Friday, August 18, 2017

Helping the Parent of a Young Child Through Empathy and Silence

One morning a few months ago my mom babysat so I could run some errands.  (Thank you Mom!) When I got home I was a little jittery from that second cup of coffee and super hungry. Enter plan for a quick lunch, microwave burritos from the freezer and a pre-packaged salad from Aldi.  But I had a Big. Bag. Of. HEAVY. Papers. slung over my shoulder, and needed to get it in the back room before the baby grabbed the carefully arranged papers and tossed them all over the room (a favorite hobby of his at the time).

Mom's telling me how the morning went, which is great. But I'm a little shaky from being hungry and this bag is really heavy. And the baby has this look on his face like MOM MOM MOM you're home PICK ME UP! And I know that as he wobbles towards me with arms raised that if I don't pick him up there will be crying and it will be loud.

In my head, my words are clear. I'm thinking, "Mom, will you hold the baby for a sec while I go put this bag in the back room?"

But that's not what comes out.  What comes out is "Uhhh... This bag heavy... Ummm..." And some hand-waving toward the baby, and a definite expectation that my mom will read my mind and pick up her grandson so he doesn't cry. I confess I even start to feel a little irritated when she fails to read my mind!

"Just tell me what you want," my mom says after I spent a few seconds waving my arms.
So I finally get the words out.  She picks up the baby, I drop the bag off, and soon lunch is on the table and all's well in the world.

---

While my toddler can hold a decent conversation nowadays, he's not as good at it during moments of intense emotions. And I can't blame him, because look at how hard it was for me, as an adult, to communicate a simple request when I was tired and hungry.  Little kids have it rough when it comes to communication for sure.  Also, there have been many moments where my child has had poor communication skills modeled to him because my anxiety got the best of me.  Couple this with the normal difficulties of early childhood and sometimes it seems that we have it a little more difficult than the average for our social circles.

That said, there are a few things that make this journey a lot easier for my child and I. A lot of support comes through our family and friends.  People understand that this is a draining time and they want to help.  I'm so thankful that between grandparents, church family and friends, we have a strong support network.  It really does take a village.

The village can sometimes be an obstacle to peace, however, whether it's with my own anxiety or my child's growth.  It's in thinking about this that I want to share two things that I find really helpful both for my own anxiety and for helping my child through a stressful situation.

  • First, how helpful it is to know that I'm not alone.  
  • Second, the gift that moments of silence are even in stressful moments.  

I'm hopeful that this will be a blessing to the reader, that you might have an idea for how you can best support the young parents in your life, especially if they, like me, struggle with anxiety.


EMPATHY -- Can you relate?

I thrive when people empathize with me.  Brene Brown has a lovely video on empathy that I'd encourage everyone reading this to watch.  In a nutshell, it talks about how empathy fosters connection, because you're showing someone they're not alone.  It's contrasted with sympathy, which can backfire and foster disconnection.

Thankfully, I have a lot of friends and family who know what it's like to be a parent of young kids, either because they've spent a lot of time with me, or they have been through that stage recently themselves.

But what if you can't relate?

Maybe you've forgotten what it's like to be a parent of a small child.  Maybe you don't have kids and honestly just don't know.  Maybe when you see a young parent struggling, what's going through your head is an analysis of their parenting behaviors and how their kids are reacting, and your brain is buzzing with how you would do it differently.  I get it.  My brain does that too.  You probably care about me and want the best for me, and I am thankful for that.  But honestly, more than advice, however well-intentioned, often what is most helpful for me in these kind of moments is ... silence.


SILENCE -- The space to figure stuff out.

Ahhh...  silence.

This silence is such a tangible one.  It's a silence that you can feel.  Sometimes it's heavy.  We're doing life together, and my kid has an outburst.  You may want to rush in to respond immediately to it, because you care about my kid, and you care about me, and you want to help us.  That's my instinct too.  However, sometimes this is counterproductive. 

