Friday, November 16, 2018

Undone-ness



I read the following words this morning:

“I’ve been a list maker since I was a kid; that’s when it started, I realize now. I never appreciated what I accomplished each day, I only felt frustrated by what was left undone. Undone of course being the perfect work for my mental state related to my list-making habit. I am constantly undone by being undone…Our lives – as a couple, as a family – have always been governed by my dissatisfaction implosions. The lists were simply an attempt to supply answers to my endless questions: Was this my life? What was my next move? Why is this house so small? Is this all there is?”

They were published in a random book I grabbed off the shelf at the library, entitled “Amateur Hour: Motherhood in Essays and Swear Words,” by Kimberly Harrington. At first it was the book’s aqua cover and picture of a cute pink contraption spewing hearts skyward that drew me. (My husband informs me the cute pink thing is a grenade; I thought it was a perfume bottle. Nevertheless.) But let’s be honest, it was the catchy title that made me toss the book in my bag. I’m feeling angsty in my mothering life of late and it seemed right to read the words of someone who, at least in title, wasn’t about to mince words.

I don’t know this author from Adam and so, the last thing I was expecting was for her words to crack me open this morning. Suddenly, it felt like someone had been spying on my life and taking notes and now I was reading back to me what they saw. I didn’t like her critical attitude. It hit too close to home. And her descriptive use of “dissatisfaction implosions” left an especially personal sting.

I am a Type One on the Enneagram and my hunch is that the author of this book is too. (PSA: Have you heard of the Enneagram? This is a brash oversimplification but it’s an ancient personality typing model of sorts - if you haven’t yet explored it, be prepared to fall into a wonderful black hole of information). Type Ones are also known as “Reformers” and, according to The Enneagram Institute (https://www.enneagraminstitute.com), they are “conscientious and ethical, with a strong sense of right and wrong. They are teachers, crusaders, and advocates for change: always striving to improve things, but afraid of making a mistake. Well-organized, orderly, and fastidious, they try to maintain high standards, but can slip into being critical and perfectionistic. They typically have problems with resentment and impatience.”

That’s a lot of words for saying I have constant eyes for how things could be improved – which can be both a rich blessing and extreme curse.

The site goes on to say that when Ones are at their healthiest, they are said to be capable of becoming “extraordinarily wise and discerning, inspiring, and hopeful. Their sense of responsibility, personal integrity, and of having a higher purpose often make them teachers and witnesses to the truth.” I would summarize that to say they are truth-tellers.

Beautiful!

When they are unhealthy, Ones are dissatisfied with reality, they become idealists, “feeling that it is up to them to improve everything. They become orderly and well-organized, but impersonal, puritanical, emotionally constricted, rigidly keeping their feelings and impulses in check. Highly critical both of self and others: picky, judgmental, perfectionistic. Impatient, never satisfied with anything unless it is done according to their prescriptions.”

Ouch! Hit home much? Dissatisfaction implosions.

There have been times recently when I have felt like I hit some of the healthier points of my personality potential. Like last week for instance. I was working on a talk I will be giving to my Bible study group in December about expectant waiting. My plan was to talk about our areas of deep longings and places of hurt, those places where we are waiting for Christ to move and provide healing and reconciliation and redemption. I was piecing together bits of my own journey through hard times and painful seasons and I felt inspired and excited and, wait for it, even hopeful, with what God gave me to share. I was going to teach! I was going to be a truth-teller!

My word for this year has been “hope.” There have been so many moments where I have felt “Hey. I think I might be getting somewhere. Maybe I’m healing!” After a long season of waiting, I was more than ready to box up some of my broken bits and catalog them on a shelf with a “no longer an issue” stamp across the front.

Yet inevitably, it seems, these hopeful moments are quickly followed by long stretches of discouragement and frustration. One week I am gripping the cheeks of my husband saying, “DO NOT GIVE UP HOPE FOR CHANGE,” and the next week I’m sob-praying as I run through the neighborhood, “I don’t think change is possible. I feel no difference. I’m getting nowhere. I give up!” Like the author of my book, I feel undone but the undone-ness.

On the tails of preparing my talk on waiting with hope, all I feel is slashed with discouragement, overwhelmed by my feelings of deep sadness. I’m back to screaming “WHERE ARE YOU GOD IN ALL THIS? Why am I still hurting? Why don’t I feel more hopeful?”

