Anxiety/Worry, Faith/Spirituality, Recovery

I left it in Montana

If I could go back in time and experience my life again, I know exactly where, and when, I’d go. Without a doubt, the time in my life that I felt the most free and happy was during my years in Helena, Montana. I lived there from kindergarten through 3rd grade. I lived next door, on a private lane in the mountains, to my best friend and her two brothers. When my mind goes to that time of my life, it’s not just those valuable relationships that stand out. If I had to come up with one word to defined those years it would be Play.

Sometimes I wonder if I left my creative brain in Montana. I haven’t been able to play like that since. I played with freedom and fierceness. We built forts (with real wood, hammers and nails) and learned to snow ski in the gully behind our houses-both slalom and bunny Slope. Sometimes one of us would say, “Hey, you wanna play motorcycles?”. It’s exactly what you would think; a bunch of kids running up and down the gully pretending to be riding a motorcycle (in Montana this was more of a dirt bike) with all the accompanying sound effects (I always admired how the boys could do that sound with their mouth that made is sound so authentic). We wore ourselves out until the sun went down. When Halloween came, we would pull all our candy and create a candy store in her basement, displaying the mini candy bars under plastic record player covers. We played “Bears” with our stuffed bears, dressing them in my baby sisters clothes and putting them to bed on suitcase with a pillow on top. We played light as a feather, stiff as a board, listened to the band KISS (I don’t think my mom knew that 😳), conned our brothers into eating dirt that looked like brownies, and tormented each other at sleepovers (hand in the water, shaving cream in the palm of hand with a tickle on the face, the usual). I didn’t have to work at playing and never felt an ounce of guilt for doing it.

A lot has changed since I left Montana. A lot has changed in me. I am not sure when it happened, but I lost that sense of play that used to come so naturally to me. Somehow I started following a rule and have been following it ever since: Here it is: you have to earn your play-time.

I talked about this in my blog a couple days ago. I have this voice in my head that tells me that Play is a reward or celebration of something good; closing on a house or two, losing a few pounds, my kids getting out of school (or starting school after summer break!) or having a birthday. It also tells me that I have permission to play as a consolation for or comfort for something bad; the sale of a house falls through, my kids being demanding and driving me crazy, gaining a few pounds, or, having a birthday 😜.

You get the idea. But I’ll tell you one thing for sure, it is never about play for play’s sake. Even if I schedule a fun event or vacation, I feel like I have to kick it in to gear so I can earn my right to relax. No wonder my heart has become so heavy. When life becomes about being productive and impressive and efficient, there is little room for creativity and light hearted play. And, I have found that even when I am playing, I am not really present. I am always thinking about what’s next or what just happened or grieving that my play-time is almost over (as if I won’t get another opportunity for months!).

Man, I sound messed up. But awareness is the first step toward recovery. I think I need a 12-step program designed for people who have forgotten how to have fun. Brene’ Brown, a researcher, author and speaker talks about Play being essential to living a “whole-hearted” life. She said she was perplexed and a little put-out when she interviewed who she considered to be whole-hearted people and discovered that they “fooled around” a lot. It took her some time to put a name to this frivolous “hanging out and doing fun things”. The idea was so foreign to her that she didn’t even recognize it as Play. She says “we’ve got so much to do and so little time that the idea of doing anything unrelated to the to-do list actually creates stress. We convince ourselves that playing is a waste of time…spending time doing purposeless activities is rare. In fact, for many of us it sounds like an anxiety attack waiting to happen.” Sobering words for someone who has forgotten how to play.

Reading is good. Praying is good. Meditation is good. Serving is good. Working is good. Learning is good. And so is playing. I hardly know what that looks like as a 47 year old woman, but I intend to seek God, learn from others who do it well and often, and recover my ability to play. Somewhere along the way I lost my skip, and I am determined to get it back.

Anxiety/Worry, Control, Faith/Spirituality, fear, Recovery, Trust

“Act as if”

“Easier said than done”, or in my case, “easier blogged than believed”. It’s ever so much easier for me to write about wise ways to live than it is to actually live them out in my daily life. The other day my son came in the room while I was working and asked what I was doing. I told him I was editing my book to get it ready for publication. His response? “You’re writing a book?” I told him that indeed I was and that maybe he should read a few of my blogs sometime. His next response? “I don’t need to read it. I live it.” I suggested that he go ahead and read it because my blogging self is much wiser and more put-together than the mom sitting before him.

In any case, I am embarrassed to admit how different my written responses and my natural life responses can be. Today I am choosing to do it differently. I caught myself early in the day, so thankfully, I just might be able to have a day that I don’t end up regretting by bedtime. I found myself anxious and worried about a variety of things that are not going my way (translation: things are not going the way I think they should go for those around me). I don’t understand decisions or actions that have effected or been made my people I love. And to be honest, I am sort of honked-off about it. Well, at first I was sad. I cried a little and did a lot of whimpering and whining in God’s direction (I’ll get to the part about how I am doing it different in a minute).

