https://www.smartsheet.com/develop-plan-action-free-templates

God’s Perfect Plan For Me & Other Fears

I HAVE A GAZILLION FEARS.

I fear water. That if I jump into a lake or a stream or the shallow end of a pool, something will grab me from below and yank me down to the bottom to drown.

A little over a week ago I was sick, had a fever, got dehydrated and fainted–on concrete. I was out cold at 4:30 in the morning, face down, on the back patio, waiting for the dog to pee. Fortunately, I rent from a friend, and her son heard me and called 911. I had the second ambulance ride of my life, and Tredan, 18 year old son of my friend, sat with me in the ER for hours upon hours. I fear passing out face down on the concrete–alone.

“Alone” is one of my biggest fears. I fear that I squandered my chance to be in a loving non-alone relationship by holding fast to my irrational belief that I Could and I Should spend decades in the #MarriageFromHeck to be a good Christian woman, because certainly if I only prayed hard enough, made the right dinners, bought the right gifts, was agreeable enough blah blah blah I could become enough to make him happy. As the founding member of The Slow Learner’s Club, turns out that was not ever my job. Also turns out that Wimpy, Defensive and Argumentative are not good looks on me.

Fears. Just one more thing that makes me feel like a Bad Christian. I mean, how many times have I heard "Perfect love casts out all fear" and other verses like that? And heard that God should be Enough? Click To Tweet

I fear that though I am absolutely in love with my children and grandchildren, all the result of that marriage, I may never experience a relationship with a special someone who finds it absolutely adorable that every single time I see the light coming through the leaves of a tree I will say, “The light through the leaves! I love that!” instead of muttering the irritated “I KNOW!” I should expect.

I fear that I will take my crepey skin and no-longer-thin waist to my deathbed, alone. That my gray hair and Bingo Wings will sleep alone forever with the possible exception of a dog or 24 cats. That my delightful sense of humor and absolute inability to give away memorabilia including every movie ticket stub will go unappreciated by that one special person.

I’ve barely scratched the surface of my fears, having not yet mentioned really big spiders, and plump slimy slugs (I mean, God, WHY?) and just so many more things….

Fears. Just one more thing that makes me feel like a Bad Christian. I mean, how many times have I heard “Perfect love casts out all fear” and other verses like that? And heard that God should be Enough? And that His plan for me is perfect? What if God’s plan is that me and my dimpled thighs live alone in a place inhabited by slugs and really big spiders… surrounded by water?

GREAT. I’ve uncovered another fear: a fear of God’s perfect plan for me.

I’ve always been a fan of the redemptive, turn-it-around ending to a story–you know, an I’ve-reached-this-wonderful-understanding style finish. My problem? This story is still unfolding. Unfinished. I have no idea how it’s going to turn out.

What I do know: I may always struggle with anxiety and depression. I may never get over my fear of water. That I was insane when I thought my hips were too big at 20, and I’m never ever going to get the point of slugs. I also know that after I lost babies in pregnancy, God gave me opportunities to love and nurture through foster care and adoption, and that while I’m still sad about those babies I didn’t get to see grow up, I can’t imagine my life without the children I have now.

I don’t know how to end this, so I’m just going to stop

I fear that I will take my crepey skin and no-longer-thin waist to my deathbed, alone. Click To Tweet

The Bring Your Own Beverage Conversation: What fears do you have for your future? If you don’t, please tell me how you manage that. I mean, seriously, how??


Why I’m a Bad Christian

Photo by Tirza van Dijk on Unsplash

I have been asked on many occasions why I don’t write devotionals–I’m a Christian and a writer, right? Usually this is when I’m with a group of Christians who are writers, so I say something like, “It takes me more than 250 words to introduce myself, so I couldn’t possibly write devotionals that short!” There is a smattering of (polite) laughter, and the conversation is over.

What I don’t say but I’m thinking is, “Actually, I’m kind of a lousy Christian.” I feel like people who takes verses from the Bible and tie lovely slices of life to them to bring them alive should be of the more holy variety of Christian. I identify more as the unwholly-holy type. Let me tell you why:

