Saturday, November 26, 2016

Feelings (and the push-back against them).

I've been wanting to post about this particular topic for awhile now, but it's taken me some time to organize my thoughts, and I still can't promise that this won't be all over the place.

In the last several years we've seen a movement of sorts in our country--one of tolerance, one of de-stigmatizing, one of equality, one of expressiveness.

And of course, because of that, we've seen a push-back against those things. We've seen a push-back against feelings. Now, I know you're already rolling your eyes, but hear me out.

I know we've all seen instances where it seems being offended is more in-style than anything, and we've all laughed and rolled our eyes at the Hugh Mongous joke that being triggered has grown to be.

But as with everything, there are people who overreact. There are always people who will exploit certain causes for their personal gain. There are always people who will take things too far. There are always people who will fabricate injustice for attention. There are always people who will riot and turn violent. In some cases they are laughable. In other cases they are scary.
But these people are not the majority.

The majority of the people who are fighting for gender and racial equality, who are LGBTQ and allies, who wear safety pins on their shirts and advocate for safe spaces at universities--we simply want others to feel okay being themselves. We simply want the ability to be ourselves, as well, without judgment or fear. We want equal opportunities for people of all genders, races, sexual orientations, and religious beliefs. We want people to know that if they need help or a listening ear, they can come to us and get just that without fear or discrimination or punishment or judgment.

But there is a large number who believe that we're moving in the wrong direction. They believe that we're enabling each other and the next generation. They see our push for equality as confusing and threatening. They believe that our show of vulnerability and our genuine expression of feelings is a weakness that will leave us powerless, helpless, and useless.

I can see why that would be the initial response. But is there any merit to that feeling? To answer that, let's take a look at our history as a society.

Many times when there has been a surge of equal rights and freedoms in our country, there has been a push-back.

For example, after slavery was abolished, it was still years before black men were given the right to vote, and an entire century before segregation was outlawed.
A century. Let that sink in.
Even now, the KKK, white nationalists, and neo-nazi groups still exist. Which means that there are still people who fear that allowing black people to experience the same rights and freedoms as whites is a bad idea. There are still people who don't understand that your personal  rights only go as far as they can before infringing on someone else's.

When segregation was outlawed, there was a large group of people that fought against it for fear that allowing people of color to mingle with whites would lead to more rape and violence.
To this day, people of color are systematically discriminated against, to the point of needing to fear for their lives while going about their daily activities. They have yet to experience the privilege and freedom that goes along with understanding that you will be judged based on your actions, and not your appearance, or that you can walk into a room and be trusted and acknowledged, or that you can feel safe walking down the road or driving your vehicle to and from school/work.

Just this year alone, we have seen a very similar mindset from many people concerning Muslims, the trans community, and undocumented immigrants.

History is repeating itself. And while many of us are fighting to ensure that it takes a different path than it has in the past, we are watching many people justify their fear by pretending that they aren't the ones who are afraid at all. People are fighting against the BLM movement, claiming that racism no longer exists. If you think racism no longer exists, please scroll back up and read my last couple paragraphs.
People are mocking the idea of safe spaces, inclusion, and tolerance.

Most of us have seen this floating around our Facebook feeds:
The general idea is that people should be a lot tougher, a lot stronger. The idea is that if, at 18, people can go to war and face the possibility of death, they shouldn't be hurt by words. People should be able to stuff those feelings away, or not feel them at all, because words don't do any real damage.

But here's the thing...those boys who stormed the beaches of Normandy came back (if they came back at all) to a country they didn't know how to belong in. Many of them faced physical injury or PTSD that they had to live with for the rest of their lives. 
Why is that something that we would rather see our sons and daughters go through than face the fact that they might be hurt by words? Why is it mutually exclusive? Can you not be someone who accepts their true feelings and doesn't hide them, but also faces their fears when necessary for growth?
Is it more damaging to admit that something someone did or said hurt you or to feel the pressure of pretending that you can't be hurt by anything?

Words do hurt..for some more than others. And if people want to be more cognitive of the things they say and do and the effect that may have on others, why would we fight against that?

Let's take a look at a scary statistic:
In the past few decades, domestic terrorism has been on the rise in our country. The majority of domestic terrorist attacks are committed by white, US-born males. 
The majority of serial killers share the same demographics. 

What this says is that generations of white (often "Christian") men are committing mass murder in our country. And they have been for decades. They aren't the only ones who commit these types of crimes, but they make up the largest portion. 

And most of them have a history of abuse. Whether that be parental abuse, sexual abuse, or severe bullying. 

So that means that we're doing something wrong. As a society, for generations, we have been doing something wrong with this group of people. It is no longer a coincidence at this point. 

From a mental health perspective, we know that "hurt people hurt people." We know that boys are raised from a very young age to stifle their feelings. They are taught that there is only one acceptable emotion for them to show--anger. There is only one thing they should be aiming for--power.
They are told to suck it up. Stop being a cry baby. Stop acting like a girl. Toughen up. Grow a pair. 

Stop feeling. Stop being hurt. Stop being sad. Stop letting anyone overpower you. Take control. 

