Old dog, new trick

I worked on my last blog post, “Choosing Community” for a couple of weeks — drafting, re-drafting, revising, and deleting. It was late Sunday morning, and finally satisfied with what I had written, I decided to publish. During the last hour or so of wordsmithing and fine-tuning, I had noticed a message in the upper right hand corner of my drafting screen; it was in a red font that probably even used the word ‘warning’. I think it said something to the effect that my ‘latest changes hadn’t been saved’. I shrugged it off and clicked the ‘publish’ button. Hm. Nothing happened. Ok, I thought, I guess I’ll refresh the screen, then the ‘publish’ button will surely work.

Click.

Gasp!

My latest changes had really not been saved. (Imagine that!) The last hour or two of work was lost. “I feel sick!” I said out loud. “Why didn’t I copy and paste to Word before I tried to refresh the screen? How am I going to recreate what I had? Why can’t I just slow down once in a while?”

I’ve had many of these kinds of moments in my fifty-two years of life.

So many.

Why didn’t I just look in the rearview mirror before I backed out of the garage into the car that was parked behind me? 

Why didn’t I let the housecleaning wait while I took a short nap? 

Why did I use that tone when I spoke to that child?

Why did I drive in that snowstorm? 

How did I miss that?  What was I thinking?  What is wrong with me?

Sometimes late at night, like tonight, I lie down to try to sleep, and as I close my eyes, I  see a replay of all the missteps and poor choices I have made in my life.  It’s like watching a blooper reel, only I’m not laughing.

Instead, I’m fretting. My heart rate is increasing. I’m finding it hard to breathe.

If only I had _____________, then ___________________.

Over and over and over again.

Why do I punish myself so? Where did I get the idea that I would never make mistakes–that I would be a perfect daughter, friend, mother, wife, employee?  Who told me that every mistake I make would have dire and irrevocable consequences for me and all the people in my life?  I know who — me, that’s who.

I let everything weigh too. darn. much.  I’m still kicking myself for a frustrated comment I made to one of my kids around 2001.  Seriously.

As my therapist says, my expectations of myself are so high, not even I can see them.

So tonight, on the eve of my fifty-second birthday, I am deciding it’s time for a change.  This old dog is about to learn a new trick.

Today and yesterday, as I was driving to and from work, appointments, and errands, I was listening to an episode of the podcast Invisibilia, called “Emotions” (if you’d like to listen to it click here).  The episode discusses a different way to look at emotions (most of which was over my head but some of which was quite healing and liberating).  One liberating part was the idea that emotions are learned and so can be re-learned or re-directed.  The podcast, which cites the research of a professor at Northeastern University, in no way implies that emotions should be stifled or disregarded. (I’ve tried that strategy, thankyouverymuch.)   Instead, it suggests that we often experience emotions in light of constructs that we have been taught or have believed about ourselves or about the world.  For instance, I have, for whatever reason, long held the unspoken belief that I have to be right, even perfect — getting it wrong is unacceptable.  This simple subliminal construct — ‘I need to be right’ — has shaped the way I have experienced failure.  If I miss an item on a test, let down a friend, or break a glass while doing dishes (which I do about once a week), I have failed.  Imagine all the mistakes an average human makes in any given day and you will have a rough estimate of how many times a day I consciously or unconsciously give myself the message that I am unacceptable.

Yeah.  It’s pretty toxic.

Now imagine if I shifted my thinking to be based on the construct that ‘All of life is a series of missteps that provide opportunities for growth.’   If I lived my life based on this construct, I would expect myself to make several mistakes during the day,  and rather than judging or belittling myself, I would instead search around each ‘oops’ for the growth or learning opportunity. I would make no fewer or no more mistakes, I would just have a different emotional experience.  Instead of viewing a torturous blooper reel when I close my eyes,  I might drift off to sleep watching a highlight tape.

Sound too Pollyanna-ish? I don’t think so.  I think it sounds life-changing.

Get this — on Sunday, after I took a few minutes to accept the fact that my ‘final draft’ was evaporated, I sat back down and finished my blog post for the second time.  It didn’t turn out the same as the lost version. As a matter of fact, as I was rewriting, I was still processing my thoughts about community, and I wrote myself to some different ideas than I had in the previous version.  My mistake allowed me an opportunity to think a bit further about my experiences in community.   My ideas had more time to flesh out before I finally hit ‘publish’.

Before I had even listened to the podcast, I had been provided an example of the concept that it was presenting.