What's been helpful for me lately is to let the silence sit for a moment after the outburst.  Of all the things that I try, this has the highest success rate.  Frankly, any words that are said immediately after an outburst are not going to be heard by my kid, and will likely just go in one ear and out the other and result in escalated yelling.  

Silence following my kid's outburst, a space where there's no judgement, just a pause to breathe...  to think... to consider what I'll do next... to say a prayer...  this is so lovely.  Even in that pause I want my child to see me and think, "Mama's got this." My child may feel out of control, but I want to be IN control (of myself mainly), and I want my child to know it.  To feel safe, to feel protected, to feel well guided.

It's SO HARD to just be quiet in these moments sometimes.  I waver with how well I do this.  Sometimes I am able to be strong, quiet and calm, even if I have that insidious, usually unproductive compulsion to run over to my child and set the situation right.  Especially if I think he's doing something wrong.  Maybe he's climbing on a table, maybe he's being unkind, maybe he's just doing something I find annoying.  But if I react out of my first instinct, it'll probably be a reaction that's tinged with anger: "I'm not going to let him get away with this!  This kid's gotta have limits!  How dare he do that!"  All of a sudden it's getting personal.  

This isn't about ignoring limits with my kids.  It's in pausing, first to consider if he REALLY needs direction from an adult right now or if it would be better to let him figure out the thing on his own.  And second, if I determine that it is indeed a time to state a limit or a consequence, then the pause gives me the time to consider a limit that I actually am willing and able to enforce.

For my friends and family, I know that so often when you are with me and my children do something that seems like it might require intervention, I know that you just want to help.  I want you to know, though, that my occasional silence (and it is growing to be more and more because I really like this strategy) isn't me saying, "I don't know what to do right now.  I need someone's help.  I want someone's help."  My silence is a calculated strategy to first, see if my kid can figure it out on his own, and second, to make sure that my response to him is thought out, productive, and helpful.  So if you would honor the space of silence, it would be really helpful for me, and also for my child.

Usually, I will prefer to handle my child's outburst on my own.  It's not that I think you wouldn't do a great job at handling it.  It's mostly just that "too many cooks spoil the broth" and usually the cook who knows what ingredients are already in the soup and how long it's been cooking can best keep it from spoiling.

Silence can be lovely.  I love silence in moments of stress, because it leads to a sense of being present.   If I react to my child's upset with immediate words and emotion of my own, often I'm just trying to fix/change his emotion rather than understanding him, and that's not helping him to learn to manage tough feelings.  It's just teaching him that the emotions are bad and to be avoided as a top priority.  But the thing about emotions is they don't go away... they will come up in other ways if we don't address them.  I think that we are supposed to let the emotions come and go in waves and not bottle them up in closed-off spaces where they can fester and grow all sorts of smelly things.  Let it come, let it go, and the waves have a beauty of their own even if they are kind of scary.  Silence gives space for the emotion to play out, to resolve in healthy ways.

I love words, and sometimes I love the absence of them.  Sometimes, I just don't need words.  And sometimes my child doesn't need words.  The silence is precious.  

And silence to think, that's quiet powerful.  When I begin to replace more of my "Uhhhh...  This bag is heavy... Uhhh..." statements that are really mind-reading requests for someone else to do something for me, with a "Hold on a sec..." and a few breaths to get my thoughts in gear, I will be much more emotionally healthy than I am now.

And if I can just pass that lesson on to my child, too, it will be a great opportunity for him to learn to manage tough emotions.  A breath, a hug, a tear soaked into my shoulder.  And some silence.  These things are okay.  And these things are lovely.

If you are a parent, I hope thinking of this blog encourages you a little the next time your child has a tantrum.  If you love someone who is a parent, I hope that you got something out of this, too!!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Life in the Yellow

There are a million reasons why I could be crying on the way home from counselling, and truth be told several were contributing to my tears tonight, but what triggered the ugly tears, the kind of sobbing that rattles the space in my head just behind my nose, was this thought: “I’m not going to be able to have a golden retriever any time soon.”