If I’m taking all my pills and exercising for endorphins, why am I still depressed?

If I’m working on viewing myself as fearfully and wonderfully made, why do I still loathe my body so?

If we’re doing all this hard work in our marriage, why do I still feel lonely?

If I’m working so hard on my thought life, why do I so often find myself at the bottom of a shame spiral?

Are my expectations too high? Is this just life? Is what I’m feeling yet another “dissatisfaction implosion”?

While I (obviously) don’t have the answer to all these hard and tender questions, I was made aware of one, blaring, gaping, painful hole in my faith life. Recently, when posed with the question, “When have you been especially aware of the love Christ has for you?” I came up empty. I literally could not identify a time where I felt completely, entirely, wholly accepted and loved by God. Though I would preach God’s incredible love to everyone around me until the cows come home, I haven’t been able to fully accept it for myself. I know my ugly. I see my mess. I track my failures. And I’m ashamed. And so, I have been disqualifying myself. I’ve erected a buffer around myself in self-protection. Because I fail to meet my own bar (perfection), I opt myself out of fully receiving the relentless, never-ending, totally-covering love God has for me.

Those are some tough words to type and even tougher words to swallow. But here is what I know: until I can truly accept Christ’s deep love for me, His grace for my ugly, complete healing cannot happen. And so, even in my undone-ness and pain, I am choosing to meditate on His unfailing love.

I will end with these beautiful words from Zephaniah 3:17:

“The Lord your God is with you,
the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing.”

Friday, October 12, 2018

Get your butt in the game



One of the reasons I’ve wrestled with writing (beyond an immense pile of insecurities) is the ongoing nature of the beast. Is a piece ever really finished, even after you hit “publish”? Us writers. We can obsess and hash and re-hash and edit in pursuit of perfection like nobody's business.

I like things that have an obvious start and end point. I like check boxes and structure, a solid plan that I can follow. One and done and then I can move on to the next. I want to write something and then share it. Which is probably why blogging and article-writing has been my jam. I like that I can work on something for a week and then - BAM - have something to show for it. Instant gratification. But for all the wrong reasons. I'm not the world's most patient person in that sense.

God has been working in me of late. I feel him asking me to do something totally outside of my comfort zone and, can I be honest for just a second? IT SUCKS. I hate vague, uncomfortable assignments that are lacking in specifics. The long-term nature of this next step terrifies me. Who am I to take it on? I just want to write and share, write and share. Like I've always done. I want all the positive affirmation to keep me going. Gross, right? But true. I love feedback. Don't we all?

But the thing I'm learning about Jesus? He's rarely cool with us sitting in cruise control, doing the same ol', same old. He is after movement and growth and healing. He's about ripping us out of our comfort zones. But it's the tenderest sort of rip that he uses. It's painful and scary. And yet, so, so good.

I share all this today (albeit vague - I'm still shaking in my boots too much to say more) because I know myself. I tend to back down in fear. What if I fail? I don't start things if there is a chance I might fail. Better safe than sorry. So, I camp out, unmoving at the starting line. I'm outing myself for accountability. I have received a call and I can no longer ignore it. 

Last month, I received this truth: "He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work WE HAD BETTER BE DOING." ~Ephesians 2:10

I am fully equipped RIGHT NOW. He is with me. And I had better get my butt in the game.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

When Feeding is Frustrating

I'm over at Kindred Mom today sharing an essay I wrote called When Feeding is Frustrating. If ever you've felt that your child's picky eating is perhaps your fault, this read is for you!

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He’s there with us at the table, so we’ll count that as a win I guess. His three-year-old form takes an occasional sip of milk before he stands on his chair and turns in a circle and I must remind him once again to stay seated. He’s politely declined (we insist on always using good manners) all of the items I’ve prepared for dinner tonight. Just like yesterday. And the day before that. And the day before that. 

It’s hard for me, the dietitian and nutrition “expert” by degree and the frustrated mom by day, to watch this scene unfold. Inwardly I cringe. All he is having at dinnertime these days is milk. My mind begins to scroll through the options. Perhaps I should stop serving milk at our dinner meal? What time has he been eating his afternoon snack? Could it be that he isn’t hungry at the dinner hour? Perhaps I’m serving dinner too late, and I’ve missed his prime eating window. Maybe forcing him to take a bite just once won’t be an issue?

It’s like my husband was reading my mind. He observes our son’s eating (or more accurately, his lack of eating) and lays down the law. 