And in what why can they take control? With anger. With violence. 

And it's not just men. Women are made to feel like if we display too many emotions, we are crazy. We are told that we are weak. Yet we are called cold and unnatural when we don't show enough emotion. 

We are all told that if we suffer from depression, anxiety, BPD, or any other mental disorder that we must get a grip, get over it, stop allowing it to control our lives. We hide it and we ignore it because getting help for it means admitting that we are flawed and weak and less than. 

This doesn't work. We cannot repeat the same actions that have broken us as a society and expect them to now do the healing. It doesn't work that way. 

So when my son is bullied, I will tell him to stand up for himself. I will tell him not to allow someone to physically hurt him. I will make sure that he knows he can take control of the situation at any time. But I will also tell him that the bully is probably looking for a way to control something because he feels out of control in other aspects of his life. I will tell him that many times, the people who are angry and hurtful have been treated in the same way and they need someone to show them that there are other ways to treat people.

If my sons are crying, I will not call them girls. I will not tell them to quit being a sissy. If they are hurt, in pain, or feel betrayed, I will validate their feelings and help them find solutions to their problems.

If college students need a safe space, I won't mock them. I'll encourage them to use it. I'll be glad to see other people surrounding them as allies. I'll be happy to know that there are designated areas where people can go to express themselves without fear. I'll smile to know people are working to make this world a more open, available, and inclusive place. 

I won't disregard the feelings of people of color because I know that racism does still exist and I want to be part of the healing. 

I won't care what bathrooms people want to use. I won't assume that because you are trans, you are a sexual deviant. 

I will fight for your right to have feelings and express them. I may not always agree with them. I may see certain things and say to myself "that's too much". I will still acknowledge that there are certain groups of people that will always take advantage but they do not reflect the majority of people. 
I know that knowledge is power. And coming to terms with the way you feel, finding healthy coping mechanisms, and allowing others to do the same is how we truly become knowledgeable about ourselves and others. And in that there is strength. 

I will never make someone feel like they are pathetic, weak, or helpless for trying to make this world a kinder, more tolerant, more peaceful place. 

I truly believe that we can be strong, be assertive, and contribute to society while growing in ourselves, acknowledging who we truly are, and embracing others. Seeking better mental health and more tolerance for people of all walks of life can only make our world a better place. Imagine being able to express yourself--to say I am hurting, I am upset, I am angry, I am sad, I need help--without the fear of someone thinking you're too much, you're too weak, or you're too needy. We can only improve from here, so let's work together to do just that. 




Monday, October 17, 2016

The 4:30 Hour

It comes creeping--the feeling of sadness that I can't quite shake. It starts so small, just a tiny seed of a word or an action that isn't meant to be much, but immediately begins rooting itself in my heart. With each passing moment, I feel the roots tightening and growing. The plant begins to sprout. My anxiety is its water, my inability to snap out of it, its sun.

In the daylight, I am busy. I am surrounded by the things that I love. I tell myself to forget it. I don't want to be like this.

I can push the feeling aside. I try to ignore the rapping of my mind, the thoughts that are there behind the door threatening to burst through.

I know it's coming. I tell myself this is nothing. I tell myself that I'm being a fool. I tell myself that I am ungrateful. I tell myself that I'm taking all I have for granted. I tell myself that if I can't get over things and move on that is no one's problem but mine. I'm responsible for my thoughts and actions. It's no one else's burden to bear.

But I so desperately want someone to make it okay. I want approval. I want validation. I want love and company. I want to know that I'm not seen as a burden. I want to know that I'm valued and that I'm worth it, I'm worth the trouble, I'm worth all of this. How could I be worth all of this? How could anyone see past the storm inside me, sail the raging seas of my emotions, and continue to love me entirely? I want to know it. I want to be absolutely sure of it.

But I want to be alone. I deserve to be alone.
No people, no phone, no TV, no books, no lights.

I just need to go to sleep. If I can turn my brain off for a few hours, I can wake refreshed. I can have another chance at renewal.

But my mind spins. My body lies completely still, statuesque, barely breathing. Yet my mind is running, panting, tripping, nearly collapsing until it catches its footing and begins racing again. It's not fair. I want to scream. I want to cry. But I just lie there, staring at the ceiling or the blackness of my eyelids and wondering why I am broken this way.
There are too many things to think about. Too many things could go wrong. Too many things have already gone wrong and I refuse to let myself forget them.

If I can sleep, if I can just turn it off for awhile, I will be fine.
And I find rest in a bottle of melatonin and a glass of hot peppermint tea.

But hours later, I'm awakened by a soft, sweet voice. "Mama, can you fill my water cup?" He says "Be quiet, Xander is already asleep." And I chuckle at that word already because it's 4:30am and the world is already asleep, and I think I would certainly hope so.

I have every reason to be thankful. I have every reason to smile. And I tuck one of my greatest treasures into his Star Wars sleeping bag and stumble my way back to bed in the dark.

