Monday, 28 May 2012
I was listening to a podcast last weekend in which one of the hosts was describing going into a season of increased attention, glamor, and also vulnerability. Before it all started she went into the bathroom and said these words to herself in the mirror: You are not allowed to think of the ways you’re not measuring up. You’re not allowed to cut yourself down or feel unworthy. If you’re going to survive, you’re simply not allowed to think those thoughts.
She made it sound so simple.
And for the first time, it didn’t feel completely impossible to me.
(Do you listen to the Dear Sugar Radio podcast? If not, start immediately. If you’ve never read Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed, do that yesterday.)
I’m not sure if it’s come with age, experience, or both, but oh, it’s a lovely thing to start seeing the true nature of my insecurities.
These invisible, powerful forces have loomed so large throughout my formative and adult years. I have long believed that I’m good enough, that I don’t deserve love, that I’m not worthy of beauty and hope and belonging. Like a weight around my shoulders, these lies have held me down. They’ve changed my mind, they’ve made me doubt, and I don’t really want to know how much they’ve shaped the course of my life so far.
But just in the last little while, I’ve started to see through those beliefs, those lies, those deep anchors of my soul.
See through them as in, they’re phantoms. Shadows. They’re real thoughts I have, but they just don’t matter that much.
A few times lately when the old familiar untruths started grabbing at my ankles, I have somehow been able to see them clearly, to recognize the pattern before it held me down again, and I almost laughed.
You’re not good enough. You’re ugly. You’ll never change. You’re weak and hopeless and kind of dumb.
Ha, I thought. That’s funny. Those things are super untrue.
And even if they hold some grain of truth in them, even if I sometimes believe them, even if I’m not all the way there? My next through was oh, you again. The same, tired thoughts. Good grief, who the hell cares?
Maybe I’m just so sick of the power they’ve had over me. Maybe I’m ready to be done carrying that burden and believing things that don’t serve me.
Because it’s true, you know. Those thoughts, those beliefs, those patterns that have held you back and seemed so powerful to have held you under their thumb for so long? They just don’t matter that much.
Maybe it’ll take a thousand, a million, more tiny decisions to put down the burden of those thoughts, to shake off the weight of entrenched belief. I might carry some shadow of it on my back my whole life, but most times, I’ll be able to wave my hands and clear it like so much smoke, like a vapor, and it’s gone.
One of my college professors told me over and over again to submit my poetry, my creative writing, my work to literary magazines. He talked about it in class, in meetings, and even a couple years after I graduated. I was writing to ask him something, and at the end of his response, he asked, “Where have you submitted your work lately?”
The answer then, and the answer every time: Nowhere.
Do you do this, too?
“I really should.”
“I will. Soon.”
“I don’t know if my work is what they’re looking for, though.”
“I don’t have time to keep track of all the submission guidelines.”
“My work never really feels finished — I don’t want to submit until I’m confident.”
And you know what happens next.
I haven’t chosen a OneWord resolution for this year, but something is pulling at me all the same. Maybe my mid-thirties are giving me more boldness. Maybe I’m ready to get out there. Maybe I’m just sick of hearing my own excuses.
This year, I’m trying. Doing. Shipping. Risking.
My first attempt? I submitted workshop ideas for a conference. Last week, I found out that none were selected. My first rejection. Guess how that felt?
Nope. It was fine.
Sure, I was a little disappointed and kept it to myself for a couple days, but then? I was proud. Because I hadn’t submitted anything the previous year, or the year before, and realized that (the not trying) felt worse than having tried and failed. At least this time, I put it out there. And now I have more ideas for next year. I even feel emboldened by this rejection, because now I know it’s not that bad. So why not risk some more?
Yesterday, I drove to St. Paul for an audition. I’ve known about Listen To Your Mother shows for five years. I was thrilled when some amazing women finally brought it to Minnesota three years ago.
“I really should audition.”
But this year, when a friend reminded me auditions were coming up, I looked at the “should” for a second, then clicked over to the website and signed up for an audition slot. Last week, I worked and reworked a poem, then yesterday, I drove 75 miles for a 10-minute audition.
I don’t know whether I’ve made it into the show, but even if I didn’t? It was worth it.
The doing, the trying, the risking is worth it.
It feels risky to announce this to you, to say I’m trying and doing. Because I know what you’re all thinking. (At least this is the elephant in my room.)
