WHAT Am I DOing?

I have no idea. Do you?

Who of us does? Here's a small moment of honesty. I have to try every day to shake thinking about people and life, especially myself, in black-and-white terms. It's like a knee-jerk reaction. Maybe it's the way I was raised. Maybe it's in my Puritan genes. MAYbe there's a need in this world for it and I haven't figured out where to put this "gift".

The reason I bring this up is because I want to write from my gut about what I am REALLY doing. But I worry about the language; it's need to be softened, to not sound angry. 

I'm not angry, I'm determined. But towards what?

I am determined to lose the weight I added in the last 5 years. My goal is to lose 30 pounds and be at the most 140 18 months later. It's only been one month and I've lost 10. But I've never had to lose weight before, so I have no idea if it will work. All the judgments float around my head...I won't bore you and list them all out, but I hear them. Loudly. The "bottom" line? I am aging. I will never be an athlete. But I can choose to not let appetites rule me. This has been a new norm for me for the first time ever in the last five years. In that, I am determined to change and lose the weight in the meantime.

This is HUGE! No pun intended. I live among rural women. They are one of two things, for the most part. Hard-working, as in the dirt with farm animals and homesteading, or they give up on their appearance after a certain age. We, which is a gift, don't have to compete as older women with city fashion for our day to day lives. But here's the problem. I LIKE to look good. In a non-athletic sort of way. I put on sunscreen every day. I think about the colors I wear. I like to wear makeup if I feel like there's a reason. But as a 45-year old, I have to also think about the weight I'm putting on. I never had to think about it before 40. After 40, I let crises call me to crave. This cannot continue, especially as I...oh, god...enter menopause.

I CAN'T believe I just wrote that word on my blog. My mother's New England sensibilities would have me whisper it. But can I just say that entering that potential time of life with a daughter who hasn't even yet begun womanhood is terrifying?

Did I just write THAT?

Here's the real deal. To watch one's daughter blossom into all the yumminess of young adulthood when my last remnants are fading away is just hard. Her dad can barely take his heart off of her. In all the best ways. She has energy, vitality, youthfulness. It's a part of adolescence that I skipped, that didn't feel noticed or celebrated. 

And the emotions to navigate these years of teens continue towards me like waves. I am a surfer. I catch some and ride well, but more often fear drowning. I can't give up the hope of the potential moment of perfect balance, so I keep trying to surf.

Here's what I'm doing. I have a new job. I make a miniscule amount of money. But since I have miniscule experience, it's not that surprising. I have spent the money long before it shows up in the bank. I have three teens, two dogs, and one husband I (can struggle to) enjoy. We celebrate 21 years tomorrow. He is my rock. But the mystery has been far surpassed by parenthood and a shared bathroom. We are united. And we are the parents children would say about, "They...what??? I can't imagine..." My point is...aging is just hard for me. I want the romance, mystery, unpredictability, and drama. But not at the cost of starting over. Not at the cost of breaking the hearts of the three children or the heart of the man I made them with. Step-by-step.

Step-by-step, I am faithful. Step-by-step, I start back to the workforce. Step-by-step, I watch these children I have nurtured SO diligently come of age and not know what life with them will look like. Step-by-step, I work to be okay with that. Step-by-step I imagine dreams beyond a happy family. Step-by-step, I commit to losing that 30 pounds. Step-by-step I STILL wonder if I will ever make a bigger difference in this world, while being faithful to the "little" opportunities that show up in my daily path. 

Step-by-step, I ask what God I still believe in. 

Is it the God of my children's youth group whose number one goal is purity and discipline? (No.) Is it the God I grew up with who attended church and practiced the sacraments weekly? (Still deciding, but hanging on by a thread.)  Is it the God who never seemed to grab my husband of 21-years heart? (A complete mystery.) I've pretty much decided it's not the god of my fundamentalist/Puritanism/Pentecostal, "He requires all/I surrender all" background. But if I REALLY give up attendance, the liturgy, TITHING...what the "HELL" will happen to those I love, including myself?