“Have you even tried your meat?” he queries. “And what about your green beans? You need to take a bite before you can be excused.” 

I flinch. I know as soon as I hear the words said aloud they don’t sit well with me. While it is hard to watch my son turn down the rainbow of color on the table, it is harder still to swallow the idea of forcing him to eat. This is not the way I want to go about nourishing my kids.

I begin to wonder if he is so particular about food because of me. I was much more intentional with feeding my older two in those early years. I made most of their food from scratch. I was sure to expose them to all sorts of flavors and textures from the get-go. My son, however, had a very different eating experience. When it came time to introduce him to solids, we were living in a constant state of chaos and transition. We had sold our little condo, and we planned to “spend only the summer” residing with my in-laws, while we searched for a new place to call home. A hot Seattle house market and incessant bidding wars sent our dream of getting a house spiraling down the drain. Half a year passed while I tried to balance working part-time, playing mom to three offspring, meal planning, grocery shopping and cooking for my extended family (our “payment” for living with them) all while scavenging Redfin obsessively for potential new homes to tour. 

I barely had a second to think about solids for my growing babe. Introducing new foods involved me tossing a string cheese or banana back to the rear-facing car seat behind me and praying my son didn’t choke as I drove to meet our agent at the next house. It wasn’t an ideal situation. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Sheesh



Behind all the pretty pictures is a whole heck of a lot of hot mess, right?

We are launching into fall at lightning speed and I feel a bit like that kid who is racing out the front door on one foot, folder clenched in jaw, attempting to stuff his sock-clad other foot into his Sketcher only to see the school bus whiz past his house and fade off into the distance without him aboard. Anyone else out there?

Anyone?

The bus has passed the station and many days I’m unsure whether we made it aboard or not. Somehow my summer-induced amnesia caused me to delusionally forget that with school comes scheduling and homework and exhaustion and emotions upon emotions and we are IN IT deep right now, it seems.

We have one kid who is struggling to stay focused and who is rapidly growing discouraged. She forgets everything (like imagine your definition of “everything” and then triple it and you might be halfway to my definition of “everything”) and I’m pulling my hair out on most days trying to coax (okay fine, drag) her through life’s systems and routines like putting dirty clothes in the hamper, shoes on the shelf, and doing one’s homework. For the third year in a row. It feels like murder every freaking day for both of us and I’m pretty sure one of us won’t be alive next week if we can’t come up with a solution and PRONTO. On the positive, she is playing soccer this season and we are two weeks in and she hasn’t even asked to quit yet. This is the longest she has stuck with something that requires moving her body for any length of time, so I will take it and run with it, even if she does volunteer to “take a break” anytime her coach needs to sub out during a game. This girl is precious and she’s amazing and she’s struggling. I’m not blind to the prevalence of hereditary health disorders in our family so on my desk you will find a fresh packet of papers from her pediatrician, awaiting our call to pursue further evaluation to see how we can help this sweet kid. Sigh. We are IN IT.

Then we have another kid who is launching into her 5th year of serious struggling. Yikes. Has it really been 5 years? FIVE years? NO WONDER I feel the way I do! She has ping-ponged around through various therapies, all marginally helpful, but just this past year, we finally landed on one that I’m praying will change our world. We are working with some amazing doctors at Seattle Children’s and, though we’ve bounced around through a couple different clinics over the past year, I undoubtedly see the hand of God in the timing of all that has come together for us.

This past spring, after a couple of months of sleeping hell, we got into a phenomenal parent/child anxiety course that I mentioned in a post here. We learned a lot of fantastic, and, not to mention surprising, cognitive behavioral therapy tactics for addressing anxiety, and soon we had a kid who could successfully put herself to sleep again without hours of crying and parental intervention. (I thought I paid my not-sleeping-through-the-night dues during her infancy. Sheesh was I ever wrong!) We naïvely believed we had achieved shalom in the home again, so much so that we actually declined an entirely UNHEARD OF opening for one-on-one therapy with one of the doctors at Children’s. It seemed crazy to take that appointment from someone who really needed it. We were experiencing our own form of “remission” and so we said “Thanks but no thanks. But can you please call us in eight weeks to make sure we haven’t changed our minds?” That last interjection illustrates that, despite temporary brain-lapse moments which I continue to refer to as “baby brain” five years post, we do have a sliver of intelligence left after all.

