Christmas

December 27, 2011

I’m not even going to mention how long it’s been since I’ve posted.  I have decided that I will post a blog when I can, without guilt or “shoulds” attached.

Another Christmas.  I always feel like the Christmas holidays are divided into two: the crazy, gift-buying, extra-busy, frantic, fun, elf-on-the-shelf and Santa excitement, kids acting wild, secrets gifts hidden in closets and drawers.  And then there is the Advent season and the thoughtful, quiet, hopeful, penitent longing for a Savior.

I know I’m not the only one to feel the disparity between these two celebrations.

Our family tried to balance them this year, as we do every year.  Decorations in the house, shopping and cookie baking alongside nightly candlelit Advent Scripture readings and prayer.

And now Christmas has come and gone and the fun and crazy part has been successfully (and rather moderately, thank goodness!) accomplished.  The aftermath of which left me feeling moody and emotional and worn out.

Tonight I went out alone, under the guise of needing to purchase thank you cards, and ended up eating a solitary supper at Panera.  Just me and and my bowl of tomato soup and my journal.  I scribbled away about all the frustration and sadness and loneliness I’ve been feeling in the aftermath of the season’s chaos.  And, gently, sweetly, as I looked at my angry, hurt words scrawled on the page, I saw – again -  my need for a Savior.  Once again, the mercy and grace that God heaped upon us when He sent Jesus to this cold, messed-up, miserable world, where even “decent” people like me (!) and Dave and our kids and our lovely extended families -  even we struggle to get along and live by His law which is Love and His gospel which is peace.  (According to the Oh Holy Night song, at least.)

So with grief and comfort, loneliness and consolation, anger and peace fighting in my soul, I felt Christmas tonight, and am grateful for the Rescuer that came.

COW and Spinach

October 4, 2011

Last night in my Principals of Counseling seminary class, we discussed Carl Rogers’ theory of child development. According to Rogers, everyone is born with OVP, Organismic Values Processing. Sounds kind of strange, but basically it’s the way babies experience the world: if they are cold or hungry, they cry. If they are fed and cuddled, they smile and coo. They evaluate everything in the world based upon how they feel. Their experience is their reality, and they aren’t going to make sure mom is in a good mood before they start screaming.

As children grow, however, they all have COW put on them. Conditions of Worth. As much as we parents wish it weren’t so, we don’t love them unconditionally. The child starts to become socialized that life is not just about making them feel good and happy. I think there’s a healthy part of this: people who base every decision on feeling good turn into narcissists, oblivious to the world around them. They don’t care how people experience them.

There can be a negative side to this too. If we have too many COWs put on us, we lose our ability to process what makes us feel good and happy.

All this talking and thinking brought back some memories for me last night.

When Lucy was born, almost 13 years ago, I fell into postpartum depression. I think it’d been building for years, and the postpartum thing just was the last straw. I found myself in counseling, talking to my shrink about how sad and lonely and anxious I was. I had been piling COWs up for years. Natural ones from family of origin, church-imposed ones, self-imposed ones. My mindset was “I should be happy. Christians shouldn’t struggle with depression. I need to trust in the Lord. I don’t have enough faith. It’s not okay to be angry. Put on a happy face, and then people will love you! Put up with people who want to control you; it’s the Christian thing to do!”

My COWs were many.

I remember my therapist asking, regarding a specific situation, “What do you want?” And I found that I didn’t have an answer. I didn’t know what I wanted. And to my horror, there were a lot of areas in my life where I had no idea what I wanted or liked or anything. I had, as my shrink explained, an “external locus of control.” I looked around me for cues about what I liked and didn’t like, in order to please those around me. My Organismic Values Processing ability was gone.

As I wrestled with these issues, I remember one day fixing Lucy her lunch. She was a little over one year old, and eager to try new foods. I decided, idealistically, that I’d fix her some sauteed spinach with her lunch. I cooked it, cooled it, and put it on her little high chair tray. She happily grabbed some and shoved it in her mouth.

And then it happened.

Her expression changed to puzzlement, then disgust, and before I knew it, she had spewed that spinach right out of her mouth.

And a light bulb came on for me.