The dark. And the silence. And every reason to be happy and content and every unhappy and discontent thought circling my mind.
I tell myself to stop it. Why am I suddenly thinking of something that happened 8 years ago? Why am I allowing myself to relive hurtful moments and to reopen doors? And I know these doors have never truly closed, and I know these wounds have never truly healed, but I'm okay, aren't I? My God, look at how okay I am. It's over. It's been over.
But what about now? Aren't there so many reasons to feel inadequate now? I don't need to think of 8 years ago or high school or second grade because I have plenty of reasons to hate myself right now.


I don't want to. With all my heart and soul I don't want to. I want to let those thoughts go. I want to stand tall and confident in myself and my worth and my ability to love and be loved. I have so much love. Why isn't it enough? I feel guilty because it should be enough to keep me from ever feeling this way. How can I feel empty and sad when my heart is so full? How can I be on top of the world one day and drowning beneath black waters the next? The guilt pushes me into the darkness again.
I want to go back to sleep. I want to make my mind as silent as the house is at this hour. I want to drift peacefully into slumber and wake just as peacefully. Peace. I want to find peace.

But it's the 4:30 hour and I just can't do that. I lie awake, eyes shut, mind's eye wide open, tormented until my alarm goes off an hour later. I start my day. I never went back to sleep, I never fully woke.

Have I said I don't want to be like this?
I know you don't believe me.
But I really, really don't. I can't say it enough.









Monday, June 20, 2016

Chasing Dreams

The thing about "chasing dreams" is that it is actually a chase. You have to run full force at what you want, or else, it gets too far away from you.

I have always had the passion for writing. I got my first poem published when I was in 2nd grade, and I knew then that I wanted to have more and more of my writing in print. I knew that I wanted to use my passion to influence others. But, here I am at 28 and I'm still nowhere near where I want to be.

I notice that oftentimes I get geared up to make something happen. I commit to doing what I need to do to "get my name out there". But then, life happens. I find myself going through the motions. Of course, I have two beautiful kids and a husband that need me and I devote a lot of my time to them. And I devote time to keeping the household running smoothly. And then, I devote time to developing another career so that I can have a day job that helps pay the bills. And when all is said and done, I don't have a lot of "me time" and I find that I spend it watching TV and being lazy. It's become a bad habit because now that I do have a little more time to myself than I did when the kids were babies, I still don't spend that time being as productive as I'd like.

That being said, my passion for writing is unwavering. And no matter how many distractions there are, I always come back to it. It's been a constant in my life for as long as I can remember. It is therapy to me. But to have the thing I am passionate about become the thing that produces financial stability for my family, to have my works recognized and share my passion with others--that is my dream. And I am chasing it, even if I'm not running as fast as I'd like to be.
This week I have begun working with a friend to illustrate some of my children's books. I am so excited to see my ideas come to fruition, and I hope that this gives me a leg up when submitting to publishers.

I have also gotten back into the groove of submitting poetry for contests and publication. Even in situations that feel like a long shot, I know I need to try, because trying and failing is better than not trying at all.

In looking for some of my best poems, I began thinking about what writing does for me and what it means to me, which inspired a poem of its own.


So here I am, still creating..still trying..still chasing. This is so integral, so important in my life. And I won't give up. :) 


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Empty Pew and That Pesky "R" word

Think about this question:
"What's your religion?"

Have you ever been asked that? More than likely you have. And it seems like such a simple question, as if you could answer it with one term and that would be it. All done. 
I'm Christian. I'm Muslim. I'm Buddhist. I'm Atheist. 
But it doesn't truly answer anything. Maybe it tells the person asking the absolute basic beliefs that you have, but it doesn't tell them anything about your relationship with God and our universe. It doesn't give them any kind of glimpse into your heart and mind. 

And that's why you get people who say "I'm not religious, I'm spiritual." And I understand what they are getting at. Some people despise religion, and honestly I'm not that fond of it myself. Spirituality speaks to a divine connection. Religion outlines a set of rules and regulations. 

I'm not often asked about my religion, though. Most people in my life at this point know me well enough that they believe they already know the answer. I usually get this question instead: Are you still going to church?

It's a check-in. Are you still doing what we all believe we must be doing in order to stay on the straight and narrow? 
And I often feel I have to skirt around that question. I feel I need to answer that question with a list of excuses and justifications. 

But the short answer is no. No I'm not still going to church. And no, I don't plan on joining one any time soon. And no, I don't feel guilty about it, even though (if you're the one asking), you probably think I should. 
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This morning I came across an article posted by a friend on my Facebook feed. She captioned it "Here's the dumbest thing you'll read today." So, of course, I had to check it out. And I found myself becoming angry as I read it. Not because I'm extremely passionate about the heroins mentioned in this article. Not even because I'm fired up about women being referred to repeatedly as "the weaker sex". But because of the author's apparent religious overtones and his firm belief in belittling an entire gender in the name of God. 
"Look at all these times that the Bible equates failing epically to being just like a woman", the article (pretty much) says. 
And while I know that many believe that a woman is to be submissive (and others take this way too seriously), I also know that this man is one of millions of people and his opinion isn't exactly fact. 
But I just kept thinking enough is enough.

