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They Don’t All Like You

There’s something that’s been sort of swirling around in my personal sphere lately – in myself and in several people I’ve encountered online, in person, on the phone, pretty much everywhere. So I thought I’d take a couple of minutes to feel it out, give us some space to look at it.

I’ll start with me, not just because I’m self-centered, but because that’s the story I know best. Many of you probably already know that I have a mailing list and that I send out a missive pretty much every week (summer has its own calendar and while my intentions are pure, they are not always timely). In the past my weekly offering was accepted either with enthusiasm or neutrality. Some folks would write back with questions (LOVE) or praise (SUPER LOVE – I’m not immune people). Others would just tacitly approve by staying on the list (YAY!).

alone-away-back-view-274712Lately, things have been different. I know my writing has been different. Some of my offerings have been different. There’s been a more spiritual bent more of the time. There’s been a little more cursing here and there – a strange combination for some, but hey, this is me. And lately when I send out my message in a digital bottle, I’ve been getting a little wave of unsubscribes. Like that language? “A little wave,” the wording shows you exactly where I am with the whole thing. I want to be okay with it, so I call it little, but I feel every single one, so it’s a wave.

It’s perfectly natural that as what I’m doing changes, there will be people who no longer dig it. It’s totally sensible that as I become more myself, there will be people who find that I’m no longer a good fit for their selves. It’s reasonable that with crowded e-mail inboxes those who don’t LOVE what I’m doing should unsubscribe. My wise and practical mind knows this.

But that girl inside? She’s 12 again and all she wants is for everybody to like her. I bring this up NOT to get you all to sign up for my newsletter, but but because this happens to all of us. It especially happens as we change and become more honest, more whole, and more authentic. THIS is what Brene Brown means by vulnerability. When you are real, you take the chance of finding out that not everyone likes HER. We so want to be liked and we so want to be real. And so we juggle and which of those balls we pay the most attention to depends on so many factors.

No matter how we slice it though, we’re going to come across people who just don’t like us or don’t like what we do. My response tends to be: “Wait a minute. What did I do?” I want to investigate to see exactly what was different this time. I want to know why they are leaving. I want to be able to ask them why they don’t like me anymore – and that’s all coming from the 12 year old.

And she only asks for one reason: she asks because she is willing to change in order to keep all of those people. She is willing to be someone else in exchange for approval. She is more concerned about what everyone thinks of her than what she thinks of herself. She actually NEEDS them to like her because she thinks if enough people like her, she will then finally get to like herself.

Ugh. Brutal.

I see it. I see it in a way I was not able to see it in the past. I see it because over the last few years I worked really hard at reversing that direction.

I started with liking me, no not just liking me, LOVING me.

I consciously began to notice the things I love about me – and I mean that on ALL of the levels: in my head, in my heart AND on my body. (I have an amazing décolletage by the way.) I also began treating myself with love. I sat down and figured what that looked like and while I worked on developing the feelings, I began taking the actions. It has changed everything.

And yet, that 12 year old is still around.

That’s right. She’s still there, because here’s the thing about dragons. You don’t have to slay them to make peace.

I know what she’s about. I see her emerge. I catch myself before it all gets so serious that I make someone else’s opinion of me WAY too important. I check in – am I cool with what I said/did/created? Am I proud? Was it me? Yes, yes, yes.

And as I check in with myself, I realize how very okay it is that not everybody likes me.

Truthfully, I don’t like everybody either.

And that’s not what really matters anyway.

What really matters is how I feel about me because even if everyone else thinks I’m great but I don’t like me, I will feel no better. I will feel like a fraud. I will feel lonely and empty.

blur-body-care-161608When I love me, I get to feel real. I get to feel full. I get to feel better. They don’t like me, and that’s okay because I love me (cue the Megan Trainor song now).

If this message was for you today, I hope you’re hearing me, that I’ve found the right words. If you have children, especially teenage girls, I hope you’re hearing me.

