glowing oasis

I wish every night could be like tonight. But I suppose then it would not have felt so special, so wonderful, so absolutely like an oasis to a weary traveler journeying through desert lands.

I have not posted here for quite some time. There are a plethora of reasons but they mostly boil together to just one.

Sometimes in life, I have to lay down the things I love, like writing, because the rest of life is stretching me thin. Mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and financially.

The perfectionist in me screams and shouts that I don’t really need breathing room. What I need is to simply organize differently and push myself harder like everyone else. Then I can do it all.

I hate that perfectionist.

But then, magically, a night like tonight sneaks in. An old groupon we purchased a few months ago during a brief moment when we had the tiniest bit of breathing room in our finances is about to expire.

So we pack up the boys and head out to a fancy restaurant. One of our favorites back when we were dating and had what I believe is still called “discretionary income”.

I prep the boys.

“Dad is taking us to a fancy restaurant. Probably the fanciest restaurant we will ever take you to. At these kinds of restaurants it is important to use your best behavior. When we get there, I will have a story to tell you about this restaurant and your dad and me.”

After we arrive, before they seat us at our table, I take the boys aside.

“Your dad and I came to this restaurant on the night he asked me to marry him. We came here to celebrate. That year, there were really big storms and on the night we came, this bottom section….here, come here and see….these big windows were all boarded up and no one was sitting downstairs here.

But this was one of our favorite places to go, so instead of leaving, we went upstairs. Come on, I’ll show you.

Right over here is where we sat. The rain was falling hard and the waves were high but we could hardly see because it was so dark. I remember watching the storm through the stain glass in this window.”

During dinner, the boys all got along and used the best manners they could remember. Bravo boys.

My oldest son tasted crab cakes and lobster for the first time. He loved them both. We could be in trouble.

After dessert, all three boys hopped over the rocks separating the patio from the beach together in search of shells. I sat back with my husband and took the moment in.

The glow sticks Phil thought to get for the boys lit up the van the whole way home. Camaraderie, nostalgia, joy, and love saturated the air. Tears slowly seeped from my eyes. Oh, how I wish I could bottle this night up and keep it forever.

This post was written several months ago….I was surprised this evening that I got it all the way onto WordPress but didn’t finish to publish! There will be more coming and this is not a current snapshot but it is an accurate one from the time it was written. Keep checking because I will be back!

chicken fingers

This was a celebration for me. A marker of growth, of change for the good.

A few years ago, I let myself see an ugliness inside of me. It was something I tried to hide from for years before that. I was too ashamed to admit, even to myself.

I have resisted writing about my ugliness because it comes out in context with one of my sons and it is my ugliness, not his. I would never want for him to someday read my writing and do what we as children always do, internalize our parent’s brokenness as our own defectiveness.

But these chicken fingers were just too much to pass up. So here I go.

chicken fingers

I have had trouble accepting my middle son for exactly who he is. Don’t get me wrong, simultaneously I recognize and love what he brings to the table and how he gets me outside myself.

But he’s different than me. And when it comes to being different, I like to think I am the right way and anyone else is the wrong way. Apparently that includes my children. Great.

He likes to make messes and struggles to clean them up. He’s well liked and sweet and tender and makes some pretty great choices on who to be friends with, but he’s also just a little bit…..awkward. Quirky. Unique.

And he doesn’t like words. And words are how I function. They’re my strong suit.

But that’s not how he wants to be loved. He is intuitive. He senses what is going on behind the scenes, in my heart. So that means I have to actually work through my issues instead of just covering them up by using the right words.

Fantastic.

chicken fingers-3

What kind of mother has trouble accepting her child?

I will tell you.

The kind of mother who has trouble accepting herself. Fully. Un-conditionally. Wholeheartedly.

Because what Brene Brown says is true. We can only accept others to the degree we accept ourselves.

Finally, eventually, I became safe enough to myself to go below the surface and deal with the issues that lie beneath. The process has been slow and scary.

