Internal Struggles

I want to feel peace.

I am a happy person.  I struggle with things as we all do; I’m not immune from that.  But I have been very blessed, and I wrap those blessings around me, and I look at my life, and I am very happy.

But happiness doesn’t always equate to peace.  That’s what is elusive to me.

Some days I am very excited.  I get good news, and I am over the moon.  I sometimes find it hard to relax because I am so very excited.  Those are the days that give life its spice.

Nevertheless, they are exhausting.

And then there are many days that I struggle.

I look around at all I’m responsible for, at all I have to do, at all I want to do in order to consider myself successful at life, and I feel like I’m not sufficient for the challenge.

I see mountains, and I feel exhaustion.  I see challenges, and I feel trepidation.  I see goals, and I feel self doubt.

Once, those feelings overwhelmed me.  They stole all peace and they stole all contentment and purpose and esteem.  They stole everything internally that could be taken from a person.

That’s not me anymore.

But that doesn’t mean it comes easy.

It takes a lot for me to overcome the demons.  It takes a lot for me to rise above.  What to some seems like standard competency, for me sometimes takes enormous focus.  Not because I’m not capable.  But rather because my mind tells me I’m incapable.

I see a pile of laundry.  It might take me five minutes to put it away.  And usually it will get done.  Someone will look around, and they will see tidiness.

What they don’t see is what it sometimes takes to get there.  The hour of doubt.  The hour of words going through my brain telling me that I can’t, and I’m not good enough, and I’m a failure.  They don’t see the hundreds of other tasks that flood my brain when I put my mind to completing one.

They don’t see that when you struggle with depression and anxiety and self doubt that laundry is never just laundry.

And that’s good.  I’m glad those thoughts are internal and no longer bleed out.  I’m glad my struggle is more silent.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not there, and it doesn’t mean it’s not a challenge, and it doesn’t mean that sometimes I just don’t need to open it up and let it out and say, “this is me.”

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Loud Feelings

Sometimes I hear people talking about feeling things deeply.  In fact, I was just watching a television show where they were just talking about this very issue.

It sounds romantic.  It sounds soulful.  It sounds like something to aspire to.

But honestly, there are many times when I wish I felt things less deeply.

There are times I wish I could just turn down the volume.

Because for me, life feels like one, big, very loud emotion screaming in my ear day in and day out.  And it’s not all just one, and they aren’t all just happy or sad.  They are diverse, and they aren’t always sticky.  But they always grab my attention.

I woke up this morning feeling guilty.  Guilty for actions others judged me for in a dream – actions I have never actually taken.  And then later I felt sad. I felt sad for chapters in my life that are closing.  And then I felt happiness and anticipation at the new doors that are opening.  I felt worried – worried about saying the right things and doing the right things.  And then I felt overwhelmed — overwhelmed by this constant onslaught of unadulterated feeling.

I get that we are born to feel and to lack feeling would be a great weakness.  And I get that feeling things deeply is a gift.  I get that it opens me up to things in the world that I would be otherwise closed off to.  And I get that it opens me up to people and helps me relate to others.  And it helps me write because it helps me find the universal.

But sometimes it is just exhausting.  Sometimes I wish I could sit down with a book and a cup of hot tea and just relax.

But relaxing wasn’t made for me.  I was made to churn and chew and percolate.

And I will go to bed thankful to have been made this way.  And then I will toss and turn in my bed and realize just how much more sleep I would get if sometimes my heart came with a volume button.

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My Face in the Crowd

Yesterday was Magoo’s First Holy Communion.  She has been so excited about it for so long.  As we got to the church, however, she got really quiet.  I think she was nervous and perhaps a bit overstimulated.

Time eventually counted down, and the next thing I knew, she was proceeding down the aisle with her class, then kneeling to receive her first Communion, ad then we were all singing the processional song.

The next twenty or so minutes were chaotic as the kids had to stay with their class to take pictures.  But eventually, they were set free.

