Archives for February 2016

Bitter Turned Sweet: A Reflection on Lent

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I eat sweets. A lot. Sometimes, I skip a meal and fill in the blank with cookies or a slice of cake. I believe pancakes and waffles and bananas are simply a vehicle for the main event: a generous helping of chocolate chips. I eat a little something sweet to the taste after every meal. There is no scenario in which I deny myself dessert, unless someone tries to fool me with a piece of fruit. If there isn’t sugar involved, I’m not interested.

What I mean to say is, I like the taste of something sweet on my tongue. Usually this comes in the form of chocolate.

….

My husband and I have been arguing. The days begin to melt into one another with the heat of our exchanges. He would tell you it’s me, and I would tell you it’s him. Together, we are volatile, flammable, the kind of couple all the temperament and personality books suggest should re-consider a relationship together. Unless you’re in too deep, and then they suggest making the best of it. Needless to say, I had to stop reading these books early in our relationship because it was too disheartening.

We are opposites in every way, so when joined together, we make one well-rounded person. We are almost twenty hard-won years into our marriage, and we are still waiting for the elusive “easy” years to arrive. The arguing is nothing to worry about, truly, but the words dripping off our tongues leave behind a bitter taste to the one who speaks them and to the one who receives them. My husband asks, “Why can’t you just be sweet?” I might ask the same question.

I gave up dessert for Lent. I miss the ritual of deciding what will accompany my book and cup of tea each evening. I miss the visceral pleasure of something honeyed and pleasant in my mouth. I have felt the lack of sweetness on my tongue for fourteen days and I will feel it for twenty six more. Everything I eat is salt and spice and bitter.

As I participate in my broken and small way, in the suffering of Christ during this season, I can’t help but think about how much of the sweetness of life has disappeared for me. After moving back to New Jersey, nearly three years ago now, the edges of life are pungent and burnt by reality. I no longer live the “dream life” of an American ex-pat in Europe, I live “real life”, where sweetness must be found by scraping the bottom of the pie dish. In the past, I have relied on tasting the sweetness of life in order to let it drip from my mouth in words to others.

I have called this time a wilderness experience, a long drink of bitterness from the waters of Mara, but I wonder if it’s actually my real life. Maybe what I call wilderness, is really the promised land and I can’t get past the giants to taste of the milk and honey. Perhaps the hard parts of my marriage are actually just marriage. Perhaps the bottom must be scraped to taste of the sweetness.

I long for the confection, the honeyed. But I am responsible for putting these on my tongue, for holding them there until they turn every bitter thing into something sweet. For Lent, I gave up dessert, but I can dig deep to the bottom of my own soul and still find something akin to sweetness. The giants I see here are really my own shadow. This life is one of milk and honey, and I must open my mouth to receive it.

The Double-edged Sword of Expectations

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Now that I have quit my job, I find myself at loose ends. I wake up in the morning, and there is nothing before me except an endless list of household chores and errands on repeat. Often, there is school work–reading and writing–but school isn’t a forty hour a week affair. There’s more than enough time to get the laundry done, and answer today’s emergency text from my child requesting I pick up drug-store items “Immediately!” because, “I’m completely out!” Never mind that I spent my afternoon yesterday at Rite Aid debating the efficacy of one face wash over another for another child having skin-related anxiety–again requiring an immediate remedy. I’m simply pleased the request didn’t come three minutes before my bedtime.

As you, dear reader, can imagine, this kind of behavior has caused some tension in the re-entry process. My decision has been a double-edged sword of relief and regret. The people in my life believe I’m on call 24-7 for crisis management, if one considers the lack of one’s favorite cereal in the cupboard a crisis. I actually had one perplexed individual come to me this morning, after discovering the coffee machine empty and the milk un-frothed, “Umm, did you just forget to make my coffee?” Umm, no, individual with two working arms and legs, I didn’t.

I’ll spare you my inner response, as I did with said person. Let’s just say, it’s a good thing I had spent the previous five minutes communing with Jesus. Giving up yelling for Lent two years ago, made a surprise comeback this morning.

Double-edged sword, thy name is Expectations. Apparently, my people have them. Suddenly, everything must be done NOW, because there is this pervasive belief I have nothing better to do. Most disturbing of all? This is, in fact, true. Besides due dates for my school work, nothing is pressing. My expectations and their expectations find themselves on the same track, in danger of a head on collision.

I (foolishly) didn’t anticipate that having four homegrown “bosses” all over again, might make things messy. I didn’t anticipate that the loss of my own salary would sting a little, that I’d miss having the autonomy of leaving the house in the morning, and not having to account to my family for my productivity that day. I certainly didn’t think I’d feel a flood of anxiety over what message this sends my daughters. I didn’t anticipate the inner battle created by this subtle shift of power out of my hands, and back into the hands of my people. Frankly, I don’t care for it. It feels as if I don’t own anything.

I told a friend recently that I don’t write about my children in detail very often, I prefer generalities, because I want them to own their stories. They don’t own their lives fully yet, but the older they get, the more they need to live those stories and own the outcome of them. They will decide if and when and with whom they will share them.