Here she was, one year old, and she knew what she liked. And she knew spinach wasn’t one of those things. She didn’t look at me and think, “Gosh, I know my mom means well and wants me to get all my nutrients, I’m going to pretend this tastes great so I don’t hurt her feelings.” No. She spit it out. And I wasn’t offended. I laughed! And I learned something from my little girl in that moment. I recovered a little sense of the goodness of knowing thyself. And having freedom and safety to express what thyself likes and doesn’t like.

These days I have a much stronger “Internal Locus of Control.” And I have a clearer sense that God made me how I am and His Spirit lives in me and I can trust the two of us to define me in ways that I enjoy and that bring Him glory. What a better way to live.

Hutchmoot 2011

September 26, 2011

It was suggested in a group discussion during Hutchmoot that what makes a good story is risk; that is, the author is taking a risk to tell the story. The story comes from a deeper, more vulnerable place in the author. It costs the author something to tell the truth.

I think that is why I like Hutchmoot. Each participant is risking something to be there and share their own story – the narrative of their lives – with others.

What are the risks a Hutchmootian takes to show up and tell their story?

The risk of looking foolish and hopelessly dorky as they sheepishly explain to friends and family at home where they’re going and why.

The risk of acknowledging their hunger and thirst for beauty. As Rich Mullins says so compellingly, “I know the thirsty listen, and down to the waters come.”

The risk of confessing that longing, that sehnsucht, that yearning for the Real that they catch glimpses of here in the Shadowlands.

Being in the company of those who take a risk to tell the truth about their needs, their brokenness, their delight in beauty: that’s what I like about Hutchmoot.

But that sounds all serious and maybe a little mopey, and the marvelous reality is, because we have risked something to be here, and our lives are in the process of becoming “good stories,” there is joy. Laughter. (I just heard a scientific examination of humor and it turns out that authentic laughter is only possible in the company of those we trust). Silliness. Fun. Savoring yummy Evie food. Conversations where you gratefully realize that no one is too interested in casting judgement on you. They’re fellow travelers, and speaking of travelers, as I was reflecting on the weekend, this Psalm came to mind :

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11)

Folks that go to Hutchmoot seem to live by this principle.

Fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore! I am glad to be traveling that path of life with my fellow Hutchmootians.

(This feels like such an incomplete reflection on my weekend. But it’s a start.)

Awkward Interview

September 20, 2011

Well, my life is not getting dull.

I started Seminary last night, taking my first course toward a Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy.

Today I had an interview for one of the part-time Instructional Aide positions in our school district. I am not certain that it is wise for me to work every day, while still trying to juggle homemaking tasks, seminary, child rearing, and sanity. So, there’s that.

But I don’t think I’m in much danger of getting a job offer, if all of the candidates are as qualified and professional as the woman who was interviewing with me.

She has a teaching credential and an art degree. She’s taking courses in Autism interventions. She’s been working closely with several teachers in the district and is a highly sought-after substitute teacher.

She sounded awesome answering all the questions.

I was like, “Huh, what is this job for again?” “Uh, I’m qualified because I’m a mom.” “I really like children.”

Okay, I’m exaggerating a little. I really don’t think I sounded that dumb. But I was definitely not trained like this woman. I want a part time job that works with my family’s schedule and I like working with kids. That’s about it. This woman was a professional educator!

I’m actually quite proud of myself, because although I recognized immediately the disparity between this other woman and myself, I smiled and held my head high and have not beat myself up in the aftermath of this awkward interview. I have been chuckling about the ridiculousness of it all. I’m not holding my breath waiting for a second interview either.

Supervisor Snippets

September 16, 2011

I have a new job.  Noon supervision at my kids’ elementary school. I work two days a week.  My job is to wear an orange safety vest and a whistle, and to make sure the children are playing appropriately and not injuring themselves or others during recess and lunch.

I have to say, it’s been pretty fun.

I decided to record some of the more interesting conversations and occurrences of this job here on my poor neglected blog…supervisor snippets.  (Catchy title, eh?)

Yesterday I saw a little girl that I met last week.  My first encounter with her was in the far corner of the field, right by the fence under a shady tree.  She was alone, crouching there.  I wandered up to make sure she was okay and discovered that she was flicking tiny pebbles into the drainage ditch on the other side of the fence, for the satisfaction of hearing the pebbles “plink plink plink” into the water.