  • I don’t attend church on a regular basis. Honestly, in the last decade I haven’t attended even on an IRregular basis.
  • I have a passion for the well-placed used of the F word–a word I would have killed my children for saying. I would like to blame my long and difficult marriage for bringing on my potty mouth, but …
  • I have no set “quiet time” and no set space for one. I live in one room, people–the whole place is A Place. As for the daily discipline of aforementioned quiet time, let’s just say that discipline has never been my superpower. Plus I forget. I get in bad moods. Sometimes I don’t want to and you can’t make me.
  • As a writer I have actually gotten feedback that my piece wasn’t Jesus-y enough.
  • I want to love and affirm people who believe differently or have completely different lifestyles to me.
  • I can’t remember the street address of verses I like to save my life, and clearly I can’t remember what it’s called when you say the Bible book name and the numbers of the chapter and verse.
  • I forget to set down my troubles and “rest in the loving arms of Jesus.”
  • I whine.
  • I get mad at God.
  • Sometimes I’m in a bad mood for years.
  • I get mad and lose my shit.
  • I say “shit.”
— I whine.– I get mad and lose my shit.– I say "shit." Click To Tweet

BUT:

  • Sometimes I remember to rest in the loving arms of Jesus.
  • I’ve learned to love and respect people who differ from me in their beliefs and lifestyles, that each of us has innate worth as a created being sharing this planet.
  • I’ve realized that I will keep learning who I am and continue becoming who I want to be till my last day on this earth.
  • I’ve learned that being a Good Girl isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
  • I’ve been patient at least twice.
  • I hear God when I shut up.
  • Sometimes I shut up.

It turns out that lots of the boxes I thought I had to tick to be a Good Christian aren’t even strictly taken from the Bible, they’re made up of what we finite humans have used to make sense of an Infinite God.

I’m not saying that any person with a regular prayer time or who can quote sections of the Bible or attends church regularly isn’t sincere–I love lots of people who love Jesus and who do those things. I’m just saying that I’m a struggler. I’m perfectly imperfect. Unwholly-holy, with lots of not so holy bits left over. My head and my heart war. The Lies In My Bones fight with the Truth I know. My life’s journey is made up of a million bad choices–some mine, but some the decisions of others, and I’m left dealing with the consequences.

I'm a struggler. I'm perfectly imperfect. Unwholly holy with lots of not so holy bits left over. Click To Tweet

We are all strugglers on this planet. We all do better at achieving our goals on some days than others. We each have our own internal fights. All the things I don’t do coupled with all the things I DO make up my particular road trip on this Earth, my unique identity. I love the Creator of this globe we’re sharing, and I love His Son. Maybe I don’t think I’m a Good Christian, but I am a pretty good Jesus Follower, and that’s good enough for me.

In fact, that’s perfect.

The Bring Your Own Beverage Conversation:Where have you taken on someone else’s idea of your identity and stopped looking at who you really are? How can you embrace the perfectly imperfect you?

*Be kind to you. The God who created the earth made you.

Divorce Sucks (& other news)

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Having been full of angsty posts of late, I’ve decided to borrow from my new blogging friend Esther’s post from yesterday and write my own version of the Dolly Mama’s Is IT Worth It? about parenting, then and now.

I had the unique gift of becoming an Insta-Mom when I married my now ex-husband. He had a 6-year-old, and I Knew Nothing about being a momShe and I played and read together and walked to K-Mart and bought those little kits with the short pieces of yarn and the hook to make wall hangings and rugs. Every night I read Winnie the Pooh stories to her, doing all the voices, long before Disney took over and did the voices wrong. (Don’t get me started.) I tried to soothe her sad heart when she asked why her mama didn’t want her.

I had her sister, the one child who was stubborn enough to hang onto the inside of my uterus and be born of my womb. Stubborn always and funny and insightful, she had her dad figured out by age 3. He was prone to big, loud lecturing when someone displeased him. He would tell the girls that they “needed to go have a talk!” One dinner time he was being grumpy and argumentative, and a certain 3-year-old spoke up to say, “Dad, go talk to yourself!” (Here you may picture me wanting to laugh so badly that I ended up with broccoli up my nose. And you may be exactly right.) Then at 5 this little reader of mine saw a devotional in a Christian Bookstore and said “Look! We should get this for dad–‘The Men’s Emotional Bible!'”

I refuse to tell the stories of her great insights about me.

We started being foster care parents for the county, and our first baby was a bouncy, noisy, full of life little guy who later joined our family permanently. Did I say “bouncy”? I meant CONSTANTLY MOVING. Constantly finding new ways to be creative with the toothpaste when he was to be brushing his teeth. Constantly experimenting with the spatter pattern of blue ink pens on his wall….you get the picture. My neighbor’s first vision of me was seeing me holding this little love of a boy by one arm to take him away from whatever he was seeking to destroy. Only one chance to make a first impression, right? *Sigh*

Then we added our 4th, a teenager we met in the church high school youth group where we volunteered. She came potty-trained and able to dress herself, also fully capable of dressing herself in the same exact droopy navy blue running shorts–day after day after day.

