it’s complicated

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Image Credit: Steve Johnson on Unsplash

With Father’s Day coming up, I’ve been thinking about my dad a lot these past few days. I remember that he gave me a love for the outdoors and classical music, a deeply engrained hard-work ethic, and some infamous, not-always-healthy but stuck-in-my-head, life mottos like: “If you want it done right, do it yourself”. I also remember him saying often, especially near the end of his life, “It’s complicated”.

Back in the day, when he said “It’s complicated”, I would roll my eyes and oh-so-smartly think he was just making an excuse for not doing what I hoped he would do.

I’m afraid it has been too easy for me to judge others
before I have walked in their shoes.

I’ve noticed lately that I now say, “It’s complicated” all. the. time.

Life really is complicated.

And complex. And messy. And so much more nuanced and interwoven and painful and tangled than I ever imagined. If I didn’t know it before, the last few months of COVID-19 world implications and the newly ignited and overdue topic of racial inequality have made the complications run unstoppable through my head and my heart.

No matter what opinion or idea or suggestion or demand that surfaces, there is always a passionately presented contrary perspective. For some of those issues, whether it has to do with social isolation or correcting injustices, I have a clear conviction and satisfactory action steps in my mind.

On the other hand, there are so many topics, plans, and “We need to do this!” answers to our problems that feel not as simplistic as they appear in the heat of the moment. And I struggle with the complexity. One approach that will help some people would end up hurting others. One budget adjustment would benefit part of the community but compound problems in another area. People are created in the image of God, defined by much more than their mistakes, and somehow also accountable for harms that they inflict, even without the intent. It’s complicated.

I have recently experienced (again) that I still carry emotional baggage from my childhood that shows up uninvited into my present tense interactions with the people I love – and causes them pain. I have no desire to do that. I hope that I have grown past that, but it still happens. 

I work hard to communicate clearly, lovingly, and with empathy and grace to others, but I continue to hurt people’s feelings and cause misunderstandings. Although I want to exemplify asking powerful questions and demonstrating sincere curiosity for others, I too often end up pushing for my agenda, speaking my opinion as if it were firm and factual, and talking over others before they can say what they think. I wish I didn’t do that, but I do.

And so I continue to admit my mistakes, my selfishness, my immaturities, and my gaps and ask for forgiveness and grace from others. I keep leaning into difficult conversations and asking questions – some good ones, some that show my ignorance – with a willing attempt to sort through the “It’s complicated” to find some real solutions to deep problems. And as I hope to receive grace from others for my obvious imperfections, I press on to offer that same grace and love to others, no matter their point of view or contrary idea or even their expressed anger and displeasure with me. My Dad was right.

It’s complicated. 

Relationships, systems, history… they are complicated. And it’s worth it for us to care well for others and ourselves. To speak and act with kindness. To work together to fix things that are messed up. To bring hope to our shared future. To be Jesus’ light of love to others. Hatred, bullying, hurt-for-hurt is not the way. It’s not easy, but courageously pursuing truth and healing – with love – is our only option. 


What are some things you do to handle this complicated life of ours? 

the fatigue is real

Photo credit: matthew-henry-6x-hVXXiBxs-unsplash

So… we’ve been at this virus thing a while now, and we’re getting worn down. The initial adrenaline has worn off – as it should. We were not created to live with an enduring adrenaline rush.

We embraced the novelty of our new realities, using creativity and technology to survive, but that has gotten old too. Now, the isolation, the confinement, the messes, the unknowns, and the losses are accumulating… and they add up to a whole lot of tired. I began to make a list of some of the exhaustion culprits.

Zoom Fatigue

When we use the same platform for everything (work meetings and one-on-ones, socializing and virtual parties, family events, church services, online classes, doctors’ appointments, and maybe counseling too), we have no context changes and we. sit. way. too. much. In addition, the audio lags, “frozen” visuals, and mute-mistakes create mental agitation. The self-view ensures ongoing self-criticism, and the home-background-view can cause social comparison. The lack of eye-contact (do I look at the screen faces or at the camera?) and the group direct-staring is abnormal and relationally draining.   

Information Fatigue

I don’t know about you, but I’ve gone from reading voraciously and talking constantly about every single coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) detail to not wanting to see another C19 chart, graph, statistic, comment, or hand-washing video. My head is full of contradicting, ever-changing, anxiety-raising, conflict-causing (mis) information, and I don’t have the energy to input more data into my brain.

