To the Mom in the Dentist’s Waiting Room

To the mom in the dentist’s waiting room this morning. As you held your one month baby in your lap and your rambunctious toddler circled the room with ever increasing energy, I wonder if you felt invisible. Every person who passed, including me, commented on the adorableness of your baby. As you sat there answering yet again the repetitive question: “How old?”, did you wonder if anyone’s eyes saw you?

I saw you. I saw the tiredness in your face, and heard the frustration in your voice as the appointment dragged out for longer than expected. 

I saw you. I saw when you reached your emotional limit and tried to instinctively protect yourself by deferring the important decision that needed to be made about your son’s tooth to your husband, adamantly refusing to take part. I saw you, not because I judged you, but because in that moment I knew what you felt, because I have felt it too. 

I see you. Just one month from the labor and delivery of your child, learning to add another little one to a household that already requires so much from you, you must be exhausted. You must feel so close to your limit every single minute of every day. I see you.

I see the power you hold without always wanting to, the power of motherhood. Those dentists kept coming to run things by you even after you told them to talk to your husband because they sensed that power and respected it. I know you probably in that moment wanted someone, anyone, to see your pain, your cry for help, and to realize that you just wanted to give up, even though you knew you couldn’t. I see you. I see your pain. I heard your cry for help.

I didn’t give you any words to show you that I saw. I wasn’t sure if you would welcome me stepping into your world. And I didn’t know what to say anyway. But I wish that you knew. Knew that this morning I saw you and you made sense to me. I wish you knew that sitting in a doctor’s waiting room with your child feels so mundane, and yet I believe it is one of the most self-sacrificial ways in which you can love your child. As you sit there, watching the minutes of your precious life tick by, you are giving a part of yourself to your child’s wellbeing. It will often take mental, emotional, and sometimes even physical strength that many people will underestimate. You will make so many decisions every single day, whether in or out of a doctor’s office that affect your children’s health and wellness. Each of those decisions takes something from you. And it will often feel like that sacrifice is not visible or appreciated. And so, I hope you know that this morning, I saw it. And I valued it. And I honored it.

You are strong and resilient, even though you do not feel like it on this day. Every single day that you are a parent is a day in which you are growing ever stronger, ever more skilled, and ever more resilient. But every day is also a day that has the potential to drain you more than you ever imagined possible. You will be tested to your limits and then past them, day in and day out, and you will sometimes wonder if it is worth it. You are not just a mom, but I know that in these first years of parenthood, you will feel like you disappear behind your children. And so, I really wish I had told you today that I saw you.

 

Untitled Blog

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I pulled up my blog today to see if I could find a post I wrote about friendship. It surprised me to see that it was my most recent post because I wrote it almost 4 months ago. I knew I had been silent on the blog lately, but I hadn’t realized that it had been that long. I actually have been trying to write, but I often feel really stuck.

Sometimes my lack of ability to write comes from a realization that what I have to write is complicated and deep and extremely vulnerable. Being in a new community with people who do not truly know me yet has made me a little more hesitant to bare my soul. Either I try to write it out and it feels like a rambling mess of words that are perhaps coherent, but not cohesive, or I sit with my fingers on the keys waiting for words to come and not wanting to record the ones that do. I value vulnerability, I really do. But sometimes things feel too raw to say in public. It’s easier to be vulnerable about something in the past that has been resolved. It’s hard to be vulnerable in the middle of the darkness. It’s hard to share ambivalence. It’s hard to share questions that have no answers as of yet. It’s hard to paint a picture that I know will not be pretty and maybe doesn’t yet have any redeeming messages.

When I write, I want to make a point. Even when the words are dark and swirling, I like to end on a hopeful note. But, maybe right now I need to ramble. But also, maybe I don’t have to make all that rambling public either. Maybe I just need to find those few people who will listen to me ramble and sit with me in my confusion. Those people who will catch my tears, and tell me they love me no matter how complicated and messy I am. They can’t give me answers either. But is it answers that I need? I actually don’t know. It feels like there has to be answers at some point. That some of what I’m feeling has to eventually come together and make sense. But who knows? Maybe life is learning to be comfortable with the questions.