The marriage in which my ex and I gathered our family died, my having stayed long past its expiration date. Things, for lack of a better way to say it, got weird. I was a traumatized mess, having lacked the ability to take care of myself emotionally in the marriage. I became a mother of very little brain. I was barely available to myself let alone my adult children. But adult children still need a mom, and mine had instead this twitchy, fragile being prone to crying.

Some of those children grew a bit distant. Some, being made of snarkier stuff, were able to just shake their heads at my craziness and know it would change in time.

It was a rough few years.

I'm not a fan of divorce, I never will be. Sometimes, because this is a broken world and we are broken people, divorce happens. Click To Tweet

NOW–my oldest, at one point my stepdaughter, still remembers all those nights reading Winnie the Pooh. We joke that we have grown up together. Some school secretaries have commented that they can see the resemblance between us (I wish! She’s beautiful and thin.)

The stubborn child of my womb, she makes me guffaw with her understated snarky comments on life. She still calls ’em like she sees ’em. She and her husband have taught me the wonders of craft beers.

That active, bouncy boy? He’s an active bouncy 30 year old who still gives this mama lovely hugs when we get together, usually for a movie and lunch. He puts up with my need to take selfies in front of the poster advertising whichever movie we’re seeing, and even mugs along with me.

The daughter of the navy running shorts has branched out, a good plan since she lives in England where it can get ridiculously cold, and wears a variety of clothes now. We visit each other and laugh ourselves silly.

Those sad, hard years after I left their dad have passed. They were awful years, crying years. Struggling years. We all were trying to figure out the shapes of our lives after the huge rending apart of what I had hoped would be a forever marriage and childhood home. I’m not a fan of divorce, I never will be. Sometimes, because this is a broken world and we are broken people, divorce happens. We figure out how to deal with it, with the identity shift. I was once a wife, now I’m not. Everyone once gathered in one home, now we don’t.

That shifting part sucks. It sucks badly, the in-between, the limbo state.

But in time, with persistence and love, the pieces start finding their new places, the bonds are re-formed in different ways. There’s laughter again, sharing again. Give yourself the grace to walk through the storm–you will come out the other side.

And now there’s bonus material, because I can share the horror stories of online dating. But that’s for another post….

Give yourself the grace to walk through the storm–you will come out the other side. Click To Tweet

The Bring Your Own Beverage Conversation: Are you in a limbo state of some kind, with your kids or your relationships? If so, how can you be kind to yourself in the changing weather of it all?

I’d love to hear what you’ve done for yourself in this sort of situation!

Self-Care for Survivors (& other mysteries)

Photo by averie woodard on Unsplash

THE LONGER I LIVE, the more I realize how little I know. I see laid out behind me a veritable country of bad decisions, aaaaall with little headstones and wooden crosses.

They have inscriptions like “This is the time you allowed yourself to believe these words about yourself” or “Here lies the remains of your self-respect” or maybe “This is the time you trusted your feelings instead of your brain.” So many, many crosses.

The problem seems to be that I think I have something figured out for 5 minutes and then I move ahead. But OH here’s a bump in the highway with my next big screw-up where I didn’t remember that I am supposed to be in charge of my own safety, my own growth, my own self-care.

It’s tricky, taking care of myself after so many years of capitulating to the beliefs of others. I believed for years the words of my mother, the actions of my mother toward me, that I was A Disappointment, that there had Once Been Hope that I would be Worthy but clearly I Had Failed. I tried and tried and tried to disprove that by my own actions, my own words, to her and everyone else around me. SEE! I am THIS person! The person who loves her children! The person who still tries to have a relationship with a mother who is dismissive and mean to her! SEE! THIS IS ME!

I don't know how to feel pain and not want to stop-drop-and-roll into my own little hermitage away from the world. Click To Tweet

For years I tried to prove in my marriage that I Was Good Enough. That I was loving, kind, nurturing, could put up with being yelled at and belittled by a man with clenched fists and still have a sense of humor. BUT, still I believed, a little more and a little more over time, that he must be right. The one with the loudest voice wins, the one who can roar the longest and the fiercest must be right. Therefore I am wrong.

Surviving this Psychological Warfare shit means I am now supposed to, at age sixty-freaking-five, be in charge of my own safety, my own well-being, my own sense of self. I am to Take Care of Me.

Again, for 5 minutes I think I have it figured out–Engage in Life. Walk in the sunlight, write poems and prose and pointless rhyme. Talk to friends, build friendships. Continue building the relationships with my children. Do the creative projects that feed my soul.

5 freaking minutes.

