“Stop reading the directions,” I say.
“I’m not reading the directions,” he says.
“But it looks like you’re reading the directions and that makes me nervous.”
“It’s called a checklist.”
Greg and I have this conversation every time we get into a plane together. I’m all ready to go, but we have to sit at the end of the runway while he fiddles with a laminated piece of paper. It feels to me like a brain surgeon who is leafing through a copy of Human Anatomy on the bed tray right before the anesthesiologist walks in with the gas mask. It’s not right.
But it’s not like that at all. He tells me, “All pilots have a checklist. It’s standard.” And when he says it for the fiftieth time, he doesn’t even tack on “you moron” at the end of it.
One time Greg skipped something on the checklist. He was flying with a pilot who had over 10,000 hours. This guy was so important that his picture was on the cover of a magazine for pilots. So Greg didn’t make sure this guy latched the passenger door because he figured that guy knew, “Shut the door,” was on the checklist, similar to how Bill Gates might know to reboot before doing anything else.
At 700 feet in between towers and power lines and tall Orlando bank buildings, the door blew open.
I don’t know a ton about flying, but I know that sudden changes in air pressure that slow an airplane to stall speed isn’t ideal at such a low altitude.
Greg called in a landing that wasn’t on the flight plan. He held the flapping passenger door with his right hand (which was too much for the co-pilot to hold down alone), flew the plane with his left hand, and put the plane on the ground. I think this is why Greg is always first-picked during group games.
I think it was easy for Greg because I was not complaining from the backseat that we were all going to die in the lousiest way. (The reason I did not complain is not because I had developed self-control and poise at this point in my life but because I wasn’t there.)
So he tells me, “That’s why you have a checklist.”
Everyone has a checklist. Whether it’s a laminated index card or an app with a jazzy ringtone reminder, we have checklists. It’s there in our routines, like the way we march in a zombie-like state to the coffee maker every morning. There are checklists we go over before leaving the house. Unless you are an eight-year-old boy with blond hair and freckles, you never leave the house without brushing your teeth or putting on your shoes.
Some of the things on my checklist are: get to bed early, don’t get worked up over stupid stuff, and stop biting the insides of my mouth so my dental hygienist will be proud of me on the next visit.
Everyone sets goals whether or not they write them down. You can know what someone’s goals are by the way they spend their time. Do not ask, “What are your goals?” Ask instead, “What are you doing with your time?” and then you will know what their goals are without all the lofty talk.
Over the years, I’ve made all kinds of checklists: lose weight, grow our businesses, and water the seeds of our spiritual lives. I’ve grown gardens, made wise investments, and even walked around the block every day for a whole week.
I’ve gained 10 pounds, closed up a failed business, and spent hundreds of hours watching murder mysteries hoping to find solace in the comfort that someone else’s life is really worse than my own. This happens every winter.
One of the mesmerizing things of being the mother of small children for so many years in a row is that you think those days will never end. But here I am without a baby or a preschooler, and it’s like I’ve woken up in a hotel room and I’m not sure what city I’m in. It’s foggy and confusing. And it takes a few minutes to adjust, to remember where you are, what time it is, and what you’re supposed to be doing.
I’ve had the same checklist for many years, and now I need to reconsider what is supposed to be on it and what can be taken off. For example, it is probably time to eliminate, “You just had a baby. Go ahead and eat a cookie.” Maybe I can replace it with, “You’re teaching a 16-year-old boy how to drive. Go ahead and eat a cookie,” this time with an exclamation point. I am kidding, but I’m not kidding. Time is speeding up and so we ought to pay attention.
When I said earlier that I was guilty of distraction, what I really mean is that I have been filling time with stuff that doesn’t matter so I don’t have the time to do the things that I know are worthwhile. Donald Miller mused in one of his books, “If you aren’t telling a good story, nobody thinks you died too soon; they just think you died.” You can’t buy, borrow, or slow down time so it seems to me that I shouldn’t treat it as though it were unlimited.
