Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Finding the pieces

I've never been a huge fan of jigsaw puzzles.  I mean, I see their value, and their place in the world of 'family game night'.  I think they have the potential be a fun family activity {so long as your family can work cooperatively without fighting over who places which piece and/or can avoid becoming bored or frustrated by the level of difficulty}.  It's not that I despise them, I just don't generally chose one as a pastime.

For me, they're not an accurate reflection of real life.  They're a snapshot of perfection, an image that's been specifically chosen for some sort of aesthetic appeal.  The image is carefully scored and cut into pieces with the intent of creating just enough of a challenge along the way, but will always result in a completed picture that fits perfectly within its borders.  The knobs and bumps of the individual pieces blend seamlessly to create a picture that looks like perfection when you're at a far enough distance away.

On the rare chance that I decide to dedicate some time to a puzzle, it's an activity of solitude.  Peace.  Kid-free.  And when I do work on a jigsaw puzzle, I start off with the highest of intentions.  Methodically, I pluck the edge pieces from the pile of knobby, bumpy mess that's scattered on the table before me.  My eyes scan for the straight sides that signify I've found a component of the barrier I'll be constructing later.

When I've unearthed all of the perimeter from the chaotic pile of cardboard chips, I place the corners.  The essential pieces that signify the outermost limits of width and height.  The vertices that encapsulate the world in which you're going to spend a span of time working and trial-and-erroring. Using those as a starting point, I begin snapping the remaining edges into place until finally, I've completed the frame.  It feels good.  I've got a neat and tidy little fence in which my entire puzzle world can fit.  The boundary is definitive.  Straight.  Perfect.

Not long after the feeling of accomplishment from that simple task wears off, my attention span tends to waver.  At some point, the momentum and excitement shifts.  I just want to get 'there'.  I want the finished puzzle before my eyes, whole and complete and beautiful.  I crave that feeling of satisfaction I just know I'll have when I see what I've created with my own hands.

But 'there' seems sooo far away.  I get distracted.  I become overwhelmed.  I try to work for as long as my eyes or my back or my kids will allow, hungrily scanning the daunting, jumbled pile of pieces; snippets of the whole I'm so eagerly hoping to create.  Generally, I find myself abandoning the project along the way; pushing it aside to make space for other activities in my life that give me a stronger sense of satisfaction.

My {dis}connection to the overwhelming world of puzzles bleeds out into my big, messy, real world.  I guess a more accurate statement would be that my big, messy, real world has leeched itself into every crack and crevice--even the leisure fun-for-some-not-for-others world of jigsaw puzzles.  Which doesn't bode well for my quixotic self who spends more time than I'd like to admit entranced by idealistic visions of *whole*, *complete*, *flawless* situations.

Social media plays a *huge* part in how we view the 'world' nowadays; snippets of perfection are shared daily, and I, for one, am just as guilty as the next person {somedays most days: more so}.  I have been known to conscientiously angle a picture *just so*, so as to avoid capturing the sink full of dirty dishes or pile of unfolded laundry that is the reality of my life, and the lives of pretty much every person I know.  I've been known to filter  bad and share the good, to become entangled in the web of 'me-too-but-here's-why-my-situation-is-so-much-better', and to portray an image of a life that looks whole and complete and idyllic.  I'm guilty of it.

The picture of what I have chosen to share with friends and family and the whole bigness of the world wide web is just that.  A picture.  An image that's been carefully selected to fit inside the frame of space into which I'm allowing you to glimpse.  And the real truth is that more often than not the picture I've posted is one of several I've snapped of the exact same shot, in an attempt to find the 'best' one.  {I'm sure I'm not alone in this truth.}

I've encapsulated an aesthetically pleasing image within the corners of my iPhone camera or my trusty DSLR.  I've made sure the pieces are in the 'right place' {like a clean(ish) background, a toddler who is fully clothed, or the obligatory mascara-ed eyes}, or have eliminated the pieces that aren't in the 'right place' {like dirty dishes, a toddler who isn't fully clothed, or the eyes that show a little too accurately the lack of sleep to which I have been gifted}.  I've taken those pieces, those snippets of what memories, smiles, hugs, and funny realities I'd like to archive and uploaded them from the safety and security of the veil of physical distance between us.  The knobs and bumps of the individual pieces blend in to create a picture that looks like{a valiant effort at} perfection wholeness.  You don't see the messes, the box of hair dye, piles of 'stuff', the complete picture.

The bigger, truer, more accurate reality I'm in the midst of isn't quite as 'whole' as is being portrayed on the screen {somehow, I don't think I'm alone on this one *wink, wink*}.  If it's a picture including me, I'm resting heavily on my beloved mascara and obligatory Instagram filters in an attempt to mask my true appearance.  When I share a little status update, it's usually taken a trip through Humorville.  Whether it's through a kid-conversation or a sarcastic dig at something that is a minor life annoyance {and more often than not, a first-world problem}, humor is one of my favorite tools.  The motivating quotes, thoughtful inspirations, or snippets of a current book I'm reading?  In all reality, I don't even really post those for anyone other than myself.  It's a quick and easy trick to take a screen shot, crop, and upload when I come across something I'd like to remember {but it makes my heart smile to know that those quotes speak to others as it has to me}.

The whole messy bigness of the real world in which we live is far, far from the reality of the jigsaw puzzle world.  The jigsaw world fits into a box.  The box yields a picture of the image you'll eventually create; should you stick with the process of correctly placing pieces long enough.  The pieces are all there for a whole, complete picture.  The edges are neat and straight with corners that turn at ninety degree angles and denote a specific boundary in which that idealistic world exists.  In the puzzle world, each piece has a whole posse of puzzle piece 'friends' who work together to offer support and keep each other in line right where they're supposed to be.

The messy bigness of the real world rarely {if ever} fits into a box.  Without a box, there isn't a way to contain the pieces that you'll encounter along your journey.  Without a box, there isn't a place to view an image of what your end result will be.  Sure, you can craft a picture in your mind, plant a seed of hope in your soul.  You can nurture your seed and sketch out your imagined picture.  You can be extra cautious and try to keep the messy, unwanted pieces of someone else's puzzle from infiltrating your space.  You can carve out spaces and places and time for solitude; opportunities for you to work peacefully on fitting more pieces into place.  But humans weren't created for long periods of solitude.  We are meant to connect.  We weren't put on this earth to live life in a neat little box, keeping all of our pieces to ourselves.  We are meant to explore.  To experience.  To share.  We weren't given a portion of edge pieces with which to build the boundaries of our image.  We were given pieces that are all shaped with bumps and divots and tongue-and-grooves.  Very few of our individual pieces bear any clues as to what the splotches of color will eventually create.

As we sift through our allocated pieces, we start to construct little patches that fit together well.  We find places in our lives where these pieces have begun to give us glimmers of hope.  And as we sort through our pieces; placing what we can, casting aside what we will come back to when we've got a little more of the picture complete, we quickly realize that the pile of pieces we have are not going to be enough.  So we look outward.  Look around.  Our eyes fall upon pops of color and wobbly, odd shapes that you just *know* will fit perfectly into your picture.  And so you approach the person possessing the pieces that you've spotted.  And depending on the kind of person you are, and the kind of person they are, and the circumstances under which you've encountered each other; you reach out and grab those oh-so-desired pieces.

Sometimes you'll snap them right into place out in plain sight, oblivious and uncaring of the response you may receive from others who are out seeking pieces for their own puzzles.  Other times, you'll feel a little more vulnerable, a little less willing to allow others to see just how those pieces fit into your own puzzle.  And all-to-often, there will be times that you'll swear you've found a piece that will fit, only to discover you're in the same conundrum Cinderella's stepsisters faced when presented with the glass slipper. Not right.  Too small.  Too big.  Too painful.  Too empty.  Not 'enough'.

Here's where we face a decision.  For some, the easier thing would be to ignore the gaps or grin and bear the pain so as to give the impression that we're a little 'more together' than we were before.  That our search for pieces wasn't fruitless.  The scary and less-traveled road tends to be the vulnerable path of transparency.  The place where you acknowledge that the pieces you tried simply didn't fit, didn't work, didn't help make you whole...and that you are no where near as 'together' as you had initially hoped to be.  Sometimes, it's the place to admit where you're worse off than you were before.  It's the space where you admit your brokenness.

Eventually, if you keep travelling down that path, you will stumble upon the place where you recognize that no matter how many pieces you get into place, there is a whole big, giant space for the largest piece of you.  That one cornerstone piece that doesn't have a definitive shape but somehow, without it, none of the pieces you've placed would stay in their spot for long.

What I came to discover is that even though I grew up going 'to' church, I wasn't making an effort to be 'at' church.  I wasn't connecting, I wasn't reaching, I wasn't seeking.  I was a box of random pieces, some that made sense; most that did not, and quite a large amount was missing.  I was going out on my own and looking for those pieces that would fit in my own puzzle.  While I was able to find a few, more often than not, I was facing the ugly stepsister syndrome.  Pretending, making-do, ignoring, grinning-and-bearing.

