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the house of God forever…

Delaney watched a scary movie at a friend’s house this past summer, and it’s been the bane of our bedtime existence ever since. Every dang night, she needs to be convinced that there are not demons in her room and that, even if she hates it, she still need to sleep with her bedroom door closed because of fire safety reasons.

Sometimes, she shows up in the middle of the night crying about it. By that point, my midnight zombification keeps me from being super insightful, so she typically just makes herself a bed on my closet floor. Because the demons in her room apparently will not come into my closet.

Poor thing. I remember scary dreams when I was a kid. It wasn’t fun. Heck, I remember having a nightmare problem as an adult and that was no fun either.

This child is such a chip off the mother block. She is like me in so many ways. Sometimes it’s endearing. Sometimes it’s scary. I love it when I see her doing things that exemplify my better qualities, but when I see her deeply overthinking something and being overly afraid of things and unable to let it go, I feel bad that I didn’t conquer that all at a much younger age and thereby probably raise her in a way that she would have been less likely to replicate those behaviors. Or maybe it’s just in her DNA.

Regardless, we’ve been working hard at our bedtime thought life. Teaching an adult to guard their thought life is tough. Teaching it to a twelve year old is really tough. It’s actually pretty hard work, ya know.

Something I learned when I was very young that has served me whole life is the twenty-third Psalm. There have been very few moments of sadness or fear or heartache or stress that it has not been able to speak directly to. Like a trinket in my back pocket, I pull it out when I’m feeling weary and alone and stressed. And like medicine, it soothes me and brings me out of the shadows and back into the light. And so, we’ve been working on her memorizing it too.

It’s interesting to me that lies exist where truth does not. I mean, it’s super cliché and all, but it’s true. I think that truth is like a flashlight. You shine it on the dark thing that has you afraid or overwhelmed, and it shows you what the thing really is. It shows its inconsistencies and its inaccuracies.

And apparently the demons that Delaney is afraid of being visited by in the middle of the night are dispelled by the truth that she is actually a child of God whom he has bid to lie down in green pastures and enjoy peace beside still waters.

My friend Jimmy showed me this really cool little exercise about the difference between truth and lie. Coincidentally, he used the twenty-third Psalm as his illustration.

Here is the twenty-third Psalm stripped of its truth. Stripped of its “flashlight”.

The Lord is not my shepherd. I lack all kinds of good things.
He offers me no peace in green pastures.
He offers me no calm beside still waters.
He does not restore my soul.
He does not lead me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea. I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, and I’m terrified. Because you are not with me.
Your rod and staff are of no comfort to me.
You do not prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies.
You do not anoint my head with oil.
My cup does not run over.
Your goodness and mercy are not for me.
I will never dwell in your house.

What a difference a little truth makes. Life can be bleak when there is no flashlight illuminating the dark corners. How grave it all seems without the certainty of presence and nearness.

Don’t get caught in a storyline where demons hide under your bed when they really aren’t there. Don’t get caught in a narrative where the truth that has indeed already been spoken is somehow turned off or forgotten or neglected.

I told Delaney about the lovely passage in Isaiah where Zion asks God if he has forgotten him. So quickly the response of truth shows up and dispels the fear. “I cannot forget you. Could a mother forget the baby she has nursed? Even if she could, I cannot. See, I have engraved your name on the palm of my hand. You are continually before me.”

Turn the lights back on. Shine it on whatever lie has you broken down and bleeding today.

Are you alone?
Are you afraid?
Are you weary?

Green pastures and still waters await.

We fell asleep last night holding hands and listening to this sweet little morsel of truth and comfort.

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Self Care…

All my friends got sick over the holidays. Puking, sore throats, strep, you name it. Somehow I didn’t. Even my husband got a touch of it, but somehow he didn’t pass it to me even though we spend 8 hours a day in the same small space, sharing air.

I wondered what was different about this year. It’s been nineteen years – since I became a mom – of catching other people’s sicknesses over the holidays.

And then I remembered that one of my blood tests came back a few months ago showing significant deficiencies in some key vitamins and minerals, and so I started taking daily supplements. I also cleaned up my diet and greatly increased my sleep, while, at the same time, vigorously reducing my stress level.

I suppose I could be wrong, but here is my theory. I think my immune system was just strong. As we now know, catching illness has more to do with the state of the body that was exposed than the strength of the virus or bacteria. Generally, even a harsh bug can be introduced to a strong system and not find a home. But, when the subject is worn down from lack of sleep, too much stress, too much sugar, and a tired immune system, it succumbs easily to colds and flu.

This year, it happened to be that I was being extra mindful about good self care long before I would normally do that. You see, I’d normally wait for the first sniffle to show up. But this year, by the time it did, I’d already been pushing extra fluids, beefing up my daily sleep, pulling back on stress, and feeding myself immune boosting vitamins and minerals for months. And so, when I was exposed to whatever it was that infected all my friends, my body didn’t have much trouble fighting it off.

I wonder if our emotional and spiritual selves are that way too.

I mean, they are. There, I said it.

