Monday, October 24, 2016

Unpacking My Self

(This story is based around the experience of losing my personality because of abuse at a young age. It's something I'm processing in EMDR.)

Once upon a time, there was a little girl who wanted to be invisible. Being noticed by her dad was too painful, so she found a gunny sack and walked over to her shelf. She took down her sparkle and put it in the bag. She took big smiles and laughter down too. She tucked away her voice, her rhythm, her bounce and her fun. 

"There," she said, "Nobody will touch them. They're safe," and pulled the strings tight.

When they'd been put away a while, she had a hard time remembering what was in that bag or where it was. Even after her dad was long gone, she didn't get her things back out. Just in case. 

The girl grew up and wore herself out trying to be someone else, someone less easily hurt. One afternoon she looked out her tired eyes and saw her mom across her kitchen table. Very gently, her mom said, "I remember how big you used to smile. No one's ever gotten so excited about how a fly felt crawling on your arm..." Her mamma kept talking and it was like she was handing over the old gunny sack. 

The girl took it gingerly and loosened the strings. She peaked inside. 

Then she pulled her things out, one by one, feeling each and trying to remember how they'd belonged to her. She decided she wanted them back. 

She walked to her shelf and dusted it off. She put laughter and sparkle next to each other. She kept adding until the bag was empty. 

When people came over, they saw her shelf and it made them smile. Eventually, she threw the bag away, knowing she wouldn't need it anymore. Being out in the open was safe. 

She would never have to pack herself away, or become invisible again. 

She was herself, so she was home. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Jars of Gratitude

I'd love to have a great thought to wrap up my 18 Days of Gratitude, but instead I'm brain dead. So I have a smorgasbord for you.

I'm grateful for a fun book and a cat to snuggle with. I'm grateful the kids and Brian and I had a pleasant, chill evening because that's gotten rare. I'm grateful I'll be in bed on time and not have to worry about sleeping "fast." I'm grateful for you guys and this blog and the catching up we've been able to do. 

I never did bring myself to tell you about the bathroom saga, but I'll get around to it. My sweet husband is working on it right now. I'm grateful for that too. 

isn't this jar PERFECT!?
Thankfully, gratitude doesn't have to be profound. It blesses us in simple ways and is born in simple moments. Have any of you tried a gratitude jar? I am thinking it would be a lovely thing to start in my family where everything has seemed poo-poo for far too long. Here's what Elizabeth Gilbert says about it:

I’m a very ambitious person. I think we all chase our ambitions because we believe they will make us happy. And now I have six years of evidence in my happiness jar that on a day to day, moment to moment level, the stuff that makes me happy is remarkably simple.

I love that. 

I love you. 

Thanks always, for listening. 

Monday, October 17, 2016

Practicing Gratitude When I Slept All Day

Each of the days of this gratitude exercise, I've asked myself, "What are you grateful for?"

Life. In this moment, I'm grateful to be alive. Not because life feels good or because circumstances are encouraging, but because I have lungs that breathe in and breathe out. 

In and out. 

Look at them working so hard for me. My whole body, especially the parts that aren't struggling, show up every day and every night to work for me. My body believes in my purpose even when I've lost track of it. It serves me unquestioningly, even when I've done things that make it's job harder.

With parts of my body struggling and erratic symptoms, it's easy to start seeing nothing else. I don't understand why I'm shaky today. I don't understand why I couldn't sleep last night. Why do I feel flushed? Why does a poor nights' sleep screw me up for so long? My mind tries to track it and back at the beginning I wrote it down faithfully for months and still saw no patterns/answers. It feels much like having a newborn who won't sleep at 1am. My tired brain would do the checklist, "She's changed. She can't be hungry already. It's night time...what else is there?!" I knew this wasn't a simple math problem and I knew I couldn't figure it out, but because I needed sleep so badly, I tried. 

But tonight I'm setting that pursuit aside. I need to shift. Today was my day off and I always look forward to getting things done, but because I slept poorly last night, I slept most of today. I feel discouraged when this happens and I did today. For sure. 

But if I put a hand on my heart, I feel it beat. My chest tightness is anxiety, not a failing heart. I'm grateful.

