressful job in order to pay the bills but in more clouded moments of overwhelm and desperation for a break that is approximately 1-2 months in length, these are the thoughts that surface. I am in a space this week where I would potentially give my left arm to be able to walk off the premises and release the care of my children (who, please hear me, despite the tone of these ventings, I do truly ADORE) to someone else whom I trusted. Do I really want to work full time? Heck no. Do I know what I would want to leave the premises to do? Heck no. Is that part of the problem? 100%.

So back to the title of this post. The cork came off the champagne bottle, and it's contents came out at full speed. In my emotional spewage, I expressed to Graham how I am so tired of shouldering all that I am. And how the monotony of my days makes me want to poke my eyes out. And how I feel like I have made zero progress toward anything in my time at home. He was stumped by this idea of progress. Progress toward what, he asked.

D-A-N-G-E-R! Abort mission! Whoops, wrong question to ask (poor guy – there really is zero winning in these sorts of situations).

I would pay money if I knew where I wanted to make progress! Progress toward greater contentment? Progress toward feeling fulfilled in my day to day? Perhaps finding a role somehow somewhere where I am compensated for my work? Sheesh. Pandemic or not, I certainly didn’t predict these inner wrestlings with "what I'm doing with my life" when I birthed my offspring! And I know I am not alone. I haven’t met a fellow mom yet who doesn’t struggle with satisfaction with their level of contribution. Should they be working more? Or working less? Kids grow us in ways we never foresaw coming.

So technically the cork actually came off the bottle in my therapy session at the beginning of the week. Last night's additional flow came after someone shook the bottle for another round. 😜 I almost canceled my appointment on Tuesday because I felt I had “nothing to talk about” (ha!) and was unenthused about spending an hour on a zoom call in awkward silence with my therapist. Surprise, surprise, I actually did have just a *couple* things on my heart that morning. As I launched into a tirade about my feeling so tired and done and trapped in the monotony of my life with a huge side of COVID stress, staring down summer with no sign of a break in sight, my therapist reminded me that I felt this way before, back when Jack was beginning kindergarten. I was wrestling with feeling unfilled and bored and wanting something new and different. I realized how much frustration I’m carrying that I am STILL in this same place. And then I remembered:

<INSERT GLOBAL PANDEMIC THAT PUT A HAULT ON EVERYTHING>

Oh yeah. That. 

Intellectually, I know that the pandemic has turned everything on it's head. But it’s super easy to lose sight of that fact in the moment and forget to extend grace for all that has gone on over the past 1 ½ years.

So many of us put our lives on hold. Our passions. The things we were hoping to pursue. Our free time. Without teaching certificates to our names, we have donned the role of “teacher,” spending hours upon hours, teaching, coaxing, motivating, reminding, dealing with technology we never wanted our children to have, trying to provide physical activity for them and us, supporting them emotionally and socially while also trying to keep them safe. We have spent 16 months protecting and fighting for these little humans, all the while trying to put on the we-can-do-this face so that no one loses their momentum (meanwhile, our own adult relationships have been put under massive strain but press on we must). Most of us have done all this without babysitters, without grandparents for a good portion of the time, without our communities of support, without daily in-person school to help shoulder the load.

It’s NO WONDER WE ARE SO FLIPPING TIRED. And that we kind of want to run away to a job, or a solo vacation or even to the woods all alone. When my therapist reflected back to me all that has been sacrificed this year, all the protecting of my people I have been doing, I totally lost it. I wanted to hug her through the screen and yell “THANK YOU!!! Thank you so much for saying that!” Suddenly it made complete sense that I was tired. Some of the guilt over feeling so many yucky emotions (like wanting to run away from my kids) lifted. Any sane human would feel this way after all that we’ve endured this year, all the closeness, no margins, no personal space.

Where do we go from here? This morning on my run, all of the songs that played on my Pandora station were about being tired and thirsty and coming to Jesus for eternal water. I found this super annoying that Jesus was being so in-my-face about needing to come to Him for sustenance. I knew that was ultimately where I would land, but I wasn’t there yet and I still wanted a hot minute to be mad and have a mini pity party and just be tired. I hate that I need to just wallow in the yuck for a bit but I’m working on being ok with it. As unattractive as it may be, I wonder if it’s not a part of the normal process to work our way through emotion and grief to get to the other side. It goes without saying that I had a major store up of rage-y tired emotions that were begging for release. I hope soon I can move to a place where I can get back on the saddle and hone in on "saying thank you more," to quote my 4th grader. But one day at a time.

I don’t know what exactly I’m hoping for in sharing all this. I know us mamas are really “in it” right now and I’m wondering if a fellow mother might see themselves in some of these words and relate. And then realize their feelings are okay and nothing to be ashamed of. Solidarity is always nice. I was so grateful to have someone reflect back for me all that this season has entailed for me personally. We've been asked to give constantly in roles this year that we didn't particularly ask for. There is good reason that we all feel so done.