If we wait for the “first sniffle” to come before we kick in with self-care, we’ll probably succumb – at least temporarily – to whatever we are being faced with. When someone we once trusted slides a knife into our back – an experience so many of us have lived through, we completely collapse because there aren’t reserves to keep us going through those hard and painful moments. Or worse, when the cancer finally takes her or the adoption we thought was going to be wonderful really goes sideways and our happy family is now looking more like a morgue of corpses or our jobs are snatched away because of downsizing and we’re left wondering how we will keep the mortgage paid and the lights on – when the real stuff of life that happens to all of us at some point or another finally happens, we can’t stay standing. And it’s not necessarily because the thing itself should have the power to completely black out all happiness and resilience and ability to cope. It’s because we have long neglected ourselves to the point where even a shift in the wind can make us topple

There is a saying that goes like this, “Into every life a little rain must fall. And sometimes it pours.”

Lately I’ve been asking myself if perhaps it’s better to live in a way that prepares me for the unexpected heavy rainfalls that are inevitable rather than running myself on close to empty all the time. I always tell my kids that in the winter they should always keep their car tanks full. “Never let the empty light come on.” Why? Because when it does, you better hope to God it’s not thirty below zero with a wind-chill factor twenty degrees worse and that you’re too far from a gas station to fix the situation. So, because the stakes can be high when the temps are that low, never run yourself so close to empty.

What can I do today to protect me from what’s coming tomorrow? To fortify me for the times the rug gets jerked out from under me? In case the four most stressful situations in my life all hit the fan on the same day? In case someone I love unexpectedly leaves? In case the rain pours?

For me, here is what helps. Remembering that I’m a multi-system being. I am not just flesh and bones, but at the same time, I am comprised of those things. They are part of the entirety of me. I am not merely a being of emotion and feeling, but I am those things as well. Again, they are part of the many facets of me. My spirit is not the entirety of me, but indeed, I am spirit. I cannot neglect it and think it won’t catch up to me.

And so, because I am a being of flesh and bones, but also a being of spirit and emotion and feeling, I must care for and continually tend all parts of me. All the time. I can’t wait till the tornado shows up and the sirens are blaring to act if I want to survive it. Heck, even better… if I want to thrive. Because honestly, I’m sick of surviving things.

I’ve spent many years doing the pseudo version of self-care. You know that little idea that we all get so wrong. Don’t we think of self-care as the thing you do when trouble comes? But really, I think that if you find yourself in a situation where you must change courses entirely when trouble comes just to stay afloat, it’s proof that you’ve neglected real self-care.

If you think that self-care is about bubble baths and wine when you’ve had a bad day, you might be missing the boat.

For a strong soul: Meditation. Forgiveness. Contemplation. Solitude. Practicing the art of thankfulness. Looking for the grace of God in every situation. Both the happy moments, but especially in the stressful and painful ones.

For a strong mind: Reading. Writing. Journaling. Breathing in and breathing out – taking in new ideas and putting forth your own. Practicing the art of guarded thought. Not giving in to anger and anxiety.

For a strong body: Exercise. Clean food. Water. Vitamins and minerals. Sleep, and lots of it. Fight stress like it’s your real enemy, because it is.

For strong relationships: Strive to be interested rather than interesting. Be full of care rather than careful. Talk rather than holding in. Give rather than only taking. Show up. Be there. Take care of yourself in a way that you will have abundance to share. Forgive. Do not demand that all ills be atoned for. Empathize – put yourself in the other person’s shoes and walk a mile or two before taking any action or harboring any bitterness. Do not demand total elimination of all flaws, both in others but also in yourself. Be flexible. Bendable. Have thicker skin and do not break easily because of the slightest strain.

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A prayer for my New Year…

It’s the fourth day of the year. My mind is filled with new ways of doing things better in this fresh year. 2018 kicked my butt. Pretty hard.

I’ve set aside the notion of New Year’s resolutions for a while now for all the reasons that we’re supposed to do that – you know, consistency and all. But this January, I feel the need for fresh resolve. Fresh perspective. Fresh goals.

I can’t really say why 2018 was as bad as it was. But it was. There was a certain sense of panic and anxiety that blanketed itself over the full 12 months. A lot of things that we’ve spent years and years building came to ruin. Relationships that we’d enjoyed for years reached rocky ends. My body decided that the entire left side of me must feel as though it is on fire 24/7. A court situation pressed in on us and wrapped tight hands around our throats making the daily chore of getting the mail even something that was triggering and filled with bad news.

By the time September came around, I was ripe for a mini breakdown. But because I’m dumb, instead of signing up for more time off, lots of clean eating and extra sleep, instead, I signed myself up for 50+ hours/week of school and 30+/hours a week of work. And being a mom. And being a wife. And being a six-days-a-week-Crossfitter. And a whole bunch of other things that I should have set aside for a while in order to notice the critical mass that was about to drop on my body like a time bomb.

October showed up just in time for me to lose it completely. My pain level was so out of control that I began a long series of testing. After all the blood and all the spit and all the urine said that I’m actually in good health, it hit me like a ton of bricks that I was suffering from emotional symptoms that I’d been ignoring long enough that they turned physical.

It just so happened that I was studying anxiety and polar disorders in my psych class when my schtuff totally hit the fan. Each page was like a new revelation. Realities about myself and my health that I’d been dealing with for more than a decade suddenly became crystal clear. In truth, I’ve probably never had an “adrenal problem” as much as I’ve actually had an anxiety problem. But because that is such a wildly overused term and diagnosis, I really didn’t know what it is.