It has been two and a half years since I bled on the internet, and today I am going to break that streak. Let’s give it a whirl. What the heck. YOLO.
Fear has always controlled me. When I was 17, I went camping with a couple of college friends. I know I’ve already told this story, but there is nobody here to stop me from telling it again. Plus, stories always get better the more times you tell them.
We went horseback riding. This is something I’d never done before. As I was getting into the saddle, the horse got spooked and took off. I hung onto this galloping horse. It seemed like I held on for an entire mile, but since my mind is prone to hyperbole, I will guess it was probably closer to 100 yards. I held on as I got jostled, bumped, and thumped. My brain sloshed a little in my head.
Then I fell off of the horse in a pile of crumpled bones and tears. I can not remember if these were tears of pain or humiliation, but considering how well I know myself now, I am guessing they were for both reasons.
My friends – and I am debating if I should put that word friends in quotes since they caused the whole thing — caught the wayward horse. Then I got back on it. The reason I got back on the horse was not because I was thinking, “What do you do when you fall off a horse? Get back on it,” but rather, I got back on the horse because I couldn’t walk back to camp. I have a lot of fears, but at the end of the day, I think we should be practical.
Which is to say, if I ever do anything brave, it is not because I’ve overcome some fear or personal hangup. Instead, the reason I do brave things is often because there is only one way out– on the back of a cranky horse. There are brave people in this world, but I am not one of them.
I recently read Khaled Hosseini’s novel, And the mountains echoed. In it, one of the characters notices that people think they live by what they want, but what really guides them is what they’re afraid of. There is so much richness in that idea that I can barely stand it.
I am afraid of everything: not being good enough, brave enough, strong enough. I’m afraid that when I die, nobody will come to my funeral even if the World Cup is not on TV. I’m a champion of seeing the truth in other people but terrified of what that looks like in me. I’m afraid of the IRS, which is understandable. I’m afraid when my faith takes a meandering path heavenward and not a straight one. I’m afraid of heights with edges. I’m afraid of the boogieman.
I’m afraid of living a life that is meaningless. If you remember Freud from high school psychology class, you know that he said that man’s greatest desire is for pleasure and that he will behave in a way that seeks his own pleasure. I’ve seen people on YouTube on Black Friday at the local Walmart. Nevertheless, many agree that Viktor Frankl had it more correct. He said that man’s greatest desire is not for pleasure but for a deep sense of meaning. When man can’t find meaning, he distracts himself with pleasure.
I am guilty of distraction.
I’m a huge Dr. Laura fan. I listen to her whenever I’m driving between 2 – 6 p.m., putting the program in the front speakers so the kids can’t hear.
Callers will often ask Dr. Laura how to change their feelings, and she will tell them to change their behavior. I like this.
I like this because it means that we are not animals guided by impulse but by meaning, made in God’s image. I like that we can behave kindly even when we are not feeling kindness in our hearts. I like the idea that maybe we can live fearless lives, not by actually being fearless at first, but by acting fearless. This is good news.
Greg’s work takes him out of town often, sometimes up to three weeks a month. This means I’m the one who has to get up in the middle of the night and check out the scary noises.
Two times the noises were distinct enough that I got my Rugar LCP, put an extra clip in my pocket, chambered a round, and prepared my mind to take care of business. Each step down the stairs, I repeated to myself, “I don’t care about your feelings.”
If someone breaks into my house, I promise the world that the intruder will face me first. Then they will tell the undertaker that maybe I was not just a scared little thing after all, and wow, she’s a light sleeper. One of the benefits of having high anxiety is that the spring is always coiled.
I want to approach the things that make me afraid– how silly I will look if I become more sentimental or the feeling in my stomach before I speak in public – like I approached the stupid horse in my college days or my imaginary intruders. Let’s do this. Not in a way that disregards intuition and caution, but in a way that doesn’t hand the keys to fear and beg to go for a little spin. Most people think they live what they want but what really drives them is what they’re afraid of.
I’m scared of writing in public. But….click….I hit publish. Just like that.
