When You See the Cracks

This is the first week of summer break for my kids. So far things have been going pretty well. They’ve had volleyball camp for a couple of hours every morning and my husband had been doing pretty much ALL of the domestic heavy lifting in preparation for an upcoming absence. So, yeah, so far so good for me. No need to work out that balance when everyone else is doing the work.

adorable-animal-basket-167700Well, as luck would have it by the time he left my kids had worn themselves out staying up giggling (which they thought we couldn’t hear). I had worn myself out trying to get a bunch of stuff done in the evening. Even the dog seems tired. And we all know what a tired family means. Just in case it’s been a while for you, there’s a whole lot of grumpiness. In my case there’s a lack of good sense. I just don’t think as clearly when I’m tired and as a result everything seems to take longer. I make mistakes. And I’m not very nice about how all of that goes down.

Sounds like good old-fashioned summer fun, right?

I have a distinct recollection of my mother opening the door and telling us to come home when we got hungry.

We don’t roll that way as a culture anymore, and I’m not sure we’re better for that change, but that is a whole separate post.

I wanted to tell you about this moment I had today, in my fog and stupidity (don’t worry, I’m not berating myself, it’s temporary and totally sleep related).

It was when we got to the orthodontist’s office.

Back Story: I had always handled the visits to the orthodontist for my son. When my seminarian left his day job and I started working a lot more, we enacted a shuffling of the domestic realms of responsibility. Kid teeth responsibilities were part of that shift.

I’ve talked before about the importance of me acknowledging that running the household with all of its various parts and responsibilities is no small feat and I had a good long run at it. My efficiency rating, not my aesthetic rating mind you, was pretty darned high. I had several years to get good at all of it.

The reshuffle has caused some bumps in the road as has the further offloading of some responsibilities onto our growing kids. There have been several moments where I’ve had to put my standards, my expectations, and my even my desires in check because things just aren’t going to work that way. Please understand that I don’t say any of that as condemnation. We’ve got a lot of moving parts and in some ways dividing them up instead of having me as the domestic dictator makes things harder. Decision-making is less centralized. Scheduling requires more communication in less time. Keeping the larder stocked for all of the different kinds of cooking happening causes a level of inefficiency that makes my little teutonic soul cringe a little.

We’ve had some problems scheduling this particular orthodontist appointment. It had to be cancelled for one thing. It had to be rescheduled because of a traffic jam. It got so bad that the doctor called to see if we were actually going to bring him in. I admit I was a little embarrassed about that. I went ahead and scheduled an appointment. They slipped us in quickly, and today in the middle of a whole slew of prep for an out of town trip, we breezed in, on time, and as we were walking in my son said: “I forgot my retainer.”

I stopped in my tracks, right there in the parking lot. Mostly because I needed to take some deep breaths in order to not yell at him. It’s possible that a quiet “Damnit” slipped out under my breath. We went into the office anyway, just to confirm that there was absolutely no point in proceeding, which I knew but thought we’d check.

As we drove to our next of several thousand errands, I looked around at the lay of the family land and I’m seeing a few places like this, where the train is off the rails a bit, where we’re not quite making connections. Things are falling through the cracks.

A couple of years ago this whole set of observations would have created a shame spiral. I would have been furious with my husband for screwing it all up in the first place. I would have been furious for my kid for leaving his retainer at home. And all of that anger would have been a cover for feeling like a bad Mom, like somebody who couldn’t keep things together, like a failure.

Those of you who finished your intense parenting phase before social media might remember some pressure to get it all right, but I’m telling you June Cleaver and Carole Brady have nothing on Pinterest and the blogosphere full of amazing ways to make your family’s life enriching, engaging, and picture perfect. The comparisonitis that can develop when you’re tired or unhappy or unfulfilled or desperate to be good at something is pretty intense. And I felt a lot of that pressure.

boys-childhood-children-51349Today was a little different. Today I saw the gaps. I saw where our transition is not going very smoothly. I saw my part in that. I also saw other people’s parts but immediately saw them as learning curves rather than deficiencies. I also saw the grace we gained by allowing those gaps, the extra minutes spent reading, or sleeping, or NOT obsessively planning.