If I show up to yoga (which I did today), I can practice even with my weak wrist and painful psoas. I'm grateful.

If I lay on my back, I can watch my stomach and lungs expand, gently rising and falling, because they're strong. I'm grateful.

Parts of me are weak and parts of me are strong, but my whole body is on my side. And if my body's on my side, and it was God's idea, then it's a testament to what he's willing to do for me and what he thinks I'm worthy of. And like his always hoping love, my body doesn't desert me. It keeps breathing and pumping until I find my way back to my purpose. While I'm busy doubting my navigating ability, it's inhaling and exhaling. 

I want to be humble like my body - just do my work and trust. Just believe in goodness and possibility and keep working or resting, whatever it's time for. 

My body is a friend to me. It's taken some big hits and I no longer hold that against her. I used to blame her for so much of my pain. Lately, I'm tempted to blame her for the things I long to do, but can't. But it was never her. It was never me. And in that place where I'm starting to understand my body and I are one and the same, I realize we haven't lost faith in me. 

We still believe I can heal. 

We still believe I'm worth whatever it takes to heal. 

We still believe we're carrying a gift the world needs. 

One of the biggest hits my body ever took was carrying and delivering my twin babies. I got very sick at the end and was horrified when I saw this photo of myself walking into surgery. I swore I'd never, ever show anyone because I was so ashamed. But now, I feel so much love for my body, I can show this to you. I see the beauty now. If you can't, don't feel bad or freak out. It will come. 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Practicing Gratitude

I was grateful for bedtime, even if I had to take my struggling cherubs to bed with me.

 I was grateful my kids got some nature therapy.

I am grateful for a cleaned out room.

The hardest part of being a minimalist for me is having kids. There's a huge turnover of stuff every year, whether it's clothes, bikes, or ice skates they've outgrown. There's also a lot of experimentation with different activities and some gear goes with each one. I consider these unavoidable and worthwhile, but there's another category that's downright nasty. 

The junk. The freebies. The papers, the business cards, the Lego magazines, the football rings off the Superbowl cupcakes. "Why can't I keep it?!" People look at you like you're cruel if you aren't thrilled when they gift your child with a Nerf pear, complete with their logo on its side. Well, I'm not thrilled because this will go in with the Nerf flip-flop and the Nerf football and all the lost golf balls my kids have found. Will they play with them? No. Will they want me to give them away? No. Will they make a mess that drives me crazy? Yes. So no, I'm not thrilled. Or how about the bpa ridden water bottles places STILL give away. I don't hand wash things, so I break my child's heart when I explain we won't keep it. Then they ask, "Why do they MAKE water bottles with bad chemicals?!" Good question. 

I went into Cadence's room a while ago and took out a tote and a half of stuff I didn't think she used. I didn't organize it - just threw it in. We'll deal with it later. I reassured her I wasn't getting rid of anything. Today was Chandler's room. I'm extra grateful to have accomplished this because I was shaky today.

I've involved them in the process before, but this time I just didn't have the energy. Honestly, they don't even have enough time at home to go through everything at the pace it would take if they were making the calls. Doesn't that seem like a clear sign our kids have too much stuff coming in? If we'll never find enough time to process it all at their speed? 

Anyway, I decided a magical mommy clean sweep was okay this time. I hope they still learn how much easier life is with less stuff to look through and clean up. 

Fingers crossed. 

All I know is I can walk from their door to their bed to say goodnight without a lot of strategic stepping. 

Tonight, that's enough for me. 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

High Maintenance

I've wished my whole life I was easy going. I want to be that person who, when everyone is trying to decide where to go eat could go lots of directions happily. Instead, I'm kind of like, "Yeah, okay. That's fine...if that's what everyone else wants, except I need the Macaroni Grill bread STAT!!" Sometimes I just don't open my mouth because that's what could come out. 

I usually know exactly what I want. When I shop, I'm a salesperson's worst nightmare. If they ask to help me find something I'll say, "Yes, I'm looking for black paper bag shorts with a sash belt. Do you have any?" When they show me the pair they have IN BROWN, I thank them and walk away. Some people call this knowing what you want and I have a soft spot in my heart for those people. Others call it picky or anal. 