But bit by bit, I work my way through. I have in no way arrived, but I am not where I used to be. And these chicken fingers told me so.

We call this Abby’s chicken. There are eggs and flour and dredging involved which means….messes. And my Colby loves to embrace a good mess.

chicken fingers-5

Which is exactly why I avoid cooking with him. Because undoubtedly my perfectionism flares and I end up sending messages either spoken or unspoken that he is wrong for being the way that he is. Lovely.

But this time, I delighted in Colby and his chicken fingers. I laughed and celebrated his jois de vive. I let go and embraced the process. And of course, I had to take pictures, which he loved.

Growth shows in the little things. Like making chicken with my son. And enjoying it. And more importantly, enjoying him.

pieces

As I sat around the table, the people around me held out pieces of me. Pieces I had not seen in a while. And it felt so good.

Those pieces are always with me, living inside of me. Sometimes I just forget about them. I live disconnected from them.

My life has moved on from when we were together, these friends and I. Marriage, babies, therapy, life. And it’s good. Moving forward, growth, change. All of those things are good.

And at the same time, sometimes I can forget that the college student me is still in there too. Along with the mom me and the wife me and the almost 40 year old me (ugh, really?).

But I am fortunate enough to still have friends from way back when. We were all on staff at camp together. And camp bonds people in a mysterious way. I have yet to experience it elsewhere. It could be the dirt, the camp food, or any number of the only-appropriate-at-camp conversations surrounding bodily functions.

I think it is all those things plus a whole lot more.

There is a sacredness about it, about the fact that we hold pieces of one another’s history. These people know a side of me that my friends today have only caught glimpses of, if that.

For a while, a few years ago, I felt in between. My friends where I live didn’t know my history but my friends from my past didn’t know the richness of my present. And I had this weird, awkward urge to prove myself to all of them.

But something must have settled in me. Made peace with the fact that the only one who knows me my whole life is me. I am the only one who holds all the pieces.

And occasionally that can feel like too much to hold. Sometimes I forget about the pieces that aren’t necessary right now. But they are still in there. They are who I was which is a part of who I am.

And it was whole-making, to have these people who are dear to me stir some of those piece to the foreground. To the surface.

They had not forgotten those pieces. They loved them. They kept them safe. They saw beauty in them. They remembered them. And being together reminded me of them too.

And it was…..settling, calming, restoring…..for me to be reminded that all of those me’s are really just parts of the same whole.

discernment

I don’t truly grasp the concept. If I am terribly honest with myself, I will admit I don’t really want to. I would prefer formulas. Rules. Distinct black and white. Abundantly clear clarity. I would like to do away with life’s murkiness.

Tell me who the safe people are in this world and how I can distinguish them from the unsafe ones. Is there a mark on their cheek? Do they wear certain clothes? Could everyone just walk around carrying signs?

But no. This is something that requires discernment. Learning as I go. Listening to my intuitive side.

And quite frankly my intuition often feels underdeveloped. Only in the last two or three years did I learn I even have an intuitive side. Or that it could be helpful to me in any way. That little voice. That sense of something without tangible proof.

So I am continually baffled.

But of course, life has been doing what life tends to do and presenting me with opportunities to practice and learn this foreign concept of discernment. Making choices or understanding people or situations in the current moment without needing to label or put them in boxes where I will keep them forever.

Allowing for mystery and fluidity beyond what I see while still working with the reality of where I find myself in the current moment.

Acknowledging that sometimes discernment happens in a moment and more often it requires a process.

And I have been doing what humans tend to do and making mistakes and feeling awkward and discouraged in my learning process.

But I also believe in the midst of this, God has been showing me his gentleness and tenderness toward me. Even when the learning curve of life feels steep and painful.

And he wants me to know that he loves me in the midst of it all.