Of all the things I learned about the chemistry of (real) clinical anxiety, this was most impactful to me.

Each perspective of psychology has its own prescribed method of treating anxiety. And, statistically speaking, most treatments were relatively ineffective. Psychotropic drugs were often out ranked by placebos. Not always, but in a high percentage of studies and cases. But here is what was interesting. The two perspectives with their corresponding therapies that had high success rates were the cognitive perspective and the behavioral perspective. Their treatments are, of course, radical changes in both cognition (thoughts and thought processes) and behavior (the things we do in response to the things we think).

And so, while doctors are handing out psychotropic drugs like candy to every person they can slap an anxiety/depression label on, as it turns out, the people who write the books to train the professionals actually say that that isn’t the answer. The answer lies in radical change in a person’s thought life and in a person’s behavioral life.

There is an ancient proverb that goes like this, “As a man thinketh, so he is.”

You see, our thoughts are the seeds of our behaviors. The two are connected like fruit and root. Inextricably bound together.

Another proverb goes like this, “We give power to that which we give attention.”

And so, while my body was lighting up on fire with pain and while the mail was busy delivering daily bombs of anxiety and trouble and while the troubles of a failing industry that was killing our family business was all happening, I let my eyes get totally fixated on that. And nothing more. Each day became another day of pain and another day of possible painful surprise. Another day of trouble. It was what I chose to give my attention to.

And to be honest, I don’t think I realized that I was choosing it until recently. Until I read in those chapters that radical changes to one’s thoughts and radical changes to one’s behavior is really the key to setting an anxious mind to rest and to peace.

I’ve been reading a book called “The Chemistry of Calm”. To anyone who suspects they might struggle with real true clinical anxiety, I highly recommend it. Especially if your symptoms have gone beyond mental ramifications and have become physical. You’re on board a powerful train that is headed somewhere painful and bad in a hurry. And if you don’t learn the heck out of getting off of it and work your pants off to deboard, you’re probably never going to return to the land of the sane again.

In the book, the author talks about the actual steps of making these changes. He starts with the changes to one’s thoughts. He suggests that some of us have more active and more analytical minds than others.

#raisingmyhand #guilty
#anaylsisismyparalysis

He suggests that the answer to calming the anxious mind has to do with not just ceasing the negative thought, but ceasing the analytical thought. The “fixing” thoughts.

When presented with trouble, my brain works overtime – even in my dreams – on finding productive solutions to the problem. This can be a good thing when trouble comes quickly. A sharp mind can mean the difference between succumbing to a trouble and reaching fast for answers and alternatives. But when the trouble is chronic and long lasting and every day for a whole damn year, the overthinking and analyzing becomes like poison. All the chemicals of the brain that help us feel calm and bring homeostasis actually temporarily shut off. Dopamine takes a break and serotonin just stops production. These things would normally be inhibitive of the negative transmissions of things like cortisol and other stress hormones. But when the body halts production in order to give the mind time to benefit from the stress hormone (come up with a solution), there is no insulation to the mind.

From there, a massive trickle-down effect happens. This chemical production triggers that chemical production. The lack of this chemical production triggers the lack of that chemical production. And rather quickly, all the systems in the body that are meant to enhance fight or flight are put in a permanent “on” position. Imagine the turning on of a light switch whose chemicals that are meant to return it to the off position when the trouble has passed have stopped being produced. And when you are stuck in an “on” position, this is what anxiety is. It’s not a bad mood or a lazy mind. It’s a chemical problem actually.

And so, in this wonderful little book, the author (an MD in Minnesota, actually) talks through what is needed to bring the body back to a place where the stress hormone production is able to move back into an “off” position and the protective hormones of wellbeing and calm are turned back “on”.

While there is some diet therapy as well as some vitamin and mineral therapy involved, the main treatment is… you guessed it. Radical change of one’s thoughts. Radical control, actually. STOPPING the thoughts. Stopping the analyzing. Recognizing the problem as it exists. Bringing it back down to proper size. Dissecting only briefly, “What can I do about this? What can I NOT do about this?” Take whatever action is appropriate. And then walk the heck away from it. Be in utter control of the thought process. Continually bring the mind back to a non-analytical state. Quit “fixing”. Stop working on the problem all the time. Give only brief attention to the situation. Then act in strong, decisive, and relatively quick ways. Then stop. Cease. Bring the mind to a forceful halt.

I started working hard on this in early December. My psychical symptoms were at an all-time high, and I was feeling at my very weakest for doing hard mental work. But I began just the same. It felt a lot like when you haven’t been to the gym in half a year, and you slide up under the barbell in the weight rack for the first time. All effort. Nothing easy about it. Moment by moment digging deep and trying to find muscle that has atrophied so badly that it’s hard to imagine it was ever there in the first place.

I found that by transferring my thoughts away from my trouble and away from the constant moving of mental chess pieces as I tried and tried to fix what was wrong, what was actually completely out of my control, I could bring my headache down to bearable and my brain stopped feeling like it was on fire.

Further into the month, I discovered that by moving my thoughts intentionally away from my trouble and onto something that brings me genuine joy and simple pleasure was about as effective as taking an inappropriately large dose of Advil. With Christmas within reach, I pulled my thoughts there. To gifts and love. To cocoa and coffee. To Jesus in a manger and all the heavenly host singing “Hallelujah”. To family and friends. To the warm serenity of Christmas morning.