If you stop reading my stuff five seconds from now and never come back, I hope you hear me when I say that you are worthy. You ARE special. You do have something to contribute. YOU are the only you we have and if you aren’t doing you right now, maybe it’s time to try to find her, ever so gently, and with great love.

So be it.

 

Brave Enough

I do a lot of talking about fear and getting past it, working around it, not letting it make your decisions for you.

boy-child-clouds-346796And I think sometimes that makes it sound like I want to just see you being super brave all of the time. Like, we identify the fear and then we just leap tall buildings in a single bound kind of brave. Sometimes when I’m listening to another coach or an inspiring human, that’s my reaction.

Like, “Well, I’m glad you figured out how to be brave enough to swim the English Channel, but hells no I’m not going to do anything like that or be that brave EVER.”

My relationship with fear is old and it likes to tell me that I will never be brave enough to do anything worth talking about.

And when I think about bravery and being myself and taking risks as something that I need to don a superhero’s cape to do, it is so much easier to give in to that belief that fear wants me to have. It is so much more tempting to shrug off my preferences and dreams and just stay with caution, nice sweet status quo occasionally soul-sucking caution.

But there’s this thing, something Cheryl Strayed reminded me of this morning.

You don’t have to have the courage of an entire platoon of people liberating a European village in WWII. You don’t have to try to leap a tall building in a single bound. You don’t have to decide to swim the English Channel to take a step forward. You just have to be brave enough to take one step forward.

You have to be brave enough to be honest with yourself about what’s going on with you.

You have to be brave enough to be honest with yourself about what you do and don’t want in your life.

You have to be brave enough to keep wise counsel as you make these considerations and not let other people’s opinions hold TOO much sway.

You have to be brave enough to listen to yourself: not the nattering voice that wants you to grab a bag of chips and the remote because it’s scary out there, but the voice that is calling you into integrity, that is encouraging you to be more yourself. You have to listen to what that is.

You have be brave enough to act on what you discover in the realm of soul truth.

You have to be brave enough for those things, but you don’t have to do them all in the same moment.

beautiful-calm-coast-358480You only have to be brave enough to take one step, whatever that might look like.

Maybe it looks like writing without ceasing for 10 minutes about whatever’s going on in your head.

Maybe it looks like talking to a trusted friend about the things that you’ve been afraid to reveal.

Maybe it looks like getting really, really quiet so you can hear.

You don’t have to take all of the steps at once beloveds.

You only need to be brave enough to take one.

If you need some support, I’d be delighted to walk with you.

XO,

julia

Trust as Your Anchor

In a prayer I read the other day, I came across this simple request: “Let my soul be anchored in trust.”

bare-feet-boy-child-262103I struggle with that idea.

I struggle to trust.

I struggle to feel safe being myself, taking risks.

I struggle to feel secure with who I am and who I might become.

My mind tells me if I work hard enough and protect myself and my family then I don’t have to trust, which is probably best because oh my mercy have you seen what’s going on out there?!

And I know there are people who would tell me that this lack of trust is not a problem, but wisdom, a sign of maturity in a hard world, lessons learned. There is surely plenty of evidence in the world that not everyone or everything is trustworthy. Hell, there is surely plenty of evidence in my Facebook feed alone that not everyone or everything, or some days it seems like ANYone or ANYthing is trustworthy.

If I allow myself to follow that evidence, if I allow myself to see all that is wrong in the world and, more importantly, use it to support the idea that I can’t, I shouldn’t trust, I live in fear and isolation. Fear and isolation feels like shit. Fear and isolation is an internal dialogue that never shuts up. Fear and isolation is being sure that you are alone and that if you screw up the consequences could be dire. Fear and isolation is living without love for yourself or anyone else. It’s enough to make me take up permanent residence in the blanket fort.