It’s been so long since I started writing it that the tone has changed. So has the title (more on that soon). The first draft is done. It needs some work, sure. But I’m staring her down this year, my year of doing, my year of risking. For conferences and shows, I’m asking to be picked. For my book, I’m picking myself.
I know my words have value in the adoption conversation. I know there are adoptive families in the trenches who need my book. So what am I waiting for?
You heard it here. Now hold me to it.
What are you waiting for? What have you been saying you “should” do but haven’t attempted? Let’s jump together this year. Let’s try. Let’s risk. Because being brave and failing feels so much better than making excuses for not trying.
***Hey, I think I’m going to consolidate my Facebook identity, because I don’t want to double-post on my personal and writer profiles, but then I just never post on my writer profile. Whatever. I’m just tired of splitting my identity.
I wake up two minutes before my alarm, my body already (still, always) thinking of them, my babies sleeping next to me. Getting up early to write means so much more than just rolling out of bed and pouring the coffee. For a mother, it’s about mothering, first.
So I carefully slide out of bed, then push the comforter up next to my three-year-old as a substitute for my warm body next to her. But I know she’ll know. In her sleep, she’ll sense it, and I know it’s only a matter of time before she’s up, seeking me out again.
I tiptoe through the hallway and kitchen, careful to avoid the loudest floor creaks, turn on the coffee maker and then sneak downstairs to quietly close the doors of my children sleeping down there.
The coffee made, robe on, lights out again, I sink onto the couch and exhale.
I sit quietly in the darkness for eight minutes, maybe ten, when I hear movement and I know that soon, I’ll have company.
But it’s okay. It’s okay.
I used to be annoyed when this happened, wondering why I woke up early anyway, feeling like it was for nothing. But it’s not. Because I can hold my big boy for a few sweet minutes, I can let him curl up next to me and watch me write, I can take it all together. The intention isn’t wasted just because I saw it differently in my mind. The reality doesn’t need to fight it. If I don’t let them be at odds, they won’t be.
This isn’t my writing time, not solely, not unto itself. I can’t check creativity off my list any more than I can mothering. I used to guard my time, to see divisions, try to keep everything neatly in its own space, its own box, its own time. But that’s an illusion. It was a frantic rearranging of a dream, nothing more.
Mothering is creativity is writing is nurturing is thinking is planning. It’s all me, and I have everything I need right here. I carry all of it with me. And it’s when I can see it all together, when I let the lines blur and give myself over to the beautiful mess, whole, that I’m free.
You are amazing.
I’ve done it myself, but every time I see an adoption announcement, another family jumping into these uncertain waters of adoption, I’m still astounded.
Know this: You are braver than you know.
You might feel exhilarated, you might be giddy, you might feel more ready for this than you have felt about anything. You might feel overwhelmed. You might be terrified.
You might have nagging doubts at the edges of your mind, little questions about your family dynamic, how life might get turned upside-down, what this might do to you, what this might do to your marriage.
Know this, too: You have a cloud of witnesses who have gone before you. Nothing that you are feeling is foreign to adoptive mamas everywhere.
And we are here for you.
At some point in this adoption, it is very likely that things will go sideways. You’ll have an unexpected delay, a government official won’t show up, you’ll wait and wait to get picked and wonder if it’ll ever happen, you won’t know whether it’s best to go on or start over, your heart might feel like it wasn’t made for this.
But just wait. Wait and see.
I always thought the miracle of adoption was bringing the child home, redemption, hope, putting the lonely in families.
But now I know there are a hundred little miracles along the way.
When you open your heart to adoption, when you follow God’s lead wherever he might want to take you, you’re saying “yes” to a whole lot more than just a new child.
You’re saying yes to surrender.
Yes to sacrifice.
Yes to unspeakable joy.
Yes to hope against all odds.
Yes to healing — in your heart and in your child’s.
Yes to opening your eyes.
Yes to a love the depths of which you haven’t known before.
You are braver than you know.
You join those who have gone before you in saying, yes, God. Yes. Whatever it means, yes.
It’s not the cereal. It’s not hunger, really, unless we’re talking about the non-physical kind.
It’s not even the compulsion, though I do wonder about that.
My on-again, off-again habit of a bowl (or two) of cereal before sleep, when everyone else is already in bed, when the day’s responsibilities are not done but put to bed, at least, when all is quiet and it’s just me and no one can see me or judge me or count how many nights in a row this is now? It’s not really about the cereal, the habit, the hunger or non-hunger. It could be a little about the carbs’ quick-hit brain rush, but really really really?