It was a therapeutic kind of crying. It rattled the resentment and the pain right out of me. There’s a real sense of loss there, a hole in my heart. It’s hard to let go of the golden retriever.

Today I developed a colors-based rating scale to help me measure my anger level. I’m trying to stop some destructive behaviors. The colors are:
  • Green= no anger or irritation
  • Yellow= mildly irritated, but can still make good decisions
  • Orange= quite irritated, decision making is impeded
  • Red= I’m mad and I yell or swear
  • Purple= I’m mad and I lash out
I labelled the last stage purple because it reminds me of my deep need for God’s grace. It’s the worst part of me.

As a follow up to my scale, I wrote something on my fridge: “0 days.” 0 days since the last time spent in the red or purple zones. Tomorrow I am going to erase the 0 and write a 1. The next day I’m going to erase the 1 and write a 2. Hopefully the number will keep growing.

If I were an animal, and I were my best self, I think I’d be a golden retriever. There’s nuggets of fun, joy, excitement, safety and loyalty in me. The reality of my life right now, though, is that most of my time is spent in the yellow. I’m tired of living life on a scale of anger and irritation. It covers up everything else. I can’t get deep. I can’t see. There’s fog and tears in my eyes. I just want to see the sun’s golden rays.

My best self loves everyone, always. My best self doesn’t judge. My best self makes friends even with the burglars because it somehow senses the goodness in them. My best self has boundless energy, joy, and doesn’t even need to forgive because it is never offended.

I may not be able to live with a golden any time soon, at least not until I learn to live better in the yellow. And yet, I have faith, even this yellow can turn to gold, and one day no matter how well or poorly I live my life, I will be my best self: golden, shining, together with my Savior.

Until that day I pray that I can learn to be faithful to experience life more as He would have me experience it. Loving, as best as I can, as much as I can. Forgiving as if there were never any offense in the first place. When people see me, they’ll light up, not because of me but because of He who lives in me.

One day. Change is possible. The path is before me.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

A Heart Check For When My Child Doesn’t Obey

The Book of James Rhythm Project
Resonating Verses: 1:5, 1:20, 2:13, 3:17
This is part of a collection of essays inspired by the book of James as I work to memorize it. My goal is to find daily rhythms that help me put my faith in action more effectively and gracefully, and encourage others who want the same thing.

A Heart Check For When My Child Doesn't Obey

I’ve been reflecting on obedience for the past couple of days, asking myself a question:  Where does my desire for my kids’ obedience come from?  Do I want their obedience because I want to control them and feel powerful, or because I want an easy life?  Or do I want their obedience because I know that things will go well for them if they obey God, because I love them and want to protect them? Unfortunately, sometimes my actions betray the sinful state of my heart, and my demanding of obedience is more of a controlling attitude than anything else.  The Bible says something else than what my sinful tendency to micromanage others tells me.  It also tells me that I am transformed, a new creation in Christ, so I am hopeful that I can do better in teaching my child to obey, out of love, out of a relationship with our loving God and Father, so that I fade out, and Christ shines in.

I don’t want my child to grow up thinking, “My mom was irritated with me all the time.  I never did anything right.”  And yet, I’m afraid that if I keep up with certain patterns, and demand obedience in the way that I sometimes have a tendency to do, that he might grow up to think this.  At the same time, obedience is important.  It’s important to God, so it’s important to me.

It says in Ephesians 6,
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.  "Honor your father and mother" (this is the first commandment with a promise) "that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land." Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:1-4, ESV)
I also like how the NIV Bible says this part at the end of these verses:  “Fathers, do not exasperate your children.”  I want to know why this last part is addressed to fathers and not to mothers.  It seems to me that the author would hope mothers are following this instruction too.  Perhaps the men of the day were more likely to be harsh with their kids than the women.  Perhaps they still are.  For me, though, I am watchful of this in my own life.  Sometimes my interactions with my three year old just make a tantrum worse and escalate the conflict.  Sometimes I provoke him to further anger, or exasperate him.