Then I add another cross to the Country of Bad Decisions. I lose being present in the moment. I forget that I’m still fragile, still healing. Still very stupid and un-self-aware. I beat myself up for making mistakes, for being human. I’m back into my head, and sometimes the inside of my head is a war zone.

Will I ever get “it” right? Will I learn to be more than human? More than full of mistakes?

No. I can’t. As long as I’m on this earth I WILL BE FULL OF MISTAKES.

I’ve spent my whole life trying to avoid screwing up. Messing up was a reason to be crucified by people who were supposed to love me and want the best for me, so I learned to fear my mistakes like the devil. And what better way to avoid making mistakes? Do Nothing. Do not engage, do not join, do not risk, do not breathe. All that does is make one light-headed and lonely.

I don’t want to be frozen like I was for so long, but I don’t quite understand how to move forward and risk and still be in charge of my own safety. I don’t know how to remember to keep breathing. I don’t know how to feel pain and not want to stop-drop-and-roll into my own little hermitage away from the world.

Such a painful way to live!

SO–I think my self-care for today looks like this:

I will get down on my knees and look my little girl self in the eyes. I will hold her shoulders gently and say:

“I am here for you. I will always be here for you. I will have your back, no matter what happens.

“It’s okay to make mistakes, that’s how we learn. It’s part of being a human. I love you!  I will always always love you with my whole heart, I will always be here when you need someone to hold you, even if it’s early in the morning and you know how much I hate morning.

“You can’t do a single thing to make me love you less.”

Then I will hug her for as long as she needs to be held.

 

The End.

For today.

I see laid out behind me a veritable country of bad decisions, aaaaall with little headstones and wooden crosses. Click To Tweet

The Informative Meltdown aka My Life As A Trauma Mama

Last night I slept hugging a pillow and my stuffed dog.

It was a rough week last week. I agree with the thoughts that “last week is over!” and “this is a new week!” and all that cheerful shit people try to encourage with. I agree with it, but I know it is far less than the whole story.

The whole story? It includes the week of my fifth birthday. It includes the day I gave birth with not nearly enough pain medication.

It includes me sitting on the edge of the bed after being belittled and badgered for an hour and a half and told I was not all the things I thought I was, like supportive, loving, giving….and wishing for death, time and time again. It includes the days I started realizing I didn’t need to live that way.

All those weeks and days and seconds are included in the whole.

Last week sucked big time, and the pain of it was informed by all the weeks that came before, even the moments when I stood frozen in fear with my hands over my face to hide my tears in 5th grade. I don’t even remember why anymore, but I can still feel it in my chest when I think of it. I feel the tightness, my breath coming shallow, my clenched jaw, my inability to cope.

INABILITY.

This is a place of Triggery Badness in me. It’s an oozing wound. And for people who would use other people for their own gain, it’s a raw piece of flesh to poke a stick in and stir.

I woke up crying today. Don’t remember that happening before, but it makes sense–that old unhealed, bleeding part of me was poked and stirred last week.

What my Triggery Badness told me last week was this: People who would gladly hurt others for reasons I can’t understand, people who need to control others and exploit the pain you’ve been trying to shed through all those weeks of all those years that came before, they are out there and they will find you. They will sniff you out–sharks smelling blood. THEY WILL COME.

All the Triggery Badness of last week, where it caused me to swear (more than usual) where it caused me to cry (more than I expected) where it made me wonder if I have really grown at all, healed at all…

SAVED ME.

It saved me. Someone else found me. Someone who I thought had been becoming a friend. Someone who had words of encouragement and praise. There were other things about them that I was uncomfortable with, red flags, green flags, purple flags–all the flags, really. And I did my usual thing–I said to myself, “don’t be judgmental! Maybe they are just that different from you so you’re uncomfortable. That doesn’t make them invalid.”

Then they struck. First a light strike–just a shark nose bumping my leg, just a comment to say that In my Best Interest, should I say that? Do that? Thinking Of You! So I considered their words. I did what was suggested because it made sense. They’re just protecting me, right?

Bigger bump. Their response that put me in a lesser position to them, that said I Am More Than You. I Have Superior Experience. I Will Guide You. Harder shark nose bump, awakening the trigger, starting its vibration.

Next strike, bigger strike, taking a chunk of my leg. Me bleeding out as they chided, You Are Doing This Wrong. I Know More. Listen To Me! You Are Great But Incapable, I Will Lead You!

Triggery Badness released in full horns and bells and whistles. ALARM! DANGER! DANGER!