It’s about feeding something.
It’s a deep belief of scarcity. That I’m not enough, that I have to fill something up and in and all the way, that somehow if I numb it, if I stuff it, if I just feel one more bite going into my mouth, I will finally feel complete.
And then after that second bowl and I’m alone again, I’m emptier. Because it doesn’t really feed what needs feeding. And it doesn’t matter that no one saw me and no one knows. I was there to judge me, and believe me, I’m harsh enough.
How can a mother get the nourishment she really needs?
When will I stop looking outside myself for validation, for job well done, for I’m sorry, for I’m here, I’m here, I’m here?
When will I wake up and go to bed believing I’m enough? That I’m worthy?
I don’t know, honestly. I keep waiting for something to shift in me, but I might just have to live as if for a while, until my habits can give meaning to my internal truth.
I eat well because I’m worth it, not because I have to shed these extra pounds. I run and practice yoga because they feed something else in me, they make me feel good and strong, and not because I hate my body and need to punish it. I drink water because it doesn’t make my stomach hurt like cereal does, and I’m worth feeling good.
Say it again, all together now: I’m enough. Now and 10 minutes from now. At this weight and other weights. At this job and not at this job. Being a mother and taking a break. I am enough, no matter.
For more scarcity and abundance inspiration, I highly recommend my friend Abby Norman’s Scarcity Hunter email newsletters. Check out her blog and contact her for more info.
The first day pulls you in.
The opening plenary, amazing. You see friends from Twitter and have the strange experience of mentally fitting their face to their avatar. It’s too hard to choose breakout session options, and when you peruse live tweets you always feel like you picked the wrong one. But no matter. Tomorrow’s a full day of sessions and speakers and options. And although it’ll take you another month to listen to all you want to, you silently pray thanks for session recording.
Throughout the conference you feel a thousand emotions a minute. Inspired by one author’s words, weighed down by the next, both lifted up and cast into despair several times just that morning. Those writers you admire so much give their gift and you can’t help but feel dim next to their glow. You see the overabundance of talent and gifting and all the words being sent out into the world, and you wonder if your small voice matters at all. You suspect it’s already all been said.
Then, Anne Lamott gives you permission to be yourself just by virtue of being so genuinely herself. But seriously, the woman tells us she’s trying to love her body, then stands up and shakes her back fat for us. It’s so bizarre and yet, you’re not sure you’ve ever seen anything more brave and beautiful. And though you know of her success, you’ve read her and you know how widely she’s read and how beloved she is, but she doesn’t let jealousy or despair dominate. She tells you to write, she asks you please to write, to create, to do what you were made to do, and you believe her. She sounds like God herself, full of grace and love for your angst and small gifts.
By the third day, maybe you’ve already cried a few times. There’s only so much time, so Festival organizers have to pack the schedule full. I’m sure they turn away many worthy session options, even. But the truth of it is — there’s no margin. You want desperately to take a break, but more desperately don’t want to miss this next session on writing and justice, or the one after that on voice or memoir or poetry. I mean, it’s Luci Shaw. How could you skip that? You find a bench in the sunshine to just sit, and a new friend finds you, and it’s wonderful and important and when will you next get this chance?, but then you’re rushing off again. You’ve underestimated your need for downtime, especially in a creative and inspiring space like this.
You keep thinking ahead to the last plenary session, okay, partly because you want it to end even though you really really don’t. But most of all you know you’ll need the true words you know will be spoken on jealousy and art. Because have you stopped comparing yourself since you arrived? Have you been able to stop just for one minute and recognize how your unique calling fits, really sings here among all these voices, and you can stop looking around now? Maybe that’s why you’re so exhausted.
So when Rachel Held Evans says “We serve at the pleasure of a generous master. There’s plenty of work to do,” and then repeats it again and again, keeps singing it over us, like a psalm, like a lullaby, like a benediction, you can finally exhale. You can see how patient God is with you in your smallness, in your ignorance. You can see how he delights in you and gently tells you to knock it off already. Because comparison and jealousy will always cloud the real work He’s calling you to.
And to quote Annie Lamott (and her friend Pammy), honey, you don’t have that kind of time.
I’m not sure if it’s the smell in the air, the feeling after the holidays or the letdown of post-Christmas that makes it hit me every January.
But every January, without fail, a weight settles in.
I wrestle with it for days, even a week or two, and then it finally dawns on me: Oh. My dad. He died January 25.
