After the Storm

“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” ― Anne Lamott 

 
Hurricane Michael blew through earlier this week, although by the time it arrived, it had blown most of its fury out. Still, when we saw the nightmare roaring ashore in Florida, we began to do things a community does to prepare for disaster: close down schools and businesses, pull in the lawn furniture, and buy all the gas and milk available–side note, I do not buy milk in the face of impending doom, and I don’t understand why it’s a thing.

Michael arrived overnight, and quite honestly, we slept through the brunt of it. Having endured the hurricane season of 2004 in Florida – Charley! Francis! Ivan! Jeanne! – we don’t feel compelled to listen to weird noises in the dark and worry about what it might be. If the roof blows off, my being awake to hear it happen won’t stop it from happening.

We were fortunate, us especially, but the community as a whole. Our power barely flickered overnight. Dawn found us on the front porch with coffee, watching the last of Michael as he blew out of town. We didn’t even need to pick up sticks in the yard.

As we sat together on the porch, the black sky turned to the deep blue-grey twilight of a stormy morning. Before long we began to see brilliant cracks in the clouds letting golden light spill through. The wind turned to battering the clouds rather than the earth and soon the last tatters streamed overhead and we were left with this:

43618955_499564103878266_5965461522602786816_o

Tears filled my eyes; I was mesmerized

Later I would look at this picture, which barely captures the sparkling brilliance of that sunrise and think, this is a picture of my life right now. This is where we are after a dark and terrible storm. We have landed. All will be well.  I may have cried all over again.

I don’t think I’ve let myself believe, until now, that we are really free of the people and places which hurt us and still haunt us. Craig’s severance lasted until the first of October, meaning, in our minds at least, there was still a possibility of further harm. But even those weak ties are severed now and it is a new day, sparkling and clear.

We’re starting to talk about things now, to process what we felt and still feel, how we are changed. Usually, we talk until the feelings are too ugly to go on and then we step away a bit. Each time we dig a little deeper and it hurts a little less. Healing is a process, one we choose day by day, hour by hour, successfully and unsuccessfully. We’re each other’s therapist – dissecting and correcting when necessary, but mostly just listening to the other person’s heart, and feeling grateful that our marriage wasn’t also a casualty of our experience.

I remember the darkest moment of the storm for me. Lying in a ball on a hotel bed, in a town I didn’t want to be in, seeing a therapist I didn’t trust or even want to see, wondering if I would ever feel whole again. I remembering being brutally honest with her that morning saying if things fell all the way apart (because let’s be honest, I was already shattered) at my husband’s job, I was done with the church for good, and her saying, that makes me feel sorry for you.

At that moment I realized the enormous harm of church idolatry, a monster I could never survive intact. All I could do was buy time for us to find our escape, with no idea how or how long it would take, or if I could hang on through more months of plodding endurance.  Survival is fine and even necessary sometimes, but when your whole existence is focused on the next explosion, shielding from the next hurt, there is no room for growth or thriving.

I remember a day a few weeks later when the first cracks appeared in the clouds and the light shown through golden and fleeting. Craig showed up unexpectedly at my work to tell me he had applied for a job. A job in town. A job which meant I could keep my own job, which I adore, but which also cannot support us. A job which might turn out to be the escape hatch we were looking for. I remember going back to my desk with tingling fingers and toes and a fluttering stomach. This is what hope feels like, I thought, I’d forgotten.

It wouldn’t be long before the clouds were pushed away entirely. First, there was the meeting where I was made to answer for a literal list of grievances recorded in writing over nine years (there were eleven individual grievances worthy of record, in case you are wondering), whether for control or posterity, I’ll never know, nor do I care to.  There was the assurance that I would conform, assimilate and allow emotional and spiritual intimacy with a group of male leaders with whom I had no relationship, and no desire for relationship, whose priority was maintaining control of church property, namely me. And then there was a phone call late in the afternoon the next day, from my husband saying, I’m pretty sure they’re going to ask me to resign tomorrow.

Which is exactly what happened, and all I could think was, thank you.

Life is funny sometimes. The very day Craig signed his resignation, I started work full time, and we drove to the beach for a long-anticipated wedding. We woke up the first day of our new lives with the sun poring over us and the waves filling the air around us. Everything felt clean,  crisp and new. It was a morning much like the morning after a hurricane, but it would take me six months to gain enough perspective to recognize the enormity of the gift.