And I realized what my Triggery Badness was trying to tell me, why it was screaming for my attention: This person needs to be Better-Than, which means they need me to be Less-Than. This person needs to be the one Who Knows, which means they need me to be the one who knows less, the one who needs guidance. This person knows your weakness, your fear that you are Incapable, Unable, Unfit. They smell the blood of that exact wound, that precise tender place–and are willing to exploit it. You Are Prey. (Watch this video–I saw it after I wrote this post and it explains my whole life!)

This person knows your weakness, your fear that you are Incapable, Unable, Unfit. They smell the blood of that exact wound, Click To Tweet

After trauma, one’s nervous system is wound too tightly. Its strings are taut. Its alarms are set to go off at the whisper of one’s breath. It takes time to retrain and rewire our brains after trauma. This is not something that happens overnight. This takes work and practice and more work. It will include the week of my next birthday in 2019. The week of Christmas in ten years.

It’s ongoing.

Don’t judge me for the path my healing takes. I’m working my ass off to heal those triggers, to rewire my brain and let the wounds close and form healthy skin once again.

Don’t judge me for crying. For clutching a stuffed dog and a pillow at age 65. For cancelling plans. For being anti-social. For whining sometimes. For being too silly, too loud, too quiet. Too sarcastic.

Don’t tell me “it’s a new week!” which translates to “Just get over it!” in my healing brain. I’m trying to sort out the good from the bad. I’m trying to be in charge of my own safety, my own mental health. I’m trying to not go back to a place where I believed I Am Incapable. I’ve been there, done that, I’ve peed on the T-shirt and burned it.

Have patience with me, with others who struggle. You can’t possibly know all the weeks I’ve experienced. You don’t know the weeks that will come. You don’t know what informs my actions. I will do my best to do the same for you.

For whatever reason we have trauma, trust us that it’s real, that we wouldn’t have it if we could help it. That we are likely working on it right this second to not run screaming from social interaction that can set off all that cascade of signals that we Are Not Safe.

We heal in community. Be a part of that healing community.

Be kind to you, be kind to me, be kind to others.

And be safe.

Same life, different day?

Photo by Anandan Anandan on Unsplash

 

IT GOES WITHOUT SAYING, some days are harder than others. Even some of the days on the road to recovering from being a Trauma Mama are harder, but the overall trajectory is better.

As a small child I didn’t know how to cope with the chaos of my home. I worked out my own coping strategies on an instinctual level for safety. That mostly involved hiding from what terrified me. Since that was pretty much everything and everyone, you can imagine the job of remaining hidden and invisible and only popping my head out when I had a smile on my face took up most of my time and energy.

I’m beginning to see how one part of my coping was to deal with one day only. Get through that one day by keeping myself safe. I didn’t look into the future with a sense of hope. As far as I was concerned, the future looked like “same life, different day.” Keep under the radar at home, in school, at church. Be unseen and unheard if you disagreed with others. Only be seen in small moments of lightness.

This is a tricky way to live.

I carried it on into my marriage. Try, try, try harder to make no waves. Try, try, try harder to soothe difficulties rather than solve them. Try, try, try harder to only be seen in small moments of lightness–moments that became much less frequent in time.

I’m five years out now from my marriage. Five years of ever so slowly thawing from the freeze of being my Trauma Mama self, of holding my body so tightly, fighting my emotions so fiercely that my body said “Enough! I now give you the magical gift of Fibromyalgia!” If that doesn’t teach you to slow your roll, nothing will.

Part of the thaw means I’m feeling a broader range of emotion, I’m seeing a broader range of possibilities. I’m even starting to see, waaaay out there in the distance, what is that thing? Wait–I’ve heard of those……the glimmer of A Future!

That processing led to today’s poem for the Poetic Asides Wednesday Prompt of SET:

 

Same.

 

I thought of my life

as a set recipe–

minor changes,

a variation

with

an added herb,

a trace of spice

but still

essentially

the same.

 

I thought of my life

as a slow leak,

a faucet dripping

Same sink,

same dribble,

same

leak,

new day.

 

I thought of my life

as a set of books,

new character

here,

lose one

there,

subtle nuance,

but still

essentially

the same.

 

I thought of my life

without a dream.

Imagine my surprise–

I’m not a book

or a recipe.

I’m not a faucet

to be fixed.

I am me

expanding.

 

I am not set.

 

jle2018

I'm even starting to see, waaaay out there in the distance, what is that thing? Wait–I've heard of those……the glimmer of A Future! Click To Tweet

Full Disclosure: I Hate My Cankles.

DECADES BEFORE a Kardashian talked about cankles, I was cursing my mother’s side of the family for them. Some people missed the handing out of a sense of humor, but me, I missed the receipt of that trim bony bit that is supposed to occur between feet and calves.