If you've been stuffing some feels, take off the cork (warn your loved ones to take cover if need be) and let the emotions begin to flow (or explode if you are like me). The release is healthy, though admittedly at times very uncomfortable. Perhaps the release might be just catalyst needed to get you that break you’ve been so longing for (we can always hope!!!) 😜

Friday, March 5, 2021

Here we are!


Here we are, though I’m not sure I can pinpoint exactly where “here” is. This Facebook memory reminded me that we have made it an ENTIRE YEAR of rolling with the punches, adjusting, pivoting, screaming into our pillows (and sometimes at each other), living in isolation, carrying extra stress, shrinking our circles, clearing our calendars of, well, basically everything. This global pandemic has turned our lives completely upside down. 

I heard a saying this week that summarized my sentiments so well. It went something like, “Isn’t it weird how every day feels the same and yet, when you look back a year, you realize that everything has changed?”

IS THAT NOT THE TRUEST THING YOU'VE EVER READ?!

I have always been one who likes to make sense of things. I like to bring order to chaos. And I have an innate drive to find good in the hard, mostly because I selfishly want to know that my pain or sacrifice was FOR SOMETHING. For better and many times for worse, productivity feels good to me. With this past year in particular, there is much to make sense of. I often have wondered how the history books will present these times we're living through. Though one could certainly argue that every moment is a part of history, this year feels like REAL history, history none of us in our wildest dreams anticipated would happen in such modern times. We are progressive! We have technology! We are medically advanced! And yet, here we are, pummeled by a tiny microscopic organism that has shut down the world. It is humbling, to put it mildly.

How has this year impacted us? Oooof. That is a really hard question to answer. In so many ways, we have been striped down to bare bones. We have been forced to show our hands. And oy vey, at times it has been ugly! Racism, sexism, rioting, violence, judgment. I don’t think I have much more to say on this that hasn’t already been said. The deep inner pain we have often kept hidden has been pressed to the surface. And hurting people are hurting people. 

The aftermath of this global pandemic, once it passes (and I think it’s important to remember that it hasn’t) will go with us for a good long while. This isn’t going to be something we all live through and then forget about after the majority of adults become vaccinated. Injured relationships will need to be rebuilt. Anxiety and PTSD and germophobia will be at all time highs. Healthcare workers will fall apart as they deal with the immeasurable grief they have been carrying, but haven’t been able to look at head on because they are simply trying to get through another shift. Kids will need to catch up on what they have missed academically. Adults and children alike will have to brush up on their social skills as they remember what it is like to have in-person conversations. We will have to re-train our bodies not to jump backwards when someone comes within 6 feet of us. We will no longer be able to cover our chin acne with a mask (ha, or is that just me?) 

At the same time, though the repercussions of COVID-19 are many, I need to put my stake in the ground and identify the ways good and beauty continue to show up around me. Hopefully one day, we will look back and see all the growth that took place amidst the hardship that this global pandemic has put in our paths. So today I’m going to list my top 5 "gratitudes" that have come as a result of this pandemic. I hope you will join me and sharing yours!

1) Lower lows also mean HIGHER HIGHS.

On Emma’s half birthday last week, she requested that we pop into our local pet store to see if they had any hamsters we could look at. Ordinarily, this would not be something I would view as “fun,” but I decided to be a team player and make her dreams come true. Never would I have anticipated the sheer joy that 5 minutes in an actual store as a family could bring us. We found the most hyper hamster that has ever graced this earth and we stood around his cage and belly-laughed as we watched the creature whiz around and around and around his tiny little aquarium, nonstop. Would this have been as entertaining had we not spent a year mostly at home with severely limited social interaction? I'm guessing no. I’m so grateful for the PERSPECTIVE I now carry that helps me appreciate the little things that I so often took for granted.  

2) I am learning (very slowly!) to set boundaries. 

Even typing that makes me extremely uncomfortable. This one will forever be a work in progress as I am a people-pleaser down to my bones. It has been really difficult to make the best decisions for me and my crew when they are different from those around me. It’s like one giant, long year of exposure therapy, learning to make my own choices, especially when they don’t please everyone. Oof. I still hate that. 

3) My BFF husband.

This stressful year most certainly had the potential to make or break us. I’m so happy it’s been the former. He has patiently listened to me ENDLESSLY PROCESS, all my inner wrestling that were previously a little more equally shared amongst my female friendships. Now he hears it ALL. ;) The pandemic has also pushed us to dust off our at-home creative dating skills and it has been fantastic to have most every weeknight free to spend together. He truly is my best friend (please cue a cheesy, "Awwwwww").

4) Have I mentioned my office is now a grow room?

I don’t think I need to say a whole lot more about this one other than to say never have I had this much time at home to sit and watch my plants grow! Graham designed me a custom built-in for my starts and then his dad helped with the construction. I now have what feels like endless room (at least for this second) to grow hundreds of different starts. I’m getting to try so many new and fun things and it’s lovely to have found a hobby that brings me so much joy.  

