Happy Tears

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As usual, we took the girls to church this morning.  They looked adorable.  They had on cute little summer dresses with tulle hair bows in their hair.

They weren’t horrible during mass.  Goosie tried to run away once.  She asked to go to the bathroom around 45 times.  She kept fanning everyone around us with the papers.  Mae was a bit restless.  She kept trying to get away.  I’m not really all that sure what she was annoyed with, but she was fairly annoyed most of the time.  And Magoo was good as usual.

It wasn’t an extraordinary mass.  I won’t remember it for their behavior either way, but by the end, I was exhausted.  My sprained foot kept hurting because people get jumping on it; my stomach hurt because I kept being kicked in it.  And I was just done after an hour of keeping everyone under control and in one pew.

But right after the priest walked out of church, the lady in front of me turned around.  I held my breath, not sure if she was going to tell me she was upset about constantly being knocked around by stray feet and books and hands.

But she took my hand, looked me in the eyes and said, “You do a very good job with these girls.  Thank you for bringing them to Mass each week.”

And even now almost twelve hours later, I’m still tearing up writing about it.

I don’t deserve a thank you or a good job or a compliment of any sort.  I’m doing my job as a mom, just like everyone else.  I signed up for this, and I get paid for my troubles in plenty of hugs and kisses.  No one really deserves to be praised for living out their vocation.

But you know what?  It feels really, really nice every now and then.

TJ thought I was silly when he saw me get all emotional in the car when I told him.  He gets compliments when he brings them to the store.  Everyone thinks a big old daddy with three little girls is adorable, and he gets comments about it everywhere he goes.  And I’m glad he does.  He is a very good dad.

But moms are just expected to do all of those things.  And that’s fine.  It’s what I quit my job for.  But still…

It felt awesome!

So I am going to keep that memory and I am going to lock it away in my heart, and I am going to remember those words and I am going to share them with other moms when I see them struggling.  Especially years from now when I’m far removed from the struggles of wiggling toddlers, and I’m apt to look at other young moms with wistful eyes.  I’m going to share those words.  I am gong to pass them on and be generous with them.

Because being a mom is the most rewarding aspect of my life.  I would gladly do it if no one ever saw anything that I do.  But still… it feels really great to be appreciated.

This Funny, Beautiful Life

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Some men find my husband intimidating.  I’ve been told in the past that they wouldn’t want to be put head to head in a fight with him.  I always thought it was funny.  He aways seemed like a big old teddy bear to me.  But no, they insisted.

Then I looked across the dinner table today.  We had pizza, and I saw Goosie, who is only slightly bigger than TJ’s head, goading him on, trying to steal pizza out of his mouth, trying to stick her hands in his mouth, trying to tickle him or poke him or pull his hair.  And there I had my proof.  Teddy bear it is.  At least to the people that matter.

A while later, I was sitting on the couch, and I saw little Mae, tulle in her hair and a monkey on her bottom, running across the room trying to carry a plastic pastry, a pretend sippy cup, a plastic fork, and her baby over to the ottoman to feed her baby.  She was getting frustrated.  She had so much to carry, and she was insistent on carrying it all in one trip.  She takes such good care of that baby.  Unless she’s mad.  Then she’ll throw her across the room or use her to bang her sisters over the head.  I guess it’s good she’s made of plastic and fabric.

I went and sat on the couch and Goosie came running up to me with her white blanky up to her nose, sniffing it, asking me to read her a book.  It has been a long week for Goosie and me.  She had too many “whys” and I had too few answers.   But curled up there next to me, listening to me read the story of Peter Pan, her desperately looking for a nonexistent Jake, she was so peaceful, so intent and content.  How so many different, big emotions can live in one little body is beyond me.

And then there’s Magoo.  She’s all of six, but her maturity often far surpasses that.  She’s my helper.  My right hand.  Her sisters’ best friend and the most holy six year old I know.  One minute she’s curled up next to me, telling me she’s not tired, and the next minute, she’s out like a light, just like the precious little girl I have known her whole life.  And then a little while later she is giggling like a teenager, asking to watch “big girl shows” like Boy Meets World, and secretly whispering to me the name of the boy she wants to marry.  She begs to ride her bike around the block and then panics a little every time she gets more than five feet ahead of me.  She’s so excited to become a first grader and yet part of her is still very much little.  I hope that little part isn’t too quick to part.