Obedience is good and worthy to teach my children.  For a Christian, it is a necessary topic.  The struggle I face, and I know that I’m not alone here, is something like this:  What to do when my child doesn’t obey?  Not just, “What should I do,” but “What AM I DOING,” and are those things that I’m doing good things?  It seems to be especially difficult when your child is under five and developmentally isn’t capable of the same kind of emotional reasoning and impulse control as an older child or an adult. 

Perhaps obedience isn’t just “I said to do it, so you’re gonna do it.”  It’s a heart thing, an attitude thing.  It’s a responsiveness.  Comes out of a knowledge that you are loved, protected, safe.  Flourishes into something that produces action out of that beautiful faith that Christ has placed in your heart.  Not out of your own doing, but by the grace of God.

So as I work on my attitude (and experience both successes and setbacks) I want to consider whether the wide-ranging expectations I have for my child’s obedience are appropriate.  

Are my expectations for my child’s obedience…

  • realistic to his developmental stage?  (Understanding child development isn’t just helpful for teachers and daycare workers.  It’s helpful for all parents.)
  • realistic to his personality?
  • realistic to his experiences? (Is he just doing something that he saw me do last week?  If so, I can expect it will be more of a challenge to get him to obey if I tell him to stop.)
  • paying attention to his heart and underlying issues that might cause big emotion in him?
  • shared with him in a loving and non-judgmental tone?

I count it as a win when I am neither permissive nor harsh with my children.  On my own, I would tend towards both extremes.  I can get irritated and it seeps out in my tone, which negatively reinforces the behavior.  He’ll do the behavior again because he just wants a reaction, even if it’s a negative one.  On the other hand, I also can get overwhelmed and ignore negative behaviors.  Then he “gets away with it” and this permissive attitude, just like an irritated attitude, isn’t healthy.

I’m working to find a middle ground.  I’m not where I want to be, but I’m hopeful that transformation is happening in my life.  Ultimately, I want to live a life that is ruled by love, mercy and grace.  I want to have high expectations for my children, and teach them obedience.  I want to move into an attitude that invites obedience, rather than demands it.  When I demand obedience rather than invite it, it is too easy for anger, irritation, and resentment to seep in.

Some thoughts for personal reflection

  1. What is your attitude towards obedience?  How important is obedience to you?
  2. Do you feel that obedience is something to be demanded, or something to be invited?  What would it look like to invite obedience instead of demand it?
  3. Where are you on the scale between harsh and permissive?  Where would you like to be?  Where do you believe God would like you to be?

Resonating Verses

  • “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” (James 1:5)
  • “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19-20)
  • “For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown mercy.  Mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:13)
  • “The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” (James 3:17)

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Broccoli Tear Surfboard! Let's Ride That Sadness Wave!

"I feel sad," I told my husband on the way home from the restaurant. We had decided to take the kids out to dinner because we were too exhausted to cook. Didn't turn out well. The veggies were overcooked. Me, being in Honest Mode, complained and earned some free kids meals. It helped that they made it right, but I would have rather had the crisp, green, fresh looking broccoli in time enough for the broccoli-loving baby to enjoy it. No such luck. The toddler melts down and we have to leave and wrangle the sad baby, who is overtired and wants to run around the restaurant, into his car seat.

"That stinks," my husband says, frowning thoughtfully.

The baby falls asleep. My older son's eyes still watery from his own meltdown. And my sadness hanging in the air as I watch the bright, lovely green treetops pass by the window.

I'm thinking too, about broccoli and tears and lots of things that have nothing to do with either of those. 

My husband ventures tentatively into the realm of validation. "It was a pretty stressful night."

