We built it anyway

Note: I've been thinking a lot lately about my childhood...so here's a short memoir recounting a memorable event at my grandmother's house.
"What in the hell are you two boneheads doing?" my cousin Jamison yelled to us with a swagger as Shany and I dragged pieces of cardboard to the front yard. Jamison is four years older than us and has always had a mouth on him reflecting his lower-middle class, industrial upbringing, but my cousin Shany has always been able to hold her own. "What does it look like we're doing, you nimrod? We're building a treehouse. Go get a hammer!" she shouted back at Jamison who stood on the small four by four stone stoop that jutted from our grandmother's house. Ignoring the banter between my two cousins--the most lively of the nine of us--I continued to haul scraps of cardboard from my grandma's basement--a basement of kids' dreams--mazes of boxes filled with clothes, National Geographic Magazines, and old electronics. But we discovered the jackpot of all boxes: empties.


Therapy debrief

For those of you who are first-time visitors to my blog, you should probably just exit this page and find another blog to read. But if you insist on reading or feel obligated because you know me, consider reading this post first. At any rate---on Wednesday I had my first therapy appointment....here's my debriefing of the whole experience:

  • Arrived 15 minutes early as requested to fill out loads of paperwork. It seems excessive that I have to write my social security number at the top of all 10 pages of paperwork. I make a mental note to watch more closely for identity theft. Also, there is a question that asks, "Why do you wish to be seen?" They provided two lines for my response. TWO LINES. How am I supposed to A) boil my answer down to TWO LINES?!? and 2) Come up with something succinct and non-crazy in the 30 seconds I have allotted to that particular question?!? I consider asking for a blank sheet of paper to staple to this sheet, but the receptionist is not at her desk...I assume she's chain-smoking in the bathroom. 


Church, liturgy, and the examen

Rosaries, casting out demons, the Apostle's Creed, and worship music with lights and smoke---that's my faith background. I was raised Catholic and attended a Catholic elementary school. In high school I became sort of enthralled with Buddhism; I wasn't a practicing Buddhist or anything, but I read lots about it. My biological father is also a pastor of a Pentecostal church. My husband was raised Lutheran, and we were married in a Lutheran church. Eventually my husband and I landed in an evangelical church.

Like most aspects of my life right now, I'm even in a transition phase with my faith. My view of God hasn't changed, but I'm feeling a pull towards a more traditional, liturgical church service. I miss saying the Lord's Prayer as a church body. I miss the reverence of an entire congregation standing up when the word of God is read aloud. I miss hymns--their purity, their harmonies. I miss a simple worship set void of lights and fog machines. I miss intellectual sermons centered clearly around God's word that don't rely on a video to introduce the message. At one time in my life I preferred the modern evangelical church and all of it's fixings, but I don't anymore. I'm tired of the frills, of the smoke and mirrors, and all the distractions. I want Jesus, and so much of the way modern evangelical church is structured and presented takes my focus away from Jesus. I've done some researching lately to discover a church that my husband and I can be on board with theologically and liturgically, and we just haven't been able to find one (if y'all have suggestions, feel free to shoot them my way!). So....this has led me to find ways to incorporate more focused habits into my spiritual life to draw closer to God. The one habit that has seemed to be the most fruitful is a daily examen.

My examen...complete with super cool bookmark. 
I knew nothing about the examen (I'm still not sure if I can pluralize it or if I have to maintain the article 'the' prior to it....gah!) prior to this school year. I stumbled upon this blog post one afternoon, and I was intrigued, so I did more research and learned that basically the examen is a practice of incorporating focused, reflective prayer into your day to connect with God in the day to day practice of your life. The theory is that God has ordained all things, and even reflecting on the most ordinary day can lead us to see how and where God is working in our lives. Here's a link with more detailed, historical information regarding the examen. I started using the Abide app on my phone to shake up my prayer life--there's been a few times this year where I just needed someone to pray for me, so the app allows me to select my prayer needs/topics and then hear a prayer read (with scripture references). It's a great way to focus my heart and allows me to pray even when I feel too weak, too vulnerable, or too stained to pray. The Abide app has a daily examen prayer that will walk you through a reflection of your day. I find it to be relaxing and reflective and an excellent way for me to sink deep into God--to be focused on seeing the ways He has worked throughout my day. My goal during Lent is to write down three ways I noticed God work in my day (either that day or the next morning). I'm excited to see where this takes my prayer life and my relationship with God--it can't hurt, right?!


'Twas the night before my first therapy appointment...

I had big plans of writing a funny, rhyming poem to model "'Twas the Night Before Christmas," but on my commute this morning I couldn't think of any words that rhymed with counseling or therapy, so I just gave up.