And it’s all here in this house.  This crazy, funny, quirky, confusing, beautiful life.  I try to capture it in words.  I trust my camera to remember the details I cannot.  And yet I know nothing could ever quite capture all that this life is.  All its ups and downs and twists and turns.  I don’t even think I could capture all the ups and downs that occur before lunch time.

But I write what I can.  Because one day these days will be gone.  I pray my memory will serve me well and will keep me warm as I sit up waiting for a teenager to get home from a date or a daughter to give birth to her own.  But for the times when the memories fade, I hope these words and these images will provide some solace.

Because these are the times.  I may be too exhausted and overwhelmed to see it all the time, but they are here, and they are now.  In all the world, in all the places, and all the ages, there is no where I would rather be than right here, right now.  These are my glory days.  I pray I serve them well.

My Cowboy

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Just a few months shy of fifteen years ago, I came home from Marquette for Thanksgiving break.  An old friend told me she wanted to set me up with someone, and I was adamantly against it.  No blind date.  No long distance relationship.  No new boy.  Just no.

She told me we were going out to a restaurant/bar and that I should make sure to look nice.  I knew my protestations against the setup were in vain, but I tried to believe her that it would just be a few friends.  No new people.

Of course I was wrong.  I got there and along with my friend and her guy was another gentleman.  He was wearing a plaid shirt and khakis.  He had facial hair.  He seemed nice enough, but I was incredibly uncomfortable, so I did what I knew to do.  I ignored him.

I tried not to blatantly ignore him.  I wasn’t trying to be rude.  I honestly did’t know how to react.  He seemed nice enough and he was cute.  But in an effort to not come across too strong, I would always come off as distant and cold.  I was shy.

Halfway through the evening, my friend took me to the bathroom, and she told me how TJ had been nervous all day.  She said he had called her many times trying to decide what to wear.  She said he had remembered me as a passing acquaintance from months before and he had wanted to meet me.  My cold facade started to melt.  After all, that was really cute.

So we got back to the table, and I managed to figure out a way to open up, and we ended up spending most of that weekend together.  And then we spent most of the weekends over the next few months together.  And then I graduated, moved back home, and we have pretty much spent every day together since.

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At that time, I was a city girl through and through.  I lived in Milwaukee and had plans to move to Chicago.  I never imagined myself ever ending up in a suburb.  I thought it was important to be sophisticated.  So I smoked cigarettes and I dressed in black.  I always had on the black healed boots that were the staple of the late nineties.  I was studying advertising because I wanted to be a creative executive in a big city.  I laughed constantly, I loved Thursday night $3 vodka and lemonades, and I absolutely adored sleeping in.

TJ for his part was rather silly as well.  I won’t spill all of his humorous idiosyncrasies, but typical of a young man his age, his ego was way too big for his already large head, and he spent most of his time playing Dungeons and Dragons.  That is when he wasn’t driving up to Milwaukee to see me.

Yea.  Back then we were young, carefree, and we desperately wanted to spread our wings and fly and see where this world would take us.  I think as all people do in the back of their minds, we believed we were special, and we had great things ahead of us.

I hadn’t thought of those years in a long time.  But this evening, TJ was out back grilling and the girls were running around, chasing each other outside as I watched all of this from our kitchen window.  As I was washing down our counters, the song, “Cowboy Take Me Away” by the Dixie Chicks came on.  And all those years ago, that was our song.  We heard it constantly while dating, and it was the last song played at our wedding.  Then I heard TJ scream to me from the grill, asking me to turn it up.

And it was a strange juxtaposition, basking in the memories that song evokes while watching our very real present running around outside giggling as they fall down.

And I realized what had been created over the last fifteen years.

There was a point when I looked at TJ and I saw the promise of freedom and the hope of excitement.  It was all butterflies in the stomach and huge hugs and held hands.  It was exciting and fresh and new and everything that I had hoped romance would be.

