Friday, March 29, 2013

Reckless Bravery

Last Saturday, I went out to dinner near downtown with some friends and I was late due to a ridiculous series of circumstances.  By the time I arrived, the parking garage was pretty full and I had to park in the basement level.  I backed into a space as close to the stairwell as possible, knowing that was probably the safest idea since I was alone. 

My friends and I had some delicious sushi and a great visit.  We talked about going somewhere else for a drink, but it was St. Patrick’s Day weekend and none of us felt like being around a bunch of drunks.  We said good-bye on the second level of the parking garage where they'd parked and I made my way down the several flights of stairs to my car.  It was getting late and I could see as I made it to the landing there weren't many cars remaining in the vicinity.

I heard them before I saw them, eight or nine guys on motorcycles, engines revving at an ear-piercing volume.  Shit.  They were occupying the three parking spaces adjacent the driver's side of my car, as well as part of the aisle in front of where I'd parked.

I know not to judge a book by its cover.  Just because a few of them were wearing ski masks and at least one was heavily tattooed on his face and neck, doesn't mean they were intending to be menacing.  Maybe they were just some suburban soccer-dads out blowing off steam after a long, hard week in the trenches.  Maybe.

But I saw them there and I got pissed that I didn't feel safe.  I got pissed that my initial reaction was to be scared.  I got pissed and I squared my shoulders and clenched my jaw and looked straight ahead and walked confidently over to my car.  I met the gaze of the guy closest to my car and did that half-nod acknowledgement thing as I approached.  I didn't even lock the door once I got inside the car, because I didn't want to seem scared.  I started the engine and pulled out of my parking spot, giving myself a mental pat-on-the-back for having backed in when I parked because that allowed me to easily navigate around the guys who were partially blocking the aisle.

The two in the ski masks followed me all the way to the exit floor of the garage, revving their bike engines behind me at every stop sign, before finally circling back around to a lower level as I made my exit.  It wasn't until I'd left the garage that I let myself think, "What the hell did you just do?  You didn't even check to see if anyone else was around!  No one would have heard you scream over all that noise.  There MIGHT have been security cameras, but what are the chances they are being watched that closely?  What is wrong with you?"

This is not the first time I've done something like that, the getting pissed that I feel like I need to be scared when I have a right to feel safe, and then doing something that in hindsight was probably unwise.  Why is it that I can be recklessly brave when it comes to my physical safety, but when it comes to trusting my heart and my head, I let other people get to me?  I’ve been thinking about this for days, and I realized something:

I'm done.

Remember the post where I wrote that growing up I learned to doubt so many things about myself? How I learned to doubt my heart and my mind and my thoughts and what I knew to be true? And remember how I said I didn't want to go back there?

I realized I have not truly left that behind and that I still let people make me doubt myself, even when I know I'm right.  I let people tell me to be careful with my line of thinking and then I begin to wonder if I have the ability to really understand what I learn.  I let people make me feel that I’ve misunderstood something when, no matter how many ways I look at it, I know that I haven’t.  I let the words of other people make me scared to trust myself. 

And now that I’ve been thinking about it, that pisses me off just as much as when I feel scared for my safety.

I’m pissed that when I say something true, I can be made to doubt it because the person I say it to doesn’t like the way it sounds. I am mad because I let the way other people question me turn me back into that 15 year old who knew with all her heart that something was wrong, but whose voice was silenced for being a girl and daring to speak up and rock the proverbial boat.  And I don’t want to be that girl who gives in and doubts what she knows to be true, because being that girl pisses me off.

I'm pissed and I'm done.

I know I've stated that learning to listen is a priority for me.  But I realized today that there is a difference between listening to someone else for the purpose of understanding them and listening to the point of being silenced.  I do need to listen to others and strive to understand, but I need to listen to me too.  When it comes to what I know and what I can tell is true, I've got to be recklessly brave about owning it.  I’ve got to be recklessly brave in the right ways and about the right things, other people’s fears and baggage be damned.

I'm done buying into the bullshit that my mind and heart need someone else to tell them what to think and what to feel.  I'm done giving too much time to anyone who tells me that my heart and mind can't be trusted when I know they are in the right place.  And I've decided I'd rather stick to my guns and be wrong and later have to admit I was wrong than to buy into bullshit and regret it.