I found that if I could allow my mind to wander the paths of happiness, somehow the mail and it’s terrible surprises had less impact on me when those moments needed to happen. I found that my body would only go into its fits of wild pain once or twice a week instead of non-stop, around-the-clock. I found that I began to build a bit of mental muscle again and the effort that it took to keep my thoughts in check became progressively easier with each passing day. Like showing up at the gym with rigid consistency, soon, the work became doable and progress was constant.

I’m still working through some bad headache problems, but I’d say I’m about 80% past it. Past what I’m certain would have been a treatment of some silly drug with some stupid side effect. All because of a radical change of thought that has led to a radical change in my behavior.

A few months back, I stumbled into this really wonderful little app called Daily Audio Bible. For thirty minutes each day, the reader – some guy named Brian with really funny little speech nuances – shares a passage from the Old Testament, from the New Testament, something from the Psalms, and something from the Proverbs.

Truth be told, I’m pretty well versed on the NT and Psalms and Proverbs. And the OT is something I’ve largely avoided since my childhood experience of growing up in a cult with a wildly distorted picture of God and grace. Thunder bolts and lightening, very very frightening.I just don’t like it. It’s hard for me to assimilate the Gods of the OT and the NT. I mean, I know they are the same, but my pea-brain likes to think that it can understand cosmic things very well and therefore it must all fit neatly into my human box of logic and common sense. And so, when it doesn’t, I sorta shrink away from it.

This time, I’m finding some odd… comfort, I guess, in this wild and crazy God who blows away entire societies with his mere whim. Who floods the whole earth except seven pairs of these animals and two pairs of these animals and this one small family with which he was not wildly disgusted. Who strips humanity bare of the glory he intended for us over the incorrect eating of an apple.

This God who rains fire and brimstone and who calls for the complete decimation of entire lands of people. “Men, women, and children. Leave none alive.”

I think it’s because I’m badly in need of a God this big right now. This ferocious. This… well, terrifying. I’m badly in need of a break from the Santa Claus version of him that we lazy-minded Americans prefer. I’m badly in need of a God who breathes out destruction upon people who are set against him and those he loves. Maybe because I believe I AM one of those that he loves. And I need desperately the healing medicine that comes from knowing that the God I call upon in the shower with desperate tears running down my face is not the sort of God who is weak and so finite that even the puny human mind can unpack him. I need a God who is wind and rain and thunder and lightning. Who is an ocean and a calm stream at the same time. Who is overwhelming and not-able-to-be-understood. Who is just too damn big for my little brain, for my little mind, for my little ability to comprehend.

I need that God.

I need him always but I especially need him today.

I need him to burst through this dark cloud I’ve spent too much time in. I need him to ease the pain in my body and to relieve the anxiety of my mind. I need him to show up in real life and in the shadows where I am all alone and wrestling against the very real forces of evil who seek my soul like a hungry lion. I need him then. To be my refuge and my aid and my defense and my advocate. And the Santa Claus version just isn’t cutting it anymore.

I need my thoughts to find a home in this contemplation. I need a radical change of thought that will lead to a radical change of behavior. From strife to peace. From anxiety to calm. From frenzy to trust.

Come be to me who you really are. Not a watered-down, palatable version. Come to me with hurricanes and avalanches. Come to me with all of your confusing dichotomies. Come to me with the desperateness of the human condition and your once-for-all treatment that is nothing like a pill and its less-than-placebo effects.

Burst onto my scene again. As you have so many times. Flood my thoughts with the overwhelming majesty and terror that you truly are. So that there is no room for my fear. So that there is no room for my anxiety. So that there is no room for petty worries over the blip of my life in the timeline of humanity.

Radically alter me. My thoughts. My behaviors.
Bring me calm. Chemical and otherwise.
Bring me peace.

You are good when there’s nothing good in me…
You are light when the darkness closes in…
You are peace when my fear is crippling…
My heart will sing, no other name, Jesus, Jesus…

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A good, good father…

Yesterday was Bill’s b-day. I’ve come here to FB to post a birthday something or other for him about a dozen times, but nothing comes out right. Or it sounds too much like what I said last year or the year before. And I don’t care so much about what people reading might think – it’s that I want to have something to say that expresses to HIM the real reality of my love for and adoration of him.

I scrolled through my phone to find some good pics of this last year. Finger flick after finger flick reminded me of the difficulty of this past year. Stuff that doesn’t make it to FB posts and only your closest friends really know about. But those memories are hidden in our photos. The stories that only he and I and maybe our kids know.

We were out to dinner last night talking about 2019 and what we hope the year will bring. We spent a bit of time reminiscing about 2018. Its highs and its gut-punching lows. About how unfair life is sometimes and how it could be easy to question the whole “you’re a good, good Father” song we sing so easily on Sunday morning if you weren’t constantly on guard for that sort of fallacy. And yet, once we pulled down the layers of the unfair bits of 2018, it was easy to see the inside pieces of blessing and joy and private victory.