It is perhaps insanely insensitive of me to post this vague rambling blog publicly. I know you are now all wondering what’s going on. “Is she ok? Should we be worried?” you are probably asking yourself. You are welcome to reach out to me privately and I may or may not share more of this with you. If I don’t, please do not be offended, it is all very private stuff. And I am mostly doing ok. I am coping really well, actually. It is just that I have moments when my coping strategies fail or my hormonal balance swings to the extreme or I don’t get enough sleep. And in those moments I discover that what lies just below the surface right now is a lot of sadness and pain and confusion. I’m working in several different ways to sort it out and thankfully the lows are different than the anxiety I’ve dealt with in the past. I feel just a bit more in control of it than I used to. But it does sometimes come unexpectedly. This last week I had a sudden drop into a dark pit of despair, but I was spending a couple days with a friend at the time, and he caught me when I fell and comfortably sat beside me in the pit for awhile. Sharing tears with friends is incredibly healing and cleansing, and I am so thankful for that time. See, there I go again, trying to find something hopeful to end this on. That is, I guess part of what makes me who I am, so I will not fight it.

Writing is part of how I process and find my journey through the wilderness. But not all of what I write will be posted here, especially right now, so I anticipate that my posts may continue to be few and far between. And while I know I don’t need to apologize for that, I also somehow feel it is worth you knowing, because it is always good to be reminded that everyone, even those of us who are more publicly vulnerable than others, put up walls to hide behind. We are none of us completely transparent. Make safe spaces in your life for those you love, because you never know who might be in need of dismantling their walls right now.

 

Heart and Mind on Relationship.

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My mind says I’m lonely. My heart disagrees, or at least it disagrees with the cause. Loneliness as a concept is hard to hold on to. Its letters are vapor. As I try to grasp them they slip through my fingers. I envelop them instead in a sheet as I pull them from my head into my heart.

“But look,” Heart objects. “There are all these strong connections that reach out to those who are far away. If I hurt, I hurt for lack of closeness to those I already love. It is not for want of new relationships that I suffer, but because I am missing the friends I already have scattered all over the world.”

“But there is no easy solution to that loneliness,” replies Mind. “Those relationships are of course important, and we can work to keep them, but none of them hold the possibility of being here now. Don’t you long for connection that is more consistently close?” There is a pause, and then she quietly adds: “Or are you scared?”

My eyes well with tears as the Heart pulses with emotion. “Of course I’m scared! I’m scared of not finding it. And I’m equally scared of finding it and losing it, or worse, messing up the order in my life because the attachment is too strong or too messy. Are we even meant to have more than a few of these attachments? What if we have met our limit already? If the connections I have are all I will ever have, shouldn’t we cling to them?”

“It is not healthy to cling,” Mind gently reminds. “We have learned that much at least. It may awaken emotion, but it is painful emotion and it is selfish. It does not show value to the personhood of those to whom we cling. No, we must not cling. And have we reached our limit? The only way to know is to remain open to finding new connections. If there is but one soul here that beats on the same wavelength as you, I intend to do my best to find it for you.”

“Ah,” Heart responds. “But there may not be even one.” (The words are not said with malice, but with gentleness and caution.) “If I am to join you in this venture, you must hold this intention as loosely as you ask me to hold my connections. Let us find peace in the journey, remaining open, yet not desperate.”

Transition + Anxiety

movingWe moved! This was the culmination of months of job search, impatient waiting, packing, finding a house and so many things that added increasing amounts of stress into our life. The act of moving was the final piece. In some ways it feels like we can breathe again now. All that we have been working for has now shifted into place.

But . . . we moved. All that I had known and became accustomed to (and yes, that even includes the stress and discomfort of waiting) has changed. While I am breathing more easily now and feeling the stress lift from my shoulders, I am not comfortable. One of the triggers of my anxiety is transition. I sometimes forget how much I rely on simple familiarity to help me maintain a sense of safety. To wake in a new room, though exciting, is also unsettling to me. Setting up a new house is a chance to start fresh, organize and clean up the cluttered aspects of our house and life. But in the midst of the accumulating order, I lose the comfort of the disorder. I see hugely positive changes in our family’s emotional landscape, like my husband’s rising hope, and yet I sense the loss of the difficult emotions I had become accustomed to. I don’t grieve the loss of those hard things or regret the chance to set things up fresh and new, I just feel unanchored.

