Seventy-four

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As we discussed the idea of exploring my interests my counselor used the illustration of a painter being paralyzed by her blank canvas. Sometimes she literally needs to just throw some paint on there to get over the barrier that perfectionism causes. He knows I fancy myself a writer, so we used writer’s block to connect the idea. From what I’ve learned, from a blogger/author I trust, one of the writer’s versions of splattering paint onto a canvas is to practice Morning Pages. Morning Pages are a simple idea of three pages of unedited, unplanned, pressure-free writing. They are meant to shake out the cobwebs and free your mind of thoughts, worries, or ideas that might be lurking in the shadows, threatening your creativity.

Like a lot of you can relate to, I’m sure, I can think up a million reasons to not try something I’m slightly scared of doing. My goal of writing my memoir this year has never gotten off the ground because I put so.much.pressure on the idea. While I thought I intended to write out my story for the sole purpose of getting it out of me and getting it down on paper, in reality, I expected so much more.

First, I expected it to be easy. Despite the books I read, the blog posts I found, and my own pastor’s knowledge that it’s actually really hard work, I figured my inspiration would carry me through.
Second, I expected it to get published and make me famous. Of course I did. I expected to be discovered for the witty, clever, wise-beyond-her-years gal I’ve had like 4 people tell me I am. Move over, Jen Hatmaker, Keely Steger is on the scene. That’s a death sentence right out of the gate.

I can’t make art for the sake of art and beauty. My art has to be appreciated and applauded.
I can’t play sports because they’re fun and I enjoy them. Someone has to think I’m doing a great job.

I am addicted to approval. I have spent my entire life trying to please and that is a hard habit to break. Like so many kids, my mom was the center of my world. If she was proud of me, I could conquer the world. And for a multitude of reasons, performance meant a lot to her. So from a very early age, I learned to quantify my worth. Making mom proud took good grades, great stats, large numbers of books read, songs performed on pitch, words spelled correctly, laughs received, etc.

Let me just say this- if it sounds like I’m blaming my mom or beating up her memory, please know that it has taken quite a bit of counseling for me to understand that that just isn’t true. It is imperative to dig, uncover, and acknowledge the hurt and the broken messages from my past in order to find freedom and redemption. By design, moms have a crazy amount of influence and impact on their children. For better or worse. And I know that I can’t keep my kids out of the counselor’s chair, either.

Where am I going with all of this?
All of this is at play as I face the “simple” question of:
What do I want to do, explore, discover, create, enjoy? 

So do you see why this question is so imperative for me to ask?

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Fifty-five

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For the 40 weeks you carried me, and the hours you labored to bring me into the world.

For all the pot roasts you made because we loved them, despite the fact that you hated them.

For the countless hours spent taxiing us around.

For being my coach and always demanding I try my best.

For instilling in me a love of books and reading and writing.

For the gift of humor.

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For my ear for harmony and the gift of singing.

For loving my children and always wanting them around you.

For never saying no when I asked you to babysit.

For your incredible generosity.

For teaching me to throw like a girl.

For supporting my decision to quit sports and pursue drama.

For coming to every performance I was in.

For encouraging me to dream big and to work hard.

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For making birthdays special.

For teaching me to play cards.

For making me wait so long to shave my legs and wear makeup.

For so many memories filled with laughter.

For being my Mom, and for everything that goes into that (because it can’t all be remembered or named),

Thank you.

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Fifty-four

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I’ll probably have mixed emotions on every Mother’s Day for the rest of my life. My three amazing children are constant reminders of God’s blessings, faithfulness, and goodness to me. Whether they acknowledge the “special occasion” or not on Sunday, I will know that I am loved and that I am “their favorite mom ever” and “the most beautiful mom [they] have” (as my 6 year old sweetly complimented me this week).

But Mother’s Day will always be coupled with grief for me. Grief over the phone call I won’t get to make, or the after church lunch I won’t get to have with my own mom. Grief over the memory of the last Mother’s Day I had with her, just days before she died.

But I’ve learned in the past four years not to allow myself to assume a day is going to be awful, because sometimes it’s not, and the dread leading up to it is far worse than the day itself.

