togetherness

My kids have been on break for the last week and a half. Traditionally it is Spring Break when all hell breaks loose and the boys seem to get on every last nerve of one another. This year Christmas seems to be the winner.

It is probably indicative of the year we started in September. My oldest started middle school and my youngest started preschool while the middle son continued on at our elementary school. Some transition, to put it mildly.

It took me a while to figure it all out. Not to figure the transition out and how to navigate through it, but to figure out that we were in fact in transition. Embarking on a new season in the life of our family. I would have expected my oldest to have been hit the hardest by all of this. Transitions are not his strong suit. But he has handled it better than I thought he would. It is me who seems to be struggling.

A week into our new drop-off and pick-up schedule I realized I was sad. I missed my old, simpler life with only one school. I was always there waiting outside the classroom when the boys got out. I helped with the morning mileage club on the field. After school we would always head to the playground to play and I would chat with my friends.

Now my whole morning has been bumped up by half an hour so I can still get everyone where they need to go on time.  By eight o’clock I have gone to the gym, prepared lunches, gotten everyone out the door (even if the youngest is still in his pajamas), and traveled across the freeway and back in order to drop kids off at two different schools. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I head back out at nine to drop off at one more school. Which all feels terribly productive but leaves no tangible evidence of said productivity.

In September I didn’t just have one back to school night, I had three. Plus a couple of other bonus events at the middle school. That fitting in between karate and homework and making dinners. It may not sound like a lot, but it sure felt like it. Eventually we settled in and I thought we were used to the new normal. Then this break hit.

Christmas Day was wonderful, as it always is when new Lego sets are plentiful. But before and after we have all had a difficult time getting along. Such a simple thing – getting along – and yet so mysteriously difficult at times when we are all so together. The children’s constant bickering results in my lost patience, which just makes it all worse. There are exponentially more dishes when three people are eating lunch at home instead of at school or work. We are all just together, which I want to love but right now seems to be sucking the life out of me.

And today it dawned on me that this is where we are right now. We are in the middle of a transitional year and this is part of family life. For better or worse, we are together. And we are working all of that transition out with each other. And it doesn’t look pretty.

I am hoping this helps. This confession to the world that my family is not very pretty at the current moment. I am hoping this helps me to let go and mourn that my children are growing up and we will not always be so together. And I hope that if I can move through my feelings about that a little more that I can gain some patience and grace for myself and for the other four members of my family. Reality is this – not every stage in the life of a family is a Norman Rockwell painting. But we are in it. Together.

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ah-hah

There are moments when my whole perspective can change in an instant. I believe these moments are referred to as “ah-hah” moments. Mutual of Omaha has capitalized on them with their commercials showing “ah-hah” moments to be magical and positive and followed by fulfilling our life’s purpose. My “ah-hah” moments are not always like that.

Take last week for example.

My oldest son and I were having a diplomatic struggle over his homework that lasted all afternoon. Everything I did I convinced myself I did for his own good. But later that night when he had the courage to tell me how the afternoon felt from his perspective, I realized I was really looking out for my own good. Ah-hah.

I was having trouble letting go of control. My son needs – and is appropriately ready for – making more of his own time-management choices in regard to homework. He doesn’t need my nagging.

What he needs is a little more freedom, and what I need to remember is that when he gets himself in a pinch and freaks out, he is not really telling me I am a bad parent (as I might interpret him to mean). He’s just learning, and learning is sometimes uncomfortable.

I recognized all of this as good. All steps in the right direction. But the problem was, my ah-hah involved a recognition that I had screwed up. That may not be a big deal to most people, but I am a recovering perfectionist. And parenting is the area I demand the highest and utmost perfection from myself.

My early years of motherhood were a sea filled with waves of guilt and feelings of failure. They have since diminished but not disappeared. Similar to my understanding of alcoholism, I will never claim I am recovered from my perfectionism but always in the process of recovery. Ah-hah moments like these – realizing my error in attempting to control when what my son needed was for me to let go – stir up those waters again.

Now, I have been in this recovery process for a few years and have learned a few things along the way. So I reminded myself that I am human and have my own process and the perfect parent does not exist. I told myself it’s okay, my son will live and God still loves me. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite do the trick.

This did not feel like the Mutual of Omaha commercials at all.