"That's not why I'm sad, though." I'm not looking at him.  I'm looking out the window. "You know those big heavy suit storage bags?" (Garment bags they are called, Google says.) "Those things are so heavy when they have a tux in them.  I feel like I'm carrying around several and looking for someplace to hang them.  I want to hang them on you but I feel like you are holding out a stick and if I try to hang them on it, it will break."  I reach out to him and waggle my hand, pretending to try to hang something on him.  It occurs to me that my hand must look rather like a claw.

Ben chuckles a little and says kindly, "Not sure how I feel about you trying to hang your problems on me."

His laughter frees me a little. For a moment, I can see beyond my feeling and I chuckle a little, too.  "I'm not saying it's a good feeling. It's just how I feel." I keep talking. I tell him that maybe I should just clean out the closet and toss the extra garments. Our clothing racks are so weighed down with clothes that they bend down in the middle. Telling. 

"It's ok if all you have to offer me right now is a stick. I know you are exhausted." Looking back if he were trying to hang his problems on me, possibly all I would have to offer him is a pencil, or even a straw.

"Perhaps I should change my expectations," I tell him.  "Perhaps if I can't hang my problems on you I need to get rid of my problems or find a stronger rod. I'll hang them on Jesus," I say, knowing it's the right answer. 

When knowledge converts to action, when problems are made right, I feel such satisfaction. I feel wholeness. Knowledge isn't satisfying to me anymore.  I want satisfaction that lasts.

My head wraps around the words in this essay as I'm changing my baby's diaper. The little guy's head molds into my shoulder as he drifts into sleep. My husband is kneeling on the floor talking with our toddler. We catch each other's eyes and just as I am aware of the smile on my own lips that has unbidden come, I also see his smile. 

When he says, "I love you," I melt into the feeling of warmth. I'm rising up. I'm free.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

I Have Anxiety, And The Death Of My Inner Critic

Mental Health Awareness Week was a little while ago, and since then I've been sitting on some thoughts.  I wasn't ready to share then, but I want to share now.  Here's why I want to share:

  • It seems to me that the culture I live in has a hard time dealing healthfully with negative emotion.  We avoid it or we fix it, both in ourselves or in others.  This is incredibly frustrating to me, and I know that I'm not alone.  I'm sharing in hopes that this can be my small contribution to fostering awareness and understanding.
  • I believe that what I have to share may resonate with a few people and they will feel encouraged by reading.

So here it is, a series of anecdotes where I reflect on what I've been learning about myself and my anxiety lately. Settle in with some popcorn, this one's long. ;)

---

I struggle with anxiety.  In daily life what this often means for me is that it takes longer for me to feel better after having an uncomfortable emotion or thought.  My thoughts want to spiral into negativity.  But they are also instrumental to having healthy responses to uncomfortable emotions.  They can act like a lifeboat to help me ride the wave of emotions, or they can be like the squirmy, writhing sea plants that pull me under the waters and keep me stuck in the wave for way longer than I need to be.

---

A part of me is gently pushing up against the tightness in my chest, holding me here, urging me gently to speak.  If my anxiety were a physical thing, it would be a wall that has formed around my heart.  On that wall is scribbled in ugly, broad strokes:  "Stop talking.  Stop feeling. Be better."  Guards pace back and forth on that wall watching, waiting to put my heart back in its place when its strong beating bumps against the barrier.  They sting me with arrows when I talk.  They bash me down when I feel, turning sadness into anger and guilt into despair.  When I strive, they remind me of what I can't do.  They remind me of who I am not.

Waves of sadness churn up and break against the wall.

I long to be free.

---

I'm working through an online class [link] on positive thinking and processing through the concept of reframing thoughts.  Something is hooking me emotionally about this.  I feel like my inner critic is telling me, "You don't need to reframe your thoughts.  You talk too much.  You just need to stop feeling bad and focus on the positive."  

