Sunday, April 21, 2013

My Changing Landscape

This post runs deep.

This past year has been a roller coaster for our little family. While the major parts of our lives are the same, it feels much different than it did last year at this time: our then tiny sack-of-potatoes infant now busies herself running around the house and yard; several dear friends have moved many miles away; my husband has a new role at work; I have developed some confidence about how to navigate the ever changing landscape of stay-at-home-mommy-hood; and I can't neglect to mention the latest four-legged addition to our family, Quinn. Some of our relationships have changed, we have faced turmoil at times, and generally our roles as people and as parents have changed.

With change comes re-evaluation. At least for me. It forces me to take stock of who I am, where I am, where I've been, and where I want to be. I do this a lot. A LOT. Probably daily. I have strong values and an equally strong need to stay in line with those values. Constantly re-evaluating my life keeps my high values, well...high. Also it is exhausting. Things like relationships, creativity, and faith are of extremely high value to me, and I prioritize them ruthlessly. I expect this of myself. Because this is the filter through which we see all of life, for people like me, the every-day mundane tasks are particularly distressing. Why, why, why would I spend time mopping the floor when I could connect with a friend, spend time with my daughter, or create something beautiful?! Pragmatically this poses a number of problems, not to mention the fact that it is a petri-dish for guilt. I read something in a personality profile recently that put words to the tension I wrestle with every single day. It said that my personality type, "...needs to work on balancing their high ideals with the requirements of every day living. Without resolving this conflict, they will never be happy with themselves, and they may become confused and paralyzed about what to do with their lives." Um, hello?! Did someone reach inside my brain and dictate my thoughts?! This IS my life. Those who know me well know just how much this is true. Ultimately, I just want to be me. Rachel. That is all.

As I had a little down time this last week on vacation, I re-evaluated some more. I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up. I have a strong musical streak, but is music what I want to do with my life? If so, what kind of music? Maybe I want to be a therapist, or an interior designer, or a labor and delivery nurse. I have daydreamed about all of those things at one time or another. Is there just one thing I should do? What is realistic in my current life stage? What am I designed to do? What would make me happiest and be most fulfilling? I think about these questions every day, but right now I am sensing them very strongly. When I am 100 I want to look back on my life and know that I followed my dreams. Or at least that I tried. The problem arises when dreams are unclear. I only have a sense of inner unrest, I do not have a clear path, or even a clear desire. This blog was birthed out of some of that unrest, and the need for some kind of outlet. The unrest is not a bad thing! I am embracing it and am excited for what changes it will bring and where it will lead. It could be something as simple as finding a new friend or a new hobby, but I know whatever it is, it will be good. (I am not trying to be cryptic about anything here, please don't read into this.)

I am thankful for the stable parts of my life: family, home, job, community, that allow me to explore, and dream, and venture out in other areas. Even admidst the unrest, I must also acknowledge the deep sense of contentment and simple joy I have. I am deeply grateful both for my settled-ness and unsettled-ness. It is a good place to be.

The Invitation
by Oriah

It doesn’t interest me
what you do for a living.
I want to know
what you ache for
and if you dare to dream
of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me
how old you are.
I want to know 
if you will risk 
looking like a fool
for love
for your dream
for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me
what planets are 
squaring your moon...
I want to know
if you have touched
the centre of your own sorrow
if you have been opened
by life’s betrayals
or have become shrivelled and closed
from fear of further pain.

I want to know
if you can sit with pain
mine or your own
without moving to hide it
or fade it
or fix it.

I want to know
if you can be with joy
mine or your own
if you can dance with wildness
and let the ecstasy fill you 
to the tips of your fingers and toes
without cautioning us
to be careful
to be realistic
to remember the limitations
of being human.

It doesn’t interest me
if the story you are telling me
is true.
I want to know if you can
disappoint another
to be true to yourself.

If you can bear
the accusation of betrayal
and not betray your own soul.
If you can be faithless
and therefore trustworthy.
I want to know if you can see Beauty
even when it is not pretty
every day.
And if you can source your own life
from its presence.

I want to know
if you can live with failure
yours and mine
and still stand at the edge of the lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon,

It doesn’t interest me
to know where you live
or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up
after the night of grief and despair
weary and bruised to the bone
and do what needs to be done
to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me
who you know
or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand
in the centre of the fire
with me
and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me
where or what or with whom
you have studied.
I want to know 
what sustains you
from the inside
when all else falls away.
I want to know
If you can be alone
with yourself
and if you truly like
the company you keep
in the empty moments. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Zoom Zoom : Embracing Limitations Part Two

Getting out of my own head is one of the hardest things for me to do. 