It hasn't really been until this past year, this past twelve months of latitudinal relocation and identity shifting and internal struggle and physical aching and giant gaping holes of uncertainty that I started to branch out into a wider excavation site for those missing pieces.  It didn't take but a few short minutes of driving one April morning, and a couple of curious steps into the church that we now call home for me to realize that I'd found the piece that fit perfectly into my whole, big, giant space of emptiness.

Does that mean that I'm now 'whole' since I've enthusiastically and passionately perused my Christian walk?  Absolutely not.

But, for me, what it means is that while I still may not have a picture of the image I'm working to create, I am more actively seeking to know the One who does hold that picture.  I'm finding that with His help, all of my other pieces seem to have a stronger hold in my life, and the pieces that haven't taken root simply fall out of the way to make room for those that will.  I'm more okay than I have ever been knowing that true perfection is not something I will ever be able to achieve here on this earth, because He is the only presence of perfection in my life.  And that's all I really need.

In finding His piece, I have found peace.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

A lesson in 'best'

Yesterday, my bubbly little kindergartner came bounding in the house after walking home from the bus with a 'very important message from the teacher'.  Her tone and word choice implied that she was mimicking exactly how her teacher has conveyed the information, an adorable nod to the pedestal upon which Brynn places the magical Mrs. J.  However, she didn't clue me right away as to the source of this message, so I was a bit confused {and attempting to wrangle a kid in the house and out of shoes while directing another to unpack his backpack}.

Loquacious 5 year old:  "Mommy, I need to make sure I get enough sleep tonight, I have to have a good breakfast in the morning, and it is super important that I'm on.time.for.school. tomorrow."

Multitasking mom: "Uh...okay.  Well, you always get a good night's sleep, eat breakfast every morning, and have never been tardy."

L5yo: "But it is VERY important that I do that tonight.  I can NOT be late tomorrow."

MM: "Um...you weren't late today, you weren't late yesterday, you won't be late tomorrow."

L5yo: "Okay.  Good.  Tomorrow is a VERY important day.  We are having a 'smartness test'."

MM: "A 'smartness test'?"

Interrupting 7yo: "Brynn, 'smartness' isn't a word.  {pause}  You won't do well if you use that word tomorrow."

MM: "Gav, knock it off. {internal smirk and high-five for his astute observation}  Brynn.  Tell me about this 'smartness' test.

L5yo: "I don't really know what it is."

I7yo: "Oh, that's grrrreat." {sideways glance met by my annoyed stare back in his direction}

L5yo: "Here, I have a paper all about it."

I7yo: "Don't you think you should have done that from the beginning?  

{smirk and high-five, dude.}

As it turns out, the 'smartness' test is in fact the CogAT, which will appraise the level and pattern of cognitive skill development for our loquacious 5 year old.  The school is testing every kindergartner, the results of which will be shared later in the school year.  I'm definitely intrigued to find out the results.  

Last evening, dinner came together relatively quickly thanks to the trusty crock pot, so we ate earlier than we're generally known for.  After kitchen clean up and the kids took their showers, we relaxed with a little Frozen Planet on Natgeo.  Brynn was very concerned with the time, asking how much longer until bed time, as if I would forget.  {ha!  trust me, baby...at that point in the day, it's down to the second"}

When I asked her if she just wanted to go to bed 'now' {twenty minutes earlier than her norm}, she happily bounced her curls up the stairs, brushed her teeth, and slipped into dreamland within two minutes of me closing her door.  {If only Raegan were that easy...}

This morning, she awoke bright-eyed and crazy-haired, which is most definitely not her norm.  Excited for her test?  Oh...no.  You see, it's the month of December.  Which, in this house {and many others}, means we have one extra inhabitant making {more} messes and causing general mischief.  Yep.  The elf.  THE elf.  Our elf Oscar adds a mix of excitement and competition and frustration and anger and trepidation in our house, as each morning the 'race is on' to see who can spot him first.  As of this morning, I'm 0 for 3 in getting Gavin's spirits back up in time for school all because Brynn made it downstairs first and spotted the little creepy guy.  One could say I bring this on myself, but the excitement makes up for it.  {Okay.  I'll be honest.  Screw the kid's excitement.  I like that I can use him as a threat for good behavior, alright?  I'm out of ideas to get these kids to listen and behave.  Threats in the form of a red felted friend who tells Santa about their shortcomings is what gets me through from the day after Thanksgiving until Christmas Eve.  Guaranteed there are thousands of moms [and dads and grandparents and babysitters] who could give me an amen on that one.}

Aaaannyyyyhow....on our drive to school, Gavin was less than willing to participate in a conversation, still stewing over his defeat in the Great Elf Game.  So, after a Taylor Swift song ended, Brynn turned her attention to sharing a bit of herself with me.

Timid 5 year old: "Mommy, I am kind of worried about this test today.  What if it's hard?  What if I can't do it?  What if I get it wrong?"

Coffee-Wielding Mom: "Brynn..."

T5yo {who is now interrupting}: "I know, mommy...I just have to BE the best, I just have to do MY best."

CWM: "umm...yes, you are exactly right, Brynn.  {inner monologue: 'where in the heck did she come up with that?'}  
That is so.exactly.right.  Where did you hear that?"

T5yo: "I didn't hear it, I just thought of it."

CWM: "hmmm...well...that's pretty awesome, Brynn."

I7yo: "You'll be fine on your test today, Brynn."

It is pretty awesome when you realize that something you taught your kid actually sticks with them, and they utilize the lesson at an appropriate time, in order to do some good for others.  It's even more awesome when that 'thing' your kid learned and applied may not have even been a direct lesson you taught them, and they're synthesizing information from the various places they learn: home, school, church, television {don't judge.  my kids watch tv.  they're still able to function appropriately.  [Raegan's shenanigan's excluded]}.  

But then...THEN!  The 'thing' they've learned, the concept they've finally got a grip on becomes something that does good for others.  And not just 'other-others' . 'YOU-others'.  Your kid.  Your five year old kid takes a simple concept, a common sense thing that we should all possess in the depths of our soul--

Just be YOUR best, not THE best

--and reminds you of the simplicity of protecting UNITY of mankind.  We're all just out there in the world, doing our 'own best', seeking acknowledgement, requiring love and acceptance.  The world of competition and disapproval and judgement and looking down upon others and coveting others is not from a Godly place.  It is not from a place of 'best', not from a human heart, or a Godly covenant, but from an evil pit--a vortex of negativity that threatens our souls.  

Ironically enough, I came across this verse today as I spent time in quiet reflection:
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.                                                                                                                   ~Colossians 3:23 
I am reminded in this season, where it can be easy to be tempted into additional 'life traps' of competition in gift-giving and party-throwing and time-spending and house-decorating, that my best *is* the best, because I am an example of HIS best.

Today, I was the best I could be for where I am now.  Was I perfect?  Um, no.  Did I lose my temper with my ornery toddler rather than walk away and count to 10 {or 20...or 50}?  Definitely.  Did I get frustrated with the driver in front of me who appeared to be oblivious to traffic laws?  Of course.  Did I use a less-than-patient voice when my kids were very obviously using the dinner conversation as a means for avoiding the spaghetti squash that sat on their plates?  You betcha.

Buuuttt...all those 'worsts'...all those reactions that I wish I could snatch back and replace with a nicer, calmer, more graceful version of myself...any one of them had the power to drag me into a vortex of shame.  And when they pile up and compound on one another?  Forget about it!  The weight of shame can be so burdensome that it becomes easier to give up the resistance and allow yourself to become a part of the downward spiral, finding some way to cope with the ride, no matter how nauseous you may become.  I've been there--plenty...and I still find myself visiting there on my 'blah' days, when I'm feeling lost on how to obtain the joy of a peaceful existence.

And then there are days like today; when I'm finding myself making questionable decisions and having knee-jerk reactions, and somehow, I can still conclude that I was my best for my present-day self.

What gives?

When I feel that weight of shame burdening my shoulders and my vortex of self-blame and negative labeling infiltrating my soul, I simply do my best to cast all my anxieties on THE best, because He cares for me.  The vortex of competition and guilt and comparing and shame can be a wicked and harmful place in which to be.
Brynn's memory verse from last month came to life in my faith journal, so as I flipped open to a new page, I found pause on this particular verse, for it reminded me that while I was riding out the storm of shame from my worst moments, that THE best had my best under His control; so long as I gave up my control.

My best is far, far from THE best...but with His help, I can handle the worry.  I can deal with the 'hardness' of life.  I don't have to worry about if I can't do it, because I know I'll find my way.  And I don't have to worry about getting it wrong, because whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.

His best is THE best, which helps me become my best.