I've harbored a lot of shame about being high-maintenance. I know I've talked about this book a lot lately, but seriously...there's SO much. Once again, from Brene Brown's Rising Strong:

In my family, being high maintenance was a huge shame trigger, especially for the girls. Be easy, fun and flexible. Need a bathroom break on a road trip? We'll pull over when we don't have to cross the highway to get to the gas station. Don't like what we're having for dinner? Don't eat. Carsick? It's all in your head. Unfortunately, being low maintenance also meant not asking for what you needed and never inconveniencing anyone. 

Uh-huh. In my childhood I understood everyone was tired and broke and my present want or need would likely become the straw that broke the camel's back. So I stopped asking. So much so, when I married Brian I was a chronic hinter. I'd storm around saying lots of things about my dire straights, and he would say, "Would you like some help?" 

Well, yeah. 

But I couldn't get myself to ask him straight out because then, if he didn't want to help me, I'd have that pain all over again. After a few years, I started to realize he wanted to help me, generally, and started to put myself out there, asking forthright. It was all because I had faith he cared and would try to help. It was a new day. 

Things went along and while I asked now, I still felt shame about wanting or needing something. There was a whole era when I cared if people said I "wore the pants" in our relationship because I made a lot of decisions. I just had an opinion all the time, where he didn't have a hankering one way or the other. I finally got over that once he'd reassured me a million times he was happy. 

And now, with fatigue and a bum wrist, I've taken high maintenance to a whole new level. It's borderline diva. My diet alone would be hard to live with and then there are earlier bedtimes, opening jars, pulling off my left boot and avoiding action movies (don't need to raise the cortisol for things that are NOT EVEN HAPPENING.) On bad days I ask myself, "Why doesn't he want to run away?"

He's literally quoted this line to me:

So I'm grateful for a husband who likes maintaining me in health and in sickness. 

I'm blown away on a daily basis and it's still really hard sometimes.

But tonight I'm just thankful. I don't know all the whys or how this will play out (which scares me sometimes) but for tonight it's enough just to know my husband is here with me in this time and space. He doesn't run when it's hard. Never has. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

A Filtered Heart

This morning the kids were eating breakfast and I was in the kitchen. One of them came in and told me about something scary someone was watching on their device. They'd seen part of it and said, "I'm glad they weren't actually playing the game because that is scarier." This one's had some hard nights going to bed lately because of accidentally seeing scary stuff. I totally understand this because I watched the Christmas Carol as a kid and any time I was alone (mostly to use the restroom) I was sure Marley would show up, chains a-clanking. 

I took this one's face in my hands and said, "I want you to guard your heart. You have to guard your eyes and your ears because that's how things get into your head and I don't want you to have frightening stuff in there." Okay. 

The day went on with no mention of it, but as I was praying with the kids at bedtime, this one prayed, "Thank you that I have a filtered heart." 

I was dumbfounded. 

What a beautiful way to put it. 

We don't let just anything in there. Our hearts are precious, so we filter.

Another time we talked about porn. We'd already had "the talk" so I told them some people video themselves doing that. Do you think that's appropriate? No, no. That should be private. 

"Yes," I said, "It's something special that should only be shared between two people, so if you ever see that, or even pictures of naked people, you need to look away as fast as you can because seeing something like that can be addicting like cigarettes or drugs. You also need to tell a grown up what's happening." 

I share that because I was comfortable telling my kids about sex, but porn seemed difficult to explain. It was actually pretty simple and now they know another way to guard their hearts. If I had doubts about it really being necessary now, they were put to rest when the kids promptly confided a kid at school had said he was going to look up photos of naked women online. Who knows when they would've talked to us about this if I hadn't brought it up out of the blue! (I did that with the sex talk too. I'm not a proponent of waiting for them to ask. I think they need to be armed.)

It's easy to be afraid as parents, especially when our kids' world is significantly different from the one we grew up in. However, Jesus says not to be afraid. He believes in our kids' ability to go out into humanity and change the world for the better. This verse helps me believe too:

Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life... 

And here's the verse I had in mind when I was talking this morning:

Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.

I'm so grateful my kids are listening, even when I can't tell. 