5) So much togetherness.

Good and also so, so hard, right? Though sometimes I need everyone to PLEASE QUIT TALKING AND ALSO TURN OFF THEIR AUDIOBOOKS SO I CAN SAVOR SOME COMPLETE SILENCE, I wouldn’t trade this year. Whoa. Do I really mean that!? I actually think I do. I have gotten to know my offspring so intimately this year and it’s been cool to deepen our relationship in ways that never would have been possible if they were off at school for 6 ½ hours a day (and if I weren't the one teaching 2 of them). Am I ready for them to head back to school? Let me think about it for a second…..YES!!!! But, I will treasure this year (in a love/hate sort of way).

Okay, now it's your turn! What are your top 5 "gratitudes" that have come in the midst of this pandemic year? I would love to hear the nuggets you have discovered as you have been stretched and shaped and grown. Though I’m sure none of us would care to repeat this year, I hope that one day, we can look back and be grateful for the ways it forever changed us. 

Thursday, February 11, 2021

A rose by any other name...still can't smell it


I was on a run this morning when I was struck by a thought that could have easily sent me spiraling down a path of anger and self-pity. Instead, I found myself nearly giggling in the if-you-don’t-laugh-you’ll-cry sort of way. Was it not three months ago that I was leaning into the gift of fragrance? I have a long-standing history of shutting out my body - ignoring it’s cues, not providing it rest when necessary, and feeling guilty about pleasure in all forms. I have been doing the hard work of redeeming my body as a gift, a tangible way that I can communicate with God, and He with me. His provision for me comes in the form of visual beauty - snow-capped mountains, flowers beginning to peak out in spring. It comes in the form of the senses - taste, touch, smell. I have been doing the work to stay IN my body, not run or hide from it, but to slow down and recognize the ways it helps me experience God and all He offers me. 

A practical way I discovered I could do this was through the lighting of scented candles. I stumbled upon it as a means to keep me present during a much-needed night away alone at a hotel back in November. A candle that smelled like winter baking was an impulse-buy addition to the snacks I already had in my shopping basket. I brought that candle back to my hotel room, lit it, and burned it for 8 hours straight. It’s fragrance smelled divine and the mere act of burning a delicious candle for that many hours felt so indulgent and lavish. Every time I would look up from my book and see that candle burning, I would remember to breathe and smell and enjoy. And then when I left my room for a walk, I was met by a fresh wave of the fragrance when I returned.

I came home from the night at the hotel, high on candle fumes, and full of renewed vigor to burn scented candles around our home on the regular. I brought one up to the room where we do school and set it on the windowsill. It became a little ritual to light it as we began the school day. I loved the reminder to stop and smell and be present. Then enjoy the fragrance and raise a quick prayer of gratitude for my body that helps me experience these good gifts. 

Now back to the thought I had on my run this morning...I was thinking about how November was a month where I very intentionally leaned into the use of fragrance as a way to keep me present in my body, and as a means of connecting me in a new way to God. 

And then came December.

Only a handful of weeks later, I lost my ability to smell. This is the part I was thinking about today that made me laugh, in a way only one can through the gentle buffering and protection of the Holy Spirit. On most days, I think I would be furious at the injustice. (If you read my post on getting COVID, I’m quite confident my bent toward fairness showed up loud and clear). It’s so tempting to think, "Woe is me," and start to lament the audacity of God to take away my sense of smell just when I was beginning to learn to use it to draw closer to Him.

Why do hard things like this happen? I am the first to attest to the words of Romans 5 that tell us that suffering leads to perseverance which then produces character and character, hope. But why is it that sometimes God stands by as we endure hardship? What’s that about? How does a good God allow such things? I don’t know the answer to this as it’s a theological debate for the ages. But what I can say is that what happened to me on my run this morning was a divine moment of protection where I experienced the shielding of the Holy Spirit so tenderly, as He kept me from blaming God for this piece of my story.

In a rare moment of clarity, I saw things as I believe they truly are. This loss of smell is not the work of God. Rather, it’s the work of the devil, who was threatened by my growing closeness with God. He seized an opportunity to plant a seed of doubt, making a move to chisel at my faith, take away my joy, as he felt his hold on me wavering.

Some days are harder and I’m sure there will be many days ahead where I will lament and complain about the injustice of my minimized sense of taste and smell. It’s certainly nothing to be overlooked. (Believe me when I say it has contributed to a dark season of significant depression). BUT I want to document this moment, not as a big bow attempting to cover up the messiness underneath as I convince myself that it’s “okay,” but rather, as an opportunity to declare, in this moment, I have been able to see the goodness of my God in the midst of this trial. 

I don’t know how long I will be without the joy of fragrance. But as one sense is diminished, I’m quickly finding others are magnified. I’m learning to experience my food and surroundings differently as I explore texture and temperature in ways I never have before. I’m leaning into the elation I feel when moving my body. I will find new ways to stay present in this body, the tangible means through which I learn to experience God.