When I grow up.

“Don’t try to make me grow up before my time…”
Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”  I am pretty sure it’s the second most asked question of children, right after “Where is your nose?”  That’s quite a jump, when you think about it.  From locating a random body part to planning a career, in the blink of an eye.  And both before you even learn to feed yourself.

I wanted to be a doctor.  Except for the blood and the math and stuff.  Apparently math is necessary in medical school, and you have to be able to find “X”.  Don’t know where it is and don’t care, so there goes the medical career.

At some point I wanted to be a musician.  This was evidenced by my trying to learn every instrument in the band, and mastering none, although I finally did learn to play a reasonably good saxophone.  I gained a new appreciation for what my parents and grandparents went through, attending all of those elementary band concerts.  It’s an entire room full of parents all praying at once for the Rapture, so that they don’t have to listen to one.  more.  song.  Elementary choir concerts run a close second.  Every child in the choir (including the boys) sings soprano, except for that one girl whose voice changed last week and she’s singing bass and trying not to look self-conscious.  The wild applause at the end has nothing to do with the actual performance–everyone is just glad that it’s over, and hoping that there won’t be an encore.

Once, for a very short time, I wanted to be a pastor.  Please don’t ask me why.  I am pretty sure that even God laughed at that one.  I have a fear of speaking in front of people that is literally paralyzing.  When I was a senior in high school, I had to give a speech at the end of the year.  I begged my teacher to let me tape it, or do it for her privately, and she would not cooperate.  I stood up in front of the class, started to cry and ran from the room.  Most churches prefer that the pastor be able to actually get up there and say something profound.  Fortunately I realized pretty quickly that preaching wasn’t my gift.  Neither was being a ballet dancer (no coordination what.  so.  ever.), a pilot (one good eye, and it’s questionable), a singer (Oh Sweet Jesus.  Just.  NO.) and a whole lot of other careers that involved talents that I didn’t possess.  (And before you pop up and get all “But coordination isn’t really a TALENT, I beg to differ.  In our family, it’s a talent.  I can assure you that all of those singers on “American Idol” have not worked nearly as hard at learning to sing as my sister and I have at learning to walk across a room without needing medical attention on the other side.  It’s a talent, people.)

We ask our children to make a decision about the rest of their lives at the age of 18.  When I was 18, I shouldn’t have been choosing what to have for breakfast.  I slept with my teddy bear until I got married.  I probably would have slept with him longer, but he made Dan nervous.  I’ve been married for 23 years, raised three children (and am well on my way to getting the fourth one reasonably raised), done a bunch of stuff that was never on my radar…and I still don’t really know what I want to be when I grow up.  I have a lot of questionable skills now (I can plan a graduation ceremony in three days and run a week-long camp for junior high kids playing only games that involve food, including but not limited to octopus, ketchup, mustard and chocolate syrup), but the market for these amazing abilities is kind of limited here in the US.  For one thing, I am pretty sure that PETA would have a conniption if they found out that I can organize a volleyball game where the ball is an actual octopus.  Yeah.  I’ve got skills.

I have a lot of experience.  And a degree that says that I know some stuff about some stuff.  Maybe, someday, when I finally grow up, I will know what I want to do.  Until then, I will just keep learning stuff about stuff, and see what happens.

“People give you a hard time about being a kid at twelve. They didn’t want to give you Halloween candy anymore. They said things like, “If this were the Middle Ages, you’d be married and you’d own a farm with about a million chickens on it.” They were trying to kick you out of childhood. Once you were gone, there was no going back, so you had to hold on as long as you could.”
Heather O’Neill

The unwanted guest.

It’s not a big secret that I have anxiety issues.  I take medication for them, and most of the time it keeps me on a semi-even keel.  But they never truly go away.  My anxiety is the unwanted guest in our home and our marriage.  It has moved in, taken over the biggest room in my head, and no matter how much I try to evict it, it stays.

Dan didn’t marry an anxious person.  I was never outgoing, or overly brave, but I wasn’t anxious all the time.  I come from a long line of anxious people.  My grandmother, who was one of the most courageous people I’ve ever known, was filled with anxiety.  I can remember as a child her not wanting me to roller skate on the driveway because I “might fall”.  At the time, it made no sense to me, and I thought she was overprotective.  Now that I am a mom, I get it.  And I am worse than she ever was.

Patrick and I are living with my sister right now (who, coincidentally, lives in my grandparents house with the same scary driveway) and my mom lives around the corner.  It is literally 10 houses from my sister.  Yesterday we were headed over to visit my mom and Patrick asked if he could walk to Grandmama’s house all by himself.