I may need to be a little more careful about my physical safety, but I've got the reckless bravery thing down.  It's time I put it to good use.

Saturday, March 23, 2013


I have learned a lot in the past few weeks.  If that sounds unpleasant, I assure you it has been much more painful than I am making it sound.  It seems as though every time I turn around I've messed something up or misunderstood someone or realized I've gotten off track or discovered something that hurts.

One of the many things I've learned is that the truth can be especially painful when I realize how far it is from my true feelings; The truth of a situation is not changed by how I truly feel about it.  This is probably something I knew once, had learned before, yet lost sight of.  Sometimes the lessons you have to re-learn are the most painful because in addition to what they re-teach you is the sting felt from knowing you’d let yourself forget.

Especially when you are dealing with the truth.

I'll use my job as an example of what I've learned about truth:  One truth about my job is that I need it.  We rely on the income I make from my job to help pay for things like food and a place to live.  Another truth about my job is that it is actually pretty great, all things considered.  I work from home four days a week, which allows me to see my family a lot more than if I was required to work in the office all five days and had to spend an hour each day commuting.  I'm also able to be home during some of the time Ryan is at work, which means one of us is here every day to get the boys off the bus instead of having to hire a sitter to do that.  Those things are truth.

However, when you factor in my true feelings about my job, well, that is a different story.  I don’t hate the actual function of my job, but there are many process and political things I deal with daily that make it quite unpleasant much of the time.  So, the truth is that I have a great job and I should be thankful for it, but my true feelings about it do not always reflect that truth.

I've long believed that a person cannot change his or her feelings simply by desiring to feel a different way.  I have written about this multiple times.  I feel how I feel.  Of course, how I behave from those feelings and the choices I make about them are my responsibility.  I have a say in what I choose and how I act.  However, I can tell myself a million times to feel a certain way or not feel a certain way, but that does not, in reality, change my feelings. 

Feelings are feelings and feelings are true.  They are true because they are the way the heart and mind process life.  Yet just because my feelings about something are true, does not automatically make them truth.  Truth exists, in reality, regardless of how I feel about it. Truth is not dependent on my feelings either way.  Nothing can be truth without also being true, but my feelings can be true without being truth.  And if I screw up and let the true-ness of my feelings get the better of me and allow myself to lose sight of the truth, I am at fault. 

My feelings do not change truth. 

I can want with all my heart for what I feel to be true, but it doesn't change the possibility of it being truth if it isn't; it is either truth or it is not. Sometimes the truth is better than I'd expected.  Sometimes the truth is difficult to face. Sometimes I may not even know what the truth is, only that it is different from what I'd thought. Sometimes the truth is a happy realization, but sometimes the truth breaks my heart.  Regardless, what is true in the way I feel is not necessarily the truth.

There are my true feelings.

And there is truth.

I would be wise to not confuse the former for the latter.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


It's funny how when you're growing up you often don't realize how much things cost.  When I was little, I didn't realize that most of our house was cold in the winter because the fuel oil that ran the furnace was too expensive to crank the furnace up; I just thought my parents liked using a wood-burning stove that only heated more than one room if you used a box fan to circulate the warm air into the next room.  I didn't know we weren't allowed to ask for things at the store because we didn't have money to buy extra stuff; I thought it was rude to ask for things.  I didn't realize that I was wearing boy jeans because the only hand-me-downs that fit me were from my equally-skinny older male cousin; I really didn't give it a second thought.

It probably wasn't until I was about eight or nine, when my dad was established at a better-paying job and there was more money and the house was warmer in winter and I had more girl jeans than boys' hand-me-downs, that I realized money had been so tight before.  Granted, even in the lean times we still had it much better than a lot of other people.  Even if dinner was Banquet pot pies that could be purchased five-for-a-dollar on sale, we never went without.  Not ever.  My dad always worked long hours and we always had what we really needed.  But it wasn't until I was older that I understood both the fortune of never going without, as well as how stressful it must have been for my parents when times were tough -- when I was older and had a better understanding of what things cost.

