Resolutions vs Joy Multiplied

Resolutions vs Joy Multiplied

New Year, New You!

Do you make New Year’s Resolutions? It’s a topic of conversation the week before and after January 1 every year, whether it be around the office water cooler or a friend’s social media feed. Headline: Resolutions, Yes …or No?  I have never really put much stock into make a resolution.  One year I resolved to not. Make a resolution that is.

Last year was pretty tough for me; I know I’m not alone.  The year wasn’t a knock-down-drag-out kidney punch and body slam kind of year.  While it had those moments it was more akin to a blister on your heel, and you can’t change your shoes — ever. If you moved slowly, gingerly everything was okay. And when you couldn’t, it hurt like hell. To garner your sympathy I could write a litany of all the things that went cock-eyed, topsy turvy and full-on upside down in 2017.  But I won’t.  That’s not the point.

These past couple of months I was wont to find some kind of peace with myself, my depression, my health, my year.  And the Spirit of the season began to wrest a little with my heart.  There were these little nudges, these reminders that others were sharing on social media, which individually seemed innocuous, but together made something glaringly clear.  I had no JOY. None.

Joy is not like happiness. Happiness is relative.  It is dependant on outside factors and stimuli.  You can fake happiness. You can’t fake joy.  Joy comes from deep inside. It can not be manufactured, only multiplied.  It was then the Spirit lit an ember.

A few days ago a friend messaged me about trying an Episcopal church after a painful season of anger after being hurt by the church.  I reminded my friend (again) that it wasn’t God who caused this pain, it was the flawed people in the church who did.  Then, then, I had a realization.

I realized I had not been practicing what I was preaching. For the first time in years the notion of letting go of past church hurts went from my head to my heart.  I’ve known all along the hurt I felt was caused by the people I went to church with.  They knew I stopped attending.  What they didn’t know was that it was they who drove me away.  I knew forgiving was what I needed to do.  A lifetime of attending church told me that’s what needed to be done.  I knew there was that plank in my eye.  And I was quite content to smack people around with it rather than get rid of it.  Except the only one hurt by my plank-stuffed eye was me.   I wanted to keep shaking my fist, saying ‘See what you’ve done! And you don’t even know it! HA!  I’ll show you’ and I stayed away.

But …I am tired of staying away.  I’m tired of empty and hollow, of clinging.

Resolutions are our way of saying “I’m going to do better.”  The problem is most of us don’t know how.  I certainly don’t.  Rather than make resolutions I know I will fail at,  I have chosen three Focus Words for 2018. My hope is that by living these words throughout the year many aspects and areas of my life will improve.

Consistency

(be) Present

Joy

I don’t want a new me.  I want a renewed me.

The ember is starting to grow.

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Anxious, me? I didn’t think so

Start a sentence, reread, backspace to delete it. Start a thought, pause, backspace to delete it.  Start again, and again …and again.  The idea that getting the perfect first words to land the perfect first impression are tortuous for a perfectionist. (Reread and realize a word is missing and self-edit as you write.)

Does that sound familiar? If so, have you been hiding in my head?

To look at my house and my skills as a Donna Reed impersonator you would not think I was a perfectionist at all. Oh, but I am.  I so totally, completely am. Too bad it isn’t always about the things that matter, like personal appearance, laundry, decluttering and housekeeping.

I just finished reading a short list called 12 Signs You May Have an Anxiety Disorder.  I didn’t go looking for me.  I was actually looking up natural anti-anxiety remedies with SugarBug in mind.  She’s flying to Seattle in a couple weeks to visit a friend she hasn’t seen in over 6 years. SugarBug deals with some anxiety, and she is on the tail end of recovery from a broken ankle and surgery, and after nearly 12 weeks is finally able to start walking again. She has been on a plane for only one other trip. This time she’s going alone,  and flying out of and into airports I’ve never been to so I have no experience to share on them. Anyhoo, I found a list; it was published by the same website. The “12 Signs …” article came up as the next one in the queue.  Clickbait.  I took it.

