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.

Land of the Free

I used to like to share my humble political opinions…

Who am I kidding?  My political beliefs have never been humble.   Ever.  I have extraordinarily strong political beliefs, and for the longest time I enjoyed sharing them.  This stems from the humble belief that my beliefs are correct, and if every one just took a step back and looked at reason, they would all believe the same thing that I do.  The problem isn’t with different viewpoints.  I always thought that the problem was that other people just chose the wrong viewpoint.

Perhaps that opinion has changed, but I doubt it.  I still pretty much always think I’m right.  That’s humility at its finest folks.

But in all seriousness, I absolutely loved debating people on political issues.  If there was some big decision or election, you could bet that I was right there stating my opinion loudly and strongly.  And I loved it when people argued back.  It gave me a chance to show them the error of their ways.  I thrived on it.  Occasionally it would really annoy me, but over all, those debates made my day.

And then it stopped being fun.  Arguments were taken out of the political arena and were made personal.  People didn’t abide by the rules of civility.  People didn’t assume honest motives in the other side.  They attacked character.  At one point, someone actually leaped up from a table and started calling me horrible names before storming off.

Once the character attacks came (from people on both sides,) I stopped engaging in the arguments.  It was hard to take people seriously when they were flinging vitriol.  See, perhaps I’m silly, but if you start questioning the moral character of my opponents, I will start to question you.  After all, there’s something weak about an argument that requires mudslinging.

And so it has been probably a couple of years since I have stated my political opinions publicly.  It was a peaceful couple of years.  But then this whole Hobby Lobby situation happened, and I once again believed that if only I stated my (true) opinions clearly enough, the whole situation would be cleared up.  Everyone would read my ideas, agree that I’m right, and we would all sit around holding hands and singing songs.  Really, it would have been beautiful.

But the more I engaged in these debates, the more it became clear to me that as a society, we really have no desire to see the value in the other side.  We don’t see a need or a benefit to compromise.  We all believe we are right and the other is wrong, and I am so caught up in that mindset that it would be laughable if it weren’t so sad.

The thing is that we live with other people.  And I don’t think very many people like that.

We all know our Bill of Rights (or at least the rights that matter to us.)  We know what we deserve.  We know what we want to tell Uncle Sam to bug off about.

But what about the other side?

What happens when our rights infringe on the rights of others?  What happens when their rights infringe on us?  Because that’s going to happen.  It has to happen when you live in a community.  If we all did whatever we thought we had the right to, we essentially would be living in chaos.  Centuries before we were born, people made the decision that they didn’t want to live as a bunch of solitary nomads. They saw a benefit to community.  They decided that putting aside some of their own freedoms in order to join up with other people and form something greater was worth the sacrifice.  They learned that they might not be able to take whatever they want, but it was worth it to have someone else on their side.

And they disagreed.  At one point it led to a civil war.  But more than that, there have been political debates for as long as politics has existed.  What I fear is different today is that we all see ourselves as a nation of individuals and we desperately want to protect the rights of our own individual person at the singular expense of other people and of the community as a whole.

I’m a liberal.  A very passionate liberal.  I’m not a Democrat and I don’t vote Democrat because of a couple of issues that I can’t morally support.  However I supported Hobby Lobby in the recent debacle, so perhaps it’s from that state of victory that I am writing this.  But I would like to think it’s more than that.   I would like to think that I would be willing to make sacrifices for the greater good.  That I would lay down some of my rights so that the rights of others could be heard.

Who knows.

But what I do know is that sometime about a decade ago, we stopped being a nation of people and we started to be a nation of “with us or against us.”  We separated.  Red and blue, right and left.  Us versus them.  Good versus bad.  We lost that sense of the common good, and at least as of thus far, we haven’t gotten it back yet.

I find that sad, but more than that, I find it dangerous.  A people cannot stand when they are divided at every turn.  And we can’t help but be divided when we focus more on what separates us than on what unites us.

We are a broken people.  A fractured people.  My hope is that we can find our way back and that we can find our way back on our own.  That a million different people can direct their hearts and their hopes towards a common good.  That we learn to accept personal disappointment and that we learn to sacrifice some of what we feel is important so that we can move forward together.

Right now things don’t work.  They don’t work at the national level or the local or the interpersonal level.  I think that much is pretty apparent.  Perhaps none of us can change the world or change our country, but perhaps we can change the tone of our own dialogue.  Perhaps we can try to understand before we try to defend.  Perhaps we can temper our language.  And perhaps we can seek the commonality before the differences.  And if enough people do that, perhaps we will spark some change, like a pebble hitting the ocean waves.  Perhaps it won’t do any good.  But perhaps it will.