Yesterday morning, a friend and I had a quick exchange of text messages which ended with her saying, “I don’t believe in coincidence,” and me responding, “Neither do I.”

This morning my first errand was to drive to a hair appointment before work.  In autopilot, I took the exit that I typically take to work which was not in the direction of the hair salon.  The exit ramp landed me in the middle of a traffic jam.  I was at a juncture — I could belittle myself for not paying attention, or I could lean back in my seat and soak up the podcast. (Yes, I was at that very moment listening to the podcast about shifting mental constructs to allow for different emotional experiences.)   The funny thing is, I knew it was a juncture.  I took a deep breath and thought to myself, “Ok, I guess we’re gonna go this way today.”

It’s a small step toward a huge change.  I am not expecting that I will notice each and every juncture like this. Because mental constructs reside deep beneath the consciousness, they have the power to shape our experience in very subtle ways. I’m going to miss some opportunities; I’m going to make some mistakes.

Nevertheless, I am hoping over time to shift from self-deprecation to tender grace.  It’s gonna take some time, but I do believe this old dog can learn this new trick.

Romans 12:2

“be transformed by the renewing of your mind”

 

 

 

Just a little Crabby

I’ve been a little crabby lately.  I’m not new to this experience. In fact, my high school senior class voted me ‘moodiest’.  Yeah, nice of them; I know.

When I was a child, I was often scolded for crying too much, laughing too loud, and pouting too long.  I felt things — excessively.   I stomped, I slammed, I wailed, I jumped up and down, I yelled, and I screamed.

Most of these emotions were the response to the every day experiences of a kid — if my brothers picked on me or I didn’t get my way, I often cried to my mother, wailing about the injustices of life. If I got a good grade or a new pair of jeans, I likely beamed from ear to ear and informed everyone in my immediate vicinity.  If something was funny — I laughed. Loudly.  (I think my laugh will have its own blog post one day; I’m not sure I can contain it in one little sentence or paragraph.)

Anyway, early on I established myself as an emoter.  As time went by, I learned that not everyone is fond of such demonstrations of feelings, so I tried to contain them.  Really, I did.  I tried to bridle my tongue.  I tried to put the best construction on everything.  I tried to look at the bright side.  And guys, I have succeeded from time to time. I have; ask anyone!

But when the rubber hits the road, I am what I am.  And sometimes, friends, it ain’t pretty.

In fact, over the years, as I’ve mentioned in this blog, I have engaged in therapy to work through my feelings about all the events of life.  I wasn’t just sitting at home sipping tea when the idea popped into my head, “You know, I think I will go see a counselor and examine my feelings.”  No, it looked more like sobbing into a pillow feeling hopeless, yelling irrationally at a family member, or locking myself in the bathroom to rearrange a cupboard when we really needed to get in the car because we were expected at a social engagement.  I’ve gone to therapy because my feelings and my inability to appropriately process them mandated a change.

During a couple of those periods, my health care professionals suggested that I try taking anti-depressants.  Indeed, many members of my family have struggled with depression over the generations; I am a bit pre-disposed.  And, to be honest, these medications served their purpose for a period of time.  The first time, I only used them for about a year, if I recall.  Recently, I have been taking a low-dose of zoloft for about seven years. I like to think that this medication has dialed my emotions back a little and has allowed me to manage some very difficult periods.

Some people don’t like to talk about such things, but I think we’ve already established here that very few topics are off limits for me.  I don’t think taking zoloft is any more taboo than taking amoxicillin. They are both pharmaceuticals that work with the chemistry of the body to affect change. I’ve taken plenty of amoxicillin in my day; I’ve also taken zoloft.

On my current quest toward wellness, I have fallen out of love with traditional medicine, particularly the pharmaceutical industry.  (That’s a topic for another blog post.) I have found the most benefit for my personal maladies in less conventional methods –dietary choices, exercise such as yoga, pilates, and swimming, visceral physical therapy, nutritional supplements, and homeopathic remedies.   I took the risk of eliminating my biologic and anti-inflammatory medications at my doctor’s suggestion and found that my symptoms, after a period of adjustment, were no worse without them.   So together we decided that I would take the next step and gradually and cautiously reduce my anti-depressant dosage.

When I first eliminated my anti-inflammatory medication, I was pretty miserable.  My body, used to having that drug, rebelled when it was deprived.  My pain levels increased predictably.  My fatigue also increased.  My doctors warned me this would happen.  I expected two to three months of adjustment, and that’s about what I got. Eventually my body adapted and created its own response to the pain.  Now, several months later, my pain is at the level it was while on the medication.