If I listen too much to that guy's half-truths, he digs in deeper: "You are so overwhelming.  What a drag.  No one wants to listen to you."  It spirals from there.  These thoughts can trigger depression and increased anxiety as I analyze every little thing, down to this aggravating belief that for some reason is so hard to shake:  "You are so unlikable."  It digs down deeper, and an emptiness is revealed:  "It is not okay if others don't like me.  I am only okay if I am likable." 

---

I see myself in the past: A bulldozer.  I listened to others only to plan the next thing that I would say.  I was loud, opinionated.  I still see this threatening conversations with loved ones every once in awhile, although I believe I have gotten better.

I'm stopping to take stock of what is peeking through the pressed down soil.  As I take stock of my feelings I realize that when I am pressed down, I often see red and explode from the dirt like I'm rising from the dead.  Words, excuses, feelings can pour out of me.  Why am I fighting? Perhaps we each simply long to be heard, and we don't know how to express this but to fight about it.  Rather than sending my own bulldozer back over, I can let the tiny green sapling lift its small leaf at the sun that's shining on the dirt pressed down in the bulldozer's wake.  It's less tempting to bulldoze over that planted hope than the thorny bushes of my anger rising fervently from the wreckage, isn't it? 

---

In my first teaching job, I had a conflict with my department head because, she would tell me, whenever she explained a problem that she saw in my teaching, I would talk around that problem - rationalize it, make excuses, etc.  I remember standing in front of her desk in the small office right around the corner from the in-school suspension room with teary eyes, fighting back that bubble of anxiety and confusion as I listened to her confront me about her concerns with my teaching.  "You keep making the same mistakes," she told me.  No matter how many times she told me, I kept making them.  I so desperately wanted to change and to be a better teacher.  Why wasn't I getting better?  

Looking back, I can see why she thought that I was unwilling to grow. If I could go back and redo those conversations now, I would talk less, listen more, and think more before the few words I did decide to speak.

I was accused by this boss of making excuses.  I realize now that she was right. But I'm only now realizing that there is a difference between rationalization and reframing (shifting to a true, but more positive perspective). One of them would have helped my own negative thoughts at the time, but the other just kept me in denial.

Rationalization is an unhealthy response to true guilt. It means not taking responsibility for what I did wrong. Reframing on the other hand is a way to interact with negative thoughts that are unproductive. This requires, and in fact makes it easier, taking responsibility where I need to so that I can move forward.

---

As teenager I became aware that the path I was walking down was not one of well-balanced, healthy emotions.  Reflecting on my childhood I had very high highs and very low lows and I would say, "Maybe I'm bipolar."  As an adult, I was told by one psychiatrist that I had generalized anxiety disorder, by a family doctor that I had OCD and anxiety, and by a different psychiatrist that I had something that was probably like OCD or anxiety (I don't really remember, it was quite vague).  To this day my own self-diagnosis varies by the day.

I hate when other people label me.

---

All I saw was blackness.  Hours of blackness as I sobbed on my bed, sobs that tore the energy out of me for days.  I felt alone, powerless, misunderstood, guilty, still angry.  I had seen red, then I saw black, then I saw red again as I realized I was having a miscarriage a few days later.  On New Year's Day, of all things.  I blamed myself and my big emotions for causing the miscarriage.  I also fostered resentment towards my loved ones by blaming them.

If what I needed to do to be okay was to stop having deep emotions, then my life seemed pretty hopeless.

---

The hard part of being me is that sometimes tiny things can have a huge impact.

"Nice way to say that  you overreact," Lumpy says.  Lumpy's my Inner Critic.  I just decided to call him that.  His name's Lumpy because he makes me feel like all I am is a mess of lumpy knots.

Lumpy's kind of a jerk, but there's a part of him that means well.

"Lumpy.  Yeah.  Sometimes I do," I admit curtly.  "But it's okay to have big emotions, and I'm learning how to handle them better."  I stare him down and he slinks back into the shadows.  