At that time, I would look at TJ, and I would belt out, “Cowboy take me away,” but in the end, what he really did was take me right back home.  And I thank God for that.

I had vague glimpses of what I imagined my sophisticated life would look like, but really I had no idea of what I really wanted.  But I sit here now, on our couch, and I listen to him making sound effects up stairs to the stories he is telling the girls as he puts them to bed, and I realize that my cowboy has taken me away and has taken me right back home.  He has created with me a home and a life and a family and a future.  It’s where I came from and it’s where I want to spend my life. But what I wouldn’t have known back then was that this was the greatest adventure he could have ever taken me on.  After all, what greater adventure is there than creating a life?

TJ wouldn’t make a very good cowboy.  I can’t imagine him ever wanting to ride a horse, and he prides himself on how little manual labor he can get away with.  He wouldn’t make it long in the old West.  But then again, neither would I.  I need my air conditioning too much.

When you wake up and go to bed with the same person every day for over a decade, and when you share chores and responsibilities and a home, when you clean their dirty socks and watch them vomit while sick, it can be hard to see the relationship for what it is.  It just becomes life.  Our normal.

But it’s more than that.  It the tedious every day, in the chores and the bedtimes and the meal making and the cleaning up, there’s a home and a life being made, and there is only one person in the entire world that I get to share that with.

So for better or worse, in messy and clean, during stress and during peace, I will be forever glad that my cowboy has chosen me.  And I’ll always be grateful to by his side whether he is taking me away to lands unseen or taking me right back home where I belong.  As long as we go together, I know I’ll always be where I am meant to be.

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Free

I used to love those quizzes in Seventeen Magazine and YM and all those other teenie bopper magazines that would tell you what your idea career was and whether or not he has a crush on you.  Whenever my monthly subscription would come in the mail, I would run for the mailbox, and I would flip right to those quizzes.

I don’t really read magazines anymore.  (I’m not sure how many people really do.)  But as my tastes changed from Tiger Beat to Teen to Seventeen to Cosmo, there was always one piece of advice hidden within the articles that would confuse me.  They would tell you to purge your life of negative influences.  Let go of toxic friendships.  Toss away the Debbie Downers.

And yea, it always confused me.  I always believed we were called to love everybody.  And I guess I had a hard time believing that I deserved to cut those influences out of my life.  I felt stuck with whomever crossed my path.  To break off a relationship would be to act uncharitably.  To withhold forgiveness.  To be smug.

And then something funny happened.  Someone purged me out of their life.  This was years ago, and it was a move that absolutely and totally and completely needed to happen for both of our sake’s, but it changed the way I looked at relationships.  I realized that even once strong relationships can be broken and that they don’t necessarily need to be fixed.  Sometimes people are better off apart.  It doesn’t mean you lack forgiveness.  Forgiveness and grace can be showered upon the person from afar.  Reconciliation and forgiveness are not the same things.

That was a long term friendship.  It was a relationship I had maintained for years.  I learned a lot from that relationship, and I’m glad I was a part of it even though it turned wretched.  But the absolute greatest thing I learned from it was that relationships can end.

I am a lucky girl.  I grew up in an amazing family, all of whom I am still very close to.  And now I have created my own amazing family.  We are so close that I don’t even know what an empty lap feels like!  But I grew up loved and secure in a peaceful home.  And I still get those same feelings from my family now.

And since I did come from a secure family, I think it is hard to understand the whole idea of purging negativity from your life.  Because I never really experienced much of it.

But as an adult, I have come to learn something.  A house is built of walls.  There’s wood and plaster and dry wall.  They keep the elements out and the warmth in.  But a home is also made of walls.  But they are different walls.  The walls of a home are the arms that hold everyone in.  They are the acceptance that goes on within a home.  The forgiveness that allows us to keep moving forward.  The laughter that makes it worth staying in, and the love that ties it all together.  But those arms also need to keep things out.  Things like worry and uncertainty and hostile influences and hostile judges.  Anything or any person that undermines the integrity of the home’s walls absolutely must be kept out.  Otherwise the home would fall just as a house would fall if someone took a torch to the structure.