Degrading others, being judgmental, being selfish and greedy, being dismissive, being angry, being hateful--all in the name of religion. It's enough. 
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My 6 year old has become obsessed with natural disasters. A couple years ago our home flooded and it was very traumatic for him. A couple of months ago, tornadoes touched down near our home and we've had several tornado warnings and watches in the last few months. His terror of them has turned into a deep curiosity and I love that about him. Knowledge is power and he wants to know all he can. 
He wants to know all he can about everything. And just the other day, he says to me, "Mom, why were tornadoes made?" 
I gave him the simple run down of how a tornado is formed but that wasn't enough for him. So, I prepared myself for a scientific lecture and before I was a sentence or two in he said "No, I mean..why does God make things that kill people? God made everything right? So why would he make tornadoes and hurricanes?" 
Well, to be honest, kiddo...I really don't know. And that's just what I told him. I can explain the science behind the weather all he wants but I can't answer that question because I don't have the answers myself. Why does God allow tragedies to happen? We believe it's all part of a grand plan but how do you explain to a 1st grader that God thinks it's for the greater good for these 100 innocent people to die this one day? I wasn't ready to travel down that rabbit hole so I just told him I really wasn't sure. 
Just days before, he struck up another conversation about God that I wasn't prepared for. I told you this kid was super curious. I'm not even sure what got us on the subject but he says to me "I want to find out as much as I can about Heaven and about Hell so I can decide which one I want to go to. I guess Heaven because Hell sounds really scary. And the Devil lives there and he's mean."
I was completely taken off guard. Where did he even learn about the devil and Hell? He sure as hell didn't hear about it from me or his dad (pun intended). He told me people were talking about it at school. 
My little curious, inquisitive boy is also very sensitive. And before the conversation was over he was asking me what he could do to make sure he didn't go to Hell. He was crying. He was afraid, And I was angry. Not with him, not at all. But with the reality that I was going to have to enter into this conversation with him, unprepared, and unwilling to say or do something that was going to upset his little heart. 
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I grew up in church. All my family and friends were Christian or Catholic. Mostly Christian. We lived in a very small town and attended the same very small Baptist church that my grandfather was a deacon at before he died. I loved my church family. I have a lot of good memories surrounding that church, and some bad, but that's for another day. 
I learned all about Jesus from the day I was born. I loved God. I was happy. But I was also very aware that I was stained. At 5 years old, I made the decision to "be saved". What was I needing saved from? A life destined to end in the fiery pits of Hell. Without praying for Jesus to take up residence in my heart, I would be lost. No child wants to be lost. And, I really wanted to be able to have grape juice and crackers with everyone else so I went for it. 
I never felt like I was pressured into that decision. Neither of my parents were even present when I announced that I wanted to say that prayer. Most people at that church genuinely cared about me and were filled with joy that I would be so moved to seek God at such a young age. 
And there's nothing wrong with developing a relationship with God so young. There's nothing wrong with loving him and being grateful. It's a very endearing thing. 
But I remember very clearly that love and gratefulness wasn't all I felt. I also felt guilt. And fear. And it drove me to do or not do a lot of things. The guilt and the fear was what motivated most of my choices, not the love. Of course I loved all my friends and family..I would have with or without a relationship with God. But I knew about Hell. And I knew that sin was what brought it on. And I also knew that it was nearly impossible not to sin. 
Every time I got sick, I thought I was being punished. I remember vividly sitting on the toilet with a stomach bug crying out to God--not to heal me, but to forgive me. Forgive me for whatever it is I did that made You punish me this way. I was taught in Sunday school that God wouldn't hear my prayers if I was sinful. Sin was like a ceiling over me that blocked me from God. So each night when I prayed, I would first say "forgive me for all my sins", so I could open those doors of communication. I knew that I had probably done so many sinful things that I couldn't even list them all. I lied to my mom. I didn't do my homework on time. I stayed up late and watched The Golden Girls when I was supposed to be in bed. I fought with my brother. I ate two pieces of candy instead of the one I was told I could have. I was doomed. 
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Throughout my childhood and teenage years, I stopped going to church. I still considered myself a Christian, I still believed in God and Jesus' sacrifice. I just didn't do the whole Sunday/Wednesday thing. And I was fine with that. But in my adulthood I discovered a church and a group of people that made me question where I was at in my faith. I believed I wasn't good enough. I started trying to take the Bible very seriously, word for word. Although my church was very vocal about it not being about rules but about your faith, I felt in order to establish faith you had to follow the rules. I went to church a few times a week. I read my Bible and journaled daily. I prayed all the time. I stopped using the occasional cuss word. I stopped laughing at or making crude jokes. I tried to tell myself I felt a certain way or that even though I didn't feel it, I should do/be it because that's what would get me closer to God. I was going through one of the hardest times in my life and I was desperately seeking Him. I just knew if I did everything He called me to do in the Bible that I'd feel the connection, I'd have the intimate relationship and it'd all be worth it. But I felt more alone than ever. Not only did I not have some miraculous, comforting feeling of truly knowing God, but I barely knew myself. I'd argue points with people that I didn't even truly believe...maybe I was trying to convince them, maybe I was trying to convince myself. 
After some time, I just stopped. It wasn't a specific choice but I just allowed myself to not feel like I needed to jump through every hoop and follow blindly and go go go and do do do in order to truly call myself a Christian. 
I moved away from where that church was and when I no longer had people to ask me where I was on Sunday, I stopped worrying about it. If God was gonna show up for me, it was going to have to be in my own house. I was tired. And I was disappointed. Never had I tried so hard to pull myself close to Him and I just didn't feel it. I wanted to, with all my heart. But I didn't.  
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Ever since I threw myself completely into "being a good Christian", and the subsequent fallout, I've just kind of been floating around in a confused space in the middle. I believe in God. I take most of what the Bible says or what we have translated/interpreted it to say over the years with a grain of salt. I believe that above all else, we're called to love one another. What else is there? If we do those two things, doesn't most of everything else kind of fall into place? I love singing certain hymns. I am in awe over beautiful sunsets and my children's smiles and I believe He created them.  I'm not big on rules and regulations. I don't believe that God insists on me (or any of us) denying ourselves happiness to establish some kind of merit. I think he wants us to love one another. If the thing that makes you happy hurts someone else, then don't do it. If it hurts no one, then by all means, go for it. I try to see God looking at me as I look at my children. I love when they are sweet to each other, forgiving, helpful. It frustrates me to see them fight. It pains me to see them hurt each other. But it's never going to bring me to the point of shutting them out--it wouldn't matter if they did it one time or a million times.
I don't want them to be motivated by guilt and fear. You might think "You can't teach Heaven and not teach Hell." But oh, I will. When they are older, they will discover all they need to know to form their own opinion. But right now? I do not want them to be pressured by those three Rs: rules, regulations, and religion. 
I want them to be motivated by love. I want them to know one thing of God: that He gives love and he inspires love. I want them to be kind because it makes their hearts smile, not because they fear something unkind happening to them. I want them to give because their hearts yearn to share, not because they fear that they will lose everything. 
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Right now, the pew where I once sat is empty but my mind and heart are full. I am trying to learn to love God again. I am trying to learn who God really is. Not some cloud-faced genie in the sky, not some authoritative boss whose approval I will never earn--something in between. Something more genuine, something simpler.  I'm trying to find out who He is and who I am at the same time. It's a journey that has taken me a lifetime so far and it may take me the rest of my life. I am ditching the guidelines. In the pit of ceaseless effort and hopeless effect, I'm no longer grasping in the dark for a rope to pull me out. I'm using love as my lantern and digging my own way.