For several years I’ve known I am not a good full time employee.  After a while I start thinking my bosses are looking reasons (or excuses) to fire me. “What if they realize i have ____ and ____ flaws? What if I can’t keep this level of performance up?” Self doubt – check. 

The last job I did have I ended up quitting because I could not physically force myself to open my door to go inside one day.  I sat, frozen, on the verge of a nervous breakdown, in the parking lot for over 2 hours before I sheepishly restarted the motor and drove home. Panic – check.

I count the basement stairs every time I walk down them, and usually going back up. Strangely not the ones going upstairs though.  I find myself “air typing” the words of my thoughts as they run through my head. I don’t feel the need to wash my hands multiple times in a row, but I do several times a day because I hate the feeling of dirty hands. Compulsive behavior – check.

Then there are the bathroom/toilet needs: food in, not solid out.  Suffice to say IBS has not been officially diagnosed, but … Chronic-indigestion – check.

I’ve dealt with TMJ for years because of the way my upper jaw structure is.  But lately I’ve noticed my cheeks are sore. What’s up with that?  It seems I’ve been clenching my jaw and carrying all this tension in my face for no apparent reason.  Muscle tension – check.

Sleep problems – check. Perfectionism – check. Flashbacks ( focussing on past negative things, even minor ones) – check. Self-consciousness – oh man, check!  The other things on the list that I don’t really pertain to me: excessive worry, irrational fears, stage fright.