But then, a few days later, I had another moment. Less of an “ah-hah” and more of a quiet and very deep breathe. It was another day I got up ridiculously early and went to the gym. I did most of my workout at the basketball courts, which is often a treat because there are very few people who use the courts at 0-dark-thirty so my workout gets to double as alone time.

Afterwards, I was stretching. Call it endorphins if you like, but in that moment as my body was still and I listened to the lyrics of the soul-ful song echoing in the background, God’s love mysteriously washed over me. In a moment. Differently than when I told myself this truth, this time it somehow helped me accept myself in all of my imperfection.

And I realized that this is the celebration of Christmas. God coming to a tattered world in a bizarre and unexpected way…and loving in the midst of imperfection. I’m grateful that Christmas moments – when God and his love come near – aren’t sequestered away in the past but unfold continually, even on empty basketball courts. And they change my whole perspective…even more than the commercials.

denial….it only works so long

I’m cranky tonight. I would like to blame it on my children or my husband or any of the things I find completely irritating right now, but I know that the reality is I’m cranky because I am avoiding being sad.

I went to a goodbye party today. I don’t go to goodbye parties. It took me a while to figure that out. Living in San Diego with such a high military presence, there is a lot of coming and going. My first few years I didn’t notice it so much, but in recent years I have become more acutely aware of this phenomenon.

My kids started school about the same time we found a home at our church, and both of those communities mean the world to me. I am sure I encountered some pretty phenomenal people before then, but somehow the friends I have met in the last seven years have wormed their way especially deep in my heart.

It could be that the last seven years have been a sort of awakening for me. My friend Linsey would call these years extremely “formative”. I agree. My views of myself and God and the world around me have changed. New and different pieces of me have somehow come alive.

And so I think perhaps in addition to having some extraordinary people come into my life, I have also let them into me in a way that is different than before. As I have grown deeper within myself, my capacity to love others has grown deeper too.

And once I let people in, I don’t like for them to move away. Relationships change with distance. They change anyway, but distance makes me aware of the change. So I have watched myself over the years when I get emails inviting me to goodbye parties. I open the email and think I should go to this. People know you care when you go to their goodbye party, and I care very much for these people. I should go. But somehow I don’t RSVP right away and then the email slips down to where I can’t see it anymore and I “forget” about it.

Except that I don’t forget. I might forget the date, but every time I see that person I remember they have that goodbye party coming up, and I should go or at least RSVP one way or the other. Then the day comes and goes and I hear other friends refer to the party and I think Oh crap! I forgot to go to that. And I didn’t even RSVP.

Eventually I figured out that even with my very good intentions, I don’t make it to goodbye parties, so I should really just start RSVPing no when I get the invites so that at least I’m not being rude to the host. But if I RSVP, my unconscious has to admit to my conscious that the goodbye party is actually happening and that is the whole reason I don’t go to goodbye parties in the first place. Denial.

I have been in San Diego long enough to know that people who go sometimes come back, and if I don’t acknowledge that they are leaving, I can just pretend they are on a very long vacation. Then I never have to face being sad that they left in the first place. So I seem to go on avoiding both parties and RSVPs in order to stay in my dream land that the people I have let into my heart, perhaps more than they know, are not really gone.

But this one I could not avoid. This is a friend I hold especially dear in my heart. No matter how much my subconscious may try to deny, my conscious will notice she is gone. Even though we don’t see each other as much as we used to because our kids are older and as much as we thought we would have more time in this stage, somehow it seems like less. But even with fewer points of connection, the depth of the friendship has remained. Besides, it will not be my schedule that notices she’s across the country. It will be my heart.

I forced myself to RSVP yes, mark the calendar, and make a specific point to be there. Even with all of that, I felt my heals dragging on party day. Once we were on the road, I could barely keep the tears from spilling out of my eyes. See! This is why I don’t go to these stupid things! I regained composure for about the fifth time on the short drive there and then I started seeing big red signs with the family’s name and arrows directing us where to go. Thank you. I am trying to avoid thinking about where I am going right now and these big red signs are not helpful in that endevor!

Once we got there, I avoided saying hello to my friend who is moving. I chatted with everyone else possible. She knows about my aversion to goodbye parties. I told her in one of our soul-revealing conversations in her kitchen. I sure am going to miss those. She folds laundry or prepares dinners or washes dishes and I sit and we talk and ask questions and I learn more about myself and life from listening to her and from her listening to me. She is safety to me.