Six months later, I’m starting to feel like myself again. Not like my old self, because some storms leave you fundamentally changed, but a more generous, more adventurous, more open, bolder me. What I’m finding in the storm’s aftermath is the same as so many have found before me: I decide how I will rebuild. There are so many new things and new possibilities I want to explore and experiment with, but there are also some parts of me that were buried, that I choose not to abandon. Like sea glass on the shoreline, I’m finding some of the beautiful parts of me are even more beautiful now with the hard edges are worn away. I’m still strong, but less sharp and brittle, bold, but more thoughtful and well-rounded. Given enough time, I might just glow from within.

I’m entertaining the thought that maybe I was wrong when I said I would never have anything to do with church again, but maybe I will be wiser in choosing my community. Or maybe I don’t need to label my communities with ‘church,’ ‘work,’ or ‘online’ but I can be my whole self in every gathering and love each of them as they are, with no agenda attached.

I’m learning to trust that given enough time, the sun will break through, and a new day will begin again, just as it always has.

 

Walking on Eggshells: thoughts on trauma, anxiety and healing

“Living, growing up, working or worshipping on eggshells creates huge cracks in our sense of safety and self-worth. Over time it can be experienced as trauma.” – Brene Brown

I had a bit of a battle with an old companion yesterday. Anxiety came knocking, and it took a while to convince that bitch to leave. I’ve hit life hard since returning from vacation, working over forty hours each week. I’m juggling five work and school schedules with only three cars (and occasionally two). I’ve altered my eating habits and cut out alcohol. I’m running again, and I’m trying to get no less than seven hours of sleep every night.

I am also someone functions better with a nice margin, space, both physical and mental, where I don’t feel the burden of expectations pressing down on me. I have a long ugly history with perceived expectations; it’s one of my toughest battles, still. Because of this personality trait, all these transitions mean I must also make an equal amount of marginal space for processing the demands of life or things get ugly.

Last week was no respecter of my margins. And here’s the thing, it wasn’t all bad. In fact, there were some things about last week that were quite good. But when it comes to needing that pressure-free space, I find both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ events are equally stressful if I don’t have the margin to process the experiences. Some people, like my Hunky, can leap from event to event to event with ease. But I can’t.  I will manage for a short period, but that only means I need an equally long recovery time on the other end.

This weekend, I had planned a do nothing, go nowhere kind of weekend, my favorite kind. But those plans…didn’t happen. They didn’t happen last weekend either. Yesterday when we all started talking about our schedules for this week, I felt the flush of anxiety start to creep over me: the familiar ringing echo in my ears, the hot prickly flush over my chest, the buzzing in my fingers and toes, the constant need to look over my shoulder. “Here is a list of expectations, and I must meet it.”

Oh, Anxiety. It’s been a while. And no, I haven’t missed you.

I first began experiencing anxiety AFTER  I started going to therapy. I know right? Therapy is supposed to reduce anxiety.  However, what therapy revealed to me was some toxic areas in my life which we weren’t able to disengage from. I would need to do a serious compartmentalization dance, keeping my emerging-self separate from my pastor-wife self, which isn’t really a wholehearted way to live.

Ask most pastor’s wives in the evangelical church and they’ll tell you, we aren’t paid, but we have a job description with an expectation list about three miles long, anyway. It’s not healthy, but it’s true, and as I was informed towards the end, “That’s the way things are and there’s nothing to be done about it.”

You can see why other people’s expectations and I aren’t on speaking terms.

I am my own person. Yes, I am married to another human whom I love deeply, but I am not defined by his work or his position any more than he is defined by mine. We each have our own work. Sometimes our work intersects, but most times it doesn’t, and there is nothing wrong with this way of sharing our lives. We also have theological and ideological differences. What’s more, our individual belief systems have changed and evolved as we have changed and evolved and matured, sometimes those changes intersect, for us they often intersect, but even when they don’t, we love each other and move forward together.

Ours is a pretty healthy relationship.

But other areas of our lives weren’t so healthy. If you have ever seen a plant grow in or near a constricted space, you have seen that the unconstricted side grows healthy and strong, but the other side will grow stunted, twisting in on itself until it withers and dies off.

Going to therapy opened a thousand doors for me. My therapist saw things in me that no one else had ever spoken aloud. She built me up in ways I hadn’t experienced from anyone besides my husband in a long time. She empowered me and challenged me, and I began to finally grow into the wildly free and open space that was my self…my soul.

