• On Treading Water

    Once upon a time, a dastardly villian took a girl out to sea and left her there in the water, in the dark.  She knew she was in a struggle for her life.  Although it was night and she could see nothing, she couldn’t tolerate just waiting.  So she took off swimming in the direction she thought land was.  She swam though the night until she was so exhausted that she could barely tread water.  As the sun rose, she thought she could see land in the distance, but now that her energy was spent, her survival depended on staying afloat until someone happened to spot her and rescue her.

     * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

     Once upon a time a dastardly villian took a girl out to sea and left her there in the water, in the dark.  She knew she was in a struggle for her life.  But it was night and she could see nothing to guide her way.  So she decided to just tread water until morning came up.  As the sun came up, she was tired, but not spent.  She spotted land in the distance and started swimming in that direction.  Her survival now depended on whether she had the stamina to swim close enough to shore to be spotted by a rescuer or pull herself onshore.

    This is one of the essays found in my book The Upside Down World’s Guide to Enjoying the Hard Life. You should go order a copy before you forget!

     

  • Does Forgiving Demand Restoring Relationship?

    Over the years I’ve forgiven some rather unforgivable things. I hope you have as well. . . Wait – that didn’t come out right. Hopefully you’re one of those rare birds who have never had anything particularly unforgivable happen to you. But if you have had someone do something unforgivable, I hope that you have been able to forgive them.*

    One of the problems that people commonly struggle with when it comes to forgiveness is the issue of the restoration of relationships. Can you really say you’ve forgiven someone if you are unwilling to be in relationship with them? Does forgiveness demand that your relationship be restored? Or can you forgive but refuse to engage in relationship with the person who wronged you?

    Part of why I am such a big fan of forgiveness is that it’s a very empowering act. I cannot often control the way other people behave towards me, but I can control how I respond to it. Forgiving allows me to take back my power from someone who has injected pain, suffering and turmoil into my life against my will. I get to declare in the heavenlies when a person is bound or loosed from their sins. And forgiveness also props opens the door to healing from harm done.

    On the other hand, insisting that forgiveness must be accompanied by restoration of a relationship is just the opposite; it’s dis-empowering. It doesn’t allow for choice. It doesn’t allow for self-love or self-protection. It makes my own pain and struggle and needs completely irrelevant. And all too often, this insistence that forgiveness must go hand in hand with restoration of relationship is a tool of control which gets used against people who are already in a weak position.

    Being in relationship with other people always opens us up to being hurt. And if we refuse relationship with anyone who is dysfunctional or hurtful, we will be lonely indeed. Most acts of forgiveness should not be accompanied by a reconsideration of the relationship as a whole. Generally, we ought to forgive and move on freely. But there are those times when what is being forgiven does call the entire relationship into question. So how can we maintain our default openness for relationship while also being realistic about which relationships are simply too dangerous, unhealthy or dysfunctional to continue? Continue reading

  • Being Passive is a Discipline

    Passivity is a discipline. In fact, sometimes I think it is the hardest discipline – particularly in a culture like ours. We humans like to DO things. We like to build. We like to invent. We like to build relationships and parse them out when they breakdown. We like to plant and grow and make. We like to talk and write and sing. We like to be masters of our fate, captains of our ships, directors of our plays. We seek, we strive, we fight, we climb mountains simply because they are there. We admire those who do it well and follow those who champion the cause of doing. Which is good and well. It is as it should be in most ways. And yet . . .

    Here in the great Northern Tundra of the Upper Midwestern United States, there will be a reduced apple harvest this year, although fortunately it’s not as bad as some had feared. You see, as in much of the country, winter was mild and warm weather showed up early. The apple trees woke early from their winter doze and sent out their blossoms into the warmth. However, March and April had merely traded places. The warmth of March that tricked the trees into releasing their blossoms too soon gave way to frosts of April that threatened the delicate apple blossoms before they had time to set fruit. So now, this fall when the trees produce the fruit of a long summer of growing in warmth and rain, their harvest will be inferior. All because the trees were tricked into think their passive winter wait was over and their time to shine and begin the work of making fruit was at hand. But the conditions that made them think their time had come were not sustainable.

    We humans are not trees. We don’t have to be tricked into acting outside of our proper time. But it requires great discipline to refrain from action when conditions seem ripe even when we know it’s not sustainable. We tell ourselves we’ll work it out later. But this is a lesson to learn. To be passive. To wait. And most of all to allow God time enough to work in us and on us. Continue reading

  • Allow Me to Share the Holy Grail of Parenting

    209750_1846076945281_1961977_oAfter 5 kids and 19 years of parenting, I have finally discovered the Holy Grail of parenting. The one thing you need to know in order to lighten your load and teach them to be responsible, thinking, healthy people with good judgment. As early and as often as is safe and feasible, start repeating these words to yourself: “meh. I’m sure they’ll figure it out eventually.”