**********Edited to add a note of clarification***********
As I was thinking about this an hour after I published it, I thought "I hope no one takes this the wrong way."
I want to clarify that no one who has been a part of my journey is responsible for my journey. I am quite fond of the way I was raised. My mother is a great woman of faith and I admire her for that, and for teaching me to be humble and to love freely. My family honors their faith by being supportive and loving through all times. My church family as a kid and as an adult was filled with people who were there for me. Especially in my adult years, those people offered great friendship and comfort. My beliefs and my questions are not a reflection of anyone or anything that has been done "wrong", but simply a part of the path I am walking as an individual. I love you all. 

Monday, March 7, 2016

Something as simple as a scrambled egg...

I think, as adults, we all kind of realize at different points how quickly time is passing by. And it seems so cliche to comment on it, but we still do, because it never ceases to take us by surprise.

I was talking with some of my mommy friends the other night about how sometimes, looking back on my kids' baby years makes me slightly sad. It's a bittersweet feeling. I love everything about watching them grow and become who they are today, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss them being small. Those babies they were--they meant the world to me. And the kids they are now do as well. It's just such a indescribable feeling because I'm excited for the future and longing for the past at the same time. I wish I had the ability to scoop those babies up and kiss them one more time. I wish I had the ability to go back in time and savor the moments even more than I already did. I wish I could sit up another night with one of them and instead of thinking about how little sleep I was getting, be thinking about how little time I was going to have with them that small and making the most of it.
But I can't. I can only try to savor each moment now--but is that truly possible?

We hear "live in the moment" as moms, as adults, all the time. It's not simply a parenting thing. We're reminded every day about how quickly the time is passing by us, and how "these are the best days of our lives". We're told that these moments won't ever be relived, so we should embrace them or else we'll find ourselves looking back regretfully at how much we took for granted.
But here's the thing--it's not possible to love every single second of the day. It truly isn't. We are human and we're going to get upset, frustrated, and tired. It's not possible to sit with a sleeping baby in your arms, every night, completely exhausted and not think at all about how much you'd just love to go to sleep for 18 hours straight. It's not possible to never get overwhelmed or upset with the tantrums, with the yelling, with the constant questions.

As a whole, we appreciate the puzzle that is our lives. But that doesn't mean every single piece fills us with joy. And that's okay.