And the same rings true for my loquacious little five year old.
Thank you, Sunshine <3

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Wile E. Coyote makes me feel like I'm going to be okay

One of my favorite cartoons growing up was the Roadrunner and Coyote.  I don't know why, but there was something brilliant in the simplicity of the dynamic between the characters.  The Coyote was a tenacious and creative predator; utilizing a seemingly bottomless arsenal of tricks and tools to capture his speedy competitor.  His innate intellect was often overshadowed by his unfortunate and disastrous attempts at putting his newest ACME sponsored product to work.  I think as a kid, I felt the Roadrunner was so much smarter than the Coyote.  I kind of wanted to 'be him', if I could have chosen a cartoon to emulate.  He escaped situations unscathed, watched from the sidelines as his competitor suffered the consequences of yet another failed attempt at capturing him, and sped off into the dusty sunset of the desert with a trademark 'meep meep'.

Now that I have a few years and a couple more decades behind me, I'm recognizing more and more the completely skewed view of life this cartoon provided for young, impressionable, idealistic minds such as myself.  Life isn't about being the Roadrunner.  It's an impossibility to speed through quickly, avoid struggle and pain and bumps and bruises and brokenness.  True, you can have seasons of your life where things are smooth sailing, roads are clear, skies are sunny, and the pieces seem to fit into place.  The seasons might be months or years long, which can fill you with blessings and hope and create in you an idyllic feeling that might give you a false sense of stability.

Then you have times of your life where your smooth sailing might be in periods of a couple of weeks, a couple of days, or even a couple of hours.  You might not see the opportunity to grasp the moments of sanctity and sanity because they seem to be so few and far between, or because you're bouncing from one road block to the next....

Life is hard.  A constant battle of wits, and when you stop for a moment and reflect, more often than not, you're battling with no one other than yourself {and maybe the occasional rock or anvil or stick of dynamite}.  Whether you're seeking wealth or success or even a delicious roadrunner dinner, you rely on tools, people, or unscrupulous behavior in order to make progress in the journey toward your finish line.  The assistance on which you rely can be helpful.  These tools can prove resourceful in attaining your goal, but often times they can be cast aside as you stand on the podium to receive your medal of success; because you don't want to acknowledge that you needed the help along the way.

Initially, when I was diagnosed with depression and prescribed medication, I felt shame.  Wearing the black badge of 'depressed' felt shameful, especially considering my life's circumstances.  My ability to be a stay at home mom, living in a beautiful home, happy and healthy children...what in the world could I be depressed about?

Soon after speaking with my doctor, however, I realized that my 'black badge' isn't one that I'm meant to hide in my little corner of the world.  So I wrote about it.  Not because I think I'm particularly eloquent, or an expert by any means, but because I needed to.  I had to share my reality, be authentic and brave and open and honest because my heart beckoned me to do so.  In my own little marathon of life, I felt like I had reached a special little mile marker, although the finish line was still absolutely nowhere in site.

Since I began taking medication, I have been fortunate enough to have limited side effects.  Minor setbacks {courtesy of the insurance company} in the beginning had me switching from one medicine to another, and the adjustment was {thankfully} relatively easy.  I have been consistent with my regimen; haven't missed doses, and only a few inconsistencies in the time at which I take it, a phenomenon I sum up with one simple word: mommyhood.  The ease with which I have found success in medication has helped me feel like I have reached a couple more mile markers in my marathon.

But recently...I've been kind of blindsided.  Here I've been, sailing along on a sea of the positive effects of medication paired with an ever growing and deepening relationship with God as I walk along in faith.  I felt like I was on the path...not necessarily with a view of a 'finish line' on the horizon, but a checkpoint.  I'd been able to get a grasp on something I was so desperately seeking: a better control on my emotions and head and ability to function more like 'me'.  But what I've discovered is that as you reach these little checkpoints, you have that moment right after the bliss wears off when you take a step back and realize you haven't seen the forest for the trees.  The joy weans and you're back in the midst of an overwhelming sense to get to 'the next' step. Even my dear friend the Coyote discovered this...

Just when I thought I had a handle on my situation, my routine was pretty good, and I was rolling along the path of life with minimal bumps--the likes of which I was able to handle with an open mind and calm presence {a huge change from my previous self}...I feel this.

I'm teetering on the edge of a cliff; wavering between fighting the winds that threaten to push me over the side and into the space of being comfortably numb and firmly standing my ground, slowly and steadily plodding forward, step by grueling step away from the abyss.  But on the outside?  My facade is comprised of a made-up face, my best attempt at a 'hairstyle' {despite the November(?!) humidity}, and clothes that actually present an image that I've *tried*.  I smile and laugh and contribute.  I work my tail off to keep my cracks from showing; masking my inner brokenness for fear that I'll appear weak, incapable, or even undesirable as an acquaintance or friend.  Lack or loss of human connection is one of my greatest fears, but at the same time, in some sort of twisted dichotomy, I find myself craving absolute solitude and introverted 'me' time.

By the grace of God, these strong winds that stagger my footing are not what many people would consider *huge, life-changing events*.  My family and I have our health, a stable home life, an ever-growing walk in faith, and blessings that I {shamefully} know we take for granted on a daily basis.  So what's with the wind?

I'm not sure what has brought about this divergence from the norm I had been experiencing over the past several weeks.  Things here are pretty much status quo...a few things here and there that alter the swing of life's pendulum a bit, but that's life.  Roll with the punches...keep a healthy balance...things will be 'good'...it's all a part of God's plan--trust Him.  But I'm discovering the depths of what it is that I'm really dealing with here.  I guess the shame I felt at first diagnosis has metamorphosed into a different strand of shame.  The 'what could I possibly be depressed about' has altered into 'why can't I get it together...why isn't this medicine working...why did I let myself feel so 'all in' to my medication that I might have become inadvertently placebo-ed into thinking I was 'fixed'.  {**This isn't to say that I think my doctor or pharmacist gave me sugar pills, but that I rested and relied my hope so heavily on the resource of medication, that I was blinded by reality.}

Maybe this isn't the right medication for me.  Maybe I need something different, something stronger, something more.  Some people might think that maybe I need to read my bible more, pray more, write more, relax more, or inversely, do more.

Or maybe, this little hitch in my giddy-up is like a runner's cramp. {**this should be a fun correlation...seeing as how I don't run.  ever.  but stick with me}

In my very, very limited experience with running {like reeaallly limited...running the mile in high school middle school is possibly my most recent memory}, I would find myself trucking along, making a relatively decent pace, encountering a little divot in the ground here or there but adjusting my footing so as to not roll my ankle or trip {if you knew me as a kid, you might be laughing at this presumptuous statement.  I was still am a klutz.}.  I would find myself making good enough time, but I needed a little extra push.  I'd snag a drink of water to quench my thirst, but would usually find myself shortly afterward doubled over in pain as I coped with cramping.  I honestly don't know the real reason cramping occurs, whether it's lack of stretching or over-indulging in water or something else entirely, but I only remember the pain.  I remember the way in which it would halt my forward progress as I winced and struggled and stumbled around, straining to regulate my breathing in hopes that the oxygenated blood would provide some sort of relief.

Because I'm not a runner, I generally would take this halted progress as a sign that I should just do only what I needed to do in order to cross the finish line.  Usually this meant slowing my pace to walk along with those who are even less runners than I {not 'less' as in a comparative term...in fact, I applaud their authenticity from the get-go and refusing to try and fool themselves into thinking this will be 'the time' they fall in love with running}.  Sure enough, I'd eventually reach my destination.  I didn't find myself overwhelmed with feelings of accomplishment, though.  I had a brief moment of 'wahoo!', like when Coyote wrapped his arms around the ankle of Roadrunner.  And then...I'd look up.  The monstrous bird hovering over my head came in the form of shame and disappointment in myself.  Why hadn't I just tried harder after I found relief from my cramped sides?  Why didn't I press on forward and get back on track the way I had been before my struggle?

The truth?  It's hard.  Life is hard.  It's hard to get back on the horse, to keep on riding, to keep on pursuing and keep on keepin' on.  It's even harder when you're dealing with depression.  I'm certain this isn't my first 'setback' as I deal with this illness, but having a bit more education than I did prior to my diagnosis, I am more cognizant and therefore feel as though I can be a bit more proactive.  Sure, I whine and mope and wander aimlessly around the house or not move at all as I curl into a ball on the couch {and in this moment, I give thanks to my husband, for supporting me in whatever way he can, even if he doesn't quite understand it}.  Sure I'm still in jammies, glasses on, un-showered and messy hair.  But I'm channeling my inner Coyote, only with a twist.  I'm not going to keep on grasping at the latest and greatest resources to help me achieve my success, but I will go to my old standbys.  I'll continue having faith in my doctor, faith in my own assessment of my health, and most importantly, faith in the One who made me and who will be with me through every runner's cramp and pothole and mile marker and finish line.

And, the tiara Raegan gave me to wear today doesn't hurt my self esteem, either. ;)

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Tuesday, October 29, 2013


It just so happens that today is another 'anniversary'.  One year ago today, our overstuffed Armada and road-weary crew rolled into town to begin life as Texans.  Along with a modge podge of odds and ends from our old house we carried a sense of relief and gratitude for our safe arrival, and a bucket full of trepidation as we crossed the threshold into not only our temporary living situation but also the adjustment to our new 'home' state.