    Seriously. Try it. It’s a long term strategy, but it works. And it’s much, much, much easier than continually forcing your will on another human being who is clearly lacking in judgment. I know it’s hard to believe, but kids are capable of learning on their own. They do think about things. And it’s much easier for them to admit when they are wrong when they don’t have someone standing over them demanding that they do so.

    If there’s one mistake I made as a mother, it’s that I have a tendency to over-teach. I’m a good teacher and I know a lot, so I mostly missed the downside to this habit. While me providing in-depth, detailed instructions on everything makes it easy for my kids to learn, it also means that they view me as a walking instruction/information dispenser and so have no responsibility to figure anything out on their own. If I’m not available to provide the required instructions, might as well just wait until I am available to deal with the issue.

    Shockingly, the one thing they did figure out for themselves was how to use my teacherly impulses to manipulate me. They all know that I have a Pavlovian response to the sound of a question being asked and will automatically launch into a long-winded (but interesting) answer or story when asked one. Which comes in handy at bedtime, chore time or whenever they want attention from me. It’s entertainment and a diversion tactic all in one! But in the meantime, my 16 year old would claim that the kitchen was a mess because he wasn’t sure where anything went and the world will fall apart if he puts the cake pan in the wrong cabinet.

    I’m still susceptible to “ask mom a question” tactic, but I figure that at worst they’ll end up being good listeners and there aren’t nearly enough of those. However the one thing I wish I would have understood better 19 years ago is how to use a lighter touch in instructing my kids. If I had it to do over again, I would leave more room for my kids to reach their own conclusions, do dumb things and take time to learn some of life’s lessons for themselves.

    I think we underestimate how competent our kids actually are at this process learning how to be human. We forget that they think about what we say and they want to be good so long as it doesn’t mean giving up on having fun. They are capable of self-correction. Maybe not in the moment, but over time. They want to find solutions to their problems. And if you can learn to refrain from stepping in to correct and direct them at every turn, they will figure it out . . . eventually.

    Seriously. My teen even started wearing a jacket to the bus stop. Eventually.

  • fall apart

    Falling Together

    Everyone I know is at least a little worried about me. And I can understand why. I have long moments when I am completely certain that I have lost my mind. I am continually sick and am in pain on a daily basis. I can barely keep up with my minimum standards that I rely on to keep my children from showing up at school looking and smelling like they might have spent the night in a homeless shelter.

    At least the money situation’s looking up. My husband was laid off – again. So he’s using the severance package he got to pay the bills while he gets a new business he was asked to be CEO of off the ground. And without the costs of a daily commute, we’re even paying the utility’s down! Yay us!

    Anyhow, I suppose I can understand why people are a bit worried about me. But I have the very distinct feeling of having just fallen together. Which really looks an awful lot like falling apart and is at least as scary.

    Those of you who have been reading my writing for a while may have noticed an ongoing theme that I touch on from time to time which I believe the technical term for is “abject misery”. Or maybe you were fooled by the occasional off colored joke. I can be pretty good at hiding my true feelings sometimes. But you know, I may have given off a few telltale signs.

    Anyhow, the truth is that what is alarming about me and my life right now are the same things that are letting me know that I’m coming together rather than apart. I’m finally safe enough to let go of the last threads of my sanity so that the mess that my life is can finally be redeemed. I’ve never been (or felt) this safe before. I’m finally able let myself fall apart, confident that God has placed people around me that I needed to survive and come out the other side as something other than a crazy bag lady and drug addict.

    (Yes, that is an actual picture of me writing with a child sitting on my shoulders.)

    (Yes, that is an actual picture of me writing with a child sitting on my shoulders.)

    I’m sure that as time goes on, I’ll be able to share more about the process, which I learned a great deal from. But that’s like a book and I’m ready to tap out at about the 400 word mark here. However, I did discover what’s behind my super amazing ability to write with a child on my shoulders. It’s not nearly as amusing as that picture of Olivia sitting on my shoulders, unfortunately. It turns out that along with depression and a history of PTSD, I have a dissociative disorder that dates back to before I could talk.

    Which is yet another reason I’m making the people around me nervous. Unlike other mental health problems, dissociative disorders don’t have any genetic basis. They are always the result of trauma and are almost certainly much more widespread than is commonly thought. Many people who have them are completely unaware of the fact that they are having problems.