---

My anxiety is somewhat social, but not in the typical way that you'd imagine.  I seek out social time rather than avoid it most of the time, but if an uncomfortable social interaction happens, then my anxiety can take hold of me for a long time at home, once I'm alone.  And that leaves me feeling ... empty, unsatisfied, and lonely.

"You are so embarrassing," Lumpy likes to remind me after these uncomfortable situations.  "No one really likes you.  They are just pretending."  If Lumpy doesn't have success controlling what I think about how others see me, he goes for manipulating how I see myself.  "You're a fake," he'll hiss.  "You're really not good at anything, and you're just tricking people into thinking that you're good at things like teaching or writing or being a mom."

Wow, Lumpy, way to go for the gut.

So one day when I was feeling particularly down and didn't see any helpful hands reaching into my pit to lift me out, I reached out to a good friend and shared some of the things that Lumpy's been telling me.  She follows up with some really good advice, but I don't hear it right away because her first words to me are, "It sounds like you are seeking fulfillment in people, not in Jesus."

Lumpy has a FIT.  He's jumping up at down waving his arms in the air and screaming in my ear, "SEE!  I've been telling this to you for YEARS!  You are such a bad Christian.  You love people more than God.  Man, you really gotta get it together."

I feel like I've been punched in the gut as Lumpy's tirade rains down on me as I clutch the phone and fix my steely gaze at the wall.

---

A voice from my past.  There is a firmness to it.  A somehow pleasing and yet uncomfortable calmness.  And perhaps, a sigh of resignation.  "An apology doesn't mean anything if you keep doing the thing that you said you were sorry for," it says.

---

Lumpy is quiet sometimes.  In moments of true guilt, where I recognize that I've done something wrong, and either can't or don't want to fix it, he'll let my guilt slip into despair.  He likes despair because it keeps me from taking responsibility for my actions and making positive change.

In moments of selfish anger he'll let me simmer and bubble.  The loved ones in front of me will fade from my sight as my view narrows to the tiny thing I want to control or change about them.  I am asking Jesus to widen my view.

Lumpy will also take true sadness or anger and twist them.  True sadness tells me that I've lost something.  True anger tells me that something is wrong, that a boundary has been violated.  Sadness can lead me to seek comfort from friends or family, and anger can lead me to be protective.  But Lumpy is the little general that leads all the soldiers that pace back and forth on the wall of anxiety that blocks my heart in.  Stop feeling, they yell.  

Lumpy wants me to cook with anger, and then shrivel with despair.  He would have me not recognize the information that my emotions are giving me.  He would have me hide, distract, even fix.  When I succumb to believing that my emotions are bad, Lumpy wins.

---

I hear my inner critic come out with my kids and I feel scared.  The worst that I feel is when my three year old is crying and I can't figure what is upsetting him.  I try and I try to figure out what is wrong. I try to guess what he is saying, but he's crying so hard that I can't understand him, and he yells "No!" at me and cries harder.  

The red starts to seep out of me.  I'm trying so hard, and there are other things I'd rather be doing right now, and why can't you just listen.  My worst self comes out.  

"STOP CRYING!"

Maybe the worst thing that I've ever said, because it's accompanied by this steely gaze that reduces my child to an obnoxious object, and a tone that's dripping with irritation.  A look and a tone that are all coalescing into what could one day be my child's own inner critic:  "You are such a crybaby.  You need to stop.  You need to be better. Stop feeling.  You'll never be good enough.  You'll never be good enough for me."  I look away from my child.  I want to withhold my affection until he behaves better.  I want to hide from my own shame.  I am dirty on the inside, but I am so mad that I don't care.

And then when his tone turns cheery as only a child's can so soon after such an awful parental display, but his eyes are still red from crying, I wonder, how much time do I have to fix this before he comes to believe that he's only worthy in my eyes when he is quiet, calm and manageable?