Recently I heard the term Body-Positive. Having been staunchly Body Negative my entire life, the term intrigued me. I even told my friend’s daughter that she should have a Body-Positive Instagram account because she carries extra weight her doctor thinks she should lose, but this girl seriously rocks her curves. I have no idea what a Body-Positive Instagram account would even look like–pictures of women outside the “norm” (otherwise known as “the body I have always wished I had but not enough to give up ice cream for”) and maybe some cheery little encouraging memes with flowers missing a few petals or a butterfly with a wonky wing….?

I poked around the internet a bit to see what’s being said about the term. I found pretty much what I expected to–websites urging us to see the beauty of who we are and what we look like, challenging women to stop measuring against what social media decides is Right and Perfect. Most women I know have at some point chosen to either suffer to live to those standards or to embrace their own style, their own shape, their own uniqueness.

Because I’m a Jesus follower I like to see what’s being said in that culture as well. This time I was disappointed to see the Body-Positive idea being made out to be idolatry, as if being Yay, I’m Cool With My Body translates to I Love My Body More Than God. May I  politely say, “Rubbish”?

While I may have been the last child in Sunday School left sitting with my nose and mouth scrunched trying to find the verse during one of those, what were they called? “Sword Drills”? I do remember that my bible says I’m to love my neighbor as myself. It also says I’m not to judge others. Even with my faulty grasp of math those seem to add up to not judging myself.

Like this:

Love others like I love myself + Don’t judge others = Don’t Judge Myself.

Sadly this means I will need to find a new hobby, since I excel at self-judgment. (If you need references I can readily supply the numbers of several friends and my therapist.)

What I’m learning as I go is that I Have Imperfections. Not only physical but character-wise. (Please feel free to !!GASP!! in disbelief. Thank you.) The problem isn’t the imperfections themselves as much as it is my unwillingness to accept them, apologize when they’ve hurt someone I care about, and learn to do things differently as a result. I can get stuck for days in the self-blame mire of “I can’t believe I’m such a horrible person!” and waste precious time and energy beating myself up. Better I should say, “Yup, you’re human. How about that,” get up, brush the dirt from my hands, wipe my skinned knees, and look around for anyone I might need to say sorry to that I knocked down in my flailing. Accept. Apologize. Learn. Sounds simple, takes practice.

All that said, if I do decide to make an idol of myself, I WILL have my cankles edited out in the statue version. I appreciate immeasurably the strength of my bones, I accept the shape thereof,  but I’m never gonna love my cankles.

 

The Bring Your Own Beverage Conversation: What do you need to learn to accept and appreciate about your own imperfections, in the physical or character trait realms?

 

 

New Definitions

When I was a young wife and mom I thought I’d be a proper grown-up when I had extra blankets in the closet like my grandma did. A quilt or two, maybe one of those fuzzy thermal ones, something to casually pull out when my guest needed warming.

My grandma was my model for everything good–she was sweet, and kind, and hugged me, and holidays at her house were the best when I was a kid. The noise, the food, the people scattered across couches and in the kitchen, and setting up platters and bowls of deliciousness on the dining room table. That hubbub was what I saw as the Perfect Holiday.

As my own children grew and had spouses and families of their own, those holidays together at my house or their houses were my drug of choice. All the craziness of making lists, buying ingredients, planning the meal, all that was worth it to get to the point where we were making jokes about my kitchen being only a two-butt kitchen as four bodies tried to fit and reach and stir in the small space. Any frustration was worth the decorated table and laughter and chattering voices asking for gravy.

Watching my kids and then grandkids grow, trying different recipes and always ending up with too many pies, that was my wife/mama/grandma jam.

When I ran away from home and became a divorced person, I hoped the family meals could go on in some way, some semblance of those times before. But the fractures in the family were too big, to the point we all would have needed lobotomies to be in the same room.

Life, eh?

So I find myself in this curious re-defining stage. What does Thanksgiving look like? How about Christmas? Who can be together? Who can’t? Who am I when my house is no longer a hub? When I no longer have a house? Add in moves a state or a country away and it gets more complicated, not less.

My whole life I’ve lost myself in books, stories of other people’s lives. And movies–I love a movie with a happy ending, the broken, dysfunctional family that reunites and manages to find the central love that binds them together after all. There’s always a decent amount of snarky humor and minimum of one curmudgeon. Eventually there’s a food fight or a dance scene, and credits roll on one-big-happy-family.