The more I grew, the less inclined I was to meet the ever-changing, ever-tightening list of expectations compiled for me by people who barely knew me beyond my job description. Make no mistake, in fundamentalist environments, an empowered woman who goes off-script is a dangerous woman, a force which must be managed, rebuked, fixed and controlled. Eggshells, anyone?

This tension mounted for years, while we tried to leave town and move on, door after door after closing on us while anxiety gripped me tighter and tighter.  My growth stunted, and I withered. When I am stuck in unhealthy behavior patterns, I avoid conflict at all costs. I tried checking off all the expectation boxes, tried disappearing, tried “putting on a happy face.” I even tried all three at once. But inevitably, anytime I began to feel more like my whole-hearted self, a rebuke of some sort followed. Usually, my husband bore the brunt, as if he were responsible for all the ways I never measured up. The more I tried to protect him from harm, the more harm I seemed to cause, around and around in an increasingly toxic spiral.

This was not a healthy time for our relationship.

I honestly am not sure any other set of circumstances than what has ultimately unfolded would have allowed us room to walk away so completely and begin to experience healing so fully. I have received margin in glorious abundance.  We have new lives and new identities now, but trauma leaves echoes and shadows which reach out sometimes and caress the familiar broken places. I may not have reason to be anxious now, but I still wait for the other shoe to drop, even though the footsteps of the persons wearing them are so faint now they are barely a whisper in my soul.

Yesterday, I wrestled with expectation and anxiety. Expectation and I go back decades,  church wounds are part of the scars from these battles, but those seeds were planted long before religion was part of my identity. We may battle for the rest of my life, but now that I am learning to live wholeheartedly, her voice is less insistent. Some days I don’t hear it at all. Anxiety and I only go back a few years, so I am hopeful her voice will soon be entirely gone.

What I know is this: an experience can be traumatic whether or not the parties involved intend to do harm. My story is my own. There are other voices who won’t see or tell this story the same way, and who will deny the validity of how I feel, what I experienced and the wounds I carry. I hope anxiety will one day be a thing of the past, a response to an environment that was toxic to me. Telling my story is part of what makes the anxiety dissipate. It cannot stay in a space where I will not permit it to flourish and grow. My experience is real and valid. Though the ground under my feet is no longer fragile eggshells, I still sometimes wonder if it will hold my weight. Thank goodness I am learning to fly.

Take that, anxiety.

 

What happened when I finally stopped moving

My husband was out of town last weekend. I don’t mind when he leaves town as long as its not too long or too many weeks in a row.  I often joke that he is the cog that keeps the family running with any sort of consistency. When Craig goes out of town, I don’t cook. We barely shower. One year Lindsay and I watched three seasons of Doctor Who in three days while Craig was away at camp with the younger two. We strategically planned take-out meals so we could eat them twice and not have to leave the house or spend too long in the kitchen.  I don’t know if you can combine the words sloth and debauchery, but if there was such a word, that describes our household when Craig is away.

Last weekend wasn’t any different. Craig left on Friday. I didn’t cook again until Sunday night. 50% of my meals were cheese and crackers. I don’t even know what the kids ate. I wore pajamas to take people to work. I watched a season of Bones and crocheted. I’m not even ashamed.   Sometimes these types of weekends are necessary in order to reset my mind to the reality of the present.

We’ve done a lot of transitioning over the last year(ish). I feel like we’ve done a decent job rolling through the changes as they’ve come. Yes, there has been some trauma, and we are still dealing with emotional fall-out. But over all, we are recovering in a healthy way. Honestly, changes have been happening so fast, I have taken almost no time to reflect on anything lately. I needed some space to compare the trajectory of my life as it is now to where it was a year ago.

I was in the car in my pajamas at 10:30 Friday night, as I left to go get Bailey from her job, when I realized I haven’t left the house after dark since we moved in. Granted, it’s summer, and I am an introvert, which means rain or shine when it’s 8pm, I want to be holed up in my room recovering from a day of people-ing ( I am who I am, and I like me. You do you.), but this thought led me to the revelation that I have been traveling only between what I consider the ‘safe places’ in my life, basically on survival auto-pilot. Without thinking, I’ve been avoiding anywhere that I might encounter someone emotionally unsafe or to whom I might feel deserves explanations  which I am unwilling to pretty-up for public consumption.  Work to home to places out-of-town. These are the roads I have traveled every day, week after week until months have passed.