So I don’t know why I didn’t expect a similar transition period when weaning off zoloft. Maybe because I was on a low dose to begin with.  Maybe because I am taking three months to totally remove it from my system.  Maybe because my life is so much different now than when I first started taking it so many years ago.  I expected to gently slide through the transition with little to no difficulty.  And truly, the first three weeks were pretty easy.  However, I’m no doctor, but I can tell you that the levels of zoloft in my blood are lower this week than they were last week.

I’m quicker to the snap.  I’m edgy.  I’m surly.  I’m easily irritated and slow to recover.

It’s to be expected.  So why do I judge myself so harshly for this?  I didn’t judge myself when my pain increased; why do I judge myself when my irritability increases.  After all, both changes are a response to a chemical change — a withdrawal from medication.

I want so badly to have a good attitude about all of this.  I want to be able to smile in the face of adversity.  I want to be understanding when Verizon can’t figure out my technical issues after an hour each on live chat, the telephone, and direct message. I want to laugh, loudly and often.  I want to smile, genuinely.  But guys, I’m a little (ok, a lot) crabby at the moment.  It is what it is.  This too shall pass.

Romans 8:18

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing

with the glory that will be revealed in us.

All the Feelings, Re-visit

This post, originally written in January 2016 and cleaned up in April 2019, speaks directly to some of my thoughts in “It’s About Time.”

The inclement weather has given me another day of virtual stillness and I am noticing that when I am still, I think about the words that others have said, and I have time to consider them fully.

I don’t always like considering the words of others, you know, fully,  because then I get, you know, feelings. And feelings make me, you know, feel things. 

As a child and adolescent I felt a lot of things. I was an emoter. Ok, ok, I know I still am, but back then, I felt things in ways that other people could feel. I remember being told that I laughed too loud and cried too much. I can picture my chubby-cheeked, blonde-headed self, being told that it was time to leave my grandparents’ house, protesting with angry face, stomping feet, and clenched fists. I can feel my throat tighten and tears spill down my cheeks as Frosty the Snow Man melted into a puddle. I remember stomping through the hallways at school or flinging myself onto my bed and wailing into my pillow when I felt wronged by a friend or a boyfriend. Yes, my whole being knew how to feel things.

Now, I learned, for the comfort of others, not to be quite so demonstrative. I mean, it’s not socially acceptable to have all the feelings. In fact, I remember my cooperating teacher, during my student teaching experience, telling me to ‘not wear my heart on my sleeve’. Well, where else was I going to wear it?

Over the years I have tried to peel my heart off my sleeve and shove it deep in an interior pocket. I have attempted to push feelings deep, deep down into my subconscious self. And while I may have quieted some of my outbursts and hidden some of my feelings from my own awareness, my face has often revealed what my guts are feeling, even when my mind hasn’t gotten the memo. People around me have seen my truth-telling face and have taken meaning from it. They have picked up that I am angry, apathetic, shocked, judgmental, or horrified, even when I haven’t realized those emotions myself.

In my younger days, when I was using the full-body method of emotional experience, I often lost blocks of time to tears, flailing, and, shall we say, “verbalizing”. It was loud. It was messy. It was not concerned with productivity. Perhaps one benefit to tucking hurts away and refusing to indulge them is the ability to get a bit more accomplished. And it just so happens that I like getting things done, so a way of life commenced. I often refer to this time in my life as ‘soldiering’.

I became too busy to attend to emotions. Soldiers don’t have time for feelings. They are kicking butts and taking names. They don’t feel sad about it. And, they don’t really care if you feel sad about it. They have a job to do, dammit. So, either help or get out of the way.

Yeah, that has been me for a very long time. I have pushed people aside without considering how they were feeling. I wasn’t intending to do that.  Really. I was just on a mission. I was focused.

Here’s the thing, though. The people who love you don’t really care if you are on a mission. They just need you to care. They need you to stop butt-kicking and name-taking for a minute so that you can see that they, too, are having some feelings. They might also be trying to shove their feelings into their subconscious, but if you stop moving, you might see that their faces are revealing what they aren’t even aware of. You might be able to pick up that they are hurt, shocked, angry, lonely, overlooked, or terrified.

And when you see that, you can sit down beside them and be still with them together. You don’t have to have an answer. You don’t have to solve the problem. You just need to sit in the stillness with them, which will give them the time and the permission to feel — to really feel.

And when we feel together, we are joined by bonds that are not soon separated.