I saw her veiled head bouncing through the crowd, and then I saw her look up.  The second she caught my eye, her whole expression changed.

She was elated.

Even though she is almost eight and doesn’t hold my hand all that much anymore, we held hands for the next twenty minutes.  Off and on she would squeeze it and she would look at me and squeal.  Her little body unable to contain all the excitement that it held.  Her grin saying what her words couldn’t make audible.

And each and every time, a shock of elation would shoot through me.

Yes, she was excited.

Yes, I was proud of her and happy for her.

But what my mama heart felt most through all of this was the special time she was sharing with just me.  The excited abandon that was reserved for just my ears and my eyes.  The moments that we were quietly sharing in the middle of the throngs of people.

Halfway through the Mass, when she was walking back from receiving, she looked up and our eyes met.

She was looking for me.  And she found me in the crowd.

And this brought me back to my own wedding day when I was standing on the alter, just finished saying my vows, and I looked out into the pews and I saw my parents.  And I caught their eye.

There are so very many gifts motherhood gives to us.  But for me, one of the most priceless are the moments that are saved just for us.  The real truths our children show us.  The ones they are too shy or reserved to share with the world.

Those moments are our currency.  They are our proof that all of those hours rocking an infant and bandaging up knees and tell stories have created something real.  Something even more real and more solid than the chair I am sitting on right now.

They have created the bond of mother and child.  One that cannot be severed.  One that cannot be broken.  And one that makes even the most real of moments that much more alive.

So to my three beautiful little girls, thank you for giving me these moments.  Thank you for trusting your hearts completely with me and for loving me with all the love you can hold.  Thank you for seeing all you see in me.

And thank you for making me mom.

And to my own mom, thank you for being my face in the crowd all these many years.  I still get excited when I see you grinning back.

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A Child’s Holy

Just over a month ago, I took Magoo out shopping for her First Holy Communion dress.  I had a big day planned.  We were going to get her ears pierced, go dress and veil shopping, and then go out to dinner together.

The day went as beautifully as I had hoped.  She found a perfect dress, and we had fun chatting and planning the whole day.

After a day of all things girlie, we were heading back home, and I asked her what she was most excited about for her Communion day.  A big part of me expected to hear her say the dress or the party.  After all, those are big things to a seven year old.

Instead, she looked at me as if I were crazy, and said, “Obviously it’s receiving the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus.”

And those pesky tears threatened my eyes again as I wondered how this could possibly be my child.

My child… as in coming forth from my genes and my influence.

It wasn’t all that long ago that I was afraid to walk into a Church.  Honestly, when I did, my mind would race, my hands would shake, and my whole body would go into panic mode.

It’s not like anything bad ever happened to me in a church.  It’s not that I had any negative experiences with church.  In fact, my memories of church and Catholicism were happy memories of growing up and making my sacraments and feeling at home.

But I think we all go through ups and downs in our faith journeys, and most of my downs came from interactions with other people… people who believed they held the keys to Catholicism.  People that held the door open so narrowly that it was hard to fit through.  People who didn’t understand the idea of meeting people where they were.

And in a very short amount of time, I went from someone who felt inspired by faith to someone who felt shamed by it.  I no longer believed I belonged.  I no longer believed I was  wanted.

Slowly and through multiple twists and turns, I found my way back.

But it’s still through that lens that I view the faith of my children.

I think of all it has taken me to get where I am.  To get to where I am starting to trust.  To get to where I’m starting to find peace.

And they have it so simply and so honestly and so earnestly.

Earlier this week, my daughter wrote a thank you note to her teacher for Teacher’s Appreciation Week.  After the usual pleasantries, she told her teacher that she reminded her of Jesus because Jesus explained important truths in simple ways.

A few weeks earlier, I had been under the weather.  She wrote me a get well letter.  On it, she drew a picture of Jesus on the cross, and she told me that if I feel bad now, I should just think about how Jesus felt then.

And it’s all these little things that touch me.

They don’t touch me because of any hidden profundity or wisdom.  They touch me because of their simplicity.  They touch me because they show me that she has a faith that is deeply integrated into her understanding of the world.