I wanted that to be my life. I tried to make that my life. Tried to find a way to make the hard stuff, the big disagreements, the unreconcilable pain, into simply a difficult side story with a soundtrack that lets you know things will eventually be okay. Turns out there are some things that can’t be made adorable, no matter who plays them or how they’re written. Sometimes there’s no redemptive meal around the family table.

I’ve felt a bit lost in these years between the then and now. I’ve done a bit of licking my wounds, made a skittish appearance or two at the homes of my children. I’m looking for a rhythm, as I suppose they all are too. What’s the new normal? It keeps shifting.

I could have joined friends for tomorrow’s Thanksgiving as I have these past few years, but instead I asked my son if he’d like to get together to watch movies and eat Chinese food. Why not? I did make a pecan pie since that’s his favorite. He’s bringing his dog, and I’m looking forward to time with her. Plus this son of mine, he always makes me laugh. And he still always hugs me, even at 30.

I’ll arrange times to see everyone around Christmas, as individual families instead of the whole group. I’ll fly to stay with my daughter and son-in-law in Portland, Oregon, where I’ll half hope for and half against a possible snowy Christmas morning. I’ll talk to the rest of the kids and grandkids throughout the day in California and England.

It’s different but it’s the same. The jam looks different, but it’s still about the people. If the only thing I accomplish is giving those I love a picture of being loved and important, then the definition of family won’t be so different, even when it’s a different shape. Hopefully the definition of me will be something like my grandma was for me, the picture of comfort and love.

 

Enjoy your day, whatever you find yourself doing!

Failing

 

I failed spectacularly in the earlier portion of my life.

In marriage. In Adult-ing. In having two boundaries to rub together.

My kids love me (and forgive me) for which I am grateful, so I don’t feel I failed entirely in Mom-ing. They’ve seen me grow and change and get stronger. They’ve seen me become more honest and less fearful.

FAILING has taught me much: after tripping and launching headfirst into a tightly closed door in the dark of night with nobody else around, I can still take care of myself–or at least call 911 so somebody else can come check to make sure I’m not dead. It has taught me that the Clarity following failure often comes at the cost of comfort. That stability should mean more than owning a three bedroom home in the ‘burbs with someone who challenges my emotional health. That when it’s time to go, it’s time to go, no matter what the well-meaning misinformed may say.

Failure has taught me much: that the Clarity following failure often comes at the cost of comfort Click To Tweet

I’m in this strange new place with new and different challenges, but these challenges are more of the regular variety of life–where will I live, how involved will I be with what and who…it’s the unfolding of a previously unknown world, one not determined by who I am as a mom or a wife or any other role. It’s determined simply by Who I Am.

I LOVED being a step/foster/adoptive/birth mom, more than I ever thought I would. Heck, with what I saw of my own family growing up, I had no plans of even getting married. Somewhere along the line it occurred to me that I could do things differently than my parents. That was my intention when I did fall in love and want to get married, to do things differently (and hopefully better) than the home where I grew up. I did manage to put my own spin on it–instead of my mother’s often cold disregard and her demand for obedience at the price of our individual identities, I instituted a total lack of boundaries, and added way more crying. Not a vast improvement.

FAILING HAS TAUGHT ME ABOUT GETTING BACK UP…whether from the floor where I’ve fainted after bashing my head or from a whole lot of years of marriage with no fairy tale ending. My response to danger has always been more of a crawl-under-your-desk-and-cover-your-head  one. As a child, I’d hide by reading in the closet or by running off to the swings at the park.  As an adult, by losing myself in a movie, an art project, a book, or a nap. But now, in this after 60 part of my life and with the help of my Favorite Mental Health Provider (my therapist) I’m learning how to stand back up, stretch out the pain, and pinpoint what I tripped over so I don’t repeat the same Learning Moment. Now when I cry it isn’t because I keep stubbing the same toe on the same chair leg, I cry because being fully aware is often hard, letting go of old habits can be painful.

Big Realizations that are the impetus for change aren’t always the most pleasant, but they can be necessary to keep us moving forward.

I turned 65 on Sunday–sixty freakin’ five! These numbers always surprise me, because surely my 30 year old son was a toddler only yesterday, and I myself but a young thing. I used to think I would know more about life by this time, but all those years of hiding under my desk from the Truth of things kept me from learning. Now I’m catching up, and I’m okay with that.

I stayed down for years, broken by the trauma of my childhood, and by allowing others to keep the trauma alive. How? By not standing up for myself, by thinking that crouching under a desk with my arms over my head was enough protection from a nuclear event. That move wasn’t  going to protect us from the fallout of bombs, and it certainly did little for me in my adult years against other kinds of fallout. So as I examine the ineffective maneuvers of my past, I’m learning to mourn those mistakes and failings, give them a decent burial, and keep walking forward. The Walking Forward represents two things to me: Self-compassion, by learning kindness and forgiveness for my mistakes and shortcomings, and the Growth that comes each time I manage to get back up from falling.

