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Uncategorized

Listening in the Rubble

I haven’t written in a long time. Mostly because I feel like if I’m going to put something out there, I have to have things figured out. I have nothing figured out. I’m in a season of unraveling.

Ten years into marriage and nearly nine years into parenting and I feel like I’m just coming out of the fog of the years of pregnancy, breastfeeding, infants, diapers, and interrupted sleep. Actually the interrupted sleep hasn’t gone away. Sleeping through the night is a lie. But since my youngest is now three and a half, I’m officially out of the baby stage. And it feels a little like I’m coming back to my house after an earthquake to survey the damage. I’m noticing the ways that I have been too lenient, too harsh, too selfish, too proud. I’m noticing the ways that I’ve allowed my feelings and my husband’s feelings to be too big in our home, resulting in an entire family that doesn’t really know how to self-regulate. I’m seeing how my fear has ruled my parenting, especially during the past three years. And now I’m recognizing that it’s up to me to start putting my house back together. Most days it feels overwhelming. It feels impossible. It feels like it’s too late and I will have to just live in the rubble.

I’m really trying not to assign moral equivalence to this unraveling. My first year of college (this is relevant, I promise) I failed. Literally. I got put on academic probation because my grades were so low. And I had so much shame. It was an expensive school and I hadn’t contributed to helping pay. My parents had believed in me and valued my education enough to send me there and I had thrown it away. For a long time — fifteen years — I assigned moral equivalence to this academic failure. I had loaded that experience with so much shame that I had even written a personal essay nearly equating my rocky freshman year with the infidelity of a close friend of the family. Suddenly this year I have been able to see myself as that seventeen-year-old girl, a thousand miles from home, fresh out of being homeschooled, trying to navigate classes and manipulative roommates and the sudden realization that boys liked her, and I can’t imagine shaming her. She was homesick and depressed and under water. I see now that my academic struggles were not moral failures. Though there are things I did wrong — the way I treated some people — my struggles were not sin.

My struggles to come up for air when I was under water at seventeen and eighteen were not sin, and being overwhelmed and not reading the parenting books and not knowing what to do as a mother is not sin. Yes, there are things — so many things that I can’t breathe when I think about them — that I’ve done as a mother that were sin, that were wrong and shameful and irreversible. But starting my mothering journey with postpartum depression, and having my babies so close together that my body and hormones never had time to catch up — that’s not sin. Not intuitively know how to best support a husband living with steadily worsening anxiety and depression was not sin. And having a trauma response to my husband letting go of his faith — or acknowledging it had never been real — that’s not sin. It’s human. And I’m allowed to be human. And so are you.

Still, there are consequences to this humanity — this living in a broken world and broken culture that values self-reliance over interdependence. And so I’m standing here in the rubble, waiting for the next weight-bearing beam to come crashing down. My fears are so big that I’m often paralyzed. My job as a parent is to tell my children who they are: loved and treasured by God, intrinsically valuable, brave, smart, capable of great love and kindness. It’s also my job to correct and direct them so their gifts don’t get twisted and distorted by selfishness and sin. This feels impossible. If I tell them too much, “you are good,” will this become a burden of perfectionism they feel they have to live up to at all times and will they crumble in disappointment in themselves when they’re not able to? But if I overcorrect will they just be stuck in an identity of rebellion and shame? How do people raise decent, healthy adults? These are the huge, abstract thoughts that crowd my mind while I’m trying to do the everyday tasks of homeschooling, conflict resolution, and enforcing respectful attitudes. And there’s the issue of faith. How can I make sure they have this anchor, this hope? How can I make sure they know they are infinitely loved and they are called to love? Which ones of them are going to enter their thirties and realize that none of it was ever real to them? No matter how hard I try, it’s a real possibility. There’s no way to ensure any of this. It’s out of my control, but still my responsibility. This feels like a raw deal.

So I stand in the rubble, trying to find the balance between surrender and responsibility. Between ultimate faith and everyday presence.

This is where I am. Unraveling. Stripped of so many things I’d once thought defined me: good, thoughtful, patient, wise, pretty. My children aren’t the ones that cause strangers to approach us in public and declare how wonderfully behaved they are. They’re the ones who spit on their dance teachers, fuss at each other nonstop through the grocery store, and throw screaming fits through Target. They also paint pictures for each other, show genuine compassion and are fun and funny. But I was sure I’d be better at this. I was sure I’d model patience under pressure and produce self-contained children. I was sure I would enjoy them more of the time. The simple fact is that in all my growing and struggling and unraveling, I haven’t shown them how to respond and regulate. I haven’t always been safe for them with all my big fears and traumas and disappointments pouring out all over the place.