This country was built on the premise that people have the right to govern themselves.  Let’s live up to that premise and start to lead from the bottom up.  It would be pretty remarkable if we made a difference.

Being Okay

What if deep down inside we are all really okay?

What if those insecurities we feel are bigger to us than to everyone else?  What if those faults that keep knocking us down day after day after day really aren’t what define us?

What if a bigger house or more money or thinner thighs or a new town or more education or a better job really wouldn’t make us better because we are already as good as we need to be?

I’ve spent a lot of my life around young adults — 18-23 year olds.  Before I had the kids, I spent most of my time with these bigger kids teaching them to write.  Most of them came from less than advantaged backgrounds but were trying to make the best of their situations.  I loved my job, and I loved these kids.  I loved the grit and the determination and the vulnerability.  I loved seeing the joy in their eyes when they succeeded, and even more, I loved helping wipe the doubt from their eyes as they began to realize that they could really do what they never thought they could.

These were my kids, and I was fiercely defensive of them and their abilities.

Every now and again, a special kid would come around.  A kid who didn’t seem so scattered.  A kid who didn’t look to others.  A kid who seemed centered around his or her life rather than looking towards others.  A kid who you knew would make it.  Regardless of the odds, regardless of their situation, they were going to come out just fine.

For years, I would look at these kids and wonder what their secrets were.  How were they able to maintain a center in this crazy world while all the kids around them were falling into alcohol and drugs and teenage pregnancy?

Back then, I was never able to find an answer.  But these days, slowly, I’m starting to understand.  These kids were going to be okay because they knew they were okay.  At some deep, visceral level, they believed in their worth.  They weren’t seeking release or acceptance or reassurance because they already owned it within themselves.

These kids have always been important to me because now I have my own girls, and one day they will be young adults, and they will veer towards one direction or the other, and I would like to help them towards the light.

And the more I think about this, the more I think about how I can instill that sense of being enough in my girls, I realize that most of us adults don’t have it.  We hide it better than teens; I think we have come to terms with much of it, but how many of us still struggle with being enough?

If we stripped away all we hide behind — alcohol or drugs or food or cigarettes or sex or clothes or fancy cars or perfect houses or control or perfectionism — if we stripped all of that away, what would we find?  Would we find a core that was okay or would we find a wounded soul looking for validation and hiding behind all of this crap when we cannot find it within ourselves?

What if we are all okay?  What if you are okay and I am okay?  What if our weaknesses and faults are a part of who we are?  What if they are areas for improvement but not for shame?  What if our strengths, magnificent though they may be, really can’t make us any more worthy because that worth is something we were born with, independent of absolutely anything that may occur to us or because of us in this life?

What if all of this other stuff isn’t necessary?  The living up to and the overcoming and the excelling and the hiding and the squelching and the burying?

What if you are totally and completely and perfectly okay?

I once saw a therapist who kept saying that.  ”You are okay.”

I would always look away.  It felt wrong.  It felt like words that were too big for me.  He said one day he hoped I would believe it.

What if that day could be today?

You are okay.  Say it to yourself.  Try it on.  See how it fits.  It’s truth.

You are okay.  Learn to accept it.

This Old House

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I am in love with my house.

I love my husband.  I love my children.  But I am totally and completely infatuated with my house.

Our house was built in 1880.  This brings my brain no small bit of giddiness.  When I was reading a couple of days ago about the 100 year anniversary of the beginning of World War I, I got all excited thinking that at one point, someone in this house was reading the news and learning that a world war had started.  When Magoo visited an old school house and she learned about outhouses and everything that goes with an old building, I was excited to think that our house was even older than that.  

Some nights I lie in bed wondering who else has slept in this room.  What were their dreams?  What were their disappointments?  What had they seen?  What has this house seen?

I look at the indiosyncracies and I wonder why they are there.  Why are our windows absurdly low to the ground upstairs?  Why the two attics?  Why do you have to walk through the one bedroom to get to the other?  Who decided upon the crown molding?  Was it always there?  What did the original owners do with all of the bedrooms?  Our house is anything but large, but four bedrooms is a very decent amount.

I like making things on my own.  It’s a pride thing, but it’s also a quality thing.  I don’t think I can really make anything better than a machinated process, but the act of making, the act of caring, the act of dreaming something up and then putting it together seems to me to be infinitely superior to something a machine constructed in some dirty factory where people are under paid.

But I can’t build houses.  I can almost nail a hole in the wall to hang up a picture without hurting myself.  I dug up one shovel full of dirt as TJ was tilling the ground for our veggie garden.  But that’s about the extent of my handiness in such manners.  Unless a house is to be knitted, I am the last person you would want to build it.