I’ve been reading a lot about failure lately. Some guy I like on the internet made a million dollars in a tech start up and then lost ten million. He’s depressed. Another person I know lost his dream job and now he has to do grunt work to make ends meet instead of chasing his dreams. He has a family to feed, and it’s a struggle.
Then there are the stories in the Bible I read at night to my children. God could have given us a list a rules, but instead, he gave us stories. Stories about people without sugar coating or airs. Stories about us.
Failure is a lot more interesting than success. People who are great at what they do — athletes, chess players, entrepreneurs — study their losses because you can learn a lot from a failure. Tell me your story of woe! Nobody wants to hear how great you are. We want to see a train wreck. It’s why reality TV is so popular. Maybe it makes us feel better about ourselves.
Or maybe we know deep down inside that life can cut you and somehow there is solace in knowing that you’re not the only one who bleeds. Or maybe sharing failure gives us hope– that something wonderful can be made out of a mess, that failure isn’t the end of the story. There’s more. The gospel is that kind of story, too. It’s beauty for ashes, a paradox of something from nothing.
But today I want to tell you about something I did right. I’m going to break my rule about not bragging. I want to tell you about a success I had instead of a failure. I know, who cares if I’m wonderful? But I will somehow manage to turn it into a train wreck, I promise.
Last week someone hurt my kid, and I got my feelings all bunched up in a wad. It’s embarrassing. I was, you know, that person who had “hurt feelings”, that person for whom you needed to walk around on eggshells. My feelings! But here’s what happened: I made the decision to shut up about it. Nobody knew anything about nothing. (Except the internet now.)
I had the opportunity to say something cruel, something sideways and sarcastic. Instead, I asked this question: How will you wished you behaved in the morning? And then I did that. I chose not to be my authentic self, because at the moment, my authentic self sucked.
This idea, the one of separating negative emotions from a situation, has worked well for me when I’ve used it. The problem, of course, is that I don’t use this idea nearly enough.
Why is it that some people give great advice but lead miserable lives themselves? Because when you’re giving advice, you are able to be objective and there is no baggage, no undercurrent, no “hurt feelings”. It’s easy. It’s objective. It’s simple. It’s plain. I have conversations with myself in the third person: Now, if someone came to you and said such-and-such and …..
When I saw my sister for the last time, I did not do this. I did not think, “Never mind your feelings. Never mind what anyone thinks. What will you wish you would’ve done when it is over?” At a time when it mattered, at a time when you can’t go back and apologize and fix things and have a do-over, that’s when I blew it.
And this is the train wreck. My sister was dying. I knew it. She knew it. We all knew it but we didn’t say it out loud. Those were the rules. She wanted to be hopeful and talking about her death took away that hope. Sometimes you let other people make the rules when it is their party, you know?
And so when I walked into her hospice room after the flight to Brussels, I saw her. The sight of her took my breath away, and I don’t mean that because I’m too lazy to come up with a better cliche’. I mean that it really caught me in my throat.
I was expecting to see my sister: hair gone from chemotherapy, battle worn and a little weary. Someone recognizable. When I think of my sister, I think of her straight teeth and her lizard tattoo and her blond hair. She is tall and thin.
But the truth is this: I wouldn’t have been able to recognize her if I did not have her room number and if I did not notice the familiar family picture on the bedside stand. Cancer chewed her up and spit her out right there on the hospital bed. It was not her, and I didn’t know what to do. It would be the last time that she was coherent.
I stood there. I waved my hand, and said, “Hey.” We’re supposed to act all hopeful and stuff (right?), so yeah, hey. Then, in between gasps of breath, she told me that hospitals are boring.
Not a day has gone by that I don’t hate myself for that.
I knew acting normal, like this was routine surgery for her gall bladder, was the wrong thing to do. The right thing is compassion and tears and hugging and I’m sorry if we all look so ridiculous. You let it go. She was dying — really dying — and I’m worried about looking stupid and thinking of ways to not cry. I blew the moment.