No wonder I feel a low level of exhaustion at the end of most weeks, my fight or flight hasn’t lowered at any point this year.  Just like a secret app constantly behind the scenes makes your phone sluggish, my sympathetic nervous system has been ticking along in the background, preparing me to take on attackers at a moment’s notice, and just as quietly draining my energy and emotional reserves.

While I was still digesting this little tid-bit of knowledge, I experienced another sweeping breath of fresh air (I think its because Christmas music was playing in the background): I have more freedom now than I ever have to orchestrate my life the way I want it to be.

Perhaps this concept isn’t revalatory to you, but as I transition out of some abusive relationships and toxic systems, I am only beginning to realize how much of my freedoms I had willingly given away. For a long time, I was a slave to a “higher calling” and while I still believe in the goodness and support which can come from being part of something bigger than ourselves, I no longer believe that I must sacrifice who I am to be part of it. Or, I am learning to believe it. It’s a process.

The fact of the matter is, when changes are flying at you fast and furious, when you are making literal life-altering decisions on the fly and then racing along to stay even a little bit ahead of them, there isn’t a whole lot of time for self-reflection and examination. We’ve been in survival mode for a long time, culminating over the last months with the  few final pieces of the picture (for now) falling into place. It took so much of ourselves to get here, that I haven’t had time to stop and consider what it meant for the future other than the fact that we still have a future, and it’s a good one.

But this weekend I finally stopped. I didn’t read or rush or push ahead or even think very much (or shower regularly, true tale). Coming to a full stop allowed all the whirling, swirling thoughts, ideas, healing truths and stray bits of lies and delusions I’ve been holding tightly to coalesce and settle. Some pieces finally drifted softly away and some quietly sank to the floor of my soul and landed with a soft thump. The idea that I have, at last, the freedom to create the life I want landed with the most impact.  I’ve been contemplating it with awe-struck wonder ever since.

I believe there are seasons in life where we intentionally trade freedom for something bigger than ourselves. The years of raising wee ones, times of living with restriction for a larger purpose whether that restriction is financial, or dietary or living situations are examples of this type of self-limiting. There are also times where mere survival forces us to set severe limits, or we may face a series of less desireable outcomes as a consequence of choices we’ve made. I have lived through many of these seasons. They come and they go, in their turn.

But what I am finally gaining is the perspective to see is how much of myself and my freedom I gave away willingly, but not necessarily. I became less, not because it was required but because I was willing to trade myself for lifestyle which was never meant for me.  What that choice has cost me, and also how much work will be required for me to regain strength in those muscles again, is something I wasn’t ready to face before.  In a way, I am grateful for the pace of life lately. It’s forced me to develop some healthy patterns and boundaries without over-thinking or letting co-dependency rule my emotions. Having moved some distance away from the foundation of those boundaries, now I am able to go back and see where I was and also just how far I have come. Seeing my life from this different perspective makes how far I still have to go, how far I still want to go, a little less daunting.

 

How it feels to leave church

I met a friend while doing some birthday shopping this week. We were out in public and as we chatted a bit, she said some things which made me realize she didn’t know about our recent life changes. When I told her my husband left his church position, her next question is the one which seems the inevitable follow-up: where are you going to church now?

For years I’ve witnessed the tongue clucking, pearl clutching, shake-your-head-in-shame response to people who forgo the experience of the Sunday church service. I know what to expect when I give my reply. Still, I take a deep breath and mentally gird my loins every time I speak it aloud. At this point, I’m not telling people what they want to hear.

We aren’t attending a church service, right now.

(I use the words ‘right now’ to soften the blow. Eventually my husband will miss church, but me, I have no plans to return to evangelical church, not now, not ever. Not church as we’ve experienced it.)

I realize this question, and the ensuing behavior correcting protests which follow are seen as a loving way to ‘guide me back into the fold.’ Clearly, I’ve backslidden in some invisible way. I need only be reminded of the importance of having a place to worship and the tribe which accompanies my brand of loyalty. I can be fixed. After all, God commanded us to go to church is part of the doctrine I’ve been fed for decades.  But I’m no longer swallowing religious platitudes wholeheartedly, and unfortunately, I can’t seem to find those verses.

Please, don’t go quoting Paul at me, now. Paul isn’t God and our female church population aren’t wearing head covers, either.