I wasn't new to this game; after all it was just seven and a half years and three kids earlier that I was on the tail end of a one way, western-bound road trip that landed this eastern Pennsylvania girl north of Denver.  Travelling with me that time was with my husband, an excited sense of adventure, and the mounted deer head that my in-laws managed to put into the front seat of my towed Jetta on the first leg of our lengthy drive.  {Yeah, I'm sure we were the cause of more than one 'double take' as we traveled the open road}.

But this time, this move, this new adventure...it had a completely different feel.  The addition of an entire family to the mix of newness meant I inadvertently felt responsible for making the transition as seemless as possible.  Not only for myself, but the littles, who looked to me for guidance and levelheadedness {ha!} as we navigated our new and humid surroundings.  I invested myself so greatly in making their adjustment an easy one, that I began to marginalize my own thoughts and feelings and emotions that frantically and erratically coursed through my body like cockroaches scattering at the first flicker of light.  

What I seemed to forget, or rather, neglected to admit, is the resiliency of children.  Resilience isn't something that is innate, but can be cultivated when children are armed with confidence, a strong sense of self, coping techniques, and a strong connection to loved ones.  We must have this parenting thing figured out pretty well, because all three of the kids jumped right back into a routine of life, without so much as a hiccup or any noticeable weight of panic.

Oh, how I envy that.  

Here I am, one year...365 days later...still searching for the pieces and parts to make my cloak of resiliency whole and sturdy and impenetrable.  And while most of the time, my 'stage makeup' reads settled in and adjusted and content, my innards still have twists and turns and forks in the road that leave me with anxious uncertainty.  Even though my daily routine seems established enough that I could technically consider myself a 'stay at home mom who tries really, really hard to relish in things like folding laundry and dusting and endless toy pick ups', I still feel a void; a cake without frosting, a novel lacking a plot.

For the past month and a half, I've been a part of a women's bible study at our church.  I have had the opportunity to get to know a group of women as we navigate through the book of Colossians and hone in on the overarching idea of recognizing your identity.  We're spending time discovering who we are.

Um...hello?!?  Could this not have come at a better time?  {well, technically, yes, I guess it could have...but I know God placed this along my path at just the right time, according to His watch...not mine.}

But seriously.  When I walked in on that first day and saw the words Who Am I? at the top of our accompanying notes, a smirk of ironic elation foretold of the goose-bumpy, simmering-but-not-quite-boiling, desperate woman that was bouncing around inside my jumbled mind and crackled heart and incomplete soul, fiercely beckoning for the answer to that inquiry.  I knew I was in the right place.

As the weeks have passed, I've become enthralled with not only the teachings, but my own personal discoveries, the connections I'm making, and the opportunity to experience vulnerability in an atmosphere that doesn't involve me typing my innermost thoughts and struggles and pains onto a white screen and clicking 'publish', all the while never seeing the faces or body language of those who happen to stumble across my musings.  What I'm finding out is that kind of vulnerability, the 'face to face' kind, is hard.  Tougher than what I do here on this screen.  It's scarier in a way, because eye contact and facial expressions and body language are all visible things to my audience when I'm right there in front of them.  

I've been told that what I do here on this blog is courageous and brave and helpful.  When I hear that, I gravitate toward that last word.  And I think to myself, "Yes!  Writing that did help me so much!"  It doesn't always occur to me {i.e. very rarely} that person is referring to someone other than me.  {That sounds narcissistic, I know.  But trust me, it's 100% the opposite.}

The catharsis I experience when I click keys and make words that ramble into sentences that turn into lengthy stories is what I crave.  I need to write, I feel an urge or a pang or sometimes a proverbial smack upside the head to get my words out in this kind of forum.  And yes, it's scary to write this way, in this ghost-like atmosphere, where I can be un-showered and bleary-eyed and random and messy in the comforts of my home, but my audience is none the wiser because they rely solely upon my words to make judgements about or opinions of me.  Reading words is different than hearing them.  Tone of voice, the purposeful pauses, and the inflection can be lost when reading the written word, unless you are a virtuoso of the art {for which, I am most definitely not}.  Anyhow, all of those characteristics are what makes the job of a speaking storyteller and truth teller so different than a writing storyteller and truth teller.  At least, that's what I've quickly realized in my bible study.

I've always been outgoing and friendly and personable, a chatterbox of sorts.  I'm a connection craver.  I love to make a connection with people, even in line at the grocery store, at the playground, or at church {drives Randy bananas}.  But when connections like that are made, they're typically over things like an idea for a quick and easy meal, a comparison of toddler sleep schedules, or a congenial greeting followed up with a commentary on the weather.  People don't generally wear their life story on their sleeve.  They don't generally start off with, "Hello, I'm a wonderfully broken mess, and here's why..."

But when you're put into a situation where you're sharing your story--your messy, convoluted, crazy, defining story--out loud in front of people; woah.  Ish just got real.  For all the chatting and talking and random conversations I throw myself into throughout my daily activities, my natural ability to craft phrases and sentences betrays me when I have to be all 'for reals' in new and uncharted territory. All that friendly confidence is replaced with twitchy legs, sweatiness, and a wavering voice that scrambles to find words--of any kind when I am in a situation where I am 'on stage' to share intimate details of my life story with people who I don't really know all that well.

And so when we were asked to make a rough outline of our life story using short phrases and words to guide us as we took turns sharing, I did what any {wanna be} writer would do...I wrote.  Not phrases and words...but sentences.  As I typed, I realized I would bore these sweet women to absolute tears with my figurative language, lengthy descriptions, and overuse of digressions and asides {as I do all-too-often in this particular venue}.  So I shifted my intention of reading it word for word to one of using my words to clear my way of thinking so that my 'talking' story would be shrouded in authenticity; rather than sweaty, stammering, disorganized vulnerability.  

Alas, the latter came true as I shared the story of my history and re-walked the path of my life.  Afterwards, I felt parched and twitchy and exposed; like a middle school girl in the locker room.  But after a little while, after my legs stopped fidgeting and my heartbeat regulated, I glanced down at my text as I slid it back into the pocket of my 3-ring binder.  I ignored the feelings of dissatisfaction with myself for not having more fluidity to my story, and honed in on the theme of what I had written about.  My life, in metaphors.

I'm big on metaphors.  I recognize them in the strangest of all things and at the most bizarre times.  Like I said, I *heart* connections.  So it seemed fitting as I wrote about my life to compare myself at various time periods to something.  Throughout parts of my life story, I likened myself to that of a mosquito, a crab, a chameleon, and, my most recent analogy, The Very Hungry Caterpillar.  Not only is it one of my favorite books by one of my favorite children's authors, but it complements the 'adulthood' portions of my life story pretty well.  

I wrote about how in college, I came out of my shell {egg} in the 'sunniness' of a freshman year of college.  I wrote about how I used the years that followed as my own personal smorgasbord of crazy fun, questionable decisions, and over consumption of too many things that weren't good for my body, my mind, my soul.  At the time, of course, I thought it was just 'one apple' or 'four strawberries'.  And, on occasion, it was just that.  But, as destructive behavior so often tends to do, the downward spiral soon had me seeking less of the fruit and more of the junk.  {For those of you who know the story..."I was still hungry"}.   As the sands of my college hour glass made their way from the top bulb to the bottom, I knew I was heading for a path on which I did not want to be when I became a 'real' adult.  In essence, I had eaten my way through too many chocolate cakes and ice cream cones and cherry pies and lollipops and watermelons.  {"I had a stomachache!"}.

And then I met Randy.  Something about this guy...a connection I didn't realize I was needing until it was right there in front of me.  Randy was kind of like that "nice green leaf" that made me feel much better.

With our college careers in our rear view mirror and the Rocky Mountains on the horizon, I realized "I wasn't hungry anymore, and I wasn't little anymore." {seriously...if you're lost in my analogy, read the book.}.  And, as it turned out, soon after we moved, I found out I was pregnant and then I was in fact a "big, fat caterpillar".  {No, I don't think  pregnant women are fat, and no, I don't use that term in a judgemental way.  It simply fits with my metaphor.}

So life began establishing itself pretty quickly in Colorado.  I had a fantastic teaching job, was making new friends, and enjoyed exploring the state with Randy and then Gavin in tow.  Our family grew and our roots deepened.  Life was all good.

So when we made the decision to move to Texas, I felt stifled in a sense.  I felt all fluttery and colorful and jovial about the life we'd established.  I flitted from home to work to friends and all around the front range in a nonsensical, random pattern that only a mom with a jam-packed calendar could relate.  My wings were spread wide and I loved the freedom of my gloriously beautiful landscape and unparalleled way of thinking that can only be described as 'Rocky Mountain High'.  

Then....talks turned to Texas.  It felt like my wings had been touched too many times, too many scales had come off, and now my ability to fly was compromised.  But of course, we had to go.  It was what was best for my husband's career and ultimately, for our family.