So he gives me sons who pick up on my tension and hurt feelings from others as I learn the hard way (by experience – yuck!) and give me extra hugs and kisses and tender looks and sweet shoulder rubs. And I think my heart might explode. When did they develop such a capacity for compassion?

And he gives me friends who remind me of truth and encourage me and listen and listen and listen and give me hugs. Friends who don’t put people in boxes just to make me feel better but who help me understand the complexities of life and walk with me as I struggle with all of it.

And of course he gives me a husband who provides comic relief while he communicates his unending loyalty to me with his over the top protective comments.

And he gives me this sense that he is with me. That he is for me. That he loves me. And that he is in fact helping me learn this thing called discernment. 

what’s worth got to do with it?

I am a little late to the party. Brene Brown’s videos have been creating quite a buzz, but I only recently watched her most well known one, The Power of Vulnerability. Really phenomenal stuff. I am a fan.

I laugh at her humor and marvel at her succinct articulation of things I have intuitively believed but still questioned all my life. And I feel completely validated by the fact that all of what she says is backed by research.

There is only one thing that I have trouble with. It’s not the validity of the research or the conclusions she makes based on them. It is what those things confirm to me about how the world views love. And I simply wish we saw things differently.

In The Power of Vulnerability, Brene talks about people she calls “whole-hearted”. Basically these are people who live full and satisfying lives with deep, connected relationships. She says that what sets this group apart is a belief that they are worthy of love. Those not in this group, those living disconnected and unfulfilled in their relationships, seem to have a belief that they are not worthy of love.

(There’s more to it than that, but if you are not going to watch the video linked to the blue words above – which you totally should, just hover and click and it will take you there – that summary will have to do.)

I believe I fall in both of these groups at different times and moments in my life. I believe the truth of what Brene proposes that this basic self-assessment has a dramatic affect on our lives.

I just don’t like it.

Because while believing we are worthy or unworthy of love may impact our lives in magnanimous ways, either way we are viewing love as something to be earned. And that is the problem I see in the world, the problem I see in myself.

A misunderstanding of love. 

Love does not account for worth. Love is a gift. Truly, no one is “worthy” of it. It cannot be earned. It is not a commodity to be traded for inherent value.

Don’t get me wrong; I think that every human being does have inherent value and worth. I think every human being desires to be loved and needs to be loved and should be loved and is loved.

But that love is not earned by value or worth. In fact, love is distinctly given in spite of those things. That is what makes it love.

Believing we are worthy might help us in life, but it perpetuates a misunderstanding of love. I think the trick is to let ourselves receive love – truly take it in and accept it – regardless of our worthiness of it.

 

(Normally I would stop here because I have a short attention span as a reader so I try to keep my posts under 500 words. So I promise not to hold it against you if you stop reading here. But I just can’t leave this next part out.)

For me it comes down to moments like this: picture a moment of marital friction. I am furious about something. I want to be right. I am stomping around and screaming because I want my way. And then I realize I am acting like an idiot. And I am sick with myself about it. But I want my way anyway. And I know that in this moment I am unlovablly human.

But my husband comes close to me and touches me tenderly on the shoulders anyway. He tries to pull me in for a hug.

In that moment, what do I do?

Sometimes I push him away because I am so furious and confused and pissey and weak and human and unworthy of love that I refuse to accept it. I only want the love that I think I have earned.

And sometimes, due to some intangible miracle, I let his touch soften me. I let it break me. I let it in past my will and my need to be right and my need to control. And I know I am not worthy of it. But that’s okay. It’s love. I can let it in anyway.

So the question for me is not so much if I believe I am worthy of love, but will I let love in even though I am not worthy of it? Because that’s what love is.

collecting hope

My parental heart swells with pride. But more than that, my hope for this world is revived in this moment.

My son is not getting an award. He’s not starring in any big performance. He didn’t just graduate. This is a small act, really. Unnoticed and uncelebrated by anyone who might happen to see. Including my son.