Leaving church for me is a strange untethering, like walking around in unlaced shoes. Sure there’s more room for comfort, but my stride is a bit awkward while I adjust to the change.  As much as I enjoy the freedom of being myself after years of failed attempts at conformity, it doesn’t make facing people’s reactions any easier.

What I’m not saying is being part of a church is wrong or bad, nor am I demeaning people who find great depth and meaning in their religious community. I just don’t buy into the whole ‘worship service experience’ as the end-all-be-all test of my relationship wth God or my ability to develop and thrive as a spiritual being.  I have repeatedly been loved more deeply and treated more humanely by those outside the church community than those associated with it.

I don’t think church is a bad thing, but I absolutely think the way I experience it currently is a toxic environment for me.

Leaving church has made me feel a bit like Paul who had an experience with the Divine (in the middle of a common street, no less. No alter call required) which caused scales to fall from his eyes. After this experience he never saw the same way again. He never rested very easy with established religious leaders afterwards, either.  Paul found himself in all sorts of communities: professional, neighborhood, long distance, home gatherings. We call these communities church, now, but then they simply called it ‘ecclesia,’ literally, a gathering of people. In fact, the word ecclesia was informal and organic long before we grabbed it and mashed it into a religious construct and declared it superior to any other gathering.

I do believe we are called to community. Even this hardcore introvert recognizes the need for connection. I’m part of many groups of all sorts and constructs. Most are open and welcoming, a few are new and a little intimidating. None of them force me to believe a certain set of doctrinal norms to be accepted. In fact, most of them don’t give a hot damn about my theology. It’s my humanity they love and care for, my emotions, my health, my needs and my person.

These groups are all ecclesia to me, a group of people working together for a common goal and taking care of each other along the way. To say the divine is not in our midst as we go along, is to limit the Divine in ways I no longer recognize.

I’m still sorting out what it means to be spiritual but not evangelical.  I’m still a Christian in that I still see Jesus as the true revelation of God, even though I no longer see Jesus as exclusive or final revelation of God. I’m releasing inerrancy, exclusivity, superiority, mysogyny, nationalism, violence and retribution and leaning into the inherent goodness of humanity, the beauty, fragility and diversity of this earth, blessing over curse, love over morality, peace over punishment, but it is often difficult to rewrite the tracks written into my heart and mind for so long.

Mostly I’m setting the healthy boundary that no person or group of people automatically has the authority to tell me what to think and how to feel based on religious positioning. Authority doesn’t indicate relationship, compassion or compatibility. Spirituality and development aren’t one size fits all endeavors; acronyms are cheap ways to dictate behavior modification and call it community.

Maybe your experience is different. I hope your experience is different. No one should experience the layers of rejection I have from an organization professing unconditional love. But I know there are many of us on the outside, and we deserve a space to talk about our experience too. This is my space, and you’re welcome here even if you are reading this on your phone in the middle of Sunday service thinking I’ve got it all wrong. In some ways, I am sure I do; I’m just no longer concerned with getting it all perfectly right.

No, I’m not ‘going to church’ right now. But I am part of community, ones which make me better, which change my thinking and transform my life, but most importantly, communities which make me more of who I was created to be instead of less like me and more like someone else’s vision of who I should be.  My ecclesia is exactly as its meant to be even if it isn’t at 10am on Sunday morning with three songs to get me in the mood for God.  I know, that may make you uncomfortable. It makes me uncomfortable sometimes, too. But mostly, it makes me grateful and joyful and full of love and life. I think Jesus called it, worshipping in Spirit and Truth.  He didn’t limit that to service times or congregation.

 

 

Better

Last week I wrote about time, how I track it in small increments and try to capture it’s shape and meaning.  I am a marker of time watching the moon, following the seasons, counting the hours and minutes of daylight. This week is the summer solstice, the turning of the earth. This week we mark the longest days this year will see. We begin the turning of Earth towards dark and cool and rest.

This week also marks three months since…well, since things got better.

It feels strange to say it that way. The last time we were involuntarily ousted from a place of worship, it seemed a more catastrophic event had never happened to us. This time, we only feel peace. Peace and release and the most amazing sense of freedom.

I’ve observed time for many reasons: birthdays and cancerversaries, weddings and funerals, travels and trials, events good and bad and those simply unimaginable. I try to take note of the events which change and shape me, even years later, watching for growth and change, noting scars and swimming in grace.