As we began to experience life in the subtropical climate of southeastern Texas, I retreated further and further into my mind.  My sadness and confusion and guilt and anxiety wrangled their way through my soul in a messy and all-encompassing battle that, at times, took over my ability to function at a level remotely close to that with which I was accustomed.  I was wrecked and cracked and muddled on the inside, and struggled to keep my tough exterior from being marred by my feelings of guilt.  I was in a cocoon.

As I was writing my story, I looked over my words {the voices of my studious munchkins echoed in my brain: "all good writers reread their words, mommy"}.  I got to this point in my story, this 'cocoon' part when I realized how a** backwards that is.  I mean, I knew that a caterpillar goes into a cocoon before becoming a butterfly, but how could I explain those seven and a half years of 'butterfly-dom' in Colorado if I wanted to stick with my little metaphor?

And that's when it hit me.  

For all the allure and majesty those Rocky Mountains may boast; for all those absolutely beautiful and life-changing friendships that I had made throughout the years; for all the roots we had established and the memories we had made; for our entire blessed life in Colorado, that was my cocoon.  I wrapped myself up tight within the comforts of a place I fell in love with, a place where I became a we and we became an {all of} us.  That place, that state, those years are cherished and special and reside in a space of my heart that's as big as the unparalleled skies we had the privilege of living beneath for nearly eight years.  With my heart and soul filled with the blessings of what my life had become, I felt secure and content and I didn't want that to change.
My Colorado cocoon was a comforting space in which to lay my head.  I learned how to be a wife and a mom and a 'grown up' in that space.  Randy and I took a long road to learn the art of compromise and communication, but the cocoon kept us secure, even if there were bumps and jostles along the way.  It was a sanctity I did not soon want to abandon.

In Texas, as the boxes unpacked and we came down from the high of a crampy and nomadic lifestyle to that of a sprawled out, 'normal' family; I found myself still trying to seek solace in my Colorado cocoon, only to find it was an impossibility to bring all that comfort and security along with me to Texas.  I was a lost little pupa without my protective chrysalis.  I shrouded myself in sadness, self-pity, guilt, and emptiness, and then on top of that I wore either a comedy or tragedy mask, depending on how well I was able to conceal my inner struggle.

As I've been working through my battle with depression, I am realizing that my wings, my big and colorful and expansive butterfly wings were not the things that kept me flying high while I was in Colorado.  The comforts of a supportive circle of friends, a blessed life provided by my husband, the newness of trying to figure out that whole 'parenting' thing...those were the things that fostered my feelings of freedom.  Those comforting things gave me the support I needed to gain the inner strength I'd need for this leg of my life's journey.  

While I don't think that I've fully emerged from my cocoon yet, I know that I've been able to tuck the Colorado parts of it deep into my soul and use it as nourishment for when things get frazzled and I feel uncertain.  Right now, my cocoon is made strong by my husband and kids, the friendships I'm developing here, our church, and my ever-growing faith.  There are days when my colorful wings peek out from the shell, giving me a glimmer of hope that I'm on the right path to one day becoming a "beautiful butterfly".

The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Eric Carle

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

the yellow folder

One year ago today, I was preparing to walk away from a lifelong passion and continue down a path lined with uncertainty and change...and humidity.  {Lots of humidity.}  Boxes and tape and permanent black markers helped to encapsulate a decade's worth of time spent 'in the trenches'.

In between wrapping up my last few lesson plans, preparing for conferences, cherishing moments and stories and conversations with 'my kids', and meeting with parents one final time; I packed.  I slowly placed items in boxes, cautiously picked and chose what I removed from the walls and shelves so as not to draw too much attention to the void left behind.  I didn't put things into boxes while my kids were in the classroom; always opting for times before and after school, during gym or art or music, or during my lunch.  I couldn't bring myself to take things out of the space that we had spent the past two months establishing as 'ours', couldn't look at their faces as they watched me prepare for my next step.

The days that followed after I broke the news to my class that I'd be moving to Texas were the saddest, yet most humbling days I'd spent as a teacher.  I can't tell you how many boxes of tissues we went through those first few days, or how long I sat out in the hallway that Friday morning with a cluster of crying kids.  It seemed that as soon as I'd get the gaggle of kiddies calmed down, one student would burst out into tears again, thus setting forth a series of waterworks that trickled throughout the circle and even leaked into the eyes of students who were walking by and had 'heard it through the grapevine'.

Hugs and well-wishes and cards and gifts were poured upon me with love {and even more tears}, and every one of them was {and still is} wholeheartedly appreciated.  Visitors stopped by my classroom, or would wordlessly console me as I nostalgically walked through the hallways.  I wanted to remember the little things; the bulletin boards covered with student work, the pockets of kids working together on projects in the annex at the top of the stairs, the voices of kids reciting their times tables or reading aloud to volunteers.  Along with all of the 'things' that made up a decade-old classroom, I wanted to capture the sights and sounds and even the smells {well...some of the smells}.  Sharpened pencils, lunchroom food, the air fresheners I used to mask the post-recess 'glow' of a throng of preteens {that last one didn't always work...no matter what Febreeze may claim on television}.  I was trying to drink in as much as I could, store it up like a camel, for I didn't know when I would stumble upon the next oasis.

Truth be told, when I was at school, instructing my class or walking the halls or having lunch in the lounge; I didn't want to leave.  I didn't want to pack and move and start all over.  I wanted to keep things the way they had come to be over the past 8 years of our lives.  At our home, I began the process of staging each room so we could prepare it to go on the market.  In an effort to depersonalize the space, I removed dozens of photographs from the walls, and lined them up like dominoes in the now very cluttered space of the garage.  The process of our move happened relatively quickly from the perspective of a calendar, but from my viewpoint, it was a painstakingly slow process as pieces and parts of our life were wrapped, boxed, sealed, and labeled.  There were a multitude of blessings in the professional movers who took care of putting the contents of our house into the fifty foot trailer of that big rig; Randy had already relocated to Texas to begin work, which left me to wrap up things in Colorado by myself, all while maintaining as much 'normalcy' as possible in the kids' lives.  It also made the process move much more swiftly than I would have ever been able to manage flying solo.  Their three days of packing could have quite easily taken me three months, as I walked down memory lane with each item I packed.

However, the movers were not a gift I was able to receive in my classroom.

Actually, I take that back.  My dearest friend Sue, armed with tape and boxes and markers, swooped in like the angel she has always been in my life, and knocked out a larger percentage of the packing than I was able to accomplish.  My classroom library--bookshelves overflowing with well-loved books sporting dog-eared pages and crackled spines desperately held together with strips of clear tape--along with a variety of other teaching materials were meticulously packed into boxes and carefully labeled by her generous, comforting hands.

And while she packed, what was I doing?  In all honesty, the last few days were a total whirlwind.  There were so many loose ends that I felt like a kindergarten teacher with a classroom full of kids who haven't mastered the art of shoe-tying.  As soon as I'd get caught up, someone else would come to me with laces needing fastened.  In the midst of it all, my emotions were on high alert--a red flag warning had been issued-and no one, not even me, was attempting to swim in those dangerous seas.  Sure, I cried and hugged and said my farewells, but I was merely scratching the surface of the flurry of emotions that were churning up just below the surface.

I remember walking out of my classroom for that last time.  It was evening, later than I was used to staying at school.  Some colleagues had arranged to have a little send off at a Mexican restaurant up the street, and I was running late.  I was loading the last of the boxes onto the flatbed so I could roll them out to my already overstuffed SUV.  As I stopped to flip the light switch, I paused.  I gazed around at the classroom I had called 'home' for a decade.  Sure, I hadn't taught in that particular room throughout my tenure, but it wasn't the walls or the floor or even the state that made it a classroom.  It was the magic that happened within the walls, the lessons I taught, the kids I read with, the non-stop line of students at my desk, the hugs in the doorway, the tears cried whenever I read Thank You, Mr. Falker or The Junkyard Wonders.  I wasn't turning down the light in a room, I was turning down the light in me.

Once we moved, it didn't take long for emails and social media connections to begin with the questions.
"How's it going?"
"Are you guys getting settled?"

"Have you found a teaching job?"

That last question.  Like a bit of salt in a fresh, open wound.  Yes, at this point it had been several weeks, months even since I'd closed my plan book, but the feelings were still raw, the emotions finally bubbling to the surface as the busy season of our move drew to a close and life began to settle into a more regular routine.

I hated hearing {or reading} that question.

I felt like the question was a giant watch, with a large and impatient finger tapping away at the face, as if to say, 'when are you going to get another job?'  I felt as though my spot on the totem pole had been replaced by someone who was more of a 'go-getter', someone who better lived up to the phrase 'teaching is my lifelong passion'.  I felt like something was wrong with me.  Why wasn't I working harder at getting back into a classroom--a place where I so obviously felt 'at home' when I wasn't with my husband or kids.

As time passed, I found myself thinking {and saying}, "I don't know if I'll get back into teaching".