Bill is a good, good father. He is a good, good husband too, but as I scrolled through my phone, I was bombarded by the depth of what a good dad he is. Photo after photo of his presence in their lives. Our talk last night resonated with me in a different way. God’s faithfulness to us is often fleshed out through Bill. Through his constancy and faithfulness. Through his steadfastness. He’s not god nor would he even want me to project an image of him that is perfection. But he is steady and dependable. He is a rock. He is kind and gentle and present. He is funny and fills the kids’ lives with laughter. He is who they run to when things aren’t going right. When unfair things crash down around them, he is the one who tries to help them make sense of it. When trouble comes at the midnight hour (which has happened more than once to us this year), he rushes to their aid.

This morning, two friends of mine are met with peril. One peril passed, and he will live another day. One peril looms, and she likely will not. Apparently a car crash is more forgiving than a pair of failing lungs. And while I want to say of my friend who walked away from his rolled and burned up van this morning that God is “so good and so faithful”, I can’t. I can’t because it’s only partial truth to imagine that faithfulness only looks like getting out of scrapes. Is God not faithful to my friend who is dying today? Is He not faithful to her husband and children as well? Is He not with them as this epic lifelong heartache builds like a tidal wave rushing to crash upon them sometime today?

And I see this in my husband as well. How many hard things have come our way this year that we have had to stand back and allow? And yet, even in the allowing, there is steadfastness.

Faithfulness is a tricky thing. We want to think it only means happiness. We want to think that it might mean that the executor of faithfulness has a magic wand that is waved over our troubles and then we are spared. But when they happen… what then? Is that not faithfulness as well? Is that not steadfastness as well?

Bill, I’m sure it will take me the rest of my life to understand how and why you chose to love me and my four the way you do, but we are forever grateful for your good, good heart that reminds me so very much of the heart of our good, good Father. Thank you for trekking with me, with us, during the painful lows this year. For being there. For presence. For patience. For strength. For purpose. For forbearance. For being our human rock. Thank you for knowing when to hide us from trouble and for knowing when to let pressure make us stronger. You are our hero. We love you and hope for you the happiest of 47th years.

Also, you can take Delaney ice-fishing. I’m telling the whole world so I won’t change my mind. Again. Ha!!

#butpleasewaittilljanuary #rememberimnotminnesotan
#andthewholethingseemslikedangerousfollytome #butitrustyou

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Speak your truth and let them choose…

This is a powerful message packed into a few short minutes. If you have kids who are approaching adulthood, please click and take the time.

The hardest things we encounter as parents are not the midnight feedings and constant demand of the newborn stage. It is not the toddler years when everything we own is either puked, pooped, or drawn on. It’s not even the puberty years when their hormones are going nuts and they don’t even know who they are or who they are becoming. It is this. The release.

Hands down. Hardest thing I’ve ever done.

Years ago, my oldest daughter and I were at incredible odds about some choices she was making in her life. I responded by controlling every move she made. Why? Because I was afraid. I was afraid of her harming herself and ruining this wonderful little life that I thought I set her up to have. And when her actions didn’t seem indicative that that wonderful little life was actually going to happen, it terrified me. It kept me awake. It gave me anxiety. It brought me to tears of both sadness and anger many times.

During those sad months, our relationship crumbled. I have so many regrets about those times. If I could go back and do that whole year differently, the amount of things I would change could probably fill a book.

One day, I found myself in a session alone with her therapist. And she told me these powerful things… “Heather, there are things you get to decide for your children. You get to decide if they get a cellphone or not and at what age. You get to decide if they’ll participate in sports and have a high family standard of academic expectation. You get to decide if they eat healthy or if they eat crap. You get to decide if they’re allowed to have a messy room or a clean room. But here is what you don’t get to decide. Their inner parts. You cannot choose who they love. You cannot choose what they believe. You cannot force your inner parts upon their inner parts. You must let go of that. You see, the stronger you force that, the more they will resist. And in the end, you will lose them altogether. So, breathe. Let go. Release. Parent in the things that are yours to parent, but for those inner parts… let them go. They don’t belong to you. The sooner you get your head wrapped around that, the sooner your relationship with your daughter will heal and the sooner her choices will stop being risky and scary. Speak your truth to her. Oh yes, speak your truth. But then let her decide her path.”

For six horrible months, I did this. And it was grueling. It was hard to see choices being made whose implications seemed vast and with a bad trajectory. But I spoke my truth and let her choose. I told her everything I believed was true and all the dreams I had for her, but when it came time for the choice to be made of who she was going to love and what she was going to believe and what values she was going to espouse, I released. And I didn’t manipulate or punish her with the silent treatment or other forms of control when she decided to actually go off and do the thing I wanted so badly for her not to do.

It was rough. This mama had almost a whole year of sleepless nights.

But one day around six months in to our painful little experiment, she texted me and told me that she had a secret for me. She made me wait a whole painful month before she finally revealed the secret. She realized that some of the choices she was making wasn’t exactly what she really wanted for herself and she really needed help to figure out how to get out of those choices and make better ones.

Even in that moment, when she finally seemed to give in to good reason, I still had to restrain myself. I still had to pull back and “speak my truth and let her decide”. I even had to let her hurt through some of the consequences of the choices she’d made without interrupting it because I know that consequence is our most gentle and loving teacher.