And so I sit here in this moment, really tired, but more than a little proud. I am proud of the work I’ve done to feel better about myself and my choices. I am proud of the shifts we are all making to grow and learn together. I am astonished by the changes we’ve made and am so delighted to be able to see our collective progress even in the moments when I’d really like to just rewind the clock a few minutes to retrieve an orthodontic appliance.

On Being Heard

All my life I wanted to be heard. I wanted to be heard by the mother who was on her 4th child, the second “pleasant surprise,” and was just beginning to wrestle with the notion that motherhood might not be her only or most beloved goal. I longed to be heard by my father who for many years was largely absent due to work and then emotionally unavailable as his marriage crumbled. I craved being heard by my siblings who noisily jockeyed for position at home.

backlit-beach-clouds-289998I longed to be heard and had no idea that I always could be but that turning to everyone else was a losing game. I had no idea that what I needed was to sit quietly and tend my own inner flame, to hear the heart and soul whispers that I had no words for, to honor my own longing to be valued, to love and care for myself deeply and thoroughly.

My constant outwards reach for attention and affirmation took me to some places that in retrospect, well sometimes not even in retrospect, were pretty dark. I made choices that didn’t serve me because they promised some kind of attention that at least for a little while felt like love. I made pretty big decisions that I thought were destined to make me good enough to merit a seat at the grown ups’ table with all of the seemingly glorious benefits that conveyed. I self-destructed in myriad small ways in an attempt to prove that I was worth noticing, worth admiring, worth listening to, worth loving.

And it all fell on deaf ears – not because my family doesn’t love me but because in the scenario I created I really kind of needed them to NOT love me. You see all of that approval and attention seeking wasn’t a reflection of a deficit of their affection, but a grim revelation of my own complete and utter lack of self-esteem. I hate to use that term because it makes it sound so, I don’t know 1970s. There was a whole movement about that, right? I may have more to say at a later time about THAT, but really that’s what it boils down to, right?

If I had enough self-esteem – a sense of self-worth, I wouldn’t need all of this outside approval for everything. I’m not saying I wouldn’t need any attention or interaction, I’m just saying I might not need so much (in quantity) and not getting it wouldn’t mean so much (like a reinforcement of basic flaws). All of that trying fell on deaf ears because my own ears were deaf to messages of approval. Even if they had approved or attended or given me applause, I would not have heard it because it wasn’t enough to drown out the voice of the critic in my head. It couldn’t be enough to make me feel like I was enough.

afterglow-art-backlit-556665I had forgotten you see. I had forgotten who I am. I had forgotten that like each of you I am a miracle. The moment of my conception was a moment of biological and cosmic interplay that has never occurred before and will never happen again. I had forgotten that it is perfectly normal for me to be “different” from whoever I am comparing myself to and to be grateful for that difference, even at times when its usefulness was not so clear. I had forgotten, in all of my trying, that I was okay. That I am loved. That I am whole. That my purpose here is mine and no-one else’s. I had forgotten that I am stardust.

And so I reached out for reminders. I begged for confirmation of my value. And in doing so I made choices that diminished my own magnificence by confusing it with other people’s desires. I longed for proof, always seeking it from the outside rather than starting the work within, the work of building trust in myself, of listening to the small still voice that says “Yes, you can,” the work of loving this body/mind and life as the container for all that I am and all that I can be here and now. That is the work I have undertaken in the last several years.

What comes from this work is a glowing fire of confidence and self-assurance, a quiet knowing of enough-ness, a tenderness for myself and all of my choices past and present, and a deep felt sense of really being okay. It’s okay. It’s all okay. I don’t need anything from you. I delight in your company. I delight in your you-ness. And here in this space I want to assure you that you are also a miracle, that you are stardust, that there is a small still voice inside of you.

If your need for love and affirmation is falling on deaf ears, I’d love to help you listen.

Make Room

I am hearing it as a clarion call this morning: “Make room.”