I couldn’t let him.

My hands got sweaty and my heart started racing, and I brushed him off and promised that he could do it “another day”.  Then I had the conversation with the crazy person that lives in my head about letting him do it.  By the time we got to my mom’s (in the car, both of us) I had him kidnapped and gone forever.

I know that most of you are reading this and thinking that I am just ridiculous.  You’re right.  I am.  But being ridiculous–and knowing that I am ridiculous–doesn’t change a thing.  It isn’t good for my marriage, it isn’t good for my kids, and it certainly isn’t good for me.

I can honestly say that the most heated, unreasonable, crazy arguments that Dan and I have ever had were almost all caused by my anxiety.  It causes me to see things from a skewed perspective.  This morning I was texting him, and he didn’t answer me.  After a couple of times, I sent him a message asking if he was angry with me (Guilt–it’s the other person in my head) and he answered that he had sent me a text before, but forgot to hit “send”, and that he hadn’t seen the other message.  My immediate reaction was to get upset.  I didn’t answer him, because I knew that I would say something that wasn’t kind or necessary.  I’ve spent the last half an hour talking myself down off of the ceiling, because I KNOW he isn’t ignoring me, or angry with me, but my anxiety tells me otherwise and I have to remind myself over and over that it can’t rule my life, or my thoughts.

I sometimes wonder if my anxiety issues are tied to control–the things that make me the most upset and anxious are the things that I can’t control.  I’ve read all of the verses in the Bible about letting the Lord handle my problems, and not being afraid, and trusting…and I can do all of that for about five minutes.

“Anxiety” is a four-letter-word in the Christian community.  “You’re just not praying enough.”  “You need to believe more.”  “You have Jesus–you shouldn’t be anxious.”  (That one really frosts my cookies.)  And “anxiety” coupled with “medication” is like the Holy Grail of “what-in-the-world-is-wrong-with-you-and-you-are-obviously-not-a-good-Christian-or-a good-mother-or-a-good-wife-or-a-good-missionary-and-here–try some herbs.”  I think what frosts me most about people who respond that way is that, for the most part, they have not been where I am.  They don’t live my life or know my story and they certainly don’t know what is happening inside my head.  I am an introvert, and I spend a LOT of time inside my own head.  I don’t say what I am thinking (and really–y’all should be glad about that) and I don’t confide in a lot of people.  If you ask me what is going on, I will most likely say “nothing”.  Pushing me won’t change that–I don’t push easily.

I don’t have any answers, and I am not looking for them from anyone.  I guess I just wanted you to know that if I am being unreasonable or acting weird, it’s probably the anxiety rearing it’s ugly head.  Don’t take it personally.  And if you know someone who has taken the medication road–please be supportive.  Know that it was not a decision made lightly.  Know that for them, it was probably made after a long, hard, agonizing soul-search and that there really, truly was no other option–for THEM.  Maybe you took the herbs and they worked.  That makes me so happy for you.  Maybe you know someone who beat their anxiety by praying or fasting or going on a personal retreat.  I say “Great!”  But if you took the meds, or are taking the meds, or know someone who is or was…please see them as a God-given method of restoring our sanity.  Because I truly believe that the Lord gave me the right doctor (who is also a Christian) and that my doc knew what I needed at the time because he is a man of prayer and he knows that sometimes the answers are contra to what the Christian society says.

“It was one of those days when I was thinking too much, too fast. Only it was more like the thoughts had a mind of their own and going all by themselves at a hundred miles a second, and I was just sitting back, feeling the growing paranoia inside of me.”
Sasha Mizaree

It’s a three cup morning.

Patrick is upstairs taking his shower.  Patrick’s showers are precisely coordinated events.  The water temperature must be EXACTLY right.  It must be HIS soap and shampoo.  He must use HIS poof.  He must wash every part of his body THREE times.  It’s nerve-wracking.

This morning, before I had enough coffee in my system, I might have sort of yelled “WHAT?  WHAT WHAT WHAT?  FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY, JUST TAKE YOUR SHOWER!”

I am nailing this mom thing.  Seriously.

Guilt. It’s what’s for breakfast.

This morning was one of those “ultimate Mom fail” mornings.  Patrick was unusually difficult to get out of bed (he’s never easy, but today was really tough) and he just wouldn’t get moving.  We took my nephew to school and then came home to get started on his schoolwork.

And it all fell apart.

He got through one section of his Language Arts lesson, and then just sort of shut down.  He wouldn’t read, he was whiny…finally, after a lot of raised voices (both of us) I told him to go lie down on the couch for a few minutes.

That was at 10:15.  He is still asleep.