Decision Fatigue

It seems that all previously simple choices have become overly complex and complicated. Going to the store for groceries now requires consideration of all the safety features and evaluation against the risk of catching the virus or – even more concerning – the possibility of passing it on to someone else. Is it safe to get my hair cut or go to the dentist? Do I wear a mask? How can I support local businesses and those in need?

Uncertainty Fatigue

I say “I don’t know” or “Nobody knows” a lot. So many plans are on hold with no clear direction in sight. We write events into the calendar in pencil, hold anxiously to job hopes, and worry about the economy. When will we get back to the way things were before? What will be the new “normal”? How will our world be forever changed?  

I could go on and on…

  • Isolation Fatigue
  • No-Alone-Time Fatigue
  • Messiness Fatigue
  • Boredom Fatigue
  • Worry Fatigue
  • Fear Fatigue
  • Room (house) Fatigue

They say the first step to healing is naming the pain. It is helpful to realize just how much pressure is landing heavily on our shoulders each day. Our world is crazy-different than it was only a few months ago.

When I recognize the effort I am putting into getting through each day, I can give myself grace when I can’t see through my brain fog, when I am grumpy, or when I cry for no reason. I can also more easily encourage myself to rest, take a break, or ignore the “should-do-list.”

I can also give that same grace and encouragement to others.

What is causing you fatigue? How can you give pressure-lifting grace and encouragement to yourself or to others?

building resilience

Photo credit: matti-keponen-APmBcTBLRic-unsplash

I mentioned in my last post that I needed resilience. I didn’t know yet the depth of that truth.

A few weeks later and the “drag” of our situation is wearing on me more than ever. I feel the weight of my own emotions and inconveniences. I am burdened by the pain and struggles of those who are suffering much more than me. I see others reacting with great frustration to the limitations and longevity of the virus impact.

Our stress behaviors show off loudly these days.

It helps to remember that anytime we adjust to something new (new job, new home, new family member), it tires us out. So much about our situation is new right now. New ways of working or going to school – or losing those things. New ways of getting basic supplies or doing without. New ways of interacting or missing interactions no longer available to us.

Uncertainty is wearing. We typically do not like to stand at the crossroads without clear direction, but everything about our future feels unknown. Many decisions that were previously straightforward require more thought now. In addition, we often have to consider the complexity of how our choices affect others.

The loss of anticipated activities and celebrations also depletes our motivation. Feeling out-of-control, vulnerable, or trapped is unnerving. Isolation, loneliness, fear, and grief are physically exhausting. So is living in tight quarters with others who are also expressing their reactions to this out-of-control life. Everyone is at least slightly on edge – some of us much more than others. So what can we do?

SHUT DOWN THE “SHOULDS”

Erasing unrealistic expectations and perfection-pressure helps us conserve needed kindness and compassion for ourselves and others. When I replace “I should be… do… act like…” with a humble recognition of my weakness, I often find others willing to step in with forgiveness and help. I am learning to set goals (significantly) lower than normal at times, leaving margin for those days when motivation, energy, and creativity wanes.

GRACE.  GRACE.  GRACE.

I have repeated this word more times than I can count. Encouraging myself and others to offer grace and acceptance rather than criticism, judgement, or anger is crucial. It’s not easy to do, and I fail often, but we all desperately need it. I’m taking initiative to reach out to others and lean into relationships – even when it is hard for me. I hope that practice will stick with me over time.

TAKE CARE

I am thinking about how I can prepare myself for the long-term effects of our “new world”. Awareness of all the above helps. As does taking care of my physical needs as much as possible (healthy routines, sleep, fresh air, good food, water). Working on a significant, joy-giving, or worthwhile project each day/week gives me energy too.

The flower above is my inspiration – beautiful, strong, and resilient – growing courageously and miraculously in the crevice of that challenging rock. Ironically, that impressive perseverance would not be needed or visible without the challenge.

What has been most difficult for you this past week? How are you building your resilience?

(embrace) imperfection: my word for 2018

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Photo by Adam Griffith on Unsplash

I chose a word last year, but wasn’t writing faithfully, so never put it out there for others to know. That’s not important since a word for the year isn’t chosen to flaunt or compare with others, but rather to help focus attention, effort, and growth for the individual who choses the word.