Um, what the what?  The girl...the five year old girl who fell in love with the art of teaching in the caring hands of Mrs. Toney--a magical and amazing kindergarten teacher...the eight and nine and ten and twelve year old girl who would line up her stuffed animals and dolls to play school when her younger brothers protested the 'game'...the teenager would spent time in a first grade classroom to work with kids and learn from one of the most gifted teachers she has ever come to know...the college student who balanced a lifestyle of working hard with playing hard in such a way that she was able to graduate and then become a teacher at the same school where she spent a semester interning...the woman who took on student leadership, a yearbook, and directing the drama club at the expense of spending that time with her own children but with the supreme benefit of working with students.  That girl.  That person.  Not get back into teaching?

When people outside the world of education envision the life of a teacher, there are those for whom reality is heavily skewed.  From my own personal experience, the majority of these people do not have school aged children, however there are those out there that despite the fact that they do, their brains do not possess the capacity to look past the 'summers off' {HA!} component and into the reality of the field of education.

The fact of the matter is, that outside of ALLLL the paperwork, the planning, the curriculum, the standards, the standardized testing, the veritable alphabet soup of acronyms, the preparation, the reading, the grading, the politics, the lack of funding, and the laughable paychecks--the heart of a true teacher, a teacher who is in it for the 'lifelong passion' of it works harder than you could ever envision.

And when I turned off the light in my classroom, I felt like a shade had been placed over my light.  My 'teaching heart' was broken; crackled and dimmed from the uncertainty of the future and how long it would be until I set my high-heeled 'teacher' feet in a classroom again.

Even today, I still don't know when or even if I'll venture back into the role of 'Mrs. Conley, passionate lifelong classroom teacher' in the way I had always envisioned part of my obituary to read.  I don't always miss the work load {okay, I virtually never miss the work load!}.  I don't miss the endless meetings and changes and swings of the pendulum from year to year.  I don't even really miss eating lunch in the lounge.  Sure, it was nice to have the social component, but I've grown quite fond of living room picnic lunches with a chattery toddler.

What I miss more than anything, more than one single aspect of the whole beautiful, magical world of teaching, is the kids.  I miss their morning greetings as they dash down the hallway to be the first through the door.  I miss their messy desks and rumpled papers and piles of backpacks and sweatshirts.  I miss the real-life way in which I connected with them, the way I'd share my life and my stories with them in the same way they'd share theirs with me.  I miss the dance parties we'd have when we needed brain breaks, the games we'd play when I needed a few moments to gather my materials or my thoughts, and the funny cheers we'd do so they'd always remember the product of 8x8 or how skew lines exist in the real world.  I miss reading to them; watching them lounge around on the floor or the pillows or each other as I'd crack open our latest classroom novel and begin to dive into the magical world the author had created for our ears and imaginations.  I miss the hugs at the end of the day, the high fives and smiles and "Hi Mrs. Conley!" as I walked past former and even future classes.

I miss 'my kids'.

When I think about what it was that I really wanted to pack up in those boxes, the things that had helped make those walls a true classroom, it wasn't things...it was children.  The connection with the little humans in those blue plastic chairs is bigger and more meaningful than all the other 'stuff' teaching entails.

Recently, I made a discovery in both the physical world as well as my memory.  My guest room closet is chock full of crafting supplies and the odds and ends of life.  It's a large closet, and since Houston homes don't boast basements as part of their floor plans, it serves as a perfect space to house part of the boxes I have from my classroom.

I was searching for something one day when I came across a yellow folder.  The sight of it took me back to my last day, when I was packing up my classroom...

Peppered in among the professional development materials, binders filled with lesson plans, and an entire classroom library were little treasures I'd discovered in a yellow folder on a high shelf in the corner of my classroom.  The word 'overstuffed' isn't nearly adequate to describe the chaotic bundle of papers housed within those lemon-colored pockets.

Of all the things my dear friend and I boxed and taped and labeled within those walls, that folder held secrets.  Ten years worth of magical messages scratched on notebook paper, construction paper, once-sticky Post-it notes, folded heart-shaped paper.  Messages written in pencil and crayon, pen and paint, glitter and boldly-line permanent marker--a sign that the sender really meant business.

When I pulled that folder from the shelf in my craft closet, tumbling out came letter after letter, card after card, picture after picture...child-like handwriting filled the pages with wobbly letters and uneven spacing.  Stick figures and flowers danced in a sea of familiar suns; a big yellow circle encircled by bold yellow rays radiating from every direction.  Soon my tears were blurring the messages of love and care, notes of thanks and hello; some rushed while others meticulously completed over a lengthy period of time.  The pages all shared the same theme.  A connection was made.  These notes, these cards and pictures and random cut-out shapes with kid art covering their surfaces are like gold.  They're the reason I went in to teaching, the reason I miss it so desperately, and the reason I am so blessed to have spent a decade of my life making those connections.

Whether I 'go back into teaching' or not, I carry with me the things that made my career worthwhile.  They removed the shade covering the lifelong passion light in my heart and reassure me that no matter where the path may lead, I have some pretty amazing kids to thank for giving me the reason to keep going.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

the shoes don't make the man {or woman}

Be a red boot in a world of sequins and feathers and tulle

Today is Western Day at my kid's elementary school.  They're allowed to wear 'western-esque' attire in celebration of our county fair, which not only opens tomorrow, but is acknowledged as such with a day off from school.  Apparently these Texans take 'the fair' seriously.  I love a good funnel cake as much as the next girl, but I'm still slowly absorbing the rodeo/livestock/mutton bustin' surroundings of a good ole' county fair {I can't help but hear the distinct sound of a tobacco-laden loogie hitting a spitoon}.

So, anyway.  Western Day.  An unfamiliar concept to someone who grew up on the outskirts of a big city. But I just so happened to marry a guy with a bit of a 'country kick' in his upbringing.   Throughout our years together, I've been exposed to some cliche 'country things' by way of pick-up truck drives through big open soybean fields, hunting 'trophies' hanging on the walls of my home, recipes that begin with the words "a scoop of shortenin'", and boots.  Cowboy{girl} boots.

Two things.
1.) I know that 'country' isn't just defined by those stereotypical 'things', but for all purposes of my point {and I swear I have one}, the cowboy boot is one of those unavoidable images that comes to mind when you think country or western.
2.) I don't actually own my own boots...not because I boycott the transition into a Southern gal, but because the styles I tend to gravitate toward happen to put my grocery budget for the next three month's at risk.  And, as much as I love a cute pair of boots, I love making sure my family is fed and happy and healthy just a wee bit more.

But there are some cowgirl boots that have found their place within the brick walls of our suburban home.  Both Brynn and Raegan own adorable cowgirl boots--red and pink, respectively--courtesy of my dad and the grand-parental desire to appease and spoil the offspring of their offspring.

So Brynn has these boots.  Darling, sassy, stylish red boots, the likes of which have clicked their way across our kitchen floor countless times, stomped their way throughout the living room to the tune of a Taylor Swift song, and been kicked off in angry fits after being told to stop using them as defense mechanisms against a hair-pulling toddler sister.

And, according to Brynn, these boots are an absolute *must* for Western Day.  My kid's school has a dress code, so they love those rare days when they get to alter their attire and add a bigger splash of their own individuality.  Brynn, being a creative and artistic soul, is no exception to the rule.  So her boots, her lionhearted display of vermilion pride, the very item upon which her entire attitude for the day would be based...were missing.  Well, not missing so much as misplaced.

I told you she was creative, right?  Well, that concept carries over into the way in which she 'cleans' her bedroom.  Without going into specifics, let's just say that the likes of her personal bedroom space are pretty reminiscent to my own childhood digs.  Those who knew me as a kid, you get it.  I've already begun mentally preparing for the disdain our neighbors will have for me as I throw her items out of her window and onto the publicly visible lawn below.  I'm even considering taking up donations for the fines I'm certain we'll accrue from our homeowner's association for the atrocity that will surely unfold as I enter into the depths of her generously-sized walk-in closet during the pre-teen years.

So yeah.  The boots are somewhere in the depths of that closet.  Actually, just one boot is, because I managed to unearth the other from a random assortment of clothing that had at one point transformed Brynn into an ornately dressed ballerina-fairy-cowgirl-princess, but after no longer serving its purpose, was discarded in a mishmosh pile of stuff.

However, with a limited time frame for our morning routine, locating her rogue boot had to become an item that fell off the URGENT agenda, despite her moody display of annoyance and foot-stomping frustration.  Shoveling Cheerios into mouths, taming a mangled pile of sleep-filled curls, packing fruit and cheese filled lunches, and filling tall water bottles took precedence and at 7:15, we were backing out of the driveway with a pouty Brynn donning her 'mommy, I've gotta have these golden sandals' sandals.  On any other day, these are perfectly appropriate and lovingly welcomed foot attire.

But not today.

Gavin, being a kind and sensitive soul, sensed that it was in his best interest to focus his attentions out the window, after an unsuccessful attempt at lightening the mood with a funny joke involving pea soup.  Silence beckoned from the backseat, and I am not a mommy who enjoys sending her kids off to school for the day in a mood that's anything less than 'moderately happy'.