---

If I were a plant, my thick trunk would have a whole mess of thorny vines growing from it, that get tangled with other trees so much so that you can't tell where one begins and another ends.  I was and to a large degree still am so emotionally reliant on what others think of me.  Sometimes I feel like I'm in a season of systematically de-barbing my vines from others.  Letting go of needing to be likable and lovable in others' eyes ... wow, what a challenge.  It's hard.  And I miss my vines, even as I'm starting to taste little bits of freedom as I see what's free to grow when they are all cleared.

---

I enjoy attending Spanish-speaking church services because they resonate with me emotionally in a way that English-speaking services usually don't.  It's as if the people there are more comfortable with emotion. The last time I visited a particular one, the pastor read Luke 17:1-6 and spoke on living a life of faith.  The message sunk into my skin and wrapped around my bones.  A life of faith is a life of forgiveness, he said.  They passed out a red paper and a blue paper.  On the red paper we were to write down the name of someone we needed to forgive, and on the blue paper, someone of whom we needed to ask forgiveness.  

The one to forgive was obvious for me.  I scribbled the name and cried and dropped it in the basket at the foot of the cross.  

I struggled over the one of whom to ask forgiveness, because he's only three and he can't understand my request.  The voice from my past echoes.  "Why do you keep saying you're sorry, but then do the thing you said you were sorry for?"  My son understands my actions more than my words.  My heart speaks to him through my tone, my facial expression.  What kind of heart am I showing him?  I write his name on the blue paper.  I want to live a life of forgiveness.

For his sake, and admittedly a little bit for my sake too, I hope that he will grow into an adult that is quick to forgive.  But mostly for his sake.

---

Someone recently shared a quote with me that resonated:  "You never get ahead by looking at the rear-view mirror of your life."  I like that.  It's a reminder to me to keep my eyes focused on the road ahead.  And yet, the rear-view mirror does serve a purpose.  It gives you a view of the traffic that's around you so you can be safe.  How can I know where I'm going unless I know where I've been?

---

In the wake of these emotions,  I'm aware of something new.  An emptiness.  Not a blackness like despair.  Not heated air in the space where an angry outburst left its mark.  Just ... an emptiness.  Something that in the past would have been filled up with unhealthy expressions of my emotion - agitation, jumpiness, words, actions, snacking, crying, etc. 

Lumpy's ghost.

In the quiet, I sit and I feel the sadness.  I'm sad for who I could have been if I learned to manage my anxiety earlier in life.  And yet, God is using me.  I may not see how, but I know it is true because I have faith.

I can choose to be present or productive, but not both.

I can choose to be present or productive, but not both. If I want to be productive, I must choose to be present.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Thoughts on teaching things that are applicable and comprehensible

Just a quick thought I wanted to write down.  After the last entry, I've been thinking a lot about the weather and being outside.  So when I was driving shortly after that and the sky started to change and it was clear that it was about to rain, this is the thought that occurred to me:  It doesn't matter that my son knows why it's going to rain, scientifically.  It just matters that he knows what to do when it DOES rain.

That thought came up after I found myself explaining to my son about atmospheric pressure.  2 things:  1) he doesn't really need to know that, and 2) I don't even know what I'm talking about when it comes to atmospheric pressure, ha!  But ... really?  In my defense, I was just talking.  And some day maybe it will be important for him to know about that stuff.  But right now...  what's most helpful for a toddler to learn about the rain?  That it gets him wet.  That if he stays wet he can get cold and sick.  That when it rains hard we come inside.  That playing in the rain is fun, but we have to dry off afterwards.  That rain is good because it makes the plants grow.  There's so much more to know about rain, scientifically, but ... he doesn't need to know it, and most of it he probably won't ever have to know.

That's not to say that if he wants to know, that I won't try to teach him or encourage him by finding somewhere that he can learn about it.  But ultimately, if I get distracted trying to teach things that aren't APPLICABLE to his life, or COMPREHENSIBLE to where he is at developmentally, then he won't learn the things - and even if he does, they won't mean a thing to him.