    The most severe type of dissociative disorder is dissociative identity disorder, also known as multiple personality disorder. You know – 1 woman, 69 personalities. The very definition of shockingly crazy. Fortunately, I don’t have that. My various personalities all know they aren’t real and are serving in a strictly advisory capacity.

    Looking back, I can see that I have a history of overcoming the problem and making it work somehow. Like being able to write with a kid on my shoulders. For me, the biggest problem is the way it affects my memory and attention when I am not in control of it. Like when I have to ask my kids to repeat themselves 4 or 5 times because Mommy can’t focus on what they are saying at all. Or when I send out a post without a title again.

    A dissociative disorder is always alarming because of it’s roots in severe trauma and the fact that it’s associated with a lot of negative life outcomes, some of which I have experienced. But mostly, when I learned that I have a dissociative disorder, I felt like I was being given permission to own my cool super power.

    Well, that’s what I feel like in between the times when I think I’ve lost my grip on reality and have to go to my husband for reassurances that our children aren’t in any danger of being removed from our care because of me. Which is progress. I spent most of July and August asking him how he can be so sure that none of the kids is laying in bed at night wishing they were dead. Which might alarm some people, I suppose. But it’s just part of the process. It’s an ugly process, but at least now I understand what’s happening.

    At any rate, as I mentioned above, I was showing signs of this problem at an age when I could barely talk. Between the ages of 1 and 3, I frequently displayed signs of having withdrawn entirely from my surroundings and sometimes from my main caregiver for extended periods. This is usually considered the worst case scenario for a child who has experienced trauma – that he or she would withdraw so completely that they would come to find their own internal reality much more interesting and engaging than the world around them. (And yes, I know for a fact that some of you just thought, “well, it is!” And you’re right. But there’s a right way and a wrong way to get there. Severe childhood trauma is the wrong way.)

    As it turns out, I seem to have withdrawn deep enough to find God in my inner most being. And he led me back out again. Then when I was ready, he lead me back into the abyss so I could take back all those bits and pieces of my heart that got left behind along the way. But I’ve shared about as much as I have time and energy for today.

    So yes, I know that I am alarming people. I know that I’ve alarmed some of you readers as I occasionally hear from a few of you expressing concern. And I’m so glad for that. It lets me know that I am seen. That I’m no longer buried so deep that I feel invisible. And it reminds me that there are plenty of people who can respond to someone in pain with compassion. Which can be easy to lose sight of in this world. But I’m still here. And so are you.

    And now let’s listen to a pretty song about how it’s all going to be alright. Because it is. And now I know it. Praise God.

    If you’re falling together, these are for you, btw:

    For When You Can’t Function

    Getting By On Manna

    How the Dark Night of the Soul Is Like a Juice Cleanse

    Can God Do What He Says He Will Do?

    You’re So Sensitive!

    The Gift of Delayed Grief

  • Walking each other home sm

    Dancing The Way

    How many of you, at some point in your life, thought that there were two ways to do things; the right way and the wrong way? And that your job was to find the right way. Failing to find the right way might mean being a bad person, being unlovable, being rejected by God, being outside of God’s will or just being a stupid doo-doo head. I suspect a lot of you just raised your hand. I suspect that those of you who didn’t just haven’t dug quite deep enough into your heart to find that particularly nasty snare that gets planted in the heart of nearly every human being along the way.

    Now, do I mean to say that there are no wrong ways and no right ways to do things? That all options the human mind can conceive of are equally good? No. Of course not. Going to the spa is a much better way to deal with burnout than doing meth. As anyone who has done meth has probably figured out by now. Hell, smoking weed is a much better way to deal with burnout than doing meth. But not if you are prone to addictions are might be tempted to do meth. Because meth is really, really bad, donchano. (Hey – fun fact: do you know how much weed it takes to kill a rat? Continue reading

  • For All Your Dream Needs

    Your old men will dream dreams ~ Joel 2:28, Acts 2:17

    We moderns are too sophisticated to put much stock in the idea that God would communicate with us through dreams, but dream interpretation has a long and storied history in scriptures. There are numerous examples of dream interpretation and messages being sent via dreams through out the bible. Including the dream that solid, respectable Joseph had which convinced him to go through with his marriage to Mary.

    Even today, odds are good that you’ve occasionally run into people claiming to have dreams about the future or which contain messages from God. For the rest of us it’s not uncommon to have the same dream repeatedly or which for whatever reason seem important and wondered why. And we’ve probably all heard some radio show where a person who is supposed to be an expert in dream interpretation blows callers away with insights gleaned from strange dreams they have had. So, although it’s not spoken about much or given much credence in “respectable” circles, dreams and their possible meanings continue to fascinate us.