Nostalgia just works to prove to us that these troubling times will soon pass, as well. When we look back on those baby days, we don't remember the feeling of desperation during the sleepless nights and the feelings of complete helplessness during the meltdowns quite like we remember the sweet smell of their baby skin and the gorgeous cooing sound of their laughter. We're not wishing that we could exchange these times for those, we're reminding ourselves that there is no time like the present. We're proving to ourselves that the days are long and the years are so short, and that every moment is a piece of a much bigger, precious, invaluable picture.

So when we stop to think about the "little things" today, we realize that they aren't that little after all.
Just in the last few days, my four year old surprised me by doing a load of laundry all on his own. He asked if he could, I told him yes, and he proceeded to load the washer, place the detergent and fabric softener in, and start the washing cycle all on his own. He was incredibly proud and so was I.

Just a couple of days later, my 6 year old scrambled two eggs for himself and his brother. My husband supervised, of course. But, from start to finish, Goob cracked the eggs, scrambled them, and cooked them all on his own. I bet they were the best tasting eggs he's ever had because he knew that he'd made them with his own hands.


Those are the things that take me completely by surprise and stop me in my tracks. I think about how impossible it is to believe that my two little ones are so independent, so helpful, so grown up. And I realize that, although there are difficult times, when I look back on these days, those are the moments I will remember and bask in. The scrambled eggs and the loads of laundry are this season's baby laughs and unstable toddles. They are the precious moments of seeing them grow and change and shape into the people they are and who they will become.
And it's a gift to be able to realize, in this moment, how groundbreaking those experiences are. It's a gift that only the experiences so far could prepare me for.

I am always living in this moment. And I will do my best to appreciate all that these moments hold, whether it be good, bad, or ugly--it's real. While I hold the past dear to my heart, I will remember that the present is the past in the making and that these days are short and these moments are fleeting. I will go forth, giving myself permission to miss the past, to revel in the present, and to look forward to the future all at once. Because that--something that seems so impossible to feel all together--is what makes this experience so uniquely human.

Friday, October 9, 2015

...And how we put it back together

Last time I posted, I shared some intimate struggles that my husband and I had gone through in our marriage. I also promised that was only the beginning--that I would be back to share a more joyous post about the present of our relationship and how we restored the things that were broken.

I didn't plan on it being so long between posts, but life happens. It's been a bit busy here lately, but I digress.

I want to talk a bit about some of the things I learned during our difficult times; I want to share those things with anyone who wants to hear them, so that they may understand them without having to face the same trials that we did.

So here are the 5 things that I believe are the most important (but perhaps the hardest) lessons to learn for a healthy and happy marriage:

1. Your kids aren't #1
I'm starting with the toughest one. If you don't have kids, this doesn't apply to you now. But it may in the future. And it's better you understand it before ever going down that road. Here's the thing: As parents, we know that our kids really are our number one priority. We know that we love them more than anything in this world, that we would protect them at all costs, and that they fill a place in our hearts that nothing else can fill. But because they are our most prized possessions, we have to understand that doing the best for them doesn't always mean having our universe revolve around them.
My husband and I were married a year when we had our first son. We were young--21. And we were so naive. He worked a lot and we lived away from family and friends. I threw myself completely into motherhood and I quickly lost any and all identity that didn't involve mothering. Part of me begrudged my husband for not being completely taken over by parenthood like I was. But then again, I couldn't relinquish the control of the situation. I wanted his help, but I felt more confident and less guilty doing it all myself. I stopped taking care of myself in so many ways. It wasn't just that a baby takes up so much of your time and energy. I just forgot about and ignored anything else..including my husband. I know he missed me being the way I once was. And I felt so upset that I had given so much of myself away, but at the same time I felt it was what was required of me.
I pride myself on being a good mom. I adore my kids and I adore motherhood. But after 5 years of being nothing but a mom, of losing the desire to focus on myself, my ambitions, my husband or his needs, I realized that my kids needed a healthy mom. And the biggest gift that parents can give their kids is loving each other, cherishing their relationship, and teaching their children that life requires balance. After so long of being a certain way, our life had lost balance. And a year after marriage counseling and bearing all our truths with my husband, I still have a hard time learning how to be mom, wife, daughter, friend..Robin..all at once. But parents, it's imperative.
Remember, you and your spouse are the foundation for your children. You teach them how to love, how to forgive, and how to measure success. Do not be fooled. The nursery may be beautifully decorated, comfortable, and happily played in. But if the foundation is full of cracks, the house is still dangerously close to crumbling.