When I hid, I couldn’t learn. I couldn’t be kind to myself. I was far too busy fixating on how to stay hidden.

How I’m practicing the change to stand back up: Realizing the ways my early trauma affected my parenting, I’ve felt horrified with myself. Being well-trained in the art of Self-Judgment (I have framed certificates for it) the realization can easily turn into panic, anxiety and depression. So I pause for two minutes or twenty minutes, however long it takes, to close my eyes and breathe slow and deep until I’m calmer. I visualize letting the feelings of sadness/regret/etc. wash over me without sticking. At some point I bring up my new insight with my kids and apologize for what I now know impacted them negatively as children…

…and then I keep walking forward.

Big Realizations that are the impetus for change aren't always the most pleasant, but they can be necessary to keep us moving forward. Click To Tweet

The Bring Your Own Beverage Conversation: Have there been places in your life where it seemed safer to hide from what was true than to face it? What plan can you make to practice self-compassion and growth around these?

WE ARE MORE THAN WORTH THE KINDNESS WE GIVE TO OTHERS. You’d help a friend get back up, wouldn’t you?

Dancing with disappointment.

Some days are just plain more disappointing than others, right? I’m sure you can relate. My hair is curly, and some days I wake up and it’s doing some crazy dance up off the back of my head, and no amount of water will tame it. And I need to be somewhere in an hour.

Some disappointments are annoying, like nutso hair, or a zit on your nose. Some go much deeper and take longer to figure out, stuff I’ve wondered like, why didn’t the person who was supposed to love me more than anybody seem to like me?

My mother did some interesting things over time. She was this girl:

There was a little girl

There was a little girl,
            Who had a little curl,
Right in the middle of her forehead.
            When she was good,
            She was very good indeed,
But when she was bad she was horrid.

When life was good and moving to her beat, she was happy and sunny and fun. When life was bad and not behaving as she wanted it to, she was not fit to be near. I felt loved, I felt hated. I met her approval, I was a failure. She seemed to like me and approve of me in the second part of her life when she was in love with my uncle-stepfather (story for another time) but once he got hurt at work and couldn’t support them as easily, well, we were all gonna suffer.

Because she hadn’t done enough while alive, she made sure to be The Gift That Keeps On Giving (sort of like an STD) and have her lawyer send me boxes after her death, returning things I’d given her, giving me things she wanted me to have, all with commentary on sticky notes, signed and dated. And the commentary? Not things like “Your grandmother gave me this and I know you always liked it so I wanted you to have it, love Mom.” No, more like, “I thought there might be hope for you once upon a time, but now I’m not so sure.” (Initialed and dated, sometimes years earlier.) It takes a special amount of planning to ensure that your child will not only grieve your death but feel guilty and worthless while doing so. If nothing else, Marge was a planner.

Those Lies In my Bones were dug deep–deep and early. They’ve stayed long but are becoming more shallow as they heal. It’s taken eons of therapy and an acceptance of my own worth as a created being on this planet to get where I am, but I still struggle and fall.  It has taken good friends to believe in me and a lot of tears to get as far as I am today. And a fair amount of falling, and a bunch of getting back up.

I’ve apologized for a million things to my children, to the point they tell me to stop, but I want to be a parent who can take responsibility for my lacks, for the ways I’ve let my kids down. I’m not gonna beat myself up about my decisions-gone-wrong, but I’m at least going to mention them when I realize them. How much healing would it have been for my soul if my mother had even said “Hey, I know we didn’t always agree, but I loved you every single day!” But narcissistic, damaged people don’t seem to have that capacity, and those of us who grew up that way are left to figure out our worth the best we can.

So on days when you’re dancing with disappointment and having trouble finding your way forward, remember:

You have worth simply for being on this earth. 

You can make a small difference on the planet any day of the week by smiling at a stranger or recycling your candy wrapper. Even if you can’t get out of bed, you have worth. It matters to somebody somewhere that you are here. At the least, it matters to the Creator who made you.

Fight the negative words of others, surround yourself with those who feed healing into your soul. Get a mental health professional to talk to. Fight for your own healing. You’re worth it. I’m worth it.

The Bring Your Own Beverage Conversation: What is one small thing you can do today to honor your own worth and take care of yourself? What is one small thing you can do to honor someone else’s worth? It may be as simple as holding a door for someone whose hands are full or taking five minutes to breathe deeply.