Why put this out there for people to read instead of just writing it in a journal? Maybe it is selfish. Maybe I feel like, especially this year, I’ve been walking around in the world naked. And since everyone has already seen me, I’d like to give some explanation about where my clothes went. But I also hope that this might bring some encouragement to someone who might feel the same way. Maybe someone needs permission to see their traumas as real, even if they can think of ten people with “more legitimate” traumas than theirs. Maybe someone needs to let go of shame over something and stop assigning moral equivalence to human vulnerability.

I want to step into a season of listening — of conversation. Instead of always trying to figure things out or come up with something profound to say, I want to listen. I want to listen to my husband and children about their specific needs. I want to listen to the Holy Spirit instead of my fears. I want to listen to my community and how I’m called to love them. I want to listen to myself — my body and mind — and recognize how to meet my own humanity with respect and compassion. Remembering that to be dependent and limited is not weakness, but instead part of my created beauty.

So I’m not making pronouncements or attempting profound statements today. I’m just bearing my humanity and trying to listen.

Uncategorized

Being Present, Not Impressive

I haven’t written in a long time. I tell myself it’s because I’m too busy with kids and dancing and training to be a doula, and trying to be a good wife. But really it’s because I’m afraid and maybe a little lazy. I’m afraid to sit down and put some time into writing, and not have it be worthwhile to anyone reading it. I’m afraid to put something out there that isn’t “profound” and “impressive.” I realize that the root of this fear is pride. I started this blog as both a tool to help me write regularly, and as an attempt to encourage those who might read it. I wanted to “write the thing I wanted to come upon” as Anne Lamott says. I wanted to provide an honest perspective on this life of faith and family — a real discussion of the struggle involved in bringing the abstract and spiritual into the daily, all too tangible messiness of life. But now I’ve allowed myself to get wrapped up in trying to say something that no one else has said — something that will cause people to say, “Oh, isn’t she wise” instead of causing them to feel encouraged and refreshed to face their own days. I’ve been wanting people to see me instead of wanting to point them to Christ. But I’ve been learning, slowly, about the importance of being a faithful steward, whether I think the result will be remarkable or not.

A year ago, after my fourth baby was born, I went back to dancing too soon. I planned to perform in a show when he was only three months old, so I had to be in rehearsals starting when he was four weeks old. Honestly, as the day of my first rehearsal approached, I knew I wasn’t ready, but I wanted so badly to impress people with how quickly I had “bounced back” after having a baby. I wanted people to see that I could be strong and come back and not miss a beat. “Already dancing on pointe after just having a baby? Wow!” I was blessed to be allowed to bring my baby to the studio with me, but I was still feeling conflicted. If he was in the packnplay, and I was dancing I felt guilty about not paying attention to him. If I was holding him or nursing him during class or rehearsal I felt guilty about not doing what I had come to the studio to do. Thankfully, my director noticed this turmoil, and basically gave me permission to quit the show. It was such a relief. I realized that I had wanted so badly to be impressive that I wasn’t allowing myself to be present in the stage of life I was experiencing. This was going to be my last baby (barring a big surprise) and I felt I was missing out on some of his precious newborn time.

If our goal is to impress, our focus shifts from how we can serve and just be to how we look. It becomes about how we are being seen instead of how our eyes can be open to truly see the needs of others. And we will never be satisfied. Because, really, no one is paying that much attention to us. And if they are, do we really want them to look at us and say, “I wish I could do as much as she does”? I know that what I really want, or what I want to want, is for people to come away from interactions with me feeling like they have been heard and seen and have a renewed strength for their daily struggles. In order for that to happen, I have to let go of the desire to be impressive, and just focus on being present with people.

These lessons have been reinforced over and over again through my training as a birth doula. A doula is a person who offers informational, emotional, and physical support for women in pregnancy and labor. In the beginning of my training I was caught up in learning about all the things I could DO to help laboring women. But the more I learn, the more I realize that it’s mostly about being a loving presence and witness to what only the laboring woman can do.

Silence and stillness are often the hardest, and most important ways to support someone. If someone comes to me with a struggle or a worry, my first instinct is to want to offer insight. I want to fix things for people, but also I want to have something to say. I’m learning that instead of trying to manufacture insight, it is more valuable to listen and then to pray. If I’m grasping for a quick response just for the sake of having something to say, it is guaranteed to not be as helpful as just being quiet and loving and praying.

Instead of trying to be impressive, let’s strive to be present. Instead of trying to be profound, let’s be silent, listen, pray, and wait. We serve the God who sees. Let us be a people who strive to really see each other.