In the end, we reached the end of our dreadful year as reunited friends. And more importantly, the healthy balance of mother and daughter had been reinstated. Without the presence of force from me, she was easily able to see the danger in bad choices. Without needing to counter-pull against me because I’d ceased pulling so hard on her, it became quickly evident to her that her choices were leading to pain and destruction. Without needing to fight me, she was able to embrace the values she’d been raised with because all of her energies were no longer spent fighting with me. She was able to focus those energies on evaluating the cause and effect of her choices.

Two months ago, my first child moved out. And here I am, repeating those lessons. Not because there are bad choices being made but because letting your child go is… well, terrifying. It’s like letting a gorgeous balloon that you’ve tended for 18 years float out of your grasp and seeing it float past a myriad of sharp edges and near misses while you stand there holding your breath. “Please don’t pop. Please don’t pop.”

It’s been a long road for me. Learning this. Learning that my child is his or her own person. That they might not grow up to be exactly how I’ve planned that they would. That they have not only the right, but also the responsibility to make their own choices. To back up and let them choose. To be patient and willing to speak truth that might be ignored. But in the end, I want my children to be thinkers. I want them to know how to evaluate their choices and weigh out their decisions. And I know for dang sure that they won’t be able to do that effectively if I’ve got my hands around their throats.

Speak your truth. Teach them. Instill your values into your children.

But in the end, when adulthood is upon you, you must release. Open up your hand. Let them choose.

 

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Stop.

Someone help me.

I’ve bitten off more than I can chew.

There is no space for silence. For reflection.

I chase my tail from morning till night.

I’m hitting a wall.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I can’t be sure what’s going on actually. For the past three or four weeks, I feel like I’m drowning. Suffocating, actually. I don’t really think it’s the school. I don’t think it’s work. It sure isn’t my family. So what is it?

There feels to be a set of hands growing around my throat gradually getting tighter without my even noticing. And by the time I do notice, it’s when as stressful event has happened and the restricted breathing room suddenly makes itself known.

It could be a panic attack. Or an anxiety attack. I guess I don’t know for sure. This hasn’t happened to me in years.

Maybe it’s the cumulative effect of it all. Too many early mornings. Too much school. Too much work. Falling behind on other important things. Relational stressors that percolate on the sidelines that I can’t do much about other than try to weather till it gets better. Not enough sleep. Too much caffeine. Not enough time for social interaction. Too many gloomy days.

Who knows really?

I’ve tried to get a hold on it on my own. I’ve focused my thoughts on positivity and uplifting things. I’ve let certain duties slide to give myself a break. I’ve tried to get out more. But it’s not really working.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

So this is embarrassing. I’m on the bathroom floor with my clothes half off, a migraine tearing my face off, and suddenly, the inability to get in adequate air. Sure it was a stressful day, but this response seems way out of proportion. What the hell is going on?

My family is literally feet away on the other side of the door, but I don’t want to cause them alarm.

I feel like there should be some thingI could attribute this to. Some THING that happened. But I can’t really trace it.

It passes. All but the piercing headache. I wonder if my face will give me away. Are my eyes bloodshot now? I mean, it’s just a random Wednesday night, after all. I don’t really want it to turn into something more than that. I don’t want to need silence and darkness and a handful of Advil. I don’t want to wonder if I’m going nuts.

I come out to make dinner and am met by a set of eyes that immediately notice the pain in mine. I’m quickly taken to my bedroom and tucked in. He rubs my feet and asks what happened and tries to make it better. He makes the dinner so I can sleep. He tells the kids to be quiet because my head hurts. And all of this is like being wrapped in a warm bandage except for the fact that I’m still embarrassed. I don’t even know what happened to make me lose my shit on the bathroom floor and even require this sort of assistance. But here I am… tucked in to warmth and safety. Resting in silence. Contemplating and seeking. Feeling thankful for the dearest man I’ve ever met. Pillow damp from unwelcomed tears. But calm. Finally.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Within a week, it’s ramped up even more. And I don’t know why. I don’t know what. I don’t know how to make it stop.

All the self-medication in the world isn’t keeping it at bay.

All of my best tricks aren’t working.

And then the sleepless nights start.

Memories of years of severe insomnia bring me quickly to a state of panic. There’s a reason this sort of thing is used to torture a person, to break them. Because it’s so dang effective.

I feel like I’m standing in a pool that is filled to just over my nose. Death and drowning need not happen if I stand on my very tippy toes or bob up and down for air. And so, I dutifully do just that. I know how to manage the beast called insomnia. I know how to see morning light without having arrived at sleep for even a moment. But it’s hard. It’s work. And it does require constant effort to not slip into The Scary Place. If I drop off my tip-toes or stop this continual effort of reaching up for air each second, the first domino will fall. And when it falls, it will begin the falling of a thousand more that I cannot stop.

Some nights I make it. Others, I don’t.

All I know is that I’m hitting a wall faster than I have ever hit a wall before.

And I need to make this stop. Fast.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Months ago, I planned a weekend getaway with some of my favorite girls. When the time finally arrived for us to go, it happened to be after three solid weeks of this stuff. To say that I no longer wanted to go is a massive understatement.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that the entire host of hell seemed bent on me not going. Every single catastrophe that could have happened in the days preceding my supposed departure indeed happened. Even the morning that I left was filled with frivolous little challenges that I would normally have had no trouble working through. But in my somewhat disabled state of constant headaches, chronic pain, sudden onset anxiety, and desperate sleep deficit, I wasn’t managing well.