I have way too much going on in there.

You know those times when you begin to Google which flowers hold up in direct sunlight, and two hours later you find yourself with 15 tabs open on your browser and you are all worked up over the amount of fluoride in your local drinking water? That's what it's like to be inside my head. All day. Every day.

It is exhausting.

For example, right now some of the tabs open on the internet browser of my mind are: 

* getting to bed early tonight
* friends I want to call
* there are so many people I miss

* this house needs to be cleaned
* need to do taxes
* remedies for seasonal allergies
* dog training
* scheduling A/C maintenance
* front yard needs attention
* baby's ongoing diaper rash
* way overdue for a haircut
* did I pay too much for the shoes I just bought

These are just a sampling from the smorgasbord that is my mind. My hunch is that this is how a lot of us function. (Especially us women...I think we are hard wired this way to an extent.) Often when I stop to look at the smorgasbord, the never-ending list of demands, I become paralyzed. I cannot possibly do it all, so how can I do any of it? Where do I even begin? This overwhelmed, paralyzed state is all too familiar to me.

Then, out of the blue the other day, this thought dawned on me: Zoom. There is always going to be a laundry list of things I could spend my time and energy on. What I need to do is Zoom In on some things, and Zoom Out from others. For some reason when I thought of it in terms of taking a photograph, it suddenly seemed attainable. Staying in the so-overwhelmed-I-am-paralyzed stage gets me nowhere. In fact, it just drains the energy I could be using to Zoom In on getting something done.

So, in that moment I identified the things I needed to Zoom In on. They were very few: my and my family's health (we are all recovering from weeks of being ill), and positive thoughts and affirmations. The things I did that day needed to be related to one of these things. I believed that if I focused on these things, the other necessary parts of my day would naturally fall into place. This is more than a "to-do" list or finding my "big rocks". This is a way to see my days, and my life. While some days tasks like "do taxes" might be on my Zoom In list, I need to purposefully make room for these things by Zooming Out on other things.

Closing all those other browser tabs is a scary thing to do. What if I forget about something? What if something important gets neglected? This is exactly why I need to close them. I am so easily distracted. I must be ruthless about clearing out cobwebs and simplifying down to what is essential for me that day. I am not limitless. (See my original post on embracing limitations here.) I have a very specific amount of mental, physical, and emotional energy allotted to me each day; therefore, I must Zoom Out from some things so that I can have the CHOICE of where to focus my energy.

I needed to Zoom Out from Facebook. I needed to Zoom Out from self put-downs about all the things that have been neglected while I've been sick. I needed to Zoom Out from other people's opinions of me (including Superwoman's). I also took a minute to set a few simple, reasonable, attainable goals for myself for the week. This kind of concrete goal-setting and intentional thinking is not something I'm in the habit of doing. It doesn't come naturally to my personality type. But, it felt SO good when I had these few things written down in my journal and had a little light shed on the path in front of me, showing me where I wanted to go.

The day I came up with and implemented this method was a great day for me! It felt easy, it felt right, and it felt like me. I realize that this will not be my every day. Many days things happen to us that thwart even our best efforts at Zooming. But, this is how I hope to handle a lot of my days. This will help my daily and weekly flow immensely.

As I reflect on these ideas, it occurs to me that this is simply part of learning about adulthood. Maybe these are things everyone else already knows and does regularly. Not me. This girl, even at age 31, is still transitioning from being a child to being an adult, and maybe that will be true for the rest of my life. But for now, I am content with my one recent lesson about taking a good picture, and leading a cleaner, simpler, more contented life.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Superwoman on My Shoulder: Embracing Limitations

As I write this I am laying in bed and have been for several days. I have a nasty case of bronchitis. It’s something I’m easily susceptible to, and although the warmer North Carolina climate has given me a reprieve from it for a few winters, this bout has done its typical bang-up job of knocking me down flat. When I did get myself to the doctor, she gave me medicine and told me to do one of the most difficult things for me to do right now: rest. I have to admit that I chuckled inwardly when she said that as I thought of my typical day at home: chasing around my one year old, trying to stop her from eating the dog’s food or playing in the toilet. We stay-at-home-parents are not afforded sick days. 

How exactly do I get rest?! How do parents with lots of children manage rest? What about parents who are chronically or terminally ill? Or, the underlying question seems to be: What do we do when we encounter our limitations? 