I’d been planning to write this morning, so this was really throwing a wrench in my plan for a lighter subject. But as usual, God uses my poor reactions and bratty behavior to help other people either avoid it for themselves or help them realize “they’re not the only one.”

So, to get to the point of how I am choosing to do it differently…
I choose to “act as if.” I will “act as if” I actually trust God and His plan. His plan for me and for those I love, and even for those I don’t like very much. I used to think that meant I was being inauthentic or fake. But I have come to understand it as a gesture of gratitude and trust.  An acknowledgement of the track record that God and I have developed. One in which he actually does take care of me. Every. Single. Time.

I can write/say that I trust that God knows the big picture and has a plan that is bigger than the details of my life. I can write/say that sometimes difficult circumstances and disappointments can lead me to maturity and growth that can be experienced in no other way. I can write/say that I can live with a sense of joy and serenity, even when my life doesn’t look like what I wish it looked like. I can write/say that I don’t have to be in control of everything and everyone in order to feel secure. But…when push comes to shove, I have to confess to you that I have spent many a day tangled up in knots of fear, worry, anxiety and despair. I forget to “act as if” all my words, whether written or spoken, are actually true.

As I said, today I choose to try a different route. One that might lead me to the peace that passes understanding. And if I practice “acting as if”  often enough, it will bridge the gap between how I want to live and how actually live. And maybe I won’t have to “act” anymore.

Brokenness, Faith/Spirituality, grace, Recovery, Relationships

What’s NOT on your calendar?

Believe it or not, I am not too old to remember myself as a college freshman. I remember that I was very young, very naive, very excited, not always right but always certain. My passion and zest for life combined with a lot of new information and education (at a bible college) was, on occasion, a recipe for a smidge of “know-it-all-ism”. But I’ll come back to that in a few paragraphs. I revered my professors and consumed books they recommended with fervor and an open spirit, ready to put into practice anything they suggested that sounded reasonable.

In one of my classes, we were assigned a book about how to manage your inner and outer world. Not only how to keep track of and stay in control of your daily schedule, but how what you did each day reflected who you were; what your outsides were saying about your insides. That’s the gist of it. I admired the author and took his suggestions to heart, applying and reflecting on the principles he outlined for a successful Christian life, marked by integrity and discipline.

Think of my shock and disappointment when, not long after we read this book for that class, it came to light that this author had been caught in an extra-marital affair. You can probably imagine the conversation among freshman bible college students who, for all practical purposes, know very little about “real life” yet. We thought we knew an awful lot though, and judged likewise. There was no understanding or compassion for that author and, due to the nature of his book topic, he set himself up to be mocked accordingly: “So, what did his daily planner look like?: 9:00 meeting 10:00 bible reading 11:30 adulterous rendezvous 1:00 lunch etc.?” We just couldn’t wrap our minds around how such duplicitousness was possible.

Fast forward 29 years. I feel like I should make a formal apology. Not because what he did was ok. But because I have seen countless times in my own life where I lived in that same duplicity. Times where I claimed, and even believed, I was walking in the light of God’s Will but was simultaneously living in flat out sin. Sometimes it was in obvious ways. Other times it was in less discernible ways, but still a blatant refusal to live an “inner life that matched my outer”.

Let’s look at it like this: I think that author, who challenged readers to ask themselves, “what’s on my calendar?”, might have been better off asking, “what’s not on my calendar?” And I think we might be better off asking the same. Maybe you can relate to what I am saying better if I use a food analogy. Whether you have dieted or not, you have probably heard that a common suggestion for people trying to lose weight is that they write down everything they eat during the day. Everything. The obvious goal is that this method will prevent you from eating junk because you know you will have to write it down and the shame of having to do that will cause you to eat fruits and vegetables instead. But the fatal flaw of human nature is that we are sneaky little things and we tend to find a loophole. When someone does snarf on a Twinkie or eat a half a bag of chips, they conveniently forget to write that down. Even when meals are planned out ahead of time, which is often suggested, rarely does someone cheating on a diet go back later and fill in the gaps with “2 Cadbury cream eggs, 11 french fries, and a glass of wine.”

The point is, maybe we should train ourselves to look regularly at what’s not on our calendar. What are the subtle ways that, in hindsight, we are undermining how we say we want to live and what we say we believe about how to go about doing so. It’s easy enough to review our day in big picture mode. But that doesn’t always highlight the details-what’s in the background. Recently, I have been working on Step 10 of a recovery program. The principle is one I think anyone could learn from: “We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.” A quote from a reading on this step points out that “the wise have always known that no one can make much of his life until self-searching becomes a regular habit, until he is able to admit and accept what he finds, and until he patiently and persistently tries to correct what is wrong.” We could prevent much suffering and heart-ache for ourselves and those we love if we would make a habit of this daily reading between the lines. What happened in the gaps, when no one was looking? Perhaps we should look for areas where we have been self-centered, jealous, prideful, judgmental, angry, vindictive, bragadocious, sharp-tongued, arrogant, unforgiving, fearful, short-tempered, or lustful. Any of these, in word or deed, are deadly. They may not kill you immediately, but over time, if they go un-checked, they will lead you to those dark, secret places that you would never write down in your day-timer or schedule as a reminder on your mobile device.