I’ve gushed written before about how I love my house.  But I love my home even more.  And if we want it to stay strong, we need to keep it strong and protect it from the harsh forces that wish to penetrate it.

Forgiveness is divine.  It belongs as the foundation of our home.  But reconciliation sometimes needs to stand outside.

Getting Angry

You know what is really an awesome feeling?  Getting angry.

Now I know that sounds silly.  Technically, angry is anything but awesome feeling.  It can feel overwhelming and like a loss of control.  It can cause physical pain, and it can get us stuck in our thoughts.  It can make us incredibly tense, and sad, and confused.

But that’s just what anger is.  It’s an icky feeling.  It’s not pleasant.

But allowing yourself to feel angry?  That is what is awesome.

For pretty much the longest time, I tried to avoid feeling angry.  If someone would hurt me, I would try to stifle it.  Lock it away.  Or I would figure out what I did wrong.  After all, any time there is a problem in a relationship, it has to be the fault of both sides, right?  Or I would turn it to hurt.  That felt just as bad as anger, but it made me feel like I was taking the moral high ground.  I could accept myself as being a person who felt hurt.  But me being someone who felt anger?  What right did I have?

And so since I tried to deny my anger, every time I would feel anger, it would consume me.  I would analyze it, and fight it, and ignore it, and try to beat it out of me.  All because for some reason, I didn’t feel okay as a person who got angry.

And it makes sense.  Culture teaches girls that it isn’t okay to be angry.  That good girls don’t feel that way.  That’s it’s not a nice way to be.

But anger is a human emotion.  It’s real.  It exists for girls as well as boys, women as well as men.

And the crazy thing is, once you allow yourself to feel it, you can start to get over it.  When we pretend it’s not there and we ignore its call, it can become destructive.  But if we allow it and accept it and embrace it, we can actually finally let it go.

So these days when I feel angry, I try to sit with it.  I try to allow myself the compassion to feel all the feelings planted in my soul.  I try to accept them as a part of me.  I allow myself to feel all of those big feelings that I allow everyone else to feel.

And then I realize it doesn’t feel so good, and I move on in an attempt to offer forgiveness.

And maybe that’s why ignoring anger feels so bad.  If we can’t feel the anger, we can’t offer forgiveness.  And to me, forgiveness is about the single most healing force on this planet.

Chaos Descending

I never watch television during the day.  I watch one, perhaps two, shows a year during the day time hours.  My life just works better that way.  But I have been quite sick this week with an odd mid-July respiratory infection, and I decided that since I let the girls watch unlimited television when they are sick, then I was going to extend myself that same luxury.

But what a week I chose!

As I’ve sat here on my couch watching about downed airplanes and military invasions and bombings and angry Americans screaming at children to turn around and go back home to their poverty and violence-ridden homes, I started to feel like my world was spinning out of control.  Every channel I turned on, every news brief I saw, brought more and more knowledge of destruction into my safe, quiet home.

And it got to me.  For the past day and a half, I have had trouble getting off of the couch.  As I watched more and more, trying desperately to understand, praying that maybe a little insight might make all of this destruction seem a little less senseless, I found myself falling into a hole of despair.

After all, how could I peacefully cook my children breakfast while other people’s children are dying?

How could I travel to the store when AIDS workers traveling to a conference were shot out of the sky by other human beings?

How could I reconcile myself sitting on my couch, fearful that my cat might bring a mouse into the room while mothers half a world away can’t sit on their couches for fear that bombs might land in their children’s bedrooms?

How does it make sense?  How do we continue to function in a world that is built around chaos and destruction and selfishness and fear?

And then I went to pick up my daughter at Vacation Bible School, and I saw adults leading children in songs of prayer.  I saw the box Magoo made at VBS to keep all of her prayer intentions in.  And I thought about the librarians that we have spent half of our summer with and how kind they are to the kids and how they work to develop programs to bring enrichment and joy into their lives.  And as I thought of TJ traveling into murky neighborhoods to get to work, I thought about all of the other nurses and doctors at the hospital who spend their working hours and dedicate their brain power and skill to healing people, even those who certainly wouldn’t take the time to help them in return.