It seems to me that the only way to function at all without deciding and learning to trust is to live in fear – to watch, be vigilant, to inspect, to caution, and ultimately to create a container for our lives that is all enough that it may go unnoticed in the cruel world. The partner to that fear is busting your butt every waking moment of every day. This is how we shrink ourselves. This is how we lead small lives. This is how and why we hide the parts of ourselves that are crying out for display like a peacock’s fan. Who has time to be and feel amazing when there is so much to worry about? Who has the gumption to wonder if the things we’re choosing are what’s best for everyone if we think it is THAT scary out there? Who finds it compelling to take the undeniable risk of vulnerability if what we believe is that it is a sure path to our destruction?

But beloveds, it is all a choice. We can choose NOT to shrink. We can choose to act even in our fear. If I choose NOT to shrink, but to be my full self and thereby to trust the world with HER, everything is different. And yes, some people won’t like HER. And yes, some people will demand that she get back in that box. But oh lordy those feathers.

You see trusting doesn’t mean that I don’t see problems. Trusting doesn’t mean I won’t have problems. Trusting doesn’t mean that I don’t notice when things aren’t going my way. Trusting doesn’t mean we won’t have problems with other humans, our communities, our culture, our institutions. It DOES mean not seeing any of these as a signal that we are doomed, flawed, finished, washed up or even cursed.

animal-bird-feathers-148291.jpgI suppose it’s possible that folks are right and that I should be afraid – and believe me I still am more of the time than I care to acknowledge, but having experienced days without all of that fear, days in trust, and days when I act in trust even though I am afraid, I have to say I much prefer to live in a world where I believe I can actually be myself and ultimately I, and everyone else, will be better for that expression.

And oh lordy those feathers.

 

The Keys to Your Freedom

I still see Mel Gibson yelling Freedom at the top of his lungs, blue paint on his face, in his we didn’t know you were crazy and a bigot days. If you don’t know what I’m talking about you haven’t seen Braveheart, and in many ways that’s probably okay.

freedom-handcuffs-hands-247851The moment in the film is one where he’s motivating the troops to face a much larger, better equipped, and infinitely better trained army.  And he calls them to action, to sustained and courageous action in the name of freedom.

It’s been a clarion cry since people were people who organized themselves, since people tried to be in charge of other people, since the draw of other people’s stuff tempted the first guy to go take it with force. Freedom.

And it’s clear from history AND from the silver screen that the call to freedom gets people going.

It gets people motivated.

It gets people marching.

It gets people chanting.

It gets people fighting.

The call for freedom in our shared world is loud, persistent, and the consequences for NOT claiming it are all too often real and brutal.

What I’d like to think about on this independence day in the U.S. is the calls for freedom in our inner worlds, which are so often more subtle and more easily dismissed in favor of more “practical” concerns:

  • the cry for freedom that happens in your head as you drive into a job you can’t stand,
  • the cry for freedom that happens in your head as you tough it out in a relationship that doesn’t nurture you in the slightest,
  • the cry for freedom as you buy things you don’t need to feel better,
  • the cry for freedom as you search around for something to believe in that feels like a home rather than a prolonged punishment,
  • the cry for freedom as you hide pieces of yourself to fit in and please people.

Those are all real cries.

They’re not wearing blue face paint and riding a big stallion, but they will if you ignore them too long.

I used to ignore those cries, and I endured the loss of sleep, the anxiety, the gnawing hunger that came with that choice. I tried to move things around. How about this? How about a little graduate school? No, how about doing the same job in a totally different environment? No? I just kept plugging away in situations that were wrong because I was sure that the things that would make me feel free were not available to ME. Sure, someone else might be able to make that work, but not me. I didn’t even really think about it long enough to have an argument with myself very often. I mean, this was what being an adult was, right? You find something you’re decent at that will get you paid and you DO IT. How it makes you feel is just because it’s a job… “That’s why they call it work.”

I rode those feelings in to a job that was draining me of everything I had until I started to have heart palpitations, and until my doctor told me that there was absolutely no way I would ever get pregnant in that condition. I was 37. I believed I was running out of time – another idea that enslaved me.