Aren’t those bonds far more valuable than all the butt-kicking and name-taking in the world? Yes. The answer is yes. Learn from me, grasshopper.  Take time in the stillness to feel all the feelings.

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for a friend.

John 15:13

Music

A video is circulating on Facebook that shows a young man sitting quietly at  baseball game when Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” begins to blast from the speakers.  The music pulls him out of his seat and he is transformed into an exuberant happiness machine — moving among those seated around him, touching them and hugging them.  The people are not troubled by this, as you might expect.  The music has transformed them, too — they are touched by the young man’s happiness and willing to be part of his experience.

Music transforms us. 

I’ve always loved riding in the car with my daughter.  Something about moving along the highway, windows down and radio blaring, frees her from her stresses.  She sings loudly and passionately with everything from  Queen to Billy Joel to Young the Giant to David Crowder to The Black Keys.  For a while, she kept a cowboy hat in the back seat so that she could pop it on her head when she drove to signify this freedom from life’s troubles and pure abandonment to the music.

Music frees us. 

This morning at Bible study, one of our ladies came in weeping as she announced that a close friend has just a short time to live.  Many shared their condolences.  Later, as we closed our time together, we had a corporate prayer as we always do.  Women took turns lifting their praises, thanks, concerns, and requests.  The time was winding to a close when the woman whose friend is dying said, “forgive me, a song just came to me.”  She began to sing and several around the table hummed along, joining her in worship.

Music consoles us. 

Also at Bible study this morning was a woman whose husband left his life with Alzheimer’s last week to start his life in Heaven.  She was beaming when she entered the room.  She had labored with him for five hard years and was so relieved that his battle was over. She pulled a folded paper from her purse that she had found this morning in her husband’s Bible — it noted the date and time when he had accepted Jesus as his Savior.  She said, “Isn’t that wonderful?!”  She asked us if we would join her tomorrow at her husband’s funeral.  “Won’t it be fun?!”  she exclaimed.

I knew what she was talking about because she attended the funeral for my dear friend just a few weeks ago.  I happened to catch her out of the corner of my eye as the praise music played.  I knew that at the time her husband was at home with hospice workers, but I wouldn’t have been able to tell you that from looking at her.  As she sang the songs, her hands were raised and her smile was wide.  I know she is looking forward to experiencing that again tomorrow.

Music transports us. 

Yesterday morning I attended a chapel service commemorating Veteran’s Day.  A few dozen veterans, some from World War II, some from Korea and Vietnam, some from the Gulf Wars, and some just starting their service, were seated near the front of the huge sanctuary.  The choir sang “O, Beautiful, for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain…”  As they sang verse after verse, I began to hear the voices of those seated around me –men and women in uniforms, jackets, and vests, denoting their service — began to sing along.  At first it was quiet, but it built, unashamedly — that song of unity.

Music unites us. 

It’s a gift, isn’t it.  We don’t need it, surely.  It’s an unnecessary blessing that breathes life into us, refreshes us, and inspires us.  Thank you, God, for music.

Psalm 96:1

Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth.

Sing to the Lord, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day.

He will wipe every tear from their eyes

Is it possible to have the spiritual gift of tears? I have often thought I could get a gig as a professional wailer for funerals.  When I was a child, I could be counted on to cry at any given occasion, usually because I wasn’t getting my way, but also because I was sad, or tired, or hungry, or one of my brothers had poked me one too many times.

As I grew older, something changed, and I don’t always produce tears on behalf of myself.  I might get a little choked up at a goodbye, but rarely do I really sob because of something that is happening to me or about me.

But let me see someone I love hurting, and look out!  I don’t even really need to know what they are hurting about.  If someone dear to me has a tear in her eye, my eyes will well up to match it.  If someone I know has lost someone dear, I will weep with them.  But what’s really weird is the fact that I can see a total stranger sobbing and I, too, will feel overcome with emotion.  Does everyone do this?  Or is it just me?

Yesterday, I had a good reason to cry.  I attended the memorial service for a dear friend who died almost one month ago.  I hadn’t seen her in three years, so it’s not like I will miss our daily interactions.  She holds a dear place in my heart because of her impact on my life, but I am actually thanking God for taking her after eight long years of battle with breast cancer.  My body sighs relief to match her relief.  But, despite the fact that I am happy for her, I sobbed yesterday.