I have been making room in my mind – through clearing out old thoughts, adding spiritual practices that encourage a peaceful, and sort of minimalist outlook.

This call is, I think, one to make room in my heart and in my home.

What is taking up space in my heart and in my home? Old junk, old junk that doesn’t serve me anymore.

Now just to be clear – that stuff that’s taking up the space, it wasn’t always junk. It was hurt because of loss. It was anger at the violation of a boundary. It was a gorgeous dress that fit just right and was needed for a wedding. It was fabulous shoes for non-arthritic feet. It was facial and skin products for younger face and skin. It was all either necessary as a signal from my soul or wonderful and helpful for the rest of me at some point (well, okay, except for the occasional bad purchase, but I think that goes without saying). By saying it’s junk now I am not categorizing it as junk eternally and shaming myself for having it. I am not judging myself for having this heart and space junk. I am simply recognizing it for what it is.

art-blur-close-up-580631How do I know it’s junk? I know it’s junk in my heart if it keeps rearing up and getting all mixed up with current problems. I know it’s junk in my heart if it escalates other hurts and tries to make me create bigger arguments out of small ones. I know it’s junk if I don’t really want to look at it, but I can feel it. I know it’s junk when it feels old, heavy, and like something I thought I’d dealt with before. I know it’s junk in my heart if increasing maturity has helped me to recognize that the problem that junk came from was never really mine to begin with (don’t worry if that sounds alien, it will come).

I know it’s junk in my space if it makes getting to the things I’m looking for difficult. I know it’s junk in my space if it’s gathering dust from disuse and disinterest. I know it’s junk in my space if I feel bad when I look at it either because I’m judging myself for acquiring it or judging myself for not making use of it or judging myself because it no longer fits, helps, or serves me. I know it’s junk in my space if it keeps surfacing with no real purpose, asking me to get rid of it and get on with things.

And friends, I’ve got a lot of junk.

There was a time I couldn’t see it. I couldn’t see the individual pieces. I couldn’t see the contours because there was so much that it just took on immense proportions. I had so much old hurt in my heart that addressing any piece of it felt like a way to open a Pandora’s Box full of gut-wrenching devastation. But slowly, I found some edges. I was able to identify some pieces. I could start to get purchase – find a hand or foothold so I could move forward with just a little bit of it. I could heal those old hurts… but first I had to feel them.

I had to stop stuffing them in a closet because they were inappropriate, inconvenient or just too big to handle. I had to stop ignoring them because I had things to do, people to attend to, piles of laundry – ANYTHING to not actually feel. I had to stop deciding that I couldn’t handle feeling my own pain. I had to learn that I, in fact, CAN deal with how I feel and that when I do that, I actually feel better. You see allowing some of that stuff out of that closet lets all of the other stuff shift a little and suddenly it’s not a mountain of pain, but a structure built of individual bricks and stones that can be dealt with in pieces. The important thing here is that it’s not a one shot deal. No matter how much you deal with these things, well human experience says there will be more and if you don’t deal with those, they will become junk.

What do I do when I know I’ve got heart junk? Well, after I admit it to myself, which can take a very long time, I actually set aside some time. I make an appointment with myself to feel it. I know that sounds nutty, but that way I can deal with it when I feel most safe to do so – when I am alone, when it is peaceful, when I don’t feel like my reaction to that pain will spill over onto the little empaths in the house. They can see me in pain, but they don’t need to see it all of the time. It is mine to feel when I am ready and to share as I wish.

What do I do when I’ve got space junk? I ignore it for a long time. LOL. I wish this were not true, but it is. And then when I can’t take it anymore, when I feel like the stuff is starting to be the master of the house, I whip out bags and boxes. You know it: donate, trash, gift/rehome, put away. And I try to be really honest about those categories. I am a firm believer in reusing and repurposing, but some things really are just done.

abstract-blur-bubble-612341Just like in my heart, some things really are just done. I don’t need to give them to someone else. I don’t need to reuse them for current problems. It’s time to feel it and imagine that the water from the shower is washing it off of me. It’s time to say out loud: “I now release this pain and seek healing for me and for anyone else involved in it.” It’s time to get rid of the junk. It’s time to make space.