Geez, I do have an anxiety problem.

~~~

Our previous health insurance was a self-funded HMO.  It employed its own doctors, nurses, PACs, and had its own radiology, MSWs, dieticians.  Every six months I had to be reevaluated for a “med check” being on an anti-depressant. I would get a brief two-sided questionnaire.  One side was for the depression, suicidal thoughts and such.  The other side asked about anxiety.  It focused primarily on the level of worry one has, and on quality of sleep.  I never associated sleep quality with anxiety, and since I’m not a chronic worrier I ignored it. It seems their parameters and criteria were a bit lacking, and I should have paid more attention.

Now I need to find a mental health professional to help navigate my new self diagnosis (because self-diagnoses are always accurate, right?).   Except I don’t have a primary care doctor because I lost that when the hubs changed jobs what with him being exclusive to that HMO. And we don’t have new insurance coverage — yet. And SugarBug needs more insulin; without insurance it is hundreds of dollars — per refill.

But I’m not going to worry. I’m not. Really. God’s got this.  And that’s why I don’t worry.  But I might suffer from some mild insomnia whilst clenching my teeth tonight. Deep breath, 2, 3, 4. Hold, 2, 3, 4. Exhale, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 6, 7, 8. Repeat.

At the Foot of the Cross

Verse 1:
At the foot of the cross
Where grace and suffering meet
You have shown me Your love
Through the judgment You received
And You’ve won my heart
And You’ve won my heart
Now I can

Chorus:
Trade these ashes in for beauty
And wear forgiveness like a crown
Coming to kiss the feet of mercy
I lay every burden down
At the foot of the cross

Verse 2:
At the foot of the cross
Where I am made complete
You have given me life
Through the death you bore for me
And You’ve won my heart
And You’ve won my heart
Now I can

Artist – Don Moen

Album – Thank You Lord

Those are lyrics to a song we’ve been singing in church over the last few weeks as we’ve been taking a closer look at the Twenty-third Psalm.  I have to confess that until we started this sermon series I hadn’t really been moved by the worship time in our church– as a congregation, a member, a believer, a sinner in need of redemption; sad to say, especially as a “church”– in a long time.  How long? close to two years, I think.

I never fully left this home, though for a time I could barely walk through the front doors, and rarely did actually.   I think for me, the feeling of “family” had gone away, and now the Spirit has brought it back and is ready to raise the roof again.

Actually, I think He’s brought me back.

Symbiosis or Falling off the Wagon

Where did the term “Falling off the wagon” come from?  *stopping to google it, and see what comes up*

Okay, so now I know, and for your enjoyment the history ( I found) behind it refers to the days of Prohibition when ladies would ride wagons through towns espousing the evils of alcohol.  When they could, they’d find a reformed drinker to ride the wagons with them to give more credibility to their speech.  And, if they started drinking again they “fell off the wagon”.

That phrase gets used by a lot of people for a lot of things besides drinking these days; myself included.

My recent wagon was supposed to be one of better eating, exercise, good night’s rest.  I fell off, and got back on, then fell off again, then on, off, on.  All this up and down nonsense is making my emotional legs ache for all the running to catch up and climbing.  Too bad THAT doesn’t help a body get fit.

I can’t seem to get all three phases to abide symbiotically.  I can sleep *great*, but then the exercise and eating struggle; same goes for eating, or exercise, then the other two falter.  Sometimes–sometimes— I can get two going at the same time.  Why not all three?  I want, I need all three to work together.

Why such a fuss?  A couple of reasons. 1) I flat out refuse to be a fat Mother-of-the-Bride. No, no one is even close to getting married here–sheesh Sweet Pea is only 13! Sugar Bug is 10.  But it took a long time for the pooch to go from pup to full-grown dog. And I’m not talking Chihuahua, okay?  It’s gonna take a while for it to disappear.  2) I’m almost 40, need I explain more? Thought not.  3) I can’t multi-task to save my life, but if I can’t multi-task this it may cost me my life.  I need to prove to myself I can do this, and finally be able to say I quit quitting.  Only because then I can say I don’t have to start again.

Well, I guess tomorrow I have to go find the next wagon stop and climb back on.  Hopefully all three of my partners board together and try not to escape the ride.

Milestones

Yesterday was Sonny Boy’s 16th birthday.  He was very excited.  I am handling this birthday/milestone much better than when he turned 10– much, much better.  When he turned 10 I didn’t feel old enough to have to a kid hit “double digits”. I’ve got three of the “double digit”-ers now, it got easier with each one.