I’ve told her many times that she is a better person than me.  She always laughs, not really understanding what I mean by that.

But it’s true.  Her faith and her trust are something to be cherished.  And as her mother, it’s my duty to make sure they are protected.

But as I’m doing that, I’m remembering that our children teach us more than we could ever teach them, and they show us parts of humanity that are too well hidden by those of us taller than a countertop.

They are our reminders that innocence exists.  And they also remind us of the innocence that still exists somewhere hidden deep within ourselves.

This world will batter them and shake them.  It will make them question things.  It will break things they hold sacred.

But that doesn’t need to worry me as much as it does.  Because my job isn’t to keep them from all harm.  It’s to help lead them home at the end of their journeys.  And when I see where they start, I’m reminded that where they are headed isn’t far from where they are at this very moment.

 

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Brain Purge

I guess let me start off by saying that I have nothing of real value to say here.  I’m writing solely to purge my brain, and the odds that any of that is interesting to a single other soul in this world is… negligible to say the least.

The problem is that I’ve been tired.  Not the crushing, overwhelming fatigue that happens in the first trimester, but still tired nevertheless.

And I’ve been overwhelmed.  See,  I’ve been having these dreams.  Almost every night.  The dreams are slightly different every night, but the theme is usually the same.  Someone is angry with me.  I don’t know what they are angry with me for, and I’m not really sure that’s relevant.  The dreams are basically just about someone else (a different someone I know every night) thinking I’m a bad person for something I did.

And the dreams go round and round like that, just a big cesspool of judgment.

So then I wake up after having spent who knows how many cognitive hours in this pool of judgment, and I just feel wretched.  I can’t get out of bed.  I can’t summon joy.  I can’t even summon the drive to want a cup of coffee.

And sometimes that mood breaks, and sometimes it doesn’t break so easily.  And some days I’m still wading in those feelings twelve hours later.

 

And so I don’t really know how to stop those dreams.  And I have a really hard time purging the feelings associated with them.

But I can write things out.

For me, writing isn’t really something I do for fun, although I do enjoy it.  Writing isn’t something I do for others, although nothing gives anything more meaning than when our struggles can help another.

Me, I write solely because it’s the only way I know how to get by in this world.  It’s the only way I know of to take the billions of words and thoughts and emotions that swirl around in my twisted brain every day and make any sense out of them.  It’s a way to free those thoughts and emotions.  Before I write them out, they are tethered to me.  I can’t break free.  But once they are out and on paper, then I can choose to either remain with them or let them float away.

I write because it’s the only way I know how to survive in a world that sometimes feels scary and intimidating and that even at its best and most joyful can sometimes feel utterly overwhelming.

And so even though I’m tired and overwhelmed and have nothing of really any value to say, I’m going to have to continue writing.

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About Me and Envy

I like words.  A lot.  I like the way some roll of the tongue and bounce around in your ears awhile before lying down and resting somewhere comfortable in your brain.

I like their meanings.  I like contemplating ideas – big ideas and small ideas.  I like concepts and philosophies and ideas that remind me of our purpose and all that we share together.  I remember my AP English teacher in high school talking about the collective subconscious.  I loved this idea.  It still brings me comfort.

I like my house.  I don’t have a big or fancy house, and a decorator sure would have a lot of advice to give to me, but it’s home.  It feels secure.  There are soft lights and there is lace and there are a lot of pillows and blankets.  Magoo recently threw her arms out and said, we have such a comfortable home.  I love that my children feel nurtured and inspired within these walls.

I like music.  The music I like probably isn’t the music you like.  I say this because about the only people in this world who really share musical taste with me are my children, and that’s just because they have only been exposed to my favorites.  (This is a cool little thing moms of littles can do.)

The music I like inspires me.  It reminds me of all that is good in the world.  It reminds me of where our passions lie and the fire that fuels those passions.  I used to write down song lyrics and hang them up all over the place.  Now I just mull them over in my head and occasionally use them as a signature in my email.