Eventually I got around to saying hello and giving her a hug and after I did I was able to pretend we were just at a fun get-together with all of our friends and the goodbye part didn’t seem like it was really happening. Until tonight when I realized I was cranky  and snapping at my kids because I was avoiding being sad. It was then that I realized my computer was calling me to face what I don’t want to. Writing seems to be my lifeline to coping. So I sit here with tears streaming down my face. Because I am sad. So sad. And this seems to be the only way for me to admit it to myself.

Once again I think of the phrase, “Love hurts.” And once again I am reminded that the loving really doesn’t hurt. Loving my friend is easy and life giving. She’s amazing and beautiful and I am better for having her in my life. What hurts is when life takes someone I love and moves them across the country on an adventure I am so excited for them to have but across the country is not San Diego. And I am not capable of being in two places at once. And neither is she. Loving doesn’t hurt. Goodbyes hurt. That’s why I avoid them.

confessions from a germy home

My oldest son is sick right now. He spiked a fever a couple of days ago but thankfully is on the mend now.

Confession……in our home, there may be a parent who is a germ-phobe.

It may or may not be me.

Either way, the germ-phobic parent in question has passed on moments of this phobia to our children. I’m sure the germ-phobe would like it if the children had more than just moments of this phobia, especially when the boys are cuddled together around some sort of hand-held electronic item the sick child gets to play. But mostly the phobia comes out in very classic boy-banter.

“Ahhhh! Get away from me! You have germs!!!”

“HEY! Don’t touch me! I have germs!”

“Watch out or else I’ll breathe my germs on you!”

Lovely. Sounds like a perfectly peaceful environment conducive to healing, doesn’t it? During all of this germ-business that has been going on in my home as of late, I have been checking out upcoming writing conferences. I am finally ready to put myself out there in the world and I need some connections in the writing industry if I ever want to get a book published, which I do. Very much.

However, I find myself with a choice to make that I wish didn’t exist. Do I seek to publish and stay within the “Christian” realm, or do I launch into the “secular” world? I have more connections in the “Christian” realm, but personally, that is not where I want to be.

Don’t get me wrong, I know what my beliefs are and I won’t be abandoning them any time soon. My faith and spirituality are a part of who I am and what I write. But does that mean I have to stay sequestered and separate from the rest of the world?

I understand why these two worlds exist. I understand it because I myself have contributed to their existence and segregation. Maybe I still do. I lived most of my life like the “secular” world had germs. I thought it an unsafe world. People who believed differently than me were bad people and I had best stay away from them unless I wanted to catch their disease. No, I liked my safe world where I thought everyone was the same as me.

But now I see things differently. I am not afraid of people with a different belief system than mine. In fact, I am rather energized to be around them. I like to engage with others who are not always sorting people into one of two categories. People who don’t need to evaluate my theology in order to have a conversation with me or say that I am worthy of their time and energy. People, perhaps, like my former self.

And although I no longer look for ways to work my beliefs into a conversation and persuade others to be like me, I do believe in a God who deeply and desperately loves all of the people he has created. Not just the ones I might have previously thought to be “germ-free”. And if I believe in a God who deeply and desperately loves all people, why can’t I? And how can I deeply and desperately love people if I live in a world separated from them? Now, whether or not they love me back and offer me a book contract is another matter entirely. But one thing at a time.

Also, I believe in good hand-washing and generous amounts of antibacterial gel.

No matter if I am the germ-phobe or not.

discipline and creativity

For much of my life, I thought creativity didn’t apply to me. Some people are given those beautiful creative juices, like my friend Julie. But others like myself are left trying to squeeze juice from a dried fruit. And even though I have grown to love the creative process, I still don’t think of myself as someone with juicy, squirting, I-need-a-napkin-to-slop-this-up creativity. But now I am starting to wonder about the element of discipline in creativity.

The two seem mutually exclusive to me. Creativity is something that bends and blows, driven unpredictably by the wind. It is whimsical and free-spirited and completely non-linear. Discipline is rigid and strict and completely uncompromising. Discipline has a linear plan that follows the expected path. The elements of performance and end result are inherent in discipline, yet they thwart the creative process. Aren’t these two things like oil and water?

So, like most things in my life, I have thought discipline and creativity mutually exclusive. And, like most things in my life, I am learning they co-exist in quite a mysterious way.