This Sunday I think I’ll wear her rings and her perfume and listen to Jack Johnson and spend some time reading Toni Morrison or Barbara Kingsolver or maybe even Shakespeare and try to make Chocolate Goodie or Strawberry Pizza or something else that reminds me of her. I’ll talk to my kids about their Gran Jan, who loved them so much and who would love the amazing people they are turning out to be.

I’ll allow myself to feel whatever it is I feel, and to let grief and sorrow and pain and suffering and loss and sadness do their work.

I’ll call to mind the promise of everlasting life free from pain and brain cancer and broken bodies and broken hearts and broken everything.

I’ll rejoice that I will see my mom again.

Lord, hasten the day.

Fifty

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I’ve had body image on the brain for a while now. I’m in the middle of a 6 week health challenge with some women from my church, and about halfway through a Whole33 (my take on the Whole30 program). I’m seeing changes in my body already and am encouraged and inspired and self-conscious and over-analyzing and over-thinking. You know the way I roll.

I don’t have a healthy body image. I’ve had moments of truly appreciating my body and what it can do, but those are few and far between. For the most part, I struggle no matter where I am on the scale, what my pants size, or how I feel.

In fourth grade we had a health week or month or something that required every single person in my class to step onto a doctor’s scale to be weighed. I was 88 pounds. The boy behind me was 80 pounds. He announced to everyone the tremendous difference in our weight and I was humiliated.

Fast forward three years to junior high. Despite my tomboy nature, I wore a dress to school one day and felt beautiful in it. It was white with giant sunflowers on it and belonged to my big sister so I felt cool and confident wearing it. In science class we were all taking notes off the overhead projector. I sat at the front of the class and a boy sitting at the table behind me requested loudly to “move your fat, I can’t see the screen.”

I’m 33 years old and I remember all too well what two boys said to me and made me feel about myself and my body and my worth when I was 10 and 13 years old.

Last year’s weight gain turned me into a person I didn’t recognize. Both physically and emotionally, I didn’t like what I saw in the mirror. I had added layers to myself in my attempts to feel better about all the stressful and hard things that were going on. In the last 15 days, doing this crazy Whole33, I have seen those layers start to melt away. Literally, I’ve seen my body drop pounds and fat and jiggle like I didn’t think was possible in such a short amount of time. But I’ve also had hard days (hello, PMS) in which I couldn’t turn to food for comfort.

I’ve had to feel my feelings, and that’s been so hard and so good. 

Feeling my feelings may be part of the reason that I’m pondering what those boys said to me so many years ago. I’m hopeful that, at the end of these 33 days, I’ll be healthier in more ways than just physically. I hope that I can finally learn a truth that I desperately want my own daughter (and sons, for that matter) to grasp; that our bodies are important and we have to take care of them, but they do not determine our worth. Our worth is secure because of Jesus. Whether my arms jiggle when I wave or I can rock a sleeveless shirt without shame this summer, I am loved, I am loved, I am loved by a love that will not let me go.

And that is enough.

Forty-four

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Another aspect of my personality that I’m learning to embrace is my need to write in order to make sense of things- the world around me, my feelings, my story, my faith, etc. For so long, I’ve felt inferior to those who are able to speak their minds both eloquently and immediately, whereas I feel like I needed time to process and formulate my thoughts. I’ve convinced myself that I am less genuine because I write things out instead of saying them face to face. Sometimes that’s true, but not always.

Sometimes writing is a way of chickening out. Other times, it’s a way to fully express what I’m thinking and feeling.

Sometimes writing is a way of editing my true feelings. Other times, it’s a way to uncover what those true feelings are.

My mom was good with words in much the same way. While she had a hard time even saying the words “I love you” to me, I have letters she wrote to me on my graduation day and my wedding day. In those letters, she expresses her love, pride, and joy  in ways she never did to my face. It’s taken a lot of time to appreciate them for what they are. I wish I had memories of her pouring out her love to me in daily affirmations and in three simple words, but I’m thankful for the letters and cards I have. I’m thankful for the emails. I’m thankful for the memories of the weekly phone calls we shared while I lived in Kansas City. We talked more about OU football than how much we missed each other, but that’s okay. More than anything, I’m thankful for the grace and perspective of my own motherhood, which encourages me to realize that my mother was an imperfect person with a story all her own that affected every single aspect of who she was and how she expressed her love and affection to me. I could live the rest of my life with bitterness that she never said it enough or said it in the right way or at the right time. It’s not worth it.