I ignored the cries of freedom until I could literally physically not ignore them anymore.

I see people do it all of the time. You see we all have these ideas, ideas about what’s possible and what’s right and who we are. Some of those ideas help us feel free and some of them keep us in prison.

So I ask you on this day of independence in the U.S., are there cries for freedom that you are ignoring? Are there signals you’re getting that tell you something’s not right? How loud will you let them get before you listen?

Sometimes after turning a deaf ear for a long time, we don’t even know how to listen anymore. We don’t recognize the call. We don’t recognize the cry as one we can do anything about. It just turns into a sense of how things are wrong and will always be the way they are. It just turns into a sense of impossibility and stuckness. It turns into hopelessness and repetition, stress eating and drinking, suppressed emotions and weariness.

back-view-blonde-hair-countryside-757056Freedom doesn’t feel like that. And sometimes it involves changing your circumstances, but before any of that happens, it involves finding those chains in your head and your heart so you can see them.

Sometimes all you need to do is see them beloveds because you hold the keys.

I’d love to help you find them.

Mind Your Business

4th-of-july-american-bright-461917In the U.S., the 4th of July brings with it a lot of revelry, a lot of gathering, a lot of flag waving, and sometimes some reflection on our national culture.

The founders get referenced heavily. I both understand and respect that. I taught government and history in high schools. Classes on political philosophy in my graduate program were my favorite.

I support the urge to reflect while we celebrate whatever it is that this holiday means for each of us individually and as a group. I especially support the urge to reflect on our ideals NOW, when so many of us feel that we are not living up to them in any way that we want to recognize.

I don’t want to wax too heavily political here, not because I fear losing you or upsetting you, but because there are so many spaces for that. I can engage in these arguments, and get heated about it, but I know that I need spaces for quiet reflection in order to make sense of my world. Maybe you do too. So that’s part of my mission today, and maybe every day, to create a space where we can step away from the raging of the world and check in with our ideals, check in with our hearts, and check in with the path that lies before us. Sometimes those paths include politics.

A friend told me the other day that when the founders were trying to come up with a motto for the baby United States, Ben Franklin suggested (with humor as he did most things) that “Mind Your Business” would make a good motto. It reflected the drive toward commerce that was so much a part of the American character even then as well as the fear of interference in private and business affairs that the colonists’ experience with England had reinforced. Franklin acknowledged that his suggestion was not adequately transcendent. Eventually E Pluribus Unum was chosen.

I think it’s worth taking a few minutes to think about both of these phrases as part of our celebration of independence.

Frankly while I like the idea of E Pluribus Unum (from many, one), it doesn’t seem to have gotten us much unum.

I wonder, instead if Franklin might have been onto something, but that he limited his scope of interpretation such that he missed his own brilliance. I think a case could be made for Mind Your Business as both a more accurate reflection of the American character AND as an aspirational tool – an idea that could create transcendence.

On the accuracy front, Mind Your Business would have, at the very least, been a more honest reflection of the reality of most of the founders as men of money and commerce. It certainly would have been a more accurate reflection of those who were slaveholders and who protected that practice in the Constitution. From Many, One doesn’t mean much if the many are all propertied white men. Unum is easier to achieve in small groups.

As for transcendence, I’d like to propose an alternative meaning for Mind Your Business, one I’ve mentioned, but only at the surface level, before. This understanding of Mind Your Business is not an admonition to leave someone alone, but instead, an urging to really dig deeply into what you are trying to do in this world, to check in with your heart, with your intuition, with your values, with your god if you have one, to actually attempt to align your life with the things, ideas, principles, and feelings that matter the most to you. Minding your business is not about privacy so much as it is about intellectual honesty and active integrity.