This is what I know: Compassion is always the right thing to do, even if you fumble when you do it. I don’t mean fake compassion, an “it was for the best” and a pat on the hand kind of compassion. I mean, the kind that twists your stomach. It is the thing that I want so badly from other people but I am so friggin stingy with it myself.
And I hate that. Sometimes what’s inside our hearts is an awful thing, like the feelings I had last week about someone who messed with my kid, and generally, I have no trouble letting that out. Some people call it sarcasm, but it’s anger that I choose not to control. I like to lash out when I’m angry, and I hurt other people because of it. I chose the right thing recently by closing my mouth, but that is not my usual choice. In fact, it’s so unusual that I wrote about it here and congratulated myself.
And then other times, there is something very beautiful inside our hearts – love and compassion and empathy and tears and friendship and adoration – but that’s the thing we keep bottled inside. We talk about stupid stuff instead.
At the end of my life, I want to have lived a vulnerable life. Vulnerability requires courage. It means seeing vanity as a sin worthy of hell fire, and not as an annoying little trait that I happen to have. It means a deep understanding of who you are before the heavens. It is understanding that the story of Job was about God and not about Job. It means an intentional death blow to the spidery, ugly roots of pride that extend into the deep corners of our hearts.
I know this. The kingdom of heaven is a paradox: Blessed are the poor in spirit– those who understand their true, poor state before a holy God– for theirs is the kingdom. It’s no use being strong and putting on airs. Nobody thinks you’re strong anyway; they just think you’re a jerk. And I’m so tired of being a jerk.
I hate birthdays.
Reason number one. You get older. That was fun when you were 15 going on 16 and got your driver’s license, but it’s not fun anymore. I’m 36 and what does that get you? Nothing.
I’m high risk for pregnancy now. I need routine blood work now and tests for diseases. I’m too old for staying out late but too young for a senior discount. Stuff is starting to hurt– stuff like staying awake all day long.
Reason number two (or sub point to reason number one). Women like men who are confident, but men like women who are beautiful. Too bad for us, but it’s true. Do you know why Lois Lane liked Superman but not Clark Kent? Obviously, it wasn’t his appearance, though the red cape is sort of suave. No, really. Come on, they were the same guy! They had the same looks, but Superman had swagger.
Men are lucky because they can just change their personality if it’s not working and complement their woman a whole bunch. It doesn’t matter if men are ugly. They just need to smell okay and get a job. But women? We have to dye our hair, shave, starve, pierce, shop, pluck, wax, maintain healthy pregnancies, and moisturize. It’s painful to be beautiful, especially if you want good eyebrows. And getting older makes this a whole lot harder. The upkeep is uphill.
As an aside, do young people say “suave”? No. Suave is a generic shampoo not a personality trait in a young man. More proof that I’m getting old.
Reason number three. Special days should be these days: St. Patrick’s Day, the day you beat a hard level on a video game, and the Fourth of July. Why? Because there are no expectations. We can all have a good time celebrating and nobody has to bring a present. Just fun, fun, fun. I like fireworks and food and music and talking about politics, theology, and the economy. That’s what we do at a Fourth of July picnic. So let’s do more of those.
When everyone forgets your birthday (which can happen if you’re not on Facebook), it can be a drag. But nobody forgets to bring the sparklers on the Fourth of the July or to wear green on March 17th, and most people aren’t in a bad mood on that day.
Have you ever noticed that young girls sing Taylor Swift songs about expectations of being rescued by a prince? That’s because life hasn’t ruined their hope and squashed all their expectations. Good for them. I read today that we are Easter people living in a Good Friday world. Young people are Easter people about to wake up in a Good Friday world.
Getting older means that time is almost up, and I’ve not had a chance to become an optimist. So now I’m mad about that, too.
Reason number four. Time’s almost up. Who knows how long we have left? But it’s shorter today than it was yesterday, and birthdays put a punctuation mark on that fact. What if I die and I’m still a jerk? What if I die and never capitalize on turning my bad qualities into assets? What if people say, “Good. Finally!” on my Facebook page after I’m gone? What if I have to leave the game with money on the table when I was just getting to the good part, the part where all this was strategically leading and going to come together perfectly? What if I die before I learn how to make good paragraph breaks? What if God brings me home before I’m finished? Are people with good theology allowed to say that or do I have to pretend that I don’t worry about it because worrying is a sin?