So, I began a conversation.  I asked Brynn if she understood why I was frustrated with her.  I explained to her that when I ask her to keep her room clean and put things back where they belong it is not in fact because I have nothing better to do than make her life miserable, it's because I actually want her to learn to be a responsible and caring person who respects and acknowledges the many blessings bestowed upon her.  I told her that we would find the awol boot after school and while we were at it, would probably discover a lot of other items she had assumed vanished into the dark abyss of her closet.  I clarified that while I love her more than words could ever explain, I was not a fan of the way in which she let her carelessness overtake her ability to be caring.  She had spent the morning brooding and grumpy and angry at me, when in fact I discovered {upon what turned out to be the only time she spoke during my conversation lecture}, that she was disappointed in herself.  Hmm.  Not that I was happy she was feeling down on herself...but inside I was giving myself a high-five for having some of my words actually burrow their way through the mass of curls and permeate into her brain.  Maybe she does take ownership and responsibility for her actions {or inactions} more than I give her credit for.

We were getting close to the school, so I wanted to shift the topic off the 'blame game'.  It would have been a perfect chance for a normal mommy to discuss ANYTHING else--planning activities for the day off school, a funny story about Raegan, the weather even.  But no-oooo.  I continued picking at it, like an itchy scab left behind from a mosquito bite.  I dug in my heels and set out to investigate why she felt she needed to wear the boots.  Her response?  "Because everyone else will be wearing western stuff, too."

Why does she feel as though she has to conform to the masses, shroud herself with something that makes her 'fit in', base the self confidence she carries with her today solely in the red leather that's formed around her splayed-toed feet?  In her five year old mind, the people who are wearing western attire today at school happen to take a bit of preference to those who are not.  Conformity.  Discrimination.  Counterfeit popularity based upon the outward appearance.  Defining value and worth and identity from synthetic and tangible items.

Oh, Humanity.  This facet of your complex display of colors is not the most inspiring.  It's scratched and ugly and marred by the falsehoods of a misguided and imperfect collection of souls.

Yesterday, I began a women's bible study.  As I settled in to my space, nibbling the streusel topping from a slice of coffee cake, I perused the notes that had been placed atop my binder.  An overwhelming feeling of joy rushed over me {and not just from the buttery, sweet, crunchy streusel} as I read the boldfaced header for the study guide.


An angelic little flutter caused a tear or two to prick the corner of my eye, and I silently thanked God for the circumstances which allowed me to sign up for a class that, up until that point, I knew nothing about aside from the rave reviews of the exceptional leader.  

As the class continued yesterday, two other questions were posed, the likes of which were not so rhetorical as the overarching question at the opening of our time together.  What two single words would you use to describe your life right now?  What one single word would you use to describe you right now?

Responses to these questions were requested--and not only that--they were shared and discussed.  Talk about barging through the doorway and tearing through the curtain of vulnerability from the get-go.  That is, if one felt so inclined to really, truly hone in on what descriptors could be placed upon their sleeve, bold and bright and in perfect view for others to see.

I didn't hesitate for a moment as I scrawled these three words: confused, halted, scattered.  As we went around our table, it didn't take me long to realize that my responses were farrrrr from the 'norm'.  While I don't at all discount the lives and daily struggles of those wonderful women with whom I look forward to spending many more weeks together, I took note of the way in which I was able to honestly and transparently describe the personal struggles I am currently facing, and what's more to share aloud things that I felt might put me in the minority.  I was about the eighth woman of ten to share, so I could have easily scratched out my words and put something broader, something ambiguous or vague that describes only the visible part of me {not at all to say that's what I believe others did}.  I could have hidden behind a screen, jumped on board with my table and said words that sounded more like theirs, felt more like theirs, connected more with what they were sharing.  I could have taken the easy road, conformed to the feelings and thoughts and struggles of another women so I didn't feel so exposed and vulnerable and naked.  And while I'm sure every.single.woman. experienced fears such as mine, I was viewing this experience through my own lens, using an ultra-sensitive scope that I tend to use when I feel that trembling sense of fear brewing up in the depths of my belly.  

The take away I had from yesterday, aside from an overwhelming excitement for the path on which I'm traveling in terms of this course, is that perhaps I'm not giving myself enough credit.  Perhaps in some ways I can actually step outside of my box of comfort, step away from the trend or popular response or style or behavior and actually make a bit of personal gain in my confidence.  Perhaps I am able to actually instill this sense of confidence into my daughter now.  Even in the midst of my confused life with my scattered self, I can teach her to begin to recognize and acknowledge who she is.  I can give her comfort in knowing that even if every single person in the whole entire school were wearing western attire today {based on my observation in the drop-off line today, is definitely not the case}, she has the strength and courage and bravado to stand alone.  To be a little unique.  To wear her 'gotta have 'em' golden sandals alongside a slew of cowgirl boots with the same confident stature she would have wearing her red cowgirl boots in a mass of Velcro-ed sneakers and Mary Janes.  To be who she really is, no matter who or what says is 'cool'.

And now...because I'm a momma who loves to see huge, amazing smiles upon my kids' faces...I'm off to find that rogue boot.  Don't worry.  I'll wear gloves, glasses, and a mask.  And, I've got a guide rope tied around my waist and secured to her doorknob for my escape from the piles.  {Go ahead mom, you deserve to enjoy this repetition of history with a good ole' chuckle.  I was a slob as a kid.}

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

faith in the seasons

Autumn is upon us.  Maybe not so much here in Texas, where the temperatures and humidity are still dabbling in what other parts of the country might consider a mid-summer heat wave, but seasonally-speaking.  Stores have been shrouded in fiery hues of red and orange and yellow, the flavor of pumpkin infiltrates our coffee, our Pinterest boards, and even our m&m candies.  There's a yearning for feeling the coziness around a fire pit as you sip hot apple cider you picked up at the orchard earlier that day when you and your loved ones plucked firm, juicy fruit from the neat rows of apple trees.  The pre-season to all winter-esque holiday gatherings that are just over a crisp and cool horizon that's dabbled with shadowy figures of all things Halloween-y.

There are those who don't view autumn with the same love-filled lens as others.  Those who look past the brightness and warmth of the color palette most often associated with this time of year, but instead prefer the newness of a dew-filled spring morning.  Those who crave the slow-growing warmth of a sun that's been 'just out of reach' when the Earth tilted her northern hemisphere away, as if turning a cold shoulder to a friend who is reaching out for an apologetic embrace.  Those who are awed by the freshness and renewal of flowering plants and trees and the greenness of life

Still others enjoy the starkness of a crisp and barren winter, or the blazing and squinty-eyed days of a golden-hot summer day.  Whether you prefer crunchy ice as it protectively shrouds the grass and trees, or as it floats in tart and tangy glasses of fresh-squeezed lemonade; you're enjoying the frigidness of a frozen mass that in its own unique, yet contradictory, way can warm your heart.

The 'four seasons' are inevitable.  Even for those of us who live a little further south and are not subjected to the harshness and bleakness of a frozen winter.  'Down here', we don't bundle ourselves into a human burrito to navigate snow-drifted roads to work or the store for the standard 'french toast' run {milk, eggs, and bread} before the next blast of arctic wind brings several more inches of crystalline water vapor.  But that doesn't mean that 'down here', we don't have store shelves bursting with pumpkins and turkeys and shiny gold garland {and now, even more than ever, thanks to the over-commercialization of practically *everything* holiday related, these items all inhabit the same space at the same time.  HallowThanksMas.}.  But really.  The differentiation between seasons may not be as obvious to some in terms of weather, but the consistency with which the Earth rotates ensures us that we will have winter, spring, summer, and fall.

Seasons of life are a little less predictable, however.  Not always un-predictable, just less predictable.  As in, they're {almost always} inevitable, however there isn't a calendar you can refer to that will tell you the solstice, won't give you a clue as to when to plan for the equinox.  Stores don't change out their displays, offering preparatory clues, and the weather forecast can be so varied that it would keep any meteorologist working double overtime.

Major life changes are often times a pretty good indicator of the journey into new season.  Graduations, jobs, marriages, children, moving.  All things that signify the departure from one atmosphere and gravitating toward a new one.  Even if some of those life changes don't find you physically in a new space, mentally you've made a paradigm shift in the way with which you view yourself, your world, and the interaction between the two.

Sometimes, however, there can be a gap between the life-changing event and the actual onset of the season.  We continue living life, we bask in a seemingly harmonious afterglow of a well-orchestrated life changing event and manage the random small, tweaky hiccups with ease and a level head.  We pride ourselves on how we've adapted, adjusted, and 'fit right in' to our new role, our new location, our new title.  As time passes, 'the event' becomes less of a worrisome or stress-inducing item on our agenda and transforms into something that says, "look what I've[we've] accomplished.  I[we] are awesome."