Even though circumstances are a bit different for my kids than they were for me when I was little, we still want them to understand what things cost.  We talk to them about why we work and how things are paid for and why we don't have some things and why, even if we do have the money for something, that doesn't mean we are necessarily going to buy it.  As I was thinking about the way we are teaching the boys about money, I also started considering how teaching them about what things cost isn't only about money.  I want them to learn to be wise about their money, of course, but making wise decisions about cost is so much more than considering if they have enough money for a new toy or should be saving for a rainy day.

It is important to me for the boys to understand that there is often a cost associated with our actions an choices.  I want to be deliberate in teaching them about cost -- financial and otherwise -- instead of merely hoping they figure it out for themselves. I want to help them learn to weigh cost and make wise decisions for themselves, rather than me always telling them what they should choose. 

When they ask me “Why?” a million-gazillion times a day in response to every single thing I say to them from, “Go brush your teeth” to “Don’t swing that metal bat in the house,” my answer is almost always, “Why do you think?”  Of course we have discussions about why, but I want them to come up with answers to these obvious questions on their own, without me having to constantly explain personal responsibility and the consequences of their actions.  I want them to think about their choices and the cost of those choices.

I don’t want them to be paralyzed by the fear of making the wrong choice, but I do want them to learn to be deliberate and careful about what they choose. For now it may just be that if they choose to have soda with dinner on weekly treat night, they can't have ice cream for dessert.  Which would they rather have? It may be that if they choose not to do their homework when it is time, they don't get their 30 minutes of PlayStation time after dinner.  Which is more important to them, putting off homework or having time for something fun later?

Those are obviously not life-changing decisions, but my hope is that even on the days when it seems they will never "get it," somewhere in the recesses of their minds they are learning the importance of choices and the importance of owning their own choices.  I hope that as they grow they learn to hear those questions for themselves when they are making decisions: "What will happen if I do this?  What will happen if I don't?  Why am I doing this?  What is it costing me?  Is it worth it?"

I hope they will choose what is right, even at the cost of the approval of others.  I hope they will choose fun, but not at the expense of others.  I hope they will choose to be daring when they should and guarded when they should and have the discernment to know when the time is right for each.  I hope they will be willing to take risks, but only when they are also willing to accept that the results of those risks might not be exactly what they'd anticipated. Some things are absolutely worth the cost and some are not.  I hope I'm teaching them to discern the difference. 

And I pray that when they look back they will see that we worked together to help them learn to make the best choices for themselves, rather than me making all their decisions for them.  They will mess up.  They will not always make the right choice.  But I never want them to feel like their choices were all dictated by me.  I know I'm not a perfect parent.  I know I mess up in numerous ways.  I know I don't always make the right choices for myself.  I know this is all going to get increasingly more difficult as they get older.  But, God... I pray this is one thing I'm doing right.  Even at the cost of my own sanity.

Monday, March 18, 2013


I grew up in the outskirts of a small town, not in a neighborhood, but not really in the country.  Our house was on Main Street, which was really just a mile-long stretch of a busy state road, where the houses were closer together and drivers were supposed to slow down. Instead of our backyard being adjacent to another family's backyard, it butted up against a bean field. We did, however, have wonderful next-door neighbors on either side.

When I was very young, both homes were occupied by beautiful, elderly, white-haired widows. Despite that I was so young and my memories of that time are more like snap-shots, I can still close my eyes and imagine each of them. I remember sitting on the double porch-swing with Mrs. Brown. It was painted green and occupied a spot in her front yard in the shade of two maple trees. She would let me swing with her and talk, I'm sure about complete nonsense, but I still felt like she wanted me to be there with her and I loved our visits.

I remember Mrs. Rankin, on the other side, who called me "the pig-tails girl" since my mother almost always had my hair in two ponytails to keep it out of my face. I remember her minuscule galley kitchen that had a thin shelf all the way around, on which she displayed different kinds of tea tins. When she eventually got too old to live on her own and moved to a home, I ended up with a little red tin that had once held some kind of British loose-leaf tea. I don't remember her giving it to me, but I still have it tucked away in a box of keepsakes.

When I was six, a young family moved in where Mrs. Brown had one lived. A year later, Mrs. Rankin was replaced by another young family.  Both of them became like extended family to us. Even after they eventually moved away, we have all remained close.