I wonder what would have been different had the founders decided to mind their business in this way. While I cannot overlook the founders’ failure of morality in institutionalizing slavery in law, I recognize the conflict that it presented internally. I wonder what might have been different for them, for African Americans, for ALL of us had they taken those misgivings more seriously than the approval of their peers, if they trusted that they would, in fact, be able to continue to survive and even thrive financially if they just learned to live in integrity with the sense of the grave injustice in which they were participating. I wonder what would be different had they chosen to mind that kind of business. Mightn’t they have taken their misgivings to heart and defended them as passionately as they defended things like individual rights (for propertied white men) and the need to establish a government that could actually act in the common interest (of propertied white men)? Could they then have made slavery a thing of the past 75 years ahead of the Civil War?

What would be different?

It’s an intellectual exercise to be sure, but it’s also a clarion call as we enter these days of celebration and festivity. If we are to celebrate our founding with any seriousness, can we not also examine its limitations and see what lessons they might hold for us today?

E Pluribus Unum – From Many, One.

Mind Your Business – Act with Integrity for Principles that Matter

I admit to a heavy heart heading into this holiday.

agriculture-cloudscape-cloudy-skies-129539I will still go to see fireworks, because I do love them.

I will still find wisdom and inspiration in some of those old ideals.

And I will hold them up to the light of my heart. I will check them and how they are used, carried out, and desecrated. I will act in integrity because that’s what not just patriotism, but responsible humanity, demands of me.

So be it.

Kitchen Wisdom

I looked up from my laptop and noticed quite a lot of smoke in the house. That sounds like a moment to panic, but it wasn’t quite THAT kind of smoke, and I’d been in this same spot just about 10 days ago.

berries-blueberry-breakfast-718739You see my daughter likes to cook. She’s 11. She’s got a few things down. She REALLY REALLY wants to master pancakes. She wants to make light, fluffy, perfectly brown pancakes in her mother’s cast iron pans.

She objects to some of my methods. And that’s okay because if she wants to learn it for herself I am down with that, until it sets off the smoke alarms, which it has twice now.

You see pancakes require at least two things to work reasonably well: a pan that is actually hot all the way through AND just the right amount of fat on that pan.

There’s a lot of room for error in that sentence, like a lot. How hot? How much fat? What KIND of fat?

I didn’t realize how many variations there were because I automatically made some choices that I knew would work well.

She needed to experiment.

And that’s when the pan heat being too high and the choice of butter as the fat combined to make for a smoky mess.

Now I don’t want to go all Alton Brown on you, but I will share the short version that different kinds of fats respond differently to different temperatures. It’s called “smoke point.” Each kind of fat has a different temperature at which it just creates nasty smoke and gets spread all over the house and wakes everyone up and gives the aging dog anxiety.

Once I realized what was happening (again), I quickly intervened: helped her cool the pans down a little with some water, gave her two better options for greasing the pan, and assured her (she was drowning us in apologies) that everything was okay. It was just something she needed to learn. It was okay. A little noise wouldn’t kill us. It was okay. She got to see the lesson in action instead of just listening to me spout on about it. I’m pretty sure she’ll make different choices next time. In fact, in true Life Coach kid fashion, she wrapped up our conversation by saying: “Next time I will not heat the pans so much and I will use coconut oil instead of butter.”

Awesome. The dog may live a while longer just because of that.

What I found interesting later in the day, when looking back on the incident was that nobody got upset with her. And once she had apologized a few times, she was completely open to the information about what would help next time. She was an active participant in learning a better way to do it next time. She just wanted to get the lesson – well, and eat her pancakes.

Once she had apologized she didn’t beat herself up profusely for “doing it wrong.” She didn’t rehash and revisit the great pancake debacle for hours or days, although I imagine there is the possibility of some teasing in her future on this front. She didn’t just collapse and cry about what a terrible cook she is. All of those options were available to her.

blond-blur-fashion-415263.jpgWhat she chose to do was to figure out what the lesson was and to get the people around her to help her learn it and to clean up the mess learning it made, something we did without complaint or even a heavy sigh.

How much easier would things be if we treated all of our mistakes this way?

How much more quickly would we learn?

How much more willing would we be to take risks?

How much more connected would we be to others?