Anyway...I took a huge step two weeks ago and reached out to schedule an appointment with a therapist....for myself. My insurance sucks (THANKS FOR NOTHING, OBAMA!), but my employer has a decent program that provides six free sessions with a therapist to help employees handle any sort of stress. So....six free sessions, here I come because let me tell you, I have stress on top of stress. I am up to my ears in stress...it's evident in my filthy language and anxiety attacks and severe lack of motivation to do anything other than binge watch re-runs of Everybody Loves Raymond.

But if I'm being honest....I'm terrified of my first appointment tomorrow. I don't have a great track record of saying totally normal things when meeting people for the first time...especially when my husband isn't present to act as a buffer. When we first moved to Omaha, I tried joining a running group in Gretna. When I arrived in the parking lot fifteen minutes early to meet who I thought would be my new friends, I felt nauseous and shaky. I didn't think to bring my runner's mace....What if these people are serial killers? This is a terrible day to forget my mace. My dad would be so pissed....  I thought to myself.

One by one, spandex-clad people emerged from their cars and formed a small circle...I knew those were the runners since only runners feel compelled to wear spandex everywhere they go. I reluctantly pulled my nervous body from my vehicle and tip-toed over to the group. "Um--are you guys the running club?" I asked. The four spandex-clad folks looked my way, and cheerily affirmed that, yes, they were in fact the running club. They seemed to not notice my anxious, thirteen year-old girl demeanor. Soon we began our run; I loosened a bit as the the group naturally paired off by paces. My new running friends asked the typical small talk questions: What's your name? Where are you from? What do you do for a living? Do you have kids? I answered all of them politely and with clear, succinct answers providing them with no extra information out of fear that I'd say something stupid. Soon I found myself running with a man in his 40s who turned out to be college buddies with a former colleague of mine. Eventually he grew tired of asking questions. We ran in silence for about half a mile, and the awkwardness about killed me. I searched my brain for questions to ask him, but all I could think of was, "What did you have for lunch yesterday?" Before I could realize how stupid the question was, I asked it. I seriously asked a stranger what he had for lunch the day before....WHO THE HELL ASKS THAT QUESTION??? Needless to say, I was not included on the email list for future group runs despite my asking to be included in these emails.

I have so many stories like that one because I have apparently lost my social skills as I've aged (my husband just broke it to me that I never had social skills...what a jerk.). So I'm scared for tomorrow--mostly because this is a new person who I'll be meeting with on my own for my own weird issues. I mean, what should I say to start? I only have six sessions, so I have to get down to business right away with Collette...we ain't got time for small talk about what we had for lunch the day prior. But here's the thing: I could barely utter out a reason for wanting counseling when I called to schedule my appointment.

"What do you need to be seen for?" the receptionist inquired.

"Um..well, I don't know. I mean, I have two kids we adopted from foster care and all I want to do is cry and watch Everybody Loves Raymond," I replied (not really in that full context, but it's what I wanted to say).

I worry that Collette won't understand my quirks. That she'll either A) declare me too damn weird to help or B) dismiss me as a spineless, dramatic baby who is creating problems in her own mind. I worry that I'll start to cry the minute my butt hits the seat and the door shuts trapping Collette to drown in my tears. I worry that I'll start talking at a pace too rapid to comprehend, sharing funny stories in an attempt to make her laugh because this is what I do when I'm nervous---try to draw more attention to myself.

I wish I could be one of those normal, super strong people who lets tomorrow worry about tomorrow, who prays and then feels all better. I am not those people. I am a bag of nerves squished into a tiny body. If I have any hopes of sleeping tonight I will have to take a sleep-aid with at least one beer (CALM DOWN. This will happen after my kids go to bed, of course...). Nevertheless, I am proud of myself for working past my own pride to try and get some help in dealing with all my crazy. If you're of the praying persuasions, pray for Collette--she's in for a world of weird tomorrow afternoon.


To the parents of my struggling son's classmates

Note: There's a lot that sparked me to write this, but the story of a young man in Ralston (Reid Adler) who committed suicide has haunted me for the past few weeks. Reid's story is very different than my son's, but it made me think about my son and how difficult school has been for him. Here's just a teaser of my post...if you want to read more, click here.

To the parents of my struggling son’s classmates:

...when your child tells you about my son’s interesting behaviors, would you engage in an age-appropriate conversation about this? Your child and mine don’t need to be best friends. They don’t need to play together every recess or sit together every day at lunch. He doesn’t need to be invited to your kid’s birthday party. And, it would even be appropriate for your child to distance him/herself from my son during his outbursts and episodes. However, could you think about your child playing alone at recess day after day? Could you think of how your child might feel about him/herself if every day he/she took multiple trips to the principal’s office? I hope this thought moves you to explain to your child that sometimes kids can’t control their behaviors. I hope it encourages you to talk to your child about being friendly, even to those who are different...