While I'm no expert by any means of the word, I have had my fair share of 'major life events', a large majority of which inhabited a relatively tight time frame on the timeline of my life.  Between late June of 2005 and early May of 2006 I became a wife, a resident of Colorado, a homeowner, a teacher in a new district, a friend to a whole new crop of fantastic people, and a mom to not only our sweet and sensitive son Gavin, but our {now} aging and loyal pug, Biscuits.  Talk about a flurry of activity.  It was a little bit of hysteria blended with excitement, anticipation, fear, and a splash {or more} of breast milk.

The events were coming toward me at such a rapid rate that I didn't quite have time to process before the next one showed up in my lap or on my calendar.  I was basking in the glow of a continual process of new.  Even if the new was scary {and most of the time, it was}, I was still enjoying it, embracing each event with the fervor of a ravenous beast after bringing down prey that was easily two times its size.  Sure, it was messy and crazy and at times seemed insurmountable; but the adrenaline rush that overtakes my soul kept me on the 'right side' of crazy, allowing me to keep devouring the beast, even if my gut was full of nourishment.

The afterglow of that gluttonous phase of life left me an over-scheduled working mom/wife/teacher/friend, but it didn't leave me with the same negative and piteous feeling I get after, say, consuming a half a pan of brownies.  Instead, I felt satisfied.  Pleased and happy and blessed.  Did I have times when I was overcome by the stress of a busy and emotional time?  Absolutely.  Did I take things out on the wrong people when really the person I was most frustrated with was myself?  Of course!  Did I find myself craving more, more, more because I'm an overachieving, people-pleaser who relishes in the beauty of a full and busy life? Um...hello?! You've met Raegan, right?  My sweet third munchkin who was my craving, my heart's desire to round out the sense of 'family' that Randy and I had grown in our years in Colorado.  'Selling' the idea of Raegan to my 'we have the nuclear family, what more do you want?' husband was a tough job.  A heart-to-heart-but-I-still-can't-quite-put-it-into-words kind of discussion paved the way for this effervescent personality to come charging into our world wearing her spry and tireless suit of armor that she {only recently} removes for periods of time at night when she {finally} rests.

But I digress.

When we moved to Colorado, I knew, somewhere in the back of my mind, that it would not be our forever home.  I found myself pushing that stirring deeper and deeper into the parts of my mind that house other nagging unpredictabilities.  The place I house my 'what-ifs' and obscure scenarios.  I found a hole in which to bury that feeling of we won't be here forever, and began filling it in with anything and everything I could that would take root and help firmly plant myself on the beautiful and majestic ground at the foot of the Rockies.  These roots followed a commonplace pathway--marriage, job, house, kids.  The 'other' stuff--the extra curricular, the baking, the projects, the groups, the more, the more, the more was just added security that my roots were deep and held firmly even if things on the ground above were less than stable.  I took delight in the years I spent rooting myself.

Then, without {a lot} of warning, came 'the news'.  Like I said, I always had an inclination that Colorado, in all its illustriousness and magnetism, was simply not the place where I was going to stay rooted.  So, even though 'the news' rocked me to my core, left my pillow case and my friends' shoulders tear-stained, and, frankly, made me incredibly nervous, I knew that I was embarking upon a new season and at the core of this move was better opportunity for not only my husband, but our family as a whole.  And so, the plans began to take shape.

Ironically, the leaves were falling {and even some snow} on our final days in Colorado, crimson and amber and carrot-colored pages from the book we had written in our seven and a half years there.  The pages scattered across the streets on which we drove, piled high in the lawn in which we played, and danced in the wind around the parks in which we frolicked.  Each representing a moment, a memory, a time of the season of my life where I enjoyed my blessed and busy life.

I spent so much of my time in Colorado piling responsibility and commitment on top of responsibility and commitment until the pile became so daunting there seemed to be no other way to attack it than with a spread-eagle belly flop deep into the heart of it.  I was like a child, jumping into my own proverbial pile of leaves.  And when I was called back in, called to depart from that pile, I spent the last moments sinking in and savoring the comfort of 'busy'.  I wriggled around to make the crunchy and prickly parts less abrasive, and was determined to keep the pages of our Colorado story as pristine and meaningful as possible.  

Was life in Colorado always flowers and bunnies and sunshine and roses?  Ohhh...no.  Not by a long shot.  But I know those challenges, that time of gluttonous life changing event after life changing event were all put into place long before I even knew I'd one day be a Coloradan.  Brynn's memory verse at church for the month of September in testament to that fact.  "For I know the plans I have for you," says the Lord.  Jeremiah 29:11.

That's the funny part about God.  He knows the plans, He knows what we're going to do, what is going to happen to us...yet He doesn't let us know.  It's the faith we have in Him that tells us to keep on keepin' on, regardless of the season, regardless of the storm, regardless of the struggle or the worry or the fear or the sadness we are experiencing at this time in our lives.

My season in Colorado ended last autumn.  A whole year has passed since we began preparations for this life change.  While the stores didn't carry decor and the weather didn't signify anything indicative of the heat we'd soon discover exists in the sub-tropics of the United States, the calendar did bear dates.  The Realtor coming to take pictures of my haphazard home-staging, the moving company's arrival encircled in red with an accompanying sad face, and then 'D-day'.  Departure from our children's home state and my own adopted home state as we headed south for greater opportunity for our family.  The dates marked the end of a season.

And then we arrived.  We temporarily settled in our 'home' while we anxiously awaited settlement.  Life began to take on a sense of normalcy, albeit starkly different from that with which we were accustomed.  Soon enough, we found ourselves learning the light switches and sounds of our new home, relishing in the wide openness of the spacious floor plan, hem-hawing over the placement of furniture and decor.  I was refreshed by the 'newness' of everything.  Found myself busy and intrigued by my new title of Stay at Home Mom.  'The event' of moving became less of a worrisome or stress-inducing item on my agenda and transformed into something that said, "look what I[we] accomplished.  I[we] are awesome."  {Sound familiar?}.  I began to take pride in the way with which I'd transitioned into this new state.

But then there's this.  "Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall."  Proverbs 16:18.

It's time to meet my 'fall'.  My recent feelings, emotions, and personal struggles are all 'normal', I know.  I've heard this from a number of well-meaning souls who were kind and brave and sweet enough to reach out to me as I bared my vulnerable heart and soul in the wide world of the blogisphere.  I've heard it face to face from those few caring individuals I've begun to connect with down here.  And while the sentiment behind the word 'normal' is put forth with a range of tone--from deeply concerned to simply compelled to give forth their own two cents, I have come to find a bit of discontented by the actual word.  I don't want *this* to feel normal.

For me, I feel like I'm just steps into a new season in my life.  I'm dabbling at the threshold of a cumbersome and overwhelming doorway and am not quite sure how large or big or intense this season will be.  I feel the warmth of my Colorado season still faintly embracing my shoulders and the brightness of a spring-time like sun that shone during our 'transition to Texas'.  But the light from that transition is dimming as the routine of life takes over and the words 'settled in' escape my lips when responding to the question, "How are you guys doing?".  Along with that, I also feel a chill.  An unexpected and surprising chill for such a southern-lying state.  I look ahead with blurry vision and am hesitant to leave the comforts of that large doorway that lets me lean up against it for support on days when I'm wondering how in the world I wound up here.

I don't want this uncertainty to feel normal.  I don't want to be faced with a living with unfamiliar 'bigness' in a state that prides itself on the the very word.  I want to feel rooted.  I want to feel ingrained, planted firmly in the spongy, clay-like ground of this new community.

The gap between the event and the launch of this season gave me a false sense of hope.  It made me think that I would naturally take on the life of a stay at home mom without reverberating pangs of guilt and sorrow for the abandonment of a career that can only be described as a lifelong passion for the art of it all.  It made me think I'd fall seamlessly into a regimented schedule of laundry and dusting and story hours and Pinterest projects without the nagging desire for a bit of spontaneity or a day of lounging around watching Disney movies and Food Network.  The gap of time was glittery and shiny with the newness of life here in Texas.  The exploration of the area, the decoration of our home, the concept of palm trees as part of our local vegetation {sounds silly...but that was a huge deal for a while} and living in a place once again where the beach was just a relatively short drive away.  Sparkling.  New.  Sand and BBQ and humidity-soaked excitement that placated me long enough to ensure my kids would become acclimated quickly and fall into routine.  And they did.  In record time, it seemed.  I knew they would...kids are resilient that way.  I found {and still find} myself jealous of their adaptability, their transparency and acceptance and ability to move forward with life.

I know God planned for that bright and shiny newness as a way to distract me from seeing this current season.  I know He didn't want me to see that this time of struggle and uncertainty would be one where I was faced with a catalog of emotions and feelings and soul-seeking moments.  Personally, it's hard.  This season isn't the gluttony of responsibilities and commitments with which I had ensnared myself in Colorado, but perhaps that's His way of telling me to lessen the burdens, to clear the path for growth in a different way.

While my calendar doesn't give a clue as to the length of this season and my field of vision does not reveal the inclination of a threshold somewhere on my horizon, I know this is just a season.  This time will pass, these pages will be written.  And from them, growth will occur.  Change will happen.  And life will continue to march on.  For I walk by faith, not by sight.