Reason number five. Pressure. What if your car breaks down on your birthday? That can ruin everything. The pressure for stuff to go well today is too high!
My kid has the stomach flu today, and I’m feeling like it’s about to hit me too. I feel awful. That’s why I decided to lay down today instead of throwing hay to the cattle, horses, and the lone sheep (that is for sale) this morning.
So now everything is worse, especially if nobody from the internet buys my sheep at a special low price in three E-Z payments. It’s pouring outside, and the hay is now wet. That’ll fix me. I should’ve done it earlier. Wet hay bales are heavy, and I’m a wimp. A slacker! My son has a 103 temp, and so that leaves me to do the dirty deed even if I have a headache and have to throw up. And now I’m pathetic too!
Three people texted me about having a great day today. Well, that’s a lot of pressure when you’re having a day like this. Should I tell them? Would it obligate them to send another text saying they’re sorry?
What if the gift is this: that there are people who care that you have a good day in the first place rather than the fact that the stomach flu is about to descend upon your house and give you about 24 hours wishing for death some other way?
People on Facebook want me to have a great day. My ten-year-old gave me a hug. I got two cards in the mail, not counting the one from our auto insurance company. But what I really want is for the cows to stop bellowing. Really. Can’t they see it’s my birthday?
So happy March 8th to you. I bet it was good and you weren’t even expecting it. Those are the best kind of days.
The world is changing at the most rapid pace in history and flexibility is the key to keeping up. Last night I was talking about goals and educational paths with my older kids. I gave them this unsolicited advice, “Don’t go into manufacturing. That’s so last century. Don’t get a job doing customer service for computers. Those jobs are in India, and I won’t let you take my grandkids that far away from me.”
My oldest son wants to take a course next school year in video game programming. He thinks he’s going to get a good paying job writing code for his generation’s version of Donkey Kong. (What is his generation called anyway? Z? If so, what comes after Z?) I think we’ll start with C++ and see what happens. It’s more likely that he’ll write software for control systems for launch pads like his dad, but I didn’t want to tell him that just yet. What kind of adolescent male prefers blowing up things on a television screen over doing it in real life? Mine apparently.
I told my oldest daughter to get a degree in nursing. Healthcare is not going away. Jobs are plentiful and portable. Chances are really good that some fine gentleman will want to snatch her up and carry her away, so it’s probable that she’ll marry and have children. Nursing is one of those things that can be worked on a per diem basis as needed, unlike say, teaching kindergarten.
Nursing is a useful skill. Skills are important. I’m sure a major in art history with a minor in women’s issues is useful to some people, but not the kind of people who can pay you money.
My daughter said, “That’s nice mom, but I was thinking about being a dentist.” Her former dentist worked one day a week and drove a convertible, but I didn’t want to tell her there might be other reasons for that. I agree with the Beetles on this one, let it be.
No matter the unemployment rate, there is and always will be a short supply of smart people with a work ethic. Be one of those people. There are few of them and you will stand out like John Stossel at a teacher’s union meeting.
College is a huge waste of time for some things, but there are specialties which require hoop jumping. There are things in life that are stupid, and I don’t begrudge my kids for thinking so. But part of life is hoop jumping, and sometimes you have to figure out how to get inside the hoop and hula like it’s nobody’s business. For a few professions, college is one of those hoops.
Of course, I’d prefer my kids to find funding for a start up and make their first million before getting married and settling down doing charitable work, but I don’t want to project. It’s annoying. The point is flexibility, and that includes supporting my kids even when they don’t take my advice. Because they’ll have the grandkids, and I have to keep myself tolerable so they don’t move to India just to get away from me.
What is panic?