WHAT am I DOing? I am working now. I am raising three teens, albeit without formulas after many years of formulaic attempts. I am nurturing friendships, including with my man of 21 years. I am working for a paycheck and the people's whose eyes I look into every day, answering an unpredictable phone and being open to whomever walks into our office. I am committed to caring for and loving my newly beloved co-workers. 

And I continue to ask what my role might be as a writer and creative.

What are YOU doing?

Are you finding it as challenging as me?

I still want an online presence. I still "should" write a book. I still wish I had some incredible idea that would catapult me to something beyond ordinary living in a small town which would mean a strong speaking schedule. But in my culture/church, maybe that I've never gotten that far is because of my gender, not my talent. Lord, have mercy. 

Part of what I'm doing is still deciding: What is true, even though my immediate nature wants to say, I KNOW!

You?

Be at Peace, Parent, Part II

I sit with minutes to write. I sit in one of the many college student unions I've visited this week. This one's a little different because it's the school of my oldest and I'm waiting for him to get out of class so we can take him to dinner. It's hard to believe our family left Grass Valley less than 60 hours ago. This is our fourth college stop.

Today my emotions are all wound up. As in, my emotions sit in shoulder and neck pain unless I cry some hot tears, which I did a bit this morning. But just a bit. I'm still trying to unravel all the emotion these last days touch on.

Today's meditation for the 2 on the Enneagram was this. "Meditate on the childhood truth you missed, 'You are wanted'." For some perspective, my husband's and the 5s meditation today was, "Meditate on the childhood truth you missed, 'Your needs matter'."

To be the mother of three teens has felt BRUTAL on this trip. BRUTAL. My heart is in knots. 

This is for so many reasons, but one of the biggest I've been able to understand is that the stand in the in-between just hurts. It hurts to be the nurturer and the needed to be nurtured. It burns like the splits to be the healer while seeking the healing.

To let the insensitivity and unawareness of the age of my kids bounce off a heart that can still be bruised by what felt like a childhood that didn't give me the resilience leaves me feeling a bit beat-up. I am learning, I am growing, I do not blame my parents for everything, but I know enough to know that if some things don't get put in place, it's a daily process, not a given, to be resilient.

To give wings to dreams of my children and at 45 still not be totally sure of the dreams of my own takes a level of emotional caliber that I am attempting, but far from perfectly executing.

During today's tour, I had to just walk away from the rest of my family for a good portion and get it together. One comment from one of them had particularly stung and I could not hear one more sarcastic degradation. Every family has their strengths and weaknesses. The ghosts of homeschooling haunt me the worst at these times with the voices of accusation that somehow I could have prevented this. My eyes burn with tears. 

I don't have the answers except for this. My husband and I followed our dreams. It's partly why we have three kids. It's why we live where we live. It's part of the reason we homeschooled them and I stayed home and we chose jobs that let Todd work from home. 

We dreamt of creating a family that offered more than where we came from. 

We've followed this dream for over 20 years. It's been at great expense. There have been (recent) seasons of hanging on to the dream by its threads. And we're in a time where I have no idea what 5 years from now will look like, if what I do today even matters. But who ever does? Somehow, though, when they were younger, I was able to better feel the results of our choices as good.

Be at peace, parent, I try and tell myself this week. Cry when you need to. Take care of yourself, as well. Try and live what you say you believe: that it is not all up to you. That the writing of the stories: ours, our children, loved ones, friends, and enemies, is a combination of many factors. 

If I'm honest, as the years have gone by and I go through my circumstances, I make choices. This is coupled with a heart's cry for that which I cannot control. I think of it as prayer, a call out to the divine. It has always been when I think I can control all of it, that there is a formula to living this life, that I have been the most deceived.

Be at peace, parent. You are wanted. Your needs matter.

 

Be At Peace, Parent.

I remember it so clearly. I ran into a friend sitting at a downtown bar with another friend one night when I was out walking the Grower's Market. My son was probably 15 at the time. Her son and my son had spent much time together when they were younger. In fact, I entrusted her and her husband with all three of my young children once a month for 24 hours while she entrusted me with her two. Those weekends, way back when, kept our marriages alive.