PRAISE THE LORD IN HEAVEN ALMIGHTY that Children’s willingly accommodated our lofty request to “call us later to check in.” Sure enough, summer started off with more or less smooth sailing. Then July came roaring in and I started to witness more frequent concerning behaviors in our child that left me twinging. They hit really close to home. Too close. So close that I began experiencing huge waves of déjà vu. After one such encounter, I called Graham at work and told him what had gone down. “Crap,” was his only response. I think both of us knew then and there the trajectory we were on but only time would tell.

We were a hot steaming mess by the time August rolled around but thankfully Children’s had called mid-July and I’d had the foresight to say a valiant “YES” to their services and we’d put an upcoming appointment on the calendar. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect.

I went in to that appointment, like most first visits, not quite knowing what to expect. I can tell you for absolute sure that I did not expect to walk away with what we did: a shiny new diagnosis of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) for my daughter. It’s hard for me to find the words. Though it was 100% the diagnosis I was expecting someday, sometime, at even the next appointment perhaps, it was not what I was anticipating right then, so soon, in our brief 50 minutes together. It was almost as if I had been blind-sided and yet entirely affirmed all at the same time. The diagnosis is undeniable and I would know better than anyone. It’s frightening how many of her symptoms align identically with the way they presented in me when I was diagnosed in 8th grade. It’s been rather triggering for me to wade through the awful, terrible, wholly consuming murk that is OCD again, but this time as a bystander and coach who also happens to understand the disorder intimately. My poor, sweet girl. 

But the good news? We are in such an amazing program! I literally get goosebumps when I think about how far things have come since I went through my own treatment. I am shocked weekly at the “exposures” I am asked to walk my daughter through. We are teaching her to “talk back to the OCD” and do the opposite of what OCD is telling her to do. It’s so counterintuitive and confusing and amazing all at once.

So yeah. Us Croziers are really “in it” right now, this strange, seemingly-never-ending pursuit of health, wholeness and well-being for all of us. I am still working through my own stuff. Graham is working through his. I’m just waiting for kid three to show his cards and we’ll get him enrolled in whatever form of therapy he needs. Perhaps by then they will have some sort of “buy two, get one free” sort of deal we can monopolize on. Ha! Seriously though, is this just life? Sometimes I wonder if we are crazy for our level of dysfunction. Or if I’m just crazy for thinking our level of crazy is crazier than others? Whatever the case, life is hard and good and rich and challenging and we are doing our darndest to come before the Lord each day for strength and sustenance. Because heaven knows we need it! Onward!

Friday, August 3, 2018

What are you doing with your life?



Lately I’ve been feeling the pressure. Pressure to know. Pressure to decide. Just pressure in general.

I’ve taken a bit of a break from writing, perhaps because it’s summer and, with the kids around constantly, the only thing I can muster energy for during my alone times, which, by the way, I hire a sitter for in case you’re getting some crazy idea that I have magical children who give me personal space of their own accord, is reading. Reading only takes marginal effort. There are minimal thoughts involved, beyond the subconscious imagination types that produce the mental movie reel that runs alongside the novel’s plot.

I am practicing diligent avoidance with writing too. I’ve been wondering, for perhaps the billionth time, what is this writing thing for anyway? For so long I’ve felt these undeniable urges to pen words to a page, a fuzzy vision toward something bigger someday in the future, but the details have yet to be made known to me. In the meantime, I question, what is the point?

Two years ago, I attended a writing conference and it was there that I received the clarity and courage I needed to return home and quit my paid job. It was there where I was urged to identify “my reader” and then “write only for her.” I was told that all my words, social media posts etc. should be formulated with my reader in mind. While this bit of advice has, I think, resulted in some stronger final drafts of my essays, I’ve discovered that it is much, much harder to put forth words with any regularity. Short works take me weeks which turn into months, and it isn’t because my content is necessarily more complex. I think it’s actually because I’ve been editing myself out. I overthink each piece because I’m thinking of “her,” my reader. I want to make sure my words don’t come across wrong to this person, or that person, or offend this mom or that one. I have opinions, but I remove them because I know not everyone will agree and I don’t want to cause a ruckus on the internet. By the time I hit “publish,” I wonder if my words have been edited so severely that they have lost some of their meaning. Certainly, they have lost much of their depth and raw emotion.