Take this blog, for example. The main reason I started this blog was to force myself to write…to add an element of discipline to my creative process and creative expression. And I am learning that, like the rest of my experience in writing, not everything produced am I 100% pleased with. Not every post is what I would consider a “success”. But I am practicing, so to speak. I am forcing myself to write something on a regular basis, and I am forcing myself to put it out there to anyone in that big, wide world who is willing to read it, no matter what they might think of it.

And what I have found so far in adding discipline to creativity is that sometimes I try to tackle bigger projects than I might have otherwise, simply because I am making myself do something, and that is the thing that comes to my mind. It may not go anywhere, I may end up scrapping that post and writing about something else instead, but I attempted something I otherwise would have left untouched. And that, in and of itself, seems like a success to me. All because of a discipline to engage in creativity – no matter where it takes me.

And in this process, I think of my friend Julie. She is a true artist – creative juices squirt out of her like a fountain. She even gets paid for her art. She is full of ideas and loves to go to her studio and see what the wind blows in that day. But I have to believe there are some days she doesn’t feel creative before she goes to the studio but she goes anyway. And I bet some of those days she comes back full and energized and amazed by what came out of her. And there are probably other days she isn’t perfectly satisfied with what blows in and leaves a little frustrated. But in and through all of those days, some very beautiful art is created.

So I love this picture because I took it in my friend Julie’s studio. My son was having an art-birthday party so I had my camera and took pictures of more than just the kiddos. Not every picture was what I wanted it to be, but out of them all, I ended up with this one – a picture I love and find deeply satisfying to look at. It wallpapers my laptop. The tools of an artist that look like creativity waiting to happen inspire me. And I am simultaneously reminded of the discipline of the attempt followed by the freedom to go where the wind blows.

the mysterious miracle of healing

This may seem like a silly picture. That’s okay because it is one that I took because I marveled at what I was seeing. This is a picture of a redwood tree that has been burned and is in the process of healing.

I am amazed by the miracle of healing. No matter where anyone believes that healing comes from, the fact that it takes place at all is astounding to me. I happen to believe that when healing takes place, it is a mixture of a lot of different factors. I believe in a God who heals. I believe God made the human body and human spirit in such a way that they have a propensity to heal. And I am grateful for science and health professionals who know how to come along side a human body or human spirit offering invaluable help to bring healing. And I get most excited when I see all these things mysteriously come together so that I can’t tell where one factor starts and the other ends but somewhere in the process of it all the miracle of healing takes place.

I had a minor surgery just a few days ago. Nothing big or alarming, but enough that I had to be put under and sharp things went at my body. Afterwards, I had to rest. My body needed time to heal.

Sometimes it can be frustrating to take a time out from normal life in order to take time to heal. Needing someone else to make me food or take care of my children or clean my house or drive me around can feel powerless. Healing makes me needy. I don’t generally like to fall into the needy category.

And yet I have been amazed the last few days when I get up after a longer night’s sleep than I thought anyone with children was allowed to have (after spending all day resting and napping for more hours than seems reasonable), I feel better. I have a marked improvement from the day before. Healing is taking place.

And because a year ago I was dealing with some very difficult things and thought I would forever need my weekly visits to my counselor just to survive, this current physical healing is reminding me of the healing of my spirit I experienced this past year. Although the healing was in my spirit, there was a very physical, physiological piece involved as well. Turns out I had a nervous system that was awry and needed some help re-setting.

I had no idea how this nervous system piece was affecting me. I thought it was normal to experience life the way I did. My coping mechanisms worked well. But then, as healing started to happen, I marveled at what “normal” really was. It was as if I had figuratively been walking around crippled with a broken back having no idea that the rest of the world didn’t stare at the ground all the time but walked upright instead.

Of course, we don’t always heal. I have had many dear friends this year loose loved ones and I am acutely aware that healing does not always happen. And yet, the fact that sometimes it does is still amazing to me. And so even though my incision wounds are still sore, they are much less sore than yesterday or the day before that. And even though my throat is still a bit scratchy from the tube they put down it while I was blissfully knocked out by the drugs they gave me, it is also better than yesterday or the day before. My body is healing due to the mysterious combination of factors: my husband has been taking care of our home and three children so that I can rest, bodies do heal, and I believe God has his hand in there too.