And I realized that at a distance, our world is an ugly, brutal place.  People kill each other over beliefs and skin colors and ideologies.  They kill in the name of their gods.  They kill in the name of justice.  They kill in the name of love.

But up close, we serve in the name of our gods.  We teach to promote justice.  We act in the name of love.

When we get together, we can be a nasty people.  And at our core, all of us do have faults and weaknesses.  But moreso at our core, we are a people motivated by love and forgiveness and justice and understanding.

Time and time again, when tragedy strikes our world, I get lost.  But then I remember that all God calls us to do is keep our eyes on Him and do the best thing we can in order to make the world more beautiful.  I can’t solve the problems in Russia and the Ukraine.  I can’t bring those people back.  Despite hours upon hours of reading and research, I can barely even comprehend the problems in the Middle East, much less solve them.  And I can’t leave my children to help nameless ones at our border.

But God gave me hands and feet and a heart and a voice, and I can use those to make waves in my world that God-willing might eventually make ripples into the larger world.  I can preach love.  And I can teach love.  And I can act love.  And I can be love.

Seeing people with missile launchers able to take down a plane of nearly 300 people can make us feel small and inept.  It can make it seem like the evil is winning.  But I would venture that one person living a life of love can make every bit of an impact that one person acting out of hate can.  The results might not be as dramatic.  Love won’t make the nightly news.  But its repercussions can last generations, long after the original seeds of hate have been buried and forgotten.

After all, the greatest story ever told was one of pure love.  We still read it.  We still study it.  We still learn it.

Let’s make sure we live it.

Our Children

So I took the girls to the doctor today for their check ups.  It’s a wee bit stressful taking three kids in for check ups especially when one of them needed shots.  But we made it, and as we headed out to the car, I couldn’t help but feel incredibly lucky.  Here I had three very healthy, very happy little girls.

In between being stressed out and overwhelmed and terribly busy, multiple times a day I find myself looking at them in awe.  They are kind, and they are smart, and they are absolutely lovely little humans.  I make it my life’s mission to provide them with what they need – emotionally, physically, and spiritually.

This doesn’t make me special, and it doesn’t make our bond unique.  Mamas all over this great big world feel the same way.

I was at the park a couple of weeks ago.  My kids all went in three different directions as they normally do, and I spent the whole time there chasing both Mae and Goose, trying to keep them safe on all of the big kid slides.  At one point, I was chasing Mae when I looked over and I saw Goosie about six feet in the air trying to climb a rope ladder.  Just as I was about to panic, I saw another mom who I didn’t know stand underneath her and wait there, keeping her safe, until I was able to cross the park.  I thanked her for her caring, and we went about our day.  This happens frequently.  Other moms look after my kids if my hands are tied, and I do the same for them.  It’s what makes park play dates work.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a friend or a stranger.  If a kid is in danger or upset, you do what you can to help without crossing any boundaries or scaring anybody off.

It’s with that in mind that I watch the news these days.  It’s with that in mind that I watch these stories of kids being sent to a different country, where they don’t know anybody and they don’t know the language.  I see angry faces holding signs, screaming at these kids to go back home.  That we don’t want them.  That they aren’t our responsibility.

And I stand here wondering what is the difference.  Is it because they look different?  Because they speak differently?  Is it because we are afraid that if we share what is ours that it will lessen what it is that we have?

I absolutely cannot imagine sending my children away from me.  I can’t imagine having to live with the fact that I might never see them again.  And I absolutely cannot even fathom what it would be like to be in a situation where sending them to a foreign land with foreign people is safer than keeping them home with me.

But that’s the situation too many women have found themselves in.  Either alone or in their arms, these women have sent their babies here, to us, asking us to provide for them what they cannot provide in their home land.

And how are we going to respond?  Are we going to accept the responsibility for these children and help these mothers out just like we do when we are at the park?  Do we take a little bit of responsibility and say that we will provide for these mamas what it is we would desperately pray others would provide for our babies in these circumstances?  Or do we say that you look different and you talk different, and therefore you are different?  Your needs are lesser?  Your worth is less?  Your heart breaks into fewer pieces?