He’s not pointing out his actions with the common, “Mom! Watch me!” that accompanies most acts children think are spectacular. Or the, “Did you see what I just did?” when they want to receive credit for what they have done.

And maybe that’s what made this all the more amazing to me. The fact that it was no big deal was a really big deal.

Because I, like most people, want this world to be a better place. But I am completely overwhelmed by the thought of making the whole world better.

And not just better on the outside, the tangible things we see, our behaviors. I want the world to be better from the inside out. Better because people care more. About the environment. About one another. About themselves.

Because change from the inside out – transformation – is a lasting change. This kind of change usually indicates a healing and making whole of damaged people.

So of course sometimes I feel a little hopeless. Because while I often see the incredible beauty in humanity, I also see the terrible brokenness of it. And sometimes I am crushed with despair.

Because I can’t put the world back together from it’s brokenness. So sometimes I doubt that it happens at all.

But when I see my nine-year-old son walk over to pick up a piece of trash on the ground that was not left by him and put it into a trash can, I celebrate. I do the happy dance.

I know. This is a small thing. But to me, it represents so much more. Because transformation is often revealed in small, changed habits.

As his parent, I am glad to see my son keep track of his own trash. To make sure what waste he creates he also takes responsibility for. That on it’s own is a win.

But the fact that he went outside of himself and picked up trash left by someone else and it was no big deal was ENORMOUS.

Not just as his parent, but as a fellow human being. Because he cares enough to do the little things that make this world better.

He wants the world to be a better place, too.

And he knows that starts with him.

And that gives me hope.

summer love

The lump sits in my throat as tears brim in my eyes. Nostalgia sweeps over me and I am left both joyful and grieving. What a summer this has been.

The garb has been plopped in the sand, the smiles slathered like sunscreen across our faces, and sibling skirmishes have been carried away by the cool breeze coming off the waves.

I can feel us all breath. Deep and cleansing, the air collectively fills our lungs. We are together in the best way.

I anticipated the summer to be a disaster. This has been a difficult year filled with a lot of transition. I figured summer would simply be more of the same. A lot more. All day long more.

But life often surprises us and sometimes those surprises turn out to be just the relief we need.

After a school year charting new territory of middle school and having that territory effect so much more than just the one in middle school, this relief came to a weary bunch. But it came.

We have actually enjoyed one another this summer. Even my children. Not all day long every day, but enough. Enough to say that we found one another again in this new landscape.

And the beach seems to symbolize all the goodness we have experienced in our togetherness this summer. So as I watch my boys playing at the shore engaged in some team building fun, gratitude fills my heart. For this time together. For each one of them. For all of them together.

I realize that in a few short days, the start of school will mark the end of this summer. We will never get it back. Time marches on. And I don’t want to stop it because I love the process of life. But I wish I could save just a few of those grains of sand from the hourglass and set them aside for safekeeping.

exerting control

Why is he torturing himself like this? The heat is unbearable, and the walk to the pool is even worse. The pavement seems to act like a sun dish and radiate the hot rays directly to our bodies. And my four year old is walking …..ever ……so ……slowly.

I understand he does not take his usual pace of sprinting in this weather, but why prolong the pain? Once we get to the pool, which is a mere five blocks from our home, relief will wash over us.

I am sure to point this out to him in the most logical way that I can. He seems to move even more lethargically and I realize what I said had the opposite effect I was going for.

The same scenario played out yesterday. He wants to be carried the five blocks in the grueling heat and I tell him that is not possible at the moment.

So he determines to punish us all by walking ….as …..slowly …..as …..he …..possibly ….can. Yesterday his ploy worked. But today I figured out a different strategy of waiting for him at each shady spot I come to, and I am simply not all that worked up about it.

He is clearly causing himself more discomfort than any of the rest of us. I point out how he is punishing himself and the common sense does not seem to get through.

In that moment part of me wants to fly off the handle and scream at him because I just want to get to that cool water so badly. But fortunately today there is another part of me kicking in.