I don’t know what panic is, but I know what it feels like. Panic sets in the moment you bop one of your kids on the head in Wal-Mart. You feel this knot in your stomach, and then you look around to see if the Wal-Mart security camera saw you because you don’t want to be the next viral video of an angry mother on You Tube, especially if all the ad revenue goes to some 20-year-old security camera tech who never dealt with a toddler who wants a Sponge Bob cherry lollipop. (You can tell this is just a creative story, because I would never let my kids watch Sponge Bob. There is enough foul language in this house already.)
There was another time I panicked. Last summer, I boarded a train from Brussels to Paris for a day trip. I imagined I’d stroll down an avenue lined with cherry blossoms (even though it was summer) carrying a pink parasol (even though I do not own a parasol) and posting instagrams of the Eiffel Tower from my cell phone (without a signal).
That’s not what happened. When I got off the train in Paris’ north station, I looked around at the chaos and thought, “Uh. Now what?” I didn’t think about how I was actually going to get to famous places around Paris. I had no idea what to do. There were no tourist signs, no pictures of the Eiffel tower and an arrow pointing to the right, no glossy brochures, no little blue “i” information kiosks that I could inquire at.
So here I am in a foreign country alone– without a translator, a clue, or a plan. I can only ask three things in French, and one of them is highly inappropriate. (I got punched by my sister when I asked my French brother-in-law this question, so I knew it meant what I thought it meant.)
Eventually, I figured out how to ride the city bus to the Eiffel Tower, noticing that the stop I needed was the one when the bus driver yelled angrily at me. Afterward, I took a little canal ride that explains what the Notre Dame is for all the people who think it’s a football team. From there, I hiked to the Louvre museum and looked at the Mona Lisa even though I don’t know anything about art history. I just figured this was what you’re supposed to do if you go to a famous place.
So, I figured out how to navigate in another foreign country, but I will never forget that moment of initial panic when I got off the train. It’s exactly what I felt like after we bought rental properties and got a letter in the mail from the city saying that our building was 30 days from being condemned. True, one of these moments was infinitely more expensive than the other.
On the bus to the Eiffel tower, there was a Portuguese couple who were also having trouble with getting around the city. As they were talking to each other, I could tell that they were making plans. Together they were solving their dilemma. Neither of them spoke French, but they were figuring it out together. That’s when my panic turned into something else, and I knew what loneliness felt like too.
This might be one of those stories where you just had to be there…but anyway:
Last summer, I hopped a train from Brussels to Amsterdam for a day trip. In my pocket, I had a ticket, a few euros, my cell phone that was in the “off” position because I’m too cheap to pay roaming charges, and my passport, which was mostly unnecessary unless I was planning on going to the slammer.
That’s it. I didn’t even carry strawberry lip gloss in case I met a random Pierre who wanted to kiss me under a cobblestone bridge.
If I was smart, I would’ve had a multi-lingual traveling companion or at least a Dutch-English dictionary, but I’m wild about adventure. Or at least, I like to watch it on the teevee. Adventure is why I have six kids. Actually, I’m more of a big picture, concept person who likes to delegate details and worry about the particulars later. Pesky details are for the house help. (I do not have house help.)
On the way to Amsterdam, a French nun sat down next to me in the second class cabin. At the next stop, a dark-haired woman boarded the train and took the open seat on the other side of me. She was a prostitute. So there we were– one, two, three – quite the traveling parody.
My husband later asked me how I knew both of their occupations since none of us knew how to speak the others’ language ( <--subtle nuance alert), and I said, “There were both in uniform.” I was in uniform, too, with my sale-priced JC Penny pink v-neck sweater and kicky little gold hoops.
Well, this was just too dreamy. Maybe this was a movie. Irony is delicious to me. Do you ever feel caught in the middle of two extremes? I was feeling sure God had a sense of humor. That maybe the angels were teaching a lesson on superlatives -- clothed, clothed-er, clothed-est -- and they had to line us up to make the lesson easier to understand for the concrete thinkers in the group. Or maybe someone was just messing with me. Or maybe this is normal and I need to get out more.