When I encountered her yesterday, with a friend this time near the blacktop, I said,

“Hey! Aren’t you the little girl who likes to flick pebbles into the stream?”

“Yep,” she replied.  “I also really like to climb trees, and I’m good at it too.  I can climb really tall trees so fast you wouldn’t believe it.”

Me: “Is that so?  You like pebbles and streams and climbing trees.  You must be a girl who loves nature.”

Her: “Yes, I am.  I could survive in the wild, all by myself, if I had to.”

(Her friend and I exchanged impressed looks.)

Her: “And guess what else?”

(Friend and I lean in to hear as she lowers her voice dramatically…)

“I can communicate with cats.”

Keeping Me Humble

July 27, 2011

Today I had an experience that reminded me of my utter humility in this world.

I went to the optometrist, because after almost 36 years of perfect vision, I have been starting to experience difficulty in focusing my eyes when reading.

Dave decided to work from home and accompany me to my appointment, and boy, was that a good thing.

All was going well as they measured things, flipped through lenses, and made me track things with my eyes. Then came the glaucoma test.

The doctor put bright yellow drops in my eyes and handed me a tissue on which to dab any excess.    That was the first freaky thing, looking down and seeing those neon yellow splotches on my tissue.  The doctor explained that these drops would simply numb the eyeball for the next procedure.  Numb the eyeball?!  That was the second freaky thing.

The third was my inability to hold my eye open as the doctor approached me with this machine that emitted an eerie blue light. My lashes kept slamming shut, despite my best efforts to keep them open.  Freakiness. The doc had to pry the eye open and hold it there while he pushed the creepy light directly up to my eyeball.

And then the other eye.  Same deal.  And his breath was hot and stinky.  I suddenly felt so nauseous and claustrophobic, with this complete stranger so close to me, holding open my eye and looking at it through a weird machine.

He finished up the exam and sent me to the frames lady, declaring I simply needed some reading glasses to help with focusing problems.  As I thanked him and stumbled toward the frames lady, a loud ringing sound began in my ears and I felt shaky and like the world had suddenly become surreal.  Uh, oh.

Freaky thing number four, or are we at five?  I had to confess to the woman that I felt quite sick, indeed.  She graciously told me to put my head down and rest.  I was mortified and embarrassed, but managed to choke out that my husband was in the waiting room and could she please fetch him?

Dave came in, took one look at me and said, “Whoa.  You’re awfully pale!  You okay?”  “Can I lay down somewhere?” I inquired desperately.  Mrs. Frames-Lady answered in the affirmative and Dave took my arm as I staggered, nearly collapsing in a dead faint, to a nearby exam room.

Ten minutes or so later, with a cup of cranberry juice in my hand and much fussing over me by the sweet frames woman, I felt much better.  And very humbled.  Never mind that I’ve given birth three times and am generally a tough cookie.  Numbing eyedrops, glaucoma testing machines, optometrists with halitosis… put them together, and you’ve got a scenario to remind me of my frailty and humility.  And you’ve also got a story that I laughed about for the rest of the day, for the sheer ridiculousness of it.

Today was a blah day. The unstructured, carefree days with kids out of school may be starting to wear a little on this mama. And financial worries feel a bit heavy today. And my future is looming large in front of me with unanswered questions about employment and/or going back to school. And I’ve been mulling over a tricky situation with a friend. And I have a headache.

And some days are just “low pot,” as we call it in our family.

Whatever the reason, today was a blah day.

My kids were being great, so that helped. Dave came home from work and gave me a long, kind hug in the kitchen, so that helped too. And everyone liked the dinner I’d made, which always helps.

But still…blah.

Until an unlikely event surprised me with hope, and cheered up my heart.

I went online to a live-streaming radio show where I’d heard Andrew Peterson would be playing.

And there was one of those live chat featured next to the screen with the musicians. I recognized some names of those participating in the chat and decided to log in. You see, these were Rabbit Roomers, readers and participants of a blog I follow. These were the same folks who convened in the “real” (that is to say, non-virtual) world last summer at Hutchmoot. And they’re doing it again this September and Dave and I are going again to Nashville, spending money we really probably shouldn’t be spending, to get together with like-minded Christians who love stories and music and art.