This year I am back at it. I am sharing my word with you, not to say you should pick a word yourself or to show off mine, but rather because somehow putting it into print gives it a kind of “officialness” – a concreteness for me – maybe even a bit of accountability from the few who read this and know me well enough to ask me about my word during this next year. 🙂

2018: embrace imperfection

Ok, it’s sort of two words, but again, that’s not important. What matters is that I have struggled with perfectionism most of my life. It has caused me to be very critical of myself and others. It causes me to be continually discontent: nothing is ever completely finished, good enough, or all that I would like it to be. It drives me to want more, to do more, to be more. All. The. Time.

im • per • fect: (n.) someone or something characterized by faults or weaknesses that do not necessarily impair its use; not fully formed or complete; still in process

As I have grown, I have learned to temper my perfectionism. With four children, it didn’t take me long to realize a perfect home would never be a reality. My love for them made it not too difficult to value hospitality, community, and other’s learning over picture-perfect decoration and neatness.

At work, valuing teamwork, shared leadership, and coaching new leaders fairly easily took priority over my personal perfectionist tendencies. I care more about encouraging and empowering others than I do about imposing an unrealistic perfection standard.

I know I don’t practice this perfectly (duh!), and I know others don’t always experience the grace I would like them to get from me, so this year I want to focus on embracing my imperfection.

I am convinced that other’s won’t feel that imperfection is OK in them
if I don’t feel that imperfection is OK in me.

I recognize that when I play my tape forward, my internal unrelenting desire for perfection reflects the ridiculous delusion that if I just worked at it hard enough, I could actually get to the place where I never need grace myself. I would never make mistakes. I would never need forgiveness. I would never need help. I wouldn’t need a Savior.

That’s crazy. Perfection will never be my reality. It is not possible. It isn’t even desirable in my heart. I long for community and I long for connection with God and others.

Imperfection enables closeness.

Imperfection does not have to prevent closeness as I often erroneously think it does. Rather than withdrawn from people because I am not handling my thoughts, words, or actions perfectly, I can lean in closer to others and experience their grace and support that encourage my heart and help me grow. Truth is, imperfection makes me more accessible and people have continuously surprised me with their judgment-free acceptance of my imperfection.

This year I want to get better at embracing my imperfections rather than running from them or attempting to hide them. This may be one of the most challenging words I’ve ever chosen. Maybe I will be brave enough to let you know how it’s going as the year goes on.

What are some of those “crazy-makers” that you battle in your heart? 

If you have one, what is your word for 2018?

grief comparisons

sadness

Photo credit: Wendy Longo photography / Foter / CC BY-ND

It has been three months since my mom died. Sometimes it feels like years ago. Sometimes it feels like yesterday.

I have not been able to write a blog post since that day. My mind has been foggy, scrambled, gray, and unclear. Some days my heart felt heavy, sad, and lifeless. Other days, I have sensed the warmth of her memory in the flowers and sunshine that she loved so dearly.

During the past months, some friends have asked how I am doing and others have kept an awkward distance, unsure of what to say.

Family members have all processed their grief uniquely, sometimes drawing close to each other, sometimes pulling apart because of tensions, anger, or a desire to process pain alone. Some have cried; others held their emotions in check; still others could not find tears even when they tried. Some went right to work arranging details; others were paralyzed by their loss.

In these three months, numerous other friends have also lost loved ones – children, siblings, parents, friends. Sometimes the deaths arrived as expected, peaceful, a long-awaited transition to a better place. Other deaths came suddenly, violently, shaking family foundations of faith and security.

Some of my friends experienced death much like I did… at the bedside, providing care and comfort, counting the minutes as they turned into hours. Other friends had no opportunity to sit nearby at the end or intentionally chose not to go there. Some appear unaffected by their grief; others are clearly rattled, and others experience a bit of both depending on the day.

I have found myself occasionally comparing my particular experience and my emotional response with others. However, I am learning that we cannot compare our different experiences with death any more than we can compare our different experiences with life. 

There is no right or wrong way to do this. There is no standardized approved amount of time, feelings, involvement, or impact that death brings to a person. Each birth, each person, each death is unique.