We didn’t have big plans, but did plan to take his driver’s road test, and if he passed we would go get his drivers license.  To his great joy, we got there on time.  He passed the basic skills part pretty easily.  ( “I don’t know why everyone freaks out about parallel parking.  It’s no big deal, you just go do it”, says he.)  I was glad that didn’t take very long; it was a little chilly with a breeze and the parking lot still had massive snow piles trying to melt, which I happened to be standing next to.  If you’re not sure what that feels like, just think walking into a walk-in beverage cooler with the fans blowing and waiting there for 10 minutes, not moving.  At least it’s not the middle of February.

We hit the road.  The instructor deliberately practices using monotone commands at home, I’m sure of now.  “At the next light, turn left…After you make the stop, turn right…When attempting to avoid a head-on collision, what must you do?..” Imagine Ben Stein in the Visine commercials.  Sonny Boy did just fine getting onto the highway, making his turns (not swinging too far over/near the other lanes), but he was nervous.  Boy! could I tell he was nervous.  As he progressed through the road test I started to notice all the things he was doing wrong– things I knew he knew how to do properly, but just wasn’t.  “He’s going to choke! He’s going to fail!! His bad mood will totally ruin MY day–crap!”  I almost thought of sending a text message to my husband: “He’s choking; start praying”, but decided not to, in case Sonny Boy would hear the buttons clicking on my phone.  I didn’t want to make him any more tense than he already was.

I’m not sure how many points are on a driver’s road test, but the driver is only allowed 25 negative points (mistakes) and still be allowed to pass.  At 26 and beyond, you fail.  I told him earlier that we would pay for this one, but if he failed he would have to pay for any and all re-tests.  Toward the end I could see that he knew he was on thin ice.  For a kid whose tendency leans toward perfectionism, and self-defeatism it was hard to guess what he would do.  Would he try harder to prove he was actually a good driver, or throw in the towel, and just scrap the whole thing?  If we had been on the road much longer I think the self-defeatist would have won out.  He did pass– but barely– with 25 points off.  I was advised to reconsider letting him get his driver’s license that day so he could get more road time in to practice.  I thought about it for about 5 seconds.  I also think that ‘near miss’ to failure knocked the over-confidence out of him.

He’s a good driver. If you know my Sonny Boy personally, you know he’s a young man of good character, a little impetuous, and loads of energy, but all-in-all, a pretty good kid.  I’m not saying this just to sound like Rain Man (“He’s a really good driver”.) His girlfriend’s father won’t let her get into a car with him just for the sake of joy-riding.  They have to be going somewhere, with a purpose to it.

I hit a parenting milestone today, too. I let him take the car to go run an errand to use a gift card he got over the holidays before it expired.  He said he wouldn’t be gone long.  After an hour, I was starting to think:  ‘Okay, it’s been an hour, he should be home soon. I’m glad he has his cell phone so I can call if I need to.’ Then  good sense prevailed.  I reminded myself he was headed to Best Buy and had to drive up one of the busiest retail streets in town, on a sunny Saturday afternoon, get his stuff in a store he loves to wander in and then come back home on the same busy street. Mentally, I decided to give him another half an hour, then I’d call.  If he answered while he was driving, I’d have to yell at him for talking while driving.  He was in the driveway about two minutes after this whole thing ran through my head.

Later, I gave him the keys and sent him to the grocery store to go get some stuff we needed for dinner.  I didn’t panic, hyperventilate, and worry the whole time.  But after dinner I was ready to work up a really good *mad* because he was gone and so was the car and he didn’t clear it with me.  Turns out he talked to his dad about that one, and had to run his girlfriend home for some reason or other.  Good thing she lives less than half a mile away.

He moved toward the next phase of independence, that first, faraway step to adulthood.  I let him go and didn’t even cry;  milestones indeed.

When Sorrow Returns (Unexpected) Joy

I was honored this week when a friend shared some very intimate details of their life. I wasn’t looking to shame, blame or point fingers and take aim. I also wasn’t looking to pry. I offered an e-mail “ear” should they want to vent a bit.

My friend took me up on the offer, and a message was in my inbox the next day. I was expecting a page full of venom and spite. There was none—not even a hint of it. What I read was someone who really, truly had a desire to confess a wrong and just as fervently, wanted to reconcile with those who were hurt in the aftermath,

My initial reaction was to fire off a reply—any reply—just so they would know I had gotten the message. What does one say after another bares their soul? “Got your message; we’ll talk later” did not match my friend’s sincerity and desire to reconstruct their integrity. By disclosing such intimate details I don’t think they were concerned about “image”. Of course, we only worry about our image when we try to balance on the pedestal others put us on. They didn’t want to be on that pedestal and knocked it out from under themselves before the mortar of my imagination dried. And I’m glad they did.