    Personally, I used to be prone to repeating dreams. One in particular involved tornadoes and various family members. I finally went searching for what it could mean and found an explanation of the symbolism of tornadoes in dreams that made perfect sense to me. Once I figured out what they meant, I stopped having the tornado dreams.

    After that, I would frequently try to find explanations for what my troubling, repetitive dreams might mean. So I could stop having them. But most dream dictionaries were either so incomplete or so far fetched that they weren’t any help. They’d have entries with ridiculous things like, “snakes are a sign that someone is going to betray you” or “dreaming about the color red means that you have hidden sexual desires for frogs” or whatever.

    A few years ago I stumbled across what is, without any doubt, the best, most complete, most helpful dream dictionary in existence. It’s the creation of a man named Tony Crisp and you can find it at his website Dreamhawk. An expanded, more complete version is also available on Amazon.

    What sets Tony’s dream interpretation apart from others I have seen is that it’s grounded in reality rather than woowoo mystical ideas or Freud’s extremely questionable ideas about what’s lurking in our subconscious minds. Instead, Tony looks at the way a subject matter is used in our language, our common stories, archetypes we’re all familiar with and the like. For example, here’s part of an entry about cooking: Continue reading

  • Parenting Genius

    Honest to goodness, there’s nothing that makes me happier than some good parenting. Those times when you or someone else says something to a kid that is honest and real and makes the world a little more manageable for them to navigate. The things that they’ll repeat to themselves when they need some wisdom or encouragement or a kick in the pants later.

    If the world worked the way it should, the news would include highlights of parenting genius that anonymous parents spouted off that day rather than reports about celebrities boinking and abandoning each other. But I suppose the logistics of such a thing would be a nightmare. Which is why we all know that J Lo and Casper just broke up, but have no clue that this afternoon a woman down the street said things that helped her child be less afraid of dying one day.

    This is why I’m a big fan of Shit My Dad Says. I think I mentioned it once before, but for those who missed it, Shit My Dad Says is the creation of a writer with a sharp eye about his great, foul mouthed dad. It’s funny and wise and much more profound than anything with that much swearing and crude humor has a right to be. His father is a parenting genius, if you ask me.

    Anyhow, GQ has a Shit My Dad Says post up for Father’s Day that I loved and wanted to pass on to y’all. The dad talks like I do if I’m not careful, so there’s lots of swearing involved. But if you mind that, you probably aren’t reading my blog. Anyhow, the context is that the son froze up during a big baseball game and lost the game for his team:

    My dad walked down two rows from the metal stands and tossed a soda he was drinking in the garbage. He headed toward the parking lot a hundred feet away and I followed him in silence until we got to the car.

    “You pitched well,” he said.

    “I lost the game for us,” I said, then burst into one of those cries where all available tears and mucous shoot out of your eyes and nose at once.

    “Now hold on,” he said.

    “Don’t try and tell me I didn’t lose the game for us,” I said, as a snot bubble formed in both nostrils.

    “Shit, I was there son. That ball flew out of your hand like you were setting a fuckin’ dove free. You got no argument here.”

    “Then what are you gonna say? I know it’s just a game, okay?” I said, trying to calm my heaving breaths.

    “What I was gonna say was, your coach is full of shit. It ain’t ‘just a game.’ This is a big goddamn deal,” he said, leaning his back up against the passenger door.

    Continue reading

  • Things to Say to Someone Who Is Suffering

    I’m so sorry you’re going through this.

    It makes me sad/angry to see what you’re going through. You deserve better.

    It won’t always be like this.

    It’s OK to be broken sometimes.

    Not everyone could handle this with as much grace/bravery/whatever as you.

    Sometimes all you can do is get through the day and that’s enough.

    I know it’s overwhelming right now, but I believe in you.

    Tell me how bad it really is.

    What do you wish someone would say to you right now?

    Can I pray for/over you?

    Obviously, use discretion, but these are all things that you can say to someone going through the worst life has to offer. When dealing with someone in that position, resist the urge to try to convince them things aren’t so bad, to look at them more positively or to practice gratitude. Sometimes life really is that bad and your efforts to convince them otherwise will only highlight how hopeless they feel and make them feel even more isolated by their pain. Pep talks and positive thinking have their place, but in a society where everyone’s supposed to be happy all the time, it’s a gift to demonstrate loving acceptance of someone’s pain.

    If you want to lift their spirits, distraction is your best bet. Crack jokes, tell a funny story, let them reminisce about better times or share a bit of harmless gossip.

    For more ideas on how to be there for someone going through a terrible time, check out my post What To Do When Someone Starts Crying In Front of You.