Perhaps we have a right to turn them away.  To say our borders are closed and we will provide for our own.  Perhaps part of our society would benefit if we did that.  I don’t really know.  But what I do know is that just because we have a legal right doesn’t mean that we don’t have a moral responsibility.

We are a country.  We have laws and customs and traditions and beliefs.  But more than that, we are a people.  A collection of beating hearts and living souls.  Which we choose to listen to — our laws or our souls — will determine much more than the fate of these mothers and children.

The news these days is scary.  There are so many tragedies happening in every corner of our world.  It can make us want to lock our doors and put away the welcome mat.  But then I wonder which side has won.  If we see evil and respond by withholding kindness, well then hasn’t the evil won?

There are battles going on in every country and every city and every soul on this planet.  If we fail to pick up (nonviolent) arms and fight on the side of love, then haven’t we chosen hate?  Does love close arms and look away?  Does love say “go home”?

Or does love open wide her arms and welcome all regardless of price she must pay?

We are America.  Our arms are large.  Now we have to decide whether we will open them.

July Photo Dump

I have really been at an utter loss for words lately.  Strange.  Anyway, here are some photos I’ve been meaning to post.

Frozen Blueberries

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Crochet new baby gifts (washcloths)

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I love how this photo came out.  My lens was really foggy because it was so hot outside.  

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Independence Day

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Little Miss Hannigan

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Because we always need to pose…

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My little Bugs

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Should is a Shovel

I don’t know what kind of relationship you have with the word, “should.”  As for me, should and I walk hand in hand.  Seemingly every corner I turn, there she is, rearing her innocent seeming head.

The word “should,” seems like a helpful word.  It keeps us on track.  It tells us what the next best move is.  It tells us what we ought to expect from others.  It notifies us of our errors so we don’t make them again.

It’s so ingrained in our vocabulary and in our psychological make up that it can be hard to even notice when it’s there.  It’s like your toe.  You don’t know it’s there until you try to walk on it and suddenly everything feels different.

It’s a good word.  It keeps us on the straight and narrow.  It helps us live up to our own and others’ expectations of us.

Or is it?

Recently I have been reading a book about acceptance.  In my mind, it was always a dirty word.  Right up there with lazy and complacent.  Nope.  You would never find me practicing acceptance, and you can sure bet that I would have been proud of that.  Until I started reading this book.

Because does acceptance really stop us from moving forward?  Do shoulds really stop of from erring?

For me, should has a few manifestations.

Things shouldn’t be this way.  That leads me to psychologically fight against whatever truth is out there.  It convinces me to fight in my mind against what is rather than find a solution.

She shouldn’t have done that.  This one just leads me to anger.  I’m not an angry person by nature, but even I get caught up in this at times.  If I’m fighting against what he or she should have done, then I can never get on my way to accepting what they did and learn to forgive.

I should do xyz today.  This one sounds innocuous enough.  It just gives me a game plan for the day.  But when the word “should,” is there, my motivation slips away.  The pressure mounds.  I feel a moral imperative to accomplish something.  The weight of that suffocates me.

You should have done xyz.  Folks, this is it for me.  This is the “should” that lives in the back of my brain, whispering to me incessantly.  This is the “should” that I hold most dearly to because it convinces me that if I let her go, then I will have failed to pay the consequences for my sin and I will be let off the hook too easily.  This is the one that convinces me that grand punishments must accompany any error.  This is the one that leaves me so stuck in the failures (perceived or real) of my past that I cannot move forward and find a solution to the present.  This is the one that owns me.  This is my shovel.  It digs my hole and then it pours the dirt on top of my head, leaving me to suffocate in a world of what should have been.

I’ve known this off an on briefly for a period of years, but these shoulds really get stuck in our psyche.  They can seem impossible to get out from under.  And that’s where this acceptance book comes in.  The books talks about simply accepting what is.  Wholeheartedly embrace it.  This is what is.  No amount of psychological trickery is going to change that.