I’m trying to put it into words because I don’t think I can be the only one who struggles with this weird discomfort even in the midst of positive change. I may not have liked the clutter, I may have sworn that I wanted things to be different, yet I am so good at fitting into spaces without making waves that I can get attached to almost anything, no matter how messy. I think a portion of this has to do with my personality. Maybe it is my enneagram 2ishness, the fact that I identify so strongly in my relationships to others. I like to feel needed, and so I unconsciously start to build my identity around the ways in which I am needed. And so when that shifts, when people start to need me less, or in different ways, my mind screams out in panic, afraid that I am also losing core pieces of who I am. I think what is keeping me from completely spiralling (in addition to the practice I’ve put in daily the last few months at mindfulness) is the knowledge of two apparently contradictory, yet complimentary truths: I take up important space no matter where I am AND I have my own set of needs that must be attended to. Does it seem selfish that my method of coping is to focus more on myself (both my strengths and my weaknesses)? I am convinced that this is the healthiest way for me to navigate change. Since I most naturally tend to focus on others, I need to intentionally shift that focus during times of stress in order not to get lost or spiral into unhealthy attention seeking habits (expecting others to fill me or define me).

Of course it isn’t only negative things that we lost in this change. For me there were lots of positive aspects of our life in VA that I am grieving. Most of those center around my job. The grief of leaving is strong, and I have been trying to give it space and honor it. On Saturday, while my husband worked hours and hours to load the U-Haul, I went to work for my last day. It was not a demanding day. Most of my tasks had already been handed over to others; my attention had been shifting towards other things for several weeks now. But there were good-byes. Sweet ones. I’m not very good with good-byes. They are incredibly important to me, but I get super awkward when actually faced with them. I’m never sure if I look cold and unfeeling outwardly while I inwardly treasure every hug and soak in every word. When the day came to a close, the emotional weight of the end of something settled on my heart. I climbed into my car and let some of the tears fall, looking forward to settling in to focus a little on this grief when I got home.

But there was no home. I returned to a half empty house, messy beyond recognition. There was still so much work to be done, and no comfortable space physically or emotionally. And so instead of attending to my grief carefully and gently, I attempted to set it aside and pour myself into the packing. Of course, not surprisingly, I became a bit of a grouch that evening. And when I went to bed it became apparent that my unprocessed emotions had pushed me over the tipping point. I had managed the stress of change and the discomfort of the unknown for so long, and yet, on this night, the last night in VA I fell completely apart. It took me hours to go to sleep. There were tears of grief that were shed amidst anxiety for all that still needed to be done before we could actually get on the road the next day. My stomach was physically distressed and my mood was sour.

It took time, but I eventually regained a level of composure outwardly and inwardly on Sunday. One of the pieces that helped me was listening to my 16 year old daughter preach a good-bye sermon at her church before we left. It was thoughtful, very mature, and incredibly vulnerable. And though I shed a few tears on her behalf as she shared her grief at leaving such an amazing community, it was her strength that reached the innermost recesses of my soul. Her strength reminded me of my own.

In order to find a place for myself in this new place, I must make room for it.

 

 

A Fall and my Relationship to Loneliness.

I fell down a set of concrete steps last week. And as the bruises start to surface and the scrapes reach that ugly scabby stage, I wonder if these outward wounds are a representation of something deep inside. 

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When I tumbled down those stairs, I landed at the bottom with my skirt up around my waist and as one of my friends would have delicately put it, tomorrow’s laundry in plain view. No one was around to see me in this undignified state, and I was deeply grateful for that. Yet, there was a certain loneliness I experienced as I arranged my skirts and gently picked myself up off the ground while trying to assess the damage. Though most people would have felt like intruders in that moment, there are a handful of people that I would have gladly fallen in front of in order to hear them ask me if I were ok as they rushed to my aid and made sure I was presentable and whole before helping me to my feet.

I posted later that day about the incident and I mentioned that my internal angst had manifested itself externally. I didn’t mean that flippantly. Lately, I find myself juggling the deep gratitude I hold for my own internal strength and the desire to have someone notice that I am not ok. Sometimes it feels like it has to be either/or. But, as was mentioned in a beautiful sermon I heard on Sunday, oftentimes it is actually both/and. It’s ok to want someone to help you up even while knowing you have the strength to do it yourself.