I don’t need to hang up song lyrics as much because all my walls are filled with plaques and paintings of quotes and words.  Who needs to see a beautiful sunset when you can stare at beautiful words?

I have four children, three in my home and one in my belly.  My three already born children all represent to me the perfect embodiment of some trait.  Magoo’s compassion and holiness inspire me; they are untarnished, unsullied, and beautiful.  Goose’s passion is a wonder to behold.  Whether she is building with Legos or running to the car, what she does, she does with purpose.  She has a big personality, and it’s getting more and more focused the older she gets.  And my little Mae… she has so much empathy in such a little body.  She is sweet and cuddly, and centers her life around a pursuit of the snuggly.

And TJ… no one in this entire universe can get on my nerves like he can.  And that is the greatest compliment I could give anyone because despite his sometimes frustrating idiocyncracies, there is no one else on the planet I would rather go through life with.  He is home and he is comfort and he is peace and together we create home.  And beautiful children.

And there are a hundred other things I could tell you about myself.  And I say that with a slight tinge of self-congratulations because there was a time not all too many years ago that I wouldn’t have been able to make a list like this, when I wouldn’t have been able to tell you about myself because what I knew was hidden.  I hid it from anxiety, always filling my mind with the world so as to never have to fill it with myself.

But self-congratulatory as I might be right now, that’s not the reason I am sharing all of this.  The reason I am writing it is because today, like many days, I am reminded that the only way to find peace is to really look within.

After all, how much of our time is spent looking out?

Looking to see another’s judgment.

Looking to compare ourselves to another’s standards?

Looking at all the blessings of others while failing to count our own.

Envy is something that comes fairly easily to me, as I’m sure it does to most people.  It’s insidious.  It steals so much from us.  It blinds us to all we have and leaves us feeling less than when compared to others.

I struggled for many years with this with no idea of how to break free.  And then I read the words, “Envy is the art of counting other people’s blessings rather than your own,” and it all started to make sense to me.

The trick to beating envy is to look within and count all that we have.  It lies in the ability to see all that is beautiful and whole and complete in our lives and in ourselves.

The secret to beating envy is gratitude.

And so on this Monday morning when I have a basket full of laundry to put away and no idea what we are going to eat for dinner, I am happy to be able to take a moment and remember who I am and what I have, and now I will just take a moment to be grateful.

After all, what greater prayer is there than simple gratitude?

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How Do You Thank Your Children

While obviously not perfect, my three are pretty good with their manners.  They thank us every night for making dinner.  They thank us for taking them places and buying them things.  They thank us a lot.

I like it.  I think it helps them learn gratitude and appreciation.

And we thank our kids as well – we thank them when they help us with something or when they go on an errand with us.  We thank them for kindness they show to each other.  We thank them for their thankfulness.

But today I ran into a problem.  I realized that for the things I am most grateful to my children for and for the things I am most indebted to them for, there is no real way to thank them in a way that would make sense to little ears.

After all, how do I thank them for reacquainting me with deep and profound joy?

How do I thank them for showing me innocence?

How do I thank them for not only needing me but for wanting me in ways that no other human possibly could?

How do I thank them for their trust and their affection and their camaraderie?

And how do I thank them for teaching me this special love that a parent has for their child?

I remember reading a few years back that parents aren’t any happier than non parents.  I don’t really know if that is true or not.  But what I do suspect is that parents experience far more joy than they ever could have without children.

Magoo and I had a big day today.  She got her ears pierced, we went out to lunch and dinner, she bought a First Communion dress, veil, and gloves, and she had a special Scout meeting where she learned how to paper mache and do other paper crafts.  As far as little girls go, it was about as big a day as they come.

She was jumping all around all day; she kept telling me how this day couldn’t get any better and how second grade is such an awesome time.

And I find myself suspended in this other plane during these moments.  It is as if all the bells in my head are going off, and the whole world stops around us.  I am acutely aware of just how much meaning these moments have, and I am trying to suspend them and the joy contained within.  I am trying to will the universe to preserve this moment and mark it on my heart.