2. "Date" is a verb, not a noun
We've all heard that you have to make time for dates in a marriage, regardless of how busy we are. And this is true. But I think you can be on a date and still not dating each other. For a long time, my husband and I didn't have a lot of opportunities to date. He was gone a lot of the time and then after we had children, we didn't always have a lot of options for sitters. But when we did, we would do our best to go on dates. Looking back, I can remember dates that were very great--like a day spent at Busch Gardens together. And then I can remember dates that were simply awful--like a day or two of my children staying with my mom and us doing nothing but arguing. The difference is that we began to see date as a thing, rather than as something that we had to actively do. Anyone can go to dinner or a movie. But the outing itself, the time with each other, is not all that matters. Your time together will not work for you, you have to work for it. You have to talk to each other, to continue to learn from each other, to share new experiences, to be open, to re-experience the things that brought you together in the first place. Something that has always been important to us is humor and acting like kids together. When we were going through marriage counseling our counselor suggested that we do something that we remembered doing when we first fell in love. Robert said one of the first times he remembered knowing he loved me was when we went to see Wedding Crashers and laughed our butts off together. We fell in love with the funny sides of each other. So, last year we ordered in and dug Wedding Crashers out of the DVD cabinet. We enjoy racing go-karts or going to amusement parks together. We understand that we need to play together, to laugh, to explore. Spending time alone together isn't enough because it can often lead to expectations that aren't met. You can't put too much emphasis on the time itself; you have to emphasize what you do with that time. Date intentionally.

3. You are not in competition
I know, you're reading this and thinking "duh", but hear me out. I think a lot of us fall into this trap without even realizing it. I can tell you from experience that I have had times in my marriage where I felt jealous of my husband. I have measured myself against his accomplishments and felt that I couldn't add up. His military career and having children young has taken a toll on the amount of time it's taken me to reach my goals. And I believe that at points in our marriage, while I felt like "you get to be doing something", he was feeling like "it must be nice to not have to do anything". You see, what he has done in the military or how quickly he's been able to wrack up college credits or how likely he is to get a job right away after his military career does not negatively reflect on me. And my taking a little longer to get my college degrees and spending most of my time during the last six years being a stay-at-home mom cannot be viewed as inadequate or lazy by my hardworking husband. Because our end goal is the same. We both want the best for our family. We both want to be successful and to watch each other succeed. Regarding marriage, we often hear "you two are a team", and it is so true. You aren't just a team, you are force to be reckoned with. You have the opportunity to have support, a number one fan, a sounding board. You have the ability to be an inspiration. You are the definition of strength in numbers. Do not compare yourselves to one another. Stop feeling sorry for yourself or placing yourself on a pedestal and recognize that you two are working in unison toward a better life. Remember the goals of one another and do what it takes to help the other achieve them. If both parties are determined to live this way, there will be victory for you individually and as a couple/family.

4. Don't be afraid to fight
This sounds counter-intuitive, but it's not. You have to understand something: you cannot be in a thriving relationship and avoid disagreement altogether. You are separate people with separate feelings and separate mindsets. You will bump heads. You have to learn the proper way to fight. If not, your arguments will only bring hurt and fear and you will eventually do all in your power not to argue. But not arguing only means that your voice does not get heard. Your feelings are bottled up and they will eventually come out in all the wrong ways. It becomes an endless, negative cycle. So remember this: you will argue and that's okay. Just know that the goal of an argument is to understand each other and to come out on the other side doing what's best for your marriage. Not what's best for YOU or for HIM/HER, but what's best for your union as a couple. Never use an argument as a medium for belittling each other, for bringing up past hurts, or for making threats. Talk to each other with respect, regardless of the disagreement. Give each other space, if needed, but always revisit the issue. You cannot go through marriage hiding your true feelings. But you must use those feelings as motivation for the betterment of the marriage, which doesn't always mean that you're going to get your way. One person never wins an argument. You either both win, or you both lose. So do "pick your battles", but don't avoid conflict altogether. It will come back to bite you in the butt.

5. Grow together, not apart
Last but definitely not least. I can't tell you how many times I've heard that you should never have to change yourself for someone else. But it's impossible not to change, and it's irresponsible to refuse change when it's necessary. My husband and I got together when we were 17 years old. I just turned 28 a week ago. A decade, more than a third of my life, I have spent with him. Of course I have changed! And, *gasp*, some of those changes have been spurred by him and our marriage. We have both matured. We've changed our outlooks on life more than once, we've expanded our religious beliefs, our political beliefs, our perceptions of success and failure, our opinions on each other and our relationship. Refusing to make any changes for your spouse is not strong and independent, it's selfish and naive. Of course, you cannot compromise your values or your truest beliefs. You cannot bend until you break. But you must grow and you must understand that your spouse is an integral part of that growth. You will change, and you can either choose to use those changes to bring you closer together or allow those changes to tear you apart. Keep your eyes on each other--grow together, as a pair, as an institution. Because change is inevitable. It is the human experience--you will be malleable until the day you die. Embrace it together and enjoy watching your spouse become the finest version of him- or herself.


And there you have it. I realize it's long, as most of my posts are. And yet, there is so much more I could say. I feel like I've been given an extraordinary gift in learning these lessons and having the opportunity to implement them with the love of my life. We all know that marriage is a journey--take that twisty road with its dips and its mountains and learn to love it for exactly what it is.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

That time my marriage fell apart...

I'm not sure how to start this post. I know that it's going to be raw, it's going to be intimate, it's going to be difficult to read at times. But I also hope that it's going to be helpful. I hope that it's going to be encouraging. I hope that it's going to be the right amount of honesty and transparency, so that it becomes relatable and impactful.