The day I left professional church, whether only for now or for good, is the day my life began turning for the better. The same way the earth tilts to the sun, the way a sunflower tracks the path of light across the sky, my soul is turning to the warmth and light of growing into my nature.

We, my family and I, are getting better. Healing. We are remembering who we were before we crammed our souls into shapes they weren’t created to hold. I tried to uphold a way of thinking and living which directly contradicted the contours of my heart, growing stunted and brittle. I didn’t begin in this distorted form, but as I grew and changed my environment didn’t. I withered and stunted like a flower left too long under a blazing and relentless summer sky.

Life has turned, and our parched, weary souls are remembering what it means to rest and find water in unexpected places.  We find ourselves with new relationships and shifting communities whose gentle presence asks no more of us than to be exactly who we are. Mother God can handle the rest, and all will be well.

While I’ve been at odds with the Bible lately, I find myself leaning into the Message translation in moments when I do reflect on a book I hope to connect with again some day.  Today, I am meditating on these words:

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.

‘Get away with me and you’ll recover your life.’ This is a promise I can rest in for awhile.

It is the time of turning seasons, and we are better for it and in it.

 

 

Creative tension: a call and response to living in the unexpected

You know what would be fun to write about? How to have it all together. I’d like to write about that because it would mean I am on a journey in that general direction. It would feel as though I am beginning to figure some things out.

But, no.

Last week was a nutso butter and crazy sandwich.  I worked weird and wild hours, tried to maintain a low-level walk/run routine, wrote hardly at all, didn’t read as much as I wanted to, didn’t log my hours regularly and generally don’t feel as though I accomplished very much. Oh, and my husband started a brand new career, at 46. As you do.

But I did survive, and that’s saying something.

Amongst other things this new career means the nice self-centered existence I have been living since starting my own brand new career at age 45 – yes, I do feel one-upped – is about to be flipped on its ear. Friends, I haven’t made dinner since March. MARCH. I’ve barely done laundry, cleaned house, or handled any of the transportation issues faced by a 3 car,  5 adult family. While I re-learned what it’s like to be a professional person in a professional world, my husband took care of the domestic details of life. All of them. This is a definite advantage of him leaving his career the day mine launched (it’s also a super-cool story which I will share another time).

But isn’t this always how life is?

Life. Love it or hate it, her favorite pitch is the curve.  Sure it’s nice to go along knowing what’s next, knowing how it will all work out, knowing exactly what’s for dinner and that all the ingredients will be there and someone else is cooking them and all you have to do is show up. I like that, too. In fact, I love the predictability of routine. I love always having clean laundry.

But to expect that life will always flow towards the smoothest path is to set ourselves up for constant and profound disappointment. I have often commiserated with moms of the little guys that just as soon you develop a nice schedule, there’s a growth spurt, or a developmental leap and BAM, you’re figuring things out all over again. What we often fail to realize is that this pattern isn’t exclusively for the new mom. This is the pattern of life. Just when we get things all figured out, a new piece is thrown into the pattern and we’re juggling all over again, trying to make art instead of chaos.

I actually think it’s kind of brilliantly beautiful.

See, I’m not the same person I was when I was twenty-five. I’m not even the same person I was in January.  I often don’t welcome the shifts the which generate this slow and steady evolution, but I know for a fact that it’s the unpredictable moments, and our response to them, which create the friction that changes the shape of our souls. Our souls are shapeshifters and this is a good thing. Just as a garden goes through cycles of life and death, our souls cannot maintain the abundance of a constant summer, no matter how much we may want them too. Routine and preparation have their place, but they are neither the source of growth nor the better path.

For several years now, I have struggled with anxiety. I used to think it was because I was afraid of the unknown. but my anxiety wasn’t caused by unknown patterns, it was the known which had me freezing up and freaking out. Known patterns which I felt I could not escape left me unable to take another step. Yes, the unknown is frightening, but sometimes it’s the learned patterns of existence which damage us far more.  Yet we stay because the routine is familiar. We know the steps, the roles, and the rules, even if they are slowly killing us.

By the way, I also haven’t had an anxiety attack since March, and I don’t think it’s just about the dinners.

I still love routines and I do often wish I had a peek into life a bit further ahead than, say, Wednesday.  But if that were the case, I would lose all the creative effort I put into every day, deciding who I will be, where I will find beauty and joy. These ways of responding shape my soul into something unique and lovely, something routine and answers never will. Routine is safe and comforting, a necessary element of life, but it’s when we’re off the map that we learn who we really are, and where we learn the skills to become someone different if we don’t like who we find.