I wonder if maybe this is the reason I have been struggling with writing. Suddenly I am writing FOR someone else. Someone else who does not compensate, who is often silent. And the words and their intent lose their luster. I am no longer putting words on the page for the joy of seeing words strung together. I am no longer stepping back in surprise as the words pour out and I think, “Huh, I never realized I thought that until now” (writing is black magic this way).

Writing that was once a mind-clearing, therapeutic outlet feels forced and inauthentic. Since I am writing “for my reader,” I feel the pressure to have a strong conclusion, a purpose to all my pieces, a take-home message to tie it all up in a nice bow. But there are many days when my life is just messy. There are no bows there for tying. My anxiety takes over and I can’t shut it down. I rage at the children. I practice avoidance with my husband. I leave the laundry for days upon days upon days on end. What I'm realizing is that I don't enjoy writing when I'm writing for "her." And so I'm going to switch gears and go back to writing again "for me." I don't know where that will lead me.

I was talking to some girlfriends, most of us moms in slightly different stages of early to mid-motherhood. We were discussing that largely celebrated (and for some slightly dreaded) day when our youngest child enters elementary school. When the earth goes around the sun for that final lap and the heavens hand you kid-free daytimes as your impending new reality, well-meaning humans begin to ask, “What are you going to do with all your free time?!” And then the inevitable follow-up question that, quite honestly, I wish to ban from existence is an eager, “Are you going to go back to work?!” It’s almost as if all of us overly exhausted moms haven’t been doing work of any kind for the last decade (insert major eyeroll here).

I hate this question because it operates under the assumption that I, as a mother, a) should have my upcoming life figured out and b) should obviously be prepared to do something with my time. I mean. We all will do something eventually but what makes me shudder is the assumption that we are all just antsy to head out and earn a paycheck again. Talk about pressure!

As my girlfriends and I went around and shared our thoughts about the future, we each had a unique idea on how we might spend our time once the kids were all of schooling age. There was some talk of hobbies, others talked about how their financial contribution to really benefit the family. But one theme was consistent: we all felt SO MUCH pressure to know what we were doing. And none of us had an answer.   

Let me paint you a picture. Imagine you just finished running a marathon. You are hot and sweaty and sore and dehydrated and tired, and you definitely stopped thinking clearly about 23 miles back. The only coherent idea you possess is as follows:

I need a chocolate milk. I need a chocolate milk NOW.”

This thought circulates through your brain on repeat and you can consider nothing else until you amend the situation and find said beverage. (Trust me, I know. I ran a marathon once.)  

Despite the fact that perhaps you aren’t at your very best in this moment, someone hands you a Cliff Bar and tells you, if you are worth anything to anyone, you’ll reverse the route you just completed and run another 26.2 back to the starting line without so much as a rest or potty break or a hip hip hooray or minute to hydrate or tend to your blisters or missing toenails. No, there isn’t time for such luxuries. Once must always earn their keep, mustn’t they?

Ummmmm, say what now?!

Allow me to interject here, but has anyone stopped to consider the message this sends to a mother? She’s been through just a couple of major things in the past decade. First off, if she began as a career woman, motherhood likely propelled her toward job change – whether it was stepping out of the paid working world or trading a fulltime role for part-time. Even if she maintained her same position in the company, she experienced a considerable mental shift to create space for her new title of “Mom.” More than likely, she lost an identity or two, gained a new one, got run over a couple thousand times by unrelenting toddlers, had her body shrink and expand like a balloon (under all her layers it looks like a deflated balloon now too, BTW), and stayed awake far more hours than she slept. But heaven forbid she not have an answer to your eager query:

“And what are you going to do with your life now?”

GULP.

My “moment,” the day when my youngest enters kindergarten, is rapidly approaching (396 days to be precise), and I’ve been freaking out about it for, oh, the past nine years or so. This is perhaps why I’ve been considering and reconsidering and questioning what this whole writing thing I’m doing (and not doing) is about anyway. Is it a hobby? Is it a career option? Is it my own personal therapy? What am I going to do with my life?

One of my sweet friends said it so well when she summarized her future plans (and I’m paraphrasing), “Maybe I will just use the time to actually be a good wife and a good mom rather than barely surviving at everything I do.”

I LOVE that! It’s sounds so freeing to have space and margin, doesn’t it?

And so to her and myself and everyone else who has a plan for our "moment" (or whose plan is to have no plan!), I say, “Get it, Girl!” Let’s erase all this pressure and expectation and take things one day at a time, ok?