And that part realizes that sometimes, we all have a need to exert what little control we have in this world if for no other reason than to remind ourselves we have it. Even four year olds.

Because let’s face it, we humans are a controlling bunch. And no wonder. We cannot control the weather (don’t I wish!), we cannot control the passage of time, and as I have mentioned before, we cannot control the one thing we want the most in this life: love.

So we grasp at another thing we cannot control. One another. And we live in the illusion we can control the people around us because it gives us comfort. But when it comes down to it, no matter what forms of force or manipulation we implement, we do not get to make other people’s choices for them.

And as I swelter on the way to the pool it occurs to me that I have a choice to make. I can attempt to change my son’s choice to walk at a snail’s pace to the oasis awaiting us. Or I can recognize that he is asserting himself and respect his right to make his own choices.

So I quietly applaud him for recognizing one thing he can control. Himself.

control freaks

The discomfort is seeping out of my pores. I tried to find anything else ready to post. I like to have things more thought out. More refined. More controlled. This one feels more like a zit I can’t stop myself from popping.

Lately, I have been watching and listening to both my self and the people around me, and the theme of control seems to be slapping me in the face everywhere I turn.

I think we as humans grab for control. But I don’t think that is truly what we want. I believe that what each human being truly desires more than anything else in this world is love.

But, as I have mentioned before, love is inherently uncontrolled. Unearned. Unpredictable.

And that makes most of us quite uncomfortable. Including me.

So when we want to show love to someone, we often try to control that person and make that person do what we think is good for him or her. But that is not really love at all.

When we want to be loved, to have someone else show love to us, we also try to control others. Manipulation comes into the mix and things get messy fast. Because we as humans seem to feel loved when we get what we want. But that’s not really love either.

And all the while, during this time when we are grasping for control, trying to make people do what we want them to do or be who we want them to be, we miss the fact that what we are given to control is ourselves.

We ignore that truth and try and control other people instead. Because they seem so much easier to fix. Because taking an honest look in the mirror and dealing with our own stuff is hard. One of the hardest things I have ever done or continue to attempt to do.

However, my hope in doing so is that my haunting need to control lessens and I become more capable of giving love. Freely. 

performance rejection

He does not perform. The thought occurs to me as I walk by my eight-year-old working diligently on his current project. He is making an Angry Birds Space encyclopedia.

Just before this ah-hah descends on me, I am grumbling in my head. Why doesn’t he work this hard on school projects? This is what I mean when I say give 100%. I know he has it in him, why doesn’t he use this motor more?

Because unlike his mother, my son is NOT a type-A personality. He is a good-enougher. He is an I’m-not-defined-by-my-performance kind of guy. He is someone who enjoys life and doesn’t take himself too seriously.

And I love that about him more than I can say. Even though I go crazy over it from time to time. This beautiful freedom he lives in rubs against my performance-driven, rule-following, live-up-to-all-expectations nature.

And that is SO GOOD for me.

As this new revelation about my son and how he ticks sinks in, I swell with admiration. He puts his heart and soul into the things he determines are worthy of such priceless energy.

Not into what will score points with his teacher, the people around him, or even his mother. He will not do things just to look good in the eyes of another. He will not perform.

He does, however, have much heart and soul to pour into things. And he does use that energy from time to time. On projects that matter to him.

This is all very helpful for me to consider. Because as his mother, I need to help equip him to navigate through this world. And to not loose himself in the process.

There are times when he will have to harness this energy even though he doesn’t want to because that is what his life requires of him at the given moment. But those times are probably fewer and farther between than I as his mother think they are.

Yet at the same time, how wonderful for him to know with such certainty that his life cannot be lived to please others. He must be true to himself. How does he know such a thing at this tender age?

I marvel at moments like these. I think I am helping my children discover pieces of themselves and figure out where they go. And then they hand me pieces of myself that have been missing all my life.