In the previous post I wrote how one little word can get a big reaction from people. My friend wasn’t trying to react, or get a reaction. They wanted to confess a sin to their fellow-man and their Maker and take steps toward forgiveness, healing and reconciliation. I learned a little something about someone else, and in reflection, learned a lot more about me instead.

I’ve told people not to put me on a pedestal when they think I’ve done something remarkable. I’ve realized they don’t want to keep balance on one either, for when they fall off—and we all will—the builder of said pedestal is more hurt by their fall than the one put there.

The guilt of un-confessed sin is a crushing weight that gets buried in your heart and soul, but then takes root and grows into cynicism and resentment. It’s very subtle. Like a river washes away its bank and reshapes its course, so cynicism and resentment do to our relationships. It is much harder and more labor intensive to repair the damage than it is to do preventative maintenance. I have learned this the hard way.

I’ve also taken away this little gem: bearing one’s own soul through confession is risky indeed, but is likely to be more fruitful than expected. If you are trying to stay balanced on the imaginary pedestal then the only thing harvested feeds your own ego. If you allow yourself to fall off, and after the dust settles, I’m sure you will find you are not alone. Grace and forgiveness, mercy and healing will meet you wherever you are. If the people wounded are still there with you, offering a hand to help you back to your feet, you are truly blessed indeed. It is here that humility feeds the hearts of the weary around you, and inspires them to take courage.

I don’t know that I’m ready yet to sow seeds of confession far and wide, but my weary heart has been fed and the Fruit in it has been watered again.

Thank you, friend, for planting a blessing.

When Hope Gives Way to Reality, part 2 — The Lesson

When I left you, we were wrapping up the tragic end to my sweet friend, Duchess.


The next day—Tuesday— I cried on and off, but mostly on, for most of the day. My girls had play rehearsal at 9:00 AM and I spent those two hours reclining in the front of the car drifting in and out wakefulness and crying; I really can’t call it “sleep”, but it was more a semi-conscious state. I didn’t want anyone to see me, and truthfully, I didn’t want to see anyone else. My perceived lack of pet-parental responsibility had me tightly by the collar, and wasn’t about to let go. By day’s end Wednesday, I was able to discern and define the difference between guilt and feeling responsible for her death. Tuesday? Every emotion was just raw.


As with a lot of tragedy, we question God’s justice in taking away something we held so close and begin to ask “Why?”


“Why her and not LadyBear? Why did that kid leave the gate open if he was afraid of dogs? Why did he even cut through if he was afraid of dogs?” I don’t think I ever asked, “why me?” but the temptation was there. But a young man, wise beyond his years, fighting terminal cancer said he could never ask God ‘Why me?’ because to do so would be the same as asking ‘Why not someone else?’ Since he would never have wished his situation on anyone else, he reasoned God had indeed given it to the right person. Now, I am fully aware that ‘Losing a Mixed Breed Mutt’ is not even close to ‘Young Man Dying of Pancreatic/Liver Cancer’ on the Grand Scale of Tragic Things, but I think you get my point. I couldn’t ask, wouldn’t dare ask: ‘Why not someone else?’


After I got through the anger stage of my grief and realized that God did indeed take the right dog away, as hard and painful as that was to understand, I knew there was a lesson in this, waiting to be revealed. I was just hoping He wouldn’t hit me with a spiritual 2×4 in order to get me to understand what the lesson was.


The lesson was: favoritism. There were no drum rolls, no grand Tah-dah! just a lonely LadyBear standing, staring out the window waiting for her friend to come home. She knew Duchess had gotten out that night, and she would always cry, whine and whimper until Duchess was safe at home again. She stood looking out the kitchen window for days—hours on end— and my heart broke for her loss. I rattled Duchess’ collar by mistake and LadyBear’s head jerked to attention and she darted over to the window, with such an expectant, hopeful look in her eyes. ‘My friend has come back to me!’ they seemed to say, but soon changed to the look we had seen so often since Duchess died. It was a day or two after this when I realized how much favoritism I had for Duchess over LadyBear and it reminded me of a story of a father who played favorites too.


There was a father, Isaac, who had a son, Jacob, who needed a wife. Rather than choosing a bride from the un-Godly and unfaithful who lived nearby, Isaac sent his son on a trip, some 500+ miles away to choose a bride from his own family. Jacob is smitten with Rachel at first site, and worked a long, hard seven years to earn the privilege of calling her his wife. Turns out his uncle tricked him and sent her older, doomed-to-be-single-forever-unless-some-sap-comes-along sister, Leah, down the aisle instead. He wakes up the next morning, realizes he’s been duped and demands to have the bride he worked for. Uncle says sure, you can have her, but here’s the deal, you have to stay another seven years for Rachel. But the good news is, you can be married next month, after a proper “honeymoon” time with Leah. Jacob agrees.