I feel like to a certain extent this has been my internal struggle for the past five years. Five years ago I began a journey of self-discovery. It included a major faith shift, huge life changes, and lots and lots of processing of who I have been, who I am now and  who I am becoming. It’s been a rewarding process. And I’ve grown really strong through it. The external circumstances that have been a part of this process have required that strength in order for me to survive them. In my husband’s words: I “have gently but firmly held things together against what often seemed like overwhelming odds.” When the therapist I had near the beginning of this process helped me realize what exactly I was doing, she warned me that this is a lonely process. There has been a lot of separation from those around me in order to discover who I am. Separation from family, from friends, and even in some ways from my husband. I am glad she told me that then, because it has helped my extroverted, community-longing self hang on through a time when past connections were slowly dissolving.

That separation has been hard for me. I hold wounds from the past 5 years that are still not completely healed. And I think most of the time, I keep those wounds to myself. Yes, I have held things together, but sometimes I don’t want to. Sometimes I want to let it all go and let myself fall just to see if anyone will be there to catch me.

Now, more than ever I want friends. I will never be done discovering myself, but I am hopeful that I am ready now to both reform connections and make new ones. I long for connections that are not shallow, but deep, real, raw and vulnerable. I am ready for a friend who not only can pick me up when I fall down, but who knows me well enough to notice that I’m in danger of falling before it even happens.

This is not to say that I haven’t had deep, strong connections the last five years. I have found very rewarding friendships over and over again. But our transient life the last few years has meant that what I feel I am missing is those friends that are physically present in my life. I look back with loneliness and grief on periods of time when that has been true for me, even if it was only for a short time. Even as I list out these relationships to myself, I realize how few of them actually reached a level of complete vulnerability and how very few of them have maintained it with distance. I long for intimacy, to have friends that I can feel completely safe and open with. My husband and I have discussed this often, our longing for friends and community, and our fear that it will not happen.

When I fell, I was on my way to have coffee with a friend, someone who had offered to have coffee with me should I ever need it, and I had finally taken her up on the offer. I walked shakily into that coffee shop and she bandaged up my elbow without a second thought. I know that there are people around who are ready to step up and stand beside me were I to give them the chance. But in this time of transition, I hold back from engaging too deeply, waiting rather impatiently for the next stage and hoping that it will bring with it a feeling of being settled and the courage and capacity to open myself up to be vulnerable with new people. 

Anchors

We live in a world in between. A past that we have known is soon coming to a close and an unknown future looms darkly ahead of us. How do you stay anchored in a space that has nothing to hold on to? Or is it an illusion, this idea that there is nothing certain here in this space?  

My past self whispers that here, even here, especially here, there is God. But God is not who I thought him to be. He is not an all powerful being whose unseen fingers are holding the pieces of my life, putting them together, building the puzzle of good things that have been promised me.

My head reminds me that I exist. That in the midst of uncertainty I still stand. I hold within me an image of myself that I wish I had the artistic ability to recreate. She stands holding out her hands with the palms up. In them she holds pain, pulsing, beautiful pain. The wind whips her pink hair behind her like a cape. Pure bright light bursts from some unseen point behind her, lighting up the pink streaks like flames, highlighting the beauty of her curves, the strength in her legs and arms. The pain seeps between her fingers, but she stands strong, holding it out as a sacrifice, her piercing blue eyes staring ahead into her future, not blindly, but with hope. There is a fierceness in me that will not give up. Is this enough to cling to?

My heart tells me that I cannot exist alone. It reminds me that I also hold love in those blue eyes because of those people who have stood within their gaze. It reminds me that I am anchored always by the invisible connections that extend from my chest reaching out to touch those who mean so much to me. It reminds me that my best words are written when I have felt those connections pulse about me. It reminds me of what I have always known, that life is not worth living without the fellow souls who live it with me. As I lie my head on my husband’s chest and link my fingers with his I wonder if this is my anchor. We live this unknown together. He knows perhaps more than anyone else the uncertainty that haunts my soul, because he shares it.