 

Not Selfish, but SelfFULL

Those of you who know me know I love words. I love to write. I love to play with words (the sounds, the meanings, the options). My love of words is not just based on play, but on the power of words: the power of words to instruct, to share, to create community, to heal. I cannot acknowledge that power without also recognizing the shadow side of that power, the power of words as weapons, the power of words to limit us, to harm us, to wound us.

The words that have wounded me the most in the past are the ones I chose for myself.

ancient-antique-armor-339805More often than not those words were also supplied by fellow humans, but it was my decision to consume them, to make them part of my own self-talk that did the most damage. One of the words I ate was selfish. It was tossed at me by someone who, in retrospect, didn’t really know me at all. But it must have been offered at just the right time because WOW it landed. I took the hit. I ate the word and made it part of my internal dialogue, the place where I could categorize my flaws. Selfish. I am selfish.

Believing that I was selfish was incredibly powerful. It explained why I wanted things, AND why I shouldn’t want them. It explained why thinking of myself happened and why it shouldn’t. And as I got older and had kids, my selfish diagnosis explained why I should put all of everyone’s needs before my own all of the time. It explained the perils of bad parenting. It explained the difficulty of raising twins. It even explained the pain of watching parents age while taking care of small children. I was just selfish. If I had not been selfish, all of that would have come easily, right? I ate it. I ate that word. I grabbed that linguistic sword and used it to cut an ever perilous path towards selflessness.

Selflessness, the hallmark of people like Mother Theresa and other icons of generosity. If only I could cultivate selflessness. If only I could not want or think of myself or need anything. THERE. There’s the answer. I should just not need anything, ever. I should shrink my desires until they are practically nothing, until I am practically nothing (have you seen a picture of Ghandi?). I should shrink. And so I did. I said all of the yeses and I did all of the things. I paved the way for an amazing childhood for my children and filled the gaps for my poor overworked husband. I did all of so many of the things in an effort to prove that I could defeat my selfish core.

And then came a day when the urge to have something of my own, which may well have first demonstrated itself as the simple desire to pee in private – without child or dog in the room, became to great to suppress. The desire to have something, ANYTHING, actually be about me overrode my ability to shrink. It felt like a total failure in one moment and like a glimpse of freedom in the next. And that moment allowed me to really question this whole setup – this selfishness nonsense.

This selfish story was based on some pretty important assumptions. It relied on the belief that it is not possible to take care of yourself AND take care of other people. This selfishness story was grounded in a fundamental flaw being the most important thing about me rather than the idea that there are plenty of important things about me, who I am in this world, that may actually need to see the light of day. The selfishness story is based on the idea that my needs didn’t have anything to do with goodness and light and the unfolding of a stunningly miraculous human as I actually satisfy those needs and imagine wants that take me to new places. The selfishness story is a load of bull.

birthday-bow-box-264771So I’ve developed a new word, a new goal: Self FULL ness. Unlike selfishness, selfFULLness rests on the idea that taking care of my needs is actually important. SelfFULLness acknowledges that I am unlike anyone else on this planet and that I deserve to be here, be well, be peaceful, and nourished, and growing. SelfFULLness looks not for a glass that is half empty or half full but a cup that is actually overflowing.

I didn’t just think of this as an idea. I’ve done it. I’ve arranged my life so that there is actually the possibility of me feeling MORE instead of LESS. I’ve set things up so that I can actually allow myself to want WHILE I acknowledge and appreciate the abundance with which I am surrounded everywhere I go. I’ve rewired my brain to notice my pleasure, my joy, and to follow those. And now my cup fills up and overflows. It overflows in all of the necessary care-taking ways (so good news you need not come save the children), but you know what? It overflows with joy and affection in ways it hasn’t for years. It overflows with warmth and openness that selfish me couldn’t dream of. It overflows with good things for all of us. My cup overflows all of the time and I fully intend to keep on pouring what I need in there.