It was joy.

It brought me to tears.

It reminded me of just how much these three (and even already number four) bring to me and to us.  How much they bring to those around them and to the world.

The world doesn’t cater to people.  It doesn’t often see us as special or important or noteworthy.  But God does send us these little people who to us seem like all that is good and pure and holy.  They are a gift God gives to us to show us a glimpse of His love for us.  They are our tokens to joy and the memories are our souvenirs.

And I have all these thoughts going through my head, and I look down into her big bright blue eyes, and all I want to say is thank you.

But I find myself speechless.  Because how do you say thank you for all of that?

For some things there just are no words.

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Worth

There is a part of me that feels defective.  This part of me feels like there’s this separation between me and the rest of the world.  Like the world can be divided between the good and the bad, and because I generally have an open-minded and accommodating nature, I see the rest of the world on the good side and myself alone on the other.

And I wish it were true what I say — that there is a “part” of me that feels defective.  But the truth is that when you feel defective, it’s not a part.  It’s your core.

And I don’t know where this feeling started.  But I can list many circumstances in which I, possibly erroneously, thought I saw it reflected back to me in the opinions and estimations of other people.

In the curious looks.  In the harsh words.  In the judgments or the criticisms or the rejections.

It would be nice to look out at the world and see all of the people who love me.  To focus on the words of support and affirmation.  To see the traits others enjoy in me.  To feel respect.

But our perceptions are mirrors of our beliefs, and if I’m stuck in that place of defectiveness, that’s the reel that plays over in my head.

And I look out into the world, and I see the beauty in people around me.  I see the infinite worth in even those who feel the most worthless.  And I want to scream, and I want to shake these people, and I want to tell them.

You are worth it.

You are good enough.

Don’t listen to the mouths that only speak criticism.  Don’t feel the judgments of those who don’t respect you.

Say no to the people who call themselves your friend and yet tear you down at every chance.

Say no to the man or the woman who treats your body as property to be used or abused.

Turn away from those who want to define you or defile you or demean you or break you.

So many moments of so many days, I feel irrevocably defective.

But then I step back, and I remember that a) we were all created with inherent worth, and b) we are all broken because we all live in a broken world.

I can’t heal the broken hearts.  I can’t erase the bad memories or neutralize the hateful words.

I can’t fix the world.

But what we all can do is fix our own broken parts.  We can absolutely refuse to believe we are less than.  We can insist on our own dignity and worth and expect the respect that is rightfully ours.

We can treat others as they deserve to be treated and expect no less in return.

We can’t heal a broken world, but by focusing on acceptance and kindness and gentleness, in ourselves every bit as much as in others, we can start to heal a little corner of it.

Sometimes I wish I could go back and stand up to people who I used to cower from.  I wish I could insist that my dignity be respected.

But I can’t.  And I really don’t need to.

All I need to do now is show myself the respect I deserve and then rest in that respect.

Because we are all worth so much.  More than we possibly could understand.  And this world would be infinitely more gentle if we all just treated ourselves a bit more like we treat others.

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Anxiety Gets Me Lost

I think I live a fairly simple existence.  I stay at home with my kids.  I get to plan my days around their needs.  I try to surround myself with people who inspire me to be more of that which I desire to be.

This wasn’t always the case.  For a long while there things seemed complicated, and I allowed that complication to flurry.  I didn’t trust myself enough to commit to the truth.  I didn’t trust my thoughts or my opinions or my beliefs.  Everything was up for question and debate.  Everything was subject to another’s opinion.

But that’s a very confusing way to live, and it’s not one I would recommend to any adult out there.  Yes, question things.  Seek your answers.  Reject complacent certainty.

But trust yourself.  Trust where you are.  Trust who you are.

And during my calm moments, which gratefully are more and more plentiful, I am able to reside in this world of intellectual security that it took me so long to cultivate.  And from that place of security, of trust in my own intellectual abilities, I have been able to question things and requestion things and grow.  All because I had faith in my ability to discern.