And so, for me and for you…

Take all the time you need.

Feel whatever it is you feel.

Do what you can and leave the rest.

Give grace, especially to yourself.

Chose safe people and safe places.

Sleep. Cry. Dance. Work. Laugh. Yell. Remember.

Don’t judge.

Don’t compare.

It is grief and so it will be.

∼∗∼

chasing the wrong goal?

I am a recovering perfectionist. Not fully cured, but getting better every day. I recently made some noticeable progress when I read about the dangers implicit in perfectionism. The article explained that when I try to be perfect, I have believed the lie that I could actually accomplish that goal. I have somehow convinced myself that, with enough hard work or practice or knowledge, I could truly eliminate all mistakes and errors in my life.

Who am I kidding?

I am never going to be perfect.

No matter how hard I try, I am not ever going to do or think or speak perfectly – not ever. To appear perfect, I need to hide my mistakes or lie about them or defensively deny them or isolate myself from anyone who might see them. ( = everyone) The perfectionism goal is very exhausting and basically impossible.

Perfectionism 3Instead of trying for perfect, maybe it makes more sense for me to become more comfortable with being imperfect. Not so surprised or shaken up or shamed by my (continual) missteps. The full acceptance of failure and fallibility would allow me to apologize more easily and offer grace more quickly to others when I see the same mistake-making reality in them.

I still want to grow and improve in certain life areas, but I have determined that growth ≠ closer to perfection. It just equals greater maturity. Maybe a bit more wisdom. Maybe a little nicer. But not closer to perfect.

It is actually a great relief to take the perfectionism burden off of my shoulders. I feel better already.

What wrong goal(s) do you chase after?

redemption and transformation

photo (1)The other day, my daughter gave me a priceless gift.

It is a calendar made from her incredibly amazing photographs. (You can see her gorgeous work in film at http://www.sarahjoellephotography.com/) The fine-art printed cards are clipped to a handcrafted wood board redeemed from deadfall beetle-destroyed pine trees¹. The unusual blue color is evidence of the damage done by the insects, but death has been transformed into a work of art – a powerful redemption.

I received the gift while we were helping our daughter and her husband move in to their new home in Tennessee. They are in an old (1920’s), quaint, character-filled home, and we worked long hard hours painting, remodeling, and furnishing to make it “theirs”. In a few days, it had undergone a loving transformation.

The redeemed gift and transformed home give me special hope during hard days.

This past week, a teammate died unexpectedly of a heart attack. He was only 51 and left behind a very ill wife and three children. He had been providing special care for his wife; now she will have to do many things he did for her… while missing him terribly. When something painful like this happens, I long for an answer to the incomprehensible question, “why?”, and I wait trusting for the certain redemption and transformation that will come with time.

…because redemption and transformation will come.

I have seen it so many times. Where there is faith, good and grace are found even in tragedy. Kindness and generosity and peace and strength come from the most unexpected people and places.

Hope returns while grieving hearts find comfort in the promised heavenly home and aching arms wait for eternal reunions.

Easter is also a season of redemption and transformation. I am grateful today for a faith that sustains and for a promise of eternal life… and for a special gift that reminds me of the power of redemption and the hope of transformation.

When have you seen redemption or transformation in your life? What gives you hope?

________

¹ The great company that makes the wood boards is Artifact Uprising. Check out their site!

in tune with CHRISTmas

starOther people started a long time ago… singing, shopping, decorating.

I’ve been trying very hard to avoid it. I haven’t thought about it much at all. I have been focusing on the present.

But now it’s right around the corner.

I felt stressed this morning.  

No more pretending.

No more ignoring.

No more procrastinating.

It’s CHRISTmas!

I so often wish that Thanksgiving and CHRISTmas were separated by various months in the calendar instead of back-to-back with only weeks in between. I actually enjoy both holidays very much, but I don’t like feeling that either one overshadows the other.

So I did my best to focus on Thanksgiving until we had celebrated completely… and now I need to re-focus. This year, I have a great desire to spend more time in tune with the Person of the season and less time tuned in to the commercialism and the consumerism that bombards me from all angles.

So far I have thought of a few things I can do…

Daily Reflection – I have already downloaded two new free Advent resources, and I am sure there will be others available. Starting each day with my mind and my heart on the right track will help me remember what is most important during these weeks.