So since I can’t actually build my own house, the next best thing is to live in a house that somebody else did.  Now I know all houses are built by people, but these days, most houses are mass produced by corporations by people who will never live in them.  So to have my house that was built and designed by the first people who lived in it is remarkable to me.

For six months, I have walked into this house and felt giddy.  It’s probably silly to some because it is far from grand and the outside siding is really quite ugly, but to me, it is my little piece of peace.  It’s my reprieve after having years of mighty troubles in our old place.  It has been six months, and when people who I haven’t seen in awhile ask me how the new house is, I quite literally get tears in my eyes, and I don’t know how to answer because any words that come out of my mouth would be gushing.

But then Thursday happened.

TJ and I were sitting in the living room watching Hoarders when the cat walked out.  She looked a little odd, so I took a closer look, and sure enough — she had a mouse in her mouth.  Anyone who has read this blog for awhile or who has spent more than 1/8 of 1/15th of a second with me knows that I am absolutely and totally terrified of mice.  It’s a pathological phobia.  It goes far beyond human reason.

So I panicked.

TJ and the cat and the dog did their little dance that they learned oh so well at our old house and caught the little bastard, but I felt shaken to my core.  There was a mouse.  In my house.  In my new house.  In my peaceful place.  In my home.

I didn’t know what to do, so I went to bed.  And as I laid in bed, something came to me.

I can’t give up this house to those little assholes.  I pray this is the only one we have, and I do have sufficient reason to expect that.  But still.  Mice are scary.  But what is even more scary is not having a home.

I gave up my last place to them.  I let them scare me out of most of my house.  I was terrified to pick up anything off of the ground.  I wouldn’t go in my garage.  I would hide upstairs as long as I could with the girls in the morning, and when one morning as I was peacefully nursing Mae in the rocker and one came running out of TJ’s closet, I ran with my girls to a hotel.

It’s horrible feeling homeless.  We spent the majority of every day trying to find a place to waste time.  I would drop Magoo off at school and take them to a store or to the library or really anywhere other than home.  This was fine for them.  They had fun.  But I knew the truth.  I wasn’t there to give them new experiences.  I was there because I had no home base.  Nowhere to feel comfortable with.

And I absolutely will not do that again.

I’ve locked the cat up during TJ and my two hours of peace at night, and I might lock her up during the day tomorrow.  That makes me feel better.  I know she can’t bring me a treat then.

But besides that, I can’t surrender.  I can’t get afraid of my laundry room (where she found it.)  I can’t get afraid of my kitchen (which is attached to it.)  I can’t fear my basement (where I presume they would love to be if they had to be somewhere.)

Because the thing about fear is that it creeps in.  You give up one thing and then the next doesn’t seem so bad.  And the next after that seems like the natural progression.  Until your life is so absolutely tiny that you can’t even breathe in it any more.

If we find more mice, I’m sure I’ll have setbacks.  Even if we don’t, I’m sure I’ll still have some fear creep up here and there. But I owe it to myself and I owe it to the girls to stand up to those rat bastards.  (Really they are tiny field mice but to me they seem like that big rat guy in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.)

And then this evening, we were all out back.  TJ was digging in the veggie garden, and I was helping him in between running down children trying to escape into the street.  My neighbor came out and we were talking about the gardens in our yard.  She was giving me the low down on what everything was and whatnot.  Then we came to the poppy plants in our backyard.  All of a sudden her husband came over and told us the story of those poppies.

He said they had been brought over to the US from a solider in World War II.  He kept them in a sack and brought them all the way here and planted them.  Apparently some had been dug up when our house and yard were renovated before we moved in, but we still have a few.

Imagine.  Poppies brought all the way over from Germany.  During the war.  And planted here in my backyard.

That’s why I love this house.  That’s why I sit here and just daydream about everything it has seen.

It’s a quirky little house.  It’s not the White House.  It has a lot of spiders.  In order to get the AC to really cool the upstairs, we have to have it so cold down here that multiple blankets are required in the evenings.

But it’s my home.  And I love it.  And I want to do whatever it takes to hold on to that and not hand it over to an irrational phobia.

It seems impossible at times.  Most fears usually do seem impossible to get over.  But I love this home.  And I love that my daughters have a safe home as their nest.  And the greatest weapon against fear is love.

So maybe I’ll focus on that.  I’ll remember that love needs to win.  And the only way love will win is if it has me as its soldier.

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I’m also a bit in love with this stump garden in our back yard! 

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