At some point, during one of my parents' landscaping phases, they decided to install a split-rail fence around the front and side of their property. In the side between the house where Mrs. Brown had lived, they left a gap in the fence at the base of the small hill in the backyard, where we could easily pass back-and-forth between our backyard and the next. Shrubbery eventually grew together overhead, creating a 'secret passage' sort of feel for the opening.

Our families made the trip through that passage so often over the years, that the grass wore away between the fence posts. Countless cook-outs and afternoon visits and shared dinners at each house left us all with strings of memories. When I close my eyes and think about it, I can still see how the adults would have to duck slightly to avoid the over-growth when coming or going, and how the kids would run back-and-forth between the yards like they were a single, magical playland.

Now I live out in the country where our closest neighbors are empty-nesters who keep to themselves. My husband and I both work full time, so family time takes precedence over daily visits with friends. Don't get me wrong, I love watching my boys grow up as best friends by default, since there are no other kids nearby for them to play with every day.  I like living where there is no traffic and I can hear the pair of owls calling to each other in the woods at night.  Yet sometimes I can't help but feel nostalgic for a time and place where friends as close as family were just on the other side of an opening in the fence.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Ugly and Scary and Stubborn

In his book, The Authenticity of Faith: The Varieties and Illusions of Religious ExperienceRichard Beck uses Sigmund Freud’s assertions about religious belief in Future of an Illusion and William James’ observations in The Varieties of Religious Experience as the framework for analyzing religious experience.  He utilizes James' "healthy-mind" and "sick-soul" worldviews throughout the book as he explores and tests various dynamics of faith.  While James includes multiple religions in his work, Beck chooses to focus on how these descriptions apply to the Christian faith.  There is no way that in a single blog post I can do justice to the full content of The Authenticity of Faith and all the details, data, and insight it provides; I will, however, attempt to delve into how reading this book has given me a deeper understand of my own religious experience.

For the sake of expedience and context, I'll quickly explain that according to James, healthy-mind believers are able to find meaning in their lives by focusing on good and their faith is comforting to them because they believe it can overcome evil and suffering.  They embrace their faith wholeheartedly and rarely, if ever, entertain thoughts that it could be misplaced.  When bad things happen in the present, they seek consolation in their beliefs and in the promise of a joyous afterlife.

In contrast to the healthy-mind worldview, the sick-soul believers are those for whom their faith does not create a constant sense of well-being and for whom the promise of a wonderful afterlife is not a consolation in the face of existential discomfort.  Beck describes the sick-souls as those who "exist in the murky middle between belief and disbelief, between faith and unfaith."  These are believers who, despite doubts and uncertainty, continue to choose the realm of faith.  Beck goes on to explain:
I think the sick soul is willing to live in between faith and unfaith, belief and disbelief, because this is the only way they can remain truthful to their lived experience. The pieces of life and the life of faith are not so easily fit together. There are gaps, there are missing pieces... life is experienced as broken glass. Life is experienced as shattered... And as we handle the pieces, we are often cut and wounded. Life resists our attempts at putting the pieces together, intellectually and emotionally.  As a result the sick soul lingers, perhaps for a lifetime, in this ambiguous location, holding onto pieces, God among them, that don't quite fit together.
I've been trying for days to work out how to explain what this has shown me about my own experience.  I am still new enough to the study of both theology and psychology that I have no delusions I fully understand everything Beck explains or everything about the sick soul; I also know that reading one book on a subject does not made me an expert.  However, it is compelling to me to know that the sick-soul is something that has been identified and studied by people who do have a lot of experience in theology and psychology.  Again, I'm not an expert, but based on what I know so far I can say that I identify very much with the sick-soul experience of faith.

Growing up in an environment where it seemed, at least to me, that behaving in a healthy-minded way was the measure of a healthy faith, I always felt like something was wrong with me. I would hear people talking about their own experiences with God and feel like an outsider.  It has been a somewhat emotional experience to read about the sick-soul and realize that is how I experience my faith.  I have spent years trying and trying and trying and trytrytrying to figure out and explain why I simply do not identify with much of what other people have told me about their faith.  It is the oddest sense of relief to learn that someone has studied and can explain my experience based on real studies and data.  It also helps me justify how I can feel the way I do about my faith without abandoning it.