Determination isn't enough

"See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are [...]" (1 John 3:1). 

I had lunch with an old college friend last week, and she bravely shared about an awesome transformation in her life. She explained how God revealed the sin of pride within her heart and showed her humility instead. My friend talked about the difficulty in this, how she had to remember that her worth does not come from her success in her career, her parenting, or even in how she loves her husband; her identity comes from Christ and being adopted into God's family through Christ.

I don't think my friend realizes how important it was for me to hear this. The last year has been an intense struggle as I wrestle with parenting two high-needs kids, adjust to a change in my career's trajectory, and prepare to turn....(gulp)....thirty. I feel like I'm constantly shuffling my way through a dark room, feeling my way through, bumping my shins on sharp corners and swearing at the pain, my body tense from not knowing what is in front of me. I've felt inadequate in every aspect of my life this year. You see, I'm a stubborn fool because, dammit...I'm strong like my mother and my grandmother. If I were a pioneer, I'd kick the Oregon Trail's ass, and I'd build a bitchin' house out of sod because that's how determined I am. But I'm learning that determination apart from Christ is futile because despite my pioneer-like determination, I'm still drowning, clawing for air and clarity and direction. Lots of folks in the Bible tried doing things on their own, and quite honestly they sucked at it, too.

I think this desire to do things on our own stems from lots of things, but what I've been thinking about  lately is our culture's belief about a child's relationship with/to his/her parents. At a certain age, the child moves out of his/her parents' house and ventures into the world to navigate it with minimal intervention from the parents. We learn that we must become self-sufficient to survive; we learn that it's responsible to take care of ourselves. And these are all true statements, in a sense. In the Evangelical world, we call God our Father--and we think of Him like a dad (see the verse above). What's happened with me, is that I believe God is my heavenly father, but I'm engaging in a relationship with him like he's my earthly father. I love my dad, and I can count on him to help me out if I really need it--but because I'm a grown-up, I take care of my problems on my own with little intervention from him and my mom---because that's adulting. But applying this view to God is just absurd. God called things into being--the heavens, the sky, the earth, and us...he spoke and things were made. My earthly dad, no matter how awesome he may be, cannot call things into being. He cannot yell: FLOOD! and cause the whole earth to be covered in water.

Image source

To avoid more rambling tangents and expletives, I'll wrap this up: I'm trying to adult too much with God. Like my friend, I want to remember whose I am. I want to be reliant on Him like an infant depends on her mother. Our God who created the earth and the mountains and cats and Girl Scout cookies...He spoke us into being...he calls us HIS children. I am tough and strong and those are valuable and important qualities, but they aren't enough to get me through this life and they don't define me (neither does my job or my career or my marriage). What should define me is that I am a daughter of God---who chose me (Ephesians 1:5).


My little black dress

My husband had always wanted to be a dad, and I wanted to be the person who would give him that desire. But after years of trying to conceive and then an eventual medical diagnosis of infertility--one that loomed like an ironic scarlet letter--we decided to pursue infant adoption. We waited for a year before we got the call--the one that every potential adoptive parent hopes for each time his/her phone rings. There was a birth mom. She picked us. Baby boy was due in three months. There were three potential fathers. Legal risk. Could she meet us? We were hesitant and thrilled at the same time; of course we didn't say no to meeting her.

Over the course of the next three months, we spent time with this birth mom building a relationship. We took her out for meals, answered every text message and email she ever sent, ignored every quirk, honored her seemingly bizarre requests (like what we would wear to the hospital to see the baby for the first time), prayed like crazy that this would work out, and even began building relationships with her grandparents and her aunt (who all raised her). My husband and I and the birth mom picked the baby's name--Micah Aaron. We got a call sometime during the week of Father's Day letting us know that the Micah was born and a father was identified. During the month we had to wait for the birth father's rights to be terminated, Micah was placed in temporary foster care. One week after he was born, we met him for the first time.

I don't normally wear dresses, but I bought a dress specifically for the occasion. It was a plain black dress.
Not me...not my dress; but it's a nice pic, eh?
A sleeveless cotton number with a cinch around the waist and pockets--a practical dress for a new mom. Dressy enough to wear to a nice dinner but casual enough to wear to all the farmer's markets I'd obviously be taking my new baby to. Remaining guarded, my husband snapped a single photo of me in my plain black dress holding Micah for the first and only time.

Off her medication for too long, our birth mom ended up in jail. She retaliated by refusing to sign the relinquishment papers. The caseworkers tried to reason with her, her family tried to to talk with her--but nothing changed her mind. She stayed in jail, Micah stayed in foster care, and we were left with nothing but grief, broken dreams, and a stupid, black sleeveless cotton dress.