So I hope to run and read and write and work in ways that are a bit less crazy this week. But I’m also really looking forward to enjoying those unexpected encounters, the surprise belly laughs, and the sheer pleasure of not knowing exactly what’s next but knowing whatever it is, all will be well.

 

How to make friends with Time

I’m a big proponent of self-examination. Honestly, that’s pretty much a guaranteed part of the introvert package. We’re introspective all the way down to our genetic code. It’s a great asset and also sometimes my worst enemy. But personality tendencies aside, I believe in seasonal life-examination. It’s humbling, for sure (I am forever fretting about how much time I “waste” and working on shifting that mindset), but it also helps me re-focus and re-direct when I begin to drift aimlessly, which I am wont to do.

My natural daily inclination is to relax to the point of laziness despite the fact that I find that an unsatisfying lifestyle over longer periods of time. It’s taken me forty-five years to fully accept and act on the fact that “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” I actually thrive on ticking off accomplishments and completing projects, two things which never happen accidentally.  There’s obvious tension between daily-me and long-term-me in light of these two facts.

Recently, I’ve been following Laura Vanderkam’s advice (as an aside – her new book Off the Clock is very enjoyable and not at all a ‘how to be more productive’ manual.  Thoughts on the nature and theory of time and how to make life more meaningful? Yes, please! ) by keeping a log of my hourly activities. Sometimes, it is as tedious as it sounds. But more often, it helps me to realistically understand the ways I spend and, yes, waste my time.

For instance, in May, I read fourteen books, averaging around 300 pages apiece. Granted, I  read ridiculously fast, not to me but in comparison to others. This isn’t something I feel competitive about as in ‘My Reading Speed can Beat up Your Reading Speed’, it’s simply something I’ve come to realize over time as I talk to other readers, but I digress. I also worked forty hours a week, hosted a family gathering weekend, graduated two children, traveled to Kansas City for three days and watched the first season of Lost in Space on Netflix ( SO GOOD!). Yes, I also slept a decent number of hours each night and wasted time in various ways online.

By tracking my time, I’m finding little windows of opportunity to finish more books than I believed, and what other people assured me, were possible each week. Reading is important to me. It’s not only a big part of my job, it’s how I learn, relax, relate and enjoy myself. I’m never going to be productive every moment of the day, a ridiculous goal to set for anyone, but knowing I am making time for the things that matter to my well-being, means those hours where I write ‘scrolling’ or ‘puttering’ in my log no longer lend as much volume to my inner-critic. You know the jerk I’m talking about? The voice who tells you all the things you’re doing wrong and all the ways you’ll never be enough? That voice. For me, words on paper – or on my computer screen as it were – do a great job of refuting his nonsense.

As we celebrated my birthday this year, my youngest daughter said, ‘Whoo-hoo! Half-way to fifty!’  Which caused my oldest daughter to retort, ‘Nope! Half-way to ninety!’ And truly for a moment, my brain said, ‘Oh shit; she’s right! I AM halfway to ninety!’ Age jokes aside, we’re right in the middle of many major transitions right now, not just mid-life realizations. It seems the perfect time to consider, re-create and re-imagine the kind of life we want. I want to use my time wisely and also enjoy as much as I possibly can. I want to know where the hours have gone because the inner critic plays dirty using shame and lies.  I want to experience as much as I can of the things that matter most, not putting everything off to a more convenient, more perfect time.

Being half-way to ninety doesn’t bother me. When I was a half-way to forty-five, I had cancer and turning forty seemed an impossible goal.  And yet the hours and days and weeks and years rolled by. Some of it I remember vividly, a lot of it is gone, whether wasted or well-used. Time is like that for all of us. But now that the pace of early motherhood is long gone, now that a job I love lays claim to forty hours of every week, I need to see that I’m not still waiting for a ‘better time’ to make time for what I want.

The better time is now. We’re as financially independent as we’ve ever been. We’re starting new journeys which we hope will be our last in the professional field (early retirement, we’re looking at you!). We have trips to make and places to experience. Books to read and relationships to cultivate. None of these things happen when I’m simply sitting in the hammock – though I make plenty of time for that as well.

How are you spending your time and what would you like to change?

What are you waiting for?