But I went anyway. Mostly because I was driving and people were riding with me.

We arrived to find the world’s sweetest farmhouse. The food was wonderful. The talk was deep. The beds were cozy. And the laughter came straight from the belly.

The next morning, we agreed to spend some individual time in solitude. And so, off we went in our own directions.

After I’d walked about a half mile down the dirt road, I realized that my brain was still in 5thgear, revved up and working hard.

Be quiet.
Be still.
Be silent.

Willing away the thoughts crowding in, I could feel the familiar control begin to take form.

Slowing my feet from breakneck speed to a slow and gentle meander, my blood pulsed slower.

I smelled some purple flowers that grew on the side of the road. I kicked a rock and then walked a few more paces to do it again.

I looked up at the great expanse above my head. Limitless and infinite. Sometimes even hard to look at without squinting.

Wind rustled through the corn and a sharp cold wind penetrated my thin pants. But I welcomed the sting.

By now, my mind was slow. Controlled. Empty. Tiny white puffs were sent forth from my nose with each breath.

I assess my current state of affairs briefly. Not enough to become enveloped in it, but an acknowledgement just the same.

Why am I feeling so… overwhelmed? So overloaded?
Is it really that I can’t bear this much burden or is it something else?
I feel like I’m drowning and nothing in my circumstantial world merits that sort of distress.

Memories of recent moments of panic flood over me. Emotions swirl in the air. My breathing falls shallow, and I can feel the sting in my eyes and the lump in my throat.

I really can’t keep doing this. It’s not that it’s been three bad weeks, it’s that I’ve done this before. Done this thing where something physiological takes over and holds me under. I know how bad it gets. I have spent the year on bedrest and have taken the endless pills. I’ve already walked this road and my entire being groans at the idea of walking it again. But I don’t really know what’s causing it. I don’t know what’s bringing me to my knees like this.

A bird swoops past me and stops on the ground just a few feet away. I stop. I come low to the ground. I stare.

Such intricate patterns on her feathers.
She looks me in the eye – or so it seems.
So empty of care. She just is.

The words flash through my brain like a lightning bolt.

Consider the birds of the air. They do not sow. They do not reap and gather. Your heavenly Father knows their need. And are you not of much greater value than they?

The weeds bend in the wind. Already brown from the early cold. I pull my clasped fingers across the length of one and gather the seeds like a small shrub in the tops of my fingers.

All around me is beautiful. A picture worthy of a postcard. A foggy fall morning. Distant barns hide under the enormity of oak trees. The wind whistles past my ears, but other than that, the world is quiet and peaceful. So much unlike the one I live in with its loud noises and heavy demands. All there is for me here is fresh air, contemplation, and zero agenda.

I start to walk again. In the beauty of the moment, I can still feel the emotion within pressing hard against my skin. Asking to be acknowledged. Aching to be relieved.

What would you have me do?
I need to hear from you.
Sometimes I wish it were easier – that I could just look up and get a word from you.
It’s not that I’m unwilling. This time, it’s that I really don’t know.
What is off? What needs changing? What is causing this strangulation?

I work hard even still to keep my mind quiet and present. I practice the art of solitude. The forceful pressing out of frivolous thought and the disciplined stillness of being in that empty space. The intentional listening while silencing the pseudo voices created within my own head in a seeming response. A self-inspired answer. Not really the kind I want right now.

Around the time I was beginning to wonder if this time in solitude would prove different than the other times, I decided it was time to turn around and return back to the farm so I didn’t end up lost. I looked around me to see if I could still spot the tiny white house and the neighboring log cabin. Not five feet in front of me was one word. One word. In all of the earth that was presently available to my eyes, only one word was available.

Stop.

It sat neatly in an octagon of red.

I stared at it for a while. For several minutes actually.

It’s always a difficult thing to decide if perception or imagination are at work.

Stop.

Stop?
Is that for me?
Is that what I’m doing wrong? Going so hard?
Or am I chasing something I’m maybe not meant to chase?
Stop?

Stop.

And just like that, I was back at the farm drinking tea with the girls and wondering quietly what on earth I might need to stop.

Later that day, I lay on my bed and let my fingers expel the contents of my brain onto a recipe card found in the kitchen.

Cast your cares on me for I care for you.
Be anxious for nothing.
I see the sparrows and clothe the lilies; do not fear. I see you.
Stop.
Seek less.
Be quiet.
Trust.
Search for simplicity.
Do not compare your troubles. Comparison is the thief of happiness. All have burdens to bear. Look inward.
Let go of the things that wrap their fingers around your throat. That strangle you.
I see you. I know you. I have always known you.
Guard against negativity. Think on things that are pure and lovely and good. Do not ruminate on your anxious thoughts and give no home to fear.
Actively trust me.
Help me to stop. Overloading. Comparing. Resenting. Fearing. Being an empty well. Fixating.
Help me to simplify. Focus on now. Forgive and trust. Fill and be filled. Let go.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It’s Saturday morning now. A week since my encounter with the stop sign and endless skies. I’ve taken a lot of drastic action to provide some relief for myself. I dropped my hardest class – the one that was literally giving me ulcers. I pulled back on my hours at work. I am forcing myself to bed an hour earlier. I reduced my coffee intake drastically replaced it with a special blend of herbal tea meant to relieve stress and boost immune function. I’ve also greatly tightened the reins of my mind. No longer is it allowed to run to negative thoughts or my present stressors and stay there in unhealthy rumination. No longer do I feel caught by the throat or the water rising above my nose. It’s only one bad decision away, but it is at bay.