I find myself on these quiet days at home with the washing machine humming in the background and the un-frothed milk sitting cold in the fridge, wanting to give myself the same freedom–to own my life and its stories. I have a husband and three children that I wouldn’t trade for any amount of power or prestige or creative longings. I choose this life every single day. However, they are not the whole of my story. Dear Lord, if I reach the end of my days and only have trips to Target and Rite Aid to show for it, I will be sorely disappointed.

I don’t know how to grasp the double-edged sword of these expectations of my life as a woman and as a mother and wield it well. I want it to cut through the unrealistic expectations, and the divisions telling me I can only be one thing or another. I want this life of mine to tell a better story, one that isn’t filled with frustration and unmet expectations, but with lavish love and good work and a healthy home and creative fulfillment.

Thanks for being here, friends. For being a safe place where I can work through the conflict in my life story. Are you stuck in a place of unmet expectations too? Either yours or others’ expectations of you? Solidarity, sisters. I’m limping right along with you.

For the One Who Isn’t Wonder Woman and Never Will Be

FullSizeRenderIn my twenties, I attended a company Holiday party hosted by my husband’s then-employer. It was held in a dimly lit ballroom with a dance floor and wandering balloon artists creating phallic symbols to be worn as hats. I was nervous about meeting his colleagues for the first time because of my small-talk allergy, so I tried to make myself as pretty as possible, to offer at least the appearance of being put together.

Had I known about the pen*s-shaped balloons, I wouldn’t have worried so much. I wore an ankle length, velvet dress in a deep shade of burgundy, and around my waist I wrapped a rhinestone belt that circled once, then dropped into a long line of faux jewels hanging down like a string of glittering diamonds. The first co-worker I shook hands with looked at the trailing rhinestones, and asked if I was wearing a Lasso of Truth that evening.

Obviously I wasn’t, otherwise when I asked him if he was insulting me, his reply wouldn’t have been a hasty “No” and a fast exit. To be honest, I wasn’t even sure what a Lasso of Truth was at the time. I didn’t read comic books as a girl, and so my knowledge of Wonder Woman and her Lasso of Truth was rudimentary at best. I knew she was a superhero, but I didn’t understand why.

Before I left for my MFA residency in England last month, I quit my day job. You aren’t surprised, and neither was anyone related to me. The twenty-five hours a week I spent working as an admin assistant for five (yes, FIVE) campus pastors, became unsustainable with my husband’s new work schedule and my desire for sleep, sanity, and seeing my kids (and grad school, and running a busy household, and writing projects…). I have entered retirement, effective immediately.

I also discovered administrative work makes me feel as if I’m wearing restrictive undergarments at all times. Is this what Spanx feel like? If so, no thank you. I found myself expending an enormous amount of mental energy trying to hold everything in–the schedules, the expense reports, the emails, the to-dos, along with my own internal crazy. I’m far too relaxed about the details of life (and especially the administrative tasks related to life) to sustain that kind of work long-term. Being “organized” is a totally different animal than being administratively gifted. Lesson learned, and as usual, I learned it the hard way. Thanks, office job, for teaching me I have no future in, well, anything but the creative.

For six months, I pretended I was Wonder Woman, managing tasks at the office and managing life at home. But, one can only ask their family to eat so many take-out dinners and wear the same pair of dirty jeans on repeat so many times, before the illusion begins to wear off. In my case, it wore off pretty quickly. I wish I had it all together. I wish I could work outside the home and take care of a family and finish grad school and write in my spare time, but I can’t do it all and do it well. I just can’t. It’s very hard to admit this to one’s self, let alone admit it to the internet. But here I am, bleeding a little from my wounded imperfections onto this page, because I suspect some of you feel the same way too.

You don’t feel like Wonder Woman. You feel as if there isn’t enough of you to satisfy all the needs and expectations and desires placed on you daily. Sure, you could squeeze more into your schedule to assume something akin to “productivity”, but you don’t want to. You want breathing room. You want space. Like you, I am tired of this insane frenetic pace we’re all expected to keep, in order to do more. Trying to do more, makes me feel like I am less. Less capable, less competent, and less connected to my inner self.

A friend once said to me, on becoming an adult, “You reach a point in life where you don’t need anyone or anything to tell you who you are. You already know.” This is a lesson I’m learning in reverse. I’ve become more and more undone as an adult. Life experience has unraveled me, but I’m beginning to see myself more clearly with each success and failure. The puzzle pieces are snapping into place, and they tell the story of who I am and who I will become. I will not be Wonder Woman, and even though many of my friends manage to pull this off, this is not me.

Working outside the home wasn’t the problem, but sacrificing the hours I need to write and study, to pursue something I find incredibly life-giving, became too much of a tension for me. Through trial and error, I’m discovering who I am. I have zero employable skills apart from writing. I may not be Wonder Woman, and I may not be able to force others into the truth, but I can tell the truth about myself. Rhinestone lasso or not.