I have laid down my sword of selfishness. I heard it clank as it landed with all of the other swords I’ve dropped over the last few years.¬†Selfishness as a word, and as an idea, and as a soul meal, it really doesn’t work for me. SelfFULLness is a feast we can all enjoy.

When Change Feels Scary

Every time I write here I am suggesting that you consider changing: growing, learning, experimenting, risking. And I mean it. I want all of those things for you – even if your life is already amazing because I believe growing, learning, experimenting and risking will help you continue to build YOUR life, on purpose. With all of that said, however, I’m not completely unaware of the risks involved with ALL of that.

pexels-photo-789555When we change, grow, learn, experiment and risk things can get pretty uncomfortable. They can get uncomfortable for us personally and they can also get pretty uncomfortable for people around us. In fact, the people we spend the most time are the ones MOST likely to get uncomfortable when we change. They have expectations. We have patterns of interaction. There is history. All of that is presumed background at this point and when we change, we disrupt the background, we shake the ground a little, sometimes we even threaten the system.

It is tempting, especially at the system level to just say: “So WHAT?” And I have a good bit of that in my head. If my getting stronger makes it harder to fit me into some system of oppression that someone else is enjoying, so what? Really! I also know, however, that on the more personal level, anticipating how people will react to our change, growth, experimenting and risking can REALLY throw a wrench in our personal development, and oftentimes that wrench is getting thrown because we’re making up a story about what the consequences will be.

Let me make this all a little more concrete. A few years ago I was trying to figure out what my next career move was going to be. I had stayed home with my twins for several years and the more I thought about it, the less reasonable returning to my old job seemed. It kind of made me want to throw up thinking about it, which I usually take as a sign of a bad idea. But THAT had been the plan. I would return to the classroom, with a predictable (if woefully inadequate) salary and summers off so I could take care of the kids. Easy peasy. Except that it wasn’t. It wasn’t easy peasy and it wasn’t right at all. So I knew I had to change. I told my therapist that I couldn’t make a big change like that right now. I couldn’t reconsider my career options. And I meant it – like I really could not, off the table, forget it.

She wisely asked why and I explained that my husband was in the middle of training to make a career shift and therefore I couldn’t do the same right now. “It would be too much change at once” I told her, like this is a commonly known limit – the too much change cap. She gently guided me through that thought and out the other side. I enrolled in life coach training within a month.

heartsickness-lover-s-grief-lovesickness-coupe-50592What I think is interesting is that I had been so busy anticipating that my changing would be a problem, that I didn’t even get specific. It wasn’t until later that I felt out my fears about telling everyone about my decision. It wasn’t until later that I worried about the financial implications of being a brand new entrepreneur. It wasn’t until later that I realized there would have to be some serious domestic rebalancing. And I got afraid of EACH of those pieces. And you know what? NONE of those pieces have actually caused me a real problem. Everything is fine. Nobody judged me (and if they did they kept it to themselves, which I welcome in this day and age). Our household didn’t implode. We’re not starving and the kids are doing fine. None of my stories that kept me standing still in a place that made me want to throw up were true. None of them.

A super smart friend told me that family can be the most difficult place to practice your spiritual awakening. And I think this is true for any change (whether you consider it spiritual or not). We want to belong. We want to be loved. We want to fulfill the roles we’ve been playing because rocking the boat is scary and exhausting. In my experience, most of that trouble – not all, but most – comes from what I’m imagining will happen. The rest of the trouble, well that’s just none of my business.

If you’re looking to rewrite some of your story, change who you are SUPPOSED to be, or combat some of those shoulds, I’ve got a mini book that just might help. How to Rewrite Your Story includes some of my most powerful material on how to change the story that’s in your head so you can change the results you get in the world. Get your free copy and let me know how it’s going.

xo,

julia

 

Are You A Heretic?