Even when my conscious brain isn’t registering the reason, my body remembers. She remembers and she starts preparing for grief, for shock, for pain. It’s been 13 long years, and it still hasn’t faded. Every January, the familiar, bewildering weight. The depression. The fog.
And when I realize what it is at last, there’s nothing to do but to sit with it. I just have to let myself feel the loss again.
* * *
Three years and three days ago, we brought an African baby home to cold, dry, unfamiliar Minnesota. We brought him from Uganda — land of red dirt and stunning beauty; of honesty and pain and wonder and staggering contrasts. Of warmth and light. The only land he had ever known.
In the jubilant homecoming airport scene, he was scream-laughing and making everyone smile so hard it hurt. His body was electric, shaking, excited, overstimulated, overtired. He was just 9 months old. It was a lot to take in.
Now we are three years later and I swear to you: His body remembers.
These last weeks have been full of heightened anxiety, of acting out, of impulsive action, of tantrums and neediness. There have been many more questions about “my ‘nother mommy” and of Uganda, of his beginnings and identity and story. We’ve looked at pictures of our days together there, of kicking in the bath basin, of walking around the guesthouse grounds, of his auntie. He looks at the pictures and tells me he was sad.
He’s only 3. This is the first year there have been enough words to explore the feelings, I think.
And I want to give it all to him, I want to fix it, I want to reach the hurt places and wrap them in love, love, love.
But I can’t touch all of it, because it doesn’t belong to me. I have to let him sit with it. I have to let him feel the ache of loss. It’s only after he feels it, explores it, gives it a name before we can get back to the ordinary business of gradual redemption.
It’s Christmas morning. The gifts are open, the drum set assembled, the new riding toys getting broken in, the volume level in our home at a new level. Snow is gently falling on a fresh three inches from last night, and it looks like perfect sledding weather today.
We’re happy. And yet tears keep gathering at the corners of my eyes.
Is it because our family is complete, that Josie is home for her first Christmas?
Is it because I can still see my dad reading the Christmas story in his glasses and sweater, and even after nearly 13 years I miss him desperately?
Is it because I can see something align and click in my son when he’s playing his new drums, so the extra noise is more than worth it?
Is it because my kids all seem secure and content in our home, in our family, and they know they are loved?
Is it because family is beautiful and sacred, but also messy and exhausting?
Is it because of the reality of today, of Word made flesh, that Love had to find a way to get to me, that He gave up everything to come near?
God wrapped himself in flesh, and it was holy and messy.
He broke through time and space and dimension to make a home in me, and that journey had to hurt.
It’s unending darkness and infinite light.
And now we live in the grief and fulfillment, the already/not yet, and it’s so beautiful it hurts and it hurts even though it’s beautiful.
The weary world, indeed. And yet, rejoicing.
It was late at night, and I was sitting in a brand-new friend’s kitchen in her one-bedroom apartment just down the hall from mine. We were in college, some of the only married students in the building, both writers, and we hit it off right away. She’s always been one of those friends. It’s easy to go deep, fast.
“No one close to me has ever died,” I say in a near-whisper, afraid God might hear and get some ideas. “I’m terrified of it happening. I could never handle something like that.”
“I know,” she said.
That winter, my dad died suddenly. He was 50 years old.
I don’t think God heard me and decided to test my theory. I start with that story to remind myself that whenever I think “I could never,” it may be true — but if God is near, I have all the strength I need.
I needed it then, and I have needed it since, and I need it now.
In her sympathy card to me, my friend recalled our conversation in her kitchen that night.
“We both said we couldn’t handle something like this,” she wrote. “But then it happens, and then we do.”
* * *
It happens, and then we do.
I could never have trouble attaching to my own child.
I could never be an at-home mom.
I could never go back to Uganda and adopt again.
And the latest: I could never homeschool.
For many reasons, we pulled our 2nd grader out of our neighborhood public school a few weeks ago. In short: It wasn’t working, and he was struggling. We tried to avoid it — met with the teacher, talked to friends for advice, said, “Well whatever happens, we could never homeschool.” I was at capacity already with work, two toddlers at home, a household to manage. I mean, just the laundry alone.
I thought I could never.
But then it happened, and then I did.
* * *
I’m learning to make space in my nevers.
No matter how I see myself and my limitations, God sees who he created me to be. All my life, I’ll be discovering who that is.
And sometimes, the picture comes more into focus when I say, “I could never,” and God says, “With me, all things.”