And tonight, as I shared a few silly conversational swaps with a few of these folks, my spirits lifted and the blah of the day lessened.

I have friends right here in town. I could have called one or two today to cheer me up. I feel grateful to have a network of local pals that love me and can be real with me. But today, my “virtual friends” came through and filled a need I didn’t know I had in the midst of my blah day. The need for a little community, for common interests and light chatter. It filled me up. And it made me excited for September. Hutchmoot 2011

That title, “Life is strange sometimes,” is all that remains of a silly post I started a few days ago about an experience I had at the local reptile store. (It is likely that the local reptile store is a fabulous place to come to this realization.)

But alas! I was blogging from my iPhone. (I know, that’s ridiculous, but our family computer is set up in our loft where our youngest child is currently sleeping so as to restore sibling peace. And when can I blog but when she’s in there sleeping?)

I need to move the computer because this iPhone blogging is so tedious, especially when your battery dies and the entire draft is lost.

Which is what happened to my reptile store post. And I haven’t had the heart to try to recreate it.

On Saturday we had a big birthday party for Bridget, complete with an interactive show by The Reptile Guy. (it was awesome; he brought snakes, lizards, skinks, tortoises, a bullfrog and a huge tarantula. I think it truly might have been the happiest day of Bridget’s life.)

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The days leading up to the party were filled with activity: sewing banners to decorate our patio, ordering food, trying to get the final headcount, making party favor bags, shopping, and creating this guy, Old Swampy.

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These things were fun to do, with Bridget helping. She was delighted with all aspects of planning this amazing day.

Then, the night before the party arrived. I was frantically cleaning our home, doing last minute final touches to the decorations, and trying to get the kids to get showered and to play without making any messes.

My happy-mom-planning-a-party-for-her-beloved-daughter attitude began to wear thin.

“Why aren’t you helping me?” I barked at Dave, as he sat, immersed in a book, preparing for a class he’s teaching in the fall.

Dave is an amazingly good husband in the arena of pitching in to housework. But the guy HAD been dutifully assisting me, and also playing badminton on the driveway with the girls, much to their delight, as I skulked around with a martyr-ish air, sweeping, scrubbing, and vacuuming everything in sight.

Suddenly it occurred to me: “I’m doing this for me.” It’s an idea from Gretchen Rubin’s book, The Happiness Project. (Which, by the way, I started but never finished. How much happiness can one take?!) I have found this little phrase to be a great reminder.

Kids and parents coming to the party don’t care if there are crumbs on the floor, dog hair in the hallway, or smudges on the bathroom mirror. But I do.

So. When I do things that are important to me (like the time-consuming task of applying frosting in a scale-like pattern on an alligator cupcake) and start feeling annoyed that Dave and the kids aren’t concurrently scrubbing toilets, I need to remember this. It sounds selfish, but really it releases my family from the responsibilities that they don’t feel strongly about. And it really takes the resentment out of my heart.

It turned out to be a fabulous party, made slightly more pleasant for me and my sweet family because I had let go of any frustration surrounding the preparation time. I did all that work for me.

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All Shall Be Well

June 29, 2011

Yesterday we found an ailing bird on our porch. My girls snapped into rescue mode, bringing birdseed and moving him gently into the shade, and diligently keeping our cat inside. But, despite their hopes and prayers, the little guy died in the afternoon.

Bridget tearfully told me that now that bird was getting to fly around in heaven with Jesus.

I did not enter a theological debate with her as to whether or not animals inherit eternal life, but simply nodded and hugged her.

And then she started singing Andrew Peterson’s “All Shall Be Well,” a song that we listen to in our minivan. Well applied, I thought.

We buried the bird in our front yard, and Bridget wanted to mark the grave with a cross, which we fashioned out of branches and leaves. Seeing the birds lifeless body lying there in the dirt was a quiet reminder of both the claim that Jesus made, that not even a sparrow falls from the sky that God doesn’t know about, and the grim reality of this tired, broken world. I’m glad that Bridget’s plaintive song will come true one day: all shall be well.

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