I don’t know how or why it happened. I just know that there was a nun, a housewife, and a prostitute sitting in a row on a gray train one summer in Amsterdam. As it turned out, the nun’s train ticket was for the wrong day. Since I was paying attention, I looked at us all and smiled.
One reason I avoid writing is because I only like to do things I’m good at. Fear of failure is the reason I never auditioned for music school. I was afraid to fail; I was afraid to hear from yet another person that I wasn’t good enough. That, and I needed a way to make a living that didn’t involve a street corner and a hat on the ground with quarters in it. So I got a degree in education which is basically the same thing.
Writers do well to engage one of two things: great content or a willingness to bleed a little bit in public. The best have both; the worst have neither. The problem with my own situation is this. I live on a farm in the middle of nowhere, and sometimes the best thing that happens in a day is that a calf dies in a convenient spot. Plus, the kid that could be the subject of a few epic blog posts has asked not to be on the internet. Drats.
The other problem is one of vulnerability. I’m afraid of looking stupid. I hate appearing weak even though I am. So the whole writing thing is really just a huge therapuetic pain in the rear. Sometimes you dig into the deep recesses of your brain for ideas, and lo and behold, there’s nothing there. I hate those months.
When I wrote yesterday’s post, I hestitated with the story because I knew I was breaking a big rule. The rule is this: Good Christian mothers don’t put their children in daycare. (There’s probably another one about modesty and gym clothes, but whatever.) Of course, I’d argue that it was a wise decision given the circumstances, and puh-leez, there was a two hour time limit so I wasn’t exactly sipping margaritas in the jacuzzi while my children cried for me. But the internet wasn’t in full swing yet, and so all I had was the Bible and a low dose of prozac to inform my conscience.
I think this is the paragraph where I’m supposed to talk about how serious I am as a Christian, how much I want my children’s accomplishments to be known as something bigger than “Well, they don’t murder small animals.” Okay.
Sometimes God intervenes in postpartum depression with a miracle, and then other times, you just look at the options, piece together a plan, and muddle through to the other side- simply thankful to have made it there.
Real life is hard. Sin and imperfect circumstances aren’t things reserved only for the heathens and people who play Texas Hold ‘em with the rent money. Stuff finds us even when we don’t go looking for it. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. Sometimes it’s because we’re stupid, and sometimes it’s because sin touches us all like a cancer.
Ten years ago, I was a fitness maniac.
I’m being serious. I ran three miles every day, and then I spent another half hour lifting weights until I cried. And afterward? I would drink a spinach protein shake for lunch. I know, I know. Nobody believes me when I tell that story now. Everything jiggles when I walk nowadays, and not in a good way. So I understand their suspicion. Plus, everyone knows I won’t eat spinach anymore unless it has a glob of fried cheese on it. But trust me, I’m much more tolerable this way.
It’s just that the local gym offered childcare. The care included doing crafts with the kids– the kind of crafts from a woman’s magazine with glitter and glue and finger paint. A smiling staff equipped with a plastic knife to scrape the Play-doh out of the carpet? Sold!
Going to the gym was a perfect arrangement for our family during the preschool years. My husband worked long hours and traveled a lot. Exercising gave me the air I needed before spending the rest of the day breathing life back into three very small, needy children. This is what pulled me out of a deep postpartum depression, and as a bonus, my homeschooled children got to carry a fruity snack in a real lunchbox. It was a win-win.
I don’t think I ever saw that situation as a “problem” with a need for a smart, handy solution. When you’re in the middle of a crisis, you don’t always realize what’s going on. It’s easier to diagnose other people’s situations; solving your own problems is trickier and not nearly as entertaining as listening to the Dr. Laura program on xm in the afternoons. (Sue me.)
Sometimes I think back on those early days with nostolgia. It’s not just because I could walk up a flight of stairs without holding onto the handrails and getting winded. It’s because I saw myself as I was – tired and barely hanging on – and then I did something about it, something other than my usual complaining and excuse making. Making the decision to change my life was actually a pretty smart thing to do, even if it was a road I followed only because there was a dangling carrot disguised as preschool crafts.