I'd like to say I could jump right into the purpose of this post (and its sister post, yet to come) without any background, but I can't. As much as this is about the present and the future, it is very much about the past. Our history. My husband and I started dating when we were 17. The weekend after high school graduation, we moved in together. Within the next year, we bought a house together. Shortly thereafter, we were engaged to be married and my husband joined the Navy. Within months we were married and he was gone--off to become a sailor. A few short months later, we were back together and within days we were expecting our first son. Over the course of the next few years, we moved several times, faced three deployments, suffered a miscarriage, and had another son. We piled so much triumph and so much heartbreak into a very short span of time. It would have been impossible to go through all that without it having some effect on our relationship. Over time, the strain of normal marital conflicts became heightened by the somewhat abnormal situation we were in. For years at a time, he was either gone or we were preparing for him to leave. Neither one of us really had time to adjust to being parents, that is, not as a team. We were young, we were naive, we were struggling to keep our heads above water. He'd leave for awhile and when he came back there would be a period of confusion as we settled in. On some level it was like reliving the honeymoon phase over and over. On another level, it was like having an intruder come into your life and rearrange it, just when you thought you had it under control. Just as things began to even out, he'd be gone again and the process would start over. Issues arose between us--I want to say they were your typical issues that you deal with in becoming adults, parents, and learning to live in a life-long partnership. But those issues were never addressed. It seemed wrong to spend any time fighting when he was home, yet without addressing the issues, the distance between us grew and grew until even when he was home, we were miles apart.

In late 2013, he returned from his third and longest deployment. It was a whirlwind for us--we changed duty stations shortly thereafter. We were under a great deal of stress but we were trying to find our new normal. We were both trying to adjust--him to being back to the daily grind, to having two little boys constantly needing him and watching his every move, to being face-to-face with a wife that was overwhelmed and anxious--me to being hundreds of miles away from the family and friends I had at our last duty station, to trying to enjoy having my husband back but feeling terribly alone at the same time.
2014 was by far the most difficult year in our marriage. It seemed like everything that had been building up finally came to a head. He was angry. I was hurt. We were both confused. How had everything gotten so tangled up?
We had made up our minds--the other person was the enemy. We fought daily--big blow up fights. Screaming, someone was always storming out and driving off. I look back and I think about our sweet boys, what we put them through in those moments and I feel a knot in my stomach. We welcomed their daddy home and ushered them into a world of constant chaos. We both had our minds set on retribution. We knew that we weren't innocent, but the other person was definitely more responsible for the pain and discord in our marriage. We waited for each other to "come around" and while we waited, we drifted further and further apart.
I remember one day, I walked into the bathroom to put away a stack of towels and instead of placing them on the shelf, I stuck my face in them and sobbed. I felt, in that moment, that it was no longer a matter of "if", it was a matter of "when". I truly believed my marriage was over.
We'd talked it out a hundred times. I'd prayed. I'd called my mom crying at all hours of the day. I'd sought advice from friends. We even went to marriage counseling. What else could we do? It seemed damaged beyond repair.

One weekend in early November, my mom had taken the boys to give us some time to spend alone. Our date night ended with a huge argument, he left the house and I went to bed crying. The next day we didn't say a word to each other until late in the afternoon. I approached him and said we needed to talk. After talking a short period of time, we both came to the same conclusion: It was time to call it quits. We sat down and began to discuss a plan for the boys and for our finances. Most of that conversation is a blur to me, but I know at one point he said "Well, this is what we both want."
God, those words sounded so foreign. They felt numb and empty and at the same time they cut like a knife. I looked at my husband and said "Is this what you want? Not having you, not being together as a family..that's the last thing I want."
I don't know what it was about that moment but our relationship that had been so murky and muddy for months suddenly seemed crystal clear. We sat and cried together, we hugged, we put on our song and danced and cried some more.
Somewhere along the way we had forgotten that we were working toward the same goal. Somewhere we had forgotten that we were not competitors, but teammates. We were both so concerned with our own hurt feelings that our focus became on fixing the past rather than securing the future. We vowed in that moment that we weren't going to be those people anymore--we were going to hold on to what we had, we were going to fight like hell, and we were going to love more fiercely than we hurt.

We continued counseling and truly put all our efforts into it. We realized that until we were real with ourselves, we could never be real with each other. I'm not going to say it was easy but it was such worthy work. Within a matter of weeks, things were different. Now, some 9 months later, things are worlds apart from what they were last year. Our relationship is stronger and yet more tender than it has ever been. Our love for one another is easier and yet more intentional than it has been in years. I could not be happier and I'm actually thankful for the difficult times we faced. After being in a valley, the mountaintop seems that much more rewarding. I believe I know my husband better than I did before our hard times. I see more of him..I understand him better..I love him to the deepest depths of my heart.

I want to share with you all a bit of insight into how we turned our marriage around--some things I wish I would have known all along but am so very thankful to understand now. But, as you know, I can be long-winded and this is probably enough for one post. Lol.

Here you've seen the history and in my next post you will see the future. To be continued, my friends... :)