Now, I know some people who push through the pain no matter what. They scoff at the likes of bronchitis: "So you have a little cold: suck it up and deal with it." I presume they think it makes you stronger to just keep going, or maybe that resting is lazy and/or weak. In all fairness, there is probably a measure of truth to their line of thinking, and I'll be the first to admit that I could use less self-pity and more out-right gumption in my life. But, what about legitimate limitations? When is it okay to say, "I am really not in a good place right now and I need to ask for your help"? When is it okay to say no to a potentially good thing because it would mean stretching yourself too thin? What about embracing the limitations with which we were created? 

Every one of us was designed with a need for a pretty hefty amount of sleep each night: 8 out of every 24 hours. That is one-third of our lives! What does that tell you about the fragility of our nature? If you think about all of the things we need to do regularly: sleep, eat, breathe, use the bathroom, bathe, be with others...these are all reminders of our limitations. Maybe God was trying to tell us something when he made our bodies with needs for such constant and continual maintenance. Maybe my body was trying to tell me something this past week when it slammed my lungs full of junk and forced me to S T O P.  

A big part of my story is my evil sidekick, Superwoman, that sits on my shoulder every single day. She tells me that my house should always be clean and ready for visitors, my meals should be homemade and hot, and my body should look like Megan Fox. She and I do battle numerous times. Every. Single. Day. Call it perfectionism, idealism, peer pressure, people pleasing, or whatever you wish. She is the enemy in my battle to embrace my limitations. She tells me there is absolutely no excuse to slow down, to stop, or to say no.

Superwoman tells me things like I am a failure as a homeowner and decorator because the shepherd's hook in my front yard (and it's, if you can call it that) has been empty for at least a year now. She whispers, "You should at least have some pretty seasonal flowers hanging so it looks like someone lives there. much time does it take to buy a few hanging plants and throw them up there?"

Superwoman tells me that I am lazy because I only cooked a hot meal for my family one night last week - especially for an Italian!

She tells me that it's understandable for there to be a few toys scattered around, but shames me for how long it's been since I scrubbed the shower in the master bathroom. 

Superwoman tells me that I'm a terrible mother because I need some time away from my baby once in a while. 

But, in the rare moments when I stop to think about it logically, these things make sense in light of embracing natural limitations. Maybe my shepherd's hook is bare because I am trying to focus on the people inside of my house instead of the people outside. Maybe I've bought dinner so often because I know I only have a small window of time during week nights with my family together and I'd like to sit and enjoy them instead of stressing out over another burnt pot of rice. And maybe, just maybe...putting my child in Parent's Day Out once a week is okay. Maybe it is me learning to create some space for keeping myself mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally healthy. (Although even as I write this Superwoman is telling me that these are all excuses and that these are not my true motivations for what I've done/not done.)

These are our natural limitations: we want to do it all, but we can't. I can't. Accepting what's left after I've embraced these limitations is the tricky part. That pile of dishes is hard to look at, the pile of laundry will haunt me tomorrow when there are no clean clothes to wear, or most painfully, the pile of GUILT will plague me even more. (Guilt is another enormous issue for me that I will deal with in a future post.)

A few years ago I read a book by Rob Bell called Velvet Elvis. In it he talks about his struggle with his own "superpastor" in these words:

"I had this false sense of guilt and subsequent shame because I believed deep down that I wasn't working hard enough. And I believed the not-working-hard-enough lie because I didn't function like superpastor, who isn't real anyway. So I had one choice - I had to kill superpastor. I had to take him out back and end his pathetic existence.
I meet so many people who have superwhatever rattling around in their head. They have this person they are convinced they are supposed to be, and their superwhatever is killing them. They have this image they picked up over the years of how they are supposed to look and act and work and play and talk, and it's like a voice that never stops shouting in their ear.
And the only way to not be killed by it is to shoot first. Yes, that is what I meant to write. You have to kill your superwhatever. And you have to do it right now. Because your superwhatever will rob you of today and tomorrow and the next day until you take it out back and end its life. Go do it. The book will be here when you get back."

So at the end of the day, it seems the best thing I can do to Superwoman is to put a pair of cement boots on her and throw her in the river. I had to do that this week. I had to lay in the bed and ask people for help so I could allow my body to heal. And you know what? I’m getting better. The world hasn't stopped spinning and my family and friends haven't stopped loving me. My husband and friends have actually shown me their love all the more in how they've taken care of me. I hope that I can help them embrace their limitations and serve them next time they need it. 

So let me be as clear as possible to myself and everyone else: Superwoman, I am not.

(For further reading, check out The Gospel Coalition's, Limitations: Our Gift from God)