And, not really for myself.  I think I can be honest about that.  The service was at the church she had belonged to for twenty years — where she and her husband had raised their daughters. Many friends had come to share in the celebration of a woman who certainly beamed joy into every room she entered.  All the music was up-beat praise music, which is what my friend and her family loved.  It all proclaimed the hope she had in Jesus and the certainty of her salvation.  None of this made me cry.

What made me cry was watching the back of her tall, broad-shouldered husband of forty years, standing in the front row without her, singing the words of the songs, nodding his head in agreement. What made me leak tears was seeing her daughter embrace her granddaughter, sharing tears of loss and sadness.  What made me sob was watching her other daughter stand erect and sure, dabbing at her eyes, then walking to the front of the church to share beautifully her mother’s legacy which she challenged friends and family to carry on.

My day to day life will not be changed because my friend has changed addresses.  The lives of her family will never be the same.  For them, I wept.  For them, I pray for comfort.

Revelation 21:4

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more,

neither shall their be mourning, nor crying, nor pain any more…

Rejoice always?

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing,

give thanks in all circumstances

I Thessalonians 5: 16-18

Seriously?

Anyone who has known me for any amount of time knows that I am not very skilled at concealing my emotions.  If I am mad, my jaw is set, my gait is clipped, my words are sharp.  If I am sad, my face droops, my steps drag, I grow silent.  My demeanor can do nothing but reflect what is going on inside of me.  I am not one of those people who can just smile and say that everything is fine when actually, it isn’t.

So, I struggle with these directions from Paul.  I can’t be fake; it’s not in my DNA.

In fact, way back in 1988 when I was doing my student teaching at Concordia High School in Fort Wayne, Indiana, one of my cooperating teachers told me that in order to be a better teacher, I had to ‘stop wearing my heart on my sleeve’.  He wasn’t the first one to tell me to check my emotions.  It started with my great grandmother, Elsa, bless her heart, who told me that my face was ‘going to freeze that way’.  True.  And, I’ve already mentioned that I was voted ‘moodiest’ by my high school classmates.

I actually don’t think I was any moodier than anyone else, I just was incapable of containing it.  I ‘wore it on my sleeve’.  Yeah, not very attractive.

So, when Paul says, ‘rejoice always’, I think “Well, dear Paul, I will rejoice when there is a reason to rejoice, and mourn when there is a reason to mourn.”  And then I remember that there is, for me, always a reason to rejoice.  Even when I was a hormonal adolescent, I did actually have friends who cared. When I was overwhelmed with student teaching, I had already found my future husband who had been crafted by God just for me. When I was fighting my way through the metaphorical desert in St. Louis, even though it was a difficult time, God was still providing for our family in every way.  I did have plenty of reasons to rejoice.

However,  I did also have reasons in all of those circumstances for legitimate emotions — sadness, anger, frustration, hopelessness.  But, I believe that humans are complex enough that we can simultaneously mourn and rejoice.

On Sunday, I got a call from a friend who had recently lost her mother to cancer.  She is simultaneously mourning and rejoicing.  She is so sad for herself and her family because her mother was a gift from God. However, she is also rejoicing that her mother is with Jesus, free from pain, free from suffering.

Of course Paul’s instructions are right.  If the only good news we had was that God had sent His Son to die in our place and pay the debt for all our mistakes, that would be reason enough for rejoicing.  Wouldn’t it?  And yet, most of us who are able to read a blog on the Internet have so much more to be thankful for.  Even if our job is not what we had in mind, our family is struggling, our health is failing, and our finances are in the toilet, we can rejoice.

It’s important to see the next instructions from Paul — “pray without ceasing”.  Paul was aware of the circumstances that can cloud our reason for rejoicing. I mean, let’s be honest, he was continually run out of town, thrown in jail, beaten up, and yelled at. Yet he says to us, “give thanks in all circumstances.”  Really, Paul?  You’re locked in a jail, chained up, probably filthy and starving, and you are ‘giving thanks”?

I can only conclude that Paul was able to rejoice and give thanks because of the fact that he ‘prayed continually’.  In the middle of his circumstances, he acknowledged that God was God and he was not.  He knew that God was holding him in the palm of His hand. He lifted up his situation to God and then trusted that God would “work all things together for good”.

It’s hard to be thankful and rejoice when I feel like I have to solve all of life’s problems by kicking butts and taking names.  It’s much easier when I acknowledge that I don’t have control of the situation, but God does.  He loves me and has always done what is best for me. When I release my stuff up to Him, and offer Him thanks and praise,  I always end up rejoicing.

Ok, Paul, I admit it.  You’re right.