But then sneak in these moments of anxiety.  They can start out small and somewhat innocuous, but if they take root, they can grow in an instant.  They can infect everything, like weeds climbing through my soul.

And one thing that I never understood was why these moments of anxiety could take my world and flip it upside down and inside out.  Why would I get so lost?  Why would an hour or three of anxiety take weeks to recover from?  Why, during that time, would it feel like everything I have created came crashing down and I would have to start fresh, from the absolute beginning?

But now I’m starting to understand.  It’s becoming clearer.

Everything tumbles around during that time because the one thing that is absolutely required for anxiety to take hold is for me to lose sight of who I am and my abilities to judge the good from the bad, the real from the pretend, the scary from the benign.

As soon as I give that agency away, as soon as I trust the opinion of another over my own, all is lost.

With all understandings such as this, this wisdom can only take me so far.  Now I need to combat it.  I need to find some assurance in myself that I am okay and that I am capable.  That I’m intelligent and discerning and thoughtful.

Insight has always come more easily to me than change.

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Innocence

My children are the closest I will ever come to true purity.  They are innocence and passion and kindness.  They lack guile.  They lack cynicism.  They know no other way to act than authentically.

It’s the gift granted to us all at the moment of our birth.  Before we become tarnished by the world.

I remember the panic I felt when I first saw this purity in my daughter’s eyes.  My heart started to pound, my head started to spin.  For at that moment I knew that purity and innocence like that is a feather in the winds of this world.

How was I ever going to allow her to keep that innocence?

It wasn’t a mere task of parenting.  It was THE task of parenting.  At that moment I knew that helping that little girl stay true to herself was the most important thing I could ever do.  And to fail would be a tragedy.

It would be a tragedy to lose that for the world.

And yet I looked around and I looked at all of the obstacles and I started to see the enormity of the task ahead of me.  I doubted whether I could do it.

And so I think I convinced myself that perhaps this wasn’t my task after all.  I told myself that this world was her birthright and that she was meant to live in it.  I told myself that to shield her from that world would be to stifle her light.

And I still believe there is truth in that.

But these days I look around, and I’m starting to wonder if the only way to keep that light lit is to shield it more than I realized was necessary.

It’s easy to get caught up by what is.  It’s easy to accept culture as modernity and modernity as progress.  It’s easy to think that old-fashioned was abandoned for a reason.  It’s easy to think that values change in the directions they should.

But what if we step back?  What if we look at what our world is teaching our daughters.

That their worth is in their appearance and their appearance is judged by the amount of skin shown.

That beauty is a collection of body parts judged by their parts to equal a sum.

That it’s important to win and to be the best and the brightest and the fastest and the strongest.  And that to be less is to fail your gender and yourself.

That to nurture and to care and to support are great side gigs, but you can’t let them overshadow the self and your goals.

That productivity is second to appearance in determining worth.

That to save their bodies for marriage is an impossibility – beyond the limits of their self-control.  And that their reproductive abilities are a liability rather than an asset.  That they should make themselves like men in every way possible, including by sterilizing their bodies.  Except of course for the few months in their lives in which they wish to conceive.

That contraception trumps conception.  That their bodies are meant to be tamed and regulated.

And finally that values don’t matter any more. Because values won’t make you money.  And they surely won’t get you to the White House.  Values are ideals we teach to little kids to make our playgrounds easier to manage.  They surely aren’t road maps to how adults are to live their lives.

I think of all of this, and I flash back to that first moment when I looked into her eyes, and I realized that panic was right.  It was a guide.  It was a light.

Our children do need to be protected.  They need to be shielded from it all until they are well old and wise enough to wade through it safely.

To protect our children from modern culture isn’t sheltering them.  It isn’t naive or old fashioned.

It’s giving them the best they need to create legs strong enough to walk and wings sure enough to fly.  It’s letting purity and innocence mature and age.

It’s the only chance any of us have.

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