I’m cognizant of these problem /solution scenerios because my oldest is a teenager, and my second oldest is about to take over the world if Goldman Sachs will let her. Now, I don’t see the teenage years as a problem, per se. I just mean that I foresee many more situations that need solving, paths that need choosing, and decisions that need praying over. I want the “Dora promotes witchcraft” mommy wars to please come baaaaack.
I want to know: What is the perfect time limit on movies and video games? How much work will grow my sons into men but not break their spirits? How can I know when to hold a hard line and when to back off and give them space? Are teenage males biologically incapable of putting a trash liner in the trash can? I just want to know.
I’ve noticed there’s not a secret, magic formula for getting it right. Sometimes we make decisions, and by surprise or sheer genius, we get it right. And then other times, we forge ahead in another direction, and egads, we realize that was not the right thing to do at all. (God, please bless all the firstborn children.) Praise Heaven for U-turns and forgiveness from the people you hurt along the way. Because I’m counting on it.
But, man, oh man. Someone please. Just give me a child who doesn’t need expensive therapy when it’s all over. Just one.
Life surprises you sometimes. Yesterday morning, for instance, I woke up and there was a newborn calf standing beside her mother. A heifer, even. My net worth went up about a hundred dollars just like that. My happiness meter went ding, ding, ding. She made pregnancy and childbirth look so easy that I had a good mind to slap her.
I love new babies on the farm. This thing about having human babies, though, was a different kind of surprise for me. None of my pregnancies went like the kind in the magazines with “Five foods to eat for a smart baby” on the cover. I didn’t glow; I didn’t nest; and I didn’t smile. Smiling was for happy people and toothpaste models, neither of which were me at the time.
Those years of pregnancy were hard. I vomited so long and so hard that I’m sure my leg muscles came out with the Phenergan. And if I had nerve to stop the laugh track and put on the creepy music, I would tell you that there were times I wanted to die so that the misery would end. Like a runner in the middle of a marathon, pain can make you feel like you’ve hit a wall and you’re not going to make it. If you keep going though, sometimes there is a second wind surprising you right around the second turn. And sometimes, you just drop.
Like I said in my last post, I got a surprise last year. One day I didn’t have a sister and the next day, I did –just like that. The shared childhoods folded into each other, and we didn’t have to try to think of something interesting to say to keep the conversation going. There she was– a friend who liked me because I’m loyal and fun and not because I made all the same lifestyle choices that she did. Pure awesomeness.
And just like that, one day it was over. The baby was born and the nausea was gone. My sister was here, and then she was gone. SURPRISE!… ugh, surprise.
Sometimes I wonder about the thing inside of us that keeps us going when misery is the easier choice.
There are surprises around the corner, and I wonder if it is hope that makes us look for the good stuff, even when we don’t always know we’re looking. Is it hope that helps us pay attention, that keeps us looking forward?
Last month, I read Unbroken. It’s a story about a U.S. soldier in a Japanese torture camp. The details are horrible. Since I spend my days vacillating between being a weenie and the incredible hulk, I figured that the latter would win and I would curl up in a ball and die if I were put in that situation.
But my husband likes to remind me (when he is not busy convincing me it’s improbable I’ll die in a murder mystery and that I don’t have to roll down the windows whenever we drive over a bridge) that God sends comfort to the afflicted, not the ones playing party games on a Friday night.
After bad things happen, I think it’s hope for present and future grace that causes us to get up one day and make a pizza with feta on it, not because that makes anything better but because it means we’ve not given up. In Hebrews 11, the faithful are commended for their desire for something permanent and lasting: “But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country.” (v. 16) And sometimes I think that it’s the prayers of the saints that delivers this comfort to us when we can’t reach out and grab it on our own.
Something bigger than duty causes us to fold a dishtowel in perfect thirds and give it a pat pat for good measure. We keep going. We do the next thing. And then all of a sudden, things are back to the new normal. Ordinary days creep back into your life in a slow way, as if to remind us that taking just one more step forward is the right thing to do.