Please hear me on this. This is an opportunity for you to be honest with yourself for the sake of growth and guarding your heart. Looking back on your day can help you identify areas that you strayed from what you know to be true of who you are or want to be in your soul of souls, it is not a time set aside for self-flogging.

But hear me on this as well; if you ignore the maintenance of your soul, the rot will come. The axiom of the “slow fade” is tried and true. That author did not set out to deceive his readers. He simply ignored and avoided a regular review of the subtle seeds of envy (of someone else’s life, or wife), pride (I am above that sort of thing), and lust (meeting legitimate needs in illegitimate ways). Most people don’t set out to steal money from their employer (it started with fear, selfishness, and greed that went unchecked for too long) or physically harm or kill another person (festering rage and unresolved resentments grew too big for them to contain). You get the idea.

So I am asking you, and I ask that you ask yourself on a daily basis,

“what’s NOT on your calendar?”

Control, Recovery, Special ed pre school, Uncategorized

Never Cut Your Own Hair (from the series “Everything I Need to Know I Can Learn In Special Ed Pre-School”)

Yesterday I was reminded, yet again, that “Everything I need to know I can learn in Special Ed Pre-School.” (See previous blogs in this series). It’s a simple, and seemingly logical rule of life that all too often, one has to learn the hard way: “Never cut your own hair.” I was sitting with an adorable 4 year old, admiring her new hair style. I asked her if she had cut her own bangs. She started to say “no” and then confirmed pretty quickly that indeed, she had cut them herself. The others teacher asked, “and who is the only one who is supposed to cut your hair?”. “The barber,” she replied confidently. Clearly, she had been coached. Cutting your own hair rarely begins on ends well. I have a friend (who shall remain nameless) who cut her own hair into a mullet after a couple glasses of wine and and an Ambien. At the time, it seemed to her like a phenomenal idea and, until she woke up the next morning, she thought she looked like a rock star (In some ways, she probably did!)! I have personally never cut my own hair, but I do recall that when I was in junior high, I took it upon myself to cut my little sister’s hair. It was all one length and my friend and I decided she would look better if we cut it into a bi-level. I know I didnt’ ask my mom’s permission but as I recall, we didn’t have to hold my sister down or anything so I took that as a sign that she was open to the idea.

There are a few valuable lessons we can learn from these scenarios if we are willing. Regarding cutting your own bangs…this is an impulsive act. It’s one that’s taken with very little thought about the outcome, the consequences or even the reason behind it. This is something we do without considering if it’s the wise thing to do. Our society thrives on impulsivity. We are offended so we lash out without hesitating or considering the devastation of the aftermath. We send that text we shouldn’t have and hurt people. We flirt or flatter someone other than our spouse. We lash out at those we love or even complete strangers because we are on edge about something that has nothing to do with them. We can avoid so much needless pain for ourselves and other people if we will take a moment. “Pause, pray and proceed.” Or often, DON’T proceed.

And then there’s the mullet catastrophe. How often have we made decisions that seemed like a good idea at the time, only to regret making such decisions while in our previous state of mind. Sometimes people call or text or act when affected by alcohol and get themselves into big trouble. This is clearly a common problem since apparently there is a feature on cell phones that can prevent you from calling certain people you tend to “drunk dial”. Sadly, we are relying on a mobile device to filter out or bad decisions. But let’s say this isn’t you. Maybe consider the times you have made a rash decisions when you were angry or your feelings were hurt or you were feeling slighted in some way. Maybe you have written off a friend or a spouse because it felt right to you at the time. Often, instead of waiting until morning to decide if we actually have what it takes to sport a mullet, we make decisions when we are not in our right minds and end up with deep regrets. Getting your spirit right with God and reasoning things out with another wise human being before taking actions that could render long-term consequences will help you live in harmony with yourself and others.

And cutting someone else’s hair, well, that’s just idiotic. This is what happens when I think I know what’s best for someone else. I am quite sure this has been a problem for me since I began my “hair-cutting career” as a junior higher. I have spent way too much time trying to get other’s to live the way I think they should live. Trying to guide them in the way I think they should go, without considering that God might have a whole different plan for them. I am not All-Knowing. I don’t see what goes on in the depths of their spirit. I don’t know the circumstances God has aligned to lead them to a relationship with Him and to a life of freedom. It’s not my job to “cut their hair” and frankly, my skills are not stellar in that area.
While all of these stories made me smile, the ways I have related them to my every day life do not. I am not proud of the times I have made selfish, impulsive decisions without considering the ramifications of them. I am embarrassed of how many times I have made decisions to take actions while affected by alcohol, anger, hurt or fear. And I am fairly certain that just the other day, or maybe that was this morning, I was trying to manipulate someone into doing what I thought was best for them.

Oh, the things you can learn from a sweet little girl with quarter-inch bangs…