Sometimes I forget that Patrick is only 10.  I forget that international travel and being away from home and routine is hard on his little self.  No matter how badly he wants to get on that plane and come to “Mimi’s house”, it still exhausts him.  He is generally a happy, well-adjusted, go-with-the-flow kind of child, so when he bucks the system it catches me off guard.  And sometimes I don’t react very well.  Poor guy will just have to take comfort in the fact that his siblings survived me, and he will too.

“I cannot admit this out loud. In the first place, we are expected to be supermoms these days, instead of admitting that we have flaws. It is tempting to believe that all mothers wake up feeling fresh every morning, never raise their voices, only cook with organic food, and are equally at ease with the CEO and the PTA.”
Jodi Picoult

 

 

Breathe…

This life.  This thing we do.  It demands.  Like a two-year-old clamoring for attention day and night, it demands every part of me.

It clutches at my mind…the daycare, the After-school program, the ladies learning to sew and learning to live and be women for the first time in their lives and the children in the street and the little old people who sit and beg…it goes on and on and on.  My mind is never silent.  Breathe.

My heart is a thousand places and nowhere.  My children, thousands of miles away.  Who came up with the idea of allowing our children to grow up?  How do I protect them from so far away?  What do I do when it hurts?  When they just need their momma?  How do I trust this world with my babies?  Breathe.

It is the “other woman” in my marriage.  Another email that demands his attention.  Another trip that takes him away from me.  Another crisis that needs handling, and this man…my husband…he can handle it.  He can fix things and talk to people and soothe tempers and roll with life.  I look into his eyes, and there, behind them, he is thinking about how to help.  How to do what he does so well…and do it better.  And he comes to our marriage and he is mine and I know that I have his whole heart for his whole life and the thought that he holds me up so high takes my breath away.  Breathe. 

I wouldn’t change it for the world.  I would walk away tomorrow.  My thoughts shadow-box in my head.  I love my life.  I need a new life.  It’s not His fault.  It’s all His fault.  Why am I here?  Why am I here?  Surely there is someone else who could do this better.  Faster.  More effectively.  Quieter.  Louder.  Breathe.

This life.  This thing we do.  It lets me grow.  It takes my soul and sets it free.  It is the song with no words that I see reflected back in their eyes.  It is the bird that takes the hope…my hope and their hope…and sets it dancing to the heavens.  It is the love that reminds me that I am not here because of me…I am here because of Him.

Breathe.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

John 15:4-6

 

Forget zombies. This is how it’s all going to go down.

Yesterday, Patrick and I flew from Quito to Ohio, because it just doesn’t get cold and snowy where we live and we were feeling cheated.  The last leg of our trip was from LaGuardia to Cleveland. It was a regional jet, which I happen to like because they are actually comfortable, however they are really small and they don’t let you take your rolling carry-on on board because they don’t all fit. They tagged them all and we were supposed to leave them at the end of the jetway. I get up there and get mine all situated. Then, because WHY IN THE NAME OF ALL THAT IS HOLY COULD I NOT HAVE BEEN BORN WITH TWO GOOD EYES AND SOME DEPTH PERCEPTION, I turn around and proceed to trip over my carry-on. Which is on WHEELS. Like all 12 of the OTHER ONES that were sitting there. The next thing I know, all of them start rolling RAPIDLY toward the OPEN jetway door. Which is like 20 feet off the ground. There are people working UNDERNEATH the jetway. It is getting ready to RAIN DOWN CARRY-ONS, and they aren’t going to know what hit them. My first thought was “All those people are about to be DEAD.  Or at least have a wicked headache.”  I know what I carry in MY carry-on, so I can only imagine what other people have in theirs.  Death by junk.  I start scrambling like a crazy woman trying to prevent the carry-on Apocalypse, and the guy behind me starts LAUGHING. Then he sets HIS carry-on down, because he thinks he’s FUNNY, and it immediately heads for the jetway door, along with all the rest of them. At this point I am decorating my jail cell in my head, because I am about to wipe out a bunch of LaGuardia airport employees ALL BECAUSE I HAVE NO DEPTH PERCEPTION.  I am about to make national news and be labeled a mass murderer, or at the very least the dumbest person alive, so as a last ditch effort I grab someone’s very expensive looking computer bag and finally manage to get it sideways and block the door, and the rest of them backed up behind it. Funny Guy is still laughing (instead of helping me–REALLY?), and he goes “Wow. That would have been a great story”.

Zombies got nothing on me.  I should be teaching classes on chaos.

You’re welcome.