How much more full and delicious would life be if we could treat the hard stuff like a failed batch of pancakes?

The Cold Comfort of Confusion

“I’m so confused.”

I hear people say it and I’ve said it myself.

blur-calm-waters-dawn-395198Confusion. Uncertainty. Fog. Swirling.

I have moments of it, usually when I’m down.

I’ve got tools, and usually I can navigate that space far better and far more quickly than I used to.

But I remember and I’ve heard from quite a few of you about that fog of confusion. I see the way it torments you.

“I don’t know what to do.”

“I don’t know what to think.”

“I don’t know which way to turn.”

I have an answer, but you may not like it.

You may not like it because I think confusion is a lie.

Confusion is a lie we tell ourselves when we don’t want to face what is true, or when we don’t want to accept what has happened, or when we have forgotten how to feel what we actually feel or those feelings are too big and scary to experience. So we slip in a tape, we push the repeat on a loop icon, we create a fog of “I don’t know” to protect us.

It feels better to be confused than to be heartbroken.

It feels better to be confused than to be lonely.

It even feels better to be confused than to admit what we really want in a situation and to try to get it.

It feels better to be confused than to be vulnerable.

It feels better to be confused than to be accountable.

It feels better to be confused than to risk committing to a path that might end up in failure.

Confusion is the ultimate tool of the status quo.

Because when we are confused, when we are spinning, when we are sitting in the fog of uncertainty, we are actively changing nothing. Circumstances may shift in response to our inaction, but we’re not changing anything. We’re not responsible for what happens. We’re staying safe in the fog.

It’s just another trick of the mind, the mind that only knows survival and death.

If you’re alive, the mind says that’s good enough. That’s excellent. Let’s stick with that.

And there are times when just being alive is certainly something to celebrate, to venerate, to acknowledge with gratitude.

But our hearts…

adult-enjoyment-facial-expression-1037989Our hearts want so much more than that. They want to love. They want to give and receive and be thrilled and even crushed if that’s the price. Our hearts want to feel other hearts, touch other souls, experience the depth of really living, not just being alive. They want us to have all of the things we can only have if we let go of that fog, if we choose, if we commit, if we act, if we chase dreams and hope for the best.

The comfort that confusion brings is a cold one.

It comes with the pain of sleepless nights and that gnawing sense that there’s something else we should be doing. Confusion comes with the obsessive need to work at the problem while being sure not to ever actually see through it, and endless stalemate between pro and con.

Confusion is a lie.

Maybe it’s time to tell yourself the truth, whatever that it.

Maybe it’s time to feel how you feel.

Maybe it’s time to admit what you want.

Maybe it’s time to speak your truth and just let the consequences unfold.

If it’s too much, you can be confused again any time.

You can make that choice just as easily as you can unmake it.

It’s your story.

Pick up that pen.

 

xo,

julia

The Benefit of Doubt

Over the last few years I’ve become a close observer of how I interact with other people.

That sounds kind of stalker-esque and creepy.

What I mean is that I’m a lot more aware of what parts of a conversation I’m responsible for, what parts are completely out of my control, and which parts are imagined and therefore none of my business.

Yesterday I heard that I had been left off a list – I didn’t get the invite. It was a pretty big deal – big event, big emotions, old baggage. It was unintentional. Nothing was meant by it, but my mind didn’t want to let it be. It really wanted to turn this into something. It didn’t need me to raise a ruckus about it, but it wanted to chew on it and make it mean something hurtful. I turned to my friend literal listening.

What is literal listening?

blond-blurred-background-cars-825982Literal listening is paying close attention to all of the words that are actually spoken, asking for clarification as needed and, here’s the kicker, not inserting any additional words, interpretations, subtexts, feelings, hostility, or anything else you might be inclined to insert. You take in and respond to exactly what is said.

The key question to literal listening is: “What is (or was) actually being said? What words were used?” Notice there’s no: “What did so and so REALLY mean?” in that formulation. Literal listening assumes that speakers will say what they mean and that listeners will ask for clarification as needed.