I don't want to get into how numb I felt for a good year, how it took me two years before I felt strong enough to hold another baby, how many times in that first month I cried myself to vomiting (5), or how many Google searches I have done (4) since then to try and track down our birth mom or her son. Slowly and painfully, we picked ourselves up. It took me about a month to delete the picture I had of him with me. Strangely, though, deleting the picture wasn't as difficult as getting rid of my dress. I couldn't give it up. The dress was appropriately colored and became a symbol of mourning for me. I wore it several times in the months following our failed adoption, and each time I put it on, I cried and prayed that God would protect little Micah.

Nine months after I wore it for the first time and held the baby who was almost ours, the dress had become so faded that I had to give it up. It was the last remaining connection I had to Micah, but one night, determined to move on, I dropped off the plain and black sleeveless cotton dress at a Goodwill. I expected to cry but was surprised at my sudden display of strength as I dropped my dress in the donation bin. I walked away empty handed--a feeling I knew well. Only this time...this time I was empty handed on my own terms.


Finding liberation in my anxiety

Note: This post originally appeared on Her View from Home. Click on it, and if you're feeling generous--share the link with your friends.

Night time is the worst. I often lay awake with my husband sleeping peacefully beside me, my brain replaying the terrible moments of the day. Every moment of compassion I missed with my kids and my husband replays like a CD tripping over the same measure in a song. I try reading, praying, sleeping, listening to music. Nothing shakes me out of this downward spiral. If I'm lucky, I'll just lie awake for three hours before I get up to take a sleep aid. Some nights the constant memory replay turns to a pathetic show of crying myself to sleep, but at least with these nights, I am allowed some peace in sleep. The worst nights find me crying myself to hyperventilation--so much that my arms and hands and face grow tingly from lack of oxygen. The latter doesn't happen often, but a few weeks ago my husband witnessed it for the first time in our nearly ten years of marriage...and it was humiliating.

I've struggled with anxiety for quite some time, but it reached a peak last spring and dipped off until a few weeks ago. My anxiety is usually situational and grips me when life just feels too much. It hits when I'm not busy working or doing stuff for my family….so nighttime. I think this is what fueled my constant need to fill my schedule for so many years.

Six or seven years ago a doctor told us that we'd never have biological children--confirming what we had already suspected two years prior. To avoid facing my grief, I plunged headlong into advancing my career--I graduated from college, started teaching full-time, began my Masters Degree, coached speech, quiz bowl, cross country, and helped with my school's musical. I presented at state and national level teaching conferences. Most of my energy was spent on my job, and whatever time I had left, I ran--logging usually 25-35 miles a week, and when I ran, I listened to podcasts and thought about my job. There was no time for me to feel anxiety.

I kept this habit up until one year ago. My husband and I had adjusted after making a big move from a tiny town in western Nebraska to Omaha a few years earlier. We were teaching at a large, urban school; I was adjuncting part-time at UNO, and we had just adopted our first child from foster care and welcomed a second child the same age as our first child. Our proverbial plates were full. A breaking point was inevitable.

It was sometime in December when I was up at one in the morning chipping away at the stacks of my students' research papers that I felt the choking, burning anxiety creep into my throat. It was something I felt many times in the last year but had managed to push down with more work and more miles. But I couldn't do it anymore. I rested my head on a stack of research papers and cried to the point of hyperventilation--my hands, arms, and face tingly from lack of oxygen. I knew something had to give. I couldn't sacrifice my husband or my kids or my health, so the obvious choice was my job--the very thing I used as a distraction for seven years. I had tried to quit my job a few years before, but I chickened out and took a last minute teaching job again. Over the next few days, I spent time praying about this difficult choice, and I ended up resigning from my teaching position mid-year and found my way to a part-time job.

With part-time work comes moments of stillness (no matter how much housework I do to avoid these moments) when the anxiety creeps in and tries to consume me. I’ve juggled immediate feelings of sadness, inferiority, and doubt about my decision to leave a job I was good at (teaching) and replace it with a job I’m still fumbling my way through (parenting). I’m learning, though, that while I prefer to keep these moments of anxiety to myself, I simply can’t ward off the anxiety on my own. That night in the bathroom a few weeks ago with my husband rubbing my back, holding my hand, helping me breathe, crying with me--I realized that I don't have to be alone in my anxiety. When I finally moved past the immediate feeling of humiliation, I was able to feel liberated. It’s difficult to let others in on these moments when we are nothing but a hot mess, but for the love---just do it. Find one person with whom you’d be okay exchanging hot mess moments. Be there for each other and allow yourself to feel liberated even in your weaknesses.