My son had just chosen public high school and the choir program after 10 years of homeschooling. Her son, born days apart from mine was moving into the world as well. I shared my hopes and dreams for my eldest. And then she said,...

"My hope is just to keep my kids alive. You might need to lower your expectations."

I will never forget the impact that statement made on me.

It's true. Her son, as far as I can tell, didn't graduate high school. Neither did his father. My son is at a university that, I'm told, costs more than Stanford. Why is he there and her son God knows where? I don't know. But it could be because of the difference in their fathers' education. Maybe it's just the breaks. MAYBE it's just because the values of this world do not match what really matters in the long run. I don't have a good answer except our cultures varied.

I trusted this family with my children time and time again. I still would. Their family did not "hold" the education we did, but their common sense far surpassed mine. 

To me, the bottom line is, raising children is just hard.

And values are different.

Meanwhile, I am struggling with comparison of my own.

"I just want my kids to graduate from college." That's my goal. "I just want to keep my kids alive." was hers. 

And yet, tonight I am remembering the idealism of our homeschooling days with other families with way more money and way more confidence than our family possessed. As their children followed THEIR dreams...months in exchange programs, touring foreign countries, skipping adolescence for esteemed internships, etc., I struggled.

I wanted to be proud enough to hold my children's accomplishments up to theirs. And yet, I didn't have the same resources...in class, in income, in connections. It was also during a time of real personal struggles.

I need that to be okay.

One family wants to just keep their son alive. Another family releases their son, who knows how, to travel the world and follow his passions to ride a mountain bike. 

I don't worry about keeping mine alive, but if they can experience traditional college with a fullness of experience and live a richer life than my husband and I, it's enough for me. 

It's all I can offer.

Once I write it out, it seems crazy to me that I have anxiety attacks of fear that we can't measure up to more. But the reality is, there's a reason I homeschooled them for ten years and scrambled to hang out with the most sophisticated and economically sound families I could.

But, bottom line, who we are has to be enough.

I may not be at the place where all I worry about is keeping them alive, but I can't provide more than a traditional college education. Believe it or not, in the circles I used to run with, that wasn't good enough. 

Be at peace, parent.

As will I.

Creativity at Work

Today at work I grabbed time between phone calls and visitors to practice found poetry, really for the first time. Thanks to my friend, Jamie Bagley, I had a whole new well of words to choose from that she sent me in the mail. I wish I had taken a picture of them spread out all over my desk. 

It reminded me of making a puzzle. I kept asking, "Might this fit?" This is the picture the pieces created. Today.

Translation:

Heart's call of Kin.

Rousing receives with realms of charges.

Journal continued its striking departure from page.

The mistress trod with steel made lurking myths.

October suspended in air will hand fantasy's fire.

And then she just happened to include a picture that could be the mistress. I didn't plan it that way.

It felt a little awkward to pull out my art journal box at work. The irony is that my new supervisor gave me a book my team is reading together called, "The Happiness Advantage" by Shawn Achor. The book explains why Google has scooters in their hallways, Yahoo offers in-house massage and why we shouldn't feel guilty or uneasy seeing employees laughing at YouTube videos at their desks. 

I just ended my fourth week of regular employment. I received my first official paycheck yesterday in 20 years. It took me three weeks to earn it and I promptly handed it over to the auto repair place this morning to replace the timing belt on our '07 car. I am not exaggerating when I say the amount of my paycheck and the amount of the auto repair was within only a few dollars.

I found this a little depressing.

But it really didn't have to be. First, we were able to pay for it. Second, we plan to use our car for a family road trip during our fall break in ten days. I feel confident making that trip with a new timing belt.

But most importantly, I took time during my work day to create something. And it felt good. And it felt really good to just trust that it would be okay. When our director walked in and saw me with scattered magazine-clippings on my desk, I breathed. I believed. I trusted. I let go of being the over-achiever seeming busy all the time and attended to what I was hired for, to be the hostess to the phone calls and visitors. I just made found poetry at the same time.

Being at home over the last year and meeting others online who share their craft has inspired me in so many ways, even now with a traditional job. It is my hope the workplace culture will continue to evolve. 