Why is literal listening useful?

Literal listening protects our feelings, our energy levels, keeps us from wasting time, and allows us to focus on what is true and necessary. Literal listening does all of this by preventing us from getting into someone else’s business, and by that I mean what they think of us. Let me back up a little here because I don’t think I’ve talked about this for a while.

I firmly believe that what other people think of me is absolutely none of my business. It is an idea I personally got from a writer named Byron Katie, but I know it’s around in other places as well. What people have in their heads about me is their problem, not mine. When I spend a lot of time interpreting, inferring, assuming, and detecting, I am actually invading their privacy; let’s face it, while there seems to be less evidence of it these days, adults do self-edit sometimes, and that’s a good thing. If the person you are engaged with has chosen NOT to tell you what they think of you, shouldn’t they have that option? Mightn’t it be better that way?

There is an important effect here for the late night mind monkeys. Literal listening strips away all of the grist for our rotten story weavers and lets us simply face the facts as we actually KNOW them to be.

When is literal listening helpful?

Literal listening is particularly helpful when we’re interacting with the people in our lives who are difficult or with whom we have baggage: maybe we even know they don’t like us be we are tied to them in some way that makes no contact unavoidable. Maybe we know we don’t like them but haven’t quite managed to rearrange our social circles yet. Maybe it’s a co-worker who is difficult and unpleasant. Maybe it’s a boss who tends to be short with praise and long on condescending looks and deep sighs. Clearly there’s stuff there, but do we really want to enter into the kind of conversation we would have to have to clear it all up with ALL of those people? Would we even have that opportunity? I’m pretty sure there are a lot of work environments where team counseling is not an option. I know there are family situations where that would take years.

Literal listening allows us to engage with the people with whom we have baggage, real or imagined, and still accomplish the things we need to accomplish without taking on more emotional burden.

It allows us to interact with people with whom we have insecurities and maybe old wounds without taking on more hits.

It allows us to continue to function and take responsibility for what we do and say in environments that feel emotionally charged.

It allows us to find some room to simply be and be ourselves and requires adults who have a problem with that to actually come out and say something.

ask-blackboard-356079For me literal listening gives me a way to rewind the tape when my story teller gets rolling. When I am deciding what people think of me, what they REALLY meant, why they did what they did or said what they said or what they REALLY think and then looking for evidence for all of that horrible stuff, I can take a big deep breath and ask myself: “Do I know any of that? Is it true? Was it actually said? What WAS actually said? Am I creating a problem by invading his/her private thoughts? Am I making myself suffer by trying to figure out the subtext?” I can benefit from the doubt that arises when I ask myself these questions.

That doubt allows me to stop the storyteller, and to thank her for trying to protect me all of the time. I can give her a pat on the head and suggest she take a nap while I review the words that were actually spoken and remove all of the meanings I’m so tempted by old wounds and insecurity to add. I can choose, even if someone really IS being rotten, I can always choose to not take that in and make it part of me, and oh my how much better that feels.

 

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.

A Glimpse of Heaven

When I was in high school, I was invited to a Christian youth group. It was held in the evenings, at participating students’ houses. There were college aged leaders. Songs were sung – with guitar players from our school. The kids who went were nice. We had fun. The theology was pretty accessible and it felt really good to be there.

So I dug in.

I started reading the Bible.

I started listening to Christian music.

I joined a smaller group who did Bible study and met BEFORE school – meeting before school is a big deal for a teenager who is already completely fighting biological rhythms by starting school at 7:30.

I dug in.

And the connection was such a gift.

converse-all-star-fashion-foot-1581In that time of psychic disorientation and social confusion, romantic experimentation and disappointment, total insecurity and budding ego these smaller rooms full of people who seemed to want to do good, be better, and talk about what made that hard felt like a balm for my adolescent soul.