My feet remind me that they still long to dance. Any music that fills my head, my ears, my soul, finds its way to my feet and they dance. They teach me, remind me, that joy lives within my soul. Never has it been completely quenched, never has it been lost forever. Every dark night has ended in a sunrise. Every painful emotion has been linked inexplicably with deep, passionate, meaningful joy. Joy of discovery. Joy of friendship. Joy of love. Joy of beauty. Joy, unabashed, beautiful joy. This also anchors me. I have known enough of joy to know that it will continue to find me even in the darkest of places.

My hands remind me as I type these words that they create their best work when filled with pain. My arms are strong, they hold not only my pain, but many others’ as well. And in that work that I am called to do, creativity pulses through my fingers and I find ways to express myself. Words to paint a picture of the woman who lives within. I create in other ways too, make beautiful things to wear, but when the strongest passionate emotions fill me, it is not the sewing machine that I turn to, but the pencil. Words are my greatest passion, the thing I must do when there is nothing else left to do. Is this my anchor? The call to write, to pour myself out on to paper so that I am not lost inside myself?

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Each piece exists, and therefore each piece works with the others to anchor me. And in the interplay of the pieces together each piece gains even greater strength. A circle of energy surrounds me and allows me to survive when everything around me falls apart. It is the relationship of each piece to the others, the energy found in the connections, that speaks to me of God. If God exists, she is not out there somewhere laying a path ahead of me, but rather here inside, around, above, below and behind me. She is the source of the light behind me. She is the energy that connects souls together. She dances with me and feels the joy I feel. She pulses within my veins, bringing the words to the surface, rejoicing in the beauty I create. She is the love I feel, the hope I cling to, the energy in my dance, the strength in my arms. 

Pink = Passion

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This pink in my hair is more than just a fun experiment. It is a symbol. That doesn’t mean it isn’t also fun. 🙂 It most definitely is, and I am ok with that being what other people see when they look at me.

But for me it goes much deeper. When I look in the mirror and see these pink streaks, I am reminded of pieces of myself that are sometimes hidden. The pink actually symbolizes a lot of things for me and I’m not going to go into all of them right now, but I’d like to share about one piece of it that has become incredibly important to me right now. It is almost as if I knew that during this period of my life I would need the visible reminder of pink hair.

Pink is not practical. Pink is passion. Running deep within my soul I have discovered a woman who is strong, brave and a little bit wild. That woman is me, even though it seems easier somehow to label her as someone else. But that deep core piece of who I am, the one who makes choices based on passion rather than practicality, is the piece that has carried me through some of the most difficult years of adulthood. And I haven’t been merely surviving. Most of the time I’ve been thriving.

And as the work of the last five years seems to be all coming together, and everything feels like it’s about to burst at the seams, it is not practicality that is getting me through each day, but rather passion. In fact, practically speaking, things are pretty much a mess. The budget is all but forgotten. The house waffles between messy and barely passable. And all sorts of “practical” things are just pushed aside right now. My physical surroundings in some way mirror the internal jumble of things. John says this is a liminal space. A space between. We are nearing a threshold, about to step into a different future. We are nearly there, but not there yet. And as we hang out in this weird in between, uncomfortable space, we sometimes struggle to make it through the day to day stuff.

In particular right now the stress of everything, the unknown future, the endless to dos, the responsibilities I feel like I am shirking, the individual struggles of each of my children, and the need to constantly weigh different possible options in the never ending job search is getting to me. I feel as if I am walking along a precipice and one big gust of wind will knock me right over the edge. In fact, several times the last few days I actually did feel like I was falling. But then this passionate, no nonsense, crazy energy pushes its way forward and laughs in the face of danger. She not only walks the narrow path, but dances across it on her toes.

There is a piece of me that has always been ready for an adventure. There is a piece of me that has always made decisions based on gut and passion. I am relying on this piece to lead the way right now. And it is this piece that I am reminding myself to speak out of when in conversation with my husband. Because I do not want a safe and practical future. I want an adventure. I want a life filled with joy and passion. And I will fight hard to remind him to not settle, to remember that he married someone a little bit wild, who is not afraid to try something new, to risk it all with the hope that something amazing could possibly happen.

This pink in my hair is not all fun. It reminds me that I can do amazing things. And that, my friends, is a a dangerous and supremely wonderful truth.