With my own children, I probably tend to over-do it, if that’s even possible. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t spontaneously tell them how much I love them. My younger son does it to me, and it touches an empty place deep inside of me. He is generous with his affection. He pushes the limit on my hugs and kisses threshold sometimes. That’s not surprising- he scores pretty high on the physical touch Love Language. My mom was a gift-giver. I am 100% words of affirmation. Knowing these things doesn’t excuse anything, it doesn’t discount anything, it doesn’t make anything perfect, it doesn’t even make loving others any easier. But it helps me understand myself and my people more fully.

And that’s exactly what writing does for me, too.

Twenty

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It’s impossible for me to know what is going to stand out in the minds of my children when they look back on their childhood.

Here’s how I know that: I vividly remember lying on my top bunk, home from school with a high fever. I was seeing things that weren’t there, the room spinning wildly around me. I was probably 7 or 8 years old. My mom had placed the thermometer in my mouth and then left the room to do whatever it was she had to do. She would return to check my temperature after the allotted 3 minutes.

I remember wanting her there with me. I remember wishing she hadn’t left the room. I remember being hurt by that. I remember feeling sick and scared and weak and wanting her presence.

As a mom, it’s hard to think about how my mom might feel if I ever had a chance to tell her about that memory. She might be shocked- “I don’t remember that at all! I can’t believe you do!” She might be defensive- “You have no idea what was going on that day! I had this, this and this to take care of, and you being home wasn’t part of the plan.”

All I know is that that image is powerful, and it has impacted me in pretty big ways.

I’ve been thinking lately about how easy it is for to reflect on and believe in the transcendence of God. God is over all. God is sovereign. God is King. God is ruler. It is harder for me to grasp God’s imminence. God is my Shepherd. God loves me. God is close to me. God cares for me.

When I pray, I often pray through the broken message of my childhood: “God, I really want to feel your presence, but I know you have a lot more important things to do, so I’ll tough it out here. I’ll be fine. I’m okay.”

Praise God that he can bring redemption and restoration to the broken pieces of all of us.

Eighteen

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I’m only 20 pages in to my new book (The Age of Miracles), but I’m already struck with the unique storyline, the writing style, and by the similarities I’ve already seen between the narrator, Julia, and myself.

Only being 20 pages in, I know little more than what you could learn if you picked up the book and read the back cover, so I’m not giving anything away when I say that in the story, the rotation of the earth has slowed down and people are freaking out. Julia is caught between her mother, who tends to panic easily already, and her father, who is pretty unflappable and reasonable. From the very first page, the fate of the world is unknown and the reader is plunged into this uncertainty.

           “I bet things will turn out okay,” I said,
gripped by an urge to say some cheerful thing–
it rose up from my throat like a cough.
“I bet it will be fine.”

These words of Julia’s struck me immediately. Two weeks ago, my counselor asked me what were some of the expectations I felt upon me as a child. Whether they were spoken or not, whether I could have verbalized them at that time or had even been aware of them, these expectations existed. There was an environment and I had a role to play. What was it?

I didn’t have to think long at all before I answered, “I had to make everyone be okay. I had to make everyone laugh. I had to smooth things over. I had to pretend like everything was okay, that I was okay, even if I wasn’t.”

My parents never sat me down and gave me that job description. They never told me those were my duties. For a million reasons, and a combination of a million factors, that’s what I picked up.

I’m processing all this, and how it affects me even today. I’m also looking at this through one of the most influential lenses with which I view the world: my role as a mother. What signals are my husband and I sending to our three kids? What are they interpreting as “their role?” Is Noah’s perfectionism a result of his birth order? His personality? Or is that what he feels is expected of him? Demanded of him?

I’m sure the answer isn’t black and white. I’m sure it’s a combination of all of those things. I’m also sure that my pastor is right when he says, “We can’t do anything to keep our kids out of the counselor’s chair.” I’m perplexed by this, but not driven to despair. (2 Corinthians 4:8)

The gospel is still true, and we all need it.