We don’t hear this word much anymore, despite the significant play it’s gotten in the past. In days of yore (whose?), being called a heretic could end with some kind of jail sentence on a good day. Now? I can’t remember the last time I even heard the word. Well, until Sunday when there was discussion of the anniversary of Martin Luther posting the 95 Theses on the church door in Wittenberg. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, that’s okay. I promise I’m not about to go all history teacher (even though I was one) or theologian (even though I’m married to one) on you. It’s that heretic word that I’m interested in. And I’m interested in it because my very scholarly minister told us that heretic, translated in the ancient Greek, just means one who chooses. Huh. All of this trouble in our collective history over people who choose.

Are you pleasing people?I started thinking about that yesterday and I was immediately aware of how many of my clients experience discomfort, shame, family conflict and oceans of self-doubt because they are choosers. These are women who have decided that the script that society provides for all of us doesn’t work for them and so they have chosen (as one so aptly put it) to live off-script. They have chosen to consciously do something different. They’ve chosen not to marry. They’ve chosen not to have children. They’ve chosen to outpace their partners financially. They’ve chosen to be the working parent while a partner stays home. They’ve chosen to change career paths, pursue higher education at inconvenient times, become yogis and healers. They’ve chosen to leave marriages that other people think are just fine. They’ve chosen to stop giving a crap about tablescapes (yes, that’s a thing) and perfect dinners and what the neighbors think. They’ve chosen to do them instead.

There is no death sentence awaiting them. They won’t be burned at the stake for deciding not to marry or have children. They won’t be jailed for choosing to pursue the arts as a profession. They won’t be interrogated for having a messy entryway. But they will feel the weight of discomfort. And in my experience, they will believe that the discomfort comes from the judgments that other people will have about them. “My parents really want me to be married.” And maybe they do. I have no idea. “My parents want grandchildren so bad they can taste them.” That’s gross, but I get it. “My family can’t believe I’m leaving him.” Yes, there is perhaps judgment out there.

What matters, though, is what we do with that perceived judgment.

One of my marvelous mentors, Martha Beck, (I almost left out the comma so that marvelous mentor Martha would just flow better – it’s a sickness) has a sentence that I just love for these kinds of situations. Actually she has more than one, and I’ll share the two that are top of mind right now in case one works better for you than the other: “I respectfully don’t care,” and: “They just get to feel that way.”

These sentences represent one way that we, as choosers (I say “we” because I can assure that anyone who has the title of “life coach” is a chooser for sure), can respond to these judgments, complaints and discomfort in others when we encounter it. We can respectfully not care and we can acknowledge that they get to feel that way.

Making Hard ChoicesHow does this help? This helps because it keeps us from confusing their discomfort with our own. It keeps us honest about the location of our difficulties when we walk down the chooser path. In my experience, it is not the judgments that others have of my choices so much as my reaction to all of that that causes me to suffer. It is only when I take their judgment and turn it into crippling self-doubt or insecurity that I have a problem. It is only when I use those judgments as stand-ins for my own self-judgment, self-criticism and fear that I get into trouble.

If I can, instead, acknowledge that they get to feel how they feel and that I don’t have to care about that I save myself one layer of discomfort, and I push myself toward the emotional honesty that comes with saying: “Sometimes being a chooser is hard. I am tired. I am afraid. I worry this won’t work out.” I push myself toward allowing the feelings that come with doing hard things and releasing them. I push myself toward a place where I can acknowledge what I’m thinking and all of the ways I’m getting in my own way. And once I’m there, I can make a different choice, because that’s what choosers do. I can use my choosing skills to acknowledge my own strength. I can use my choosing skills to acknowledge how far I’ve come on my path. I can use my choosing skills to make my own evaluation of how it’s working, knowing that at any time I can make a different choice. I am free.

If you feel like a heretic sometimes, if you’re a chooser and see the holiday season coming at you – full of opportunities to give everyone evidence of all of the ways you aren’t measuring up, take stock. Remember that the opinion that matters most is yours. Work on that one instead of trying to prove to everyone else that you’re okay. They’re going to think whatever they’re going to think. You can still be happy. You can still be free, even if you’re a heretic.