In time, the family started to grow. Leah (and her servant girl who acted as a sort of ancient days ‘surrogate’) started popping out babies—boys in fact, heirs—in a pretty regular stream. Rachel could not produce even one. She sends one of her servant girls in, as her ‘surrogate’ and she produced a couple of boys as well. Rachel, though, was still barren, until one day God shows some mercy and she has one child, Joseph.


Joseph was his Daddy’s favorite and all of his eleven brothers knew it. Jacob wasn’t too shy about letting people know, either, I’m sure. The brothers hated Joseph because his presence alone was enough to remove their father’s favor from them, not to mention the fact he has dreams that imply he would one day rule over his older brothers. Joseph was never sent to work the fields, the flocks or do most hard labor. He was kept home and sat at his father’s side studying, learning, reading, being favored.


The older eleven conspire to kill the “little brat”, but one of them has pity and says, don’t kill him, just sell him to slave traders instead. That way if he dies, it’s not really our fault, and his blood won’t be on our heads. So Joseph is sold and carted off to Egypt, he was about 15. He never returned to the land of his fathers.


The boys take Joseph’s coat, drag it through the mud, tear it up and pour the blood of some un-expecting little critter all over it and bring it back to Dad. They make up a story about Joseph being attacked and killed by wolves, and this is all that’s left of him: his tattered coat.


Jacob’s heart explodes, or rather implodes – or both if it’s possible— with grief. His only child from the one wife he really wanted, was now gone. His
FAVORITE was nothing more than memories and a pile of bloody rags.


This was the part of the story that revealed to me my own favoritism. The correlation is a bit loose, but the point was incredibly clear. I hope Jacob learned to appreciate the eleven boys he still had, the love they had for their father and their need to be loved by their father. They had been trying to earn it for years, and all they got for their trouble and devotion was to be pushed away. I would like to think he found comfort in the arms of Leah as well as Rachel. But I don’t think so.


I think LadyBear knew I loved Duchess more than her, but she loved me and kept trying to get me to love her back, but the level of reciprocation was never equal. She could never understand why she wasn’t my favorite, and I could try to find excuses to justify it, but truth be told, I had no reason to favor one over the other, other than to say that I did. Duchess was a spoiled brat of a dog, and that’s our fault. I knew that, and I still didn’t care. We didn’t discipline her and then retrain her properly.


Was Joseph a spoiled brat, or was it all in the brothers’ jealous imagination? We may never know. Did Jacob learn to love his other boys? Did the boys ever get past their own guilt over the pain they brought to their father? I’d say with some certainty a loud NO to both of those, based on how the story ends some 15-20 years later.


Joseph endures a lot, but eventually is given rank of something like Prime Minister in Egypt. He is Pharaoh’s right-hand man. His homeland is suffering severe drought, and eleven of his brothers come to buy food from Egypt; there is a younger brother, a 12th, whom Joseph doesn’t know of until their second trip to back to buy food. Joseph then sets-up the youngest, Benjamin, to make it look like he was a thief, and demands he be thrown in prison. At this point the other eleven begin to plead to trade places with their youngest brother. Joseph asks why they are so passionate to take their younger brother’s place, since he was their father’s favorite, after all. They tell the Prime Minister (who is really their long ago sold-into-slavery brother, remember) that their father once had another favorite son, whom they sold into slavery, but lied about being killed by wolves. They continue explaining that they would rather serve life in prison in their brother’s place than return home without him and cause so much heartache to their father again.


They had witnessed the pain in their father’s eyes every day, and known that they were the cause of it. I don’t think one could ever get over the guilt in that. The fact that Rachel died giving birth to Benjamin cemented him in the Most Favored Son position, and the other eleven accepted that, and rather than despise him, they chose to help protect him, if only for their father’s sake.


LadyBear is our “used box of crayons” dog—she’s pretty colorful, but not too sharp. I’ve seen my pet-parenting flaws, but I’m not eager to find another pup to fix my errant ways or fill the Most Favored Dog seat. I think I’d like to see LadyBear move into it instead. Not because she’s earned it by loving me, but because deserves it…because I love her, and it took losing Duchess to learn it.