I find that two of the very best remedies for most of what life has to offer is 1) active, deliberate changing of circumstances, and 2) active, deliberate changing of thought.

As a man thinketh, so he is.

I can’t be sure about the stop sign, to be honest. On the one hand, I do believe that God interacts with me and that hearing from him in the form of one lone word spelled out in front of my face in the midst of an otherwise wordless horizon is definitely within the range of possible. But I also know the endless creativity of the white blob in my head and how it seeks and searches constantly for meaning and for words to wrap meaning around and for happy story lines. So, yeah. I can’t be sure. But I chose to heed it’s advice, just the same.

Bill pointed out to me that stop signs don’t necessarily mean a permanent stop either. They are there so that a person applies the brakes when necessary and for long enough to assess and before proceeding.

Within my deepest being, for at least two decades, I’ve felt the pressure to write. To use this little knack that God gave me for something more than Facebook posts and a blog that is largely dead. But, for reasons that would be understood easily by most people who have a form of art to share, I just haven’t. It’s hard. It’s vulnerable. It’s tiring. And yet, I feel the pressure of twenty five books swirling around in my brain. Getting it from brain to paper is, as is most art, relatively awful. As they say, everyone likes to “have written”, but no one likes to write. But I can’t shake the feeling that it’s time to face the music and put fingers to keys and just do the dang thing.

The first thing that occurs to me as I try to dissect the real tangible fact that I just experienced something of a mini breakdown and the fact that I do still very much want to go into this field of helping people navigate their traumas and griefs is to: Stop. Pause. Assess. Take a break. And then, when all signs are green, proceed with caution.

And in the meantime, let the dang book out. One of them at least.

Who knows what I’ll do with it or if it will be worth anything at all. But it’s time to listen to the voice that says “Don’t bury your talent.” Maybe later there will be time for seeking Heather’s ambitions, but right now, I think I need to seek this important task. Staying on the path I chose rather than the one that was clearly marked for me feels a little like heading for Tarshish when the message was clearly Nineveh. And no one likes being in the belly of a whale.

Please spit me out now so I can get back to the right path.

For now, my nerves are calm, and my heart is settled. I will do this thing. I will stop talking about doing it, and I’ll just make it happen. I’ll finish what’s in front of me first – this semester. But then I will take a break from the course I plodded for myself to do something long overdue.

And as I do it, I will be mindful of the moving pieces of my life. I will not be owned by anxious thoughts and all the bad things that come from them. I will not overload myself. I will not crowd out peace and tranquility in efforts of productivity. I will order my life right and make strong decisive action choices to remedy what’s wrong. I will pause at the red octagon. Look around me. Decide where I am and where I am meant to go. And then proceed with caution.

 

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coming to Minnesota…

Ten years ago today. And yet it feels like a full lifetime ago. I can still see him standing there on the porch crying. Begging us not to leave. But in the same breath, refusing to get help. Refusing to be rehabilitated out of a life of raging alcoholism.

I can still feel Cody’s tiny hand in mine as we drove away. Away from our home. Away from our friends and family. Away from our town and his school and our whole life. He was 8. He didn’t understand. He was old enough to know something was very wrong but not old enough to be burdened with the truth.

On this day ten years ago, I imagined I was nearing the end of this decade long battle of watching my husband slip further and further away from us and deeper and deeper into addiction. I imagined that this move was the final thing he needed to hit bottom and reach up. I imagined we would make it and he would find sobriety.

But I was wrong.

All the dreams and all the hopes and all the prayers and all the tears… they came crashing down in a violent end just six months later. It was like a death without the funeral. No casket to weep over but he was gone just the same.

There was no Bill yet. No hope of a happy new life. No ideas of a future loaded with promise and health. Just emptiness and sadness.

When I think back to the events of this day ten years ago, I realize how epically important it was in the entire story of my life. And I realize the important role that was played by the people who came along and acted like stepping stones. Helping me find footing just one step at a time.

Lately I’ve encountered a handful of situations wherein I observe someone who is in desperate need of help and change and full life rehabilitation and yet they cower in the last second and choose instead to stay in their prison. It puzzles me when people writhe in the agony of their actions when help IS available. They seem to prefer the familiarity of their chains rather than the open door ahead of them that would lead to something new and wholesome and life giving.

But then I remember. I remember how hard it was. How terrifying it was, actually.

No good or amazing transformation has ever come about without high stakes. Without high risk. Without high fear.

But when the fear is stared down and brave, decisive action is taken, it’s as thought Heaven reaches down to help.

What mountain sits in front of you? What great obstacle must you overcome in order to find peace and wholeness? What demon waits to wrestle with you?

Fight it! Face it! Be brave and put one foot in front of the other. Even if the very.next.step is straight off the face of the cliff of your deepest fears.

Yes, blood will be shed and loss will be sustained. No great adventure has cost less. But the prize is worth it.

Don’t wait another day.

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