I've certainly considered giving up my faith, but that choice has never been right for me.  On some level, I feel in my bones and in my soul that God IS, even if I'm not completely convinced that my religion has it one-hundred percent right in what we say about God.  I know that there is something to my faith that is real, something intangible I can't deny, even though that knowledge is not necessarily comforting to me. I am also not consoled in the here and now by the thought of heaven or some better future existence.  I never experience or hear of a real-life horror and think "Yes, that's awful now, but it's going to be okay because someday we will all be in heaven" in the way that healthy-minded faith has a tendency to do.  I have learned to embrace my faith this way, despite all the sharp pieces that don't completely make sense or fit together.

I know this post is getting extremely long and perhaps I haven't explained enough of the background for this to make sense to anyone else, but I’ve tried to include the main points that have been rattling around in my head and heart for days now.  I don't want to give the impression that being a sick-soul is a negative thing, because Beck argues the opposite and discusses several of its virtues; I simply haven't highlighted them here because I know that I often fall far, far short of those virtues.  I'm not trying to present myself as an example of an ideal sick soul, I'm merely attempting to explain how identifying with that faith lens has given me hope. Imperfect as I am, knowing the potential virtues of the sick soul gives me something to aspire to.

As I've been evaluating all that I've learned about the healthy mind and sick soul faith experiences, I've frequently gone back and re-read entire sections of the book.  I'm still trying to wrap my thoughts around the various aspects of both worldviews and I have been thinking a lot about what is truth in my faith.  There are multiple verses in the Bible that give examples of either the healthy-mind or the sick-soul, but I keep coming back to Micah 6:8, which could really apply to either: "The LORD has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God."

I may be a misfit in some religious circles and faith discussions. I may still be working all of this out in my head.  I may still wish at times I could be a healthy minded person because that would solve many of my struggles, but my mind doesn't work that way.  I may be a sick soul, but my faith is still real to me.  It may be a murky faith, even ugly and scary to some people, but I refuse to pretend it is anything else.  For me, my faith looks like caring about justice, it looks like loving mercy, and it looks like walking with God in the most humble way I can – as imperfectly as I may be managing any of those things right now. 

And my faith also looks like love – murky, flawed, imperfect, broken, stubborn love that perseveres despite all my doubts.

Note: I apologize that I have woefully oversimplified some of Richard Beck's very thorough analysis of religious experience and highly suggest that if you are interested at all in theology or psychology, you read his book. 

Friday, March 8, 2013

Do Better

I mostly do my job from home these days, but I go in to the the office a few times each month.  My cubicle in the office has tan walls, with a black overhead and black file drawers.  It is just like everyone else’s cubicle, but I helped choose the colors.  Years ago, when the company was updating the building, I sat next to Jen, the facilities manager, and those are the kinds of things she let me help with. We also chose carpet and made friends with the guys from the cubicle vendor who spent weeks on site setting up tan walls and black drawers. Usually I don’t think about that stuff, but I was thinking about it today.

Back then, I worked in the office every day.  As admin to one of our vice presidents, I didn't have any team members and since there were no other facilities people, neither did Jen.  Because she was in charge of facilities, she always managed to find a place for us to relocate and remain cubicle neighbors, even as other departments were shuffled and people were moved around the building.

We talked each other through many a work-week and commiserated about everything from bosses to car problems to relationships.  We ate lunch together most days.  She talked about the trips she and her partner took to the lake and I talked about home improvement projects.  We shared memories about our families and growing up.  I found out that she has almost no photographs from her childhood because they were destroyed when her dad’s house burned down years ago.  I know that she always knew she liked girls and never even tried dating a guy.  I know that she and her prayer buddy from church prayed with each other every day on their way to work, each from her own car with phones on speaker.

When I told her I was expecting my first kid, she was thrilled.  She loves kids.  She put up with me and my hormones every day and managed to contain her laughter on her side of the cubicle wall when I turned into crazy-pregnant-bitch over stupid work stuff and gave people a piece of my mind (They totally deserved it, but I swear it was the pregnancy hormones.  And because I had never been like that before, she thought it was hilarious).  She was one of the first non-family people to visit me in the hospital and hold Luke after he was born.  Weeks later, she put up with my incoherent ramblings when I returned to work from maternity leave, a blurry-eyed first-time mom, still trying to figure out what to do with the beautiful, maddening baby at home who woke up every two hours, all night long, for months on end.