I'm so grateful for small experiences that teach how doing wrong is a crock that steals our joy. 

I'm grateful I'm on a journey towards knowing how to filter for my hearts' sake and I get to learn next to my kids rather than be the perfect example. 

I'm grateful to finally know that the latter is better. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Learning to Rumble

I've been needing to find good shoes for fall and winter but the way I've gone about it has been an absolute disaster. I want something that looks professional and feels like a cloud - not heavy or hard. Is that too much to ask? I came to terms with the fact I may have to invest in these dreamed-of shoes and braced myself to try a fancy shoe boutique other friends had luck at. The brand my friend loved were lightweight and comfortable, but not squishy. The fancy boutique didn't have the color I wanted, but I bought them to see if they were comfortable when I really walked in them. Then I ordered the black pair directly from the maker online. 

When I went to return the first pair to the boutique, I found out they only give store credit. So now I've spent nearly $200 in the fancy boutique and $200 online. My heart seized for a minute. I decided I'd return the online pair and simply try to find an option in the store. I went to the store and found a pair of wedge booties that are lightweight but still not squooshy. They were discounted half-price and I bought them. 

I got home, feeling triumphant, until I tried them on on carpet and remembered how unstable wedges can feel. This would not be good in winter! Or on grass for our upcoming portraits. To make things worse, pulling off the left shoe hurt my right wrist. Sheesh. Then I had a panicky thought. What if discounted shoes were final sales?! 

I looked up the return policy for the online pair of of boots (which I clearly should've done before purchasing) and raced to the calendar. They had to be returned that day. It was evening, so the only option still open was FedEx. My sweet husband took them there, only to call and say returning them to Sweden would cost $225. 

"What?! How can they ship them to me for $14?" I know, I know, mass quantities, blah, blah, blah. Brian brought them home and I tried to call the Swedes. Maybe they could send me a shipping label to print out, at their rate. The phone number was international, so my cell phone wouldn't call it. I emailed. They said they're sorry - try USPS. It should be cheaper. We did and it only cost $50. We shipped them off and crossed our fingers we'd get the rest of our money back. 

This morning I walked into the boutique with the cursed wedges and found out even though the shelf I got these from doesn't say "final sale" like the other shelf, they are indeed a final sale. 

Here's the story I started telling myself: 

I've been so stupid about all of this! I should have known fancy little stores don't always offer refunds and asked. They should've told me, but I suppose most of their clientele aren't crushed by this news like I am. I'm embarrassed. I don't want to be a pain to them - I worked in a small store. I don't want to make a fuss, but I don't have hundreds to burn! I'm struggling hard with feeling like my health has dug us into the deepest debt hole we've ever seen and now I go crazy trying to find shoes I can bear to wear. It's so unfair! I feel like I'm spinning out of control. Why can't something go right for me? I should stop trying because I make everything worse.

While my thoughts raced like this, I sat so still I felt frozen. I do that when I go deep inside myself. It feels like I'm cratering. I've been beating myself up about this and stressing out and all my logic says, "You're adding the negative of stress on top of the money woes. Just stop it!" But I didn't feel like I could. My stomach felt sick. Brian told me I'm worth any stupid mistakes I cost us. That's gone both ways over our 16 years and normally I get it, but this is on top of my health debt. It doesn't feel okay.

Brene Brown calls this phase rumbling.* You have to cross-examine that first draft and throw out the lies. Here's my attempt to throw out some lies:

I'm a smart person. My head is foggy because I'm so tired right now, but I'm still smart somewhere under there. It wasn't wrong to want shoes or feel like I needed to try to find some now (it's getting colder). It just went badly. There's wrong on both sides. I should've asked, they should've told me, or posted that information somewhere in the store. My family doesn't begrudge me the money we've spent to try to get me healthy or on the shoes I still don't have. I'm worthy of shoes that don't hurt my feet. I even think it's okay to hope they look nice. I don't know where to start to find them, but I'll proceed with caution and try to be more patient. 

There's certainly more to rumble with, but that's a good start. 

It's enough for me tonight. 

I'm thankful for Brene's wisdom that shows me what to do with my big, scary feelings. 

*This wisdom comes from her book Rising Strong.