Rainy days and Mondays…

Talkin’ to myself and feelin’ old
Sometimes I’d like to quit
Nothing ever seems to fit
Hangin’ around
Nothing to do but frown
Rainy Days and Mondays always get me down. 

(“Rainy Days and Mondays” ~The Carpenters)

 

Sometimes, even in the middle of the best of everything, my soul gets soggy.  I need for Someone to wring me out and hang me over a clothesline somewhere to dry.

These last several weeks have made me weary.  We lost our “fifth child” as our Nick left Ecuador to move to South Africa and begin the task of opening up the Extreme Response presence there.  It’s wonderful.  It’s exciting.  And it hurt my heart, just like it did when my three children left and went to college.

Two weeks ago, I had surgery on my hand.  In my mind, I would be up and around within a day or so, back to my normal routine and everything fixed.  Reality has been much different.  Two weeks later, my hand is still bandaged.  I have very little use of it.  I still have the majority of my stitches.  Two of my five fingers are numb.  I have no energy, and since I have very little energy on a good day, anything that drains me even further is most unwelcome.  My appetite is still not good (OK, maybe that isn’t such a bad thing) and I am frustrated by my inability to just be me.  Guilt washes over me in waves because my poor hubby has had to do pretty much everything around here.  And he DOES.  No complaining, no making me feel guilty…he just keeps doing things and being that sweet, amazing man that he is.  I feel guilty anyway, because feeling guilty for things that I can’t control is one of my spiritual gifts.

This Wednesday, which is in LESS THAN 72 HOURS, Patrick and I head to the US again, while Dan flies off to Peru for a couple of weeks.  We were already planning to be in the US for April and May because our Daniel is graduating (hold me) and when Dan found out that he had to go to Peru, Patrick and I thought that it would be more fun (read “Mommy won’t lose her schnitzel while Daddy is out of the country”) to go spend the time with our family and friends.  And it will be.  And once we are there, it will be good.  But we have to GET there.  I once again have to prepare my house for someone else to live in it for three months.  I have to try to explain to Oliver that I’m leaving (don’t laugh–we have a connection) and I have to think through all of the details that go with us leaving.  Furlough is one of the great stress-inducing gifts of this life that we live.  We get to spend time in the US with our family and friends, telling them all about the life that we live.  We get to eat too much and shop too much and drive too much…and laugh too much and hug too much and love too much…sometimes “too much” is good.  It’s hard though.  Most people, when they go on a vacation, are gone for a week or two.  Nothing really changes during their absence.  They come home and the grass might be a little too long and the mail might have piled up, but nothing really CHANGES.  People don’t change.  When we are gone, either from our home here or from our home there, people change.  And it’s hard, because in our “perfect world”, they wouldn’t.  Everything would be just as we left it.  It’s a brutal reality check when we get off that plane.

When we return from our time in the US, we will have to move.  We have lived here for 10 years.  This is “home” to our children.  We know every leaky faucet and shorted-out wire in the place.  We’ve made memories here.  Last week, in the midst of my already soggy-soul sob-fest, our landlord came by the let us know that he is selling this house.  We understand.  He is elderly, and he only has one child who is tearing her hair out trying to care for her elderly parents and all of their rental properties.  It’s too much and we get that.  But it’s still hard.  And because I am me, and I have this annoying inability to deal with life, I shut down.  I literally laid awake all night on Wednesday trying to mentally sort through closets and get rid of stuff…I should have just gotten out of bed and done it!  But I didn’t really talk to Dan about it, which would have helped, because as usual he isn’t worried, and he knows that the details will be taken care of…This, by the way, is one of the things that made my heart fall hard for him all of those years ago.  His ability to handle things.  And his ability to make me feel safe.

I know that the Lord has all of this taken care of.  He knows where we are going to live next.  He knows the timeline for getting my hand back.  He knows that I feel guilty.  He knows my fears and my worries…I know this.  But sometimes, in the midst of it all, it is really hard for me to be still.  To turn my brain off.  To stop panicking.  To let go.  But He is conspicuously silent right now.  I could use an email, or some smoke signals…just something tangible to let me know He’s got this, and it’s going to be alright.

This life we live–this missionary life–is something different for everyone.  We all have things that we have to let go of in order to do this.  For some it is a surrender of physical things.  Nice house, nice things, good schools, the right friends.  For others it’s letting go of their ego.  The “I’ve got all the answers” mindset.  For some–and this is where I fall–it is letting go of fear, and the illusion of control that we have over our lives.

He keeps jerking the rug out from under me.  And then He catches me when I fall.  As long as He keeps catching me, I will keep going, soggy soul and all.

“I must have been born on a rainy day for sure.
My soul is made of rain.”