Here are the ways I am practicing creativity at work, besides through the example of my friend, Jamie, with scattered magazine clippings across my desk.

  • I am taking two 15 minute chunks, one towards the beginning of my shift and one towards the end to read the book my supervisor gave our team.
  • I am learning to Reframe Beauty with photographer, Jennifer Upton. She provides a simple FB group with photography prompts. I try to spend some time with her prompts during the week. Just me and my iPad, wherever I find myself.
  • Between Wild Rain, Mandy Steward, and Teresa Robinson I am inspired to think outside the box. As a creative. My friend and coach, Bianca Broos, shows me how I can be a creative entrepreneur even in a traditional job setting.

I am so thankful for this new place I find myself. Tomorrow is normally my day "off" (still managing a home), but need to spend 5 hours in CPR training. Hmmm. I wonder how I can be creative in that context?

Do you feel you are able to be creative in a potentially traditional work setting? Why or why not?

 

Changes

My latest daily habit. Art journaling a little bit each evening.

My latest daily habit. Art journaling a little bit each evening.

I have some stories to tell you today. There has been so much on my heart lately. It's time to let you in on some of it.

Two weeks ago, I started working 30 hours/week as the receptionist at my daughter's school. It's a good job for me. I like receiving people. I am already collecting stories. It's a community and I am learning to be their hostess. It's a great entry-level opportunity for someone like me who's been out of the official workforce for twenty years. 

There are several outlines of purpose for me being there that shimmer in my peripheral vision. It's not always easy. I confronted a group of teenage guys one day and that didn't go well. I felt threatened, intimidated, and righteous anger. But it could have gotten me into some trouble, and I know I am naive in ways. And yet, my naiveté also finds me with an open heart, ready to encourage and care as opportunities arise. From Kindergarteners who easily take my hand to outcast 5th graders who only have the lunch aide (me) to sit with and share their troubles, I am there for those sacred moments. 

The school has a diverse population. As a charter school, we offer options from full-time independent study to a part-time classroom experiences for K-12. There are all sorts of people who come through. And yet, in our small town, connections are easily made and I feel more a part of it now, the community at large. I'm not just doing my own thing, but bringing who I am into a 3D world 4 days/week. It feels really good and right.

Providence knew that I would need this change from the focus of last school year. As many of you know, I became a Story Coach through the Story Unfolding in 2014 and worked hard with others even across the Atlantic to build something together. Personally, I imagined a collaborative experience of intersecting faith and art with each Story Coach bringing to the community their uniqueness. We led write-ins, helped host an in-person retreat,  and planned e-courses, virtual retreats, and collectives. I am so thankful for the diverse group of women I have been privileged to spend time with over the last 15 months. I wish I could list everyone who made such a profound impact on me. And my own art, the art of people, became a thing. I learned what I long for and how I can express it, further exploring my deepest passion meeting one of the world's greatest needs more than I ever have before. 

However, the week I started my new job, the coaches' agreement with the business owner dissolved without notice at the business owner's choice. That was her prerogative and it did not surprise me. But it profoundly affected my friends and the community as a whole. It shook our foundations. Over the last 10 days, many have chosen to move on, including me. I'm saddened by this, because I wish the story had been written differently. I believe it could have been with much less casualty. And I also believe messes don't tell the whole story. I've made too many of them myself. If there isn't hope in the mess, if the only hope is in everyone doing things perfectly, there would be no chance for me. But the community is going to look different, I am no longer needed as a leader there, and so I am quietly moving on.

shit shirt.JPG

My focus continues to be on rebuilding and renewing some of the tearing down that happened over the last five years. It will take some time. I feel vulnerable coming into the holiday season again. I have 30 pounds to lose, debt to pay off, and parenting that continues. Relationships need healing in ways I don't know how to do. And my heart continues to find itself intersecting with young adults carrying heavy burdens most often placed there by the religion I know so well. It is not an accident to me that many of the ones I long to care for will come through my new office. 

There is still plenty of work to do and love to grow.

If you are here from Story Sessions and want to stay in touch, we are probably friends on Facebook. Do follow me here, on Twitter, or Instagram, too. It's been a great ride. I love you.