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

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