It is.

The past happened.

Yesterday happened.

An hour ago happened.

He did that.

She will do that.

I want to do this.

I feel like that.

No one in the history of the world has been able to change this one simple fact — what was cannot be changed.

And I’ve noticed a change in myself.  Whenever I accept things as they are, I actually feel as if I might float up to the clouds.  My mind is free; my chest feels light; tears come to my eyes.

Because it hasn’t been until recently that I realized just how anxious I really still am.  I’ve gotten control over the obsessive thoughts.  They come back every now and again, but we are no longer best buds.  And so I thought I was anxiety free.  But then I started to notice the other anxiety.  The constant tension.  The constant gritting of my teeth.  The tight shoulders.  The brief, shallow breathing.  And I realized that I still do carry a fairly significant amount of anxiety within me.  It just doesn’t feel like it because years of extreme tension threw my internal barometer all off track.

But when I remind myself to simply accept, all of that fades away.  It is very brief.  After all I am just learning.  But still, it is significant.

If I accept whatever it is that comes into my pretty little brain, I feel free for this first time in my remembrance.  I feel okay to be myself in all of my different moods and whimsies and manifestations.

If I’m angry.  If I’m tense.  If I’m fearful.  If I’m sad.  If I’m irritated.  If I’m jealous.  If I’m apprehensive.  If I’m grieving.  All of those feelings that I feared and that I believed were unacceptable…

I learned that if I accepted they were there, then I could be free from them and I could be free to be me.

And when we are free to accept, we are finally free to change.

And that’s the paradox.  It’s not until we accept that something is that we can finally change it.

So I go into my kitchen and I see dirty dishes.  Instantly my mind goes to, “You are such a lazy home maker.  You should be ashamed of your house.  You should have done those dishes an hour ago.  This is a disgrace.  You are a failure.  You are failing your husband, your children, yourself.”  And on and on.  Really, that is fairly mild.  Usually in my mind I go to places where I believe I should be locked up and my kids taken away from me all because of a sink full of dishes.  But I’ll shield you from the really dysfunctional parts of my brain.

And so when I think all of those thoughts, and the shoulds are digging me my hole, I can’t do the dishes.  I can’t fix anything.  Because I’m so busy trying to get out from under the weight of my thinking that my body is paralyzed.  The present isn’t my own.  The future isn’t my own.  I am chained and tethered to the past alone.

But if instead I say, “I want the dishes done.”  All of a sudden there is no guilt.  There is no shame.  I can say, “The dishes are dirty.  I don’t like this.”  That’s okay.  It’s fine.  That’s how it is.

The trick is in the okay.

And as I write this, I realize that I might be writing to tons of you out there who have no idea what I’m talking about.  Maybe to you dishes are dishes and laundry is laundry and uncut lawn is an uncut lawn.  But maybe there’s one or two out there who do know what I mean.  And that’s why I write.

Sometimes it feels silly to sit here and share my struggles with all of you, stranger and acquaintance and friend.  Why would someone possibly share all of their thoughts and send them out in the world to receive judgment?

And my answer is because before me other people did.  And I read those stories.  And I heard myself in those stories.  And they made me feel less alone in a world that can seem very, very lonely at times.

So I’ll sit here and share my dirty laundry (literal and figurative) because somewhere out there, some one has the same struggle.  I have to believe that.  And I do believe that.  Because you have told me.

God bless you all.

And please.  Please put away your shovels.

Big Feelings

I’ve always gotten the feeling that people believe I’m too sensitive.  That I get upset too easily.  That my emotions are perhaps a bit too strong.

I don’t know whether this is true or not.  I don’t know if I’m more sensitive than most people because I don’t know what it’s like to be most people.  I only know what it’s like to be myself.

I know sometimes the world seems to be a bit too loud.  Sometimes it’s actual auditory loudness — too much screaming, too many sirens, too much media.  I can’t have that.  I need some quiet.  But more what I’m talking about is that emotionally the world is too loud.  Out there there is too much pain and there is too much suffering and sometimes it even feels like there’s too much joy.  It’s just too much sometimes to take in.  Sometimes I wish I could turn off that part of me that feels all of those things that are out there.  But then I wonder if that wouldn’t be an overwhelming sadness in itself.