I went on a weekend trip to Ocean City. Honestly I don’t remember much of that – but only because it has faded, not because of either intoxicated highjinx or trauma. It just doesn’t stand out.

The time I spent with that group was good.

For Easter that year my Mom included a gospel tape (pre-CD, I am old) in my Easter basket in an attempt to be supportive. I hadn’t heard of the group and when I said thank you with a full understanding of the symbolism of the gift, my stepfather responded with: “Well, what else do you get a Jesus freak?”

That’s fine.

It was fine, really.

I didn’t particularly love the label, but I didn’t really care about it either.

What it DID say to me was that I was treading into water that was uncomfortable for my family.

Part of that discomfort was around the fact that the faith that I seemed to be dipping into had a real component of feeling. A little religious ecstasy was allowed. The Episcopal Church of my youth was not big on ecstasy – although if ecstasy had been around in the 70s I can’t make any promises about how that would have gone…

The point is that the messages I got – or I should say the messages I received/chose to hear/interpreted to be really fair – reflected a faith of the intellect, a mental pursuit of the holy. This new water I had my feet in said I could FEEL God. And oh lordy did I want to feel God, especially if God would love me unconditionally, accept me exactly as I was, be there in times of sorrow, be the friend I could count on. Oh yes I wanted to feel that God.

And it caused some worry, this change for me.

My sister checked in. She rightly raised theological questions: “Do these people think I’m going to go to hell if I don’t accept Jesus as my personal savior?” I stammered, not really knowing the answer. You see, you don’t get to those kinds of issues for some time in well-orchestrated religious youth groups.

I had found a place that was safe, where I belonged, and it felt good. I felt good. I don’t just mean I felt good, like pleasant, I mean I felt like I WAS good because I was doing “right” things, being with others doing “right” things. It felt, and I felt good.

So good, that when the question of summer camp came up, I asked my parents if I could go. My folks paid for my trip and I anxiously waited for the months to pass until we could go to the Adirondacks as one big feel-good tribe.

And then the wheels kind of came off the bus. Some infighting developed. People began having issues with other people, even in the more devout early morning group – issues. The leaders worked to help us find ways to reach out to one another, to bridge the gaps. I really don’t remember the details, I just remember tension rising.

And then the bottom dropped out. School ended. I waited to hear about our camp trip. As the date approached, I didn’t hear anything. I started to get nervous – maybe something had gone wrong. My Mom asked if I had a packing list or anything – an address, emergency telephone, that sort of thing. Nada.

I waited and trusted. And then I called. I called someone else who was going and discovered that there had been several meetings in preparation for the trip. They had all been meeting without me. As an adult I can look at it and see that there was obviously some logistical snafu, I got left off the list. But that is DEFINITELY not how it felt to teenaged me.

I was sure that this was proof that these people were no different. I took it as evidence that this gathering was just one more place where people would be crappy to each other. And truth to tell, in those things I was right. But what I forgot was the good stuff. I forgot about all of the good stuff that came with it. And I wrongly attributed all of that to the people involved.

You see what I was really benefiting from was connecting to something larger than myself. I was feeling good because I was allowing myself to plug in. And I was willing to believe that the force that I was plugging into loved me, saw good in me, would care for me. THAT was where the good stuff was. THAT was the ecstasy behind the theology that, as an adult with internet who can look it up, I really can’t agree to.

By allowing myself to connect to something bigger and benevolent, I allowed myself a glimpse of heaven here on earth. I allowed myself to believe that I was okay, better than okay, worthy of love, worthy of attention, worthy of any of the things I wanted.

adult-black-and-white-blur-257037Today I know I can get that without agreeing to ideas about people being born evil or what they have to do get right. I can have that experience without even having to read or believe in any book at all. I can make contact, I can connect with all the parts of me. I can accept the parts I’m not as proud of. I can accept myself and love myself unconditionally. I can experience connection with the divine, and not even be sure what that means.

It’s been right there the whole time.

All I had to do was believe I was good enough and allow it.

In ill-defined and amorphous faith,

julia