When I transferred to a different job on a team and had to move to the other side of the building to sit near them, we both got very busy with new responsibilities and things changed.  We still tried to do lunch from time to time, but it was difficult to coordinate schedules.  We both had too much going on.  I didn't even hear it from her directly when her job was outsourced and they let her go.  We played phone tag a few times after that, but then nothing.  I haven’t talked to her in several years.

I know this is what often happens when people work together every day and see each other all the time and know each other’s stories and then move across the building or to another company across town.  You think you will keep in touch, but you don’t.  Life is busy and hectic and there just. isn't  time. And when you've had as many jobs as I've had -- working at least two jobs from the time I was seventeen until Luke was born when I was twenty-six -- it is impossible to keep track of every single person.

But today, when I walked in to the office and sat in my cubicle with the tan walls that I helped her choose, I thought of how nice it would be if Jen were on the other side of the wall and I missed her. A lot.

There are some people it is not okay to lose touch with.  There are some people you have to keep track of.  There are some people who are worth the effort and who deserve better than giving up after the second missed phone call.

I have to do better.  I don't know if I'll be able to get back in touch with Jen.  We have some mutual friends who might have her current number, so I'm going to try.  But whether I can or not, I was reminded this morning that regardless of what job I have or what other busy stuff I have going on in my life, it really is the people who deserve to be a priority.  Losing touch with people who are that important to me is not okay.  I may not have a calling in a job I'm passionate about, but my job has allowed me to meet and get to know some remarkably wonderful people.

That is worth keeping in mind.  That is worth making the effort to stay in touch.  That is worth making sure I do better.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

I Hate Winter / I Need Summer

I know this is only my second post after I made a big deal about how I'm turning over a new leaf with my writing and being very intentional in my editing, but I will go ahead and tell you right now that I do not intend to edit this post like that.  I may scan it for glaring errors, but even with that, it isn't going to be pretty.  At least for this now I am reverting back to my default mode of just putting it all out there in one sitting, good structure and proper grammar be damned.

I know I've talked before about how I'm kind of a mess of a person sometimes and that I have a lot of trouble finding the words to say to people.  Well, as much as I am trying, I am not improving.  Actually, this week, I feel like I might be getting worse.  I would probably consider this past week one of my worst ever as far as personal improvement or doing things the right way or meeting any goals I've set for myself.

Work has been so strange.  Save for one or two good things that happened, I wish I could strike all of it from my memory.  The actual work part sucks right now, but then there is all this drama with co-workers and people calling me with all this crazy stuff they want to talk to me about.  It's just... disconcerting.  I don't like feeling put in the middle of things, but I do care about my co-workers and hate knowing that things suck for them and I have no idea how to help.

If that weren't bad enough I said some words this week to someone I love without listening first and now things are all messed up.  Will I ever remember to listen and ask questions before I worry about trying to explain myself?  It is a horrible, heartsick feeling -- you know, where you physically experience your feelings deep in your chest and at the top of your spine and in your fingertips every time you think of it.  I really hate it.

On top of all that, it is March but still winter.  And I hate winter.  Hate it to the point that I would be okay with hibernating through it.  I really, really want the coldgross (not an overlooked typo, now I'm just making up words) weather to go away and for it to take with it the constant funk I'm in because of it.  I need to not be cold.  I am almost always cold in winter.  Even indoors.  And really I hate it.

I need to be able to put on a tank top and shorts and go jogging in the woods to clear my head.  I need to be able to go outside and walk barefoot in the grass.  I need longer days and open windows and leaves on trees and sunshine.  Especially sunshine.  I need to sit in the sunshine and feel warm.  If I could do that, then maybe I could figure out what to do about the other two things.  Maybe.

I know this is all ridiculous and many people in the world have much more horrible problems than I have and this is a selfish rant about what I want, but there it is.  I needed to write it out because I needed to get it out of my head.  I may have been a little vague about the details of my week, I don't think I've left my feelings about winter open for interpretation.