Personal Focus – I greatly prefer experiences and memories over gifts, so rather than shopping alone, I plan to spend more time with the people I love. There are many special activities available during this season. I hope to revisit some old favorites and discover some new ones too.

Say “NO” to Stress – So much of my stress is self-imposed, because I don’t schedule well or I take on too many things without leaving any margin. I’m going to try to choose well according to my priorities and say NO when I feel like I need “down time”.

Take Care of Myself – I have already found that the cold and festivities are wreaking havoc on my exercise, sleep, and diet habits. I know I need to rest, work out, and control my calorie input in order to fight off seasonal “bugs” and have energy for all the extra fun and people.

Practice Grace and Forgiveness – Speaking of people, I often spend time with lots of people during this holiday… some are dear, cherished family and friends… some are more difficult for me. In addition, there is something about the high expectations of special activities or once-a-year visits that set me up for frustrations and hurt feelings. This year I am going in with the expectation that I will most likely have to give and ask for grace and forgiveness numerous times.

What do you do to make CHRISTmas more meaningful for you or your family?

amazing birthday cake

blowing candleThis is not a food blog, but this was too fun not to document somewhere! My sister and I made this cake years ago. It requires many not-in-my-fridge ingredients, takes a lot of work and many hours of time, but tastes amazing in the end.

Last time we made it, after we let the cake chill for three hours, we unveiled our creation… and it had cracked right down the middle. I swore I would never do it again!

… but I should know to never say never… and today we made the cake again in honor of my birthday. Nothing like spending all day making your own birthday cake!

It was actually a very fun way to spend the day with my sister… and even my husband, Steve, helped some! So while we are waiting for the cake to chill so we can eat it, I am going to post some pictures of the process for you. I wish I could share some of the cake with you!

The recipe is called Esther’s Orange Marmalade Layer Cake, and it is found in Jan Karon’s Christmas story, Esther’s Gift.

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Esther’s Gift is a short story of grace and generosity… and very fitting that I made the cake together with my sister, who has shown both grace and generosity in sharing her house with my husband and me while we are in transition.

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The cake tasted better than we remembered! Second chances are a good thing! Today I am especially grateful for the gifts of life, family and love… and second chances.

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Have you received an important second chance in your life?

Do you celebrate any special birthday traditions in your home?

broken hearts

free image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

One of my children broke my heart the other day. They made a poor choice that really disappointed me. I hurt for them and for the other people involved.

That was not the first time I hurt for one of my very normal, very imperfect children… and I am sure it won’t be the last time.

I’m confident that my children often have no idea how their choices and actions affect me as their mom. They certainly pay the major part the actual physical, emotional, and financial consequences, but there is a ripple effect from all they do.

As a parent, I carry part of their experience with me. I grieve the unfulfilled dreams and hopes I had for them. My heart aches for their loss. I cry for their pain. I pray for further growth and maturity. My soul yearns for their forgiveness and healing.

GRACE

I have learned through my own mistakes over the years that grace is a precious gift to receive during times of pain. My children are usually completely aware of their error; they don’t need judgement, criticism or lectures. They do need to know that – whatever happens – I love them still.

CHOICES

I need grace too. I could beat myself up with self-doubts, guilt and second-guessing. Was there a lack in my parenting that somehow “caused” this? Did I not hug, teach or discipline enough? Although I already know that my parenting is not perfect, it was helpful when a friend reminded me that even God – the perfect Father – has imperfect, mistake-ridden, continually erring children. Our situations are very rarely simple cause and effect. Each one makes their own choices.

NEED

In the midst of the ups and downs of life, my (almost adult) children need me. Some times they need someone to listen; other times then need a long, strong hug. Some times they need practical help; some times they need me to “just” pray and give them time and space to work things out. Some times they need advice, counsel and the encouragement to reconcile, restore and choose better the next time.

…because there will be a next time. I would do almost anything to protect my children from pain. When they were very little, I could fool myself occasionally into thinking that I could control their environment and choices. I know better now.

The question is not IF my children will avoid poor choices and pain. Instead WHEN they are hurt and hurt others, the question is HOW will I respond?

_____________

How do you respond to your children’s (or others’) poor choices? What helps you respond well?