But then there are also all of the feelings that aren’t out there — the ones that are here, inside of me.  And those are the loudest of the all.  Sometimes they are so loud, they almost seem to leave me deaf to everything that is going on around me.  They lock me up into a prison inside of myself, and I am left utterly unable to see or hear or experience anything that is going on around me.

Today we were sitting in the back of church.  We weren’t late, but we got there just as mass was starting, so we ended up in the back.  That turned out to be a good thing because my little two were very much today.  Mae kept talking.  Loudly.  And laughing and wiggling and occasionally crying.  And Goosie was trying to be good.  She didn’t “talk” once.  Instead she whispered.  Very loudly and very frequently.  And she kept dropping quarters very loudly.  And saying she needed to go to the bathroom.  And whether or not the people behind us were annoyed with this display or weren’t even aware it was going on I felt their eyes drilling into me.

I kept hearing all of the judgments.

You can’t keep your kids under control.

You shouldn’t bring them if they can’t behave.

You are incompetent as a mother.

And then there were the accusations that I had been heaping on myself.  I worked hard to get the kids dressed and looking cute.  TJ has plenty of work clothes that he can just sift through to find something to wear.  And I look disheveled as always.  I spend all my time making everyone else look presentable, and I look like I had just woken up.

And that’s the loudness that comes crashing down and rings all around me pretty much constantly — the overwhelming, deafening sound of invisibility.  Of having these feelings that no one hears.  Of having these needs that go unmet.  Of constantly being the answer to other people’s questions without having the opportunity to ask my own of myself.

And there, in that back pew in the middle of church, I started to crumble.  The tears started to flow.  I started shaking.  My head was spinning in a million different directions, and my eyes stopped perceiving everything that was around me.  Suddenly, I felt just how acutely invisible I was and yet how so strongly my feelings wanted to be let out.  How I wanted to scream, “Here I am.  I am a person too.  I am real.”

And this happens over and over again and I sink further and further into invisibility.  I look around, and I see that I do no more than anybody else.  I probably do less than other people.  I see all of my weaknesses.  I see every time I choose ease over difficulty.  I see every mistake.  Every thing I have ever let slide just to have a moment of peace.  And I tell myself that I don’t have a right to these feelings.  I don’t have a right to feel invisible.  Because I haven’t made myself invisible enough.

I guess that’s the loudest of all of the sounds.  The one coming from my own brain that says if I could just fade away enough, if I could just hide my needs enough, if I could just stop feeling enough, then perhaps one day I will be enough.

And that’s the battle.  That’s the battle when you devote your life to care taking.  How much is enough, how much is too little, and how much is too much?  How do you know where you stop and another begins?  How do you make space for the spirit that is you while still making space for all the very real needs of all of the others?  How do you know when you are taking too much?  Because everyone else will always tell you that you are taking too much.

Sometimes it just feels like taking time for myself feels like an act of theft.  I feel like so much of me is owed to so many people that there’s not enough to go around.  So in order to maintain any piece of myself for myself requires me to steal it from others.

TJ lets me sleep in a lot on the weekends.  I’ll wake up when the baby wakes up, and he takes her and brings her downstairs so I can sleep a bit more.  I always feel guilty.  It’s not the sleep I need.  It’s the quiet.  It’s the reprieve from responsibilities.  I’ll lay there in bed, and I will try not to move a single muscle in my body because I feel a peace that I feel at no other time during the week.  In my mind, I know that I am stealing.  I know that I am stealing myself away from the girls, and I know that I’m stealing time away from TJ.  And I try desperately to ignore it.  I try to take that time just for myself.  And I do.

But then eventually I must awake.  And I go downstairs.  And I see all that was needed while I was away.  And I spend the day making amends for the time I had taken.

And I really don’t think any of this probably makes much sense to anyone.  It doesn’t make much sense to me.

But that feeling of invisibility can knock me down.  And sometimes writing is the only way I know how to scream.

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